That's as Close as I'll Get to Loving You

"Are you sure you'll be okay?"

Suzanne heard the worry in Jeff's voice as he pulled up alongside her building. He hadn't left her side since he'd come running back into her apartment earlier tonight but she didn't mind. Truthfully, she didn't want him to leave now but she knew he couldn't stay all night so she forced a smile and nodded. "Of course."

Jeff's eyes narrowed slightly but he didn't argue. After a minute he returned the smile. "At least I can make sure you get inside safely."

"Alright."

He opened the car door for her and wrapped a protective arm around her shoulders as soon as she was out of the car; a position he maintained until they were back in her apartment.

"I see they've already taken care of your door," he commented once they were inside.

"Yes," she said softly. She'd forgotten about the door, broken when he'd kicked it in earlier, until just now but she was glad to see the building manager had already repaired it. Sleep was going to be hard to come by as it was; she'd never find it if she couldn't secure her front door.

"Want me to make sure there's no one here before I go?" Jeff asked as he stepped away from her.

"If you don't mind," she told him, grateful for the chance to keep him at her place a little longer. It had been fairly easy to act alright at the police station with Jeff right there beside her. Even in the car it hadn't been too difficult, but now that she was faced with being alone a feeling of uneasiness was assaulting her.

"I'll be glad to."

Suzanne watched Jeff make his way into the kitchen, leaving her alone in the living room. She started to follow him but made herself stop. She was going to have to be alone soon so she might as well get used to it. Despite the pep talk she was giving herself, she still felt vulnerable and she couldn't stop the shudder that ran through her body. Wrapping her arms around herself she tried to ward off the unexpected chill. It was nothing but nerves and she knew it but she hated it. She was home now, in the one place she should feel safe. She didn't; she felt violated and exposed and it made her angry. What right did that madwoman have to come into her home and destroy her sense of peace?

Jeff moved out of the kitchen and gave her an encouraging smile as he walked by her and into the bedroom. Suzanne tried to return it but it was weak at best. A knot of absolute dread began to grow in her stomach at the thought of going back into her bedroom but sooner or later she'd have face up to the bad memories. She might as well take advantage of the security Jeff's presence offered while he was here. Taking a deep breath, Suzanne squared her shoulders and slowly moved over to her bedroom door.

The room itself was a mess, evidence of the night's earlier struggle still plain. Sighing softly she began picking her clothes off the floor. The mess was just a reminder of what had happened. Once things were back in their place she'd feel better. That's what she was telling herself anyway.

Jeff finished up his search in the bedroom and went to check the rest of the apartment while Suzanne continued to try and return some order to her room. It wasn't until she picked up the teddy bear Jeff had won her this afternoon that she became aware of the tears stinging her eyes. Hugging the bear tightly to her chest she tried to blink the offending moisture away. She hadn't cried all night and there was no reason to start now, not when the danger was past. She knew her efforts were futile when she felt a single tear make its way down her cheek.

Jeff picked that moment to return. "Everything looks clear and I checked all the windows. Lock the door behind me and you shouldn't have anything to worry about."

"Thank you," she replied keeping her back to him so he wouldn't see the tears she was trying to hold in. He couldn't see her cry; he couldn't.

"Suzanne?" The same worry she'd heard outside was back in his voice. "What's wrong?"

She shook her head. "Nothing."

"Suzanne."

A sob finally escaped. Whirling around she practically threw herself in his arms. Unable to speak she sobbed on his shoulder while he held her, whispering words of comfort.

Regaining some semblance of control she pulled away embarrassed by her outburst. "I'm sorry."

"Hey." He gently lifted her chin and wiped her cheek with his thumb. "You don't have to apologize." He pulled out his handkerchief and offered it to her. "What you've been through would make anybody cry. Even me."

She laughed weakly. He was doing what he always did when things got hairy, make a joke. It was a habit she'd first noticed when he helped her after Marcel disappeared. Over the years she'd seen him do it many times and more often than not, it did help. It was one of the things she . . . it was one of his many fine qualities.

"I'm being silly," she protested.

"You're not being silly," Jeff told her sternly. "What happened tonight would scare anybody. I'm only surprised it took you this long to get around to crying."

For some reason that brought the tears anew and Jeff wrapped her in his arms again. "Do you want me to stay for a while?" he asked as her tears wet his jacket.

She wanted to tell him no. She'd lived by herself since coming to this country and asking him to stay seemed like such a silly thing, but memories of seeing that awful woman creeping out of her closet refused to leave her. She couldn't stand the thought of being here alone, not tonight. Regardless of what she wanted to do, she found herself nodding, afraid she'd start sobbing again if she tried to speak.

