"Though claiming to be single, Richard Castle is rumored to be romantically involved with NYPD Detective Kate Beckett - the inspiration for Nikki Heat, the heroine of his latest best-selling novel. Bachelor number nine may not be eligible for next year's list."

2x14: The Third Man

Kate was hovering above him when he opened his eyes, a leisurely smile spread across her lips that he could not resist pressing his mouth to.

"Morning, Castle."

Kate sat back on his thighs and Rick pushed up on his elbows, prepared to seek her lips again, but she shoved something against his chest. He glanced down curiously, closed his fingers around the stack of articles between them.

"You brought me the paper?" he questioned quizzically.

"A section of the paper," she corrected, unfolding the pages and pointing to a specific article in the Ledger - New York's annual 10 Most Eligible Bachelor's list.

Oh no.

"So Castle, is it true? Are you finally off the market?" she smirked.

His eyes scanned the blurb under his name frantically, his heart rate increasing at the mention of 'romantic involvement with Detective Kate Beckett'. She was going to kill him. But… then why was she perched on his thighs looking deliciously smug?

"I - wait a second, why aren't you angry about this?"

She shrugged, her lashes lowering to shadow across her cheeks. "I'm not thrilled to be mentioned in that article, and I'm not looking forward to the flack I'll get at work over it, but I don't necessarily mind women thinking bachelor number nine is unavailable."

He blinked, but slid his hands along her outer thighs, up to her hips. "You don't mind people knowing the rumors are true?"

"I don't mind them thinking they are. I still want us to have our relationship as just ours," she confessed, a shy gleam to her eyes, his heart fluttering at the our relationship slipping past her lips. He still wasn't used to it, being hers.

"I'm good with that."

She nodded, but bit her lip as if remembering something.

"Oh, and I'd watch out. Alexis isn't thrilled."

He winced and rubbed tiredly at his eyes. "Alexis saw it?"

"We read it together over breakfast."

"Oh god," he sighed, flopping back against the pillows at his back. "She hates when I end up in these things."

"Can you blame her?" Kate reasoned softly, setting the paper to the side and crawling forward until her hair fell in a short curtain around her face as she looked down at him

"No. It was never a big deal in the past, but now that she's older, I know she doesn't appreciate it," he murmured, remembering last year when he had been bachelor number seven and Alexis had returned from school with a handful of phone numbers from teachers wanting to date him. She hadn't been truly angry, but he knew it made her uncomfortable, and that alone didn't sit well with him.

"Should I offer up my credit card as apology?"

Beckett huffed, but shook her head. "No, Castle. Just try to empathize a little. You can't change what they put in the paper, but you can assure her you're not the guy on the page, just like you always do."

Castle slid up onto his elbows again, used the leverage to propel himself into a sitting position, and Kate's legs folded smoothly around his waist.

"What about you, should I assure you as well?" he murmured, leaning forward to pepper kisses along the skin of her neck.

"Mm," she grinned, her eyes slipping shut as she tilted her head to the side, offering him better access and guiding his movement with the fingers threading through his hair. "You assured me plenty last night."

"Once more couldn't hurt," he reasoned, his palm skidding down her spine, pressing her closer and her body arched in response, her wordless agreement.

And then her phone rang.

She sighed disappointedly, but snatched the device from his nightstand, flicked his ear to get his mouth away from her chest as she answered in her clipped, professional tone.

"Okay," she said after a few seconds of listening silently to the person on the other line. "Be there in twenty. We've got a body."

As she said it, her body abandoned his and he whined, watching her saunter to his closet and strip from his sweatpants and t-shirt – her usual sleep attire on nights she stayed over. He should follow her out of the bed, graze her warm skin with teasing fingertips while he moved to retrieve his own clothes, but watching her retract a navy blouse from the front of the walk-in was quite the mesmerizing sight. Kate Beckett kept clothes at his home and it delighted him more than he ever could have imagined it would.

"You want to go to dinner?" he blurted gracelessly, stopping her in her tracks in the middle of the room.

He had asked her the same question nearly a week ago and she had said yes without hesitation, but with her hectic work schedule at the precinct, one he mirrored, they both tended to opt for returning to his loft or her apartment instead of going out after a long day. But he didn't want to put it off any longer, he wanted to take her out.

