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Ten Days at the Waterfront

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It’s late, after ten o’clock, but I don’t realize it until I step off the plane in Baltimore and really think about just what I’ve gotten myself into. I’d told Dad and Ray that I had wanted to take a vacation, now that I’d graduated from college and was ready to spread my wings a little. So, since I’d been hired full time at the publishing house upon my graduation, I’d put in for vacation time and had gotten it approved. That being said, I still don’t know why I decided I wanted to explore Baltimore. I’d never been anywhere aside from Tulita and Chicago. And yet, I’d woken up one morning and decided that  Baltimore, for whatever reason, seemed like the next logical choice.

I hop in a cab after checking into my hotel and head into Fells Point. I’d heard from some of Ray’s colleagues who had visited Baltimore before that you couldn’t beat the seafood, and, since they all knew Dad and I were big history buffs, there was also a Maritime museum. I’d make a point to make that my first stop tomorrow morning.

The cab drops me off in front of a bar called The Waterfront, and, judging from its proximity to a police precinct, it’s a cop bar. Meh, I’ve been in cop bars before, I know they don’t just serve cops.

I push open the door and find that, for a Saturday night, it’s moderately busy. It takes a few minutes for the man behind the bar, a relatively tall man with curly black hair and a goatee, to notice me. He holds up a finger as he’s wiping a glass and signals me over.

“And what can I get you?” he asks as I slide onto an empty barstool.

“Um,” I playfully slap my hands on the bar in a quick ‘one-two’ rhythm. “What do you recommend for a girl who’s on vacation and has never been to Baltimore?”

“Oh, well then,” he fires back in the same playful manner. “I’d go for a Natty Bo, but first, show me the colour of your I.D.”

I figured I’d run into that. Even though I’m twenty-two, nearly twenty-three, I know I look a lot younger, especially when I wear t-shirts and jeans with old running shoes. So, I dig into my handbag for my wallet and pull out my driver’s license, and hold it out to him for inspection.

“Hmm,” he says as he smiles. “Well, then, Abigail Fraser, one Natty Bo coming up.” He hands me back my license, picks up a clean glass and pulls me a pint. “And welcome to Baltimore. Have you eaten yet?”

I smile at his hospitality and shake my head. “I’ve heard you’ve got the best seafood on the East Coast.”

“Whoever told you that was an extremely smart person,” he smiles back at me. “So, are you thinking you’ll be ordering something from the kitchen?”

“What’s the special?”

“No problem. We’ve got crab cakes with coleslaw and fries going tonight.”

“Sounds really good. I’ll go for that.”

“Good choice, I’ll get that started for you right away.” He goes over to the phone on the wall and calls my order in. As soon as he hangs up, he comes back over. “My name’s Meldrick Lewis, and these guys here are my partners in this fine establishment. Tim Bayliss…”

Another man behind the bar wearing wire rimmed glasses looks up and waves briefly before going back to slicing lemons, limes, and oranges.

“And John Munch, which… huh, he doesn’t seem to be around. Hey Tim, you seen Munchkin?”

“Not in the last half hour, Lewis,” Tim answers as he grabs another piece of fruit out of the bowl in front of him. “I think he’s in the back.”

“Yeah, probably going over inventory or something,” the man who introduced himself as Meldrick shrugs. “Anyway, Tim, this here’s Abigail, she’s on vacation in our fair city.”

Tim looks over again and flashes me a warm smile. “Welcome to Baltimore, Abigail.”

“Thank you,” I nod. I can feel my smile reaching all the way up to my eyes. Most of the time, whenever I went out for a drink, people were nice to me because they knew Dad and Ray, and for that reason, and that reason alone, they were polite, but distant. After all, no one wants to be seen as having tried to chat up a cop’s daughter, and especially not in a cop bar. Here, it didn’t matter. “You mind if I grab a table?”

“You go right ahead, Abigail,” Meldrick answers. “How about I fix you up with that table, right there?” he points to the one in the far corner, closest to the end of the bar.

“Looks good to me,” I agree, and allow myself to be led over as he asks Tim to “watch the bar for a minute”. Meldrick pulls my chair out and gestures for me to sit. “Thank you, sir.”

“Aw, ain’t no sir here, I’m just Meldrick,” he offers.

I chuckle. “Alright then, just Meldrick . How about you call me Abby?”    

“Sounds good to me, Abby. Let me know if you need anything.” As he says that, I hear a bell dinging, and a few moments later, my server comes over with my supper. It smells delicious.

I’m quite content to sit by myself and eat as the bar starts to empty out, but sometimes there’s that one creeper who decides that a young woman who so obviously does not want to talk to them would be a good conversationalist.

Just my luck, that’s exactly what happens. As I spread a bit of mustard onto my next bite of crab cake, this obviously intoxicated man who looks to be a few years older than me walks up, beer in hand, and sits across from me at the table.

I feel my brows furrow as this guy, who I have now silently christened Douchebag McAsshat, reaches forward and snags a french fry off my plate. “Can I help you?”`

“Just wanted to say hello,” he slurred.

Oh good, because that’s precisely what sitting yourself down at someone’s table and stealing food right off their plate means. I think not.

“That’s nice, but I’m eating right now,” my good mood has suddenly disappeared. “And since I don’t know you, I will thank you to go away.” This is as polite as I’m willing to be right now. I want this guy as far away from me as possible. “If I want to talk to you, I will come see you later.”

“Aww c’mon,” Douchebag pouts at me. “Do you have to be so mean? I just wanted to say hello.”

“And you did. So you can be on your way now…” I attempt to go back to my food, but Douchebag reaches forward and snags another french fry. “Are you serious?”

He gives me a creepy smile and pops the french fry in his mouth, chewing loudly. Ugh. “You know, a lot of people wouldn’t actually want to come over and talk to you, seeing as you’re Indian and all.”

Okay, now I’m mad, and my heart is hammering in my chest. First of all, wrong racist slur, you dick. And second, I’m supposed to be happy that this asshole had come down from his high horse to talk to the frigid Eskimo? Fuck off with that shit.

“I am going to say this once, and only once,” I put my fork down and stand up, getting right in his face, raising my voice in the hopes that either Meldrick or Tim will hear me. I know when to make a fuss if I need to. “Not only are you rude, but you’re also a racist cunt. You have five seconds to get the fuck away from my table before I break your jaw.”

Douchebag stands up, and I can see that I don’t even reach his chest. That’s never stopped me before.

“Did you just threaten me, bitch?”

“Oh, bitch, is it?” I can get loud too. “Seeing as you’re the one who insulted me, that’s not a threat. That’s a promise. Get the fuck away from my table!”

Just before things get ugly, I see both Meldrick and Tim come from behind the bar. Apparently they’d heard me.

“Alright, alright, she asked you to leave her alone,” Tim puts a hand on Douchebag’s shoulder and takes the pint out of his hand as Meldrick gets in between us, shielding me from any sort of retaliation. “You’re cut off for the night, and you’re leaving.”

“Aww, c’mon man, that’s not fair!”

“That’s plenty fair,” Tim answers, calm and collected. “I will not have patrons made to feel unsafe and racist names thrown around in my bar. Out. I don’t want you or your friends back in here again.”

To make sure Douchebag actually leaves, Tim escorts him and the rest of his group to the door. Just as they’re leaving, I hear at least one of them hurl a racist insult at Tim’s back. He doesn’t respond.

Once he’s back inside, I can feel myself shaking. All the adrenaline I’d had surging in preparing for a fight has gone. Not only that, I’m suddenly really hungry, but my supper’s been ruined.

“Hey, Abby, you okay?” Meldrick asks as he gently puts his hands on my shoulders, which I don’t find at all unpleasant.  

