Chapter 1: The Favor

"Ugh, David, what I am even doing here?" Kate Beckett grouses as her friend pulls her from rack to rack in the department store.

"Come on, Becks, you promised."

"I know, but I wasn't thinking about dresses when I agreed to this. Can't I just wear, like, a pantsuit?"

David gives her an extremely skeptical look. "You have a pantsuit?" She huffs and looks away. "I didn't think so. I doubt you have anything in your closet that isn't denim or leather." He sifts quickly through the racks of dresses. "Here's one. A nice forest green to go with your eyes. And ooh, silk, feel how soft. What do you think?"

"It's too girly," she complains, fidgeting. She's antsy to get out of here. Department stores remind her of mom. Hell, it's been a year and a half, and still everything reminds her of mom.

"It's a dress, Becks. It's gonna be girly. Kinda the whole point." David drags her over to the changing room. "Go in and try it on."

"Remind me again why I agreed to this?" she calls as she closes herself into the stall. David's voice floats through the door.

"Because of the free food and booze."

She snorts, kicking off her shoes. "Not likely."

"Because you're tired of spending every Saturday night trawling the seedy bars looking for one-night stands."

"Shut up," she grumps, her cheeks heating up. She pulls her t-shirt off more forcefully than necessary.

"Because you're a super sweet friend and you knew I needed a plus-one for the wedding. Because my parents will kill me if I don't go to my stupid cousin's stupid wedding."

"And they'll double kill you if you show up with your boyfriend," Kate sighs. Guilt makes her bite her lip, scowling as she shimmies out of her tight jeans. Her mom is dead and David can't come out to his parents. Life sucks.

She opens the door a moment later and lets David look at her in the green dress. He beams and practically claps his hands with glee.

"Oh, Kate, it's so gorgeous. You look gorgeous in it. Don't you love it?"

"It's okay," she mutters, trying not to look at herself in the mirror. Mom would have loved this dress on her. Mom almost never got to see Kate in a dress after she hit puberty.

David catches her mood and tamps down his enthusiasm. "Oh, honey. Come on, take it off. I'll pay for it, we'll find some killer shoes to match, and then we'll go get a beer."

"Now you're talking." She closes the stall door again and carefully removes the dress. She stares at it on its hanger as she pulls her regular clothes back on. How can something so soft make her feel so hardened?

Kate stands in front of the mirror in her dorm room, wearing the green dress. But she's not looking at her reflection. She's looking at her mother's engagement ring, lying on her palm. Such a tiny scrap of metal and rock, encoding so much emotion.

Holding the ring, looking at the ring, brings a fresh surge of grief like a punch to the gut ... and an even fresher wave of guilt when she remembers how she behaved when she discovered what her dad had done with it. Left the ring sitting around on a side table, just tossed there like a piece of meaningless clutter. Kate winces, hard, at the one-two punch of anger and shame. Tries not to think about her dad's drooping, defeated face when she yelled at him. How he crumpled under her fury and muttered "I just didn't know what to do with it" and then retreated back into his bottle of whiskey.

In the moment, she thought it was the stupidest thing she had ever heard, and said so. She winces again. That's maybe the worst part, because now, a few days later, standing here before her mirror, she doesn't know what to do with it either. Her mother's ring.

She picks it up and turns it over and over, the sparkle stinging her eyes. She can't slide it onto one of her fingers; that would be ... obscene, somehow. Maybe she'll get a chain so she can wear it around her neck like a pendant.

The thought of a necklace jolts her back to here and now. Startled, she looks up at her reflection. Right, the wedding. David will be here to pick her up any minute.

She puts the ring gently back into the little velvet box she got for it, and sets it carefully aside. The grief punches her again as she closes the box but she won't cry, not now. She can't. Her makeup is already done and she can't have puffy eyes at the wedding. She takes a deep, trembling breath.

From another jewelry box she produces a pair of earrings that go well enough with the dress. She puts them in quickly while checking her hair and makeup in the mirror. Tries a smile. The girl in the mirror looks nicely put-together, ready to go out and enjoy herself.

She looks at her bare neck and considers trying to dig up a necklace, but decides not to. Now that she's got into her head the idea of wearing her mom's ring as a pendant, anything else around her neck feels like betrayal. She supposes that's probably dumb, but who cares? If anyone at the wedding is going to judge her for not having a necklace on, let them.

