LOL, a new shorter story, the prequel to "Meanwhile Back at the Ranch" which originally was going to be flashback but it broke loose. It's a cross-fiction story with "Hunter" and I hope you enjoy it and thanks for reading and the feedback!


The two women knew that their destination had to be some place close by judging by the barrage of seventies rock music that greeted them after they left their car where they had parked it.

"Are you sure this is the right direction," Chris said, looking at the directions on a slip of paper.

C.J. nodded.

"It's right next to a religious bookstore," she said, "and I see that just ahead. Looks just like I remember it."

Neither woman could figure out what a religious bookstore was doing smack in the middle of the Sunset Strip but they did see a smaller building next to it, with what looked like a montage of several famous rock musicians painted on the walls and a door wide open in front. Standing guard next to it were two burly bouncers with beefy biceps, threatening to burst out of their shirts.

"They must all day in the gym," Chris noted, "look at their bodies. I bet you could bounce quarters off those abs."

C.J. looked over at her friend and smiled. Chris had just broken up with her long-time fiancé after she had caught him cheating with another woman. Actually, Matt had caught the two together after Chris had hired him to find out if Evan had truly been guilty of embezzling money from the travel agency that employed him. Sadly, Matt had caught him red-handed with his hand in the till as well and the former vice-president of the Have Bag Will Travel agency was currently out on half a million dollar bail and facing multiple felony charges. Chris had been down in the dumps at work lately so C.J. thought that if the two of them dressed up and headed out to this club that had been hyped in all the trades, they could forget their problems for a while kicking back and having some fun. Just a few women getting together, no men allowed. Sounded harmless enough.

"Half dollars maybe," C.J. responded, though burly men with no necks weren't her type.

They reminded her too much of an ex-boyfriend, Theodore who had been a bodyguard for several famous celebrities but in between those stints, he had been a big control freak. Like just about every man she went out with these days, he had been so sure that she had been shacking up with her best friend, Matt and to be honest, she had grown tired of setting each and every one of them straight.

"So who's this friend of yours that we're going to meet," Chris asked as they approached the line to get into the club.

C.J. checked her purse to pull out her guest pass.

"Her name's Dee Dee McCall," she said, "She works for the LAPD as a detective. We were in the same sorority in college."

Chris frowned.

"Wait a minute; didn't someone kill your sorority sisters as part of some fiendish plot?"

C.J. sighed, remembering that painful episode in her life.

"They killed two of them but Houston stopped them from killing the rest," C.J. explained, "That was the craziest case with all those comic imposters running around. Laurel and Hardy were hit men and the whole plot was engineered by Charlie Chaplin. Is that crazy or what?"

Chris agreed, realizing that what her twin sister Pam had told her about the case was true after all.

"Dee wasn't on the hit list because Lizzie hated her too much to invite her to her wedding," C.J. said, "I had accepted my invite even though I was going to be in Singapore with Houston to make a sweet business deal and would have never been around to even put two and two together that Lizzie's married the guy who killed his previous wives."

"Lucky for her," Chris said, "So she knows Lt. Hoyt then?"

"In passing," C.J. said, "The LAPD's a huge department but they've been to briefings together. She works with a cop that Hoyt's butted heads with more than once."

Chris furrowed her brow.

"I didn't think anyone could ruffle Hoyt."

C.J. shrugged.

"Me neither, but Rick can try just about anyone's patience," she said, "He's…kind of like Dirty Harry, only with a uniform and bald. He asked me out once but I was going out with someone else at the time."

"A-ha, I see," Chris said, "Will he be here?"

C.J. shook her head.

"He and Dee were working some vice operation," C.J. said, "but Rick got stuck with the paperwork for a change."

The line inched up and C.J. looked at her watch. The sun had set an hour ago and some gentle Santa Ana's blew the leaves off of the ground, picking up steam so that they would soon whip through the trees and whistle in the canyons. Honking cars cluttered up the street.

Just another autumn evening in L.A.

She thought with some pangs of guilt about Matt back at the office, spending the afternoon he had wished to spend on the golf course reviewing and signing stacks of paperwork instead. No doubt while sitting without a stitch of clothing in the whirling currents of the Jacuzzi installed in his penthouse suite with a glass of his favorite Scotch nearby. But she shook off any guilt when she realized that soon enough some gorgeous woman would be joining him.

They reached the bouncers who looked surly as they flexed their biceps while checking people's identification. C.J. and Chris watched as they had taken a pair of scissors and cut up some fake cards belonging to a couple of giggling girls in front of them. They had stopped laughing as if someone had flipped a switch and then just pouted at the bouncers before stomping out of the line. Fortunately, neither she nor Chris had to worry about getting carded lately.

"That was me when I tried to sneak into R rated movies back in Iowa," Chris said, "We were so much tamer then even when we were wild."

The bouncers glowered at them but finally waved them inside the club and the two women almost immediately ran into a wall of people, mostly dressed in retro clothing while a vintage Eagles song played in the background. A couple of biker dudes, their hair in pony tails, lined the bar and sipped from their beer bottles.

"Would you like to get a drink," C.J. asked.

Chris looked around her.

"I was hoping they served margaritas, but I guess not…I'll take a light beer."

C.J. ordered beers for the two of them and then they walked over to look for an unoccupied table. Then they saw a dark haired woman sitting at a table in the corner.

"That looks like Dee," C.J. said, as they walked on over.

Sure enough it was her ex-sorority sister and when Dee saw her, she smiled and the two women embraced. C.J. introduced her to Chris.

"Nice to meet you," Dee said, "Man this place is packed. One more person and the fire marshal will come shut this place down."

C.J. looked at her friend.

"Did you call them?"

"No but I have them on speed dial," Dee said, "if the music sucks or the beer's flat…"

Chris looked at her shocked and Dee broke into a smile, softening her edges.

"Hey I'm just kidding," she said, "The guys still call me the Brass Cupcake but not as much to my face anymore."

Chris smiled slightly.

"I…see…"

Dee leaned back in her chair, sipping from her shot glass of Vodka and coke.

"I think this place is great," she said, "We had a vice sting here once for drugs and prostitution and the illegal gambling operation in the basement…"

C.J. frowned.

"I didn't even know they had a basement."

Dee shrugged.

"Me neither until I was going undercover as a hooker and I took a john downstairs to get him to spill to me on his connection to a politician and I walked right into a floating craps game with a couple of county supervisors and one of my department's deputy chiefs."

C.J. grimaced.

"Ouch."

Dee nodded.

"Exactly," she said, "Guess who got a whole week of beach days for that one."

"Beach days," Chris asked.

"Unpaid weeks off from work on account you got busted," Dee added, "You can't bust the boss."

C.J. sipped her beer.

