Cold Blast - part 25

By Cathy

 

 

COLD BLAST

Chapter 25

By Cathy

 

 

Sam watched in fascination as Mara twisted a thin silver wire with pale periwinkle crystal beads, manipulating the wire until she'd formed an intricate lattice snowflake. She placed a drop of glue on the tips with her glue gun and looked at Sam expectantly.

"Yo! Sam, I need the ribbon."

Sam handed her a length of organza ribbon. "How can you do that so quickly?"

"I had to made a hundred of them last year, so I had to get very good at it. I use to sit at my desk and make these when I was on hold."

"Is there anything you can't do?"

Mara laughed. "Unfortunately there are a few things I've yet to master."

Sam decided to ignore the musing of Mara's ego and handed her another ribbon.

"How can you spend so much time on wrapping gifts when the wrapping is just going to be torn off?"

"Simple, no one ever just tears my wrapping off. It's like peeling an onion back layer by layer."

"Whatever. You know, a lesser man would have been quite freaked out finding you asleep in Jon's arms."

"A jealous, insecure man maybe," Mara replied with a grin

"I didn't even feel you leave the bed."

"I woke up around four and I couldn't go back to sleep. I came downstairs for some hot chocolate and Jon was composing in the kitchen. I think around five I co-wrote the next Bon Jovi ballad."

"Really?"

"Uhuh. It's a very pretty song. Do you realize that we are alone at last?"

"No kidding, Sherlock. I figured that one out the second Dorthea, Jon and the kids left."

"I didn't get much sleep. My brain is rather slow today."

Sam smiled. "So, what do you want to do with the day?"

Mara moved over beside Sam and picked up his arms, placing them around her. She finished the last snowflake before yanking the glue gun plug out of the electric socket. She rested one hand on top of Sam's arm and sighed.

"Absolutely nothing. I'm content to sit on the floor with you all day long."

"Well, if we are going to just vegetate together, think we can move it to the couch? My legs are starting to fall asleep."

"I think I can accommodated that request."

Mara got up and put the beads and other craft supplies away and came back downstairs to find Sam poking at the fire he had just lit. She went to the kitchen, returning with gingerbread cake and hot chocolate that she placed on the coffee table. Sam stoked the fire a few more times and added the treated pine cones that created different colours as they slowly burned.

"You know, burning chemically treated pine cones doesn't sound so great when you think about it."

"Sam, the point is to not think about it. Now get over here!"

"It's one, Mar. Don't you think it's about time to get dressed?"

"I could get dressed, but then the goal I set for myself today would be put to rest."

"Your goal for the day was to stay in your P.J's?"

"A lofty goal I know, but yes," Mara giggled.

"Try a lazy goal."

"I don't recall asking for your opinion, Mr. Seaborn, so zip it!"

Sam sat down on the couch making himself comfortable before Mara reclined in his arms. "So, what did Cheryl want?"

"Oh, she had to tell me that Toby was having lunch with Mandy and that she kissed him last night."

"Cheryl?"

"No, you dolt, Mandy!"

"Well, what do ya know. I'm going to have some fun Monday morning," Sam exclaimed with an evil grin.

"Samuel, don't you dare spook Toby. This is going to be hard enough on him. I don't want you and Josh teasing him every chance you get."

"Mara, you're no fun."

"Yeah, yeah, tell it to someone who cares. So what did you get CJ and Donna for Christmas?"

"I got CJ a cat purse like yours and an alligator bag with a pair of earrings in one and a purse spray of her favourite scent in the other."

"Very nice, she'll be a happy camper. What about Donna?"

"I got her a leopard purse, Starbucks gift certificates, a small box of Godiva chocolates and a leather day planner."

"Donna will love you. What about Kathy?"

"I'm having a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts delivered on Friday with a coupon for a dozen every month, a chocolate iced doughnut magnet and the week between Christmas and New Year's off."

"Now that is a gift a girl can use! Holidays! What did you get Mara?"

"Well I got her... nice try."

"Dang! I almost had you."

"You weren't even close, Princess Snark. So, tell me what I'm I facing Christmas Eve?"

"Dinner, midnight mass and Dani back in the house. What did you do for Christmas last year?"

"I was in Bermuda, reading an 80 page brief on the beach. What about you?"

"Dad and Dani were at my house, my mother was on a cruise. This year, Dad is going with her. How come you didn't go home for Christmas?"

"My family isn't big on Christmas. Mom just wants a call and I think Dad could care less."

"That's sad, Sam. I'm glad I'll have Dani, but I'll miss not having my Dad around. Cheryl always takes her family to my beach house in Anquilla. I can't even ponder Christmas in a tropical climate."

Sam closed his eyes while a big grin spread across his face. "Sorry, what did you say? I'm already there. It's a balmy 85 with winds gently blowing from the south west."

"You're sick, Sam," Mara laughed.

"No, Ice Princess, you're the one who's sick. If you weren't in politics, what would you be doing?"

"Geez, I've wanted a life in politics since grade nine, Sam. I can't see myself doing anything else."

"Well, what did you want to be in eighth grade?"

"In grade eight, I.........I wanted to be a grade two teacher."

"Really?"

"Yeah, so I guess that's what I would have done: got my Doctorate in history, then teach elementary school."

"You'd be one hell of an over qualified grade school teacher."

"I'm an over qualified Ambassador, what's the difference?" Mara asked with a grin.

"Ah, but you don't have that doctorate, now do you."

"Actually, I have all the course work. I'd just have to write my Doctoral Thesis."

"In other words, the easy part is done," he said with a knowing smirk.

"One of these days, I'll get around to doing it. What would you be doing, Samuel, and don't say working at Gage."

"I think I'd have a small private practice and volunteer my legal expertise to children's charities."

"That sounds like you, Sam. You'd make a great ethics professor, too."

"So Toby and Mandy...."

"Sam, get that little thought right out of your head."

"I'm thinking we best do something about CJ if this works out."

"'Kay Sam, I'm lost. Why do we have to do something about CJ?"

"Well Josh is taken care of, so is Toby, that leaves Ceeg."

"Are you proposing we go in to the match making business?"

"Possibly."

"I'm in. I love interfering in other people's lives. I particularly enjoy messing with Ceeg's love life or actually lack there of."

"We're bad."

"Yes, we are, but bad is good."

Sam couldn't help laughing at the evil grin on Mara's face and coaxed her over to his side of the couch. As soon as Mara settled into his arms, he starting kissing her neck and they both quickly forgot about every thing except each other.

***************

Mandy pushed her hair off her shoulder for the twentieth time since they started lunch and Toby didn't cringe. It drove him mad when Donna or Mara played with their hair, yet, when Mandy did, it was bewitching and beguiling. She was late for their date, but left word at the front desk that she'd be back in half an hour. Toby found out that she had gone shopping with her sister. He invited Cheryl to join them, but she was on her way to have lunch with CJ and Dani.

"So, how did you end up in New York?"

"I was working in Toronto and had just worked my way in to a senior editors position when the posting came up for NYC. I applied as a lark and a week later, I was on a plane for the interview. They loved my natural charm and sweet demeanor..."

