Peering into the gray early morning light of the unlit room, Sarah took several moments to erase the confusion from her foggy mind and get her bearings. Someone had slept in the recliner chair near her bed—blankets had been left there. But she was alone in the room. As she moved to stretch her legs, she was painfully reminded of the bruises that covered them and the rest of her body. Her hair felt stiff and uncomfortable. She reached up to touch it and realized it was filthy with encrusted mud.
Slowly the events of the previous day began to filter into her mind. She tried to process them all, but her head hurt a little and some of the memories were hazy. The most vivid memory was Matt's face, hovering near hers. He had called her beloved. The cold rain was beating down upon them unmercifully, but Matt had managed to offer her a little protection as he tried to block it. But there had been pain—both in his face and in her body. Something had happened to her shoulder, and it had been agonizing when something jolted it. A mild ache was all that remained, and she lifted the sheet to take a look at her sling. The movement caused her head to throb, and she lay her head back on the pillow. Reaching up to feel her hair again, she determined that she would get to the bathroom and wash it before anyone else saw her.
Slowly she raised herself up to a sitting position, gripping the bedrail until the dizziness passed. She reached for the robe that had been left on her tray table, somehow managing to poke her good arm through the sleeve before wrapping the rest of the garment about her. Using the bed and the walls for support, she made her way to the bathroom.
As Matt hurried down the hallway, he was relieved to see that Sarah's doorway was still dark. He had been so hungry when he had awakened a half an hour earlier that he had been almost nauseated. After a quick breakfast in the cafeteria, he was ready to resume his vigil.
But Sarah's bed was empty as he entered the room, and her robe was gone. As he turned around to check the hallway, he spotted Sarah in the restroom. She made no sound as she gripped the railing, apparently unable to move. He quickly went to her side.
"Sarah." He spoke gently as he put his arms around her. "You should still be in bed."
"I had to go the bathroom. And my hair is disgusting." Matt noted gladly that Sarah's hearing had improved. Her weight shifted against him as she allowed him to hold her up.
"But you can hardly stand. You should have called the nurse."
"I guess I wasn't thinking straight. But I did go to the bathroom on my own. I hate asking the nurse."
"Let me get you back to bed."
Sarah held onto the railing. "Please, Matt. I want to wash my hair."
Hesitating, Matt considered Sarah's plea. The manner in which she still held onto the railing showed her desire to have some control over her life. He knew she wanted to bring back some form of normalcy to her world. He could simply pick her up and carry her to the bed. But would that be the loving thing to do?
"Sarah, you have a bandage right near your hair line. It needs to stay dry."
"Let's just take it off. It's been long enough—the stitches can get wet—or at least damp, anyway."
"Do you think you could hang onto the sink if I helped you? You only have one good arm."
"If you don't help me, I'm going to do it myself."
Matt could not help but grin to himself. "Let me see what we can use for shampoo."
Walking into Sarah's room, Amanda held up her finger to her mouth and gestured to Lee. Sarah was asleep, as she had been the night before when they left, but she was wearing her robe and her hair appeared to have been freshly washed. A tray holding dishes of partially-eaten jello and toast sat on Sarah's tray table. Matt, still dressed in the clothes Rene had brought him the day before, was dozing in the chair.
Amanda looked at the bag of toiletries she held and smiling to herself, set them down as quietly as possible on the counter.
Opening his eyes at the sound, Matt quickly perceived Amanda and Lee standing in the room and got up. They followed him into the hall.
Lee was the first to speak. "She must be doing better—the nurse got her up?"
"I went to the cafeteria for about twenty minutes and when I came back, Sarah was in the bathroom. I tried to get her to go back to bed, but she was determined to wash her hair."
Amanda offered Lee a knowing smile. "She reminds me of someone. At least she's in bed now."
"She didn't have much choice. She was so dizzy I had to carry her. She was exhausted."
"Didn't Dr. Fassbender tell you not to exert yourself?" Amanda could not help being motherly.
Avoiding her eyes, Matt was sheepish. "Well, she doesn't weigh much."
"Did you get enough to eat for breakfast? I brought you something." Amanda waited for Matt to sit down on a chair in the hallway before she handed him a breakfast taco. "There are two more in the bag."
