DISCLAIMER: Karen Sisco and its all characters are property of Jersey Television. No infringement intended.
SPECIAL THANKS: To Debbie for the beta and the encouragement but, especially, for always being there when I need her.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: FBI agent Maggie Wilkins and Erin Adams last appeared in my CSI epic fic, "The Assignment."
CHALLENGE: Submitted as part of the Epic Proportions challenge.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Ann


Chapter 1

Blue eyes scanned the freshly printed page, hoping this latest draft would be acceptable. Cursing, she wadded the paper and sent it across the room with a high arc and a perfect follow through; the makeshift ball caromed off the dull grey wall, landing directly into the trash can. As she'd already made four straight shots with no misses, with one more basket, the shooter would move into double digits. Today, however, the Miami detective was in no mood to celebrate her shooting prowess.

Sighing, Marley started a fifth draft of the apology letter her captain had ordered her to write to two local civilians. She'd chased her suspect into the Miami health club and had almost caught up with him when the door leading from the swimming pool suddenly opened, knocking her to her knees and allowing the suspect to get away.

Needless to say, the detective was extremely unhappy with the untimely collision and hadn't hesitated to turn her wrath on the two members who'd had the misfortune of attempting to exit the pool area just as she was running by. Everything would have been fine if Marley hadn't made a certain parting remark, a certain derogatory remark, but, when she'd glanced down to see both men had lost their towels when she impacted the door, she'd, unfortunately, just blurted the first thing that came to mind.

"I probably shouldn't have said that their tadpoles had no business swimming in the adult pool," muttered the redhead as she rubbed her head at the memory. With a wry chuckle, she continued her memory, "And pointing out that there was a kiddie pool just their size around the corner might have been a mistake, too."

Placing her hands back on the keyboard, Marley resumed her keystrokes, hoping this time, her words would come together to form a suitable apology. She once again began with the obligatory, 'Dear Sir,' but the text of the letter went downhill quickly, and it soon became yet another paper ball soaring toward its target, well on its way to the tenth point of the morning.

However, at the height of its trajectory, the paper was snatched from the air by the very tall, blonde woman who just happened to be walking toward the captain's office. She smoothly caught the paper ball, and then, very athletically, flipped it over her shoulder where it landed softly in the basket. Without a word, she smiled at the detective and continued toward her original destination, never breaking stride.

Marley tracked the woman's progress to her captain's office, and she watched the door close behind the stranger before turning back to her computer. She'd actually managed to type a complete sentence before her superior stepped out of his office to motion her inside. Frowning, she stood and walked towards the room which was not only occupied by her captain, but by the mystery woman as well.

Entering, the detective tried to focus solely on her boss, but the woman had such a presence that she couldn't help but sneak a peek in the blonde's direction. She was quite surprised to find that she also seemed to be the sole object of scrutiny by the stranger.

"Marley, I'd like you to meet Special Agent Wilkins from the FBI," the captain said in the way of introduction, and the agent immediately walked over and extended her hand to the detective.

"Sergeant Novak, it's nice to meet you. I'm Maggie," the blonde greeted, her entire demeanor changing from intimidation to one which appeared to be sincere.

Cautious, Marley took the other woman's hand in hers and gripped it firmly.

"Why would the FBI be interested in meeting with me?" The detective asked in her brutally honest style, and Maggie chuckled at the blunt question as she recalled a similar reaction from a couple of Las Vegas crime scene investigators just last year.

Releasing Marley's hand, Maggie replied, "I've asked your captain if he could spare someone to help me and my team track down a man we believe is involved in a money laundering racket which extends from New York to Baltimore to Charleston to Miami."

"With all due respect, Agent Wilkins, I'm not interested in playing gopher for you and your team. I'm sure the captain can find you some rookie who'd jump at the chance to work with the FBI," Marley responded, stepping away from the agent and glancing at her superior with a look that clearly asked for his assistance in removing her name from the joint venture.

Her captain merely frowned and explained, "Sorry, Marley. These orders came from upstairs. It looks like you're it." Turning to the agent, he offered, "I think I'll go get a cup of coffee. Why don't you fill Sergeant Novak in on the case while I'm gone?" Making a point to avoid his detective's gaze, he walked out of the room, leaving the two women alone.

Softening her tone, Maggie said, "Look, detective. I realize that you're not happy with this assignment, but I can assure you that you'll be an integral part of the team. I need your knowledge of the inner workings of the city as well as any contacts you may have that will help us gain information critical to the case."

Not happy with the situation, Marley still made a valiant attempt to at least be civil. "Okay. Why don't you fill me in on what you have so far and what you'll need from me?"

The taller blonde nodded and replied, "I have all the material in my hotel suite." Glancing at her watch, she suggested, "It's almost noon. How about I phone my partner and have her call room service? Then, I can show you everything I have."

The detective's eyes widened at the agent's last statement as she picked up a teasing tone in Maggie's voice, and she began to wonder if perhaps she was being flirted with much in the same way she flirted with a certain US marshal.

That's all she needed; she knew she had to work with the FBI, but she never expected to have to fend off the advances of the lead agent. Marley agreed to the lunch, but declined to ride with the agent, insisting instead on meeting the blonde at the hotel suite, citing her need to finish the letter she'd started. Maggie nodded and smiled as she left the detective to tie up her loose ends.

The redhead watched the FBI agent leave the office before returning to her desk. She'd promised Maggie she'd meet her at the suite in half an hour. Surely, she'd be able to write some kind of formal apology in plenty of time to make her appointment.

Twenty minutes later, the computer screen was blank, and the trash can was almost full. Stumped, Marley continued to sit with her hands poised over the keyboard. Finally, the detective grinned, and her fingers flew over the keys. She quickly printed out two copies and signed them both. Placing them into her outbox tray, she grabbed her coat, leaving the very short apologies behind.

Dear Sir,

Sometimes short remarks are made in the heat of battle.


Sergeant Marley Novak


Chapter 2

The elevator opened to the suite's floor, and Marley stepped out, heading for room 452. As she rounded the corner, she noticed a familiar figure poised to knock on the agent's door, Karen Sisco, the US marshal she'd worked with on numerous occasions.


"Marley, what are you doing here?" The marshal asked, turning towards the new arrival.

Unsure of the level of secrecy surrounding her new assignment, the detective replied simply, "I'm meeting someone."

Smiling, Karen raised an eyebrow and teased, "Oh really, job related or personal?"

Well aware that her visit was strictly job related, Marley couldn't resist playing with the marshal. "I've got a lunch date with someone I met just recently, one of the guests. In fact, I cleared the rest of the afternoon so that we'd have plenty of time to spend together. I hate to be rushed, don't you?"

Stunned by the detective's answer and surprised by her sudden feeling of jealousy, Karen blurted, "Oh, well, don't let me keep you from your date."

Marley quickly picked up on the marshal's clipped tone and stepped towards Karen to apologize for misleading her; however, the door to the suite opened interrupting the detective and revealing a petite brunette. The FBI agent looked back and forth between the two women and asked, "Detective Novak? Marshal Sisco?"

The speechless pair nodded dumbly and walked into the suite, each concentrating on regaining control of the situation. Karen tried to clear her jealous feelings of Marley with another woman, and the detective attempted to save her confused thoughts as to why the marshal reacted the way she did until she had time to explore them further.

The friendly agent ushered the two women into the suite, saying, "Good afternoon, ladies. I'm Erin Adams, Maggie's partner. She asked me to apologize for her absence, but she should be here shortly. I've taken the liberty of ordering soup and sandwiches for lunch. I hope that's okay?"

Both women assured the young agent that the choice of food was fine, and the three women sat down at the small table to eat. Erin suggested that they wait until Maggie arrived before discussing the case, and the Miami pair agreed; however, Erin soon began to question her decision when it quickly became apparent that she would have to start and control the conversation.

The detective and marshal were clearly uncomfortable, and, at first, the agent thought it was because they didn't know each other. However, when she tried to introduce the pair, each woman acknowledged that they not only knew each other, but that they had worked together on several cases.

When Maggie finally stepped through the door, Erin had never been happier to see her partner. One could only talk about the weather for so long, and she was beginning to think that enlisting the help of this particular marshal and detective was a huge mistake.

"Sergeant Novak, Marshal Sisco, I apologize for my tardiness, but I had to pick up some photos at the Miami bureau's office," the tall agent apologized, placing a folder on the sofa and moving directly to the empty chair at the table. Taking a sip of soup, she hummed her approval, "This is wonderful. Good choice, Erin."

Smiling at her partner, Erin replied, "Well, since you skipped breakfast, I thought you'd be hungry; coffee isn't a very good substitute for food, you know."

Karen and Marley listened to the two agents carry on a conversation as if they were dining alone and, when Erin casually mentioned that Maggie hadn't slept well the night before, the detective grinned and lightly kicked the marshal on the shin which quickly earned her a swift return kick by the brunette's booted foot.

"Ow," Marley automatically protested reaching down and rubbing her throbbing shin as all eyes immediately turned towards her; two pairs in confusion and one fearful that she'd relate the truth to the agents.

Glancing first at the wide eyed marshal, the detective then turned to the women sitting across from her and explained, "Sorry, I had a cramp."

The agents accepted the lame excuse and suggested that the four of them move to the sitting area, to be more comfortable while they discussed the background information of the case. Marley carefully stood and walked very slowly to the couch, trying not to favor her sore leg while a guilty Karen followed closely behind.

Once everyone was settled, Maggie opened the top folder and took out a few photos. Handing them to Karen, she said, "Here's the best shot I could find of our target's tattoo."

The marshal took the photo and studied it closely to determine if the dragon tattoo was the same design as the fugitive who'd managed to elude her five years ago. The tattoo had been of such intricate detail that Karen believed it to be one of a kind. If she could identify the tattoo, perhaps she would finally capture Daniel Keller.

While the brunette studied the picture, Maggie took the opportunity to fill Marley in on the current situation. "Sergeant Novak, our suspect's name is Michael Brown. We've done an extensive background check on him, but we can only find information dating back five years ago. His fingerprints are only on file with the department of motor vehicles, and we can't even find a record of his birth. It's as if he came out of nowhere. We've been able to take hundreds of photos of him, but no one in any of the agencies recognizes him. The tattoo is all we have to go on."

Erin handed the detective one of the photos of the man and said, "We'd sent a photo of the tattoo out to all the different federal agencies, hoping that someone would be able to identify the mark. Frankly, we were surprised when we heard from the US Marshal's office here in Miami."

Karen's voice abruptly cut into the agent's explanation. "I think this is him. The talons are curled the same way, and the tilt and turn of the dragon's head is just as I remember. This guy has to be Daniel Keller."

"Can you get me a copy of his prints?" Maggie asked, clearly excited about her first lead.

Marley moved closer to the marshal so that she, too, could study the photo, and Karen leaned over to accommodate the detective as she answered, "Yes, I can head over to the office now."

"Hey, look here," Marley said, pointing at the initials near the dragon's tail. "This tattoo came from a parlor down by the beach. The guy used to be a commercial artist, and he always signs his work somewhere in the intricate design."

Karen squinted and focused on the area near the tail. Sure enough, she could just make out the M and the H. "Who is this guy?" The marshal asked as she glanced up at the detective's blue eyes; eyes she'd never seen this close up.

Totally oblivious to Karen's discovery of how beautiful her eyes were, Marley smirked and replied, "Mike Hunt."

Maggie, who'd been listening very intently to the detective, laughed and said, "You're kidding. You mean to tell me after all the jokes his parents have heard, they named their kid Mike?"

Confused, Erin admitted, "I don't get it."

Smiling, Maggie explained, "Think about it, Erin. Mike Hunt. Run the words together, MikeHunt. Now, say them quickly."

"Oh, my God. Who would do such a thing to their child?" The younger agent asked, but her slight chuckle belied her concern for the younger Mike.

Soon, all four women were having a laugh at the poor man's misfortune.


Chapter 3

Since both women had volunteered to pay the tattoo artist a visit, Marley accompanied Karen back to her office. The marshal wanted to see more of his work, and the detective admitted that she just liked to harass the man whenever she could.

"Hey, Karen? Did you notice how cozy our FBI agents seem to be around each other?" Marley asked with a huge grin, her apparent memory of being kicked in the shin temporarily forgotten.

"They're partners, Marley. Of course, they'd be comfortable around each other," the marshal explained, although she'd also picked up a few signs that the two women were more than just partners, or maybe, that's exactly what they were in every sense of the word, true partners.

"Oh, c'mon, you mean to tell me you and Phil eat off each other's plates and talk about your sleeping habits?"

Pulling into her parking space, Karen protested, "Ew, Marley. Don't ever mention Phil and me in the same breath again. And for the record, we're colleagues, not partners."

The detective smiled and followed the marshal into the building, but her good humor quickly faded when she saw a grinning Phil walking towards her.

"Hey, Marley, anything I can help you with?" The flirting marshal asked as he walked towards the two women.

"Phil, would you mind keeping Marley company while I go pick up a fingerprint file?" The marshal asked sweetly, ignoring the panicked look on the detective's face.

Looking forward to spending time alone with the redhead, a helpful Phil replied, "Sure, Karen; no problem. That'll give me a chance to get to know Marley a little better." The brunette chuckled as she left the detective in Phil's capable hands.

Upon her return, Karen found Phil sitting at his desk, holding a coke can up to his eye while Marley stood by the window, looking out over the city. The brunette stepped closer to her colleague's desk, and he looked up startled, dropping the can on the floor.

Karen gasped when she noted the bruise already forming around the marshal's eye, and obviously flustered, Phil grabbed the can and strode from the room without a word. Turning her attention towards Marley, Karen couldn't help but notice the guilty expression on the detective's face.