Toby couldn't' help snorting, which started Mandy laughing. When she finally regained her composer, she continued. "The director had just read two books that I edited and had worked with one of the author's previously. Linda's talented, but oh can the girl ramble, even on paper. Jacob admired how I managed to give her work structure and continuity. He hired me on the spot. Three weeks later, I was moving in to an apartment a block from Central Park."

"Are you as fanatical about being Canadian as Mara?"

"Toby, the Prime Minister isn't as fanatical about being Canadian as Mara. Sir John A. Macdonald was less fanatical. No, Mara is truly in a class all by herself. I've lived here for six years, but I don't plan on ever pledging my allegiance to the Stars and Stripes."

"Sir John is the first Canadian PM, right?"

"Yep. Did Mara subject you to one of her history lessons?"

"No, I knew that already. You mean to tell me that you lived in Toronto and rooted for the Yankees?"

"Oh honey, especially when they played against the Jays. I don't know where I picked it up from so, Yankee's blood must have coursed through my veins since birth. Actually, I probably picked them because I heard my Dad diss them once and figured it would be good for some dinner time conflict."

Toby chuckled, playing with his glass swishing the remnants of the golden scotch around in his tumbler. Mandy had barely touched her red wine and Toby wondered if something was wrong with it.

"So tell me, who else have you helped get elected?"

"No one. Jed Bartlet was the first candidate that ever won. My track record sucked and I figured I was about to be fired. Leo fired everyone except for me and a week later, Josh joined us. He dragged Sam along with him and I led CJ into the lion's den."

"Your track record really did suck. You all make a great team now though. I was watching you all interact at the party and you reminded me of a family. What's with Josh and Donna?"

"Oh, I don't go there, Mandy. It's too confusing. To tell the truth, as long as it doesn't affect me, I don't give a rat's...."

"Toby!"

"It's true. Thank God Sam doesn't regale me with stories about Mara. Josh is the best friend, it's his job."

"You know, I didn't think I'd ever see Mara in love. Sam is the perfect compliment to her."

Toby smiled. "Yeah, Mara is fire and Sam is the water that keeps her from burning out of control. It even amazes me how skilled he is at dousing her when necessary."

"What about you Toby? From that wedding band on your finger, I'd say you set at least one heart a flame in your time."

"It was an inferno for a while, but we burned each other out until nothing but ashes remained."

"You still wear the ring."

"Yeah."

"You can tell me to mind my own business anytime."

"Mind your own business."

"So, why do you still wear the ring?"

Toby gave her his death stare, then inexplicatedly grinned. "You're a pain in the ass."

"Ah, but at least it's a shapely ass," Mandy deadpanned

Mandy watched as the corner's of his mouth twitched, trying valiantly to ward off a grin, but she smiled smugly when he broke out in laughter. She took a large sip of her wine and watched him chuckle over the rim of her glass.

"Well, you going to answer me or what?"

"I just do. What about you?"

"What about me? I'm brilliant, sexy, highly intelligent, literate, charming, amazing in bed....."

"I'm sure you are, but I mean why are you divorced?"

"He cheated on me. I threw him out and got on with my life."

"He was an ass."

"Why, thank you, Toby. And yes, he was an ass."

"So, how long are you in town?"

"Till Wednesday. Cheryl and I are flying to Miami, then on to Anguilla till the new year."

"Mara's beach house?"

"Yeah."

"Are you free for dinner tomorrow?"

"No, I'm having dinner with Mara and Sam. I'm free tonight though."

"Would you have dinner with me then?"

"I'd love to, Toby."

"So, why did you kiss me last night?"

"The reason is actually quite simple. I felt like it."

"Works for me."

"I bet it does," Mandy replied saucily before giving Toby a wicked smile.

"Do you want dessert?"

"No thanks, Toby. I'm fine. I wouldn't mind walking around, it's a beautiful day."

"Sure."(Dear God, what is this creature doing to me? I'm agreeing to walk around aimlessly.)

Toby paid the bill before Mandy had a chance to see it and helped her on with her coat. They left the restaurant and wandered around the Mall until they stopped outside the Lincoln Memorial and rested on the steps. Toby suggested a movie and they walked back to his car to go to the multiplex.

******************

Mara had stopped by Toby's office Monday night and kidnapped him for dinner. Watching Toby with Mandy, it was hard for Mara to believe that he was the same grumpy Tobs that she'd grown to adore. The sarcasm flying around the table was pure Toby, however. Mandy and Toby left just before ten leaving Cheryl behind.

"Cherry you want to do our Christmas gifts now?" Mara asked.

"Now that was a stupid question, Mar. Of course I do!"

"I'll do the dishes, Mara."

"Too much estrogen for ya?" Mara asked with a knowing grin.

"Ya." Sam quickly retreated to the safety of the kitchen.

"Mar, you have to do something about Sam. I think I still scare him."

"Nah, he just doesn't know you well enough yet. He doesn't bat an eye when CJ or Donna flirt with him. He even plays along with Abbey. Sam hasn't figure out what his comfort level is with you."

"So what did you get me?"

"What did you get me?".

Sam heard squeals from the living room and wondered what on earth they were doing. A few minutes later he heard Mara laughing hysterically and his curiosity got the better of him. He ventured out of the kitchen with the dish towel still in his hand and discovered both of them had dissolved into fits of giggles on the floor.

"It can't possibly be that funny, girls."

Mara looked up and wiped the tears from her eyes. "Oh, but it is, Sam! We got each other the same gifts!"

Cheryl picked up a gray Roots sweatshirt, a gift basket of Cranberry scented Body Shop products and handed Sam a thin blue box that held a silver charm bracelet. The charms were a red and white enamel Canadian flag, a maple leaf, the CN Tower and Skydome, the Parliament Building, the Bluenose, a skate and a set of skis that had Whistler engraved on them.

Mara placed her basket on the table, pulled her sweatshirt on and asked Sam to fasten the clasp on her bracelet. Sam obliged and turned around to fix Cheryl's.

"That's it! From now on, I'm calling the two of you the 'wonder twins'."

Cheryl laughed. "Wonder Twins power form of an ice pick."

"Form of a bucket," Mara finished and started laughing again.

"I take it you got the Justice League in Canada."

"Uhuh. Hey Sam, do your Scooby and Shaggy for Cheryl."

Sam started reciting his Disney Awards speech, alternating voices, while Cheryl looked astonished and impressed. Mara had discovered Sam's hidden talent one day when she forgot something and inadvertently said 'zoinks'. Sam started into his Shaggy voice without thinking, leaving Mara in stitches. Every so often, he'd leave her a voice message as Scooby or Shaggy, knowing Mara would reward him with a sizzling kiss later for making her laugh.

Sam made them popcorn and they all sat down in front of the TV to watch one of Mara's favourite Holiday movies: 'Holiday Inn'. By the end of the movie, Sam was rather fond of the idea of retiring and opening an Inn that would only be open on Holidays He also wondered how long it would take Mara to stop singing 'White Christmas'. He'd just endured four days of Frosty the Snowman.

Mara convinced Cheryl to spend the night and they all headed off to bed around one. Mara slid right in to bed and beamed at Sam.

"You miss her something fierce don't you?"

"Yeah I do, but she still claims to hate my old job, so I'll be getting her back soon enough."

