part 6 in the Intimate Strangers series
“I’m crazy for youuuu.” Beth sang loudly, slightly off key, zipping down the two lane road, handling her 4Runner with practiced skill. “Well damn!” The author cursed as she lost the radio signal in the hilly area leading home. Cresting another hill, one of her favorite Madonna songs continued. Picking up the words once again, Beth resumed belting out words, the miles flying by.
“I guess something should go right.” Beth muttered, passing a slow moving vehicle. “At least the music isn’t too bad.” Another sappy love song later, the author found she had her cell phone in hand, listening to the ringing of a phone. Riots of green, mixed with the startling crystal clear blue teased Beth’s eyes and when combined with the music, Beth’s heart never stood a chance. God, how I miss you. Please be there.
“Bennett and Associates.” The crisp voice of Susan, Casey’s assistant and office manager came through loud and clear, unlike the wavering radio station.
“Hiya Susan, how are you this afternoon?”
“I’m fine Beth. Everything ok?” The young woman didn’t want to risk her employer’s wrath again. Even though Casey hadn’t raised her voice, the assistant had felt about an inch tall when she discovered the reasons for Beth’s many calls one afternoon.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m about an hour from home. Is Casey in?” Beth mentally crossed her fingers, hoping for a chance to talk to the person she was crazy about. You’d never admit it, but you’d love this drive. All the colors…the endless miles of solitude…
“Sorry, she’s still in the meeting with the hotel executives. Want me to interrupt her?” Susan wasn’t taking any chances.
“Nah, that’s alright.” Shaking her head, the author focused on the conversation, not wanting to give her lover’s assistant any reason to worry and therefore worrying her lover. “Tell Casey I’ll see her at home. Thanks Susan!” Beth groaned, tossing the phone into the seat beside her after exchanging goodbyes.
“I’m back to being unlucky.” Beth swore softly, changing lanes to avoid the car that pulled out in front of her. “First, the water line running into the house breaks and some stupid, antiquated town law makes me personally see the administrator before repairs can be started. And it would just happen on the one day Mike isn’t there. So of course it floods the basement and ruins everything.”
“And what’s the worst of it all?” The author groaned, heart hurting. Passing a hill of bright wildflowers made it worse. They’re so cheerful, just like her laugh. “Casey couldn’t go with me.” Beth pouted, not at all comfortable with spending the night away from her lover. She’d grown so used to sleeping with Casey, that she’d tossed and turned all night, drifting into an uneasy sleep only after exercising past the point of utter exhaustion. “She had that meeting today that she couldn’t get out of.” Beth knew that was technically untrue. Casey had offered to postpone the meeting, but Beth refused. “That was some conversation. For once, Casey thought I didn’t want her around!” Smiling softly at her partner’s perplexed, surprised look, Beth remembered enfolding her shyly emotional lover in her staff-strengthened arms, soothing away her fears and worries. The role reversal touched her deeply, Casey’s response meant the world to her. “I still say it was the most judicious use of time. This way we still have our weekend just for ourselves. No demands…no people. Just us locked away from the world, safe in each other’s arms.”
“So c’mon, Beth. You’re a big girl. Stop pouting!” The author ordered herself. Then unable to stop the thoughts, they tumbled out. “Are you missing me as much as I’m missing you? Did you sleep OK last night? What about breakfast? You made the mistake of saying you weren’t hungry last night. I swear, sometimes you’d starve if I didn’t make you eat. Did you remember to check your blouse this morning? I hope you included the scarf. But knowing you, you didn’t. Doesn’t fit the image…and what about your shoes. Did you pick out the right color?” Beth knew she was being stupid, but she just couldn’t seem to halt the words. “Did you wear your hair down? You know how sexy I think that is…how much I love to run my hands through its softness….how it teases my senses.”
The author passed the next fifteen minutes in much the same manner, worrying about her partner until she noticed a deep green car speeding up then dropping back. “What the heck? What is that fool doing?” Beth turned off the cruise control, thinking about pulling over to let the unsafe driver pass. “Huh, guess he wasn’t paying attention.” The author watching him turn off the road, sighing in relief.
Within minutes, the green sedan was behind her again, still driving erratically. Deciding enough was enough, the author signaled and pulled over, letting the driver pass. “What a jerk!” Beth exclaimed, checking her phone lying in the seat beside her. “I’m glad he didn’t pull this crap at Hangman’s Curve. He’s going to kill someone.” Chattering nervously, the author talked about whatever came to mind, distracting herself. Pulling back onto the still nearly deserted highway, Beth questioned her decision to take the shortcut home. It only shaved about a half hour off the trip; its twisty curves and hills reminded Beth of a roller coaster. “But its such a beautiful drive,” she sighed wistfully, shooting an appreciative eye over the pleasing blend of fall colors. “And its not winter, so the roads aren’t even more dangerous.”
“But I hate roller coasters.” Beth sighed, shaking her head slightly, feeling contrary. “Oh no, Beth. You had to go ahead and take it, even when Casey asked you not to, breathtaking or not. You just had to get home that half hour earlier. She won’t even be there yet.” A second later. “I just had to surprise her!”
“Gods!” The groan was torn from her throat as the green sedan was suddenly behind her, up to its old tricks. “I promise I’ll never take this road again!” Beth swore ardently, palms starting to sweat. The nervous rumble in her stomach grew to loud for her to ignore as she navigated the treacherous curves.
“I feel just like I did when Roberto’s guy followed me.” Beth finally identified what her body was trying to tell her. “Thank God.” The short, relatively flat stretch of road allowed Beth to grab her cell phone and punched *1, Casey’s cell phone number. Unfortunately she never had the chance to press send.
“Aaaa!” Beth yelled, cell phone flying across the car as she gripped the wheel tightly as the green sedan rear-ended her, knocking her forward. “What the hell?” The car rammed into her again, jolting her severely.
“Oh God…Oh God…Casey!” Beth chanted, terrified…Hangman’s curve loomed directly ahead. “Please no!” The author cried softly, wanting, needing her protective lover to make it all go away. The sickening crunch of metal on metal jerked her half across the road before capable yet shaking hands regained control of the car.
“No two bit man,” Beth growled loudly and fought back, her own self protective instincts flaring. “Is gonna take me away from you, Love. I swear it!” Screaming her frustration as the sedan matched her speed and mirrored her movements.
“I’m gonna make it!” Beth cheered, managing to maintain her speed and distance from the green sedan as she cleared the curve. Straightening from the curve, she punched the gas, leaping forward. “Thank the gods for not backing down on the V-8 motor, Love.” When Beth traded her 4Runner in last month, Casey insisted on getting the most powerful motor available in the reliable vehicle. The specialist argued vehemently, stating that it was well worth the extra money. Especially considering how often they drove the vehicle over long distances. Not to mention taking it for the occasional stakeout. If Beth didn’t want to spend the money, she would. If the need arose, she wanted the power at hand.
Beth heard a small pop then the car lurched violently to the right. “Oh God…oh God! Beth cried, arms bulging with the strain of holding the car in a semi straight line. Immediately she took her foot off the gas and lightly tapped the breaks repeatedly, gradually slowing. Preoccupied with stopping before the next curve, Beth failed to notice the green sedan rapidly gaining on her. It wasn’t until the squeal of tires reached her ears that worried green eyes flew to the rear view mirror.
“NOOOOO!” Beth prayed frantically, head snapping forward and to left, connecting with a painful crunch against the glass, cracking it and bounced off the steering wheel just a split second after the green sedan connected. Blinking rapidly against the throbbing pain, Beth fought to regain control of her fading senses.
“No…oh God no.” The whisper was barely audible above the squeal of tires, the crunch of metal. “Not now.” Fighting against the inevitable, Beth apologized to Casey. “Oh God, please not now…sorry Love…never meant for this to happen…please God…just wanted to be with you…love you…need you…don’t wanna leave you…please God…CASEY!”
Mercifully the author blacked out as the front wheels went off the road and was totally unaware as she slowly rolled down the embankment.
“What can I do for you, Mr. Dupree?” The specialist asked quietly as soon as Phil and Mr. Dupree’s two colleagues left her office. Blue eyes studied the older gentleman as he drew a deep breath, like he was gathering his courage. He’d asked for a moment of her time, alone when their business was concluded.
“I’ll be honest with you, Ms. Bennett.” The man cleared his throat and nodded once, like he’d made an important decision. “My associates pushed long and hard for choosing a different firm for the hotel’s security needs. After much consideration and soul searching, I decided to over-rule their objections. I’m pleased that we were able to come to a favorable agreement.”
“I’m pleased as well.” Casey responded in the same quiet, even tone. “May I ask what convinced you to renew our contract?” The specialist was well aware there weren’t sufficient changes in the contract, not ones that would sway a savvy, successful businessman. And Christopher Dupree was one of the best. His chain of hotels, geared to the traveling business person, were one of the highest regarded on the east coast. Over the last six years, Casey had grown accustomed to solving difficult problems and cleaning up the resulting messes. Once her firm had established protocols in place for preventing future problems, usually their contract wasn’t renewed. It was cheaper and often more satisfying for the client to retain a different firm, considering the strict autonomous control over all aspects of investigations and operations Casey insisted upon. No high management personnel were allowed to direct or influence the outcome. Of course, this was one very strong reason for their high success rate.
“There are a variety of reasons outside of the exceptional services provided.” Pausing to take a drink, Mr. Dupree glanced over the rim of his coffee cup, mentally chuckling at the young woman’s quiet control. “I hold in very high regard services that benefit the whole community, especially when individuals act for the common good. Like your recent handling of Elaine Davidson and Roberto Manuel. But the deciding factor was Ms. Jamieson.”
The specialist forced herself to breath calmly, steadily while her client talked, utilizing what Beth called her ‘warrior’s mask’ to camouflage her racing heart and painful memories. Beth? Beth influenced his decision? “My wife influenced your decision?” Casey asked incredulously. “How?” She was confused; although Beth and she didn’t flaunt their relationship, they didn’t hide it either. Usually she didn’t come out and announce it to clients, no matter what the circumstances. I didn’t even realize you knew about Beth, let alone know she’s my wife. How do you know Beth?
“You’re wondering how I know your wife, aren’t you?” The businessman chuckled, pointing to her wedding band and then at the photo of Beth and she on her desk. Settling back, he turned serious. “This is getting personal…may I call you Casey?”
“Certainly, Mr. Dupree.” The specialist wondered where this was going.
“That’s Chris,” Christopher Dupree corrected with a smile. “I’ve noticed a radical change in your behavior over the last year and a half. It pleases me to no end to see you happy. But that’s not the real reason. I’ve always listened to my instincts…my gut if you will, when it comes to business. And it’s telling me to renew your contract. You’ve been extremely good for my hotels.”
“I’m pleased our efforts were so successful. But how’s this related to Beth?” Casey asked when Chris didn’t continue.
“I like and need to keep business in the family, especially when it’s a practical and sound business decision.” Christopher Dupree cut to the chase. “Philip and Marie Jamieson were like adopted parents to me. Philip taught me everything I know about running a business, from knowing when to cut my losses and run to ignoring the advice of my experts and going with my gut feelings.”
“I don’t know what to say.” Casey found to her great surprise that her voice was even and relatively free of emotion. It was hard enough meeting his intense stare without worrying about speaking coherently.
“I had the privilege of knowing Philip and Marie for most of my life. I can say with upmost certainty that they’d approve of your relationship with their granddaughter. It gives me a great deal of pleasure to keep this business in the family, so to speak. Don’t worry,” he held up a restraining hand, halting any forthcoming argument Casey might have offered.
“If it wasn’t good business to renew the contract, I wouldn’t have. And Philip would have been the first to agree.” Standing, Mr Dupree ended the conversation. “I need to get going and stop taking up your valuable time.”
“I don’t know what to say.” Casey shook his hand and escorted him to the door. “I can’t tell you how much it means to me that someone in Beth’s family would have approved of our relationship.” Opening the door, Casey smiled politely at his waiting colleagues, sagging in relief as the outer door closed behind them after exchanging goodbyes.
“Well, that was different.” Casey shot her assistant an unreadable look. “I never expected Mr. Dupree to renew the contract.”
“Yes, Phil was quite excited.” Susan drew a breath, fingering the message from Beth. Here goes nothing. “Beth called about forty minutes ago. She was about an hour outside of town.”
“Really?” Casey smiled brightly, straightening up rapidly. “Great!” Then a thought occurred. “Was everything OK?”
“She said everything was fine.” Susan nodded positively, reinforcing her words.
“I think I’ll leave…oh damn!” Casey interrupted herself and frowned, blue eyes noticing the time disappointedly. “I forgot I told Johnson I’d be available until 4:00pm if he needed to get in touch with me about the training manual.” Sighing loudly, Casey turned around and marched back into her office, ignoring the muffled snort behind her.
Kicking off her black pumps, Casey settled down on the worn sofa in her private office. God, that feels nice. I hate dressing up. Can’t believe I did it for so long. A few moments later, she bounced up, heading determinedly into the bathroom.
Sorry Love, I know you love it when I’m dressed up, but I can’t stand this any more! Quickly the specialist stripped and redressed in jeans and her faded FBI sweatshirt. Huh, wonder what this is doing here. I must have grabbed it by mistake. God, you’ll probably rip it off me when you see me. That thought had the specialist grinning sexily, imagining her lover’s hands caressing her skin. Hanging up her clothes, Casey returned to the sofa, sighing as she wiggled her toes, now comfortable in worn Nikes.
What the hell was that all about? Casey thought quietly, not understanding the conflicting emotions warring inside. I almost wish I hadn’t asked why…I hate not knowing if we kept the contract because of our skill or Beth. It’s not that I don’t appreciate it, but I’ve always made my own way…Get real, stupid! Would it be so terrible if Beth was the principle reason? I know we’re the best at what we do. Even if ‘family’ is the sole reason, Dupree is still getting the best for his money. What did he mean by I’d changed so radically? Lost in thought, blue studied the toes of her scuffed shoes.
Could it be? I always thought the reason most firms didn’t renew their contracts was because of my operating principles. Because I refused to relinquish control. Because I insisted on doing the job the right way the first time, letting the blame fall where it rightfully deserved. What if that isn’t the case? What affect if any, did my personality have on that decision?
I know for a fact that I’ve always been professional. Well, if I don’t include Beth’s case. I fully admit to acting based on my feelings in that instance. But that doesn’t count…that was a one time deal…the first and only time that happened. Then there’s the fact that being on retainer isn’t a normal occurrence. Most people want a specific problem solved or guidelines established to prevent problems. Professional doesn’t mean friendly. The specialist realized after much thought.
Have I changed much? What a stupid thought, Casey! Of course you’ve changed. The fact that you’re sitting here thinking about it is a damn good indication. Sit back, be objective. The specialist’s actions followed her thoughts and continued to analyze the situation.
I am more easy to talk to now. And its’ definitely easier for my employees to come in too. I’ve learned more about their personal lives in the last eighteen months than I did in the entire five years before Beth. How do I feel about that? That earned a loud chuckle. Yeah, Casey Bennett, also known as the queen of control, has feelings. God forbid, I’m actually admitting that! I’m well aware of the reason, too. It’s all because of that incredibly beautiful, loving woman who took the time to get to know me…who put up with all my bad moods and grumbling complaints…who made me realize that having feelings, emotions, was a good thing. Her patience, her acceptance, her love….oh God, I want to, need to talk to her. Visualizing her lover, Casey sat back, thinking about what she wanted to say.
“Thank God, it’s been over an hour since Beth called.” Rising, Casey reminded herself that it wasn’t professional or dignified to skip to the phone. Punching in their home number, she tapped her toe impatiently when the answering machine picked up the call. Leaving a brief message for Beth to call her when she got in, Casey hung up, cursing slightly. “I wanted to talk to Beth.” Pouting, the specialist paced back and forth for a few minutes, complaining softly. “God Casey, calm down! So she hasn’t made it home yet. Big deal. She’s on her way. No need to carry on like a baby. Oh hell, call her again.” Groaning, she gave in about ten minutes later and reached for the phone again. When the machine picked up for the second time, Casey frowned thoughtfully, picking the phone up for the third time. This time she dialed Beth’s cell phone.
“Huh. That’s strange.” Resuming her pacing, Casey lightly stomped across the room and then down the sides, returning to the center of the room from the opposite corner. “There are any number of reasons why Beth isn’t answering her cell phone.” The specialist mimicked her partner, talking aloud. “There is absolutely no reason for you to worry.” Her mind wouldn’t let the matter drop, footsteps loud on the wooden floor. “No reason to worry…nope, none at all.”
“You know Beth. She could have stopped for food or gas or even run by the dojo.” She rounded the corner, slapping her desk on the way by. “Not to mention maybe running a couple of errands on the way home or stopping at the lawyers.” Casey’s tennis shoe covered feet kept a steady rhythm. “Or stopped by Eduardo’s for chips and salsa. It is on the way home…and she never passes by there without stopping.” Exhaling loudly, the specialist spun, changing direction of her pacing. “That’s not likely…Beth know’s I’m waiting. She wouldn’t want to worry me.” A slightly nervous chuckle erupted from her throat. “And she knows me…knows that that’s exactly what I’m doing.” Casey’s active mind kicked into overdrive, her pacing picking up speed with each thought.
“She could have had car trouble or stopped to help someone.” Blue eyes narrowed in anger, born of worry. “Damn, I’ve told her not to do that! She’s gonna get hurt…that woman can find trouble anywhere…it’s not the weather.” The pacing paused long enough for Casey to double check the weather. “Nope, not the weather…it’s sunny and clear.”
“Oh God, what if there was a different kind of problem?” That thought had Casey stomping again. “I know she’s extremely capable, but she’s still so innocent and trusting! What if she gets trapped with no room to move? She couldn’t use her expanding staff then…If she can’t move, she’s dead…God oh God, don’t even think that Casey! I could never survive without her…I wouldn’t want to!” The specialist’s voice rose emotionally, heart thundering at the thought of possibly losing Beth. “Roberto did have a few friends…I’ve made plenty of enemies…” Casey trailed off, attempting to rein in her emotions. She failed miserably.
“I’ve totally forgotten about random acts of violence! Strangers attacking strangers…car jackings…damn!” Casey exploded, arms waving wildly, a perfect complement to her emotions. Her famed, legendary control nowhere in site. “She’s got an expensive, new car…oh god…where the hell are you?? Are you OK?? Please be OK…I can’t handle it if you’re not! I’ve got to hear your voice. Just call Casey and stop worrying!” The specialist flew to the phone and dialed Beth’s cell phone, bypassing their home phone. Beth would have called if she made it home.
“C’mon answer!” Casey pleaded as the phone rang and sighed immediately when it was answered. “Beth! Sweetheart? Are you ok? Why didn’t you answer earlier? I was so worried.” The specialist didn’t give her lover a chance to speak until she ran out of breath.
“Casey?” Lt Masters’ voice immobilized the specialist. “It’s Eric Masters. You there?”
“Where’s Beth? What’s wrong, Eric.” Forcing herself to breath, Casey sank silently to the sofa, gripping the phone tightly.
“There’s been an accident.” Lt Master’s began softly, not giving Casey a chance to speak. “Beth will be fine. Her 4Runner rolled down the embankment just east of Hangman’s Curve.”
“Where is she?” The deadly calm of Casey’s voice startled the police lieutenant
“She’s on her way to Memorial hospital. When a couple of teenagers stopped, Beth was conscious, but unable to move and reach her cell phone. The only way I could get her to go was to promise to call you. I was just about to do that when you called.” Breathing deeply, he continued. “I need to talk to you. I’ll meet you at the hospital, alright?”
“I’ll see you in awhile then.” Hanging up, blue eyes flickered to badly shaking hands. Hold it together Casey…Beth needs you. Grabbing her jacket on the way out, the specialist paused long enough to tell Susan that Beth was in the hospital then flew out the door.
Tires squealing, Casey rocketed into the emergency room parking lot and pulled into the first parking space she saw. Pocketing her keys, the specialist sprinted to the doors, not wanting to take the time to find the closest place. Weaving her way through the semi-crowed room, Casey was prevented from entering through the doors leading back to the treatment rooms.
“You can’t go back there miss.” The quiet voice, tried to sound authoritative.
“My wife is back there.” Casey glared intimidatingly at the young nurse, then forced herself to calm down. Don’t get kicked out..need to find Beth. “Please, I need to find my wife. She was in a car accident and Lt Masters wanted me to meet him. He’s back there somewhere with Beth.” The specialist glanced briefly at the nurse’s name tag as she bent the truth, having no idea if he was even here yet, but willing to use whatever means necessary to reach Beth. The blank look on the nurse’s face caused her to add, “my wife’s Beth…Elizabeth Jamieson.”
“Oh!” The nurse brightened visibly. “She’s my favorite author. I don’t know which room she’s in, but I’ll find out. Please come with me.”
“Thanks. I really appreciate it.” Casey swallowed her impatience, following the nurse through the closed doors. A uniformed policeman leaning against a counter three quarters the way down the long hallway caught Casey’s attention. “Who’s down there?” She nodded at the policeman.
“Let me see.” The nurse glanced at the computer quickly. “Ms Jamieson is in treatment room eight. Right next to the officer.”
“Thanks Betsy. I really appreciate it.” Casey nodded at the young woman, then hurried down the hall. Heart hammering painfully, the specialist wondered why Beth needed a guard. Even one as pathetic as this young man. What’s going on? What happened?
“Officer,” Casey growled lowly as soon as she was within range. “Is this your idea of protecting someone? Standing around talking? Flirting? You sure as hell aren’t paying attention to your duties!” Blue eyes blazed angrily at the cocky young man. “Anyone could sneak by you! If anyone did, Lt Masters will be the least of your worries.” Casey promised darkly. “Get back to work!” She snapped over her shoulder, pushing the door to room eight open. Incompetent fools! Beth had better be safe.
“I want to go home!” Beth’s indignant voice washed over Casey, causing her to stumble slightly. Thank god! She sounds alright…mad, but alright. “I’m fine, I assure you!”
“Beth?” Casey stepped around the corner, interrupting the conversation. “Sweetheart!” Worried blue eyes swept over her bruised, but in one piece lover. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine. I want to go home.” Beth glared meaningfully at the emergency room doctor while reaching for Casey with her right hand, tugging her gently to her side. Feeling very self conscious, the author slid her left hand under the blanket.
“As I’ve been explaining to Ms Jamieson,” the doctor turned to face his patient’s friend, hoping to appeal to a more reasonable person. “It would be better if she remained here over night for observation. Head injuries, especially ones that produced a period of unconsciousness, should never be treated lightly. She needs a cat scan and bed rest. It’s in Ms Jamieson’s best interests that she remains here tonight.”
Feeling her lover tense, seeing her lovely green eyes darken yet sparkle, that cocky tilt to her head…all classic signs that screamed that her wife was about to level both barrels at the unsuspecting doctor, Casey turned a silencing eye on her partner. “Please give me a moment with my wife, Doctor.”
“Certainly, maybe you can talk some sense into her.” Not in this lifetime…and I know I love it. Casey thought happily after the doctor finished speaking, her terror slowly fading in her lover’s presence.
“I can’t leave you alone for a minute, can I?” Casey choked on the words when the door shut, blinking rapidly to prevent the tears from escaping. “God Sweetheart, are you OK?”
“I’m fine, Love.” Beth smiled reassuringly at Casey. “Don’t I get a kiss?”
“You scared me half to death.” Casey leaned over the bed, lightly brushing her lips against Beth’s. “I want you to do something for me.” There’s only one way she’ll agree to the test…damn, she hates when I do this. The specialist rarely turned her forceful personality on her lover…rarely used their attraction, their love to get what she wanted. Not when it was clear that her wife was totally against what she was asking.
“Please don’t ask me that Casey! I don’t want the damn test.” Beth groaned, knowing her partner. “I want to go home with you.”
“And I want you to.” Casey smiled gently, rubbing Beth’s hand soothingly. “More than anything. But I need to make sure you’re healthy. Please Beth. For me. Let them do the test beloved.” Intense, serious blue eyes stared deeply into her partner’s exasperated green ones. C’mon, Love. Give in…do this for me….please! Pouring every ounce of love, along with her impressive persuasive capabilities, Casey pleaded silently with her eyes. Maintaining eye contact, Casey felt Beth slowly give in.
“Alright. You win.” Beth sighed, slightly disgusted with herself for giving in. “I’ll consent to the damn test.” I absolutely hate when she does that! Calm down, Casey’s just worried about me. Why am I so angry?
“Thank you, Beth.” Casey smiled softly, sincerely. “I really appreciate it.”
“Right.” The author brooded moodily, flopping back on the bed. And was unable to stop, not understanding her anger. “Go get the ignorant doctor so I can start the absurd test you’ve coerced me into suffering through. I’m fine…don’t need the asinine test.” Beth complained, fussing with the covering sheet. Geesh Beth, could you sound a little more stupid?
“Beth? Sweetheart?” Casey’s heartbeat increased erratically when Beth refused to look at her. “C’mon, Love. Please look at me.” Reluctantly, green eyes turned to blue; the author was incapable of resisting her lover’s plea. “I love you. I just want to make sure you’re OK. You do know that, right?” Please, look at me. I can’t stand it when you’re mad at me. Don’t shut me out…I need to see what you’re seeing, feel what you’re feeling…don’t hide from me. I can’t stand it.
“I love you too.” Beth smiled tentatively, her lover’s fear cutting through her own grumpy, emotional haze. “I know that.” Meaning both of Casey’s statements. “I’m sorry for being such a pain. It’s alright. Go get the doctor so we can get started. The sooner we get started, the sooner I can go home.” God, Beth. Be a little more immature, why don’t you!! Casey looks like she’s barely holding it together. Smart move, wonder brain…grow up…stop being such an insensitive jerk! And its just gonna get worse when she finds out what happened.
“I’ll make it up to you, I promise.” Casey swore quietly, very relieved to see her partner relax slightly. “You hate when I do that. I’m…I…I don’t know…I’m sorry.” Why do I do that? I know she hates it, but I do it anyway. DAMN! When am I gonna learn?
“Casey.” Nothing. “There’s nothing for you to make up.” Time for drastic measures. I’ve got to stop her brooding. I’m the one who’s sorry, Love. “Do me a favor?”
“Anything.” The specialist looked up at her partner’s tone of voice. Forgive me for using our love to make you do something you don’t want to do…I’ll do anything you want. Give me another chance. Please don’t send me away.
“Smuggle me in a double bacon cheeseburger and onion rings for dinner. I didn’t take the time to eat lunch.” Putting on her most innocent, pleading face, Beth looked pitifully at Casey. “Please? I’m hungry now; I’ll be starving by the time they’re done poking me.” The twinkle in Beth’s eye betrayed her grumpy comment.
“I’ll bring you something, I promise.” Casey breathed deeply, trying to calm her frazzled nerves. “I’ll get the doctor and then you can tell me what happened.”
And just what am I going to tell her? Hmmm? The author thought quickly, eyes glued to the door. How can I say ‘I was run off the road to get your attention’? You will blame yourself, more than you already are! I know you’re thinking that it wouldn’t have happened if you’d been with me. That damn note was pretty specific. Not to mention where it was left. It was just a matter of time….now think Beth! What am I gonna say? And what in hades was I thinking? Acting like a baby…none of this is her fault. The door creaked, abruptly halting Beth’s thoughts.
“Ms Bennett said you’ve consented to the cat scan. She’s arranging for a private room right now. I’m very relieved; it’s better to err on the side of caution.” He held up a hand, preventing the author from commenting. “I understand your feelings and am very aware of your desire to go home. In the morning, if the cat scan looks good and you continue to show no residual side effects, you can go home.”
Beth glared and nodded, not trusting herself to speak. I’m going home in the morning whether you like it or not, Doctor. Beth tuned the doctor out as he rambled on about what the test would reveal. That goes for you too, Casey.
