CHAPTER FIVE: The Last Talk
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She asked Gus why they kept the secret, the three of them.
He said it was to save Carlton's pride, to keep her from seeing how ugly the whole thing was, and to stop Shawn from making it worse.
She asked him why they thought she would be upset to learn Carlton cared for her.
Gus blinked and said he guessed that if a person hears something often enough, he starts to believe it. Shawn had always said Juliet would never be interested in Carlton, and Carlton certainly seemed to believe that too, so…
She asked why it was so easy for him to tell her now.
He said Shawn advised him to. Shawn had figured out she might need to know more than they needed to keep the secret. It no longer mattered that she'd see the full extent of his assery toward Carlton.
He also said somewhat fearfully that he'd really appreciate it if she didn't tell Carlton how she found out because he hadn't updated his will yet.
She hugged him and thanked him and went home.
Things made sense now. The way Carlton had behaved—the way she'd felt about it. About him.
The level of fear she felt when he was in the hospital, and the level of hurt she'd experienced as he grew distant. Her anger toward Shawn. It all made sense.
Carlton made sense.
Carlton had always made sense, only she'd lacked the sense to see it.
She only had to figure out what to do next.
But she hummed as she drove, smiling into the late afternoon sunshine, and her heart was singing.
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Lassiter paced at the bottom of the steps outside Juliet's apartment. He'd been here half an hour and he didn't know where she was but he hadn't had the nerve to text her or call her. He was just going to be here when she got home.
He was going to talk to her.
He didn't know what the hell he was going to say, but he was going to talk to her. Too much had happened for him to risk losing her the way he'd been risking it all month by keeping his distance.
Yes, it was damned hard to work so closely with the woman he loved and couldn't have, especially when she was so nice and pretty and sweet and fierce and funny and gorgeous. But he'd done it before—for years—and he could do it again. He had to shake off his fear of exposure since the fight, and he had to get them back to where they were both comfortable: partners, real partners, with a real connection, the kind that would far outlast whatever personal relationship she wound up in.
She hadn't said anything about ending it with Spencer. But he couldn't hold it against her; how approachable had he ever been about Spencer, even before the fight?
Were they really finished? Crap, what the hell did it matter? Spencer hadn't been wrong that night: she would never want him as more than a friend.
For a moment he stopped pacing and ran both his hands through his hair, terrified he had screwed everything up with her as a result of trying to protect himself.
When the green Bug finally whirred its way into the lot and into her parking spot, he went to her door at once, pulling it open, pulling her out almost before her seatbelt was undone, and saying to her startled but so damn lovely face, "You are the best friend I have ever had in my entire life, Juliet."
He put his arms around her because that seemed right, and suddenly she was clutching him and sniffling and saying she'd missed him.
His heart was pounding and he felt her arms tight and warm around his middle and for the first time in weeks, he started to relax. This was good. She was going to yell at him in a minute; he knew that perfectly well, but this was all good.
"Please come in," she said, stepping back and wiping a tear from her face. "I need to talk to you."
Yes, this would be where the yelling started.
She locked up the Bug and led the way up the stairs, and in her bright and sunny apartment he didn't know what to do with himself so he sat down at one end of her sofa, suddenly jittery again.
Juliet took off her jacket and put her service weapon away. She went into the kitchen to get them some iced tea and he followed her in, because it turned out he couldn't sit still for even one minute.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I don't know what I was thinking. I'm sorry I made you think you're not the most important person in my life." Then he blushed furiously because that sounded wrong in a lot of ways, particularly ways he hadn't intended to reveal at all.
She went pink too but then looked guilty. "I shouldn't have said it. I was just hurting, Carlton, because I missed you, and I lashed out and I'm sorry."
He looked at her looking back at him, and she closed the refrigerator door and stepped a little closer.
Please don't do that. I could go off at any second and if I do I don't know what will happen. I only know I can't lose you. You have to be in my life.
"What are you thinking?" she asked in a whisper. "Your eyes are showing a hundred different emotions."
Lassiter wondered how he'd been so icy calm the night of the fight and yet was so terrified right now, in front of this slim and beautiful young woman. Yes, she was good with a gun, but the damage she could do to him didn't involve bullets.
