CHAPTER NINE

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. . .

(Note: I'm tired of Sgt. Allen—aka Officer Allen—not having a name so I'm hereby dubbing her Patricia, which is the name of the actress who portrayed her.)
. . . .

. . .

Every day Juliet entered the police station, she was aware They Could Have Found Out. Every day, until she got to her desk, exchanged smiles with Carlton, and started in on her work, she was afraid someone would drop a hint, or worse, run up exclaiming about her good news.

Carlton had found many reasons for them to leave the station lately: witness follow-up, re-checking crime scenes, talking to experts they didn't really need to meet with in person. She was grateful, accepted her cowardice, and absolutely knew this peace wouldn't last.

On Monday morning, she stopped at Booking to check for messages, and Sergeant Allen cleared her throat.

Juliet tensed, and slowly lifted her head to meet the other woman's wide-eyed gaze. "Yes?"

"Detective O'Hara?"

"Yes?"

The sergeant handed her a piece of paper. "This was in my pile of mail this morning, tucked under an ad for a new crystal store."

Taking it with a relatively steady hand, Juliet now held her… undoing.

It was a neat clipping from what had to be the Santa Clarita Signal's marriage license application notices. There, in damning black and white, was her name alongside Shawn's.

"Your pile of mail here at the station?" she clarified, again, relatively steadily.

"Yes, ma'am. First thing."

Juliet met her still-wide eyes. "Your take on it?"

Patricia Allen, for all her New Age quirkiness, was a trained police officer. She spent her days at the Booking desk instead of in a squad car, but that didn't mean she lacked either ability or sense.

"I think someone wanted me to see it."

"That's right. Someone wanted you to see it." Juliet sighed. "You want to know if it's true?"

Patricia started to nod, then turned it into a head-shake, then back to a nod, then just stopped moving completely. She said abruptly, "I was on duty when Shawn came in wearing the tuxedo last week. You didn't look very happy about it and when you walked outside with him you looked even worse. So I think…"

Juliet waited, filled with a weird mix of hope and dread.

"I think it's true," she finished.

Crap. And yet, points for her logic.

"Is it true?"

It'd be funny if it wasn't so very un-funny.

Stepping up closer to the desk, Juliet spoke in a low voice. "Yes, it's true. And it was over the same day it started. I wanted to keep my mistake quiet as long as I could but Shawn doesn't agree with me. You understand it was Shawn who planted this in your stack of mail?"

Uneasily, Patricia nodded.

"And you won't be shocked if I tell you it's because you're known as a bit of an information broker around here?" Gossip was more like it, but in truth the good sergeant could be awfully useful when a person sought information.

"I could see some people thinking that." Her tone was noticeably cooler.

Juliet braced herself. "Here's the thing. Shawn's got a lot of really good qualities but one of his strongest skills is manipulating people. He wants you to spread this around. He doesn't see how it's going to hurt or embarrass me—that's not his goal at all—but it will. Partly because I'm embarrassed about what I did, and partly because when you ask your boyfriend not to do something which is going to hurt you, the asking should be all he needs."

This earned another nod; Patricia'd had her own romantic Hindenburgs. (Sometimes the Lead Gossip got gossiped about.)

"I don't expect you to keep this a secret." She handed the clipping back. "It's a matter of public record and I'm sure people will find out anyway once the divorce proceedings start." Smoothing down her jacket, she added simply, "I just want you to remember that if you do tell, then he will have successfully played you."

Patricia's perpetually wide eyes grew even wider. Juliet gave her a faint smile and turned away.

"Detective O'Hara," she said peremptorily.

Juliet turned.

Raising her hand to show the clipping, Patricia smoothly tore it two and threw it away. "Nobody plays me, and nobody ought ever to play you," she said with satisfaction. "Don't you worry. Detective Lassiter's not the only one who can watch your back."

The relief—along with a sudden urge to hug the sergeant—was nearly overwhelming, but both the desk phones started ringing and she settled for a warmer smile and a fast retreat.

The conference room was empty and she slipped inside to get her bearings.

She couldn't believe how unsurprised she was that Shawn had done this. She knew his motives weren't evil. He probably really thought that if the word got out, enough people congratulating her and telling her "Good job! You caught yourself a real gem!" would change her mind, or at least slow her down, about terminating their so-called marriage.

