Lindsay couldnít call Mia Stone fast enough when they got back to their room. Mia took care of their apartment when they were away, and she promised to pack up all of their personal things and send them.
"Try to get a sublet for the apartment," she instructed. "Weíll have to get furniture up here. My stuff wonít work."
"Iíll see to it right away. Maybe Clare can help me. Iím so excited for you, Lindsay. It sounds so wonderful!"
"Oh, Mia, itís absolutely unbelievable!"
When she hung up and turned around, Connor was standing, arms folded across his chest, smiling. "What?"
"Nothing. Itís just so good to see you so happy."
She hugged and kissed him. "Do you want to come shopping with me?"
"I wish I could, honey, but I have to start preparing for classes. I start in two weeks, and the students mustnít teach the professor, you know."
"Hmm. I know! Iíll take Polaroids of the furniture, so you can help me decide at night."
"Sounds like a plan." He sat down at the desk and began pulling out papers and notebooks.
"Let me know if I can help you."
"I will, darling. I promise."
"When can we take possession of the house?"
"As I understand it, any time weíre ready. Itís been vacant for quite a while, and theyíre eager to sell, so the escrow should be almost non-existent."
"Wonderful! Well, Iím off!"
She kissed him good-bye and hurried out the door. He sat there looking after her for quite a while, thinking about her, then gave himself a little shake and started to study.
Mia had called, telling them to expect the boxes in two days. Meanwhile, things were moving swiftly for Connor and Lindsay. The furniture had been bought and was in place, and accessories chosen. Lindsay had found someone to give the place a good cleaning, with the promise to take on the job of part-time housekeeper, as well.
Lindsay collapsed on the bed, exhausted.
She nodded. I havenít moved in so long, Iíd forgotten how hard it is." She rolled over on her side. "Howís the studying coming?"
"Better than it was." He rubbed his eyes. "Iím tired, too. How would you like to read to me for a while?"
He handed her the book and stretched out on the bed beside her, closing his eyes.
She read for a while, then asked, "Explain to me what I just read."
And so he did, and as he did, his enthusiasm grew, and before he knew it, he had delivered his first impromptu lecture. At last he stopped and realized by the look on her face what she had done. "Thank you, darling. It helped a lot." He kissed her and swung off the bed, stretching. "Come on; letís go get some dinner. All of a sudden, Iím starving."
Not only did the boxes come, Mia came with them.
"I thought maybe you could use some help settling in," she said.
"Could we ever!" Lindsay agreed. "Itís been so long since Iíve moved, Iím out of practice."
"Well, I just moved two months ago." She scratched her head. "I must be crazy!"
All three of them laughed, and Lindsay and Mia set out for the house.
Mia Stone was a small, slender girl, with grey-blue eyes and short, dark red hair. She was a recent member of the team, but had quickly won her stripes.
"So how is everybody?" Lindsay asked on the way out to the house.
"Oh, everyone is the same. A few interesting cases, but nothing spectacular. I told Anton if he didnít give me a week off to see this house, I was going to quit. I donít think he took me seriously, but he didnít argue."
"Anton is a dear. Both Connor and I miss him. He was a very valuable part of our team a few years ago."
"Do you miss working?"
"A little. But I wouldnít trade what I have now for anything."
"Yes, it does."
"Only that it was imported from England by a wealthy local man, for his English bride."
"Oo, how romantic! I canít wait to see the inside."
"Well, what are we waiting for?"
They carried the first boxes into the kitchen, and while Lindsay washed a couple of cups, Mia prepared a light snack.
"Coffee will be ready in a minute." She told her.
"Good. Fortification first," she laughed.
They sat at the table with a cheerful fire blazing in the hearth, and talked.
"Youíve got yourself quite a nest here, Lindsay. You never seemed the domestic type before."
"Thatís because the apartment was just a stopover between assignments. Now I have a reason to nest."
Miaís eyebrows shot up excitedly. "A reason?"
"Relax," Lindsay laughed. "Although weíre hoping soon. I mean because of Connor. His happiness is all I think about."
Mia shrugged a little. "What about your happiness?"
"Mia, he is my happiness. Everything I do is with him in mind. Just like it is with him. We make each other happy. Itís like our souls are joined, and weíre empty when weíre away from one another." She took a sip from her cup and frowned.
"That day we found each other again, I felt alive for the first time in three years. And then when we got to the hospital, I was so afraid to leave him, afraid that somehow they would find him, that I completely lost it.
"I got it into my head that they would find him and take him away from me again, and I wouldnít let them near him to examine him. All I could think of was to protect him. Well, they finally literally dragged me away and locked me up.
"I wanted to claw my way through the walls to get back to him, but then they gave me something that very nearly paralyzed me, and for hours I could barely move, yet all the time my mind was clear."
"It was. I havenít told Connor. Itís something I donít like to talk about or even think about."
"I donít blame you."
Lindsay broke the mood by standing up. "Well, soldier, to work," she laughed.
