Disclaimer: blah blah blah I stole these characters from Steve Franks.

Rating: T

Summary: Tenth in my Lassiet Contrived Cliché series, the subject is kissing. Who's kissing whom, and what will come of it? (It's too short for two chapters but a little long for one, so... um... I went long.)

. . . .

. . .

"We need you to kiss a woman."

The look on Carlton's face was priceless. "The hell?"

"You do know how to kiss, don't you, Detective?" Vick's tone was amused, but she was trying to hide it.

Carlton scowled at her. "Yes, I know how to kiss. In fact, I've been told I do it rather well. I just don't see—" He stopped at her raised eyebrows. "What? Just because I screwed up a marriage doesn't mean it had anything to do with my kissing abilities."

Chief Vick composed herself. "Of course you're right. So you understand this is a work assignment, right? Undercover."

He flung himself into the chair, and Juliet eyed him with unease from her perch at the corner of Vick's desk. She didn't want to think about how well he could kiss, let alone that other women knew.

"You know I suck at undercover work."

"Yes, although you only admit that when you're asked to do something you don't want to do." Vick straightened up. "This is simple. Ventura PD is trying to apprehend a woman who essentially kisses her victims senseless."

His scowl turned into puzzlement. "That's a crime?"

Vick smirked. "Well, it is because then she pickpockets her victims."

"So get a description and—"

"Just let me tell it, Detective. The woman picks an upscale location and works it for a couple of weekends. She seems to be drawn to tall men, gets them to buy her drinks, makes out with them until they can't see straight, then detaches them from their wallets and takes off. For one hour after each theft, she gets whatever she can out of their credit cards and cash. She stays off camera, and the men, although they want their wallets back, aren't consistent about her physical appearance, though they agree she has medium to dark brown hair and either hazel or green eyes. She's possibly wearing colored contact lenses and wigs, but we don't know for certain."

"And this is a significant case because?"

"Because on Saturday night at the Ventura Plaza Hotel, she managed to score the wallet of the Ventura Deputy Mayor. He wants the woman found, and found fast."

Carlton's blue eyes were showing some turmoil. "And they want me to…"

Vick smiled. "Hang out in the hotel bar and get hit on."

Crap on a cracker, Juliet thought, even though she'd known it was leading to this.

"Crap on a cracker," he snapped. "That'll never work. Women don't hit on me."

Juliet rolled her eyes. "Are you kidding me? Carlton. Really?"

He stared at her in confusion. "Well, they don't—" He cleared his throat and returned his attention to Vick. "Chief. This isn't—"

She interrupted him. "Detective, on Friday night you will be sitting in the rather posh bar at the Ventura Plaza Hotel. You will have a few watered-down drinks, you will smile at women who approach you, you will flirt with any woman who initiates contact, up to and including being kissed by that woman, and if at the end of such an encounter you should find your Ventura-PD-issued wallet missing, you will signal your partner, who will be working as a hostess and/or waitress, and the suspect can be stopped before she leaves the hotel."

Juliet felt sick. Then she felt stupid.

Carlton was staring at Vick, but he didn't look horrified. He looked… hell. She was going to have to kill him now.

. . . .

. . .

Friday night, after several days of feeling completely unsettled by this stupid assignment, Juliet accompanied Carlton to the Ventura PD, where he was given his fake wallet and back story.

He was looking especially… she swallowed… yummy. Black jacket, deep blue shirt open at the neck. No tie. Blue eyes never more vivid. Dammit. How the hell could he think women didn't hit on him? They hit on him all the time.

He always noticed when men hit on her, and he didn't like it, but he seemed incapable of noticing when a waitress or barista was coming on to him.

Too many years of rejection.

They drove to the hotel and parked in the back; she took the staff entrance in, meeting with the bar manager while Carlton walked around to the main entrance of the hotel.

