Chapter One: Keep Your Friends Close…

The blood coated my fingers and caused my grip on the handle of the steel knife to slip. I raised the tool only to slide it back into the body that lay on my slab. I was there but at the same time I wasn't, my body in one place while my mind was in another. Perhaps that was the way it has always been. Perhaps I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and that I was constantly moving in order to find that place.

But I wasn't constantly moving was I?

I paused, the blade frozen in mid-air. I had stopped moving; a shark no longer swimming but somehow not dying. What happened to the person that had thrived inside of me, the sharp-toothed predator that had been unable to function without that perfect, justified kill? It was an oxymoron to be certain but yet one that had explained everything so clearly to me in my head.

It was simple. I had fallen in love again. I had allowed myself to be captured in a net and now I was hovering in one spot, torn between two lives. The killer in me screamed to be set free. I did such horrible things in order to silence the voices, such brutal things in order to justify the loss I had suffered. My brother had been the world to me. What I did gave him peace, it gave me peace and ultimately brought peace to all those involved. No one should have to suffer as I have suffered; no one.

While the killer in me raged on, the other part, the very small one, had somehow grown larger and more demanding for peace. Peace of mind, peace of letting go. I wanted so desperately to let go of everything, to lose myself in my new life but I found it one of the hardest things I had ever faced. Who was I now? Who was I supposed to be if not a killer?

Could I really be the model citizen? The friend? The wife? I directed my attention to the knife in my hand. Could I really be the mother?

All I knew was that if I refused to let go that one day my grip on that rope would eventually slip from my fingers. It would wind itself around my neck and it would destroy me. The destruction would touch everyone in my life, everyone I had allowed myself to grow connected to, and that would result in emotional scars that would never go away.

I had to let go. I had become weak from this internal struggle and it gnawed relentlessly at me as the days continued to pass. How long had it been since I had killed someone in the name of justice? Justice, the simple word made me nauseous. There was no real justice in the world, not even by my hands. If that word held any substance, I wouldn't be needed. I wouldn't feel needed.

I'm doing it again. My mind is in another place while my body stays locked in a position where- I paused again, my grip slipping on the knife handle. What exactly am I doing? Did I even truly know any more?

The knife slipped through my fingers as a bloody hand grabbed my wrist. I looked down at the body to see Clarissa's dead eyes staring back at me. Her grip tightened on my wrist as the knife clattered loudly to the ground.

"You're a killer."

I jumped back to reality the second I opened my eyes to focus on the dark room around me. I was sweating profusely. Beside me, Nick slept peacefully. I let my eyes adjust before I slipped from the sheets.

The cold water in the bathroom did nothing to help calm my nerves but I continued to splash my face with it for several minutes before cutting off the faucet. I looked up to see my tired reflection as I reached for a hand towel. It was the third nightmare that week. I never had nightmares. Dreams were a sign of a restless mind, a way of coping with unresolved issues and that was one thing I simply had no time for in my line of work, legal or otherwise.

Each time Nick had thankfully been asleep and unable to question me as to what my dreams entailed. He just knew that I was having a rough time sleeping lately and whenever it seemed he was going to ask me anything related to my troubles I made sure to avoid the subject. Besides, what would I say? I had dragged him unknowingly into my bed of lies far enough already. I wasn't ready to challenge the bridge I had built connecting my past and the present life involving him. I wasn't ready to lose him.

I cut off the bathroom light and moved back to the bed. Nick turned towards me the very second I lowered myself down next to him. Even in his sleep, he drew me into his arms. I pressed my hand against his chest to feel the steady beating of his heart and closed my eyes.

I wasn't ready.

It has been exactly one year, three months, and two days since I started to change. At first I was resistant to it and at times I still found myself hesitant to evolve into something more… human. Love was that one element I thought I no longer needed in my life. I knew it came down to being scared, scared of what exactly it would mean to trust someone again, scared of what it truly meant to let go of the past that had haunted me for so long.

Maybe I was ready. How hard could it possibly be? I could fight the urge that lived deep inside of me. I could fight the animal that thrived to kill if it meant finding happiness again. It had been so long since I had truly known joy in simply being with someone else. Was it possible? Could I truly love Nick as he loved me and devote myself to him the way he deserved?