"Come on," he said softly slipping his arm around her. He led her back into the living room and over to the couch. "Sit down. I'll be right back."

She nodded again and sat down trying to dry her tears while he was gone. No matter what Jeff said, it was silly for her to be crying. Everything was fine. Mrs. Davis was in custody and the threat was over. She'd made it through everything else; there was no reason to act hysterical now.

Jeff was gone only a minute or two before he reappeared, a glass of brandy with him. "Drink this," he said sitting down next to her.

She took the brandy, noticing for the first time that she was trembling. Jeff must have seen it too because he took her free hand in his and pulled her close. "It's going to be okay."

She nodded mutely trying to convince herself he was right.

Jeff held her until she finished her drink, then he took the glass from her and set it aside. He leaned back on the couch and tried to take her with him but she resisted his pull. Regardless of what he said, she still felt foolish and a little guilty he was here. He had his own home and his own worries. He shouldn't feel like he had to take care of her. "Jeff . . . thank you. For everything. But you don't have to stay." She had to force the words out, but they needed to be said. He needed to know he was free to leave.

Jeff had taken his arm from around her shoulders when she pulled against him and he looked at her now, brows furrowed. "Do you want me to go?"

Tears began to sting her eyes as she shook her head. "No." She was helpless to say anything else. She felt safe and protected with him here; it felt right.

The tension left his face as he smiled. "Then I'll stay. I've slept on more couches than I can count. If I end up sleeping on this one, it won't be any different."

His smile was infectious and she had to smile back, even though it was weak. "Thank you."

"Anytime. Just relax; nothing's going to happen while I'm here."

Suzanne believed that. As long as Jeff was here, she was safe.

His arm was soon back around her and this time when he leaned back she went with him laying her head on his shoulder and relaxing into him. After a minute, Jeff started to hum. Suzanne didn't recognize the song but the sound was soothing. She let him continue for a minute before speaking. "What is the song?"

The humming abruptly stopped. "Sorry," he said with a chuckle. "I didn't realize I was doing it."

"No, it was nice. What is it?"

"Prisionero Del Mar."

Suzanne smiled. She didn't understand Spanish, but she liked hearing Jeff speak it in his slightly accented way. "What does it mean?"

"Prisoner of the Sea."

"Sing it," she told him.

Jeff hesitated and for a moment she thought he would refuse but he began to softly sing. Suzanne relaxed again, allowing his voice to act as a balm to her frayed nerves. Jeff had a smooth easy voice and she'd always enjoyed hearing him sing. Just one more thing she . . . loved about him.

She did love Jeff. It was getting harder and harder for her to deny it on any given day and right here and now, wrapped in his arms with her head on his chest, it was impossible. The truth was, she'd loved him for a long time.

Suzanne had been keenly aware of the fact she worked for two exceptionally attractive men from the day she'd first sat down at her switchboard. Stuart was cultured, charming, educated, handsome; refined. Any woman in her right mind would notice him and Suzanne did notice him. She'd always enjoyed Stu's company and they'd quickly become friends, but it was the Spencer half of the agency that caught her attention. Jeff was intelligent, handsome, and charming too, but it was a different sort of charm. There was an easy, sometimes boyish, casualness about Jeff that Stu didn't have and Suzanne found herself drawn to his quick grin and all-American style.

Of course, in the beginning, Suzanne kept her relationship with both of them professional; friendly, but professional. It wasn't until Marcel's disappearance and the subsequent help Jeff gave her that she started to fall for him. And she'd fallen much harder than she wanted to. She'd known then that Jeff wasn't the kind to settle down so she'd tried to ignore just how strong her attraction to him was.

Sitting here with him made her thoughts drift back to another night he'd come over. The night she'd cooked dinner for him and he'd sort of proposed to her. She'd only been working at the office a few months and she hadn't taken the remark too seriously, especially when he laughed her answer off. She hadn't known him well enough then to realize Jeff laughed a lot of things off. Knowing him as she did now, however, she often wondered if her response hadn't been unnecessarily harsh. It may not have been a true proposal, but she'd told him exactly how she felt and she'd been plain enough that she wasn't at all surprised he never made any other advances. He continued to flirt but it was always done in a spirit of fun. He was too much a gentleman for anything else. It was something she'd appreciate if she still felt the way she had when he was looking for Marcel. The problem was, she didn't.

When she first started at the office, she hadn't understood his work. To her, it was dangerous. She didn't wish to become involved with a man who risked his life every single day, and she didn't understand why a man would want a job like that. As time went by, her view changed. She began to understand that most cases didn't put his life in danger. The few dangerous ones he did get involved in he did because he thought he needed to. Like tonight, when they'd been in Lieutenant Gilmore's office and Jeff told her it never ended. There had to be people willing to fight the darkness in the world, and Jeff was one of those who choose to do what he could. How could she fault him that?

