DISCLAIMER: Nikki & Nora are the property of Nancylee Myatt and Warner Bros. Television. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Beta'd by tigger23 and fallon_ash and tanama30 - I've included a couple of links in the story that you can play during the appropriate parts. It's not random or "mood" setting, it's intentional.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SERIES: Sequel to Here Comes Trouble.
Trouble Comes in Twos
It's late. I've called Bobby to let him know I was leaving Nora and that she was doing fine. Darius has kindly dropped me off home but I can't stay there right now. All alone in that house with just my cat for company. It's pathetic and I feel the need to relieve some stress. There's only one place to go when I get like this.
I get ready. Tight, low slung jeans that hug my curves in all the right places but flare out at my best pair of boots. 4" heels, Italian leather. MMMMmmmm... Mama loves you.
The tight top is black with silver designs and sparkles all over. Almost no sleeves, and just the right amount of cleavage showing.
After a long shower, spending a good amount of time on my makeup and dressing, I'm almost ready.
I survey myself in the mirror. Pleased with how I look. I know I'm hot. But it's the smile that is hard to affect.
Refusing to dwell on why I'm going out just after coming home from leaving Nora alone, I grab my short leather jacket. No gun. No badge. Just my wallet and ID.
I catch the trolley and make my way to the French Quarter. This would be so much easier if I had my car...
Thrusting that thought and everything associated with it out of my head, I walk past partiers and tourists. It doesn't matter how late in the night or year here in the French Quarter, there's always a party. Not like Mardi Gras, but still... just what I need.
Walking into my favorite place I take a deep breath, smelling the people and the alcohol. The vibe tonight is full of energy. Music pumping out of a the speakers, the throb singing in my veins.
Karaoke at the Cat's Meow, the best Karaoke bar in the World! So advertised and so true.
This is my stress relief.
There's a large crowd tonight and I can't wait to dance and sing to it. I grab the big clipboard near entrance, and scan over it. I try to think of something appropriate to getting out of this mood I'm in, something I want to sing.
When the song comes to me, I try to flush it out. I don't want to sing it. I know it. I sing it well. But... Fine. I'll put on a show.
I print out my name and the song I'm requesting to sing. It's a long list and there's still 8 people before me. Enough time for two or three drinks. Time enough to lose myself in the crowd.
"Hey Nikki! What can I get you?" Art the bartender greets me. I've come here for years and I'm a homegrown local. I toss him my jacket, wordlessly asking him to take care of it under the bar for me. I don't want to be tied to it. Don't want to be tied to anything right now. I just want to sing.
"Hey, Sugah," I smile at him, my drawl out and my eyes flashing. I'm going to have fun come hell or high water. I pass him a 50 dollar bill to start off. It's enough for a couple of drinks, a nice tip for keeping my jacket, a tip for keeping the meat off me, and refusing drinks on my behalf. And a tip to make sure any drinks I get are coming only from his hand, no one elses. I take no chances when I go out alone.
"Double shot of Bookers, then an Old Forester on the rocks." I lick my lips in anticipation. Lifting the shot glass as soon as he slides it to me, I take a second to smell it, savor it. Bourbon is God's gift to mankind.
I pour it down my throat. Not slamming it, that's for amateurs. I just tilt my head back enough for it to take its long slow time going down in one shot.
Flipping the shot glass in my fingers, I set it down on the old wood bar. I give my lips another lick, long and slow, tasting the remnants of the bourbon.
"Lovely as always, Art," I tell him.
He smiles and slides the glass with the Old Forester forward. I wink at him and take it with me into the crowd.
Young, vibrant... this is what I need. No cops. No expectations.
There's a young man up at the stage right now and he's actually quite good. He's got the crowd going with an old Rick James song, Mary Jane.
I laugh as a guy screams to him, "I want to have sex with you!" The crowd around the guy and the singer laugh. Must be a group of friends enjoying themselves.
Dancing. Swaying. Drinking. I dance with a pretty blonde among the crowd standing in front of the stage. I don't bother with a table, most people that are into the karaoke don't either. Most of us mill around the front, encouraging the singers or heckling at funnier moments. Dancing together or alone. We're a giant milling group of music lovers. I find myself dancing with one guy one moment, his girlfriend the next, and yet another person minutes later. It's all casual. Unrehearsed. Fun.
I'm on my second glass of Forester's on the rocks, when my name is called.
This is the fun part. Like many a young girl, I used to sing and dance in front of the mirror. Darius used to tease me about it when I was younger and still does when he comes with me here. He finds it hilarious, but admits I'm a natural actress and singer.
When the tune starts, it takes half a second for my mind to ignore the morose feeling of the song and get to entertaining.
And entertain I do. I ignore the screen and the words going by. I know them by heart and play to my audience. Kelly Clarkson's Behind Hazel Eyes is a fun song to dance to, to sing to. It's very emotional. Passionate.
And if I happen to have a stray tear, or my voice has a slight quaver here in there, the crowd doesn't mind. It is Karaoke after all.
Two hours later, in the early morning.
"Mmmmmm..." she leans against me to kiss me, pressing me back against the wall. The heat of our bodies makes me shiver.
It's sweet and needy. So very good.
I lick her full lips and kiss her back, dropping my hands to her waist. Slipping my fingers just under the waistband of her jeans, touching skin, I pull her even tighter to me, her breasts nestled under mine. My fingers itch to hold them, but I resist for now, enjoying her hard nipples poking the underside of my own.
Groaning into my mouth, she entwines her hands into my hair, massaging my scalp and holds me to her as she parts her lips. I dive in, insistent... hungry... God... Finally...
We pull back only when the need to breath becomes an issue. My eyes are closed as I press my forehead against her. I'm smiling. Happy.
"Nora..." I draw out her name in a low whisper, the joy of saying it flowing through me like honey.
"Nora? Who's Nora?"
My eyes fly open and I look at the woman I was just kissing, whose is pressed so enticingly and warm in my arms.
Blonde straight hair that hangs in her green eyes so adoringly. The little cleft in her chin...
Puzzled, I look at her and blink my eyes rapidly several times. Where's the little cleft? Pushing her gently away to arm's length I wrap my mind around the vision of loveliness before me.
The vision who looks like Nora.
If someone hadn't been drinking on an empty stomach. Now that I'm focusing, I see she has only a passing resemblance to my partner.
"Who's Nora?" The blonde is more insistent and sounds mad now.
Then it hits me through the fog of alcohol.
Oh my god.
My face flames and I almost stumble with her as I push her off me.
"I'm sorry," I tell her and make a run for it, only stopping at the bar to get my jacket before fleeing.
Yesterday was a godawful rotten day.
After Nikki tore out of here, Bobby came by with my car to check on me. Nikki was concerned enough about me to call him, letting him know she was heading home and I might need company.
When Bobby walked through the door, so concerned with my health, I can't say I was nice to him. I was angry. Angry at myself. Angry at the situation I put myself into. Not angry at Nikki.
I couldn't find myself to be anything but morose about Nikki.
After chasing Bobby out of my house when the cab came for him, I locked up and went to bed.
Instead of falling asleep, I tossed and turned for hours until the only thing I was to accomplish was messing up the bed. Now the early morning light is showing through my bedroom window.
Sighing, I reluctantly get up. Trying to sleep and forget is useless right now, so I rummage in the fridge, throwing out the red snapper since I don't even want to look at it, let alone grill it later. I doubt Nikki and Darius will come by.
Today is turning out to be a godawful rotten day.
It's funny how time slows down when you're emotional. Minutes seem like hours, hours like days.
It's almost three when Dan calls. I assure him I'm fine and that I'll be OK for work tomorrow, Friday, to finish up any paperwork. He's not really thrilled about me coming in so soon, but I promise him I'll stick to the desk.
The truth is, I want to see Nikki. Make things right.
God, I'm so stupid.
But then he crushes those plans with a few words.
"She didn't tell you?" Dan asks, sounding surprised.
"I don't know what you're talking about, Dan," I snap.
Just get to the point for God's sake.
"Nikki is just as stubborn as you are. Didn't take today off. She came in late this morning looking a bit rough. If I didn't know any better... Well, I chalked it up to the eventful evening you two had."
Unable to control the wince at those words, I listen to him as he goes on. "She's finishing up a lot of the paperwork for the case and then plans on taking off until Monday," he states matter-of-factly.
I'm stunned into silence. It's only Thursday and while taking a couple days off is what Dan wanted both of us to do, Nikki going in today and not coming back until Monday makes me think she plans on avoiding me. I hadn't told anyone that I planned on coming in tomorrow, but... Maybe I'm just imagining things.
"Nora?" Dan's voice sounds concerned but I'm having a hard time finding a reply to it.
"Nora? You OK?" he asks a bit more urgently.
Delaney, you are just a freakin' moron.
I'm really good at self-castigation.
"Yeah, yeah... I'm fine. Thanks Dan. I'll be in early tomorrow. See yah," I hang up without waiting for a reply.
I slump forward and smack my forehead against the wall.
What am I going to do?
I decide to skip the painkillers for a different kind of anesthetic. Bourbon works wonders.
Unfortunately, as the sun is setting through my plate glass doors and I'm wrapping myself in my favorite blanket to curl up on the couch, good and pleasantly numb, I can't help the tears running down my face as I finally fall asleep into tormented dreams.
My ribs feel better today. I'm still not up to jogging or boxing, but the sourness is fading. The fact that I can actually put on a bra and a shirt is a big help.
The first thing I did this morning was go out and get a new cellphone and have the memory from my old one swapped over.
I've been putting off calling her. When it comes to emotional confrontations I'm such a chicken. Although, seeing as I was the one in the bathroom to start this entire mess... Well, I can't be that much of a chicken. But I'm working on a good case of it today. Complete with beak, comb, and feathers. Oh yeah.
Darius didn't call yesterday or come by, but I didn't expect him too. There's a part of me that wished he had. Just being near someone Nikki actually cares about...
God, Delaney. Let it go.
Walking into the squad room, I'm met by so many cat-calls, greetings, and surprised comments that I almost walk back out in embarrassment.
Seth, the old coot that he is, says it first, "So, Nora, I heard the jinx finally struck."
And how. Not only did I ruin Nikki's car, but I ruined our friendship and partnership.
I offer a small smile in return, to show I don't take offense, and try to join in the levity, "That wasn't a jinx, Seth. I was trying to cool off and decided Nikki and I needed to go for a swim. No watering holes around here so the canal had to do."
The group laughs. If it's a bit forced, I don't blame them. They didn't lose one of their own, let alone two officers. That makes it a good day.
Turning to my... Our desk, I do my best not to visibly react at what is now undeniably Nikki's desk. She brought more personal items yesterday, since I don't remember pictures of her father on her desk. An older photo of a beautiful dark haired woman that reminds me of Nikki sits in a prominent corner.
Her mother more than likely.
Her inbox is nearly empty, however mine isn't. With a shuddering sigh I sit at my desk and dive into the stack halfheartedly. The chatter in the room has dimmed, with people going about their business. I'm sure that the teasing will continue, just at another time.
Daryl Stevens is going to testify against Ellie Dupont, and Simon Marins if he's found, and be let go with probation in part of a plea-bargain. Even though he sheltered Simon Martins over the course of the investigation, the fact that DNA evidence backs up his claim of parentage to Lizzy, and that there's no evidence that he was at the scene during the crime, will let him walk.
I think it's a fair deal. Simon killed his daughter and he didn't even know he was harboring her murderer until we had him in the box. The man has lost enough, hopefully this will scare him to walking down a more virtuous path.
Ellie Dupont is sweating away her addiction in a high security hospital room before her own arraignment date. With Simon Martins' body still missing and the city still dredging the canal bottom for him, the press wants blood, and it's going to be Ellie's.
I can't find myself to feel too much pity. She wanted freedom for her and her daughter, and perhaps that will help her case. But in the end, Lizzy Dupont is dead.
Nikki has gone through a lot of the paperwork and evidence we needed to sort out for the DA's office, and left it for me to go over. I can't fault her professionalism. While I'm working on more forms and reports, my eyes drift forward to where she should be sitting.
I miss her.
I miss her eyes, big and dark.
I miss her voice, just the thought of it makes me shiver in my chair.
I just miss her. Everything about her.
Which leads me to one undeniable conclusion. I'm a detective. I can see clues when they're there. I'm just not good at self-examination.
I don't know if I love Nikki Beaumont. But I know I'm physically and emotionally attracted to her. Last night's calamity was just the last straw that made me offer what she couldn't have. Whether I'm bi, straight, or gay... whether or not my family would approve or not, definitely the not, I can't deny what's missing when it's gone.
My introspection is shattered by Dan hollering for me.
"Nora? Get in here." There's a worried sound to his voice and it's not for me. He knows I've been sitting out here working for hours. He also knows that I keep my promises, that if I said I'd take it easy, I would. I hate promises, but once you get one out of me, I'm good for it.
I walk into his office and stand across from his desk. "Yes?"
"Councilman Beaumont called..." he begins.
Nikki. Oh my god.
"He wants to meet with you," Dan finishes.
"What's this about? Nikki?" I can't help the worry from creeping into my voice.
My ex-partner shrugs, he doesn't look happy. "He wouldn't say. Just asked to meet you at his office."
Damn. I hate City Hall. It's close, so I don't have to drive the car, but that's not the point.
"Did he say when?" I ask reluctantly. I really don't want to meet him. I know of him, have seen him in the news, but this is Nikki's Daddy. If he wants me fired...
I think I'm going to faint.
"Now would be best, I think. He said anytime, but it's not a good thing to keep him waiting," Dan answers. He's definitely not pleased with the situation and sounds like the Councilman wouldn't answer any probing questions. Dan, the Messenger Boy. That couldn't have gone over well.
"OK. I'll head over then." I nod to him and leave after a moment. Whatever Dan is thinking, he's keeping it to himself.
City Hall is only a few blocks from the precinct, which can have its benefits. It's when some politician, or one of their lackeys, comes into the 9th and interrupts our work that causes issues.
You haven't seen anything until a wet-behind-the-ears assistant to the assistant of the back end office of the secretary's pool tries to dress down an veteran cop in the hallway. Needless to say, it's humorous.
It takes a bit to find my way to Councilman Beaumont's office.
Snazzy. Definitely old New Orleans decor, just like the rest of the building.
I announce myself to his secretary, assistant... whatever, who gives me the eye as he tells me to take a seat and that the Councilman will see me if he has time.
Yes. Because I have nothing better to do than wait for your boss on my day off, with my ribs aching and my temper beginning to flare.
I wish Nikki were here. She's good at cheering me up. Of course, the last time she cheered me up from this kind of funk she did it by letting me drive her car for the first time.
Sigh. I should check to see if they've pulled it out of the canal.
I've hardly had a chance to make myself comfortable when the Councilman's assistant picks up the phone in response to a buzzer.
"Councilman Beaumont will see you now," the says after a moment, putting down the phone and showing me to the door.
I let myself through the huge wooden doors leading to his office, surprised to find him walking around his desk to greet me with an open hand.
"Detective Delaney. It's a pleasure to meet you. I've heard a lot about you from your father and Nikki," he says with a smile. He's dressed in a dark wool suit and looks very sharp.
"Councilman Beaumont..." I greet him and we shake hands. He's got a pleasing grip for a man. I like that.
"Arthur, please? You're my Nikki's partner, we should start off on a friendly foot. She's told me a lot about you," he says as he shows me to one of the large overstuffed leather chairs in front of the monstrosity that is his desk.
I wait for him to sit back down in his seat before replying, "Then it's Nora. Please? Nikki's told me somewhat about you as well."
He smiles at me. Not a politician's smile, all gloss and no substance. The fact that his daughter has talked to me about him seems to please him. He's a proud Daddy.
We spend a little time with the pleasantries before he gets to why he asked me here. We talk about my Daddy and how he always thought he was the most honest cop in New Orleans.
I can't help my own beaming smile at that.
Our light conversation steers clear of Nikki, which clues me into why we're speaking today. He's not angry, or else he's a very good actor, so I don't think she told him about last night.
I'd be blushing like a virgin bride if I knew she did.
"Well, Detective, I'm sure you're wondering why I asked you hear?" he finally asks.
"I'll admit my curiosity is piqued."
His salt and peppered-haired head nods in satisfaction, "It's about Nikki."
My heart triple-thumps and I know I've gone pale in the face.
"Nikki has run into a little problem..." he continues, but I interrupt him.
"Is she OK? What..." I blush when I realize what I've just done.
A small quirk of his lips shows me he's not offended.
"She's fine. I'd like it to stay that way. I first thought I should just deal with the authorities where the incident took place, but Nikki mentioned to me that you've met Darius?"
I nod, "Yes, she said they're like brother and sister."
"Good. This makes explaining things easier," he continues on, seemingly pleased with the knowledge that I already know the two are like family. Maybe it shows to him Nikki's trust me in. "My daughter took off last night to go to the little country cottage she inherited from her mother. Darius drove her, since..."
He pauses a moment to look at me intently.
I clear my throat and finish the sentence for him, "Since I drove the car off the road and into the Mississippi?"
A laugh escapes him at my frank answer. "Yes. Since the accident she's been having Darius drive her around." A wicked gleam sparkles in his eyes as he says, "I think she's driving him nuts."