“Um...” I’m trying to find the words to articulate just how upset I am, but my mouth is not working. “I… uh…”  

“Come on, you sit with us at the bar for a bit while we close up. Where’s your purse?” he offers as he grabs my handbag off the back of my chair and puts a guiding hand on my back, which is good. I’m so stunned I don’t think I can walk without assistance right now. Tim reaches the bar before we do, and he pours me a ginger ale and another glass full of water. He also orders me a club sandwich on the house, and they won't ring up the food from earlier either, since I’m obviously not going to be finishing it. After that, he yells out that it’s last call and they’re closing up in half an hour.

I sit at the bar nursing my sandwich and my ginger ale as the server who had brought me my food earlier clears the table where I’d been sitting, and everyone who isn't running a tab comes over to pay their bill and head home. A lot of them are making a point of not looking at me, even if they don’t realize it.

Once everyone including the chef and the servers head out, I’m left sitting at the bar with Meldrick, Tim, and the mysterious John Munch, who’d reappeared at the end of the night.

“So, Abby,” Tim says from behind and under the bar. I think he’s checking the lines to make sure they’re all clear. “You doing okay after what happened earlier?”

“I guess so,” I finish my glass of water and hand the empty glass to Munch, who is finishing up the dishes while Meldrick is closing the register and counting the receipts. “I know the entire city isn’t like that. But don’t expect me to apologize for making a scene.”

“Not at all,” Meldrick shakes his head as he totals the last of the receipts for the night. “If we’d noticed him earlier, it probably wouldn’t have come to that.”

“It’s not your fault. I’m just glad I didn’t actually have to hit him. Hitting someone in the face without proper gloves on hurts.”

“Proper gloves?” Munch asks as Tim stands up and gives all of us the thumbs up. Good, the lines are all clear. “I take it you know something about that?”

“I started boxing when I was thirteen,” I shrug. “I thought it’d help with my self-esteem and stuff after I moved to Chicago with my dad. Being the new kid sucks.”

“It does.” Even though Tim was the only one that spoke, I can tell that all three of them agree with me. “So how long have you been in Chicago?”

“Nine, nearly ten years,” I tap my fingers on the bar, enjoying the sound. “It was just me and my dad, then. We’d lived with my grandparents from the time I was born until I was twelve and I asked him if we could move.”

“Where were you before Chicago?”

“Northwest Territories.” I don’t feel at all hesitant in telling them that. If they own a cop bar, there’s a pretty good chance that all three of them are cops themselves. “Doesn’t matter where, there are always going to be people who are racist shitbags.”

I see Meldrick’s back tense.

“The guy who you threw out, he called me Indian.” Now I know I’ve got their attention. All three of them have stopped what they’re doing, and I can tell that they are running through a mental checklist to see if they need to file any sort of report aside from the incident report for their records that I know will be coming out of this. “Basically said, while stealing food off my plate, mind you, that I should be grateful he wanted to talk to me, because I was Indian and nobody else would bother. That’s when I promised to break his jaw if he didn’t move away from the table after I’d given him a five second warning.” I chuckle despite myself. “I’m not Indian, since I'm not from India, and I'm not Native American. I’m half Inuit.”

Tim nods. “Thank you, Abby. That’ll make the paperwork a lot easier.”

“Incident report, right?”

“Yeah,” he answers. “How’d you know?”

“It’s not that hard to figure out,” I shrug. “This is a cop bar. If I’m not mistaken, you three are all cops. To wit, if something like someone shouting racist insults and harassing a patron of your establishment happens, you need to write it up to protect everyone involved.”

“And how do you know that?” Meldrick leans forward, his arms on the bar.

“My dad and stepdad are both cops,” I answer. “Well, my dad’s RCMP, and my stepdad’s a Detective, but still cops.”

“A cop’s daughter, a Canadian cop’s daughter walks right into a cop bar. What are the chances of that?” Munch muses.

“Are you really asking, or is that the start of a bad joke?” I quip.

“Feisty,” Tim chuckles. “Since your dad and stepdad are both cops, what’s your mom do, then?”

I shrug my shoulders. It’s an old wound now. It doesn’t hurt as much to answer that question when people ask. After all, Tim and Meldrick had gone out of their way to protect me, and if they were curious, I’d answer their question honestly. “She could have done any number of things, but she died when I was born.”

An eerie stillness has suddenly washed over us. From the looks on their faces, they hadn’t expected me to say that .

“But wait a minute…” Meldrick’s blinking, as though it’s helping him process information as he puts two and two together. “You said your dad and stepdad…”

“Yes…” Come on, Meldrick. You’ve put the first piece in place. I can see you’re smart.

“And if your mom died when you were born... does that mean, your dad and stepdad are married?”

“Got it in one, Detective,” I answer. “Well, as married as they can get.”

“Wait, wait, wait, I’m still confused,” Tim pushes his wire-rimmed glasses up his nose. “Did they get together when you were a kid? What happened there?”

“Little nosey, aren’t we?”

“Uh…” Tim has a stunned look on his face, like he’s trying to figure out how to get his foot out of his mouth.

“Relax, Detective. It’s a logical question.” I’m really having fun talking with them. They seem genuinely interested in what I have to say. “No, my dad and my grandparents raised me after my mom died. That’s a big complicated story that you probably don’t want to hear so late at night, but anyway, my dad and Ray, that’s my stepdad, they didn’t get together until I was twenty-one.”

Tim and Meldrick are nodding. “That’s kinda sweet.”

“I think so. I like Ray a lot. They were both really nervous to tell me, especially since my dad was a widower, but they didn’t need to be. Love is love.” I look at my watch and realize it’s close to 1am. All four of us probably need sleep, and I’ve just gotten off a plane. “I should probably head back to my hotel. Did you want me to come in tomorrow and fill out that incident report?” After all, that was the whole reason they’d asked me to stay behind while they closed, wasn’t it?

“If it’s not too inconvenient. No need to spoil your vacation.” Meldrick offers.

“Not an inconvenience. If it hadn’t been for you and Tim, my vacation would have been ruined before it even got started.” I tap my hands in the “one-two” rhythm that I’ve grown so fond of and stand up. “I don’t know how to thank you for what you did tonight. Are you sure about the food on the house?”

“Sure we are.” Meldrick answers as all three detectives nod. “We can’t have you paying for your food when some racist string bean with his thumb up his ass comes over harassing you. We’ll feed you tomorrow, too.”

“Now tomorrow I insist on paying,” I tell him as I sling my handbag over my shoulder.

“Hey, how are you getting back to the hotel?” John pipes up, as though he’d just realized that I’m walking to the door.

“I was going to get a cab or walk,” I answer. “Isn’t that what tourists normally do?”

“Not at 1am in Fells Point, Abby,” Tim finishes putting the last of the dishes away. “Since John looks about ready to fall over and Meldrick’s his ride home, I’ll drop you off.”

“Aww, thank you Tim, that’s very sweet of you.” And it is. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Dad and Ray, is that cops take care of each other, and that includes each other’s families. It doesn’t matter what district or state you’re in. Plus, I’m certainly not going to deny the fact that Tim is really very handsome. Considering the luck I’ve had so far in Baltimore, it’s very flattering to get a little attention from someone with a bit of class.

So they finish closing down the bar for the night, and Tim offers me his arm as we walk to the car. He stops short of actually opening the passenger side door, but that’s fine. We’re not on a date.

I find myself stealing little glimpses at him as he drives, studying his profile. He’s got hazel eyes under those glasses, a nose that fits his face perfectly, and a chin that highlights his jawline as we chat. He’s curious about Chicago, about my growing up in the Northwest Territories, what it’s like growing up as the daughter of a Canadian cop. We manage to squeeze quite a lot of conversation into the fifteen minutes it takes to drive from The Waterfront to my hotel.

When he pulls up to the front door, he turns the ignition off and waits as I dig through my handbag for my room key. As I do, I can almost hear his brain processing where he’s just driven me to. And I can tell from the way he sighs that he’s not happy about it.

“What?” I ask as I zip up my handbag. “It’s not terrible. And it’s within my budget. One of Ray’s friends recommended it.”