"What's going on?" Karen asked her friend, wondering what could have possibly happened in the short time she was gone.

"Could we talk about it in the car?" Marley asked in a soft tone, and Karen knew then and there that Phil had somehow stepped way over the line. Nodding, the marshal started toward the redhead, but Marley just held up her hand and walked out the door.

Karen had to practically run to keep up with the long legged detective, Marley's speed effectively stopping Karen from trying to discuss the incident between her friend and her colleague. The marshal was doing her level best just to keep up with the redhead so conversation would definitely have to wait until they reached the car; however, even then, the detective remained tight-lipped.

Deciding to allow Marley the time she needed, Karen drove down the highway and waited patiently for the redhead to initiate the conversation. The pair was halfway to the tattoo parlor before the detective finally began to explain the altercation.

"Phil asked me out as he usually does, and I turned him down like I usually do; however, this time, he wouldn't let it go," Marley related, rubbing the back of her neck as just the thought of the unpleasant encounter caused her neck to spasm.

Looking out the side window, she nervously continued, "After awhile, I felt like I was being interrogated, and it really pissed me off. The next thing I know, I'm outing myself, and Phil's laughing. The asshole didn't believe me. He accused me of making the whole thing up."

"And you hit him for laughing at you?" Karen asked, astonished that the usually in control detective had lost her cool simply because the other marshal had questioned her sexuality.

"No, I hit him much later," Marley confessed, suddenly finding the ring on her finger quite fascinating.

Karen looked down at the redhead's hands, and, spying the bruised knuckles, she suggested, "You need to get some ice on that hand before it starts to swell; let me take the next exit, and we'll find a drive-thru. I think there's a rag in the glove compartment you can use once I get the ice."

Marley opened her mouth to protest, but the look she received from the marshal had her looking back down at her injured hand instead. Five minutes and one drive-thru later, the two women were back on the road to question Mike Hunt.

"So, are you going to tell me the rest?" Karen asked when the detective hadn't offered any more details to her earlier explanation.

Sighing, Marley said, "You, of all people, know how irritating Phil can be. Well, he was worse than ever. I couldn't take it anymore, so I finally countered with something that shut him up. At least temporarily, that is."

"What did you say?"

"Um, I suggested that he ask you if I was gay since I practically asked you out the first night we had dinner together," the detective offered softly as she adjusted the ice on the back of her hand.

Gripping the steering wheel tightly in preparation for the blow that was surely to follow, Karen asked, "And what did Phil come back with?"

Stalling for time, Marley glanced out the windshield and was relieved to see Hunt's Tattoo Parlor just down the block; she couldn't help but hold out hope that the marshal would forget about this conversation until after they'd interviewed the owner.

Turning onto the graveled drive, Karen pulled in front of the establishment and shut off the ignition. Marley immediately put her hand on the door handle; however, the automatic door locks sounded, and the door remained stubbornly closed.

As the detective moved to use the switch on the passenger side to unlock the doors, she stopped her progress when Karen's frosty voice filled the silence of the car.

"Don't you dare open that door; we're not finished here. Now, I want you to tell me what Phil said."

Knowing that Karen was stubborn enough to sit in the car until she found out the truth, Marley reluctantly offered, "He didn't say anything for several minutes, so I thought maybe he'd let it go. But, he just had to open his big fat mouth."

"Marley, . . ." Karen began in a frustrated tone, forcing the detective to finally blurt the words that caused her to punch a US Marshal.

"He said he understood perfectly. He said, since I was already fucking one marshal, why would I need another?"


Chapter 4

After Marley's statement, silence filled the interior of the car as Karen remained mute and expressionless; the detective, however, had no idea of the marshal's reaction as she hadn't looked up from the floor since she'd uttered her last words.

Several very long minutes elapsed before Karen finally asked, "And that's when you hit him?"

Not trusting her voice, Marley simply nodded her head, affirming the raised question.

"Good," Karen replied simply as she flipped the switch for the automatic door locks and climbed out of the car, leaving Marley unsure of what she should say or do next.

The marshal saved the detective from making the wrong decision, as she called, "C'mon, Marley. Let's go get personal with Mike Hunt. We'll talk about this later."

Thankful that Karen was taking Phil's comment so well, at least for now, Marley quickly climbed from the car and joined the brunette; she didn't even make an effort to tease Karen about her 'getting personal' comment.

"Hey, Mike. Long time, no see," the detective called out, startling the big man and almost causing his hand to slip. In the chair, the client quickly glanced at his arm to be certain that his girlfriend's name hadn't suddenly changed from Larrie to Larry as the tattoo artist had just begun the formation of the 'i.'

"Shit, Marley; don't scare me like that. And what the hell are you doing here anyway? I've been clean for the past six months. I could charge you with harassment, you know," Mike replied, laying the tools of his trade on a nearby tray.

Grinning, the detective countered, "Oh really, is that so? Maybe you'd like to charge my new friend here, too. It's one thing going against the Miami PD, but how do you think you'd fare against the US Marshal's Office."

Now, the redhead had the big man's undivided attention. In fact, he even went so far as asking his client to come back the next day to complete the tattoo free of charge. The seated man took a long look at his arm and insisted that the 'i' and the 'e' be added right away.

Karen and Marley agreed to look around while the tattoo artist completed his work, and Mike nervously turned back to his client; however, he kept a close eye on the two women as they moved from display to display looking for the dragon design.

The marshal found a display book on the counter and began to thumb through it as Marley searched the photos pinned up on the walls of the establishment. Several minutes later, Karen spied a very close replica of Daniel Keller's tattoo.

Continuing to study the design, Karen tried to recall if Keller's dragon was the same one or a reasonable facsimile of the photo. Marley walked over to join the marshal, and Karen pointed out the possible match to the detective.

Soon, the client was on his way out the door, and Mike headed towards the counter to meet with the women. He just hoped that he'd be able to get out of this encounter without any problems.

The minute Karen showed him the design, his face lit up in obvious satisfaction. Pointing to the photo, he offered, "Yeah, I remember that one. This guy came in and said he wanted a specialty tattoo. I thought he meant that he'd designed one of his own, but he picked up the sample book instead. He opened it and flipped the pages a few times before settling on the dragon. He demanded that I drop everything and start on his tattoo, and he insisted that I change the dragon's eye from greenish yellow to blue."

The marshal's eyes lit up at Mike's statement. She'd not been able to put her finger on the difference between the dragon in the picture and the one on her fugitive's back. It was the eye; the eye was a beautiful shade of blue; very much like the color of Marley's eyes.

In fact, when Karen made the connection, she immediately glanced over at the detective and focused on the orbs. They were a feature she'd always noticed and admired. At times, they appeared to be a window into Marley's very soul, and often, her eyes were a better indicator of the detective's thought and feelings than the redhead's spoken words.

As it turned out, Mike was a meticulous record keeper, and he was able to find the exact dates and times of the man's appointment. Karen was ecstatic to see that he hadn't used an alias. No, there it was in bold black letters, Daniel Keller.

The tattoo artist reluctantly agreed to lend the papers to the two women as long as they promised to return them in one piece. In return, Marley agreed to stay away from the establishment for the next two months.

Returning to the car, Karen called Maggie to inform her of their success and detailed the physical evidence they'd procured. She also pointed out that Mike Hunt was willing to identify his work if need be, and he'd agreed to testify in a court of law as well. Of course, he'd made Marley promise to stay away for an even longer amount of time if it turned out that he'd actually have to testify.

Now that Daniel Keller had been linked to Michael Brown, Maggie asked the two women to return to the suite so that they could map out the next phase of the case. Karen promised that they'd be there shortly and, pulling from the parking lot, the marshal smoothly entered the freeway.

Once she'd moved to the middle lane, Karen turned to the detective and, seemingly out of the blue, asked, "Marley, why didn't you just tell Phil to fuck off? Why did you hit him?"


Chapter 5

Marley started at the question. She'd actually asked the same thing of herself while she was waiting by the window for Karen's return from the file room, and the only conclusion she could come up with, was that it was purely reflexive. When Phil alluded to Karen with such derogatory words, she just saw red, and by the time she'd realized what she was about to do, her fist had already made contact with the marshal's face.

The detective wondered how in the world she could explain her reason to Karen when she barely understood it herself. She knew she was attracted to the marshal, but she'd never hit anyone defending another's honor. Well, except for that one time in college when one of the jocks was harassing her girlfriend. She had to smile at the memory of the football player going down for the count with just the one swing.

"Marley? Did you hear my question?" Karen asked, impatient for a response and, at the same time, wondering what the detective could possibly be thinking that would elicit such a broad smile.

"Huh? Oh yeah, sorry. I'm still trying to figure out the answer. I truly have no idea why I hit him, Karen," the detective replied honestly. However, comparing the incident to one that involved a former girlfriend certainly had the redhead questioning the depth of her feelings for the marshal.

Karen just nodded her head at the answer, and the two rode the rest of the way to the hotel in silence, neither knowing what to say; each woman too rapt up in her own confusing thoughts to try to carry on a conversation of any kind.

The FBI agents once again greeted the marshal and detective, and Erin immediately noticed the awkwardness present at their initial meeting had returned. It was obvious to the agent that something must've happened during the interview with the tattoo artist because both women had seemed to be getting along rather well when they'd left the suite earlier.

Karen presented the evidence linking Daniel Keller to the dragon tattoo, or rather, a dragon tattoo very similar to Michael Benton's, and Maggie congratulated both women on their successful trip. She just hoped the detective and marshal would agree to her next suggestion.

"Ladies, I've talked to my superior, and we both believe that during the course of this operation we should be in close contact with each other. So, I've taken the liberty of reserving the suite next door for the two of you to share. My other agents should arrive tomorrow, and they'll share the suite next to yours," Maggie stated, watching each woman closely for their reaction, and as expected, both women objected immediately, but Marley graciously gestured for Karen to speak her mind first.

"Agent Wilkins, I'm not officially assigned to this case; however, I'll be sure to keep myself available to you," Karen said in an eerily calm, professional tone.

Smiling, Maggie responded, "Marshal Sisco, there's no doubt in my mind that you're going to actively pursue Michael Brown, and there's no way I'm going to allow you to interfere with my investigation. So, the only solution to the problem, short of locking you up until this is all over, is to have you join my team. I cleared it with your supervisor while you were interviewing Mr. Hunt."

"What!" The marshal was clearly stunned by the agent's reply, and Marley, who'd been readying herself to come to her friend's defense, was instead surprised to find that she was performing mental cartwheels at the thought of sharing a room with Karen. They would have separate bedrooms, but at least they would be spending time together in relatively close quarters.

Maggie held up her hand to forestall any further objections by either woman, saying, "Please, just hear me out." With a nod to Erin, she suggested, "Why don't we move this to the sitting area where we can be more comfortable?"

The marshal and detective reluctantly followed the agent to the sofa and chairs while Erin took a quick detour into the small kitchenette. Once the three were comfortably seated, Maggie continued, "Marshal, your boss explained how Keller eluded you the first time, and I can both appreciate and understand how much you want to catch this guy. However, it's important that we proceed cautiously; if he discovers you're following him, he's sure to bolt and run again."

Carrying a tray, Erin exited the kitchen and made her way over to where the two guests were seated next to each other on the sofa, and, smiling, she extended the tray to the women, offering a bit of refreshment.

Marley grinned at the four bottles of Dos Equis and immediately reached for the amber colored beer. If staying at the hotel earned her this sort of treatment, then she'd voluntarily move some of her things to the suite next door before the day was out.

Karen, on the other hand, stared at the remaining bottles. They did look enticing, but she didn't want the agents to think she could be swayed so easily. A quick internal battle ensued, and the marshal finally rationalized that she'd already earned the beer, so she thanked Erin and grabbed the nearest bottle. After all, neither she nor Marley were officially on duty, and it was her favorite beer.

With everyone settled in their seats, drinks in hand, Maggie decided now was as good a time as any to fill in a few more blanks for the other women. Leaning back in her chair, she began, "First, I'm going to assume you are both now working with me, and the emphasis is on the 'with', I promise you."

Although she could still detect a hint of defiance in both women's eyes, Maggie saw each give a brief nod of acceptance, and continued on. "So, I'd prefer if we could drop the marshal, detective, and agent titles. I've found it's easier to work together when the formality fades to the background. We all know who we are, so there's no need to continually pound the point home."

Taking a sip of beer, Maggie paused to see if either woman objected to her suggestion and, when no protest was offered, she continued, "We'd really like to nail Michael Brown for money laundering; however, if we can persuade his colleagues to cooperate, we may be able to charge him with murder."

From out of nowhere, a vivid flashback had the marshal sitting up abruptly and clutching her bottle tightly. This new information caused the brunette to make a connection she'd never considered before. Afraid to have her suspicions confirmed, but desperately needing to know the truth, Karen whispered, "Who was the victim?"


Chapter 6

Curious as to why the marshal seemed out of sorts, Maggie replied, "She was a stripper at a nightclub in New York. The police questioned Brown, but he had a solid alibi. His friends testified that they'd left the nightclub early in the evening and driven downstate; however, a friend of the victim swore she'd seen Brown in the back alley when she left for the night, so it all boiled down to who to believe, a stripper or five well dressed businessmen. I think you can guess who won. Now, why the sudden interest in the victim's identity?"

Karen looked down at the bottle in her hand and began to slowly peel off the label as she recalled the events of a night five years in the past. "I'd been on the Keller case for three days, and I hadn't heard a peep from any of my usual snitches. Finally, late one Friday evening, I got a call informing me that Keller was spotted at the Kit Kat Club. I jumped in my car to head over there, and the damn thing wouldn't start. I had to call Dad to come get me, and by the time we arrived, there was no sign of Keller; however, we didn't come away empty handed. As we were leaving, I noticed something in the alley. We checked it out and found a dead stripper. I was so angry at missing Keller that I left as soon as the police arrived. The thought that he could've been connected to the murder never crossed my mind."

