Author: Mindy Lane
Disclaimer: These aren't my characters. They are the property of Warner Brothers and Shoot the Moon Productions.
Rating: PG 13 to be safe
Timeline: Fourth season, after engagement but before the marriage
Synopsis: Lee and Amanda struggle to deal with their pre-marriage jitters.
Feedback: Would be appreciated
Wrestling the Demons
Leaning on his horn as he was cut off in the freeway traffic, Lee Stetson swore softly to himself. One more frustrating moment in a wretched, frustrating day. Looking once more at his watch, Lee realized he would be hard pressed to make it to Richmond by four o'clock. Reaching for the car phone, he started to call Agent Cooley then reconsidered. It wasn't like they could start the meeting without him, and with a small measure of luck, he might arrive on time. He started to replace the phone, but hesitated. Before he could talk himself out of it, he dialed the direct line to the Q Bureau.
No answer. She had either left for the day or was down in the bullpen. Or, he grimaced at the thought, she knew instinctively that it was him calling and had elected not to answer the phone. No, Amanda wouldn't do that, he realized. After all, it could be an important call about the case. With a sigh, Lee realized he had to try one more time, and dialed again.
"Mrs. Marston, it's Lee Stetson," he began.
"Yes, Mr. Stetson, what can I do for you?"
"Um, could you tell me if Amanda- if Mrs. King has left for the day? There's no answer in the Q Bureau."
"You just missed her. She left not five minutes ago, headed for home I believe."
"Oh. Well," Lee sighed, "Okay, Mrs. Marston. I'll see you on Monday."
"Mr. Stetson," Mrs. Marston interjected hastily before he could disconnect, " it's probably not my place to say so, but Mrs. King was definitely not her cheerful self when she left."
'Great,' Lee thought to himself, 'let's just get the whole Agency in on our personal lives!' But pulling himself together he simply said, "Thank you, Mrs. Marston. I was afraid of that."
Replacing the phone, Lee tried to clear his head of everything except the case he was working on, but images of Amanda's strained face, eyes brimming with unshed tears, invaded his mind. He had really messed up this time! His heart told him where he really needed to be right now was with Amanda, trying to work through the tangled web of misunderstandings and hurt feelings that had grown exponentially over the last two days. Logically, however, he realized that until they got a break in this case, he was unlikely to have much time for personal matters.
This was their first major altercation since they had openly acknowledged their feelings for each other. After a three year warm up, they had moved rapidly from dating, to proclaiming their love, to their secret engagement. Lee knew that their current situation was the result of miscommunication, insecurity, and a generous dose of sexual frustration. Add secrecy to the mix and you had a recipe for disaster. They would work through this, he knew. He and Amanda had been in harrowing, life-threatening situations many times, and the bond between them had only grown stronger. That's what would happen this time, he told himself. They would work through these issues and come out stronger for having gone through them.
But in the meantime, it was hell!
Amanda sat in her car in the driveway for a few minutes, trying to pull herself together before facing her mother and the boys. A basketball bouncing off the roof of the car brought a quick end to her solitude.
"Hey, Mom!" the boys clambered around the vehicle as she opened her door. "Can we ask Mitchell and Jeff to spend the night? Grandma said we had to ask you first."
Their mother held up a hand and shook her head as she moved into the kitchen. "Fellas, you need to give me a minute, okay? It has been a long and not-so-great day."
Dotty looked up from the sofa as Amanda paused in the doorway. "What's the matter, dear?" she peered more closely at her daughter, "Amanda, have you been crying?"
"It's nothing to worry about, Mother," Amanda was not eager to discuss this. "It's been a rough day and a long week. I'm tired."
Her mother eyed her speculatively, "Is everything okay between you and Lee?" she probed, "I thought you were going to have him come over for dinner one night this week."
Now that was a sore spot, but Amanda had no intention of going down that path with her mother. She sidestepped the question instead. "Lee's out of town at the moment. You know, I would really love to go lie down for a few minutes. Why don't we do something easy for dinner like pizza."
"My thoughts exactly," Dotty nodded in agreement. "You go on upstairs and have your rest. I think the boys wanted to invite Jeffery and Mitchell to stay over. Why don't you take a nice relaxing bath and curl up with a good book and I'll play chaperone tonight."
"Oh, Mother, that would be great. Are you sure you don't mind?"
"Not a bit," she answered, patting Amanda's arm as she went into the kitchen, "I'm footloose and fancy free this evening."
