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Tracey was mid-conversation with a federal prosecutor on her office line when her cell vibrated for the third time. The racket it raised as it hummed and bounced on her files was not unlike a large angry mosquito. With great irritation she reached out and slapped at it, much like she would have done to the insect it seemed to be mimicking. It clattered onto the exposed wood of her desktop, causing her to swear under her breath. Across the room, Kelly arched an eyebrow as she listened to her partner struggle to maintain her composure.
"No, Phil, I am not going to budge on this one. No deal. I go first, then you can have him." Tracey's voice was clipped and measured. Despite the distraction of her cell phone, she seemed set to hold her ground. Pursing her lips as she shook her head, she nearly barked into the receiver, "Well, you DO that!" Kelly's head whipped up as the phone slammed down. "Bastard."
"That went well." She watched Tracey seethe and clench her fists.
"It's the arrogance that kills me ... the unmitigated gall that he has ..." She blew a long puff of air from her lips, almost as if she were literally venting her anger. "Doesn't matter. We have the right of way, so to speak." Glaring down at her desk, she snatched up her cell and flipped it open. The text message that she read there caused her to swear again.
The correct answer was yes. Rereading the short text, Tracey cursed silently. /Tonight. Red Sky. 9. Ro./ She had to end this before it got any worse. "It's nothing." That was certainly true.
"Anything I can do?"
Oh, if only. "I can handle it." She said that as much to convince herself as Kelly. "I'm going down to Branch's office ... make sure he holds the line on the Canton case. I'll be damned if Phil's going to outmaneuver me."
Dismissed, and disappointed that Tracey hadn't shared more about what was bothering her, Kelly nodded. "Good luck." Her eyes followed Tracey as she left the room. The dust up with the Feds she understood. The other thing ... that had to be personal. She wished she could stop herself from wondering just how personal.
As she wandered down the sidewalk, lost in thought, Tracey tried to place exactly when she had known. It wasn't right away, she knew that much. It had taken a while for Kelly Gaffney to weave her way in. Sure, she was smart, imminently competent, intuitive, sexy as hell, persistent, compassionate ... all of those things. But Tracey had still resisted. At first it was because she WAS so special. It had taken Tracey a long time to find someone who complimented her so at work. They were a phenomenal team and a formidable one. Tracey valued that. Thrived on it. She wanted to preserve it at all costs. But then, suddenly, the cost was too high. When had that happened? Had there been one moment that tipped the scales? Tracey couldn't recall just one. Instead it was like an avalanche of small gestures, close encounters. Kelly's hand resting on her back as they bent over a file. The way she fussed and hovered when Tracey was too stressed or under the weather. The light pressure of Kelly's fingers on her arm in court just before the verdict was read. Those eyes. Jesus. Somehow, little by little, they had melted everything, straight through to Tracey's heart. And now she didn't know what to do. With every cell of her body she wanted to hang onto what she had, but just as strongly, almost desperately, she wanted more. Kelly was truly her partner, her best friend. That was priceless to Tracey. She'd gone most of her life without real soul-deep friendship. Surely that was enough. And yet ... she was seriously contemplating losing it all, losing everything ... just to know the enchantment of one kiss.
Her phone buzzed in her pocket, breaking her reverie. Damn. She had forgotten to respond earlier and now the message had been repeated. Okay okay okay. She hastily typed /will meet u there/ and hit "send." One thing was certain ... she couldn't even begin to think about "what ifs" with Kelly Gaffney until this situation was resolved. She would make sure of it tonight.
