A/N: This story is set immediately prior to the episode "Medea."

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"You know, Frank is really going to owe me for this one," Jacob Hood turned to his companion, obviously disgruntled. "Having to put up with this crap…"

His companion quickly placed her hand over his mouth. "Jacob," she said in a mock scolding tone. "It's bad enough you've already insulted the artist. But now you're insulting me?"

"You…?" Jacob sputtered. "How am I insulting you?"

Karen Fuller looked up at him, eyes brimming with amusement. "Did you or did you not just call having to attend these showings with me crap?"

Jacob smiled reluctantly at his old friend's wife. "You know that's not what I meant." He tucked her arm into his. "Didn't I tell you twenty years ago you should have dumped Frank for me?" He tried to steer her toward the door. "Come on; let's move on to the next one."

But Karen dug in her heels. "Not yet, I have to smooth things over with Christopher. He's a good client of mine; I can't afford to leave him offended by what you said." She looked at Jacob pointedly. "You stay here and keep your mouth shut."

Rolling his eyes, Jacob snagged a glass of champagne from a passing waiter. In reality, he was enjoying himself. Karen had combined a degree in art history with an interest in computers when, several years ago, she launched a website design firm that specialized in the art market. Some of the most influential galleries in the District were her clients. She was also the author of a respected blog that covered the art scene in DC. This gallery walk on a balmy March evening wasn't merely a social outing for her. It was an opportunity to touch base with her existing clients and maybe pick up some new ones. It was for that reason Jacob was accompanying her.

Frank had been called out of town on business and he had pressed Jacob into taking his place. Karen claimed she needed an escort. Without one, it was obvious she was trolling for business. With one, she was just another art lover taking in the various collections, collecting material for her blog. While Jacob wasn't that fond of modern art, he was enjoying listening to Karen's commentary on the artwork they had been viewing and the people they encountered.

Sipping his champagne, Jacob idly scanned the crowd, debating if he should pass the time until Karen returned talking to his temporary bodyguard. He couldn't decide if the man hated the artwork or thought he was being discreet. At every gallery they visited, after a quick scan of the crowd, he would station himself by the front door. Jacob had decided to stay put when his attention was caught by a good-looking blonde. His eyes widened when he realized the blonde was Rachel.

But this wasn't his Rachel. Gone were the neat white shirt, plain tailored suit, and the low-heeled, sensible boots. This Rachel was dressed for an evening on the town. She was wearing a black cocktail dress; the bodice and elbow length sleeves were made of lace, drawing attention to the pale skin they covered. The dress hugged her body, emphasizing her curves, and ended several inched above her knees. Her long, slim legs ended in sandals with stiletto heels. Her hair, rather than being tucked into a bun or pulled back into a ponytail, was curled and hung down her back.

Jacob felt an increasing familiar tightening in his gut as he looked at her. She looked so beautiful and sexy, he ached to approach her. He was so focused on Rachel that he didn't hear Karen return. Didn't realize she was standing next to him until he felt her breath in his ear as she stood on tip-toe to whisper to him.

"So, I see you found something in this gallery you like to look at after all." She gave a small huff of laughter. "But you're out of practice, Jacob. You're supposed to find one who's unaccompanied."

Jacob flushed. "I'm not…, I mean.., that's Rachel over there." At Karen's blank look, he explained. "Rachel, you know, Agent Young…"

Karen looked over at Rachel in surprise. She narrowed her eyes. "I didn't recognize her, dressed up like that." She began to tug Jacob across the room. "Come on, let's say hello."

"No…, I don't think we should. It's her free weekend." His lips twitched into a half smile. "Her weekend 'free of all things Hood,'" he quoted.

"Don't be silly, we're only going to say hello."

Still Jacob demurred. "No, you said it yourself; she's with someone, on a date. She doesn't need us, well, me intruding on her evening."

Karen shook her head impatiently. "We're hardly intruding. That's part of the fun of these gallery walks, running into people you know."

Jacob gave up and allowed Karen to tow him over to where Rachel and her date were examining a large abstract painting. The work was an oil in various shades of blue. As they approached they could hear the man with Rachel lecturing her.

"You have to look at works like this with an open mind. You have to try to hear what the artist is saying with this painting."

"If you ask me, he's saying 'I got a really good deal on blue paint.'" Jacob said.

