References/Spoilers/Notes: Some references to the movies. All locations in Albany are fictional.
Disclosure: I wish they were mine. Alas, they are not, so I'm just taking them out for a spin with thanks to the men who created them and the actors who brought them to life.
Summary: While Donald investigates a baffling missing persons case, Timothy does a little amateur modeling that attracts an obsessed fan. Originally published in Love Noir: A Donald Strachey Mysteries Slash Zine. For information on the zine, please
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Candy Apple



Don yawned, stretched, and shivered a bit, pulling the blankets up to cover his bare shoulder. He checked on Timmy, solicitously covering the part of his chest that had become exposed as they shifted around during the night.

"C'mere," Timmy said through a yawn that turned into a smile as they snuggled together, wrapping their arms around each other. Don closed his eyes and tucked his head between Timmy's neck and shoulder, where it was nice and warm and smelled like his partner. "Love you, honey," Timmy said, rubbing the cool skin on Don's shoulder with a warm hand.

"Love you, too," Don replied through a happy sigh, hooking his leg around Timmy's, content to just enjoy the feeling of their bare thighs warm against each other. They'd made love late into the night, and dozed off watching some atrocious old horror movie, just fooling around and cuddling once they were too spent to do anything else.

"What do you wanna do today?" Timmy asked, though he didn't sound very motivated to do much of anything. Don was good with that idea. It was Saturday, and hanging around naked with Timothy was about the best plan he could come up with.

"I'm doing it," he replied, and the arms around him tightened. The cock that had been drooping languidly against his thigh twitched a little. Apparently, spending the day in bed didn't sound bad to Timmy, either. "It's alive!" he said, in his best Dr. Frankenstein voice.

Timmy laughed at that, reaching down to check on Don's cock, which was showing a few signs of life itself.

"I thought we broke them last night," he quipped, and Don laughed, though it came out more like a giggle. Not that he'd ever admit that he, under any circumstances, giggled.

"The sheets are sticky," Don observed. Now that he was waking up, and they weren't in the heat of having wild, sheet-ripping sex, the bed was starting to feel a little gamey.

"I wonder why that would be," Timmy replied, shifting around a little. "My left cheek is in a wet spot." He raised one arm and sniffed his own armpit. "Oh, my God. We need a shower."

"We need a shower? It's your armpit." Don leaned up on one elbow. "Let me check that out," he said, sniffing his way across Timmy's chest.

"You're not smelling my armpit until I take a shower."

"Timothy, a few hours ago, I had my tongue up your - - "


"It's okay to do it, just not to talk about it, huh?" he teased, putting his fingers to work tickling Timmy's sides until he got his partner's arm moving enough to dive bomb the armpit in question.

"Stop it!" Timmy mock-protested, still laughing.

"You smell like we've been having sex all night. Kinda sexy, really," Don said, climbing on top of him. "Sort of primal."

"Sort of smelly, if you ask me," Tim replied, still chuckling, though Donald had relented with the tickling.

"Do I smell bad?" Don asked, kissing him.

"You never smell bad to me."

"Ooh, good answer," he said, smiling and kissing Timmy again. "No wonder you're the senator's spin doctor." Another kiss. "Shit, I have to pee."

"We could get up, change the sheets, take a shower, and then see how long our stamina holds out."

"God, I love it when you talk dirty."

"Better than smelling dirty."

"Okay, you win. Shower." Don got up, and as Timmy headed for the bathroom, he started pulling the rumpled sheets off the bed.

Leaving the bedding in a roll on the floor, he went to heed the call of nature while Timmy was adjusting the water temperature exactly where he wanted it. He grabbed him around the middle and started kissing his back, loosening his hold to let him turn around so they could kiss some more.

Somehow, they stepped into the shower without falling, still fooling around, soaping each other up and turning the bathing experience into a frenzy of heated caresses, fevered kisses, and confirmation that despite hours of unbridled passion the night before, they still had energy for another round...or two.

And then they hung in the air: the fateful, but not unexpected, words that would necessitate putting clothes on.

"Would you mind if we ran a few errands later? I need a new yellow shirt and we're low on groceries," Timmy said, sticking his head under the spray to rinse the shampoo out of his hair.

"You need a new yellow shirt? It's not that you don't look cute in yellow, honey, but do we really need to go out for that?"

"Jacobson's is having a sale this weekend - - "

"Don't tell me, let me guess...40% off everything in the store?" Don let Timmy steer him under the water and rinse his hair, knowing that the scalp massage was going to be his undoing. Those talented fingers could get him to agree to ballet lessons, depending on which part of his body they were pleasuring at the moment.

"Well, it's only 30%, but the cleaners couldn't get the sweet and sour sauce from that damn meatball out of my good yellow shirt." Timmy referred to an errant meatball that rolled off his plate and squarely onto his shirt at some boring cocktail reception he'd attended after work one night. How it had missed his tie was some freak of gravity and motion that Don hadn't quite figured out yet.

"Okay, let's just get dressed and go run the errands now."

"I'll buy you lunch," Timmy offered, hugging Don, kissing him on the cheek, giving him one of his sweetest smiles.

"Maybe if you're a good boy, I'll buy you a present at the clothes sale," Don teased.

"I thought I was already a good boy last night," he quipped.

"I can't afford anything good enough to reward that," he responded, laughing.




Jacobson's was a quality men's clothing store that had been owned and operated by the same family for generations, more than eighty years. They had just moved to a new location in the mall, a decision made by the son who had recently taken over the business from his retiring father. The new store was all light woods, clean lines, and modern lighting. Trendy chairs were grouped with glass tables near the fitting room area. Timothy was still lamenting the loss of the elegance and history of the old store, which favored old woodwork, creaky hardwood floors, vintage light fixtures, and leather wingback chairs. Still, the neighborhood had been deteriorating in recent decades, and moving to the mall would probably open up a whole new client pool for them.

"Stanley would have a fit about these," Timmy said, tapping one of the bold, red 30% off signs with his finger. He referred to the elderly family patriarch, the current managing family member's grandfather. He'd recently passed away at the ripe old age of ninety, sitting in one of the wingback chairs in the old store. "He said discounts are something you tell your customers about, like you're letting them in on a secret for only your best clients," he added, smiling. "He was the last of an era of old customer service, elegance, class..."

"They've got enough shirts," Don observed, a little overwhelmed by the huge, color-coordinated wall of shirts that began with white and progressed through a boggling spectrum of colors all the way to black.

"Mm, yeah," Timmy replied, heading for the yellow area of the Great Wall of Shirts.

He'd been to the old store with Timmy before, and when he wasn't looking at anything for himself, he'd sit in the other wingback chair and talk to Stanley, the store's founder, who prided himself in still going to work every day until he literally passed away there, even though he primarily ordered the younger employees around and napped in the chair. Timmy was right, Stanley was probably doing a 360 in his grave at what his store had turned into. If he'd seen the young salesman behind the counter texting on his cell phone, he'd have probably smacked it out of his hand with his cane.

"Hey, this would look really good on you," Don said, stopping to look at a mulberry colored cashmere sweater. It was a cardigan with a zip front, ribbed collar, cuffs, and band at the bottom.  

"I just need a shirt. Besides, that's probably a couple hundred dollars," he added, scanning the shelf for his size.

"Nah. It's three hundred," Don replied, still thinking it would be perfect for his partner. "Knitted in Scotland. Is that good?"

"Hm?" Tim looked up from the shirt he was inspecting. "Scotland? Yes, that's very good when it comes to cashmere. Honey, I don't need another sweater."

"They have your size," Don said, gleefully ignoring him. He had some cash from a retainer burning a hole in his pocket, and he wanted to spend it on Timmy for no good reason. Or maybe it was because his partner would spend some lonely nights waiting for him to wrap that case up.

"Mr. Callahan," a voice greeted, making them both look up.

"Jason, good to see you," Tim said, shaking hands with the owner as he approached them. A slender, balding man in his forties, Jason Jacobson always approached Tim as if he were royalty, since he was a long-time customer. Greeting Donald was an afterthought, since he had a considerably spottier history bleeding cash in their store. Still, he was Tim's other half, and anyone who didn't treat him with all the courtesy Tim thought he had coming, didn't make any points with "Mr. Callahan."

"Mr. Strachey, how's the private eye business these days?" he asked, smiling.

"Actually, it's been pretty good." He handed him the folded sweater in Tim's size. "Can you put that aside, please?"

"Of course. Lovely choice. The color will be excellent for you."

"It's not for me. It's for Timothy," he said, grinning at Timmy, who cocked his head a bit, but couldn't help smiling.

"It's too much," he said.

"I have to agree with Mr. Strachey," Jason commented. "It will be striking on you."

"See, the expert agrees," Don joked.

"Kevin, we have guests," Jason said to the young man at the counter. He looked up from his texting and hastily stashed the phone in his pocket, hurrying over to where they were standing. "Please put this aside for Mr. Strachey."

"Sure," he replied, a little uneasy, taking the sweater. "Uh, did you need help finding anything else?" he asked, and Jason almost visibly cringed at his awkward technique.

"I think I found it, but thank you," Tim said, holding a pale yellow shirt. "Maybe you can put this up at the counter for us, too?" He held it toward the flustered young man who took it, looking relieved that he was doing something useful for a customer in front of his ruffled father.

"I hope you weren't inconvenienced. I'm teaching my son the business," Jason said after Kevin had fled back to the counter with the clothing. "He's not a natural."

"He's young. I'm sure he'll pick it up," Tim replied, smiling.

"We can only hope," Jason replied, chuckling. "Is there anything else we can help you gentlemen with today?"

"No, I think that's it," Tim said. "Don, is there anything else you wanted to look at?"

"Nope, I'm good."

"You know, we did just get a few new suits in that would be very flattering on you," Jason said to Tim. "I'm introducing a modest selection of high-end designer suits – a limited stock in a Gucci and an Armani."

"That's out of our league, Jason."

"Yeah, I'm afraid I'm more of a J.C. and a Penney," Don joked.

"You should at least take a look at them," Jason said. "No obligation," he added, leading them toward the fitting room area. "There's nothing like the lines of a high-end suit to command attention."

"Your birthday suit commands my attention, sweetheart," Don whispered in Tim's ear.

"I can't wear that to work," he retorted, laughing.

"Unless we win the lottery, you aren't going to wear one of these to work, either," he added, still smiling. "I bet they'd look great on you, though."

"You're good for my ego," Tim said, looking pleased at the comment.

The Gucci suit was a dark navy blue three-button style, and despite his objection that the suit was out of his league, it was obvious Tim was taken with the quality and the tailoring.

"Why don't you try it on?" Jason suggested.

"No, I don't think so," Tim said, shaking his head slightly.

"Go ahead if you want, honey. No harm in trying it on," Don said. He was already doing the mental math, trying to figure out a way he could afford something like that for Timothy. He was made for suits like these. He thought all his partner's suits looked nice, but part of him was bitten by the bug of getting his beautiful Timothy at least one of the designer suits. He'd seen them on a lot of affluent old toads at some of the dry political functions they attended. And here was Timothy, who would look so remarkable in them, writing them off as out of his league. Most of the men Don saw in these suits would never be in Timmy's league, no matter how many overpriced suits they wore.

"I suppose I could try it on," he said, his fingertips skimming the lapel lightly.

A few minutes later, while Don relaxed in one of the square chairs that definitely lacked the comfort of the old wingbacks, Tim emerged in the suit.

"Wow," he said, knowing that wasn't very eloquent, but it drew a broad smile from Timmy, and a faint hint of color to his cheeks.

"It's a great suit," he said.

"The suit's only as good as the body wearing it, sweetheart," he corrected, and that earned him one of those special smiles he got when something he said moved Timmy deeply.

"I have to agree with your partner, Mr. Callahan. That suit is exceptional on you."

"Thank you, Jason," Tim said, looking at the suit from all angles in the three-way mirror.

"You know," Jason said, crossing his arms and evaluating Tim's appearance, "there is a way you could take that suit home and it wouldn't cost you a penny."

"Finally launching that store credit card?" Tim asked. "Sorry, Jason, even a no money down deal doesn't change the price tag."

"I wasn't talking about a credit card. Let me show you something. Just leave the suit on and get used to it," he added, smiling.

The three of them walked out to the counter. Kevin had fled to another area of the store, pretending to tidy up an already pristine table of sweaters. Jason pulled out what looked like rolled up posters from beneath the counter and flatted one out, with some help from Don and Tim to keep it from rolling up again. It was a poster of a twenty-something model with plastic-perfect hair dressed in the suit Tim was wearing.

"I have an advertising agency working with me to design an ad campaign for the new line of suits. None of my customers look like this guy. He's only a few years older than my son, and he looks..."

"Like a Ken doll," Tim said, shaking his head. "My sister used to play with them. Ken's hair was plastic. I always thought that was a bit bizarre."

"Yes, well, now you know what he's up to these days. Modeling suits." Jason had a smile on his face as he said it, and Tim chuckled. "I like their concept, doing these posters, and then we'll frame them and hang them in the store in strategic spots. But the model is all wrong. I think you'd be perfect."

"Excuse me?" Tim asked, his eyebrows arching.

"The suits will look good on you, and you're an actual client. You're the age of the upwardly mobile executives and professionals we want to buy these suits. Our customers can identify with you."

"I'm not a model," Tim said, looking uneasy and blushing a little.

"It's not 'cause you don't have the looks," Don added, then couldn't resist one more comment, "or the body."

"You're biased," Tim said, though the color in his cheeks deepened.

"Hey, the pro over here just invited you to be a model and offered you free suits," Don said, watching Jason's reaction to the plural. "You'd probably want him to wear the stuff he was modeling to work and out to social functions, right?"

"Yes, yes, of course," Jason said, though he looked a bit disconcerted as the price of his intended model rose a bit.

"I'm not a model, but thank you. It's very flattering that you asked."

"I assure you, it wouldn't take much of your time. I'm sure we could arrange a photo shoot around your schedule. We only need a few poses."

"This is a busy time of year in our office, and I don't know when I'd have time to do that."

"Come on, Timothy, it might be fun," Don urged, thinking Timmy would at least have fun with the pricey clothes.

"We'd want to photograph you in a couple of suits, maybe a more casual outfit, and actually, we could do one with our new sleep wear collection. We have some exquisite silk pajamas on order."

"Really, I'm flattered, but I don't think so," Tim said, but he was smiling now, and Don could tell he was caving in just a little. So he took one of Tim's hands, surprising him a bit, and looked him right in the eyes.

"You're breath-taking, honey, and you're ten times hotter than that guy on the poster. You'd look beautiful in anything they wanted you to model."

Tim blinked a time or two, looking like he was a little choked up at the flattery. He squeezed Don's hand.

"You really think I should do it? I don't know if I could get used to a poster-sized me up on the wall for people to...gawk at."

"I can get used to it, if I can have a copy of the posters," Don added, still holding hands with him.

"You're not hanging giant posters of me in the house."

"Maybe, maybe not," he replied, grinning.

"I tell you what," Jason said, finishing bagging their purchases. "Why don't you let us take a few photos, and if you aren't comfortable with them or don't like how they turn out, we'll dispose of them and go with the original ad campaign? And I'll be sure we have a small portfolio of 8x10's made up for Mr. Strachey," he added, which made Don laugh.

"I suppose it wouldn't hurt to try a few photos," Tim said, finally giving in to the tag team efforts of Don and Jason. He took out a business card and handed it to Jason. "Give me a call and we can talk about setting a time."

"Would you like to wear the suit?" Jason asked.

"I think I'm a little overdressed for lunch in the food court," he replied. "I'll just run back and change," he said.

"I'll come with you. I can hang up the suit," Don offered, following him back to the fitting rooms.

"You can hang up the suit?" Tim repeated, not surprised at all when Don joined him inside the fitting room.

"Remember that time we had sex in the fitting room at the old store?" he asked, backing Timmy up to the wall.

"They didn't have security cameras at the old store," Tim replied.

"How do you know they have them here?"

"I don't, but I don't know that they don't have them, either."

"Oh, all right," he relented, backing away. "Give me the suit and I'll hang it up like I said."

"I'll make it up to you later," Tim said sweetly, handing him the pants and suit jacket.

"You sure you don't want to chance it?" Don asked, giving Timmy's boxer-clad body the visual once over before being ushered out of the fitting room.

"I'm sure," he replied firmly, closing the door. Shrugging, Donald hung up the suit, returning it to Jason, who looked surprised that it was hung so tidily and perfectly. "I was trained by a perfectionist," he said, gesturing with his thumb toward the fitting rooms.

"Mr. Callahan does have excellent taste," he agreed, putting the suit in a garment bag.

"He picked me, didn't he?" Don joked, paying for the sweater and Timmy's shirt, deciding to treat him to both items.




Tim had almost forgotten about agreeing to the photo shoot when Jason called him at the office and asked to set up a time with the photographer. He assured Tim it would be all wrapped up in a few hours' time, and so the appointment was scheduled for a couple days later, on a Wednesday.

"You're awfully quiet," Donald said, popping a DVD in the player, having made sure his schedule was clear for their Tuesday night movie tradition. Tim sighed and leaned back into the cushions of the couch. He didn't know why this whole photo shoot thing made him so nervous, why it gave him that heavy, sickish feeling in the pit of his stomach that he got when he was stressed.

"I think I'm going to cancel that photo shoot tomorrow," he said, stretching his arm along the back of the couch as Don sat next to him, looking happy to be tucked under that arm.


"I'm not a model. I'm going to feel ridiculous."

"You're going to look gorgeous, and you get some really sharp, free clothes out of it. Where's the harm?"

"I don't want to do it."

"What's really bothering you about this, honey?" Don asked, hitting the pause button on the remote.

"I don't know." Tim shrugged, and suddenly it did seem ridiculous to make such a big thing out of a few photos. That Gucci suit was beautiful, and definitely out of his league, and it gave him a little tingle to have it in his wardrobe. He even knew just what occasion he was going to wear it for - an after hours cocktail party that was too close to working hours to be black tie, but definitely calling for one's best business garb. And yet the thought of returning the suit and being free of this silly modeling commitment sounded great.

"If it's bothering you to do it, just take back the suit. If you want a Gucci, you'll have a Gucci, one way or the other," Donald added, smiling, tweaking his nose. "Business will pick up pretty soon."

"It's not about the suit. I love the suit, don't get me wrong, but returning it wouldn't kill me. It's just a suit. I feel...silly."

"You're a little shy about your good looks, that's all. That's what makes you even more beautiful. Handsome guys who know they're handsome and trade on it are a pain in the ass. But you - you never go anywhere that you don't turn every head in the place, and you don't even seem to notice it."

"I think you're giving me too much credit," Tim replied, smiling. "But I love you for it," he added, squeezing Donald's shoulders.

"If you don't want to pose for the pictures, just cancel it."

"Jason's planning on it. I suppose it would be rude to drop it now."

"Is it okay if I come and watch?" Don asked, and Tim was a little suspicious that his partner was just doing it to relieve his jitters.

"How about I pick you up for a late lunch and then we'll go together?" he suggested.

"Even better," Don agreed, grinning, hitting the play button on the remote.




The photo shoot took place in the Jacobson family home, in their elegantly appointed study. Dark wood, a fireplace, rich leather furnishings, and well-stocked bookshelves all served as a distinguished backdrop for the photos. Jason, his son, and the photographer were there. A nice-looking man Don figured was in his twenties, the photographer had long, wavy brown hair, big brown eyes, and a bright smile. He knew he'd taken just a moment too long to appraise the man's appearance when he felt a less-than-enjoyable poke to his arm.

"I only have eyes for you, sweetheart," he whispered in Timmy's ear.

"Yes, well, your eyes can roam around, but the rest of you is mine," he replied, his mouth twitching a bit into a smile.

Also waiting in a wingback chair, legs crossed, checking her delicate jeweled watch on a slightly bony wrist, was a pretty young blonde woman named Ashley. Dressed in a simple sleeveless black dress and pearls, she was also to be included in the shoot.

A guest bedroom across the hall was set up as Tim's dressing room, and they were a bit surprised by the array of beautiful clothes on hand there. With instructions to change into a black Armani suit first, he retreated to his room with Donald in tow, and found the garment in question. Figuring Timmy was a little too nervous to appreciate any messing around, Donald assisted him like a first-class valet, taking discarded clothing and handing him the pieces he had to wear.

"Timothy, you're shaking," he said, taking Timmy's hands in his. "Honey, if you're this nervous, let's just ditch it. Tell him you don't feel well and we'll play hooky together."

"I'll be okay. Do I look all right? This suit feels a little snug. You're sure I don't look chubby in it?"

"I'm sure," Donald said with an exasperated chuckle. Then, thinking of the fact he had given the young photographer the visual once-over, and been caught, he added, truthfully, "You're giving me a hard-on." Quite honestly, he'd already forgotten most of the details of what the young man looked like, and his cock was doing the ninety-degree salute watching Timothy change his clothes.

"No offense, Donald, but you told me I did that last week when I was wearing a grubby t-shirt and my old jeans and had my head in the oven."

"You were bending over and shaking your ass, you didn't mention that part."

"I was not shaking my ass. I was cleaning the oven."

"And with every little rotation of the sponge, something else was rotating. Timothy, you have a body to die for, and you're ten times sexier than that kid with the camera. I could look at him for a couple minutes, but I could stare at you forever and not get bored. Quit worrying."

"A body to die for, huh?" Tim repeated, grinning.

"Yeah, so go out there and show 'em why that suit's only worth three grand when it's wrapped around something like you."

Encouraged, Tim returned to the study, and Don did his best to stay out of the way of the photographer and his equipment. Still, he stayed where Tim could easily see him. Catching his eye, Timmy flashed him the most loving, happy, big smile, and everyone was a little startled when that launched a flurry of camera shots.

"Sorry, Mr. Callahan," the photographer said. "That was such a great expression I didn't want to distract you before I caught it," he explained.

"I was inspired," he replied, still looking at Don with all the love in the world.

The first round of photos were of Tim alone, either standing by the fireplace, sitting in one of the leather wingback chairs not wearing his glasses, or by the large mahogany desk, holding an open book, glasses back in place, cell phone held to his ear, as if he were doing some strange sort of work that necessitated sitting on the corner of a desk and holding an open book the size of an encyclopedia volume. Don thought he looked stunning in every pose.

"Ashley, you're up," the photographer said. Hauling herself out of the chair with effort that seemed more suited to a woman of seventy, she walked toward Tim, her stride and her demeanor changing as she moved into position to drape herself on his shoulder.

"What are we doing?" Tim asked, a semi-smile on his face, looking confused.

"One of those high-end Armani suits isn't worth much to most of our clients unless they have the desired effect on the opposite sex," Jason explained, smiling.

"But I'm not interested in having an effect on the opposite sex," he said.

"It's just for the ad campaign, to help our clients associate the idea of attracting a lovely young woman like Ashley with wearing one of these suits. It's a very tried and true concept."

"I understand that, Jason, but I'm gay. The only person I want my suits to turn on is my partner, so you can have Donald come over here and hang on my shoulder if you want, and he's agreeable, but I'm not going to pretend to be something I'm not."

"Timothy, don't worry about me. If you want to do the shots with Ashley, I'm fine with it," Don said, hoping his presence wasn't making Timmy uneasy.

"I'm not fine with it. I'm not straight, Jason, and I'm not going to pretend I am."

"This photo shoot isn't really about anyone's sexual orientation."

"It is when you drape a woman - granted, a very pretty one," he added sparing a quick smile for Ashley, "on my shoulder like she's my love interest."

"You work with women, don't you?" Ashley asked, and Tim paused a moment.

"Well, yes, of course I do."

"You're a hot guy. Don't any of them ever check you out?"

"Thank you, but I really haven't noticed - "

"Yeah, they check you out. From all angles," Don added, amused.

"Donald," Tim scolded mildly, his face coloring just a bit.

"So I can be a co-worker, checking you out from a distance. You don't have to be straight for women to look at you," she said.

"That works for me," Jason agreed.

"I still think it's slanting this to represent me as something other than what I am."

"Honey, you work in an office full of women, and quite a few of them check you out. That doesn't mean you're straight, just real easy on the eyes."

"You think I should do it?" Timmy replied, looking Don in the eyes.

"If you're not comfortable with it, no, you shouldn't do it. But if you're asking my opinion, I don't see anything wrong, or misleading, about showing a woman giving you an admiring look when you're dolled up in a classy designer suit. They look at you in Wal-Mart when you're pushing a shopping cart wearing your old clothes."

"I highly doubt that," Tim said, shaking his head.

"Trust me, I've watched."

"As long as it's something tasteful, businesslike, I guess it'll be all right," Tim finally relented, and Jason looked more than slightly relieved. After the photographer pondered the setting and how to position them, he took a few shots that included Ashley. In one shot, she was conferring with Tim on the book he was holding, giving him an appreciative look while he focused on the book, as if he didn't notice her attention. Another shot had them both smiling widely, as if they were interacting about business, her pretending to take notes in a black portfolio.

The rest of the shoot was reasonably uneventful, with Timothy posing for a variety of shots in a variety of outfits, seeming to relax into it as the session progressed. Don's presence and tendency to crack a joke or make some slightly sexy comment to loosen him up when Tim started to look tense made the whole project flow much more smoothly.

"Do we get prints of all the shots?" Don asked.

"We'll be glad to pay for those," Tim added. "The clothes are already a lot," he said, referring to the large garment bag of clothing he was receiving for his trouble, thanks to Don prodding Jason into letting him have each outfit he modeled, versus a single suit.

"I can do a portfolio for you, no problem," the photographer spoke up, looking at Tim with his most charming, and slightly lecherous smile, and it was Don's turn to bristle a bit. The young man didn't seem to notice he was in the room, but he definitely noticed Timothy, and hadn't minded a bit lingering over capturing his every pose on film.

"That's very kind of you. I haven't seen this many photos of Timothy in a suit since our wedding pictures," he mentioned pointedly, smiling sweetly at the photographer, who returned it, albeit a bit deflated.

When they were walking to the car, Tim couldn't seem to stop grinning.

"What?" Don asked, loading the garment bags in the back of the car.

"Nice reference to our wedding pictures. About as subtle as a freight train," he added, looking smug and a bit pleased with himself. Don knew that Timmy enjoyed a little jealousy from him within moderation.

"I just wanted him to be clear a portfolio was all he was going to be doing."

"I thought you liked him," Tim needled, getting into the car as Don did.

"Honey, I'm married, not dead. I noticed him. That's a lot different than liking him, and a whole lot different than liking him looking at you like that."

"Like what?"

"Like he was picturing you naked."

"Donald, he was not. He was photographing me. He had to stare at me."

"Not like that, he didn't."

"You were checking him out, but you're upset that he was checking me out?"

"I noticed him. I didn't stare at him like a stray dog stares at a T-bone." Don started the car, then he smiled.

"Now what are you grinning about?" Tim asked.

"He can imagine all he wants. It won't be as good as the real thing...which hopefully I'll get to see later if I'm a good boy," he added, leaning over and stealing a kiss, then bumping his nose against Timmy's. "Guess I just have to be patient, being married to a model."

"Yeah, I'm sure that'll be a big challenge - my budding modeling career," he said, laughing.

"You know, sometimes I almost take for granted how incredibly beautiful you are," Don said, taking Tim's hand in his. "Watching that photo shoot, I just kept thinking, 'I can't believe he's mine.'"

"If you're trying to get lucky later," Tim said, kissing the back of Don's hand, "you're on the right track. I love you."

"I love you, too. I guess I have to give you back to the senator for the rest of the afternoon."

"For a few hours. But tonight, I'm all yours," Timmy said, smiling.

"Why don't you get all dolled up in one of your new suits, and I'll take you out for dinner and dancing?"

"And we'll have dessert at home," Tim added.

"You make great dessert," Donald teased, still holding his hand.

"We make great dessert together," Tim replied.

"You sure we can't play hooky the rest of the afternoon and go make some dessert?"

"I have a meeting at three. Sorry."

"Okay," Don relented, driving toward the Senate building.




"Sorry, honey," Don said into the phone, sighing. Timmy had no idea how sorry he really was. He'd been looking forward to spending an evening out with his partner all afternoon. He was relieved to have a new client, but disappointed that it meant an all-night stakeout.

"It's okay. We've been hoping for business to pick up," Tim said. "Give me a rain check when the case slows down?"

"You know it," he replied. "While I'm stuck in my car tonight, I'll be thinking about you."

"Sweet talker," Timmy joked, laughing softly. "I'll be thinking about you, too," he added, the smile still audible in his voice. "Think you'll be stuck all night?"

"I don't know for sure, but probably."

"See you when you get in. Be careful, honey."

"I will. I'll call you later."

"And talk dirty to me?"

"Yeah, that's what I need," Don replied, laughing. "A raging boner I have to take care of myself."

"Get home before I go to work, and maybe I'll take care of it for you."

"You're a bad boy, Timothy."

"I do my best," he replied. "I love you."

"Love you, too. Talk to you later." After he'd broken the connection, Don sat there a few seconds just smiling, thinking about making it home before Timmy left for work in the morning.




The doorbell was ringing. Donald would have cursed, but he couldn't think of anything bad enough. He'd been out all night, and finally come down off his self-induced caffeine buzz. He was wrapped in his rattiest old robe, covered with the throw, and sleeping like a baby to the droning of some morning talk show. Timmy had even taken time before he left for work to give him a little backrub - and a little blow job - to relax him. And now some asshole was pumping the doorbell.

"All right already!" he shouted, and blessedly, the ringing stopped. He knew Timothy didn't approve of his less than welcoming replies to ringing doorbells, but frankly he didn't care what kind of impression he made on this particular irritating fucker. Swinging the door open, he was greeted by the sight of the photographer he'd once found so cute, holding a black binder in his arms.

"Sorry if I woke you," he said, smiling brightly. "Is Mr. Callahan at home?" At Don’s lack of response, he added, “Alex Kessel – from the photo shoot?”

"Yeah, I know. He's at work." Don knew he was an old married man at that moment, because he didn't even care that he'd bitten this guy's head off, that he was unshaven, uncombed, and that there was a Thai peanut sauce stain on the front of his robe from the cold takeout he'd eaten for breakfast. He did have the good grace to stifle the belch resulting from that food that moving around had brought to the surface.

"Oh, I see. I can come by later," he said.

"If you have something to leave for him, I'll make sure he gets it. I'd hate to have you make another trip out here for nothing," he added, smiling, though he knew perfectly well the smile wasn't concealing the fact that he was trying to thwart this guy's obvious attempts to flirt with his partner.

"Oh, it's no trouble. I put together a portfolio of the photo shoot, and I wanted to point out a couple things to him." 

"He's in the photos. What is it you think he can't figure out on his own?"

"Look, if we got off on the wrong foot, I apologize. I just want to go over a couple things with him."

"Fine. He should be home after six. Call before you stop by next time."

"You're right, I should have called first," he said, flashing that smile Don really couldn't remember why he'd found charming since it was pissing him off now.

"That's always a good idea since we're in and out a lot," he said, figuring Timothy also wouldn't approve of his unabashed rudeness. After all, the photographer hadn't said or done anything inappropriate. "Look, I'm sorry. I was working all night and I just went to sleep."

"Oh, hey, my bad. I shouldn't have just dropped in." He paused, and it was obvious he wanted to say something else, so Don raised his eyebrows and inclined his head a bit, as if to prompt him to finish his thought. "I really enjoyed photographing your partner. He's a sexy guy. But I get that he's in a relationship, and I wouldn't try to get in the middle of that." He paused, giving Don a slightly lecherous look. "Unless, of course, you guys are into having someone in the middle, occasionally."

"First off, he's not 'in a relationship,' he's married, and second, if I'm in bed with Timothy, why in hell would I want another man in my way?"

"Good point. I think this is probably a good time for me to leave," he said, backing away, then stepping down from the porch and heading toward his car. "Thanks for your time," he said.

Don closed and locked the door. "Yeah, fuck you, too," he mumbled, heading back for the couch, glancing at the clock, wishing Timmy was there to curl up with. Discovering one of Timmy's favorite old sweaters on the back of one of the kitchen chairs, he smiled, taking it with him to the couch. After he'd re-situated himself there, he tucked a pillow under his head and held the Timmy-scented sweater in his arms, the fabric up close to his nose, and slipped off to sleep.




Tim let himself in the house quietly, not sure if Donald was still sleeping. His car was in the driveway, so he was home. He set the bag containing the sub sandwiches he'd brought home for lunch on the counter, and also laid down the portfolio the photographer had brought by his office. He thought they could have lunch and look through them together if Donald was up. He heard the soft snoring coming from the couch that signaled him that his partner was still there. He tiptoed closer, and as he rested his hands on the back of the couch to peer over it, his heart melted. Donald was all curled up, dead to the world, with Tim's old sweater cuddled up close to him.

He resisted the urge to kiss his sleeping lover, since he didn't want to wake him. Instead, he stood there and watched him sleep for a few minutes before carefully extracting Donald's sandwich from the bag and putting it in the refrigerator. He decided to leave him a note that the sandwich was there, and took his own lunch with him, figuring he'd head back to work and eat at his desk. If he stayed there and rattled around, he'd end up waking Donald, and he badly needed the sleep. When he'd staggered in that morning, he had been a strange combination of jittery from a night of coffee-drinking to stay awake, and nearly incoherent from fatigue.

Tim had enjoyed spending a few minutes just rubbing his back and letting him talk about his night, seeing him relax. He enjoyed even more giving him the completely unexpected blow job that had left him boneless and content, ready for sleep. The only thing he didn't enjoy was going off to work and giving up the opportunity to lounge around with Donald on a rare day he was taking off to rest up.

Adding a couple of sexy comments to his note, he smiled, relishing the thought of spending a little quality time together that evening, even if it was just cuddling on the couch in front of the TV.




Don yawned and stretched, still feeling lethargic, not sure at all he wanted to be awake. The afternoon sun hung low in the sky, and one of those small claims court TV shows was on. He sat up, blinking, feeling like his head was thick and spongy. His mouth was dry, he was starving, and he had to find a bathroom, and fast. Getting his priorities straight, he stopped into the downstairs half bath to take care of business, then washed up and stared at his slightly frightening countenance in the mirror. That was a face only Timothy could love, he thought, chuckling. Even Timothy didn't deserve to be greeted with that face twice in one day, so he planned to run upstairs and shower, shave and comb his hair before his partner got home. Judging by the sinking sun, that would be sooner than later.

He yawned again, let out a resounding belch, belatedly hoping that Timmy wasn't already home and just lurking in another room of the house. It wasn't that Timmy didn't belch - though to hear him tell it, he didn't - but he was definitely daintier about it that Don was. There were no footsteps and no words of reproach, so he figured he was still alone. As he approached the kitchen counter, he frowned to see the portfolio the photographer had brought earlier. For a moment, he thought maybe he hadn't locked the door and the guy had the gall to come into the house and leave it. Then he saw the note in Timmy's handwriting.


Hi, Honey-


Came home for lunch but you were sleeping. Watched you for a few minutes, thinking about this you taste as good as you look.


Left you a sandwich. If you wake up late, hold off on it. I'll make you something hot to eat when I get home. Or, have the sandwich and I'll just make YOU hot. Your choice.


Yes, I miss you when you work nights.





Don chuckled at the note, tucking it in the pocket of his robe. Just then, the key turned in the lock, and a moment later, Timmy was coming inside, his face breaking into a beautiful smile when he spotted Don standing there by the stairs.

"Hello there, handsome," he said, gathering Don into a big hug. Don hugged back, glad to be suddenly surrounded by the warmth of his partner.

"Hey, honey. I was going to get dressed before you got home."

"Don't do anything rash on my account." Tim kept an arm around him, kissing the side of his head. "You look cute all scruffy."

"I do, huh? That turns you on, does it?"

"Among other things, yes. Did you get a good rest?"

"Great, except for that moron with the portfolio coming over here."

"He was here? He brought the photos over to my office, but he never mentioned being here."

"He went to your office?" Donald asked, his blood not quite boiling, but reaching a nice simmer.

"Well, yes, he dropped off the portfolio. I thought that was nice of him."

"Did he offer you a threesome, or was I just lucky?"

