a continuation of "Her Name is Sara" and "Southern Comfort" and "All You Need is Love"
Disclaimer: All characters belong to Alliance.
Two hours had passed. Fraser sat in the corner and stared into nothing as big tears slowly streamed down his face. Mrs. Vecchio, Francesca and Maria sat quietly as Ray paced the floor. Father Behan and Sara's preacher, Mark Simoneau prayed together in the far corner of the room. The door of the small waiting room flung open and a petite kind looking nurse came in.
Ray rushed towards her, "Any word?" Fraser was immediately by his side. His eyes pleading for some good news.
"I'm Nurse Tikkanen. The surgery is going well so far. She has some damage to her intestines and kidney. The surgery is expected to last another three hours. Then Miss Montgomery will be taken to recovery. After the surgery is complete, Dr. O'Neill will be out to talk with you." She smiled sweetly and hurried out of the room. Fraser stood and stared at the door. Ray turned and put a comforting hand on his shoulder.
"I can't lose her, Ray. I can't lose her." He could barely speak through his tears.
Francesca had never seen Fraser so emotional before. It ripped her heart out to see him like this. She wanted to go to him and wrap her arms around him and comfort him. She knew that would not be wise. The way she treated Sara at their home. She figured Fraser would turn on her and demand that she leave. She sat quietly next to Maria and prayed.
Another hour and a half had passed, the door to the waiting room swung open once again.
Jack Montgomery's normally tanned skinned was pale and sullen. Jacky and Debi had a look of panic on their faces. Ray greeted them and filled them in on Sara's condition. Debi cried softly as Ray explained her injuries. Jack Montgomery wiped a hand over his tear-streaked face and sat down next to Ben. Ben couldn't look at Sara's father without breaking down in tearful apologies. Debi clung to Ray. Jacky sat in the far corner alone.
"Ben, Lt. Welsh told me what happened. It's not your fault, Son. It's not your fault." Mr. Montgomery rubbed a fatherly hand over Ben's shoulder. Ben could only sit and stare. Nothing could comfort him until Sara was safe and back in his arms.
An attractive woman in surgical scrubs walked slowly through the waiting room door. Sweat had soaked through her green scrub shirt. She pulled the mask away from her neck as she greeted Mr. Montgomery and Fraser.
"I'm Dr. Natalie O'Neill. I'm the surgeon that operated on Sara." Before she could get another word out of her mouth, Ben interrupted. "Is she okay? Is Sara going to be all right?" Ray could see that the normally composed Mountie's emotions were raw and on edge. He rose to offer support to his friend. Mr. Montgomery placed a hand on Ben's shoulder.
"She's in recovery now. The bullet passed through her left side and exited through her back. Thankfully, it didn't cause as much damage as we had originally thought. We've repaired the tear in her intestines and the minor damage to her kidneys. It's still touch and go right now. She's in recovery and we are waiting for her to regain consciousness."
"Can we see her?" Ben stepped closer to Dr. O'Neill.
"Only family can see her now." Ben's anger was immediate.
"I have to see her." Ray had never seen Ben so upset and rude. Francesca and Maria sat in shock.
"I'm sorry. For now, only Mr. Montgomery and her brother are allowed in to see her."
"But, I - " Ben's face was red with rage and hurt. Before he could say anymore, Mrs. Vecchio grabbed him by the arm. In his fury, he turned and glared at her. Seeing her loving face, he collapsed in her arms in a deluge of tears.
Jacky followed Dr. O'Neill through the waiting room door. Mr. Montgomery motioned for them to wait a moment while he spoke to Ray.
"Take Ben home. Get him cleaned up and pack him some clothes. When y'all get back, I'll make sure he's allowed in to see her. If he goes up now, I know he won't leave."
Ray looked at Sara's father, "Thank you. We shouldn't be more than an hour. I'll take Debi with us." Mr. Montgomery patted Ray gently on the shoulder and proceeded down the hall with Jacky and Dr. O'Neill.
Ray had to physically take Fraser by the arm and remove him from the waiting room. He only submitted after Mrs. Vecchio stated that if he didn't go home and wash Sara's blood off his clothes he wouldn't be allowed in to see her. As they were leaving a tall gentleman walked into the waiting room and over to Reverend Simoneau. Ray heard him being introduced to everyone as Jerry Mayo. Ray noticed that Fraser openly glared at the man. *Geez, Benny. If looks could kill. Who is that guy and why do you obviously hate him? *
To Fraser, the ride to his apartment seemed to be in slow motion. He stared out the passenger side window. Debi rested her head on the backseat. She thought to herself, "I've never been to Chicago before. So far, it sucks." All that could be heard was the sound of the engine and a sniff or two from Fraser's tears. Ray had never seen him so distraught. He removed one hand from the wheel and placed it on Ben's shoulder. He barely whispered, "She's going to be all right, Benny." Fraser didn't need to respond. Ray knew how he felt.
Fraser hurried upstairs to take a shower. Ray and Debi followed closely behind. Ray took Fraser's stained uniform and put it in a bag in the trunk of the Riv while Dief was stretching his legs. Debi started getting some fresh clothes out of his closet. By the time Fraser had showered and dressed. Ray and Debi had an overnight bag packed and waiting. In less than 30 minutes they were on their way back to the hospital.
Fraser, Ray and Debi walked in silence to the waiting room. Francesca and Maria had left. Mrs. Vecchio, Meg and Craig Parker sat in a corner chatting softly. Debi took a seat next to Mr. Parker and introduced herself.
Mrs. Vecchio stood and spoke in Italian to her son.
"What floor, Ma?"
"Four." He gave her a small peck on the check and grabbed Fraser by the arm.
"C'mon. We're going upstairs." Fraser was in no mood to argue and followed.
They exited the elevator on the fourth floor and walked over to the nurse's station.
"Excuse me, Ma'am. We would like to see Sara Montgomery, please. What room is she in?" Ray spoke softly. The nurse looked down at her charts for a moment and then turned a saddened gaze toward Ray.
"She's in the ICU. I'm sorry but only family is allowed to see her right now." Ray could see the emotions building in Fraser.
"I'm Detective Ray Vecchio and this is Constable Benton Fraser. Could you please go get Mr. Montgomery for us?" Ray tried to maintain his composure for Fraser's sake.
The nurse looked at her chart once again and gave a small reassuring smile.
"Ah, yes. I have already spoken to Mr. Montgomery. There is a notation in her chart. If I'm not on duty and anyone else asks you, you tell them to look at her chart and you won't have anymore trouble. There is also another name noted here. Debi Johnson. If she's here, please send her to me. I'm Nurse Lys. Mrs. Montgomery is in room 423. Down the hall and to your right." Before she could finish her directions, Fraser spoke softly, "Call her Sara."
Ray smiled and choked back the tears that were welling to the surface.
"Please, her name is Sara." Fraser's face was controlled but weary with emotion. Nurse Lys smiled a warm and caring smile.
"I'll come and check on Sara in a bit. Her father and brother are with her now."
Fraser walked quickly to her room. Ray watched his friends distinctive gait as he made his way through the halls of the hospital. Ray's heart went out to Fraser as he stopped just short of her room.
"Benny, are you okay?"
"I'm afraid of what I might see." Fraser's face was even more pale than usual and his eyes were red with tears.
"She's going to be fine, Benny. She needs you right now. Just be with her."
"I don't know if I can handle seeing her like this. I'll just get everyone else upset."
"Fraser, stop worrying about everyone else and focus on Sara. If you feel the need to get upset, then get upset. It's how you feel. There's nothing wrong with that. I'm right here if you need me. I'll be right here." Ray placed his hand on Fraser's back and guided him through the door. Ray had seen Fraser in the hospital on more than one occasion so he thought he would be prepared for what he saw. It took everything he had to maintain his composure for Fraser. Fraser could not.
Mr. Montgomery was standing by the side of her bed. Jacky was sitting in the corner of the room. Slow, silent tears slid down his cheeks. Sara was still unconscious. She was extremely pale and dark circles had formed under her eyes. The respirator and IV tubes snaked across her chest. Fraser took a deep breath and fought back the urge to vomit. He looked at Ray for support. Ray tightened his grip on his shoulder.
Mr. Montgomery brushed the hair back from Sara's face. "Dr. O'Neill said they will take her off the respirator tomorrow when she wakes up. They are trying to fight off any infection that may set in." He never took his eyes off Sara's face. He seemed calm and loving in his words. "She's going to be fine, Ben. She's going to be fine." It was more of a statement of fact than a reassuring hope. Fraser took comfort from his tone.
"I'm going to go down stairs and get Debi. Fraser, are you going to be okay." Ray could tell Fraser was using all the energy he had to keep in control. Fraser could only manage a small nod. Ray pulled a chair from across the room and pushed Fraser in to it.
The rest of the evening was spent by Sara's bedside. Most was spent in silence. The only noise was the rhythmic sound of the machines. Nurses came and went. Fraser and Mr. Montgomery refused to leave her side. It was almost 2:30 in the morning when Ray offered to drive them all home.
"Mr. Montgomery, have you made arrangements for a hotel room?" Without a word, Fraser reached into his pocket and pulled out a key. He handed it to Ray. Without a word, Ray understood Fraser's gesture.
"Mr. Montgomery, I'll drive you to Sara's. You really need to get some sleep." Her father looked exhausted. He reluctantly gave in. He knew that wearing himself down would not do Sara any good. That was a lesson he learned long ago with Sara's mother.
On their way out, Mr. Montgomery and Debi stopped to touch Sara's hand and to speak softly in her ear.
Jacky stood and walked over to her bed. He gently took her hand in his. He leaned down and kissed her on the forehead. "You can't leave me. You promised, remember."
He placed a hand on Ben's shoulder as he left.
"You coming, Benny?"
"Fraser, you need to get some sleep. You can't stay here all night."
"I'm not leaving her."
"Fraser - " Before Ray could finish, he was cut off with the darkest look he had ever seen cross Fraser's face.
"I'm not leaving her. Take Mr. Montgomery, Jacky and Debi to Sara's apartment. The extra sheets are in the hall closet. Ernie can help them with anything else they need."
Ray knew there was no sense in arguing. He patted Ben's arm and walked Sara's family to the Riv.
Ben was finally alone with Sara. He pulled his chair closer to her and repositioned her hand in his. He gently stroked her cheek and began to talk to her in a low soothing tone.
"I'm so sorry, Sara. I should have noticed the clerk. I should have been more aware of what was happening." His voice caught with emotion. The beeping of the heart monitor kept a constant rhythm. "You have to wake up Sara. You can't leave me. I've never had a love like yours before. I can't lose that, Sara. I can't. Please, don't leave me. I can't live without you here with me. I love you. I love you more than I think you will ever know."
He spoke to Sara for more than two hours when his body lost its battle with sleep. He woke to find himself still sitting by her side clinging to her hand.
He gently stroked her hair and began to sing.
Ray and Debi were walking down the hall. Mr. Montgomery and Jacky were speaking with Dr. O'Neill. The door to Sara's room had been propped open and a nurse stood just outside her door. As they drew closer, Ray heard a familiar voice. The nurse looked up with a soulful look. "He's been singing to her for three hours. The other patients have asked to have their doors opened so they can hear him. I've never heard someone sing with such feeling and love in their voice." Debi recognized the song immediately. She fought back the tears once again. Ray put a comforting arm around her. They stood in the hall, holding one another, listening to Fraser sing his love for Sara.
When the rain is blowing in your face
And the whole world is on your case
I would offer you a warm embrace
To make you feel my love
Mr. Montgomery, Jacky and Dr. O'Neill walked down the corridor toward Sara's room. Jacky's eyes met Debi's. He could see the emotions on her face. Then he heard Fraser singing.
When the evening shadows and the stars appear
And there is no one there to dry your tears
I could hold you for a million years
To make you feel my love
Mr. Montgomery leaned against the wall outside Sara's room. Tears streaming down his face. "How long has he been here?"
Dr. O'Neill answered in a whisper, "He never left."
I know you haven't made your mind up yet
But I would never do you wrong
I've known it from the moment that we met
No doubt in my mind where you belong
Ray leaned down and whispered to Debi, "What's he singing?"
I'd go hungry, I'd go black and blue
I'd go crawling down the avenue
There's nothing that I wouldn't do
To make you feel my love
Through her silent sobbing she managed to speak, "It's Sara's favorite song. It's a Bob Dylan song. 'Make You Feel My Love'."
The storms are raging on the rollin' sea
And on the highway of regret
The winds of change are blowing wild and free
You ain't seen nothing like me yet
The daily noise and frenzy of the hospital stilled as the sound of Fraser's voice floated through the halls.
I could make you happy, make your dreams come true
Nothing that I wouldn't do
Go to the ends of the earth for you
To make you feel my love
Fraser didn't hear the others come in. He jolted at the weight of a hand on his shoulder. Mr. Montgomery smiled down at him. "How's our girl?"
Dr. O'Neill meticulously and methodically removed the respirator from Sara. She spoke softly as she worked.
"We are removing the respirator. Sara should be breathing fine on her own. When we found out the circumstances of how she was shot - " She noticed the terrified and confused look on Jacky's face. "I believe she and Constable Fraser were buying cold medicine because Sara was sick. That being the case we didn't want to take any chances with her system being compromised. We're going to slowly back off of her medication. I expect her to start coming around in a couple of hours. When she wakes up, she's going to be disoriented and in a little pain. Her throat will be sore from the breathing tubes and she may have a headache and nausea from the anesthesia. Let me know as soon as she wakes up." She smiled at the expectant faces in the room. She patted Mr. Montgomery on the arm and left the room. Ray followed behind her.
"Is she really going to be okay?" Ray looked her straight in the eye looking for any shred of doubt.
"She should recover fully. It's going to be difficult at first. There will be some pain. That should ease in time. In two or three months, she will be as good as new. Except for the scars." She smiled a reassuring smile.
"Thanks, Doc. When do you think she could go home?"
"If everything is going well, and no complications arise, two weeks."
"Thanks, Doc. That's great." He shook her hand and beamed at the good news. He returned to Sara's room to tell Fraser and her family.
The tensioned seemed to ease once Ray had told them Dr. O'Neill's news. Now they just waited. Fraser kept a constant vigil by Sara's side. Mr. Montgomery sat and stared blankly out the window. Ray, Debi and Jacky half-heartedly played a game of cards.
Ben sat holding Sara's hand. He was softly whispering an Inuit story to her. Ray looked over at his friend. He silently prayed that everything would be okay.
"You see, the Inuit can survive the cold and brutal winters by doing this. It is quiet common in the territories. The weather here is very different. The weather where you are from is even more so. But if you are ever trapped on an ice flow - "
The room fell into silence. Ben jolted to a standing position over her bed. Mr. Montgomery grabbed Sara's other hand.
"Sara, honey. It's Daddy. Talk to me honey."
"Daddy?" Sara's eyes began to flutter and she was struggling to swallow. Her raspy voice was like music.
Mr. Montgomery leaned in closer to hear what she was saying. Ben squeezed her hand as tears fell from his eyes.
"Daddy, make Ben be quiet."
Ben stood in shock. His fears had been realized. She no longer wanted to be with him. She blamed him. Sara swallowed hard once again and continued, "He's going to make Ray mad." Ray laughed out loud. Fraser looked at him with confusion. Ray leaned over and whispered to Sara, "It's okay, sweetie. I'll let this Inuit tale slide, just this once." Ray smacked Fraser on the back. Fraser returned a weak smile.
"Ben." Fraser squeezed her hand again.
"What happened?" Before he could answer her, she drifted back into sleep. Her father looked at him and smiled brightly.
"I think our girl's gonna be okay."
Sara slept peacefully through most of the night. Ray had driven a much happier group back to Sara's apartment that evening. Fraser had refused to leave.
The sun had begun to creep its way through the hospital room as Fraser sat and watched Sara sleep. She shifted slightly and the pain from her side jolted her awake.
"Sara. I'm here." He leaned over and kissed her forehead.
"Ben? Ben, where am I?" She opened her eyes and squinted at the bright lights of the room.
"You're in the hospital, Sara. But everything's going to be fine."
"Why am I in the hospital?" The memories of two nights ago were clouded in her mind and she was struggling to put the pieces together.
"You were shot."
"We went to buy you some cough medicine and we walked in to a robbery."
"Did you get shot, too?" Her voice was small and weak. Her throat was still raw from the tubes used to help her breathe. Ben walked to a small side table and spooned some ice ships in to a cup. He gently fed them to her while he explained what had happened.
"I'm so sorry, Sara. It's entirely my fault. If I had been paying attention, none of this would have happened." She gave him an irritated look.
"Did you shoot me?" Ben was startled.
"Of course not."
"Then how can it be your fault?" Ben knew where this line of conversation was going. He knew that if he said much more, Sara would wind up chastising him.
"I'm sorry. How are you feeling?" He hoped that in her weakened condition she wouldn't have the strength to argue with him.
"I hurt all over." She then focused her eyes on Ben's face. The haze from the medication was slowly beginning to lift. She could see the dark circles under his eyes and from the look of his beard it appeared as if he hadn't shaved in three days.
"How long have you been here?"
Ben shifted nervously. "Why?"
"You look like hell." She smiled a weak smile and squeezed his hand.
"You better not let your father hear you say that."
"He, Jacky and Debi are at your apartment. They should be here soon."
Sara groaned at the thought of her whole family rushing up from South Carolina. She knew that her Daddy would make a huge fuss over her. She felt guilty that they were missing work and school because of her. Ben could see the thoughts across her face.
"They love you, Sara. We've been really worried."
Dr. O'Neill walked briskly into the room. "Good morning. How are you feeling?"
"Terrible." Dr. O'Neill checked Sara's vitals and IV.
"Well, you were shot. That doesn't normally feel good." She smiled sarcastically at Sara.
Sara laughed and then winced in pain. "Damn."
"Sara!" Ben looked at her.
"Ben, I hurt. Please let me cuss if I want to." She looked hopefully at Dr. O'Neill.
"I'll give you something for the pain. It will make you a little groggy, but it's well worth it."
Ben held on to Sara while the medications drifted her back into sleep. He knew what needed to be done next. It was just a matter of time.
The next week, Sara's strength was returning. Ray had convinced Fraser to go home and shower and change each day. But he would only stay away for about an hour. Inspector Thatcher had given him a two-week vacation to be with Sara. Ray stopped in everyday at lunch and then in the evening to sit with Fraser. Sara's dad, Jacky and Debi had made plans to leave at the end of the week. Fraser assured them that if there was the slightest change in her condition that he would inform them all immediately.
Sara had started eating and complaining about the food. Her humor was intact and the color was returning to her face. She tried to hide the pain from Ben and her father. But both knew what she was trying to do.
Ray walked into Sara's hospital room.
"Hey, look who's awake." Sara gave him an ear to ear smile.
"Hey, Ray." Ray bent down to kiss Sara on the cheek. He gave Fraser a sly smile.
"Your girl's looking better and better." Fraser couldn't hold back his laughter. Jacky strolled in carrying a large bouquet of flowers to add to the growing displays around Sara's room.
"Hey, Sis, these are from the Women in the Church back home."
"Wow, I bet those poor little women think that I'm not livin' right. Why else would all this happen?" She gave Jacky a joking look. He grinned from ear to ear.
"The prayer chain probably has a few more links in it now."
Fraser turned a serious look to Jacky. "What time is your flight leaving tomorrow, Jack?"
"We're going to stop by here and check on Sara, then the flight leaves at 2:45."
"Ah. Is your father here?"
"He's at the nurses station talking to Nurse Lys."
Fraser leaned down and kissed Sara on the cheek. "I'll be back in a little while." He turned to Ray and smiled a warm friendly smile. "Watch after her while I'm gone."
Sara gave Ray a look of confusion. Then she turned to Jacky. "What was that all about?"
Fraser's palms were sweating. He could feel the knots forming in his stomach. He took several deep breaths and straightened his shoulders. His head held high, he walked confidently to the nurses' station.
"Yes, Ben." Mr. Montgomery could tell something was going on. He just wasn't quite sure what.
"May I have a word with you, sir? I would like to speak with you regarding Sara."
Mr. Montgomery felt a lump form in his throat. He could feel the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He knew exactly what Ben wanted to talk about. He knew this day would come at some point. He just didn't know when or with whom. He gave Ben a serious look and motioned for the lounge.