I can't help but chuckle before I ask, "No rental?"
"They only offered her... how did she put it? Well, it doesn't matter. She's always been rather particular about her cars," he offers, then gets the conversation back on track. "There was a body found on the premises late last night. Both Nikki and Darius have been asked not to leave town and while I trust the local police to settle the matter to our satisfaction..."
"You want me there to help? You know that I don't have any authority outside of New Orleans," I point out.
"I realize that, but with Darius also at the scene, I think they could use a bit of low-key help. I don't want to send a battalion of lawyers and security in there. For one, she's disown me for even considering that she couldn't handle the situation herself. Secondly, while I am assured by the local police that the two of them are only being checked out because the body was found close to the house, and because it's standard procedure, I need a... scout, you could say. Someone on the scene that they both know," he explains further.
"So neither one are being held for questioning?" I ask specifically. I can't imagine my partner doing well in a jail cell, let alone the energetic Darius.
"They're only persons of interest, so far. I'll make it good with your department to go assist her in any way that you can. I've already got a lawyer for her," he pauses, clearly not happy with the entire situation. "I'd appreciate it if we can keep this as quiet as possible, but it's only a matter of time before this gets out. The press would eat this up, and her line of work, as you know Detective, any whiff of a scandal can destroy her career," he lets his worry for his daughter show through to me.
Nikki's in trouble. What other answer can I give but...
"Give me the address. I'll be on my way within the hour."
There's a saying that goes, "Some days it doesn't pay to wake up." Or something like that.
Today I agree with the notion wholeheartedly.
I can't excuse my behavior at the Cat's Meow. I don't do pick-ups. I don't. But even now, I swear it was Nora I was dancing with, Nora I dragged out into the courtyard, and Nora I was kissing.
God. Even the memory, half-drunk as I was, is so clear. I can still feel her skin under my fingertips and her lips against mine.
When I finally slipped home and into bed I was still thinking about her. Not the random blonde, but the woman I wanted her to be.
When I wake up only a few hours later, I try to get back to sleep, get back to those tempting dreams with silky skin and green eyes but it's futile. My head is screaming and stomach nauseated from my hangover. I have the day off and I'm willing to use it, but since I can't sleep...
Work. That's what I need.
I take a long shower and get ready to go. I'm grabbing my keys and about to head out, when I stop stock still for a moment in shock.
Thankfully I have a home phone and call Darius. I could use the companionship and I hope he doesn't mind taking me around.
"Hey hon, what's up?" he answers groggily.
Sometimes I'm such a selfish bitch.
"Nevermind, Darius. Go back to sleep," I answer back reluctantly.
"No, I'm up. I can survive on coffee and four hours of sleep. I'm still young, unlike some people. Why ya up already?" he asks. I can hear the sounds of him getting out of bed in the background and I feel like even more of a heel.
"I was going to go to work and try to whittle down the stack of paperwork for the case. See if they found Simon Martins or not yet. Check on my car."
"Give me ten minutes? I'll be right over," Darius tells me. Not offering. Telling me.
I don't deserve him. Well, I do pay for it with the teasing he always gives me.
"You really don't have to," I say lamely. Really wanting to talk to him now. I have to get some of what happened last night off my chest.
"Just be ready when I get there. I don't want to wait two hours while you do all that beautifying that you do," he quips and hangs up before I can reply.
It doesn't take me two hours. One maybe.
The phone store was first on the list. Thirty minutes later, we're on the way to the precinct and I'm the proud owner of a piece of high technology that will probably be stomped on next week by a perp.
So, this is the perfect time for Darius to bring up THE subject that I've been dreading.
"So, I take it we're not going over to Nora's for lunch," Darius observes.
"She's fine," I answer, keeping my voice as calm as I'm able.
He chuckles, and I can see him shaking his head out of the corner of my eye. "That's not what I asked, but since you offered, how is she? You wouldn't let me to see her, when I came by. You tore out of there like your biscuits were burning."
"Come on, hon... I know you. I know something's up," he argues.
I sigh heavily.
"I wanted to kiss Nora."
There, I've said it.
After Darius gets the car back under control and makes sure my heart is still beating from the near-miss of him swerving and almost side-swiping a parked car, he continues, "OK. This is new. I thought you said you don't date cops?"
"I don't. Which is why I didn't kiss her," I explain a bit testily. It seemed to be obvious to me.
"OK... what aren't you telling me?"
That I not only wanted to kiss her, I wanted to kiss every single piece of her body again and again until I pass out from hunger or lack of breath, whichever came first.
Damn it. This is not helping.
Oh yeah, there are things I'm not telling Darius.
"I think she wanted me too," I answer as blithely as I can.
"So this happened when? Last night?"
"When she asked me to help her undress."
OK. New rule. Stop surprising Darius when he's driving me around.
"You were undressing her?! Go, Nikki!" he cheers me after he gets back into his own lane.
I reach out and smack him on the arm as hard as I can. "Darius! She was hurt. She couldn't lift her arms to take off her shirt."
"Is that what they're calling it now?" he laughs for a minute than turns to look at me. His laugh dies away after he sees how unamused I am.
"Oh hon... don't tell me you're falling for her?"
I can't answer him one way or another so I just keep silent for the rest of the trip.
Dan wasn't happy to see me in this morning, but I'm adamant.
Evidence. Files. Reports. Hours of constant work only interrupted by the moments that I look across the desk and see where Nora should be.
I need a vacation.
Standing up, I throw my last report in the out box and walk up to Dan's office.
Leaning against the doorjamb I ask, "Got a minute, Lieutenant?"
"It's Dan. Remember?" He smiles charmingly. I see what women like about him and I still wonder if she's...
I have to stop thinking about Nora.
Returning his smile I walk up to his desk and have a seat. "I want to take a couple days off."
"Well, that's the smartest thing I've heard all day. I didn't want you to come in to begin with," Dan sits back in his chair. He seems like a man that takes care of his people. I know he's new at the job, but he seems like he's handling it well.
"Actually, I want to leave town, which is why I'm telling you this. There's a place in the country I go to sometimes," I explain, trying to keep it simple. He doesn't need to know what's going on between Nora and I, it's not his business. I need to get control of myself before I come back. De-stress. Get her out of my system.
"OK. Not a problem. How long will you be gone for?"
"I should be back Monday. If I need more time?" I ask politely.
Dan looks at me piercingly, "Is there something going on I should be aware of?"
Yes, Dan. I want to see Nora naked. Will that be an issue?
"No. I just want to take the time off. Since I have plenty of vacation time coming, I figured now would be a good time. If it's about the Dupont case and the paperwork..." I trail off. I really hope he's not going to tank my request.
"It's fine. I'm sure Nora will come in tomorrow," he smirks. "She's notorious for ignoring doctors advice. Besides, Mr. Simon Martins is still missing. They sent divers down last night but his car was empty. Rescue is going to start dredging the bottom of the canal and follow the currents to see if he'll pop up. So paperwork can wait a few days in hopes he's found."
"Which is yet another reason why I don't eat crawfish. The Mississippi has seen three hundred years worth of dead disappear down into its muddy bottom... what do you think they eat?" I shudder at the thought. "He's just another dish on the local menu now."
"Pleasant thought," Dan grimaces and pauses a moment before asking the one question everyone has been asking, or a version of it. "How's Nora?"
"She's fine. I left last night and called Bobby to come and keep an eye on her," I leave it at that.
"OK. Get out of here. And stay out... I don't want you sneaking back in town over the weekend to come into the precinct," he warns me with the sound of humor in his voice. "Have a good weekend."
I'm halfway out the door when I remember something. Something very important.
"Lieutenant... Dan. About my car. Have they fished it out yet?"
He chuckles and ignores my glare, "Nora sure did a number on it, didn't she."
"Yes, she did. My car?" I ask again pointedly.
Clearing his throat first to try to get his amusement under control, he answers. "They should be pulling it out now. They'll be taking it to the CSI impound lot. Standard procedure."
Damn. What isn't going to be ruined by submersion is going to rust because it's going to sit out in the lot. My baby'll be ruined.
Yep. I wish I had been able to fall back asleep.
"Thanks," I shoot back as I finally leave his office. Grabbing my coat on the way out, I called a cab.
Contacting a car rental business is a lesson in futility.
"Would a Saturn be OK?" asks the overly cheerful voice over the phone. Normally, good customer phone service is a rare commodity today, but I can't stand it right now. I just want a good car.
Apparently, good cars are also a rare commodity.
No, I don't want a Saturn.
No, I don't want a Honda.
No, I don't want a Toyota.
By the time I hang up, sans a rental I actually am willing to drive, I'm frustrated and still waiting for a cab. After another twenty minutes I give up and call Darius.
"Now why am I not surprised to be hearing your lovely voice again today?" he greets me.
"Darius... I want to go to the country house. Do you want to go with me?"
Maybe it's the tone of my voice, but he doesn't give me grief and just replies softly, "Sure, hon. Where are you?"
"Outside the precinct. I can't find a car I want to rent and... the stupid cab is late... and..." I'm having trouble breathing. I feel like everything is starting to crash down around me. Nora. My stupid car. That damn river. The woman at the bar. My hangover. The late cab. Overly cheery car rental reps that can't give me what I want. Nora. Nora. Nora. Nora.
"I have got to get out of this city for a couple days, Darius," I barely am able to get the words out. I realize that it's not a hangover my head is fit to bursting from. It's not because of a hangover that I'm feeling nauseated.
"Darius. Please..." I'm begging now.
"Just hang on. I'll pick you up, we'll go back to your place, have your neighbor take care of your cat since I can't, and pack a bag or two and get outta this town, OK? Just hang on." His voice is soft, soothing, but it isn't helping.
"Hurry," I ask before I hang up.
Three hours before we finally arrived at my Mama's little country house. A half hour later and Darius hands me my first whiskey of the night. Another half hour passes and I break down and cry in Darius' arms. Three hours later and Darius puts me to bed and goes to find his own in the guest room. Fifteen minutes and I hear something in the yard, pull my gun out of the drawer next to my bed. Ten and I'm checking the grounds in the dark.
One minute ago I found a man, dead from a gunshot wound about twenty yards from the back door.
It's not even midnight, making this one of the worst forty-eight hours of my life so far.
I don't think I've driven so fast in my life. North across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. Miles and miles later I'm driving through the small town of Folsom, Louisiana. Population seven hundred doesn't sound too small, but driving through it... Well, the good news is there isn't a Starbucks. Good sign of true civilization with not a one in sight.
Another forty-five minutes later, after stopping for directions because I'm lost, I find the semi-overgrown track called a road that leads through a half-wild grove of oaks that leads to Nikki's house. I hope.
It's not quite what I pictured. It's a small single floor house, maybe one or two bedrooms, small ones at that. The entire house is surrounded by a screened in porch. Nothing fancy, except the beautiful acres I've driven through. Rows upon rows of planted oaks that have grown tall and wild through the years.
Parking next to the bright blue '76 Pontiac 4 door sitting out front, I cut off the engine just as the front door opens just as Darius steps out to greet me on the front steps.
Ducking his head down he peers into the passenger side window and smiles when he sees me. He moves around to my side of the car as I get out.
"Hey Darius," I smile at him, glad that I got the right place at least.
"Hey Nora," his smile is as big as I remember. Genuine and spreading across his entire face. "How many times did you get lost?"
"Only once, but I'm here now. Where's..." I can't even say her name.
"Nikki is on the backside of the porch, sleeping. I don't think she's been sleeping well, if at all," Darius says as he grabs my bags from the back seat. Slinging the carrystrap over his shoulder on one and carrying another in a hand, he opens the screen door and motions me in.
"Just go around the porch here, you'll find her. I'll put your bags in the spare bedroom," he directs me with a motion of his head to go find Nikki.
"Spare bedroom? Aren't you using it? I don't want to kick you out of your bed," I protest. I came without even knowing the sleeping arrangements, not like it would have mattered. Nikki needs me... My partner needs me.
Get it under control, Delaney. Cop. Partners on the force. That's it. She's made that clear. Friend? Maybe. If I can repair the damage.
I can live with this... feeling... if I can just repair the damage.
"I'm going to play the gentlemen and sleep on the couch. It pulls out into a bed, don't worry. I've done it a few times, I don't mind," he smiles at me again, but his eyes are telling a different story. He's worried about Nikki, and rightly so. I'm not here for a vacation after all. I'm here on Mr. Beaumont's request.
"Thanks Darius. I..."
I'm finding words are failing me again. Darius just smiles and goes into the house, letting me find my way.
Walking around the edge of the house through the porch, it only takes me a minute to find the back side of the house. I was right, the screened in porch surrounds the entire house. I kind of like it. The weather has warmed up a bit since the rain has stopped. It's a bit cool outside, but still comfortable enough. I can see why Nikki came here. All you can hear are the birds and the breeze through the oak trees.
I spot her almost immediate as I turn the last corner of the house.
Standing there in the middle of the porch, I just stare at her.
She's sleeping, laid out on the comfortable couch that's the centerpiece of the area, a light cotton blanket covering her. She seems so peaceful. One hand tucked up under her chin, the other stretched out and half-hanging over the edge of the couch. My fingers itch just seeing her there. I take a few steps forward, not even really realizing that I've moved until I'm standing there over her, my hand stretched out to touch her cheek.
I can't believe it's only been a little less than two days since I've seen her.
My fingers reach out before I can stop them and gently brush a lock of her dark brown hair off her face.
Oh Nikki. What have I done?
And then it hits me... being there that close to her. That undefinable scent from her car, mixed with the leather from the interior.
Subtle. Enticing. A mix of something soft and... not flowery, more clean. More Nikki.
The scent was her.
I take a step back. I can't do this. Another step and I back into the coffee table, jarring the tea set placed on it. The sound stirs Nikki and I move around the table until it's between us and sit down quickly in a wicker chair across from her.
Her eyelids flicker as she slowly wakes up. When she opens her eyes fully and sees me, for a moment the look on her face is so beautiful, so open.
So glad to see me.
And then her expression changes, becoming wary. It hurts to see it. More than I could think possible.
OK, that was good. Neutral. calm. Go with it Delaney. Good start.
"Good afternoon," Nikki greets me back, her voice as even as mine. "Daddy said he called you."
"Yes. Apparently he thinks you're about to be tossed into jail. Looking to re-enact a 'Women Behind Bars' movie?" I say it with a small grin, so she knows I'm trying to joke about the situation.
"Well, you know us lesbians. Give us a prison cell and some handcuffs and we're right at home," she quips back, her lips twitching into an amused smile as well.
"Prison cell and handcuffs? Is that why you became a cop?"
Nikki surprises me by actually laughing and I join her for a moment. The tension is thick between us, but we're trying. That easy camaraderie from only a few days ago is still there.
We just might be OK.
She sits up, keeping the blanket over her legs. I take a closer look at her and see weariness in her face.
"You should go back to sleep. No offense, but you look like... I doubt you could ever look terrible, but you look like you could use some serious rest," I say. Darius is right, she doesn't look as if she's had a good night's sleep in a couple of days.
Running a hand through her hair to settle it back from its slightly rumpled state before trying to reassure me. "I'm fine."
Yes. We're both fine. I'm fine. She's fine. All is normal.
I do my best not to sigh, instead bending forward to rest my forearms on my thighs and look down at my feet.
I look up into her eyes, those most beautiful eyes. She smiles at me sadly and repeats my name again.
God, I love how she says it.
"About the other night..."
Nikki bit the bullet. I don't think I could have brought the subject up. Ever.
A blush rises up my neck and over my face, I can feel it, and a strangled noise comes out as as I try to speak.
"Nora," she repeats my name yet again.
Clearing my throat, I find I can speak. "Nikki. I know. I understand. Really."
OK, so I'm partially lying. I'm trying to meet her half-way. I really don't understand, or rather, I don't want to understand.
Such sadness in her eyes. I could give anything to take it away. I miss the mischievousness. I miss the smiling.
I interrupt her, "So, has your lawyer shown up yet."
Good Delaney. Back to business. You can do this.
"He has. He's staying in town. Apparently he found a nice Bed and Breakfast that he approves of," Nikki replies.
"So what happened?" I prompt her.
"I have no idea. I went to bed, a couple of hours after we got here. Darius went to his room. I was in mine. I heard something not to long afterwards. Something in the backyard. Stumbling maybe, over a twig. I don't remember. I wasn't..." Nikki looks embarrassed as she blushes, "I wasn't exactly sober."
I frown slightly and she continues, "I wasn't drunk, Nora."
"OK," I nod, accepting her word, "go on."
"I got my gun out and went outside. I found him... almost immediately, in the back." She nods toward the space behind me, to the rows of oak trees and brush. "After I checked his pulse, I went back in and called the police. Darius was still awake and heard me come back in. We waited for the police. They came. They took us both to town to the police station and asked us questions. And more questions. When they finally brought us back, the body was gone and any evidence that they could find. I called Daddy and he said he'd get some help here for us."
We sit there, just looking at each other.
I finally break the silence and smile at her, a bit mischievously.
"Geez Nikki, you can't go anywhere without trouble following you."
A wide smile graces her lips and she replies, "Well, that says something about you doesn't it? Since you're here and all."
She has a point.
