A/N: No, don't let the title get your hopes up too much. Yet. And thanks to Persiflage for being such a spectacularly fast beta.
What God Hath Joined Together…
Finally – finally – the train pulled into the Lyminster station, and Sam breathed a sigh of relief. Christopher was here, and she would no longer be the sole target of her mother's meddling. She watched as the carriages disgorged their mass of Christmas travelers. And waved wildly when she spotted the familiar trilby and overcoat.
"Sam." Smiling, Foyle switched the small suitcase from one hand to another so he could encircle Sam's waist in a one-armed hug. He placed a quick, chaste kiss on her lips.
"What sort of kiss is that?" Sam scowled.
"The sort of kiss one receives when one's father's parishioners are probably about."
"Good point." She motioned toward the parked car in the distance. "We're just over this way. Goodness, it feels like weeks since I saw you last."
"Only five days," Foyle pointed out.
"Five horribly long days, I can tell you."
"Why is that?"
"Besides missing you terribly? One word: Mother."
Sam took a steadying breath. "She's made it her mission to talk me out of being in love with you. Oh, not in so many words," she added quickly, seeing the questioning look on Christopher's face. "Just little comments here and there."
"Such as, 'oh, what a pity that your Mr. Foyle would probably not live to see his grandchildren.' And 'there are several young men recently settled into the neighborhood' – by which she means single men, of course. And 'have you heard from Adam', meaning has he found anyone new since you threw him over, and if not, maybe he'll take you back. I wish she would simply let things lie."
"She only has your best interests at heart, you know."
"I know. But it gets tiresome after a while. Now you're here, she'll be able to see that we're rather serious about each other.
"'Rather' serious?" Foyle teased.
"Well, totally, completely serious," Sam said with a grin.
The vicarage was a large, ivy-covered house, exuding just the right air of casual neglect and country charm. The entry hall was all white plaster walls and burnished woodwork, the air heavy with the scent of beeswax. It made Foyle wonder whether Sam had been required to spend much of her youth with a polishing rag in hand. If she had, he thought with a small smile, he was certain that she had not done so cheerfully. He shrugged out of his coat as Sam did the same, then hung it next to hers on the thoughtfully provided wall hooks.
"Mr. Foyle!" A smiling Iain Stewart emerged from a doorway on the left. "So glad you could make it!"
"Reverend Stewart." Foyle extended a hand. "And it's Christopher. Please."
"Of course. And you may call me Iain." Stewart turned to his daughter. "Sam, be a good girl and fetch your mother."
Sam wore a pained expression that Foyle could read perfectly: Really, Dad, do you think I'm so thick that it hadn't occurred to me? He had tried hard not to fall into the parental trap of ordering his grown child about once Andrew was out of the house, and he hoped he had been successful. Perhaps it was a habit too deeply ingrained in parents everywhere? Foyle shot Sam a sympathetic smile; evidently her mother was not the only one intent on treating her as less than the adult she was.
"This afternoon is the annual parish Christmas Tea," Reverend Stewart announced. "Sam has been invaluable in helping her mother prepare. Eleanor's health is not always the best. Headaches, you see."
"Sam's a hard worker."
"Did you have a pleasant journey?"
"I suspect the trains were rather full."
Foyle acknowledged the comment with a brief nod and half smile. "It wasn't too bad."
"Good, I'm glad to hear it. Sounds like life is getting back to normal now the war's over."
"Slowly," he agreed.
"Unfortunately, it will not be a happy Christmas for those who lost sons or husbands in the last months of the war," Stewart said dolefully.
"No." Foyle wondered if the Vicar intended to leave him standing in the hallway indefinitely.
A door down the hall swung open and Sam emerged with her mother; she was leaning over her mother's shoulder and urgently murmuring something, doubtless a final request to Please Be Polite, Mum! Christopher stifled a sigh. It wasn't as if he hadn't expected this.
"Christopher," Sam said, her smile just a bit too forced and happy, "this is my mother, Eleanor Stewart."
"I'm so pleased to finally meet you, Mrs. Stewart." Foyle extended his hand at once, hoping his own smile conveyed all manner of reassurances that he was not out to ruin the life of her darling daughter.
"And you, Mr. Foyle."
"Please call me Christopher."
"Of course. Christopher."
There was a sudden, somewhat awkward silence; there was no mistaking the woman's failure to reciprocate the offer. Sam's cheeks flushed a bright pink.
That from Iain Stewart, who rubbed his hands together as if in happy anticipation of the slaughter ahead, Foyle thought.
"Sam dear," the Vicar continued, "why don't you show Christopher to his room? Eleanor, a tea tray to my study? When you're settled, Christopher, come back down and see me." He gestured toward the open doorway behind him.
"This way," Sam put in quickly, evidently unable to get Foyle away from her parents fast enough.
Christopher picked up his suitcase and followed as she led the way up the stairway ahead of them. He could hear her parents' footsteps retreating; so, apparently, could Sam.
"Oh, Lord," she moaned aloud as they reached the first floor.
"I see what you mean," Foyle murmured quietly.
