Title: Such Gifts
Rating: rating: R
Genre and/or Pairing: Neal Caffrey, Elizabeth and Peter Burke, almost a realized threesome
Notes: I can't write het sex, but I like Elizabeth as much as I have liked any female character since Amanda from Highlander
Spoilers: Possibly for episode one
Warnings: violence not rape though
Word Count: lots of them
Summary: Elizabeth and Neal encounter terror
lj-cut text="This one is for this community"
There was absolutely no reason why Neal was there. Peter had brought him home along with a stack of files, parked himself at the table instead of the desk, and disappeared into the folders. Neal read what Peter shoved in his direction, spent quite a few moments watching Peter work; Neal's face wore a sweet expression that Elizabeth was sure he would have not wanted either her husband or her to notice. He gradually migrated to sprawl delightfully on the couch with a stack of papers he stopped even pretending to read. His shoes neatly lined up on the floor beside him, the ankle with the bracelet dangled, jouncing to the rhythm of the jazz that Elizabeth was playing as she worked on her shopping list.
"I'm borrowing Neal," Elizabeth said.
Her husband grunted impatiently.
Neal was looking at Peter again, this time hopefully. Poor boy was bored and not sure if he was allowed to complain.
"I need someone to carry packages,' Elizabeth added.
Frowning, Peter dug through the stack of papers to move one group into a different folder.
"And then I am going to see if we can find matching frocks for the winter ball. Do you think Neal should wear pink or green?"
It was probably Neal's laugh that called Peter out of his reverie.
His head moving with his eyes from Elizabeth to Neal, Peter frowned and opened his mouth.
"It is Sunday," Elizabeth said.
"Even inmates don't have to work on Sunday," Elizabeth pointed out.
"Neal isn't complaining," Peter replied.
"Or I could draft you," Elizabeth said in honey tones.
"Take him," Peter said, standing up. "Do I need to reset the monitor?"
"No, it's all local," Elizabeth said, secure in her win.
Shoes on, Neal helped Elizabeth into her jacket before putting on her own.
"So gallant," Elizabeth teased.
"Madame, your wish…"
"If you kiss him, he turns into a frog," Peter observed.
Neal stuck his tongue out, probably thinking that it was too quick for Peter to notice, but he was wrong. Elizabeth could follow the curve of the smile that quickly crossed her husband's face even from this angle. She knew him well.
"Don't work too long," Elizabeth said, giving an irresistible caress to her husband's hair then a kiss on his lips. Her eyes dared Neal who had followed her over.
Never one to resist temptation, Neal slipped in, planted his own lips on the side of Peter's face and said, "Don't wait up for us, honey."
Peter's mock roar of 'Caffrey' followed them out the door, but Elizabeth saw her husband's hand go to his cheek where Neal's lips had skimmed, not to wipe the trace away, but to capture and keep.
They were lucky in finding a parking space in the underground garage, but it wasn't the height of shopping season and people were just getting out of church or stepping away from brunches. If she was alone, Elizabeth may not have parked in such a dark corner, but she had Neal for company, trusting that would discourage a mugger.
Elizabeth loved to shop. She did most of her work over the internet and she did have regular vendors, but this was also Christmas shopping. Besides, sometimes you wanted to see, hear, and smell everything. She was a sucker for post Thanksgiving sales, even if they were right after Halloween.
At the perfume counter, Elizabeth took a wary sniff of a sample. Not bad. She put a little on her wrist, holding her hand out toward Neal, who bent over it, his nose inches from her skin so she could feel the warmth of his breath.
"Love it," Neal said.
"It's unisex," the all too elegant sales clerk, a slim and gorgeous man, said. "Your…? He should try some."
"My husband's boyfriend," Elizabeth tossed off just to watch for reaction.
Neal chuckled, not offended in the least.
The clerk's eyes shifted between them, spending longer boldly drinking in every inch of Neal. "Your husband is a very lucky man."
"He is," Elizabeth said. "We each will have a bottle."
"Elizabeth, I can't af…."
"Shh," Elizabeth chided.