She turns her back on the mirror and reaches for her shoes.

"Oh god, what was I thinking? I can't do this," Kate says for the dozenth time as David pulls the car into the valet parking line.

"You can, Becks. You're fine. You look great, and all you have to do is hang on my arm and be polite. Maybe smile once in a while?" he teases gently. She rolls her eyes sourly.

"And eat cake. There better be cake," she grumbles.

"It's a freakin' wedding, of course there will be cake!" David winks at her. "And hey, maybe you'll even meet someone. You don't have to leave with me if something better comes along."

"In this crowd? Yeah, right." She scowls out the window at the fancy hotel, undoubtedly full of snooty snobs, and thinks longingly of her favorite bar. Of the hot bikers in leather jackets who go there to drink and shoot pool and maybe get laid. She could be there right now, bending over the pool table in her tight jeans with every eye in the place glued to her ass, getting wasted and having her pick of evening companion. Finding someone to fuck her into one more night's worth of oblivion.

But no, instead here she is on a Saturday night at a wedding full of pretentious jerks, in this stupid dress and these stupid earrings and these stupid four-inch stiletto heels (okay, she actually really likes the shoes) and oh god, her hair. "Shit, David, my hair." She pulls down the visor to look in the mirror.

"Your hair is fine, honey, calm down. It was fine when we left the dorm and it's still fine." He takes a deep breath. "Okay. Showtime."

Kate sits in the passenger seat and waits for David to come around and open the door for her, while the valet slides into the driver's seat. "Okay," she repeats, "showtime." She follows David's example and takes a deep breath of her own, tucking her clutch under her arm, getting out of the car.

She can do this. It's all just pretend. Pretend to be David's girlfriend. Pretend to be the kind of girl who goes to snooty weddings in a fancy dress. Pretend to be a girl without a mom-shaped hole in her life.

"Ready?" he asks, sounding just as nervous as she feels.

"Ready." She gives him what she hopes is a realistic look of simpering adoration. He blinks in surprise, then relaxes, smiling slightly. She takes his arm and they walk inside.

It's not so bad, really, once she gets past feeling like an impostor in the dress. She survives being introduced to what seems like dozens of David's relatives, all of whom say things like it's about time he met a nice girl and you two look so cute together, at which she does her best not to roll her eyes. She fields how did you two meet? easily, repeatedly; they met at college, have two classes together this semester, so she doesn't even have to lie.

She zones out during the ceremony itself; the pageantry of marriage holds no interest for her, so she just sits straight in her chair, lets her eyes unfocus, and thinks about her coursework and where she might go on her motorcycle next weekend and whether she needs to do a grocery run tomorrow.

Then the ceremony is over and there's dinner, which she passes mostly in silence while David chats gamely with distant relatives around the table. She tries to smile and respond when they engage her in the conversation, but it's awkward. She drinks several glasses of champagne and is relieved when the band starts up and the newlyweds take to the dance floor, shortly followed by other couples.

"Come on, dance with me, Kate," David wheedles. She takes his hand and lets him lead. After a few songs he whispers in her ear, "Okay, you're off the hook. Go find someone to flirt with. I saw a few hotties at the singles table."

"David!" she scolds, just for appearance's sake. He grins.

"Have a little fun, girl. If I can't find you when I'm ready to leave, you can find your own way home. I'm going to chat up the two cousins I actually like." And he sets off into the crowd.

Kate makes her way over to the open bar and waits behind a crowd of already tipsy airheads who can't decide what to drink next. By the time she makes it to the front she's rolling her eyes and in no mood to be jostled against the bar by a large male presence that seems to come out of nowhere.

"Hey, watch it," she snaps. He looks back at her, startled, his elbow catching her shoulder as he turns.

"Oh, hey, sorry. Really sorry," he says smoothly, giving her a dazzling smile. She cocks her head slightly. He looks vaguely familiar, but she can't place him.

"Let me make it up to you by buying you a drink," he suggests. "What's your pleasure?" He manages to make that sound teasing, seductive, rather than crass; but she doesn't miss the way his eyes flicker down her body and back up again. That's nothing new - she gets that from guys all the time - but somehow she finds herself responding to his attention, and she thinks, what the hell, she might as well flirt a little and see where it goes. He's probably just another vacuous rich asshole, but you never know.

