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Ballard & Crouse: Paranormal Investigations

Chapter Text

Jason

I check my destination one more time in my phone. It’s unnecessary, really; the awning is unmistakable.

I’m just stalling because what it says is absolutely ridiculous.

Ballard Paranormal Investigations.

The sign is shockingly tasteful, even though it’s a little kitschy. A random assortment of polka dots in various shades of purple, gray, and black make the cute smiling cartoon ghost and easily readable bright white text pop.

I sigh. I may as well get it over with, right?

I slip my glasses on as I step into the building. It’s entirely empty, which isn’t too surprising, considering.

Honestly, I’m still wondering why I even came. When I first called about the job, I’d been convinced it was a joke.

But I’ve had a harder time finding work than I expected to since I came to New York City, so I can’t afford to let an opportunity pass me by, even one as insane as this.

The interior is also quite nice. There are light gray hardwood floors, and the walls are painted a very light, soft purple color that matches some of the dots on the sign outside. Everything is immaculate and well-lit.

I’m not sure what I was expecting. Crystal balls? A séance?

I’m about to take a seat in one of the eclectic assortment of chairs in the tiny waiting room when I see the sign on the wall.

Please come to the office.

As I walk past the sign, I notice that it’s hung so it can be flipped. I peek at the other side quickly.

Please take a seat and wait.

The office turns out to be just a few steps down the hallway, which is lined with beautiful black and white photographs. I lean closer, reading the captions underneath each one, and realize that they’re all of famous haunted houses.

The office is the only separate room in the building, and it has large windows and a door that’s mostly made of glass. I glance at the small alcove past it. There’s an equipment cabinet and a copy machine, along with a shelf neatly organized with a variety of office supplies.

The office door is open, so I step inside. The primary feature of the room is a large map on the wall with the most free space. Purple dots mark various locations on the map; I’m guessing they signify places where the agency has worked.

There are several filing cabinets, and a small desk that’s sparsely decorated with an unusual type of flower that I don’t recognize. The desk also contains a laptop and a cell phone dock, but there’s plenty of empty space left for work.

I’ll be honest. I thought I’d see some sort of crazy hippie sitting behind that desk.

Instead, I find myself facing an incredibly gorgeous woman who’s probably in her early 30s. She has wavy light brown hair that’s pulled back in a short ponytail at the nape of her neck, shining hazel eyes, full pink lips, and an adorable swoop at the end of her nose.

She gives me a bright smile as she stands to greet me. She’s short, curvy, in good shape, and wearing a simple white sundress with no jewelry.

She seems entirely normal. What is she doing running a business like this?

“It’s lovely to meet you, Mr. Crouse,” she says warmly, extending her hand. I shake it, pushing my glasses back up on my nose.

“Jason, please,” I correct her. “It’s nice to meet you too, Ms. Ballard.”

“Robin, please, Jason,” she offers. “Have a seat.” She gestures to the two chairs in front of her desk and I pick one, sitting down and leaning back, crossing my legs and putting my hands on my knees.

She opens her desk and pulls out a notepad and pen while she clicks a few keys on her laptop. “Can I get you anything before we start, Jason?” I notice that one corner of her office has a coffeemaker and a mini-fridge tucked into it as she looks in that direction.

“I can’t deny that some coffee would be nice,” I admit.

“Of course. How do you take it?”

“Black, please.” She prepares two mugs, handing me one and keeping the other for herself before taking her seat again.

She takes a sip and observes, “You have a very impressive résumé, Jason.”

“Well, I’m a very impressive person,” I joke nonchalantly.

She laughs and I take a drink of coffee as I wait for her next question.

“I assume that includes your right hook?” she segues smoothly.

I chuckle. “That depends on the day.” After a short pause, I lick my lips and ask, “Is that going to be a problem?”

“I wouldn’t have called you for an interview if it was. I hope my curiosity doesn’t offend you.”

I shake my head. “What would you like to know?”

Robin shrugs. “Why’d you punch a judge?”

My tone gets very serious. “I was angry. Don’t you get angry, Robin?”

“I do, but I don’t punch people.”

“Maybe you should start.”

My words hang between us for a minute before she replies.

“I’ll take that under advisement, Jason.” After another quiet moment, she continues. “Tell me why you want this job, Jason.”

I rub the back of my neck sheepishly. “Want might be a strong word,” I answer honestly.

She laughs again. She has a cute laugh.

“Truthfully, I’m having a harder time finding work here than I thought I would. Too many private investigators already, I suppose. And my past makes me a liability if I have to testify as a witness.”

“Well, testifying is rarely an issue in my business,” she reveals, winking at me. “So I’m not worried about that.” Her voice becomes gentle, almost soothing. “I understand your hesitation, Jason. You’re obviously a very skilled man, and I know what most people think when they see the name of my agency. To be entirely forthright with you, I hadn’t expected any qualified applicants at all. And I sympathize with your position. It’s how I ended up here in the first place.”

She’s an absolute sweetheart. I feel bad for everything I thought on the way here now.

“That sounds like a story I want to hear,” I tease.

She leans back, sipping her coffee leisurely. “Well, this place started as a standard private investigation agency,” she confesses. “But, like you said, too many fish in the sea, as it were. I didn’t get enough customers, and I was about to close my doors when I got a call from a man swearing that his house was haunted. I figured I couldn’t afford to be picky, so I went to check it out.”

“Did you find a ghost?” I can’t help wondering, grinning at her.

She rolls her eyes at me playfully. “I found a very angry possum, much to my chagrin, but no ghosts.” We both laugh before she continues. “The client’s house was built during Prohibition, so it had a ton of secret rooms and passages that weren’t on the original blueprints. They’d fallen into disrepair and animals had gotten in, causing all the noises that he thought were a haunting. He was so impressed with my work and the fact that I took him seriously that he recommended me to all of his friends, who happen to be obsessed with the paranormal and the supernatural. I got a reputation and found a niche, and I’ve been quite successful ever since.”

“So successful that you need another investigator, obviously,” I point out seriously.

She nods. “Indeed. I’ll give you the details if you’re still interested.”

I smile at her. “Go ahead.”

“We’d work all of our field cases together. I’m called to investigate locations all over the world, and a lot of them are not in great shape. I’ve had a few close calls, and bringing a partner would be safer. Otherwise, all other tasks would be delegated accordingly.”

“You don’t have any other employees?” I clarify. “Not that you could put another desk in here,” I add. “This is the smallest office space I’ve ever seen.”

She laughs. “It is, but I usually don’t get much walk-in business. And it keeps my rent cost under $2,000 a month. That’s a bargain for this city. And no, no other employees. I hired a few temps in the past, but honestly, it’s too much time spent training, since no one ever stays. I’ve taken to just doing everything by myself.”

“A woman of many talents, then.”

“Well, that’s a very flattering way to put it, Jason.”

“I’m glad you think so.”

I like Robin. A lot. More than anyone I’ve met in a while, in fact.

Obviously, she likes me too. And not just as an employee, I’d wager.

“I’m not going to beat around the bush,” she informs me. “I’d love to hire you, Jason. I know the job is unusual, so I’d like to offer you a trial case. I’ll pay you, and I have no expectations. Just work with me and see what you think, and then you can make your decision.”

I extend my hand again and smile at her. “I’ll take it.”

Chapter Text

Robin

I shake Jason’s hand once more as he accepts my provisional offer. I’m honestly surprised that he’s being so open-minded, but I appreciate it. He’s certainly the most qualified investigator who’s ever walked through my door.

He is also sinfully handsome.

Seriously. Looking at him should be a crime.

I definitely haven’t missed the way he’s been checking me out. At first, it was obvious that he hadn’t expected me to be so ordinary, but now I can tell it’s because he thinks I’m cute.

Which is totally ridiculous. He’s far too attractive for me. Way out of my league.

Plus, if I’m going to be his boss, I probably shouldn’t go there, huh?

He’s probably already noticed that I’ve taken much longer than is polite to answer him, but I act like I haven’t anyway. “I have the perfect case for us, Jason, and it’s only about an hour away. I was just about to call the client to make arrangements for accommodations. How soon can you be ready to leave?”

“Give me an hour?” he suggests.

I blink. I was expecting him to need at least a day, but that works for me. I don’t do much but focus on my job.

“Let me see how soon they can fit us in,” I reply. “And I’ll call you?”

Jason nods. “Sure. Um, is there anything special I should bring?”

I laugh. “No, I’ve got us covered for any special equipment. If you end up taking the job, we might want to double up on some things, but we should be all right this time.”

He stands. “I assume you have a car?”