We're walking through the area where I found the body. Nora insists, and I completely agree with the reason. Not that I believe the local police would miss anything, however it's better to be thorough. And with a population of about a thousand, including those homes outside the city limits, Folsom's last suspicious death was over five years ago.
Nora alone has more experience with violent crime investigations in one year, than all of St. Tammany Parish's police force put together.
The tension between us is still there, but we're both trying to go beyond it and act like everything's normal. I can feel Darius' eyes on us from the back porch, following us as we move into the sunlit trees. The sun will be setting soon, but we've got time to look around.
"Here?" Nora asks as she squats down at the base of one of the oaks, looking over the imprint in the grass of what could have been a body.
"Yes. I found him here. Already dead but the body still warm. He couldn't have been dead too long," I stand behind her, my arms crossed.
"Cause of death?"
"Gunshot wound. From the back. No exit wound," I respond readily with a cops memory of past events. "I don't know what they found after they got here."
"There's way too much foot traffic here," she notes, ruffling through the grass with her fingers. "The imprint of the body is obvious... not much blood. He didn't have much time to bleed out before he died."
"Let's look for a blood trail," I suggest, hoping we have a good shot of finding one. If he wasn't killed here, he walked or ran. No drag trail means he wasn't brought here and dumped. "The victim was male and around 6'2". Big guy. 175 lbs. maybe. Dark hair, shoulder length and straight. I couldn't see much beyond that at first. I had to go back to the house to call it in, and I brought a flashlight out here after that. He was rather large for one person to carry all the way out here. There's only one road, straight to the house and he didn't come from the road."
Nora stands back up and steps back beside me. "What's that way?" she asks, pointing away from the house.
"The Little Tchefuncte River. It butts up right against part of the border of the property," I explain as we start to walk in the direction of the river. "There are houses up and down the river here. Most of them are larger properties, so they're pretty spaced apart."
Nora looks over at me intently for a moment before she turns back to looking at the ground as we walk, "What happened after the police got here?"
I sigh and step over another root. There are no paths here, the entire property is half-wild. I always loved that about this place, especially as a kid. It was my own magical kingdom, where every oak held a dryad and behind every bush lurked centaurs and other mysteries.
"They took me back inside and questioned me. They took my gun to send off to check the ballistics and they took the shotgun we keep here too. Then they took both of us down to the town police station." I'm not too thrilled about losing my gun, especially since it might take weeks to get back because they sent it off to Baton Rouge for processing, along with any other evidence they managed to find. "Right now that's all I have. They didn't share much with me, even though I had my badge and id handy."
She stops after a few more feet and leans down to get a good look at something on the ground. I try to get a good look without getting to close to her. I'm nervous around her now. I hate it, but I don't want to scare her away.
I want to smack myself up alongside the head at that thought. I'm the one who ran away after all. I'm the one who was scared away.
My eyes find what she's looking at and I point out the obvious, "Blood trail. Directional."
Nora nods and stands back up, stepping around the spot carefully and keeps going, "This way I think. Heavy brush out here, so there's only so many places he could have come through without leaving a path."
We keep going, stopping here and there when either of us spots another blood drop, Nora leading the way.
"It's beautiful here."
The comment comes out of left field for me, especially since she hasn't spoken for a few minutes. I'm oddly pleased that she loves the overgrown acres of land.
"It used to be Mama's, passed down through the generations. It was part of a larger plantation back before the Civil War, the trees were planted when the first house was built. The mansion burned down not too long after New Orleans fell and it was never rebuilt. Mama's family would sell off portions to pay taxes through the years, but they never sold the heart of it," I motion back towards the house we're staying at. "When Mama and Daddy married, they had the last house to be built here torn down and replaced with this. It was small, comfortable... Mama loved it. We used to come here every summer, until the accident."
Nora looks over at me with a bright smile, the first real one I've seen since she arrived. I've missed it. "And now?"
"Once in a while, I come here to get away from the city. It's a nice change of space. Quiet," I reply, smiling back sadly, the reason for coming here only a foot or two away from me.
"You didn't have to run away, Nikki," she says, her smile faltering, hurt echoing in her voice.
I can't meet her eyes anymore and look forward, changing the subject, "We're here. There's a small dock that's part of the property."
Nora follows me down the small embankment. Like most of the property, everything is overgrown, including up to the dock here.
"We do have a carpenter that comes down every summer to make sure any repairs on the house or the dock here are taken care of. It's safe," I say as I step out onto the weathered wood planks.
The river is slow and about fifty feet across here. Looking upstream and down river you can't see any other houses in the distance.
I stop about midway at a stain on the dock.
Nora squats down again to take a closer look. "The police officers didn't come down this way?"
"I have no way of knowing for sure, but just walking out here right now, there hasn't been much vegetation disturbed."
She nods and starts standing up again but this time a small grunt of discomfort escapes her. I reach out automatically and touch her shoulder, "How are your ribs? I should have asked..."
Nora looks at me with wryly, "You had other things on your mind."
The sun is low, the light a deep orange glow. At that moment all I see is the color of her hair and her eyes. Hidden emotions in the green depths.
"Not really. I've been only thinking about one thing for days," I reply, barely a whisper.
Her blonde locks sway as she turns away to walk back up the dock, "You ran away."
The tone in her voice stops me. The hurt still there, fresh. I can tell she's trying to control it, but she's having trouble because I can hear it still. It breaks my heart.
"Nora," I stop her with a hand to her elbow.
Turning reluctantly towards me, she tries to look anywhere but at me.
"Nora? Look at me, please?" My chest is hurting with the roil of emotion inside me. I step closer to her, releasing her elbow to tentatively cup her chin. My fingers are trembling as I gently tilt her face up to make her look at me. "I didn't mean to hurt you."
Nora's hand touches mine for a long, warm moment, then slowly pulls it away.
"And I didn't mean to ruin us," she says before letting my hand go and walking back towards the house.
Night has long fallen. The frogs are singing, with backup from the gently swaying branches of the oak trees. After coming back to the house and calling the local police, we were told that they'd be by in the morning and that it was too late for them to come out to just follow a blood trail.
That's harsh of me. I know they don't have the kinds of funds that we do at the NOPD. Their budget is going to get a harsh kick in the privates after all the lab bills and hours of investigation they'll have to do on this case. Which is another reason why I want to help them. I'm pretty confident that Nikki really isn't a serious suspect, but I want to make sure this investigation doesn't pigeonhole her into one just because she owns the land the man was found on.
Nikki and I bid Darius a good night about a half hour ago. I don't think it's late enough for him to have made his excuses and gone to bed, but I'll forgive him for leaving us alone.
We haven't spoken much since we walked back, just making small talk with Darius at dinner and afterwards on the porch. It's peaceful out here, but the tension is so thick between us.
Sitting here on the couch, with her only a foot or so away, both of us sipping a hot toddy against the evening's chill, I can't help but want more. I can't help but sit here and wish she was holding me. I can't help but wish...
I sigh louder than I intended and Nikki looks at me. We've got the outside lights off, the one interior kitchen light our only illumination against the darkness.
Her eyes are gazing at me intently again, questioning. Meeting her gaze for a long moment, I feel those tightly reined in emotions within creeping further out.
"Did you come here to run away?" I blurt out that one question she has refused to answer. I want to know. I mean, I know the answer, but I need to hear her say it even though I don't understand why.
A sad smile crosses her face and she turns her body to me, and rests her arm on the back of the couch, propping her head up on her hand.
Nikki's answer is simple yet we both know there's more to that.
"Tell me why?"
She considers my plea for several long minutes, just gazing at me. I can feel her eyes studying my face, looking for something.
"You want the truth?" she asks.
"Always. Always the truth," I answer, flashing back to the first day I met Nikki, only last week, and our first "partner" moment at the Dupont crime scene. She had asked me almost the same thing and I had answered the same.
Her sad smile changes for a second to one of amusement, and I wonder if she too remembers our conversation.
"The truth it is then. I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth, I'll admit that. But it's not the advantage you'd think. People expect things of you, expect you to act a certain way..." she starts to explain and I listen closely. I want to understand. "And when you don't, they use it against you. I have worked my ass off to get where I am without money or my Daddy's influence... or rather in spite of it."
"I know, Nikki. You're a great cop..." I start but she stops me.
"Let me finish. I have to get this out," she insists. "When I went to Tulane, my third year, I fell for this other student, Theresa Whitmoore. She was from New York, from a very well to do family as well. Sophisticated. Very beautiful. I was charmed by her. When I hit twenty-one I started going out to this one hot spot in the French Quarter. She saw me there once, dancing with this girl I'd met... let's just say that I was rather promiscuous back then, and told me that she was interested in me."
She rolls her brown eyes up at the sky and back, "I should have known back then, but I was still full of myself. I hadn't noticed women in a romantic way for that long, but... we started dating. One thing led to another. But I slowly became aware of something that I hadn't been willing to see, until we had been together for about eight months."
"What was that?" I ask quietly, wanting to know.
"She was more interested in my 'connections' and in my family than me. I had introduced her, as a friend, mind you, since she was very much in the closet, to all the local debutantes and high society types that I still knew and associated with." Nikki took a moment to take a drink and clear her throat.
"She met Tucker Harper and married him one year later, about 3 months after she stopped seeing me," she says with a small scowl on her face. "I wasn't clueless to what was going on between them, but I... well, back then I was a romantic."
Damn. You're going to make me cry, Nikki Beaumont.
She takes another sip of the warm drink and continues, "So after I joined the force three years later and went through the debacle with my first partner, I made it a rule. Don't get involved with cops or friends."
I don't know quite what to say, I only know how I feel. I know it's new to me. I know I care for this woman.
Nikki has one last thing to say before I can even gather up the courage to speak. The scowl on her face makes way for a slow, sexy smile. One that I haven't seen in a couple of days.
"However, a certain Detective has been making it very hard for me to follow my own rules. Which is why I ran like a chicken," she chuckles to herself, then grows serious again. "I shouldn't have left you alone that night. You were hurt..."
Reaching out I take the hand that she's got propped up on top of the couch in mine. I look at it, there in my grasp. Her fingers are slightly longer and more elegant than mine. Something I'd imagine that a pianist would have. Not like mine. I do take care to have my nails done, but my hands weren't made to be this beautiful.
Gently removing her hand from mine, Nikki puts down her cup and stands up. The nervousness is radiating off her in waves. I can feel it, but I'm lost. I don't know how to keep her from running again.
"I'm going to go back inside," she states, getting up from the couch.
"Nikki..." I stand up quickly and reach out to stop her before she can leave. "Please, don't go. I'm not her. I'm not Theresa. I'm not that sexually harassing asshole that was your first partner either."
She turns to look at me, her dark eyes so very sad. Her face looks even paler than usual and I can see the faint trace of dark circles under her eyes, her makeup unable to cover up the evidence completely.
I reluctantly let her go. "Thank you for telling me."
She looks at me with a wry look, "You deserved to know."
A quiet moment passes between us, then I let her escape, "Good night, Nikki. Try to get some sleep." I smile tentatively, pleased when she returns it.
"I'll do my best. Good night, Nora," she turns and opens the back door, throwing a parting word over her shoulder, "Sweet dreams."
I'm sure they will be, is what I want to say, but instead I just smile and watch her leave.
I sit back in my seat and enjoy the quiet of the night and my hot drink. I'm not too surprised when Darius makes an appearance, with his own toddy by the smell of it.
"I thought you went to bed?"
"Nah... too early. Couldn't sleep," he replies and sits down next to me, where Nikki was sitting.
"I think you mean that Nikki went to bed, so you thought you'd come out and prod me for information," I smirk, knowing he can see it, even though I'm staring out into the night.
"Guilty as charged, Detective," Darius chuckles, his white teeth flashing in the dim light of the porch.
Another few minutes of silence makes me prompt him a little, "I never got to thank you."
"For what?" he sounds surprised.
"Helping with the case. It really helped us," I compliment, "Without your help, we wouldn't have been able to find Simon. Of course, it would have helped to know he was an insane driver."
Darius barks out a low laugh, "Well, since you followed him, what does that say about you?"
"Good point," I chuckle back. "Is she really pissed about her car?"
"Talk about insane..." he continues to laugh, then tries to reassure me, "Nah, she's not mad. It was on the job. She's sad about it though, from what she's told me the car is going to be toast after soaking in the river and then sitting in a lot."
"I'm going to have to come up with something good to make up for it," I muse. That beautiful car. Sighing, I take a sip of my cooling drink.
"You'll come up with something, Detective," he replies. I can see him looking at me out of the corner of my eye. Studying me.
"If we're going to work together, you'll have to call me Nora."
"Nora. She's hurting inside."
I shouldn't have been blind-sided by him, but I am. Nothing new when it comes to Nikki apparently.
"She's not the only one," I mutter, but he hears me.
"I don't think either of you meant to hurt the other, Nora."
"That's the only good news so far about this situation... and the fact that she didn't show me the door as soon as I showed up," I note sadly before asking, "When did she find out I was coming?"
"Well, her daddy called about an hour before you got here. I got the idea that he didn't want to tell her, but from listening to her side of the conversation, she could tell he was holding something back. She's got her daddy wrapped around her little finger so tightly that it didn't take much to get it out of him," he clears his throat nervously. "She didn't sound happy."
I feel like I want to cry but a disheartening laugh comes out instead, "Of course not. She came here to get away from me."
"I know," Darius admits, his voice barely a whisper. "You need to get her to open up about why she won't date you."
"I KNOW why she won't date me Darius. She told me why," I hiss bitterly, frustration building up. I don't want to talk about this anymore. I'm tired. I'm sore. God am I sore. Sore in ribs and heart.
"So, what? You're going to just give up? Go back to being partners? Find someway to work together for years even if it kills you?" he asks impassioned.
"If that's what it takes to make sure she doesn't leave m... the unit? Then yes," I get up and start to walk past him to the door, but he grabs my arm and stops me.
I look at his hand pointedly and to his face.
"Don't give up, Nora," he insists and lets me go.
"Good night, Darius."
I didn't get much sleep last night.
Not for wanting it and not for trying.
I left Nora on the porch after I told her why I couldn't date her.
I didn't run. She let me go. There's a part of me, a really big part of me, that wishes she hadn't let me go.
Turning off the blow-dryer, I brush my hair into place and look at myself in the mirror, annoyed at the darkening circles under my eyes that makeup just isn't covering up anymore.
A knock on the bathroom door startles me.
"Hon, if you don't get out of there this instant, I'm going to have to water the bushes in front of Nora's bedroom," Darius' voice comes through the wood between knocks. "Nikki!"
Opening the door, I step out just in time for Darius to sweep me aside to push his way past me and slam the door.
"Good Morning to you too!" I laugh and walk to the kitchen.
Nora's there, standing in front of the sink. The morning sun is coming through the window and shining on her.
Leaning against the doorjamb, I stand there and take a long slow look at her. With her low-heeled boots, tight jeans, and striped baby tee, she looks... really good in the light. The sun makes her hair glow in a way that makes me want to run my fingers through it.
"Good Morning, Sunshine," I greet her with a small smile as she turns to me in surprise, a half-filled glass of orange juice in her hand. Her surprised look turns to one of pleasure.
"Is it a good morning?" she asks and takes a sip of her juice, her eyes questioning.
"Mmmhmm. Although, I did have a very restless night," I inform her, still smiling.
A perky eyebrow raises up and she hesitantly smirks, "Well, since I wasn't there, you'll have to tell me why you were so restless."
"Oh Sugah, you were there," I promise her, remembering the dreams I had after hours of tossing and turning. The flirting feels good. I know things aren't settled between us, not by far, but I want to get back to more normal footing with Nora.
We're interrupted by the sound of a car pulling up. Nora looks out the window and says, "We have company. Police car."
I meet the two uniformed Folsom policemen as they walk up to the screen door.
"Officers Harkins and Newton," I greet them genially. Nora is right beside me as I step down off the steps towards them.
"Ms. Beaumont," the taller, dark-haired policeman with the brass nametag of Harkins on his breast says before looking at Nora inquisitively.
"This is my partner, Detective Nora Delaney. NOPD," I introduce as she steps forward and shakes their hands.
"Ma'am," they greet her at the same time.
"I assume you're here because of the blood trail we found yesterday?" Nora asks, getting right to the point.
I've missed that.
"Yes, Ma'am," the younger, tow-headed one speaks up, smiling at my partner a bit too... friendly.
"Well, let's show you where we found it and the dock, shall we. The sooner this is cleared up, the better," she says and starts off.
"Nikki? Everything all right?" Darius says from behind me on the porch.
"Just fine. We'll be back in a bit," I inform him before following my partner. I can feel Darius' eyes on us until we disappear around the edge of the house towards the back, but I can't spend time easing his worry. Like Nora said, the sooner this is done, the better.
Nora's got a very good sense of direction and leads us right to where the body was and the first drop of blood. The rain we had earlier this week thankfully hasn't returned and there's been no morning dew to destroy the evidence.
"Yep, that's a blood trail," Officer Newton states, sounding surprised.
"It was dark, I'm not surprised it was missed," Nora reassures him. She doesn't want to make them angry by showing them up. Good choice.
"Still," the older officer says with a decided bite to his tone. "We should have seen it."
