"I'm not Nick Halden. My name's Neal Caffrey."
Kate's eyes went wide as she took a step back. She stared at him, and Neal didn't know what to say. There had to be a line for this, a Hallmark card or a witty remark, but his mind was suddenly empty. He didn't want to be witty. For once, he wanted to be honest.
"Kate?" he asked, trying to read her blank expression. He reached his hand out to her, but she took another step back, jerking away from him like the last thing she wanted was for him to touch her. Neal felt his heart sink. He knew this was going to be difficult, but somehow, he had expected her to simply accept it. She stayed in New York for him -- but, no, she stayed in New York for Nick Halden. He knew they were the same person, but in her eyes, he might as well be a stranger.
"Why did you give me a fake name?" She clutched her bag closer to her body as a cab drove by, splashing water from a pot hole onto the sidewalk.
Neal looked out to the street for a long moment. "It's hard to explain."
"Then explain it." She crossed her arms over her chest.
He raised his eyes to her and said, as plainly as possible, "I'm a con man. I was trying to con Adler, to get into his accounts. It didn't work. He was onto to me and then... he left."
Anger flared in her eyes. "So you were playing a part. And what was I? Some kind of bonus? Get rich and get laid? It doesn't get much better than that, does it?"
"No, Kate, it wasn't like that." Neal moved forward, and this time she didn't step away from him, but he didn't risk trying to touch her again. "I didn't expect to meet you, but the moment I saw you, I fell in love. I'm telling you this because I'm in love with you. I want to be honest with you. I don't want to lie. I didn't lie about anything else except my name."
"Your name and what you do for a living. You said you're a con man? How can I even begin to trust you? How am I supposed to know what's the truth and what isn't?" Kate shook her head and the leather strap on her bag fell down her shoulder. "I don't even know who you are."
"I'm the same guy," Neal insisted.
She gave him a long look, and then shook her head. "I don't know, Nick -- or whatever your name is. I just had everything pulled out from underneath of me. My job, my life savings. I don't have anywhere to go, and I could really use my boyfriend right now, but I don't know where he went. I just can't do this right now." She hitched her bag back up on her shoulder and turned away.
"Kate," Neal said, striding toward her, and he only stopped when she did.
She looked over her shoulder at him, her eyes welling up with tears that refused to fall down her cheeks. "Just give me some space, okay, Nick?" She paused like she was going to correct herself, but she didn't. Instead, she looked ahead and kept walking down the street.
This time, Neal didn't go after her.
He let her go once and she came back to him. Maybe that was all he needed to do.
It had been three days and still Neal hadn't heard a word from Kate.
"Maybe it's for the best," Mozzie said on a rainy afternoon. He poured Neal a glass of wine and set it on the windowsill. "It could be a sign."
Neal didn't reply. In fact, he barely heard Mozzie's words as he looked out the window at the rain. He couldn't see people on the sidewalk below, but only the tops of umbrellas. It was almost like they were moving around of their own accord.
"Neal!" Mozzie said, and Neal snapped his head around.
"You need to focus! With Adler gone, we need to start working on new pursuits. And you definitely need something new to throw yourself into. Forget about the girl, Neal. It's time to move on."
Neal picked up the glass Mozzie had set down for him. "But what if she's the one?"
Mozzie shook his head. "There's no such thing."
"You believe in aliens, but not in true love?" Neal lifted an eyebrow as he took a sip of wine. He knew Mozzie was skeptical of a lot of things, and tended to believe in everything he felt the government was trying to cover up, while he felt everything they portrayed as truth to be false. However, there wasn't an official government stance on love.
"This isn't The Princess Bride, Neal. Maybe you'll meet another nice girl on our next job. Or what about that grifter girl? You liked her. If you have to have a girlfriend, it'd be nice to have someone in our line of work."
"That's it," Neal said, setting the glass back down on the windowsill. "Moz, you're a genius."