Unwrapping the foil, Matt took a look at it. He had told Sarah once that he loved living in D.C., but he missed some of the things of Texas. Breakfast tacos were on the list. Not long after that, Sarah had surprised Matt by researching how to make them central Texas style. "Oh wow. I guess Sarah told you how I like mine." He took a bite. "It's great. I guess I'm still pretty hungry—I didn't eat much yesterday. Thanks for thinking of me."
Lee grinned. "It's her specialty—doing for others." He looked at Amanda. "Since Sarah is still asleep, how about I go ask the nurse when Dr. Heird is due back?"
As Lee walked down the hall to the nurses' station, Amanda turned to Matt. "I think you should know that we're both so grateful for the way you've cared for Sarah these past few weeks. Especially yesterday."
"She took care of me. And I was just using my Army training. Had a few buddies go down during my time in Afghanistan."
"Well, perhaps you took care of one another. I know it was awkward at times, but we were both impressed by your strength of character, Matt. I believe Francine and Gil will probably be talking with you when you are back on duty."
"I suppose we'll be debriefed today."
"You will. Dr. Heird will decide if Sarah is up for it."
"Did she sleep this much the last time?"
"She did for a day or two. Try not to worry, Matt. I think she'll recover just fine. She's fighter, like her father."
"And her mother."
Hearing Lee's voice, Amanda watched him walk up. He spoke to both of them. "Dr. Heird will be here in a half hour."
For the first several days after her release from the hospital, Sarah was still not well enough to live on her own—the dizzy spells made even the most mundane tasks difficult. She spent most of that week in her parent's guestroom bed or on the couch in their den.
Enjoying the freedom and privacy of living in his apartment once again, Matt had found the experience to be bittersweet during his first week there. He missed Sarah terribly at times, particularly first thing in the morning and again at night before bed. The first few days he visited her at her parents' house, Matt found himself sitting with Sarah while she slept. Although he was offered an open invitation to visit the Stetsons whenever he wished, he felt it was intruding to stay for more than a few hours at time. Still, Amanda sent food home with Matt every time he visited. One day, Amanda tried to encourage Matt to stay longer.
"Matt, you know we're happy to have you stay as long as you like. Sarah seems to perk up when you're here."
"But her friends are coming by today…"
"You could stay to visit with them."
"I think Sarah's been wanting some time with her girlfriends. They don't need a guy here."
"I guess I can see your point. But come back for dinner. I'm making meatloaf."
Matt grinned at that. "Okay—I do love your meatloaf. I have a couple of appointments this afternoon. I'll come back after that."
There was another reason Matt had not been able to stay by Sarah's side all day long. He needed to heal, too. While his lung was doing well, the stress and mental anguish of their attack in the park and Sarah's abduction three weeks later had taken its toll on Matt. While he had found his visits to Dr. Kirby somewhat irritating despite their helpfulness after Rene's shooting, Matt was almost glad for his daily appointments with Dr. Kirby after Sarah's abduction. And his visits to his pastor helped, too.
Now it was early Saturday morning, three weeks after the abduction. He would be going back to work on Monday. Matt lay on his bed, waiting for his breathing to gradually slow. The nightmare had not been as vivid as the last one three nights earlier. He prayed silently to himself before rolling onto his side. You need to get some more sleep, Granger. You don't want to be tired for your day with Sarah. He closed his eyes, but his mind went to their date of the evening before.
Excited to be taking Sarah for their first evening out in six weeks, Matt had found himself bounding up the stairs of Sarah's apartment, despite the fine suit he wore and the bouquet of fall flowers in his hand. And Sarah had opened the door before he had had a chance to knock. It was a habit that endeared Sarah to Matt—and one he no longer took for granted.
"I love it when you're there, waiting for me." The door closed and the flowers in water, Matt held Sarah in his arms.
Sarah blushed and looked down, suddenly shy. "I guess I'm excited to see you. And I want you to feel welcome."
She looked so beautiful like that, in that dress. It was the same one she wore on our first date. Matt opened his eyes and looked at the photo on his nightstand. He could just make it out in the dim light. He was wearing his expensive blue suit and she wore the black dress with the small ruffles along the neckline. He closed his eyes again and continued to remember the evening before.
