for cartographical -
just going down your list, Jessie
Richard Castle trolled the party, raking a hand down his cheek and scratching his stubble as he searched for her. A glimpse was all he'd gotten before she'd been swallowed up by the crowd.
Dark hair chopped short and spiky, smoky eyes rimmed in black, the highest heels he'd ever seen a woman wear. Red dress that literally wrapped around her body, like it was a ribbon, barely covering her, leaving so much milky skin begging to be devoured, pushing her breasts up to his eyes.
And then gone.
Meredith caught his arm as he passed, yanked on him. "Where you going, hot stuff?"
He grinned into her amusement and shook her off. "Looking for someone."
"Careful, pretty boy," she simpered, curling up at his side. Castle hunched over her, loving the hot and firm length of her pressed against him. She was his ex, she was simple, and she was always up for it. They'd had some crazy- "There are a ton of hookers at this party, Ricky."
"What?" he laughed, glancing around the wide room once more. It was one of those Arts things that Meredith and his mother were always roping him into, raising money for theatre or school music programs or something. A Dance Academy? Maybe that was it.
"You're kidding me," he laughed again, eyebrows furrowing as he regarded his ex-wife. She was bordering on seriously drunk, even though five years ago she'd promised- "Hey, who's taking you home?"
"You are," she smirked, twining her arm around him, lifting her eyebrows.
Ah, well. Meredith was easier (note he did not say easy), and definitely not a hooker. Who knew about that woman in the red dress?
Red dresses screamed escort.
And he needed to stay away from Gina for a while. She'd been eyeing him lately, and he thought it wasn't smart at all to get involved with his publisher.
But he wasn't sure he could resist.
Gina had a body-
"Take me, Ricky. Home."
Castle was just heading for the door, an arm around Meredith's waist (she better not be too drunk for sex; she was so not sleeping it off in his bed with Alexis a few doors down), when he saw her again.
That girl. Woman. Entirely delicious, sensual, bad-ass-looking dominatrix of a woman.
"You think she's a hooker?" Castle asked his ex, wishing he could drop her to pursue the woman in red.
"Look at her shoes," Meredith slurred. "Not even I can wear shoes that slutty."
"Yeah, they are kinda slutty," he grinned goofily, letting his eyes rake down her legs, dwell on those red, high heeled, kitten-toe shoes. He wanted to have her and make her leave the shoes on. He wanted to feel those spikes digging into the back of his thighs as she-
Meredith patted his cheek. "Aw, poor Ricky. To make up for it, we can do something naughty tonight."
"If you don't pass out on me," he muttered, still watching the woman as she sauntered towards a back table. A man was already approaching her from behind, and as she turned to speak, her eyes caught Castle's and held.
He sucked in a breath, couldn't look away.
She was haunting. Haunted.
More than sexy-as-hell escort-hooker, she was practically bleeding from her eyes with all that tragedy trapped in one fierce gaze.
He wanted her.
But he wanted her story too.
And he didn't know which one was more appealing to have - the heels or the history.
Meredith passed out on him. Of course. She had a few sloppy moves and then she fell asleep while he was stripping off his clothes.
Whatever. Castle yanked the comforter out from under her and covered her up, then pulled on his pajamas pants. Meredith was always a fun time - their sexual encounters were as few and far between as he could possibly resist, not exactly healthy for him, but certainly scrumptious.
Like a twinkie. Mm, cream filling and-
No, more like a deep-fried twinkie. So very not good for him. Bad for his heart. And for Alexis's heart, damn it. He'd have to spin this carefully.
Mom just needed a place to stay after our party, pumpkin.
Looks like Castle was sleeping in the guest room tonight. Make sure Alexis didn't see her parents together. A ten year old who thought herself so mature, so wise, still shouldn't have to handle her parents in the same room, sleeping together but not together.
Especially since he'd lately gotten the idea that Alexis didn't much like her mother.
Grabbing the blanket off the back of the couch, Castle trudged upstairs.
He had vivid dreams all night. They woke him aching and hard and desperate.
All of them were about her.
The weird thing was that they started off talking - just talking - and who did that? Of course, there was the brush of hands, the slide of her thigh over his, chests pressed together even as he tried to get that dress off her.
But they were talking first. She was telling him a story. And not that it made him hot for her, but it did.
It made him hot for her.
He used his mouth to unwrap her, one long, red, satin ribbon slowly unwinding from her lithe, amazing body. She arched into his mouth and ran her hand down his back, squeezed his ass, told him to go faster.
And then he woke up, startled from his dream by the use of his last name. Damn it.
But her face - those eyes - were burned into his brain, haunting and familiar and fierce.
He'd know her again anywhere.