"Of course I am," Mozzie replied. He paused. "What did I say?"
"Someone in our line of work. I could show Kate what it is that we do. She could be one of us. She said it herself, she doesn't have anything. That's how we all start, and she would have amazing mentors with the two of us."
Mozzie crossed his arms over his chest. "You think the way to win her trust is to show her how dishonest you can be?"
Neal grinned as he got to his feet. "Dishonest with everyone else, but not with her."
Finding Kate was easy enough. She still had her apartment through the end of the month and without a job, she didn't seem to be going too many places. However, Neal was able to catch her sitting at the outdoor cafe on the corner. She looked sad, holding her coffee in her hands instead of setting it on the table.
Neal took a deep breath and straightened his tie. He smiled as he approached the table. "Hello."
Kate looked up. "What are you doing here?" she asked without even giving him a courtesy smile.
He motioned to the chair across the table from her. "May I join you?"
"If you must."
Neal sat down. She didn't appear to be angry or annoyed. Maybe a little impatient, which wasn't good, but it was still worth giving it his best try. "My name is Neal Caffrey. I'm a local con artist, and I honestly think you're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen. How do you feel about fresh starts?"
The smallest flicker of a smile cross her lips. "My name is Kate Moreau and I'm skeptical of charming young men who come out of nowhere to join me at my table. There are a lot of weirdos in this city, you know."
Neal chuckled. "Yes, there are. A lady such as yourself needs to be careful."
Kate nodded and set down her mug. "I don't know you at all, Neal Caffrey, was it? You could be anybody."
"But I'm not just anybody. Believe it or not, Kate, you know me." Neal didn't see any sense in continuing to play it like they'd never met. He wanted to prove to her that he was the same guy she knew.
She shook her head. "I don't know about that. You were playing an act for Vincent, and I don't know how much of that act you played for me. Nick -- Neal -- I believe you when you said that you didn't play me to get laid. I even believe that you didn't plan to get involved with me, but that doesn't change the fact that you lied. That's the thing I'm having a hard time getting past. Not only did you lie, but you lie for a living. How am I supposed to know what's the truth and what isn't?"
"Because I never want to lie to you again," Neal said, and he meant it. "I respect your feelings, Kate. All I'm asking for is a second chance."
The corner of Kate's mouth curled up into into a smile. "How do you do think you're going to get make the best of a second chance?"
"What if I took you out on a date? A real first date. We never had one of those."
"It'd have to be a pretty spectacular date."
Neal grinned. "If there's anything I can do, it's spectacular."
"This is your idea of a real first date?" Kate asked. "Some girls might think a trip to a hotel is presumptuous."
"If I were being presumptuous, I would have taken you back to my place, but there's nothing spectacular about that. Just a cranky roommate with a bad toupee." Mozzie wasn't actually his roommate (the truth was, Neal wasn't sure where Mozzie lived), but he was there often enough to count. "Hotels have a lot more offer than just beds."
"Like room service."
"Yeah, I can't afford to buy lunch, let alone ordering room service."
Neal smiled and took her hand. "That's the best part, you don't have to. I don't want to lie to you. I want to show you what I do. And in my world, it doesn't matter if how much money you have in the bank. It's about what you can get when people hand it to you."
Kate bit her lower lip. "I don't know about that. It's stealing. Even if that's no big deal to you, it is for me."
"I promise you, the guy we'd be taking from wouldn't miss it. Have you heard of Robert Grace?"
"Yeah, of course," she replied. "He created that flat screen TV back light thing. He's a millionaire."
"Multimillionaire," Neal corrected. "He has a hotel room here. The penthouse, actually. We're going to take his room. He's paying for it and he's not even using it."
Kate's eyes narrowed. "How do you know that?"
"Research. When he comes into town, he books a room, and that's where his wife thinks he's staying. In reality, he has a string of girlfriends and he stays at their places. The room is just a placeholder. We could spend ten grand in room service and we'd actually be helping him sell his story to his wife."
