DISCLAIMER: Nikki & Nora are the property of Nancylee Myatt and Warner Bros. Television. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is the sequel to "Trial by Fire." You don't have to read that story to follow this one, but it might help. Thanks to darandkerry for the wonderful beta and title!
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Playing with Fire
By Inspector Boxer


Part 2

A slum. A rat infested dive. A drug den. Nora would take any of them over something as pretentious as the building Marjorie Wentworth called home. At least dives, slums, and crack houses made Nora feel dirty for a reason; this place just made her feel poor and unworthy to grace the halls. Only the badge clipped to her hip made her feel like she had a right to be there. Her hard-earned brass shield gave her permission to go any damn place she pleased. She reminded herself of that and stood a little taller, refusing to let her surroundings get to her.

"You're fidgeting," Nikki commented as they rode up, side by side, in a cherry wood-paneled elevator.

"Yeah, well." Nora shrugged jerkily, cursing inwardly at herself for somehow telegraphing her unease. "Money makes me fidget."

"I don't know why," Nikki answered with the barest hint of bemusement. "I mean, you've got some in your wallet, right?"

Nora shot her partner a cross look as the elevator doors parted to reveal a long hallway. The carpet was the deepest of ocean blue and gave the two women the feeling as if it was swallowing their shoes as they walked. "Not the same."

"Sure it is," Nikki drawled. "It's not the money that makes you fidget. It's what a person does with it that makes you twitchy."

Nora considered the truth of Nikki's assessment as they headed down the hallway, passing only a smattering of doors. Wentworth's would be the one on the end, no doubt. Her steps slowing slightly, Nora regarded her partner openly. "You aren't crazy with your money."

"You've not seen me at a shoe sale at Sak's."

Nora chuckled and was rewarded with a tiny glimmer of a smile from Nikki. "You don't make me twitchy is what I meant."

Nikki's eyes glinted with mischief. "I beg to differ. It's just not my money that has that effect on you." She wondered if her statement had gone too far, or if Nora would playfully refute it. Nikki had been craving the return of their easy companionship all day. The silences between them had been long and painful, and Nikki knew her nerves were starting to fray a little around the edges from the tension.

Nora shot Nikki a look, stunned that her partner had waded into the thorny territory that seemed to surround them at every turn, yet she was oddly relieved by her partner's flirting. "I'll give you that," she confessed and took delight in Nikki's surprised double take. Brown eyes sparkled wickedly, and Nora knew she was in for it at some point. Strangely, she was happy with that knowledge.

The blonde detective got a momentary reprieve as Nikki knocked on the door to Marjorie Wentworth's suite. They both paused and waited thirty seconds before knocking again.

"Ms. Wentworth? It's Detective Nikki Beaumont with the New Orleans' Police Department. I'm here with my partner, Nora Delaney. Could we speak with you?"

Nora leaned against the doorjamb. "According to Georgia's notes, the former Mrs. Wentworth wasn't home Saturday night, and they haven't been able to reach her by phone, either."

Nikki unabashedly put her ear against the door and listened as Nora straightened and glanced around, wondering if someone was going to materialize and toss them both out on their ear for acting like nosy busybodies.

"Be a little more obvious, why don't you?" Nora muttered under her breath as she shot another paranoid glance over her shoulder.

"The clerk downstairs said he hasn't seen her go out," Nikki answered.

"So she went out with a group of people or went out on someone else's shift."

The dark haired detective shook her head. "Marjorie's been in a wheelchair since last August. She had a stroke. I think someone would have noticed her coming or going."

They looked at each other knowingly. It was almost frightening how often their minds seemed to work as one.

Nora sighed and shook her head before waving Nikki away from the door. "I'm gonna regret this. I just know I am." The blonde reared her left leg back and kicked hard, connecting with the door next to the knob and splintering it part of the way open. She hopped back. "Ow. Sonofabitch. Damn thing is like a tree trunk."

Nikki winced but made no offer to help, especially not in the shoes she was wearing; they cost considerably more than the solid wood door Nora had just ruined. "Speaking of being obvious… You know we could call down and get a key."

Shifting position, Nora slammed her shoulder into the door, feeling it give a little further. "Like that will happen. We have a reasonable suspicion of foul play." She shoved again and heard more splintering wood as the doorjamb started to give way. "If she's in there bleeding, I'm not going to wait on some tightass to come up with the key or a lawyer to let us in."

With a sigh, Nikki threw her weight against the door as well. The wood groaned before giving up, exploding inward and sending splinters flying across the thick white carpet. Both of them toppled into the foyer, just managing to right themselves before they wound up in a heap on the floor.

Nora straightened as her body made its displeasure with her well-known. "Gonna need an Advil," she mumbled as she withdrew her weapon. The detective took a deep breath, only to wince and cover her mouth and nose with her hand.

Nikki did the same. "Oh this isn't gonna be good."