Castle hustled Meredith out of the loft before Alexis woke, put his ex in a cab still half-asleep and not quite sober. When he got back inside, his daughter chose that very moment to descend the stairs, looking fresh and awake. He hoped she hadn't noticed he was gone, but she only headed for the kitchen, so he followed, setting out breakfast.
He didn't realize he was doing it until Alexis asked him what escort meant. Castle slapped the paper down on the kitchen table and stared at his daughter.
"It's when you buy a date. They escort you for money. An escort."
Alexis wrinkled her nose and grabbed the box of Raisin Bran (why? when there was perfectly good Cookie Crisp sitting right here on the counter?). "Daddy, you don't need to buy dates. Everyone wants to date you."
"No. Right, no. I don't have to buy dates." He was checking out the escort ads though, wasn't he? Right in front of his daughter at the breakfast table.
This was so not good.
His phone rang and he glanced at the caller ID, winced when he saw the number. "It's Rick Castle," he said.
"Rick, photo shoot at nine," his agent crowed into the phone. Castle held the device away from his ear and grimaced, making his daughter laugh.
"Photo shoot for what? I write books."
"You have 18 best sellers, Rick Castle. People want to see that handsome mug. We're gonna do a sexy spread for GQ."
GQ? "I'm there," he said quickly. "But I'm keeping my pants on. Alexis, that's the rule for photos - never nude. Paula, when and where?"
Alexis was giggling with her hand over her mouth, trying not to spit out Raisin Bran. Paula gave him the details and Castle jotted them down on a napkin using the blue pen he'd had in his hand. . .while looking for escort services.
He was tempted to call the charity foundation that had hosted that party a few nights ago, but he didn't want that getting around. Rick Castle looking for an escort?
Only so much bad boy could be out there before his daughter started hearing it at school.
"Dad?" Alexis asked, holding up the paper even as he hung up with Paula. "What's a sting?"
He glanced at the photo and saw the article: NYPD Undercover Sting. . .
blah blah blah
"That is an excellent question," he smirked at her, reaching out and tapping her nose. "It calls for a movie answer."
"A movie answer?" she squealed, sitting up straight in her chair and then lunging out at him. Castle got a tight, squeezing hug around his neck and patted her back.
"How many movies?"
"Oh, I'm thinking at least 2. Maybe 3. It is a Saturday."
"Let me go get my pajamas back on," she said, sounding a little breathless. "Oh, and popcorn with M&Ms?"
"Of course. What else?"
He watched his daughter scramble up from the dining table and then haul ass for the stairs. The grin slipped off his face as he glanced back to the newspaper.
Had he really been circling escort ads while his daughter sat here?
He needed to get this under control.
She was gone; he'd never find her again.
Move on, Rick. Find a new story.
She was ten, and heavy, but she was still his kid.
Rick gathered his daughter up, all spindly legged, knobby-kneed, and lolling head, carried her up the stairs to her bedroom. After they'd watched The Sting and then Catch Me If You Can, he had reluctantly allowed Alexis to respond with Dirty Dancing - it's about pretending to be a beautiful dancer, Dad, so that's a con, and falling in love - and then Strictly Ballroom, the Baz Luhrmann film, just because Alexis thought it was so funny.
They'd gone from great con artist movies to dancing. Of course. That was his life, usually. He talked a good game at the parties, the book events, and then he came home to his ten year old and watched Dirty Dancing and sang along to 'Love Is Strange' - Oh, Sylvia - because his daughter loved it so much.
And if she still doesn't answer?
Castle lowered Alexis to her bed, surprised again at how long she was, how she was growing up. No longer a little kid, but not a preteen either. Soon enough now. And then she'd be graduating from high school and leaving him, and he'd be a mess.
Castle tugged the covers out from under her and pulled them up, letting the purple comforter billow out over her body.
"Until tomorrow, Alexis," he murmured and then kissed her forehead.
He should write. Before Gina called and he was forced into another awkward, faintly sexual conversation with her in which she continuously made him answer, How long is it now?
He was lost.
Shit. Paula was going to skin him alive if he missed this photo-shoot. This was exactly the thing he needed to break out of the spy-thriller genre the critics had pigeon-holed him because of Derrick Storm. He'd been a solid Stephen King at the beginning of his career, thriller with mystery, and now he was more like a poor-man's Ludlum or Crichton.
He needed some debonair, pop culture exposure to get him back on top again. And a new story.
He was already getting tired of Derrick Storm. Storm and his damn love interest, Clara Strike. Shit.
Shit. He was one messed up puppy. He needed a new muse, needed someone who wasn't her, needed to stop thinking about her and wondering why she'd totally fallen off his radar, obsessing over whether or not she was dead, if that last mission had finally gotten her or if she was just tired of him and his questions and his chasing after her.
She was gone. He'd never see her again. She'd said so herself.
Where was this damn photo-shoot?
