"Terry's Journey"
A Contemporary Romance

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Terry's Journey PDF

Plot Summary

A sequel to Abigail's Journey, and third in the Journey series.

As a survivor of abuse, Terry Davis is determined to make a difference in someone's life the way his best friend, John Johannes, had changed Terry's so many years ago on a school playground. Having seen John's daughter, Abigail, rescue Jake Murphy from Jake's tortured past, Terry is more intent than ever to offer a lifeline of his own to someone in desperate need. But it won't be easy.

Protective of Terry's wounds, John has tried to keep his friend from helping anyone too much, knowing from Terry's former experience as a volunteer hotline crisis counselor that Terry's nightmares would return. Then she arrived in all her painful helplessness-- Madison Crawford with the haunting gray eyes and secretive past, needing to be rescued while claiming to need no one. As Terry tries to help Madison and then becomes involved with her on a more personal level, John's concerns deepen for the dear friend he loves like a brother.

This may be Terry's journey, but Terry won't be making it alone.
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Chapter Thirty-one
The Hiding Place

"Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have overcome me..."
~ Song of Solomon 6:5 ~

The taxi slowed to a stop in front of the hotel, and Terry pulled out his wallet to pay the driver. The fact he could remember such things as money, or the need to tip the driver, was evidence that Maddie's wedding kiss hadn't blown every fuse in his brain. That he was still able to run on rational thought. Considering what had happened, it was miraculous his brain was working at all. Terry leaned over, popped open Maddie's door while John and Izzy got out on Terry's other side.

Newfound wonder stirred in Terry as he watched his wife climb out. Maddie was his now, though the thought seemed incredible. He glanced down at his left hand to make sure there really was a white gold band on his finger, one put there by Maddie.

"Congratulations, man."

Terry looked at the front seat, saw the taxi driver smiling and remembered the guy had picked them up in front of the Office of Civil Marriages.

"Thanks." Terry felt a little embarrassed as he stepped out of the cab and into the shade of the hotel's portico. The day felt surreal, almost like he was witnessing someone else's life, and not his own, and yet this was all happening to him.

He had just gotten married.

The second taxi pulled up as Maddie came to his side. He tried not to linger as her eyes sought his, or feel too much when she took his hand in her own. That intensity he'd felt from her in the past and hadn't known what to do with, was spilling off her now, and he still wasn't sure what to do. They were going at her speed, not his, and that, he reminded himself as she leaned her head against his shoulder, was very, very slow.

He could do slow. If his jackhammering heart didn't count, he was doing slow right now.

"Maddie--" he gently pulled away-- "I have to pay AJ's driver." Terry resisted looking into the gray eyes he knew were watching him, and went to pay the taxi as Abby and Jake climbed out and joined the others.

Steady. Steady.

Terry took in a steadying breath, gave the man his money and headed back to the hotel entrance where everyone was gathering. Terry didn't want to think about the kiss. He didn't want to think about Maddie. He didn't want to think about the fact he and Maddie were married now, or the fact Maddie was taking his hand again.

He could feel her pulse, and it was racing-- just like his.

"So." Terry inhaled slowly as everyone moved inside the air conditioned building. "Are we still on for movies and room service? Is that the plan?"

"It is, unless you have somewhere else you'd rather be." John strolled over to the elevator, tapped the console, stood back and waited for their ride. No side punches, no jokes about newlyweds, nothing but ordinary John waiting for the elevator.

Not that Terry had expected to be harassed, but still. Terry was deeply grateful.

"As long as Maddie's resting," Terry struggled for casual confidence, "movies and food sound good to me." He checked the quiet woman at his side to see what she thought, and found her staring at the marble tiles beneath her feet.

The marble was nice, but it wasn't that nice.

"Are you very tired?" Terry squeezed Maddie's hand and she leaned into his side without looking up. "Do you want to rest before going over to watch movies with the others?"

She nodded as the elevator doors slid open.

Everyone moved inside, Terry tapped their floor and Maddie moved against Terry's arm. At first Terry thought she was afraid of elevators, but then her head cozied into his shoulder and Terry fought the urge to look down. He steadied himself, held her hand and focused his eyes on the mirrored panels. The others were talking among themselves, and there at his side, Terry could see Maddie-- eyes closed, a happy curve on her lips, and looking quieter than he'd ever seen her awake.

He allowed himself to breathe in a little, still cautious of feeling too much, but at the same time very much aware of the love standing next to him.

The doors slid open, Jake pulled out his door key and so did John. They were all on the same floor, though not grouped together.

"Would you get a load of this place?" Abby's voice barely registered above a whisper, as if she were trying not to wake the afternoon sleepers on the thirty-fifth floor. "Uncle Terry, I hope you didn't pay an arm and a leg to get us in here."

Izzy looked like she was also having a good time, and since Terry didn't feel like talking, he just smiled and kept moving.

The layout of the suite was all that mattered to Terry-- that and making sure Maddie didn't have to endure the night with a bed in the room. Abby was right though, this place was fancy. They moved down a richly carpeted hall with small tables between suite doors, and Terry kept reading off the etched numbers on the small gold placards.

He slowed when he came to the number on his door key.

"This one's ours." Terry looked to John, and John gave a long look at the hallway carpet.

Well now. Terry felt outrageously awkward. As though he were standing in noonday traffic in his boxers, though noonday traffic in Three Mile Bay was fairly mild. It was the gawking that would kill you.

"We'll see you later." With a small nod to Terry, John started everyone down the hall at a nonchalant stride. As though there were nothing at all to be embarrassed about. As though John had known what Terry had been feeling.

Which, as Terry took a moment to think about, he found a bit unnerving.

But really, there was no reason to be embarrassed, or nervous-- though Terry was feeling both. No reason at all. This was Maddie, not someone else, and this was no honeymoon. Okay then. Steeling himself with those last mental words, Terry pushed the keycard into the slot, opened the door...

And stood in the hall with Maddie.

Neither of them went in.

He looked at her, and she looked at him.

"Would you mind if we kept tradition on this?" he asked. "You know-- could I carry you over the threshold?"

"Like on TV?"

"Well, yeah. I guess. It's not just done on TV, real people do it, too."

She gave a pretty smile and nodded, "yes."

"Okay." Terry rubbed his hands together and took a deep breath. Nothing to it. Just pick her up and carry her inside. Like on TV.

"I thought you said real people did this?"

"Hey, give me a moment." Terry took another breath, looked her over and decided where to put his arms, then scooped her up-- purse, sweater, and all. "Am I hurting you?"

Maddie shook her head, her eyes wide, her mouth smiling though he could tell she was more than a little nervous, herself. If her heart had been racing before, it was now a flat out pedal-to-the-metal kind of pulse that made him wonder how she managed to stay conscious. It had taken an extraordinary amount of courage for her to get this far, and he could still feel that courage pulsing through her body.

Looking either way in the hall and seeing no one, Terry nudged their suite door completely open with his foot. An engraved table sat off to the left, an entertainment cabinet stood further inside, and against the opposite wall, was a large, plush sofa with Maddie's name all over it. Figuratively speaking, that is. He resisted a look down at her, stepped over the threshold, then turned, and drew the door shut with his foot.

He shifted Maddie and started to let her down when he felt her lips soft on his mouth.

Everything ground to a halt. Terry's world stopped functioning and his mind screamed that he needed to think.

He HAD to think.

He eased her down, drew his arms away, then stepped back until they were no longer breathing the same warm air.

"Maddie, I--" Terry moaned when he saw the hurt in her eyes. "Please, don't cry. I have to slow down a little, but I love you. I love you with all my heart, Maddie."

She nodded, hugged herself, and waited expectantly. Very expectantly. Like he would come back to her at any moment.

