Written by Beth

When I first see him--eye blackened, lip split, arm in a cast--I'm so filled with rage that for a second I can't breathe. Then I hear myself exclaim "My *God,*" and I'm crossing the floor of the emergency room in huge strides until I'm by his side, until I've drawn him into my arms.

"Oh no, oh no," I say, as if the negation will erase what's happened.

Chris gently extricates himself from me, uses his good hand to squeeze mine.

"Thanks for coming," he says in a low voice. "I'm sorry--I didn't know if it was okay to call you at work--but I needed to see--"

He breaks off as Frank approaches.

"You remember my partner Frank, right Chris?"

Chris nods politely at Frank, who nods back.

"Are you all right?" Frank asks.

"Yeah," Chris says, sounding slightly amazed at the fact. "They're not even going to keep me."

"The arm broken?"

Frank's being kind, and I'm deeply relieved. He was not so easy about this a little earlier. We're on the clock, and in Frank's mind, since Chris isn't seriously hurt, we shouldn't be taking time off to go see him. He said all of that, and a few other things, in the car on the way over. But even as he complained and lectured, I noticed that he was driving almost dangerously fast, trying to get us to the hospital as quickly as possible.

"Yes it is," Chris says ruefully. "But I hear it's a good break, so it should heal all right."

He's broken his right arm, I notice, and groan a little in sympathy.

"There are no good breaks," I say, wanting to tousle his hair a little but not able to do so in front of Frank. "Tell me what happened," I go on, moving a little closer to him.

Chris sighs heavily. "I've done this so many times today. Okay. I left the restaurant to come home to pick up some menu plans I'd left in my study. I went into the house and upstairs to get the papers, and when I got to the top of the stairs, there was . . . this guy was just standing there. I, uh, I must have started to say 'Who are you?' but before I got it out, he smacked me in the head with something--pushed me down the stairs. I hit my head . . . I don't know. When I woke up, he was gone and my arm was killing me. I got up, called the cops, and that's it." He shrugs.

"They would have been on their way anyhow," I said. "The security system would have registered the break- in."

Chris looks down at the floor, over at the bed next to him, directly at Frank's tie--anywhere but at me.

"Oh, Chris!" I say incredulously, then walk away for a second, because I'm suddenly infuriated with *him,* and I know that it's wrong to feel that way. I try to remember that Chris is very upset--I try to remember that what he needs right now is comfort. It's not working.

"Tell me you got the security system fixed. Tell me you did that," I say from my vantage point a few feet away. My voice is rising and I know that my tone is harsh, but I can't stop myself.

"I was going to call today--" Chris begins.

"A hell of a lot of good that does you *now!*" I've graduated to full-out yelling, and the other people in the emergency room are giving me worried looks.

"Okay, okay, okay," Frank says, clamping a hand down hard on my shoulder. "What--you're gonna blame *Chris* for this?! It's not his fault that he got robbed."

Frank Pembleton defending my lover? This is definitely one for the record books.

"We'll be right back," he says politely to Chris, then draws me aside.

"Stop it right now, Tim," Frank says. "You're making a big mistake. It's not *Chris* you're angry at--do you *hear* me??"

"Just--go get something to drink, Frank, okay?" I say fiercely, wrenching away from his touch. "I'll come get you in a minute."

Frank gives me a piercing look, warning me with his eyes that I'd better shape the hell up, then throws his hands in the air as if to symbolize that he's done with me and my problems.

Frank's right, of course. I'm acting like a complete jerk. After he disappears, I return to Chris's side, shame-stricken.

"Chris . . ."

He won't look at me.

"Chris," I say more urgently, pleading. "I'm sorry. Really--I am. I just--it--coming here and seeing you like this . . . and I'm not thinking straight, okay? Please."

Chris sighs, then meets my eyes, and I'm stunned again by how bruised his face is.

"It's all right," he says. "It *was* a stupid thing for me not to get the alarm fixed."

"No, Frank's right. It's not your fault that some asshole came into your house and beat you up. I--my god. My god. I'm going to--I'm really going to *kill* . . . "

"So the detectives came," Chris interrupts. "From robbery. Uh--Compson and Laney? I have their card somewhere. . . "

"I know them," I say, trying to keep my expression neutral. Not two of the robbery unit's more illustrious cops--Compson just filling in the years until retirement and Laney such an incredibly unpleasant person that no one can bear to work with her. Christ. Chris deserves better.

"And uh . . . you *do* have home owner's insurance, yes?" I ask, trying to sound gentle and nonjudgmental.

"Oh yeah," Chris says a little bitter. "I've got plenty of that, Tim, but what this guy took--it can't be replaced."

"What'd he get?" I ask.

Chris is silent for a moment, and I feel my gut start to twist. If he can't speak about it, it means that he's really upset, and if *that's* the case, I can only imagine . . .

"My, uh . . . the book."

For a moment I'm not sure I've heard correctly.

"The book . . ." I repeat, afraid to say more because I'm really hoping he's not telling me what I think he is.

"From the kitchen. My recipes," Chris says,

"Oh . . . oh no," I murmur, then hug him again. "I'm so sorry," I whisper. He holds me tight for quite a while.

Chris writes down *everything* having to do with his cooking in that book, which must be a good twenty years old. Pages and pages of recipes--I've looked through it--and he doesn't have multiple copies of many of them, either. I know--I've teased him about how fucked he'd be if I stole it from him myself, offered once to help him use a database to store them. We were going to do it one day . . .

"So see? Whoever did this was someone who *knows* me," Chris says, a minute later. "He knew what would hurt me the most and he took that."

"You saw him--did you recognize him?"

Chris touches fingertips to his mouth, winces a little. "Uh, no. But that guy could have been hired by someone."

"Did he take anything else?" I ask.

Chris makes a noise of amazement. "TV, VCR, stereo, computer--you name it. I--I've gotta go back there soon and make a list, call the insurance company." He shakes his head in disbelief.

"You know, Chris, most of that stuff--it's pretty typical of a home robbery. And there are plenty of people who would have seen--who would have taken that book," I carefully say. "I mean, it's leather-bound-- it looks expensive, right?"

Chris looks doubtfully at me. I'm about to go on, but we're interrupted by a nurse with some papers for Chris to sign, which he does clumsily with his left hand. She hands him a prescription for painkillers, tells him to make an appointment with his regular physician, then sets him free.

I see Frank through the glass of the door to the emergency room. "Why don't you come with Frank and me?" I say to Chris. "I'll drive you home from the station, okay?"