It made her mad that her husband still hadn't done anything about that beastly seven hundred dollar stipend. It was a wonder that Neal wasn't out stealing every day to keep himself in his accustomed style.
After she paid for the purchase, Elizabeth reached up and dabbed some on Neal's pulse points. "Yummy" as she also drank in the scent of perfume and skin.
"That was very naughty of you, Elizabeth," Neal said, but he was unable to manage reproof. It came out as admiration.
"It was fun!" Elizabeth said.
They made a trip to the car. As Neal loaded the first armfuls of packages into the trunk, he said, voice a little lost in the interior, "You know that Peter…that Peter and I… Nothing happens."
Neal shut the door. Elizabeth stood with her hands on her hips. "You mean it hasn't happened yet."
"He wouldn't," Neal said.
"You would," Elizabeth said directly.
"I would never, ever, not for anything, hurt you."
"I know," Elizabeth said. "You ever think that I might not object?"
"Then we really, really have to get to know each other better."
A good accessory can make a woman feel as exquisitely beautiful as the finest diamond.
Neal made a great accessory. She could see an occasional glance their way. Appreciation. When Neal laughed, all wavy hair, white teeth, and long noshable neck, women looked. Some men did too and probably they were not all gay, the ones that did. Guys like Neal helped build Kinsey's Reports thirty percent who tried it.
At the posh dress boutique, Neal was her audience, a willing and charming one. More packages at his feet, Neal's legs were widely spread, his arms splayed over the chairs on either side of him, all eyes on her until she could feel them burning on her exposed skin. Elizabeth twirled in the dress with the price tag that intimidated her.
"What do you think? I like the red one, but…"
"This one," Neal purred, his eyes wide. "You have to buy this one. Peter will trip over his tongue."
The clerk smiled. She said, "Shall I check you out then?"
Well, she did have that vid release party coming up. That should cover the dress. Almost.
"Yes, please," Elizabeth said.
"You're going to need shoes," Neal remarked, his expression almost as focused as it was when he was working with Peter.
"Oh, my," Elizabeth said. "You are so right. Shoes!"
She remembered the keys, but forgot her gloves at the toy counter. "Be a dear, Neal. Would you mind getting them for me? They're my favorite pair."
He bowed, eyes dancing as he did. Despite all the walking, he still had all of that bounce. Elizabeth couldn't help watching that round butt and those long legs as they made their rapid retreat. A girl could look, couldn't she?
Humming to herself, Elizabeth hid the present she had managed to buy unseen when Neal had made a quick stop in the men's room. Just a scarf, but it was cashmere and so soft. She could already see Neal's beautiful hands running over it.
Lost in her thoughts, for one moment, Elizabeth thought it was Neal who grabbed her, but as terror spiked through her, she knew there was no way Neal would ever grab her so roughly.
A filthy hand smothered her scream. Peter had insisted on her taking self defense, but she couldn't get her heel down to spike the man's foot nor did her attempt to buck upwards and hit his chin with her head work.
Struggling, crying for Peter through the meaty palm that bruised her mouth, Elizabeth saw the gaping door of a battered white van.
No. NO. NO. NO.
"What the hell? Let her go!"
Neal's voice hit an upper range that would have been funny if Elizabeth wasn't so scared.
"Pussy boy," the man mocked as Neal ran toward them. He held onto Elizabeth with one hand while he fended Neal's first, somewhat ineffective punch off easily.
The man shifted his grip to Elizabeth's hair as Neal changed to a two handed blow.
"Now you're pissing me off."
Crying, Elizabeth gripped her own carefully styled and just trimmed locks and pulled hard. She sprawled, tears of pain running down her face. She saw some of her hair still in her assailant's hand. She couldn't get to her feet, couldn't get far enough away fast enough. She scooted blindly backwards until she hit the step of the van and screamed for the first time with all of her voice. Her hand reached back to support herself as she struggled to get to her feet. Her hand closed on something cold and solid, round and hard. She brought it forward, her thoughts focused on Neal, going down for the third time, his elegant mouth bleeding, his eyes terrified, but still fighting, still determined to save her.
