Authors: Amy Valenti
"I'd advise you not to say anything else until your counsel arrives. And when he does, I'd let him know that our recording equipment just caught everything you've said."
Without waiting for his response, I let myself out of the interrogation room and straight back into observation to stop the tape, my jaw set so tightly it began to ache. Adrenaline born of fury and fear pulsed through my blood, and my entire body tensed with it as I stared through the one-way glass at Morgan.
More than anything, I wanted to check Faye was safe, even though I knew the one threatening her was accounted for and unable to leave. If I headed to her lab in this state, though, I'd be taking this out on her one way or another—whether it was by starting an argument or by pushing her up against the wall and fucking her until she screamed.
I needed to get out of the building.
There was a light breeze coming off the river, and it stirred my hair as I stared out at the water, coffee in hand. Today had been...really intense. As much as I loved the lab, I'd needed to get out of the building for a while.
So much had happened, and it wasn't even three-thirty yet. In less than four hours, I'd admitted my involvement with the kink community to Pierce, lured my submissive downtown so he could detain her, found out she was married, taken her collar, been attacked by her, found out Pierce might or might not feel what I felt, conducted my own interrogation...
I'd totally given up on trying to figure out what came next. Whatever it was, bring it on—it couldn't be any crazier than what had already happened.
I should probably get back to work, though.
Throwing my empty cup into the nearby trash can, I turned to begin the short walk back towards the precinct, and my breath caught in my throat as Pierce strode into view. He made straight for the railings overlooking the drop to the river, leaned against them and sipped his coffee as he glared at the water.
There was a tension in him I hadn't seen for a long time—he practically radiated edgy frustration. Part of me sensed he wanted to be left alone, but another part wanted to be there for him. Taking a deep breath, I walked towards him, speaking before I got within arm's reach. “What happened?"
He had been drumming his fingers frenetically against the metal railing before I'd spoken. Now, he stilled—the only sign he'd heard me. I wanted to reach out and touch him, but there was so much tension coiled in his shoulders that I had a suspicion he'd instinctively lash out.
"Did Morgan walk?"
Pierce looked over at me sharply, as if expecting to see something specific in my face. I waited him out, confused, and after a second he exhaled slowly, a little of the tension flowing out of him. “No. And he won't."
Joining him at the rail, I asked, “Then...what?"
He shook his head. “Not right now, Faye. I'll tell you, but if you don't let me calm down first, I'm gonna end up shooting something."
From the way he was acting, I believed it. After a slight hesitation, I asked, “Need a hug?"
Pierce blinked, as if he was having trouble connecting my words to their meanings. Then he pulled me into a tight hug, breathing in deeply against the side of my neck. His embrace was different from others he'd given me—more intimate, somehow.
Half-convinced he could feel my pounding pulse, but hardly caring, I squeezed him back, feeling more of the tension ebb gradually from his muscles as I closed my eyes. Being this close to him, thinking back over everything that'd happened today...it was arousing, but weirdly calming at the same time.
Unbidden, Laura's revelation flitted back through my mind, and my next breath was a little unsteady. He tightened his arms a fraction, but then he pulled away almost abruptly, turning back toward the river and picking up the coffee cup he'd balanced on one of the railing supports.
I wasn't sure what to make of that, but he began to speak before I could decide. “I need to head back. Morgan played the lawyer card, and the guy should be here soon."
"Okay,” I said, trying not to let on how much his hot-and-cold approach had unsettled me. “I'll walk back with you."
Pierce took a final moment to watch the rippling water, then nodded. We walked slowly, and in silence—I didn't know what to say, and he'd always been comfortable with the quiet. It wasn't until we reached the building and prepared to go our separate ways—me down the stairs to the lab, Pierce up in the elevator to the bullpen—that he spoke.
"Morgan was Collier's frat brother before he even met Laura. He sent her to me so she could figure out my weak spots, and he planned to use them to hurt me. When I ended it with her..."
