Texts. Phone calls. Hook ups.

On paper, it was great.

The reality was somewhat different.

Rick stood up on his tiptoes, his eyes scouring the store as he considered.

Kate was great. Beyond great - she was incredible. Their physical connection alone would have been enough to set his head spinning, but it went further than that. They seemed to have some kind of mind meld deal going on, and she had an uncanny ability to finish his sentences.

She was also holding something back from him.

His brow furrowed as he continued to scan his surroundings.

Could he blame her?

Whatever it was - and he didn't know, knew almost nothing about her - couldn't be as big as the things he was holding back from her.

"Hey, Rick? You said - and I trust you, I do - but you said you're not married. So you want to tell me why you absolutely have to rush out of here at six thirty on a Sunday morning?"

He hadn't wanted to tell her, no.

Was there a faster way to kill a fledgling relationship?

Not that he wanted a relationship with someone who had a problem with his daughter. No. Absolutely not. But it wasn't as black and white as all that either; he'd dated on both ends of the spectrum.

The women who used Alexis to get to him, and the women who treated Alexis as some kind of inconvenience.

He wasn't willing to go down either of these paths with Kate, and so he'd taken the coward's way out, mumbled a blatant lie about work, and fled.

Two weeks later, and he was no closer to revealing the truth about himself.

The anonymity was liberating, and it was suffocating.

He frowned, worry creeping in as he peered around yet another shelf. Where was she? Alexis was a sensible kid, but this was a bookstore, and like him, she had a way of getting lost in them. He'd left her in the junior section reading a Roald Dahl - she'd read Matilda a half dozen times, was drawn to it like an old friend - but now she was nowhere to be found.

Beckett flexed, stretching her arms in front of her as she rolled her shoulders. She leaned her head back while she waited for the green light, letting the tension drain out of her neck, and closing her eyes as she did so.

What a morning.

Some aspects of Academy life were incredible; it was always brutal in its own way, but some moments held more charm than others.

Sparring in the gym - she could take a lot of her classmates, had bested an instructor or two in the last month - was a definite highlight.

The legal studies classes, as well, were intense, but she'd been pre-law and the intellectual stimulation made a welcome change to some of the more prosaic moments.

Speaking of the mundane. She sighed, pulling a tissue from her pocket and blowing her nose, trying to clear the pollution from her body. She needed to wash, badly. She allowed her mind to drift. She would strip off her clothes, toss them straight into the laundry, and shower quickly, cleansing her body before running a bath. She'd sink into the tub, and stay there until it was time to go out.

At that, she felt her lips curl up into an involuntary smile.

She'd been smiling a lot lately.

Rick was keeping secrets, but she liked him anyway.

Maybe because of the secrets - god knew she didn't want to share hers, not yet, not ever - or maybe just because he was smoking hot.

She grinned now, letting herself relax further as she walked down the sidewalk, picking up her pace to put as much distance between herself and the intersection as possible.

Was there anything less appealing than working traffic enforcement? The traffic control division was separate but that didn't mean recruit officers didn't have to pay their dues by pulling a couple of shifts in that department.

Beckett hated every second of it, and more to the point, was pretty sure the only reason the recruit officers were forced into traffic was as a threat, or warning. A way for the Academy to say, 'screw up, and you'll end up here'.

Speaking of ending up places. Kate paused in the middle of the pavement, earning herself the ire of the women walking behind her. She was right by a bookstore. If she ducked in, she could grab the next Patterson book in the series. She hesitated for a second - she was dusty and dirty. Maybe she should go straight home? But if she went home she would run herself a bath, climb in, and regret the lack of reading material.

She shrugged, turning to the door and tugging it open.

Glancing around to orient herself, the sign for 'crime and thriller' stood out, and she headed in its direction, long strides making short work of the major store. She rounded the corner and stepped smack into something. She looked down. Someone, in fact. Someone small with red hair, and blue eyes made brighter by the tears staining her face.

"Are you okay?" she made herself ask, and the girl looked up at her, perking up at once.

"A policewoman," she exclaimed. "I can talk to you."