All I knew was that he deserved the world. Nick was the one person in my entire wicked little life I had met that was truly a kind soul. Everything about him was perfect. He was the type of person even the most hardened person would feel a connection to; perhaps that explains what happened to me. I had fought very hard to distance myself from my feelings for him yet here I am.

Without him, I have no reason to exist. I accept that truth now. The desire to kill dwelling inside was nothing compared to what I felt for him. That I didn't need to accept; it was just fact. I could stop for him. I would stop. I have stopped. Haven't I?

"You're burning the toast baby."

I looked over to see smoke coming out of the toaster. "Shit." Cursing I unplugged it from the wall and ejected the burnt toast, frowning as I plopped it onto a plate. "Sorry."

Nick smiled as he fixed his coffee and leaned over to kiss me. "It's okay; I like my toast a little on the crunchy side."

"Shut up." I couldn't stop myself from smiling back at him.

Behind us, the puppy that Detective Dara Waters had found at a crime scene barked in excitement. Fuddles (don't even ask) had grown quite attached to us or, as Nick liked to tease, had grown quite attached to me. The small ball of fur constantly followed me everywhere. He watched me in the doorway of the laundry room while I worked, he tried to sit in my lap every time I sat down somewhere, and he even refused to sleep anywhere else in his dog bed unless it was directly next to my side of the bed. At first it had been annoying. Now, well, now it was just another element in my life I enjoyed.

Nick surprised me by grabbing a piece of toast and biting into it. I laughed at the look that crossed his face right before he swallowed. He chased down the taste with several gulps of coffee. "Is something on your mind baby?"

"No." I lied. "Why do you ask?"

He threw the toast into the trash. "You got up several times last night."

I didn't take offense to the observation. Granted, I was more into actually experiencing my feelings than I had been in the past few years but there were still moments where even around Nick that I felt absolutely nothing but impartial. I knew he noticed even if he said nothing.

"I wasn't feeling too well."

He reached out to cup the side of my face. "You're not coming down with something are you?" He stroked my cheek with his thumb. "I know it's been a busy week at work with staff changes and multiple cases. It's been hard on all us. Maybe you should call in today."

Times in the past I would have snapped at him for saying that. My job was all I had to rely on, the only thing that kept me grounded but keeping that in past tense was important. I had more than just my job now. I had created a real life for myself again and surprise, surprise, I was enjoying it.

"I can't. I have a meeting with Ecklie this morning."

"A meeting, about what?"

"Your guess is as good as mine." I concentrated on fixing a cup of coffee in my favorite mug. Favorite mug, listen to you; it's black with red swirls on it and suddenly it's your favorite mug. I had grown attached to so many things lately. It was dangerous to do so yet I didn't want to stop.

Nick sipped at his coffee and leaned against the counter. "Maybe you're getting help in the morgue finally."

"I don't need help in the morgue."

"Yes," He chuckled, "You do. You're just too stubborn to admit it."

I rolled my eyes but didn't argue with him on that point. Looks like someone has been paying attention to the Cliff Notes version of who you are. "Regardless of what it is, he'll have me buried in work all day today so I'll probably pass on coming home for lunch."

"I'll bring you something."

"Do you ever really stay away?"

"Do you?"

I smiled as he reached out to pull me close. "Why don't you call me and we'll go from there?"


I sat down my coffee and closed my eyes as he dipped his head to kiss me. Relaxing into his taller frame, I was completely satisfied to let him control the kiss. I wrapped my arms around his neck as it deepened. The sparks were still there, the tingles shooting through my entire body at the simple act of his lips touching mine. It felt like the first kiss every single time. I couldn't get over how I felt each time he touched me. He truly made me come to life.

I was smiling as he drew back, those beautiful brown eyes gazing down at me. I've gone from a cold blooded killer to a hopeless romantic. I love irony. "What is it?" I stroked the back of his neck where his hair was growing out again.

"I love you."

You will truly never realize how much I love you Nick. "I love you." I popped kissed him and stepped back to grab my coffee. "I should go."

He tugged me back towards him and kissed me again. "I'll call you."

