"Thank you for coming in, Miss Langford," Detective Beckett nodded, satisfied.
They had got all the information they probably could from Michelle Langford about the squatter who had been staying in her apartment while she was out of town. Gathering up her notes back into the folder, Beckett prepared to stand, but before she could Michelle spoke again, yet not at her, instead directing her statement towards the ruggedly handsome writer, Richard Castle, who had become her unorthodox partner.
"By the way," Michelle said, a little star struck. "That photo in the paper did you no justice. You're much better looking in person."
Castle grinned happily, primping like a peacock, while Beckett raised her eyebrows in surprise. This was news to her. Turning, she smirked at Castle, amused.
"There's a picture of you in the paper?" she asked.
There was a flash of worry in Castle's sparkling blue eyes. Beckett's brows knitted together, confused. But before she could inquire further or the writer could answer, Michelle was speaking once again, this time, directing her question towards Beckett.
"So are you the detective girlfriend?"
Beckett stopped, frozen in place by the statement. Slowly, she spun back around to their witness, shocked. "I'm sorry, the what?"
Seemingly oblivious to Beckett's surprise, Michelle went on, glancing at her in an almost conspiratorial manner. "He is such a catch."
Astounded, Beckett rotated back around to glare at Castle. He opened his mouth, as if to explain, looking very much like a fish out of water, but she held up her hand to stop him. "Don't," she all but growled. "Show me. Now."
Her eyes frantically roamed over the article in the New York Ledger, quickly finding Castle's face printed in the lineup of New York's most eligible bachelors. He was ranked number nine on the list. And yes, the picture did not do the man justice. He was much more handsome in person. She narrowed her eyes, dropping her gaze to the blurb beneath his smirking visage.
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 bestselling novel. Bachelor number nine may not be eligible for next year's list.
She slammed the newspaper down on the breakroom table and glowered at the man standing across from her.
"Romantically involved!" she repeated, nearly snarling it.
Castle hastened to correct her. "Rumored to be," he said, even pointing down at the words within the blurb.
Groaning, Beckett carded her fingers through her hair and glanced around, thankful they'd taken the conversation into the breakroom, so there should be a minimum chance of others overhearing. Just the same, she kept an eye out for Ryan and Esposito. Those two had an irritating knack for popping up at the least opportune times. Glancing back at Castle, Beckett shook her head.
"What did you tell them?" she demanded, serving up her best interrogation room glare.
To his credit, Castle shrank back, rightfully afraid. "Nothing," he insisted. "Why would I do that? Do you have any idea what this does to my reputation?"
Rolling her eyes, Beckett scoffed. "Your reputation," she said. "What about my reputation?" She pursed her lips and frowned, glancing back down at the paper. "Do you have any idea how hard it is to be a female cop? The last thing I need is for you to give them more ammo to…" She stopped, and shook her head, releasing a sigh of frustration. "I have far more to lose than you."
"I know," he breathed out, dropping his head, shamefaced. "But honestly, Beckett, I didn't say anything."
"You must have," she put forth, shifting into interrogation mode. "Why else would they write that?"
He shrugged. "Perhaps because it's the truth."
Beckett inhaled a quick breath and flicked her eyes up to lock with his. "That's not the point," she said, far too quickly. "You promised to keep it—us —out of the papers. I'm not like one of those blonde bimbos that you used to parade around with on Page Six."
"I know that, Kate," he spoke soothingly. "I'd never do anything to hurt your career on purpose, you know that. You're the best thing that has ever happened to me."
He moved slightly closer to her. She could tell from his body language that he desperately wanted to wrap her up in his arms and comfort her. His restraint was admirable, and later, when they were alone at her place, she'd properly thank him for that. For now, she offered him a small smile.
"You're the best thing that has happened to me, too," she echoed his sentiment, placing her hand down on the table, near his large one. He shifted his hand, and brushed his pinky along hers.
"I'm sorry," he said. "Maybe it was the way I talked about you that gave it away."
She shrugged her shoulders, though she was inclined to agree. It was a little obvious to everyone that he was smitten with her, however that didn't automatically mean they were romantically involved. It didn't matter that it was true, that it had been true for a while. His fame had always been an issue for her, one she struggled with, and she'd always know that something like this was bound to happen at some point. But, when it came right down to it, she wasn't willing to give up what they had together simply because she was afraid of public gossip, even that of her colleagues.
"Kate, talk to me," Castle pleaded, startling her to the realization that she'd been quiet for such a long interval to worry him.
Swallowing, she forced her eyes up to meet his. She moved her hand over his, offering him a reassuring squeeze. "It's not your fault," Beckett told him, meaning it. She was angry, yes, but she couldn't blame him for feeling what he did and lighting up when talking about her. She had no doubt that she did the same whenever Castle came up in a conversation with her dad or Lanie. "It's kind of sweet, actually," she added with a tentative smile.
He let out an anxious chuckle, but bobbed his head, some relief washing into his features. "So you're not angry?" he inquired.
"A little," she admitted, "But not at you. This was inevitable, right? I knew what I was signing up for when we got together."
"Geez, you make it sound like a death sentence."
That made her laugh. Her lips spread wide and her eyes filled with amusement. Beckett shook her head, and smiled at him. She could always trust her boyfriend to lighten the mood. It was one of the many things that attracted her to him. "Maybe just a little," she teased with a playful flick of her tongue between her teeth. "But, seriously, I've been expecting this. I just… wanted it to be on our terms."
"Well, if it helps, it's only 'rumored' at this point," he reminded, tapping the paper on the tabletop.
"True," she inclined her head. "But this is as good a time as any. We can take control of the story, make it ours, not theirs."
His face lit up. "Really? And does this mean I can finally take you out on a proper date? Because there's this new place—Drago—I've been wanting to try, and oh… you could wear that red dress, you know, the one that hangs off your shoulder, shows off your—"
"Yes, and yes," Beckett interrupted his ramblings before he could get out of control. "That would be nice."
"Really?" he inquired, giddily.
She nodded, her decision firming up. "We can work this out together."
"Oh, yes, we're great together," he added, waggling his eyebrows.
Beckett easily caught on that Castle was not just referring to their working partnership but other, more intimate areas of their secret relationship. "Yes, we're great there too," she concurred with a saucy grin, flirting her fingers across his sleeve, tugging slightly. "Come here."
Castle startled, astonished, glanced around like he was being pranked. "This isn't Celebrity Punk'd is it?"
Beckett laughed and shook her head, curling her fingers tighter around his bicep as she tugged him closer. "Just shut up and kiss me, Castle."
He grinned, delightedly, and let her pull him over. She arched her head up and met him halfway, sealing her lips to his as his hands landed on her hips, tugging her closer, bracketing her in his large frame. She sank into him, savoring the kiss, embracing the freedom of not worrying about having their secret exposed. He made her happy, more so than anyone had ever had. And she was done hiding it. Let them write and gossip about them. It didn't matter. Because in the end, it was this—the wonderful thing between them—that mattered most.
"Yo, Beckett… we—Whoa!"
She pulled back from Castle to discover a surprised Esposito standing in the breakroom door. Ryan was behind him, looking equally stunned, his mouth hanging open, eyes wide. Esposito babbled for a moment, glancing back and forth between the two of them. Beckett was astonished at how at ease she felt. The instinct to pull away from Castle and deny it hadn't even popped into her head. Instead, she simply gazed back at Castle and smiled.
"Yes," she declared, turning back to her stunned co-workers. "The rumors are true. We're romantically involved."