“And did they also recommend sleeping with a knife under your pillow?” He seems agitated, though I have no idea why. “Because honestly, that’s what you’ll need, staying in a place like this.”

I feel my eyes widen. “What are you talking about?”

I see his fingers grip the steering wheel. “I worked a murder scene here a few years ago.”                

It’s my turn to freeze. Ah, so I’d been correct in my assessment of all three owners of The Waterfront. They’re homicide detectives, and, if my eyes didn’t deceive me, their precinct was right across from the bar. Now I know I'm in safe hands.

In regards to the hotel, being a Fraser, I’d done my research, but I realize that no hotel would want to advertise that there’d been a murder investigation on their premises. They weren't about to shout that from the rooftops when people call to make a booking.

I swallow, and I hear my throat click. “I've already paid for the week, though.” I sound petty, I know, but I'd saved for months in order to afford this vacation.

“I don't think you should stay here, Abby.” He must have heard me give Meldrick permission to use my nickname. I like how it sounds when Tim says it, too. “Let's grab your bag. We’ll cancel your reservation, you stay with me for the night, and tomorrow we can find you a better hotel.”

There was that “cops take care of each other and their families” mentality, and after a night like tonight, I couldn't be more grateful for it. But at the same time, I know I can never be too careful.

“Look, I know how this sounds.” Tim bumps his fist against his mouth. “If you like, you can phone your Dads and let them know where you are. I mean, you know where I work and you’re gonna know where I live. This way, you know if I get out of line, I’ll have two cops coming over from Chicago to kick my skinny ass.”

That made me chuckle, despite my nerves and exhaustion. Looking out the window, the hotel was suddenly too imposing. Since Tim had no reason to lie to me, I didn't want to go back into either the hotel or the room alone.

“Okay,” I answer after a few moments of silence. “But will you come with me? I'm not sure how they’ll react if I say I want to cancel.”

“Sure,” Tim nods and gets out of the car at the same time I do.

It takes about fifteen minutes, but I'm glad that I asked Tim to help me cancel my reservation and get my money back. The night desk jockey hadn't been too happy about cancelling and giving me a refund, even going so far as to whisper the phrase “bloody foreigner” under his breath as he did so.

That’s rich, coming from a Caucasian. Where did your ancestors come from? Of course, I couldn’t say that out loud, so I had to settle for biting the inside of my cheek to avoid escalating a situation that I most certainly did not want to escalate. He started it, though. Then again, he'd also noticed, same as I had, that Tim was a very imposing figure. After all, he was at least as tall as my dad, if not slightly taller, and, once he flashed his badge, everything went much smoother. And by that, I mean that I got my money back, including the deposit. I’m pretty sure the way the desk jockey was looking at me, I’d have never seen that money again if Tim hadn’t been there looming over the desk. It’s amazing what a police escort can do.  

After we’d got my bag back, I throw it into the back seat of the car and we drive back to his apartment, which is also in Fell’s Point. It's very clean and organized, a one bedroom with quite a comfortable looking couch and a desk in the corner.

“I’ll be taking the couch,” he says as he locks the door behind us.

“This is very nice of you, Tim,” I put my bag down because the couch and sit for a second. Once I do, I remember where I am.

“Could I use the phone? As you said, I should call my dad. And Ray.”

“Be my guest,” Tim nods, pointing to the phone on the side table. “And while you do, I’ll go put fresh sheets on the bed for you.”

Once he disappears around the corner, I pick up the phone and dial the home number. It’s close to 2am in Baltimore, but Dad and Ray, if they know I’m traveling or working late, don’t go to bed without me checking in first. Even though, it’s only a one hour time difference…

“Hello?” A sleepy voice picks up the other end.

“Hi Dad,” I smile, hoping to keep my voice a little more cheerful. I don’t want Dad to hear how exhausted I am.

“Hey Baby Girl.” He stills calls me that from time to time. “How was your flight? Did you get checked in okay?”

“Flight was good, then I got really hungry so I went out for supper and a drink. Just getting in now, but, I’m not at the hotel.”

“You’re not,” he says this so matter-of-factly I can tell he’s sitting straight backed in bed, ready to jump on the next plane if he needs to. “Where are you if you’re not at the hotel?”

I very quickly tell him about what happened at the bar, and how Tim had offered to drive me back to the hotel instead of my grabbing a cab at one in the morning, and, once we got there, he’d recognized it as a crime scene he’d worked a few years before. As such, Tim had helped me get a full refund, offered me a place to sleep for the night and would help me find a different hotel in the morning.

“I see…” Dad’s voice is tight. I know he’s not happy about it, but I’ve never known him to panic without first knowing all the facts. “I take it he’s a police officer?”

“Yes, he’s a homicide detective.”

“May I speak with him?”

“Sure, that’s not a problem,” I nod against the phone as Tim comes back into the living room. “Here he is. I’m passing the phone over to him now.” I put my hand over the mouthpiece and look up at Tim. “My dad wants to talk to you.”

Tim nods and takes the phone from me.

ooOoo

I’m not surprised that Abby’s dad wants to talk to me. After all, his daughter is in a strange city by herself, and she’s now sitting in my living room when, just an hour or so before, she was meant to be checking into a hotel. As any father would, he wants to be sure she’s safe.

“Hello, Detective Tim Bayliss.”

"Good evening, Detective Bayliss.” I’m shocked how old fashioned he sounds. Abby’s so feisty; this guy sounds like he’s from another century. “I understand that my daughter was harassed in a bar and that you saw fit to take her back to your apartment?"

"No, sir. I was fully prepared to take her back to her hotel, but once we actually got there, I recognized it as a former crime scene that I worked a few years ago."

"I see."

It’s silent after that. He isn't giving anything away.

"We got her a full refund,” I swallow, in the hopes that my throat won’t close from nerves. “But checking her into another hotel at close to two in the morning doesn't do anyone much good."

"I see."

Why do I feel like a perp?

"Yes sir. I offered her a place to sleep for the night. We will find her another hotel tomorrow morning before I head to work."

"Alright then."

The guy sounds grudging, but not like he’s going to hunt me down and kneecap me.

"You do realize that I can check your story, of course?"

Okay, maybe he’s still after me with a shotgun. I’m not going to discount the possibility.

"Yes sir. I understand."

I can tell Abby's not going to give me any help. She’s pulled her bag in front of her feet and is digging through it. Looking for her toothbrush, no doubt. However, I am very good at interrogation. If I can get murderers and junkies to confess their sins, I can handle a few minutes on the phone with Abby's dad.

"As I said, sir, Abby will be here for one night." Shit, why the hell am I nervous?

Well, of course I'm nervous. I'm talking to some widowed old cop pushing retirement with one daughter that he'd kill for. I do not want to piss this guy off. Not that I want him to know I'm nervous.

"And you can get hold of me at my precinct.” I take a breath and give him the precinct number, as well as the phone number. Before he can ask, I also give him my badge number. “Your daughter is entirely safe with me."

I hold my breath, waiting to hear if he believes me, if he's heard the sincerity in my voice. Because, if there's one thing I'm sure of right now it's this: Abby is safe with me. I would no sooner hurt her or allow her to come to harm than chop off my foot.

"Okay." The voice offers reluctant assent. I have no doubt that the moment we've hung up he'll be on the phone to the precinct checking up on me.

Not that I blame him. I'd be the same. I try to imagine myself with a daughter - yes. I'd be the exact same.

Abby’s father probably won't get any sleep tonight. I wish I hadn't freaked him out so badly, but then again, it's nice to know that Abby has a Dad who cares so much. There's a lot of Dads out there who don't deserve kids. This one seems to have done a good job. He might be a scary old bastard - but I have to respect him.

"Very well, Detective. Please put Abigail back on the phone."

I do, and Abby is actually smirking at me. Never mind that I probably look like I'm about to shit myself. I guess she knows her dad did a number on me.

I wonder how many boyfriends he's scared away.