“I do. The drive’s on me.” I wink.

He smiles. “Then lunch is on me,” he says easily. “Why don’t I bring something back with me?”

“I’d like that very much, Jason, but please don’t feel obligated.”

“I don’t,” he assures me. “I’ll see you soon, Robin.”

He leaves and I lean back in my chair for a moment, whistling to myself and fanning my flushed face. Working with Jason is definitely going to be a challenge of sorts, and he’s obviously the flirty type. I’m sure he’s not going to make it easy on me.

But I pull the case file out of my desk, flipping open the purple folder and dialing the contact number I have for my client. Clients, in this case, actually, but they’re acting as a group.

“This is Donna Peachtree!” a chipper female voice answers. She’s very excited to hear from me once I explain who I am, so that should work in my favor.

“My schedule would actually allow me to arrive this evening, Donna, if that’s all right,” I tell her. “There will be a man with me as well.”

Donna promises me that they can have accommodations ready for us. I tell her I’ll call when we’re leaving and again when we’re about fifteen minutes away and she reiterates how excited she is to meet me.

I’ve still got some time before Jason arrives, so I make another cup of coffee and review the case so we can go over it when he returns with lunch.

He pokes his head back into my office right when he said he would. He has a large, worn canvas duffel in one hand. He’s wearing a cozy, soft gray sweater that I’d love to snuggle up to and a dark green jacket.

He’s also holding a sack from a nearby deli. It only now occurs to me that he never asked what I wanted. I raise my eyebrows and watch curiously as he smugly sets the bag in front of me after I clear the surface of the desk.

My eyes widen as he pulls out several items and sets them in front of me. “Pastrami on rye with mustard and grilled onions, potato salad, coleslaw, a Diet Coke, and a chilled black and white cookie.” He holds this last item up triumphantly as my mouth drops open.

“How did you do that?” I narrow my eyes at him as I take the cookie and unwrap it.

“You eat your dessert first?” Jason wonders, reclaiming the chair he sat in earlier and gathering his own items.

“My grandfather told me that life was too short not to eat your dessert first,” I answer, nibbling on the white side of the cookie first. “You’re dodging my question,” I point out.

He chuckles. “There’s a wrapper from the same deli in your office trash can.” I lean over and look and see that he’s right. “I told them I was trying to impress my new boss and wanted to know your favorite order.”

“Clever,” I observe teasingly. “You’d definitely be worth the money I’d spend on you, Jason.”

“Well, thank you.” As he opens his sandwich, he asks, “So, what’s this perfect test case you have for me?”

It’s my turn to chuckle. “Are you familiar with Washington Irving and his short story ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow?’” I ask.

“Starting me off with a headless horseman, huh? I thought maybe something smaller, like a poltergeist.”

I snort. “You do not want to mess with a poltergeist. Trust me.” I smirk, letting him try to decide if I’m serious or not as I finish my cookie and dig into my potato salad.

Jason shrugs nonchalantly. “Whatever you say. You’re the expert.” He pauses to take a bite of his sandwich, chewing and swallowing before he continues. “I’ve read the story before. Basically, the whole thing’s a joke, right? Just a guy scaring Ichabod Crane with a pumpkin because they’re both after the same woman?”

“Pretty much. Irving wrote the story during his travels in Europe; it actually has more hallmarks of European folklore than American folklore, and it’s not based on any actual events that took place in the town. But it still gave Sleepy Hollow the reputation of supposedly being one of the most haunted towns in the world.”

“Didn’t he live there for a while?”

“He lived fifteen minutes away in Tarrytown,” I correct him. “His house, Sunnyside, is still there. It was recently purchased and opened as a tourist attraction. We’ll pass through on our way to Sleepy Hollow. He’s buried in Sleepy Hollow, though, near the Old Dutch Church.”

“Was Ichabod Crane real?” Jason muses.

I shake my head. “There was a military colonel who had that name, but as far as anyone can tell, he and Irving never met, and he never lived in Sleepy Hollow. No connection.”

“So if there’s no real legend, who’s our headless horseman?”

I shrug. “That I’m not sure about. What I do know is that I’ve been hired by the Sleepy Hollow Neighborhood Watch Association. Several of their members, along with some other townspeople, have seen the ghost himself riding through the center of the town after dark, usually close to midnight.”

“And they want you… us… to… what? Trip it?”

I giggle as I polish off my potato salad and then load my coleslaw onto my sandwich before I start eating it. “Well, we can try that if it comes to it, but they think the ghost is angry. They want me… us… to find out why and put it to rest.”

“Okay…”

“We’ll know more once we get there and see the place. I have a few preliminary ideas, but I’ll hold them back until I see what you think, since I’m testing you and all.”

“Ah,” Jason drawls, winking at me. “I’ll give it the old college try.”

We finish our food in companionable silence before cleaning up the office and each using the restroom.

The last thing I do before getting ready to leave is carefully water the flower on my desk. Jason stands beside me, watching curiously.

“What kind of flower is that, anyway? I’ve never seen one before.”

“It’s called a ghost orchid,” I explain. “They’re very rare. They don’t grow in the wild anymore; they’re only cultivated. It was a gift from a client, sort of a private joke. She’s a horticulturalist. She thought her greenhouse was haunted.”

“I’m assuming it wasn’t?” he clarifies.

I shudder. “I wish it had been. Have you ever heard of a Cheiracanthium?”

“Doesn’t sound familiar.”

“It’s a type of spider. They’re very small and almost transparent. Hard to see if you don’t know what you’re looking for, especially because they’re generally only active at night and tend to hide in plants. They don’t make webs like other spiders either; they hunt, so there are no obvious signs that they’re there. She had an infestation and didn’t even realize it. The greenhouse was a perfect environment for them, especially considering that it was winter. They were rustling everything and making odd noises. Did you know that spiders can rub their body parts on things to make buzzing sounds, and that they can vibrate to create a low hum? I could have lived my whole life not knowing that.”

Jason watches me with amusement as I shudder again. “Possums. Spiders. Ick.”

“I’ll handle the possums and the spiders from now on, Robin,” he promises, kissing my cheek.

I can’t help blushing. “Oh, you are definitely hired,” I murmur, flashing him a small smile.

I go to grab my things from the equipment cabinet. I sling the mountaineering backpack that contains all of my gear over my shoulder, then grab the handle of my bright aqua hard shell suitcase.

“You need all of that?” Jason sounds skeptical.

“Probably not, but I always bring all of my gear to each job. You can’t use it if you leave it behind.”

“I suppose that’s true.” I lock up the building and lead him to the nearby parking structure where I park my car, which I generally only use when I go out of town. It’s too much of a pain in the ass to drive anywhere in the city.

Jason stops as I lift the trunk and start to put my things in the back. “You have an… orange Range Rover?” he asks.

I nod. “Fully tricked out. Another gift from a client. Someone else had this customized and ordered and then they couldn’t pay. He couldn’t sell the thing because people thought it looked like a damn pumpkin, so he gave it to me as payment for cleansing his mother’s house of spirits. I do it every month and I don’t charge him anymore, and it makes her feel better, so everybody wins.”

Jason adds his luggage and smiles. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but it suits you.”

“Ostentatious and likes it rough?” I suggest playfully.

Jason coughs and pulls his glasses off to cover his moment of being flustered. I’m just happy to have flustered him at all.

“I was going to say practical but different, but we can go with yours too.”

I giggle as we get into the car. “Want your seat on? They’re heated.” He raises his eyebrows and I flip the switch.

“Oohh. That’s nice,” he observes, leaning back as I plug our destination into my GPS.

Before I pull out, I hand Jason the case file so he can go over it during the drive.

Luckily, we’re leaving early enough in the afternoon that traffic isn’t too bad. I chose a route that avoids toll roads too; there’s no reason for the trip to cost more than it should. I plug my phone into the dock and give Donna a call before we leave just like I promised, and when we reach Tarrytown, I call again.

The second time, she gives me directions to where we’ll be staying. Jason leans over and punches the new address into the GPS without being asked and I smile at him as I end the call. “Thanks. So, just a heads up. Only a few people so far know who I am and why I’m here, and apparently they want to keep it that way. So we’re just vacationing tourists for now.”

Jason glances out the window at the large number of actual tourists milling about. “Shouldn’t be too hard to sell that story,” he points out.

“I figured not.” I park, waving back at the blonde woman who’s waving at me. She perfectly matches my impression of the voice over the phone. Jason’s out of the car before me, so he opens my door and offers me his hand.

“Such a gentleman,” I remark, smiling. He grins.

