Written by: Madame Destine
Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction. The characters belong to their various creators: Buena Vista Television / The Walt Disney Company and The Gargoyles Saga, and they are used without their express knowledge or consent.
Warning: This is a work of adult fan fiction. It contains explicit depictions of sex and violence and is intended for mature readers only. If you are under the age of consent, please stop reading now.
* * * * *
I didn't say a word to David as I pushed past him, shed my clothes unmindful of where they landed, and stepped into the bathroom. The tile was cold against my feet and I shivered, but not from the cold. I suppose it was shock, and the aftereffects of the drugs that made me tremble, but none the less, I opened the hot water tap wide as I adjusted the shower.
I stepped in, closed my eyes and tried to push way the night's events, but that was wishful thinking and I knew it. Someone had told me once that you have to face a trauma head on before you can let it go. I was pretty sure that tonight counted as a trauma.
It had started out simply enough about a month ago. Lexington and Broadway, out on patrol, had found a dead body in an alley. This was not exactly an earth shaking event in New York City, except for the fact that later on the body was identified as Justine Mathis, a local social climber with whom I'd been slightly acquainted and hadn't really liked. Justine's passing caused a flurry of gossipy speculation at that week's round of parties and fundraisers after it had been revealed that she'd been found only in her slip and high heels, but it soon died down and we all got on with our lives.
Until it happened again.
This time death wouldn't be swept under the table. This time the victim was a friend.
I had been on the telephone chatting with Melody Parks about a luncheon that we were coordinating on behalf of P.I.T. The latest cause was the Gargoyle Protection Act, an interesting piece of legal fiction that our lawyers had contrived and gotten placed before the state legislature as a stopgap until the federal government could rule on gargoyle sentience. It had taken over a year and quite a bit of persuasion, both subtle and overt, but we were making progress and the passage seemed nearly assured. We were waiting for Roger Boyle to join us in a conference call.
Roger's family was very old money and very influential in Albany. He'd spent his twenties dabbling in publishing, starting and selling off a series of successful magazines. Now he was getting ready to take up the family business of politics. It was assumed by all that he would end up in the White House some day.
But that was not to be. The phone had beeped and, assuming it was Roger, I'd taken the call. It was Emily Pierce, breathless with excitement and shock, who'd broken the news: Roger Boyle had been found dead in an alley behind 42nd Street.
I'd hurriedly told Melody that I'd call her back and reached for the unopened newspaper still sitting on my breakfast tray. On the front page in somber black type the headline pronounced: "Society Scion Dead."
I sunk to the chair and stared as I tried to make sense of the article. There had been very few actual details about his death and nearly a full column of his accomplishments. The newspaper mourned the loss of a brilliant young man snuffed out in the prime of his life.
I agreed. And it was with trembling fingers that I dialed Roger's new widow to see what I could do. I had no idea then just what I was letting myself or Detectives Maza and Bluestone in for when I'd placed that call. All I'd meant to offer Cynthia was a shoulder to cry on. And she'd accepted. And then, she'd revealed their secret.
The water seemed colder then, and I opened the hot water valve even wider as that first conversation with Cynthia replayed itself before my tightly shut eyes.
* * * * *
I shifted the tray of muffins and scones that Owen had hurriedly assembled and rang the bell at Roger and Cynthia Boyle's Park Avenue penthouse. There was a delay and, after a hesitation, I rang the bell again.
Cynthia herself answered a few moments later. She looked tired and drawn. Her long, chestnut brown hair was twisted absently into a knot and held with a plastic butterfly clip. Her face was puffy and the hazel of her irises was nearly obscured by the bloodshot of the whites. She held her ground for a few seconds, then collapsed into my arms. I held her and the breakfast tray and let her weep.
"Why, Fox?" she demanded. "What did we do to deserve this?"
I said I didn't know and led her to the living room and an overstuffed leather couch. I pushed her down onto it gently. Then I set the muffins down on the coffee table and went to find her a drink.
There was a bottle of single malt scotch next to a humidor of cigars. I hunted for a moment until I'd found a squat glass tumbler and poured Cynthia a double. I pressed the glass into her trembling hands and noticed that in her distress she'd been picking at her normally immaculate manicure. The mauve polish was chipped and peeling. I didn't comment as I sat down next to her and said, "Tell me what happened."
Instead, she took a long pull at the scotch and handed me a large envelope. There was a courier receipt on the outside, but no return address or other distinguishing marks. I spilled the contents into my lap and my eyes widened in surprise.
Photographs, more than a dozen. Cynthia and Roger were prominent subjects, though there were others, their faces obscured by clever camera work. I was no prude, but some of these snapshots brought new meaning to the word "graphic." I turned to Cynthia, but the question on my lips died as I caught sight of white knuckles clenched around her now empty glass. I turned back to the envelope and found the letter and the source of Cynthia's distress.
It was computer printed on stationary that could be bought in any office supply store. The message was short, and not sweet. "Play my game or pay the piper," it said, then explained exactly what his game was. Cynthia had the option of paying twenty million dollars to keep the pictures from being distributed to the national wire services, tabloids and internet sites. If she found the sum too daunting to raise in the two days time she was allowed to decide, she could instead lure one or more of her socially prominent friends to a party, where they could take her place. "Nice," I commented under my breath. I had to find out what was going on. "Cynthia," I said, prying her fingers from the glass and taking them into my own clasp, "talk to me. How did this happen?"
"I don't know, Fox!" she replied miserably. She got up, poured herself a fresh drink, emptied the glass in a swallow, and then retreated into another room. When she returned, she held another envelope in her hands. Without a word, she handed it to me and I removed the contents. More candid pictures; lots of leather and chains. They had been torn in half. Another letter suggesting that payment would be preferable to non-compliance. "Roger ignored that letter and they found him dead. The police said they found a note pinned to his body. 'You always pay the piper.'"
"Think, Cynthia," I demanded. "Where did these pictures come from?"
"We didn't pose for them!" she insisted. "Roger and I go to a lot of parties and some of them get pretty wild, but he was careful never to let things go too far. His father would have killed him if he'd caused the wrong kind of talk."
Cynthia looked both defiant and guilty. "We went to this party about three weeks ago. The usual crowd was there - no big deal. But it got rather dull and a friend of a friend of Heidi Molina was there and invited us over to her place. I remember that much. I don't think we'd drunk any more than usual and we didn't do any of the recreational stuff that was offered. I don't really remember much after that. I woke up in a hotel down in the Village, in a different dress than the one I'd started the evening in. Roger was on the floor passed out. The pictures and the letter showed up the next day."
A sick sense of déjà vu crept over me as Cynthia told me her story and I flashed briefly and nonsensically on a down at the heels Paris hotel room. I shook my head to clear it. "What happened next?"
"There was a phone call. Roger took it." Cynthia shook her head in frustration as fresh tears began to leak from her eyes. "He told the caller to 'get bent' and hung up the phone. He was due to go out of town the following day, and was leaving straight from the office after a meeting. I didn't even know he was missing until the police came to my door to notify me of his death."
"I'm sorry," I blurted automatically. I tried to place myself into her shoes and my mind shied away from idea of David suddenly and irretrievably gone. "What are you going to do?" I asked, even as a plan began to form in my mind. Roger's killer would pay.
"I don't know, Fox." There was a flat, hopeless quality to her voice I didn't like. Cynthia was normally a fighter. "I don't care about myself, but I can't let Roger's memory be ripped apart."
"You're right of course," I murmured. "And I have an idea. When the blackmailer calls, tell him you can't pay, but you know just the person to take your place."
Cynthia looked up at me in shock. "You can't mean…"
"Me," I replied firmly. "Tell him that you'll hand him me, and possibly one or two others if it can be arranged. Can you do that?"
She nodded reluctantly. "Why, Fox?"
I didn't have an answer exactly. It was just a gut feeling that I was the only person to deal with the mysterious Piper. "Just trust me on this, Cynthia," I said instead.
I spent a few more minutes convincing Cynthia to allow me to take the damning photographs and letters with me, then told her I'd be in touch. It was a distinct relief when Cynthia's mother, Alice, swept into the room and I excused myself from the grief stricken household.
* * *
I glanced at my watch as I was leaving and noted it was nearly 2:00 p.m. and I was late for an uncancellable meeting at Cyberbiotics. With a growl, I pointed the nose of my car towards the office and used the voice activated phone system to tell my secretary, Leanne, I was going to be late.
When I arrived, I was bracketed by Preston Vogel on one side and Jared Phelps, the CFO, on the other and escorted into a long and dull meeting. It was some hours later when I finally found myself free and able to return my attention to Cynthia's difficulties.
It paid to use one's connections and this pretty problem of blackmail was no exception. Escaping from the confines of corporate high finance, I wended my way through thick afternoon traffic to the apartment of my most useful connection on the police force, Detective Elisa Maza.
"Fox," she said with surprise as she answered her door. "This is unexpected. Is everything all right?"
Her eyes strayed passed me as she ushered me into a room that, after the excess of Cynthia's penthouse suite, could only be described as "cozy" and out onto the balcony where the hulking form of Goliath, frozen in stone repose awaited the setting of the sun. "The guys are they-"
I cut her off. "The clan is fine, detective. I'm here to see you on some unofficial police business."
She looked at me sharply as I drawled over the word unofficial and extended a hand in invitation for me to take a seat and tell me about it.
I did and Elisa listened thoughtfully. When I showed her the pictures and letters, she offered little comment, though the skin around her mouth tightened in suppressed anger. "I take it you don't want an official investigation?" she asked when I finished my narrative.
I shook my head. "Too many people would be ruined," I said. "And I can't help but feel that Cynthia and Roger aren't the only ones caught up in this."
Elisa seemed distracted, thinking and suddenly she had it. "Geneva," she muttered, then reached for the telephone.
She dialed, waited impatiently for the call to go through, and then said without preamble, "Matt, it's Elisa." When she had his attention she continued. "Do you remember the Interpol abstract from last month. The blackmail case with the bankers? You do? Good." Her voice went flat. "You kept a copy? Unbelievable. Get over here and bring it with you." He must have argued. "Yes, now. It's important. All right, I'll see you in twenty minutes." She hung up, offered me a late lunch, which I accepted, and we moved to the kitchen to wait for Detective Bluestone.
* * *
Over roast beef sandwiches and tomato soup, Elisa and I brought Matt up to speed. Then I dropped out of the conversation and sat back to watch as the partners compared and contrasted the case that I'd lain before them with a similar one centered in Switzerland.
She saved the photos for last. Bluestone didn't say much as he rifled through them. Once, he whistled low in surprise over a still of Roger, sandwiched in a threesome between two other men. Their faces were obscured, but their bodies were immature and hairless, suggesting that they were very young. "His political career would have been over before it started," Matt growled as he dropped the torn photo back onto the pile. "We can't let this get out."
Surprise, Matthew Bluestone was an admirer of the late Roger Boyle.
"We can't take this to the Captain, either," Elisa stated bluntly. "She'd turn it over to Vice and the press would have it five minutes later."
Matt nodded. "You're right. But if we get caught investigating this unofficially…"
He didn't finish the sentence. He didn't need to. Both officers knew they were putting their jobs on the line.
"We need to find out what the Department knows, what direction the homicide investigation is taking," Elisa said firmly. "Then we'll know who and what we need to get around." She turned to me. "Fox, do you know if any other members of your circle have been caught up in this guy's net yet?"
I shook my head. "I haven't had time to do any investigating on my own. Cynthia was too upset to offer much information and I've been stuck in meetings since then."
"All right," Elisa said, taking matters into hand. "I need you to talk to Mrs. Boyle again, find out if she can identify any of the people in those pictures. Chances are the Boyle's weren't the only ones to get a souvenir from that party. Matt and I will take things from the official end. We'll see if there's something we can do. I won't make any promises," she cautioned, "but we'll try. We'll come by the castle after shift to compare notes." She rose and rummaged in a desk drawer until she found an envelope large enough to hold the two blackmail letters.
Matt extracted the notes from their respective envelopes by their edges and dropped them in the new envelope. "Just in case we get lucky and are able to lift a print," he explained. He then made note of the courier's labels in a small black book he kept in his coat pocket.
It was a start, I decided. I glanced at my watch, torn between returning to Cynthia and going home for a while to be with David and Alex. Obligation to the dead weighed heavily, and I realized that it would be best to let her know that something was being done about her husband's murder. I rose and prepared to leave.
I stood and glanced out the window, wondering how I'd let myself get talked so easily into helping Fox and noted with surprise that the sun was nearly down. She seemed to take the hint and rose as well. "I'm going back to talk to Cynthia now and see what else I can find out," she said as she headed towards the doorway.
Matt was just a few steps behind. "I'll walk you out." He turned back to me. "Meet you downstairs in ten, okay partner?"
I nodded as he snagged my car keys from the entryway table and followed Fox out the door.
Their timing was impeccable. Outside on the balcony, Goliath's stone skin began to crumble. His statue-like form seemed to vibrate for a second and then shards of his shell burst forth, scattering over the patio. He shook himself to remove the last of the debris then resettled his wings before coming inside.
He smiled at me and I couldn't help but smile back. Even though I was running late, I met his embrace with one of my own, reaching up to wrap my arms around his neck so that I could kiss him.
"Good evening," I murmured as he ran his talons through my hair. "Did you sleep well?"
"I dreamed of you," he rumbled back and my knees went a little weak. It didn't help that his hands had traveled down past my shoulders and he was caressing a spot on my back that I had no idea could be so sensitive until he had so ably pointed it out.
