"Did you see the new Calvin Klein?" Elizabeth asked. Neal caught the box of baking soda she tossed him and dropped it in their cart.
"Yes." He grimaced; he'd seen the pictures in the morning Post. "The women's collection is horrible."
"It is!" she crowed. "I'm so glad you agree. I mean, if your clothes look terrible on supermodels—"
"Exactly! Trading on your name only goes so far." Neal's eye fell on a comically garish display of pink and red candy sprinkles, frosting, cupcake liners, and cake mix. Further down stood a rack of Be Mine candy hearts and cheap chocolate.
"That looks like death by sugar," Elizabeth said, pushing the cart forward.
Neal grinned, feeling the low buzz of a plan coalescing. "What day of the week is Valentine's?" He pulled out his cell phone at the same time she did. "Sunday," they said together. "Damn," he added.
"I thought I might take some goodies to the office. Make it festive. But I guess the Friday before will do."
Elizabeth stared. "He will kill you if you embarrass him in public. You know this."
Neal laughed. "I promise not to serenade him with any David Gray songs at work."
Her laugh was warm, affectionate. It was a good sound. From the rack of cake toppings, Neal selected several packets of red sugar-paste hearts and flat white dots. He had flour and sugar at June's, but courtesy dictated he get some eggs, milk, and butter so as not to presume too much on Maria's kindness.
Three aisles later, Elizabeth was comparing laundry detergents—innocently, he'd thought, until he caught her sidelong glance. "So, Peter gets cupcakes. What are you doing for me?"
Neal reacted without thinking, leaning close and murmuring low, "Anything you want me to."
She blushed. "I think you have ideas." There was a flirtatious note in her voice and she had a hopeful-knowing look on her face.
"Maybe," he hedged, making his tone match hers. The trouble was he had too many ideas; he wasn't sure anymore where the bounds of propriety lay. She raised an eyebrow and Neal deflated a little. "All right. Yes, of course I have ideas. But I don't want to step on Peter's toes," he said, "or yours, for that matter."
"Oh, sweetheart." She found his hand and held on. "Neal, don't worry about that. Everything's going to be fine."
He sighed. "Things are still new enough between—among—us that—"
"Tell you what," she said, eyes dancing. "Let's keep it simple. I mean it: no big gifts, no grand gestures—"
He shook his head. "No, see—" He swept his free hand between them and then off to the side, including Peter in absentia. "Simple doesn't preclude the grand gestures. I'd like—"
"And this year I want a cozy evening at home," she said firmly, "and as much of the weekend as the Bureau will grant me. With you both."
Neal repressed the urge to kiss her and took in her determination and straightforward declaration of intent. "Okay. Then I want to give you that."
She smiled up at him. "Good."
He squeezed her hand. Then he lifted it to his mouth and kissed the base of her thumb.
Elizabeth's breath hitched. Gripping his fingers, she turned and rolled their cart forward. "The sooner we finish..."
Neal grinned. "The sooner we can get home."
"To bed," she answered, and the mischievous look was back.
"Mmm. I was thinking, put the groceries away and take advantage of a convenient countertop. It's a good height, I think."
A small child picked that moment to run screaming down their aisle, followed by a frazzled mother.
"Hold that thought," Elizabeth said. Then she located her crumpled, half-forgotten grocery list, and they went off in search of Satchmo's favorite dog biscuits.
"You have got to be kidding me," Peter said when Neal walked into the office, late, with Jones in tow. The pair were laden with platters of red, white, and pink frosted cupcakes and cookies. "Did you buy out the whole bakery? Oh, wait—my mistake. You own the bakery!"
But Jones was shaking his head and Neal looked first affronted, and then smug. "I made them myself, thanks. I can't say Maria was thrilled about cooking breakfast around me this morning, but—here, taste this shortbread. I think it turned out pretty well."
Cruz was already making sounds of chocolate-induced pleasure and had a small candy decoration stuck to her upper lip. Neal beamed at Peter, and then vanished to appropriate napkins and paper plates from the cabinet over the coffeemaker.
Later, Peter opened the locked top drawer of his desk to find a delicate porcelain plate bearing a large cookie in the shape of three linked hearts. Laughing to himself, he licked off a stripe of red frosting dotted with white dots. The flavor wasn't oversweet and it definitely wasn't store-bought. Neal appeared in the doorway at that moment, because his sense of timing was perfect—and evil. He didn't close the door, but he didn't come in, either. He just stood there, leaning against the jamb in his designer suit and gray silk tie.
"What?" Peter asked finally.
Neal pushed off the door and took his usual chair, rolling up alongside Peter's desk. His elbow was encroaching on Peter's inbox; the sprawl of his legs blocked Peter in. "I could watch you lick things like that all day. All night, too."
Peter darted a glance at the wide glass wall of his office, but no one seemed to be watching. "You live to torment me, don't you?"
"Only as much as it's entirely mutual." Neal made a show of stretching his arms. "Elizabeth told me she wants to spend the weekend in bed."
Peter turned the cookie and steadily licked away another stripe of sugar.
Neal's throat bobbed. "Yeah, I thought you'd be on board with that."
Peter smiled broadly, nodding. "She has the best plans."