CHAPTER FIVE

. . . .

. . .

Four weeks, three days and five hours had passed since she'd kissed him.

Not that Lassiter was counting.

Not that he was having any trouble sleeping or being around her without looking lovesick.

Not that she was ever going to kiss him again.

Damn Silviana Nesca for making him think crazy things.

"Get a room!" the man had yelled. He should have specified "in the loony bin!"

But Lassiter left Juliet alone. He worked with her, lunched with her, coffee-ed with her; he did everything with her that they ever did, and she was almost her sunny self, so far as he could tell.

In less lucid moments he thought maybe she stood a little closer to him now when they were talking, or smiled a little more when they were alone, or was gentler with him when a case made him want to start shooting at suspects just to see who'd confess first. But lucidity always returned, suckmaster of the sucking briny deep that it was.

He could shake this, he told himself. He'd been alone a long time—and really, even during most of his marriage to Victoria, he'd been alone—and he was used to it (in the way you can get used to heartburn or an ingrown toenail), and in time Juliet's unexpected and devastatingly fantastic kiss would become something he'd only imagined. Which also sucked.

As depressing as that was, there was one detail which nagged at him… Spencer didn't seem to be coming around. On two of the cases Psych worked, Gus came to the station alone to pick up copies of casefiles, had awkward brief conversations with Juliet, and left quickly. He and Spencer took to visiting crime scenes and suspects without police accompaniment, at least one of the 'big reveals' had been done via email, and it wasn't until last week that Spencer himself finally appeared at the station, going directly into Vick's office with Henry and otherwise avoiding the bullpen completely apart from a brief wave to Juliet.

Henry wasn't saying anything about it; he wasn't saying anything about his son at all.

Lassiter was going to have to ask, and it would have to be before the wondering drove him to blurt out the question in a way which would cause Juliet to pistol-whip him.

. . . .

. . .

The seaside café was only half-full; it was past the usual lunch hour and Juliet was glad for the peace. The vast blue water—blue like Carlton's eyes—was soothing, and she loved the way the salt breeze played across her skin.

"How are you?"

She looked at him and smiled. "I'm pretty good, Carlton. What about you?" It was odd for him to ask, but the asking meant he wanted to know. Carlton didn't waste much time on things he didn't care about, and small-talk was high on the list.

He hesitated, shifting his iced tea glass slightly. "I haven't seen Spencer at the station much lately."

Finally. "It's been kind of nice, hasn't it?"

His eyebrows went up. "Yes, actually, but…"

She gave him a moment, and realized he was at a loss. "The first few years I was here, I thought his visits were little bright spots in the day, pleasant distractions from the work we do. But then," and she chose her words carefully because this wasn't about lambasting Shawn, "I came to see those visits as disruptive. Unpleasant distractions while he grandstanded and stole food and went out of his way to insult you. And honestly, I don't miss them."

Carlton's dark eyebrows were back up, and his frown line was firmly in place. How she wanted to smooth it, but this couldn't be rushed.

After a bit, he asked, very slowly as if something might shatter otherwise, "Is there a particular reason for his absence?"

Now. Now, she thought. "Most likely it's because I broke up with him about a month ago."

Carlton's eyes widened for a moment, but then his infernally-well-honed instinct to hide kicked back in. "What happened—I mean, no. Never mind. It's not my—"

Juliet held up one hand to stop him, and then reached over and touched his wrist lightly, just for a moment. "Don't say it's not your business. It kind of is. And that's not why I didn't tell you sooner."

He was uncertain. It was in his eyes again. One day she would have to tell him just how much those ocean-blue depths revealed… or maybe she would keep that to herself.

"I don't understand," he finally said.

"I… first, I wanted to get used to the idea of being single again. As it happens," she said wryly, "that only took a few days, because in the six months we dated, we really didn't spend as much time on our own as you'd think. If it wasn't my crazy hours, it was him being joined at the hip to Gus. You wouldn't believe how many 'date nights' turned out to be a trio."

"Idiot," he muttered, and then looked as if he regretted it. "Sorry."

Juliet grinned. He had no idea how appealing he was when he thought someone had done her wrong. "Anyway, I broke up with him for a couple of reasons. One was, well, exactly what you think: it was a mistake. Maybe if we'd spent more time together it would have been over sooner; who knows?"

The way he looked down at his napkin suggested he knew, and she repressed a smile.

"The other reason I had to break it off," and here she had to tread so very damned carefully, because Carlton was skittish on a good day, "is that before Shawn, and even during Shawn, especially the last few months, there was always… you. Underlying everything. You were—you are—the fabric of my life, Carlton."

Watching him, trying to decipher the semi-stunned, semi-hopeful look in those damnably blue eyes, she added in a whisper, "Shawn was just… a coat I tried on for awhile. A coat I never really needed, because I already had you."

She let that sink in, while gulls soared overhead and the waves sparkled, and at last he found his voice. His uncertain voice.

"O'Hara," he started. "Juliet." His hands came across the table, and she clasped them, interlinking her fingers with his, feeling them shaking a little.

She smiled tremulously. "I never mind you calling me O'Hara. You're the only one who makes it sound like an endearment."