Rachel turned to him with a laugh and a smile. "Ya think so?"

"Don't encourage him Agent Young." Karen put in. "He's been making smart-aleck remarks like that all night."

"Oh, Mrs. Fuller, good evening." Rachel belatedly registered the presence of Karen Fuller at Hood's side. She quickly performed introductions. Her date, Jeremy Bentham was a lawyer in a prestigious K Street firm.

Bentham also considered himself something of an art connoisseur. He looked at Jacob disapprovingly. "Actually this is an excellent example of Color Field Theory. The different tones were created not by using different shades of blue paint, but by thinning and thickening the oils."

Jacob raised an eyebrow. "Like I said, he got a really good deal on blue paint."

Bentham continued as if Jacob had not spoken. "It's one of this artist's earlier works." A boastful note crept into his voice. "I was able to pick up a couple of his paintings when I was in college."

Karen smiled at the man cheerfully. "Now why do I think there's a story there?"

With her encouragement, Bentham launched into his story. When he was a senior at UC-Berkeley, he had been president of his fraternity. The artist in question, Richard Danvers, was working his way through the San Francisco Art Academy by painting houses. Bentham's fraternity brothers had hired him to paint the outside of their fraternity house. The fraternity boys had discovered, after they had paid for the work, that a window had been broken.

Bentham, as president, had been the one to track down Danvers to his studio to demand a refund to cover the cost of the broken window. When the artist refused, Bentham threatened legal action. Danvers claimed he was broke; he had already spent the money on art supplies. That's when Bentham had an idea. He had been taking a required course in art appreciation. He was impressed with the paintings he saw in the workshop; they were as good as the ones he had studied in class. He talked Danvers into a compromise; a canvas in exchange for payment for the window.

He had taken the painting immediately to his professor's office for an expert opinion. The professor had been equally impressed; what's more he was familiar with Danvers' work. He assured Bentham that the artist was on the cusp of a breakthrough; the painting would undoubtedly increase in value over the years. Thus began Bentham's art collection. He paid for the window's repair and kept the canvas. He had returned to the studio a few days later and convinced Danvers' to sell him another painting for pretty much the cost of the canvas and paint.

He eyed the blue painting greedily. "This one was in his studio at the time. I wish I had tried to talk him into selling me this one too. Those two paintings were an excellent investment."

His story was received differently by his hearers. Jacob had taken the lawyer in dislike. He resented the proprietary arm the man had around Rachel's waist and the way his hand was absently kneading her hip. He cynically interpreted Bentham's actions as those of a rich, spoiled frat boy taking advantage of a fledgling artist. Karen on the other hand, was enchanted. An avid art lover herself, she saw the story as the awakening of the collector's instinct in a formerly callow youth.

"What a wonderful story," she declared. "You should share it with Richard."

At Bentham's puzzled look she explained that Danvers was actually in the gallery that evening. The owner of the gallery had decided to take advantage of the fact that the artist was in DC to deliver a series of lectures at the Smithsonian. He had persuaded Danvers that a showing in conjunction with the lectures would be good business. Since so many of the movers and shakers in both the DC art and political worlds could be counted on to show up at the monthly gallery walks, they decided this evening would be an ideal opportunity to open the exhibit.

The owner had taken pains to introduce him to Karen. He knew that a mention in her blog would help sales. In their conversation earlier, Danvers had been telling Karen about his early, student days. She was sure he would be pleased to meet someone who had invested in his work before his career had taken off.

"If nothing else, it will make a great entry for my blog." Karen smiled mischievously. "But we have to leave Jacob here. I've already had to apologize for him once tonight."

"Don't tell me, he said that his eight year old nephew could paint better pictures." Rachel teased.

"It was a compliment," Jacob protested. "It's not my fault your friend took it the wrong way."

"Actually," Karen laughed, "it was Christopher, the owner, who was offended. Jacob told him that Richard's latest paintings looked computer generated."

Bentham's face looked pained. "Oh, yeah, a remark like that could hurt the value of the work."

"I didn't say that," Jacob complained. "I merely said that the patterns in his latest work reminded me of some computer generated fractals."

