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Chapter 2

         Francine sighed as she fumbled in her purse for her apartment key.  Today had turned out so differently from what she had expected.   She had planned on enjoying the game and then maybe going out to dinner with Lee and Amanda, but life had once again thrown her a series of curve balls.  First, despite Amanda’s reassurance to the contrary, Lee had acted like an overprotective jerk, just as she had expected he would, and then the Agency had called her in at the last minute to interrogate Jimmy Cassels because he wouldn't talk.  Jimmy was a two-bit snitch who was withholding information regarding some shady dealings going on with a local drug dealer and Senator Mitchell’s teenage daughter.  What pissed her off the most was why the Agency felt that she was the only one who seemed to have the right cunning wiles to get these creeps to talk?  Didn’t they care that she had a life too? She let out a grunt at the answer to that rhetorical question, of course they didn’t, that’s why they called her at all hours of the day and night. Finding her key, a strange thought popped into her head as she placed it in the lock: would the Agency still call her on a moment’s notice to seduce creeps like Jimmy Cassels if she were married? 

         She shook her head and chuckled at the thought as she opened her door.  Who would ever have thought that she, after what had happened with Jonathan, would even be thinking about marriage again?  Well, she knew that despite how much she was falling for Adam, she didn’t think that marriage was in their immediate future; after all they hadn’t even been going out for a month yet. Stepping inside, she was immediately assaulted with the smells of beef and cooking wine, and the clattering of pots and dishes in her kitchen.   Closing and locking her door, she turned and smiled at the sight of Adam, who was wearing a pale blue jean apron, stepping out of the kitchen carrying two plates.

         “You have perfect timing.  Dinner’s just about ready. I was just putting the final touches on the table.” Adam walked over to her and placed a tender, but brief kiss on her lips. “You look exhausted. Did you have a lot of trouble getting that last minute editing issue taken care of?”

         Francine dropped her purse and keys on the table by the door and then followed Adam into the dining room. “Yes, but just barely.  Sometimes I’d like to just take a mallet and beat some of our producers’ heads to a pulp. They can be so stubborn… anyway, with a little handholding and a lot of finesse, we got the producer to cooperate.  So, I’m all yours for the rest of the weekend.”  Entering the small room off her kitchen, she stopped short at the sight in front of her.  Even though Adam had been making dinner for her every night this week, the table tonight was different.  He had covered her table with a white tablecloth and had lit two red candles.  “What’s the special occasion?”

         “Nothing special, except its Saturday night, and I wanted to make tonight’s dinner a little more romantic.”  Adam placed the plates on the table and then headed back towards the kitchen. 

         “You’re spoiling me something awful, Adam.” Francine followed him and stepping over to the counter, lifted the foil off of the pan on the stove and inhaled.  “Is this Beef Bourguignon with mushrooms and red wine sauce?”

         Adam nodded as he pulled some silverware out of the drawer.  “You told me, on our second date, that it was your favorite. And I believe in only providing the best for the woman who captured my heart.”  Placing the forks and steak knives on the counter, he moved over to Francine and pushed her towards the other room. “I know you’ve had a hard day, so I want you to go make yourself comfortable in the living room and let me wait on you.” Noticing that Francine didn’t seem to be moving, he smiled and shooed her towards the other room. “Now scoot, I have some potatoes to get out of the oven and some asparagus to sauté.  And, if you behave, and let me finish up in here, I’ve got fresh strawberries for dessert.”

         Francine’s eyes grew mischievously wide. “With whipped cream?” When Adam nodded in the affirmative, she grinned. “I must have done something right in a past life, because someone made sure you and I met in this one.  If I ever meet them,” she turned around and wrapped her arms around his strong shoulders, “I’m going to shower them with gifts.”  She leaned in and placed a very inviting kiss on his lips. “I think I’ll go get changed into something a lot more comfortable.”  Winking, she removed her arms from around him and turned to leave the room.

         “Just don’t get too comfortable, I put a lot of work into this dinner,” Adam called after her, “I’d hate for it to get cold.”

