White Collar

This one's for Peggy and Pamela - and all the friendly words and encouragement. Thanks, guys,

Lisa.


Just a Feeling

Later, when it was all over, she would say it was just a feeling. Just a feeling which made her cancel her flight and turn around and come home…


Prologue

There it was. What the hell was wrong with Peter? Neal watched with a sinking feeling. The whole thing was blown wide open and it was high time they made their escape. Too late… he made a move for the open door as Berrigan and her team appeared from nowhere. Maybe, just maybe, they could still pull this off and get out of here with their lives.

"You did this," O'Hara, it seemed, had other ideas, as he pulled out a Glock from his waistband. He pointed the weapon straight at Neal's chest, and there was no compromise on his face.

"Run, Neal!"

He saw Peter lurch into the Irishman and somehow the bullet burned past him. The world stopped and then spun in slow motion as both men sprawled flat on the ground. His ears rang from the staccato burst of shooting and someone was shouting instructions. O'Hara's goons were firing back determinedly and the stench of cordite hung in the air.

Almost there… he just about made it, diving wildly for any kind of cover. He slid towards a group of tables in the corner when the shock of hot lead tore through his flesh…


Part One

El paused and rechecked her boarding pass. The taxi was due within minutes. She made a face at herself in the mirror and carefully patted her hair. Not too shabby… she told her reflection before turning round and calling up the stairs.

"Aren't you going to kiss me goodbye? Come on, hon, your eggs are getting cold."

What on earth could be keeping him? She felt a mild stab of impatience. Peter was usually up with the lark and very rarely ran late. Her annoyance faded almost instantaneously as she recalled him getting home after midnight. His team had been working around the clock on their latest high-profile case. A small sense of disquiet washed over her. Peter had been exhausted, almost haggard. He had been running on fresh air and adrenalin and today would be more of the same.

"Hey, you," the object of her thoughts swung cheerfully down the stairs and planted a swift kiss on her cheek. "I would make that a bit more substantial, but I'd hate to mess up your hair."

"To hell with my hair."

Reaching out, she grasped hold of his shirt front and impulsively pulled him in closer, her need for him both swift and unexpected, stopping him dead in his tracks. They clung together longer than intended. God, her husband was one hell of a kisser, moving jointly with a practised fluidity as their bodies pressed up against the wall.

"Sweetheart," his voice was low and gravelly. "How could you do this to me?" He rocked backwards and looked at her longingly, his pupils wide and smoky with desire. "Talk about a bit more substantial - that was really worth coming downstairs for. I'd like to drag you back up them again. Are you quite sure you have to go now?"

"I love it when you go all caveman on me," she tilted her head seductively. Her smile faded as she looked a little closer and another lurch of worry rocked her world. She wished she could shake off the sudden twist of doubt which had taken root in her stomach. "Lucky for both of us it's only a week. I just wanted to leave you with a promise. A little something to remember me by."

"I think you succeeded," he spoke softly, a regretful smile quirking his lips.

Running her hands around the back of his neck, she was intent on prolonging their encounter, but then she frowned as she realised how cold he was and stepped back to study his face. Why hadn't she noticed how run down he looked? She was dismayed at her lack of attention. He'd been working so hard on this counterfeit scam and burning the candle at both ends. She had been equally rushed off her feet, getting ready for the Detroit symposium. With a possible five hundred delegates it had been taking up most of her time.

"What's the matter?" Peter ribbed her gently, "having second thoughts about your hair?"

"Are you okay, hon?" She didn't pull any punches, and to be honest, she was concerned about him. He was so single-minded and focused when he got too wrapped up in a case. She trailed her hand over his forehead. "It's just that you look a little pale."

His tone was teasing, "Worried about me?"

"Always," she looked up at him soberly. "Every second of every day you're apart from me. We've barely spent a minute together since you and Neal began working this case."

"I know," his eyes clouded over. "The hours have been pretty antisocial. I have some time owing when it's all over - maybe then we could get away. There's that inn you like up in the Hampton's…"

"Oh, honey," she wrapped both arms around him. "A few days on our own would be great."