"Uh, yeah. That's fine," Chris says distractedly. Now that he's free to go, he sounds rattled, not quite sure of himself. It worries me, even though I know that it's common for victims of crime to be in shock. I squeeze his shoulder a little, smile at him, hoping to break him out of it. He grins a little, then goes blank again.


When we get to Chris's house, there's a uniform at the door, watching over the place.

"Thanks--you can go now," I tell him, glad that we don't know each other, and he nods at me before heading out. I move forward, hold open the door, and wait for Chris. He stands motionless on the threshold, grey eyes sweeping over the interior of the house, and then he swears, shakes his head, walks in.

I expected the house to look like a cyclone hit, but this was a neat job. Except for the gaping holes where certain familiar objects used to be, the living room hasn't really been damaged. It's the *feel* of the place that's been disturbed, I decide. Chris walks forlornly around the edge of the room.

I wipe some fingerprinting powder off of the stereo cabinet, pick up a coffee cup left by a crime scene tech.

"You wanna start a list?" I ask. "For the insurance?"

"I guess I'd better," he answers. "Let me go get some paper."

Chris heads into the kitchen. He's in there for only a second or two before I hear him yell "*Fuck*!" I hurry in after him.

"What is it?"

He's breathing hard, his left fist clenched a little. "I just realized something. My knives. My *knives* are gone."

"It's okay, Chris" I say, trying to calm him. "We'll tell the police, they'll put it on the report, and your insurance will cover them. No harm done."

"They're not *replaceable,* Tim. You can't just go out and buy new ones. These were--I had them for fifteen *years.*"

"I'm sorry," I say softly.

"I told you once, you didn't believe me. So let me say it again: Whoever *did* this, Tim, knows about me; knows who I am and what I do for a living." Each time Chris says a form of the word "know," he points at me for emphasis. "He *knew* the caliber of those knives, *knew* how expensive they are, and he *knew* that taking them would devastate me."

"Either that or he wanted to sell them as weapons," I say.

Chris shakes his head disgustedly. "Bullshit." He punctuates that last comment by slamming his left hand hard on the counter.

I wince. "Watch the hand, Chris, please. You wanna put both of them out of commission?" I laugh a little nervously.

He glares at me.

"Chris, I know--I *know* that it feels personal to you. It's *your* house that's been broken into, and *your* things that have been stolen. But believe me, the guys who do this sort of thing? It's just another job to them. They want VCRs, TVs, weapons, the kinds of things that everyone wants and that they can sell easily. Now I'm not saying it couldn't go the other way, but the feeling I'm getting here is that this job fits that profile."

Chris ignores my speech. He heads to the phone table, clumsily pulls out a notebook and a pen, then says, "I'm going upstairs. You--you take care of the living room, all right?"

As he stalks out of the kitchen, I rub my eyes, my neck. What an awful day this has turned out to be. And yet again, at a time when I should be helping him, I'm instead annoying the hell out of Chris. I should have shut up with the police-style explanation, let the robbery detectives handle that, but it came out of my mouth before I had time to think about it. I'm going to have to watch myself these next few days.

I spend quite some time downstairs. I walk carefully around, try to remember all of the things that Chris had in the living room, marking down anything that seems to be gone. I write "VCR, television, stereo," then get stuck, so I sit down on the couch to think.

This couch is actually the very first place that Chris and I kissed, and I grin a little bit in spite of myself. It seems so damned long ago now.

Suddenly I hear a thud upstairs, glass breaking, and immediately think, *The fucking thief stayed in the house--he's up there hurting Chris.* I bound up the stairs, burst into the bedroom, adrenaline charging through me.

When I see that he's alone, I stop short.

"You know, I've got a lot better aim with my left arm than I thought," Chris says, staring across the room at the mirror he just shattered.

My first impulse is to yell at him. I even go so far as to take in a long, deep breath to fuel myself, but then I look more carefully at him and catch myself. His eyes are red, his face is tear-streaked, and he's shaking a little bit.

I want to pull him to me, to hug him hard, but I'm not sure that he'd let me, so I try another tack.

"What did you throw, babe?" I ask gently, looking around on the floor. Then I see the small statue lying on the ground in pieces.

I walk over to collect the pieces. "Your mother gave this to you, right?" I tease, knowing full well that he bought it with his own money, that it was the first nice thing he bought for himself once the Zodiac finally started to turn a profit. It kills me that he'd destroy this of all things.

Chris sits on the bed and watches me collect the bits of statue. I put them on the dresser, then slowly look at him.

"I'm so sorry," I say again. It sounds just as useless as it has the million other times I've said it today, and so I sit next to him on the bed, wrap arms around him, pull him close.

Chris struggles a little, tries to push me away, but I don't let go. Something inside tells me that he needs to be held right now, even if he doesn't know it.

"Relax. *Now,*" I say sternly, and it works. After a few seconds, Chris gives in, lets himself melt into me. And I stroke his back, his neck, his hair, rock back and forth a little--anything I can think of that will give him comfort.

"I fucking hate this," he whispers into my sweater, his voice miserable.

"Shhh," I say, and hold him tighter.


"Hi, Margaret," I say.

Laney ignores me. She's sitting at her desk at 8:30 a.m. doing nothing but reading the *Sun,* and she ignores me. I sit in the chair next to her, fix eyes on her face. Her eyes are tilted just enough to make her look like a cat. A mean one.

"Hello Tim," she says distantly. "Slumming today?"

This is not how I wanted this to go, but it's exactly how I knew it would. God, I can't stand her, but there's at least a small chance that she'll actually do some work on this case. I can't expect even that much from Compson.

"I need some information on a case you're working," I say. "It's, uh--it's personal."

She slowly puts the paper down and leans back in her chair, arms folded over her chest.

"What case?"

I hated robbery. I hated the pettiness of the crimes, the drudgery of the work, the apathy that emanates from the detectives. Margaret Laney was actually probably one of the better people working there, but she hated Frank and me from the start. And we didn't even--we didn't do a damned thing to her, but she wouldn't talk to us; she wouldn't pass on messages; she wouldn't share information; she did not one single thing to help us out. And I'm positive that she's the one who reported us to the lieutenant on the one goddamned day we left the place early. When we got notice that we were rotated back to homicide, I swore that I'd never come back up to this unit again. It really, really stinks that I couldn't keep that resolution.

"Rawls," I say. "Home burglary--Mount Vernon area. The robber beat him up a little."

She nods in recognition but doesn't say anything.

"Look--he's a good friend of mine," I say. I've decided to keep the nature of my relationship with Chris on a need-to-know basis. "Can you tell me what kind of leads you've got, what you got from the crime scene?"

"I don't think that's appropriate," she says cooly. "You're not a relative, are you?"

