valentine's invitational graphic

Disclaimers: None, except for the mush. Definitely I am disclaiming the mush. That's all there is here - mush, mush, mush. It was enough to give me hives. Benedryl is my good friend. < g >

Author's Notes: All mistakes are solely the responsibility of my two remaining braincells Pink & Fluffy - my beta readers are still on hiatus. This is just a bit of something that occurred to me that happened to work with the Academy Valentine's Special. Thanks to Steph for letting me play again.


Twenty-Four Hour Valentine

By D

Midnight - February 14th

Ring, ring... ring, ri.... "O'Hanlyn-Reid residence."

"Hi, sweetheart. Whatcha doing?"

"Talking to you," Mackenzie answered with a smile as she removed her glasses, then rubbed her eyes. "Making some special plans for us today."

"Oh really?" Ryan leaned back in her chair and grimaced at the taste of cold, stale coffee. She set the cup down and ran a hand through her hair.

"Uh huh. I have a really extraordinary day planned for us."

"I have a few surprises for you as well, love."

"Do you now? Would coming home soon be one of them?"

Ryan looked at her watch. "I'm trying, love. I'd like an early start to our day together."

"Well, there's a bottle of wine chilling in the fridge, a fire in the hearth, and a nest of pillows in front of it with me in the middle. We're just waiting on you."

Mackenzie smiled at the tremor she could hear in Ryan's voice. "I'm on my way home, babe. Chris will just have to wait for his reports. I'll see you in a bit."

"Drive safely, my love."

1:00 AM

Ryan drove into the garage and shut off her car with a soundless sigh. It had taken her longer to get home than she'd expected. There had been a road construction accident, and their 'minor detour' coupled with her planned stop had cost her valuable time. She'd tried to call Mackenzie, but all that had picked up was the answering machine. So she took great pains to be quiet as she keyed in the alarm, unlocked door and let herself into the house.

Ryan could see the dim light of the fireplace reflected down the hall and it brought a smile to her face. She decided a quick shower was in order after a twelve-plus hour shift. She figured Mackenzie would appreciate the gesture far more than she minded waiting a few extra minutes.

It didn't take long and Ryan felt infinitely better as she slipped into the silk shorts pajamas Mackenzie had given her for their last anniversary. Memories of that occasion brought a smile to her face and she was still smiling when she detoured to the kitchen to pick up the wine and the single red rose she'd purchased on her way home.

There was the sound of soft jazz in the room when Ryan stepped in, and she hummed along. She came around the end of the couch and smiled at the picture in front of her. The fire was lit but low in the fireplace, and great care had been made to create a romantic ambiance in the room with scented candles and a comfortable nest of what Ryan suspected was every single pillow they had in the house.

In the center of it all rested a silk and lace clad woman whose deep, rhythmic breathing gave credence to the fact that Mackenzie had fallen asleep waiting for Ryan to get home.

Ryan set the bottle of wine next to the glasses Mackenzie had placed on the low table. Then she dropped to her knees, taking the rose and touching Mackenzie's eyes, cheeks and lips, and watching as the sensation brought a smile to Mackenzie's sleeping face. Ryan felt her lips curling up in response.

She trailed the rose down the smooth, creamy expanse of Mackenzie's throat and gently teased the top of her full breasts. Mackenzie hummed in pleasure, but she never opened her eyes. Instead she pulled Ryan's hand into her chest and tucked it against her heart. Ryan took the hint and curled her body round Mackenzie's, brushing her head with a kiss and whispering in her ear.

"Goodnight, sweetheart. I love you."

Mackenzie gave a satisfied sigh and then the only sounds to be heard in the room were the pop and crackle of the fire, soft jazz music and the deep, even breathing of two people in total sync with one another.

2:00 AM

Mackenzie blinked her eyes open and looked down to see a red rose nestled between her breasts. She stroked the hand under hers and mewed when Ryan clenched her fingers against her breast. Mackenzie took the rose and rolled in Ryan's arms, burrowing her head into the crook of Ryan's neck and snuggling down on her strong shoulder. Mackenzie wrapped her arm around Ryan's middle, tucking the rose between her breasts, and sighing in contentment when Ryan's strong arms surrounded her.

"I love you, beautiful. I'm glad you made it home safely to me."

Ryan brushed her lips over Mackenzie's head and murmured something unintelligible under her breath, and they settled back into the rhythmic breathing of sleep.

3:00 AM

Ryan frowned and opened her eyes. One side was toasty warm, but the other was freezing. A quick glance down her body then around the room gave her the answer. Mackenzie was sprawled across one half of her body and Ryan gave her a squeeze because it made her feel good to do so.

