DISCLAIMER: Women's Murder Club and its characters are the property of James Patterson, 20th Century Fox Television and ABC. Popular belongs to Ryan Murphy. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The version of Sam used in this story comes from another embarrassingly long Brooke/Sam saga I wrote a while ago called Just a Little Insight. But you donít have to read that to get this. I just used Sam becauseÖ itís Sam. And Carly Pope is hot.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Misty Flores




It wasn't a shudder of surprise that went up her spine, the minute she heard the familiar voice speak nearly into her ear.

It was disgust.

Ignoring Agent Ashe, her personal FBI stalker, Lindsay made a point to lock her door with a furious click.

"Don't you have better things to do than to stake out my house?" she bit, before turning on her booted heel and heading down the stairs.

"Not really," he remarked, voice husky as he fell into step beside her. "My focus is the Kiss-Me-Not-Killer, and as you recall, his focus is you."

Eyes rolling to the top of her head, she paused, staring at the handsome, stoic face with a look that could have easily wilted normal men. "No," she remarked flatly. "Really?"

His brow rose at the sarcasm.

"I think we've been getting off track," he continued, content to walk alongside her as she headed to her car. "And that's a mistake."

"Wrong," Lindsay answered, fiddling with her keys. "My focus is just where it needs to be. On my cases. Your focus is to find the guy, and when you find something new, I'll help you. Until then, you've got everything I know, and I've got a gangster hiding out in Chinatown."

"What good are you to your friends or your peers if you're dead?"

Glaring at him over the top of her car, she jerked the car door open. "Has anyone told you you're a regular burst of sunshine?"

"Not lately, no." He rapped on his side of the car, pointing at the door. "My side's locked."

"You're not coming with me."

"It's becoming increasingly clear that the only way I can keep your attention on the Kiss Me Not Killer is if I'm by your side. So yes, I'm coming with you."

Agent Ashe was a pain in the ass.

"What the hell does that mean?"

Straightening his tie, he remained the picture of smug condensation. "I thought when you filled in your little club-"

"It's not a club-"

"-that your focus would actually shift. That you and your friends would realize just how important it is to everyone's safety that we find this guy."

"How are we supposed to find him if there's nothing new to find?"

"Are you suggesting we wait until there's another body? Because for your sake, I hope you're not."

He had the most obnoxious way of twisting her words. "I'm not going to stop living my life because you got a damned picture with scrawls of ink on it. We're going to catch this guy – but you don't have to suffocate me to do it."

She was doing her best to keep her temper. Interaction with the odd Agent had given Lindsay the insight to understand that he responded best to calm assertiveness, and like herself, didn't back off at the show of aggression.

She hated that she had actually spent enough time to deal with the man to actually figure out some of his complex behavior.

"Now, if you'll excuse me? I've got a gangster to track down. I'll call you tonight," she added, as a tone of appeasement, in hopes that somehow this would keep him from forcing himself into the car with her.

Behind dark sunglasses, he eyed her. "Fine." He took a step back, slipping large hands into his slacks.

It was almost too easy.

With a suspicious glance, she slid into the driver's seat, shifting the key into the ignition and cranking the SUV into a roaring start.

A tap against her window made her shoulders slump.

Inhaling deeply, she reached for the button on the side, allowing the window to slide down just the tiniest bit. "What?"

"Just one more thing," he answered. "It's probably not a good idea to have your friends spend the night."

"Excuse me?"

"First it was Miss Cindy Thomas…" he glanced down, as if he was consulting notes. "Leaving here at what… five in the morning? Looking hammered. Last night it was Jill Bernhardt."

"Are you watching my house?"

"He probably is," he answered seriously. "And he might get the wrong impression."

The feeling of hatred overwhelming her was almost too much to bear.

"He'll find any weakness, and he'll exploit it. If I were you, I'd keep your friends at a platonic distance."

