Chapter IV DECEMBER 17, 2000, PROJECT QUANTUM LEAP, STALLIONS GATE, NM *What a day,* Sammie Jo thought, walking along the deserted corridors in the search of food. Verbena and Donna had finally returned their call and the senior staff held a meeting to discuss the leap. Ziggy put them on the speaker phone. Donna wasn't happy about the Enhancer. Al eventually persuaded her to allow it, with the promise that Tina would remove the program after the leap. The question on everyone's mind was how much of the future, if any at all, should Elizabeth be told. Al, concerned with the well-being of his wife, wanted Verbena's opinion. The psychiatrist was surprised. She had expected to find out that Al had barged right in and told her everything, including showing off christening pictures of Theresa and Jack, Jr. Reassured that Elizabeth would learn the truth by the end of the week, Verbena saw no harm in telling her sooner. Unless there was an emergency requiring Al's presence in the Waiting Room, Verbena requested that Al refrain from entering it until she returned to the project. They discussed the reason for the leap. There were several possibilities at Balboa alone and given Sam's medical background, he might be able to help on that front. Beth threw in a few more possibilities from the classes and the nursing home. Ziggy was still processing data, so nothing firm was decided. The meeting then turned to Sam and the problems he might encounter as Beth. Al mentioned to Beeks about the possibility of Sam needing her counsel. The meeting broke up after that. Donna and Verbena informed them they would return before noon the following day. Tina and Gushie returned the Control Room, and the Calaviccis presumably went back to their own quarters since Sam wasn't expecting Al anyway. Sammie Jo returned, reluctantly, to her job of salvaging parts. She had inquired after Bertie, and was told by Ziggy that she did not wish to be disturbed. It was a blessing, on this leap anyway, that Bertie preferred to distance herself from leaping. Heaven only knows what she would say if she knew the identity of the visitor. Now, hours later, Sammie Jo had quit for the night and was looking for something to eat. The cafeteria had a few more customers than normal, this late at night. All of them were computer technicians and either worked for Tina or Gushie. The around-the-clock upkeep of Ziggy made for unusual eating times. With feet up on a chair, Paul Ryder sat at one of the tables, leafing through a cookbook. He was wearing a T-shirt, jeans, and one of those long barbecue-type aprons. In all the years she had known him, Sammie Jo had rarely seen him in anything other than a three-piece suit or a shirt and a tie. Spread out on the table in front of him were different types of dishes, all smelling wonderful. The kitchen looked like a battle zone and there was something still in the oven. "Is that edible?" she asked, hopefully. He smiled at her. "Yes, Dr. Fuller." Sammie Jo smiled back. She loved the sound of his voice. Paul was from the British Isle, and though he spent nearly his entire life in America, he hadn't lost his accent. Sammie Jo grabbed a clean dish and attacked a pan of lasagna. "Not as good as the Admiral's, I'll admit," Paul said, putting aside the cookbook and making idle conversation for the benefit of her co-workers, "but even he liked it. So did Dr. Calavicci." "What's in the oven?" she asked, helping herself to a vegetable dish. "Brownies." "You took Bertie literally, didn't you?" Paul shrugged. "It helps pass the time." It was difficult to keep up the seemingly casual and innocent conversation. No one, not even the perpetually nosey computer, knew about Sammie Jo and Paul. Though Sammie Jo was first introduced to Paul thirteen years previously, when she came to work on Project Star Bright, they seldom spoke to each other. Then, this past spring, when the Calavicci's journeyed back East to visit their newly born great-nephew, Sammie Jo tagged along. She was supposed to go visit her mother and stepfather, but as a surprise to her mother, her stepfather was taking her on a cruise. Taking the opportunity of his free time between leaps, Al gathered up his family and the Beckett clan at Evermore Castle. It was something they hadn't done in awhile. Thelma, Katie and her family flew in from Hawaii. Tom, Colleen and all their children were able to make the trip as well. Even Donna joined them. It was a family reunion, in a very real sense, as the two families had adopted each other a long time ago. They welcomed Sammie Jo into their little fold and made her feel like one of them. There was a practical side to the gathering. The heiresses had finally decided to turn the entire estate into a