"You've had much more fun than I have here," she said, "I think this is where I met Gary."

Dee nodded.

"Wasn't he the accountant," she said, "Whatever happened to him?"

C.J sighed. That guy had been a couple of boyfriends ago and she had long been over him.

"Everything seemed fine until I returned from a business trip to London with Houston," she said, "and Gary thought it wasn't just about business."

"I have the same problem with Rick," Dee said, "Just because we're partners who work together, everyone I go out with thinks that we're hitting the sheets."

Oh that sounded familiar to C.J. who had tried to convince more than one of her boyfriends that Matt and she were close friends since childhood and nothing more. At least one of them had just looked at her and said that men and women couldn't be best friends without wanting more than that. She sent him packing fast with some carefully chosen words. Sometimes her Harvard Degree came in hand for more than just the law.

"It happens more often than I would wish," Dee said.

C.J. looked surprised.

"You and Rick," she said, "Seriously, you two are so different."

Dee smiled.

"Oh but we get this whole argument about how it's all about opposites attracting and combusting in the heat of passion," she said, "Nothing could be further from the truth."

C.J. paused.

"Do you ever wish for anything more than that?"

Dee just looked at her and almost burst into laughter until she saw the seriousness in her friend's eyes. The question had caught her totally off-guard after all, but it's not like it had never been asked before since she and Rick first started working together.

"Well…maybe sometimes…but it would never work," Dee said, gently pushing the bottom of her shot glass, "It couldn't work. We'd probably end up fighting over something stupid and hating each other."

That sounded familiar to C.J. too.

"Not to mention that our professional partnership would be all shot to hell," Dee said.

Even more familiar sounding, C.J. thought.

"Sometimes I feel the same way about Houston," she said, "But if we got together, I don't know if our friendship would survive it if it didn't work out."

Dee laughed this time.

"Get out of here," she said, "You two would be perfect because you've got the friendship part down already and he's seriously hot."

C.J. couldn't deny either part but she didn't know how to reconcile how the two sides of her feelings for him would fit together or whether they even could. Besides, Matt had been very busy keeping a string of women quite happy since his broken engagement with Elizabeth six months earlier and had never shown an inkling of any romantic interest in her.

"Well what about Rick," C.J. countered, "He's great looking and a hell of a dancer."

Dee raised her brow.

"Dancer?"

"Of course," C.J. said, "I only went out with him once but he's both a gentleman and very sexy."

Dee asked for a refill on her shot glass and C.J., another beer.

"He's the best friend I could ever ask for," Dee said, "Under the Clint Eastwood tough cop exterior. He's been there for me during the most difficult periods of my life."

C.J. nodded.

"The same with Houston," she said, "And he's saved my life in other ways."

Chris looked at both women, thinking that they were both crazy for not going after what they both wanted. Not that she had any interest in hitting the dating scene herself since her recent experience with her fiancé but if a man like Matt or this guy Rick looked her way, watch out…


Matt sat on the sofa at his office wearing his robe with a glass of Scotch next to him. He had spent the past hour soaking in his Jacuzzi while finishing up the last of the paperwork that he had spent most of the day catching up on. Chris had placed the stack on his desk and told him she needed it by tomorrow morning. When he protested, she just smiled and said that Murray had left her with those instructions. Matt had tried to deliver part of the stack to C.J. in her office but she demurred and said she had plans with some friends. That she would see him tomorrow morning.

And it turned out that she and Chris were heading out to some retro music club on the Sunset Strip and he was going to spend part of the evening finishing up work. Not that he blamed her for wanting to go out and have some fun after spending weeks balancing their investigative caseload with the planned merger of an electronic firm with Houston Enterprises. Normally she and Matt stayed out of the day to day operations of that business but this situation had been more complicated and Murray had insisted on them putting in some serious hours.

Roy wandered in with a drink he had prepared on the wet bar and sat in a chair.

"You finished up the paperwork?"

Matt looked up at him.

"Finally…and I'm ready to get something to eat," he said, "You hungry?"

Roy smiled.

"I already ate," he said, "Sonia brought over some takeout and we're heading out to Catalina Island tomorrow so I'm spending a quiet night at home."

Roy hadn't spent much time doing that since he had hooked up with the Salsa instructor after he had signed up for her class. Since then, they rarely spent time apart and it made Matt happy to see the light return to his uncle's eye that had been missing since his aunt died.

"Where's C.J.?"

Matt scratched the back of his neck.

"Out with some friends," he said, "at a nightclub."

Roy nodded approvingly.

"It's good to see that she's out having fun," he said, "She's been spending too much time working in this office.

"I know that," Matt said, "We've put together some pretty busy weeks since we got back from that conference in Paris."

"You've been busy yourself Matlock," Roy said, "Why don't you take some time off and spend time on that ranch of yours?"

Matt hesitated.

"The one I put on the market…I don't know if that would work."

Roy shrugged.

"It's still yours isn't it?"

"I don't know it's been so long," Matt said, "Besides my realtor called today and she says she might have a buyer…a young woman."

Suddenly they heard the elevator signal that someone had just arrived in the suite. Matt and Roy looked at each other surprised at who would be dropping by at this time in the evening. A bald man who looked built like a linebacker walked in and looked at both of them.

"Who are you," Matt asked.

"Det. Rick Hunter."

Matt narrowed his eyes.

"Do I know you?"

Rick didn't say anything but checked out his surroundings carefully the way a cop would.

"I know your associate C.J. Parsons," he said, "She's friends with my partner, Dee Dee McCall."

Matt folded his arms.

"And you're here to see C.J…"

Rick shook his head.

"I know she's out at a night club with McCall but we just got a call from a source that there's some gambling going on there tonight."

"What kind of gambling?"

"We've busted up craps games in the past," Rick said.

"Dangerous?"

"The players or busting them," Rick asked, "Strictly A-list roster of players but this might be a rougher crowd from the Vegas scene."

Matt stood up.

"So what are you going to do?"

Rick sighed.

"We could send a team in and shut the place down but it's packed with people," he said, "so we'll probably send in some undercover."

"Is it going to be dangerous," Matt pressed.

"It shouldn't be if it's handled correctly," Rick said, "and I'll make sure of that."

Matt went to get his jacket.

"Then I'm going with you," he said.

Rick turned towards him.

"You're not a cop Mr. Houston…"

"I'm an investigator."

Rick clenched his jaw.

"Look I know you've worked with some of our officer…Lt. Hoyt likes you," he said, "but this is police business."

Matt didn't budge an inch.

"And C.J. is caught in the middle of this mess?"

Rick raised his hand.

"Now Mr. Houston, she's with McCall who's the best officer I've ever worked with," he said, "She's going to do her best to make sure that everyone else is safe in there."

