DISCLAIMER: The majority of the characters contained herein are not my intellectual property. They actually belong to a very kickass woman, Nancylee Myatt, and other entities that's annual revenue is so over my annual gross income that suing me for a very unintentional bit of copyright infringement would seem petty and sadden me greatly. I'm merely taking some very wonderful characters out for a bit of recreational fun and playing with them. I promise when I'm done they will be in no worse shape than when they started off and may in fact be better off for it. The other characters contained herein are mine.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: (as if the disclaimer wasn't enough): Well, hello again! When I left everyone with the last of the Why Don't You and I Series, I told you that I'd be coming back to the universe because well, I'm a glutton for punishment and really really loved playing with the these two women and the people in their world. So here I am, back again. All of this is set in the same A/U, but maybe one day I'll branch out and make a crack fic. This is set a few months after the events of Whiskey Sour. I hope everyone reads and enjoys.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.


By Whedonist


Ch. 1 - Without a Fight

You never really know what to expect when you pull up to a crime scene, I mean the obvious is death, flashing lights and gawking neighbors, but as I kill the engine on June Lee, there isn't a lot of fanfare surrounding the house Dan called Nikki and me to this morning.

I hear my partner groan from the passenger seat and whine, "I still think we should have stopped for coffee."

I send her a smirk and look around. Whoever died had money. Which means Dan's gonna be on our ass to settle this quickly. Crap.

"We're by daddy's house. Maybe I can get someone to bring over some coffee and breakfast. I'd about kill for something on my stomach." Looking over at Nikki I shake my head. We ended up at her place last night and while sleep wasn't high on the priority list, when we were woken up at five this morning, neither of us took much heed in getting anything but decently dressed and presentable before leaving.

"How about we see what shape the bodies are in before we go and decide on a four course banquet." I take the keys from the ignition and step out into cool, early morning air.

Nikki joins me on the sidewalk and we make our way up to the front door where a uniform is standing watch. I flash him the badge on my hip and he hooks a thumb over his shoulder. The place is on the smaller side of the houses that surround it. The owners have about an acre on the lot and the house is a two story brick. The foyer opens up to a staircase and a choice of a sitting room on your left and a living room on your right.

The techs are moving up and down the steps so I follow their trail. The smell of death stinks the place up and as we climb the staircase, it gets worse. Just how long have they been sitting in here?

"Nora," Nikki calls from behind me.

I turn my head and she offers me a pair of latex gloves. I nod in thanks and slip them on.

"Dan say anything else besides giving us the address?" my lover asks as she steps up and walks with me shoulder to shoulder.

"Nope," I answer. The door that holds the bodies is towards the back end of the right hallway. I look at Nikki one last time and offer a thin lipped, shrug. "Let's see what's going on."

"Lead the way, sugga," she purrs at me and I step through the doorway my cheeks flaming as I do.

Smart ass.

"Nora!" Charlie booms at me from across the room. "Nikki, too. Well isn't this just my lucky day."

I smile at my friend and our M.E. "G'mornin' to you too." I look between the bed sitting against the far wall and a chair that sits in the middle of the floor off to my right. Each hold a body, the one, a female, on the bed in better shape than the one, a male, tied to the chair. That one is bloated below the waist and the upper half is just starting to green and blue.

I'm now officially thankful that we skipped breakfast altogether.

"Nor, remember my idea for breakfast?" Nikki coughs behind me.

"Right there with ya partner," I say, walking over to the bed and the female victim that's there. Nikki and I have developed a system when we work a crime scene and right now, she's doing her part and looking at the man bound to the chair. The woman wears a wedding ring and sports a single gunshot wound to the head. I don't bother asking Charlie her cause of death, but I do ask, "Names?"

"You are gazing upon…" Charlie starts.

"Darrell and Christal Reynolds," Nikki pipes up from behind me.

"You know the vics?" I ask leaning over and inspecting the bullet wound in the middle of Christal's forehead. Close range, burn marks around the wound. No silencer was used and she wasn't bound I note as I glance down at her wrists. It looks like she was taken quickly.

Which means she wasn't the intended. Darrell on the other hand, I glance back and shudder, seems to be a key player.

"Fund raising," Nikki says, her voice getting closer. I shudder as her breath wisps across my neck and I see her out of the corner of my eye leaning over my left shoulder. "He's a banker, she's a philanthropist."

Nodding, I turn and walk over to stand in front of Darrell. "Time of Death?"

"I'd put her dead a little sooner, but poor Darrell," Charlie answers, clucking, "Well, our pal here wasn't so lucky. A few days. I'll know more when I get them on the slab. The air conditioning in the place is messin' with my temp readings."

"Who found the bodies?" Nikki asks, moving around the room.

I study Darrell's body, waiting for someone to answer. His hands are bound behind his back by brown electrical cord. The same type of cord anchors his feet to the two front legs of the chair. I press three fingers against his exposed chest and feel around one of the oblong bruises. Someone took their time going at him with a bat or a pipe. The indentations and bruising pattern mixed with the lividity should help Charlie give us a weapon. I look at his forehead and note that not only do husband and wife sport matching, simple gold wedding bands; they share the same type of bullet wound as well. Cause of death should be clear enough.

"The maid," Charlie answers as he leans into my space and picks off a stray hair from the thigh of the victims pajamas to slip into an evidence bag. "I think the responding officer is with her downstairs."

I turn back to Nikki and nod. She dips her chin and I say, "I'll leave you to take care of the bodies. We'll be downstairs if you need us."

"Righto, ladies," Charlie agrees. "You two stop in tomorrow and I'll have at least one of'em done."

"Thanks Charlie!" Nikki calls over her shoulder as I follow her out the door and back downstairs.

Standing in front of the sheer curtains, I watch as the uniform leads Joelle Cook, the maid, out the front of the house and to her car parked across the street. The procession ends as the last of two body bags is wheeled out and the dead are secured in the M.E.'s van. An hour of questioning a witness who could barely put two coherent thoughts together to form a complete sentence was a great waste of time.

The best thing we got out of her was a timeline. I'll make a note and call daddy to see if they were at, or supposed to be at any functions this weekend. From what I can piece together they've been dead since Friday night or Saturday morning.

"Nik," Nora calls my name. I spin around and smile at her propped against the doorway to the den we're in. I give her a solid once over, letting her know that I am indeed admiring her form. She rushed around this morning quicker than I did, the t-shirt, a rumpled faded band shirt sporting the Guns 'n' Roses logo, low riding blue jeans and her gun and badge. I travel south, over the swell of her hips, down lean legs and then I notice her shoes.

A smile, involuntary and completely unprofessional in light of what happened in this house, spreads over my face and I say, "Yes, Nora?"

Her eyebrow rises and her arms fold across her chest. I know that look. It's a damn sexy look. I also know that in the seven months we've been partnered, when that look is directed at me, it usually means I'm in trouble.

"Where do you wanna start?" she asks, cocking her hip out.

A series of completely inappropriate images flash in my mind and I have the good sense to at least not meet her eyes. I saunter up to her, place a hand softly on her shoulder and let it trail down her arm. Her skin heats under my touch and I lean in to whisper, "Next time, ma petite, make sure you have matching shoes when you run out the door." I pause for just a little effect and finish, "I'll meet you in his office. Seems like a good place to start."

I sashay out the door and behind me hear her curse, "Fuck."

I make my way down the hall laughing softly. She really is one of the sweetest creatures and while her stubborn streak is longer than the Mississippi, it doesn't detract from how much I adore her. Pushing the office door open, I take in the filing cabinets that line half of the left wall, a large oak desk sits center and the wall to my right, a fireplace and built-in bookshelves.

I come around to the desk and take a seat behind it to wait while Nora catches up. My lover doesn't disappoint by entering a few seconds later, face still a little pink. Absently, I say, "Shut the door please?"

The techs have already finger printed the room and have left behind minimal powder to contend with which is nice. My hand ghosts over the mouse to the keyboard and all that appears is a black screen and blinking white dash.

Nora settles in a chair across from me and I look at her again. Her delicate brow lifts in my direction and I say quietly, "This really is a nice office. Big and roomy." I leer at her and she rolls her eyes.

"We have a double homicide. Can I get your mind out of the gutter and on to the case?" she pouts.

I wiggle my eyebrows at her, purring, "Oh, my mind's on the case sugga. I just happen to excel at multi-tasking."

She chews her lower lip as I reboot the computer. "What did you think of the maid?" she asks, avoiding my innuendo.

"Unlucky woman. Other than that, she may have had access to the house, but she isn't even near the person or persons responsible." I drum the tips of my nails across the desk and look at the screen. Same results. "What we should do is have someone from T.A.R.U. come and take the computer. See what they can find on it." As much as I enjoy the people that work in the labs, let's face it, they do an amazing job; the people in the Technical Assistance Response Unit are on occasion a little over zealous in their need to assist.

"Why?" she asks, standing and coming around to my side of the desk to look at the screen. "Shit."

"Shit, what, Nor?"

"It's been wiped," she huffs. "We'll get someone in here. Thoughts?"

I lean back and look up at her, gazing at the underside of her chin, I resist the urge to nibble before she turns her gaze to me. Batting my lashes, I say, "I have lots of those. None of them that is particular to the case at hand. Although these thoughts do have the potential to lead to an arrest, but probably not the kind we need."

"Keep it up detective and thoughts are all you're gonna go home with tonight," she warns and pushes back away from me.

Spoil sport. Affecting an exaggerated sigh, I say, "Well in that case, I think the maid is clean. The wife wasn't the target. The husband obviously was and given the fact that the killer or killers made it a point to wipe the PC, Mr. Reynolds probably had a hand in something a fine upstanding Christian man shouldn't have."

She nods in agreement to my assessment of the situation and pulls two pairs of gloves from her coat pockets. She hands me mine and then slips hers on. "We should start with the filing cabinets and then bag everything. Take it back to the station."

I snap the cuff on my right glove and smile, rising from the chair. "Before we actually head in, I think we should swing by my place, pick up that shoe you're missing."

Her lips purse and she makes a face at me. "No more keeping gym clothes at your house."

I smirk and take the file drawer closest to me. It may be way too early for us to live together, but she can still keep whatever the hell she wants at my place as long as I at least get to see her a few mornings during the week. I shake off thoughts of a future that might be possible and start rifling through what appears to be bills, receipts and a slew of other financial information.

The words on the page I'm reading begin to float and swim. Staving off the headache, I shut my eyes for a brief moment and let them rest. We've been at this since a little after noon today and I've gone through so much paper that my paper cuts have frickin' paper cuts. I crack my eyes and look over at my partner who seems as happy as a clam, chin resting on her palm, the other hand fingering a sheet of paper that she eyes and then places to the side in one pile or another.

She catches me looking and her deep brown eyes dance in the light from our desk lamps. Her face brightens and I blush. It's the most irrational, stupid reaction I think I've ever had. My eyes go back to the paper in my hand and I may look at the words, but my mind is a million miles away.

This thing with Nikki…

I never did the moony teenager thing. I just didn't understand it, girls going all gaga over some boy that only wanted in your pants as if it were some prize. Tommy was the first boyfriend I had that I was physical with and he was also the last.

I don't really have anything to compare what I feel with Nikki to. Casey was…she was a means to an end and we both really liked it that way. Ann…

I sigh.

Giving her up was hard. Harder than I let on. Of course it was all worth it. She's happy and I have come to love Jill in my own special way. They make quite the pair.

And damn Ann to hell and back but she was right.

I'm so ass over tea kettle that if Nikki had any clue she'd probably go running for the nearest bus outta New Orleans.

There's this part inside – if ever asked I will deny its existence, but I knew when I saw her. My nonverbal intro was clue enough, but it feels like we've been courting since I saw her, our first night together nearly two months ago was an inevitability that I'm going to have to thank her for. She had the guts when I lacked them.

My eyes drift over the paper, numbers. That's what we have here. Bank statements and a lot of them. I look over at the five boxes we brought back from the scene and I wanna just dump them into a fire. I could take Nikki home; we can curl up in bed and then start fresh in the morning.

And Dan, Christ…

The woman across from me is career suicide. I know it. I know what we're doing now will end us both in the N.O.P.D.; I just can't seem to care. We're discrete and cautious, but you never know. It's easier because she understands. She doesn't want our partnership or the relationship to crumble. It's all still pretty shaky, but everything we do is some unspoken arrangement that she lets me lead.

Jill told me to sit back and enjoy the honeymoon phase of the relationship, but there are these two sides of me. One wants to keep her at arm's length and make her stay there. I love my job and it's who I am. The other part, the part I find that wins these arguments in my head, is the one that, like tonight, wants to take her home, make her scream my name 'till she's hoarse and raw, then crawl inside her to find some peace.

Unresisting, my head falls forward and thumps on the cold metal of my desk. Damn whoever killed the Reynolds. We're going to be stuck here all friggin' night and my mind can't stay locked into the case.

Damn Nikki.

I grunt and shove away from my desk, knowing I need to step away from her for a minute and get my mind off the brunette and on to the bludgeoning. I head to the bathroom, turn the faucet on and splash my face. Thankful that I didn't have time to do anything but put my hair up in a ponytail this morning.