"Let's show you were we followed it to, shall we?" I offer before he gets any more peeved. We want to show our willingness to work with the local authorities, not rub their nose in our own detective skills.
Minutes later, we're all at the dock, with the younger officer taking several samples of the blood stain and pictures.
Nora's standing on the end of the dock, her hands on her hips as she looks up and down the river.
"You didn't see a boat tied up here last night?" Officer Harkins asks, squatting in front of the blood stain just like Nora did last night, as if he was visualizing what had happened.
"No. And we don't have our own boat on the property anymore," I supply watching the three of them. "As you noticed, we're got quite a few acres here. You'd never know that there was a dock here unless you knew where on the river to look for it."
"And you wouldn't know which way the house was unless you've been here before," he notes, nodding in agreement. "The blood trail was pretty direct to your house, Ms. Beaumont."
The Ms. Beaumont gets under my skin, but I'm trying to be sensible and not let it annoy me. To them, I'm not a Detective right now, I'm a possible suspect.
"We don't come here that often. Maybe two or three times a year?" I offer. "I've never noticed, but it's possible someone has stayed here before when the place was empty."
"Could be," he answers back and stands up, taking a long look at me.
"Officer Harkins, a question," Nora speaks up, turning away from the river and towards us. Her eyes flicker to me then over to the men. "Was the victim soaking wet? Like he'd been in the river?"
"Aside from the blood, he was dry as a bone," the younger man answers. "Why?"
"Well, if he was coming from the docks and he's not wet... where's the boat?" she asks and I continue the thought.
"Either it floated away, or someone took it away." I nod at her and look at the river.
"Good question, Detectives," Officer Harkins says, using our titles as a peace offering. "Let's go back to the house and chat."
Darius is kind enough to meet us with a pot of fresh coffee and five mugs. He joins us, but stays in the background. He's got that informant mentality, even here and now. Stay out of sight and listen. I don't mind. When he has something to say, he won't be shy to ask.
The younger man, Officer Newton, goes to their car and brings back a folder, handing it to his partner.
We're sitting around the coffee table, Nora and I on the couch side by side, with Darius making himself home on a lounge chair and the policemen sitting across from us.
"Do you recognize this man?" Officer Harkins pulls out a full-sized photo of a man and sets it in front of me on the table. It's a mug shot.
"He looks like the man I found out under the trees, but with shorter hair and more stubble," I offer helpfully. "Poirier, Richard." I read off the placard the man is holding in the shot. "I don't know him personally. Darius?"
He moves forward and looks at the man carefully. He has spent about as much time as I have after our Mamas were killed, and he's got a standing invitation to come out here whenever he wants, same as his MeeMaw. However, like me, he keeps to himself when he's out here.
"Nope. Sorry, Officers," he replies with a touch of regret.
"Richard Poirer. Has a twin, Jacob and a younger brother, James," Officer Newton tells us. "We went up to their place yesterday but no one was home. Their boat is gone, as a matter of fact."
"Their house... is it on the same river here?" Nora asks, an excited tone to her voice.
"Well Detectives, it so happens that it is," the older man states.
I have to admit that being able to talk to other cops is easy for me. It's the witnesses and the family of deceased that I have a harder time with. So talking the two local cops into letting Nikki and I go with them to the Poirer's residence doesn't take much. The only promise I have to give is that Nikki won't be allowed inside the house. Once she readily agrees, we follow them out to the small house the brothers own on the river.
Of course, that means that Nikki just has to drive, and in the interest of fair play and because I still feel really guilty about her car, I let her.
If she wrecks my El Camino out of spite however...
"Stop it," she tells me as we turn onto a dirt road that is running beside the Little Tchefuncte River, the dust from the police car in front of us getting all over my nice, shiny black beauty.
"What?" I drag out the word, trying my best to sound innocent. Something that I know I'm terrible at.
"You're wondering if I'm going to ditch your car into the river. Admit it," Nikki accuses me teasingly.
Damnit, Woman. Since when could you read my mind?
"I am not," I pout, clenching the handrest tighter.
She drifts over towards the river-side edge of the lane to go around a particularly deep pot hole.
"Nikkkkiiii," I growl her name out.
"Shhh, I know you and water aren't on the best of terms right now, and I'm not ready to go for another dip after you," she assures me.
I let out a shuddering breath of anxiety. I've been trying not to think about that, but now that she mentioned it.
"Thank you for saving me," I say a bit quietly as a shudder rips through my body at the memory of that night.
Nikki takes a quick look over to me and then looks back at the road, "You're welcome. I'm just glad I was with you."
"And your car..." I grimace, remembering what Darius told me last night.
"It's just a car, Nora," she assures me quietly.
"Still, I owe you," I put a lot of feeling in that statement.
"It's OK. Really. Like I told you that night, you'll just have to get used to me driving your car for awhile," Nikki replies teasingly. I'm fully aware she's trying to change the subject to get my mind off the accident. "We're here it seems."
Nikki pulls my car up alongside the police vehicle and we get out. Looking at me over the hood of the car she states, "I'm going to check out the dock. I'll grab Newton to go with me."
"Sounds like a plan. Be careful," I tell her and walk up to Officer Harkins. "Nikki wants to check out the dock, while you and I check to see if they're home."
"That's fine," the older man looks at his partner, "Go with her, Bill."
"Yep, will do."
He seems pleased about the assignment. Too pleased. I eye him a moment, watching him walk up to my partner with a genial smile.
"Ma'am," he greets her.
Nikki looks over at me and surreptitiously gives me a wink, which I acknowledge with a wry grin. She sure attracts them, like bees to honey.
"Their trucks aren't here," Officer Harkins notes and goes up to the front door. The house is rather small, with probably only two bedrooms. The hunting decor hanging off the walls is rather... interesting. I don't think I've seen so many pelts and antlers on the inside of a house, let alone on the outside. Trying to peek in the window is a lesson in futility, since they're so dirty that I can barely see the threadbare curtains on the inside.
I stand behind him and off to the side. I put my badge on my hip, and my piece is on my left side. Even though I'm out of my jurisdiction, I've come prepared. I'd rather not get shot at by someone who thinks I'm trespassing.
"Folsom Police," Harkins barks out and knocks loud and hard enough that the door looks like it's about to break in half. He tries again a moment later, but there's no answer.
"Let's check the back," he comments and stomps back down the stairs.
The yard, if you can call it that, is a mess. An old washing machine and tons of other discards litter the ground, but there's a small overgrown path around the edge of the house. There's another larger building back here as well, an old garage by the looks of it.
Harkins starts to knock on the back door, but it swings open under his fist.
"Hello? Folsom Police department, anyone home?" He swings the door open carefully but doesn't go in.
Peering around him is hard, but from what I can see, it's a mess inside. Not a crime scene kind of mess, just what you might expect after seeing the grounds outside.
"Let's just take a look to make sure everyone's all right," I suggest hopefully.
"Just stay behind me," he mutters and walks inside carefully, announcing himself again. "This is Officer Harkins. We found the back door unlocked, we're coming in to make sure everyone is OK."
Going into a house without a search warrant can be a tricky thing. If someone had been inside and denied us access, that's one thing. But since there's no answer and the door wasn't shut properly, it's only prudent to check out the premises.
"Hmmm. Well isn't this interesting?" Officer Harkins says, catching my attention as we do a walk-through. Besides being a mess, the house looks empty, so I'm a bit more at ease when I walk back up to him. The small kitchen table is about as scratched up and scarred as I would have imagined. On top of it is an assortment of what I would only term... loot.
Watches. More than any one man, let alone three, could wear. Mens and ladies jewelry.
"Have any break-ins lately?"
"Yep. Last year or so, up and down the river," he answers back, a bit disgruntled. "Looks like we've finally found our culprits."
"The river makes for a good getaway. Lots of summer homes. Any resorts up here?"
"One or two of them. Nothing too fancy, but lots of cabins on the water. Every few weeks we get a call, responding to break-ins. Always when the folks have gone off and left for the day. The summer homes, those we don't get calls on for months at a time," he replies.
Having a minor crime spree on your home turf and not being able to catch the culprits is a bit hard on the ego, and I can hear it in his voice. Burglaries don't help the local tourist trade, that's for sure.
"I used to work Robbery in NOPD, if I can make a few calls for you... see if any of your guys have been seen in any of the local pawn shops, that might help," I offer a bit reluctantly, not wanting him to feel like I'm stepping on his turf. "I'm sure you have more contacts in Baton Rouge than I do since it's closer to Folsom."
He pushes his hat back a bit and looks at me for a moment before speaking, "I know you're only here to make sure your partner doesn't get into any trouble, but I'd be grateful for any help you can give."
Officer Harkins surprises me. Small town policemen don't usually appreciate big city cops, but he honestly seems willing to let me help out. Huh. I'll be damned. Maybe it's because Nola isn't really that far away? Baton Rouge is even closer. But even with the proximity to the large cities, his manpower probably doesn't hit double digits.
"Let me make a couple of calls. I'll see what I can turn up for you," I hand him one of my cards, prompting him to give me one of his. It will make it easier on him if the NOPD sends information straight to him, instead of through me. If he had to ask Robbery on his own, it would take weeks. With me bugging Dan for some help on Harkin's behalf, it should cut out a lot of time.
Damn. I'm probably going to have to tell Dan why, since I don't know what Nikki's Daddy told him.
"Let me go talk to my partner. See if they've found anything," I step out, letting him make some calls. He'll get a warrant for the premises easily, since everything we've found is out in the open.
I walk around the house and follow the path down to what has to be the river. Passing through some trees, I see Nikki and her escort in an open boat house squatting down. More of a dock with a rusted tin roof to keep the weather off the boat that's sitting there in the water.
I take a moment to admire the view as I make my way down. Nikki looks good today, but then she always looks good. She's wearing a dark loose dress shirt over black slacks, and a pair of black leather dress boots. The sight makes me crack a smile. Even out here in the country, she's wearing something with at least three inches of heel.
They both look up from whatever they're taking a close interest in, when they hear the sound of me joining them on the wooden dock.
Nikki greets me with a bright smile, which I automatically return, ignoring the stutter of my heart at her look. Officer Newton's look on the other hand, seems a bit distracted... dazed maybe.
Nikki Beaumont strikes again? I'm trying not to laugh outright at his puppy-dog eyes when he glances at my partner.
I don't think I quite got my reaction under control because Nikki only has eyes for me and smirks at me.
"Find anything?" Good job, Delaney. Straight to business.
Nikki stands up, dusting her hands off on her thighs as she does. "Looks like blood in the boat."
"Good. Harkins is calling in for a warrant right now. The back door was open. Looks like the Poirer boys have been running up and down the river collecting souvenirs." I keep my eyes on Nikki as I walk along the dock. It's longer than the one at her house, and less maintained. Nikki winks at me encouragingly while I do my best to ignore the creaks and groans of the weathered wood underneath me.
Newton moves over to let me look in the boat, and I try to keep my balance as three people make the docks shift under me. A hand reaches out and grasps my elbow. I don't need to look to know that it's Nikki.
"Well, lets go back up and tell your partner," I suggest and straighten up. We let the younger policeman walk in front of us, Nikki holding me back by my elbow. If I didn't know better, I'd say she was reluctant to let go of me.
"Just making sure you're all right," she whispers just loudly enough for me to hear.
I swear she's psychic, but I'm not arguing. I'm enjoying the warmth of her fingers on my arm.
Jerking my head forward towards Officer Newton I comment teasingly, "Did you break your newest conquest already? He hasn't said a word."
Chancing a quick look over at her as we step from the dock onto solid land, I stumble slightly. Nikki's fingers tighten a moment, then let me go since we're off the water. "Nah. He's just kind of shy," she answers, clearing her throat. I raise an eyebrow at the blush that rises up on her face.
"Shy?" I prompt.
"He was trying to ask me out for coffee, in a long, round-about, stuttering kind of way, when you walked up."
I stop in the middle of path and look at her with my mouth open in shock. "Nikki! You were only out there five minutes!" I hiss, half in utter surprise and half... OK, jealousy.
Nikki turns to me, looking me straight in the eye.
God I love her eyes.
"It's not my fault," she whines. "I didn't do anything." Nikki has an adorable pout and judging by the twinkle in her eyes, she knows it.
I step up close to her and waggle my finger at her, "I swear, I can't take you anywhere."
A big smiles lights up her face, white teeth flashing in the sun. "Well that's easily solved. I'll take you somewhere instead. Then we'll see how much trouble YOU can get into."
I swear she has an answer for everything. Arrgghh.
Dan wasn't pleased at first when Nora told him what was happening down here. Of course, now that it looks like I'm not a prime suspect anymore, I think he's settled down a bit.
I think he was more mad at my Daddy and his asking Nora to come down to help me out without so much as a by-your-leave. Or maybe he's just so used to seeing her every day and doesn't like it that she's run off to help her new partner. For some reason that just makes me smile.
Right now I'm letting Nora drive her car.
While I told her that I wasn't mad that she drowned my Mustang, I am enjoying tormenting her a bit about it. Fair is fair, after all. I get to torment her about my car and she gets to torment me by just being here.
"Comfortable?" she asks looking over at me.
I'm sitting back, enjoying her chauffeuring me around.
"Yes, thank you. Take a right here, James," I quip, pointing a finger at the crossroads.
I actually giggle when a low growl comes from the driver's side. She's really fun to tease.
"So where are we going again?" Nora asks sulkily.
"We're going to help me keep a promise," I reply mysteriously.
It doesn't take us too long to get where I want to go. When we turn into the cemetery road, Nora asks, "Your mother?"
"I come here every time I'm at the house. I hope you don't mind. I could have had Darius take me, but his mother isn't buried here and I didn't want to depress him," replying as I point out a spot that's surrounded by an old wrought iron fence. "This is it, the Lacour family plot."
We pull up and get out. I grab the flowers that I had Nora stop at Folsom's one and only florist shop for and begin walking to the gate.
Not hearing a second car door opening, I duck down to catch my partner's eye and smile encouragingly, "Coming?"
"Are you sure?" she asks tentatively. My heart warms at the thought that she's willing to give me alone time with my Mama. Time has healed the gaping wound my Mama left inside me, but I find I want Nora's company.
"Come on," I reply still smiling. "They won't bite."
She gets out and comes to walk beside me. I open the iron gate and make my way past the statues of angels and the numerous headstones.
"Mama's gravestone isn't complete. There's room for Daddy beside it. He wants to be buried next to her, even though it's the Lacour family plot," I point out for Nora and lay the purple and white lilies at the base of the headstone.
It's pretty here, although I hated it when I was ten. Now, it's just peaceful and quiet, like the country house.
Clearing my throat nervously, I reach back and pull Nora forward to stand next to me.
"Mama, this is Nora, my new partner." I've always talked to Mama when I come visit, but right now I feel a bit silly doing it in front of her.
Glancing over to Nora, I see she's not amused by it, just standing there, my hand still on her arm. If anything, she looks content to be here with me. Letting her arm go with a light parting squeeze, I sit down on Mama's grave and arrange the flowers in the permanent vase set at the base. Pulling my knees up, I wrap my arms around them.
"She was so beautiful, Nora," I whisper, knowing she could hear me. "I wanted to be like her when I grew up. A Southern Lady." I turn my head and peek up at her with a wry grin. "I wonder sometimes if she would approve... of my job. My lifestyle." I say the last word somewhat condescendingly towards those who use it as a matter of course, with finger quotes in the air, and then wrap my arms around my knees again.
Nora lowers herself to sit near me, but turned so she can see me better. She makes herself comfortable as I watch her. Why am I so scared of this? I can't help but think of the other night in her house.
"Tell me about her," Nora asks, her glorious green eyes meeting mine. One of her thighs relaxes and touches mine and my mind focuses on that pressure and the warmth of it.
"Well, to know my Mama, you have to know the Lacours in this area. It's an old name here, as you can imagine, since a lot of the land has stayed in the family since before the Civil War. A pretentious lot, the Lacours, until my grandmother, my Nana. She was the last of the Lacours and very sassy and definitely had her own mind about things.
"Nana and Mama had the family home in New Orleans, so that's how Mama and Daddy met, apparently at some dinner party. Nana didn't approve of Daddy at first, thinking that his family were a bit showy. However, once she saw how much the two really loved each other, she quit protesting.
"Daddy had a painting of Mama and him done, in their wedding clothes, and it's still up in the parlor on the wall. She was so beautiful," I swallow the lump in my throat and continue, "I used to play in her dressing room. She had this fabulous dressing table. It was big, but I was a bit smaller back then, everything was big to me."
Nora smiles encouragingly, "I can imagine."
"I used to sit on the chair in front of it and play with the makeup for hours. And her shoes! I used to spend hours in her bedroom trying them all on," I reminisce torn between sadness and happiness as I sift through the memories. "She had the best taste."
"Something you definitely got from her," Nora chuckles softly. I know she's trying to keep me thinking about the brighter memories. "I would have liked to have met her," she says soothingly.
Now that makes me return her smile, "Mama would have liked you, I think. She didn't really care about a person's family or how much money they had. I remember hearing that she had dressed down the son of the Governor at his friend's wedding because he'd had a bit too much to drink."
We laugh together at the image, the sound doesn't seem out of place here oddly enough. Maybe it's just the company I'm keeping.