"No, but--"

"Then I don't see why you need to hear anything about it. I mean, you respect me, right? You respect my ability as a cop, and I *know* you respect the robbery unit, so why worry? You were here for a while--you know how we work our cases."

"Margaret," I say, my voice going low and breathy as my composure starts to crack. "I am *asking* you as a fellow officer to help me out here. Do you think--do you think that for *just a second* you might be able to get over whatever personal feelings you have toward me and show some kindness?"

She glares at me--I glare right back for a second, and then look at her desk. Maybe she's got the file right there--maybe I can grab it and . . .

A rainbow flag. She's got a small rainbow flag sticker on her desk blotter. I can't recall seeing it before, but at the time I was in robbery, I wouldn't have recognized it even if I had. Thank God I do now, because this could be an incredible stroke of luck.

Margaret's still glaring and I suddenly realize that my last speech was really rude.

"Uh . . . look. Margaret--look. I need your help, I really do. And I need to talk to you about this somewhere more . . . somewhere private. Do you think-- would you walk over to the Daily Grind with me? Just for a moment?"

She rolls her eyes, but she's also standing up, grabbing her coat. We walk in silence down the stairs, out of the building, across the street, into the coffee shop. It's awful, completely awkward, but I can't think of a thing in the world to say.

The Daily Grind is empty for once, I notice as we sit face-to-face at a small table in the corner. I'm greatly relieved.

"Okay," Margaret says, after stirring about five packets of sugar into her coffee. "What?"

God. She's not even going to *try--* I breathe in deep, run a hand through my hair.

"I need you to keep this to yourself," I say.

She nods curtly at me.

"Okay. I'm very interested in seeing this case closed because Chris Rawls is . . . he's my lover. And so I'm really hoping that I can help you to find the guy who did this--or at least find out how *you're* going to catch him."

There's a long and horrible pause. Margaret laughs a little to herself, looks down, stares at her coffee. I swear to god she's enjoying my discomfort.

"How's he doing today?" she finally asks.

I sit back, able to breathe again. "Not good. He--he won't *say* it, but I know he's upset. He woke up a bunch of times last night--he's walking around in a daze."

Then I realize that she's probably just asking about his injury. "His arm's been broken," I finish a little weakly.

She nods. "Being robbed--it's a pretty traumatic thing."

"Yeah," I say, remembering the look on Chris's face each time he woke up last night.

"I mean, it's not something to take lightly. Someone robbed--they feel a little bit like they've been raped. Their place invaded, their personal possessions pawed over. It's not a trivial occurrence, is it?"

Margaret looks hard at me before continuing.

"I mean, working robbery--it's not *God's* work, it's not a matter of life and death, but it is important. The people who go through it? Their suffering is important. It means something."

"So you're still mad about when I was in robbery," I say.

Margaret shrugs. I go on, the words spilling out fast and furious.

"Look, Margaret--let me explain. Once you're worked homicide, it's--it changes you. It's very hard--*very hard* to go back to anything else after you spend several years standing over dead bodies, you know? Whether it's right or not, everything else starts to seem trivial. And so. And the rotation thing? That was not voluntary. I did not *ask* to be placed in robbery. I had no desire whatsoever to leave my unit. And Frank and I ended up in robbery with virtually no notice beforehand, I felt a little hostile. And so maybe I was a little . . . condescending."

She smirks. "A little," she says lightly. "You and Frank . . ." She shakes her head, then laughs. "Let's just say that the two of you greatly deepened my understanding of the concept of arrogance." Then she reaches behind her, pulls something out of her coat. Her notebook.

I'm about to apologize again, but she interrupts me.

"But know what? You're right. It was a long time ago," she says, flipping the notebook open and staring at her notes.

"Thank you," I say.

She blinks twice, then begins. "Okay. We figure this one to be a professional job gone bad. There were no fingerprints, the entry was neat, almost all the stuff taken was easily fenceable. And no evidence of panic or frenzy when the guy sees Chris--he just knocks him out, then calmly finishes his job. The thing is . . . it was pretty generic. Nothing specific about the crime--it doesn't identify itself as the work of anyone in particular."

I feel almost dizzy with disappointment. Such bad luck. A job like that--there's virtually no way to trace it.

"Is there any reason to think that the robber knew Chris--that this was a personal thing?" I ask.

"Not that I can see," Margaret says, nose wrinkling as she thinks. "And I know where you're going with this. The book, right?"

"Yeah. Chris--his whole career, practically, is in that book."

She sighs, then looks straight at me. "Tim . . . you do *know* we're not going to find it. It--it's probably rotting in a Dumpster even as we speak."

"But we don't know for sure. Maybe the guy kept it. For whatever reason. Not likely, but--" I break off. "I just--I can't tell Chris that it's gone. I can't do that."

Margaret nods--she almost looks compassionate. "Look. One thing is in our favor. Since the guy wasn't planning on Chris being there, he didn't have a mask on. And Chris got a pretty good look at him. He's coming in this afternoon to look at some mug shots-- maybe something will come up."

"Right." I finish off my coffee, feeling depressed as hell. "Thanks, Margaret. I really appreciate your going over this with me."

"No problem," she curtly says, suddenly seeming distant all over again.

"Uh . . . if anything does break, will you--could you please let me know?"

"Sure," she says, struggling to get into her coat. "And for what it's worth, Tim, I *will* work the case. I'm actually pretty thorough, you know." This last a little defensively.

"I do know that," I say, and feel guilty about that summer all over again.


11:00 p.m. I use the key Chris gave me and let myself into the Zodiac. The dining room is dark. Someone's vacuuming--the chairs are turned upside down on the tables. I head to the offices in back.

His door is shut, so I knock.

"Yeah," Chris says. His voice sounds tired, flat.

"Hey," I say as I step in.

Chris is slouched in his chair. He looks up and nods at me but doesn't speak. The art of misery, Rawls style.

"Noreen leave?" he asks.

I nod.

"I yelled at her again today--and for something that wasn't even her fault," he says, sounding perplexed.

"You're going through a lot," I offer.

He waves a hand, sweeps my comment out of the air.

I'm not going to let him do that. "You're upset about being robbed, Chris," I say loudly and slowly.

He narrows eyes at me but doesn't respond.

"And you're gonna have to *face* that fact if you want- -"

"So I went downtown to look at mug shots," he interrupts.

I sigh, shake my head a little, but let him change the subject. "And?"

"And nothing," he says. "Absolutely nothing. No one even remotely resembling the guy."

"I'm sorry. That's rough," I say.

"Rough," he repeats gruffly, obviously liking the sound of the word. "Rough." He gets up then. "Let's get out of here," he says abruptly.