Taking her mother at her word, Amanda trudged up the stairs to her bedroom and ran a warm bath, intent on soaking away some of the tension of the day. Leaning back in the tub, she tried to empty the troubling thoughts from her mind and focus only on the positive.
"You're a fool, Amanda King!" she told herself, "You love Lee and he loves you. We've both been under too much pressure at work, and we haven't been able to spend enough time together." She had hoped that saying the words aloud would somehow validate them. In spite of herself, she found her thoughts drifting back over the past few days.
The case they were working on was particularly frustrating because of all the tedious combing through old files and duty logs. That type of work had never been Scarecrow's strong suite, and his impatience grew by the hour as they searched through a mountain of file folders and a mile of computer printouts. To complicate matters, the case seemed to implicate someone inside the Agency in collusion with FBI personnel in an intricate and long- lasting blackmail scheme. Nothing raised the ire of Lee Stetson more that the idea of a traitor in their midst.
Because of the sensitive nature of the case, Billy was unwilling to allow anyone but Lee and Amanda in on it. On Thursday morning, when Amanda could take no more of Lee's grousing about the acres of paperwork, she had sent him away.
"Look," she had said, taking a much needed stretch break, "Why don't you go ahead and start the leg work and I'll keep on here."
"But we were going to do that together!" Lee said, sounding more like a cross little boy than a seasoned government agent. "Besides, we decided that both of us needed to go through this stuff in case one of us missed something."
"I know that," Amanda replied, trying to speak calmly, "but look at the pile I've gone through this morning, and look at your pile." She motioned to her own stack of files and then to his much smaller one. "You aren't focused on this, and quite frankly, if I hear one more complaint from you I'm going to gag you, handcuff you, and lock you in the vault!"
A grin spread across Lee's face, and he pulled her into a loose embrace. "Oh, really, Mrs. King!" He wiggle his eyebrows suggestively, "That sounds intriguing."
"Stop it!" she swatted at him playfully, trying to keep the smile from her lips. "Seriously, I'm having nightmare images of what you must have been like in elementary school when the lesson wasn't interesting and you wanted to be out on the playground instead. Now just go. I'm going to take a quick break and try to get my eyes uncrossed."
"I still wish you'd come with me," Lee said.
She shook her head, "With any luck, this will wind up making things go quicker. Besides, it's not like you need backup to meet with these people on our list."
"You're right as usual," Lee leaned in and planted a brief kiss on her mouth. "Let's see, it's eleven-thirty now. Do you want to grab a quick bite to eat before we go our separate ways?"
"No, you go on. I'm not particularly hungry. What time do you think you'll be back?
"Oh, three-thirty, four at the latest. We'll meet back here and compare notes."
"It's a deal," Amanda smiled up at him, "Why don't you plan on coming over for dinner tonight? You know, phase two of the 'Lee Meets the Family Plan'." This was the third time she had asked him this week. Each of the other times he had come up with an excuse.
There was just the slightest hesitation before he nodded acceptance. "Okay, I guess I can do that. You sure you're ready for this?"
"Positive." Amanda pulled him by the lapels, bringing him down for another kiss. Finally, she pushed him away and towards the door. "Out of here, Stetson!" she commanded.
"Yes, Ma'am!" he winked, backing out the door.
Six hours, and several reams of paper later, Amanda had finally decided to call it a day. Lee had phoned at four, explaining that he had spent the better part of two hours tracking down a source, and maybe, just maybe, they had hit pay dirt. He gave Amanda the names of a couple of cases to double check, and indicated it would be at least another hour before he would be through.
"Oh," he said, sounding to Amanda's ears just a little bit relieved, "I guess that dinner with the family will have to wait."
"No problem," Amanda tried to keep her tone light, "What do you want me to do if I uncover anything? Should I wait here for you?"
"Don't do that; I'll probably go straight home from here," Lee thought for a minute, "Make a note of anything that particularly stands out, and I'll call you later. Maybe," he lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper, "you can tell your mother you have to work late and be telling the truth for once!"
It was almost nine o'clock when Lee stopped by to pick her up. They went to a quiet little restaurant on the outskirts of Georgetown so they could compare notes as he ate dinner. Amanda, having eaten earlier, sipped a cup of coffee as she went through her legal pad outline of the day's findings.
"I cross-referenced every name in the files you mentioned, plus a few more I came across earlier today," she explained. "The only possible connections I could find of people having access to the cases were these," she turned the list around so that Lee could see it. "No one name appears each time, but these four came up more frequently than any others."
