The Marker
Shelby Morgen
All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2011 Shelby Morgen

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The asphalt felt slightly sticky with heat under his black oxfords. The air in the administration building was already stuffy, though summer wasn't officially here yet. Sam stood waiting at the front desk while the receptionist called for a junior officer who would escort him back to the operations building.

Brenda, his dispatcher, had asked him out a few weeks ago. A man couldn't help noticing how well Brenda filled out that uniform. She wasn't Hope, but she'd been there, been part of his life, every day for the last fifteen years. If she hadn't given up on him yet, Sam decided, he'd accept. Hell. Maybe he'd ask her. He wasn't getting any younger. Besides, there was that betting pool the squad had going. He wasn't supposed to know about it, but there was little in his barracks that escaped his notice.

"Can I help you, Officer?"

Sam pushed his smoke-colored sunglasses to the top of his head long enough to let his eyes adjust to the relatively dim interior florescent lighting. He looked down -- and down again.

The woman who stood behind the reception desk now had to be less than five feet tall. She stood admiring him with pale blue eyes that were just a little too friendly.

Where had she come from? How had she managed to simply appear right in front of him? He really was losing his edge. "I'm already signed in and stamped," Sam explained. He held out his fist so she could see the ink that looked like a temporary tattoo across the back of his hand.

Her warm appraisal made him uncomfortable, like a piece of meat in a butcher's display case. He always got a sick, guilty feeling in the pit of his stomach when women looked at him that way. He slipped his hand into his pocket, fingering a worn silver chain.

Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee...

He shifted his gaze away from direct contact with the woman at the front desk, studying the pictures on the wall behind her. Anything but meeting the woman's watercolor eyes. Anything not to encourage her.

The pictures held the usual faces. The Governor. The Commissioner of Corrections. The names changed from one institution to another, but the faces stayed pretty much the same. "Sam Callaghan, West Virginia State Police. I'm waiting for --"

Except that one. Sam stopped mid-sentence as his eyes scanned the picture again. Employee of the Month. "Fiona J. Donovan."

The woman blinked twice. "Excuse me?"

He was hardly aware he'd read the name aloud. Sam rallied himself, forcing his breathing back under control, willing his pulse rate back to normal. He turned his most charming smile on the little woman. Her badge said she was a unit manager. Doris White. "I'm waiting for an escort back to Interview, Ms. White, but I'd really like to see Fiona Donovan while I'm here if you could arrange that for me."

Doris studied him for a moment longer, her smile fading. "Fiona's in records, pulling some case files for me. I'll take you back."

Sam nodded curtly, dismissing the woman as if she didn't exist. Because, for him, she didn't exist. His mouth went dry. His chest felt tight, as if there were some great weight pressing on it. He slid his hand back into his pocket. Hail Mary, full of grace...

The hall seemed like the longest walk he'd ever taken. You're just imagining the resemblance. You've been wrong before.

The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women...

Why would she be here? He'd thought to find her in a restaurant, or a shop somewhere or -- or anywhere else. Anything but actually working in law enforcement.

Hope? A caseworker named Fiona Donovan? That can't be Hope. Not here.

Doris waved at a doorway where a sign on the wall said Records. "I'll be around the corner in the copy room if you need me," she offered.

Hope...

His heart was beating so fast it was bound to explode.

Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

He stood staring, drinking in the sight of her, waiting for her to feel his eyes watching, waiting for her to look up, recognize him, call his name.

Control. Get yourself under control. Slow, deep breaths. Can't let her see you falling apart like this.

Her name was different, her hair was shorter, just past shoulder length, but she couldn't change her face -- the face that had haunted his dreams. She looked a little older, naturally, but not so much older. Not as much older as he'd been feeling lately. She'd gained some weight, but only enough to give her curves a fuller, softer line. He'd have recognized her anywhere. His arms ached to hold her. He had to try three times before he could find the voice to speak her name.

"Ms. Donovan?"

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