I start standing up, but Nora beats me and holds out a helping hand. Taking it tentatively in mine, I let her pull me the rest of the way up, only letting go of her hand after a gentle squeeze of thanks.
"I love you, Mama," is all I say before we walk back to the car. "Nora... thank you."
A bright smile adorns her face as she looks at me over the hood of her car. "No, thank you for letting me bring you."
As we get in and drive away, I can't help but think how comfortable it is to be around her. I can't imagine walking away from this partnership... I can't imagine walking away from her, period.
Have I been a fool about this entire situation between us?
What would Mama say?
"Oh my god," I exclaim as I drive through Folsom. "There's only one restaurant?"
We left Darius at the house, since there isn't much room in the cab of the El Camino for a third person. The truth is, we could have taken his car after we had lunch at the house, but we are going to the Folsom police station and there was really no reason for Darius to come.
His comments from last night keep resounding in my head today.
Don't give up.
I don't want to give up. I just wish there was a way to show her that we can do this, be partners and lovers.
"Well, we could go to Baton Rouge for dinner tonight if you want? It's a bit further than Nola, but it would be a change of scenery," Nikki helpfully supplies.
I seriously consider the idea as I pull into a spot near the station. "How about I let you pick? I still owe you dinner."
Nikki's amusement at the idea colors her next words, "Actually, if I remember right, you owe me a home cooked meal."
Turning off the car I look over at her with a reluctant smile, "I don't remember anything about a home cooked meal."
"Grilled Red Snapper," she supplies, returning my look.
"So you'd rather not eat out?"
"Since I get to choose, no," Nikki unbuckles her seat belt and leaves the car.
Sighing softly so she can't hear me, I do the same. It's not that I don't want to make her dinner, it's just that I would prefer privacy and having Darius study us all night long isn't my idea of fun.
"OK. A home cooked meal it is... crawfish and asparagus?" I ask, hoping the very idea will turn her off the notion.
A giggle slips out of me as I see the look of horror on her face. Her dark eyes narrow menacingly. "No."
"Nora?" She says my name nice and low, and a sharp shudder of pleasure runs through my entire body.
Wow. I really like her saying my name like that.
Hoping she hasn't seen it, I'm apprehensive to see her eyes widen in surprised delight.
"Yes?" My voice is little more than a croak as I answer her.
Her gaze narrows and her look of delight turns to one of intrigue with a sly naughty turn to her lips "Nora..."
I shiver again uncontrollably and look at her with annoyance. "Will you quit that!" I hiss loud enough that a couple walking down the sidewalk notices and looks over at us.
"What? I'm just saying your name," she replies innocently.
She does not do innocent very well.
"Nikkkiii," I plead.
Not the place and time for toying with me, woman.
She meets me at the sidewalk and leans towards me as we walk side-by-side. "I'm sure you'll think of something appropriate for dinner, Detective." she says playfully, keeping that low drawl in her tone.
God, I enjoy listening to her talk. I just hope I can survive it.
"So you've got cause for arresting them for burglary at least," I tell Officer Harkins.
Dan had prodded Robbery for us and it hadn't taken long for a few sources to pin the twins as hawking jewelry at a couple of the more disreputable pawn shops in Nola.
The youngest Poirer was a different matter. They couldn't tie him to the burglaries because he was doing time at a juvenile farm for young violent offenders. The time frame didn't fit for any robberies that happened prior to two weeks ago, but he was definitely still a suspect in the murder.
The APB had been out on the wire all day and Harkins had sent men out to any known associates of the suspects, but so far there hadn't been a nibble. If this had been Nikki's and my case, I'd be out there right now questioning people, but it isn't our case and I want to keep the lines of communication open between us and the locals.
"We got the autopsy report back from the coroner," Officer Harkins supplies as we all sit in his office. The station is a small one, almost cozy-feeling except for the battleship-gray paint and old style metal desks. The computers here are a tad old as well, but at least they have them and are hooked up to several agencies.
"Anything new?" Nikki asked hopefully. The fact that they let her come in here with me was a good sign in that they weren't treating her as a suspect anymore.
"COD was a single 9mm shot through the back, just barely nicking the heart," the officer rattles off, looking at a picture on the wall contemplatively. "There was some fresh bruising on his face, chest, and arms too. Defensive and offensive bruises on his hands and knuckles. Whatever happened to him, he put up quite a fight before he was shot. The bruises were pre-mortem."
I nod, picturing the difference between pre-mortem and post-mortem bruising in my head. Pre-mortem bruising had time to pool blood to the area, post didn't, since the heart had already stopped.
Office Harkin look over at my partner and give her an apologetic, "Since your Glock is a 40 Smith & Wesson round instead of the 9mm slug found in the victim, I think we can proceed on faith that you didn't shoot our Mr. Poirer. That and the evidence that shows us he probably wasn't shot on the premises." He clears his voice a moment and then speaks up again after the short pause, "I'd like to apologize, Detective..."
Nikki waves him off before he can get started, "You were just doing your job."
"I'm glad you understand," he nods at her in appreciation. "There were several guns found at the Poirer house, more than usual. We're checking them against items reported missing from the burglaries. I wouldn't be surprised to find they're stolen, although I doubt one of them will match the bullet found in Poirer."
"So would I," I admit. "It's either in the river or his brothers still have it."
Harkins nods at my last words, which I had emphasized, "Don't worry Detective, my men aren't big city folk, but they deal with more guns than the average cop. Just about everyone out here has a rifle or shotgun, since you don't need a permit."
His words are said with a bit of humor, so I don't take offense. I find I like this man. Sure his yearly budget probably matches three months of the SCUs, but he's definitely not a stupid man.
"Anything we can help with?" Nikki offers. "We big city detectives have a few days off and," she looks over at me for permission and since I have an idea what she's going to say, I nod, "we wouldn't mind assisting if you need us." She turns back to Harkins, keeping her face open and friendly.
"Not that I wouldn't appreciate it, Ladies, but we do know the area and the people better," he declines the offer graciously, then seems to reconsider. "If you're still around when we bring the Poirer boys in, I'll give you a call. How about that?"
I stand up and offer my hand to him. "Deal. We'd be happy to help."
Nikki stands up and shakes his hand. "Any idea when I can get my gun back? Department issue and all that," she asks, giving him her most charming smile.
"Heh... I'll see what I can do. I'll send Newton off to Baton Rouge to get it tomorrow. That do?" He stands up politely since we're standing up in front of his desk now, getting ready to leave.
"That would be fine, Officer Harkins. I admit I feel a bit naked without it," Nikki blushes and shrugs.
The naked comment aside, I understand completely how she feels about being without her gun. Even here, when I'm not technically on duty, with a murder happening so close to the house and helping out the locals, I can't imagine not having my badge and gun handy. Nikki has her badge, but with no gun, if something had happened out at the Poirer's house... well, I don't even want to think about what could have happened.
We bid our good-byes to Harkins and walk back out to the car.
"Where to now, Madam," I joke, willingly playing the chauffeur part again.
"I'll call Darius while we go to the store," Nikki offers. "Let's see what we can scrounge up for a decent dinner around here."
"Nora," she replies in that low, sexy tone again.
Shuddering in response, I start thinking of a huge list of foods she probably would hate, just so I can get her to say my name again.
For two people that are trying not to torment each other, we're doing a poor job of it.
What a shame, I think to myself and smile.
We took our time shopping in Folsom, most of it in an adorable antique shop they have, and the rest spent in their surprisingly well-stocked grocery store. We finally compromise and decide on shrimp, especially after she dared me to try her shrimp with andouille dressing. Since they had some local made andouille sausage and shrimp so fresh I thought they were still moving, I swore I'd give it a try for her.
My mouth is watering just at the thought. I even get into the spirit of it and decide to make whipped sweet potatoes with pecans. I'm looking forward to dinner tonight, partially since Darius wasn't going to join us. We'll have plenty of left-overs to bring him some when we get back to Nola.
I had called him while we were in the car and he told me he was planning on spending the evening in Baton Rouge and not expect him until morning. With Nora sitting not two feet away from me in the car, I couldn't hiss at Darius to not play matchmaker, or whatever it is that he thinks he's doing.
Of course a part of me minds him leaving, the temptation of us alone in the house together is a bit more than I can stand to think about. However, keeping my voice calm, I told Nora and after a pregnant pause, she said she hoped he had a good time and to be careful.
Neither one of us looked at each other during the exchange, but my heartbeat accelerated until I thought I'd have a heart attack. Yes, I'm nervous. Hell, I'm terrified.
And I'm excited.
I want to be alone with her. I want to get far away from her. I want to run my fingers through her blonde locks. I want to close my eyes and pretend I'm somewhere else. I want to touch her hand in passing. I want to shake her in frustration.
I want something I cannot have.
But sometimes, we have to take a chance.
"DAMN IT!" Nora yells as she slices her finger. Apparently, although she may know how to cook, that doesn't mean she should be allowed in the kitchen where sharp implements are.
"Let me see that," I demand, crossing the small kitchen quickly and grabbing her hand. I hadn't even realized she was in the kitchen already, the last I knew she was out on the porch, enjoying the peace and quiet. That's what I get for wandering off into lala land and dozing off.
I cradle the warm fingers of her hand in mine and tug her forward so I can rinse off the blood under the faucet. I'm sure she could do this herself, but...
"Clothes-lined by a perp. Almost drowned. Bruised ribs. Bruised lungs. And now you're trying to cut off pieces of your body," I complain under my breath as she hisses at the cold water in the cut. It's not deep, but it's enough to bleed freely. "Jesus, Nora."
"It's only a cut, I've had worse," she says nonchalantly.
I continue to mutter under my breath and treating her cut a bit more roughly.
"OW!" she yelps and tries to yank her hand back but I've got a firm grip on it.
"Stop struggling, Nora," I say a bit more softly, feeling guilty for causing her more pain.
What the heck am I doing? I can't even control myself when she nicks her finger in the kitchen.
"Umm... I think it's clean." She says and tries again to gain possession of her hand, albeit half-heartedly.
I'm rather enjoying her hand and mine together, so I keep possession of it. I have to do a thorough job after all.
Taking a dry paper towel I wrap her finger up tight while she sighs dramatically and gives me a quirky grin, "Done?"
Still holding her hand between us, I turn toward her reluctantly before letting it drop. A hot blush creeps up my cheeks and I reply, "I'm being silly aren't I?"
Nora keeps her face gentle, her grin still wry. "I wouldn't say that. It's been quite a week for us."
Her face is so close, her eyes green and bright. What I wouldn't give right now just to...
"I think your sausages are burning," I comment, glancing behind her at the stove.
"Umm... your andouille sausages?"
Minutes later, the sausage is saved and thankfully not burned.
We spend the rest of the time in the kitchen, side by side, dicing, peeling and chopping our way through the rest of the preparations in silence.
Today went better than I had reason to believe it would. If we can get through this weekend, then I have high hopes for our partnership.
I sneak glimpses of her as we dance around each other in the kitchen. Her blonde hair masking her face sometimes, sometimes framing it just right so I can see the curve of her jaw and the contented smile on it.
How can I not want her? It's impossible.
"I can't believe it's almost been a week," Nora says breaking the easy silence between us.
Finishing setting the table, I open a bottle of wine for us and pour a glass as she starts filling a platter with shrimp and sausage dressing.
"A bad week?" I hesitate to ask, feeling like I'm poking a possible sore wound.
"No. Actually, it's been a good week," she answers back smiling at me from under her bangs.
"Despite everything?" My glass stalls halfway up to my mouth in surprise.
Nora doesn't say anything for a couple of minutes, taking a seat at the table across from me and pouring herself a glass of wine as well.
"I think the good parts far outweigh the bad. And really... there hasn't been much of the bad," she finally says and takes a sip, humming her pleasure at the taste.
My glass finishes the trip up to my mouth and I take a long sip. Very tasty.
"You know once you say that something is going to happen now, right?" I give her a playful look.
Her lips curve into that quirky one-sided grin of hers again.
"I hope so," she replies and starts filling her plate.
Talk about tempting fate.
Dinner was wonderful. The night is wonderful. Nikki is wonderful.
I even believe that I proved to Nikki that I can actually cook. I think she believed I lived on pop tarts or something.
We're out on the porch now, enjoying the night again. We're in the middle of our second bottle of wine and I'm enjoying the light buzz.
Nikki is sitting next to me on the couch, relaxing with her feet up on the coffee table, looking like a pleasantly full pussycat in that elegant boneless way she has.
Maybe it's the wine. Maybe it's just the easy company tonight. Maybe it's the night, with the crickets and birds for ambiance. But I feel things are close to being normal between us again.
"7th grade dance," Nikki says, expanding on the topic we started at dinner, our "firsts".
I nudge her companionably with an elbow and look at her with disbelief. "NO way! You took a girl to your Junior High dance? Wow, talk about guts..."
"No," she laughs easily and looks back at me, her brown eyes twinkling, "I went with Beauregard Stern. He was nice enough, but he and his best friend were double dating with me and Katie Howard. Michael, his friend, dared Katie and I to kiss right there during the last dance. We did. She was a much better kisser than Beauregard that's for sure." Nikki laughs again, blushing at the same time.
I join her, imagining a younger Nikki.
"You were just born wicked, weren't you?" I shift my body on the couch, so I'm sitting on one foot and my arm is laying against the back.
Easier to talk this way. Mmhmm. Yep. That's all. No added benefits of being able to look at her. Nope.
Nikki turns so she's facing me as well and replies, "Well, of course. If you're born in an old Southern family, it's part of the genetic package." She winks and takes another sip of her wine. "So Delaney, your turn. Who was your first french kiss."
I'd prefer not to answer this question, but a deal is a deal.
"Andrew... my cousin," I say, grimacing.
"Eww..." she replies in mock horror.
"Yeah. That's how it was. I was eight. Go ahead, I know you want to say it," I give her permission, seeing the mischievous gleam in her eyes.
Such a beautiful smile for a brat.
"Har har," I grumble half-heartedly. "NEXT!"
Nikki laughs and leans her head on her palm, her arm on the back of the couch like mine. "Hmmm... which should I ask next? Although, I still think my answer was better."
"Sounds better, that's for sure," I mutter before I can check myself.
"Oh really?" Nikki grins at me.
"How many glasses of wine have we had?" I ask lamely.
I can't help it, she just makes me want to laugh all the time.
"Where were we? Oh yes, my turn," Nikki focuses on our little game again, "Hmm... we agreed on anything goes, correct?"
Uh oh. Big uh oh.
I narrow my eyes and answer, "Yes, but..."
"Shhhh, my turn, Detective," she says while waggling an index finger at me. Nikki takes a moment to think. "Ohh, favorite sexual position."
Oh. My. God.
"Nikki Beaumont, you are a light-weight!" I exclaim in utter shock. OK, maybe I'm not all that shocked. But... damn. Fair is fair.
"Oh, Sugah. I assure you I am no light-weight. I am barely even carrying a buzz at this state. We've hardly even tapped that second bottle," she assures me. "Speaking of." Nikki leans over me to grab the wine bottle and refills both of our glasses.
"My pleasure. Now answer the question, Detective Delaney," she winks at me over the glass, not knowing, or maybe knowing but not caring, what that does to me.
I cover the flush on my face by taking a very long slow sip of the wine and setting it down, just so, on the table. Clearing my throat, I'm back to normal. Of course that's a relative term, since I have to answer her question now.
Oh, but Delaney. After you're done, you get to hear hers. My god. We're masochists.
"To be honest, I really don't have a favorite, but if you MUST know," I ignore her coy smile and continue, "I always preferred oral stimulation."
Wow. I wouldn't have thought you could actually snort wine.
"Quit... laughing... at me," Nikki complains as she tries to clear her lungs and sinuses.
"I'm not laughing at your pain, Nikki," I say between giggles, "I just find it hard to believe that anything I say could have surprised you like this."
A couple minutes later she's composed herself again and emptied her glass for a new one. She gives me a mock glare and admonishes, "You know that shouldn't count right? It's not a position."
"Well, it's not like I've gone through the Kama Sutra, Nikki," I protest somewhat vehemently. "There's... um... I'm sticking with that answer."
Nikki considers for a moment and nods. "Fine, but you have to be more precise."
"What?? You want me to paint you a picture?" My face is flaming red now. Who thought of this damn game anyways?
Oh yeah. Me. Little Miss "Tell me about your first crush?" Yep, that's me.
"Nooo..." Nikki's lips twitch in amusement, "You can save that for another time if you want."
"Why thank you, Detective Beaumont. How very kind of you," I reply drolly. "So what do you mean by 'be more precise'?"
That wicked gleam in her eye just gets me every time. She leans forward until her lips are almost touching my ear, then whispers, "Do you prefer giving or receiving oral stimulation?"
She leans back and cracks a satisfied smile at my expression.
"Umm..." I think my brain just crashed because I cannot think of one thing to stay that sounds remotely human.
Nikki chuckles into her wine as she takes a sip. "You started this... remember that, Nora."
My body shivers at how she says my name. Low, dark and unrepentantly sexy. Which, of course, just makes her grin more evil.
"Nikki..." I protest, valiantly trying to put off the inevitable.
"Nora, answer the question. Fair is fair," she replies, not letting me go.