The plan was that he'd sit at the bar until someone took an interest in him; if the conversation went well he'd suggest moving to a booth which was going to be carefully and discreetly reserved for them, one which Juliet would be able to observe but which was still secluded. Juliet herself would be hostessing a little and mostly waiting the tables closest to his, getting a close-up view of whichever women came on to him (not as close-up a view as he would be getting, she thought grimly).

One of the bartenders was also Ventura PD and there were at least two 'customers' planted in the bar as well.

She entered the bar from the kitchen as Carlton walked in from the front. Damn, he looked good.

He slid onto a stool near one end of the bar, asked for a gin and tonic which the bartender knew to mix as predominantly tonic, and the waiting started.

. . . .

. . .

Lassiter sipped his drink and surveyed the large fancy bar around him. A lot of leather and chrome, dark wood and reduced lighting. Nice place. For a bar.

Juliet looked fantastic. She was wearing a midnight blue satiny dress and her hair was upswept; silver earrings dangled from her ears and he allowed his mind to wander to the prospect of an undercover assignment where he was supposed to kiss her, because that would be… in a word… stupendous.

Didn't suppose he could suggest that to Vick, though, and no doubt Juliet would politely put the kibosh on it anyway.

Yeah, he could use a little more booze in the glass.

A woman sat down next to him and smiled. She was in her late twenties, maybe thirty, with ash blonde hair and blue eyes that reminded him a little of Juliet's. She probably wasn't the target, unless that was a convincing wig and contact lenses; on the other hand, she could be the real deal and the other incidents could have involved said wigs and lenses.

At any rate, women didn't often sit down and smile at him in bars, so go with it.

She wore a dragon pendant in gold and blue, and he knew he was staring at it and knew she would think this was forward.

"Hello," she said.

"Hi." He smiled. Probably looked like a dork.

She touched the pendant. "Nice, isn't it?"

"Very dramatic. You relate to dragons?"

"You mean am I a fire-breather?" She grinned. "I could be. I've been called Dragongirl before."

"I'm sure your name's much nicer than that."

"You tell me. It's just Maggie."

"Well, Maggie is a lot more friendly than Dragongirl." He held out his hand. "I'm Cal."

She took it, holding on long enough to send a signal he couldn't miss. "You're here on your own tonight?"

"Until two minutes ago. Can I buy you a drink?"

"Certainly."

She asked for a Tom Collins and after the bartender produced it, Lassiter thought he might as well move things along. "Shall we retire to a booth?" He gestured to the one surreptitiously set aside for them, and Maggie was all too willing.

This is too easy. She must be our suspect.

In the booth, where she sat a bit closer to him than he expected, she smiled again and gestured to him. "Those are some spectacular blue eyes you've got there, Cal."

He blushed, and she laughed.

"I love a blusher," she teased. "Means you don't think too much of yourself."

"No point in that," he said dryly. Over her shoulder he could see Juliet looking their way; she was frowning—probably because the young woman was blonde instead of brunette—but kept her distance.

"Oh," Maggie soothed him. "Don't worry. We're our own harshest critics, you know?"

"You could say that again."

Maggie leaned in closer. "So tell me your life story, Cal. What's Cal short for?"

"Calamari," he said, and she laughed. "Calvin. And you have some rather nice eyes yourself," he added gallantly.

Maggie liked this. She got even closer.

Damn. Way too easy. Definitely our perp.

Still, when she brushed her fingertips across his cheek twenty minutes later and leaned in to kiss him, he was surprised: really? She wants tooh my, she does.

. . . .

. . .

Juliet was turning with a tray of martinis and almost dropped the whole thing when she saw Carlton kissing the blonde.

Idiot! Get yourself together. This was the whole point of the undercover; you knew this was coming and you have to deal with it.

She stared helplessly for another few moments.

I have a problem.

Damn.

. . . .

. . .

Maggie was quite the kisser, Lassiter thought dimly, but he wasn't so out of it as to notice that although her hands were roaming across his shoulders and upper chest, she never got anywhere near his wallet.

It had been a long time for him. Too long. Too much time spent pining for Juliet—imagining kissing her instead of actually kissing anyone else.

