She was startled awake by the phone, the latest Diana Palmer book lying face down against her chest. They were her secret indulgence, a guilty pleasure. Not even Ardelia knew of Clarice's penchant for the alpha heroes featured in the Long Tall Texans romances. She liked to read something that ended happily even if the road toward that end was a bumpy one. As stupid as it might be, the books made her believe that it was possible for anyone. Even for her.
"Starling," she said, trying not to sound groggy.
"All business even so late," he said, a hint of amusement in his voice.
Three days had passed since his phone call. She hated to admit it, but she'd been by the phone practically ever since. He'd sent flowers the day after. No card. The other agents assumed the flowers were from Dr. Pilcher. She'd seen him more than occasionally since the Buffalo Bill case and most close to her knew it. It was, she liked to think, the one good thing to come of it.
Until this week, she'd been able to convince herself that was true. Deep down she knew better, knew that Pilcher wasn't it. She tried not to think about it, not wanting to admit she'd been seduced so easily.
Some might have believed she was an easy mark, someone desperate for love. That wasn't the case. She was content with her life. Her goals were good and sound, attainable. She was young and there would be plenty of time for dating, relationships, and love later.
She'd gone over that time in her head more than a dozen times. There were nights she was unable to sleep from thinking so hard on whether there was anything she could have - would have - done differently.
"It's how I usually answer the phone when it rings in the middle of the night."
"I caught you sleeping then."
"I drifted off, yeah."
"I suppose I should apologize, but this is the only time I feel comfortable calling you."
"You shouldn't feel comfortable calling at all."
"So true and yet you didn't tell anyone I've contacted you."
"You don't know that."
"Oh but I do."
"Your phone would be tapped and you wouldn't be talking like this to me."
"I didn't. I couldn't."
"You wanted to."
"I know, Clarice. If only apologizing for causing such difficulty in your life would help."
"Why don't you?"
"What would it change?"
"Nothing," she murmured, tucking her bookmark into place before setting the book on her nightstand. "Are you still in town?"
"I tempted fate a little too severely."
She stretched out on the bed, settling in a little. "It seems a waste to come here only to talk to me over the phone."
"I did not know for certain if you would be open to my calling on you in person. Not to mention your living situation is not conducive to my visiting you."
"I could have visited you."
"Tempting. Perhaps another time."
"That's assuming you'll get another time."
"Why wouldn't I?"
"Clarice, be realistic for a change. Do you honestly believe he thinks for one moment he has a chance with you?"
"Why wouldn't he?"
"One look at him - even from a distance - and I knew the answer to that."
"He's nice. And smart."
"I'm sure he is those things."
"You say things like that and it's tempting to hang up."
"And you don't think it goes both ways?"
"I'd be settling if I stayed with Pilcher. That's what you're implying. Right? Wouldn't you be doing the same thing? How many women have you met before that you couldn't leave alone even at the possible cost of your freedom?"
He chuckled then, low and rumbling like a lion. "How was your day?"
She shook her head, tempted not to answer because all he was doing was deflecting the subject from him. "Long."
"What are you working on?"
"I don't want to talk about it."
"What do you want to talk about?"
"There are all types of surprises."
"Yes," she said, realizing she was leaving it quite open for him. She wasn't in the mood to think tonight, though. She was tired, having been up early and putting in a long day.
"Giving up control to me?"
"Something like that."
"Any limitations to that control I should know about?"
"None at the moment."
"But you'll tell me if that changes."
She laughed lightly, letting her eyes flutter closed. "You know me too well."
"Not as well as I'd like."
"Somehow I don't think that's possible with only phone contact."
"You'd be surprised how revealing phone contact can be."
"Oh Clarice," he whispered.
"I know what I'm asking you to do."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, and I won't hate you in the morning."
"Where would you like me to take you?"
"I don't know. Somewhere not here."
"That's rather broad and easy to please."
"Are you in bed?"
"I'm afraid it's not bedtime where I am."
"Would you like me to be?"
"I think I would."
"That can be arranged easily enough."
"Thank you," she said, hearing him move through the phone lines.
"Are you dressed for bed?"
"And that would be?"
She laughed then, opening her eyes to stare at the ceiling. She was a little embarrassed actually.
"Is this where I'm supposed to make up something suggestive?"
"I don't see you as the lace teddy type, Clarice, so I'd know you were lying. You can be honest with me."
"Boxers and an old Academy T-shirt."
"Yes, I bought them."
"Good to know."
She laughed again.
"I enjoy hearing you laugh. You do it so seldom."
"I haven't had much reason to laugh."
"No, I don't suppose you have."
"Neither have you."
"True enough. It would seem we're good for one another in that capacity. We could give one another lessons about not taking things so seriously." He paused, she heard that he'd stopped walking followed by a soft thud that sounded like shoes dropping if she wasn't mistaken.
"You requested my presence in bed."
"So I did."
"If only it were your bed you were inviting me to."
"Maybe next time."
"You should be careful what you say, Clarice."
"I'm aware of what I'm saying."
"Just be sure you're prepared for what might come of statements like that."
"Would you rather I deny it?"
"Of course not. It pleases me to no end to hear you be so forthright. Your poor gentleman caller really will be disappointed."
"So, boxers and a T-shirt. Any other layers I need to be concerned about?"
"No. What about you?"
"Well, as I said moments ago, it's not bedtime here, so I'm afraid I'm rather completely dressed for my day."
"So, what? Shirt, pants, underwear, socks?"
"That about sums it up."
"Good, because if you were sitting there in a suit and tie talking to me I was going to complain."
"No, I had no where to go today, so I'm dressed rather casually."