"I'll answer."

The past six months had been a stressful time at the department. Usually I kept to myself and let others deal with their issues but unfortunately their issues were quickly becoming mine as well. Staff quit, new staff had been hired, and there were shift changes as well as adjustments in the department manual that included Ecklie's newly established policy on staff members dating.

It wasn't long after Nick and I had become engaged that Ecklie had taken it upon himself to remind me to stay focused. He couldn't deny anyone in the department the right to date but he could restrict their access with each other. So far my working day shift while Nick worked nights had worked in our favor considering the new policy stated while members of the staff could socialize, any interference in job performance would result in suspension or loss of position. A few days ago I had switched back to night shift and my brain was practically reeling at the possible ways Ecklie could make my life miserable.

Try it Ecklie. Just give me a reason. When it came down to it I knew I wouldn't actually kill the man but it was an enjoyable thought, one I liked kicking around in my head when I became bored throughout the day. He looked like a crier, maybe even a bargainer or… yes, definitely a beggar.

Amusing myself I continued down the basement hallway. A light flickered above me and I glared at it before continuing towards the morgue, folders in one hand while I held a cup of coffee in my right. Humming a song that had been playing on the car radio under my breath, I pushed open the morgue door with my backside and entered backwards.

I turned on the heel of my boot and stopped at the sight of a stranger standing by one of my metal slabs where a half covered body was laying. He was tall with broad shoulders, his dark hair shaved close to his head, and he was dressed in a white lab coat on top of a tee shirt and jeans. I stared into his calm, dark brown eyes and for a minute we studied each other.

"You must be Angela."

I took a few more steps forward and slowly lowered my folders onto my desk. "Your assumption would be correct Mr…?"

"Richardson." He stepped around the slab and extended his hand. "Michael Richardson, I'm…"

"Obviously very unfamiliar with morgue protocol. You must be Ecklie's latest staff addition." I sighed and quickly shook his hand. "Next time you wait, understand?"

"Yes ma'am. I apologize."

"Don't apologize, just correct your mistakes and move on. And don't call me ma'am; Angela is just fine." I moved past him and lowered the folder onto the counter beside the main computer. "Who's on the slab?"

"John Doe, white male. I'd say late forties. He has three wounds in his lower abdomen. COD seems to be exstanguination."

I lowered my coffee cup and grabbed a file, looking down as I opened it to scan the contents. "How long have you been here?"

"An hour at most."

I immediately looked up. "You were in my morgue for almost an hour doing..."

"I arrived a little earlier than I had planned so I took a look around the station and meet several people. One of your detectives escorted me down here and I began to prep."

"Which detective?" So I can beat them into apologizing.

"Detective Waters."

Or maybe not.

"Can I just say that when I heard you were working here, I jumped at the opportunity to work for this department. It's an honor to be here."

I stared at him and was hit by the strong urge to laugh. Judging by the smooth lines of clothing and the optimistic look on his face, Michael Richardson was fresh out of medical school and ready to take on the world. I doubted he had ever truly been in situations like the ones he would find here in Vegas. Only time would tell if he'd be able to stomach what this job threw at me daily. It took a unique kind of person to do this day in and day out and if there was one thing I prided myself on being, it was unique.

"Did I say something wrong?"


"I…" Michael hesitated, a look of confusion on his face. "Well, you're widely known in this field as being one of the best. Several of the cases you worked on while at the Atlanta department are taught at the yearly seminar in Dallas."

I snorted and turned to grab the coffee pot off the counter. "I get an invitation to that Strokefest every year. What a joke."


"A bunch of overpaid assholes get together every year to stroke each other's ego and make the green thumbs feel inadequate."

"I see." He let out a small laugh and smiled. "So, where would you like to start Angela?"

I tossed the coffee pot at him and watched in amusement as he juggled it before gripping it firmly between his hands. "You can start with that." I grabbed my coat and shrugged it on. "And I'll be right back."

Lucky for him, Ecklie wasn't in his office. My second choice for my unloading rant was Grissom but he was talking to Catherine in his office and that was a conversation I never wanted to involve myself in. Ecklie had given Catherine the principle role of day shift supervisor but had given her many fresh CSI'sthat lacked in skills and needed weeks of training before they were able to fly solo. No doubt Grissom was getting an earful and by the look on his face, she had been going at it for some time. Oh well, I guess my rant would have to wait for now.