On the other side, though... Ryan realized the fire had burned down to ash, hence the reason for the freezing half of her body.

She debated doing something about it, but she was too comfortable. Instead she pulled Mackenzie more fully into her and covered them with a couple of pillows. Then she closed her eyes and went back to sleep.

4:00 AM

The candles finally flickered into darkness and the music tapered off into silence. And the two women remained wrapped around one another as they continued to sleep soundly.

5:00 AM

An obnoxious ringing woke Ryan, causing her to scrub a hand over her eyes before reaching behind her and fumbling for the phone. Mackenzie simply buried herself deeper into Ryan's body, making Ryan twitch when her fingers tickled Ryan's ribs. It made Ryan squawk as she picked up the receiver.


"I hate you, Ryan. I just want you to know that."

Ryan sat up a little further, and Mackenzie slid down into her lap, wrapping an arm around one of Ryan's strong thighs. "Chris, why the hell are you calling me at oh-dark-thirty in the morning to tell me you hate me? I mean, don't you think you could have at least waited until God got up??"

Chris laughed. "Good morning, sis."

"Hey, bro. Now, why do you hate me and why are you really calling me this ea-rr-her... <Ahem> this early?" Her voice cracked and went up an octave on the last words. She glared down at the sleepy eyes that were twinkling back up at her. Ryan let her hand wander through the soft hair and Mackenzie turned back over on her side to thoroughly enjoy the sensation while letting her hands wander with light touches up and down Ryan's legs. Ryan bit her lip and tried to focus her attention on her brother's words.

"I hate you because it is obvious that even after fifteen years together with twelve of that being married to one another, you're still making it together at five in the morning. Do you realize how wrong that is? No one's honeymoon is supposed to last that long."

Ryan laughed. "Says the man who has vowed to stay single for the rest of his life. So why are you calling me if not to interrupt my wildly successful love life with the most beautiful woman on the planet, hmm?? Surely you're not that jealous!"

"Brat!! You wait til I see you." Chris' voice turned serious. "We have a situation. It's not critical yet, but if you could get here by seven, I'd count it as a favor."

Ryan's frown brought Mackenzie into a sitting position, and Ryan reached out an arm to pull her closer. "This is supposed to be my day off, Chris. It's our anniversary, you know."

"I know, and I wouldn't ask if it wasn't important."

"Does Mama know?" This from Mackenzie, but Chris heard.

"Who do you think had me call? I wouldn't have bothered ya'll otherwise."

Ryan and Mackenzie exchanged silent glances, coming to an understanding without words.

"I'll be there at seven, Chris.

"Thanks, Ryan."

Ryan didn't respond except to hang up the phone. She took Mackenzie in her arms, and they became the sole focus of each others' world for a long space of time.

6:00 AM

Even a long hot shower together hadn't been enough to sate them, but it was going to have to tide them over until hopefully the evening. Understandable, though - lately they had been having difficulty finding time to be alone together without something interrupting them. So when they finally did get an opportunity, they were insatiable... especially when their time together was being cut short - again.

"I'm sorry, sweetheart," Ryan started to say as she got dressed in clothing far more formal than she had intended for the day. "This wasn't...." But she got no further because Mackenzie's hand reached up to cover her mouth.

"I know, and I know Mama wouldn't have had Chris call today of all days if it wasn't a bona fide emergency. BUT," she continued with emphasis. "I want you to go in and do whatever needs doing as quickly as you can. Otherwise, I may have to come in and rescue you from the evil clutches of work. I intend to spend as much of this day with you no matter what it takes."

Ryan didn't doubt it, and if anyone could get away with it, even with Mama, it would be Mackenzie.

Mackenzie tightened the sash on her robe and moved towards the door. "You finish getting dressed. I'm going to go fix you some breakfast." She was out the bedroom door so quickly Ryan didn't even have a chance to speak.

"Not that it would have mattered," Ryan acknowledged aloud to herself. "When Mackenzie gets an idea, especially when it comes to looking out for me, not a whole lot can change her mind - not even Mama."

Ryan had known it was going to be a forever kind of thing between them the first time Mackenzie had stood up to Mama for Ryan. They hadn't even started dating then - they were still just college roommates. But that defense had given Ryan the courage to finally admit her growing attraction for the woman she called best friend, and it had given her the impetus to take the next step in their relationship and ask Mackenzie out. It had been something she had always given thanks for because she knew in that moment that Mackenzie's feelings were as strong as her own. It also, surprisingly, gave Mackenzie and Mama a firm foundation for a friendship between them.

Then she heard Mackenzie calling her for breakfast and she headed downstairs to start another day.

