Here, then, is the end!
They walked side by side in continuing silence, up Castle Hill to the old ruins, Sam fidgeting in apprehension. The breeze was stronger there, bearing with it the scent of salt and seaweed.
Foyle touched the first bit of wall he reached gingerly. These ruins had always instilled in him a strange sort of peace, but what he felt now was more akin to humility. He led Sam to his preferred spot, a bench that overlooked the sea, and they sat down. For a few moments he tried to gather his thoughts, unsure of where to start. His hand swept up to snatch the trilby from his head, and he bit the inside of his cheek.
Sam, still fidgeting, had waited long enough. She was certain she knew why he'd brought her here: to talk about her transfer request, and somehow it seemed better to broach the subject herself than wait for him to tell her how let-down he felt.
"I know you must be terribly disappointed in me, sir," she said, looking down at her hands; it took no small measure of willpower to keep herself from wringing them.
"Disappointed? No. I'm not disappointed, Sam. I'm… a little bewildered, I must say." He worked the brim of his hat with his fingers, unable to keep still in his own right.
"I wish I could explain, sir, but…" she trailed off despondently. Foyle took a deep breath, plunging into what he knew must be said.
"No, Sam. I'm the one who owes you an explanation. The lady I had lunch with today was Alice Howard. She's married to Commander Charles Howard, my late wife's brother. Mrs Howard is in Hastings visiting old school friends, and I invited her to lunch; and while I did place a ring on her finger, it wasn't an engagement ring and certainly not a gift from me. Mrs Howard's mother died recently, and the ring is an heirloom that she hasn't had time to have resized yet; it dropped from her finger and I merely obliged by putting it back there."
"Oh. OH," Sam said, feeling suitably foolish for reacting so passionately to a rumour – the least she could have done was check the facts. Hold on though – she had! She'd asked him!
"But – sir! You told me yourself that you were happy with today's events! You agreed that I should congratulate you!"
"I thought you were talking about the case," he explained regretfully.
"No!" Sam exclaimed.
"I'm sorry, Sam. If I hadn't been so distracted, I would have realised you wouldn't suggest taking the day off just because we closed a case. And after you left the office, Milner was good enough to share something with me..."
"Oh, no," Sam said unhappily, knowing without doubt what it was that Milner had told their boss. "I'm dreadfully sorry if I've embarrassed you, sir. Really, we can just forget about this; I promise I won't make things difficult for you."
"Things are already difficult, Sam."
"I will leave if you want me to."
"No, Sam. I don't want you to transfer; I want to set light to that request. And I can't just forget about this, either. If I were a younger, better man… " He was biting his lip hard, and his eyes were full of pain and longing.
"Yes sir?" she prompted when he didn't continue.
"I would ask you to have dinner with me. I'd ask you for your permission to… court you."
"Really sir?" Sam turned large, doe-like eyes to him.
"Yes." He drew the word out. "If I were twenty-five years younger. But I'm not."
"I know your age. It makes absolutely no difference to me." Her voice was a whisper, and her eyes were earnest.
"Sam. Dear Sam… I… For the first time in a long time, I'm completely at a loss. I scarcely dare to believe you. It seems too fantastic that you should want… this. Me," he said, clearly flustered and insecure.
Sam smiled a little, touched by his admission. "What is so unbelievable about my love for you?" It was the first time either of them had spoken the word, and for a moment it was suspended, glowing, between them.
Then Foyle waved his abused trilby about vaguely and said awkwardly, "Um… well, I mean, Mr Farnetti… Andrew... they're fine-looking, courageous young soldiers… your own age."
Sam sighed and lifted a hand to his cheek. His eyes widened momentarily at the touch, but she softly stroked his skin with her thumb as she said, "Yes, both Joe and Andrew are very nice young men. Brave and sweet. But I don't look forward to seeing them every day, as I do you. I don't feel my heartbeat speed up every time I'm about to see them, and I don't dream about them when I'm alone..." She stopped short, blushing as she realised what she'd just revealed. His eyes were even wider now. She suppressed a giggle. "Besides, I told you I don't care about your age. And… frankly, I find you far more attractive. I mean, objectively I suppose Andrew and Joe are very good-looking men, but…"
"But they've never made me quiver with just a look. They've never made me want to bury myself in their arms, breathe their scent, and never resurface."
"Oh." He looked stunned. "You… you felt like that?"
"Will you believe me if I...?" Sam leaned in and kissed her boss gently on the cheek, just at the edge of his lips. She could feel him holding his breath, sitting stock-still. As she pulled away from him slowly, he fixed his eyes on her, their blue depths darkening; he shook his head slowly and deliberately, still waiting to see what she would do.
Sam smiled widely and leaned in again, letting her lips meet his fully this time. His lips softened under hers as he accepted her kiss. They were already sitting closely together, but Foyle pulled her nearer, putting his arms around her as he deepened the kiss. The taste of him, the scent of him, and the feeling of his strong arms around her thrilled her, and her heart beat so wildly in her chest, she thought she might not survive it.
When they broke apart, she kept her hands on his chest, revelling in the rapid beat of his pulse under her fingers.
"I love you," she said calmly.