Lee skimmed the list, shaking his head, "I just wish we had something a little more concrete. This is better than nothing though. As a matter of fact," he paused as something occurred to him, "I know an FBI guy in Richmond who I know worked on this last case. I think I'll give him a call in the morning and see if he can give us any help."
"Well, I for one am ready for a break in this case," Amanda rolled her neck, trying to relieve the stiffness, "I don't know how many more files I can go through before I go blind!"
Lee reached across for her hand, "I know. You got stuck with the worst end of this deal. I just want to nail the s.o.b. who's responsible for this. Amanda, we're talking about someone we probably know who's in on this!"
"I know," she said soothingly. Lee continued to eat, and Amanda watched him in silence. Finally, she had to ask her question. "Lee?" she began, hesitantly.
"You didn't really want to come over for dinner tonight, did you?"
Looking up, Lee found himself trapped by her eyes. He put down his fork and pushed his plate aside. "Amanda." he groped for the right words, "it's not that I didn't want to. It's just that, well, how do I say this?" he paused again then took a deep breath, "This case has gotten under my skin. The thought of someone within the Agency pulling this thing off right under our noses for years- well, it just makes my blood boil! When I come for my first dinner with the family, I want to be able to relax and enjoy myself. Can you understand that?"
"Sure, I guess so," Amanda shrugged, "It's just that we keep saying that you'll start spending more time with my family, and it never seems to happen."
"Amanda, honey, I really do want this to happen," he ran a hand through his hair and sat back, "You know this is new territory for me, and right now, when I'm uptight about this case is not the time."
Amanda looked down at her hands tightly clasped in front of her. Finally, she looked up at him and spoke, "Lee, there's always going to be a case."
"Yes, but not every case-" he began, but was interrupted by an arm snaking around his shoulder.
"Lee Stetson! I thought that was you!" The voice belonged to a very blonde Barbie doll of a woman. She would have eased into the booth next to Lee had he given her any room. As it was, she had to settle for leaning toward him, her ample cleavage practically spilling from her low-cut blouse.
Stiffening reflexively, Lee glanced nervously across at Amanda and tried to muster a smile. "Um, uh, Suzi. How- ah. what a surprise seeing you here."
Amanda rolled her eyes and silently mouthed the woman's name. For her part, Suzi continued her advance on her prey. "It's been ages, Lee! Where have you been keeping yourself?"
"I've, uh, been very busy lately." Looking over at Amanda, hoping for a rescue and finding none, Lee reached across and grabbed her hand as if it were a lifeline. "Amanda, this is Suzi, um," Lee wracked his brain for a last name and came up empty, "well, this is Suzi. This," he focused his eyes on his fiancee and continued speaking, not even looking at the other woman, "is Amanda."
Suzi gave a cursory glance at her competition and a little smirk appeared on her face, "Well, how nice!" she straightened up and gave Lee a wink, "Just give me a call if you ever want to have a little fun. You've got my number!" And with a waggle of her fingers, she sauntered off.
An uncomfortable moment of silence settled upon the table. "Well, now," Amanda said at last, "wasn't that delightful!" She pushed her coffee cup aside, causing the contents to slosh into the saucer, "Let me guess. Suzi with an 'i'?" She closed her eyes tightly and gave a brief shake of her head. She knew she had nothing to be jealous of, but it was just so galling! The expression on the woman's face as she gave Amanda the once- over could have been easily translated into 'Honey, you're out of your league!'
"Let's go," Lee said abruptly, tossing down enough bills to more than cover the meal. He reached for her hand to help her out of the booth, and after a moment's hesitation, Amanda complied. The silence stretched as they walked to the car. As he reached to open her door, Lee began to speak, "Look, Amanda-" but she cut him off with a finger to his lips.
"Don't say it," she whispered, and reached behind his neck to pull him down for a lingering kiss. At last breaking the contact, Amanda quickly slid into her seat.
Trying not too successfully to read her thoughts, Lee paused before starting the car. "Do you need to go home right away?
"Well, it is getting kind of late."
In exasperation, Lee ran his hand across his face, "So, is that a yes or a no? Amanda, I think we really need to talk." When she nodded in agreement, he headed toward his apartment.
In the silence that permeated the car, Lee took her left hand in his right and began to draw small circles against her palm. When they stopped in a line of cars at a traffic light, he looked steadily at Amanda, compelling her eyes to meet his own. Leaning toward her for what was intended to be a chaste kiss, Lee was quickly consumed by a growing desire. Amanda returned the kiss with an urgency equaling his own, both lost in each other until the blare of a horn behind them brought them back to the present.