“Everything’s set.” Casey smiled at Beth, entering the room with energy. In the hall, the doctor had assured her the test was more for safety’s sake than any precise medical reason. He’d also said anyone that could deliver such a verbal lashing was probably going to be just fine. She nodded politely and thanked the doctor as he left the room. “Can you tell me what happened?” Perching on the edge of the bed, Casey took Beth’s smaller hand in her own, lacing their fingers together. Serious, concerned blue eyes met green.
“I was driving home…I know you told me not to take the shortcut, but I just wanted to get home.” Beth breathed a sigh of relief as Casey interrupted her, telling her she wasn’t mad or upset. “Anyway, I was about a half hour from town when I noticed a green sedan,” the author paused, recalling the car. “I think it was an old four door Chevy Impala.” Beth paused when the door open, grinning mentally at how smoothly Casey rose to meet the possible threat, placing herself between her lover and the door. Ooh, she looks so intimidating! My big, bad protector. God how I wish you were with me earlier.
“Am I interrupting?” The deep, gravely voice of Lt Eric Masters stopped Beth’s thoughts.
“No, come in.” Casey motioned him forward. “Beth was telling me what happened.”
“How are you feeling, Beth?” Lt Masters moved to the opposite side of the bed.
“I’m fine. But,” twinkling green eyes slid to her lover and back to the lieutenant. “Someone insists on me having a cat scan. So I am.”
“Probably a safe precaution.” Lt Masters said cautiously, not wanting to get involved in the fight. “Why don’t you start over and tell us both what happened?”
Beth nodded once and repeated her comments about the color, make and model of the car. “At first, the driver was driving erratically, weaving all over the road, his speed not constant. He turned off past the old apple orchard. A few minutes later he was behind me again, behaving the same. After a couple of minutes, I pulled over and let him pass.” Green eyes narrowed in thought. “I didn’t see much of the license plate; it was covered in mud. IEQ …what?” The look the lieutenant was giving her annoyed the author. Why does everyone persist in thinking I’m flighty? That I don’t pay attention?
“Nothing! I’m just surprised that you caught the, oh never mind.” The two sets of eyes glaring at him halted his words. “Sorry. You were saying?”
“Anyway, I waited a three or four minutes before pulling back onto the road. Within five minutes, he was behind me again. Not knowing what else to do, since there wasn’t any populated place to stop, I started to call Casey.” The author turned, meeting her lover’s anguished gaze squarely, lovingly. This part was going to hurt. “Before I could complete the call, he ran into me. He did this two more times. Wonder why he did that?” The author interrupted herself, wondering for the first time why the driver didn’t press his advantage at the deadly curve.
“Did what?” Casey asked quietly, her lover’s warm…comforting…living grip keeping her grounded. Don’t let go…I need to feel that you’re alright.
“Pull back right before Hangman’s curve. He gave me enough time to recover before entering the curve. As soon as I cleared the curve, I floored the car, trying to put as much distance between us as possible. I actually succeeded, leaving him far behind. Then I heard a small pop and lurched to the right. I slowed down gradually, making it easier to handle the car.” Gods above, I don’t want to tell Casey the rest. Please Love, stay with me.
“Before I was fully stopped, the green sedan rammed me again, pushing me into and over the next curve. Next thing I know, I was on my side with the seat belt stuck and someone was telling me not to move. That they’d call for help.” There Beth…that’s it. Don’t even think of the terror you felt. Casey can read you like a book.
“Why is there a guard outside Beth’s door Eric?” Holding on by a slim thread, Casey forced herself to speak calmly, rationally. You can loose it later…just keep remembering that Beth is safe.
Surprising Casey, Beth answered the question. “You better hear this from me.” Beth spoke softly, eyes glued to her partner’s. “Excuse us for a moment Eric.” It wasn’t a request. “C’mere, Love.” The author sat up, reaching for her lover’s hand with her previously hidden left hand. “I love you, Casey Bennett.”
“I love you, too.” This must be bad. Sitting, Casey obligingly took Beth’s hand. “Tell me.” And I hope I’m strong enough to hear it. Then she noticed Beth’s bare finger. “What happened to your ring? Did they make you take it off?”
“When I came to, there was a note in my hand…it was addressed to you. Stay right here!” Beth refused to let the struggling Casey go, holding onto her firmly, preventing her from fleeing.
The only way Casey could escape her lover’s strong grip was to hurt her and that wasn’t an option. Breathing shallowly, rapidly, Casey closed her eyes. Damn! I was afraid of this. Afraid ever since Davidson that someone else would try and get revenge on me for what I’ve done. Its not fair! Beth is loving, innocent…she could have been killed…all because of me. But that didn’t happen. Her heart responded quickly, quickly cornering and containing her desire to flee. She’s OK….she’s OK. She’s warm, breathing…alive. Thank you God…thank you! Whispering silently, Casey concentrated on that one thought. Letting it and their love battle her demons…her fears. Opening her eyes, she met her wife’s look of absolute love. “I love you.” Pulling Beth to her carefully, Casey’s strong arms enveloped her. “No one’s gonna hurt you…I promise.” I’ll die protecting you. No one will ever get that close again. You are safe…we are safe. You are my whole world….no one, NO ONE will hurt you. No one will take you away from me…even me.
“I love you too, wife.” Beth mumbled against the soft skin of Casey’s neck; her wife’s keen hearing able to distinguish the barely audible words. “You OK?” I can’t believe how well Casey’s taking this. Wonder what’s going on in that beautiful head of her’s.
“As long as you’re OK, I’m OK.” Casey answered, painfully truthful. Pulling back slightly to run worried eyes over her partner, the specialist winced at the light bruising now evident on her neck and face. “Ouch. Looks like that’s sore.”
“Not too bad.” Beth stretched cautiously, shifting on the bed. Stay. Please. I want you here. I need you here. “I guess you will be going with Eric. Why don’t you go now and get it over with?” The author shifted again, telling herself she was being selfish for wanting Casey to stay for the test.
“No.” Narrowed eyes observed her nervously shifting partner. “I’m staying until I’m sure that you’re alright. Plus where is your ring?” The specialist sucked in a deep breath, not liking the direction her thoughts were taking.
“Casey.” Beth couldn’t believe she was protesting. She wanted nothing more than for Casey to be there. “There’s not that much daylight left. You need to go look things over.” The author repeated one of the things stressed in Casey’s training manual.
“But…” Casey knew Beth was right, but she wanted to stay with her lover more.
“No buts.” Beth insisted, silencing Casey’s protests. “You need to be able to see clearly. Besides, I’ll waste away if I have to wait that long for dinner! Love,” Beth changed tracks. “I promise I won’t give them any more grief.” The author knew she was one Hades of a patient. And Casey had enough to worry about without worrying that her lover was going to cause a scene.
“Are you sure? I don’t want to leave you if you’re not sure.” Principles be damned. Beth is all that matters. Casey met Beth’s gaze steadily. See? I’m telling the truth. What do you want me to do?
“I’m sure. Be careful.” Beth admonished her lover, green daring blue to refuse.
“I will be.” Casey assured her, giving in. Beth was right; she did need to get to the crime scene. But first things first. “Beth, where is your ring?”
“He took it when he left the note.” For the first time, Beth broke down, sobbing emotionally, reaching for Casey.
“Shh…shh.” Casey mumbled in Beth’s ear, rubbing her back soothingly. “I’ll get it back, I promise.” The specialist whispered her love, her need, until Beth calmed down. Ruthlessly she shoved her own reactions down deep, telling herself to concentrate on Beth. Calm down. Don’t think, don’t react…just focus on Beth. “I promise you, I’ll get your ring back.” Casey brought her partner’s hand to her lips, kissing the light band of skin.
“Be careful. Don’t do anything dangerous to get it back.” The author stared her lover right in the eye. “I can always get another…”
“You’re not going to have to do that.” Casey swore fervently, interrupting her wife. Mentally locking her knees, the specialist stood firm against the onslaught of near blinding rage coursing seductively through her body. Don’t give in…stay here with Beth…she needs me…
“I love that ring and what it means.” Beth acknowledged softly, thinking about the incredible, intense emotions that surged through her every time she saw her ring on her partner’s finger.
“I know. I feel the same.” Casey avowed, just as reverently as Beth, jerked away from her anger, her rage by her lover’s pledge.
“But I love you more.” Beth’s heart and soul soared, Casey’s words laying waste to the invading coldness that was so intense it burned. “So you promise me you’ll be careful. The ring can be replaced.”
“I’ll be careful, I promise.” And I’ll get your ring back. My word of honor. “Are you going to be alright?”
“Yeah.” Beth blinked back her tears, not wanting Casey to worry any more about her than she already was. “You better get going.”
“You behave.” The specialist rose, leaning over to kiss Beth tenderly, lovingly. “And be careful yourself. Phil should be here any minute. If you need anything, tell him.” Phil, an old friend, treated Beth like a favored little sister. Although not very muscular, he was skilled in basic self defense and one hell of a shot. Casey trusted him completely; Beth would be safe with him around. “I love you, Beth.”
“Love you too.” Casey kissed Beth deeply, conveying her emotions eloquently. The door opened, admitting the doctor and the young nurse that helped the specialist earlier. Waiting to see that Beth was going to behave, Casey waved once, forcing herself to leave the room and her wife.
“Phil.” Casey greeted her friend who was standing with Lt. Masters. “I assume Eric’s filled you in? Good.” Casey nodded when he nodded. “I’ll be back as soon as possible.” You can see for yourself why I called. God, where do these guys come from? The specialist cast a disapproving eye at the uniformed policeman who was doing his best to look alert and watchful but he wasn’t believable.
“Right.” That went without saying. On any given day, his boss and friend was anxious to return to her wife. Throw in the factor of her being anything other than fine and Casey rarely strayed from Beth’s side. “I’ll keep an eye on things here.” The computer specialist knew why Casey called him. She wanted someone she trusted implicitly with her wife. And the young cop didn’t inspire confidence.
“Thanks, Phil. I appreciate it.” Turning, Casey motioned the patiently waiting lieutenant down the hall.
“Alright, Eric. What’s going on?” Casey waited until they were in the car on the way to the site of Beth’s accident.
“There are only a couple of things that I can add to Beth’s description of the crime.” Lt Masters risked a glance at the car’s other occupant. So in control…so emotionless…I’m sitting next to Agent Bennett, not Beth’s lover. “Tire marks indicate the first contact between the vehicles occurred at high speed, most likely about 60mph. As one would expect, speed varied for the remaining contacts. The force of the blows drove the vehicle all over the road. I’m surprised Ms Jamieson,” Eric changed his tone and word choices, speaking to another professional. “Was able to keep the car on the road for as long as she did. A less experienced driver would have gone off the road before Hangman’s curve.”
“Beth is a good driver.” Casey spoke lowly, almost to herself. Clearing her throat, pushing her rising fear for her author’s safety firmly back, she continued. “Is that it?”
“No.” The lieutenant shifted, not comfortable with sharing the next part. It was impossible for him to remain distant.
“Just tell me.” Casey said a moment later, the lieutenant’s shifting making her extremely nervous. Spit it out Masters. Get it over with so I can get past it. It can’t be any worse than him taking Beth’s wedding ring! The specialist breathed deeply, hanging onto her control by a thin thread, knowing it could get much, much worse.
“After Beth’s vehicle rolled down the embankment, her attacker climbed down the hill and placed a note in Beth’s hand. Open that up.” Lt Masters pointed to the portfolio on the seat between them. “The note is in there.” Returning his attention to the road, the lieutenant fell silent, not wanting to distract the former FBI agent.
Without looking at the writing, Casey turned the plastic covered letter over. Experienced blue eyes noted the heavy, expensive stationary found only in speciality office supply shops. He’s trying to impress me. The expensive, hard to find paper was a conscious choice. Just by the paper choice, he’s setting the tone. Telling me he’s someone special…someone who deserves respect. Look at the way he wrote my name…just Casey. Like he knows me or wants to know me…almost as if this is a personal greeting. The strokes are firm, bold, clear. Lightly she fingered the paper, trying to convince herself to turn it over. The erratic pounding of her heart, the uneasy, queasy feeling in her stomach irrationally pleased the specialist. Normal reactions! Not the emotional distance I felt before. I can do this! Then a different thought slammed into her, hard. My lover…my wife… is laying in the hospital right now, having a serious test to make sure she’s OK. Yet I sit here, pleased that I’m upset. Pleased that I’m having a ‘normal’ reaction. What the hell is wrong with me? Get it together Casey. Beth needs for me to BE the professional now…not her worried, scared wife! Taking a deep breath, preparing herself, Casey turned the note over, blue eyes icy in their concentration as they swept over the note. Forcing herself to slow down, she read the note again.
So the game begins. Who’s the better professional? The former profiler, once the “best and brightest” of the FBI or the Master Criminal who challenges you to this game? Be well and good luck! I think you’re going to need it.
PS-I hope you appreciate my restraint in the opening move. I made sure your wife was alive and resting as comfortably as possible before leaving the scene. Fear not, I’ll hold her ring close to my heart.
“Breathe, Casey breathe.” The specialist muttered under her breath. “He touched my Beth.” Growling almost silently, the specialist slammed the door on her desire to beat something severely. He STOLE her wedding ring! Casey reached for her ‘professional’ mask with shaking hands. It’s the only way to get through this…need distance…need control…need to concentrate. Don’t let him get to you…you know that’s why he took her ring. Focus. Control. Distance. Become the professional. With dismay, she found she did not have the strength to slip it on…at least completely.
“Adam is challenging me to a contest.” The professional part of Casey spoke, kept her voice even and controlled. The lieutenant was totally unaware of her inner struggle. “The note tells us several things. First is the obvious: he wants to match wits and skills with me. And his actions just hint at the depth he’s willing to go. Second, it reveals much about his personality. Much like his writing, he wants to be seen as strong, bold, confident, even educated. All the words were spelled and punctuated correctly. There was no hesitation, just an expression of intent. This note was planned and practiced, probably several times before he wrote this note. He even signed his name, confidently revealing his belief that he’ll be the victor in this ‘contest’. Did you notice that the last couple of lines were written after the fact? The ink is darker, appears fresher. His words a little cramped…see how the spacing isn’t even? He was in a hurry. The choice of paper is another clue. It announces his impression of himself. Like the fine, expensive paper, Adam sees himself as better than others, deserving of special attention. Neither are common, every day occurrences. Just like wishing me luck.”
“The actual words tell a slightly different story. It’s clear, concise and articulate…no wasted words. Its almost like he didn’t want to waste either of our time with hidden messages. At the same time, Adam lets me know in no uncertain terms that Beth would be dead if he wanted. This shows his perceived mastery over the crime AND me.” The specialist’s mask broke internally, mentally crying at the harsh words. If he had killed Beth, there would be no game. I wonder if he knows that? He can’t imagine the rage he would have unleashed. Touching Beth, taking her ring almost pushed me over the edge. He’s walking a fine, fine line. He better not even look at her again or he’s dead.
“By touching Beth, putting the note in her hand…was it the left hand?” Casey interrupted herself, raising an eyebrow in question. At Masters nod, she sighed, the point confirmed in her mind. “His bold move, daring to touch someone I love,” the specialist’s voice cracked slightly, but she compelled herself to proceed. “To touch…to take the symbol of our love is extremely significant. Besides the obvious fact of trying to make me careless in my anger, Adam made things even more personal. My attention…my mind, my heart, my soul is split, torn between a spouse’s natural desire to protect and care for her partner and apprehending him.” Oh yeah, he was right about that. I am so mad I can barely concentrate. The only thing holding me together is protecting Beth…to keep her safe, I have to stop him.
“In short,” Casey pulled herself mentally together. The brief profile she’d given required her mind to stay active, in control, letting her ignore the painful thoughts that trickled through her mental barrier. Her emotions on the other hand, were unhindered, unchecked. And were growing harder to step away from with each passing second. “There really isn’t much in this note to work with, except to provide a starting point. Adam knows this, I strongly suspect. I will know more once we get to the crime scene.”
“You got all of that from just that short note?” Lt Masters asked, impressed.
“Don’t forget experience is the best teacher.” Casey nodded, noticing they were close to Hangman’s curve. Her heart picked up the pace along with her clenching stomach muscles. A thought occurred. “How did you get involved Eric? This is far outside your normal cases, unless there’s something you’re not telling me.” Blue eyes narrowed in warning.
“I just happened to be driving in from giving a speech at the rural community college. I have no idea what made me take the back way. Dispatch knew I was in the area, so they radioed me and asked me to check it out. The two young kids who came across Beth were out skipping school. Thankfully they decided it was better to call and get in trouble than let someone they didn’t know suffer.” Eric smiled wanly, privately marveling at the ex-agent’s skill and professional detachment.
“When we get to the scene,” the ex-agent couldn’t bring herself to say ‘Beth’s car. “Drive past in a couple of miles. I want to approach it from the direction it happened. Let me know when we’re past it.”
“OK, but why?” The lieutenant specialized in gang related cases. The opportunity to watch a profiler at work was impossible to pass up. “It’s right around the next corner.”
Casey closed her eyes, leaning her head back against the headrest. “I don’t want any preconceived notions spoiling my first impressions of the site. I want what happened in the right order. Before I’m done, I’ll go the other direction, just to make sure I’ve not missed anything.” If I see the mangled car first, Casey admitted silently, I don’t know if I’ll be able to concentrate on anything other than the force necessary to knock Beth down that embankment. C’mon Casey. Do it right the first time; gotta keep Beth safe. That’s it, concentrate on Beth…please, please be healthy and whole. I wish I was there…holding your hand…watching your face…protecting you myself. Allowing her mind to drift, Casey focused her energies on her lover, praying the test was going smoothly.
“We’ve past the vehicle and are at the starting point of the last confrontation.” Lt Masters disrupted the ex-agent’s thoughts about five minutes later as he slowed to turn the car around.
Keep it together Casey! C’mon now, time to be who Beth needs you to be. “Anytime you’re ready.” Casey addressed the patiently waiting man.
“That the first skid mark?” Casey asked, mentally noting its location to a line of covering trees. Eyes studied the approach with an aloof professionalism. Abruptly sucking in her breath as Beth’s battered 4Runner came into view, Casey grappled with her self control. Focus Casey! She will be alright…
Absently pulling a pair of latex gloves from an inner pocket on her leather bomber jacket, Casey was out of the car before it stopped. Turning around, blue eyes traced the rubber tracks into the grass. Nodding thoughtfully, Casey retrieved a mini cassette recorder and started recording her observations. Ignoring everyone around her, the former agent, cautiously zig zagged across the steep hill, stopping to examine the bent grass in several places. Finally, after bracing herself, the specialist took her first good look at Beth’s 4Runner. Thank God it’s a safe vehicle. She would have been killed in my car. The vehicle’s sturdy frame kept the sides and top from being crushed; its excellent stability prevented it from rolling until it bounced off a large rock where bits of paint remained. Bitting back a sigh, Casey knelt at the back bumper, talking rapidly into her tape recorder. Warily, she slipped her head and shoulder under the vehicle, scrutinizing the rear axle. Shaking her head, Casey rose and moved to examine the front axle. Cursing softly at what she found, Casey shakily rose to her feet and opened the passenger door. Falling silent, the ex-agent walked several times around the vehicle, deep in thought.
“Lt Masters.” Casey looked up, motioning the man and the evidence technicians closer. “What have you touched?” Bart and Amanda, the evidence technicians, assured the specialist that nothing had been touched by anyone other than the emergency crew, per the lieutenant’s orders. “Good. This is what we need to sample.” Moving around the perimeter, Casey pointed out several places, concentrating on the front part of the vehicle and a place about twenty-five paces to the north. After indicating what other areas of the surrounding grounds she wanted samples from, Casey worked her way back to the top of the hill.
“Are you going to tell me what you learned?” Lt Masters spoke quietly, after joining Casey about fifteen minutes later.
“Not a whole lot.” Casey confessed disappointedly, not wanting to share her growing suspicion until she checked a few details. “There are only two noteworthy things about the scene. One is the lack of physical damage to both the surrounding area and the 4Runner. The second is the small, sophisticated bomb placed on the front passenger side axle.”
“Great!” The lieutenant complained angrily. “So we’ve got nothing, absolutely nothing to go on, unless we get lucky and find a print on the vehicle or letter.”
Blue eyes pinned the lieutenant in place. “That’s not true.” Her tone was mild, careful to be non-judgmental. The former agent had been in this position many times over her career. But never before had it been so important that she remain cool, in control. Without the legal power of a badge behind her, the lieutenant could deny her access to the information gathered. That wouldn’t stop her, but it would make her job that much harder. “The crime was meticulously planned and flawlessly carried out. That tells us a great deal about Adam and gives me a place to start. Push the lab to get results on any fingerprints or trace evidence found on the bomb. I want to know exactly how the bomb was made. The paper is a long shot, but check the local office supply stores to see if they’ve got an exact match for the paper. Maybe some clerk can put a face to Adam’s name.” Exhaling softly, Casey noted Lt Masters’ changed opinion, pleased. “Call me on my cell phone when you have the results and I’ll come over. I also want to talk to the kids who first found Beth. I’ve got a few things I want to check out before I give you a formal profile.”
“Sounds good. Sorry I was so grouchy.” The lieutenant smiled wryly at Casey, once again marveling at her control. “You finished? I bet you want to get back to the hospital.”
“I don’t think there is anything more I can learn from the scene.” Casey agreed with the lieutenant.
“Officer Stevens will give you a ride back. Give my regards to Beth. I sincerely hope the test turns out alright.” Lt Masters signaled the officer and instructed him to take the former FBI agent back to the hospital.
Nodding her thanks, Casey followed the officer, retrieving her cell phone from her jacket. Dialing Phil’s assistant, Casey gave a detailed description of what she wanted done. Closing her eyes, the specialist called forth every detail, mentally reviewing every detail.
Muffled voices awoke Beth. Groaning softly, the author stretched carefully, trying to make her sleepy brain focus on the conversation in the corner of her room. I’d know that voice anywhere…I’m glad you’re back, love. Why are you upset? Outside of the obvious reasons. Listening intently, the conversation came into focus.
“You have a decision to make.” Casey’s angry voice was easy to distinguish. “Either I or one of my operatives remain with Beth at all times or I take her out of here, right now. Someone ran her off the road because of me…who I used to be…it’s not safe for her to be unprotected! The young cop at the door couldn’t protect himself, let alone anyone else!” The doctor tried to speak, but she rolled right over him. “If it was so damned important for Beth to have the cat scan and be observed, you shouldn’t have a problem with me being here.”
“I don’t care about visiting hours or your rules! I already forced my wife to submit to a test she didn’t want to have, on your recommendation. She only wanted to go home with me and I said no. Damn it, I told the woman I love she couldn’t come home!” Casey exploded, losing her temper. The strain of the past several hours evident in her uncharacteristic loss of control. The spluttering doctor fueled her raging anger. “Fine! Not anymore.” The specialist spun, moving toward the bed. “We’re leaving. I will take care of her.” Blue eyes landed on open, amazed and concerned green. Immediately Casey’s posture and attitude changed; visibly she softened and calmed down. “Are you feeling alright? Still feel like leaving? C’mon, I’ll take you home. I should have before.”
“You win.” The doctor’s defeated voice halted the specialist. “You can stay with Ms Jamieson.” Given the fact that a police lieutenant took orders from her, he decided he didn’t want to cross this woman.
“Thank you, Doctor.” Beth spoke softly, reaching for her lover’s hand. “We really appreciate it. I’m sorry we’ve both been a pain. We’ll behave now, I promise.”
“Just rest, Ms Jamieson.” Nodding at his patient, the doctor left the room without saying anything to his patient’s volatile wife.
“What’s wrong, Love?” Beth sat up, tugging gently on their linked fingers. “Sit down.”
“Are you alright?” The specialist asked, chagrined. “I didn’t even ask the doctor before I started yelling.”
“I’m fine…no problems on the cat scan. I think they just want to make sure everything is in its right place.” Beth stared anxiously at Casey, extremely worried by her uncharacteristic behavior. Just what did you find that’s elicited such a nervous response?
“Thank God.” Casey kissed Beth softly, lovingly. “I don’t know what I’d do if anything happened to you.” Oh yes I do, the specialist’s mind added readily. I’d loose it completely.
“Me too.” Beth answered her wife’s unspoken comments, feeling exactly the same. “I love you, Casey.”
“Love you too, Beth.” Casey husked emotionally, gently enveloping her author in her strong arms. Oh god…I was so scared! Then I saw the car and was absolutely terrified. You are so lucky Love. I don’t know how you escaped being seriously hurt…but I’m so thankful…
“Casey?” Beth mumbled against her wife’s neck, lips light wisps against the sensitive skin.
“What’s going on?” The author had read the note before Lt Masters arrived. I’m more scared for Casey than myself. Me hurt, to get her attention…hang on, Love. We’ll get through this together.
“I’m not entirely sure. You read the note?” The specialist knew her wife; she’d scrutinized the note before handing it over to Masters. “Figured.” A wide grin spread across her face as Beth sheepishly nodded.
“It appears that Adam wants to ‘play’ with me.” The former agent’s tone clearly indicated how she felt. “He felt the best way to get me to ‘play’ was to attack the one thing I defend at all costs.”
“Me.” Beth spoke quietly, heart aching for Casey and the guilt she knew her lover felt.
“Yeah, you.” Casey kissed Beth again. “He had his one chance with you; he won’t get another one.” The specialist spoke gruffly, tightening her hold on her lover. “You’re staying with me or Phil until this is over. No arguments, love. I’ll work at home or you’ll come to the office with me.” If Beth felt like rebelling, the look on Casey’s face convinced her to agree to her lover’s terms. The author intuitively understood now was not the time to argue.
“Casey?” Beth sounded so serious.
“What, Sweetheart?” The specialist looked questioningly at her wife. What’s wrong? Tell me.
“Adam didn’t want to kill me. Why?” The question had been bothering the author all through the long test. “Why did he give me time to recover before Hangman’s curve? Why did he wait until the flattest part of road to run me off?”
“Good questions, Love.” Casey thought rapidly, trying to figure out a way to tell Beth without causing more alarm.
“Hmm?” Casey blinked belatedly, not realizing how long she’d been silent. There’s no good way to say this…just tell her. “Sorry.” Drawing a deep breath, Casey exhaled it evenly, calming her erratic heart. “He knew if he killed or seriously hurt you, I wouldn’t be able to ‘play the game’. That is what he wants, more than anything.”
“He wants to match wits with you…best you with no extenuating circumstances.” Beth paraphrased, having learned how to read between the modest lines her wife drew about herself.
“Something like that.” Casey confirmed, not saying that she’d rip him limb from limb if he’d seriously hurt or killed Beth. “Want to…”
“HEY!” Beth’s faintly rumbling stomach reminded her of her lover’s promise. “Where’s my bacon double cheeseburger and onion rings? You promised!”
“Beth!” Casey blushed embarrassed, letting Beth lead her away from her guilty conscious.
“I know, you had other things on your mind.” Green sparkled innocently. “I know how hard it is for you to remember things.” The author knew exactly how to tease her lover to pull her away from her dark, dangerous thoughts and emotions.
“I’ll show you what I remember.” Casey growled, lurching over her lover, fingers wiggling suggestively.
“You wouldn’t!” Beth squealed, trying to avoid those twitching instruments of torture. “Have mercy,” the author gasped, laughing loudly. “I’m injured!”
The fingers stilled momentarily, blue eyes attentively studying her laughing wife. “You seem OK to me.” Beth’s complaining stomach ended the tickle match. “Guess I better feed you then.” Casey walked over to the dresser and picked up a sack Beth hadn’t noticed yet. “Betsy said a cold sub would be better than a greasy burger. I made the officer stop on the way to the hospital. Would I forget your dinner?” Casey looked up, surprised Beth was silent. “What’s wrong?” The intense, boring stare she was receiving froze her in place.
“Who’s Betsy?” The author was proud of her mild, calm, rational tone.