"A little slower than that, Maddie."

She was fixating again, and this time, it was solely on him.

"What about this room, huh?" Terry moved around her, looked about the suite as though he were seeing it for the first time, even though it was pretty much as advertised on the website. Which wasn't bad for an upscale place as this. "Look at that flat-screen TV-- the others have one in their suite too, and when we go over and watch movies, it's really going to be something. That baby's twice the size of the one we have back home." Terry glanced at Maddie.

She wasn't looking at the display.

"There's a balcony out here." He moved to the sliding glass door and shoved it open without stepping outside. Desert wind filled his face, and he stood and let it embrace him until he could breathe without trembling inwardly.

He heard footsteps behind him, felt the aching touch of a soft hand on his.

"I love you, Maddie. I don't want to mess this up."

"You aren't."

He sighed, looked at her as she moved closer.

"Maddie--" he couldn't get out another word before her mouth met his, and he was breathing her air, feeling her lips and losing himself in Maddie's kiss. She kept her hand in his and didn't let her touch stray, but when she stepped back, Terry shut the balcony door and went to find some cold water.

Locating the bathroom off the kitchen, Terry stepped inside, turned on the faucet and splashed water on the back of his neck. When he was done, he saw her in the mirror.

"I promised to keep you safe, Maddie, and I have every intention of honoring my word." He grabbed a towel. "I know I said we'd go at your speed, but we have a limitation here-- me. We can't go so fast I put you in danger." Slapping the towel onto the rack, he turned to face Maddie and was dismayed to find very little alarm.

"I trust you, Terry."

"Thank you for that-- that means the world to me, but I need more. I need cooperation." He rubbed his face with both hands, leaned back against the sink and looked at her. "Maddie, I love you, but if you could come on a little less strong, I'd be grateful."

"I want to kiss you."

"I know you do." He couldn't help but smile back. "I feel the same about you, but I have to take things more slowly. For your sake."

Maddie bit her lip, looked down at the floor and nodded.

"Where did you learn to kiss like that?" she asked.

"Why? Am I any good?"

She nodded.

"I guess that's good to know."

"Where?" She looked up at him and Terry didn't really want to answer.

It wasn't a big mystery. He pushed off the sink, moved past her into the living room and she followed at a distance.

"Where, Terry?"

"Let's just say I had to learn, or else." He moved to the table by the entrance where their bags had been placed, and started to open his duffel. Maddie had dropped her purse and sweater after he'd carried her inside, and they lay at his feet as a reminder of how careful they needed to be in the future. He picked up the items, put them on the table as Maddie came to his side.

Terry moved a little away from her as he zipped open his bag.

"You know what I wish, Terry?" Maddie had understood his comment about having to learn, for her voice sounded wistfully sad. "I wish I could've taken your place for you. It would've been worth it, if it meant you didn't have to be hurt."

Terry stopped what he was doing, and looked at her.

She had meant every word.

An ache the size of all the world crammed itself into Terry's heart.

She inched closer to him, and when he didn't move, she pulled his head down in a kiss that he let himself return. Sincere sweetness-- that was Maddie. He deepened the kiss a little, then reigned himself in when he felt her start to back away. As though she'd either changed her mind, or had remembered that he was a man, after all, and not just her Terry.

He prayed she didn't hold that fact against him.

Catching his breath, Terry returned his attention to the duffel as Maddie recovered at his side. He folded some jeans, then looked at his wife.

His wife.

She was half smiling, half hugging herself, and when he kept looking at her, she leaned her head against his shoulder and rubbed her face against his shirt.

"Maddie," he whispered, and lightly touched her hair.

She pulled away in a retreat to the couch. There was a happy smile on her lips, a general sense of relief about her that Terry admired, rather than felt, himself-- like she was grateful that she'd gotten some of the passion out of her system. Steady. She looked steadier now.

He was glad one of them was.

"Thank you, Terry."

He sighed, shook his head and went back to his folding.

"Terry?"

It wasn't his name that had him smiling, but the way she said it-- all lovable and huggable, and every bit of it Maddie.

"Do we really have to watch movies with the others, Terry?"

He slanted a glance at the couch.

"Abby said all we had to do was not come, and they would understand. So couldn't we just not come?"

He really didn't want to ask the reasoning behind her thinking, but he didn't want to answer the question either, and since that pretty much ruled out speaking, he pretended he hadn't heard her and kept on working.

"Couldn't we hide?" she asked. "Just until it's time to go home?"

"Hide?" It had been impossible not to hear that word. Terry didn't know how she meant it, and tried not to ask.

His heart sank a little as she crossed the room and came to watch him fold his clothes.

"Please, I want to be with you, but I can't-- not the way I want to, so couldn't we just hide? Please, Terry?"

He chanced a look at her and winced. The plea in her eyes was something he knew he couldn't turn down. Man, was she ever making this hard.

"If that's what you want, then I guess, but Maddie--" he leveled what he hoped was a no-nonsense look-- "you do what you need to, but I'm going to do what I need to, to keep you safe. You are my top priority. Are we clear on that?"

She nodded, leaned in and planted a quick kiss on his mouth before getting out of his way and beating a hasty retreat.

"I mean it, Maddie." He tossed a shirt into his duffel as Maddie went to the far end of the couch, sat and hugged her knees to her chest. Her wide-eyed nervous look didn't make him feel any easier for just having caved. He zipped his duffel, stowed it under the table with the other suitcase. "Please don't look at me like that. You were the one who chased me around this hotel room, and not the other way around, so don't think you can look at me like that, and make me feel guilty. It's not going to happen."

He moved to the chair opposite the couch, sat down, and they stared at each other until Terry scrubbed his face and groaned in defeat.

"Oh, Maddie. What are you doing to me?"

She relaxed a little, as if it heartened her to know that she had some measure of control over him. He didn't mind letting her know that.

"All you have to do is smile in order to make me happy, and when your hand isn't in mine, it feels empty. I've never been in love before, and I freely admit I'm a beginner in all of this. Add to that, we're both survivors in our first romantic relationship, and it means I'm learning as I go."

She propped her chin on her knees and showered him with a smile.

"You've got me running in circles, and I've never been happier. Which is absolutely nuts, since I'm trying to keep a level head in all of this and take care of you. That reminds me--" he nodded to her legs-- "is that pulling your stitches? Does it hurt you to draw your knees up like that?"

"It pulls a little, but not much."

He nodded, ran a hand behind his neck. "Does that mean they're healing? How are they doing?"

"Do you want to see?"

"May I?"

She lifted her shirt a little, just enough to show her wounds and nothing else, and Terry came over to the couch to get a better look. He braced himself for the worst, for the sight he'd seen when he'd tried to apply first aid, but when he came close and saw the pale skin, his heart eased.

"It looks better." He sat on the couch so his shadow wouldn't get in the way. "It looks a lot better." He glanced up at Maddie. "The last time I saw them, they were red and--" he stopped, looked over the old scars that streaked her stomach with the new ones, and shrugged. "Never mind. You're healing, and that's all that matters." Terry sat back and stared at the empty TV while Maddie covered her stomach.

It still wasn't easy to see those scars, to know the pain that had caused them, but she was healing.

"Jake said you'd heal differently than him, and you are." Terry held his breath as Maddie's hand stole across the couch and took his. "Apples and oranges, Jake had said. Find out what works, and what doesn't."

"I don't understand, Terry."

"It's all right. It just means we have to take things slowly and be patient." Terry felt Maddie cuddle against his shoulder, and thankfully, nothing else. She wasn't ready for anything else, not even for some of that touching she'd talked about this morning. It was all right by him if this was all they did for a very long time.