Ben shifted nervously in his chair. Mr. Montgomery sat wishing that Sara's mother were by his side.
Ben finally ordered his thoughts and decided he could speak better if he stood. He rose and took one more deep breath and began to plead his case. Mr. Montgomery could feel the tears welling up in his eyes.
There were hugs and tears as Sara's family left. Sara thought it was odd that her Dad actually hugged Ben and Ben seemed to hug back. She passed off Jacky's goofy looks toward her to be just him acting stupid. Ray drove them to the airport while Ben sat with Sara.
"When can I get out of here?"
"When Dr. O'Neill releases you."
"Aack, I hate this."
"Sara, don't be so cranky."
"I'm not being cranky."
"Could have fooled me."
"That wasn't polite at all."
"Shut up." She tried to suppress her smile. Ben knew she was feeling much better. She had been begging to go home for several days now. He smiled a loving smile at her and brushed the hair back from her face.
Ray had the Riv waiting by the front doors of the hospital. Dief stood sentry by the door. Fraser had a firm grip on Sara's wheel chair as he pushed her past the nurse's station. Sara waved furiously as she rolled by. Dr. O'Neill was waiting down stairs near the door.
"Well, it's about time you left."
"I tried not to wear out my welcome."
"You take care of yourself. Listen to Constable Fraser and make sure you change the dressing on that wound."
"Thanks, Nat. I will. I'll call you next week for lunch. My treat."
"You're on. Bye now." Dr. O'Neill walked quickly back to the hospital. Fraser and Dief climbed into the back seat and Ray helped Sara into the car.
Sara settled into the front seat and leaned her head back on the headrest.
"I can't wait to get home. Ray, let's get out of here." Ray started the Riv and turned to Sara. "You got it. Let's roll."
Fraser waited on Sara hand and foot. He was determined to make her recuperation as smooth as possible. Sara realized how lucky she really was.
~~~It had been a month since Sara had been shot. All that was left was a little stiffness, the loss of 10 pounds and a nasty scar on her lower left side. She and Ben had been inseparable from the time she got out of the hospital. Ben only left her to go to work. Even then, He made sure Ernie the doorman went up to check on her while he was gone.
"Hey, Ray. What's up?"
"Do you and Benny have plans for tonight?"
"Not that I know of. We're going shopping for a while this afternoon. But that's all."
"Ma wants you two to come for dinner tonight. She misses you both. She hasn't seen either of you in about three weeks. So, I don't think she's going to take no for an answer."
"In that case, we will be there with bells on."
"Great. See you at 7."
"See you then. Bye."
She hung up the phone as Ben walked in the bedroom.
"Who was that?"
"Ray. We're having dinner at the Vecchio's tonight." Ben quickly schooled his features. He had wanted to spend a quiet evening with Sara. He hoped she wouldn't see the disappointment in his face.
"What time? Are we still going shopping?"
"We don't have to be there until 7. That gives us all day to shop." Ben winced at the sound of that. He knew the mall would be crowded because it was Saturday. He also knew that Sara was a marathon shopper. She had to touch everything.
"I saw that."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Just for that, I think I need a new pair of shoes, too."
Sara emerged from the dressing room in a very tight, very low-cut dress. She was in a smaller size than before the shooting, so all her regular clothes hung on her a bit. She twirled around in front of Fraser.
"So what do you think?"
"Ben. Ben. Benton. Hey, Fraser!" Fraser jolted from his thoughts and looked at her with huge eyes.
"Hey, where were you?"
"I'm right here."
"You might have been here, but you weren't 'here'."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Don't pull that innocent Mountie routine on me Constable! I'm not Ray." Fraser tucked his head and grinned.
"What do you think of the dress?" Fraser looked at the tight leopard print dress Sara had on. He felt the back of his knees begin to sweat.
"It's ah - don't you think that it's a little - well, I mean - you can see most of your - " He tugged at his ear.
"What? Too conservative. Does it look to big?"
Fraser smiled sarcastically, a trait he picked up from Ray, but could only get away with with Sara and replied, "Oh no, You could wear it to church on Sunday."
Sara leaned over and placed her hands on his knees. In the process, she revealed just how low cut the dress actually was.
"I think that's a good idea." Sara knew that Fraser would die if she actually wore a dress like this in public. Sara knew she would die if she wore a dress like this in public. But, it was fun to try on.
"Let's go look at shoes." Fraser feigned excitement. She exited the changing room in her everyday clothes. She handed the dress to Fraser to put back on the rack. *There, serves you right.* Fraser watched her walk across the store toward the shoe department. When Sara wore her jeans, her weight loss was evident. Her jeans hung low on her hips and revealed her navel. The long-sleeve white t-shirt she wore was midriff length, so her bare stomach showed. If she stretched to reach something on a high shelf, the scar from the gunshot wound could be seen just above the waistline of her pants. He hoped he would have the courage to get through what he had to do.
"Black or Brown?" Sara stuck her booted foot toward Fraser.
"Ben." She poked him in the ribs.
"Okay, what's going on?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"You've been acting squirrelly all day."
"You heard me."
"I don't think I know what you mean."
"You know what I mean, so stop it." She gave him an aggravated look.
"Stop what? You have compared me to a small, arboreal rodent that forages the ground - "
"Constable." He knew when she called him that, in that tone, he was walking on very thin ice.
"Good choice. I think so too." She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.
Ernie helped Sara and Fraser carry the packages upstairs. She started putting away the new dishes she had bought. She had seen them once before and thought they were beautiful. She couldn't pass them up at 30% off. She pulled out the cream colored dishes. She ran her finger along the smooth gold edges, remembering her mother had a set of dishes like them. They had been broken during a big storm. A tree fell on the corner of the house into the dining room. It scared them all to death, but her mother didn't seem to care about the dishes at all. She just thanked the good Lord that all of them were safe. She smiled at the memory of her mother. Placing the dish on the shelf she caught a look at the clock.
"Ben, we better hurry. It's five-thirty. We both need to shower and change before we go to Ray's." She called to him through the kitchen.
"I'm getting in the shower now."
"Okay. I want to stop and buy Mrs. Vecchio some flowers. She's been so nice to me. I want to let her know how much I appreciate it." She smiled at the sound of the shower running. She hoped he would start singing. He was getting more and more comfortable with Sara. He kept his extra uniform in her closet. Dief took up permanent residence on her couch. He even gave Sara's number to Inspector Thatcher incase he was needed at the consulate. He hoped a shower would calm his nerves. He could feel the knots growing in his stomach. He sighed heavily as the warm water rushed over his back.
He was putting his boots on when Sara started her shower. She was actually done in record time. When pushed she could get completely ready in 15 minutes. She pulled a lightweight sweater over her white t-shirt. Fraser thought she looked beautiful in her new short brown skirt. The olive colored sweater made her eyes look like emeralds. He swallowed hard to dislodge the lump that had formed in his throat.
"You gonna wear a shirt or go primitive on me?"
"Well, c'mon. We're going to be late." Sara pulled on her shoe as she hopped into the den. Ben pulled a clean shirt from the closet. He breathed in deeply.
Sara sat on the edge of the couch transferring the contents of one purse to another.
"Let's go! I thought Mounties were supposed to be punctual!"
Fraser rubbed a thumb across his eyebrow. He could feel the sweat beading on his forehead.
"Constable Fraser! Get a move on. We have got to go!" Sara was getting annoyed. She looked at Dief lounging beside her on the couch. "What is up with him today?" Dief gave her a small whine. "Quit making excuses for him."
"You're going to have to take the blame for being late. Not me. You explain to Mrs. Vecchio why her dinner is cold."
Fraser took one last deep breath and walked into the den.
"It's about time. You ready?"
"Not yet." He swallowed again to try and bring some saliva to his dry mouth.
"Ben, what the matter?"
"Nothings the matter. I just need to - That is to say; I would like to - "Sara looked at him with confusion. Ben knelt down on the floor in front of her. He took her hands in his and looked at her. Sara's heart skipped. She had never seen Ben look at her with so much love. He pulled away one hand and pulled a small leather box from his jacket pocket. Sara's eyes never left his.
"Sara, I have never loved anyone as much as I love you. I can't picture my life without you by my side. If you would do me the honor, will you marry me?"
Sara felt her hands began to tremble. His question was swirling around her mind. She could feel the tears rolling down her cheeks. She flung herself into his arms and sobbed. Fraser clung to her, but Sara could feel the tension in his body. Between her sobs, she asked him, "Ben, what's wrong?"
He choked out, "You haven't answered me, yet." She pulled away from him and looked at him with the biggest smile her face could manage.
"Ben! Yes! Yes, I'll marry you! Yes!" He leapt to his feet and pulled Sara with him. He spun her around and screamed with joy. Dief barked his excitement. Fraser put Sara down and kissed her gently on the lips. He then took the small leather box and opened it to reveal the most beautiful diamond Sara had ever seen. He slipped the oval shaped diamond on her ring finger and then kissed it. She stroked his cheek. Then she gave him a sly smile.
"So that's what all the squirrelly behavior was all about." Fraser laughed. His nerves had finally calmed down and he had never been so happy.
"Benton! Sara! My darlings." Mrs. Vecchio greeted them at the door. Sara made a point to keep her left hand under her coat for a few minutes. She didn't want to just spring the news on them. Benton should be the one to tell them. Besides, she didn't know how they would react.
Ben caught Ray's eye as he was coming into the den. Ray raised his eyebrows and mouthed, "Did you?" Before anyone noticed, Ben nodded his head slightly and smiled. Ray's face broke out into the largest smile. He's mind flashed back to the day before Sara's family left Chicago.
Ray was chatting with Sara when he noticed Fraser ask Jacky something. Then Fraser seemed to pale as he left Sara's hospital room. * I wonder where he's going? *
Jacky and Sara were lost in their conversation so Ray slipped out to find Fraser. He walked to the nurse's station.
"Excuse me, Nurse Lys, have you seen Fraser?"
"He and Mr. Montgomery are in the lounge."
"Thank you." He strolled toward the lounge. He saw Mr. Montgomery sitting facing Fraser. Fraser paced in front of him and motioned wildly with his hands, something Ray was not used to seeing. As he walked closer he began to hear their conversation.
"Mr. Montgomery, I know Sara and I have only known each other for 5 months - What I mean is, even though we have been together - that is to say, we have been in a relationship..." Fraser tugged feverishly at his ear. Mr. Montgomery stared straight ahead.
"Shall I start again?" Fraser sighed heavily and rubbed his thumb over his eyebrow.
*Geez, Benny. What are you so nervous about?* Ray leaned against the wall outside of the lounge so Fraser couldn't see him.
"Sir, I am aware that it is customary to ask the Father's permission for his daughter's hand."
*Jesus Christ! Benny, what the hell are you doing? Are you doing what I think you're doing? *
"Mr. Montgomery, I would like to ask for your daughter's hand in marriage."
Ray heard Fraser heave a heavy sigh after his last statement. You could cut the tension in that room with a knife.
* Well? Aren't you going to say something to him? Geez, don't leave Fraser hanging out there like this. Say something! *
"I know you are probably wondering what type of husband I will make. Well, I assure you that I am skilled in many ways and will be able to provide - "
*Finally! I thought he was going to have to recite 'Constable Fraser's greatest hits.' *
"Ben, I know you will make a good husband. That is not what I need to know. I only need you to tell me one thing."
"Yes, sir, anything."
"Do you love Sara?"
"More than I could have ever imagined."
* Way to go, Benny. Way to go. *
"Make her happy, Son. That's all I'll ever ask of you."
"Thank you, sir."
"Does Sara know of your intentions?"
"No sir. I would like to buy a ring and then wait until the appropriate time to ask her."
"Well, good luck, son. She loves you. I can see it in her eyes."
Ray stood with his head leaned back against the wall grinning from ear to ear. Mr. Montgomery was too emotional to notice him as he left the lounge. Ray turned and made a bee-line straight to Fraser.
"Oh my God! I can't believe you did that!"
"Ray! What are you doing here?"
"I came looking for you. My God, Benny. You're really gonna do it? You're going to ask Sara to marry you?'
"Thank you, Ray."
"Fraser, what's wrong?"
"I think I'm going to be sick, Ray"
"That's just nerves, Benny. It'll pass. I can't believe you did the whole ask-for-the-blessing-thing with her old man."
"Didn't you do the same with Angie's father?"
"Nah, are you kidding? We announced our engagement over dinner. No hassles."
"But, the chivalrous thing to do is to ask for the father's blessing."
"Ray, when you take me home to change tonight, can you take me to Carlisle's Jewelry Store?"
"Sure, Benny. Do you know what type of diamond she wants or are you going to pick something out yourself?"
"It's a surprise, Ray. I will have to pick something out."
"No problem. I'm an expert at fine jewelry. You just let me handle it."
"What's the matter?"
"I'm feeling sick again."
"Here, tuck your head between your knees."
* Well, we're all seated. I can't eat with just one hand all night. Ben, if you're going to tell them, you better do it now. If I lift my hand and Franny sees this ring without the least bit of warning she's going to choke on her ravioli. * Sara elbowed Ben in the ribs. He looked at her and smiled.
"Ma, I have an announcement to make."
"Shhh! Benton has something he would like to say." Ray put his fork down on his plate and smiled at Sara. Maria and Tony quieted the kids and Francesca looked like she was about to pass out.
"Go ahead, Benton. What would you like to tell us?" Benton stood and cleared his throat. He placed his hand on Sara's shoulder.
"Ma, tonight, I asked Sara to be my wife." The various screams that followed could be heard for four blocks. Mrs. Vecchio and Maria screamed with delight. Francesca's scream on the other hand, was much different. Ray shot her an evil look. She lowered her head and tried her best to plaster a smile on her face. Mrs. Vecchio leapt from her chair and engulfed Fraser in a hug. Then she turned her affections toward Sara.
"Prediletto, I'm so happy." Tears formed in Mrs. Vecchio's eyes as she hugged Sara.
Maria hugged Benton while Tony shook his hand. Ray nudged Francesca. He wasn't going to let her spoil this for Fraser and Sara.
Sara could see the devastation on Francesca's face. It made her want to cry. She had seen Francesca throw herself so blatantly at Ben, she knew the feelings she had for him. * My God, this must be killing her. * Francesca could feel the knots forming in the pit of her stomach. She had always lead her self to believe that one day Fraser would come to his senses and fall madly in love with her. Now she knew it would never happen. Ray gave her a small smile as she tried to compose herself. He could see her eyes starting to glisten with tears. Sara wanted to run to the nearest sewer and crawl in. * Geez, I feel like a dog. This has to be breaking her heart. To have a bomb dropped on you in your own home for the whole world to see. Then to have to pretend to be happy about it. God, Fran, I'm so sorry. * Everyone was still exchanging hugs and kisses. Francesca summoned all the strength she had and hugged Ben and congratulated him.
"Thank you kindly, Francesca." * Aw, Ben, you talk to her like she just handed you change for a twenty. I'm definitely going to talk to you about this later. * Sara stood as still as she could and still actually breathe. Francesca stood in front of her. For an instant the two women were locked in each other's gaze. Then Francesca leaned in a hugged Sara. Sara knew that this was hard on Francesca. Petty jealousy aside, she could still relate to her pain. She hugged her with every ounce of her being. She whispered in Francesca's ear. "I hope that one day we can be friends." Francesca felt a tear release down her cheek. She knew that the woman in front of her knew exactly what she was feeling. She could see it in her eyes.
Ma looked on and smiled. She knew her Francesca would be fine. She was a Vecchio.
After surviving dinner at the Vecchio's, Ben and Sara were on the drive home.
"Did you really not see how she felt about you?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"What about Francesca?"
"All this time, you really had no clue?"
"I'm not sure what you are talking about." Sara could feel her blood pressure start to rise.
"Francesca! She threw herself at you all the time. Chased you like a hound on a fox. Woman hunter after Mountie prey."
"Yes, Constable." Ben had learned by now that 'Constable' was only used in times of playful intimacy or incredible aggravation. One would have to be an idiot to mistake which way it was being used tonight.
"I just always thought she was - an extrovert." Fraser winced slightly at her reply.
"Are you serious!!!" She looked at him as if he had lobsters crawling from his ears.
"I thought she was just overly friendly."
"I - "
"You knew. You can't sit there and tell me you didn't. You knew and you didn't have the guts to stop it." A smile was spreading over her face. "She scares the hell out of you, doesn't she?" Sara could see Fraser's ears turn red.
"Yes." Sara burst into laughter.
"Well, Benton, my love. I can give you this - you're a smart man. She'd scare the hell out of me, too." Ben tried to suppress his smile, but when Sara poked him in the side, it was pointless. Then Sara's expression changed.
"I did feel bad for her. Did you see the look on her face when you told them?"
"Yes, I saw."
"I thought she would just blow away and die." Fraser couldn't help how Francesca felt. He only knew how he felt toward Sara. Sara reached over and took his hand.
"You do realize that now we have to set a date." The reality of getting married washed over Fraser. He smiled brightly and squeezed her hand.
Sara nearly swallowed her tongue.
"What!?" Fraser could tell that she was not fond of his suggestion.
"Benton Fraser, I will be married in a church. Preferably, my childhood church, with all my friends and family in attendance. That takes some planning! How about June?"
"But, that's four months away!"
"Let's hope it's enough time!"
It was almost two in the morning. Sara listened to Ben's gentle breathing, as she lay awake slowly twisting the ring on her finger. With all the rushing around and excitement this afternoon, it suddenly dawned on her that she had not called her father. She rose quietly out of the bed and went into the den to use the phone. She knew it was nearly three in the morning back home, but her father wouldn't mind.
"Hello." Sara could hear the sleep in her father's voice.
"Sara? What's the matter, honey?"
"Nothing's wrong. I've got some news." She felt the tears welling up in her eyes.
"Daddy, Ben asked me to marry him tonight." Mr. Montgomery laughed a soft and gentle laugh.
"It's about time. I was beginning to wonder about that boy."
"You knew?" Sara settled down on the couch and put the base of the phone on her stomach.
"Of course. You don't think a man like Ben would ask a girl to marry him without getting her father's approval, now do ya?" Sara giggled.
"I guess not. Daddy, I want to get married at home."
"I'm glad. Everyone's going to be so happy."
"Does Jacky know? And Debi?"
"They've been 'bout to bust a gut since we left Chicago."
"Since you left Chicago? He talked to you then?"
"Yeah, he was as nervous as a grown man can get. But he made it through all right. I sure wish your Momma could be here." Sara felt her breath catch.
"Me too, Daddy. I miss Momma, too."
"He's a good man, Sara. I'm real proud of the both of you. Real proud."
"Thanks, Daddy. I love you.
"I love you."
Sara hung up the phone and felt the surge of tears rush from her. She sunk lower into the couch. She heard Dief stirring in the bedroom. He walked over to her and nuzzled her side. She rubbed the scruff of his neck while she cried. She missed her mother so much she could barely breathe.
Fraser felt his own tears as he listened to Sara cry. It was the happiest time in his life, but the sadness of no family to share it with was overwhelming.
Sara was in full wedding mode. She had purchased every bridal magazine known to womankind. She bought an etiquette book and then realized the waste of her money when Fraser could recite most of it. They had finally set a date, June 24. The Vecchio's normally traveled to Florida the last week in June to visit family, so they would just leave a little earlier and spend an extra three days in South Carolina. Mrs. Vecchio broke down in tears when Fraser told her of their choice for the date and the reason why.
Fraser stared out the passenger window of the Riv. A grin crept across his face. Ray was singing rather loudly to the radio.
"I need to ask you something."
"It's about the wedding."
"What about the wedding?" Ray was drumming his thumbs on the steering wheel to the beat of the song. Fraser turned to face him with the biggest smile he could manage.
"I would like for you to be my best man." Ray's face beamed. He slammed on breaks at the stoplight and turned to face Fraser.
"Fraser, it would be an honor."
"Thank you, Ray."
Ray pulled through the light and sang even louder to the radio.
Debi let out the loudest scream known to man. Sara still held the phone away from her ear when Debi started yelling, "Yes! Yes! Yes! Of course, I'll be your Maid of Honor!!"
