"Mmm...a little more, Castle."

He arches an eyebrow, watches her carefully. "Really, Kate?"

The detective nods. "I can handle it if you can."

But he's not sure she can. Her cheeks are rosy already, flushed with heat. A tiny bead of sweat hesitates just at her hairline. And her eyes are wide, pupils dark and inviting, but also just beginning to water.

It's too much for her, he's certain of it.

He leans toward her, but pauses his movement, and her eyes narrow, flashing with irritation.

"Oh, come on," she growls. "Just do it."

He shakes his head. "Kate, it's good already. I really don't think-"

Her smirk halts his speech, the spark in her eyes calling to him.

"I don't want good, Castle," she drawls. "I want great. Besides, maybe there's a little more of Nikki Heat in me than you think."

He gulps at the images her words produce in his mind and her smirk intensifies.

The writer nods, but doubt must still linger in his eyes because her lips soften, a little of the teasing ebbing away.

"It'll be fine," she says. "Just not too much all at once, okay? The trick is to do it slowly. Otherwise it's too easy to lose control."

It's his turn to grin this time. "Speaking from experience, are you?"

She rolls her eyes. "It's not like I haven't done this before."

He cocks his head. "Really? I didn't think you would like-"

The detective chuckles, shrugs one shoulder. "What can I say? I have a wide range of tastes."

"After all this time, you still surprise me," he says softly, and the corner of her mouth twitches in pleasure. "But really, Kate. If you're trying to prove a point - that you're tough or something like that - there's no need. There's no question."

She lifts her hand to his arm, brushes the back of her fingers along the bare skin, through the dusting of fine hair. "I know. And I appreciate your consideration. But really, a little more would be perfect."

He opens his mouth, a final argument on the tip of his tongue, when his daughter's voice cuts through the near-silence.

"Oh come on, Dad! Just put it in already. If she says she can handle it, I'm sure she can."

Kate turns, a wide smile forming on her lips for the young woman who's halfway down the stairs. "Thank you, Alexis. Finally, someone who listens."

The redhead shakes her head, looks toward her father. "He thinks his chili is sooo spicy, but it's really not."

His jaw drops.

"Pumpkin," he gasps in mock affront. "I thought you loved my chili."

Alexis rolls her eyes and looks back at Kate. The older woman watches them, a fond quirk of her lips making her eyes sparkle.

"I never said I didn't like it," the girl says kindly, reaching out to pat his hand. "I just said it wasn't as spicy as you think it is."

The detective jabs him in the stomach with the handle of the wooden spoon when he pouts and holds out her hand for the shaker of cayenne pepper.

"Just a little," he warns her as he passes it over. "Really, trust me."

She purses her lips, that way she has of hiding her smile, and tips the shaker over the pot, tapping the lid lightly three times.

Then she sets the container to the side of the stove, dips the spoon back into the pot and stirs thoroughly. He vaguely registers his daughter's request that he alert her when dinner's ready, but frankly, his attention is elsewhere at the moment.

The play of muscles under the skin of the detective's uncovered forearm fascinates him, and when she brings the spoon to her mouth for a taste, he's captivated.

Her lips part, pink flesh surrounding the curve of the wood, taking in a portion of the mixture of ground beef and pinto beans and peppers and tomatoes. He finds himself listing slightly forward as her eyes slide shut and she lets out a little sound that might be a moan.

"Good?" he asks gutturally when she doesn't speak.

She nods and opens her eyes slowly. He's closer than he realized, close enough to see the detail in her irises, the lighter flecks that gild the beckoning brown-green.

"Very," she answers as she slowly withdraws the spoon, tongue catching a drop of sauce that almost escapes. "Want a taste?"

He nods, powerless to do anything else, waits for her to bring the spoon to his lips.

But she never does.

Instead he hears the clatter of the wood against the edge of the pot, feels the curl of her fingers in the fabric of his shirt.

What is she-

Ohhh.

Her mouth moves against his as she parts his lips with her tongue, sharing the flavor of their meal.

His hand rises involuntarily to her lower back and she breaks away.

"What-" he pants.

She smirks.

"What do you think?"

There's no hesitation in her eyes, no discomfort. Just want, and that's enough to have him reeling her in once more. "I think I need another sample."

She comes willingly, twining her arms around his neck, teeth nipping at his lower lip. He presses her closer as his eyes fall shut, one hand rising to cover her shoulder blade as her fingernails scrape up the back of his neck and into his hair. He shudders under her touch and feels her smile against his lips.

She was right. It needed more heat.

"Well?" she asks finally, pulling back slightly, but remaining close enough that her nose still brushes his. "Too spicy for you?"

"Mmm...no," he murmurs. "Delicious, actually. Just right."

A little laugh washes over his tingling lips, and she tilts her forehead against his.

"'Spice a dish with love and it pleases every palate,'" she recites. "Plautus said that."

His eyes flutter open, but hers remain shut, even when he speaks. "Who's Plautus?"

"Roman playwright," she answers with a teasing huff. "And you call yourself a writer."

He's about to point out that he can't possibly recall every author who's ever existed when her actual words cut through the haze of his foggy mind and he tightens his grip on her side. "Wait...'spice a dish with love,' you said?"

Blue meets warm green then as she opens her eyes, smiles timidly.

"With love," she repeats, her voice gaining strength. "With so much love."

"Kate," he breathes, his already pounding heart increasing its speed tenfold. "Do you mean-"

She nods, sliding her hand from the back of his head to his face, brushing her thumb along his cheekbone. "I do."

He crushes her to him, relief and joy and adoration fueling his kiss. She matches him, exceeds him even, her ardor setting him on fire. No cayenne pepper could blaze through his insides as quickly as Kate Beckett.

Flames lick at every nerve in his body, and when she draws away, he can see the glow of passion in her skin, the flare of love in her eyes. For him. All for him.

Forget supper. He'll go to bed hungry, as long as it's with her.

She leans toward him once more, her chest pressing against his, making him ache with barely restrained need. Warm air heats his ear, and he closes his eyes once more, prepares himself, knows this woman will be his undoing in all the best ways.

"Castle," she whispers, urgently, breathlessly. "I think the cornbread's burning."