Amanda studied the profile of the man she loved, and returned her hand to its previous position on his thigh. Ever so gently, she slowly ran her hand up and down his leg. Lee felt a shudder run through him. "Amanda," he managed to gasp, prying her fingers away, "You're making me crazy!"
"That's my intention," she whispered close to his ear.
Parking haphazardly at the curb in front of his building, Lee went around to Amanda's door. They stood there face to face until he could stand it no more and lowered his mouth to hers in a hungry kiss. Pulling back breathlessly, Amanda took his arm, tugging him toward the building. Wrapped in each other, they ascended to his floor. As Lee fumbled for his key, he pressed her against the door, mouth descending on hers, then trailing down the neckline of her shirt.
"Lee!" she gasped.
"What?" he whispered, nibbling his way toward her ear.
"Let's go inside."
Once the door was safely closed behind them, the pair grabbed for each other again, mouths meshing, hands roving. Lee quickly shrugged out of his jacket as Amanda loosened his tie. Kissing his way from her mouth down to the hollow of her throat, Lee started on the buttons of her shirt as Amanda tugged his own shirt out of the waistband and ran her hands up his chest. Lips following the path his fingers had just taken, Lee nuzzled her soft skin while his hands removed her shirt the rest of the way.
The phone rang. At first they were oblivious to the sound, then, at the same instant, they both came out from the spell that had fallen over them. Wordlessly, Amanda backed away, and Lee, his eyes still holding hers, reached for the phone.
"Stetson here," he spoke, still a little breathless. He listened a moment, then nodded in response to the voice on the other end, "Yeah, Billy. We've come up with a couple of possibilities."
Amanda had retrieved her shirt from the floor where it had landed, and was buttoning it up again when Lee concluded his conversation. He placed his hands on her shoulders and turned her to face him.
"Here, let me help," he said softly, doing up the final buttons for her. He smiled wryly, "Although, I must admit the process of taking it off was a little more exciting ."
"Oh, Lee!" Amanda sighed and leaned her forehead against his chest, "This was just."
"I know." he smoothed her hair, then held her away from him, "This is not what we deserve for our first time together. I guess 'saved by the bell' has a new meaning now."
Amanda laughed ruefully, "What did Billy want anyway?"
"Just an update. I told him what we had so far, and about the plan to call Cooley in Richmond tomorrow."
Nodding, Amanda studied the face of this man she loved so dearly. At last she spoke again, "I know we were going to talk, but somehow I don't think that's going to happen tonight. How about you take me home now."
With a sigh, Lee gave her a gentle kiss on the forehead, "Sure thing."
Amanda arrived at work Friday morning, head pounding, weary in body and spirit from a night spent tossing and turning. In one of her dreams Lee had appeared at her front door for a family dinner with a stack of file folders in one arm and Suzi on the other. He had flashed a dimpled smile, informing her it would have to be a quick meal because he and Suzi had a reservation for a romantic weekend at Pinetop. Amanda had merely smiled, taken the folders and promised to have all the work done by Monday.
Hesitating outside the Q Bureau, Amanda took a deep breath before opening the door. Upon entering, she discovered the object of her affection on the couch surrounded by files. He was in the same suit as yesterday, now rumpled, the faint shadow of a day's growth of stubble on his chin.
"Hi," he began, then continued in answer to the unspoken question in her eyes, "I decided to try to get a little work done after I dropped you off. Somehow I didn't think I'd be able to sleep."
"You've been here all night?" Amanda asked, incredulously, "Lee, have you had any sleep at all?"
"I'm fine, Amanda," he said, brushing aside her obvious concern, "I'm going to call Roger Cooley. He ought to be in by now. If he can meet with me, I'll probably head to Richmond this afternoon."
Amanda shook her head, "Lee, you can't go off to Richmond with no sleep. You'll fall asleep at the wheel!"
Lee struggled to remain patient. "Amanda, trust me, I'm okay. This is the way I function when I can't shake a case. I've done it a million times."
"But Lee, you're stressed, you're tired, you're in no shape to be on the road. Wouldn't it make more sense to see if he could come here? At the very least, you should go home and try to get a little rest."
"No, I'm not going to ask him to come here," Lee was losing his battle with controlling his temper and his voice rose, "Amanda, stop smothering me! I really don't need a mother right now!"
Amanda was stung by his words and struggled to keep the tears at bay. Neither one of them had noticed the door had opened until Francine cleared her throat.
"Trouble in paradise?" she questioned lightly as they both turned to stare at her.
"Can it, Francine!" Lee said in irritation, "What do you want?"
