Authors: Delores Fossen
Katelyn raked her thumb over the volume dial of her clip-on CD player and cranked up the music as loud as she could stand it. Axl Rose did his part, his gritty voice belting out the words to “Sweet Child O'Mine” as her running shoes pounded against the sidewalk.
She ran fast. Much faster than her usual Sunday morning pace from her apartment to her parents' home. She pushed herself hard. Harder. Until her muscles protested. Until her heart pounded.
But it still wasn't fast enough.
The thoughts she'd been trying to keep at bay caught up with her, and no matter how much she kicked up the pace, no matter how high she cranked up the volume, the thoughts just kept coming.
Thoughts of a killer and his victims.
Joe and she had stopped Dr. Allen Kent. A cold-blooded killer who according to his own computer diary had refused to give up the woman he loved, or go to jail for murdering her. He'd been willing to hurt
or even kill others to cover that crime, and by Kent's own admission, he'd wanted Joe and her dead after he became suspicious of them.
But in the end, Joe and she had prevented Kent from killing othersâincluding Bruce Donovan. He was alive and recovering in the hospital. Fiona Shipley, Addison Merrick and the other Perfect Match clients were all safe, as well. Heck, even a lot of the paperwork for the case had been finished.
The only thing missing was Joe.
They'd spoken, of course. Briefly. In the halls at headquarters as they were shuffled from one interview to the other. She'd had time to give him back his grandmother's ring and little else since a great deal of the past day and a half had involved hours of separate sessions with Internal Affairs and supervisors. All routine. All part of the checks and balances to make sure deadly force had been warranted.
Not that anyone had ever thought differently. Kent had had to be stopped.
The interviews were just time-consuming square fillers. But now those interviews were done, the squares had been filled, and Joe still hadn't contacted her.
Katelyn ran harder.
The night of the shooting, she'd told him that she loved himâon an open communicator, she'd since learned. Her brothers and probably plenty of other people had heard her, so certainly Joe hadn't missed it. Or maybe he had. Maybe he'd
to miss it.
And maybe the excessive endorphins from the run were simply making her crazy.
She slowed into a cooldown, hoping it'd cool her thoughts. It didn't. The
I love you
she'd told him kept going through her head. An
I love you
that was real, and yet it hadn't been said to her in return. No amount of running could take the sting out of that. She felt as if her heart were breaking into a million pieces.
How was it possible that she'd lived twenty-eight and a half years without Joe Rico when he now seemed more important than her next breath?
Katelyn did some extra minutes of cooldown to give herself time for a serious attitude adjustment. That didn't work, either. Since she felt on the verge of crying, she cut through the backyard, hoping to sneak into her parents' house and grab a shower before the rest of the O'Malley clan showed up for Sunday brunch. Of course, she didn't hold out much hope that mere soap and water could make her feel better, but at least that way she could cry in private.
“There you are,” her father greeted before Katelyn even got through the door.
Not that a greeting in itself was unusual, but her father wasn't cooking. He wasn't even wearing his Kiss The Cook apron, and there wasn't so much as a whiff of waffles and bacon.
Katelyn turned off her music, slipped off her headphones and peered past her father into the sprawling country-style kitchen. Her family was already there. Her brothers, her mother and even Colton. With the exception of Colton, they were all staring at her as if
she had the answers to questions that she didn't know had been asked.
“Aunt Kay-lin!” Colton shouted.
“Hey, short stuff.” He bolted for her, and Katelyn scooped him up in her arms, giving him a full circle spin around. She planted a sloppy kiss on his cheek. A kiss that earned her a giggle.
“Any idea what's going on?” Katelyn whispered to her nephew. Not that she expected an answer from a two-and-a-half-year-old.
Colton cupped his small hand around his mouth and tried to whisper back. “It's a secret.”
That didn't narrow it down much.
“Mom,” Katelyn greeted, giving her a kiss on the cheek, as well. There wasn't a strand of her mother's auburn hair out of place, and she'd already applied makeup. Hardly her normal Sunday routine.
Her mom brushed her fingers over the scratch on Katelyn's chin, issued a disapproving grunt, and that's when Katelyn noticed she had no megamug of coffee in her hands. Definitely abnormal. The woman stood shoulder-to-shoulder next to Brayden and appeared to have been waiting for her. Heck, all four of them appeared to be waiting.
“What?” Katelyn asked cautiously. “Did something go wrong with the Kent case?”
“Everything's fine,” Brayden said. “The last few ends were tied up when Fiona Shipley volunteered to go back into therapy for her relationship issues.”
“Yeah. Therapy with a shrink who doesn't m-u-rd-e-r people,” Garrett added, obviously spelling it out
since Colton was listening. “Oh, and Bruce Donovan wanted me to tell you how sorry he was about the incident in the hall at Perfect Match, and he wanted to thank you for saving his life.”
Nothing wrong with any of thatâwhich only made Katelyn more suspicious. “So if it's not the Kent case, why are all of you staring at me?” And then it hit her. “Wait, does this have anything to do with the investigation into the favoritism allegations?”
