The wet nose was a dead giveaway. During the night as she slept, sometimes fitful and sometimes at peace, she’d felt him cuddling close. Erin didn’t have the strength to push him away. His closeness was like a comfort she hadn't felt in too long to recall. Dave had taken her back to his place and up to the master bedroom. Grabbing a pair of boxer shorts and a CCNY tee shirt from his top drawer, he told Erin she could wear them to bed.
“I don’t think I should leave, in case you black out again. This isn’t an attempt to see you naked. I've seen you naked.”
“Just turn around.” Erin sighed as she slipped out of her black Kenneth Cole snakeskin heels. “Actually…”
“You don’t want me to watch?” Dave’s brown eyes sparkled as he grinned and folded his arms.
“I hate you.” it was hard to believe since she smiled. “I need help with my dress. Don’t be fresh David, just help.”
He nodded, coming around to unzip the dress. Damn her skin because it always drew him in. Dave couldn’t help but kiss her bare shoulder and Erin didn’t stop him. He cleared his throat and moved away. Erin sat on the bed. It might take longer but it was for the best that she do the rest sitting down.
“Are you alright?” Dave asked. His back was to her now as she requested.
“It’s slow going but I’ll get it done.”
“I'm going to go downstairs and make you some tea. It should help you sleep.”
“Don’t you dare turn around to peek while you're doing it.”
“Woman you are insufferable.” Rossi smirked as he left the room.
As she drifted off to sleep in his bed Erin wondered just what was in that tea. She was exhausted, mentally and physically; couldn’t keep her eyes open any longer. Her dreams were gray but Erin didn’t quite care. It wasn’t the deep sleep that she craved though it was much better than the tossing and turning of the past six weeks.
Then she felt the wet nose. Moving onto her side, Erin slowly opened her eyes. She had no idea what time it was. She could still hear the rain falling outside the bedroom window. Suddenly there was a memory of thunder and lightning in her dreams.
“Hello there.” she whispered.
Mudgie rubbed his wet nose on her arm again. Erin wasn’t fluent in dog but thought that he might want to be petted. She ran her hand over his large head.
“I hope he didn’t wake you.”
Another voice in the room startled her. Her eyes were still adjusting to the darkness but she saw Dave stretched out on the loveseat across the room. If she wasn’t so tired Erin would've burst into laughter. Dave plus loveseat equaled hysterical.
“He stayed with me all night.” She said.
“It was really adorable…I took pictures.”
“I thought it was you.”
“I'm not that hairy, Erin.”
Dave sat up on the loveseat. Sleeping there hadn't been his best idea. He wasn’t a young man anymore but kept in shape. Still, no one over the age of 19 needed to sleep on a loveseat for any reason. There were at least 3 more beds in the house and a decent pull out couch in the sunroom but he wasn’t leaving Erin alone last night.
“Honestly, I couldn’t tell the difference until the wet nose came into play.” Erin said.
“You should probably get some more sleep. I’ll get him and...”
“No, he's not being a bother; I promise. Let him stay, David.”
“If it’s alright with you then its fine with me. Go back to sleep, Erin. Its early and you're not going anywhere today.”
“What are you going to do?” she asked.
“I'm going back to sleep. I need it to be in that bed because this loveseat is awful. No funny business, I promise, but my back…”
“Its fine.” Erin was falling again. She was still exhausted. Catching a glimpse of the alarm clock, she saw it was just after 6am. Mudgie cuddled close as Erin closed her eyes.
Dave lay down on the bed just as she draped a protective arm around his dog. He’d known her for a long time, almost as long as Kirk had. Erin Strauss wasn’t a dog person. She thought puppies were adorable but dogs had never been her thing. This little moment with Mudgie got him right where it hurt. The three of them in his bed; Dave pinched himself as a reminder that it wasn’t real.
She wasn’t in the mood to speak to him but knew she had to. Erin slept for another four hours, waking up and feeling rested. Mudgie was still with her but Dave was gone. She didn’t know where he went but it was best to do this while she was alone.
