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 4

Nora blew out a slow breath and gazed at her reflection in the mirror. Her hands were braced on either side of a sink in the precinct women's locker room as she studied the confused eyes looking back at her. She'd changed out of her work clothes and into something more comfortable, acknowledging that the blue shirt and jeans that she'd kept in her locker for social occasions after work made her look pretty damn good. She could have thrown on a t-shirt, but she'd wanted to look nice.

She'd wanted to look nice for Nikki.

Nora closed her eyes and dropped her head, processing the emotions that tumbled through her. She wanted this night, wanted to spend the evening with her partner, especially after this crazy damn day. After talking David Wentworth off the ledge of his room, she and Nikki had spent the remainder of the day going through the mess he'd left behind, finding nothing but evidence of a once charming young man turned to ruin by his vices.

She needed this night with Nikki. It didn't matter if they shared drinks, dinner, or just casual conversation; Nora craved Nikki's nearness like a drug. Was her partner becoming a vice of Nora's own? Or was Nikki just the thing Nora needed to save herself from her own darker demons?

Her chin lifted and her eyes fluttered open to look at her reflection once more. The truth stared back at her, reflected in the depths of her own eyes. "You are so screwed," she muttered at herself.

Despite what she'd been telling herself ever since she'd kissed Nikki in the garden, Nora was beginning to accept the inevitable. All her stern demands to stop thinking about her partner as anything but her partner were falling on deaf ears. Her libido didn't want to listen, and neither, it seemed, did her heart.

So here she was, in the women's locker room at the precinct, coming to grips with the feelings she wished she wasn't having and doing her damndest not to have a panic attack over them. "Pathetic," she scolded her mirror image.

Pushing back from the sink, Nora straightened her shirt and took one last look at herself. Denying whatever was brewing between her and Nikki was only getting in the way of them being partners, and they made too damn good of a team to just walk away from it all.

Nora didn't want to walk away, she realized… from anything.

So if she wasn't going to run screaming from what was happening between her and Nikki, and she couldn't just pretend that the heat between them didn't exist, that only left her with one option.

Nora raked her hands through her hair and admitted to the truth that scared her to death. If she couldn't walk away, then the only path to go was forward. Her body certainly seemed keen on the idea as it warmed with the mere thought of Nikki's brown eyes, only to feel nearly feverish when she recalled their kiss in the garden.

Was it possible that she could make this thing with Nikki… work?

"I guess I'm going to find out," she almost whispered as she made her decision. Her world stabilized with the knowledge, and a tiny fraction of a smile appeared before she headed for the door.

The squad room was virtually empty. Nikki leaned against her desk and crossed her ankles, her brown eyes taking in the vacant desks before drifting up to the clock on the far wall. It was nearly eight, and she was so hungry she felt like her stomach was trying to digest itself as a survival mechanism.

Biting her lip, the tall detective glanced toward the hall that led to the locker rooms. Nora had disappeared into the women's locker room ten minutes ago and left Nikki to wonder if she should go in after her or just leave. Maybe Nora had come to her senses and decided to just hide, hoping that Nikki would just forget the whole notion of them grabbing a bite and a drink together.

"What the hell was I thinking?" Nikki muttered with disgust at herself. Nora didn't want a relationship with her. The woman just wanted to be friends… partners. It was safer for all involved if Nikki went along with that, no matter how ridiculously hard it was proving to be. Inviting Nora out for drinks had been impulsive and foolish, but damn it all if she wasn't ready to say goodnight to her yet. Nikki wanted just a few more hours of looking into those green eyes… of listening to Nora's smoky voice…

The notion to bolt flittered across Nikki's mind. The day had been hard. Aside from watching a man nearly and literally throw his life away, they'd hit dead end after dead end on this case. She rolled her shoulders and felt them grind unhappily. A quick glance at her watch showed the time was thirty seconds past when she'd checked it last.

"You calling it a night?"

Nikki started at Dan's voice behind her. She stood and pivoted. "Captain. I didn't see you in your office."

"Wasn't in my office," Dan replied with a slight smile. "Just got back from watching an interrogation. How's the case coming? I heard about David Wentworth. Hell of a day you two are having. Are all your cases gonna be like this?"

"Shut your mouth," Nikki fired back playfully. She liked her new boss. She also knew she'd like him more if he didn't seem interested in Nora.

"Can I buy you a drink?" Dan asked, his voice sounding mostly casual but holding a hint of something else Nikki had enough experience to identify.