I changed directions and lowered myself down into the seat adjacent to Detective Dara Waters's desk.

"I hear you met my new assistant coroner earlier today."

"That I did." Dara didn't look away from her computer screen and she continued to type. "He came into the station at the same time as I did. He looked a little lost so I showed him to the morgue." When I went silent, she paused and flashed me a quick grin. "Oops?"

"Next time you get assigned a rookie cop; I'm sending him to a scene without you." I looked around at the empty desks surrounding hers before directing my attention back to her. "Looks like a certain someone got assigned desk duty today."

Dara smiled and went back to typing. "I was sick last week and missed a couple of days so I have a lot of paper work to catch up on."

Liar, liar; someone had your pants off. I had noticed her absence and I knew it wasn't from being sick. Warrick had taken off one of those days as well and it wasn't hard to put the two together.

In the recent months Warrick and Dara had gone from lovers to something more and despite my occasional dislike of Warrick, I said nothing more about it because he seemed to make her happy. Sometimes I sensed darkness in Dara that she battled constantly and I knew it had a lot to do with losing her child and grandmother during the events of Katrina. If Warrick was another one of those things that helped it stay at bay, I wasn't going to interfere.

"Have you seen Ecklie?"

Dara snorted but shook her head. "I keep hoping a call will come in that he's been hit by a vehicle."

I couldn't help chuckling at that and watched Dara work. Dara was one of the very few people in the department that I could stand being around for long periods of time. We shared similar interests and a fondness of dark humor. Sure, she was dating Warrick when she could have her pick of any man in the world… But we all have our vices, don't we killer?

I stood to my feet at the same time I pushed that thought into the back of my mind. "I should see if Grissom is done listening to Catherine complain."

"I swear every time I go by his door she's in there." Dara leaned back in her seat. "Before you go…" She opened her desk drawer and extended a folder towards me. "I thought you might be interested in having this."

I took the folder and opened it. "Nosy little thing aren't we?"

"Guilty as charged. I had some extra time on my hands this morning so I took a look at your new guy for you." Dara rocked back comfortably. "He might be fresh out the gate but he's got a clean record and good references. Overall, he seems like your average red-blooded American male; intelligent, polite, you name it."



"He's squeaky clean." I snapped the folder shut. "Might be a good nickname for him."

"What were you originally going to call him?"

I tucked the folder under my arm as I saw Catherine walk by. "Assistant coroner guy."

Dara laughed and I moved away. I waited until Grissom lowered a file he held before I cleared my throat and knocked on the open door of his office. He paused from shuffling through his things and looked up at me, his glasses perched on the end of his nose.

"Angela." He motioned me to have a seat. "Just the person I wanted to see."

"I imagine after Hurricane Catherine that anyone would be an improvement." I lowered myself into a seat across from his desk and tossed the folder Dara had given me down. "Mind telling me why I found a green thumb in my morgue this morning?"

Grissom clasped his hands together on the desk. "I'm sure Conrad told you Doctor Robbins is looking to retire in a few years and we just want to be equipped when that time comes to fill his position. Mr. Richardson may be new to the work field but he is quite capable of assisting you." He smiled at me and I immediately knew what he was going to ask. "How are things with Nick?"

"He listens to country music when we're in the car together but other than that, we're just fine." I smiled back slowly. "How are things with Sara?"

Sara had surprised everyone when two months ago she had resigned from her position as a CSI. I wasn't entirely taken off guard considering her recent emotional issues with what her job entailed but I hadn't expected her to disappear from Vegas completely. Grissom had been a wreck for a few weeks after that but Sara had returned a month later and things were back on track.

"Things are lovely." Grissom smiled. I found in our conversations he tended to be more open than I found him to be in a larger group. "Sara's enjoying the time off." He rocked back in his chair comfortably. "You should think about taking some time off yourself Angela; an upcoming wedding can be quite time consuming."

"I'm quite capable of handling two things at once Grissom." Trust me; I've been doing this juggling act for years.