         Francine laughed as she entered her bedroom.  She moved over to her closet and pulled out a lacy cream camisole and her navy blue velvet sweat suit.  She’d show him comfortable and still be sexy at the same time.  She loved this camisole because it not only made her feel sexy, but it was slightly see-through and she had every intention of driving Adam wild tonight. Walking over to her bed, she laid both items on the mattress and quickly undressed.  She slipped the camisole over her head and then took the pants off the hanger.  She gingerly stepped into them, and then hung the top back in the closet.  She had no need for that tonight.  She then scooped up her clothes and deposited them into her hamper.  As she made her way back towards her bedroom door, she stopped and glanced at herself in the mirror.  Her outfit was perfect, however her hair and makeup could definitely use some freshening.  She turned around and made her way into her bathroom.

         Francine opened her makeup kit, pulled out a tube of red lip-gloss and traced the outline of her lips.  She then took her hair out of the clip and let it fall loosely down to her shoulders.  She ran her fingers through the strands and fluffed it out, just enough so that it looked tame, but not like she had done anything special to it.   Glancing once more at her reflection, she smiled.   For some reason she was feeling extremely aroused, perhaps it was all the pretending she’d had to do with Jimmy Cassels in order to get him to talk, or the fact that there was just a strong feeling of romance in the air; either way, she had every intention of getting lucky tonight.  Content with her appearance, she turned and headed out of her bedroom.

         Francine entered the dining room just as Adam had begun to fill the wine glasses he had set out earlier. She surveyed the food and her stomach grumbled. “Guess I’m more than ready to eat.”

         Adam put the wine bottle down and then picked up the two glasses.  As he passed one of the glasses over to Francine, he gave her an appreciative smile.  “You look good enough to eat…but I guess I’ll have to settle for beef bourguignon.  First a toast,” he raised his glass to hers, “to the most beautiful woman in D.C.”

         Francine smiled self-consciously as she felt her cheeks warm.  “I think I should be toasting you.  You’re like a dream come true.  Cooking me dinner, cleaning up my apartment…” She made a mental note of thanks that she kept all her personal Agency related material locked away in the deep recesses of her closet, including her spare bullets.  She may be falling hard for Adam, but she wasn’t ready for that part of her life to interfere with their relationship, at least not yet. “Letting me relax after a hard day of work, and just making me feel special…”

         Adam set his glass on the table and moved to stand next to Francine.  He gently took her glass out of her hand, and placed it on the white linen cloth.  Wrapping an arm around her waist, he tenderly slipped his other hand under her hair bringing it to rest on the nape of her neck and brought her lips to his.  Ending the kiss, he leaned his head against her forehead. “No, my love, you’re the reality to all my fantasies.  You deserve to be treated like the goddess that you are.  Nothing less will do for you.”  He let his hand slide down to her shoulder, and he nibbled her earlobe. “And as far as your job goes, I think you work too hard.  You know, there are more important things in life,” his tongue trailed a path to the sensitive spot on her neck just below her earlobe, “things that are way more fun.”

         Francine closed her eyes and tried to ward off the feelings of electricity running through her.  As much as she wouldn’t mind skipping dinner, she needed to make sure that Adam’s train of thought was simply a romantic notion and nothing else. Placing her hands on his chest, she pushed him back slightly so that she could look into his eyes. “Adam, I love my job, I hope that you’re only suggesting that we postpone dinner and aren’t implying anything else.”

         Adam let out a reluctant sigh and gazed longingly into her eyes. “I wasn’t trying to imply anything. Although, now that you mention it, I do worry about you, Francine.” His expression turned more serious. “This company you work for seems to have no regard for you as a person. They call you at all hours of the day…and night, and then you immediately run off, and sometimes I don’t hear from you for a whole day, sometimes more.  I don’t know much about producing films, but it seems to me that the stress and hours are overwhelming, and I see how you look after a particularly harrowing day.” His fingers caressed her shoulder enticingly. “Have you ever thought about changing careers?”

         Francine pushed him further away and narrowed her eyes. “Adam, I happen to love what I do. It may not sound glamorous, or even important to you…but my job is very important…”

         Adam immediately put a finger on her lip. “I’m sorry, I guess that came out wrong.  I was really only asking you if you were happy doing what you do.  I didn’t mean for it to come out the way it did.”

