DISCLAIMER: CSI and its characters are the property of Jerry Bruckheimer and CBS. No infringement intended.
AUTHORS' NOTE: Written for mrswoman’s birthday. We hope this collaboration is adequate enough to be considered a worthy pressie. Happy Birthday, Debbie! The roles of Sofia Curtis and Catherine Willows are being played by atfm and darandkerry, respectively.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

A Silver Lining
By Ann and atfm


All I wanted was a relaxing evening...

Through my windshield, slightly smeared with a mixture of desert dust and city grime, the neon sign of the bar seemed unusually bright, or perhaps my eyes were just too tired. The last letter of the name wasn’t illuminated; the tube had been broken for weeks, and for weeks I’d been teasing Miles, the bartender, that no tourists would be able to find their way into his wonderful establishment now. He’d always laughed and said that if his bar ever popped up in a travel guide, he’d close it down and move to Reno. It had become a running gag of sorts between the two of us.

Tonight, however, with the day I’d had, I didn’t feel much like joking. We were currently knee-deep in a high-profile case involving a number of city officials, and when word of the amount of corruption we were potentially facing had gotten out to the media, the shit had hit the fan. McKeen and his henchmen were putting enormous pressure on us to keep the investigation under wraps -- if that was even still possible -- and at some point, even the mayor had paid us a less than friendly visit.

Feeling like I wasn’t much more than a puppet on a string in this whole scheme, being told what to do and easily replaced if I didn’t do it, I desperately needed to unwind, be around normal people who weren’t greedy for power and rubbed their superior rank in your face whenever it suited them, and the familiar surroundings of my favorite bar were just the place to gain some distance from work.

With a quick glance in the rearview mirror, I checked my appreance, finding I still looked presentable even after a 14-hour shift, and got out of the car. The door slammed shut with a bit more force than was perhaps necessary, but since I couldn’t chew anyone out right now, inanimate objects had to serve as a vent for my pent-up frustration. I strolled over to the entrance casually and straightened my shoulders slightly just before I pushed through the door and into the dim interior of the bar. My plan was to hang around for a couple of beers and a nice, comfortable chat with Miles, and then go home to catch some sleep before waking up to the stinging light of a new day when I’d have to face it all over again. Of course, I wouldn’t mind some company because on some days, waking up next to a stranger was still better than waking up alone, but that was completely optional.

Nevertheless, I put on my best strut as I made my way over to the counter, discreetly scanning the smoke-filled room without appearing too interested. When I slid onto one of the high bar stools, covered with cracked leather, and rested one foot on the metal bar affixed to the front of the counter, Miles emerged from the pool room and, upon noticing me, strode over to join me at the bar. I could hear loud voices, seemingly engaged in an argument, coming from the room he had just left, and his somewhat erratic movements made it obvious that Miles was nervous. When he came to a halt on the other side of the long expanse of wood separating me from the liquor shelves, he had a look on his face that I wasn’t quite sure I liked.

“Curtis, you have the best timing,” he announced. “You gotta help me.”

I groaned inwardly. Did it ever stop? All I wanted was to sit here quietly, nursing a drink, and not take care of anything for a change. A lot of people would’ve heard exactly that from me, most likely in less than polite words, but Miles was a good friend and deserved better, so I merely settled for some mild sarcasm. “I’ll have a beer, Miles, thanks for asking, and I’m doing just splendid.”

He had the decency to look slightly guilty at my response but was undeterred in his endeavor to put me to use in solving whatever problem he had, and to get me to do it immediately. “No time for pleasantries. You’ll get free beer later if you fix this for me, I promise.”

I knew I’d be sorry I asked, but I did it anyway. “Fix what exactly?”

He leaned over the counter conspiratorially, making sure there were no eavesdroppers when he uttered his request. “I need you to work your professional powers of persuasion. You know, use your mad detective skills. Do that authority thing you do so well. Flash your badge.”