Holding perfectly still, Terry did his best to let her rest.

After several minutes, he looked down and saw her casually watching the blank TV.

"I thought you were tired."

"That's what you thought, but I never said I was."

"In the elevator--" he smiled, sensing a chance for a bit of healthy conversation-- "I asked if you were very tired."

"And I didn't answer then." Maddie looked up at him, and despite his momentum, he had trouble remembering where he was.

She blinked at him and he smiled. This close, he could catch the faint scent of shampoo and soap and a little bit of perspiration from the day. It was nothing special, but it was from Maddie and that made it perfume to Terry's senses.

"You asked if I wanted to rest before we went over to watch movies, and I nodded, 'yes,' but I never said I needed to rest. Wanting and needing are different."

Maddie had the most beautiful smile.

The fact she was using female logic, didn't seem nearly as important as the fact she loved him and was holding his hand. It wasn't empty. That might have been man-in-love logic, but there it was. Terry was a goner, and he knew it.

When she started to give him a word for word account of the conversation in the elevator, Terry chuckled.

"How can you remember all that right now? The fact you can think at all, is disconcerting."

"Maybe it's because I'm not a man."

"Please, Maddie."

"But you're having a harder time at some things than I am, so it proves men are--"

"Don't say it. Please." Terry blew out a breath.

"I wasn't going to say animals."

"Thanks."

"I was just going to say, more trouble than women."

"Oh, I don't know about that." Terry kicked off his shoes and let his feet breathe. "I was running pretty hard just now."

Maddie punched Terry in the arm, a maneuver she must've of picked up from Izzy, and he smiled.

"I did not chase you."

Silence.

"If maybe I did, are you going to tell the others?"

"Only if you won't tell them that I'm a good kisser." Terry chuckled. "Now, that would be embarrassing."

"But you are."

"Then let's call it even, and keep this to ourselves."

"Thank you, Terry." She rubbed her face against his shoulder and Terry tried to get off the couch. "Where are you going?"

"Nowhere. Just seeing if there's anything in the fridge. Don't worry, you wanted to hide, so I'm officially going into hiding. The Witness Protection Program will have nothing on me, I'll be invisible to everyone but you. And maybe room service." He was rewarded with a heart-tugging smile. "I need to get off this couch. You hungry?"

She nodded, and watched as he went to the TV to hunt for the remote.

"I'm guessing there's nothing in the fridge, so how about we have our own party and order up some snacks?"

"Could I have strawberries?"

"Whatever you want, my love, you got." Terry found the remote, tossed it to a smiling Maddie, then headed for the kitchen. "Providing they take requests, of course, but I'm guessing a hotel like this one goes out of their way to keep guests happy." Terry opened the fridge and found fancy bottled water, but nothing else. Right. Room service it was. As he started back for the living room, he caught sight of what was probably a silverware drawer and opened it to see what he would find.

Among the silverware, were sharp steak knives-- something Maddie really didn't need to face right now. He gathered all the sharp things, hid them in the cupboard under the sink, then pushed into the living room with a mental note to put it all back before they left in the morning.

"Turn on the TV, maybe check out the pay-per-view movies." Terry located the hotel menu then grabbed the chair next to the TV to avoid sitting beside his one true love. "Okay, let's see what they've got here." He opened the menu and tried hard to ignore the fact Maddie had yet to turn on the TV. "You wanted strawberries, but how do you feel about some dipped in chocolate?"

"They can do that?"

"Have done, Maddie, have done." He glanced at the couch and saw her biting her lip. "Would that be a 'yes'?"

She nodded.

"It's early for dinner, but I'm in the mood for popcorn. And something to drink." He looked over the beverages, passed over the alcohol and paused at the soft drinks. "Any requests?" he asked. When Maddie kept silent, he looked over and saw her hugging her knees. "If you want something in particular, speak up."

"Would you read to me?"

"Sure. Root beer, ginger ale, apple cider--"

"No, I meant something else."

"There's only one menu, Sweetheart." Terry got up, went over to the phone to call in their order. He gave the beverage choices one more perusal before turning back to Maddie. "Apple cider sound good to you?"

"I don't know. I've never had any."

"Then this will be a first." Terry picked up the phone as Maddie climbed off the couch. It made him a little nervous at first, but she moved around him and went to the table to her suitcase, so he was able to breathe and call the concierge desk in peace.

When he'd placed their order, Terry hung up and noticed Maddie was back on the couch and cradling her huge copy of Jane Austen.

Then it hit him.

The pleading eyes, the loving way she held that thick tome. She wanted him to read to her. From that.

"You brought Jane Austen in your suitcase?" Terry crossed the floor, plopped down on the couch beside Maddie, and she eagerly shoved the book into his hands. "What else did you bring? I don't suppose you managed to fit the kitchen sink in your bag?"

"Please, Terry? I go slow when I read, so I don't get very far."

He slanted her a look. "You're not going to get all starry-eyed, are you? I know how you are over the movie, I just want to keep things nice and sane over the book."

"I can be nice."

"But not sane?" Warily, he opened the book at the red marker and flicked her another glance.

Maddie had caught her bottom lip between her teeth in a hopeful expression of barely contained excitement he found irresistible. If his heart hadn't been so completely undone, he would've read from anything but Pride and Prejudice. She had a thing for Lizzy and Mr. Darcy, and Terry really didn't want to get caught in between when he was trying hard not to get kissed again.

"Just don't go nuts, okay?" Terry sighed when Maddie settled in next to him and he started to read.

Her toes curled on the edge of the cushion as she followed every word. She didn't want to miss anything-- Terry could tell by the way she moved against his arm to see each page as he read it out loud.

She hadn't been kidding when she'd said she hadn't been able to get very far.

It was early in the story yet. Mr. Darcy was far from losing his pomp, and Mr. Bingley was trying to urge his prideful friend to dance with one of the ladies at the Assembly Ball. Terry found himself at the point of Mr. Darcy ungraciously refusing, and about to utter the infamous words that always had Terry wincing, when Terry noticed Maddie's reaction.

She was eating it up, to the point of silently quoting Mr. Darcy as Terry read:

"She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me..."


Maddie giggled, and when Terry paused to listen, she tugged at his arm to get him going again.

It struck Terry, that whatever he was in for in this marriage, there were definitely going to be moments he would enjoy. This was one of those moments. As he continued, Maddie snugged up against his elbow and soaked in every chapter, the huge flat-screen forgotten in all its HD splendor. Terry found himself not minding in the slightest, for he was too busy making Maddie happy, too busy sneaking a peek at that peaches and cream complexion to see if she was smiling. When she was, it was Terry's greatest reward.

The door sounded, and he had to stop reading.

"That's probably our food," he explained.

"But--"

"We'll go back to the book after I get our food." Terry pushed off the couch, went to the door, and let in the room service waiter and his cart. A cart? He hadn't expected there would be so much a cart would be needed. Not for what basically amounted to pricey snacks.

"Where would you like this set up?"

"Oh-- the table, I guess." Terry watched as the waiter set a shiny champagne bucket on the table and began worrying that their order might've been mixed up with someone else's. "Besides ice, what's in that bucket?"

"A bottle of our best sparkling apple cider."

Stepping back, Terry nodded, and let the waiter do his work.

A towel was pulled off the bucket, then the man chilled the cider before adding two stemmed glasses that had Terry thinking champagne again. "The strawberries need to be kept refrigerated," the man said, as he placed a heart-shaped box and a large bucket of popcorn on the table.

Nodding, Terry gave him a tip for his trouble.

When the door closed and they were alone again, Terry pulled the bottle out of the champagne bucket. The label looked impressive, but for all its finery it was a simple apple cider in a very slick bottle. The strawberries had also undergone star treatment, having been packaged in a heart-shaped candy box with a heavy pink ribbon.