*******************

Donna drove home with Sam on Thursday since Mara wanted to see her before she headed home for Christmas. Josh had finished the "Twelve Days of Christmas" with eleven flutists from the symphony playing their flutes in the lobby of the White House and twelve wind-up, stuffed toys playing drums for 'Twelve Drummers Drumming' Donna had spent most of the day trying to convince Josh that here were thirteen days and that the thirteenth day was gold bracelets, but Josh only laughed in her face. Sam wasn't sure exactly what Mara got Donna, but he was sure she had gone overboard. He opened the door and the fragrant aroma of Thyme Chicken assaulted his senses. He noticed several large shopping bags around the tree and decided he better get to Donna first.

Sam dragged Donna up to the study and sat her down on one of the plush leather chairs. She looked at him as if he had lost his mind. Sam simply grinned and went in to the cupboard to pull out a large green hat box.

"Merry Christmas, Donna. I wanted to give you my gifts before the insane shopper got to you and spoiled you forever."

"Gifts? As in more than one? Oh Sam you should have," Donna teased before giving him a long hug.

She lifted the top of the box off and pulled out the stuffed leopard cat purse first. She opened the envelope and discovered thirty dollars of Starbucks gift certificates. She quickly opened the gold Godiva chocolate box and popped one rich chocolate in to her mouth before giving Sam one. She turned over a silver picture frame to find a picture of the two of them at the Smithsonian Gala.

"Damn, I looked hot that night."

"Yes, Donna, you certainly did."

Only the chocolate brown leather day planner remained in the hat box and Donna pulled it out. She ran her hand over the silky soft leather and examined the fine craftsmanship that went into it. She opened it and a small piece of vellum paper floated to the ground. She recognized Sam's writing and started to read it.

Merry Christmas Donna.

May the year ahead bring you all the joy and love you so richly deserve.

Thank you for loving my best friend. Thank you for handling him.

Thank you for enriching my life. I will always cherish our friendship.

Love Sam.

"Oh....Sam...you..." Donna melted into Sam's arms hugging him tightly.

She wiped the tears from her eyes and laughed when he called her a silly sentimental cry baby. She drew away, placing all her gifts back in the hat box and closed it. She carried the box by it's gold ribbon, looping her arm through Sam's as they descended the stairs.

"Ah! There you are. I knew I heard the door open. Just had to give Donna your gift first, eh?"

"Yup."

"You do realize that between the two of you and Josh, I'll never be satisfied with one gift again," Donna remarked.

"Good, because one gift is boring," Mara laughed. "Now, sit down on the couch so I can spoil you now. Sam, would you pour us a Bailey's?"

"Sure."

Mara placed five large shopping bags at Donna's feet and stood back to watch her reaction. Donna could hardly believe her eyes as she pulled out cashmere sweaters, suede shirts and pants, a pair of black and brown leather pants, casual tops, a silk pair of pajamas, an ice blue silk shirt and a blue cocktail dress. The last bag held a variety of accessories to go with her new clothes.

"Oh Mara! Thank you so much! You shouldn't have! I'm speechless! thank you! I love everything!"

"You are welcome, Donna, and I had so much fun doing it."

"Sam, your gift is actually sitting on your desk. Mara, I know it's not much, but I think you'll like this."

Donna pulled out a small, well wrapped box out of her purse and gave it to Mara. Mara carefully slid the box out of the wrapping paper and opened the lid. A small hand painted glass perfume bottle lay on a piece of cotton batting. Mara picked up the bottle with it's bright pink and purple painted flowers and turned the crystal marble stopper.

"Donna, it's beautiful! I love it! I guess you've seen my collection. Thank you! I think I'll keep this one on my vanity instead of with the collection. I want to see it every day."

"I'm glad you like it. I couldn't figure out what to get you and I was wandering around the mall one day and came across this little cart and saw it."

They sat down to dinner and Donna left shortly after ten. Sam helped Mara do the dishes and they headed up to bed. Mara pulled out the necklace, earrings and ring she bought CJ and asked for Sam's opinion. Sam assured her that she would love it and wear it often. They lay in bed talking quietly about favourite gifts they had ever given and received until they both drifted off to sleep.

***********************

Sam was in the office a few minutes early the next morning because he couldn't wait to see what Donna's gift was. He didn't notice a gift bag or box on his desk and wondered if Donna was playing a game with him. He was about to sit his coffee on the desk when he noticed it. The navy leather book with gold lettering was a new addition to his desk. The title on the spine and front cover was 'Speeches to Move a Nation". Sam was thinking about how appropriate the book was when he opened it. Then his jaw dropped and he sat there in bewilderment. Underneath the title, on the cover page, was four simple words that amazed him:

By Samuel Norman Seaborn.

He gingerly flipped through the pages of his own words. He recognized some of the speeches immediately and other's had long ago escaped his memory. He was half way through the book when a piece of paper landed in his lap. He recognized Donna's distinctive penmanship.

Sam,

The measure of a great man is not only in the words he speaks, but the conviction behind those words. You are a great man, Sam Seaborn. I'm honoured to call myself your friend.

Thank you for everything you've done for me.

Merry Christmas,

Love Donna.

Sam looked up just in time to see Donna hovering at his door, watching him read her words. Sam got up and pulled Donna in to his arms, giving her a long hug and a kiss on the forehead.

"Donna, this is the best gift anyone has ever given me. You have no idea how much this means to me. I can't believe you remembered all these speeches. Thank you."

"Your words have always touched me, Sam, and I keep copies of my favourite ones. The idea came to me at the Smithsonian and they agreed to bind it for me to thank me for my help. Your Disney speech was written just in time to be included."

"Donna, I'll treasure this always. Thanks."

"Sam, get your arms off my assistant!" Josh yelled from outside the door.

Sam rolled his eyes at Josh, gave Donna another long hug , sat down on the edge of his desk and lifted Donna on to his lap. "There, that better Josh?"

"Did you hear I'm holding auditions for a new best friend?"

"You mean the burden of being your best friend is finally going to be someone else's problem?"

"Donna, get off Sam," CJ sighed from the door.

Donna slid of Sam's lap and hoisted herself up to sit on the desk next to him. CJ caught Sam off guard by taking Donna's place on his lap wrapping her arms around his neck, resting her head against his.

"Well, isn't this cozy. Some one mind telling me why I wasn't invited to this orgy?"

"Well Tobs, I recall you once telling me threesomes were your limit. Didn't think you'd want to go for the quint," C. J laughed.

"'Kay, where was I during this conversation?"

"Josh, believe it or not, people have all kinds of conversations every day, in this very building in fact and they don't include you."

"Donna, bite me!"

"Come over here and I will!"

"Am I the only person working in this White House today?" Leo asked from the door, a grin playing on his face.

"I'm not working. How about you Sam?" Toby asked.

"I'm not working. Are you working, Ceeg?"

"No, are you working Josh?"

"No, Donna are... Never mind. We all know you never work," Josh teased.

"Welcome to the Family Feud. Survey says... Yup! You're the only one working, Leo," Donna laughed.

"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't fire the lot of you?"

"It's two days before Christmas."

"Fine. Donna that saves you, Sam and CJ."

"Well, Donna can't stay if she has no one to assist," Josh rationalized.

"She's got Sam and your vacant job to takeover."