"You know, I don't think they're going to be able to find any of my stuff," he offers as I drive us to my place.

"That may well be the case," I say.

He stares out the window for the rest of the ride.


Chris decides to go straight to bed once we're back at my place. I'm not particularly tired, but I want to talk to him, so I join him.

When I pull him into my arms, he stiffens. He hasn't taken the pain pills and he must be sore. I rub his stomach a little bit, very gentle and nonthreatening, trying to get him to calm down.

"Chris, listen to me," I softly say a little bit later. "I think you need to talk about this whole thing. Do you think we could do that?"

He doesn't answer.

"You--you're incredibly tense. I can see it in your eyes, feel it in your body, and it's--you're going to explode."

He puts his left hand on top of mine and we stroke his stomach together for a while. Relief surges through me--at least he's not ignoring me completely.

Several minutes pass.

"I just . . . I just wish it wouldn't have happened to *me,*" Chris finally says. "I mean, what kind of luck is that?" He laughs, but his voice is rough and uneven, and it catches a little bit.

"I'm so sorry," I say, and kiss his shoulder, his neck. He takes in a long, shuddering breath, and then I'm sure of it--he's beginning to cry. I slowly move a hand to his cheek--it's wet.

"Please, Chris," I whisper. I'm halfway to crying myself, dying for him to release some of his sadness.

Chris's body shakes a little and he curls up tight. It's--he's crying silently, the only sounds he makes are the heaving breaths he takes between sobs. And it's heartbreaking to listen to, and frightening in its intensity. I thought that crying would be a simple release--leave it to Chris to have a repressed way of doing even that.

It only lasts for a minute. Torrential and intense--it leaves him exhausted afterward. I get up to find him some kleenex, then stroke his hair as he settles down again.

"I love you," I whisper.

He's already asleep.


The next morning, Chris seems shy around me. It takes him a while before he can meet my eyes and after he does that, it's a while longer before he speaks. He's never been like this before--I've never felt so much stronger than he is, so much the protector. And I like it. I like having him need me; I like that I was able to get him to reveal his most private feelings to me last night. It's strange and almost intoxicating.

"Hey," I say warmly, coming up behind him and helping him to struggle out of his tee shirt. "You feel okay?"

Chris lets me remove his shirt, then backs up, looking for his suitcase, for more clothes to put on.

"I feel fine," he says, starting to turn away.

"You seem so shy," I say, and feel myself begin to flush as I hear the lust in my voice.

Questioning gray eyes meet mine for a second. "Why do you think . . . Because I cried last night?" he asks.

I quickly step toward him, put hands on his hips. Chris looks carefully at me, then softly says, "Oh," as if I've answered him out loud.

"Oh," I repeat, then slowly lean in. Chris holds himself very still. I feel desire burn through me as I move lips against his, trying to wake him up with gentle kisses and thrusts of my tongue. And when he slowly opens his mouth and kisses me back, I want to devour him then and there.

But it doesn't feel--it isn't quite right. Slowly, carefully, I move back.

"I--I'm sorry," I murmur. "I know that you're afraid-- that you're probably not ready--that this is too soon." I'm still breathing hard.

"I'm afraid?" He gives me a long, assessing glance, then reaches out his left hand, gently caresses my cheek.

"All right," he says softly, as if something has clicked inside. His eyes are a little amused now, his expression wry. "You want to play it that way, babe? It gets you off?"

I can't speak, and so I nod.

"Come on, then," he says, voice low and seductive, mouth quirked a bit. "I'm frightened. Come and help me, Tim. Help me through this."

I draw him back over to the bed I just made, pull down the covers, gently, gently push him down onto the mattress. Chris falls on his back and looks up at me with huge eyes as I slowly pull off my tee shirt and boxer shorts. I'm hard as a rock and dying to be inside of him.

Chris gasps a little as I lower myself next to him on the bed and begin kissing him in earnest. I'm hungrily running hands all over his chest, tracing his collar bones, biting his shoulder, and then rubbing his nipples until I hear him make a small noise in his throat. I open eyes, look closely at his face. He turns away, breathing hard, too shy to meet my glance, and I nearly groan out loud. Jesus, he's beautiful. I begin kissing his neck, smiling into his skin as I see the blush traveling downward.

I sit up for a second, look down, then grin broadly as I see that his cock has worked its way though the opening in his boxer shorts. I lean down, kiss the tender head, swirling tongue around while Chris holds his breath, arches his back.

"Let's get you out of these," I say a moment later after I tuck him back inside his shorts. I swiftly pull them down, throw them on the floor, then pull Chris's legs open, settle between them.

"Mmmmm," I say as I kiss his flat stomach, run fingers over a hipbone, blow gently on his hot skin. Chris is trembling, compliant.

I whisper, "You gave yourself to me last night."

"No," Chris quietly answers, then expends the rest of his breath in a groan as I take his cock into my mouth. I suck him hard, mouth demanding, and Chris rocks hips in response.

When I come up for breath, I loom over him for a second. "From here on out, I'm going to take care of you," I tell him, swabbing the tip of his cock with my thumb.

"Tim," Chris says a little warily, the tone of his voice telling me not to take the game too far.

I gently touch the cast on his arm. "You need me," I say, then slide back down between his legs, sucking earnestly.

Chris answers with a series of broken and anguished moans. As I listen to him orgasm, I'm struck by how beautiful, how vulnerable he sounds.

I stay between his legs, gently kissing his lower stomach until he's calmed down a little. He lies very still as I sit up, reach across him to the night stand, and pull out a condom, lubricant.

I take great pleasure in working one, then two fingers into him, slowly stretching, urging him to open himself to me. Chris is breathing hard, his eyes are on my face as I work. I close eyes in delight as his muscles clamp down on my fingers, as he squirms a little bit in response to my movements.

And then I move on top of him, carefully moving his broken arm out of my way and pushing his knees up against his chest. Then I begin to bury my cock deep inside of him.

"You are mine," I say as his ass slowly swallows my cock, slowly stretches open for me. Chris covers his eyes, and it seems to me that he *knows* that I'm right but just won't say it out loud. Gently but firmly, I pull his hand away from his eyes, look straight into them.

"Say it," I urge, beginning to fuck him with a slow and steady rhythm. "Tell me that you belong to me."

Chris sighs, then gasps. I continue to talk, "So beautiful," I whisper. "I'm going to make sure that you never get hurt again, that you never need anything or want anything."

"Tim, please," he says quietly. "That's bullshit. Don't even try to promise. . . "

But I don't hear him. I fuck him harder and harder, tell him that he's mine and that I'll take care of him. And I do it over and over, lost deep in my fantasy, until I explode into orgasm.

