CHAPTER TEN

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. . .

Busy?

Karen grabbed the phone and could not type fast enough: Never too busy for you.

What are you doing for lunch?

You?

Question mark? Meaning it could be someone else?

Oh, no. No one else. Ever.

So what are you doing for lunch?

YOU.

Karen called him, not willing to wait longer to hear his voice.

"I was just answering your text," he said. "Didn't want you to think I was playing hard to get."

"How did it go? How do you—""

"Don't ask me how I feel," he interrupted. "But I feel okay, and I think I like the guy. He says you're hot."

"What?" she screeched.

Carlton laughed. "He's seen you on TV. He said you look like a nice woman and I'm a damned lucky guy."

"He did not."

"Well, maybe not the last part, but it was in his eyes. The man is dead jealous of me."

"Carlton," she warned. "I'm about to come through the phone and throttle you."

"Okay. Does it have to be my neck?"

She lost it then, dissolving into laughter she had to stifle when Dobson glanced into her office as he passed. "Bastard. Are we having lunch or not? I have a meeting at three but I'm clear up until then."

"Oh… did you want to eat?"

His tone was very seductive, and she shifted in her chair. "Well, nothing you could find on a standard menu, and stop driving me nuts. Just meet me at my house at noon. Can you do that, smartass?"

"I can do that, boss." He paused. "And then I can do you."

"Thank God," she muttered.

. . . .

. . .

Lassiter read through the texts again, smiling. No one else, ever, she'd sent.

No one else, ever. Yeah… sounded about right to him.

He just had to get over the nightmares, not resume his Angry Old Man persona when he went back to work, get Iris to like him, and somehow, somehow, not screw up to any degree which would cause Karen to change her mind about him.

Might be a lot of sessions with Dr. Gentry coming up.

He was waiting on the stone bench outside Karen's house when she pulled in, and went to meet her at the car.

Mindful of her nosy neighbors, she only smiled and walked with him up to the door, but as soon as she had it unlocked and they were inside, she flung her arms around his neck and whispered, "Take me right now."

He was damned happy to hear that, and already aroused. "Your bed or the daybed?"

She considered for three seconds. "Daybed. Closer."

She managed to shed most of her clothing on the way down the hall, but then so did he. In the little office, standing by the bed, he removed her bra while kissing her; she didn't help but she most assuredly did not hinder either.

Resting her forearms languidly on his shoulders while he shimmied her panties off, she seemed perfectly content to let him expose her to the cool air of this private place, and when he kissed her mouth again, searching out her heat, she pressed herself to him head to toe, clinging everywhere it was most maddening for her to cling.

Lassiter eased them both down onto the bed, where she admonished him for still having his pants on, but he took care of that problem and went back to kissing her. Over and over, deeper and deeper… harder and hungrier. Just kissing. It was the purest form of connection, kissing Karen, his heartbeat against her heartbeat.

"I love you," she gasped against his mouth.

I feel it, he thought, but couldn't stop kissing her long enough to say it back.

But her movements underneath him—undulations, pressing, flat-out squirming—led him to kiss other parts of her soft, tempting flesh, and soon enough he took her hard, pinning her hands up by her shoulders with his, relentlessly plundering that which had been given to him so freely, but making damn sure her pleasure was first, foremost, and long-lasting.

Lungfuls of air later, and still half-lying on her, he said, "Lunch was served."

Karen laughed, still gasping, and he smoothed her hair off her damp face. "Don't forget to tip your waitstaff."

"I'll be here all week," he said with a grin. "Or until Iris comes home anyway."

She smiled. "She's going to like you."

"How do you know?" He rolled off her, onto his back, but kept hold of her hand, bringing it to his mouth for a kiss.

"Because I like you. And she knows you're the one who was there when she was born. She's seen your picture and she's seen you on TV too."

"Poor thing," he muttered, and she thumped him in the arm with her free hand. "Ow?"

She climbed on top of him, which he really really liked. Karen in post-orgasm-glow was stunning, and the naked part was heap big fun too. "Did you know my ex was a little jealous of you?"

"The hell? Why?"

"Because you were there when he couldn't be. Because every time you were on TV, Iris said excitedly 'there's Carlton!' and it drove him nuts."

He was incredulous. "You mainly wanted to pop me upside the head that day. What the hell could you have said about it to make him jealous?"

Karen smiled. "That you were there instead of him. It wasn't his fault he couldn't make it; we all knew that. I never blamed him for my body's bad timing. Well. At least not after she was born. And even though I did want to pop you, don't forget I was in labor at the time. I forgave you pretty fast and it meant a lot to me that you stuck around later."

Lassiter said sheepishly, "I couldn't pick her out of a roomful of babies when she was in the nursery, but holding her… that was…" He trailed off. It was something he'd never forget, and something he in all likelihood would never get to do again. Age did bite.

Trailing her fingertips down his chest, making him shiver, she said, "I could see it in your eyes."

"Damned eyes," he groused.

"Beautiful eyes," she corrected.

"Hardly. They're just blue and oversized."

Karen laughed. "They're gorgeous. A panoply of shifting colors with every emotion, from anger to boredom to disbelief to… love." She sighed. "Much love."

Lassiter caught her hand and kissed it. "You have no idea."

"You have plenty of time to make it clear," she assured him. "How did your session really go?"

"It really went okay. He doesn't think I should be locked up."

Sighing suddenly, she leaned forward and rested her head on his shoulder. "Carlton. You went through something horrific. It's not supposed to be that easy to get over it."