Karen rolled her eyes. "It would take me to long to explain why that was an insult." She took Bentham's arm. "Just wait here while we go talk to Richard. Rachel, would you mind keeping an eye on Jacob for me?" Not waiting for a response, she swept Bentham away into the crowd.

An awkward silence descended on the twosome. Draining his glass, Jacob summoned a passing waiter. "Uh, would you care for a glass of champagne?"

After a momentary hesitation, Rachel accepted the glass Hood held out to her. Racking her brains for a topic of conversation, she decided to go with the obvious.

"So," she gestured to the painting in front of them, "I take it you don't care for this type of art?"

Jacob made a face, shaking his head. "Not really. I prefer my art to be more…functional."

He reached over and lightly touched the black enamel and crystal butterfly hair ornament that pinned back her bangs. "Like this little guy here." He smiled. "It's practical, useful, but still," he continued softly, "amazingly beautiful."

Rachel's mouth went dry and her breath caught at the unexpected, graceful compliment. She stared at Hood, eyes wide, her lips slightly parted. She wondered if she was reading more into his words than he intended; reading more into the look on his face.

Jacob bit his lip and mentally kicked himself at the look of shock on Rachel's face. He should have known better than to make such a personal remark. Even though he knew she considered him a friend, she still drew a line between them. Last month during a case he had asked her if she wore perfume; he only wanted to confirm his hunch that most women apply it the same way. But she had reacted stiffly, as if he had asked an intensely personal question. He was surprised when she ducked her head and shyly thanked him.

Thankful that he hadn't been rebuffed, Jacob carefully steered the conversation toward the artwork and the crowd flowing around them. He was encouraged that Rachel seemed to be relaxed, enjoying his company as he was enjoying hers. He allowed himself the luxury of drawing her physically closer to him. His lips almost brushing her ear as he whispered comments designed to make her laugh; his hand on the small of her back to guide her through the crowd. Small gestures, but ones he knew he could not indulge in when they were working.

Jacob felt a pang of disappointment when he spotted Karen and Bentham winding their way toward them. He had been enjoying this brief interlude and was reluctant to hand Rachel over to a man who was clearly not right for her. Even thought he knew it meant a tragedy or a potential disaster was looming, Jacob almost wished that his phone would ring, calling them back to work.

"Well, that was fun," Karen said. "I was right; Richard got a kick out of meeting Jeremy again." She turned to Bentham and asked impulsively, "we're going on to the Foundry next, would you and Rachel care to join us?"

Jacob tried not to look horrified. The last thing he needed or wanted was to have to watch Rachel out on a date with this jerk. It was bad enough that the man had slung an arm around her shoulder, pulling her away from him. He breathed a quick sign of relief when Bentham shook his head regretfully, checking his watch.

"I'm sorry Karen, but we really have to run. We have dinner reservations and need to scoot."

Karen murmured her understanding and they made their farewells. She watched them leave with a speculative look on her face. "They look good together, don't you think?"

Jacob stopped the denial that automatically sprung to his lips. He was afraid any protests on his part might eventually find their way to Frank's ears. He took refuge in humor.

"No match-making. Just because I've resisted your efforts doesn't mean you get to start in on Frank's agents."

As he hoped, Karen laughed and denied any such intentions. Tucking her arm into his she chatted easily about what they could expect to find at the next gallery on their stop. Jacob was grateful that Karen dropped the topic of Rachel and her date.

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Rachel was silently blessing her training in the EPD as the busboy cleared her dinner plate. It had allowed her to sit with a polite, attentive look on her face while her attention wandered. This date had been a disaster from the moment "Jeremy the jerk" had rung her doorbell. In her opinion he was a complete and total bore.

His conversation had rarely strayed from himself; his art collection, his sporting prowess, his work. Rachel mentally snorted at his boasts about the deals he brokered at his law firm. 'He's nothing more than a glorified paper-pusher,' she had mentally scoffed. Not like the work she and Hood did, work that literally meant the difference between life and death. When he wasn't talking about himself, he was offering his opinions on the weather, the current political climate, and the food. Her attention snapped back to Jeremy to fully process the question he was asking her.

"I know a great little jazz club near here. Want to go there for a nightcap?" Jeremy winked at her, "or should we head right back to your place?"

Rachel stared at him for a beat. Then her smile widened fractionally as she stood. "Why don't you order us some dessert?" she murmured noncommittally. "We can talk about it. If you'll excuse me?"