But regardless of his motives, what a lousy son of a bitch.

Juliet picked up a pencil and considered stabbing the surface of the table with it, and then the chair, and then the walls, but Buzz McNab came in with an armful of folders for the filing cabinet in the corner and she dropped the pencil guiltily.

"Oh, good morning, Detective."

"Hello, Buzz. How are you?" She could pretend to be calm.

"I'm good. Um, are you okay?" He was all concern. "Can I get you anything?"

"No thanks, I'm fine. I just have a little headache and I thought I'd sit here a minute before I start the day."

"Good," he said, with apparently genuine relief. "I was worried about you last week. Sure glad to see you worked things out with Detective Lassiter."

Do not scare the deer, she thought instantly; stay neutral. "We always do."

"Well… you had me going." Then he looked embarrassed. "I mean, my mom always said I had good hearing but I swear I didn't mean to even accidentally eavesdrop. I was just getting coffee, see."

He was just getting coffee. On the other side of the glass from where she and Carlton were yelling at each other.

"I understand. It's okay. We really did work it out," she assured him.

Buzz was much relieved. "I thought so. I wasn't sure after you, um, slapped him, but Shawn said you'd both be okay."

He turned to the filing cabinet, humming, and Juliet sat for a few seconds with a great chill overtaking her, so great as to almost freeze her to the chair.

With effort, she got to her feet and went to the door, closing it securely.

"Buzz," she said mildly, belying her pounding, raging heart, "would you have a seat? There's something I need to ask you."

. . . .

. . .

Carlton saw Juliet come out of the conference room, unnaturally cool and collected, and Buzz left shortly after, looking quite the opposite.

Rising and crossing to her desk, he was struck by her body language: something was very wrong, and he recognized it from years gone by. She was pissed off, with a capital Royal.

"O'Hara."

She looked up, dark blue eyes glacial, but they warmed immediately. "Carlton."

He was about to ask lightly if she'd had a good weekend—they'd met for an early in-public, no-touching dinner Sunday afternoon—but thought better of it, because there was no time for idle chit-chat if his Juliet was upset about anything. "What's wrong?"

Juliet drew in a deep breath. "Let me organize it in my head awhile."

"Do I need to have Buzz fired?"

She laughed shortly. "No. Canonized, maybe. But not fired. I'll tell you after a while. I need to get over the urge to commit murder."

"Oookay." He'd learned one thing from his marriage which regularly served him well: when a woman said "not now," she meant "not now, dammit," and he had enough survival sense to back off and let her alone.

No way had Buzz McNab caused this ire, though. Had to be Spencer.

Over dinner she'd told him her plan was to break it off with Spencer as soon as she finished up with her lawyer on Tuesday. She'd have a plan, she'd take it to him, she'd say "goodbye," and that would be that unless he was an asshat about everything.

Which…

Yes, it was a distinct possibility.

So Carlton bided his time, 80% of his attention on his work and the other 20% focused on Juliet, who grew progressively more irritated as the morning went on.

Definitely Spencer.

They had an appointment in the district attorney's office regarding their extortioner, and Juliet didn't say much in the car, instead staring out the windows, her fingers curling around the seatbelt as if she'd like to use it as a weapon.

Whatever Spencer had done was very, very bad. Possibly a shootable offense, he reckoned, except the way Juliet looked, she'd want to do the honors herself.

"You sure you don't want to tell me about it?"

"Soon. I promise."

She kept her promises, so he told himself to relax.

With the D.A.'s people she was uncharacteristically testy, but wasn't quite rude enough to warrant a smackdown. Carlton was becoming concerned for public safety reasons, however: Juliet was, as they say, gonna blow.

She punched at the elevator door when it closed too quickly on their way out, and he had to grab her arm to stop her from going after a woman who jostled her on the sidewalk.

"Easy, O'Hara. Remember you're a sunny person at heart."

"Yeah? Well, you remember this, Carlton: the sun can also burn a person's skin off."

He let go of her arm and she instantly turned to apologize, but he waved it away. "It's okay. I know this vitriol isn't directed at me." Kinda nice, actually, that it wasn't.

"It's not. I promise." Juliet let out a breath, the color in her cheeks gradually subsiding. "And you're right; enough's enough. Take me to Psych. This will not take long." Opening her car door, she stopped to add, "But if I call you to come inside, bring your gloves and some plastic sheeting."

