I held back my comment right then—after all, how could Mike consider himself lucky? He'd lost the woman he loved and committed a murder in her revenge that wasn't what he thought it was, he'd lived for years with the blackmail of Frank McCarty, and been SHOT when he tried to make things right. How the hell could anyone call that lucky?

Then I looked into his eyes, and this hot warm feeling rushed up from the pit of my stomach, and all I could say was "oh."

Mike sighed and pulled me closer to him; God how I loved that big fuzzy chest of his! He started talking then, and even though I already had the bare bones of what he'd gone through, I got a lot of the picture filled in.

Heard about Amy. If I was younger it would have hurt, listening to Mike unburden himself, and I won't lie—I did have a pang or two. But then again, Mike hearing about Eddie had probably been uncomfortable for him too, so I stayed quiet.

Did I mention I really loved the sound of Mike's voice, especially when my head was on his chest? That deep rumbling tone . . . .

Anyway, he talked about his life and I listened, encouraging him with a murmur or a question in all the right places. When he got to the murder of Amy's supposed killer I hugged him a bit tighter. Mike's voice thickened up, and I felt his tension all through his body.

"I knew Cath, somewhere deep down I knew that punk didn't have a damned thing to do with Amy's death, but I didn't want to admit it to myself. When I went back to Frank and handed him the gun the pact was made. Before, we'd been two men grieving and after that, every damn thing was tainted between us. I left Trenton for Philly, then Baltimore then here, trying to get further and further away from all of it, but I know now, you can't outrun the truth."

"Mike . . . " I spoke very carefully now, knowing a single wrong word would probably make him pull back. " . . . You were used. You were used by someone you loved, and it's hard to face up to that, even with the evidence in front of you. Frank blackmailed you, but in the end you beat him. You told the truth and exposed him and his cronies for what they were . . . and I believe Amy would have been proud of you. Hell, I know she would have been, just like I am."

He didn't say anything for a long time, but from the way he was shaking in my arms I knew. I let him bury his face against the side of my throat and held Mike close, feeling an overwhelming mix of emotions as his tears burned on my skin. He was so big, and at the same time, so wounded. So tired.

That was when the 'possibly' changed to 'definitely'.

Definitely in love with Mike.

We fell asleep, and by the time I woke up again, it was pitch dark. I made a rough guess that it was about midnight. Next to me Mike was out, a faint snore coming from that pointed nose of his. I eased out of bed and went to the bathroom.

When I came back Mike hadn't moved, and I looked at him lying there, dead to the world. Just the sight of him relaxed and vulnerable had me feeling horny again, so I carefully shifted myself until I could get a nice close up view of his hips.

Yes, Mike was worth looking at, and I'm a woman who's seen plenty of naked men. I reached over and stroked my hand along his shaft, glad that my palms were warm and didn't startle him. Mike shifted a little, but not enough to wake up, so I decided to keep touching him up, having fun in seeing his body respond to me so darned happily.

Sheesh, men and their dicks, I tell you—

Anyway, having a chance to get up close and personal with Mr. Twenty there was sort of fun. There's angry sex and lustful sex and romantic sex, but it had been a long, long time since I had just . . . playful sex. FUN sex, if you will. So I tickled and teased, moving lightly enough to make sure he felt it, but not enough to really wake him up, and talk about your growth spurt . . . apparently Mike's anatomy was delighted to respond to any caressing I was doing.

A few licks, and suddenly I had quite a handful; warm and happy, so I shamelessly took oral advantage of that. The long, heartfelt groan I heard when I did so was all the applause I needed--a standing ovation if you will, and a heck of a lot of fun. I'm not saying I could accommodate a lot of Mike, but what I could handle I definitely enjoyed, and so, apparently, did he.

"Ohgodddddd . . . I don't wanna wake up—" he moaned in a voice thick with sleep and lust, which made me giggle which was tough to do considering where my mouth was. I shifted a little, and pulled away for a moment to look up at him; Mike actually pouted for a second, his lower lip jutting out a tiny bit. I squeezed his shaft lightly.

"Rise and shine—"

"Risen. Shining not on the agenda," he rumbled, a nice little pleading note in his deep voice, so I went back to working him over. I could have dragged it out for a good long time; I know a few tricks, and figured maybe later I'd show Mike what REAL torture was like, but this was more of a morning for just playing nice, so I did.

Apparently I was more than just nice, because a few minutes later, the sweet and desperate sounds of Mike going right over the edge more than made up for having to deal with the slightly messy results. I got even though—wiped my lips on his thigh as I kissed my way up his still quivering body and stretched out on top of him in my best possessive manner.

