CHAPTER TWO

. . . .

. . .

"We put your bed in my storage unit in the basement, right?"

Juliet looked over at him, puzzled. "Yes. Why?"

They were driving home, and he was still waiting for the axe to fall. "Well. I figured maybe I'd better set that up tonight."

"What? Carlton," she said impatiently. "I'm not banishing you from the bedroom just because you ratted me out to Vick."

Ratted. He sighed. "I'm sorry. I just didn't see how else to… I'm sorry."

Juliet sighed too. "No, it's okay. Sometimes a girl does need a little help. And it turned out to be a good thing for everyone, didn't it?"

"Including the guys I was going to arrest for harassment," he muttered, but she was right; by the end of the day, thanks to Chief Vick's withdrawal of Juliet's name from the auction list along with what he assumed was a strongly worded message to someone in power, the mayor's office had issued an alteration to the plan: participation was now entirely voluntary, and anyone who wanted to drop out could do so without question. Except Carlton, Vick told them later. Don't even think about it.

She put her hand on his arm, semi-soothingly, semi-warningly. "Take it easy."

He was trying. He was beyond relieved that the love of his life wasn't going to be sold to the highest rat bastard bidder, but that at least would have been only one night—well, two, counting the date, during which hours he'd have been climbing the walls utterly stark raving bonkers—whereas this ongoing "flirtation" by men he wanted to kill might have gone on long past the auction.

Now if he could just keep Juliet from going bonkers herself (not that he in any way minded her sexual aggression in the bedroom… and guest room… shower… kitchen… dining room and, hell yeah, car).

What had she said back in Vick's office? Before he could stop himself, he asked, "Do women really hit on me?"

Fixing him now with a cold blue-gray stare, Juliet bit out, "Yes."

"But who? When?"

She was clearly irritated. "How about the waitress at El Cielo on Tuesday? She practically took off her shirt for you."

"What? She said she was hot!" He dimly remembered that every time the waitress came to the table, she seemed to be less dressed, but the place had been warm.

"I had to remind her twice that I was sitting across from you. Or how about last week, when we were interviewing the guy at the hospital? Two nurses gave you their phone numbers!"

He was perplexed. "In case I had any more questions! O'Hara, trust me—"

"The only question they wanted you to ask was when they could meet you for drinks and debauchery!"

He was staring at her, open-mouthed, when the driver of the car behind them honked his horn.

"Green light," she said tightly, and he drove, but only as far as the next open parking space.

"Juliet," he said firmly, "there are no other women."

"I know that! I'm not saying you would ever—"

"No, you don't understand. I'm saying there are no other women. There are men, there are gay men, there's the whole cross-dressing contingent, there's female-shaped entities, some of whom are also men, and then there's you. You are the only woman, period."

Even though you probably don't want to marry me. He hadn't quite decided how he felt about that.

Juliet, smiling at last, leaned in and kissed him.

Well, he knew how he felt about that: he kissed her back. "So I don't have to lug your bed up out of the storage unit?"

"If you do, I'll shoot you."

"Fair enough."

They were nearly to Prospect Gardens when she said thoughtfully, "Although, you know, I could probably sell a lot of the things we put in storage."

"Like what?" To his way of thinking, they merely hadn't gotten around to combining her furniture with his, and certainly some of his could go. She might not be planning to marry him, but she seemed likely to be living with him awhile. (Forever would be good.)

She didn't answer, and something about the set of her jaw gave him a clue.

"You can't bid on me." He parked the car, turning to her, but she got out without a word.

Lassiter had to hurry to catch up to her, but Rose-Marie Farrow was in the elevator with her strange boy and devil-baby so he kept his mouth shut.

At the condo door, which Juliet unlocked, he said again, "Sweetheart, you can't bid on me."

"Why not? I'm not in the auction so I should be able to bid on anyone I want, and I want you." She stalked into the bedroom to change, and he followed her, shrugging off his jacket and undoing his holster.

"You can't spend that kind of money on me. Five hundred bucks?"

