AN: If the chapter title didn't give you enough of a clue, yes, we're still in the M territory. What? You didn't think they were done, did you?

Juliet rose, her knees burning with a pleasant ache and the rest of her body throbbing with unsatisfied lust. Ducking beneath the shower's spray, she quickly soaped and rinsed her body and lathered up her hair, knowing she had to work fast. He was still recovering, poor baby, slumped back against the tile, his eyes closed and chest heaving, but she knew that wasn't likely to last long. Nor did she want it to.

Closing her eyes, she tilted her head back, smiling at the feel of the reasonably hot water running through her hair and down her back. A sizeable water tank, then. Good to know. They'd have to do something about that shower curtain though—a sturdier rod at the very least. Otherwise, they'd be doing a lot of spackling of walls and mopping up of floors after the fact because shower sex with Carlton? Was definitely going to become a regular thing.

Warm hands lit on her waist, eliciting a sharp gasp. Opening her eyes, she met Carlton's gaze, her breath catching in her throat at the searing blue intent reflected in them. She stared up at him, at the tiny water droplets clinging to his spiky black lashes and the straight line of his lowered brows as his gaze raked over her body, intensifying her awareness that she hadn't yet experienced the same sort of release he'd enjoyed. One hand rose to his cheek, her palm stroking the emerging beard shadow. Her skin tingled and heat pooled between her thighs as she realized what he was about to do an instant before he moved.

The tile was cool and damp against her back as he turned her, one hand anchored firmly in her hair. As he kissed her, hard and merciless, his stubble rasping her skin with a pleasant burn, his free hand lowered between her thighs, fingers immediately sinking deep and his thumb targeting her most sensitive spot with devastating accuracy. On the precipice already from hours… days of anticipation, her orgasm hit fast and hard, her cries muffled by his relentless kiss. Equally relentless, his hand continued moving between her thighs, the waves of pleasure overwhelming almost to the point of pain.

Through the pleasure she heard her own voice, but it was a voice she almost didn't recognize, begging, stop, don't stop, too much, too much… more… please, Carlton, too much… not enough… please… more…

As she writhed between him and the wall, the contrast between the cool, smooth tile and his warm, hair-roughened skin another layer of erotic sensation, he continued working her over, building her arousal back up, higher and higher… She dug her fingers into his shoulders, relishing the bunching of his muscles beneath her touch, breathing him in, tasting him as her tongue battled his and her teeth dragged across his lower lip. Gasping again as he shifted his hand to her thigh, pulling it up over his hip before reaching up to grab her arm and pull it down between them, his hand wrapping itself over hers around his renewed erection.

"Now," he growled in her ear, the first words he'd spoken since groaning her name as he'd climaxed.

Once again Juliet played her hand over his arousal, teasing the soft, impossibly hot skin, her fingertips sinking into the wet, coarse hair. She thrilled to the subtle and not-so-subtle movements she was able to inspire—the faint twitches and more obvious tremors—his body so desperate for hers. As desperate as she was for his.

"Now, Juliet." His gaze was pleading, his expression full of the same longing and love she felt.

He didn't have to tell her again.

And for all the desperation and urgency and slightly rough foreplay, their bodies coming together was the gentlest, most magical moment she'd ever experienced. She released her hold on him, bit by bit, allowing him to slowly sink into her, sighing as her body accepted his like it was meant just for him.

No other man had ever felt like him. Or, she knew with absolute certainty, ever would. Carlton Lassiter was her last.

Her only.

Holding his head steady between her hands, she gazed into the blue eyes that had always captivated her. Even when he was pissing her off to the point of physical violence, those eyes—those beautiful, blue eyes with all their shades of sky and sea—would speak volumes. Some of which she hadn't been able to understand… until now.

"I love you." Everything about him echoed his softly spoken words—the sound of his voice, his touch, the feel of his body in hers—the sensation was complete and all-encompassing.

She traced the arc of his cheekbones with her thumbs, leaned forward to gently kiss his mouth. "You are the missing piece of my heart, Carlton," she whispered against his lips. "I love you so much. Now please, love me."

She felt his body twitch deep within her in response to her words. An instant later, he moved more fully, drawing back almost completely, holding himself still for a long frozen moment, then driving forward hard, grinding his pelvis to hers and jolting her against the slick tiles. Again and again he drove into her, his mouth finding hers once more, the kisses surprisingly gentle in contrast to the motion of their lower bodies, hard and harder, the sounds of wet skin slapping together echoing through the bathroom along with their gasps and cries.

One hand firm beneath her ass, Carlton worked his other between them, stroking her to another orgasm and before that one had completely faded, building her up again, breaking their kiss to gaze into her face, clearly gauging how close she was.

She knew what he wanted—the same thing she did. Digging her fingers into his shoulders she gasped, "Now, please God, Carlton, now—" the words rising to a cry as he pushed into her and she clamped down tight. She buried her head against his neck, gasping as their bodies shuddered together for long, endless moments.

Soon, though, the shudders turned to shivers as they realized the hot water had finally run out. Reluctantly separating, they each briefly stepped beneath the tepid stream to rinse off before Carlton spun the taps closed. Stepping from the tub, he grabbed an oversized towel and wrapped it around her before gently lifting her out.

"I love you," he murmured as he rubbed the towel over her. He dried her off, paying exquisite attention to every inch of her body while repeating the words along with others—soft words about how beautiful she was, how he loved her body—explicit, sweet words detailing exactly how her body had felt beneath his touch, how he'd felt in her, that built desire all over again.

Dazed, all Juliet could think was the fallen shower curtain and wet floor could damn well wait.

They would not, in fact, get around to cleaning up the bathroom until Sunday afternoon.