Now, it was Maggie who was sitting up and taking notice. Judging from Karen's posture and tone, it was evident that she was actually back in that alley, and not wanting the marshal to lose the mental image, she softly requested, "Describe the scene, Karen."

The marshal squinted and stared at the label as if she were trying to see the events more clearly, and the other women sat very still to keep from distracting the brunette's memories.

Soon, Karen began to speak in a soft voice. "It was dark in the alley itself, but the light from the street cast a faint glow down its center. I remember stopping at the alley's edge to bitch to Dad about my poor timing, and that's when I saw her. She looked like a broken doll leaning against the back wall of the building. In fact, at first, I thought it was a mannequin, or maybe, one of those life-sized puppets. Yeah, that's what she looked like. All she needed was some string and a puppeteer to bring her alive."

Carefully flicking the corner of the label, she continued, "Her head was down and to the side, and her legs were positioned straight out in front of her. Her arms were folded across her lap as if she'd been posed, and she was completely naked, save the silky tie wrapped around her neck. I never saw the coroner's report, but I believe it was used to strangle her."

"Karen, what color was the tie?" Maggie asked as she attempted to recall the color of the sash that was used to strangle the New York victim.

"Red. It was scarlet red," the marshal answered as she finally looked up to make eye contact with the agent.

Turning to her partner, Maggie opened her mouth, but Erin beat her to the punch, saying, "I'm on it." Standing, the young agent quickly left the room.

Marley, who'd been quietly listening to the conversation, finally spoke to ask a question that had been plaguing her, "Karen, why were you after Keller anyway?"

"Huh?" The marshal asked, still lost in her memories as the detective's question slowly filtered its way past the disturbing images. Turning to the redhead, she replied, "Drug trafficking. He'd fled California and then set up another business in Miami."

"What part of California?" Maggie questioned, still focused on the murders.

Hesitating, Karen answered, "Southern, but I'd have to look at the files for the exact location."

Excusing herself, Maggie left to add another search parameter to the one her partner was already running, hoping that her overactive imagination was just that, a series of baseless unreliable thoughts.

As soon as the agent departed, Karen leaned back and rested her head against the couch. Closing her eyes, she muttered, "Son of a bitch."

"What?" The detective asked as she took in her friend's defeated posture.

"If I had gotten to that club sooner, those women could still be alive," the marshal offered in disgust.

"Hey, you don't know that. Besides, we're not sure Keller, or Brown, or whoever he is, had anything to do with these murders," Marley pointed out, desperately wanting to reach out and console her friend, but not knowing how Karen would react, she kept her hands in her lap.

Karen opened her eyes and kept her head firmly against the couch, rolling her head in the detective's direction. Sighing, she replied, "I've got a gut feeling that he committed both murders. In fact, I'm not going to be a bit surprised if Erin confirms the other stripper was strangled by a red tie, too."

Before Marley could debate the marshal's words, Karen added, "Okay, I'll concede the murder here in Miami, even though I know deep down that it could've been prevented had I arrived earlier; however, the New York murder is definitely my fault. If I'd captured Keller that day at the warehouse, the woman would still be alive, there wouldn't be any need for the FBI to be here, and you and I wouldn't be having this conversation."

Reentering the room, Maggie reported, "The crime scene was the same. There was a red, silk tie found around the woman in New York's neck, and she was posed in a similar position to your victim. I've got another agent comparing the coroner's reports for other similarities between the two victims. Karen, if you don't mind, I need for you to check your files for the name of the city Keller fled from."

The marshal immediately stood and replied, "I'll head over to the office now, and I'll swing by my place to pick up some clothes and toiletries for my stay."

Surprised, but pleased at the sudden cooperation, Maggie asked, "What changed your mind?"

"I'm not letting this guy get away again. I don't care who gets the collar; I just want in on it," Karen answered, determined.

The agent nodded in understanding and offered, "Welcome aboard, Marshal Sisco."

Karen returned the nod and then turned to the detective sitting on the couch. "Marley, would you like to ride with me? We could swing by your place on the way back."

Shaking her head, Marley replied, "No, um . . . I better take my own car. I don't think I want to chance running into Phil."


Chapter 7

Marley and Karen parted ways in the parking garage, nervously agreeing to meet later in the suite. The marshal headed directly for her office, and the detective decided to forego the precinct and drive straight home; however, neither woman seemed to be able to rid their thoughts of the other.

Now that she had time to focus on the earlier incident between Phil and Marley, Karen wasn't sure how she felt about the redhead's actions. On the one hand, she was flattered that the detective had defended her honor, but on the other, she wished Marley had never been put in the situation in the first place. Accelerating, she focused on having a little chat with her male colleague while across town Marley turned onto her street.

Pulling into her driveway, the detective switched the ignition off, but remained in the car. She glanced at her hands, still gripping the steering wheel, and noted the slightly swollen and bruised knuckles on her punching hand. Holding it up, she rotated and flexed it, grimacing at the pain the movement caused.

On the drive home, the redhead had finally accepted the true reason for her action. It was more than defending the honor of her friend; it was a statement of raw emotion, pure and simple. With each case they worked together, the marshal had stolen another piece of the detective's heart, and now, sitting alone in her car, Marley had finally come to the realization that there were no more pieces left for Karen to take; she already had her heart in its entirety.

Just as Marley had her epiphany, Karen closed her car door and hurried into the building, hoping to catch Phil before he left for the day. She wasn't quite certain what she was going to say, but she had every faith in her ability to speak her mind the moment she laid eyes on her colleague. As she stepped into the elevator and pushed the button for her floor, the marshal took a moment to wonder what the detective was doing, and if she'd had any more thoughts concerning her altercation with Phil.

Stepping into her house, Marley turned on the light and moved to sit on the couch; her new recent revelation causing her to feel more than a little off center. She'd been attracted to straight women before, but she could honestly say that she'd never actually fallen in love with one.

Leaning her head back, the detective closed her eyes, grateful that she had a little time to deal with her feelings before she would have to spend the next several weeks in close proximity with the woman she could now freely admit that she loved; the US marshal who was more than likely confronting her colleague at this very moment.

Karen stepped off the elevator, making a beeline for Phil's desk, and cursed aloud when she noted the neatly stacked files and the chair pushed snuggly under the desk. Phil always made sure his desk was tidy before he left each day, so there was no doubt in the marshal's mind that she'd missed him. Walking to her desk, she took a seat, ready to retrieve the information Maggie had asked for.

Booting up her computer, she found Keller's file and printed all the information on the fugitive before he came to Miami five years prior. He'd made a few stops along the way from California to Florida, and the marshal figured Maggie would want to check out the various stopovers. Grabbing the printout, she headed for the elevator, pulling her cell phone out of her pocket to call to offer Marley a ride, but she decided at the last second that the detective would more than likely want to have her own car at the hotel.

Marley groaned as she pulled herself off the couch to head to the bedroom. Maybe if she concentrated on packing, she'd be able to stop thinking about Karen; however, every time she tried to decide what to bring, her thoughts immediately went to what the marshal might like. Cursing, she fell on the bed face first, and screamed.

An hour later, the detective had her bags packed and was on her way out the door. She'd figured if she'd forgotten anything, she could always swing by and pick it up later, and, since she was more or less a consultant on this case, Marley also packed her workout clothes and her swimsuit. The luxurious hotel had both a gym and an indoor pool, so the detective thought she should take advantage of everything it had to offer.

Grinning, she threw her bags in the backseat, wondering if Karen would be willing to work out with her. With an image of Karen in a bathing suit filling her head, Marley wasn't surprised when she almost backed over the curb. Shaking her head, she righted the vehicle and successfully pulled into the street, her thoughts changing to where the marshal could possibly be at this moment.

Karen was sitting in the kitchen of her dad's home, sipping a mug of coffee, waiting for the retired marshal to offer his usual words of wisdom. She'd told him about her day, and he immediately expressed his displeasure that she was working with the FBI, but he seemed pleased that she'd at least have Marley with her. After she'd told him about Marley's scuffle with Phil, however, he'd become very quiet, and Karen wondered if he'd changed his mind about her friend.

Marshal Sisco leaned back in his chair and said, "Karen, I need to ask you a question." At her nod, he continued, "How do you feel about Marley Novak?"

Taken aback, she replied, "What do you mean? She's my friend."

"Yes, I know she's your friend, but my question was how do you feel about her?"

Placing her mug on the table, Karen nervously ran her finger around its rim, not sure how to answer her dad's question. Truth be told, she was very confused about how she felt about the detective. Yes, Marley was her friend; however, she'd definitely been jealous at the hotel when she thought the redhead was visiting another woman, and she had to admit she was more than flattered that the detective had defended her honor, even if it was a little more violent that she'd liked.

"Look, honey. I just want you to know that it's okay if you like Marley for ... well, you know... more than a friend, let's say. Anyway, I like her, and whatever makes you happy, makes me happy," the marshal managed to offer without too much of a stutter.

Karen's head snapped up at his words, and she asked, "What are you talking about?"

"If Marley practically knocked Phil for a loop just for speaking badly about you, her feelings for you are clear."

Karen could only frown in confusion, and the marshal reached over and took her hand.

"Honey, Marley likes you. She really likes you."


Chapter 8

After arriving at the hotel, Marley visited with Maggie and Erin for a few minutes before moving her things into the suite. Maggie had already taken care of the paperwork, and the agent had secured two keys, one for her and one for Karen.

The two agents had even invited the detective for breakfast the next morning and asked her to extend the invitation to the marshal as well. Marley graciously accepted and promised to tell Karen whenever she arrived.

Opening the door to the suite, the redhead whistled aloud at the accommodations, surprised to see their room had the same floor plan as the agents. She'd just assumed Maggie's room was large because it would more than likely act as the center for the operation. Grinning, she couldn't wait to see Karen's expression when she opened the door, and quickly glancing at the clock on the nightstand, she wondered what could be keeping the brunette.

The marshal was lost in thought, just sitting in the parking garage of the hotel, staring out of her windshield at the dull grey wall in front of her. Her dad had to be wrong; Marley couldn't have fallen for her. As long as they were just friends, Karen could ignore the occasional feelings she had towards the other woman, but if there were something more between them, the marshal had no idea what she'd do. Up until now, her denial had sustained her and allowed her to flirt with Marley without worrying what the detective would think. Now, she was completely unsure of herself and her relationship with the redhead.

Stepping from the car, Karen grabbed her suitcase and garment bag from the back seat, and, exhaling a nervous breath, she headed for the elevators, hoping she'd be able to resolve her current conflict before she got to the suite.

The door opened just as the marshal had raised her hand to knock. Marley had been on her way to the hotel lobby to make a few inquiries, and an awkward moment passed as the two women just stood, staring at each other before the detective finally moved aside to allow Karen inside. The brunette managed a smile for the redhead as she stepped into the suite, careful to not allow their bodies to touch.

"Um, wow. This place is huge," Karen offered clumsily, moving further into the suite.

Rubbing her neck, Marley changed direction to follow Karen back into the room nervously replying, "Yeah. I was surprised, too. I, um. .. left the room on the right for you. Hope that's okay?"

"Sure, that's fine. Why don't I just go and put my things up, and then we can go exploring," Karen suggested, hoping that when she returned, she'd be able to act normally around the redhead.

Marley nodded her approval and watched as the marshal walked towards the bedroom. Sighing, she sat on the couch and tried to gather her senses; she whispered to herself, "Stupid, Marley. If you don't get a hold on your emotions, Karen is going to figure out why you're so skittish. Just relax, she's your friend, and it's time you realized she'll never be anything more. Now, get over it, would you?"

Meanwhile, inside the room, Karen had shut the door and leaned back against it. Her emotions were running amok, but she was proud that she'd acted somewhat normally around the detective. So what if Marley liked her for more than a friend; the marshal knew she'd never do or say anything about it. All she had to do was relax; things would return to usual between the two of them in no time.

The internal pep talks proved to work as both women seemed to be more at ease with each other when they stepped into the elevator. They'd decided to check out the gym and pool area before heading to the lobby to scope things out on the ground floor.

"Damn, I can't believe this place has a lap pool and racquetball courts. This is going to be like a vacation," Marley stated as she perused the signup sheet to register for the courts, noting nine p.m. seemed to be a rather slow time and making a mental note to try to talk the marshal into playing a few games.

"No kidding, that weight room is state of the art, and the indoor running area is not too shabby either. This almost makes me want to leave Keller to the feds... almost," Karen said in a teasing tone, and Marley smiled, pleased that they were back to their usual carefree banter.

The two women strolled through the lobby, visiting the gift shop as well as checking out the menu in the hotel restaurant. They were just getting ready to head back to the room when Maggie and Erin came around the corner, almost running into the pair.

"Hey, you two. We were just on our way to get a drink at the bar; they have the best margaritas. Won't you join us?" Erin asked, pointing towards the direction Karen and Marley had come from.

Shrugging, Marley replied, "I'm game. How about you, Karen?"

Smiling, the marshal nodded and said, "Sounds good to me. It's not like I have to get up early for a stakeout or anything."

The agents chuckled, and the foursome made their way back to the restaurant bar where a familiar figure grinned and spoke directly to Erin.

"I knew you'd be back. I told you we have the best drinks in Miami," the young woman said, clearing off the glasses in front of four bar stools.

Glancing at the others, the pink-haired bartender asked, "What'll it be, ladies?"