"Oh, it'll be more than five hundred. But if I sell the bed and maybe the end tables and the bookcase—"

"It's not going to be more than five hundred, but that's still too much." He sat on the bed to take off his shoes, and she came to stand in front of him, blouse half-open, frown in place.

"You really think no one's going to bid on you?"

"Well…" Yeah. He did think that.

"Hello? Do you see yourself at all? You're tall, distinguished, part Cary Grant and have eyes to die for. You're a babe, dammit."

He blinked. He may have blushed. "You're biased."

She laughed harshly. "Yeah, I am, but while you were counting the number of times I got hit on this past week, I was counting the number of times you got talked about. Lustfully. Patrice, over at the courthouse? She says she's got seven hundred with your name on it stashed right now."

Lassiter was astonished. "That's crazy."

"No, it's not crazy. It's planning ahead, and that's what I need to do." She turned toward the closet but he grabbed her wrist and drew her back to him.

"Juliet, stop." He caught her other hand and looked up at her. "You know I don't want to do this but you also know you have nothing to worry about. Women may like my stupid eyes but they don't like me once they get to know me."

She flinched. "I like you."

"Yeah, but it took a few years, didn't it? This is only one date and even if I get through it without incident, so what? I'm taken. I'm yours."

Juliet's eyes were misty, and she pulled free from his grip so she could cup his face with her warm hands. "I know I'm acting crazy. I don't even understand why I'm so stressed about it. But it's not you I'm worried about, Carlton. It's her."

"Who?"

Impatiently, she dropped her hands again. "Whichever tramp pays the most to get to you!"

"Juliet, enough." He stood, catching her close before she could break free, and picked her up to dump her on the bed. "Enough."

He slung himself over her body, opened her blouse the rest of the way and bent to kiss her, and when she tried to roll out from under him he put his full weight down, kissing her more intently, his tongue demanding entrance to her sweet warm mouth.

She relaxed slowly, giving in to the kiss, and he lifted himself off her only enough to pull her skirt up. She didn't resist, and soon began to help, unbuttoning what she could reach of his shirt and undoing his tie.

But he was in a mood to go faster, to go with whatever it took to get her attention, to show her how fully he was hers and she was his.

He kept his mouth on hers while his hand went exploring under her panties, and it was incredibly erotic to feel her writhing under him as their tongues did battle, especially when she stopped... gasped… couldn't focus on the kiss because of what he was doing with his fingers. He kissed her anyway, relentlessly, drinking her in, becoming more aroused every second, with every undulation of her body, and the second her orgasm peaked, he shoved his pants down and claimed her fully.

Juliet gasped and met his thrusts, her blue-gray eyes—the hell with his damn eyes; hers were mesmerizing—locked on him, showing her love and her need and her pleasure, and Lassiter, who had lost himself to her years ago, lost himself anew in her arms, in her body, in her kiss and in their perfect connection.

And after, lying together still partly dressed, she said dreamily, "I think maybe I should relax about this auction."

Lassiter grinned. "Maybe a little."

"But if anyone so much as pats you on the butt, I'm goin' postal."

. . . .

. . .

Juliet did her best to hold it together at least outwardly, and she thought she did a pretty good job until Friday afternoon. Carlton was nervous, and it started to get to her again.

She had to be strong for him, because he was getting more and more tense himself. He was worried about her, he was worried about no one bidding, he was worried about anyone bidding, and he really didn't want to be up on stage with a tag on his back. He didn't like that he couldn't take his gun, he was still sure Shawn and Gus were going to turn up and wreak havoc, and as much as she hated the idea of him spending an evening with another woman, she also hated how agitated he was getting about the whole production.

Smiling as much as she could, speaking as calmly as possible, she got them to the hotel ballroom on time, assured him he looked very handsome in his black jacket and blue shirt—and he did, damn him, he was gorgeous, and not just because the blue of his shirt drew out the magnificent blue of his unmistakably unhappy eyes—swore she would behave, and he would be fine, and it was all going to go very smoothly.

Then she drew him around a corner in the back hall and kissed the hell out of him. "You're mine," she said.

"Hell yeah," he agreed in a whisper.