I shut the door and we walk over to our greeter, who has put a hand on her chest and is fanning herself a bit now that she’s seen Jason.

“Oh my!” she exclaims. “You didn’t say how absolutely handsome your boyfriend is.” She sighs as Jason chivalrously takes her hand and kisses it. “Oh! And so polite too.”

Meanwhile, I’m blinking in surprise. Did she say boyfriend?

I mean, I wish, but…

I’m already opening my mouth to correct her when Jason smoothly slides his arm around my shoulders and gives her a wink. “Robin’s a sweetheart. She doesn’t like to brag.”

Now I’m blinking up at him. What is he doing?

“Well, you’re a stronger woman than me, honey. I’d make a website about it if I was dating a man like this one. Oh, I’m getting so distracted. Let me show you where you’re staying. We can talk inside.”

Jason squeezes me closer to him as she shows us through the door of a quaint little cottage that’s part of a small complex of rentals.

It’s very rustic and beautiful inside, but I can’t help noticing that it only has one large bed.

Donna closes the door behind us and whispers, “Now, this place is right on the road where the ghost appears at night. You should be able to see it the next time it rides through. We’re not sure where it starts, but it always stops when it reaches the Old Dutch Church.”

“We’ll keep our eye out for it,” I assure her. “Is there anything I should know that you didn’t tell me over the phone?”

“Nothing new yet, dear. But I’ll let you know if there is.”

“You can call me anytime,” I assure her.

“All right. Well, I have to go get dinner on the table, but if you need anything, just holler. I’ll let you unpack.” She comes back to shake my hand one more time. “It was so smart of you to bring your man to make people think you’re just on vacation. I like you already, honey. I’m so glad I was able to get this romantic little cottage for you; it was the last room left in town! There are so many more tourists here thanks to all the rumors of the ghost.”

I blush, still flustered that everyone thinks Jason is my boyfriend. “Oh, well, thank you.” So much for looking into getting separate rooms. “I hope I’ll have some more information for you soon, Donna.”

“I’m sure you will, honey. I’ll catch you later!”

She leaves us standing alone in the room. Jason still has his arm around me, and for the first time I notice how good he smells. “Um. I’m sorry about that, Jason,” I apologize quietly. “Obviously, she took me saying there would be a man with me a little differently than I intended. You, uh, didn’t have to go along with it. I mean, now we’re kind of stuck with it for however long we’re here.”

Jason backs up to the huge bed and throws himself onto it, holding out his arms cheekily. “Aw,” he pouts. “You don’t wanna cuddle with me?”

“I… I… that’s not…” I am as red as a beet. I can feel it.

Jason laughs. “Relax, Robin.” He gets up off of the bed and comes back over to me. “I’m not upset.” He pauses and licks his lips. “Being mistaken for your boyfriend is definitely not something to be upset about,” he adds.

My eyes widen as he kisses my forehead affectionately and grazes his fingers over my chin. “I’ll grab the luggage. Then we can unpack and figure out our first move, okay?”

“Okay,” I agree dumbly, watching him go.

Forget ghosts.

I’ll be lucky if I survive the next few days with Jason Crouse.

Chapter Text

Jason

Unsurprisingly, we see no ghost tonight.

It’s a good thing too, because I think Robin might have crashed right through the roof if we had. She’s been jumpy ever since her client mistook us for a couple.

It finally occurred to me as we were unpacking that maybe she has a boyfriend already. Or a girlfriend. She’s so extraordinary that anyone should want her.

So I asked her, promising that I’d find a good explanation for saying we were involved when we’re not.

She seemed surprised, though. “Oh, no, Jason, that’s not it,” she told me honestly.

That leaves the obvious explanation. After all, this is technically an extended job interview. It’s kind of a bad policy to go after the person you’re about to hire.

On my end, it’s kind of a bad policy to go after the person who’s about to be your boss.

But she’s so irresistible. She’s obviously smart and practical, but she takes this job completely seriously. It’s weird, but wholly intriguing. She’s also cute as a button, and considering the comment she made about her car, I bet she’s great in bed too.

I’m not the type of man to get attached, but ever since I met her earlier today, I’ve been having fantasies about working together. We’d travel all over and stay in quaint little out of the way places. See the local sights, try the best food.

Have sex everywhere that we could.

Maybe it’s just an idea that appeals to my wandering lifestyle. Most of the time, investigative work keeps you in a limited area. But she goes everywhere, and we could be grounded without feeling trapped.

I know she likes me. I could tell that earlier.

I just have to get past the reticence.

Initially, she’d planned to sleep on the couch in the cottage because she’s smaller than me, even though I insisted that she take the bed.

But after the owner of the cottage burst in on us unannounced on three separate occasions throughout the evening, she gave in to sharing the bed with me, worrying that it would look bad if we were found sleeping separately.

I could have probably come up with a few explanations that would work, but I kept silent about those.

I want to know what it’s like to have her snuggled up against me while she sleeps.

We stayed up past midnight just in case the ghost made an appearance, but when nothing happened, we decided to retire.

Now she’s curled up on the bed, clearly embarrassed that the only pajamas she brought are the skimpy Wonder Woman tank top and shorts set that she’s wearing, watching me with wide eyes as I exit the bathroom wearing nothing but my own sleep pants and my glasses.

“You’re not going to wear a shirt?” she asks timidly, ignoring the fact that her clothes barely cover anything at all.

“I will if you’ll be more comfortable, Robin,” I tell her seriously, sitting down beside her and letting my hand graze her knee.

She stares for a moment. “You have a lot of tattoos,” she observes.

I nod. She tentatively reaches out and touches the cross that covers my upper right arm. “Are you religious?” she wonders.

I nod again. “Greek Orthodox. Semi-practicing would probably be the best way to describe it.”

“And you’re making fun of me for investigating ghosts?” She laughs without thinking, then her eyes go wide again and she covers her mouth with her hand. “Oh my gosh, that was… so inappropriate of me,” she stammers. “Jason, I’m sorry.”

I pull off my glasses, setting them on the nightstand and laying down in the bed, holding my arm out for her so she can rest her head on my chest and I can drape it over her shoulders.

She’s tense against me, but she feels so good. I just want to explore every inch of her with my fingers and tongue.

Best to keep that to myself for now, though.

“It’s all right, Robin, really,” I soothe her, shrugging. “It’s comparable, I think. I suppose a belief in the paranormal or the supernatural or whatever you want to call it could be just as personal to someone as religion. And maybe it doesn’t make sense for me to be religious and dismiss the idea of ghosts so easily.”

I feel her relax a bit. She must have been really worried that she upset me. I tip my head so I can look down at her and smooth her hair over her ear. “You were open-minded enough to come to my office. And you haven’t run away screaming yet. Most people wouldn’t have even bothered to apply after they saw my listing.”

“You’re giving me credit based on a very low bar, Robin,” I chuckle. “But I appreciate it.” I pause, then add, “I’m sorry, you know.”

She smiles. “For what?”

“Thinking you were nuts. Assuming you were some crazy hippie who would wave a crystal over me and rant about my negative energy. You saw an opportunity and you took it and made it work for you. That’s actually pretty brilliant, Robin.”

She blushes. “Thanks, Jason.”

“Now, come on. Let’s get some rest. We have a ghost to find tomorrow.”

I wink and she giggles, and then I reach out and turn off the light.

I wake up just as the sun is coming up. I can feel that it’s cold in the cottage, but it’s wonderfully warm in the bed with Robin curled up next to me. In her sleep, she’s not as reluctant, so she’s curled up tightly around me, her thigh slung over mine, our legs entwined.

I shift a little uncomfortably as I realize that her soft curves are having another rather obvious effect on me. I better slip out of bed before she wakes up and notices.

In the bathroom, I splash cold water on my face and glance down at my crotch. “Down, boy,” I mutter.

I decide to take a shower and let Robin sleep a while longer.

By the time I’m out, she’s awake and laying out her clothes for the day. She smiles at me shyly, her eyes riveted to my bare, damp chest and the towel that’s hanging precariously low on my hips. “Good morning,” she finally murmurs. “Did you leave me some water?” she jokes.

I grin. “Should be plenty. I’ll get dressed and then we can find some breakfast?” I suggest, going easy on the teasing this morning.

“Okay.” She nods and vanishes into the bathroom.

Less than an hour later, we’re sitting in a nearby diner, chatting idly and seeing what we can overhear.

When the waitress brings us our check, she hands us a flier. “If you’re interested in some local history, you should go visit the house of Washington Irving, who wrote ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,’” she tells us. “It’s just fifteen minutes away in Tarrytown.”

