"You should be pleased," Rook said, giving a sad, twisted little smile. "You get your life back."

He walked away, and she waited for him to turn, to at least glance over his shoulder, but he didn't. She watched until he was out of sight, and wondered when he was ever going to be out of mind. Not that it mattered. Right now, this moment in time, Detective Nikki Heat was alone again.

Rick Castle read it through for the twentieth time, then lifted his head and gazed through the open French windows. The patio needed sweeping, he noted, sand having been blown in from the beach on the last brisk wind a week ago. Was it really that long? According to his laptop, it was eight days, in fact. But then, he'd been busy.

Looking back down to the cursor blinking rhythmically on the screen, he circled the mouse over the 'save' icon a few times, then clicked.

Done. Naked Heat was finished. He knew he should have felt ... what, satisfaction? Relief? Like a burden had been lifted from his shoulders? Any or all of the above, when instead all that now seeped through him was ... sadness.

Well, at least one person would be happy. Gina. Ex-wife and book editor. Emphasis, very much and very particularly, on the 'ex'. She'd come with him that day, setting out for the Hamptons with anticipation, even eagerness, but he'd soon realised she had ulterior motives. When she'd joked to Kate Beckett that she was going to stay on top of Rick until he'd finished the book, she wasn't. Joking, that is.

He'd thought they had got over the arguments, the wrongness between them, that maybe they could start afresh, take it slowly, perhaps even fall in love all over again. She'd evidently thought that he shouldn't be taking time out from writing to go scuba diving among the bright fishes, or playing volleyball with the kids from further along the beach, or sitting on the patio watching the sun set, Mojito in hand.

It reminded him why they broke up in the first place, and the argument that came next followed a weary, all too recognisable pattern, and Gina had stormed out. She'd come back, a couple of hours later, apologising profusely, but he'd finally seen past the veneer, the gloss of attraction, the pretence of affection.

No. That wasn't right. She probably did like him, on some level, but what was more important to Gina was the job, the next book, the next royalty cheque. The next alimony payment. And until that avaricious streak left her nature, she was always only ever going to be in a relationship for what she could get out of it.

(Like him. Like him with Kate Beckett, his little internal demon said, nudging him with its tiny pitchfork, and making him bleed.)

It had taken nine days before Gina packed her bags and went back to New York. He'd even driven her to the station himself, wondering if he should try and make her stay, give it a third chance. But she kissed him chastely on the cheek, told him to write, and got on the train.

The laptop had gone to sleep, and he closed the lid, placing it gently on the table. And he had written, hours at a time, ignoring everything but the most basic hygiene, eating only when he was afraid he was going to faint from hunger, sleeping usually in the chair and waking up with a stiff neck and wondering what the crap was he'd tapped into the computer the night before.

He'd just spent the last two hours rereading it.

Not the same, he had to admit. Not at all the same story he'd started out to write. It was darker, more emotional, more draining, at least on his part. Ninety percent of what he'd done before, when he was still talking to Kate, he'd altered. Some pages not much beyond a phrase here and there, a change of emphasis mostly, but others were entirely rewritten.

He didn't know if his fans would like it. Hell, he didn't know if he liked it. But it would sell, and there was the promise, at the end, of a third novel. If he ever managed to get the inclination for it. Right now, all he wanted to do was send it to Black Pawn and get it over with.

The sun was setting, and golden light was shining into the house. He got up, stretching his cramped back muscles, and walked to the windows. The smell of the ocean was strong, the breeze picking it up and caressing his nostrils with it, while the faint murmur of the waves was in counterpoint to the cry of the seagulls.

The very loud cry of the seagulls.

They'd found something, further along the beach. A dead fish, perhaps, or a sea lion. Washed ashore and now fair game. Glancing back at the laptop, he suddenly couldn't face composing the email to Gina, and instead stepped out into the evening air.