"Now go make the mayor proud."

He walked off, muttering something about whackaloons, and Juliet told herself to get a grip and go sit down.

The ballroom was already half-full, and she found a seat at a table near the stage but at the side, so she could get a clear view of the bidders. Waiters and waitresses were bringing around hors d'oeuvres and desserts and taking orders for no-doubt watered-down drinks.

The matron seated next to her asked for a Bloody Mary; Juliet asked for red wine.

The woman looked familiar—elegant, bordering on elderly, but not unapproachable. In fact, she introduced herself to Juliet right away. "I'm Millicent," she said. "You look rather uneasy, dear."

"Juliet," she answered, taking the woman's cool hand briefly. "I am uneasy. My… my good friend is in the auction and I'm…" What? A raging wingnut? "A little concerned."

Millicent's smile was kind. "Is your friend male or female?"

"Male," she admitted.

The laughter was also kind. "I see. I'm quite trustworthy, you know, when it comes to confidences."

Juliet took a slug of her wine. "I hope so." She looked at her plaintively. "It's my partner. And he's… he's…"

After a pause, Millicent clarified, "You're a police officer?"

She nodded.

"And your partner is… someone you care about?" Such delicate wording.

There went another slug of wine. "Understatement," she muttered.

"I see," Millicent said with amusement. "Why is he in the auction?"

"Politics. Expectations. I was able to get out of it but he's not so lucky. And it's our fault, for trying to keep our relationship quiet."

"Yes, I understand it's frowned upon for partners to be involved. Oh look, they're starting."

Swell, she thought, and turned to the stage. According to the roster, there were twenty names on the block: six women, fourteen men. The emcee made introductions, the mayor gave a short cheery speech, there was some silly burlesque music briefly to make everyone laugh, and then it really got going.

Juliet hoped Carlton was doing okay backstage. She knew he hated all this as much as he did, only his hatred was flavored by not wanting this kind of spotlight as well as by his certainty that no one would bid on him (and oh yeah, that he might have to bail her out of jail later).

At least Shawn and Gus had stayed away; something about a Facts of Life marathon. Or maybe it was a churro-eating contest; she couldn't remember. It may have been that Shawn just didn't want to see attention focused on anyone else. In any case, she was glad they weren't there, because Shawn would definitely have made it all worse for Carlton.

The order of auction-ees was random and Juliet was getting progressively more restless.

Millicent leaned over and inquired, "Which one is yours, dear?"

Mutely, she pointed to the inset photo in the brochure. It didn't really do him justice, but the blue of his eyes was dramatic enough to make the elegant older lady say, "Mmmmm… I see the problem."

"I can't stand it," she blurted out. "It's driving me crazy. I'm not worried about him but it's making me nuts that some other woman's going to get to be alone with him and do God knows what before he even knows what hit him!"

"You're sure he won't know?" Quickly, Millicent added, "I'm sorry; it's just that I've been around long enough to know a lot about men."

"Oh, I'm sure. Carlton is genuinely oblivious to his own appeal. All his ego goes to his job and how well he does it, how he represents the department and the city."

"Head Detective, I see." Millicent tapped on the three-line 'bio.' "Impressive. He'll get bids. Those are rather magnificent eyes."

Juliet suddenly realized something was… off. "If you don't mind my asking, is this really your scene? Are you planning to bid on anyone tonight?"

"Heavens, no. I'm here at the insistence of family who wanted me to get out and be seen, or see, or some such nonsense."

The other people at the table were focused on the stage, and no one had done more than exchange polite hellos with them. "But you're… alone?"

Millicent laughed. "I wasn't going to sit with them. Besides, my eyes aren't quite as good as they used to be and if there are going to be attractive young men on stage, I want a clear view."

Juliet had to laugh. She liked this lady.

"And why are you alone, Juliet? You seem like the kind of person who would have friends here for moral support."

She had been, once. Not that she needed any of the friends she did have in town to see her freaking out. Karen Vick had motioned for her to come to the table she shared with her husband, but Juliet had declined, because she really did not need to fall apart in front of her supervisor. "The job's long hours make it hard to keep up with people, and the truth is, my very best friend is going to be up there on stage soon."