I glance at the flier as Robin asks the waitress if the house is a popular tourist site. It’s rather lurid, printed on glossy black paper with oozing red type that looks like blood. Even though the photograph of the house was obviously taken at night for effect, its cheerful, well-maintained façade doesn’t match the tone of the flier.

The statements on it are fairly ridiculous too. “One of the most haunted houses in America!” “Sit in the room Irving saw the Headless Horseman from!” “Visit the bridge that is featured in the story!” None of them fit with what Robin told me the truth is.

I turn my attention back to the waitress responding to Robin’s question. “Well, the house opened a couple of months ago,” she’s musing. “During peak tourist season. But it really wasn’t popular until that ghost showed up a few weeks ago. Now they’re advertising and selling merchandise and people are just stuffing the town full every day of the week, hoping to see the ghost and wanting to see the house that inspired it.”

“That’s very interesting. Thank you,” Robin replies. She raises her eyebrows at me as we walk out of the diner, her arm slung casually through mine as we make our way back to the cottage. “What do you say to checking out this house? Don’t you find it rather suspicious that it’s suddenly popular after floundering at first, thanks to this mysterious ghost?”

“I think you might be onto something there, Ms. Ballard.” I tap the spot on the flier that says, “See if you encounter the famous Headless Horseman during your stay!”

The first tour at the house that isn’t booked is in the late afternoon, so we spend the morning walking through the town seeing the local sights, paying particular attention to the Old Dutch Church and the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery beside it, where Washington Irving’s grave is.

We don’t find anything unusual, not that I was expecting us to.

We check in with Donna Peachtree and let her know where we’ll be before we jump into the car and head to Tarrytown.

Robin

The morning with Jason was nice, especially after the disaster that was last night.

He is definitely hitting on me, and honestly, I don’t get it. I keep turning it over in my head.

Let’s assume that he doesn’t think I’m out of his league. All right. Why would he hit on his potential future boss? He doesn’t have to suck up to me; I’ve already told him that he is more than qualified for the job and that I’d like to hire him.

I don’t think it’s that he just wants to sleep with me. If he’d wanted that, he could have made his move last night.

Or this morning. I don’t think he realized I was awake, but I definitely felt the massive boner that he was sporting when he woke up.

Which isn’t helping, by the way. It’s completely unfair that he’s handsome and charming and well-endowed on top of it.

That kind of leaves only one explanation, doesn’t it?

Does Jason actually like me?

Like, like like me?

I feel like I’m in high school drawing hearts around his name in my secret notebook.

He’s been a little less obvious this morning. Maybe he’s being nice because of how uncomfortable I was yesterday.

Or maybe he’s decided that I’m too much of a handful.

Either way, for now it’s easier to shove all of that to the back of my mind and focus on the case.

We park at Sunnyside, Washington Irving’s home, and follow the stream of people to the front of the house where the tour starts. Jason keeps his arm casually around me, and I slide my arm around his waist in return just a bit hesitantly.

He smiles down at me as a guide steps forward.

The tour is typically overblown, just like the garish flier it was promoted on. Most of the facts are wrong. There are no reports of Sunnyside being haunted, Irving never claimed to have seen a ghost here, and the bridge that they say is featured in the story, which was just a few logs over a stream anyway, was obviously put in recently.

I definitely wouldn’t put it past this place to manufacture some sort of ghost story in order to increase its popularity. The trick is figuring out how and exactly who.

After the tour, which gives us no clues, is over, we’re given the opportunity to stay for a meal based on Irving’s short story, for an extra fee, of course. Jason and I decide to go for it and see if we can find out more.

The spread, which is set up in a buffet, is ridiculously huge, but it is surprisingly accurate to the story. Everything is neatly labeled with handwritten signs that are supposed to look old, I suppose. There’s roast pig, corn pudding, pigeon pie, goose and duck in onion sauce, bacon, ham, turkey, sausages, smoked beef, roast chicken, and a special rooster dish that looks like some version of a coq au vin. For dessert, they have apple cider, various cakes with honey, pumpkin pie, and preserved pears.

I take just a bit of everything and scan for a place to sit. I spot a couple sitting alone at a table for four and notice that they both have very nice cameras, way too nice for just snapping photos of the countryside. I nudge Jason. “Over there,” I direct him.

He nods, turning on the charm as he strides easily over to the table. “Hey, folks. Mind if we sit here?”

“Oh, not at all!” the woman replies in a thick Southern accent. “Oh, aren’t y’all just cute as a button! Are y’all here on vacation?”

I smile and nod. “We’re from New York City,” I answer, squeezing Jason’s shoulder. “Jason here just got interested in ghosts, so we couldn’t resist visiting a place like Sleepy Hollow. That’s where we’re staying.”

“Oh, isn’t it great? So atmospheric!”

They introduce themselves as Buford and Beulah Beauregard and we make small talk for a few minutes.

“Did y’all like the tour?” Beulah finally asks.

I can’t help wrinkling my nose a bit. “It was a little… embellished for my taste, I suppose, but it was interesting.”

Jason leans over and kisses my cheek. “Robin is a stickler for accuracy,” he teases. “I thought it was great.”

“Ah. You must be a true believer, Jason.”

It is going to take everything I have to make it through this conversation without laughing.

“Not as true as you two, I bet,” he deflects. “You must have seen so much.”

That starts them both talking about some of the more famous haunted places they’ve been to. We eat while they talk, and as their stories wind down, Buford says, “Of course, what we’d really like to see is the ghost everyone’s been talking about.”

“Have you heard anything about it?” I ask, feigning ignorance.

Buford and Beulah repeat essentially the same story we’ve already heard. We exchange numbers and she promises to call me right away if she hears anything new.

Back at the cottage, Jason and I sit in front of the fireplace and talk about what our next move is. Donna already told me that no one’s caught the ghost in photographs or on film, but she should be able to hook us up with some people who have seen it, which might give us another clue.

“You said you tried being a regular private investigator before this, Robin?” Jason wonders, reaching out and rubbing some strands of my hair between his fingers.

I nod. “Yeah.”

“Why did you choose that in the first place? I’m just curious.”

Robin grins and laughs. “Honestly? I loved reading Nancy Drew books as a kid. I always wanted to be her when I grew up.”

“Does that make me Ned Nickerson?” Jason quips.

I squeal happily. “I can’t believe you know Nancy Drew!”

He chuckles. “I was more of a Hardy Boys kind of guy myself, but a few Nancy Drews got mixed in there.”

“You do kind of look like Ned,” I muse. “6’2”, brown hair, brown eyes. Although…” I lean forward and casually pull his glasses down his nose just a bit, staring at him. “…yours are hazel, aren’t they?”

He pushes his glasses back up on his nose and reaches for my chin, grasping it in his fingers and leaning in.

“Yes, Robin, they are. Just like yours. Although yours are darker… deeper…”

My lips part. Jason Crouse is going to kiss me, and suddenly I realize that I am going to let him.

A horse neighs and I look up. I can see out the large front window of the cottage perfectly.

And there is, indeed, a headless horseman racing by it at precisely this moment.

Chapter Text

Jason

I’m literally an inch away from kissing Robin when she squeaks and jumps up off of the couch. “Horseman, horseman, headless horseman!” she stutters, grabbing her camera and running outside. I can hear the clicking as she snaps picture after picture.

For a moment, I just sit there, stunned. We’d been lounging on the couch all evening, dressed and ready to go in case the ghost made an appearance, but it had felt like everything was winding down uneventfully, just like last night.

Then I realize that I shouldn’t be thinking about it. The horseman is definitely not a ghost. It’s a real damn person, and now Robin’s out there alone with them. She said she was interested in hiring someone else largely for safety, and I’m here on my ass like an idiot.

I get up and run after her. She’s almost at the end of the road by now, but I don’t see a horseman anywhere.

I look down at my feet and raise an eyebrow.

Since when do ghosts leave tracks? There are hoofprints leading clearly down the road, which is made of dirt and therefore slightly muddy. It’s meant to be sort of a tourist thoroughfare through town, and Donna said that the town council left it dirt for atmosphere and to discourage people from driving over it.

So if you were pretending to be a ghost, why would you choose the one road that would leave tracks? Sure, this road ends at the Old Dutch Church, which fits the story, but there are other roads to it as well.

You’d only use this road because you wanted someone to know you were here.

I take a few of my own photos and then follow the tracks of Robin’s hiking shoes down the road to the church.

Robin

I pound into the churchyard and finally skid to a stop, breathing heavily. Of course, I couldn’t keep up with the horse, which was, by the way, very real.