"It always was," he said huskily, and she broke.

Getting up and crossing to where he sat, she put one hand on the back of his neck, slipping up into his soft hair while she kissed him, feeling his hand come up to cup her face as his warm and wonderful mouth searched hers. It was a perfect second kiss, and she remembered every moment of the first one.

Reluctantly drawing back, she murmured, "I'd sit in your lap but then we'd never be served lunch."

"I don't want lunch," he said, but let her return to her seat; still, he reclaimed her hands and held on tight. "You're sure about this? You've had a lot of years working around all my flaws."

Juliet laughed. "Oh, Carlton. The fact that you know you have flaws—and how I've watched you tackle them—is amazing to me. You've grown since I've known you. More importantly, you've wanted to. You did it for yourself, for your own future. That's incredible."

His grip on her hands tightened. "Juliet. I… I'm dreaming, aren't I? I've been shot in the head and I'm—"

"Stop," she laughed. "Carlton, you're wide awake and so am I. One or both of us might be about to pass out but we're really here and we're really admitting to these feelings. At least I am. I don't know about you."

Carlton shook his head. "Yes, you do. You know more about me than anyone else alive, or dead for that matter, so you know I… you know."

"Maybe you'll tell me more after lunch," she suggested. "When we ask Vick for the afternoon off because we've worked so hard on this case."

"This lunch just turned into takeout," he said, quite decisively, and got up to find the waiter.

Juliet laughed quietly, her cheeks hot, her heart racing, and before he returned to the table, she'd already called the station to report that she and her partner were done for the day.

Done with police work, at any rate.

. . . .

. . .

Lassiter drove to his place, because that was closer, but once he'd closed the door and stood looking at her, at Juliet, at the beautiful sunny soul who had just confessed—against all logic—that she cared about him, he lost his nerve.

Not his desire, but his nerve.

Juliet put the to-go boxes on the table by the door and stepped closer. "Carlton." She touched his chest. "Don't doubt this."

He swallowed. "You know what they say about things that seem too good to be true."

She shook her head and stood so close he could smell her lovely hair—a touch of the salt from the ocean breeze, a touch of lilac—and said, "I'm not too good to be true. I'm a regular woman who sees you for the diamond you are."

Lassiter gave it up then. There was no point in hiding anything from her. He'd never been able to before (short of shutting down completely) and he wouldn't start now.

He put his hands to her face and kissed her slowly, his heart keeping rapid time with the fast beat he could feel at her smooth throat. There was no hurry, but his hunger for her said otherwise.

Her lips curved into a smile of joy—he felt that it was; it matched his—and she whispered, "Bedroom now, please."

Later he couldn't remember getting there, not with his feet anyway, but standing by his bed, letting her slowly slide his jacket and holster off, letting her unbutton his shirt to expose his chest, letting her warm fingers undo his belt and unzip his pants, letting her do whatever the hell she wanted because he was so in love and this was crazy good… every second was burned into his memory.

He undressed her the same way, their clothes making an untidy heap on the floor, their weapons an odd bit of décor for his bedside table, and he caressed her smooth skin, seeing his fingers trembling as he touched her breasts, seeing that his fingertips brushing her nipples made them harden and made her breathe faster. Just like he was.

"Carlton," she said, pleading, and he covered her mouth with his, wrapping himself around her.

It felt like an exchange of souls in a way, and when he could talk again he would tell her he was hers forever. But first he would claim her in the oldest way a man could claim a woman who already owned him heart and soul.

On the bed at last, limbs tangled and tongues met and bodies ground together and Lassiter was blind and deaf to the outside world. There was only Juliet, only her, only ever her.

With his hands in her hair, their blue gazes locked together, and as he was enveloped by the heat and want of her body, he sighed out his love, in so many words.

. . . .

. . .

Juliet lay on her side, stroking Carlton's face.

He captured her hand and kissed her palm. He looked relaxed, happy in a way she'd never seen, and his grin was a bit cheeky. The light in his blue eyes was one of love, and that he'd said the word itself was a treasure. "So beautiful," he murmured.

"So are you," she murmured back. "I love you, Carlton."

"I don't see why, but I'm delighted you do." He kissed her deeply before she could protest, but she didn't mind; his tongue was delicious and insistent and she could kiss him all day, really.

After a bit, when she'd completely forgotten to chastise him, he asked, "How long were you going to wait to tell me? If I hadn't asked about Spencer?"

She smiled, and drew a corresponding smile on his bare chest with her finger. "It's funny. I told Vick, the morning after it ended, that I was planning to go after you, and I was, but—"

"What? You told Vick what?"

"Well, I thought she should know." She gave him an innocent look. "Keep things aboveboard, right?"

He closed his eyes, half-laughing, half-chagrined. "That explains why she kept asking me how things were going. Every damned day. I thought she thought I was cracking up or something."

Juliet smirked. "Sorry about that. Anyway, my intention was to move on you pretty fast but then I realized you'd never trust it if you thought I was on the rebound. And I wanted to see how Shawn was going to act around me." She felt a twinge. "So far he's going for avoidance, but maybe that's okay. Certainly he and Gus have been getting cases solved without excess hoopla."