I look at my reflection and notice the subtle differences in my features. I actually look happier. The small creases that I began to notice my first year at S.C.U. have all but gone, in their place are smooth planes. I close my eyes and rest my forehead against the cool of the mirror. Images of two very different things light up my mind's eye. Nikki and last night of us together wrapped up in her bed and then of the two victims this morning.

Lightly I bang my head off the mirror and then right myself. "Personal life aside, Delany," I tell my reflection. "Let's go catch us some bad guys." I see myself nod. Conviction clear and resolute, I turn on my heel and decide to put my nose to the grindstone, besides, the little voice in the back of mind reasons, the sooner we wrap this up, the sooner you can take Nikki home for a few hours.

Shaking my head, I go back to my desk and ignore the look my partner's giving me. I need to focus. There's something buried in these damn papers and I'm gonna fucking find it. Unless Darrell Reynolds was a child molesting dirt bag, he really didn't deserve the torture he went through, hell he probably didn't deserve to die either. His wife didn't.

I dig my heels in and attack another stack of folders to my right, resigned to being here well through the morning.

The night air is cold and wet causing me to wrap my jacket tighter around my body. I jog across the street heading to the twenty-four hour café a block and a half away from the station house. If I were to give up this life of catching criminals, I think that's what I might do. Open up a little café across from a police station and make a mint. Daddy would even be thrilled.

Of course, as much as he loves and respects what I've done with my life, he would be happier if his little girl's life wasn't in constant danger. Glancing down at the phone in my hand, I look at the time and the two missed calls. One from Darius, the other from the man himself. Daddy's probably asleep, which leaves me with Darius who is either not at home just yet or just getting home from a show.

And why, I can't help but wonder, do I have Nora keeping me here until such an ungodly hour. I don't mind the extra work but she was acting funny earlier and I need to find out what's going on. The streets are quiet this time of night, which they should be. I won't be complaining about patrons of the various bars not making a ruckus. The lights of the café up ahead are bright and I can't wait to get inside where there's warmth and something to eat other than three day old doughnuts that have been hanging around the squad room.

It's a cliché for a reason and tickles me almost as much as the coffee that can eat through the lining of a cast iron stomach that they insist on keeping around. It's nearly comical in that homicidal way. Shrugging it off I hit the door to the café and breeze through. My lover needs coffee and we need to have a small talk when I get back.

The clerk at the counter is surprisingly pleasant as I order my two large cups of the strongest coffee they have and a fresh batch of beignets that I know I'll get shit for. She can can it. We'll hit the gym an extra hour this week and she can thank me for it afterwards.

As I wait, I flip open my phone and hit the number two key for speed dial and wait for Darius to pick up. It doesn't take him long as his voice fills my ear, "Kouzin'!"

Smiling despite myself, I say, "You, sugga, are way too happy at three in the morning."

"Well," he chuckles, "it's what it is. How's the day or er…uh, wait a minute…" He pauses and I hear some ruffling before he asks in that annoyed tone of his, "Whatchoo doin' at work so late?"

I shake my head and sigh. "The voicemail I left you earlier today. It's a double homicide and I need to know about the male vic. I was hoping you have something."

"Yeah, I got it. I got news too Nikki, but double ten-eighty-sevens, usually don't keep you there for more than twelve hours at a click." I hate when he gets this tone.

"Well, Darius, it's part of the job. You know that. Nora and I are working to try and sift through a ton of paper and any information that you may have would be greatly appreciated." I lean against the counter that holds the creamer and sugar to wait on his response. He's right in a way. Sleep would be fantastic, but Nora's on one and truth be told, I completely understand.

"A'ight. I get it," he huffs, "but, it don't mean I gotta like it none. I don't wanna speak to this over the phone. Why don't you come by tomorrow afternoon and until then maybe convince your new partner to go home and get some sleep to let you rest."

"I'll see what I can do about that. Three-ish okay? Say we meet over at Lexington park?"

"That'll do."

"Thanks, Dar. You're a fine upstanding gentleman," I tease him.

"Yeah, well this fine upstanding gentleman is gonna give a piece of his mind to you and your new boo if you don't knock off and get some rest." He disconnects as I cluck my tongue.

I just don't get this. He was the one that's been pushing me for years to find someone else. To actually pursue a new relationship outside of the one-night stands I have grown accustomed.

And then, when I finally do, he cops an attitude like a perp in the hot seat during interrogation. I just don't understand. I pinch the bridge of my nose and slip my phone back into my coat pocket.

"Detective," the clerk calls out to me. I look over and see her holding the bag of beignets and two cups of coffee in a drink holder up for me to take.

I smile and gratefully accept them, "Thank you."

"Not a trouble at all," she replies in this sugary, southern tone that had she caught my attention two years ago, I would have set the coffee down, locked the front door and had my way with her behind the pastry display. But this is a new era in the life of Nikki Beaumont and I cannot. Even though the soft brown eyes and light blond hair do look adorable on the girl.

"You stay outta trouble and I'll see you later," is all I give her as I back out of the café. Spinning on my two inch heels, I march back to the station and devise a plan to get Nora to go home. If not with me, than at least to her own place where she can get a decent night's sleep.


Ch. 2 – Breakdown

The sheet slips down my shoulder as I reach for another set of printouts that Steve, a tech for T.A.R.U., ran off for us. He called at five this morning to let us know he'd been working on the computer since his shift started at nine the previous evening. He was able to recover a lot of the data on the hard drive, but he made it a point to tell us that whoever wiped the computer had a decent working knowledge of them. Nikki made it a point to tell me that was our cue to go grab the data and get some sleep.

So I compromised, one hour with her and then two hours of sleep. It's rolling into ten a.m. and I'm here in Nikki's living room, naked with her bed sheet wrapped around me. Stifling a yawn, I look at the next set of papers. All financial information, but the numbers I'm looking at are way too big for the victim to have in his own accounts.

The Reynolds may have been comfortable, but they weren't living the life of the multi-millionaire that these statements claim. My gut tightens as I scribble some notes on the legal pad to my right, set the folder down and pick up another. It wouldn't surprise me that he was killed over money or that he was doing something with money. Especially with figures as large as these. I've seen people killed for a lot less than, I glance down at the running total on my sheet and my eyes bulge, okay so nearly a quarter of a billion dollars is worth getting killed over.

My head snaps up as I hear some clatter in the kitchen coupled with the distinct sound of glass breaking. "Damnit!" Nikki curses. I smirk. Maybe having her make the coffee was a bad idea.

"You okay, babe?" I call out from my seat against the couch.

"Yeah," she whines, her voice getting closer. I turn my head and see her round the couch with a steaming mug in each hand.

"What'd you break?" I ask, accepting the cup that she offers me. She's actually a good cook, but for some reason, for all that social and physical grace my lover possesses; she's a klutz in the kitchen.

"A glass," she says shrugging. She sits next to me and the robe she's wearing rides up exposing her bare legs. Admittedly, I've never been much of a leg person, there are other parts of the anatomy that I tend to favor, but Nikki's…they're long, lean and the muscles beneath her supple skin dance under my fingertips when I touch her.

"Sugga, we do have a double homicide to solve," her voice is light and amused. My eyes look up to meet hers and she winks at me.

Unable to stop the blush that rises to my cheeks, I manage to be an adult and stick my tongue out at her. She leans in and captures it between her lips before I have a chance to react. She sucks it in and pulls a moan from me. I reach behind me, set my cup on the coffee table and then reach for her.

Pulling her to me, my hand slips through the opening in her robe and I palm her right breast, running the pad of my thumb over a hardening nipple. She moans this time and I deepen the kiss. Is it weird to want to consume someone so thoroughly?

She shifts and starts to pull me onto her as she lies on the carpet. A new pool of wetness dampens the inside of my thighs. The sheet falls away and I tear at the knot holding her robe together.

She growls, "Get this off."

As I'm working the knot, I smirk at her, batting my own lashes and tisk, "Impatient are we?"

She grunts and raises her hips to help free up the sash. I finally manage to loosen it and huff, "Next time, not so tight."

She grunts again and pulls my arm from underneath me. I land on top of her and her mouth covers mine. I manage to regain a little bit of my equilibrium and straddle her now bare thigh. Her muscle tenses and I grind down on her involuntarily. My own thigh presses into her heated, slick center.

A cross between a purr and growl bubbles up as her short fingernails run up and then back down the length of my back.


It shouldn't be this frenzied. I shouldn't feel this out of control when she touches me. I do which is why it takes a moment to hear the distinct ring tone of my cell. No. No. No.

Not now. Give me a half hour. That's all I want.

But Nikki stills her movement and I begrudgingly take her cue as she mumbles, "For fuck's sake this better be important or I'm killing whoever's callin' you, sugga."

I nod and her head flops down onto the floor as I reach for my phone vibrating across the end table. Not bothering to look at the display, I flip it open and growl, "Delaney."

"Nora?" Dan asks. God-fucking-damnit.

I clear my throat and barely manage to get a reign on my hormones. "Yeah. What's up?"

"Was checkin' to see if you and that partner of yours were coming in today." He sounds a little annoyed. I wonder what hoops they have him jumping through.

"Yeah, we are. We actually need to swing by the morgue, but we'll be in later," I answer.

"Well, I was checking the logs from yesterday. Why did you two sign out at five this morning?"

I roll my eyes and Nikki raises her thigh, pressing into me. I stifle the groan and squeak, "Double homicide and a shit storm of paper to comb through."

He sighs and relents, "I figured. But ya'll shouldn't have stayed that late." I hear some papers rustling and he says, "When you meet up with your partner and manage to make it in here, I want an update."

"Will do," I chirp and end the call, "Gotta go now, work to do, bad guys to catch."

"Yeah yeah," he clips and I close my phone.

Dropping it on the carpet, I collapse on top of my lover and nip her shoulder. "That was evil, ya know."

She shakes with laughter as her hand runs through my hair. "But it was oh, so much fun. You got the cutest expression on that pretty face of yours."

"Hmmm," I mumble, feeling slightly disoriented from the hormonal roller coaster I was just on.

"Come on, baby, we can shower and head in to see Charlie," she says and plants a kiss on top of my head.

I follow my partner down the hallway to see Charlie in the New Orleans Medical Examiner's Office. The green tile clash with the off-white walls and the harsh florescent lighting that is wholly unflattering. I would think that instead of making this place look like a morgue they should have added just a little something beside the institutional feel. Of course then they'd have to contend with the smell. I don't care how much you spend on air freshener; nothing removes the tart scent of formaldehyde.

On the plus side and regardless of my lack of sleep, I feel refreshed and I know I owe that to Nora. The girl can make two hours of sleep feel like eight with those hands of hers and that tongue...sweet Jesus, that thing should be a registered weapon.

Shaking my head, I hang a right and enter the autopsy floor just as Charlie tosses a paper gown over his clothes. I stop, nearly running into my lover, steadying my forward progress by placing a hand on her shoulder.

"Ladies," Charlie barks, "you are just in time for me to start on Darrell."

Oh, joy. See autopsies for detectives are purely optional. In fact, most of us can't stand to see the coroner do the things to the human body that their job requires. I wasn't a huge fan of it before I was partnered with Nora. Now, well it's something that I've come to just accept as part of my job with her. Charlie also makes it easy. He's such an easy going fella that you can't resist wanting to chat him up.

"Thanks Charlie," Nora says and begins handing me the required mask and gown to observe our friend at his job.

I slip on the thin blue paper smock and put on my mask. Looking down, I sigh. This really does clash with my outfit today and the shoes, really don't go with the look either. A throat clears and my head snaps up, Nora's eyebrow is raised and I don't need to see her lips to know she's wearing pursed lips and resisting the urge to tap her foot.

In return, I raise my own eyebrow and wait for her to comment.

It doesn't take long. "Quit worrying about those shoes clashing with the outfit, it's fine."

"Well, actually, ya'll should put on some booties. New laws and all," Charlie pipes up from behind my partner. He's standing there, looking like Dr. Strangelove scratching his head with a scalpel pinched between his index and thumb. "Only problem is, I don't think we got any to cover them shoes Nikki."

"How about if I just make sure to keep five feet from the table?" 'Cause really that's as close as I was gonna get anyhow.

Charlie shrugs and then nods. "Don't think that'll be bad."

Taking that as permission I step around the steel slab the body's on and go to rest against the counter on the left. Nora comes and stands in front of me. And there's a part of me that's just a bit grateful. She knows this isn't my favorite part.

"Oh," Charlie says looking up from the body he just uncovered, "Nora, mama went to Waddell's and picked up some extra crawfish. If you want some, I'll drop 'em off at your place later."

Oh no. Not this again. I try to telepathically send the big no symbol to my partner but she doesn't receive it which makes me question the notion of telepathy being real or my own sanity. I should really know better.

"That'd be great, but I'm just not sure when I'm gonna get home to cook them up. Tell Donna I said thanks though." I resist the urge to sigh in relief and instead say a silent prayer of thanks to any deity that may be hanging around.