He drove slowly down the side street, practically an alley, and tried to avoid scraping the bottom of his car on the rough pavement. A dumpster was leaning crookedly against the brick building to his left, a string of not so great establishments on his right, a convenience store with bars on the windows down at the corner, a Buddha in the window.
He crept forward, eyes peeled for the warehouse-studio where he was supposed to be doing his photo-shoot, and then he caught sight of the XXX sign, Live Nude Girls, before his gaze tripped down to the woman standing outside the establishment.
Holy shit, it was her.
Castle saw her hands on her hips, the infinitely long lines of her legs, and the cherry-red, just-kissed pucker of her mouth. She was watching him too.
She was wearing a tube top for a skirt, purple mid-calf boots, and her top just - dazzled his brain.
He crept even more slowly and then pulled over, lowering the passenger side window. Cold winter wind slashed through his car, swirled inside, and he shivered even in his coat, wondered how the hell the woman could do that, stand on the corner in practically nothing.
Wait. Wasn't she an escort? Why was she street-walking?
Castle leaned over as the woman - oh, damn, she was practically a kid - stalked towards his car and leaned in the window, elbows propped on the door frame of his Ferrari.
"Nice car," she murmured, lifting an eyebrow at him and then smacking her gum. He had an awesome view down her shirt, her breasts lifted and practically spilling out of her cowl-neck, sparkly top. Her hips shifted, drawing his attention to what he could see of the rise of her ass.
"Thanks," he said stupidly and wondered how the hell she'd gone from escort to prostitute. Not that an escort wasn't a prostitute - well, surely sometimes they weren't, right? He didn't want her to be a prostitute; she was too. . .much for that.
"You looking for something?" she asked, eyebrow lifted again like she was laughing at him. Her fingertips dangled inside the car, long and lithe, and she had real tone to her muscles as she shifted. Her skin glowed, faintly golden, but with a paleness to that deep v between her breasts.
She couldn't be a prostitute. She had the act, the bored voice, the sway of her hips, the nonchalance, but she couldn't. The pale skin at her chest, the health of that golden glow, the strength in that tight, hot body-
"I'm lost, actually," he said, blinking and meeting her eyes. Oh. . .wow. Big mistake. Her eyes were sucking out his soul in a way her body never could.
"Lost, baby?" One of her fingers quirked. "Want me to find you?"
He blinked hard and broke eye contact, glanced out the window. A rusted out, blue van was parked at the next corner.
No fucking way. She was a cop.
Wow, she was good.
"Not like that," he said finally, and turned back to meet her eyes with a grin. "I'm being serious. I'm lost. Supposed to be going to a photo-shoot, and I know I wrote the address down correctly, but I can't find it."
Her eyes shimmered with something that seemed reflected in that shirt, and then she glanced away, her head turning and exposing the gorgeous line of her neck. He wanted to lick the column of her throat and nibble at her ear.
She was a cop.
Had to be.
Her head snapped back to his, but she still carried the same tone, same purr to her voice. "Want me to take a look, baby?"
He nodded, struck dumb by her again, and handed over the address he'd written when Paula had called.
Her face changed, something like regret or chagrin maybe, and she gave a soft laugh that could have been - recognition? or acceptance. She recognized him?
She laughed again, and her eyes gave him a long, slow perusal that held entirely too much intelligence. "Well, look at that. You're almost on top of it."
"You're kidding me," he said, glancing through the windshield again and searching for a sign.
"You see that van at the corner?"
"Yeah," he said, surprised she'd pointed it out. She was a cop, wasn't she?
"It's blocking the sign. A little white placard nailed into the brick. Lyons' Studio. He's a big name around here."
Castle glanced warily at the Live Nude Girls and winced. "He is?"
"Kind of a bastard, if you want to know, but I hear his photos are magnificent."
"You do, huh?" He quirked a smile at her and reached out for his slip of paper, brushing her fingers as he did. The jolt of arousal that sped through him at her touch made him breathless.
She seemed to feel it too, or at least see it in him, because she leaned heavier on his window and shot a glance down at his groin. "You sure I can't do a little finding for you?"
Fuuuuuck. "No, very sure." Not sure at all. "But, I, uh - I took up your time, didn't I?" He wondered if paying her would be - what if she wasn't a cop? And then, even if she was, paying her for information wasn't illegal, so he could-
He dug into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. "I don't know this works for you, but well. Thanks for giving me directions." He flashed her a smile and pressed a twenty into her hand.
He saw her face fall the moment he did it; she curled her hand around his and her head bowed, nearly to their hands.
"Shit," she said softly, all trace of tone and accent completely gone.
He moved to take his hand back, surprised at her, and she lifted her head. Her eyes were fierce even though she looked somehow defeated.
"You're under arrest," she sighed.
She was a cop!