Despite my reluctance to get involved in anything that required moving or talking that could potentially morph into yelling, I had to stifle a grin. I could tell that with his low voice, the flattery, and the offer of free beer, Miles was trying to cajole me into helping him out with something that normally would’ve called for official police work, and he was doing so in what he assumed to be a subtle manner. From the pleased look that spread on his face when no one jumped up, pointed a finger and shouted, “Bribery!,” I could also tell that he was certain he’d succeeded. The truth was that he’d been about as subtle as a bull in a china shop.

I made an attempt at extricating myself from the situation without looking like a bad friend. “Come on, Miles, we both know you shouldn’t ask any favors that have something to do with me being a cop. I’m working one of the most important cases of the last ten years, and I have to watch my back. Do you want me to lose my job? Anything you need from your friend Sofia I’m ready to give, but Detective Curtis is not available tonight.”

“Then whip out those qualities that make you such a damn good cop, stick them to your private self, and save a man from getting into trouble. I can’t afford having uniformed officers weaseling around here. It’s bad for business, you see.”

“Fine,” I sighed, a little impressed with his relentlessness in spite of myself. “What’s the problem? If you whacked that obscene guy from the other night over the head with a brick and hid the body in your basement, I can’t help you.”

“Funny you should mention hitting someone over the head...” Miles began carefully but was interrupted by a figure noisily stomping towards us from the door of the pool room, knocking over two stools in the process and groaning dramatically. She was pressing a blood-soaked towel to her left temple with her meaty hand, and her facial expression was that of a furious bull, ready to charge. I instantly recognized the brawny woman that I knew possessed not an ounce of grace: Big Bertha.

Turning my attention back to Miles to find him looking at me sheephisly, I quirked an eyebrow. “Why am I not surprised that she has something to do with it, huh?”

“I heard that,” the woman in question roared, clearly not remembering we’d met before, “and you better watch out if you don’t want me to kick that skinny ass of yours!”

The direct threat had me forget in what capacity I was supposed to be helping Miles, and with a quick movement of my hand, I pushed my jacket aside to reveal the shiny shield fastened to my belt, ensuring she got a good look at it. I’d dealt with the big woman some weeks earlier, but her brain had obviously chosen to block out the unpleasant memory of being caught red-handed by a police officer, or she simply didn’t care enough about the incident to remember.

Surprise replaced rage in Big Bertha’s face, followed by something that could only be described as pure malice. “Well, a cop, isn’t that nice. I hope you brought your handcuffs, too, officer. I’ve been assaulted in the most brutal manner” – at this, she made sure to insert an agonized hiss as she adjusted the bloody towel – “by that red-headed bitch back there.” She pointed over her shoulder towards the pool room with the thumb of her free hand.

Glancing at Miles in an attempt to read in his face whether there was even a grain of truth to Bertha’s story, I found him giving me a barely noticeable shake of his head. Holding my gaze intently, he said, “I was out here serving a customer when it happened, but I’m sure it was all just a misunderstanding.” His eyes locking with mine clearly communicated, ‘There’s not a doubt in my mind that she deserved that blow to the head.’

I focused on Bertha once more, sizing her up with a trained eye and somehow not believing that a woman like her was completely guiltless when she got into a quarrel that ended with blood being spilled. But I tried to remain professional for Miles’s sake. “Why don’t you tell me what happened before you were hit on the head with a...”

“Pool cue! She used a pool cue! The tiny thing was too chicken to take me on with her fists, so she decided to attack an unarmed woman with a wooden stick!” Her indignation wasn’t quite convincing, and I mentally high-fived the red-headed bitch.

“Did you get into an argument with the other woman?”

Bertha had begun walking towards the pool room with heavy steps, obviously expecting us to follow her and continuing her rant all the while.

“I was just quietly standing near one of the tables with my beer, minding my own business and watching, you see? And the little hussy comes up to me, acting all cocky, and wants to challenge me to a game of pool.”

Sighing, I slid off my bar stool and trailed along behind Bertha with Miles in tow. Since she had her back turned on us, I didn’t even feign interest and instead gave Miles a “You owe me big time for this” look. Bertha rambled on.

“I politely declined; I wasn’t in the mood to play, you know? Then she gets all pissed off, demands that I accept her challenge or else. I say no again, still friendly, didn’t want to aggravate her any further.”