As soon as she achieved the privacy of the ladies room Rachel got her cell phone out of her purse. She punched in a familiar number and began speaking the moment it was answered.

"Hood? I need you to do me a big favor. Call me back in exactly fifteen minutes."

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Jacob threw down his book in disgust. After their final gallery visit Karen had invited him to join her and her kids at home for pizza and a movie. He really should have accepted; having to make conversation with her brood would at least have kept his mind off of Rachel. He was honest enough to acknowledge that it wasn't merely that she was out on a date that bothered him. It was the fact that the man had seemed so comfortable with her, so possessive.

He wondered how long Rachel had been seeing Bentham. He didn't think her dress looked like the kind of thing a woman would wear on a first date but he realized he wasn't the best judge of that. Not only had it been awhile since he had been on a date, he had spent his entire single adult life in academia. Not a profession known for its fashion sense. His lips twitched into a half smile; the women he knew would be more likely to write a paper on the medical or cultural implications of shoes like the ones Rachel was wearing than actually wear them.

He wondered if Bentham was Mr. Shoes replacement in her life and in her bed. He had desperately wanted, when he was making small talk with her at the gallery, to ask about her relationship with Bentham. He hadn't, partly because he thought Rachel would tell him it was none of his business, but mostly because he didn't want to know. Bad enough imaging that she would end the night in bed with him; imagining another man touching her naked body, making love to her. It would be worse to know for sure that yes, the man was her lover.

Jacob was startled when his cell began to buzz and Rachel's name appeared on the display. He was immediately concerned, was she in trouble? He barely had a chance to say hello before he heard her voice speaking in a rush.

"Hood? I need you to do me a big favor. Call me back in exactly fifteen minutes."

"What? Rachel, are you all right? What's the matter?"

Rachel let out a huff of exasperation. "Look, for once in your life, could you just do what you're told? No questions, no discussion, can you do that?"

"Of course, fifteen minutes."

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Rachel heaved a sigh of relief. "Yes, fifteen minutes." She ended the call and slid her phone back into her purse. She looked up to see an older woman regarding her with amusement.

"I hope you young things appreciate how easy you have it. In my day we had to fake being sick, or else try to sneak out of the restaurant."

Rachel gave the woman a wink. "Oh, believe me, I do."

She still had a smile on her face from this encounter when she returned to the table. The smile became a little forced when she saw what Jeremy had ordered for dessert. Sitting at her place was a poached pear.

"I thought someone with a body like yours wouldn't want something fattening," he offered with a leer.

With a murmur of what could be interpreted as agreement, Rachel took her seat. She had only taken a bit or two when her purse started buzzing.

"Oh damn," Rachel exclaimed, a look of faux annoyance on her face. She reached over and retrieved her cell. She looked up apologetically. "It's work."

She quickly answered. "Young here. What? I see, no, that's fine. Yes, I can be at the Hoover Building in a few minutes." She ended the call and looked at Jeremy apologetically.

"I am so sorry Jeremy, but I have to go. I've been called into work."

"I thought this was your free weekend," he objected.

"Oh it is, or it was. Unfortunately it can be cancelled if Hood is called out on a case." She shrugged. "It pretty much stinks, but there's nothing I can do about it." Rachel stood to leave. She placed a hand on Jeremy's shoulder when he began to rise from his chair. "No, no, you stay here and finish this lovely dessert. I'll have the doorman call me a cab. I'll, uh, call you when I get back to town."

Rachel snuck a look over her shoulder as she reached the door to the restaurant. She snickered at the distinctly annoyed expression on Jeremy's face. Luckily for her, a cab had just deposited a fare in front of the restaurant so she didn't have to wait. Within minutes she was relieved to be on her way home, alone.

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Jacob felt remarkable more cheerful as he returned to his book, a smirk on his face. Whatever her relationship with Bentham was, it was now obviously in the past. He hoped that he would be able to tease her into sharing the details on Monday.

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Rachel gave a sigh of pleasure as the folds of her favorite blue silk nightgown fell over her body. Her nightgowns, like her silk and lace lingerie, were her guilty pleasure. Unlike her lingerie, however, she only indulged in them when she was home alone. She didn't look too closely into why she chose not to wear them on the rare occasions she had overnight company.

