Bruised & Battered,
Chapter Eleven

"I really don't understand the appeal of spending five dollars on a cup of coffee," Jimmy said as they joined a seemingly never-ending line of caffeine addicts itching to get their next fix.

"Nobody's forcing you to have some fancy, whipped-cream-topped, syrup-drizzled concoction," Annie replied distractedly as she reviewed the available selection. "You can have just regular coffee."

"We could have grabbed something at the diner near your place," he argued, glaring at the grungy-looking twenty-something who tried to cut in line in front of them. "Good food, good coffee, what more could you ask for?"

"Privacy," she said. "They know us there."

"So?"

"So they also know Marco, and Daisy," she explained.

"Again, so?" he repeated, frowning at her. "Were we planning on keeping this relationship a secret from everyone?"

"Not really," she sighed, "though I guess that is one of the things we do need to discuss."

"Annie-"

"Look, we needed a place that was both public yet reasonably private, and this place fits the bill. Plus it has coffee, so it's a win-win in my book."

"Just how private are we talking about?" he whispered in her ear as he slipped an arm around her waist, pulling her close.

"Not that private, you pervert," she said with a laugh, amazed at her partner's ability to switch gears that fast. "Didn't that cold shower do anything for you?"

"Oh, it did plenty," he assured her as he nuzzled her neck, "but I'm pretty sure I'm all recovered now." He pulled her closer, leaving very little doubt in her mind that her partner would indeed be quite...up...to the task.

She struggled for some appropriate snarky comeback, but all the could think of was how the doors in the bathroom stalls went all the way down to the floor.

Which meant they were really quite private.

Not to mention fairly soundproof...

"Your turn," her partner said, startling her.

"Uh?"

"Coffee?" he said, motioning to the fresh-faced barista staring expectantly at her from just a few feet away.

"Right," she replied as she took a few steps forward, desperately trying to banish the rather graphic images her brain insisted on presenting her with.

She wasn't a prude by any means, but she'd never really understood the point of sex in public places; she'd always felt that some things just belonged behind closed doors.

Right now, though, she had absolutely no problemunderstanding the appeal. The fear of getting caught, the knowledge that people were feet away, blissfully unaware of what was happening, all coming together to fuel an adrenaline rush that made everything sharper, more intense...

"Ma'am?"

She stared at the perky blonde girl behind the counter, realizing she'd once again gotten sidetracked by her suddenly oh-so-very-fertile imagination. What the hell was wrong with her? It was all her partner's fault; the man had turned her into a freaking nymphomaniac!

"Problem, Boots?" Jimmy enquired, the laughter in his voice unmistakable.

She was going to kill him.

Well, maybe not kill him, but definitely make him beg for mercy...

"Your order?" the girl asked again, looking at her as if she, too, knew exactly what was going through her head.

Her partner was definitely going to suffer for this...

"I'll have a Strawberry Frappucino," she told the girl, handing her a twenty dollar bill, and taking no small amount of pride in the fact that her voice sounded perfectly normal.

Okay, so maybe 'perfectly normal' was a bit of an overstatement, but close enough.

After putting in her order and giving Annie her change, the barista turned her attention to Jimmy. "How can I help you?" she asked, batting her eyelashes at him.

"I'll just have a regular coffee," her partner replied as he handed over a couple of rumpled dollar bills. "Biggest one you've got. I was up all night, barely got any sleep, so I'm definitely in need of a pick-me-up..."

"You sure I can't get you anything else? Maybe something to nibble on?" she asked, making it pretty clear her offer wasn't limited to items listed on the menu.

"Nah, " Jimmy replied, seemingly oblivious to the girl's advances. "I'm good," he added as he pocketed the change she handed and started to move towards the pick-up counter.

"You know that girl was hitting on you, right?" Annie asked her partner as they waited for their drinks, watching as their fellow customers jostled for space at the crowded counter.

"Jealous?" he teased, grinning at her.

"You wish," she smirked as they retrieved their drinks. There was absolutely no reason to be jealous, and yet... Try as she might, she just couldn't seem to quiet that little voice inside her head that kept insisting that Nathalie had probably thought the very same thing up until just a few days ago...

"Nice drink," her partner snickered as he surveyed the whipped-cream-topped pink concoction.

"So I like to be girly once in a while," she shrugged. "Sue me."

"No complaints about you being a girl, I assure you" he said in a low voice as he let his fingers trail down her bare arm.

She shivered at the contact, cursing her partner's ability to reduce her to a puddle with just a touch. Work was certainly going to be... challenging... if all she could think about was ripping his clothes off every time they touched, no matter how innocently.

Not that there was even remotely innocent about what her partner was up to right now, mind you...

"Jimmy."

"Yes?"

"Talk, remember?"

"Uh-uh."

"And hands?"

"Off, I know, sorry," he said as he let his hand fall way.

"The sooner we get this over with," she pointed out, "the sooner we can go home and get naked."

"Definitely a plan I can get behind," her partner chuckled as he led her towards a couple of free seats.

