Boring Disclaimer: I stole these people again. Can you believe my audacity?

Rating: T

Summary: The fourth of my completely ridiculous and clichéd Lassiet one-shots: here, the old "in disguise at a costume party" chestnut, only I hope it's a little better than Clark Kent merely putting on glasses to fool Lois Lane.

. . . .

. . .

Lassiter hadn't liked Halloween since he became a cop, because people behaved stupidly on Halloween, and the more stupidly they behaved, the more time he had to spend at the station doing paperwork after arresting them for their stupid behavior.

(The arresting, he had no problem with; it was the paperwork which got a little tiresome now and then.)

Chief Vick called him into her office on Friday morning—Halloween—and closed the door. "Detective."

That couldn't be good. Door closed and using his title?

"Chief." He took a seat, remaining seemingly unruffled. She wouldn't buy it—she'd been his supervisor far too long—but it was worth a shot.

"Simmons is out with the flu."

"I'm aware of that. He should have gotten a flu shot."

She grimaced. "Yes of course, but I didn't ask you in here to discuss his do-over list. He was supposed to complete the security detail for the Mayor's Halloween Fest tonight." Seating herself, she folded her hands together... as if he would buy her seeming unruffledness.

An inkling of awareness began to overtake him.

"You need to take his place."

Lassiter sighed. "Chief—"

"I'd do it myself but I have a date with my seven-year-old daughter, and she trumps even the Mayor." Karen patted the desk as if she were soothing him. "I know you hate Halloween. But this is work, Carlton, not playtime." She hesitated. "Although… you will need a costume."

"Son of a..." he trailed off, seeing her preemptive glare. "Chief, honestly. A costume for a security detail?"

"He wants everyone in suitable attire. And no, you can't go as a businessman or a police detective. Just find something you can maneuver in and report to the ballroom at seven sharp with the others."

"Where am I going to get a costume by tonight?" he protested.

"Well, if you were a foot shorter you could borrow one from Simmons. As it is, I expect you'll be stepping out this afternoon to go to a costume shop." She gestured to the door. "I know you hate this, but I appreciate it, and so will the mayor, and I don't suppose it'll hurt to remind you that performance reviews are coming up, and how important the section on interdepartmental cooperation is?"

He knew when he was beaten. He couldn't even call on Juliet for backup because not only was she out for the day juggling multiple appointments and errands, he suspected she'd think it was all a great idea.

. . . .

. . .

Three costume stores later, all of them full of last-minute shoppers, he was ready to shoot the next person who jostled him or said Hell-o-ween or Howl-o-ween or even so much as wore a candy-oriented t-shirt.

There seemed to be nothing appropriate for either his temperament or his height. If ridiculous was the order of the day, he had options, but if he was going to be on duty, he needed mobility and some modicum of dignity.

He was glaring at a row of rainbow-colored cloaks when a clerk came up to him and said decisively, "You're clearly being forced to go to a party."

Lassiter eyed the man, who was about his age, and by his expression, not a people person either. "You could say that."

"I did say that. Would you say that?"

He issued his most withering glare. "Are you going to help me out or criticize my speech?"

The man—nametag Vinnie—grinned. "Relax, bud. We just had a cancellation on a tall Zorro costume. Interested?"

"Sold," Lassiter said grimly. "Lead the way."

It was acceptable. Standard-issue, black cape, silver/black wide belt, black hat, black pants, and of course a fairly sturdy fake sword and black mask, all of which fit pretty comfortably. Vinnie even sold him a decent fake mustache, and all things considered, Lassiter expected to feel somewhat less of an idiot than he'd earlier assumed.

"The only other thing we had which would work for your height was the Big Bird costume," Vinnie said cheerfully as he ran Lassiter's credit card for the rental. "Or the giraffe, but you don't look to be the twig-eating type."

"Good guess."

"Hey, I make my living putting people and ridiculous party-wear together."

"I'll spread the word," Lassiter said dryly, and took his bag of supplies home.

. . . .

