A/N: So this was meant to be posted... almost a year ago. I'm so sorry for keeping you all waiting! This chapter has gone back and forth to my amazing beta Kellie/Freewheeler more times than I can count, and thanks to her incredible input has grown into one of the best pieces I feel I've ever written and grown me as a writer.

Nic, you've had ANOTHER birthday since the first chapter was published, so, uh... happy birthday again?

This story is now rated M.

The slow, steady rumble of a diesel engine broke into her dreams, disturbing the exaggerated quietness of this strange town. Or perhaps it was the quietness that woke her? A Manhattanite at heart, even summers spent at her father's cabin still surrounded her with the sounds of the woods and the distant hum of boat engines on the lake. This town, by contrast, was deathly quiet, still solidly asleep against the encroaching early morning. Kate blinked into awareness, a smile stealing across her face as she shifted her focus away from the world outside the room. There were far more pleasant things to think about right here.

An arm was banded around her waist, holding her firm and close to the solid wall of heat at her back. Rhythmic, warm puffs of air on the back of her neck told her Castle was still sound asleep, his big body curled around hers, and she couldn't stop the grin spreading across her face. Everything was warm and cozy, her insides humming as last night came back to her. Moving slowly, she managed to dislodge his arm just enough to turn in his embrace so that she could watch him unobserved.

He was sharing her pillow, only inches away, his features slack with slumber. A few locks of hair were standing on end; a few more fell across his forehead, and her heart tripped at how boyish he looked in this relaxed state.

She reached out to touch him, flicking his bangs away from his forehead, then feathering the pad of her finger across his brow, down the noble line of his nose, sweeping a caress across his cheekbone and down the stubble of his jaw.

His eyes blinked open, guileless in the pre-dawn light, and his face broke into a dopey smile. "Kate!" his voice was rough with sleep, filled with awe as if her name was the sum total of his every desire.

"I didn't mean to wake you," she replied, her lip catching between her teeth.

He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her tightly into him and nuzzling at her neck, and she arched back to allow him access. How the hell did he find that spot so quickly?

She slid one leg across the firm breadth of him, and pushed back from his seeking mouth so she could rise, straddling him. His thighs created a firm and solid pressure between hers, and a ripple of pleasure zipped through her. She played at the skin she could reach under the hem of his t-shirt as she laughed down at him, relishing the way his eyes flared wide, his hands tugging at her, pulling her closer. Bending down so that her curls cocooned them, she nudged his nose with her own before claiming his lips in a lazy slide. His mouth fell open to her assault and she slicked her tongue inside, seeking the addictive flavor of him.

Her hands stroked across the planes and dips of the torso that had distracted her from her paperwork for four years, and she nipped and soothed his bottom lip as his fingers dug into her hips even as she rolled them into his, steadying her on her perch on his thighs. His groan was guttural, his grip on her convulsive.

"Kate," he panted as they broke for air, but she smirked, tasting the bob of his Adam's apple, salty and rough. Her body slid up his as he gasped for breath, his chest heaving as she sprawled on top of him, trapping the evidence of his arousal between them, his length pressing into her belly, sparks of heat sluicing through her.

He caught her by the elbows, holding her still as his eyes bored into hers. His smile dropped away completely, his voice graveled and low. "Just so we're clear, because I am done with talking around things – if we do this, it's for keeps. No going back. You're in this as much as I am."

His authoritative tone made her insides clench, and she cupped his jaw so that she could press her lips against his, tasting the line of his mouth, before tilting her forehead forward to rest on his, sharing his air, breathing him in.

"I'm done running, Castle. I want this – you," she said, infusing her voice with conviction, her heart soaring at being able to express her truest desire.

In a ninja-like move she didn't know he was capable of, he rolled them so that he was hovering over her, bracing his upper body with his elbows, and allowing his hips to fall into the cradle of hers.

She hissed at the contact, nerve endings on fire.

He scattered a dusting of kisses across her jaw, down her throat, and she arched into him – but when he blew a raspberry on her neck, she shrieked at the unexpected playfulness, flopping back onto the mattress in a peal of laughter. He grinned down at her, and her breath caught at how much had changed since last night. Her heart skipped as he gazed into her eyes, so full of boyish charm, and she swore to herself she would never hurt him again.