She pulled away slightly, grinning. "Wow. Awesome eyes and a great kisser. I knew this was my night." Fanning herself with her cocktail napkin, she put her hand over his on the table while he slugged back his barely-gin and tonic.

"I second that wow," he told her, smiling because yeah, that had been pretty nice. He looked beyond her briefly and saw Juliet frowning at him again, but before he could process that, Maggie leaned in and started nibbling his earlobe.

Holy crap… he turned his head and kissed her again because he was nothing if not a man and after all, this was what he'd been sent here to do. Ultimate justification.

After a bit more damn-close-to-heaven, Maggie sat back and sighed. "I never do this. I mean, ever. But I think you and I need to, um, get a room."

His eyes widened. "I… really?"

Maggie laughed. "Yes, really. Are you that shocked?"

"I'm a little shocked."

And you're working.

"But… I don't think I can."

Her eyebrows formed a frown. "You don't think you… oh God, are you married?"

"No. But I am…" He swallowed. "Hung up on someone. Who doesn't even want me, so it's even more pathetic. You… uh… kind of remind me of her."

The frown abated, and her expression became quizzical. "Then I don't see the problem. If you're single and you can't have her, and I'm… well, let's just be blunt: you can have me… then… why are we still sitting here?" She nuzzled his ear again, making him tremble.

Lassiter felt utterly ridiculous. And tempted. But he was working and she obviously wasn't the perp. "I'm sorry," he said finally. "I just… I don't think I can. It's too fast."

Maggie sighed. "Okay." She opened her shiny blue handbag and pulled out a card. "Call me if you change your mind. Any time." She pushed the card over to his drink, kissed him on the cheek, and left the booth rapidly.

He was staring at the card, trying to settle himself down, when Juliet approached with an empty tray to collect their glasses.

"May I?" she asked, reaching for the card.

He let her take it, and to his surprise, she tore it into small pieces and walked away.

Oookay…

. . . .

. . .

Juliet, since Carlton was temporarily alone, made a ladies' room run to compose herself. She had no idea what she was going to say to him if he asked her why she'd torn up the card. The truth was unflattering: simple jealousy. But she certainly couldn't give that answer.

She'd have to make him believe she wanted him to concentrate on the case. That woman was blonde and it was no wig and he shouldn't have wasted time with her when the real perp could have been lurking in the room.

(There were no other women alone in the bar, Juliet. Just the dowager with the blue hair who was waiting for her husband to come in after a late meeting.)

She just couldn't believe how much it had stung—hurt—to see him kissing another woman and obviously enjoying it.

Carlton was waiting for her in the hall when she exited the ladies' room.

"What the hell," he drawled, "was all that about?"

"Concentrate on the case, Carlton, not picking up strange women." She was brisk. Thank God the hall was dim so he couldn't see the color she knew was in her cheeks.

"I believe I was concentrating on the case, O'Hara, and being picked up by strange women was sort of the goal." His blue eyes glittered and for a second she hated him for being so clueless as to his appeal.

"Just work the case," she reiterated, and headed back into the bar.

He came in a few minutes later and took up his previous seat at the bar, from time to time getting up to study the framed photos on the wall (he'd been told to make it clear he was tall, since the Kissing Bandit was drawn to tall men). Seemed to be a quiet Friday night for the Plaza.

Around 9:30 a woman came in and sat at the far end of the bar. She got out some kind of e-reader device as she asked for a drink, and Juliet noted Carlton noticing her.

She could be the perp. Her hair was a medium brown, at least, and Juliet's stomach twisted as Carlton eased himself down the line to be closer to her.

. . . .

. . .

He'd been sitting two stools away for about ten minutes before the woman spoke to him, to ask if he'd pass her a napkin.

"Here you go," he said, taking the opportunity to study her. Medium brown hair, eyes which were either hazel or green. She was attractive without being flashy and she met his gaze squarely.

"Thanks." She used the napkin to wipe the screen of her device. "Sweaty drink," she explained.