The women enjoyed a couple of drinks before Maggie's cell rang out, putting a damper on the evening. She excused herself, and Erin followed her lover, but not before reminding the marshal and detective about their breakfast invitation. They each accepted, promising to meet the other women at eight o'clock in the agents' suite.

Finishing their drinks, the remaining pair decided to head back to the suite, both wanting to be fresh for their morning meeting. Marley insisted on paying the tab, promising Karen she could get the next one, and the young bartender winked at the duo as they got up to leave.

Just as the marshal stepped into the lobby, the detective pulled her back around the corner and flush against her body, completing the motion by placing a hand over the brunette's mouth. Karen quickly began to panic, but she calmed when Marley nodded her head towards the lobby.

The redhead slowly removed her hand, just as Karen gave out a surprised gasp and leaned into the detective's body. She could hardly believe her eyes as she watched Daniel Keller stroll towards the exit. The marshal would've never suspected the man to be Keller if she hadn't seen the photo Maggie had of Michael Brown.


Chapter 9

Yes, Karen had definitely panicked when Marley shoved her against the wall and pressed her body against hers, but when she saw Keller, she'd relied on the detective to keep her from sliding down the wall in shock. He was the last person she'd expected to see in the lobby of their hotel.

The two women remained silent as they watched him stroll through the front doors towards the street, and Karen didn't move away from the detective until she was sure he wouldn't return. Marley reluctantly released the smaller woman from her arms and slowly took a step backwards.

"Do you think he's a guest here or visiting someone?" Karen asked, peering around the corner at the lobby entrance, her body still tingling from the intimate contact with the detective.

Marley shrugged and replied, "I really don't know, but I thought Maggie had indicated that he had a residence here. Regardless, we need to go fill her in on our discovery; if he'd seen you, he might've suspected something."

Nodding, Karen started for the elevators with the detective bringing up the rear, occasionally looking over her shoulder to be certain Keller didn't return.

The two rode up in silence as Karen focused on why Keller had shown up at this particular hotel while Marley concentrated on forgetting how good it felt to have the marshal's body against her own.

As they stepped off the elevator, Marley glanced at her watch and said, "Hey, Karen; it's pretty late. Maybe, we should wait until the morning to fill Maggie in. She probably wouldn't be able to find out anything at this hour anyway."

Nodding in agreement, Karen suddenly felt very tired. It had been a long day and so much had happened. A nice hot bath and a bed sounded very good as the two continued past the agent's room, heading towards their own.

Marley opened the door and gestured for Karen to enter ahead of her. The marshal looked exhausted, and the detective was certain that seeing Keller hadn't helped the situation. Taking a seat on the couch, she suggested, "Why don't you go on to bed? I'll set my alarm and wake you in the morning."

Smiling, Karen replied, "I think I'll do that, but first, I want to take a bath. There's nothing like crawling into clean sheets after a nice soak. I'll see you in the morning. Goodnight."

The detective returned the sentiment and watched the brunette walk towards the bedroom with the master bath. She didn't mind the smaller bath; she was pretty much a shower person anyway. Reaching for the remote, she turned the television on low and leaned her head back against the couch, wanting to catch the late news before turning in for the night.

Closing her eyes for just a second during the commercials, the redhead smiled dreamily as she imagined the marshal lying in a tub filled with bubble bath. She could just see the brunette lying back with her eyes closed, totally relaxed, and the lovely vision was just the ticket to lull the detective into a deep sleep.

On the way to her bed, Karen started when she noticed the light shining under her door. Turning the knob, she went to investigate, and Marley never heard the marshal step into the room.

"Marley?" Karen called softly, not wanting to startle the sleeping beauty; however, her thoughts had her placing her hand over her mouth to stifle the escaping gasp; since when did she refer to Marley as beautiful? Taking a moment to study the detective, the brunette realized that the redhead was indeed breathtaking, especially when she was so relaxed.

Shaking her head to clear the confusing thoughts, Karen reached out and patted Marley's shoulder, saying softly, "Marley, you need to get up and go to bed."

The redhead smiled in her sleep; she could hear Karen so clearly asking her to go to bed with her. Snuggling against the couch, she waited for the good parts; stubbornly refusing to wake to the marshal's pleas. Frustrated, the brunette resorted to the only thing she knew to work. At least, it always worked when her Dad had used it on her.

Returning from the bathroom, the brunette strategically placed the towels in place and, satisfied that everything was protected, she reached for the glass of water.

The shocked detective sat up sputtering, wondering if the roof of the room had sprouted a leak while she was climbing into bed with Karen. Opening her eyes, she looked into a pair of amused ones as the marshal stood in front of her with an empty glass.

"You threw water on me?" Marley asked, clearly surprised that the brunette would go to such extremes to wake her. Although, if she thought about it, it probably was the only thing that would successfully cool her down after the dream she'd just had.

Frowning, the detective took a closer look at the grinning marshal. Karen had on the exact robe she'd recently thrown on the floor in Marley's dream, and the firmly tied sash brought the redhead back to reality quicker than the face-full of water could've ever accomplished.

"Wow, you really are a heavy sleeper," Karen teased, handing a towel to the drenched detective.

"You have no idea," Marley mumbled as she vigorously wiped off her face and arms.

"I guess I should've just left you sleeping, but I was afraid that you'd wake with a crick in your neck. Besides, I knew you'd sleep better in a bed," Karen offered almost apologetically.

Attempting to pat her shirt dry, Marley replied, "Next time, just leave me. I think I'd rather have a sore neck than a bath on the sofa."

Chuckling, Karen said, "It's a deal. Now, what do you say we go to bed?"

The detective's head snapped up at the marshal's words as the brunette had made the same offer in her dream; however, Marley was certain that the connotation wasn't anywhere near the same in reality.

Standing, she replied, "Sounds like a good idea, goodnight Karen," and grabbing the towels from the couch, the detective made her way into her bedroom, shutting the door behind her.

Karen turned out the lights in the front room before making her way back to her bedroom. Setting the alarm, she crawled under the covers and stared up at the ceiling. She really needed to figure out what she was going to do about her recent thoughts about Marley, but deciding that sleep was a priority, she turned on her side and closed her eyes.

In the other bedroom, the detective stripped out of her wet clothes and stepped into the small bathroom, trying to exorcise the earlier dream from her mind. However, the image was just too vivid to cast aside and waking to find Karen standing in front of her wearing the hotel's robe was just too much. Eyeing the shower, she made a quick decision. If she was going to be able to get to sleep, she needed to take a shower, a very cold shower.


Chapter 10

The radio alarm blared the refrains of U2's 'All I Want is You,' and Marley groaned as she reached over and slammed her hand down on the snooze button. She'd decided before she turned in to set her alarm earlier than necessary just in case Karen decided to wake her with another glassful of water. Stretching, she climbed out of bed and headed for the shower.

In the other bedroom, Karen awoke to the sounds of classical music, and she turned over to check the time. She still had fifteen minutes before Marley would check on her so she turned onto her back and stared at the ceiling, trying to order her thoughts about the enigmatic detective.

Marley had all the qualities Karen was looking for in a partner except for one, she wasn't male, and truth be told, the marshal had never actually listed the gender in her criteria search until now. It was just a basic assumption she'd always had that her life partner would be a man. Never in her wildest dreams did she imagine that she'd be attracted to a woman, and a detective at that.

Groaning, she pulled herself from bed and walked into the adjoining bathroom as thoughts of a shower and caffeine temporarily moved to the forefront. Stepping into the shower, she closed her eyes and allowed the hot water to beat down on her neck.

Refreshed from her shower, Karen moved into the den area to find Marley already dressed and reading the paper. There was a room service tray on the small table with a carafe and a few pastries. Smiling, the marshal said, "Please tell me I smell coffee."

Grinning, the detective rose and walked over to the tray and, picking up a mug, she poured the brunette a cup. Karen joined the redhead, thanking her for taking the initiative for ordering the coffee in advance of their meeting with the FBI agents. Closing her eyes, the marshal hummed her approval as she took her first sip of her morning elixir.

"I heard the shower running so I didn't think you'd be much longer, and I figured you might need some caffeine before we meet with Maggie. She's going to be pissed that we didn't report to her last night, you know," Marley supplied, cutting into an apple croissant.

Watching the redhead bite into the morsel and lick the apple that had dribbled onto her finger, Karen swallowed along with the detective and, turning back to the tray, she pretended to look over the pastries, hoping Marley wouldn't notice her flushed face.

The two women took a seat at the table and ate another croissant as they planned their strategy for informing the agent as to why they'd decided to wait until morning to report their Keller sighting.

"Okay, we're in agreement; we just tell her the truth. It was late, and we knew there wasn't much that could be done until the morning," Marley stated, happy that they were in this predicament together.

Karen cleared her throat and said, "Well, I guess it's time to face the music. Maggie and Erin are probably wondering where we are."

Glancing at her watch, Marley noted, "Oh, we are late aren't we."

Nodding her head in reply, Karen started for the door with the detective following closely behind; however, both women slowed their pace in the hallway, neither looking forward to hearing what the agent had to say to them.

Erin greeted them at the door, whispering, "Maggie really likes promptness," and each woman grimaced, knowing they were going to make her even more upset when they relayed their news about Keller.

Following Erin into the small den, Karen and Marley knew immediately that they'd better not try to sugarcoat their decision to wait until morning to report their near encounter with Keller when they caught a glimpse of Maggie's expression. Taking full responsibility, Marley detailed what had taken place when they'd parted company with the two agents the evening before.

"What? Why didn't you come to me directly?" Maggie asked, almost shouting at the two women as she paced back and forth in front of the sofa.

"Maggie, it was very late. We wouldn't have been able to investigate until this morning anyway," Erin stated calmly, assuming the voice of reason, not to mention citing the other women's excuse almost verbatim.

With hands on her hips, the tall blonde stared at her partner, but Erin didn't flinch under the scrutiny. Karen and Marley watched in awe of the younger woman as the lead agent slowly began to relax right before their very eyes.

Sighing, Maggie said, "Okay. Let's figure out why Keller was here."

Erin winked at the other two women before moving to the phone to call room service. Neither Karen nor Marley volunteered that they'd already had coffee and pastries, not wanting to take a chance of making Maggie mad again; at least not for today, anyway.

Once room service had delivered, the four ladies sat down to discuss their next actions.

In the middle of their discussion, a knock sounded at the door, and Erin excused herself to answer it. She soon returned with two more females who immediately took a seat and helped themselves to coffee and donuts.

Jane Carson and Susan Jones were introduced to the marshal and detective before Maggie sent them to view the previous night's security footage. She ordered Susan to make copies of every frame Michael Brown appeared in from the moment he stepped foot into the building until he walked out the revolving doors.

As soon as the two agents left the room, Maggie turned to Karen and stated, "Karen, you need to stay in your room until we're sure it's just a coincidence that Brown was in the hotel. It won't take long to verify, but I don't want to take the chance of him spotting you."

The marshal started to balk at the order, but Marley took the seat next to the brunette, promising to stay behind and keep her company. After a few minutes, Karen had calmed and agreed to Maggie's terms.

Erin, watching the conversation between the two, smiled a knowing smile.


Chapter 11

Promising to inform the agents the minute she had her report, Maggie escorted Karen and Marley to the door, saying, "I appreciate you staying hidden away, Karen. I know how difficult it is for you not to be in the thick of things, but we need to determine what Brown was doing in the building before we decide how to proceed from here."

Opening the door, Marley exited first and ran directly into a petite blonde, almost knocking her to the floor. The detective instinctively reached out and pulled the woman to her, holding her close until they'd both regained their balance.

"Oh, I'm so sorry," Marley apologized, releasing the smaller woman, "I didn't realize there was anyone in the hallway. Are you okay?"

Twinkling green eyes smiled at the detective and replied, "Falling into a beautiful woman's arms? I'd say I'm more than okay."

"Brianna," Maggie scolded, "Don't tease the nice detective. She's helping us out with the Brown case."

"Oh, really," the young woman purred. "Well, she can definitely bunk with me. After all, you and Erin get to share a room, and so do Jane and Susan. Why should you guys have all the fun?"

Before Maggie could respond to the flirting woman, Karen stepped next to Marley and stated rather possessively, "She already has a roommate. Now, if you'll excuse us, we need to get back to our room." Addressing the lead agent, she informed, "We'll be awaiting your call, Maggie," and taking the detective's hand, the marshal headed towards their suite, pulling the stunned redhead behind.

By the time the two women entered their room, Marley was grinning widely, not at all perturbed that Karen hadn't released her hand for a second, even when the brunette struggled to put the key in the card slot. She somehow managed to insert the key, turn the knob, and return the key back to her pocket all with the use of one hand as she stubbornly held onto the detective's, refusing to release it until they were out of the line of sight of the two agents.

Karen slammed the door behind them and walked directly to the couch. Plopping down in the center, she laid her head back and closed her eyes. The encounter with the new agent had clearly unsettled the usually unflappable marshal.

Marley watched her friend, trying to figure out what had just happened and, frankly, the detective was unsure as to what she should think. She didn't know if Karen was trying to protect her virtue or if the marshal was jealous. Hoping for the latter, but certain that the former was the true reason, the redhead chose to make light of the situation.

"That new agent is something else, huh? She reminds me of a rookie detective I worked with a couple of years ago. Biggest flirt I'd ever seen, but she turned out to be very good at her job," Marley stated, taking a seat in the large chair next to the couch.

Not opening her eyes, Karen asked, "Before or after you shot her?"

Chuckling, Marley replied, "I didn't have to shoot her. I just had to turn her down about fifty times before she finally got the message that I wasn't interested. Brianna seems smart so I'll be willing to bet she doesn't flirt with me again. Between Maggie ordering her to behave and you staking your claim to me, I'd say I'm safe from her."