“The young nurse who helped me find you…wait!” Casey stared incredulously at her lover. “You can’t be jealous…you are!” Casey concluded, looking at the embarrassed flush that swept over her wife’s beautiful face. Sweetheart,” the specialist returned to her lover’s side. “I want only you.” A gentle kiss to one cheek accompanied the words. “I need only you.” The other cheek was not neglected. “I love only you, wife.” Casey whispered against Beth’s lips, blue lost in green. Their lips clashed together in a passionate kiss, each intent on showing the other exactly how much, how deeply they loved.
“Sometimes I’m…” Beth began breathlessly when their lips parted.
“Shh…it is alright.” Casey interrupted Beth, kissing her lightly before standing. Quickly she retrieved the forgotten food. “You said something about being hungry?” Casey grinned as Beth nodded enthusiastically. “You should have seen Stevens’s face when I ordered two foot long subs, one with double bacon. Not to mention chips and cookies.” Laughing, she handed Beth her dinner, sighing comfortably, basking in simply being in her love’s presence.
You look so peaceful, like you don’t have a care in the world. But that’s not true. We both know it. You’re here because of me…because you love me…because you are my whole world. Do you know how this is tearing me up inside? The fact that he actually touched you…took your ring…it’s all I can do to sit here. I do want to tear him limb from limb. You picked out the rings, had them designed without my knowledge..but that ring…both of our rings, are so much a part of us both..damn! I can’t even think the words, let alone speak them aloud. Sometimes I wonder if you realize how much you mean to me…that you love me completely, without conditions or expectations. I never thought anyone would ever…could ever feel that way about me. Every time I get scared, start doubting, all I have to do is look down, see the symbol of our love. And now that bastard took your’s…damn him! I swear I will get it back. I promise. Casey swallowed emotionally, having wakened from a light sleep and looked up in time to catch the sun peak through the pre-dawn sky. Silently rising, blue eyes never strayed from her lover’s serene face as the specialist stretched stiff muscles. She had stood watch, protecting her lover while she slept. Dozing lightly on and off through the night, Casey had waken with each unusual, out of place noise.
“Shh…shh…I’m here. You are safe.” Casey spoke softly, immediately sitting beside her dreaming lover. The rapid transition from peaceful to troubled sleep almost instant. Several times during the night, Casey comforted the nightmare plagued Beth. These dreams prove it. The specialist thought, disgusted with herself after Beth calmed down. Because of me, because I couldn’t keep you safe, now you can’t rest without fear, without worry, without pain? Casey conveniently ignored the numerous times nightmares of the Warrior Princess and her bard assaulted her author.
What am I going to do? How can I keep you safe and do what I know needs to be done? Right now, I’m so paralyzed with fear, that every little noise, every distraction invokes the strongest reaction. When the time comes, will I be able to walk away…trust your safety to another, even if it is Phil? Hell, how am I going to convince you that you don’t need to see everything, feel everything? You’re so damn stubborn; you’ll refuse to let me go through this by myself. And I love that. Love the fact that you refuse to be anywhere but by my side. What happens when the intensity, the violence of the crimes increase and you see exactly how I used to live…who I used to be? Will you still love me then? Still want to be with me? How could I blame you if you say no? Tears ran unchecked down sculpted, tan cheeks. Why would you say anything other than no?
Hold it right there! Casey’s heart fought back fiercely, strongly aided by Beth snuggling deeper in her embrace. Unconsciously, she rubbed her ring, the cool metal comforting. I know Beth loves me! Don’t be stupid, Casey. How many times must Beth prove her love, her loyalty? No matter what I reveal…no matter how I act…no matter how terribly I behave, Beth has always, always stayed right by my side. Why think this time will be different? A warm nuzzle pulled Casey from her thoughts briefly. Tightening her arms, Casey kissed the top of Beth’s head lovingly. This time won’t be different. Beth does love me. And I love her. Completely, without reservation. We will get through this, one way or another. The specialist closed her eyes and held on tight, trying with all her might to believe…and was partly successful in ignoring the small, tiny part of herself that asked, ‘but what if?’
“Let me make sure I have this straight.” The author paced cautiously around Casey’s office, extremely conscious of the three pairs of eyes guarding her every step. Guys, its been almost two days. I’m fine. Give me a break!
“Adam, for the sole reason of ‘matching wits’ with the best FBI profiler in recent history,” Beth borrowed her partner’s phrase, shooting a loving look at her lounging lover. Looks are deceiving, the author chuckled mentally, pivoting rapidly. “Planned and executed an almost perfect re-enactment of said profiler’s first major case.” Booted feet tread lightly, covering the office in several steps. “From the number of hits to the color of the interior of the car,” the author had remembered, upon gentle questioning, several more details of her attack. “To the small bomb used to disable my vehicle.” Beth paused, glaring at Phil as he patted the sofa beside him invitingly.
“But there were two major differences.” Beth nodded once, satisfied Phil wouldn’t push for her to rest. Several times over the past two days, Phil and Eric Masters had tried unsuccessfully to get the author to rest, to take it easy. Each time, Beth had silenced them with a look or a few choice words. To her great surprise, Casey had not tried to limit her activities, at least not openly. True to her word, she worked at home the first day, spending most of her time on her computer. She hadn’t said one word about Beth working, but she had stopped her from cooking or doing any housework. Luckily for them both, since Casey was a terrible cook, Mrs A and Alberta Delgado brought over enough food to feed them for several days. Not able to put off going in to the office any longer, Casey had asked Beth to accompany her.
“First, Adam chose me, instead of a teacher or nurse as in the original case. This was necessary to insure Casey’s participation in the investigation; Adam’s sole reason for committing the crime. Second,” Beth chose to ignore the soft groan from Casey and resumed her pacing, booted feet showing her blooming emotions. “He needed to make sure I survived the crash, so he pulled back and allowed me to safely navigate the dangerous curves near Hangman’s Curve, before running me off the road. Again, for the sole purpose of roping Casey into the investigation. If I’m seriously hurt or killed, the game is over.” Sorry, Love. Beth sat beside her partner, smiling softly when a long arm was wrapped around her shoulders. Pointedly overlooking Phil’s big grin, the author snuggled against Casey, comforting them both with the contact.
“So now,” Beth sighed, impatient with the inaction. “We’re stuck sitting here, staring at each other, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Our next move,” the author included herself because Casey had made it perfectly clear that she was going nowhere without her wife. “Depends on what crime he decides to mimic next or if he branches out on his own.” Beth watched Casey out of the corner of her eye, continually amazed at her lover’s control. The author knew in no uncertain terms that if the situation was reversed, she’d be a nervous wreck. “According to 99 here,” the nickname earned the giggling Phil a hard stare from Eric Masters. “Who I might happen to add, definitely knows what she’s doing,” Beth used those words to show her explicit trust in her lover’s professional abilities. “Places Adam with above average intelligence and mechanical skills. The execution of my accident was thorough, complete…nothing was left to chance. So of course the little gift and note he left at the hospital was no help either.” The author paused a moment, considering the note, remembering how little Casey actually told her about it. Then she thought quickly and voiced a question. “How did Adam know Casey was at the hospital? Was it because he was watching her or because it was a predictable reaction? I think it must have been because he was watching, because he had no idea how long Casey would stay at the crime scene or when she’d go.”
“Yup, that’s basically it.” Casey was proud of herself. Her voice was even and calm, even managing to sound a little lazy. In no way did it reflect the panic seizing her gut or her burning desire to lock Beth safely away. I still can’t believe he showed up at the hospital. That’s a risk I’m surprised he took…at least at this stage of the game. I’m even more glad than ever that I insisted on staying with Beth. If my car hadn’t been there, he would have left the message with Beth…I don’t want him anywhere near my wife. I’ll kill him if he touches her again. Noticing everyone was waiting for an additional comment, Casey cleared her throat, subconsciously. “Uniforms are out asking questions, looking for witnesses, checking auto body repair shops…laying a foundation that might reveal a clue about Adam.”
“But you don’t think they will, do you?” Lt Masters spoke for the first time since they’d began discussing the case. After listening to Casey talk for more than an hour, reviewing the lack of evidence, the reasons this was significant, the motives most likely behind the case…the lieutenant was most happy that Beth simplified the conversation. Not only did it allow him to review Casey’s case and make his own decisions, it helped his head stop hurting. The lieutenant was not a fool and didn’t stand on his pride; when he needed help, he wasn’t afraid to ask for it. And he clearly recognized this, especially when conventional investigative techniques proved useless. The car was a prime example. As the former agent predicted, the car was stolen a couple of months ago from a mall parking lot, leaving them with no tangible leads to work from.
“No, I don’t think they’ll find anything.” Casey confirmed, alert blue eyes cautiously, sneakily observing her partner for any signs of fatigue.
“OK, well I guess I better go check in with the Chief. I’ll call you if anything comes up.” Pausing at the door, he flashed Casey an amused look. “Don’t forget to use the siren next time, speed demon.” Quickly he ducked out the door, the magazine thrown in his direction barely missing him.
“What did he mean by that?” Beth asked once Phil excused himself to go check on another case. “Casey?” Her partner’s blush inspiring more curiosity than the comment normally would. The author was well acquainted with her lover’s aggressive driving.
“Seems I out-drove three units in my haste to reach the hospital after Eric called and told me about your accident.” Casey mumbled, playing intently with the laces on her shoes. “What? Don’t look at me like that!” The specialist sighed, shrugging her shoulder’s at the puppy dog expression she just knew was on Beth’s face. “Alright!” Casey caved in quickly, pulling her non-protesting lover on her lap. “I was scared. I just wanted to get to you…to the hospital.” The harrowing trip to the hospital nothing more than a blur. The specialist wasn’t even aware of the chase until Lt. Master’s teased her about her driving skills. “Until we catch Adam, Eric had me install a siren in my car so that I would be able to move around without causing a panic.”
“Oh great!” Beth groaned, teasing Casey immensely. “All you need is a license to speed!”
“Yeah, yeah…rub it in, Slick!” Casey shot back, silently wishing that the siren was not necessary.
“I’m gonna get you for that, 99!” Launching herself against Casey, Beth struggled to get the upper hand, tickling unmercifully.
“I love you, Beth Jamieson.” Casey spoke softly some time later, wrapped comfortably around her lover sprawled on top of her. The tickle fight had ended in a draw…the specialist and author in their favorite snuggle embrace.
“I love you, too.” Beth promptly answered, raising her head from Casey’s neck so she could see her eyes. Casey looks normal…is acting normal…maybe that’s the problem. Why’s she not upset? I thought she’d be bouncing off the walls by now. “How are you doing, Love?” Beth couldn’t put a finger on exactly what triggered her question.
“Me?” Casey tried to brush off her concern. “I’m fine. How are you doing?” That’s it, Casey. Don’t let on how much this is bothering me…how close to the edge I am. The only thing holding me together is Beth…she needs me. If I ever doubted how much I’ve changed, I don’t now.
“Liar.” Beth untangled her hand from jet black hair, touching the smooth skin on Casey’s cheek, softening her words. “You’re wound so tight that you’re afraid someone will see how much this is bothering you.” Keep it light Beth. Don’t add to her fears. “I’m afraid for you, love. If you don’t let some of your emotions out, you’re going to drive yourself crazy.”
“I’m not.” Casey denied Beth’s claim. But she’s right. I am so close to the edge right now and it’s just gonna get worse. Don’t let go…I’ll be alright as long as you just don’t let go.
“Don’t lie, Casey…not to me, not to yourself.” The gentle touching continued; relieved, Beth felt Casey relax just a little. Time to change tracts…this isn’t working. “You’re my hero. Nothing you say, nothing you do will ever change that fact. So don’t you worry about how I’m reacting. Not now, not ever.”
“You’re MY hero.” Casey swore softly, heart pounding joyfully at Beth’s words. How can she say I’m her hero? Beth knows exactly what to say. God, I know I never did anything to deserve this, deserve her, but THANK YOU. Still, she was unable to admit her concerns, admit her fears. Threading a hand in Beth’s strawberry blond locks, she gently pulled Beth in for an emotional kiss. “Don’t ever let go.” Casey whispered against Beth’s lips, claiming them fiercely, passionately.
“Casey, we need to talk about…” The ringing of Casey’s cell phone startled both women. “Wonder who that is.” Beth moved, allowing Casey to reach her phone. The look on Casey’s face as she listened tore at Beth’s heart. Gods, it must be another one. Nothing else would make Casey look that way. Hang on love, I’m with you all the way. Whatever you need, I’ll give it to you. The author tried to move off her lover so she could sit up, but was prevented by Casey’s arm tightening noticeably around her waist. Whatever. Beth promised herself, praying that Casey wouldn’t ask her to leave for her own safety. The author frowned when Casey repeated an address just inside the city’s northern limits. That’s mostly an industrial area.
“C’mon, Love.” Casey rose, striding over to their coats hanging by the door. “We need to see Phil and then get going.” The specialist pocketed her cell phone, quickly double checking to make sure she had everything she needed. Handing Beth her coat, Casey grabbed her own heading towards Phil’s office.
“Hey Phil, ” Casey started talking as soon as they cleared the door. “I need to you get copies of every case I handled dealing with forms of physical torture, especially anything exotic. If I remember correctly, there were only five.
“I’ll get right on it.” Phil didn’t ask the obvious. “I’ll call as soon as I’ve got the files.”
“Thanks Phil.” Lacing her fingers through Beth’s, Casey hurried them out of the office.
“What happened Casey?” Beth asked gently once they were in the car when it became apparent her partner wasn’t going to be forthcoming with information.
“It appears that Adam has struck again, this time he tortured someone nearly to death. The victim is in route to the hospital; the EMTs didn’t know if he’d make it or not.” Casey swore softly, not wanting to expose her gentle lover to the horrors just ahead. I don’t want to do this! The ex-FBI agent pouted mentally, using the speed and traffic as a distraction, allowing her to think. I would give just about anything to keep Beth away from this. But I just don’t see how that’s possible! I’m afraid to let her out of my sight. Just hang on Beth, don’t let go. Trust me. Somehow, someway, we’ll get through this. I’ll protect you from of the violence, the ugliness, the hatred as possible.
Unable to put it off any longer, Casey cast a quick, questioning look at her wife. The specialist was unaware of how her silence affected her lover. “When we get to the crime scene, I’d like you to stay with me, if you think you can. I know I’m over reacting, that Adam can’t realistically get to you in the middle of a crowed crime scene, but I don’t want to take any chances.” The former agent resolutely pushed the few ways Adam could reach her out of her mind, understanding there was nothing she could do about them outside of locking Beth someplace far away.
“I’ll be fine, don’t worry about me, Love.” Beth answered promptly, concealing her emotions from her partner. Good…my voice was gentle, even. No sign of the conflict battling inside. Casey has enough to worry about without worrying about me. “What do you want me to do? Or will what you see dictate that?”
“Nope, I know exactly what I want you to do.” As long as it’s not too violent, too gruesome. “Stay with me, at my side.” It helps, pretending that I’m talking just to you. You keep me grounded, Love.
“There’s no place I’d rather be.” Beth spoke truthfully, sincerely. “Promise me something, Casey. If things get to be too much for you,” The author continued once Casey nodded. “You tell me. If you want me to stay at home with a bodyguard, I will.” Beth had thought long and hard before speaking those words. As much as she hated feeling smothered, hated being told what to do, she loved Casey more. And if staying safely out of the way made this easier for her lover, Beth would consent to being protected.
“Do you know how much that means to me?” Casey asked emotionally, once she found her voice. Talk about surprises! Thank you, Love. “I promise I’ll try not to do that unless absolutely necessary. It’s just around the corner. You up for this?” Noticing her partner’s own tape recorder for the first time, Casey cocked an eyebrow as she parked in the spot left open for them near the front of the building. “What’s that for?”
“I thought I would stay more focused if I used this as an exercise in descriptive techniques.” Beth refused to admit she hoped it would keep her from embarrassing her wife by doing something stupid like throwing up. “I asked Eric and he said it was OK as long as I didn’t use confidential material.” Beth giggled, remembering the rest of the conversation.
“What? What’s funny?” Privately Casey thought it was a good idea; it gave Beth something to focus on, other than the actual crime.
“He also said it would be interesting to see how a ‘professional’s description’ differed from ‘my wordy prose’. It seems,” Beth was relieved to see Casey smiling. It was the first smile she’d seen since Eric called. “That he thinks I’m too verbose.”
“Tell you what,” Casey slipped Beth’s ID around her neck, kissing her softly. The police ID would allow her to move unchecked through the crime scenes. “You listen to me first, OK? Then I’ll listen to you. That way we aren’t interrupting each other. And if I miss something, you’ll catch it.” Beth was relentless when it came to describing things; she practiced weekly, not wanting to loose a necessary skill.
“Sounds good.” Secretly Beth scoffed. ‘Ms You Forgot to Cross Your T’ didn’t miss anything. “Anyway, the idea was to distract me. If I’m listening to you, I won’t need any more distractions.” Beth grinned sexily at her blushing lover. “C’mon now. Time to go be Ms Profiler, 99.”
“I love you, Beth Jamieson.” Casey chuckled, stealing a quick kiss before jumping out of the car, Beth’s return of love firmly encasing her heart.
Wow! How rapidly her face can change. Beth smiled softly, watching Casey walk around to get her door. In just seconds, her laughing, playful lover was replaced by a stoic professional. Here we go…just stay calm Beth…you can do this. Accepting her lover’s hand, the author allowed herself to be helped from the car, following silently, closely behind.
Wonder if she’s even aware that she’s holding my hand? Beth pondered that thought, observing the startling change in Casey’s behavior as she questioned the detective leading them slowly to Lt. Masters. She and Casey had a long conversation last night with Casey describing how her behavior would change. The former agent had sadly warned Beth that at crime scenes she couldn’t be her lover. Casey wanted no misunderstandings, no unnecessarily hurt feelings. Always protecting me, aren’t you? Beth chuckled silently, not surprised by her reactions to her strong lover. God Beth, get a grip! A man was severely beaten because Adam wanted to ‘play’ with Casey. And here you stand, getting turned on by how beautiful she looks while she’s in her intimidation mode. Wait, what’s she saying? Her whole demeanor changed. Narrowing her eyes, Beth unconsciously stepped closer, paying attention to her surroundings, absently looking up to see where the light was coming from. Wait a second! Why do some of the chains look like they’ve been used recently? Without thinking, Beth stepped towards the chains, away from her lover, examining the floor intently. Huh…the floor’s been cleaned recently. Kneeling, Beth studied the floor, seeing nothing out of the ordinary, except the clean floor. Without knowing why, she glanced up again, gasping softly. The chains were recently moved!
“See anything interesting?” Casey’s low voice tickled Beth’s ear, causing the author to jump slightly, almost falling over. Do you have any idea how scared I was when I looked and you weren’t by my side?
“God, Casey!” Beth breathed heavily, accepting Casey’s hand. “You trying to scare me half to…oh.” The author realized what she was saying. DAMN! “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“You did.” Casey confirmed, deciding that Beth should know how her unexplained absence affected her. “Tell me next time you see something. Just don’t go off on your own.” She softened her words with a smile. “What’s so interesting?”
“Why is this area of the floor clean? And what about the chains? They’ve been moved recently.” Pointing to the chains in question, Beth looked expectantly at Casey.
“Maybe I should start calling you 99.” Casey teased, bumping her gently before turning serious. “I noticed them when we came into the room. That’s one reason why I wanted to look around a bit before joining Eric. I’m not sure, but based on the size and pattern of the clean area, I’d say there’s a very good chance that the victim was tortured here, then moved to a different location. That would explain the clean chains and spotless floor.”
“Oh.” That idea hadn’t occurred to Beth, but remembering Casey’s explanation of the lack of trace evidence, she wondered out loud. “So that probably means there aren’t any clues here…well, except the lack of them.”
“We might get lucky, but you’re probably right. C’mon, Eric’s waiting.” Casey led Beth back over to the patiently waiting detective. “Nice catch.” Casey smiled slightly, the pleased delight spreading across her lover’s face warmed her inside.
Motioning the detective to go ahead, Casey pulled Beth to the side, preventing her from entering the room where the victim was found. “Are you ready? Remember stay close and don’t touch anything.” At Beth’s nod, Casey turned, entering the room.
Raising her tape recorder, Casey spoke quietly, describing the room. Knowledgeable blue eyes swept over the mostly empty room. “Everything’s been arranged so all attention is focused on the center of the room. From the metal folding chair to the chains hanging from the ceiling. Even the floor has been cleaned from the center to the walls.” Shaking her head slightly, Casey began an in-depth study of the room. Vaguely conscious of her lover lower following her a few paces to the rear, time ceased to exist for the former agent, the scene hauntingly familiar. Why can’t I place it?
I wonder if she knows she’s even talking to me? Beth pondered after slipping back to her former position for what seemed like the one hundredth time. Unusual, noteworthy items, Casey pointed out, speculating as to their purpose, their meaning. I have to admit, this is fascinating, watching you work, beloved. You my love, are incredible. It scares me a little to see first hand what you dealt with for eight exceedingly long years. You move so confidently through the darkness, almost effortlessly. But its not, is it? Your eyes give you away. A flinch at some unexpected cruelty, the slight darkening at a large pool of blood…you feel this. Deeply, completely. How did you survive without losing yourself totally? I know I said I understood before, but I don’t think I did. You felt the anger, the pain, the pure evilness..and you survived. Better than I ever could hope to. And here you are, worried about me thinking less of you. You couldn’t be farther from the truth! My respect for you has grown and I didn’t think that was possible. I wonder what you’ll say when I tell you? Knowing you, you’ll laugh it off or find some way to turn it back on me. Not this time lover, not this time. It’s past time you realize just how special you are. Then a different, totally unrelated thought broke through as Casey brushed her silky hair back over her shoulder, muscles rippling with effort as she stooped to examine a pipe. Damn she’s sexy when she’s serious. There’s an aurea surrounding her that’s irresistible. And I know she wore those tight pants to distract me. What I would give to be able to run my hands over her… “What?” Lost in thought, Beth hadn’t heard Casey ask her a question. Shaking herself mentally, Beth groaned silently, seeing the undisguised concern in her lover’s eyes. “What did I miss?”
“Are you OK? Do you need to take a break for a minute?” Casey had unconsciously called for Beth, wanting to point out the significance of the mixture of grease and blood on the broom handle. The unfocused, almost dazed expression in Beth’s eyes snapped her attention away from the scene and to her too quiet lover. With a start, Casey realized she’d been talking on and off for more than an hour. Stupid! Should have asked her if she was OK before now.
“I’m fine.” Beth smiled warmly, trying to put as much of her love and support in the look as possible. “I don’t need a break. What did you want me to see?” Don’t ask what I’m thinking. Please!
“Are you sure? This can be a little overwhelming at first.” Thank god the victim still wasn’t here. Casey stared suspiciously at her lover, not believing the rapid change in her wife’s expression. “What are you thinking?”
“Somehow I doubt you’d believe me if I told you.” Concentrate! Gods, please step back. I can’t think when you’re this close…smelling so damn good. Trying to look innocent, Beth smiled sweetly at Casey, sternly telling herself to behave.
“You’re incorrigible, you know that?” Casey frowned severely catching on to her lover’s fidgeting, not believing she caught her wife lusting after her in such a situation. Control Casey! Don’t look too deeply in her eyes. Predictably her body responded to her lover’s, not her thoughts. Traitor!!
“I’m sorry.” Beth felt terrible and looked away, unable to hold her lover’s gaze. God Beth, just how much of a pervert are you? Standing here in a room where a man was left to die and you’re lusting after your partner!
What? “Beth?” Sighing, Casey stepped closer and turned Beth towards the broom that started the conversation. Moving behind her partner, hiding her from the curious gazes that landed and then lingered on them the longer they remained in the corner, Casey pinched her jean covered behind. “Never apologize for wanting me. Believe me,” the former agent leaned forward, pointing to the broom. “The feeling is quite mutual.”
“Oh.” Beth smiled, letting the familiar sensations of being in her lover’s close presence wash over her. Then she noticed the blood and grease on the broom handle. “Does that mean Adam swept up after he was finished?”
“Probably. Plus there also is a good chance it’s his blood.” Casey glanced expectantly at Beth, waiting to what she’d come up with.
“If he was cleaning up,” Beth thought quickly, speaking aloud. Neither women were aware than the room’s other occupants stepped closer, to hear the exchange. “He would have washed up first because he didn’t want to track any blood over the floor since he carefully cleaned up other spots.” The author frowned, remembering what else Casey had said in their long exploration of the room. “Was it deliberately left for you to find? If it was, that means either Adam has no criminal record or he’s taunting you. But if he’s seriously trying to trip you up, isn’t it possible its someone else’s blood? Good grief, each piece brings more questions.”
Casey beamed at Beth; neither Lt Masters or his detective had guessed its significance. “You really would make a fine investigator. You think logically without restricting yourself to what’s conventional or accepted. I’m leaning towards the blood being planted and it being Adam’s. C’mon, I think we’ve lurked long enough in the corner.”
“Ms Bennett, what do you think?” Lt Masters addressed the former agent formally, conscious of the possibility of leaks. After greeting the two women when they first arrived, he stepped back and let the professional go to work. He only interrupted once, when he received word from the hospital.
“The victim was tortured in the large outer room along the north wall. It has all the requirements Adam needed: room to move around, a place to suspend the victim, a fresh source of water, electricity and convenient access. The broom, the pipe, the chain,” Casey pointed out each object as she spoke, mind frantically searching for the original case. It’s all so familiar; why can’t I remember specifically? “All were used in the other room and cleaned, then brought in here for us to find. Just like they were props in a play…and for Adam, they were. There should be a knife,” Casey spun around, eyes combing the room, suddenly remembering. “Ah, there.” Striding to a discoloration in the baseboard opposite the door, she sank to one knee, pushing on the soft surface. Accepting a chisel, Casey quickly uncovered the knife. Slipping it into a plastic bag, she rose, turning back to her companions.
“The placement of each item is important, indicating the order used. The chain against the wall right inside the door,” Casey stepped to the object being discussed. “See how its coiled? It was placed this way for a purpose…watch.” With that warning, the chain was in Casey’s hand. A flick of the wrist sent the chain cracking. “See? Standing from a distance, he could reach his victim. Imagine waking up, not able to see, arms stretched out painfully to the sides, feet dangling, your weight supported by your shoulders. Then suddenly, WHAM!” Casey cracked the chain again, startling her captive audience.
“Imagine the terror, the sound jolting you from contemplating your situation, trying to figure out what’s going on. You could hear each snap, each clink as the chain was extended to its full length. Before long, the chain is the only thing you can focus on…and you’re terrified because your entire world has narrowed to the chain. It’s the only thing you can think about…because you have no idea if that chain is ever going to touch you.” Almost without thought, Casey replaced the chain in its original position, stepping into the role so carefully laid out for her. If the former agent stopped to think, it would have appalled her at how quickly and completely she became absorbed.
“The broom.” Casey approached the broom, feet making no noise on the concrete floor, as she imagined Adam did. Twirling it as a staff, the former agent continued her performance. “By this time you’re petrified, but untouched. Without warning this changes and then stops as abruptly as it started.” Casey demonstrated, spinning the staff, ducking under imaginary chains. “Very few people have the skill and stamina to move silently between the suspended chains for an extended period of time to maintain the control necessary to deliver each stinging non lethal blow.”
“Suspended from your aching shoulders, it’s all you can do to concentrate on breathing, the pain unbearable. Legs, arms, ribs, back…they all are on fire from the punishment they took. Your torturer, for now that’s the only way you see him, has you were he wants you. Then your mind takes over and fills the void with the most horrifying images. What will happen next? What will he use to hurt you? Scenes from every movie you’ve seen come back to haunt you, filling you will terror. Is that water dripping? Heat from a fire? The hiss of a snake? Rats crawling beneath you?”
“So intent are you on your thoughts, for a brief moment you forget your pain. Instantly he strikes again, cold metal connecting with flesh. And you’re forcefully reminded of why you are here. Unlike the broom, the pipe is easier to control, each hit requiring little effort. By the time he’s finished, you’re reduced to a sobbing, limp mass of pain. Your cries have fallen unheard.; you’re still no closer to understanding why you’re here. All you can think about now, is making the pain stop.”