7:00 AM

"Whatcha got for me, Chris?" was Ryan's greeting as she walked in the door.

"Nothing good, Ry. C'mon," he answered, waiting for her to hang up her coat. Then they walked together to the situation room.

She approached the center seat and sat down and Chris streamed the information to her console. He watched as her face hardened with realization. Then she turned her attention to Chris and he had to consciously restrain himself from flinching at the intensity she directed towards him.

Ryan swallowed and took a deep breath in an attempt to regain control. When she looked at Chris again, nothing showed on her face and Chris gave a sigh of relief. He loved his sister, but he had no desire to be the focus of what had come dangerously close to being a tantrum. He held up his hands.

"Before you say a word, I waited because Mama told me to. We were hoping we could resolve it without you, but...."

"So when you knew you couldn't, why didn't you tell me? Why tell me I had plenty of time to get here?"

"Two reasons," he answered reasonably. "One reason is because Mama insisted. The other is because...."

"... the rest couldn't be here until now."

Ryan turned around as her team walked in the door. She nodded at Chris. "All right. Everyone to the briefing room. We've got work to do."

8:00 AM

"Hey, baby!"

"Hi, love. What's up?" Mackenzie tucked the phone under her chin and continued getting dressed.

"Well, we've got something of a problem here, and it's gonna be a while before I'm free. Is that gonna mess up your plans?"

"Hmm... will you be free for lunch?"

"Well, I'm gonna have to eat at some point, regardless, but I don't know when."

"Tell ya what, then. I've got some errands to run. You call me when you're ready for lunch and I'll bring it to you."

"Lunch with my favorite girl? Sweetheart, I'd never turn down an offer like that."

"Good... it's a date."

9:00 AM

Mackenzie walked into her studio. It hadn't been in her immediate plans to work this morning, but fortunately her work allowed her to be highly flexible. She got out her sketch pad and moved over to the picture window. Then the phone rang.

"O'Hanlyn-Reid residence."

"Hello, chica."

"Hi, Mama. What's up?"

"I'm sorry, chica. I know this is your day together with Ryan. I wouldn't have had Chris call her in if it hadn't been an emergency."

"It's all right, Mama. I do know and I understand."

"Good. I'll do my best to make sure she gets home to you soon. In the meantime, I was wondering - would you be willing to do an appraisal for me? I've found a piece I love, but I think they are asking too much for it. I'll even buy lunch."

"Well, I can come do the appraisal for you certainly, but I already promised Ryan lunch together as soon as she's free. If you don't mind me running off at a moment's notice, I'll be happy to meet you. What time?"

She could hear the smile in Mama's voice. "I am so glad Ryan has you, Mackenzie. How about eleven? I don't think Ryan will be free before noon or one o'clock. Can you meet me at the Center?"

"Sure, that will be perfect, in fact. I have some shopping I need to do downtown. Thanks, Mama. See you in a couple hours."

Then she sat back down and pulled out the sketch pad, anxious to capture the vision of Ryan she had so firmly in her mind's eye.

10:00 AM

"Grandview Florist. This is Marie."

"Hi, Marie. It's Ryan O'Hanlyn."

"Hi, Ryan. What can I do for you?"

"I've had a slight change of plans, Marie, and I'm not going to be able to pick up the flowers for Mackenzie. Any chance I can get them delivered?"

"Absolutely. What time would you like them to arrive?"

"How about around four? With a little luck, we'll both be home by then. Thanks, Marie. I really appreciate this."

"Anytime, my friend. You and Mackenzie are some of my best customers. We'll be by your place at four. If no one's home, where do you want us to leave them?"

"Put them on the front porch. I'll make sure Mackenzie knows to check there, just in case."

"Will do. Anything else we can do for you, Ryan?"

"Yes, add a teddy bear to the arrangement, please. And... hold on a sec." Ryan covered the phone. "Marie, I've got to go."

Marie would have answered but all that she heard was a dial tone.


"Grandview Florist - Marie speaking."

"Marie, this is Mackenzie. There's been a slight change of plans. Any chance I can stop by and pick them up?"

"They're already ready, Mackenzie. You can stop by at your convenience."

"Thanks, Marie. I owe you one."

"Anytime, Mackenzie. You know you and Ryan are some of my best customers."

"All right. I'll be by in a while, Marie."

11:00 AM

"Hi, Mama!" Mackenzie said as she met the older woman with a firm embrace.

"Hello, chica. How are you?" She looked hard into Mackenzie's face. "No wonder Chris was grumbling this morning." She smiled and continued speaking before Mackenzie could voice the question that was causing her brow to furrow. "My daughter obviously loves you as much and as well as you love her."