She reached up to run her fingers through his hair, and he leaned into her palm, seeking her touch. She guided his mouth down to meet hers in what began as soft, languid kisses. It wasn't until their teeth clashed together and her cheeks were burning that she realized she was smiling into the kiss, wide and open – and his expression matched hers. She laughed, bubbling with joy, then took a deep, steadying breath to calm her pounding pulse – caught his gaze filled with so much tenderness shining up at her, and surged forward to kiss him again in earnest.

She skimmed her hands up under his t-shirt to play her fingertips against the muscles of his back. He broke away with a grunt so he could shuck the tee, leaving him only in his boxers.

Her mouth went dry.

His torso wasn't sculpted – there was no six-pack on display – but he was broad, a solid wall of comfort and hot skin against hers. She stared at him, unable to look away, felt her skin flush and her nipples harden.

Of course he noticed.

His eyes blazed into hers, and her fingers stumbled under his scrutiny as she peeled off her tank top. It snagged in her hair, which flopped down into her eyes, and her cheeks burned as she blew the strands away. Dipping her head, she balled the shirt in her hands, even as her nipples pebbled in the cool morning air, and she found herself holding her breath, waiting for his laughter at her lack of coordination. His stillness prompted her to lift her gaze, to find his pupils dilated as he gazed up at her, his lips parted. She watched his eyes sweep down her chest, feeling the answering blush as his heated gaze swept her skin like fingertips, caressing her – until his eyes shifted to the center of her chest, and she saw the blue depths of his eyes change from dark arousal to a heartbreaking melancholy.

"Kate," he whispered, his voice ragged, and he glanced up at her as if to ask permission.

She nodded.

Stretching out his hand, he lightly traced the now small, barely noticeable depression between her breasts.

She held her breath as his fingers brushed the mark, giving him a moment to come to terms with the specter which had haunted them both for almost a year. A cemetery on a sunny day. Her breath stuttering in her lungs, her ears ringing with the phantom crack of a rifle. But she pushed the images back and focused on the man in front of her. She gasped, arching into him as he tasted her scar, then nipped and nibbled his way down to one of her breasts, cupping the other in his hand, lifting his eyes to hold hers with a steadfast, unwavering heat.

His mouth on the flesh of her breast heated her blood, and she writhed under him. He seemed to be determined to avoid her nipple as he worked around each mound, and it wasn't enough. She needed him to take her in, take the sensitive peak that he was skirting into his mouth. Own it. Then the rough rasp of his tongue on her nipple and the tug of his teeth, and her nerve endings were on fire.

Her eyes slipped shut and she clawed at the sheets, at his back, running fingers through his hair and tugging, guiding, pleading as his hot mouth drove her wild. Then the chill of the room and the firm pressure of his fingers tweaking, and her eyes flew open again as his lips wrapped around her other breast, and she writhed on the sheets beneath him, seeking friction where there was not enough. Her hips rolled up to meet his, chasing the firm, intimate press of him, and his unoccupied hand slid down to hold her in place.

Just as the sensation was becoming too much, the cool air of the room rushed across her as he released her breast, grazing it with his teeth as he let it go. She tugged him to move back up to her mouth, and huffed as he ignored her – the huff becoming a sharp intake of breath as he nipped and nuzzled his way down her ribcage. Her nerve endings sparked as he moved over her navel, then – she heard herself growl at him in frustration – skipped over her panties, detouring away to the soft flesh of the hollow of her hip and down one thigh. She cursed, managing to lift her head high enough to glare down at him. He paused his ministrations, resting his chin on her thigh as he blinked up at her, the look on his face all too innocent.

Narrowing her eyes, she growled, "Get on with it, Castle, or I swear to God..."

"Patience, Detective," he replied, hooking his thumbs into the elastic of her probably ruined panties and sliding them down her legs. Throwing them over his shoulder somewhere, he paused where he was kneeling at her feet, his eyes tracking slowly up her body. Her breath caught in her throat; the way he gazed upon her for the first time reminiscent of a starving man at a banquet, and her skin prickled in anticipation.

His eyes were black by the time they met hers, dangerous and filled with delicious intent. His fingers on her ankles was her only warning before the heat of his mouth pressed a delicate kiss to the bone protruding there. The trail of his lips up her calf left goosebumps, and she shivered as he paid extra attention to the dip of her knee. She closed her eyes, overwhelmed, as he moved up her inner thigh, giving herself over to the sensations this man was creating within her. Gripping the sheets, she startled as one of his hands covered hers, prying her fingers away so he could link their hands together.

She looked down at him, to find him settled between her legs, staring up at her, eyes filled with awe.

"I love you," he said, eyes boring into hers, before lowering his mouth to taste her for the first time.