"Leo, need I remind you, the pull Donna has with the assistants and secretaries? You need me around to quell her coup d'etats."

"Fine, you can stay, Toby."

"Hey, I took a bullet for this administration. That should buy me a stay in jail card at least."

"Fine, you can stay too, Josh. Does anyone know where Margaret is?"

"Yeah, Dr. Bartlet borrowed her."

"If you guys are going to slack off, why don't you take this into the Roosevelt Room so it looks like you're working."

"Let's go boys," CJ ordered, sliding off Sam's lap. "Kathy, we're in the Roosevelt Room if you need us. Mara said she'd drop by sometime today."

****************

Josh bumped in to Mara an hour later and asked if he could see her in his office for a few minutes. Mara wondered what he was up to and figured the only way she'd find out was to agree. Josh closed his door and smirked at the funny look on her face. He pulled open a few drawers until he finally found what he was looking for. Josh handed her a tiny gift bag.

Mara opened the tiny gift card that just said 'For: Bu.' Inside the bag sat a pewter fire breathing dragon with one foot on a crystal ball.

"Thanks, Josh. This is cool. I'm going to put it on my desk."

"I figured you'd be lonesome for your breed," Josh teased.

Mara rolled her eyes before getting up and planting a kiss on his cheek.

"Would you cut that out. Decontaminating myself is a slow and painful process."

"Joshua, you are a slow and painful process," Mara countered.

"Come on, we've turned the Roosevelt Room in to a playroom for the day."

As soon as Mara walked in to the room, CJ dragged her off to her office to get her Christmas gift.

"It's not as if you need this, but I saw it and knew you'd love it. Merry Christmas, girlfriend."

Mara slowly opened the exquisitely wrapped box revealing a long, chocolate brown, suede wrap skirt.

"Ceeg! I love it! Dani does great wrapping work."

"Yeah, that was my deal with her: room and board for wrapping all my gifts."

"Well, here is your gift, not that you'll open it."

"Nope, I'll open it Christmas morning and call you when I do."

"You, my friend, are a freak."

"Thanks."

"You know, if the situation was reversed you'd tell me to open the bloody box or you'd slap me one."

"Yeah but being the biggest bully in the school yard works well for me. Come on, we were just about to play Taboo. "

"You were going to play without me?" Mara asked in mock horror.

"I held Donna off for as long as I could but she likes this game a lot."

"Us against Josh and Donna, and Tobs and Sam?"

"Mara, we are going to destroy them, let's not make this a blood bath too. No, Sam and Josh should be together, and Donna and Toby."

"Poor Donna."

"No, poor Toby," CJ laughed knowing Donna's enthusiasm would drive her friend bonkers.

CJ and Mara wiped the floor with everyone which lead Josh to the conclusion that they had memorized all the cards. CJ pointed out that it was merely female intuition (no need to mention that Mara and her were freakishly of one mind with each other while playing this game) citing how well Donna and Toby worked as a team, once Toby figured out that Donna went for the abstract and Donna figured out that Toby drew from the world of sports. CJ left at five to five to give her final press briefing until the 27th. Toby was driving Donna to the airport since they both had seven o'clock flights heading home.

Donna grabbed her coat and gave everyone a big hug. She saved Josh till last, giving him a friendly hug. She was almost out of ear shot when she turned around and smiled when she realized Josh was watching her leave.

"Josh, your gift is on your desk. See ya the 2nd."

"Thanks, Donna. Wish your whole Protestant brood a Merry Christmas for me."

"I will, tell your Mom I send my love. You know where to reach me right?"

"Yeah, now get before Toby leaves without you."

"Hey, Leo, you doing anything tonight?" Mara asked.

"Well, I agreed to drop Margaret and Nancy off at the airport."

"Swing by the house when you're done. I'll keep dinner warm for you."

"Thanks, I will. "

"Josh, why aren't you going to see your Mom and you're invited for dinner too by the way. "

"My Mom is coming down on Christmas day. Her flight gets in at two. What are you serving?"

"I have no clue, but what else were you going to do?"

"Kay, let me go see what Donna got me and I'll meet you in Sam's office."

Josh noticed the box sitting on his desk and opened the card beside it. Donna had picked out a Far Side card with a gold fish about to plug in a Christmas tree in the bowl with the other fish warning him not to do it.

Josh, I hereby resign as your official time keeper. Being your Assistant is trying enough!

Words can't express how thrilled I was with the 'Twelve Days of Christmas'. It was too much, Josh (I'm worth it of course, but still.)

I already got what I wanted for Christmas when you came back to us in May. I guess what I'm trying to say is that you don't totally suck as a boss. Well, for today anyway. The jury can change her mind January 2nd, when you revert back to being you.

Love Donna.

Josh laughed, and could just see the little grin on Donna's face as she wrote the last lines. He hastily tore the paper off the box to find a Timex Indiglo watch that was preset and perfectly on time. Josh tossed his watch in the drawer and put on his new one with a big grin.

 

*******************

Mara had spend a large part of Saturday making Gingerbread again since they had finished it Friday night and she wanted to bring two over to Abbey for Christmas dinner. Sam was sitting in the living room watching Dani wrap his gifts for Jed, Abbey and Zoey. They went out to see a movie closing the evening up by driving around to see the Christmas decorations in different neighborhoods.

Dani woke up fairly early Christmas Eve morning and decided to make Sam and Mara breakfast in bed as her way of thanking them for putting up with her. Mara woke up to the fragrant aroma of Swedish pancakes with homemade apple sauce. She sat up in bed,grinning when she noticed it was Sam who was sleepy instead of her for a change. Dani was going to leave them alone until Mara told her to bring her own breakfast up and join them. Killer had smelt the apple sauce and sat at the foot of the bed waiting for his mistress to share with him. Mara put her plate down and Killer licked it clean before wandering over to Dani's plate licking his lips.

"Yo, Killer, I'm not done yet."

Sam laughed and put his plate down in front of the cat. Killer meowed his thanks and devoured every last piece of apple before he started to stare at Dani. She finally relented and left half a spoonfuls worth of apple sauce on her plate.

"Go to town, Killer," she laughed. "Well, I won't have dishes to do at least."

"Dani, that's disgusting," Sam commented.

"Yes, Dad," Dani replied and started laughing with Mara.

Mara was making dinner when she glanced out the window and squealed in delight. Sam had just enough time to hide what he had been working on before Mara came bounding in to the study.

"It's snowing, Sam! It's snowing!"

Mara ran over to the window and giddily jumped up and down a few times, convincing Sam she truly was a six year old hiding in an adult's body.

"Traffic is going to be a bitch later."

Mara spun around and swatted Sam hard on the arm. "Sam!"

"I'm just teasing you. Do you want to go for a walk?"

"Yeah, too bad it's not snowing hard enough to make snow angels."

"Mara, how old are you again?"

"Old enough to perform illicit sex acts on you, Mr. Seaborn. Not that you be getting any today after that comment."

"Cute, Whitford. I knew you had too much to do today to indulge me anyway, so there."

Mara stuck her tongue out at him before leaving to find her boots and Dani who was napping with Killer. Mara set the alarm beside the bed for an hour and woke Dani up just long enough to let her know to check on dinner when the alarm went off.