. . .

He wouldn't have been a formerly-twelve-year-old-boy male if he didn't admit to thinking he looked a little cool, a dash dashing, even a touch swashbuckling by the time he was dressed. The fake mustache was convincing and not too itchy, and the mask didn't obscure his vision in the least. He'd be able to do his job, which was the point.

Reporting to the ballroom, he found himself under the scrutiny of the head of the mayor's personal security detail, who laid out the plan: his team would keep close to the mayor and his family, and the police would watch everything else. Seemed simple enough.

The assembled police forces—Lassiter counted fifteen—ranged from Superman to Iron Man to Dracula, with two other Zorros in the mix (but one had a red-lined cape, and the other was wearing leather pants, which could not be good).

"Stay in costume at all times," the man warned. "The mayor is adamant that this appear to be a casual gathering. If and only if there is a reason for police intervention, then you may identify yourself as officers, remove whatever masks you may have, and show your previously completely-concealed weapons. Clear?"

Everyone was clear; Lassiter was already bored, and Simmons' flu had better put him at death's door—maybe halfway in.

The party got going at eight, with something like three hundred people expected. With his cop's eye he noted that all the exits were well-marked, the mayor's personal team seemed attentive, and at quarter to nine, the cash bar was temporarily free of anyone he knew.

A Scotch, small, might be just the thing; normally he wouldn't drink on duty but this wasn't normal and if a Scotch calmed him down a little, everyone was better off. Juliet would say so too.

He knocked it back and turned to survey the room, and there she was.

The glass nearly slipped from his grasp.

She was a princess… an angel... an angel princess. She was gorgeous. Upswept hair, white diamonds (pretty good fakes anyway) dangling from her ears. The dress was silver blue and shimmery, cascading down her slender frame with elegance, and the skirt was just poofy enough to convey 'princess' without making her unreachable. The tiara, nestled in her golden hair, had blue and white stones, and she… simply… shimmered.

He'd seen Juliet look everything from damned good to homicidal (which was still pretty damned good even when he was the object of her ire), but here, tonight, she was…

Perfect. Yes. That.

Setting the glass down on the bar with an unduly unsteady hand, he took a few deep breaths and pulled himself together.

She hadn't said anything about coming to this party, which meant she was on a date. Another reason to pull himself together. He needed to turn around and prowl the room again, and forget he'd even seen her.

But his feet headed in her direction as if his opinion didn't matter.

Standing alone, glancing around the room serenely, Juliet's dark blue gaze fell on him when he was still ten feet away. The merest hint of a smile graced her lips as she surveyed him, from black hat to black boots, shining silver sword at his side.

"Zorro," she said lightly as he approached. "You are a dashing figure."

"Your Highness," he said, conjuring up a faint Spanish accent to go with the greeting. He smiled at her, already relaxing, because Juliet had a way about her, a way of calming his turbulence when he most needed it. "You are a credit to your castle." He reached for her hand and kissed it, not sure why the gesture seemed natural.

A touch of pink in her cheeks somehow made her even more stunning.

"But where is ze Prince?" he inquired, figuring the sooner he knew who she was with, the sooner he could shake off this unreality.

Juliet only smiled again. "Isn't every man here tonight a Prince?"

"Oh no, señorita. There are a few werewolves, at least one Spongebob, and over by ze hors d'oeuvres, ze back half of a horse."

Her laughter was delightful. "I'll keep an eye out for him."

So far she didn't seem to want him to go away before her date caught up with her, so he brazenly asked if she wanted a drink. She said yes and accompanied him to the bar, a gentle scent of lilacs soothing him further, and it wasn't until he handed her the glass of white wine that he realized she didn't know who he was.

How odd. He started to tell her, but a young woman dressed like a sprite came at her from the side first.

"There you are! Ooh, wine." She ordered her own glass, glancing between Juliet and Lassiter.

"Your lady in waiting," Lassiter supplied.

"Yes," Juliet laughed. "I suppose so. And a pushy one, too."