         Francine shrugged his hand off her shoulder and stepped fully out of his embrace. “I think I need to say something here and now, before our relationship goes any further.” She turned her back on him and made her way into the living room. “Adam, you have to realize something about me. I’ve been an independent woman since I said my first word.  I spent my life trying to please my father, and making something of myself in a world of male-dominated careers.” She walked over to the fireplace and stopped in front of a framed photo of her parents. “It took me a long time to get where I am, and I have no intention of changing for anyone. I may not always enjoy every aspect of my job, but I’m proud of what I do and all that I’ve achieved, and if you can’t accept that,” she turned around and stared at the man she was falling in love with, “then, as much as it pains me to say this, you can leave right now.” She swallowed the lump in her throat, silently praying that Adam wouldn’t say good-bye and walk out of her apartment…and her life forever.

         Adam quickly moved to stand behind Francine and placed his hands on her shoulders. “I wasn’t asking you to change.” He gently turned her around so that she was now facing him. “Honestly, I wasn’t. You have to believe me. And I have no intention of leaving, not now, nor ever…not as long as I have a say in the matter.  I meant what I said before, I’m just worried about you. I tend to worry about those I care deeply for, and…” he took a deep breath and gently caressed her cheek, “I care very deeply for you, Francine. I’m in love with you. I haven’t loved anyone the way I love you.”

         “Oh, Adam,” Francine hated to show weakness in front of anyone, but for some reason, she knew she could relax and just be herself in front of this man, so with extreme will-power, she resisted the urge to wipe away the single tear that had fallen down her cheek, “I love you, too.”

         Adam placed a hand on her arm and gently guided her over to the couch. “Maybe we should sit and talk, perhaps clear the air.  I know that you’ve had rocky relationships in the past, Francine, and maybe that’s because you were never able to be completely honest with those men.  I want you to know,” he sat down and pulled her down onto his lap, “that you can talk to me about anything, tell me anything and I promise I won’t run away.”

         Francine glanced towards the dining room. She was torn between letting her guard down and having a serious discussion with Adam, and in listening to the other voice in her head, the one that loved to construct those hidden barriers for her to hide behind. The little voice seemed to be winning and she started to push herself up from her lover’s lap. “What about dinner, it’s going to get cold and you’ve gone to an awful lot of trouble.”

         Adam tightened his hold on her, preventing her escape. “Dinner can be reheated.  Our relationship is more important.”

         Francine sighed and pushing the little voice further into the back of her mind, she allowed herself to relax in his arms and laid her head on his shoulder. “I’m not used to being this vulnerable in front of anyone.”

         “Really?” Adam glanced at her with a slightly doubtful expression. “I don’t know if I truly believe that statement.”

         Francine stared at him, perplexed. “I know I’ve told you about Jonathan, but I think that’s why our relationship never worked, I was never able to tell him exactly how I felt.  With you, it’s different. I want to share things with you.  I don’t know who else you could be referring to.”

         “I’m referring to your co-worker, the one who was at the game today…Lee Stetson.” Adam loosened his embrace and dared her to deny anything.

         Francine couldn’t help but laugh hysterically at Adam’s mention of Lee. “You can’t honestly tell me that you’re jealous of Lee.” She wiped away a few tears of joy that were escaping from her eyes and noticed the slightly annoyed expression on Adam’s face. “I’m sorry, it’s just so absurd that you’d be jealous of Lee.”

         “I didn’t say I was jealous, but by the way he was looking at me all day, I felt like I was being scrutinized by my high school prom date’s father.” Adam glared defiantly at Francine. “He may not be competition for your affections, but he’s definitely more than just your co-worker.”

         Francine cleared her throat and tried to keep the laughter to a minimum.  “Yes, Lee and are friends.  We’ve known each other for a long time, and you’re right, I have confided in him in the past, but I’ve never bared my soul to him.” She sighed and shrugged her shoulders slightly. “And perhaps his attitude towards you was a bit judgmental, but I don’t think his attitude today was entirely directed at you.  I have a feeling that it had more to do with the film he and Amanda are working on than you.  He gets wrapped up in his projects, and when he hits a bump in the road, he tends to take it out on everyone around him.”

