A/N: Happy Thanksgiving to all those celebrating later this week. With the holiday in mind, chapter 31 will be posted next Monday.
Disclaimer: I don't own Michael Bublé's Save the last dance for me – or any other of the song's many versions.
~ Chapter 30 ~
The silence that enveloped the penthouse was broken only by the occasional crackle of the fire, which provided welcome light against the gathering darkness. Marlena, sitting quietly on the cushions arrayed in front of the hearth, hugged her knees to her chest as she stared, unseeing, into the flames. Her mind spun as she attempted to process what she'd learned earlier that day. Although he hadn't outright confirmed it, it was clear to her that Alex had, at one time, been a government agent, and that his work as such was somehow related to her long-ago memory loss. How difficult it had been to watch him relive some of their shared past. As much as she wanted to recover her memories, she wasn't at all sure that she was emotionally ready to dredge up the painful events that remained deeply buried.
A smile flitted across her face and her mood lifted as she detected sounds of activity in the kitchen. Alex was making hot chocolate – from scratch, at his insistence. The tantalizing aroma of warming cocoa wafted into the living room, whetting her appetite for what was to come. Hearing the tell-tale ding of the microwave's timer, a low laugh escaped her. Maybe he'd concluded that the old-fashioned way was too much work after all.
I'll definitely have to tease him about that.
The moment called for music, she decided, as she rose from her comfortable position and walked to the stereo. Selecting an easy listening playlist from the myriad choices the streaming service offered, she adjusted the volume, then returned to her place near the fire. Just then, Alex emerged from the kitchen, carrying a tray laden with two steaming mugs of hot chocolate and a plate piled high with muffins. Her eyes lit up as she noted the heaping mounds of whipped cream that crowned the drinks.
"Mmm… it smells delicious."
"Only the best for you."
He sat down beside her, revelling in the warmth of the fire. She took a sip of the hot chocolate, then turned to him, her face the picture of innocence.
"Are you sure this isn't a mix? I heard the microwave."
Having noted the twinkle in her eye, he feigned his most aggrieved look.
"I'll have you know I slaved over a hot stove to prepare this for you. I'm miffed that you don't appreciate my efforts."
"Well, it is pretty good – but you still haven't explained the microwave."
He picked up a muffin, broke a piece off, and popped it in his mouth.
"Found these in the freezer," he explained between bites. "I thought you'd prefer them warm, rather than hard as rocks."
"I'll let you know as soon as I taste one."
"Now, there's an invitation I can't refuse."
He broke off another piece of muffin and aimed it towards her now open mouth. She accepted the morsel, then nipped playfully at his fingers.
"What's the verdict?" he queried, a catch in his voice.
"If you liked that, you'll love this."
Without warning, she found her lips and nose smeared with whipped cream. She licked it off her mouth slowly and delicately. His breathing quickened.
"You missed a spot."
He kissed the tip of her nose clean.
"Did you get it all?"
"Not quite," he whispered, as he moved in to kiss her again.
Images flickered through her mind – a rustic cabin, skis by the door, a roaring fire, hot chocolate, whipped cream, kisses…
"You took me skiing!"
He pulled back just enough to catch her gaze.
"What do you remember?"
"Nothing more than flashes, but I can see the cabin and the skis, and…"
She paused, as colour crept up her cheeks. He grinned, aware of exactly what she was reliving.
"Why, ma'am, I do believe you're blushing," he teased.
"We've done this before."
Her words straddled the line between question and statement. He freely attested to their truth.
"More than once. You're such a pushover for a guy with a little whipped cream."
"Who are you calling a pushover? I don't see you offering any resistance."
Rather than answer, he scooped some of the cream onto his hand. Ever so slowly, he inched it towards her. As hard as she tried, she couldn't help herself. Her lips parted slightly in anticipation, and she moaned in disappointment when he suddenly leaned in and licked his fingers clean.
"Why, you…" she spluttered.
Her attempt to look annoyed having failed miserably, she burst out laughing, and soon they were both giggling uncontrollably. Once their mirth had subsided, Marlena settled into the crook of Alex's arm. As he planted a soft kiss on her temple, he detected her barely audible sigh.
"What is it?" he asked, his voice gentle.
"All those years that we could have been together… All the time that I missed with you… I wish we could get it all back."
"I feel the same way."
She turned slightly, and caressed his cheek before continuing.
"I'm sure it's worse for you. I'm only now realizing what we lost. You've known it all along."
Instantly, his mood shifted. His eyes grew moist as he reached for her, clasping her so tightly she felt he might never let go.
