Brenda came out of her reverie and realized that if she didn't hurry she would be late for work. As she took her shower she thought about what a wonderful lover Fritz was. She had forgotten how good sex made her body feel. It seemed that every cell in her body was humming.

When she got to work she was immediately handed a new case. A Congresswoman's daughter had been raped and murdered. That evening, as Brenda was examining the crime scene for additional evidence, she was attacked and almost raped.

Back at Parker Center, after putting a butterfly bandaid on a head wound herself and discovering the bruises her attacker had left on her arms she called the one man she knew she could trust: Fritz. Even though it was late at night and she woke him from a sound sleep, the sound of her voice instantly brought him to full alert. He could hear that she was fighting back tears and immediately knew something terrible must have happened but she regained her composure without telling him what was wrong. So he got dressed and drove downtown to the Parker Center's parking garage to wait for her and take her home.

After he dressed her head wound and opened up the sleeper sofa he lay awake listening. He could hear Brenda. She moaned, cried, and whimpered in her sleep. Fritz wasn't sure what the right thing to do was but he decided against waking her up unless her crying out became louder. Gradually her agitation died down so he allowed himself to fall asleep.

In the morning he awoke to sounds of Brenda moving about the kitchen. She was fixing breakfast and the coffee smelled wonderful. So he got up, put the sofa bed back together and joined Brenda in the kitchen. She looked better than she had last night and she smiled at him so he kissed her lightly and said, "Good morning. How are you feeling?"

"Much better, thanks. I saved your things and I got out a towel and washcloth for you. Everythin' is on the counter in the bathroom."

"Thanks. A shower would feel really great about now."

While eating breakfast, Fritz asked, "Do you think you ought to have your doctor look at that head wound?"

"No, I think it'll be ok. Thanks for patchin' me up. You did a great job," Brenda smiled at him.

"Ok, but if you get a headache, maybe you should see a doctor. Are you going into work today?"

"Yes. The guy who did this to me isn't the same one who killed my victim so I have to keep workin'," Brenda explained.

They both put their dishes in the sink and Fritz turned and gave Brenda another light kiss. "Call me later. I want to know how you're holding up."

"Ok. Thanks for last night. You were a big help. Bye."

"Bye," and Fritz was out the door.

By nightfall he hadn't heard from Brenda so he drove back to Parker Center and up to the Murder Room to check on her. She looked more like her old self and seemed embarrassed that she had thrown herself so totally into her case that she forgot to call him. While he would have appreciated a call, he thought that her throwing herself completely into her work probably was a good sign.

Brenda worked through the night to catch the man who caused the murder and obtain his confession. When morning came she called Fritz and asked him to have breakfast with her.

As she drove to the restaurant to meet him, she thought about Fritz's words to her: "Being needed. That's the next best thing to being wanted, isn't it?"

"Do I want him or do I need him? And where does one begin and the other leave off?" She decided that, while she had needed him last night, she didn't really need him. She could survive on her own if she had to. No. It was actually more of a want. She wanted him in her life. She wanted his friendship. She wanted to date him. And she wanted more great sex. She would find a way to let him know without giving away her heart. "I have to keep my guard up," she resolved.

After breakfast Fritz invited her to catch dinner that night. "Oh, Fritz, I'm sorry but I just can't. I'm exhausted. I don't think I could hold my head up. I think I really just need to take a long, hot bath and go to bed early." She wanted nothing more than to go out with him again but she knew she was vulnerable right now and she was still feeling rattled, stiff, and sore. She needed a little more time to pull herself together.

"I understand. And I agree. A hot bath and an early bedtime would be the best. Maybe in a couple of days you'll feel more like going out."

"I'd like that. And thanks for understandin'."

And he did understand. He wanted her to have whatever she needed to recover both physically and emotionally. "I'm no expert but I think if she knows that I am there for her in every way, that will help her," he reasoned as he drove to work. "I'll keep checking in with her."