"I am not pushy. I just asked if you had plans tonight and you said no. That's not pushy." The girl turned and surveyed the room before grabbing Juliet's arm. "Come on. Excuse us," she added to Lassiter semi-apologetically. "Prior claim on the queen here."

He bowed, and Juliet's smile was curious to him because it implied regret.

"We will meet again, señorita."

Now she looked pleased again… but don't get cocky, he warned himself, because soon enough she will work out who you are. And he would already have put aside how inappropriately pleased he was that her date was just a friend.

. . . .

. . .

When they next met, the lights were just dimming for a slow dance.

Juliet materialized at his side, still shimmery in her loveliness, and held out her hand. "Might I ask for a dance, Don Diego?"

He bit back the automatic urge to say no; he always said no when he thought he might look ridiculous, and besides, he was working, but it was Juliet asking. Juliet… looking like that.

Bowing slightly once more, he led her onto the dance floor and she fit herself to him under the sparkling lights as if they'd danced together a thousand times.

He should tell her who he was. He should pull off the mask, act like himself. Something sensible.

She said, "My lady in waiting waits on another—I only hope he's a gentleman and not a cad."

"Then I benefit from your loss, Princess." He breathed in the scent of her. They'd been close before—the job demanded it—but this was so damned different.

"You are all charm, Don Diego. I wonder why you are alone tonight."

Had she been observing him? He felt goosebumps. "My work demands it," he said, and thought dear God you are so beautiful and you feel so perfect in my arms.

Juliet sighed and seemed to dance even more closely. "Pity."

Tell her, said one little voice.

Don't, said another.

The lights went lower; the disco ball turned slowly, filling the room with shimmers to match Juliet herself, and the music swelled along with his heart.

"You have wonderful eyes," she said softly, looking up at him.

"So do you, Princess. The loveliest I have ever seen." It was true. Had always been true. From the day he'd met her.

Her sigh—the vibration of her sigh—traveled through every molecule of his body, and he was lost. Her hand, gentle and light, reached up to touch his jaw, and he bent to kiss her because he was a selfish, deceptive bastard.

But it was not to be. Before their lips met—and he knew instinctively that she was ready to accept his kiss and likely to return it—the couple dancing closest to them broke apart suddenly. The woman bumped into Juliet, and the moment was lost.

It's just as well. She's going to kick your ass when she finds out who Zorro is.

The song ended and the lights came up and he bowed to her stiffly, thankful to see her friend approaching again.

"Wait," Juliet began earnestly. "Please."

"You have matters of the kingdom to attend to, Princess," he managed gruffly, and slipped away.

. . . .

. . .

Lassiter approached her later when she sat down on a marble bench to rest, fussing with her shoes a little. New, he decided, not yet fully comfortable.

"Princess." He was possessed of the full intent to confess, knowing she would be furious and embarrassed about nearly having kissed him—but better to have her furious tonight with the weekend to get over it. He might survive her wrath that way.

"Ah, my blue-eyed Zorro!" She seemed sincerely glad to see him. "Please join me."

He sat beside her but before he could make his admission, she touched his arm and said, "Look over there."

He obeyed, and found himself listening in amusement as she pointed out various local bigwigs and offered up tidbits (in Princess-ly delivery) about them, some details she'd picked up just tonight.

It was a struggle to accept she was flirting with him, because it was Juliet. And she was his partner. Each second he sat here not telling her was another second ticking on the time bomb leading to his annihilation.

"Princess," he began—say her name, you idiot; one "O'Hara" will do the trick—"I have a confession to make."

Fate had other plans.

Fate arranged for another slow dance, for the lights to dim, and for it to be especially dark and dangerously romantic here on the cool marble bench.

"So do I," Juliet said softly.

Mine's worse, he thought.

Hold your gotchies, Fate retorted.

Juliet slid closer to him on the bench and whispered, "I am not a very ladylike Princess tonight." Her hand came to rest on his cheek, sliding into his hair, not straying too close to the mask but he couldn't even think about that before she kissed him.