The secluded sitting areas peppered throughout the store had always appealed to her. She'd spent many a morning here, nestled in one of the overstuffed armchairs, sipping coffee as she lost herself in her latest literary acquisition. However, she now realized these might prove to be a little too private, considering she couldn't seem to keep her hands to herself...

"It's not fair," she mumbled, realizing only too late she'd said the words aloud.

"What's not fair?" her partner asked, looking at her quizzically as he settled into his chair.

"One small touch, no matter how innocent, and I'm reduced to a quivery puddle of need, wanting nothing more than to rip off your clothes and jump your bones!"

"And the problem is?" he asked, grinning broadly at her, thoroughly amused by the effect he had on her. Damn him! She resisted the urge to slap him, not so much because he didn't deserve it, but because she was more than a little afraid of what that might lead to, public place or not...

"You wouldn't find this so funny if you were the one who lost it every time we got close," she growled in frustration, shaking her head in an effort to reign in her suddenly-filthy-imagination.

"You're kidding, right?"

"Do I sound like I'm kidding?" she asked miserably. "This is never going to work, Jimmy."

"Annie-"

"The job..." she continued, cutting him off. "Every day, we put our lives on the line. And it's not just our lives, either. The rest of the team depends on us keeping our heads in the game, not to mention witnesses and innocent by-standers..."

"You're over-reacting," her partner said gently. "This is all just... new. You gotta give us some time to figure things out."

"We don't have the luxury of time," she argued, shaking her head. "Sooner or later, someone's going to wind up dead because of us. Are you going to be able to live with that?"

"This isn't really about work, is it?" he sighed as he ran his hand through his hair.

"This isn't about me running scared, if that's what you're hinting at," she said defensively.

"Isn't it?" he asked, studying her intently. "I'm not letting you go again, Boots. Not without a fight."

"I don't want you to let go. I'm just... scared," she admitted, shoulders hunched in defeat.

"Scared is okay," he whispered, leaning in close. "It'll be okay. We'll figure it out."

"I know," she sighed as she rested her forehead against his. "Really, I do. I'm just-"

She was interrupted by the ringing of her cell phone. Cursing softly, she fished it out of her pocket, knowing who it was even without having to look at the caller ID.

"This is Annie," she said, mouthing a silent apology to her partner before turning her attention to the person on the other end of the line. She hung up a minute later, intent on filling Jimmy on the situation but the look on his face stopped her dead in her tracks. "Why are you smiling at me like that?"

"You went into U.S. Marshal mode the minute you picked up that phone," he answered, beaming at her.

"So?" she asked, still not getting it.

"You forgot all about me, about us, you were just... on the job."

"And that's... good?"

"Yeah," he chucked softly, pulling her into his lap. "That's very good."

"Why is that, exactly?" she asked, frowning.

"Let's just say I don't think working together is going to be a problem... So, new case?"

"Yeah."

"When do they need us?"

"ASAP," she replied, sighing as she turned around to face him. "So much for us talking."

"We'll have plenty of time to talk," he assured her, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. "I'm not going anywhere."

"I'm gonna hold you to that," she told him before capturing his lips in a deep, slow kiss.

"Unless you want to explain why we're two hours late getting there, you might want to stop doing that," he partner whispered against her mouth, hands coming to rest on her hips. "For the record, you're not the only one with impulse-control issues. It's taking all I have not to drag you to the nearest semi-private corner I can find and have my way with you."

"Two hours, uh?" she chuckled as she slowly pulled away from him. "I'm definitely gonna hold you to that one," she said, reluctantly getting to her feet.

"Looking forward to it," her partner replied, a huge grin on his face. "For now, though, how about we go catch some bad guys?" he asked as he got up and fished the car keys out of his front pocket. "Besides," he shot back as he started to make his way towards the exit, "as so you aptly put it earlier, the sooner we get this over with, the sooner we can go home and get naked..."

"Nice to know you have your priorities straight," she snickered as she fell into step with him, punching him in the arm for good measure. They settled into an easy back-and-forth and, by the time they made it back to the truck, any doubts she might have had about their ability to work together had completely vanished.

On impulse, she grabbed a fistful of his shirt and pulled him in for a quick kiss.

"What was that for?"

"I just... I'm glad we... did this."

"This?" he asked, clearly amused at her rather pathetic attempt at articulating her feelings. "You're glad we... went out for coffee?"

"Jimmy-"

"Glad we... had Chinese for dinner last night?"

"Damn it, you know exactly-"

"Glad we... took Fifty-Nine for a walk before leaving this morning?"

"God, you're impossible!" she exclaimed, resisting the urge to punch him. "Are you really gonna make me say it?"

"Yep," he replied, grinning from ear to ear.

"You're an ass," she mumbled, rolling her eyes at him in mock exasperation.

"Yeah, but you love me anyway," he replied, looking sickeningly happy about that fact. "Now, let's go kick some fugitive ass, shall we?"

"Let's," she said with a laugh as she climbed into the truck, settling in the passenger seat. She watched as her partner started the engine and pulled into traffic, attention focused on the road ahead.

They really were going to be okay...