“In blasted darkness, you wait. Over time, the pain recedes to the back of your mind and you start believing you’re going to survive this. All you have to do is convince your torturer to let you go. After all, you’re both rational human beings, or so you tell yourself. As your mind reacts, so does he. For the first time, he draws blood. You don’t think it’s possible, but your mind is shocked into silence, not believing what you’re feeling. Then the sensation changes…and you come to the sickening realization that the cool metal against you is a needle, the burning tugging thread as the open skin is closed. You scream. As quickly as it started, it’s over. And you’re left hanging, body awash with the pain of each hit, each cut.” The needle in her hand was set down precisely in its original position.
“An indiscriminate amount of time later, something cool and wet is pressed to your lips. The soothing wetness flowing down your parched throat re-awakens every ache, every pain that time dulled. Gathering your wits, you try and get your capture to talk to you, but he remains deathly mum. As silently as he appeared, he slips away. The rattling of the chain strikes a deep panic. Struggling, you attempt to flee once again, fearing now the known.” Casey fell silent, blue eyes focusing on her rapidly breathing audience, painfully reminded that she wasn’t alone. Damn. I can’t believe I did that with Beth in the room. I forgot how intense I get doing that. The sick feeling in her gut grew, making the former agent nauseous. Forgot about that too…damn, I hate this feeling. Walking over to her lover, Casey took advantage of their height difference, hesitantly sliding her arms around her wife’s waist while maintaining eye contact with the others. Thank you God, she didn’t flinch. I need to hold her.
“That’s basically what happened. Both this time and before. Why it happened is another story.” Unconsciously Casey tightened her hold on Beth, having remembered the original case once she slipped into the darkness carefully laid out for her. “In the original case, Harry Chan’s victims were chosen because of some perceived offense. The first was his high school coach who refused to let him play in the last two basketball games of the season his senior year. The second was the punk kid who stole his wallet. The third, a woman who repeatedly declined his advances. Each victim was found just barely alive, disfigured for life. In their possession, was a note, detailing their crimes against Chan. All in all, there were seven victims over the course of two months.”
“There are a few differences. Adam had to work with what was available; the room sizes are different, as is the type and condition of the building. Where was the note found? Clutched in the victim’s fist or stitched in a wound?” Breathing deeply, Casey bet with herself and won.
“In the victim’s hand.” Lt. Masters confirmed. When Casey first arrived, she asked him to keep the note until later. She wanted to study the crime scene first. “Don’t get me wrong, all of this is fascinating. But how is this going to help us catch this creep?” All the lieutenant saw was the re-enactment of a crime.
“When can we see the victim?” Casey glanced at Beth, seeing and feeling her barely visible flinch. I’ve got to get Beth out of here.
“I’ll call the hospital, but earlier the doctor said not for several hours.”
“Good. I don’t know about you, but I could use a cup of coffee. I just need a moment with the evidence techs and then we can go; I’ll answer your question then. Oh, let me see the note too.” Blue eyes studied the note quickly.
The game’s afoot. Have any brilliant ideas yet? I hope you’re having as much fun as I am. Will you figure out the next crime before it’s too late? Happy hunting!
“Cocky bastard, isn’t he?” Beth spoke quietly, reading the note over Casey’s arm.
“Yes he is. But given what he’s doing, for him to be anything other than cocky would be a surprise. Give me a second and I’ll be ready to leave.” Casey met Eric’s gaze unwaveringly. “Why don’t we talk at my office? All of the files we need are there.” She left unsaid that it was a safe, secure environment where they could converse freely.
Beth stood off to the side, watching Casey talk with the evidence techs and Eric Masters. Worried green eyes flickered around the room, easily seeing the picture constructed by her lover. I’m glad Casey’s forgotten about listening to me describe what I saw. I don’t think I could do it right now. Briefly Beth closed her eyes, shuddering at the horrifying image her mind supplied. Gods, sometimes I hate being an author! Her agile mind had taken the relatively descriptive free account and filled in the blanks. I wonder if Casey sees the colors? Imagines the strength of each hit? Or does she just see the acts, the emotions? I hope she doesn’t see the color, the intensity. Beth decided after a moment’s thought. She feels everything so deeply, that to feel the colors…gods, I can’t imagine what it would be like! How did you survive eight years of doing this? I could feel you as you spoke…you felt each word, each action. I’m glad we’re going back to your office. You need a break. I know you’ll never admit it, but you need to step back. Hades Beth! The author yelled mentally, mad at herself. You need the break more than she does, you admit that! Images rushed the author again, eliciting a hastily hidden tremor. Beth didn’t consider herself innocent, not by any stretch of her imagination. But, she recognized the truth. This is totally outside my realm of experience.
“How are you doing?” Casey joined Beth as soon as she finished, the tremor not escaping her notice. Taking Beth’s hand, she squeezed gently. “C’mon, lets get out of here. Eric thought he’d be free to join us in about an hour.”
“I’m fine.” Beth dragged a smile out for her lover’s benefit. “Do you want to stay?” I have to ask…I don’t want her leaving on my account. Please say yes; I need to feel your arms around me.
“No, I most definitely do not want to stay and watch them gather the evidence.” Casey replied firmly, leading Beth out of the room. Mindful of the officer silently following them, both women remained silent until they reached the car.
“How are you doing, beloved?” Beth waited until they’d cleared the police lines and successfully avoided the reporters at the outer perimeters of the crime scene before asking.
Casey shook her head, momentarily speechless. Figures she’s more concerned with me. “I’m fine. How about you, Slick? Are you going to be alright?”
“I’m fine.” Beth replied, putting as much strength behind the words as possible. As they walked to the car, the author convinced herself that she needed to be strong for her lover. All Casey needed was another thing to worry about and Beth decided it wasn’t going to be her.
“You sure?” Casey glanced at Beth, startled by the strength behind her words, the tone of voice convincing the specialist that something indeed was wrong. “It’s only natural to feel the horror, the pain after seeing something like that.” Casey tried again, her lover’s stubbornness irrationally warming her. Beth’s just trying to make it easier for me. “Always protecting me, huh?” The teasing words surprised Casey.
“Always.” Beth refused to take the bait and give in. “That surprise you?” Green eyes curiously studied her partner.
“Nope, not at all.” Casey sighed softly, hiding her amazement that Beth resisted the playful teasing. She never does that…she must really be upset.
“Think Eric will be hungry when he gets to the office?” The abrupt change of subject earned Beth a concerned, hidden glance. One that went totally unnoticed. “I’m kind of hungry. We never did eat lunch. Maybe we should order a couple of pizzas.”
“Sounds good to me. Get some cheese sticks too; they’re my favorite.” Casey needlessly reminded her and increased her speed, thankful that rush hour traffic wasn’t bad yet. Listening to Beth call in their order, blue eyes widened slightly as Beth ordered a third large pizza. “Good lord, Beth, three pizzas?” At times, her lover’s appetite snuck up and surprised her.
“Yeah, I didn’t know if Eric would bring anyone with him. Plus,” Beth giggled at Casey horrified look. “Phil will be there and maybe his assistant. Hey!” Green eyes narrowed playfully. Sneaking a hand under Casey’s coat, Beth tickled her sensitive skin, growling teasingly. “Food I know!”
“Just asking!” Casey gasped, squirming away from Beth’s fingers. “Behave! I’m trying to drive here.”
“You seem to be doing just fine.” Beth relented, leaving her hand on Casey’s thigh. “Can I as you something?”
Here it comes. “Sure. You can ask me anything.”
“Why do the teams you pick always win and my teams lose?” Beth smiled innocently, abruptly changing the subject. HA! Got ya, love. You need a break.
“What?” Casey wasn’t sure she heard correctly. “What did you say?” Sighing in confusion when Beth repeated herself, Casey wasn’t sure she wanted to laugh or cry. God Beth…where do you come up with this stuff? Taking the change in conversation for what it was, Casey launched into an analytical critique of how they chose teams…namely she relied on statical data while Beth based her choices on feelings and how cute the uniforms were.
Heh. Surprised you there, Casey. You definitely weren’t expecting that. Beth chuckled mentally, using what Gabrielle would call her ‘bard’s skill’. We both need to think of something else for awhile. HEY! What did you just say? Are you insulting me? Indignant, Beth focused totally on the conversation, landing with both feet firmly in the fray. Can’t let you get away with that! I do NOT chose teams based on how cute they look in their uniforms!
“What are you two laughing at?” Susan, Casey’s assistant, looked at the laughing pair curiously.
“99 here thinks I chose teams because of how cute their uniforms are!” Beth teased, bumping her partner as they paused, arms around each other at her desk.
“Isn’t that the only way to choose a team?” Susan asked dryly, smirking at her boss’s look of horror. Quickly she changed the subject, not wanting the lecture she imagined coming from that analytical mind. “Nothing much is going on. The final contracts from Mr Dupree arrived this afternoon. They just need your signature and I’ll send them back.”
Casey nodded, remembering she wanted to ask Beth about Chris Dupree. “I’ll sign them right away. There aren’t any changes I need to be aware of, are there?” Part of Susan’s job was to proof contracts and get legal opinions when necessary.
“Everything’s as it should be.” Susan had paid especially close attention to the contracts, figuring her boss’s mind would be on other things.
“Good. We’ll be in my office when Lt Masters arrives.” Casey pushed Beth forward. “C’mon you. We’ve got work to do.”
“Take it easy there.” Beth stuck her head back around the door, a check in her hand. “We ordered pizza from Marie’s. It should be here in about an hour. Thanks! Watch it, 99!” Frowning playfully at the laughing Susan, Beth allowed herself to be pulled into the other room, yelling over her shoulder. “See what I have to put up with?”
“You love it and you know it.” Casey sassed, nudging Beth into her inner office.
“I know.” Beth jerked the startled Casey to a halt, pulling her into a passionate kiss. “And I love you.” The author husked, gasping for breath when their lips separated. “Don’t you need to read…” Beth’s words were lost as Casey’s lips smothered her own.
“I love you too.” Casey rested her forehead against her wife’s, drawing in a much needed breath. “And yeah, I should look at those so Susan can get them sent back.” She scowled at her wayward limbs when they refused to retreat. Reluctantly Casey untangled herself from her lover. “This shouldn’t take long.” Sitting down, the specialist forced herself to concentrate on the papers in her hand, not her wife, who she was positive was standing provocatively against the window…just to distract her.
Alright! I can’t take it any more. Casey sighed, signing her name in the indicated places. Thankfully, Casey didn’t notice any discrepancies when she scanned the documents which would have required a more in-depth study of the contracts. Rising silently, Casey left the room and returned swiftly, standing behind her lover who was still looking out the window. Wrapping her arms around her lover’s waist, Casey buried her nose in strawberry blond locks, inhaling the alluring fragrance. “What are you thinking about, Love?” As if I need to ask…what else would be bothering Beth?
“See the busy street?” Beth relaxed against Casey, running a finger along the arms firmly holding her. “I was practicing my descriptive technique.” The author had fallen into the comforting activity with abandon, using the familiar exercise to keep her mind focused.
Are you telling me the truth or protecting me? I saw your face earlier; you were repulsed by what you saw. Casey drew closer to Beth, kissing the soft skin under Beth’s ear. “Tell me what you see.” Let me lose myself in your sweet voice.
The quiet request didn’t faze the author; Casey wanted, needed to be distracted. Speaking peacefully, Beth set her mind free, allowing her descriptive talents to sooth them both. “Casey?” Beth asked after finishing describing the busy street.
“Hmm?” Casey nuzzled Beth’s neck, feeling only her lover’s calming presence. Huh! I feel great, not at all sick any more. Not questioning the amazing gift, she straightened, swinging Beth in an exuberant circle.
“Hey!” Beth giggled, encased in Casey’s arms. “I’m not complaining, but where did that come from?”
“I’m just happy you’re right here with me.” Casey picked her gaping partner up and carried her to the sofa.
“Me too, Love. Me too.” Beth grinned, pushing her lover into the corner and settling against her with a contented sigh. I wasn’t sure what I expected…but it certainly wasn’t that! “Casey Bennett,” a hand pinched the muscular thigh laying beside her’s. “Specialist with an attitude,” Beth grinned, pinching Casey’s other thigh. “Profiler extraordinair,” the author turned her attention to the arms wrapped around her. “Love of my life,” mellowing, Beth melted against her partner.
“Go on.” Casey’s husky voice washed over her author, eliciting delightful shivers.
“If I go any farther, we won’t be decent when Eric arrives.” Beth growled, disappointed. “Hey! It won’t work. I want to ask you something.” Twisting, green eyes stared suspiciously at blue. “Susan said Mr Dupree earlier. That wouldn’t be Christopher Dupree by any chance, would it?” I hope not…the stories that man could tell!
“The one and the same.” Casey said cautiously, not understanding why Beth seemed upset.
“Oh God,” Beth blushed, collapsing against Casey. “What did he tell you?” Please, please don’t let him have told Casey about the time I…
“He reminded me how lucky I am, that’s all.” Blue eyes darkened, concerned with her lover’s reaction. Then a thought occurred, one the specialist definitely did not want to have. “God, Beth wasn’t in love with him at one time, was she? He’s old enough to be her father!
“Chris didn’t mention, ah, how do I put this?” Beth stumbled along, not detecting the slight stiffening in her wife’s arms. “Chris didn’t tell you about the time I…” She interrupted herself, the tension in her lover finally registering. “Hey, what’s wrong? Casey?” Added when she didn’t receive an answer.
“What?” Casey barked, jealously flashing through her with blinding intensity, forgetting Chris’s stamp of approval. I’ll cancel the damn contract!
“Chris was like a much older big brother. Nothing more, Love.” Beth correctly read Casey’s emotions. “I was just wondering what misadventure he related about when I was growing up. Actually,” Beth laid her head down on Casey’s chest, relieved to feel her calm down. “I was hoping he hadn’t mentioned the time I was fifteen and decided I was old enough to try Grandpa’s special homemade beer. That’s one of his all-time favorite ways to embarrass me.”
“Oh.” Casey blushed, feeling extremely foolish. Don’t I know by now that Beth loves me? “What happened? What did you do?”
“Outside of making a clumsy pass at the mortified maid,” Beth turned scarlet, still embarrassed after all these years. “And then throwing up in the pool, nothing.”
“Did you get in trouble?” Casey asked, interested despite her jealously, in her lover’s past. Somehow, a pass made by a drunk fifteen year old didn’t arouse her possessive instincts.
“Grandpa and Grandma thought it was hysterical, especially my hangover the next day.” Beth shuddered, remembering cleaning up the pool with a pounding headache and rolling stomach. “All they made me do was clean up my mess the next day and apologize to the maid. My parents, on the other hand, were more mortified than the maid was. They wanted to ship me off to boarding school.”
“My Mom would have flipped too.” Casey giggled, picturing a young Beth stomping carefully around the pool, trying not to make any moves that would have aggravated her pounding head. “If I had only known.” Casey chuckled evilly, planning her next meeting with Dupree.
“Casey!” Beth squealed, wiggling until she pushed Casey flat against the sofa. “You wouldn’t!” Knowing how untrue that was, Beth tickled unmercifully, taking the advantage presented.
“I love you, you know that?” Casey gasped, leaning over her harshly breathing lover. As usual, the specialist had ended up on top at the end of their tickle fight. It wasn’t, as the specialist was well aware of, just because she was so much physically stronger than Beth. Beth could hold her own against her partner; but the author liked the feeling of her lover covering her body with her own.
“I love you, too.” Beth tugged gently, pulling Casey down so she was resting fully on top of the author. “Thank you.”
“For what?” Casey raised an eyebrow, questioningly. For what? Loving you? That’s not a choice…just an instinct, an irresistible force drawing us together. I could no more stop loving you than breathing.
“For taking the time to play with me.” Beth tilted her head, capturing Casey’s lips in a loving display. “I know there are probably ten other things you should be doing right now.”
“I needed this too.” Casey kissed Beth this time. “When I do what I did earlier…get into the criminal’s head, trying to explain how something happened, I get physically sick to my stomach.” The former profiler confessed, having never spoken about this to anyone before. “Listening to you, being with you, helped more than you’ll ever know. So thank you for putting up with me.” Dipping her head, lips met in a passionate display.
“Is everybody decent?” Susan’s voice from outside the closed door drew them apart. “Lt Masters and the pizza are here.” The assistant had learned the hard way to ask before entering the inner office without announcing herself.
“C’mon in.” Casey called out huskily, pulling Beth into a sitting position. Running a hand through her dark locks, Casey brushed it back over her shoulders. Taking the pizza from her assistant, she asked her to have Phil join them. “Have a seat Eric.”
Beth placed a classic coke in front of the lieutenant, having learned it was his beverage of choice over the last few days. “I hope you don’t mind eating while we talk.”
“No, it smells great. I didn’t get a chance to eat earlier.” Eric reached for the nearest pizza, glancing up as Casey plopped paper plates and napkins on the table.
“Avoid Casey’s cheese sticks. She’s been known to kill for them.” Beth teased, ignoring the outraged look Casey sent her way.
“Food, great!” Phil hurried into the room, dropping the pile of papers onto the floor. “I love it when Beth works a case with us.” The computer specialist talked with his mouth full. “We always get to eat!”
“Enough already!” Casey growled, causing her friends to laugh. Sighing, Casey staked her own claim on the rapidly disappearing pizza.
“That was good.” Eric sat back, patting his full stomach. “I talked to the hospital.” He changed the conversation from their light hearted bantering during dinner to the serious reason they were together. “The victim, one Charlie Dancer, will be awake and able to speak with us in a couple of hours. The doctors didn’t want to let us see him until after he’d taken a few tests. But it appears that he’ll recover fully. Where do we stand now?”
“Adam’s picked two of my most public, sensational cases.” Casey took Beth’s hand when she sat down from disposing of their dinner. “The first was my first high profile case; I’d been at the FBI for only a few months. Harry Chan was almost a full two years later and like the Driver of Death, the Chan was a high profile case. Phil,” turning, Casey saw he was already connected to the FBI’s data base. “What was my next biggest case?” The former agent wasn’t taking any chances. Although she had an excellent memory, Casey didn’t want to take the chance of missing something.
“The two days between Beth’s accident and the Dancer case is significant; if you equate one year with one day. It’s the amount of time between the two cases that super-charged my career. If Adam is following the cases that defined my career, we should be able to pick the next case, try and anticipate his next move.” Reluctantly releasing Beth’s hand with a squeeze, Casey rose, retrieving a large rolling cork board from the corner of the room.
“The first crime occurred here.” Casey took a red push pen and marked the large, detailed map covering most of the cork board. “The second here.” Another red pen was added to the map. “Phil, hand me the Chan case file. I need to check something.” Quickly flipping through the file, she reached her recorded personal notes, checking her memory. “That means the next crime will happen in one of these locations.” Two clear push pins noted locations way outside city limits to the north. Two white pins noted places in and closely bordering the city.
“Based on what we’ve seen, I’d bet Adam will strike near or in the city.” Casey pointed to the general locations. One was a depressed working class area to the south. The second was an affluent area, bordered by a golf course. “Under normal circumstances, if you’re planning on committing a crime, you’d choose the most deserted place; there’s less chance of getting caught if people are scarce. But Adam thrives on the challenge of committing what he calls the ‘perfect’ crime in a populated area. As did the people he’s copying.”
Pacing, Casey met each gaze of her companions, lingering on Beth’s. “Adam’s using these crimes to show me, show the world, that he’s the best…that he should be the center of attention. Remember how the chain was coiled in a perfect circle? How the ends of the pipe had been shaped so they were perfectly round? And the interesting smudge of blood and grease?” I could use a cigarette. That thought stopped the former agent. During the stress filled times, Casey had indulged in smoking. She’d smoked one here and there when the tension mounted to an unbearable level, but only when she couldn’t escape to practice her forms. She hadn’t wanted one in the last six years.
“Anyway,” Casey resumed pacing and her original thought, smiling reassuringly at her worried wife. “Each of the items was precisely, perfectly placed for maximum effect. Unlike Harry Chan who didn’t take the time to file the ends of his pipes, Adam took the time. Mostly to show that any crime could be improved upon. Also both areas were totally clean. I’d be very surprised if any trace evidence than can’t be tied to the victim’s are found. He wore a surgical suit to prevent contaminating the scene. That’s what makes the blood smear so interesting.” Blue eyes narrowed dangerously, mind analyzing and discarding possibilities at an amazing rate.
“I wonder how many times he practiced, getting just the right combination of grease and blood? You were surprised,” flashing blue eyes landed on the police lieutenant. “When I started touching and using the props conveniently left for us to find. There was no danger of me contaminating the scene. It was obvious that none of the items had been used to torture Mr Dancer. The chain was free from skin, blood or dust as was the knife. The broom had been used to sweep the clean concrete; the bristles were clear, free of debris. And the blood and grease mixture were sealed with a clear coat of polyethylene glycol. Again, Adam went one step farther than Harry Chan. Chan’s and his victims’ blood actually were on the broom and the chain. Although painstakingly cleaned, there were residual traces of blood and skin.”
“I do think the blood on the broom is Adam’s.” Casey walked slowly around her office, clearly thinking before speaking. “I’m imagining he cut himself sometime during his torture of Charlie Dancer, much to his disgust. Chan’s blood was a true smear, maybe a forth of an inch long and went unnoticed. That’s the reason Adam placed his blood prominently on the broom. Taunting me that even though he miscalculated slightly, he was still in control.”
“How he chose his victim also focuses on control. Unlike choosing someone he’s acquainted with, Adam picked a random man on the street, following and taking him from his home. Thus demonstrating his control over his surroundings. In effect, he was screaming no one’s safe.” That was pure speculation on Casey’s part, based on numerous years of experience. I know I’m right. “None of Mr Dancer’s neighbors even knew the man was missing, until police questioned them.” Casey pivoted, staring at nothing for a moment, collecting her thoughts. “Not one item was out of place either and his house hadn’t been broken into. Yet he was taken from his car, before he got into the house.”
“How did you know that? I didn’t tell you.” Eric looked at Casey amazed. But that still didn’t make him feel any better. “Casey, this is all fascinating, but how does this help us stop the creep before he hurts another person?” Eric Masters flushed, suddenly feeling self conscious as three pairs of eyes were focused on him. “I don’t see how we’re any closer to finding and stopping Adam.”
“Phil?” Casey raised an eyebrow, sitting beside Beth, choosing to not answer Eric immediately.
“You have two cases to choose from. The first happened twenty-two months after the Chan case and it involved the murder of first year students at an exclusive prep school. The Highland School case took fourteen weeks to solve. The second deals with child abduction; it started with Angel Bayberry. Jeffery Rambo started taking children at the tail end of the Highland School Case and it took ten weeks to find and stop Rambo, once local officials realized they had a problem. I’m already pulling both files now.” Phil glanced at his laptop, monitoring the downloading process.
“Do the Rambo case first.” Casey decided, biting back a groan at the slightly dazed look in her wife’s normally brilliant green eyes. Hang on Love. I’ll get us through this. I promise. Sliding her arm around Beth’s shoulders, Casey hugged her. “Taking kids from an exclusive prep school wouldn’t give Adam the thrill he’s looking for…that adrenalin rush he’s growing used to. His thrill will come from sneaking into a house and stealing a child while the rest of her family unsuspectingly sleeps or is watching tv. That’s much more difficult to successfully pull off.”
“Where do we stand?” Casey fought to keep her anger from rising, checking it before it could escape. Forcefully, the former agent was reminded why she disliked working so closely with local law enforcement officials.
Hugging Beth briefly in apology, Casey rose and went to the map. Sorry, Love. I’ll make it up to you, I promise. Feeling her heart list as the shadowed look returned to her lover’s eyes, Casey passed in front of the map until she felt she could answer Eric without jumping down his throat. “Where do we stand?” The former agent repeated, a banked fire burning in her eyes. Abruptly turning, Casey stopped in front of the map. “We have a time line for the next crime. Two and a half days from now, Adam will steal a child in the following twenty-four hour period. There is an equal chance that the child will come from either location. Both present their own set of thrills…entering a home protected by guards and an expensive security system or crawling undetected through the close quarters of the poor neighborhood. We’ll only stop Adam before he gets the child if we are extremely lucky and someone sees something they shouldn’t. Or if we can actually get a positive ID from his blood.”
“We also have a place to start searching for information on Adam. We know several things about him now. He’s had some martial arts training, the judicious use of the broom proved that. He’s had training as a mechanic and some type of driving experience, either as a part of a police course or as a professional driver. Adam’s educated…his proper use of language, spelling and punctuation support this. But more importantly,” Casey spun again, eyes catching with her lover’s, calming her slightly. “Adam broke into the FBI’s computer and extracted sensitive information about my cases. It’s the only way he could have known certain details about both of the cases. There will be a record of that. Phil’s already started the labor intensive, time consuming process of sorting through the normal queries to find the unusual ones. Unless Adam’s one hell of a hacker, there’ll be a trace of his activities. If Phil can’t find one, that narrows the group of suspects down to a handful on the east coast. Once we get a possible list of suspects, we can match training and backgrounds.”
“So what do we do now?” Lt Masters met and held Casey’s gaze. “Do we start warning parents in those neighborhoods to keep a close eye out on their children?”
“In part we keep doing what you’ve already started.” Casey refused to release the lieutenant from her stare. “There always is the possibility that Adam was careless; no one is perfect. Keep canvassing Dancer’s home neighborhood and the warehouse. Someone might have seen Adam. Rush the blood tests and any fingerprints through the lab as quickly as possible. Also, we need to talk to Dancer and find out what he knows, if anything. The report he gave the original officers was understandably sketchy.” Sighing, Casey returned to Beth’s side. “Basically we wait, hoping something shakes loose. That’s all we can do right now while we’re waiting for the rest of the team to do their jobs.”
“Do you want to meet me at the hospital in an hour?” Eric looked at his watch then jumped to his feet. “I have just enough time to go brief the chief and meet you there.”
“Sounds good. We’ll see you there.” Casey shook his hand and watched him leave through hooded eyes. “Well, that was fun.” Showing her frustration, the former agent uncharacteristically flopped on the sofa.
“Hey, I’m gonna get Bertha started on this too.” Phil mumbled as he walked out of the room, lost in his computer search.
“I guess its just you and me, 99.” Beth teased, wiggling her fingers suggestively, reaching for her lover’s ticklish sides.
“Really?” Quicker than Beth could follow, Casey had her flattened against the sofa. “I believe,” warm lips teased Beth’s ear. Swallowing her own moan as Beth reacted, Casey nipped playfully, growling sexily, “we were right about here.”
“Hmm, I’m not remembering this.” Breathlessly, Beth shifted under her lover, groaning softly when Casey sucked hotly on her lobe. “I think I need more to go on…head injury you know.” That earned the author a quick clip of teeth and lips. “Just teasing, Love.”
“You better be.” Blue eyes regarded green seriously, before claiming Beth in a passionate kiss. One became two then three; hands began exploration in earnest. The world faded to non-existance.
“Casey….Beth….Casey….LADIES…Hey you two, cut it out!”
Phil’s exasperated voice finally registered. “What?” Casey’s bark didn’t surprise the computer specialist. Casey always reacted that way when interrupted, no matter what she was doing. “I’ve found some stuff you need to take a look at. It’s on your computer.”
“Now?” Casey groaned painfully, casting a skeptical eye on her old friend. Of all the rotten luck!
“Yeah, now. I think we might be getting a break. Only twenty people in the last couple of years accessed the self dubbed ‘driver of death’ case file. Ten of those people accessed the Chan file during the same time period.” Phil left out the complicated steps necessary to obtain this information; neither of them had time for him to explain.
“What about the Rambo file?” Carefully Casey untangled her limbs from her wife’s, setting up with a frown. Possibilities ricocheted through her mind; it was too soon for Phil to have this information.
“I started this after you identified the first case.” Phil had worked with and then for Casey for long enough to anticipate certain types of data requests.