Shit, I hope his boyfriend isn't that damn scary. Last thing I need is two of them.

"Yes, hello Dad," Abby presses the phone to her ear. "Yes, I will be sleeping in the bed,” she shoots me an amused glance. “He will have the couch."

My mouth drops open.

"Yes, alright. As soon as I'm booked into another hotel..." she listens for a second. "Eww, that sounds like something Ray would tell me. That's gross." I don't want to know what's gross exactly, but maybe it doesn't really matter. "Yes, I'm sure I'll be fine. How's Ray? Oh, he's doing an overnight. Okay, I'm going to get ready for sleep now. Love you." She pauses for a moment and winks at me. Good Lord. "Tell Ray I love him too. Okay, bye. Love you, bye."

Once she hangs up, she opens her mouth in a mirror of what my face must look like. And then she starts laughing. "Oh, Tim, you should see your face!"

I'm sure I look like a fish caught on a line as she stands up, grabs her pajamas and toothbrush, and walks toward the bathroom.

What have I gotten myself into?

Soon enough, I hear her pulling on the tap at the sink, and I head back to the living room to make up the couch for the night. After all, if I’m going to sleep on it, I might as well be comfortable.

But that’s not what’s bothering me, though. I haven’t had a ‘meet the father’ moment like that since my high school prom! What’s worse is that Abby’s dad and I aren’t even in the same state, let alone the same room!

Jesus, I don't want to think what it would be like meeting that guy if I was actually dating Abby...

Not that I'd date her. I mean, not that she's not beautiful, but - well. If I was ten years younger maybe. Uhm wrong thought. I’m not ten years younger and I’m supposed to be looking after her. I can feel my ears getting hot.

I'd seen her I.D., and it looked legit, but still. She’s a lot younger than me, and - let's face it - too pretty. So I can just stop thinking about the 'meeting the Dad' conversation.

I’m just helping her out, that's all. She's had a shitty day and the last thing she needs is a shitty cop perving on her.

I’m such a dog. I can practically hear Lewis woofing in my ear.

To distract myself from that sort of thinking, I go to the linen cupboard and pull out a sheet and an extra pillow and start to make up my ‘nest’ for the night. Just as I do, Abby emerges from the bathroom, dressed in pajama shorts and an oversized t-shirt with “Chicago Police Department” stamped on the front. For the first time, I notice just how long her legs are…

Ugh, I could kick myself for thinking about her in that way. For God’s sake, Tim, stop looking at her like you want to pull her by the hair and drag her back to your cave!

“All good?” I make a point of turning away and she runs a hand through her hair, getting it out of her face.

“Yeah, thank you,” she smiles at me, and I clear my throat to clear my head. “Listen, Tim…”

“Yes?” I turn around and fold my arms over my chest, merely for something to do.

“I don’t know how to thank you for this,” she steps closer. “Not just for putting me up for the night, but for getting that refund, and talking to my dad. I know he’s intimidating sometimes.”

“Ah, I’ve handled worse,” I shrug, but it means a lot to hear her acknowledge that her dad can be terrifying, even over the phone.

“Even still, I know that’s not easy, especially under these circumstances. I mean, you and Meldrick save me from whoever that douche canoe was, and now this. You’ve gone above and beyond.”

“It isn’t a hardship, Abby.” Ha, tell that to my heart that’s trying to beat its way out of my chest. Suddenly there’s not enough air in the room. “You didn’t need saving,” I insist as she comes even closer. “From the way you got in his face to defend yourself, we were gonna have to save him from you if we’d waited any longer.”

“Regardless, it was still very kind of you.” Her voice is trembling a little and, oh God, now she’s leaning in . I freeze. Whatever she’s planning, she’s really worked up her courage, and I don’t want to spook her.

She kisses my cheek, whispers “Good night.” I hear it echoing in my ear as she pulls away. She’s blushing, and she quickly turns and disappears into the bedroom before I have a chance to respond.

Abby’s father isn't the only one who isn't going to get any sleep tonight.

ooOoo

It takes a moment for me to remember where I am when I wake up the next morning. The bed I'm in is extremely comfortable, with soft pillows, a light blanket, and a mattress that's just right. I feel a little like Goldilocks.

Taking a minute to survey my surroundings, I remember that I did not stay in a hotel last night. This is Detective Tim Bayliss’ apartment, and he offered me a place to stay for the night after everything had gone pear-shaped. Judging from the light coming through the curtains, it's close to nine in the morning, but it's also Sunday. Hadn't he said he had to work today? Maybe he didn't have to work until later. He would have knocked on the door to wake me up, otherwise.

I throw the blanket back and sit up, stretching. As I do, I put my feet on the floor and rub the excess sleep out of my eyes. Even through the bedroom door, I can hear Tim puttering around in the kitchen. Right, he slept on the couch last night.

Okay, no more stalling. I stand up and get to work on making up the bed. It doesn't take long- I don't do hospital corners, despite Dad's best efforts. As I told him when I was ten - I'm not in the army and I'm not a nurse. Dad knows to pick his battles. He gave up on the hospital corners, but I still had to do my homework. Just as well I can make a bed in five seconds flat though. It means I'm up and making my way to the bathroom in no time.  

There's a fresh towel and bar of soap waiting for me on the corner of the sink. How thoughtful.

I turn on the shower and step under the spray of hot water, willing it to soothe my tired muscles. I should have taken an aspirin or ibuprofen before getting on the plane yesterday. But it also gives me time to sort through my thoughts.

What had I been thinking, kissing Tim Bayliss last night? That's not to say that I regret doing so. It was simply to thank him for what he'd done in helping me, and, to his credit, he hadn't pushed for more. God knows, I’d had my fair share of that. Never mind what had happened between me and Michael…

What? Where had that come from? I hadn't thought about him for over a year, and good riddance. Plus, I could already tell that Tim was nothing like Michael.

I sincerely doubt Tim would have cheated on his girlfriend with his lab partner, and have been foolish enough to get caught in his girlfriend’s dorm room, on her bed, of all places. I also didn’t think he would tell her that he was owed sex simply because he was a man. I don’t want to think about the rest of it. Let’s just say I was stupid, as young people often are in college. Nope, the Tim Bayliss I had seen so far was nothing like Michael.

I get out of the shower, wrap myself in the towel, and then I realize that I hadn’t taken my bag with my clothes in it into the bedroom with me last night. Shit. I’m not ready for Tim to see me in just a towel. What if he turns around while I’m grabbing my bag? What do I do?

I decide I’m going to have to risk it. I tuck the end of the towel in around my chest as securely as I can, and, very quietly, tip toe out to the living room and grab my bag. I almost sprint back to the bedroom and close the door.

Either he hadn’t heard me, or he’d made a point of keeping his back turned and focused on making breakfast until I was ready to join him.

Shit. That was another thing. Breakfast. It’s one thing to have breakfast together if you’re actually sleeping together, but what’s the protocol in this situation? And what does it mean?

Okay, calm down, Abby, I tell myself. Tim offered you a place to sleep and he’s simply making breakfast for the two of you. He has to eat too. Stop getting ahead of yourself.

I pull on a pair of jeans and a tank top. Giving myself a once over in the mirror hanging on the wall, I decide that I’m actually presentable enough to sit at the table with the ridiculously handsome Tim Bayliss, and hopefully not make a fool of myself.

When I walk out from the bedroom, I can see he’s plating something, the frying pan in one hand and the spatula in the other.

He looks up at me over his glasses sliding down his nose and smiles.

“Good morning,” he sets the pan down and wipes his hands on the dish towel slung over his shoulder. “I hope you like French toast.’

I chuckle, my smile reaching my eyes. I’m so surprised that my hand goes over my mouth for a moment. “That’s my favourite. How’d you know?”

“I didn’t,” his smile is infectious. “But now I do. How do you take your coffee?”

“Just with milk,” I manage. “Are you needing help with anything?”