From the corner of my eye, I saw Miles screw up his face when Bertha mentioned being polite, and I silently, but wholeheartedly, agreed with him. The three of us reached the door and stepped through it into a room where the veil of smoke hanging in the air seemed to be even thicker than in the main room. People were shooting balls across the baize on four pool tables, pumping their fists in victory after a successful shot, and groaning when a ball caromed off the rail without rolling into a pocket afterwards, but barely anyone looked up when we entered. We moved towards the far end of the room, and Bertha was still talking.

“...And then, without warning, bam! She swings her cue and strikes a blow.” She pointed at someone leaning against the wall. “There she is, that’s the bitch.”

Miles’s and my eyes followed Bertha’s finger and beheld a short woman, standing with her arms crossed, defiance evident in her posture. She hadn’t seen us yet, seemed lost in thought, a hint of worry visible in her features. I tilted my head a little and squinted to see through the smoky air. This red-headed bitch looked awfully familiar.

The red-headed bitch...

Well, fuck. Could this day get any worse?

Way to go, Catherine; you really did it this time, but damn it, that overgrown bull-dyke should’ve kept her hands to herself. Brushing against my ass was one thing, but grabbing hold of my tits was out of line, way out of line. No one touched my tits without my permission, no... one.

I wrapped my arms around myself tightly, hiding the hands that were still shaking with uncontrollable anger. I needed to rein in my rage and concentrate on making an effort to come to some sort of resolution with the big dyke without involving the police. Ecklie would have a field day with this. Hell, by the time he finished with me, I’d be lucky to have a job with the custodial staff.

Inhaling deeply, I drew as much of the second-hand smoke into my lungs as possible. I may have quit smoking years ago, but right now, I needed something to calm my nerves. I should never have taken Mandy’s advice about coming here to unwind; I should’ve just taken my tired ass home and gone straight to bed. Better yet, I should’ve taken that cute little brunette up on her offer when I’d first entered the bar. I could be lying in bed with a huge smile on my face right now instead of trying to come up with some sort of plan to get out of this mess.

As usual, my mind worked furiously in a different direction, replaying the evening’s events in slow motion and trying to come up with various ways in which I could have handled the situation in a less aggressive manner. I had to smile when the scenario ended the same way every time – with the pool cue smashing across Big Bertha’s head. My inner thoughts quickly shifted to the why and not the how.

Why didn’t people understand no anymore? It wasn’t a difficult concept to comprehend. No meant no, pure and simple. Even the assholes of the world should be able to understand, but therein lay the problem; assholes did whatever they damned well pleased. And Big Bertha was definitely an asshole.

My mind drifted once again, returning to a familiar thought, one I’d had quite often as of late. With this latest fiasco, I placed the blame for everything negative that had happened in the past few months on one person’s shoulders - Sara Sidle's. I knew Sara had nothing to do with this incident with Big Bertha, but I needed someone to blame, and as always, Sara fit the bill nicely.

Everything had gone to hell in a hand basket when Sara had left. Grissom became even more withdrawn, if that was even possible, Warrick made one bad decision after another, Greg stayed mad at the world most of the time, Hodges insinuated himself into every single case, and even I let the change affect me, allowing cases to get to me. It was almost as if I’d taken up Sara’s causes, or at the very least, unconsciously chosen to become more involved in my cases. Nick was the only one who remained stable through it all. Nick would never allow himself to get caught up in my current predicament. I should’ve reacted how he would’ve; I should’ve just walked away. But should’ve and could’ve were two completely different concepts. I’d proven that in spades by my actions of tonight.

When I’d first walked into the bar, I’d instantly become enamored with the place, and the fact that a much younger woman had extended such a lovely offer had made me fall in love with it even more. I’d taken a few moments to share a beer with the woman, exchanging phone numbers in case I was to change my mind. She’d paid my tab, and we’d parted ways as I’d had my heart set on relaxing with a game of pool. Truth of the matter was, I’d have loved nothing more than to take the brunette to my bed, but I didn’t think I had the stamina on this particular night. I’d placed her business card in my pocket and patted it reassuringly, planning to give her a call when I was well-rested.