"Of- of course you can," Kate agreed, taken aback. She wasn't entirely sure what else to say, but she was taking an oath to serve and protect the city, and she supposed that included teary eyed children. "What- how- what's your name?" she asked.

"Alexis," came the tearful reply. "And I can't find my dad. We were here together, and I was reading, and I think he wandered off."

"What's your dad's name?" Kate asked. "We can go to the counter, see if they can call him."

"Richard," Alexis said. "Richard Castle."

"And what does he look like?" Kate asked, and Alexis pursed her lips.

"He's tall. And he has brown hair."

Tall with brown hair. Great. This was, she guessed, practice for dealing with less than detailed witness statements. "Anything else?" she asked, not really expecting an answer, but Alexis' face erupted into a broad grin as she reached toward the bookshelf and triumphantly pulled out a paperback, handing it to Kate.

"Like that," she said, satisfaction in her voice. "That's my dad." Kate took the book and turned it over, only to be met with familiar piercing blue eyes. Her mind spun as she tried to process what she was seeing.

Rick - she could have sworn he'd told her his last name was Rodgers - was staring back at her.

Richard Castle.

Holy crap.

She looked at the shelf that Alexis had plucked the book from. An entire row was dedicated to Richard Castle. Dozens of titles were on display. A handwritten note from one of the store's employees declared the man 'the master of the macabre', considered 'Flowers for your Grave' a 'hit' and gave it five stars.

Looking back at the party they'd attended, some pieces of the puzzle started to fall into place. Rick wasn't in publishing the way he'd led her to believe. In fact, if she had to guess, she'd say Gina was less a colleague and more his publisher or editor.

The publisher or editor of a star author.

No wonder he'd looked at her funny when she'd mentioned her liking for Patterson. Her cheeks warmed at the memory.

"Officer?" A little hand tugged at her wrist, and she looked down. She'd almost forgotten about Alexis.

Alexis!

He had a daughter. Not only was he an acclaimed author, Rick had a daughter.

She exhaled, the shaky breath leaving her body as she struggled to process everything. "Let's go to the counter," she suggested. Still holding the novel, she forced her feet to move. Alexis nodded, falling into step with her, apparently calmer now she'd found an adult.

"I was the one who wandered off," Alexis confessed. "It wasn't my dad. He said he was going to look at the cookbooks and I was meant to stay in the kids' section."

Kate laughed, in spite of herself. "But was he in the cooking section when you looked for him?" she asked the girl.

"No." Alexis looked indignant, then delighted. "So daddy wandered off too!"

Kate smirked. "Guess so."

Elements of Rick's personality were starting to make sense. She could see him as a father; he'd be fun, probably not too strict, and he'd probably spoil Alexis something silly on the days he had her. She frowned, because that was quite the assumption, that Alexis' mom was the main caregiver, but really, what superstar author would want a kid dragging him down?

"Alexis!" the panicked shout came from a familiar voice, further confirming that Rick was, in fact, the man on the cover of the books she'd just seen, and the father of the girl next to her.

She turned to watch Alexis throw herself into the arms of the man in question, the little girl breaking into a fresh hiccup of tears as he picked her up, his grip on her white-knuckled.

"Where'd you go?" he demanded.

Alexis coughed, rubbing her eyes before answering, fun loving sass in her voice as she answered, "you wandered off!"

"I did no such thing," Rick denied, smiling into the girl's hair as he set her down. "I seem to remember leaving you in the kid's section curled up with a good book or two."

Alexis shrugged. "It's okay, Daddy," she assured him. "Officer-" she looked at Kate. "Officer…"

"Beckett," Kate whispered, and Rick lifted his eyes to her.

Alexis continued as Rick's jaw dropped. "Officer Beckett helped me."

Rick blinked, and Kate felt like a deer in headlights under his scrutiny. "Kate? You're a traffic cop? That's your big secret?"

Beckett scowled even as she felt her face heat red. "I am not a traffic cop. I am a recruit officer at the police academy who happens to have had a training day in the traffic division."

Crap.

Now he knew.

Alexis looked first at her dad before turning back to Kate, then whipped her head back to meet her father's eyes. "You know Officer Beckett?" she demanded.