They found the former Mrs. Wentworth in a much shallower body of water than her husband had turned up in.

"She was in the bathtub?"

Absently rubbing her still throbbing shoulder, Nora nodded as she watched two men from the coroner's office get on the elevator with an empty gurney. "Marjorie Wentworth has been dead at least as long as her ex-husband, maybe even longer. Charlie will tell us exact time of death."

"You bet I will, sugar," the medical examiner called out as he walked behind her and joined his men on the elevator.

Nora smiled a fraction before turning her attention back to Dan. Her former partner was in one of his nicer suits, and she vaguely wondered what he'd been pulled away from to come to the scene. "I don't think you're gonna get your wish about the media staying away. Archer's old news now. They're looking for fresh meat."

"Looks like it," Dan agreed as he watched the swarm of reporters jockeying for position outside the front door. So far the press had been held back by two haggard looking uniformed cops and some flimsy crime scene tape. He looked at Nora as she winced in obvious pain. "You trying to get yourself back on medical leave? A cast on your arm not enough?"

"I didn't expect the thing to be a foot thick," the detective answered in a cranky tone. "Apparently one of the perks of being rich is being able to afford thicker doors."

Dan squeezed her shoulder, allowing his hand to linger as his thumb rubbed across the leather of her jacket. "You just couldn't wait for the key, could you?" His voice was warm and knowing.

Nora had to mentally remind herself not to shy away from his touch. Her gaze darted around almost guiltily until it landed on Nikki, who was watching them curiously. Her partner gave Nora a hesitant, half-smile before turning her focus back on the security guard in the lobby.

"You two all right?" Dan asked unexpectedly.

The blonde detective jerked away from him, covering the motion as she adjusted her jacket and tipped her head in Nikki's direction. "I should give her a hand. And yeah, we're fine. Why?" She didn't wait for him to answer, choosing to almost jog to Nikki's side. "Find anything?" Nora asked as Nikki finished questioning the guard and turned to her.

"Nothing." Nikki's gaze slid to Dan. "Everything okay?"

"I'm getting asked that a lot today," Nora grumped. She rubbed at her shoulder some more. "We should…" The detective trailed off when Nikki put her hand on her injured arm and squeezed lightly. It felt like a live current had moved through Nora's leather jacket and chased its way through her veins.

"You really did a number on yourself, didn't you?" Nikki asked, oblivious to her partner's sudden silence. Nikki massaged Nora's arm, worried about her partner's pain until she glanced up and saw the charged look Nora was giving her. Nikki's hand went still as their gazes held. "I…" She took in a shaky breath and reluctantly let her hand drop before nervously stepping back. Clearing her throat, Nikki motioned with a wave of her hand at the elevator doors. "We should…. You know… Charlie…"

Nora nodded, missing the heat of Nikki's hand already. Despite Nikki's nonchalance about their kiss, Nora realized then and there they needed to have a very long talk. "You first."

Together, they headed for the elevators, both waving distractedly at Dan. When the doors closed and silence descended, Nora cleared her throat. "Nik…"

Nikki swallowed but said nothing, focusing intently on the numbers as the elevator rose too slowly.

"I know… we're both being… weird," Nora said hesitantly, unwilling to ignore the tension between them any longer.

The dark haired woman looked askance at her partner.

"I don't want this… whatever this is…" Nora gestured between them with a jerk of her hand. "To mess us up."

"Seems like it's doing that already," Nikki murmured, well aware of the uncomfortable silences that had been plaguing them all day.

"We need to talk," Nora told her.

The taller woman sighed and nodded reluctantly. "After the case is over. So for now… let's just… act like nothing is wrong."

"It's not wrong," Nora heard herself utter. "It's just…"

"Weird," Nikki parroted Nora's choice of words back at her as the elevator doors opened. She jumped when Nora grabbed her hand and squeezed.

"We'll fix this," Nora promised, desperate to believe her own words.

Nikki stood completely still in the elevator as Nora released her hand and exited. "I hope so," she whispered before following her partner back to the crime scene.

"You girls get all the juicy cases," Charlie announced as the two detectives joined him in the spacious bathroom. He was kneeling next to the body and doing his best not to slosh the tainted bathwater containing Marjorie Wentworth's blood and body fluids.

"I hope that's a reference to our cases being high profile and not a remark about the body," Nikki quipped.

Charlie's lips twitched under his red mustache. "Suppose I could have meant both."

"You're a sick man," Nikki replied with a trace of humor.

"But you're falling for me anyway." Charlie got to his feet. "At first blush it looks like a suicide. Wrists are slashed."

Nora would never cease to be amazed at how much blood the human body could hold, but she was getting a pretty good representation by the amount of it darkening the water in the tub. The detective crossed her arms. "You aren't buying it?" she guessed.

"Not for a second. No hesitation marks."

A usual suicide would show a few failed attempts as the person dealt with the pain before making the final, deep slashes. Nikki tilted her head, keeping a finger under her nose to ward off the worst of the smell as she studied the marks in question. "Maybe she meant business."