Mackenzie blushed a dazzling red color and screeched, "MAMA!"

Mama just laughed and patted the warm cheek under her hand. "What, chica? Be glad you two are so obviously happy together. It's a good thing to see that kind of love between two people in today's world. Much better than to see the hatred... especially after years of marriage together."

Mackenzie covered the hand that cupped her cheek and she smiled. "You're right, Mama. But I certainly didn't expect you to say something like that. C'mon, show me this piece you were talking about. I haven't been over here in a while, so don't let me linger too long or Ryan may call before I get a chance to give you a fair appraisal."

Mama took Mackenzie's arm. "All right, chica. Now you cannot escape from me until the appraisal is done, though it's not like it can't wait if it has to. I just thought you might want to get out of the house for a while this morning, since Ryan got called in. You can tell me how you spent your morning while my daughter is out saving the world... again."

Mackenzie patted the hand that held her gently. "I'll be glad when the world doesn't need her anymore," she murmured. "But I can show you how I spent my morning," she went on, patting the big bag she carried so negligently. "I'm going to have it framed for her. But for now, please lead on."

Mama looked concerned by Mackenzie's comment. She had learned over the years when to push and when to wait, and this was a time to push. "Mackenzie," she said, holding onto the hand that had patted hers and easing them forward into the Center. "The world will always need Ryan or people like her. She is just one of the lucky ones. She'd found someone to love her in spite of it. It gives her a reason to fight to come home every night... even when she uses it as an excuse to leave the paperwork undone for me to do," Mama finished, hoping to evoke a smile. She smiled herself when she was successful, even though Mackenzie's smile was watery from the unshed tears that sat in her eyes.

"I'm glad," she said simply, and the two moved further into the Center to take care of business.


Mackenzie pulled the sketch pad from her bag and set it on the counter. "Hey, Frankie. Any chance you can do a rush job for me on this?"

"Whatcha got for me, Mac?"

Mackenzie flinched; she hated the shortened nickname, but Frankie was the best at his craft and he would accommodate her if he could. He picked up the sketch pad and let out a low whistle. The sketch was of her and Ryan looking at one another, capturing in vivid detail the abiding love and devotion the two of them shared together. The idea had occurred to her when she had caught Ryan's expression in the mirror that morning and realized the look was directed solely at her. She saw her own expression and knew it was a mirror image to the one Ryan wore. It was that that had driven her out to her workshop that morning, intent on capturing that vision.

"Damn, Mackenzie!" She knew from his use of her full name he was impressed. "This is incredible. My God, woman... is this for Ryan for your anniversary?"

Mackenzie nodded. "It wasn't what I had originally intended - it just kind of happened this morning."

Frankie nodded. "I can have it ready for you in a couple hours. You wanna choose the matting or...?"

The ringing of her cell phone made Mackenzie hold up her hand and excuse herself to answer it. "Hello, love."

"Hi, baby. I should be back at the office by one o'clock if you want to come by for lunch."

Mackenzie smiled so broadly Frankie felt the need to shield his eyes. "I'll be there, darling, and I'm bringing lunch with me. Can you meet me out front?"

Ryan frowned before she chuckled, wondering what Mackenzie had in mind, but knowing whatever it was would be fun. "Yep."

"'Kay...I'll meet you out front at one then. I love you."

"I love you back. See you soon."

"Go on," Frankie motioned to Mackenzie who hesitated, torn between the desire to leave and the need to stay and finish things up. "I'll mat it up for you and make it beautiful. You go on and tell Ryan I said she is a damned lucky woman," he added with a smile.

"We both are, Frankie. Thanks."

1:00 PM

"This was a fabulous idea, love," Ryan said as she relaxed with her head in Mackenzie's lap. She was being hand-fed from a picnic basket Mackenzie had picked up on her way over. She winced as she shifted and Mackenzie looked at her in concern.


Ryan released a held breath slowly and gave Mackenzie a half-smile. "Sorry, love. I had a little incident this morning. I'm still a little sore."

Immediately Mackenzie's hands roamed over Ryan's body, halting when Ryan gasped and flinched. Her hands were right over the center of Ryan's body. Heedless of the fact that they were outdoors in a public place, Mackenzie unbuttoned Ryan's shirt, then released her own gasp at the lurid bruising that covered a large portion of her chest and abdomen.

Mackenzie got angry, feeling the burn in her blood and guts... until her eyes met Ryan's. Then the anger petered out into something that washed through her and left her reeling. She clenched her jaw hard to keep from throwing up. Ryan understood all too well the emotions running through Mackenzie and held her close despite the wound until the feeling passed. It was easy to tell - the shaking turned to silent sobs, and Ryan cradled Mackenzie until it was over.