Francine bristled at his tone, "Sorry. I need to put these back in the vault," she gestured to some papers in her hand, "and Billy needs to see both of you in his office right away."
Lee grunted in reply and glanced over at Amanda, "Why don't you go on while I make that call. Tell Billy I'll be right there."
"Sure." Amanda replied, unwilling to meet his eyes and grateful for the chance to escape.
By the meeting's end, it was decided that Lee, in spite of Amanda's objections, would indeed drive to Richmond that afternoon for a four o'clock meeting with Agent Cooley and another official. Billy seemed to find more reason for optimism than did Lee or Amanda. Leaving his office, they stopped by the fax machine to check for any new information. Oblivious to the two agents, a trio from the steno pool was conversing at the coffee pot around the corner.
"So are they or aren't they?"
"My money says yes, but it won't last for long."
"What? You don't think the Scarecrow can be domesticated?" There was the trill of laughter.
"Poor Amanda's a nice person, but hardly his type. I don't think she'd know what to do with him if she did have him!"
Lee and Amanda had frozen as the words carried their way. Their eyes caught and held for a moment, then abruptly Amanda turned and walked toward the elevator.
"Amanda," Lee hastened after her, but she continued on her way, unable to face him. He reached her just as she pushed the elevator button and grabbed her arm, "Amanda, look at me!"
There was confusion and a hint of anger in her glistening eyes when she finally looked up. The elevator arrived and they entered. Right before the door closed, a hand reached to stop it and Leatherneck stepped in.
"Just in time! Mornin' Mrs. King, Scarecrow."
"Good morning." They said in unison.
Leatherneck looked curiously from one to the other. Amanda's arms were crossed defensively in front of her, and Lee stood stiffly, hands clenched at his sides. "Well, ya'll have a nice day," Leatherneck drawled as the door opened once again.
The phone was ringing as they entered their office. Amanda quickly picked it up, "Q Bureau, Amanda King speaking."
Lee went to his desk and began to gather papers he would need later that day. When Amanda hung up the phone he spoke, avoiding her eyes, "Listen, I'm going home to grab a shower and change. I'll hit the road after I get something to eat."
"That was Everman at the Pentagon," Amanda informed him, "Those documents for the Pilcher case are ready, so I'll just go pick them up."
Lee started to suggest she send someone else, but realized she probably needed to get out of there as badly as he did. "All right," he stood in front of her, and started to reach out and touch her, but thinking better of it, let his hand fall back to his side. "I'm not sure when I'll be back."
Amanda merely nodded . "You do whatever you have to," she said coolly.
Clenching his jaw, Lee bit back a retort and exited, closing the door none to gently behind him.
The pieces were falling into place at last. After comparing notes with Agent Cooley, the pattern had become clear. Finally, there was evidence too compelling to be denied. Lee's elation at breaking the case was tempered only by the knowledge that the Agency's man, Holman Parker, had been up to his elbows in the blackmail scheme, apparently having profited extensively at the expense of others.
It was nine o'clock when he called Billy at home to let him in on the news and set the wheels in motion for arrests to be made. He considered trying to call Amanda again, but decided there was too much to be said. Exhaustion was taking over now that the case was virtually wrapped up, and he debated with himself over whether to head home or find a hotel for the night. He had no doubt what Amanda would say on the matter. With a weary sigh he gave in and steered to the nearest hotel.
The evening had passed slowly for Amanda as she tried to keep her mind off her troubles. She had half-heartedly joined Phillip and Jamie and their friends as they ate pizza. Leaving them to their video games and movies, she tried to read but could not concentrate, finally falling into a fitful sleep. Once again, her dreams were a garbled, disturbing reflection of events from the past few days. She awoke with a start a little after midnight. The drone of the television faintly reached her ears and she arose to investigate. Padding downstairs, she stopped in the doorway to the family room and took in the scene before her. Four sleeping boys were stretched out on the floor amid a jumble of sleeping bags while credits to a movie rolled across the screen. Carefully stepping between the sprawled bodies, Amanda reached to turn off the set.
She caught the reflection of moonlight in the lens of Jamie's glasses and bent down to remove them, gently smoothing the hair from his forehead. Gazing at the shadows of the sleeping boys, she was all at once overwhelmed by a rush of emotions. These boys had been her life, the center of her existence for so long. Now there were new facets; her job and Lee, both shadowed in secrecy from her life here in this house. Sometimes it didn't even seem real.