He closed his eyes for a moment, simply relishing the feel of the sun on his skin, the tension starting to leave his body, and he actually smiled. He hadn't done that in a while. Lifting a hand he scratched at the beard he'd been too busy to shave, that now adorned his chin with more than stubble, then turned his head as he heard laughter. Further up the beach he could see a family of two adults and three children playing with a dog, some big scruffy type. The father was throwing a ball, and the hound was chasing it, barking madly, joyously.

Maybe he should go and say hello. He hadn't spoken to anyone for three days, not since the boy came from the market to deliver the food he'd ordered, and it would be nice to see if his voice still worked. And he could take a look at whatever had been washed up at the same time. Although … he looked down at himself, and wondered if, considering what he was wearing, perhaps he should go change first. The long shorts that skimmed his knees had seen better days, despite their comfort, and the bright, garish Hawaiian shirt only ever saw the light of day when he was on vacation.

No. This was the beach, and most people didn't look their best. Except Gina, the treacherous thought insinuated itself as he stepped down onto the sand and began strolling towards the laughing group. She'd never looked untidy in her life. She was probably born with her hair perfectly coiffed, her nails painted.

Alexis hadn't known he'd invited his ex-wife to the Hamptons. He'd driven her to Princeton and not said a word about who his houseguest was going to be, leaving her with the distinct impression it was going to be Kate. (But that was never going to happen. Idiot, for believing it was ever going to be any different, his inner demon chastised him.)

Martha, on the other hand, was scathing. Using all her actress-skills and command of the verbal putdown, she told him exactly what she thought of the idea, hardly repeating herself at all, attempting to stop him as he did the last of his packing. Then she'd called Alexis.

His daughter, her anxiety coming clearly over the phone, had been afraid he was going to do something stupid, and was ready to drop everything and take the next train, but he'd assured her marriage wasn't on the menu, and not to leave Princeton to sort him out, that he was fine. A little over a week later Gina had gone anyway, Alexis was happy, and he'd had to make her promise not to tell Kate. The detective needed her space, and if that space involved Demming, then so be it.

Neither Alexis nor Martha, in their regular phone calls, had mentioned talking to Kate.

The sand felt hot but good under his bare feet, and he was careful to avoid the sharp shells scattered here and there. Maybe he should build a castle. He hadn't done anything like that for a long time, digging a moat and filling it with water, searching for flotsam to decorate it, with a flag for the highest tower.

No. Too easy to knock down, to trample until there was no sign it had ever existed.

He was closer now to whatever lay at the edge of the water, and whatever it was appeared to be wrapped in fabric, jewel colours that moved lazily in the tiny waves still lapping at it. Just another half dozen steps and he would be able to see …

A woman. It was a woman, her eyes gazing at him.

Running forward he fell onto his knees in the sand, ignoring the grains scratching his skin, reaching out to see if she had a pulse. Nothing. No movement at all under his questing fingertip. And she was cold, too, her skin clammy.

He swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry as he stared at the body, his writer's mind taking in the details, the minutiae of death. Young, maybe mid twenties. Long dark hair, draped over much of her lower face. Green eyes that he wanted to close, to shut out their gaze, but he knew he couldn't touch. Seaweed wrapped around her left wrist. A gold watch on her right. Broken fingernails on both hands. A halter neck dress, probably full length, caught up high on long, shapely legs. One strappy sandal, the heel broken.

"Hey, what're you lookin' at?"

A voice behind him, a child. He jumped to his feet, trying to hide the corpse. "No, you mustn't …" But it was too late.

The boy, no more than eight or nine, shouted, "Dad!"

The man ran up. "Dear Lord." He grabbed his son and pushed him away, at the same time dragging a cellphone from his pocket. "Dear Lord," he said again.


A.N.: As it says in the blurb, this is my take on Episode 00 of Season 3, and doesn't interact with my current story Blow The Man Down. I hope to get this one finished before the new season opener, so expect updates fairly regularly (with more from BTMD too). And the DFTs? Deep-Fried Twinkies, of course!

Jane