Reluctantly, I disentangled myself. "Matt's waiting downstairs."
"So soon?" His voice was tinged with disappointment. "I thought we would have at least an hour before you had to go to the station."
I stepped into the kitchen, removed my gun and holster from its storage box and threaded myself into the harness. "I did, too. But we've got a new case." He didn't comment that I'd said nothing about it when I returned from work this morning and I pressed on. "I want to do a little research before we get into it any deeper. I'll try and get off early so I can meet you back at the castle and we can pick up where we've left off." I looked up at him and the warm smile that answered my put off was enough to make me smile with more conviction than I felt. To be honest, the Eyrie Building was the last place I wanted to end my shift. Inevitably, it would mean meeting up with Fox and making a firm commitment to investigating her case. But I knew it would make Goliath happy and that above everything else mattered most.
The months since we'd become mates had been both as wonderful and frustrating as I'd imagined they might be. There was still no way I could move into the Eyrie Building and keep my job and the commuting back and forth was getting to us both. I had a standing offer to work for Xanacorp, but I loved being a detective and I had no desire to become a glorified security guard. I reached up to Goliath and kissed him lightly on the mouth. "Be careful on patrol tonight, okay? The Feds are in town on a fact finding mission."
"We will be careful," he said gravely. "Exercise caution as well, my Elisa."
It was a nightly ritual. I gave him an affectionate squeeze and answered lightly, "I always do." I glanced down at my watch. Twelve minutes. "I'm late," I said with a groan. "And Matt is probably double parked."
Goliath kissed me on the top of the head. "Then go. I will see you later."
Taking my cue, I snagged my jacket from its hook by the door, waved to Cagney and left to meet Matt downstairs.
* * * * *
I was in luck. Alice hadn't given her daughter anything other than more scotch to numb the pain of Roger's death. She was distant, but coherent, and seemed glad to see me when I knocked on her bedroom door.
"Fox, hi." She tried to sit up a little straighter and patted the satin bedspread in invitation to join her. I crossed the expanse of creamy ivory carpet and perched on the edge of the bed. "I'm sorry I was such poor company earlier," she apologized. It was a new phase of grief brought on, no doubt, by the presence of her mother, who brought new meaning to the term 'unflappable'. I bit down on my urge to slap her back to her senses and pulled the envelope of pictures from my satchel. It had nearly the same effect. Her posture crumbled and she slumped backwards onto her pillows. "God, I had nearly convinced myself that I'd imagined those."
I shook my head. "Sorry. I know this is probably not the best of times, but I need to ask you some questions. Is that all right?"
She nodded grimly, and glanced toward the half gone scotch bottle on the dresser. I nodded that I understood and poured, watering the liquor slightly with a decanter that stood ready.
"Have the police been back?" I asked.
Cynthia shook her head "no".
"When they were here before," I continued, "did they ask many questions?"
She shook her head again. "They didn't have a chance. I fainted when they told me about Roger. His business partner was forced to make the identification on the body. They told Mother they'd give me a few days to recover before they'd try to interview me again."
"Okay," I said, "good." I reached for the photographs. "I know this is going to be hard, but I need you to look through these pictures and see if you can identify any of the people in them. It's possible that you and Roger weren't the only ones he was hitting up."
Cynthia took a swallow of her drink then reached out for the pictures. For the next hour we sat together and tried to identify common acquaintances from their tattoos, party clothes and other less distinguishing features. It was exhausting, but by the time we'd worked our way through the photos, I had six names to give to Matt and Elisa and an aching head.
I refilled Cynthia's glass one last time and headed for home.
* * *
When I got home, David was waiting, sprawled on the couch, reading a book in my sitting room. He smiled warmly and said, "We missed you at dinner."
I sighed. My thoughts were elsewhere, I had legitimate fundraiser and political action committee business to attend to and yet I could not leave Cynthia's problem alone. The list of names in my satchel beckoned. I wanted to make a few phone calls before Elisa and Matt arrived, but I wasn't sure of what kind of story I was going to use to justify them. "It's been a long day," I replied at last. "I stopped over at Cynthia Boyle's. She's not taking her husband's death very well."
David was on his feet in an instant. He meant to be comforting and I appreciated that, but I refused when he offered to help me unwind. "I can't just yet, David," I said, trying not to let my fatigue sound like impatience, "I've got a lot to get done tonight. Maybe later."
He looked disappointed, and there might have been a ghost of hurt in his dark eyes as I slipped from his embrace, but he covered it well. "I understand, my dear. The demands of a busy executive and all that."
I went pointedly to my desk and sat down. "They never seem to stop, do they?"
He took the hint. "I'll have Owen bring in a tray."
I wasn't hungry, but I nodded anyway. "Thanks, David." I grabbed up some paperwork at random. "The sooner I get started…" I let the sentence trail off and my husband smiled again.
"The sooner you'll be finished," he concluded. "Don't work too hard, my dear. I have a new game in mind and you'll need some stamina."
My stomach lurched unexpectedly when David mentioned "games," and I had to fight to hide the sudden wave of nausea. When I thought I could control my voice I replied, "I'll keep that in mind." Then I made scooting motions to get him to leave.
He did and he shut the door behind him. Maybe it was paranoia, but I couldn't help feeling that I'd set the wheels of suspicion in motion. I'd have to be very careful to keep David out of this mess.
"I'm ready for a break," Matt said abruptly, and I realized that I agreed. I wheeled the Fairlane into the parking lot of Harold's, a donut place that ought to be a chain, but isn't, and parked next to a Lexus that was so new it still had a paper dealer's tag affixed to the back bumper.
We'd arrived at the station early enough to do a little preliminary snooping and found out that the homicide detectives on the Boyle and Mathis murders now believed they were dealing with a new serial killer. Because of the high profile nature of the case, a psychiatric consultant from the FBI, along with one of their profilers, had already been brought in to try and make sense of the scant clues: the notes pinned to the victims were a challenge, they'd decided. As yet, no one had made the connection between victims and a blackmail attempt.
Matt's locker room chat with one of the Vice guys had yielded similar results. Beyond the usual, there were no new twists in the already seamy side of Manhattan's underbelly. We could investigate without accidentally running into one of our own.
After we compared notes, we returned to our own, not inconsiderable caseload. The Captain had assigned us a break-in at a diamond broker's office and we'd just finished at the crime scene. Whoever had done the job was neat and very professional. It seemed likely that the missing gemstones would end up not with one of our local fences but somewhere on the international market.
Though Matt and I were far from ready to admit defeat, we were ready for some fresh coffee before we started the paper trail side of our investigation. Insider activity had to be ruled out and it meant a long shift of preparing forms to request bank and phone records of the principal partners and key employees.
We entered the little shop together, enjoying the change of air from city stale to bakery fresh. As the door closed behind us and we stepped into a line already half a dozen people deep, Matt groaned. I looked over at him sharply, found his face etched with something between pain and annoyance, and followed his line of sight until I realized the source of his angst. Sara Jasper stood near a table of condiments stirring sugar into a cup of coffee. "Sara?" I whispered confused. "Matt, what's going on?"
"Nothing," he replied in a tone that suggested otherwise. He turned to move out of line, but a crowd of Con-Ed guys had come in behind us, blocking the way.
Sara looked up as if she felt Matt's gaze upon her and, after snapping a lid on the coffee cup, she joined us in the line. She looked about as comfortable as Matt did, but she obviously had something on her mind that didn't seem to want to keep. "Hi, Elisa. Matt." Her normally, upbeat, confident tone was subdued. As best as I could, I moved aside so that my partner and his girlfriend could have at least a little privacy.
"This probably isn't the best place for this," Sara began. I had to agree, but she continued anyway. "I'm sorry about the other morning, Matt. I was way out of line."
I felt an eyebrow rise in interest despite my attempts to stay out of the conversation. No wonder Matt had been so subdued all night. He'd contributed to conversations only when prompted and had seemed distant and occupied. I thought it had been the case, but evidently he and Sara had been fighting.
The line pushed forward a few more steps and Sara continued speaking. "Anyway," she said as she toyed with the lid of the coffee cup. "I was wondering if we were still on for this weekend."
"This weekend?" My partner's voice squeaked slightly as he echoed Sara's question in confusion. Then he suddenly recalled whatever plans they must have made. He shook his head. "No, sorry, Sara, I can't. I've got another commitment."
He raised his eyes towards me, entreating me to jump in and bail him out as anger and disappointment chased each other over Sara's normally calm features. We'd decided already that our off hours would be devoted to the Boyle murder. Unfortunately, that included the time we'd normally spend with our significant others.
"Yeah," I added quickly, wondering briefly why Matt hadn't suggested we bring Sara in on the case, "extra duty."
Sara wasn't listening. She'd gone kind of pink and it was obvious that whatever Matt had done to make her angry, it now included me. "Fine," she said coldly. "If that's the way you'd rather have it. I won't stand in your way."
Matt looked confused and I know I sure felt that way as Sara stormed passed, leaving us standing at the counter with the attendant looking on expectantly.
I ordered double chocolate donuts and coffee for both of us as Matt watched Sara slam the door behind her.
"What was that all about?" I asked as I pressed a paper coffee cup into Matt's hands.
"Nothing," he replied.
I let the matter drop long enough to get back to the car and radio the station for updates and messages. Finding none, I eased the Fairlane back towards the station, taking the long way as I started back in on Matt.
"That didn't look like nothing to me, partner. Sara was mad at both of us about something. You want to clue me in?"
Matt sighed. His frustration was obvious and after a minute or so he admitted, "We had a fight."
"I guessed as much," I replied. "What about?"
"Sara's great," he said instead. "She's warm. She's bright. She's beautiful."
Before he could continue his rhapsody I interjected, "But?"
He turned to me. "I know this is going to sound kind of funny, Elisa, but even though I'm sure she's the one for me, I want to take it slow. I don't want to rush things. When it gets down to it, we haven't been together all that long and I'm enjoying just getting to know her."
I shrugged since I was no stranger to taking my time when it came to romance. "That seems reasonable to me. So what's the problem?"
Matt's shoulders slumped. "Sara's trying to push things along. I don't think she trusts the relationship. I think that she thinks until I make some kind of permanent commitment to her…" He trailed off and tried to start again. "It's the Quarrymen. She doesn't think I've completely forgiven her yet for becoming one of them."
"Have you?" I asked. It was a fair question, even if the answer was obvious.
He brushed his hand over his hair in frustration. "Of course I have. I wouldn't have started dating her again otherwise!"
"Are you sure that's actually the problem?" I asked. Matt wasn't entirely immune from projecting his own difficulties on those closest to him. Substitute Illuminati for Quarrymen… The only difference was evidently once you became an Illuminati you earned a lifetime membership, though Matt was doing his best to avoid their persistent demands. "That was a really strange look Sara gave me just now."
Matt looks puzzled. "You don't think…She thinks…you and me?" His tone was incredulous. But after a minute he groaned, "The nightmare."
I pulled the car to the side of the road and parked. Now we were getting somewhere. "What nightmare?"
Matt slumped against the back of the seat and closed his eyes. "Sara stayed over a few nights ago," he began, a little defensively. That was old news. Sara had told me weeks before Matt did when their relationship had gotten physical. At the time, it had seemed strange, because even though Sara and I were friendly, we weren't exactly confidants. "I had a nightmare about the Perrelli Warehouse bust."
I shuddered involuntarily. It had been a handful of cops with department issue weapons versus twice as many Uptown Boys with heavy artillery. Two officers had gotten shot and if Matt hadn't pulled me out of the line of fire, it would have been three.
"She acted funny when we got up. First she was distant, then she started dropping hints about maybe we should get a bigger apartment together. When I stalled, she got angry and left." Matt gave me a frustrated look. "I just signed a new two year lease!"
I nodded in sympathy. I had my own problems with living arrangements. But I tried to see both sides of the problem. "I guess Sara doesn't see it that way if she's taking it as a personal rejection. But I don't see the connection."
Matt closed his eyes for a second. "I was dreaming about those last few seconds when Jimmy Lozano turned his gun on you. In the dream, I called your name. I must have done it out loud too."
Suddenly I realized why Sara was so bent out of shape. If she was insecure about the relationship then she was probably also jealous on some level about the close partnership that Matt and I shared. It hadn't always been easy and we'd struggled for quite awhile before we'd come to terms with each other's secrets. I flashed back on a 'wink, wink, nudge, nudge' type conversation I'd had with a nosy dispatcher some months ago about exactly how close we'd gotten and realized that a level of familiarity had worked its way into our relationship that might be misconstrued. Abruptly, I also realized that we were parked a block from the station and sitting in semi-darkness. I put the car into gear and pulled back out onto the street. "Ouch. Are you sure?"
Matt took his time responding. We were pulling in front of the station before he replied, "No. But it's the only thing that makes sense. She was gone by the time I put everything together and then she wouldn't take my calls."
As absurd as the idea was, if that's what had happened I couldn't ague with him. "You'll work it out," I said in as encouraging a tone as I could muster. I refrained from offering to call Sara. If they were going to fix things, they'd have to do it on their own.
Having nothing else constructive to offer, I dropped the subject and we headed into the precinct house to see what had developed from the discreet inquires we'd made earlier in the shift.