"Vodka tonic," she says, and hopes they won't card her. That would be embarrassing, even though she does have a pretty good fake ID.

But the man with the blue eyes and friendly smile just turns to repeat her order to the bartender, and a moment later he's steering her away from the bar with a courteous hand on her elbow, a glass in her other hand. His hands are big, she notices, to go along with his body size, tall and broad. In her heels she's just a couple of inches shorter than him. And he fills out his tux very nicely. Warmth is already pooling low in her belly before she even takes the first sip of her drink.

"The thing about weddings," he says as he guides her to a patch of open space next to the dance floor, "is that you can't use any of the usual lines. Do you come here often? for example. Doesn't work."

She feels one corner of her mouth turning upward. "Do you find that that one works in other contexts? Because, no offense, it's pretty tired."

"Oh, it works well enough if you know how to pull it off," he replies easily, his eyes twinkling, his mischievous expression somehow making the words seem charming rather than arrogant.

"If you say so," she shrugs, affecting unconcern.

"I'm Rick, by the way."

"Kate." She sips her drink, enjoying the bite and the buzz.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Kate," and now his voice is low and silky, a seductive tone that sneaks across her skin and makes her tingle. Oh, he's good. Guys in biker bars are never this smooth.

"So," he continues, "bride's side or groom's side?"

"Oh - groom, but I don't know him at all," she admits. "I'm just here as a favor for one of his cousins, my friend David." She sees him noticing that she didn't say boyfriend. His lips curve upward ever so slightly.

"I'm here as a favor also," he says, nodding. "Someone I work with is related to the bride and she didn't want to come alone." He lets his eyes drift over Kate's body again, not bothering to hide it. Normally she would shut that down fast, but somehow, tonight, here, from this man, it's exciting her. Her breathing has sped up already. She takes another gulp of her drink and enjoys the sensation of liquid courage flowing through her.

"Not gonna miss you, is she?" she asks, her voice coming out a bit lower and huskier than she intended, but what the hell. She likes the effect it has on him, the tiny quick inhale, the way his eyes flicker to her lips and up to her eyes and back down again.

"Nah," he says, still cool, in control of himself. "She's over there somewhere chatting with the aunties. I've discharged my duties as escort." He gives a little wink on the last word and she can't help laughing a little. It's so dorky, it shouldn't be cute, but somehow it is. Cute and hot.

"That's good. So, Rick, wanna dance?" She doesn't wait for an answer, just puts down her empty glass, turns her back on him, and slinks out onto the dance floor. She doesn't have to look back to know he's checking out her ass.

When she turns he's right there behind her, his arms already coming around her waist. She lets her hands settle on his chest and they move into the rhythm, bodies not quite touching ... yet. His hands rest lightly, politely at the small of her back, but she feels a slight tension in his arms and knows he's thinking about sliding them down to grab her ass. She looks up into his eyes and gives him a little smirk that says I know what you're thinking about.

He gives back a matching grin and says, "I like your dress. So soft, and it looks really good on you." His eyes say something like it would look better on the floor, although on second thought she knows that such a cheesy line would be beneath him. He's got more game than that.

"Thanks," she answers, and then gives a little gasp when he whirls her into a turn. The song has changed and the beat is a bit faster now. Rick takes her hand and spins her dramatically; his other arm sweeps out and narrowly misses clocking an elderly woman. Then he expertly whisks Kate back into his arms again. She's grinning, a little breathless, a little tipsy, and very much enjoying the nearness of his hard body.

"You almost bowled over grandma there," she giggles against his shoulder, and feels him chuckle.

"Mere illusion. I had my eye on her the whole time." His tone is light and she knows it's just a joke because his eyes were on her, Kate, the whole time. She saw how his eyes darkened as he slid them over her body: the long line of her bare neck, the hint of cleavage, her legs that she knows look endless on these heels. She really likes these heels.

"So," he says after another moment of swaying sedately to the beat, "are you enjoying the wedding?"

Kate pulls back to look him in the eye. "Subtle. Why don't you say what you really mean - wanna get out of here?"

His eyes flash hotly. "I thought you'd never ask."

To be continued...