“No, no, you sit. I’ll just get this on the table for us.”

I do, and watch as he deftly gets our breakfast, coffee, and syrup to the table in less time than it takes to pour a bowl of cereal and milk.

He puts our coffee mugs down as he sits, and I take the chance to sneak a peak at him. God, he’s so handsome . I can tell he’s growing his hair, it’s just the right length to run my fingers through it if I want to.

What the hell? Snap out of it! What are you doing, ogling him like he’s a piece of meat? God, Abby! I can't believe I'm thinking about Tim like this. It's not like I normally perv after men - I don't think I even felt this way when Michael and I started going out. In fact, I know I didn't. This is a first time for me being a world class sleaze. I am so embarrassed. At least, I console myself, he doesn't know what I'm thinking.

I blink hard, and pick up my coffee mug. It’s Mighty Mouse, which, I gather from the tape on top of his VCR, was a favourite of his growing up. I take a sip and watch as he dizzles syrup over his French toast and gestures at my plate.

“Yes please,” I manage once I put my coffee mug back down and push my plate forward slightly. Once that’s done, I take it back and cut into my breakfast. It smells delicious.

It tastes even better. I think I hear myself moan, and I cover my mouth as I chew.

“That’s really good,” I finish chewing and take another sip of coffee. “You didn’t have to cook breakfast. Cereal would have been more than enough.”

“I like French toast on Sunday,” Tim shrugs. “Plus, it’s nice having someone to eat breakfast with. Usually it’s coffee and a donut at my desk before my phone rings.”

“Donuts? Aren’t you lucky?” I quip. “Most of the time I’m so busy it’s a miracle if I can manage a yogurt and maybe a granola bar in the morning. A bagel on a good day.” I take another bite and savour it. “But during a book launch, forget it. I practically live on coffee when that’s happening.”

“Book launch?”

“I just got hired full-time at a publishing firm in Chicago a few months ago,” I explain. “Right after I graduated from college, they took me on. I’d done my internship there, so they already knew me, but at least I’m not anyone’s gopher anymore.”

Tim’s put down his cutlery and has an elbow on the table, a hand on his cheek. He’s actually listening. It’s been a long time since anyone besides my dad or Ray actually wanted to hear about what I do for a living.

“We had a launch a few days ago, just before I came out here. I didn’t leave the office until close to midnight every day for the past three weeks. That’s when the big push started. And by the end I was so exhausted I could barely remember where I live. But seeing the author’s name up with their book title and then schmoozing with the publishers and knowing that I helped make it happen… there’s nothing like that feeling.”

I clear my throat, because now I feel extremely self-conscious.. “So, how did you end up as a homicide detective and owning The Waterfront?”

“Oh no no no, we can get to that a bit later,” Tim puts his hand down. “I'd like to hear more about publishing.”

“It really isn’t as glamorous as I make it sound,” I insist, following his lead and digging back into breakfast before it gets cold. “I’m out the door at all sorts of odd hours, my phone will ring in the middle of the night because they can't fix something and then I have to borrow the car from Ray and drive in to try and fix it in the office. Half the time the entire office is so scattered we'd lose our heads if they weren’t attached to our shoulders. We all look like zombies.”

Tim laughs. “Sounds like us, if I'm being honest.”

“It does?” I ask. Of course it does, you ninny, I chide myself. It was the same with Dad when you were growing up. I guess I'm still not completely awake. I feel my cheeks go red at asking such a question. To hide my embarrassment, I finish my coffee and tackle the last bites of breakfast.

“Yeah, just a bit,” I'm sure Tim can see the colour in my cheeks, but he's being diplomatic and taking care not to mention it. “You want some more coffee?”

“No I’m okay, thanks,” I stand up at the same time he does. “Let me get these. You cooked, the least I can do is wash the dishes.”

“You're sure?” He looks surprised.

“Sure I'm sure, I don't mind,” I insist. “I heard you mention that you've got to work today, and we’ve just got to find me another hotel room before we meet Meldrick and John to fill out that incident report.”

He stops for a moment. “You're right,” he nods. “I’m going to go get dressed.” From his tone, he’s just as loathe to bring himself back to reality as I am.

He helps me clear the table and shows me where he keeps the dish soap, rubber gloves, steel wool, and the dish towels before heading to go get dressed.

As I run the tap and fill the sink with suds, my mind starts to wander. I'd always been in awe of how good a well tailored suit or uniform looks on a man, and I have no doubt it’ll be the same for Tim.

No, stop that! I scold myself. Wash the damn dishes and then make sure you've got everything you need before you head out to find a hotel for the rest of your trip, damn it.

So that's what I do. By the time I've finished drying the last of them, Tim has returned, standing with his back to me and putting the finishing touches on tying his tie. And yes, I was right. He does look good in a suit. It’s not an expensive suit- not like what Uncle Ray would wear, but it doesn’t need to be Armani for a man to look good. Tim’s tall, broad shouldered, and he walks well…

Oh for goodness sake, Abby. Stop looking at his butt. He won’t thank you for it.

I pull off the rubber gloves and set them over the faucet to dry out. “Done. The only thing I wasn't sure of was where they live when they’re not in use.”

“I’ll put them away,” he nods. “Have you got everything? We should head out soon.”

“I’ll go check and make sure,” I nearly sprint to grab my bag and bring it back to the living room. I unzip it, and move the clothes that will need to be washed to a mesh laundry bag I’d packed away for that purpose. “Yep, everything’s here.” I zip it up again and stand up straight. “What hotel do you recommend?”

Tim lays a finger alongside his nose and smiles at me. He’d promised both me and my dad that he’d find a good place for me to stay for the week, but maybe he wants to surprise me? Why else would he not tell me which one he has in mind?

A few moments later, he’s locked the apartment up for the day and we are on our way to first, find me a hotel, and then to the precinct, where Meldrick and John are probably already waiting for me to come in and fill out that report.

We pull up to a beautiful old building that Tim calls the Lord Baltimore Hotel. When we walk through the doors, I am in awe of how stunning it is. The sign outside says its managed by Radisson, so it’s name is a bit different than what Tim knew it as growing up, but I’ve never had a problem staying at any Radisson hotel before.

“Go see if they have a room available for however long you want to stay,” Tim points me toward the reception desk. “I’ll wait down here.”

So I do, and I’m in luck. They have a room with a single Queen sized bed available from the duration of my stay. I hold out my driver’s license and credit card as I.D., and then they accept my booking in a matter of minutes. They give me a key card, and I turn around to look at Tim.

“I’ll be down in five minutes,” I tell him, and make my way to the elevator. I’m on the fifth floor, and I sprint to my room. I unlock it, throw my bag in the door, make sure I call Dad to let him know that I’m safe in a hotel now (and give him the room number and extension), and run right back to the elevator. I don’t want to keep Tim waiting long, I know he has to get to work.

I make sure I’ve got my handbag, and we get back into the car, heading back toward the precinct. It’s another old building, with a lot of shift change noise and imposing stairs, but I don’t mind. I won’t be in here very long.

“Hey, uh…” he stops me before I get out of the car. “I was wondering, would you like to have dinner tonight?”

I blink, but I don’t hesitate. “Sure. What time?”

“Eight o’clock?”

“Sounds good. You want to meet here?”

He smiles as though he can think of absolutely nothing better. “Yeah. You and me, we’ll meet here, eight o’clock. You gonna be okay for the day?”

“Oh sure, I’m on vacation. There’s lots for me to do.” We both get out of the car and start up the steps into the precinct.

We get inside, and everyone who is already at their desk turns to look at me. From a quick scan of the room, I don’t see John or Meldrick, but there’s a woman with dark hair tied in a ponytail reading through a case file, a man in suspenders with wavy blond hair with his feet up on the desk tossing a football in the air in what I could only describe as a release of tension, and a fairly tall bald man walking as quickly as he can toward Tim’s desk before he’s even sat down.

