Sam was overdressed for the neighborhood, which pegged him as a cop to everyone around. They felt eyes staring at them as they climbed the stairs to the ragged old apartment building where Tommy Gaines lived. He was the man who had, until a few hours previously, been in police custody. Neither Sam nor Ray could figure out how a guy living in skid row housing would have ties to a diabolical criminal mastermind.
"Well, let's go up and say hi," Ray said as he took off his sunglasses and entered the building.
Somewhere along the way, the sky cleared and the sun shone down on them harshly, but it brought no warmth. Sam didn't think he could get used to that. Not even for Gracie. He shook that thought out of his head and followed Ray upstairs.
Ray found the apartment and knocked on the door. "Mr. Gaines? Open up, please. Police. We'd like to talk to you."
They heard a thump and Sam grumbled as he looked up at the ceiling. "I'll get the fire exit." He trotted toward a window at the end of the hall, unlatched the stubborn lock and threw up the sash. "Hey, Tommy! How's it goin', man?" He climbed out of the window onto the iron fire escape and stepped closer to the scruffy guy who looked as if he were in need of a good meal and a good bath, and not necessarily in that order. Tommy had nowhere to go but down, and he didn't look desperate enough to jump three stories. "Come on inside, we just wanna talk to you about someone, an acquaintance we have in common."
Ray poked his head out the window. "You got him, Sam!"
"Yep. Just gotta convince him to come in, that's all." He turned back to Tommy. "If you want to freeze, well, that's up to you. But if you come in, we'll buy you a cup of coffee. We just wanna talk."
"Y-you don't get it. If I talk, I'm dead. That's the deal." His eyes darted around nervously.
"We can protect you," Sam responded.
"Who are you?"
"Sam Axe. My associate Michael Westen and I have a keen interest in Anson."
Recognition flashed in Tommy's eyes. "I was told about you two. Warned about you."
"The only one you need to be afraid of is Anson, Tommy. Really." Sam held out a hand, trying to coax him inside.
Tommy's entire body shook from the cold. He was helpless now, so Sam reached out, gently grabbed his arm, and pulled him toward the window.
Sam stood aside to let Tommy in, and the man had one leg in and one out when a shot rang out and echoed against the buildings. Tommy's body jerked as the bullet hit him in the back. He cried out, fell back outside, and lay with his face frozen in shock, staring at the blue sky. Ray drew his weapon and they scanned the area, but they couldn't locate where the shot came from.
"Sam, is he..."
"He's still breathing, Ray, but he needs an ambulance, fast."
Ray got on his phone and called for assistance while Sam covered Tommy with his coat and watched for more shots. But there were none.
"H-help m-m-me." Tommy's voice came out on a light breath.
"Help is on the way, Tommy. Just hang on," Sam urged him.
"What?" Ray leaned out the window. "What'd he say?"
"He...wants to...destroy you all." His breath came out in a rattle, and there was no more.
Sirens came down the street. Sam checked for a pulse. "He's gone, Ray."
When they returned to the station, a message awaited Ray. He snatched up the hot pink piece of paper with Frannie's cute, flowery handwriting on it. "Looks like Finley's in ICU but they expect he's gonna pull through. The guy just can't stop being a pain."
Sam sat in the chair opposite Ray. "I don't know what I'm gonna do now. Tommy's dead, and before he dies he tells me something I suspected for quite awhile. I'm really gonna be ticked if I came all this way just for that."
"Well, just hang on a second. I know somebody who can help get us a warrant to search his apartment. Maybe we'll find something that makes this all worthwhile." He got on the phone. "Hi Stella, it's me, Ray." He paused. "Now why do you think that every time I call, it's gotta be about you?"
Sam watched Ray as he talked to the woman on the phone. The gestures were priceless, and when he broke a pencil in two with one hand, he figured there had to be some interesting history between them. Then he remembered something Ray had said, that his ex-wife's name was Stella. Stella Kowalski. Now that's a hoot!