"Have you decided on a date?"

I winced in my seat. "No."

"Well, I'm sure you will. Those things tend to fall into place once you start."

"May I ask you something personal Grissom?"

He nodded. "Of course."

"Why have you never married?"

"It has never been the right time," He leaned back in his chair, "And never the right person."

"Sometimes it can be the right person at the right time and still not work out."

Grissom scratched at his chin but nodded slowly. "I guess it would depend on what you were willing to do in order to make it work. If you want something, it is possible to not only obtain but to keep it as well. Things worth having are never easy to come by or hold onto when they're important to someone."

"You should consider writing fortune cookies if you decide life as a CSI too much for you Grissom."

"It's definitely an option."

"I should go." I stood up. "I need to go check on my shadow and make sure he's not burning down the morgue or something."

Grissom smiled again. "You'll get used to him Angela and before you know it you'll be back to what you do best without having to deal with Ecklie's red tape." He leaned back in his chair again. "Who knows, you might actually enjoy having someone be your shadow."

I highly doubt that. I paused as I started to shut the door. "Grissom?"

He didn't look up from the folder in his hand. "You don't have to thank me for requesting you back for night shift. It's good to have you working with us again. Now get to work."

I chuckled and saluted him as he looked up, a small smile on his face. "Yes sir."

I had barely taken two steps when I had to stop short from bumping into Warrick as he came down the opposite hall. We both took a step back, shifting and clearing our throats in an awkward move that made me immediately hate myself.



"I heard you were coming back to night shift."

"You heard or you were told?"

His eyebrows furrowed. "Does it matter?"

Back to square one I see. "I guess not." I kept my posture relaxed and glanced around. "How are things with Dara?"

"I gotta go."

I stepped left when he moved right. He took another right step and when I moved to block him again, he stepped forward to bring us inches apart. "Knock it the off Angela. I've got work to do!"

"How are things with Dara?"

He stared down at me but sighed in defeat. "Not that it's really any of your business but things are great with Dara."

"So she doesn't mind you abusing prescription drugs?"

"Excuse me?"

"Excuse me?"

"Stop it."

"Stop what?"

"Stop that."

"What's that?"

"That Angela!" Warrick ran his hand over his face. "Jesus Woman, what do you want from me?"

I chuckled, the sound dry and without an ounce of humor. "I don't want anything from you Warrick; I just want you to fix your shit before I have to do it for you." I smiled thinly but the expression vanished immediately. "Every day you go out there unprepared because of your dependency you're not only risking yourself but your team as well. I want Nick returned in the exact same way he left."

"I'm not going to let anything happen to Nick, Angela. I can promise you that."

"Your promises aren't any good to me Warrick; they're just words. I'm a see to believe kind of girl." I flashed him another thin smile. "Whatever it is you're taking Warrick? It's not worth your job and your relationships."

"Stop fucking talking to me like we're friends."

"If you want to go back to being at each other's throats all the time, I'm game but it doesn't change the fact that I'm right. Clean your fucking life up or I'll give you reason to."

He stepped closer, looming over me. "Don't even think about it Angela."

"I won't have you risking the man I love just so you can go off half-cocked. You want to go down in a blaze of glory, fine; be my guest but you're not taking any of these people with you, not Dara and definitely not Nick."

"Get out of my damn way."

I ignored the flash of warning in his eyes and reached out to press my hand against his cheek. "You're a good man Warrick and you're better than this. This place you're trying to go, that level of Hell? It won't bring you peace. It won't bring you anything but more pain. You're not making amends for anything you think you've done wrong in your past by willingly doing this to yourself."

His eyes darkened and he reached out to curl his fingers around my wrist but didn't tighten his grip like I expected. "I know what I'm doing Angela. You don't have to worry about me."

"I'm not-"

"Yes, you are." He smiled faintly. "You're the last person in the entire world I expected to ever be concerned about me but you are."

I smirked. "Maybe I just want to save you. I mean, you end up dead and the first person they're going to interrogate as a suspect is me."

Warrick actually chuckled at that but he didn't release my wrist even after I shifted my hand away from his face. "Don't flatter yourself."