"Are you sure? If it's too much trouble, I can get Francesca to do it."
"Smart-ass! Oh, Sara. It's going to be beautiful. Have you decided how to decorate the church? Where's the reception going to be? Are you going to have a band? You have to have a band. What color dresses are we going to wear? Not purple. Anything, but purple. Purple makes me look like a big bruise."
"I've got to get all the details worked out. Ben and I have already talked to Preacher West. We've booked the church. He said we could do our pre-marital counseling here in Chicago with either Father Behan or Mark. I haven't decided on a reception yet. I'm thinking the lake. What do you think? Daddy said that he would call about a tent and a dance floor, if we wanted to have it at the lake. The lake house is there for the caterers to use. What do you think? Or should we have it at the church?"
"I vote lake. It's so beautiful out there. You can really do a lot more out there."
"Yeah, I think so too. The ceremony itself is going to be pretty short. Cousin Christie will sing, of course. But, it should only last about twenty minutes. Fraser has asked Ray to be his best man. Constable Turnbull will be a groomsman. I've got you and then my college roommate, Rachel. You remember, Rachel? She's flying in the day before. She's coming in from New York. I just hope I can get everything done."
"Knowing you, you'll have every last detailed checked and double-checked before you leave Chicago. Have you picked out a dress yet?"
"No. But I still have some time to do that."
"You don't have much time. The wedding is only three and a half months away."
"I know. I'm sure I'll find something."
"Let me know!"
"I will. I gotta run. Love Deb-I"
Debi hung up the phone. She wondered why Sara sounded so strange when she asked about her dress. She turned and finished the last of her supper that by now was completely cold.
Sara and Fraser walked arm in arm into the Consulate. Turnbull greeted them at the door. He smiled a broad and warm smile at them.
"Welcome, Constable Fraser and Sara. How are you this fine day?"
"Very well, Turnbull. I have some news I would like to share." Turnbull leaned in with anticipation. Sara braced herself and waited for Fraser to continue.
"Sara and I have become engaged to be married." Sara never knew a grown man could make a sound like that. Turnbull grabbed her by the hands and the two of them bounced in place as Turnbull spewed his congratulations. Sara giggled when she caught the expression on Fraser's face. One of delight and disgust.
"Turnbull, there's more." Turnbull stopped bouncing and turned his full attention to Fraser. "I would like you to stand up for me as one of my groomsman." Sara thought she actually heard the man pop with excitement. His large frame quickly engulfed Fraser's. He hugged him and began to cry.
"Oh, Constable Fraser, it would be my utmost pleasure and honor to stand with you on such an important occasion." Fraser was being hugged so tightly that he felt dizzy from lack of oxygen. He managed to gasp out, "Turnbull - this is - really - unbecoming - of a - Mountie."
Thatcher heard the squeal through her office door. "Dear Lord, what is that man squealing about now?" She didn't get to the end of the hall before Turnbull saw her.
He rushed toward her with his arms waving madly. Inspector Thatcher looked at him with her eyes widening, "What is it, Constable?"
"They are - oh, it's just so wonderful. I'm going to be - oh sir, imagine it. Constable Fraser has graciously asked me to stand up for him. Sara will make a beautiful - " Turnbull had started to sputter and managed to choke himself up with emotion.
"Constable Turnbull, what are you blabbering about?" She looked at him and then to Fraser and Sara who were looking on in amazement. Sara had tears rolling down her cheeks from laughter. Fraser finally spoke up and tried to offer some sense to the situation. "Sir, if I may, what Constable Turnbull is trying to express is Sara and I have become engaged to be married. We were on our way to tell you." Sara could see the color leave her face as Fraser spoke. Thatcher quickly schooled her features. She swallowed hard. "Congratulations, Constable, Sara." She extended her hand and shook Sara's. Turnbull had slipped away and ran to the kitchen. He returned carrying a tray with four glasses and a bottle of sparkling cider. Leave it to Turnbull to have a bottle of sparkling cider on hand for toasts. Turnbull passed out the glasses and looked expectantly at his superior officer to give the toast. She swallowed once again and plastered a smile on her face. Sara could tell she was about to pop a vein.
"To the happy couple." She lifted her glass and smiled at Fraser. Thatcher drained its contents and rolled her eyes as Turnbull wiped his eyes with his handkerchief.
~~~~Sara hung up the phone and leaned her head back on the couch.
"Aaaaghh!" She rubbed her hands through her hair in frustration.
"What's the matter?"
"The florist is trying to yank my chain."
"I beg your pardon?"
"I didn't realize how hard it is to plan a wedding long-distance. I thought I could make a couple calls, order a few things, bing, bang, boom - you've got yourself a wedding. Boy, was I naive."
"Can I help?" Sara gave him a sly smile.
"Sure." Fraser knew that look. He grinned at her and felt the blush creep up his cheeks. He slid in beside her on the couch. He put his arms around her shoulders and pulled her close to him.
"How can I be of assistance to you?"
"Well, you see, Constable. I'm in love and I'm trying to plan a wedding."
"Ah, yes. Go on." Fraser trailed kisses down her neck.
"I seem to be under a lot of stress lately. I was wondering if you knew of any way to relieve it?" She giggled as he licked her earlobe.
"I am an expert in stress relief. Shall I show you?" A small moan escaped her as he nibbled gently on her collarbone. He slid his arms around her waist and guided her backwards onto the couch. In one smooth motion he was on top of her. She inched her hands down his back. Sara tugged at his shirt until she could feel his bare skin. Lifting the shirt over his head she brushed kisses across his stomach and chest. Fraser felt a surge of heat pulsate through his body. He devoured her lips and explored her mouth with is tongue. Sara felt Fraser's hands slide into her jeans. She quickly unbuttoned them and slid them past her hips. Fraser leaned back on his heels and removed her jeans. His eyes sparkled when he realized she wasn't wearing any underwear. Sara smiled as she watched him remove his own. She leaned up and trailed kisses down his stomach, her tongue tracing the outline of his navel. She took his arousal in her hand and gently stroked him. The sound of his breathing quickened. Sara felt the heat rise in her. Fraser gently placed his hands on her shoulders and pushed her back down onto the couch. She opened her legs and tilted her hips to meet him. He slowly entered her. Easing ever so slightly until Sara moaned in pleasure. Pressing his length into her, she screamed his name. He quickened his motion and the two of them moved as one. Fraser slipped an arm under Sara's thigh, then another. Sara obliged his request and brought her knees to her chest. She was rewarded by a cry of pleasure from him. His motioned increased. She could feel herself tighten. Sara could feel her ears start to ring. She dug her hands into his back. He tightened the grip on her thighs. Both were gasping for breath from the release. The sound of her screaming his name still echoed in his ears as they held each other. Fraser rubbed the sweat from her stomach. He let his fingers trace the outline of her scar. He blinked slowly and his eyes met hers.
"I love you." He brushed the tear from her cheek.
"I love you."
She couldn't put it off any longer. She had to find a dress. Her nerves were about as raw as they could get.
"Are you going shopping today?"
"Yes." Sara tried not to snap at him. Fraser could tell she was upset. Fraser had noticed that Sara had been depressed for the past few days.
"Where are you going?"
"Rudolph's Bridal." She transferred the contents of one purse to another.
"Would you like me to go with you?" He smiled brightly at her hoping it would lighten her mood.
"You can't come with me, Ben." She gave him an annoyed look. "We talked about all of the customs and superstitions. You can't see the dress."
"I could merely accompany you to the shop. I could wait outside if you like."
Fraser could see the irritation on her face. He hated to see her like this.
"No. You can't come. I'll be fine by myself." Sara grabbed her purse and threw it over her shoulder. Fraser embraced her in a warm hug. She fought the tears back and gave him her best smile.
"I'll be back in a bit. Love you"
"I love you"
Fraser watched the door of the apartment close behind Sara. He grabbed the phone and called Ray.
Sara made her way down Third Avenue. * I might as well get this over with. I don't know why I have to make this hard. All I have to do is pick out a dress. What's the big deal? Brides do this everyday. * Sara walked briskly down the street. She clutched her purse tightly in absent-minded frustration. She stood in front of Rudolph's large display window looking at the long silk wedding gowns. She heaved a heavy sigh and entered the shop.
An older woman dressed in the strangest shade of pink rushed toward Sara. The woman's perfume arrived before she did.
"Good Afternoon. Welcome to Rudolph's! I'm Yvonne. What can I help you with today?"
Sara braced herself and tried to look as happy as she could. "I'm shopping for a wedding dress." Yvonne's arms rose in delight.
"Wonderful. We have a fitting room available. Will anyone be joining you?" Sara tried to hide the hurt.
"No. I'm shopping alone." Yvonne gave a slightly saddened look. Sara tried her best to ignore it and made her way to the racks of dresses.
"What type of wedding are you planning?"
"The ceremony will be held in a church at 5 in the afternoon. The reception will be outdoors following the ceremony."
"I see. When is the wedding?"
"June 24th." Sara pulled a few of the dresses off the rack.
"Where are you getting married?" Yvonne took it upon herself to hand Sara two more dresses to try on.
"South Carolina." Yvonne smiled and motioned Sara to the private fitting room.
"That just sounds lovely. You slip into one of these and you can then use the three-way mirror here." Yvonne gestured flamboyantly toward the three-way mirror in the corner of the room. The mirror was built on a small stage. Sara looked puzzled at the setup. As if reading her thoughts, Yvonne continued her gesturing and explained to Sara the small step in the center of the stage.
"When you try the dress on, come out here and stand on this small stage. This will show you how the dress will hang and allow you to see the train of the dress."
Sara followed Yvonne into the large changing room. Yvonne hung the various styles of wedding gowns on a large rack in the corner.
"If you need any help, dear. You just let me know. I'll be right outside."
"Thank you, Yvonne."
Sara stood and stared at the rack of wedding dresses. She sighed and rubbed the palm of her hand over her forehead. She could feel the knots forming in her stomach. She had never felt more alone in her life. She slowly took off her clothes and pulled on the first wedding dress. She stood back to look at herself in the small wall mirror. * Why aren't you here? I shouldn't have to do this by myself. * She rubbed her eyes and pushed the tears away from her face. She fluffed the skirt of the dress and pulled at the sleeves. * I don't even know if this looks good or not.* She sighed heavily and spoke aloud to the mirror. "Well, Momma, I sure wish you were here to help me." She turned and grabbed the doorknob of the changing room. "Well, here goes. I wonder if Yvonne will like this one."
Sara felt her chest tighten as she reached for the door of the fitting room. She grabbed a fist full of skirt and maneuvered herself through the doorway. Out if anger, hurt and frustration, Sara yanked at the multitude of dress she had gotten herself into. With all her concentration on the dress that seemed to engulfing her, she didn't notice the small woman standing in front of her until she nearly knocked her down.
"I'm terribly sor..Francesca??" Francesca smiled and yelled over her shoulder.
"Back here, Ma. I found her!" Sara stood in confusion with both arms loaded down with the miles of dress.
"You're not really going to wear something like that are you?" Francesca gave her a disgusted look. For the first time Sara actually looked at the dress she had on. She made an equally disgusted look when she saw the enormous skirt, topped off with sleeves that would bring fear to the heart of any defensive line. Mrs. Vecchio and Maria had made their way to the back of the shop.
"Caro, why didn't you tell us?" Mrs. Vecchio engulfed Sara in a warm hug. Sara could feel the heat rising in her cheeks. She stood back and looked at her in confusion. Mrs. Vecchio smiled a warm and loving smile. She still held Sara by the hand as she began to speak, "Sara, darling, we are Benton's family. That means we are now your family." She rubbed her hand along Sara's cheek. "You won't have to do this alone. Never alone, Sara." Sara couldn't hold the tears back any longer. She felt herself being pulled into a large hug. Francesca looked at Maria. Her heart went out to Sara. Even though Sara was not one of her favorite people for obvious reasons. She couldn't image the pain of being without a mother at a time like this.
Sara's mood was the best it had been in days. Mrs. Vecchio sat in a large armchair and waited for Sara to model another dress. Maria was searching for the best shoes to wear and Francesca had taken up the task of the veil. Yvonne had brought in another selection of gowns that suited Sara's taste more.
Sara stood in front of the small mirror and smoothed the skirt of the gown with her hands. As she looked at her reflection, a smile spread across her face. She slowly opened the fitting room door. Mrs. Vecchio brought her hands to her mouth and inhaled quickly. Francesca and Maria turned at the sound of their mother's excitement. All three women were motionless, as Sara climbed onto the small stage in front of the three-way mirror. She turned an expected look toward them.
"Well?" She rubbed her hands over the front of the skirt. Mrs. Vecchio stood and took both of Sara's hands in hers.
"You are beautiful. This is the dress."
"I think so, too." Sara turned to see her reflection in the mirror. It didn't seem quite real. Standing there, in her wedding gown, was something she thought she would never see. Francesca smiled and brought Sara a veil.
"Here, I think this will go perfect." Sara looked at her with surprise. The veil was simple and classic. A waist length beaded veil attached to a thin white beaded headband. Sara slid the band into her hair. She looked up and sighed. "Perfect." Sara held out her hand to Francesca. As Francesca took her hand, Sara looked her deep in the eyes. "Thank you." She squeezed her hand slightly. Francesca smiled warmly and then changed the subject quickly.
"What type of shoes are you going to wear? Maria has a pair of pumps over there that are gorgeous." Mrs. Vecchio took her handkerchief and wipes the tears from her eyes.
Maria carried Sara's dress out to their car. "We'll keep it at our house. There is no way Benton is going to see this dress."
"Thanks, Maria. I know you'll guard it with your life." The four women giggled as they left the bridal shop. Sara reached into her purse and grabbed a small day planner.
"Three weeks to go. I think I have everything done that I can do here. The rest will have to wait until we get to the farm."
"Have you and Benton decided on a Honeymoon yet?" Sara gave them a sly grin.
"Fraser won't tell me where we're going. He will only tell me that it is somewhere neither of us has been. He said he wanted us to experience something new together."
As the four of them strolled down the street, Sara flipped through her planner.
"I really wish you would let us fly you to South Carolina." Mrs. Vecchio shook her head.
"Nonsense. We always drive to Florida, anyway. Your father doesn't need to spend the money to fly us." Francesca wondered, *I wonder how much money Sara's family has, anyway. They just have some cows or something, right? *
"Well, Daddy has booked your rooms the hotel in Charlotte. It's about twenty minutes from the house."
"Sara, we can take care of our own - "
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Vecchio. Daddy won't take no for an answer. Like you said, you are Benton's family. And Daddy really likes Benton. He wants only the best for his family."
Mrs. Vecchio sighed. Maria and Francesca grinned at the idea of staying in a suite.
Fraser and Sara sat in the middle of the floor. Sara had lists and magazines spread out in front of them.
"Have we done everything?" Fraser looked over the piles in the floor.
"I've lined up the caterer and picked out the menu. The flowers are ordered. The invitations should be at their destinations. You, Ray and Turnbull have been fitted for a tux and the measurements have been sent to the bridal shop in Rock Hill. Daddy and Jacky have had their fittings. Debi said her dress is beautiful. Rachel says the same. When we get home, I'll be able to get a handle on things a little more. Mrs. Alexander is making the cake. She was a friend of my mom's. She's giving it to us as a gift. The band has been booked for the reception. You remember what I told you about the reception, don't you? I know you don't think it's proper, but where I come from, taking the garter off the bride and heaving it to a crowd of single men is a tradition. Don't worry, I won't let them embarrass you or anything. The rehearsal dinner is Friday at 6. The - "
"Funny." She looked at him and gave him a goofy look.
"I'm sure everything will be perfect."
"I know. It's just that - " she brought her hand up to his cheek. "I don't ever plan on doing this again, you know." Fraser leaned across the piles of papers and kissed Sara on the cheek.
"I don't ever want to do it again, either." He chuckled and dropped his head to her shoulder.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Did you get all the plane tickets?"
"Yes, three tickets. Ray, you and myself." Sara rubbed her hand through her hair.
"Great! Okay, so, The Vecchio's are leaving this Wednesday. We are flying down on Thursday. Friday is the rehearsal dinner. Saturday morning, is the bridal luncheon. Wedding at five and then the honeymoon." She gave him an evil grin. She laughed when he returned her grin with one of his own.
"Ben, where are we going?" Fraser schooled his features and gave her his best big-eyed Mountie look.
"I'm sorry, I'm not at liberty to say." She leaned closer to him and whispered in his ear, "Are you sure I can't persuade it out of you?"
"Awww, c'mon Ben. Tell me."
"Sara, it is very unbecoming to whine." He laughed under his breath at her.
"Shut up." He laughed and kissed her on the cheek.
"Ray! Hurry up." Sara walked swiftly to the check in counter. Fraser was a half a step behind her. Ray pulled at his carry-on bag as he dropped his suitcase.
"Why did you pack so much?" Sara called over her shoulder as she and Fraser checked their bags.
"Hey, I've been on too many trips with Benny. I'm going in prepared. Proper preparedness performs poor prevention. Right Benny?"
"No, Ray. That's not right at all." Fraser looked at him in delight. Ray slung his bag over his other shoulder.
"Yeah, well, who cares."
Sara couldn't get the smile off her face. In three days, she and Ben would be married. She grabbed Fraser's hand and tugged at his arm.
"Let's go." Fraser gave her a puzzled look.
"Rushing aboard won't make the plane take off any faster." Sara sighed and pulled even harder on his arm.
"I don't care. I'm ready to get back home. Ray! Hurry up." Ray trotted toward them with his boarding pass in his teeth and a carry-on bag slung over one forearm and his wallet in his hands.
They took their seats in first class. Dief was sulking in a carrier in freight. Fraser by the window, Sara on the aisle and Ray across the aisle in the end seat. Sara smiled at the memory of the last flight they had taken to South Carolina. It seemed like a lifetime ago. The pain from that time had been replaced with overwhelming joy. She leaned in her seat and stretched over the aisle. She grabbed Ray's arm and pulled him close to her. She planted a big friendly kiss on his cheek. He turned to look at her. All he could do was smile. She turned to face Fraser and felt flush when she saw the sparkle in his eyes. He kissed her lovingly on the lips. She settled back into her seat and released a long contented sigh. As the plane took off she held both their hands.
"Sara!!" Debi was at a full run through Charlotte-Douglas Airport. Sara dropped her bags and ran toward her. Fraser, Ray and Dief once again stood and laughed at the two women jumping up and down. Ray picked up Sara's carry-on bag as Fraser hoisted her suitcase under his arm.
"Sara! Where's your dress?" Debi looked at her in astonishment. Sara smiled and looked a Fraser.
"The Vecchio's have it. I wasn't taking any chances."
"Good idea. They arrived late last night. They should be at the house by the time we get back."
The five of them settled into the large green Expedition. Fraser and Sara sat close together in the backseat. Fraser felt a warmness over his body as he saw the joy in Sara's eyes as she watched the scenery slowly change. They would soon be pulling through the gates of Peg's Paradise Ranch once again.
Six road-weary Vecchio's climbed out of the car in front of the large hotel. Tony had followed the directions that Mr. Montgomery had given them to the letter.
"Are you sure this is the place?" Francesca looked at the lush lobby and the bellman headed in their direction. Tony rubbed the back of his neck; "This is the place. It's says so right here on the directions."
Francesca helped Maria and Tony carry remove three sleeping children from the car. A neatly uniformed man approached them.
"Good evening and welcome. I am Peter. Do you have reservations or will you be checking in momentarily?" He rushed to the aid of Maria and held the car door open while she lifted a half-conscious Angelo into her arms. Mrs. Vecchio smiled and answered Peter's question, "We have a reservation. The rooms should be listed under Vecchio." Peter smiled brightly and stood a little straighter.
"Yes, ma'am. We have been expecting you. The concierge is at the front desk. I will take care of your bags and park your car." Tony raised his eyebrows at Maria and handed the young man the keys to the car. Mrs. Vecchio led the way to the hotel. Francesca, Maria and Tony followed, each carrying a sleeping child. The doorman smiled and tipped his hat as they entered the luxurious hotel. Maria's eyes widened at the expanse of the lobby and the lush furnishings. She leaned over and whispered to Francesca, "If the rooms are anything like the lobby, I may never leave." Francesca gave her a nod of the head while she took in her surroundings. Mrs. Vecchio greeted the distinguished looking gentleman at the front desk.