Terry sighed. This was Las Vegas, all right.

"The food's here, Maddie." He opened the apple cider, filled the glasses, then brought them over to the couch.

She took one and he waited as she tried a sip.

"Like it?"

Smiling, she nodded and drank some more.

Terry set his glass on the floor by the couch, went back to the table and retrieved the box of chocolate and the bowl of popcorn. It was an odd mix, but then, so were they.

"Your strawberries, m'lady." Terry set the box on her Jane Austen, then retook his seat. "I don't expect you'll be able to eat all those berries, so when you've had enough, I'll put your leftovers in the fridge." He prayed over the food, then started one-handing the popcorn while tugging Jane Austen off of Maddie's lap.

It was going to be a challenge, but he could fit in a mouthful between paragraphs and still advance the story.

He popped in some kernels with his food hand, located his reading place with his clean hand, then noticed Maddie. She wasn't doing anything, but sitting there admiring her pretty, heart-shaped box.

"That needs to be refrigerated when you're done, so you'd better not spend too much time getting down to business," he chuckled.

With a sad little sigh, she gently pulled the velvet ribbon. Next came the cutting of the seals with her thumbnail, then she could lift off the lid and see what she had got. If it wasn't strawberry dipped candy, the concierge desk would be getting a call. Below some brown lining paper were several rows of large strawberries, all dipped in thick chocolate and drizzled in this and that and looking very sophisticated, and very rich.

"I give you five minutes, tops." Terry slanted her a challenge. "After one of those berries, you're going to be begging for a taste of my popcorn. Yeah, it came with a girly ribbon, but this-- this is real butter and salt, and it has the whole popcorn thing going. I dare you to take a whiff of this corn and not want a taste."

Maddie picked up a strawberry, and without warning, stuffed it into Terry's mouth.

He gagged, rich juice spilling down his chin. She palmed it away, and watched him try to down an icy cold strawberry the size of his tongue. The fact it was drenched in chocolate and had been injected with some kind of filling, didn't help.

He had already tasted sweetness from Maddie, and it left him dazed, but sugar and fructose were bursting into his senses and blowing them wide open. He wasn't so sure he liked the over-sweet nectar, but then Maddie came and tasted his lips, and then Terry no longer cared. Her mouth pulled away and he was left to suck in air and sort out Maddie from the strawberry and the chocolate.

"I like it," she smiled, and tried one on her own.

He gulped and swallowed and finally caught his breath.

"Using me as a guinea pig, huh?" Terry smiled, but his heart ached when she didn't feed him more and come to claim another taste. He was getting spoiled for Maddie and her love. He needed her like he needed his next breath.

As she ate her strawberry, her eyes met his.

Terry inhaled a deep breath, and found where he'd left off in their book. He read a few lines, ate some popcorn and felt Maddie cuddle against him with her box of chocolate. She started to feed him one bite of candy at a time, but didn't come close for another taste. It wasn't the candy he wanted, but her, though it was just as well, or he'd have to find someplace else to sit and read.

As he went on about Mr. Bingley, Maddie started to feed Terry popcorn, as well, until he had trouble making much progress. When he'd had enough, all of her coaxing couldn't get him to eat another bite. He wanted to save room for dinner, and knew it would never happen if he let Maddie feed him a quarter of the box and all of the popcorn.

"I've fished my limit," he smiled, and watched as she got up to put the candy in the fridge.

When she came back and sank onto the couch beside him, Terry breathed deep.

He was having a sugar buzz. Either from all those berries, or from sweet, sweet Maddie. Probably from both. Now it was his turn to recite the battle cry, and Terry whispered it from his poor, overwhelmed, sugar buzzed heart.

As he read Jane Austen and let Maddie hold his hand, a helplessly happy sensation settled over him. Maddie was quite a woman.

* * * *

This was a new kind of wonderful that Madison had never had before. Certainly never with the Dragon. The Dragon had never really liked to kiss, and because of that, it was the one thing Madison could give and not have to fight against memories of someone else. It was all Terry's.

It was good that she had backed off. If she stayed away from Terry completely, it could be bad, but things wouldn't be good if she got too close to him, either. She had to find that in-between where she would be all right, where she could rest because she was with Terry, and not without him. That precious in-between that meant she wasn't thinking about the knives he had probably hidden in the kitchen with all that silverware noise, or plucking the rubber band still around her wrist. Letting off some of that steam meant she could breathe now, and it felt good to be able to relax in the quiet with Terry.

She belonged to him now. She'd always hated the thought of that kind of prison, but this was different, this was wonderful.

The thought made her squeeze his hand extra hard.

The look in his eyes warned her to calm down again. She knew he was feeling a lot, and knew it was her fault that he was having to struggle as much as he was. Though it sent a shot of cold into her system, she remembered what he'd said in the jeep about what kissing did to him, and scooted away just enough to make the cold stop.

His words paused, his eyes blinked, and the grip on his hand let up a little, as if to give her the chance to leave his side if that's what she needed.

She didn't move, and she watched him as he stared at the page. The words came again, and she tried not to smile. Wasn't he lovely? She wanted to hug him as hard as she possibly could, just to say "thank you." Abby was right. The difference between a monster and a man was self-control, and Terry had more self-control than anyone Madison had ever met.

The reading paused again, and Terry gave her a small glance over the book.

"Would you do me a favor?"

"Yes, Terry?"

"Please, could you stop looking at me like that?"

"Like what?"

"You know-- like the way you are."

"I don't know."

"Then never mind." He sighed as she rubbed her cheek against his shoulder-- she had to-- she loved him so, and before he went back to reading, she scooted away from him completely.

He looked at her as though she'd maybe abandoned him, but she hugged her knees and prayed he would understand. There was so much emotion running back and forth between them, it was easy to get lost in something good and wonderful like what they had. Especially when he looked so pretty and his voice sounded so comforting and she knew she could trust him.

"I love you, too," he sighed.

It took all the self-control she had to stop from crawling over to him, but Madison focused on staying where she was and loving Terry from a distance.

She had to. She couldn't love him up close like a normal woman.

Leaning her chin on her knees, Madison pretended not to watch Terry so he could feel easier. He could read so nice, he was going through Pride and Prejudice and not stumbling. He didn't have to go back and reread things and try to make sense of the hard words, and he moved around in the book like he belonged there. Her own Mr. Davis was reading Mr. Darcy. It was too good to be true, she had to kiss him.

And yet she held back.

If Terry knew how many times she wanted to kiss him and didn't, he'd be in the bathroom right now splashing water on his face.

"Would you excuse me a minute?" Terry put down the book, got up from the couch and went around to the kitchen.

She heard a door close, and Madison guessed he was in the bathroom.

See? It was a good thing he didn't know.

Several moments later he came back, dropped back on the couch and picked up the book.

"Terry?"

He bowed his head, a reluctant but happy smile on his lips. "Yes?"

"Are you sorry you married me?"

"That sounds like a question Jake asked Abby after they got married." Terry opened the book. "I know, because Abby told me about it."

"What did she say to his question?"

"The same thing I'm telling you-- I'm not sorry."

"Not even though you have to hang your head under the faucet?"

"I'm a big boy," Terry smiled, "I don't mind a little cold now and again if it means I get to have you in my life."

As he resumed the story, she gave Terry a mental kiss.

Even though she could make Terry feel a lot for her, he didn't mind letting her know that she held that power over him. It had never been that way with the Dragon, but with Terry, there was an open helplessness about him that disarmed her. Terry didn't try to bully her to even the score, or hurt her to show that he was still in control. There was a give and take to their relationship where the one had the power to hurt the other, where each held the other's happiness to some degree, and it was night and day different from the Dragon. It made Maddie never want to use that power to hurt Terry. Not ever. Not even by accident.