* * * * *
Seeing Sara had soured my already crummy frame of mind and it was with little enthusiasm that I started in on the routine paper chase that made up so much of a detective's routine. Still, the case had its interesting points, and I soon lost myself in the high finances of Misters Dubois, Markham, and Smithfield, proprietors of the burgled diamond brokerage house.
We'd been at it a couple of hours, writing up the case file and requesting the records we'd need, when White and Tang, the detectives assigned to the Boyle and Mathis murders entered, their faces both tight with barely concealed frustration. The pressure on them was huge to solve the murders, most of the city was crying out for blood and/or justice.
They went straight into the captain's office. I didn't need to be a fly on the wall to know what would happen next. Captain Chavez was about to deliver a gentle lecture encouraging the pair to tread lightly and unrelentingly on the friends and family of the deceased until something shook loose.
I traded glances with Elisa and she nodded. Ten minutes after the pair updated the captain she rose from her desk and sauntered casually over to the coffee machine. It was no coincidence that Detective Darrell White was also there, dumping extra sugar into an oversized mug with a New York Giants football logo silk-screened on the side.
Darrell had been just one of many with whom I'd had a not so subtle conversation about my partner's romantic availability. He was tall, well muscled and soft-spoken with old-fashioned manners that reflected his Virginia upbringing. When I'd told him she was heavily involved with a pilot who could bench press four hundred, he'd backed off almost immediately, respecting his unseen rival's prior claim. Still, his body language was an interesting study in contrasts as Elisa pried the latest developments on his case out of him, probably without him even being aware she was doing it.
She returned a few minutes later without comment, punched in a new search inquiry into the crime database, and settled back to wait.
I resolutely took care of the charity work first, waving absently at Owen to set down the silver dinner tray on a corner of the desk as I confirmed the guest list for a Civic Improvement Committee luncheon that I was co-chairing. Then I returned a couple of calls declining offers to commit time to similar causes. I faxed an RSVP to an Opera gala, and stumbled over a name I'd seen earlier that evening on Cynthia's list. "Pierce Wexford," I murmured thoughtfully.
Pierce was another old money scion given to spending his days in charitable pursuit and his nights on the party scene. I'd gotten to know him rather well since I'd helped Demona or rather, Dominique Destine, raise P.I.T. from its grass roots.
I lifted the phone from the receiver and dialed Ruby Star, the gossip columnist at the Daily Sentinel. It was no surprise to find her covering a party.
"Ruby," I purred into the phone. "Fox Xanatos. Can you spare a minute or two?"
She cooed back, an apt image because with her platinum blonde hair and feather boa, she looked something like an overstuffed dove. "For you, darling, anything."
I rolled my eyes. "Have you seen much of Pierce, lately?"
The noise level changed, the party sounded a bit muffled as if she'd moved into another room. "Piercy? Let me think, a minute. No, now that you mention it, he was on the guest list for several events that I covered last week and he didn't make it to any of them. I hope nothing's the matter." Her voice dropped a notch. "Why, what have you heard?"
I expected the question. I kept my voice noncommittal. "Nothing, really. I was just looking over the guest list for that luncheon next weekend and he's usually so prompt about RSVPing. I haven't been able to reach him," I lied. "And I was wondering if he'd finally decided to take that round the world sail he's always talking about."
"Say, that's right," the columnist replied. "I did see him coming out of Abecrombie and Fitch a few weeks back."
"Maybe that's it then," I said putting relief into my voice that I wasn't sure I felt. "He must've sailed off without a bon voyage party."
"If it's true, you can be sure I'll let him know my thoughts in a future column!" Hedda Hopper might have been dead, but Ruby tried to live up to her memory as arbiter of acceptable social behavior. In her world, Pierce's alleged gaff was not to be tolerated. Before she could turn her guns on me, I thanked her for her help and hung up, sipping absently at the glass of wine Owen had left next to the dinner tray.
I pulled Cynthia's list from my bag, opened a program that would connect me to the P.I.T. membership database and began to type a query request. It was true that the Protection Act was something of the cause of the moment, but it disturbed me that all of Cynthia's playmates were also recent contributors to P.I.T.
I made notes of their most recent contributions next to their names on my list and shut the computer down. There was nothing more I could do now but wait for Elisa and Matt.
* * * * *
It was just coming up on 5:00 a.m. when Matt and I agreed that we could probably call it a night. The squadroom was quiet, and those who remained seemed lost in their own thoughts. I slipped into my jacket and my partner followed my lead, scooping up a stack of files to drop off on the Desk Sargent.
"So, now what?" Matt asked as we hurried down the concrete steps to the street and my car parked half a block away. I wanted to get to Eyrie Building, get our meeting with Fox out of the way and spend at least a little time with Goliath before the sun rose.
I shrugged. "We compare notes. See if any of those witness statements you were able to pry out of your friend in Europe ring any bells and hope for the best."
The streets were empty, too early for the crush of commuter traffic that would clog them in a few hours time, and we made it to the castle in minutes. I parked in the underground lot that was marked for the bank next door but actually was owned by Xanatos to serve visitors such as myself who didn't want to be overly visible, and together Matt and I took a freight elevator that, when keyed properly, led straight for the residential wing of the Eyrie Building.
I was hoping I'd get to see Goliath first, but as the doors slid open we were met by Fox. She escorted us into tastefully furnished room that functioned as combination sitting room and home office, closing the door behind her once we were seated around a small oak desk.
I was impatient to get started, and I suspected the others knew it as I hustled them into my private retreat and got down to business. Part of it was anxiety, I suppose. I'd been having the oddest nagging feeling that I should know more about what was going on than I did and it bothered me. But I only said, "I was able to get a few names out of Cynthia when I went back to see her." I dropped the list down in front of the two detectives and waited as they scanned the list.
"Whoa, what a minute," Matt said as he pointed at a name. "Bertram Markham. Are you sure about him, Mrs. X.?" He exchanged a pointed glance with Elisa and I frowned.
"Once you've seen those bony knees of his in tennis shorts you never forget them," I said. "He has a birthmark on the cap of the left knee that's sort of half moon shaped. I hadn't noticed it earlier, but when Cynthia and I were going over the pictures tonight, it sort of jumped right out at me."
"The Piper is causing a ripple effect," Elisa muttered. Matt nodded in agreement.
"Why?" I asked perplexed.
The pair exchanged another glance, as if weighing their obligation to police confidentiality. Finally Matt relented. "There was a robbery tonight at Dubois, Markham and Smithfield. The loss was … substantial."
"It fits," Elisa said. "A hefty blackmail demand could be paid in gemstones. All of the stones taken were large enough to be re-cut."
"We've got to stop this," I declared. "And I've got a plan."
I looked up at the corner where I knew a security camera was concealed and imagined that David was probably watching from his office, Owen at his side. My husband's aide de camp would be showing a restrained concern and David undoubtedly would be treating this as an amusing game. Even so, I didn't want him knowing what I had in mind.
I closed my eyes for a moment, gathering my concentration, and raised a hand casually. A small pulse of energy, barely visible even to trained eyes, shot forth from my fingertips, effectively blinding the camera. I made a note to remind myself to thank Mother for the tutors who'd been showing up at increasingly frequent intervals to help me hone my long neglected magical abilities and plunged forward.
"I didn't tell you this earlier," I admitted, "but I've already committed to taking Cynthia's place at the next party."
Elisa looked up in surprise. "I've never exactly seen you as a sacrificial lamb," she said. "What were you planning to do?"
"I was going to work that out when the opportunity arose," I admitted.
"Amateurs should stay out of undercover work," Matt groused. "But that's not a bad idea. Chances are this guy, whoever he is, likes to take his own pictures - business mixed with pleasure. A well-placed sting could infiltrate and take him out."
"My thoughts exactly," I smiled ferally and dropped a large envelope in front of Elisa. She gave me a perplexed look then opened it, extracting the contents.
"Who is this?" she asked, pointing to the ten by twelve glossy of a woman that topped the stack of documents inside.
"You," I replied. "Or rather the woman who's identity I've set up for you to assume. Her name is Trini Buenavista. There's a dossier with all the pertinent information, a sample of her voice on tape, everything you'll need to transform yourself. Trini is currently taking the cure in Palm Springs, incognito," I added, "so she won't be needing her identity."
"Very neat," Elisa said dryly. "And the plan?"
"Is simple enough. Myself, you and Detective Bluestone, playing himself, a prominent member of the police force and member of the pro-gargoyle coalition, will make the circuit of parties at the invitation of Cynthia Boyle. We will be bait."
"And with any luck," Matt finished, "the filthy rich Fox Xanatos, exotic Trini Buenavista, and the politically tightrope-walking Matthew Bluestone will get caught up in this blackmailer's trap." He mulled the idea over. "It's risky."
"And there are no assurances it will work," Elisa added. "But coupled with the investigative efforts of the other detectives, it just might drive our guy out of the woodwork."
"There's one other detail that I haven't mentioned yet," I admitted, saving the worst for last.
"And that is?" Matt said, speaking for both detectives.
There was no getting around it so I replied, "Every one of the people on that list is an advocate of the Gargoyle Protection Act. If anyone else is killed or hurt, any of those photographs get out, or the police investigation digs too deeply, someone is bound to make the connection."
"And the extremists in the opposition would be sure to use it," Elisa said, realizing my implication.
"Can you see the conservative press headlines?" Matt added. "'Perverts Support Gargoyle Legislation!'"
"We can't let this happen," Elisa said firmly. "Agreed?"
"Agreed," we echoed, as we rose from our respective chairs.
* * * * *
I had arrived at Elisa's apartment expecting to find her waiting for me. She had temporarily switched to the morning shift two days prior, and I looked forward to spending the long night alone with my mate.
Instead, I found the flat empty and dark. I let myself in and switched on the light, calling her name until I realized that she would not answer.
It was not until I reached the bedroom that I found the note pinned to the pillow.
Sorry, I know this is sudden, but things happen. Matt and I have decided to take a more aggressive approach to our current case. I'll be incommunicado for awhile. Cagney's with Mrs. Green in 204. Don't worry about him - or me.
I would admit the truth to no one but myself, but I was disturbed by Elisa's recent behavior. She had been distant, seemingly glad for my presence when I greeted her, but resenting me too, as if I was keeping her from other, more pressing business. She would not confide in me, only asked me to be patient.
I dropped the note back on the bed, hesitated, then scooped it back up, tucking it into my belt pouch. Though the tone was curt, it was still a message from my Elisa and something to be treasured until she returned.
I flipped the switches, returning the apartment to darkness and glided back to the castle.
* * *
Xanatos was waiting for me in the courtyard. He was clad in a long, dark overcoat, seemingly out for stroll in the bracing night air. I was not surprised as he fell in step beside me.
"Good evening, Goliath. I hadn't expected to see you back so soon." His tone was casual, as if there was not a thing on his mind, but his eyes were intense with hidden purpose.
"I seemed to have gotten her schedule confused," I admitted. "Elisa was not at home."
Xanatos stroked his beard. "Really. You know I seem to be having the same problem with Fox. She never seems to be where she says she's going," he remarked.
A gust of wind blew across the flagstones, sending the first of the fall leaves dancing. We strolled closer to the shelter of the castle.
"What do you know, Xanatos?" I growled. There was purpose to his casual conversation and I only wished him to reveal his intent so that I could retreat to the quiet of the library.
He gave me a long, measured look before admitting, "Fox and Elisa are up to something. Detective Bluestone is involved as well. It's nothing official, at least not that I can determine. But Fox booked a suite of rooms on the 25th floor of the Carlton Arms, and this afternoon your Elisa took up residence in them."
I frowned. "How do you know these things?"
He shrugged. "I'm a rich man with a lot of enemies. It's only natural that I'd use state of the art security measures to keep tabs on my family. Fox knows about some of the measures, of course. But," he dropped his voice slightly lower, "not all of them."
"Why are you telling me this?" I wondered out loud.
He turned to face me. "Fox can play her games if they keep her amused. But I don't want this, whatever it is, getting out of hand. Keep an eye on them, Goliath."
I nodded, Xanatos's concern matched my own. "Thank you, Xanatos. I shall."
He nodded. A smile of satisfaction played briefly over his lips and then he sauntered off, leaving me alone to plan my course of action.
* * * * *
I stood in front of the full-length mirror admiring the change in appearance wrought by a new wardrobe and elaborate makeup. Goliath growled in irritation from his vantage point near the king-sized bed and I could hear his tail beating a tattoo against the hardwood floor.
Fox had been thorough, I admitted to myself as I looped a length of jet-black beads over my neck and nodded approval at the final effect; the woman in the mirror was a total stranger. She'd booked a suite that was big enough to need a guide book to navigate, and provided me with a wardrobe and enough spending cash and credit cards to back up my claims that I was Trini Buenavista, Peruvian shipping heiress. She'd also gotten me an invitation to accompany her to the party where we'd hoped to make contact with the blackmailers.
It was a sweet setup except for the disapproval of my mate who, against all odds, had found his way to my 25th story window thirty minutes before. Xanatos must have put him up to it. I could tell by the way he'd not denied it, just crossed his arms across his chest and glared stubbornly as he voiced his dissatisfaction with both my appearance and the plan in general.
I guess he was justified. I was wearing a dress that barely skimmed the tops of my thighs, though there was a few inches of fringe to add the illusion of additional length. It was a bold metallic silver, and it literally caught the light, sending glimmers and sparkles playing around the room every time I shifted or moved. The heels were too high. I hadn't worn anything like them in ages and I had to practice walking in them for over an hour to keep from turning an ankle.