"Uhhh…"

"Sort of?" By now, Kate was sure her face was flaming, but if she wasn't mistaken, Rick's ears were also showing a hint of red.

"We're friends, yeah, pumpkin," Rick managed at last, before dismissing the topic altogether with a strained, "did you want to buy any books?"

Alexis shook her head.

"What about you, Kate?" he asked, then shook his head as if he couldn't believe he'd even asked such a stupid question.

"No, I'm good," she answered, drawing his book up to her chest and covering it with her arms as best she could. His gaze fell on the cover and she opened her mouth, ready to defend herself, but as she lifted her eyes to his she realized that his face was now flaming.

"Oh," he said. "Oh. Right. Well. Um."

She blinked. He was on the back foot? She cleared her throat. He was on the back foot. Good. She narrowed her eyes, and lifted the book, brandishing it at him. "Actually, I do have a book I need to buy. Right now."

"Um." Rick looked around helplessly. "Well, I think Alexis and I need to go. You know, have a little chat about wandering off, and I'll, well- I'll call you."

"Dad," Alexis reminded him. "You wandered off. And this is very rude. Kate's your friend and she helped me." She paused, then brightened. "I know! You should buy her a coffee. Or- oh! Officer Beckett, can you come and have dinner with us? Dad is cooking spaghetti, and he's got plans after that, but it's okay, we can eat together before he goes."

Kate blinked at the sudden turn this had all taken.

"He has a date," Alexis stage whispered, and Rick buried his face in his hands.

"A date, huh?" Kate chuckled.

"He really likes her," Alexis continued.

"Good to know," Kate replied, looking at Rick, who was looking more and more uncomfortable. "I bet… I bet she really likes him too."

"Really?" Rick asked, his voice soft. "You think so?"

Kate nodded, dropping her gaze to her feet. Rick smiled, the first genuine look of pleasure on his face since the panic of spotting her with his daughter.

"Do you think you'd like to come over for dinner?" he asked, shy now. "I mean, I know my daughter invited you, but… really, we'd both love it if you did."

"I still have to buy my book," she said by way of answer, as he nudged her toward the door. "After all, I've heard this guy is the master of the macabre."

He snorted. "If I had a dollar for every time I heard that… let's just say I wouldn't have to write anymore bestsellers." He took the book from her hands and walked them toward the counter. He pulled out his credit card, and Kate tried to protest. "Please," he said. "It's the least I can do. After all, you like the… genre. I just hope you still like it after you read this one, because I've got a dozen others for you to read."

She laughed.

"Come on, Officer Beckett," Alexis said. "We live just around the corner."

"This is why I've never been back to your place, right?" Kate asked Rick under her breath as they exited the store, indicating in Alexis' direction.

He nodded, passing her the book before taking her hand as if it were the most natural thing in the world. "Hand," he reminded Alexis as they reached the intersection, and Alexis obediently slipped her hand into his other one, ready to cross the street. The lights turned green and the traffic cops on shift waved them across. Kate forced her eyes forward, suddenly all too aware she was still in her uniform. Crap. She could not go to Rick's house for dinner like this. She needed a shower. Make up. Clean clothes. To smell like something other than smog and exhaust. She needed to get out of this. Go home, hide from Rick. Maybe she could move house. Maybe even cities. Anything to avoid the moment he realized she wasn't his type, wasn't the kind of girl a bestselling author dated.

"So..." Rick spoke, bringing Kate back to earth. "You're a cop? That is so cool!"

"It's really awesome," Alexis added, skipping alongside them. "Dad loves cops. And CIA agents. And FBI."

"He does?" Kate asked Alexis. She turned to Rick. "You do?"

"Helps me with my stories," Rick explained, beaming. "One time I got to shadow a CIA agent-"

"Sophia," Alexis explained. "I didn't like her. But you know, dad could follow you at work-"

"Hold up," Kate said. "No. I'm not even a cop yet. I'm a recruit officer. That's it."

"But you will be a cop," Rick said, "and I would love to follow you around."

Kate rolled her eyes. "Hold your horses," she instructed him. "Nobody's following me anywhere."

Rick shrugged, bumping his hip into hers as he grinned. "Then follow us. For the best spaghetti you've had in your life."