Sam looked around the crowded table and wondered why she didn't feel more out of place than she did. Aside from Mrs Reid, she was the only woman present, and she was the youngest person there too, but after so many years of driving for DCS Foyle, she felt quite as much at home having dinner with the employees of Hastings police station as she did with her parents and her father's parishioners.
DCS Foyle, on the other hand, looked quite uncomfortable. He had been appalled when Sam had accidentally let slip earlier that Mr Rivers and Mr Reid had organised a dinner to celebrate his 'retirement' from the force (neither Foyle nor Sam had bothered to correct the mistake and point out that in fact Foyle had resigned).
He was sitting stiffly next to Sam, his hands clasped in his lap as Hugh Reid got to his feet to make a speech, and she got the impression that if he could, he'd slip down under the table and crawl out of the restaurant.
Greatly daring, she lightly leaned her right shoulder against his left and slid her hand across from her lap to carefully grasp his wrist. Neither one of them took their eyes off Hugh Reid, but Sam had heard a tiny gasp of surprise from Foyle when she'd touched him. She felt him turn his wrist over, then his hands took hold of hers and he squeezed gently.
Sam bit her lip to keep her own startled gasp from escaping; Foyle's hands were warm and dry, and her hand felt surprisingly comfortable encased in both of his. Privately, she had to admit to a certain fascination with Foyle's hands: at various times she'd seen him playing the piano and playing chess, moving his fingers rapidly and fluently across the keys of a typewriter, or intricately tying a new fly for fishing. His fingers were long, dextrous and quick, and she'd miss watching them, now she was out of a job. Of course, that wasn't all she'd miss: there was his dry wit, his ability to convey a wealth of meaning with just the lift of an eyebrow or a twitch of his mouth, and the warm look in his eyes when she said something particularly intelligent or gave him a bit of information he needed.
She brought her attention back to the moment and realised that Mr Reid was coming to the end of his speech, so she attempted to retrieve her hand from Foyle's clasp. He, however, appeared to have other ideas as he resisted her endeavour to pull her hand free by tightening his grip.
"Sir?" Sam's voice was low enough that only Foyle could hear it.
"Yes, Sam?" His tone was innocent as he moved his hold on Sam so that her wrist was lightly but firmly in his left hand. Using only the tips of the fingers on his right hand he then began to stroke the palm of her hand and the inside of her wrist.
Sam bit her lip a second time as a shiver of pleasure shot up her spine in response to his touch. Before she could remonstrate with him, chairs scraped backwards as everyone got to their feet to toast DCS Foyle. He immediately let go of her hand, and she felt a combination of relief that he wasn't going to embarrass her, and disappointment at the loss of his touch.
Getting to her own feet, Sam picked up her glass with her left hand, as her right was still tingling from its intimate contact with Foyle's hands and she wasn't sure she could hold the glass without dropping it.
The toast was made and everyone sat down as Foyle got to his feet with no visible sign of reluctance, to make a brief, yet obviously sincere, speech of thanks in return. Sam sat nursing her hand in her lap, unable to look at her now ex-boss for fear that she'd blush horribly and everyone would know what she was feeling.
The party began to break up; Foyle and Sam followed Sergeant Rivers and Hugh Reid and his wife out of the pub. Outside they made their farewells, Mr Reid offering to drive the Sergeant home, which he gratefully accepted.
"Do either of you need a lift?" Hugh Reid asked Sam and Foyle.
"No, thank you, sir," Sam said. "I'm happy to walk."
"I'll walk you home, Sam," Foyle said, surprising her.
"Well, then, goodnight," said Mr Reid cheerfully. He and the others made their way to his car, which was parked a little way down the street from The Plume of Feathers, leaving Foyle and Sam together.
"You don't have to walk me home, sir," Sam said. "I'll be quite all right on my own."
"Nevertheless, Sam, I will feel happier if you'll allow me to walk you back," Foyle said quietly.
"Thank you, sir, it's jolly kind of you."
"You know, Sam, I'm not your boss now. You don't have to keep calling me 'sir'."