A game had just concluded when I’d stepped into the pool table area of the bar, and I’d caught the winner’s eye with a gesture towards myself. She’d motioned me over and held out a cue for me to take. After a small wager, I’d lined up behind the cue ball and sent it toward the other end of the table with a loud smack of the cue. The balls had scattered across the baize with the twelve ball landing in the far right corner pocket. The woman had laughed aloud and had teased that I was a ringer. I’d laughed right along with her; she’d had no idea how close to the mark she was. Eddie had definitely taught me a thing or two about pool.

An hour had gone by with me still in control of the table. I’d flirted my way through game after game, each challenger having so much fun returning my teasing remarks that they’d handed over their money with a smile after their defeat. Of course, I’d made sure not to win so easily, purposely tanking a few shots to make the games interesting. Everything had been going smoothly until Big Bertha had started shooting off her mouth.

“I bet pool isn’t the only thing you’re good at, is it, Red?” The bull-dyke had been watching from a corner seat, and I’d managed to successfully avoid her most of the night. I should’ve known it wouldn’t last.

“Trust me; you’d be the last person to find out.” I’d punctuated my remark with another perfect break to start the new game. In hindsight, it probably would’ve been best to have ignored Big Bertha’s question because the resulting laughter by the patrons in the room had made her see red. I’d just waved a red cape in front of a dumbassed bull. She’d risen to her feet and started toward me. My opponent had tried to step in her way, but the asshole had never lost her momentum, swatting the other woman aside like a gnat. I’d tightened my hold on my cue.

“Hey now, I don’t want any trouble.” Using a technique I’d learned long ago, the cue had become a blur as I’d spun it around from hand to hand, the movement so fast, Bertha had stopped her progress. I’d almost smiled, but bitten down on my lip instead, not wanting to tease the big woman into doing something she’d regret. She’d held up her hand and made to walk away. Stupidly, I’d believed that she’d backed down.

When I’d leaned over to take the next shot, she’d walked forward and brushed her large paw across my ass. I’d instinctively reared back with the cue, the wooden stick finding its mark directly in her stomach. The resulting sound had had the patrons once again chuckling their mirth, and that’s when the big oaf had grabbed hold of my tits. I hadn’t hesitated. The pool cue had whacked her square across the temple.

Movement to my left caught my attention, pulling me from my thoughts, and reflexively, I turned to see Big Bertha walking through the thick haze of smoke that clung to the air. She was still holding the blood-soaked towel to her head as she made her way toward me. My eyes drifted past the bull-dyke, and I could just make out the bartender following behind the large woman, but it was the third person who caught my attention. I couldn’t quite make out her features, but that strut looked awfully familiar.

Taking care of business...

When the redhead looked past Bertha, her brow knitted in something akin to disbelief, our gazes finally met, and I recognised Catherine. Again, my mind cheered her for so bravely - if imprudently - putting the nuisance that was Bertha back into place, secretly a little proud, but I refrained from voicing any of my somewhat inappropriately enthusiastic reaction. Catherine looked so uncomfortable, all brashness seemingly seeped from her body, that I wasn’t sure any dwelling on her heroic deed would be appreciated.

In fact, I pondered whether it’d even be a smart idea to let on that we knew each other. For one, there was the possibility that Big Bertha would accuse me of being biased when she found out Catherine and I were colleagues and that she’d file charges for sure. And for another, I wanted to spare Catherine the humiliation of everyone in the bar witnessing her being questioned by a detective she was quite familiar with, even if she’d only blundered into something that wasn’t entirely her own fault. My weighing of what would be the best way to proceed in this situation was cut short by Catherine herself.

“Sofia.” Adjusting her stance slightly to fully face our small group, she acknowledged me, a myriad of emotions perceptible in her voice. Catherine was rarely at a loss for words, and she was clearly embarrassed to see me here, but in spite of this and my obvious surprise at encountering her in this particular bar, she didn’t choose to deny we knew each other. Her briskness might have been temporarily turned on low, but she was still as straightforward as ever, as I noted with some relief.

“Catherine, what happened?” I asked as calmly as possible, stepping closer and lightly touching her arm in an attempt to reassure her that my presence wasn’t a bad thing for her. We both knew that this incident could be a serious threat to her career should official notice of it travel from LVPD to Ecklie, so I silently let her know that I’d take care of it.