They enjoyed a leisurely dinner at Mezza Luna, and went back to Sarah's to dance. As the evening had ended, they swayed slowly to their favorite piece, Debussy's "Clair de Lune." Matt was not sure how long they stood together afterwards. With no cameras fixed upon them in the privacy of Sarah's apartment, they had enjoyed the kisses and their embrace.
And Matt had desperately wanted to stay. He did not tell Sarah how he felt. But the certainty that he wanted to marry her had been growing since before the exhibit opening. And since they had spent that week in the apartment together, it was becoming more and more difficult to be away from her. Not just because they had promised one another to wait until marriage to make love, but because he wanted the companionship of sharing a bed with her every night. I just want to be with her at night. Hold her. Watch her sleep. Not drive home to my apartment alone. I want to build a life with her—not continue to live without her. Matt sighed and once again tried to relax and go back to sleep.
Sarah's eyes opened to the semi-darkness of her room in the apartment. She stretched, and smiled, remembering that Matt would be coming to make her breakfast. When he had suggested it, she almost laughed, wanting to insist that she could make herself a smoothie now, especially since Dr. Heird had said she no longer needed the sling. But something in his expression stopped her. It was not just that they missed their daily breakfasts together. Sarah knew that while the traumas of the past several weeks had terrified her, she had not experienced the level of anguish Matt had. And he had been there as she recovered, even through the first several days, when Sarah had wanted only to sleep so she could avoid the pain and dizziness she felt whenever she moved. Finally she had been well enough to sit at the table. Sarah had joked one night as they ate dinner with her parents that it had been a gift to have an addled brain part of the time, but no one had laughed with her. Matt even left the table for several minutes. Sarah had finally gone to the living room to find him. She remembered their conversation.
"Matt. I'm sorry."
"Just give me a minute, Sarah."
She sat down beside him, adjusting her sling as she settled on the couch. He tried to turn his face, but she put up her free hand and gently cupped his cheek. "You're crying."
He hugged her fiercely then. While he was not hurting her, it was not Matt's usual gentle embrace.
"Does it help to talk with Dr. Kirby?"
"I think so. And praying with our pastor. I haven't told him any details. Just the usual canned story about our 'accidents.' It's just that some things trigger flashbacks."
"I'm so sorry. Why didn't you tell me sooner?"
"You were so miserable until a couple of days ago. And it's getting better. Just give me some time."
"Would it help if I came with you?"
Matt seemed to brighten then. "I'd love it if you came to talk to the pastor with me. Dr. Kirby suggested we could spend part of my session talking with him together, too, if you were willing. He wants to see you by yourself, too."
"I can do all that. Just make the appointments." Sarah looked into Matt's eyes. He had stopped crying, and the troubled expression was replaced with one of love. She kissed him on the cheek, but he put his hand to her face and kissed her gently on the lips.
"I love you, Sarah."
"I love you, too."
That had been almost two weeks ago. At first Sarah had not been prepared for the impact their sessions with Dr. Kirby would have on her. She was grateful to visit their pastor afterwards, and then go to either her apartment or Matt's to rest.
Now the sessions did not take such a toll on Sarah, and Dr. Kirby had said they were ready to switch to weekly appointments. Best of all, today they were finally going to celebrate her mother's birthday—right on schedule.
Sarah had just finished dressing when her phone began to ring. Prepared to offer Matt a good morning greeting, she was startled to see the call was from Francine.
"Good morning, Francine."
"Good morning, Sarah. I hope I'm not calling too early. I know you're still recuperating. But I wanted to talk before I got to the office."
Sarah thought of her father, who had spent many an early Saturday morning at the office before coming back home for some family event. She imagined it was no different for Francine. "I was already up. What's going on? Do you need me to come in for something?"
"Actually, no. Well not today, anyway. Dr. Kirby thought you might be ready about a week from now."
"Gil Barclay, Dr. Kirby, and I had a meeting last night before we left the office. I almost called you on the way home from work, but I didn't want to disturb you and Matt. Your dad said you went on a date."
"Yes! It was nice. Our first real date in six weeks." Sarah's eyes clouded over briefly, but she forced herself to concentrate on the happy memory of the night before. Except for the seasonal difference in the flowers Matt had brought to her, it had been a repeat of their first date months before. They even wore the same clothes as they had on that night. Except this time they had danced in her apartment, not her parents' living room. "We dressed up and went to Mezza Luna."