He was looking at me in a way that was just too much, and I blinked hard, trying to keep from tearing up. I smiled—or tried too, and Mike gave a low laugh.


I put a hand over his mouth. "---Shhhhhh. I had fun too."

He twisted away from my fingers. "That's not what I was going to say."

I sighed. "Let's just say I know what you're going to say, and since it's sort of mutual, we can talk about it later, and just not say it right now?"

He looked at me for a long moment, not speaking, and I held my breath, hoping I hadn't totally destroyed the moment. The truth was that the only time Eddie ever said he loved me was after sex, and I just didn't want things to go with way with Mike.

"Mutual?" he asked, quietly and carefully. I nodded. Mike gave this long, low sigh and cupped my face in his big hands. I wasn't quite ready for his next move, but it was so gentle and sweet and so . . . him.

He kissed my forehead.

"This new life . . . . is really good, Catherine—" Mike murmured. " . . . thanks for giving it to me."


She loves me.

This is a whole new ballgame, yes it is. This puts a very different focus on the future; a more expansive outlook on things. If I'm reading Catherine right, then what we've got has potential, and for the first time in a long, long time, I'm looking forward, instead of backward.

She loves me, and I love her too. Not just a physical thing—although that definitely has a rich and powerful part in this—but the whole package. Brains, sense of humor, practicality, history, frailties: there's so much to this woman that I want to spend years getting to know her better, and if it sounds like I'm rushing into things, then yeah, maybe I am.

But damn it, I've got a lot of lost time to make up for too, and so I don't say anything as we fall asleep again.

Around seven, I let a very frantic Ted outside, shower and made coffee. There were some eggs, so I scrambled those, and looked around for catsup when Catherine came wandering in, clutching a towel around herself. Her hair was still wet, and for the first time I saw exactly how freckly she is.

Gorgeous, but very freckly.

"Coffee---" came her little hoarse demand and I poured her a cup.

I might have made it too strong; she gave a little whimper and set her mug down quickly. "Whoah."

"I like java that rhymes with lava."

"Apparently. Hot and dangerous are just your style," she grinned at me and I felt myself go red. I sat across from her at the table, wondering how best to mention what Ditmeyer had offered, but she beat me to it.

"Mike--what is it?"

"Ditmeyer's found me a place," I told her gently, watching her face. Catherine nodded, but I noticed her bare shoulders tense when she leaned forward.

"That fast. Wow. That's, um—that's good, right? Where?" she asked quietly.

"I had a couple of choices, but I think I'm going to go with Hawthorne."

"Hawthorne . . . and that's . . . ?"

"Two hundred miles north of here. He says they're in the market for a CSI to run the local lab up there."

Catherine looked thoughtful, and I swear I could see the cogs and gears of her thinking swirling around, lubricated by coffee. She took in a deep breath, which loosened up her towel. "Hawthorne. Is it what you want?"

I looked at her and smiled. "It will do for now. It's in state, it's small and I can get to work right away. I can keep Ted, and it's close enough that you and I . . . if there's going to be a you and I . . . can work things out. Right?"

"Right." She blurted back, making me feel a whole lot better. I reached over for her hand and squeezed it lightly, then let go.

I wasn't going to push.

"Anyway," I added lightly, "What do you think?"

"What do I think? I think it's good," she told me, nodding slowly. "Of course, you're going to need a much better wardrobe though."

I looked at her and she grinned, shaking her head. "Oh come on—black suits are NOT going to cut it for the sort of cases you're going to be called on, Mike. You're going to be working in high desert country, so you're going to need boots, and you'd be better off in jeans or khakis and maybe a sweater in the winter. And a hat if you burn like I do."

"A hat?" I asked, a little confused. She nodded.

"Yeah, and not one like Grissom's weird mesh Panama either. Maybe a baseball cap."

"Kinda casual," I pointed out, but she shrugged, which also loosened up the towel. This breakfast was going very well, I decided.

"Up to you—the dress shirts are fine, although I'd love to get you something with more color to it. Honestly, in little town like Hawthorne, a suit—especially a black one-- is going to look . . . stuffy."

And that's how we ended up shopping in a mall a few hours later.

I've been lucky enough to stay roughly the same size for the past eight years, so when I reeled off my stats to Catherine she just nodded and zoomed in on what fit. We were in a shop called Zane's—a little more western than I was comfortable with, but nothing Catherine brought to me was overtly cowboy, per se.

The jeans fit. Catherine seemed to like them, judging from her hot little look of approval, so we picked up six pairs, and she told me to start breaking them in. I wore a pair out of the store, my black slacks folded up neatly in the bag with the other pairs. Next stop was a shoe store.