. . . .

. . .

Shawn's Norton was parked nearby, so she didn't bother knocking before she walked into the playroom aka office.

Shawn himself was parked in front of the TV, watching Dr. Phil, and his smile when he saw her was immediate and broad. "Jules! Honey, hey, I'm so glad you're here." He got up and moved closer as if to hug her, but she put a hand out to keep him at bay. "Um… okay, I'm sensing you're upset."

"I'll bet you are sensing that." She crossed her arms, reminding herself to take it slow. "To start off with, I'd like to sincerely thank you for the 'anonymous' clipping you left for Patricia this morning."

There was a brief pause before Shawn frowned. "Who's Patricia?"

Seven years. Seven years and he doesn't know her name? Or is this just another act?

"See, if I were in your shoes, my first question would have been, 'what clipping'?" She gave him her iciest smile.

He held up his hands. "Whoa, whoa, Jules, I don't know what you're talking about, but—"

"Save it. The clipping isn't why I'm here."

Shawn eyed her warily. "Okay."

One… two… go.

"I've thought about our wedding day a lot this past week. I thought about the lies, including the lies of omission; I've thought about the theft of my credit card and your total disrespect of my feelings at my apartment complex and in my workplace. I've tried to figure out why you've done the things you've done, and why I reacted the way I did. At various moments I've been worried, angry, frustrated or completely mystified—occasionally all at the same time. But I never, ever, stopped to ask myself one simple question."

He retreated to sit at his desk, but his hazel eyes never left hers.

"I never asked myself how you knew I was home that day."

Those hazel eyes closed momentarily, but Shawn never stayed down for long. "Well, that's easy. I—"

"No. Don't even try. There were no phone calls. There were no texts. You had no reason to think I was at home."

"I happened to drive by your place and saw your car and I—"

"Stop. You knew I was home because you went by the station to see if I'd go to lunch with you. Buzz said you were very excited about trying out the new chalupa and chimichanga place."

"Cha-chimi Jimmy's," he said softly. "Great name."

"But Buzz," she went on implacably, "who'd just witnessed a huge nasty fight between me and Carlton, told you I ran out a few minutes earlier. He was upset about what he'd seen and you convinced him to tell you all about it even though his first instinct was to protect our privacy. He told you he heard enough of our argument to know it was about you. He saw me lose control and slap Carlton, and he asked your advice as to what, if anything, he should do."

Silence from the man at the desk.

"You told him to keep it to himself, you assured him cheerfully it would all blow over, and you bopped on out of the station again."

"I don't… really… bop," he offered. "Well, maybe a little. But Jules, I swear—"

"Now here's the second part of the story. The part where, since Buzz said it was only about ten minutes after I left that you showed up, I have to wonder why I'd been home nearly an hour with my sangria before you knocked on my door. But I figured that out too, Shawn. I figured the missing time allowed you to look up the addresses and directions for the County Clerk's office and courthouse in Santa Clarita, and even the Clarita Valley Resort so you could just happen to invade Gus' weekend with Kelli. I mean, we could have gotten married anywhere. You chose Santa Clarita specifically so you could be with your best boy."

"Jules, wait."

"No. Not waiting anymore. You already knew I thought marriage was way the hell in our future. We agreed. You weren't interested either, until the minute your father told you I would never marry you—and then you just had to prove him wrong. I think you were already cooking up a way to make it happen. I don't think it was going to be that day originally. But then—" She paused for a dramatic gasp. "Then you heard about the argument. You knew it was about you and that I'd be pissed enough at Carlton to be in the mood to show him up—and there you were right, Shawn, there you were dead-on right. So boom! Improv Plan #77 goes into action. Look up addresses, work out a speech, decide to lie about the timing and nature of your fight with Henry, and show up at my door ready to pitch me a compelling set of reasons that we should marry."

He set his chin in his hands, staring at the blotter and his collection of fast food toys.

"I open the door, nearly empty bottle in hand and obviously more than tipsy, and your job just got a hell of a lot easier. You convince me to get in the car, and when we're eighty miles up the road, you lay your trap. You isolated me from the herd, and it was so time to move in."

"You make me sound evil," he said regretfully.