"Like, on a date?"

He shrugged. He still had to play this carefully, ease her into the idea, or else he would risk spooking her. He had done it before. But to his surprise, a girly, totally unlike Beckett smile spread across her lips, as if she was actually pleased with the idea.

"Sure, Castle. I'd love to."

He knew his smile beat out hers in seconds, stretching almost painfully in width, because Kate Beckett had just accepted his offer to go out on a date with him.

"I'll make a reservation at Drago."

She huffed at the extravagant suggestion as she stepped into her heels. "You just want to get me in a fancy dress."

"Maybe. Especially since undressing you will be so very enjoyable," he reasoned with a devious arch of his eyebrow and Kate rolled her eyes, but he could see a subtle hint of excitement at the idea of it – dressing up, going out to dinner together. Their first real date.

Castle being listed on a notorious eligible bachelors list came with a few minor consequences. A bachelorette from the Ledger contacted him, hoping for a date, and Lanie attempted to set Kate up with a fireman from some calendar in response, and finding reason to say no when they were both supposed to be single proved difficult without revealing the truth.

"You can't go out with her," Beckett hissed, her finger darting forward to jab him in the chest.

They were down in archives, pretending to search for an old case file they didn't even need. What they needed was a game plan because she was not going out with Brad the fireman who spent his free time playing hero and saving puppies.

"I don't want to go out with her, but if I say no, what will that look like? It'll prove the rumors true."

Kate pursed her lips, silent for a moment before shaking her head and lifting her fingers to rub at her temples.

"Then let them think they're true. I don't care. I'm not going to watch you date another woman."

"And I'm not going to watch you date another man," Castle replied, hands rising to slip over her hips, tug her closer. Her teeth closed over the flesh of her bottom lip and her eyes flickered from his gaze to his mouth.


He lowered his head, nose clashing with hers.

"Jealous, Detective?"

She scoffed, but squeezed at his biceps. "I don't share."

"Good," he echoed. "Because I don't share either."

"But what do we tell everyone?" she sighed, bumping her forehead into his.

"We've each decided on a vowed life of celibacy?"


"I'll say no to bachelorette number three, you tell Lanie you're not interested in Mr. July, and if anyone questions it…" His sentence trailed because keeping them a secret was hard, harder than he had thought it would be. He valued their privacy, how they were still in their own little bubble with only his mother and daughter aware of its existence, but in situations like these, he didn't know how to prevent the bubble from bursting.

"Would it be so bad if they knew?" she murmured, eyeing him apprehensively.

He pondered it for a moment, the teasing – and inevitable big brother talk he would likely receive – from the boys, the blurbs about them in the tabloids, the possible attraction of paparazzi finally having a reason to follow him (and her) around. No, he hoped to prolong the latter for as long as possible.

"What if you just tell Lanie the truth? If Ryan and Esposito find out, so be it, but I don't want the reporters or paparazzi learning about us yet."

The mere mention of vultures with cameras had her eyes widening and he gently squeezed at her waist.

"Just a worst case scenario, Kate."

She swallowed and nodded. "I'll tell Lanie, if she pushes it when I turn down her offer to set me up with Brad. You just get rid of bachelorette number three."

The title of the other woman came out bitter, because she was definitely jealous, and he quickly ducked his head, sipped greedily from her mouth. Kate arched into him, her hands clutching at his hair as her chest crushed against his. The claiming press of her lips and nip of her teeth only lasted a moment before she was jerking away, eyes immediately alert and scanning the barren room.

"If you still want to go to dinner tonight, you'll stop that and focus on the case with me," she huffed, brushing his hands from her waist and taking a resolute step back.

She glanced around the corner, checking to be sure the desk sergeant at the entrance didn't appear suspicious and then she strode away from him, towards the exit, and Castle trailed after her, only slightly disappointed she had stopped him from taking her against a shelf of old case files.

"Neither of those," Alexis said from behind him, stealing the two ties he had been trying to decide between and placing a deep red one in his hands. "See."

"Oh, you're good," he smiled, looping the tie around his neck and turning to allow her fingers to fasten it. He had been attempting to prepare for his date with Kate since he had returned home from the precinct over two hours ago. He was shocked to find he was a little nervous. Which made no sense considering he and Kate had done a lot more than dinner. "Hey, you would let me know if this was weird for you right?"

