Louise Harvey surfaced suddenly from a strange dream with a short cry and gasp of breath, her eyes taking in details of the familiar-yet-not-quite room in which she lay. It was one of many she'd had since she returned to England from New York; some full of disturbing scenes and others full of confusing imagery, faces she knew yet didn't recognise and events from the past five years that she couldn't remember.
"Steve?" There was a soft knock at the door and it creaked open, revealing the concerned features of Paul Temple; her husband. She slowly sat up and as he saw the movement he stepped into the room and settled on the edge of the bed, one hand covering hers. "Was it bad?" he asked, understanding immediately what she'd just been through. On the long journey home from New York, she had taken the opportunity to just sit and talk with him, both asking about their life together and sharing with him her thoughts and experiences since she had woken up in the hospital with a bullet wound to the head and the last five years of her life missing.
"Not very bad," she replied, trying to sort through the confusing jumble of images that remained. "I was in a room somewhere, on a chair, but I couldn't move. I think I was tied to it, and gagged. I could scream but that was it." At her pause, Temple's hand tightened on hers, providing comfort, and she suddenly felt the loss of someone to just hold her - her brother was dead and she hadn't been in a courtship with a man since Cape Town. Temple had been a gentleman with her on the way home, there if she needed him but showing very few signs of affection, and she had wondered if that was part of who he was or him trying to let her take their relationship at her own pace. But sometimes she just needed a reminder. "Stay with me?" She suddenly asked, grasping his hand with her own. He had been doing the gentlemanly thing yet again and sleeping in the spare room, which had made her appreciative yet guilty that she had essentially kicked him out of his own bed.
"Are you sure?" he questioned, although she could see he wanted to be back with her as much as she did, and was already moving to close the door. She gave him a soft smile and nodded, waiting for him to join her on the bed before she continued. He joined their hands again, letting her continue in her own time. The comfort that came from that small gesture anchored her to the present and she found it easier to sort through the images swirling in her mind.
"I knew there were people downstairs, and I think they were the ones that tied me up. I was near a window and saw one of them carry a body to a trap door above the river, and drop it through. I remember hoping you would find me, and then there you were." She glanced up at him and his face had darkened slightly in remembrance.
"That was when Max Lorraine captured you," he said, and she let out a soft breath.
"Had he killed Gerald?" she asked, and he nodded.
"That's how the whole affair started. He had been following the Midland jewel robberies closely and figured out it was Max Lorraine using the same modus operandi as in Cape Town. He was coming to see me with his theories and I convinced him to stay with me instead of at the inn. He was shot whilst fetching his bags."
Louise nodded, taking it in. "Was that how we met?" They'd spoken of their life together but he'd been sketchy about their meeting and she knew now it was because the start of their relationship had been tinged with sadness from the death of her brother.
"You came to me for help. You wanted it to be me versus Max Lorraine." He chuckled, remembering. "You were quite insistent, in fact."
She sent him another soft smile. "Had he spoken about me at all?"
"No. He never mentioned you - the first I knew about your relationship was when you introduced yourself." He saw her face fall a little and continued in reassurance, "He wanted to protect you. No one in Scotland Yard knew about you either - the same instinct that made him ask you to go by an alias in Cape Town stopped him from mentioning that fact to even his few friends and colleagues. A good thing too, as Max Lorraine turned out to be working with him in the Force."
"Steve Trent." She mulled over the name, images of her brother sitting in front of her with her hands folded in his, pleading with her, surfacing to the forefront of her mind. "I didn't choose the name," she said, looking down at their hands as Temple's thumb absently stroked over her skin, almost an echo of Gerald's comforting gesture during that conversation years ago. "We knew choosing something masculine would help in my journalism career but I didn't know where to start. He came up with Steve and then spent an hour looking through a book for the perfect surname." Tears started forming and she blinked them away. She'd spent too many hours crying since the accident. It was time to remember and move on. "I can't remember the title of the book, but I don't think I even remembered it beforehand." She gave Temple a watery smile and he slipped an arm around her, tugging her into his side. It was the most display of affection she'd received from him but she was starting to understand he wasn't a man who wore his heart on his sleeve, and suspected even before the accident he wasn't prone to much.
"I don't know why I continued calling you Steve, even after I knew your name was Louise," Temple replied, his voice deeper from where she now sat with her head resting against his shoulder. "It just seemed to fit, and everyone knew you as Steve anyway."
"I like it," Louise reassured him. Feeling brave, she added, "I like how you say it," and felt him chuckle again.
"How do I say it?"
She blushed, glad he couldn't see her face. "I don't know, somehow softer than you would if you were just talking to another man." She felt more than saw his smile, and lifted her head to study him. His dark eyes were so serious, but she had seen a glint of humour every so often and knew that he hid that side of him well. She felt a sudden urge to bring it out, to nurture it and encourage it. What had happened to them was life-changing and even though she was remembering bits and pieces from their past there was a very real chance she may never remember it all. And Temple was so concerned with helping her she had almost forgotten that he had been just as hurt - almost losing her physically to the bullet and infection, but also losing her mentally, their shared memories and her mannerisms and little habits. "Do you miss her?"