"It is too risky," Goliath reiterated for the tenth time. "You can conceal no weapon in that dress."
"It's a party, Goliath," I repeated through clenched teeth. "I'm not completely unarmed," I added, gesturing toward the sharpened silver sticks I'd used to arrange my hair. "And I won't be alone. Matt will be there and Fox," I added. "Both of them are more than capable of taking care of things if I need backup. The worst thing that will probably happen is I'll have to drink a few glasses of champagne to cement my cover." I turned towards him. "Stop worrying, big guy. I've worked much more dangerous assignments."
There was a knock at the door, followed by a chime. "That's probably Matt." I said as I headed toward the living room. "But just in case it's not, stay here out of sight."
He said something I didn't catch as I closed the oversized double doors. I was pleased to find that I'd eradicated the last of the wobble from my walk as I crossed both polished oak floor and oriental rugs. The bell chimed again as I thumbed the control on the camera that monitored the front door and saw my partner waiting impatiently.
I opened the door and whistled softly as I estimated the cost of his suit. "Wow," I said, impressed.
He managed to close his mouth and wipe the stunned look off his face as he replied, "Wow, yourself. I didn't recognize you, Elisa."
"Gracias," I said demurely, in the Latin accent I'd practiced for the last several hours. "But my name for the next few nights is Trini, Trini Maria Elena Perez Buenavista," I added for good measure. "See that you do not forget it."
Matt's eyes sparkled in amusement. "I doubt I would forget anything about you, lady." He bowed as he took my hand. "Your car awaits your convenience."
I picked up my bag and wrap from the antique sideboard that guarded the entryway. As I closed the door, I could have sworn I heard Goliath's low growl of displeasure.
* * * * *
Matt returned with a woman in tow and I had to double take before I realized it was Elisa. She'd done an excellent job reinventing herself as Trini; I could only pray that she'd learned the part as well. "Trini, darling," I said as Elisa slipped into the limousine. "Where have you been keeping yourself?"
"Oh," she replied with a non-committal shrug of her shoulders, "here and there." The accent was close, very, very close. Fortunately, Trini had been out of circulation for months and she generally kept her comments short and sweet. I nodded in approval. "You remember Cynthia, don't you?"
Elisa leaned forward and peered at Cynthia in a perfect imitation of Trini's myopic gaze. "Of course, Cynthia, chiquita, from the Anderson's Easter egg hunt on Long Island. Your loss, most tragic. But it is good that you are not keeping yourself locked away. Life is for the living, yes?"
Cynthia nodded weakly. "I suppose so." She attempted a brave smile and failed. We pretended not to notice as I continued a bright line of gossipy chatter meant to bring Elisa up to speed on the people she was likely to encounter at tonight's fundraiser.
Twenty minutes later, Owen pulled up in front of the Excelsior Hotel. He promptly stepped out of the car and opened my door, holding out his hand to assist me from the car. Incredibly he stumbled on the curb and staggered against me as he attempted to regain his footing. "I beg your pardon, Mrs. Xanatos," he said as he turned to help Cynthia.
As I straightened my wrap, I found the tiny transceiver he'd planted, no doubt at David's request.
I couldn't fault Owen for doing his job, but I wanted to keep my husband out of this. I plucked the tiny device from my shawl, winked at Owen, then dropped the transceiver to the ground and crushed it under my heel.
A resigned look passed over his normally stoic features as he touched his fingers to his chauffeur's cap and slid back into the car. He was on the phone to David even before he pulled away from the curb.
* * * * *
Elisa had only grumbled a little as Fox surreptitiously coached her about Trini Buenavista but I could tell the minute she hit the room and begun to mingle that the tutoring was paying off.
My partner accepted air kisses with the best of them, showing me off as the delightful detective who'd so graciously helped her out of a most inconvenient situation. The details were explained away with a wink and a nod as we circulated, trying to figure out who were there as legitimate fundraisers, who were the most likely blackmail targets and who among them were the sharks circling for their next victims.
I puffed myself up accordingly and with "Trini" on my arm, it wasn't that difficult. As we gambled away Fox Xanatos's money at roulette wheels and craps games, my appearance was taken for granted. After all, I was the nominal head of the Gargoyles Task Force and this was a charity fundraiser for the Gargoyles' Protection Act. It was all perfectly natural, and Trini just added the extra zing I needed to be completely embraced by all these happy people.
I couldn't really say that my years on the police force had prepared me for these types of gatherings. Sure, there was the occasional security detail when I was a Fed, but it's not really the same. You spend too much time being vigilant to enjoy the canapés.
Still, there was a surreal air to this party that I couldn't ignore. It seemed like people were trying to have too good of a time. The laughter held a false note of gaiety that rang hollow when compared against the rare burst of spontaneous laughter. It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up and I had to force myself not to jump as Elisa swayed up behind me and wrapped her arms around me. She whispered softly in my ear. I tried to pay attention as I got a whiff of perfume heavy with oriental spices. "I feel like we're being watched, but I can't pin it down."
I twirled her around in front of me and danced her toward the relative quiet near the balcony door. As we swayed to the music, her body close against mine, I whispered back at her, "I've had the same feeling." I nuzzled against her ear, hiding the movement of my lips in a series of faux-kisses. "We can't rule out electronic monitoring, but I don't think our guy is here."
She nodded, bumping her chin against my collarbone. "But we stay anyway?"
I nodded and came up for air. Elisa is a good looking woman, but this alter ego, Trini, was incendiary and I needed to put some distance between us before Elisa noticed and called me on it. I closed my eyes for a second, brought up all the gory details of the last autopsy I'd been forced to attend, then stepped away as the slow dance number ended. John Simon, the son of a well-known stockbroker and likely candidate for state senator, ambled over for a better view of my companion.
"Trini!" he bubbled, surprised, as he bowed over her hand, kissing her knuckles in the process. "I'd heard you were in California… getting better," he finished awkwardly.
Elisa didn't flinch. "It was all so tedious," she replied with a bored yawn. "All that well meaning motivational pep talking. I couldn't stand it another minute. I would much rather be here with you having fun at the big party in the Big Apple." She gestured and found to her surprise that she didn't have a champagne glass in hand. Shooting me a dirty look that I had neglected her needs so, she wrapped her arms around Simon's. "Why don't you find me a glass of champagne and we can talk all about what you been doing."
I tried not to cringe as she ran a manicured fingernail up the big blowhard's bicep and snuggled in until he had no choice but to surrender to her charms. "I'll catch up with you in a minute, darling," I said gamely, as I went forth to make myself look blackmailable. I considered my choices and settled on the barely legal daughter of the police commissioner, already plotting, as I threaded my way through the crowd, how I would extricate her from this mess and send her safely home.
* * * * *
My arm was around Elisa's waist as we entered the hotel. It was late, and there weren't many people around other than hotel staff, but we still needed to keep up appearances appropriate to our cover. After checking at the front desk for any messages, we headed for the elevators. We only waited for a few seconds before a chime announced the arrival of a car and one of the three sets of doors slid open.
I stepped toward the waiting elevator, and as its lone occupant began to step off, the first thing I saw was a shock of white in a crop of dark hair. Suddenly, I knew that in an instant, our cover would very likely be blown if I didn't think and act fast. Grabbing Elisa by the arm, I twirled her around and pulled her into an embrace.
"Matt, what the hell…" Elisa put her hands up in front of her, and I could tell by the way her body tensed that she was nearly ready to knock me flat as I placed my hands on her waist and pressed her into the car. She struggled, still in shock, but I persisted, shielding her from view with my body and forcing her back into the elevator until she was pinned against the wall.
"Dracon," I whispered, just as the man himself stepped past us. Elisa's eyes went wide, and suddenly she realized why I was doing what I was doing. Instantly, she stopped resisting. Wrapping her arms around my neck, she pulled me closer and, to my own shock, locked her lips to mine in a hungry, impassioned kiss.
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the smalltime gangster's smirk and raised eyebrow. "Hope you two lovebirds can manage to make it to a room," he commented as he stepped off the elevator, obligingly pressing the "close" button before sauntering off.
The kiss lingered on for a few seconds after the doors closed, ending only once the elevator began to move. Only then did Elisa break it off, and I took my hands from her hips and backed away awkwardly, not quite knowing what to say.
"Do you think he recognized us?" Elisa asked apprehensively.
I shook my head. "I don't think he had a chance. And even if he did," I added, "all he'd know is that you're working under cover."
She plucked nervously at a long strand of dark hair that had come loose from her intricate up-do. "Tony gets curious. I don't want him getting anywhere near this and scaring our guy."
I watched the elevator indicator tick slowly upward. "Nice reaction, by the way," I said casually. I was still a little thrown by the enthusiasm behind the kiss.
Elisa's thoughts were already elsewhere. "Hmm? Oh. Dracon would have never bought anything but the real thing. You gave me a full court press. I could have reacted in one of two ways: slapped you or returned the favor. If I'd slapped you then Tony would have seen our faces and that's what we were trying to avoid," she concluded. "We did what we had to do."
"Right," I said as the indicator dinged at the twenty-fifth floor. Obligingly, Elisa slipped her arm around my waist and together we stepped out of the elevator. There was a chambermaid outside of the room adjacent Elisa's and for her benefit, I slipped into my role of enthusiastic suitor. I embraced her, and held her close against my chest as my partner fumbled with her key. Laughing as though slightly drunk, we tumbled under the disapproving eye of the maid into her suite and locked the door behind us.
* * * * *
I watched, waiting impatiently as Elisa and Bluestone entered the suite. They were laughing, sharing some joke. I felt the muscles in my neck tense as she reached over and straightened his tie before wiping away a crimson smudge that matched her lipstick from the side of his mouth.
The conversation must have changed, I couldn't hear through the double paned glass, but their demeanors turned serious and for several moments they seemed to argue.
Bluestone must have conceded the point. Elisa smiled and touched his arm.
I felt like a voyeur watching in the shadows, and the stab of guilt that lanced through me only served to increase my tension. It was with relief that I watched Bluestone leave.
I tapped on the glass.
She answered, absently removing an earring as she threw open the window sash. I climbed through with difficulty. Elisa looked tired and not at all glad to see me.
"Goliath. What are you doing here?" she said as she pulled me inside the suite. "Are you trying to blow my cover?"
"Elisa, I-" She did not let me finish, only waiting until I was barely clear of the sill before shoving the sash down with more force than was necessary and drawing the curtains quickly over the window.
"You can't keep coming around!" she said, her voice rough with anger. "The minute someone spots you everything is ruined. Can't you understand that?"
I could understand. But I worried and I wanted to see for myself that she'd not come to any harm after a night on this foolhardy mission. Irrationally, the fact that her anger was justified made me feel more defensive.
I watched as she stormed into the bedroom shedding the high-heeled shoes and the indecently short dress in the process. I followed in her wake and found her sitting at the dressing table, removing her elaborate makeup with some sort of white cream.
"I only wished to find out how your evening went," I began. "If you learned anything useful. I wanted to know how long you intend to persist in this game, Elisa."
She paused and looked up at me, her reflection in the mirror angry. "It will take as long as it takes, Goliath. I thought I explained that earlier."
Flashes of her laughing and flirting with handsome human males played before my eyes. I did not like my Elisa using herself as bait. Why could she not understand my concern?
I stepped closer to her, intending to take her into my arms. I knew that if I embraced her just for a little while that all would be well between us.
I buried my head in her hair, nuzzling her neck with my cheek. I was not prepared to find the scent of Bluestone mingled with her own.
I growled, suddenly angry. Barely in control of my actions, I pulled Elisa from the chair and pressed my nose against her bare skin. His scent was everywhere, human musk and aftershave lotion.
"Goliath!" Elisa protested as I ran my hands over the length of her body. "What are you doing?"
"You are my mate!" I lifted her easily despite her struggles and carried her to the bed.
She fought against me. Her blows landed harmlessly on my chest and biceps. Anger gave way to lust. I felt myself straining against the rough fabric of my loincloth. I set Elisa none too gently on the bed and removed the restricting material.
"What has gotten into you? Of course I am!" Elisa protested even as I fell upon her, covering her slender body with hungry kisses and rough caresses.
I took quiet satisfaction as my mate's protestations died away and her body began to respond to my attentions. Her nipples hardened into sensitive pebbles as I nipped and suckled. When I moved my mouth lower to kiss at the hollow of her belly, she sighed and quit fighting entirely. She reached for me.
My need was great. I rose to my knees and parted her legs, smiling as I ran a hand over the curly hair that concealed the mouth of Elisa's sex. Delicately I pressed a talon against her sensitive flesh teasing the wet and swollen center. Pinned as she was against the bed she was helpless, unable to fend off my advances. Her hips arched and she moaned in reluctant ecstasy.
I could not wait any longer. Elisa's nails raked my back as I pushed inside of her. I rubbed my chest and belly against hers, barely allowing her enough time to adjust to the bulk of my shaft before I began to thrust against her, my tail twined around her thigh.
Bluestone's scent was obliterated, replaced by the smell of my own desire mingled with Elisa's. I ground myself against her, and though I was both angry and aroused, I was also mindful of damaging my beautiful Elisa, even as I possessed her totally.
The bed groaned under me as I continued my assault, but I paid it no heed as Elisa began to whimper; first small sighs, then deeper, full-throated moans of desire. No human would ever pleasure her as I had, I realized with pride. She began to buck wildly, her pelvis straining to meet my heated thrusts.