“Hi. Um, last night was a little crazy to say the least.”
“I was looking all over for you when I came back from the men’s room, Erin.” Eli lied.
“Kirk had a suite last night so he took me up there to rest. I wanted to call you but…”
“He told me.”
“He told you what?” Erin asked.
“I found Kirk and he told me what happened. He said he took you upstairs to rest and have a doctor check you out. I wanted to check on you but Kirk said you were given a sedative. I was suspicious about your spending the night with another man but…” Eli laughed.
“Why are you laughing?” Erin felt her blood begin to boil. The bastard hadn't even asked if she was alright but he was laughing.
“Its Kirk, Erin…he's like your father. I just decided to call it a night.”
“You didn’t want to be there anyway so I guess it was a relief to go.”
“Don’t be that way. I don’t want to fight right now.”
“Neither do I. I don’t want to fight ever again.”
“What does that mean?” Eli asked. There was something about her tone that didn’t sit well with him. He met Erin when she was 23 years old. If there was one thing he knew about his wife it was tone and inflection.
“It means exactly what I said Eli. I'm feeling really tired.” Just as Erin said it, Dave walked into the room with a breakfast tray. Damn if he didn’t bring a big smile to her face. “Kirk is holding me hostage right now. I'm sure he’ll let me go this evening or tomorrow morning. I didn’t want you to worry.”
“I've got a long day ahead at the hospital and I'm on call so I’ll probably just sleep here.”
Bullshit, she thought. She’d almost said it aloud but Erin had no desire to prolong the conversation. That was something neither of them wanted.
He’d barely got his out as his wife hung up the phone. She put it on the nightstand, looking at the man whose bed she was in.
“Is that for me?” she asked.
“It’s for us. Can I sit now; my arms are killing me?”
Erin slowly sat up in bed. She propped the pillows behind her and relaxed while Dave put the tray in front of her. Then he sat down.
“I wanted to go all out but I know you aren’t feeling your best. So it’s just bacon and eggs with some potatoes and fruit salad. Tea is going to be better than coffee this morning. You need to eat the fruit salad because it’s good for you.”
“You only have to eat what you can. How are you feeling?”
“The headache’s gone.” Erin sampled the fruit salad as she thought about and decided not to tell Dave that Eli hadn't even bothered to ask. “I'm going to be fine.”
“Was that Eli on the phone?” Dave asked.
“Mmm hmm.” She nodded.
“Is everything alright?”
“I'm divorcing him.” her tone was no different than if she was telling him the weather outside.
“You have to do what's best for you, Erin.”
Erin didn’t say anything else and Dave didn’t press. It was honestly none of his business what happened between Erin and Eli. While he didn’t like having a married lover it was impossible to turn her away whenever she came to him. He still didn’t want to be involved in the Eli mess. She was his concern…her soon to be ex could kiss his ass. That was if she even left him. It wasn’t like Erin hadn't contemplated this before.
“Can I give bacon to the dog?” she asked.
Just hearing the world dog made Mudgie sit up and take notice. He’d been staring at the tray, wanting to have a go at something but knowing there would be trouble. Plus he didn’t want to scare Erin. She wasn’t a dog person.
Dave couldn’t believe how sweet and relaxed the Chesapeake Bay Retriever was lying next to Erin. Relaxed wasn’t a word anyone would ever used to describe Mudgie unless he was sleeping. Gregarious was usually an understatement though he was well disciplined. He had a good dog life.
“I need to warn you before you do.”
“About what? Does he bite?”
“No, but he’ll be your best friend for life.” Dave said.
“I can live with that.”
Erin broke off a piece of bacon and held it out. Mudgie quickly rushed over and inhaled it. She laughed even though for a moment she feared he might eat her hand.
“Wow, he's um…”
“He’s greedy, pure and simple. He's a good mutt though.”
“Does he get lonely, being left alone when you're out in the field?” Erin asked.
“I have a wonderful dog sitter who has acres so Mudge gets to run and play. I bet he barely misses me. You should eat your fruit salad.”