"I getcha." He looks back down at the body and taps the foot pedal at the base of the slab to start the Dictaphone. He looks the body over and begins speaking in concise medical terms as he describes the wounds. Grabbing a camera and body markers, he photographs each bruise and injury Darrell suffered. He catalogs samples and talks out the meticulous process of his profession.

As he snaps the last photograph and sets the camera down, he replaces it with another scalpel. Nora steps back into me and her hand rests openly on the small of her back. Taking her cue, I lace my fingers with hers and she squeezes.

Another reason that I love her is scribbled down on the list I keep in my head and I go back to watching the first incision Charlie makes. It is a single somewhat "U" shaped cut that spreads across Darrell's chest; it is the first cut of the infamous "Y" incision. What I never got was why it's called a "Y" incision when it actually does come out looking more like a "U" with a tail that runs the length of the torso to the groin of the corpse.

I watch a little fascinated and a little appalled as he spreads the skin open, cracks the sternum and uses the rib-spreader to open up the thoracic cavity. He speaks for the microphone and goes through the autopsy step by step, from the removal and weighing of all the vital organs, to the splitting open of the stomach to see what the victim ate last. By the time he's done with the body cavity, he's covered in the victim's blood and takes a moment to done a new pair of gloves.

His next move is the scalp and he takes his blade to it, cutting along the top of the forehead and around the head. I involuntarily cringe as he peels back the hair and scalp. He then proceeds to pull some of the face down and pin it down. He told me that was done so that when he cuts the skull open he won't damage the skin for the funeral parlor that will come and take the body once the case is closed. He set the scalpel down and lifts the Stryker saw up, starting the motor. It sounds like a high powered dentist's drill, but it is far more lethal and a helluva lot sharper.

Under the bright lights, the stainless steel glints as he raises it and begins the first cut into the skull. Bone dust swirls in the air and I focus on that instead of Charlie and his saw of gore. I watch the particles and grip Nora's hand. Her touch centers me, only when she releases her hold and moves away from me do I start to pay attention to what Charlie is saying.

Apparently, there are some reports back and he wants us to take them. I glance down at my watch and realize that two and a half hours have passed since we got here. I move with Nora, dispose of my gown and mask then follow her and Charlie back to his desk.

We need to hurry. Darius is gonna be waitin' on us soon.

I scramble to keep up to my partner as she strides over the small hillside and down the side at Lexington. Ya know it wouldn't be so bad if Nikki didn't have longer legs than me and she didn't insist on wearing two or three inch hills to give her additional leverage. I shouldn't be punished for my sensible choice of footwear.

Huffing I catch up to her and look up. "I hope the rain holds out for just a bit longer." They've been threatening all day and the sharp gust of wind detracts from the hope I'm clinging to. I really don't wanna get stuck out here without an umbrella.

Nikki looks at me and smirks. "'Fraid you'll melt, baby?"

I roll my eyes and respond, "No. I just hate fall rain and the way it soaks you so you can't get warm the rest of the day."

We start down another small path and see Darius sitting on a bench about twenty-five yards away. "Hmm, I could think of a thing or two to warm you right up." She smiles at me and waggles her eyebrows. For her efforts, my face heats just a little. "And when I'm done, you won't mind a bit that you're wet."

See I know I should have just kept my mouth shut. It only leads me to temptation. Maybe Sister Jean was right and that vow of silence she took for twenty years was the best of her life. Hmm, become a nun? I look at my partner walk a little ahead of me, a memory of this morning with her on her knees in the shower "taking care of me" as she likes to put it flashes.

Yep, fuck being a nun. They don't get to have any fun. God and I are just dandy the way we are.

"Kouzin'" Darius greets Nikki and stands, smiling wide.

Nikki opens her arms and they hug. "Hey, sugga." They step back and Darius looks me over. I offer him a tight-lipped smile unsure of what to say.

I offer, "Howdy." It's not that I don't like him. I respect him and there's a part of me that's grateful to him that he's looked after Nikki for so long, but I just don't think he likes me too much.

"Nora," he says, looking around. "You two wanna walk or sit?"

"We need to worry about it?" I ask. I'm not sure where he gets the information he does. Nikki says it's his ties to the people, but I'm not sure. I've only met him a handful of times. Nikki usually meets him by herself or calls him.

"We cool here," he lets me know.

Nikki and him sit on the bench first and I squeeze in as Nikki makes room for me. I also know she makes sure we're touching at every possible point while her hand rests on my thigh. I tense and look around. This isn't the club or either of our places, but no one is around and the truth is the contact is appreciated. I cover her hand with mine and wait on Darius to speak.

"A'ight, so I asked around and it's interesting." He squints and looks out over the park. "Seems that there's a coupla kats that have been cleaning up the dough for a few of the big runners in the city. Your victim was rumored to clean up the money. Also, it was a hired hit. The details were sparse, but it was definitely contracted. Reynolds works at First National and it was goin' through his bank." He looks at the two of us, his eyes skirting to our interlocked fingers. "I may also have a name on who carried the hit out. I'll have to get back to you on it."

"You know who he was cleaning for?" Nikki asks.

"Adam Dominguez, he's got ties to some nice folk in Columbia, Dwayne Little, brotha's local, but's done enough to warrant the rep and Cameron Hunter, I don't know much about 'em, only caught that he was new to the area and was trying to expand his market."

Nikki and I let out the same type of sigh. Glancing at her, she tips her chin and I know that our thoughts are mirrored. We may have to get Vice involved. Nikki still has ties to the division so I'm hoping it will help out.

"You stir the pot asking around, Dar?" Nikki asks.

He shakes his head and shrugs. "Not more than usual. The fact that we can keep your lawman status on the down low and have for so long helps out."

Nikki nods. "Alright. Call me if you need anything or hear anything else." She lets go of my hand and we stand.

"Will do," he chirps and stands with us. "Nik, you mind if I talk to you off line for a minute?"

Nikki looks back to me and I shrug. I step away and trot down the path, the way we came. I'm not really sure what they need to discuss. It isn't any of my business and I get that, but my gut tells me it may have something to do with me. I stand back and lean against one of the trees next to the path watching their body language. Darius looks to be on the defense, his hands are jammed into the pockets of his baggy jeans as Nikki's mouth moves his face grows more somber.

My lover's coat is open, her hands are on her hips, one leg in front of the other and even from the twenty-five or so yards from where I'm at I see the look on her face. It isn't a happy one. Nikki gives one final shake of her head before turning my way and storming off.

She doesn't need to say anything as she breezes past me. I dutifully follow and right before we hit the parking lot I fish June Lee's keys from my pocket. Stilling her movements with a hand on her shoulder, she spins to me, tears in her eyes. Unthinking, I wrap her in my arms as she rests her head on my shoulder and her arms snake around my waist squeezing me tight.

We stand there a few minutes, enjoying the closeness when I feel the first few drops of water splash my face. I let her go and dangle the keys to my baby in front of her as she wipes her eyes and dries the few tears that escaped. Smiling the best smile I can muster, she takes the keys from me and says, "Thank you."

I wink at her and make a dash for the passenger side before the storm really breaks.

Scribbling a few notes on the legal pad to my right, I put the finishing touches on the Reynolds file. With Charlie's autopsy report having been delivered while we were out and the prelim on the forensics, Nora and I have worked out at least a sketch of how the weekend went for the Reynolds. Which admittedly wasn't good.

Looking up, I glance at Nora hunched over her desk cross referencing from her notes to two reports open in front of her. I feel the frown turn the corner of my mouth down and the urge to find Darius tonight and kick him bubbles forth again.

Shifting in my seat, I lean back and close my eyes, taking a moment to rehash the argument we had in the park. It's not like I don't appreciate the concern. In fact it's sweet and it's exactly like Darius, but this is probably the one time where he needs to keep his nose out of my business.

"Nik, it's not that I don't like Nora, but you ain't thinkin' right here, Kouz'."

Leveling a glare at him, I ask as calmly as possible, "And what pray tell do you mean by that?"

I watch as he shifts his weight and his eyes skirt the ground between us. "Look Nik. She's your partner and last I checked the department didn't look too fondly on work partners bein' partners between the sheets. You have always gone with what's in your gut. I'm saying that right now you should use your brain."

"Bullshit," I spit and run my fingers through my hair. "You've been after me for how long to quit, in your own words, "fucking around and find someone that makes you happy." I'm pretty damn sure I have Darius," the last part comes out a bit whinier than I'd prefer, but it's a bit late now.

"Not with your partner. Not with a woman that can ruin your career." He tries to reach out and lay a hand on my arm, but I step back out of reach. Instead, I push my jacket back, place my hands on hips and tap my foot.

"What is it Darius?"

"If your boss finds about you two what'll happen?" he asks.

"Worse case we get split up and then eventually the force finds a way to get us off the force. Best case, they split us up and we continue to do our jobs," I spit.

"She worth the risk?" his eyes finally meet mine as he asks the question. "She worth throwing away the career you built because of Erica, for Erica?"

My gut clenches at his question and the underlying accusation. Sucking in a breath, I manage, "Fuck off." Before I turn and stomp away.

"Nikki," Nora calls my name and my head snaps up. Her furrowed brow searches my face and when I shake my head she points behind her and I look. Dan's standing there beckoning the two of us.

"Comin'," I holler behind me and shove away from my desk. By the time I have my notes gathered Nora's by my side.

In an uncharacteristic touch, she places her hand on my arm and asks, "You okay?"

"Fine. Let's go tell Dan what we got." I smile and turn, striding into our lieutenants office.

"Detectives," he says as Nora and I enter. He shuts the door behind us while Nora takes a perch on the corner of his desk and I rest in the middle of it. Turning to us, he asks, "What have you two got?"

"Motive and means," Nora answers.

"But, no solid suspects," I finish.

His eyebrow rises while his arms fold across his chest. The blue tie he's wearing bunches up and makes it look like he's wearing a bib. Avoiding pointing that out, Nora starts in again, "His financials make for some very interesting reading material. Our C.I. says that Reynolds was laundering money through his bank for a few of the big dogs in the city's drug rings. From what we can put together, he was doing that and a little bit more."

"It looks like he was skimming a little, but not enough for them to notice. I made a phone call to an old friend that's working Narc now and they're running a huge operation that's trying to collar the three guys Reynolds was cleaning for," I fill in.

"Did either of you talk to their captain?" he asks leaning against the filing cabinet to his left.

"No, I only talked to Ron. I'm actually lucky I got him as he's neck deep in the operation. You talking to his boss wouldn't be a bad thing. Maybe we can find who actually killed Reynolds and help Narc out with a solid bust." I venture.

"I'll make the call today and see what I can find out. Anything come back on the autopsy or forensics?"

"Charlie put their T.O.D. somewhere between the hours of eleven p.m. Friday night and oh-six-hundred Saturday morning. C.O.D.'s a single gunshot wound to the head," my lover answers blandly. "Darrell was tortured for a little while. The bruising indicates a pipe or bat. There was some particulates on the skin and clothes that the lab is running and should have a better answer of what was used to beat him up with."

"Alright,' Dan looks at his watch and sighs. "I'll see what I can find out from the Lieu in Narc and maybe set up a meeting for tomorrow." He pushes of the cabinet and shakes a stack of file folders. Nora and I spin around to face him as he plants himself behind his desk and looks up at us. "You guys file the prelim info and then knock off. I'm gonna get reamed for the overtime you two racked up the last two days."

I smirk. Nora smiles. "Will do," she answers for the both of us. Taking her cue, I follow her out of the office and back to our desks.

Sleep sounds divine right now and if we can get the paperwork squared away before seven tonight, we might manage to get more than two hours tonight. I watch Nora watch me as we take our seats opposite each other. She smiles at me, open and warm "First one to finish their paperwork buys the other dinner."

I laugh at her challenge, but nod my acceptance. "I'll take that challenge, sugga. Be warned. I intend to win and I don't think they serve what I want to eat at any restaurant," I purr at her and wiggle my eyebrows.

She flushes and then glues her eyes to her computer screen, clicking away on the keyboard.

And I know that's why the risk her and I are taking's worth it. I know when I look at her. Sighing, I turn my attention to my own computer screen and begin the last bit of detail I need to fill in on my prelim.


Ch. 3 – Devil in Disguise

The reflection I stare at shows me Nikki, in all her glory, dancing to the music coming over the classic rock radio station I always have preset on my stereo. Her indulgence of my musical tastes is one thing that just sort of adds to the feelings I have for her.

Regretfully, I tear my eyes away from Nikki getting dressed and open my closet door. Screwing my mouth to the side, I sort through my clothes.

"Sugga," Nikki purrs behind me, "Whatever shall we put you in?" Her hands run up my side and goosebumps litter my skin in the wake of her touch. "You know this is the first time I get to paw through your closet." She presses against me and I feel her bare skin against mine. The silk of her bra and panties tickles me, but I lean back and push into her.

Her head drops and she begins to nibble my shoulder and I shudder. Christ. I need to focus. "Nik," I swallow, "We need to get dressed. I have to finish off the paperwork at the bank to set up the rest of my cover." Her lips don't stop as she wraps her arm securely around my waist.