Temple paused, seemingly unsure of how to respond. He was choosing his words and she thought back to when she'd first woken and 'met' him and he'd been honest with her about his feelings. She was glad then and more so now knowing he wouldn't try to coddle her with what he thought she wanted to hear.
He reached up with his other hand and lightly touched her temple, the feeling sending warmth through her. "A little, but she's here. She shines through every so often. You try to separate yourself from her but you're one and the same. The only difference is that you can't remember all the experiences and events that turned you into who you are."
"Part of me wishes everything would go back to how it was, but then the rest of me can't remember what it was to go back to." The thought was giving her a headache, a common and unwanted occurrence after the accident, and she frowned a little. As if reading her thoughts, Temple let his fingers run through her hair and started to massage her scalp, carefully avoiding the entrance and exit wounds the bullet had left. Her eyes became heavy, closing briefly as she enjoyed his touch. He seemed to know exactly what she wanted and where and how to touch her, and she reminded herself he'd had plenty of time to learn. Now she wanted to take the time to do that for him, starting with the simplest things.
She let him concentrate on his ministrations for a bit before opening her eyes again and looking up at him, taking in his expression. "Thank you," she murmured, and he smiled, a little bemused.
"For everything. And this," she replied, reaching up and touching her lips to his. For a second she thought she'd made a mistake as he sat unresponsive and unmoving, but before she had time to reconsider his lips moved beneath hers and he was kissing her gently, exploring and soothing and loving, and suddenly she knew she was home. His strong arms came around her, pulling her onto his lap and cradling her to his chest and she realised this was what had been missing; a simple embrace to soothe away her fears and make her feel like she could do anything she wanted - remember who she was and where she belonged. She may not be able to recall every part of their time together - nor the names of friends and acquaintances - but Temple's kiss was enough to remind her of their relationship and the knowledge that wherever she was, as long as she was by his side she was where she needed to be.
The need for air was the only thing that caused them to part, but even then Temple rested his forehead against hers and kept her as close as he dared. He wasn't treating her like a china doll any more - something he'd done at first as he grappled with how to react to their altered relationship and her injuries - but he was still mindful of her wounds and bruises. "Steve -" he started, but she cut him off with another quick kiss followed by a mischievous smile and was rewarded with a genuine look of relief as he realised he needn't be treading on eggshells around her. "Whatever you need and whenever you need it, I'll be here."
"I know," Louise replied, taking a moment to lightly stroke a finger down his cheek as if she were memorising his face all over again. To a certain extent, she was. And thoroughly enjoying it. "Tell me about our wedding."
He raised an eyebrow teasingly and smiled again, and this time she saw some of the lines disappear. He'd looked haggard when she'd first woken in the hospital and although her being up and about had eased him somewhat the worry lines had remained. This was the first time he looked relaxed. "We eloped. I have no living relatives and yours tried to disown you after your brother's funeral so we decided to have a private ceremony."
She pulled a face. "They were never happy about my choice of career and let me know at every opportunity. Gerald was the only one to support me. That they tried to disown me doesn't surprise me." She shook off the slight melancholy, distracting herself by glancing back at her hand. Temple had never taken off his wedding ring but hers had been removed when she'd been rushed to the hospital, as per standard procedure. She'd been given it back with the rest of her jewellery and accessories when she'd been discharged and she'd felt a strange urge to slip it on straight away, as if somehow she wasn't complete without it. She'd not taken it off since and was grateful. "Where did we go?"
"I let you choose, and you decided on a quiet place near Beaulieu. You'd been there as a child and it was one of your favourite memories with your brother. We called Sir Graham and he took a day off to witness it with Pryce. We spent the rest of the day exploring the forest and part of the Beaulieu estate." Temple squeezed her lightly. "I'll show you the photos tomorrow, you tucked the album into your writing desk."
"I'd like that," she murmured, feeling the drowsiness starting to wash over her. Her head was starting to hurt again, a sure sign she was tired, and although she didn't want to end their conversation she was afraid she'd fall asleep on him in the middle of a sentence and appear rude.
She needn't have worried, as Temple picked up on the slight slur to her words and dropped a kiss on her forehead. "Perhaps we'll continue this tomorrow, you're getting tired. Would you like something for your head?"
She shook her head in response. "Sorry..."
He chuckled and helped her off his lap and slide under the covers again. "Don't be. Would you like me to leave you alone?"
"No!" It came out more forcefully than she'd wanted but after a fleeting look of surprise, Temple eased himself beside her and she rolled towards him, gratified when he slid his arms back around her and pulled her close again. She rested her head against his chest, the steady reassuring beat of his heart lulling her to sleep as did the hand stroking patterns up and down her back.
"Go to sleep, Steve, I'll still be here when you wake."
And Louise Harvey let herself sink into the comforting darkness, the knowledge that Steve Temple was in there somewhere just waiting to come out and that Paul Temple would be by her side every step of the way easing her worries of full recovery.