Finally, Mackenzie sat up and wiped her eyes. "Sorry, baby. Did I hurt you? Are you all right... I mean considering...?" motioning to Ryan's bruised torso.

Ryan smiled. "I'm fine, love... just a little sore. I had to protect the innocent - fortunately the vest took the brunt. I was gonna tell you about it after lunch. I was enjoying the peace."

Mackenzie slapped her arm and Ryan jumped. "Next time, tell me first. You can enjoy the peace after." She covered Ryan's lips when she would have protested. "I have a right to know; just like I have the right to worry my head off about you. It's in the marriage contract somewhere."

Ryan grinned and Mackenzie grinned back at her, reveling in the love they shared.

"Are you going to be okay going out tonight?" Mackenzie asked as she resumed her feeding of Ryan.

"Sweetheart, *nothing* is going to keep me from spending Valentine's Day - our twelfth anniversary - anywhere but with you. Certainly not something stupid like a bruise. So, yes, absolutely - we are going out together tonight. And thanks to Mama's coordinating between us, I think we have the whole evening planned and still have a few surprises for each other."

Mackenzie leaned down and stole a kiss. "Good. I don't want to waste a single moment I have with you. Can we go home from here?"

Regretfully, Ryan shook her head. "Unfortunately, no. I have to go back in a wrap up some paperwork, and run a couple errands for some last-minute anniversary surprises for the most beautiful woman in the world," she added, grinning rakishly and wiggling her brows.

Mackenzie flushed in surprised pleasure then asked cheekily, "Do I know this woman?"

"No," Ryan answered casually, "but I'll be sure to introduce you the next time we're together," with an obvious twinkle in her eyes.

"Why you...!!" Mackenzie would have said more, but found herself on the bottom of a very small pile of tangled limbs. She would have pushed Ryan off, only their joint laughter was stopping her and the pain it was causing Ryan was palpable. Mackenzie cupped Ryan's face in her hands and pulled her down until there was only a hairsbreadth between them.

"I love you, Ryan O'Hanlyn. You make my life worth living." Ryan would have answered, but she found her lips were occupied with other things and she let her response be conveyed to Mackenzie through their kiss. It was a little while before she made it back to work.

2:00 PM

"C'mon, Chris. You gotta do this. Either you've got to take care of this paperwork or you have to go lingerie shopping for me! I did the hard part - I let Doc look at the bruise. I'm not even supposed to be here today, remember?"

Chris blanched. It was true, but it drove him nuts that Ryan always got out of doing the paperwork, and he always got stuck with it. On the other hand, there was something about buying lacy unmentionables of any kind for one's sister that was just wrong on so many levels. Besides, if he was honest, the paperwork was done right and on time if he took care of it, and that left Ryan plenty of time to save the world from the dragon-of-the-week.

And he owed her... he knew it. The situation had been handled and was under control simply because she had made it so. The fact that she had done it so quickly was a plus. Without her....

"All right, Ryan. Are you sure you'll be all right driving? Doc said you took a nasty hit."

"She's not driving," Mama answered from the doorway. Ryan's head dropped. The only thing worse than sending your brother to buy sexy lingerie for you, was to have your mother there with you while you were doing it for yourself.

3:00 PM

Mackenzie pulled into the driveway well pleased with her purchases. She'd been able to pick up the framed artwork, thrilled with the completed product. She stopped and got the mail, eyebrows going into her hairline when she found a card addressed to her in Ryan's handwriting. Mackenzie pulled into her spot in the garage then grabbed the art, balloons and lingerie she had picked up on her way home. She shouldered the door closed and deactivated the alarm before crossing the threshold. Then she placed the balloons and the artwork in her studio. Mama would be by after they left to bring the cake and set things up for the end of their evening.

Mackenzie picked up the card she still held clutched in her fingers and slowly opened it.

To My Beloved Wife (it read)
On Our Anniversary

Together we've been part of each other
Through time and space and years;
We've lived and loved and laughed and cried,
Sharing triumphs, joys and tears.

I wouldn't trade a minute
Of our soulmate's journey here;
You've made my life worth living
The key to all that I hold dear.

Happy Anniversary!

Mackenzie smiled at the sentiment, but it was the script written in Ryan's strong handwriting that brought tears to her eyes.

My Sweetest Angel, (it read)

Thank you for making the last fifteen years of my life the best they could be, but especially the last twelve. Who knew married life would enhance our friendship so much? I was not unhappy when we were just best friends because even then you meant the world to me. But meeting you and becoming best friends couldn't begin to come close to what I felt when I fell in love with you, and that doesn't compare to what I feel for you now.