"A what? No, all he offered me were extra prints."

"Must be he got the message we weren't interested in the deluxe portrait package that comes with the photographer."

"The two of us and him?"

"One minute, he was professing his understanding that we were in a relationship and saying he wasn't going to get in the middle of it, and then offered to do just that - literally."

"Well, he can have his portfolio back if that's what he thinks is the payoff for it. And I'm calling Jason."

"Don't bother. He made his play and it didn't work. You got some nice pictures out of it, and I think he got the message. If he contacts you again and you'd like me to help reinforce that message, let me know."

"I don't want him getting the idea that accepting the portfolio means anything."

"Fine, but let me scan the photos before we mail it back to him. I need a new wallpaper for my laptop, and that shot of you in silk PJ's might be just the trick." Don slid his arms around Timmy's waist and kissed him. "You know, with that little bit of chest hair showing," he added, loosening Tim's tie, wishing there wasn't that extra layer of t-shirt to contend with.

"You're not hungry?" Timmy got the question out just before Don put his mouth to better use. When the kiss ended, he grinned.

"Yeah, but a sub sandwich ain't gonna take care of it," he replied.

"I was going to offer to make stir fry."

"Nope, don't want that either. Maybe later, but not now," he amended, since he loved Timmy's stir fry.

"Gee, whatever could it be that you're after?" Timmy joked, sliding his hands under Don's robe and squeezing his ass possessively with both hands.

"Oh, fuck, yeah, that's it," Don replied, grinding against Timmy's body.

"Let's go upstairs - "

"What's wrong with the floor?" Don pulled him by the tie, walking them backwards, into the living room.

"Because what I plan to do to you will give you rug burn in places you don't want it," Timmy said, and the calm, simple statement shot right to Don's groin. He was getting hard already and so far, Timothy was still fully dressed and had only squeezed his butt and talked a little dirty.

"Sofa's closer," he said, tossing his robe aside and working clumsily at divesting Timmy of what he considered way too many clothes. His partner was glad to oblige, sending suit coat, tie, shirt, and t-shirt flying around the living room as they fumbled their way to the couch. After kicking off his shoes and tossing his pants aside, Timmy tackled Don on the couch, the leather making a satisfying crunch of protest to the sudden weight and activity.

Timmy pulled Don's undershirt over his head and threw it on the growing pile of clothes. Down to just their boxers now, the friction was getting very interesting. Timothy definitely had decided he was taking the lead, and Don had no problems following him wherever he wanted to take them. He loved the warmth of Timmy's body covering his, the feeling of Timmy's hairy chest rubbing against his smooth skin, the taste of Timmy's mouth locked with his own, and the possessive way Timmy's hands were all over him, caressing him, holding him, owning him.

He pushed at Timmy's boxers, smiling into their kisses as his partner cooperated with removing them. Moments later, the last of his own underwear was tugged down and ultimately thrown aside. He grabbed at the mounds of Timmy's ass, trying to pull him impossibly closer.

Anyone who mistook Timothy's refinement for an absence of lust and raunchiness had never seen him do his amazing, magic, appearing-from-thin-air lube trick. Don found little tubes of the stuff in the weirdest places, and had Timothy to thank for avoiding rawness or use of some inappropriate household lubricant, since Don was the one most likely to initiate sex other than where nature, furniture, and good manners intended, and give little thought to such mundane mechanics as greasing the equipment until the moment presented itself.

He pulled his knees back, moaning as Timmy engulfed his cock in one long motion of his mouth, sucking him while he slipped a lubed finger inside him, loosening him up, lubricating him, and unerringly locating and teasing his prostate. Amidst his cries of pleasure was a groan of frustration when that talented mouth left him. Moments later, his hips were seized and tilted at just the angle Timothy wanted, and he was being filled with his partner's ample cock, loving the feeling of his body stretching and straining to accommodate the full length.

Then, so characteristic of Timmy, he leaned forward and caressed Don's cheek and kissed him with such tenderness that it touched all of his deepest emotions, stirred the love in him as much as the physical passion. They shared a loving and slightly lecherous smile between them before they started making love in earnest, setting a fast pace of thrust and counter-thrust that had them both gasping and crying out, sharing a laugh as the leather couch made rhythmic crunching noises like a third partner.

Don couldn't decide if he wanted it to stop or go faster, the intensity of the workout his prostate was getting leaving him incoherent, writhing, babbling, completely enslaved by the physical sensations overpowering his mental capacities. He knew he was shouting, gasping vague obscenities when Timothy would make a particularly effective thrust. He was so fucking good at this, at knowing every intimate part of Don's body and knowing just what to do to it, how hard, how fast, and for how long...

When he came, he imagined wolves in the wild probably heard him and were howling their replies. He was arching and shaking as if he were being electrocuted, his hands digging into Timmy's shoulders, hoping belatedly he wasn't bruising him. As he began to relax, he didn't worry about it too much. If Timothy didn't want him to hold on, he shouldn't have taken him for such a wild ride.

Then Timmy was coming, managing to thrust a bit deeper and harder, and Don's spent body wanted to respond, but had to settle for enjoying it as an end in itself, liking the feeling of being thoroughly taken by the man he loved, glad Timmy was getting as good as he gave.

The only adequate "chaser" for sex that good was being wrapped up in Timmy's arms, their hearts pounding against each other, flaccid, sensitive cocks nestled together as their legs entwined. Timmy tugged the throw off the back of the couch and covered them.

He thought about professing his love, thanking Timothy for screwing the life right out of him so all the stress of cases and clients and life in general was just...gone. He settled for kissing Timmy's chest, near his heart, and snuggling against him, inhaling his scent and savoring the feeling of those strong arms around him, one gentle hand cradling his head, like he was the most precious thing in the world.

"Your stomach's growling," Timmy said softly, kissing his forehead.

"Let it." He tightened his hold on Timmy's body, making it clear he was not going to be released to go do something mundane like make dinner. Although a little post-sex stir fry was starting to sound good.

"I love you, baby," Timmy whispered hotly against his ear.

"I love you, too," Don muttered, smiling, caressing the expanse of Timmy's back, letting his hand stray down to the curve of his ass. If his cock ever recovered, he so wanted to return the favor.

"You better not be going to work tonight," Timmy said, and Don smiled, liking the slightly commanding and very proprietary tone in his voice. He could feel the stirrings of being turned on again just at the sound of that voice. No one but a fool would leave the house with the promise of the kind of evening he could have if he stayed home.

"Never even crossed my mind," he replied, dozing off with his hand still on Timmy's ass, slipping into some decidedly carnal dreams that would only be disturbed in an hour or so by the delicious aroma of dinner cooking.




Tim was busy working on the stir fry when he felt, more than heard, the presence behind him. Smiling, he let Donald sneak up on him the rest of the way, wrapping his arms around him, one hand sliding down to squeeze him gently.

"Donald! Never do that to a man working at the stove!" he protested, but judging by Donald's unrepentant chuckle, he knew he wasn't even remotely chastised by it.

"That's what you get for making dinner without your pants on under your robe. That's such a turn on. God, if you wouldn't burst into flames, I'd bend you over the stove and let you have it."

"How poetic. Remind me to write that to you on your Valentine next year."

"Tell me you're not getting just a little hot." Donald flexed his hand and rubbed against Timmy from behind, and it was all he could do not to risk disfigurement and let Donald have him right there.

"I'm in front of the stove, Donald. Of course, I'm getting hot, since you're practically pushing me onto the burners."

"Oh, all right," Donald replied, finally backing off a bit, but not before patting Timmy on the butt. Then he sniffed in the direction of the food on the stove. "That smells good. Different."

"I bought some Mandarin sauce at Chen's," he said, going back to work on the ingredients in the wok.

"I like your sauce better," Donald said, taking a fork and stealing a piece of chicken out of the wok. Tim gave him a look. "I was really talking about the garlic sauce you make. Pervert," he added, eating the chicken. "This is good though."

"If you wanted dinner before ten, I figured the bottled sauce was the way to go." He smiled. "And, we might have other things to do tonight besides eat."

"I can't believe that dumb fuck photographer would think I'd ever share you with him."

"You were giving him a pretty good once-over when you first saw him."

"I like tall brunets. I guess I'm still looking for the one who can hold a candle to the gold standard I have at home."

"You're good," Tim said, laughing, sparing a moment from his stir frying to kiss Donald properly.

"You're holding a wok full of hot food and talking about me looking at another man. I'd have to be good to save my life in that setting," he joked, then became serious. "You know that every man I look at, I compare to you, and none of them come up on the winning end, right?"

"I know. I feel the same way."

"Is that gonna be done pretty soon? Good as it smells, it doesn't smell as good as you do, and I wanna heat your vegetables up." 

"I'll hurry," Tim replied, laughing. "Get some plates and silverware, honey. And make yourself useful mixing us some martinis, huh?"

"Is there anything else?" Don retorted with friendly sarcasm, going about his assigned tasks, setting their plates and utensils on the counter.

"No, that'll be all. I don't want to use up too much of your energy on dinner."

They sat together at the counter and enjoyed their meal, feeding each other and alternating food with kisses. When they cleared away their dishes, they set the portfolio between them and began to page through it. Tim was a little surprised at how good the photos looked. The photography was well done, and he had to admit that he did look nice in the fashionable suits he’d been modeling.

"God, Timothy, you should have been a model," Don said, leaning his chin on the heel of his hand as he watched Tim turning the pages slowly.

"I think I'm more believable for their clientele than a twenty-something who looks like he's just strolled in off the beach," Tim said. "They did turn out okay, don't you think?"

"Okay?" Don asked, raising his eyebrows. "'Okay' doesn't make my dick stand up and salute."

"Your dick has been standing up and saluting for just about anything tonight," Tim teased, laughing.

"Timothy," he said, laying his hand on the side of Timmy's face. "You're an erection waiting to happen. As much as that photographer pissed me off, I can't blame the guy for being so hot for you that he's ready to insert himself into a threesome just to get a little."

"There are a lot of guys out there who would look as good as I do in these pictures if they were decked out in all these expensive clothes."

"You're a hot man, Timmy. Deal with it." Don leaned closer to check out the photo of Tim, sans glasses, serious expression, wearing a pair of dark blue silk pajamas. "Did they give you these pajamas?"

"Yes, they're in the garment bag with the other things I haven't worn yet."

"If you put these on for me and give me this look in our bedroom, you can do anything you want to me, as long as you want, in any position, until you've had your fill or I die of sexual exhaustion. I'd use this shot for my computer wallpaper but I'd spend all day jerking off under my desk.”

"Wash your hands before you shake hands with new clients," Timmy said lightly, grinning, feeling his cheeks warming a little at the flattery.

"These photos are really good. I want this one for my desk." Don tapped the page featuring the photo of Tim in the library, in the Armani suit, wearing his glasses, when he'd given Don that big spontaneous smile the photographer captured before the official shoot began.

"I still say you're biased."

"You've got some guy fifteen years younger than us salivating after you, and all he's seen is a little flash of chest hair. Why does it surprise you that the guy who sees the whole package thinks you're hot?"

"Because you thought I was beautiful when I had the flu and threw up on your shirt."

"And shit your pants."

"Thanks for remembering that detail."

"The point is, I still thought you were beautiful. Stinky, but beautiful." Don kissed Timmy's cheek, draping his arm around him.

"The fact you were still married to me after that was a miracle."

"If you want to get rid of me, you'll have to do better than spraying a little stink on me."

"You make me sound like a skunk."

"That would be a polite analogy given the situation you're talking about."

"Okay, enough. I've spent way too long trying to forget how gross I looked, sounded, felt, and smelled through that particular illness to dredge it all up now." Tim paused, then his smile faded a bit. "You want to know what I like remembering about it?"

"The first time you ate and didn't throw up or spring a leak?"

"Yes, that, too," Timmy replied, laughing. "What I love to remember is how you took care of me. I never felt as gross or disgusting as I probably was, because you just cleaned up after me, kept me feeling clean and fresh, never acted like what you were doing was disgusting or awful. It didn't matter if it was three in the morning or noon, you always touched me with love and you never were afraid of catching it. You held me when I threw up and you lay in bed with me and comforted me when I was so sick I couldn't move. And I realized so acutely then what I guess I knew all along - that no matter what happens to me, you'll always be there, and you'll love me as much if I'm sick and ugly and all kinds of trouble to you."

"You could never be any trouble to me, Timothy. There's nothing that could happen to you that would make me not want you with me, however I could have you." He took Timmy's hand, the one bearing the wedding band, and kissed the finger that wore the ring. "If I haven't said that in so many words before, I should have."

"You don't have to, because I know it." He held Don's hand in both of his. "But I'll always treasure hearing it."

"The fact that you're gorgeous is just a really nice fringe benefit," he said, grinning. He leaned forward and kissed Timmy, and one kiss led to another until the portfolio, empty martini glasses, and dinner dishes were all left forgotten in the kitchen in favor of a move upstairs.

By the time they reached the bedroom, kisses were fevered and urgent, robes hastily removed and hands quickly caressed heated bodies as they fell together on the bed. Don took his time kissing and nipping at Timmy's throat, then put his tongue to work on Timmy's chest, licking and tasting him, sucking hard on his nipples, making them wet and hard with arousal. His stubble tickled Timmy's belly, and he teased him with it, making him laugh at the same time he was writhing and making incoherent little sounds of pleasure.


With instinctive timing and coordination, Donald moved up and Timmy rolled over, giving Donald access to his back and ass. While he straddled Timmy and let him feel his growing erection against his ass, he kissed Timmy's neck and his back. Timmy could feel Donald paying special attention to the faint bruises he'd left in the wake of their earlier lovemaking.

"You know, Donald, my shoulders aren't handlebars," he teased, looking over his shoulder.

"You were riding me like a ten-speed, sweetheart. There have to be handlebars somewhere."

"Is that a complaint?" Timmy asked, still grinning.

"Did you hear any objections?"

"No, just wild screams of sexual euphoria."

"If that's sexual euphoria, you can take me there anytime."

"How about you take me there?"

"Oh, I'm working on it, beautiful," he said, kissing Timmy's cheek. Then he moved down to the small of his back, kissing him there, kneading the flesh of his buttocks in both hands, kissing his tail bone, trailing kisses over his cheeks and onto his thighs as he urged them further apart. He took his time there, and Tim could feel warm lips and that talented tongue kissing and licking his most intimate places, making him shift and groan restlessly, growing impatient as Donald teased him just a bit longer.

No matter how impatient either one of them was, Donald never rushed through preparing Timmy, lubricating him, making him comfortable and relaxed. He knew what made Timmy feel good, turned on, aroused, loved, and desired.

Timmy relaxed as Donald entered him slowly, easing into him. His tastes ran a bit less on the wild side than Donald, who occasionally enjoyed being nailed to the nearest horizontal surface until he thought his prostate would explode or the orgasm would kill him.

They were rocking together in a steady rhythm, Timmy undulating under the heat of Donald’s body, meeting his thrusts, gripping the sheets, little grunts and moans of pleasure punctuating their movement. He struggled not to lose himself in the sensation of Donald inside him, of being so close to each other that they felt like a single body. Donald caressed his sides, kissed his back, ran his hands up Timmy’s back and shoulders, his warm hands and gentle touches making Timmy feel cherished. As Timmy was nearing his climax, Donald quickened his pace a little, giving them both the release they were after.

They lay there a while, still joined, Don pressed against Timmy's back, both of them just treasuring the intimate moment. Don started slowly caressing Timmy's arm and shoulder, kissing the skin his lips could easily reach.

"Sexual euphoria?" he asked softly.

"I expected nothing less," Timmy replied, smiling, looking over his shoulder at him. Donald gave him a beautiful, soft, slightly shy smile that wrapped around Timmy’s heart and would have stirred his groin if he had any energy left.

"How about if I draw a nice, warm bath for us? Sound good?" he asked, kissing Timmy's cheek again, easing out of him gently.

"Throw a little of that herbal bubble bath in there, and you've got a deal."

"Don't run off," he teased, kissing Timmy's shoulder before getting up to head to the bathroom.

"Short of a fire, that's not likely," he responded through a yawn. He was so deliciously tired and utterly satisfied.

"Don't fall asleep on me," Don called back to him. "I need somebody to play in the tub with."




Don sat down at his desk and sorted through the neat stack of mail Kenny had left there for him. Not finding much of interest, he tossed the stack in his outbox, figuring Kenny would handle it if there was anything there that needed action. He opened his briefcase and smiled when he saw a little note folded in half, his name written on the front of it in Timmy's handwriting.

I love you. I miss you already. I'll be thinking about you all day. Love, Timmy

He sighed a happy sigh and tucked the note in the inside pocket of the briefcase, where he kept all Timmy's little notes. He didn't write them often, but once in a while, after a night like they'd just shared, he'd leave a little love note for Don to find somewhere. He wasn't sure what had been better - the marathon lovemaking the night before which had even included displacing a substantial amount of water out of the tub, the tender, prolonged, sexless making out late into the night when their bodies just had no more to give, or the sleepy, sloppy, clumsy little shared hand job first thing this morning while they were kissing and nibbling and joking around together when they first woke. The whole thing had been like a mini honeymoon in the middle of their recent mundane routine and Don’s night work.

Grinning, he set about the happy task of uploading one of the photo shoot pictures onto his laptop. With a smiling, sexy, suited Timothy situated on his wallpaper, even the boring background checks and database searches he had on his to-do list today seemed a little less grim.

Kenny had taken the day off, so he was alone when the front door of the office opened and a stout woman with blonde hair and glasses walked in, looking a bit hesitant.

"Please, come in," Don invited, smiling. "My office manager's off today." When she hung back from coming all the way into his office, he stood and gestured toward her again. "Have a seat. I'm Don Strachey," he said.

"I'm Karen Freemont," she said, finally approaching him and shaking hands across the desk.

"Would you like some coffee?" he offered, hoping the pot he'd brewed wasn't too toxic for visitors. He tended to like his coffee strong, something Kenny had complained about more than once.

"No, thank you," she said, sitting down. Don returned to his chair and pulled out a notepad.

"How can I help you?"

"My daughter, Danielle, is missing. The police aren't doing anything about it." She opened her purse and pulled out a 5x7 photo. The girl in the picture was a pretty blonde with big blue eyes and a bright smile.

"Pretty girl. How old is she?"

"That was taken her freshman year in college. She's a sophomore now. She's nineteen."

"Her full name?"

"Danielle Marie Freemont. I have some other information that might help. I wrote down her social security number, and I have a couple of credit card statements. I still pays those bills for her," she added, smiling faintly.

"That's very helpful," he said, taking the papers.

"I thought the credit card statements might help you get to know some of the places she goes, what she likes to do... The police don't seem interested at all."

"There must be a reason - either that you think they're not interested, or why they wouldn't take her disappearance seriously."

"Danielle is an exotic dancer. She's always been confident, comfortable with her body, and she's always liked to shop and spend money - lots of it."

"The cards are active and fairly steep for a college kid," he said, checking the balances and some of the transactions from some high-end boutiques in the area. "These are pretty old, though - by about six months."

"We had a big fight over these. I told her that I couldn't keep paying her tuition and supporting this kind of spending. That's when she got the job at the VIP Club. She barely uses the cards anymore, but I know she hasn't changed her habits much, so that has to be how much she’s making.”

"Have the cops implied that she's doing more than dancing to make that much?"

"Oh, they've done more than imply it. That was their first thought. Danielle's not a whore. I don't approve of what she's doing, but she wouldn't go that far. I feel very sure of that."

"Why don't we back up a little and you can tell me more about her, and her disappearance."

"My husband died when Danielle was in high school - heart attack."

"I'm sorry," he said, thinking of Timmy, as he always did when someone talked about losing a spouse at a young age.

"Thank you. Dan was a wonderful husband and father, and Danielle was crazy about him. She was a daddy's girl, no doubt about it. He spoiled her. That's where she got her extravagant habits. Dan was a real estate broker, and he made a lot of money. The problem was that he was just like Danielle - he spent it faster than it came in. There was very little savings, and the life insurance was minimal. Our lifestyle changed drastically, and I know that was hard on her. It's hard to retrain a teenage girl to be frugal when she's used to having so many new clothes that what she gives to the church clothing drive every year looks better than most of her friends' best outfits. I loved Dan with all my heart, and he only wanted to make us happy, give us a good life. He just didn't plan on dying before he made it to 50."

"There was a lot of friction between you and Danielle about money issues then?"

"We argued about it all the time. I was the bad guy because I put us on a budget, moved us out of the big house into an apartment, paid off some debts so we could survive. I don't blame her. I should have stepped in sooner, put limits on things when Dan was still alive. I'm as guilty of enjoying the good life as she is."

"How did she do in school?"

"She was a straight-A student before her father died. Her grades did slip a bit, but she still kept up a B average, even managed to earn a couple of small scholarships."

"Any problems with drugs or alcohol?"                                                                                 

"No more than usual. She went to a few parties in high school where there was drinking going on, and if I found out about it, she was punished - grounded, privileges revoked, that kind of thing. In college, she seemed to be doing well. She was passing her classes and keeping her scholarships. I'm sure she went to parties and drank socially, but I never was aware of a drug addiction or a serious drinking problem."

"What were the circumstances surrounding her disappearance?"

"Her boss called me. She didn't show up for work two nights in a row, and he couldn't reach her on her cell. I went over to check her apartment, but nothing seemed out of place. The thing is, she wouldn't have gone out of town without her Louis Vuitton luggage."

"Yeah, your daughter and my boyfriend," he commented, smiling. "Early on, I had to accept that Louis Vuitton was the other man."

"Then you understand why it's significant that an inexpensive gym bag is missing, but the designer luggage is still there. She used the gym bag for work, since she had to leave it lying around in a dressing room all the girls used, and she didn't want her Louis Vuitton carry-on bag to turn up missing. But anytime she went on a trip, she always had at least a piece or two of the good luggage with her, even if it was just an overnight bag and a matching handbag."

"Could you tell what clothing was missing?"

"Not really. She buys so much, so often, and sometimes she swaps clothes with a couple friends who buy the same kind of expensive things she does. Her closet was stuffed, so I don't know."

"Purse, keys, favorite shoes, favorite jacket...?"

"Her purse was missing, so I assume her keys were in it. The shoes are a mystery - again, she has dozens of pairs."

"What about her car?"

"Missing, too. It's a red Pontiac Sunfire. She really loves that car," she added, smiling.

"How long ago did this happen?"

"She's been missing about a month. It was the fourteenth of April when her boss called me."

"Okay. So you reported this to the police when you couldn't reach her either?"

"I called the student services office at the college, and when they checked into it, they found she'd missed her classes the past two days. Then I reported it to the police."

"The last time anyone is confirmed as seeing her was when, exactly?"

"April eleventh. She was in her classes as usual, worked a short shift at the club, since Monday was a heavy class schedule day for her. That's the last anyone saw of her, when she left work."

"I see. How about boyfriends?"

"Danielle is a lesbian," she said. "That's partially why I came to you, because you're known in the gay and lesbian community. The police don't care about a lesbian stripper. I hoped you would."

"The police need to do their jobs regardless of what your daughter does for hers, or who she sleeps with. Hiring a private investigator will put some pressure on them, and I have a few contacts in the department that I can bring this up with. Meanwhile, you and I are going to go over every detail of your daughter's life that you know - all her friends, family, as much of her routine as you know..."

"You haven't mentioned your fee."

"It's a hundred dollars an hour, plus expenses."

"How much do you need for a retainer?"

"On a case like this? Typically about $3,000 is a good start. I'll be putting a lot of hours in on it, and balancing it with my other cases, plus expenses, that'll cover a couple weeks. If I find her sooner, or she turns up on her own, or, in the off chance the police actually manage to find her, I'll refund any unused portion of that."

"I can't pay you that. I just paid Danielle's Fall tuition bill, and I don't have it."

"What can you pay?"

"I have a check for $500 here. It's not much. I probably can't afford you at all."

"It's a start. Why don't we see what I come up with? I'll be honest, this won't cover things for long, but we can talk about a payment plan later, and I don't think you'll do much better on the fees with any reputable investigator."

"I'll be glad to pay you whatever I can, monthly if that's okay. I need to find my daughter, and no one else is even looking. I don't know how to do it myself. I don't know where to start," she added, tearing up.

"You've retained me," Don said, holding up the check. "We'll work out the financial details. Right now, time is of the essence. It is with any missing persons case."

"The police said if it's foul play, it's probably too late now," she said, wiping at her eyes.

"I'm not going to lie to you. The longer someone is missing, the less the chance of finding them alive. That's a fact. But it's not impossible. People disappear for all sorts of reasons, many of them voluntary, and they turn up fine, somewhere else, hiding from their family and friends for some reason of their own."

"Something bad happened to her, Mr. Strachey, I just know it, and the police don't care because they think she's some slut who got what she deserved," she spat out angrily, crying.

He moved around to sit on the front of his desk, and rested a hand on her shoulder, handing her a tissue.

"Karen, call me Don. We're going to do everything we can to find Danielle. I need you to be strong, hang tough, and stay focused, because you're my best resource, okay?"

"Okay," she said, nodding, sniffling, regaining her composure.

"It sounds like you know your daughter pretty well, keep in touch with her?"

"Yes. We may not always see eye to eye, but I accepted the best I could, and I love her. She knows that. We talk on the phone at least a couple times each week, and usually see each other maybe once a week, for lunch...or sometimes about money issues."

"Good. We're going to spend probably about an hour together today, going over every single detail about her life that you can tell me. Then you're going to go home and get some rest, because it's a pretty good bet you haven't gotten much of that in the last month."

"No, I haven't," she said in a quivering voice. "I keep dreaming about these awful things... I watch those crime shows, too. I know what happens to girls who disappear like this."

"You know what happens to some of the girls who disappear like this. Those are the ratings grabbers, the exciting, salacious cases that draw in viewers. Karen, they're the statistical minority. Most of the time, there's a less sinister reason, even though it seems hard to believe she'd do this voluntarily."

"Just don't dismiss it like the police are doing. That's how they justify sticking it on the back burner."

"That's not what I'm doing. You're not alone in this anymore, and since this is the only case I have right now where someone's life, safety, or well-being could be at risk, it'll be my top priority. So I'm gonna be working on it. That's what I do for a living, and people tell me I'm not too lousy at it," he added, smiling, glad to see that she returned it.

"Thank you. I'm sorry about the retainer. I wish I could give you more but if I do - "

"You need to eat and pay your bills. I get that. We'll figure all that out. For right now, let's spend some time getting all the facts we can put together in my file, so I have a good basis to start from."




"Tim, I have Jason Jacobson on line two," Tim's assistant, Jennifer, announced to him on the intercom.

"Thanks, Jen. I got it." He picked up the phone and answered. "Jason, good to hear from you."

"I wanted to invite you and Don over to see the posters. We're having them installed after closing tonight. We should have them up by about ten."

"So soon? We just got the portfolio the photographer put together."

"The printer's a friend of mine. He rushed it through for us."

"I'll call Don, see if he's free."

"Good. Just give me a call so I can let the security guard know to let you in the main entrance of the mall."

"I will. Thanks for inviting us for a sneak preview."

"No problem. I hope you're enjoying the clothes."

"Oh, yes. I'm actually wearing the Armani right now. I had to step in for the senator at a luncheon today and make a brief presentation, so it was an ideal time to wear it."

"Great. Just be sure to tell your friends to stop in and see the fruits of your modeling debut."

"All right," Tim agreed, smiling. He had no hesitation to recommend Jason or his store, but he couldn't picture himself telling anyone he knew to hurry out to the mall to see a giant poster-sized version of himself smiling down at them in an overpriced suit.

He dialed Donald's cell number and looked forward to hearing that familiar voice on the other end of the line.

"Talk dirty to me," Don said in a husky voice. Tim burst out laughing.

"I've never enjoyed riding a ten-speed quite as much as I did last night," he replied lightly, loving that he could make the remark without worrying about anyone overhearing, but knowing it would go straight to his partner's very active libido.

"If I could be reincarnated as just about anything, the seat on your ten-speed would be right up there on top of the list."

"What's your schedule like for tonight?"

"God, you really are hot, aren't you?"

"Just cool your jets a little," Tim replied, chuckling. "Jason called, and they're putting up the posters after closing tonight. He wondered if we wanted to come by there about ten and see what they looked like."

"Actually, that'll work out great for me. I got a new case today, and I have to go over to the VIP Club this evening and question some people."

"The VIP Club? Isn't that a strip joint?"

"As a matter of fact, it is. Unfortunately, no male strippers, so you have nothing to be jealous about."

"Oh, so if there were male strippers, you'd be looking?" he teased, glancing toward his door to be sure no one was within earshot.

"Nah. No point in going out for burgers when I've got steak at home."

"That was the right answer," Tim replied.

"It might have taken several years, but I'm learning the ropes of this marriage thing."

"Don't let it go to your head, but you've done pretty well right from the start."

"Which head?"

"Why do I bother?"

"Because you love me."

"That would be it," Tim agreed, laughing. "You want to meet me over at the mall, or will you be home before ten?"

"I'll meet you there if you don't mind. Some of the girls don't even start their shifts until after eight, so that'll give me time to talk to them and then I can hop on the expressway and be over there by ten or so."

"Or so?"

"Give or take ten minutes, okay?"

"Just don't make me hang out there until eleven."

"If I'm not there by the time Jason leaves, you leave, too. I don't want you hanging around there alone after closing."

"I'm a big boy, Donald."

"You certainly are."

"Oh, for heaven's sake. You're impossible."

"I love you, too, beautiful. See you about ten."

"If you're late, you'll have to make it up to me."

"If I'm late, you should deal with me sternly. Preferably while wearing your new silk pajamas."

"Goodbye, Donald."

"Bye, honey," he replied sweetly before Tim broke the connection, laughing.




"Dani is a businesswoman - she knows how to make money at this," the young dancer, Renee, said as she carefully added to her dark eyeliner. A pretty, statuesque brunette with large brown eyes, she was scantily dressed in frilly lingerie that didn't leave much to the imagination, sitting at a long make-up table in front of lighted mirrors shared by all the dancers. Don had talked with a few of them already, but Renee was the one they had all told him was closest to Danielle and might know something about her personal life. "She came up with the girl-on-girl routine that's a regular attraction here now. Even so, she still plays the role with the guys - especially the rich old ones."

"She's open about her sexuality?"

"Sort of. I know she's gay, but she tells most people she's bi. It's amazing how many guys get turned on with the whole girl-on-girl thing. There are only a couple of us who'll do it with her, though. The tips are phenomenal, and it doesn't mean anything, so why pass that up? I've done the routine with her a few times, and so has Samantha - she doesn't come on until the midnight show."

"Anybody ever cause any trouble for her about her sexuality, or about the routine?"

"Brianne did the routine with her a couple times, and then they had this big fight after one of the performances, and Brianne was throwing around words like 'dyke' and 'pervert'. It got ugly. Dani was crying, apologizing...she won't talk about what happened."

"When was that?"

"About a week or so before she stopped showing up - so she's officially a missing person? Creepy." She shuddered.

"Why would Brianne go after Danielle for that, when she voluntarily did the whole girl-on-girl thing with her?"

"You know, something like that isn't much different than a staged fight in a movie where nobody really gets punched," she said, putting away her eyeliner. She stopped talking for a moment while another girl stopped by the mirror to check her hair, then moved on. "Dani and I are friends, and we practiced, worked out the moves. You've gotta have some body contact and do some touching, don't get me wrong, but you can fake some of the touching, and a lot of it is in the acting job you do. I mean, Dani can reach anywhere between my waist and my knees, and if I react convincingly, with the lights and the music and all the commotion, the guys go nuts, thinking she's fingering me."

"But she isn't?"

"No, she knows how to fake it. She's grabbed my tits a few times, but you can't really fake that, and it's right up there with getting a weird breast exam. It doesn't do anything for me, but it doesn't freak me out, either. It's not like somebody hasn't grabbed my tits in this place before, and I didn't get such a great pile of tips for it. I've slapped her ass, grabbed have to do something to simulate sex or there's nothing else to the routine than two dancers wiggling around on stage at the same time."

"You figure she might have taken it too far with Brianne?"

"I think she likes Brianne, so doing the routine with her was probably a mistake. Dani probably touched something she shouldn't have, or touched it a little too much, and bang! Brianne was furious."

"Brianne didn't tell you that, though?"

"No, she didn't explain herself. Burt, our manager, came back here, and they both had to settle down or risk getting fired. That's Brianne, right there," she said in a whisper as another girl came into the room, sweaty and mostly naked, straight from her stint on stage. She was obviously older than most of the other girls, but still in good shape.

"Renee, what the hell?" she challenged right away, pulling on a short red silk robe, pushing her long blonde hair out of her face. "If you wanna see naked women, asshole, go out front and pay for it," she said to Don, who laughed.

"Fair enough. Sorry to disappoint you, but the only person I wanna see naked is my boyfriend, so you're safe."

"Oh, fucking great. You must be a friend of Danielle's."

"No, but I am a private investigator looking into her disappearance," he said. "I understand you and Danielle had words about one of your performances."

"Did you give him my cup size and home phone number, too?" she asked Renee.

"Oh, fuck off, Bri. You're just bitter because your ass is starting to sag and your tips are slipping. I have to go on now," she said to Don, smiling.

"Thank you for your time," he said. "I'd give you a business card, but I'm not sure where you'd put it."

"You know where to find me, and I remember your name. Stop back in if you ever decide to swing the other way. You're pretty cute," she said, winking and heading for the stage.

"I have a weakness for tall brunets, so I'll keep that in mind."

She laughed and blew him a kiss before hurrying out to start her performance.

"You can feel free to get the fuck out of here anytime," Brianne said. "I have to clean up and change. I'm back on in a little while."

"I'd like to talk to you if you can spare a minute."

"Look, if you're here to make some big deal out of the argument I had with Danielle, save your time. I don't know where she is, and I didn't do anything to her."

"Who said anyone did anything to her?"

"You're investigating her disappearance, right? Like I'd kill her because she rubbed my clit on stage? Sure, I'm a virgin, don't you know? Had to protect my virtue." She rolled her eyes. "She wasn't supposed to put her hand there, and I was pissed off, and let her know it."

"You think she's dead?"

"Honey, most women who go missing for a month don't show up alive. Besides, she did exactly what they tell you not to do in this business - she got involved with the customers. The rich ones. I don't know what she did with them, but she was always wearing some new piece of fancy jewelry, never was short on cash, and always had guys hanging around looking for her. Once in a while, she'd get dropped off to work in some fancy car, or even a limo once or twice."

"So you think a customer might have done something to her?"

"Most of the guys who hang out at strip clubs are okay. They're family men who don't get enough at home, or whose wives look like crap and don't take care of themselves, or they're having bachelor parties, or want to meet women with good bodies. Most of them aren't sickos. But a few are. And if you're gonna take up with these guys and start hanging out with them, you might run into one of the sickos. That's all I'm saying."

"Anyone you remember specifically that used to spend time with her, who still comes in?"

"A few guys. I don't know their names."

"Anyone who never comes in anymore now that she's not here?"

"You know, there was one guy...he was young, kinda cute, really. He was always paying her for lap dances, private VIP dances - that's just a nice term for go in a private room and fuck. I teased her that he looked just like Ted Bundy and she better watch out. She didn't think that was funny."

"Would you recognize him if you saw him again?"

"Oh, yeah, I remember him, but he hasn't been in here since she's been gone."

"Would you please give me a call if you see him, or if you think of anything else?" He handed her a card.

"Sure. I was ticked off at Danielle, but I didn't wish anything bad to happen to her. I hope you find out where she is."

"Thanks, me, too." As Brianne started to walk away, he called after her. "Your ass looks fine to me."

"Great. A gay guy likes my ass. My night is complete," she retorted, laughing.




Tim drove into the parking lot of the shopping mall, and was pleasantly surprised to see Don's car already there. He pulled in next to it, and they both got out of their cars.

"Hey, honey," Don said, planting a quick kiss on Tim's mouth.

"You're here already," Tim said, checking his watch. It was five before ten.

"Don't get too happy with me. I have to go back to the VIP Club when we're done here. One of the girls doesn't go on until the midnight show."

