I took Nikki home with me after the guy tried to garotte her.
I knew she’d be angry that I looked at her file. And I was right.
I knew she blamed herself for her husband’s death. And I was right.
Nikki had convinced me - mostly - that Mike’s death wasn't my fault just a few weeks before, and after I read her file I knew why she had been able to do that.
Because she’d lived it. She’d been through that pain and guilt and grief, was still in the middle of it. She understood, better than anyone, that I blamed myself even though I was not to blame. But she still blamed herself for her husband’s death; I knew she would, because I knew her.
“How much longer can you go on telling people you’re divorced?” I was shouting at her now, and I hated doing it. But she had to see that what she’d told me applied to her too. “How much longer can you go on blaming yourself?”
My throat ached and it wasn’t from the cold I’d had all week; it came from hurting one of my best friends, even for her own good. But she had to see. “It was my fault!” She was shouting now, too, and then her voice dropped as she choked out her guilt.
“It’s okay. It’ll be all right.” I turned her toward me and gathered her up. She clung to me and sobbed into my shoulder, repeating the words I’m sorry over and over as I maneuvered her onto the couch and sat down beside her, rubbing her back in slow circles until she could stop.
But then she kissed me, softly and hesitantly, just where my shoulder met my throat, and I felt my head tip back for just a moment, to give her better access. Then I realized what she was doing and I pulled away. Gently; I didn’t want to cause her more pain. “Nikki.” My voice was hoarse, and I tried again. “Nikki. What are you doing?”
She looked at me for a long moment, hurt rejection in her eyes but her face very calm. “Never mind,” she said softly. “I know how you feel about friends thr--” She broke off and took a deep breath. “You should know, though, that I’m not looking for a commitment here. Not long term. Just…”
Just comfort, I thought, a night or a weekend. Not the same thing as Mike, not at all. “Just friends?” I asked her, and she nodded. “Why me? Just because I’m here?”
“I want to be…” Nikki’s voice was high and tearful again. “I… I trust you not to kiss and tell. I trust you to treat me like a competent human being tomorrow, even though I fell apart tonight. I--” and she broke off, because I kissed her.
I had kissed Nikki before - or she had kissed me - but that had been camouflage, a way to try to convince the bad guys we were harmless. It hadn’t worked very well either, and now I thought I knew why. That kiss had been fake. This one was scorching hot, full of need and adrenaline and a desperate seeking to feel alive.
When we finally broke apart, she smiled at me. “Don’t say it, Mac,” she said, putting a finger to my lips in a hushing motion. “Friends, and a single night as more than friends. I promise.”
“That’s not what I was going to say, Nikki,” I protested. “I was going to suggest we take this into the bedroom. I have protection in there.” I stood up and held out a hand to her.
Nikki laughed. “Of course you do. Always prepared for anything.”