It is incredible to me everyday when I realize that you love me, especially knowing you could have had anyone, and you chose me anyway. I know that my job scares you and sometimes you really do hate what it does to me. But never once have I not felt your love surrounding me and your unwavering support in spite of it.

I am making you a promise here on the twelfth anniversary of our marriage to each other. I pledge you my life and my love eternally and promise to love, honor and cherish you - not until death do us part - but forever. I refuse to let you go for something as insignificant as death. You mean too much to me.

I love you, Mackenzie... always and forever.


The words left her breathless, and Mackenzie decided she had time for a nice, long soak in the tub. Maybe after a while she'd be able to recover the equilibrium that Ryan had stolen from her with her words.

4:00 PM

Mackenzie didn't hear the doorbell ring when the bouquet was delivered. She had opted for a steaming hot shower with the bath gel she knew was Ryan's favorite on her. Then she had collapsed into the bed for a much needed nap.

Ryan and Mama passed Marie's van as it pulled out of the driveway, and they returned the florist's wave. Then Mama pulled up to the garage doors and put the car in park.

"Can you get everything or would you like Mama to help you?"

"I'll be fine, Mama. Thanks for the ride," Ryan responded, hiding the wince as she got out of the car. Mama pressed her lips together but said nothing about the stiff way Ryan held herself. "We should be gone from here by six and we won't be back until around eleven."

"Don't worry, lass. Everything will be ready and I will be long gone before you get home." Mama patted the hand that rested on the car windowsill and smiled up at Ryan. "I'm sorry we had to call you in today, Ryan. If there had been any other way...."

"I know, Mama, and so does Mackenzie. It was my responsibility to take care of, and at least it's over for now. We'll just make the most of the time we have left today, maybe steal a little tomorrow." She squeezed Mama's hand. "Thanks, Mama," was all Ryan said and she gave Mama a little wave as she headed into the house. Mama waited until Ryan unlocked the door and went into the house, then she pulled back out of the driveway. She would drop off Ryan's car when she and Chris came back later.

Ryan opened the front door, taking her parcels inside and setting them down before going back out and retrieving the flowers Marie had left. She smiled as she envisioned Mackenzie's face, knowing she would squeal when she saw the bear. A pair of them actually - ones that reminded Ryan conspicuously of her and Mackenzie.

She walked into the bedroom and stopped short when she spotted Mackenzie curled around her pillow blissfully asleep. Ryan decided a power nap was probably a good idea. She put the flowers where Mackenzie would see them when she opened her eyes. Then Ryan shed her shoes and crawled into bed beside Mackenzie, closing her eyes in silent relief.

5:00 PM

Ryan's eyes opened. He nap had been brief, but she felt better for it... until she tried to move. Her chest and belly had stiffened up and it was painful to move. She shifted, unable to contain the moan behind her lips. Mackenzie rolled over and reached out for Ryan, comforting her before her eyes were fully opened. Ryan smiled despite herself.

"Sweetheart... are you all right?" Mackenzie asked as she sat up on one elbow and clasped Ryan's hand in her own. Then she leaned down and stole a kiss before giving Ryan a chance to answer.

Ryan smiled when they separated and threaded her fingers into Mackenzie's hair. "I couldn't be better," she answered. "You're here."

That got her a second, longer kiss, which lasted until Ryan got so involved in it that she completely forgot about the bruising... when she moved the wrong way. Then they pulled apart with Ryan hissing in pain. She lay there for a long moment, focused on her breathing and Mackenzie put her head down on Ryan's shoulder.

"You sure you're up to going out tonight, love?"

"Oh yeah. I'm not missing this because my stomach is a little sore. I think I will take a shower, though. That should help loosen up the stiffness." She flinched as she tried to sit up. "You may have to help me get up first though."

Mackenzie smiled and sat up, then her eyes found the bouquet and she squealed, just as Ryan had known she would. It brought a knowing smile to Ryan's face. Mackenzie nearly jumped on Ryan to smother her with a hug, but she pulled back at the last minute to keep from hurting Ryan.

"Oh, Ryan, they're so cute. They look just like us!" Mackenzie jumped up from the bed and ran around to Ryan's side, easing Ryan into a sitting position. Then Mackenzie wrapped her arms around Ryan from behind and squeezed her gently. "I love you, you know. That was a beautiful card."

"It's all true, my love... every word."