At first contact with his mouth, she flung her head back with a shocked indrawn breath. Her hips all but launched off the bed before he brought the hand joined with hers across her stomach to pin her down. His broad shoulders propped her leg wider, giving him full access to feast on her.

She shivered as his tongue slid through her folds, and when he flattened his tongue against her clit, her whole body contorted in ecstasy. He hiked her leg over his shoulder driving his tongue deeper, devouring her. She panted as he ran his fingers up her inner thigh, and all her breath left her as he slipped one thick digit into her, then a second.

She had imagined what this would feel like on lonely nights in her empty apartment, had fantasized about him touching her so intimately, had cried out in frustration as her own slim digits were no substitute for the dream of the thickness of his. This reality made her fantasies a joke.

He slid his fingers in and out of her, sucking and licking in tandem movements, stoking the arousal that coursed through her like wildfire. She moaned, cried out, squeezed the fingers of his other hand, twisting against the delicious combination of hot tongue, thick fingers, rough stubble all working her higher and higher, as he played her like an instrument, adjusting his movements to her every reaction as she gasped and stuttered, rolling her hips and gripping his hand.

She shattered, emitting a whine that was at least partially his name, her whole body tensing, falling, as her orgasm rolled through her, consuming her, swelling and releasing, and he hummed in appreciation, continuing his ministrations until she twisted away from him, oversensitive nerve endings frazzled from sensation.

She tugged him up, curling into him, boneless, as she recovered, and he held her tenderly, sweeping a hand up and down her spine, soothing her. She guided his mouth to hers, kissing him languidly, tasting herself on his tongue.

It was all too tempting to run her hands down his chest, enjoying the jump and play of his muscles under her fingertips, and she grinned into his mouth as her hands skimmed down to play with the elastic band of his boxers, before boldly palming him through the silky fabric, testing the weight and length of him in her hand with a slow slide. He gasped, his hips jerking instinctively into her hand, and he broke away from her mouth to stare at her, his eyes dark with arousal.

"Kate, I don't have protection," he pleaded, and she paused, blinking through the haze of lust to process his words.

"I'm on the pill, but..." her voice trailed off, and she looked up at him uncertainly, her bottom lip slipping between her teeth.

"I'm clean," he assured her, his eyes full of earnest honesty.

The humiliation of the past few weeks burned through her, a garish tableaux starring a blonde flight attendant, and she focused her eyes somewhere over his left shoulder as she ground out the question she had to ask. "Even after the last few weeks...?"

"I didn't sleep with Jacinda, Kate." His voice was rough, deep, and allowed no room for argument.

Her eyes flew back to meet his, her mouth parting to question him further, and it was only then she saw the pink on his cheeks, the self-loathing in his eyes. "You didn't?"

He shook his head. "I nearly did. I... tried to. But it was all wrong. She was wrong. She wasn't you, and... and I felt like I was betraying you, so I didn't. It didn't seem fair to her to use her like that, either."

She reached up, cupping his jaw in her hand, relief rolling through her even as her gut twisted in shame at her part in the past few weeks, and she guided his mouth down to meet hers, slicking her tongue along the seam of his lips. "I love you, Castle."

She arched up into him, intending to claim his mouth again, but his hand slid up to her shoulder to still her. "I love you, too. Enough to not do this til we're home and have the proper protection, if that's what you want."

She shook her head as she brushed her lips against his, shoving at his shoulder to get him to sit up. "I trust you, and I have the rest covered. I want you," she mumbled against his mouth, one hand curling around his biceps and pushing until he rolled onto his back. She broke away from his mouth, kneeling to help guide his boxers over his bobbing erection and sliding them down his legs, before copying his move from earlier and flinging the garment over her shoulder somewhere.

Crawling up to straddle his legs, she swirled a single finger over his tip before sliding her hand down his length in a long, steady stroke. He hissed, reaching down to catch her wrist.

"Kate, please. I don't think I can handle much more teasing. Please?" he begged, and she took pity on him, bending down to kiss him once more even as she positioned his tip at her entrance, crying out as she sank down on him, eyes fluttering shut as she stretched to accommodate the delicious length of him. Her muscles pulled tight, humming in pleasure as she fully sheathed him, and she gripped his shoulder with her hand in warning to keep still as she took a deep, steadying breath, her heart bursting with joy at the delightful intimacy of their joining. One of his huge palms cupped the back of her head, and her eyes popped open to find his shimmering with awestruck wonder. "Kate," he whispered, and she lurched toward him, meeting his mouth again as she lifted up almost completely off him before sinking back down again. His hands slid up to grip her hips, and she began to move over him.