"Because nothing makes me feel better about stealing like adultery," Kate said dryly, but Neal could see she wasn't entirely against the idea. "But the hotel staff is going to know you're not Robert Grace. He's twenty years older than you are."
Neal nodded. "It's impossible to get someone to believe you're a well known figure. All you have to do is make sure they think you belong there." He linked his arm with Kate's and led her over to a secluded corner of the lobby beyond the elevators. "Take off your jacket."
"Excuse me?" she asked, raising her eyebrows.
"Everyone knows Grace is a ladies man. I can only think of one reason reason a classy girl like you would be going up to his room."
Kate laughed and pulled off her jacket. "I don't know if it's spectacular, but it's definitely the first first date I've ever been one where a guy asked me to impersonate a prostitute. But there was one date where the guy actually thought I was a prostitute, so maybe I have a little experience."
Neal grinned as he studied her outfit, a white fitted tee shirt with a pair of dark wash jeans and pair of little black boots. The high class escorts in New York City typically dressed rather modestly, usually blending in with the business crowd, but Kate's outfit was on the casual side for that.
"What? Don't I look hookery enough?" she asked when he didn't say anything right away.
"No, you don't. But we'll make it work." Neal held out her jacket. It wasn't very long, but it'd be long enough. "Put this on, and then take your jeans off and put them in your bag."
Kate's eyes widened. "That's not presumptuous at all."
"I won't look," Neal promised. He even turned around, trying to block her from view and keeping an eye out from anyone who happened to notice the girl stripping in the corner, but no one gave them a second look. That was one thing you could count on in New York: apathy for even the strangest of things.
"I don't know about this," Kate said uncertainly after a couple of minutes. "I'm showing a lot of thigh."
Neal turned around, and the breath caught in his chest as his gaze looked up and down her legs. She was right, but for him, that made it perfect. He knew, however, that Kate didn't like her thighs. They were round and just large enough to be almost out of proportion to the rest of her body, but Neal thought they were gorgeous.
"You look great," he said throatily. "And it's only until we get in the room. You can put your jeans back on when we get up there."
She nodded, but still didn't look very confident.
Neal rested a hand on her shoulder. "You need to sell it. You don't have to say a word, but you you need to look like you do this every day. Look like you belong here. You're in fancy hotels like this, going up to met rich, married men all the time. Look a little a bored, and kind of annoyed. Like you expect better treatment than this."
Kate swallowed and nodded again. "I can do that."
"Okay." Neal kept his eyes on the floor as they walked back out to the main part of the lobby, and then he spotted what he needed peeking out from under a sofa: an abandoned hotel key. He snatched it up and with his head held high, walked up to the front desk with Kate on heels. There was a woman helping someone, and a young man doing something on the computer. Perfect.
"Hi," Neal said, sounding impatient, and maybe a little frazzled. He dropped the key on the desk. He glanced at the man's name tag. "Eric, my key isn't working. I need it fix right now."
Eric's eyes were on Kate's bare legs, but he pulled them away to look up at Neal. He smiled. "Probably just got it too close to your cell phone. Happens all the time. What room?"
"Mr. Grace's room," Neal said. "The penthouse suite."
"Mr. Grace isn't in," Eric said slowly.
Neal rolled his eyes. "I know he's not. If he were in the room, I wouldn't need my key, would I? I'm his personal assistant. When he gets in, he's going to be expecting to find this young woman in his room and everything just right."
Realization dawned on Eric's face. "Oh, right. If I could just see some ID..."
"It's not my name on the room," Neal said irritably. He made a show of reaching into his pocket. "If you want, I can call Mr. Grace and you can deal with him directly. He's in a meeting right now, but--"
"No, no, no, of course, of course. Just give me a moment." Eric reached into a drawer and pulled out a new key. It didn't take long, barely even a minute, and Eric handed the key over to Neal. "I hope Mr. Grace has a nice evening."