Nearly shaking with fury, Lindsay closed the window, and pushed the car into drive, praying for the control not to run the infuriating Agent over.

It was a deception to think that Cindy Thomas was a natural energizer bunny.

The brutal truth was, the one thing she loved more than anything was to sleep in. She loved sleep. She loved the entire act of sleeping, from settling into fuzzy warm covers to waking up warm and toasty.

She hated her alarm clock with a deep seated fiery passion.

It was thanks only to discipline and her inability to ignore her duties that she was out of bed after a paltry four hours of rejuvenation.

Nursing a cup of Starbucks coffee (expensive but really the only reason she could think that could even begin to make up for not getting enough sleep), she now sat in her chair, staring at a huge ass monitor, with so much to do that she didn't even know where to start.

"Hey. Babysitter."

The voice was entirely too chirpy for Cindy's grumpy state, but she forced a smile to the smiling face of one Sam McPherson, who placed a muffin on her crowded desk.

"Hey," she responded, pulling off her lenses and rubbing gently at her eyes. "Baby." The connotation was a little more sexual than she intended, and she flushed. Mouth clamping tight, she averted her eyes and reached for the muffin. "Stalking me?"

"Couldn't sleep," Sam explained, hip leaning against the cubicle as she raised her own glass of tea to her mouth. "And I was bored," she added after a sip. "I hate that."

"Not sleeping? Me too."

"Being bored," Sam corrected. "This is such a puff piece it depresses me."

This was said so matter-of-factly that Cindy offered an unintentional smile of commiseration. "I know the feeling." Glancing over the stacks of papers on her desk, she pressed her tongue to the roof of her mouth. Guess she knew what was going first on her 'to-do' list. "Well, I was able to get some interviews with a couple key people with this year's parade, if you want you and I can head down to the headquarters, look at the floats-"

"Oh, babe, I don't expect you to do my job for me," Sam said, stopping her with a upturned pinky. "I got this parade locked up, don't worry about it."

It was a little disconcerting, to feel so suddenly useless. "Oh."

"Seriously. How many people have done a piece on this thing? The challenge will be to find an angle that no one's tackled and hell, I can do that at the parade. What I'm really after," Sam continued, pushing aside a pile on Cindy's desk and settling on top of it. "Is this Li thing."

Blinking, Cindy found herself straightening. "This… li thing?"

"Yeah, you know the Asian gangster? Tracking him down? I've been thinking about it all night, and I did some google searching on this gang of yours? The Joe Boys? I have a few friends here in San Fran and I've got a few leads."

Startled at the forwardness of the other reporter, Cindy's mouth dropped open. "Uh…" Trying to clear her head, she glanced back uneasily at the monitor. "That's … that's really nice of you, but…"

"I figure you and me can hit Chinatown together, you know? Do some snooping. You must have this city connected. Combining our sources we can catch this guy before lunch."

Imagining Lindsay's expression at the possibility of the brunette reporter snooping again, Cindy rubbed awkwardly at her neck.

"Look, Sam. I think it's great that you're so… gungho about this, but this whole 'Li' thing is kinda… it's not really a two-person kinda thing. It's a favor for a friend-"

"And she hates me, whatever." Sam crossed her arms, looking thoughtful. "Look, does she even have to know? Honestly, Cindy, I know you got a raw deal with me as your unintentional appendage, but I swear to God you can trust me. Helping to solve a murder is a helluva lot more interesting than … you know… looking at floats."

It was hard to argue with the almost frightened expression on Sam McPherson's face, and Cindy Thomas had to bite her lip from giving herself away with an enamored smile.

"How does Brooke keep up with you?"

Sam paused mid-coffee sip. "Oh, God, are you kidding? Remind me to tell you the story of how we got together."

"You don't have time now?"

"Pfft." Sam shuddered. "I spent the better part of a night chasing her from LAX to her sorority's beach party, then forcing a mutual friend to fly me and four of her closest friends to Chicago to try to track her down before she got on another plane."