"Two trips to the strip club, huh? I don't know, Donald," Tim teased, shaking his head. Truth be told, he wouldn't have worried about Don's conduct or fidelity if he'd been in a room full of well-oiled Chippendales bumping and grinding for his benefit.

"Well, there was one tall brunette there who was pretty hot, but I still like your chest better than hers."

"Good enough for me," Tim replied, laughing, flopping an arm around Don's shoulders as they walked toward the entrance. "I hope hers wasn't as hairy."

"Trust me, I've been in strip clubs where you might have had some competition there."

A security guard let them in, and they followed the dimly lit hall to the entrance of Jacobson's, which was still lit up as if it were open. Two men in jeans and t-shirts were busy hanging one of the framed posters near the back of the store. It was the blue silk pajama shot, located in the sleepwear section.

"Glad you could both make it," Jason greeted, smiling. "We're just getting started, running a bit late, actually. Are you ready to see the big poster for the front window?" he asked.

"I don't know if I'm ready to be confronted with a giant 'me'," Tim said, laughing a little nervously. That old wave of self-consciousness was back. Even though he was confident about his appearance, and comfortable with his looks, he just wasn't relaxed with being in such a spotlight.

"Bring it on," Don replied, grinning. His enthusiasm was contagious.

Jason guided them to the large rectangle that was draped with a tarp situated near the front window. He unveiled it with the panache of a gallery owner. It was a pose of Tim in the Armani suit he was wearing, faint smile on his face, but the background was white, and Ashley was at a slight distance behind him, giving him an appreciative look.

"I don't even remember that shot - and what happened to the library?" Tim asked, staring at it, completely thrown by not seeing one of the photos from the portfolio.

"There are a couple other poses with the library background I'll show you in a moment. When we reviewed the proofs, they were a bit dark for the front window. This way, all the focus is on you, in the dark suit, in contrast to the plain white background. Plus, the Armani name and our store logo show up better in the lower right corner this way. I thought it turned out very well. I hope you both agree."

"I think it looks great," Don said, but Tim wasn't quite as immediately positive.

"You don't look pleased, Tim," Jason said, concerned.

"No, it's very nice. I’m just surprised. I was uneasy with Ashley’s role in the photo shoot, but you were very understanding about that, and I appreciated the changes we made that took the emphasis off Ashley as some kind of…love interest.”

"I don't think that's really the primary message in this piece. It only says that a pretty woman finds you attractive in that suit. You're not even looking at her in this pose."

"He's got a point, honey," Don said. "I understand what you're saying, but this whole thing really isn't a social or political issue - it's a poster in a men's store. You look great, any woman who likes men is probably going to check you out in that suit, and that's all she's doing. Besides, straight guys wanna get women, and a lot of the customers here are straight guys. Those who aren't are gonna spend most of their time looking at the pajama picture."

Tim smiled, loving Don so much at that moment for putting the whole thing in a more laid back perspective. His partner's ability to smooth his ruffled feathers and calm his anxiety was one of the things he loved and valued most about him.

"You really don't see anything wrong with this? With me pretending I'm straight?"

"I would see a lot wrong with that, Timothy. I don't think you're doing that. She's just looking at you and likes what she sees. One of the strippers I interviewed tonight thinks I'm cute and invited me to come back if I decide to swing the other way. Not all women find gay men entirely unappealing, so her looking at you doesn't say anything about your orientation."

"Why does the idea of you being propositioned by a stripper not make me feel better about this?" he asked, gaping at Donald, wondering sometimes how his partner's mind worked.

"Sorry, honey. I was trying to make a point. This is pretty tame by comparison, and I'm still as gay as I was a few hours ago," he added, smiling devilishly.

"You don't understand where I'm coming from at all with this?"

"Yeah, I do, but I don't think it's as big a deal as you feel like it is. I don't think you're pretending to be anything you're not. You're just standing there. You can't control who looks at you, and you aren't even looking at her."

"I'm being over-sensitive?"

"Maybe a little, but I understand why you feel like you're missing a chance to show who you really are, because most guys will look at this and think 'straight guy with a hot chick looking at him'."


"Then that's their perception, not something you're doing. There's certainly nothing anti-gay in any of this."

"It wasn't our intention to do something to offend you, Tim," Jason said. "I thought the poster turned out great, and for a lot of our customers, having a girl that looks like Ashley notice them is high on their list of priorities, whether they admit it or not."

"I'm not offended, exactly," Tim said. "And I'm not trying to be difficult. But this isn't the way the photo shoot was set up, when we were interacting in what looked like a business setting."

"That's because the poster is made from two different shots of the two of you separately, put together here on a different background."

"She looks like she's on the prowl and I look like I know she there's, with this smug smile on my face."

"Well, that was sort of the intent of putting it together this way. We can call the whole thing off, if that's what you want. I did have a print ad and website layout idea I was going to run by you as well. Honestly, this ad campaign looks great, and you're the ideal image to represent our clientele."

"As long as I'm not obviously gay."

"That would narrow the appeal, undeniably. I don't believe in catering to bigots, but putting emphasis on your orientation would pigeon-hole the ad campaign to only appeal to a very specific audience. These images are essentially neutral and can appeal to all our customers, without putting you in compromising or overtly romantic scenarios with Ashley."

"I agreed to do this, and you've obviously put a lot of time, effort, and I assume, money, into making it happen. I won't back out on it now. I just would have appreciated not having shots spliced together to create something I wouldn't have posed for."

"And I apologize for that. I didn't think this would be outside your comfort zone."

"How about the other posters?" Don asked, changing the subject.

"Right this way," Jason said, smiling, leading them into the middle of the store. In addition to the front window poster and the pajama shot, there were two other posters, one featuring the library background and the Gucci suit, and another set in the garden at the Jacobson house, with Tim wearing sunglasses and a casual outfit with khakis and a Ralph Lauren shirt and sweater.

"They all look great to me," Don said.

"It's a nice selection from the shots we did," Tim agreed. "Jason, I hope you don't feel I was being ungracious before. The posters look great, and I do appreciate that you wanted me for your model. I have a lot of personal issues with doing anything that represents me as anything other than what I am, and I suppose the bottom line is that I would have loved to have done one of these shots with Donald, because he's my husband and that's what my life looks like, and he's the one I want to impress and attract."

"You do that just by walking into a room,” Don spoke up.

Tim felt a little choked up at Donald's spontaneous and genuine words, so he smiled at him, hoping Donald felt all the love that was behind the look.

"We haven't finalized our print or website layouts yet. How would you feel about appearing in one of those with Tim?" Jason asked Don. He blinked a time or two, and then looked at Tim.

"How do I feel about that?" he asked Tim, a faint smile on his face.

"You'd love to," Tim replied, without a second thought.

"I'd love to," Don repeated to Jason, who laughed.

"So that's the secret to a happy marriage, huh?"

"Know when you're licked," Don said, and after a pause, added, "and enjoy it." He cast a devilish look at Tim, who just rolled his eyes.

"If we featured Ashley in a neutral situation, we could do the same with Don. You could be friends, co-workers, partners - whatever the audience wants to read into it," Jason suggested.

"I really like that idea, Jason. Thank you," Tim said, suddenly feeling better about the whole ad campaign, and his part in it.

"I'll set something up with our photographer," Jason offered. Before Tim could open his mouth, Don shot him a quick negative expression, and Tim had to agree. Jason was doing his all to accommodate them, and taking issue with his choice of photographers seemed petty.




Don's interview with the exotic dancer, Samantha, was uneventful. She had little to add to the case beyond what he'd already learned from Renee and Brianne. The club's manager was available this time, though, and was willing to talk more about Danielle. A balding man in his sixties, he didn't quite strike Donald as the lecherous, sleazy type he'd often encountered managing clubs like these. He spoke respectfully of his staff, and had genuine admiration in his voice when he described Danielle as hardworking, smart, and a "girl who was going places."

"I understand Danielle came up with the girl-on-girl routine, and that caused a little trouble with Brianne."

"If I were smart, I would have used the idea, but not let Dani be part of it. Knowing she liked girls, there was bound to be an incident."

"You had reason to be concerned she couldn't control herself in that situation?"

"She's young, all the hormones are flowing, and let's face it, the girls here aren't exactly hard to look at."

"How do you think Brianne handled it, really?"

"She was pissed off, complained to me. I told her not to worry about doing the routine with Dani again, that I'd talk to her. At first, I think she was hoping I was going to fire her. She seemed to cool off about it. She's been around this business a lot of years, so she's not exactly an innocent."

"I got that impression," Don said, laughing.

"The guys love her. Nobody works a room like Brianne."

"Speaking of the guys, was there anyone you ever had to tell to back off when it came to Danielle? An obsessed customer, a hanger-on? Maybe somebody who didn't like the girl-on-girl thing?"

"She encouraged the affluent old guys to hang around. I know she saw a few of them socially outside the club, but I don't remember her ever expressing any fear or negative feelings about any of them."

"One of the girls mentioned a younger, good-looking guy - "

"Ted," he said, laughing. "Brianne must've mentioned him, huh? The girls all started calling him 'Ted' once she compared him to Ted Bundy."

"After all your years in this business, you must have an instinct about your customers. Any thoughts about this guy?"

"I have to agree with Brianne - he was creepy. A little too slick, a little too good to be true to be lurking in the shadows of a strip club picking up dancers. No offense to the girls - I've made my living off this business for a lot of years now - but guys who hang around here, get obsessed with one of the girls...or those who look like they could have anyone, but have some jones for strippers...well, most of them have some kind of twist in the upper storey," he said, tapping his temple.

"Did you ever confront this guy?"

"Didn't have a reason to. Dani wasn't refusing his attention, and he didn't do anything to disrupt things at the club, so I didn't have a problem with it. Whatever they did or didn't do, they did somewhere else. All I ever saw him do was watch the dancers, or pay Dani for a private dance, or VIP dance."

"What are your policies on private dances?"

"You mean how much can the girls do? Obviously, the policy is that all they do is dance. Can I watch what goes on in every VIP room all night long? No."

"Besides Ted, anybody else Dani was having problems with?"

"Not that I know of. She was a good employee, dependable, no trouble. I hope you find her. I think you've got a better chance than the cops do. You've been here more today than they have since she disappeared."

"Unfortunately, it doesn't surprise me that a lesbian stripper isn't high on their priority list. I'll be talking with them, too. Do you know if Danielle had a regular girlfriend?"

"Not that I ever saw. She played the role with the guys, unless she was playing for both teams. I never saw her hanging around with another girl."

"Thanks very much for your time," Don said, handing him a card. "If you think of anything else, please give me a call."

"Sure thing."




Tim heard the downstairs door, followed by familiar footsteps on the stairs. A moment later, Donald was slipping as noiselessly as he could into the room.

"I'm awake," Tim said, turning on the light, squinting a little.

"Hey, honey," Don said, smiling. "Sorry." He leaned over and kissed Timmy hello, then started undressing.

"Do you want something to eat?"

"Nah, it's almost two." Don's tone wasn't convincing.

"I'll make you a sandwich." Tim got up and pulled on his robe. "Get undressed and relax. I'll be right back."

"You're the best," Don said, smiling gratefully.

In the time it took Tim to make the sandwich, grab a bottled water, and head back upstairs, Don had showered and was getting into bed, stuffing a couple extra pillows behind himself.

"How's the case going?" he asked, handing Don the plate and setting the water on the night stand. He climbed back into his side of the bed and took off his glasses.

"It's a missing person case. College girl who's been missing about a month." He paused to chew, looking like he was eating caviar rather than a cold chicken sandwich. "God, Timothy, I love you."

"I love you, too, honey," he replied, laughing, kissing Donald's cheek. "Any suspects surfacing?" Tim asked.

"Well," Don began, licking a little mayo off his finger, "she had a conflict with one of the other girls at the strip club where she worked, but I honestly don't see it leading to murder. She was a lesbian, but it doesn’t seem like she had any regular girlfriends."

"You think she's dead?"

"Well, one thing one of the girls said is true. A woman goes missing for a month, gone without a trace, and it's generally not for a good reason. Add to that the fact she didn't take her Louis Vuitton luggage with her, and I think we have an open and shut case for foul play," he added.

"Be very careful what you say next," Tim teased, laughing.

"I'm just saying," Don replied, grinning, "priorities." 

"So that's it? One other dancer is mad at her? What about her family?"

"Her mother's the one hiring me. She seems to really care about her daughter, to really be trying to accept her lifestyle - both her orientation and the dancing. I haven't talked to anyone else in her family yet. There's one creepy guy that hung around the strip club, and apparently she didn't let a little thing like being a lesbian stand in the way of dating her wealthy fans."

"Well, that's a promising lead. Some follower who thought she was all his, and either she dumped him or he found out she was a lesbian."

"I thought of that. You're right, it's a good possibility."

"But you don't think that's it."

"I feel like there's something beneath the surface here that I'm not seeing yet. I have the feeling it's going to be a long, tricky investigation, which may be why the cops aren't putting as much time in on it."

"Nice retainer?"

"We're not going to get rich off it. Her mother's not loaded." Donald paused. "If I stick with this case for the long haul, it could cost us, because it's a major case."

"There's something about it that's got you hooked, though."

"Maybe it's her mother who got to me. She's got a daughter the cops aren't going to consider a priority victim, and it doesn't seem right that she has to be rich to get some help. But I've gotta balance that with paying the bills."

"For what it's worth, I think you're doing the right thing."

"I was kinda hoping you'd say that," he said, finishing the sandwich.

"We have a little money stashed for a rainy day. These are the kinds of cases you should be working - that are better suited to your talents."

"Unfortunately, it's the cheating spouses who pay the bills."

"Maybe, but that's not really what you became a PI for, is it?"

"No, not really." He set the empty plate aside and turned out the light on his night stand. Tim turned his light out, and Don curled up on his side while Tim spooned around him.

"Mmm, you smell good." Tim closed his eyes and enjoyed the scent of a freshly showered Donald snuggled in his arms.

"Sorry I kept you up so long," he said through a yawn. Tim smiled, hugging him a little tighter.

"I'm not." He kissed Don's cheek. "Go to sleep, honey." He was glad for the little visit with his partner, and glad that he'd fixed him something decent to eat so he could sleep without going hungry or eating some quick and greasy thing that would lie like lead in his belly all night. Donald's body felt good against his, and he decided a few hours like this were better than a stretch of undisturbed hours alone. He could feel Donald's breathing evening out, and he let it calm and lull him into sleep.




"Not every unsolved case involving a gay victim is a conspiracy, Strachey," Bailey said, leaning back in his desk chair, taking a drink of coffee. "Does a missing stripper take a backseat to a missing ten-year-old girl? Absolutely. Missing Persons, and cops from pretty much every department, are assisting with that case right now, because it's hot and we have a good chance of finding the little girl alive. At least, that's the theory based on the evidence. I don't know anything about Danielle Freemont or her case. I do know Marty Jensen is a good cop, so I'm sure he's handling the investigation properly."

"Maybe you could talk to your pal and get him to share a copy of the case file with me?"

"I wouldn't hold my breath. Marty's been around a long time. He plays it by the book"

"For whatever Danielle Freemont does or doesn't do, she's a college kid with a mother who's worried sick about her, and there's no good reason to think she just took off on her own."

"What do you want me to do? It's not my case," he added, shrugging.

"Talk to Jensen and see if you can get him to work with me. At least let me read through the file, so I'm not wasting Mrs. Freemont's money duplicating his work, and maybe there are some leads he doesn't have time to run down that I could. Come on, Bailey. She might not exactly be the girl next door, but she doesn't deserve to meet a bad end and just be shelved because of who or what she is."

"Would it do me any good to say no?"

"You could, but you know I'm right, so you won't."

"Oh, I know you're right?" Bailey challenged, though Don suspected his irritation was largely for show more so than true annoyance.

"If she were your daughter, wouldn't you want someone to look for her even if she wasn't doing what she's supposed to do?"

"I'll give Jensen a call, ask him to let you look over the file. I can't make any promises."

"I'm just asking for you to open the door for me. I'll take it from there."




Marty Jensen was a stocky man in his fifties with receding gray hair and a gnarly salt-and-pepper mustache. His voice was rough and he reeked of cigarette smoke, even though the precinct's policies kept him from smoking at his desk. He looked neither happy to see Don nor especially interested in Danielle Freemont's case. When Don requested the file, he tossed it on the desk in his direction, barely looking up at him.

"You can read it here, but it stays in the office."

"Not a problem. Thank you for your cooperation."

"Don't thank me. I owed Bub Bailey a favor, and he seems to think you know what you're doing."

"That's good to hear," Don said, smiling, taking the file.

"You can read it over there," he said, gesturing to an empty desk in the detectives' bullpen.

"Thanks." Taking the hint of dismissal in Jensen's tone, he took the file and sat at the other desk, and began leafing through it.

Jensen had interviewed the strippers, though he hadn't talked to Brianne. "Ted" was mentioned, as was Danielle's practice of spending time with her affluent clients. He came quickly to the end of the file, flipping back through it to see if he'd missed other interviews.

"Detective Jensen?" he asked, since they were within earshot of each other. The detective looked up from his hunt-and-peck typing on the computer. "Is this everything?"

"You were expecting something else?"

"What about people she knew at the college, her family, other friends?"

"Do you know how many people are missing in Albany, Strachey?"

"No, Jensen, I don't. But if all the files are as minimal as this one, not too many of them are going to be found. How thick is your file on that missing ten-year-old?"

"Here we go. If you're here to start preaching to me about 'gay rights'," he said, making quote marks in the air with his beefy fingers, "save your breath. You got a girl who takes her clothes off for a living and makes her spending money as a hooker. Nobody's saying it in so many words, but that's what she's doing. She fucking asked to end up like this...however it is she actually ended up. All this is just a matter of trying to sort out which john did her, whether she was stabbed, strangled, or shot, and where he put the body. Meanwhile, we've got a shot at finding that little girl alive, and she didn't do a goddamned thing to put herself in danger. So yeah, the case file is a little thin. You take over my caseload instead of dinking around for a hundred bucks an hour on whatever you feel like doing, and come back and tell me then how I oughtta handle my job."

"Thank you for your time," Don said, tossing the file on Jensen's desk and heading for the exit.




Don sat in the reception area of the office, flipping through a magazine produced by the community college where Danielle Freemont was a student. The phone on the secretary's desk rang, and she picked it up. A moment later, she ended the call and looked up at him with a smile.

"You can go right in," she said. "Dean Bradley is free now." 

"Thank you," he said, opening the door and walking into the nicely appointed office. The facilities at the college were modest but up-to-date and attractively furnished. The Dean of Students, Monica Bradley, was a middle aged woman with neatly styled auburn hair and small reading glasses seated on the bridge of her nose.

"Mr. Strachey, please come in," she said, gesturing toward a guest chair across from her desk. "You're investigating Danielle Freemont's disappearance?"

"Yes, that's right. I was hoping you could help me find a few of her friends. Her mother knew some first names, but not last names, and she hadn't met most of them." He handed her a sheet of paper with a few names typed on it.

"I believe Anastasia is Anastasia Walters. We don't have many students with that name, and she is fairly well-known on campus for her art. She designed a mural we have in the recreation center. The others I would need to do a bit of research to find. I'll have my secretary check with Danielle's instructors to see if we can identify them. Anastasia may know, if she and Danielle were good friends."

"Do any of these other names ring a bell?"

"Well, since they're only first names, and Anastasia's was the only one that seems a bit out of the ordinary, nothing comes immediately to mind. I didn't know Danielle personally, so I'm afraid I'm not much help there."

"So as far as you know, Danielle's never been in any serious trouble here, or on the upside, isn't well-known on campus, like you mentioned Anastasia is?"

"There's only so much I can tell you from her student record for privacy reasons. I can tell you she's a student in good standing, currently enrolled, but as far as her grades, her schedule, specifics like that, I can't say."

"What if I get something in writing from her mother?"

"Truthfully, Mr. Strachey, I can't give that information to her mother, either. Danielle is an adult, and privacy laws protect her information, even from her mother. If we have a court order, we can comply with that, of course. I could give you the names of faculty in the business department who might be of more help to you."

"I understand. Her mother said she's a business major, so that should be helpful." He paused. "The police haven't officially requested her records?"

"My office would be aware of any such requests, so no, they haven't. I haven't spoken with the police at all."

"Do you know if they visited the campus, or questioned anyone else here?"

"Not to my knowledge, but I wouldn't necessarily know if they talked to students or faculty directly."

"How would they know where to start without at least the information I have?"

"You'd have to ask them. I wish I were better acquainted with Danielle, but I don't really know her beyond what's in our records."

"If I could have those faculty names, that would be great. Also, Anastasia's contact information."

"I can't give you that from our records, but you can get it from this," she said, handing him a copy of the student newspaper. "She's organizing a clothing drive for charity - the article is on the second page - and it lists her e-mail address and phone number."

"Thank you." He took the paper and folded it up, holding it with his notepad. She gave him several names of faculty members to add to his notes, and he left the office with what he considered a wealth of information and potential leads, wondering how Jensen had stayed on the force so long and earned such a good reputation by being such a shoddy investigator.




"Either your meatballs aren't up to par, or something's bothering you," Tim said, slicing another bite of lasagna and putting it in his mouth. The Italian food at Carnevale was only marginally short of an orgasmic experience, and the fact Donald was rolling a large meatball around with his fork and letting the meal get cold was a sure sign he was stewing over something.

"It's this case. I've been on it a couple of days, and already I've talked with more people than the cops did in the month she's been missing. And this Jensen asshole - Timmy, I swear, you would have wanted to choke him. He said in so many words that all this case was about was figuring out which one of her clients killed her and where they buried the body," he concluded. Noticing the interest in the conversation from the woman at the next table, he lowered his voice. "Their file on her is thinner than mine is."

"Thinner than their file on you, or your file on her?" Tim asked, hoping to draw a little smile out of Donald.

"I'm sure they have a bulging file on me somewhere," he said, shaking his head, smiling. "For all the bitching Bailey does about the paperwork I generate for him, I suppose it has to go somewhere. I was talking about Danielle's file."

"Well, I don't like to be paranoid, and I don't like to make stereotyping assumptions about the police, but you and I know the LGBTQA community isn't at the top of the food chain when it comes to their investigations."

"She's a nineteen-year-old girl. A college student."

"Who happens to be a stripper who gets friendly with her clients," Tim whispered back. "Didn't you say they have a missing child case active right now?"

"Yes, but that shouldn't paralyze the whole fucking police force. I can understand it being their current priority, but that's only been going on for a week or so. Plus, you'd have had to hear this guy talk about the case. It was obvious he'd shoved it aside, assuming it was nothing but a glorified body hunt at this point."

"Don, if we stripped away all the human emotion, the sympathy you feel for her mother, which I love you for, and just looked at the facts of the case - isn't there maybe a grain of truth to that assumption? Putting aside any judgments on Danielle, most young women who disappear like that don't turn up alive after a month or so has gone by, unless they took off on their own, which doesn't look reasonable here, and even if it is, then she's probably all right somewhere and not wanting to be found. Maybe a crusty old cop like Jensen has gotten through all those years of overwhelming caseloads by making some heartless assumptions based on experience."

"This hurts to say, but you could be right," Don said, sighing, taking a drink of his wine.

"I'm sorry if I one-upped Sherlock Holmes," he replied jauntily, and Don laughed quietly.

"It wouldn't be the first time. It's just that Karen Freemont lost her husband way too early, had her whole life turned upside down, somehow managed to come to terms with her daughter's lifestyle, stayed close to her, and now Danielle's probably dead. I guess I wanted her mother to have a happy ending. Seems like she's overdue for one."

"Maybe you'll manage that, honey. You might find her alive and well somewhere."

"Not likely. She was in a high-risk situation, dating guys who hung out at the strip club. She apparently did something to get money and gifts out of them, but she didn't stay with any of them. That's a whole host of nameless guys, one of whom might be hurt or his pride wounded enough to want to teach her a lesson."

"I take it getting names of VIP Club customers isn't all that easy, either."

"They don't exactly open up their Rolodexes for me, no. A lot of these guys pay cash, anyway, so it's not like there's some big database of girl-watchers they can share with me."

"So maybe you need to mingle with the natives," Tim suggested.

"Timothy Callahan, are you suggesting I go watch young ladies take their clothes off in some dark, unsavory strip club?"

"Yes," he said, smiling. "You said there were no male strippers there, so I can rest assured you're just doing your job, and you're good at undercover work. I think you can be a believable lonely guy in a strip club."

"Gee, thanks," he replied, returning Tim's smile. "The girls know me."

"Do you think they'd blow your cover?"

"No, I'm not sure why they would. I'd talk to them before I did it, so they didn't unintentionally give me away. I think the manager would cooperate, too."

"Well, then, maybe that will give you a chance to meet up with some of her former clients."

"One of my clients had a son who used to hang out at strip clubs all the time," Donald said, frowning, visibly wracking his brain for a name. "He was a ne'er do well trust fund brat. That might be a good character for me. The VIP Club is pricey and upscale as skin joints go, so they do get some moneyed customers."

"Won't that make the investigation more expensive?"

"Probably. I'll need to tuck a few large bills in the G-strings, maybe get a private dance or two in the VIP rooms. I should be the same type of guy Danielle would have gone after. Maybe that way, other similar customers will be more open to hanging out with me. I might even meet 'Ted'. Although, honestly, I should probably try a few other clubs to see if I can find 'Ted.' Even if he did something to Danielle, chances are he's looking for a new girl by now, maybe at a new hangout."

"Just don't think you can start hanging around at Skin City," Tim said. Donald's eyes widened.

"How do you know about Skin City?"

"I've been part of the gay community in Albany for quite a few years, honey."

"Yeah, I know, but...Skin City? Timothy, that's a glorified pick up joint. They have glory holes in the men's room."

"I'm sure the couple at the next table are glad to have that piece of information," he commented, chuckling at Don's little flurry of disdain that he was actually familiar with one of the seedier gay clubs on the wrong side of the tracks that featured male strippers.

"Since when do you go to places like that?"

"I don't go to them now. I only went there once. A friend of mine had his bachelor party there. Between the smell of sweaty flesh, strippers who looked like they had way too many miles on them, and people practically having sex on the dance floor, it didn't soar to the top of my list of favorite hangouts. And just how do you know about the glory holes in the men's room? I wouldn't have gone in that men's room under threat of death."

"Word of mouth," Don said, smiling slyly. Then he seemed to recognize that Timmy really was a bit uneasy without knowing how he'd acquired that piece of information. "I didn't say I used them, just that I knew they were there. I was there a couple times, but the strippers were ugly, the drinks were watered down, and the guys who tried to pick me up were mostly sweaty old men who couldn't get a boyfriend out in the real world."

"I know it's silly," Tim said, not really sure how to put his thoughts into words without them sounding silly, naive, or uptight. "I just don't like thinking of some strange guy who doesn't care anything about you, pawing you."

"That's not my favorite mental image about you, either, sweetheart," Don admitted, reaching across the table to take Tim's hand. "All of that's in the past. Part of the roads we had to travel to get here."

"I'm glad you didn't settle for sweaty old men," he said, smiling.

"I do have some standards," he replied, laughing. "Can't say I ever expected to land something like you, though. Top of the line."

"You deserve the best, Donald," he said, squeezing Don's hand. "You deserve all I can give you, probably more."

"If there's something you can't give me, I don't need it, sweetheart." He rubbed his thumb over Timmy's wedding ring. "In case I've been a little too busy to mention it lately, I love you."

"I know," Tim replied, smiling. "I can't remember if it was the last time we had sex, or when I made you that chicken sandwich at two in the morning, but you shouted 'I love you' in a fit of orgasmic delight recently over something."

"It was the sandwich. During the sex, I had better things to do with my mouth than talk," he whispered, then kissed Timmy's hand. "So, what're your plans for the rest of the night, baby?"

"Oh, just go home and lie around in bed by myself while my husband is out working. You wanna come by and fool around?"

"If your husband leaves you at home alone, he must be nuts."

"That's part of his charm," Tim joked, still holding Don's hand. Then he looked into Don's eyes. "He's more than worth waiting for."

"I bet he's crazy in love with you."

"I'm pretty crazy in love with him, too."

"So you probably wouldn't really wanna do the fooling around thing anyway, huh?"

"We're married. No matter how many late nights he works, I know he's faithful to me, and that he'll come home to me. Just me." Tim smiled, lacing their fingers together. "He's the other half of me."

"All the times I'm out late, even if it's on an interesting case, or something I'm really into doing... I miss you like crazy, and I know that I'm missing time we could be together. The nights I'm doing really boring stuff...the only thing that gets me through is thinking about going home and crawling into bed with you."

"Let's box up dinner and go home for a while. I know you're probably going out tonight on the case, but we've got a couple hours."

"Strip clubs are open late. We've got plenty of time."

"It's settled then. If you're a good boy, maybe you'll get to see a little stripping at home, too."

"I still have to walk out of here, Timothy. Don't say another word."

"Blue silk pajamas."

"Son of a bitch."

"Bare, sweaty skin sliding against silk."

"Timothy, I'm going to stuff this meatball in your mouth if you don't shut up right now."

"Oh, I think I'll have your meatball in my mouth before the night's over," he replied.

"Fuck," Don muttered under his breath. "What am I supposed to do? Walk out of here with a take-out box in front of my dick?" he whispered.

"I'm sorry," Tim replied, chuckling.

"No, you're not sorry. You live for moments like these."

"You know what? You're right. I do," he concluded, smiling at Don with all the love in the world.

"I do, too," Donald agreed, still holding onto his hand. "Now talk to me about the mortgage or something for a few minutes."

"How about the property taxes going up?"

"Yeah, that'll do the job."




Don spent the next few nights in character, driving a rented Corvette which, to Timothy's credit, he hadn't asked who was paying the tab for. Mrs. Freemont definitely couldn't afford an investigation on the scale Don was conducting. Don knew that Tim knew perfectly well that the accouterments being tacked on beyond the basic footwork had to be racking up charges that would end up being paid out of their collective pocket. On top of that, Don was out almost every night of the week, and would be for the foreseeable future until he got a lead from either his night prowling or his daytime investigation. If Mrs. Freemont had money, this investigation would be among his more lucrative.

And still, Timmy left a snack in the refrigerator for him every night, and snuggled affectionately with him when he did crawl into bed at some weird hour. And he never asked how many hours Don was logging in on this, or questioned what kind of paying work he was doing in his spare time. The whole thing inspired him to send Timmy flowers at his office, something he hadn't done in a while. Nothing too fancy. Just three red roses in a bud vase with a card he wrote himself at the florist. All he wrote on it were the "three little words," and signed his name. He didn't need to say more. Timmy knew how he felt, and he'd understand all the extra emotions behind the simple phrase.

Meanwhile, he made contact with Anastasia at her apartment near campus. She was the very definition of a Bohemian artist, from the top of her naturally curly blonde hair to the Birkenstocks she wore on her feet. She wore a loose-fitting peasant blouse and a skirt that nearly reached her ankles, and unusual beaded jewelry that looked handmade. As she moved around the apartment, she created a swirl of some sort of floral scent...lilacs or lavender or something. Don found he enjoyed watching her and listening to her, because she was interesting, and different. Like an old soul in a young body.

"Would you like some tea?" she offered. "Or I have cold stuff, like green tea or water."

"No, thank you, I'm fine," he said, and she nodded, smiling. "That's quite a clothing drive you've got going," he said, commenting on the boxes stacked up in her apartment.

"Oh, those aren't for the drive," she said, finally sitting down across from him, on the opposite end of the couch. The furniture looked well-worn, as if it had been rescued from garbage pick-ups, and meticulously cleaned and covered with colorful throws and pillows. His suspicions were confirmed by the sagging of the cushions and the spring prodding him that could easily double as a sex toy. "I'm moving."


"I finally found another place I could afford, and I've been wanting to get out of here."

"Not a great place, huh?" he asked, though the complex didn't look too bad to him. A little unkempt and chaotic, but it was mostly student housing, after all, and not exactly high-rent.

"It's okay, but a girl in the building next door was murdered about six months ago, and I've had the creeps ever since. And now that Dani's gone missing? Ugh," she said, shuddering. "I'm moving in with roommates."

"I thought the address here sounded familiar. Wasn't she raped and stabbed?"

"Yeah, thanks for reminding me, that's exactly what happened. I think her creepy ex-husband did it."

"You knew her?"

"Just to say 'hello' at the mailboxes, that sort of thing. But he'd come over and harass her, and they'd fight like crazy, and the cops would show up. It's funny, people think it's so easy for women to walk away from a bad relationship. It's not. Once you're connected to someone, getting your freedom can be very difficult." She smiled at him. "But you're a detective, I suppose you know that better than I do."

"Yeah, well, I don't know as people are ever really, truly divorced."

"That's what I'm saying. You mate for life, whether you want to or not. A piece of paper doesn't change that. You're always going to be connected."

"Did Danielle have any...difficult relationships? Entanglements with guys she was worried about?"

"You don't have to sugarcoat things for me, Mr. Strachey. I know Dani was turning tricks to make extra money. I tried to tell her it was dangerous - I mean, aside from hooking up with some psycho, there's always the danger of HIV, and a really nice array of other diseases to choose from. She just kept saying you couldn't beat the money, and she couldn't make that kind of money working in the college library. I can attest to that. I have a campus job in the Art Department, and trust me, you don't get rich off it."

"A few of the girls she worked with mentioned that she seemed to 'date' these guys. They bought her gifts, dropped her off to work in their fancy cars..."

"They bought her things, or let her run up charges on their credit cards, things like that. I don't know if they thought they were her boyfriends, or if it was all business. She never took any of them seriously - at least, that's what she said."

"But some of them might have taken her seriously?"

"There were one or two who didn't let go easily when she was finished with them. One was an older guy, a widower. He kept calling her and coming around looking for her. A few times when I was at her place, he showed up with roses, begged her to take him back. I don't know why it should have mattered to me, but I felt really sorry for him. He was in his fifties or so, not all that much to look at, but it was clear he adored Dani and would have given her the world if she'd just keep going out with him. She was really mean to him, and it bothered me. A lot. It almost cost us our friendship."

"You confronted her about it?"

"Oh, you bet I did. I told her I thought she was being a selfish, spoiled brat and that one of these days, the way she treated some of these guys was going to backfire on her big time. Looking back, I really regret saying that," she added. "Dani had a good soul, she was just really messed up over her father's death, and the big 'come down' in lifestyle it was for her and her mom. I suppose a psychiatrist would have all sorts of theories on why she did what she did, but I think she was just trying to live on the scale she was used to growing up. She said her father never denied her anything, that he spoiled her, let her have every overpriced trendy thing she ever wanted. I just can't think like that, you know? How do you have...relationships with people just to use them, and then dump them? I mean, don't get me wrong, I'd like to live in a better place or have a little more money, but that's..." She paused, taking a deep breath. "Dani could just detach, and it didn't bother her how much she hurt people."

"You're talking about her in the past tense," Don said. "You think she's dead?"

Anastasia looked at him a long moment, then looked down and sighed. "I don't think she'd let her mother worry, and women who go missing for a month without anyone hearing from them usually don't come back." She finally looked up. "It's just a feeling I have, which you probably think sounds nuts."

"Not necessarily. Some people have good instincts and good hunches."

"I always have, which is why I'm moving. I just don't feel safe anymore, and I'm not the type that gets scared very easily."

"I took a walk over to the Rec Center to see your mural. That was some pretty impressive work."

"Thank you," she said, breaking into a huge smile. "Why did you go look at my mural? I mean, I'm flattered you cared, but I'm surprised."

"I guess I haven't seen too many murals up close, and I was just curious. I don't exactly haunt art galleries in my off time."

"You and most of the rest of the world. I'm glad you liked it. I put a lot of hours in on that. You know, the part of it with the swirls for the night sky - that looks kind of like Van Gogh?"

"I was with you on the swirls, yeah."

"Okay," she said, laughing. "If you saw the painting I mean, you'd probably recognize it. Do you remember that old song that goes, 'Starry, starry night'?"

"I remember that."