Padding into the kitchen, she was happy to find an almost full carton of mint chocolate chip ice cream in the freezer. Grabbing a spoon from the drawer, she took the ice cream back into her bedroom and flipped on the television. She stared moodily at the screen, not paying attention to the flickering images, as she ate her ice cream.

'Why did I ever let Amanda talk me into a blind date with Jeremy?' She smiled ruefully at the thought. She knew exactly why she had agreed, it was because of Hood. Or to be more precise, it was because her feelings for Hood were coming perilously close to crossing the line. She had thought of this date as the first step in re-establishing something of a normal social life. She hoped it would put her feelings for Hood in perspective. That it would help her see that her feelings for him were born of loneliness, nothing more.

In that respect the evening had been a spectacular failure. It wasn't only because Jeremy had turned out to be a first-class jerk but because they had run into Hood. This gave Rachel an unwelcome opportunity to compare the two men. Superficially, they were similar. Both were tall, good-looking, and well-dressed. But Hood was just a little bit more than Jeremy. A bit taller, a bit better looking. His suit, a dark charcoal gray, was a bit better tailored. And instead of the red or blue power tie the other men affected, Hood's tie was a pale green. Rachel smiled faintly, if she didn't know that he didn't have a vain bone in his body, she would have suspected that he picked it out purposefully to bring out the green in his eyes.

It wasn't merely his appearance that put Hood at an advantage. It was his behavior. While Rachel wasn't so prudish as to object to any public display of affection, Jeremy made her uncomfortable. His arm always seemed to be around her, his hands roaming over her body. She had been mortified that he had been practically fondling her ass when they stood talking to Hood and Mrs. Fuller. The feather light touch of Hood's hand on her arm and back as they negotiated the crowds had been a welcome contrast. Also unlike Jeremy, Hood had been interested in what she had to say. He talked with her not at her. She snorted in contempt as she remembered Jeremy's suggestion that they end the evening at her apartment. She felt instinctively that Hood would never make such a crass proposition. The time she had spent with him in the gallery had been the high point of the evening.

As Rachel ate her ice cream, her gaze strayed to her cell phone, charging on the bedside table. Hood had been great. He had been willing to help without asking any awkward questions or demanding explanations. She smiled as she remembered his side of the conversation when he had called as requested. How he had laughed when he realized what was going on; the mischief in his voice when he noted that for once he was the one rescuing her from a dicey situation. Although she knew she'd be in for some gentle teasing Monday morning, she also knew he'd respect her privacy if she declined to supply him with any details.

Rachel snapped off the television. She hadn't really been watching but she still felt too restless to go to sleep. She wished she could call Amanda to bitch about the awful Jeremy but knew that would only upset her friend. Reaching for her phone, Rachel smiled; she knew just who she could call who would be sympathetic.

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Jacob was still absorbed in his book when his cell phone rang for the second time. A brief smile touched his lips when he saw that it was Rachel.

"Well hello there, don't tell me you need rescuing again?"

Rachel snorted. "No, but if I ever tell you I'm going on a blind date, remind me what a bad idea that would be."

He raised his eyebrows, so she hadn't known Bentham well after all. He found that information reassuring. "A blind date, huh?"

"More like a near-sighted one," Rachel amended. "He's a friend of one of my friend's boyfriend. I've met him before but tonight was our first and last date."

"Last? Oh come on, it couldn't have been that bad. You only spent what, a few hours with him?"

"More than enough time to discover that he's a complete jerk."

Jacob stretched out, his book abandoned on the floor. This was better than he had hoped; Rachel was actually volunteering personal information. "Really?" his voice was coaxing. "So, what happened?"

Rachel settled back against her pillows, "Well, he started off being incredibly tacky. Practically the first thing he said to me was 'whoa, looking hot'."

"Well…." he smiled, remembering how Rachel had looked in that dress. While it wasn't a term he would have used, she had looked damned hot.

"Before you try to defend him," she interrupted, "remember that the next time you see me I will be armed."

"Not a compliment you appreciated I take it?"

"Maybe when I was a teenager I would have. But for god's sake, I'll be thirty next month."

"That old?"

"Very funny." She continued, "I'm a grown woman, I want to be treated like one. Honestly, he sounded like a stupid college kid." Her next words were partially muffled by a spoonful of ice cream, "You told me I looked amazing, now that was a nice, adult compliment."