Ray hung up the phone and sighed, and his forehead dropped to his arms. "Sam, it's been almost twenty years we've been divorced, and sometimes I can't stop thinkin' about her, and other times, I can't stop thinkin' about wringing her neck. Especially when she thinks I'm calling because I want to do something stupid like go out with her or whatever."
"But you're over her."
Sam knew that look. He'd had it himself a few times. "So, anyway, why did you call her?"
"She's a lawyer, and she knows how to get us on the fast track for a search warrant. I mean, if we had some emergency reason to get in like a drug deal going down or a murder or something, it'd be a piece of cake, but Tommy's dead so they won't see your having to leave town tomorrow as an emergency."
"So, what am I gonna do until we get this warrant?"
"I'd be happy to show you around town, Sam." Frannie volunteered with a grin as she stood near his elbow. "You want some coffee? I know this great little place..."
"Frannie, scoot. I think Fraser's coming."
"What?" Her head swiveled around briefly, then came back to glare at Ray. "Very funny, Ray." She crossed her arms, turned back to her desk and sat down. "Sam, the offer still stands. I'd be willing to take you wherever you want to go." As she spoke, she rested her elbow on the desk and dropped her chin into her palm.
Ray let out a breath. "Come on, Fras...I mean, Sam. Speaking of Fraser, let's go over to the Consulate, and see if Fraser's busy yet."
"Alright." Sam got up and walked past Frannie. "Sorry, Francesca. Maybe some other time."
"Sam, don't do that!" Ray rasped as they walked away. "She'll remember and hold you to it!"
The Canadian Consulate was in an old brownstone mansion. Despite the fact that it wasn't yet spring, the yard was kept perfectly clean of trash and the bushes trimmed precisely. Sam figured that had to be Fraser's doing. The windows sparkled in the afternoon sun, as if they'd been recently washed. Inside, however, chaos reigned. Plastic sheeting hung from the ceiling, protecting those below from falling plaster. Scaffolding took up most of the foyer, and Turnbull's reception desk was missing in action.
"Looks like it," Ray said as they dodged around scaffolding to peer into the Inspector's office. "She's not here, and neither is Fraser."
Turnbull came out from the small kitchen in back. "Ray! This is a surprise!"
"Where are Fraser and Thatcher?"
"Making travel plans. They're going on vacation to get away from this construction."
"Together?" Ray's eyebrows rose as Turnbull's cheeks flushed slightly. "And you're staying here?"
Turnbull straightened. "Someone has to keep an eye on the facility while they're working!"
"You're a real trouper, Turnbull." Ray said as he looked around. "So where are they going?"
"They're flying out tomorrow to Miami, I believe."
"Miami. That's where I'm from." Sam's mouth tipped up in a crooked smile. "I wonder if we're on the same flight, wouldn't that be something?"
"Yeah. I find it pretty interesting that Fraser and Thatcher are taking a vacation together." Ray gave Sam a glance that said so much.
Sam chuckled. "Hey, maybe that little taste of Miami loosened 'em up. Better watch it, they might come back with tans and be wearing shirts like mine all the time!"
Ray pictured Inspector Thatcher in one of Sam's shirts. He shook his head. "Nah, that one makes my head hurt just tryin' to imagine."
"Well, if they're not around, why don't we just go back to the precinct? You got a secure wifi there?"
"Okay, I'll just set up somewhere and do some mining for intel on Tommy. Who knows, maybe it'll give us a break, or at the very least, give me an idea why Anson would want to deal with him."
They said goodbye to a very confused Turnbull, which wasn't that unusual of a state for him, and went back to the precinct. Sam set up at an empty desk on the other side of the room and Ray begged Frannie to leave him alone. When she saw his intense concentration, and how he often hid his screen from prying eyes, she knew it was best to leave him alone.
Late in the afternoon, Ray got the phone call he was hoping for. He jumped out of his chair and approached Sam. "Hey, we got the warrant! We just have to go to the courthouse to pick it up, and then we can search the place. With luck, we'll find something that'll make the trip worth it."