"Well, that was about Vincent Van Gogh, and one of his famous paintings was 'Starry Night', and the sky is kind of swirly and textured-looking. I have a print of it in my bedroom," she said, getting up and gesturing to Don to follow her. He knew they were digressing badly, but he was curious now to see the picture. "Ignore the stuff all over the floor. I'm sorting in here."

"Don't worry about it. Before I got married, my whole apartment looked like this most of the time."

"Your wife straightened you out, huh?"

"If you only knew how wrong that sentence was on so many levels," he said, laughing. "No offense," he said, holding up his hand briefly. "It's just that my partner's toenails would probably curl if he was referred to as my 'wife'."

"Oh, yeah, and 'straightening you out' just isn't gonna happen at this point, huh?" she replied, laughing also.

"Not likely, no."

"Is that why you're on Danielle's case?" She covered her eyes and shook her head. "Wow, that sounded really, really bigoted."

"No, it didn't. Lesbian strippers who date their clients aren't really the cops' top priority. I think she's getting the shaft because of her orientation and what she does for a living, and that never sets well with me. And I feel sorry for her mother. That lady deserves justice for her daughter, even if she's not rich and the cops don't approve of Danielle."

"That's great. I'm glad to know somebody who gives a damn about whether she's alive or dead is actually looking into this. The cops questioned everyone in this complex over and over again after the murder we had here, and yet you're the first person who's even looked me up about Danielle."

"I have a list of names her mother gave me, but they were all first names. The only one I could track down on my own was yours."

"Yeah, well, try hiding with a name like 'Anastasia'." She smiled. "Everyone called me 'Annie' when I was a kid. Now that I'm an artist, and grown up, I kind of like it."

"It's a beautiful name. Sounds...artsy."

"Well, good," she replied, laughing. "I may not sell any paintings, but at least I sound artistic!" She gestured at the wall over her bed. "That's the Van Gogh print."

"I have seen that around before."

"I know I took a long road getting to the point, so thanks for bearing with me. Anyhow, Dani always liked that painting, and she suggested incorporating something like it in the mural. She was very creative." She closed her eyes. "You know, you're right, I shouldn't be talking about her like she's dead. I should be thinking positive."

"Just because you're an artist doesn't mean you're not a realist."

"When you talk to her mom, would you please tell her if there's anything she needs, to call me? Even if she just wants to talk about Dani. My mom and I are really close, and she'd be destroyed if something like this happened to me. You have my cell number, but I don’t think Mrs. Freemont does.”

"I'll pass this on to her, thanks."

"I'd tell you to hang onto it, too, but the whole gay thing kind of killed that idea," she said, smiling. Don couldn't help but chuckle.

"Here," he said, handing her his card. "Hold onto this and when you have a showing of your work, call me. I'd really like to see more of it, and I know my partner would enjoy it, too."

"Cool, I'll definitely let you know. My senior exhibit is actually coming up in a couple weeks. I'm graduating this year, going off into the world to not make any money as a starving artist."

"Congratulations. Let us know when your exhibit is."

"I'll send you an invitation. That way, you'll get in on the delicious, lavish reception the college puts on for the senior exhibit opening."

"Can't miss that," he said, heading for the door. "Thanks again for your time."

"Sure. I really miss her, you know?"

"Maybe by the time I come to that exhibit, she'll be back home."

"That's a happy thought. I'm going to enjoy that idea for a while."

"Oh, here's that list of names," he said, taking the folded up list out of his pocket.

"Courtney's last name is Frye, Jessica's last name is Green, I don't know who Amy is, but Lisa is Lisa Zachary - she's in Dani's business classes with her, or at least a few of them. Dani had a thing for her, but they weren't dating or anything. I don't know if Lisa was a lesbian, too, or if Dani just liked her. She used to get really down over how hard it was to hook up with someone. A lot of the girls she was interested in were straight and not into experimenting."

"What about Courtney and Jessica?"

"Courtney is a waitress at Crabby Joe's Seafood, and Jessica works on campus in the HR office."

"They were good friends of Dani's?"

"Eh, social friends. They hung out sometimes. She didn't have a lot of free time between her job, classes, and...well, you know, her,"

"Okay. Thanks again for all your help," he said, tucking his note pad in his pocket. "See you soon - at that exhibit," he said, leaving the apartment and heading back for his car.




Tim read the card, smiling, feeling a little lump in his throat at the three words in Donald's handwriting. There were three large red roses in a bud vase sitting on his desk. He leaned forward and sniffed them, taking in the rich perfume. He dialed his partner's cell number.

"Hi, honey," Don's voice came over the line.

"I love you, too," he said, smiling.

"Just wanted you to know I was thinkin' about you, sweetheart."

"They're beautiful. Thank you."

"You deserve three dozen, but I'll have to wait until I get a bigger retainer."

"These are perfect. The only thing better would be spending movie night with the man I love. Any chance?"

"I suppose I could take a night off from watching a bunch of naked dancers to be with someone I'd really like to see naked."

"Whoa," Tim said, joking. "Who said anything about naked? The roses are nice, but you at least have to buy me dinner first."

"How about Thai take-out?"

"Mango chicken?"

"Your wish is my command."

"Well, I guess we can negotiate the naked part later."

"I'm looking forward to the bargaining session."

"Me, too." He paused. "I'm looking forward to a quiet evening in with you."

"We haven't had enough of those lately. I'll bring dinner home with me, if you have martinis chilling?"

"It's a deal. See you tonight."




"I went all through the apartment, and the police searched it," Karen said, unlocking the door of Danielle's apartment while Don waited.

"Hang on a second," he said, crouching by the door, examining the knob and the surrounding area. "Somebody picked this lock."

"The police said there was no sign of forced entry," she said, frowning.

"Yeah, well, apparently 'forced entry' to them means someone kicked the front door in or broke a window with a hammer. This is forced entry, it's just a little more skilled and subtle." He held up his cell phone and snapped a picture of the scratches.

"Is it possible someone broke in after she disappeared? Someone who knew the apartment was empty?"

"You'd make a good detective, Karen," Don said, smiling. "Sure, it's possible. It's been empty a while." He straightened up and tucked his cell phone in his pocket. "When's the last time you were here?"

"About a week ago. I try to keep up with Dani's mail - mainly her bills."

"Okay, so when we get in here, look everything over carefully and let me know if you notice anything moved or out of place since you were here last."

"I can do that."

"Looks like Danielle's a good housekeeper for a college student," Don said, noticing how tidy and attractive the interior of the small apartment was.

"This apartment looks like a tiny version of our old house," Karen said, a bit of sadness in her voice. "She tries so hard to recreate her old life - lots of spending money, posh apartment...well, at least the furniture and accessories look posh, even if the apartment is small and not all that much."

"Karen, was there a rug here before?" Don asked, scrutinizing the different tone and texture of the living room carpeting in front of the couch. Where it would be expected the carpeting would look more worn, it actually looked newer, as if something had been protecting it.

"You know, there was," she said, frowning. "It was a seafoam green - she thought it looked pretty with the couch, since it picked up the color of the leaves and vines in the floral pattern, like the rose colored carpeting picked up the flower color."

"Was it here after Danielle disappeared?"

"Uh...I..." She put her hand up to her mouth in a gesture of worry.

"Just take your time and try to remember the first time you walked in here after Danielle went missing."

"It wasn't here," she said. "I didn't really think about it, but it was like something in the apartment was off somehow, and I didn't notice it until you mentioned it. You think that's significant? She was always adding and removing things, tinkering with how the apartment was accessorized."

"Not necessarily. She might have just gotten rid of it if she changed things around a lot."

"Or...?" Karen prompted. Don paused, not really wanting to voice what was on his mind.

"Or...if there was a struggle..."

"Oh, my God," Karen gasped, backing away from the area of carpeting they were staring at.

"Karen, there's no reason to jump to any conclusions. She might have just tossed the rug shortly before she disappeared. Still, I'd like to get some tests done on the carpeting and the furniture."

"Will the police do it? Shouldn't they do that?"

"I'll try that route, but if they won't cooperate, we'll hire our own tech."

"Isn't that expensive?"

"It's not cheap." He got down on his hands and knees and started examining the front of the couch. It had an ivory background and a busy pattern of roses and vines. "The police'll do the tests," he said, straightening up. "Karen, there are some tiny spots of what I think could be blood on the front of the couch."




"It's nice to see you again so soon, Tim," Jason said as he meticulously folded the two ties Tim had selected. "These will look very nice with the Armani," he said, giving Tim a slightly knowing smile as he rang up the sale.

"I think so, too," Tim replied, smiling. "One of them is for Don, though."

"I talked with our ad agency," he said, placing each of the ties in its own box, and slipping the boxes in a bag. "We'd like to do a brief photo shoot with you and Don to round out the images we have for the online and print ads."

"Sure. Don's working a major case right now, so his schedule will probably be more of a challenge than mine. I'll talk to him about it tonight."

"Great. Ideally, we'd like to do it later this week."

"Okay. I'll see what we can do."

"We can shoot it at the house again, like the last time. My wife is out of town visiting family, so we could even do it on Saturday if that's easier. I'll be holding down the fort on my own."

After saying his goodbyes to Jason, Tim carried his new purchase with him as he left the store, a little spring in his step.

"You're him!" a female voice exclaimed from behind him. He turned around, finding himself face to face with a woman he figured was about his age, with a tidy pageboy haircut pulled back in a plastic headband, framing a face with nicely done make up. She was dressed in a business suit, as if she had come to the mall directly from work.

"Excuse me?" he replied, smiling.

"You're the man in the posters." 

"Yes, I'm afraid so."

"I was hoping I'd get a chance to meet you. The store owner said the model was an actual client, but he wouldn't give me your name. Hi, I'm Meghan O'Donnell," she said, holding out her hand.

"Tim Callahan," he replied, almost before he thought about it. Jason had protected his privacy, but he'd just blurted out his name without even hesitating.

"Gorgeous and Irish, too," she said as they shook hands.

"Oh, I don't know about that," he said, feeling himself blush at the praise.

"What are the odds? I just stopped in to pick something out for my brother's birthday, and there you were!"

"Here I am," he said, a little nervously. "I really should be going."

"Are you in a big hurry? Could I buy you a coffee?"

"Thank you, Meghan, but I really need to get home."

"I know it's pushy and forward of me," she said, smiling. "I promise, I'm not usually this bold. But haven't you ever met someone and just felt something click?"

"I'm very flattered, but I'm also married."

"Married? But you're not wearing a ring," she said. "Not in any of the posters." There was a slight note of accusation in her voice, as if his ring not being visible in the photos had somehow been a purposeful deception.

"I am wearing a ring," he said, holding up his right hand. "I'm married to my male partner. We wear our rings on our right hands, so that's probably why you didn't notice it," he explained.

"You're gay?" she asked, sounding and looking shocked.

"Yes. I'm very flattered by the attention, Meghan, really. Any man would be lucky to receive your invitation for coffee, and I appreciate you introducing yourself."

"I feel like a complete idiot," she said, still sounding as if she felt the failure of her attempted connection with him was somehow his fault.

"I'm sorry, and I wish you wouldn't feel uncomfortable about this. It's pretty hard to meet someone new if you don't take a chance once in awhile. I'm sorry, but I really have to go. It was nice meeting you," he added, knowing it was a bit lame, since the whole thing had been grossly uncomfortable for both of them.

"Yeah, you, too," she mumbled, still staring at him, and finally turning away.

As he walked away, he could almost feel her eyes drilling holes in his back, as if she'd turned around and stared at him as he left. He resisted the urge to look back. The whole encounter unsettled him, but he shrugged it off, figuring that setting himself up as a model in the public eye might lead to a few chance encounters with women - or men - who found the posters attractive. He resolved to turn his thoughts to one man who found them attractive whose attentions he definitely wanted to encourage.




"I don't like being stuck in the middle of this, Strachey," Bailey complained as crime lab technicians crawled over the interior of Danielle's apartment like ants on a lollipop.

"Jensen wasn't in, and I found blood evidence, which indicates a possible homicide," Don said, ready for the skeptical expression that was going to earn him.

"How many times did you let his extension ring?" he asked, though the tone made it sound rhetorical.

"You know he's ignoring this case, Bub. Any moron with eyes investigating a missing persons case would have noticed those scratches around the doorknob. The difference in the wear pattern on the carpeting is rookie detective stuff."

"The hell of it is, Jensen is probably right about this case, you know that, right?"

"That it's just a body hunt and was from the outset?" Don sighed. "Yeah, I know."

"And they're looking for a live little girl. And new cases come across their desks every day. Missing Persons is probably one of the most understaffed and overworked divisions in the department. It's not as sexy and headline-grabbing as Homicide or Sex Crimes, but it's a shitload of work, and what those guys deal with often ends up in other higher profile departments. The point is, they're never at a loss for cases to work, and everybody thinks their missing relative, friend, spouse, whatever, is more important than everyone else's."

"Why are you defending this idiot? You know I'm right - that he let this slide."

"I know," Bailey admitted, sighing, rubbing his forehead. "He's about a year away from retiring and his wife's got terminal cancer. They've saved all their lives for this enormous Winnebago thing - he's even got a picture of the one he wants on his desk. He keeps updating the picture as they come out with newer and better models," he added. "All he's got left is the job, and not even that for much longer. Something like this, blowing it up into a big scandal of police incompetence or discrimination and maybe even a lawsuit from the girl's family...he could lose his pension. He's done a tough job for thirty some years, working for a future he isn't gonna get."

"What about Danielle? What if she wasn't killed right away? What if she isn't dead at all and has been with some psycho for a month?"

"That would be tragic."

"Yeah, it would. Look, I'm sorry for this guy's personal trouble. If something like that ever happened to Timothy...I...I don't know what I'd do...probably eat my gun. But I hope I wouldn't let some young girl suffer for it."

"You're right to be pissed off at how this case was handled. I'm not thrilled with it, either, but I guess I hate to see a thirty-year veteran lose his pension over it."

"I hope Danielle didn't lose her life over it," he replied. "Look, I get how you feel about Jensen's situation. I just hope he was right and that we didn't lose out on saving someone who was still alive while he was writing her off."

The lights went off in the apartment, and the eerie bluish white glow that revealed large blood stains on the coffee table cast the busy group of technicians, Don, and Bailey into silence and stillness. Little glowing tentacles were visible on the couch, differentiating a spatter pattern of blood from dots in the floral pattern. The carpeting was conspicuously clean where the missing rug had protected it.

"If I live to be a hundred, I'll never get used to the Luminol moment," Bailey said. "Shit."

"We won't have a good working theory on the cause of the blood spatter until we have more time to analyze it," the technician said. A young, pretty African American woman with long hair pulled back in a pony tail, she looked as saddened by the ghostly light as Bailey and Don. "The walls are clean, I don't see any cast-off pattern on the ceiling, but we'll check all that again."

"The ceiling is textured, so I doubt the killer could have cleaned it up if something had spattered there," Don said, looking up.

"Not likely, and it wasn't repainted," she said. "I'd lean toward stabbing versus bludgeoning."

"That's a lot of blood," Don said, shivering a little. In the time he'd been working the case, he almost felt like he'd come to know Danielle, and he dreaded breaking this news to her mother.

"People have survived losing more than that," Bailey said.

"Not for long, and not without a hospital. Plus, we can assume a lot more was probably on that missing rug," Don added, shaking his head. "I guess Jensen was right."

"Yeah, well, that doesn't give me any particular satisfaction," Bailey replied.




Tim checked his watch again, almost resolved to Don not making it home for movie night, when he heard the front door and his partner came rushing in, takeout bag in hand.

"Sorry I'm late," he said, setting the bag on the counter. "I was over at Danielle Freemont's apartment with the cops."

"New development?" Tim asked, sliding his arms around Don's waist, pulling him close.

"Let's just say that a couple sprays of Luminol lit that place up like a neon sign."

"Oh, no."

"Her mother took it really hard. I sat with her for a while. There didn't seem to be anyone she could call..." He shrugged, then relaxed into the embrace, hugging back. Tim could almost feel a little of the stress draining out of Don's muscles.

"Do you need to be working on the case tonight, honey?"

"I need a break. I'll pick it up tomorrow, go back at it full force." He pulled back, smiling briefly before they kissed. "Besides, I have a date for movie night with a hot model."

"Do you think she's dead?"

"I don't really know, sweetheart. My best guess is that, yes, she's dead. It was a lot of blood, no one's heard from her in a month, there's no activity on her credit cards or her bank account. Trust me, if that girl wasn't accessing money, she's probably dead. She spent it as fast as she brought it in, and she was doing a pretty fair job of bringing it in."

"I feel so sorry for her mother. I know how hard it was on my mother all those years we didn't know where Kelly was. If she'd turned up dead...I can't even imagine that. When you used to look for her once in a while, I'd almost be afraid you'd find her."

"I know. Thank God her story had a good ending."

"Thanks to you," Tim added, kissing him, smiling. "So, what's in the bag?" Tim stood next to him as he unpacked the goodies. "Mango chicken - you remembered."

"You told me once their sauce was so good that it acted like an aphrodisiac. You think I'd forget that?"

"Why don't you run upstairs and get into something comfortable?" Tim suggested, already in his own favorite soft, worn jeans and an old sweatshirt.

"You could come upstairs and help."

"Oh, I have something in mind for upstairs later."

"You do, huh?"

"Oh yes. I don't get many long evenings with you. I have lots planned."

"I love you, Timothy." Don hugged him hard, and Tim knew there was more behind the words than even the very meaningful emotions they conveyed. He returned the pressure, holding onto Donald as if they'd just been reunited after a lengthy separation.

"I love you, too, honey." He kissed Don's cheek and patted his back. "Everything okay?" he asked as Don pulled away and headed for the stairs.

"Yeah, fine," he said, a crooked little smile tugging at his mouth as he looked at Tim. "I just couldn't remember if I'd told you that today," he added before heading upstairs.

They enjoyed their meal together, sitting on the couch watching a lighthearted comedy, which seemed to be just what the doctor ordered for Don, who laughed along with all the goofiness of the movie, and sat snuggled against Timmy as they attacked a container of double fudge ice cream with two spoons. After their main feature was over, they found a couple more favorite DVD's to watch, alternately paying attention to the movies and chatting about a whole lot of little things.

"Is everything okay?" Don asked, looking up from where his head was resting on Timmy's shoulder to look him in the eyes. "You seem a little stressed."

"I met this woman earlier today," Tim admitted, the encounter with Meghan having lingered on his mind for some reason. "She recognized me from the posters."

"How does it feel to be famous?" He joked, poking Timmy with a stocking foot.

"I'm not sure I like it."

"What happened?" Don looked concerned now.

"Oh, it was really nothing important. She introduced herself, complimented me... When she found out I was married, and gay, she acted upset, like I'd been hiding something from her. I know that sounds insane."

"She was probably embarrassed."

"Yes, I'm sure she was to a degree. She just seemed...I don't know. Off, somehow."

"Like a nutcase?"

"A little, I guess."

"I wouldn't worry about it. It's not like she has your name and number."

"Well, she does have my name. I know it was stupid. She comes up to me and introduces herself, and I just reciprocate without even thinking about it."

"You're a beautiful man. She thought you were hot and made a play for you and it didn't work. That's probably all it is, and I wouldn't lose any sleep over it. What's her name?"

"Meghan O'Donnell."

"Nice Irish girl. No wonder she liked you."

"Yes, she liked the fact I was Irish, too."

"What did she look like?"

"She was pretty. Brown hair, nice smile, all dressed up in business clothes."

"What color were her eyes?"

"I don't remember exactly. Brown, maybe?"

"How old do you think she was?"

"Donald, you don't have to check up on her. I think you're right. I'm just not used to strangers coming on to me in public without warning."

"Oh, come on, Timmy. Before I planted my flag you must've been driving them off with a club."

"Planted your flag? You didn't seriously just compare making our relationship exclusive to planting a flag? Where did you plant that flag, Donald?" Tim teased, not even slightly offended by the metaphor, but deciding it was as good a reason as any to tickle and mock-wrestle with Donald on the couch. He started tickling him, loving that he could make him wiggle and laugh like a little kid if he went after him the right way.

"In a valley between two perfect hills," Don managed, which made Timmy laugh almost as uncontrollably as Don was. Wrestling and tickling gave way to kissing and petting, and they relaxed into making out on the couch, letting more intense desire build slowly and simmer.

"Upstairs?" Tim finally asked, his mouth so close to Don's that their lips brushed as he spoke.

"Yeah, upstairs," he replied, kissing Tim again.




Don rubbed his cheek against Timmy's chest, savoring the contrast of soft skin and chest hair, relishing the intimacy of the contact, turning his face to kiss a little trail down the middle of Timmy's belly to his navel. He kissed his way around it, beneath it, taking his time, planting little kisses on the insides of Timmy's thighs, feeling the soft, tender skin there with his cheek.

He gently held Timmy's balls in his hands, teasing him a bit, knowing just how he liked to be handled. When he heard the first little moan that held a trace of frustration, he took Timmy in his mouth, taking him in as deeply as he could. He focused all his energy and concentration on making love to him with his mouth, trying to make him feel the love Don knew he would never have the right words to express.

Timmy looked so beautiful lying there, completely open to him, his head back, his arms flung casually upward, his hands resting palms up on the pillows, little gasps of pleasure escaping those soft, slightly parted lips. Then he turned his head to the side just a little and gripped a pillow, arching into Don's mouth. Timothy would never realize that, to Don, he was like a living work of art, the contours of his body, the sound of his pleasure, the scent and the taste of him like some kind of erotic symphony that surrounded Don and enchanted him, that as much as he wanted to reach that explosive moment of completion, he never wanted the lovemaking to end.

And then Timmy was coming, his cries like the crescendo of the music he was to Don's senses, and Don realized he was coming, too.

He moved up Timmy's body and touched his cheek gently, loving the feeling of Timmy's arms surrounding him now, holding him close, one hand caressing his hair. He let his fingertips lightly trace Timmy's lips before he kissed him, feeling his eyes fill up with tears and not worrying about it. His Timothy understood him, and he'd understand the emotions even if Don didn't entirely understand them himself. He closed his eyes and let Timmy hold him and slip his fingers into his hair. He felt a gentle hand explore lower, discovering that he'd come just from making love to Timmy, watching him, experiencing him.

"Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, for thy love is better than wine," Timmy whispered, kissing Don's forehead. Leave it to Timothy to find the words when he didn't think there were any. His beautiful, gentle, brilliant Timothy who always seemed to know everything. Or, at least, everything about him that mattered.



Don fought waking up, since he'd been drifting in some sweet place dreaming about Timmy. Now, he could smell one of Timmy's favorite colognes. He opened his eyes and saw his partner sitting on the bed, dressed and ready to leave for work. He smelled delicious and looked even better in his suit and tie.

"Do you need to get up now?" he asked, smiling, taking Don's hand where it rested on the bed, squeezing gently.

"What time is it?"

"About 7:30. I'm just on my way out."

"Yeah, I need to get to work on the case." He pulled Timmy's hand up close to his face. "You smell good."

"And I have a present for you," he said, handing Don a small, flat box that looked suspiciously like a tie box.

"Senator Platt put you up to fixing my tie collection again?" he teased, raising up on one elbow to open the gift.

"I felt a little less guilty buying this one if I bought one for you, too." He waved the end of his own new tie, an interesting if not a bit psychedelic blend of conservative colors. It was a dash of something exciting with the dark blue Gucci suit, and like most fashion statements, Timmy carried it off beautifully. "And I love you."

The tie Tim had selected for Don was definitely less cutting edge, but obviously expensive, and just a bit out of the ordinary. A dark blue background was covered in a symmetrical pattern of tiny white dots. Giving it color were larger, less numerous, lime green dots. Donald would have never chosen it himself, but now that he looked at it a few moments, he found himself quite pleased with it.

"That's a very cool tie, Timothy," he said, holding it up, giving it a more scrutinizing look.

"Do you really like it? I know it's not exactly what you'd probably pick out - "

"Timmy, it's beautiful, sweetheart. I love it. No, I take that back." He pulled Timmy down for a long kiss. "I love you, and I like the tie a lot. See, I'm even going to try it on." He put it around his neck and started tying it.

"Donald, you're naked."

"Not anymore, I'm not," he joked, adjusting the knot perfectly, sitting up in bed.

"Why do I bother?" Timmy sighed in mock exasperation, but it was quickly followed with an affectionate chuckle. Then he trailed his fingers lightly over Don's chest, making his whole body tingle and his cock stir from its morning rest. "Oh, to have the day off," he said regretfully. Don took his hand and kissed it.

"Thank you for the tie. It's great. And thank you for last night. I haven't come up with the right word to describe that yet." He kissed Timmy again.

"Magical," Timmy replied, resting his forehead against Don's. "I have to go."

"I know. Me, too. Is your lunch hour flexible today? If I get a break, maybe I could swing by and take you out."

"No," he said, looking disappointed. "I have to go to a luncheon with the senator, and we have another meeting right after that."

"Dinner'll be dicey for me because I may be skulking around strip clubs tonight, depending on how the case is going."

"Maybe I'll take a nap this evening and we can have a midnight snack in the tub when you get home."

"Screw lunch anyway. I'll take what's behind door number two."

"Okay," Timmy said, laughing, finally making the move to stand and head for the bedroom door. "You really like the tie?"

"Yes, honey, I really like the tie."

"Okay. See you tonight. Be careful."

"I will. I'll call you later."

"Good. Love you."

"Love you, too," he called after Timmy as he heard him start downstairs. "You don't know the half of it," he muttered, falling happily back on the pillows, looking at his new tie again.




Tim knew he was running late as he grabbed his briefcase and rushed toward the garage. The doorbell halted him in his tracks. Donald was either still in bed or in the bathroom by now, so with an irritated glance at his watch, he hurried to the front door and opened it. Meghan O'Donnell stood on the other side of it, holding a plate of large muffins.

"I was thinking about yesterday, and I really wanted to apologize for how I acted. I was like a rock star groupie, and that's just not me."

"You don't have to do you know where I live?"

"I'm resourceful," she said with a slight giggle. "I also never give up my sources," she added. "I baked you these. I thought you and your boyfriend might like them."

He accepted the plate reluctantly, still unnerved by the pursuit.

"They're not little grenades," she said, laughing. "You're so nervous! I hope I'm not freaking you out," she said, looking suddenly concerned that she'd offended him. "Gay men can have female friends, right? We're both Irish, both sharp, professional people, and you were so right, that you can't meet anyone new if you don't just go out there and do it."

"I said that?"

"Well, it was something like that. And that counts with making friends, too."

"Ms. O'Donnell - "

"Meghan," she corrected, smiling brightly.

"I really appreciate your thoughtfulness, but I have to say I'm a little uncomfortable with this - especially here, at my home. I thought I was very clear yesterday that I wasn't interested - "

"In dating me, I understand that totally. But you can have friends, can't you?" Then her expression darkened. "Or is there something wrong with me? You don't even want to give me a chance as a friend?"

"I can't accept these," he said, holding the plate of muffins toward her. "I don't think it would be appropriate under the circumstances."

"What circumstances? What's so wrong with me that you don't even want to be my friend? You think my muffins are lousy, too?" She grabbed the plate out of his hand. "Fine. I should have known this would happen. It's probably that possessive boyfriend of yours that's jealous if you make new friends."

"What?" Tim's eyes widened, wondering how she could possibly make such an absurd inference about Donald, whom she'd never met.

"You should make it clear to him that you have a right to your own friends."

"All right, that's enough. I've tried to be polite about this, but now you're insulting my partner, whom you don't even know, and invading my privacy at my home, and it stops now. I'm sorry if it seems rude, but please don't contact me again."

"Is there a problem here?"

Tim turned to see Don on the stairs, tying his robe, heading toward them, looking none too happy.

"Ms. O'Donnell was just leaving," Tim said.

"I think that's a great idea." When she didn't move from the porch, he added, "The front walk is right there, and it connects to the driveway, where your car is parked, in case you need directions."

"You have no right to keep him from having friends of his own. You don't own him, you know. I had a boyfriend like you, and...I set him straight."

"Okay, lady, enough is enough. You can either get out, or I can escort you to your car."

"Manhandle me? Is that what you do to him?"

"We're calling the police if you don't leave immediately," Tim said, decisively closing the front door on Meghan and her muffins. He looked at Don with wide eyes. "She's stark raving nuts," he said in a high whisper.

"I was going to say batshit crazy, but it's the same thing," he said, watching out the window as she stood there a moment, then threw the plate of muffins against he cement, leaving the shattered mess on the porch and storming out to her car. She got in, put the car in reverse, and floored it out of the driveway, zooming down the road with a squeal of tires.

"What should we do?"

"I'll run a background check on her. Give your buddy, Jason, a call and see if he knows anything about her. Didn't you say she was a customer?"

"Yes, I think she was. She followed me out of the store."

"Maybe he knows her. Look, sweetheart, she's probably just a nut who'll let this drop now that she's been given the bum's rush." Don took a hold of Tim's shoulders and squeezed. "I'll take care of it, one way or another."

"I know. I know it's probably nothing. I just wish we hadn't re-watched Fatal Attraction last weekend."

"If you can be a little late, I can drop you off. Just give me time to shower and throw on some clothes."

"You think she's dangerous, don't you?"

"I don't know, but I'd rather not find out the hard way. Let me run the check on her, do a little digging. She seems pretty unbalanced. I don't want to take any chances with you."

"Okay. I'll clean up the muffins. Maybe have a little more coffee."

"Timmy, you're already...vibrating. Just have a water and call it good, okay?"

"You're probably right," Tim agreed, sitting at the kitchen counter, drumming his fingers nervously there a moment before going outside and cleaning up the muffins and the shattered plate.




"Who is this Meghan O'Donnell lady, anyway?" Kenny asked, logging on to one of many databases Don had instructed him to use to research Tim's unwanted admirer.

"Some headcase who saw Timothy in those men's store posters and got obsessed with him. I guess the fact he's gay doesn't seem like a relationship obstacle to her."

"Some women really like gay guys."

"She's all over the map. She tried to hook up with him at the mall yesterday, then today she shows up at the door with a plate of muffins, wanting to be his friend."

"Muffins? She sounds like a total whack job."

"No argument there."

"You're keeping an eye on him, right?" Kenny asked, looking up from the computer. Don looked down at him, cocking his head, as if the mere thought of him not protecting Timothy was insane. "Just asking. Stalkers can get really violent."

"I know. She went off on this paranoid psycho rant about me, that I didn't let him have friends or a life of his own, or something."

"Sounds like you better watch your back, too."

"Yes, because we all know if I were out of the way, Timmy would wake up the next morning straight and want to marry her," he muttered, sorting the mail.

"Wouldn't be the weirdest delusion a stalker's come up with."

"Probably not," Don admitted, sighing. "He didn't want to do those posters in the first place. I should have left him alone about it."

"Something tells me that Tim doesn't do very much that he doesn't want to do, even for you."

Don stared at Kenny a moment, dumbfounded. He hadn't actually thought of it in exactly that way, but he had noticed quite a trend of most decisions going his partner's way. Whether that was Timothy's iron will or Don's own tendency to want to spoil him and give in to what he wanted, he wasn't sure. He suspected it was some blend of the two.

"Bailey hasn't called yet this morning, has he?"

"No, but some guy named Jensen with a really impressive vocabulary of four-letter words and gay slurs did." Kenny smiled sweetly, handing him the message slip. Don read it aloud.

"While you were out, Detective Jensen called. Message: Tell that cocksucking faggot asshole to call me back." Don shook his head. "He really knows how to get a call back, doesn't he?"

"I thought you'd appreciate an exact quote."

Don sat at his desk and dialed Bailey's number. Within moments, a somewhat haggard voice responded.


"Good morning."

"Strachey, I should have you arrested."

"For anything in particular? I think New York repealed their sodomy laws."

"I'll think of something. Do you have any idea the departmental politics going on over this case you dragged me into?"

"No, but I can only imagine. I had a message from Jensen."

"I bet that was classic. So why are you calling me?"

"To find out what's really going on."

"When we brought in all the forensic evidence collected at Danielle Freemont's apartment, along with the fact the lock showed evidence of tampering, Jensen's captain hit the roof, and now the commissioner's in on the act. Jensen's facing a possible suspension for mishandling the case, and of course, he credits me with putting the final nails in his coffin, because, after all, that rabble-rousing ass bandit, Strachey, couldn't raise this kind of hell with the department if I wasn't enabling him."

"Ass bandit?" Don laughed out loud at that one, putting his feet up on the desk. "I thought he'd exhausted his hate names in the message he left me."

"It'll be a while for the lab results. We brought in a lot of stuff. And I have the case now, since it's a probable homicide, and Jensen's been removed from it."

"That's a stroke of luck for the good guys," Don said. "Come on, Bailey, this guy was doing such a piss-poor job with this case he brought it on himself."

"Now that I am on the case, and it's most likely a homicide, I need to know everything you know about it."

"That's no problem." Don looked at his watch. "You want to meet for lunch? Oh, and if you're thinking of pulling the plug on me with this, you can forget it. I made a commitment to her mother to see this through, and I'm going to keep working the case."

"Oh, is that so? Look, Strachey, we have guidelines and policies about civilians and private investigators - -"

"Do you really have the time or the inclination to hang out in strip clubs three or four nights a week trying to spot some guy who might have been obsessed with her?"

"No, but I know a couple dozen cops who would be willing to bite the bullet and take on that unpleasant task."

"Do you know any who would volunteer who would be looking at the other guys in the audience more than the girls on stage?"

"You might have me on that one."

"I don't want to step on your toes. I just think this case has sat neglected for so long that it can't hurt to have us both putting our efforts on it now. There's a lot of catching up to do. I've been doing a lot of the basic legwork and interviewing that Jensen should have done right up front."

"Okay, you're in, but I'm in charge."

"Wouldn't have it any other way," Don said, a little smile in his voice. "Where do you want to eat?"

"Meet me at the deli over there by your office. I've been wanting one of their subs."

"And you don't want to bump into your pals from the department having lunch with the enemy."

"Fine. Meet me at the McDonald's over here, then, if it'll make you feel better."

"No, the deli's fine. I've got a full schedule today, anyhow, so it'll save me some time. Noon?"

"Yeah, fine, I'll be there."

Don hung up the phone and stared at it a moment, wondering why it mattered to him if Bailey wanted to escape the critical eyes of his colleagues while he met with the guy who stirred up trouble for one of their old, nearly retired fellow cops. The gay guy who stirred up all that trouble.

He tossed the pen he'd been fiddling with on the desk, realizing that wasn't fair, either. Bailey had never treated him badly because of his orientation. They were even comfortable enough about it to pass the occasional joke back and forth. He had to admit, if only to himself, that encountering homophobic jerks like Jensen always set him a bit on edge, even though he'd learned to let it mostly roll off. There were always going to be bigots, and the energy you expended trying to scold them for their wicked ways was mostly wasted wheel-spinning.

"Hey, Don?" Kenny called from the front office.


"Can you come out here a second? I think I found that O'Donnell woman."

"Okay." He walked out to Kenny's desk and stood behind him. "Fuck," he muttered, looking at the image of the woman on the screen. A battered and scruffy looking version of Meghan O'Donnell looked back at him from an online news article from New York City, dated three years earlier.

"You think her boyfriend was really guilty of anything, or she's just a clever psycho?" Kenny asked.

"Either way, this puts a whole new spin on things. Print that off, huh? And anything else you can find on her between now and noon."





Tim gathered the last of the materials he needed for his lunch meeting, sighing a little regretfully that he'd had to turn down Don's lunch invitation. He was trying not to think about the obviously disturbed woman who'd been at the door that morning, but he couldn't help remembering that she was out there, somewhere, obsessed and angry - not a safe combination. When his cell phone rang and he saw Don's number, he smiled.

"Hi, honey," he said, wondering if he sounded quite as glad to hear from Donald as he was.

"Hey, beautiful, how's your day going?"

"Busy, but okay. How about yours?"

"It's shaping up that way. I did a little checking on Meghan O'Donnell. Timmy, these meetings you're going're not gonna be alone coming or going, are you?"

"Donald, what did you find out?" he asked, sitting in his chair, feeling a sickness in the pit of his stomach.