"Would you consider a proposal of marriage?" Whether he'd been serious that evening or not, Suzanne felt she'd missed any opportunity she might have had to be anything more than friends with Jeff. The flirting, shameless at times, continued but she couldn't take it seriously, even though there were times she wanted to. Sometimes she'd catch him looking at her a certain way, or think she saw something in his eyes, but it was always gone before she could be sure. And then there were the women. There was no shortage of women in Jeff's life. There was a new one most every week, and none of them deserved him. She knew from the start Jeff enjoyed playing the field but she often wondered how so many women could just walk away from him.

Once again, tears began to burn her eyes but for an entirely different reason. Here she was sitting beside the man she loved, closer than she'd ever been to him before, and she couldn't say a word. Jeff still wasn't the kind to settle down and if she told him how she really felt, she feared it would only push him away. She enjoyed their friendship, and the flirting, too much to risk doing something to change what they had.

Jeff began singing again and Suzanne closed her eyes letting his song carry her away. It was foolish, but she was going to take comfort in tonight. Tonight she was going to pretend it wasn't duty keeping Jeff here and that there was a deeper more personal reason for him staying with her. She'd pretend she hadn't pushed him away and Jeff saw her as something more than a friend. Yes, she'd regret allowing herself to get so sentimental and she'd probably pay for it later, but right now she was too tired and shaken to care. Tonight, she was going to let him hold her and ignore the fact the light of day would change everything. She loved Jeff, and tonight, she was going to let herself pretend that love was returned.

XXXXXXX

She was crying again, Jeff knew it. They were silent tears, but tears nonetheless, and Jeff couldn't help but feel he was responsible for them. A wave of guilt washed over him and Jeff started kicking himself for letting her get involved in this case. It had been a dumb move dragging her into this and Jeff wasn't sure he'd ever forgive himself for what could have happened tonight. The thought that she might have been killed was enough to almost make him ill and he had to keep reminding himself she was fine, rattled and scared, but fine. No thanks to him. Above and beyond was what he'd said earlier. That wasn't a good enough description anymore.

He smiled grimly remembering how she'd handled tonight. She'd been a trooper, that was for sure. She'd held her own against a killer and stayed calm and composed the entire time they were at the police station. Still, almost being killed frightened her. Jeff understood; it frightened him too. Actually, it almost scared him to death. He couldn't remember a time he'd ever felt stark terror the way he had tonight when he'd heard Suzanne scream. Keeping close, walking her to the door, checking her apartment; it was all for his benefit as much as hers. He needed to know she was safe.

Walking through her apartment, being able to see for himself there was no immediate danger, helped allay his fears, but it hadn't done much to ease the knot in his gut. Even after making sure everything was secure he'd gone back to Suzanne's bedroom wondering how he was going to make himself leave her tonight. He didn't want to leave her; he didn't want her to be alone. He needed to be around in case anything else happened. Then she'd started to cry on him.

As much as he hated for Suzanne to be crying, it was a relief to see the tears. She'd been so quiet, stoic even, ever since leaving for the police station that Jeff was starting to worry about her. Seeing her show some emotion convinced him she was alright but it also made it that much harder for him to walk away. Propriety was the only thing that kept him from offering to stay as soon as they walked through the door; Suzanne was a lady and he wouldn't do anything that might make someone see her as anything less. Once the tears started all he wanted to do was hold her and make sure she knew everything was alright and when Suzanne said she wanted him there, well, there was no way Jeff was leaving, appearances be hanged.

He started singing again, in English this time, hoping it would help her relax. It didn't seem like much but it was all Jeff could offer. He'd prefer to hold her tighter, kiss her tears away, and make sure she knew how sorry he was and that he'd do everything in his power to keep anymore harm from coming to her. None of those were things he would do though. Emotional as she was tonight she just might respond to that kind of talk, and he loved her too much to take advantage of her that way. He did love her. Admitting that hadn't come easily for him but it was true. He'd fallen in love with her a long time ago.

Jeff couldn't say it had taken him a while to notice Suzanne, he wasn't blind and Suzanne was something to look at, but it had taken time for him to really see her. Jeff had known the first time he laid eyes on her that Suzanne wasn't his type. Suzanne was the kind you took home to mother and Jeff tried to avoid that type and the entanglements that tended to come with them. So Jeff spent months admiring her from afar, appreciating her beauty, figure, and charm from a safe respectable distance. They had an easy but professional relationship and that was just fine with Jeff. Marcel changed all that.