“No,” Brayden assured her. “The chief decided to terminate the inquiry for lack of evidence.”
In other words, Joe had intervened, and justice had been served. “So if it's not that or the Kent case, then what is it?”
Her brothers exchanged a couple of glances, lifted eyebrows and other assorted facial gestures before Brayden extended his hand to her. “Congratulations, Sergeant O'Malley.”
It took several moments for that to sink in. “I got the promotion?” she gasped.
Somehow, amazingly, Katelyn had forgotten all about it.
The hugs started. Ditto for the excited kisses and well wishes from her parents. Katelyn braced herself for the flood of joy, the rush of success. And it happened. Sort of. But it was more of a trickle than a flood.
“What about Joe?” she asked. Colton wriggled out of her grip. “Did he make lieutenant?”
Garrett and Brayden traded another of those ocular
volleys, and this time they included their parents in the raised eyebrow exchanges.
“Told you,” Garrett assured them.
“Told them what?” But Katelyn wasn't entirely sure she wanted to hear this.
Garrett shrugged as if the answer were obvious. “That you're in love with Joe Rico.”
She huffed, a short burst of air that hopefully was a vague enough reaction so she wouldn't have to out-and-out lie. She didn't want to discuss this with anyone until she'd had time toâ¦heck, she didn't even know what she wanted to do about it. Sulking, maybe even crying, was a distinct possibility.
“Well, are you?” her mother asked, staring at her with eyes that were a genetic copy of her own.
Katelyn went on the offensive. Not with her mother. But she aimed her offensive attention at Brayden. “Did Joe get the promotion or not?”
“He got it. He'll be put in charge of Special Investigations.”
But the answer hadn't come from anyone with an O'Malley surname. Katelyn's gaze flew across the room, to the adjoining family room.
And there was Joe.
Sitting on the sofa.
He got up, slid his hands into the pockets of his great-fitting jeans and ambled toward her. “Congratulations, Sergeant.”
Now here was the rush, and the rest of the room faded away. “Congratulations, Lieutenant.”
“Joe dropped by to bring back my wedding dress,” her mother explained, causing the room to reenter the fringes of Katelyn's consciousness. But even that couldn't get her attention off the hot-looking man walking toward her. “You left it at headquarters the night of the shooting.”
of the reasons I came was to return the dress,” Joe clarified. “I'm also here to ask Katelyn something.”
From that look, the question wasn't about Kent or a report. Her heart landed in the vicinity of her knees.
“Oh, yeah?” Garrett commented. He nudged Brayden with his elbow.
Joe nodded, without taking his eyes away from her. “I wanted to ask her to marry me.”
Okay. Another rush.
Well, more like an avalanche.
Katelyn was sure her family was doing a lot of glance exchanges, elbow nudges and the like, but she didn't care. Joe was going to ask her to marry him.
“And what do you think she'll say?” Garrett, again.
Joe stopped right in front of her. “I'm hoping she'll say yes once she's knows I'm in love with her and that I want to spend the rest of my life with her.” He hooked his finger into the waist of her running shorts and pulled her to him. He touched his mouth to Katelyn's.
She felt that simple kiss from head to toe. “I'm positive she'll say yes.”
“Positive?” Joe questioned, the corner of his mouth lifting.
“It's a sure thing.”
So this was what it was like to be totally in love. Sweet heaven. There was nothing like it. Not the thrill of an arrest, not the promotion. Not even the badge. Just an overwhelming sense that everything was right.
The room went silent. For a moment or two. Until her mother squealed. A second wave of congratulations, hugs and well wishes started, and she found herself in some very loving arms, including Joe's.
“You knew about this?” Katelyn whispered to Garrett, noting that he was grinning as much as the others. “And you approve?”
He shrugged. “Hey, what can I say? Joe makes you happy.”
Yes, he did.
And Joe obviously wanted to continue to make her happy in private because after several more minutes of celebrating, he politely asked if he could have just a few moments alone with her. Under her father's direction, the O'Malleys scattered like proverbial flies.
Joe never once let go of her. “Are you upset I chose a public proposal?” he asked.
“Not at all.”
“Well, I thought it was only fair after your public announcement on the communicator.”
Katelyn winced, but that public announcement would save them some time. Everyone at headquarters probably already knew how she felt about Joe Rico.
“I'd like to invite your family to the wedding,” she said while she could still speak. The kiss he gave her seriously put a damper on what was left of that particular ability. “Any objections?”
He shook his head. “None. Knowing you, you'll be able to talk them into coming.”
Between her father and her, it was practically guaranteed.
“It'll be a new beginning.” Joe took her hand and slipped his grandmother's ring back on her finger. “A new start. A new life. Oh, and lots of great sex.”
Katelyn ran her tongue over her bottom lip and felt a nice jolt when she tasted him there. “Great sex, huh?” She smiled. “But you left something outâthe happily ever after part.”
“I didn't leave it out.” Joe laced their fingers together. Drew her against him. “With us, happily ever after is a given.”
Yes. It was.
A true perfect match.
And Joe let her know that with a long, lingering kiss.
Copyright Â© 2004 by Delores Fossen
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