Chapter 8

Fiona was sent to a federal prison, while Michael, Sam and Jesse worked tirelessly to figure out a way to free her and take down Anson. This required more of Sam's time, but Elsa understood and didn't complain. By now she knew enough about his friends and their situation that she felt for them and promised to help in any way she could, even if it was just financial resources. Getting rid of Anson was good not only for only Michael and Fiona; with him gone, maybe she and Sam could have a less hectic, more normal relationship.

A few weeks after Fiona's arrest, Sam came to Elsa. "I have to run out to the Everglades with Mike and Jesse, but it shouldn't take long," he told her after they shared an early breakfast at the hotel. "We have to interview somebody, and as long as he cooperates, I'll be back in plenty of time for dinner."

"Good. I've been looking forward to trying out this new restaurant. Did you get..."

"Reservations, yes I did." He smiled and slipped his hand around her waist before kissing her deeply.

"Mmmm, you keep that up and your friends will be waiting for you," Elsa purred.

Sam laughed. "Oh, you just keep thinking like that, Baby. We'll skip dessert at the restaurant and head right home after dinner."

"Is that a promise?" She kissed the scruff on his cheek. As much as she hated it, she loved it. Sam's outward appearance served as a constant reminder of what she missed when she got too serious about life. She was almost always disappointed when he dressed up. He looked as dashing as he did that night they first met and he'd swept her off her feet and stolen her heart, but she loved him best when he was himself.

"Oh, you betcha. See you soon!" One more kiss, and he was out the door.

She sighed heavily, and he heard the sound. It sent his pulse racing, and he wished that the day was already over. All the way to their destination, Sam played the evening in his mind. He thought about how Elsa made him feel. Knowing she loved him, truly and deeply, he was aware that something was missing: his own admission of love for her. In his heart Sam felt the same things she did. But fear held him back. How often had he told a woman he loved her and then the relationship fell apart? With Veronica, everything was perfect except for the little burr of the marriage he never ended. He took care of that and he was free, but after Veronica he'd said those three little words only a couple other times with disastrous results. He wanted to be sure that things with Elsa were solid before he said it.

Sam wasn't sure how much more solid their relationship could be, especially after she helped him through the early days of Fiona's being incarcerated and Michael suffering a meltdown. The team focused on catching Anson and through it all Elsa waited for him to come home every day in one piece and supported him emotionally and physically, whispering words of love when he needed it, and giving herself completely to him when he needed that.

He had to stop his thoughts right there and focus, because he, Michael and Jesse were almost to their destination. Sam would be glad when they arrived. The back seat of the Charger had some good space, but it was still cramped for his legs. When he got out, he'd have to stretch a bit to get rid of the old man stiffness. Later on, a tête-à-tête with Elsa in the hot tub would take care of any other aches.

"Let's get this done," Sam said.

"What, are you in a hurry, Sam?" Jesse glanced at him.

"Well, I'd like to get back in time for dinner with Elsa." At Jesse's perplexed stare, Sam added, "Every tenth one is on me!"

Unfortunately for Sam, his day didn't go anywhere near like he'd planned. Their suspect was shot dead, and the person who did it, Rebecca, an ex-CIA operative who worked with Anson, kidnapped him and took him on a wild ride. He had plenty of opportunities to get away, but Sam knew that staying with Rebecca could get them some valuable information on Anson. She was trying to get away, to save her brother from the most evil enemy they'd ever known, and she became more desperate as Michael and Jesse closed in on her and Sam.

She'd almost gotten Sam killed when she strapped the C4 backpack to him and made him enter the drug lab compound. Then she started shooting at the hicks running the lab, and whether she was showing off or just pulling a power play to show Sam she could kill him if she chose, she fired one round close to his head. He wished he could have slapped her for that one.

Then she tied him to a pipe to check on the air boats. Earlier, he hijacked a cell phone from a work bench and hid it in his pocket, and now was the perfect time to use it. Sam checked to see if Rebecca was sufficiently distracted by the boats before he dialed Mike's number. He warned him that they needed backup, that he was dead whether or not the CIA got involved. Rebecca was still busy when he ended the call.