"I'm sorry… I'm so sorry…"
He buried his face in her shoulder and she held him, rubbing his back and whispering words of comfort. Although she couldn't ask him what he was apologizing for, she could certainly hazard a guess. He clearly felt some responsibility for their separation, and he no doubt regretted that he still had to keep secrets from her. She hoped that her new therapist would be able to help her regain her missing memories, and also help her deal with whatever emotions they stirred up. She desperately wanted to rebuild her life with Alex. Despite having recalled only snippets of their past, she was positive about one thing – she loved him deeply, passionately, and without reservation.
Channelling all of her feelings into her embrace, Marlena pulled him closer, but even her nearness wasn't enough to banish the darkness from his mind. Alex shivered as the chilling images overcame him once more.
The day had begun like any other. He'd woken up next to the most beautiful woman in the world, who just happened to be his fiancée. That Marlena had agreed to be his wife made him the luckiest man alive, and had him floating on cloud nine. He whistled a happy tune as he entered the office the two of them shared. Since she had no appointments until later that morning, he'd left her sleeping peacefully.
He'd barely started to sift through the mountain of paperwork that had piled up during their weekend ski getaway when he heard the door open. Without looking up, he motioned to the chair in front of his desk.
"Have a seat, Ms. Glenn. I'll be right with you."
When his patient failed to respond, he raised his eyes. Instead of the young woman he was expecting, two men in dark clothes stood before him, silently watching his every move.
I must be reading too many spy novels, he thought to himself, because these guys look like they could be from the CIA.
Putting his pen down, he rose to face the strangers.
"How can I help you, gentlemen?"
He fervently hoped that his voice didn't betray his nervousness. Goose bumps rose on his skin as the shorter of the two men locked the door, while the other closed the blinds.
"We think you should sit, Doctor," the taller man suggested.
Alex didn't need to be told twice. Dropping into his chair, he awaited their next move.
"It's come to our attention that you're involved in some research that's of interest to us."
Alex mentally went over all the projects he was currently working on, trying to pinpoint which one might possibly have attracted these sinister government types, but he was drawing a blank.
"I'm sorry, gentlemen. You have me at a disadvantage."
"Your work with certain drugs…" the shorter man began, leaving the unfinished sentence hanging in the air between them.
The pieces of the puzzle were still not clicking into place, and Alex stared at his unwelcome visitors in bewilderment. They chose not to enlighten him any further.
"We'll be in touch," the shorter man advised.
Alex's blood ran cold as the taller man's coat shifted on his muscular frame, revealing a gun holstered at his side. The man caught his eye.
"You'd be wise not to mention this visit to anyone," he counselled.
As quickly as they'd appeared, the duo vanished. Alex's heart twisted with fear. What had he gotten himself into? His first impulse was to call Marlena, but as he reached for the phone, his hand froze, the warning he'd been given still fresh in his mind. As much as he hated the idea of keeping secrets from his fiancée, her safety was far more important. He had to make everything seem normal, he reminded himself. His instincts told him that his and Marlena's very lives could depend on it.
There it was again – that ghostly pallor on Alex's face. He'd obviously gone back to the place in his mind where the horrifying memories from their past were stored, and he was clearly suffering. Hoping to distract him, Marlena stood, and motioned for him to join her.
"Dance with me."
He gazed up at her gratefully. Like a life preserver being thrown to a drowning man, her extended hand held the promise of safety, and he grasped it eagerly. Allowing her to steer him to the centre of the room, he enfolded her in his arms as she rested her head on his shoulder. The beginnings of a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth as she sang along with Michael Bublé.
… don't give your heart to anyone
So, don't forget who's taking you home
And in whose arms you're gonna be
Oh, darling, save the last dance for me
As they swayed to the music, his mood lifted, and he joined his voice to hers. Once the song ended, they continued to hold each other.
"Thank you," he murmured into her ear.
"You're welcome. For what?"
"For always knowing what I need."
"Oh, that. Well, now that you mention it, I know something else you need."
"What might that be?"
Her eyes sparkled as, once more, she entwined her hand with his and escorted him up the stairs.
"Sleep. A good night's sleep will do wonders for both of us."
She laughed softly, knowing that it wasn't the answer he'd been expecting. Nearing her bedroom door, he hesitated. Although she understood his unspoken concern, she would have none of it. With John gone from the penthouse, she was free to share her bed with the man she loved, and she intended to take full advantage. Leading him into the room, she gave him a quick kiss, then motioned for him to sit down.
"I'll be back in a second."
He stared after her as she headed towards the hall. Moments later, she returned, carrying his pyjamas and his toiletries bag.
"These belong here – just like you do."
"Careful. I may never leave."
"That's exactly what I'm counting on."