Suddenly, Amanda felt a consuming need to be touched by Lee; to be close to him. Her chest tightened with the sudden feelings, and she stumbled out of the darkened room and up the stairs. Dressed only in the pajama pants and tee shirt she had donned for bed, Amanda hastily threw on a jacket and slipped into a pair of tennis shoes. Emerging from her room, she almost collided with her mother at the top of the stairs.
"Oh, were you checking on the boys?" Dotty asked, then taking in Amanda's appearance, she raised a questioning eyebrow, "Amanda, what are you doing? Surely you're not going somewhere this time of night!"
"Mother," Amanda began, not knowing quite how to explain, "I need- well, I couldn't sleep, and I really just need to get away for awhile. Please don't worry. I'll be someplace safe, I promise."
Dotty looked knowingly at her daughter, "Amanda, you're a responsible grown woman. Go on and do whatever it is you feel you must. Oh," she paused before heading back to her room, "tell Lee we hope he can come for dinner soon."
Speechless, Amanda stared after the retreating figure. Leave it to Dotty West to dream up some wildly romantic middle-of-the-night assignation. If only she knew! Oh, well. At least she didn't have to lie and make up excuses.
Once in the car headed toward Georgetown, Amanda examined her expectations. She hadn't even considered that he might be home, and that thought caused her a moment of hesitation. Well, she'd come this far, and the need to be surrounded by him had not abated. The late night traffic was relatively light, and before she knew it, she was in front of his building. His car was not there so, presumably, neither was Lee. She let herself in with the key he had given her, and stood in the entryway a minute, memories of the night before rushing to her head. The open drapes let in enough light from the street so that she could find her way to the sofa. Settling back against the cushions, she closed her eyes and let her mind drift to images of him.
What did he see in her? There, it was out: the unspoken, but long-held thread of doubt about why the dashing, handsome, stereotypical ladies man, Lee Stetson, would surrender himself to a life of domesticity with plain old Amanda King. Abruptly, she stood again and made her way into the bathroom to confront her reflection in the harsh glare of the light. Amanda knew she was attractive; just not in the platinum, buxom, flashy way of most of Scarecrow's women. She had seen enough of them parade through his life over the past three years to know what the steno pool described as his 'type'. Although he had assured her many times that she was what he wanted, there still remained that tiny corner of doubt.
"Just call me if you ever want to have a little fun!" Suzi's words of the night before echoed through Amanda's mind. Was she up to the challenge? Could she possibly be 'fun' enough for the legendary Lee Stetson? They had grappled with the question of physical intimacy and pretty much decided to just let things happen naturally. Although he had never pressured her, Amanda knew that Lee desired her; last night was certainly proof of that! And while her own desires at times threatened to drive her over the edge, Amanda also knew that deep down she was afraid.
Turning away from the mirror, she wandered into the bedroom and over to his closet, running her hands along the row of shirts. She went to the chest of drawers and found the small blue box that held her engagement ring. Plucking it from it's velvet nest, Amanda placed the ring on her third finger and watched it sparkle in the light that stretched from the bathroom. There had been a time when she wondered if Lee's proposal while they were held captive by Adi Birol was simply an overzealous reaction to the situation in which they found themselves. Amanda couldn't help but smile remembering the look of utter love and devotion that shone through his eyes as he slipped this ring on her finger. She knew they needed to talk about some things; she was still afraid. But a new feeling she couldn't identify swept through her, and she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that things were going to be all right. With that assurance, she lay down on the bed, inhaling Lee's scent as she hugged his pillow to her. She fell asleep almost immediately.
Lee's eyes snapped open, and he sat straight up in the hotel bed. Looking at the bedside clock, he calculated that he had gotten about four hours of sleep, so why was he suddenly wide awake? Fragments of his dreams mixed with yesterday's reality, and he realized that the reason was Amanda. He should have called, just to tell her he loved her and was sorry for all that had happened, but it had been more than his fatigued mind could handle at the time. Now he felt the pressing need to see her, to hold her, to talk to her, but it was the middle of the night. Realizing that further sleep was out of the question, Lee rose, donned sweatpants and shirt, and threw his few things into the small bag next to the bed. It took less than five minutes before he was checked out of the hotel and headed back toward Washington. Traffic at this time of the night was light.
Searching his head for what he would say to her, Lee realized he could hardly appear at her doorstep in the wee hours of the morning. He fleetingly thought about climbing the trellis outside her window; after all, it had served its purpose a couple of times in the past. He realized that probably wasn't the smartest idea. Oh well, even if he had to wait a few more hours, he would at least be in closer proximity to her, to his Amanda. How he loved her! And how he regretted his role in her unhappiness the past couple of days.