He called her at work a few days later and asked about Friday night. "Does dinner and a movie sound good to you? Oh, I forgot. You don't go to movies. How about just dinner, then?"

Despite her need to protect herself she heard her voice betraying her, "I'd like to go to a movie, if there's a good one. Not somethin' that shoots someone or blows somethin' up every thirty seconds."

"Ahh. You want a chick flick. We can check what's playing and decide at dinner. How does that sound?"

"Ok. Dinner and who-knows-what movie Friday night."

"I'll pick you up at 7:00. Ok?"

"That sounds good. See you Friday night."

Pope entered her office just in time to hear Brenda's last sentence. "Got a date for Friday night?"

He was the last person that she wanted to discuss her social life with so she put her smile back in place and asked, "Can I help you, Will?"

"Oh, yes," Pope snapped back into Assistant Chief mode. "I want to hear more about the confession you got this morning. The reporters are calling."

Brenda updated him on the case and concluded by saying "But you already know this. You were in the electronics room when the wife confessed. The official transcript of the confession should be ready soon. I'll send a copy of it up to your office right away."

"Yes, but," Pope recovered. But just as he was about to continue Capt. Taylor appeared in the doorway and said, "Excuse me, Chief Johnson, but Robbery Homicide has a problem. Chief Pope, can I see you for a minute?"

"Certainly, Captain. No problem," Brenda replied. Then she turned back to Will and said, "I'll see if I can put a rush on that transcript for you."

Chief Pope nodded and he and Capt. Taylor left her unit. Brenda watched them leave. She was completely annoyed with Will. He had just come up with a lame excuse to try to get information about her dating life. She was sure of it. "Go home to Estelle, Will. You made your choice. I'm not gonna repeat a really bad mistake."

That evening, as she ate her TV dinner, she wasn't thinking about Will Pope. Instead memories of Fritz Howard filled her mind and body. She sighed with contentment. "He's such a great guy. And a real gentleman, too. Not to mention a great lover," Brenda sighed again. "There's nothin' better in the whole world than great sex," she told Kitty. "It even beats chocolate."

The remainder of the work week was somewhat boring. There was very little activity for her squad so on Thursday, much to the irritation of Capt. Taylor, Chief Pope told her to take a case from Robbery Homicide which he said was beginning to draw media attention. As Brenda reviewed the file she saw several glaring omissions in Robbery Homicide's investigation. "I will never understand how Ross was promoted to Detective. He should be workin' parkin' meters," Brenda muttered in disgust. And, as she anticipated, her squad solved the case in under twenty-four hours.

At the end of the day on Friday, Will came into Brenda's office to thank her for solving the case so quickly. "You kept the press from bashing the LAPD again," he praised her.

"It was nothin', Will. It was an easy case to solve." Brenda resisted the urge to openly criticize Robbery Homicide's mishandling the case but she was sure her point was made.

Will then started in on small talk that irritated Brenda. She was sure he was just trying to stall her leaving to get ready for her date. "I've got to go, Will. Have a good weekend," she said breezily and she grabbed her purse and left him sitting in her office.

Brenda stood in her underwear staring at the contents of her closet. "Why is it that this closet is full and I can't find anythin' to wear?" she muttered then pulled out a pair of beige slacks, studied them for a minute and and put them on. She looked at her row of tops before settling on a coral cashmere sweater and a light brown jacket which she put next to the door so she wouldn't forget it. Then she checked her hair and makeup, changing her lipstick twice before she decided on a brown lipstick.

"Go slow, Fritz, slow and easy," he reminded himself driving toward Brenda's home. "She's not ready to be swept off her feet." While she still refused to talk about whatever happened he was pretty sure that rape was involved. And, though he didn't know whether it was attempted or had actually happened, he knew that putting any kind of pressure on her would not be a good thing. No matter how normal she seemed, he hoped he could strike a balance between being an attentive date and a good, helpful friend. And, as much as he wanted it, he knew that sleeping with her so soon was definitely the wrong thing to do. "This could take a long time. I have to let her take the lead on that," he reasoned to himself.