"I adore you," he said hoarsely, claiming her lips again. The kiss was brief but intense. When he broke away from her, he looked fixedly at her.
"I cherish you," he said, kissing her lips lightly. "I treasure you." A kiss to the side of her neck. "I worship you." A kiss to the other side. He looked up then, waiting until she opened her own eyes before confiding earnestly, "You amaze and disarm me."
"Do you really mean it?"
"Mean it?! Sam!" He rubbed a hand across his face. "Sam, I'd like to court you. I'd like to spend my free time with you and get to know you even better than I already do. Eventually, I would like to make you my wife."
"Christopher!" Sam practically huffed. His lip quirked at one corner at the sound of his first name on her lips. "We've been together every day for two years; I'd say you already know me better than anyone."
"Yes, well, I wasn't waiting on my own account. I didn't want to… Until today, I didn't even know… I didn't want to presume… and frighten you."
"Oh. Well then, for future reference… nothing would make me happier than to be your wife."
Her words, and the sweet smile with which they were spoken made Foyle's heart constrict with joy, and his normally sturdy insides melted into a helpless puddle.
"Well," he smiled crookedly, riding out the unusual sensation. "If that's how you really feel, I might as well ask you now…" He shot her a glance to gauge her reaction; nothing about her suggested that she was startled or unhappy, so he continued, taking her hands in his, "Will you, Sam? Marry me?"
"Absolutely," she replied, leaning in to kiss him. The kiss they shared was close-mouthed and sweet, Foyle's hands moving to caress her waist, while hers came to rest on his lapels.
Their drive back to the station was a significant improvement on the tense drive out; though similarly quiet, both occupants of the Wolseley wore brilliant smiles. Sam had to keep her eyes on the road, but she could feel his constant gaze upon her and she often glanced across to meet his warm, blue eyes. His loving look made her catch her breath.
Suddenly, an exasperated groan escaped the man in the passenger seat, and Sam glanced over again, somewhat alarmed. "Anything wrong?"
"Not as such," he winced. "Except that…um... when I was looking for you earlier, I told Constable Davis off for gossiping. Told him I was certainly not getting married."
"Oh, dear," Sam giggled as they pulled up next to the station. "And now you'll have to contradict yourself."
Instead of stepping out at the front door as he normally did, Foyle stayed in the car, and Sam, grinning broadly, drove around the building and parked the Wolseley.
"You're in for it now," she beamed.
"Yep. Shall we face the music?" He raised an eyebrow, his eyes twinkling at her. She nodded.
They got out of the car, but as Foyle began to move towards the station, Sam stopped him with a hand on his arm. She looked at him intently.
"We don't have to tell them, you know," she said.
"Right." He readjusted his hat with exaggerated care.
They walked into the station side by side, closer than usual, but with no other outward signs of what had occurred between them. A purposeful Foyle sought out Constable Davis, who still looked suitably abashed, and told him evenly, "Mr Davis, whilst I still do not appreciate my personal life being the butt of gossip, I must retract my earlier statement about not getting married." He ended this statement with a brief nod to the bemused young man, and as he walked off towards his office he grasped Sam's hand, entwining their fingers.
"Milner! Could I see you in my office, please?" he called out as they passed the younger detective's door. Sam turned questioning eyes to him, but didn't comment until they'd entered Foyle's office, leaving the door slightly ajar.
"We're telling Paul?"
"Well, I should thank him," Foyle said, his lips curving into a smile.
"I should be cross with him for betraying my confidence, but I'm far too happy that he did," Sam announced, her smile showing that she wasn't angry at all; that she understood only too well why her colleague and friend had 'betrayed her confidence' – and that she was grateful for it.
"Happy, hm?" he mumbled, pulling her closer, a hopeful look on his face.
"Utterly," she grinned, pressing her lips against his briefly. A knock on the door made them pull away from each other. Milner entered cautiously, but the unreadable expression on his stoic face softened as he took in their stance; close, intimate; and the happiness that radiated from them both was unmistakeable.
"Paul," Foyle began, and the sergeant's eyebrows jumped upwards at the use of his Christian name. "We, um… we've something to tell you."
The look which passed between Foyle and Sam, coupled with the fact that his boss was consciously using the pronoun 'we', told Milner all he needed to know.
"You've sorted things out, then?" he asked, his delight showing in the smile he beamed at them as Sam nodded shyly, ducking her head, and Foyle answered simply, 'yes'.
"I've asked Sam to marry me, and she has accepted," Foyle informed his sergeant, gratified that the news of their speedy courtship didn't seem to shock him.
"Congratulations to you both," Paul smiled, reaching out to grasp Foyle's right hand. Sam hugged him, shyly at first, then tightly, murmuring a quiet, 'thank you' in his ear before she pulled away.
He gazed at her fondly and leaned in to kiss her cheek. "I'm assuming Sam isn't transferring?"
With an air of determination, Sam walked to Foyle's desk and picked up the somewhat crumpled piece of paper she had handed him earlier that day. Holding it up for all to see, she tore it in two and then four with a satisfying ripping noise. Then she returned to Foyle's side, reclaiming his hand.
"Not a chance," she grinned.