The sound that emerged from Neal as the man brutally threw him into one of the support beams was sickening. Elizabeth's hand rose on its own. She ran at the hulking caveman who had grabbed her. The tire iron, it was a tire iron she held, slammed up and down. Up and down and she could not stop screaming. Her throat ached and burned. Her eyes flooded and she didn't stop until the man was on the garage floor and not moving anymore.
Dropping to her knees, Elizabeth could not catch her breath. She knew she should call someone. She couldn't find her cell phone or even her purse.
One arm hanging at an impossible angle, Neal crawled toward her in a lurching but rapid motion so beyond his usual grace that Elizabeth was jarred from her terror to pity. She pulled him the last inches and they hung onto each other, his uninjured arm around her, holding her almost too tight, and his bloody cheek against her ruined hair.
"Are you alright? Did he hurt you? Peter's going to kill me." Neal sounded out of it. One of his eyes was swelling shut and the other had a pupil that nearly blotted out the blue.
Elizabeth found a voice that certainly did not sound like hers, rasping croak as she said "Peter will love you. You saved me."
Now the store security guard was lumbering towards the heap of ugly on the floor. At least, he was calling 911. Elizabeth's head was spinning. She heard a clunk and her right hand was suddenly less heavy. She realized she had still been holding onto the tire iron.
The next few minutes blurred. Neal yelping as they made him lie on a gurney. Someone handed Elizabeth her purse. She didn't remember calling Peter, but the phone pressed to her ear as she hung onto her husband's voice for dear life.
"Where are we going?" Elizabeth asked.
"Downtown," the paramedic replied. "And hang up, lady. Cell phones not okay in here."
"They are taking us to Downtown," Elizabeth told Peter.
"I'm coming. You sure you're okay."
"I'm… a little shaken up."
Neal rolled his head on the gurney and moaned. "Neal is hurt though. His arm. His head. His poor face."
"Did I kill that man?" Elizabeth asked as she put her phone away, lying back, turning her face towards Neal.
"No, he's breathing. He's going to Harlem. The long way." The paramedic replied. "You did a job on him though. Good for you."
"I did, didn't I?" Elizabeth said in wonder. Wow, she had never so much as had a spite fight with her sister and, god knows, anyone would have thrown a punch at Cassie if they had to share a room with her.
"Yes, ma'am, you did."
"Is he going to be all right?" Elizabeth said, "My…" Oh dear, there was not quite the word for a Neal in your life. She said, "My friend, not the mugger."
"I'm fine," Neal claimed. "I could have taken him."
A rare moment of honesty. "Not."
"You're good with a tire iron, Elizabeth."
"You saved me, Neal, we saved each other."
Somehow the smile Neal gave her was the most beautiful she had ever received from him, despite the blood and bruises or perhaps because of them.
The paramedics finally noticed Neal's ankle. Expressions changed as they saw the monitor and the blond paramedic asked, "Did we get one of the bad guys? I thought he was with you?"
"Neal is… never mind the monitor. It belongs to my husband, Agent Burke of the FBI. Neal is a consultant."
"Who has a tracking device strapped to his leg?" the paramedic questioned.
"Yes," Elizabeth said in a tone requiring no further questions. "Neal saved my life."
"Looks like he's not much of a fighter," the paramedic said.
"More of a lover," Neal said from nowhere.
Elizabeth was shocked to hear herself utter a shaky little laugh.
A mild sedative and a minor pain killer later, Elizabeth felt a bit better and a lot fuzzier. Peter arrived at the same time as the detective who was assigned. Peter's hands flying over her, assessing her damages and reassuring himself that she was still with him. Eyes glaring at poor young inspector Caruso, Peter said caustically, "Would you like to arrest her for defending herself?"
The handsome detective blushed and stammered. He said, "Sir, I have to do my job. You want that slime ball to wiggle out of this because I didn't interview the crime victim?"
"Go check on Neal," Elizabeth said. "Go make sure they are being good to him."
Peter looked at her. Elizabeth put on as much of her no nonsense voice as she could find in the ragged remains of her throat. "Go"
Peter had to admit that when he heard Elizabeth's voice or at least the remains of it tell him that she had been attacked; he had one fleeting insane moment when he considered that it had been Neal.