"Good evening, Sir. I believe you have a reservations for three rooms under the name of Vecchio." Awareness spread across the concierge's face and he smiled.
"Welcome, Mrs. Vecchio. We have been expecting you. Your suites are ready. Follow me please and I will show you to your rooms." Francesca looked over at Maria and mouthed, "Suites!" Maria shrugged her shoulders and followed the rest of her family onto the elevator.
They exited the elevator on the top floor. The concierge led them down the wide hallway to their door. He swiped the card through the lock and opened the door. He stood aside to let Mrs. Vecchio enter the room first. Francesca heard her mother gasp and rushed into the room behind her. This was nothing like she had ever seen before. The room was decorated all in cream shades. The hardwood floors of the entry were gleaming. Maria slowly entered the room. The concierge smiled and handed her another key card.
"You and your husband are in the adjoining suite next door. It is the next door to the left. The suite can also be entered through this door here." He gestured past the large overstuffed sofa. Tony shifted the weight of little Anthony in his arms and whistled the conveyance of how impressed he was. Maria shook her head and uttered, "You can say that again." The concierge gestured again, "The third suite is to the right. It can be entered through this door. I believe it has been reserved for Constable Fraser, Constable Turnbull and Detective Vecchio. The bedrooms are through the hallway. Each has a private bath. Your breakfast will be brought up at anytime in the morning. Just call the number by the phone. Everything has been taken care of. If I can assist you further please let me know. On behalf of Mr. Montgomery and myself, I hope you enjoy your stay." He handed Mrs. Vecchio the card key and bowed slightly as he left.
The four of them stood in awe as they looked around the room.
"Ma, can you believe this place?" Francesca roamed around the room, still holding Teresa in her arms. Mrs. Vecchio sat on the large overstuffed sofa and removed the card from a large arrangement that had been placed in the center of the coffee table.
She read the card out loud, "Welcome to the South. It's signed the Montgomery's." She smiled and placed the card on the table.
"I thought Sara told us her father just sold cows? This seems like a lot for a cow farmer."
The four of them looked from one face to the other. Francesca couldn't help but say what everyone else was thinking, "Man, her old man must be loaded."
Breakfast arrived and the Vecchio's tore into the wonderful breakfast. Just as the children were finishing their pancakes, there was a knock at the door. Another smartly uniformed man stood in the entry.
"Good morning, I have been sent to inform you that your limousine will be waiting for you downstairs." Francesca's mouth fell open in confusion.
"Limo? We haven't arranged for a limo." The porter smiled.
"No ma'am. Mr. Montgomery has arranged for your transportation for the duration of your stay. I am aware that you are expected at his residence at 11:00 this morning. Carl will be your driver. He will be waiting when you are ready to leave." Francesca thanked the young man and closed the door slowly.
"Ma, you are not going to believe this."
Debi pulled through the gates of Paradise Ranch. Sara squeezed Ben's hand as they made their way up the long driveway.
"Here we are. Back at the Walton's." Ray gave Sara a sarcastic smile from the front seat. She reached forward and punched him in the shoulder. Then Ray caught a look at the limo parked beside the house.
"Who's that?" Sara smiled to herself. She knew her Dad had spared no expense when it came to her wedding and the family of her future husband.
"It looks like your family is here, Ray." Ray twisted in his seat to face Sara.
"Huh? You got a limo for my family?" Fraser looked at Sara in surprise. She smiled smugly to herself.
"Hey, my future husbands family deserves the red carpet treatment, don't you think?"
Fraser hugged her close to him. The reality of their impending marriage was slowly sinking in. He couldn't imagine being happier.
Mr. Montgomery pushed the screen door open and watched the truck pull up the drive. He hadn't seen his baby girl in nearly five months.
Fraser could feel Sara's excitement as they neared the house. He smiled when he noticed Sara had slipped off her sandals during the ride.
Debi brought the truck to a halt and the truck door swung open. The thick June air rushed past Sara's face as she ran barefoot up the front steps and into her Daddy's arms.
She was still hugging him when Jacky and the Vecchio's came pouring out onto the porch.
"Ma!" Ray waved to his mother while he helped Fraser remove the bags. Jacky quickly ran to give them some help.
"How was the drive up, Mrs. Vecchio?" Sara greeted her with a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
"Sara, dear, you must call me Ma. We are family." Fraser felt his chest tighten at all the love around him. He never dreamed he would have all this family to call his own.
The day was spent in ordered chaos. Sara, Debi, Maria and Francesca made the rounds through town and made sure all the last minute details were taken care of. Fraser called the consulate and made sure Turnbull had all his necessary flight information. He would arrive early Friday morning. Tony, Ray, and Jacky took the kids horseback riding. Mr. Montgomery gave Mrs. Vecchio a tour of the ranch.
"Well, looks like we got it all covered." Sara stood in the middle of the porch with her hands on her hips.
"I think everything will be fine." Mr. Montgomery smiled at his daughter as he rocked aimlessly in the porch swing. Fraser sat on the front step and leaned back against the railing.
"I think the Vecchio's are overwhelmed." Fraser chuckled, "Francesca nearly accosted Ray for not telling her about the ranch." Sara sat down between his legs on the step below him. She leaned back and rested her arms on his knees. Mr. Montgomery smiled. He was never one to care about money. Most folks around town knew how wealthy he was. But, Jack Montgomery was respected for who he was not what he had. With one of the largest working ranches in South Carolina and an impressive stock portfolio, he had become worth an estimated 14.3 million. Most folks couldn't understand why he lived such a simple life. He lived in the same house he built when he and Peggy were married. He bought the ranch new vehicles, yet he rode around in an old Ford that had seen better days. But, Jack Montgomery didn't need money to be happy. That was a lesson he taught his children. But, when it came to his only daughter's wedding. He would spare no expense. He smiled to himself. He knew Ben would make his daughter happy. What little things he could do for Ben couldn't even begin to repay him for loving his Sara.
Sara and Fraser sat at the head table. They looked at each other with love and then turned their gaze toward all their family and friends. Sara squeezed Fraser's hand. She couldn't believe her father had done it. Fraser was nearly overcome with emotion. The two of them had driven to the airport to pick up Turnbull and Sara's college roommate and bridesmaid, Rachel. Little did either of them know that Mr. Montgomery had arranged for a few more guests to attend the wedding. Sara knew that because she was having the wedding in South Carolina that it would be hard for a lot of their friends from Chicago to attend. Her father decided that was unacceptable.
Sara and Fraser stood at the end of the concourse waiting for Turnbull to exit the flight from Chicago. They paid little attention to most of the passengers leaving the plane until Sara caught a glimpse of someone familiar. She had to take a second look. She grabbed Fraser by the arm and shook it.
"Look,look,look!!" A smile immediately spread across his face. Then they looked at one another in total surprise. Behind Welsh was Turnbull's large frame. But before exiting the plane he stepped aside and offered an arm of assistance to Inspector Thatcher. Sara started waving frantically. Turnbull returned her wave with equal enthusiasm. Fraser looked on as Thatcher stopped and turned to speak to someone still on the plane. Craig Parker appeared in the doorway. Sara felt the tears rush from her eyes. She nearly burst when Jack Huey and Louis Gardino exited the plane. She couldn't believe her father had arranged for all of them to be there. Sara saw the tears glistening in Fraser's eyes. Sara whispered to Fraser, "I don't think it can get anymore perfect than this."
She almost didn't recognize him without his doorman's uniform. Ernie was all smiles as he and his wife exited the plane. Sara and Fraser initiated handshakes and hugs to all of their friends. As they were waiting in the baggage claim area Sara heard her name paged over the intercom.
"Hey, baby-girl." Sara gushed with tears and emotion.
"Daddy, I can't believe you did this. Ben is so happy. We both are."
"Weddings are to be shared with the ones we love. There's several cars waiting. They will take everyone to the hotel and then bring them to the restaurant tonight for the rehearsal dinner. We'll see you back at the house." Sara sniffled her reply, "I love you, Daddy."
Mr. Montgomery stood and raised his glass. "Tonight is the night before I will give my baby-girl to another. I can't stand here and tell you it's going to be easy. But I can tell that I am giving her to a good man." Fraser tucked his head as a blush crept across his face. He squeezed Sara's hand under the table. "Benton, when you came to me to ask for Sara's hand you started to tell me why you thought you would make a good husband. Son, do you remember what I asked you?" Fraser sat tall in his chair, his blue eyes locked with his soon-to-be father-in-law.
"Yes, Sir. You asked if I loved her."
"And what was your answer?"
"More than I could have ever imagined." Mr. Montgomery raised his glass and smiled.
"That, son, is why you will make a good husband." Sara brushed a tear from her cheek.
Fraser and Sara chatted with all of their guests as they made their way through the room. Jacky walked smugly up to Sara.
"So, you gonna let us take him?" Sara grinned.
"You gonna bring him back in one piece?" Fraser looked at the exchange going on in front of him.
"Oh, we won't hurt him. Not bad anyway." Jacky laughed and punched Fraser in the arm. Debi walked up and smiled at Sara.
"Yeah, you. You don't think the guys are gonna be the only ones that get to go have fun, do you?" Fraser squeezed Sara's hand and gave her a confused look. Ray walked up and patted Fraser on the back.
"C'mon, let's go. We've got a limo for the night."
"What are you talking about, Ray?" Sara hugged an arm around his waist.
"They plan to take you out and corrupt you." Still confused, Fraser gave her a pleading look.
"It's time for your bachelor party. The guys are going to take you out to celebrate your last night as a free man." The color drained from his face. He had been to bachelor parties before. It was bad enough being a guest, much less the guest of honor.
"And the women are going to take you, Sara." Debi motioned for Rachel and Christie to join them. Rachel tugged on Maria's arm as she walked by. Sara turned to see Debi, Christie, Rachel, Maria and Francesca standing around her. "Let's go."
"Sara, I don't think that it is necessary for me to go - " She grabbed his hand.
"Listen, neither of us drink. I know you're not going to go sleep with some hooker - "
"Great Scott! Sara I would never - " She put a finger to his lips.
"I know. Just go and have a good time. We'll probably end up at the Holler dancing like a bunch of idiots. Go, have fun." She leaned up and kissed him. He was still trying to protest when Ray took him by the arm and escorted him to the awaiting limo.
Fraser, Welsh, Huey, Gardino, Turnbull, Mr. Parker, Jacky, Tony and Ray all piled into the back of the limo. Ray motioned for the driver to go and they were off.
Sara, Debi, Rachel, Christie, Thatcher, Francesca, Maria and a few friends of Sara's from high school giggled in the back of the limo as they opened a bottle of champagne. One limo pulled out right. One pulled out left. Each in the search of one last night of fun.
"Isn't this great, Benny?" Ray screamed in the ear of the wincing Mountie.
"I don't think that this is appropriate, Ray. Maybe we should go somewhere else."
"Nonsense! This place is great." The colored lights swirled around the room. The music thumped so loud the mirror behind the bar shook. Jacky and Ray were getting singles from the bartender, while the waitress took everyone's order.
"C'mon Fraser. What'll ya have?" Fraser looked at Welsh and politely ordered a coke.
"You can do better than that. Have a drink."
"I don't drink, Sir."
"Suit yourself." Welsh took a long swallow of his beer. Jacky, Turnbull, Gardino and Huey were smiling like fools at the dancing girls, while Mr. Parker sat sipping his drink.
"Ray, I really don't feel this is necessary." Fraser tugged at his collar.
"C'mon Fraser. Have a little fun. We're not going to do anything that will get Sara upset."
"It's just that - well - 'Leather and Lace' doesn't seem like the place I should be on the night before my wedding." Ray laughed and smacked Fraser on the back.
"Don't worry. You'll be fine." Fraser knew that there was no talking to him anymore. He sighed and resigned himself to the fact that he was not going to be able to leave any time soon. The music started thumping and a very large breasted woman gyrated across the stage. All but Fraser whooped and whistled at her arrival. Even Turnbull joined the men in their excitement. Fraser sat rigid in his chair as the well-endowed dancer twisted and turned around the pole. He was taken aback when she smiled. Her grin revealed the absence of both her front teeth. All the men whooped and laughed at the site of the enormous space left by the missing teeth. Jacky leaned over and nudged Ray in the side.
"Look at that! Woo Hoo! The Big Nasty!" Ray doubled over in a fit of laughter. Welsh spewed beer all over the back of Gardino. Huey and Mr. Parker were wiping the tears of laughter from their faces. Jacky stood and waved a fist full of ones in the air. The Big Nasty, as she was dubbed, gyrated and bounced over to the table. She leaned down and enveloped Jacky's head in her enormous breasts. Fraser sat horrified, his only thought of the danger it presented for suffocation.
Several other women joined The Big Nasty on stage and began bumping and grinding to the music. The women slowly began their descent from the stage and made their way to Fraser's table.
All the patrons yelled and clapped as the women made a circle around Fraser. They ran their fingers through his hair and rubbed his shoulders while The Big Nasty straddled his lap. Fraser could feel the heat in his face as the embarrassment made it's way through his body. Ray and Jacky stood and began dancing with the other women. Turnbull, Huey, Gardino, Welsh and Mr. Parker stood and clapped and swayed in time with the beat of the music. Fraser could feel the sweat run down the back of his neck. He looked to Ray for help, but Ray only smiled and gave him the thumbs up sign. Fraser noticed that one of the women was carrying a tube of yellow paint. The Big Nasty started to unbutton his shirt. Fraser quickly buttoned it back up again. Jacky leaned down and yelled in his ear, "Hey, It's a tradition down here. Their supposed to paint your - well, you know - but I told 'em no way in hell Sara'd stand for that. So there going to paint and sign your chest instead." Fraser looked at him horrified. His eyes were as wide as saucers.
"I beg your pardon!" Ray patted Fraser on the back, "Don't worry Benny. It'll wash off. Let 'em paint you." The Big Nasty grinned her toothless grin and proceeded to unbutton his shirt. She pulled the shirt down pinning his arms to his side, and then tugged at the white t-shirt he was wearing and pulled it over his head and behind his shoulders. The other women began to smear the yellow paint over his pale chest. Fraser sat as rigid and as still as he could. Turnbull leaned over and yelled over the music, "Yellow is a soothing color, Sir. Think yellow."
Fraser shot him the dirtiest look his face would manage. The other men rolled and punched each other with laughter. After his chest had been covered in the yellow paint the women began writing suggestive things on his stomach and shoulders. He prayed Sara would never find out about this.
"Sara, why won't you let us take you to a strip club?" Rachel was itching to go to a strip club. She didn't believe it was a bachelorette party unless a man took his clothes off.
"Rach, have you seen the man I'm marrying? Why would I need to go to a strip club?" The driver pulled the limo into the gravel parking lot of the Possum Holler.
"Besides, we'll have a lot more fun here." The women giggled and laughed their way to the front entrance. Sara leaned over and hugged Lester the owner. "Waylan isn't here, is he?" Lester smiled and patted her on the shoulder. "Don't you worry honey. This is your night. I'm not going to let anything happen this time. He's been told not to step foot near this place again. You and the rest of the girls go on in a have a good time. Tell Shirley your first round is on the house." Sara kissed Lester on the cheek and waved for the rest of her group to follow her. She and Debi walked through the front entrance and waved to the band. The group made their way to several tables in the corner near the dance floor.
"Well, girls. Let's have a good time." Shirley arrived and took their drink order. Sara ordered an extra large virgin strawberry daiquiri, the rest of the women had the same, with the exception of the virgin part. The girls drank and sang through the first three songs. Sara finally stood and announced, "I'm ready to dance." Debi was in a fit of giggles when Sara walked across the dance floor and took the hand of the first man she could lay her hands on. Billy Lee Mason nearly broke his face with the smile he was wearing as Sara dragged him to the dance floor. They had known each other all through school. Billy Lee always thought she was pretty, but he was too shy to ever tell her so. The two of them two-stepped around the floor. Debi motioned for the other girls to join her. For the next two hours, any man standing was fair game to dance.
Fraser walked in total humiliation back to the limo. His shirt was unbuttoned to the waist and his chest looked like the side of a school bus. Jacky leaned through the glass and said something to the driver. Fraser soon realized they were not going back to the hotel.
The limo maneuvered in beside the women's limo. Jacky was the first to exit. He ran to the door of the Holler and called for Lester to come out side. Lester burst into a fit of laughter at the site of Fraser's chest.
"Son, looks like you've been branded." Jacky motioned for the rest of the group to exit.
"I can't go in there like this." Fraser sat rigid in the backseat.
"C'mon Ben. Sara made me promise to bring you here. You've got 2 more hours until midnight." Jacky pleaded with Fraser. He was doing his best not to start laughing again. Ray slipped inside and let Sara know they were there.
"Sara will be furious." The red of Fraser's face clashed with the yellow of his chest.
Ray and Sara were crossing the parking lot when Fraser spotted them.
"Oh dear." Fraser swallowed hard and quickly started buttoning his shirt. Sara pushed Jacky aside and stood in the doorway of the limo.
"What's the matter with you?" Sara leaned in and gave him a sweet smile.
"Well, you see - they have - .I mean - " Fraser rubbed a thumb over his eyebrow. He could feel the sweat pouring down his back.
"What color did they use?" Sara's smile spread into an evil grin. Fraser looked at her in surprise.
"Who told you?"
"No one told me. I knew what they were going to do. It's tradition. What color?"
"Yellow." Fraser tucked his head in embarrassment.
"Well, I've heard that yellow is supposed to be soothing." Sara burst into laughter as Fraser's head shot up and gave her a hard look.
"Oh, don't be so mad. It's no big deal."
"It is a big deal. I have been humiliated." Sara's face changed to one of love and compassion.
"Ben, sweetie, you'll never have to go through anything like this again. I promise. Please come inside and dance with me. At midnight you can't see me, remember?" Fraser's embarrassment quickly faded. He grabbed Sara's outstretched hand and walked with her into the Holler. The two of them clung to each other during every song. At ten minutes till midnight, Sara kissed him goodnight at drove away with the rest of the girls.
Fraser had managed to scrub all the yellow paint off his chest. The bright pink wash marks blazed across his chest as he walked over to the closet to get a shirt. He turned at the knock on the door.
"Hey, Benny. You up?"
"Yes, Ray." Ray opened the door and stepped inside. He was already showered and dressed. A broad smile spread across his face.
"I see you got it all off." Fraser scowled as he buttoned his shirt.
"Yes, Ray. I was able to remove it all." Ray ignored his indignant tone. He stood straight and looked deep into Fraser's eyes.
"It's your wedding day, buddy. Are you nervous?" Fraser swallowed hard. All feelings of ill will disappeared.
"Not nervous. Anxious would be a better word." Fraser picked invisible lint from his white oxford shirt.
"Well, I just wanted you to know - " Ray paced slightly and ran his hand over his head. "I'm real happy for you, Benny. You're the closet thing to a brother I got. I just want you to know how I feel." Ray could feel the blood rush to his cheeks. "I know your Dad isn't here to stand up with you, but I hope that you know how much - I mean - " Ray struggled with the words he was trying to say to Fraser. Fraser gave a small smile to his friend as his eyes met Ray's. Fraser saw everything he needed to see. Fraser turned and started to brush his hair in the mirror.
"I love you too, Ray."
Ray smiled and patted Fraser on the back and turned to leave the room.
Robert Fraser stood in the corner.
"He's a good friend, Son."
"He's my best friend, Dad."
"So he is, Son. So he is."
Sara stood in the small changing room at the back of the church. Debi and Rachel had done her hair and make-up before they left the farm. Christie was in the sanctuary rehearsing her solo one last time and Sara was lost in the melody that drifted through the church, when her father knocked on the door.
"Before you get dressed, I wanted to give you something." Mr. Montgomery stood and with shaking hands handed Sara a small box.
"I wanted to make sure you had everything."
"What do you mean, Daddy?"
"Your something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue." Sara smiled at her father for remembering the old superstition. She rubbed her fingers over the small box as she spoke.
"The new is my dress. Debi let me borrow her mother's diamond earrings and my blue is in my garter belt. Oh, and Christie gave me the penny for my shoe. You can't forget that." She giggled slightly.