"We'd better get a move on then," Matt said, as the two men left the office. Rick just shook his head at him but Matt would hear no argument from anyone where C.J. was concerned.


The music got louder as the evening passed on and the three women ordered another round of drinks. Dee noticed traffic going through one of the doorways which she knew led to the basement.

"Look at that," she said, putting down her shot glass, "All the people going through there."

C.J. looked over.

"Yeah, long bathroom lines?"

Dee shook her head.

"I don't think so," she said, "There's that basement where we busted up the crap game."

C.J. and Chris looked over at each other, not believing their luck. A rare night on the town about to go up in smoke as usual. At least this time it couldn't be attributed to one of the cases taken by Houston Investigations.

"So what do we do," she asked.

Dee looked at her.

"I'd better go check it out," she said, "and decide if I need to call it in."

C.J. looked at Chris.

"Do you need help?"

Dee shook her head.

"I'm the cop here," she said, "and that means never really being off duty. I'm going to have to go check it out."

C.J. pointed to a burly man.

"Isn't that one of the bouncers…there?"

Dee looked and nodded, wondering if the bouncer was receiving kickbacks by those running the craps game. She left the table and walked over to the doorway. A couple well-dressed men walked in front of her and were admitted into a door that was manned by two muscle men.

One of them stopped in her path, folding his arms.

"Where you going miss," he said, "This is off-limits."

She pursed her lips.

"Why is that," she said, "Those gentlemen just went past you."

The man frowned.

"Private party," he said, "Now you best move on."

She turned around and with a final look, headed back to her table where the other two women waited. C.J.'s brows rose when Dee sat down.

"Well….?"

"Looks suspicious," Dee said, "The bouncer said it's a private party but in this place? Since when…the last time we had to break up a gambling operation."

"Maybe it's a stag party," Chris offered, "and they rented a private room."

Dee shook her head.

"They have a room in a back for that…," she said.

Both women looked at her in surprise.

"I…went undercover as a dance girl once," Dee continued, "Got some great tips before Vice came in and busted the party for solicitation of prostitution."

"So it's craps," C.J. said, "Maybe we should just join in and make some money."

Dee looked at her.

"You're telling this to a cop you know."

C.J. sipped her beer.

"Exactly," she said, "We go in as a couple of girls wanting some action in the game. We need to get some pointers from the men and find out what's going on."

Dee thought about it carefully.

"It might work…if we pile on the charm and fix up our outfits first."

Chris looked at the both of them.

"What do you mean fix up," she said, "I bought this off the sales rack at Neiman Marcus."

Dee evaluated their wardrobes with a critical eye.

"Shorter sleeves and hems," she said, "Low cut in the front."

C.J. folded her arms.

"I'm a Harvard trained lawyer who's vice-president of a major corporation," she said, "I don't do loose very well."

Dee tilted her head.

"You're going to have to park your attitude and your education at the curb if this is going to work," she said, "Fluff up the hair a little bit, more color on the lips."

"Okay…I guess I can do that," C.J. said.

Dee stood up.

"Let's go to the bathroom and do some quick makeovers here and then we'll see about getting into that craps game."


Matt rode shotgun in Rick's car as they headed to the night club across town. Traffic appeared light on the roads and the two of them made good time. The radio crackled static on the dashboard and Rick spent most of his time on his cell phone.

"Okay…send them to the club…but have them set up across the street, diagonal to the club," he said, "We're on our way…and McCall's already inside…"

He clicked off his phone and looked at Matt.

"We'll have backup but we're going to have to find out what's going down inside there before moving in with any troops."

Matt looked out the window as they turned onto Sunset.

"What about the women," he asked.

"McCall's a trained cop who can handle herself anywhere," Rick said, "She'll take care of your friends."

Matt also knew that C.J. could more than take care of herself. He had taught her self-defense skills years ago and more than a few times she had flattened him on the mat during her refresher courses. Not that he minded that of course. In fact, truth be told, he rather enjoyed losing to her not that he would ever let on to his best friend.

Still, he hated imagining C.J. in any kind of danger especially during a night out on the town when she had been trying to put her work life including the danger involved behind her for a few hours at least. Hopefully, she would be kicking back with a couple of beers and listening to music with Chris and totally unaware of the floating craps game. He best spend his time during the commute working on the speech he would give her when they arrived at the club, lest she believed he had come over there just to check up on her, to make sure she hadn't gotten into any trouble. Oh, she would set him straight as she had in the past if he did that. Part of him smiled at the thought while the rest of him hoped she was safe.

Rick turned the car into the empty parking lot of the religious bookstore.

"We'll get out here and walk over to the meeting spot," he said and Matt nodded.

The two men got out of the car and started walking down Sunset, through the throngs of pedestrians walking down the streets wearing all sorts of attire.

"This street's really changing," Rick said, "and not for the better."

Matt shrugged. Except for dropping by at a night club or two, he didn't come by this section of town unless he worked a case.

"That's the club over there," he said, remembering that he had gone there once on a double date with C.J. which hadn't really ended well.

Rick nodded.

"Great music if you like nostalgic. Decent booze," he said, "but we have to sting that joint every other month for some reason or another."

Matt realized that the police once again had to go in and do their thing. He just didn't want C.J. caught up in the middle of it, or god forbid, any crossfire. That thought made him quicken his pace as they crossed the boulevard.


The three women stood in front of an already crowded bathroom mirror of women primping themselves up before facing the meat market of single men outside the door. C.J. had worked on her outfit to make it more…interesting. The high heels she already wore definitely helped as did fluffing up her hair with some of Dee's spray, more lipstick…but she felt like she did when she had been a young girl playing with her mother's makeup.

"Tease it up a little at the top," Dee advised.

C.J. looked at her friend's hair which had been whipped up into a frenzy.

"My god, we look like we're trapped in the eighties," C.J. sighed, " and were in a seventies retro bar."

Chris sighed as she applied some lip gloss.

"I hated the eighties," she said, "I was the shortest girl in my 4H class and raising chickens…what was I thinking?"

Both women looked at her but C.J. understood.

"I know," she said, "Julia and I teamed up to raise a pig…not a pretty sight. It got out during the county fair and had to be pulled off the Ferris wheel."

Dee looked at the both of them, secretly glad she grew up a city girl.

"You look great," she said, "hot and sexy, those bouncers won't know what to do but let us in the craps game."

Chris looked doubtful.

"Shouldn't we call for…backup?"

Dee had already thought about that.

"Listen, my cell phone looks like a makeup compact so I'll discreetly whip it out if we hit pay dirt and call for some more cops."