Holy Saint Crap on a satiny pillow of…

Lassiter's brain shut down as his hormones kicked in, and he kissed her back. Her soft mouth was sweet and pliant and wicked, and despite all his fantasies he'd never expected to actually discover her taste, let alone feel her tongue against his.

He was in heaven, and headed directly to hell (do not pass Go, do not collect $200) if he didn't stop this right now…

But he went on kissing her. Being kissed by her.

Juliet.

It didn't stop until the song ended and the lights came up.

She withdrew slightly, out of breath, and never more beautiful than now, after being thoroughly kissed. "Wow," she said shakily.

"Princesses don't say 'wow,'" he countered, a bit shaky himself. A lot shaky.

He could see her blush even in the dim lighting, and heard the agitation in her tone. "I don't… I don't know what came over me. I don't want you to think I normally—I mean, I don't make a habit of this. That is, I—"

Lassiter touched the side of her soft throat, his fingers brushing her skin, taking great selfish pride in how she shivered.

"You are a lady," he said firmly. "I could never think badly of you. You are far more likely to think badly of me."

"I don't see how." She glanced at his left hand. "Unless this Don has a Doña."

Lassiter's heart whispered if you say what you're about to say, then you can never tell her who you are… ever.

He said it anyway: "Princess, I cannot help but believe that I am looking at my Doña right now."

The look on her face. In her eyes.

He had never seen that look before, not even from Victoria or Lucinda.

But he knew it.

It scared the hell out of him that it felt so unutterably real and perfect and inevitable.

He could barely hear her whisper. "The mask. Please."

Ah, reality. His heart closed in on itself.

Party's over, pal. Warned ya.

"I'm sorry." He couldn't say anymore; he got up and walked away.

. . . .

. . .

Juliet stood in her kitchen, staring blankly at the stove. It was two a.m. and she'd been home for a few hours; her friend Isabel had abandoned her for a new beau and Juliet had no concerns about that. She was still in shock about her evening.

Such a cliché, she thought; silly woman wooed by a masked man at a costume party. She hadn't pressed him for his name or even asked to see him again, and she was still one large hormone thrumming in a relentless driving rhythm because she knew she would see him again.

Oh come on, Juliet. You're not that much of a romantic.

Her rational mind's words were no match for her sensory memory, however.

She'd watched her mysterious Don Diego stride off purposefully. He had disappeared into the throng of people and she tried to resign herself to reality.

You cannot chase after a stranger. He could be insane. Married. A reporter for the Mirror.

Still, the urge was strong. So very strong. Find him. Claim him.

There was something about him: all new, yet familiar. As if…

No. She would not allow herself to form any thoughts about destiny.

He was a stranger with whom she shared a chemical attraction, that was all.

Making up her mind to leave as soon as her friend Isabel came over to crow about a new guy, she made for the nearest exit, skirting the walls to keep out of the crowd.

Forget this night. Forget this man.

But "Zorro" stepped into her path just as she rounded a fake ficus tree, trapping her in front of its big terra cotta pot.

"Hello," she said slowly, her heart skittering around in her chest.

"Hello," he said back.

They looked at each other steadily, and she prepared herself for the possibility of passing out.

"I owe you an explanation, Princess, and an apology. You won't think it's enough."

Juliet couldn't speak. He was lit by the changing colors of the room, and he was gorgeous, and she wanted to be so much closer to him.

As if reading her mind, he took a step nearer, but maybe it was only because of the noise swirling behind them. "I'm sorry I can't take my mask off," he added, his husky voice dropping as he moved to stand directly in front of her, backing her against the wall…

And then something changed.

Something flickered in his deep blue eyes, and Juliet knew what it was: their proximity. What she wanted. What was her undoing. What would always be her undoing with this man, not just tonight but forever, and she didn't even know who he was.

His gaze fell to her mouth, and her heart pounded crazily. "Except… now I think I'd just as soon be damned for doing."