It only took a couple of hours to get the kitchen settled, and then they started upstairs with the linens. The bathroom went quickly, and the bedroom was last.
"What a wonderful view," Mia said, looking out the window that took up half of the west wall.
While they worked, Lindsay told Mia the story of how Connor had surprised her with the house, and of the significance of the covered bridge.
They had finished putting the beautiful white and multi-colored blue wedding-ring style quilt on the bed when there was a knock on the door downstairs.
"Be right back."
Mia continued working alone, unpacking the clothes. As she turned around to get something, she stopped and gaped. There on the bed lay a live red rose!
When Lindsay came back upstairs, she was full of excitement. "That was the legal courier," she told her. "The house is ours! I've called Connor and he's on his way over! Youíll stay for dinner and overnight, wonít you? You can be our first house guest!"
At last it occurred to Lindsay she didnít have her friendís full attention. "Mia. Hey, Mia. Whatís the matter? Earth to Mia!"
Mia looked up and pointed to the rose.
"Where did that come from?"
"I-I donít know! I turned around for something, and there it was, just-just lying there."
"Strange." Lindsay picked it up a little gingerly, and smelled it. "Oh, itís lovely," and turned to go downstairs. Mia followed her.
"What are you going to do with it? And are you going to tell Connor?"
"Thereís a crystal vase in the hall closet, and yes, in that order," Lindsay laughed.
They were in the kitchen, putting the rose on the table, when Connor opened the front door.
"Hi, honey, Iím home! Iíve always wanted to say that."
Mia marveled at the light that came into Lindsay's face when she heard her husband's voice. She waited until Lindsay had run into his open arms and they had greeted each other, then slowly wandered into the great room.
Connorís eyes took in all that had been done. "I had no idea we were so nearly finished."
"We can stay here tonight, and thereís nothing Iíd like better," Lindsay answered. She took his hand. "Come into the kitchen while I start dinner."
When he had sat down, she told him the story of the rose. He was intrigued, but not bothered. "Does it bother you?" he asked.
Lindsay shook her head. "It almost feels like a housewarming gift."
"Yes, it does. Well, letís just see what happens."
The conversation turned lively then, and Lindsay renewed her invitation to Mia. After thinking a while, she answered, "We-ll, Iíll stay for dinner, but--I think you guys should be alone the first night in your first house, and--why donít I take your room at the inn for tonight?"
That plan was agreed upon, and they had a fun evening.
As she was leaving, Connor said, "Be careful, Mia. Weíre supposed to get more snow."
"Call on the cell phone when you get to the inn," Lindsay added.
"I will. Thanks for everything. Iíll be back tomorrow morning to help you with the rest of the stuff, Lindsay."
They both hugged her, and while they waited for her to phone, they settled on the love seat in front of the fireplace that was flanked by two, large, comfortable chairs.
Lindsay curled up in Connorís arms. "Need anything?"
Connor shook his head. "Just you," and he bent his head to kiss her.
Lindsay sighed. "We are so lucky, darling. Weíve both been given second chances, and they donít come easy and shouldnít be taken lightly. We must never take each other lightly."
"I know, my love, I know." He kissed her again and added, "As if I ever could."
When the phone rang, Connor answered it, and the conversation was short.
"Miaís safely back at the inn."
"Good." She got to her feet and drew him up with both hands. "Then letís go upstairs. Welcome home, my darling."
The next three months went smoothly. Connor settled well into his professorship, and Lindsay into homemaking. The incident of the rose had nearly faded from their memories.
It was an extremely cold morning. Connor had already left, and Lindsay had just come into the bedroom from the bath. She had an appointment that morning, and she was nervous. She was just getting ready to dress, when she turned around, and on the bed was another rose! She smiled as she took it downstairs and put it on the table. As she did, an indescribable feeling came over her, and she left the house.
After her appointment, Lindsay drove to the college and entered Connorís classroom. He had just dismissed his morning class, and was packing books and papers into his briefcase, a present from Lindsay.
"Well, hello, darling. What are you doing here?" he asked as he kissed her, then continued gathering materials, a little distractedly.
"Oh, I-uh, wanted to know if you wanted to take your son to lunch."
"Sure. Just-" His hand froze, reaching for a book. For a moment he just stood there, then slowly looked at Lindsay, a variety of expressions chasing themselves across his face. "D-did you-just say what I think you said?"
Lindsay nodded, the suppressed joy bubbling up inside her. "Or your daughter. I donít know yet."
Connor dropped his briefcase and with a whoop of delight, picked her up off her feet and spun her around. "Oh, Lindsay! Thank you! Thank you so much! Oh, I love you!" He kissed her, then asked "When?"
"About six months. Near our anniversary, probably."
"Oh, wouldnít that be great? Everythingís all right? No problems?"
"No. Everythingís fine. Now. Do I get lunch? My appetite has doubled in the last hour!"
"Eating for two now, huh?"
She nodded, smiling.
Over lunch she told him of the appearance of the second rose that morning.
"And you think the rose announced the baby?" he asked, with only a trace of skepticism. His time at the O.S.I.R. had taught him not to doubt anything out of hand.