"Well, now you have your something old. It was your mother's. I bought it for her on our wedding day." Sara felt the small tears forming in the corners of her eyes. She opened the small box and pulled out the necklace inside. On the necklace was a single diamond solitaire. Her memories of it flooded back into her mind. Her mother wore it everyday of her life. Sara had never seen her without it. She had always assumed it had been buried with her. "Your mother wanted you to have this." Mr. Montgomery slipped the necklace from Sara's hands and placed it around her neck. The large diamond sparkled against her tanned skin. "Shhh, don't cry baby. You'll ruin that pretty make-up y'all worked on all morning." Sara stood and clung to her father. "I love you daddy."
Debi, Rachel and Christie had dressed and decided to go make sure the men were presentable. Sara stood in front of the mirror and smoothed down the front of her gown. She heaved a small sigh and brushed a strand of hair behind her ear. She was alone, but she had never felt so content. In the silence of the room she heard humming. She was startled to realize it was she. She was humming a song her mother had sung to her as a little girl. Sara laughed out loud at the memory of it.
Peggy Montgomery stood beside the mirror watching her daughter as she hummed to the reflection in the mirror.
The music began to drift through the rooms of the church. Sara smiled to herself as she peeked outside the door of the changing room near the back of the church. She knew that Ben would be pleased with her decision to seat the Vecchio's and his friends in the third and fourth pews of the church. Francesca and Maria were all smiles as they were escorted past all the guests to the front of the large church. Mr. Montgomery and Jacky walked slowly down the aisle. Mr. Montgomery lit a small candle and he and Jacky lit one side of the unity candle. The emotions were evident on the elder man as they walked back down the aisle to the back of the church. Ray escorted Mrs. Vecchio to the front of the church. She and Ray lit the other side of the three candles symbolizing the two families joining as one. Ray escorted Mrs. Vecchio to the pew reserved for the groom's mother. He then walked to the front of the church and joined Fraser in the back room.
Fraser stood at attention in his black tuxedo. His blue eyes seemed to burst with color in contrast to the dark suit. He didn't seem to notice when Ray entered the small room. Ray shared a glance with Sara's minister and then placed a hand on Fraser's back. Fraser jerked his head toward Ray and swallowed hard. He couldn't understand why his mouth wouldn't produce any saliva.
"You all right, Benny?"
"Yes, Ray. Why wouldn't I be?" Fraser's complexion was even more pale than usual.
"Because you look like you're about to pass out."
"I assure you, I'm fine."
"Really, Ray. There is nothing to worry about."
"Then why are you sweating?"
"I'm not sweating."
"I'm not yet acclimated to the southern climate."
"Ray, I don't know why you insist on interrogating me." Ray began to chuckle.
"Easy, big guy. You'll be fine."
"Of course I'll be fine. I'm a Mountie."
"Yeah, well you're getting ready to be a husband." The color drained from Fraser's face. He could feel his heartbeat in his ears.
"Am I going to be all right?"
"When you see her, Benny. You'll be more than all right. You won't know how you lived without her."
Fraser looked out into the large crowd that had gathered. He gave a small smile to Mrs. Vecchio. She dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief. Welsh, Gardino, Huey and Thatcher had all been seated on the third pew of the church with Maria and Tony. All were now smiling contently at him. Mr. Parker and Ernie were seated on the third pew of Sara's side of the church. Robert Fraser walked slowly down the aisle. Fraser could see his elbow extended but he couldn't see for what. Robert Fraser stopped at the second pew left vacant in honor of Sara's mother. He turned and bowed slightly. He then walked to the front of the church and stood between Fraser and Ray.
Peggy Montgomery smiled and nodded a thank you as she sat in the pew.
Turnbull was the first down the aisle. The soft strains of a violin played as he walked to the front of the church. He greeted Fraser with a wide toothy grin as he made his way to his assigned position. Jacky strolled as only Jacky could toward the front of the church. He winked at Fraser as he turned to stand beside Turnbull. Fraser could feel the knots forming in his stomach. Christie appeared at the back of the church. She made her way slowly down the aisle. The pale yellow a-line sleeveless dress flowed and shimmered with candlelight. Rachel stepped gracefully down the aisle. The smile never left her face. Debi's eyes were misting with tears as she walked past Fraser. Fraser smiled warmly at the sight of little Anthony and Angelo coming down the aisle in their tuxedos. Each walked perfectly in step with the other. Ray winked at little Teresa as she scattered white rose petals along the aisle. As Teresa neared the end of the aisle the church fell silent. The doors at the back of the church had closed. Everyone seemed to be holding their breath.
The organist began the wedding march. Everyone rose and turned to the back of the church. To Fraser it seemed like an eternity had gone by. After the first stanza of the march the doors flung open and Fraser heard his own breath catch in his throat.
Sara stood at the back of the church, delicately holding her father's arm. Her simple sleeveless gown rustled ever so slightly as she began to walk. Her hair was swept up and pulled away from her face. She carried a small bouquet of cream colored roses. Ray felt a smile spread across his face as he turned to look at Fraser. He had never seen two people so much in love. Fraser stood in awe as Sara made her way down the aisle. Fraser's small smile spread into a broad loving one when he fully looked at Sara. She was a vision. She was beautiful. She was barefoot.
"Who gives this woman to be married to this man?"
"I do." Mr. Montgomery leaned down and kissed Sara on the cheek. Big silent tears fell from his eyes as he turned and sat in his designated pew.
Fraser took Sara's hand in his and faced the minister. Ray beamed with pride and friendship as he listened to Sara and Fraser repeat their vows. Mrs. Vecchio cried softly as Fraser placed the ring on Sara's hand. Jacky felt the tears welling up in his eyes as his sister gently rubbed the back of Fraser's hand.
"I now pronounce you husband and wife. Benton, you may now kiss your bride." Fraser looked deep into Sara's loving eyes. He gentle placed his hands on Sara's face. He kissed her softly, holding his lips to hers.
She smiled the most joyous smile Fraser had ever seen. The minister raised his arms and blessed their union. "I now present to you Mr. and Mrs. Benton Fraser."
Sara felt a trail of excitement run down her spine. The congregation burst into applause. Fraser and Sara walked quickly down the aisle and into a small side room of the church. Fraser clung to Sara. He captured her mouth in his and kissed her passionately. For the first time, Sara felt tears rolling down her cheeks. She was in the arms of the man she loved. She would be in those arms forever.
The long white limo pulled down the drive to the lake house. Sara and Fraser kissed sweetly in the back seat. The music from the band could be heard from inside the car. Sara smiled, "You ready?"
"I think so." Fraser looked at her with mock concern.
"Just remember what I told you. Go straight for the cake so we can get that over with. Then we'll dance." Fraser tucked his head into her shoulder. "Sara - " Sara pulled her hands through his hair. "Yes, dear."
"I love you." She giggled and pulled his face to hers. "I love you."
A shadow fell over the window of the car.
"You guys ready?" Fraser pushed the door open and smiled at Ray.
"Yes, we're ready." He helped Sara out of the car and placed his hand on the small of her back as they walked down the path to the large white tent. All the guests were milling around enjoying the large buffet and waiting for the couple to arrive. Sara saw Debi nod to the band. She squeezed Fraser's hand as they were announced. Fraser led the way through the crowd to the cake table. Sara and Fraser stood behind the large cake. The cake contained nine layers and was five different flavors. The simple decoration added an elegant touch to the reception. The crowd cheered as Fraser took a small piece of cake in hand. Fraser took the cake and gently placed it in Sara's mouth. He felt a surge of heat run down his spine when she licked the frosting off the tip of his index finger. When it was Sara's turn to feed Fraser a piece of cake she slowly placed the piece on his tongue. He returned her finger licking in kind. She erupted with laughter and rewarded his playfulness with a kiss.
Sara and Fraser mingled through the crowd. The hugs and kisses everyone had showered upon them were overwhelming. Sara laughed to herself at the number of her female guests that had made a point to kiss the groom. Fraser's face was a permanent shade of pink for about a half an hour. Debi took Sara by the hand and pulled her away from a group of well-wisher's. "It's time to dance with your husband." The two of them giggled like schoolgirls at one another at the sound of the word husband. Sara walked over and laced her fingers with Fraser's.
"Ben, darling, it's time to dance."
Fraser smiled and guided her to the dance floor. The band began to play Sara's favorite song. The song Fraser had sung to her in the hospital.
Francesca sat at a large round table with Maria and Tony. Her eyes fell on two people clutched to one another so tightly it was hard to tell where one ended and the other began. The slow strains of the music seemed to float on the breeze. Darkness had begun to fall. For the first time Francesca noticed the Japanese lanterns that had been placed on the lake. The white lights in the trees had begun to sparkle like a thousand starry nights. She sighed heavily as they danced. Fraser had one arm around Sara's small waist, while the other was gently holding her hand to his chest. His head was tucked down slightly and he rested his cheek on her forehead. She had one arm on his shoulder as her head rested in the crook of his neck and shoulder. Both had their eyes closed as they swayed slowly to the music. Sara's bare feet showing occasionally from under the hem of her gown. She had removed her veil and headpiece and her hair flowed gently over her shoulder. It was obvious that they were in love. Francesca felt a tear roll down her cheek.
As they exited the dance floor to a joyous applause, her father placed a hand on Fraser's shoulder and smiled down at his daughter.
"May I have this dance?" Fraser graciously presented Sara's hand. Sara felt the tears start to well in her eyes.
"Daddy, you never have to ask."
Jack Montgomery led his daughter to the center of the dance floor. Ray and Fraser stood at the side while they danced.
"She's beautiful, isn't she?"
"Yeah, Benny. She really is."
"I can't believe this is really happening."
"I know." The two of them stood in silence as they watched Sara and her father dance. Mr. Montgomery held Sara's hand tightly in his. His other arm was supporting her around the waist. She was dancing with her bare feet on top of her father's. A quick smile spread across Fraser's face. Ray overheard some older women at a table near by.
"She'll always be her daddy's little girl."
Ray placed a hand on Fraser's shoulder. He glanced around the reception and saw Francesca. Francesca's eyes were sharing a look with someone across the room. Following her gaze, he saw the face of Meg Thatcher. He patted Fraser on the back. * Benny, you have no idea how many hearts are breaking this very minute. *
"It's time to throw the garter!"
Debi gestured wildly for Sara. Sara tugged on Fraser's arm and led him to the chair that had been placed in the center of the dance floor. "Remember what I told you. Aim for Ray!" Sara laughed as Fraser nodded in agreement. She took her position in the chair and gave Fraser a sly look.
"Well, it isn't going to jump off my leg." Fraser felt his hands began to sweat as he gingerly took hold of the hem of her gown. He raised it slightly. He shot Sara a wicked look. "You placed it a little high, don't you think." She schooled her features and gave him her best impersonation of his big-eyed Mountie look.
"Did I?" He laughed softy to himself as the band began to play stripper music. Sara had filled Fraser in on the whole garter ritual. She likened it to an Inuit right of passage ceremony. She thought that would make him more comfortable. He raised her dress further to reveal her tanned thigh. The white and blue garter gleamed in the lights. Fraser hooked it with his thumb and slowly slid the garter down her leg. He trailed a finger down the back of her leg as he did so. Sara felt a shiver of excitement cascade down her spine. Fraser eyes met hers. She placed a hand around the back of his neck and pulled him to her lips. She kissed him passionately as the crowd cheered her on. "You better watch it. As we say in the south, 'pay back is hell'." Fraser pulled back slightly and stared deep into her eyes. "I certainly hope so." Sara stared in slight shock at the playfulness Ben was displaying. * If this reception doesn't end soon, I'm gonna take you off to the woods, Ben Fraser. *
Fraser hoisted the garter in the air. He cocked his head to the side as the single men gathered. He grinned as he watched Debi push Ray to the front of the group of men.
"C'mon Ben, throw it over here." He turned his back to the crowd and positioned the garter on his index finger. Ben looked at Sara for guidance.
"A little to the left." Sara gestured with her fingers as she helped Fraser line up his trajectory.
"Hey, stop helping him!" Sara shot Ray a steely-eyed look.
"Just be ready to catch it!" Fraser stretched the garter and released it. Several of the single men avoided it like the plague. Jacky and Ray were the two left fighting for it. It landed right on Ray's balding head. The crowd roared with laughter as Ray removed the projectile from his forehead.
"I suppose you think this is funny?" Ray twirled the garter on his finger. Fraser was doing his best to suppress the laughter erupting inside him. Sara didn't feel the need to suppress anything. She grabbed her side as she openly belly laughed at Ray. Fraser nudged Sara, "It's your turn now, right?" Sara wiped the tears from the corner of her eyes and tried to catch her breath. Through her laughter she nodded a reply. She motioned for Debi to get in place and to gather the rest of the women. The crowd of women was considerably larger than the men. As the women waited for Sara to throw the bouquet they elbowed and shoved one another for a spot. Sara pointed to Debi. Debi laughed and shook her head.
Fraser turned Sara around and began helping her line up the toss. Francesca stood at the back of the crowd with Inspector Thatcher. They each hoped no one would notice how less than enthusiastic either of them was about being part of this particular tradition.
"Are you ready?" Sara called over her shoulder at the crowd of women gathered behind her. She gave Fraser a wink and heaved the bouquet into the air. Debi and Rachel elbowed their way toward the flowers soaring through the air. Sara had thrown it so hard that it flew past them and headed straight for the back of the pack. Before she could think about what she had done, Thatcher raised her hands to prevent the bouquet from hitting her in the head. She stood staring at the mass of flowers in her hands. Francesca grinned sarcastically at her. "Better you, than me." Hearing Francesca's snotty tone released Meg from her shock.
"Thanks a lot, Miss Vecchio." Francesca sauntered off the dance floor. Before Meg could retreat herself, Sara had her by the arm.
"You need to sit."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Sit down. Ray has to put the garter on you now." Sara tried her best not to openly laugh in Meg's face. Ray stood by with a smug smile on his face as he twirled the garter on his index finger. Sara pulled Meg to the center of the dance floor and deposited her in the chair Sara had vacated earlier.
"C'mon Ray. You get to put the garter on. And remember, the higher you go, the better the luck." She winked at Ray as a smile spread across his face. Meg could feel the heat rising in her cheeks. Ray knelt down in front of her. Meg leaned forward and through gritted teeth threatened his life. "So help me, Detective, if you try to go any higher than the kneecap, you'll lose yours." Ray responded in his most calm and nonchalant voice, "Meg, this is for Benny and Sara. Nothing you could say would matter to me. So sit back and smile, honey." At that he took her ankle in his hand and lifted her leg slightly. He slowly pulled the garter past her calf. He then looked directly in her eyes. She was glaring at him. He smiled and cooed, "Either you put a smile on your face or I'm going to make a necklace out of this thing." He slowly slid the garter over her knee. She plastered her best smile on her face hoping he would stop there. He smiled broadly and pushed the hem of her skirt up four more inches as he slid the garter onto her upper thigh. She inhaled sharply. He leaned toward her ear, "That's the best action you'll see all night." Placing a soft kiss on her cheek he stood and faced the cheering crowd. Ray engulfed Sara in a hug. The two of them laughed as Fraser helped Meg from her seat. He could see the mortification on her face. He did his best to school his features. Meg thought to herself. *Sara has definitely been a bad influence on you Fraser.*
Fraser and Sara stood holding hands by the edge of the dance floor. The lights strung above twinkled. The lanterns on the lake gently sailed along in the soft night breeze. Jacky walked up and shyly tapped Ben on the shoulder.
"I just wanted to welcome you to the family." The younger Montgomery extended his hand. Fraser shook it strongly.
"Thank you kindly." Jacky shifted from foot to foot. He looked at Sara. Tears were welling in her eyes. He then turned a solemn stare to Fraser.
"I know you won't, I can see you love her. But just so there's no mistake, you hurt my sister and you'll live to regret it." Fraser smiled slightly at the man standing before him. He was not angered by his threat. He admired it.
"Understood." Sara and Jacky hugged each other for a long time. Jacky sheepishly brushed the tear from his cheek. He then turned to Fraser with his typical country-boy grin. "Good luck, Ben. You're gonna need it." He chuckled as he walked past his father.
Mr. Montgomery put his arms around Ben and Sara.
Fraser looked at the man that was now his Father-in-law.
"Sir, I want to thank you for everything you have done. I can't thank you enough for the hospitality you have shown to my friends. I'll pay you for the plane tickets and expenses incurred, of course." Jack Montgomery squeezed Sara's shoulder as she grinned up at him.
"No you won't."
"I beg your pardon?"
"I brought your family and friends here because they belong here. You will not pay me back. I won't here of any such a thing."
"But, with all due respect Mr - ."
"Ben. Sara is my only Baby-girl. All I want in this world is to see her happy. I see that today. What little I can do to be part of that can't compare to what you do, Son. And about this Mr. business. Call me Jack. No son of mine is going to live by formalities."
Before Fraser could respond, Mr. Montgomery released Sara and wrapped his large arms around Fraser. He hugged him so hard Fraser thought he would burst a blood vessel. He now had family. More family than he could have ever imagined.
The long white limousine waited at the end of the walkway. The quests had gathered in two rows and waited with hands full of birdseed. Fraser stood a moment looking around the tent at the guests. He sighed contentedly as he saw all his friends and family around him and squeezed Sara's hand. As if reading his thoughts she sighed, "It's perfect, I know." He chuckled and planted a kiss on her cheek.
"So, my love, are you ready to leave?" Fraser smiled brightly as he asked Sara the question. She tugged on his arm. The two of them burst forth toward the limo. Mrs. Vecchio and Ray were the first to hurl their well wishes at the couple. Thatcher and Francesca took a small comfort in the fact that they could openly throw fists full of tiny projectiles at Sara's head. Fraser helped Sara into the limo and quickly joined her.
Sara snuggled close to Ben as they pulled away from the reception.
"Ben, will you tell me where we're going now?"
"Not yet." She rubbed her hand across his chest and kissed him softly on the cheek.
"No." She trailed her tongue along the outline of his ear. He replied with a soft moan.
"Are you sure you don't want to tell me?" He closed his eyes and leaned his head back as she unbuttoned his shirt. He could barely whisper his answer.
"You'll find out when we get to the airport." Sara abruptly pulled away from him.
"Ben Fraser, you suck." She giggled and poked him in the side.
"Sara Fraser. You're impatient." She stopped her giggles and smiled at him.
"Sara Fraser. That's going to take some getting used to. But I like it."
"I love it." Fraser placed a hand on her cheek and kissed her passionately.
The limo pulled through the gates of Paradise Ranch and pulled to a stop near the front door of the house. Fraser helped Sara from the car and the two of them walked hand in hand up the steps. Just before they reached the front door, Fraser lifted Sara in his arms and carried her over the threshold. In her surprise she shrieked, "Ben, you're supposed to do this at our house!" Fraser kissed her. "Well, I felt like doing it here."
She gave him an evil smile. "Me too." He gave her a confused look that quickly faded into understanding.
"What about the limo driver?"
"Let me handle it." Fraser returned Sara to her feet. She walked over to the edge of the porch and motioned for the limo driver.
She pointed and motioned and then turned to face Fraser. The driver grinned and nodded his head. He stepped up on the porch and smiled at Fraser.
"Ben, could you go upstairs and get our bags. I've already put our going away clothes aside." Sara winked at Ben as he turned and trotted upstairs.
Ben reached Sara's bedroom in record time. He grabbed the two suitcases he had packed earlier that day. He refused to let Sara know what type of wardrobe to pack. He only let her pack her essentials the night before. He handed the two bags to Carl and gave Sara a quick look. She patted his arm and grinned.
"See you in about 30 minutes." Carl tucked his head and tipped his hat.
"What did you tell him?"
Sara stepped on the bottom step and wrapped her arms around Ben's neck.
"The truth." Ben could feel the blush creeping over his face.
"What?" He shook his head and laughed.
"I love you." She nuzzled close to his ear.
"Prove it." Before she could pull away, he grabbed her and threw her over his shoulder. He climbed the stairs as she squealed with delight.