"Fine. Receiving. I never really enjoyed... umm... with guys." There, I'm done and as soon as my face goes back to its normal shade of color, I'll think of a good payback.
Nikki hums at the answer, seemingly pleased that I finally gave in, I suppose.
"Have you ever enjoyed it with a woman?" she asks innocently and it's my turn to choke and cough on my wine.
"Don't... have to... answer... not the question," I sputter out my reply.
Not fair. Not fair. Nikki Beaumont is a cheat!
"True. I'll save that for next time," she says happily, after I've finally caught my breath. Then she proceeds to tell me her favorite position.
Honestly, I didn't think it was possible to do that with two women, but hell, what do I know.
I'm stuck in a feedback loop for several moments trying to get the logistics of it correct in my head, but apparently hands on knowledge is a better teacher.
No. NO. OK. Back to safe topics of conversation, Nora. Erase. Erase. Damn images.
Although... wait, that might work.
Nikki seems rather tickled at my stunned expression. She's getting a real kick out of tormenting me tonight. But it's OK. We're relaxed and there's very little tension.
"We did well today, didn't we?" I ask suddenly and explain what I mean when her look changes to one of puzzlement. "I mean, you and I. It's a good sign that we can be friends, good friends and partners?"
"Yeah, we did good... partner," she finally answers with a soft look.
"About last night, I didn't mean to say... that is... I wanted..." My words are coming out like a scratch on a record. All over the place now.
"Nora, you don't have to say anything," Nikki offers quietly, looking at her wine glass reflectively.
"I want to. I need to," I insist and go on after I see her nod. "Last night, I said I didn't mean to ruin things between us." Reaching out, I tentatively touch her forearm with just the tips of my fingers, then bring my hand back to rest in my lap. "Have I ruined things?"
Her head snaps up and her deep, brown eyes meet mine. "No. You haven't. Don't think that. EVER," she insists. "In fact, if anyone has ruined anything, I would be me."
She sets down her glass and stands up to go. To run away again?
"Nikki..." I reach out with a hand and stop her before she can leave. "Please, don't go."
She turns to look at me, her dark eyes sad. Her face looks even paler than usual and I can see the faint trace of dark circles under her eyes, her makeup unable to cover up the evidence completely. She really doesn't look like she's been getting a good night's sleep.
"Nora, I can't..." she looks away from my face for a moment, but I won't let go of her. Instead I squeeze her forearm a bit tighter to keep her from moving. Nikki looks back up at me, and I'm shocked at the depth of emotion I see in them, and the tears that are welling.
"Please don't cry. I couldn't stand it if you cried. Not over me."
She blinks and a lone tear escapes and runs down her cheek to fall off the edge of her jaw.
"Please, just let me go. I'll go to Dan Monday... I'll ask to be switched," she starts to say but I interrupt her.
"No!" I almost yell it, then I blush as I see how it startles her. "No. Nikki... We can do this. Just give me..."
Her eyes are pleading with me to let her go, let her run. I won't have it, I made the mistake of letting her go last night and I won't do it again. I step into her personal space, refusing to let go of her arm, pulling her around to face me completely. "Trust me. Please? You're the best partner I've ever had. The closest friend I've had. You know things about me that even my brothers don't know," the words tumble from my mouth. I have to convince her. I don't want to lose her.
That's it. I don't want to lose her. I'm not much for words usually, but I have to get her to understand.
"Nikki..." I say her name softly, a benediction as I step up closer to her until I can feel her breath against my face. "Please..." clearing my throat for a second, I continue, "I'm going to say this once and you're going to really listen to me, Nikki Beaumont. I am not like that first partner of yours. I'm not here to want to try and bed you and leave you. You're not a conquest to me. You're... We're cops, yes. I don't care. I don't," I insist.
"I'd rather live with you in my life for five minutes than deny this," I let go of her arm slowly, fearing she'll leave, but she doesn't. Reaching up to her face, I touch her, running my fingertips down her strong jaw.
My heartbeat doubles as she closes her eyes and unconsciously presses back against my fingers.
"I can't go back. I can't. You're the best thing that's ever happened to me and I'd rather resign and sell Mardi Gras beads on the street than be just your partner on the job. Either way Nikki, I'll always be your friend."
Nikki keeps her eyes shut, and slowly shakes her head back and forth.
How do I get it across to her? There's nowhere for us to go. I'll be the first to admit there's something powerful between us beyond just the physical, beyond just a working partnership, and beyond this friendship we've started.
Unconsciously I lean closer to her. The cool evening air makes the heat pouring off her body feel so delicious, even with the bare inch of air between us. The warm scent of her washing over me, through me with every breath I take in.
Her eyes pop open and we're so close. And yet so far apart. Connected only by my hand on her arm. Nikki's gaze meets mine and it's a shock. It's just like the first time we met.
I feel myself drowning in those dark pools. God, this is so hard. But so good. I want this, please Nikki.
"What have you done to me?" she whispers and her lips come even closer to mine. Not a kiss yet. A hint of warmth and silk, that's all.
So close to her, so tempted to push forward. I'm drowning in the need to be swallowed by the soft taste of her, to be overwhelmed by the touch of her soft lips. Releasing her forearm, my fingers slowly trail up her to her shoulder.
"Don't be scared of this...of us," I whisper back, our lips still not touching.
But even this is intoxicating. I want more. Please, Nikki... Give me more.
A frustrated moan crawls out of her throat and she presses her body fully against mine.
"We shouldn't..." she groans pressing her forehead against mine. Our bodies have melded against one another, but still we haven't kissed. So very close. "I don't want this to ruin..."
Nikki's hands are on my hips, fingers so light that I barely know they're there, the warmth of her fingers through my jeans is the only hint that she's holding onto me.
The heat between us is almost stifling. Our hands and arms are holding each other close as we share the same hot breath, but still not quite kissing.
It's so painful, this feeling, being this close to her. I want to jump over the precipice, but I can't jump alone. I'm the one who has never kissed a woman. I'm the one who has never felt so strongly about another woman. And yet, I'm the one willing her with all my heart to come to me, to put aside her fear.
"Kiss me," I beg her in a low whisper, "just once. If you can say no after that, then I'll have this moment... and then I'll leave," I promise her, even though I'm not sure I can follow through afterwards.
"Please?" my voice croaks out the word, my emotions so high, so full to overflowing that I can feel my own eyes filling with tears.
I don't know who presses forward that last fraction of an inch and I don't care.
Her lips are soft and full.
And for this one moment...
One of the laws of a good first kiss is that something has to interrupt it.
Of course, this being the most intense and overwhelming kiss, let alone first kiss, that I've ever had... it's the cellphone ringing that interrupts us.
From the ringtone, it's Darius. I could kill him right now but my gun is still in Baton Rouge and I don't think the kitchen knives would suit my purposes.
I step back from Nora, my hands still on her hips, and my lips still tingling.
"I'd say 'Saved by the bell' but I don't want to be saved right now," I tell her, our eyes glued to one another, both of us a bit breathless. Leaning forward, I give her a soft but quick kiss and say, "Don't go away."
She does that sexy little quirky grin of hers. "I'll be right here."
"Darius, you have the worst timing..." I answer the cell testily.
"I'm sorry, but I didn't want to surprise you in case..." Darius answered.
Deciding to give him a bit more grief, I reply in a sickly sweet tone, "You didn't want to interrupt what, Darius?"
Noticing Nora coming up to me out of the corner of my eye, I turn and wink at her and tilt the phone so we both can hear.
"Umm... you know, interrupt..." he stutters, at a loss for words.
Nora grins and speaks this time, "Well, you know Darius, we're in the middle of something really... really... really... interesting here, so perhaps you should get to the point?"
I laugh at the silence coming from the cellphone. "What gives, Darius?"
He clears his throat before talking, "Umm... nothing really. I'm just being driven up to the house right now."
"'Being driven?'" I reply just as I hear what sounds like a truck coming up the long driveway. Definitely not Darius' Pontiac 4 door.
"Honey? I'm home," he quips just before hanging up.
I throw the phone back on my nightstand and look at Nora, meeting her green eyes.
What have we started here? Was this just a kiss?
No. God no.
Nora reaches up and brushes a lock of my hair back from my face. "Don't worry about it right now," she says, seemingly reading my thoughts.
I twitch my lips in a semblance of a smile, then walk out of the room to the front door, knowing she's right behind me.
A tow truck?
Opening the screendoor, I step out onto the front steps to greet Darius as he hops out of the cab. Thanking the driver, he walks up to us with a very sheepish look on his face.
"Don't worry Darius, we were dressed," Nora tells him smirking.
Darius' wide white grin shines in the dark. "Maybe later?"
"Did that piece of junk you drive finally give out?" I ask, getting to the point.
He sweeps past me and we follow him to the kitchen. "You should know better than to mock a man's car, Darlin'. Nina is a delicate woman."
"Nina? After anyone in particular?" Nora queries as she starts to clean up dinner.
If anything, Darius' smile grows wider, "Nina. After Nina Simone, The High Priestess of Soul and my car has a lot of soul."
"Well, at least you have good taste in music," she replies, filling a sink full of soapy water.
"Heh... and women!" he quips back, seemingly pleased that Nora knows who Nina Simone is. Of course, if you live in New Orleans, there are three kinds of music you are surrounded by: Zydeco, Jazz, and Soul.
"Well, you seem to be in one piece, so I assume you didn't wrap it around a tree," I comment after looking him over just to be sure.
"Stalled out on I-12, couldn't get it started again, so I'm having it towed to a shop near home. I was going to just catch a ride with the tow truck back to Nola, but I didn't want to leave two gorgeous women all alone in the house," he smirks and puffs out his chest. "I've got to protect the women-folk."
"Well, if a rabid chipmunk decides to attack the house, we'll be sure to throw you out in front of us first," I reply with amusement. Personally, I think Darius was actually hoping he was interrupting something. The fact that it wasn't as dirty as his mind was wishing for, isn't for lack of wanting on my part.
"Well, it'll be a tight squeeze, but you both can ride back with me," Nora offers readily, "I'm not sure when you two want to get back, although I know Nikki wants to wait for Officer Newton to sign her gun back over to her."
I wonder if I can call dibs on the middle spot now.
"So you two aren't going to stay and help with the investigation?" Darius says surprised.
Nora shakes her head negatively, her back to us as she starts washing dishes. I take a dish towel and help dry the freshly cleaned dishes, and if we're standing a bit closer than is necessary and if our arms brush against each other regularly, neither one of us seem to mind.
"It's not our jurisdiction, Darius. I'd love to help them out, but I don't know the people or the area as well as they do. We've done all we can to help and Nikki isn't going to be dragged off to the women's prison in chains..."
"Now there's a mental picture," I whisper just loud enough for her to hear. "Me and cuffs... "
Nora clears her throat and continues, drawing a low chuckle from me since I have a good idea that my words brought up some interesting pictures in her mind.
"So, unless Officer Harkins asks us to help, we can't very well push our noses into the investigation any more," Nora finished, nudging me gently with her elbow in retaliation.
"So, you ladies heading off to bed soon?"
I think about Nora and her ribs, and the fact that I'm dead tired from the little sleep I've had over the last few days.
"I have a fantastic idea. How about we torment Darius a little and let him have the spare bedroom tonight," I suggest before Nora can answer, just loud enough for Darius to overhear.
"Well, you all make sure you keep the noise down. I don't want to mistake any noises for some of them rabid squirrels and come rushing in to protect ya'll," he throws right back.
"I think I can safely say the rabid squirrels won't be making an appearance tonight. Your snoring will keep them at bay, Darius," Nora quips, shooting him a sassy grin.
He says good night to us and gives us time alone, going out onto the porch to make up his bed.
Nora and I spend our time in silence washing the dishes. Just being alone with her sends my pulse into overdrive.
My thoughts drift to Monday and us going back to the office. The real test.
"Nora," I start, then become so nervous that I lose track of how I want to ask her the question.
She dries her hands on a dishtowel after rinsing out the sink, then turns to me. Looking into those eyes of hers just sends my heart rate into dangerous levels.
Seeing my nervousness, Nora smile reassuringly and reaches up to cup my cheek. I put down the dishtowel and turn to her. "Listen..."
"No," Nora says as her thumb sweeps along my jaw near to the corner of my lips. "Don't say no."
I tilt my head into her palm and reach up with my hand to hold hers to me, "I was going to ask you something."
A radiant smile breaks across her lips. I pray to God that I don't break her heart, I can't imagine not seeing that smile again.
"Sorry," she apologizes, her trapped fingers warm against my cheek.
Even this, such a small thing really, is very distracting.
"Go out on a date with me?" I finally get it out.
The soft look she gives me is reassuring, "Anywhere. Anytime."
I can feel my fingers on the steering wheel, gripping, tensing, turning hand over hand as I move the car around a corner.
I'm breathing heavily, the sound of the siren is so loud, but I can still hear the sweet alto of Nikki yelling over the radio.
There's so much rain that I can barely make out the headlights up ahead. It's getting dark but the flashing police light cuts through it with flashes of blue. Flashes...
My heart rate picks up with the chase. Got to get him. Got to catch up. Got to stop him.
Water. Water. So much water. Struggling with the seat belt. Damn it. Water. Nikki's out. Water.
I need air.
"Shhhh. Wake up, Nora. You're OK."
Darkness. Cold. So dark. So cold. So dark. So... warm?
"Nora. Please wake up. You're safe. Come on now."
I come to my senses abruptly, rising up out of the depths of my nightmarish river, gasping for air. A warm, pleasant body, a woman's body, is pressed against me, arms holding me as she sits at the edge of the bed.
Nikki. My mind is blanking... Why is she here? Then I remember the water and being trapped...
She must have heard me from her room.
I'm sitting up, having exploded off the sheets; and wrap around her, holding onto her like I would a life raft. My entire body is shaking and I'm drenched in sweat, ironic considering my nightmare. She's holding tight, her mouth by my ear calming me with soothing sounds. My face is buried in her neck, her hair tickling me. I know this smell. Her smell. It's not the smell of her perfume, but purely Nikki.
If I wasn't so suddenly embarrassed, I'd be enjoying this. A lot.
I start to pull away but she holds on to me and pushes me back onto the pillows.
"Shhh. It's OK," she croons as she reaches up with one hand and pushes back the sweaty strands of my hair.
I throw an arm over my face, feeling the heat from my blushing skin. God. Stupid river. Stupid nightmare.
Nikki pulls my arm down to look me in the eye.
"The river?" she asks simply.
"Do I have to talk about it?" I groan, God this is embarrassing.
"No," she smiles gently and then nudges me, "Scoot over?"
I give her a puzzled look, but I move over, making room for her on the full bed. Nikki crawls into bed with me, gently pushing me over onto my side.
"Nikki?" My voice comes out as a nervous croak.
"Shhh. Just making sure you sleep through the night," she chuckles in my ear, "Don't worry. Your virtue is safe tonight, Detective." Nikki wraps her long arms around me, spooning me loosely from behind.
She expects me to fall asleep?
I wake up warm and cozy, still in the same position that I fell asleep in... wrapped in Nikki's arms. Although, I don't think we were quite this close when we went to bed. Since I'm enjoying the heat down the entire length of my back and my entangled legs, I can definitely say we weren't this close.
Oh my god. We're in bed together.
My hands are clasped with hers, holding her to me. I can feel her warm breath tickling my ear, disturbing my hair.
"Good Morning, Sunshine." The whisper is so soft and close to my ear that my body shivers in reaction. "No more nightmares last night."
"Nope, only good dreams. Very lovely dreams in fact," I whisper back.
"Do tell," Nikki's lips brush my ear.
I wonder if she can see the blush which is creeping up my face. "Maybe another time," I barely get out.
"Oh yeah, definitely." Turning over in her arms to face her in bed, noticing the sheet covering us and the warm sunshine coming through the window. She's beautiful in the morning, even without makeup, maybe even more beautiful without makeup. Looking into her brown eyes I can tell she's smiling just by her eyes, even if her lips haven't moved.
"Good Morning," I tell her, scooting closer, sliding an arm around her waist.
Her smile lights up the room more than the sun does. But then I'm a bit prejudiced.
I rush in, before I have a chance to even think about what I'm doing, and kiss her.
Just like last night. Soft. Warm. My eyes drift shut as she moans kissing me back. The tip of my tongue traces the curve of her lower lip and I breathe in as her shaky breath comes out.
I'm breathing in Nikki. I'm kissing Nikki.
Her fingers reach up and thread through my hair, holding me still while her lips part, deepening our kiss.
The soft knock on the door doesn't deter us at first, until it becomes more insistent.
Nikki pulls away first, pressing her forehead against mine, both of us breathing heavily. Then untangling herself from me and the sheets she gets up to answer the door.
"Mornin' Ladies!" Darius cheerfully greets us as Nikki opens the door.
"I think the only reason why you're not on the ground and screaming for mercy right now, Darius, is the fact that you brought us fresh coffee," I say as I get out of bed. Doing my best to not blush in front of him, knowing it would only make him worse, I reach out and snag both mugs out of his hands. Handing one to Nikki, I take a deep sniff and then a sip of his offering. "Well, at least you make a decent cafe au lait."