Dropping a tall stack of folders onto her desk with a muffled thud, Kelly sighed. Why had she wanted this job so badly? Boring, run-of-the-mill ambition at first, she supposed. Then she had observed Tracey Kibre in full prosecutorial splendor. It had absolutely taken her breath away. From that day on, she had kept abreast of all the comings and goings in Kibre's office, jumping at the first opening, vowing to be a part of that energy and environment. Now, here she was. Most days it was everything she could have dreamed. Today ... today was a long day. She glanced at the clock and was surprised to see that it was after eight. Taking a closer look at Tracey's desk, she realized that Tracey was gone for the night. She hadn't even said good-bye. Chastising herself, Kelly tried to believe that it didn't matter. It's not like they always walked out together or checked with each other before they headed home for the evening. Still, she mulled over the detachment Tracey had worn throughout the day and wished she had been there when her partner left the office. It's none of your business Gaffney. If she had wanted you to know what was going on she would have mentioned it to you. Get your own life. She started to shuffle some of the documents on her desk when she was interrupted by a short rap on the door.
"Hey ... you leavin'?" Chris Ravel stuck his head in.
"Looks that way." She reached for her coat and scarf. "What's up?"
Pushing the door all the way open, but not stepping inside, Ravell shoved both hands into his jacket. "Hector and I were just going to grab a drink .... thought you might want to join us."
Kelly's first impulse was to say no. She usually joined the others after work only if Tracey was going to be there. Sliding two folders into her briefcase and clasping it, she stared at the empty chair across the room. Get your own life. "Sure, why not." She turned the lamp off and moved toward the open door.
The music wasn't too loud and the lights weren't too harsh. Well, at least that was something. Tracey sat at the gleaming wooden bar, sipping her Crown and scanning the entrance every few minutes. Her legs were crossed and the tip of her shoe bobbed in time to the music, ankle dangling. For a brief moment, she wondered whether or not she should have dressed up, smoothing one hand down the skirt of her black dress. But just like in court, she felt more confident and commanding when she was well-attired. It was the right choice. Absently, she played with a matchbook, turning it over and over with her fingers. Red Sky Bar. This was new. They had not met here before. Taking a long sip of her drink she acknowledged that they wouldn't meet here again. Or anywhere again. She just wanted it to be over. Waving her finger at the bartender, she indicated that she wanted another round. Just as he moved away to fulfill her request she caught sight of her date. It was hard to miss that shade of red hair, flowing and soft, as she made her way through the crowd. She was wearing a jade green top of some clingy material that scooped up around her neck and left her shoulders and much of her back completely bare. The black pants were tight, but tastefully so, her legs made all the more shapely by the spiked heels of her shoes. She looked stunning. More than a few heads turned to follow her as she walked straight toward Tracey, a sly smile playing about her lips.
"There you are ..." She slid one hand up the curve of Tracey's hip as she sat on the barstool. With her other arm, she leaned on the bar rail, into Tracey's space, the signal she was sending to the rest of the bar unmistakable. They were together.
"You're late." Tracey took the last sip of her first drink and shook the ice slightly as she set the glass down, as if to say, 'this is how long I've been sitting here.'
"And you're irritated with me." She smiled and tilted her head in front of Tracey, "I'm not that late. Let's go up on the roof." She took Tracey's hand.
"Rochelle, we need to talk ... "
"We can talk upstairs ... it's quieter in the roof lounge anyway." She started to tug at Tracey's hand.
That would work, somewhere quieter. "Just a minute, he's making me another one." Tracey nodded her head toward the bartender. She needed that drink to get through the next few minutes.
Smiling again, Rochelle turned and leaned her back against the bar. Bringing Tracey's hand up to her lips, she lightly kissed her knuckles. "Okay, but once we're upstairs ... you're all mine."
Just as Ravell ushered Kelly out the front door of the building, Hector had rushed up to them, slightly out of breath and apologizing. Something had come up and he had to beg off. He was on his way out to the Bronx. Chris had clasped him on the shoulder and told him not to worry. Kelly called out to him that they'd see him in the morning, and both of them stood and watched until he was out of sight.
"You think everything's okay?"
Ravell turned and started toward his car. "Yeah, it's something with his mother, I'm sure."
"You two are close?" She fell in beside him on the sidewalk.
"Getting there." Chris shrugged. "You know how it is ... you work with someone ..."