"Don't bet on it, Marley. She seems like the type who doesn't give up easily."

The two women sat in comfortable silence for the next several minutes, neither offering any more words concerning the new agent; however, just the thought of the blonde suddenly gave Karen a splitting headache.

Opening her eyes, she said, "Marley, I think I'm going to lie down for awhile. My head feels as if it's about to break into pieces."

Immediately concerned, the detective replied, "Why don't you go to bed, and I'll bring you some pain medicine and a glass of water."

The marshal slowly stood and thanked her friend as she headed towards the bedroom, briefly wondering why the thought of another woman flirting with Marley had given her such a headache.

Karen removed her shoes, slid off her jeans, and climbed into the bed. She'd just pulled the sheet up to her waist when there was a soft knock at the door.

"Hey. I've got your pills," Marley offered, walking over to the occupied side of the bed and extending her hand to show two small pills in the middle of her palm.

The marshal groaned as she sat up to take the offering, quickly downing the medicine she reached for the glass of water, and washed the pills the rest of the way down. Karen was totally unaware that the sheet had slid away, revealing a toned leg and a rather sexy pair of black panties.

Marley swallowed a moan and dutifully took the glass back from the oblivious marshal, asking, "Um, do you need anything else?"

Sliding back under the sheet, Karen replied, "No. I think the pills and a nap should do it. Thanks, Marley."

Nodding, the flustered detective quickly exited the room, closing the door behind her and wondering if it was too early to have a drink. She definitely needed to find some kind of outlet to help her remove the image of the marshal lying just a few feet away.

A couple of hours later, Karen emerged from the bedroom to find Marley in front of the television, playing video games. It appeared to be some sort of interactive crime game as the detective seemed to be taking great pride in shooting the various 'bad guys' who would pop in and out of the viewing screen.

"What happens when you run out of ammo?" Karen asked, taking a seat next to the detective as another villain went down in a blast of red.

Keeping her attention on the screen, Marley replied, "That's the great thing about video games. You never run out of ammo, and there aren't any reports to file."

The crime fighting detective continued to mow down the opposition until there were no more villains. A visual appeared on the screen proclaiming Marley to be super detective and asking if she'd like to play another round. Choosing the 'no' option, the redhead switched off the video equipment and turned her full attention to the marshal.

"Maggie called while you were resting. It seems that Brown was visiting one of the guests, an antiquities dealer specializing in Greek artwork. The man checked out of his room this morning so Maggie believes it was just a coincidence that Brown was in this hotel. But, just in case, she's got one of her agents researching the dealer," Marley informed, relieved when she noted that the marshal was fully-clothed.

"So, now what?" Karen asked, grateful that she wasn't going to have to stay in the hotel room any longer. Not that she minded really, especially with Marley's company, but it was just the principal of the thing.

Stretching her legs, the detective replied, "Maggie wants us to meet her in her suite around noon. The rest of her team is going to be there as well. She thought we could discuss plans over lunch."

Karen groaned aloud and said, "I'm going to gain ten pounds on this assignment. Promise me that we'll check out the exercise gym and pool later."

A visual of the marshal in a bathing suit filtered into the detective's head and she smiled, as she promised, "Oh, I'll be sure to do that. You can count on it."


Chapter 12

The team gathered around the table in Maggie's suite, and Karen gestured for Marley to take the empty chair next to Erin. When the detective smiled and sat in the offered chair, Karen quickly moved to the adjacent one, preventing Brianna from getting any closer to the redhead.

The young blonde had begun to flirt with the detective the moment she'd stepped through the door, and Karen was fit to be tied. She'd spent the next several minutes listening to the agent regale Marley with her dancing ability, and the little vixen actually had the audacity to ask the detective if she'd like to go out and confirm her talent the next evening. Thankfully, Marley declined, but Brianna just smiled sweetly, already planning her next move on the detective.

When Maggie had called everyone into the small meeting area, Karen was relieved. She didn't know how much more of Brianna she could take, but more importantly, she didn't want to be present when Marley finally agreed to the young blonde's request to go out.

Maggie handed everyone a folder and allowed time for each team member to scan through the data before beginning the meeting. Karen flipped through page after page, feeling sick to her stomach as she uncovered more and more information. The agents had discovered four more murders from the time Keller left California until he wound up in Miami. The marshal paid close attention to each crime report, noting the M. O. matched every detail of the Miami and New York slayings. All the women had been strangled with a red tie; all of them were petite, green-eyed blondes, and all, except the first victim, were exotic dancers.

Zooming in on the first murder, Karen immediately noted the city and state, Santa Clara, California, Keller's hometown. The victim was a waitress at a local diner, and her boss had reported that someone had been harassing the young woman, but he didn't have a name or a description of the man. He'd just known that his employee had been upset, and when he'd offered to help, she'd thanked him and promised that she could handle it. Two weeks later, she was dead.

Karen closed her eyes, gripping her hands into tight fists. She'd had no idea that Keller was anything but a drug trafficker before he came to Miami. Now, with the evidence laid out before her, she realized that she wasn't just responsible for allowing a scumbag to elude her; she'd allowed a cold-blooded murderer to escape her grasp.

A soft touch on her thigh brought the marshal out of her destructive musings, and she turned to find Marley's concerned, blue eyes fastened onto her own. The detective smiled and leaned to whisper into the marshal's ear, "Are you okay?"

Karen just nodded and reached down to squeeze Marley's hand. The redhead immediately understood the gesture and made a mental note to talk to the marshal about it later in private. Neither woman noticed the tall blonde at the end of the table watching their every move. Maggie had been worried about how the brunette would take the new information, but she was pleased to see that the detective was looking out for the marshal.

After several more minutes, the lead agent finally began the meeting. "Okay, ladies. I think you can see that this case has become much more than just drug trafficking or money laundering. This man is a serial killer. Now, we just have to be certain that whatever we charge him with sticks. Then we'll be able to pursue the murder charges," Maggie explained, and all present nodded their heads in agreement.

"Jane, want to fill us in on what you've discovered?"

"Well, the antiquities dealer Brown met with is a suspected drug trafficker, so I believe Keller has gone back to his comfort zone," the agent explained briefly.

"Brown? Who's Brown? I thought we were talking about Keller here?" Brianna asked, confused with the different names.

"Brown is an alias," Erin began, but quickly countered, "Well, I guess a better explanation would be that he's assumed a new identity; plastic surgery, new fingerprints, new name, the works."

Frowning, the young blonde asked, "How do you know for certain they're the same person?"

Maggie jumped in, detailing the coincidences and focusing on the dragon tattoo as the key piece of evidence. "We'll only know for certain if we can find some way to compare their DNA; however, I'm not sure we can find something of Keller's to compare to Brown's. Besides, we have a current photo of Brown, and if we're able to tie him to the murders, it won't matter."

Pleased with the explanation, Brianna said, "Okay, I understand, but why do you need me? It looks like you have everything under control."

"I'm in need of your wonderful acting skills, Brianna. I was planning to use you to try to work your way into Brown's circle, but I think you'd do much better as an assistant to a renowned antiquities dealer who just happens to be suspected of drug trafficking and who also happens to be is in the custody of the FBI," Maggie explained with a grin.

The remaining agents chuckled, and Karen looked around the table shocked that they'd find anything remotely funny about sending one of their own into the lion's den. Beside her, Marley wondered the same thing and was just about to express her concern when Maggie offered an apology.

"Marley, you and Karen will have to excuse us. We aren't making light of this situation by any means. It's just that Brianna has a way of getting in and out of the stickiest situations unscathed. I swear she could walk through a pit of vipers and sweet talk her way to the other side without a single bite to her lovely flesh," the lead agent said as her cohorts each piped in, unanimously agreeing with their superior.

Karen was still a bit skeptical; however, when she noted the saucy wink Brianna gave to Marley, she was definitely certain of the young blonde's ability to manipulate people. She just hoped that Marley wouldn't succumb to the agent's flirtatious tactics.


Chapter 13

Karen and Marley made their way to the garage, arguing over whose car to take. Maggie had asked the two women to find out if Brown's name had been linked to any local drug cases, and the pair were happy to finally have something to do. Karen, especially, was happy to leave Brianna behind.

The young blonde had continued to blatantly flirt with Marley, and the marshal had just about had all she could stand when Maggie came to the rescue. She'd sent Brianna to secure a room on another floor so that Brown would have somewhere to meet with the agent if she'd successfully garnered his attention.

Maggie had all the confidence in Brianna, but just in case, she planned to use some very enticing bait to lure Brown to her agent. Cocaine was sure to grab the drug trafficker's attention.

Lost in her thoughts, Karen had given up the debate over which car to use and had blindly followed Marley to her Mustang convertible. Climbing in, she almost missed the detective's question.

"Up or down?"

Confused, the marshal questioned, "What?"

Marley gestured to the top and smiled. "The top. Would you prefer it up or down?"

Karen glanced upwards and shrugged. "Whatever you want is fine with me."

The detective grinned and reached under the seat, pulling out a baseball hat and placing it on her head. Nodding towards the glove compartment, she said, "There's one in the glove box, if you want it."

"I'm fine," Karen assured, and Marley hit the switch to lower the top. Pulling out of the space, she drove slowly towards the exit.

On the open highway, the detective took great pleasure in exceeding the speed limit as she watched Karen from the corner of her eye. The marshal seemed to be torn between holding onto her hair and grabbing onto the dash. Finally, she reached in the glove compartment and pulled out the cap, and placing it on her head, she took a firm hold of the dashboard.

Pulling in front of the precinct, Marley climbed from the car and started towards the entrance until she realized she was alone. Turning back to the car, she laughed aloud at the marshal. Karen was still sitting with her hands on the dash; however, her intense glare had shifted to the detective.

Releasing a cleansing breath, Karen calmly removed her hat and opened the door. Facing the chuckling detective she said, "You're not driving again. Next time, and the next time, and the time after that, we're going in my car."

Marley waited for Karen to join her, and the two made their way up the steps leading to the building. The detective was still grinning when they walked through the doors of the precinct.

The pair headed directly for the rear offices of the building, and specifically, the narcotics unit. Marley wanted to catch her detective friend before he left for the afternoon.

"Hey, John. I've got a few questions for you, if you've got a minute," the redhead greeted, walking over to the smiling man's desk.

"Yo, Marley. I heard you got stuck on some crappy assignment. I don't pity you having to work with the FBI, and I heard through the grapevine that you've got to work with someone from the US Marshal's office to boot. Who'd you piss off?" The big man asked, shaking his head in a show of sympathy for his friend.

The detective ignored the ribbing and turned to introduce Karen to the man everyone called 'the giant.' That is, once they got past his brusque manner; he really was just a big ol' teddy bear.

"You're kidding? This little thing is a US Marshal? I tell you what; she certainly doesn't look like any marshal I've ever worked with," John related, having made Karen pull out her identification before he'd believed his friend.

Chuckling, Marley said, "Now, can we get down to business?" The detective glanced around the squad room to be sure there weren't any eavesdroppers, and immediately turned serious, pleading, "We really need your help, John."

The big man listened intently as Marley explained the situation with Michael Brown. After thinking hard about his past cases he had to admit that he hadn't heard of the man. The detective regretfully offered her thanks, and the pair turned to leave when Karen suddenly remembered something.

"John, have you ever encountered anyone with a large dragon tattoo?"

The detective thought for a moment longer and replied, "Not personally, but word on the street is there's a new guy at the top of the food chain. Supposedly, he has some sort of intricate dragon tattoo. I don't know his name, but the runners refer to him as Mr. K."

"Mr. K?" Karen asked, turning towards Marley and smiling.

Leading the two women into a nearby conference room, John filled them in on everything he'd ever heard concerning the mysterious Mr. K. He was even able to give them a general timeline of when the drug trafficker had come to Miami, and neither woman was surprised to learn it coincided with the time Maggie believed Michael Brown had first made an appearance in the city.

Marley thanked her friend, promising to stay in touch, and the big man returned the sentiment and winked at Karen as he turned to head back towards his desk. The detective once again escorted the marshal through the building towards the entrance, both deciding that they needed to head back to the hotel to inform Maggie of their news.

Arriving at the car, Karen refused to get in until Marley promised to drive more sedately. The detective grudgingly agreed and made it a point to drive so slow that the marshal lost count of the number of times someone honked as they passed them, almost every driver shooting the finger as they moved ahead of the creeping convertible.

When the Mustang finally pulled into the parking spot, the marshal was fit to be tied. No amount of cajoling could get the detective to drive faster, and the brunette seemed to be more upset with the 'maw-maw' type driving on their return than the 'Indy-500' type on their trip to the station.


Chapter 14

Stomping from the car, Karen made her way to the elevators as a chuckling Marley followed behind. The marshal refused to acknowledge the detective even once during the entire ride to their floor; however, when the doors opened and Brianna stepped in, the brunette quickly grabbed the redhead's hand and pulled her from the car, explaining that they had important information to give to Maggie.

As the agent called out for Marley to give her a call later, Karen increased her stride and muttered quietly, "Not on your life, Blondie."

"Did you say something, Karen?" Marley asked, not quite understanding the marshal's words. She was too busy smiling at Karen's repeat performance of dragging her down the corridor, and wondering if the marshal had made it her mission in life to keep the young flirt away from the detective.

Tugging Marley the rest of the way down the hallway, Karen answered, "I was just thinking out loud. It wasn't anything important."

They were greeted at the door by Erin who quickly ushered them into the suite where Maggie was waiting, and the lead agent didn't waste anytime asking for their report.

"Well, what did you find out?"