"Nice. I'm impressed." Sarah could tell by Francine's tone of voice that she really was impressed. "Did he take you dancing afterwards?"
Francine laughed. "What does that mean?"
"We like picking our own music. We came back here."
Francine laughed again. "You sound just like your father when he says, 'A-mand-da.' I'm glad you are feeling better, Sarah. But that's not why I called."
"So, why did you call? You had that meeting last night, and then obviously called my dad."
"Yes, well, normally I don't call the recruits' parents, but this was a notable exception. I thought I owed it to your parents to warn them—and make sure your dad wouldn't blow his top. Your mom was not a bit surprised I called. Of course."
"Recruits? Are you saying you're recruiting me?"
"We don't always get to see ahead of time what a candidate might do under duress, but you have demonstrated on several occasions that you are quite capable of handling yourself, both on your own and with backup. Of course we hope you'll never be put in such grave danger again, and we would make sure you received proper agent training."
"Agent? Francine, after what I've been through, I'm not sure…"
"I just said the training. Your education is more suited to Analysis. And Jamie is in need of the help. Look, Gil Barclay and I want to meet with you next week—Dr. Kirby thought Friday would be good. He'd like to interview you and determine for certain if this idea would work. He's been wanting to talk to you since August. Now that things in your life are settling down, we all felt this was a more appropriate time. We'll have a plan all worked out by then and you can decide what you think after we've presented it.
"But won't people be upset that you're hiring another Stetson?"
"Let me worry about that. And oh. Gil doesn't like to hire people who are desperate for work. He talked your old boss, Deborah, into hiring you back full time. You should be hearing from her today."
"What?" Sarah sat down hard on her bed. "I don't get it."
"He wants you to work for us because you want to. Not because you need to. He told her what you'd been through, and she felt terrible for firing you. And he told her you were on doctor's orders to rest for at least two more weeks, just to make sure you had time to decide."
"He told her what I'd been through? I haven't even told my sisters-in-law everything. Matt's parents don't even know."
"He didn't say it was the cartel. Or that it was related to the intelligence community. He said it was a police matter, and to please keep it hush-hush. He changed a few of the details to fit the story you told Amy and Jennifer."
"Okay." But I don't really want to go back to the museum after what happened. And after Deb fired me. Even if she does feel 'terrible.'
"Sarah, I have to go. I'm due in a meeting soon. I'll see you next Friday. Tell Matt I'm looking forward to having him back in the office next week."
After ending the call, Sarah remained seated on the bed. It was Matt's second knock that brought her to her senses. She hurried to the door when she heard him calling her name.
"I was just getting ready to pull out my half rake and pick the lock." Matt looked at Sarah, an expression of concern on his face. Her hair was still damp—it was unusual for Sarah to leave her hair wet on a cold day. He could not read her expression. "Did I misunderstand your text? I thought you said that you were out of the shower and to come on over. I can wait on the couch while you finish drying your hair."
Sarah knew from their sessions that Matt needed her patience and reassurance at the moment. She felt badly for worrying him. "I'm sorry I didn't answer the door right away. I got a phone call after I texted you."
Matt realized he had worried unnecessarily. Again. It was going to be a slow process overcoming his tendency to be overprotective of Sarah. At least she understands, Granger. He sighed. "And I overreacted. I'm sorry, too."
"You're doing it out of love. And honestly, I guess I'm still zoning out a little. I didn't realize you were knocking at first." Concerned once again at her last words, Matt started to say something. Sarah stopped him, eager to change the subject. "I didn't tell you who the phone call was from."
"Francine. But I'm hungry. Can I tell you about it while you make breakfast?"
"Sure." Matt started to move towards the kitchen, when Sarah put a hand on his arm to stop him.
"We didn't say good morning to each other."
Matt smiled crookedly at her before taking her in his arms.
Matt watched Sarah walk out of Francine's office and up to his desk. He tried to read her face, but had no luck. "How did it go?"
Sarah did not answer immediately. She glanced at Rene, who was trying to mind his own business at the desk next to Matt's. "Can you leave for lunch?"