“I already told you, she attacked me for no apparent reason, that’s what happened!” Bertha butted in. “And you know this bitch? Should’ve guessed that she was only that bold because she’s got a cop friend. But if you think I’m gonna-“

I’d had about enough of the big woman’s pointless prattling and wheeled around. “Pipe down!” I bellowed. “If I hear one more word from you before I get the other side of the story, I’m gonna arrest you for obstruction of justice.” The charge would never hold up in any court, but Bertha didn’t know that, and it effectively shut her up for the time being. Turning back to Catherine, I prompted her with a nod.

She began to relate what had happened from her point of view, and as expected, it was a whole different story that didn’t exactly shed a positive light on Bertha. The culprit was close to interrupting Catherine with a snide remark several times, and when I shot her a warning look over my shoulder, I saw Miles holding up his finger menacingly before Bertha’s face and then pointing at the handcuffs dangling from my belt, their outline visible beneath my jacket. I’d had no doubt that there was a viable explanation for the physically aggressive behavior that was unusual even for Catherine and was somehwat pleased to see Bertha almost burst with anger when she realized her version of the story was about to be picked to pieces.

“Bullshit!” she finally blurted out, her face beet red. “I’m the victim here! You don’t believe a word of what she’s saying, right? Oh, wait, of course you do, because she’s your friend.” With a derisive snort, she pulled her cell phone from the pocket of her jeans. “Time to call some real cops to deal with Red here. The ones who’re not biased.” She punched in the three digits.

With a movement so quick and determined that even Miles took a surprised step backwards, I got hold of Bertha’s wrist in an iron-clad grip and forced her hand down. “Now, now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Remember Jenny from a few weeks ago? Petite blonde, just your type of woman? Ring a bell? Well, I’m sure you also remember that you couldn’t keep your grabby hands to yourself and that I convinced her not to press charges so Miles here wouldn’t get into trouble. Yes, that was me grudgingly saving your sorry ass and handling the situation discreetly. But what kind of cop would I be if I hadn’t written down her contact details? I could easily give her a call and say her statement is needed to put a big, bad dyke behind bars. How does that sound to you?”

All color drained from Bertha’s coarse features within a matter of seconds as she began to vaguely remember the incident and me. “You can’t prove that,” she said weakly. “You could be trying to frame me.”

“Oh, I don’t have to prove it.” I smiled brightly. “That time, I was witness to your impropriety, so it’s your word against mine, and guess whose statement is going to count for more in court?”

Bertha opened her mouth to protest, but quickly made the wise decision to shut it again. Wrenching her wrist from my grasp, she gave Catherine a deadly glare and muttered under her breath, “I’m not done with you, bitch.”

I looked after her as she retreated and I called out, “I’m watching you, Bertha!”

When she was gone, I motioned for Miles to give me a moment alone with Catherine and focused my full attention on her.

“You okay?”

“Yeah,” she said quietly, appearing almost humbled. “Thanks.”

I knew Catherine wasn’t one for exuberant emotions, so this simple thank you was enough for me because I understood its sincerity. When she reached past me for her purse lying on the edge of the pool table behind me, I smelled the alcohol on her breath. “How many drinks did you have?”

For a moment, she looked at me without saying anything, cautiously gauging what the best way to respond was. Normally, she would’ve brushed off a question like this one, snapping that she didn’t need to be mothered, but she was aware that she could easily upset an equilibrium here and that she owed me an honest reply.

“Couple of beers.”

“Let me drive you home. You almost messed this up; you shouldn’t be taking any chances now.”

From the way she simply nodded her consent without trying to argue with me, I could tell how much the fear of losing her job had shaken her, even if she didn’t fully let on. “Come on, you can get your car in the morning.”

I allowed Catherine to go first and then followed her into the front room of the bar. On our way to the door, I glanced over at Miles, who was back behind the counter and mouthing his thanks, and pointed at the beer keg next to him with a small smile. He grinned and patted the barrel, indicating, “All yours.”