Neal winked and smiled. "I'm sure he will." He took Kate by the arm and led her back to the elevators. He pressed the 'up' button.
"I can't believe that worked," Kate whispered loudly. "He just handed the key over to you. How did you do that? It was so easy!"
"All you have to do is present someone with a believable situation. The easier it is to buy, the easier it is to sell. Robert Grace's reputation precedes him."
"How did you know he wasn't going to call you on your bluff?"
The elevator doors opened and they walked in together. Neal shrugged as he use the key to allow the elevator to go up to the penthouse. "I wouldn't want to get on the bad side of a guy so powerful he could make me lose my job just because I questioned someone."
"Ohhh, so you play on weakness and fear," Kate said. She looked a little less impressed now.
"Sometimes," Neal replied. "Other times you play on building someone up so much, telling them it's a no-lose situation that they don't think anything bad can happen to them. It depends on the situation and the people you're dealing with. In the end, it didn't hurt Eric, and it's not going to hurt Robert Grace."
"Aren't you afraid of getting caught?"
Neal shook his head. "Never."
The elevator doors opened, and they walked out into a small hallway with a door at the end. Neal pulled the plastic key from his pocket again and opened the door.
"Oh, wow," Kate breathed, as they walked into the room. "I've never been in a hotel room like this before. Just, you know, bland rooms with two beds and sink by the door."
"Nice, huh?" Neal asked. He followed her inside and he had to admit, the room was pretty impressive. The couches and curtains were in a bright cream color, and everything was framed in dark cherry. There was a huge window with an amazing view of the city. "Does this qualify as spectacular?"
Kate, who had been peering out the window turned around, grinning. "This is pretty spectacular. I'm going to go put my pants back on."
If it were any other time, he wold have told her that she didn't need to, but he just smiled and nodded. One step at a time, and he hadn't brought her to an amazing hotel room to sleep with her. He wanted to make everything up to her. He wanted her to trust him.
She disappeared into the bathroom, and Neal found the room service menu on the table and flipped through it. It turned out that he hadn't been exaggerating when he said they could spend ten grand. A simple bowl of soup, and not even a nice like lobster bisque, cost four hundred dollars.
"The bathroom is amazing," Kate said after flinging open the door. She'd shed her coat, and while she'd put her jeans back on, her feet were bare. "There's a hot tub and all these little soaps that smell amazing. This is definitely spectacular, Neal. It's beyond amazing."
Neal was grinning. Her joy and excitement filled him up, warming him from the inside out. He held up the menu. "Hungry?"
She nodded and joined him on the sofa, pulling her legs up, and tucking her feet underneath them. Her eyes widened as she started looking over the menu. "Holy shit. That's a thousand dollar hamburger. A thousand dollars. For a hamburger."
"You want one?" Neal asked. "When else are you going to eat a thousand dollar hamburger?"
"Never. If I had a thousand dollars, I could almost pay my rent for next month. It's a shame I can't sell the hamburger after we get it."
He couldn't tell her how pleased he was to hear her say that. That was what he did for a living, getting something for nothing and selling it off to make a profit. "Well, you could try," he said.
"No one would pay that much for a burger. I don't care if it's made out of golden cows." Kate jabbed a finger at it on the menu. "But I want one."
As Neal picked up the phone, he decided to do her one better. "Hello, this is the penthouse suite. I need three bottles of Cristal, five hamburgers, and six slices of the strawberry cheesecake."
Kate covered her mouth as she tried not to laugh. When Neal hung up the phone after confirming the order, she slapped him across the arm. "That had to cost so much money!"
"It's not our money," Neal reminded her. "And I promise you, a guy who can afford to stay in a five thousand dollar room and not sleep in it, isn't going to miss it."
"I guess you're right." She leaned against him, and he was tempted to wrap his arm around her, but he held back, letting her make the move in her own time. "You remembered that strawberry cheesecake is my favorite."