I could take no more. With a triumphant roar that obliterated her ecstatic cries, I spilled my seed into my mate.
Abruptly the triumph of possession faded and I found myself ashamed at my brutish behavior. Elisa, though her dusky skin was flush with pleasure, was looking at me with troubled eyes. I got off the bed, fumbled my way back into my loincloth and before Elisa could call me back, I escaped, pushing open the too small window and hurling myself through into the sky over the never sleeping city.
* * * * *
I was still reviewing the night in my mind as the elevator ascended quietly from the subbasement-level parking garage to the castle high atop the Eyrie Building. Owen was silent, as he had been the entire drive home, leaving me alone with my thoughts, but for a moment, I couldn't help thinking that he'd very likely be giving a detailed report later to David on the little he'd managed to observe. That is, if what Goliath had to report wasn't enough to satisfy my husband's curiosity.
It hadn't been hard to notice him watching through one of the skylights… well, at least not for me. I was finding it easier and easier to use some of the little tricks I'd learned via Mother's tutoring to enhance my human senses. To me, the silhouette of the big gargoyle's form had been unmistakable even against the blackness of night that hid it so well from everyone else at the party. Of course, by the end of the evening, the senses of many of the guests had been blurred enough that a purple dinosaur strolling through the room would barely have been noticed.
As the elevator reached the top and I stepped out, I felt a brief twinge of guilt. I hadn't told Elisa that her significant other was watching, not wanting to give her any reason to slip accidentally out of the character she had so wonderfully assumed. Beyond that, I'd been distracted all evening long by the feeling that we were all being observed, and not just by an overly concerned Goliath. It was only instinct and nothing more, but I had felt at times like a mouse being watched by a hawk. I didn't like that sensation at all, and it had been what prompted me to slip away into a quiet corner momentarily and hazard using a bit of fay magic in the first place.
There had been plenty of mirrors in the room, making it seem larger and more crowded than it actually was and presumably adding to the Las Vegas casino feel. But I had no doubt that any, if not all, of them could have been one-way windows for the hawk to watch, unnoticed, as the mice scurried about. It had been hard to maintain focus with all the noise and lights, though. Scanning the room, all I'd been able to get was a brief, hazy image of a plain-looking face with gold-rimmed glasses, and then I spotted Goliath in the window and lost my concentration. Cynthia had approached just a moment later, leaving me no opportunity to try again.
"Will there be anything else tonight, Mrs. Xanatos?" Owen asked, startling me from my thoughts. I blinked back to the present to realize I had just handed him my coat.
"No, that's all. Thank you, Owen," I replied. You can go make your report to David now, I added in my head as I turned toward the hall leading to the residential wing of the castle.
"Very good. Goodnight, Mrs. Xanatos."
I barely heard him; my mind went immediately back to the events of the evening as I made my way to the master bedroom. We'd put out the bait, and now all we could do was wait and see if we got any bites. And while waiting was never something I had ever particularly enjoyed, both my instincts and what I had learned from Cynthia told me it wouldn't take long for the blackmailer to make his move if he liked what he saw.
My stomach turned as I reached the bedroom, and I paused outside the door. It sickened me to think that the person behind this thought of it as a big game, and even more so when my next thought was that he or she was probably getting off on it. Still, I couldn't help feeling a bit of anticipation. If my suspicions about the P.I.T. connection were correct, I was certain to be selected to advance to the next round of play. With the exception of Dominique Destine, mine was probably the most well known name involved in the pro-gargoyle group.
The thought made something click in my head that was so obvious I almost kicked myself for not thinking of it before. I made a mental note to figure out a way to ask Angela to find out if her mother had received any invitations to the same parties Cynthia and Roger had attended, if that could be done without arousing any undue suspicions or questions from the girl or her mother. As I contemplated that, my thoughts flowed naturally back to Goliath. He'd be the first one to be able to pry something from Angela, even if she didn't realize it.
After a moment more of thought, I decided I'd better check with Elisa and Matt first before I spoke to Angela at all. While she wasn't exactly naïve and innocent anymore when it came to matters related to sex (thanks mostly to that book I started for her bridal shower, Elisa would probably say), I didn't like the thought of having to bring her into this if I didn't have to. Also, I could already tell Goliath didn't like his mate being involved; I could only imagine his reaction if his daughter were recruited, as well, even if it were just to do a bit detective work checking up on Demona.
Whatever I ended up doing, though, I needed some rest first. My mind had been running full throttle most of the evening, and after just one night of undercover work, I was beginning to have a new appreciation for all the times I'd overheard Elisa complain how exhausted she was after a shift. I checked my watch. It was after midnight, and I had to be up at 7:00 a.m. to make another meeting at Cyberbiotics. A small, tired smile came to my lips. "'The demands of a busy executive and all that,'" I sighed as I turned the knob and opened the door to the bedroom.
I wasn't expecting to find David there; I had presumed he'd be in his office, taking Owen's report. I stopped after taking only a few steps into the room, setting down my purse on the dresser as he looked up from where he reclined on the bed.
"Ah, good evening, my dear," he intoned, smiling. He was clad in silk pajamas, and sat against the pillows with a leather-bound book in hand, open to the middle, I noted, as if indicating that he'd been engrossed in reading it most of the night.
"Good evening, David," I replied. "You waited up for me," I added, stating a fact and trying not to let annoyance seep into my tone.
"Alex missed you at bedtime," he replied. The implied jab was felt even though he kept his tone jovial and went on. "Did you have a good time at the party tonight?" he asked.
I turned to the mirror over my dressing table and began removing my earrings. "You know how those parties always are," I replied evasively. "The important thing is the money we raise to support P.I.T." I added as I undid my necklace and placed it back into the jewelry box beside the earrings.
"Yes, well, if there's anything I can do to help… you know I'm always up for it." He tried to sound casual, but I had known him too long not to be able to detect the trace of eagerness in his voice. He wanted in on the masquerade, but I was determined to keep him out if it.
"I'll keep that in mind," I answered, returning the same faux-casual tone as I scooped up my bathrobe from the back of the chair and headed into the bathroom, closing the door behind me.
I shed the formal dress and showered quickly. Wanting only to get to bed and catch a few hours of sleep before morning, I toweled my hair dry and slipped into a simple satin nightgown before returning to the bedroom. David was still there; he had slipped under the sheets now, but the book lay discarded on the covers beside him in favor of the telephone that he held to his ear. Normally unshakable, he seemed a bit startled when I walked out of the bathroom after only about fifteen minutes.
"Yes, well, we'll talk about it more at a later time," he spoke, quickly ending the conversation. I had no doubt who the party was on the other end of the line, but I played along as I slid into the king-sized bed beside him and watched him hang up the phone.
"Who was that, dear," I purred, "calling at such a late hour?"
"Just some overseas business," he lied quickly. He turned out the light on the night table, leaving only the moonlight through the windows to illuminate the room, then lay back and rolled up near me, placing his arm around my waist. "Nothing that can't wait," he added, smiling as he nuzzled his face against mine. He made no effort to hide the eagerness in his voice this time. As he pulled me to him under the sheets and pressed his warm body against mine, I knew exactly what he wanted.
Unfortunately for him, all I was in the mood for was sleep. With a firm but gentle motion, I turned over on my side, pulling away from him. In the darkness, he couldn't see the wry smirk on my face as I closed my over-weary eyes and murmured, "Yes, well, we'll talk about it more at a later time."
* * * * *
Elisa seemed subdued when I picked her up at her apartment the next morning for work. We'd managed to clear a temporary shift change with the captain to make it easier to work on the diamond robbery. It was purely a fortunate coincidence that it left our evenings free for undercover work at society parties.
"Are you all right?" I asked as she slid in next to me.
"Yeah," she demurred, "I didn't sleep much."
It seemed like there was more to it. Normally I wouldn't press, but there was a troubled look in Elisa's eyes that I couldn't ignore. "Are you sure that's all?"
She sighed. "No," she admitted as she shifted uncomfortably against the seat back. "Goliath stopped by the hotel last night. He doesn't like what we're doing. He made that pretty clear."
"You had a fight," I supplied.
Elisa nodded. "I know he means well, Matt. But I saw a side of him last night that, to be honest, it scared me a little."
We were inching our way through the midmorning traffic. I glanced over at my taciturn partner. "What happened?"
She looked away, not meeting my eyes. "He got … possessive with me."
I scanned her quickly for concealed bruises, but didn't see any. "Did he hurt you?" The question was reflexive. As was her response.
"No, of course not. Goliath would never hurt me," she protested. Elisa shook her head dismissing whatever had happened. "Forget it. This case has everyone upset. We'll all just have to deal with it until we solve it."
I gave her another sideways glance as traffic began to move again but she'd retreated inward and we didn't speak again until we arrived back at the precinct.
* * * * *
I got a panicked phone call from Cynthia, only minutes after Security had delivered our mystery man's latest party invitation.
"Fox, thank god you're home," Cynthia cried as I flipped the phone off "speaker" and scooped up the receiver.
"Cynthia?" I said barely recognizing the stress-roughened voice. "What's the matter?"
"It didn't work. I've been invited to another party."
I growled. We'd hoped to get Cynthia out of this mess so that she could deal with her grief in private. "I'm sorry," I said. "But I don't understand. I've just received an invitation too."
"I know," she said, her voice miserable with regret. "I should have never dragged you into this, Fox. The note says that despite the fact that I have provided acceptable substitutes, the pleasure of my company is still requested."
"And if you refuse?" I asked levelly.
"I'm reminded that Roger's memorial service is only two days away. There's still plenty of time to get photos to the tabloids."
I glanced at the invitation again, careful to hold it carefully by the corners. Matt kept a fingerprint kit at home, a souvenir of his time at Quantico. One never knew when our hawk might slip.
"I guess I'll see you at Bertram's tonight then," I said at last. I affected a relaxed tone of voice that had nothing to do with the way I felt. "Don't worry, Cynthia. We will stop this slimeball, whoever he is." Won't we? I asked myself.
I don't think she believed my reassurances, but Cynthia thanked me before she hung up.
I paused, considered my next move, then placed a phone call to Preston Vogel at Cyberbiotics to verify the delivery of some test equipment.
When his monotone voice assured me that the equipment should arrive within the hour, I relaxed and hung up.
Seeing that I could do no more until nightfall, I changed into my gee and spent an hour in the gymnasium stretching, flexing and punching at sandbags before removing myself to the hot tub for a long contemplative soak. I insisted to myself, as I closed my eyes, that convincing Lexington to help us out would pose no difficulties as long as my package of shiny new toys was involved.
* * * * *
Playing "Trini" had become almost second nature, and though I knew since I was only "borrowing" the identity of someone currently sequestered in a rehab center in California, I was feeling good about being able to add the persona I had perfected to my small undercover repertoire. If nothing else, the accent and the makeup tricks Fox had taught me would surely come in handy… and even though my elaborate hairdo took some time to do, it sure beat having to wear a hot, scratchy wig for hours at a time.
I took another sip of champagne, enjoying a momentary respite from the seemingly endless buzz of high-society conversation. This was the second party in two nights. The crowd had gotten smaller and more exclusive and I couldn't help but feel that our mystery man was sizing us up and eliminating those that wouldn't be worth playing his game. It was like some demented game show, and with each invitation, Fox, Matt, and I - or rather, Trini Beunavista - advanced to the next round. With the field of "contestants" narrowed down to only a select few dozen persons, though, I was sure the "winners" would be selected soon.
It was just up to us to remain alert, and be ready when our guy made his move. I spotted Fox across the room, and moved to her, being careful not to stumble in my outrageously high heels, which for some reason seemed harder to walk in now than they had just a while ago. The heels were the one thing I didn't like about my costume, I decided as I snagged a new glass of champagne from a tray and passed off the empty one to the server carrying it.
"Gracias, darling," I murmured, taking a quick sip from the new glass. When I looked up again, Fox had moved up to meet me, bringing a small group of women with her, including Cynthia. They were all giggling over something that was obviously very funny, and Fox was the first to stop long enough to address me.
"Trini, my dear, you absolutely must hear the story Vickie here was telling about her trip to Turkey," Fox bubbled.
Nodding, I sipped again at my champagne and smiled at the young blonde Fox indicated. Whatever I had been meaning to talk to Fox about slipped away from my mind's grasp, forgotten as I slipped back into my character. "Really? Do tell, chiquita, do tell."
* * * * *
Once again I was the voyeur, hidden in the shadows as Elisa and the others mingled among the elite and powerful. My stomach churned in anger as I watched the privileged few indulge themselves in hedonistic abandon. But what was worse was watching as my Elisa cavorted among them, one minute chatting idly with a small cluster of expensively clad women, the next dancing sensuously with a strange man. It was more than I could bear, but I forced myself to remain vigilant.
The music, faint through the glass, changed tempo and the occupants responded, moving to the pulsing beat. More dancing. People paired up. A few danced solo. Fox was one of these. Her movements attracted a crowd of appreciative admirers, both male and female. As she danced, she touched her body suggestively and her watchers responded.
A man reached out to her, took her into his arms and kissed her passionately. A woman pulled her away, capturing Fox's full lips with her own. Throughout the room the dancers pressed their bodies even closer as their hands roamed over their partners. Eyes began to close in evident pleasure and though I could not hear clearly through the glass that separated me, I imagined I heard moans of arousal as the level of sexual excitement rose.