C.J. bit her lip, wondering if she should call Matt to see if he would come on down…but she stopped that thought as soon as it threatened to turn into action. No, she couldn't do that, she had to spend one evening out where he didn't factor into it in any way, certainly one where he didn't wind up coming to her rescue. If she didn't think about him…

Dee took a deep breath, twirling in front of the mirror.

"Well we'd better get going."

The other women who had jostled them for the mirror just looked at them inside the cramped bathroom.

"What are you chicks doing," one asked, "Dressing up for a masquerade contest?"

Another folded her arms.

"Yeah, this is a seventies bar," she said, "The eighties one is down the block. You're on our turf."

C.J. just looked at them.

"Hey listen, we know you don't want us poaching your regulars here and I assure you we're not moving in on your territory, okay?"

Chris chimed up.

"Yeah we all know how difficult it is to find a guy who's single…healthy…sane and not living with his parents."

The first woman looked doubtful.

"Promise?"

Dee spoke up this time.

"Listen we cross our hearts and hope to…this is just silly," she said, "Excuse us."

The three freshly reinvented women left the crowded bathroom to walk back into the even more crowded bar. They walked over to the two bouncers, who glared at Dee.

"You again," one said, "What did I just tell you?"

This time she smiled, and stroked beneath his chin with her finger before lifting it up.

"Oh sugar baby, you let us drop some money down there with Franco and the others, we will so make it worth your while later…"

C.J. perked up.

"We will…oh sure thing honey cakes."

The two men looked at each other uneasily.

"I don't know…the men don't like girls messing with their concentration," he said, "Still, you're awfully beautiful…doll face."

C.J. smiled, trying to forget what he just called her. Sadly despite her very expensive, hard-won Ivy League education, she had been called that more times than she would admit.

"Why thanks," she said, "If I win any cash, I'll be thinking of you…"

The two men hedged, finally looking at each other. One of them broke that indecision by shrugging and opening the door.

"Okay, you can go in," he said, "down the stairs, first room on the left."

C.J. raised her brows. How many dens of inequity were they down there, and then decided she didn't want to find out.

Dee led them down the wooden staircase, which creaked beneath their feet. C.J. heard some rustling in the dark corner which she hoped wasn't rats. The women braced themselves and then just walked in the room. The sight of four men, rolling dice on the table and willing their lucky numbers to come up reminded C.J. of the last time she'd gone to Vegas. She had been posing as a 21 dealer on a case that she and Matt took involving a jewel thief. He had been a waiter in one of the strangely themed casinos, running around dressed as a pirate.

Bottles of Scotch and vodka lined a nearby table in between tins of…barbecue chicken wings.

Not very retro, she thought. But tasty, as she contemplated them.

"Hey sugar dolls," one man drolled, "What are you doing down here? Are you lost?"

Dee just stared back at them batting an eyelash or two.

"Why honey we're here for some action," she said, leaning over so he could check out her dress better, "and to toss some dice on the table too."

The man grinned and patted the chair next to him. Another man held his hand up and a diamond glistened from what looked like a pinky ring.

"Hey wait a minute," he said, "We'd better check these women out first. We don't know who they are or where they came from."

The first man sighed.

"He's right girls," he said, gesturing to a bouncer, "We'd better have Grunt check them out."

The women looked up at the burly Grunt and he came over to run his hands over their bodies to look for weapons….enjoying himself a bit too much, C.J. thought as he ran his hands down her legs. Then he turned to look at the players.

"They're clean," he said, "At least as far as weapons go."

C.J. rolled her eyes at that as the three women sat at the table. The men introduced themselves as Animal and Oscar, not names that would normally be associated with craps players. Probably aliases. She studied the others and then her brows knit. Wait a minute here, in a room of strangers, one of them looked awfully familiar, sitting at the end nearest the booze table. Tall, but muscular with what looked like long hippy hair and some glasses. Take about six inches off his head and shave the beard and he looked an awful lot like…

She leaned towards Dee.

"I know that guy…"

The other woman looked at her puzzled.

"What do you mean?"

C.J. sighed.

"That's my ex-boyfriend Randy," she said, "He's a cop."


Matt and Rick stood in front of the mirror in the mobile trailer hidden across the street from the retro club.

"I look like my least favorite member of the Village People," Matt sighed.

He would have rather been dressed up like the cowboy not the construction worker. But Rick thought it would be better if he went against type, which meant he got to play the cowboy motif instead of Matt. Now Matt had spent some summers working construction when he had been in college with other football team members but that had been mostly for one of his favorite charities, Habitat for Humanity. He could pretend to be a rock singer posing as a construction worker for one night.

"That's the point," Rick said, "We'll fit right in the retro scene."

"But you…a cowboy…"

Rick shrugged at his reflection.

"Works for me."

Matt looked at the mirror at how the jeans hugged his body, the shirt fit and placed the helmet on his head.

"Well if there's a contest tonight, I wonder what the prize will be…"

Rick put on his cowboy hat.

"They usually give away tickets to the Eagles, Beach Boys or…Village People."

Matt felt silly playing dress up. He had been a country boy and his forays into rock were close to Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones than most of the seventies bands. Sure, he wore outfits to go undercover on some of his cases or just to blend in with the scenery while doing surveillance but this…well if it ended in protecting C.J. and busting some crooks, it would just have to work.

"We'd better get going," Rick said.

Matt nodded and they left the trailer to head across the street.


Dee sat on the lap of Animal and giggled as he rolled a bunch of duds, losing tons of cash to Oscar and Ernest. C.J. watched her, envying the ease in which she melted into the situation whereas she and Chris just kept watching the door waiting for the police to rush in guns drawn to break it up and take the players to jail. And that's when she realized that the way they were all dressed…she hoped the police knew the difference between the criminals and them because she really didn't want to use her one phone call from the slammer to call Matt to bail them out. With her luck, he'd be soaking in the Jacuzzi and not by himself when his cell phone rang…

She stopped thinking about that and focused on Randy who clearly recognized that until two weeks ago, they had been pretty hot and heavy…until that disastrous mini vacation up North. The one where…

"Roll me a seven baby…."

The dice flew and Animal growled, more money lost again. He looked at Dee sitting cozy on his lap.

"You're not a very good luck charm babe," he said, "I might try the blonde sitting pretty over there."

Chris looked up startled and threw a smile his way. If C.J. didn't know better, she would swear that the receptionist who spent her days answering phones and hunting down Matt to sign paperwork was having the time of her life. At least she didn't have to think about her broken heart for a while.

C.J. left the table to go pour herself some Scotch, deciding this would be a long night. She didn't see him walk up behind her until his hands brushed the backs of her arms.

"I need to talk to you baby doll," he said, stroking her back, "Alone…"

She looked at him, raising a brow.

"Oh I don't know…Ernest…I'm kind of enjoying a string of good luck…"

He grabbed her arm, oh she hated that and pulled her to the corner.