Right at 7:00, Brenda heard a knock on her door. "Coming," she called out and moved toward the door while putting on her other earring. Fritz looked so sexy in his jeans and leather jacket that she had to fight to keep from smacking her lips. "It's so unfair that men don't have to spend nearly as much time gettin' ready for a date," Brenda thought as she smiled at him.

Fritz took one look at her and said "You look great." Then he took her jacket from the chair and helped her put it on.

Dinner was at a casual restaurant that was known for great burgers. Brenda pretended to study the menu while actually enjoying watching the teenage waitress shamelessly flirt with Fritz. Fritz saw Brenda trying to keep from laughing and, after the waitress took their drink orders and left, said "So, you love watching me twist in the wind, huh?"

"I figured that since you're a big FBI man that you could handle that particular jailbait without my help," Brenda shrugged. "Oh, wait... Was I supposed to arrest her for you?"

"That would have been helpful," Fritz pretended to be hurt by Brenda's failure to rescue him. "The least you could have done would have been to whip out your handcuffs and march her off to juvie." They both laughed.

Fritz changed the subject. "If you're not busy on Sunday I'd like to take you up to see Santa Barbara."

"You mean Stepford?"

"Yes, that's right. But don't worry. I'll bring you back with your soul intact."

"Now how could I pass up an opportunity like that?" Brenda smiled at him.

Their Diet Cokes arrived and they both placed the rest of their order.

After a movie that Brenda thought was incredibly unrealistic, and therefore as boring to her as it probably was to Fritz, he asked her if she'd like to stop and get something to eat.

"I'm not hungry. That burger and popcorn filled me up. But we can stop if you want somethin'."

"No, I guess not," he replied.

In the car they talked about the movie and laughed because some scenes were so ridiculous. Fritz said "If that's the kind of movie women like, I can see why you don't go to movies."

"I don't dislike movies. I just don't like bad ones. And I can never find the time for the good ones," Brenda explained.

"In the spirit of all work and no play we'll have to try again, then. And I'm sure we can pick something better than that one tonight."

"I'd like that." Brenda's smile was meant to encourage him.

When they got to Brenda's front door, Fritz took her key and unlocked the door for her and handed the key back to her. Before she could ask him to come in, he smiled, told her that he really enjoyed spending the evening with her, kissed her, said goodnight and that he'd pick her up at 10:00 Sunday morning and left her standing on her porch.

Brenda was disappointed that he left. But she knew that it was probably for the best since it was important that she take things slowly. "Slowly? Two dates in one weekend? Slowly? Really?" Brenda thought, more amused than irritated with her lack of resolve where Fritz Howard was concerned.

Brenda spent Saturday cleaning and doing laundry. She also called her mama and told her that she would not be home tomorrow for their normal Sunday afternoon chat because she was driving up to Santa Barbara with an old friend. Even though Mama tried her best, she could not get any information from Brenda about her "friend". Since the only chance she had to succeed when she lied to her mother was on the phone Brenda insisted that this was just an old friend she'd reconnected with when she moved to Los Angeles and there was nothing romantic involved. Although Mama wasn't really convinced, she knew Brenda wasn't going to give any more information so she began talking about flying out to Los Angeles to visit her daughter and see her new home. Brenda couldn't think of a way to tell her mama no without hurting her feelings so she ended the conversation by telling her that something was boiling over on the stove and she had to go.

Sunday morning, Fritz showed up promptly at 10:00 for their drive up to Santa Barbara. As they drove, Fritz told her that he'd brought along a surprise for her. This piqued her curiosity. "Is it bigger than a breadbox?" Brenda teased.

"I don't know. To tell you the truth I don't think I've ever seen a breadbox," he admitted.

Brenda laughed. "I think my grandmother had one. At least I think that's what it was. I think she kept bread in it."

"Well, how big was it?"

"I can't remember," Brenda laughed again.