Fraser plopped Sara down on the middle of her bed. She laughed as Fraser's nimble fingers quickly unfastened the buttons down the back of her gown. Fraser unfastened her bra and ran his hands along her back. She moaned slightly as he brought his hands to her breasts and ran his fingers over her hardened nipples. He kissed her neck as he pulled the top of her gown away from her chest. He pulled her to a standing position as he slid the gown past her hips. He stopped and looked at her with delight and shock.
"Sara, you're not wearing any underwear." She pulled his jacket off his shoulders.
"I'm glad you noticed." He smiled brightly while he grabbed her buttocks and lifted her in his arms. The gown crumpled to the floor. Fraser licked and sucked at her lips while she removed his shirt. He stiffened slightly at the shock of Sara's hand on his crotch. He pulled at his belt and removed the tuxedo pants. Sara hooked the waistband of his boxer's and slid them halfway down his legs. Fraser laughed out loud when she used her foot to push them to the floor.
He pushed her back against the bed and positioned himself above her. Fraser was normally more patient in his lovemaking with Sara. However, today was different. They pawed at one another. Sara hungrily kissed his mouth, probing it with her tongue. His hands roamed freely over her body. She grabbed his upper arms and pulled him to her. She arched her back and gasped as her entered her. Fraser wrapped his arms tightly around her waist and thrust himself into her again and again, never releasing her lips from his. Sara dug her nails into his back and wrapped her legs around Fraser's waist. The two of them glistened and dripped with sweat as Fraser moved faster in his rhythm. Sara felt herself tighten. She released her hold on him and positioned her arms above her head. Fraser placed his hands in hers and stared into her eyes. Sara arched her back and closed her eyes. A scream escaped her. Fraser moaned loudly as he released. Sara buried her head in his chest and trailed light kisses down his collarbone. Fraser pulled away from her and smiled. "I wonder if Carl is back yet?" Sara pulled Fraser into a kiss and smiled.
Fraser and Sara walked hand in hand through Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. Fraser removed the plane tickets from his bag and handed them to the clerk.
"Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Fraser. I hope you enjoy your stay in Arizona." Fraser smiled at the look on Sara's face.
"Arizona? We're going to Arizona?" Sara pulled at Fraser's arm.
"Yes." She stared at him.
"Yes. That's all you have to say? 'Yes'? What are we going to do in Arizona?"
"We're going somewhere neither of us has been."
"Yes." Sara sighed in frustration. * What in the hell are we gonna to do in Arizona?? *
They boarded the plane and settled into their seats. Fraser looked over the safety instructions while Sara fidgeted with the seat position.
"Ben, tell me."
"Tell you what?"
"Tell me where we're goin' in Arizona."
"You don't know?"
"If I knew, would I be askin'?" He could tell she was getting irritated because her southern accent was getting thicker. Fraser smiled as he turned the page of the safety manual.
"Constable!" That was her breaking point. Fraser turned and took her chin in his hand. He leaned in and kissed her, then pulled back slightly and whispered, "We are going to the canyon they call Grand." She wrinkled her nose in disgust of his phrasing.
"The Grand Canyon!? We're going to the Grand Canyon. Oh, Ben, that's going to be great." Sara was practically hopping up and down in the seat. Fraser loved her enthusiasm. She then sat perfectly still. She turned in her seat and then gave him a hard look.
"It's hot in Arizona."
"True. The average temperature for this time of year is in the upper 80's at the Grand Canyon. It does however get much hotter in other areas of the state - " Sara blinked at the facts being thrown at her. She placed her hand on his and interrupted.
"Did you pack my hiking boots?" Fraser shook his head for a second, then answered, comprehending her question.
"My favorite green t-shirt?"
"Yes, Sara." She smiled and squeezed his hand.
"My Levi shorts?" Fraser rubbed a thumb over his eyebrow.
"The ones with the holes over the back pockets."
"I didn't think you would want to take them." She looked at him in horror.
"But they're my favorites!"
"But they show your - I thought you only wore them around the house and farm!"
"What about - "
"Sara, I assure you I packed all the essentials that you and I will need for the trip."
"What about sunscreen?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Sunscreen. You do look in the mirror don't you?"
"Certainly, but what does that have to do with - "
"Did you pack it or not?"
"No, I didn't - "
"We'll buy some when we get there then."
"Why would we - "
"You're gonna fry like an egg if we don't."
"I didn't require any - " She continued to interrupt him as he argued his point.
"Ben, you're white. Really white. White doesn't tan. White burns - to a crisp - we're talking walking lobster colored Mountie. We'll buy some when we land."
Sara gave Fraser a kiss on the cheek, then leaned back in her seat and winked at him. The conversation appeared to be over. Fraser leaned back in his own seat as the plane began to taxi down the runway. He smiled. Sara took his hand and rubbed the back of it with her thumb.
"Like an egg?"
The two of them leaned close as they laughed. This was the start of their new life together.
It was almost 1 in the morning. Fraser watched Sara as she slept. He smiled at the way she pulled her knees to her chest in the airplane seat. She hugged his arm as if it were a child's stuffed toy. He lightly brushed a stray hair from her face. She stirred and sighed softly.
Sara knew he was watching her. She smiled slightly to herself. She opened her eyes and squeezed his arm.
"Hey." Fraser brushed the palm of his hand down her cheek.
"Hey, sweetheart. Are we almost there?" She lowered her knees and positioned herself in the seat.
"Almost. Another hour until we land."
"Are you going to fill me in on the details of this trip?"
"What would you like to know?"
"Where are we staying?" Fraser gave her a wide grin.
"One night we are staying at the Grand Hotel." Sara eyed him suspiciously.
"What do you mean 'one night'?"
"The following four days will be spent on the 'Rim to Rim' tour."
"Rim to Rim?"
"Yes, it's a tour of the canyon. We will camp at various sites and travel by horseback and hike through the canyon."
"Let me get this straight. We're going to be sleeping in a tent?" Fraser beamed with excitement.
"Yes. It should prove to be rather exciting." Sara pondered on the thought of spending her honeymoon sleeping in a canvas sweatbox on the hard ground. Fraser could see the uncertainty on her face. He looked at her with hope that she would be as enthusiastic as he was. He saw a sudden flash in her eyes.
"Have you ever had tent sex?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"You heard me?"
"Well, um - I don't think this is the type of thing we should be discussing in public - "
"Answer me, Constable."
"Me either. Sounds like a good time to me." He laughed at her wicked leering at him.
"You like that, don't ya?"
Sara watched the parade of luggage drift slowly past her on the conveyer belt. Fraser waved a finger in the air as her approached with two bottles of juice in his hands.
"Here. This should taste pretty good." Fraser handed Sara a bottle of grape Fruitopia. He was surprised at how much he liked the strange drink that Sara seemed to enjoy so much.
Sara gratefully accepted the drink and took a long pull from the bottle.
"There they are." Sara pointed at the two suitcases passing by on the moving belt. Fraser grabbed the bags and set them down at his feet.
"We can take the shuttle to the hotel. We really don't need to rent a car." Sara winked at him as she grabbed her suitcase. Fraser quickly removed it from her grasp.
"I can get it. You've got yours to carry." Fraser gave her an indignant look.
"Nonsense. I would never dream of such a thing." She kissed him smartly on the lips.
"Oooo, I'm gonna keep you." Fraser laughed at her playfulness. They made their way through the airport and waited for the shuttle.
The night desk clerk greeted them with a large smile. "Good evening, How can I help you."
"Constable and Mrs. Fraser."
"Yes, sir. Honeymoon suite. That's on the top floor. Room 1013." Fraser accepted the card key and thanked the clerk. He followed Sara to the elevator and waited for an available car.
Ray had placed the last suitcase near the suite door to be picked up and taken down to the limo.
"Hey, Ma! You about ready?" He listened as his mother shouted a reply through the door.
He knew it would take his family a while to get themselves ready to leave for the remainder of their trip to Florida. Ray settled in to the large sofa and flipped on the TV. Dief whined his impatience as Ray surfed the channels.
"They always take this long. I thought you knew that by now." Dief lowered his head to his paws and groaned a reply.
"Hey, once we get them on their way, we'll be on our way to the airport and back to Chicago. I don't know why you're in such a rush to get in that carrier." Before Dief could answer Francesca entered the room and placed her bags near the front door. It was the first time they had to be alone together the whole weekend. Now was her chance.
"Why didn't you tell me?!" Francesca stood in front of the TV with her hands on her hips.
"Tell you what? Move!"
"Why didn't you tell me Sara's father was loaded?"
"What's it matter to you?"
"You told me her dad had a cow ranch."
"A cow ranch, Ray!? It looked like the Ponderosa. And the limo's!"
"What's the big deal? So they have money."
"They have lot's of money."
"Yeah, they have lot's of money. What do you care?"
"Did Benton know about all that money?"
"Of course he did."
"And what did he think?"
"What did he think? He didn't think anything. It doesn't change anything. It only means that the woman Benny loves is extremely loaded. Besides, you know Benny doesn't care about stuff like that."
"He doesn't care that his wife will be the one taking care of him?"
"Now where do get off with a stupid idea like that."
"She's the one with the money. We both know Benton doesn't make that much."
"You didn't even know Sara had money until you saw the ranch. Even then you wouldn't have known if her old man hadn't gone all out to make us feel special. I don't see how this is any of your business anyway."
"Benton's my business."
"No he's not, he's Sara's. Don't forget that."
"But, won't he feel inferior to all that money?"
"Sara loves Ben. Ben loves Sara. The money isn't even thought of. Sara works hard. So does Benny. Her Daddy's money is not an issue to her or Ben. If you can't see that, you really are stupid."
"Shut up, Ray!" Francesca turned on her heels and stomped out of the room. Mrs. Vecchio stood in the hallway and listened. She was going to have to have another talk with her daughter.
Sara stood in front of the large mirror in the bathroom. She brushed her fingers through her hair and struck a seductive pose. She was actually a little nervous. She shook her head at an attempt to clear the thoughts. * What's the big deal? It's not like you haven't done this before. Yeah, but now you're married. Husband and Wife. What if it gets routine after a while? Don't married people get boring? What if Ben thinks I'm boring? Hell if I'm going to let that happen!* She smoothed the front of the white satin chemise she had purchased for this special night. As she straightened the thin spaghetti strap across her shoulder she turned slightly to see the back of the chemise or lack there of in the mirror. She placed her hand on the doorknob and inhaled.
Ben sat on the edge of the bed examining the clock radio. He heard the bathroom door open. He looked up in half acknowledgement then felt the clock radio slip from his fingers. He stared at her as she walked slowly across the room. He moved his mouth to speak but speech had escaped him. Sara's shapely breasts gently tugged at the satin material. The outline of her nipples caused the satin to shimmer in the low lights of the room. He felt the back of his knees began to sweat.
Sara felt her mouth go dry at the sight of him. His perfectly starched white boxer's against equally white skin. She let her eyes trail down his muscular chest and smiled slightly at the look of concentration on his face as he studied the clock radio. Sara's heart skipped when he looked at her. His eyes were riveted to hers. She stifled a laugh when he absently dropped the object of his interest to the floor.
Sara stood before him. He gently reached up and placed his hands on her waist. Fraser inhaled the scent of her as he pulled her close to him. Sara wove her fingers through his dark hair as his hands trailed smoothly over the satin she wore. He leaned back and in one smooth motion pulled Sara on top of him. He took his finger and brushed a strand of hair behind her ear. His eyes never left hers. Sara lightly rubbed her fingers over his chest; gently tracing the contours of his muscles. Sara felt a pulse of energy race up her spine as Fraser's hands caressed her bare buttocks. He shifted lightly beneath her and discarded his boxers to the floor. Sara took a slow deep breath as she felt the heat from his body warm her. Fraser placed his large hands on her thighs and guided her to him. He allowed himself a selfish smile as a moan escaped her as he slowly entered her. Their eyes were locked as they moved in the rhythm of passion. Slow steady movements of the ages. She licked her lips slightly as she saw his crystal blue eyes change to a hue of deep slate as his passion increased. Fraser gently rubbed her back and thigh as silence engulfed them. The only sound was the gentle rhythm of their motion. Fraser looked deep into Sara's green eyes. He felt a wave of passion rush through him. Sara could feel the climax building inside her. She leaned forward and breaking their gaze captured his mouth with hers. Feeling her soft lips meet his, Fraser moaned as he released. Pulling his hands up to her neck he held her head in his hands as he kissed her. As she lay on top of him, she rested her head on his chest. She smiled as she felt the pounding of his heart next to her ear. The fears and nervousness of before were now a forgotten memory. Sara heaved a sigh of contentment as she lay in her husband's arms.
"Are you sure we don't need this?" Sara held the snakebite kit in her hands.
"Sara, why would you need something like that?" She looked at him with a blank expression.
"Gee, in case I get SNAKE BIT!"
Fraser shook his head and laughed as he started packing their supplies into his backpack. The clerk in the trail shop shook his head at the exchange between the two newlyweds.
"What about this?"
"I already have a compass." Sara rolled her eyes and gave him her best 'of course, what was I thinking?' look. She wandered up and down the aisles of the small supply store while Ben reviewed their supplies. He glanced up and smiled at the sight of her trying on a big floppy hat.
"Hey look! Indiana Jones!" Sara struck a pose with the hat pulled down over her eyes.
"It looks great on you." She pushed the hat back off her forehead and smiled at him.
"I think I'll take it." Fraser chuckled as he returned to his task of preparing for the trek through the Grand Canyon. Sara continued to browse through the shop when she found what she was looking for.
"Excuse me? Is this the strongest you have?" She hoisted a bottle in the air as she called to the clerk near the front of the store.
"We have some in the back that's stronger."
"I need the strongest you got." She cocked a thumb in the air toward Fraser and winked at the clerk. The clerk shook his head in understanding on his way back to the supply room. He returned with a bottle of the strongest that he could find. Sara took the bottle and grinned. Fraser eyed her suspiciously.
"Sara, what are you doing?" She walked slowly over to Fraser and plopped the bottle of sunscreen and a tube of zinc down on top of the pack he was attending.
He looked up and smiled at the smug look on her face.
"You'd spontaneously combust if we had forgotten this."
"I really don't think - " Sara cut him off with a sizzling noise and wild gestures with her hands. "Kaplooey!"
"That's not funny."
"Neither is Mountie-Extra-Crispy." Sara giggled as she continued to roam the store. Fraser had finished with their packs and motioned for Sara.
"Here, try this on." He hoisted the backpack on to Sara's shoulders. "Is that too heavy?" Sara wiggled until the pack was comfortable on her shoulders. She paced around in front of Fraser.
"Can you tighten this thing a little?" Fraser lifted the pack with one hand while Sara and he adjusted the straps.
"Much better." She smiled as she saw herself in the mirror of the shop. The bright green pack she picked out seemed to glow under the fluorescent lights.
"I look like I stepped out of L.L. Bean." Fraser chuckled as he slung his backpack onto his shoulders. Sara noticed that out of the rainbow of colors he could have chosen, he picked red. She smiled as she took in the sight of him. He looked so relaxed and happy in a pair of faded blue jeans and a green t-shirt. The Stetson he usually wore was safely secured to the top of his pack. In its place was a well-worn RCMP baseball cap Sara had never seen before. His hiking boots were scuffed and worn and looked perfectly broken-in. Sara began to feel a little unsure of the trip they were preparing to embark on. Her Timberlands looked brand new even though they were purchased over a year ago. The khaki shorts and white t-shirt made her look more like a summer camp counselor than a true outdoorswoman.
"What are we going to sleep on?"
"I mean, besides that."
"We'll have a bedroll, of course."
"Bedroll? Like an air mattress?" Fraser looked at her in slight amusement.
"Sara, we're going camping." She looked at him with all seriousness.
"Haven't you ever camped?"
"In the back yard with Jacky."
"But, you're - well, pardon my expression, but a country girl from the south."
"Yeah, so. I lived on a farm, Ben. Just because I'm from the south doesn't mean I strike out in the woods and pitch a tent every weekend. That's like saying because you're Canadian you know how to do that curling stuff." She softly chuckled until she saw Fraser's face and heard his reply.
"I love curling. It's a thrilling sport. You'd really enjoy it."
"You really don't know anything about camping?"
Ben smiled at the sight of his wife in her backpack and newly purchased fedora. Sara shifted from foot to foot as she and Ben waited on the rest of the tour group to assemble in front of the store. Fraser really didn't see the need for a tour group or a guide. Especially when the guide appeared to be all of 19 and not exactly thrilled with his job, but Fraser thought the idea of a guided tour would make Sara more comfortable.
Doris and Jerry arrived first. They were an older couple who looked like they had everything under the sun packed into every space they could carry. They both looked very trim and athletic. Sara winked at Ben as they approached. Doris had a navy backpack with a matching fanny' pack, a large straw hat and big bug-eyed sunglasses. Jerry matched her fanny pack to sunglasses. Sara felt a little more comfortable with the fact that she had never camped before. She was sure that Jerry and Doris were as clueless as she was. Her hopes proved to be false when Ben commented on Jerry's pack and found out that this was their third camping trip to the Canyon.
Chase, Pete and Marty finally arrived. Three 19 year olds, on summer vacation from college, looking for some fun. Ben eyed them as the sauntered up to the porch of the store. They were what Sara would call 'L.L. Bean rugged'. Ben smiled when he realized he was starting to think like Sara.
Sara began to feel even more self-conscious when she found out that the college boys had camped last year through Yellowstone. Ben sensed her trepidation and placed a protective arm around her shoulders. She smiled up at him and gave him a peck on the cheek. Zack the tour guide ran down the safety instructions and the itinerary like he was running down the specials in a restaurant. Fraser could see the concern on Sara's face when he actually blew a bubble with his gum in the middle of the 'plants to avoid' discussion.
Ben kept a protective eye on Sara as they hiked the South Kaibab trails. He was experienced with camping, hiking and surviving in the outdoors. She was not. Even the slightest misstep sent Fraser rushing to her side. An hour of hiking had passed and Fraser had began to relax. He laughed when Sara began whistling 'The Bridge on the River Kwai' and was quickly joined by Doris and Jerry. Zack and the college boys, as Sara had dubbed them, looked on in confusion at the song they were whistling. Fraser chuckled as he too joined in while they hiked.
Fraser stood with his foot propped up on a large boulder. He removed one of the water bottles from his pack and handed it to Sara.
"Drink." Sara looked at him like he was crazy and then took the large plastic bottle from his hands.
Fraser grinned." I said drink. You'll get dehydrated if you don't."
Sara took a long drink from the bottle. She sighed as the cool liquid made its way down her throat. She handed the bottle back to him and purred, "You're so forceful."
"When it comes to your well being, yes, I am." He took a long swallow and placed the water back in his pack. Jerry and Doris were each sipping from their water jugs as the college boys wet bandanas and tied them around their foreheads.
"We'll hike for another two hours and that will put us at our first stop for the night." Zack the tour guide pointed in a westward direction as he spoke. Sara placed a hand over her forehead and shielded her eyes from the sun as she looked in the direction he was pointing. Fraser placed a hand on her back and gently rubbed between her shoulder blades.
"Are you okay?" Sara's eyes met his and she saw the concern reflected toward her.
"Sure. Ben, I've taken aerobics for 12 years. I think I can survive a hike." He nodded his head and kissed her on the forehead. She sighed as she turned to adjust her pack. She hoped she wouldn't go to hell for lying. Her back hurt. She had a river of sweat trickling down the crack of her butt. The blister on her heel was hurting like hell and she knew her deodorant was about twenty minutes away from expiring. But she knew if she said anything the least bit disapproving Ben would be crushed. Ben gracefully swung his backpack into place and took Sara by the hand as they continued on down the trail.
Sara followed behind him grateful he couldn't see her face.
* Look at him! He looks like he just stepped out of the shower. I've got a ring of crust forming around my neck from all this dust and he looks fresh as a daisy. How does he do that? God, he's gorgeous. Gorgeous and mine. I hope we get to wherever the hell we're going soon. I'm hot. I imagine I stink and my feet are killing me. You'd think after you spent $125 dollars on a pair of boots that your feet wouldn't hurt. Yeah, tell that to the blister the size of a quarter on my heel. Ben, I love you, but did you have to pick a group made up of the Eco-challenge team. Look at these people. Doris and Jerry are old enough to be my parents and they look like they could run a marathon after this just to cool down. The college boys are just plain annoying. They look like some kinda weird disciples of Bruce Springsteen with those bandanas tied around their heads. Agh, it's hot. Dry heat, my ass. Hot's hot. I can't wait to get cleaned up and in to that tent. Look out Ben. This girl's gonna need some special treatment after all this. *
Sara looked sheepishly at the pack Ben had set on the ground. He asked her to start helping him set up the tent. She had no idea how to start doing that. She took a deep breath and opened the pack. Inside was a rolled up canvas and some metal rods. She grabbed a fist full of fabric and began pulling it out of the bag. Ben walked over and stood above her as she worked.