The cool night air was a blessing after the thick smoke of the bar, and both Catherine and I simultaneously drew a deep breath as we walked to my car. Once inside, she tiredly leaned her head back against the seat’s headrest and closed her eyes as if to be alone with her thoughts.

We spent the ride to her house mostly in silence, only interrupted once when Catherine suddenly spoke up.

“I wasn’t looking for trouble.”

I continued to stare ahead at the empty street and the streetlamps flitting by monotonously. “I know, Cath.”

I noted the strange look she gave me when I used her nickname. It hadn’t been a slip of the tongue on my part; it served a purpose – I let her know I understood.

After that, it seemed like she wanted to say something more, give me some sort of explanation, perhaps, or add something to her earlier thank you, but she didn’t.

When I’d pulled up to the curb in front of her house, I turned to study her. Even though the events of the night had left traces of exhaustion and worry on her face, I thought she still looked beautiful. I’d always had a thing for Catherine, but I’d never made a move on her because in some sort of twisted, angry way, she’d always seemed too hung up on Sara. I wondered if that had changed now that she was gone.

Catherine looked back at me with an expression on her face that I found hard to read. Then, she reached over and took my hand, tightly wrapping her fingers around mine and holding on.

Knight in shining armor...

Looking down at Sofia’s hand in mine, I was surprised to note how the fit seemed so right, so perfect. Maybe my eyes were deceived by what they saw. Perhaps this whole incident had clouded my judgment. But damn if Sofia hadn’t ridden to my rescue like my very own knight in shining armor.

Tonight had really scared me. Yes, Big Bertha had basically assaulted me, but I’d turned and smacked the hell out of her without a second thought. If a report had been filed, my actions would have come into question regardless of who was at fault. Everything I’d worked so hard for my entire life could have easily been swatted away with one swing of a pool stick. I’d been very lucky that Sofia had showed up. Anyone else, with the exception of Jim Brass, wouldn’t have hesitated in making the incident official, but if truth be told, Sofia would have been my first choice.

She’d been absolutely wonderful. Sofia had barely batted an eyelash when she’d realized it was me who’d knocked the womanizing oaf for a loop. I could see the wheels turning fast and furiously in her mind as Sofia had been unsure whether or not she should acknowledge that we knew each other, but I’d taken the decision right out of her hands, immediately referring to her by name. I’d figured it may as well be me that made our connection known just in case Sofia wasn’t able to keep the incident from the pages of a police report. It wouldn’t look good if the record reflected that Sofia had failed to mention that we were work colleagues.

So, what the hell had happened after that? I’d had the wherewithal to do the right thing, but suddenly, I’d clammed up like an oyster refusing to share its pearl. When Sofia had stepped forward and touched my arm, I’d just stood there, speechless, the warmth of her hand burning a hole through my sleeve. Her eyes had been filled with such concern; I’d lost myself in the deep blue gaze. Of course, Big Bertha had to ruin the moment by spouting off her lies and blaming me for attacking without any provocation, but some good had come out of the bad. I’d witnessed the instant transformation of a caring Sofia into Detective Curtis, all business and smoking hot. She’d put Bertha in her place, scolding her as if the woman was some insolent child, and had allowed me the opportunity to finally give a true account of what had happened earlier in the evening.

Throughout my straightforward explanation of the altercation, Bertha had tried to chime in, complaining that I was given preferential treatment because Sofia and I had worked together, but Sofia had handled the situation beautifully, matching the big woman’s words and taking the upper hand. I’d known the minute Sofia had mentioned the other assault charge, Bertha would back down, but the bitch just couldn’t walk away quietly. No, she’d had to throw one last barb at me. It had been quite a wonderful feeling to have Sofia yell out a final warning to Big Bertha. She’d protected me until the bitter end. I hadn’t had someone in my corner for a very long time. It’d felt great.

So, now we sat, side by side, in Sofia’s car, all because I’d had a couple of beers. I couldn’t count the number of times I’d driven myself home after having consumed the same amount of alcohol, but Sofia had been right. I just couldn’t chance another close call this evening. I was pulled from my thoughts by my savior’s voice.