They drove along chatting and laughing. As much as the roads would allow, they hugged the Pacific ocean. Fritz pulled over at several scenic spots so Brenda could see and appreciate the beautiful California coastline.

Finally they drove off the road and parked along a stretch of sandy beach. "It's time for your surprise," he said. They got out and Fritz opened the trunk and pulled out a picnic basket, a small cooler, and a blanket. He had stopped at a deli and picked up sandwiches, chips and cold drinks. And, because he knew Brenda's weakness, he also bought brownies.

After their leisurely picnic lunch Fritz drove into Santa Barbara and parked. They strolled the streets and poked their heads into the shops and just enjoyed the warm, sunny day. On the drive back to Los Angeles Brenda commented that every woman she saw was beautiful but there was a similarity to them all that she found strange. "You know, I think too much perfection isn't really perfection at all," Brenda commented.

"It's like Stepford, all right," Fritz agreed. "Some people's values are really skewed."

"It's a beautiful community but even if I fit in there I wouldn't want to live there," she said.

"Me neither. I love the diversity of LA."

It was dark when Fritz pulled up in front of Brenda's house. And once again he thanked her for a lovely day, kissed her and left. After she was inside the house, Brenda began wondering whether Fritz really liked her all that much. On one hand he kept asking her out, but on the other he didn't seem to want to sleep with her again. And this both disappointed and irritated her. "I spent all day yesterday cleanin' my house for nothin'," Brenda fussed.

When she returned to work the next day, she didn't have much time to think about Fritz. Besides routine police work, Will told her that the Chief had ordered an audit of her unit. Will explained, "He needs to make a presentation to the Police Commission and the legislature. He wants to be able to show statistically that your unit is solving crimes. Our future funding depends on it so get your unit's cases in order for the auditors."

"How far do I have to go back?" Brenda asked.

"To the beginning of the unit."

Brenda wasn't quite sure what needed to be done as her cases were always in order for the DA's office so she launched into reviewing the unit's cases prior to her arrival and making sure everything in those case files was complete and logically organized.

As she worked, it seemed to her that Will was making excuses to come to her office. Most of his issues were petty and seemed irrelevant. "They could be dealt with over the phone or with an email," Brenda thought. But even though she became more and more irritated with each interruption, she just pasted her smile on and answered his question of the moment.

But the next time he entered her office he invited her to have lunch with him saying that he needed to discuss staffing. Brenda wasn't fooled. She just kept her smile in place while she told him that she was busy working on meeting the Chief's deadline and that her team had already ordered lunch. After he left her office, she picked up her phone and called Gabriel asking him to please order lunch for the unit. Her treat. So Sanchez and Buzz were dispatched to go to the food truck down the street and bring back tacos and burritos for everyone.

On Wednesday, her phone rang. She was glad to hear Fritz's voice. He asked her out for dinner on Friday. She was delighted to say yes and for the first time all week, her smile was genuine.

At the end of the day on Friday, Brenda fairly bolted from her office before Will could make another useless appearance. She hastily said goodnight to a startled Buzz when she almost ran him down in the hallway. She managed to catch the elevator and was soon on her way home to get ready for her date.

When Fritz took her home after dinner and dancing, Brenda was ready. Before he could say goodnight she invited him in and he gladly accepted. Brenda's heart was racing, but it wasn't the wine she had at dinner. It was sitting on the sofa with Fritz's arm around her that caused it. It was his nuzzling her hair and ear that caused it. And it was his kiss that drove her over the edge. Once again she wanted to be on top as they kissed. And once again the result was that they spent the night in bed with very little sleep.

Brenda awoke first. She turned and looked at Fritz. His head was turned toward her so she lightly kissed him and brushed his hair back. He awoke and put her on her back with a deep kiss. One thing led to another and hour later, she pushed him away and headed for the shower. When she entered the kitchen she found Fritz cooking bacon and eggs. The coffee pot had finished brewing so she poured them both a cup. Fritz moved to her, put his arm around her and gave her another deep kiss. He continued to hold her as he buried his face in her damp hair and said, "Mmmmm. You smell wonderful."