"Yes, I know. It's habit, I suppose."
"Well, try using my name, instead." He gave her a half-smile in the dim light as they set off towards Sam's billet.
She smiled back. "Very well, Mr Foyle."
He moved closer so that his arm brushed against hers. "Try Christopher," he said softly, and slipped his hand down her wrist to clasp her hand.
"Christopher, you're holding my hand," she said, proud of herself for not stuttering, but aware that her face was growing warm.
"It seems only fair," he said, "since you held mine earlier. Or did you grow to dislike it?" He made to pull his hand away, but she tightened her grip and held his arm against her side.
"No, Christopher, I didn't."
She wondered if she was imagining the note of satisfaction in his voice. She rather thought she wasn't.
"What are you going to do now?" she asked.
"I'm walking you home," he said, sounding surprised.
She laughed. "I meant now that you're no longer a policeman."
"Oh, well, go fishing more often, for one thing. I'm not sure what else. It's not as if I can easily go on holiday while this war's going on, and I don't think I want to be far from home anyway."
"Because of Andrew," Sam said softly.
They walked in silence for a few minutes before Foyle spoke again. "What about you, Sam? What will you do now?"
"I don't know," she said ruefully. "I want to stay in Hastings if I can, but I'd need to find another job or my father will expect me to come home."
"I'm sorry that my principles have made things awkward for you."
He sounded sincerely regretful, so she hastened to reassure him. "That's all right, sir. I wouldn't have expected you to remain just for my sake." She squeezed his hand. "Your integrity is one of the things I admire about you, Christopher."
She realised they'd reached her billet, and she let go of his hand reluctantly to fish her door key out of her handbag. "Would you like to come in and have a cup of tea?" she asked, as she reached up to unlock the door.
"Won't your landlady mind?" he asked.
"I don't have a landlady," Sam answered, as she opened the door and stepped across the threshold.
After only a moment's hesitation, Foyle followed her inside, then waited by the closed door as she moved away from him to turn on a small lamp. She turned back to him and he felt his breath catch in his throat momentarily: Sam looked utterly beautiful in the dim light, her hair seeming to flame gold.
"Are you all right, sir?" she asked, looking at him anxiously.
"I – Yes, fine, yes," he answered, not really certain of what answer he was making, he felt so stupefied all of a sudden. He'd always considered Sam to be reasonably attractive, even in her MTC uniform, but in this soft light, she seemed quite stunning.
She crossed back to where he stood just inside the front door and put her hand lightly on his arm. "Are you sure?" she asked.
He didn't stop to think, to consider the wisdom of his actions – which was very unlike Foyle – he simply lifted his arms and embraced her, angling his head to kiss her gently on the lips. To his immense relief, Sam responded immediately, wrapping her arms around him in return and sighing softly when he kissed her a second time. She returned his kisses, and he felt emboldened to deepen the next one, sliding his tongue across her lips until they parted.
When they pulled apart to catch their breath he looked at her anxiously, but saw, to his relief, that she didn't look at all shocked or horrified by his kisses.
"Sam – " he began, feeling a little uncertain about what he should say next.
"Why don't we sit down, Christopher?" she suggested, smiling shyly at him.
"Yes, of course." He guided her the few steps across the room to the sofa that faced the fireplace, and they sank down together, his right arm still around her body.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
Sam chuckled softly. "I think I should be asking you that," she answered. "You look almost as stunned as that first day when I marched into your office and introduced myself as your new driver."
"I feel rather stunned," he admitted, feeling uncharacteristically shy. "I'm not sure what came over me just then."
"Do you regret it?"
He lifted his head from his puzzled contemplation of his shoes. "No, oh no, definitely not." He tightened his arm, which was still holding her. "I'd like to do it again, if that's all right with you?"
Sam smirked. "Definitely," she said. "I must say however, Christopher, that you surprised me, too. I didn't know you felt the same way about me that I feel about you."