"We'll see. I'm putting her death around ten Saturday night unless I find something to tell me otherwise during the autopsy." Charlie hesitated as he looked at them. "I thought this was Georgia and Radek's case."

"Wish it still was," Nora muttered as she glanced away from the body and studied the even more disturbing image of a gold-plated faucet. Nikki was right. It was what some rich people did with their money that made her uncomfortable.

Charlie nodded and decided not to meddle in department politics. He was just glad he wouldn't have to deal with a pissed off Georgia. That was never pretty. "Well, I'll leave you two ladies to your fun. Me and Mrs. Wentworth need to get better acquainted."

Nikki winced at the mere thought of getting up close and personal with the victim. "Better you than me, honey." She tipped her head at the door and followed Nora outside into the master bedroom. "So we have a double homicide. Great."

Rolling her tense shoulders, Nora sighed. "Let's have a look around. See if we can find some motive for this. Why someone would want to off a divorced couple in their seventies is beyond me."

"Probably money," Nikki informed her. "We'll want to take a hard look at the kids and any relatives."

"What makes you say money?" Nora asked. "It's not the root of everything."

"It's a part of it, at least. In this world, Nora, money is always a factor."

Nora shook her head, clearly disagreeing with her partner's theory. "I'm thinking revenge. But for what, I'm not sure."

"Hopefully we'll find out who is right sooner rather than later," Nikki replied without rancor.

They both sighed and began a search of the premises. The sun would be just a sliver on the horizon by the time they finished.

"Jesus Christ."

Nikki froze at the tone of genuine fear in Nora's voice. Her head came up from the notes she'd been studying as they walked toward their desks at the precinct. Nikki half expected to see some nutcase waving a gun, but all she saw was a petite woman with silver hair and a predatory smile.

"Stephanie!" Nikki greeted Stephanie Shriver warmly, throwing her arms around the small woman and squeezing before stepping back to appraise her. "You look gorgeous as always."

"Got your daddy's gift of flattery, I see," Stephanie teased before turning her blue eyes on Nikki's partner. "Nora."

"Stephanie," Nora said weakly, having a pretty good idea why the other woman had shown up unannounced. In a moment of temporary insanity, both she and Nikki had agreed to pose for the dress designer in a photo shoot. Nora had been hoping the woman would just give up, but it was clear that Stephanie was as tenacious as she was tiny.

"I hear the cast comes off next week," Stephanie commented casually.

Nora glanced at Nikki, who was standing behind the shorter woman. Nikki shook her head adamantly; silently communicating she hadn't shared that information. "Where did you…?"

"You two aren't the only ones with sources, dear."

Nora swallowed sickly and tried not to grimace. "So… what brings you by?"

Stephanie tipped her head and gave the blonde detective a knowing look.

"You know," Nora said slowly. "You missed your calling. You would make a hell of a cop with a look like that."

The designer chuckled and laced her arm around one of Nikki's, steering both women toward their desks. "I'm flattered. I think." She watched as Nikki sat before turning her attention back on Nikki's pretty partner. "And you should be, too." Stephanie playfully poked Nora in the stomach. "I don't just ask anyone to model my creations, you know."

"I'm not a model," Nora blurted, her cheek turning slightly rosy in color.

"Neither am I," Nikki drawled with more humor than her partner was displaying.

"But you look like one," Nora fired back before she thought better of the statement. Her cheeks heated even more when Nikki smiled devilishly at her. Nora cleared her throat and reluctantly tore her gaze away from Nikki's sparkling eyes. "I'm just saying… you should get a professional to show off your… creations."

Stephanie put her palms on either side of Nora's face and playfully squeezed, making Nora's lips pout like a fish's. "But a professional wouldn't have this beautiful, angular face, dear."

Nikki started laughing and had to look away when Nora shot her a murderous look.

"And I want real people in my campaigns. You and Nikki will look stunning together. Besides," Stephanie released her hold on the detective, "you promised."

Nora raked her fingers through her hair and glanced around; grateful the precinct was mostly empty. "Fine. Fine, fine, fine. As long as it gets you off our backs. You're like a rat terrier nipping at our heels."

"Better your heels than your ass," Stephanie pointed out with a playful slap to Nora's right hip, the one that was holster free. Her humor finally wormed a small smile from Nora's lips and Stephanie winked. "Next Wednesday. Seven o'clock. I'll email you both the location once it's confirmed."

"We'll be there," Nikki promised.

"Use the handcuffs on her if you have to," Stephanie told Nikki with another poke at Nora.

Both detectives glanced at each other, their minds once again running along similar, but this time, inappropriate paths. Stephanie glanced from one to the other, sensing by their sudden blushes exactly what the two were thinking.

"Such thoughts," the designer playfully huffed before leaving the two red-faced detectives to their work and to each other.

Part 3

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