"You can let go of my wrist now." I cocked an eyebrow when he merely stared down at me. "You can let go of my wrist now." I repeated.

"You're not wearing your engagement ring."

My eyes flickered to my hand. "I didn't want to get blood on it or worse, lose it in the guts of some old guy found behind the Wynne. How many girls do you know would give you that excuse, right?"

"When do you get off?"

Oh man, what a loaded question. Frowning, I pulled lightly against the pressure of his fingers. "Seriously Warrick, let go of my wrist."

"Ms. Wilkins?"

The intruder made Warrick immediately drop my hand as if it burned him and he strode past me without another word. Frown on my face I watched him go, my head tilted.

"Ms. Wilkins?"

I turned on my heel to face Michael, the ends of my lab coat swirling around my legs. "Yes?"

Michael looked away from the direction Warrick had disappeared to focus on me completely. "There's been a report of a 419. Grissom suggested I shadow you."

"Of course he did. Great, field trip time."

"Was that your fiancé?"

I turned again and he followed. "You were standing there snooping. You know the answer to that question." I stopped just short of the elevator and he came up beside me. "And I don't remember mentioning that I was engaged."

"I met Nick earlier." Michael hit the button on the elevator and directed his attention to the lit numbers as they changed. He smiled, his eyes slowly shifting to meet mine. "He's a very friendly man. The first thing he said when I introduced myself was, have you met my fiancé Angela? She's amazing, you'll just love her."

I stepped into the elevator after he did, Michael hitting the bottom floor before leaning against the wall, arms crossed against his chest. I assumed the same position on the opposite wall. "I bet he did. Look Michael, if there's something you'd like to know, just ask."

"Would you have said yes?"

"Excuse me?"

"If I hadn't of interrupted you, would you have said yes?"

"All Warrick asked me was when I clocked out and besides, if you knew anything about the relationship I have with the man, you'd realize the absurdity of what you just asked."

"Perhaps you'd like to fill in the blanks for me?"

"I don't think there's enough time in the world to tell you everything you think you should know." I shot him a look as the elevator hit the ground floor and the doors opened. Still smiling at me, he motioned me first and I rolled my eyes before marching past him.

"Did you two date in the past?"

I let out a bark of laughter and continued into the morgue. "I'd rather be disemboweled before even contemplating going on a date with Warrick Brown."

"Interesting choice of words."

The calmly spoken words had me looking up at him as I reached for my kit and SUV keys. I lowered my hand. "Let's get another thing straight here Michael; my personal life is none of your business. I love my fiancé. Nick is Warrick's best friend and right now Warrick is going through some issues. We haven't always gotten along in the past but he's important to Nick and that makes him unfortunately important to me."

"You seemed emotionally involved back there in the hallway yet you label your relationship with Warrick as unfortunate. I'd say you're not exactly sure if that's the correct terminology to use or not."

"And I'd say you're talking out of your ass because that's all you've got to go on right now."

"I apologize for being curious."

His smile told me otherwise. "I'd be careful as to who you become curious about around here. You're new here and the last thing you want to do is make enemies of the people you have to work with on a daily basis."

"The last thing I want to do is make an enemy of you Angela."

I eyed him and stepped away to collect my things. "We've worked together for a total of three hours. You don't know a thing about me or my company and no, questions won't help you."

"I have faith that I'll wear you down."

I glared at him and shrugged on my jacket before I grabbed the keys. "I'm going to supervise while you run this 419 by yourself."

"I appreciate the vote of confidence Angela." He smiled when I glared at him again. "Ms. Wilkins."

"A word of advice, don't screw this up. Ecklie will get pissed and I'll get to laugh." I marched past him. "And stop calling me Ms. Wilkins; you're making me feel like I'm some old hag. Angela will be just fine."

Michael chuckled and grabbed for his kit. "Sure thing Angela."

"And stop smiling at me, it's annoying."

"I'm sorry."

"I thought I told you to stop apologizing damn it!" I noticed I was smiling as we left the building and immediately wiped the expression from my face. If Michael noticed, he didn't say anything and for that I was grateful. It wouldn't look too good for me to kill my assistant on the first day now would it?