For a second, I wasn't sure he'd continue, but he did, his fingers flexing and curling into fists at his sides. “Morgan was on a business trip, and Laura found you. If he'd been in the country, he would have gone to you himself and, best case scenario, you'd be dead."
I returned his gaze, forgetting to breathe, putting it all together. I understood his words, and the significance of the phrase
best case scenario
, but emotionally, it hadn't sunk in yet. Too many things had happened already. “Zach—"
"I'm sorry, Faye."
I blinked up at him, the uncharacteristic apology taking me by surprise.
"If he hadn't been on that business trip, he would have taken you before I even realised there was a threat."
He was trying to hide it, but I could sense it all—the anger, the frustration, the helplessness he felt. I wished I could make him see he wasn't solely responsible for my safety.
"You can't wrap me in bubble wrap and stick me in a drawer somewhere. I'm a grown woman."
His eyes darkened a little at my words, and when he spoke, his voice was low, gruff and too damn masculine for its own good. “I know."
I took an instinctive step forward, narrowing the space between us to inches. He was just a little taller than me, and I looked up at him through my lashes, my pulse kicking up a gear at the way his dark hair caught the daylight.
He dropped his gaze to my lips, and my every sense became perfectly attuned to him in the inevitability of what came next. He leaned in, so close, his breath lightly tickling my face. I fought the urge to close my eyes, swaying towards him in return until—
His cell phone rang and we both froze, rousing ourselves from the spell that had fallen over us. Stepping away from me, he answered with his usual terse greeting, and I headed for the stairs, needing to get away before the unavoidable, awkward ‘I gotta get going’ moment arrived.
Once I reached the lab, I flopped down into my desk chair and tried to calm down.
It will probably never happen again, right?
He knew how I felt, and in that perfect moment of helpless frustration he must have channelled his emotions into something less painful, something he'd definitely have regretted later. Pierce wasn't the type to let his guard down that far more than once, so all I had was this memory, which was growing less intense by the second.
I dropped my head into my hands and closed my eyes, intent on savouring the warm surge of pulse-pounding desire for as long as it lasted.
Once I'd narrowly resisted firing Layton for keeping me in the loop, I turned to find Faye gone, and I couldn't even begin to unravel the tangled knots of emotion her absence spun me into.
Part of me was relieved—I didn't even know what I would have said to her if she'd still been standing there. I'd judged my mood right when I'd decided not to go to her after I'd got the truth out of Morgan.
When I'd heard her voice, out by the river, I'd known I was going to make a bad call one way or the other. When she'd asked me if I needed a hug, my imagination had gone into overdrive.
How could one person be so fragile, yet so tough at the same time? Seeing her there, with my mind still full of Morgan's vitriol, I'd needed to hold her close and reassure myself that she was okay—that even though I'd failed to perceive the threat, she hadn't come to harm. Once she was in my arms, though...it was as if she was the one who was protecting and comforting me.
And once I'd processed that she was safe, everything about the embrace drove me crazy—her scent, her warmth, the sound of her breathing... Then she'd nuzzled my shoulder just a little, hardly aware she was doing it, and I'd started to feel myself slipping out of control. If I didn't move away, she'd feel what she was doing to me, and then...
So I'd stepped away, pulled myself together, and we'd headed back here. I hadn't known how to tell her, but I hadn't wanted her finding out from someone else. So I'd given it to her straight, and I'd apologised.
That had shocked her—I wasn't usually one to let my guard down. But of all the people in my life, there was no one less likely to exploit my weaknesses than Faye.
"Hey, Zach! What, no coffee for me?"
Remembering the words she'd uttered on so many occasions, I couldn't help but smile. In some senses, there was no one
likely to exploit my weaknesses than Faye, but only in the most benign of ways.
One of those weaknesses had surfaced when she'd reminded me she was a grown woman. I'd never doubted it, despite her sometimes childlike enthusiasm. And she'd heard it in my voice, seen it in my eyes, and she'd responded to it as if she'd been waiting for me for years.