resort, complete with golf course, swimming pools, riding stables, and tennis courts. They were against selling the land to be turned into housing developments. Sammie Jo was not really interested in all that. She wasn't up to playing tourist in DC with Thelma and the Bonnicks, and she even declined an invitation to attend commencement at the Naval Academy with the others. Ordinarily, Sammie Jo and Bertie would have done something together, but Bertie was rapped up in plans and cost estimates and didn't leave the estate. Sammie Jo found herself, more often than not, in the company of Bertie's bodyguard. After several afternoons of talking about their lives and other insignificant things, Paul did something that changed her life. Without warning, he kissed her. She could still remember what she felt like. She was breathless, dizzy, and warm. Sammie Jo had *never* been kissed like that before. *"I love you, Sammie Jo. I fell in love with you the day we met," Paul confessed.* Bertie had once confided in Sammie Jo that she suspected that Paul was in love with someone, though she hadn't a clue as to whom it might be. She found what appeared to be a love poem on the floor of the Lear by his seat, written in his hand. Touched, and perhaps a little embarrassed, Bertie had tucked it back in the book he had been reading before he dozed off. Throughout the remainder of that visit, they spent most of their waking hours in each others company. Nobody noticed and, for a bit of adventure and mystery, both decided *not* to say anything to anyone else. It gave the whole thing an added air of excitement. Eventually, Sammie Jo had to return to the project, so they enlisted the aid of Claudine. She maintained Bertie's calendar and was able to help Paul and Sammie Jo meet privately several more times without arousing suspicion. She even arranged, and witnessed, their secret marriage at Thanksgiving. Sammie Jo smiled at the memory of Al innocently asking her if she had enjoyed her trip. How she managed to keep from blushing was beyond her. Al never suspected a thing, and he was usually good at discovering things like that. With Claudine leaving Bertie's service, Sammie Jo and Paul had agreed that it was time to tell people. Still, it had been fun, fooling everyone. Her thoughts were interrupted when she realized that Paul's grey eyes were on her. She missed him terribly these last few weeks, and she could tell by the look in his eyes that he felt the same way. The oven timer went off, distracting Paul's attention and breaking the moment. A good thing too. He went to check on his brownies, reluctantly. Some Marines, probably just getting off their shift and having heard about the rare feast whipped up by Paul, came to the table and started digging in. The cafeteria became noisy as they talked about the girls they met in Albuquerque, the latest sports scores, and what they would be doing over the holidays. *So much for peace and quiet,* Sammie Jo thought, resuming her meal. "Hey, Doc?" one of the Marines asked her, as he piled on food. "What's the latest word on the Admiral's daughters? Are they coming?" Several of his buddies also wanted to know. "You don't hold you lives in very high value, do you?" she asked them, amused. "Aw, we're Marines. We can handle the Admiral," he boasted. His buddies laughed. "I wasn't referring to the Admiral." Al, of course, would undoubtedly keep an eye on his daughters during the project's holiday party, but Al really had nothing to worry about. They could take care of themselves. They were great believers in self-defense training. Paul came up beside her with the brownies. "Or to Mr. Ryder here." The Marine decided that he had exhausted the conversation possibilities and retreated to another table. "Let's start cleaning up," Paul suggested. There were a few protests from the Marines as they started putting the leftovers in plastic containers. "I'm sure you know how to use a microwave," Sammie Jo pointed out. She started on loading the dishwasher. Paul came up close and whispered in her ear, "Meet me in my quarters, once you're finished here." She gave him a brief nod and he disappeared. It was risky, meeting here on the project like that. Ziggy would know and if it suited her, she *might* keep the information to herself. Right now, Sammie Jo didn't really care about that. With the last of the cookware loaded, Sammie Jo casually wiped the counters and then reminded the remaining diners that it was their responsibility to clean up after themselves. Ziggy must have called the elevator because one was standing, open, waiting for her. Without hesitation, she pushed Level 2: guest quarters. Surprisingly, Ziggy made no comment. Sammie Jo smiled as the doors closed.