Futilely, I think of the case details. We met with Richard Deavoroux the lieutenant for Narcotics and decided to partner with them to help make their busts. Nikki has a few friends that are inside that she can work with on the criminal angle and I can fulfill the need at the bank to start laundering and tracking behind the scenes.

Her tongue presses flat and glides up my shoulder blade. My knees go a little weaker than I will ever admit as her left hand comes up and teases my hardening nipple though the fabric. "Nik," I protest.

She stops briefly and travels back up, to the nape of my neck. Her warm breath teasing me. "Yeah, baby?"

"We should," I stop as fingers pinch my nipple, "You, we…look. Bank. Soon. Dress." I don't know if she understood, but that's pretty much all I could get out from the actual thought of 'you need to stop, we need to go to the bank soon and we should get dressed.'

She huffs but relents. "Fine. Spoil all my fun for the morning."

I turn in her arms and raise an eyebrow. "You have no room to say I'm spoiling your fun. Wasn't it you that was cackling madly before we went to bed. Something about getting to dress me up?"

"Well, I can't really recall, detective." She puts on her 'dumb blonde' face and I shake my head.

"Well, ma'am, I believe it was between your first and third orgasm of the evening," I smirk and waggle my eyebrows at her.

"Hmmm," she hums and taps her index finger to her lips, "Perhaps we should reenact to jog my memory."

I roll my eyes. See I knew I should have let this go. "Nope. Later." I pull back from her and she lets me. Moving out of her way to give her access to my closet, she steps forwards.

"So, we need to find you something bookish, professional and flattering of that body," she says to herself, because as we set up this undercover operation, I was to get no say so in what I was going to wear.

I shake my head and walk backwards, sitting on the edge of my bed. As things go, I may as well enjoy the show if I'm gonna be uncomfortable all damn day.

I smirk as her hand goes to her hip and she taps her foot. "Nora dear, I thought you said you had clothes that would work?"

I lean back and shrug. "I have slacks and a shirt in there somewhere."

She spins around and holds up a few garments. "Sugga, what about something from this decade?" her eyebrow rises at me and I shrink back in the bed.

"Uh…" I smile and shrug again. "Unless, I go to court to testify, I'm in jeans and a t-shirt."

She cocks her head. "What do you wear to court?"

I smile and say, "My dress blues."

She loudly rolls her eyes and huffs, "Okay, today after you get done at the bank, we are going shopping."

"Why?" I ask. The bed squeaks as I shoot up from the king sized mattress and cross my arms over my chest.

"Honey, you can't spend your time undercover, working in a professional environment, in jeans and a t-shirt." She tosses the clothes in a pile by the dresser and then taps her index finger to her lips. "Now, our problem here is what are you going to wear today?"

She by-passes me and goes to her garment bag hanging on the back of my bedroom door. She turns back and looks at me then swivels back to her bag. "Alright," she says turning around and holding up a short black skirt, green top and matching blazer, "I think this will work."

I look at the garment bag then at her and the clothes. I'm not sure I really want to know what else is in that thing.

"Now, the skirt will be a little longer on you and what's your shoe size?" she asks laying the clothes on the bed.

"Nine or ten, depending on the shoe," I answer.

"Hmm." She walks to her bag and pulls out a pair of mid-calf, low-heeled boots. "Try those on."

"You really can't expect me to wear those?"

She rights herself and stands in front of me, her hands on my shoulders as she looks down. "I think that given your current condition in the closet," she smirks at her pun and I stick my tongue out at her, "that you'll wear it and then tonight, we'll go find something a bit more 'Nora Delaney'."

How come going shopping with her sounds like a bad idea?

"Well, as I live and breathe!" Ron Baird shoots up from the booth he was sitting at and grins the most foolish grin ever at me.

I return the hug with the same amount of force then pull back and look him over. My old partner's once-twinkling blue eyes look a little dull in the lighting, the three day old stubble gracing his face and the absence of his wedding ring let me know everything I need to. Clucking my tongue, he motions for me to sit. I slide into the booth and look over the other two sitting there. Both have brown hair and brown eyes, look like they haven't seen a bed in two days and are dressed in equally rough attire.

Looking back over at Ron, I notice that his outfit is similar. Now I'm thankful that I went with my gut and wore some items from Nora's closet. The Poison tour shirt, ratty jeans, boots and old leather coat go well with this crowd.

"Nikki Beaumont, I'd like you to meet officers Brad Taggard and Calvin Waltham." I nod at them both.

"Nice to meet you both." I stick out my hand and shake theirs one at a time. "Nikki Beaumont of S.C.U. and Ron's old partner."

"Welcome aboard, Nikki." They say in unison and I raise my eyebrow over at Ron. He shrugs and I let it go.

"So, you ready to start up today?" he asks.

Nodding, I say, "My partner is working the bank angle while we work the back alley. How exactly is this going to go down?"

"Easy enough. I've laid the groundwork for you. Told Cameron that you were an old associate. We pulled some jobs in Georgia together. Kept it vague." He takes a sip of his coffee and finishes, "We should get going, our first names haven't changed, but our last ones are Miller for me, Brad is Ives, Calvin is Mason." We all stand and Ron tosses a twenty on to the counter before we head out.

I slip my sunglasses off my head and wait for him to catch up. The mid morning weather is cool but the sun is bright. "Nik," Ron says, coming up behind me and putting his own glasses on, "Are we keeping you as Nikki or something else? The gang we infiltrated likes to assign nicknames so..."

I look at him and at the other two officers. "DeSantis," I answer absently and ask, "Just how long have ya'll been working this case?"

"A few months," Brad answers and I can hear the weariness in his voice.

Undercover operations that last this long wear on you and as I study the three men a little more closely, I can see that this one is taking its toll. The one and only I ran did me in for the rest of my career. Sympathetically, I nod.

"Nikki," Calvin speaks up, "We have enough evidence to bust them for a few crimes, but this would be huge. If we can collar them for the hit, laundering, conspiracy and trafficking, I can go home and actually see my new baby girl."

The message is received loud and clear. "So where we goin'?"

"It's just you and me. I'm sending Brad and Cal in to get some shut eye," Ron answers.

I nod and they wave their goodbyes, hopping into a Cadillac CTS parked on the street. I whistle at the rims and the tint, shaking my head. "They upped the budget on Narc ops?"

He laughs and lays a hand on my shoulder. "Nah, that's a guy named T-rock's ride. We use it sometimes." He looks around the street and says, "Where's your ride?"

I nod over to June Lee and grin. His eyes go between me and the car and he shakes his head. "I think you and I have some catching up to do, rookie. "

I look him over and nod at the hand stuffed in his pocket. "That we do. That we do." I don't bother with anything further and head to June. Slipping behind the wheel, I wait for him to climb inside and take off asking, "Where are we going?"

"Hang a left and then a right on Dawson. I'll direct you from there," he answers and looks me over.

I let the silence settle in the car and wait for him to ask whatever he wants as he gives me directions. I know he wasn't so happy when I left the department for the unit he's now working in, but it doesn't explain why he's working in Vice either. The years we've not been partnered haven't been good to him. That much is clear to me and I can't help but feel a little guilty about that.

When did he and his wife break up? Are they broke up or is the absence of his wedding ring something more innocuous because of his job here?

"You gonna talk at all?" he asks, slumping in his seat.

"Ron, I don't know what exactly to say," I answer his question.

"Hang a right," he directs.

I pick up, "Shall I ask about this operation? How your life has been since I left the Fourth? Why you didn't return the dozen or so phone calls that I left for you and why you aren't wearing your wedding band?"

His mouth pinches as I look over and he presses against the passenger side door. Nodding, I sigh. "Yeah, partner, that's what I figured. Look, I'm not going to bust you on any of it, if that's what you're expecting. Let's get the job done."

I feel his eyes on me as I stop at a traffic light and I look over. His eyebrow is raised and his weary eyes are slit. He clucks his tongue and shakes his head. "Somethin' up that I should know about before we get you in on this?"

"Such as?" I ask.

"Left at the second light," he tells me as the light we're at turns green. "I dunno. Something's different with you. That much I can tell."

I roll my eyes and answer, "It's been nearly three years since you or I said boo to one another." I can't help the hurt lace through my words and spit, "People change Ron. You have and so have I."

He just says, "The club coming up on your left, go through the alley and park in back."

The silence in the car is deafening and as I follow his direction, park and kill the engine, I wonder how we're gonna act our way through this.

Pulling to the curb outside my apartment complex, I spot Nikki leaning against June Lee, sunglasses pushing her long brown hair back, dark brown leather jacket pushed back and her arms folded across her chest. She smiles as she see's me and I wonder what she's been up to today.

Killing the engine and grabbing the keys from the ignition, I reach for my leather bag and hop out of the SUV that's on loan from the department. "You been waiting long?" I ask walking up to her.

She shakes her head and grins. "I ran a few errands after my meet and greet with the others."

The coy look on her face leaves me wondering a few things, one, who did she meet and two, what were the errands that she ran?

"Well come on, we can fill each other in while we get dinner." I turn and make my way into the apartment complex. Not hearing her footfalls behind me, I spin around and see her butt sticking out of the open passenger door window of my car. As she rights herself, she's holding half a dozen shopping bags.

Oh no.

"Nikki, tell me those aren't what I think those are?" I half whine as she approaches.

"They, my dearest love, are clothes for your assignment." She grins and pushes me along the corridor to my apartment door. "I would have taken you with, but we have to be somewhere in thirty minutes, so no time for dinner and no time to take you with me."

I groan and unlock my apartment door. "Where do we need to be?" I ask dropping my bag by the door and making a beeline to my bedroom. I need these clothes off. Why her and I didn't switch jobs on this assignment is beyond me. She has the clothes and the temperament to deal with the idiots that I have dealt with all day.

"Ron's swingin' by so we can follow him to a meeting with one of the dealers." She sets the bags on the bed as I plop down and unzip the right boot. Peeling the god-forsaken piece of clothing from my foot I groan in pleasure. "God that feels good," I moan.

"Here," Nikki says walking in front of me and dropping to her knees. Gingerly she raises my left foot and removes the other shoe. Letting her hands glide up my calf she reaches for my stocking and pulls it off. I let loose another moan of appreciation as she begins massaging the most tender parts of my foot.

"Those shoes are the work of the Devil." I flop back on to the bed and let her hands run over my feet, easing the pain from them.

"They're fine. You should wear my four inch knee highs one day and then complain."

I raise my head and then my eyebrow, giving her the 'you have lost your mind' look.

She drops my foot and stands. "Come one, Nora. We've got to get you presentable and Ron," she says looking at her watch, "will be here in fifteen minutes."

I groan and stand up; happily disrobing from the monkey suit I've been in for eight hours. Casting a dubious glance at the bags on the bed, my lover reads my mind and says, "Those aren't for tonight. Find some jeans and wear…" she taps her index finger to her lips for a moment and finishes, "that faded green t-shirt you're so fond of on our off days."

I smirk. She loves that shirt. She loves it more when it's off me, but I like her clothes better too when they aren't actually on her. "Ma'am, yes, ma'am." I mock salute her and head to the bathroom to wash my face and get ready for tonight. Whatever tonight may hold.

The whatever the biggest question mark hanging in the air. The thing here is that it's all going to rely on how we work in an undercover setting. It's new to our partnership and normally, I would be worried. The few undercover operations Dan and I ran together, well the first one ended disastrously. Maybe one day I'll tell Nikki how Dan blew our cover and nearly got us killed.

I splash cool water on my face and reach for the towel hanging on the rack. Wiping my face, I blink and look in the mirror. On second thought, I'm not sure that's such a great idea. She'll probably shoot him in the leg.

"Nor," Nikki calls out, "Ron's here!"

"Alright," I holler back, "Lemme change and we can go." I scurry from the bathroom and quickly slip on a pair of my favorite jeans, the green t-shirt and a scuffed up pair of Doc Martens. Snatching the brown leather coat Nikki bought me on one of her shopping trips off the back of the door, I head to the living room and see Nikki and a sandy haired, semi-disheveled man sitting on my couch talking.

"Hi," I say smiling, extending my hand in greeting, "Nora Delaney."

The man stands, smiles and firmly shakes my hand. He's adorned in a very similar outfit to Nikki and I, faded t-shirt, worn jeans, boots and jacket. I scratch my head and wonder if there was an informal dress code policy that I wasn't aware of.

"Ron Baird," he says and gives me a once over. "You Russell Delaney's daughter?"

Smiling, I joke, "Guilty as charged."

"Good. He always spoke of his kids. He was a good man, good cop," Ron says.

"He was," I confirm. Talking about my dad right now isn't something I really want to do.

"Alright," Nikki butts in, "We ready?"

We all nod and head for the door. I grab my keys off the end table by the door and lock up behind me.

"We want to all drive together or would you two prefer to follow me?" he asks stepping next to a tricked out Caddie.

I look at my partner and shrug. She grins and says, "We'll follow you."

Nodding, he hesitates, dancing next to his car.