"It doesn't have to be easy. It just has to be possible." He stroked her hair, and tilted her head back to kiss her.

Karen touched his beard. "All things are possible, and I'm going to miss this beard."

"I don't know that I am," he said, and her brown eyes reflected surprise. "It's been nice having people react so positively to it, but I can't help thinking it's not… real. Like I've been hiding under it."

"It's only Wednesday," she pointed out. "You came to work for half an hour. I wouldn't say you'd been hiding."

"From the man in the mirror, maybe."

"You think everything's going to be different if you shave?"

Lassiter shrugged. "We'll find out."

Karen grasped his jaw. "Do you think I'm going to be different if you shave?"

He met her gaze. "No."

"You know I was falling for you when you were a voice on the phone. It wasn't the beard which pushed me over the edge."

"For me, it was definitely the Genesis t-shirt." He laughed when she thumped him again, grabbing her arm and pulling her closer. "All I know," he whispered, "is I love you. I want to get to know Iris. I want to be in your life. I want to tempt fate by sleeping with my boss as often as possible. I want to… take chances with you. I want to learn to be someone you can always be proud of, Karen, and I…" He sighed. "I don't deserve you, but I'm so grateful I seem to have you."

"Oh, Carlton. You deserve far more than you think you do, and you most definitely have me." She pressed herself to him and slipped her fingers into his hair, nibbling on his lower lip as she undulated against his increasingly aroused body. "We," she managed, "are going to be just fine. Mark my words."

"Yeah?" he managed; difficult when her tongue kept tangling with his.

"Yeah. Mark. My. Words."

"Let me get my pen," he growled, and flipped her onto her back for more.

. . . .

. . .

EPILOGUE

Karen glanced across the room at her husband. He was talking to the deputy mayor, being polite with barely an edge of get-me-the-hell-out-of-here in his body language, and from here she could see his blue eyes clearly.

He turned his black and silver head her way, meeting her gaze as if he'd felt her looking at him, which he probably had. His smile was faint but promising, one dark brow raised as if to say I'll catch up with you later, my pretty.

She felt familiar goosebumps and with great difficulty resumed paying attention to the councilman in front of her, explaining that they couldn't put extra patrols on only the streets of his neighborhood (where no crimes had been reported in two years). He was of the opinion that it was sensible and preventative. Karen was of the opinion that he was insensible and a dumbass. Giving him a completely insincere smile along with her thanks for his suggestion, she turned to make a rapid exit, and walked straight into Carlton.

"Hello, Chief." His voice was low and his hand on her arm warm and possessive.

"Stop with the bedroom eyes," she warned.

"I told you a year ago, they're just blue and oversized. Nothing special." He was guiding her toward the room exit.

"You're full of crap, and where are we going?"

"Home to pay the sitter, check that Iris is asleep, and then, I don't know, maybe catch some Zs?"

Karen grinned. "Oh? No crazy monkey love?"

"Sorry. Forgot to pay the monkey rent again."

She laughed, letting him escort her firmly all the way down the grand hall to the main exit, but just outside, she stopped at the equally grand fountain to admire the water and lights.

Carlton stood behind her, arms around her waist. "Happy one month anniversary," he murmured against her throat, making her shiver.

A month since they'd married; a year since she'd brought him home from his mission.

Nearly a year since she'd (re)introduced him to Iris, who said he was funny when he was mad (but he never got mad at her) (confused and bewildered quite often, but never mad).

Ten months since he'd confided to Juliet that he and Karen were involved.

Seven months since Juliet began dating a very nice professor, a guy even Carlton liked (after the obligatory background check which made Juliet throw her wastebasket at him).

He was still seeing Dr. Gentry, but only once a month now. The insurance company wasn't paying for the sessions anymore but Carlton had chosen to continue on his own dime, calling it an investment on his own future—their future. The nightmares faded after six or seven weeks; he still had the occasional bad dream but she believed him when he said they were nothing compared to the originals.

Six months since Zach Boyles had been captured up the coast—the murder of Donny Fallon was a mere drop in the bucket of his worries by then—bringing the mission to a complete close at last.

Eleven and a half months since he'd shaved, and unlike Samson, he didn't lose his "powers" along with the hair. In fact, and with great reluctance, he had admitted to her that maybe some people… definitely not all… did in fact like him… but probably just a little… and they might only be confused.

She'd thwapped him with a pillow in response.

He'd liberated her from her clothing in retribution, but really, it seemed fair at the time.

Now, on this moonlit night by the fountain, Karen leaned back against him, sighing. "Happy everything, Carlton."

He kissed her earlobe. "Mmmm, yes. Thank you for marrying me."

"Well, I had to. How else was I going to stop you from becoming an Angry Old Man?"

"You took one for the team." He squeezed her waist, and she turned in his arms to kiss him.

"We are the team, Carlton." She kissed him again, trailing her fingers along his clean-shaven face, loving his eyes and his skin and his soft hair and really everything else about him too.

"Yeah," he said, his smile so tender and his eyes a cerulean blue she couldn't resist. "We are."

"So what about that crazy monkey love?"

"I don't know where we're going to get a fresh batch of monkeys at this hour, but sure," he agreed, and covered her willing mouth with his, stopping her laughter and making her heart race.

And her knees week and her legs like Jell-O and every nerve ending on fire.

"Maybe we should just be alone," she suggested.

"That kind of brilliant thinking is why you're the Chief of Police, you know." He grasped her hand and pulled her rapidly toward the car.

It's also why I have you, she thought happily. Or maybe it's just good timing and dumb luck.

Either way, it was all exactly… right.

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