I don’t see any sign of it now, but it definitely rode through here. Where did it go?

Before I can move, I hear a loud groan and see a hand twitch by one of the tombstones in front of me. “Beulah?” I gasp, recognizing the incredibly tall bouffant hair of the woman I met at dinner earlier. “Are you all right? What happened?” I ask, kneeling down beside her.

“Robin? Is that you, honey? Oh my. Where’s Buford?”

I glance at the next row and realize that he’s there, still lying down and rubbing the back of his head gingerly. “He’s right here.” I move over to check on him. “Buford? Can you hear me?”

“Yup, yup,” he responds, sitting up slowly.

“I’m calling 911, all right?” I dial and talk to the operator, and she tells us she’s sending an ambulance and the police.

“Everyone okay?” Jason’s deep voice is behind me, and I turn slightly to look up at him. His hand grazes my back as he squats down beside me.

“I think so. I’m going to wait for the ambulance to come and get them, okay?”

He nods, chewing his lip thoughtfully as he stands again, looking around.

“The ambulance is on its way,” I tell Buford and Beulah. “Do you remember anything?”

“Well, of course we do!” Beulah laughs. “We were looking at old graves, trying to figure out if there was anyone buried here who might be the ghost.”

“At midnight?” I prompt her, though I’m sure I’ve already guessed the explanation.

“Well, we were hoping to see the ghost too, and get more clues,” she replied eagerly. “And oh, did we see it! It hit us both on the back of the head.”

I’ve never heard someone sound so delighted about being conked over the head before, but okay.

The ambulance doesn’t take long to arrive. I talk briefly to the police officer who comes with it, telling him that I only arrived after everything had happened. He actually rolls his eyes at me when I explain that I saw the ghost outside my window and followed it here. Jason isn’t around at the moment, so I don’t mention him.

“Oh, Robin!” Beulah calls as they load her and Buford into an ambulance. They need to go to a hospital and get their heads checked just to be safe, even though they seem fine. “Tell us if you hear anything more, honey! We won’t be out of commission for long!”

I wave and smile. The officer tells me to go back to wherever I’m staying and be more careful at night. I placate him by telling him that I will and he leaves with the ambulance.

As soon as they’re gone, Jason reappears beside me. “I found something you’ll want to see.”

He takes my arm and steers me around to the back of the church. I realize that the tracks continue around this side of the building and stop at a paved access road that’s probably meant for hearses and deliveries. There aren’t any visible tracks on it, but…

“Someone could have easily parked a horse trailer here,” Jason points out. “They drive down the paved road behind the church. Get the horse out and ride it on the pavement back to the center of town. Ride down the center of town and onto this dirt road to reinforce the story by stopping at the church and making sure to leave evidence that they were here. Then they put the horse back in the trailer and drive back home and no one’s the wiser. It looks like the ghost vanished right here.”

I nod in agreement, taking a mini-flashlight out of my pocket and shining it near the edge of the road. My big one is in my pack back at the cottage. Still, the light is good enough to reflect off of something that’s fallen in the dirt and leaves.

I bend over and pick it up. “Look at this,” I tell Jason, holding it in my open palm and shining the flashlight on it.

“Just like the ones the employees were wearing at the Irving house,” he muses, studying the pin. It’s a large, garish, rectangular photo of the stream bridge at Sunnyside that we saw earlier today. The house’s name is printed across the bottom.

“I suppose a nametag would have been too easy,” I quip. Jason chuckles. “Still, someone must be missing one of these now. That could help us. It has to be a tourism scam, just like we thought. But now they’ve actually hurt people. I think Beulah and Buford are going to be okay, but they easily might not have been, especially if we hadn’t found them.”

“Did you get any good shots?” Jason wonders.

I hold up my camera. “No idea. I was just pointing and clicking wherever I could. Why don’t we head back to the cottage and check? I promised that officer that I’d stay in for the night, after all.” I wink at him and he laughs, looping his arm around my shoulders for the walk back to the cottage.

Jason

I’m quiet on the walk back. I appreciate Robin not mentioning my presence to the cop. After all, I do have a count of assault on my record, which wouldn’t look good in a situation like this.

I try to think about the case, but my mind wanders back to our almost kiss.

I’ve never been cockblocked by a ghost before, but it was pretty damn effective.

She was going to let me kiss her too. I hope she’s not going to overthink it now. I like her more and more every minute, so I’m going to have to wait for another good opportunity to make my move.

We return to the cottage and Robin opens her laptop, plugging the camera into it. She starts to flick through the images to see what she caught. Most of them are blurry and out of focus, but a few are decent.

“I recognize the horse,” she says. It’s big and black and a bit shaggy, and I realize that I recognize it too. “It was in the stables during our tour today.” I nod and she taps the screen. “And look at the rider’s boots. See that heart-shaped pattern at the knees?”

“Yeah. What does that mean?”

“Classic Hessian design. Fits Irving’s story perfectly.”

I sit down beside her and take her hand. “I think it’s time to talk to the police, Robin. I doubt that this person ever intended to hurt anyone, but clearly they’re not opposed to it if they have to. If they’d still been there when you had gotten to the church…” I bite my lip. “I don’t want you to think I’m assuming you can’t handle yourself. I’m sure you can. But you talked about safety, and I want you to be safe.”

She smiles at me. It’s a soft, sweet smile. “I think that’s a good idea, Jason. We can talk to Donna in the morning and she can introduce us to smooth the waters a bit.” She reaches up and touches my cheek gently. “I’m flattered that you’re worried about me, Jason.”

I lick my lips, wondering if I should take another chance and try to kiss her again now.

But then she stands, stretches, and yawns, and the moment breaks.

“Come on,” she urges. “Let’s get some sleep. Hopefully this case will be resolved tomorrow.”

Robin

Did I purposely deflect Jason? Yeah. Yeah, I did.

I’m just still trying to decide how I feel about all of this.

I want him to kiss me. Of course I do. I’m not an idiot, after all.

But I also want him to work for me, and I feel like that makes things complicated.

I know he won’t push it for now, especially since I haven’t brought it up again.

We sleep the same way we did last night, curled up against each other. He wakes up before me again, slipping stealthily out of bed so I won’t notice his massive erection.

I sit up when I hear him get in the shower, wondering what he’s doing in there.

And what he might be thinking about while he’s doing it.

I quickly banish those thoughts and get ready for the day, giving Donna a call to let her know we’d like to talk. We arrange a breakfast meeting and meet her at the diner a few hours later.

Jason stays mostly silent, letting me explain our theory. I show Donna the photos and the pin and while she is definitely shocked, she thinks that what we’ve found makes sense.

Jason finally speaks up. “I think it’s time we involved the police, Donna. After what happened last night, I’m worried about Robin getting hurt.”

I know he’s still playing the role of my concerned boyfriend, but I can hear the real sincerity in his words. My cheeks flush.

“Well, of course you are!” Donna tells him, blushing along with me. “She’s such a lovely woman. I’m sure you’re very protective of her. But, Jason, I really wouldn’t involve the police just yet.”

Jason frowns. “Why not?”

“Well, it’s our new sheriff that bought the Irving house. His wife and son run it while he works here in town. So, if you’re right, he could be in on it, though I hope he isn’t. Oh, now that would be a scandal.”

“That means we should go back to the house,” I say thoughtfully. “But we really need to be able to poke around better than the tour allows.”

“Well, tonight they’re having a big costume ball up at the house,” Donna explains. “Open to the public, as long as you buy a ticket. Would that work?”

“That would be perfect,” I agree. “I didn’t exactly pack my hoop skirt, though.”

Donna laughs. “You let me worry about your costumes,” she insists. “I’ll bring them by before the party.”

“That would be lovely, Donna. Thank you.” I reach out to shake her hand.

“Thank you, honey, for getting to the bottom of this. We have enough to do in Sleepy Hollow without someone pretending to be a ghost.”

Jason

Donna hurries off. We pay the bill and stand.

“I’d like to look at the church and the surrounding area one more time in the light of day,” Robin decides. “And check on Buford and Beulah.”

“Let’s go, then.” I wrap my arm around her and lead her outside back to the cottage so she can grab whatever she needs. “You, uh, think she’ll dress us as anything crazy?” I don’t even like wearing a suit.

Robin giggles. “I have a feeling the outfits will be very colonial, Jason. It shouldn’t be too bad. I’m sure you’ll look very dashing.”

I hope I do.

A fancy costume party and an intimate dance sound like just what I need to seize the day.