The taxi interrupted them this time and Elizabeth pulled reluctantly away. Peter was adorably rumpled from their kiss, his tie askew from where she had grasped it. She reached up and straightened it carefully and then rested her hand on his skin. His carotid pulse jumped beneath her fingertips. It was sensual and incredibly reassuring. She lingered for a few seconds longer and Peter stood quite still and let her. He smiled down at her gently, a questioning look on his face.

"El?"

She picked up her bag with a shaky laugh. "Don't mind me, I'd better get going. There's no need to carry my suitcase, I'll call you when I reach my hotel."

But he did of course, loading it into the trunk and ignoring her half-hearted protests. They kissed once more as she got into the cab and then whispered their hurried goodbyes. She waved to him all the way down the street until the taxi swung around the corner, and then settled back against the upholstery, an unwarranted tear in her eye.

Stupid, she was being so stupid. Seven nights suddenly seemed like a lifetime. She was already suffering from separation anxiety. He was a big boy, he would manage just fine.


When the cab disappeared, he went back inside. The house seemed impossibly empty. She'd only been gone a few moments, but something elusive was missing. A faint perfume of sandalwood lingered and Peter inhaled it nostalgically. The woody scent was so irrefutably her… a last trace of El in the air.

He paused and considered his choice of words. They sounded like an ending - so final. As though she had left him forever and would never return home again.

He wandered through into the kitchen and stared at the eggs on the table. They were cold, just as El had cautioned him, and already congealed on the plate. His stomach lurched just for a second with a horrid sort of seasick feeling. Closing his eyes, he leaned up against the counter, a cold sweat breaking out on his face. It took a while for the room to stop swaying and the vertigo to finally dissipate. His gut began clenching and roiling in waves as he fought the urgent need to be sick.

Tired. It was just he was so damned tired. This case was really taking it out of him. The counterfeiting scam was linked to money laundering and the treasury guys were breathing down his neck. They'd spent weeks on fruitless surveillance with no let up in the intensity. He'd been off his game for the last day or two and trying to hide it from El.

God, El… that had been one hell of a kiss, and it made him feel better remembering. For a minute he thought he'd been rumbled and some sixth sense might force her to cancel. She was just too darn smart, he thought ruefully, and he was lousy at keeping things from her, but this symposium would be great for business and he didn't want her to miss it for him.

Liar.

He was such a bad liar. Peter thought of his warm bed longingly. It would be heaven to crawl under the duvet and spend a day being babied by his wife. As dreams went, it was up at the top of the list, but he needed to get with the programme. The day ahead of him was pretty important. With any luck, he could close this damned case.

Forcing himself, he picked up his breakfast and looked across at a hopeful Satchmo. He was surprised at how much it hurt to bend down as he scraped the cold eggs off the plate. He straightened up with a small grimace and pressed his hand under his ribcage. His belly felt surprisingly tender bearing in mind he hadn't eaten for hours.

"Better not tell her about this or we're both going to be in big trouble."

Satchmo gave him a conspiratorial glance and proceeded to demolish the evidence. Peter watched him, feeling suddenly guilty, and then realised he was going to be late. He reached for a large glass of water and then ransacked the kitchen drawers for some Tylenol. The meeting ahead was a tricky one and he needed to be on good form. The last words rang a little hollow when he considered the way he was feeling. Truth be told, all he really wanted was to turn around and head back to bed.

A few more minutes and he would have been done for if El had returned to the kitchen, but the kiss had turned out to be lucky in many more ways than one. He'd been dry-heaving up in the bathroom, trying to keep the noise down to a minimum, fighting hard to control the nausea until El was safely out of the way. Thank god for toothpaste and mouthwash… he'd been surprised by the strength of her passion, and then her lips had worked some kind of witchcraft and he'd had a timely escape.

His wife had the sharpest eyes in the world and would have made an excellent agent. She would have noticed he felt sick in a heartbeat and demanded a thorough explanation. Not that he had one, other than the tiredness. He must have picked up some kind of stomach bug - probably his own fault for leaving his lunch in the car and then eating it late in the day.

There was nothing quite like day-old warm sandwiches…

His cell jumped with an in-coming text. Peter picked it up and quickly scanned the message; 'Coffee's getting cold – where are you?'

He made a face and went to pick-up Neal.

TBC


Lisa Paris - 2012