Mara laughed as Sam put on his scarf and buttoned his coat right up. She walked out of the house with her coat undone and slapped Sam's hand away when he tried to button it for her.

"Sam, it's not cold."

"Mara, it's snowing, which mean it's cold."

"Sam, live in Ottawa for a winter then you'll understand what cold really is. This is child's play."

"Hey, it gets really cold here."

"Sam, I'll concede that it does get cold here, but your idea of cold is severely warped by the fact that you are a California boy."

"No. I have common sense. You don't ."

Sam looked over and realized Mara was no longer paying any attention to him. She was too busy sticking her tongue out, catching snowflakes. He watched her with wonder, he had never met any grown up with an inner child as prominent as Mara's. She loved life with such a passion that she resembled a force of nature. Although he had never asked her, he was fairly certain that Mara was over compensating for a miserable childhood. She was currently taking a short run and sliding along the sidewalk.. Sam wanted to join her, but he figured he would slip and break something, so he simply picked up his pace. By the time he had caught up to Mara, she had stopped, then swung around a light post, beaming at Sam.

"I'm dreaming of a white Christmas,

Just like the ones I use to know,

Where the treetops glisten and children listen to hear sleigh bells in the snow," she sung.

"Bing, ya think you could slow down so I can walk with you?" Sam teasingly asked.

"Sorry Sweetie," Mara stopped, wrapping her arms around him and kissed him passionately.

"You know, Ceeg would kill us for that PDA."

"Sam, I've been a fairly good girl since I arrived. Playing nicely with the other diplomats. The press could care less about us both now. I think we're safe."

"Well, in that case..." Sam slid his arms around her waist and slowly started to kiss her as his hands roamed around her back.

Mara breathlessly drew away and smiled contentedly. "Sam, I can honestly say that I've never been happier than I am at this moment."

"I wish we could freeze time right now."

"If we stay here long enough, you'll freeze, Golden boy."

"Golden boy?"

"Yeah, as in California."

"You're so strange."

"I'm not strange, I'm unique and you love my uniqueness, remember."

"God help me, I do."

Mara reached up, cupping his face in her hands and kissed him slowly. She pulled away when it dawned on her how cold his face was. (He's probably freezing but he didn't want to spoil my fun)

"Come on, handsome. I think there is a mug of hot chocolate with marshmallows and whip cream waiting for you."

"Does it have chocolate sprinkles on it?"

"Yeah ,Sam, special just for you." Mara looped her arm around his and they headed back in the direction of the mansion.

*******************

Dani hadn't ignored the alarm and dinner was ready to go when they returned home. The three of them sat down at the dinning room table and ate. None of them really said very much, as they were all lost in their own thoughts. Dani was wondering when she would every find someone who'd love her like Sam loved her sister. Mara was wondering what Sam would think of her Christmas gift. Sam was tossing out the plans he had been working on for weeks trying to come up with something better. Mara reached across the table and held his hand. He looked up and realized that she wasn't even aware of her actions. It was a simple, sweet, unconscious gesture of pure love and Sam suddenly knew exactly what to do.

*******************

Mara heard Sam's low whistle of approval as she descended the stairs in a snug square neck, cranberry, velvet dress. She stopped at the bottom of the stairs and spun slowly around for him.

Sam walked over to her, brushing her long curled blonde locks away from her neck and left a soft kiss.

"Wow, Mar."

"Thanks, Sam. You look very handsome."

Dani came out from the kitchen munching on a piece of bread from dinner. "Wow! Both of you look like you belong on the cover of some holiday catalogue. Let me take a picture."

Dani picked up her camera from the mantle and took a few shots of them until Sam warned them that they better get moving. Midnight Mass was one of Dani and Mara's favourite parts of Christmas. Even as children, they had both felt something magical as they held the lit candles with the entire congregation as the priest came down the aisle to place the baby Jesus in his manager. Dani tried to remember the first time she really heard Mara singing 'Oh, Holy Night', but she couldn't quite recall. She just remembered the goose bumps and tears that threatened to spill from her eyes that year and every year since as she listened to her big sister.

The church was packed and Sam noticed that the usual five empty rows behind the secret service was down to one. They were surprised to find CJ sitting on the other side of Abbey.

"CJ responds well to guilt," Abbey whispered with a grin.

 

Mara turned to grab Sam's hand and noticed Leo and Mallory sliding in to the pew on the other side of Jed.(Oh yeah, my favourite person.) Mara smiled warmly at Leo and politely at Mallory, who grinned insincerely back.

"Retract the claws Mara," Sam teased.

"Samuel, bite me," Mara whispered back.

"Am I going to have to separate the two of you?" Jed said underneath his breath.

"No, Sir. Sorry, Sir," Sam responded quickly.

"Moi?" Mara mouthed, then grinned when she succeeded in exasperating Jed.

CJ was glad she had agreed to come to church instead of going by herself Christmas morning, because she was having fun watching the act one of the play going on before her eyes. Mallory kept watching Sam out of the corner of her eyes and CJ was sure she was regretting giving up on so quickly. Mara was looking very smug, which lead her to believe that she had also noticed the side glances as Mara's arm snaked across Sam's back.

CJ was trying very hard not to laugh at Mara being Mara. Her head quickly found it's way to Sam's shoulder. Dani turned to look at CJ, mouthing 'Awww", then 'Bad Mara'. CJ couldn't help herself and let out a tiny little chuckle that earned her an elbow in the ribs from Abbey, who followed it up by reaching over and giving Dani a good pinch on the knee. As Dani rubbed at her knee, she smiled. It was fun having a mother around who cared about more than her own manicure.

Sam noticed that the congregation all but stopped singing 'O, Holy Night' when Mara's voice filtered through the church. Her eyes were closed and she wasn't singing particularly loud but her beautiful voice and her obvious love for the hymn was awe inspiring. He happened to glance over at Jed and noticed a tiny tear trickling down his face. Sam was sorry he was looking around instead of focussing solely on Mara's voice and managed to focus for the last few lines. Mara opened her eyes and turned to her right to look at Dani.

"Merry Christmas, Sis. I love ya," she whispered.

"I love ya too, Mar. Merry Christmas," Dani whispered back.

The priest wished everyone a safe, Christ filled Christmas and ended the mass. Mara was about to ask Abbey a question when she got her answer as Sam leaned over to once again light her candle. Mara and Dani both grinned widely, which baffled Sam.

Abbey knew exactly why the girls were grinning, "Didn't think we had a candle light procession, did you?"

"No, I was starting to think it was just a Montreal thing. I've never gone to Midnight mass with you before."

"'Kay, I'm lost."

"Like that's a surprise, Spanky?" CJ teased.

"Oh then you enlighten me, Claudia Jean. Do you even have a clue?"

"Children now is not the time to fight," Mara said sounding remarkably like both of their Mothers.

"Yes, I will spank both of you if need be," Abbey added with a grin.

"Sam, when people use to live closer to their Parish, there would be a procession down the street the Parish was on and people would bring the lit candle home and place them in the window showing that they'd brought the light of Christ into their home. Now, with people driving, it doesn't happen in that form. Basically, you bring them out of church and extinguish them as you get in to your car. I remember as a child, we would walk back to Grandma's with them."