Chapter Text

Jason

I kiss Robin eagerly, swallowing the moan that escapes her when she feels how hard I am.

It’s a good thing we already saw the town, because I am not planning to let her out of this cottage for the rest of the weekend.

My hands roam slowly over her body, feeling the curves that I already memorized last night.

Just because we only kissed doesn’t mean I didn’t get handsy.

I push down her bright mint green leggings. She toes them off and kicks them away, leaving her yellow-striped socks on.

She’s wearing my gray sweater, which she grabbed off the couch before we quickly left this morning thinking it was hers.

She definitely makes it look better than I do.

I stop her when she grabs the hem to pull it over her head. She glances at me curiously and I smirk. “I want you to keep it on,” I confess. “You look so, so sexy in it, Robin.”

She blushes as I reach under it and undo her bra, dragging the straps of it and her white camisole top down her shoulders. She shifts her arms, helping me tug the garments free.

Then I lift her, slipping onto the bed, my hand gently rubbing her thigh as we continue to kiss. When my fingers reach her little lace panties, she lays back on the bed and spreads her legs slightly.

She runs her hands through my hair as I teasingly skip over her panties and rub her soft belly, pushing the sweater up. She squirms and her breasts strain against the teardrop neckline.

I move the fabric aside, making one of them pop out, kissing over it softly, rubbing my beard against it before sucking her nipple into my mouth.

She arches her back and groans and I grin. I noticed last night that she was very vocal. Even just kissing, it was easy to tell what she liked.

I free her other breast, moving up to kiss her, rubbing my nose over hers. Her finger strokes over the temple of my glasses.

“You still have your glasses on,” she murmurs.

I grin at her. “I know.”

Don’t think I haven’t noticed the way she bites her lower lip and gets all flushed when I wear my glasses.

She does the same thing now and groans again as I kiss her other breast.

I let her nipple go with a little pop and then start to kiss her more, my hands squeezing and rubbing her plump bottom as hers fumble with my shirt. She finally gets it unbuttoned and yanks it down my shoulders so I can toss it to the floor.

I obediently roll onto my back as she pushes me down onto the bed to get my pants off. She kisses my chest as she undoes my belt, running her tongue through my body hair, tracing my tattoo with the tip of her nose.

She undoes my button and zipper and then tugs the fabric down, leaving me in my boxer briefs.

She’s about to peel them off when I stop her. “You first, Robin.”

She lays back and I hook my fingers into her panties, pulling them free and giving her one more kiss before I stretch out between her legs and part her thighs.

This is what I’ve fantasized about in the shower for the past two mornings. Tasting her and making her come.

I lick all over her folds, making her glisten. My eyes flick up to her as I carefully use two fingers to expose her clit.

I tap it gently with my tongue and she squeals my name.

“That’s it, sweetheart,” I whisper, doing it again. I push her thighs up, holding them against my face as she buries her hands in my hair once more. “I want you to come all over my face, Robin.”

“Fuck, Jason…” she whimpers.

I drag my hands up her sides to her breasts, rolling and tugging on her nipples as I start to eagerly lick and suck her clit.

Her reaction is immediate. She arches her back again, pushing her hips up against my face and her breasts into my hands. A low wail escapes her as her thighs quiver.

“Jason… Jason… oh, fuck, Jason, I’m… oh, I’m going to come… oh, that feels so good… oh… oh… oh!”

I drink in every word, every sound as she gasps and finishes. I keep licking and sucking until it’s clearly too much for her, wiping my face on the sheet before getting onto my knees.

Robin sits up too, her eyes widening as she sees my boxer briefs tented out by my throbbing erection. She reaches out and helps me take them off. I shift quickly so I can get them all the way off before getting back onto my knees between her legs.

I straighten my glasses on my nose and look at her as I slide the head of my cock over her clit. She squeaks and throws her head back, her hair mussed beautifully against the pillows.

I force myself to think clearly for a moment. “Are you on anything, Robin?”

Her eyes flicker open and she nods. “Birth control implant.”

“Do you want me to use a condom too? I, um. Well. I packed some just in case.”

She giggles. “You don’t have to use one,” she tells me. “Unless it makes you more comfortable.”

“I’d rather not,” I admit. I’m sure it feels wonderful inside her with no barriers.

I go back to sliding my aching cock over her come-slicked folds. I lick my lower lip and take a deep breath as I try to maintain my control.

She writhes underneath me as I move back and forth. My hands find her breasts again and she grabs my wrists, hanging onto them as I stimulate her.

Her head tips back, her eyes close, her lips part, and a new wave of pink rushes over her skin as she comes, saying my name over and over.

Just before she finishes, I slowly push inside of her. My loud moan mingles with her cry of, “Oh yes, Jason!” She’s deliciously hot and tight and wet, and I sink deeper into her as she wraps her legs around my hips. I lean over to kiss her while we rock together.

Our pace is sensual and unhurried. I put one hand in her hair and wrap the other around her shoulders, holding her close to me, feeling her soft, generous breasts bounce against me as we move. They’re being pushed up by my sweater, and I just find it unbelievably sexy.

One of her hands stays in my hair, running back and forth between it and my beard. She rests the other on my chest and pants into my mouth.

She comes again as we rock together and it almost sends me over the edge. I hold still, my muscles tight as our tongues play with each other.

This time, when she finishes, she pushes up against my shoulders. I let her guide me onto my back, getting comfortable as she straddles me and then sinks down onto my hard cock.

I grab her hips, my chest heaving as I breathe harshly. “Yes, Robin!” I encourage her.

She leans down, putting her feet on my thighs, holding onto my shoulders as she starts to bounce on me.

She alternates between going fast and slow, rotating her hips teasingly whenever she sits down on me all the way and stays there. I let my hands wander over her breasts, her bottom, her thighs, and her sides.

“I can’t hang on, honey,” I tell her desperately.

“Then don’t,” she urges.

I push her breasts together with my hands, burying my face in them, sucking one nipple and then the other, my hips working furiously as I thrust up into her. Her whimpers get louder and louder as I tug on her taut pink peaks with my teeth.

She rolls her hips one more time and then comes, tensing and whimpering as she clamps down on me. I brace my heels against the bed and push up into her as I let go.

She buries her face in my neck and shudders against me. I hold her tight as we both tremble, rocking her gently and kissing her hairline.

“That was incredible,” she finally murmurs.

I chuckle. “Yes it was,” I agree, removing my glasses briefly and using the sheet to clean them before I put them back on.

I squeeze her chin between my fingers and kiss her again. “And we’re not done yet, Robin.”

Chapter Text

Jason

I kiss Robin eagerly, swallowing the moan that escapes her when she feels how hard I am.

It’s a good thing we already saw the town, because I am not planning to let her out of this cottage for the rest of the weekend.

My hands roam slowly over her body, feeling the curves that I already memorized last night.

Just because we only kissed doesn’t mean I didn’t get handsy.

I push down her bright mint green leggings. She toes them off and kicks them away, leaving her yellow-striped socks on.

She’s wearing my gray sweater, which she grabbed off the couch before we quickly left this morning thinking it was hers.

She definitely makes it look better than I do.

I stop her when she grabs the hem to pull it over her head. She glances at me curiously and I smirk. “I want you to keep it on,” I confess. “You look so, so sexy in it, Robin.”

She blushes as I reach under it and undo her bra, dragging the straps of it and her white camisole top down her shoulders. She shifts her arms, helping me tug the garments free.

Then I lift her, slipping onto the bed, my hand gently rubbing her thigh as we continue to kiss. When my fingers reach her little lace panties, she lays back on the bed and spreads her legs slightly.

She runs her hands through my hair as I teasingly skip over her panties and rub her soft belly, pushing the sweater up. She squirms and her breasts strain against the teardrop neckline.

I move the fabric aside, making one of them pop out, kissing over it softly, rubbing my beard against it before sucking her nipple into my mouth.

She arches her back and groans and I grin. I noticed last night that she was very vocal. Even just kissing, it was easy to tell what she liked.

I free her other breast, moving up to kiss her, rubbing my nose over hers. Her finger strokes over the temple of my glasses.

“You still have your glasses on,” she murmurs.

I grin at her. “I know.”

Don’t think I haven’t noticed the way she bites her lower lip and gets all flushed when I wear my glasses.

She does the same thing now and groans again as I kiss her other breast.

I let her nipple go with a little pop and then start to kiss her more, my hands squeezing and rubbing her plump bottom as hers fumble with my shirt. She finally gets it unbuttoned and yanks it down my shoulders so I can toss it to the floor.