Accidents were bound to happen though, especially when Terry seemed to be more sensitive than she was about certain things.

The next time she needed to kiss and accidentally made Terry need to splash water on his face, she would make it up to him. She would find a way to be a good friend to him, while trying to figure out how to be a wife.

The light coming through the sliding door was fading into darkness, and the lateness of the day made her feel timid. Night was squeezing in on them and she didn't want to think about bedtime, or exactly where Terry would sleep. She'd asked him to stay close enough to wake her from any nightmares, and that's what made her so timid.

She needed him.

The story paused as Terry yawned and stretched where he sat. "I just noticed it's getting hard to see in here."

"Are you tired of reading?"

"Some." He looked over their progress in the book and smiled. "I'm having a good time though, aren't you?"

She nodded. It felt strangely grand to sit in the growing dark with him and hide. They had spent the last several hours without seeing anyone else but room service, and it really felt as though they were in hiding.

Letting out a relaxed sigh, Terry leaned his head back and stared up at the ceiling. "Just listen to all that quiet. I don't mind this at all. It's like God wrapped up today and put a large bow on it, just for us. Today is a gift, Maddie. Days like this are gifts." Terry closed his eyes and breathed in softly. "Do you mind if I take a break for awhile? My voice could use a rest."

"I don't mind."

She reached across the couch and touched his hand.

"My sweet one." He gave a deeply contented sigh. "Thank you for marrying me."

As she watched him slip further into sheer happiness, she wondered if now would be a good time to ask.

"Terry?"

"I'm right here, Maddie."

"Where are you going to sleep, tonight? I mean, I know it's going to be in here, with me, but what are you going to use for a bed?"

"I hope you're not frightened." Terry rolled his head to one side and looked at her. "However we decide to make my bed, I'll leave you alone. You know that, don't you?"

She nodded.

"Well," Terry paused in thought, "I could haul the mattress in from the bedroom, and sleep on the floor. Kind of like Izzy and her inflatable, though I don't know if you'd be very comfortable with the idea."

Madison didn't want to answer, for she understood what Terry had meant.

"It's not so bad when it's only Izzy, but you're a man and--"

"And I'm not going to be hauling in a mattress."

"I'm sorry, Terry."

"It's okay. I knew what I was getting into when we got married." There was no self-pity or hint of complaint in his voice, just good-natured statement of fact.

"If I slept sitting up--" she pulled on Terry's hand to get his full attention-- "there would be more room on the couch for someone else." She tugged again when he looked puzzled, as if by tugging, he would understand. "I'll share my couch with you, Terry."

When he smiled, she couldn't help feeling a little bashful at the way it might've sounded.

"I appreciate it, but the couch is yours. I'll sleep in the chair."

The phone in his pocket rang, and Terry pulled it out to check the caller. Madison hoped it wasn't John, because they were in hiding right now and what good was it to be in hiding if everyone still called you? Terry was supposed to be invisible to everyone but her and room service, remember?

Then she pictured Terry trying to sleep in the awful chair, and she struggled with guilt. While she struggled, Terry answered the call and her heart sank lower than the ocean was deep.

The world was getting in, and it wasn't even tomorrow. Their day wasn't over yet. It couldn't be. Please, God, not yet.

Both seated on the couch, she listened as Terry spoke to someone Madison didn't know-- someone who sounded like a client of his-- and Madison waited for him to come back to their hiding place. He laughed, and Madison hugged herself.

It was stupid to be jealous, and she made up her mind that she would not be jealous. She would not.

He apologized and Madison wondered who the caller was and why Terry was being so gentle. He listened, deferred to John and she understood that Terry was trying to get out of something. It gave her hope.

She knew he shouldn't have answered that phone.

When Terry finally hung up and put the phone away, he looked apologetic.

"Sorry about that. She's a longstanding client of ours, and had an IT emergency." Terry gave a helpless shrug. "I did the best I could for her and passed her to John."

"It was a her?"

"I passed her to John."

Madison moved back to Terry's side and claimed his hand. He looked down at their joined hands, then back at Madison.

"She and I aren't even friends, so there's nothing to be jealous about."

"I'm not--" Madison stopped herself and Terry smiled.

"Let me try saying that another way." He pulled the phone from his pocket, turned it off, and gave it to her. "I'm all yours, Maddie."

Overcome, and not finding the words to say "thank you," Madison crushed her head against Terry's shoulder and hugged his arm as tightly as she could.

"Could I kiss you, Terry?"

"Only if you must."

She must.

Even before she reached him, his eyes were closed as if ready and waiting. She brushed her lips against his, and when she backed off, a reluctant smile tugged at his mouth.

"You're taking advantage of me. You know that, don't you?"

"I won't kiss you anymore, Terry. I'm done for now."

Even though she knew he was trying to sound severe, he shook his head and smiled back.

"I'm going to hold you to that." He was quiet a moment then, "You still have my phone?"

"Why? I thought you said you were all mine."

"I am. I just want to make sure the phone didn't get lost while we kissed."

With her free hand, Madison searched the couch cushion, found it next to her leg and nudged the phone at Terry. He didn't try to take it from her, and when she started to put it in her own pocket, the sound of his soft laughter made her feel warm inside. Like she was getting a hug without being touched, and it felt oh-so good.

"I have to get off this couch," Terry sighed. "I need to use the bathroom."

Madison's heart tripped and fell. "Why?"

"I'm not in the habit of giving out reports," he chuckled. "Why do you ask?"

"I was going to make it up to you the next time I accidentally made you dunk your head under the faucet."

"Thanks for the thought, but this would be a toilet run." Terry kissed her hand, got up from the couch and she could hear him chuckling softly.

"I don't want to hurt you, Terry."

"Don't worry. You aren't."

He left the living room with Madison's heart glowing as brightly as it possibly could and not show up in the dark. She began to count the seconds until he came back, and when that became too much, she drew up her knees and hugged them until the sound of his footsteps signaled his return.

"It's past dinnertime, and I don't know about you, but those strawberries and popcorn have worn off."

The lights in the suite came on and Madison blinked at the sudden brightness. Terry came to the couch with her sweater, and lightly placed it about her shoulders.

"Are you hungry?" he asked.

Madison touched his hand and savored the warmth of his skin.

"Maddie?"

"I guess." She looked up at him. "Do we have to eat, though? Couldn't we just live off our love?"

"I may love you with every fiber, but I'm not risking you to starvation." Terry traced a finger around her mouth. "Please, try not to focus on me to the exclusion of yourself. I'm not worth it."

"Oh, yes, you are, Terry."

"Let me rephrase that before you build picket signs and start marching back and forth," he smiled. "I love you, and we both need to eat. If you love me back, then let me order dinner."

"I do love you. I love you with all my heart."

A hand caressed her cheek, and for a moment she thought he might change his mind and forget about the food. Maybe sit with her and just hold hands, but no. He left her and went to get the menu. He was taking care of her, and she tried to work up an even bigger appetite than what she felt. Just to please Terry. But if she got sick and overate, he would be sad, so Madison tried hard to just be as hungry as she was, and no more.

She hugged herself as he came back to the couch and plopped down beside her.

"Let's see what they've got for us." Terry opened the menu to the dinner section, but all she cared to look at was him. "Maddie, please. Concentrate on the food."

She looked away but watched him out of the corner of her eye.

"Smoked Balik salmon? Lobster bouillabaisse? How about one of the chef's specialties? Las Vegas steak tartare?"

"I'll have what you're having."

