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Later, when everyone else was settled in their rooms, Sara Will and Fate found themselves still puttering about downstairs. Fate jabbed at the hot cinders with the poker and then put the fire screen back in place. Sara scooped up crumbs from the rug and brushed them into an ashtray. She started to unplug the tree lights but Fate stopped her.

"Let's just sit here awhile," he said, "and enjoy the quiet."

A coal popped behind the screen, sending up a little spray of orange light while Sara settled herself on the sofa. "Aren't you tired?" she asked as he sat down next to her.

"Wound like a top," Fate said, "but I never just get tired. I get exhausted, debilitated, past modern medicine."

"You do exaggerate." Sara was smiling at the Christmas tree.

"Just one of the many things about me you'll have to learn to love," Fate said with a soft chuckle in his voice. He was looking at the tree too. "Who would have thought this would happen?" He seemed to be speaking to the angel perched on top. She had a plastic expression and scraggly blond hair, incredibly cheap.

"Where did that angel come from?" he asked.

"It was a baragain," Sara Will laughed.

"Somebody gave it to you?"

"Paid me to take it."

"Why, Sara, you actually made a joke." He moved closer on the sofa but didn't try to touch her.

"And you thought I couldn't."

"I thought you wouldn't. But you do surprise me. You're a complicated woman, Sara Will. Every day I learn something new about you."

"I feel the same way about Eva," Sara said, not really intending to change the subject. She stretched her legs out toward the fire. "Sometimes I feel like I'm witnessing a birth, I'm actually watching her become a person. It's scary."

"It's wonderful, too. You're wonderful."

"Another exaggeration." Sara could feel herself sinking into the sofa. She'd never felt so relaxed, so near sleep but not in the least bit sleepy. What was the word for it? Safe. That was it. She had never felt so safe.

"I don't think saying you're wonderful is an exaggeration at all." He put his hand on her cheek, gently turning her face toward his.

Sara forced herself to look at him. It took all her strength not to duck her head away from his touch, to rescue herself from whatever folly or joy would come to her next.

"Sara," Fate said, his face almost touching hers, lips almost brushing. "I'm going to kiss you, but I don't think either of us should expect too much from it."

His mouth was painfully soft. The ache of it shot through her, grabbing at nerves that had long ago been anesthetized. She hurt all over from that kiss but she didn't pull away. Instead, she stayed there, unable to resist the ache, not wanting to resist it, even finding courage in it so that in the seconds that passed she gathered more strength than she'd ever known existed and put it to best use. She kissed him back.