"That's the irony! You're not evil at all! You're just selfish and manipulative and narcissistic. None of this was about your feelings for me. This was about pride. You probably told yourself you'd been planning to marry me anyway, so why not do it now? Big deal, right?"

"Kinda," he admitted. "You are the one I want."

"Well, I'm also the one you've killed every last chance with."

He looked up sadly. "Every chance?"

"Every. Single. Chance."

Shawn's expression of pain was probably sincere. "Why didn't you tell me about the fight? Doesn't that constitute you keeping a secret from me?"

Juliet stared at him. "As soon as you got there, you immediately started begging me to come for a drive with you because you needed to talk. And see, even though I was extremely upset about my argument with Carlton, I cared enough about you to try to listen. By the way, did you ever even ask me why I was home? Why I was drinking on a workday afternoon? Initially I put it down to you being distracted and typically uninterested in what was going on with me, but now I get it. You already knew, and it was essential for you to quickly reap the rewards of my emotional distress for your own end game."

You selfish bastard.

"Honey…"

Juliet shook her head. "Tomorrow afternoon I'm seeing the lawyer again. If you have any damn sense at all, you'll just sign whatever papers come your way."

He stood up, anxiety in his body language, and started toward her.

Once more she held up her hand to forestall him. "Stop. Just stop. We're through, Shawn. Maybe, maybe someday we can be friends again, but I'm not making any promises I don't know I can keep." With a curt nod, she headed for the door.

"Jules. One question, please."

She turned grudgingly and faced the man she understood now she barely knew.

"Do you believe I love you? Do you at least know that's true?"

"Yes, Shawn. I believe you love me." Then she walked out.

. . . .

. . .

Carlton had gotten out of the Crown Vic and was leaning against the rail overlooking the ocean. The salt breeze was warm and he was trying to be patient, but patience wasn't his strong suit so he was becoming more agitated with each passing moment.

He heard a wolf whistle behind him and turned; Juliet was approaching across the gravel lot and gestured for him to follow her when she veered away from Psych and further down the beachside path.

There was an empty bench out of sight of the office—he hoped—and when he sat beside her she immediately took his hand and held it in her lap.

"Hi," he said.

She smiled, but he could see her tension. "Hi. I did it."

"The breakup or the murder?"

"The breakup. I have to admit I worked up a pretty good daydream at the station about shoving a stapler in his ear, but I swear, officer, I never laid a hand on him."

Carlton gauged her answer to be truthful; no surprise there. "You going to tell me what the final straw was?"

"Yes. That's why I'm holding on to your hand so tightly. I'd ask for your service weapon but that might be a bit extreme."

Hmmmmmm.

He listened as calmly as he could—which wasn't very calmly—to what she had to say, starting with the colossally insensitive move Spencer made via the 'anonymous' clipping left for Sergeant Allen and moving on to what she'd learned from Buzz this morning.

Once again he felt tremendous regret about their fight but on another level he understood that without it, Juliet might not be holding his hand right now. It was a convoluted and painful way to get to a Very Good Thing, but here they were.

She was peering up at him. "You okay?"

"Yeah. You?"

"I will be. I could still do some serious damage to a stapler, but I'm already feeling better." She squeezed his hand. "Tomorrow when I go see my lawyer, I'm going to tell her everything and then I'm going to ask her to give me her best advice about how to proceed. If she thinks an annulment is worth pursuing, that's what I'll do. I can handle it now. What you said is true—despite my foolish behavior that day, no amount of stupidity on my part could have landed me in this situation without Shawn lying and manipulating me every step of the way."

"That's what I wanted to hear," he said gently, and longed to kiss her.

Juliet smiled. "For the first time, I'm a little glad I slapped you."

Carlton had to smile back. "Me, too. But…"

"What is it?"

"Are you sure? About me? About us?"

Simple question. Juliet's expressive eyes studied his. "Yes."

"A week ago you were crying over Spencer."

"A week ago," she countered, "I was crying because I was angry and embarrassed and full of regrets. It wasn't a broken heart. Honestly, I'm not entirely sure whether I ever fully gave my heart to him at all."

"Are you sure?" he repeated.

He knew she understood the real question. He was afraid she might not want him when it was all over.

"Yes." She stroked his hand. "If I had any doubts about you whatsoever, I could never have made that phone call on my wedding night. You're my castle guard, remember?"