What he said, again, he did not expect. "Please don't ask for a new partner."
She was shocked. "I wouldn't."
"I couldn't take it. I'd have to leave here."
"Don't do that." Her eyes were wide. "Carlton, you're the only partner I want."
Relief flooded him, and he sank into a chair at her table. Juliet came to stand beside him, one hand on his shoulder. "Thank you," he managed.
"Why would you doubt it?"
"Because I've been a jerk to you all these weeks."
"No, you haven't. You've just been distant. Regrouping."
Lassiter puzzled over that. "Regrouping." She was right, in a way, only his intent had been to regroup privately, not in a way to make her think she didn't matter to him.
"It's okay, you know." She sat in the chair across from his and reached over to take his hand, and her touch was simply perfect. "I understand now."
"You understand… now?"
Juliet looked down for a moment, and added softly, "I might as well confess. Gus told me about the fight after I left the station."
For a long time, Lassiter could only stare at her.
Then he stood up rapidly. "I have to go." He was at the front door two seconds later, but Juliet's voice, anxious behind him, stilled his hand on the knob.
"Carlton, please. Don't leave. Don't run."
His heart was rattling in his chest and the flight instinct was unbelievably strong, but when he turned to face her, her smile was gentle—not mocking, not pitying—and he felt the panic recede slightly.
She tilted her head. "Unless you were just going to go shoot Gus. He thought you might."
"Guster was always the weak link," he managed. "But ammo's expensive."
"Come on, Carlton," she pleaded, her hand extended.
He looked at her, and loved her, and was utterly terrified, and flight won out.
He turned the doorknob, but the next thing he knew she had grasped his wrist firmly and yanked him off balance, and against all odds given his training and self-defense skills, he was flat on his back, on the floor, with Juliet sitting on his stomach, hands gripping his shoulders.
"Okay then." She was barely out of breath, and she was still smiling. "Now we can talk."
Trying to catch his breath, and more than a little pissed off, Lassiter snapped, "First Spencer sucker-punches me, now you throw me down. What's next? The biscuit lady dangling me by my ankles?"
Juliet laughed. "No. This is just a friendly chat."
She was a warm and not-at-all-unpleasant weight on his body, her thighs tight to his sides, and the light in her eyes was… well, it was doing things to him. Not slowing his heart rate, to be sure, but definitely doing things.
"O'Hara, let me up."
"I can't, Carlton. You'll only run again. Just like you've been running all month."
He glared at her. She was right, but did she have to be right?
"I didn't know you were running from me, though. I mean I guess I did, on some level, but I thought it had more to do with me dating Shawn. Which I'm not anymore," she added.
"I heard that."
Juliet frowned. "You did?"
"Spencer told me."
"You talked to him?"
"He and Guster ambushed me outside my condo last week." How surreal was this, having an apparently calm conversation while she sat on him?
Immediate concern colored her tone. "How did it go? Was he… oh, Carlton, the things he said to you that night. Gus told me. They were awful."
Calm was but a memory. "He was drunk and lashing out. It's nothing I haven't heard before. O'Hara, could you please get off of me?"
"No. How was the conversation last week?"
"Civil. He apologized."
Her eyes grew wide. "He did? That's something."
You're something. "Guster looked like he thought I was going for my gun."
Now she smiled. "You were thinking about it."
"I'm thinking about it now," he growled.
"Oh, you are not. Just settle down." She relaxed her grip on his shoulders slightly, but if anything, she only tightened her thighs around him. "We're making progress."
"Carlton, relax. You're in a good place now."
"Not as good as I'd like," he muttered, and just as it had the night of the fight, his training finally kicked in. He bumped her butt with his knee, which jerked her forward so her hands slipped off his shoulders, and then used the bridge-and-roll technique to flip her onto her back so he was on top.
Usually a 'perp' would immediately try to get out from underneath. Juliet, however, linked her ankles behind his thighs, slid her arms around his neck, breathed, "Not how I imagined our first kiss, but whatever," and pulled his head down to her perfect mouth.