He enveloped her into an immediately intense kiss, and damn her for reaching up to pull at his shirt, to pull him even closer, because it was that good, and that powerful, and that delicious.

When he lifted his head, she rested hers against the wall, out of breath.

"Yes," he murmured, kissing her exposed throat gently. "It's definitely better to be damned for doing."

She could only sigh. She so did not want to let go of him; she let her fingertips touch the warm skin just inside his collar and he shivered. He smelled good and his warmth was intoxicating, and his kiss was deep and sure now, like he knew her; like he knew exactly how to get to her, which she supposed he did, because he was doing just that.

Finally she remembered where she was, and not just because the music stopped. He gazed down at her solemnly, and she leaned weakly against the wall.

Yet he didn't move back; he slid his hands up to her shoulders, pressing against her. But it was the look in his so-blue eyes which immobilized her more effectively than his physical presence.

Her heart was still pounding, and her lips tingled where he'd left his mark. She still couldn't speak.

He murmured, "Damn," almost regretfully, and then kissed her one more time; the most amazing slow and deep kiss, creating sensations she felt down to the soles of her feet.

It was as if he was somehow devouring her very essence, drinking in everything that was her and making it part of everything that was him, and those were crazy thoughts from a woman who had essentially come on to a stranger at a party, and thus obviously had no damn common sense.

He put his head down on her shoulder briefly, breathing hard again, and she slipped her fingers into his soft dark hair, wishing she had the nerve—the strength—to pull the mask off.

"Princess," he said against her throat huskily, "I need to walk away from you right now."

Juliet let go of him, letting her arms drop to her sides.

The amazing man in black stepped back.

"I will never forget this night," he whispered, and then he was gone.

Now, still staring at the stove, Juliet sighed.

She would never forget it either.

And her heart remained convinced she would see him again someday, hopelessly romantic cliché or not.

. . . .

. . .

Monday morning at the coffee bar, Lassiter calculated how many hours of sleep he'd gotten over the weekend and came up with the number three. Not one of them on Friday night.

When he got home after the party—after going to the mayor's security chief and lying smoothly about coming down with Simmons' flu—he'd looked at himself in the mirror long enough to decide he was the most ass-riddled ass in ass history. He ripped the fake mustache off and discovered in eye-watering pain just how strong that glue was, and considered the burning sensation on his upper lip (which lasted until Sunday afternoon) to be fair, although not as much punishment as he had coming.

What the hell had he done?

It wasn't enough to have concealed his identity from Juliet, his very best friend who deserved so much better.

It wasn't enough to have nearly ravished her in the moments before he left, regardless of how much she had given back in her own kiss.

It was that knowing now—knowing—how fantastic it could be between them, he had essentially ensured he would be miserable for a long damn time. Eternity, most likely.

And he'd led her on. Because he was a selfish cowardbastardjerk.

Idiot.

Idiot.

IDIOT.

"Good morning, Carlton," she said as she passed him, on her way to her desk.

"O'Hara," he said brusquely.

"Have a good weekend?"

He glanced at her. "Not really. You?"

You know what you should say, Juliet? You should say some jerk molested you at a party and you spent the weekend being happily consoled by friends who knew how to take care of you.

She shrugged. "Parts of it were beyond excellent. How's the coffee this morning?"

Approaching, she gave off her usual glow, and for a moment he flashed back to her utter silvery blue shimmery glorious beauty as the Princess, in his arms, kissing him so intimately. Taking a breath first, he muttered something in the affirmative, and escaped to his desk.

How was he going to be able to look her in the eye again?

How?

Idiot.

. . . .

. . .

Juliet had not been able to shake her certainty that she'd see her masked man again. But after a weekend of endless daydreaming, she also accepted that she didn't want to wait for him to find her.

She had analyzed her romantic life thus far, her hopes and dreams both fulfilled and otherwise. She had thought about what kind of man she wanted, needed, hoped for. She had considered the possibilities in her current life.