“Bayliss!” he barks, and Tim looks up from the shuffle of papers on his desk, startled.  “Where have you been ? Gee’s about ready to kick my ass since I didn’t know where you were, and we’ve gotta go pick up…” he rattles off a name I don’t know. “Come on! Let’s go!”

“Alright, Frank, would you give me a minute? I only just got in.” Tim snaps back, though there’s no malice in his voice.

“And who’s this sitting at your desk?”

Excuse me? Why the fuck are you being so rude?

“Hey, Abby!” I hear as Meldrick and john come back around the corner. “When’d you get here?”

“Just a few minutes ago,” I get up as Meldrick opens his arms for a hug. “I figured now would be as good a time as any to get that report done.”

“Well sure, I’m not up yet, come sit over here with me and Munch and we’ll get that done. Timmy can sign it later, since Pembleton’s ready to eat him.” Meldrick leads me over to his desk and digs in his bottom drawer for his file folder about the Waterfront.

Ah, okay, so Tim’s partner’s name is Frank Pembleton. He reminds me a lot of Inspector Thatcher, Dad’s superior officer at the Consulate. I don’t like her, and she knows it. That’s why she makes a point of avoiding me whenever I’m at a Consular event as Dad’s ‘plus one’, and has remained very distant and overly professional toward me. It looks like I’ll have to do the same with Frank Pembleton.

But that’s not something I need to worry about right now, although I catch Tim’s eye as he hurries out the door with Frank.

Twenty minutes later, Meldrick, John, and I have gone over every detail of what happened at the Waterfront, and they ask, because it’s par for the course, whether I want to escalate it. I tell them, for their records, that I am happy to have this on file, but I don’t care to take it any further.

All three of us sign it, and I head back out the door and down the steps out into the morning sun. If I’m going on a date tonight, I want to look nice, and I hadn’t really brought anything (aside from a pair of high heels) in my travel bags that would be nice enough for a fancy dinner out. Plus, I want to indulge myself a little. That means a manicure and pedicure.

I am, after all, on vacation. Who says I can’t pamper myself a little?

ooOoo

Frank and I are on our way to the crime scene (he insists on driving of course), but I also notice that he’s sneaking glances at me every minute or so. What? Is there something on my face?

“So, uh…” Frank starts. “Who was that?”

“Who was who?” I’m going to make him work for it. I know he’s talking about Abby, and maybe I’ll tell him what he wants to know. Maybe. Depends on what he asks.

“The woman with you at your desk this morning. I heard Lewis call her Abby? Who’s Abby?”

“She came into the Waterfront last night, and some asshole started harassing her. Since we had to throw him out and ban him for hurling racist remarks, we needed her to fill out an incident report.”

“So, an incident report is the reason you look like you’ve been hit over the head with the dumb stick? Because you haven’t stopped smiling since you got in this car.”

“You’re seeing things,” I chuckle.

“Yeah, okay, I’m seeing things,” Frank fires back, and I'm pretty sure he's rolling his eyes. “I’m seeing that you got this big, stupid grin on your face and I can’t figure out why. What happened that you’re all smiles and sunshine?”

We’re silent for a moment, and then I burst out laughing. “Smiles and sunshine, Frank?”

“Ah, Livvy’s fallen in love with this book that has a picture of the sun on the cover. Mary calls it the smiles and sunshine book.”

We’re silent again, but it’s not as though we’ve never sat through awkward silences together before. I can tell he wants to know more, but, for some strange reason, he’s waiting to ask.

“So…” he starts again. “You gonna see her again?”

Okay now I can tell I’m smiling.  

“I invited her to dinner.”

Frank does a hard stop in the middle of the street. “You did what now?”

“I invited her to dinner,” I repeat. “And she said yes.”

Frank makes a startled noise, like he can’t believe what he’s hearing. “You?”

“Yes.”

You asked her out?”

“Yes, Frank, I asked her out.”

A horn blares behind us, and Frank moves the car forward. “I cannot believe this. When was the last time you had a date?”

“With a woman?” Frank knows of, and tells me time and time again that he has no issue with the fact that I’m bisexual.

“Woman, man… doesn’t matter. A date. When was the last time you, Tim Bayliss, had a date?”

Well that’s an easy question to answer. “Not since after the Costello case.”

“That was six months ago!”

“I know when it was, Frank,” I nod as we stop at another light.

“You’re telling me you haven’t had a date in six months?”

Okay, he’s just dicking me around. He knows I haven’t had a date in that long.

“Between shifts, the bar, and coming to visit you, Mary, and Olivia, where would I find the time?” I quip.

“Yeah, sure,” he sounds dismissive but I can tell it’s an act. “Hope you have a nice time.” I can hear the sincerity under the sarcasm as we pull up to the crime scene. “Just make sure she doesn’t have a coffin fetish!”

I roll my eyes and get out of the car. I turn my focus to the task at hand, and we walk under the crime scene tape.

ooOoo

I decide that I'd better head to the Maritime museum as I’d planned, before heading out for a manicure and pedicure. If I got it done too early, by the time I was ready to go for the night, everything would be chipped and fading. I have bad luck when it comes to these types of things, which is why I don’t do it very often.   

After that, I go to a boutique, and decide that I’d like a new dress. Granted, I do need something nice for work, but Tim doesn’t need to know that. It can look good for tonight and later down the line.

I find a gorgeous dark purple, short sleeve, knee length spring cocktail dress hiding on a clearance rack. I fall in love with it immediately and have to try it on. It fits perfectly. Before I even get changed back into my street clothes, I know that this dress is mine.

I pay for it (it’s a bit of a splurge, but I’m on vacation, and how often do you find a piece of clothing that fits so well?), and grab a cab back to the hotel. I want a shower and a bit of time to do my hair and makeup before meeting Tim back at the precinct.

I’m nervous, but it’s the happy kind of nerves, the butterflies in your stomach that sometimes do flip-flops. I haven’t been on a date in over a year…

I’m ready to go at around 7:30, but it’s still a little too early to leave. So, I give myself a last minute check in the mirror, touch up my lipstick, and go downstairs to the reception desk to call for a cab.

It takes about five minutes before it arrives, and, at about five minutes to eight, I find myself walking up the steps of the precinct again, and waiting at the bottom of the stairs.

It feels strange to just be waiting. I don’t know anyone, except for Tim, Meldrick, and John, and none of them seem to be around right now. My stomach flips again, and then I hear Meldrick coming down the stairs, talking to John. They must have been partnered up today.

“So then, afterward, I say to Barbara…” he reaches the bottom and turns his head. It takes him a minute before he recognizes me. “Whoa!”

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” I smile at them.

“Where you going tonight?”

“You blind, Lewis?” John looks like he’s resisting the urge to smack Meldrick in the back of the head. “She’s going on a date!”

“Oh,” Meldrick draws out the sound. “Who scooped you up for company tonight, Abby?”

I flash them both another smile just as Tim appears at the top of the stairs, folding his coat over his arm. He looks up, catches my eye, and his mouth falls open.

“There he is,” I casually throw out to the two detectives already with me.

He all but races down to me as Meldrick shakes his head.

“You know what, Bayliss? I hate you,” he grouses.

“Sure you do, Lewis,” John actually smacks him on the back the time. “Come on, we’ve gotta go open the bar. Needless to say Timmy’s not joining us tonight.”

“I’ll see you guys later,” he calls as Meldrick and John walk out the front doors.

“Still hate you, Bayliss!” Meldrick shouts over his shoulder, and now we are the only two people in the foyer.

“I figured, if we were going out tonight, I’d get dressed up a little, make myself beautiful.” I confess.

Tim smiles and lifts my hand to his lips. “You’re already beautiful.”

I hear my breath hitch, and I study the look in his eyes. He means it. He truly means it. How can he do that with just an inflection in his voice?

“I, uh… thought about cutting out early and going home to change, but I wasn’t sure what you’d like.”

I crook my finger at him for him to lean closer. “I like the suit,” I whisper in his ear.