She'd been benevolent up until now, but Sam felt like his luck had run out. With each move to a new location she became more and more agitated. She was close to not thinking straight. Sam knew that's when hostage takers got dangerous. He thought about Elsa. A glance at his watch told him that in a half hour he would be late for their dinner date. There was no way he was making it, and it was quite possible that there would be no more dinner dates in his future because he was going to die in the middle of the Everglades.

In his career, from the Navy until now, Sam had found himself in many hairy situations where death was imminent. He often handled those times with bravado, or he refused to think about the fatal consequences as he worked his way out of trouble. Things were different now. He had a woman who loved him, and he loved her. When he closed his eyes he saw a brief flash of her standing beside his gravesite, dressed in black. Elsa never looked good in black. He couldn't do that to her. Somehow, he would try to get out of this because he hadn't told her yet how he felt. She had to know that he loved her before he took his last breath.

Sam dialed her number and waited. He hoped to get her: instead, her voicemail picked up, saying, "This is Elsa. Get to it." Just her recorded voice lodged a huge lump in his throat that he worked hard to swallow so he could speak. He wanted his last words to her to be clear.

"Hey Elsa, it's Sammy. I don't think I can get there for dinner tonight, so uh... I mean, I'll try and call ya later, but... in case I don't, uh, I just wanted to say... I love you, Baby." Then Rebecca had a gun to his head. If he had a chance to give it much thought, he would have concluded that the message was terribly inadequate. He wanted to say so much more. He wanted to tell her that he'd been in love with her since he first saw her at that ball. It had been easier to love her under the disguise of lust than to come clean, and now in his moment of desperation, when it was most likely too late, he caved.

Rebecca wanted to kill him. The anger and frustration in her eyes made it obvious. He'd pushed too far, and now he would pay with his life. If he didn't have to mourn the loss of the future with Elsa, he might have been at peace with the idea. Sam had been fighting and struggling for so many years, it was time for a break. He just wasn't ready for a permanent one.

He couldn't watch her squeeze the trigger. Instead, Sam closed his eyes and pictured Elsa's smiling face, imagined her lips touching his one last time, and he braced for the crash of the bullet against his skull. The gun was loud when it went off, and the explosion concussed against the treeline and his head, quickly followed by a grunt from Rebecca. He opened his eyes and she was still there. The butt of the gun came down hard against his temple, and everything went black. This was it. Now that she had him on the ground, she would finish him off. That was his last thought before succumbing to unconsciousness.

Sam was surprised that Rebecca didn't kill him. He knew then that deep down she had a good heart and that Michael and his team could help her with her own little Anson problem. After she was defused, figuratively and literally, the four piled into Michael's car and drove back to Miami. Somewhere along the way, Sam fell asleep or lost consciousness again. He wasn't sure. At one point he heard voices.

"Sam, come on. Wake up, we're back at the loft." Michael slapped the side of his face. "Sam. Wake up!"

"Think we better take him to a hospital," Jesse asked as he stood outside the car with Rebecca.

"I'm sorry." She watched as Sam climbed out of the haze of unconsciousness. "I shouldn't have hit him so hard."

"You shouldn't have hit him at all," Jesse replied. "If you'd just let us help from the beginning..."

"Hey, guys, you can argue later. Right now, Sam needs our help."

"I'm fine, Mikey." Sam mumbled. "Just need some sleep, that's all."

Michael shook his head. "We're not getting him out of the car this way." He stood and pulled out his phone.

"What, are you calling 911?"

"No, Jesse." The person on the other line answered. "Hi Elsa, it's Michael."

"Michael?" Elsa sounded alarmed. "Where's Sam? Is he okay?"

"Sort of. He's in the back of my car right now."

"Where are you? I'll come and get him. Michael, he called me earlier and the message he left... my god, I thought he was going to get killed!" She sniffled. "Are you sure he's okay?"

"He needs to see a doctor, but yeah, he'll be fine. Listen, I'll bring him over to you at the hotel..."

"No. Bring him to the house. You know where we live."

Michael nodded and smiled. He noted that she said 'we', not 'I'. "We'll be there in a few minutes. Relax Elsa, he really is okay."

"Thank you, Michael. I was so worried when I got that message."