Just a brief thought, easily dismissed. He knew Neal, not just his crimes, his deeds, his usual accomplices and companions. He knew Neal. He had the man mapped so deep that he would never be free of him. Neal had sunken into him, down to the dark recesses of his brain, to his animal brain that was tempted to bite into that neck that sometimes bent enticingly in front of him and maybe mount him to show his dominance. Show something anyway.
Neal abhorred violence. He wasn't weak, not a coward. He was all balls when it came to a caper, but he didn't want to hurt anyone.
Both times when Peter had captured Neal, Neal showed no resistance. The first time, Neal had been ruefully submissive, almost amused, chess king tipped to a superior opponent.
The second time, Neal had been so still, so lifeless, so broken that Peter didn't know whether to cuff him or hug him back to some semblance of the bedazzling, exasperating man he had sent to prison. He settled for putting on the handcuffs, but, damn it, he lost a night's sleep over the way Neal acted. And that was before he had gone down for the third time in the sea of Caffrey charm.
First, Peter would kill the bastard for Elizabeth. He would then have the man revived so he could kill him again for Neal.
Neal opened his eyes…opened the one that was not swollen shut and gasped when Peter entered the room. Peter compared Elizabeth's shell shock and thought, 'A good case of post traumatic stress all around'. Neal offered him a puffy lipped smile which quickly fled.
"Sorry, Peter," Neal said.
"I shouldn't have left her alone," Neal said.
Peter admitted that he had that thought himself on the way to the hospital. "What happened? Elizabeth kicked me out for being mean to the police officer they assigned, some kid younger than you so all I know is that a mugger grabbed her."
"We were all ready to go," Neal said, shaking a little. "She forgot her gloves on the toy counter."
"She's always doing that," Peter said, a smile at remembering how many times he had to go back to get them. "So she sent you for them."
Neal's forehead creased and his mouth turned into a grimace. His uninjured hand rose toward his dislocated shoulder in its splint. Peter caught the hand, reasonably sure that Neal should not rub the injury. Once he had the hand, he felt awkward, not knowing what to do with it. Neal solved that by slipping his hand in Peter's and bringing it to his chest.
"No pain medication. Maybe concussion."
"Yeah, you get hurt like this, at least, you should get a legal high."
"It's that bad?"
"Pretty much," Neal said. "You sure Elizabeth is okay?"
Elizabeth walked into the room with the young detective in tow. She said, "All done with me. They have to talk to Neal now."
His wife's eyes followed Neal's hand reluctantly slipping out of Peter's. She managed a wise little smile.
"We'll be right back, honey," Elizabeth said. "Be nice to him, Ricky."
"Yes, Ma'am," the detective said. "I will." The young man looked adoringly at Elizabeth, another conquest to her charm.
Elizabeth walked over to kiss Neal and say, "We won't be far."
"I should tell you to go home and rest," Neal said, "But don't. Don't leave."
"We won't." Peter and Elizabeth said together.
"I have to make a beauty appointment. My hair is ruined," Elizabeth mourned.
Despite her casual remark, Peter was prepared for it when Elizabeth broke down and cried in his arms. He might work white crimes, but sometimes non violent offenders surprise you. People get hurt and they have delayed reactions after shock dissipates. He held her, rocked her, and was there for her. "We should go home,"
"Not until Neal can go," Elizabeth said. "And he is coming home with us. He's family. He shouldn't be alone when he's hurt."
Peter could have explained that June had a staff that could have waited on Neal hand and foot. Or that he was pretty sure that gnomish crook that worshipped Neal would have slept at his feet.
Peter didn't because he wanted to bring Neal home too.
Elizabeth did consent to a quick trip home for a shower, which went too long and Peter had to rescue her from the shower floor. He bundled her in a towel for another crying jag.
By the time they returned, Detective Caruso had some new information.
"Your wife is a lucky woman, a brave woman, but lucky that your friend was there," Detective Caruso said, handing Peter a file.
A cold wave started from Peter's feet as he read. It swallowed him entirely. His stomach became a leaden sack and he shoved the file at the young detective with the hair like Neal's and threw up in the nearest waste basket.