"Just answer me, sweetheart."

"No, I'm not going alone. One of the junior aides is driving the senator and me to the luncheon and then to the next meeting."

"Man or woman?"


"Does he have any security experience, or is he one of those pimple-faced little college kids?"

"He's not a security guard, Donald. He's just an aide. What's going on?"

"Meghan O'Donnell killed her last boyfriend three years ago in New York City. She was acquitted of all charges based on self-defense. She claimed he was abusive, that the night she killed him, she had to or be killed herself. There's a mug shot of her in the article that looks pretty rough. She stabbed him over twenty times."

"Oh, my God," Tim muttered, covering his mouth briefly with his free hand.

"I don't mean to scare you, Timothy, but until I know more about her and that case, I don't want you anywhere alone or where you'd be an easy target. I want you to stay in your office until I come and get you after work, and I'll be there right at five, so you're not there alone."

"What about your case?"

"It can wait. Your safety is more important to me than anything else. You know that, right?"

"Yes, I do," Tim replied, smiling.

"Then try to have a good day, keep your eyes open - but don't freak yourself out so you puke up your lunch. I doubt that even if she's dangerous, she's going to burst into the middle of a crowded restaurant or make a move when you're with other people."

"Twenty times?"

"Timmy, it could be a valid self-defense claim, and maybe she's just not playing with a full deck after everything she's been through. She might not be dangerous to you at all. I'd rather be careful and assume the worst, but I don't want you to be too upset, okay? I'm gonna handle this."

"We'll both handle it, Don. I love that you're trying to protect me, but I'm able to take care of myself."

"I know that. But I like taking care of you, too, so let me be protective. Flex my chivalry muscles a little," he added, smiling.

"I like your chivalry muscles."

"You do, huh?"

"They're kind of sexy when you flex them."

"Just keep your eyes open, call me if you need me, make sure you're with other people, and I'll come up to the office and walk you out tonight, okay?"

"Okay. I love you."

"I love you, too," Don replied, then broke the connection.




"I really have missed these sandwiches," Bailey said through a mouthful.

"I'm sorry about before," Don said, not digging into his sandwich, eating a couple potato chips out of the small bag that came with his lunch. "Assholes like Jensen just put me in a bad mood, I guess. Plus, there's this psycho stalking Timothy..." he shrugged.

"Yeah, well, Jensen doesn't exactly brighten my day, either. And what's going on with your partner?"

"Timmy posed for these pictures - "

"I didn't see that one coming," Bailey said, shaking his head.

"Not that kind of pictures. You know how some men's stores have these posters of guys in their fancy suits and stuff? Timmy shops at Jacobson's, that men's store that just moved into the mall. They asked him to pose for their ad campaign. This woman saw the posters and approached him yesterday in the mall. I don't know when she first saw the posters, but that was the first time she met him. She tried to hook up with him, but he told her he was married, and gay - "

"That would be enough of a 'no' for most women," Bailey commented.

"Yeah, you'd think," Don replied, snorting. "Anyway, this morning, she shows up at our door with a plate of muffins."


"Muffins. She said she wanted to be friends, that it should be okay for a gay man to have female friends. Timmy was creeped out by her, understandably, and he finally asked her to leave and not contact him again. She went off on this bizarre tirade about me, that I was keeping him from having a life of his was pretty out there, considering she'd never laid eyes on me before. I finally got in the middle of it and helped him throw her out. Come to think of it, she mentioned that she'd had a boyfriend like me, but she set him straight."

"What is it?" Bailey asked, frowning, since Don had frozen when he said those words.

"She stabbed her boyfriend twenty times and got off with self defense," he said. He opened the folder he'd brought with him and slid the printed off article across the small table toward Bailey.

"Off hand, I'd say you need to worry more about protecting yourself than Timothy," he said, skimming the article. "If she sees you as being like this guy."

"And being the reason she can't get close to Timothy."

"I have a friend at the NYPD," Bailey said, skimming the article. "I'll give him a call and see what I can find out about this case."

"Thank you."

"So what have you got on Danielle Freemont?" Bailey asked.

"This is a copy of everything," Don said, handing him the folder.

"This is a lot more than what's in Jensen's file," Bailey said, flipping through the papers. "Imagine that, you even came up with suspects."

"Amazing what you can come up with when you actually investigate."

"Who do you like for it? The rejected boyfriend, the weirdo at the strip club...the pissed off stripper? That would be a different twist."

"I didn't get far enough with it to have a favorite. I'm leaning toward 'Ted,' but finding him is going to be tricky."

"How about getting one of our sketch artists over there to talk with the girls?"

"That'd be great. I thought of hiring an artist, but truthfully, I'm running on fumes working this case. Karen Freemont can't pay all that much, so I've been going out-of-pocket just to do my undercover character."

"Which is?"

"A rich, useless guy who hangs out at strip clubs. A trust fund brat. I thought that persona might make the type of guy who...fraternized with Danielle willing to trust me or hang out with me. My theory is that 'Ted' is probably haunting another club somewhere, looking for another Danielle. Especially if he killed her."

"You're thinking this guy might have done this before, huh?"

"Most guys who get obsessed with strippers and ultimately kill them don't just wake up one morning and decide to go kill a stripper. Are there any other dead or missing dancers here or nearby that could be related?"

"We'll look into that, but I don't recall anything off the top of my head."

"You're good with me being involved with this yet?"

"I can't tell you what to do, with the exception of telling you not to interfere with the official investigation. PI's work open cases - you don't need my permission."

"No, but we can accomplish a lot more if we're on the same side."

"Now that it's my case, I'm going to re-interview witnesses, go over all the evidence myself. Hey, what's this note you've got here about the homicide at Pine Glen Apartments?"

"When I interviewed Anastasia, one of Danielle's friends, she was in the process of moving. Between Danielle's disappearance and the murder there at the complex, she was feeling uneasy about living alone. I remember hearing about it on the news - the girl was raped and stabbed to death by her ex?"

"Yeah, a friend of mine has that case, and he's close to making an arrest - the ex."

"Is it a solid case?"

"Don't start," Bailey said, wagging a warning finger at him.

"What? I just asked a question."

"No, you didn't. You have an issue with this nice, tidy, nearly wrapped-up homicide case."

"All I'm saying is that here's another young woman murdered in an apartment complex where Danielle went frequently to see Anastasia. They both knew the victim, at least on a very casual social level, to say 'hello'," Don said, taking a bite of his sandwich. "I'm not trying to unhinge your tidy little case. I'm just know, coincidence, which I don't put much stock in."

"They've got DNA, so forget it."

"She wouldn't be the first woman in history to have sex with her ex. Doesn't mean he killed her."

"Let it go. It's not even related to this case."

"Okay, okay," Don said, chuckling a little. "Although, I would love to get a look at that case file."

"No, absolutely not," Bailey said, irritated.

"If it's such a good case against the ex, why would your friend care if someone else looked at the file?" Seeing that Bailey was about to pop one of the veins in his forehead, Don held up his hand. "Forget it. I can always go back and talk to Anastasia again, and question some neighbors."

"Connecting this case with the Freemont case is really reaching."

"I suppose."

"You don't have enough suspects here to keep you happy?" he asked, tapping the folder of Don's notes.

"Suspects are only worth anything if they turn out to be guilty of something."

"I'll make you a deal. If all these guys turn out to be dead ends, I'll take a look at the Pine Glen file. Happy?"

"Open mind, Bub. That's all I'm asking."

"You're always asking more than that."

"Believe it or not, I wasn't gunning for Jensen, even though he's a bigoted asshole. I'm doing this for Danielle, because up to now, no one seemed to give a shit that she was missing, probably murdered."

"I'm not arguing that the case was handled badly - to the extent it was handled at all. But that's not my style, and I think you know that."

"I know. I'll do my best not to step on your toes."

"Why doesn't that reassure me?"




Tim walked into his office and tossed his briefcase in his chair, relieved to be back under cover. Even though he'd been with the senator, an aide, and a variety of other people all afternoon, he found himself imagining Meghan O'Donnell lurking behind every potted plant, ready to leap out at him in a homicidal rage.

There was a small terrarium with green plants and a few assorted flowers sitting on his desk next to the roses Donald had sent him. Frowning, he picked up the greeting card envelope that was propped against it with his name written on it in tidy block printing. The card inside bore a floral design, with the words Thinking of You emblazoned across it in a metallic pink script. Both panels inside the card were covered nearly edge to edge with tidy black cursive writing, looking as if the author had used a ruler to keep the lines straight.


Dear Tim,

I am so sorry for the way I behaved this morning. I meant it when I said that I understood that you are married, and I'd just like to be your friend. You were right that it is very difficult to meet new people and make connections if you don't just take a chance. I have been very lonely since I moved to Albany and I thought you seemed so nice, and so friendly, that I got a little desperate in trying to make friends with you. I hope the plant will look nice on your desk, and maybe you'll think more kindly of me. I would still like to treat you to coffee, just as friends. I am the assistant to a top executive at Albany Mutual Savings and Loan, so I think we have a lot in common, being assistants to important people. We do all the work and they get all the glory. HA HA HA. I am also sorry for all the things I said about your boyfriend. Maybe he's very nice when there isn't some crazy lady on his porch trying to make a date with his boyfriend. HA HA HA. I will call you in a couple of days to see about coffee, or maybe lunch, hoping you will have forgiven me by then. Since you were going to be a priest, I'm hoping you are still very forgiving of people's flaws and willing to give me another chance. My office isn't very far away, so there are lots of nice places we could meet that would be convenient for both of us.


Have a nice day, and thank you for being so understanding.



"Tim, I - " Senator Platt paused when Tim visibly started at her words. "Everything all right?"

"Yes, fine. Sorry. I was so focused I didn't hear you come in," he said, smiling.

"Flowers and a plant? What did he do now?" she asked, and Tim had to laugh.

"The plant isn't from Don. Apparently, I've picked up an admirer from those posters I posed for."

"You don't sound very happy about it."

"Am I being paranoid, do you think? Does this note sound a little...chaotic and, well, crazy to you?" he asked, handing her the card.

"The handwriting alone looks a little crazy - obsessive compulsive comes to mind." She skimmed the note. "She's been to your house?"

"This morning, with muffins."

"I hope you've been in touch with the police," she said, handing him the card.

"Donald's taking care of that."

"There's something more you're not telling me."

"He did a background check on her, and she killed her boyfriend. She was acquitted, based on self-defense. She stabbed him twenty times."

"Oh, my God."

"It could be a valid self defense claim. I'm hoping it was. Maybe she's just lonely and troubled and fixated on me for some reason...but her mentioning my seminary background..."

"She must have done some research on you, and considering she's only known your name for a day or so, I'd say she's pretty intense about it."

"Working at the bank, she might have access to confidential information. Don and I have our accounts there."

"I would contact the bank and find out who has access to your confidential information. She must have gotten a Social Security number or some other piece of information to find out that much about you."

"I'll do that. I'll try to be sure this doesn't cause you any difficulties, Senator."

"For now, just concentrate on taking care of the situation. We have security here, and she's not after me. If you can get a photo or a description of her to security, we can make sure she doesn't come in here again. Did she hand-deliver that?"

"I don't know. I just found it."

"Excuse me," Meredith, Tim's assistant, tapped on the door frame. "I don't mean to interrupt but I overheard you mention the plant. A woman delivered it - she was dressed very nicely, in a business suit."

"Brown hair, medium height, kind of pretty?" Tim asked.

"Yes, that's her. She asked if she could set it on your desk. I didn't see any harm in it. She said she was a friend of yours."

"Were you able to see what she was doing while she was in here?" Tim asked.

"I kept an eye on her. She was only in here long enough to set the plant and card on your desk, and then she came right back out and thanked me."

"If she ever comes in here again, you need to call security right away," Senator Platt said. "Tim's having a problem with this woman harassing him."

"Oh, Tim, I'm sorry. I never would have let her leave the plant in your office. She seemed so...harmless, and nice. She was very friendly, even complimented me on my outfit."

"She brought me muffins - she doesn't seem scary on the surface," Tim said. "It's okay, Meredith. You'd have no way of knowing she was anything but a nice, professional woman who wanted to leave me a gift."

"Is she dangerous?"

"We're not sure yet, but don't put yourself in the position of trying to screen her or throw her out. Just get somewhere out of earshot and call security."

"I understand."

When they had both gone, Tim called Jason to ask him about Meghan O'Donnell. He had a couple clients named O'Donnell, but both were men, and he wasn't aware of anyone named Meghan O'Donnell who was a regular at the store.

"She's a pretty girl with brown hair, brown eyes, and she's usually dressed nicely, businesslike," Tim described.

"I remember her now. She asked about the posters and..." Jason was quiet a moment.

"What is it?"

"Not long after we put the posters up, she started coming in at least a couple times per day. Once around lunch time, and then again in the evenings. She didn't give me her name, and she always paid in cash. Tim, she's bought every outfit that you were photographed in, and I don't mind telling you, the way she was just...loitering in the store made me uneasy."

"Like she was waiting around to run into someone?" he asked, feeling even more chilled to know just how deep her obsession seemed to run. "And you told her I was a client?"

"Now it makes sense. She talked to my wife the first day she came in. Lauren usually doesn't manage the store alone, but I was out of town on a buying trip, and my son had classes. They chatted for a while, and she was very interested in knowing more about you. Lauren said you were one of our actual clients, but she didn't give out any of your personal information - not even your name."

"I managed to do that myself, when she introduced herself. She seemed so pleasant and professional, it never occurred to me not to."

"I had no idea the ad campaign would lead to something like this."

"It's not your fault, Jason, or the fault of the campaign. Unfortunately, we just attracted the wrong person."




Tim couldn't remember ever being as glad to see anyone as he was to see Donald poke his head in the door of his office a couple minutes before five. True to his word, he was there early enough so most of the staff was still there, and Tim wasn't alone.

"Hey, honey, you ready to go?" he asked.

"I got another present," Tim said, handing him the card, pointing at the plant.

"Shit," he sat in the chair across from Tim's desk. "So now she knows where you work and she knows you were in the seminary."

"I called Albany Mutual, and talked to her supervisor. She has access to confidential client records as part of her job. She could have gotten our Social Security numbers, our home address, our credit information...from there, she could find out whatever she wanted."

"I can't believe they hired her in a bank."

"She was acquitted, and apparently she's pretty bright and resourceful if she found out about my seminary background that fast with just my basic information. Plus, her boss is a woman, and she said she had been through an abusive relationship and sympathized with Meghan's situation."

"You had quite a talk with the boss, huh?"

"Yes, she was very helpful, and very apologetic that our information was potentially compromised."

"This should be enough for an order of protection, now that she's gotten into our records at the bank."

"Maybe if I'd just taken her muffins and been nicer to her, she wouldn't have gone off the deep end like this. That photo you found - she's all bruised up. She's obviously been through something traumatic."

"Honey, I heard her talking to you. She's not playing with a full deck, and she tracked you to our house after you declined her offer, using confidential information she stole from our bank records."

"She wanted to be friends. Maybe someone like might be all she needed to help get her back on track, but when I rejected her - "

"Timothy, you're not responsible for her being a psycho. We don't know for sure that she didn't murder her boyfriend - all we know is that she, and her lawyer, managed to convince a jury that he had it coming. Bailey's going to call in a favor and try to get more information on that case for us."

"I know it's not my responsibility per se. I guess there's a part of me that feels we're all responsible for how we treat one another, and for helping troubled people who need some compassion."

"I think that's Father Timothy talking," Don said, though his tone was very gentle. He never took Timmy's almost-priesthood lightly, or made fun of his faith or the lingering tendrils of his broken vocation. But he knew when the frustrated priest inside Timothy surfaced, sometimes more accurately than Timothy himself did.

"You're probably right," he admitted, sighing. "I feel like she's the kind of person who probably needs understanding and counseling, and those are the people I always wanted to help find their way. And when I run into someone like that in my life now, I give in to this knee-jerk reaction of panicking because she seems a little flaky and push her away."

"A little flaky? Honey, a little flaky was approaching you in the mall. She's the whole bowl of corn flakes. This note alone sounds like a manic episode on paper."

"I talked to Jason today. Apparently, Meghan now owns all the outfits I posed in, and she was coming into the store once or twice a day, just hanging around, as if she were waiting for something."

"Or someone."

"Exactly. She was hoping to meet me, and then I helpfully wandered in that day..." He shrugged, sighing. "How's your case going?"

"You're changing the subject."

"You're right. This is...freaking me out."

"Okay, we'll drop it for now. Bailey's going to send a sketch artist over to the strip club to get us a composite drawing of 'Ted.' That'll be a big help. I haven't really seen a guy who fit the general description at any of the other clubs, but it's rough when you don't have more to go on than that."

"You could back off now, couldn't you? Bailey's a good cop, and you can trust him to really investigate this."

"I could, yeah..." He sighed. "I promised her mother I'd help her, and I don't like breaking that promise."

"You brought about the discovery of the forensic evidence in the apartment, and you got a good detective on the case, versus one who was ignoring it. You've already done a lot."

"I know. And I'll stay out of Bailey's way for the most part, because he does know what he's doing. Still, he can't be everywhere at once, so if I can do a little legwork, track down Ted, that kind of thing, it'll help."

"There's something else."

"There was another murder, one that happened in the apartment complex where Danielle's friend, Anastasia lived. Another young woman in their age group. The cops are about to arrest her ex for it."

"Why do you think it's related? Just the fact it's another woman in Danielle's age group?"

"More or less. Pretty thin, I know. The M.E. says the blood evidence in Danielle's apartment suggests stabbing versus bludgeoning, and the woman at Pine Glen was stabbed. There are a few parallels like that, and Danielle's friend is a neighbor of the dead woman's."

"The woman at the apartment complex was found there, wasn't she?"

"Yeah, she was found in her apartment."

"Well, then, that's not consistent with Danielle disappearing like she did, and the crime scene being cleaned up," Tim said. "Why would the same killer leave one victim where he killed her, and then hide the next woman's body?"

"Who are you and what have you done with my partner?" Don asked, and Tim chuckled.                                     "I've been paying attention all these years, you know."

"Obviously. If I didn't know better, I'd think Bailey put you up to that."

"Why, what did Bailey say?"

"He was less than thrilled that I was taking an interest in a case they have all wrapped up. I'm sure he'd love to find a way to get my thinking redirected."

"I can imagine."

"Come on, I'm taking you out for dinner. Enough of this morbid crap."

"What about Meghan?"

"She's not invited," Don quipped, standing. "Maybe we'll even fit a little dancing in."

"What about the strip clubs?"

"Tonight, I'm all yours."

"You really think she's dangerous, don't you?"

"Can't I take you out for a romantic evening on the town without an ulterior motive?"

"Of course, but you rarely do that when you're up to your neck in an active investigation that you're this fired up about."

"Timothy," he said, standing close, taking Tim's face in both hands, "I'm not going to leave you alone until I'm comfortable with this situation, and I know you're safe. In the meantime, there's no reason we can't enjoy the extra time together."

"I guess you're right," Tim admitted, smiling, hugging Don and feeling very lucky to be as cared for and protected as he was.




They opted for dinner at a favorite seafood restaurant, cracking king crab legs and making a point of avoiding stressful conversation. Tim could feel the worst of the stress leaving him, getting involved in telling Don about his day, recapping a few anecdotes about people at the luncheon he'd attended. If the whole thing bored Donald, he was hiding it well, laughing in the right spots and asking questions. He knew politics bored him unconscious, but he also knew that he didn't bore Donald. If it mattered to him, his partner was all ears.

On his second martini and stuffed with a couple pounds of crab legs, two hours into their "date," Tim really wasn't thinking about Meghan O'Donnell anymore. He was less than excited when their quiet post-dinner drink and conversation was interrupted by none other than Alex Kessel, the photographer from the Jacobson's photo shoot.

"Jason mentioned we'll be doing another session for the web and print ads," he said, smiling as he stood by their booth. If he was waiting for one of them to move and invite him to join them, Tim feared he'd have a long wait. A guy who wanted a threesome with them wasn't going to be snuggling hip-to-hip in the booth with him, and he knew the chances of Donald moving over were as good as the crab who had donated its legs for their meal getting up and dancing across the table.

"Yes, and this time, he's planning to include Don in at least one or two of the shots," Tim said, smiling.

"Great, the more the merrier," Alex said, and then he paused. "I meant with the photos," he hastened to add. "This is so awkward. Look, I really didn't mean to be offensive with what I said that day at the house. Different strokes, you know? You don't know if you don't ask," he said, and for a moment, he sounded too much like Meghan for Tim's tastes. "I hope you both accept my apology for any...weirdness it caused. I'll never bring that up again."

"I'm sure we can all be adult enough to work together on a photo shoot," Tim said.

"On a purely professional basis," Don added, sipping his martini.

"Absolutely," Alex professed, laying a hand on his chest. "You're both great subjects, so I'm looking forward to doing the next shoot. I guess Jason will set it up when he's ready."

"That's my understanding," Tim said, forcing a little smile.

"It's good to see you both again," Alex said, holding out his hand. Tim shook it, and then Alex held a hand toward Don, who gave him a slightly suspicious and wary look before shaking it. After Alex left, Don voiced his real opinion.

"Slimy little fucker," Don mumbled under his breath as he finished his drink.

"You were quite taken with him at one time."

"Yeah, one time, for about two minutes of temporary insanity. And I wasn't taken with him. I just looked. This seems like the ideal point to suggest we go over to the Three Olives for a little dancing."

"You know, Donald, I've been thinking. Maybe going ahead with the print and online ad campaign isn't such a good idea."

"That's your call, honey. Don't let this issue with Meghan ruin it for you if you want to do it. We'll deal with her, and it's not likely you'll draw another psycho from doing it."

"I know. It sort of soured me on the whole thing, I guess."

"Understandable. Enough about nutjobs and threesomes. I wanna go dancing with my beautiful husband and make everybody in the joint jealous."

"What would you think if we went home and put something nice on the stereo? A little privacy sounds good to me right now." Though he'd initially been looking forward to going out dancing, part of him really wanted to be alone with Donald, in the safety of their home, out of the range of prying eyes. What he really wanted most was Donald making love to him. It was as if his body was physically craving it, and his still jittery nerves needed it. Nothing would relax him like that, and nothing would take him to a better emotional state faster.

"You and privacy are my favorite combination," Don replied, grinning. Then he took Tim's hand, and it was as if he'd been reading his thoughts. "I love you, Timothy," he said, running his thumb gently over Tim's fingers.

"I love you, too," Tim replied, feeling a big smile spreading over his features.

When they got home, Tim watched Don lock the door behind them and turn off the light switch that would plunge the garage beyond the locked door into darkness. He'd never given much thought to that little gesture. Or to the darkness beyond their front door, in the shadows among the shrubs, or in their secluded, tree-shaded, fenced back yard. Even when he was here alone, and Don was out on a case, he'd always felt safe. Tonight, he was unspeakably grateful Don was there, checking the doors and turning out the downstairs lights.

"Let's go upstairs," he said softly, touching Tim's arm. Even that gentle sound and light touch made him start a little. "Hey, it's gonna be okay," he added, touching Tim's cheek.

"I guess I'm just a little jumpy," he said, apologetic, embarrassed. After all, he was jumping at shadows because an unbalanced woman had brought him muffins and a plant.

He wasn't really surprised when Don pulled him into a hug, but he was glad. He held onto his husband, closing his eyes, absorbing his presence and his strength.

"Why don't you take a nice, warm shower and get relaxed? I think I know what you need," Don said, his voice hushed and affectionate as he stepped back, slipping his hand into Tim's and tugging him toward the stairs.

"I know I'm overreacting," he said.

"I'm going to make sure you're safe, sweetheart," he said as they climbed the stairs.

"I'm glad you're here tonight."

"So am I," he said, smiling at Tim, squeezing his hand.

Tim took the suggestion for a shower, and he took his time standing under the spray of water, letting it relax him. Don was home, and he smiled at that thought, realizing there was nothing for him to be worried about. When he was finished, he stepped out of the shower and started toweling himself dry. He wrapped a towel around his waist and used another to dry his hair, wandering into the bedroom.

The gold glow of candles and the strains of soft, instrumental piano music greeted him. The bed was turned back, and Donald was standing there in his robe, just finishing lighting the last candle on the night stand.

"This beats dancing in a crowded club any day," Tim said, smiling.

"Oh, we're still going to dance," Don said, grinning. He took off his robe, tossing it aside. He was naked, and he moved closer to Tim, taking the towel he'd been using on his hair and tossing it on the floor with his robe. Then he let his fingers dance along the edge of the towel around Tim's waist. "You know, there are some kinds of naked dancing that should only be done in private...between two people in love," he said. Then his eyes met Tim's, his look positively smouldering. "What do you say?" he asked, his voice a husky whisper.

Smiling, Tim leaned in for a kiss, their arms going around each other, bodies pressing together. He loosened the towel and felt it drop to the floor, glad to be free of the last barrier between himself and Don. Then he felt Don reposition them just slightly, taking his hand, leading their dance. There was all the romance and closeness he always felt when they danced together, and yet the heightened awareness of each other's bodies, the intense intimacy of being skin-on-skin, and yet not succumbing to the final chapter of desire, making love.

He could feel himself becoming aroused, and Donald was, too, but it was a pleasant build up of passion, simmering with the tenderness of just holding each other close, swaying to the music. He pressed his cheek against soft blond hair, inhaling the scent of Donald's cologne and what lay beneath it that was so uniquely him. He let his hand roam over the curves of perfectly defined muscles, smiling a little as he thought of one of his favorite guilty pleasures - showing Donald off in the summer, when they ran errands or went somewhere casual, and he wore shorts and a tank shirt. Not only did Tim spend more time than he should looking at Donald's muscles than he did whatever they were shopping for or driving to, but he indulged in relishing the second looks his partner's beautifully toned physique earned from both sexes.

And then there was the smooth, perfect skin over those muscles that felt like satin under his hands. Dancing together this way, he could let his hands roam over his partner's body, prolonging and focusing on that pleasure as Donald's soft lips traced his throat, his collarbone, and his shoulder. He wondered why they'd never done this before, and loved Donald even more for having thought of it, for being open and shameless and passionate enough to suggest it.

Without words, they moved back toward the bed, Tim lying on his back and Don following him, lying atop him in a continuation of their embrace, taking their time with prolonged, deep kisses that were too sweet to rush. He reached up and touched Don's cheek, and they paused for a long moment, sharing a look that expressed an emotion too deep and too large for words.

Even when Don finally prepared him and slipped inside him, they stayed locked in each other's arms, the pace of their lovemaking set by their unwillingness to give up the complete closeness. It was a slow, gentle, easy rhythm that teased and frustrated them both a bit, but neither one wanted the moment of unity to end, to rush it before it was ready, to devour a delicacy that should be savored.

Tim held onto Don, wishing there was a way for this moment to last forever. Don felt so good inside him, just moving gently and unhurriedly, drawing out Tim's pleasure, making him wonder how his partner had the self control not to finally begin thrusting harder or faster.

Instead of wasting time thinking, he completely relaxed into the physical sensations, kissing Don again, making love to his mouth, sliding his hand into Don's hair, letting the soft strands caress his fingers as he cradled that precious head and kept him close. When his climax came, it was with a mixture of joy and regret, because this moment, and this night, couldn't last long enough. Then Don was coming deep inside him, finally stilling, lying spent in his arms.

He wrapped his arms tightly, protectively, around Don and planted little kisses on his forehead, caressing him and trying to absorb the very essence of him into his own pores, careful not to move too much, glad they were still physically joined. He held Don's hand, the one bearing his wedding ring, and smiled when he thought about the day he'd slipped it on that finger. Donald had looked so handsome in a tuxedo he couldn't wait to get out of, facing a prolonged reception of hugging, handshaking, and social chatter that Tim knew was even lower on his list of favorite activities than being dressed in what he'd referred to as a "good-looking straitjacket."

Still, he'd outperformed even Tim's expectations of him in the charm department, and made it the most memorable, romantic night of his life. Tim could always feel his heart swell when he thought about how much his partner loved him and how, even with a little grumbling now and then, he'd do anything in the world to make him happy.

"You're deep in thought, Timothy," Don joked, his voice seeming loud in the hushed aftermath of their lovemaking.

"I was just thinking about our wedding..." He kissed Don's hand. "And about how lucky I am to have you."

"I think I'm the lucky one there," he replied with a little chuckle.

"Anyone who's loved even half as much as I am, is very, very lucky," he said, smiling, looking into Don's eyes, bumping noses with him. He could get lost in those big blue eyes, in the sincerity and the devotion and the love he always saw there. Don carefully eased out of him so they could settle comfortably in each other's arms to doze off to sleep. Tim felt oddly empty without him in there, more so than usual. He squeezed Don tighter, kissing his hair.

"Everything okay, sweetheart?" he asked, sensing that something in Tim's mood was just off a little.

"I just miss you in there," he said honestly, feeling himself blush a little at the admission. "More than usual."

"I kind of miss being in there, too," Don replied, letting his hand slip down Tim's side to his hip, and around to his bottom, cupping one of his cheeks gently. The intimate touching felt good, and he sighed, a happy, pleasured sigh that made Don smile and let his fingers tease the crack and dance over Tim's center. "I'm known for my resiliency and endurance," he joked, and Tim chuckled, kissing him.

"I know about your resiliency and endurance." He could feel his own cock regaining some interest as they fooled around and talked a little dirty with each other. After a brief rest, they would make good use of the remainder of the night.




While Don regretted not finding Timmy next to him in bed when he woke up, he could smell coffee and breakfast cooking downstairs. All that mess and trouble wasn't Timothy's usual M.O. on a work morning, but once in a while he'd feel the inclination to go all out and fix something delicious. Knowing he was getting rewarded for a night of passion, Donald felt a bit like a peacock in full display as he took a shower, liking following Timothy in there, still able to smell traces of his body wash and shampoo. Timmy was always a great cook, but somehow breakfast that was prepared for you because your husband thought you were great in bed the night before tasted a lot better than ordinary breakfast.

"Morning, beautiful," he greeted cheerily as he hurried into the kitchen, anxious to get his first look of the morning at his partner. He wasn't disappointed. Timmy had a chef's apron on over his shirt and tie, his suit coat tossed over a nearby chair. He smelled great and looked even better.

"Hey, honey, I was just going to come up there and see if you died on me," he said, kissing Don, smiling with their lips still against each other when Don held onto him and turned it into a much longer, deeper kiss than he'd planned, since he was holding a pan of eggs. "Is that the new cologne I got you?" he asked, sniffing.

"You like it?"

"Smells much better on you than it did in the store," he added, sniffing in Don's direction again. The whole idea of Timothy sniffing any part of him, even just his neck, was enough to get him hot again.

"Breakfast looks great," he said, sitting down, since Timmy already had the plates out, bacon on them, and buttered toast neatly stacked on a plate between their individual plates. "You didn't have to do all this."

"You probably have a long day ahead of you," he said, smiling. "I counted six McDonald's bags in the back of your car when I cleaned out the backseat last week. I'm obviously not taking good enough care of you," he joked, putting scrambled eggs on both their plates.

"Honey, I've told you to leave the junk in the back of the car. I'll dig it out eventually."

"When it sprouts, stinks, or the level rises so high that it interferes with your visibility out your rear window, I suppose you will. I was cleaning out my car anyway."

"Oh, that's right. While you were disposing of the tiny waste bag they gave you at the car wash that had one tissue and a crumpled gas receipt in it after two weeks."

"I'm not that tidy, Donald," he replied, laughing.

"Have you ever thrown something over your shoulder into the backseat and let it land where it will?"

"No, but - "

"Then you're too neat to be cleaning out my car."

"You just don't want me to know how much fast food you're eating," he said, sitting down next to Donald and digging into his food.

"Well, yeah, that, too," he admitted. "This is delicious."

"See, if I'm taking the right care of you, you're not eating all that junk."

"You always take good care of me, honey. But anytime you want to cook for me, I won't turn it down," he added, patting Timmy's thigh.

"Maybe I should have been nicer to Meghan. Muffins would go great with this," he said, and Don had to laugh.

"I'm glad you're feeling a little less freaked out about it this morning, sweetheart. We'll get it taken care of."

"My husband spent a lot of time last night making me feel very safe, and very loved," he said, leaning over for a kiss.

"I'm going to be out and about most of the day, so just give me a call if you need to go anywhere. I'll pick you up around five unless you want me there at another time."

"No, five's fine. Are you sure this isn't going to screw up your schedule?"

"I might have to take you along on a couple stops tonight if you don't mind. You wanna hang out in a strip joint with me?"

"Well, I can think of more enjoyable ways to spend an evening, but I know you're still trying to work the Freemont case."

"Bailey's supposed to have that composite drawing of 'Ted' today, and I want to check out a couple of the clubs once I know what he looks like."

"I'll be fine here. You can drop me off after work. I'll just make sure the doors are all locked."

"I don't know about that," Don said, still eating heartily. The food really hit the spot, and he had been eating a lot of junk lately. "Let me see what I can find out from Bailey about her boyfriend's death." He wiped his mouth with the napkin. "I'm not taking any chances with you."

"I should have never posed for those stupid posters. I guess I got a little obsessed with the idea of those suits, which I'd gladly give back just to be rid of this...unbalanced woman following me around."

"It's not your fault because you posed for the posters. I urged you to do it. I thought you'd have fun with the pricey outfits, and it didn't seem like there'd be any harm in it. There shouldn't have been any harm in it. It's like any other situation where someone in the public eye draws a stalker. It's just circumstances coming together."

"Sometimes people get these stalkers and they follow them around for years until...something finally happens. You can't watch me 24/7 for the rest of our lives."

"Yeah? Watch me."

"I love you for that thought, honey, but this could screw up our entire life."

"It could, but it's not going to. I'm a better PI than that, remember? I'll take care of it."

"It's not that I don't trust you, it's just..."

"It's just that you're scared because you don't want one of us to end up dead because of this," Don finally said, feeling like Timmy needed the ultimate fear to be voiced.

"Yes," he said quietly, not looking up from his plate.

"Sweetheart, I promise you, I'll figure this thing out, and it won't be going on forever."

"I'd never forgive myself if something happened to you because of this. You're so worried about protecting me. What if she goes after you?"

"I'm armed and combat trained, and I know she's out there. I'll be okay."

"Just don't get too complacent."

"I won't." He rubbed Timmy's back lightly. "Besides, starting off with a good breakfast, I can handle anything," he joked, and was glad Timmy laughed at that, and even gladder to accept the bear hug he got in response.

After they finished eating, they headed out to the garage to get in Don's car. Tim hit the button to open the garage door, and they both froze in their tracks. As daylight flooded the garage, it highlighted the crimson message scrawled across the windshield and hood of Don's car:




"She was in the garage last night," Tim said, staring at it. "Donald, is that blood?"

"Sure looks like it, but I wouldn't jump to that conclusion. Don't touch anything. Just go back inside and I'll call Bailey."

"Is the back door locked? Did she break in?"

"I'll check all that out, but the more we wander around in here and touch things and disturb things, the better our chances of messing up the crime scene."

"She could have just as easily broken into the house. What if we'd forgotten to lock the door?"

"We didn't, and apparently she hasn't escalated to that point." He took out his cell phone, dialing Bailey's number.

"But she's escalating fast."

"My guess is she probably got in trouble at work for looking up our information." He guided Timmy back into the house and followed him as Bailey answered his line. "Morning, Bub, it's Don Strachey. We've got a situation at the house."

"Everyone okay?"

"Yeah, we're fine, but I think our friend, Meghan O'Donnell, left a little love note on my car - which was parked in our locked garage last night."

"Shouldn't be hard getting an order of protection on her now. I've got some information on that case from my buddy at the NYPD. I'm just leaving home right now, so I'll swing over there and have a tech unit meet me."

"I haven't checked it out, but it looks an awful lot like she wrote it in blood."




"It's blood all right," one of the lab techs confirmed, sniffing the tips of his gloved fingers. "Won't know if it's animal or human until we get it back to the lab," he added.