Matt got up from his desk and grabbed his suit jacket off the back of his chair. The early November weather was still mild, so neither of them needed overcoats as they exited through the Georgetown foyer and to the street. With difficulty Matt refrained from asking about the meeting, instead reaching for Sarah's hand as they walked to the delicatessen.
Once they had their lunches and had seated themselves on their favorite park bench, slightly hidden from the prying eyes of other agents, Sarah finally spoke.
"They officially offered me the job."
"Isn't that good news? You were so quiet, I thought it hadn't gone well." Matt contained his excitement, unsure of Sarah's mood.
"It depends upon how you see it. I told them I had to talk with you about it first."
"I thought we had. Where did they offer you a position?"
"That's just it. They want me in Analysis, but Francine and Gil agreed that I need to 'do my time' in the field first. Six months minimum, working under Richard Wong. Then I can go work for Jamie. Gil Barclay gave special permission for me to work in his the department."
"Good for him. I should think you two would get along well, too. You're pretty close."
"Francine said the same thing. You know the drill, though, for rookies. I'd be working weekends a lot. All night surveillance. And I have to do as much of that as possible. I don't want to be the butt of favoritism rumors."
Matt moved closer to Sarah and put his arm around her. "You know, I'll have to work more weekends again now, too. I've been working with your parents so much, I haven't been doing my share. Maybe we can ask for the same weekday off."
"And I'm sure we'd never be paired together. You have a partner."
"I don't have enough seniority to train a rookie on my own, yet. Officially that is." He chuckled a little.
"I'm sure you'll want to help me practice my hand-to-hand skills, among other things." Sarah made a face.
Matt eyebrows shot up. She's talking about work, Granger. Don't let your mind go there. Matt couldn't help the small smile that came to his face as his plans for that Saturday came to mind once again. He turned his thoughts back to their conversation. "Well, I was asked to help with hand-to-hand instruction in the future."
Pulling away from Sarah, Matt crooked his finger under her chin, turning her face to his. "It's only six months, Sarah. But I have a question. Is this what you want?"
Sarah looked at Matt for several moments. He watched her eyes as they began to shine. Her face lit up as she spoke. "You know, I think I've wanted to do this ever since I was a girl, and I first found out about what my parents really did for a living. I know my mom is a top agent, too, but I sort of worshipped my dad for a long time. You know how girls can be with their fathers. My mom has always seen it as making the world a better place for her kids and other peoples' families. I really like that idea."
Matt grinned at the image Sarah had conjured up of herself as a young girl—and at her enthusiasm. "Then I think you should jump at the chance. I won't lie to you. I'll worry about you—a lot." Matt grew sober. "But honestly, we've seen more danger in the last few months than most rookies encounter their first year or more on the job. You might be safer as an agent. More training." He picked up the last of his sandwich, but stopped before he took a bite.
"Will you be able to take off the week of Thanksgiving? It's only three weeks away."
Sarah smiled at Matt's apprehension. "Don't worry. I mentioned that first thing. I won't start my classroom training until the next class, which begins in mid-January. I won't officially be hired until the first of December. I guess Leatherneck is coming back as a consultant just so he can train me with firearms right away. He's afraid I'll be like my mom."
"Well, I don't know about your mom, but your dad has quite a reputation with small arms. Maybe you inherited his talent…" Matt decided not to mention the report he had reviewed of their attack in the park. Despite the duress Lee had been under, his bullet had hit Luis Santiago in the center of his forehead. There was no question his aim was still accurate.
Sarah watched Matt put the last of his sandwich in his mouth. She waited for him to finish chewing before she spoke again. "I guess it comes down to this. Can you handle having an agent for a girlfriend? I think you know that you are more important to me than any job, Matt."
Matt stared at the ground, not trusting his voice. Finally, he looked at Sarah's face and spoke earnestly. "I can't tell you how much it means to me that you feel that way about me, Sarah."
Sarah waited while he gathered his thoughts.
"Honestly, Sarah, you've been the most important person in my life almost since the day we met. If you had told me a few months ago—even a few weeks ago—that you wanted to be an agent, I would have said, 'No way.' Partly because the unpleasant parts of being an operative seemed to disturb you too much. And partly because I wanted to be the one protecting you.