"Thank you," I breathe into his ear a few moments later, my voice hoarse. I'm inexplicably near tears, and I struggle hard to keep them inside.

Chris smiles a little, runs fingers through my hair. "You want to own me, Timmy? You like to play papa?"

I bury my face into his neck, suck the warm skin there. He laughs a bit, but doesn't push me to speak. I guess the answer is too obvious for words.

Two Weeks Later


I look up from the report I'm writing to see Margaret Laney standing by my desk.

"Um, yeah. Hi," I say, grabbing a stack of papers off of the chair next to my desk and motioning for her to sit down.

She does so, fidgets a little.

"I'm just here to tell you--to say that we're going to stop work on Chris's case for a while," she says quietly. "We've got no leads, and the fences we've checked with haven't received any of the items in question, and it just . . . I'm sorry."

I feel like I've just been punched. It's awful to have to hear her say this, even if I had been figuring it'd happen soon.

"Did you tell him yet?" I ask.

She nods. "We just got off the phone. He's a really great guy, Tim," she says quietly. "Very kind."

"Yeah," I say. "He is. Well, look. Thank you for all your work on this. I guess--it's just the kind of case that doesn't get solved."

Margaret smiles ruefully. "I'll keep an eye out, though. If anything else comes up, we'll be right back on it."

I smile at her; we shake hands; she leaves. For a long time I sit very still, wondering how in the hell Chris will react.


It's funny. I hadn't thought about the robbery in several days when I got the call, but the instant I heard Margaret Laney's voice on the phone, I got excited. My book, my book, my book. She's found my book, I thought.

Then she told me that the investigation was being closed for lack of evidence, and in an instant I was livid, furious with myself, with the cops, with the world. I didn't take it out on her--it's hardly Margaret's fault, I know--but by the time I hung up the phone, I very much wanted to destroy something, to scream at full voice.

Eventually, I returned to a well-worn train of thought: If only I could go back in time, could have had the wherewithal to punch the man at the top of my stairs, to throw him on the floor and beat the hell out of him. If only I'd listened to Tim when he wanted me to save the recipes on my computer. If only I'd called the security company about the fucking alarm.

So now I'm lying curled up on my bed, my entire body wound tight, infuriated, but trying not to move because I'm afraid of what I'll do if I let myself feel it full on. And the intensity of the feeling is making me sick, making me feel helpless and disgusted. God, I hate primal emotions.

Being robbed, and especially being robbed and getting beaten up by your burglar, is humiliating. It forces you to realize how little control you have over the things that you thought were yours: the sanctity of your home, your ability to defend it against intrusion. You can call the cops, you can describe the robber, you can even write down the serial numbers of every last damn thing you own. But the fact of the matter is that if someone smart decides to rob you, or really, to do anything bad to you, there's not a thing in the world that you can do about it. And that knowledge is driving me crazy.

When I hear Tim's key in the door, I have to laugh. Not even half an hour since the call--Margaret must have told him right after she hung up. Such a joy having a cop for a boyfriend.

"Chris?" he calls, his voice vibrating with concern. I don't answer. He'll prowl through the house until he finds me anyway.

"Hey," he says softly when at last he appears at the door to my room.

I fix him with a look meant to terrorize, but in an instant, Tim's next to me on the bed, pulling me into a sitting position, trying to pry my fists open, wrapping his arms around me.

It's a maddening intrusion and I lash out, push him away clumsily but forcefully with my one good arm, then stand up, crossing the room and glaring at him.

One thought rings clear in my mind: I need to keep him away from me. Fair or not, it suddenly seems to me that Tim is the living embodiment of everything that's gone wrong for me today. He's a cop--one of the people who just gave up on my case. And as my lover, Tim is the person I've collapsed in front of again and again, the person who's seen me at my weakest and most pitiful. Worse still, he's actually *encouraged* me to come undone. And I can feel it right now--he wants me to fall apart all over again, to melt into his arms and cry and let him comfort me. It's very last thing in the world that I want to do.

So when Tim comes after me again, his movements sure, his eyes determined, I actually hit him, hard, a bit amazed that I even made contact.

The blow makes Tim stagger a little bit, but he doesn't lose his footing. "What the fuck?!" he snarls. In a split second, I find myself pinned against the wall, bad arm trapped against my chest, good one caught in his strong grip.

"Get away from me!" I yell.

"Absolutely not," he says, biting the words.

I struggle for a moment, but he's got me dead to rights, his legs pinning mine, the weight of his body allowing him to keep me from moving my arms.

"Tell me why you're like this," he orders. "Tell me what's going on. *Now*!"

"Tim, you have got to let go," I say, voice low and on the verge of cracking. "Because if you don't . . . " I stop myself there, but the threat in my voice is unmistakable.

Tim peers into my face, his eyes calculating, assessing, and then slowly steps back and releases me, rubbing his face a bit where I slugged him.

I'm so mad I'm practically bouncing off of the walls, but oddly enough, I feel a lot better now, much more so than when I was lying on the bed. In an odd way, Tim's come through for me again. Not that I'm going to admit it: I turn away from him and begin yanking off my clothes, rummaging in the dresser for running tights and a shirt.

Tim sits on the bed, watches as I grab my shoes, shove feet into them without untying the laces. The don't feel right, but I don't care. I am *not* asking him to help me tie them.

"You leave me the *fuck* alone," I say when he moves to speak again. Then I'm clattering down the stairs and out of the house.

Outside I don't bother to stretch, for which I'll probably pay later, but I don't care. All I want to do is run hard, to pound feet into the pavement, to get to the point where all of the anger and the tension I feel is slowly subsumed by the struggle to regulate my breathing, to keep moving.

And by the time I come back, it's worked. I'm covered in sweat, my heart is pounding deep and hard, and I feel powerful and relaxed all at once, immune to all anger and tension. It's a huge relief. Once in the house, I head straight for the shower, peel off my clothes, and embrace the warm spray.

When I step out of the bathroom, the first thing I see is Tim sitting in the leather chair in my room, reading. He looks up at me for just a moment, then quickly back down at the book, and guilt begins to crush me as I realize how the events of the past hour must look from his perspective. I've never hit him before--I've hardly even screamed at him--and I'm sure that my temper tantrum must have seemed completely unwarranted to him. I pull clothes on, then slowly walk over to the chair, sit down cross-legged on the floor in front of him to beg forgiveness.

"Tim, I'm sorry," I quietly say.

He gives me a wary look. "You feel better now?"

I nod.

Tim leans over, puts his hands on my shoulders. "See-- that's all I *wanted,*" he says, shaking me once. His touch isn't exactly angry, but it's not fond, either.