As the Vette ate up the miles, Lee searched his heart, and admitted to himself that he was terrified at the thought of not living up to her expectations. He had not been part of a real family since he was five years old. How could he possibly jump right in and do it right? True, his heart yearned to be a part of that family, but was it really possible? Could he ever be fully accepted into the circle, or would they see him as some sort of impostor, only playing the role of husband, step-father, son- in-law, while never truly measuring up?
His answer came as Amanda's face appeared in his mind, her deep brown eyes full of love, and trust, and confidence in him. She believed in him. She really thought he could do this, otherwise she would never risk heartache for her cherished family. A sense of peace fell over him at the thought. Amanda would help him; she would teach him whatever he needed to know.
By the time he reached Georgetown, Lee knew that everything would be okay. He would go home, grab a couple more hours of sleep, then call her to meet him for breakfast before he had to go in and finish up the paperwork on the case. Hopefully, her day would be free and they could spend most of it together. As he pulled up to his building, a grin spread across his face at the sight of a familiar Jeep at the curb.
As quietly as possible, Lee entered his apartment. He could tell that the lone light burning was the one from his bathroom. Tiptoeing to the door of the bedroom, Lee felt his heart leap in his chest at the sight of her, sound asleep on his bed. Not wishing to awaken her, he slipped out of his shoes and eased down next to her, carefully wrapping his arm around her waist. She stirred, snuggling closer to him, but did not wake up. Lee sighed with contentment, and closed his eyes, quickly joining her in sleep.
She was dreaming again, but this time it was much more pleasant. In fact, it was so realistic she could actually feel Lee's arm around her. Amanda kept her eyes closed, not wanting to let go of the dream. Whoa! What was that? She would swear she could feel a warm hand gently rubbing against the skin of her stomach. At last, Amanda opened her eyes and stared down at the very real arm of her fiancé. Turning over, she gazed into a pair of smiling hazel eyes.
"Good morning, soon-to-be-Mrs. Stetson," Lee greeted her, "You know, I could get used to waking up like this."
Amanda giggled, "You'd better! What are you doing here? When did you get back? I can't believe I didn't wake up. Good heavens, what time is it anyway? I'm sure Mother will cover for me, but it might be a little hard to explain to the boys if they're awake when I appear back home in my pajamas in the middle of the morning."
"Oh my gosh!" Lee groaned, borrowing Amanda's trademark phrase, "Don't tell me it starts with the first breath you take in the morning!"
"What?" Amanda asked, looking confused.
"Your motor mouth. How you can string so many words together in one breath is beyond me! Ow!" he winced at the elbow that was suddenly thrust in his side.
"Serves you right," Amanda said, attempting a stern look and failing miserably.
Lee propped himself up on one elbow and gazed down at her, his hand resuming its position on the soft skin beneath the edge of her tee shirt. "To answer at least one of your questions, it's only six o'clock. Something tells me the boys won't be up quite this early on a Saturday morning," his fingers drifted slightly higher, "I missed you," he whispered, "I love you. I'm sorry."
"Oh, Lee!" she breathed softly, "I know, and I'm sorry too. I don't know what got into me."
"Probably the same thing that got into me; a little pre-marriage jitters. Amanda, I know we still need to talk some things through, but for right now I just want to tell you that last night I confronted a couple of my personal demons, and I think I've laid them to rest."
"Gee, sounds pretty deep, Scarecrow," she reached out and touched him lightly on the nose, "I'll be ready to listen whenever you're ready to talk."
"It's a deal," a grin spread across his face, "but what I'd really like to do right now is kiss you."
"Hmm," Amanda pondered solemnly, "I think that can be arranged," She pulled him toward her for a sweet kiss. Drawing back, she look into his eyes, "Well, what do you think?"
"I think," Lee said slowly, "that I would like to try that again."
"Go for it, Big Fella!" This time, his lips met hers with an intensity that rocked her to the center of her being. "Wow!" was all she could manage when at last they came up for air.
"Aha! At last I've rendered you speechless," Lee teased, continuing to trail kisses down her neck.
"Umm," Amanda smiled and tilted her head, allowing him better access, "By the way, you haven't filled me in on the case. Any progress?"
Lee lifted his head and gave her a look of mock exasperation. "You want to talk about the case?" he asked incredulously, "Now?"
"Well, I was just curious. After all, that's why you ran off to Richmond yesterday."