Grinning, Marley presented the information John had given them while Karen added bits and pieces to the commentary. Erin took copious notes; however, she couldn't help but notice that something seemed to be troubling the marshal. Making a mental note to try to talk to the woman, the agent focused back on the conversation.

Pleased with the information, Maggie insisted on meeting with John personally, and Marley made a quick call to be sure her friend would be willing to meet with the agent before she offered to drive Maggie to the station. Karen seemed to finally come out of her funk as she warned the agent against riding with the detective. The tall blonde laughed and said it couldn't be any worse than riding with Erin. The young agent chuckled at the statement, and something about the shared laugh warned the marshal to never get into a car with either agent.

Marley and Maggie headed out the door, leaving Karen alone with the Erin. Deciding now might be a good time to visit the pool, the marshal said, "I think I'll go back to the suite and change into my bathing suit. A swim sounds really good right now."

"Karen, can you wait just a minute? I'd like to talk to you about something," Erin asked sweetly, gesturing towards the sitting area. Shrugging, the marshal turned and headed towards the couch.

Once the two women were settled, the agent struggled with how to start the conversation, but finally decided on her partner's philosophy, sometimes you just have to be blunt.

"How long have you been in love with Marley?"

"What?" The marshal replied, completely stunned by the question.

"Well, maybe love is too strong of a word right now, but you're definitely interested. I can tell by the way you watch her when she's not looking, the way she's able to talk to you and calm you down when you're upset, and of course, your reaction to Brianna earlier today confirmed my suspicions. You two remind me of another stubborn couple we've worked with fairly recently."

Karen blurted the first thing that came to mind, "I'm not gay."

Smiling, Erin said, "Sometimes it's not a matter of labels, Karen. Sometimes it just all boils down to the person you fall in love with. I didn't consider myself gay when I fell for Maggie, and it took me months to come to terms with my feelings. It turned out to be a good thing that Maggie kept me at arm's length while she dealt with some of her own problems; otherwise, we'd have never gotten together. By the time she'd decided to let me in, I'd already come to terms with my love for her."

True confessions were not a favorite game of the marshal, and even though Erin had come clean about her relationship with Maggie, Karen had no intention of sharing her feelings concerning Marley with the agent. Besides, she couldn't very well share something she didn't understand herself. All this conversation had accomplished was to cause more confusion for the already unbalanced marshal.

Sensing the other woman's inner turmoil, Erin explained, "I'm not trying to make you say something you don't want to say or aren't ready to say. I'm just letting you know that you aren't the only person who's ever been confused, and I want you to know that I'm here if you need someone to talk to. I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable, and I promise to never mention this again unless you bring it up first. Now, I don't have anything to do either until Maggie returns, so do you mind if I join you for a swim?"

"Um, okay, sure. I'll go change and swing back by on my way to the pool," Karen replied, practically jumping from the couch in her attempt to flee the room.

Erin agreed with the plan and smiled as she watched the marshal walk briskly towards the door. Maggie was probably going to be upset with her for interfering, but she'd just remind her lover of another agent who took a skittish CSI under her wing not too long ago.

With a shaky hand, Karen placed the key in the slot, quickly opened the door and stepped inside; leaning against the door, she used her body to push it closed. The one-sided conversation with Erin had unnerved her more than she let on, and she needed to regain her equilibrium before meeting the agent for a swim.

Exhaling, the marshal pushed herself off the door and headed towards her bedroom. She glanced at the made bed and briefly wondered if all her problems would just go away if she were to crawl into bed and pull the covers over her head.

As she changed into her swim suit, Karen compared two similar conversations, one with her dad and one with Erin. Talking with her dad was an eye-opener to say the least, but he only concentrated on Marley's feelings towards her, although, he did mention that it'd be okay if she cared for the detective as more than just a friend.

Erin, on the other hand, focused entirely on the marshal; she never mentioned Marley's feelings for the brunette. As it was, now, Karen began to wonder if perhaps her dad was mistaken, and she was the only one with confused feelings. Or, maybe, the agent didn't mention Marley's feelings because it was evident how she felt about the marshal.

Falling backwards on the bed, Karen stifled a scream, her mind in turmoil. Right now, sinking to the bottom of the pool was sounding better and better to the frustrated marshal.


Chapter 15

The red convertible sped down the highway towards the Miami PD, both occupants sporting caps and sunglasses. Marley's passenger had a decidedly different attitude than Karen had earlier; Maggie also sported what could only be described as a shit-eating grin.

"I love this car," the agent shouted over the wind and roar of the traffic as she leaned her head back against the seat and closed her eyes. "I've always wanted a convertible, but the timing has never been right; one of these days, though, one of these days."

Chuckling, Marley replied, "It truly is a lot of fun, especially here in Miami where the weather allows me to put the top down almost year 'round."

"I bet it's a real chick magnet, too," Maggie countered, laughing aloud when the detective grinned widely at the remark.

The rest of the ride was made in silence; each woman lost in her own thoughts. Maggie contemplating whether she could talk Erin into a convertible, and Marley wishing, to a certain extent, that the agent's words had been true. However, there was only one chick the redhead wanted to attract and, she knew it would take much more than a car to do it.

Upon their arrival at the station, John met the two women at the front desk and ushered them into a large conference room. He didn't care too much for the FBI, but if Marley said the agent in charge was okay, then he'd trust her. His friend's word was always good enough for him.

Back in the hotel suite, Karen grabbed a towel from the master bath and headed for the door. She was no closer to understanding her feelings towards Marley, and she had a sneaking suspicion that her confusion had only begun. The marshal had found herself looking back at the last twenty four hours and analyzing the time she'd spent with the detective. Finally, she'd become frustrated and had decided she should just forget about the dilemma for awhile and enjoy her swim.

Erin greeted the marshal at her door with a smile, and the pair made their way to the pool. They discussed everything from the case to co-workers to movies, and the agent stayed true to her word; she never brought up the subject of Marley or the brunette's feelings towards the redhead.

Exiting the Miami PD after their meeting with the narcotics detective, Marley offered to let Maggie drive, and the tall blonde increased her stride, leaving the detective to struggle to keep up. Now, Marley finally knew what it was like for her colleagues when she used her longer strides to quicken her pace.

Climbing into the car, the agent slid her hat on backwards and peeled out from the parking space. Marley steadied her hand on the dash before quickly buckling up and looking over at a grinning Maggie. In another flash of understanding, the detective suddenly knew how Karen had felt earlier. Sparing a thought for the brunette, she wondered what the marshal was doing to bide her time.

Karen pulled herself from the pool, exhausted. She'd done a lot of soul searching while stroking from one end to the other, hoping the clear water would go a long way to help clear her muddled thoughts; however, at the end of a mile, she'd decided to call it quits and take Erin up on her offer to talk.

The agent had kept a close eye on the marshal as she swam back and forth, never stopping, just continually touching the end and turning back in the other direction. She knew Karen was deeply troubled, and she also knew exactly what was troubling her. Problem was she could only help the brunette if she'd allow her to do so.

"Wow, I don't think I've ever swum a mile before," Karen panted, taking a seat next to the agent at the small table.

Erin just smiled. She was actually amazed that the marshal had been able to keep up with the number of laps she'd swum, but she was pleased that the brunette seemed more relaxed than when they'd first entered the pool. Of course, exhaustion probably had something to do with it.

Toweling off, Karen asked softly, "Erin, can I ask you something?"

Not wanting to make the marshal any more nervous than she already seemed, the agent replied casually, "Sure."

"How did you…when did you…oh hell, how did you know that you were interested in Maggie in more than a friendly kind of way," Karen managed to ask, despite not knowing exactly how to word her question.

The young agent looked into the marshal's dark eyes and answered honestly, "I think I was attracted to her the first time I saw her. She exuded such confidence, and she was sooo tall."

Karen laughed, and the ice was broken. She listened to Erin give example after example of different things Maggie had said or done during the course of the time they worked together as colleagues and then friends. It was amazing to the marshal how similar some of the situations were to her relationship with Marley, and she continued to make mental comparisons as Erin regaled her with story after story of her attraction to the lead agent.

Thirty minutes later, Maggie and Marley stepped off the elevator just as Karen and Erin were saying their goodbyes at the agents' door. The new arrivals took the opportunity to admire the figures of the towel-clad women, and Maggie couldn't help herself; she elbowed the detective in the side and gave out the perfect wolf whistle.

Erin identified the owner of the whistle as soon as it pierced her ears and, turning towards the culprit, she said, "You are the ultimate horn dog, Maggie Wilkins."

The agent placed her hand on her chest, feigning surprise. "Me? I didn't whistle. It must've been Marley, but you really can't blame her, you know. I mean, just look at you two."

"What? I didn't whistle," Marley denied, her face matching the same color as her hair, and, nervously, she snuck a glance at the Karen to see if she was offended by Maggie's teasing.

The marshal was grinning widely; amused at both Maggie's quick thinking to blame the detective and Marley's scarlet face, and she couldn't help her next words. "You mean you don't find us attractive, Sergeant Novak?"

If it were possible to turn a deeper shade of red, the detective would've easily accomplished the feat. Normally, Marley jumped right into a conversation such as this one, but she found herself speechless, especially since Karen was playing along with the teasing.

Erin immediately noticed the detective's uneasiness with the conversation and offered, "Karen and I were just going to change and then go get something to drink. Would you two like to join us?"

The elevator door opened just as the question was posed, and a grinning Brianna stepped out, immediately moving impossibly close to Marley; the young agent replied cheekily to the question, "Sure, that sounds great. How about it, Marley? Want to share a straw?"

Erin winced, Maggie grinned, and Karen was ready to knock the blonde's head off. Marley simply stepped away from the flirting woman; not to be deterred, Brianna smoothly sidled back beside the redhead.

The marshal opened her mouth to voice her obvious unhappiness, but Erin was able to intercede, saying, "Brianna, I need for you to fill me in on your new accommodations, and I also need to set you up with an alias."

Turning to the marshal, she suggested, "Karen, why don't you and Marley go on to your suite, and I'll call you when it's time to go get that drink?"

Karen merely nodded her head and turned on her heel, heading toward the suite and not bothering to wait for the detective. Marley looked from Erin to Karen and quickly started after the marshal. Maggie just continued to grin.

Marley was just able to get her foot in the door before it closed. Pulling it open, she watched as Karen stormed towards her bedroom and slammed her door. The detective took a seat on the couch and stared at the closed door, trying to figure out what in the hell was going on with her friend.


Chapter 16

An hour later, the two women were joined by Erin, and the threesome headed down to the bar while Maggie stayed behind to brief Brianna. Jane and Susan, who'd been in contact with the agents holding the drug dealing antiquities dealer, had arrived shortly after Marley and Karen had returned to their suite, and the two agents had quickly filled in their superior on all the details as well as the holdings of the Miami dealer. Now, the sting operation could move forward.

"What are Maggie's plans?" Karen asked, sipping her margarita at a corner table in the nearly empty bar. It was still early in the day, and most of the guests were either at the beach, or out sightseeing, so the women took advantage of the quiet time to discuss the case.

Out of habit, Erin glanced around to be certain she wouldn't be overheard before replying, "Well, assuming Brianna can interest Brown into meeting her in the hotel, the plan is to record the meeting detailing the transaction, and then figure out the best way to handle the exchange. Maggie wants to be sure we nail him dead to rights."

"I have no doubt Brianna will be able to talk him into her hotel suite," Karen muttered, causing the agent to chuckle and Marley to frown.

"Yes, she certainly does have a way with people," Erin concurred as the detective looked down at her napkin, not offering her insight on the young agent. The redhead was afraid that whatever she said would be misconstrued by the marshal, especially considering the fact that Karen had barely spoken a word to her ever since Brianna had flirted shamelessly with her in the corridor.

"So...Marley?" Erin said, waiting for the detective to look up before continuing. Right on cue, the redheaded woman's head snapped up, blue eyes pleading with the agent not to make some kind of teasing remark. Smiling resassuredly, Erin asked, "Do you know of a warehouse that would be perfect for trapping Brown? We need to cut off as many potential means of escape as possible."

Pleased with the change in subject, Marley began to name several warehouse off the top of her head that fit the requested criteria. She even outlined the reasons for her choices and proceeded to expound upon the pros and cons of each one.

Winding down, she concluded, "Really, any of those five would be suitable; however, we need to avoid the warehouses off Starboard Street. There are so many escape routes, it's scary."

The mention of Starboard Street immediately brought back unpleasant memories for Karen. Daniel Keller had had no problem eluding her in the big warehouse. She should've called for backup but, no, she just had to make the arrest herself and, now, more women had died because of her zeal to make the collar solo. Motioning the bartender over, the marshal ordered another drink.

Oblivious to her friend's state of mind, Marley continued to outline the problems with the aforementioned warehouses. When the detective finally began to point out the different reasons the other warehouses were better suited for the operation, Karen had downed her drink and ordered a third, no longer paying any attention to the conversation as she was lost in her memories.

"Maggie's been worried about the location of the sting. She'll be glad to hear that we have an expert on hand to consult when a decision needs to be made," Erin said with a grin, raising her glass in salute to the detective.

Smiling, Marley lifted her glass to return the gesture, and both women turned to their tablemate to complete the toast, only to find the marshal didn't have any liquid in her current glass or her other two empty glasses either for that matter.

"Um, Karen?" The redhead questioned and waited for the brunette to acknowledge being spoken to before continuing. Finally, a pair of dark, glassy, slightly unfocused eyes struggled to focus on the clear, blue ones of the detective.

"You barely ate anything at lunch. Have you had anything to eat since then?" Marley asked gently, concern clearly etched in her tone of voice.

It took all her efforts to concentrate on the spoken words, and the marshal had to close her eyes; her reasons twofold, one to organize her thoughts and two to keep the room from spinning like a top.