Millicent was smiling. "You're making me quite nostalgic for my late husband, you know. I felt that way about him." She patted Juliet's arm. "If your Carlton is as in love with you as you are with him, you're both going to be just fine."

"Thank you," Juliet whispered. She knew in her soul Millicent was right. This was just one stupid night and she needed to suck it up.

Some of the men 'sold' for up to fifteen hundred dollars, and the first four women 'sold' for close to two grand apiece. The bidders were a motley crew, some obviously wealthy women and men, some obviously trust-fund celebutantes. Juliet recognized some of the bidders—all standing, waving their numbered fans between drinks, increasingly enthusiastic as the night, and the music, and the emcee patter wore on.

Finally Carlton's name was called, number eighteen of twenty. Juliet sat up straight, watching her man closely as he walked out on stage. He was tense, but his blue eyes blazed—as if lit from within, she sometimes thought; how else could they be that bright, that vivid?—and his fair skin and still-mostly-dark hair against the black jacket and deep blue shirt made him especially mouth-wateringly attractive.

And the women, after a hush, went wild.

Carlton was startled, to be sure, and a blush stained his cheeks. Juliet wanted to run up on stage and pull him out of there (possibly with her gun aimed at the crowd while she yelled "Stand back!"), but Millicent, as if sensing this, put her hand on Juliet's arm and murmured something soothing.

"Your Carlton is a very handsome man," she added mildly.

He found Juliet, his gaze locked to hers for precious seconds, and she smiled at him because he needed to see that, he needed it, and he visibly relaxed just a little. Enough to go through with it.

The emcee started the bidding at $500 and within moments it was up to $700.

The bid for $800 came from a man. The audience went nuts. Carlton glared, and Juliet found herself laughing. "You've got it, babe," she whispered. "I told you."

Three minutes later, the bidding was up to $1200. Four women remained as the main contenders when the bid reached $1300.

It inched upward in fifty-dollar increments—Patrice from the courthouse gave up at $1450—until the bidding reached $1550, and that seemed to be the end. More than respectable, Juliet thought with a burst of pride; at least the woman who won him would be laying down serious cash for the privilege. The woman in question worked in public relations for City Hall, and she already knew Carlton didn't like her much. Good luck, hussy.

"$1800," a new voice called out clearly, and Juliet saw a brunette making her way closer to the stage in the sudden silence.

Juliet was immediately aghast, and then furious. "Oh, no. No way. Not you. Not ever!"

She started to get out of her chair but Millicent pulled her back. "Juliet, stop. Who is that?"

"That," she ground out, "is Victoria Stinking Parker, his ex-wife." She tried to get up again, but Millicent held tight. "She stomped on his heart while they were married and for the two years of their separation. There is no freaking way—I will sell my damned car before I let her—"

The emcee, while Carlton also stared in horror at Victoria, was asking for further bids.

Going, going—

Juliet's heart sank.

Millicent stood up. "$2000!"

All heads turned to see the white-haired grand dame with her numbered fan, smiling graciously at the emcee and nodding to Carlton, who looked between her and Juliet with complete confusion.

"What are you doing?" Juliet screeched, suddenly damned happy about it even if she didn't understand.

Across the room, Victoria rallied. "$2100."

Millicent only smiled again. "$2500." She winked at Juliet.

"You… what are you doing? You don't have to do this. You shouldn't be—I mean, I'm glad but you… you…" You're a senior citizen! Possibly on a fixed income!

Victoria hesitated, but took another look over at her competition and obviously felt a bit smug: after all, she was the forty-something reasonably attractive woman who had previous carnal knowledge of Carlton Lassiter—Juliet felt her hands forming fists—and the genteel senior in the silvery blue dress was no match for her, right?

Calmly and with considerable arrogance, Victoria said, "$2800."

Juliet could almost read the "how d'ya like them apples" look on her face, and wanted to slap it right off her.