Brenda put her arms around his neck and said, "New shampoo. It was on sale. It's in the shower so feel free to use as much as you want."

Fritz laughed. "Are you telling me that I smell?"

"Not at all. I'm just sayin' that if you like the smell so much that you too can smell like camomile and flowers."

"I can't wait," Fritz replied dryly.

At breakfast, the talk turned serious. "I've been thinking about your house. You don't have any locks on your windows. Anyone could break in."

"Do you think I should call a locksmith? I wonder how much that would cost."

"Probably not terribly much but I'd be glad to do it for you. It's not a difficult job. After breakfast we can go to Home Depot and buy the locks and then I can install them for you."

"Thanks. I'd really like that."

"But I'd like to go home and change my clothes first. Would you mind?"

"No, not at all. But do you want to take your shower here first?"

"If you don't mind waiting, I would rather take it at home. I'm not sure camomile is my signature fragrance."

Brenda grinned. "No, I don't mind at all."

So they drove to Fritz's condo. As Fritz held the door open and she stepped inside, she was impressed with how neat and clean it was. As expected it was a very masculine place. "I like it, Fritz. It feels like you."

"Thanks. It's comfortable and convenient. Let me get a quick shower and then we'll be on our way. Feel free to look around all you want."

So, while Fritz showered, she did exactly that. When Fritz entered his bedroom with his towel around his waist, he saw that Brenda was holding a picture from his dresser. It was Fritz with his arm around a blonde woman.

"That's my sister, Claire," he explained.

"She's pretty. Is she married?"

"No, she dates but I haven't heard of any serious relationships."

"Well, I know all about that. Bad relationships too," Brenda thought, "But this one does feel different." She wanted nothing more than to rip that towel from around his waist and push him down on the bed. But her defenses kicked in and she just set the picture down and said "I'll wait for you in the living room."

After Fritz dressed he walked into the living room and looked at Brenda. Brenda saw him hesitate. "Yes, Fritz? What is it?"

"Well, I was just thinking. As much as I appreciate peach scented shaving cream, I would really rather have my own things."

"Are you asking if you can bring some of your things to my place?"

Fritz saw a moment of panic in her eyes and immediately regretted saying anything. "You know, now that I think about it, peaches are fine."

Now it was Brenda's turn to feel bad. "No. No," She shook her head. "It's fine. I mean. You having some of your things at my place doesn't mean that..." She didn't know how to end that sentence so she just bit her lower lip and looked out the window.

"I think it would mean that we really like each other and we both want to see where this will go," Fritz replied gently.

Brenda couldn't think of the right thing to say so she just nodded and said, "It might be good. I'm almost out of disposable razors."

Fritz put his arm around her and said, "In that case I think bringing my own razor would be a big help." Brenda gave him a fleeting smile and nodded so he continued, "Thank you. I really would like to." And he packed up a few things and threw them into the back seat of his car.

They spent the day installing locks on all of Brenda's windows. That evening they ordered a pizza and spent the evening watching a movie Fritz had stopped to rent. Even though it was an Oscar winner, neither Fritz nor Brenda saw too much of it. And they both missed the ending.

The next morning, Brenda again awoke first. She watched Fritz sleeping and wrestled with her growing feelings for him and her need to move very cautiously. But even as she realized the need to keep up her guard she could not deny that she really wanted her relationship with this man to work. She felt completely comfortable with him and she felt safe with him. Besides her father and brothers he was the only man she knew she could trust.

"I know he'll hurt me. Every man winds up hurtin' me," Brenda thought. "But he's a good man and I know when it comes, it won't be deliberate. He would never hurt me deliberately. He's kind and he knows how to treat me right."

So, even though she was still determined to guard her heart, she realized that he was the one man who didn't make her hide. She could drop her mask.