I obediently roll onto my back as she pushes me down onto the bed to get my pants off. She kisses my chest as she undoes my belt, running her tongue through my body hair, tracing my tattoo with the tip of her nose.

She undoes my button and zipper and then tugs the fabric down, leaving me in my boxer briefs.

She’s about to peel them off when I stop her. “You first, Robin.”

She lays back and I hook my fingers into her panties, pulling them free and giving her one more kiss before I stretch out between her legs and part her thighs.

This is what I’ve fantasized about in the shower for the past two mornings. Tasting her and making her come.

I lick all over her folds, making her glisten. My eyes flick up to her as I carefully use two fingers to expose her clit.

I tap it gently with my tongue and she squeals my name.

“That’s it, sweetheart,” I whisper, doing it again. I push her thighs up, holding them against my face as she buries her hands in my hair once more. “I want you to come all over my face, Robin.”

“Fuck, Jason…” she whimpers.

I drag my hands up her sides to her breasts, rolling and tugging on her nipples as I start to eagerly lick and suck her clit.

Her reaction is immediate. She arches her back again, pushing her hips up against my face and her breasts into my hands. A low wail escapes her as her thighs quiver.

“Jason… Jason… oh, fuck, Jason, I’m… oh, I’m going to come… oh, that feels so good… oh… oh… oh!”

I drink in every word, every sound as she gasps and finishes. I keep licking and sucking until it’s clearly too much for her, wiping my face on the sheet before getting onto my knees.

Robin sits up too, her eyes widening as she sees my boxer briefs tented out by my throbbing erection. She reaches out and helps me take them off. I shift quickly so I can get them all the way off before getting back onto my knees between her legs.

I straighten my glasses on my nose and look at her as I slide the head of my cock over her clit. She squeaks and throws her head back, her hair mussed beautifully against the pillows.

I force myself to think clearly for a moment. “Are you on anything, Robin?”

Her eyes flicker open and she nods. “Birth control implant.”

“Do you want me to use a condom too? I, um. Well. I packed some just in case.”

She giggles. “You don’t have to use one,” she tells me. “Unless it makes you more comfortable.”

“I’d rather not,” I admit. I’m sure it feels wonderful inside her with no barriers.

I go back to sliding my aching cock over her come-slicked folds. I lick my lower lip and take a deep breath as I try to maintain my control.

She writhes underneath me as I move back and forth. My hands find her breasts again and she grabs my wrists, hanging onto them as I stimulate her.

Her head tips back, her eyes close, her lips part, and a new wave of pink rushes over her skin as she comes, saying my name over and over.

Just before she finishes, I slowly push inside of her. My loud moan mingles with her cry of, “Oh yes, Jason!” She’s deliciously hot and tight and wet, and I sink deeper into her as she wraps her legs around my hips. I lean over to kiss her while we rock together.

Our pace is sensual and unhurried. I put one hand in her hair and wrap the other around her shoulders, holding her close to me, feeling her soft, generous breasts bounce against me as we move. They’re being pushed up by my sweater, and I just find it unbelievably sexy.

One of her hands stays in my hair, running back and forth between it and my beard. She rests the other on my chest and pants into my mouth.

She comes again as we rock together and it almost sends me over the edge. I hold still, my muscles tight as our tongues play with each other.

This time, when she finishes, she pushes up against my shoulders. I let her guide me onto my back, getting comfortable as she straddles me and then sinks down onto my hard cock.

I grab her hips, my chest heaving as I breathe harshly. “Yes, Robin!” I encourage her.

She leans down, putting her feet on my thighs, holding onto my shoulders as she starts to bounce on me.

She alternates between going fast and slow, rotating her hips teasingly whenever she sits down on me all the way and stays there. I let my hands wander over her breasts, her bottom, her thighs, and her sides.

“I can’t hang on, honey,” I tell her desperately.

“Then don’t,” she urges.

I push her breasts together with my hands, burying my face in them, sucking one nipple and then the other, my hips working furiously as I thrust up into her. Her whimpers get louder and louder as I tug on her taut pink peaks with my teeth.

She rolls her hips one more time and then comes, tensing and whimpering as she clamps down on me. I brace my heels against the bed and push up into her as I let go.

She buries her face in my neck and shudders against me. I hold her tight as we both tremble, rocking her gently and kissing her hairline.

“That was incredible,” she finally murmurs.

I chuckle. “Yes it was,” I agree, removing my glasses briefly and using the sheet to clean them before I put them back on.

I squeeze her chin between my fingers and kiss her again. “And we’re not done yet, Robin.”

Chapter Text

Jason

Robin and I spend the entire weekend in the cottage, just like I planned. We turn our phones off and shut the rest of the world out.

She is indeed great in bed. The first time would have been enough to prove it to me, but she just gets better and better. She’s sweet and adventurous and a little dirty and honestly more flexible than I thought she’d be.

She likes going down on me. She’s amazing at it. I’ve never had a woman literally make my toes curl before.

When we’re not having sex, we eat junk food and watch bad movies naked. After the owner of the cottage barges in on us again, we wrap ourselves in the bedsheet, though we don’t expect her to come back after that, based on the shade of red she turned.

I drag her into the shower. “Do you know how many naughty thoughts I had about you in here, Robin?” I tease.

“I wondered,” she admits, pressing herself against me. “I know you thought you snuck out of bed before I realized you were hard, but…”

I laugh. “You noticed, huh?”

“It’s… noticeable, Jason.” She winks and I pull her close, silencing her with a kiss.

When the hot water runs out, we emerge and eat ice cream for lunch. I tell her about some of the more interesting cases I’ve worked on.

I ask if I can read to her. She produces what she calls her emergency book, a collection of all six Jane Austen novels.

“I knew it,” I observe as she snuggles against my chest. I choose Northanger Abbey. It seems fitting, since the protagonist briefly pursues what she thinks is a murder mystery.

I reach the end of the novel, when Catherine and Henry end up together in spite of all the odds.

“Jason, have you ever been in love?” Robin wonders abruptly.

“No,” I reply, setting the book aside. “I’ve never been in love.”

After a moment that I can tell is laced with a bit of disappointment, she leans up and kisses my cheek.

“Oh, you feel sorry for me now,” I admonish her. She flushes pink.

“Maybe I should rephrase,” I tell her softly. “I’ve never been in love. Until I met you.”

She beams at me.

Robin

Jason’s revelation prompts another roll in the sheets.

He’s an incredible lover. Not that I expected anything less, but wow. He makes me lose all of my inhibitions and just give myself over to him completely.

After, we order pizza. Jason answers the door in my pink silk bathrobe. The pizza guy eyes him skeptically. “Nice robe,” he jokes.

“Thanks,” Jason responds easily. I giggle uncontrollably as we sit on the couch to eat. I’m wearing his t-shirt.

We play footsie and grin at each other as Jason asks, “Have you ever been in love, Robin?”

I shrug. “I thought I was a few times. Maybe I was. I don’t know. But obviously nobody ever stuck around.” I take a bite of pizza. “Your answer was far more poetic.”

“So you don’t have an ex still crazy about you who’s going to burst in here and look askance upon us eating pizza in our underwear?”

I get up and crawl into his lap. He puts his arms around me. “Why don’t you just ask me what you really want to ask me, Jason?” I run my finger over his jaw. “Use your words, big man.”

Jason chuckles. I think he’s feeling vulnerable, and I wager that he’s not used to that at all.

Finally, he reaches up, cupping my cheek in his hand. “Do you love me, Robin?”

I lean forward and kiss him. “I love you, Jason.” I’m both surprised and not when the words come out of my mouth. I don’t say things I don’t feel, and deep down, I knew I felt this. I just didn’t expect it to be so easy to say.

We get back into bed and Jason throws the sheet over us. “Precautions,” he grunts. A few industrious townsfolk and tourists have been trying to sneak a peek into our cottage after the newspaper article.

At least they’ll get a show if they manage to see anything.

Chapter Text

Jason

We decide to leave early on Monday morning so that we miss all of the Sunday evening traffic. Going back to the world is going to feel odd, but we have to get used to it, don’t we?

As we put our suitcases in the back of the car, Robin abruptly announces, “I’m not hiring you, Jason.”

I frown. “What? I thought…”

She takes my hands and leans against the bumper. “Look, Jason. I can’t be your boss and your girlfriend. It’s just not right.”

“Robin,” I protest softly, “it’s just the two of us. I’m a big boy. I can handle it.”

“But it’s not fair,” she responds gently.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. Sure, I need the job, but I can find another job. What I was really looking forward to was working with her and being with her all the time.