"Ron?" Nikki asks.

"Uh," he stammers rubbing the back of his neck, "There, well, after you left, Eric started asking questions about you, Nikki. I was trying to brush him off, but he became pretty insistent." He shifts the weight on his feet and finishes, "Wanted to get to know you, ya know? So I told him you were…and your partner are…uh, partners."

My mouth drops open and I stand stunned. Nikki thankfully recovers for the both of us. "It's alright. It'll be something Nora and I can play to."

He looks at me and offers an apologetic glance. "I'm sorry Nora, I didn't mean to make you so uncomfortable, but I don't want this guy sniffing around either of you and he would have, both of you, once he got a look at you."

I'm not sure whether to take that as a compliment or not but I shrug playing it off.

Nikki moves to the passenger side of June Lee and tosses me the keys. "Come on, honey," she purrs, leering in my direction, "We got a dinner date to get to."

I jog over to the driver's side and as I'm about ready to slip in, Ron, standing by his open doors says, "Follow me and remember we'll see this Eric guy tonight, but you're also going to meet his boss and that's who we really need to worry about." I nod and he ducks inside his car.

Following suit, I get in, turn the engine over, buckle up and follow him as he pulls out in front of me.

"Nora," Nikki's voice sounds a little worried, so I cut my attention to her briefly. "You okay with this?"

I nod. "Yeah," I say trying to play it off, "It might make things easier."

I send her my best smile. Scared shitless, I focus on the road and not the rock that's settled in my gut.

Ron takes us to the same club from earlier today. It stunk of seedy desperation in the light of day, and at night, it cloys to the back of my throat. The main floor of the bar is filled with people too drunk, stupid, lonely and/or beaten up by life to be more than what they are now. I shake my head and keep my eyes on the exits and where Ron is going.

He took me to one of the back rooms of the place where I had the unfortunate pleasure of meeting Eric earlier. Not a bad guy given the circumstances but… Tonight I get to meet his boss. Oh, how thrilled I am. I cast a glance to my right to confirm what I can already feel coming from my partner. She's nervous about us being a couple in front of everyone. I need to get her calmed down or we're gonna blow our cover.

We hang the requisite left at the end of the hall and go through the first door on our right. Ron holds the door open for us and I place a hand on the small of Nora's back as I step through behind her.

"Well look what Ron brought back for me!" Eric's voice booms from the large folding table to the right of the room where he's sitting.

I smile and step in front of Nora. "Now, now Eric," I lay on a sweet tone, and wag my finger at him. I'm not sure if he's as bad as Ron made him out to be. I still need to, at some point when Darius and I aren't arguing, make a point to ask him about this man. At six-foot-six-inches, he's built like a Saints linebacker and I've not spotted an ounce of excess skin and fat on him. "This," I say, pulling Nora to me by wrapping a possessive arm around her waist, "is my partner, Nora."

His hands fly up to his sides and he grins. "Yeah, I bet she is." He waggles his eyebrows good naturedly and continues, "I was tryin' to get the word on you, baby. Ron gave me the business." He comes around the table and sticks a hand out in Nora's direction. "Eric Valentine." Nora shakes his hand and steps into his space.

"Nora Gifford," she says. I see the muscles in her hand tighten and a small look of something ghosts over Eric's face. "Nikki's partner and," she crooks a finger at him to bend lower and whispers in his ear. I don't know what the hell she says, but when he rights himself he nods in her direction.

"You think it would be that easy?" he asks.

She drops his hand and shrugs. "There will be nothin' easy about it, big guy, but it will be what it will be. Trust me when I tell you it's nowhere you want to find yourself."

He raises his eyebrow at her and folds his massive arms across his chest looking her over then looking at me. He chin juts out and he nods again. Worried, I'm about to speak, but his face splits into a wide grin as he claps Nora on the shoulder. "Understood. Now, ladies, I make two requests tonight."

"Eric?" Ron asks from behind us.

"Just the basics," Eric supplies, "First, if you're strapped, use the set of lockers behind me and stash your gear. Second, don't call me Eric. My friends call me Chocolate."

I grasp Nora's hand and pull her to the lockers. "That's something we can do." I remove my firearm and look at Nora expecting her to do the same. Both of us made sure to have shoulder holsters on tonight. I reach under my jacket and pull out my service weapon, remove the clip and pop open the chamber placing the freed bullet, clip and gun inside the locker as Nora does the same to hers.

I shut the door, turn the key and slip it into my jacket pocket. Turning back to Eric, I chirp, "Now if you'll excuse us gentleman, Nora and I are going to powder our noses." I slip my hand into her's and feel her stiffen further. I think she's about ready to pop. "Er…Chocolate, if you would be so kind as to direct us where to go."

"Sure thing. Go out the door hang a right and it's the first door on your left."

I smile and lead us out the door and into the bathrooms. There are only two stalls so I take advantage of the larger one and stuff Nora into it, ignoring her protests. Locking the door, I give her a brief once over before pulling her to me and covering her lips with my own. Running my hands up her back, I feel the muscles ripple under my touch and loosen just a bit. Satisfied, I pull back and wink at her, causing the silly grin she's wearing to spread.

I unlock the stall door; let it fall open and pull her out of it, locking my hands behind her neck. I stop when my butt hits one of the sinks and I rest our foreheads together and whisper, "Baby, I need you a little calmer. Relax, sugga, it's just a job."

Her eyes plead with me and she takes a few measured breaths. The focus comes back and she nods firmly. I know she understands and now she knows I understand. "It will work in our favor."

"I know," she whispers, "It's just, this isn't the club or our homes, ya know?"

"I do."

Her arms finally move to rest on my hips and I smile.

"Well isn't this a heartwarming sight?" A voice sounds from the open door.

Nora springs from my grasp and we both glare at the woman standing in the doorway. I look the woman over; five-four maybe with long, thick red hair, alabaster skin that I will swear hasn't seen a Louisiana summer in a pale blue halter top, low riding brown slacks and boots that have a point sharp enough to kill on her feet.

"Cameron!" Chocolate's voice, rumbles from the hallway. I wince at the volume. Does that man not know the concept of "inside voice"?

Her head whips around and my jaw drops.

Tell me that's not Cameron Hunter?

As if on cue, Chocolate's big head pops through the doorway and looks down at the small woman. "Boss, the other two are here." His eyes glance at us and he grins. "Nikki, Nora I see you've met my boss Cameron."

"So," she says, her hands go to her hips as she looks us over, "this is the brunette you were telling me about earlier?"

"Yeah and her partner Nora." He comes inside the bathroom and shuts the door.

Her arms fold across her chest and she nods, appraising the two of us. I see Nora stretch to her full height and my back straightens in response.

"Good," Cameron says. "There are two rules in my house. We take care of our own and if you piss me off, you won't be able to run fast enough."

Nora's hands go to her hips and she lifts her chin a little. From the corner of my eye, I watch the left portion of her mouth quirk in a grin as she says, "Fair enough, but the same rules apply to me and my partner."

Unable to resist, I smile and add, "I'll take all this posturing as a green light on our job." Cameron smirks, Nora looks at me as if I've lost my mind and I shrug. Taking her hand, I brush pass Cameron and Chocolate letting them follow us back to the room.

As introductions go, I think it could have gone worse. Nora squeezes my hand as we enter the room and I feel better. I also know we'll get out of this assignment intact and with our collars. Nora's confidence confirmed that much.


Ch. 4 – Break Night

Rubbing my eyes, I try to clear my vision and again look at the column of numbers that are on my computer screen. The pen I'm holding comes up and bounces off my bottom lip as I confirm the account and routing numbers. I re-run the bottom line figure and scowl.

Ya know, I'm a cop. I catch criminals. I do not look at long columns of numbers that do nothing but piss me off and show me that illegal drugs yield such high profits. Now I also do a shitload of paperwork and while they really didn't tell us that when I signed up at the academy I'm okay with it. It helps preserve order.

"Ms. Gifford," my secretary's form fills the doorway and I look up from my screen, trying not to frighten her away with the scowl on my face.

"Yeah, Pat," I answer.

"Uhm, Mr. Valentine and his colleagues are here. They're wonderin' if you'd have a moment?"

I smile at her and lean back in my chair. "Sure send them on in."

She nods and half closes the door. While I wait, I check my phone, one missed call from Nikki, Ann, and two from my mother. I'm still torn on the idea of cell phones.

Considering, I get to save recording's of Nikki when she's left a sweet voicemail or catch up with Ann without having to talk to her are great things, but then…

I have to get the messages from my mother. That alone makes me miss the days when there were no answering machines or call waiting or caller I.D. If you weren't home to take the call, too bad. And I love my mom; really I do, but…

For about a year now, it's been 'Nora, honey, when are you gonna settle down?' or 'Nora, when are you gonna make me a grandmother?' and my all time favorite, 'Baby doll, when are you gonna start bringing home a boyfriend? I sure would like to meet someone that'll give you an interest outside of the force.'

I mean really how the hell do I respond to that?

She means well. I know she does, but…and now, it's not like taking Nikki home is ever an option. I took Ann home in the guise of being friends and Dad saw through it and Mama harped on the two of us about men. Since then, I've brought Dan. He was the last person I brought home and she's been a dog with a bone about that.

I look up as the door creeps open and Chocolate's head pops through. He grins at me and saunters through. Trailing behind him are the other two main dealers right hand men. Terry No-Neck works with Adam Dominguez and normally, I would laugh at the stereotype, but I also can see why Terry got his nickname. He's five-foot-five, an easy three-hundred pounds and he really has no neck or if it does exist it's hidden between his head and torso. Dwayne Little's henchman is a wolf in sheep's clothing, Don Madrid looks like he should be playing golf at the country club rather than running money for drug lords. I wonder what his family thinks he does or does he have any? And from what intel we gathered on Madrid, he has a thing for knives and hookers.

Chocolate comes around the desk as I stand. He leans down and plants a kiss on my cheek. It's odd…but I actually like this guy. He's nice, well mannered and smart. It's not a normal thing for people in his line of work. And since we chatted the first night we met, he's been nothing but respectful of me and Nikki for the past week.

"Hey, baby girl." Eric says as he moves around to the other side of the desk to take a seat next to Don. "We got some deposits to make and I wanted to know if you found out anything from Andy."

I nod and watch Don and Terry set their brief cases on the table along the right wall of my office. They open the cases and start pulling out stacks of banded twenty and hundred dollar bills. I look at the door and make sure it's closed before talking, "I did and what I want to know about is the guy that was in this job before me." I lean forward on my desk expectantly.

Chocolate leans back and shrugs. "An unfortunate accident really, seems him and his wife was killed in a home invasion."

I quirk an eyebrow at him and convey with only the look of annoyance I'm sporting that I know he's full of shit.

Rubbing his chin, he sighs. "If you want more detail on it, you're gonna have to talk to Don and Terry here. I just don't think here's the right place, ya know?"

I nod and direct my reply to them, "I'll see you tonight over at Tina's." They both nod and finish off loading the money they brought in. "As for what I found out, Andy's filled me in on the grunt work Darrell was having him work on." I spin the computer monitor around and lean forward, typing to bring up the programs I was just working with. Once the screens are up, I click over to the spreadsheets and start talking, "Here are the deposits you three have made over the past six months." I arrow over one column and trail the mouse over explaining more, "These are the account and routing numbers. The next column is the banking fee associated with the transactions and then the last column here is the net amount," I stop and look up at the three men looking at the computer screen.

Sighing, I right myself and snark, "Which of you aren't following this?"

None of them answer and I shrug. If they're keeping up, then that's one in the plus column for two of the three. Eric can keep up. He showed me that much that first night. The man can keep numbers in his head like I can keep penal code in mine. "Right, so the net amount should be the deposit amount less the banking fees." I look up at them again, hoping they understand that the banking fees are not only the banks actual fees, but the two and a half percent laundering fee agreed upon more than six months ago between Darrell and them. "But, my problem here is that the net amount is short. The way that I figured is that it's short about point-seven-five percent of what the actual net amount should be."

Three sets of eyebrows go up and I nod. "You see the problem."

They nod and Chocolate asks, "So how much green does that lay out to be?"

I look down at my ledgers and feel my face sour. "A little over four and a half million dollars."

Terry whistles, Don snorts and Chocolate's eyes narrow as he follows up with, "Where's the money going?"

I shake my head. "I don't know. I need to talk to Andy. I don't even know if he's aware of it and right now, I can't track it."

"But you will right?" Don asks.

"You bet. I just need a day or two to figure it out," I straighten up and go over to the money they laid out on the credenza. "For now, I'm going to lock this in the floor safe here. I'd rather not deposit more money until we have an idea of where the rest of that is going."

I see all three men nod as I go to the corner of the office, lift up the carpet to expose the embedded safe. Kneeling down, I punch in the lock code and pop the lid. "If you three would be willing?"

Don and Terry agree and move to start putting the money they brought into the safe. Eric smirks and winks at me. Shrugging, I watch as the two finish up and close the hatch. Frick and Frack lumber out the door while Chocolate hovers and asks, "We'll be seein' you later?"