Alarmed, I searched for Elisa and found her swaying gently through the crowd as if intoxicated. I clenched my fists tightly as she abandoned herself to these strangers allowing them to kiss and fondle her as she passed among them.
* * * * *
I was getting really tired of these parties. I'd been playing a game, counting all of the illegal acts that my fellow guests have engaged in despite the fact that they know I'm a cop. Just tonight there'd been at least seven narcotics violations and part of a conversation I'd heard earlier would definitely qualify as insider trading. But I'd been accepted as one of them and therefore I was no threat.
As the music changed and the action heated up, I reminded myself there were worse places I could be. Arguing with Sara came to mind. Why couldn't she understand that things would happen in their own sweet time? I pushed the angry thoughts away and reconsidered the people around me. We'd been culled down to a prize crop of socially prominent and politically powerful beautiful people. It seemed to indicate that our guy would move soon. But until he did, I decided as I loosened my tie; I was going to relax and enjoy this job. I smiled appreciatively at a sexy blonde number who was bumping and thrusting to the music. I'd definitely been on worse stakeouts.
Elisa danced up to me. She swayed softly as if she's had just a little too much to drink. She laughed as she wrapped her arms around my neck and pulled me close. Her heel twisted out from under her.
Maybe she had had too much to drink. Something in my brain began to itch with worry. Trini was a party girl, but Elisa wasn't. Part of the reason why she doesn't drink is alcohol goes straight to her head. She'd been careful to discard most of the champagne she'd be served before, but tonight I couldn't remember not seeing her with a glass or a bottle.
Her lips grazed mine and, giggling, she raised a hand to my cheek, steadying my face as she kissed me again.
"Mmmm," she whispered after a long and delicious moment. "I never noticed how kissable you were. And your lips are much easier to reach than Goliath's."
I pulled back in surprise. We've been playacting at being a couple. Even the kiss in the elevator had been for show. But now, Elisa's need was genuine and so was mine. The case has been rough on us, I reasoned. Sara didn't understand, and from the noncommittal remarks Elisa had been making, neither did Goliath. We had to be there for each other. Without thinking, I reached for her and willingly she came to me and laid her head against my chest.
* * * * *
There was no pretense as Elisa pressed her cheek against Bluestone's chest and his arms went around her. I froze and watched in disbelief as their lips met, not once, but repeatedly. A red haze of fury clouded my vision and I rushed forward, barely resisting the urge to roar in anger.
My fist rose as I prepared to smash the heavy glass panel and it was then that I saw them. Mask and respirator clad men moved efficiently throughout the room, picking and choosing from among the partygoers. As swiftly as it had come over me the anger drained away and I retreated back into the shadows to watch.
Fox and the others had been right. But they'd miscalculated their quarry's actions. The situation was out of their control and they were as helpless as those they'd sought to protect.
I reached for the tiny transmitter that hung around my neck and pressed the button to activate it. It responded with a hum of static. Somehow, the kidnappers must have jammed the electronics. I let the device fall absently to my chest as I watched and counted my opponents.
The masked men were heavily armed, though they should have expected little resistance from their victims. They moved willingly, like sheep, smiling and laughing, even rubbing playfully against their captors as they were herded from the room.
I could have burst in, taking out as many of the curs as I could, but part of the group was already gone. There were too many guns, too many potential victims. I could not do this alone.
Reluctantly, I turned away from the glass that separated me from Elisa and headed back to the Eyrie Building for reinforcements.
* * * * *
I bury my face in her hair, inhaling her heady perfume. Together we stumble into the shadows, concealing our hunger from the dwindling number of party guests. Elisa's hand pushes under my suit coat and tugs at the tail of my shirt even as I slide one of my own down the length of her body and under the hem of her mini dress.
Bare flesh greets my palm. She's wearing stockings and a garter belt over the barest wisp of silk panties. Her skin is incredibly soft and warm.
Elisa can't help but notice my growing excitement. Her hands travel from the bare skin of my back and chest to my swollen groin. I groan in anticipation as she rapidly undoes my belt and fly and drops to her knees.
I tense, anticipating her inevitable disappointment as she compares me to Goliath, but Elisa's reaction surprises me. "You're beautiful," she croons as she runs her hand along the length of my erection.
I didn't think it was possible to get harder than I already am, but her coaxing touch is driving me wild. She kisses my thigh, teasing me, before taking my head between her lips and bathing it with her tongue.
She fondles my scrotum, gentle fingers caressing with just the right pressure. My knees buckle just a little as her tongue drifts downward, moistening my erection before taking as much of it as she can into her mouth.
My hands go to her head, and I stroke absently at her hair as she begins to make love to me with her lips and tongue. The steady rhythm is perfect and I know that I won't be able to last long under her loving assault.
I realize I want more. Reluctantly, I push Elisa's skilled mouth away from its work and drop to my own knees. She looks at me with a mixture of curiosity and anticipation.
I kiss her. Taste my own excitement on her lips as I possess her mouth with my own. I run my hands over the fullness of her breasts and she sighs even as I drift downward toward my real target.
My hand is trembling just a little as it finds its mark. The tiny triangle of fabric between her legs is moist with her own excitement. It tears with the barest whisper as I tug at the narrow bands of elastic that hold it together.
"Now, Matt," she whispers as I wrap my arms around her. With exquisite care I lower her the short distance to the floor.
There is no resistance as I bury myself within her. Only a warm, wet, welcoming embrace. I savor it for a moment, then withdraw to the tip of my head. Elisa sighs in pleasure as I begin to thrust and withdraw.
She pulls my mouth to hers and kisses me. Our tongues duel in a hungry imitation of our carnal dance. She seems to anticipate my needs and I hers as our hands fumble over each others bodies - a caress here, a gentle pinch there, that enlivens the nerves and heightens pleasure to the point of agony.
Elisa begins to whimper, her eyes closed in effort as her body strains against mine. She is close, so close. I increase the tempo of my thrusts, feeling my own needs overtaking my conscious will.
"Matt!" she moans in my ear and as her muscular legs wrap around my back, we both find release as I bury myself and my pelvis grinds against hers.
I stay buried within, feeling my wildly beating heart echo against hers, as I cover her face with kisses. She has given me a precious gift, and I close my eyes trying to memorize every fleeting moment, even as I feel darkness overtake me.
* * * * *
Spots danced in my vision as I fought to regain my senses. Instinctively, I realized I was not in the same place I had been just a moment before. Of course, how much time had passed in that period that was to me a "moment" I couldn't immediately tell. The fay spell I had cast on myself earlier in the evening had at least allowed my head to clear quicker, but whatever they had drugged me with had been powerful stuff, and my body was reacting to its wakeup call a lot slower than my mind.
I blinked again, trying to clear my vision and silence the ringing in my ears, even as I was lifted from the bed on which I lay and pulled to my feet. The room was a blur of color and shapes that didn't make sense at first, though the sense of déjà vu they provoked set my insides churning. The rush of old memories came back to me a few seconds later, as I felt several pairs of hands begin to move over my body, undoing zippers and clasps.
Clarity finally returned as I was undressed, sight and sound becoming coherent once again, but for a few moments, I couldn't tell if I was in the present or trapped in the past. As though on a surreal movie set, a half a dozen people, all dressed in black, swarmed about the room, taking direction from an older man who waited near his camera. I had seen him before, many years before, in Paris. He had been younger then, his hair having no gray.
I had been younger too. I had just gotten my tattoo and adopted the name Fox. Daddy's good little girl Janine was gone, and Fox was ready to prove it. Paris had been a welcome change for a young and determined rebel who wished only to devote her nights to wild parties and her days to sleeping them off.
"Let's get a move on, people," the man at the camera intoned, urging his small crew on. I had never heard his voice until that moment, but the tone was strangely what I had expected. Subdued, controlled, no hint of an accent. A slight-looking Asian woman - the only female among his group - approached him to ask something I could not hear, and his eyes turned to me.
I glanced away, partly to maintain the illusion that I was still out of it, and partly from the images from the past the came flickering back the longer I looked at his face. The memories became clearer, until I could no longer pretend they were but a bad dream as I had nearly convinced myself so many times.
It had been easy enough to do it. I had only seen his face for a few brief seconds, if for that long, in a hazing waking moment. I could remember the flash of the camera blinding me before darkness claimed me again, and then waking up once more to find myself alone, lying on bed, completely nude and suffering from the worst hangover headache of my life. The guilt, fear, and embarrassment set in shortly after, as I gathered up my clothes from around the hotel room and found myself having to read a matchbook cover to find out where I was.
The sudden pressure of a hand between my legs jolted me back to reality before the memories could overwhelm me, and for a brief moment I was glad for it. My attention pulled back to the present, I looked down to see the same small woman from a moment ago standing before me now. As she smiled and rubbed me through the thin fabric of my panties, my body responded. My eyes fluttered shut as tingle of pleasure raced through me, and my hips pressed forward, seeking to increase the pressure. I felt the panties pushed aside, and moaned softly as the fingers ran through the small patch of hair and then brushed across the lips of my sex.
"Mm, yes, you're nice and wet for us," the Asian woman purred happily. Still lightheaded from whatever had been used to drug me, and with my own body betraying me, all I could manage in response was another soft moan as her slender fingers parted the nether lips and probed inside me. For several moments, she teased me expertly, caressing my thigh with her one hand as she pleasured me with the other. It wasn't long before I could feel the heat rising within me, my skin going flush as my breathing quickened and I abandoned myself to the moment. I was nearing the edge when, all too abruptly, she stopped.
I opened my eyes, confused, just as she placed her fingers to my mouth. As my own scent filled my nose, my lips parted obligingly, and she slipped the still-damp fingers inside, letting me taste of my own juices. With a satisfied smile, she turned to the man who had since come up beside her as she withdrew her hand. "She's ready now. Get her into costume while I see to the other girl." The words were crisp and businesslike; any hint of seductiveness or enjoyment on her part was gone. And as she moved away, my mind cleared enough again for the realization of what had just happened to set in. I had almost allowed myself to be overcome again. Anger and rage surged inside of me as the sexual hunger had done just moments before.
Hanging on to consciousness with all my will, I struggled to feign compliance while with every fiber of my being I ache to strike out. Strange, rough hands held me now, keeping me standing as the last of my clothes were cast aside. My soft, white satin bra had barely fallen away when a new garment was wrapped about me from behind. My bared breasts were heaved upward and outward by the black leather corselet as it was tightened around me. As the last buckle was fastened, my feet were guided into a matching pair of black leather boots. They came up to my thighs as they were zipped up the back, with the spike heels leaving me at least five inches taller than I had been when barefoot. Black leather gloves slipped easily over my hands and were rolled up into place around my elbows.
As a narrow leather collar was placed about my neck to complete my new "costume," I scanned the room for Cynthia. I caught sight of her as she was being led over to where I was, and I could tell from the far away look in her eyes that she was still totally zoned out. She had been given a change of wardrobe just as I had, although her new attire consisted of a lot less than mine did. She was nude aside from a pair of black patent leather heels, a wide, sturdy-looking leather collar, and matching leather cuffs encircling her ankles and wrists. A short length of shiny chain, connected to rings on the cuffs with small padlocks, joined her ankles, and a longer length of chain, attached similarly to a chromed ring on the front of her collar, acted as a leash.
As she was guided forward, the man escorting her pulled her arms back and secured her hands behind her with a final padlock, attaching the rings of the cuffs on her wrists to each other. When he finished, his hand slipped down between her legs to fondle her one last time. Cynthia gave a moan of pleasure in response. Oblivious to everything else that was happening, she sank to her knees before me just as she was directed, and looked up at me blankly as the end of her "leash" was placed in my right hand. With both of us dressed and in our places, the man behind the camera prepared to begin, and I knew right then that it was time for me to act.
Summoning all my will, I pushed the remaining haziness from my head as the man who held me began to pose me for the first shot, adjusting first the placement of my feet, and then the hand in which I held the length of chain attached to Cynthia's collar. Averting my eyes from my kneeling friend's empty gaze, I tensed and waited for my opening. I found it within seconds as the man, satisfied at last with my pose, finally backed away and the petite woman who had violated me a few minutes earlier approached to add one final prop.
"A mistress needs to be able to keep her slave in line," she commented as she took hold of my left wrist. Suppressing my urge to immediately flip her across the room, I waited until she had placed the handle of the long bullwhip into my hand before letting her have it. With a quick reverse forearm chop, I caught her in the chest, driving the wind from her lungs. My lips curled into a feral smile as she doubled over, giving a rattling gasp for air, and before she could move away, I followed up by putting her into a headlock.
"Bitch," I cursed as I brought my other hand down, knocking her cold before letting her drop to the floor and turning my attention to the remaining five men. My heart was racing now. It had taken but only a few seconds, but already the adrenaline rush I was hoping for had kicked in, clearing my head a hundred times faster than I knew any fay spell ever could.
For a long, tense moment, the other five assistants stood in dumbfounded shock, looking at me in disbelief, but my eyes set immediately upon their boss, still standing behind his camera as if it were a shield. I saw him quiver almost imperceptibly as we made eye contact. A predatory urge of the kind I hadn't felt since my days with the Pack rushed through me as I took a solid grip on the weapon his now-unconscious helper had so graciously provided. It must have flashed in my eyes, as well, because fear suddenly filled his.
"Stop her!" The terror filled his voice, as well, and the confirmation of it fueled the fire within me as his men came out of their momentary trance and advanced against me. Cynthia, in her bondage attire, still knelt on the floor in a daze, and I dropped the chain "leash" I still held as I stepped past her and the woman I had already knocked out, trying to give myself room to maneuver. After that, instinct and training took over.