Neal couldn't resist reaching up to touch her hair, not when she was this close. It had only been a few days since he'd touched her, but he'd almost forgotten how smooth her hair felt under his fingers. "I wouldn't forget that."
"That doesn't mean I need six slices."
"Well, I was planning on eating three of them," he said, and she laughed.
While they waited for the food, Kate explored the other rooms of the penthouse and Neal fiddled with the TV, trying to find a movie on the Pay-Per-View. When people asked about their first date, he could tell them it was just dinner and a movie.
"Ni-Neal!" Kate called from the bedroom. "Come in here!"
He got up and followed the sound of her voice. She was standing in front of a window, with all of her dark hair pulled over one shoulder, and as Neal came closer, he could see it overlooking a pretty sad, rundown looking park. It looked absolutely forgotten. "What am I looking at?" he asked.
"Over there. Look at that little bridge." She pointed, and Neal tried to follow the line of sight, but it was difficult from so high up. After scanning the park for a couple of moments, he saw the bridge she was talking about. It was made of moss-covered stones, and ran over a small creek. It looked like no one had touched it in probably twenty years, and that it might crumble into a million pieces if anyone tried, but the way the afternoon sun hit it, the bridge looked warm and inviting.
"That's beautiful," he said, resting his hands on her hips. He smiled when she didn't pull away. "Do you even know where that is? I've never seen a park in Manhattan look... like that."
"It's probably closed," Kate replied. "There's a few little parks that are, and the homeless sleep there because the police are less likely to go through them at night."
"How do you know that?" Neal asked.
"I've done some volunteer work at some of the soup kitchens. People talk. When they did, I never thought about the parks being beautiful. I imagined, if they were closed it was full of drug deals and broken glass everywhere."
Neal thought about pointing out that this park was probably full of those things, too, but he kept his mouth closed.
Kate laughed lightly. "Of course, that park is probably has its share of drugs and glass. But the bridge is so beautiful. I bet no one even looks out this window at it. They're too busy going on with their lives, and they're missing this beauty."
Neal's heart swooped. She had no idea how in sync they were, how on the same page they could be. He tilted his head down and kissed the exposed skin of her neck, and she turned around in his arms. She didn't look happy.
"Too fast," she said. "First date, remember?"
He nodded. "You're right. I'm sorry."
she opened her mouth to say something, but that's when there was a knock at the door.
"That's the food," he said and pulled away. He walked out of the room feeling foolish. One nice moment couldn't make up for everything, as much as he wanted it to. She had to know how hard this was, how much he wanted to kiss her and promise that he'd never hurt her again.
This was usually easier. The girls he'd dated in the past had always been quick to forgive when he messed up. Pair flowers with a sheepish smile and he'd be back in their good graces, but nothing with Kate had been easy. It made it all the more clear that she was the one. He never appreciated those other girls, not the way he probably should have, but Kate made him work for it. She made him want to be better at everything.
By the time Kate walked out of the bedroom, Neal had two of the hamburgers sitting on the table and a glass of champagne in his hand. "How's this for lunch?" he asked, holding up his glass.
She grinned, and he figured his slip up from earlier probably not forgotten, but not so bad that she couldn't move on. "It's fantastic." She sat down next to him on the sofa and reached for one of the burgers. She took a bite and chewed it thoughtfully.
"What's the verdict?" Neal asked. "Worth a thousand dollars?"
She swallowed and laughed. "It's good. It's really good. But all I can think about is this this place around the corner from my apartment, and I don't even know how many health code violations happen there. It's always getting shut down and reopened, but I've never gotten sick from it. For two-fifty, you can get a better burger than this."
"Money can't buy everything, can it?" Neal asked with a chuckle. "That's what we can do for our second date. You can take me to food poisoning waiting to happen."
Kate nodded as she chewed her second bite of burger. "I think that's even what they call it."