“You already knew that.”
Erin was about to say something when her phone began vibrating on the nightstand. She picked it up, saw who it was, and answered.
“You sound better kiddo but I can't trust you not to fake it for my benefit.”
“Its something men have worried about for centuries I'm sure.”
Kirk laughed. His laugh was hearty and delightful. Even at her most serious, and everyone knew how serious Erin Strauss could be, she always laughed when Kirk laughed like that. This morning was no different.
“It’s good to hear you laugh. You must be feeling better.”
“I'm alright. You better be alone, calling me kiddo.”
“I want you to call your doctor and schedule a checkup.” He said, ignoring the other part.
“Kirk, I mean it. It’s probably stress or something but I’ll get a checkup.”
“Pinky swear.” He said.
“Are you serious?” she raised her eyebrow.
“I'm the Deputy Director of the FBI…damn right I'm serious. Now do it please.”
Erin sighed and rolled her eyes, which only made Dave smile. Her relationship with Kirk must have been interesting to witness.
“I pinky swear that I’ll call my doctor and schedule a checkup.”
“Thank you very much. And don’t roll your eyes at me.”
“Is Dave taking good care of you?” Kirk asked.
“He's being very unlike himself.”
“Good. I want you to relax this weekend, Erin. I’ll poke my head in on your sometime Monday and we’ll schedule lunch for later in the week.”
“That sounds good to me.”
“May I speak to Dave please?”
“On my phone?” she asked.
“Yes. I know he's there…I can hear him breathing.”
“Hold on.” She gave the phone to Dave.
“Good morning Mr. Deputy Director.”
Erin watched with suspicion while Dave gave short, one word answers to everything Kirk said. Then he laughed.
“I most certainly will, you have my word. Have a great day, Mr. Deputy Director.”
“What did he say?” Erin asked as he handed her phone back.
“Nothing really.” Dave shook his head.
“Probably, but it’s for your own good.”
“I won't be conspired against, David Rossi. I mean it.”
“I would mock you because it’s cute, but it’s not fair. I also have no idea what you're talking about. Would you like more fruit salad?”
“No, I'm full.”
“Alright. Well you give Mudgie the last bit of bacon. I’ll take this downstairs, come back, and run a bath.”
“I need to go home.” Erin said.
“No you don’t.” Dave shook his head again.
“So you're planning to keep me without my consent? There are laws against that you know.”
“I do know.” Dave stood, picked up the tray, and went to leave the room.
“You have a three day weekend. All I'm asking is that you lie back and think about it. Would you rather spend it in a big house all alone or here with me and your new best friend? When I come back you can let me know.”
“I don’t even have any clothes.” She reasoned.
“That’s all the more reasons to bum around. I’ll be back.”
Erin closed her eyes and sighed. The last thing in the world she ever needed to do was spend the weekend with David Rossi. Still, whenever her brain screamed no her mouth wouldn’t open. Her children, who were barely children, were gone.
Nora, who was a recent college grad was living in New York City and preparing for grad school. Mary Kate, who was preparing for her junior year at Tulane, lived in New Orleans whether her parents liked it or not. 16 year old Edward was home but away at camp. It was his first year as a counselor. Eli was at home as much as Erin was, which with work and other obligations meant practically never.
And his outside obligations were plenty. He had to be crazy if he believed that she believed the on call story. He’d been using it for a decade. No doctor worked as much as Dr. Eli Strauss. Even with his lies, the infidelity, and everything in between, Erin stayed.
She stayed for the children, even if every study showed it wasn’t the best thing to do. She stayed so people wouldn’t whisper about her. She stayed so that she wouldn’t be alone. Last night when she passed out in that ballroom, two men rushed to her aid and neither had been her husband.
She wasn’t with Eli but she wasn’t alone either. Erin couldn’t trust Dave not to hurt her. Their thing was a roller coaster ride that she might never recover from. Then why was she feeling better than she had in over a year just thinking about him walking back into the room?