The detective smiled. "Already have plans but thanks."

"Maybe another time then," Dan answered easily. "Night, Nikki. You two try to stay out of trouble tomorrow."

"We weren't trying to find it today," she called after him as Dan walked away with a tiny wave over his shoulder.

Sighing, Nikki sat back down on the corner of her desk, her gaze instinctively moving to the hallway as she willed the closed door to open.

The thought barely had time to form when the door to the women's locker room opened and Nora strode out. Nikki's partner had changed into a light blue, sleeveless shirt and jeans. Nikki felt her mouth go dry at the alluring site of Nora's tan skin and muscles and really wished they were at the bar already because she suddenly felt the need for a stiff drink. She cleared her throat. "Ready?" Her voice cracked anyway.

Nora slung a duffle bag under her desk and picked up her purse. As Nikki watched, she saw Nora take a slow, deep breath before she straightened. "Yeah," Nora said, her voice soft. "Sorry I made you wait. Had a little blood on me."

"No problem," Nikki replied slowly, sensing something from her partner but unsure what it was. "Don't know about you, but I'm starving."

The blonde detective smiled hesitantly. "How about Orange for a Tom Collins and some awesome onion rings?"

"Absolutely." Nikki took a breath of her own and bravely laced her arm through Nora's, trying to keep the mood playful. Her breath caught when her partner looked at her and gave her a slow smile. "Come on then. I'm buying." She gave Nora a tug, and Nora chuckled at her antics, but Nikki noticed her partner wasn't moving away. If anything, the other detective seemed to move closer.

Butterflies erupted in the pit of Nikki's stomach along with something darker and sweeter. Nikki licked her lips as a thread of danger wove through her. Whatever this night held for them, Nikki suspected it was going to be more than just drinks between partners.

"Huh," Nora murmured as they entered the club. A crowd was swaying on the dance floor to what she decided was an interesting mix of blues and techno. The beats were seductive and heavy, seeming to blanket the room in music. She'd never heard anything like it.

Imogene saw them from her position at the bar and waved enthusiastically. She pointed up at the loft, and Nora nodded and waved back, taking Nikki's hand and threading them through the moving bodies toward the stairs.

It was somewhat quieter as they sat down, so neither woman needed to shout much to be heard. Imogene arrived a few moments later and grinned.

"Well look who you be bringing back," the owner said to Nora with a nudge to the detective's shoulder. "Welcome back, Miss Nikki."

Nikki smiled. "Glad to be here. I'm craving your onion rings and a Tom Collins."

"Then you shall have both!" Imogene declared with a theatrical flourish that made both women chuckle. "Same for you, darlin'?" she asked Nora.

"Whatever Nikki's having," Nora agreed as her eyes drank in her partner. It had been here, Nora realized, in this very seat, when she'd finally let herself realize what she'd been feeling for Nikki. It seemed fitting to be back here now on the night where she'd decided to let this thing between them go wherever the currents took them.

Nikki met Nora's gaze and smiled hesitantly. There was something in Nora's eyes she couldn't put her finger on, but the look her partner was giving her made her whole body heat.

Imogene walked away, leaving them alone to simply look at one another. Her eyebrows arched as she took the stairs, and she grabbed a hostess' arm as the young girl started to lead a couple upstairs. "The balcony is closed tonight," she informed her.

"Oh. But I thought…" the hostess spluttered.

"Sorry for the inconvenience," Imogene told the disappointed couple. She was sure one of them played for the Hornets. "Private party of sorts."

They moved away, and Imogene glanced back at the stairs with a wicked smile. "There be magic in the air tonight," she murmured with a sly smile before heading to the bar.

"You were amazing today," Nikki finally spoke once Imogene was gone.

"Amazing?" Nora drawled before offering a wicked grin. "That kid almost took me over the rail."

"I was worried you'd let him and try to break his fall."

Nora chuckled guiltily. "Like you wouldn't have been right behind us, holding onto our shirts and trying to pull us back up."

Nikki responded with one of the cute, coy grins Nora was privately so fond of. The detective felt her stomach flip in reaction. She turned a little more serious as she leaned forward and put her elbows on the table. "So what do you think? Do you think he killed both his parents?"

"He was big enough and strong enough." Nikki sighed and tunneled a hand through her dark hair. "If he was hopped up on something, he could have. We'll know more when the DNA results come back on the blood under David's nails."