         “What could possibly go that wrong that he makes everyone around him so uncomfortable?” Adam slipped his fingers into her hair and began twirling a few strands between his fingers.

         “You’d be surprised.” Francine closed her eyes, enjoying the warm feelings running through her at the intimate contact. “They were supposed to interview this businessman for an upcoming documentary on successful small businesses specializing in the same area, and the guy they were supposed to meet with yesterday seems to have just up and disappeared.  He closed down his shop and left no forwarding information.  The thing that got Lee so upset was that he was apparently the most successful of the whole bunch.”

         Adam moved his hand tantalizingly down her neck to her back and back up again. “That sounds very strange. Does that kind of thing happen to you guys a lot, I mean since you do these films for the government?”

         Francine chuckled. “You’d be surprised.”

         “Somehow,” he moved his other hand to her leg and began to slide it slowly back and forth, “I don’t think Lee’s attitude towards me was based solely on his bad mood.  I wasn’t joking when I said that every time I caught him looking at me, I felt like I was under the scrutiny of an overprotective father.”

         “Well,” Francine moved her hand to Adam’s chest and ran her fingernails in tiny circles, “the truth is that Lee has taken it upon himself to watch out for me, very much like an older brother. It’s very annoying, and kind of endearing at the same time.” She let out a small sigh as she gazed into Adam’s eyes. “Lee’s been there for me during some very difficult times, including when Jonathan left me at the altar.  Ever since then, he’s been a little overly suspicious of the guys I date, the ones that I introduce him to at any rate.” She sighed and leaned her head against Adam’s. “I won’t lie to you, we had a momentary fling, but it didn’t work out.  We weren’t meant to be together romantically. We work better as friends and besides, Amanda’s his soul mate, the two of them were destined for each other…but enough about them, I’d prefer to go back to talking about us.” She pulled back to gauge her love’s reaction as she traced his lips with her finger.

         “Well now his attitude makes a hell of a lot more sense.  I guess I’ll just have to do my best to make sure I’m worthy of your affections, at least as far as Lee’s concerned.” Adam placed a tender kiss on Francine’s lips as he pulled her tightly to him.

         Francine shook her head against his lips. “You don’t have to worry about Lee at all.  I’m a big girl. I can make my own decisions about the man I give my heart to.” 

         “And have you given me your heart, Francine?” Adam suspended all hand movements and gazed directly into her eyes.

         Francine nodded her head slowly. “Yes, I think I have…at least I know I don’t want to give it to anyone else. I love you like I have never loved any other man. I know I can be myself with you.” A pang of regret hit her as she realized that while she could be honest with him about her feelings, she wasn’t quite ready to tell him the truth about her job.  That would come in time; after all, it wasn’t like Adam had proposed.  They were just two people sharing their most intimate feelings for each other.

         Adam pulled her tightly to him and kissed her passionately. Then, before he lost himself in the moment, he pushed her away slightly.  He slipped his hands under her arms and gently lifted her off his lap and moved her to the cushion beside him. Taking a deep breath, he slid off the couch and kneeling down on one knee, took her hand in his. “Francine Desmond, I love you, and want to offer my heart and soul to you, to keep for your own, until the day we die.” He saw the look of utter surprise in his love’s eyes and smiled. “Will you marry me?”

         Francine stared wide-eyed at Adam. “What did you just say?”

         Adam looked down at the floor. “I’m sorry, I’m moving too fast, aren’t I?” He glanced back up at the woman, who had just professed her love for him.

         Francine shook her head. “No,” catching the hurt look on Adam’s face, she quickly amended her comment, “I meant about the moving too fast, and maybe it is too fast, but yes, I’d love to marry you.” She leaned down and placed a tender kiss on his lips. Adam responded by letting go of her hands and placing one on either side of her face, deepening the kiss. Suddenly, she realized what she had just promised to do, and her rational side took over.  She put her hands on his chest, and pushed Adam away, effectively breaking the intimate moment. “What am I saying? We can’t do this, not yet, can we?” She stared at him with an expression of doubt. She rose from her seat on the couch and walked back over to the fireplace. “I mean we’ve only known each other less than a month…I need some time to really think about it, before I give you a real, definite answer.”