I didn't see anything immediately appealing, and told Catherine so. She agreed, and we crossed the mall to another store. I found a pair of basic black work boots in my size right away. Not bad—at least I wouldn't be losing traction anytime soon. Catherine advised me to start wearing those as well, so we clomped out fifteen minutes later and found a bench near one of the fancy fountains. I felt a little self-conscious in my new stuff, but it helped that she kept smiling at me.

"Looking good," she murmured, leaning against me. I shot her a glance as I wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

"CC . . . how far is this going to go?" I asked her suddenly. People walked all around us, and the muted sounds of music and conversation were everywhere. I could smell pretzels and donuts and perfume in the air while I watched her look up at me with those big blue eyes of hers.


"Far," I blurted out, and then felt stupid doing it. That wasn't an answer, but I wasn't really sure what the question was, either. I mean I had an idea that Mike was talking about the two of us, and that whole concept was still kind of new.

Didn't mean I didn't want to give it a shot, though. He was looking at me so I gave a little nod and spoke up again. "Look, right now is . . . incredible, at least for me, okay? You're funny and sweet and smart, Mike. You make me incredibly happy."

"Good," he told me quietly. He didn't smile, but the way he was looking at me felt like a kiss; very intimate. I had a fluttery stomach all over again. In my mind I thought of a million different things all in a high speed sort of move: Telling Lindsay and mom, long weekends together, holidays, fighting, feeding him breakfast in bed, vacations, God help me, leaving Vegas---

All for this man I'd barely known for half a year, if that.

But then again, I'd known Sam all my life, and look how things had turned out with him . . . all it confirmed for me was that life was a crapshoot, and in a town like Vegas, you have to take a chance. I took Mike's hand and gave it a hard squeeze, loving the feel of the heat, the warm reality of his slightly callused grip in mine.

"How far do you want it to go, Mike?"

I had to know. Even if it hurt, I had to know.

Then he did smile; started with his eyes and spread down his face in a slow, strong wave that sort of picked me up with it. He brought my hand up to his mouth and kissed it—corny, but I told you, I'm a sucker for some of those cliché gestures. Then his voice rumbled out and finished the job.

"Me? I want us to go all the way to the end of the road, Catherine."


So two years later, and there are a lot of things that have changed. Mike went to Hawthorne and fit right into a place that didn't know they needed him until he showed up. He's got a big hulking guy named Barry working the field with him, and a smart tech named Hilly running their lab. Not a big place, but they're all getting the job done for their county, and both Bar and Hilly have been down for training here in Vegas.

Mike found a nice turn of the century two-story house with a great view of Walker Lake. He and Ted have renovated it over time, with help from yours truly on the weekends and holidays. After about the third week into his move and after all the commuting, I finally got up the courage to tell mom and Lindsay about him, and both rolled their eyes at me.

Remind me to tell you the story of our first dinner out together—dear God, was that . . . . interesting. To this day I can't say the words 'steak sauce' without Lindsay busting out into giggles, the little brat. But it all worked out, and once all the suspicion died down all three of them got along and still do. Mom thinks Mike looks hot with a goatee, and Lindsay can't believe a grown man plays the clarinet.

Anyway. So at first I was terrified the distance was going to wreck everything—Hawthorne may be up the road, but Nevada's still a damned big state, and I'm getting too set in my ways to drive it every weekend. Then I got a call from Mike to go to the North Las Vegas Airport, and he shows up in a Cessna.

Flying lessons.

He got a private pilot's license within the first four months in Hawthorn, and that meant he was only twenty minutes away. Then Mike wanted ME to take them!

So I did. Long story short, we've put a lot of air travel into our commute time in the last twenty-four months, and has it been worth it?

Oh yesssssss.


Life is good. I've gotten a second chance at getting it right, and so far things have been exponentially better than my first time around. Ditmeyer's been pushing me to finish up my Master's in psychology so I can qualify for Quantico, and so far I've been on track about getting my semesters moving along.

Hawthorne wasn't bad once I learned about rattlesnakes and raccoons and small town politics. Fortunately, Bar and Hilly are the best team I could ask for, and with Catherine coming up regularly, I had the job down. Even Ted likes Hawthorne, and still rounds up what lizards he can find, nutso dog.

As for me and C. C., well, that's pretty solid too. Once she saw I was serious about it, she followed through just as intently, and while I'm not one to kiss and tell, we've been pretty hard on beds.

And sofas.

And dinettes and washing machines and I can't really get into what happened to the felt on my pool table, but it's a small price to pay to insure my sweetheart's satisfaction.

Last year I got her a ring, and this year, once Lindsay graduates, we're getting married.

She's invited Grissom, Sidle, Stokes, Warrick and Brass to the wedding---

--This is gonna be good.