It was getting dark when they pulled up to the old building in Ray's car. "Are you sure you wanna do this tonight, Ray? I'm afraid by the time we come out, your baby will be stripped down to the struts. It's okay, we can come back first thing."
"Not if somebody else gets here first." Ray pointed up to the third floor. Tommy's apartment was on the side street where they parked, and a light shone in the window.
"Okay, that's not good. We can't take a chance that somebody's destroying evidence."
They locked up the car and hurried across the street to the side entrance. Ray pulled on the door to open it, and suddenly a fireball erupted above them, spewing bricks and all kinds of debris outward and down on them. They covered their heads and ran back to the car.
"You okay," Sam asked.
"Fine," Ray answered as he looked up at what used to be Tommy's apartment. The one below it was also in flames, and people were on the fire escape, but it wasn't safe.
"I'll call it in," Ray said and pulled out his phone.
"I'll see what I can do for them," Sam said as he ran back to the fire escape. The ladder was rusty and stubborn, but he was able to get it to move with assistance from above. A family of five, two adults and three kids, came down the ladder, scared and chattering in Spanish. Sam did what he could to help put them at ease. Others from the second floor evacuated safely, and they all watched the fire trucks and police arrive.
Once their help was no longer needed, Sam and Ray stood on the sidewalk by the GTO and watched the apartment burn.
"There must have been something really good up there, Sam. Why would someone blow up the place otherwise?"
"If it was related to Anson, you can bet it was something good. And even if it wasn't, this guy isn't afraid to take out innocent lives to cover up something, even if it's something trivial."
"Sorry you weren't able to find out what it was." Ray placed a consoling hand on Sam's shoulder.
"I'm just glad we weren't up there when this happened. I wanna get back to Miami, but not in a body bag." He let out a deep sigh. "I guess I might as well leave tonight. No use sticking around."
"Not even to go out with Grace?" Ray grinned.
"No, Ray. I just wanna go home."
What a waste of a trip. The only good thing about it was seeing Gracie again. Sam looked out at the blinding brightness of the clouds, and it hurt his eyes, so he slipped on his sunglasses. Maybe he could hide behind them and sleep. It had been a fruitless, exhausting trip, at least as far as the case with Anson was concerned. Sam had to stop thinking about it, because he would never get any rest otherwise.
He switched over to a mental picture of Gracie as she had lunch with him. She looked beautiful. She smelled good, like a meadow exploding with flowers. He was glad he changed his mind and stayed overnight just to share one more meal with her. Saying goodbye was harder than he would have expected, and now he wished she was there beside him so he could hold her hand. That would be enough for the time being. She was miles away and they were getting farther apart, and that thought put an ache in his chest that kept him awake all the way to Miami.
Grace lay tossing and turning in her bed, wondering where Sam was. She glanced at the clock. The numbers glowed 11:23. With the hour time difference, it was well after midnight in Miami, and he was probably safely tucked in bed sleeping soundly. She felt an ache in her chest and a sob worked its way up to her throat. What is wrong with me? How can I need him so much? This is insane!
The phone beside her bed rang, and she felt a coldness wash over her. Nothing good ever came after the jingle of a phone this late at night. Slowly, she reached for it and picked up the receiver. "Hello?"
His voice came out on a relieved breath. "Oh Gracie, it's good to hear your voice. Did I wake you?"
"No. Sam, you should be asleep."
"I know, but I can't do it. I can't stop thinking about you and how we left things."
"Sam." She hesitated. "I think I'm falling in love with you."
"We barely know each other!" He hesitated. "I told myself I wasn't going to get tangled up with another woman so easily, but when you came walking onto my turf, I was a goner, Gracie."
"I know how you feel." She smiled in the dark. "Maybe we should get to know one another a bit before we get back together again."
"That sounds like a good idea. Where should we start?"