         Adam used the couch for support and pushed himself up into a standing position.  He walked over and stood in front of Francine. “I just got caught up in the moment. Honest, this wasn’t what I had planned for tonight, heck I don’t even have a ring.  So I understand completely that you need to take some time to think about it.” He smiled at her with a mischievous glint in his eye. “Will twenty-four hours be enough?”

         Francine laughed.  “I’m sure that will be plenty. I’m not one who likes to dwell on things too long, anyway. I’m a go getter.” She took his hand in his. “How about we go out to dinner tomorrow night, and I’ll give you my answer over dessert?”

         Adam brought her hand up to his lips and placed a kiss on her palm. “I can hardly wait until dinner tomorrow.  But, in the meantime, how about we go eat tonight’s dinner, the one that’s probably already getting cold?”

         Francine nodded and, with her hand still clasped in Adam’s, began walking towards the dining room pondering the fact that life seemed to have a way of throwing curve balls at her at the most unexpected moments.  One minute, she was just getting used to the idea of having Adam around, and the next, she was seriously considering spending the rest of her life with him.  When they reached the table, she allowed Adam to pull her chair out for her and as she sat down she stared at her left hand, imagining the joys of having a diamond ring proudly displayed on her ring finger.  Shaking her head slightly, she took her gaze away from her hand and waited for her love to take his place at the table across from her before raising her glass. “To the unknown future.”

         “To a future with amazing promise.” Adam raised his glass and clanked it with hers.

         As Francine sipped her wine, she wondered if twenty-four hours really would be enough time to make the most important decision of her life.  She was also unsure of whether it was a decision she could make on her own or if she would need some advice from a friend.  Putting down her wine glass, she decided to enjoy tonight’s dinner and if nothing else, celebrate her and Adam’s newly declared love for each other.  She’d worry about how she was going to make the biggest decision of her life after a good night’s sleep. 

*****  *****

         Amanda opened her eyes and wondered what could possibly have caused her to awaken, effectively interrupting the wonderful dream she was having about Lee.  Hearing the echoing ring of the doorbell, she instantly knew what had disturbed her peaceful slumber.  Glancing at the clock on the nightstand, her expression grew wary.  Who could possibly be ringing her doorbell at seven a.m. on a Sunday morning?  Climbing out of bed, she walked over to the chair in the corner and picked up her robe.  As she put it on, she couldn’t help but wonder exactly who her early morning visitor could be.  She knew it wasn’t Lee.  Lee had a key, and if he’d forgotten his, he’d have used his lock picks on the back door.  Besides, it was too early for him to be sneaking into her house, especially since it was quite late when he’d left the night before.

         Tying her bathrobe around her waist, she quickly made her way out of her bedroom and downstairs.  She wanted to get to the door before the person on the other side woke her mother or the boys.  If this was work related, she’d rather deal with it alone, and give her family an abridged version later, if at all necessary.  Reaching the door, she unlocked it and hesitantly opened it a hair. She peered through the crack and was astonished to see Francine, sans makeup and looking extremely tired, standing on her doorstep. Without another moment’s hesitation, she opened the door all the way. “Francine, what’s wrong? Is this work related? Is Mr. Melrose okay?” It was then that she noticed the bakery box in her friend’s hand.

         Francine shook her head wearily. “No, it’s nothing work related. I um…well I went out to get breakfast for Adam and me, and I ended up driving over here.  Can I come in? I brought donuts.”

         “Of course, come on in.” Amanda stepped aside and let Francine enter, then, once her friend was inside, she closed the door and locked it.  “Let’s go into the kitchen, I’ll make a pot of coffee and you can tell me why you’re here so early on a Sunday morning.”

         “I’m sorry it’s so early,” Francine began, as shrugged her shoulders apologetically, “but I just had to talk to you and I didn’t want to take the chance that you had plans for the day and would be out later.”

