Disclaimers: None of these characters belong to me, and I am making no money by borrowing them.
When the Hayes family, minus their elder daughter, was safely tucked away in their hotel room, Sam drove Ainsley back to her apartment in near-silence. As they pulled up at her building he finally said, "I think your dad and I might be okay."
Ainsley thought for several seconds before replying, "You might be."
"What do you think?"
She turned to face him in the dark of the car. "It went better than I expected, but I got the feeling he was watching us."
"Watching for what?"
She frowned. "I don't know. I spent half the night trying to figure it out, but I couldn't tell what he was - he was just *watching.*"
He hesitated with his keys still in the ignition. "Can I come in?"
Ainsley sent him a strange look. "Can you come in?"
"Can you come in?" she repeated again. "Sam, we've been practically living together for months. When was the last time you asked if you could come in?"
He blushed in the filtered light from a streetlamp. "I thought, your family is showing up pretty early in the morning, and . . ."
She rolled her eyes, knowing he probably couldn't see her. "They're not showing up that early. Come on."
When they had made their way up to her apartment, dropped briefcases by the door, shed jackets, shoes, and Ainsley's stockings, and settled themselves comfortably on her couch, Sam asked carefully, "What do you think your mother thought?"
"Of you?" Ainsley asked, stretching her legs out onto the coffee table.
"No, of the Washington Monument."
"Sarcasm doesn't become you." Shifting against his side, she took his nearest hand in hers and laced their fingers together. "I don't - I'm not sure what she was looking for."
"You must have some idea," he pressed.
"Well," she said thoughtfully, "she can't have had any argument with your looks. Good suit, by the way."
"You picked it out this morning."
"I know." She grinned and stretched up to press a tiny kiss to the underside of his jaw. "So we know that wasn't a problem - although she didn't much care for mine."
"I like you in navy blue," he commented almost petulantly, tracing a finger over the hem of her skirt.
"So does she; it was the cut she didn't like."
"Too power-suit. She thought it needed to be 'softer.'"
He frowned. "I'm not sure what that means."
"Neither am I."
She craned her neck back up at him. "So, what?"
"You talked to her for a half hour and all she said was that your suit needed to be softer?"
"She thought you were too handsome for strict reality, if you're fishing for compliments."
His brow wrinkled thoughtfully and his hand tightened on hers. "Is that a compliment?"
"I'm not sure. She may have been implying that you've had some work done."
Ainsley couldn't help laughing - he looked so hilariously pale. "I doubt it. Face it, you're gorgeous."
He sat back against her, grinning smugly. "Well, I can handle that."
Still shaking her head, she added, "She was impressed by the way you speak, I think, and your manners. I think she expected you to be, well . . ."
"Possibly, yeah. The suit helped, there." She frowned thoughtfully again. "Although, Josh can be polite when he tries. And he went to Harvard and Yale - I wonder if she'd prefer him."
"You're teasing me, right?" Sam asked, sounding just the slightest bit tense. "Is that what this is? Cruel, unmerciful teasing?"
"Yes," she replied comfortably.
"You're an evil, evil woman."
Ainsley shifted around again so that she could sit up away from him and look him in the face. "Sam, you know I was kidding, right?"
"Sure," he said, flashing her a reassuring smile that didn't quite reach his eyes.
"Sam," she drawled, caught aback by his insecurity. She raised herself up on her knees on the couch and took his face between her hands. "You have absolutely nothing to worry about. I love you and I was proud to introduce you to my family - and my picky mother thought you were a perfect gentleman."
He perked up noticeably, making her smile again at just how cute he could be. "Really?"
"Really," she confirmed, still caressing the sides of his face.
His hands lifted to her shoulders and slid around to the back of her neck. "I love you, too."
"I know," she grinned. He pulled her close for a long kiss, then settled her in his lap. "Are you staying?" she asked while her fingers trailed up and down the buttons of his shirt.
"If you think it's all right."
"It's fine." She resettled herself with a little sigh. "You're going into work tomorrow, right? You'll be gone before they get here."
"Should I make sure I'm gone before they get here?" he asked, choosing his words with care.
"That's not something I'm worried about," she replied, capturing one of his hands with her own. "I didn't mean to imply that you should sneak out."