The man who assaulted his wife and Neal was no mugger. Peter had suspected that, but said nothing because Elizabeth was frightened enough. When Peter forced himself back to read the file, it was infinitely worse than he suspected.
Timmy Dalk was a suspect in several homicides in Washington State, a northwestern state whose main exports were apples, dairy products, Microsoft, and serial killers. Dalk had quite a jacket. Arrested for rape at fifteen. Sent to a juvenile institution under a manifest injustice sentence because his crime was so brutal, the victim a four year old girl he abducted, raped, and stabbed. Dalk was released at twenty-one and spent one year with no known crimes to his discredit. He went back in at twenty three after he kidnapped and raped five woman, each more brutal than the next. He escaped ten years into his sentence and since then was spotted leaving a rape/murder scene that resembled a chain of other homicides, his spree spread across seven states.
Dalk was described as a man of great strength, incredible luck in escaping and hatred toward humanity. He hated women the most, but there was no one he cared about. He was red rutting rage that loved only death.
Elizabeth insisted on seeing Dalk's file, but Caruso refused. He didn't want her to contaminate her memory. "Ma'am, don't look him up. We have a chance to put him away, maybe even get a death penalty case going. But if you go doing your own research, some smart defense attorney is going to say the information colored your testimony. It might get your statements thrown out. That would leave only Caffrey and…"
"He's a felon," Peter completed.
"I know, Elizabeth," Peter said. "But I also know that a jury will be hard put to understand a criminal like Neal and a brute like Dalk are as different as a bird of paradise and a rabid jackal. Your uncontaminated testimony is essential. Do you understand me?"
"I guess," Elizabeth said.
"For the record," Detective Caruso said, "Caffrey seems to be an all right guy."
"He is," Peter said. "Dalk have any friends?" Peter didn't elaborate, but he knew Caruso knew what he meant.
"No, no one would bunk with him in prison. That's how bad he is."
"Which is good news."
"I'll be in touch," Caruso said. "Hope your wife and friend are okay."
Elizabeth saw Neal start to put on his face as they entered, but she loved that he stopped himself. Not that it would have worked too well anyway, that open friendly smile and wide eyed charm. The swollen eye, the cut and puffy lip, and the expression of pain that crossed his face when he moved a little destroyed any chance of anything much more than pathetic.
"My poor baby," Elizabeth said, taking a chair up to Neal's bed.
"I guess I should be offended that you didn't start with my brave hero," Neal said, glumly.
"You're my hero too," Elizabeth assured. "I just want to baby my hero."
"Baby away," Neal invited. His eyes slid past Elizabeth to Peter. "You can sit on the bed. It won't hurt me."
Peter shrugged, strode over, and gingerly sat down, his hand resting unconsciously gentle over that damned monitor. Elizabeth really thought her husband was developing a kink for the thing that kept Neal Caffrey under his beck and call. She watched her husband's hand slide back and forth from ankle to knee. She knew that Peter was paying no attention to what he was doing, but Neal was and he liked it as much as he could enjoy anything in his misery.
Neal slid away into sleep for a few moments and Elizabeth was aware of the silence in the room. She closed her eyes but opened them rapidly as the blankness was filled with Dalk's brutal touch, the sight of Neal trying so hard to save her and failing. She winced as she remembered the sound of that tire iron thudding down on Dalk's head, a dull meaty noise not quite drowning out the grunts of pain from her assailant.
"Peter?" Elizabeth did not begrudge Neal her husband's company, but she felt as if her skin was trying to crawl away from the bone. She said, "Hon, can you hold me? Hold me tight?"
Peter was so civilized despite his fond pretenses of being a tough guy, but he was strong and he was tender. Elizabeth felt safe with her husband's body cradling her. She knew no matter how uncomfortable it was, Peter would keep holding her as long as she needed him.
Neal woke up when Peter moved. His hand twitched as if he would hold onto Peter and Elizabeth wished they were somewhere different. A place where Peter could have held them both and no one would see, no one would talk.
"I'm okay now."