Shawn Spencer flirted with her fairly often but she knew he wouldn't grow up any time soon, and since he was five years older and had been driving his father and Gus crazy for his entire life, the odds of him ever being serious-boyfriend material were slim.

The only other man who appealed to her, and had appealed to her for a very long time, was totally off limits: Carlton. He was her partner, he was too skittish to trust in a good thing, and while she was sure he would be completely worth the trouble, she valued their partnership too much to risk making a move on him and having him freak out. She knew he cared about her, but for him that wouldn't be enough. He'd never get past their partnership, his previously black-marked career, her professional reputation—he was a master at believing himself unworthy, because he couldn't see that the women in his life were unworthy of him.

The masked man… he had Carlton's brilliant blue eyes. That was what she noticed as he crossed over to her in the ballroom. He cut a dashing figure, to be sure, sword included, but it was the blue of his eyes which pinned her in place.

Carlton has looked at you that way sometimes. When he thought you didn't see.

Stop, she said wearily.

No. She would find the masked man.

First on the list: get access to the list of party guests.

No, scratch that.

First on the list: come up with a convincing reason to get access to the list of party guests.

They got a call mid-morning to go out to a fresh homicide, and Carlton grabbed his jacket and the Crown Vic keys, striding out ahead of her while she was still on the phone getting directions.

A piece of paper fluttered from his jacket pocket in his wake, and she snatched it up before hurrying after him, stuffing it in her own pocket with the intent of returning it to him later.

But it wasn't until evening, when she was wearily home again, that she discovered the paper as she changed her clothes.

It was a receipt for… a costume rental? From Costume Mania. At first she thought it had something to do with a case but the date-stamp showed Friday afternoon.

Carlton wouldn't rent a costume. Hell, he wouldn't wear a costume unless it was connected to the Civil War. And go to a Halloween party? He'd have said something. Grumpily.

But you weren't at work on Friday, she reminded herself. And seems to me you never told him your Halloween plans.

She was supposed to have gone out to do nothing much with Shawn and Gus but when her friend—who worked in the Mayor's office—called Thursday evening with a plea for Juliet to come to the party as her guest, she couldn't say no. And she did have that rather nice Princess outfit to try out.

The receipt made it perfectly clear: Carlton had rented a costume Friday afternoon.

Juliet sank down onto her bed, all senses prickling.

Now come on, O'Hara. Even if he did go to a party, it was frickin' Halloween. There were parties everywhere.

But waiting until the afternoon to rent a costume? Carlton didn't operate that way. If he'd had plans, he would have lined up his costume first thing, not last minute.

She didn't want to think what she was thinking, because it was insane.

He said he had a bad weekend.

The skin above his upper lip was a little red; he'd evaded an explanation as to why.

He might just have been making out with his date, you know.

It didn't have to be from Zorro-mustache glue.

It didn't.

Somewhere in the recesses of her heart, a tiny little frail tendril of hope sang softly…

But wouldn't it be wonderful it if was?

. . . .

. . .

Tuesday morning, Juliet called in to say she'd be late and took a trip over to Costume Mania.

The shopkeep was just opening up and ready to make small talk, but she wasn't interested. At the counter, she flashed her badge and handed him the receipt. "I need to know what costume was rented to this customer."

Vinnie, according to his nametag, picked it up after a raised eyebrow at the badge. "Fashion police?"

Juliet merely gave him the same look she sometimes had to give Carlton, and Vinnie promptly got down to business.

He keyed the receipt number in and studied the screen. "Oh yeah," he said with a grin, "I remember this guy. He rented a Zorro."

Juliet froze.

Vinnie didn't seem to notice. "He was a lively guy, too. Cranky isn't really a big enough word for him. He's supposed to bring the costume back tomorrow. Should I expect it to be damaged?"

It would have been if I'd ripped it off him in my frenzy. "I don't think so. Did he say where he was going?"

He laughed. "To hell, it looked like."

Felt like heaven to me.

Juliet thanked him and left, going to sit in her car and absorb the inconsequential enormity of what she now knew to be true.