"Despite the immense pleasure I'm getting just from waking the two of you up out of your love nest... Ufff," he bends over, leaning away from Nikki's poking finger.
I chuckle in my coffee and go back to sit on the bed, patting the spot next to me for Nikki to sit. Her pleased expression makes my heart skip and I give her a small smile as she sits by me, her thigh pressed against mine.
Darius leers, his smile wide, "Now that's what I like to see. Two happy women alone in a bedroom..."
"Darius..." I growl warningly.
"OK. OK. Fantasy world put on hold. Reality incoming. I get it." He pulls Nikki's cellphone out of his pocket. "I figured since your phone woke me up, it was only fair I'd do the same. It was Officer Harkins, he asked me to pass on a message asking you to come to the sheriff's office in Folsom this morning."
"Well, perhaps they have my gun back already. I was waiting for Officer Newton's call today..."
"Oh?" I raise an eyebrow at her cheekily, reminding her of the young officer's crush on her.
"Okayyy, Darius," Nikki replies shutting the door in his face. Turning to me, she smiles sexily, leaning back against the door. "If we didn't have to go, I'd be more than happy to share with you my feelings on Officer Newton vs yourself."
I look at her, giving her a smile filled with amusement, "If we didn't have to go... we'd still be going. Darius IS on the other side of that door and you know he's listening for rabid chipmunks."
Nikki stalks forward towards me, slowly enough to give me plenty of time to look her up and down, enjoying what I see. I really didn't get a chance to notice her pajamas before and despite the sleek, curvy form a startled laugh pops out of me when I take a good look at them.
She stops just in front of me, giving me a new, and very consternated look. "What are you laughing at?"
"Satin jammies with rubber duckies on them?" I burst out laughing almost spilling my hot coffee.
Frowning Nikki looks down at her sleepwear, then looks back up at me. "What's wrong with them? They're cute. They're my comfy set."
I try to control my laughter and manage to bring it down to amused chuckles. "No. No. You're right, they're very, very adorable." I reach out and play with the bottom button of her satin top, then run the tips of my fingers along the seam up the middle.
Her breath hitches and she whispers hoarsely, "Nora..."
Mmmmm... how far up can I get before she stops me.
Nikki captures my hand in hers before I get half-way up her torso, then moves it down and under her top until I can feel skin.
Not far apparently.
It's my turn for my breath to hitch and my eyes to half-close in pleasure. "Nikki..." I stand up, so close to her that we're pressed up against each other, my hand and hers still entwined and touching the warmth of her skin.
"Yes?" she whispers, her breath warming my lips.
"I think I like satin pajamas with rubber duckies on them," I tell her with a smile.
Well, we managed to keep our hands to ourselves, somewhat, and after getting ready and having a bit of breakfast with Darius, Nora and I are on our way to the Folsom police station.
It still amazes me that Nora and I kissed. I've been so concerned, for so long, about keeping my work and love life separate and here comes Nora blasting away at the wall that I kept safely between the two. She snuck in without a by-your-leave and made herself at home right from the first day. I'll have to remember to tell Daddy and thank him for asking Nora to come out here.
Monday is coming too soon however. I'm looking forward to it and dreading going into the office.
But it's not Monday yet, so I firmly tuck those thoughts away until tomorrow and resist the constant urge to touch her while she's driving. I nearly laugh in release as she takes the matter in her own hands, so to speak, reaching over and slipping her warm fingers around mine.
I turn and throw a happy smile her way, which she returns with a small smirk and then concentrates back on her driving. I never thought I'd be so glad for an automatic transmission.
Absently rubbing my thumb along hers, I just sit back and enjoy the ride, watching the cypresses and the oaks as we drive by.
By the time we pull up to the police station I'm humming along with the music and wishing I could take a few more days off.
But how would you spend those days, Nikki?
I get out of the car and wait for Nora before entering the building. To say I'm rather tired of seeing the inside of the Folsom police station would be an understatement, but at least I wasn't arrested.
"Ms. Beaumont..." Officer Newton sees me and gives me a shy smile, " I mean, Detective Beaumont..."
Returning his smile warmly, just because I know Nora would notice, I greet him, "Officer Newton, we heard you and your partner wanted to see us?"
"Yep. Right this way, Detectives," he says, ushering us back to the interrogation room, only stopping off long enough to have me sign about ten evidence release forms and giving my gun to me.
Ugh. Why couldn't they have cleaned it before sending it back?
The one and only interrogation room, slash break room, is occupied by Officer Harkins and... hmmm...
"Is that Jacob Poirer?" Nora asks before I can say anything. He's about the right age, but and he does look a lot like his twin, but not identical. Fraternal twins obviously.
"Yep. He just walked in early this morning and started yelling for a lawyer," Newton says, thumbs in his belt. "Harkins had me call that fancy lawyer of yours..."
"Keith Blanchard," I tell him. "He's an old friend of the family. Don't you all have any lawyers of your own?"
I almost feel bad when Newton looks at me with eyes that remind me of a wounded puppy. This boy wouldn't last a week on the New Orleans streets with a spine like that. But I suppose Harkins doesn't get much chance to season his younger partner.
The the three of them were in the small interrogation room, with Nora and I on this side of the one-way glass. Officer Harkins, Keith Blanchard, and Jacob Poirer. It's not often that a suspect for murder just walks in on his own, let alone ask for a lawyer then give a confession. Usually if a suspect gives a confession he does it without a lawyer. And boy was he confessing.
"I'm tellin' yah! I killed Richard. Was me. My lil brother wasn't even there," Jacob insists, his voice carrying very clearly through the speaker.
Keith looks very pained right now and I don't blame him. It's hard for a defense attorney to defend you when you open your mouth. Of course, on the job I'd prefer more suspects disregard their attorney's advice.
But it all begged the question, why did he even want an attorney if he was going to confess? Probably wants a better deal than the death penalty.
"This stinks," Nora mutters just loud enough for me to hear.
I nod slightly and add, "It does. He's lying."
Turning to Newton I ask, "Has he mentioned where his younger brother James is?"
"Says he doesn't know. He says he didn't even know his brother was free from juvenile detention," the young officer answers readily.
"Who told him that James was out?" Nora asked, her eyes still on the room on the other side of the mirror.
"Well," Newton pauses, "no one. Harkins caught that too."
Nora and I look at each other, then she looks over at my shoulder to the other officer. "Let Harkins know we're here."
When he's out of earshot, Nora asks in a whisper, "What do you think?"
"Well, you'd think that being such close family, that they'd know he was getting out," I reply easily.
Nora nods. "Let alone pick him up."
"Maybe he's covering for his little brother."
She nods again in agreement. "Why would he be willing to go to prison for his brother? Especially if James killed his twin."
We turn as one to Harkins who has exited the interrogation room and come into the viewing room. "Officer Harkins, it's a pleasure to see you again." I offer my hand in greeting. Harkins takes it and then shakes Nora's hand.
"Thank you for coming, Detectives," he greets almost cheerfully. "As you can see, Jacob Poirer decided to come in for coffee this morning." He grins, pleased with himself. I'd probably be doing the same, if I were in his shoes.
I can see the suspect in the interrogation room talking quietly with his counsel. I would give just about anything to know what was going on in Jacob's mind.
"Thank you for getting my weapon released, Officer Harkins. I appreciate it, especially since we were going back to New Orleans today." And I did appreciate it, but I was giving him time to broach the real subject of why he called us in.
"You two deal with this kind of thing every week, more than I have in my entire career here," he starts. His stance is a bit defensive, which I don't blame him for, with his arms crossed over his chest. "I was hoping you two would listen in so I could pick your brains afterwards. Something about Jacob's story doesn't feel right."
"The fact that he didn't know his brother was released? A juvenile who would need an adult, preferably a family member, to be released to?" Nora asks with little emotion. She's trying not to make him feel more defensive or feel stupid. The fact that he knows something is wrong with Jacob's confession shows us his experience.
"Has he mentioned how or why his brother was shot?" I question.
Harkin nods, "Yeah. He said it was an accident, but he couldn't provide any real details about how."
"And he has no idea where his younger brother is?" I can see Nora grimacing in the reflection of the window as she speaks.
"None. He's lyin'. Personally, I'd like nothing better than to wrap this up with him headed up to Rivers Correctional in Ferriday, but I like to think that, despite my jurisdiction being a tad small, I'd do all I can to ensure the safety of ALL the people of Folsom. And that includes the stupid ones like Jacob Poirer."
Damn, I think that's the longest I've heard Harkins speak at one time and I think my respect for him has gone up a notch.
"This is your playground, Harkins," Nora looks toward him, giving him a nod of confidence. "We're just... visitors. what do you really want with us?"
Harkins gives Nora and I a long, hard look. Measuring us. But for what?
I respect this small town policeman. I respect what he has to do on a day-to-day basis. Which is to stay and see the same people day after day, to deal with their problems and the aftermath of their mistakes on a more personal note than Nora and I do. We handle on a massive scale every day what he only has to deal with once every five years. We don't have the time to greet Maude as she walks by and talk about how the garden is going. He does. He knows these people in their everyday lives. I almost envy him.
Nora and I, we live in a world filled every day with victims. Rape victims. Murder victims. Victims of every race, color, and creed. We don't live in a world where every citizen on the street knows us by our first names and went to high school with us. We live in a world where every citizen is either a victim, friend, or family of a victim. We live in a world of survivors who tick down every minute between incidents.
So Harkins measures us against a measuring stick that has been made in his own backyard, just like we measure him according to ours, and if we're good cops and good people, we meet somewhere in the middle.
His stern look changes to a slow smile and he finally says, "I think James is still around and I want you two to help me find him. I've already got permission to temporarily deputize you both, since you're two of NOPD's finest."
Wow. I really don't know what to say to that.
Fortunately, Nora does. "In the spirit of interdepartmental relations... let's go catch a murderer."
I just love the way she talks.
I can't say that I'm really thrilled with Harkins's plan for me to go out with Newton and Nikki to stay and interview Poirer further. She's been my partner for a week and I'd rather not swap at all, let alone a day with a rookie so new he's still squeaking.
OK. So I'm jealous of Newton still, even though I have no reason to be.
I kissed Nikki. I kissed Nikki. Nananananah!
I struggle to keep myself from giggling as Newton drives us to our first location. I'm bored already and I don't know the territory, and the company I'm keeping isn't as fun as what I'm used to. God, I'm pathetic. I'm missing Nikki and it's only been five minutes.
And it doesn't help that I have to ride shotgun in a squad car instead of my El Camino. I haven't been in a marked car in years and I can't help but cringe at being so noticeable.
Ugh. OK. Small talk with Nikki's little puppy might help. Right? No tormenting him, Nora. Be good.
"So, you asked Nikki out?"
I'll be good tomorrow.
"Errm...what did you say, Detective?" Officer Newton says nervously, glancing over at me.
"You asked Detective Beaumont out on a date, I hear," I repeat with the least amount of glee I'm able to.
"I... I don't know what you're talking about, Detective," he says so convincingly that I have to look over to make sure he didn't wet his uniform pants.
"You didn't ask Nikki out for coffee when we were at the Poirer's yesterday? Out on the dock?" I give him a good cop-face. Detached. I could be wrong, but he's not good enough to be lying.
"No, Ma'am. Detective Beaumont is... umm..." he stutters, keeping his eyes firmly on the road, body stiff, and hands clenched on the wheel.
"Yes?" I prompt.
"She's... umm..." Newton seems to be having a problem completing entire sentences. I should point that out to Harkins.
He clears his throat and whispers something I can't make out over the engine.
"Jesus, Newton. Speak up," I growl in agitation. If I was a good Catholic, I'd be thanking God that I'm in plainclothes and don't have to deal with wet-behind-the-ears rookies. I've found that I don't mind dealing with new detectives, however.
"Too old! She's too old for me!" Newton shouts it in response to me. Geez, kid.
"Mind if I give you a piece of advice, Junior?" Yes, I say it rather condescendingly. "Do not ever tell her that you said that. Ever." She'd eat you alive. Plus, she's my age.
Although, it might be fun to let him tell her. Very entertaining and then afterwards, I'd get to find ways to calm her down.
"No way!" Newton swerves the car almost clipping a mailbox. "My mother told me never to talk about age to older women!"
Hand out to brace myself on the dashboard, I try to calm him down. "OK. OK. Next subject. Just don't run over anything, for God's sake."
So, Nikki is a fibber. Bad Nikki. I smile to myself. Heh... Oh yeah, Nikki Beaumont. You are in trouble now. What shall I do to exact punishment? A kiss? Oh. I think another kiss would be good. For a down payment.
I spend the next couple of minutes contemplating kissing Nikki again and letting poor Officer Newton get a grip on his nerves.
My quiet time is interrupted by Newton pulling into a drive-way and coming to a stop at a small well-kept house... with garden gnomes?
"Who is this again?" I ask Newton, getting out of the squad car.
"Mrs. Ryan. The Poirer's aunt. Other officers have already checked with her, but we're here to have you look to see if you see anything that they didn't catch," he proclaims as he exits the vehicle.
I let him have point, since I just want to observe Mrs. Ryan and her surroundings.
She must have heard us because we're not even up to her door yet and she's opening it and coming out to greet us genially.
"Oh my! It's one of those adorable police officers come to check up on us again, Norris," the little old lady says, turning her head to speak to...
"Who is she talking to? Who is Norris?" I whisper to him as we are still walking up.
"It's her cat. She's harmless," he assures me.
Who's harmless? The lady with the huge hat, flowers as big as my fist on it, or the cat?
I have to admit it's this part of detective work that I find the most tedious. I'm bored again. So bored. Bored. Bored. Bored. So bored that I'm counting how many little porcelain bears the wife of our latest visitation has on her mantle. The mantle that doesn't surround a fireplace. Just a mantle on a wall. With so many tiny bear statues on it.
There hasn't been any sign of anyone but the residents, and none of them have seen James Poirer for years due to that... what did his great-uncle call it, "unfortunate accident with a baseball bat to that poor boy's face".
I'm hungry. I'm tired. I want to go home. But there's a murdering son-of-a...
"What was that noise?" I turn and ask, looking past Mr. and Mrs. Gallot, towards the back of the house.
"What noise?" Mr. Gallot says, a bit nervously.
"Newton, keep Mr. and Mrs. Gallot up here," I say as I draw my gun and start towards the next room.
"Buck up, Newton. And call into the station that I'm searching the house on a possible..." I stop talking as a loud crash echoes through the house. My Sig Sauer is up in front of me as I follow the wall in the hallway.
First doorway is open. I glimpse around the corner quickly, then back. Nothing. I look again and then peek through the crack of the door to make sure no one is behind it.
Bedroom is clear.
The bathroom is next and it's clear as well. Thankfully, it's a small one bedroom house, even smaller with it filled with knick-knacks.
The hallway makes a turn and I duck low first, before taking a quick look around the corner.
Only to come face to face with the business end of a 9mm Berretta.
And James Poirer, who happens to be holding it. To my forehead.
Damn. Nikki is going to kick my ass.
"Mr. Blanchard, nice to see you again. Although, I am a bit surprised to see you in here," I say as I walk into the interrogation room with Harkins.
"Nikki! You used to call me Uncle Keith when you were little," the portly man greets me and walks around the table to give me a hug.
"Uncle" Keith used to work with my father when I was very little and was a close friend of the family. I would work summers during college at his firm as an intern and I think he was more disappointed than my father that I hadn't taken the bar exam.
He pulls back and moves back to his client's side of the table. "I would have thought you'd be on your way home, since they've cleared you in the investigation, Nikki," he probes for information, which just makes me smile. I know his tactics well. He knows I'm in here in a more official capacity, otherwise I wouldn't be in here at all, and he's using our relationship to lessen any power I might use against his client.
Too bad his client isn't really helping his case.
"I've been asked by Officer Harkin here to assist in the case and my partner and I are more than happy to oblige," I reply and look Jacob Poirer in the eye.
"Mr. Poirer, this is Detective Beaumont," he introduces as he brings up an extra chair to the table. I don't take it, preferring a more dominant position standing off to his side against the wall.
Psychological warfare 101.
We've already gone over our plan of action and Harkins gets right to it, letting me be the moody cop out of the corner of Poirer's eye. Right now it's my job to make, and keep, our suspect nervous. Well, more nervous than he already is. Nora is much better at this bad cop bit.
"Jacob," Harkins starts with a friendly smile, "since Detective Beaumont wasn't here for our first discussion, we need to go over everything from the beginning."
"Is this absolutely necessary, Nikki?" Uncle Keith looks up at me with a look that reminds me of when I was a kid and my Daddy caught me doing something sneaky. "I'm sure you could listen to the tapes..."
"Why yes, Counselor, it is necessary and any cooperation from Mr. Poirer would be greatly appreciated." I keep my face a mask of learned detachment.
"It's OK. I don't mind tellin' it again," Poirer speaks up, looking back and forth between Harkins and myself. "I done it. I killed my brother."
I would love to just sigh out loud in this guy's face right now.
Harkins prompts him to continue. "How did it happen?"
"I... I tripped over a rock and shot him," Jacob replies, making it sound more like a question instead of a statement.
"You didn't mention this before," the officer notes.
"Jacob. You shouldn't say anything else," Uncle Keith tries to stem the tide of damage Mr. Poirer is just bound and determined to drown himself in.