"You didn't, really," he said quietly. "I just . . ."
"I know," she almost whispered back. "I'm sorry, I wish I could be more open about us, but - this is as open as I get. It's not you, it's -"
"It would be the same with anyone, I know," he said, rubbing her stomach gently. "Come on, it's late."
Lying in bed with him, Ainsley couldn't shake the feeling of being in high school again and doing something bad that she knew she was going to get caught doing. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, reaching for the safe feeling she usually had in Sam's arms, but this time it wouldn't come. She was too worried about something going wrong - him answering her phone, or oversleeping and getting off to work late - or even Nora staking out her apartment overnight. It occurred to her that she probably should have stayed alone tonight with her parents in the city, but on the other hand she had only slept without him five total nights since all this had started - and they had been restless, sleepless nights. She took another deep breath, willing the uneasiness in her stomach to fade as she settled against his warm body and tried to sleep.
She'd known. She'd really, really known that this would happen, and that it would happen in exactly this way. She was standing innocently in her kitchen, making coffee in her old jeans and a t-shirt, while he showered before dressing for work. She'd figured on about an hour before her family showed up, plenty of time to shower herself and put on clothes of which her mother would approve.
So naturally the buzzer sounded just as Sam was getting out of the shower.
Her "hello" must have sounded as nervous as she felt, because her father asked, "Ainsley? Everything all right?"
"Yes," she answered hastily. "You're - you're downstairs."
"Yes," he replied archly. "Can we come in, please?"
"Right." Deep breaths. Calm. "Come on up."
She considered for half a second telling them to go away for ten minutes, but decided they would know exactly what was going on. And under those circumstances, it was probably better to face up to the whole thing rather than acting as if she had done something wrong.
She ran for the bathroom, grabbing his shorts and a button shirt as she flew by the bedroom. "They're here, they're coming up now," she said a bit desperately, tossing him the clothes.
He gave her an alarmed look and stopped combing his wet hair. "You said -"
"I wouldn't have -"
"I know," she repeated impatiently. "They'll be here any second."
"Is there something I should do?"
"You should probably be less naked," she replied, waving the boxers at him again. He took them without another word and pulled them on over his still partly wet body. Before running back out to answer the door Ainsley kissed him quickly and said, "It's okay. We're fine." She left him looking not quite sure he believed her.
When she opened the door, after the obligatory round of good mornings and reserved hugs, the first thing she said to her family was, "Sam's here."
"Here, in the apartment?" Nora asked, peering around.
"In the bathroom," Ainsley replied. "He's on his way to work."
"So is he just stopping by on his way to work, or -"
"Can we have this conversation later?" Ainsley asked quietly.
Immediately her mother's face closed up. "Of course," she replied stiffly.
As if on cue, Sam emerged from the bedroom fully dressed and with damp hair perfectly combed. His heart skipped a beat when he saw the entire family, brothers and all, staring at him from the doorway, but he opted to act as normally as possible. "Good morning," he said, praying his voice wasn't shaking. "You're all up early."
When Jeff Hayes found his voice, he said calmly, "Ainsley, do I smell coffee?"
"Yes!" she said, relieved to have a safe question to answer. "It's on in the kitchen; I could -"
"Sam, would you mind showing me the way?" her father interrupted firmly.
Sam paled slightly under his cheerful mask; he made eye contact with Ainsley but she seemed unable to save him. "Sure," he said too quickly. "Right this way."
When the two men were alone in the kitchen, Jeff began to say, "Sam -"
Sam cut him off quickly. "I know this doesn't look good . . ."
"Sam," Jeff repeated firmly, in a tone that brooked no interruption. Sam knew it well; Ainsley had learned from the best. "I'm not going to ask a lot of questions that are going to embarrass us both . . ."
"You want to know she's safe," Sam said, leaning against the counter and mentally calculating the space between them.
"I think I have that right," her father said in what might have been a dangerous way.
Sam inhaled deeply and said, "A while ago - when she first called home and told her mother that we were seeing each other - I asked Ainsley if I was a father's nightmare. I asked her if I would want a daughter of mine to be dating a guy like me."
"A guy like what, exactly?" Jeff asked, his face stormier than his words.