Jeff hadn't known what he was getting into when he volunteered to help Suzanne find her missing brother but working with her that closely had shown him a side of her he'd never seen before. It was a side Jeff liked, and the longer the search for Marcel went on the harder and faster Jeff found himself falling. By the time they'd learned the truth about Marcel's disappearance Jeff knew he'd never be able to see Suzanne as just his secretary ever again.

Holding her now brought back memories of another time he'd sat in this apartment with Suzanne. The night she'd made dinner for him, the night he offered her an off-the-cuff half-hearted marriage proposal. He didn't know why he'd said it or what kind of reaction he was expecting, but her reply still rang in his ears. "Certainly, but not from you." He'd been joking, mostly, but the rejection still stung, much more than Jeff expected it to. She hadn't been unkind, but she told him plainly enough what she was looking for in a man and Jeff Spencer didn't fit the bill; he was never going to. He'd laughed her reply off but left that night determined to forget about his growing attraction. It hadn't worked. After all this time the attraction was still there and it was stronger than ever.

God knew being unable to get over her hadn't been for lack of trying. Jeff dated plenty of women; bimbos as his sister liked to call them. Nice enough girls, but they were rather superficial and most of them were kind of selfish. Marriage and permanent entanglements weren't on their agenda and they were always on the lookout for something new and shiny. They could have fun for a night or two, but Jeff knew he wasn't nearly sparkly enough to keep their attention too long. More often than not, he walked a girl to her door knowing there would be no further contact. Most of the time, Jeff was fine with that.

Then there were the real bimbos. The really shallow ones who moved along to a better deal before he even had the chance to play his hand. They were the ones that stood him up or all but ignored him halfway through the night. The ones that had him sitting in front of the TV wondering why he bothered. Stu called them his heartbreaks but they weren't that serious. They were just . . . disappointments. It was usually during one of those nights Jeff found himself thinking that maybe settling down wouldn't be so bad and wondering what it would be like to have a steady girl. Someone dependable, someone who wanted him just for him; someone like Suzanne. He never let himself think too hard on that.

There were times he wished he could tell Suzanne how he really felt, but he couldn't, so he flirted. He jokingly said things that in some way mirrored what he wanted to sincerely tell her. He stole quick seemingly innocent kisses when what he really wanted to do was grab her and kiss her the way a woman should be kissed. He kept going out with his bimbos when sitting at home watching TV would probably give him more satisfaction.

He looked down at her again and noticed she'd fallen asleep. Smiling grimly, Jeff gently pushed a loose tendril of hair off her cheek. He'd never been this close to her before, never dreamed he'd be this close to her. This was something he could get used to, and on the heels of that thought came the unpleasant realization that this was it. This was as close as he was ever going to get. He was never going to know her anymore intimately than he did right now. Anything else he wanted was nothing more than a pipe dream; a fantasy that would never come to fruition. Even if he convinced himself to settle down, there was one inescapable fact, he wasn't what Suzanne wanted and he couldn't be that man.

She might want a lawyer, a little voice in his head told him. It wasn't the first time the thought had come but Jeff was always quick to silence it, just as he did now. Yes, Suzanne might be interested in a lawyer, but that ship had long since sailed. He couldn't be happy in that world anymore, not after all the years he'd spent as a private investigator. A law office might get him Suzanne, but eventually, they'd both end up miserable.

Jeff gazed down at the woman in his arms. She didn't deserve misery. Suzanne deserved . . . everything.

She deserved that nine-to-five man, the children, the home, everything she wanted. She'd find it one day, Jeff knew that with just as much certainty as he knew that man wasn't him. Suzanne didn't play the field the way he did, but she had no trouble finding dates and Jeff's gut twisted every time he heard about one. Every date was an opportunity for her to find that man, the one that would take her away, and he couldn't deny the sense of panic that set in when a second or third date happened. He also couldn't deny the selfish sense of satisfaction he felt every time she came into the office ranting about how terrible one of those dates had been. But the terrible dates wouldn't last forever. One day she'd find him. She'd get married and quit her job. She'd have her home and her family and Bailey and Spencer would become her past. It was going to happen, and it was going to kill him when it did.

Jeff ignored the strange constricting in his chest and pushed all those thoughts away; none of that mattered tonight. Tonight he was going to pretend he was here because Suzanne wanted him, not because she was scared and didn't want to be alone. He'd pretend he wasn't everything she didn't want in a man and not let himself think about the day she found what she was looking for. He'd let himself imagine what it would be like to share a bed with her and wake up beside her. He was a glutton for punishment and he knew nothing good would come from letting his imagination run wild, but tonight he couldn't help it. He didn't care that night was blurring the edges of reality and he didn't care how starkly the light of day would put him back in his place. He loved this woman and tonight he was going to hold her and let himself pretend she felt exactly the same way.