“Sounds good. I’ll get right on it. Thanks Phil.” Casey added as the door shut behind him. Immediately the specialist looked down at Beth. Heart hammering painfully, blue eyes landed on those kiss-bruised lips then flickered up to shaded green eyes. Gulping, Casey realized once again she had to walk away. “Sweetheart, I’m…”
“Shh, it’s alright Casey.” Beth smiled softly, masking her frustration. Three times in as many days, they’d been interrupted because of this case.
“No, no buts.” Beth talked over her lover. “Go work.” Small, yet strong hands playfully pushed Casey off the sofa.
“I don’t want to Beth.” Casey bent over and captured Beth’s lips. Thank you for understanding. “But I will.”
“Love you. too.” Beth sent her hands into retreat, forcing them from Casey’s dark hair. “Get cracking, 99. If you don’t get busy, you’ll have to feed me on the way home from the hospital.”
“No need to threaten me!” Casey threw her hands up in mock horror, looking longingly at Beth before she rose and went to her desk. One last look then get to work! Hiding her sigh, Casey called up the new data, reading quickly.
No pouting Elizabeth Jamieson! Beth thought self-disgustedly as Casey reached her desk. Forcing her attention away from her wife and her lightly throbbing body, Beth reached under the sofa and removed her laptop. Laying back down, Beth switched to her author mode. At least she tried; within five minutes she was sound asleep, the hectic past few days catching up with her.
Adam, you’re good. Casey grinned evilly. But you’re not in Phil’s league. Clearly you’re an expert at hacking; you left a confusing trail that Phil had to trace across the country before he caught up with you. Did you do this on purpose? With how you scrutinized my life, knowing what cases to pick, where to hit me…you had to know I’d put Phil on this. Abruptly the former agent rose, pacing silently.
Now the question is, did you know Phil would immediately start checking once I identified the first crime? Did you factor in the speed in which we obtained this information? The former agent spun, stalking to the window with a noiseless sigh.
I am surprised at how quickly Phil waded through the queries and came up with a solid, traceable lead. You’d have no way of knowing how many times the files had been accessed in the last couple of years, no way of knowing how many queries Phil would have to chase to single out yours. I’m forced to assume that you didn’t intend for us to find the location where you conducted this stage of your research. Casey concluded after much thought. At least not this quickly.
A stray thought sidetracked Casey. You’ve been planning this for a long time, haven’t you Adam? My getting involved with Beth, doing that first profile that helped catch her stalker, that brought me to your attention again. Didn’t it?? If Beth hadn’t been a successful author, the case would have faded into nothing. But we both had to testify and the press was all over, damn it. Casey pinched herself. Yeah, but if that hadn’t happened, I might have never met Beth…she’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me…I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
I probably caught your eye at one of Hamilton’s hearings…the ones I couldn’t avoid…the press was all over. You would have acted sooner if you noticed me before that. After Hamilton, I basically dropped from the public eye, appearing at a few hearings or court appointments over the next five years. What pro-bono work I did do, I kept it quiet, made sure I was out of the picture. And in no way, shape or form, did I do a profile. Then almost eighteen months ago, my name pops up again and you just happen to catch it. So you start planning your crime, gathering all the necessary information, practicing even. Everything has to be perfect, doesn’t it? You want to, need to impress me.
When we get to your hideout, you won’t be there, will you? You’ve already moved into town, already committed yourself to your plan. You have no need of retreating to your ‘training grounds’. You’re ready to prove yourself to me…. The ringing of Casey’s cell phone called her back to her surroundings. Answering it absently, blue eyes widened in surprise, then narrowed in concern when Beth didn’t wake up. The gentle rise and fall of the author’s chest eased her concern, at least a little. Listening to Lt Masters tell her he was running late, Casey noticed the time, astonished. Telling him she’d meet in about twenty minutes, she hung up and went to her wife.
You must be exhausted, love. Casey sat beside Beth, gently caressing her smooth cheek before picking up her hand. I don’t want to do this, but I don’t see any other option. You need to rest. You don’t need to see Dancer, see the jagged scars, hear his horrifying story. “Sweetheart? Beth?” Casey lightly shook Beth’s shoulder.
“Hmm?” Beth blinked sleepily.
“C’mon, Love.” Casey pulled Beth into her arms, rubbing her back briskly. “Time to wake up.” When she felt Beth start responding, Casey leaned back, making eye contact. “I’ve got to go meet Eric at the hospital, but I want you to go home with Phil.”
“But I want to go with you.” Forcing herself to focus, Beth frowned.
“You’re exhausted, Love.” Casey refused to let Beth break eye contact. “Without being injured, cases like this are physically demanding. After my first case I slept for a full sixteen hours and I wasn’t in a serious accident.”
“Shh…no buts.” It was Casey’s turn to repeat those words. “It won’t take me very long at the hospital and you need your rest. Tomorrow we’re going to see if we can find Adam’s hideout and you need to be fully rested for that.”
“Really? You’re going to let me go too?” Beth perked up, admitting to herself that she really was tired anyway. “Why don’t I just stay here and you can swing by and pick me up on your way home? That way Phil can continue with his ‘searching’.”
“You’ll sleep better in our own bed, silly.” Casey helped Beth to her feet. “He can use my computer at home. Besides, he hasn’t been out of this office in the last twenty-four hours; he could use the break.” Bob and John will follow you guys, but you don’t need to know that. I just want to make sure you’re safe.
“Oh, OK.” Beth stopped protesting, accepting her coat. Allowing Casey to lead, Beth followed her to Phil’s office.
“Aren’t you going to get that?” Phil mumbled around a mouthful of chocolate cake, glancing at Beth.
“Nope. It’s probably my mother and I don’t want to talk to her.” Beth swallowed, reaching for her milk. “She’s been trying to get me to come visit.” The author nodded as her mother’s voice repeated the same message she’d left every night for a week.
“Oh.” Phil reached for the cake, grinning. “This is the best!”
“Thank Mrs A.” Beth sat back, happily full. She glared critically at her dessert companion. “You look beat. After you finish that, you need to take a nap.”
“Beth!” Phil blushed slightly, not entirely used to her protective streak. “Casey will have my head for napping on the job.”
“You’re exhausted. You need sleep.” The author persisted, frowning when the phone rang again. “Just what is Casey gonna do, fire you?” Beth snorted, not believing how thoroughly her lover intimidated people.
“Is your mother persistent?” Phil asked when the answering machine picked up the call. No, but I don’t want to find out what she would do. Neither of us would forgive me if something happened when I was napping.
“No, she doesn’t think I’d avoid…” Beth stopped and stared at the machine.
“Ms Jamieson, I know you’re home. Please pick up the phone. If I close my eyes, I can see you patiently waiting for Casey to return from the hospital. And that’s what you’re doing, isn’t it?” The caller paused, causing Beth and Phil to stare at each other in shock. “I must admit,” he continued after a few seconds. “That I thought you would want to talk to me…oh wait! I never introduced myself.” Phil was up and moving, racing to trace the call. “How very rude of me. I’m Adam Carr. Don’t you wish to speak of our common interest?”
“Mr Carr, this is Beth Jamieson.” Beth picked up as soon as Phil told her too. “What did you want to tell me?”
“Oh, what a delightful speaking voice!” Adam Carr chuckled politely. “It’s a pleasure to finally hear your voice. Tell me about the woman who snared Agent Bennett’s heart. Tell me how you broke the control queen’s legendary emotionless facade.”
“There’s not much to tell, you seem well acquainted with me.” The author concentrated on keeping her voice even, striving to match Carr’s polite tone. “I’d much rather hear about you. Please, tell me about yourself.” Green eyes were drawn to the half open blinds, her vivid imagination painting a lone man standing on the street, staring intently at the house, speaking passionately. Wanting to search for the man, but ever mindful of Casey’s instructions from her impromptu question and answer session about stalking for her latest book, Beth stayed rooted in place, well away from the window.
“Me?” Adam asked, faking amazement. “How kind of you. Well, since you’re so interested, I’d be delighted to share. I was born and raised by two loving, yet simpleminded parents in rural central Illinois. Very early I realized I was something special, several steps above my parents. Through hard work and discipline, I excelled in my studies, earning a most deserved scholarship to the University of Illinois. I was recruited by a fortune five hundred company and upon graduation with honors, I moved to the east coast. It was here that Agent Bennett first came to my attention several years ago.”
“Your parents must have been very proud of you.” Beth mentally choked on the words, filling the expectant silence. Unsure what to say, the author remembered her partner’s comments; Adam would want to be flattered…think he’s the center of the conversation.
“If only they could understand the sheer genius of what I’m doing.” The wistful tone surprised Beth. “But alas, I’m afraid no one, outside of Agent Bennett and possibly yourself, will recognize me for my brilliance. Oh, how forgetful of me.” Adam chuckled again, sending chills down Beth’s spine. “Tell good old Phil that I’m at the corner of Springfield and Wilson. No need for him to continue trying to trace the call. I’ve routed the signal through several places. My best to Agent Bennett and yourself. Goodnight!” Still chuckling, he terminated the conversation.
“Beth?” Phil looked at the author with concern. She was standing silently, staring blankly at the phone in her hand. “Beth? Are you alright?”
“I’m fine.” Shaking herself, physically and mentally, Beth hung up the phone. “That was…” Words failed the author.
“Weird and unexpected.” Phil filled in the blanks. “Give me a second. I want to get the uniforms over to the phone booth. Carr was telling the truth about his location; he just didn’t expect me to be able to verify it this rapidly.” Phil spoke as he dialed the detective working for Lt Masters, passing along the information. Dialing again, he flashed Beth a grin and informed his colleagues keeping watch outside of the possible danger.
“What now?” Beth stared thoughtfully at Phil, mentally chanting. Calm, slow even breaths. That’s it…relax.
Phil looked up at Beth’s even, unemotional tone. “We wait, that’s what.” Entering a few codes, Phil initiated a check on the house’s security system. “Do you want me to call Casey and tell her what happened?” Expert eyes watched the computer perform the self diagnostic.
“One of us needs to tell her.” Beth sighed, battling her raging emotions. Torn between crying and hitting something, Beth settled for standing still, motionless. “I guess it will be better coming from me.” Forcing her legs to work, Beth slowly made her way back to the sofa and her cell phone. Fingers shaking, the only outward sign of her nerves, Beth manually entered Casey’s number, wanting to avoid the call as long as possible. Before the phone could ring, the garage door opened. Breathing a sigh of relief, Beth quickly canceled the call before it could go through.
“Maybe you should let me tell Casey about the call.” Beth smiled when Phil nodded emphatically. “She won’t yell as much if I do it.”
“You’ve got that right.” Phil nodded relieved. After being exposed to Casey’s fierce protectiveness during the Davidson kidnaping, he didn’t even want to be in the same room when Casey was told, let alone do the telling. “The house is secure and the security system hasn’t been breached.”
“Maybe you should go hide in the bathroom or something.” Beth grinned at Phil’s nervousness. Even though he’d worked for Casey for years and considered her a good friend, he didn’t want to be anywhere near her when she exploded. Oh boy, Casey’s gonna go through the roof! “I’ll tell her you said everything is secure.”
“Good idea, I’ll just wait in there until the yelling is over.” Moving purposefully towards the hall and his hiding place, he ran full tilt into Casey.
“Whoa! Where’s the fire?” Casey grabbed Phil’s shoulders, preventing him from falling.
“Excuse me.” Phil blushed, yet didn’t allow Casey to deter him from his objective: escape.
“What’s wrong with him?” Casey cocked an eye at Beth after tracking her fast moving friend flee. Abruptly her expression changed, noting the rigid tension in her lover. “What’s wrong?” A few long strides and she had her arms wrapped securely around Beth’s waist. “Sweetheart?”
“We had an unexpected call tonight.” Beth returned Casey’s embrace with vigor, tangling their limbs so thoroughly that it was impossible to tell where one began and the other left off. I definitely do not want to tell you this.
“Who was it?” The sinking feeling in Casey’s stomach grew, directly proportional to Beth’s continued silence. “Beth?”
“Adam Carr.” Beth’s arms tightened convulsively, allowing herself to acknowledge and experience the fear that had been ruthlessly shoved aside. Scared…why now of all times did this have to happen? Just when Casey’s starting to really believe in us? Then the anger roared through her. I’ll be damned if I let you hurt us…you can’t have her, you bastard! It won’t work…I won’t let you drive a wedge between us. Not now, not ever! Gradually, Beth became aware of Casey’s whispered promises of love and security. Concentrating on her lover’s voice, Beth stepped away from her fear, her rage. “Sorry about that.” The author spoke when she was convinced her voice wouldn’t betray her. The rigid tension in her stance stunning her with its intensity.
“For what?” Casey picked Beth up, carrying her to the sofa. “Being human?” Sitting, Casey resumed her protective embrace. “It’s only natural, Sweetheart.”
“His name is Adam Carr.” Beth began quietly, relating the conversation almost word for word. Snuggling even closer, the author drew strength from her wife and their love. “After I hung up, Phil called in the phone booth’s location. Oh, I almost forgot. Phil ran a check on the security system and said the house was secure and the system hadn’t been breached.”
“They won’t find anything.” Casey breathed deeply, exhaling slowly. “Carr called to make a point, namely that he’s still in control of the game. He intentionally stayed on the phone long enough for a trace; he’s probably laughing at us right now.” A sigh escaped. Don’t think…just act. Stay in control. “Why’s the chicken hiding in the bathroom?”
“Casey, be nice!” Beth giggled, releasing a bit of her nervous energy. “Does the fact that we now know Adam’s name change things?”
“It won’t change anything.” The former agent rubbed Beth’s back soothingly, calming them both. “We already had his name…wait, don’t get mad!” Casey refused to let Beth go; Beth absolutely hated it when she thought her lover was keeping things from her. “I just found out for sure on the way home from the hospital. Remember how I said we’d found Adam’s training ground earlier?” Beth nodded, settling back against Casey. “Adam Carr was one of the three people who accessed my case files and fit the rest of the profile. It just took a little bit to confirm this and to locate his property.” Please understand…I only want to keep you safe.
“Adam wanted to rattle us?” Beth growled silently, mad at herself for almost falling into the craftily laid trap.
“Yeah, but it’s not gonna work.” Casey confirmed, leaning forward to bury her nose in strawberry blond locks. Breath…nice and slow. That’s it Casey. Rein it in…fight it! Don’t let him win. He just wants to get me going off half cocked. Closing her too expressive eyes, the former agent battled back the madness coursing through her blood. The desire to find and eliminate her enemy…the one who dared to attack her lover, almost overpowering her control.
“Casey?” Beth asked several minutes later, remembering the man hiding in their bathroom. “Don’t you think we should tell Phil it’s safe to come out?”
“Oh I guess.” Raising her voice, Casey told Phil it was safe. “Although it would serve him right if we left him in there all night long. Come on in, chicken!” Catching her blushing friend out of the corner of her eye, she waved him into the room. “What have you got for me?”
“Adam remained on the line exactly long enough for me to trace the call if it had been a conventional call, not a second longer. Carr isn’t aware of the latest software that allows for faster tracing.” Phil grinned self consciously; he’d helped create it months ago. Now it was being used secretly in trials by Johnson at the FBI. “As I was tracing the call, I also sent it to the office so Bertha could get started analyzing it. That’s about it.” Phil tried and failed to stifle his yawn.
“Go home, Phil. You’re exhausted.” Casey narrowed her eyes, reading the pronounced lines of exhaustion on his face. “Wait, you’re too tired to drive home safely. Either have Bob take you or you’re staying here. Your choice, my friend.”
“I’ll have Bob take me.” Phil rose, looking at his body with disgust. “I used to be able to do this for forty-eight straight hours. Now look at me.” Grabbing his coat, Phil headed for the front door, Casey and Beth close on his heels.
After saying goodbye, Casey shut the door, reactivating the security system. Lacing her fingers through Beth’s, she led her partner through the house, turning off lights as they slowly made their way downstairs.
Beth didn’t bother to hide her worried looks from her wife, willingly following her silent lover. OK, Casey. Just what is going through that gorgeous head of your’s? You’re too quiet, too in control. What are you thinking? The obvious answer earned a hidden sigh when they stopped so Casey could grab a bottle of wine from the refrigerator and a couple of glasses. Not a good sign, nope not at all. Casey never drinks wine before bed unless she’s trying to relax…or seduce me. Beth was unable to hide her second sigh. And I don’t think that’s a likely possibility. Damn! I have to do something. Just look at her. She’s tied up in knots.
“You OK, Slick?” While avoiding Beth’s worried glances, Casey had watched her lover covertly. “What are you thinking about?” Stopping before the fireplace in the corner of their bedroom, Casey gently nudged Beth to the floor. A few moments later, she had a nice fire going. Catching Beth’s slightly outraged look (the author could never get a fire started that quickly), Casey grinned cockily and quipped, “one of my many skills.”
“Casey!” Beth chuckled, the standing joke needing no explanation, pouring the light wine. Reclining on the large, soft floor pillow, the author settled down. “Hmm, much better.”
“Yup, much better.” Casey sighed happily, choosing to use Beth’s lap as her pillow. “And answer the questions, woman.” Blue eyes regarded her partner, wondering why she avoided the question. To the former agent, that only spelled one thing…trouble.
“I’m fine. I was actually worrying about you.” Beth ran her fingers through her lover’s hair, delighting in the tactile sensation. “You’re awfully quiet, Love. How are you holding up?”
“I’m OK.” Casey paraphrased Beth’s words. That’s so like you…worrying about me before yourself.
“Really?” Beth kept her motions soothing, voice gentle. The author thought her lover wasn’t being totally up front about her feelings, but she didn’t push.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Really.” Casey caught and held Beth’s gaze. “We didn’t learn anything at the hospital. Mr Dancer confirmed he’d been abducted from his home. One minute he was working in his garage and then the next, he woke up chained in a large room. The only words Carr spoke to him the entire time were ‘the circle’s widening.'” Casey left out Dancer’s descriptions of his torture, of how he felt when the chain bit into his skin, of how the pain exploded when the imitation staff slammed into bruised, cracked ribs, of how the big man had begged for his life, fainting after a long cut was stitched on his calf. Beth doesn’t need to hear the gory details. She’s got enough to worry about without adding that to her list. She’s had a pretty rough time of it…
“How are you feeling, Sweetheart?” Casey rolled her head to nuzzle Beth’s stomach through her shirt. “You’ve had a rough couple of days.”
“Casey!” Beth giggled, lowering her wine glass to her lover’s lips. She scowled until Casey drank meekly. “That’s better.” Beth returned her hand to jet black locks. “I’m a little tired, but I feel fine.” The author didn’t want to hurt her wife’s feelings by avoiding the subject or brushing her off. Sharing went both ways. “No pain or dizziness.” Green eyes conveyed her sincerity. “And the light soreness in my muscles has disappeared..”
“This doesn’t hurt?” Casey raised a hand to run a finger lightly around the outside edge of the bandage on her forehead.
“It’s a little tender.” Beth admitted, capturing the wandering finger with her lips. “I’ll be fine. It’s nothing worse than I’ve gotten from an aggressive sparring match. Don’t worry so much.” Right Beth…you’d be giving her a lot harder time if the situation was reversed! Don’t even bother denying it.
“I’ll try.” Casey promised, realizing she would stop breathing before she stopped worrying about Beth. Beth’s wandering hand distracted her. Slapping lightly at the uninvited invader, Casey swallowed, body reacting immediately to the sure, knowing touch. “The doctor said you need to take it easy, Love.” Sternly she commanded her body to not react. She was promptly ignored by her lover and her body.
“Woman.” Beth leaned down, growling softly in Casey’s ear, exhaling hotly over the sensitive flesh. “I’ve waited patiently for two entire days, not to mention two incredibly long nights.” Her small hand stopped wandering, laying possessively on her lover’s breast. “I am going to have you.” The growl sent shivers down Casey’s spine. “Now.” Squeezing lightly, Beth grinned mentally as Casey capitulated, pressing herself against Beth’s hand.
“Take me.” Casey whispered, giving in to her lover’s heated caresses, wanting, needing more. Blue pleaded with green. Make me forget…make me feel…lead me…
“Kneel.” Responding to the quiet, firm command that seemed so out of place, coming from her gentle author, blue eyes widened as possessive green raked over her trembling body. Drive my fears away…please. Help me stop seeing a menacing shadow following you.
Casey shivered, forcing hands her hands to retreat from strawberry blond silk, falling limply to her sides. Oh God…she hasn’t even touched me again…please touch me. Jerking slightly as strong hands grasped both sides of her shirt, Casey moaned softly, anticipating her lover’s next move. I promise…love me…make the blood, the darkness, disappear…love me…
The sound of ragged breathing filled the room, drowning out the crackling fire. Caught in her lover’s gaze, Casey watched helplessly, bound by her silent promise. Fighting her natural impulse to arch into her lover, to bring their heated flesh relief that only skin on skin contact would provide. Ever so slowly, the darkness started to recede under the passionate onslaught. Then jumped as a quick tug popped off her buttons, exposing her quivering flesh.. “Beth…please.” I didn’t promise to be silent. I need you.
“Not yet.” Green darkened dangerously, daring Casey to speak again, wanting her only response to be felt…deeply, totally. “That’s better.” Liking the restrained control, Beth leaned forward, hands slowly drawing Casey’s shirt down her arms. Closing the distance between them, Beth kissed Casey hotly.
God, Beth…please! Casey briefly thought about struggling, but the passionate look in Beth’s eyes stopped her. Securely bound by her shirt, the former agent shivered, nerves tingling in the heated air. Never picturing herself in such a passive roll, the specialist groaned softly, trying to stop herself from pushing against her lover. You’re torturing me…and I’m loving every moment. Resigned to the loving torture, blue eyes closed, savoring the hot breath and light kisses that fanned her growing desire. That’s it beloved…touch me…pull me from the darkness. Pushing the fear, the horror of what she’d seen, what she’d been, shakily away, Casey concentrated on the one who mattered most.
Focused on Beth’s knowing hands and intimate desires, the rake of teeth against her hip startled the former agent. Glowing blue took in her lover’s mischievous look, which slowly faded as green absorbed blue.
“Where are you?”
Beth’s low growl surprised Casey. “With you.” She answered truthfully, not following her lover’s question.
“I don’t think so.” The author didn’t like the far away look in her lover’s eyes. A not so gentle push sent Casey sprawling. Crushing her lips to Casey’s, Beth made sure her wife was paying attention. “Don’t forget it.” Beth gasped, seriously staring into her lover’s eyes. Moving suggestively, the author noticed with some amusement as their nakedness registered. Capturing an earlobe, lips and teeth devoured the sensitive skin while strong fingers teased her breasts, leaving Casey wriggling against her.
“”Where are you?”
Understanding the question, Casey forced herself to meet Beth’s eyes squarely, trying to ignore the havoc Beth’s conquering hands were reeking. “With you, in front of the fire…” She wants and needs this too. Thank you. “Right here…with you.” Ground me…
“Good answer.” As a reward, Casey received another heart stopping kiss. Lightly pinching Casey’s nipples, Beth watched the passion overtake her lover’s face. “What do you want? No, no…tell me.” The author steeled her resolve, trying to ignore her lover’s pulsating body as it silently screamed ‘touch me’. “What do you want?” Fingers stilled, ignoring Casey’s non verbal answer. “Come on. Tell me.” Lips dipped to taste the smooth skin on Casey’s breast. “Hmm?” Hot breath scalded the hard flesh. Tell me…let me in. Don’t hide from me.
“Beth…please!” Casey moaned, trying to force her lover’s head to her breast. Why can’t I just say it? “You, I want you.” Twitching under her lover’s still hands, the words tumbled out, Beth’s breath scorching everything in its path. “I…want…you…oh God,” Casey panted, body winning this battle of mind over body. Letting go of her need for control, Casey gave up all control to her lover. Protect me. Keep me safe.
“Suck me! Please!” And had the immediate satisfaction of feeling Beth’s lips and tongue assaulting her breasts. “Yes…god…Beth…” Casey whimpered, holding her head firmly against her heaving breasts. Catch me. Here I come… “Oh god…harder…please.” Floating, every negative thought, every worry Casey had about the case, about Beth’s safety faded into the light surrounding her. All that mattered was right here in her arms. Looking down as the indescribable sensations stopped, Casey struggled to breath, struggled to put her thoughts to words. “Touch me…take me…make me yours…fuck me. Please.” Begging, Casey cried out her need, not even trying to stop the uncharacteristically needy flow of words.
“As you wish.” Without wasting a moment, Beth slid her hand Casey’s parted thighs, driving three fingers into her moist heat. Her wife’s heartfelt plea spurring her to action. Roughly, deeply, forcefully, Beth pushed Casey higher. Abruptly lips joined into the fray, sucking demandingly, pushing Casey over the edge.
With a shout, Casey came violently, her whole body shaking as waves of pleasure threatened to engulf her. Belatedly, she realized the hoarsely whispered words of love were coming from her own lips and that she’d trapped Beth between her thighs. Looking down, twinkling green ignited her blood, fueling her passion. Growling, Casey rolled them over, ending up with her lips attached to Beth’s.
“I want you.” Casey bit gently on Beth’s lip as she retreated, angling down the long, smooth column flesh. Sucking forcefully on the tender skin, Casey groaned as Beth moaned, loving how roughly Beth grabbed her head, holding her close. Mine…want everyone to see that…god I need you to need me.
“Casey.” Tugging until her wife looked up, Beth wrapped her legs around her waist. “Feel what you do to me.” Thrusting, she smeared her wetness on Casey. “I need you.”
“God.” Casey swallowed emotionally, reacting to her lover’s passion. Without another thought, she slipped a hand between their rocking bodies. Judiciously manipulating her fingers, she exposed them both. Arching passionately against Beth, Casey growled, the fire igniting her blood.
“Yes!” Beth cried, the feeling of hot flesh sliding intimately together starting an explosion of rapture. Moving in time with Casey, Beth lost herself in the sight, the smell, the feel of her lover. Crying out her lover’s name, Beth surrendered to the pleasure, the force of her release pulling Casey along with her.
Sweatily collapsing beside Beth, Casey wrapped both arms around her. Smiling sleepily as Beth snuggled closer, Casey realized with a start that she’d totally forgotten about Adam Carr. Something that had never happened before. “Thank you, wife.”
“For what?” Beth grinned cheekily. “You mean for…” She waved a hand over their entwined bodies then laughed softly as Casey blushed. “No need to thank me. That’s my job, remember?” Suddenly serious, Beth refused to release Casey from her loving gaze. “You are so beautiful.”
“For loving me. For helping me to remember what’s important.” Casey raised her head, kissing Beth softly. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.” Beth’s heart thundered joyously. It actually worked! I can’t believe it…but I’m thankful it did. “Comfortable?” Seeing Casey’s emphatic nod, she continued. “Good, me too. Need to sleep.” Unable to hold her yawn off any longer, green eyes drifted shut. Listening to the steady rhythm of Casey’s heart, Beth fell asleep.
“Sleep well my love.” Reaching for the blanket on the hearth, Casey draped it over them before giving into her body’s demand for sleep.
Standing back, Beth watched Casey, captivated by the amazing transformation. Wow, look at Casey! The author shifted, staying within her lover’s peripheral vision. Casey had quietly, calmly asked her wife to stay within eyesight while driving to meet Eric Masters so they could travel to Carr’s property together. My tough love. Green twinkled with delight. You’re amazing. How do you go from gentle and loving one moment to utterly closed the next? No one would ever guess that just an hour ago you were holding on tightly to me, telling me to hang on, that this would be over soon. Seeing Casey stoop to examine something in the dirt surrounding the old garage, Beth focused on her wife.
What’s so interesting? I wish you’d let me walk with you. I know, I know…you just want to make sure I’m safe. Beth had asked on the way to meet Eric why they hadn’t come up last night. The author didn’t understand the delay, reasoning the sooner they obtained any evidence, the sooner Casey would capture Carr. She’d had to word her questions carefully, not wanting her unusually insecure lover to see her questions as criticisms or worse. Casey had explained, citing several factors. First and foremost was the isolated location; the house was set in the middle of a large field out in the middle of nowhere. It would be very dangerous to try and navigate the open grounds between the road and the house without proper light. Spotting any traps would be almost impossible without setting up exterior lighting, something that would take several hours to arrange. Secondly, the former agent strongly believed the house and grounds to be deserted. Adam wanted to challenge Casey. He wouldn’t be waiting, not when he wasn’t ready to end his game. As a precaution though, the house was put under surveillance.