Michael hung up the phone, and the three got back into the car and took Sam home to Elsa. Michael and Jesse carried him inside and took him to a guest room downstairs. It was easier than navigating the spiral staircase with dead weight between them. Rebecca stood by in case they needed any assistance. Elsa wordlessly nodded to her and followed the two men into the room where they laid Sam on a dark blue silk duvet.

"Thank you both for bringing him home," Elsa said with tears in her eyes. "I called the doctor and he's on his way."

"You're welcome, Elsa." Michael was surprised to find himself enveloped in a strong hug. She also communicated her thanks to Jesse and hugged him. Then they left the house, and until the doctor arrived, Elsa was alone with Sam.

She'd spent a lot of time hovering over Richard's bedside when he was ill. As a matter of fact, this was the room in which he spent his last days. She could have kicked herself for letting them put Sam in that room. She heard a groan that distracted her from her recollection and she hurried to his side. The dried blood worried her at the amount and the wide trail that ran down the side of his face. In the lamplight she studied the laceration under the mess. When would that doctor arrive? Elsa ran her hand along the side of his face that was uninjured. It pleased her that he turned in to it and moaned softly. A slight smile graced his lips.

"Sammy, can you wake up? It's me, Elsa." She received no response. "Honey, I got your message. Please, Sammy, you've got to wake up. I want to hear you say it again that you love me."

The doorbell rang, and Elsa heard Marie's footsteps as she answered the door. Soft voices, male and female, signaled that the doctor had arrived. Marie led the physician into the small room.

"Doctor Miller. Thank you for coming so quickly."

With his hands, he indicated that she should move out of the way as he got in to examine Sam. "Not a problem, Elsa. I was in the middle of a boring evening anyway." He smiled and reached for the lamp. "Does this light get any brighter?"

"No. I'll put on the overhead light." Elsa flipped the switch, and for the first time she got a good look at Sam in his dirty clothes, with smudges of earth on the material and his skin. The head injury looked even worse in bright light. She gasped and felt like she would get weak in the knees if she didn't sit down, so she moved to the other side of the bed, sat on the mattress, and took Sam's hand. She expected it to be cold, but it was as warm as ever. She laid it on her thigh that she hiked up onto the bed to be at a better angle where she could see him.

The doctor heard her reaction. With a raised eyebrow, he asked, "Do you know what happened to him?"

"No. At least, not everything. He was kidnapped and being held by someone. Sam thought his kidnapper was going to kill him." She watched the doctor take his pulse and blood pressure and pry open one eye to flash a light in it. "Is he going to be okay?"

Dr. Miller answered with a smile. "I suspect he's got a nasty concussion from that blow to the head. The pupil on that side is more dilated."

He continued to examine Sam while Elsa kept an eye on her beloved. She wrung his hand with hers in between moments of holding it tightly and caressing it. "When will he wake up? I tried. Michael tried. But no one can get him to wake up completely."

"Don't worry, he just needs some rest right now. If I wanted to , I could get him to respond." Dr. Miller pulled out some supplies from his bag and took stock. "Elsa, could you get me a bowl of warm water and some cloths? I want to clean up this head wound before I do anything."

"Oh, sure!" It felt good to be useful, instead of waiting and hoping for Sam to open his eyes. She hustled into the bathroom and got the things he asked for, and Marie brought a bowl of warm water.

When the blood was gone, the wound didn't look so bad. It still held an ugly jagged edge. The doctor used butterfly bandages to close it.

"Don't you need to stitch it," Elsa asked with alarm in her voice.

"No. With a jagged edge like this, the wound will heal faster. If I just close this up with the bandages, in a couple of days or so he'll have a fine line scab that should heal nicely." He finished his work, but Sam still had not regained consciousness. "Elsa, I'd like to stay for a few more hours if I may. I want you to keep trying to wake him up. If he doesn't respond, we'll need to call for an ambulance to take him to the hospital."

Elsa nodded. "You can stay across the hall in the other guest suite."

"Thank you."

"Well. It's about time all these guest rooms are used! I don't know why Richard insisted we have so many when we never had guests. They always stayed at the hotel." As she spoke to Sam, she caressed his face. "I really wish you'd wake up, Sam. I don't want you to have to go to the hospital. I want you right here with me, so I can take care of you." The corner of her mouth tipped up. "I never thought I'd hear myself say that ever again. When Richard got sick, I thought I'd done enough nursing to last a lifetime. I did my part, you know, that whole sickness and health business." She sighed and swallowed back the sorrow that those memories always brought back to her mind.