He angled forward to capture one of her breasts in his mouth and she threw her head back on a cry, grasping at his shoulders and hooking her fingers up into his hair as she undulated over him, her urgency increasing as he began to thrust up into her. She moved with him, finding a rhythm, their bodies sliding and colliding, working together, everything coiling, building as she met him stroke for stroke.

"Castle – I need..." she ground out, chest heaving as everything tightened, radiating out in a hot rush from the base of her spine, sending needles to her nerve endings with her approaching orgasm.

She felt him release her breast and pull away, groaning at the loss of him even as he rolled them, hovering over her. She hitched her leg higher around his waist, tugging him closer, breathing his name as he sank into her once more, the change of angles making her pant, his thrusts filling her more deeply. She sank her teeth into his shoulder as she tilted her hips to meet his once more, scattered and centered all at once.

He then began to move, torturously slowly, and she arched into him, adjusting more fully to this new, deeper angle, the intimacy of the dance tearing at her heart, filling her, making her fly as her body twined with his. He braced himself on his elbows, using one palm to ease her head back down to the pillow, locking eyes with her.

"Castle, please." She needed more – that last little something to achieve euphoria, her body taut, stretching to its limits, and she was aching for the coil to snap.

"I love you. So much, Kate," he panted, so close she could see nothing but the blue rings of his irises.

"I love you, too, Castle," she whispered back.

She felt the tension in his muscles snap at her words, and he slammed into her, again and again, building the peak within her as she met his movements thrust for thrust, her own muscles straining. He snaked one hand in between them as his movements began to get sloppy, making tight, rough circles around her clit, and her body contorted as blinding pleasure seared through her, the rush making her whole body tighten as she fell apart around him, bursting and floating and thrumming. He gave a hoarse cry, emptying himself within her, his jerking movements prolonging her high as her body milked the last of his seed.

He collapsed onto her, unable to hold himself up anymore, and she snaked her arms around him, her muscles still quivering like jello even as she welcomed his weight and the slide of his damp skin against hers. She mustered all her remaining strength to lift one hand to his head, combing her fingers through the sweat slicked strands.

It was several long moments before he spoke. "I'm crushing you," he mumbled into her neck, and she shook her head. He brushed a kiss to her temple, rising up to gently slide out of her, the loss of him making her breath in sharply even as he rolled them, tucking her into his side so she could snuggle into his chest. She poked him in the ribs for moving her, sinking down against him, boneless, already missing being joined so intimately. She allowed her mind to wander, already looking forward to doing this with him again, only in a more comfortable bed.

"I'm so glad I don't have to do anything more strenuous than drive back today," she mumbled, still kind of floating.

"What time do we have to get going?" he asked.

"Whenever we like. I asked Gates yesterday for a personal day, and since we don't have any active cases, she agreed. Having said that, I'd rather get the drive over and done with," she said, smoothing her hand across his chest, enjoying the heat of his skin and the thudding rhythm of his heart beneath her fingertips. Now that she was free to touch him, she couldn't seem to stop. Thankfully, he didn't seem to mind.

"Why, Detective Beckett, what could you possibly be planning?" he asked, his eyebrows dancing.

She turned her head so her chin was propped up on his chest. "Something involving you, me, as little clothing as possible, and a bed that's more comfortable than this one," she replied, watching the bob of his Adam's apple as he gulped.

He seized her by the shoulders, smacking a loud, slopping kiss to her forehead and landing a playful swat to the bare cheeks of her ass before springing out of bed. "Let's get cleaned up and get out of here, then!" He grinned down at her. "Care to help me conserve water?"

"You do realize we'll be faster if we shower separately," she said, rolling over so she could better appreciate the spectacle of a nude Richard Castle standing before her.

He pouted. "But Kate, the drive will take hours!"

She stood slowly, watching his eyes glaze over as she moved toward him in all her naked glory, and kissed his pouting lips until his grin returned. "First one to the shower picks the music on the road!" she said, and darted away.

"No fair! Kate! You cheated," he yelled, and before she could reach the bathroom, his strong arms banded around her waist, lifting her back into the naked heat of his chest, the bump of skin meeting skin distracting her from the sensation of her feet leaving the ground. Then he was doing wicked things with his tongue against her neck and his feet were carrying them into the bathroom, and she relaxed into his arms as he shut the door firmly behind them.