"Oh all right," Lee sat up, extracting his hands from underneath her shirt, "if you insist. The case, my dear, is finished. After comparing what we had with what Cooley had, it was a straight path to Harlan Parker and an FBI agent from Baltimore. By now they should be in custody."
"Harlan Parker?" Amanda furrowed her brow, "isn't he the heavyset, kind of balding guy in Records?"
"Yes," Lee confirmed, "But he was only transferred to Records last year. He was in the field until he flunked his physical because of a heart condition. Speaking of which," Lee looked down at her mischievously, "I seem to be suffering from a different sort of heart condition."
"Oh, yeah? Is it serious?" Amanda inquired as his hands and lips resumed their quest.
"It's hopeless. No cure in sight. But," he continued, diving down to plant a kiss above her belly button, "a little TLC couldn't hurt."
Amanda shivered at his touch, "Well I'm all for comforting those in need," she said huskily, running her fingers through his hair.
Lee halted his quest, looking up at her with eyes that sparked with the desire. "Amanda," he took her hands in his own, "Will you let me show you how much I love you?"
Unexpected tears sprang to her eyes at the sight of his pure adoration for her, "Oh, Lee!" she said shakily, "It's a two-way street, you know."
"Can I take that as a yes," he grinned, "or am I relegated to another cold shower?"
"It's a yes, Stetson," was her answer.
Amanda's fingers traced a lazy path down Lee's chest as she snuggled in the crook of his arm. He gently smoothed her hair and let out sigh of contentment. The morning sun had risen a little higher, and was spilling through a gap in the draperies, a reminder that the day would not stand still for them. Raising up to look at the bedside clock, Amanda let out a whimper.
"I know," Lee sighed, "you've got to go home."
"Yes, I do," she said, planting a kiss squarely on his chest before sitting up, "As soon as I raid your closet for something to wear out of here."
Lee pulled her back down beside him, "Hold on now, another minute or two won't matter."
"Ooh! Don't tempt me, Scarecrow. I'm going to have to do some fast talking as it is when I get home. Maybe I'll give Mother a call and have her tell the boys I went out to pick up doughnuts for breakfast. Think that would work?"
"I don't know why not. You did say she was very accommodating about your unorthodox midnight departure," Lee smiled broadly, "I always knew I liked your mother!"
"Speaking of which," Amanda sat up once more, "This is the moment of truth, Stetson. Are you coming to dinner tonight or not?"
"Sure," Lee answered quickly.
"Sure? Sure, he says?" Amanda's eyes took on a suspicious expression, "Okay now, that was way too easy. What gives, Scarecrow? What do you want?"
"Not a thing," he said innocently, "Why, were you planning on having to bribe me? If so , I can think of a thing or two." he gave her his best lecherous look.
"You're terrible! Seriously, why the sudden change of attitude?"
"Well, you remember those demons I mentioned earlier?" he took her hand in his, "I've had more than a little anxiety lately about fitting into your family. I guess I was trying to put it off as long as possible. But," he assured her, bringing her hand up to his lips, "I'm ready now. Just be patient with me and realize I'm still a little uncertain about how all this family stuff works."
Amanda shook her head, "Oh, Lee," she said softly, "I know you and I know my family. These things don't happen overnight, but trust me; this is going to be a good fit." She leaned over to give him a quick peck on the cheek, then took a deep breath, "Since it seems to be confession time, I have one to make."
"Really?" Lee arched his eyebrows in surprise, "What deep dark secret have you been hiding from me?"
Looking down at their clasped hands, Amanda began, "I've been doing a little demon wrestling of my own," she spoke so softly he almost couldn't hear her, "I was afraid. of this," she gestured to the bed, "of not measuring up to your expectations."
Chuckling softly, Lee lifted her chin, forcing her to meet his eyes, "Well I hope we laid that fear to rest!" at her shy smile, he shook his head, a bemused expression on his face. "Amanda, honey, you more than surpassed my 'expectations'. You are my life, and the fact that you just happen to be the sexiest woman on the planet is icing on the cake!"
As a blush crept from her chest up her cheeks, Amanda pulled him closer for a last kiss, "I love you!" she sighed.
"Up, woman," Lee finally pushed her away, "or you'll have to come up with another cover story for the boys. I," he sat up and swung his feet over the side of the bed, "need to get up and into the Agency to file my report so I can spend the rest of the day with my fiancee and her family."
"Sounds like a plan."
Their eyes held, savoring the moment between them. They had navigated the stormy seas of the past few days; there would be struggles to surmount in the future. But right now, in this perfect moment, each of them knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it would be worth it.