"What's your technology?" he inquired.

"It's a Kindle. I'm reading yet another race horse biography."

His eyebrow went up. "Which one?"

She smiled. "Affirmed."

"Triple Crown," he said appreciatively.

"You know your racing?"

"I have a thing for horses," he admitted. "Not so much gambling on them."

"I'm a little obsessed myself. Maybe more than obsessed."

He gestured to the empty seat between them, and she nodded, so he moved closer to her. "Do you ride much?"

"Not enough, but you know what they say. If the opportunity arose, I'd be there. You?"

"I get most of my riding in by way of my Civil War reenactors group."

Her eyes lit up—were they green or hazel? He needed more light to be sure. "Local?"

"No, over in Santa Barbara. Does that interest you?"

"Yes. I'd love to watch one of the exhibitions."

Lassiter smiled. "I'm Cal." He stuck out his hand.

"Allie," she said, taking it briefly in a strong cool grip.

"Is that short for something?"

"Nope, although my folks used to call me Alysheba after I got into horses."

"Ah, Alysheba. Another classic."

They smiled at each other and he marveled that it had never been so easy for him to talk to a woman, and here he was two for two.

Juliet came to the bar with an empty tray and 'accidentally' jostled his arm. "Excuse me," she said sweetly.

What was her problem now? This woman fit the description!

But then it occurred to him that maybe she just didn't like her end of the deal, waiting tables and no doubt being hit on by some of the men here. He scowled inwardly: he hated that men hit on her. Drove him crazy.

She went away and he turned back to Allie. "You want to get a booth and talk race horses?"

She only frowned briefly, then smiled again. "Sure."

Ensconced in the designated booth after they'd ordered fresh drinks, he lost his nerve because she was just looking at him. "Something wrong?"

"Oh no," she said with a blush. "I was just admiring your eyes. I know you probably get that a lot but they are very, very blue."

"So I'm told, but I have no control over them. They're just stuck up here in my head."

Allie was amused. "Well, they're doing a good job of being rather compelling."

"Thanks," and dammit, he was blushing again.

That seemed to relax whatever inhibitions Allie might have had about striking up this one-on-one-in-a-booth conversation with a strange man. Why do women like to make me blush?

They talked horses for awhile and he grew increasingly comfortable with her. She was witty, a quick thinker and intelligent, all things he liked in a woman, and even though she didn't have Juliet's blue eyes or Juliet's wide smile or… stop it. Allie is the one in the booth, and you're working!

A few more drinks, deposited by Juliet with a smack in one case, and he was relaxed as he'd ever been with a woman he didn't know.

She lacked the predatory nature he'd been expecting from the perp but this could be part of the game: lure them in, relax them, move in.

So it was with some surprise that he found himself doing the moving in, leaning closer, murmuring her name, and initiating a kiss.

Which she accepted, and returned.

Almost immediately, she had her arms around his neck and was kissing the hell out of him.

Whoa… whoa… yeah… this could be her… oh damn who the hell cares…

. . . .

. . .

Another one! Juliet turned her back on the sight of Carlton sucking face with yet another woman. Her pulse was erratic and she really, really wanted to throw things. At him, even.

"So how long have you two been a couple?" asked the bartender when she slammed the tray down on the bar.

Juliet stared at him, wide-eyed. "What?"

He grinned. "Secret, huh?"

"What? No! We're not a couple."

"Sure about that? You're acting kinda nuts."

She gave him her iciest stare. "We are not a couple. I just think this is a stupid assignment."

He shrugged, and turned to wait on another customer.

Juliet felt sick.

I want us to be a couple.

. . . .

. . .

Allie drew back, out of breath. "Wow. I'm sorry."

"You're sorry?" He touched his mouth. "I'm not sorry."

She blushed. "Thanks for that. I'm sorry if I came on too strong."

"You're sorry?" he repeated, grinning. "Do I have regrets?"

"This really isn't me," she explained, uncomfortable now. "I don't... I don't hit on men and I don't maul them in bars."