"What?" Sara kept at her task.
"You're beautiful." She stopped in mid-motion and looked up at him.
"You've got to be kidding."
"Of course not. You're beautiful."
"But you're beautiful when you're grimy."
"Ben, we're married now. You don't have to butter me up." She grinned at the face he made at her comment.
"I'm not buttering you up. You know that."
"I know. Where are we supposed to take a bath?" The question seemed perfectly natural and innocent to Sara. She wasn't prepared for the look of surprise on Ben's face.
"Sara, we're in the middle of the Grand Canyon. You won't be able to take a bath until we reach the river tomorrow." Sara felt a sharp pain behind her right eye. She had heard of people popping a vein. This must be what it felt like. She took a deep breath and tried to school her features and her tone.
"So what are we supposed to do?"
"We can use some of the water we brought to sponge off with."
"Oh." * Sponge off! I need a fire hose to get all this crust off of me. There's enough dirt in the cracks of my knees to plant taters. Sponge off! Dear Lord, deliver me from this. No. I've got to make the best of it. Ben loves me and this is fun for him. He's Canadian. He grew up in the wilderness. Breathe. Calm down and smile. *
Ben could see that she was mentally exploding inside, he could see it on her face. He wondered if this had been such a good idea for a honeymoon.
"Don't worry. You'll feel better after we eat." Sara looked up and smiled sweetly at him.
Ben removed the rest of the tent from the pack and had it set up in about eight minutes. He stood back admiring his handy work as Sara started to unlace her boots. She tried not to scream out in pain as she pulled the boot off. The blister on her heel was throbbing. Her attempt to cover it up was in vain. Ben knelt down in front of her and gently took her foot in his hand.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Sara looked up and was shocked to see anger in his face. She could only utter a simple explanation.
"I didn't want you to know." She immediately regretted the words that flew from her lips. Sara saw Ben's jaw clench as he held her ankle. The anger danced across his eyes as he looked at her.
"If you're hurt, you tell me. Do you understand?" If anyone else had spoken to her like that she would have lashed out in such fury they would have regretted ever learning to speak. But the look on Ben's face as he stared at her and her blister made her feel like crying. She couldn't move. She just stared at him.
"Sara? Do you understand?" His voice was a little louder when he spoke this time. Sara swallowed hard and blinked back the tears forming in her eyes. She lowered her head and whispered, "Yes, I'm sorry." Ben blinked back tears of his own as he pulled her to his chest. He wrapped his arms around her and stroked the back of her head. He was shocked at how angry he was at her. The thought of her hurting and not telling him sent feelings of rage surging through him. He placed his finger under her chin and looked into her tear-filled green eyes.
"I'm sorry I yelled at you. But, please, don't ever do that again."
"I didn't want you to think I was a wimp or some kind of frail little girl." Her voice was small as guilt washed over her like a waterfall. Ben kissed her softly on the forehead. His voice was soft and loving as he spoke.
"It's alright to be frail sometimes, Sara. Besides, you're the strongest person I know. Look at all you've been through. Only the strong can survive things like that. Now, let's see about that blister." He smiled and lifted Sara's foot as he examined her heel. She leaned back on her hands while Ben looked her over and removed something from his pack.
"It will make it stop hurting?"
"What is it?"
"It works much like a topical anesthetic - " She could tell he was avoiding the question. He rubbed the ointment over the back of Sara's heel. She wiggled her toes in his face and interrupted him.
"Ben, what is it?" He tucked his head to avoid her gaze as he gently rubbed the blister.
"It's used by the Inuit for various things. It's made from the placenta - "
"It's made from the placenta of a moose and herbs found in - " Then the breeze shifted slightly and Sara caught a whiff of what Ben was rubbing on her foot.
"Oh my God! It stinks!" Sara held her hand over her mouth and nose as she tried to wiggle her foot away from Ben.
"Stop moving." Ben tightened his grip on her ankle.
"Oh God, Ben. That's nasty." She twisted and turned but couldn't break loose of Ben's hold on her.
"Stop it. You're acting like a child."
"Uuugghhh. That's so gross. Why didn't you tell me it smelled like sh - "
"Does it feel better?" She stopped and sat very still for a moment. Then a slight smile slid across her lips.
"Yeah, it feels better." Ben sat back on his heels and smiled at her.
"Then it's worth the smell."
"I wouldn't go that far." The two of them laughed as Fraser helped Sara to her feet. They continued setting up the campsite. Sara purposely picked a spot far from the other campers. Doris had nodded her understanding as Sara pointed out where she had wanted to camp and Sara over heard Doris tell Jerry how she wished they were newlyweds again.
The campsite was all set up and everyone was gathered around enjoying the cool breeze. It was around 7 and the temperature had cooled a degree or two. Sara sat on the ground with her legs stretched out in front of her. She leaned back on her hands and lifted her face toward the sky. She sighed as she closed her eyes and wiggled her toes. It felt good to get out of those hiking boots. She was a little self conscious about the smell of the ointment Ben had applied, however she assured herself that if it got too bad everyone could just sit down wind. Fraser perched himself on a large boulder. He took his cap off and wiped the back of his wrist across his forehead. He was thrilled to be outdoors again and away from the city. He could have hiked the rest of the way to the river, but he knew Sara and the others were tired. Fraser replaced the cap on his head and moved from the rock to join Sara on the ground.
"Hey, you, what are you thinking about?"
* How freaking hot, nasty and tired I am. * "Oh, nothing. I'm just enjoying the breeze."
Fraser placed a hand on her ankle.
"How's the blister?" Sara lowered her eyes slightly. She still felt the pang of guilt from making Ben angry.
"It feels much better, thank you." Fraser smiled at how she could be a gorgeous self-confident woman one minute and a remorseful little girl the next.
"I'm sorry I was harsh with you." He tilted his head down so he could meet her eyes while he smiled a crooked grin. Sara returned his smile and winked.
"Ben, um - I need to - um - " Fraser sat waiting for her to speak. Sara looked around and caught Doris and Jerry smiling at her. She tucked her head and leaned closer to Fraser and whispered, "I have to go to the bathroom."
"How so?" Sara leaned back and answered rather loudly.
"Whatdya mean 'how so'? I've got to go to the bathroom." Realizing the entire group and half of Arizona heard her she felt her cheeks grow hot.
"I mean, well - um - in what capacity do you - um - have to go?"
Sara leaned in and whispered again.
"I need to pee." Before Fraser could answer Doris spoke up.
"I'll go with you honey, I've got to go myself." Fraser gave Doris a grateful smile as he helped Sara to her feet.
"Where is it?" Doris chuckled a little and took Sara by the arm.
"Honey, where are you from?"
"Have you ever heard the phrase 'hit the woods'?" Sara wrinkled her nose.
"I was afraid of that."
"Well, in this case, we're going to hit the rocks" Doris laughed as she and Sara walked over a small ridge.
Jerry walked over and took a seat beside Fraser.
"Yes sir. We're on our honeymoon."
"Ah ha. The wife ever gone camping before?"
"What about yourself?"
"Yes sir. I'm a Mountie."
"I see." The older man placed a hand on Fraser's shoulder. "Well, son, just hang in there and what ever happens remember she loves you and you love her. Don't let the things she says get you upset. It will all work itself out. Just remember stay firm but loving. "
"I beg your pardon?"
"Don't worry, you'll understand soon enough." Jerry smiled to himself as he walked back to his campsite. He waved to Doris as she and Sara made their way back to camp. Sara thanked Doris and returned to Ben. Doris smiled at Jerry as she walked up.
"Did you say anything to that nice young man?"
"She's just about to the breaking point."
"I can tell."
"She's really trying though. She told me that this was a surprise honeymoon. Her husband wouldn't tell her where they were going until they got to the airport."
"Think he'll be able to handle it?"
"I think so. At least I hope so for his sake." Jerry chuckled to himself as they looked over at Ben and Sara.
"You want to go for a walk?" Fraser held out his hand to Sara.
"Sure. Let me grab the flip flops I packed."
Sara and Ben walked hand and hand along the rocks. They found themselves perched atop a large boulder looking across the canyon.
"Look at it, Ben. It's beautiful. Have you ever seen anything like this?"
"Never. It's truly remarkable."
Sara closed her eyes and tilted her head down. Fraser watched her for a moment and then asked, "Sara, what are you doing?" She sat in stilled silence for a few more moments and then she spoke.
"I'm doing two things actually."
"And they are?"
"I'm thanking God for this miracle before us." Fraser smiled as she closed her eyes again.
"And the second thing?"
"I'm thanking God for you." She opened her eyes and looked directly into his clear blue eyes. Fraser met her eyes for a brief moment and then tucked his head in embarrassment. He tilted his head slightly and glanced at her. She nudged him playfully with her elbow.
Sara and Ben returned to the camp area to find Doris and Jerry relaxing by the front of their tent. The college boys and Zack the tour guide were spread out over the ground with t-shirts, elbows and whatever they could find covering their faces from the evening sun. Sara rubbed her stomach as it began to growl while Ben smiled at her.
"Why don't we get us something to eat?"
"Sounds good to me. But, do you think I can get a layer of this crud washed off me first?" Ben took her by the hand and led her to the tent. Sara was at least grateful that the tent was nicer than she had initially imagined. The Charlie Brown Pup Tent of her horrid imagination had been replaced with a two-person dome tent with zippered flaps and even a small plastic skylight-type window in the top. Ben held the flap for Sara to enter the tent and followed her inside. She sat cross-legged as Ben knelt in front of her.
"I beg your pardon?!"
"You need to undress if I'm going to wash you off." Sara saw a wicked grin spread across Ben's lips as he tugged on the sleeve of her shirt. Understanding spread across her features as she began to pull her t-shirt from her shorts. Ben rested back on his heels as he watched Sara slowly remove her t-shirt. She leaned back and slid out of her shorts.
"Sara, you really should wear underwear out here." Ben looked at her rather matter-of-factly, but his eyes gave away his true feelings regarding her lack of panties. She simply smiled at him as she unfastened her bra and tossed it over his shoulder. The world seemed to still as Ben dipped the cloth into the bowl of water. Sara jumped slightly at the shock of water being dripped across her stomach. She motioned to take the cloth from him and bathe herself but Ben gave her a crooked grin and took her hand in his. He raised her arm slowly and gently washed her forearm. The water streamed down her side as Ben circled the cloth over her skin. He kissed her softly as he dipped the cloth into the bowl of water and brought the cloth up to her breasts. Sara inhaled sharply as Ben washed her chest and stomach. He trailed his fingers down her thigh and then took her knee in his hands and lifted her leg, then squeezed the cloth slightly to release the water. The water trailed quickly down her thighs and pooled beneath her on the floor of the tent. Ben methodically and sensuously washed her thighs and calves. Sara could feel her stomach tighten. She wasn't sure how much more of this she could take. Ben sensed her growing frustration and motioned for her to turn around. She reluctantly turned her back to him. She moaned slightly as Ben rubbed the damp cloth over her back and neck. Sara smiled as she felt Ben's breath on her shoulder. His hands left her back while he caressed her skin with the damp cloth. Sara tilted her head back slightly and found Ben's lips next to hers. She kissed him softly as he slowly washed the creases of her thighs. Sara shifted and turned to face Ben. She straddled his legs and took the cloth from his hands. She pulled away from his soft kisses and smiled.
Ben removed his t-shirt and quickly shed his boots and jeans. Sara giggled to herself at the speed in which Ben could remove his clothing. She dipped the cloth in the water and slowly swirled the cloth across his chest. She traced the same path across his body that he had on hers. She could see that her actions were having the same effect on Ben as they were having on her. Ben trailed his fingers along her shoulder as she slowly lifted his knee and trailed the cloth along his inner thigh. It was his turn to inhale sharply as Sara rubbed the cloth along the creases of his thigh. He tilted his head back and closed his eyes as Sara took his length in his hand and caressed it with the damp cloth. Sara pulled her hands away long enough to deposit the cloth back in the bowl. Her fingers were cool to the touch as she traced the contours of his body. Ben brought a hand to her neck and pulled Sara to his lips. Before Sara could think about the six other people on the other side of the canvas tent, Ben had positioned himself on top of her. The world had disappeared as Ben grabbed her upper thigh and pushed his length into her. She moaned softly as Ben stared into her eyes.
"Sara, you have to be quiet. We're not alone out here, remember." Ben slowly moved inside her until he felt Sara's hands tighten on his hips. He could see the passion building in her eyes. She lifted her knees and wrapped them tightly around his waist. Sara thrust her hips in rhythm with Ben's. A small moan escaped him as she arched her back to receive him. She placed her hand over his mouth and whispered, "Quiet, remember." Ben brought his hand to hers. He sucked and licked at her fingers as the passion increased. Sara could feel the flood of ecstasy began to wash over her. She grabbed the back of Ben's head and bought his lips to hers. She shuddered as she released. She wanted to scream, scream his name at the pleasure he had brought her. She felt Ben's grip tighten on her buttocks. He devoured her mouth as he released. Collapsing his head on her shoulder, he held her. She brushed the sweat from his forehead and smiled into his clear blue eyes.
"Camping's not so bad after all." Ben laughed as Sara took the cloth and wiped herself down quickly. She rinsed the cloth in the small bowl and tossed it to Ben.
"Here, let's get dressed. I'm starving."
Ben and Sara put on fresh clothes and made their way back to the others. One of the college boys gave Sara a knowing look.
"What took you guys so long?" Sara looked at Pete for a moment and smiled.
"Ben was showing me some survival techniques for desert living." Ben's face grew pink as he looked at Sara. She wasn't embarrassed in the slightest, something Ben knew he would have to get used to.
Ben went to his pack that he had left near the rock he was sitting on earlier and pulled out a large plastic bag. He handed it to Sara and smiled.
"Here, this should taste pretty good right now." She took the bag from him and stared at the dried fruit. * I hate dried fruit. * But the good mood of passion had not worn off yet so she took a hand full of the mixture and feasted on nuts, dried bananas and cranberries. Doris and Jerry smiled at the sight of Sara and Ben feeding each other. Doris leaned over to Jerry and whispered, "Looks like the calm before the storm."
Ben woke Sara earlier than she had expected. She tried to talk herself into a better mood but it just didn't seem to be working. Ben was whistling and very full of himself. The fresh open air invigorated him and it was starting to get on Sara's nerves.
"We'll hike past that ridge and over the following one for about three hours. Then we'll stop for lunch. After that the river is only another 3 hours." Zack the tour guide pointed and held up fingers like a third grader as he spoke. Doris and Jerry had everything packed and ready for the hike. Sara was starting to pull her boots on when Ben grabbed her heel.
"Wait a minute."
"You need at least two pairs of socks on with this blister."
"But that's so hot! My feet will get heat stroke."
"Now, that's just plain ridiculous." Sara made a face and Ben knew she was getting ready to argue with him. Before she had the chance to speak Sara saw that same flash of anger in his eyes.
"Sara, you have to wear two pairs of socks. I'm not going to argue over this. I will not have you in pain, do you understand?" Sara looked at him for a moment and smiled. Ben was taken aback at her sudden smile at him. He had fully prepared himself for her to come back at him with an argument.
"You're wonderful. I hope you know that."
"I beg your pardon?"
"I said you're wonderful. Ben, I've never really seen you angry before. I mean angry angry. But, it really upsets you to think about me in pain and hiding it from you doesn't it?" Ben looked at her with all the love his face could express.
"Of course it does. I'm your husband and I love you. I hope you never have to experience pain." He leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. She squeezed his arm as he bent down. He reached behind her and shoved another pair of socks at her.
"Put these on and hurry. We've got to get moving."
The hike went much like the day before. Ben watched Sara's every step to make sure she didn't stumble. Doris and Jerry trekked like mountain goats along the trail. The college boys goofed around and acted like frat boys on parade. Sara could feel the sweat start to pool at the back of her shorts. The sun was blazing down and the heat was a record high for that day. She no longer whistled or chatted with anyone. She kept her mind on the trail.
* Lord, it's hot. I'm going to die. I know I'm going to die. They're just going to have to bury me up here and place rocks on my body like in those John Wayne movies. No animal would want to eat me anyway. Anything that smells this bad has to be rancid. My feet are so hot. You better be glad I love you Benton Fraser. Look at him up there. My Mountie. He looks like a walking ad for outdoor living. Well guess what Mountie Man. I may be from the country, but I'm a lawyer, a D.A. The only thing I have to survive is cross-examination. Aaackk! What the hell was that?! God, I hate bugs. I'm probably going to die of some type of scorpion bite. No, they sting that's right. Are there scorpions in Arizona? Ben would know. He'll give me the entire wildlife inventory, though. If I wanted Marlon Perkins, I'd rent 'Wild Kingdom'. I don't know how Doris does this. I wonder how much farther it is to the river. I hope it's not too far. I wouldn't mind being buried by a river. *
"Sara, are you all right?"
"Sure, dear. How about you?"
"I'm fine. Look over there. You can just see the river." As Sara turned to see the river she lost her footing and tripped over a rock. She hit the ground hard with her knee. It hurt as bad as it looked but she didn't want to upset Ben. He quickly grabbed her arm and sat her down on a rock. She choked down the tears that were forming. Doris quickly handed Ben a bandage and helped him clean the scrape.
"It's fine really. I've got scars all over these knees from living on the farm. It's the one thing I'm used to." She gave a half-hearted smile to make Ben feel better even though it hurt terribly. The bandage didn't help matters. Walking hurt more with the adhesive pulling at her skin. Doris gave Jerry a look. Ben walked the rest of the trail holding Sara's hand.
* I can see the river! Thank you, Jesus! I can see the river. Maybe I'll live through this after all. Ben, God love him, I don't know what was going through his mind when he decided to hike through the Canyon they call Grand. Geez! Look at him. He looks so happy. I'm trying. I really am. But, it's so hot. I've got heat rash on my ass and I know my deodorant doesn't work anymore. Agh, if I could just wash my hair. Thank goodness I bought this hat. I've got enough oil in my hair to fry potatoes. My knee hurts like hell. It's starting to get stiff. All I want to do is lie down. Just for a little while. A year maybe, is that too much to ask? Great, I need to pee again. I hate that. Now I have to tell Ben. He always gives me that look. The I'm-sorry-I'm-a-man-and-can-go-to-the-bathroom-with-ease-and-you're-a-woman-and-have-to-squat-like-some-dog look. You better be glad I love you and you're so cute. I'd never let any other man talk me into something like this. *
Sara smiled over at Ben as he squeezed her hand. He was so proud of how well she was doing along the hike. Zack the tour guide stopped at the top of the ridge.
"The river is about a half hour hike away. We'll rest there for about two hours and then we'll walk west another half-hour. There we will ride horse back up the rest of the Rim. Will spend the night on the trail and ride to the hotel in the morning."
Sara muttered under her breath, "Thank, God."
"Did you say something, sweetheart." Sara smiled sweetly and kissed him on the cheek.
"Thank you kindly, what was that for."
"I felt like it." Ben took her hand again and they continued down the trail.
Sara took a deep breath and arched her back. She leaned over and scooped a handful of water from the river and let it fall over the back of her neck. "Oh, thank you, Jesus."
Doris leaned down beside her and dipped her bandana in the water. "Feels great, huh?"
"You're tellin' me." Sara smiled and walked over to Ben. * Well, here goes. *
"Ben, I'm going to go to the bathroom." Ben rubbed his hand over her back. He could feel the tightness of her muscles.
"Do you want me to go with you?"
"No, I'll be fine by myself. I'll be back in a minute."
Sara walked stiffly over the ridge. Her knee was throbbing, her back ached, and her heat rash itched in places that shouldn't itch. She turned back and smiled over her shoulder at Ben. She caught her foot on another rock and stumbled. She managed to catch herself and regain her footing. However, her hand landed in a small plant. Before she could pull her hand away she felt a sharp sting on her pinky finger.