I nod and offer a small smile before he shuts the door and I call Andy in here to walk me through what's happened.

I sit idling outside of the bank Nora's working in, waiting on her to come out. I glance at my watch and know she should have been done by now. It's fifteen after five and that bank runs like clockwork. Looking back up, I see her exit the double doors as the security guard holds the door open for her. Our eyes catch and her face brightens, probably similar to how mine is.

Appreciating the chance to admire my handy work, I assess her outfit. The slacks are a straight cut in a charcoal grey, the blouse is silk and cream colored, tight and does everything to cling to her body and the matching jacket gives her the air of a naughty librarian. She has absolutely no right being able to carry that look off. It does odd things to me and I find the need to fan myself like I would at church on Sunday…if I still went to church.

I lick my lips, thinking about peeling the suit off of her, but I have a sneaking suspicion, given the look on her face, that we won't be doing any peeling off of clothing anytime soon. She opens the passenger door and slips inside. "Hey," she offers by way of a greeting.

I should really be used to the casualness, but when I'm having a hard time not leaning over and ravishing her here; it occasionally rubs me the wrong way. I smile at her and offer, "Rough day at the office dear?"

Rolling her eyes, she snaps the seat belt over her lap and produces a set of floppy disks fanned out like two cards. My eyebrow rises in response and I wonder what she's holding.

"Would you like to know what I have in my hand?" she grins at me. I get the feeling that her day was far more eventful than mine.

"How about I tell you about my day and then you can fill me in on the excitement you had," I say.

"Sure, but do me a favor, don't head back to my apartment. Head over to the labs. I want to drop these disks off and see if someone over there can do something with 'em." She drops the items in her bag and unzips the concealed compartment of the attaché she carries. Her gun is strapped to the wall and her badge is clipped to the side. She unclips the badge and slips it on her pants.

Moving to the left lane, I signal for a turn and begin, "Well, my day started around ten this morning when Ron and a few goons picked me up to go make some pickups. It was incredibly boring. Except for our last stop. I got to flex a little muscle and deck a guy."

"Wait, you what and why?" Her eyes become slits and I smirk. She hates it when I fight and she's not around to either witness or participate.

"Just some goon who thought it would be cute to grab my ass," I answer shrugging.

"Uh huh," she says sounding less than impressed. "And?"

"And," I say offering her a half smile, "after I broke his nose, he seemed to have a new found respect for women and their bodies. Really, it was a true after school special moment."

"That all?"

"Pretty much. It was boring. What about you?" I look over at her and laugh as she tries to shrug out of the suit jacket she's in.

"Well, Eric, Don and Terry swung by to make more deposits. It sounds like I got some of the money that you collected. And…" she stops and grunts as the jacket comes flying off and lands on the dashboard. "Crap and I think I found out why Darrell was killed. That's why we're stopping by the lab."

"Oh really," I can't cap my curious tone. I mean I understand that two people are dead and it can be argued that working for three drug lords will usually end up with you six feet under, but drug lords usually don't kill their money men.

"Yeah, it appears there is a little over four and a half million dollars that's gone missing. Andy, who by the way, is hinky, can't explain it," she answers.

"Okay, so one, what you have on those disks will help answer the question and hopefully we can track down an answer and the money and two, what kind of assessment of character is the word 'hinky'?"

Her lips quirk to the side and she shrugs. "Just a word. But it describes him to a tee. The kid's just off." Her right hand runs through her hair, scratching her scalp. "I can't put my finger on it just yet though."

Sighing, I acknowledge her judgment and slip into a parking space in the back lot of the labs. "What's after this?"

She looks me over and wiggles her eyebrows. "Home, a shower and change of clothes then we need to stop by Tina's and update Eric."

Well that doesn't sound like much fun. Okay the shower and a naked Nora does, but the rest sounds like a ridiculously dull night and I say as much, "Well aren't we just a barrel of laughs this evening."

She snorts and asks, "Did you have something in mind?"

I cock my head to the side and run my hand up her thigh letting it curve inward before stopping and letting it rest. "Me, you, a fine supper then maybe some dancing and/or drinks?"

She sighs, but covers her hand with mine. "I have to be up early."

Using the tip of my nail, I trace patterns over the cotton-clad thigh. "We don't have to stay out late, but I would like to take you out. Please?" I pout, sticking my bottom lip out in emphasis.

Her eyes narrow for all of three seconds before she caves and nods. "I should learn to say no to you at some point." She reaches for the handle of the car and I follow her, stepping out into the chilly evening air.

"Sugga that will never happen," I protest.

At least if I have my say so, it won't.

I just want to go out, relax. My poor Nora's been stuck in an office eight hours a day pulling together evidence and hopefully with this new batch of disks, we'll have something. All I've been doing all week is putting on this hard-ass bitch routine, which could be construed as fun if I didn't or Eric or Ron didn't have to tell the cretins we're working with to shut the hell up or get shot at least three times a day.

At least Nora doesn't have hear it or see it. For some reason, Chocolate keeps the knuckleheads away when Nora's around. It should worry me, but there's this part that appreciates it. She's still hung up on our lover status for this thing.

"Nikki," Nora says as her head pokes through the door, "you comin'?"

Shaking it off, I offer her a brief yet dazzling smile before opening my own door and stepping outside. As we make our way inside, I cross my fingers and hope that we'll be done with this case soon.

A storm's brewing I just can't figure out when it's gonna hit.

I slide up to the bar at Happy Phantoms and catch Casey's eye. She nods in my direction and holds up a finger as she fills an order for a group of twenty-something's at the opposite end. I look around the club, really the only public place that I feel completely comfortable in to be myself and smile. Ever since Ann brought me to this place about a year after it opened, I come here when I have a free spot in my schedule or when Ann and Jill visit. Really it looks like a little dive bar on the outskirts the city. In reality, it isn't much in the way of a dive. The owners, who I've gotten to know as some of the best people in the city, have spent some serious money keeping the appearance outside as unappealing as it is appealing on the inside.

Spinning around, I prop myself up on my elbows and smile as Nikki gives me a little wave from our booth. There are pool tables on one side of the bar, a stage surrounded by a dance floor and tables and booth down the middle of the place and along the walls. It's also two floors, the bar here is on the top. Below us on the ground floor is an actual dance club. When Ann introduced this place to me, she said that it's probably one of the only places she's seen where straight people and gay people hang out together and no one gets any shit for it.

The fact that I've seen David, one of the owners, toss out a few people who upset the 'live and let live' motto of the place, keeps it that way. The people that work here have worked here since it's opening in Ninety-Two and from what I've seen the only people that come here are the ones that know about it or are introduced by someone who does know. I snort as the idea that this bar is a cliché in a few ways comes to mind.

I feel the heat before the breath as Casey purrs into my ear, "Hey, sexy, long time no see."

I spin around and offer her a lopsided grin. Her arms are folded across her chest, which is covered in a ripped up t-shirt and underneath a tank top. Peeking over the bar I see her standard Catholic school girl plaid skirt, ripped hose and Doc Martens. Idly, I wonder when she'll actually wear clothes more fitting for a thirty year old than a teenager.

She must be reading my mind as she winks and says, "Not gonna happen, Delaney, but for you, I'd wear whatever you like."

I roll my eyes and hook a thumb over my shoulder and know I don't have to say anything. She gives me a long suffering sigh and leans into my personal space.

"Yeah, I saw that a couple months ago." She glances at Nikki over my shoulder and looks back at me, her eyebrow hidden under pink bangs. "You two serious?"

My mouth scrunches to the side unable to answer that just yet. I know the answer for me is yes. I think it is for her to, but…

"You know you should answer if someone asks," she jokes.

"Yeah, I should. And Yes," I answer, "I am. Probably as serious as I get."

Her eyes grow large in surprise. "Really?"

I nod and offer her a tight lipped smile, part of me feeling guilty that I could never commit to her how I want to commit to Nikki. I feel her hand cover mine as she leans in and places a gentle kiss on my forehead and then the tip of my nose. Pulling back, I see her grin at me and squeeze my hand. "Good. It's about time." She plays with the ring on her thumb and says, "Be good to her Nora. She seems like a good one if the daggers she's shooting me are any indication. A little possessive too."

I smirk and say, "It kinda goes both ways."

She offers Nikki a little wave from over my shoulder then says, "I'll have Gayle bring you both a round, go on and scoot." With that she shoos me away from the bar and I scurry back to the booth, to Nikki who looks less than pleased.

Sliding in next to her, I sigh relieved as she lets me wrap my arm around her shoulders and pull her close to me. I place a kiss on her cheek as she asks, "What was that all about?"

I can't help but smile from the tone in her voice. If it were me, I would have gone up to the bar and probably pulled the woman's lips off, but I've realized there are something's that Nikki is much cooler about. Not much, but this is one of them.

"She was wishing us luck. Also, the drinks are on her tonight," I whisper into her ear then nip her lobe.

She gives nothing and asks, "So what is the story between you two?"

I pull back from nuzzling her neck to answer, "We chased away the bad stuff for each other."

She searches my eyes and I see the hint of fear and uncertainty reflected in hers. Brushing away the bangs that have fallen over her brow, I amend, "She's a friend, a good one that would share a bed with me when I needed it and I would share hers when she needed it."

"And Ann?" Nikki's throat bobs as she swallows.

"The first girl I ever admitted an attraction to. The first girl I fell in love with," I answer simply. It's the truth and she knows this.

Watching her nod, I also see some of the uncertainty disappear as her body finally relaxes under my touch.

"But Ann didn't love me. She had eyes for Jill. You know that. You've seen that." I lace our fingers together and try to make light of the questions, "But I'm sure if you're interested they may consider group sex."

For the incredibly lame joke, I get a smack on the shoulder. "In their dreams." Her face sours again and she looks at me like a suspect we've collared and have in the box. "You haven't…"

She really didn't…she really did. "Nikki," I say as gently as possible, taking her hand in mine, "if you haven't noticed by now, that's not my style."

She shrugs it off by saying, "I didn't think so, but I needed to ask."

I guess I can see that. I probably would have asked the question if the roles were reversed. Well now…I snicker and ask, "What about you?" She slinks down in the booth a little and my mouth drops open. "You may just have well as said yes, but you know, I don't want to know." I hold a hand up to stop the words on the tip of her tongue. Shaking my head, I warn, "Seriously, past exploits not needed."

A smirk finally makes its way onto her face as I squirm. Thinking about her with someone else, two someone else's at the same time…I have to curb the reaction to hunt them down and rip off body parts.

"What's wrong sugga?" she purrs in my ear. I want to smack myself for letting the tables get turned. Instead of answering I keep my eyes glued to the table top as she plays with my hair.

"Hey," I hear Casey's voice call out to me as a tray of shots and drinks are slid in front of my vision.

I look up at my friend's grinning features as she slides next to me in the booth. I feel Nikki tense besides me and straighten up.


I've never been so thankful for an interruption in my life.

First, I curse my tell, as soon as she said Casey's name the playful mood that I was just starting to feel come back vanished. Second, I curse her for actually sitting down at our table. These date nights with Nora come few and far between in our hectic work schedule. I steel myself and direct my attention to the woman with the pink bangs who used to be my girlfriend's fuck buddy.

"'Evenin'," I say managing a half hearted smile.

Nora's manners step in and she says, "Casey, this is my, uhm, this is Nikki. Nikki this is Casey." Biting my lower lip at her slip up and really I know that's what it was, for some reason she still has the problem with the word girlfriend. She flinches every time we have to introduce ourselves at a scene and the word 'partner' is brought up.

I stuff the annoyance down for later and extend a hand in the woman's direction. Just because I don't like her for any particular reason, doesn't mean that I can't mind my manners. "Nikki Beaumont, nice to meet you Casey. Nora's said some wonderful things about you."

To my surprise, Casey's face brightens a little as she shakes my hand gently. "Nora hasn't said much about you Nikki, but then again she really doesn't need to. It's good to finally talk." I see Casey glance at Nora then say, "I really just wanted to introduce myself and since I'm on break, share a toast."

I give her that as we raise the shot of, I sniff the rim and pucker my lips at the agave that wafts up, tequila it is, and she says, "To friends, old and new." The shot glasses clink and splash a little before we all down the liquid.

Enjoying the warmth, burn and flavor only a fine tequila can bring I let it relax me just a smidge. I sink back into the booth and feel Nora's hand rest on my thigh, she squeezes it gently and I take the opportunity to lace our fingers together. She leans into me, resting her head on my shoulder and suddenly I'm okay with Casey being here.

"So," I start up, looking our visitor over, "how long have you worked here?"

Casey shrugs and takes a pull of the dark beer in her glass. "Since it opened. I knew the owners from a club they own in Chicago."

"So you're from…?" I probe.

She smirks and offers a vague, "Around mostly. I worked at the bar in Chicago and then when they said they were opening a place down here asked if I wanted to transfer. I figured why not. There wasn't much in the city except the job."

I nod and actually understand.