Suddenly, she grins and I raise an eyebrow. “What are you up to?” I ask curiously.

She giggles. “I’m not hiring you as an employee, Jason. I’m making you my partner. We’ll be equals in the business.” She pauses. “I mean, if you want to be, I suppose.”

“That’s very generous, Robin.” I smile at her. “And yes, I want to be.”

I pull her in for one more kiss before we leave.

We park and head back to the office. I didn’t realize that she lives right above it, though it makes sense.

There’s someone waiting at the door. Robin groans as we round the corner and she sees her.

“Not a client, I take it?” I clarify.

“She was originally,” she explains. “I worked a case for her around Christmas two years ago. When she realized that I don't have any family to spend the holidays with, she made me stay. Now she calls herself my aunt, even though she's actually a year younger than me. She visits whenever she's in the area. I had no idea she was coming.” She pauses. “I love her to death, but she is going to give me the third degree about you. You should escape while you can.”

“Not a chance.” I wink at her and she shakes her head indulgently.

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

We make it to the door and Robin’s “aunt” eagerly hugs her. “Hi, sweetie! Surprise!”

Then she notices me. “Oh. Hi.” I can’t help smirking. I recognize that tone of voice in a woman. “I’m Nancy. Nancy Byers.”

“Nancy,” Robin mutters, rolling her eyes as she starts to unlock the door.

“Jason,” I tell Nancy as she shakes my hand.

“Jason. I don’t think I know a Jason, do I, Robin?” Nancy replies archly.

“I work here,” I interject smoothly. “I’m an investigator, like Robin.”

“Oh, really? What’s your last name?”

“Nancy, we’re not having this conversation…” Robin tries again.

“Crouse,” I respond easily, laughing a bit. Robin looks like she’s about to die of embarrassment.

“Crouse. What kind of a name is that? Is that German?”

“English. A bit of a mix, though. My mom is Italian.”

“Oh, I love Italians,” Nancy says blithely. “Wonderful food.”

Robin opens the door and we make our way inside. “Both of you stop talking, please,” she requests in exasperation. I snicker and she points a finger at me. “You are torturing me,” she points out. I shrug innocently.

The door opens behind us. “I’m so sorry, we’re closed…” Robin starts, but Nancy interrupts her.

“That’s just Colton. He went for bagels.”

Robin sighs. “Jason, this is Nancy's brother, Colton.”

I turn to shake his hand and his mouth drops open. “Didn’t I say he was extraordinarily good-looking?” Nancy chimes in behind me.

“Yeah, but I didn’t know how much to believe you…” He trails off and shakes my hand. “Good catch, Robin.”

“He can hear you!” Robin points out unnecessarily. “We work together,” she adds tersely. “And when did you have time to tell Colton Jason was extraordinarily good-looking?” she wonders, glancing at Nancy.

“I texted him while we were coming in. And you’re not just working together.”

“What, are you psychic or something, Nancy?”

“Nope.” She reaches into her purse and pulls out a folded up piece of paper, handing it to Robin. When Robin opens it, she’s staring at a printed copy of the article that was in the Sleepy Hollow paper about us.

“How did you get this?!” she wails.

“I have a Google Alert on you.”

“I do too!” Colton chimes in cheerfully.

Robin glares at him. “Not helping!” she observes through clenched teeth.

He shrugs as we all head upstairs to Robin’s apartment and gather in her small kitchen. “I brought you a new camera,” he deflects. “Well, new to you, anyway. I replaced my old one, and it’s better than the one you have.”

“Colton is a photographer,” Robin tells me. “Thank you.”

The doorbell rings and Robin sighs again. “It’s not Peter, is it?” Nancy laughs. “That would be awkward.”

Robin flushes. “Peter and I broke up over a year ago. We dated for about five seconds,” she clarifies for my benefit. “He thought I was kidding about what I did for a living, and when he found out it was real…”

The doorbell continues to ring, so Robin hurries downstairs to answer it.

“So, Jason, have you slept with Robin yet? I know she’s great in bed. I sent her a book about how to be a fabulous lover. Are you good in bed? You look like you would be, but sometimes the very handsome ones aren’t. Although you aren’t classically handsome, I don’t think. More ruggedly handsome. Don’t you think so, Colton?”

“Whatever you say, sis,” he answers, diligently setting out bagels.

Luckily, I don’t have to answer Nancy’s questions, because she just keeps talking.

As Robin comes back upstairs with a package in her hand, Nancy is saying, “Anyway, it’s all about the orgasm, Jason. The goddess array.”

“Nancy!” Robin squeaks. “Not in front of the bagels!”

Colton and I laugh, then I slide my arm around Robin, squeezing her comfortingly. “It’s okay,” I murmur.

“Easy for you to say. I’m never going to live this down,” she huffs.

“What’s that?” I gesture at the package.

“Our next case. I’ll tell you about it later.” She glances at Nancy and Colton. “Sorry about this.”

I chuckle and kiss her cheek, pressing my lips to her ear. “Don’t apologize. They’re cute. I see why they wanted to adopt you. Besides, Nancy is giving me some great tips about the, um, goddess array.” I barely manage to keep it together as I talk.

“Do not let her get started. She will talk to you about that for hours.”

“Maybe I should thank her. She said that’s why you’re so good in bed.”

“She what?!”

“Well, whatever the reason is, she’s right.” I nudge her playfully.

Robin flushes, but I can tell that she’s pleased by the comment. She rises up on her tiptoes and presses her lips to my ear this time. “So you wouldn’t be offended if I said I wanted to take you right now?”

My body gets hot and a shiver runs up my spine as I subtly adjust myself in my pants. “No,” I rumble, my voice deep with desire.

“Good.”

Robin

We all have bagels and talk. I try and steer Nancy away from any and all sexual topics. I wasn’t lying when I told Jason I love her dearly, but she has no filter most of the time.

Thankfully, she tells me that they’re only passing through on their way back home to Florida, so they leave after breakfast. I’m able to open on time. Not that I’m expecting any walk-in business, but you never know.

The day passes uneventfully. We reconfigure the office a bit so Jason and I both have a spot at the desk. He was right before when he said that fitting another one in here would be pretty much impossible.

He steps out to get lunch and I call about getting our sign updated. When Jason comes back, I lean against him while we eat and curiously ask, “Where do you live, Jason?”

“Cheap motel at the moment,” he admits. “I usually start out like that in a new city until I know I’ll be able to find work.”

“You move around a lot?” I wonder.

He shrugs a little self-consciously. “I… don’t like spending more than a year in any one place,” he admits. “I like to be able to drop everything at a moment’s notice and just go. I suppose that’s one reason why this job appeals to me. You said you go all over.” He gestures at the map behind us. “Maybe it would calm my wanderlust so I could have a life here. With you.”

I stare up at him for a moment. I can tell that he’s worried about how I’m going to take his confession about not liking to stay in one place for too long, and I can see why. It does make anything long-term rather complicated.

I’m having a hard time processing that he’s already trying to think of ways he can stay here with me without getting too restless.

I think of about a million practical things to say, but what ends up coming out of my mouth is, “I’d like that. You. Here. With me. In fact, why don’t you move in? Forget about the motel.” He raises his eyebrows at me in surprise.

I know what he’s thinking because it’s what I’m thinking.

We’re crazy. We just met and now we’re going to work together as partners, sleep together, and live together? We’ve already said we love each other.

We’ve crammed a lot into these first few days, but honestly, it doesn’t feel that way to me.

It just feels right. And he must feel that way too, or he wouldn’t be doing this.

“And if you ever get restless, Jason,” I add. “Just tell me. We’ll figure it out, okay?”

“Okay,” he agrees softly, kissing my temple. He pauses. “You’re kind of incredible, Robin.”

I blush. “So are you, Jason.”

Jason

After lunch, I leave to go retrieve my things. I don’t have much. Robin tells me to make space for myself in her apartment while she takes care of a few things downstairs.

When she comes back up, I’m waiting for her in bed.

She laughs, stripping off her clothes and slipping between the sheets with me.

“It was an oddly long day,” she observes.

“Mmm,” I agree, pulling her close and capturing her lips with mine. “Let’s make it longer.”

She giggles and straddles my lap, running her fingers through my hair as we kiss lazily. “Okay.”

A few days ago, I was alone and not sure what the next step was. Now I have a business partner, a home, and a woman who I love more than anything.

I’m a little worried about changing the way I’ve been living my life for the past few years, but at least I’ll always know what the next step is now.

Whatever keeps Robin in my life and happy is what I need to do.

I just hope I’m capable of it.