"Ow!" When she looked up Ben was by her side and helping her stand up.
"Sara, what's wrong?" Through tear filled eyes Sara answered him.
"Something stung me." Ben grabbed her hand quickly and began to examine it.
"It seems to be a bee, the stinger is still in your finger. Hold still so I can get it out." Sara winced in pain as Ben removed the stinger from the side of her finger. Sara could feel the color leave her face. She had had about all she could stand.
"Are you allergic?"
"What do you mean 'not really'?" Ben was still caressing her hand as he tried to figure out Sara's status.
"I'm not going to die if that's what you mean. I just react with a lot of swelling and bruising." Sara heaved a large sigh and Ben could tell she was extremely agitated. He pulled her finger to his lips and gently kissed the bee sting.
"I hope that makes it feel a little better." Under any other circumstances this would have melted Sara to her very core. However, today it seems to only fuel the now raging fire.
"Thanks." Ben stroked the back of her neck.
"You want to come back and rest awhile?"
"I've still got to go to the bathroom."
"You want me to walk with you?"
"No, I'd rather go by myself. I'll only be a minute." Ben kissed the palm of her hand and returned to the river edge. Sara continued over the ridge to do what she started out to do.
* Good grief! What else could happen? Is a boulder going to fall on me? I better not think too hard or it just might.*
Sara unfastened her shorts and assumed the position all females know too well. She had completed her task and was about to pull up her shorts when she felt something brush against her leg. She looked down and in the crotch of her pants was a small green lizard.
Ben nearly leapt across the boulder near the river after he heard Sara scream. He reached the crest of the small ridge to see Sara in her underwear. Her shorts were lying on the ground and she was running around them in a circle with her hands rubbing all over her body as she screamed.
"Sara! What's wrong? Are you hurt?" At Ben's arrival Sara suddenly stopped. Her head was tucked down and she didn't move a muscle.
"Is it on me?! Get it off! Get it OFF!!" Ben walked closer to Sara and looked her up and down.
"Is what on you?"
"There was a huge mutant lizard in my shorts. GET IT OFF!!"
"There's nothing on you, Sara. It's gone." She lifted her head slowly to see the clear blue eyes of the man she loved. Without saying a word she marched over to her shorts. She grabbed them from the ground, shook them violently and then slid them on. She glared at him before she turned to return to the river.
The college boys, Zack, Doris and Jerry were all waiting in anticipation to see what had happen to Sara. Doris looked at Jerry as Sara appeared over the rise.
"Oh dear. Here it comes."
Ben sprinted along behind her. He still was a little uncertain of the details of what just happened. He looked at her with confusion as she stomped across the desert and over to the river edge. He caught up with her and placed a hand on her arm. Jerry leaned over to Doris and whispered, "Big mistake." One of the college boys stated to the others, "She looks pissed." Sara wheeled around and glared at Ben and the hand he had on her arm.
Ben calmly asked Sara, "What's wrong?" Sara stood in silence for a few moments. As Sara glared at him, Ben heard Doris whisper to Jerry, "Poor thing's going to lose it. I hope the boy can handle it." Sara heard the statement as well. She could feel the pressure building inside her. She prayed that Ben would just leave her alone for a few minutes. Unfortunately, Ben had no idea what Doris was talking about. He pulled Sara towards him in an effort to hug her. This was the last thing Sara wanted at that moment. Then Ben asked the ultimate wrong question, "What's wrong, Sara. I don't understand why you're upset." Sara couldn't hold her tongue any longer. She took both hands and gripped his forearms as she began to scream.
"What's wrong?! What's wrong?! Dear God in Heaven, what do you mean what's wrong?!" She released his arms and began pacing. Ben saw a change in her that he had seen many times. She was no longer Sara the country girl, she had just launched into Sara: District Attorney. She was pleading her case to an imaginary jury and Ben was the object of her fury.
"Let's start from the beginning, shall we?! It's 400 degrees out here. That's hot. Hot hot. Hot combined with red canyon dust - ." Ben interrupted, "Sara, I hardly think that it is 400 degrees - ." He was silenced by a steely-eyed stare from Sara and a shake of the head from Jerry.
"You listen to me, Benton Fraser." Ben took note quickly that Sara had never called him Benton. From the moment they met she had always called him Ben. He stared at her while she continued her tirade. "I'm hot, sticky, sweaty and tired. I have a blister on my heel the size of my head. I smell. Really smell, Ben. Do you understand when I say smell? I haven't washed my hair in three days. I've had to go to the bathroom behind rocks. I had no idea we were going camping. Had I had such an idea, I would have been able to inform you that I have never been camping. Furthermore, it is my understanding that some people enjoy this type of recreation. I would like the record to show that I don't think I'm one of those people. Sleeping in a canvas sweatbox in the middle of nowhere is not recreation." Ben stood and stared at Sara as she paced along the river edge. He caught site of Jerry out of the corner of his eye. The conversation they had earlier in the week came back to him. He now understood the older man's words. Sara could tell that his thoughts were elsewhere. She marched over to him and planted her feet firmly in front of him demanding his full attention. With her hands waving frantically in the air as she spoke she continued. "My knee is throbbing. You can get mad if you want to. I only told you it didn't hurt that bad so you wouldn't put that God awful ointment on me again. For the love of Christ, Ben, I smell bad enough on my own. I don't need any help from you and your moose grease." She jerked her pinky finger up to his face. "See this?! It's starting to swell. It hurts like hell. Like hell, Ben. And then, I get attacked by mutant desert wildlife." Ben stood in amazement as she vented three days of frustration in front of the entire group.
"Sara, what are you doing?" At this, Sara stood in open-mouthed shock. She swung her head to face one of the college boys as he spoke.
"She's pitching a fit, man. Haven't you ever seen one?" An evil smile spread over her face. She turned to face Ben once again. He had schooled his features and was giving her his best big-eyed Mountie look.
"Yes, Benton. It's a hissy fit. Most people pitch hissy fits right before they do something rash. Let the record show, Constable, that no jury of my peers would convict me. After all the evidence has been presented, it can only be ruled a justifiable homicide."
Ben had had just about enough. He knew that Sara was on the verge of hysterics. He recalled Jerry's advice of firm but loving. In the middle of another drawn out statement about the heat rash on her behind Ben leaned down and hoisted Sara over his shoulder.
"Benton Fraser, put me down this instant!" Sara smacked at his back and behind as Ben started to carry her toward the river.
"Put me down!" Sara screamed as Ben continued to walk toward the river. He waded in about ankle deep when Sara screamed again.
"Benton Fraser, put me down!" This time Ben responded by swatting Sara on the butt. She screamed as the sting of his hand met her backside. He waded farther into the river; he suddenly stopped and stood there for a moment. He was waist deep in the water. Afraid Ben would swat her on the behind again she spoke in a more reasonable yet sarcastic tone.
"Well, what do you think you are doing?" In one graceful motion, Ben swung Sara off his shoulder and dumped her in the river. Sara's head emerged from the water as she gasped for breath. Ben stood over her as she looked up at him in shock.
"That should cool you off." Sara stood and faced him. Her face was still one of shock and disbelief. Ben smiled slightly as he reached for her hand. Jerry and Doris looked at one another.
"I wonder what the girl's going to do now?"
Sara took Ben's hand and held it for a moment. Ben looked at her and in the sternest voice he could manage he asked, "Are you ready to act civil again?" To his amazement she answered in the sweetest tone he had heard in days.
"Yes, Ben. Right after I do this." Before Ben could get the words, "Do what?" out of his mouth, Sara grabbed the hand she was holding and pulled Ben's upper body toward her. She then hooked her leg around the back of Ben's knee and pushed his head under water. He was quickly on his feet and stunned by what she had just done. She grinned in full satisfaction of herself.
"Where did you learn how to do that?"
"My little brother is not so little. I've had to learn how to defend myself over the years." Ben scooped her up in his arms and heaved her back in the river. Sara came up laughing and splashing Ben in the face. To everyone's amazement on the shore of the river, Ben and Sara had broken out into a full-fledged water fight. Jerry looked at Doris and smiled, "They're going to be just fine."
Ben reached over and pulled Sara to him. He kissed her deeply and Sara returned his kiss by wrapping her legs around his waist. Ben sank into the water and probed Sara's mouth with his tongue. Sara ran her fingers through his wet hair and squeezed her legs tighter around his waist. The two of them sat in the middle of the river clinging to one another and lost in their embrace until Jerry cleared his throat. Ben and Sara looked over to the shore and burst into laughter. Sara laughed even more at the small cards the college boys were holding up. Each held a card with a number scrawled on it to rate Sara's fit. As the two of them waded out of the river she smiled at Pete and laughed, "Only an 8. I thought it was at least a 9.5." Pete grinned, "Nah, my girlfriend's pitched a 10 before. You paled in comparison."
Ben shuddered at the thought that this wasn't even a ten. He smiled at Sara as she leaned up and kissed his cheek. Doris walked over and patted Sara on the arm.
"Don't worry dear. My first camping trip with Jerry was ten times worse. He ended up with a broken nose." Ben looked on in disbelief.
"What are you whining about? This place is a dump." Ray pulled the closet door open and started removing Fraser's clothes.
"Besides, you both have been practically living at Sara's for the past few months anyway. I can't believe you're whining about leaving this place." Ray sat on the edge of the bed and folded Fraser's shirts. "You know you like it at Sara's. It's in a much nicer neighborhood. She let's you sleep on the couch for Christ's sake." He pulled the trunk into the center of the room and began placing the shirts neatly on top of Bob Fraser's journals. Diefenbaker let out a low growl.
"I see it."
Ray walked over to the kitchen and grabbed Dief's bowl from the floor. "I'm not going to forget anything." Dief responded with a soft woof. "Anything else?" Ray surveyed the room. All of Fraser's possessions we're in a small pile in the middle of the floor. The bare apartment didn't look much different from when Fraser lived there.
"That looks like everything. C'mon, let's get you all moved in over at Sara's. They'll be back tomorrow." Dief barked with excitement. "Yeah, I miss 'em, too. At least Fraser'll have all his stuff there when they get home."
It only took Ray two trips to get Fraser's things down to the Riv. He and Dief made the short drive to Sara's apartment complex.
"Hiya Ernie. Can you give me a hand with this trunk?" Ray and Ernie carried Robert Fraser's trunk up to Sara's apartment. Dief entered the apartment first and assumed his position on the couch. Ray and Ernie carried the trunk into the bedroom and placed it in the corner. Ray and Ernie walked downstairs and retrieved Fraser's RCMP uniforms from the backseat of the Riv. "That's the last of it, Ernie. Thanks." Ray waved his appreciation as he entered the elevator. Ray looked around Sara's apartment and smiled. He laughed at the thought of Fraser living in such a nice place. Even Ray didn't know too many people with a three-bedroom apartment in the city. He knew it would take Fraser awhile to adjust to the surroundings. Ray walked over to Dief and scratched his ears. "You seem to have made the move just fine, huh boy?" Dief whined his response. "Don't be so sensitive. You know you're getting soft. I see the way Sara spoils you." Ray hung Fraser's shirts in the closet next to the clothes he already had over at Sara's. He folded his jeans and placed them in the drawer next to Sara's. Pleased with everything, he turned and went to the front door.
"C'mon, you can't stay here tonight. You gotta come home with me."
Dief growled and placed his head on his paws.
"Ma's making ravioli." Dief's head snapped up and he leapt off the couch.
"Yeah, that's what I thought."
Sara sighed as Ben rubbed the back of her neck. She felt like a ton of bricks had been lifted off her shoulders.
"I should pitch a fit more often."
"I'd rather you not."
"How's the knee?"
"It's starting to swell."
"It really needs some ice on it."
"It's going to hurt for a while."
"I know that, Ben."
He rubbed her back between her shoulder blades. She closed her eyes and leaned into his hands. The water still streamed from her hair after being thrown in the river. She smiled to herself.
"At least I feel clean."
"Yeah, me too."
"You're always clean."
"How can you say that?"
"Look at you. It's like you have some kind of weird anti-dirt field around you."
"I've always been this way."
"Ray seems to think so."
"I bet he does. How much farther?"
"About a half hour."
"Then we ride the rest of the way, right?"
"Thank God." Sara sighed and leaned her head back on Ben's shoulder. They sat in silence for a moment and watched the river flow past them.
"It is beautiful here."
"It's beautiful in Canada, too, isn't it Ben?"
"It's very beautiful."
"Will you take me?"
"To Canada. I'd like you to take me to your home. I'd love to see where you grew up."
"I've got some vacation coming in February, how about then. I'll take you to Yellowknife. You can finally get to meet Buck Frobisher."
Sara and Ben stood and held each other for a few minutes. The rest of the tour group had started to hike to the horse stables. Sara took Ben by the hand and the two of the leisurely strolled the rest of the trail.
"Now this is something I know." Sara quickly mounted her horse and trotted over to Ben.
"Hey, there's the smile I've been missing." Sara winked at him as they rode slowly up the trail.
"This time tomorrow we'll be home." Ben pulled the cap from his head and wiped his forehead.
"Yep, home sweet home. We'll be an old married couple then." Sara smiled to herself at the thought of being in their apartment, not her apartment.
"Sounds nice doesn't it?"
The two of them couldn't keep the smiles off their faces for the rest of the afternoon. Doris and Jerry smiled at the sight of them.
"Looks like those two are going to make it."
"Yes, I think they'll be just fine."
"Sara, have you got everything?"
"I'm looking for the hat I bought? I thought I put it on the back of the door in the bathroom."
"I've got it out here. You need to hurry so we can make the airport."
Sara emerged from the hotel room with her carry on bag slung over one shoulder, her purse strap in her teeth and a bottle of water in her hand.
"Allow me." Ben pulled the bag from her shoulder and hoisted it over his.
"Ben, you don't have to carry everything!"
"Sara, your hand is swollen and purple, you're limping from the blister and the fall on the knee and frankly you look as if you've lost some weight. I'm not going to let you carry anything. Deal with it."
"Deal with it? Where did that come from?"
"From you actually."
"Maybe I am a bad influence on you."
"I think you may be right." Ben gave her a crooked grin as he pressed the button for the elevator.
"In spite of everything, I had a good time." Sara looped her arm through his as she smiled up at him.
"I'm sorry if camping was a bad choice."
"I'm sorry I'm not better at it."
"You'll get better, look at Doris."
"You mean you plan on going again?"
"Sara, when we go to Canada we'll be staying in a cabin."
"Yeah, so. It's a house, right?"
"It's a cabin. There's no bathroom to be quite blunt about the matter." Sara heard the elevator ding the lobby. Ben motioned for her to exit the elevator.
Ray and Dief stood waiting at gate 34. The plane had been delayed thirty minutes and Dief was getting impatient.
"Here it comes." The elderly gentleman standing beside him gave him an odd look.
"I was talking to the wolf." Dief whined a response as the gentleman moved away from the two of them.
"Jesus, now I'm as bad as Benny." Dief bolted to his feet and began to run down the concourse. Ray smiled as he saw Sara and Ben through the crowd. Ben knelt down and engulfed Dief in a large hug. Dief groaned and barked with pleasure as Ben scratched his stomach and sides.
Sara smiled as her eyes met Ray's.
Ray lifted her off her feet and swung her around.
"Sara, you're a sight for sore eyes!"
"We've only been gone a week, Ray." Ben was now standing by his friend with a big smile on his face. Ray set Sara gently on the ground and hugged Ben. The three of them stood there for a minute and exchanged smiles and pats in the back. Then Ray's gaze fell on Sara.
"What the hell happened to you?"
"It's a long story."
"I'm sure Benny will tell me. So how'd you like camping?"
"Like I said, it's a long story."
The four of them collected Sara and Ben's luggage and made their way to the Riv. Ben and Dief climbed into the backseat and Sara buckled herself into the front next to Ray.
"Ray, could you stop by my old apartment? I need to settle my rent and collect my things."
"It's taken care of, Benny. I'm taking you two home."
"You've already moved all my things? Ray, you didn't have to do that."
"Hey, it only took one trip. Besides, what are friends for?" Ray smiled as Sara leaned across the seat and planted a kiss on his cheek.
"Hey, cut that out. Your husband might get jealous." Sara turned toward the back seat and winked at Ben.
"Not a chance. He knows he's the only man for me."
"So, are you going to tell me what happened to you or what?" Sara grinned at Ben as he tucked his head, slightly embarrassed.
"Let's just say, Mother Nature kicked my ass."
"Sara!" Ben gave Sara a shocked look that quickly faded into laughter as Ray and Sara giggled in the front seat.
"So camping's not your thing, huh Sara?"
"I don't know. I did pretty good in the tent." She shared a wicked smile with Ben as his cheeks turned a pale shade of pink.
"I don't want to hear about that!" Ray rolled his eyes as he pulled into the parking garage. Sara sighed as he pulled into a space. "Home sweet home." Ben reached over the front seat and squeezed Sara's shoulder. Ray trotted quickly to Sara's door and helped her from the car, while Ben and Dief followed and the four of them rode the elevator upstairs to the Fraser's apartment.
Ben pulled his key from his pocket and unlocked the door. Ray looked stunned for a moment when he didn't step aside and let Sara pass through the door.
"I believe you are forgetting something."
Ben took Sara's purse and handed it and his suitcase to Ray. Ray grinned as Ben scooped Sara in his arms and carried her over the threshold. Sara kissed him graciously on the lips as he sat her gently down on the couch. Ray sat the suitcases by the door and waved his good-byes.
"You don't have to leave so soon, Ray."
"Oh, you two don't need me here."
"Thanks for everything."
"That's what I'm here for. I'll pick you up in the morning. You want me to come up or you gonna be downstairs?" Before Ben could speak, Sara answered, "Come up, I'll make breakfast. I'm not going in to the office until later."
"You got a deal."
Ray smiled to himself as he waited for the elevator. He was almost stunned at the thoughts that were going through his head. * I wish I could find a girl as nice a Sara. Jesus, what am I thinking! *
Ben looked around the apartment he now shared with his wife. It seemed almost untrue, a cruel dream or joke. He now had a family. A wife to share his life with. He would no longer be alone. Ben rubbed his hand down Sara's back as she slept with her head on his lap while he sat on the couch. Dief snoozed peacefully in the recliner. His recliner. He would have never dreamed of owning his own recliner, but he was thrilled when Sara bought it for him as a wedding gift. He knew Ray had a strange affection for the recliner he sat in at the Vecchio's. After stretching out in his and feeling the soft leather caress each and every muscle it touched, he could understand that affection.
Even though he had been practically living at Sara's for the past few months before the wedding, it was still going to take some adjustment on his part to his new surroundings. Gone were the days of cooking on a small hot plate and eating over the sink. He now had a fully furnished kitchen with a dining room table and chairs. Mr. Mustafi's broken television was replaced with a 46" Sony, wired with surround sound. Ben smiled to himself as he looked around the apartment. The furnishings were nice, but unpretentious. He didn't know how to handle the fact that Sara and her family were worth a small fortune at first, but then realized that he loved Sara and that was all that mattered. Sara never let the fact that she didn't have to work or that she could do anything she wanted dictate who she was as a person. She never really paid attention to her bank account. Her parents had always taught her that money was just something you had to buy the things you wanted. It couldn't buy the things you needed, like happiness, friendship or love.
Sara stirred slightly and Ben ran a finger over her forehead. Tomorrow was the start of their day to day life. He would get up and put on his uniform and go to work as if it were any other day. But it wouldn't be any other day. He would have to fill out new tax forms for work. Change his status to married. Have Sara's name listed along with Ray's as his next of kin. Sara would need to be added to his insurance policy the RCMP carried on all its personnel. Sara would have to start the process of changing her name from Montgomery to Fraser. He didn't feel it was necessary but Sara had insisted that his name be added to the lease on the apartment. Sara had also asked that they merge their bank accounts. She was adamant about not fighting over money. It was their money; they were married now. Not yours and mine, just ours. He and Ray would come home to his house for lunch and maybe watch the game on his TV that evening. Sara and he would cook dinner in their kitchen and eat at their table. No, tomorrow would not be just another day.
feedback is appreciated. :)