         Amanda stifled a yawn as she made her way into the kitchen.  She moved over to the counter and pulled out the coffee maker. “You could have called me, I’d have put time aside for you, especially if it was important, which I’m guessing by the fact that you’re in my kitchen at seven a.m., it is.”

         Francine sat down on one of the stools at the counter. “I’m sorry, I guess I should have called, but I couldn’t sleep and decided to take a drive. I left a note for Adam, letting him know that I was going out to pick up some breakfast.” She watched her friend methodically pour the right amount of coffee grounds into the maker. “I stopped off at a really nice bakery near my place, but when I got back to my car, I realized I wasn’t ready to face him until I talked to someone, and you were the first person who came to mind.”

         Amanda stopped adding water to the coffee maker and turned to face her friend, a worried expression on her face. “Francine, did Adam do something…to you, I mean?”

         Francine let out a nervous laugh. “Oh God, no, it’s nothing bad, it’s just…oh hell, he proposed to me last night.”

         Amanda’s eyes grew wide and she quickly turned away, and turned the coffee pot on. “That’s, well…”

         “I know…extremely sudden, unexpected, surprising....” Francine let out a long sigh and focused her attention on the door of Amanda’s refrigerator. “Believe me, I’ve run down every possible adjective.  It’s just plain crazy.” She stared at the report cards and various other items clipped to the door with magnets.  She realized that it might actually be kind of fun to have family pictures, children’s drawings and things of personal importance to hang on her fridge.

         Amanda pulled two mugs out of the cabinet and placed them on the counter.  She then turned around and looked directly at her friend. “What did you say…when he asked you, that is?”

         Francine glanced over at her friend. “Well, I said yes, but then took it back and told him I had to think about it.  I told him that I’d give him an answer tonight.” She rested her head on her hand and lowered her gaze to the counter top.  “Oh, Amanda, I got so caught up in the moment, I didn’t realize what I was saying.  Then I felt bad taking it back.  Was I wrong in taking it back? I mean isn’t your first reaction usually the right one?”

         Amanda moved over to the island and sat down next to Francine. “That depends on the circumstances.  When you’re playing a board game or answering a question for a test, then most of the time, yes, your first thought is usually the one that ends up being right.  However, when it comes to matters of the heart, sometimes the heart has a habit of saying something before your mind has a chance to really process the answer.  Most of us like to think things through and then react, while others are a lot more impulsive and act without thinking.”

         Francine let out a small chuckle. “Are we talking about anyone in particular?”

         Amanda shrugged her shoulders and laughed. “Well not directly, but yes, I was referring to Lee.  Did I ever tell you how he proposed to me?”

         Francine stared at Amanda for a moment, trying to remember if the brunette had shared that information with her during their first trip to the spa so many months ago. Realizing that she didn’t know that tidbit of information, she shook her head. “No, actually, I don’t believe you did.”

         “Let’s just say, you don’t know the meaning of impulsive.  I know now, and in retrospect I realize that he was preparing to ask me in a more romantic setting, but when push came to shove, he opted for a very spur of the moment type proposal.  He asked me while we were being held captive by Birol.  I mean, I was pretty out of it when Lee arrived so I wasn’t entirely sure that he had asked me, until I asked him later, when I was more coherent, if I had dreamed it or if it was real.  He told me it hadn't been my imagination, that he really had asked me to marry him and then proceeded to repeat the proposal.  We talked about why he had asked me then, and he told me that because he had so very nearly lost me once and who knew what might have happened if Magda hadn’t been able to come through for us, and despite the fact that we were being held captive by a madman, he hadn’t wanted to waste another minute.” She smiled at that particular thought, even though the entire experience had been traumatic, that was one good thing that had come out of her kidnapping.  “I’m not complaining in the least, and he did make it up to me later.  We ended up celebrating properly the day he gave me the ring.”

         Francine shook her head.  “You know, I think that proposal is very typical of Lee.  He can be very sensitive and romantic when he wants to be, but with the most important, life-altering decisions, and especially where you’re concerned, he acts solely on impulse.”

         Amanda nodded.  “The first time he told me he loved me was during that whole Stemwinder fiasco.  In fact he told me over the phone, I guess he was afraid he wouldn’t get another chance.”

