“Are we here?” she asked with a yawn as she sat up.
“Yup.” AJ answered. “Just stay there for a few minutes while I check in.”
Sam nodded and laid her head back down. It only took a couple of minutes for AJ to get back and he started the truck, putting into reverse.
“I thought we were here?”
“We are but I needed to get the keys to our cabin.”
AJ had rented a cabin up in Lake Gregory National Park for them to spend a few days. He wanted to avoid hotels where others might see them and paid cash in case someone was monitoring his credit cards. Ryan obviously had access to the police so only God knew what else he could get in to. Sam had agreed to only be out for a few days so that they could be back before anyone started a serious search for them.
The sight of the water was the first thing that caught Sam’s attention. AJ had tried so hard to find a place near the ocean but there wasn’t anything that was concealed enough for her safety. Instead, he chose a beautiful lakeside retreat that allowed for the water she was looking for and the safety he wanted for her.
The sunset was stunning as she watched the water lap the shoreline. The cabin was set a little off the beach and safely in an inlet of trees; it was also scattered far enough away from all the other cabins. That meant Sam could spend as much time in the outside air she craved without having to worry about someone watching.
AJ watched her face light up as she took in the surroundings. It was almost as though a sense of peace had settled in and he knew he’d made the right decision listening to Kevin. Happiness radiated off her and it made him smile; she was free to be the Sam she was before Ryan, if only for a few days.
He made his way into the cabin, keeping his eye on her through the window. Dropping their luggage in the small den, he checked the kitchen to make sure all the food he’d asked for had been delivered. Not wanting to disturb her, he put water on for the pasta and started chopping up the vegetables for a salad. She appeared at the door with a smile as he was just finishing up the garlic bread.
“Smells delicious.” she said as she wrapped her arms around his waist. “Thank you AJ.”
“You’re welcome Sam.” he replied and leaned in to kiss her. “You deserve your own space and the chance to find some peace.”
“So do you.”
“You need a break from constantly babysitting me. You barely leave the house and when you do, you’re worried for me.”
“It’s not babysitting.” he said and pulled her closer. “It’s protecting the woman I love and I will do it as long as it takes to keep you safe.”
The couple shared a peaceful, relaxed dinner and Sam suggested that they spend some time outside by the water. She loved the water and stars at night, and even though it wasn’t a beach, it still gave her a chance to see the moon over the lake. Her parents used to take her and her brother camping as kids and they made it a point to have everyone sit outside at night and talk about what they were thinking about before they went to bed.
“Are you ok?” AJ asked as he caught her expression while setting up a small fire in the outside pit.
“I’m fine.” Sam reassured him. “I was just thinking about my parents and Sean. They were always taking us on vacations like this and remembering them, it makes me miss them more.”
“We can go back inside.” AJ suggested as he slipped down next to her on the blanket. “I want this to be a positive experience for you, not a sad one.”
“Remembering my family isn’t sad.” she said and crawled between his legs to rest her head against his chest. “I miss them but something like this makes me feel like they’re watching over me.”
“I’m sure they are.” AJ reassured her as he kissed the top of her head. “I know they’re proud of the woman you’ve become.”
“I’m not so sure about that.” Sam replied in an under her breath whisper.
AJ scooted back a little and turned her to face him. “Why would you say that?”
“Because of what I let Ryan do.” she answered as a tear slipped down from her closed eyes. “They wouldn’t be proud of me staying there.”
“Are you serious?” he asked, lifting her chin so she would eventually have to look at him. “You didn’t bring this on, you don’t deserve it and you didn’t do anything wrong Sam. Ryan is at fault here, not you. Your family would be so proud of how their strong Sami survived through all of it and how you fought hard to get out. Do not, for one second, question how much they love you and how amazing they believe you are.”
Sam looked at him with wet eyes. “Do you really believe that?”
“I absolutely do.” he replied and kissed her. “You are an remarkable woman, Samantha O’Brien, and I am the luckiest man in the world to have you in my life.”
Sam ducked her head, not used to comments like that but AJ pushed her chin up again.
“I love you Sam and no matter what you think, I know you’re family loves you more than anything and all they want is for you to be happy.”
She tried to absorb what he said and it took a few minutes for her to respond.
“I am happy AJ, I’m finally happy.”