Millicent laughed lightly. People around them laughed too. "What a silly bitch," she said for only Juliet's ears. Then more loudly, "$4000."

The crowd "ooohed" in a way which made Juliet's heart cartwheel with glee. She glanced up at Carlton, who was completely gobsmacked but undeniably relieved, especially when the emcee got all the way through "going, going, gone" without another word from Victoria.

She couldn't help it; she hugged Millicent tight and thanked her profusely. Millicent hushed her and dealt with the little man who came to take her name and give payment instructions, and then explained, sotto voce, "I've never liked any of the Parkers. Irving is an cranky old fart, and the last I heard of Victoria some years ago, she was a spoiled little fool. If she did even one thing to hurt your man, the least I could do was stop a bad thing from happening."

"But four thousand dollars! That's incredible! What's your family going to think? Let me pay you back. I can—"

"Stop, dear. I don't care what my family thinks and I do have some disposable income of my own. Besides, it's for charity, remember?"

"But this is so much—you don't even know us."

"I know love, though. Or I did." Millicent patted Juliet's hand. "Relax. Oh, look, here comes your Carlton."

He was threading his way toward them, having been released from his backstage prison, and he looked like he wanted to kiss Juliet but he held it together, bending to introduce himself to the elder lady.

"Millicent Barnes," she said, "and it's lovely to meet you. I've been getting to know your Juliet," she added with a smile, and Carlton's startled glance to Juliet said he understood she'd told Millicent about them.

"Mrs. Barnes, thank you so much for your generosity. The city thanks you, and I thank you, too." Then he frowned. "Wait. You're… you're the mayor's aunt, aren't you?"

She sighed. "Yes, but don't tell anyone."

Juliet laughed. "That's the family you didn't want to sit with?"

"Well, honestly, he's so tedious. My sister's son, you know. Dropped on his head when he was little." She grinned, her eyes bright. "I've had a much better time with you, and that Bloody Mary was quite nice." To Carlton, she added in a low voice, "I explained to Juliet that I never met anyone in the Parker family who didn't deserve a good smackdown. This has been great fun."

Carlton's frown turned into a grin, and he dropped to one knee between their chairs. "It just got a lot better for me, too." He took a quick look around and then kissed Juliet on the cheek. "And for you too, I hope."

She beamed at him. "Yes. Yes, it did."

"Speaking of the spawn of Parker, did you wish to speak to your ex-wife? Because she seems to be making a beeline over here."

Juliet and Carlton both followed her gaze; indeed, Victoria—her expression guarded—was trying to finesse the crowd into parting for her.

"As a matter of fact, I do not," Carlton said quite firmly, rising and pulling Juliet along with him.

"Then perhaps you'd like to escort a frail but wealthy dowager to make good on her auction debt and then possibly go have a cup of tea somewhere?"

He assured her they would indeed, and helped her to her feet.

"It can be a practice date," she added with an unladylike smirk.

"So you can judge my worthiness?" he suggested mildly, and Juliet wondered if he was half-serious.

"No, dear. So you can see just how feisty I am. I was already thinking we should have a chaperone."

He didn't know whether to take her seriously, his blue eyes wide for a moment.

Millicent winked at Juliet. "You're available, right?"

Juliet gave her another hug, and decided she probably loved this woman, but they couldn't linger, because escaping Victoria was paramount for all of them.

. . . .

. . .

At home later, after two solid hours of celebratory sex the likes of which the bed and floor had never before seen (and they'd seen a lot in the past year) (and Juliet promised to sew all the buttons back onto the shirt she'd pretty much torn off him), Lassiter and his love lay together, sated (for now).

Her head rested on his shoulder, her golden hair was soft against his arm, and her sleepy blue-gray eyes were so lovely: it made his heart twinge with pure joy to be here with her. To be anywhere with her.

He stroked her arm, and her fingertips played with his chest hair. "I love you more every minute, you know."

"Good," she purred. "I feel the same way about you." She lifted her head for a gentle kiss, stroking his neck, sighing.

Lassiter wanted her again. He always wanted her.