"Okay." Terry brightened, the answer seeming to please him.

She hugged herself even harder, and without looking up from the menu, he gave her his hand and she latched on to that, instead of herself.

"How about we start things off with the Salmon dish? You don't mind caviar, do you?"

Not knowing what on earth he meant, she shook her head.

"Then I think we'll have a Caesar salad, and for the main event, one of the chef's specialties-- boeuf bourguignon with all the trimmings. What do you say? Sound good?"

She nodded, just happy that he was letting her sit next to him and hold his hand.

He got up, and she was no longer holding his hand.

"What do you want for dessert?"

"You."

"Besides me." He picked up the hotel phone to place their order, then gestured to the menu he'd left on the couch. "Jokes aside, what do you want?"

She hadn't been joking. For her dessert, she would have loved even more time with Terry. To hold his hand, to sit with him, to kiss him. As far as Terry-desserts went, that would have been right up there with chocolate dipped strawberries. No, he would've been better, much better. When she kissed Terry, he was the best thing she'd ever tasted.

"Come on, help me out here," he begged. Before he could say more, he had to start talking to the person on the phone.

Reluctantly, Madison picked up the hotel menu.

The desserts all had fancy names to them, as she expected, but she did understand what ice cream meant. She found one that sounded nice, took it over to Terry, and pointed to the name. He smiled and nodded, and since he wasn't using his left hand for anything important, she claimed it for her own.

When she started to press a kiss to each of his fingertips, Terry gave her an alarmed pleading look.

She stopped.

She looked away from Terry, and the view from the balcony door caught her attention.

The night was doing something beautiful out there, but she refused to leave Terry to get a closer look. She followed the conversation as Terry talked with the person taking their order, and wondered at her new husband. Terry had the knack of getting along well with people, something she never could, because she didn't understand them. He did though.

She gazed at the balcony and wondered what it was like out there. She'd "chased" Terry to open the door earlier, but he hadn't stepped out onto the ledge and neither had she. No way would she let him go out on something suspended several stories off the ground, just to enjoy what looked to be a wow of a nighttime view.

"Okay," Terry hung up the phone and gave her hand a small squeeze, "they said to give them about half an hour, so we should have our dinner fairly soon." He must have seen her looking at the balcony, for he started in that direction and pulled her after him. "It does look beautiful, doesn't it? Do you want to go out and see the view?"

Her first impulse was to say "no," but she bit her lip and felt the strength in Terry's hand. If it was a reckless thing to do, then Terry wouldn't be asking if she wanted to go out there.

"You won't let go of me?" she asked.

"Not if you don't want me to."

"I don't want you to. Ever."

He smiled and slid open the balcony door. Cold wind rushed inside and Madison huddled under the sweater Terry had draped over her shoulders. The sun wasn't up to heat the air anymore, and the desert had grown chilly while they weren't looking.

"I'd better get our coats. Don't go out there without me." Terry tossed her a wink, and when he left, Madison began to rethink the situation.

It was awfully high off the ground. It was windy out there. And what if an earthquake happened while they were on the balcony, the ledge dropped off, and they plummeted to their death? This was on or near the West Coast, and she knew all about the earthquakes they were supposed to have. Were they tempting God by doing this? And what if Terry leaned against the safety railing and it gave way, and he grabbed her, and she wasn't strong enough to hold him, and he fell to his death? Or what if someone fell from a balcony above them, struck Terry, and it knocked him off theirs?

Who's crazy idea was it to put these things on hotel rooms, in the first place? Madison wanted to know.

Terry came back with their coats, took one look at Madison and paused.

"What is it?"

"Could we pray before we go outside?"

"Of course."

Taking a deep breath, Madison grabbed onto Terry's hand and let him lead in prayer. This had to be fairly safe, or else hotels wouldn't be so dumb that they'd let their guests go out there; the balcony doors would be bolted shut if people kept getting killed, wouldn't they? Terry wouldn't do anything to put her in danger knowingly, and if they prayed, then she could trust God to take care of them.

Was this making sense? Even if she couldn't trust the hotel, she could trust God, and she could trust Terry.

As Terry helped her into her coat, she eyed the balcony in nervous excitement. This probably shouldn't be a big deal, but it was. It was to her.

"We need to leave the door open so we can hear room service when it comes." Terry sounded like he was having a genuinely good time. "Mind if I have my phone back for a while? I'd like to try taking some pictures from up here."

Madison fumbled in her pocket, handed Terry his phone back as she gazed out the wide open balcony door. They were high up, and not only was a cold breeze pouring in, but so was life-- life filled with things she couldn't name because she'd never lived it before. They raced in her veins and mixed with love and anticipation, and she was about to go through that door. As of today, she already had.

So much of this was because of Terry. Because of him, she was finding courage she didn't know she had, and when she turned to watch Terry as he got the camera part of his phone ready, she knew God was using Terry in a huge way in her life. She had never been the same after meeting Terry, and now that they were married, he would influence her for always. A thought she absolutely loved, because she knew she was stronger with him, than without him. His faith in God, and his love, made her a better person.

"What is it?" Terry zipped up his coat. "What can you possibly see that's worth staring at me like that?" He glanced at her as she began to answer. "Never mind, you'll probably just embarrass us both. Ready?"

She nodded and grabbed onto Terry's hand.

"I love you, Terry."

"I know, sweet one, and I love you, too." He kissed her cheek, then stepped onto the balcony first. "That's it-- I've got you."

"And I love God for making me," she pushed on, "and then for giving me to you."

"I'm sure God appreciates that," Terry smiled, "and I'm grateful, too, but try to calm down before you pass out. I'm sure God will understand."

"But--"

"Breathe," Terry took in a deep chestful of air and Madison tried to follow his example. "Take a look around you and enjoy the moment."

Madison shook her head. She wouldn't take her eyes off of Terry. Couldn't was more like it. The air was crisp and it filled her with zings of excited electricity. She was on a balcony, thirty-five stories straight in the air with Terry, and she was alive.

Just thinking about it made her crowd into his shoulder and hide her face against his coat.

"Oh, my Maddie is braver than that."

"No, she's not."

"She married me today, and kissed me several times. What's a little height, compared to that?"

She wanted to tell Terry that her bravery had gotten her exactly this far, and that was victory enough, but the words wouldn't come. They were steps away from the balcony door-- or far enough she figured if she reached behind Terry, she might feel the safety railing at his back. It was enough to make her pray really hard. She gripped Terry's hand, his coat, and wouldn't let him go. The wind pushed at them, and she prayed God would keep them safe.

"Maddie? Why don't we turn around so we can see the view?"

She shook her head.

"I thought that's why we came out here?"

"Then you look."

"Come on, I'll just edge us around if you'll let me..."

"Terry--"

"Easy, Maddie, I've got you. That's it, you're doing good."

Even though Madison could feel the wind strong on her face, she felt Terry's arm even stronger around her shoulders and knew she wasn't going to fall. God wouldn't let her, and neither would Terry.

"There we are, you're all set now. Open your eyes. Come on, open those pretty eyes and see your view."

The smile in Terry's voice teased her so gently, she tried a small peek. She gasped, and opened them all the way. Before her, Las Vegas sprawled in vivid color. It pulsed, sparkled, and glowed like some live thing that came out only at night. Cars moved down streets that passed below their balcony, but since she refused to get that close to the edge and look down, she couldn't know for sure. Now that she was looking, she saw Terry hadn't taken her as close to the edge as he could've, and she hugged him for his thoughtfulness.

"This is quite a sight." Terry squeezed her shoulder as he took in the view. "Too bad it represents what it does. Just look at all that electricity. I wonder how many hamsters it takes to keep this place running."