"Although the opportunity to go hand-to-hand with you? That was great, just great.--Really, Chris, we should have done it before."

I snort a little bit, then finally say what I should have told him a lot earlier. "Tim--I know that you came over here with the best intentions in mind, I really do. It's just that I was in no mood . . ."

"You might have mentioned that, Chris," he says.

"I know. I know, and I'm sorry." I look closely at him, hoping that he'll see that I mean it. Tim shakes his head a little bit, still looking like he can't decide whether to hug me or smack me. I go on.

"You've been a huge help to me these past few weeks. I really don't think--no, I *know* that I couldn't have gotten through them without you," I say, reaching out and squeezing his hand once. "But sometimes, Tim, you can't make things better. You just can't. And you-- you've got to accept that, to allow people to be miserable from time to time. Because when you don't, you end up making things worse."

His expression is both wounded and angry, and I rush on before he can speak, desperately trying to repair things.

"I'm sorry," I say again. "Really. I was rude, and I unloaded a lot of stuff on you. And I . . . I feel awful about that."

Tim sighs, then gets up, slowly pulling me to my feet next to him.

"I really don't understand you sometimes," he slowly says. "And Chris--I'm not even going to *pretend* that I understood what was going through your head this afternoon. When you swung at me and you--you *hit* me, I had no idea what in the hell was wrong, what I'd done. You have got to *tell* me these things!"

"I know, I know," I say quietly, miserably.

He gives me a long, hard look, then lets out a heavy sigh. "But what matters most, what's really important to me, Chris, is your well being." He shrugs a little. "And so if you feel better now, I'm glad. And I mean that."

I step close to him, slowly slide a hand behind his neck, and lean in and touch his full mouth with mime. He's stiff and formal, obviously still hurt, but he doesn't pull away, which means that he's willing to let me make things up to him.

"I'm sorry," I whisper, and then I kiss him tenderly, my mouth moving gently against his. Tim holds back, accepting my kiss but not making a move to kiss back. I smile a little to myself. He wants me to work hard? I'll work hard. I kiss his neck, his jawline, run my tongue over his earlobe, my mouth as soft and as coaxing as I can make it.

After a few more moments, I know I've got him because Tim starts breathing fast, his chest rising and falling against my hand when I move it to rest there. I cautiously seek entry to his mouth with the tip of my tongue; he parts his lips with a small gasp and draws me inside.

It's been a long time since I've kissed him so thoroughly, so carefully, and pleasure spreads slowly through my body as I reacquaint myself with the contours of his mouth, as I seek out and stroke his tongue with mine. I would do this forever if I could.

"Okay?" I softly ask. "Okay, baby?" He slides hands around my waist, grips me hard, yanks me into him.

When I begin to pull away, Tim quietly says my name, and it's then that I hear it in his voice: I've been forgiven. Thank God.

"Come on," he says, heading for the bed. He lies on his back and beckons to me. I follow.

For a moment I stand by the bed, breathing hard, looking at his flushed face, the seductive set of his mouth. Then I lower my body onto his, seize his mouth again, and rock hips into him over and over until we're both groaning. Tim hungrily slides hands down my back and over my ass and presses me into him, increasing the friction between us. I call out, my voice rough, delighted by the strength in his hands, the force with which he brings us together. It's maddening being separated by clothing, but neither of us is willing to stop thrusting, to break contact. After a few more moments, however, Tim growls in frustration, then rolls us sideways, his hands clumsily, roughly unbuttoning and unzipping my pants. I close eyes and lift hips as he yanks down my boxers and jeans in one fell swoop, then jerk almost convulsively when strong fingers wrap around my cock and squeeze.

I cry out, voice agonized, as he begins to slowly slide his hand up and down. It's too good. I need to get away from him if this is going to last for any amount of time, so I reach down and capture his wrist, drag his hand away. Tim must have heard the edge in my voice because he doesn't fight me; he simply watches as I drag my jeans the rest of the way off and remove my shirt. Then he disrobes.

His cock is so hard that it looks painful, and he's so eager to be touched that he lifts hips, thrusts desperately into the air. I slide down the length of his body and then slowly kiss downward from his belly button, following the faint line of hair leading me to his treasure. When at long last I take him into my mouth, begin to slide lips and tongue down and around him, Tim cries out in a high and trembling voice, calls my name, begs me not to stop what I'm doing.

I'm nowhere near stopping. I'm taking too much pleasure in the taste of him, the heat and strength of him, in his scent. I'm swirling tongue, moving upward to kiss and lick the sensitive head of his cock, and then slowly letting him slide down my throat, just a little further each time. Tim's writhing under me, his hands tangled in my hair, his legs spread wide open. He's shaking hard, body tensing, and the bed quivers underneath us as he nears orgasm. I tighten mouth around him, breathe in deep, and then go for broke, let his huge cock travel deep into my throat, allow him to fuck my mouth like he wants to. Tim moves convulsively for a few seconds until he starts to come, at which point he drags enough air into his lungs to save a drowning man. And then it all comes back out in a hoarse scream that fills the room, rings in my ears. It sounds like he's releasing his soul into the air. I stay with him, swallow the load of come that courses down my throat, and then let him out of my mouth altogether, rest my head on his hip for a moment.

After a while, Tim whispers my name. I gladly move up to join him, let him hug me and kiss me and whisper endearments into my ear. So sweet, these few moments after he comes, when Tim is completely vulnerable, open and tender and without fear or self-consciousness of any kind.

Once he's feeling more like his normal self, Tim smiles, kisses me, then reaches down to grab my still- hard cock. "Come on," he coaxes when I move away.

I laugh a little, then work my hand under his shoulder and push, gently urging him to flip over. "You come on," I tell him. "On your stomach."

"Oh!" Tim says and I have to laugh again. All these months together and he's still surprised when I want to fuck him. It's oddly endearing.

Tim does what I want him to, and immediately I'm all over him, kissing the nape of his neck, his shoulders, his back, then letting my cock brush over the rounded curves of his ass, gently work its way into the cleft of his buttocks.

"My god," I get out after a minute of this, and then slowly move to the side, urge him to stick his ass high in the air for me. And he does, and he looks so lovely and so ripe, so fuckable. I decide to fuck him very, very hard.

I grab the condom and lube, then fumble with them for a moment, swearing in frustration. I thought I'd gotten this one-handed thing down, but I'm too wound up right now to function. Stupid fucking left hand.

"Here," Tim says, breaking position and moving toward me. "Let me." His voice is soft, deeply excited. I grab his shoulder, then squeeze my eyes tight shut as he sweetly rolls the condom on, then uses long fingers to apply the lubricant. I'm shaking just a little--it feels so damn good to have him do this for me. His touch is almost unbearably light, and he pauses afterward to press soft, breathless kisses on my collarbones.