I'd been a heartbeat away from kissing her, calling the elevator without breaking off, pulling her inside, slamming my hand against the emergency switch and...
That had been two minutes ago.
Now, she'd beaten a fast retreat, leaving me with no clue how much of the last few minutes was wishful thinking, and how much of her reaction I'd actually interpreted right.
One thing I knew for sure was that under normal circumstances, Faye wasn't the type to avoid discussions. There had been times when she'd been distressed and uncommunicative, but for that fraction of a second before my cell phone had interrupted us there'd been no trace of that in her expression.
If she was avoiding me, she needed time to think. How long she needed and what we'd say to each other once she was done, I couldn't fathom.
I didn't second-guess myself often, but today I was making a habit of it.
The only thing I could do right then was go back upstairs, make sure Morgan talked himself into as many years in prison as possible, and ensure he was never in a position to hurt Faye again.
"I mean, Pierce has a certain type, right? And so does Faye. She dated that guy in the CSU for a while, remember? And then that girl she brought along on my birthday, that time. What I can't figure out is what this chick has that appeals to both of them. If
was dating someone Pierce used to date... Well, he has pretty good taste in women; it wouldn't be surprising. But Faye sharing romantic tastes with Pierce just doesn't—"
"Don't you have something more productive to be doing, Santoro?” I snapped, heading for my desk.
Santoro winced. “Sorry, boss."
"Keep talking and you will be. That warrant in yet?"
"It's just come through,” Beaumont confirmed, getting to her feet.
"Go,” I said, then beckoned to Layton. “Come."
Morgan's lawyer looked more like an apprentice accountant than an attorney, and did Morgan about as much good as one. Layton followed me into the interrogation room, shattering their expectation that I'd be outnumbered two to one, and Layton and I alternated questions, giving them no breathing room to think or anticipate.
When I asked for Morgan's alibi for Leigh's murder, he said he was watching TV at home, alone, and I knew we'd got him.
"What'd you watch?” Layton asked, before I could.
"Don't answer that,” the lawyer advised, buying Morgan some time to think.
"Come on, Mr Hawkins,” I said to him. “If he's innocent, he won't mind the question."
Morgan named a show, and Layton busied himself pulling up TV schedules on whatever new gadget he'd bought that week. “Hmm. Weird. I can't find that on any of the schedules for that night. What channel did you say it was?"
After that, it was over in a matter of minutes, and I left Layton, with a word of praise, to make the arrangements for transfer to a holding cell. I headed next door to take care of the final issue.
Laura raised her head wearily from her arms when I went in. “How much longer do I have to stay here?"
"Not long,” I told her, sitting down. “We've just arrested your husband for the murder of Samuel Leigh."
Her eyes widened with genuine shock, then filled with bitter tears. “No... First my brother, now my husband? You
"It's not personal, Laura.” Part of me felt bad for her—some women surrounded themselves with people with inclinations toward violence and crime, without even realising they were doing it. Laura was one of them.
She stubbornly clung to her anger—she needed someone to hate, and I was the easiest target. “Oh, spare me."
Shaking my head, I told her, “We have you for theft of property. Your alibi for the night of the murder is watertight—I know you weren't there. What I do need to know is whether or not you knew what your husband's plans were."
"I don't get into my husband's debt problems,” she snarled. “I took the wallet, I looked through it in the ladies’ room, and there was no credit card and not much cash. I sent him a text message telling him there wasn't enough, then I went back out to finish my drink and go home with Faye. I don't ask him anything that might make him angry—don't you get that? You can't even imagine living with someone like him."
"I'm a cop, Laura. I've seen a lot of things,” I said quietly, receiving only an eye-roll in return. Conniving bitch or not, she didn't deserve the life she'd been given. And I believed her about not knowing about Leigh's murder.
The more pressing thing on my mind was whether she knew about the plans her husband had for Faye.
"You told Faye you should have knifed her while you had the chance. That what your husband wanted to do?"