But right now, he steeled himself. He had to know, and if he couldn't trust his best friend to give him a straight answer, then there was no point to ever asking at all. "I need some advice."

"About what?"

He took a chance that she'd allow him some wiggle room for a minute. "It's for a friend."

She laughed lightly. "Okay."

He hesitated. Do it, man. Say it. "It's about his girlfriend."

"Mmm-hmm?" Her fingers were back in his chest hair, teasing him.

"He wants to ask her to marry him, but…"

Her fingers stilled, her palm flattening out over his heart. "But?"

"But he's afraid she'll say no."

Juliet slowly lifted her head again, gazing at him with an expression he couldn't decipher. "Why does he think that?"

Lassiter counted the number of skipped heartbeats and figured he'd live at least another five minutes. "He knows she once said she was opposed to the concept of marriage."

She was still staring at him, motionless.

"And he…he wants kids. He's even open to the idea of adoption if she doesn't want to have one herself, but maybe she doesn't want kids at all, or maybe just not with him. There's an age difference, too. He just…" He sighed. "He just needs to figure out whether it's going to ruin everything if he asks her."

Juliet sat up, the sheet falling from her upper body, and he couldn't help but glance at her perfect breasts, because he was human and she was beautiful and he loved her so damned much and he wanted her All. The. Time.

"Your friend," she started, her voice a little shaky. "Is he a six foot two Irishman with the most amazing blue eyes ever created by God?"

"He could be." And why was he short of breath? Never mind, idiot: go on. "You said marriage wasn't an option. I need to know if that means what I think it means, but don't get me wrong, I will take you any way you're willing to be with me, married or not." He sat up too, caressing her face, knowing his hand was trembling and not giving a damn, because he already knew it was useless to hide anything from her.

"Carlton," she whispered. "I only meant marriage wasn't an option before the auction. There wasn't time. And what I said about marriage was back when I was still trying to prove myself and not be the little blonde doing all the conventional things that little blondes are supposed to do. Marriage, real marriage—marriage between us—is exactly what I want."

She captured his hand with hers and turned to kiss his palm.

"Oh," he managed, his heart pounding.

"I want kids. With you. Our age difference isn't worth discussing, and in case you aren't getting this, please tell your friend I would love to marry him." She smiled, tears in her eyes. "As soon as he asks me."

Lassiter pulled her close to his body and kissed her, her mouth immediately open to him and her tears dampening his cheeks as he stroked her hair and back and lay down with her again, only now she climbed on top of him, beautiful and loving and everything he ever wanted.

"Sold," he said, letting her trail her tongue across his lips.

"All sales final," she agreed.

"No refunds, no exchanges."

"I hope you treat Millicent well on your date," she whispered.

"I will, but I promise not to kiss her goodnight no matter how rich she is."

Juliet laughed. "For four grand, you'd better. Only no tongue."

"No. That's only for you." He proved it, and she rubbed herself against him tantalizingly.

"Hmmm… and what would you have done if Victoria won the auction?"

Lassiter's turn to laugh. "Before or after you beat the crap out of her?"

"After," she said smartly.

"I'd have been a gentleman, polite and cold in a way you once told me could freeze-dry coffee."

She snickered. "And if she wanted you back?"

He slid his hands down her back to cup her derriere, tugging her against him, which she liked quite a lot judging by her squirming. "Too bad. That ship blew up, then sank, and then the underwater debris was eaten by a mutant squid monster."

"Mmmm, squid monster," she said, undulating against him again.

"With extra tentacles."

"Oh, do tell…"

"On our honeymoon," he murmured, kissing her slowly. "I'll tell you on our honeymoon."

Juliet eased her fingers into his hair and kissed his chin, and then his nose, and then his forehead. "You have to ask me to marry you first, you know."

"I know," he said with a grin, and rolled them over so he was on top. "But first I need to show you my tentacle."

. . . .

. . .

T H E

E N D

. . . .

. . .

(I expect I will still add to the smut in Juliet On The Edge, in case you were wondering.) (Not that you were. You're above all that. I know everyone is too mature to succumb to the lure of Lassiet smut.)