         “Was this before or after you guys tried to climb down the trellis outside your bedroom.” Francine laughed.

         “Before, actually.  It was right after I snuck out of the Agency and was followed by the motorcycle, the helicopter, the van…” Amanda gave Francine a knowing look, “all because I wanted some ice cream.”

         “Hey, we had to cover our bases.” Francine shrugged her shoulders apologetically. “We needed Lee to come in so we could figure out what was really going on, and don’t try the innocent act with me. Billy and I figured Lee had slipped some sort of message to you during that last phone call.  Now I know exactly what was missing from your debriefing.” She caught the slightly confused look on Amanda’s face and smiled. “I watched some of your debrief after Makarov’s capture. When you were talking about the phone conversation you had while you were with T.P., you paused and got this look on your face.  When Johnson had asked you if anything else was said, you were a little too quick to say no.  Now I know the truth.” 

         “Francine…” Amanda stared at the blonde with a serious expression, “I only told you this to let you know that I know how you feel.  If you repeat any of this to Lee, or try to use it against either one of us in some future blackmail scheme…”

         Francine put a hand on her friend’s arm. “Don’t worry, I promise not to say anything.  I’m guessing that no one else knows…” When Amanda shook her head, Francine smiled gently. “Well then I feel extremely honored that you shared it with me.”

         “Now, enough about Lee and me.  Let’s get back to you.” Amanda glanced briefly over at the coffee pot. Seeing that it was still percolating, she turned her attention back to her friend.  “Putting aside about the fact that you haven’t known Adam that long, how do you feel about him?”

          “I think I love him.  I actually told him that I loved him last night.” Francine sighed and looked down at the countertop.  Although she and Amanda had been having a girls’ day at the spa for three months now, she still wasn’t completely comfortable sharing her feelings with anyone.  Noticing a tiny knick in the countertop, she ran her finger over it. “I know I can be myself with him.  I’m not afraid to share my thoughts and dreams with him.” She looked back up at the brunette. “That’s something I never felt right doing with Jonathan.  The only difference is that Jonathan knew about the Agency, Adam doesn’t.”

         Amanda nodded her head in understanding. “Do you plan on telling Adam about the Agency? Or are you afraid that if he finds out the truth, it might scare him off or he’ll be really hurt that you didn’t trust him from the start to tell him the truth?”

         Francine shrugged her shoulders slightly. “That depends on what I decide. If I decide not to marry him, then I don’t have to worry about it. If I accept his proposal, then yes, I’ll tell him. I don’t want to have any secrets between us.  I’m not sure if he’s going to be hurt or not, after all, we’ve only known each other a short while and I can’t go around telling everyone I meet what I really do for a living. It kind of defeats the purpose of the Agency having a cover.” Hearing a floorboard creaking upstairs, she glanced nervously over at Amanda.

         Amanda immediately got off her stool and walked over to the stairs.  Poking her head around the corner, she glanced up into the hallway.  After a few moments and no sign of anyone moving around, she shrugged and walked back into the kitchen.  “Probably the house settling, it happens a lot. Or it could be that Jamie got up to get a book from the shelf and then went back to bed.  He sometimes does that, reads a book until he feels like coming down for breakfast.” She went over to the coffee pot and took it off its base. “Do you prefer cream or sugar?”

         “Actually, with the night I had, I’ll take it black.”  Francine glanced back towards the stairs. “You’re sure no one’s up?” 

         Amanda nodded. “Positive. If Mother were up, she’d be downstairs already, Phillip sleeps until at least nine…unless he has to get up, and Jamie really does prefer to lie in bed and read until he smells breakfast cooking.” She picked up the full cups of coffee and moved back to the stool at the island.  She handed a mug to Francine and took her seat. “Now, since you seemed to have given yourself a time limit, how about we start with a few basic questions.”  She watched her friend nod before taking a tentative sip from her cup. “Okay, how would you feel if Adam up and disappeared from your life tomorrow? And I mean, he was gone, never to return. He just told you ‘so long, I won’t be coming back’.”