"Hamsters?" Madison swiped at the hair pushing into her eyes.

"Yeah, you know-- hamsters." Terry looked at her as though she didn't know basic science. "Electricity is generated by hamsters running in these large turbine wheels. The bigger the city, the more hamsters needed to turn the wheels."

This was Terry speaking, and Madison was ready to trust everything he said, because... well, he was Terry. But hamsters?

The small tug at the corner of his mouth gave him away.

"Terry!" She punched his shoulder and he chuckled. "Next, you'll be telling me giraffes run the elevators."

"And here I thought no one knew." Keeping his arm around her shoulders, Terry gently let go of her hand and pulled the phone out of his pocket to start taking pictures. "The hotel imported those giraffes at great expense, I'll have you know."

Watching the landscape move about on his iPhone only made her dizzier, so she tried to keep her focus on the horizon, instead.

She hung on to his coat and let his arm keep her steady.

He turned the camera on her, she summoned a smile and the phone clicked a picture. He moved himself into the frame with her, took a picture, then showed her the lit up screen with her face and Las Vegas in the background, then the next with them smiling together with a glowing sphere peering from behind.

Terry moved to look over her head.

"Would you look at that moon-- glowing its heart out for everyone to see-- and here we are, busy looking at a bunch of manmade lights. Maddie, look up."

"Up?" The thought of looking up, when they were already so far up, was absolutely dizzying. "I can't. I'll fall."

"Lean on me a little more. Just look up a few inches at a time and you'll see the moon. It's just past the edge of our building, sailing in the night sky, pretty as you please. See it?"

She nodded wildly. Her fingernails were digging into the arm of Terry's coat, but she could see the moon-- large, brilliant, and extremely welcome. She was borrowing strength like crazy from Terry, but she was beginning to have a really good time.

"That's the very same moon we get over Three Mile Bay. It's quite a thought, isn't it?" Terry leaned his head against hers and her heart sighed for joy. "When I was little, I'd run around and see if the moon was still following me, and here I am, a grown man, and the moon has followed me cross-country for my wedding. It's like being remembered by an old friend."

Resting against Terry like this, she could stand and brave the heights and even faith came a little easier. Her eyes couldn't roam the landscape, but she could set her sights on that moon and keep them there and not lose her balance and topple off the balcony.

For probably the hundredth time that day, her soul whispered another thanks to God for sending her to Terry.

"You asked me something, Terry-- you asked me what I see when I look at you." Madison lacked the courage to check if Terry was listening, but kept going in the hopes that he was. "When I see you, I see lots of things that I like, but it's the things you can change, the things you have control over, that I like the most. Your eyes are deep brown, and I love them, but I love the depth of your patience even more. I love your hands, but the strength of your kindness is what makes the strongest impression. And even though your face is the nicest one there is on earth, your heart is what makes you handsome. At least, to me." Madison gulped hard, hoping against hope she was saying it right. "I just wanted you to know what I saw."

After a long moment, Terry blew out a deep breath. "Thank you."

"I didn't say that to be kissed."

"That may be," he turned her face to his and caressed her cheek, "but I can't let an incredibly sweet thing like that get away without one."

She smiled.

"Inside, or out here on the balcony?" he asked.

"Out here, please." Madison's heart beat fast as Terry tilted her chin up a little more. Love was in his eyes, and when his lips reached hers, love burst into fireworks inside Madison, and didn't stop, not even when his kiss did.

"Oh, Maddie." Terry leaned his forehead against hers and his breath warmed her face. "Thank you."

She wanted to thank him back, but was too dazed to speak.

The door to their suite sounded.

Terry groaned softly, and started to lead her away from their view. "That would be room service. Time to go in." He paused long enough to plant a kiss on the tip of her nose, and she couldn't help gazing at him, the gentleness in his eyes, the small creases around his mouth, the--

The door sounded again and Terry took her inside while her heart was still busy marveling and sending off fireworks. She pulled off her coat and swayed to the hum of her deliriously happy soul. She was marinating in love, every pore of her soul was dripping with it until she was sure she couldn't hold another drop.

Then Terry gave her a heart-melting glance as he let in the waiter with their dinner, and she went woozy in the head. Giddiness was beginning to set in, the kind that left her reeling, and pleasantly numb and tingly all over.

For someone who'd once starved for kindness, this great abundance of love was almost more than Madison knew how to handle.

* * * *

Their table was looking on the romantic side, and it pleased Terry. It now wore an off-white linen cloth, and had a vase with a single long-stemmed red rose. Not only was it a quiet tribute to the hotel's attention to detail, but it was also a nod to the fact this would be a dinner for two.

Terry watched as the room service waiter laid out plates and silverware like someone who'd probably done this millions of times in his sleep, and was grateful when no attempt at conversation was made. It was late, but there was probably a dinner rush right now, and Terry didn't want to get in the way of progress.

Silver platters with domed lids were arranged, silverware straightened one more time, then Terry tipped him for a job well done, and wished him a good night.

It was a very good night, one of the best in Terry's life, and he sang as he moved to the kitchen to hide the knives the waiter had just laid out, and put the ice cream in the freezer before it melted. Oh, dinner smelled good. The aroma of it was beginning to fill the suite.

"Hey, Maddie?" Terry snagged the half full bottle of apple cider from the fridge, then went and filled their glasses until they threatened to overflow. "Dinner's ready when you are."

When she didn't come, he looked across the room to see what was keeping her.

She was curled onto one side on the couch and hugging her coat with both arms.

A flashback? The meal was forgotten and he rushed to the couch to help his poor sweet Maddie. Terry's heart had just ratcheted up, when he got closer and saw the dreamy-eyed look on her face.

"Maddie?" He knelt by the couch, laid a careful hand on her shoulder, and was rewarded with a half aware smile. "Are you all right?"

"I'm Maddie."

"Yes--" Terry tried to get a better look at her face-- "did the room service waiter feed you something while I wasn't looking? Did he drug you?"

She gave a deep contended sigh, closed her eyes and Terry put a hand to her forehead. No fever.

"There isn't any other Maddie you love, but me."

"No, there isn't."

"I'm the only one."

"Yes," he smiled, "you're the only Maddie I love."

She seemed to breathe in his words like someone deeply relishing a rare and exquisite thing. It was flattering, but still. It was only him.

"Maddie, dinner's ready."

She sighed again and hugged her coat. Terry looked at her feet and saw her small, socked toes curling in pleasure.

"Are you sure the waiter didn't drug you?"

Her eyes opened a little. "You're the one making me feel like this, Terry."

He nodded, trying desperately not to kiss her and make her even worse.

"Dinner's ready." He watched her a moment, then took her coat as she stretched out on the couch. "I hope you're hungry. When I told you we were going to have boeuf bourguignon with all the trimmings, I wasn't kidding. Come on, up you go." He took her by the hand, and gently pulled her to her feet as he stood.

"I LOVE you."

"Thank you, I think we've established that." Terry smiled, and led her across the suite to their table. "When was the last time you had anything for your hip?"

"I can't remember. It doesn't matter, I can't feel pain, anyway."

"Any moment now, the euphoria will wear off and you're going to want something besides me," he warned, and helped her into her chair. "Where's your acetaminophen? in your purse, or the suitcase?"

"Purse." She sighed happily. "Or my suitcase-- I can't remember."

Terry went off to find it. "If you forgot to pack some painkiller for the trip, I'm guessing Izzy didn't."

"But we're in hiding."

"Maddie, your hip--"

"Please, Terry, I'll be okay. Couldn't I go without it for tonight?"