"You should probably look into adjusting that philosophy." He touched her cheek gently, but she flinched back. "Hey..."

"No. That was crazy of me. I'm sorry. I... I have to go. Thanks for the drinks," she said, rushed and embarrassed, and picked up her bag and Kindle over his protests.

He watched her go, and checked his pocket: wallet still in place.

Now what?

. . . .

. . .

Lassiter took a break, twenty minutes prowling the parking lot behind the hotel, clearing his head and thinking about Juliet's latest glare. She must really hate this assignment, he thought.

Unless she's jealous.

Lassiter stopped walking.

Jealous? No.

Why not?

Because she's not interested in me. Never has been. Never will be.

But she never saw you kissing other women before.

Then it's just... possessiveness. Or discomfort. Hell, maybe she's grossed out at the idea of anyone locking lips with me.

He resumed walking, although more slowly, hands in his pockets as he considered possibilities.

He was kind of uncomfortable with possibilities, truth be told, because they gave him hope and hope was an unfamiliar creature in his world.

Back to work, idiot. No way is your partner interested in you, period.

Inside, Juliet gave him a cool nod. "No changes," she said briefly. "But it's nearly eleven and the other bartender says this is when things start to get busy."

"Thanks. You okay?"

She glowered at him. "I'm just fine."

Yeah. She just thought it was icky for him to kiss anyone.

Somewhat more morose than a man who'd already made out with two women ought to be, he took up his position at the end of the bar, able to see the door. He switched to Scotch & water (only enough Scotch to provide the color) and settled in to wait.

It didn't take long, and as soon as the woman walked in, he knew it was her.

Smooth dark hair in a chignon, ruby earrings; when she glanced toward the bar the light showed her eyes to be clearly green. She had an air of self-possession just standing still, and Lassiter's senses were prickling because this was obviously a woman who could take whatever she wanted—and did.

Her dress was black and red, very striking, and her heels were high, so she might not be much over five feet tall.

He got to his feet, not facing her, because he knew his height alone might draw her attention, if not his movement.

And it turned out there was something to be said for even the most basic of profiling because she came to sit on the stool next to his, smiling directly at him in a not-quite-predatory way. "Good evening," she said in a low voice.

Lassiter smiled back and reclaimed his seat. "It is now."

She was amused. "I'm B.C. Lawson."

"Cal," he said, and took her outstretched hand, holding on just long enough to let her know… whatever the hell he was letting her know. "What's the B.C. stand for?"

"Brazen and Cussed." Her smile was feline.

He arched one eyebrow. "Interesting."

"Cal's interesting too," she commented.

"Not really. Short for Calvin."

"Old school. Old school's always interesting."

"Glad you think so." He wondered what she'd think of Carlton. "How about a drink?"

"Delighted." She asked for red wine, and the bartender served it up quickly and then retreated.

He didn't know where Juliet was, but he could feel her glare at the back of his neck.

B.C. was studying him, and he sighed. "Please don't say anything about my eyes. I had nothing to do with their placement, color or size."

She laughed delightedly. "Well, they are remarkable, Cal. Quite possibly the biggest, bluest eyes I've seen in my life."

"It just seems wrong to thank people for complimenting me on something totally beyond my control," he admitted.

She reached over and touched his hand lightly. "But don't you use them to your advantage?"

I've also been told they can be cold. I do use that on the job.

"If so, it's not intentional. You have very nice green eyes. Green-eyed women seem to be a theme of my life recently." Don't ask me to define recent.

"A good one, I hope."

"So far."

She was very intense, he thought; just the slightest of touches to his hand and it already seemed possessive. If he didn't know she was going to take his wallet later, he could imagine how easy it was for her to win her targets over.

How easy it would have been for her to win him over, if he was in the right frame of mind.

It was one thing to be in love with Juliet and quite another to remain unattached in hopes she would 'see' him someday. He knew she'd never see him.

