A/N: With apologies to those of you hoping for more St. Berry from me, my head's not currently in that space. Rather, in seeking comfort and familiarity during the pandemic, I've been drawn back to soaps, which were once a daily staple of my life. In revisiting favourite couples and storylines, I rediscovered this work that I wrote many years ago. After a lengthy edit, I thought I'd share.

Fair warning to Jarlena fans – this one isn't for you!

~ Chapter 1 ~

Rays of orange, red and pink tinted the sky, as the sun rose above the distant horizon. In one corner of a fancifully decorated bedroom, Dr. Alex North's eyes adjusted to the gradually increasing light. He trained his gaze on the woman who was sleeping peacefully nearby.

God, she's beautiful.

Shifting in the easy chair, he glanced at the bedside clock, noting with dismay that his time was almost up. He sighed inwardly. How he hated leaving her.

A few feet away, Marlena Evans emerged slowly from the depths of slumber. She stretched languidly, cat-like in her movements, as she opened her eyes a mere slit. She felt, more than saw, Alex's presence, and a smile graced her lips. She'd become aware of his morning ritual several days ago and, although startled at first, she now anticipated it with delight. For reasons she couldn't fully explain, she felt safe, warm, protected – loved, even – when he was near. As she pondered these feelings, she continued to peek at him surreptitiously through her lashes. His attention seemed to wander briefly, and his mouth curved into a smirk.

I wonder what he's thinking about.

Alex was revelling in his success. Once again, he'd been able to evade John Black's vaunted high-tech security. Although Marlena's bedroom door had been fitted with an alarm, John had neglected to secure the terrace doors, in the mistaken belief that no one would be willing to scale the narrow ledge outside in order to gain access.

Fooled him. For someone who's been both an ISA agent and a mercenary, the guy's really quite sloppy.

After permitting himself a moment of self-congratulations for the ease with which he'd bested his rival, Alex started as he noted the time. Marlena would be waking shortly, and he wasn't ready to have her discover his secret visits yet. Rising quietly, and tiptoeing to the glass doors, he opened them with the utmost of care, before turning to steal one last glimpse at the woman who consumed his every waking thought – and most of his sleeping ones, too. How he wished he could be honest with her, but it was much too soon. He consoled himself with the knowledge that he was making progress. As stealthily as a burglar, he crept outside, and began the perilous trek back to the guest room.

Marlena shivered, her disappointment at Alex's exit palpable.

What is it that makes me want to spend every minute I can with him?

If she didn't know better, she'd swear that they had some connection, some relationship that she'd forgotten – along with all of her other memories. No matter how hard her family pushed her, though, the only parts of her past that she felt a burning desire to retrieve were those that had to do with Alex. Her face flushed as she recalled kissing him at his mountain cabin. How she longed to be there again, in his arms, feeling his lips on hers…

Absorbed in her reverie, it took her a couple of seconds to register the sound of knocking. Snatching her robe from the foot of the bed, she draped it around her shoulders, and moved to open the door.

"Mornin', Doc," John greeted her, his eyes hopeful. "I thought you might be ready to come down for breakfast."

A flash of irritation darkened her features.

How many times do I have to remind him that I have a name, and it's not Doc?

She fumed inwardly, but put on her best smile.

"I'm sorry, John, but I've just woken up, and I was looking forward to starting my day with a relaxing bath. Go ahead and eat without me."

Unable to hide his disappointment, John searched her face for any sign of recognition.

Still nothing.

Not for the first time, he questioned the wisdom of allowing Dr. North to remain in his home. The man didn't appear to be doing Marlena any good. In fact, she seemed more detached from her husband and family than ever. Still, John knew he risked her wrath if he so much as suggested that she might be better off without the psychiatrist.

What does she see in that guy, anyway?

Maybe Kate could offer some insight.

"Okay, Doc. Enjoy your bath. Since you won't be joining me, I'm going to head out for a bit, but I'll be home for lunch."

"Don't hurry back on my account," she urged, waving him goodbye.

Once John had descended the stairs, she let out a sigh of relief. At least she'd have peace and quiet for a few hours, free from the pressures he invariably brought to bear on her in his quest to get her to remember their life together. Humming to herself, she headed for the bathroom, intent on a long, hot soak. If it happened to bring back memories of Alex, as had happened on more than one occasion, so much the better. She welcomed the opportunity to savour them.

In his room, Alex considered the progress he'd made so far. Things weren't moving along as swiftly as he would've liked, but he knew that was inevitable, given the circumstances. There was no way that John would release his hold on Marlena and let her go off to the cabin again, so he would just have to work around the impediment that his host posed. His fingers played absently with the tape recorder resting in his palm. He'd been using it to feed Marlena positive thoughts about him, and to awaken her old feelings. While he fervently wished that such underhanded tactics weren't necessary, he realized full well that the memories were too deeply buried to emerge naturally – especially with John, Roman, and all of Marlena's children overwhelming her with their own versions of her previous life.

"Soon," he murmured. "Soon I won't need this, and you'll come to me of your own accord."

Whistling a slightly off-key tune, he headed for the shower.

Downstairs, John glanced around, wondering where his 'guest' was. The simple thought of Alex North sent John's blood pressure skyrocketing. His fists clenched, and he cursed under his breath. He had to find a way to get rid of the man, who was proving to be a real thorn in his side. He was arrogant, smug, and obnoxious.

And those are his good qualities.

The only silver lining to the entire situation was that Alex couldn't gain access to Marlena while she slept.

"No matter how hard he tries, North can't outsmart me," John muttered, silently applauding his own cleverness.

Lost in contemplation, John failed to notice that he was no longer alone. Alex stood motionless on the stairs, watching him, a knowing grin on his face.

"Don't be so sure, Mr. Black," Alex whispered. "It's only a matter of time until your wife is mine – again."