Lashing out with the whip, I curled the end around the nearest man at the knees, then pulled back hard, sending him tumbling backwards into one of the large racks of lights that had been set up for the shoot. Sparks flew and glass shattered as the heavy frame buckled and fell on top of him, and I smiled in satisfaction and drew the whip back for another blow. As I did, the man who had been fondling Cynthia reached me and attempted to grab hold of my arm. I let him get a good grip, then pulled him in front of me. "Keep your hands to yourself," I hissed, bring a knee up hard into his groin. A feeble squeak escaped his lips in reply, and as I let him drop to the floor, the man who had initially held me rushed forward, extending his arm with a fist aimed for my face. I dodged to the side, avoiding the punch, and caught his arm as it moved past. With one quick twist, a muffled crack, and a scream of pain, he joined his companions on the floor.
Only two were left now. They rushed at me together, and I let them come. Until that moment, I hadn't known it was possible to deliver a spinning kick while wearing five-inch heels, but as two more bodies hit the ground, I didn't waste time congratulating myself for my agility. Adrenaline and anger had already propelled me the remaining distance across the room. The camera clattered to the floor as, with one furious sweep of my hand, I knocked it aside, removing the last obstacle between me and the man behind it.
From inside his jacket, he pulled a small pistol, but my reflexes, sharpened by my rage and growing bloodlust, were quicker than his. Seizing his wrist in an iron grip, I spun him around, throwing him against the wall and twisting his arm up behind him. He cried out in pain, and the small weapon slipped harmlessly from his limp fingers. Even so, I couldn't resist placing my other hand beneath the elbow and increasing the pressure, slamming him even harder against the wall as I growled in my fury. All the painful emotions I had kept locked away for years seethed inside of me as I held him there, pinned against the wall. I was in control now, and the sudden rush of power that the realization brought sent a tremor of exhilaration coursing through me. My bared breasts heaved as sucked in breath, and I gritted my teeth, straining with every ounce of strength I had to increase the force of the hold. It was my turn now to make him feel pain, and his screams of agony only served to heighten the intensity of the overwhelming sensation building inside me.
The soft pop and horrendous scream that came a few seconds later as the shoulder dislocated brought my emotions to a climax. A wave of animalistic satisfaction exploded within me, almost like a sexual release, and, abandoning myself to it, I cried out. It wasn't just a scream, but a gargoyle-like shriek that would have done even Demona proud that escaped my lips as the fire of my rage flared white-hot. Without thought or hesitation, I turned, using the leverage I had on the man to fling him across the room like a rag doll. He sailed backwards a short distance, smashing into the wooden bookshelves that lined the back wall. Dozens upon dozens of videocassettes clattered to the floor as he slumped to the ground, the shelves he had struck collapsing around him.
My eyes burned hot - they may have even been glowing - as, taking the whip I still held in both hands, I twisted the end into a loose loop and began to advance on the fallen man. Only the unexpected sensation of soft hair brushing against my bare thigh stopped me, and I looked down to find Cynthia, still on her knees, leaning her head against me.
"Fox, help me," she muttered softly before her eyes fluttered closed. I stooped down to catch her just as she passed out entirely. Her hands were still bound behind her, and her ankles still chained. She must have crawled on her knees all the way across the room, I realized as I guided her limp form gently to the floor. I brushed her hair from her face with my hand as I let her head down, and it was almost without giving it thought that I then slid my fingers to her neck and checked her pulse and turned my head to listen to her breathing. I was relieved to find both were still strong and regular, but just to be safe, I quickly undid the leather collar that had been buckled tightly around her neck as part of her "costume." Disgustedly, I tossed it aside, along with the chain leash still attached to it.
Cynthia stirred slightly, and seemed to start breathing a bit easier. I wanted to free her from the rest of her bondage, but the cuffs on her wrists and ankles had been locked on, and I didn't know where the keys were at the moment. Looking around in my immediate vicinity, I couldn't even spot anything that would make a suitable blanket, to cover her with and at least return a small portion of her modesty and dignity.
"Why? Why would anyone do this?" I found myself asking aloud. As if in reply, a groan from the other side of the room drew my attention again to the one man who might have the answer. Leaving Cynthia's side, I stood back up and turned again toward him.
"Why?" I asked, quietly at first. "Why Roger?" I continued. "Why Cynthia? Why Justine? Why me?" With each "why," I took another step closer, my anger growing and my voice becoming louder, stronger, until I was standing over him. I towered above him in my black leather attire, ironically looking the part they had dressed me for, my eyes hard and cold as I glared down at him with utter contempt and demanded again, "Why?!?"
Though he was in excruciating pain, unable even muster the strength to move from where he lay, half sitting, against the wall, somehow he managed a tight, cat-who-swallowed-the-canary smile. "Wouldn't you like to know. Stupid whore."
The smile was gone from his face in the same amount of time it took my right foot to make contact with his stomach. I growled a curse under my breath as he gasped for air. One thing could be said for high-heeled boots: the pointed toes made a well-placed kick all the more effective. Not giving him a chance to recover, I gave him a second, harder kick for good measure. "You're going to tell me, damn it!" I demanded again, as he doubled over in pain. Grabbing a handful of his thinning hair, I tilted his head back sharply and made him look at me again. "Now!"
A second or two went by before he gave his response. "Fuck you."
"You son of a bitch," I growled as I hauled him to his feet, bring him face to face with me. "You want me to do this the hard way? Fine!" Pushing him back against the wall, I pinned him there and locked my eyes with his. A tingle of energy, almost like electricity, rushed over me as I prepared to cast one of the spells mother had taught me. A smile of malicious satisfaction spread across my face as I watched his eyes widen and fill with terror as mine burned green with fay power.
The leather bullwhip was still in my right hand. In one quick motion I looped it a full turn around his neck, taking the other end into my left hand as I pushed him against the wall, until I stood at arms length from him. I could feel my hair billowing around me, as if on an unseen wind, and a prickly, static-like charge tingled across my bare skin. My eyes burned hot, and the eldritch glow they gave off cast everything before me in a shade of luminescent green. Magical energy, crackling like electricity, arced though the whip, coursing from one hand back to the other as I captured him now totally in the spell I had cast.
"You will tell me the truth!" I declared. My voice echoed weirdly, scarcely seeming my own. My eyes blazed, flashing to a blinding intensity as I punctuated the command. "Now!"
"Yes," he muttered emotionlessly, "the truth." There were no more smirks or profanities. Even the look of fear had faded from his face. I grinned in wild triumph as the arcane energies coursing over me, exciting my senses as they danced over my skin. The spell had engulfed him totally, and now I was fully and utterly in control.
I tipped one of the video cameras so its eye focused on my prisoner and hit the record button. When the red light blinked to green I began my interrogation. "Who are you?" I wanted a name to put to the face that had haunted me for so many years. I wasn't prepared when he began listing a roll call, starting with the plain sounding "Reginald Blank" and continuing on with one alias after another. I growled. "Stop it, never mind!" I shook my head angrily as he obediently complied. His name wasn't important anyway. I returned to the question that he had been so determined to evade answering earlier. "Why did you do this?"
He hesitated a moment, caught between two answers that to him must have been equally important. "The money… and the thrill," he said at last.
My eyes narrowed. I realized I needed put more direction into my questions if I wished to learn anything. "Why did you come here? Why did you choose us?"
"I was paid too well to refuse the offer."
This was quickly becoming aggravating. "What 'offer'?" I demanded.
"Fifty million dollars up front to move my operation from Europe, and five million apiece for each wealthy pro-gargoyle supporter discredited by the media after the pictures went public."
My eyes felt like they were on fire. Although I had suspected that motive all along, it didn't keep me from being any less enraged when I heard it confirmed in such a calm, casual manner. He had paused, and I consciously kicked up the intensity of the spell to make him continue his train of thought.
"You and your friend and the blonde in the other room were going to make for the most interesting internet feed I've done in several years… if you wouldn't cooperate."
I growled in disgust. "Who was paying you?"
"I never learned his name. In my business, one never worries about such trivial things."
"Your business? Two people are dead thanks to you!"
"An occupational hazard," he answered as if it did not matter.
The currents of magical energy arced over me; I felt like my blood was going to boil. "You bastard," I hissed. I could feel the power building inside me, burning hot just like my rage. "You want to be paid? Fine!" Then there was a brilliant flash, and I screamed…
I blinked spots from my eyes and sat up slowly. I was on the opposite side of the room from where I had been just a moment before. I looked at my hands, splaying my fingers as I held them up before me; a few faint green sparks trickled between them, then faded entirely. Wearily, I ran my hands through my hair, pushing it back out of my face. Then I shivered. I had lost my focus and the spell had gotten away from me. I could already hear Mother's voice repeating the same words I'd heard over and over as girl, a teenager, and even now from time to time as a grown woman: "Janine, you're lucky you didn't kill yourself."
I looked up across the room, and saw that the "Piper"'s luck had run out. At least there was no charred outline on the wall to explain, just his boneless form sprawled upon the floor like a broken toy. I stood up, ignoring the multitude of aches in my joints and back. I would deal with him later… first, I needed to get Cynthia and the others out of here, and make sure nothing was left behind to ruin them or anyone else later on. Running a hand up under my hair, I rubbed the tiny adhesive patch concealed there on the back of my neck, activating the transmitter that would bring Lexington and Owen to help with the clean up.
I checked Cynthia again. She was still passed out, but otherwise fine. After searching the Asian woman's pockets, I was able to find the keys to unlock the padlocks, allowing me to take the bondage attire off before carrying her into one of the adjoining rooms of what apparently was a large hotel suite. Seven others slumbered in a drug-induced dreamland, including Vickie, my never-to-be video playmate. I tucked Cynthia in next to her, pulling the sheet high around her chin before making my way around the room, checking everyone for vital signs.
It was by pure chance that I stood up, turned, and spotted my reflection in the mirror over the dresser. "Oh god," I muttered. Mistress Fox in all her bare-breasted, leather-clad glory stared back at me, and I quickly decided I'd better find my original clothes and change before Lexington and Owen arrived.
* * * * *
There'd been no time for Xanatos to don his exo-suit, so I had carried him from the castle back to the penthouse suite where Elisa and the others lay unconscious. Angela landed next to me as our human companion slid out of my arms and regained his feet. He peered into the window for a moment before testing the sliding glass door.
It was locked. I did not hesitate. Mindful of the humans who slumbered just beyond the doorway, I chose a spot where the glass would be least likely to shatter over those we'd come to rescue. I raised my fist and the barrier fell away in a musical clatter.
I tried to follow, but Xanatos held me back. "Wait a second." He pulled a small mask over his nose and mouth and stepped inside, a black metal box in his hand. He stared at the readout for a moment while the machine did its task, then nodded his head. "All right, you can come in now. It's safe. Use those masks and don't breathe too deep."
Angela and I complied, each securing our masks before stepping inside to move among the humans. I scanned the room, counting the fallen. Of the perhaps twenty-five people I'd seen earlier in the evening, nine were missing. Thankfully, Elisa was not among them.
"Father!" Angela cried suddenly as she bent over the body of a man. "This one's not breathing!"
Xanatos spoke from his place near the suite's environmental controls. He'd turned up the air conditioning system and fresh, cold air was pumping into the room, clearing the remains of the agent responsible for the recumbent bodies. "Get him outside. Do mouth to mouth if you have to."
Angela hastened to comply and fearing the worst, I finally allowed myself to tend to Elisa and Bluestone.
They were slumped together near a large potted palm tree. The proximity to the night air was having a restorative effect and Elisa was already beginning to stir. I knelt at her side and cradled her head in my hands.
"Whaaat?" Her hands went to her temples.
"Shhh," I replied. "Slowly, Elisa."
She nodded and took a deep breath before attempting to rise again. All around us people were stirring and the moans that filled the air this time were not of pleasure, but of pain.
"Never have so many people had so brutal a hangover," Xanatos commented dryly. He pulled out his cell phone, dialed a number and a moment later was issuing a series of instructions even as he knelt, checked a pulse and moved on. He snapped the phone shut with a nod, before crossing the room to check on Angela. He frowned as he viewed her patient. "Senator Kelly. I was under the impression you had better judgement."
"He's breathing on his own," Angela reported. "But his color isn't very good."
"He'll get the best of care," Xanatos said with a dismissive wave. His phone beeped. "Yes? Owen, it's about time. Do you have Fox? Do you need any assistance? You're sure?" The billionaire's face was an interesting study as anxiety, relief and frustration and a host of other emotions played across his normally inscrutable features as he listened to his aide de camp's report. "She won't? Very well, I'll see you all back at the castle."
He turned his attention back to me and mine, knelt next to Bluestone and checked his pulse. The detective began to thrash his head from side to side as he swam back towards consciousness.
He opened his eyes, saw me and muttered, "I'm sorry," as he struggled to sit upright.
"My men will be here momentarily," Xanatos prompted. "Can you get them back to the castle?"
I nodded, even as I lifted Elisa into my arms. At my side, Angela scooped up Bluestone and together we departed, leaving Xanatos and his minions to take care of the others.
* * * * *
Owen and Lexington arrived with gratifying haste and they set to work- first escorting Cynthia and the others, then carrying out the hastily packed boxes of video tapes and photographs - with their negatives- to the waiting van.