"Weird?" Alexis echoed, furrowing her brow as she adjusted the material around his neck.

"Me, your parent, dating. Me dating Detective Beckett."

His daughter rolled her eyes and the relief rippled through him. She seemed to genuinely like Kate, her face lighting up whenever the detective walked through the door with him or decided to stay for dinner, he just had to be sure because this was his daughter and if she felt the least bit uncomfortable, he wanted to fix it.

At least this he could fix with a talk, unlike his place in the Ledger. She still wasn't happy about that.

"I like Detective Beckett, you know that."

"I know, I just want to be sure that you're okay with everything and that you're comfortable and-"

She sighed in exasperation. "Dad, Kate is the first real person you've dated in a long time. She – I can tell that your relationship is real. It's not some silly fling with some random woman from the paper." She met his eyes pointedly in the mirror, but he waved her off.

"Go on."

"I trust Kate. I trust her with you and your heart," she added a little shyly, lowering her gaze from his in the mirror. "She would take care of you when I'm not around, since I won't be forever, and-"

"Whoa, whoa, slow down there," he chuckled, smoothing his hand down the tie and subtly pressing his fingertips into his sternum to calm the muscle in his chest that was picking up speed. "It's just a date. I won't be buying a ring anytime soon."

"I know," she sighed, looping an arm through his and resting her cheek on his shoulder, smiling softly at him in the mirror. "But I won't mind when you do."

Oh. His daughter had just granted him her blessing to marry Kate Beckett.

This should not even be on the table. Yet, he was oddly relieved.

"Breathe, Dad."

He exhaled dramatically and wrapped his arms around Alexis as she laughed, hugging her tightly.

"Thank you, Pumpkin."

Her smile widened.


No, he wouldn't be buying Kate a ring. Not yet.

Castle showed up at her apartment at six thirty, a bouquet of lilies in hand because she had admitted that she loved the flowers, even if she failed to keep them alive for more than a few days. He didn't mind if the plants died, as long as he got to see her face light up when he presented them to her.

He nearly dropped the flowers when she opened the door, his mouth falling open at the sight of her in a vibrant red dress that draped across her lithe figure like it was made for her.

"Beckett," he breathed, mechanically holding the flowers out to her, but he couldn't force his eyes to cease from roving her frame from top to bottom. He had seen her dressed up before, but not like this, not for him.

"Hey Castle," she chuckled, rescuing the flowers from his failing grasp and transferring them to her kitchen.

She startled when he came up behind her, smoothed his hands over her abdomen possessively and dropped his mouth to the exposed skin of her shoulder.

"Rick." Her voice stuttered over the syllable of his name, her head tilting back into his chest as his tongue darted out to taste her neck. "Reservation."

"Skip it," he mumbled distractedly, but her fingers curled around his, gently detached them from her waist.

"Later," she hummed, turning her head to sweep her lips across his cheek before pulling away. "I promise."

Dinner at Drago wasn't as enjoyable as either had hoped. The place was too crowded, the portions were tiny, and she felt uncomfortable, even with Castle's calming hand stroking soothing circles along her bare knee.

"You want to get out of here?" he said before they were even finished with their appetizer and she nodded immediately.


Castle made up some elaborate excuse when the waiter returned, paid the check that made her eyes bulge and left a generous tip before she could even open her clutch and contribute. After he led her out, into the street and cool night air, Kate took a deep breath, the suffocated feeling of being trapped in the lavish restaurant finally abandoning her.

"I'm sorry," he sighed next to her, rubbing anxiously at the back of his neck, embarrassment heavy in his eyes, but she merely pressed into his side, twined their fingers.

"Nothing to be sorry about, Castle," she assured him softly, honestly, because there really wasn't. It wasn't his fault they hadn't enjoyed the restaurant. Dressing up, having him pick her up at her apartment with flowers in his hands and an excited glimmer in his eyes had been fun, but she wanted something that was just them now. "You want to go get some real food?"

"Remy's?" he grinned and her lips curled to match his. "Lead the way."