Much as Elizabeth loved being a woman, loved dressing up, putting on her makeup, and flirting with attractive men, she always thought of herself as strong, confident, take charge. She had fended off drunken rock stars of either gender. She went toe to toe with food suppliers that tried to cheat her. She could deal with Peter's law enforcement friends and keep them in line. She hated that she felt this way, weak and clinging. She hated Dalk because he had done this to her.
Peter let her up and Elizabeth perched on Neal's bed.
"Peter?" Neal's voice sounded soft and tentative.
"Yes, ba…yes, Neal," Peter said, with a sideways glance at Elizabeth who was stroking Neal's hand. Peter blushed which made Neal smile. Elizabeth carefully stood up and went to stand behind her husband, leaning into him.
"Peter, I think you need to teach me to defend myself," Neal remarked, his tone of voice making it sound as if he was asking for Peter to skin him alive slowly .
"What do you mean?"
"You know," Neal persisted, making a fist with his hand. His knuckles were bruised. What a shame. Neal had the most beautiful hands, long fingered, smooth, delicate, and graceful.
Peter's smile was quizzical, tender, and almost paternal. "Neal, there is very little in your life that you can't do. I have faith in you that you will be able to stay out of trouble for my sake if not for your own. I think if you choose, you would be the one forgers of the future copied."
Neal's smile at Peter's words was radiant as he could manage in his present state.
"But, my friend, you are the least violent man I know. It's just not in you. Don't you think I know you? I know you better than you know yourself. Stick to what you know. Stick to art."
"You taught Elizabeth to defend herself," Neal argued.
"She's naturally blood thirsty," my husband said. "She's an alley cat in a Persian disguise."
Elizabeth suddenly felt less terrified. Peter's words gave her back part of herself and she pulled her shoulders straight. In the end, she had saved both of them. She had done it. She had. She had put Dalk in the hospital and next she would put him in prison. She would gladly be the one to start the poison drip into his arm if they would let her.
"But I was supposed to protect her," Neal argued, sounding very distraught. He covered his face with his only working hand and Elizabeth barely heard his words. "Couldn't protect Kate either."
Don't get her wrong, but Elizabeth hated Kate without knowing her. Hated her because she hurt Neal so badly. Hated her because despite how much pain she had brought him, Neal would give his life and freedom to protect her. Kate was not worthy.
"You did fine," Elizabeth said. "If you weren't there, I'd be dead. Even Peter would have had a difficult time subduing Dalk. You don't remember how big he is."
Which made Elizabeth shiver. She remembered all too well.
They probably were all glad when the nurse came into the room to check Neal's vitals and ask him to repeat his name.
"Aaron Braun," Neal said, the one eye he could open aimed at Peter.
Peter stopped the nurse before she could call for a doctor. "It's okay. That's kind of a joke."
"Alias," Peter mouthed in Elizabeth's direction.
"Behave yourself, Neal," Peter chided.
"Make me," Neal said.
It wasn't a joke; it was an invitation.
Her house. Most of the details were hers. Peter was okay with almost anything she chose. He had taste. You don't chase art thieves without loving and knowing the ocean in which their little shark-like selves swam. However, Peter's designs were mostly of the mind. He was often so buried in his games with his crooks that Elizabeth felt she could have redone the house as an S & M dungeon and Peter would have only noticed when he couldn't find a comfortable chair.
It was her home, but she still prowled it, looking to make sure that no one was hiding in any closet, under the bed, in the tiny space that had housed the water heater until they had replaced it with the new tank less model. Peter was supposed to make it into an extra pantry, but just hadn't got around to it. She tried the windows until she couldn't remember whether she checked them all or not. She turned and walked right into Peter's chest. He put his arms around her and held her.
"The security system is on and I won't as much go down to the corner store," Peter said.
"I thought you were putting Neal to bed?" Elizabeth asked.
"I was. I did. I thought you might give your opinion as to where I put him."
They walked past the guest room so that was not it. He better not have landed Neal on the couch. Neal's long legs would spill right off the cushions.
Oh. Oh my!
They walked into their bedroom with the bed as big as a playing field, but much more soft. Neal was propped on pillows on Peter's side of the bed. Peter said, "I put him on the side so I could make sure he didn't hurt his arm. I could still make up the guest room if you…."