"A lot has changed for you since then, Sarah. You were already mature, but you've grown and changed. Francine recognizes that, and I need to as well. Loving someone means you don't hold them back. You encourage them to do their best at their calling. You've heard the pastor say that on Sunday mornings, and I know it's true. You did a great job at the museum, Sarah, but I think you have found your calling in the intelligence business. If you want to work for the Agency, you need to do it. God will work things out between you and me."
Finally Matt stopped and looked at Sarah. Her expression gave him the courage to make one last remark. "Just please go into Analysis as soon as they will let you. We've been through hell the last month or two." Matt ran his hand through his hair. "I know it won't be like that most of the time, but…"
Sarah put a hand on Matt's arm. "I don't want to work in the field. I know people say I could change my mind, but I like what Jamie does—I want to be an analyst, not a field agent. I think I've seen enough to know for sure."
"You have." Matt put his arm around Sarah again and held her against him. A sudden vision of Sarah's bruised body lying in the rain like a discarded rag doll flashed unwanted in Matt's mind. He shuddered at the memory.
In response, Sarah wrapped her arms around Matt. She pushed any unwanted memories from her mind and concentrated on the man who sat with her. "I love you, Matthew Granger."
Matt chuckled. "My mom and the lady at the bank are the only people who call me that."
"I love the name Matthew. It was my grandfather's name. Matthew Stetson."
"I never knew that. Another coincidence."
"I don't think it's a coincidence."
"No, it isn't. I think God brought us together, Sarah." Matt stopped himself. Save it for tomorrow. Follow the plan.
Sarah tried not to react. Something in Matt's voice made her wonder if he had intended to say more.
"I hate to say this, but I need to get back soon. I have a pile of paperwork to finish if I'm going to spend some time with my best gal this evening."
"You still won't tell me what we're doing tomorrow."
"You'll find out then." Matt pulled away from Sarah and started to gather their trash. "What are you going to do with yourself this afternoon?"
"I am going to take my beautiful new car for a drive. Do you know that I have never really enjoyed it?"
"I don't know, exactly. Probably not far. I want to clean my apartment. Then I want to make a nice dinner for us."
Matt started to frown, but stopped himself.
Before he could say anything, Sarah rested a hand on his cheek. "I know what you're thinking. I've driven back and forth to New York on my own before, and this will just be a short trip. I'll have my phone. You can track my GPS signal if you want to."
Matt had to laugh. "I shouldn't be worrying so much anymore, I know. It was a knee-jerk reaction. Besides, I'd get into all sorts of trouble if I tried to track your signal. We can only use that technology for ops and emergencies, Agent Stetson."
"Hah. You just got to be the first person to call me that." Sarah paused. "You know, Francine and Gil think I should have a code name. Just so there isn't any confusion on operations. I also think Francine was being a little bit sentimental. She said, 'Scarecrow's daughter needs to have a code name, too.'"
Matt only needed a few moments to think of his response. "It has to be Sparrow."
Sarah's face lit up. "I like that."
"His eye has been upon you. No matter how badly things went..." Matt's voice trailed off. He did not want to dampen the mood.
Sensing Matt's discomfort, she answered quickly. "Yes. Do you have a code name?"
Matt looked sheepish. "Yes, but before I tell it to you, promise not to laugh, or think I'm an egotist."
Sarah tilted her head. "Of course not. You are hardly an egotist. Quite the opposite. What is it?"
"Eagle. Short for Eagle Eye. I know. It's kind of dumb."
"I like Eagle. How did you get it?"
"It's from Army Intelligence. A few of the guys started calling me that after they saw me practicing with my knife. I could never shake the nickname and my superiors picked it up so we could use it on ops. Your mom put the code name in my file when she started training me, but we've only used it a few times."
"Eagle and Sparrow." Sarah laughed a little. "I think that fits us. You're a lot tougher than me."
"You don't give yourself enough credit. You have a lot of strength, Sarah. It's one of the things I love about you."
Sarah smiled at Matt. "It's getting late. You need to get back to your desk."
Once again, Matt took Sarah's hand as they left the park.
The sun was warm despite the crispness of the autumn day. Sarah threw the blanket up onto the rock before Matt gave her a boost. Soon after they spread the blanket and set out their lunch, he had shed his jacket. Since both were hungry, they ate quickly.