B.C. said smoothly, "I'm going to be honest with you, Cal, because I really don't like wasting time. I find you very attractive already and I'd like to get to know you better and yes that probably does sound a little crazy given we just met four minutes ago."

But you're on a schedule, so sure. "Booth?" he suggested.

"Definitely."

He led the way, and when they settled in she got as close to him as she could, which was pretty close.

She drank her wine and rarely broke eye contact with him. It was a bit unnerving and more than a little… erotic, because the message she was sending was erotic, and he knew it instinctively. This woman was… surrounding him. Her previous targets never stood a chance—he knew that instinctively too.

Speaking in a low voice, she asked him questions about himself, all flattering, all personal. He stuck to the pre-designated answers but at the same time found it hard to resist her: telling her anything as long as those green eyes were fixed on his would have been so very, very easy.

Her hand slid between them to rest on his thigh, and he turned his head to meet her kiss.

And it was one hell of a kiss, he had to admit. She trailed her lips across his, over his jaw and into his hair, nibbling at his earlobe and caressing his throat with her other hand.

Lassiter decided he could take an extra minute to play the game. Maybe two. She was very good at this, after all, and it would be a shame to let her skills go to waste the night before she went to jail.

No, she wasn't Juliet, but it wasn't as if Juliet was exactly waiting for him to make a move, right?

When he returned fire with ample fire of his own, she gasped—as if she were surprised, but was that an act too? Didn't matter. His mouth closed over hers and he could taste the red wine but didn't miss her hands moving southward on his body, over his thighs and around his back and it was so gentle, so very careful and slick, her removal of his wallet from his pocket. He never would have noticed if he hadn't been waiting for it.

B.C. broke free, out of breath, her gaze surprised and still intense. "Cal, you are a wonder."

"So are you," he said truthfully.

"I think we need to get out of here." She reached for her handbag and the mirror inside, and he took the opportunity to look up to Juliet's waiting (and withering) glare. Nodding to her meaningfully, he waited for her expression to change back to Alert Cop and then returned his attention to the green-eyed thief at his side.

"I can't," he said slowly.

"Too fast?" She tsked. "Well, I'll tell you what. I know a good thing when I kiss it, and here's what I'll do. I'll go out to the lobby and wait by the fountain for five minutes. If you come out during that time, away we'll go. If not—or if I change my mind, which I won't—I'll go home alone." She made a moue. "Shame to do that, don't you think?"

"Yes, I do." He did. She was something else indeed, although if he had been just another mark who went out to meet her, she certainly wouldn't have been there.

She must have a pocket in her dress, because that purse isn't big enough for my wallet.

"Here, I'll even buy your drink to show good faith." She put some money on the table, presumably to stop him reaching for said wallet. "Hope to see you soon," she added in a whisper, leaning in to give him one more red-wine kiss.

"Oh, I think you will," he said with a smile, and let her slip away.

But only as far as the door. Juliet stepped into her path, the faux bartender at her side. "Excuse me, ma'am."

"Yes? What is it?"

"You're under arrest," Juliet said sweetly, and Lassiter was both proud and slightly alarmed by the look on her face and the force with which she handcuffed the woman.

Having been spun around to face Lassiter as he approached, B.C. started to laugh. "I knew you were too good to be true."

"The feeling's mutual," he assured her. "See you in court."

. . . .

. . .

Juliet walked with Carlton out to the parking lot under the midnight sky. The stars twinkled, the breeze was cool; it was beautiful and serene and she was miserable.

That last one. That was the worst. That was sexual.

The first two women? Those had been just kisses. Damn hard to watch, but only kisses nonetheless.

But with the last one… she felt sick. Carlton had been different with her. More intense.

Yes, I know he was just acting.

He wasn't acting.

She let out a deep sigh, and Carlton turned around. "You okay?"

Juliet folded her arms across her chest and stared at the ground.

Carlton sighed himself and leaned against the hood of the car, draping his jacket next to him. "O'Hara. All night long you've been giving me the stink-eye. Tell me what it is so we can get past it."

I can't tell you this.