It wasn't exactly how he'd imagined it either, in terms of circumstances and physical positioning, but after a few seconds of shock none of that really mattered, because the sensation of her mouth against his obliterated his awareness of everything else.
Soft and hot and seeking, Juliet explored him with her lips and tongue, as if she were trying to learn everything about him from one long, succulent kiss, and if he had secrets from her, he didn't even know what they were himself.
He kissed her back because she was utterly irresistible and delicious. Cradling her head in one hand, feeling the softness of her golden hair, he let her fingers slip into his own hair, gently seeking the faint scars from the fight, caressing him and moving her mouth to kiss him there, while he sought out the silk of her jaw and throat.
Their bodies were illicitly close, and Juliet unhooked her ankles only so she could run her feet up and down his calves.
Lassiter felt himself trembling against her, and Juliet's beautiful dark blue eyes went wide when she felt it.
"Carlton. Tell me you love me."
"You already know," he said hoarsely, and tried to roll off her.
"No… no, stop it!" She clutched at him, and he gave up, sinking back down against her warmth. "God, you are making this so hard." Holding his head alongside hers, she nibbled at his earlobe tantalizingly and then whispered, "In the past six weeks I have learned a lot of things about myself. Things which were true for a long time but which I wasn't able to see until the night you fought with Shawn."
He lifted his head and looked at her, and the terror and anger turned into… terrified, angry hope.
Juliet smiled tremulously. "I learned that the thought of losing you was the most horrifying thing ever to cross my mind. My heart." She stroked his face gently. "And as the weeks have gone by, it's been clearer and clearer that everything I've ever wanted, or needed—everything which completes me—is wrapped up in you. If you hadn't spent so much time shutting me out, it wouldn't have had to be Gus who told me how you felt. It could have been you."
Words failed him.
But he knew how to kiss.
And Juliet welcomed him to her, and Lassiter let all his love for her show in how he kissed her, mouth and cheeks and throat, temples, eyelids. Gentle, light kisses, precious for the woman who held his heart.
"Yeah," he breathed. "It could have been me."
"Don't kill Gus." She stroked back his hair. "Just tell me you—"
"I love you," he interrupted.
"I know," she said happily, and kissed him.
Lassiter had to laugh then; it was all so ridiculous. "Off the floor," he suggested, easing off her.
She let him help her up and they moved to the sofa, where she immediately got him out of his jacket and holster and then worked her way into his lap.
"Damn, woman, you move fast."
"Have to. You run fast," she countered, fingers playing with the buttons of his shirt. Her face was aglow and he couldn't help but kiss her rosy mouth. "You also adapt fast," she sighed.
He trailed a fingertip along her jaw. "This is the part where I ask if I'm dreaming."
She turned her head to kiss that roving fingertip.
"Because I've loved you a long time, Juliet, and never once thought you could ever feel the same way."
Juliet tilted her head back and studied him. "How is it you can be so brave in the field and so… afraid of something like this?"
He covered her hand where it now rested against his chest. "I would take a hundred more skull fractures over one chance you could break my heart."
She leaned forward—up—and kissed his face. "I will never break your heart, Carlton. It's wrapped up too tightly with mine now."
Still he had questions. He couldn't help it. "What about Spencer? You really broke it off?"
"I didn't want him," she said simply. "I hadn't for a long time."
"But when did you start… thinking… about…" He stopped. Too hard to say.
Her smile was knowing. "It's more like when did I start feeling about you. And I know now it was the instant Gus told me you were unconscious. We've both been injured in the line of duty before but we were always together when it happened and I could see you were all right even when I was terrified. But that night—and maybe it was hearing the fear in Gus' voice—it was too much. I probably did ninety miles an hour to get to the hospital. Pissed off a bunch of nurses too, insisting on seeing you."
Lassiter remembered something, something he thought he'd only dreamed. "Did you come to my room? Did you kiss me on the cheek?"
"Yes." She was slightly pink. "I held your hand too. You were awake?"
"Not really—I thought it was a dream. Something I wanted to be true." He kissed her forehead. "Like this."
"This is true, Carlton." Sweet lips moving against his, desire evident in the heat of her kiss.
"How the hell," he muttered against her, "did you get me down on the floor?"