So here I stand…watching…waiting…two things I absolutely HATE doing!! Beth groaned, realizing how her complaint sounded. Gods, Beth! Just cool down. She didn’t arrange this situation to annoy you. Frowning, the author noticed worried blue eyes unobtrusively scanning the immediate area around her. Forcing herself to not give into her instinctive desire to go to her lover, offering comfort and support, Beth swallowed painfully. And pushed her concern firmly away. Casey doesn’t need me going off half cocked right now. She’s got enough to worry about. Wonder what’s got her so worried? That thought surprised the author, eliciting a muffled snort. That’s a good one, Beth!! Why on earth would she be worried? There is a madman running around, imitating her most sensational cases. All because he wants to ‘play’ with Casey. Green eyes narrowed, studying her wife in a well practiced manner. I hope I can get her to relax this evening. She’s already tied up in knots. Don’t worry, my love. Relaxing you is my job. One I take very seriously. C’mon, Beth! Stop galking at her. Mentally shaking her head, Beth drew a deep breath fully aware that any other movement on her part would attract her lover’s attention, reprimanding herself for once again getting lost in Casey’s beauty. Do what you told Eric you would. Sighing softly, Beth removed her tape recorder and started describing what she saw. Keeping a small part of her mind on her lover, Beth made sure she stayed in her line of sight. Quickly she faded out, putting her descriptive talents to use.
The quiet voice, accompanied by strong arms wrapping around the author’s waist, pulled Beth from her thoughts. “Hey yourself.” Happily surprised, Beth leaned back against her lover. “What’s up? Ready to go inside?”
“Yeah.” Casey confirmed, blue eyes intently on the flurry of activity in the precisely arranged yard. “What were you thinking about?” Right Casey. What else would occupy Beth’s mind to the point she wasn’t aware I was watching? Although her eyes were on the officers carefully cataloging and collecting evidence, Casey’s body and thoughts were firmly centered on her lover.
“Doing a favor for Eric.” Beth glanced around, noting the lack of attention, before dropping a hand to lightly rub the arms cradling her. “He asked me for a description.”
“Ah, the comparison thing again.” Casey sighed softly, wanting to believe her lover’s words.
Hearing the note of doubt in her partner’s voice, Beth mentally chastised herself for adding to her lover’s worries. “I was also thinking about you.” The author divulged, consciously softening her body, trying to ease the tension in Casey’s. “This is hard for you, isn’t it.” It wasn’t a question. “You’re blaming yourself for what’s happening, aren’t you.” Beth hurried on, not giving Casey a chance to protest. “It’s not your fault, my love.” Another conscious choice, meant to help ground her responsible lover. “You aren’t responsible for anything that’s happened.” Feeling Casey draw a breath, preparing to speak, Beth rolled right over her, turning in her arms at the same time so they were facing each other. “Just tell me Casey, how are you to blame? Did you run me off the road? Did you capture and torture Charlie Dancer?” A finger stabbed, punctuating each question. “Did you force Adam Carr to watch you? Did you hold his hand, giving him hints, advising him? Did you say, ‘Hey Adam, wouldn’t it be fun to reenact some of my cases?’ Well, did you?” Fuming, green burned brightly, freezing Casey in place. “Well?”
“You’re beautiful when you’re angry.” My protector…how I need you. Brushing Beth’s cheek, the former agent melted in her lover’s protective, loving presence. “I know you’re right,” Casey shrugged her shoulders helplessly. “But I can’t help it. If I hadn’t been who I was, none of this would be happening.” You wouldn’t have been hurt.
“Casey.” Beth hugged her lover fiercely. And we probably wouldn’t have met. That depressing thought caused the author to tighten her hold. What can I say to her?? Maybe the best thing is to get her working again. Don’t give her any time to brood. “Didn’t you say it’s time to go inside?”
“Yeah, it is.” Casey exhaled silently, knowing exactly what her lover was trying to do. C’mon now, Casey. Let go…time to get busy…Glaring at her wayward limbs that didn’t want to obey her commands, Casey told herself just one more minute. Then she’d move. I love this…love her protectiveness. What did I ever do to deserve this, deserve her? Nothing, I know that. Sending a quiet thank-you to whomever was listening, the former agent slowly released her lover.
“The bomb squad has been through the house. They didn’t find any surprises, not that I expected them to.” Casey updated Beth as they slowly worked their way to Adam’s house. “This whole scene,” sweeping a hand over the house and yard, ” was arranged for our enjoyment.” Nodding to the officer on the porch, Casey entered first, Beth right on her heels. “I can feel your questions from here.” The former agent teased, stopping abruptly so her author collided with her.
“Hey!” Beth complained, rubbing her nose which stung from connecting with Casey’s back. “What did you stop for?” Standing in the hallway, the author didn’t see anything that would merit Casey’s action.
“Same deal as last time, right?” Very serious blue eyes scrutinized her partner.
“Right.” Beth answered just as serious as her lover. “Good thing I’ve got a good memory, huh, 99?” Deciding Casey needed a moment of lightness before sinking into the role she was coerced into playing.
“I’ll answer every one later, I promise.” Blue twinkled merrily, needing no interpretation of her lover’s comment. “Ready?” Sobering, Casey waited until Beth nodded, reaching for her professional mask, slipping it on uncomfortably. Damn I hate doing this…wearing this in front of Beth. I don’t want to hide from her. That thought caught her totally by surprise, causing her to pause before entering the living room. Not having the time to examine the revelation or the emotions it brought, she promised to return to it later. C’mon, Casey. Walk through the door. Finish it. Very conscious of the loss of warmth, Casey smiled inwardly, recognizing the support radiating from her wife even though they were no longer physically touching. Face neutral, Casey walked through the door.
“Conceited, isn’t he?” Casey smirked at the two detectives waiting with Lt Masters. For a moment, she allowed Adam to direct her attention, following the carefully laid out room to the center, where another note addressed to her rested on a pedestal table. “Well, well.” Casey mumbled, talking supposedly to Beth. The former agent dismissed the curious glances from the officers, concentrating on the room.
Starting in the corner opposite the door, blue eyes swept over the pictures and drawings. “You didn’t take any chances, did you? Everything was planned, taking into account provisions for wet, slippery roads.” Detailed pictures from the “Driver of Death” case lined the wall while drawings calculating angles and actual calculations lined the other. “He calculated exactly where to hit Beth. Knew exactly what he was doing. The bumpers in the yard are from your practice hits, aren’t they? You had backup plans for your backups. How did you feel when you hit her the first time?” Ruthlessly pushing her own feelings to the background, Casey made herself focus on Adam. “I know you thoroughly enjoyed it. Everything came together flawlessly.” Falling silent, Casey stepped back, soaking in the emotions behind the preparation.
Without a word, she moved to the opposite corner. Harry Chan’s original pictures lined one wall. Slipping into her teacher mode, Casey pulled Beth to her side, pointing out several identifying clue. Then she turned, showing Beth the same things in the practice drawings and photos for the Dancer case. “Practice makes perfect, right Adam?” The countless pictures of the weighted dummies Carr used to practice on, weighed heavily in the specialist’s mind. “Why did you have to practice so much? What are you covering up? Are you limited physically some how? Or are you getting into your role, starting to enjoy the pain you’re inflicting? Or are you trying to throw me off, wanting me to start chasing tangents? What are you thinking?” The questions came out slowly, with long pauses between them as Casey formulated and discarded answers. A brief movement caught her eye, diverting her attention. Good move, Casey! Look how worried Beth is. Engage the brain, stupid! Only someone well acquainted with her lover’s moods would have picked up on Beth’s worry. The tiny crinkle at the edge of her mouth…the wrinkles around her eyes…the hesitant, carefully hidden flicker of the eyes…the slight flexing at her knees, the only outward sign of movement…all screamed to Casey, chastising her for her lack of attention. The former agent realized with a start that she had no idea how much time had past.
“Beth, come her for a second?”
“Sure. What’s up?” Beth copied Casey’s tone and manners, stepping beside her with a small smile. The author bit back her nervousness and worry, projecting an aura of calmness. Watching Casey become immersed in Adam’s game had been a shock for the smaller woman. Do you have any idea how worried I am about you? I’m scared for you. Hiding her thoughts, Beth caught Casey’s eye, smiling for real this time.
“Look at this picture.” Moving behind Beth, casually Casey leaned against her, pointing at random. Very aware of the curious eyes on them, Casey forced herself to settle for this limited contact. “How are you doing, Sweetheart?” Spoken very low so only Beth would hear her, wanting to know if she could ease her lover’s obvious tension.
“I’m fine. What about you?” Beth shot back barely audible, fighting to keep her hand from reaching for Casey. Curious when she wasn’t immediately answered, Beth turned her head, catching the oddest look cross her wife’s face. Huh…that’s the most emotion I’ve seen since we entered the room. What is going on with you, love?
“I just realized something.” Casey couldn’t believe she’d missed it before. “Look at the picture.” This time it was an earnest request. “See the bottled water?” Squinting, she tried to make out the brand.
“So? Lots of people drink bottled water.” Beth didn’t see how bottled water could be a clue.
“Think about it for a minute.” Blue eyes darkened thoughtfully, scanning and pointing out the water in several shots. Unthinking, Casey grabbed Beth’s hand, pulling her to the other corner. After checking a few photos, a big grin spread across her face. “I think Adam’s just made his first serious mistake. Eric?” Casey swung around to face the police lieutenant. “Have the lab check the blood from the broom for medications, especially ones that halt muscle deterioration or improve coordination.”
“OK,” turning to one of his detectives, he motioned for them to make the call. “What am I missing?”
“Why would Adam purposefully include bottled water in any shot?” Casey let go of Beth’s hand with an apologetic smile, pacing back and forth. “The placement of the bottles never vary; they’re always within his immediate reach. Yet they’re also out of his way.” Pausing, Casey pointed this out in a few pictures. “It’s clear Adam doesn’t want to be far from his water. Why?” Spinning, the former agent stalked across the room and back, giving her audience time to think. “It’s really obvious.” Casey grinned, staring right at Beth, daring her to take a guess. “What? You aren’t gonna guess?” She teased Beth and then started chuckling, getting the expected exasperated glare.
“Because he’s thirsty?” Beth frowned, secretly delighted that her lover relaxed enough to make jokes. Even if they were at her own expense.
“Right, Slick.” Casey dodged the half-hearted swat aimed at her. Turning serious, she returned to Beth’s side. “Why’s he so thirsty? Does he have a compulsive need to drink water? Is Adam on some medicine that makes him thirsty? Consider the photos and drawing in preparation for the last crime. Adam planned and practiced the physical aspects more than anything else. Why? Notice how he concentrated on two primary acts: using the chains and broom. Both extremely physical acts, requiring a great deal of muscle coordination and control. Both also extremely personal.”
“By testing the blood for certain types of medications you’re hoping to find out if Adam is physically ill? That maybe he has to take medication daily?” Beth hazzarded a guess.
“That’s one possibility and the reason I asked for the expanded tests.” Casey smiled softly, eyes touching her lover’s. “But based on…”
“What if it’s not water?” Beth interrupted, elbowing Casey for making an assumption. How many times have you nailed my PI for assuming? “Since Adam concentrated on the physical acts of both crimes, it could mean he’s obsessed with his physical self.” The author followed Casey’s line of reasoning, remembering past discussions about Adam. “What if it’s a mineral/vitamin cocktail?”
“I knew you’d figure it out!” Casey beamed at Beth, hugging her quickly.
“Alright.” Eric sounded quite grumpy, not understanding how Casey could see this as important. Coupled with her erratic emotional swings, he was feeling very unbalanced. “So now we know he’s a vain little twerp. It’s not like we didn’t know that before.”
“That’s what’s so important!” Casey insisted. “This is the first time that his ego has gotten in the way. Look.” She pointed to the pictures. “They are all staged. Everything is carefully laid out for me to see. Adam wants every one to know how talented and cunning he is. There is no reason for the bottle to be in any of these pictures. I’d lay money on the fact that Adam wasn’t even aware of his actions. Anyone serious about exercising drinks plenty of fluids.”
“So why have the lab do the expensive tests?” Frowning, Lt Masters shook his head.
“Because there’s always the possibility that I’m wrong and Adam did concentrate on the physical acts because of a physical condition.” Casey met Eric’s challenging gaze unflinchingly. “I sincerely doubt that I’m wrong. Every instinct I have, every technical skill I’ve learned, tells me Adam is in excellent shape. He practiced those moves not because he needed to, but because he liked how it made him feel. He liked being in control.”
“I can see that.” Beth spoke up, easily reading the tension in the police lieutenant. “But how does that help stop Adam?”
“It doesn’t, at least not directly.” Casey admitted. “It does, however, tell me that Adam is growing more cocky, is loosening the tight reins on his control. He’s growing more and more likely to make a mistake. And,” Casey’s voice dropped slightly. “It tells me we have to hurry. The man who spent months breaking into the FBI computer and stealing confidential case files, the man who spent months practicing the ‘perfect’ crimes, is getting careless. The more careless a person is, the more dangerous he becomes.”
“There’s still one more corner to explore.” The words reluctantly fell from Eric’s lips.
“I know.” Biting her lip, Casey laced her fingers through Beth’s. I do not want to do this! I don’t want Beth to have to go through this. Shaking off her reluctance, Casey confronted the problem the only way she could-head on. Slowly she led her silent partner across to the semi-hidden area. Slipping behind the bamboo screen, Casey dropped Beth’s hand, wrapping her arms firmly around her lover. Remaining silent, she gave her wife the time she needed to absorb and comprehend the pictures.
“My God, Casey.” Beth said painfully when she found her voice. “He’s been watching us for months!” The author noted with growing dismay the age of the photos. “You expected this, didn’t you?” Beth couldn’t believe Casey was taking this so well, irrationally angered by her lover’s calm acceptance.
“Yes.” Casey didn’t deny Beth’s claim, having expected exactly this. Turning her fuming lover around, Casey felt her heart break at the look of betrayal on Beth’s face. Damn. It’s my fault.
“Why didn’t you warn me?” The author felt violated; there were as many pictures of her on the walls as Casey. Adam had captured Beth in a variety of places, both public and private. “Why aren’t you bothered by it?” Biting off the rest of her words, Beth closed her eyes, trying to repress her growing anger. Don’t say anything else, Beth. Just keep your mouth closed.
“Sweetheart.” Casey partially released her hold on Beth, bringing one hand up to caress her cheek. “Please look at me.” The former agent plead softly, unconsciously holding her breath until Beth looked up. “I didn’t warn you because I hoped I was wrong. Stupid, I know. But I just wanted to protect you.” Casey smiled tentatively when the hurt and angry look started to fade from Beth’s eyes.
“I’m sorry, beloved.” The author wanted to slap herself. The pained, scared expression in her wife’s eyes cut straight through her anger. Stupid Beth! What was I thinking? She thinks I’m mad at her because of the pictures. Damn you, Adam! We definitely did not need this with everything else we’ve been through recently. Without another thought, she burrowed against Casey, lips barely grazing the soft flesh of her lover’s neck. Oh damn! Beth growled mentally, the rapid pulse under her lips just another sign of how upset her wife was. This time it’s all my fault. I caused this. With tears in her eyes, Beth started to apologize with soft touches and gentle kisses.
I screwed up again! One of these days, I’m gonna push her too far. Casey fell against her lover in relief, securely holding Beth against her. The soft lips against her pulse point started a reaction, one the former agent couldn’t control. She couldn’t tell who was shaking more. When am I gonna learn? How many times am I gonna make the same mistake? Beth is a grown woman, capable of making her own decisions. Yet time and time again, in my infinite wisdom, I keep things from her…things she has a right to know. I hurt her again. DAMN! Shifting under her lover’s ministrations, Casey started to relax, started to respond to her lover’s words. Huh? Beth’s apologizing to me? That rattled the former agent, causing her to look at her lover. “I love you, Beth.” The words surprised Casey; although very true, it wasn’t what she planned on saying.
“I love you too, Casey.” Relieved beyond words by her wife’s relaxed posture, Beth pulled back, needing to see her eyes. Oh gods, I could be in some serious trouble here. The warmth and love sent her way caused the author’s heart to swell.
“Are we OK now?” Casey asked quietly, prepared to do whatever it took to make it happen.
“Yes.” Beth grinned as Casey slumped against her, clearly relieved. “Hey you, what’s that for?” Beth nipped her neck slightly, wincing at how easily her wife doubted. “Did you really think we had a problem?” I really should be offended. Just how many times do I have to say it before she believes? Do I have to beat it into her? That thought earned an evil giggle.
“You’re mad about the pictures. I should have told you of the very real possibility of their existence.” Casey was mad at herself and it showed.
“Casey.” Beth tugged gently until she could see her lover’s eyes. Swallowing her reaction to the self loathing not fully hidden in smoky blue, Beth refused to release her. “I am mad about the photos, but not because you didn’t tell me. I’m mad,” Beth enunciated each word clearly, wanting no misunderstandings. “I’m mad because they exist. Mad because he got close enough to take them. Mad because he violated our privacy. Mad because he’s mocking us. Most of all,” Beth’s voice dropped to its lowest register. “I’m mad because he did this to hurt and taunt you.”
“He wants me to go off half cocked.” Casey confirmed, standing to her full height, eyes never straying from her wife’s. I can’t believe he got close enough to take these without me sensing him. Damn! What good are my skills, my training, if I can’t protect my wife? “Well, unfortunately for him, he didn’t count on how much I need you to stay focused. If he thought this would drive a wedge between us, he’s sorely mistaken.” Blue twinkled, reflecting the warmth radiating through her. “Because he greatly underestimated you, Sweetheart. You,” lips lightly grazed her lover’s forehead. “Are most definitely,” a soft cheek was next. “More protective,” lips landed briefly on her other cheek. “Than I am,” hovering a breath’s distance above Beth’s lips, Casey resisted the urge to kiss Beth. She had one thing left to say. “My protector…my love.” Crushing their lips together, Casey poured all of feelings for her wife into that kiss. The kiss was all encompassing, reflecting her love, her concern, her passion, her fear.
“Wow.” Beth gasped, leaning against Casey, not having the strength to remain on her feet unassisted. Gods above, what you do to me. Even here.
“Wow,” Casey repeated, a little dazed. The ringing of a cell phone reminded the former agent where they were. “Smart, Casey! Just how long have we been back here, anyway?
“Were these pictures supposed to do anything other than rattle us?” Beth asked quietly, trying to help get both their minds back on business. That kiss still had her tingling, all the way to her toes.
“Adam wanted to drive the point home that no one is safe. And,” Casey swallowed her fear, promising to install additional surveillance in their backyard and at Mrs A’s house. The pictures near their home struck a deep fear, especially the ones where Beth was alone. The pictures were very specific, clearly showing how limited their extensive home security was. Anywhere that wasn’t under surveillance, namely the end of the drive, the far corner of the back yard, and Mrs A’s house, Adam had taken pictures. “And to remind me that he’s still in control.”
Beth nodded, reaching for Casey’s hand. She won’t leave until she knows I’m OK. “What else is there to look at besides the note?”
“I want to poke around a little. Then I’ve got some checking to do.” Casey smiled, lacing her fingers through Beth’s. “Ready?” At Beth’s nod, she led them back into the room, heading straight for the note. “Your guys finished with this?” Blue eyes looked to Lt Masters. The folded note had been dusted for prints, photographed and cataloged.
“Amanda’s waiting to finish processing it. Go ahead.” Eric pointed to the woman in the corner who was carefully collecting evidence.
Taking a deep breath, Casey slipped on a pair of latex gloves and her professional mask. The former agent had an idea what the note would contain, but she wasn’t taking any chances. Casey knew she’d worried Beth enough for one day.
I do hope you’re enjoying yourself. You have a very beautiful wife. Is her
vibrant hair as soft as it looks? It must be difficult keeping such a strong woman safe. How do you do it? Oh, silly me. You don’t, at least not very well. It was so easy to slip in and take those pictures. Just imagine how easily I could have taken her? Just something to think about as you continue the quest!
Exhaling silently, Casey shook imperceptibly, battling the raging fire that threatened to sweep away her control. He’s right. He could have taken her any time when Beth wasn’t with me.
“What a minute!” Beth barked, missing the policemen in the room jump, having read the note over her wife’s arm. “Why does everyone assume I’m so easy to grab?” Glaring, Beth stomped around Casey, hands on her hips. “Just who does this little pipsqueak think he is? He better not even think about a one on one confrontation. I’ll wipe the floor with his sorry ass! I won’t even need my staff to take this creep down a peg.” Her booted feet thundered across the wooden floor. “Just because I don’t look particularly tough, doesn’t mean I’m not! How narrowminded and bigoted is this guy? Short people can be vicious!”
“Hmm, Sweetheart?” Casey broke in when Beth paused to breath. Against all logic, the former agent was smiling at her livid wife. She’s beautiful.
“I’d really rather not find out.” Speaking in a conciliatory tone, Casey stopped her cantankerous lover’s pacing, laying a calming hand on her arm.
“Oh.” Beth caught the hastily hidden grins, realizing exactly what she said. Blushing lightly, the author distractedly noticed how relaxed Casey appeared. I feel so stupid! Gods, Beth. Why don’t you just open your mouth and insert your foot? It would be faster. “What now?” Changing the subject, Beth wished for a discrete way to fan her face.
“Well,” blue eyes twinkled, not quite believing what came out of her lover’s mouth. “There are a few things I need to check out.” Carefully sliding the note into an evidence bag, she replaced it on the table. “C’mon, let’s go check out the rest of the house.” Nodding to Lt Masters, Casey ushered Beth out of the room. Directing Beth into the first empty room, Casey shut the door, reaching for her wife at the same time. “Good Lord, Sweetheart!” Starting to chuckle, Casey buried her nose in softly scented strawberry blond locks.
“Just what’s so funny, Casey Michelle Bennett?” Beth replied tartly, secretly pleased that Casey was able to laugh. Her sharp words didn’t keep the author from molding herself closely against her lover.
How do you do that? Know instinctively what I need? I was ready to fly apart in there and you held me together. Do you have any idea what it would do to me to actually see Adam and you fight? Do you know what would happen if he did take you? I don’t think you do. Nothing and no one would stand in my way to get you back. He’d be lucky if they found his body in one piece. Shaking slightly, Casey held on, returning Beth’s embrace with vigor. I just have to make sure that it doesn’t happen.
“How are you doing, Casey?” Beth asked softly, after several silent minutes had past. “Are you gonna be OK?” Extremely worried about her wife, Beth felt her way carefully, not wanting to push too far, too fast.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine.” Casey squeezed and released her wife, chagrined by her lack of control. I didn’t use to be out of control. “What?” The look she was being subject to made her heart pound. I’ll deal with this later. C’mon, Casey…get it together.
“If you say so.” Beth agreed reluctantly, not believing for a moment her lover’s claim. We’ll play it your way for now. “What’s next?”
Blue eyes flickered over the generic bedroom before answering. “Well,” Casey moved to the closet, double checking her suspicions. “I want to take a look at Adam’s workshop and his bedroom.” Opening drawers, Casey wasn’t surprised to find them empty. “Then I need to spend some time with my computer, checking on a few things. C’mon, there’s nothing here.” Walking to the door, Casey slipped on her professional mask, but not before kissing her lover quickly.
Beth leaned against the door jam, worried green eyes dismally noting her lover’s tired, drawn features. As promised, the former agent had concentrated on Carr’s bedroom and workshop. What she hadn’t told Beth was the excruciating attention she’d pay to each object nor how long she’d spend just sitting there, soaking up the feel of each room. That was almost twenty-four hours ago. I think I lied to her. Green eyes distractedly watched long black hair be brushed impatiently from Casey’s face. As soon as they arrived at home, Casey had sat down at her computer, totally focused. I don’t understand how driving herself to utter exhaustion is going to help stop Carr. After Casey hadn’t spoken or acknowledged Beth’s presence in more than twelve hours, the author had quietly interrupted, not seeing her move for almost an hour. And had been curtly thanked for the sandwich and immediately ignored. Forcing away her hurt feelings, the author tried to forget how it had hurt, almost like she didn’t exist, like she was an inconvenience. She’s trying to catch a very evil man, Beth! Grow up!! She doesn’t have time to babysit me. Yes, those pictures were terribly invasive. Yes, Adam could have attacked at any time. But he didn’t…just get over it. Look how hard Casey is working, trying to keep anyone else from being hurt. She needs to take care of herself, not worry about me. At least she did eat. Disturbed eyes followed her lover’s jerky movements. What are you trying to prove? How long you can function without sleep? The author muffled a snort, wondering how long she could stand unnoticed. Usually Casey was aware of her presence within seconds. Five minutes later, Beth shook her head disapprovingly. You’re asleep on your feet, but you’re too stubborn to admit it. Enough is enough. Shoving off, Beth quietly approached Casey, startling her when she cleared her throat.
“God, Beth!” Casey jumped, the noise jerking her from her thoughts. “Are you trying to give me a heart attack?” Sitting back, she absently saved her work while rubbing her nose. “What’s up?” Looking up at Beth, Casey was thrown by her intense look. What the???
“Certainly not you.” Beth drew a deep breath, gathering her courage, fully aware of how stubborn her wife could be. “You need to sleep. Now.” Staring pointedly, the author refused to allow her wife to look away. “Look,” Beth sighed, exasperated when Casey opened her mouth, anticipating a refusal. “Just take a few hours and clear your head. You’ll be surprised how much easier it is to think, I promise.” I swear, Casey. You’re worse than Mrs A when it’s time for her to go to the doctor’s.
The tense set of her wife’s shoulders belatedly set off alarms. Reaching out a hand, Casey pulled Beth on her lap, burying her nose in sweet smelling hair. What did I say? Beth never speaks to me that way. Trying to think quickly, Casey slapped herself mentally when her sleep deprived brain finally coughed up a thought. She’s right. I am exhausted; I can’t even remember when I spoke to her last…wait…oh god, tell me I didn’t do that…didn’t turn away from her when she wanted to, needed to talk. When am I gonna remember that this, this smothering darkness is new to her? She’s never seen me this way, either. Never seen me so internally focused that I shut out everything and every one…DAMN! What did I do? I retreated, worrying about my one balance, forgetting Beth needs me too. Feeling her heart fall painfully, Casey groaned softly, remembering her insensitive actions and harsh sounding words. “Beth? Sweetheart?” She spoke almost timidly, as if she was afraid her wife wouldn’t answer.
“C’mon, Love.” Beth rubbed Casey’s arm soothingly. “Whatever it is can wait.” Standing, she pulled her unprotesting lover to her feet. “You are going to get some sleep.”
“I’m sorry I was so short with you earlier.” Yawning, Casey meekly followed her protective wife, turning lights out on their way downstairs. She knew better than to protest, especially when Beth was clearly agitated. “I never meant to be.” Bemused, the specialist stood still after a fierce look from her lover while she was quickly undressed. “My turn.” Casey returned the favor, continuing the exchange of gentle kisses and soft caresses.
“Into bed with you.” Reluctantly Beth stepped away, telling herself that neither of them were in any condition to go any farther and flipped back the covers. Very aware of the blue eyes that followed her, Beth quickly turned out the lights and rejoined her wife.
“Feels good.” Casey quietly admitted, shifting slightly to accommodate her snuggling lover. Closing her eyes, Casey told Beth goodnight, intending to get some much needed sleep.
“What’s wrong?” Beth spoke quietly when Casey sighed for the third time, the tension in her wife very evident. Legs tangled, arms around each other, in other words, their usual sleeping position. Both should have been comfortable, relaxed.
“I can’t stop thinking.” Casey confessed, opening her eyes. She briefly debated avoiding the question, but the warm arms surrounding her convinced her otherwise. All I see when I close my eyes is what might have been…what still could happen. “Tell me what you did when I was working.” Talk to me…make me forget, at least for now.