Juliet lay curled on the sofa, wearing a pair of Carlton's boxers and one of his old Academy t-shirts, happily breathing of him as she dozed. Jazz drifted from the stereo, rain was drumming on the roof and Carlton was puttering in the bathroom, having insisted she rest as he put things to rights. As he'd argued when she tried to protest, he was the one who'd yanked the shower curtain off its moorings after all.

Honestly, her protests had been token at best and they both knew it. She was sore, exhausted, and had honest-to-God never felt better in her entire life. She was more than happy to bask—luxuriate, even—in all the sensations.

"Hey, I just put clean sheets on the bed. You want to move?"

She blinked sleepily and reached up to pull his head down to hers for a long, deep kiss.


Tugging harder, she drew him down to lie fully over her, a sound somewhere between a sigh and a purr escaping at the feel of his body pinning hers to the sofa. When he tried to move, to shift some of his weight off her body, she tightened her hold, sliding one leg over his to hold him in place.

"I'm heavy," he protested.

"I like it." She sighed again and something about that seemed to allow him to relax. Dropping his head to her shoulder, he peppered small kisses along her neck and collarbone, nuzzling her skin like a large, satisfied cat.

She shivered and stroked his hair, her fingers playing through the soft, wavy strands, studying the play of watery afternoon light through the black-and-silver.

"It's going to be so hard to go to work tomorrow."

His voice rumbled against her neck. "We don't have to."


"We have plenty of accrued time. We could call in. Maybe for the next week… or three."

Carlton Lassiter suggesting they play hooky? Unheard of. Next thing, he'd be making peace with squirrels and vegans. Or not. She smiled and dropped a kiss to the top of his head.

"Tempting as that sounds and believe me, it's very tempting, I don't think we should."

He rose to an elbow and looked down at her, the familiar frown drawing his brows together. "Not even for a day?"

Good heavens—now he was sounding downright plaintive. And much as she felt a distinct sense of pride that she, Juliet O'Hara, had reduced the by-the-book Head Detective of the Santa Barbara Police Department—a man who'd historically put duty and responsibility above all else—to a man willing to ditch work in order to stay naked and indulge in endless bouts of nooky, she had good reason to put the kibosh on his suggestion. A sentiment she desperately hoped he shared.

"Stop that." She rubbed gently between his brows until he relaxed, then trailed her fingertip down along the distinctive line of his nose, lifting her head to place light kisses to the freckles dotting his cheekbones. She smiled again, a small, private smile as she envisioned all the different places she'd discovered those pale, coffee-colored marks. Her favorite just might be the cluster down at the base of his spine. She'd had a lovely, lovely time this morning, playing connect the dots—with her tongue.

"This is for real, Carlton."

"I know."

"Do you? Really?"

He gazed down at her, stroking her hair back from her face with a devastatingly gentle touch. She shivered, knowing this was the real Carlton—her Carlton.

"If you'd asked me not that long ago, even, I would never have believed it." His eyes had turned deep blue, shards of silver-gray adding depth and intensity and reflecting every emotion Juliet felt. "But today, right now… hell, forever, I believe this is for real." A small, hopeful smile turned up one corner of his mouth. "I don't, however, understand why that means we can't take tomorrow."

Warmth flooded her, both at his words and the renewed sense of just how much she loved him. She wondered if that would ever get old—realizing how much she adored this man in her arms.

She suspected it wouldn't.

"Because this is our new normal." She framed his face with her hands. "We're together and we're partners—in all ways. We have to be able to conduct our everyday lives the way we always have and I think the best way to do that is to get up and go to work tomorrow and treat it like any other day. Albeit it one where we get to come home to each other." Her smile felt absurdly smug and self-satisfied, even to her, as she added, "Which will also be our new normal."

His face remained as poker still as ever, but his expressive eyes revealed his consideration of her words. Her smile deepened. The secret to remaining patient with him all these years when so few others could—her ability to read those eyes.

Stupid people, she'd often thought, but hey, her gain. They could remain blissfully ignorant while she happily lost herself for hours in that changeable blue gaze.

"What about planning to take time off?"

"Mmm…" She shifted beneath him, rubbing her thigh along his. "You have something in mind?"

"How about skiing?"

Promising… She'd never been but had always wanted to go and somehow, as with so much else, Carlton seemed to know. "Sounds fun. Especially if it also involves hot toddies and roaring fires."

He lowered his head, breath tickling the sensitive skin of her throat as he murmured, "And bearskin rugs and Jacuzzi tubs large enough for extracurricular activities." His hands stroked her sides down to her thighs, his fingertips easing up beneath the legs of the shorts. "I'll take care of the reservations tomorrow."

Juliet arched into his touch. "I do so love your ability to create a detailed plan and set it in motion."

"Not the only thing I want to set in motion."

In one smooth motion he'd rolled off the sofa and scooped her into his arms. Pausing for a moment, he looked over at the front door, then back down at her.

"You do know I'm going to carry you over that threshold one day, right?" It was phrased as a question, yet his words nevertheless reflected his belief in her assurances that what they had was real. That this was now their new normal.

Tears sparking hot at the backs of her eyes, Juliet tightened her arms around his neck and met his kiss as he continued to the bedroom.

It wasn't until much later that night—after they'd gone back to her place and picked up a few days' worth of clothes for her and gone to the grocery store to stoke up on both their favorites and returned home to make love again—that she responded to his question.


His voice was slow and sleepy, matching the intimacy of the shadowed dark surrounding them. "Yeah?"

"Let's make that one day you referred to earlier come sooner rather than later, okay?"

He didn't say anything. But then, he didn't have to.

The feel of his arms holding her tight said it all.