She pushes a rock glass of dark liquid in my direction and I raise an eyebrow in question. "It's bourbon. You look like a woman that enjoys a good bourbon." She winks at me and says, "It's from a special stash we keep off the shelf. Enjoy it."

I raise the glass to my nose and inhale. The scent is warm, rich and has my mouth watering in not unpleasant ways. I sip the drink and appreciate the spicy slow burn. I set the glass down and say, "Thanks, I haven't had Basil Hayden's in a while."

She whistles in appreciation. "Nora, she's a keeper." She sticks her tongue out at me in a playful way and it's then that I'm really okay with her. I snort and Nora pokes my ribs.

"Thanks Casey," my lover yawns.

"You ready to go bel fi?" I ask, taking advantage of her weakened state to pull her closer.

She shakes her head. "I say we finish our drinks, take a spin on the dance floor then call it a night."

"Okay, then I'll leave you two ladies to it." The bartender rises saying, "Nikki, again very cool to meet you. And you," she points a finger at Nora, "I expect to see you here with her on your arm more often. We miss you around here." With that she spins away and offers another wave over her shoulder as she saunters back to the bar.

I pick the bourbon back up and down the remaining finger in the glass. The woman does know a good drink. That I'll give her. I also can't fault her for having good taste in women either. I watch Nora pick up her drink, the same as my own, and sip. As she sets the glass down, I can't resist leaning in to taste the sweet liquor on her lips. I nip and lick until she lets my tongue slide in. The first brush of her tongue meeting mine causes my stomach and the parts south of it to knot in a deliciously painful fashion.

Her hand slips through the hair at the nape of my neck while my one free hand ignores the idea that we are in public and cups her breast through the fabric of the thin t-shirt she's wearing. I feel her nipple respond to my touch as I stroke it lightly with the pad of my thumb.

Sweet Jesus what this woman can do to me.

She pulls back and offers me a small peck on the lips to rest our foreheads together. "We should finish the drinks and leave. I think that if we don't, I'll get us kicked out of here," she husks.

I bite my lip, but nod. She's right I need her alone. Soon.

As I pull away to put some distance between us, I feel the pocket of my jacket vibrate. I groan and don't bother reading the display as I answer, "Hello?"

"Nik, it's Ron," his gruff voice sounds in my ear and I close my eyes as my stomach sinks. This isn't going to be good.

"What's wrong?" I ask as Nora looks at me for information. I shake my head and hold a finger up asking for patience.

"Wanted to give you an invite. We've got two hoodlums in interrogation that I think you and your partner will want to come down to take a look at," he answers his voice light and relieved.

I look at Nora trying to weigh the options. One on hand this could help close the case on the other I have a pliable Nora ready to go home and they can sit in holding for a few hours. My mouth scrunches to the side then I sigh. Damn it. "Alright. We'll be there in fifteen minutes."

"You together?" Ron asks.

"Yep, you went and ruined a perfectly good daa…ughh," I grunt as Nora elbows me in my side. Quickly I cover the phone with my hand and hiss, "One that actually hurt and two, what the hell was that for?"

Her eyes narrow, her lips purse and I roll my eyes. "What's going on?" she snips.

"It's Ron. He says there are two suspects in holding. I was just telling him we're on our way down." Relenting a little I lean in and kiss the corner of her mouth. "Lover, relax please and let me finish this so we can go." I don't bother waiting on a reply as I uncover the phone and say, "We'll be there soon. Keep'em on ice for us?"

"Will do, Nik." He pauses then says, "Nik, are you and…"

"Ron, whatever you're about to say, why don't you hold it until we get there?" I offer, knowing that I don't want to hear what I know he is going to say.

"Alright, partner, you bring your new lady and we'll see each other soon." The line dies and I slip the phone back into my jacket pocket, cursing him and his bionic ears.


Ch. 5 – Straight to Hell

"Andy," I say, trying to stifle a yawn and cursing my lack of sleep. It was supposed to be a relatively quiet night, well, alright, not so much quiet but it was really only supposed to be Nikki and me at her place after we came home from the bar. Instead I spent the whole of the wee hours before dawn in an interrogation room ringing a confession from the two wannabe-professionals that took out Darrell. Which really wasn't all that hard. I've had to crack tougher fourteen year olds.

The good part is that Nikki and mine's part in this is pretty much done. We did promise Ron that we were going to finish it and finishing means waiting out the rest of the day to quietly escort Andy out and into custody then a nice S.W.A.T. team raid on three of the largest distributors in my city.

This is one of the last things I want to do. I want to find out where that money went and my gut tells me that the only person that can explain that is Andy, Darrell's assistant. Now if he would just frickin' talk to me I could figure out the rest of this stupid puzzle.

"Nora, really, I don't know," he pleads, but his eyes shift down. Bullshit.

He's sitting in my chair looking at my computer screen. I need him to open up and well, I just need to treat this like an interrogation. The setting's a bit off, but I think I can manage. Gently, I place my hands on his shoulders as I stand behind him. "Andy, I've got to tell you, I've been over these accounts a dozen times. Those numbers aren't adding."

Applying just the tiniest bit of pressure on his shoulders, I lean in and whisper in his ear, finally revealing myself not as a cop, but as a hired contractor for Dominguez, Little and Hunter, "Ya know, Andy, I'd hate to have to turn these numbers over to our employers, Chocolate hates when people mess with his money." His already taught muscles pull tighter as I speak and he freezes in the chair. "I know you didn't help Darrell, but since he's gone and you're left, you're it."

Removing my hands, I take the back of the chair and spin him around. "Andy, help me, help you." I search his eyes and see nothing but fear. I soften my voice, and whisper, "I've worked with guys like them all my life Andy. I can get you out of this."

He licks his lips, shifting in his seat. "I…I haven't done anything."

I shake my head. "But you can tell me what happened. If I can explain what happened, Chocolate and the others will let you go." I brush a stray lock of his shaggy hair away and nod. "You can do that right? Figure it out before the day's over?"

His bright grey eyes blink and then his head nods just a fraction of an inch. Taking it as the 'go' signal, I breathe a sigh of relief and right myself. Letting a hand rest on his shoulder, I say, "Good. We've only got a few hours. I'm gonna leave you to it."

I don't bother waiting on him to say anything as I grab my phone off my desk and head out to the lobby to call Nikki. She picks up on the second ring, "Hey there gorgeous," she nearly moans.

Unthinking I look around wondering if anyone overheard and then I want to smack myself in the forehead. Of course no one overheard. "Is anyone around?" I grumble.

"Cameron, me, Chocolate and Ron. We're just waitin' on a few more of the boys to show up, darlin'. How are things on your end?" she answers her voice a little too sugary for my liking.

"Nik, what's wrong? If something's wrong tell me we can't go dancing tonight," I manage to get out even past the boulder size lump in my throat.

"I think," she answers, "that sounds divine. Maybe I'll invite Cameron and Chocolate along."

My nose crinkles and I pull the phone back trying to convey the look I'm giving her over a cell line. I know it won't work and the absurdity of it is just this side of crazy, but she's confusing the hell out of me.

"Nora," I hear her call my name.

I put the phone back to my ear and say, "I'm here, Nikki. I'm just trying to figure out if our late night activities have deprived you of the little bit of sanity you had left."

"Nuthin' of the sort. There have been some interesting developments on my end that we should discuss once you get off of work."

My brow furrows as I start chewing on my lower lip. Glancing up, I notice Andy come out of my office carrying something. The color of the something registers and I hiss, "Nikki, we've just talked ourselves out of dancing tonight. Andy just became a four-seventeen. I need back up." I walk up to an island that holds deposit and withdraw slips, leave my phone open and on then approach Andy.

His eyes are wide, nervous. Briefly I flash back to the face of a baby squirrel I brought home when I was in second grade. The thing had fallen out of a tree and broke its leg. Andy looks like that. Scared shitless and about ready to do something completely stupid.

With my hands raised, I shuffle to him as the gun goes up. It takes a moment but as soon as the first woman screams, others, men and women alike, shout causing all hell breaks loose.

"SHUT UP!" he screams and lets off two rounds in the ceiling.

Ducking, I pull the two people closest to me down to the floor and duck walk over to him. The silence is always disturbing after a gunshot, this time it's no different. The sobs and whimpers are muffled by the stillness. I am thankful that no one was hit. The two rounds caused plaster and paint to rain down around the kid's feet.

"Andy!" I shout, rising from my crouch "Kiddo, put the gun down."

He spins in my direction and then time stands still. I watch as his index finger slowly, gently depresses the trigger on the gun in his hands. It booms and I hear the echo before I feel the burn.

"Nora! Nora, godamnnit talk to me!" I plead into my cell phone where all I can hear is chaos and shouts. I jerk back as two gunshots sound and then dead silence. My eyes dart between the three people in the booth with me. Not bothering to give them answers, I shove Ron out of the booth and scramble out. I'm running for the exit when I hear Nora's voice, faint but there. Alive.

"Ron," I cover up the phone, "You have two minutes to get me to that bank." I shoot a look at the following Cameron and Chocolate and say, "Call Dan Harney at S.C.U." I hiss at them, "Tell them there's a hostage situation at Nora's bank."

All three sets of eyes grow large and everything stands still for a fraction of a second. Then they jump into action. Cameron and Eric stuff themselves into the back seat of the Cadi while Ron hits the driver's side. I jump in and before I have the door closed he peels out of the back alley.

Another shot rings out and my jaw clenches. Godamnnit. Nora, I swear, if anything happens to you I'm gonna kick your ass. I suck in a breath as I hear, "Andy," Nora's voice sounds pained, "That wasn't smart."

"Oh, shit," the scared male voice echoes, "Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. This is all going to shit. I didn't mean for any of this to happen."

"Didn't mean for what to happen, Andy?" Nora asks.

"You, bleeding. Darrell. Shit poor fucking Darrell. He wasn't supposed to die. He didn't even know!" Andy answers.

Nora? Bleeding?

He shot her. The little fuck shot her. My jaw clenches and I do the only thing I can. Listen.

"Know what, Andy?" Nora starts in. Keep him talking sugga. Keep him focused on answering questions not shooting at things.

"He…he…he didn't. I was skimming the take. It wasn't supposed to be that much. Not even a full percent of what we took in." Andy moans and then all I can hear are the sniffles and whimpers from scared bank customers.

My free hand slams against the roof as I use it to stabilize my body around a corner. I look over at the speedometer and urge Ron a little faster.

"It was you wasn't it? You were the one that was taking the money and why Darrell was killed. They thought it was him," Nora says putting the puzzle pieces together. "They came after him and really it should have been you all along."

"Yes, okay!" Andy shouts. "The program wasn't supposed to take that much! I was supposed to be gone a week ago, but the…"

"But, what, Andy?" Nora's voice is getting a fainter. I don't know if she's moving away from where the phone is or if she's getting weaker.

"I, the I.D. I needed wasn't done. I'm sorry," I hear him groan.

"Andy," though faint, Nora's voice has evened out, "we can get out of this, but I need you to put the gun down." There's a pause and then she says, "No, Andy, stop. Look we can work this out. You can't do this, this way."

A set of squad cars are already lined up outside the bank. As our car slides and slows down, I jump out and run towards Dan, surprised he's there so quickly. I didn't even hear Hunter or Chocolate talking. He looks at me and I point to my phone. His eyes go wide at the meaning and I nod.

"Andy, listen to me! Look at me, kiddo," I hear Nora plead. "Put the gun down and let these people walk out of here."

I hear a groan, it's anguished and then, "Andy! Andy! No!" Everyone outside of the bank flinches at the single gunshot that goes off from behind the doors.

Bile rises in the back of my throat as I wait to hear something. Anything. I swear the seconds that it probably took feel like hours, until I hear the scrape of the phone and then, "Nikki?"

"Nora?" The sound of her voice causes the weight that settled on my chest to go away. "Nora, talk to me."

I hear her hiss and then say, "Tell'em not to shoot please. I'm gonna get everyone outta here two by two."

"Hold your fire!" I shout and jog up to the doors, ignoring protocol I reach them as the first few bank patrons come tumbling out into the daylight. I push past them and into the lobby, frantically searching for my partner.

I spot the top of her head towards the first teller window and rush over. I wasn't prepared for the sight. She sits there; Andy's mangled head in her lap. Her left shoulder is soaked in blood and I can't tell if it's hers or his. She blinks and looks at me shaking her head. "I tried to get him to stop."

Dropping to my knees next to her, I smooth some of the blood spattered hair away from her face. I'm not sure what to say so I just start looking her over. My eyes zero in on her shoulder. Gingerly, I tug at the torn seared fabric. Blood seeps from the wound and I say, "We need to get you outta here sugga."

She nods and hisses as I try to apply a little pressure. "Stupid kid. I'm just lucky he was such a sucky shot."

I look at her and she sends me a small half hearted attempt at a grin. "It's a scratch, Nikki. Trust me. It hurts like a mother, but it's only a scratch."

"Nikki! Nora!" I hear Cameron call from the doorway of the bank.

"Over here!" I shout back.

Nora's eyes go wide and I smile at her. A shadow falls over us and I know it's her.