"It's such a beautiful day." Matt looked over at Sarah, who was just finishing the last of her apple. She threw the core in their trash bag and wiped the sticky residue from its juice on a napkin.
He held out an arm as an invitation to snuggle up against him on the blanket. As she sat down at his side, he turned to kiss her. "Mmm. Apple." He kissed her again.
When they pulled apart, Sarah laughed lightly. "Sticky apple."
Matt gestured to the opposite ridge. "That tree we marked back in September has already lost its leaves. But there are plenty of others with amazing colors. This is a spectacular view." The fall colors were only slightly past their peak. This was Matt's first fall on the east coast; he marveled at the intensity of the orange, red, and golden colors.
"Now you know another reason why I love it here." She leaned her head on Matt's shoulder and they sat there together for several minutes without speaking.
Finally Matt ventured, "I love it here, too, Sarah. It's just one of the many blessings I've experienced since God brought us together." Keeping his eyes on her, he shifted and stood up. "Would you stand with me?"
Sarah looked at him quizzically, but when he held out his hand, she let him help her to her feet.
Surprising her further, once she was on her feet, he lowered himself to one knee. Then realization dawned on her. Overcome with emotion, she had to force herself to focus on Matt's face and listen to his words.
"Sarah Stetson, I have been in love with you almost since the day I met you. I confess that at first it might have been a crush, but as I have gotten to know you, my love for you has only grown deeper. There are so many things that I admire and love about you, but for now I'll say that you are a sweet, intelligent, lovely, and brave woman, and I believe that God brought us together for a reason. I want to grow old with you—you're my best friend. And I would be honored if you would become my wife."
As Matt looked expectantly into her hazel eyes, Sarah felt them flood with tears. Without thinking she knelt down and threw her arms around Matt, burying her face against his chest.
Hugging her back, he spoke against her hair. There was amusement and even elation in his voice. "Shall I take that as a 'yes'?"
Sarah pulled away and looked Matt in the face again. "Oh." Sarah swallowed her tears and tried to steady her voice. "Yes! Yes, I will marry you, Matthew Granger. You are a sweet, gentle, courageous, and honorable man. And I think God has brought us together, too. You've just made me the happiest woman in the world."
The expression in Matt's eyes told Sarah that he was just as happy as she was. He grinned at her briefly before bringing his lips to hers in a light and gentle kiss. As they broke apart, he reached for her left hand, which had found its way to his chest. He looked down at it. "I'm sorry I don't have a ring for you just yet. But I have a picture of it."
Sarah watched as Matt pulled out his phone. "When my great grandmother Granger died, she passed on her engagement ring to my parents to keep for their eldest son to give to his fiancée. My mom was pregnant with me at the time, and they didn't even know if I was going to be a boy or a girl. My mom and I were worried that it was a little too old-fashioned, so she suggested a way to make it more modern. She wanted to have the stones reset when she took it to be sized for you anyway. So, if you like the design…" His voice trailed off as he held the phone out for Sarah.
Looking at the photos of the ring, then his mother's sketch, Sarah let out a gasp of admiration. "It's a lovely ring even without the alteration. But your mother's idea to move the stones to one side is very creative. I love it. I would be honored to wear such a beautiful piece."
Matt grinned at Sarah's reaction. "I talked with the jeweler myself, and he assured me that the ring would be ready before Thanksgiving, so I can give it to you then. He will get started on it this coming week."
"Your mom is very sweet. I can't wait to meet her."
"Would you mind if we called them right now?" Matt grew a little bashful. "To be honest, I told both your parents and mine that I would be asking you today. I think they are all waiting to hear what happened—your parents want to see us when we get back this evening. Your dad said something about an old bottle of Dom Perignon."
Later, Sarah lay stretched out on her back on the blanket, her head on Matt's jacket. He lay companionably next to her, his head also on the jacket, as they watched the clouds. Sarah's voice broke the silence. "Your parents are always so nice. But I'm not surprised."
"They can't wait to meet you."
"I feel the same way."
Matt turned towards Sarah and propped his head on his hand. Wisps of hair that had strayed from her braid framed her face. He caressed her cheek and hair with his free hand. "Your eyes are shining."