She laughed, tickling his ear and making him shiver. "Sheer determination."
"Did I hurt you when I rolled you over?" He hadn't considered it at the time and now he felt guilty.
"No. I liked being underneath you." Her eyes were alight. "I hope to be there again soon."
A flush of desire suffused him, and he kissed her hard, but she gave back as good as she got, and good wasn't the right word at all.
Stupendous was more like it.
Juliet slid her hand between the buttons of his shirt and found his bare skin, and that little taste of arousal a minute ago was nothing compared to what he felt now.
She twisted herself around so she was straddling his lap, not breaking the kiss, and pulled her blouse free of her slacks without waiting for his assistance.
Lassiter kissed the column of her throat and then each bit of skin her unbuttoning fingers revealed, and she rested her elbows on his shoulders, breathing fast and sighing as his mouth moved across her skin.
"None of this can possibly be real," he murmured in the moment before his lips grazed her cleavage.
"Every damn bit of it is real." She got off his lap and held out her hand.
He rose unsteadily and enfolded her in his arms, kissing her deeply because he just couldn't stop. "We don't have to do this today."
Juliet took her blouse off. "No, we don't."
"You might still change your mind." He sounded somewhat strangled even to his own ears.
She made quick work of his shirt buttons. "It is an extremely remote possibility, I'll grant you that."
"You don't want to rush into anything."
Juliet smiled as she undid his belt. "I want you to rush into me."
"Just because you know I love you doesn't mean you have to—son of a bitch," he breathed when she unzipped his pants.
"Just because you know I love you doesn't mean you have to tolerate my advances," she agreed, stepped back and undid her bra, casting the wispy pink fabric to the coffee table.
He stared at her lovely nude breasts and could only think of one thing to say.
Juliet laughed and led him down the hall to her bedroom.
They didn't come out for a long time, and when they did—first to the shower and later to the kitchen—he didn't have any more doubts about her feelings, or his.
He couldn't help but think of Spencer once, Spencer as he hinted that Lassiter should tell Juliet how he felt. Like it was okay with him now.
Not that Lassiter needed his blessing—in fact he was a little annoyed that Spencer not only knew his secret but was right about what to do with it—but it would make things less stressful when Psych started working with the SBPD again, certainly for Juliet.
Plus, he was really going to have to update his self-defense training. Being taken down by both Spencer and Juliet was more than a little humiliating.
On the other hand, it meant having Juliet in his arms now, sated and glowing and utterly wonderful.
So maybe… maybe he could handle a little defeat now and then.
"Carlton? Why were you in Circles that night anyway?" She hesitated. "Were you… depressed?"
"No. I was celebrating."
Juliet frowned, surprised. "Really?"
He stroked her soft arm, reveling in the sensation of just being with her. "I was in a foul mood that morning, snapping at you and McNab and anyone else who got too close, and the fact that we didn't have time for lunch didn't help. But on your break you snuck out and got us something from a street vendor, and you made me eat, and you laughed at me when I tried to growl at you, and… you made me feel better." He smiled at her pleased expression. "You always make me feel better, Juliet. So that night I was at Circles thinking that if I had to be hopelessly in love with a woman I couldn't have, I was at the very least the luckiest damn pathetic son of a bitch in the world."
He loved that he could make her blush. She was so unbelievably pretty, and he sank back into her kisses with a complete sense of being exactly where he needed to be.
Juliet undulated against him, restless with fresh desire. "I feel the need to advance again."
"I surrender," he said at once.
Laughing, she pushed him onto his back and climbed on top of him, all silky warm seduction. "I love you, Carlton."
"I love you too."
She looked into his eyes for a long while, smiling.
"What's taking so long with the advancing?" he prompted, hands on her thighs.
"I was reveling," she admitted. "Hearing you say you love me. I like it."
"I love you," he said again, more softly. "You're every dream come true, Juliet."
"I even like my name better when you say it." She bent to kiss him, brushing her lips against his all-too-briefly.
How would you feel about Juliet Lassiter, he wondered.
"And now I'm going to advance on you until you beg for mercy," she declared.
Surrender had never felt so right.
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