Mackenzie leaned forward and caught Ryan's lips one more time in an intensely passionate kiss. Then Ryan pulled back with a nip to Mackenzie's nose. "C'mon, sweetheart. Help me up. We've got places to be and I'm gonna need all the time I can get to get ready."

"Need help?"

Ryan smiled. "Always, but not in the shower tonight." She grinned rakishly. "We won't get out of here otherwise, and you promised to wine and dine me tonight, remember?"

"Yep, I sure did. We have reservations at the Tower."

6:00 PM

"What a beautiful view." Ryan said as they were seated next to the window of the revolving restaurant. Mackenzie's eyes were fastened on Ryan when she replied.

"Uh huh... sure is."

Ryan caught the look and blushed just a little. Mackenzie's face held an intensity seldom seen outside their bedroom and it made Ryan squirm from the not unpleasant sensations it sent skittering up and down her spine. Mackenzie smiled at her and turned her attention to the menu. Ryan blew out a breath and focused her attention to the menu as well. The evening was starting out very well indeed.


In the meantime, Mama and Chris went to Ryan and Mackenzie's home to prepare it for the evening.

7:00 PM

"How did you manage to get reservations here, love... especially on Valentine's Day? I called six months ago and it was booked already."

Mackenzie smiled. One of the few things Ryan had ever mentioned wanting the opportunity to try was the Tower restaurant. She was thrilled she had been able to make that particular wish come true. She motioned the waiter over with dessert and watched Ryan's eyes light up at the sight of long-stemmed chocolate covered strawberries.

"I made a deal with the owner - a discounted rate on a series of commissioned artworks for the restaurant in exchange for seating whenever we would like to visit."

Ryan was speechless and simply responded by taking Mackenzie's hand and stroking her knuckles. "Thank you," she finally said softly.

It was Mackenzie's turn to blush and she did so beautifully. Then she gestured at the strawberries on the plate in front of Ryan and picked up her glass. "You're worth it, sweetheart. You're worth everything to me, and this was little enough to do for you. Happy Anniversary, Ryan."

Ryan picked up her glass. "To many more happy years together, love."

Their glasses clinked and they each took a sip of champagne before turning their attention back to dessert. "Eat up, babe. We have theatre tickets at eight."


"I promised you an evening to remember."

"Yes, you did."

"So let me deliver; you do so much for me." She lifted a strawberry to Ryan's lips and raised a brow. It was the perfect ending to their dining experience.

8:00 PM

"I have waited forever to see this show," Ryan said as Mackenzie pulled her car up into the valet parking area. "How...?"

"I bought these a year ago... as soon as they went on sale. I've wanted to see it too, ya know." She smile at Ryan and extended her hand. "You doing all right?" Mackenzie asked as they slowly made their way towards the front doors. Ryan pulled Mackenzie into her body.

"You're here, I'm here, and we're celebrating having been happily married for twelve years. A little bruising on my belly is not gonna stop me from enjoying that." She smiled saucily and tickled Mackenzie's ribs, causing her to jump away from Ryan with a squawk. "Tomorrow I may be looking for sympathy," Ryan joked, "but tonight I'm gonna enjoy celebrating us. C'mon... let's go find our seats."

9:00 PM

"This is so much more than I ever imagined it to be - the music, the costumes - it's all so vivid," Mackenzie enthused as they stepped out of the auditorium for intermission.

"It really is. I knew from the reviews it was supposed to be outstanding, but this is just astounding. I'm so glad you were able to get these tickets."

"Me too. C'mon, I need some water before we go back inside.


Finally, Mama and Chris took a good, last look around the house. Well satisfied with their efforts, they made good their escape.

10:00 PM

"We have to make one stop before we go home," Ryan announced as they climbed into the car. Mackenzie looked at her with a frown, but the pleading puppy dog look swayed the vote in Ryan's favor. Ryan gave directions until Mackenzie knew where they were headed and turned to Ryan with a smile.

"This is where we went on our first date."

"Uh huh, and where I proposed. I thought we could have one dance before we head home to make love til the sun comes up."

It had been on the tip of Mackenzie's tongue to ask again how Ryan was feeling, but that little declaration settled the question in her mind and she bit her tongue instead. She pulled into the parking lot, and together they walked arm in arm into the club.

The ambience was somewhat upscale with comfortable furnishings. The music wasn't too loud and was varied enough to satisfy almost every taste.

All heads turned when Ryan and Mackenzie walked into the room. Once they had been regulars to the club, so many of the faces greeted them with a smile or an upraised glass. Only a few looked back with blank expressions or frowns, but neither Ryan nor Mackenzie took much notice of any of them. Their focus was reserved strictly for one another.