"I just don't understand why they won't give up without a fight. I'm not changing my mind!" Sam opened the door to a bright, cheery room furnished with a chest and painfully narrow bed, and appointed thoroughly with chintz.
"You're their only daughter, remember."
"As if I could forget. Bathroom's the third door down the hall. I don't suppose…" There was a sudden, dangerous glint in Sam's eyes.
"What?" Christopher placed his suitcase on the bed and unsnapped the lid.
"I don't suppose you could give me a proper kiss now that we're alone…"
Foyle straightened, smiling lopsidedly. "A very quick proper kiss. I'm quite sure your father is timing how long it takes the two of us to come back downstairs."
"I wouldn't be at all surprised," Sam said as she leaned forward into Foyle's embrace.
"Sherry?" Reverend Stewart produced a decanter as soon as Christopher had taken a seat in front of a very imposing desk.
"Yes, thanks." Foyle watched as the man poured out two glasses, trying surreptitiously to gauge the other man's age. It had been six years since the first and only time he had met Iain Stewart. At the time, he couldn't have cared less how old Sam's father was; now it seemed a much more important issue. Christopher had no idea how close in age he was to the man, but as long as the Reverend Vicar Iain Stewart was older still, declaring his intentions regarding Sam – which Christopher knew without question was the purpose of this private talk – would not feel so much like robbing the cradle. "This is a pleasant room," he said. "Very comfortable for a study."
"Thank you. I've always thought so." Stewart passed a glass to his guest. "I find that it's usually quite peaceful in here."
Unless your daughter insists on bringing home a suitor you deem unacceptable, Foyle thought as he took a sip.
"Excellent sherry," he said.
"Hopefully with the war over, we'll be able to get better goods."
Foyle murmured noncommittally, grateful only that he hadn't been offered Uncle Aubrey's homemade wine.
"You want to know my intentions about Sam." Might as well lay the cards on the table, Foyle decided.
Reverend Stewart's smile faltered. "Ah. Well, yes, actually."
"I can tell you that I while I haven't yet asked Sam to marry me, I intend to do so tomorrow on Christmas Day. I am employed by the government in a good job and am completely able to support a family. And if Sam wishes to have a family, we will have one. I realize that marriage between and older man and a younger woman is not typical in our society, but neither is it unheard of. I love your daughter, Iain, and she loves me. And I would very much like your blessing."
There was no sound in the room other than the ticking of a clock. Iain Stewart blinked, momentarily at a loss for words. He whipped off his glasses to polish them – a delaying tactic if ever there was one, Christopher thought.
"Well," he said finally. "I suppose that answers whatever questions I had."
"Yes, of course. But I still worry. I worry that Sam is haring off on some pipe dream. What if you wake up one morning and discover that she no longer finds you quite so fascinating?"
Foyle lifted an eyebrow. "You think she doesn't know her own mind?"
"Oh, I think she thinks she knows what she wants, but it's not necessarily always what's best for her."
Christopher bit off the angry words that had suddenly marched to the tip of his tongue. Nothing good could come of a sharp retort at this point.
"With all due respect, Iain, Samantha is a grown woman who seems to know exactly what she wants. I've never known her to be flighty or irresponsible." Usually, he failed to add, pushing away the memory of Sam hiding a miserable Andrew-gone-AWOL. Avoiding the recollection of a brash Sam nearly being blown up in order to retrieve evidence. "At this stage in her life, she is probably more aware of what's best for her than you are."
"Possibly," Reverend Stewart sighed.
"Would you be any less concerned with Sam's choice if I was twenty years younger?"
The vicar grimaced. "I wish I could say the age issue isn't a problem for me, Christopher. But I worry about my daughter's future."
Foyle chewed briefly on the inside of one cheek for a long moment.
"So you're saying that you won't give me your blessing."
"No, I didn't say that. I'm quite aware that, as you say, Sam is a grown woman, and if she chooses to marry you, she will with or without my consent. I just need to give the matter a bit more thought. And prayer," the vicar added. "Meanwhile, I have the Christmas Tea to get through."
Before the guests arrived, Foyle tried to be helpful in the kitchen while Mrs. Stewart and Sam finished food preparations. Eleanor Stewart engaged him in pleasant small talk, but there was clearly a wall there, a barrier which Christopher could sense as clearly as if it had been made of bricks and mortar. He was certain that if pressed, Mrs. Stewart would tell him in no uncertain terms that she would much rather her daughter leave him behind for greener – and younger – pastures. And from the expression on Sam's face and the tension he could see in her shoulders, he knew that she felt it as well.
At four o'clock, the vicarage began to fill with people. It seemed to Foyle that the entirety of Lyminster, and possibly beyond, was determined to show up for Christmas Tea. The Stewarts had gone all out to provide a nice spread of food, despite the continued rationing and ongoing shortages. He had a suspicion that in Lyminster, this was probably considered the social event of the year.