"Because I'm so happy."
Leaning down, he brought his lips to hers and she wrapped her arms about his neck. Their legs tangled intimately as Matt trailed kisses along her jaw and down her throat.
Sarah had felt the same warmth a few times before when they had kissed—a sort of thrill and tingle that started deep inside of her—but this time it was more stirring, even more so than the time on her couch after Matt had returned from Kazakhstan. She found herself moaning softly in the back of her throat as Matt's lips moved back to her mouth. His hand wandered inside her jacket, eventually resting on her hip. Her own hands began to move over his shoulders and chest. She had never kissed anyone like this before. Indeed, she had never felt that sensation with anyone else before. It was almost overpowering, and it began to scare her a little. She pulled away as if to catch her breath, but it was also to clear her mind.
Matt's voice was husky as he spoke. "Your father gave me a key to the cabin." He looked in her eyes. "He said we should feel free to use it."
"Is that what you want?" Sarah had just promised to marry this man, the one whom she loved more than anyone else—the man who loved her just as dearly. Yes, they had planned to wait until marriage, but they had been through so much together. Perhaps she could offer him this gift…
"If you are asking me that question, maybe this isn't the right time…" Matt's grey eyes had grown dark with intensity, but his voice was gentle. Granger, you're breaking a promise you made to her and to yourself—and to God.
Sarah reached up to run her hand through Matt's hair. He closed his eyes, enjoying her touch and waiting quietly for her answer. In his mind, he tried to justify his desire for Sarah. But we've been through so much together…
"Matt, I have to confess that while I was overwhelmed and oh, so very happy when you proposed, I wasn't too surprised."
Matt's eyes opened. He looked at her uncertainly.
"In fact, when Mom and I went shopping for the dress I wore to the opening, we looked at wedding gowns. I even tried one on and fell in love with it."
Chuckling, Matt could not hide his amusement. "Really?"
"Oh, please don't laugh at me. I know it was really presumptuous."
"I'm not laughing at you. I'm glad that you knew I cared that much for you. I just think you're cute."
"Well, my point is that we figured out I could order the dress and have it in about eight weeks." She searched Matt's face and let the information register before continuing. "If you don't think it would be too much of a rush, we could get married in two months. If you want to." Sarah's eyes wandered to a bird on the tree nearby. She could no longer look at him, fearing he would think she was being impetuous on one hand, and on the other hand, be upset that she was asking him to wait another two months to become intimate. After the kisses they had just shared, she knew it would be a struggle for both of them.
Matt thought he had never felt closer to Sarah than he did at that moment. She was willing to give herself to him, despite her desire to wait. She was leaving the decision to him. He needed to keep that promise he had made.
She felt his hand on her cheek. "Beloved, I would be a very happy man if I knew I would have you as my wife in just two months."
Sarah brought her eyes to his once again. His expression was earnest as he continued. "We have Thanksgiving, then it won't be long until Christmas—and you'll be starting at the Agency. It would only be a few weeks after that until we were married. That isn't a very long time—and we could take a honeymoon before your training class started. Imagine how hard it would be to be proper at my parents' house if we were already… My parents would not be as understanding as your parents."
"I was surprised my dad gave you the key to the cabin."
"I guess he's trying pretty hard to be cool about his little girl getting married. Although I've assured him more than once that we haven't slept together yet, he seems to have adjusted to the idea that at some point we will be." Matt could not help smiling at the sound of those words. "Your mom said he's come a long way, I guess."
"You can say that again. But he still spies on us. Thankfully there are no cameras out here."
Matt kissed Sarah again, but this time it light and gentle, like their earlier kiss. "I can't tell you how much I've wanted to show my love to you in a physical way, but you are right. We've each waited, saving ourselves." Matt caressed her face. "I love you so much, Sarah. I will make love to you someday, but it will be on our wedding night. And we'll have no regrets afterwards."
Feeling the warmth of Matt's body so near, with his leg draped over hers and his arm embracing her, Sarah had no trouble imagining what it might be like when that time came. She smiled at him and once again ran her fingers through his hair. He closed his eyes and she reached up to kiss him on the lips. "Thank you, Matt. I love you, too. So very much. And we will have no regrets."