He blushes, and we go out the door. Once we’re on the sidewalk, he offers me his arm as we walk to the car.

Tim opens the door for me, waits until I'm in, closes it, then walks around to the other side.

“Where would you like to eat tonight?” He asks as he buckles his seat belt and puts the key in the ignition.

“What do you recommend?” I answer. “I've only been here for a day, and I haven’t seen much yet.”

“Depends what you’re in the mood for,” he taps his hands on the steering wheel. “Italian? French?”

“Italian sounds good,” I nod. Then I remember reading about a restaurant with a distinctive name during my research. “What do you know about the Zodiac?”

His eyes light up. “That's precisely what I was thinking. You must be psychic. A friend of mine owns it. It's in Mount Vernon.”

“So why don't we go there?”

“An excellent idea,” he nods as he puts the car in gear. It seems like no time has passed at all, we’re chatting and laughing at each other’s jokes so much, but when I look at my watch. twenty minutes have gone by. We pull into the parking lot at the Zodiac, get out of the car, and walk to the front door.

It's very cozy and inviting. Our hostess looks up and smiles as she recognizes Tim.

“Detective Tim Bayliss, I haven’t seen you in months!” She greets him and leans on her hostess stand for a moment.

“Hello Noreen,” he smiles back. “I’m sorry for the long silence, but you understand how it is, right? Detective’s work is never done.”

“Of course I understand, but it doesn’t mean we haven’t missed seeing you around,” she nods. “So what’ll it be tonight? Table for two?”

“If there's one available. It looks like you’re pretty busy tonight.”

“I'm sure we can find you and this gorgeous lady a place,” she looks down to check her seating chart. “You're in luck, follow me please.” Noreen grabs two menus and leads us toward the back of the restaurant to an open table.

“I’ll let Chris know you're here,” she hands us our menus. “But before I do that, can I start you off with something to drink?”

“Um…” the wine list looks daunting, and I'm not much of a drinker anyway. “You know what? I'm not really in the mood for wine. Could I just have some sparkling water, please?”

“I’ll do the same, please Noreen,” Tim lays his own wine list down on the table.

Noreen nods and picks the wine lists up off the table. “I’ll just get these out of your way and be right back.” She turns and walks toward the bar, leaving the two of us to read through our menus.

The restaurant has soft music playing, and it's fairly busy for a Sunday night. But I notice that it's quiet. People are carrying on conversations with each other, but oftentimes I've found that things get loud with a lot of people in the room. That's not the case here. There are a lot of couples in tonight, as well. I wonder how many other people are also on a date.

By the time Noreen has come back with our drinks, we've had a few minutes with the menus. Everything sounds delicious.

“There you are,” Noreen places our drinks on the table. “Are you ready to order or would you like a few more minutes?”

“No, I'm ready,” I answer, looking at Tim to see if he is. He nods. “I'd like the mushroom risotto, please.”

Noreen writes it down as Tim does another quick scan. “You know, that sounds great. I’ll do the same. And, uh, Abby, would you like anything to start with?”

“How do you feel about burrata and fig crostini? Or tomato and bocconcini?”

“Oh wow, such choices,” Tim smiles. “Tomato and bocconcini sounds good. You okay with that?”

“Yes, now I'm really hungry,” I chuckle along with Noreen as she writes that down and starts back toward the kitchen.

Now that Tim and I are left alone for a few moments, he holds out his hand on the table. No pressure, just as invitation. I take it.

“So,” he starts, and I feel my cheeks getting warm. How is it that an unspoken invitation to hold hands can send a bolt of electricity up my arm? “I was wondering, if the dance floor is open tonight…”

“Oh you better believe it,” I nod enthusiastically. “I'm also a ballroom dancer. I started that around the same time as the boxing lessons.”

"Ballroom boxing," Tim smiles. "Sounds like a bit of an odd combination."

"Not really, they go together nicely. Dancing improves your coordination and proprioception, which is useful in boxing, and boxing involves a lot of fancy footwork, keeping your opponent guessing. And boxing gives you confidence, which helps in ballroom competitions." Tim is looking at me intently, obviously listening to every word.

"You must be very good," he says, "if you go in for competitions."

I feel my cheeks flush. I hope he doesn't think I'm bragging. "Uh, I'm not bad," I say. "Ray's a good teacher."

"Oh," for some reason Tim looks a little relieved. "So, Ray’s also a dance teacher? I thought you said he was a Detective."

"He is,” I nod and smile. “But he and his ex-wife used to compete together a long time ago. He’s kept it up, says it’s good stress relief. I’m inclined to agree with him.”

"You're a talented family. Your Dad dance?"

I laugh out loud. "Good grief, no. He's good at a lot of things, but he dances like a stick."

It’s Tim’s turn to chuckle. “I have a feeling that I’ll have to ask you to teach me a few steps,” he runs his thumb over the skin between my thumb and forefinger absently, and it feels good . “The closest I’ve ever gotten to a dance class was the ones they made me take in high school gym class”

“You had ballroom dance classes in high school?” That’s interesting. “The only gym classes I’d ever actually enjoyed were the track events. Everything else I found boring and repetitive.”    

“I can understand that. I’ve always thought sports should be something to be enjoyed, not forced on people.”

“What kind of sports did you enjoy?”

“Basketball,” he answers without hesitation. “My cousin and I used to play everyday after school. Sometimes before school if we could manage it.”

“That sounds like a lot of fun,” I nod. “You’re lucky that you and your cousin are so close.”

“We’re like brothers,” he’s still holding my hand. “Speaking of, I’ve spoken to your dad, and you mentioned you have a stepdad, but I’m going to guess that you don’t have any siblings?”

“Nope, I’m an only child,”  I shake my head. “I do have cousins on my mom’s side, though, but they’re a lot younger than me and they’re still in the Northwest Territories.”

“How’d that happen?”

“How’d what happen? Having cousins who are a lot younger than I am?”

“Yes,” Tim answers. “You said your mom died when you were born…”

“My cousins are her older brother’s children,” I nod. “I only just met them two years ago. My uncle and I were estranged for quite a while, though not for a lack of trying on mine and my dad’s part.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” he looks over his shoulder for a second and reluctantly lets go of my hand. And a few moments later I see why. Our food has arrived, and it’s being carried by a man with very dark hair and distinctive eyebrows.

“Alright, here we are, the tomato and bocconcini. For you, Miss,” he places the first serving plate  in front of me before moving to put Tim’s on the table with a very practiced hand. “And for you, Tim. Hello again.”

“Hey Chris!” Tim’s face lights up in recognition as he shakes the man’s hand. “It’s good to see you.”

“Good to see you too, welcome back…” Chris lets go of Tim’s hand and stands up straight, smoothing his tie. I’m guessing this is Tim’s friend, the one who owns the Zodiac. Chris turns to me and grins. “I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure?”

“Abigail Fraser,” I offer him a handshake. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Chris Rawls,” he surprises me by turning my wrist and kissing my hand. “The pleasure’s all mine, Abigail.”

Oh, he’s smooth , and he knows it. He lets go of my hand and turns his attention back to both of us. “Is everything going alright? Are we looking after you okay?”

“Everything’s perfect so far,” I unroll my cutlery and place my napkin on my lap. “This looks delicious.”

“I saw your ticket in the kitchen. The mushroom risotto is one of my favourites, you’re both in for a treat,” he nods as Tim mimics me in unrolling his cutlery. “I’ll let you two eat in peace, but I’ll be by to check on you a little later.”  

“Fantastic, thank you Chris,” Tim smiles. “And please say hello to Sam.”

“I will, thank you,” Chris claps once and turns back toward the kitchen. “Enjoy.”

Once Chris leaves, I take the opportunity to sip at my sparkling water and serve myself from our shared appetizer plate. Tim waits for me before doing the same.