"Yeah, and Dad always thought I'd burn myself and want me to give my candle to him. Like that was ever going to happen."

"Oh, you were so stubborn, Dani. I was so happy when Dad decided to just drop it and leave you alone. You had him so mad on Christmas morning of all times. Then again, I thought he was being stupid, you were being very careful."

"Dani, can you see why your Dad was worried now?"

"Yeah, he figured being the klutz I am, I'd set fire to myself, but I wasn't stupid. I knew I had to be so careful. Mara, remember that when you are parents. Kids aren't as stupid as they appear."

"Is there something I should know?" Jed asked in his most domineering voice.

"No, Jed. Dani is just making a point."

"Oh, good. Are we going to stand here all night talking or can I get some sleep. Santa won't visit me if I don't go to bed."

"Jed, what makes you think Santa has anything for you - period?"

"I married you, Sweet Knees. That qualifies me for lifetime nice points," Jed shot back.

"'And how was your Christmas Zoey?' Oh, great! My parents fought after Midnight Mass over Santa," Zoey muttered to herself as she walked around her parents to get up the aisle.

"We've been told."

"Yes, Jed. I believe we have."

"Mr. President, are you ready?" The agent asked.

"Yeah, we're done here. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night. I'll see you later."

"So Mara, why were you surprised?" Sam asked as the left the church.

"Most of the time, you light them for the Priest's procession and give them back. That's what they did in Toronto and in Ottawa until I asked and had my Pastor change it for me. I'll have to ask Abbey in the morning if this was a request or if this Parish always did it."

"Ah. So what time are we expected in the residence?"

"Eleven. I promised Abbey we'd only open one gift each when we get home and save everything else for when we arrive."

"We can open a gift?"

"Yeah, that's the Whitford tradition. Of course, you can watch Dani and I if it's against your tradition."

"No, I give the Whitford tradition my full support. Dani, stop gabbing! You can talk to Ceeg later. I want to open a gift."

CJ walked over to the car with her death glare on and simply shook her head. "She really has worn off on you, Spanky. Merry Christmas, mi compadre."

"Merry Christmas, Ceeg," Sam gave her a long hug.

"See ya in about 14 hours, Ceeg. Merry Christmas, Sweetie."

CJ hugged her friend, "I'm glad you're here Mara, and ditto."

"I'm going home without you two if you don't get in here now," Dani yelled.

"Who invited her again?" Sam teased.

"She invited herself remember?" Mara laughed.

"Yeah, interrupting couch-sex I hear," CJ tossed out, then quickly made her way to her car.

"To think we bought Ceeg cool gifts."

"Face it Mara, I've got a thing for evil women."

"Come on Sam, before I leave you here."

**********************************

Sam was too wired to sleep, so he spent most of the night watching Mara instead. The observation turned out to be useful. He finally figured out how he sometimes ended up with Ted Z. Bear, who Mara always called Tedzy. She would turn in her sleep, towards him, resting Tedzy on his chest until she got settled, but would turn back to her original position instead. Tedzy would be stranded on him so he ended up hugging the bear instead of Mara. He dozed off for a few hours but was wide awake again at seven. He carefully slid out of bed and met Killer in the hall.

"Hey Fuzzy, you want food?"

Sam was met with the same response he got every morning: a resounding show of 'you're darn tooting' in the form of Killer tearing down the stairs to go wait in front of his food cupboard. The quite house felt almost magically to Sam. They had left the lights on the garland that winded down the stairs and over the mantle piece on and the sunlight streaming in from the bay window turned all of Mara's crystal snowflake ornaments into prisms of light. Sam feed Killer first then sat down at the breakfast bar to drink a cup of coffee. He hated to admit it and would never tell Mara, but he treasured the fifteen minutes he'd have all to himself every morning to just sip his coffee and pet Killer with his foot while he read the paper. Mara's penchant for sleeping in was a great bonus in his eyes. He was sure she'd quickly get over the fact that he was going to wake her up a hour early than she requested.

A little after eight Sam heard footsteps and poked his head out of the study as Dani was passing and scared the daylights out of her.

"Sam! Are you insane? You don't do that to people, you freak!" she whispered loudly before whacking him in the arm

"Sorry, I didn't think you'd be right at the door. Why do you and your kind insist on whacking me?"

"My kind? I will assume that you mean the 'Sisterhood', since last time I checked, I was neither flora nor fauna. We hit you Sam, cause it's fun."

"Thanks Dani. I love you too," he replied sarcastically, causing Dani to laugh.

"I don't know Sam, it's a knee jerk reaction. Actually, you should be grateful that we don't use our knees when you are being a jerk."

"You know, I could handle the Whitford girls with less wit. There's a relatively fresh pot of coffee in the kitchen."

"You saved me some? How sweet!"

"Yeah." (Now I don't have to make a second pot for you.)

"Have you looked outside yet?"

"No."

"I think you should so you can brace yourself."

Sam looked outside and noticed a thin blanket of snow on the ground and it was still lightly snowing . He smiled thinking about how thrilled Mara would be and if he was lucky, she'd be so happy she'd fail to look at the time.

"It's going to be a hyper Mara day. Hey, can I ask you a favour?"

"Sure."

"Since I don't know where to find your Dad, would you stand in for him?"

"Sam, it's early and I haven't had that coffee yet, so could you spell it out for me 's'il vous plait'?"

"Miss Whitford, I love your sister with all my heart and I promise she'll always come first in my life...."

"Oh my God! This is so Sweet! Yes, Sam! Yes, you have my permission to ask Mara to marry you!"

Dani opened her arms and gave Sam a long hug, telling him that she adored him and couldn't think of anyone else she'd ever want to be her brother in- law.

"So, can I see the ring and when do you plan on doing this?"

"After Mara sees it first and in the White House. It's so beautiful in there with all the Christmas decorations. (Tiny fib, she'll forgive me.) Actually, the plan is to get Mara over there forty minutes or so early. I'm going to come up with some excuse and I need you to say 'I'll see you guys in the residence.' You can't say a word to anyone Dani, not even Abbey. I want the decision to spread the word to be Mara's. Can you pretend to be clueless?"

"My darling Sis would say 'I don't have to pretend, I am,' but yes, I will give a performance worthy of an Oscar. You really think she won't shout it from the mountain tops?"

"Dani, I don't need to tell you what a strange bird Mara is. You think she's going to do one thing and she does something totally different. I can sort of see her wanting to just celebrate Christmas today, so we aren't the focus and tell everyone tomorrow. Which probably means she'll walk in to the residence flashing her ring humming 'Going to the Chapel' Or she could be her evil self and not even give me an answer for all I know."

Dani laughed, "No Sam, of this I am certain: had you not asked her to marry you by this time next year, she'd get down on her knee and ask you. Sam, if you ever had a doubt, let me assure you Mara loves you more than life itself."

"Aww, thanks Dani. You know for a pain in the ass, you wormed your way into my heart very fast."

"That's me, Danielle 'The Worm' Whitford," she laughed. "'Kay, I'm going for that coffee, you want breakfast?"

"Give me a few minutes and I'll be downstairs to help you."

"'Kay."

After breakfast was finished, Sam sent Killer to go wake up Mara first. He slowly ascended the stairs and chuckled when Mara told Killer to make like a cat and scat. Killer left the room and gave Sam a look.