"Pretend you like it," he said, "Our lives might depend on it."

She sighed and plastered a smile on her face.

"Look Randy…"

"Call me Ernest," he said, looking back at the craps table.

"Okay Ernest…what are you doing here?"

His voice dropped and she poured herself a glass of liquor from the table while listening. This she had to hear.

"I got wind of this floating craps game and I'm undercover to scope it out for a bust," he said, "There's quite a bit of cash floating in and some of it's from Vegas."

Her brows shot up.

"You mean organized crime?"

He nodded, and then stroked her arm.

"Now it's your turn to tell me why you're here," he said.

She hedged, not sure that he was being up front with her. A problem that he had shown during their brief affair and she didn't think she owed him any explanation.

"I mean I know who Dee is and she's not a floozy…certainly not on the shooting range when she qualifies."

C.J. looked up at him and decided she could do without the sarcasm but he was on their side.

"We're here for the same reason that you are," she said.

His eyes widened.

"She's a cop, you're not," he said, "If something goes down here and it goes bad…"

C.J. nodded.

"I've been in that situation before Randy," she said, "I can handle myself. Not to mention I've been shot three times, twice more than you."

He weighed that.

"Move closer so they think you're interested…"

She folded her arms.

"This is close enough," she said, "You left me remember."

He sighed, running his hand through his shaggy hair which up close and personal, looked a lot like a wig.

"You know why," he said, "I can't compete with him."

She glowered, not wanting to relive their last argument before they split.

"You aren't…"

She stopped wondering why she was arguing about a relationship with a boyfriend who looked nothing like him right now. Not even having the same name for that matter. How surreal would this evening get? But she had enough of explaining her platonic relationship with her best friend to the men in her life.

"Forget it…"

He chuckled mirthlessly.

"A bit hard when we're getting it on and I hear a name said and it's not…mine."

Her eyes hardened…to keep the embarrassment that rushed through her at bay.

"Oh I'm sure it's been during some point in your career," she said, "I mean you've had so many names…what was your name when we first met?"

That had been when she had been out with her sorority sister, Cindy a crime journalist up in San Francisco and he'd been undercover as a…dancer. Her face flushed at that memory. At least when she had gone undercover while working cases with Matt, she had kept that part of her life separate from her personal life…at least most of the time. And she kept her names straight as well.

"We'd better get back to the game before we're missed," she said, "By the way, you're making a killing at the table."

He nodded.

"My game was never craps," he admitted, "but I've grown to like my games of chance over those involving skill."

He went back to his seat. C.J. began to do like but hesitated.

After that debacle, C.J. decided she needed some air so she told Dee she was off to the bathroom to freshen up her makeup. One of the men…Fuzz slapped her butt and she had to resist the temptation to knock him flat on his. She smiled as he made her promise to return soon.


Matt and Rick entered the bar and despite their attire, they didn't attract more than passing glances. Except for a blonde disco dancer who sidled up to Matt and looked into his face intently.

"Oooh I just love men in hard hats," she drawled, placing her hand on his chest, "Buy me a drink and we can discuss…where you can um, hammer some nails?"

As far as lines went, he supposed he'd heard worse but it had been years since he hung out at clubs fishing for women and using lines like that himself. Like when he did his military stint and hit the local haunts. This time he extricated himself because after all, he had moved past all that ages ago. He used more sophisticated scripts these days.

"Maybe…later…I'm meeting someone."

She scowled at him and moved on to a man with dark hair and dressed completely in white down to his shoes.

Matt and Rick continued through the crowded room and then Matt looked up, seeing a woman ahead of him, who just looked sexy as hell…and more than a little familiar. He thought back quickly wondering where he had seen this vision from before. The dress sculpted to her thighs, ending a couple inches above her knees, a dressy shirt sheathing her upper body, and on her feet, a pair of heels. Her face framed by a halo of mahogany hair, which accentuated her face and the nicest pair of lips that he'd seen in a while. Had he met that mouth before, he couldn't remember. His body tensed up at the sight in front of him.

"Where are you going," Rick asked.

Matt just knew that he had to check out that woman ahead of him. Maybe she'd been a client…someone on the social circuit…an ex-girlfriend? Then her head looked up and a familiar pair of hazel eyes met his and froze. His heart felt like it had fallen into his gut, his legs turning to jelly.

"I think that's…C.J…"

Across the room, C.J. looked up and saw the construction worker looking over at her and she took in his most impressive build, his rugged race framed by hair that she could imagine running her fingers through as she molded her body with his…she definitely had put her breakup with Randy where it belonged, behind her.

And then she looked again…and it hit her.

"Houston?"

She shook her head in disbelief. It couldn't be, her friend was back in the office probably kicking back in his Jacuzzi with a woman after a hard day's work at the office. He just couldn't be this mouthwatering specimen of male virility in front of her. She swallowed, her mouth suddenly feeling dry.

Oh my god. She was lusting over her best friend, the one she had kept at arm's length the entire time she knew him because she didn't want to flow the most important relationship in her life over a casual fling. The only kind of relationships that Matt seemed to enjoy…in between a more meaningful but always short-lived engagement or two. Now that assessment wasn't completely fair because after all, a couple of his loves had met tragic fates usually in the form of vengeful serial killers except for Elizabeth who saw that in her future and walked away from him.

Now she walked towards him. He more than met her halfway in the middle of the club. She looked at him, puzzled. As puzzled as Matt felt right now along with a host of other feelings and sensations.

"C.J. what the hell…"

She broke in, not caring for his line of questioning.

"Houston, what are you doing here," she said, folding her arms, "and it better not be checking up on us."

He sighed.

"No it's not," he said, "I'm here with Rick…Det. Rick Hunter of the LAPD and there's some illegal activity going on here."

She nodded.

"I know," she said, "His partner Dee's downstairs. We kind of crashed a floating craps game…"

He grabbed both of her arms.

"C.J. what the hell are you thinking of doing here," he said, "Throwing yourself in a dangerous situation?"

She flashed him an irritated look that bordered on anger.

"I'm doing okay Matt…we are…so back off okay?"

Rick approached the two of them and Matt turned to face them.

"C.J. just told me that she and McCall are playing craps with some folks."

Rick nodded and became all business.

"So what's going on," he said, "How many people in this game?"

C.J. breathed in relief. That sounded so much better than Matt's overprotective attitude which left her feeling now like he had no faith in her judgment.

"Four, maybe five," she said, "They're all using aliases I think. Dee and Chris are down in some room in the basement with them."

"We'd better go check this out," Matt said.

C.J. put her hand up.

"There are some bouncers you'll have to get past and it won't be easy," she said.

"We can handle it C.J.," Matt said, "In the meantime, you stay right here…"

She folded her arms.