I lean into him, kiss him, then push him back down. He rolls over, situates himself again, and at long last, I'm able to slide slick fingers deep inside him to prepare my way. Tim gasps a bit at the intrusion but doesn't shy away, which is good, because I'm really not interesting in being very gentle at this point. I spend only a few seconds on prep, then position myself behind him, press cock to his delightfully small asshole, then begin to work my way inside, bearing down firmly and steadily until his muscles relent, admit me. Tim groans out loud, but he takes it, lets himself open up for me. Once buried inside of him I pause for just a second, take full pleasure in the sensation of being so close to him.

"Are you ready?" I say softly.

"Yes!" Tim replies, his voice strained, and I begin to move then, gaining momentum and speed quickly, pounding hard into him. Tim quivers like a bell being rung over and over once I find the right angle for him, and then we're off to the races. When I come, I see white, blinding light for just a second: divine pleasure, I'm almost sure of it. Then it's all muscle contractions and pounding and release and groaning and collapse. So wonderful.


One week later still

Because Chris has heard that the menu has greatly improved, he I are eating at his friend Gordon's restaurant, which is called Parlance, and which is pretentious, and which I really don't like very much because it's too damned formal. Chris spends a long time looking at the menu--so long, in fact, that we have send the waiter away two times because he can't decide what to order.

"Chris!" I finally say in exasperation after he cops out a third time. "Just *pick* something, okay? I'm starting to get dizzy on just this wine."

He's frowning a bit. "I know, I know," he says distractedly. "And it isn't even really that great. But there's just so much new stuff here. I hardly know what to make of it."

"Get what I'm getting," I say.

"And that would be . . . "

"Squab on green lentils," I read from the menu.

"Where?" Chris is frowning.

"On the second page. Under entrees."

He scans his own menu, finds what I'm talking about.

"I can't--I can't *believe* this," he says under his breath.

I look tiredly at him. It can be very difficult to go to restaurants with Chris, particularly when his professional jealousy kicks in. He can spend forever poring over someone else's menu, particularly if he finds something that *he* wants to make, or that he *has* made, or that he *might conceivably want to make* at some point in the distant future.

"Chris. *Please,*" I beg as I see the waiter approach our table again.

"All right, all right," he relents. At long last I get to order the damned squab.

"Just bring me the special," Chris tells the waiter. All that time and he's not even really choosing. Figures.

"The thing is," he says after the waiter leaves, "The thing *is,* Tim, it's just not *like* Gordon to do something this drastic. He's not creative enough. There must be a new chef--someone good."

I nod.

"Because the new stuff--you know what it resembles? You know whose food it's like?"

"The Zodiac," I say flatly, because this is *always* the right answer to that question.

"Exactly!" Chris says, eyes narrowing. "I need to figure out what the hell is going on. I wonder if Gordon's here tonight."

I sigh heavily, then stare hard at him until he shakes his head, laughs a little.

"Okay, okay!" he says. "We can talk about something else."

Not for long, though. I've only just begun describing the most recent argument between Frank and me when Chris suddenly raises halfway out of his chair, beckons to someone across the room.

"It's Gordon," he murmurs to me as a tall and stocky redheaded guy approaches our table.

"Chris! Great to see you," Gordon says. He doesn't sound all that sincere.

Chris smiles, introduces me, then gets down to it.

"Lots of changes here, Gordon."

"We've been trying some things out," Gordon airily says. He has an incredibly unpleasant and nasal voice. I look sharply at him and then back at Chris, who appears serene and unruffled.

"Who's the new chef?" Chris asks.

Gordon shrugs but doesn't answer. I can't believe he's being so cagey--these restaurant people slay me.

Chris looks evenly at Gordon for a moment, then laughs a little. "You know I'm going to find out one way or another."

"You're probably right given the way gossip spreads in this town," Gordon admits, then sighs, rolling his eyes. "Yes, Chris, a new chef. From New York, and no, you wouldn't have heard of him because he's very young." He leans over, glares at both of us. "And *don't* get any bright ideas, okay? We've made him very happy here."

"All right, all right," Chris says, laughing. "I'm sure I don't *need* anyone new, but I hear you."

"Oh dear. I think I'm wanted in the kitchen," Gordon says flatly, obviously lying.

"Always a pleasure, Gordon," Chris drily says as the other man walks off.

"What is *with* him?" I ask Chris.

"Oh, he's just an ass," Chris says darkly. "Forget him." He reaches under the table and grabs my hand. "Okay. So Frank said, 'What the hell do you *think* I meant,' and then *you* said--what was it?"


"Squab on lentils," the waiter says, placing my meal in front of me, "and the special." He puts a plate of pasta in front of Chris. "Enjoy your meal."

I'm starving, and of course the portions in this place are ridiculously small. I'm too hungry to complain, though. And the food is actually really good. After a few minutes, I look closely at Chris to see how he likes his.

He's sitting very still, his fork in mid-air, his eyes large. There's a strange look on his face.

"What's wrong, Chris?" I ask. "What is it?" I'm thinking *food poisoning* and trying to calculate how much I've already eaten.

"Taste this," he says, pushing the bowl toward me.

"What's wrong with it?"

"Just taste it, Tim. Now."

"Okay, okay," I say. "I'm tasting." I extend fork, twirl, capture a decent amount of the stuff and take a good-sized bite.

I very nearly spit it out.

"Oh my god," I quietly say after I've at long last swallowed. "Oh my god! I don't--I can't *believe* this happens *now.*"

Chris grabs my arm hard. "The kitchen," he hisses. "We've got to go to the kitchen!"

A few months ago now Chris came over to my place; when we got hungry, he decided to make us dinner. And of course that had to involve lots of making fun of the stuff I had at my place. The one thing he *did* find that he liked was a bottle of rather nice vodka someone had given to me for Christmas. And so he made up a recipe on the spot, using the vodka, some pasta I had lying around, and some sort of cheese--I don't remember the name, but I was the one who had to go out and get it. At any rate, the point is this: the food sitting in front of Chris right now is *his* recipe, something that he and he alone made up. And wrote down . . . in his book. The stolen book.

I'm up in a flash the instant it occurs to me that at long last I'm going to have the pleasure of beating up the fuck who hurt Chris. A small voice in the back of my mind urges me to sit down and think through this a little more carefully, and another one suggests that I might call Margaret, but instead I head straight for the kitchen, Chris right beside me.