"I looked into his eyes," Nora replied. "I was looking at a lost boy, not a killer. If he did it… someone had to be pulling his strings. I don't think he has the mental capacity at this point to gauge the depth behind Charles Wentworth's boat or to make his mother's death look like a suicide."

Imogene returned setting their orders down in front of them, which both women attacked hungrily. "That's hot, y'all. Be careful. You talking about the Wentworth case, yeah?" she asked.

Nikki leaned back in her chair, sucking air through her teeth to cool her now burning tongue. "You know them?"

"The daughter. The ice princess. Lot of men seem to like the cold-hearted type, apparently. She in all the time… always with a different beau."

Nikki and Nora exchanged a look before Nora mimicked Nikki's posture. "I take it you don't like her."

"All about herself, that one," Imogene agreed. "Bet she didn't bat an eyelash when she found out her parents were dead."

"You'd be right," Nikki admitted, impressed with Imogene's ability to read people.

"She got the devil in her," Imogene murmured. "That much is for sure. Don't know how much, but he's in there."

Nora blinked at that, while Nikki hiked one eyebrow expressively.

"Now enjoy your appetizer, lovely ladies. Be back soon to take your order," Imogene announced as if she hadn't just said something unsettling and creepy before breezing away.

"You don't believe in that stuff, right?" Nikki asked as Nora began to fidget with the silverware. Her partner glanced up and shrugged a half second too late. "You do! You believe in voodoo and all that crap?"

"It's not crap," Nora muttered defensively. "You don't mess with things like that. I'm a relatively good Irish Catholic girl. I stay away from that shit."

Nikki was smiling broadly. "Nora Delaney, I would never have guessed voodoo gives you the willies."

Nora pointed a finger at her. "Careful or I might just go get a doll with you likeness and place a curse on your credit cards or something."

Nikki laughed in delight at having found a new button of her partner's to push. "You wouldn't dare."

"Don't mess with me, Beaumont. I'll make sure you never see a shoe sale again."

Giggling almost hysterically, Nikki finally had to slap a hand over her mouth to get control of herself. The laughter had released some of the tightly wound tension she'd been feeling, though, and suddenly breathing seemed much easier. "You're a cold woman," she said with mock seriousness.

"Not as cold as Sarah Wentworth, apparently," Nora fired back before popping a small onion ring in her mouth. She sat up straight and reached for her drink as soon as the battered food hit her tongue. "That's not cold, though," she muttered as she tried to chew the too hot food.

Nikki forced herself not to laugh having already burned her own mouth in her haste to slake the growling in her stomach. "Um… you think Sarah could have been her brother's puppet master?"

Nora polished off a third of her drink before she spoke. "To what gain? We'll have a look at the wills soon and that might tell us something, but it disturbs me to think those two kids would kill their parents for money. And why now?"

Nikki continued to snack as well, careful to blow on her food before nibbling on it. "I don't know. I just got a vibe off Sarah."

"Your gut telling you to look harder at her?"

"My gut is telling me that she definitely has a hand in this. She was playing us today and loving it. The whole thing was like a game to her. She's into control… dominating other people."

Nora's eyebrows shot skyward. "You get that from your society contacts?"

"I got that from the maid. If she were any meeker she would have been a mouse. And did you see how everything had its exact place? The maid was so careful to put everything back just so." Nikki picked up her drink and took a healthy swallow.

"I didn't notice that," Nora reluctantly admitted with a frown as she cast her thoughts back over their encounter with Sarah Wentworth. "Not sure what it tells us, but it tells us something."

They finished their appetizer just as Imogene reappeared and took their order.

"How often does Sarah come in here?" Nikki asked the club owner.

"Once, sometimes twice a week. Almost every Wednesday," Imogene answered readily. She made a sound of disapproval. "You two still talking work? Now… you lovely ladies need to table the shoptalk. You got good food, good drinks, and good company to enjoy." She winked at Nikki. "Good music, too," she continued casually. "Should it move you to enjoy it." Placing her hand on Nora's shoulder, she squeezed gently, knowingly, before leaving the two women alone.

Nora swallowed and had to clear her throat. "You think you might want to…" She waved her hand at the dance floor below, not sure if she wanted Nikki to accept or not.

Nikki licked her lips after taking another sip of her Tom Collins. Nora was acting differently toward her tonight… toward them, whatever the hell they were. She felt thrown, a little terrified, and very turned on. Had her partner decided to pursue this thing between them rather than retreat? Nikki knew she didn't do relationships worth a damn, and she really, really didn't want to fuck up this friendship she had with Nora. But for the first time in her life, Nikki knew she was falling in love with someone. She wasn't sure she could turn away from this if Nora wanted it too. "I'd like that," she confessed in an almost breathless voice.