Oh, stupid girl: why not? You know he memorized that first girl's phone number before you ripped up the card.

"I can wait a long time," he said evenly.

Still looking at the ground, she advanced a little and kicked at the toe of his shoe.

He moved it out of her way, but only a little. She kicked at it again and then the other.

"O'Hara."

She only kicked more forcefully until finally he separated his feet, and then she moved forward, into the gap, close enough to feel his body heat.

"O'Hara," he said again, but the quality of his voice had changed.

Juliet looked up at him and whispered, "My turn."

Putting her hands to his warm face, she leaned in and kissed him, because dammit she had to know.

And instantly, she did know.

His lips were firm and his mouth was hot and confident and he kissed her back at once, his arms enclosing her. It felt like he was drawing her in and she liked that… she loved it.

This is what they felt.

It was unbelievably good and when she pulled back she was out of breath and unable to think anything other than more. More.

She would have stepped away but Carlton's arms held her firmly in place, and there was no resistance in her when he drew her close again for another round.

So sweet and sexy and sensual. She was drowning in wanting him, and pressed as she was to his lower body given how he was leaning against the car, it did not escape her notice that he wanted her too.

"Okay," she managed, again sure she should—what? Run? You can't run from this, dummy—at least explain herself.

"Okay what?"

"You kiss well."

Carlton smiled. "So do you."

"I happen to know you say that to all the girls," she said tartly.

"I do not, and kissing you was better than kissing all of them combined."

"Stop. Don't flatter me. You can't—"

"O'Hara," he interrupted. "I don't know why you kissed me but I can tell you this. That, just now, was the best kiss of my life. You know why?"

Juliet stared at him, terrified and hopeful.

Carlton smiled, his eyes so blue even in the dim light. "Because I was finally kissing you."

She felt trembly.

"I've only imagined it a thousand times over the years, and I have to say, reality trumps imagination any day." He traced a line down her cheek to her lips, which he caressed. "You're my Holy Grail, Juliet."

She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him hard, and Carlton met her passion with his. It was everything, better than everything, everything times ten.

His arms around her, his thighs pressing to hers, his hands sliding down her back: Juliet forgot all the trauma of the past few hours and simply basked in the kiss. Basked in the arms of her best friend, partner, and soon-to-be-lover, because oh yes, that was coming next.

After a long while, it was Carlton who broke the kiss, saying with difficulty, "We should, um, get home."

Juliet rested her head on his shoulder. "I am home."

He let out a deep breath, holding her close. "For the first time in a long time, I know I am too."

They got in the car after awhile, Juliet feeling weak and happily unsettled.

As he started the car he asked, "So all those glares tonight—you weren't just grossed out that anyone would want to kiss me?"

"I was a jealous loon," she admitted. "I wanted to dump drinks on their heads. All of them. Especially the last one. Yours when you took that girl's card."

Carlton smirked and recited the phone number she knew he'd memorized. She punched him in the arm.

"Ow! Hey, how often do I get to be cocky about a woman liking me?"

"If you had a clue to what was going on around you, you'd know the answer to that question. I can't believe you don't notice how often you get hit on when we're in diners or coffee shops or even talking to witnesses."

He looked confused. "But if you're there, how the hell am I supposed to notice any other women?"

Juliet blushed down to her toes. "Carlton," she purred. "That is the sweetest thing." She leaned over and kissed his cheek, which wasn't wise since he swerved a little while turning out of the lot.

"Just… just never mind about that," he said self-consciously.

"Anything else you want to know?" She stroked his arm, because she had to touch him.

He hesitated. "Yeah."

"Is it whether that was the best kiss of my life? Because hell yeah it was."

"No. But thanks. It's simpler." Another pause. "Your place or mine?"

Juliet grinned, and leaned in close again to whisper her answer in his ear.

Carlton put the siren on to get them there faster.

. . . . .

. . . .

. . .

[Thanks to dragonmactir, AlyshebaFan1 and Lawson227 for their unwitting participation.]