They were both silent for a moment, remembering that what he had actually said was that she was amazingly beautiful.

"What I was going to say was maybe he was merely inarticulate?"

"Inarticulate? Hood, he's a lawyer, he's paid to be articulate. Besides," she complained, "he was plenty articulate for the rest of the evening."

"Talked your ear off, did he?"

"You heard him, lecturing me about that damned stupid painting. It was more of the same for the rest of the evening; a catalog of all things Jeremy.

"Sounds like he's a solipsist."

"You're making me feel like we're on a case. What's a solipsist?"

It's a philosophical concept. A solipsist feels the self is the only existing reality and that all other reality, including the external world and other persons, are representations of that self, and have no independent existence."

"Wouldn't it be easier to say that a solipsist is a self-centered jerk?"

"I guess so." Jacob laughed softly. "So what other crimes was Bentham guilty of?"

"You mean aside from trying to get me drunk?"


"He insisted on ordering a bottle of wine …."

"That hardly sounds sinister."

"Don't interrupt, I told Jeremy not to order a bottle since I was only going to have one glass."

Jacob smiled; he remembered her saying once that she like a glass or three of wine. "Only one? That doesn't sound like you."

"I know but I didn't want to risk getting tipsy."

"I hardly think you'd get tipsy on what, a couple glasses of wine with a meal."

"I'd already had two drinks," Rachel explained. "A glass of champagne with you and then when we got to the restaurant, our table wasn't ready. Jeremy insisted we wait in the bar and try out their signature cocktail. Maybe you can have five beers before you're drunk, but at my weight it doesn't take that much."

"Are you saying I need to lose weight?"

"Well…," Rachel teased. "I have thought maybe we should work a little gym time into your schedule."

"I think we should go back to talking about your date. Honestly, Rachel, I don't see how you can accuse him of trying to get you drunk. He may have ordered the wine but he couldn't make you drink it. I mean, it's not like he could pour it down your throat."

"He tried."

"That bastard! Are you all right?" Jacob had an unwelcome vision of Rachel struggling with Bentham.

"I guess I'm exaggerating a bit. It's only whenever I took a sip of my wine, Jeremy re-filled my glass. He made a joke out of it, saying that it was still the same glass of wine."

"So what did you do?"

"I stopped drinking the wine."

Jacob snorted in disgust. "You're right about him acting like an over-grown frat boy. Any other defects besides being a juvenile, self-centered jerk?"

"Well… he was a bit to touchy-feely for my taste." She flushed remembering Jeremy's hand on her hip while they were talking to Hood. "It was annoying."

"Why didn't you say anything? About that? Or the wine?"

"I didn't want to cause a scene." Rachel sighed. "Like I said, I knew from the start that I wouldn't be going out with him again but we were set up by a good friend. I didn't want to upset her with word getting back that we had a fight."

"How very," Jacob searched for the right word, hoping to make her laugh, "girly of you."

He was rewarded with a giggle. "I know; it's not like me to put up with crap like that. But I figured, it's one date, one night, I could suck it up for Amanda's sake."

"So what prompted the phone call? If you were determined to see the night through, why fake a work emergency?"

Rachel giggled again. "That was more of me being girly. Jeremy was being presumptuous and I wanted to get out of there, alone, without an argument."


"Yeah, the only time all night he asked for my opinion and it was if we should go out for a nightcap or straight back to my place."

"What's so presumptuous about …" Jacob trailed off as the implications of what Bentham had meant sunk in. "Oh! What a jerk!"

Rachel smiled; she was willing to bet that Hood was blushing. "And that wasn't the worst part."

"I shudder to think."

"When I escaped to the ladies room to make my call, I told him to order us dessert. You wouldn't believe what he did."

"He ordered dessert to go?" Jacob guessed.

"Worse, he ordered me a pear, poached in white wine."

Jacob burst out laughing at the disgust in her voice. Trust Rachel to find that the worst part of the evening.

"I know; it tasted as awful as it sounds."

"So my phone call came in the nick of time, huh?"

"Yeah, I only had to take a couple of bites." She laughed again, "You should have seen the look on his face when I walked out. He was definitely pissed."