Sam shrugged. "A politician. A Democrat." That didn't make the older man laugh, so he kept going in seriousness. "A little older - not much, but some. I've been engaged before. My parents - don't have a great marriage. I don't - I don't know, I've tried but I can't imagine the kind of guy I *would* want a daughter of mine to be dating."
Jeff leaned back and crossed both arms over his chest. "You've been engaged before?"
Sam caught both meanings of that sentence and instantly realized he'd made a slip. "Well, I've been engaged in the past, I mean. Ainsley and I aren't . . . but she knows, about the first time."
"Did that one end when you slept with the prostitute?"
Sam winced; he should have known that would come up. It only surprised him that her father had waited this long. "No. Let me first - Laurie, that was her name, Laurie was an accident. And no, I'm not really in the habit of picking up strange women in bars. That was an anomaly, believe me. And I didn't know she was a call girl until after, and I never - again. And I don't cheat. My relationship with my fiancee was long over by then. She left me . . . she left me because of my job."
"She didn't want to be married to a guy who worked at the White House?" Jeff asked in some surprise.
Sam shrugged again. "She didn't want to be married to a politician on a government salary. She liked me better when I was a six-hundred-thousand-dollar-a-year lawyer."
Ainsley's father actually winced. "Look, Sam, I didn't mean to - sorry."
"It's okay, I just . . ." He finally stopped putting distance between himself and Ainsley's father and stood his ground. "This - with Ainsley, this is completely different from anything before. I know you didn't expect to find me at her apartment at seven in the morning, but I promise you, I'm not here to take advantage of her or to hurt her in any way. I don't - I don't know how to convince you of that, because if I were in your place I don't know what would convince me. I just - I can only tell you that this," he blushed at having to refer to him and Ainsley having a sexual relationship, "this is because we love each other, and have for some time, and we're very sure about that." He paused, deciding whether to go further, and then opted to push it. After all, her father certainly knew by now that they had sex. "And last night - I mean, I did stay here last night, but actually nothing was going on. I sleep here, and she sleeps at my apartment, lots of nights when noth ing is going on, just because - well, I don't sleep so well without her anymore."
He took a deep breath, and before he could continue Ainsley's father said, "I'm sorry, I need to ask you this."
"Yes?" Sam asked nervously, startled out of his train of thought.
"My daughter dating a speechwriter - how do either of you ever get a word in edgewise?"
It took Sam a full moment to realize he wasn't being attacked, and then he finally replied with a tiny smile, "We interrupt a lot."
"I bet." Jeff rolled his eyes heavenward. "Look, I don't have a lot of illusions about Ainsley and her sister - okay, especially about her sister - where men are concerned. I did expect her to be a bit more discreet about it -"
"We were planning on discreet," Sam said quickly, "but you came earlier than -"
"I expected her to be more discreet," her father continued as if he had not been interrupted, "but I'm impressed by the way you both faced it out." He finally cracked a smile. "I like you, Sam. I think you're a good guy, and second to her joining a convent - for which she'd have to become a Catholic, anyway - I'm glad Ainsley's with you."
"You wouldn't prefer a nice Republican boy?" Sam asked with a weak smile.
"You sound like my mother," Jeff growled. "Don't you have to go to work today?"
"Yes, sir," he replied hastily. "I should . . ."
"Get going," Jeff commanded not unkindly.
Back out in the living room, Sam found Ainsley and her mother and brothers seated somewhat anxiously in a circle (Ainsley, her mother, and Ryan seemed anxious; Patrick looked a cross between forbidding and bored). He gave her what he hoped was a reassuring look as he grabbed his briefcase from the floor and said, "I'm heading out - I'll see you all later tonight?"
"Yes," Ainsley replied distractedly. Her eye had caught her father's and she read something like approval there, under the bittersweet look of loss. Her brow furrowed as she tried to interpret this, but there wasn't time to intellectualize right now. She stood as Sam bent to kiss her, and felt her family's eyes as his lips grazed hers and their arms clasped each other briefly. Sam whispered, "I love you," so softly that no one else could have heard it, and then he was gone. It occurred to her, the way random thoughts usually do, that she was lucky to have a relationship where they said the words so often and always with so much meaning. A little smile played at the corners of her mouth and she faced the family gauntlet with renewed bravery.