They spent several hours talking, learning about each other's pasts. There were bits and pieces that Sam wouldn't, or couldn't, talk about on the phone, but he promised that the next time they met face to face, he would tell her what he could. When they finally hung up, they made another date to talk on the phone. This was something new for both of them. It was enlightening and frightening at the same time. After a couple of weeks, Grace knew that she had a decision to make. It started with three words.
"I love you," she said to Sam.
"You know I love you, Gracie. I'm just glad we finally got around to saying it."
"I wanted to be sure."
"I was afraid I was going to have to lock you up in a room and talk to you until you confessed," he teased. Then he sighed deeply. "There's just one problem with all this."
"What's that? The distance?"
"Yeah. And I keep thinking about it, but I keep thinking that I won't be happy in Chicago. Would you be happy living here? It gets really hot and humid in the summer."
"I've been thinking about that myself."
"I feel like we're playing a game of chicken. Who's going to give in first and move to where the other one is, and if neither one of us wants to do it, what does that say about how we feel? I can't move north, but yet it's like a part of me is missing without you."
"We'll work it out." She hated to break away, but she still had a job to do. "I'm sorry, Sam, but I have to get to sleep. I've got a big day tomorrow."
"Okay. Love you, Gracie. Sweet dreams."
"You too, Sam. I love you."
After she hung up, tears leaked out of her eyes as she lay staring at the ceiling. She loved her job most of the time, but she'd spent way too much of her life sacrificing herself for the CSIS. How many eligible men did she meet? She could probably count them on both hands. And how many were lost opportunities for happiness? She wasn't getting any younger. As it was, having a family was close to an unattainable goal. But if all she had was Sam for the rest of her life, she would be satisfied with that.
It's time to make a change. If the CSIS won't transfer me to Miami, I'll quit. Maybe Michael Westen would be willing to hire an ex-CSIS agent for his crew. Thoughts of the future swirled in her head and sent her into dreamland.
Ray knocked on Welsh's door and entered. "Sir, I've been thinking."
"That vacation I never had. I know I've got plenty of time saved up, so...I wanna put in for a couple of weeks."
"Let me guess. You want to go back to Miami."
Ray grinned. "Yes, Sir!" He took a sip of his coffee as he leaned against the door frame. "I could really go for some more of that sunshine and heat. Plus, I'd love to work with Mike on his car."
Frannie butted in. "Was there any other reason you wanted to go to Miami, Ray? I hope it wasn't that Fiona. She's married, don't forget."
"Oh yeah, I know that. I'm thinkin' there are plenty of other hot dancin' women in Miami." Ray did a little dance. "That salsa is pretty steamy, Frannie. Hey, you should come along. It would be fun."
"With you?" She crossed her arms and looked at him as if he were crazy. "I think not, Ray."
"Maybe Sam would be willing to dance with you." He smirked, yet he hated that he set up his friend like that when he saw her eyes light up.
"You know, maybe Miami's not a half bad idea after all." She leaned an elbow on Ray's shoulder. "I wanna put in a request for two weeks, Sir."
"Fine. You two go, have a ball." He shook his head as they left the office smiling. He almost wished he could stow away and see what kind of vacation that would be with those two. Then again, it might be like those long distance family trips with the kids fighting and screaming at each other all the way. He said a silent prayer for Sam and his friends, that they could survive the onslaught of Frannie and Ray.
Before leaving, Ray called Michael and let him know he was coming. "I was hoping we could work on your car while I'm there," he said.
"That would be great, Ray. I've been meaning to take a little time off, and your coming here would be an opportunity to do just that. Fi will be happy I'm taking time to unwind. And with Sam's help, we could get a lot of work done."
"Awesome. I'm really looking forward to this. Say, how are things going with this whole Finley/Anson thing?"
"Finley was turned over to the Canadians after he got out of the hospital. He's probably sitting in some cozy cell right now waiting for his trial on the kidnapping and extortion case." Michael hesitated. "Anson is a dead end. Since the explosion at Tommy's apartment, he hasn't done anything. We're thinking he's waiting for Sam to put down his guard, but we're not gonna let that happen."