The DJ was an old friend and Ryan had made her arrangements ahead of time. They had removed their coats and walked hand in hand to the area set aside for dancing. As they stepped on to the dance floor, the DJ spun their song into place, and Ryan started singing the words softly into Mackenzie's ear as they moved slowly in sync with each other.

This love will last forever
'Cause time cannot erase the love that's
Straight from my heart.

When the song was over, they walked off the floor still hand in hand, picked up their coats and left as quietly as they had arrived. It was time to go home and celebrate.

11:00 PM

They walked into the living room after having locked up and secured the house for the night and Ryan, who was leading the way, halted on the threshold in surprise. Each of the four corners of the room held a handful of colorful balloon surrounding a mylar heart and anchored by a vase of flowers that Mama and Chris had generously provided. On the table was a replica of the top of their wedding cake, and beside it sat an ice bucket with a bottle of champagne and the crystal flutes they'd toasted one another with. Candles were scattered around the room waiting to be lit.

But the piece de resistance - what had actually caused Ryan to stop in her tracks - was the picture that now hung over the fireplace. Ryan had never seen her face when she looked at Mackenzie, but she easily recognized the love that was looking back at her from the portrait Mackenzie had drawn.

Without a word, Ryan turned and placed her hands on either side of Mackenzie's face and spent a long moment just looking deep into her eyes. Then ever so gently she let their lips meet until the sweet touch blazed into a passionate inferno.

When they separated, Mackenzie looked into Ryan's eyes. Ryan smiled and Mackenzie returned it reflexively. Ryan pulled Mackenzie to her and turned her in her arms until they were both facing the image over the fireplace.

"That is so incredible, sweetheart. How did you...?"

Mackenzie turned around and faced Ryan. "I looked at you."

The words were simple, but they conveyed a wealth of meaning, and they brought tears to Ryan's eyes. She bit her lip to keep them from falling them gazed into Mackenzie's eyes again. "I love you."

"I love you." She paused. "I bought something for you, but, um... I need a couple minutes to prepare."

"That's okay. I'd like to change into something more comfortable. Meet you back here in ten minutes?"

Ten minutes later, Ryan crossed back into the living room to find a candlelit room, and soft music coming from the surround sound speakers mounted across the room. Mackenzie was covered by her long, well-worn robe and she handed Ryan a flute filled to the brim with champagne. She let her eyes roam Ryan's form in the new lingerie she'd donned. Then she let her hands follow the path her eyes had taken, taking special care to be gentle around Ryan's bruised chest and belly.

Ryan had taken care to choose lingerie that was flattering yet still hid most of the lurid blue color covering her torso and she blushed slightly seeing the appreciation burn in Mackenzie's eyes. "So beautiful," Mackenzie murmured. She moved in until their bodies were just touching. Then she raised her glass in a toast.

"To the most wonderful woman in the world who has given me the most amazing twelve years of married life. I'm looking forward to a lifetime of more just like it."

Mackenzie lifted her glass to her lips, then her brow creased in a frown when Ryan's fingers covered the top of her glass. Ryan moved her hand and tenderly rubbed the wrinkles off Mackenzie's forehead before she smiled and spoke.

"Not a lifetime, love. This is forever."

Those words required a more personal response and Mackenzie wrapped her arms around Ryan's neck and drew her into a kiss. Unconsciously, they started to sway to the music playing in the background until the lack of air forced them apart. Ryan tugged on the tie of the robe.

"So, where's my surprise?" expecting it to be hidden beneath the robe. However, what she got totally blew her away and sucked the air out of her lungs.

"Breathe, love," Mackenzie instructed softly, but with a smile, knowing the effect the strategically placed satin and lace had on Ryan. She walked over to the cake and scooped icing onto two fingers, then stuck them in her mouth and started to suck them clean. Without warning, Ryan pulled the fingers from Mackenzie's mouth and drew them into her own, laving them with her tongue.

"Breathe, love," Ryan repeated with a smile when she noted the stillness of Mackenzie's chest. She placed Mackenzie's wet fingers on her own pulse point and released her hold. She moved her fingertips to either side of Mackenzie's neck. Then Ryan eased the slim straps from the muscular shoulders and inhaled sharply when Mackenzie's hand pushed the shirt from Ryan's body and let her touch continue to circle Ryan's breast.

Ryan allowed her hands to wander, pushing the lace aside and caressing the soft skin as it was exposed. Mackenzie moved her hands to Ryan's neck and wrapped them in her hair, using them to draw Ryan's lips to hers.

"Let's go to bed, love." The grandfather clock in the corner started chiming the hour. "Happy Valentine's Day, Ryan."

"Happy Anniversary, sweetheart."