         Francine pondered it for a moment, but knew without a doubt how she’d feel. “I’d feel lost and incomplete.” She glanced at Amanda with a slightly curious expression. “Is that normal, to feel that way about a man I haven’t known that long?”

         Amanda smiled warm-heartedly at her friend.  “Love doesn’t have a rule book, so no one can say what’s normal or right, you just have to go with what your heart says.”

         Francine glanced at the steaming coffee in her cup and closed her eyes.  Images of Adam’s loving and caring eyes stared back at her. She let out a defeated sigh and, opening her eyes, looked over at her friend. “Oh, Amanda, I am in love with him.” 

         “Admitting it to yourself is the first step.” Amanda placed her hand gently on the blonde’s arm. “So, tell me about the proposal.”

         Francine smiled. “It was totally spontaneous; I mean he didn’t even have a ring. We were just sharing our feelings and the next thing I know, he’s down on one knee.  Even Jonathan didn’t get down on one knee when he proposed to me.”

         Amanda sighed and shook her head. “First, you need to stop comparing him to Jonathan…”

         Francine glared defiantly at the brunette. “I don’t compare him…” she stopped when she saw the pointed stare Amanda was giving her, “okay, so maybe I do.”

         Amanda nodded her head and smiled knowingly at her friend. “It’s perfectly natural to do something like that, especially when you’ve been hurt before. For a long time I compared my relationships with other men with my marriage to Joe.  I was even a little hesitant to get involved with Lee. Not because of his track record with women, but because of his commitment to his job.  I didn’t want to set myself up for disappointment again.  However, I quickly realized, especially when Joe returned, how different Lee and Joe are, and how much I’d grown. Lee and I share something special, a unique bond, we were friends first, but I think we’ve always been soul mates.  Lee knows all about me, he knows my darkest secrets and loves me despite my quirky, annoying habits. I came with baggage, a live-in mother, two teenage sons, and a mortgage, and he still wanted to marry me.”

         Francine nodded. “I think Adam could very well be my soul mate.  He’s seen me at my best and even my worst, especially after a particularly harrowing day at work. You know how catty I can get sometimes, and yet he still loves me, and apparently wants to marry me.”

         “Then the only remaining question you need to answer is do you want to spend the rest of your life with him?” Amanda glanced at the blonde over the top of her mug as she took a sip of her coffee.

         “I think I do. My heart already told him yes, but my brain needed to make sure it was the right decision.” Francine glanced briefly at Amanda’s left hand, and saw the tiniest impression of a wedding band.  If Lee Stetson could find true love and happiness, then it was way past time that she let herself do the same.

         “Only you can decide what you want, Francine.” Amanda saw where her friend’s gaze had fallen and was pretty sure her friend was wondering what it would be like to finally have a ring on her own finger. “Don’t rush your decision, make sure it’s what you really want, and that you don’t just say yes because you’re afraid of losing him. After all you have only known him a few weeks.”

         “I know I should agree with you, that things seem to be moving too fast,” Francine moved her gaze back up to her friend’s face, “but I think…no…I know that I really want to marry him, Amanda.”

         “Then there’s your answer.” Amanda pulled the box of donuts to her and opened the lid. “Now, what do you say we delve into these donuts?”

         Francine laughed. “Just leave me a few to take back to Adam.”

         “Yes, we wouldn’t want him to think you just plain forgot to pick something up.” Amanda laughed with her friend as she picked out a chocolate glazed donut.

         “Nope. Can’t have that.” Francine chose a chocolate coated one for herself and glanced briefly at the clock.  Suddenly she couldn’t wait till dinner tonight.  She knew what her answer was going to be, and she wasn’t sure she’d be able to keep it to herself in until then.  Then, as if the voice of reason itself was agreeing with her decision, it seemed to ask: who said she had to wait?  As soon as she’d finished her coffee and donut, she was going to go home, tell Adam the good news and get down to some serious celebrating.  Something they hadn’t done last night.  With such a huge decision hanging over her, and despite her best intentions, she had kind of lost the mood.  Now, however, she was more than in the mood.  Looking into her nearly empty cup, she knew that her early morning breakfast with Amanda was going to be over very quickly.


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