"Like hell I will Matlock," she said.

When he heard her call him that which she rarely did, he knew that he had struck her ire but he didn't care about anything but that she remain safely out of this volatile situation. Looking at the two men, C.J. calmed down a bit.

"Besides, if I don't' return, they'll know something's up," she continued.

Rick looked at Matt.

"She's right," he said, "She's going to have to go back down there now before they really miss her."

Matt didn't like that at all but he remained silent…for now. She looked at the two men again.

"You need to know something else," she started.

Both men looked up at her expectedly.

"There's one of your cops in there already posing as one of the players," she said.

"How do you know," Rick asked.

She looked a bit embarrassed.

"I used to go out with him," she said, "His name's Randy."

Matt's brows rose in recognition.

"That detective who walked out on you and broke your heart if I recall."

Oh yes, he did remember, C.J. thought, after all he had done his part as her best friend and had taken her out to a week's worth of dinners at L.A.'s different hot spots to get her mind off of him. Just like she had done for him in the past when she helped him pick up the pieces of his heart and get his mind off of them for a while.

"Is he on our side," Rick wondered, "I've heard he's tops in his division but if he's not..."

C.J. nodded.

"He's very devoted to his career," she said, "Talked about it all the time."

Matt noticed C.J. checking him out, with a barely concealed grin on her face. But in all fairness, he hadn't been able to take his eyes off her.

"What's the matter," he asked.

She looked all innocent.

"Oh…nothing," she said, "Except to say you carry that look quite well Houston…"

He smiled back at her.

"You look…very nice…"

She rolled her eyes.

"Oh Houston, I look like a party girl," she said, "Eye candy for some man's arm and I know it."

He disagreed, thinking that only a fool would look at the woman in front of him that way. But now he looked at her and saw something different…

"You're not going back down there alone," he said.

Her brow rose.

"Oh and who's coming with me?"

"I am."

She protested.

"Oh no, you're not," she said, "I don't need you babysitting me at the craps party."

"I'm not going to be doing that C.J.," he countered, "but you need some help and Rick's going to be close by."

Rick didn't like the sound of that much but he realized that it was possible that one or more of the craps players might recognize him from a prior bust. Not a problem for Dee because she stuck to hooker details when working Vice.

C.J. looked at both men and relented.

"Okay, but let me handle this with the bouncers," she said, as she wrapped her arm around Matt's waist where it rested easily enough.

Rick headed back to the bar where he sat on a stool while Matt and C.J. walked to where the bouncers stood.

"Hi guys," she said, "Guess what I picked up at the bar."

One of the bouncers folded his arms.

"He can't go in."

C.J. tilted her head and smiled.

"But he's so cute and I don't want another woman to poach my new guy," she said, taking one of her hands and caressing Matt's chest. He forced an easy grin on his face that didn't come all that easily. C.J. looked at him, hoping her actions weren't making him too uncomfortable. After all, this understanding had been between them…but this was work after all. After the bad guys were busted, things would go back to their status quo.

But Matt understood all right what she was doing because his hand moved to the back of her head and he stroked her teased up hairdo. She felt a tingle rush through her but caught it, focusing on the task at hand.

"Please…if some other chick runs off with him, I'll just never get over it…"

The bouncer looked stern but then weakened and opened the door.

"Okay, go downstairs and the guys can decide whether he stays or not."

She smiled her gratitude and her arm still around Matt, she led him down the stairs towards the game room.

Matt walked into the room with C.J. and saw everyone's eyes focus on him.

"Hi…I heard you've got a game going and I've got a wad of cash…and a few nice cars…"

They looked doubtfully at the construction worker in front of them.

"You look like you could barely pay the cover charge here," Animal said.

Matt looked over at the man who had Dee sitting on his lap and he'd be damned if C.J. would be treated that way. And then he saw Randy wearing a shaggy hairdo and a beard and he knew that he recognized him.

"Who's he," Animal asked.

C.J. bit her lip, looking at them.

"He's my…manager," she said, "He handles my affairs."

Matt almost coughed at her matter of fact style of relating that information about him and so quickly. But then again the woman had always been able to think on her feet, the more difficult the situation the better.

"I'm her sugar daddy," Matt continued, ignoring C.J.'s now sharp look, "I don't think she'd have me otherwise unless I showered her with a ton of cash to prove I love her."

She shot him a pithy glance and then smiled to cover it. His statement provoked so many different thoughts inside her; she could barely contain them all. But now wasn't the time when she could just chew him out later.

"Yes…he's definitely right about that."

He sat down and patted the chair right next to him.

"Now come here doll face and let's get this game started," he said.

Doll face?

Oh she was so going to make him pay for that. At least he didn't tell her to sit on his lap like a toy dog that he could stroke while keeping his mind on the activity on the table in front of him. Seriously, she would knock him flat on his butt if he pulled that, best friend or not. Then again, the thought was fleeting of her on his lap and…exploring the tool belt he wore as part of his costume. She reached for her Scotch which mercifully was within arm's reach and took a sip sighing as it burned her throat.

"I'm Ryder by the way," Matt said, "I just got off a contract job and picked up my paycheck…which has been itching in my pocket ever since. I see you've met…Ginger."

C.J. put down her glass and nodded.

"So you going to drop some cash on the girl or not," Randy asked from across the table, "She sounds like she has expensive tastes."

"I beg your pardon," Matt said, his voice edging towards danger.

Randy held up his hands.

"Look it's none of your business, but she turned me down flat, left and came back with you," he said, "I figured it was because you had a bigger wallet."

"Definitely a bigger…something," Dee said breezily and C.J. nearly knocked over her Scotch.

She wondered if she were going to spend the rest of the undercover operation listening to the two men in her life compare caliber sizes because if that were the case, she hoped the police would break up this little party sooner than later and cart them both off too. Matt just looked at Randy like he wanted to take him outside and teach him a lesson.

Animal wanted to keep the action and the money flowing.

"She's a nice enough dame but I'm here to make some quick cash," he said, "I've got a plane to catch in the morning."

"Back to Vegas," Dee ventured, stroking his face with her fingers, "but baby doll, we just met and you're going off and leaving town on me?"

"I'm not from here," Animal explained, "I own a club out in the Vegas Strip. I've got acts to hire and a payroll to keep up."

Not the least of which were hired hit men and a loan shark or two, Dee mused.

Matt tossed out some cash on the table. A roll of Benjamin Franklins and the other players knew he was serious.

"But honey, you can't spend that much money on this silly game," C.J. said, "You promised to take me to the French Riviera after we were done here on that sleek old sexy airplane of yours, the one with all that extra thrust."

Matt smiled, to cover the flush in his cheeks. Either C.J. had gotten into her role very well or the Scotch was beginning to talk. He patted her hand.