“Catherine?” Sofia had rotated our hands so that our palms were pressed together with our thumbs interlocked, one nestled closely beside the other. She squeezed gently, this time offering silent support as she patiently waited for me to reply. I kept my focus on our hands.

“Thank you, Sofia.” My softly spoken words seemed inadequate to express my gratitude. Hell, they were inadequate, but I couldn’t think of anything else to say. I was off-balance, my emotions rising close to the surface, yet fighting so hard to hide beneath any veil of false security they could latch onto. No matter how hard I sought the words that would reassure Sofia that everything was fine and that I was indebted to her for coming to my aid, nothing came to mind. So, I just sat perfectly still, holding onto the lifeline she offered, scared to let go for fear of falling apart.

I didn’t register the gentle touch beneath my chin until my head was raised and I was looking into Sofia’s eyes, caught in the very same gaze as before, only this time Big Bertha wasn’t around to spoil the moment. The hand slowly moved along the line of my cheekbone until it was caressing the skin of my cheek. I instinctively leaned into the touch, craving the contact, and it was at that moment that I realized that I’d always sought out physical contact whenever some case or incident had deeply upset me. There’d always been some willing soul eager to allow me into their bed, not caring why I’d suddenly showed up on his or her doorstep. They’d used me, and I’d used them. It had been an unspoken mutual agreement, but I didn’t want to use Sofia.

“Sofia...” My words were cut short by a pair of the sweetest lips I’d ever tasted, and my mind automatically short-circuited. Rational thought no longer existed, irrational thought vanished as well. All I knew was the feel of Sofia’s hand in mine, her body pressed against mine tightly as she slowly explored my mouth with her velvety tongue. I clung to her like a drowning man clinging to a life preserver. Time seemed to stand still as a single moment of perfect clarity pushed its way past the jumbled mass of wires inside my head, tying my earlier feeling with one I’d kept buried deep inside. I didn’t want to use Sofia. I wanted Sofia. God, how I wanted her.

Hellbent on satisfying my overwhelming need, my body did what it always did: it took over and led the way. Without warning, I practically attacked Sofia, sliding my tongue roughly against hers as I lifted up slightly and straddled her hips, pushing down hard against her. Sofia grunted softly and grabbed the area between my hips and waist, holding me in place and keeping my movements to a minimum. I smiled into the kiss and allowed her to control the tempo. I was so lost in my need of her, I hadn’t realized her intent. It was when she released my lips and spoke that I thought I’d made a terrible mistake.

“Cath, wait!” Sofia’s breath was ragged and her grip on me firm. I was barely able to stop undulating against her; she felt so good against me. “Slow down a minute.”

The words hit their mark as I released my own ragged breath and leaned my forehead against her shoulder. Sofia still held onto my hand, and she squeezed it gently as if assuring me that she wasn’t offended by my actions, but I kept my head pressed firmly against her. I just couldn’t look at her right now, I was so very embarrassed.

“I’m sorry, Sofia. I didn’t mean to attack you. I’m so sorry.” I swallowed hard, trying my best to maintain what little dignity I still had. Now, I just had to find a way to extricate myself from her gracefully.

“Hey, don’t apologize, Catherine, I just didn’t want our first time to be in the front seat of my car.” Sofia began to softly stroke my hair, and I had to keep myself from purring aloud. This woman definitely knew how to handle me, and no one was more surprised than I was when I allowed her to do so. “Why don’t we take this inside?”

The question took me by surprise, and I slowly lifted my head to make eye contact. Her gaze was steady and sure, but I just had to be certain. “Are you sure?”

“I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life.” There wasn’t the slightest bit of hesitation in her words. Smiling, I slid back to the passenger side and reached for the door handle, but my progress was stopped when Sofia reached out and grabbed my hand.

“Wait! Where’s Lindsey?”

I grinned widely. “She’s at a sleepover. She won’t be home until tomorrow afternoon.”

Sofia returned the grin and opened her door as she began to tug me across the seat. Climbing from the car, she continued to pull me along behind her. I laughed out loud as I held onto her hand tightly and allowed her to lead me to my door. I was freer than I’d been in months. The dark ominous cloud that had been hovering over my head had been lifted, revealing the most perfect silver lining any cloud could possibly offer.

The End

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