"You two are always so cute together," she jokes and I look back. Her eyebrow rises and she says, "Nikki, you better kiss her with a quickness, they'll be coming soon."

I snort and Nora's eyes bulge. Ignoring her sudden frown, I press our lips together before I hear the rapid footfalls of the other cops. "Nora!" Dan shouts.

"Yeah," she hollers back as I rock back on my heels and stand, trying to help her up. I take the injured shoulder and Cameron takes her right side.

"Christ, Delaney." He looks his ex-partner over and shakes his head. "Why do you always gotta try and give me a damn heart attack."

"It's fun." She sticks her tongue out at him and then looks at Cameron. "And would someone tell me what in the fuck she is doing here?"

Cameron looks at me and I shrug as she answers, "I'm here because we were all together when this happened. Also, you should be nicer to me."

Nora shoots her a look and I bite my lip as we hit the street and a medic reaches us.

It's then that Nora sees the shield suspended from the woman's neck.

"You?" Nora asks.

"Yeah, me. Real name is Trish Hunter, I'm with the D.E.A." Cameron/Trish winks at us as Eric comes running over.

"You too?" Nora spits as a medic sits her down on the back of an ambulance and begins cutting away the shirt around her shoulder.

Eric nods and grins. Nora hisses in pain as I take her hand.

I watch as the medic cleans and begins to uncover the wound in her shoulder.

I swallow as Trish shoots me a look and nods. "Come on, big guy. Let's go talk to Ron and see if we can help the locals clean this up."

Eric lets her lead him away and I hang on to my partner, finally allowing my heart rate to drop below a hundred and ninety.

"The hell I'm not," I seethe looking between Nikki and Dan.

"Nora, you were shot today. You can't," Dan says blandly. "Flesh wound or not. Stitches or not. I'm not having one of my best detectives out there not at a hundred percent."

"Look," I say, making a show of rotating the shoulder that has the seven stitches in it. It hurts like a sonuvabitch, but they don't need to know that. "It's fine. I'm fine."

"Nora," Nikki starts, "he's right. We can handle this."

"Actually," Trish pipes up from behind my partner, "the call isn't yours to make lieutenant. As lead on this case, it's mine and Nora, you're out."

"What?" I shoot her a glare and she ignores me.

"Listen to your boss and your partner. Take point on the raid. Be our ears, but there's no way I'm letting you go in right after the events of today." The D.E.A. agent puts her hands on her hips and dares me to challenge her. What I really wanna do is take the assault rifle she was loading and shove it up her ass.

"She's right, Nora. Look I'll take care of your partner; you sit back and guide us when we need it." Eric shoots me a large white grin and I roll my eyes.

One last time I look between three sets of determined eyes and then to Nikki. She looks tired and I would be more than willing to follow the doctor's orders and go home if she were coming with me. But they must think I'm completely retarded if they think for one second I'm going to leave my partner to go in with a team of federal agents and a handful of good ole boys from Vice into a warehouse with some of the worst dealers and distributors NOLA has to offer.

I shake my head at her and say, "No. I've got a few stitches. Let me at least stay behind a few guys and take down at least one. I can do that."

Trish's eyes soften for a bit and I notice the looks that pass between her and Eric then her and Nikki. "Fine."

Heaving a sigh of relief I resume strapping my vest down and reach for my badge hanging off the chain in my locker. I slip my clip free and check to make sure a full magazine is available, before jacketing the round, safetying the firearm and slipping it in its holster. "Now that we have that settled. Let's go," I grunt and shoulder past Dan.

We hit the back of the van and Ron's there waiting on us. He looks me over and then cracks a grin. "Nikki, this new partner of yours got a set on her." He cracks his gum and scurries into the back of the van as the rest of us follow.

"She's got a hard head that's going to land her in some hot water is what she has," Nikki glowers at me and I make a point to ignore her.

I don't need this right now. I'm hurting and pissed off. If it wasn't bad enough that I get shot, I got to watch a twenty-two year old kid blow his brains out in the middle of a bank. Truthfully I want to shoot someone right now. It might make me feel better. Instead I get to find out that Eric and Trish are federal agents and they've been tracking a specific Columbian dealer for nearly two years.

"Okay," Eric's voice cuts through my focus on my throbbing, "We have a set of three teams. We're the first in and through the front. There are two other exits at the warehouse. The back one will be taken by a team of eight D.E.A. and then the water exit which we have the N.O.P.D. covering." He points to a blueprint of the building that's taped to the back wall of the van. "We go in fast and quiet through the front. We drop anyone that's standing guard then hit the main floor that's set towards the back of the building."

"Questions?" Trish asks.

"Yeah, how exactly are you two going to maintain your cover here?" Nikki asks.

Trish tosses a helmet that was sitting behind her at my partner. Nikki catches it and looks at the face shields. Tinted and mirrored, no one should be able to see who's behind the mask.

"Alright, but what are you two gonna do after this?" I ask.

"The guy we're after, Fredrico Castillo, will be annoyed enough that he'll plan a trip to Miami and then that's when we'll grab him."

"Why such a hard on for this guy?" Ron asks.

Trish looks to Ron then back at Eric. Both of their faces tell me everything I need to know. "He took away a member of our team. The bastard owes me twenty grand and my husband back," Trish spits out as Eric's large hand rests on her shoulder.

The van comes to a stop and we pile out, finishing off the rest of our gear, making sure jackets and badges are on display. The vest I'm wearing pinches the stitches in my shoulder but I shrug it off as Nikki hands me the assault rifle. I sling it over my shoulder and take the offered helmet. I secure my hair and snap the chin strap across my jaw. "Well then, let's finish this up so you can go collect."

Trish looks at me and nods.

We go in line, fast and quiet, two guards at the front get taken out almost immediately. Tranq darts embedded in their necks as they drop to the concrete. Communication between the five of us is hand gestures, none of us able to see each other's eyes. I keep Nikki's back in my line of site constantly as I bring up the rear.

I can't tell if it's the adrenaline or the fear that's made the knot in my stomach. All I know is that I couldn't let her go in here alone. As we turn the corner to the main floor of the warehouse, we bottleneck in the hall, then spill out onto the main floor. Fanning out, shouting for those gathered around the table to keep their hands raised.

The back doors bursts open and the D.E.A. agents sweep in. They begin cuffing the six people around the table as we keep a close eye on the rest of the surroundings. It's swift, quiet and not like the shoot outs you see on T.V. when these things take place. The raid was text book and efficient. Both things I'm grateful for. Dominguez, Madrid, Terry, Little, T-Rock and one of his goons are frog marched past us in cuffs. Six pieces of shit taken off the street, a double homicide solved and less drugs in my city, all good things in my book.

As we empty out of the building, we see the transport van housing the arrestees shut the back doors then take off to central booking. Finally, my heart beat returns to a normal level and I shrug off the helmet and jacket, handing Eric my vest, rifle and jacket.

We shake hands with the other agents and then just as soon as it started, it ends and we're on our way back to the station. No worse for the wear with a better city to show for it.

"Nora," Nikki hisses in my ear.

I look over at her and see her eyes directed not at my face but tank top and wounded shoulder. Glancing down, I see the bright red stain seeping through the layers of gauze. Fuck.

She reaches out and lifts the bandage. She glares at me and clips, "You popped a stitch or two."

I wince. "Worth it," I grunt as she smacks my shoulder. Fuck that hurt.

I grunt again and don't put voice to what I really wanna say. A few popped stitches are worth my piece of mind. Better a few stitches than not being able to make sure she's safe.

Getting ready to hand Nora back her shirt, I think twice and turn to lock the door to her examination room. After we finished up at processing everyone decided to make Nora go back to the hospital and get re-stitched. As I turn to her, I catch her eyes skirting back up to my face and I smirk. I swear my girl's got a one track mind that is unrivaled.

I set her shirt down beside her and fit myself between her legs, resting our foreheads together. I take a moment, center myself and allow us to just be. This is the first moment we've had alone since the bar last night. I finally feel her move as her lips press against mine. I pull back and nuzzle her neck, close to where her stitches are, placing soft kisses around the wound.

"Nor," I whisper into her neck, "This could have…"

"Shhhh," she coos and pulls me back, placing an index finger against my lips. "It didn't and that's what we have to worry about." Her eyes are bright and earnest.

I nod and accept her words. It's not the time. I help her into her shirt and then finger the sling the nurse left on the bed. "Don't even think it, babe," Nora warns.

I shoot her a look and say, "You aren't gonna argue about this." She huffs and I finish, "And you won't be arguing with me about this," I say holding up the sling.

Her lips purse and she pouts, but she does let me help her put her arm into the sling. We finish getting her put together and step out into the hall where Ron, Trish and Eric are waiting. Their faces break into smiles.

"Well, now that that bit of excitement is over, why don't we cut out of here, shelve the paperwork for tomorrow and get some drinks," Trish says. "Courtesy of the D.E.A., of course."

"Ya know, Trish, I would love to, but the doctor said Nora should get home and rest. I want to actually make sure she rests," I say cutting a glance to my partner. My look brooks no argument from her; I make a mental note to give her a cookie or some such treat when we get back to her place.

"Well, we can't be arguing with doctor's orders none," Eric says and gathers me and Nora up in his arms, taking care to watch her shoulder. "You ladies take care."

Trish watches on amused as he releases us and she shakes her head. "Eric, you are the biggest fucking teddy bear on the damn planet." Her hands go to her hips and she looks us over again, similar to when we first met. "Look, you two take care of each other and if you ever wanna come over to the dark side of law enforcement, look me up." She winks, smiles and then shoves Eric down the hall.

Ron's left and he's rubbing the back of his neck looking between the two of us. "Look, Nik, about…"

I cut him off, "Don't, alright. We're good. We also need have a drink one day soon."

He nods and looks over at Nora. "You take care of my partner. She's a keeper, Detective, but somethin' tells me you already know that." He lays a hand on Nora's shoulder and offers her his best smile. "Keep it that way will ya?"

Nora says nothing, but she does offer his hand a squeeze.

"We'll catch up when your lady friend hasn't been shot, Nicolette." He winks at me and I grin as I watch him saunter down the hall.

"Nicolette?" Nora's asks.


I sigh and nod. "That is my name, sugga." I turn to her and guide her in the opposite direction to where Darius said he's waiting with a car for us.

"Is that your full name?" she asks me as we hit the street.

"I'm not sayin' another word." I spot Darius next to a Jeep and smile.

"Nik, you ever tell me to come get you at a hospital and not tell me why again, I'm tellin' maw maw on you." He grins and opens up the back passenger door for Nora and me to get in to. "And another thing," he says slipping into the driver's seat, "This drivin' two white chicks around…neither of you look like a Daisy and I sure as hell ain't no Hoke."

"We won't make a habit of it Darius. Thank you," Nora mumbles as graciously as possible.

"Good. So what happened?" he asks catching my gaze in the rear view mirror.

"Nora got shot trying to talk Andy Dowling outta holding the bank hostage," I say grabbing her hand and lacing our fingers together.

His eyebrow rises and he looks in Nora's direction. "You okay?"

Nora's head lifts up and she shrugs with her good shoulder. "I'll live."

"Uh," Darius grunts.

"The important part," Nora says making sure I'm paying attention, "Is that everyone, Nikki really, got out of this assignment whole and unharmed."

Tears prick my eyes and I blink trying to clear them.

"Well, that is a bit of good news." He smiles at me and I close my eyes. We really haven't finished that conversation from the park. Neither of us really wanting to talk about it. Tonight really ain't the night. There's a lot I need to sort through, but what I really want is to get Nora home, a nice hot bath and then a solid eight hours of sleep. The last time I saw a bed was three nights ago.

Darius pulls up to Nora's apartment building, I slide out and jog to the other side. As she grabs my hand and begins to slide from her seat, I hear Darius, "Nora, give me the keys to your car and I'll have it delivered here by tomorrow morning."

She shoots him a look and I say, "He'll treat her right, Nor. Come on, hand them over."

Begrudgingly, she fishes the keys from her jacket pocket and hands them over to Darius. He drops them in the middle console and grins. "By the way Detective, your girl's name is Nicolette Joyelle." He winks at her and I cringe. Damn him.

"You'll need it if you intend on stickin' around," he says, turning around as I slam the door when she reaches the sidewalk.

He offers me a wave then peels away from the curb. Bastard.

Now how am I gonna stay mad at him after that?

"Nicolette Joyelle, eh?" my lover asks.

I turn to her and give her a once over. The arm in the sling and bags under her eyes do nothing to dampen the butterflies in my belly. She's a sight at any time of day and in any condition.

"Yeah, that happens to be my full name. If you would please do this southern belle a good turn and not let that out, I'd be appreciative." I snag her good hand and lead her up the steps and into her apartment.

The apartment door clicks shut and she spins me around planting a searing kiss on my lips. I linger there in a state of bliss until she breaks away and husks, "I promise to only use my powers for good babe. I took an oath after all."

Her grin says everything as I drag her back to her room and into the shower. Tonight I'll just be thankful that she's safe and no worse off than a few stitches.

Tomorrow's gonna be a different story.

The End

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