Seeing the difficulty Karen was having, Erin took the liberty of answering for her. "Unless she ate something in the suite before we had our swim, she hasn't had a thing, but I don't think even food will help her now. We'd better get her back to the room."

The agent motioned for the check, and she quickly signed the voucher charging the drinks to her room. Together, she and Marley helped a very compliant Karen from her stool, and the marshal never uttered a word of protest as she allowed the two women to assist her to the elevator.

Once the doors shut behind them, the movement of the car had Karen leaning heavily against Marley. The detective placed her arm around the tipsy marshal and held the brunette closely to her. Erin watched the redhead's protectiveness of the smaller woman and smiled.

Arriving at the suite, the agent asked, "Do you need help getting her inside?"

Shaking her head, Marley opened the door and replied, "No, I think I can manage, but thanks for the offer.

Erin nodded her head and waited until the detective had moved into the suite before she reached out and closed the door behind the other two women. Grinning, she made her way back to her own suite.

Marley walked directly towards the marshal's room, hoping to get Karen into bed before she passed out. Helping the brunette sit on the edge of the bed, the detective quickly removed the marshal's shoes and lifted her legs so that she could slide under the covers.

"Karen, try to stay awake for a few more minutes. I'll be right back."

The marshal blinked several times, keeping her eyes focused on the ceiling, trying desperately to follow the detective's directive. A few minutes later, she was rewarded for her efforts when the redhead returned.

"Here, sit up for just a second and take these Tylenol. It'll help with your headache."

Karen reached for the pills and quickly downed them with a swallow of water, informing the detective, "I don't have a headache."

Chuckling, Marley replied, "Oh, but you will." One-handed, she pulled the covers up over the marshal and turned to place the glass on the nightstand.

"I really like you, Marley," a quiet voice offered, but before the detective could turn around, Karen had already closed her eyes.

Marley stood over Karen, as if to ward off any monsters, and quietly watched the woman that had come to mean so much to her. She watched as Karen's breathing evened out, and then, noticing that five minutes had passed in such peace, she smiled.

Leaning down, the redhead placed a soft kiss on the brunette's brow and, turning, she headed towards the door. With one last glance at the sleeping marshal, she surprised herself as she whispered, "I love you, Karen," before quietly closing the door behind her.

At the sound of the striker hitting the door plate, a pair of dark eyes slowly opened and looked towards the closed door.


Chapter 17

At midnight, Marley heard the sound of water running in the marshal's bathroom, and she had to force herself to remain seated on the couch in the sitting area. She'd not been able to sleep and had settled in front of the television, finding the Court TV channel and watching as various cases unfolded. It had been just the sort of diversion she needed to keep her mind off the woman sleeping in the next room.

The door to the master bedroom opened silently, and Karen peeped out through small slits. Her eyes weren't quite cooperating and had only allowed the brunette a minimum amount of vision which was just fine with the marshal especially since a small marching band was currently residing in her head and, specifically, behind her eyes.

Slowly making her way into the darkened room, Karen immediately zoomed in on the silhouette of the detective sitting on the couch. The television was playing low, and the redhead was engrossed in some program. The marshal took the rare opportunity to watch an unguarded Marley as the detective's last words filtered into her head.

Despite the intense headache, Karen was very much aware of what Marley had said and, even though she'd suspected how the detective felt towards her, hearing the actual words had been a shock. Moving further into the room, the marshal stepped into the redhead's peripheral vision.

"Did you get the number of the truck that hit me?" Karen asked, sitting gingerly on the opposite end of the couch as the detective.

"No, sorry; I'm afraid I wasn't able to stop a certain someone from downing three fishbowl sized glasses of verryyy strong margaritas in a verrryy short time. I should've been more vigilant," Marley offered in apology, the ghost of a grin creasing the corners of her mouth.

The marshal's head flopped against the back of the couch, and she groaned pitifully. "Ugh. Well, you can make it up to me by putting me out of my misery. Where's your gun?"

Chuckling, Marley replied, "How about we try some more pain medication first?"

At Karen's nod, the detective gracefully rose and headed towards her bedroom to retrieve more Tylenol. The marshal watched the redhead's progress and smiled. Marley truly was an attractive woman. Now, if she could just figure out how to proceed. She knew she wanted to go slowly, but she also knew she wanted to move forward.

A soft knock pulled the brunette from her inner musings, and she started at the unwelcome intrusion. Standing, she moved towards the door, wondering who in the world would be calling at this hour. The marshal peered through the peephole and quickly turned the deadbolt, opening the door to a smiling Brianna.

"What are you doing here?" Karen asked in a caustic tone.

Oblivious to the marshal's mood, the young blonde replied, "I was just wondering if Marley would like to come out and play?"

Stepping out of the suite and partially closing the door behind her, Karen answered, "Brianna, it's after midnight. Marley's sound asleep, and you should be, too."

"What about you? Shouldn't you be sleeping, too?" Then, grinning from ear to ear, she added, "Hey, why don't you let me in? I can bunk with Marley and then, maybe, I can get some sleep. Well, maybe after a little activity between the sheets, if you get my drift."

"Oh, I get your drift just fine, but I can promise you that Marley has no interest in sleeping with you, and I can also assure you that she's perfectly content with her current bedmate. Now, if you'll excuse me, I was on my way to join her," Karen countered, turning and stepping back into the suite.

"Little pissant, who does she think she is?" the marshal muttered, closing the door behind her and making her way unsteadily back to the couch. Her sudden shot of adrenaline seemed to be wearing off rather quickly.

Marley rounded the corner just as Karen shut the door; frowning, she asked, "Was someone at the door?"

"Yes, but it wasn't anyone we know. Some woman had the wrong room," the marshal lied smoothly as she slid onto the couch, grateful that she'd made it back to steady ground in one piece.

Handing the brunette another set of pills and a glass of water, Marley teased, "Well, maybe she found the margaritas simply irresistible, kind of like a certain marshal I know."

Karen reached for the offerings and groaned, "Please, don't remind me. I swear, the next time I get upset, I'll reach for chocolate instead."

The detective chuckled and retook her seat on the couch as she watched the marshal toss the pills in her mouth and quickly chase them down with the water. Leaning back, she replied, "I've always been partial to ice cream as comfort food. Alcohol is great at the time, but it only makes it worse when it wears off. The memory of, let's say, a giant chocolate sundae always makes me smile."

"I'll remember your sage advice next time, I can promise you that," Karen said, placing the empty glass on the nearby table. Leaning her head on the arm of the couch, she slumped down and closed her eyes.

Focusing on something the marshal had said, Marley watched the brunette get comfortable before asking, "Hey, I never did ask. What got you so upset earlier?"

Karen grimaced, but gamely replied, "Those damn warehouses on Starboard Street. That's where Keller gave me the slip five years ago. I had no idea that there were boats docked behind the building. I just assumed I had him. I was so excited; I never thought about possible escape routes, I only focused on nabbing the asshole. I have to wonder if I'd known he was responsible for more than just drug trafficking, would I have been more cautious."

Hesitating briefly, she answered her own question, "Probably not. I was too damn cocky."

Marley reflexively reached out to offer comfort, rubbing the marshal's shoulder gently. Feeling pleasure as she felt Karen relax she murmured carefully, "We all make mistakes in the heat of the moment. I'm sure I'd have done the same thing. It's difficult to wait for reinforcements when I see the collar right in front of me. You need to let it go, Karen. Hindsight decisions will slowly eat you alive."

The marshal opened her eyes and turned towards the detective just as a tear slowly slid down the brunette's smooth cheek. Sighing, Karen asked sadly, "Have any of your poor decisions resulted in deaths that could have been avoided had you done the right thing?"

Not saying a word, Marley scooted next to Karen and placed her arm around the upset woman. As the marshal's tears began to flow more freely, the detective pulled her closer, offering understanding in low comforting tones.


Chapter 18

The next morning found the two women asleep on the couch, wrapped in each other's arms. Karen was the first to wake and was surprised to find herself safely ensconced in the detective's arms; however, what truly surprised the marshal was that she didn't feel uncomfortable; instead, the position felt natural and even loving. Smiling, she closed her eyes and snuggled back into the warmth of the redhead's embrace.

Later, when Marley awakened, she could hardly believe that she held the brunette in her arms. This was the exact position the detective had dreamt of so many times, and she was practically beaming to see the vision come true. Now, her only hope was that Karen didn't freak out when she woke and realized where she was.

Marley didn't have long to wait as the marshal began to rouse, and she watched silently as Karen slowly opened her eyes. She sighed in relief when the brunette offered her a sweet smile and, pleased that Karen wasn't bolting, the redhead gently ran her hand up and down the marshal's spine, waiting for Karen to acknowledge their current position.

"Morning," the marshal offered simply, lying back in the detective's arms.

Smiling, Marley returned the sentiment. "Hey, you look like you're feeling better in the light of the day."

"Yep. With two rounds of pain medicine and a caring friend, I think I'm going to live; although, I truly wasn't sure when I first woke during the night."

The detective chuckled at the sincerity in the brunette's voice and, glancing at her watch, she noted the morning was quickly passing by. "How would you feel about a light brunch? It seems we're slept through the breakfast hour."

"I think I could manage to eat something but, first, I'd like to talk to you about something, if you don't mind?" Karen replied, her voice turning more serious.

"Sure, I'm all ears," Marley answered matter-of-factly, her tone belying her nervousness.

"Okay, but promise me you'll let me finish before you say anything," requested Karen. At the detective's nod, she continued, "Marley, I've been very confused lately, and I've done quite a bit of thinking, possibly too much, in fact. I'd just about driven myself insane with worry and, finally, I got up enough courage to talk to Erin. She's really helped me to see things from a completely different perspective, and I'm no longer afraid."

Marley opened her mouth to ask Karen what exactly she was referring to, but the brunette raised an eyebrow stopping the redhead from interrupting. Smiling, the detective simply gestured for the marshal to continue.

"I've decided to quit worrying about what's going on in my head and just accept that I'm attracted to you. I know at one time you were interested in pursuing more than just a friendly relationship with me and, if you still feel the same, I'd like to give it a go," Karen told the stunned detective. She failed to mention that her decision was much easier to make since she'd overheard Marley's declaration the night before.

The redhead could hardly believe what she was hearing, and she briefly wondered if perhaps she was still sleeping and Karen's words were part of a wonderful dream she was experiencing, but Marley was well aware of the additional weight pressed against her, and she practically shouted for joy at the prospect of a possible relationship with the marshal.

Instead, the detective asked, "Are you sure, Karen? Because you need to know I'm not some experiment for you to try; I genuinely care for you and want to make this work. I'm in this for the long haul."

The marshal looked into concerned blue eyes and replied seriously, "I'm positive, and I want you to know that I care for you, too. The only thing I ask is that we take it slow and that you have patience with me."

"We can go as slow as you want, Karen," Marley answered with a smile, resisting the urge to kiss the sweet lips that were so very close.

Grinning, the marshal didn't refrain from her temptation and she leaned down and kissed the offered lips. Forcing herself to pull away quickly, Karen rolled away from the allure of deepening the kiss and, once again, leaving a totally stunned detective lying alone on the couch, the brunette quickly stood.

"I think I'll take a quick shower before we decide what we're having for brunch. It's going to be our first date, you know," Karen informed Marley, turning and heading towards her bedroom as if kissing the redhead was an everyday occurrence.

Marley sat on the couch frozen in place, watching Karen exit the room. Slowly moving her hands to her tingling lips, she smiled as she touched the location of the kiss, still not quite believing that it was real.

Several minutes later, the marshal jumped from the couch, still wearing a goofy grin as she raced to her own bathroom.

The brunch date had to be postponed as Erin had called to ask the two women to join them for a brief meeting. Brianna had already managed to set up a meeting with Brown, and Maggie had wanted to meet with everyone to be sure all bases were covered.

Sitting around the table in the agents' suite, Maggie outlined the logistics of the meeting and talked of finding a warehouse for the exchange. The meeting with Brown was scheduled for the end of the week, and the lead agent wanted to be sure the warehouse was secured just in case Brown insisted on an immediate exchange of goods.

"Jane, I want you and Susan to set up Brianna's hotel room. I want as many camera angles as possible, and I want to be able to hear everything. I want to be able to hear him breathe," Maggie ordered, watching as both women nodded in understanding.

"Okay; Marley, I'd like for you to show Erin and me the best locations for the exchange. I don't want this asshole to be able to get away," the tall agent continued, standing and motioning for Jane and Susan to get started on their assignment.

Smiling sweetly at Marley, Brianna said, "Maggie, I'd like to go with you guys to the warehouse."

"Me, too," Karen chimed in, stepping in between the detective and the flirtatious agent.

Maggie just stared at the threesome and shook her head as she replied, "Well, okay then, let's go."

Karen immediately grabbed Marley's hand and pulled her from the room as Brianna raced to catch up with the fast moving couple. Erin and Maggie sighed and followed at a more sedate pace.


Chapter 19

In the garage of the hotel, Karen insisted they take two cars, and she immediately walked over and climbed into Marley's convertible. Shrugging, the detective smiled and followed the marshal's lead; not wanting to be left behind by the redhead, Brianna also started for the car, but she was pulled up short by her superior's no nonsense tone.

"Brianna, I'd like for you to ride with Erin and me. We have details to discuss, and I don't want to waste a moment."

The petite blonde visibly pouted as she watched the detective climb into her car before turning and following Maggie to her crown Victoria. From the passenger's seat, Erin watched in the side view mirror as Marley pulled from her space; both she and Karen were wearing matching ball caps and Karen was holding onto the dashboard for dear life. Chuckling, she waited for Maggie to put the car in gear.