"Somehow I imagine you make even casual look very chic."
"Flattery, Clarice, will get you everywhere."
"More than a phone call?"
"Are you sure you're ready for such a step?"
"Do I get to see you sleep in something other than boxers?"
"If you really want to."
"Mm, yes, I should think that would be nice. I'll think on it, Clarice. It's quite risky for both of us."
"I'm not going to tell anyone."
"No, but a sudden trip might arouse suspicions."
"I'm entitled to a long weekend."
"A weekend would be quite a teaser."
"Would you rather it be nothing?"
"No, of course not. Just saying."
Her eyes darted to her closet, wondering if she had anything that would meet his standards. A few things, but not many. Certainly nothing worth sleeping in.
"What are you thinking about?"
"I might have to go shopping."
"You could indulge me and allow me to go with you."
"Are you the type of man to go into Victoria's Secret with a woman?"
"This woman. Why not?"
"I don't know. It's some sort of test my friends always give their boyfriends."
"Insecure lot they all must be if they can't handle a woman's clothing store. And why shouldn't they accompany them? Not wanting to influence their purchases I suppose."
"Do I pass the test?"
"I don't know, we haven't gone yet."
"I said I'd go with you."
"Saying and doing aren't the same thing."
"Are you accusing me of lying?"
"I assure you, Clarice, I would not only be unashamed about accompanying you into the store of your choosing, but I would be most willing in aiding you in picking out your purchases."
"You like that type of stuff?"
"It serves its purposes, yes."
"It's not me."
"No, and I wouldn't expect you to wear something like that every day or even every week. Once in a while would be a treat, though. And turnabout is fair play. Perhaps there's something you'd like of me in return."
"I can't think of anything."
"Well, you have time."
"Will I be embarrassed by anything you pick out?"
"No. What kind of man do you take me for? Unless of course, silk and satin causes you embarrassment."
"Then I think you'll be safe."
"Safe? I hardly think so."
He chuckled then. "Well, from being outfitted in something embarrassing. I have tastefully suggestive in mind. Of course, you are tastefully suggestive naturally."
"You are. I've dreamt "
"Of many things, Clarice. Touching you. Even just watching you. I'd love nothing better than to be able to watch you now."
"Yes, resting in your bed."
"Me, too. You have me at an advantage, you know where I am."
"You don't need to have an exact location on me to do that, Clarice. I sleep, I eat, I function like anyone else. Just picture me where you will."
"It's not that easy."
"It's only as difficult as you make it out to be. You balk at what we are to be and yet if I were there now would you deny me access to your bed?"
She paused, but knew the answer. "No."
"Not so easy to answer that one?"
"No, I don't give of myself easily."
"Nor do I. It's a slippery slope for both of us, embarking on an entanglement that's bound to be deeper than any we've forged before. Tethering ourselves to someone who could cause us a great deal of pain."
"Will this work?"
"I can't honestly say. Do I believe it can is perhaps a better question. And, yes, I believe it can."
"Discretion and caution. And you're worth the risk."
"I should get some sleep."
"Yes, perhaps next time we can take this conversation down the path we started on."
"You just want to talk dirty to me."
"There is that."
"Something tells me you'd make even talking dirty sound refined."
He laughed, not a mere chuckle either. "I will try not to disappoint, I am but a man, Clarice. I hope you have not built me up so that I have no chance but to disappoint."
"I've talked to people who knew you," she said, knowing she was blushing now. "I don't think disappointed was ever once uttered."
"Sie schmeicheln mir so, Liebe."
"I know Liebe. And mir so."
"You flatter me so."
"It wasn't meant as flattery, and I didn't say it about you."
"No, but to think that the words spoken translate to the bedroom and the intimacies there is flattering. I'm sure that's not what they were asked."
"Well, no, but the implication was there."
"One day you will not need to rely on implication, rumor, or your imagination. I promise you that."
"As soon as time allows, yes."
"Good night then, Clarice, until next time."
"I don't know. It's best I not adhere to a schedule. I'll try not to make you wait too long. I wouldn't want you to forget me, or to think I forgot about you."
"I'm not sure either is likely now."
"So true. Good night then for now."
"Night," she said, not wanting to hang up so soon but knowing she had to.
There was a part of her that wondered, as she hung up, why he held off from talking suggestively to her. Was there something wrong with her? Or did he just consider it rude? She wasn't sure. And, really, if they were going to do this - and it seemed they were - there were going to be times they would have to settle for telephone conversations.
What did that say that she was willing to try a relationship with him, but was unwilling to give up her job? Really, the two could not co-exist, a personal life involving Hannibal Lecter and her being an agent. At some point she would have to choose, she just wasnt willing to give up on her job just yet. She'd worked too hard, sweat too much, shed too many tears to get here.
She dropped the phone on the pillow beside her, regarding it as if by powers of persuasion she could draw him out of the phone. It was not going to happen and the phone itself was not him. She turned onto her back, staring at the ceiling. She had a date tonight with Pilcher. Could she go? Should she go ahead with it? If she ended things too suddenly would that arouse suspicion? Should she take time, draw it out with some fights thrown into the mix so it was a more convincing breakup?
She had no idea, it wasn't something she'd ever had to do before. Her eyes grew heavy. She'd think about it later. Right now, she didn't want to dislodge the image of Hannibal walking through a Victoria's Secret store with her. What would he choose for her? Nothing frilly or overstated. It would be simple, tasteful, elegant, and expensive. And it would look outstanding on her, she had no doubt of that.
She'd think later on why it amused her that in her scenario he was more comfortable shopping for such things than she was.