Her feet were starting to ache in the strappy gold heels she had chosen for the evening, but she didn't complain on the walk to the diner. Castle draped his suit jacket across her shoulders on the way there and she sighed contently as the sharp scent of his deodorant enveloped her, didn't shrug him off like she usually would when he wrapped a loose arm around her shoulders.

They had only declared their relationship 'official' about a week ago, while she was still reeling from the loss of her mother's killer and dead end in leads. A part of her had secretly feared she had professed her feelings to Castle out of emotional turmoil, in hopes of distracting herself from her pain with his love for her. She worried the consequences of her actions would strike her the next morning or within a few days, but nothing had changed. She still loved him, it still scared her sometimes, but he was patient, he understood, and he was happy. He loved her back.

"You're smiling." His hot breath washed over her ear and she almost turned to kiss him, would have if they weren't on a public sidewalk already just a few feet away from the diner.

"I'm having a good time," she smirked, stepping inside the familiar restaurant as he held the glass door open for her.

"So the likeliness of you inviting me up when I walk you home is pretty strong?"

"I'd even say it was a sure thing," she replied, sliding into their usual booth and grinning seductively when he sat down across from her.

She wasted no time in slipping the toe of her heel under the edge of his pantleg once they had placed an order with the waiter who swung by, trailing the tip of the stiletto up and down the skin of his calf muscle until he growled her name.

When they were finally back at her apartment, they didn't intend to make it to her bedroom, Castle slamming her up against the front door the moment it closed behind them. Her hair was unraveling as his fingers devastated the well placed assortment of bobby pins holding the curls in place and his free hand had just slipped under her dress when her phone started vibrating in her purse on the ground.

"Ignore it," he husked, his lips staining the skin of her neck. She could feel the blood rushing to the spot, knew it was too late to stop the red and purple blend that would mar her throat.

"Ryan and Espo, the case," she gasped, her leg hitching high at his thigh while her fingers tore through the buttons of his shirt despite her words.

"Five minutes," he murmured, raking his teeth over her collarbone.

She bit her lip before nodding vigorously. "Five minutes."

Castle hoisted her up at the agreement, taking the well-traveled path to her bedroom, murmuring about how he would be damned if he did not get to peel this dress off as he had planned.

"You going to ravish me in five minutes?" she smirked when he dropped her on the bed.

His blue eyes sparked, cerulean turning to indigo as his knee slid between hers and their fingers laced, his hands pinning hers above her head, stretching her upper body taut on the bed. "I'll make it the best five minutes of your life."

Five minutes turned to ten, maybe closer to fifteen because he kept going lower and lower with his mouth before her dress had even come off, but she did eventually call Ryan and Esposito back as she tried in vain to fix her disheveled hair, combing it back into a hasty bun while the boys rattled on about her correct hunch concerning the pet shop's importance to their investigation.

"Knew it," Castle quipped from beside her, his eyes widening in horror a second too late.

"Castle's with you?" Esposito questioned curiously from the other line and Beckett scrambled to find an excuse. "I thought you said you were at home."

"I was. I just picked him up."

"But you just-"

"See you in ten, Espo."

She quickly ended the call, sucked her bottom lip between her teeth.

"I blew it," he sighed, leaning against her bathroom counter and scraping a hand through his own mussed hair.

Kate stepped between his knees, batted his hands away and went to work at taming the pieces of hair sticking up in every direction.

"Maybe," she shrugged. "So what if you did? We discussed this, it's okay."

"But we-"

"The boys can keep a secret, just like Lanie is, and they'll surely be just as thrilled," she assured him with the corners of her lips tugging upwards. "I don't care if they know."

His eyes lifted, lighting up at her soft expression, and his fingers rose to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear, before falling to the waistband of her slacks.

"I love you, Kate."

She cradled his face in her palms, dusting her fingers up the warm skin of his jaw to curl at his ears. She tugged him forward for a chaste kiss, a taste of something sweet before they had to go.

"Love you too, Castle."

A/N: This story was so much fun to write and I sincerely appreciate the unimaginable amount of support shown to it. Thank you to all who took the time to read, follow, favorite, and review - it makes writing worth it.

And the greatest of thank you's to Laura, who read over every chapter and listened to every single uncertainty I had throughout this journey and didn't hesitate in accompanying me onto the next.

If you're interested, keep an eye out for the companion piece: still with hearts beating