"Treats, Killer!"

The cat took off down the stairs to collect his reward while Sam faced a none to pleased Mara.

"Merry Christmas, Baby."

"Bah Humbug, Sam. It's like too early to be merry."

"Mara, get your lazy butt out of bed and go look outside the window?"

"This better be good, Sammy, or you're a dead man," Mara muttered as she climbed out of bed..

Mara's mood improved when she saw the snow that stayed on the ground over night and the soft big flakes that were still floating down.

"You gave me my White Christmas, Sam! Could you be any more perfect?"

"Excuse me? Would you wait until I found a tape recorder and then repeat that, Miss. Whitford?"

"In your dreams, Sammy," Mara laughed while she walked over to kiss him.

"Come on, breakfast is waiting on you and then we've got to move it."

"Sam, we have to be there at eleven, not ten."

"I thought you wanted to see my gift from Donna?"

"Oh yeah. 'Kay, I'll cooperate for the moment."

With a little prodding, Sam had Mara out the door at five minutes past ten. Dani excused herself to bring Killer in to the residence, so he wouldn't hide on them, leaving Sam and Mara to wander through the darkened empty halls of the West Wing. Mara was so busy looking around and thinking about how she'd never seen the West Wing so quite that she didn't even noticed Sam hustle in front of her. She was about to step in to his office when she wondered how he beat her in.

"Freeze, Mara!"

"Huh?"

"Don't take another step."

"Oh God, Sam. Whatever it is, get it off me now!"

Sam had to laugh and it totally relaxed him. "Mara, I tossed the ten page speech and grand gesture. The truth is that I'm simply in love with you. Almost three months ago, you stood where you are now and changed my life for the better, forever." Sam dropped down to one knee in his barely lit office. "Mara will you...."

"Yes! Yes, Sam. I'll marry you."

"You couldn't let me finish could you?" Sam teased as he committed to memory the look on her face as he proposed and she answered. "Give me your hand, Brat."

Mara presented her left hand to him as the tears started to roll down her face. She felt him slip a cool ring on her finger, but she couldn't see it through her blurry eyes. Sam stood up and gently kissed the tears away from her eyes before he hit the light switch.

Mara looked down and she couldn't believe her eyes. A large oval tanzanite ring set in platinum with two smaller oval diamonds flanking each side shined up at her. The colour of the Tanzanite was exquisite and very rare in a gem just over two karats.

"Oh Sam, it's beyond perfect, but how on earth..."

Sam smiled. "Did I afford it?" he asked, finishing her sentence before continuing. "Look at the tanzanite again, Mar."

Mara examined her ring again. "Wow! It looks so much like a stone I brought back from Tanzania a few years ago."

"Actually it is your stone. I had Cheryl bring it to me awhile ago. I had it set. "

"Sam how did you.... You weren't asleep when I was talking to Donna at the Atlantis were you?" Mara asked, touched beyond belief that Sam would pay attention to a conversation about jewelry, let alone go about making her wish come true.

"I heard you telling Donna that you collected Tanzanites because you had designed a necklace and you needed stones for it. You said that this stone was too big, but it was so perfect that you just had to buy it. You told her it was too special to just do anything with it and that you kind of wished you could come out and say 'use this for my engagement ring'."

"Oh, Sam! Try to comprehend how full my heart is with love for you right now and multiply it by infinity. You know me so well. I always pictured you'd ask me to marry you in a room filled with candle light and soft music. I imagined the long intricate speech you'd create for me. Instead, you bring me to the very place where my life truly started to have meaning. I'm still standing in the spot where our eyes first met. I hope you only figuratively tossed the speech, cause I'd love to read it. Sam, I wouldn't trade this moment for all the money in the world. It was and is so perfect, Sam. I'm so lucky that you understand that it's the thought that counts most with me. "

"Mara, if I was Josh, I'd take all the credit for this, but the truth is that you gave me the idea and inspired me. Your love for me has never come with any strings and there were no demands, no expectations. You didn't want to change me or use me as a social ladder, you just loved me and all you wanted in return was my love. You love me in such a pure, genuine way that not a day goes by that I don't wonder how on earth I deserve to be loved like this. I want you to know that I love you with every fiber of my being and that I will never leave you."

"Oh, Sam. I thought I found the perfect Christmas gift for you, but I was wrong. Merry Christmas, Sam. I love you."

Mara took off both of her heels and dropped one to the ground. She smiled at Sam and let the other shoe slowly drop to the ground. "No more what ifs, Sam."

"After saying yes, that's the best present you could ever give me, Mar. Come here."

She took a few steps in her stocking feet before wrapping her arms around Sam and engaging him in a long sultry kiss that took on a life of it's own.

"If I wasn't convinced that Jed or Abbey would walk in on us, Sam....."

He chuckled. "Mara, I haven't tried it, but I don't think making love on my desk would be too comfortable. Now, the Lincoln Bedroom on the other hand...."

Mara dissolved into a fit of giggles remembering the horror-stricken look on his face the last time she made the same suggestion. She managed to stop laughing and sat down on the corner of his desk. She asked to see Donna's present and flipped through it quickly, agreeing that it was an amazing and very thoughtful gift.

"So how do you want to walk into the residence?"

"How about backwards? "She teased. "Why don't we wait until all the gifts have been opened and then I'll start getting very obvious, until someone says something."

"Fine with me. In lieu of your Dad's presence, I asked Dani for your hand in marriage, but just like you, the Brat wouldn't' let me finish my sentence before she said yes."

"Well, we are related you know."

"No kidding, Einstein. Your telling me Abbey isn't going to notice?"

"Oh, she'll notice, but she won't say anything until we do. She'll be able to tell the second we walk in the room from our faces alone, Sam. Remember when we were talking at my welcoming party?"

"Yeah."

"Well, she make a crack about when was I going to marry you then. I asked her if she could officially let me live in sin with you for a night first."

"I guess we better get in there before they organize a search party."

"I think you're right." Mara leaned over and gave him a soft kiss.

"What was that for?"

"For including Dani. She's been more pensive than usual this visit and I think the fact that she hasn't met her Prince Charming yet is bugging her. Including her in our relationship means a lot to us both."

"No need to thank me, Mar, I truly adore your sister. She's a pain in the ass, but that seems to be my fatal flaw."

"Are you implying that I'm.... Aww in the spirit of Christmas, and considering that you just made me the happiest person alive, I'll let that dig slid."

"You're letting me off? 'Kay pod person, where is the real Mara?" Sam teased.

"Oh, you better just start running, Samuel," Mara threatened before an evil grin spread across her face that made Sam take off like a shot.

Mara chased after him, sliding along the West Wing halls in her stocking feet until she slammed into him just as Jed rounded the corner, looking for them.

"What in tarnation are you two juvenile delinquents doing?" Jed asked.

"The Secret Service. Just who I need. She's trying to hurt me," Sam replied, giving Mara a 'take that' look.

"I'll do more than just hurt you, Samuel. Just you wait until we get home, Mister," Mara threatened.

"Mara, I assume you came in here with shoes? Go get them, you raving lunatic, and get back here pronto!"

"Sam, go get them."

"They are your shoes, you go get them."