Neal laughed. "Definitely somewhere I want to go."
He narrowed down the movies to a couple of choices and Kate picked one. She ate in silence, her eyes transfixed on the screen until she declared herself full, with a third of her hamburger still on the plate. She curled up on the couch, leaning against Neal. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and she didn't comment on it. He let himself relax.
When the movie was over, Kate sat up, rolling her neck until it made a loud popping noise that sounded painful to Neal, but she just smiled. She got to her feet and went over to the tray of food and pulled open silver lids until she got to one of the cheesecakes.
"I didn't forget about these." She grinned mischievously. "You want one?"
"You bet," Neal replied as he opened the second bottle of champagne. "I didn't not pay for them just to let them sit there."
Kate sat down with a plate in each hand. She didn't wait for Neal to even finish filling her glass when she picked up her fork and took a bite of the cheesecake. She closed her eyes and moaned. "I don't know how much that cost, but it was worth every penny," she said after she swallowed.
Neal sat back with his champagne and watched her enjoy the cheesecake. She was almost done when he took the first bite of his own, and had to admit, it was pretty good.
When she was finished, Kate sat back on the couch, and it was her turn to watch Neal eat. However, she didn't seem to be enjoying as much as he had, her brow furrowed, considering him seriously.
"You okay?" he asked after a few long minutes.
Kate shook her head. "I'm just thinking. You and me. I was really falling in love with Nick Halden and I've spent the last few days trying to connect that guy to who you are. I didn't know if I wanted to see what Neal Caffrey was all about. Now that I have, I have to admit, it's alluring, and I've been having a lot of fun. Fancy hotel room and the great food, but that's still not telling me anything about yourself. It doesn't change that I don't know who you are."
Neal blinked at her. "Do you want my whole life story right now? I'll give it you."
"No, I don't. Not like this, not just because you feel like you have to tell me. I guess... I guess I want to find out the right way. Like this really is our first date. I want it to happen slowly. I don't want to jump into anything. I feel like when I didn't go to Chicago, I jumped into things with you, and I don't want to do that again. I'm a little scared to do that again. So if you don't mind, I want to take it slow. Is that okay?"
He took her hand, his heart pounding hard in his chest. "Yes, yes, we'll take it as slow as you want."
Kate scooted forward on the couch, swinging her feet around so they fell on the floor. "Neal, if we want to make this work, you have to promise me one thing: no more lies. I want to be able to trust you, and I can't do that if I'm always going to be afraid that what you're saying to me is part of some con. Just be straightforward with me."
"I will," Neal promised. "I'll never con you. In fact, Kate, I want to teach you everything. I want you to be able to pull a con just as easily. There's no jobs and there's no money, but we can survive. Together."
She gazed at him, her big blue eyes uncertain. "I don't know, Neal. I don't know if I can steal from people. This was a weird exception, but that's stealing from more people. I don't know if I can do that."
"We'll take it slow," Neal said. He squeezed her hand. "You won't be robbing the Met tomorrow, but we deserve to get by just as much as everyone else, right?"
"We do," she agreed slowly. "That's a lot of justification, but at the same time, I want to learn what you know. Maybe if you teach me how to con, I'll be able to keep you honest. Or at least I can try."
He grinned and the urge to kiss her was so strong, but he held back. He didn't want to do anything that would spook her from this moment they were having. She must have been reading his mind, her thoughts so much like his, because she leaned in close and pressed her lips to his. She didn't linger, but it was perfect.
"Good first kiss," he said, running his fingers through her silky hair.
Kate laughed and rested her forehead against his shoulder for just a moment before she lifted her chin to look at him. "Oh, and Neal, the next time we pull a con, you're the prostitute, okay?"
Neal laughed, loving the sound of her saying his name -- his real name. "It's a deal."
"No," Kate said, shaking her head and smiling at him. She kissed him briefly and whispered, "It's a date."