"Wait a moment--" Terry rounded into the kitchen, looked in the cupboards, then the drawers, and nearly shouted when he spotted a generic bottle of ibuprofen. It was better than nothing, and he went and plunked it next to Maddie's glass where she couldn't miss it. "The Lord has provided." Terry took the seat next to hers, and tried to hide his pleasure when Maddie scooted her chair closer to his.

She was so sweet, it was hard not to gather her in a bone-crushing hug.

After she'd taken her pills, Terry said a prayer over their food while Maddie held his hand.

"Thank You, Heavenly Father, for loving us so thoroughly, so richly, that You gave us Your only begotten Son. Thank you for loving us that much. Thank You for today, and thank You for giving us each other." There was much more in Terry's heart, but his voice began to give, so he ended the prayer, blinked the wet from his eyes and tried not to look at the woman now watching him.

Their appetizers were around here somewhere...

Terry lifted the silver lids until he found the dish he wanted.

"Here we are-- smoked salmon."

"What are those small round things?" Maddie asked, as he scooped some onto a small slice of fish.

"It's caviar."

"What?"

"Fish eggs-- caviar." Terry bit into the smoky flavor of the salmon and nearly fell off his chair. "You have to try this. It has to be the best smoked salmon I've ever tasted."

That dreamy-eyed look? It was fading fast. "Fish eggs?"

Terry smiled, glad for a change in subject and helped himself to more. "I'm guessing you've never had any. Come on, this is supposed to be a delicacy. Eat up."

"Fish eggs?" she said again, but this time with more teasing horror than anything else, for he could see her fighting back a smile.

He didn't hide his satisfaction when Maddie took a slice of salmon, then tried the smallest amount of caviar she could get away with on the serving spoon. She took a thin bite, then her face lit up as thousands of taste buds went to work. He made no comment as she added a little more to her salmon.

It was an extravagance, but they were in hiding and Terry's heart didn't feel like this every day. This was special. Then he saw the overcharged look begin to come back in Maddie's face, and made a concerted effort to ease things up.

He moved his foot so it no longer bumped hers under the table, sat back in his chair and took a sip from his glass. She was starting to concentrate on him again, or in this case, pretend not to for his benefit-- in the way Maddie had of focusing her whole being on him and giving it her all. Terry figured this came from all those years of never having love; now that it was here, she was soaking it in like a dry sponge seeking water.

Even so, time to divert her attention elsewhere, before she hurt herself. Maybe quite literally.

Stuffing another bite of salmon in his mouth, Terry got up, hunted for the remote, then came back and clicked on the huge flat-screen. A program about the human genome looked interesting and Terry turned up the volume a few notches so Maddie could easily hear. When her eyes tracked the TV more often than it did in pretending not to track him, he knew he was winning.

As the lid came off the boeuf bourguignon, Maddie needed no coaxing to start helping herself to the food. Beef and potatoes didn't scare her away, even in their best prepared state, and it did Terry's heart good to see her appetite rise to the occasion. She even took a warm croissant and ate it with her meal. Bit by bit, she was calming down, and from the look of her, also growing sleepy.

While Maddie finished the last of her croissant, Terry went to the bedroom to collect the things they'd need for the night-- two pillows, two blankets, and a sheet for Maddie to sleep on. He brought them to the living room, placed a pillow and a blanket on the chair by the TV, and the rest on the couch for Maddie.

When he came back to the table, Maddie was frowning.

"I told you I would share the couch," she sighed. "I can sleep sitting up."

"And I told you the couch was yours." Terry cleared away the dishes, then went to the kitchen to get their ice cream. "I appreciate the gesture, Maddie, but we've been through enough for one day. Let's not risk you getting a flashback, okay?" He carried in two small bowls, placed one in front of Maddie and tried to coax her into a smile.

"Terry, if I took one end of the couch, and you took the other, I don't think I'd be risking anything. I really don't." Maddie looked at him as he retook his seat. "Please, don't sleep in that awful chair."

He glanced at the chair in question and had to admit it wasn't very comfortable.

"I'll agree to this on one condition." He turned back to his pretty wife and she nodded readily, even before hearing the one condition. "If there's any moment you feel like it, then kick me off the couch. I give my word of honor that I'll leave without a fight."

"Thank you, Terry."

"You're sure about this?"

"I'm sure."

He looked at the couch. It was probably long enough to do the job, and if they kept to their own territories, she might feel safe enough to get some sleep and not have any flashbacks. Of course, he could sleep on the floor and she could still have bad dreams, so even that wasn't the perfect solution to all their problems.

Promises. They needed promises, and he wanted to pray those promises before they went to sleep.

He absently tasted a spoonful of ice cream and startled when its sweet tang surprised him. Maddie looked thrilled that he liked it, and Terry was grateful that he'd showed his pleasure.

"You picked raspberry sorbet?" he asked, and she nodded happily.

"It's very good," he complimented. "It reminds me of walking around Las Vegas during the heat of the day, and suddenly finding a cool breeze."

"Or air conditioning," Maddie smiled, and he had to laugh. "The more of it you eat, the colder you get."

It was very true.

After dinner, Terry let Maddie use the bathroom first. When she came out still dressed in her day clothes, he followed her example and simply brushed his teeth. By the time he came back to the living room, the TV was off, and Maddie was playing with the suite's dimmer switch.

"Which side of the couch do you want?" he asked.

She gave a non-caring shrug, but stayed closer to the side next to the wall, so Terry took the side next to the balcony. He propped the pillow against the armrest, sat down, tucked his blanket around himself in as non-threatening a manner as he could, then leaned against his pillow to get comfortable. Which wasn't very easy, since Maddie was turning the lights up and down like she couldn't decide how she best liked them.

Of course, she could also be stalling.

"Are you sure you don't mind me on the couch?"

"I'm sure."

He sighed, watched as she finally dimmed things to around the softness of a night-light, then went to her side of the couch.

She tucked her blanket around herself as well, cuddled hard around her pillow, and carefully kept to her side of the boundary so not even their arms could accidentally touch in their sleep. Terry understood, and tried to make sure he didn't encroach on the one couch cushion that separated their sides.

Then, in the half-dark, Terry asked God to give them sweet dreams, which for a pair of grownups might seem odd, but for them, it was very important. "[God] giveth His beloved sleep." [Psalm 127:2] That was the main promise Terry prayed for them both, and that was what he clung to as he ended the prayer.

"Terry?" Madison sounded flustered. "I messed up. Izzy always kisses John good night. She never misses. Never."

"It's okay. We're already tucked in, and I think the kiss on the balcony probably counts."

"Terry?"

Wincing, Terry waited and hoped Maddie wouldn't say or do anything to restart the Maddie-engine he'd been trying all dinner to distract.

"Good night, Terry."

"Good night, Maddie." He wanted to add, "I love you," but thought better of it. She needed to sleep right now, not think about how much she loved him.

Outside, the world went on, but in this small hideaway, two hearts were tucked beneath separate blankets on opposite ends of the same couch, listening to sounds coming from the same closed balcony door.

Neither one said anything more, and it wasn't until Terry at last heard the quiet breathing of Maddie's slumber, that he finally let himself relax. If she hadn't been able to fall asleep, he would've felt responsible. It would've meant a prompt move to the carpet, but that soft breathing meant she truly did feel safe with him on the couch.

They were married now... his mind wandered back to the wedding, but blacked out after that first kiss.

He was tired.

As he tumbled into sleep, his heart beat to an exhausted but happy rhythm that all belonged to Maddie.


"Thou hast ravished my heart... my spouse; thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, with one chain of thy neck. How fair is thy love... my spouse! how much better is thy love than wine [sparkling apple cider]! and the smell of thine ointments than all spices! Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk [strawberries and chocolate] are under thy tongue..."
~ Song of Solomon 4:9-11 ~

end of chapter