And when we walk in it's crowded and busy, but I see him at once--smaller than I thought he'd be but definitely the chef, if the pansy-ass hat is any indicator. Chris halts in his tracks, but I'm just getting started. Three or four huge steps, and I'm in this jerk's face, screaming "Baltimore Police!" and twisting his arm behind his back.

"The book," I say, my voice low and menacing. "Right now. The goddamned book!"

There's noise and commotion all around me, but I'm in the zone, very centered. I'm going to find out what I need to know--of that I'm absolutely certain.

"The recipe book. Now!" I yell when the chef doesn't answer, and I increase the pressure on his arm. He cries out in pain, begins to beg me to stop.

"Where is it? Huh???"

"Tim, Tim, Tim, Tim, Tim!" Suddenly Chris is next to me, face red. "*Stop* it! Stop it, you asshole! It's not him--do you *hear* me??? He's not the one!" He reaches out to pull me away from the chef.

"No, Chris. He knows!" I tell Chris, dragging my quarry away from him. "This guy *knows.* Just let me do this!"

Chef Boyardee has started to whimper. I lean over, yell right into his ear. "You know, right? Where is it?"

"Fuck you! Just *fuck* you!" Chef says, and then cries out sharply. I'm very, very close to breaking his arm.

"Tim, NO!" Chris yells.

"Where is it???" One last twist, and . . .

Chef collapses just in time. "My bag--ow! My bag . . . oh *god*!!"

I throw him away from me with such force and contempt that he smacks the counter face-first. His nose could be broken, but I'm beyond giving a damn.

I stalk over to a terrified looking prep cook.

"Get me his bag," I command, gesturing at the weeping chef. "Call Margaret," I tell Chris.

Surprisingly enough, everyone obeys me.


The Next Morning

"You, sir, are a very lucky man," Margaret says, stirring her coffee. We're back at the Grind.

I sigh. "Thank you, Margaret. I mean it. I know that you could have sunk me in your report, I really do. And I greatly appreciate--"

"Oh, I don't mean that," she says. "What I'm *talking* about is the fact that Robert Beschl isn't going to sue the hell out of you."

Robert Beschl, the infamous chef, ended up with Chris's book and used the recipes in it to get a job with Gordon. He is not, however, the guy who actually robbed Chris, and so I had absolutely no right to menace him the way I did, no right to open his bag, no legal right to take Chris's book back from him.

"Um, yeah. I know that too," I say, embarrassment sweeping over me. She must think I'm the biggest idiot in the universe, and frankly, I'm not so sure that I don't agree with her. "Look. I got a little out of hand, all right? The thing is, I saw him and I just-- something *clicked* in my mind and it was like I was finally getting to *do* something about this whole mess--some sort of payback for Chris, you know?"

Margaret rolls her eyes, blows on her coffee. "Is he talking to you yet?"

I sit back in my chair, annoyed for just a second, but then I have to laugh a bit at the absurdity of the situation. "Sort of," I admit. "I--I'm going to take care of it later on. He's glad about having the book back, though. I think he was up half of last night just looking at it."

She smiles. "He's incredibly lucky, but then I'm sure you know that."

"Yeah," I said, and I can't not grin. I'm just so relieved that this has turned out for Chris. Then I think about the case again. "So--what did Beschl tell you about the guy who sold the book to him? Any leads there?"

"Maybe," she says. "We're going to show him some mug shots later today. I wanted to wait until he'd calmed down before doing that."

Another dig at me, but I take it silently. I deserve it.

"Well, thanks again for showing up so soon last night . . . and for all of your help."

Another cryptic nod. I really wonder what's going on in her head sometimes--Margaret's a lot more complicated than I thought she was.

"I'll keep you informed," she says, then stands up. "I'm just going to take this back with me, okay? I've got a lot to do right now."


"Chris?" I call, then slam the door behind me, pull off my coat. It smells wonderful in the house.

He pokes his head out of the kitchen. "Hey," he says briefly, then goes back inside.

I shrug out of my suit coat, run a hand through my hair, try to tuck in my shirt a bit, then slowly head after him. I've thought about this apology all day, and I'm dying to get it out, to make things okay.

Chris is leaning over the kitchen counter, elbow on formica, legs crossed, eyes glued on The Book.

"What're you making?" I ask softly. "It smells so good."

He looks up at me. "Lots of stuff. I hope you're hungry."

"I am," I say, and move behind him, putting my hands on the counter on either side of him. Chris laughs a little bit when I press into him.

"Can you forgive me for last night?" I murmur into his ear.

Chris pushes me back so that he can turn around, face me. "Well, I'm glad that I have my book back. And I know that I wouldn't have it if it weren't for you."

I begin to breathe more easily, but stop immediately when I see the look on his face.

"But Jesus, Tim! You *can't* beat people up like that! I only hope to god that when you're on duty you don't-- "

I interrupt. "I intimidated him, and I scared the hell out of him. Sometimes you have to do that. It may not be pleasant, but it's part of the job."

He shakes his head in disgust, and frustration and panic wash over me. I *have* to make him understand this--I have to show him that I am a good cop-- particularly because Chris isn't exactly fond of my profession. And to have him thinking I'm a thug just drives me crazy.

I grab his chin, gently, to make him look at me, and then go on. "Let me finish, okay? But last night, I went too far. I *know* that, Chris. I hurt him, and for that I'm sorry. And I'm sorry that I didn't listen to you when you asked me to stop. Really."

Chris drags my hand away from his face, then smiles a little. "I don't think you really even heard me."

"I did in a way," I say uncertainly, and then Chris laughs out loud.

"It's like you were channeling Clint Eastwood, you know? All that desire for revenge."

I sigh. "I swear to God, Chris, I am *not* like that out on the street. And if I do cross the line . . . well, then Frank stops me."

This makes him laugh again.

"And if *Frank* gets out of hand, I stop him," I say. "It's--it's hard, Chris, to fight that kind of feeling sometimes, particularly when you're emotionally invested in a case. And with this guy--and with this case--I couldn't possibly have been any *more* invested."

Chris nods, then slowly slides an arm around my waist, presses lips to the side of my neck. "I think I'm going to forgive you," he says after a minute.

I sigh in relief, then kiss the top of his head, enjoying the scent of his shampoo, the softness of his hair.

"Tell me you don't think I'm a bad cop," I say, still anxious. "Tell me you don't believe that."

Chris tilts his head back, looks into my eyes. "You're not a bad cop," he says slowly. "You just--it was an emotional situation."

Greatly relieved, I lean in to kiss him. It starts out innocently enough as a thank-you gesture, but soon it's become a deep kiss, and then a very sexy one. God, I'm in love. And he forgives me, and the book is back, and the robbery is over. I can't ask for more than that, now can I?