"This is perfect," Elizabeth said. "Now we can all protect each other."
It was her third shower in less than two days, but at least this time, Elizabeth had the time to ply her skin with bath emollients and perfume. She chose a modest nightgown, the one she wore when her mother visited although she was tempted to wear the black slinky one that never lasted more than a few moments with Peter before being tossed on the floor.
No, not the seductress nightgown, after all this was just Peter's way of comforting Neal and her.
Elizabeth giggled. Only Peter could find the perfect distraction from her worries.
Peter knew himself and he knew her. If Neal thought what he did with Peter and she was harmless flirtation then he should certainly run with wolves and swim with sharks.
Elizabeth wore the black one after all.
Neal looked. First he looked at Elizabeth and then he looked at Peter to see if he noticed that he was looking.
"Mine," Peter mouthed, but he let his gaze slide over Elizabeth and keep going to Neal.
Elizabeth stood proudly for a moment, letting Neal look.
Peter was wearing his boxers, more than he usually wore. He liked his skin against hers. Elizabeth might see her husband every night, but she still loved the view. Peter kept himself trim. His body was fit and hard. There was no inch of him she had not explored. No secrets he kept from her. Elizabeth thought Peter was beautiful.
Her eyes swept over Neal again. The eye was finally starting to subside. The cut on the mouth was scabbed over. He was like some lovely statue tumbled by time.
Neal would heal. They both would.
Sexy nightgown aside, Elizabeth was too sore to do more than think about sex. She still had the hair dressing appointment to make. Her hair was ragged no matter what she tried to do with it. She wore bruises in the shape of Dalk's meaty paw on her upper arm. She had skinned her knees when she fell. She was a mess.
Poor Neal was even worse injured.
Elizabeth bet that Peter had fantasized about having both her and Neal in his bed. This was probably far from how he imagined it. She moved closer, pillowing her head on Peter's shoulder. Neal's hand slid across Peter's naked chest and found Elizabeth's hand. Peter hesitated one moment and then gently pulled Neal closer, holding him too. They were safe.
Peter had them.
Peter finally went back to work, making Elizabeth promise to lock the door and use the security alarms. As if she needed a reminder now. There was a time when she thought all of her husband's precautions were nonsensical, but that time was past.
Neal was left behind because the dislocated shoulder still wasn't up to unnecessary jostling.
Elizabeth had her work to do. She took out her lap top and her phone. She had managed to persuade one of her bigger clients to plan a party to benefit victims of assaults. He had asked Elizabeth what he could do for her when she had called to explain why she hadn't booked the group he wanted for his soirée. Her suggestion was taken like a royal command and now Mister B was very excited about the idea. He insisted that he pay her anyway. His rich friends were always looking for new ways to spend money and avoid taxes while still having fun.
From the couch, Neal watched her, petted Satchmo, and read through some files sporadically.
Despite Elizabeth's scolding, Peter had insisted on bringing Neal some work. She had to admit she was wrong about it being cruel. Neal needed the distraction just as she did. He could only concentrate in short bursts, but he was trying and it meant something to him that Peter couldn't do without him even when he wasn't feeling very well.
Elizabeth glanced Neal's way. He was asleep, holding the files atop his belly as if they were a security blanket.
Neal twitched and a cascade of files hit the carpet. Neal nearly followed them down as he woke flailing.
"Go take your pills and then take a nap," Elizabeth chided.
"I found a couple of things for Peter," Neal said, slowly scooping up the files.
Elizabeth helped before Neal strained his shoulder.
"I should call him. Where's my cell phone?" Neal asked, looking around.
"It can wait until he comes home," Elizabeth said. "You need to rest."
"Bossy, domineering woman," Neal said. "I kinda like it."
"Then get that pretty ass of yours into bed," Elizabeth said.
"Will you join me later?" Neal asked.
She was tired and Neal slept better with company. She already knew that.
"I have just a few more things to do," Elizabeth said.
"Take the pain medicine too," Elizabeth reminded.