"You two ever think of getting an alarm system?" Bailey asked, looking over Don's shoulder where he was crouched by the side door into their garage. The door had been opened forcibly, and judging from the damage to it, as the result of several not-too-delicate attempts with something large and probably heavy, like a crow bar.

"Timothy's on the phone with one of the companies as we speak. Guess that means the swimming pool is postponed to next year." He straightened up, sighing, unamused by his own attempt at humor. "He's pretty upset," he added, rubbing his forehead. He would have preferred to focus on calming his partner down, but the best thing he could do now was take every possible step to figure this mess out, and protect him. "What did you find out about her? Or don't I want to know?"

"Well, she was acquitted, but that didn't set well with the cops involved with the case. Apparently the forensics were pretty ambiguous. There was blood everywhere, no question it was a major struggle and she had bruises all over her face and upper torso. He didn't go down easy. Several of those twenty wounds were superficial, and some of them definitely qualified as defensive wounds on his hands or arms. She finally slit his throat, and that pretty much wrapped things up."

"If she was fighting him off, he might still have those superficial wounds, so that's not surprising."

"And it doesn't conclusively disprove her claim, either. The thing is, there was no history of domestic violence calls from their address, and no friends, relatives, anyone who could corroborate her story of ongoing abuse. When she was examined, all her bruises were fresh. Someone who's being beaten regularly should have some old bruises, some kind of ER history that coincides with the abuse claims."

"She probably said he hit her where it didn't show, didn't hit her all the time, and she didn't go to the ER or her doctor. As much as I don't buy it in her case, that's not unheard of."

"That's what the jury thought. They were moved by her testimony and they bought it. He had a history of assault on his rap sheet. He wasn't a prince. Whether or not he beat her is her word against his, and unfortunately for him, he's not in a position to talk. She claimed he was accusing her of seeing another man, which she did have a friend testify that he tended to be jealous, and that Meghan wasn't cheating on him. The argument escalated, and he 'went ballistic' - her term - and started attacking her and she grabbed a butcher knife and fought back."

"What was the prosecution's theory?"

"The reverse - Meghan thought the boyfriend was fooling around, which he was, and there were some good indications she knew about it. They think she killed him in a fit of jealous rage and that he's the one who fought for his life, but lost." Bailey shrugged. "I guess the jury didn't buy that a pretty little lady could go nuts and slice up her six-foot-tall boyfriend."

"Sort of a short-sighted way to look at it."

"Unfortunately, the women on the jury sympathized with her and the men apparently didn't think a big, strong, man could lose a physical battle with his girlfriend. That's always a hard sell to a jury."

"Pretty little psycho girlfriend with a butcher knife."

"Apparently her psych evaluations came back all right. Her mother's locked up in a nuthouse in rural New York. Paranoid schizophrenic."

"No shit?"

"It was suppressed at the trial as being prejudicial, since Meghan checked out all right, and they weren't using an insanity defense. They felt it would color the jury's opinion."

"Ya think?" Don shook his head, frustrated. "Killing your boyfriend with a butcher knife because he cheats on you would fit with a violent schizophrenic outburst."

"The doc who interviewed her cleared her. Insanity can be hereditary, but it isn't guaranteed to be passed on to a child, or it can skip a generation. Making the jury aware of it running in her family when they couldn't tie it to the case was prejudicial - and besides, it would be mitigating if she was crazy, so why bring it up from a prosecution perspective?"

"I don't know if all this makes me feel better or worse. Thanks for looking into it."

"The guys at the NYPD would love to see her nailed for something, so it wouldn't hurt my reputation any if I made an arrest in this case."

"I'll pass that on to Timothy. I'm sure it'll reassure him."

"You know what I mean," he said, shaking his head. "Shit, Strachey, you're touchy lately."

"Even if we bust her for this, she'll be in and out of jail, probably on her own recognizance."

"Depends on what kind of blood she used and where she got it, and how a judge - or jury, depending on how far it goes - takes the message. Writing anything in blood raises the stakes."

"Someone from the alarm company will be out here this afternoon," Tim said, joining them in the garage. Don could sense the tightness in his voice, the stiffness in his spine, and the slightly agitated way he couldn't seem to decide whether to put his hands in his pockets or let them hang at his sides. "I hope it won't interfere with anything you need from the scene here," he said to Bailey.

"No, we're almost done," he replied.

"You know, I'm surprised she didn't vandalize your rental car," Bailey said, referring to the Corvette Don had parked outside in the driveway.

"She probably knows it's not mine. Putting the message on my car makes it more personal, and breaking into our garage to do it also sends a different message."

"That we need an alarm system," Tim added.

"We're gonna have one by the end of the day," Don said, finally catching one of the restless hands in his own and holding onto it.

"I should go into the office and get a few things cleared away. They won't be here to install the alarm system until about two."

"I can take care of the alarm guy, honey. I want to see what they're putting in anyway. If you want to stay at work, I can come by and pick you up later."


"Yes, really. What kind of a system did you get?"

"A good one," he replied. "It was the second to the most expensive."

"You passed on the live guard dogs and personal bodyguard options?" Don asked, wondering just how much Timmy had committed to the new system.

"They didn't offer me dogs and I already have a personal bodyguard," he replied, never missing a beat in returning Don's mild sarcasm.

"Yeah, you do," he said, smiling. His momentary irritation had quickly passed, as it usually did with Timothy. If he needed Secret Service agents to feel safe, in Donald's opinion, he deserved nothing less. He could review the specs on the system before they put it in, and trim any unnecessary fat off himself.

"Did you find out anything about the case in New York?" Tim asked, and Bailey shot a quick look at Don, which wasn't lost on Tim. "That bad, huh?"

"Not really anything new. The forensics on the case were ambiguous, so it came down to the jury believing her version of the story," he summarized, leaving out some of the more gruesome details.

"Let's get going while they finish up here," Don suggested, and Tim nodded.

"I'll grab my briefcase," he said, going back into the house.

"Thanks," Don said quietly to Bailey. "I'll fill him in on everything tonight, but there's no point in him stewing on it all day."

"I've seen your partner keyed up. Not anxious to see it again," Bailey concluded, shaking his head.




"I didn't vandalize anyone's car," Meghan protested, angry, as she sat at the table in the interrogation room. "Not that I don't have a reason to. They got me fired from my job."

"You do realize that given the state of forensic technology today, it's pretty unlikely you're going to get away with this," Bailey said, sitting across from her. "Look," he said, smiling faintly, "we've all done something stupid because of someone we're attracted to. Who hasn't? This is your chance to come clean about this and deal with it. You probably won't spend a day in jail. Nobody's been hurt - the car isn't even permanently damaged."

"You want me to confess to something I didn't do, and I'm not going to do that. Now unless you're going to arrest me, I want to go home."

"Miss O'Donnell, three years ago, you got away with murder. If I were you, I'd consider that a win and keep my nose clean. We can't retry you for that, but we sure can keep an eye on you when you start threatening people in our jurisdiction."

"A jury acquitted me," she spat back, glowering at him. "I was fighting for my life."

"Detective Bailey?" A young detective poked his head in the door. "Forensics report you were waiting on," he said, handing him a folder.

"Thanks, Carter," Bailey said, taking the folder. "The blood used to write the message on the car was cat's blood."

"That's disturbing, but it has nothing to do with me."

"When I stepped into your apartment before we came here, I noticed a litter box, but no cat."

"How observant of you. I have no comment on that."

"No matter how you look at it, an animal cruelty charge and a vandalism rap are a lot easier to resolve than the charges you'll be facing if you escalate this thing to the next level."

"Are we finished? I assume there's nothing in your little folder that ties me to this...unfortunate incident."

"The tests aren't complete. There'll be something. There always is," he added.

"Are you going to arrest me?"

"Not now, but I'm confident it won't be long."

"You know, if this weren't so tragic, it would be funny. These two guys are rude to me, slam the door in my face, get me fired from my job, and now they're siccing the cops on me and accusing me of all sorts of bizarre...stuff, and I'm the one you're threatening with arrest? What about them? What about what they've done to me?"

"You're harassing them, Ms. O'Donnell. At the very least, you're going to be on the receiving end of an order of protection based on what you've done so far that we can prove. Do yourself a favor and put a stop to this before it goes any farther."

"Have a nice day, Detective," she said, rising and walking out of the interrogation room.




"Do you think we're the only two guys here who aren't aroused?" Tim whispered to Don, who just chuckled and took another draw on his beer. Then he rose partway out of his seat and waved a twenty around, lewdly cat-calling at the dancer, who bumped and ground her way over to him so he could tuck it in her G-string. Tim couldn't help but notice that she looked a lot like Danielle Freemont. "How about a lap dance, baby?" he shouted at her over the music.

"Anything for you, honey," she replied sweetly, blowing a little kiss in his direction as she proceeded to turn and give them both a much more up close and personal view of her thonged posterior before dancing her way down the runway to collect more tips.

"You're going to have her give you a lap dance? Donald, I'm not sitting here while some nearly naked woman gives you a lap dance," Tim spat out in an angry whisper against Don's ear.

"I love it when you blow in my ear, sweetheart," he replied.

"Donald, I mean it - "

"Ted's here, so don't blow it," he said, taking another drink. "He's got his eye on the girl, and on us."

Tim pulled out a ten and waved it in the air, accompanied by a loud wolf whistle. Donald gaped at him as the dancer made her way back to them, he tucked the bill in her G-string, and she shimmied for him before strutting back in the other direction.

"Who are you and what have you done with my husband?" Don said against his ear, keeping his voice low but trying to be heard over the music.

"She's hot, isn't she?" Tim said, but he wasn't talking to Don. Ted had made his way to sit next to Tim. "I'd like to have some of that," he added.

"Get in line. She's incredible," Ted replied. "I'd spring for a VIP room for her."

"She gave my friend over here quite a show for a twenty. Wonder what she does for a hundred?" He queried, and Ted laughed.

"Five times as much, I'm guessing," he said, shaking his head.

"You ever go to the VIP Club?" Tim asked, and he could feel Don's eyes burning two holes in the side of his head.

"Used to, why?"

"I haven't been there for a while myself. They used to have a girl dancing there - she makes this one look like the ugly stepsister. She's not dancing there anymore, I guess. I stopped going in. The other girls are cute, but they're not like she was."

"Danielle. Man, that chick was hot. I had me some'a that," he said, grinning ferally before taking another drink of his cocktail. "Cost me five hundred bucks to get a piece of that ass."

"Five hun - What'd she do to you for five hundred?"

"Anything I wanted. That girl could take whatever you dished out, and still want more."

"Don't know if I'd trust myself with a girl like that," Tim said, and he could vaguely hear Donald choking on his beer. "One who'd do anything? Wow," he added.

"Yeah, wow," Ted agreed. "What would you do to her, anyway? You have some weird kink or something?"

"What wouldn't you do to a girl like that?"

"Take her home to meet the family?" Ted replied, and they both laughed.

"You sure wouldn't have to hold back," Tim said, and his voice held a chilly calm to it that he was proud of himself for, since he was strung tighter than a piano wire inside. He'd watched enough crime dramas and heard enough from his partner about the behavior of serial killers to be able to deliver a couple lines like one. And for some twisted reason, Ted was hanging out with him and not Don. The least he could do was try to make a connection with one of his partner's favorite suspects.

"Frank Van Etten," he said, holding out his hand.

"Tim Johnson," he said, tacking the only last name that popped into mind onto his spontaneous alias. "This is my friend - "

"Don Stevens," Don said, also shaking hands with Frank.

"So, you ever had a piece of that action?" Frank asked Don, gesturing toward the dancer who was finishing up her routine.

"Not yet, but hopefully that'll change tonight."

"We'll see which one of us she comes back to first," he said, and his tone seemed congenial.

Tim found himself hoping it was Frank she chose first, since he wasn't too thrilled to watch a naked dancer writhe around on his partner, even if it was a woman and he wasn't into it. Hopefully, Frank had given them his real name, and Donald would at least be able to run checks on him. He hoped his partner would be satisfied with that, and that they could go home soon. Not only was he getting tired as the clock marched its way toward midnight, but playing the roles of strip club enthusiasts had left him feeling the pull to renew his real connection to Donald. They were just role-playing for the investigation, but he still felt uncomfortably detached from their reality. It wasn't until they consciously played the roles of two buddies at a strip club that he realized how many times they touched without even thinking about it, how truly comfortable and settled into being a couple, in public and in private, they really had become.

The dancer solved their dilemma by approaching Frank first, and within minutes, they were off to a VIP room, Frank grinning triumphantly at his new "friends" as he followed her.

"You're not just good, you're scary good," Don said to Tim, laughing and shaking his head.

"Can we go home now?" Tim asked.

"Yeah, sure," he said, checking his watch. "Sorry, honey. I didn't realize it was getting so late. This was a good night's work."

As they drove home, Tim tried to avoid thinking about Meghan O'Donnell and how close she'd been to breaking into their house the night before. At least the new security system was in place, having been installed under Donald's watchful eye that afternoon.

"Do you think Frank is a killer?" Tim asked, forcing himself to think of a different criminal case, one a little less close to home.

"Didn't strike me as one," Don replied, smiling. "You were scarier than he was."

"I was hoping he'd say something, maybe make some comment about something he did to Danielle."

"He's not exactly a great guy, but he doesn't strike me as a killer. I've got his name now, so I can have Kenny run him through all the databases." 

"What do you think of the security system?"

"I think it's first-rate. Comes from a good company. I'm glad we have it, even if Bailey manages to bring in Meghan O'Donnell. There are a lot of nights I'm out late that I'd like to think you had that extra protection."

"If she doesn't do something more violent than write on your car, she won't be in jail long, even if he proves she did it."

"No, that's true," Don agreed with a sigh as he turned onto their street. "We'll figure it out. I promise," he said, reaching over and squeezing Tim's shoulder.

Once they were inside, Don quickly reset the alarm system. Tim went into the kitchen and took out a bottled water. "You want one?" he called to Don.

"No, I'm good," he replied, waiting by the stairs for Tim.

"Jason called again today," Tim said, taking a drink of the water. "I'm avoiding him. I know we should schedule the rest of the photos for that internet and print ad campaign."

"It's probably better for everyone concerned to get some resolution to this situation first. Do you want me to talk to Jason?"

"No, I'll call him tomorrow." Tim sighed. "I hate that I don't feel safe in our house."

"For what it's worth, the system really is good. I looked over all the specs and I watched most of the installation process." He paused. "Come on, let's take a walk through the house before bed."

"You probably think I'm crazy."

"No, I think you're unsettled, and you've got a right to be," he said as they started their little room-to-room tour of the house.

"I keep thinking of these people who have crazed stalkers after them for years and years and their lives are destroyed by it. They finally have to move, try to keep their address a secret..."

"We aren't going to let Meghan O'Donnell destroy our lives for years, honey. We'll figure this thing out. I'm not saying it's easy, but we'll do it."

"Maybe if we hadn't antagonized her..."

"What? We'd be having her over for coffee instead? She's a fruitcake. You could have been nice to her at the start, and we'd be in the same mess, because at some point, you'd have had to put a stop to it if you didn't plan to turn straight, leave me, and marry her."

"I got her fired from her job, Donald."

"Honey, she was using her job to look up our confidential information in the bank's files. She should have lost her job for that."

"But she isn't going to see it that way."

"You're talking like there's some reasonable way to deal with someone like her. There isn't. She's nuts and she's obsessed, and whether you took her plate of muffins or had coffee with her wouldn't change the ultimate outcome. She doesn't want to be your friend, Timothy, no matter how much she might profess that she does. At best, she'd be an obsessive fag hag, and at worst, she's just lying to get close to you so she can be the woman you go straight for. And doing away with me would probably enter that equation somewhere down the road, because I'm excess baggage, no matter which way you look at it."

"Then how does something like this finally end? With someone's death?"

"Preferably hers," Don said, his answer too nonchalant for Tim's comfort. "Look, I'm sorry if that sounds callous, but it sure as hell would simplify something that's going to be a thorny mess no matter how it turns out."

"I can't sit around and wish for someone's death, Donald."

"That's not what I intend to do, either. Realistically, it's the easiest ending we could get because as long as she's alive, she's probably not going to just suddenly forget about you. Unless she gets fixated on someone or something else. If she got obsessed with you, it's possible she could get obsessed with someone else."

"So we either hope for her to die or to torment someone else."

"Timothy, there's a lot of bad stuff out there in the world. I would like to have a perfect world where that bad stuff didn't happen, but if it has to happen, shocking as it may seem, I'd rather it happened to someone else other than you or me."

"I know. I don't want anything to happen to either one of us. Or to anyone else."

"Neither do I," Don said, as they finally made it to their bedroom and he started undressing. "And the fact that you can't wish pushing her off on someone else? That's one of the things I love the most about you, sweetheart."

"I'm sorry if I made it sound like I thought you were wishing ill on others. I didn't mean it that way."

"Well, if we're being honest, I would rather toss the hot potato to someone else than have her in our lives for the next five or six years."




"This guy is really boring, Don," Kenny said as he ran Frank Van Etten's name though yet another database. "Not even an outstanding parking ticket."

"What's he do for a living?" Don called back, engrossed in reading an online article about stalking laws and case histories. It wasn't cheering him up.

"He's a financial advisor for Payne and Whittier."

"Low-level guy, or money maker?"

"Judging by his income, money maker. He definitely could afford to throw money at Danielle, buy her nice stuff. According to his credit report, he's got a pretty hefty credit card balance that shot up fairly recently."

"Like one he might have used on Danielle?"

"Yep. Like one he made her a cardholder on," he said.


"Really. Looks like our girl racked up about ten grand on it before she maxed it out."

"How recent was the activity on the account?"

"Uh..." Kenny was quiet a moment while Don could hear his mouse working, scrolling through information. "The last charge was on April tenth."

"She was last seen on the eleventh. How much was it?"

"Looks like two grand at Sandborn's Department Store."

"My blood always runs cold when Timothy so much as steps across their threshold, let alone surfs their website."

"Cute boyfriends are high maintenance," Kenny said.

"He's too old for you and he's married," Don joked. Kenny laughed.

"He's still in pretty good shape for an old guy," he teased back. "And stylish guys his age are very expensive to keep in their fancy clothes."

"Do I want to know how you know that?"

"I dated an older guy who liked designer labels. His annual clothing tab would have fed a small third world country. He actually had most of his good suits insured. No joke."

"Timothy's not like that, thank God. He likes nice things, but he's pretty sensible. Still, his idea of getting into the leather scene is the Louis Vuitton display at Sandborn's."

"Told you," Kenny retorted, laughing. "I'll have the whole folder on this Frank guy in a minute. The only thing that stands out is that his girlfriend was killed in a boating accident ten years ago, but he wasn't even there when she died, so there's nothing to tie him to it."

"Get me everything you can on that."

"Already did," Kenny replied. A few minutes later he walked into Don's office and set the folder down. "Either you're going over the monthly billing on the Freemont case, or it's other bad news," he said, crossing his arms and waiting for Don to respond to the probe. He finally looked up from his laptop.

"I've been doing research on stalkers and New York stalking laws," he said, leaning back in his chair. "We should be able to come up with an array of charges for our friend, Meghan."

"That's still not putting a smile on your face."

"Mostly they're misdemeanors. If they can prove the vandalism, that's breaking and entering, so that would up the ante. We could get her for stalking, harassment, and menacing if we can prove she left the message on the car. Stalking and harassment are about all we can get now. Plus, we're getting an order of protection, which you just know she's going to violate."

"Maybe not. Maybe she'll back off when it's official."

"I'd like to think that, too, but I don't believe it. I just wish I could think of a way to get her off Timothy's back. Any advice about stalkers?"

"Fortunately, I haven't dated one of those yet."

"Figures. One time I'd like to hear one of those anecdotes..." He picked up the folder and flipped through it. "You're right, this guy is a fucking boy scout. This whole business with the girlfriend is interesting, though." He read through the print-outs of the online news articles Kenny had located. "Take a look at her. Remind you of anyone?" he said, holding up the article toward Kenny.

"That's what I thought, too. She looks like Danielle, and she was only 23 when she died."

"He keeps looking for young, hot blondes, and he's never married... Kind of sad, really. Unless he's got a really unhealthy reaction when they turn out not to be all he hoped for."

"There's nothing here to support that."

"Were there any other authorized card holders on his credit cards besides Danielle?"

"His mother was on one of them, and his girlfriend was on one of the oldest of the accounts until she died."

"I don't like him as a suspect," Don said, closing the folder. "Give Bailey a call and tell him what we've got. He can borrow the folder if he wants, or you can just e-mail him the highlights."

"Got it."

The phone rang, and he smiled when he saw it was Timmy's cell phone number.

"Hey, beautiful, miss me already?" he joked, since it was only ten o'clock in the morning.

"I always miss you when you're not with me," he replied, and the affectionate answer to his little joke made Don feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

"Same here. What's up?"

"Jason asked if we'd pose for the print and internet ad. He wants to do a session this afternoon. What do you think?"

"I can make it for an hour or so, and I don't think we should let Meghan O'Donnell control what we do."

"It just gives me the creeps that she'll be able to look me up online and print off pictures of me."

"Maybe if she can do that and X-out my face with a red marker, she'll leave my car alone," he replied.

"I'm serious."

"I know. How long before the print and 'net ads are publicized?"

"Not long. He didn't say exactly when, but he wants to coordinate the look on the website with the look in the stores, and he's anxious to do that sooner than later. The print ads are going to really be everywhere around Father's Day."

"It's up to you, honey. If you want to do it, I can come up with an hour or so this afternoon."

"I know you're right about not letting her control our lives."

"You don't sound convinced," Don commented, sighing. "If the thought of her being able to look at pictures of you online freaks you out, don't do it. All I'm saying is that she could be a factor in our lives for a long time, even if we're able to prevent her from doing anything worse than she's already done. We might not want to get in the habit of letting her influence our decisions."

"I did commit to Jason to be part of this ad campaign, and it's not his fault about Meghan.” There was a long pause, then Tim added, “I'll call him back and tell him we'll do it."




Even though they knew Meghan was out there, and would probably pounce excitedly on new pictures of Timothy, the photo shoot turned out to be a good distraction. With an order of protection in place, they had grounds to call the cops if she showed up within 300 feet of Timothy.

Tim was used to posing for the photographer now, and he didn't feel so odd about being in the model spotlight. He positively glowed when they did a few shots that included Don, loving the opportunity to be photographed with his partner, even though most of the poses were neutral and didn't reveal their real relationship. Tim was dressed in the Armani, and Don was dressed in a dark gray Gucci that was perfectly tailored for his perfect physique, at least in Tim's opinion. As they were nearing the end of the shoot, Jason made a suggestion.

"Why don't you two take a break from posing and be yourselves? I was thinking perhaps we could include one shot of the two of you as a couple in one of our website features."

"That would be great," Tim said, smiling. "I didn't get the feeling you were comfortable with that."

"I'm comfortable with appealing to all my potential clients. Affluent gay professionals buy a lot of nice clothing," he said.

"That they do," Don agreed, earning him a punch in the arm from Tim. "Spousal abuse, in front of witnesses," he protested.

"Try to sell that to anyone," Tim scolded, kissing his cheek as Don started to laugh. The photographer caught the moment. "You have a habit of doing that," Tim said to him.

"You liked the other photo I got of you when you didn't think I was taking them. Wait 'til you see it. You'll like it."

The last few minutes of the photo shoot put both of them in a good mood as they had fun hamming it up and interacting as a couple. Even though Tim doubted Jason would include a photo of them kissing, at the very end, he took Don in his arms and kissed him properly, letting the photographer snap as many shots of the moment as he saw fit. There were even a few more flurries of camera action when they first parted, and were looking into each other's eyes.

"I love you," Tim said, touching Don's cheek, wanting to be sure he said the words, even though he knew Don knew exactly how much he was loved.

"I love you, too, sweetheart. And I want an 8x10 of that one," he said to the photographer, who laughed.

"Already planning on it," he replied.

Don's cell phone rang, and he stepped away from the group to answer it.


Tim watched as Don rubbed his forehead with his free hand, letting out a long sigh.

"Damn. I'm on my way," he said, then tucked the phone back in his pocket.

"Don?" Tim asked, concerned at the shadow that passed over his partner's expression.

"Bailey's at the docks. They're pulling a red Pontiac Sunfire out of the water."


"Could be."

"You want company?"

"It could be unpleasant if she's..."

"That's why I thought you might like company," Tim said, and Don nodded.

"Is this about a case, Don?" Jason asked. "Sounds serious."

"A missing person case. The cops might have found her car."

"Hopefully it's only the car," Jason said.

"Yeah, hopefully," he agreed.

"Thanks for coming today. I'm sure we got some great shots for the ad campaign," Jason said, shaking hands with Don.

"My pleasure. Thanks for the suit," he said to Jason. "You really didn't have to do that. I was just glad to pose with Timothy."

"Enjoy it, and I hope things go well with your case."




Bailey, Don, and Tim stood on the dock, holding umbrellas to shield themselves from the pouring rain, keeping a grim watch as the dripping car was lifted by crane from the water and slowly moved to solid ground. The area was cordoned off by police, with spectators just on the other side of the police barricades.

"How did they find it?" Don asked.

"We sent divers down for the Chandler case," Bailey said, referring to the missing child case that was front and center with the Albany PD. "We didn't find anything relevant to that case - at least, not yet. But the divers spotted the car."

"That's ironic," Tim said, shuddering a bit despite the mild spring temperatures.

The car came to rest on the cement, and Bailey headed for the car. Don started to follow him, then turned to Tim.

"You sure you don't want to wait here? If there's a body inside, I won't be a pretty sight."

"I'll keep my distance," Tim said, but fell into step with Don on the way toward the car.

Part of Don wished he could just wait this out with Tim and let Bailey and the cops check out the car. He felt he owed it to Danielle's mother to be her representative there, to be a witness to what could be the discovery of her daughter's body. 

The interior of the car was empty, so Bailey motioned to one of the uniformed cops on the scene to open the trunk. The odor was unmistakable. Don covered his nose and mouth and stepped back to where Tim was standing. He felt Tim's hand touch his back briefly, reassuringly.

"Shit," Bailey said. "It's a woman," he said to Don, who moved a bit closer now to see for himself. The partially decomposed body of a woman was tightly curled in a fetal position in the trunk. She had matted blonde hair, and there was a glint of gold on her wrist. A soaked, mildewed floral rug was still wrapped partially around the body. When he leaned in a bit closer, he recognized the large heart charm on the bracelet.

"It's Danielle," Don said. At Bailey's raised eyebrows, he gestured toward the corpse. "In one of the photos of Danielle at her apartment, she's wearing a bracelet just like that. And look at the rug."

"We'll have to get her back to the lab to confirm it, check the dental records." He gestured toward the M.E. and crime lab personnel to begin their work on the scene. "She's fully dressed," Bailey commented. "Kind of shoots a sexual motive for the crime."

"It's kind of hard to tell if her clothes were disturbed, if she was raped, with her all curled up like that."

"You think that bracelet's real?" Bailey asked, as they backed away a bit from the grisly discovery and the M.E. began his assessment of the corpse.

"The way that girl went through money? The rich boyfriends? I'd stake a year's income on it being real. This is going to be all over the news. I should go talk to Mrs. Freemont, even if the ID isn't official."

"Good idea. We'll visit her with an official notification as soon as the ID is confirmed. There's no reason to make her mother look at her like this."

"Let me get a shot of the bracelet," Don said, snapping a picture with his cell phone. "I'll have Kenny crop this so it just shows the bracelet. I can show her that."




Don dropped Tim off at home, leaving only after he had made sure the house was secure and his partner had reset the alarm system. He tried not to think too much about how long their lives would be potentially disrupted this way by Timothy's stalker. The reality was that people often spent years trying to dodge a nut like her.

He sent the picture to Kenny electronically, and his cell phone pinged to signal Kenny had sent it back. An artful cropping job had left only the bracelet, charm, and a little of the fabric of the dead woman's clothing visible. As he parked and made a dash through the rain toward the door of Karen Freemont's apartment complex, thunder rumbled ominously and a bolt of lightning illuminated the dark gray sky. The overhang by the front door of the building was small, so he pressed close to the door to stay under it as he buzzed the apartment.


"Karen, it's Don Strachey. Can you buzz me in?"

"Oh, yes, Don," she replied, and the door unlocked. He stepped inside and headed upstairs to her second floor apartment. She was already standing in the open door when he arrived. "Do you have news about the case?"

"Yes. Can we step inside?" he asked, and she looked immediately suspicious, but stepped back to let him in.

"Of course," she said. "Please, sit down. Can I take your wet coat? The storm's really picking up out there."

"Yes, thanks," he said, taking off the coat, which she hung over the back of a dining room chair. The apartment had one large main room with a kitchen, eating area, and living room, and a short hall that led to a bedroom and bathroom. He wondered if Mrs. Freemont missed the good life as much as her daughter did. He sat on one end of the couch and she sat on the other, facing him, looking anxious.

"I know you wouldn't come here in this weather just to update me on something minor. Please, what's happened?" she asked.

"The police sent divers into the water on a tip regarding another case. While they were there, they spotted a car in the water."

"Oh my god," she muttered, her hand going up to her mouth. "Was it Danielle's?"

"Yes," he said. He took out his cell phone and made sure the cropped version of the photo was on the little screen. "I want you to look at this bracelet and tell me if you think it's Danielle's," he said, turning the screen toward her.

"Where did you find it? What is this?" she demanded, and he had a feeling she knew what it meant, but just couldn't quite accept it without the words being said.

"The body of a young woman was in the trunk. I think it's Danielle, based on this bracelet. I recognized it from a photo in her apartment. I wanted to talk to you before the story about the car hits the news."

"No!" she screamed, covering her face with both hands.

"I'm so sorry, Karen," he said, not sure how to console the wailing woman, wishing that Timothy was there, because he would know what to do, the right thing to say. "I was hoping we'd find out she'd just taken off, but I think we both know Danielle wouldn't have done that to you."

"How did she die?" she asked, as Don handed her a box of Kleenex that had been sitting on the coffee table. She pulled out a couple tissues and wiped at her face.

"We don't know yet. The police will be contacting you when the ID is official, and they have more information. Being it was her car, and I recognized the bracelet, I wanted to talk to you before it was on the news. She was fully clothed, and she was still wearing the bracelet, so at first glance, it doesn't appear that robbery or sexual assault was the motive."

"Who do you think did this to her? You must have a theory," she said, her voice still quivering as she wiped at her eyes again.

"There are a couple of guys she knew that I think are strong possibilities. One of them is an older man she dated briefly and broke up with, and the other is a man who used to come in to watch her dance. He's younger, good-looking, hangs around at other strip clubs now that Danielle isn't at the VIP Club anymore. The police are following up on those leads, too."

"What about the murder at that apartment complex where Danielle's friend lives?"

"Well, for one thing, it looks like that woman's ex-husband did it, and he'd have no motive for killing Danielle that we know of. And, as my partner aptly pointed out, why would he change his methods completely and hide Danielle's body, when he left his ex-wife's body at the crime scene? It doesn't add up as more than a gruesome coincidence."

"Can't you find something on one of those men? If you know who they are...?"

"That's the trouble. I do know who the younger guy is, but I don't have a name or any contact information on the older guy. I'm still working on the case, and the cops have renewed their efforts."

"Now that she's dead, I'm sure they will."

"Detective Bailey is a good cop. Unfortunately, he hasn't had the case very long." Don sighed. "I can't pretend I know how you feel, because I don't, but I do share your frustration and your anger at how this case was handled at the outset. It's part of the reason that I won't give up on it. I've known Bailey for years, and we've had our differences, but I've never questioned his ethics or his ability as a cop. We're both going to do all we can to find out who did this to your daughter, and why."




Thunder clapped loudly and lightning flashed, illuminating the night sky. Tim closed the blinds, more conscious than ever about keeping unwanted eyes from seeing inside the house. Sighing, he went into the kitchen to mix a batch of martinis. He hoped Don would come straight home after talking with Mrs. Freemont, because the weather was only getting worse.

The alarm went off, making him jump and drop the martini shaker. He froze there by the counter, not sure what to do next. If the system worked the way it was supposed to, the phone would ring and it would be the alarm company checking on him.

"Donald?" he called hopefully, wondering if his partner forgot the alarm and walked in without disarming it. There was no response. The phone rang. "Hello?"

"This is Robin from Security Solutions. Your alarm was triggered."

"Yes, I know, but I didn't trigger it, and as far as I know, I'm alone here."

"Who am I speaking with?"

"Tim Callahan."

"I'm notifying the police, Mr. Callahan. They should be there any minute."

"Thank you, Robin."

"Can you leave the house safely?"

"I don't really know. I'm in the kitchen. I don't see anyone. With the thunder, it's hard to hear anything out of the ordinary." 

"I know, it's a bad storm, sir. Our best advice is to leave the house until the police arrive, if you have concerns that an intruder may have triggered the system."

"Thank you. I need to make another call," he said, hanging up. He dialed Don's cell number. Just as it began to ring, the line went dead and the lights went out.

Laying the useless phone on the counter, he thought about the one corded phone they still had, in the basement. The concept made him smirk humorlessly. If he had a dime for every horror movie character who went down the dark basement in a power outage only to be gruesomely slain and stuffed in a coal bin or some other equally awful spot, he could retire early. His cell phone was on the charger in the bedroom. It was possible it had been there long enough to have the juice to make a call, but risking a trek up the shadowy staircase was probably not the wisest option.

He tried to keep his hands from shaking as he lit a couple of candles in the kitchen. The glow barely extended from the area by the counter to just short of the foyer. He exhaled and felt his whole body relax when he heard a siren. A moment later, there was a knock at the door.

"Albany PD!" a voice called, following the knock. Tim hurried to the front door and opened it.

"I'm Tim Callahan," he said, stepping back for them to come in. "The power just went off."

"Yeah, we're getting outages all over town," the young officer said, leading the way as his older partner followed him inside, the beams of their flashlights illuminating the foyer and the stairs.

"Did you see or hear anything before the power went off, or when the alarm was triggered?" the older officer said. "No. I was in the kitchen and it just went off."

"Could be a false alarm. These things have a tendency to do that. You can disarm it now," he said, wincing at the incessant noise. "Those damn things don't give up, even when the power goes off."                                                         

"Oh, yes, of course," Tim said, and he proceeded to disarm the system as one of the officers shined his flashlight on the keypad. The absence of noise was a relief to them all.

"We'll go through the house, make sure everything's clear," the officer said.

"Thank you," Tim replied, about to follow them.

"Why don't you let us check things out first? Carson, you look around down here, and I'll take the upstairs," the older officer said.

"It's a big house with a lot of nooks and crannies," Tim replied.

"We've done this a few times before," Carson said, smiling. "We're good nook and cranny men."

"I'm sure you are," Tim replied, smiling, trying to be comfortable with letting them handle the search. "I would like to get my cell phone from upstairs to call my partner."

"Let me take a look around up there and I'll give you the all clear in a few minutes."

Tim watched the officer trudge up the stairs, looking bored and not even remotely on alert. He'd already dismissed the whole situation as another home alarm glitch.

Carson returned from his first floor and basement search, tucking his weapon in its holster, talking on his radio to someone at dispatch.

"We've got another call, so we need to get going. There's nobody in the basement, the garage, or down here, and I can't find any signs of forced entry. I'd call my alarm company back and complain," he said. "Hey, Kennedy, you about done up there?" he hollered, standing at the foot of the stairs. "We've got a 187 at the ballpark on Tenth."

“Leave it to a thunderstorm to bring all the freaks out to play," Kennedy replied tiredly as he plodded down the stairs. "There's nobody up there. You're all clear," he said to Tim.

"I'm sorry for the false alarm," he said, wishing that Donald were there, knowing he wouldn't feel safe until his partner had searched the house and given it his own seal of approval. Tim picked up a candle and followed them to the door.

"It happens. Have a good night," Carson said as they headed out into the rain, hurrying to their squad car.

After closing and locking the door behind them, Tim reset the alarm, marginally reassured by the little light blinking as it activated, knowing they had several hours of protection yet with the backup battery. Returning to the kitchen, he lit a few more fat candles and placed them in a couple of key spots downstairs so Don could see what he was doing when he got home. He took one of the candles upstairs, trying not to picture how many times he'd see that scenario in a slasher movie.