"Small blessings," he agreed. "So if I hadn't asked about him today?"

"I was working out a plan in my mind. I was trying to decide between inviting you to dinner and offering myself for dessert, or showing up at your place dressed only in a pizza box."

Carlton laughed and caught her up close. "In other words," he growled against her throat, "you didn't have all the answers."

"The only answer I had was you." She undulated against him silkily. "Plan B would have been calling in Silviana Nesca."

He froze, and pulled back enough to stare at her. "Holy crap, what did she say to you last month?"

"That's what I wanted to know after you talked to her alone the day we were there about Carrie's diary."

"My God," he breathed, "that woman was like a mind reader. We should hire her, not Psych."

Juliet laughed. "I wanted to kill her the morning she 'read' me. I felt so completely exposed. But now I'm damned glad about it, because once I saw your face and the way you looked at me I knew she was right. I knew you did have feelings for me and that it was past time for me to end it with Shawn."

"Feelings," he repeated. "Such an inadequate word."

"All words are inadequate," she agreed. "Even 'I love you' doesn't really say it all."

"But it's close." He kissed her slowly, and she felt the love wash over her. "It's damned close."

"Yeah…." She sighed with delicious contentment and wriggled even closer to him, loving how his warm lean body fit to hers. "What are you going to tell Vick the next time she asks how it's going?"

Carlton's smile made her feel like jello. "I'm going to tell her I've seen you naked, so things are going pretty well."

"Carlton!" she protested, laughing, and not resisting when he pulled her to lie on top of him. "I really don't think you should say that."

"Probably not. How about if I tell her you've seen me naked, so things are—" He shut up when she kissed him hard. "Screw it," he said breathlessly, "I'll figure it out when she asks me."

"We could have Silviana pay her a visit." That set them both to laughing, until lust took over, which Juliet had a feeling would be happening a lot in the future… which was very much okay.

He did ask later, in a low and wondering tone, "Do you really think I look like Cary Grant?"

Juliet smiled, sliding her hands into his hair. "I do. Did you know he said he thought making love is the best form of exercise?"

"I hear that," he murmured, "and by morning I'll be in the best shape of my life."

"Oh good," she breathed.

And oh, it was.

. . . .

. . .

At the weekend, they drove over to the Pastorino mansion and parked in the street outside. Lassiter had somehow fit himself into Juliet's Beetle, making her laugh as he put the seat back as far as it could go. "We can take your car," she'd insisted, but he told her adapting to new things was something he was working on, and if that included being driven around in a tiny bug-shaped vehicle with the woman he loved, so be it.

Juliet called the main house and asked for Silviana. He extricated himself from the car again, not minding either the banged knee or the way she couldn't help but laugh that he was even trying, and they leaned side by side against the pale green motorized insect.

Silviana came out the front door and crossed the lawn toward the driveway. Today she was clad in greens and blues which drifted and swirled around her and made her eyes seem even darker, especially in the sunshine. She smiled at the sight of them. "I see your situation has changed. Congratulations."

Lassiter resisted the urge to ask her how the hell she could tell anything after two seconds. Really, the woman ran circles around Spencer.

Juliet slipped her soft hand into his. "Thank you for… pushing us."

Silviana laughed. "You're very welcome. I told Detective Lassiter I prefer people to be happy, and look at you now. What became of Mr. Spencer?"

"He's finding his way back," Juliet said quietly. "I think he'll be all right."

"Of course he will. Not to be dismissive, or clichéd, but a man like that always lands on his feet."

Thinking she was right, and hoping for Juliet's sake she was, Lassiter asked, "How's Carrie?"

She seemed regretful. "She moved out of the cottage, into an apartment closer to campus. I see her at least once a week. It's a shame Raul's actions and her hopeless romanticism led to all this. But at least you two provide a bright spot—a happy ending amid the gloom."

"I don't think anyone in your house cares whether Juliet and I are together or not," he said dryly. "We're the enemy."

"Actually, it was Mr. Spencer who garnered the most animosity. He was very good, but what he uncovered was terrible and it's always the messenger who pays the price. I myself," she admitted, "took a dislike to him based on his observations, but that was as much pride as anything else. I still can't believe I never detected anything of Raul's activities. For Spencer to waltz in and instantly see it all seemed like a personal insult."

Lassiter had felt that way many times over the years. "You were too close," he reminded her.

"Like Shawn was to me," Juliet murmured. "He couldn't see… me. Not when I was unhappy, anyway." Then she looked at him with something like wonder. "But you could."

He squeezed her hand, and she gave him a slow and amazed smile. His breath caught, and for a second he forgot they weren't alone.

Silviana beamed at them. "Thank you for coming to see me. I hope you'll invite me to your wedding."

"Consider it done," Lassiter said immediately, and Juliet blushed furiously, gripping his hand hard.

"Excellent. Now go love," Silviana said with finality. "Trust me, the world will wait a while."

He hoped it would wait forever.

Judging by the light in his Juliet's blue eyes, she was hoping for exactly the same thing.

. . . . .

. . . .

. . .

. .

The end … of another beginning.