"Chris, let me see your gun for just a second," Jed threatened, speaking to the agent behind him.

"All right, I'm going. Can't a girl have a little fun?"

"Not in this White House when I'm waiting to open my gifts."

Mara took off running, then sliding back down the halls, picked up her shoes and went sliding back to Jed. He rolled his eyes and waited for her to put on her shoes before standing behind her and pushing her along to the residence. As expected, Abbey took one look at Mara and Sam and looked down to Mara's left hand and back up again. She smiled and gave them both a wink. Mara hadn't seen Liz or Annie in a few years and couldn't believe how grown up Annie was starting to look.

Gifts were opened, laughter was shared and everyone was immensely pleased with their gifts. Mara was already munching on the large glass jar of 'Good and Plenty' Sam gave her and waiting for him to open her final gift. Sam opened the box and found a sailboat. He was just about to ask why when he noticed a blue card at the bottom of the box. He read the card and his jaw dropped.

"What is it, Sam?" Zoey asked.

"Mara, I love you to pieces, but this is too much. Thank you."

"Sam, this is a tiny token compared to how much I love you. And you're welcome."

"Damn it, WHAT IS IT?" an exasperated Zoey asked.

"I get to pick out any sailboat my heart desires. Mar, this is just too cool."

"I better get an invite or fifty to go out on her," Zoey demanded.

"I think that can be arranged," Sam said tossing a ball of torn wrapping paper at her.

The last gift was opened and Dani realized that one was missing. Mara's gift had two parts and she had only opened one of them. Mara and Sam were sitting side by side against the couch flipping through the photo albums Abbey had given Mara. Dani had noticed the ring as soon as Mara walked in and thought it was breath taking.

"Well, now that we have thoroughly given in to the commercialization of Christmas, I'd like to take this time to go around the room and have everyone share a memory or thought. "

"Actually Jed, could we wait for half an hour? I forgot the second part of Mara's gift and I want her to have it," Dani asked.

"Thanks, Dani but I think I can wait until later on. We are all here now, so let's not break the party up before it really gets started."

"Then go ahead. I'll be back in time to share my memory. Jed will probably still be talking."

Dani's comment got a big round of laughter and a scowl proceeded by a playful swat from Jed.

Mara got up and pulled Dani aside. "Dani, save it for later. I'm bursting at the seams to share my news as it is."

"All the more reason I want you to have your gift first. I won't be gone for long."

"Dani, seriously don't go. You can ask CJ to swing by and get it on her way here."

"Mara, I'm going. I'll be back in twenty minutes. I'll bring Sam with me. He'll stop me from wasting a second."

"Dani! I'm not exactly in the mood to share Sam, today of all days."

Sam had just come up behind the sisters and overheard Mara. "Aww, come on, Mar. You will have me for a lifetime. I think you can spare me for twenty minutes. Actually Dani, tell me what I'm agreeing to first."

"I left Mara's gift at the house and I'm going back to get it."

"Then let's go right now." Sam gave Mara a kiss on the cheek. "We'll be back before you can finish a coffee and scone."

"Fine," Mara said in her I'm not happy tone.

"Come on Mar, if you force her to stay she'll be mad at you all day. It's just easier to give in to her. Do you really want to listen to the 'I'm a responsible adult speech' today?"

"Have I mentioned how I hate it when you are right?"

"Considering you rarely admit I'm right."

Mara gave Sam a kiss to silence him and took a swipe at his butt when he turned around. She went over to Abbey to grumble about why her sister never listened to her. The snow was still lightly falling as they climbed in to Mara's limo that brought them back to the Mansion. Sam filled Dani in on the proposal and was going to wait in the car until he figured he may as well go to the bathroom.

*******************************

He reached down to change the radio station and increased his speed a bit. The snow was falling, but the roads didn't seem too slippery. He had an hour to kill before picking up his daughter from his ex-wife's house, so he decided to drive along the wealthiest section of Georgetown. It was common knowledge that Ambassadors and other members of Washington's High Society lived on the quite tree lined streets behind iron gates. He'd noticed a guard booth in front of one house, just inside the gates and decided to take a second look.He never imaged how much his curiosity would cost.

*******************************

Sam locked the door and brought some food to Jack who was unlucky enough to have to spend his Christmas guarding the house instead of spending it with his family. After wishing Jack a Merry Christmas for a second time, Sam picked up his pace to catch up with Dani who had just step down on to the street .The limo was waiting for them across the street having circled the block to be in a better position to just drive back to the White House. A squeal of brakes caught Sam's attention as he noticed a car careening out of control, heading straight for Dani. He jumped forward to push her out of the way, but his foot slipped on the snow and sent him forward just a bit. The car had almost stopped when it broadsided him.

The car bumper connected with his left leg sending him down and as fast as Dani tried to move to cushion his fall, his head came crashing down on the curb. Dani screamed for Jack to call 911 and quickly removed her coat to try to stop the rush of blood pouring from Sam's head. All of her training and common sense told her you shouldn't move a person with a head injury, but she knew that as much as head wounds tend to bleed, way too much blood was coming out of the wound. She knew Mara would rather have her take the risk of moving his head then letting him bleed to death on the street. She carefully lifted his head and saw the large gash and quickly applied as much pressure as she could. Jack had rushed out from his post to see if he could do anything and Dani had him keep the pressure on his head while she quickly checked his vitals. His pulse was slow, but present. He was unresponsive and didn't seem to be reacting to pain, which scared the hell out of her. His ankle was broken and lay in a horrible position.

"Where the hell is the Ambulance, Jack?" Dani yelled, wondering how on earth she could call Mara and tell her what was wrong.

Her beige cashmere sweater was covered in Sam's crimson blood and the sight made her want to curl up in a corner and cry, but she couldn't let Sam down. She had checked his breathing which was labored, leading her to surmise that he could have a punctured lung. The ambulance arrived and Dani gave them the low down before they forced her to the sidewalk so they could work on Sam and check on her. She pushed the attendant away telling him she was fine and sent him to look at the driver who was suffering from shock. She found her purse and Mara's gift underneath a parked car and pulled out her cell phone. She waited for what seemed like an eternity for Mara to pick up her cell phone.

"Merry Christmas."

"Mara."

"Dani, where are you? You better be pulling up to the gate."

"Oh, God I wish I was. "

"What?" Mara had the worst feeling in the pit of her stomach and sunk down to the ground clutching, her phone. (Why isn't Sam talking to me? Why can't I hear him in the background?)

"Mara... I don't know... There's been an accident. I'm so sorry. Sam... Sam was hit by a car. They're taking him to G.W."

"Oh, God! NO! Dani, how bad is it?"

"He's alive, Mara, but it... I'm not going to lie to you. It doesn't look good. His ankle is busted, his ribs might have punctured his lung and... and he has a massive head trauma," Dani cited, her medical side taking over somewhat.

Mara heard 'massive head trauma' and pitched her cell phone at the wall, immediately gaining everyone's attention. One look at Mara's pale tortured face told everyone something horrible had happened. Abbey jumped over boxes to get over to her as she crumbled into her arms.

"Mara, what is it?" Abbey asked gently, worried that the blank look on her face was a sign of shock.

"It's Sam..."

Chapter 26

 

 

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