Sam introduced him to some of the parishioners who had known her for years; she would have spent the afternoon at his side, save for her mother's determination to keep her busy refilling the trays of food. At least, Foyle thought, when Sam introduced him to someone, she clutched his arm to her in a possessive way which left little doubt of the bond they shared. Her parents, on the other hand, introduced him variously as 'a friend of Sam's', 'a friend from Hastings', and once as 'Sam's old boss'. Christopher wouldn't have been surprised to hear the word 'old' emphasized. Eventually, the Stewarts decided that he could fend for himself in the social world of Lyminster, and left him to his own devices. He staked out a corner of the sofa and settled in to observe the visitors.
Mrs. Stewart's voice caught Foyle's attention. She had latched onto a young blond man, and now she waved her daughter over from where she stood, cornered by an elderly woman whom Christopher vaguely recalled meeting earlier.
"Yes, Mum?" Initially, Sam seemed relieved to leave the conversation with the old woman behind. When she saw the man standing next to her mother, a look of resignation crossed her face.
"Do you remember Douglas March? He was a year behind you in school, I believe. Weren't we just talking about him the other day?"
"Hullo, Sam." The man smiled shyly at her, his cheeks pink.
Sam's answering smile, Foyle noted, was forced.
"Douglas," she said coolly, holding out her hand to him. "Nice to see you again. What have you been up to?"
"Well, I've been working at my uncle's farm. The army wouldn't have me – flat feet, you know."
"Any young women in your life yet, Douglas?" Mrs. Stewart asked in an innocent tone of voice.
"Well, no. I had a girlfriend, but she went off to be a WAAF and I haven't seen her in two years. I think maybe she didn't want to come back to live here after the war."
"Can't imagine why," Sam said curtly. "Rather nothing much to do here, is there?"
"Sam," Mrs. Stewart continued as if she hadn't heard her daughter's comment, "the punch bowl simply must be refilled. Why don't you and Douglas bring more punch in from the kitchen? You know how heavy that jug is. I'm sure the two of you can handle it."
Sam's expression turned murderous; Foyle was certain that Douglas March was about to get a very cold shoulder in the kitchen. They returned moments later, March toting a large stone crock. He poured the contents into the punchbowl. Sam wrested the crock from him and started to return it to the kitchen. When Douglas tried to follow, Foyle saw Sam put up a warning hand and shake her head vigorously.
"Christopher." Reverend Stewart loomed over him, a middle-aged man in tow. "Has anyone introduced you to my choirmaster? This is Peter Coverdale. Peter, this is an acquaintance of Sam's from Hastings: Christopher Foyle."
He'd been demoted to an acquaintance? Need to do something about that now, Foyle thought grimly as he stood to shake hands with the man. "Mr. Coverdale, I'm looking forward to hearing your work at the midnight service."
"Do you enjoy liturgical music, Mr. Foyle?"
Christopher opened his mouth to speak, but the choirmaster had already launched into a description of the music he'd planned for the evening. He waited impatiently, barely listening to the man's comments, until he was able to put a polite end to the conversation. When Foyle looked about for Sam, she was nowhere in sight. He slipped into the kitchen and found her staring out the window, arms crossed in front of her tightly, tapping a nervous toe on the floor.
"Sam? Are you all right?" he wanted to know.
"Just ducky," she muttered darkly.
"I need to talk with you. Wait here for me?"
Her expression turned curious. "Where are you going?"
"To my room for a moment. I'll be right back." Foyle maneuvered through the crowd, then headed upstairs to search in his suitcase for the small box he had secreted there.
When he returned, Sam was still in the same position as when he had left. Foyle glanced around the room, spotted the pantry door ajar, and took her by the arm.
Sam looked totally perplexed, but followed anyway. "The pantry? Why?"
"Why? Because you're on the verge of committing murder, and I'm tired of being introduced as 'an acquaintance from Hastings'," Foyle said, hunting about for the light switch.
"Here," she said, tugging on a pull string to a single light bulb mounted on the ceiling. The closet flooded with light.
"Better." The pantry was tiny, but he pulled the door closed anyway.
Fumbled in his pocket, withdrew the velvet box.
And dropped to one knee.
And opened the box.
Her hands flew to her mouth. Sam gasped with the realization of what Foyle was about to do.
"Sam. Dearest Sam… We may have been 'courting' for barely more than a month, but we've known each other far longer. Would you do me the honor or becoming my wife?" Foyle felt a profound sense of relief that the words were out. For days he'd speculated, debated, practiced, and wondered how best, when best to propose. Perhaps spontaneity was not as perilous as he'd thought.
"Oh, goodness, yes!" Sam's eyes welled up immediately.
"I had intended to ask you tomorrow," Foyle said, removing the ring from the box and slipping it onto the fourth finger of Sam's trembling left hand, "but circumstances suggested that I should do it now."
"Thank God!" She was half-laughing, half-crying. "I don't think I could have stood another minute out there! Oh, Christopher!"
Christopher climbed to his feet – had to put a hand on a shelf to steady himself to do so – and drew Samantha into his arms for what she would have considered a proper kiss.
"Come on," he said finally, when the two of them were able to breathe again. "We're going for a walk."
Sam's eyes grew round. "Now? In the middle of the Christmas Tea?"
"Yes, in the middle of the Christmas Tea. I want to spend time with you, not all of Lyminster, and the pantry is a bloody inconvenient place to do it."