"Now don't you worry sweet thing," he said, "I've got that all taken care of and there's plenty more of this where it came from."

Animal grumbled.

"Are you going to back up that wad with some numbers or not?"

Matt refocused on the game and called his numbers before tossing the dice. Lady luck shown down kindly on him and he won that round. He started to collect his winnings but C.J. got to them first, grabbing several bills and making a big show out of tucking them into what appeared to be a bustier beneath her blouse. Matt's eyes nearly popped out of his head. Who was this woman anyway? Not the one he had known all these years. She saw his shocked expression and winked.

"I'm saving this for later…in case you go broke."

Not much chance of that because Matt had played plenty of Craps when his football team from Rice University had spent time at Vegas while on the road.

Chris turned to Oscar who had been flirting with her all evening and asked him to put some cash down. He protested but she just pulled some cash out of his shirt pocket and plunked it down on the table.

"Roll me a snake eyes," she said, totally in the spirit of things.

Matt couldn't believe that was his reliable secretary who usually wore sensible business clothes sitting in front of him whispering into a man's ear and trying to get him to part with his cash. When she first came to work for him, she had been a naïve farm girl fresh off the bus and working for a temp agency. Maybe this whole situation was just one bizarre dream that he would wake up from in a cold sweat.

Then he looked over at C.J. reapplying lip stick to her mouth and thought…maybe not so cold. She just put her makeup away and smiled at him.

"You know this is kind of fun," she said, "It would be even more fun if we cleaned them out for everything they had before we left them…handsome and took our game elsewhere."

He almost said her name right then and she must have sensed it because he felt her place her hand on his jean-clad thigh. He closed his eyes, before recovering quickly thanks to experience to know that she simply had been warning him.

"C…I mean Sugar baby that sounds really promising…"

She just looked at him, thinking that if he had nearly blown their cover then they might both find themselves on the wrong end of the serious fire power that these unsavory players must be packing beneath their seventies garb and their easygoing sense of fun. But a part of her idly wondered what would happen…if they left the game while still in character…and heat flushed through her as she thought about them together…and alone.

She really needed to take some of that Scotch and splash her face with it. That might shock her to her senses.

Enough so to return her to the present, the one where they all had to play their parts to bring the bad guys in while the LAPD monitored the situation a distance away.

"I need something more to drink," she said and Matt refilled her glass at the table.


Matt continued his string of good luck at the Craps table which of course aroused suspicion among some of the other players…not doing so well. He knew that mobsters hated parting with cash and that if he weren't careful, he might end this evening in the L.A. harbor wearing cement flippers. Time to end this streak of luck…and then he looked at C.J. sitting there, her eyes focused on the game. Golden loops flashed from her earlobes as she idly flipped her hair back and he sucked in his breath. She seemed so much at ease in her role, much more than he thought her academic background would allow her to be. But then he never really had seen this side of her.

"Damn honey, I just lost a bundle," he said, looking at her and hoping the other players bought it.

She looked at him, her eyes sympathetic.

"I know baby but it happens to the best of us," she said, "Here let me make it better for you."

His posture straightened and the other men looked up.

"Yeah let's see her make it better," Animal said, and Matt saw a flash of skepticism in his eyes.

Damn, he wondered if the wily gangster who ran operations in five different states saw through this charade and knew what he and the others were doing. He had to play along until he knew for sure whether that was the case or not. And that meant…but she read his mind.

And then her face moved closer to him, the waft of her cologne reaching him and her lips brushed against him tentatively at first like a whisper awaiting his response. And before his mind caught up, he did that as he deepened their kiss, which grew hungrier, hotter and for just a second…he forgot they weren't alone in the room.

So did she as it turned out as she ran her fingers through his hair and kissed him harder. Heat flashed through his body as he responded, amazed how good it felt. How intoxicating the taste.

She finally broke away and stroked her lipstick off of his mouth with her fingers, sending rush of feelings through his body. What had he just done and what the hell had happened? Was still happening, as if her lips hadn't left him.

C.J. coolly adjusted her clothing including her bustier and when she flashed a look at the players, she could see they had bought it. Except for Randy who just shot her a surly look but then again, he had his chance with her and had blown it…all because in a heated moment she had mistaken him for someone else. A lapse she really couldn't believe had happened now after that kiss. The two men were after all, nothing alike.

She looked over at Matt but he had pulled another wad out of his wallet and prepared to lose it.

Dee sat watching Animal lose more and more money which didn't do much for his attitude. In fact, during the last round, he had slammed his fist on the table like a petulant child. It was approaching time to bring this little get together to an end. Not that Animal wasn't a hot looking guy in his own way but truth be told when he had been stroking her face with his bejeweled fingers, she had instead been thinking of someone else…and oh Jesus, it had been…Rick.

Not her partner…oh no…she couldn't be… she blushed at the thought and that's something she rarely did, so good was she at keeping her cool whether it was as an experienced police officer even in the heat of danger or a woman who kept firm control over her personal relationships including with men. And Rick…oh he was just all wrong for her.

"What you thinking about sugar," Animal said, stroking her hair and she remembered she still sat on his lap being treated as his personal pet. She began to extricate himself from his embrace. He didn't like that one bit.

"Where you going now," he said, "I can't let you go unless you ask nicely."

She put her hand on his wrist and forced him to release her.

"How's that for nicely," she said, getting out of his lap.

His face snarled in anger and he reached for her but she deftly slipped away to a safer place. She shot Randy a look and he nodded quickly. She reached into her bra and pulled out a gun and aimed it at the people at the table. C.J. looked across and saw that Randy had done the same thing.

"Police freeze," both of them commanded, frozen in their stances.

Animal and the others looked between the two in total confusion and dismay. But Matt knew that in a matter of seconds, they would come up with some response, most likely a violent one. He reached for his own gun, hidden in a leg holster.

"Wait, how did they get these guns in here," Animal said, looking towards the bouncer, Grunt.

That's when he discovered that Grunt also was a police officer. C.J. never would have picked him out of a crowd, as seamlessly as the bouncer had fit in the background. Suddenly Animal roared and pushed the table up towards Matt and C.J. and reached down to get his own firearm joined by Oscar so now a group of men stood in the basement, pointing guns at each other. C.J. guessed that the craps game had officially ended in a draw and now the life and death battle had begun.

She reached for Chris and instructed her to head towards the refreshment table and hide behind it in case the shots started flying.

"Put down your weapons," Dee ordered, "Nice and Easy. We are LAPD officers and you're under arrest for operating an illegal gambling operation for starters."

The other men didn't budge. Matt had drawn his own weapon and found that C.J. had reached into that bustier of hers and pulled out a switchblade.

"What's that," he asked.