"No. No, I need to make sure they get the right person," he insists.
"Where did you trip over this rock?" Harkins asks with a hint of disbelief in his voice.
"I dunno. Somewhere on the river. We were going to case and rob the cabins near that hippie hotel place."
"You're lying," I speak, watching him jump slightly in his seat and look over at me.
Jacob shakes his head, his eyes darting back and forth, not looking at me directly, "No, Ma'am..."
"You're lying," I repeat, grinding my words out harsher. "One, we know where your brother died and it's nowhere near any tourist cabins."
I watch a small bead of sweat start down from his forehead down his jawline. "Two, your brother was shot while in your boat, not on dry land. Try again."
Poirer is wringing his hands on the table, leaving sweaty marks very visible in the fluorescent lighting.
"Where is James, Jacob? Where is your little brother?" I ask, hitting him from left field, hoping to drag him more off balance.
"I don't know!" he insists vehemently.
Harkins smacks the table to get Poirer's attention. "Look at me, boy!"
Uncle Keith starts to protest, but I catch his eye and give him a subtle shake of the head. If he wants his client to walk away from a lengthy prison sentence, he's going to have to trust me.
I take a piece of paper out of the file I'm holding and toss it onto the table.
"This is a fax from Jetson, out in Tallulah. You and Richard both signed for your brother's release when you both personally went up there and picked him up. You're going to jail for robbery, several counts, but you'll be able to see the light of day again. You won't see outside of a cement six by six cell if you don't tell us the truth," Harkins lets Poirer and Uncle Keith read the fax.
Uncle Keith turns to him and leans close, whispering in his ear.
Harkins keeps on talking, "Now, I'm going to ask again. Where is your brother?"
Jacob Poirer's shoulders slump in defeat, "I have to protect him. He's our baby brother."
"We know," I reply sincerely. "But you can't protect him by going to prison for him."
"It was an accident," he insists, looking up at me pleading with me with his eyes.
"How did it happen?" I prompt him.
"You'll help him?" Jacob asks me, not Harkins. "I'll tell you if you help him. He doesn't mean to be bad, Ma'am. He never means to be bad. He just gets mad is all."
I push off of the wall and walk closer to him, but not within reach in case he wants to go for my gun. I lean over the edge of the table, giving him a more compassionate expression. "I'll do my best to help him, Jacob. I promise but you have to tell me what happened. The truth this time."
"When our parents died, me and Richard took care of him, but we didn't do so good of a job. James was always mad. Always. Couldn't keep a job because of it and when he got sent to Jetson for beating that other boy with his bat..." he shakes his head in resignation, "When we picked him up, we thought he'd be better, but if anything he was worse. He tried at first, but he got angry when he couldn't get a job and he knew what me and Richard were doing..."
Jacob paused looking back and forth between Harkins and me.
"Breaking and entering. Robbery," Harkins supplies.
"We didn't hurt nobody. We always made sure we went in when folks weren't there," Jacob protests, glancing at his lawyer.
Uncle Keith sighs and asks, "Can we get a lesser sentence since Jacob is cooperating?"
Harkin shrugs, "I'm sure we can talk to the District Attorney on his behalf, but any deal is off unless we get full, and I do mean full, cooperation."
Uncle Keith contemplates a moment then nods at Jacob. "We took him with us. He insisted. Said he could be a help to us and since he couldn't get a job, we thought about it and decided to take him with us."
Jacob looks up at me, "You gotta believe me, we never take guns with us. We don't need to. Sure we found a few, kept them at the house, but we never hurt no one. But James took one with him without us knowing. We... he got so mad. We were going to check out this one house, it's a vacation home. It's rarely used so we thought it would be safe, kind of a trial run for James. We told him to wait in the boat, but he didn't want to."
He pauses again, becoming more visibly upset. "We didn't know he had a gun. we pulled up to the dock and told James to wait... he and Richard started getting into a fight, right there on the boat. Richard was bigger than James, but James pulled out his gun. It went off."
He shudders and hunches over the table. "Richard was half out of the boat when he was shot, I tried to get him back in, but James pushed us away from the dock and made us leave him. He made me leave my brother... Richard. It was an accident. It was an accident."
A knock on the door interrupts us, and another uniformed officer pokes his head in the door and motions us out. As soon as the door is closed behind us, he says, "Just got a radio call from Officer Newton that was cut off. Something is going down at the Gallot place. He isn't answering his cell or radio."
I turn to Harkins, a shiver of worry running up my spine. "Isn't that on the list of places they were supposed to check?"
Harkins turns to me, "Yep. Let's go."
I've been on this side of a gun before, but never this close. I didn't liked it then and I especially don't like it now.
Newton and myself are sitting on the couch in the living room, Newton having given up immediately as soon as he saw me coming back into the living room with my hands up and James's Beretta stuck to the side of my head. I'm definitely pissed off at Newton. A cop doesn't just give up their gun. Of course, I gave up my gun and he's carrying it in the waistband of his jeans. But then having a 9mm pressed into my forehead was a deciding factor in my decision.
"James, honey," Mrs. Gallot pleads with him, "Just let them go. We don't want any trouble."
"Just shut up!" James screams, pointing the gun at her and Mr. Gallot, both sitting on the tiny love seat next to us.
Four hostages. Not good odds for us.
"James," I catch his attention. "What do you want?"
Jetson seems to have aged this sixteen-year-old young man and not surprisingly. The Louisiana juvenile camps are a breeding ground of testosterone and caged hostility and in dire need of being brought into the twenty-first century. Unfortunately, whether it's juvenile jail or adult prisons, the incarcerated come out with more criminal knowledge than they did going in. And a lot angrier.
"I want my brother released, that's what I want!" James screams in my face, pressing his gun against my forehead again.
I'm really beginning to dislike this kid on a personal level.
Negotiation is not my area of expertise but I don't have much choice here.
"I'm sure the local police would be happy to discuss that with you, James, but holding four people hostage isn't going to help him or you," I say in a very calm voice. "You are in control. We know that and you also know that there are police on the way."
James's face twists into a mix of fear and anger as he nudges my head hard with the automatic. "Then I guess we should be going now." He takes a couple of steps back and waves his gun at his two relatives and Officer Newton. Moments later the two civilians are tied back to back to each other and stuffed into a closet with a handcuffed Newton. After James jams a chair under the handle of the closet he keeps the gun to my head and makes me cuff myself.
"Where are we going, James?" I ask calmly. I can't show fear or anger to him, either would just endanger me further.
"Move," he orders, nudging me towards the back door.
We walk out and down a path that leads blindly past some dense bushes and trees. When our destination comes into view, all I can do is curse silently. The cold tendrils of fear run up my back at the sight of what must be the Little Tchefuncte River.
Not good. Not good.
If I'm lucky, he'll let me go before he escapes in the small motorized boat tied up to the dock. If I'm not lucky, he'll keep me with him. Since he didn't lock me in the closet with Newton, I'm betting on the latter.
I can hear sirens in the distance as we get closer and I know that help is on the way.
"Hurry up," James snarls, jabbing me in the side with his gun.
"This isn't going to work, James," I try to tell him, but he pushes the gun harder into my ribs. My already sore ribs.
OK, now I'm even more pissed off.
I brace myself and after a few steps onto the dock, I fake a stumble on the rickety boards, twist and take a step back into his body. The hand, with his gun, slips under my arm and I grab his wrist with one hand. Even with my hands handcuffed, I have enough slack to smash my elbow into his face and shove his unbalanced body back. Still holding his wrist, I slip my other hand over the one grasping his gun and point it away as I turn my body to him and yanking his arm around harshly so he has to flip over onto his stomach or risk me dislocating his arm.
Kneeling down onto his back, I struggle with him. He's strong, but my training in unarmed combat balances his raw youthfulness. Plus I'm a bit more angry than he is.
"Don't move!" I yell at him, twisting the gun loose out of his grasp and then pointing it to the back of his head.
He's still for a moment and I take that time to pull the gun away from his head and grab my gun from the back of his waistband with my free hand, before putting both guns to his head.
"I mean it, Jacob... Do not even move an inch. If you understand, say yes. Just yes, no bitching, no cussing. Just yes," I tell him, my voice hard and cold.
His body tenses under my knee and I prod the back of his head with the guns. How does it feel asshole?
"Try it, or do you think you dodge bullets?" I growl and press my knee harder into his kidneys until he grunts in pain.
"Yes. I understand, yes! God, ease up already!"
I shift a little of my weight off the knee, after waiting a moment just to make sure he understands who is in charge now. That's right, jerk... the woman in handcuffs is in charge.
The sirens are very close, so close that I can hear car doors and police officers yelling.
"BACK HERE!" I yell at the top of my lungs.
I can hear footsteps coming from behind the screen of bushes and the most glorious sight hits me.
Nikki leading the charge, gun out, with Officer Harkins right behind her, a close second. Wow. I let my eyes look her up and down for a minute.
"Hi," I greet her with a little smirk, looking up at her through my bangs.
"Hi," she answers back, blowing out a breath of relief that I'm OK, then stepping off to the side to let Harkins by. I stand up slowly, letting him cuff James and pat him down. I hand him James's weapon and holster my own.
"Newton and the Gallots are in the house, locked in the living room closet. Other than that, they're fine," I tell him.
"I got a couple men checking out the house now. Good job, Detective," he offers then gives me a wry look. "Nice cuffs there, Delaney."
I grimace in embarrassment and shrug slightly, "He got the drop on me and then thought I'd look better with a bit of stainless steel accessorizing.
Two more Folsom officers come up and Harkins hands off James to one of the men, and the three men lead him away telling him his Miranda Rights.
"She's fuckin' crazy!" James complains to them while trying to twist around for a last look at me.
"Keep walking," Officer Harkins orders, prodding him forward.
Stepping off the dock, I walk up to Nikki holding out my cuffed hands.
Nikki smiles sexily and holsters her weapon, then placing her hands on her hips. "Something I can do for you, Detective?"
"Funny lady." I pointedly raise my hands up a little more. "Nikkkkiiii..."
"Heh..." she chuckles and gets out her handcuff key. Stepping up closer to me, she whispers, "Are you sure? I mean, you look really good in cuffs, Sugah."
My lips purse as I try to control my smile. "I'd love to discuss this further... at another time." I force a stern glare at her, which she just laughs away.
"I'll take that as a promise," Nikki whispers as she unlocks my cuffs. I put them back in the holder off my belt and rub my wrists.
"No offense," I start as we begin walking back to the Gallot house, "but I'd really like to get out of this town."
She raises an eyebrow at me. "What? You don't want to come out to the house again? You. Me. No Darius."
"No Darius? Deal, as long as we don't leave the house to go into town," I reply, somewhat serious about Folsom.
"No leaving the house?" Nikki's voice grows low and husky, "I'm sure something can be arranged."
James Poirer is behind bars in the local jail. Only two weeks of freedom and he's back in the system. This time he has his brother, Jacob, for company.
I fully expect James to be charged as an adult with manslaughter. Whether he comes out of the adult prison system worse off than he goes in will be completely up to him, but considering his track record, I don't believe he'll come out any better unless he gets control of his temper.
There's been no time to talk to Nora on a more personal level, to make sure she's really OK. She seems to be holding up well, besides an extra bruise or two on her ribs.
The entire siren screaming ride to the Gallot's house was almost too much to bear. I'm proud of her and scared to death at the same time after hearing how she subdued James. One misstep and I would have found her dead body instead of her alive and well.
This is why I didn't want to get into a relationship with another cop, or rather part of the reason. I'd still be freaked if my partner was injured or taken hostage, but that extra step in our relationship... is it worth it?
The ride back to the country house was quiet, giving me a chance to think about the question and the only answer I give is yes, it's got to be worth it. Nora's been on the force longer than I have and knows the pro's and con's of what this means and if she's willing to take the chance, so am I.
All I have to do is glance at her and the feeling of her body against mine and her insistent lips makes my face flush. And waking up beside her this morning? I've never slept more contentedly and dread sleeping alone tonight.
It's late afternoon by the time the three of us pile into her car and start our trip back to New Orleans. The ride made me drift off and I feel like a contented cat. Sleepy. Warm. Rubbing my head against Nora's shoulder as she drives us home. I'd purr but I don't want to distract her more than I already am with my hand on her thigh.
Her very strong, lovely thigh.
It was a wonderful, albeit short, nap but the setting sun coming through the windshield is burning right through my eyelids. Squeezing Nora's thigh, in thanks for letting me use her as a pillow, I sit up slightly and give her a sleepy smile.
"Have a nice snooze?" she asks, returning the smile with one of her own.
"It's been a long weekend, I'm just a bit tired," I reply, not regretting one moment of it. "After spending the entire afternoon giving statements, I'll admit I'm a bit homesick."
Nora takes a hand off the wheel and places it over mine on her thigh, threading our fingers.
My heart jumps at her touch and I can feel my cheeks flushing. It's just a touch, just skin against skin, but I've never felt quite like this before. I think I'm already addicted to her.
Darius unplugs the earphones out of his iPod and wiggles in his seat. "Almost home! Turn here," he directs, pointing to the next cross-street. "No offense Ladies, but this single, black male has been around the dynamic duo for an entire weekend and I feel the need to check up on my girl!"
Rolling my eyes in mock-disgust, I throw a sharp elbow into his ribs, enjoying the explosion of breath that escapes him. "Your imaginary girl? Because you do know that we are not here to fuel your late night fantasies."
Darius just chuckles as we pull up to his apartment. Before he can escape, I pull him close and give him a long hug.
"Thank you for dropping everything and coming with me, Darius," I whisper in his ear, letting him go with a chaste kiss to the cheek.
"See you two ladies later," he says with a wave and gets his bag out of the back.
"Bye, Darius," Nora waves before pulling back out onto the street.
There's more room now, but I'm comfortable, not willing to scoot over.
"So," Nora says while checking the car mirrors, "I get to see where you live."
"Mmmhmmm," I reply, turning to give her a cheeky grin, "but don't think that just because you get to see my home that you can take advantage of the situation, Detective."
"I wouldn't dream of it," she quips back, then changes her mind. "Well, OK, I would dream of it."
I sigh deeply to myself, in wonder at how coming back to Nola feels so completely different than when I left. When I ran away from this gorgeous woman with green eyes.
We ride quietly for a few minutes after I give her my address. The only reaction she gives is a smile and a shake of her blonde locks, not seeming terribly surprised at the destination.
"Tomorrow," I hesitate bringing this up, but I know it's got to be on her mind, "at the precinct..."
Nora sighs and squeezes my hand tighter, as if scared I'll pull away. "Tomorrow," she echoes, "we act like the professionals we are, Nikki."
"Of course," I reassure her, "but..." My throat closes around what I want to say, what I need to say.
Nora pulls her hand away from mine and places it back on the steering wheel, making the last turn onto my street. I spot a marked NOPD car at the corner and wonder if she recognizes the two uniformed officers standing on the sidewalk. When one of them sees us, he raises a hand in greeting and it nearly breaks my heart .
It's already started. The pulling away. I scoot over towards the passenger door, giving us more space.
"Here," I point out a spot available in front of my building.
She eases the car into the space and turns off the engine. I can't look at her, not wanting to see anything but her smile right now.
After a few moments of silence, I break down and exit the car first and start grabbing my bags from the back. Nora gets out and hurries around the car, grabbing the heavier bag from me. I can't help wincing when her hand brushes mine and we turn to walk through the alley between the next building and my own.
I don't stop, instead walking briskly through to the courtyard me and my neighbor share. Dropping my bag at the glass back door, I start rummaging for my keys, only to have her take my hands in hers.
Sighing, I look up right into her concerned face.
"Nikki..." she starts to talk but I interrupt.
"I know. It's just harder now," I start to pull away but she's stronger than I am, holding my hands.
A small smile graces her lips and her eyes glow with feeling. "It is, but it doesn't change how I feel. How I want to feel. What I want."
I look at her almost sheepishly. I've always been in the closet at work, it's just easier that way. Too much prejudice. I've seen too many sex crimes as an officer, too many of those related to the victim's sexual orientation and how hard it is for those that are out on the force. Sexual harassment is bad enough... but if it was known that Nora and I were seeing each other, the brass would have to step in and give us new partners. The uglier options I'd rather not think about.
But I'm not out outside of the job. I don't put rainbow flags outside my windows either, but I don't want to be ashamed. And I'm feeling ashamed right now, just from riding with Nora in her car and being recognized by the unis. I hate it.
Nora steps closer into me, releasing my hands to put hers on my hips.
"I'm sorry," she offers quietly, sincerely. "This isn't what I wanted."
The shock rips through my body like a knife wound and I start to pull back automatically, but she tightens her grip and holds me still.
"I didn't want to make you feel bad. But when we passed those uniformed officers, I got nervous. I don't want to be singled out. Pointed at. But I don't want... to be without you," she whispers softly, stepping closer until she's pressed against me.
My fingertips reach out and touch her forearms and drift up onto her shoulders and then into her hair.
"You didn't say no last night," she points out, "and I'm not saying no right now. Let's just take this slow..."
I can't take it slow and reach forward and kiss her slowly at first, then sweeping my tongue over her lips in permission, deeply and thoroughly. I give her my answer joyfully.
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