“I did a little writing.” Beth decided that was a safe answer, since her wife didn’t appear to remember how cutting her words were. Casey didn’t need to know how worried she was nor how often she paced past their office door after being briskly asked if her questions could wait. It was an unique experience, feeling like she was being kicked out of her own office. One the author didn’t want to repeat anytime soon. Not sure how to handle her lover’s very uncharacteristic mood, Beth had acquiesced and left the room, battling her own insecurities and fears. Casey had never purposefully shut her out. And had never NOT wanted her to be in the same room, especially when they were working.
Unfortunately that was the wrong thing to say. “Forgive me, please.” Casey turned, gently pushing Beth on her back, leaning over her propped on one elbow. Blue gazed pleading into startled green. “I didn’t mean any of it, I swear.” The specialist’s words came back to haunt her in explicit detail. How could I have ignored her questions? I told her she could ask me anything. Then I just up and dismissed her! How could I have ignored her pain? Her fears? “Beloved, please forgive me.” Casey kicked herself, hard, imagining how her sensitive wife must have felt. I hurt her again…damn me to hell!
“There’s nothing to forgive.” Beth prevented Casey from disagreeing, tugging firmly until their bodies were in full contact. “No there isn’t.” She kissed Casey softly. “Give yourself a break, Love. You’re under a lot of stress right now.” Remember that, Beth. She had no idea what she was saying. She had no idea you were ready to fly apart.
“It’s no excuse.” Casey protested, seeing the mostly hidden flinch in Beth’s eyes. “You are vital to my very existence. You needed me and I wasn’t there.” Freeing a hand, Casey traced a finger down Beth’s cheek. “None of this means a damn if you’re not here with me.” I can’t survive without you. I don’t even want to try.
“Hey, enough of that.” Beth captured the wandering finger, nipping softly. “Stop picking on my favorite person or I’m gonna have to get rough with you, 99.” The pain and self anger in Casey’s eyes shot right through Beth’s heart. I knew I should have interrupted her earlier.
“You will, huh? Maybe I’d like that.” Smiling in spite of herself, Casey rolled them over, settling Beth up against her protectively. How do you do that? Make me feel better, even when I don’t deserve it? “I do love you, Beth.”
“I love you too, Casey.” In the dim light, the author searched her wife’s face and frowned, Casey’s exhaustion hitting her straight in the face. “HEY!” Beth pinched her lover. “Someone is supposed to be sleeping.”
“Alright, no need to get physical, unless….” Leering suggestively, a yawn caught her off guard. Figures. Me and my stupid habits. Thank God that hurt, scared look has faded from her eyes. Sighing contentedly, she brushed her lips over her partner’s. Unable to ignore her body’s demands any longer, Casey tighten her grip and settled back down, sleepily requesting to hear Beth’s latest story ideas. Love listening to you talk…makes me feel better. Listening to her wife’s lovely voice, unable to keep her eyes open, she fell asleep, feeling incredibly safe.
Blue eyes drifted open, automatically scanning the room to confirm what her senses told her…they were alone. Wondering what woke her up, absently Casey noted the time. I can’t believe I did that! Meaning how she slept peacefully through the night. No nightmares…huh. That’s never happened before. Usually they’re pretty bad, particularly after trying to get into someone’s head. But I didn’t have any. Blue caressed her snuggling lover. I guess I have you to thank for that. Should have known better. Stupid Casey! The former agent thought quickly, remembering all the times being with Beth had pulled her from darkness. Why didn’t I remember that? Beth’s presence keeps the demons away. How much did I miss because I was too stubborn to admit how tired I was? Damn, now I’ve got to crawl out of her arms and take the time to go over the plans a second time. Fidgeting a moment, Casey battled her instincts, wanting to close her eyes, reveling in the calm, contented feelings that holding Beth created. But she needed to review her notes. Then it hit her…she could do both. Geesh, how slow am I today? Engage the brain, stupid. Carefully untangling herself from her wife, Casey silently slid out of bed, kissed Beth’s cheek and headed upstairs.
Sniffing appreciatively, Casey detoured through the kitchen, picking up the coffee her partner had thoughtfully made. “You take such good care of me. I never would have remembered to reset the timer. Guess I’m predictable, huh Beth?” Chuckling softly, Casey filled the carafe left out of the cabinet, not realizing she was speaking aloud. A note neatly rolled and placed in her coffee cup sent her lover’s heart tripping. “I love your notes, Slick. They always brighten my day.” Unrolling the note, she gave it her full attention.
Let me guess, it’s obscenely early, isn’t it? And you’re sneaking around, not wanting to wake me up. You’re such a softie and you’re busted! There’s fresh ruit salad and some of Mrs A’s rolls in the refrigerator if you’re hungry. Take the time to eat before you get busy. Don’t roll those gorgeous eyes at me…do it for me, please? I love you, 99.
“What would I ever do without you?” Casey fingered the note, feeling very loved. Folding it carefully, she patted it one final time before retrieving the larger tray from under the sink. “Guess I’m not too predictable,” exchanging the trays and items. “You didn’t figure I’d be lazy enough to want to crawl back into bed with you, did you?” Grabbing the fruit, Casey bypassed the rolls in favor of the rest of a leftover sandwich, not wanting to take the time to heat the sweet treats. “When this is over, we’re going up to Grandma’s house. Cause snuggling in bed with you sounds wonderful.” Balancing the full tray with ease, she snagged her laptop and headed back downstairs.
“Hey, that’s my side of the bed!” Clucking softly, Casey set her tray down and moved her partner over. Quirking an eye at her lover, Casey reached out and pulled her restless wife over until they were touching. “Guess you missed me.” Smiling softly as Beth immediately calmed down, Casey sternly told her arms to release her lover. “Get to work, lazy!” Sighing softly, she connected her laptop, opening the plans from last night.
“How long are you gonna pretend to be asleep?” Casey cast an eye on her lover, aware that she’d been drifting in and out for more than an hour.
“How long until you’re done?” Beth countered and stretched, resisting the urge to tickle her smug sounding partner. “How long have you been up?” Casting a suspicious eye at her very alert lover, Beth took in her relaxed, almost peaceful expression. “What have you been up too? And why didn’t you wake me?”
“Only a couple of hours.” Casey moved her laptop, wrapping both arms around her lover. And squeezed until Beth yelped and returned the playful hug. “I just needed to review some data from last night.” Just tell her chicken. “I didn’t wake you up because you need your rest. Feel like playing detective today?”
“Do I get to play with you?” Beth blushed, groaning at her own words.
“Of course.” Casey teased back. “You think I’d let anyone else play with you?” Turning serious, she tweaked Beth’s nose. “I owe you an apology for yesterday. I didn’t mean to shut you out. I…”
“Casey, stop.” Beth sat up, lacing her fingers with her wife’s. “It’s ok, love.”
“But I was…”
“Enough.” Beth silenced her wife’s protests, putting her lips and tongue to better use. “You were saying something about playing detective?” The author’s voice was breathless, feeling the after effects of their kiss.
“Right.” Casey grudgingly accepted the new subject, wishing time wasn’t so short. “Give me a moment to call Eric. We can discuss the plans over breakfast. Where do you want to meet Eric?”
“Here. We can have omelets or pancakes and sausage.” Beth burrowed against Casey, thinking the extra work of cooking was offset by the extra time they’d have to snuggle.
“You sure?” When Beth nodded emphatically, Casey narrowed her eyes questioningly. Just what are you up to? “OK, if you’re sure.” Why do I think I’m getting into trouble? The former agent called the lieutenant, asking him to come over in about an hour. I think I’m starting to understand. All through the call, Beth had remained firmly attached to her lover. C’mon, Casey. Get it together. You have things to do before Eric gets here. Glaring at her wayward limbs which refused to release her lover, the former agent quirked an eyebrow, giving up. “Sweetheart, we need to get moving.”
“I know.” Beth answered, tightening her grip on her lover, exhaling noisily. “Just five more minutes.”
“Sorry, Love.” Shifting slightly, muscles bulging, Casey rose smoothly to her feet, cradling Beth in her arms. “Compromise?” Blue sparkled mischievously into laughing green.
“I give.” Beth cuddled closer, nuzzling the warm flesh. “Shower time, huh?” The author hoped for a little personal playtime, but figured she was out of luck, given Casey’s half hidden looks at her laptop. Putting on a serious face, Beth withdrew slightly.
“Beth!” Casey chuckled, carrying her burden easily towards the bathroom. Sorry, beloved. You know we can’t…no matter how much we want to. I’ll make it up to you, I promise. “Are you gonna rope me into making pancakes?” The former agent had hoped Beth would offer to cook; their home was secure, a safe place to talk. She had a sinking suspicion that Adam had tried, given the nature of the photographs, remembering his pictures in areas that weren’t covered by surveillance equipment.
“Well, what’s it worth to you?” Beth sassed back, masking her disappointment when Casey started to retreat from the room. Chuckling as Casey refused to bite, Beth shook her head and jumped into the shower.
Standing in the door, out of Beth’s way, blue eyes tracked her lover’s graceful movements as she danced around the kitchen, preparing breakfast. After making herself walk away from Beth and the shower, Casey had formalized her plans. “Hey.” Casey spoke sedately, moving behind her too quiet, yet energetic author. “Everything alright?”
“Yeah, just thinking.” Beth admitted, leaning back against her lover as her strong arms encircled her waist.
“About?” Casey squeezed tighter, cursing herself for not paying closer attention to her partner. As if I have to ask. God, Casey! Start thinking for a change.
“You.” Beth felt the tremor run through her wife. “How are you holding up? I keep getting the impression that you’re not doing so great.” That’s it, Beth. Why don’t you just come out and say she looks terrible??
“Figures.” Casey nuzzled strawberry blond hair, inhaling the fresh scent deeply. “I’ll be fine.” The former agent didn’t even try denying her lover’s claim, recognizing Beth would see right through any attempts to cover her feelings. The ringing of the doorbell ended the comfortable calmness that had descended over their entwined forms.
“Ready, Sweetheart?” Casey groaned silently, not ready to release Beth. The former agent was troubled by her wife’s reactions, or rather, her lack of reaction.
“Always.” Beth shot back, plastering a grin she didn’t feel on her face. “I’ll just get started in here.” Turning to the stove, the author missed the concerned eyes that considered her before leaving the room.
“That was great, Beth.” Eric leaned back, smiling his thanks. “What’s on the agenda today?” Casey hadn’t explained anything on the phone earlier, just that she had a few ideas. His own men were out working the few, hard fought for leads they’d discovered at the crime scenes.
“We know Carr is going to strike in one of two general locations in the next twenty-four hours. Local police are already out scavenging the areas, making it harder for Carr to carry out his plans. I think our time would be used more productively if we searched in these locations.” Casey pointed out an area roughly in the center of the circle Carr was drawing with his crimes. “Unless we get extremely lucky, we won’t find Adam before he strikes again. He’s waiting for us,” Eric and Beth understood her…Adam was waiting for Casey, “in the center of his circle. Everything he’s done points in that direction, from the notes left for me to the pictures in his house to his improvements in the crimes.”
“So you’re hoping to surprise him before he’s ready?” Beth asked in an even tone, proud of her steady voice. Gods above, if she’s saying what I think she is, she’s just asking for Adam to strike at her. The author cocked her head, reading much into her lover’s posture and word choice.
“I want to get a feel for the area, find out what the word is on the street. The third crime will give us a more complete, accurate circle. I’m hoping to level the playing field by searching the center of the rough circle. Hopefully, we’ll find his lair before he commits the fourth crime.” The former agent left unsaid what Adam Carr would choose for his last crime…the Hamilton case. She had her suspicions, picking two prominent locations for Adam’s lair. But Casey decided to keep her feelings to herself, not wanting her companions (or herself) to miss something in their search.
Green eyes narrowed, analyzing Casey’s reasoning, utilizing a skill learned as a child. While keeping track of the conversation around her, Beth focused inward, trying to put her finger on what was bothering her. What is Casey not telling us? The author could tell her lover was keeping something from them. I know she is…she has that sheepish look in her eyes. Beth thought a moment more, then moved on, not finding a satisfactory answer. What’s bothering me, outside of the obvious, about Casey’s plan? The author knew it was useless to suggest Casey remove herself from a potentially dangerous situation. They’d had this discussion shortly after moving in together. Casey’s desire to help people, using all of her skills, was deeply ingrained. In fact, the author was well aware that if Casey denied that part of her, she’d not be able to live with herself. So what’s wrong? Then it hit Beth. Stupid! We can’t go traipsing around without being recognized. If Casey’s recognized, she loses the element of surprise.
“Yes, Beth?” Casey had been observing her wife unobtrusively, waiting for her to come to her own conclusions. Of course, Casey could have just told Beth, but why cheat her lover? Beth loved word games.
“We’ll be recognized if we go as ourselves, risking tipping Adam off. So what are we going as?” Beth refused to let herself bounce. She’d been after Casey to take her out in disguise for what seemed like forever. Remember, Beth, you’re playing for keeps!
“Hmm, good question.” Casey appeared to consider the question for the first time. “Alright!” The former agent chuckled, ducking her lover’s playful swat. “You’ll see.” Turning back to Eric, Casey glanced at him in invitation.
“I’m afraid I”ll have to decline this time. I have a meeting with the DA’s office this morning and the chief after that.” The police lieutenant cursed his meetings, wanting to see Casey’s idea of a disguise. “What help do you want?”
Casey rose, leading Eric to the door, after discussing the best use of manpower. The lieutenant’s people would cover both ends of the spectrum…the exceptionally rough areas along with the ultra professional ones. Instinctively the former agent knew Adam Carr would not hide in either of these places. Carr wouldn’t expend the energy necessary to exist safely in the rough neighborhoods; it would make him very visible. In the same vein, Carr wouldn’t blend in with the well-dressed professionals. His erratic schedule and dress, both necessary to carry out his plans, would quickly be noticed in the high regimented professional atmosphere. Being extremely cautious and not wanting to take any unnecessary chances, Casey didn’t want to ignore these areas on the off chance she was wrong.
“You’re awfully quiet, Slick.” Blue eyes worriedly swept over her silent partner before handing her the last of the dishes from the table. She’d come back into the room to find Beth noisily clearing the kitchen.
“Just thinking.” With conscious effort, Beth pulled her mind away from her fears, reminding herself yet again, that Casey was more than capable of taking care of herself. “What are we wearing today, 99?” Deliberately the author put a curious note in her voice.
“I don’t think two delivery people would attract much attention in the working sectors, do you?” The area they were going was filled with older, client oriented businesses, a free medical clinic, a homeless shelter, a couple of churches and a handful of restaurants. “Then,” blue eyes twinkled. Beth was going to love this part. “Then in the afternoon, you get to be a troubled young pregnant woman accompanied by her best friend as you visit the clinic and look for a job.”
“Really?” Beth’s interest was piqued. The author couldn’t believe Casey was seriously letting her participate. They couldn’t afford any mistakes, not now.
“Really.” Casey confirmed, fielding her partner’s fierce hug and excited ramblings with a goofy grin. I haven’t seen her this excited, this happy in days. Casey thought silently, tightening her hold on her wife in reaction. I love your smile…your laugh. Do you know how much I depend on us, how being with you makes me feel? I’ll get us through this…I promise. Without another thought, Casey gave in to her instincts, kissing her lover deeply.
“What are we delivering?” Beth asked, basking in the warmth radiating from her lover’s embrace. Knowing going farther wasn’t an option. “Won’t we attract attention just hanging around all morning?”
“Normally you’re right.” Casey sighed, squeezing Beth once before letting go. “But we’ll inter space deliveries with plenty of questions, making it seem like we’re thinking about branching out into other areas. C’mon, we need to get moving. We have a lot of ground to cover before Adam strikes again.”
“Good idea.” Beth grinned at her lover. “You really do have a devious mind.” Her grin took the sting out of her words and let Casey know she admired that trait. “So what am I wearing?” Pushing Casey playfully towards the door, Beth absorbed the information being rattled off at a rapid pace.
WOW. Just look at you. You’re incredible, you know that? They don’t stand a chance. The author fiddled with her clipboard, having already switched back to her original disguise, watching her surprisingly talkative lover draw information out the owner of a small deli with ease. He isn’t even aware he’s being pumped for information, All while getting something to eat, too! After spending a few hours making delivery contacts and discretely questioning people, they’d left the area and changed costumes and makeup. I didn’t even recognize myself! Pretending to be a young woman who just discovered she was pregnant, took its toll on the author. Four hours after initially starting the role, the author almost convinced herself she really was expecting, with no realistic options. Although Beth constantly reminded herself to keep her mind on business, her active imagination wouldn’t rest. Haunted by the pale, hopeless faces in the clinic and at the shelter they’d visited, she resolved to take action, once she was free to do so. Unfortunately, Beth couldn’t see any positive results of their information gathering, outside of opening her eyes to a problem she wasn’t aware of. Because of the late hour, and the fact that they had several more areas to visit before calling it quits, Casey insisted on them changing back into their delivery uniforms when it became apparent that Beth was tiring and bordering on losing her temper.
Green eyes unconsciously shifted to her partner and her thoughts drifted again. How do you do that? Meaning the way Casey was flexing her body, unintentionally focusing her wife’s attention to her muscular legs, sheathed by close fitting pants. Get a grip, Beth! Get your mind back on business…just stop that! Frowning, Beth restrained her natural reactions to her lover’s body. So intent on controlling her emotions, the author missed the worried look that flickered across Casey’s face as she carried their dinner to the table.
“Hey.” Casey placed the tray on the table and took her seat, wishing she could sit with Beth, wrapping her arms around her. “What are you thinking about?”
“Well,” green eyes twinkled, noticing the small quantity of food. Unable to resist, Beth glanced pointedly at their food. We’ll be in trouble if I tell her what I really was thinking…don’t go there, Beth. “What’s this? You planning on starving me?” Beth put on her most pitiful, hungry look. “After all, I’m eating for two.” Unable to complete that without laughing, Beth observed the relaxing in her partner’s shoulders with a relieved, silent sigh. That’s it, take a break, lover.
“No, no.” Casey snagged her sandwich, not taking any chances. Her lover’s appetite was legendary and she was hungry. “This is just a snack, remember? We’re meeting Eric later.” Sitting back, blue eyes widened slightly as half of her author’s sandwich disappeared. “I can get you another one, if you’re that hungry.”
“Don’t worry about me.” Beth grinned wryly, chewing slowly, having gotten the reaction she was looking for. Casey had relaxed even more, falling into their normal bantering with ease. “Actually, I was thinking about what we’ve seen today.” Beth lowered her voice, glancing around the half filled room. Seeing no one paying attention to them, she leaned forward, green eyes darkening seriously.
“And?” Taking the hint, Casey leaned forward as well, moving her clipboard so anyone watching would assume they were discussing business.
“The clinic and shelter are desperately in need of money. I was…” Beth fell silent as the table beside them became occupied.
“You want to help.” Casey completed the thought, not surprised. She’d spent the better part of the afternoon watching her sensitive wife try to control her reactions. For the most part, Beth had been successful, but Casey could read her growing emotions. At one point, she was positive Beth was going to break her cover and light into the conceding man that implied she was trash. Then at the clinic, she’d felt her lover’s pain clearly, when then a small, hungry child had cowered in a corner, afraid. And had stood by her, watching her coax the child out of the corner and on her lap, telling her stories until she’d fallen asleep and her grateful mother had taken her. “How much did you slip into that kid’s pocket?” Blue eyes softened, noticing her lover’s surprise.
“How did you know? Wait…scratch that.” Beth shook her head, playing with her remaining sandwich. The author was well aware how closely Casey had observed her all day, especially when she slipped and became emotional. Anyone watching the scene at the clinic would have recognized her in a heartbeat. “Everything I had. I didn’t cause a problem, did I? I just couldn’t let them go with nothing.” If Casey had noticed, it was possible someone else had, too.
“I was surprised we didn’t leave with them.” Casey took her lover’s hand under the table, squeezing gently. “It would have been OK, Beth. I managed to weasel their names out of the receptionist, telling her you wanted to make sure they made it home alright.”
“I just feel so…” Beth’s voice broke, unable to complete her sentence.
“Sweetheart, it will be OK, I promise.” Casey spoke very softly, confident only Beth would hear her. “I’ll have Susan get started on finding them right away.”
“Thanks.” Beth shook herself mentally, looking up into understanding, loving blue. Get your mind back on business…I can make some calls later. The foundation can help out both places and that woman. “What now?”
“There are a few more places I need to visit, but we’re getting close.” Casey smiled softly, very proud of her wife, knowing how much Beth was restraining herself. “C’mon, let’s finish up. We have plans.” Letting her eyes speak for her, Casey promised herself they’d discuss this later.
“What a waste.” Beth complained, fastening her seatbelt when Casey started the van. They’d wandered around for a few more hours, visiting the last of the places on Casey’s list. To the author’s knowledge, they’d found nothing.
“No it wasn’t.” Casey poked her slouching wife, grinning when the expected growl erupted from her partner. “Adam’s hiding place is somewhere on 4th Street or in its near vicinity.” Casey turned onto the street, watching Beth sit up excitedly.
“And how do you figure that, 99?” Green eyes fastened on her lover. I want this over.
“We found no traces of Adam today, right?” Casey drove traffic speed, inhaling the distinct aroma waffling throughout one of the oldest areas in town. “Neither did Eric’s teams.”
“Just like you expected, right?” The easy set of her wife’s shoulders convinced the author of this fact. Every question asked looked for any deviation from normal routines, Beth realized with a start. The only time Casey had directly asked about safety in the neighborhood was when Beth was pretending to be pregnant. At first, this had surprised the author, but then she realized it made sense. Concern for a friend made the direct questions believable.
“Right.” Casey punched the gas, expertly accelerating through the light traffic as they cleared what she considered the most likely area of Adam’s hiding place. “4th Street is at the center of Adam’s circle. There are a couple of obvious choices in the older section – the basement of the old bakery or the Jefferson Hotel. Both have people entering and leaving at all hours of the day and night. Both have huge basements, with parts blocked off for many years. Both have fluctuating power and water consumption. Extra usage wouldn’t be noticed. Both also present a small challenge for Adam; escaping detection would be difficult, but not impossible.”
“You’re wondering why we just didn’t go there first, aren’t you.” Casey glanced at her too quiet wife, surprised she hadn’t said anything when she’d paused. “It’s more than me just being cautious, not wanting to overlook anything. Adam’s drawing a target with his crimes; what’s at the center of every target?”
“A bull’s eye.” Beth answered, still not following her lover’s logic. It seemed like her lover took an unnecessary, delaying chance. But she held her doubts inside, not wanting Casey to doubt her belief in her abilities.
“A bull’s eye.” Casey repeated, for once pleased to have a red light stop her. Reaching over she took Beth’s hand, squeezing lightly. “Not a single point, or even a relatively small area. That covers a lot of room, love.” She heard her lover’s unvoiced question, loud and clear. My protector…just who is more protective, huh Beth? “I wouldn’t have put it past Adam to have left a few clues for us to find in our searching. Actually,” Casey frowned, both at the thought and at having to let Beth’s hand go as the light changed. “I’m surprised he didn’t have a few surprises for us…and that is bothering me. He’s taunted me the whole way, why did he stop now? It’s too easy.”
“Because you don’t know if you’re thinking ahead of Adam?” Beth hazzarded a guess, frowning in reaction.
“Or if it’s because he’s trying to trip me up.” Casey added, shaking her head slightly. “This is where it gets tricky. When I’m stuck trying to figure out if I’m being purposefully misled or if I’m actually making progress.”
“You’ll figure it out, love.” Beth spoke confidently, pouring her belief in her partner’s abilities
in her look.
“What’s wrong?” Casey felt the moment Beth’s gaze changed. Don’t ever stop believing in me, please.
“This is what you were doing yesterday, wasn’t it?” The author belatedly realized she had no idea where her partner came up with the information and possible locations. Smacking herself mentally, Beth groaned softly, grasping a hint of the emotional strain her lover had been under. Gods, Beth. And I was worried because she didn’t take a break…thought she was avoiding me.
“Yeah. It was clear Adam was leading us somewhere. I just had to figure out where that was.” Casey didn’t detect her lover’s mental scolding. She also didn’t mention how long she’d studied the areas in question, or the fact that she’d picked two other possibilities and researched them as well before discarding them in favor of the old downtown neighborhood.
“I bet you’re ahead of Adam.” Beth smiled softly, believing in her wife’s abilities. “He didn’t expect you to figure it out so quickly, that’s all.”
“I hope you’re right, Sweetheart.” Casey couldn’t help but smile at her lover. “It’s too late to be lurking around without attracting too much attention. We’ll head there first thing tomorrow morning, OK?” Once Beth nodded enthusiastically, Casey continued. “Wanna stop at Marie’s on the way home? I did promise you dinner.”
“Let’s just go home.” Beth leaned back in her seat, resting her head against the headrest, finally noticing her tired, spent muscles. Gods, I’m pooped. How do you keep going?
“Are you sick? What’s wrong?” Casey shot a concerned glance at Beth, seeing the tension in her lover’s posture. What the hell was I thinking? Beth is exhausted. “What culinary delight do you want me to open for your enjoyment?”
“Don’t worry about it, Casey. I’m just a little pooped.” Beth admitted, opening her eyes to watch her lover. “And so are you.”
Casey knew it was useless to deny Beth’s claim; she’d see right through it. “Guess it’s a Jacks night, then.” The former agent teased gently, turning towards home.
“I’m not that tired.” Beth grumbled, ignoring her partner’s raised eyebrow. “It’s kind of chilly tonight. I think chili and grilled cheese sounds pretty good.”
“Only if you let me help.” Casey insisted stubbornly, not about to let Beth cook.
“I don’t think so!” Beth started giggling, remembering the last time Casey had “helped” with grilled cheese. “Someone has problems keeping her hands to herself.” If she closed her eyes, the author could still smell the burn cheese and bread. Not to mention, the feel of her lover’s heated caresses.
“Very funny, Slick.” Casey grumbled, reaching over to pinch Beth lightly. “I’ll behave while you’re making the grilled cheese, I promise.” Turning on to their street, Casey allowed herself to relax a little, silently admitting to herself that Beth was right. She did have a hard time keeping her hands off her lover’s enticing form.
“You’re going to relax after dinner, aren’t you.” Beth stared at Casey, telling her exactly what her answer better be.
“The only thing I plan on doing is,” Casey drew her words out, grinning when Beth growled at her. “Crawling into bed with you.” The former agent knew there was nothing to be gained by reviewing the evidence or their plans for tomorrow. “Get the door, will you?” Ah, think I surprised you, love. You expected me to insist on working. Right now, what I need is to hold you. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do. The former agent had learned a long time ago how detrimental unnecessary worrying was. There wasn’t a darn thing she could accomplish tonight, and Casey realized it. It was more productive, more important for her to regain her sense of balance. Snuggling with Beth was the best way for her to accomplish that. Pulling in as the door opened, Casey grinned innocently at her still speechless wife. “Compromise?” At Beth’s questioning look, she continued, waiting for the door to shut and the security system to be reactivated. “I’ll check the security system and the mail while you get started on dinner.”
“Sounds good to me.” Beth finally found her voice, sitting patiently while Casey came around to open her door. “Yeah, yeah. I think I’m finally learning.” Answering Casey’s raised eyebrows at her behavior. Usually the author exited the car without waiting, annoying Casey to no end.
“Good.” Wrapping an arm around Beth, Casey squeezed gently. “I’ll be right back, so save something for me to do.” Ignoring her wife’s outraged look, Casey headed for their office and her self prescribed chores.
Pulling a container of chili from the freezer, Beth started it defrosting, then started assembling sandwiches. Well, darn! I wanted grilled cheese. Guess I better go to the store tomorrow. I can’t believe we’re out of cheese. I still can’t believe Casey said she’d take it easy tonight. I swear, she does things just to throw me off balance. The author sighed, stirring the chili absently. Whatever the reason, I’m glad. She needs her rest. Gods, I’ll be so glad when this is over. “Hey, that was quick.” Beth grinned when Casey breezed back in the kitchen.