Lexington returned alone several minutes later, a small black bag clutched in his talons. I handed him the tape from Blank's confession. "You'll need this." He nodded, then set to work quietly and without comment at a mixing console, his wide, lamp-like eyes defocused in extreme concentration. I watched as he jacked an optical coupler into the device and his consciousness seemed to meld with the machinery. He popped a second connector free from behind his left ear and inserted it into a palmtop-like device still in development at Cyberbiotics. Imagery began to flicker over the display monitor.
I watched for a second or two as he manipulated data files, checked for redundant storage locations and destroyed records. I was confident that everything would be taken care of as I completed my own, final tasks. We had little time and much to do to set the stage in anticipation of the police.
I returned to the room that I'd christened the "studio". Blank's people were in various states of consciousness. My magic exhausted, I resorted to an old-fashioned boot in the head to quiet them before shackling them to the walls with handy sets of manacles.
When I reached the bitch who'd violated me, I paused. "You deserve something extra for your troubles." I smiled when I saw the old fashion stocks sitting in the corner next to a umbrella stand full of riding crops and long handled paddles. "Mm," I said thoughtfully, "that should work nicely."
Quickly, I stripped her down, casting her clothing in a rough heap before bending her body to the device. Her head lolled as I clamped the restraining arm over her neck and hands. A riding crop beckoned and I couldn't resist its siren call. I flexed the whip once, then snapped it across her buttocks, leaving an angry red wheal and a thin trickle of blood. She screamed in a most satisfying manner and I gave her one more for Cynthia and the others before turning my attention to Blank.
I hoisted his lifeless body onto the bed that sat at center stage. A creeping sensation overtook me as I stripped him as bare as the bitch in the stocks and shackled his feet to the wrought iron bed posts.
The whip was still wrapped tightly around his neck and it gave me an idea. I tossed the butt end over the high headboard and studied it for a critical moment. "Not quite high enough," I decided. Then I spied the boom light that served to illuminate the bed. "Perfect," I murmured as I reset the whip to hang over the arm of the lamp.
I placed the handle in one of Blank's rapidly cooling hands and moved the other to his lap, "The police will have a field day when they find you, Reg." There was only a hint of mirth in my voice as I went to check on Lexington and the confession he'd been remixing from Blank's final moments in my tender care.
I checked the room to make sure I'd left no obvious signs of my presence, and once the video confession was in place, closed the door without a backwards glance. Only when I'd reached the van below did I strip off the leather gloves and allow myself to breathe.
* * * * *
I went out in search of my partner, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that something was terribly wrong. I found him, out in the courtyard, staring at the city. "Matt?" I asked quietly as I approached. "What's the matter?"
"Nothing," he said quietly, avoiding my hand as I tried to place it on his arm. "Everything. I'm sorry, Elisa. I had no idea things were going to turn out the way they did."
I was tired and my head throbbed in time with my heartbeat. It wasn't helping as I tried to make sense of my partner's bitter words. "I don't understand," I said at last. "We did the job that we set out to do and the bad guys got what they deserved."
He turned on me suddenly angry. "Is that all this was to you, Elisa? A case? What happened between us was just all in the line of duty? You can live with that… pretend that nothing ever happened?"
I thought I was confused before, but now I was really lost. I felt like I'd walked into the middle of a foreign movie and I couldn't read the subtitles. "Matt," I said in the same tone of voice one usually used with a potential shooter, "just back up a second, all right? It's been a tough night." He grudgingly nodded and I continued in the same, soothing voice. "I know we did something that partners should never do, but it was in the line of duty. We were just doing a job."
Matt stared at me in disbelief. "A job." He grabbed my hand and held it to his cheek for a moment before pushing it away again. "It felt like a lot more."
I didn't know what to say. The hurt in my partner's eyes was enough to tear out a piece of my heart. I was trying to figure out what to do next when Goliath stepped out of the castle. A moment later he was at my side and I leaned against him, drawing from his endless reserve of strength even as he dropped a blanket over my shoulders.
"Are you recovering from the effects of the gas?" he inquired. His voice was strained. Perhaps his reserves weren't endless after all. I realized how rough I'd been on him over the course of the investigation and a wave of guilt washed over me. I had a lot of making up to do.
"Gas?" Matt replied confused. "What are you talking about, Goliath?"
"The blackmailers filtered a rohypnol-derived gas into the room," he rumbled.
I continued the explanation. "At first it just loosened everybody up and reduced their inhibitions. But before the bad guys left, they turned up the concentration and it knocked everyone left in the room out cold."
Matt stared in disbelief. "We passed out?"
A vague memory overtook me and I felt the pressure of Matt's lips against mine. I looked up at Goliath, saw the concern in his eyes and gave his hand a brief squeeze. My mate would turn to stone come dawn, but Matt had hours in which to do something stupid. He had to be my first priority. "Would you mind if Matt and I had a couple of minutes alone?"
He hesitated, and under the circumstances, I wasn't sure I blamed him, but he squeezed my hand in return and nodded before turning away. "I will wait for you in our chamber."
Matt grimaced at Goliath's words and turned away. Lacking any better ideas, I tried a direct approach. "Bluestone, would you please talk to me?"
"What is there to say, Elisa?" he replied in a biting tone. "I'll talk to Chavez. I'll switch to days, maybe ask for a cross town transfer." He looked toward the castle entrance and heaved a gusty sigh. "I guess I should feel lucky that Goliath is taking this so well. By all rights he should have killed me by now."
"Over a kiss?" I asked perplexed.
He stared at me, and the anguish in his eyes turned his face into a mask of pain. He grabbed me by the forearms and squeezed hard enough to hurt. "I'm trying to take responsibility for what happened between us, Elisa! Can't you at least be honest enough to acknowledge we made love?" He turned away, unable or unwilling to face me any longer.
My jaw must have dropped. But the angry hurt in Matt's voice told me he was deadly serious.
"Made love," I said at last. "You and me?"
He nodded. His back was still to me.
Understanding was starting to creep in under the fatigue. I touched his shoulder. His muscles were coiled with tension and he jerked. "Elisa," he said through clenched teeth.
"Come here, partner," I said as I took him by the hand and led him to a low stone bench. "We need to talk."
He sat beside me under the stars and waited for me to speak. I could have just pointed out the obvious, that I had awakened fully clothed and so had he, but if we were to remain partners, let alone friends, I had to know if there was more to this then just a drug induced fantasy. "Matt," I said at last. "Be honest. Do you love me? Do you want me for yourself?"
I'm not sure he expected the frankness of the question and he looked away, avoiding my eyes. "I didn't think so, Elisa. You're my partner. I love you like a sister, but I tried to quit thinking of you as a woman a long time ago."
The last was a brutal statement, but I knew what he meant, I'd done the same thing with him. It made it much easier to spend those long shifts together out on patrol. "So, you don't love me in a romantic way," I restated. Then added for good measure, "And I don't love you- except for as a partner and a friend." Matt's face was a blank slate, so I continued. "But we made love." He nodded. I pressed forward. I needed to know the source of his guilt. "Was it… consensual?"
He nodded again. I tried not to show my relief. In a defensive whine he added, "You started it."
Tiny puzzle pieces fell into place as another flash of tactile memory overtook me. "I danced up to you, didn't I? I put my arms around you. I'd meant to tell you that I felt funny, that something seemed wrong. But I kissed you instead."
"It didn't stop there," he replied. "Sara didn't want me anymore and it seemed like the most natural thing in the world when you came into my arms. Especially since I knew that you and Goliath hadn't exactly been getting along. I wanted to comfort you."
"Because we're partners," I said. "And friends. And we promised that we'd always be there for each other no matter what. Isn't that right?"
"Yeah," he replied as he ran his hand over tired eyes. "But I never thought-"
"Do you suppose any of this would have happened if the room hadn't been pumped full of rohypnol?"
Matt shook his head sharply. "Of course not! We would have talked, but-"
"That's as far as it would have gone. I know, Matt," I finished. "Now think a minute. Be a cop, a detective. When you came to, what was the state of your clothing?"
He gave me an odd look. "What are you getting at, Elisa?"
I persisted. "Think! After our-" I hesitated over the word, "- encounter, did you get back into your clothes?"
Matt struggled to think. He buried his head in his hands and kneaded at his temples for several moments before replying. "No, I didn't. We hadn't gotten totally undressed to begin with, but I …I remember falling asleep with my pants around my ankles." Despite the faint moonlight, I was sure his cheeks were flaming with embarrassment.
I was now as curious as a spectator at a train wreck about what my partner had fantasized, but I let it go as I confessed, "Matt, I woke up before you did. I saw the state of your clothing as you lay beside me on the floor of that penthouse suite. You'd loosened your tie. And that was all. My clothes, such as they are, were intact and so were yours."
He turned away and for a minute I was about ninety percent sure he was considering heaving himself over the balustrade. I grabbed his arm to keep him from bolting. "You mean it didn't happen?" he said quietly. "That we didn't-" he gestured with his hands. "You didn't-"
I shook my head. "It happened in your head, Matt. It was all the effect of the drug."
There was more silence, more contemplation of the skyline. I wondered what he was thinking.
I wondered if we would still be partners after tonight.
I shouldn't have worried. He turned back to me, the pain and anxiety replaced by a smirk. "I guess it's just as well," he began. "Lovers are easy to find, but I'd hate to have to break in a new partner. I can't think of anyone in the precinct who has a better ride."
I couldn't help myself. I smacked him across the bicep. "You jerk!" I replied with a laugh. "You want me as your partner because of my car?"
He considered briefly. "That and you're so good at wheedling confessions out of suspects. It saves so much legwork."
I rolled my eyes at him and we both laughed. It felt good. We'd survive this.
"Are you going to be okay?" I asked after he'd gone quiet.
Matt nodded. "I think so. Yeah, sure I will. If you'll forgive me."
"For violating our partnership, even if it was a dream."
"You're forgiven." I considered hugging him. Decided under the circumstances that maybe it wouldn't be welcome and patted him on the arm instead. "Will you do something for me?"
"Anything," he said quickly.
"Go set things straight with Sara. Even if you decide to call it off entirely, it'd be better than watching you sulk, night after night between fights."
"Yeah," Matt nodded his head again. "You're probably right about that."
"It could be," I suggested after a minute or so of silence, "Sara's not rushing, you've been dragging your heels. You wouldn't be trying to protect her from something, would you?"
"The Illuminati?" he ventured.
I cocked my head in mock thought. "Since she's already seen your apartment, it could be."
He sighed. "You know what the divorce statistics are for married cops, don't you?"
"I've seen them," I replied. "But think of all the couples that beat the odds."
"I wish we'd had this conversation a long time ago," Matt grumbled as he rose to his feet. "I could have spared us all a lot of grief."
I shrugged as I walked with him back inside the castle. "Maybe you needed the time to think things through," I replied as we negotiated the narrow stairs. "What's important now is that you act on your feelings."
"I will," he said. "And I'll let you know what she says as soon as I ask her." We were halfway to the great hall before he asked, "What about you and Goliath? Will you-"
Goliath, waiting in the guestroom that Fox and David had so generously set aside for our private use. We had a lot of making up to do, mostly on my end. "We'll be fine," I replied firmly. "Don't worry."
Owen appeared silently though no one had summoned him. He inclined his head toward the waiting elevator and together, he and Matt stepped inside. The doors closed and I was alone.
With heavy steps and a heavier heart, I clutched the blanket around myself and went to find my mate.
* * * * *
Fox - Epilogue
And so it ended. We drove in silence back to the castle, turned our guests over to David's medical staff to supervise their recovery, and left an anonymous tip for the police to check out Blank's lair.
Elisa and Matt had been among those rejected. When we were reunited, they were still recovering from the effects of the drugs to which we had all been exposed.
Bluestone seemed particularly affected and a few minutes after we'd begun our debriefing, he rose, excused himself rapidly, and fled.
Elisa watched him leave, her eyes wide with concern despite her evident pain. She sat, propped against Goliath and listened as David detailed their rescue and I gave a Reader's Digest Condensed version of what had happened at the studio. It was then the shaking had started.
I hurriedly thanked Lexington, Angela and Owen for their help before rising and attempting to escape the barrage of imagery that had started flashing before my eyes. I'd never killed a man before. I remembered, belatedly, an instructor at the paramilitary academy where the Pack had once trained saying the first one was always the hardest.
At the time, Wolf and Dingo had exchanged knowing glances. Hyena had cackled gleefully as if she couldn't wait to find out, and Jackal had only raised an eyebrow in contemplation.
As the warmth of my body slipped away I shed my clothing, pushing past my husband who'd followed on my heels. I plunged myself under near scalding water and thought of Cynthia and of a young Janine, violated all those years ago.
There was a rustling of clothing on the other side of shower door. I ignored it as the events of the last several days played before my eyes like a kaleidoscope, one fractured image merging with the next. Glimpses of Blank's lifeless body were prominent among them and tears of relief trickled down my cheeks.
Arms wrapped themselves around me and David pulled me against his naked chest. "Oh Fox," he crooned. "I should have never let things go this far."
"It had to, David!" I protested. "He had to pay! He did this to me. Just like he tried to do to Cynthia. Just like he did do to dozens of others. After all those years, I still felt dirty and trapped."
"And now?" he whispered, rocking me gently.
I turned to him, laid my head against his collarbone and rested a hand against the coarse hair of his chest. "I'm free." Tears came, great wracking, cleansing sobs. I think some of them were David's.
* * * * *