"Good. The waiting game sucks, though."
"Yeah. We're used to it. So, you need a ride from the airport? A place to stay?"
"I haven't really gotten that far yet, just got the vacation time. I need to book a flight."
"Well, don't worry about a place to stay, we'll figure something out."
"Oh, Mike? You better warn Sam that Frannie's coming along."
Grace parked the car in the shade of an old oak tree and got out. The sunshine, heat and humidity dropped over her like a mantel. It felt good after the cold, wet rains in Chicago that said good bye when she left. She walked toward the apartment in her new wedge heeled sandals. Fiona turned her on to them. They were sexy and made her feel so much taller, and with them the top of her head would come up to Sam's eyebrows. She didn't call beforehand, hoping to catch him by surprise. It was risky, but then so was just about everything about this relationship. She heard a lot of activity at the pool and glanced over to see what was happening. Her jaw dropped when she saw Ray was in the water with Michael and two women. One of them was Fiona She didn't recognize the other one. She was petite and slim like Fiona, and she had dark hair.
The dark haired woman spoke. "Ray, you lost my sunglasses at the bottom of the pool!"
"No problem, Frannie. I'll get 'em."
She recognized that voice. It was Sam's. She approached his apartment, just to make sure she wasn't hearing things. The screen door was locked, but the inside door was open and no one was inside.
"Oh my...Grace," Michael breathed when he saw her.
Everyone turned their heads to see her as she entered the pool area. She greeted them with a smile. "Hello! I'm back!"
"It's nice to see you again. You should have let us know you were coming!" Fiona said as she got out of the pool and carefully gave her a welcome hug while trying not to get her wet.
"Oh hey, Grace!" Ray greeted her with a big smile and noted her staring at the woman she didn't know. "This is Frannie Vecchio, she works at the station with me. Frannie, this is Agent Grace Chatham of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service."
Frannie held up a hand and waved. "Nice to meet ya, Grace."
"And you, Frannie." Grace looked around. "Where's Sam?"
Just then, he came up from the bottom of the deep end with a pair of sunglasses held up triumphantly in one hand. "Sorry it took me so long, Frannie. They got stuck in the drain."
"I was starting to get worried. You were down there a long time!"
Michael waved a hand. "He's good at holding his breath. It's no big deal."
"Thanks!" She took them from him, sat on the edge of the pool and put the glasses over her eyes. She grinned as she looked toward Grace. "Hey Sam, there's somebody here to see you."
Sam's body turned as he treaded water, and the moment he saw her, his eyes widened. "Gracie?" He swam to the shallow end and hurled himself up the ladder. "What...what are you doing here?"
"I came to see you, Sam. I couldn't keep doing this phone dating thing. I needed to...to touch you."
"Oh baby, I've wanted to touch you too," he replied huskily as he took her in his arms and kissed her.
She thought her knees were melting as she pressed herself into him. She didn't care that she would be soaking wet when it was all over. Just being with him, feeling his skin against hers, made it worth it. When they finally parted, her shirt drooped over her front and her shorts were damp.
"I'm sorry." He said as he looked down at her.
"I'm not." She grinned. "Mind if I go change into my suit?"
"Hang on, let me get the key." He swiped it off the table where the rest of their things were and gave it to her.
"I'll be right back." She hurried to her car, pulled out her small carry on bag that she prepared just for something like this. A few minutes later, she appeared poolside with a new suit and a rolled up towel. The suit was a white bikini with tan palm fronds all over it.
Sam blinked as he stared at her. "That's my shirt."
With a grin on her face, she replied, "No, it's a swimsuit made with the same pattern as your shirt. I found it online. What do you think?"
"I love it. No more than I love you, though." He picked her up. "Come here, baby! Let's get wet!" Still clinging to her, he jumped into the pool.