“Just some junk mail.” Casey picked the sandwiches up from the table. “I started a fire. Wanna eat downstairs?” Without waiting for an answer, Casey pulled out the large tray she’d used that morning, combining the sandwiches on one plate. “What do you want to drink?”
“Hmm, how about a little wine?”
“Not a good idea, love.” Casey sighed softly, hating saying no to Beth for any reason. “I don’t think either one of us would stop with just one glass.” They didn’t need an alcohol daze if something happened.
“You’re probably right.” Beth grinned wryly. “Ice tea it is, then.” Stirring the chili once again, the author turned around, bumping into her wife. “Hey! What are you doing there? I thought you promised.” Contrary to her gruff tone, Beth wrapped her arms around her partner, snuggling close.
“You’re not making grilled cheese.” Casey pointed out softly, nuzzling strawberry blond locks. “Besides, are you complaining?”
“Not at all.” Beth exhaled slowly, eyes drifting shut as she concentrated on the warmth reflecting between them. Feeling Casey slump slightly, Beth tightened her grip, letting the world fade away.
“The microwave beeped.” Casey reluctantly straightened a few minutes later, letting Beth slip out of her arms. “Why can’t we just eat out of the container? We can share.”
“Casey!” Beth shot a look at her lover, prompting her to hand over the two bowls without another comment. “The container is too hot, silly.” Setting two full bowls on the tray, Beth smiled as Casey playfully slapped her hands away, picking up the tray.
“I’ll get that. Would you grab the crackers for me?” Casey waited for Beth, then headed downstairs, her lover closely following.
“Guess you were hungry.” Beth teased her lover as Casey ate the last sandwich after offering her half. Reclining against the large floor pillow, green eyes tracked her lover’s slowing movements.
“It was very good, Beth.” Casey swallowed, downing her remaining tea. “Want anything from upstairs? I’ll be right back, then.” Picking up the tray, Casey ran upstairs, returning moments later to find Beth had rearranged the pillows. Quirking an eyebrow, Casey silently took her place and opened her arms. “Better?”
“Much.” Beth snuggled against her wife, sighing happily. Before long, the heat from the fire and the warmth from her lover’s body had Beth yawning.
“You falling asleep on me?” Casey spoke lowly, voice rumbling deeply in her chest.
“Sorry.” Beth forced her eyes open and tried to move.
“Where to you think you’re going?” Casey raised an eyebrow, only loosening her arms enough so Beth could raise her head and meet her intent gaze. “Sweetheart, I was only teasing. Get back here.” Tightening her embrace, Casey sighed contented, when Beth returned to her former position.
The ringing of the phone pulled them from the sensual haze that surrounded them. Frowning, Casey reached for the offending instrument. Letting her frustration at being interrupted show, she answered the phone, barking a greeting.
“Sorry to bother you so late, but Carr’s struck again.”
Reacting to the tension in Lt Masters’ voice, Casey reluctantly untangled herself from Beth, sitting up. “Where?”
“1344 South Main, apartment 7.” Masters had worked enough with Casey to know she’d want an exact location. “He broke in and kidnaped Katie Davies. She’s six years old.”
“Time frame?” Casey nodded her thanks as Beth returned, handing her a glass of water, sipping gratefully.
“Some time between 6:00 and 8:00pm. According to her parents, Katie fell asleep after dinner. When Mrs Davies went to check on her a little after 8:00, she was gone.” The lieutenant excused himself for a moment.
Casey heard him talking, yet her mind was already fast at work. How did you know Katie would be in her room? How did you get her out without waking her? Of the several questions she had, those were the most important. Wait a minute. It’s a given Adam had to get Katie in her room. The plan wouldn’t work if she wasn’t there. So what did he do to get her there? They had to have had some contact before. The obvious answer is that he drugged her. Not only would that guarantee her presence in her room, it would solve the problem of her waking up and causing a scene. “Eric? Why was Katie so tired? What did she do that afternoon?” As soon as the police lieutenant returned, she fired the questions at him.
“She spent the afternoon at the park with the neighbor kids. Why?”
“Carr had to know she’d be in her room. The kids either had sodas or ice cream at the park. He gave her a drug then, to make her tired.” Casey stood up, bouncing a little, nervous energy driving the last vestige of her sleepiness away. “What did his note say?” I bet he just laughs at me.
“Nothing much.” The rattling of paper in plastic came over the line, sounding very loud. Clearing his throat, Lt Masters read the note.
My, my. You’re certainly slipping. You aren’t any closer to finding me, are you? This is so much fun. Give my best to your lovely wife. I’ll be seeing you, if you ever stop following and start leading.
I’m thinking of you.
I’m closer than you think, Carr. “Eric? Is there anything at the crime scene that requires my immediate attention? Good,” she answered after he replied in the negative. “I have something I want to check out first, then we’ll be there.” Hanging up, Casey looked down at their light tan clothes. “C’mon, love. We need to change.” Extending her hand, she pulled Beth effortlessly to her feet. “I think we both better put on black.”
“Where are we going and why do we need to wear black?” Beth stopped at the closet, rooting around until she found a black pair of jeans and t-shirt. Turning, she wasn’t surprised to find Casey almost dressed again.
“I want to drive by the hotel again. That’s the only place Adam could risk being seen with a sleeping child this late at night. Assuming of course that he took her to his hiding place.” Casey ran a critical eye over her lover. “You’re gonna be cold in that thin shirt.” Quickly she selected a dark sweatshirt from Beth’s closet. “Here, Sweetheart. I don’t want you getting sick.”
“Thanks.” Beth pulled on the sweatshirt, swallowing nervously when Casey turned around, adjusting her shoulder holster. Oh gods, Casey’s expecting trouble. I can’t believe she’s letting me go if she thinks she needs her gun. Giving herself a mental shake, the author noticed the dark jacket on the bed, which completed her lover’s outfit.
“There’s a back entrance to the old hotel. Most likely, if Adam is going to show, that’s the entrance he’ll use. Don’t forget your staff.” Casey smiled when Beth waved the compact metal shaft at her. “Ready? Let’s go, then.” She took Beth’s hand, leading her up the stairs and out into the garage.
I can’t believe I’m taking Beth with me. This could turn nasty if Carr’s there. The former agent mentally groaned, secretly observing her partner. Beth can take care of herself. And we don’t have any time to spare, waiting for Phil to join us. As soon as I leave her at home alone, Carr would show up, intending for her to be his last victim. Unable to hide the shiver that thought produced, she knew she didn’t have any other choice. Just gotta make sure Beth is safe…that’s all that matters. That reminds me…Beth is not gonna like this, not at all. “Hey.” Casey spoke quietly, breaking the silence that had settled over them as they sped towards the Jefferson Hotel. “I need you to promise me something.”
“Anything.” Beth turned, facing her lover. Reaching out, she rubbed Casey’s jean covered thigh, wincing at how tense her lover was, imagining what she was going to say.
“I need you to follow my instructions to the letter; we won’t have time to discuss options.” Blue eyes flickered to her partner, stressing the seriousness of the request. “Please don’t take any chances.”
“I’ll do whatever you say without argument.” Beth promised, hoping reverently that she’d be able to keep her word. Please don’t ask me to go on, not without you. I don’t think I can do that. I don’t want to do.
“Thank you, Sweetheart.” Knowing just how hard a request it might end up being. “I don’t know what, if anything, we’ll be facing.” Casey sighed, turning on 3rd Street, approaching the hotel from behind. That was surprisingly easy. Please keep your promise, my love. “Remember that diagram I showed you earlier? That was accurate a year ago when the hotel applied for an extended building We’ll be entering through the old delivery entrance. Now it’s nothing more than a secondary entrance to the basement. One that’s seldom used and only guarded by a remote camera and wired to an ancient alarm.”
“You’re telling me to be careful where I walk, to watch out for those big, mean nasty boxes. So I don’t trip and fall, alerting anyone to our presence.” Beth tried for a measure of lightness, remembering how Casey stressed the clutter filled room earlier.
“Right.” Casey suddenly smiled, imagining how cute her sure footed lover would be, creeping along. Then she remembered why it was important…damn…”No, I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“Casey, why aren’t we talking any officers with us?” The author couldn’t figure out what her lover was thinking. “Not that I’m scared or anything. You’ll keep us both safe.” Beth hurried to add, seeing the storm clouds start to gather in her partner’s darkening eyes. Unconsciously hitting on something her wife couldn’t define. “I mean, I want to go with you. You know that. I…”
“It’s OK, Beth. I get the picture.” The former agent exhaled slowly, focusing on her reasoning. Just what can I tell Beth without scaring her? “We’re going by ourselves for a couple of reasons. I don’t know if we will find anything; it could be a waste of time.” But I don’t think so. Every instinct I have is pulling me to the hotel. “And, if there is anything to find, I know we can enter without being detected. I trust us to move silently through the mess.” Certainly not any of those young kids like the one guarding Beth at the hospital. That reminds me. “I wouldn’t trust just anyone to watch my back, beloved.” Oh wow, look at that…I think that was the right thing to say.
Beth opened and then closed her mouth, feeling her heart pound happily. A warm glow started in the pit of her stomach, washing away any lingering doubt, any lingering fear. I can’t believe Casey said that, but I’m really, really glad she did. “There is no other place I want to be.” Beth swore fervently, squeezing Casey’s thigh emotionally. The hotel loomed dead ahead. “Time to go kick some butt!” The author was more than ready for this to be over with.
“Slow down there, Slick.” Casey slowed down, driving by the hotel, parking on a side street about a block to the south. “In the glove box there are two small wrist flashlights and an extra set of handcuffs. Remember how to use them?” That earned Casey a deep chuckle. There was no doubt that both recalled the lesson.
“That reminds me.” Beth pulled out the objects, handing Casey one light. “It seems I owe you, Ms Bennett.” Adjusting her wrist light, she tried to ignore the arched eyebrow and clear blue eyes. Both women grinned mischievously, plotting the other’s demise. The author re-fastened her belt, squirming to adjust the handcuff case. “I’m ready.”
“Not so fast.” Casey leaned over, kissing Beth slowly. “Please be careful, love.”
“You too.” Beth kissed Casey, then sighed deeply. “I guess it’s time.” And all I want to do is sit here, kissing you. Get a grip, Beth.
“Yeah.” Blue eyes focused on her author. “Just like we practiced, OK?” The former agent had spent a couple of weekends teaching Beth about infiltrating and searching hostile locations, helping her work on her current PI novel. God, let this go smoothly. I hope I’m doing the right thing. Please, please, keep Beth safe.
“I’m right behind you.” Beth picked up on Casey’s fears. Staring into worried blue eyes, she put all the confidence and love she could into her gaze. “I’ll be fine.” Beth exited the car, meeting Casey on the sidewalk. Leaning against her wife, she wrapped an arm around her waist. Part of the lessons had been on blending in with the environment. A couple taking a stroll wouldn’t appear out of the ordinary, especially since their equipment was totally covered. Biting back her curiosity, the author moved with her partner, stepping lightly. The tension radiating from her partner was new, but it didn’t surprise her. Casey had remained relatively stress free during their lessons. Knowing Casey was doing the same thing, green eyes studied their surroundings, noting possible obstacles in their path if a hasty retreat was necessary. I wonder what she sees that I’m missing? Before she was ready, the author found themselves at the back entrance to the hotel. Releasing her hold on her silent lover, Beth stepped back, letting Casey observe the partially blocked doorway. Green eyes widened in surprise as her crafty lover pulled a small black box out of her pocket. Hey! That sure wasn’t part of our lessons. What the heck is that? Faster than Beth could follow, Casey punched in a series of numbers and attached the box to the top corner of the door.
“Here, put these on.” Casey whispered, handing Beth a pair of black gloves from one of her many pockets. “That will take care of the security system. Ready?” When Beth nodded, she continued. “Keep watch, I’m going to unlock the door.” Frowning, Casey pulled out a set of picks, wishing for a newer electronic lock.
Poop! I wanted to watch. Doing as she was told, alert green eyes scanned the deserted alley. That’s a neat little device…why didn’t you show me that in our lessons? Schooling herself not to jump, Beth kept one ear tunned on her partner, anticipating the light tap on her shoulder and the whispered “all set.” Silently, Beth turned around, stepping through and to the side of the open door.
Shutting the door, Casey nodded once at the relatively clear hallway, visible in the dim light. Since the exit was technically a fire exit, regulations required it to be lighted. The floor was strangely clean, leading the former agent to smile grimly. Pulling Beth to her side, Casey murmured faintly, breath tickling Beth’s ear. “See the floor? It’s clean while everything on the floor is covered with dust. Someone’s hiding his tracks.” Feeling Beth nod her understanding, Casey couldn’t resist kissing her lover’s soft skin one. “Ready? Follow me.” Stepping back, Casey met her lover’s gaze squarely, then squeezed Beth’s hand once before sliding silently down the cluttered hall.
Beth followed Casey, being careful to keep enough distance between them if she had to extend her staff. Stepping around a box that was in the center of the path, Beth concentrated on keeping her breathing light and even. The loud thumbing startled her, until she realized it was her heart. Geesh, Beth. Calm down. It’s just a hallway…OK, a dark, nasty hallway. Nope, nothing to be scared of here. Swallowing a sudden surge of calming adrenalin, the author noticed she’d moved to close to her wife, and resumed her former spacing. Silly…as long as I’m with Casey, I am safe.
Stopping abruptly, Beth looked around curiously, wondering what triggered her lover’s senses. Casey had frozen, with her head cocked to the right. Biting her lip, dark green eyes watched her partner scanning the room. So intent was she on observing Casey, that the author almost missed the hand signal calling her forward.
“Adam’s close; I can feel him.” Casey confided in a low tone, trusting her curious author to keep her questions for later. “You doing OK?” For the first time since entering the hotel, blue eyes focused intently on her partner. Noting the light, even breathing and the restrained curiosity, Casey smiled softly, running a gloved finger down her lover’s cheek. I’m so proud of you.
“I’m fine.” Beth whispered, capturing Casey’s wandering fingers and squeezing gently.
“C’mon, love.” Casey wrapped one arm around Beth, pointing out a indistinctly lit door in the corner of the large room. Cautiously, the former agent guided Beth to the door, keeping a firm, grounding grip on her author. An out of place box, partially tucked in a larger, dirty crate, caught Casey’s eye. Stopping, Casey bent down, observing the small, clean box. Touching it gingerly, a wide grin broke out across her serious face. “Adam isn’t ready for us. Wanna crash his party?” Blue eyes twinkled despite the dangerous situation, the pounding surge of confidence and power fueling her alert senses. This I missed…god, I love feeling so alert, so alive.
Detaching herself from Beth with a wink, Casey studied the old door. With a noiseless sigh, she motioned Beth to step back a bit, and cracked the door. Frowning at the lack of light, she eased the door shut and turned on her wrist light. Changing the dial, the pure white light turned to a light green. Smiling at Beth, she quickly adjusted her light, speaking barely audibly. “It’s dark inside the door. We can’t risk opening the door more than necessary to slip through. Close the door immediately behind you. Grab onto my belt and hold your left hand so the light points at the floor, right along my left leg. Be ready for anything.” Hugging Beth quickly, she reached for the door, opening it slowly. This ends tonight. No more terrorizing innocent people, you bastard.
Sliding through the small opening, Beth pulled the door shut. C’mon, Beth. It’s just another dark hallway. I can do this. Taking a deep, almost silent breath, the author balled her left fist, pointing it at the floor. Just enough light was admitted between the two small lamps for her to see Casey standing two paces inside the room. Warily she extended her right hand, grasping her lover. Firmly attached to her wife, Beth breathed easier. Painfully slowly they made their way down a dark flight of stairs.
At the bottom of the stairs, Casey stopped, listening intently. Apparently hearing something she didn’t like, the former agent guided Beth to a large pile of boxes to the right of the stairs. “Stay here.” Casey hissed, positing Beth behind the boxes. “Be ready for anything. I need to see what Carr’s up to.” Unhooking Beth’s staff, she pressed the hidden button, tripling its length. Pressing it into Beth’s hands, blue managed to find green in the dark. Exchanging a silent goodbye, the former agent slipped into darkness, disappearing.
Be careful, love. Within seconds, Beth’s mind started playing tricks on her. Forcing herself to not react to the sounds, both real and imagined, the author narrowed her eyes, studying the shifting shadows. What’s that? Locking her knees in place, Beth resisted the urge to turn around. Nothing is behind you but a wall. Yeah, but it could be a creepy crawly something. Her mind insisted, the faint sound of something small scratching, reached her ears. A thump had her quivering, unable to stop the automatic flicking of her wrist. See? Nothing is there. Nice deep breaths, Beth. In and out. That’s it. The only thing to be afraid of down here is farther in the room. Feeling like Jill, her PI, Beth split her concentration between the never ending darkness and the feelings it invoked.
What’s taking so long? Beth silently groaned what seemed to her, hours later. Logically, she knew no more than ten minutes had past, but convincing her heart of this was impossible. Gods above, Casey thrived on this stuff for years. Be honest, Beth. She still gets a big kick out of pitting her senses against the unknown. The author knew this was true. Casey always sparkled with an intense energy after coming home from a stakeout or what she termed a “search and learn” session. Intently examining her feelings, she almost missed the real shifting of the shadows, the changing of the air flow.
“Beth?” Casey spoke a little louder than before, startling Beth. Seeing her wife move in reaction, Casey eased beside her, taking the staff from her hands. “We’ve got a problem. Carr isn’t straying too far from the kid’s side. I’m afraid to engage him while Katie Davies is so close. He might hurt her before I could stop him.”
“Why don’t you distract him while I grab Katie?” Beth whispered, wrapping her arms around Casey, not wanting to chance missing her reaction in the non existent light.
Casey sighed, leaning against Beth. She’s right. That’s the only way, unless I want to murder him. Knowing she was capable of the act, she sighed again. But not when I have so much to lose. Quickly, she ran through a series of plans. “Are you sure about this? If something goes wrong, you could be hurt,” Casey gulped, shaking slightly. “Or worse.”
“Love,” Beth understood exactly what her lover was saying. She dealt with it every time Casey took on a dangerous case. Granted, it wasn’t often, but the emotions were no stranger to the author. “We have to try.” Knowing neither of them could live with themselves if something happened to the girl that they could have prevented.
“You’re right.” Casey bit her lip, tightening her hold on her wife. “I’ll get you to the other room. There is a line of boxes part of the way around the room. You can sneak behind those. Wait until I give you a sign before you move; you’ll have to cross a ten foot area where there is no cover. Katie is still unconscious, on a makeshift bed. She’s small enough you should be able to pick her up and carry her behind the boxes. Ignore the alarm he has rigged on the bed. Just get behind the boxes.”
“What are you gonna do?” Beth groaned silently, imagining Casey throwing herself at Carr.
“I’m not sure. It depends on what he’s doing when you get into position. Most likely I’ll make some noise, trying to draw him away from Katie.” Casey swore softly, not liking the situation. I knew something like this could happen..damn..if anything happens to Beth because of my stupid pride, I’ll…mentally sputtering, Casey stiffened.
“Hey, no heroics, hero.” Beth squeezed gently, stretching to whisper in Casey’s ear. “We have a date when this is over, remember?”
Not reacting to her lover’s teasing, Casey released Beth, bending down. Quickly she removed her snub revolver. Silently she undid Beth’s belt, sliding it on beside the handcuffs. “Just in case.” Casey prevented Beth from protesting, kissing her deeply. “Promise me you’ll be careful.”
“I promise.” Beth grinned, feeling a strange sense of anticipation taking hold. Collapsing her staff, she attached it to her belt, on the opposite side of the gun. “I feel like Tim the tool man.” Snorting softly, Beth bounced, getting used to the feel of the extra weight. Huh. I’m scared, but not paralyzed. Interesting. Casey definitely has a point…I’m so alert, I’m tingling!
“Thank God you don’t look like him.” Casey teased, refusing to part on anything but a light note. “I love you, Beth Jamieson.”
“I love you, Casey.” Green caressed blue in the dim light. Silently she held out her hand.
Taking it solemnly, Casey laced their fingers together, leading Beth into the darkness. Pausing, Casey waited until their eyes had adjusted to the sudden brightness before shifting to the side, letting Beth get her first view of Adam Carr.
A well proportioned muscular man, maybe thirty-one years old with short, carefully groomed blond hair stood in the center of controlled chaos. His low, modulated voice waffled through the air as he reviewed his plans, occasionally pacing around the circle of his making.
Turning out her flashlight, she motioned for Beth to leave hers on. Pointing out the box wall, Casey neglected to tell Beth that she’d crawled the route, carefully adjusting the boxes until there was sufficient room to navigate the passage. “Good luck.” Of all the things Casey wanted to say, she settled on that. Because if Beth didn’t leave the room alive, neither would she.
“You too, beloved.” Taking one last look, Beth quietly crawled away.
Shaking herself to action, Casey oozed farther into the lighted room, using the clutter of the room to hide her movements. Reaching deep inside, the former agent called upon her darkness, letting it settle over her with a depressingly familiar weight. You wanted to play…ready or not, here I am. Shifting again, blue eyes flowed around the room, missing nothing. From the table of electronic equipment that prevented her from risking a call to Lt Masters to the case of bottled water to the sparkling trowel resting on the table, Casey soaked it all in. Staring at the end of the boxes, Casey sent a silent thought to her partner, allowing the mask to lift briefly, letting her emotions show. Be careful, Sweetheart. No matter what, remember I love you.
A quick flick of the wrist sent an old glass shattering against the far wall, near a closed door. Smirking as Adam spun towards the sound, she moved behind another box, dropping the glass at her feet. Here I am, you bastard. Disappearing behind a well used sofa, Casey chuckled evilly, letting her voice carry to the nervous man. Rolling away from the shots that struck the sofa and then the area where she’d dropped the glass, Casey reappeared close to Adam, on his blind side. Counting 15, the most a clip would hold for his weapon, she grinned, expecting hand to hand contact. Nodding to her now visible partner, the former agent tensed, ready for anything.
A loud beeping filled the air, causing Adam Carr to do the unexpected, pulling a hidden device from his pocket. Turning to face the bed, he frowned, catching Beth as she lifted the child from the bed. “Don’t move or you die.”
“Think again.” Casey growled, her own weapon pointed at Adam’s head. An icy hot rage settled over the former agent, putting a steely edge to her voice. “Beth, take her out of here.” No one threatens Beth.
“Don’t Beth. There are explosives under the bed.” Adam waved the small box, pleased when the author froze, standing beside the bed “You’re early, you know.” Carr scolded, turning to face Casey, missing the hand signal that told Beth to hold her position. “What’s the fun in that? I had everything planned and you had to go and ruin it.” Gray eyes bored into ice cold blue. “What are you going to do, Casey?” He strutted away from the former agent, motioning to the bed. “You can’t reach me before I push the button, killing Beth and the child.” Spinning, he faced his greatest challenge. “So in the end, I guess I am smarter than you, Agent Bennett. I win. Say goodbye to your wife, Casey.”
Faster than Carr could see, Casey shot the hand holding the detonation device, leaping wildly in hopes of catching it before it hit the floor. Ignoring the startled cry behind her, spun as soon as she had the device, catching Adam as he turned, putting one clean shot through the center of his chest. “Don’t move, Beth.” Calling over her shoulder as she rose on shaking legs. Carefully she approached the fallen man, half expecting him to be wearing a vest. Cautiously she kicked his backup gun away, dropping to one knee. Reaching down, she felt for a pulse, relieved when she didn’t find one. The glint of metal caught her eye. Pushing down a sob, quivering fingers closed around her wife’s ring. “That’s hers, you bastard.” A quick yank broke the chain. Standing, Casey blinked back her tears, striding to her wife’s side.
“This is a simple detonation device. Let me make sure there aren’t any trip wires under the covers.” Cursing herself for missing that fact when she surveyed the room earlier, Casey carefully searched the makeshift bed, finding no sign of explosives. Sighing in relief, she took the child from Beth’s arms, laying her back on the bed. Trembling fingers groped for Beth’s, pulling off her glove. Sliding the ring on Beth’s finger, Casey spoke clearly, despite the tears running down her face. “I love you, Beth Jamieson. Now and forever.” Choking on the last word, Casey pulled Beth to her, crying quietly.
“I love you too, Casey Bennett. Now and forever.” Beth whispered emotionally against Casey’s neck. Locked against her wife, the terror filled minutes played before her eyes. The sound of breaking glass had caused her to jump, almost knocking the box she was hiding behind over. The second mini explosion had her peaking from behind the box, having heard Carr move towards the sound. When Adam had started firing, she almost moved. But she hadn’t seen Casey, so she didn’t. Closing her eyes, she saw Casey pull the trigger, leaping before the gun finished its recoil. Saw the wild light in her eyes as she caught the device. Saw the anger and fear battling for control. Saw her arm whip around, shooting Carr a second time. It’s over, Beth. It’s over. You both are in one piece and Katie is safe. That’s all that matters. And I got my ring back. Oh gods… Sobbing, Beth tightened her hold on Casey, burrowing against her familiar warmth, seeking reassurance that they both were together.
“Hey, hey. It’s OK. We’re both safe, my love. It’s OK.” Casey repeated it over and over, until Beth stopped crying. Loosening her hold, she let Beth pull back, needing to see her face, her eyes. Never again. Never again will I willingly let you walk into danger. “Hey, how are you doing?” Despite her feelings and silent vow, Casey knew better than to voice them. Beth’s place was at her side.
“Fine.” Beth hiccuped, green eyes seeing the hidden thoughts in Casey’s eyes, imagining what they were. Now’s not the time. We can fight about it later, when we’re snuggled together in front of the fire. That brought a real smile to her face…it sounded wonderful. “What about you?”
“Never better.” Casey brought Beth’s left hand to her lips, letting her lips become reacquainted with the now present ring. “Ready to get out of here? Better adjust your light, then.” Casey grinned, turning hers to full brightness. Picking up Katie, Casey took the lead, rapidly heading for the stairs.
“What about Carr?” Beth asked quietly as they cleared the stairs, entering the dimly lit hallway.
“Close and block the door, will you?” Casey stepped to the side, watching Beth push a large box in front of the door. “As soon as we get outside, I’ll call Eric. He can come clean up the mess.” Looking down as Katie groaned and shifted, she smiled. “Looks like our little friend is starting to wake up. We better get her out of here.”
“Go on, I’m right behind you.” Beth followed her swiftly moving partner, pushing past her when they reached the outer door. Unhooking her staff, Beth opened the door, activating her staff as she stepped into the dark alley. “What?” Looking at her smirking partner, Beth frowned as Casey somehow managed to retrieve her electronic device while still holding on to the girl.
“Nothing, my protector.” Casey grinned, eyes flickering briefly to the extended staff and then back to her fiercely looking partner. Bumping Beth forward, she ignored her lover’s groan. “C’mon. I’d like to get her parents here before she wakes up.”
Hanging up her phone, blue eyes landing on her fidgeting partner. “Beth?” Casey laced her fingers with Beth’s, smiling at her lover. “Will you marry me?”
“What?” Beth rose on unsteady feet, narrowly missing hitting her head on the door.
“We consider ourselves married.” Casey continued, a shy, uncharacteristic note in her voice. “But I want to stand up with you, in front of our friends and family. Just so there’s no doubt how I feel about you.” Dropping to one knee in the edge of a dirty downtown street, Casey brought Beth’s hands to her lips, grazing the soft skin. “I love you more than life itself. You are everything to me. Beth Jamieson, will you do me the honor of becoming my wife? Will you marry me?”
“Oh my gods.” Beth cried softly, flying into Casey, almost knocking her over. “Yes…yes…yes!” The author mumbled over and over, kissing everywhere her lips would reach. “I love you, Casey.”
“I love you too, Beth.” Rising, Casey hugged Beth, a huge grin plastered on her face. That was exactly how Eric Masters found them.
Continued in Always