She knew. "I wondered when you were first assigned here. I had the feeling you kind of rubbed some people the wrong way." Smiling, she swung her briefcase.
"Briscoe was a great guy, irreplaceable really. And I'm not the most humble individual ... " He grinned. "Yeah, it was tough to find my spot."
'I think the description I heard most often was "cocky sonofabitch." Grinning, she could hear Tracey echoing the sentiment.
"Guilty as charged." They had reached the vehicle, a nondescript sedan, typical cop car. Abruptly, Ravell veered to the passenger side and unlocked that door first. Swinging it wide, he gestured across his waist. "After you, ma'am."
Kelly raised her eyebrows. "So we're aiming for 'well-mannered cocky sonofabitch' now?" Slipping past him, she settled into the front seat.
"At your service."
As the door swung shut, Kelly briefly considered asking Ravell to drop her at her apartment. She had agreed to join the guys for a drink, but now that it was just the two of them .... Was she being silly? She and Chris were frequently alone following up leads, deposing witnesses ... this should be no different. Except that this was social. If she backed out now, wouldn't that make more of it than what it was? Besides, she had nothing better to do. It was a drink with a colleague. Get a grip. Fastening her seatbelt, she decided that it never hurt to get to know someone better.
Drumming her fingers on the surface of the bar, Tracey couldn't decide whether or not she wanted the bartender to work slower or faster on her drink. She wanted this evening and any unpleasantness to be behind her, but she wasn't looking forward to actually stating her case. Her eyes were fixed on the back of his vest, but she could feel cool green ones perusing her features. She hoped she was giving off a strictly neutral vibe.
"This isn't like you."
Rochelle's comment caused her to look up at the redhead. Her immediate response, which she quickly bit back, was "You don't know what I'm like." Instead, she responded evenly, 'What isn't?"
"Wanting to discuss our relationship ... it doesn't seem like you." Her long fingers toyed with the ends of Tracey's hair.
Tracey stifled the urge to roll her eyes. "First of all, it's not a relationship, Ro, it's more of an arrangement ..." She decided to ignore the flicker of something ... whatever it was ... that she picked up in her companion's expression as she clarified the terms.
"To-may-to ... to-mah-to ..." She dipped a shapely shoulder and brought their faces closer together. "No matter what you want to call it, talking is not something that we usually focus on ..."
Tracey flashed back to the first time they had met. That night had been all about dancing and groping and escape. She wasn't sure they had even exchanged names. It had been exhilarating. When they met again, it was less so, but still powerfully alluring. Tracey was the first one to bring up the phrase, "no strings attached." From then on, convenience was the key. That and respect for space. Lots and lots of space. Tracey didn't want this to overlap any other aspect of her life and so far the separation had been successful. The last thing she had expected to feel in the midst of all the heat and excitement was guilt. Or wistfulness. She couldn't complain about the sex. Rochelle knew how to get from A to Z with no problems and many bonuses. Still ... it wasn't enough. At some point it had begun to feel completely wrong. She wanted ... needed ... something more. But not with this woman.
"You're right. But tonight, it's important."
As he piloted the car in and out of traffic, Chris Ravell tried to banish the somewhat subliminally giddy feeling that he was on a date with Gaffney. He had asked her to join them tonight strictly on a whim, hardly believing that she would accept. She wasn't completely anti-social, but strangely enough, Kibre was the more likely of the two to rub elbows with them at a bar. As he glanced over at her profile periodically, he couldn't help but be attracted to her, he could admit it. Hell, just LOOK at her. He heard his father's voice, deep and rumbling, reminding him that it was a piss-poor idea to 'shit where you eat.' He generally agreed. He'd seen too many office romances turn everything to crap. Besides, it wasn't a date. Hector was supposed to be there. And yet, here they were, alone in his car, out at night together. Nothing to do with business. Just pretend she's Hector, or Newhouse, or any of the other guys. It's no different. Then she turned to him and smiled as the car pulled up along the curb and he knew he wasn't kidding anyone.
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