"Makes me so groggy," Neal complained, but he went toward the kitchen and Elizabeth heard the water running so she assumed Neal had obeyed.
She didn't remember drifting off, but she woke with a start. Satchmo was barking fiercely as he had never barked before. Elizabeth sensed someone in the room. She knew it wasn't Peter. Wasn't Neal. She scrambled for the gun that she had asked Peter to leave for her. She knew how to shoot it and, as she saw it was Dalk, she even was sure that she knew that she wanted to shoot.
She thought she did. Her hand was shaking badly. She did not cry out for Neal. Part of her was afraid that this would go badly and Neal was already hurt. She didn't think that Neal could help.
Holding the gun steadily as she could, Elizabeth moved backwards to reach for her cell phone.
"Where's your pretty boy?" Dalk asked. He shambled even when he stood still. Massive shoulders, gorilla-like by nature and further enhanced by prison weight lifting.
"Stand still," Elizabeth said.
Neal had silently crept down the stairs. He stood in the alcove between steps and door, just barely in Elizabeth's view from where she stood near her desk. He had something in his hand.
In the moment of distraction, Dalk reached for Elizabeth, knocking the gun from her hands.
Before Dalk could grab Elizabeth, Satchmo was biting him in the leg. Sweet obedience trained Satchmo who loved everyone was growling fiercely through teeth sunk deep.
Neal had an iron wood African sculpture in his hands. He swung it like a bat and it connected to Dalk's head. Dalk roared and stumbled away, trying to get away from dog and the art wielding con man. Elizabeth grabbed her phone and called 911, but Dalk lost his nerve and stumbled out the door before the onslaught of fearless dog and fearless Neal.
Elizabeth heard shouting, saw police men everywhere and yelled, "Satchmo! Neal. Stop."
Both of them obeyed. Elizabeth darted forward to grab Satchmo by the collar and Neal by the waist. She pulled them both inside just before shots rang out. She and Neal hit the floor, a groan of pain coming from Neal as they did.
It seemed an eon before Peter's voice yelled, "Elizabeth, are you all right?"
"Neal?" Peter shouted a split second after he cried out for Elizabeth.
Peter's face looked as if he might faint from sheer relief as he took them in and holstered his gun.
Helping them to their feet, Peter checked Elizabeth for injuries and then inspected Neal.
"I'm fine,' Elizabeth said, "but I dropped the gun."
"Then how?" Peter asked, looking around, his eyes falling upon the statue, somewhat worse the wear on the floor.
"You said stick to what I know," Neal said, finding a smile. "So I hit him over the head with the statue and Satchmo bit his ass out the door. I don't think Dalk likes dogs or art."
Holding Elizabeth close with one hand, Peter embraced Neal with the other. Her husband glanced Elizabeth's way and with her small nod of permission, Peter brought Neal even closer and drew him into a deep, deep kiss that made something ache deliciously inside Elizabeth.
Neal staggered a bit when Peter let him go. Elizabeth couldn't blame him, but she did move to catch him before he could fall. Neal licked his lips and Elizabeth tilted up to kiss his cheek.
Police officers were pouring through the door. Peter stood with his ID out in front of Neal and Elizabeth.
After their statements were taken, Detective Caruso said, "He's dead, Ma'am. My men shot him."
"I can't say I'm sorry," Elizabeth said.
"Detective Caruso called to say Dalk escaped and I knew, I just knew," Peter told Elizabeth. "I was almost too late."
"You got here," Elizabeth said. "You are always with us."
All three of them sat on the couch with Satchmo leaning against their feet as officers meticulously collected evidence and took pictures.
"You know when all these officers leave and this mad house settled down to just the usual insanity," Peter whispered. "I am taking my two favorite people to bed."
Wicked smile. "And I am going to make sure that both of you sleep. After."
"After?" Neal asked.
"After," Peter said firmly.
"A lot after," Elizabeth added. "I have my plans too."
Neal grinned and said, "I don't have any say in this?"
"Sure you do," Peter said. "When I have you screaming 'yes' so loud the neighbors will complain."
"I can live with that," Neal said.
Elizabeth had the feeling they could all live with that.
Happily Ever After