She screamed and took a breath at the last second, then came up sputtering anyway. "Hey, this water's a little cool, but it feels good," she purred as she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him.
Grace spent the afternoon with Sam and his friends, enjoying the weather and acclimating to life in Miami. They ended the day with dinner at Carlito's before splitting from the group and going on their own private drive. Sam took her to an area with a big white brick lighthouse and they leaned their backs against it as they watched the sunset fade to darkness over the trees. A cool breeze came off the water, so he wrapped them in a blanket and they sat under the stars. They kissed while cocooned in it, away from any potentially prying eyes. She wrapped her arms around him and loved the warmth of his skin against hers, and she knew that she could never leave again.
He seemed to know what she was thinking when he whispered, "Don't ever leave me, Gracie."
"I won't. I promise."
Michael and Fiona sat at the bar eating breakfast when someone knocked. They listened for the pattern and realized it was Sam. Ever since they got married, the couple decided it was time for people to knock before entering. Before the new rule, Sam, Maddie, or Nate would just walk in unannounced if the door was unlocked, sometimes catching them in a compromising position.
"Come on in, Sam!" Michael called across the loft.
The door squealed as Sam entered the loft, holding onto Grace's hand. Michael and Fiona turned and studied them. They'd never seen her so casually dressed in shorts and a hawaiian shirt that looked like something Sam would wear. She walked ahead of Sam and said, "Hi, I've got something for you guys. We were having so much fun yesterday, it kind of slipped my mind." She opened a beach bag she wore on her shoulder and handed Michael a folder. "This is some information we received from Chuck Finley, after he recovered from his heart attack, and once the CSIS took him to Ottawa for further questioning. It appears that Anson was planning on using Finley to steal Sam's identity and pose as him."
"And what about Sam?"
She glanced at Sam, swallowed, and returned her attention to Michael. "Anson was going to kill him. He still might try, even though Finley is unusable in his plan. That's one of the reasons I'm here."
"I'm not sure I understand," Michael said as he looked at her and then Sam.
"Director Julliard has assigned me to keep an eye on Sam and work with the CIA and you, Michael, to bring down Anson. I'm prepared to do whatever is necessary to make that happen."
"Well, does Agent Pearce know about this?"
"She does. I just got done meeting with her before we came here."
Sam smiled and squeezed her hand. "Looks like we've got a new team member, Mike."
"Great! Until there's something you need me to do to help out, I'll be watching over Sam." She smiled as she threaded her arm through his and circled his waist.
He moved his arm around her shoulder as he announced, "We're going to the beach with Frannie and Ray. You're welcome to come if you're not busy right now. And later on you girls can do something while we work on the car."
"We girls?" Fiona stared at him. "We'll see you there, and then later, we girls can go shopping, have lunch, and just have fun." She saw Grace's concerned look and added, "Don't worry, Grace. I think Michael and Ray can keep an eye on Sam. Can't you boys?"
For some reason, Fiona's ire was up today. He knew it was just better to shut up and not make things worse. "Okay, I guess we'll see you guys at the beach then." He quickly ushered Grace out of the loft.
"Well, that was...interesting." Fiona said as she shook her head.
"I guess Sam got his wish," Michael said. "He'd been hoping to find a way for Grace to come down to Miami for awhile, maybe forever. This is a start."
"Not the best situation, with a death threat hanging over his head, but at least it's something." Fiona finished her yogurt. "Now I really can't wait for an excuse to blow up Anson."
Michael's eyes grew wide, his concern evident for the ignition of her fiery temper. "Careful, Fi. You know what happened last time with you, explosives, and Anson."
"I know. Only this time, things will be different. This time, the authorities will be picking up little itty bitty pieces of him."
Michael sighed and dropped the files onto the bar. "Let's get changed and go to the beach. I think we need some R&R, and then Ray, Sam, and I have work to do on the Charger. We'll keep our eyes peeled for trouble, and just see what happens."
Fiona sighed and spun off the bar stool. "Sometimes, Michael, you're no fun!"