Carlton drew her fingers up to his lips for a kiss, and loved the smile which lit her lovely face.

"Until my dying day, princess."

. . . .

. . .

E.P.I.L.O.G.U.E

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. . .

Camille Hughes, after hearing Juliet's full story, thought annulment was the appropriate course of action. The sangria, the many layers of deception including the credit card theft prior to the actual wedding—it all painted a very clear picture of a woman tricked into marriage.

It wouldn't be easy, she warned. Annulments worked best when everything was cut and dried and from what she now knew about Shawn, 'cut and dried' simply didn't apply to him.

Juliet steeled herself, and did every difficult thing Camille advised her to do, and in four months, without any opposition from Shawn, her marriage had never existed, and she had the papers to prove it.

They were delivered to her on a Thursday morning at the station while Carlton was out, and she looked at them with two sets of emotions: one, regret for all that had passed with Shawn, and two, hope for her future now with Carlton.

They'd had their own rough four months. Beautiful, wonderful months, but very, very rough, because their want for each other had grown daily. He would not budge or allow her to budge: they could not sleep together until she was truly single. He wanted no taint on how their relationship began, and she knew he also needed her to take the time to be absolutely frickin' dead sure she wanted to be with him.

So they kissed, and touched, and drove each other mad, but they remained celibate. The kisses were just maddening teasers for what was to come, and each caress of his long warm fingers against what he would permit himself to touch of her skin was both delicious and utterly tormenting.

They came close, far too many times, to ripping each others' clothes off and simply having at each other, but always, one of them would douse the flame somehow (or rather, dim it; it never went completely out).

Many cold showers, he assured her. Many. She could relate.

It had also been necessary to be discreet. The news did get out about her marriage to Shawn, not by way of Sergeant Allen but rather one of the women in the business office whose mother lived in Santa Clarita and asked her about seeing that "colorful psychic guy's" name in the marriage notices.

Juliet had borne up under the talk and speculation as best she could—Carlton's steely blue glare had been a great help—but it was gratifying to note that some of the people speculating had already noticed Shawn hadn't been around since the tuxedo incident, and drew their own conclusions. After awhile, she sensed the other officers becoming a wall of support around her.

Nothing like the wall of support she got from her blue-eyed Irishman, but pretty nice.

Psych took a break from the police department, and when Chief Vick had to call them in, they worked with other detectives, and mostly off-site.

She spoke to Gus and Henry now and then. They understood, and told her he was going to be okay eventually, and she knew it was true. Shawn would always be okay.

Carlton strode into the bullpen, flashing her a smile as he went to his desk—just another day of pretending they weren't idiotically in love—and she called his desk phone as soon as he was seated.

"Lassiter," he said briskly, eyeing her across the hall.

"The castle," she said with deliberate slowness, "is safe at last."

She watched him figure this out. She watched as he sat up in the chair, wide blue gaze intent, and listened closely as he asked very softly, "It's done?"

"It's done." She held up the envelope. "The princess would like very much to be 'done' now too."

Carlton's eyebrows rose rapidly and he hung up the phone. He walked fast down to Vick's office, spoke to her, and moments later came out again, making a beeline for Juliet's desk. "We have been granted the rest of the week off. She said she didn't want to know anything about it."

Juliet smartly logged out of her laptop, snapped the lid closed, and grabbed her keys while Carlton waited impatiently.

She slid into his Fusion, not even remotely caring if anyone speculated about her Bug remaining in the police lot for a few days, and they made it six blocks before he stopped at a red light and pulled her to him for a hot and meaningful kiss. "I love you, Juliet," he sighed against her lips.

"I love you back, Carlton. Is it too soon to ask you to marry me? I promise to do it right this time."

He laughed and kissed her again, and then again until someone honked a horn behind them.

"No," he said emphatically, driving on. "It's not too soon. Besides, if the castle's safe, I'm out of a job."

"Oh, I don't think so. The princess needs a personal attendant."

"Personal?"

"Extremely personal," she assured him. "Now hurry the hell up."

Carlton put the siren on.

Juliet thought this was entirely appropriate, and spent the rest of the trip thinking up entirely inappropriate things to do to her man when they got home.

. . . . . .

. . . . .

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E.N.D