Knowing that Bentham was out of the picture Jacob felt he could be charitable toward the man. "Oh, cut him some slack, Rachel. He was disappointed that his time with you was cut short, that's all."

"Hardly, more likely he was pissed that he wasn't getting a return on his investment." Rachel abandoned her carton of ice cream. "But enough about my night. Did you enjoy the rest of the gallery walk?"

"It was a big success from Karen's point of view. She signed up that artist as a client." Jacob sighed, "Not so good from my point of view."

"Why? Ok, so maybe the artwork wasn't your cup of tea, but it couldn't have been that bad."

"The artwork was fine. We ran into Ray Wynne and his wife though."

"Big deal, you ran into Deputy Director Wynne. It's not like you were out on a clandestine date with Mrs. Fuller or anything." Rachel shook her head; the idea of Hood doing anything underhanded was laughable.

"It would have been better if I had been," Jacob snorted. "If we had been sneaking around we would have avoided Ray and I wouldn't have been stuck with another damn fool speaking engagement."

"A speaking gig, huh? What's it for?"

"It's a NIH fundraiser. They're pushing for more support for STEM educational programs. Ray thought I'd be the perfect speaker."

"Stem education? You mean like in stem cells?"

"No, it stands for science, technology, engineering and math," Jacob explained. "It's a good cause, but…"

Rachel was puzzled. "How did you get stuck? I mean, it's an NIH affair. What's the FBI and the Deputy Director's involvement?"

"Apparently Frank and Ray are putting some FBI weight behind it. Tying it in to FBI needs for agents with that kind of background." Jacob shrugged. "Like I said, a good cause, but…"

"I don't know, sounds like its right up your alley. I mean, who better to talk about science education than a scientist who used to teach."

"Maybe," Jacob conceded, "but I haven't told you the worst part."

Rachel smiled as she echoed Hood's earlier words. "I shudder to think."

"It's black-tie."

"I'm sure you'll survive. After all, how bad could it get? At least you won't have to deal with any jerks like Jeremy."

"And if I do, you'll be there to rescue me."

"Absolutely, after all, that's what partners are for, to watch each other's backs. Well," she continued with a yawn. "I really should go, thanks for listening to me bitch, I appreciate it."

"That's ok, Rachel, that's what friends are for," Jacob answered softly. "I hope you enjoy the rest of your weekend."

"Thanks, goodnight Hood. I'll see you on Monday."

"Goodnight Rachel."

Jacob reluctantly ended the call; he had been enjoying their banter. He reflected on how things had changed between them in the time they had been together. He could remember when Rachel would tersely correct anyone who made the mistake of referring to him as her partner. While he couldn't help but wish for a deeper relationship, he was glad to know that she now considered him a friend.

The event Wynne had roped him into sounded boring it did have one advantage. It would provide him with an opportunity to spend more time with Rachel. He grinned suddenly, if he had to wear a tux to what was essentially a work function he didn't see why she should get away with wearing her normal work attire. He wondered if he could talk her into a dress like the one she had on tonight.

He picked up his book and began to read, assiduously ignoring the little voice in the back of his mind, the one whispering that it would be a hell of a lot more fun to talk Rachel out of a dress like the one she had on tonight.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

As she put the half-eaten carton of ice-cream back in the freezer, Rachel thought about Hood's words, that's what friends are for. They had become friends and that was increasingly becoming a problem for her. The closer they became the harder it was for her to keep the emotional distance the EPD required of its agents. The closer they became the more she realized that she didn't want to maintain that emotional distance.

What bothered her most was that she couldn't read Hood. Tonight for instance, there was the look on his face when he complimented her. His smile, the look in his eyes, was so warm and approving; she knew he wasn't referring only to her hair ornament. But the fact they had bumped into each other while she was out with another man didn't seem to faze him in the least. He was so damned casual about the whole thing; even with his innate sense of curiosity, he hadn't bothered to ask a single question about Jeremy. 'Not that I expected him to be jealous or anything,' she assured herself hastily. She was unsure if their growing closeness meant anything to him beyond simple friendship.

Climbing back into bed she wondered how much longer she was going to last as Hood's handler. She was afraid that she was on a collision course between her duty and her desire. When the crash occurred, she was going to end up being hurt either professionally or personally. And she wasn't sure which one would be worse.