Relieved to have reached the bedroom with his head still attached and no fiend leaping out of the shadows at him, he was about to pick up the cell phone to call Don when he saw candlelight flickering in the bathroom. For a moment he wondered if Kennedy had lit a candle in there to see what he was doing, but he had a flashlight, and he couldn't picture the officer lighting one for his benefit. He used his candle to light a couple on the dresser.

The bathroom door opened, and Meghan O'Donnell stood there in the glow of the candlelight, dressed in a silk negligee trimmed with a thick border of feathers, making her look like the leading lady in some old black and white romance movie. Tim could feel his stomach twist into a knot. Seeing her there was like a nightmare, like having his every worst fear materialize in the eerie gold light.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, closing his fingers around the cell phone.

"Bette Davis wore a gown like this in one of her old movies," she said, smiling, swirling the silky material around a bit as if to model it. "I know you love old movies, so I thought you might like it."

"Meghan, I don't wan't to have an unpleasant scene with you, but you're violating an order of protection. The police will arrest you - " 

"Oh, phooey," she said, smiling, gesturing with her hand. "I know that was all your partner's doing. Him and his cop buddies. You wouldn't have done something like that to me. It was obvious to me you wanted to get to know me better. Now we have our chance."

"Donald will be home any minute." It was a last ditch effort to dissuade her from whatever twisted plans she had, and he prayed silently that it was true.

"Really? How do you know that? The phones are out," she said, moving closer, apparently thinking her lowered voice sounded seductive. "We might have all night."

"That's doubtful. Look, Meghan, I really don't want to hurt you or get you in trouble, but I will call the police if you don't leave now."

"You're still afraid of him, aren't you? Even though he's not even here. You're a grown man, Tim. Stand up for yourself."

"I'm married to Donald. I have been for several years. Meghan, you're a beautiful woman, but I'm gay."

"You wouldn't be the first person to change teams. Or maybe you have that little something inside you that's always wondered what it would be like with a woman. Now's your chance to find out. And besides, you're not really married. Men can't marry each other legally, so you're free to do whatever you want."

"How did you get in?"

"Oh, come now, Tim, you wouldn't want me to give up all my secrets that easily, would you?" As she moved closer, he saw something catch the light in her right hand, lurking in the folds of her gown. "Now put the cell phone down. You won't need to call anyone tonight."

"Meghan, what do you have in your hand?" he asked, his throat dry, already suspecting the answer. She let the long blade of the knife be seen briefly, before keeping it obscured by her gown. "You want to make love with me holding a knife?" Or are you just planning to slice me up with it and dispense with the niceties?

"I wasn't sure how you'd react to my being here, and you're such a big, strong man...I knew I'd need a way to defend myself if things didn't go well."

"You were right about the restraining order, you know. It was Don's idea. After I met you, I told him I thought I might be bisexual...that I felt something when I met you." He hoped he could be convincing, that his voice wasn’t shaking as much as he thought it was.

"You told him that?"

"I thought for a while he was going to break up with me over it, but he said we could work it out as long as I didn't see you again."

"So he installed this fancy alarm and got his cop buddies in on it, all to keep us apart."

"Ever since I met you, I wondered what it would be like to kiss you," he lied, trying to keep one eye on the knife and evaluate his chances of getting it away from her if he played along. It seemed like he should be able to overpower her and get the knife away from her, but he figured that's what her dead boyfriend thought, too, right before she stabbed him twenty times and slit his throat. Whatever he had to do would be worth it to spare Donald from finding him that way, sprawled in a bloody mass across their bed. He'd blame himself, and Tim wondered if he'd ever get over it. So he framed Meghan's face with his hands and kissed her, trying to put the passion into it that he would if he really cared for her, wanted her. When he pulled back, she looked enchanted, entranced, and he figured he'd done a good job.

"Don't you think you're a little overdressed?" she teased, tracing his chest through his shirt with the finger of the hand that wasn't holding the knife.

Resolved to playing the game as far as he had to play it to save his life, he started unbuttoning his shirt, wondering if she was distracted enough he could make a grab for the knife. The way her hand remained tightened on it, that wasn't likely. Yet.

"I've been dying to see your chest," she confessed, blushing. "The picture of you in those pajamas just doesn't let a girl see enough of the goods."

"I think they wanted to sell the pajamas, not my chest," he quipped, and she giggled.

"Well, I know which one I was interested in having. You know, I bought all the outfits you posed in. I wanted to surprise you with them once we were together, but I've never been good at keeping secrets," she said. It was on the tip of his tongue to say he already had those things, but thought better of it.

"What a thoughtful thing for you to do...very romantic, too," he added, wondering how long before Don would get home, and at the same time afraid that when he did, the delicate balance would be upset and someone would get hurt. He tossed his shirt aside, then pulled his t-shirt over his head. If his chest gave her a thrill - and a distraction - he was ready to show it off.

"God, you're gorgeous," she said, running her hand over his chest, brushing a nipple with her thumb. "And responsive, too," she said, giving him what she no doubt thought was a sexy smile. It was all he could do to stand still and let her paw him, touching him the way he only wanted his partner touching him. "Aren't you going to let me see the rest?"

"How about I get to see a little more? I'm sure you've seen a man a lot more recently than I've seen a woman," he said, caressing her cheek.

She grinned back at him, and let the silky robe slide off her shoulders, revealing the strappy gown underneath it. It clung to her breasts and hips, showing off the curves of her figure.

"You really are beautiful," he said, forcing himself to smile, noticing she still had the knife firmly in hand. "If you want to see more of me, why don't you help yourself?" he suggested, hoping she was tempted enough and he sounded convincing enough that she'd put the knife down to open his pants herself.

"Don't mind if I do," she replied, her voice husky with desire. But she didn't put down the knife. Instead, she began skillfully undoing his belt with one hand.

"Wait," he said, trying to keep his voice calm and sounding seductive. He wasn't sure it was succeeding. "I'd feel a little better having you touch me there if you didn't have a knife in your hand." He was gambling, bringing up the knife at all, but he really didn't want to expose himself to her and end up losing something in the process.

"I've dreamed about this moment," she said, still unfastening his pants, still holding the knife. "I bet you've never felt a woman's mouth on you here before," she said.

And I'm not gonna feel it now if I can help it.

Deciding he had to change the course of things quickly, he reached out and squeezed her breast.

"You like that?" she asked, gasping a bit, arching into his touch. He kept up the fondling, not sure what a woman would really like to feel, focusing on sliding his other hand down toward where she held the knife.

"You have beautiful breasts," he whispered in her ear, feeling her hand slipping inside his pants, touching him.

He seized the hand that held the knife, trying to pry it from her fingers.

"You lying bastard!" she shouted, lurching back from him, both their hands on the handle of the knife now, fighting for control of it. He'd expected her to be strong, so it wasn't a surprise that disarming her was no simple task.

They fell back on the bed, and Meghan had the advantage of being on top, pushing the knife down toward Tim, but he countered the move, pushing upward with all his strength, knocking her away from him, the knife flying out of her hands and ending up on the floor next to the bed. He moved to grab it, but she was closer, and slid nimbly to the floor and grabbed it back again. She rushed at him before he could get up, knife raised, and only a quick move on his part put his arm in the path of it, a searing slice to that flesh instead of if reaching his chest or his throat. Blood ran hot from the wound, and she made another stab, Tim managing to grab her wrist and push back. She didn't give up, adding her other arm to the struggle, pushing down with all her strength, aiming for his chest as they continued to wrestle on the bed.

He used his legs to grip her hips and flip them over, his blood spattering her pale silk gown as they struggled.

"I don't want to hurt you," he gasped. "Just let go of the knife."

"Why couldn't you just love me?" she demanded through gritted teeth. "Why does love have to hurt like this?" she added, her voice more of a plea.

"Meghan, let go. I won't hurt you, I promise."

"You already did," she said, and then she surprised him by joining his downward force, their combined efforts plunging the knife into her stomach.

"Oh, my God," Tim gasped, backing away. Meghan lay on the bed in her blood-spattered satin gown, hands around the knife in her, blood spreading from the wound. It was a scene worthy of the most atmospheric old murder mystery as the thunder rumbled and the lightning flashed.

Tim fumbled with his cell phone with bloody hands, relieved it had enough of a charge for him to call for help. He dialed 9-1-1, giving the operator a breathless, somewhat disjointed plea for an ambulance.

His own wound was bleeding profusely, but he doubted it would kill him as fast as Meghan's wound could kill her. He grabbed towels from the bathroom and raced back to the bed, using them to put pressure on the area around the knife.

"Don't move the knife," he told her, trying to keep her hands away from the knife.

"Just let me die," she sobbed weakly.

"You're not going to die, Meghan. Stay conscious and stay with me.

"You want me to die and go away. Just let me go."

"I never wanted you to die. Just hold on. Help is on the way." He heard the siren approaching. "I have to go let them in. Just hang on. I'll be right back."

He rushed downstairs, pulling his shirt on as he went, opening the door and directing the EMT's upstairs. He brushed off their attempts to look at him and sent them upstairs. Police cars were arriving, and he was unspeakably grateful to see Bailey getting out of an unmarked police sedan, but only a fraction as grateful as he was to see Don right behind him.

"Timothy!" he shouted, rushing in the door. Tim threw his arms around his partner and hung on, the impact of what he'd been through hitting him now that Don was there. "Sweetheart, let me see your arm," he said, pulling back, examining Tim's arm. "Let's get you to the kitchen and clean this off and wrap it. What happened with Meghan?"

"That's what I'd like to know," Bailey said.

"She had a knife, we were fighting for control of it, and then she just stopped fighting...we were both holding onto the knife, and I was pushing back and down, and all of a sudden she just pulled down and aimed it for her body... I tried to stop the bleeding with towels..." He knew his account was halting and unsteady.

"I'll go see what's happening upstairs. We'll need a statement once you've gotten your arm taken care of." Bailey headed upstairs.

"Are you hurt anywhere else?" Don asked, washing the blood off Tim's arm, then drying it off and wrapping the cut with a clean towel to slow the bleeding.

"No, just my arm. She was trying for my throat, but I put my arm up."

"How did she get past the alarm?"

"It went off, and the police came and went through the house and said no one was here. I tried to call you but the power went off, so the phones didn't work. My cell phone was upstairs on the charger, so after the police left, I went upstairs to call you...she was in the bathroom, all dressed up in this silky nightgown and she had a knife."

"The cops went through the house and didn't find her? Where the hell did she hide?"

"I don't know. I tried to play along with her...I had to pretend I wanted her. I touched her..." He gestured at his own chest, not sure how to express it all to Donald. "I didn't want to."

"She's a psycho, honey. You didn't have a choice. Whatever you did, it's okay, I know you did what you had to do to survive," Don said, pulling him into a hug. "Sweetheart, I'm so sorry I wasn't here - "

"It's not your fault."

"I didn't want her to die. I was trying to get the knife away from her without hurting her."

"I know, honey."

"Then you're in luck," Bailey said, entering the kitchen. "She's still alive, and her vitals are strong. I'll give you two a lift to the ER so you can get your arm taken care of," Bailey said. "She was talking while they were working on her. She admits to pulling the knife down to stab herself, so you're in the clear. We need a full statement for the investigation, but she's not accusing you of anything."

"Thank God," Tim said, exhaling.

"I'll get your coat, sweetheart," Don said gently, kissing his cheek. "Then I wanna know which of your cops responded to our alarm and said no one was in the house."

"We're looking into that."




The cut on Timothy's arm required a few stitches at its deepest point. The eight inch slash was treated and bandaged, and Don and Tim went to the police station so Tim could make his statement. Don could see how uncomfortable he was admitting to how far he'd had to go with Meghan to have a chance to make a play for the knife. That bothered him most, because Timmy was the victim in all this, and he wanted him to keep sight of that. There was nothing Timmy could have done that resulted in saving his life that Don would have ever blamed him for.

"Meghan didn't say much before she went into surgery, but she did say if we checked your window seat in the second floor guest bedroom, we'd find her wet clothes she had on before she changed into the outfit she had on. She got in with a key. Apparently, you had an extra set in the garage."

"Hidden in wall mounted thermometer," Tim said. "It's not like we left them lying around. I can't believe we didn't think to look for them after she got into the garage. I guess they've been there so long that we never thought of them."

"Well, she found them when she broke in to vandalize the car, and used them to let herself in. She made it upstairs when the alarm went off and hid in the window seat until she was sure the cops were gone."

"It's ironic when you think that without the noise from the alarm, I would have heard her in the house, on the stairs. But when that went off, it was so loud I couldn't hear anything but that."

"Cops searched our house after the burglar alarm went off and they didn't look in a full size window seat?"

"Don, let it go. They did their best," Tim said, and Don almost did let it go, because Timmy looked so tired and pale, like he couldn't handle much more in one night.

"They didn't do their best. God help us all, I hope that's not the Albany PD's best."

"The power was out, it was dark, they don't know the house, plus I understand they were called in on the body we found in the ballpark tonight - the Chandler girl. It's not an excuse, but I doubt they intentionally overlooked something. I'll talk to them personally, talk to their boss. We'll get to the bottom of it," Bailey said. "For what it's worth, Tim, you have my apologies on behalf of the Albany PD that we dropped the ball responding to that alarm." He held out his hand toward Tim, who shook it.

"It's not your fault. I think they did their best. I'm so sorry to hear that little girl wasn't found alive. I know everyone was hoping for a better outcome."

"Yeah. Would have never guessed we'd find her the same night we found Danielle Freemont. From the looks of things, they were both body hunts from the start."

"We'll be at the Marriott," Don said, handing Bailey his house keys. "Do what you need to do at the house, and lock it up when you're done, if you would."

"Sure," he said, taking the keys. "You want me to reset your alarm?"

"Don't bother."

"Does the doctor expect Meghan to survive?" Tim asked.

"Since she didn't bleed out before they got her into surgery, they're thinking the knife missed vital organs and it's more of a flesh wound."

"Would you call us when she gets out of surgery?"

"I'll let you know when I know."




Don showered quickly, resisting lingering under the warm spray that felt so good after spending so much time out in the cold, wet rain. Timothy had showered and was already tucked in the hotel room's king bed, staring a bit listlessly at some political show on one of the news networks. Don never could understand how Timothy could stand those dry things, but tonight, he wished he could see a spark of interest in his partner for the firing back and forth of debate and opinion. He knew how deeply upset his partner was by the way he just stared at the pundits as they threw out extreme opinions on the right and left.

He got out of the shower and dried off, toweled off his hair, brushed his teeth, and pulled on the pair of fresh shorts he'd grabbed along with a few of Timmy's things and stuffed in a duffle bag before they left the house.

"How's your arm, sweetheart?" he asked, turning out the bathroom light and dousing a couple other lights in the room so only the night stand lamps remained lit.

"It kind of burns, but it's all right," he said quietly. "Probably leave a scar."

"Not necessarily. It'll fade a lot over time. And you've got all that gorgeous dark hair on your arms, so it won't show much anyway," he said, getting into bed, scooting over toward Timmy. "C'mere, honey. I want to cuddle you, beautiful," he said, thinking Timmy could use some cuddling as much as he wanted to feel his healthy, living body in his arms.

"Oh, all right," Tim said, giving Don a little grin. "If you insist," he added, putting his arms around Don's middle, his head on Don's shoulder. Don hugged him close.

"You done with these for tonight?" he said, gently tapping the corner of Timmy's glasses.

"Yeah, I'm tired," he said, taking off his glasses. Don set them on the night stand for him.

"You want to talk?" He ruffled Timmy's hair, letting his hand settle there.

"You heard it all in my statement," he said.

"I'm so proud of you, sweetheart," Don said, kissing Timmy's forehead.

"Proud...? Don, I had to - "

"You had to save your life, and you did that. That's all that matters."

"I hated her touching me," he whispered against Don's shoulder. "I didn't want to touch her, either. You're the only one I want."

"I know, honey. You know I understand that, that I don't blame you for anything, right? Anything you had to do was worth it for your life." He hugged Timmy a little tighter, and nudged his chin up so he could kiss him. "I'm just sorry I wasn't there for you."

"You were with Mrs. Freemont. We have the alarm system. We both thought it was safe."

"Yeah, well, 'thinking' you were safe wasn't good enough. I shouldn't have left you alone. She was waiting for that opening. After I left the Freemont place, I went over to the PD to see what the preliminary ME report was on Danielle - to find out if her ID was confirmed yet from the dental records."

"What did they find?"

"It's her. We won't know details until after the full autopsy. Somebody notified Bailey of the 9-1-1 call from our address while I was in his office. I think I lost ten years off my life on the drive to the house. I was so worried about you, honey."

"I didn't want you to find me like that. All I could think about was what it would be like if she got the upper hand. What you'd find..."

"If I lost you, nothing else would matter. You know I don't blame you for anything, any touch, anything you had to do or endure to save your life."

"I know."

"It doesn't matter whether it was forced, or you played along. It was still against your will."

"I need to know you really believe that."

"Of course, I do. You're mine, Timothy. Nothing will ever change that. And I know you're faithful to me, and you want me, and not someone else. I treasure that, and I believe it. Okay?"

"Okay," he muttered, his voice strained. "If she hadn't wanted to die, I don't know how it would have turned out."

"Thank God it turned out the way it did," he said, kissing Timmy again, hugging him close, rubbing his back. "I love you, honey."

"I love you, too."

"It's all over now," Don whispered, glad that Timmy was relaxing in his arms. He reached up and turned out the light on his night stand. "You want to leave one of the lights on?"

"I'll turn it off. Maybe we can just leave the TV on low."  

"Yeah, one of those political talk shows'll put me under right away."

"Smart ass," Timmy said, chuckling as he turned out the light and snuggled back in Don's arms.




Meghan O'Donnell survived her wound and was expected to make a full recovery. Don took on the task of cleaning up the master bedroom. Timothy wanted to go back into his office the next day, so Don dropped him off there and insisted he put the whole mess out of his mind. Disposing of the stained sheets and picking up any of the debris left behind by the police and the EMT's was a stark reminder of how lucky he was to still have Timothy alive, healthy and with him.

As he was stuffing one of Timothy's favorite sets of fancy sheets with some big thread count into a garbage bag with the rest of the bloody trash, his cell phone rang.

"Strachey," he answered, sighing, making a mental note to go buy some really nice bedding and surprise Timmy with it all made up with something new and nice to take his mind off what happened there.

"It's Bailey. The ME finished up the autopsy report on Danielle Freemont."

"I take it there was something interesting about all of it."

"Well, the ME thinks she's been dead the whole time she's been missing, which isn't really a newsflash, given the blood residue at the apartment."

"What's the COD?"

"She was stabbed multiple times, she has some defensive wounds - this girl didn't go down easily. One of the wounds pierced her heart - that one was the final one, since it would have killed her instantly. She had blood and tissue under her nails."

Don felt his stomach flip. Knives, stabbing, blood...defensive wounds like the cut on Timmy's arm...


"Yeah, I'm here. So?"

"The blood and tissue under her nails isn't hers. But it does belong to a woman."

"No shit? A woman killed her?"

"Well, she scratched a woman, and scratched her good. Enough to draw significant blood."

"The only female suspect I turned up was that stripper, Brianne, and I honestly don't like her for it."

"Maybe one of her rich clients had a wife or a girlfriend."

"Any leads on who the older guy was? Of course, he was a widower, so there wasn't a wife involved there."

"Name is Mel Richards. No girlfriend that we know of, but we'll talk to all our suspects again. It's possible that stripper was more pissed off than you thought she was."

"Yeah, I know, anything's possible, but she didn't strike me as being so defensive of her virtue that she'd murder someone for touching her the wrong way. Danielle might have dated a lot of guys either to get her hands on their money or because of some...father fixation, but she was a lesbian. Maybe there's someone in the picture we don't know about."

"You want to go talk to that girl, Anastasia, again?"

"You want me to talk to her?"

"Well, you might as well. The whole time I interviewed her, she kept mentioning you. So maybe you can get more out of her about any women who might have it in for Danielle."

"Actually, her senior art exhibit is tonight. Timothy and I were planning on going. I'm not sure if he'll still want to do that. If not, I'll swing by her place tomorrow."

"How's your partner doing?"

"He's okay. He's at his office. If he'd stayed home, he'd just be dwelling on all this, so I guess it's better that he's in his routine."

"He handled that situation as well as it could have been handled. I hope he knows that."

"That's what I told him, but I'll mention you said so. Did you have a word with those cops who searched the house after the alarm?"

"Yeah. The cop who searched upstairs will probably get a reprimand. He should have been more thorough. I guess he kind of blew it off as a false alarm. In his defense, they did get the call about the body at the ballpark, so they cut things a little short."

"Timothy could have been killed."

"If it makes you feel any better, they both apologized."

"It wouldn't have made me feel better if I had to bury my partner."

"I impressed that on them, especially Kennedy. Nobody's disputing it was a bad mistake."

"What's going to happen to the O'Donnell woman?"

"Breaking and entering, assault, attempted murder...we could probably pursue sexual assault charges, based on Tim's testimony. The DA is on the fence with that, since he admits he touched her as well."

"She was holding a knife. He had to distract her. It should go without saying she's not his type."

"He did what he did to get his hands on the knife. Knowing what she'd done to her last boyfriend, he knew what was at stake if he didn't get the upper hand. Still, we might be better off to leave that aspect of it alone."

"You think the DA is looking at a plea deal? It shouldn't be a light one."

"I doubt he'll deal on it unless it's a pretty stiff sentence for her, given her history."

"Timothy thinks she belongs in a hospital, not prison."

"Great. Nothing like her victim being a witness for the defense."

"He feels sorry for her."

"She almost kills him and he's worried about her?"

"Yeah, he is." Don smiled. "He's one of a kind."




Tim stared at the paperwork on his desk, then looked at the clock again. Don would be there any minute to pick him up, and he was relieved the day was over. The cut on his arm still burned, and he'd spent most of the day thinking about his brush with death more so than any of the work he'd made his best effort to tackle. Just as he let out a long sigh, there was a tap on his door. Don stood there holding a big bouquet of red roses, smiling from ear to ear, looking at Tim like he was the best thing in the world.

"Don!" he said happily, knowing he was reacting like his partner had been away on business for weeks instead of just showing up to pick him up from work. He got up and hurried around his desk, wrapping Donald up in a big hug, barely remembering not to hug too hard with his injured arm. "Are those for me?" he asked, backing up to accept the roses.

"I got them for Bailey, but he didn't want them, so they're yours," Don quipped. Tim just chuckled, shaking his head.

"There are so many of them," he said, doing a fast visual count that estimated over two dozen.

"I went a little nuts at the florist," he added with a crooked grin.

"They're beautiful. Thank you."

"Let's find a vase and some water, because I'm taking you out for dinner and dancing, if you're up to it."

"I'd love it. What about that art gallery thing at the college we were invited to?"

"We can fit that in between dinner and dancing, if you don't mind. I need to talk to Danielle's friend, Anastasia, again. Plus, I'm sorta curious to see what else she painted. Her mural was pretty interesting."

"In all the years we've known each other, this is the first art show you've ever asked me to go see. I wouldn't miss it," he said, giving Don a smile he hoped was affectionate enough to take any sting out of the words.

"Great. So let's stick those in water - "

"I thought you might need this." Meredith, Tim's assistant, stepped into the office with a large vase filled with water. "I saw that bouquet on legs walk by my desk, with Don in the middle of it someplace."

"Yeah, I guess I got kind of carried away," he admitted, smiling. "But he's worth it," he added, looking at Tim with such open adoration that it made Tim's heart flip.

"My fiancé and I aren't even married yet, and I'm lucky to get one of these in a bud vase on Valentine's Day. You need to have a little sit-down with him, Don."

"I'll see what I can do," he replied, watching Tim do a quick arranging job on the bouquet before abandoning it for them to head out for dinner.

"Have a good evening, you guys," she said. "I have a feeling you will," she added, giving them a little wink.

They had dinner at a gourmet restaurant they both enjoyed. It was probably in Tim's top three for favorite dining spots, even though the elegance, flavor, and presentation of the food far surpassed the portion sizes. Once he'd let go of being indignant that Don generally ended evenings that included dinner there with a run through the nearest McDonald's drive-up, he had to admit that a Quarter Pounder hit the spot about three hours after a meal that boasted more form than substance.

Still, they sipped fine wine and enjoyed the delicate flavors. Tim knew Donald was celebrating the fact he was still alive, even if he hadn't said that in so many words. The whole notion of that warmed his heart, and made him reach over and cover Don's hand with his.

"Thank you for tonight, and the flowers."

Don pulled his hand up and kissed the back of it, unconcerned as he always was when he felt like showing his partner a little love in public.

"I love you, Timothy. If I ever lost you..."

"I feel the same way, honey," Tim said, squeezing Don's hand. "And I feel so blessed every moment we have together."




There were quite a few people milling around the small art gallery on the campus of the community college Anastasia attended. Most of them were middle aged to older couples, and Don figured they were parents of the students exhibiting work there. Others looked like they could be faculty members, and the student artists themselves.

Don spotted Anastasia talking with an older woman near the wall that featured her work.

"That's her," Don said to Tim, who nodded.

"She's a cute girl. Should I be jealous?" he teased.

"Yeah, you know what a roaming eye I have for the ladies."

"Don, you came!" Anastasia greeted, smiling, but she seemed more subdued than she'd been when he first met her. It was obvious news of Danielle's death had taken the edge off her big night. "Is this your partner?" she asked before he had a chance to introduce Tim.

"Tim Callahan, this is Anastasia Walters," he said, and they shook hands.

"Don was impressed with your work," Tim said. "I'm anxious to see it."

"I'd love to show you. This is one of my professors, Abigail Garner," she said, introducing the woman standing with her.

"Are you friends of Anastasia's?" she asked.

"Mr. Strachey is investigating Danielle's disappearance," she explained.

"I'm sorry we didn't get better news," Don said.

"I'm sorry for your loss," Tim said to Anastasia. "I understand you and Danielle were good friends."

"We were," she said, smiling faintly. "Thank you. I really miss her."

"You have a small version of the mural," Don said, heading for the long, rectangular piece that covered about three feet of wall space.

"I wanted to see what it would look like before I covered the wall of the Rec Center with it," she said, smiling.

"You have a bit of Van Goh's influence in your work," Tim said, and Anastasia smiled.

"He's one of my favorite artists. Fortunately, I haven't had the urge to mail my ear to anyone yet."

"On that note, I'll let you folks enjoy the exhibit. I have to mingle a bit," Professor Garner said, smiling and rolling her eyes a bit at Anastasia's humor.

"Are any of these pieces for sale?" Tim asked, moving along to the next piece, which was a large painting of a pot of flowers, though Anastasia's take on that theme was more a burst of assorted bright and pastel abstract shaped blooms gathered in a slightly irregular shaped pot. The painting defied the space around it to be anything but uplifted by it.

"All of them, and I also accept commission jobs." She handed him a business card. "If you know anyone who's interested, I can do anything from small accent pieces to mural projects."

"I was actually thinking of this one for a gift. Senator Platt was telling me yesterday that she was trying to find the right piece for her home office, something to brighten it up. She'd love this."

"Senator Platt?" Anastasia's eyes widened. "You want to buy my painting for a senator?"

"It's beautiful. She'd love these colors."

"Tim is Senator Platt's chief aide," Don said.

"I'll call you tomorrow," he said.

"Thank you! I'll look forward to it."

"I do know of a couple other community projects where a mural might be appropriate. I'll be glad to pass your name along."

"I'd really appreciate that. I'm about to graduate from being a starving art student to being a starving artist with a degree and a student loan, so I'm glad for the help."

"I'm sorry to have to bring this up, but I need to ask you something else about Danielle."

"Sure, whatever I can do to help find the asshole who killed her."

"The ME found some evidence that it may have been a woman."


"Are you sure Danielle wasn't involved with anyone who would have had a reason to be angry wit her? Did she ever get confronted by angry wives or girlfriends of the guys she went out with?"

"I don't think she dated married guys, at least not knowingly. The only women she ever mentioned to me were Lisa Zachary - I told you about her - and Brianne, but that wasn't going anywhere."

"This is really awkward, and Danielle...were you ever..."

"Dani would never have dated a starving artist, remember?" She smiled sadly. "We were just friends.”

“Have you talked to any of Dani’s other friends since her death?” Don thought perhaps Anastasia would have some insights or observations about the reactions of Danielle’s friends that might be useful.

"No. Danielle's mom called me. I don't know if the others know yet. It was just on the news for the first time at six tonight." Her expression wavered. "I don't really want to talk about this anymore here," she said, blinking, fighting to keep her composure. "I haven't let myself think too much about it because of tonight," she said gesturing at their surroundings. "This was supposed to be a big I just want to get through it before I fall apart."

"I'm sorry, Anastasia. I didn't mean to make that harder," Don said.

"It's okay. I want to help if I can. I just don't know anything else about it."

"You've already been a big help." Don touched her shoulder, smiling. "You still have my card?"

"Yes," she said, nodding. "I'll call you if I hear anything, or think of something."

"That's all I can ask."

"You're going to keep looking for whoever did this, aren't you?"

"Absolutely, and we have a much better cop on the case now. Detective Bailey's not going to let go of this, either."

"He seemed to know what he was he cared if he found out who killed her."

"He does, and we'll get to the bottom of it, I promise."

"I'm glad," she said. "Danielle deserves that."




"You don't have to buy one of her paintings," Don said as they waited for their martinis at the Three Olives. The place was crowded, and the music was good. An ensemble was playing some soft jazz while the singer took a break, and couples were on the dance floor.

"I've been looking for something unique for Senator Platt's birthday. The staff wanted to get her something. It's the big 5-0 this year. She'd love that painting, and it's original, by a local artist, and it would support the budding career of a recent college graduate. She'd find that very meaningful."

"So Senator Platt's gonna be 50, huh?"

"Don, don't you dare do anything."

"What? I'm just saying - "

"Make sure that's all you do. No black balloons or...or...prescription black jelly beans or something," he concluded, visibly flustered. Don had to laugh at that.

"I owe her a few for razzing me about my ties. She'd be disappointed in me if I didn't come up with something."

"Something tasteful."

"Gag gifts aren't supposed to be tasteful," he replied, yanking Timmy's chain a bit. He'd never do anything to truly embarrass his partner with his boss, but Timmy was adorable when he got all strait-laced and dictatorial. He wondered if he could possibly find a way to love that man anymore than he already did.

"Donald," he said, the warning clear in his voice. Donald straightened his spine and took on his own officious posture in his chair.

"Timothy," he parroted.

Tim arched an eyebrow at him, looking a bit confused.

"You're messing with me," he said, and they both paused as the drinks were served.

"Not yet, but I sure hope to. Hey, I need to use the john. I'll be right back."

"I'll be here," Tim replied, sipping his martini. Don paused a moment to watch the gesture, to see the elegance and grace in it, to fall in love with his partner all over again.

"I'm counting on that," he said, leaning over and kissing Timmy quickly on the lips before flashing him a little grin and walking away.

The singer was finishing a cocktail at the bar, and he approached her. She sang there often, and he and Timothy had spoken to her once or twice, complimented her performance. She smiled and greeted him, recognizing him as one of the regulars, though she didn't remember his name.

"I'm having kind of a special evening out with my partner, and I wondered if you would sing something for us...well, for him." 

"If I know it, honey," she said, smiling. "What did you have in mind?"

"I don't know...something romantic, but you know, something you'd sing to somebody when it's forever."

"I'll see what I can do," she said, rising, heading back toward the stage. "You want me to dedicate it to him?"

"Yeah, that'd be great. His name is Timothy."

"You got it, sugar."

"I thought you fell in," Tim said as he returned to the table.

"Yeah, sorry, there was a line."

"It's busy in here tonight." Tim smiled at him, covering his hand where it rested on the table. "This was a nice idea, to celebrate."

"I love you, Timothy. I wish there were...bigger words," he said, wishing he had a better command of romantic proclamations.

"There are no bigger words, Donald darling," he said softly, touching Don's cheek. "You saying those three words to me is the sweetest sound in the world."

The singer greeted the crowd again, made a few comments about the evening and romance.

"This next song is for Timothy," she said. "I have a feeling you know who it's from," she added.

"There was a line?" Tim asked, smiling, raising his eyebrows.

"Dance with me, beautiful," Don said, standing holding out his hand.

"Thought you'd never ask," Tim replied, grinning, taking his hand and following him to the dance floor.

If anyone should ever write my life story

For whatever reason there might be

You'd be there between each line of pain and glory

'Cause you're the best thing that ever happened to me.

Don held Tim close, feeling himself smiling, losing himself like he always did when they slow danced. In all the years they'd been together, his partner was always on his mind when they were apart, and the only time his world was completely perfect was in moments like this.

Oh, there have been times when times were hard

But always somehow I made it, I made it through

'Cause for every moment that I spent hurting

There was a moment that I spent on just loving you.

He tried not to think about Meghan O'Donnell and her knife, how close he'd come to never feeling this magic again, to never having a living, breathing, warm Timothy in his arms. It was his worst fear, and he'd come way too close to living through it. He felt Timmy's arms tighten around him.

"You're the best thing that ever happened to me, too, my love," Timmy whispered in his ear. Don pulled back a bit to look in his partner's eyes. Timmy flashed him one of those mischievous grins of his. "All this romance is putting me in the mood."

After their song finished, they stayed for one or two more dances before heading for home. When Timothy flipped on the light in the bedroom, he stopped short.

"Don, it's beautiful," he said, sounding surprised. Don wasn't sure if he expected to walk in to a room that was blood-spattered, or if he actually thought Don would leave it for him to redo the bed.

Instead, a new sage green comforter with a silky finish covered the bed, which was made up with designer sheets in coordinating shades of green. A small paisley print rug covered the part of the carpeting near the bed that was stained.

"It's like nothing happened in here," Timothy said, caressing the new comforter. "You did all this for me?"

"Of course, I did, sweetheart," Don said, slipping his hand into Timothy's. "We should change the bandage on your arm before we turn in," he added, only giving the hand he held a careful squeeze, not sure how much Timmy's cut hurt when he moved his arm.

"Strange version of foreplay," he quipped.

"Does it hurt a lot?"

"Not a lot. Only when my heart beats," he said, smiling. "It throbs sometimes."

"I'll get the stuff." Don kissed his cheek.

Timothy got undressed to his shorts and turned back the bed while Don gathered the supplies to change his bandage. Don didn't lose any time casting his clothes aside, either. Once he'd taken care of Timmy's arm, he planned to spend the rest of the night making more interesting places feel good.

Sitting on the side of the bed, he carefully removed the bandage, a little unprepared to see the angry looking gash in all its stark redness against Timmy's skin. He swallowed hard, trying not to let the lump in his throat make it to the surface.

"It looks so painful," he said, finding his voice was barely there.

"I'll be okay, honey," Tim said in his usual kind, gentle tone. "It'll heal."

"Oh, baby, I'm so sorry I wasn't here," Don said, unable to fight the tears that welled up and spilled. "You needed me and I wasn't here."

"No, Donald, don't. It wasn't your fault," Timmy whispered, putting his uninjured arm around Don, pulling him close against his chest, stroking his hair. "We had the alarm. I should have been safe. You couldn't have known."

"If you'd been a little slower, or she'd swung the knife at a different angle...I wouldn't have you anymore."

"But it did work out, and you do have me, and we have a beautiful night ahead of us to celebrate life. Our life."

"I can't stand to see you hurt," Don said, pulling back a little, kissing the unmarked skin on his partner's arm.

"That beats the ointment anyday," Tim said, kissing the top of Don's head, caressing his hair. "I'll be fine, baby. Please don't feel bad. It's not your fault."

"How do you do it?"

"Do what?"

"Patch me up all the time? Clean up blood and ice bruises? tears my heart out."

"Every time someone hurts you, it breaks my heart," Tim said honestly. "The only thing that helps is knowing that I can do something to make you feel better, so that's how I do it. Taking care of you makes me feel better, too."