Two hours later, a warehouse was finally chosen, and, since Karen already had ties to the city, the agent asked if the marshal's office would be able to help in the procurement of the facility for the FBI. The brunette didn't seem to think it would be a problem, but she asked if it would be okay to involve Amos in the operation as her superior had worked with the warehouse district on more than one occasion. Maggie indicated she didn't care how the paperwork was processed as long as the warehouse would be available by the end of the week.

"I'll need to go by the office and talk to Amos personally," Karen explained, watching Brianna out of the corner of her eye. She'd never seen someone so focused on another in her entire life. Marley was doing her level best to avoid the agent, but Karen wondered if she'd have to lay one on the detective before the blonde would finally get the message.

"That sounds great and, if you don't mind, would you also ask if he could spare a few men for the undercover operation? My superior will send reinforcements, but I'd really like to have some people who are familiar with the area," Maggie said, hoping the marshal would be able to pull some strings.

Marley stepped next to Karen and asked, "Will you need any assistance from the police department? I'm sure the captain could spare a few units."

Looking back at the area surrounding the warehouse, Maggie replied, "Perhaps; I'll have Susan check it out. She's the expert in that particular part of the operation."

When Brianna and Erin moved to join the pair, Karen quickly suggested, "Well, we'd better get going, Marley. I want to be sure to catch Amos before he leaves for the day."

Turning to leave, the two promised to meet back at the hotel suite at eight o'clock and, walking away, the pair left a pouting Brianna behind. Noticing the entire exchange, Erin made a mental note to have her lover talk to the young agent and set her straight, so to speak. Karen and Marley just might be in the process of starting a relationship, and they certainly didn't need a third wheel causing problems.

The two women made good time to the marshal's building and headed directly to Amos' office with Marley constantly on the lookout for Phil. Never once on the drive over did she even think about running into the marshal, her only thoughts were that she wanted to be with Karen. Luckily, they made it to Amos' office without incident.

Karen briefly outlined Maggie's plan to her superior, stressing the need for his help. She also briefed Amos on the different strangling cases and how the FBI was going to try to tie the murders to Keller and, once he'd heard the new information, Amos had no hesitation in offering any and all help he could to nail the bastard. Karen promised to put him in touch with Maggie as soon as possible.

On the ground floor, the pair walked towards the revolving door when a voice called out from nearby. "Well, well; if it isn't Marley, the dyke. You really should pick your company better, Karen."

The detective shook her head at Phil's remark and took another step towards the door; she certainly didn't need this right now, and neither did Karen. Besides, she'd heard worse taunting from her own brother and had taken a 'sticks and stones' attitude long ago. Of course, that only applied to when she was being called names as Phil's face had personally witnessed the other day.

With her hand on the glass of the door, Marley glanced back at the marshal, only to find Karen standing toe to toe with the man. "Shit," she muttered as she turned back to hopefully calm the situation before it got out of hand.

"Phil, I've known you for quite awhile now and, while you can be downright catty at times, you've never spouted such hatred towards someone else before," Karen addressed her colleague, obvious disappointment showing on her face.

The marshal immediately turned red in the face, and he replied, "I've never been turned down for another woman before either. It's just not natural, Karen. In fact, it's sickening. You need to find another friend before she tries to convert you."

"Convert me? You mean like some sort of religion? Phil, you're the one who's sick."

"No, I'm not. It's people like you who....oh my God. You're with her, aren't you?"

Karen quickly glanced around the lobby, noting the different colleagues eavesdropping on their conversation, and she was pleasantly surprised to see their obvious disappointment in Phil's comments.

With a feeling of great pride in her co-workers and herself, she answered, "Yes, I am. Get over it, Phil."

A quiet spattering of clapping followed the brunette's reply, and the male marshal looked around in disgust. Turning his gaze toward Karen and Marley, he spouted, "Great. Now, I have to work with a muff-diver," and shaking his head, he moved towards the door and pushed on the heavy glass.

Striding quickly towards the emergency panel on the wall, Karen flipped a switch, halting the revolving motion of the doors and, since Phil was still moving forward, he smacked his nose against the now stationary glass.

As was becoming her habit, Karen took Marley's hand and led her towards a side door, and the pair exited the building amid a thunderous applause from the marshal's colleagues. Neither woman turned around to see Phil holding his nose with one hand and beating on the glass which held him captive with his other.

Deciding their hunger overrode their desire to have their first date in some fancy restaurant, the couple stopped at a deli near the hotel, and Karen quickly secured a corner booth while Marley placed their orders. Soon, both women were digging into their food like there was no tomorrow.

Swallowing a bite of her sandwich, Karen offered, "I didn't realize how hungry I was until you suggested we take time to eat. Those margaritas sure weren't very filling."

Chuckling, Marley replied, "No, but I'm pretty sure that's not their purpose in life. Besides, you haven't eaten anything all day, and you barely ate anything yesterday. I'm surprised you haven't passed out."

"Adrenaline," the marshal said. With a sigh, she added, "What with Brianna and Phil, I never thought about being hungry."

The detective smiled at the thought of jealousy being the source of Karen's adrenaline, but she wisely kept that revelation to herself. She was just going to quietly enjoy the new dimension to their relationship.

Returning to the hotel, the pair headed for Maggie's suite to inform her of Amos' offer to make the US Marshal's office available to the agent for anything she needed. Erin opened the door and greeted them, and Karen was relieved to find only Erin and Maggie present; she wasn't sure she could deal with Brianna again today.

By the next morning, the plan was firmly set. Brianna would meet with Brown on Friday evening in her room, and the meeting would be monitored by the other agents. It would be up to Brianna to lure him to the warehouse where the trap would be set, and no one doubted the young blonde's ability to work her charms on the man. If all went according to plan, Brown would be in the FBI's custody in a matter of days.


Chapter 20

Marley and Karen spent the next couple of days just getting to know each other better. They'd meet with Maggie and Erin each morning to hear the latest on the operation, but their part of the plan wouldn't take place until after Brianna met with Brown.

Amos had secured the warehouse for Maggie, and Jane and Susan had gone over the building with a fine tooth comb, informing their superior of everything needed to ensure a successful arrest. Maggie had requested several marshals as well as the assistance Marley had offered from the Miami PD. The FBI office had also sent reinforcements and, now, everyone was left waiting for Friday.

Every morning, Karen and Marley had risen and headed for either the pool or the racquetball courts. They'd tried the weight room, but the marshal had complained of hating to lift weights, and the detective had smiled and suggested a swim, never knowing that the real reason Karen didn't want to visit the area was because the brunette almost dropped a weight on her foot when she saw Marley working out on the leg machine. The redhead's short shorts left nothing to the imagination and, seeing those long legs pump the heavy weights up and down, had Karen literally short of breath. Of course, the vision of Marley in a bathing suit didn't exactly calm the marshal's libido either.

After their daily workout, the pair would take a quick shower and stroll down to the lobby for breakfast. Sometimes, they'd even venture outdoors and walk to one of the nearby restaurants. Marley was pleased when Karen always reached for her hand as they exited the building. They'd only shared a few sweet kisses, but the marshal seemed to be happy with the way the relationship was progressing and so, in turn, the detective was overjoyed.

Everything was going wonderfully for the couple until the afternoon of the highly anticipated meeting that would take place during the evening hours. Marley had been called into the precinct by her captain, and Karen had decided to stay behind. The pair had planned to meet in the lobby's bar, and the detective had promised to call when she left the department.

Remembering the look on Marley's face when she'd kissed her lightly on the lips in the lobby, Karen smiled and opened the door to their suite; walking into the den area, she frowned when she noted the blinking light on the phone, indicating a message had been left.

The marshal lifted the receiver and punched in the requested series of numbers to retrieve the message. Anger immediately consumed the brunette when she heard Brianna's voice in her ear.

"Hey, Marley. Maggie's been keeping me busy, but I'm free tonight after the meeting so I thought maybe you could come down to my room. We could have a few drinks and talk or whatever. Call me."

Slamming the phone down, Karen grabbed her purse and headed towards the door. The gloves were off now; she planned to give Brianna a very large piece of her mind.

The marshal rehearsed her lines on the ride down to the next floor, hoping she wouldn't have to resort to shouting or cursing, or worse, pulling her gun out of her purse. The elevator doors suddenly opened on her last thought, and she quickly strode down the corridor to the room at the end of the hall.

Just as she raised her hand to pound on the door, Karen looked down to note the door was slightly ajar and, as she put her hand on the knob to push the door inwards, she heard the unmistakable sound of someone crying, a decidedly female someone. Not particularly anxious to have to console Brianna, the marshal paused outside the room, trying to decide whether she should go inside or turn around and head back to her room. A second voice had her reaching inside her purse and pulling her gun free.

"Quit whimpering, damn it; you sound like a puppy," a man's voice ordered, and he suddenly began to laugh manically. "Well, I guess that just proves you're a bitch after all."

With her gun leading the way, Karen slid quietly into the room, following the sound of the voice. She peered into the bedroom to find a shirtless male with his back to her and no sign of Brianna. At least, there was no visible sign, but the crying was definitely coming from in front of the man. The marshal tightened the grip on her gun and held it steady, pointing it directly at the blue eye of a large dragon tattoo.

"Put your hands up and turn around slowly, Keller," the marshal ordered, her gun trained on the man's back.

The tall man froze before he finally turned around, pulling a naked Brianna in front of him. He was holding the end of a scarlet red tie in one hand, and a gun in the other. The tie was looped tightly around the blonde agent's neck, and the gun was pressed against her temple. Keller tightened his hold on the tie cutting off her flow of oxygen; Brianna choked and clawed at the silk.

"How did you know it was me, Marshal?" Keller asked in shock, and Karen wasn't sure if he was surprised at seeing her after all these years or because she knew his name.

Deciding to ignore the question, Karen stated, "Drop the gun and let her go. You're not getting away this time, Daniel."

"I can't let her go. Don't you understand? She's going to leave me; she's going to take my baby and leave me," Keller replied, his entire demeanor changing as he tried to explain his reasons to the marshal.

"Baby?" Karen asked, confused as to what the deranged man was talking about.

"Yes, she's pregnant, you see. I can't let her leave and take him with her. If I can't have him, then neither can she."

"Terry was pregnant? You killed her because she was pregnant?" Karen questioned, suddenly remembering the name of the first victim, the waitress from California.

Keller became agitated at the line of questioning and tightened his hold on the tie, completely shutting off all air from Brianna's windpipe. "No, you stupid bitch; I killed her because she was going to take him from me."

"Let her go, Keller. She's not Terry. You killed Terry years ago, remember?"

As he released his grip slightly, the move allowed Brianna to take a breath of much needed air; however, Keller retaliated by pushing the gun hard enough to leave an impression on the agent's temple as he replied, "No, you're wrong. She's not dead. She never dies; she just keeps coming back, again and again."

The petite, green-eyed agent looked at Karen with fear in her eyes, and the marshal finally made the connection. Brianna fit the profile perfectly; she looked just like the other victims. How had they missed that?

Filing the thought away, the marshal trained her gun on the man's chest and said, "I'm not going to tell you again. Drop the gun, Keller. She's not Terry. Look at her, she's not Terry."

Keller once again tightened his hold on the tie but, this time, he lowered his weapon to get a better look at his captive. The green eyes looking back at him were identical to those of his dead lover's. Furious with the marshal's deception, he raised his gun towards Karen, and the brunette didn't hesitate as she emptied her gun into the man's chest and neck.

The impact of the bullets sent Keller backwards, landing him against the near wall where he fell forward onto the floor six feet away. He'd lost his grip on both the tie and the gun the moment the second bullet hit his body, but the marshal had kept firing, her training kicking in despite her belief that the extra bullets weren't necessary to ensure he was no longer a threat. Immediately moving forwards, Karen pulled Brianna behind her while she kept her empty gun pointed at the downed man.

Walking over to the body, Karen looked down to note the bullet riddled torso, the dragon's eye no longer blue but, instead, a gaping hole took its place, giving a macabre appearance to the tattoo.

It was finally over, Keller was dead.



Two hours later, Karen had completed her report and given it to Maggie. Brianna had been checked into a local hospital and was staying overnight, just as a precaution. She'd suffered numerous cuts and bruises, and she was put on oxygen to ensure that her breathing was back to normal. The agent had been uncharacteristically quiet during the entire ordeal, but she'd still managed to hit on Marley from her hospital bed. This time, however, Karen had smiled at the poor attempt by the blonde, especially when another young agent practically ran in the room to check on her colleague with more than just a curious interest evident in her expression.

"I think Brianna has an admirer of her own," Karen teased as she and Marley exited the hospital on their way to the parking garage.

"I sure hope so. That girl really needs someone to focus on who will return her interest. Did you see her winking at me? I mean, really, she had an oxygen mask on, and she still managed to flirt with me." Marley squeezed Karen's hand as a second reassurance that the detective only had eyes for the marshal.

Reaching the car, Karen said, "You do realize her interest in you is what kept her alive. If she hadn't made that phone call, we would've never known about Keller's surprise visit until it was too late."

Marley smiled as the pair climbed into her convertible, replying, "I hate to point out the obvious, Karen; but, it was your jealousy that saved her life."

Peeling out of the parking space, Karen gunned the engine and answered, "Yeah, that's what Erin and Maggie said, too. Now, shut up and fasten your seat belt. Let's get out on the highway and see how fast this baby will go."

The detective grinned and complied with her girlfriend's wishes. The idea of putting the marshal behind the wheel had been a stroke of genius. Now, Marley wondered if allowing Karen to sit in the driver's seat of other parts of their relationship would be just as effective. Smiling, the redhead leaned against the seat and planned.

The End

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