Cindy's eyes went oddly cross-eyed. "Why was she in Chicago?"

"She was looking for me. She was with my ex-girlfriend."

"But you were in LA."

"She didn't know that." Sam took another swallow, and grimaced. "Like I said, long story. Can we go find a gangster now?"

Claire often wondered how on earth she became the dependable one.

She supposed it had something to do with being a mother. There was no room for pot parties and dangerous snooping when there were two little children and a husband depending on her very existence.

Digging your hands regularly into the physical evidence of other people's malicious intentions and their own stupidity was also motivation enough.

Still, Claire's job relied in being able to put together the puzzle, think of every solution, and provide the detectives with as much information as she could in order to find the suspect, stop the killer.

The fact that she hadn't been able to do that for Lindsay in regards to the Kiss-Me-Not Killer case, was a black blotch on her record she didn't like to think about.

The very real fear, however, that one of these days it would be Lindsay lying on her slab, Lindsay she was cutting into, forced it to the forefront of her mind; and sometimes made it nearly impossible to focus on anything else.

"You look deep in thought."

Dark eyes glancing up thoughtfully, Claire discovered a tired expression on a friendly face, as Jill Bernhardt slipped into her office, looking dapper, fashionable and put together.

"You look exhausted," Claire returned, dropping the pictures she had been perusing back on top of the file that they came from. Leaning back in her chair, she nodded to the empty one on the other side of her desk. "I didn't hear you come in last night."

"Late night with Lindsay," Jill admitted, easing gracefully into her seat, voice husky.

That usually did explain it.

"Why?" Jill continued, mouth quirking up impishly. "Did I miss curfew?"

"Honey, I've got my kids. You're a grown woman. You can handle yourself."

The grin she got was grateful. "That's doubtful." Fingers dug into pale bangs. "I have quite a knack for screwing things up. I could use a mom like you."

"Tell that to Nate. He hasn't spoken to me in the past week for putting his Wii on restriction after he got that C." She paused, allowing the gentle moment to linger, before she glanced down at the pictures again. "How is Lindsay?"

Crystal eyes glanced up, locked with hers, then moved away mysteriously. "Not great."

There was so much depth in that statement, it took Claire a little by surprise. "Tell me how you really feel."

With a grown, Jill's head fell back, a silly, resigned smile on her face. "No, God, no. Don't make me talk about it, okay? I'm still processing."

"There's something we need to process?"

Hand pressed against the side of her face, Jill didn't move.

"Okay," Claire said, allowing the girl her privacy. Once again, her gaze went down to the pictures on her desk. "I've been wondering if it's too much to ask Lindsay if she can get Agent Ashe to get us any forensic reports the Agency has put together on the Kiss-Me-Not killer case."

The distraction was enough for Jill's hand to come down. "Do you think you might have missed something?"

"I'm a Medical Examiner," Claire said thoughtfully. "Not a criminologist. The man has resources. It'd be silly not to use them. Obviously our killer doesn't make mistakes, but if there's trace evidence…"

"Wouldn't there have to be a fresh crime scene in order for that kind of thing to be collected?" Jill asked, ever the devil's advocate. "The FBI took over after the last death."

"They have methods," she countered. "And even so, I'd rather pull out all the stops now than wait for a fresh crime scene."

Jill's expression sobered as she glanced at the images on Claire's desk. "Noted." Without asking, she reached for the skull filled with candy, and with a wince at the monstrous contraption, reached inside for a sweet, before offering it to her.

Taking a small brick of chocolate, Claire eyed her friend idly. "A few weeks ago… when Lindsay told us…" A barely there flicker of a shadow crossed over Jill's face. "You said to her that we had abandoned her."

Inhaling, as if steeling herself, Jill's shoulders rose. "We did."

"I know," Claire took a small bite of chocolate, not really tasting it. "I agree with you. We did let her down. Do you know what frightens me more than anything?"