"I'll try it, see if it works," Don said, smiling, and Timmy chuckled softly at that. "I'm not as good at this as you are."

"Yes, you are." Tim sat there quietly while Don put the ointment on the cut, then carefully re-bandaged it. "Now, you have to kiss it and make it better." Don leaned toward the fresh bandage. "I wasn't talking about my arm," he said, guiding Don's face toward his so they could kiss.

They fell back on the bed, holding each other close, lingering over passionate kisses, impatiently tugging boxers out of the way, kicking them to the floor. Timothy rolled them over so he was on top, pausing to smile at Don before he kissed him again. He was gently taking the lead, making love to Don, and that was fine with him. He relaxed, savoring the caresses, the feeling of Timmy's mouth on him, kissing and licking his nipples, trailing little kisses down his chest to his belly until he took Don's growing erection in his mouth. He was moaning, gasping, arching into that talented mouth, feeling his emotions welling up again, feeling how precious this intimacy was, treasuring that the man he loved was still there.

Just as he felt himself reaching the edge, Timothy moved away briefly and waited for Don to turn on his side so he could spoon up behind him, taking his time preparing him. Timmy's breath was warm on his neck, then against his ear.

"I love you so much," he whispered, easing inside him, sliding his arm around him, caressing his chest, kissing his shoulder. Don covered Tim's hand where it rested on his chest, lacing their fingers, wanting to be as entwined with Timothy as he could be. They moved together in a slow, easy rhythm, taking their time, wanting the connection to last.

"I'm glad you're here," Don managed by way of reply, closing his eyes and focusing on Timmy's warmth all around him, on being held in strong arms and loved so gently and tenderly.

"I'll always be here, my love. I wouldn't miss a minute I could have with you," Timmy said softly, his hand gently closing around Don's cock, stroking it as they moved together, easing them toward a shared climax.

As they relaxed and dozed together, Timmy made sure they were covered, and cuddled Don close, sheltering him in the curve of his body. He kissed Don's neck, his shoulder, his cheek, smiling when he saw a big grin spread over Don's face. No more words were needed. Just the silence and security restored to their home, and the reaffirmation of their union, and the knowledge they were safe and together.




"What time's the funeral?" Kenny asked, setting Don's coffee on the desk and sitting on the corner of it.

"This isn't some kind of dandelion swill with bat wings, is it?" he asked, and Kenny laughed.

"No, it's just plain coffee. I figured your day was going to be tough enough even with your morning coffee."

"The funeral's at eleven. This is the part of my job when I feel like a ghoul, haunting funerals and cemeteries."

"Bailey's going, isn't he?"

"I suppose. It'd probably be a little easier if I had a fucking clue who killed her."

"You think a woman did it?"

"I think she mixed it up with a woman shortly before she died. Either it was a moment of passion, a cat fight, or she was fighting for her life."

"Maybe you're not gonna solve this one. There are such things as cold cases. Even the cops don't score every time."

"Yeah, try telling her mother that." Don took a long drink from his coffee. "There's something that's bugging me, though."

"Just one thing?" Kenny asked, and Don smiled at that.

"One thing more so than some of the other things. If someone asked you if you were involved with a woman, what would you say?"

"Uh, hello, I'm gay."

"Exactly. You'd deny it based on your orientation."

"Well, yeah, because that would be the most obvious reason."

"I asked Danielle's friend, Anastasia, if they were ever involved. The first thing out of her mouth was that Danielle would never date a starving artist. She responded as if she wouldn't have had a shot with Danielle because she wasn't rich, and it sounded, for just a moment, that she regretted that."

"You think she had a thing for Danielle?"

"When I first interviewed her, she got pretty incensed about Danielle's habit of using and discarding wealthy men, about her being so money hungry, and yet, she seemed to understand it, and forgive it, because of Danielle's father's death. I chalked it up to Anastasia just being such a different personality that she vehemently disapproved of what Danielle was doing."

"Maybe she was jealous, or she was upset because Danielle turned her down."

"And maybe I'm reaching." Don leaned back in his chair. "There's nothing solid to tie her to it."

"Did she have any scratches or bruises or anything when you met her?"

"If she had any from a struggle with Danielle, they would have been cleared up by then. Danielle had already been missing for a month, and even if she'd gotten a good swipe or two in at her killer, they'd have been healed up by then."

"I wonder if anybody else saw her with scratches or bruises near the time when Danielle went missing?"

"I guess I need to track down some of Anastasia's friends."

While they were talking, Timothy stuck his head through the door.

"Hey, you're still here. I thought maybe you would have left for the funeral," he said, checking his watch. "I got held up at the office."

"Hey, honey," Don said, getting up to meet him halfway, kissing him hello. "What're you doing here?"

"I thought you might like some company to go to the funeral."

"Yeah, I would. You have time for that?"

"I moved a few things around. I wanted to be here."




There was a large crowd gathered at the church in addition to the gawkers and media that circled the area. Danielle's flower-drenched casket sat in state in the vestibule, a large framed portrait of her sitting on an easel next to it.

"She was beautiful," Tim said as they approached the casket. "Do you recognize a lot of these people?" he asked in a whisper.

"That's her mother over there with the minister, those girls over there work at the VIP Club."

"Anastasia just came in," Tim said.

"That's a new look for her, " he commented. Anastasia's long blonde hair was upswept, and she wore a short sleeved black dress and black pumps. "I didn't even see her." Don paused. "We should probably move away from the casket so we can keep an eye on the rest of the mourners," Don said.

"Don, thank you for coming," Mrs. Freemont said, approaching them.

"How are you holding up?" he asked, accepting a brief hug.

"Day to day. I knew this was coming, really, but that doesn't seem to make it easier."

"This is my partner, Tim Callahan."

"I'm so sorry for your loss," he said, shaking hands with her.

"Thank you. If it weren't for Don, I don't think we'd know yet what happened to Danielle."

"The cops dropped the ball, there's no question about that, but I can promise you that Bailey's not going to let this go," Don said.

"Detective Bailey is a good, ethical man," Tim said. "I'm sure he'll do everything he can to find out who did this to your daughter."

"That's what Don keeps telling me. I guess when I see that monster go to trial, I'll believe it."

"Have you talked with Anastasia very much since Danielle was found?" Don asked, watching her approach the casket.

"No, not much. She'd been calling me periodically, to see how I'm doing. I called her right after I talked with you that night, after Danielle was found. I think it hit her very hard once we knew for sure Dani was..." She blinked a few times. "It's getting late. I should get ready to go in," she said.

"Of course," Tim said. "I wish we had met under better circumstances," he said.

"Thank you for coming," she said.

As she was turning to walk toward the casket, they all paused when they saw Anastasia standing beside it. She lingered there, her hand lightly skimming the rose-colored metal surface of it, just before her knees seemed to give way, and she collapsed next to it.

Don and Tim hurried over to her, as everyone still gathered in the vestibule clustered around her. As Don supported her head and shoulders, raising her off the floor a bit, the funeral director eased through the mourners to crouch by them with a small container of smelling salts. As she came to with a start, Don couldn't help noticing that the pale, puffy-eyed woman he was holding bore little resemblance to the Anastasia he'd seen before.

"What happened?" she asked weakly, blinking.

"You passed out," Don said, supporting her as she sat up straighter, looking around at the other mourners gathered there, appearing embarrassed now.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I don't know what happened. I just...blacked out, I guess."

"It happens sometimes," the funeral director said. A distinguished older man with silver hair clad in a dark blue suit, he had a kind manner.

"Are you ready to stand up?" Don asked her quietly.

"Yes, please. I'm so sorry to do this," she said, looking at Mrs. Freemont regretfully. "This is Dani's day...I didn't mean to make a scene."

"I'm sure you didn't do it on purpose, honey," she replied gently, patting Anastasia's hand. "Today is hard on all of us," she added.

Don helped her stand, and she self-consciously straightened her dress and accepted her purse from the funeral director who handed it to her. The other mourners began dispersing, heading into the church to find seats.

"Why don't you come sit up front with me, dear?" Mrs. Freemont said, taking her arm.

"I'd like that," she replied, allowing herself to be led into the church.

"Don, I hate to say this, but you don't think Anastasia could have had something to do with this?" Tim asked in a whisper as they walked into the church and found seats near the back. Don wanted to be in a position to watch the rest of the crowd.

"You remember when I asked her about that? How she replied?"

"Something about being a starving artist, wasn't it?"

"Yeah. Wouldn't you think the logical reply would be 'we were just friends', or 'I'm straight'?"

"Come to think of it, that was a odd way to answer. I guess I was too busy looking at the art to think about it much at the time."

"That was an interesting little scene," Bailey commented as he motioned to them to slide down, and sat on the end of the pew next to Don.

"Wasn't it? We were just talking about that," Don said. "I suppose it could just be grief, or maybe Anastasia's a fainter. I don't know her that well."

"But you don't think that's all there is to it?"

"After the service, I'll fill you in on our visit with her at her art show."

"I see Brianne showed up along with the girls from the club. I guess there's not much bad blood there. That's Mel Richards - the older guy she dumped," Bailey whispered, inclining his head toward an older middle aged man, stout and balding, sitting in a pew with a young woman, a couple rows up.

"Looks like the girl might be his daughter. She has the same profile," Tim commented.

"Maybe Anastasia would know who she is," Don said.

"The service hasn't started. I don't think they've even got the casket ready to wheel in yet. You wanna go get her?" Bailey asked.

"I don't like disrupting things in the church," he replied.

"Yeah, you're probably right. I'll just nab them before they leave," Bailey said. "This is a murder investigation, and Mrs. Freemont knows I'm on the job here. Anastasia still hasn't given us that DNA sample we requested from all Danielle's female acquaintances. Maybe we better watch where she goes after the service."

The funeral was sad and moving. Several of Danielle's friends from high school and some from college gave reflections about her and their friendship with her. One of her aunts sang a couple of hymns, and the casket was taken out of the church to the strains of Amazing Grace. Bailey was in motion as soon as Mel Richards and his companion got up from their seat, and Don waited to catch up with Anastasia. Tim recognized someone he knew from a community foundation they both served on the board for, so he walked out with the other man, talking over some major grant proposal they anticipated reviewing in the near future.

"Feeling better?" Don asked Anastasia.

"A little, yes," she said, though her eyes were puffy from crying and she kept a tissue handy. "Karen asked me to ride with the family to the cemetery in the limo, so I should probably go."

"Do you recognize that guy?" he asked, nodding toward the man Bailey was questioning.

"That's the guy Dani was dating, the older guy. He must have really loved her to show up here today after she dumped him like she did."

"How about the girl?"

"Probably his daughter. He had a daughter a little older than Dani. She's a student at SUNY Albany, I think, or something like that."

"How did his relationship with Danielle sit with the daughter?"

"I never met her, but Dani said it really got under her skin. I think she saw her maybe once or twice when she was at his house." Anastasia made a couple brief clawing gestures with her hand and imitated a cat snarling. "I suppose I can see why. If my dad dated someone my age, it would flip me out. Especially if I thought she was after his money and using him. Of course, my dad's not in any danger of that happening unless he hits the Powerball one of these weeks, and my mom would kill him for even looking at a girl that age."

"I'll let you go," he said, noticing that the family was gathering to head for the limo as they walked down the steps of the church to the front sidewalk. "By the way, did you give the cops your DNA sample yet?"

"My what? You're not serious?"

"The cops are serious about getting samples from all the women in Danielle's life. In a lot of cases, it's just to tie up a loose end and eliminate people officially from the investigation."

"Why would I kill one of my best friends?"

"I don't think you did, but the longer you put off giving them DNA, the more inclined the cops are to think you did."

"Well, if they don't mind waiting until after I get back from the cemetery, I'll get right on it," she snapped.

"I'm not the enemy here, Anastasia. I'm just telling you the cops read stuff into that and it could cast you in a negative light you don't deserve."

"Okay, I know you're right. I'll take care of it."

"Sorry to bring it up - "

"But your cop buddy brought it up with you? He thinks I did it?"

"No, but he did mention that he didn't have sample from you yet."

"Tell Inspector Clouseau he'll have one in a day or so."

"I'll do that," Don replied, stifling a grin.

After she left, Don rejoined Bailey, and Tim emerged from the church and hurried down the front steps to where they were standing.

"Anastasia give you anything worthwhile?" Bailey asked.

"Just that she'll get you that DNA sample soon. She was a little prickly about it."

"What's your take on her?"

"It's hard for me to believe she did it. Her behavior's been a little weird since Danielle was found, but she still doesn't strike me as a killer. So how'd your talk go with the boyfriend?"

"He's all torn up and keeps making excuses for her - she was young, she wasn't ready for a commitment, he pressured her and scared her off - same old song and dance from when I interviewed him the first time. His daughter doesn't seem to be buying into it, though. Called Danielle a gold-digging stripper."

"I can't say that surprises me, coming from the daughter of a man she was obviously playing for his money," Tim said.

"We should high-tail it to the cemetery," Bailey said. "From the looks of the procession, it's gonna take a while."

"I'm surprised a college girl who didn't have more obvious ties to the community has such a huge turnout," Tim commented.

"You've got some ghouls mixed in who want to say they went to a murder victim's funeral, but she's got quite a few relatives, too."

"Mr. Strachey!" A woman's voice caught his attention and he turned to see Renee, the pretty brunette dancer from the VIP Club, hurrying down the cement steps as quickly as her black stilettos permitted.

"Hi, Renee," he greeted as she approached them. She wore a black dress, but it was considerably lower cut and the hem a bit shorter than Anastasia's.

"This must be the partner," she said, reaching out to shake hands with Tim.

"Tim, this is Renee," Don said by way of belated introduction.

"Oh, wait, I know where I've seen you. You're the Jacobson's guy, the one in that big newspaper ad from Sunday?"

"That's me, I'm afraid."

"Geez, married to a model, huh?" she said to Don. Then she turned back to Tim. "He told me he had a thing for tall brunets, so now I see why."

"I'm not exactly a model by trade. I've just been shopping there a long time," he said.

"Hot and humble, too. Quite a combination," she replied, smiling. "The reason I came over was I forgot something when I talked to you guys," she said, gesturing at Don and Bailey.

"What's that?" Don asked.

"That woman, with the older guy - who is she?"

"What about her?" Bailey asked.

"About a week before Dani disappeared, she was at the VIP Club. They had some kind of run-in."

"That didn't occur to you until now?" Bailey replied.

"Not until I saw her again. I guess it didn't really stick out in my mind. They didn't come to blows or anything. It just looked like they were arguing. Burt stepped in because Dani was running late to go on for her act. That woman left, and I never saw her there again. When Dani was talking to Burt, right afterwards, she was sort of laughing about it, then she went on and did her thing, and she seemed fine. I meant to ask her about it later, but it was a busy night, and I forgot about it. Oh, wait, is she with the old guy Dani dumped?"

"His daughter," Don said. Bailey flashed him a bit of a look, apparently not planning to share that information with Renee. Don figured the girls at the club had been nothing but cooperative, and there wasn't anything to lose by being honest with her.

"Oh, that explains it," she said. "Probably was worried she'd have to share Daddy's money."

"Older men hooking up with young girlfriends rarely sets well with any kids they might have," Don replied.

"If my dad hooked up with some girl my age? Ew. Creepy," she added, shuddering.

"Thank you for the information, Renee," Don said. "It could be very helpful."

"I hope so. God, you know, I just kept hoping that Dani hooked a rich one and took off somewhere. I always kind of knew, I guess, that wasn't likely."

"I'd have much rather given her mom that news," Don said.

"Well, I have to run. I'm doing an afternoon show. You should stop by sometime when you’re not working. Even if you're not into the girls, you know we have great happy hour specials and the drinks aren't watered down. I know you have a weakness for our hot wings," she added, referring to Don’s “drug of choice” while he was undercover there.

"We'll keep that in mind. It was nice seeing you again, Renee," Don said.

"You, too. I'm glad you're still on the case. I hope you find the scumball who did this to Dani."

"Me, too," Don replied honestly.

"Well, that sounded interesting," Tim said.

"As soon as the grave side service is over, I think I'll pick up Miss Richards for questioning," Bailey said.

"Did you ask her about a DNA sample?" Tim asked.

"Yes. She refused."




"I really should be with my father," Josette Richards stated, annoyed, as she sat at the table in the interrogation room at the police department. She was a brunette with shoulder length hair and brown eyes, her make up flawlessly applied, her nails done in a French manicure. The jewelry she wore wasn't flashy, but it looked genuine, and expensive. While Bailey was conducting the questioning, he'd allowed Don and Tim to watch from the other side of the two-way mirror.

"You didn't mention when we spoke earlier that you'd had words with Danielle Freemont at the VIP Club," Bailey said, sitting across from her, pinning her with an intent gaze.

"Probably because I didn't," she retorted. 

"We have an eye witness who recognized you at the funeral today."

"They must be mistaken."

"She was pretty certain," Bailey said. "If you know something about this case, now is the time to share that information."

She looked at him for a long moment, then nodded slightly.

"She was using my father, and then she dumped him, but even after she did, she was still accepting presents from him and putting out for him if they were expensive enough. I wanted her out of his life, and I told her so. That was all there was to it."

"If that's all there was to it, why not tell me that earlier?"

"It would have really upset my father. He didn't need that today - just like he doesn't need worrying about why you're interrogating his daughter. I'm serious, I should get back home."

"I'll do my best to make this brief," Bailey said, though there was a bit of an edge to his voice. "What exactly did you discuss with Danielle that night?"

"I just told you. I told her she was a gold-digging little whore and that she better stay away from my father." She took another drink of the cup of water she'd accepted at the start of the interview.


"Or what?"

"That's what I'm asking you. Did you threaten her? Usually when you issue an ultimatum to someone, there's some kind of threat of consequences if they don't fall in line."

"I don't remember exactly what I said. I probably said something lame like, 'or you'll be sorry.' If you're asking if I planned on killing her, no, of course not. I just wanted her out of my father's life, and I thought if I confronted her and let her know that I knew what she was, that she was only after his money, maybe she'd back off."

"She'd already broken it off with him."

"So why was she still occasionally sleeping with him and accepting gifts from him? She didn't want to be tied down to a stodgy old man, but she didn't want to cut off the gravy train, either."

"Was that the only time you saw Danielle?"

"No, I saw her with my father a couple times at our house. She knew it bugged me that they were dating, and she enjoyed that. I could tell."


"I don't know how to describe it, other than she was kind of smug about it, that she was hanging around in my mother's house, probably doing it with him in their bed. I'd rather not think about the details."

"It bothered you a lot that he had a younger girlfriend."

"Truthfully? It wasn't that. My mother battled cancer on and off for years, and my father was faithful to her and stood by her every step of the way. She was the love of his life, and they were very devoted to each other. If my dad had met a nice woman, someone who loved him and made him happy, I wouldn't have obsessed about her age. It still seems a bit soon after Mom, but she always told me that if my dad found someone, she wanted me to try to make it easy on him to move on with his life. I would have respected that." She paused, then continued in a slightly shaky voice. "My mom was my best friend, and I never would have broken a promise to her. I know how much he loved her. I also know how much her illness took out of him, how much time he spent...aging watching her die slowly. I wouldn't have been angry at him for moving on."

"Just not with Danielle."

"She didn't want him. She only wanted money and gifts and being spoiled." She took the final drink of the water Bailey had provided for her, then set it down on the table.

"Finished?" he asked.

"Yes, thank you."

"Thank you," he said, picking up the cup, and she looked startled. "Excuse me," he said, stepping out of the room, where a lab technician was waiting with Don and Tim. "Get that down to the lab for a DNA profile."

"Will do, Detective," the young man said, taking the cup with him in gloved hands. Bailey flashed a quick grin at Don and Tim before re-entering the room.

"Okay, Ms. Richards, I think we all know the DNA we find on that bottled water is going to match the DNA found under Danielle's nails. This is your last chance to level with me."

"You tricked me. That has to be illegal."

"No. As long as you were finished with it, I can pick it up." He sat down again. "Why don't you level with me."

She looked at him for a long moment.

"I never even would have gone over there if she hadn't refused to give me my mother's jewelry back. That's the reason I went to talk to her at the VIP Club. It was bad enough when he was lavishing money and gifts on her, but then he gave her a ring and a bracelet that belonged to my mother. My mother was very clear that she intended her jewelry collection go to me when she died. We both love jewelry and collected a lot of it - much of it we shopped for together over the years. She made it very clear that it was supposed to be mine."

"Did she include that in her will? If so, you could have reported the items stolen if your father wouldn't get them back from her, and they were taken without permission of the owner."

"My mother didn't specify where all her personal effects should go in a will. We were always a close family, and it just didn't seem...necessary. There was no reason to think my father would start handing out her jewelry to naked dancers."

"Why not confront him instead of Danielle?"

"Oh, I did, but it didn't matter. He said he wanted to give her something that she knew had meaning, because he was serious about her and he thought if she knew that, she might come back to him. He gave her an aquamarine ring my mother absolutely adored. It was her birth stone, and she loved that ring. The other thing was a diamond bracelet - a tennis bracelet. It was stunning. No one really thought it was real. It was more the size of a cubic zirconia bracelet, because the stones were big and sparkly and had a lot of presence. My mother paid almost ten thousand dollars for it."

"She had money in her own right?"

"She came from money. She had a trust fund from my grandparents, so money wasn't really an issue for her. For any of us. My mother never hoarded her money, she always shared. So did my father. It never would have occurred to my mother that she had to tell him not to take the jewelry away from me after she was gone."

"What did Danielle say when you confronted her?"

"First, I tried being nice. I told her those pieces had sentimental value, and I offered to buy them back from her. It stuck in my throat, but I had a feeling she wasn't going to cooperate out of the goodness of her heart. Since she was such a money hungry little slut, I thought she'd jump at the chance to convert them into cash. But no. She was having too much fun holding it over my head that she had them, that he'd given them to her. That he wanted to marry her. I think the only person who didn't know she'd never marry him was my dad. I knew she was playing him."

"Is that why you argued? When she refused to sell you the jewelry back?"

"That, and when I called her a gold-digging whore."

Bailey raised his brows a bit as he made a note in his file. "When did you talk to her next?"

"I didn't do anything for a few days. Then I talked to my dad again, and he was furious that I'd talked to her about the jewelry. Then we got in an argument over whose jewelry it rightfully was and I could see there was no use." She sighed. "I finally decided to go try to get it back. You know, from her apartment."

"Did you confront her there?" 

"Not intentionally. I never meant to even see her again. I went there thinking she'd be out - I knew she worked nights. I knocked several times and waited, and there was no answer." She paused to push the hair back from her face. "This sounds so ridiculous when I'm telling it. I'm not a criminal. I never even shoplifted in high school."

"Emotions make us do some ridiculous things," Bailey said.

"My mom would be so horrified by all of this," she said, her voice breaking, a couple of tears spilling. "I never meant to do anything to anybody. I just wanted the jewelry back. I don't care about the money. It was never about money. Honestly, it wasn't even about the jewelry. It was about the way she was using my father and just enjoying herself. She was laughing about it. She had two of my mother's favorite jewelry pieces and she was playing my father for a sucker."

"What happened when there was no answer at her door?"

"I picked the lock. I don't even know how to do that, but I looked it up online and practiced on a couple doorknobs at home." She took a couple tissues from the box Bailey slid toward her on the table and wiped her nose, then dabbed at her eyes, apparently still trying to salvage her makeup. The cautious gesture and concern for preserving her appearance seemed incongruous with the emotions she was expressing. "It took forever and I kept expecting to get caught...I don't exactly have nerves of steel when it comes to breaking and entering."

"Once you were inside the apartment, what did you do?"

"I went into her bedroom and started going through her jewelry. I was only there about two minutes when she showed up in the bedroom with a butcher knife. I swear to God I don't know how she snuck up on me. Once she saw it was me, she relaxed a little, but she didn't put down the knife. She was angry, demanded to know what I was doing there, and I told her. I told her to give me my mother's jewelry, and I would pay her what it was worth, that I'd pay to have her lock fixed if I damaged it. She grabbed me and started dragging me out of the room, to the door, and I got angry, so I pushed her. She fell back on the couch, and I guess that made her angry, because she literally came at me with the knife. She got up off the couch and came toward me with it raised," she said, demonstrating with her own upraised arm, as if she were holding a knife herself. "I wanted to run, but I was afraid she'd stab me in the back, so I thought I better try to get it away from her. I grabbed the arm with the knife with both my hands and we started struggling. I don't know how it happened exactly," she said, her voice breaking again. "All of a sudden, the knife was between us, and then I felt something hot and wet on my hands and she wasn't struggling as hard anymore," she blurted, sobbing. "Oh, my God, I never meant to kill her. I never even meant to hurt her." Bailey couldn't help noticing that there were no tears with her sobs.

"She had multiple stab wounds, Josette," Bailey said. "You stabbed her more than once."

"She clawed my face," she said, her tone accusatory, pinning Bailey with an angry look, as if Danielle clawing her face was out of line when she was fighting for her life. "So I kept stabbing her until she stopped clawing at me."

"Why didn't you call the police?"

"I was in shock, covered in blood, and she was lying there on that flowered rug in front of her couch. It caught most of it, and in that insane moment, getting rid of her and the rug seemed like the right thing to do. Maybe not right, but...logical. So I wrapped her in it. A lot of it is a blur, but I know I put her in the trunk of her car, and drove to the docks and I pushed the car in the water."

"You dragged her body to her car, and then disposed of the car, and cleaned up the crime scene, without any help?"

"Once I wrapped her in the rug, there wasn't much there to clean up. Her apartment's on the first floor, and her patio doors opened out to the parking lot - her car was right out there, not thirty feet away. It was probably ten o'clock when I went there. I waited until about two in the morning to move her." She paused, wiping at her eyes, though there didn't seem to be much moisture there. "Can I have another glass of water?"

"Sure." Bailey left the room momentarily to get the water from the cooler in the area where Don and Tim were waiting. "You buy her story?"

"There's no sexual assault involved, and what she's saying is plausible. I've been all around Danielle's complex at night, and it's pretty desolate where the parking area is behind the units. At two in the morning, you could probably do most anything back there," Don concluded. "Danielle was a petite, slender girl. I can see it. Truthfully? That girl strikes me as cold and psycho enough to do it and not break a sweat."

"You find strength you don't know you have when you're motivated," Tim said. "Covering up a murder is a strong motivation."

Bailey returned to the interrogation room with Josette's water.

"Thank you," she sad, taking a drink.

"What did you do while you were waiting to move Danielle's body?"

"I looked for my mother's jewelry. I found her ring and her diamond bracelet in one of Danielle’s dresser drawers, in a jewelry box." For a moment, Bailey saw a flash of something in the girl's eyes that froze him. Her next words sent chills down the spines of all who were listening in. "She should have just given them back to me," she said, a hardness in her voice that sounded like it came from someone else, it was such a stark contrast from the shaky emotion that had characterized the rest of her statement. The look in her eyes made Bailey uneasy enough to be the one to look away first. As Josette recounted the rest of the details of disposing of Danielle's, Bailey didn’t doubt any longer that she was telling the truth or that she was capable of everything she’d confessed to doing.




"Timothy, this layout is amazing. Did you see it?" Don was sitting at the kitchen counter, looking at the copy of Sunday's paper neither of them had time to read on Sunday. It was now Tuesday, and Tim finally took a day off to relax and catch his breath after everything that happened. Don knew he had things piling up at the office that had taken a backseat to the underpaying Freemont case, but his resolve to give up free time with Timmy was weakening.

"I think I've seen enough of me in fancy suits for a while," Tim replied, setting a cup of coffee in front of Don and taking a drink of his own steaming cup. It was a beautiful morning, the sun streaming in the window and birds chirping. "I can't stand to take those things off the hangers. I'm thinking of asking Jason if he'd like them back." He sat next to Don at the counter, then flipped the newspaper closed so he didn't have to look at the ad. "She bought every outfit I posed in for the store posters," he said quietly. "If she wasn't locked up, she'd be buying the stuff from these new ads."

Don knew how disturbed Meghan O'Donnell was, even more so that Timothy did. She'd not only bought all the outfits he posed in, she had photographs of the posters she must have taken in the store, and a number of photos she'd taken of Tim from a distance plastered on her bedroom wall in her apartment. The clothing hung in a half of her closet that had been set aside for his things, as if he lived there already. There was a bottle of Tim's favorite cologne on her dresser. Don wasn't sure how she'd figured that out, unless she had that good of a nose that she'd identified it from the few instances she'd been close enough to him to smell it. Don hoped she'd agree to some sort of plea deal so Timothy never really had to know quite how sick and obsessed she was. Since she was languishing in a psych ward, that was likely.

"She's not going get to you ever again, honey. I promise," Don said, taking his hand.

"You can't promise that. As much as you want to, you can't protect me around the clock."

"I already dropped the ball on that, so I don't blame you for being skeptical," he said, taking another drink of coffee. The thought that he'd given Meghan the opening she needed to get to Timothy still haunted him.

"You know I didn't mean it that way," Tim said, squeezing Don's hand. "You're always there for me when I need you. I wasn't nervous about being here alone with the alarm system. She just outwitted us." He took a drink of his coffee, then smiled. "Difficult as that is, apparently it can be done." Don had to laugh at that.

"I guess we can't argue with that. If having those clothes around bothers you, let's just give them back to Jason. A lot of it you've never worn, and the suits you've only worn a couple times. They could probably still be used for store displays or something even if he can't sell them as new to clients."

"It's insane to get rid of them, isn't it?" Tim asked, sighing.

"Not of they're going to upset you and remind you constantly of that psycho bitch."

"I know what she did was wrong, but Donald, did you ever think how awful it would be to have the person you love be so unattainable? To be so delusional that you formed that attachment to a stranger?"

"You'll forgive me if I don't feel sorry for the woman who nearly killed you."

"I think about how much I love you, and what it means to me for us to be together, to have a life together, and then I imagine if that was all a delusion in my unstable mind, and you really didn't care, I meant nothing to you...I can't even picture what that pain would be."

"So you'd come after me with a butcher knife?"

"I'm not psychotic, so I can't envision reacting that way, but I can imagine how painful not being loved back by the person you believe is your soul mate could be."

"You're an amazing guy, sweetheart," he said, kissing Timmy's hand. "Most people wouldn't lose a lot of time trying to empathize with that fruitcake."

"Something had to turn her into a fruitcake. In any event, it's a sad situation." Tim paused, sighing. "I know she's in a psychiatric ward, and I doubt they're giving her newspapers and internet access, but I wish we could just...take back all these images of me, of us, so we don't attract another one like her."

"Stalkers as disturbed as she is are rare, even for major celebrities. I doubt we'll ever have another problem over the ads."

"I love these," Tim said, gesturing at the double 8 x 10 frame that sat on the counter holding a shot of the two of them kissing, and the shot of them laughing, still in the embrace, looking at each other with all the love in the world.

"I love you," Don replied, putting his arm around Timmy and pulling him close enough for them to kiss.

"I love you, too," he said, smiling, touching Don's cheek. "Are you all mine today or do I have to share you with clients?”

"You might have to share me for a few hours. But I'm mostly yours."

"Mostly? Hm. That's too bad." Tim took a bite of the croissant on his plate.

"Don't do that."

"What? Eat breakfast?"

"You know what I mean. Dangle that teaser out there."

"I'm just saying, I finally took that day off you’ve been telling me I need. It's a situation rich in possibilities."

"We're not out of groceries?"

"No, we're fine."

"There are no compelling reasons to go out?"

"Not a one. Unless, of course, we want to christen one of the chaise lounges for the season."

"I suppose I could put things on hold at the office for the rest of the day.”

"I'm sure it will be a challenge for you, but you seem up to it."

"Speaking of being up to the challenge," Don said, slipping his hand down to Timmy's crotch.

Don urged him to turn a bit in his chair and patiently worked through the layers of robe, pajama pants and underwear until he had uncovered his prize. Kneeling in front of the chair, he took Timmy in his mouth, starting off slowly, determined to taste him and tease him. There was no reason to rush this, no reason he had to bring things to a climax any sooner than he felt like it, any sooner than it took to obliterate from Timothy's mind anything but pleasure, anything but feeling safe and loved.

He used every trick with his mouth that he knew drove his partner crazy, slipping his hand into that warm place to fondle those hair-dusted balls that felt so good in his hand. Timmy's moans mingled with little broken gasps as he arched into Don's touch, running his fingers through Don's hair.

"I want you inside me," Timmy managed. Don smiled around his task, finally releasing him for a moment.

"Have patience, beautiful. You're gonna come more than once this morning."

"Oh, God," Timmy muttered as Don resumed his efforts, sucking more intensely, flicking his tongue around the sensitive slit, massaging Timmy's balls, trying to resist coming himself from this alone. From the taste of his partner, from his moans, from the sexy and debauched look of him sprawling on the chair, his pajamas and underwear open.

Yes, Timothy was going to come now, and they were going to do it long enough that he was going to come again with Don inside him. And that was just for breakfast.

With a cry of pleasure, Timothy started coming, and Don drank him down, not releasing his cock until it was spent, and Timmy was panting, sweating, and looking like he could doze off if he weren't somewhat precariously half on and half off the tall kitchen chair by the counter. Don had plans for that chair, and for his partner.

"You wanted me inside you, right, honey?" Don said softly, moving up to speak into Timmy's ear.

"Always want you," he replied, though he was somewhat less articulate than the socializer and public speaker he typically was.

"You wanna do it on the chair?"

"God, yes," he agreed, landing on his feet, tossing his robe aside.

Don sent his flying in the same general direction, and as Timmy leaned over the chair, holding onto the legs to steady himself, Don tugged down his pajama pants and underwear, but didn't take them all the way off. He kicked his boxers aside, then dove for his robe, hoping he had a little tube of lube in there. Grateful to find it where he thought he'd left it, he slid his finger inside Timmy and began working on him with the gel. He was relaxed, so he wouldn't need long preparation, but in the spirit of a lazy day at home, Don planned on giving him some prolonged foreplay. He stretched and massaged and teased with his fingers, kissing those beautiful upturned cheeks, making Timmy writhe and hang into the chair for dear life. He angled his fingers and targeted Timmy's prostate, knowing it would make him crazy, but he still wasn't quite ready to come again.

You ain't seen nothin' yet, beautiful...

Encouraged by his partner's obvious enjoyment of what he'd been doing, Don used the gel on himself and eased inside that gorgeous ass that was so temptingly presented there, starting a steady rhythm that had them both gasping and shouting, mumbling broken words of passion. He reached down and started pumping Timmy's cock, helping it achieve full hardness again, wanting to make Timmy come before he did.

He didn't have to wait long because, within moments of the thought flitting through his mind, Timmy's internal muscles were flexing around him in that way they did that drove him over the edge, when he knew he was making Timmy come, and his partner was returning the favor.

For a few moments, he lay slumped on his partner's back, but he soon moved carefully, taking the pressure off Timmy, who had to be decreasingly comfortable over the chair now that the heat of passion was cooling. Still, he had to admit he looked awfully damn good there, and if Don had anything left to give, he'd have jumped in for round two.

Timmy got up, and by force of habit, pulled up his pants. He looked at Don, who was standing there in his tank shirt and nothing else, grinning like an idiot.

"You're shameless, aren't you?" he asked, pulling Don into his arms, kissing him.

"That's why you love me," Don replied, keeping up his end of one of their frequent exchanges.

"That, and so many reasons," he said, still smiling, the sincerity in his voice warming every part of Don, including his slightly clammy butt. As if reading his mind, Timmy's hands slid down and cupped Don's slightly chilly cheeks. "Poor baby. I'll have to think of something to keep these nice and warm."

"How about playing around in the bathtub?"

"That could work, too."

"What were you thinking?" Don asked. Tim grabbed him by the hand and pulled him toward the stairs.

"Wouldn't you like to know?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact, I would," Don persisted. Timmy knew any sort of mystery tormented his detective's brain, and he often took advantage of that fact to yank his partner's chain.

"There's this thing called turnabout, you know."

"Can't think of anything I'd rather do today than turnabout with you."

Don enthusiastically chased his partner up the stairs, relishing the fantasies of just what Timothy's idea of "turnabout" might involve.




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