It was inconsequential because it could still be a coincidence.

Zorros were common costumes. She'd seen several at the party.

It was enormous because…

Because, dear God, if that had been Carlton Lassiter kissing her Friday night… if that had been her Carlton, her partner and friend… then… then…

Ohhhhhh.

She started the car, but before she entered traffic, she texted Carlton.

Meet me in Observation A in fifteen minutes.

After his OK? response, she called Chief Vick. Skipping niceties, she simply asked, "Chief, did Carlton have to work the mayor's party Friday night?"

The answer was yes.

She drove inappropriately fast over to the station.

. . . .

. . .

He strode into the room with his usual speed, and for a few moments she looked him over, placing him mentally into the Zorro costume: hat, mask, cape, sword. Long lean build, graceful, practical, damned attractive. Those blue eyes blazing: how in the hell did she not know him instantly?

Because it was a night for dreaming…

and if you'd let yourself see him, you would never have allowed the dream to blossom.

Carlton raised one eyebrow. "What's up?"

Juliet crossed her arms tightly, uncertain even in her certainty.

"Vinnie says hi."

There was a pause, while he stared at her blankly, and then he went pale, and his eyes grew wide and pale along with him. "Crap."

"It was you, wasn't it? Tell me, Carlton."

"Oh God," he whispered, his hands up to forehead. "Oh, God, O'Hara, I'm such a dick. I just—dammit, I can't believe I—"

Juliet interrupted. "Just say it was you. That's all I want to hear." For now.

"Yes. Yes." He sank into the metal chair, elbows on the table, sighing into his hands. "I'm so sorry. You hate me. I'm a total jerk and you hate me."

"No, Carlton."

He got up, roaming the room restlessly, but she stayed where she was because to move at all would have meant launching herself at him, and not in anger.

"O'Hara—Juliet—please. Just give me a chance. I don't know how to make it right and you probably ought to ask for a new partner before I slime your career but I am so sorry. I just… I just didn't know how to stop kissing you long enough to tell you the truth and then I didn't really want to stop kissing you because my God, it was freaking incredible, so I swore to myself I'd never tell you and God, I am such a selfish bastard, I'm sorry and I hope you don't bring me up on charges but I won't blame you if you do because I have it coming and then some.…" He wound down with a heavy sigh, standing by the wall, totally dejected. So sure he'd blown everything to kingdom come.

Juliet asked in amused disbelief, "Honestly, what goes on in your head?"

Carlton rested his forehead against the wall. "Shouting. Recriminations." He shrugged. "A cacophony of self-loathing and a desperate need for ultimately futile therapy." He turned to face her, hands in his pockets, his whole demeanor one of Waiting For The Axe To Fall.

She couldn't help but laugh, because he had no idea how much she wanted… him. Tapping his chest, she asked, "And what goes on in there?"

The blue of his remarkable eyes seemed to darken for a moment before he said flatly, "You tell me, O'Hara." He looked away now, down to the floor. "You've owned it for a hell of a long time."

Juliet wasn't sure if she was hearing actual angels singing or just a passing church choir, but there was definitely singing, and it was definitely all good.

"Carlton," she whispered. "It's okay. It's better than okay. It's the best."

He stared at her for a long time, his intent blue gaze showing every emotion, every fear. "You're not about to kill me?"

She stepped closer. "No, Don Diego. I'm about to kiss you."

His confusion and doubt cleared, and he drew her into his arms with a shuddery sigh. "I didn't mean to mislead you. I really thought you recognized me right away."

Juliet slid her arms around his neck. "If I had, we wouldn't be here now, would we?" She prevented his answer by kissing him, because she couldn't wait anymore, and it was just as intensely good as it had been Friday night. Better, even, because there would be no running away this time… unless they ran away together.

"Now make me your Doña," she whispered against his ear, making him shiver as he held her close.

Carlton's arms tightened around her as his blue eyes reflected what was in both their hearts.

"You already are, Juliet. You already are."

. . . .

. . .

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