Chewing on her candy, Jill's look was thoughtfully inquisitive.

"The idea that one day, I'll get a phone call and the crime scene address will be Lindsay's address. That the body I'll be processing…"

"Don't." It was nearly a spit. "That won't happen. We won't let it."

Tongue pressed to her teeth, Claire's fear threatened to overwhelm her. "She doesn't care. She needs to care, if we're going to beat this guy. She forgets how much she means… to everyone. Sometimes I think she doesn't care if he gets her or not – just as long as it stops him from getting anyone else." Brown eyes met her friend's intensely. "Am I wrong?"

Fingers pressed against her lips, Jill blinked slowly, painfully. "You're not wrong. I'm not sure she even sees herself as alive."

"How do you mean?"

"You have to have hope to really feel like you have something to live for. She's sabotaging herself. Trying to keep herself from feeling too much."

Jill's expression didn't reveal a thing. "Because of Tom."

The lips finally twitched. "No," she finally sighed, as if she was releasing whatever she had been hiding with that one word. "Because of Cindy."

A flash of auburn and a plaid vest alerted her to the presence of one Cindy Thomas, tapping her fingers idly against her desk as she hoisted her purse over her shoulder and waited.

To her surprise, Lindsay actually found herself faltering, hesitating at the top of the stairs, looking down at the unknowing reporter with a flash of insecure fear.

It was so unlike her, it was disgusting.

Catching her breath, Lindsay allowed herself a good glare before she headed down the steps, more weak-kneed than usual, resisting the urge to check on her hair or something equally ridiculous.

"What are you doing here?" she asked sharply, not bothering with an introduction as she kept her eyes on her coffee and away from Cindy. "You know what I need on that case."

Cindy didn't reply right away, but Lindsay thought she detected a bit of annoyed petulance when Cindy finally snapped, "I'm working on it."

She gulped a swallow of coffee, and it was too hot. She scalded her tongue. With a grimace, she allowed a cool glare at the younger girl. "So I repeat, what are you doing here?"

"Claire called me and asked me to come in."

"So why aren't you in the morgue?"

"I'm on my way."

"Then I suggest you get there. I have things to do."

Green eyes were gleaming at her with that hauntingly curious look. Given Cindy's inquisitive nature, it wasn't a surprise, but it was clear as Cindy stared her down that she was looking for something.

Whatever it was, Lindsay was in no mood to let her find it.

After a brief glare-off, which naturally, Lindsay won, Cindy glanced away. "Look, I just… I just wanted to make sure you and I were cool."

The slang was annoying. The sincerity behind it was hard to resist. Folding her fingers together, Lindsay allowed herself to look up. "We'll be 'cool' when you get it through your head that allowing other reporters to tag along to our meetings isn't how we do things."

Doe eyes blinked at her disbelievingly. "Really?! Lindsay, you called ME. I told you where I was and you said you'd meet me without giving me much of a chance to explain my circumstances. At the time, I was with Sam. I couldn't just ditch her. I'm not your dog. I don't jump just because you give a command, and honestly? I think you treat Martha better."

It was a long-winded rant she wasn't expecting; the red-headed temper was showing. And Cindy Thomas actually had a point.

In this argument, Lindsay didn't have much of a leg to stand on.

Lips pressing against the fingers tented before her, Lindsay pretended to consider the idea. "Martha knows her place," she finally settled for.

It was crueler than she meant it to be, but Ashe's words were still ringing in her ears, and at the moment, Lindsay felt more vulnerable than she had been since the moment she had kissed this young girl and felt that acute burst of feeling.

Cindy stared at her, so obviously hurt, and in a bullpen, out in public, Lindsay couldn't take those words back.

She settled for biting down on her lip, searching dark green eyes for any indication as to what Cindy was feeling.

"Fine," was all Cindy clipped, cheeks flushed with hurt, obviously aggrieved. "Then I guess that's all, Inspector Boxer. Thank you for your time."