She was so tired. Elsa lost track of how long she'd kept up her monologue. She just knew her throat was dry and she needed some water, but she was afraid to leave Sam alone. What if things got worse? She'd heard stories of what could happen with people who had concussions. He could stop breathing and by the time she returned, it might be too late to revive him. Overcome with fear, she dropped and lay beside him, held onto his arm, and continued to stroke it as tears silently dripped onto his upper sleeve.

"Sammy, please don't leave me. I love you too much to let you go."

Sam groaned again and his body shifted. His head turned toward hers and she felt the tip of his nose touch her forehead. Elsa looked up and burst into happy tears when she saw his eyes open focusing on her.

"Elsa," he muttered. "How'd I... where are we?"

"You're at home, sweetie. In the guest room."

"Oh." He nodded slightly, wincing.

"Does your head hurt?"

"Yeah. I've got the biggest splitting headache right now. Can you get me something for it?"

"I'll get Dr. Miller. He can give you something." She tore away from him, slipped off the bed so fast she almost took the duvet with her, and soon returned with the doctor.

"Good to see you're awake finally, Sam. Another hour and I would have had you transported to the hospital."

"No. I don't need that. I'll be good... good as new soon." Sam tried to raise his head but it was a losing battle.

Dr. Miller held him down with a hand. "Just stay where you are. I'm going to give you some aspirin for the pain. I'm sorry there's not much else I can do until I know how serious that head injury is." He addressed Elsa. "I would recommend getting him in for at least a skull series."

"I'm fine, Doc. Just gotta rest."

After the doctor treated Sam, he helped Elsa strip him down and get him under the covers. Then he returned to the guest room for the rest of the night. Elsa dressed in a nightgown and returned to lay beside Sam. She leaned into his chest, and when he put his arm around her, she smiled against his skin.

"I'm so glad you're awake, Sammy."

"I'm really tired, Elsa, but I'll try to stay awake a little longer."

"I was so scared when I got your message." A tear leaked onto him, and his free hand moved to dry her cheek. "I kept thinking that I couldn't lose you now."

"Why?"

She raised her head and looked at him. "I love you, Sam. You know that. And now I know what I'd suspected for a long time, that you love me too."

"I do, Baby. I'm just sorry that it took my nearly dying to tell you the truth." He tucked a couple of fingertips beneath her chin, raised it, and leaned into a kiss. It was short but tender. He pulled away with a light breath escaping him, his eyes closed, and a look of pure contentment on his face. "I never thought I would touch your lips again, Elsa." He opened his eyes and locked on hers. "That would have been my biggest regret of all, that you and I didn't have the chance to say I love you, face to face, and follow it up with a kiss."

"I love you, Sammy."

Sam smiled, overwhelmed with emotion. "I love you too, Elsa."

He didn't care about the pounding in his head. He rolled to his side, took Elsa in his arms and kissed her with all the passion contained in his love. She gave as much as she got, and they soon found themselves short of breath and their hearts racing. Sam felt his desire rise within him, but it would have to wait. He sensed hers as well. Instead, he and Elsa contented themselves with falling asleep wrapped in each other's arms, confident that they had at least tomorrow to look forward to. If Elsa had any say, she'd make him quit the team. But for all her success at controlling her business and the rest of her life, Sam Axe was one part of it that remained untamed. She would endure, because she knew now that only death could keep them apart, and even death had a hard time getting its way with him. Elsa sighed, took in the scent of fresh air and earth on Sam, and fell asleep in a sense of security.

As Sam drifted off to sleep, he was grateful for the chance to finally tell Elsa how he felt. His last conscious thought was that the first chance he got, he needed to talk to Mike and thank him. If it weren't for him, Sam never would have been at that ball, and he never would have gotten the chance to meet Elsa. He'd always been skeptical about love at first sight because it never seemed to work for him. But this time, he found the woman he could see himself loving forever. Just being with her in the present moment was almost like a dream in itself. His head tried to play games with him, but his heart knew it was real. He fell asleep dreaming about a future with the woman who captured his heart with just one look.