part 1

"Well, hello again," he drawls, eyeing her up and down without even a hint of shame. "I knew you couldn't stay away from me for long." Who knew the NYPD held such gems among the grunting, donut-stuffed masses?

This one scowls, slaps a bulging file onto the table between them, and stands stiffly before him. In three-inch heels, she towers menacingly over his seated self, but in truth he's more concerned slash enthralled with her eyes, glinting slits that might actually cut him when she inevitably checks him out.

"Mr. Castle," she says, all ice for now. "Want to tell me what you were doing last night between eleven-thirty and one a.m.?"

"Depends," he says, following it with one lifted eyebrow. "Why do you want to know?"

Even with the hard line of her chin, the narrowed eyes, the lips pursed against every one of his maneuvers, there's something that isn't right, character-wise. As a world-famous writer, he's attuned to that kind of inconsistency. She's slim, well-dressed, and holds herself in that way that means she doesn't know she's hot. But that's not it.

It's not her body—okay, maybe just a little bit her body—that fascinates him, thirty seconds into their conversation, oops, interrogation. It's her gaze, leveled, too hard; it's her mouth, fierce, but holding back; it's something about her very person, a desperation, but not for him. Yet, he reminds himself.

After a moment of glaring at him, she relents to his query. "Annabelle Tramp. She was murdered."

"And you think I murdered her."

"I think you haven't given me an alibi," she says, finally taking her seat across the table.

He considers her: arms folded, frowning, and leaning forward with a huntress look that makes him shiver. That was quick; no messing around with this one. But surely that's why they brought her in here, after all. He has a reputation. "At around eleven-thirty, I was," he pauses, "preoccupied."

"With Annabelle Tramp."

"With someone else," he returns. "I don't even know who that is. Wait, Tramp. The Tramps? You don't actually think I know them, do you? I'm rich, but I'm not that rich."

There. He saw it. She bit back a smile.

"Can this someone else give you an alibi?" she asks.

His lips curl up. "She was asleep."

"And before that?"

"We were drinking hot cocoa at home until around ten."

"Drinking cocoa," she deadpans.

"And I stayed in all night."

"What a gentleman."

He gives her a moment to enjoy herself, then leans back in his chair. "It was my daughter. She was sick. If she woke up in the middle of the night, I was there. And Mother and I had it all arranged on the counter for her—painkillers, a washcloth." He smiles. "Marshmallows."

Her eyes soften slightly. "Oh." Then, "You live with your mother?"

A grin. "Now why is that relevant?"

"If…" she starts. "If she was there. Maybe she can give you an alibi."

"But detective," he lowers his voice, "I thought you wanted to lock me up and have your way with me."

She grimaces, but oh, it took a second. That second gives him hope.

"Mother was also preoccupied, and now that means exactly what you think it means. Outside of my place. Somewhere. I don't ask for details. She must have snuck back in early in the morning, though. Let me give you her number, so you can thoroughly check me out."

This is delightful.

But it stops all too soon.

"Okay, thank you, thank you, Mr. Castle and Detective Beckett," a voice booms from across the room, where a couple dozen people stand up and stretch. "A huge thank you to our special guests Rick Castle, the celebrated novelist, and Detective Kate Beckett, representing the NYPD, for that incredibly informative demonstration of interrogation room procedures. Our next demonstration will take place after lunch. Get excited, crime writers. It's time to get a close-up look at personal defense skills. And we're still looking for volunteers."

He follows her to lunch. It seems like the appropriate thing to do, after that intriguing display of—well, not affection, but chemistry, yes, definitely chemistry. He expects to catch her at a nearby bar, slide onto the stool next to her, and proceed to seduce her. Or at least find her, conveniently, in a booth, where they could really get to know each other.

But apparently lunch to Kate Beckett means hitting the snack machines.

When she furrows her eyebrows at the selections, he smiles. When she starts chewing on her lip, he takes a step toward her. When she bends over to pull out a bag of dried fruit and another of M&Ms, his eyes are drawn inextricably to her curves. Not that they'd strayed far. He'd only been busy appreciating her face.

She's addicting, he decides. One of those women who have a mysterious power that makes her every move, every glance, every inflection of speech, charged. He's met a few of them before, but this, her. She's something else. A puzzle. A hot, smart, witty, did he mention hot? puzzle.

"You gonna stand there all day?" she asks without even looking at him. Just gnawing on a banana chip like she couldn't care less if he looks at her for the rest of the day, the rest of their lives—wait, slow down, Ricky. Play it cool now.

"Why not?" he shrugs, leaning a shoulder against the vending machine. "When I have such a good view."

"So this really is you." Her tone is too neutral.

He preens anyway. "Better than you expected?"

"Exactly what I expected," she says, turning away from him and back to one lucky dried apricot. "So. Do those lines ever work for you?"

"Depends. Do they make you want me?"

Her gaze turns back to him and hardens. "They make me want you to leave me alone."

"Hey, now," he says. High time for a save, Ricky. "I'm just being friendly. You're a special guest. I'm a special guest. The rest of the people here are boring amateur writer wannabes. I mean, who goes to a conference to learn about crime-fighting?" His voice drops, "But you're different. You're interesting."

There's half a smile. "Interesting word choice there, writer boy."

"Writer man. Which you'd know if you—" he breaks off when the half-smile fades. "You have a story," he says softly. "I like stories."

"You're surprisingly eloquent for a famous writer."

"So you know me?" he asks, finally realizing what she must have meant by 'expected.'

"I might have seen your mug on page six a few times."

He smirks at 'mug'. Such a cop. "I mean," he tries again, "have you read any of my work?"

The loudspeaker goes off before she can answer. "If everyone will make their way to Room 111, we will start the next demonstration. Ever wanted to know how the police take down a suspect? Want to add authenticity to your story? It's all in the details, people. Up next: a first-hand look at the physicality of police work."

She tosses the empty dried fruit bag and stuffs the M&Ms into her jacket pocket. When he makes no move to leave their lunch date, he's so busy watching her, she rolls her eyes and then fixes him with a stare. Not a glare. A stare. And there's something behind it he wants to call amusement, or desire, or okay maybe just amusement.

"You comin'?" she asks.

Scrambling now, he almost gets them stuck in the doorway, trying to stay by her side. "'Course," he says.

She has no idea.

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