Swiveling on her heel, little Cindy Thomas moved through the room. Lindsay watched her go, and it was then she realized that a familiar brunette had been waiting and watching the entire time. As the other reporter fell into step with Cindy, she tossed back a dark glance.

Lindsay wasn't prepared for the ugly stab of jealousy, but she worked through it, forcing down another bitter gulp of coffee before reaching for a folder, determined to get back to work.

"Not to be all judgmental on the cop lady I hardly know, but is she always that pleasant?"

It was a little embarrassing, to be nursing a wounded heart over such a stupid encounter. Lindsay had always been a little bit cruel to her. She had mellowed some, but Cindy had never forgotten her first few encounters with the hardened homicide Inspector. There had been no sappiness, not even casual agreeable. Lindsay Boxer, quite simply, was an unapologetic bitch.

Her job called for it.

It was one of the things Cindy loved about her.

And another reason it was utterly stupid to be nursing whatever-the-hell she was nursing.

Which wouldn't have even been such a big deal if Lindsay hadn't ruined it all by making out with her in the first place.


Blinking, Cindy realized she hadn't actually answered Sam's question. "Oh…" Steps faltering, she blew out a tired breath, and offered what she hoped was a convincing smile. "She's … she' s just got a lot on her mind."

And it was true. She did. It wasn't just the murders on her plate, but the fact that thanks to Kiss-Me-Not, she was potentially a future victim.

And that was something Cindy hated, HATED to think about.

"So do a lot of us, but that doesn't give her a License-to-Bitchery."

Cindy turned, pausing just outside the morgue. "That's not fair," she said, voice flat. "Technically, as a homicide Inspector, it does. Like I said, she's got a hell of a lot on her mind right now. She does her job well and … frankly, she shouldn't be as friendly with a reporter as she is … usually… with me."

"So why does she do it?" Sam asked, brow rising pointedly.

"Because I do my job well. And I got a mouth that won't quit." Sam grinned at that, and the smile was so infectious Cindy felt her mouth tilting upwards in return. "The best thing we can do, honestly, is find this Li guy and give her one less thing to worry about."

Sam wanted to say something else, Cindy could tell. She was obviously used to speaking her mind, and as a fellow reporter, Cindy understood the inclination.

She was still thankful when Sam pressed her lips together, and quite obviously took the conversation in a different direction. "Then I guess you should meet up with your friend so we can get out of here."

With a thankful smile, Cindy nodded. "Not to be a hard ass, but do you mind… waiting out here?"

"Oh please." Waving her arm dismissively, Sam immediately pulled out her blackberry. "I'm not about ruffling features. Well, any more feathers. Do your thing. I'll wait out here."

"Get in here, Cindy Thomas."

The inflection in Claire's tone left no room for wavering, and privately, Jill allowed herself a petty smirk at Cindy's expense, as the young girl stood uneasily in the doorway, obviously confused.

"Oooh-kay," she breathed, meeting Jill's eyes before taking another step into Claire's private sanctuary.

"Close the door," Claire ordered, and once again Jill's mouth twitched as Cindy tossed another bewildered stare in their direction, before reaching for the doorknob.

"What's up guys?" she asked pointedly, crossing her arms and teetering back nervously on her heels. "I have a friend waiting outside."

"The friend from yesterday?" Jill couldn't help but ask. "Sam Mc-Whatsit?"

Cindy shot her another look. "McPherson," she corrected. "And yes. Obviously."

Sighing, Claire shot Jill a pointed glance. "Did Lindsay see you with her?"

This had to have been extremely confusing for the poor little reporter. If Jill wasn't trying so damned hard to be a big girl about all of this, she would have found it all hilarious. In a catty kind of way.

"You mean between the nicely humiliating conversation I just had with her, in which I accidentally referred to myself as her bitch, and now? I doubt it."