"Well-yes. Itís as if itís saying, ĎYouíre going to get some good news.í" She sat back a little. "You know, I wonder if thereís more to the story than weíve heard. Weíve never fully explored it."
"Hmm. Why donít you stop by the real estate office and ask Mrs. Texler? Maybe she can tell you."
"Iíll do that."
They stood up to leave, and he kissed her good-bye, then held her close for a minute. "Drive carefully."
"Well, I really donít know, Mrs. Doyle," Mrs. Texler answered as she looked up at Lindsay.
"Lindsay. Please," she smiled as she sat.
"Well, like I said--Lindsay--I have no idea what the real story was."
"What about names? Anything?"
"Oh, who knows after all these years, with all the permutations."
"Well, is there any way you can find it?"
"There might be something in the records, but I would have to look for it." She glanced at her watch. "Iím sorry, but Iím late for another appointment across town. I will look for the information, but I donít hold out much hope."
The middle-aged woman smiled apologetically. She had a pleasant face, with curly grey hair, wire-rimmed glasses and clear grey eyes. "I must seem rude to you. How do you like the house?"
"Oh, itís wonderful! Both my husband and I love it! Itís the kind of house and town we were both looking for."
"We donít get many newcomers around here. We just sort of Ďrecycle.í"
Both she and Lindsay laughed, and Lindsay drove home.
Connor faced his newly assembled afternoon class. "Hey, you guys; this is your lucky day," he said. "I had planned a quiz"--a buzz went through the room and he held up his hand--"I said had. However, I am dismissing this class for today. Go enjoy an afternoon of freedom. The mood Iím in, Iíd have given you all ĎAís, anyway."
"Hey, professor," one student quipped. "Weíll take the ĎAís!"
Connor laughed with the rest of them. "Iím sure you would, Arthur!"
"What happened, professor?" another one asked. "Did you win the lottery?"
Connor flushed. "Nope. Something much better. My wife gave me some very good news this noon."
A cheer went up and they disassembled, some calling congratulations over their shoulders as they left. One girl hung back.
"You and your wife live in that little English cottage, donít you?"
"Yes, we do."
"Does anything--funny ever happen there?"
"Such as?" he answered a little cautiously.
"Oh, nothing. Just sort of our own urban legend. Something about roses." She sighed a little. "Itís just a very romantic little house."
"Yes, it is," Connor smiled. "Now go enjoy your afternoon, Lily."
Connor drove home.
"Up here, darling."
He found her lying on the bed.
She smiled up at him. "Iím fine; just lying here thinking and dreaming, and trying not to float up to the ceiling."
He laughed as he settled beside her, and they spent the afternoon talking, laughing, and loving. As the sun was going down over the covered bridge, they went downstairs for dinner.
"Do you want to go out?"
She shook her head. "No. Tonight, I have a great need for a mushroom omelet," she said seriously.
He smiled in understanding and together they went into the kitchen, and while she whipped the eggs, he sliced the fresh mushrooms. They worked well together, in many ways.
Just as they were almost ready, they heard a small thump on the back door. They exchanged glances and he drew her around behind him as he cautiously opened the door.
They both jumped as something black shot into the room. Lindsay gasped, and then began to laugh as she realized the little intruder was a black kitten. She picked him up and wrapped him in a towel.
"Oh, you poor baby! Where did you come from?" She set a small dish of milk in the microwave and looked down into a set of very blue eyes.
Connor put out a tentative finger. "Cute." The kitten gave one small peep and started a ragged purring.
"Aha! Another heart conquered!"
He looked sideways at her and grinned. "What are you going to do with it?"
"Keep him, if I can."
The microwave beeped, and she tested it with her little finger, then offered it to the kitten. He licked it hungrily, and she continued to feed him that way. She sat with him on her lap while they ate. Afterward Connor cleared the table. "You take care of him. Iíll clean up."
"Thank you, darling."
"Heís a little charmer," he smiled, then frowned. "I suppose we really should put an ad in the paper."
She looked up at her husband in dismay, then answered, "Iíll take him to the vet tomorrow, and--post an ad." The last part of the sentence sounded like "and I hope nobody answers it."
They put the kitten, still wrapped in the towel, on the hearth rug in front of their bedroom fireplace.
In the morning, Lindsay opened her eyes and found herself staring into a pair of brilliant blue ones. "How did you get up here, Houdini?" she whispered, as she picked him up.
"Hm?" Connor stirred and woke. The kitten jumped out of Lindsayís arms and settled between them, giving a series of peeps, and then began purring.
"I think maybe someoneís hungry," he laughed.
Dried out, the little kitten showed promise of being a beautiful Persian.
Lindsay carried him downstairs and held him in her lap while Connor made a fire, then laid him down on the hearth rug, where he curled up.
"Looks right at home, doesnít he?" he commented as he hugged and kissed his wife good morning.
She smiled as she set a dish of warmed milk down and was glad to see he was drinking from it by himself.