Liquid heat chased through Nora's veins and settled low in her belly. Not trusting herself to speak, Nora simply stood and held out her hand to her partner. She saw the questions in Nikki's eyes as Nikki's soft hand slipped into Nora's own. Without a word, Nora turned and guided Nikki down the steps and into the middle of the throng of moving bodies. Her heart was hammering so hard she was seeing little slivers of silver dancing in her vision, but she ignored them as she turned once more to face Nikki.

It was then that Nikki took charge.

Stepping in against Nora's warm, solid body, Nikki slipped her arms around her partner's neck, watching Nora's eyes widen almost comically. So far Nora had been making all the moves tonight, and Nikki decided it was her turn. "This okay?" she murmured into Nora's ear, feeling the unmistakable tremor that moved through her partner's body as her breath ghosted across Nora's neck. Knowing that she could make Nora feel so much by doing so little gave Nikki a shiver of her own.

Her answer was a pair of warm hands that settled in the hollow of Nikki's back. Nora began to move them slowly, swaying them to the seductive rhythm and heavy beats that vibrated up through the floor and through their joined bodies.

Nora took in Nikki's familiar scent, pulling the other woman impossibly closer to take in more, to savor the feel of her curves. If she'd had any lingering doubts that she was attracted to Nikki Beaumont, they were melting in the heat between them. Nora's hands skimmed up Nikki's back as they moved, oblivious to some of the appreciative eyes that were watching them.

Nikki leaned back just enough to put her forehead against Nora's. Certain that her knees would buckle if she weren't holding onto her partner, Nikki let Nora lead, their bodies pressed tightly against each other. "Nora," Nikki murmured, needing to be sure if what was happening was really happening. "What are we doing?"

"Dancing," Nora teased, but the truth was in her eyes… in the gaze that held Nikki's at close range.

Feeling herself tumble over that last step from infatuation and lust into something infinitely deeper and sweeter, Nikki closed her eyes and laid her head down on Nora's shoulder. She felt her partner's hands flex against the fabric of her shirt before Nora's fingers skimmed up her back, one hand curling around the base of her neck as they moved to the music.

Three hours later, they tumbled out of Orange and into the humid night air. The partners giggled as they hurried down the sidewalk, determined to catch a trolley as thunder grumbled overhead. Nikki was in the lead, holding Nora's uninjured hand and dragging her slightly buzzed partner along.

"Did you see that last guy?" Nikki called out over her shoulder. "The one with the big 'Mama's Boy' tat on his arm? I think he nearly fell of his chair watching us dance." She giggled again, feeling lighter than she had in weeks. "We so should have…"

Nikki's voice trailed off as she felt Nora jerk on their joined hands. Suddenly, she was being hauled around, her back hitting the brick wall of a dark alley a second before Nora's heat pressed against her and a hot, hungry mouth snared her own. Just like that, Nikki's knees buckled, and she clung to Nora weakly, her lips parting to allow Nora to taste her. The kiss deepened, and both women moaned softly in time with another rumble of thunder.

Nikki tasted like chocolate and liquor as Nora braced her hands against the wall on either side of her partner's warm body. She been aching to do this for hours, and the first moment she found herself alone with Nikki, she'd seized the opportunity.

When they finally parted, both of them could barely breathe. Nora laid her head on Nikki's shoulder as she gasped for breath, waiting for the strength to return to her limbs so she could stand. Nikki's hands moved from Nora's back to frame her partner's face, forcing Nora to lean back enough so she could look in Nikki's eyes.

"Nora," Nikki breathed brokenly. "I thought…"

"I know," Nora answered. "I know what I said. I know how I've acted. I just… I can't…" Then she leaned in and found Nikki's mouth again, relieved when her partner didn't stop her. Nikki's hands threaded through Nora's hair and pulled her closer, kissing her more thoroughly than Nora had ever been kissed. By the time they parted, Nora wasn't sure of her own name. All she knew was the fire raging inside her body and the desperate need for Nikki to quench it

Lightning arced across the sky as Nikki tried to catch her breath, staring at Nora with both shock and need. "We… we need to get you someplace before the storm… your cast…" She was babbling, her comments almost incoherent as she tried to get her brain to function.

Nora gave her a suddenly shy smile. "Your place or mine?" she teased.

Part 5

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