And now the red blotches on Cindy's cheeks made sense. Apparently she had already had a conversation with the confused and besotted Lindsay Boxer. The result had been a verbal lashing and Jill had been on the receiving end of enough of them to know that someone as virgin as Cindy didn't stand a chance.

Good luck, Kid, she found herself musing.

"Allright," Claire sighed, suddenly resigned. "Sit down, we need to talk about this."

Once again, Cindy's eyes darkened with confusion. "Talk about what?" Her voice was harder than usual, but then again, she hadn't had the best morning.

To hell with it, neither had she.

"About you and Lindsay and your blue balls."

Palm rising to her face, Claire's fingers creased over her temples meticulously.

"What?" she defended herself. "We had to get it out there somehow."

At the very least, she had managed to shut Cindy up, which was new. Round-eyed, her friend seemed a perfect mimic of a gaping fish. "What? I… Who? When – Look-"

"I don't need specifics," Claire growled, palm rising in the air. "Jill and I just thought, since this has already happened and is… obviously… affecting the group, that we should have a talk about it."

"What?!" The reporter's voice had taken an altogether shriek-y quality. "No! No!" she sputtered, and Jill sighed, crossing her arms. "There will be no discussing! How did you even – you know what? It doesn't matter, because what happened was between me and Lindsay and quite frankly, I'm not even sure I understand what happened myself-"

"Lindsay kissed you and then she freaked out." The firm statement of exactly what went down once again managed to stall the sputtering engine that was Cindy's mouth. "She told me," Jill added, by way of explanation. Dark eyes widened, and Jill felt a pang of validation when Cindy shifted uncomfortably. "Cindy, we're not interested in details."

"I wouldn't give them to you!" she managed indignantly, and Jill fought the urge to stuff a lollipop into her mouth.

"We wouldn't want them," she snapped icily. "Believe me."

"Cindy, calm down." Claire was still infuriatingly level-headed, reaching over to press subtly against her elbow, reminding her of her manners. "Nor, are we attacking you. We are well aware you weren't the one to make the first move."

Cindy's shoulders stiffened slightly. When Claire once again pressed on her elbow, Jill let out a labored sigh, and recited her mentally prepared speech.

"Having witnessed what we did yesterday in the diner, in addition to… other bits of evidence," And testimony, she thought with a wince, "Claire and I have decided it's in Lindsay's best interest to take some time with you and… figure out your intentions."

Cindy's eyes squinted. "My intentions? How old do I look to you?"

Jill pretended to think. "Twelve?"

"Haha. Very funny. Cindy looks twelve. She's short. Listen-" Coming forward, Cindy's hands pressed against the tabletop, eyes sparkling with rage. "I'm well aware of the fact that Lindsay is emotionally constipated, okay? I'm dismissing what happened as a fluke and am doing my best just to move on from it. As much as I'd like to sit here with you two dissecting any possible feelings Lindsay might or might not have for me, which by the way, sounds about as much fun as sitting through an episode of the L Word, circa Season Four. It's just getting good again," she added as an aside to Jill.

Lips pressing together in a smirk, Jill grudgingly nodded. "I know."

"Right? Anyway – I had a point…" Losing steam, Cindy trailed off, brows knitting together. "Oh. Right. My point is I have way too much on my plate right now to worry about whether or not you two agree or disagree with my intentions. I've got a Chinese guy to track down, a bored reporter to babysit, two deadlines, and there's still a serial killer after my friend. So if you'll excuse me, I'm going to do my job. I'll call you if I land anything."

Okay, they had clearly touched a nerve.

Jill had to admit, the rant was impressive. Eyes flashing furiously, Cindy straightened and headed out, slamming the door behind her.

"She is so twelve," she muttered, as the silence began to settle in.

"No," Claire said gravely, "But she is as emotionally constipated as Lindsay. And that's not good."

"Aren't we all?" she sighed in resignation.

Part 4

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