She flicked it open.

"Hey you think I can fit a gun in there," she said, "There's not much room as it is."

No, Matt imagined, probably not…then he saw movement out of the corner of his eyes and saw Oscar aim his gun to shoot.

Bang. Gun flew out of his hand and clattered on the floor where Chris hobbled over and got it near where she hid. C.J. saw that Dee had shot Oscar's gun right out of his hand. That was enough for Oscar to want to head on our of there but C.J. blocked him and he fell on the floor where she tackled him.

"Hey watch it with that blade bitch," he sputtered.

"You call me that again and I'll do every woman in this world a favor and…"

But he had already closed his mouth. Animal looked over at him and shook his head.

"Never was good in a tough situation," he muttered and he aimed his gun at Randy but Matt moved quickly knocking the weapon out of his hand and then hitting him with his fist, knocking him over the toppled table. Dice had already gone flying but now they truly scattered across the floor past Chris.

Snake eyes, she thought wistfully, pocketing them as her souvenir of this crazy girl's night out that had truly been a blast.

Suddenly, the doors flew open as Matt had Animal pinned on the ground and Dee had gone over to hoist up Oscar from where C.J. had kept him from leaving. Officers led by Rick stormed the basement and began rounding up the craps players who weren't in the mood to flee at this point.

Dee happily slapped the handcuffs on Animal herself. He flinched as they encased his wrists but leered at her.

"Hey baby doll if you'd told me you were into this kind of thing…"

She smiled at him as she began moving him up the steps.

"Shut up," she said, before reading him his rights.


The police rounded up all the criminals including the manager of the bar who had been receiving regular payments to keep his mouth closed about the illegal gambling and packed them all in the paddy wagon, taking them to the station for booking. Rick and Dee watched them satisfied and then they really looked at each other for the first time that night.

"McCall, you look…"

She scoffed.

"Like a hooker," she said, "Story of my life."

He shook his head.

"No you look like you handled yourself as well as you usually do," he said, "This bust's going to have you as its primary officer."

She thought about that. Yeah, she would love to get credit for busting a lot of bad guys and she had put the work in but…did she really want to be in charge of all the hours spent pencil whipping and filling out paperwork?

"I'll tell you what Hunter," she said, "Let's give it to Randy. I have a feeling he's the one who deserves it."

He nodded, satisfied.

"Hunter…don't take this the wrong way but I never pictured you as a cowboy," Dee admitted.

"Me neither," Hunter agreed, "I didn't even like westerns growing up."

The two of them stood alone in the parking lot, the cowboy and the party girl, at a loss of what to do.

"So where should we go now," Dee said, "back to the station?"

Hunter thought about it.

"Why don't we go check out that Jazz band downtown," he said, "We're both off duty now and we'll save the city from blowing its budget on overtime."

She smiled up at her partner and friend.

"I'd actually like that," she said, "Let's go do it."

He smiled.

"Works for me."


C.J. sat on the sofa waiting while Matt made them both drinks. A Scotch for him but a glass of Roy's guava juice for her. She had enough liquor to last her for a while. Chris had headed on home after giving her police statement and with a phone number from one of the Vice guys to do coffee sometime. C.J. and Matt had headed back to the office where they had showered and changed to more comfortable clothing. Matt had watched her come back up the stairs wearing a comfortable grey sweat suit and for a brief second...missed that bustier but he was more than ready to shed the construction costume and the persona that had gone with it.

He looked at C.J. now, her hair still damp and her face devoid of makeup, looking pensive as she sipped her juice and much more…herself.

"So what's on tomorrow," she asked him.

Matt picked up on her cue that she wanted things to return to normal almost as if tonight hadn't happened.

"I've got some new cases for us to work on," he said, "and you know Zach's going to be starting as our new associate."

C.J. tried to hide her distaste but Matt picked it up anyway.

"What's it with him and you," he said, "it's like there's tension between you."

She paused then shook her head.

"Oh nothing," she said, "But I need tomorrow morning to go look at some real estate. You know I'm looking to buy some property."

Yes, he knew that, she had been looking for an enclave of her own away from the city to retreat to, at the end of the week. Work had been so frantic lately, so time-consuming that at times, he had second thoughts about selling his beloved ranch.

More silence fell between them as they sat there close together physically but further apart in other ways. Matt thought about the woman he had met tonight, the side of his best friend who had been a stranger to him, but who had riled him up in ways he still hadn't recovered from. Where were these feelings coming from?

"Houston…"

He knew what would come next and he waited.

"About tonight," she said, haltingly, "That kiss…you know why we did it, don't you?"

He nodded.

"As part of the charade we were pulling at that craps table," he said, "to fool those gangsters."

She smiled, that he understood what she had been getting at.

"It didn't mean anything, we had to do it so they wouldn't get suspicious," she continued.

Okay, Matt bought into that but even though the kiss started out with that purpose; things had quickly shifted at least on his end. But what about her, did she feel anything while she had kissed him?

"C.J. I understand that," he said, "But I'm not going to sit here and pretend that a part of me…didn't enjoy it."

She looked up at him startled, and he saw wariness cloud her eyes.

"Houston…I don't think…"

"I know," he said, "I didn't either but all I'm going to tell you now are two things I do know, that I wasn't sorry that it happened and that I enjoyed it…and you."

Her stomach tied itself in knots. Damn, this wasn't going very well.

"I'm not going to do anything to risk our friendship," she said.

He sighed.

"I know that and I would never do that either," he said, "And no matter what happens, I will always be your best friend and that won't ever change...but tonight something just did."

She looked away from him and he worried that he lost her.

"I'm telling you all this because I'm not going to lie about it."

She nodded, but she seemed uncertain. And that's when he knew that she struggled with her feelings, that what had happened between them had shifted something within her. But what he needed now was to give her space to process that until she was ready for what he had to give her. He got up to leave.

"Well I'd better head on home," he said, "it's been a long day and we've got those cases starting tomorrow."

She looked at him a moment and then nodded, getting up and taking both of their empty glasses to the sink in the wet bar.

"I've got some decisions to make myself as well."

His brow furrowed at that statement and what he felt behind it but he let it go. He started to leave but she caught him first, in an embrace and he felt the tension within her ease and smelled the lilac scent of her shampoo. When they broke, he rested his hands on her shoulders and looked at her.

"I'll see you tomorrow, okay," he said, "It will be a brand new day adn those new cases could take our agency in a whole new direction."

And possibly them in other ways as well, he added silently.

She nodded and he left her. After hearing the elevator sound its arrival, she turned to gather her own things. As she left the suite, she made a mental note to herself that she would call the realtor tomorrow to tell her which land she wanted to buy.

Now how Matt would feel about that when he found about it and…her plans, would be another story altogether.