"Well, to be honest, I didn't know it either. I mean, I tried to convince myself that what I felt for you was more – fatherly." He rubbed three fingers across his brow. "Obviously I didn't do a very good job."
"I'm glad you didn't," she confided. "My feelings for you are far from daughterly."
He twitched his lips at her with his almost-smile. "So I presumed from your kisses."
"So what happens now?" asked Sam, with a characteristic touch of impatience. "You don't think I'm too young for you, do you?"
He shook his head. "You're a very mature young woman," he said. "But I do worry that I'm too old for you."
"You're not," she said immediately. "My father once told me that he thought I'd be better off marrying a man who's older than I am, because of what he calls my tendency to flights of fancy."
"I don't think he meant a man who's actually old enough to be your father, though, Sam," he said gently. "Don't forget, you're the same age as my son."
She gave a huff of impatience. "I know, but I don't care. Does it really matter?"
"It might," he said slowly. "If we got together, you could find yourself widowed in another ten or twenty years."
"And if I marry a younger man, and there's another war – which I hope won't happen, but you never know – I could just as easily lose him that way. After all, you've lived through two wars. If it comes to that, I could die next week, or we both could." She slipped her arms around him again. "Have you forgotten the Anthrax scare last year?"
He wrapped his other arm around her and embraced her tightly. "How could I ever forget that?" He brushed a kiss against her temple. "That was when I finally admitted to myself how much I cared about you, and not as a father or a superior should."
"Well, then," she said. "Why worry about what might happen in ten or twenty years’ time, when we could all be dead long before then? After all, we don't know how much longer this wretched war will continue." She pulled back a little to look him in the eye. "I think we should grab whatever chance of happiness comes our way."
"Carpe diem, eh?" He gave her his half-smile.
"Exactly," she said. "Kiss me, Christopher? Please?"
"Very well," he murmured against her lips. And he did just as she asked, giving himself up to the exquisite delight of tasting her again and again.
Eventually, after a very enjoyable interlude, Foyle pulled himself away from Sam. "I ought to be going," he said regretfully.
"Must you?" she asked, looking shy but hopeful.
"Yes, I must." He got to his feet, and Sam followed suit. "I daresay you'll think me old-fashioned, but there are some activities I would prefer to keep for the marriage bed."
She pouted, and he raised a quizzical eyebrow. "You haven't actually asked me, yet," she pointed out.
He felt himself beginning to blush. "Sam, I am very sorry. Forgive me?" To his relief she nodded, so he took both of her hands in his, then knelt down in front of her. "Samantha Stewart, would you marry me, please?"
He looked up at her hopefully, then worriedly as she seemed to choke back a sob.
Foyle got to his feet quickly and put his arms around her. "All right?" he asked tenderly.
"Yes, oh yes!" she gasped out. "I just never really believed this day would come, so I'm a bit emotional."
He chuckled softly. "That's all right, you're allowed to be." He kissed her lightly on the mouth, then the eyelids, then her forehead. "We'd better go and talk to your parents tomorrow," he said.
"Oh! Mmm, I suppose we should."
He kissed her briefly again on the mouth. "I'll see you in the morning, then," he said.
"You will take care, going home, won't you?" she asked in a spasm of anxiety.
"I always do," he said reassuringly. He took both her hands in his and squeezed her fingers, then turned away; picking up his discarded overcoat and hat, he put them on, then moved to the door.
"Goodnight, Christopher." He heard a little hitch of emotion in her voice, but made himself ignore it, and opening the door the smallest amount possible, he slipped out quickly.
As he set off towards home, he couldn't help thinking that the evening had ended better than he'd hoped – and all because Sam had dared to hold his hand in the pub when he was feeling unsettled. Strange how such a small thing could so significantly change two lives. He adjusted his hat to a jauntier angle, then picked up his pace as he strode along the pavement. Foyle didn't know what Sam's parents, or his son, Andrew's, reactions were going to be to the news of his and Sam's engagement, but at the moment he didn't care. All that mattered was that she'd agreed to become his wife. He began to whistle softly as he walked. Life was good.