This was definitely the right choice. It’s light and flavourful, and just enough to whet my appetite. Tim and I are silent for a little while, just enjoying each other’s company as we share a meal. It doesn’t take long for the tomato and cheese to disappear, and, once that plate is cleared away, it looks like we still have a few minutes before our main course is set to arrive.

“So, you asked if I have any siblings,” I start the conversation again. “And now you know that I’m an only child. What about you?”

“No, just my cousins, Jim, the one I mentioned playing basketball with, and his brother, Curt.” Tim takes a sip of water and sets the glass back down. “But like I said, we were practically like brothers, growing up. Jim’s kids call me Uncle Tim.”

“Oh, that’s beautiful,” I answer, and it is. I’d wished for the same thing, growing up, but it hadn’t happened simply because my parents had been so young. “I’m guessing Jim’s kids are quite young as well?”

“His daughter is nearly nine, and his son is three.” He looks a little forlorn for just a second. “Sweetest kids in the world.”

“I think my cousins might give them a run for their money,” I quip, hoping to make him smile again and break the bit of tension that’s settled over us.

It works, and he laughs softly just as Noreen arrives with our risotto. Same as Chris did, she serves me first, then Tim, with the same practiced hand.

“And there you are, did you want any fresh ground pepper or cheese?” she reaches into her apron pocket and pulls out the pepper mill.

“No thank you, Noreen. This is lovely.” I rotate my plate so it moves a little closer to me. “Although, could I trouble you for some more water?”

“No trouble at all, I’ll be right back.”

Tim and I pick up our forks and dig in. Wow! Chris wasn’t kidding. This is absolutely phenomenal. And from the look on Tim’s face, he agrees.

“I’ve never had risotto like this,” I cover my mouth and finish chewing. “Although I don’t really have a basis for comparison. I didn’t try it until I was eighteen.”

“Really?”

“No, I had a hard time acclimatizing my palate when Dad and I first moved,” I take another bite. “When I was young, anything we couldn’t hunt for ourselves had to be flown in, and it was stupidly expensive. A five pound bag of apples, which might cost you five dollars here, costs you fourteen in the Territories. And when you’re on a budget, it’s not always possible to get as much fresh fruit and vegetables as you might like.”

Tim nods. “So what did you end up doing, when that was the case?”

“My grandmother taught me the fine art of preserving and canning.” I lean back as Noreen returns with another bottle of sparkling water and refills our glasses. “Thank you.” I tell her, and turn my attention back to Tim. “I can still do it, but there’s not really a need for it in Chicago.”

“She sounds like a very good teacher.”

“She is,” I watch him for a moment while he takes a bite. I’m really enjoying just having his company, and the fact that he’s listening and actually engaging in conversation with me, not just shoveling food in his mouth, unlike some other person who I once knew that shall remain nameless. “She’s the one who taught me to speak, and emphasized how important it is to preserve our language and heritage.”

“By heritage, you mean…”

“Remember I said I’m half Inuit?”

He nods.

“I spoke Inuktitut at home and English at school,” I pause and study his face. He seems in awe. “I think I know what you’re about to say. You can’t tell that English is my second language, can you?”

“I would never have guessed,” Tim shakes his head. “You said your dad speaks it too?”

“Yes. He was born in the Territories. It wouldn’t have made sense for him not to speak it, especially since a lot of the villages and hamlets that he patrolled were Inuit. He’s a bit of a polyglot. I guess I am too.” I pause for just a moment. “Mind you, Dad speaks a lot more languages than I do.” I roll my eyes. “Mandarin, Cantonese, some dialect I can't remember the name of, plus Cree, Russian - even Latin." I snort. “Conversational Latin, no less. His grandmother was a librarian and school teacher. Filled his head with a thousand books, so he's scarred for life.”

Tim blinks, mouth open slightly. “What other languages do you speak?”

“There’s the Inuktitut and English, some French, because it was a requirement when I was at school in Canada, and when I moved to Chicago, I took Spanish classes.” I put down my fork for a second. It’s very filling, and I’m not as hungry as I was, now that I’ve eaten at least some of it. And really, there’s not much left on my plate.

“Remember how I said talented?”

“Mmm hmm.”

“I should have said multi-talented. I know some Spanish, for work, but most of the time I don’t have a lot of occasion to use it.” Tim is working on the final few bites of his supper. “And when I do, people are usually speaking so fast that I have trouble understanding what they’re trying to tell me.”

“It gets easier with practice,” I assure him. “For example…” I move my plate to the side, put my fork and knife in the ‘five o’clock position’ to signal to Noreen that I’ve finished, and lean forward. I motion for Tim to do the same. We are practically nose to nose, so I lower my voice and whisper a sentence in Inuktitut that I wouldn’t have been brave enough to say in English at that very moment.

He blinks. I think he can tell from my tone that I’ve just asked him for something. “What did you just ask me?”

I swallow the lump that has formed in my throat. I am suddenly very nervous, but I know I have to ask, otherwise I won’t get an answer.

“I said,” I lower my voice again. “How would you like to come back to the hotel with me after we pay the bill?”

My cheeks have gone red, and Tim’s mouth has dropped open in surprise. He quickly kisses my cheek in response.

“Me encantaría eso, más que nada,” he whispers back.

I would love that, more than anything, he'd said. Oh God…

We pull ourselves together just enough to greet Chris as he comes over.

“So how was everything?” He asks, smiling and sounding genuinely glad to see us again after he's been busy all night.

“It was absolutely lovely, thank you,” I answer. “And you and Noreen have been fantastic hosts. Thank you again.”

He smiles. “Thank you, Abigail. Should I find you a dessert menu?”

“Um… no, that's alright, Chris. Could we grab the bill, please?”

“I thought you might say that.” Being the professional that I've seen him be all night, he puts the bill folder down on the table. “So, there you are. I'm glad you came by. Don’t be strangers. Please come back and see us again.” He’s about to turn around.

“Hold on, hold on,” Tim grabs his wallet so quickly that I don't have time to reach for mine, and something tells me I shouldn’t. He gives Chris the amount to cover the bills and what looks like a very generous tip. “That's for you and Noreen. Thank you, Chris. And congratulations again on your success.”

He nods and takes the bill folder back as Tim offers me his arm. “Have a great evening, you two.”

He bids us goodbye and we walk back out to the car. The drive back to the hotel is quiet. It’s not awkward, but I'm both nervous and excited. When those two things are mixed together, I sometimes find myself saying things that I won’t be able to take back, and I don't want to spoil whatever this may be.

We are both surprisingly composed as we drive back to the hotel, park the car, and go up the elevator to the fifth floor. As we walk down the hallway toward my room, I dig into my handbag for my key card and bump into Tim while we walk.

It breaks the tension, and we laugh, brushing against each other the rest of the way. Once I open the door, I step inside and block Tim from entering. Only because I want to kiss him, but I'm not sure how to ask without sounding like a complete moron.

So, I simply ask the only way I know how.

“Will you kiss me?”

“Yeah,” his eyes are already half closed, and he cups my cheek, touches his lips to mine.

His mouth is firm, but undemanding. He licks along my bottom lip, and my knees go weak. It's a good thing that I'm leaning against the door at this point.

When he pulls away, we’re both gasping for air. I look at him, and his pupils are blown with arousal, but he still won’t move. He's not going to do anything unless I give him permission.

Only one thing that makes sense at this particular moment; I kiss him quickly, grab his tie, and pull him into the room with me, making sure the door closes behind him.

Once we’re inside, I break the kiss just long enough to bend down and take my high heels off. God, that feels amazing! I kiss him again and we fumble back toward the bed.

We’re staggering, and I lose my balance. Luckily, I bump into the bed frame and bring myself up to a sitting position, Tim leaning forward and trying to balance himself with both hands on the bed on either side of my hips. Our mouths and hands are everywhere but somehow I get him to stand up.

“Off…” I manage, pulling at his shirt, untucking it from his suit pants. “Take this off…”

Tim’s eyes grow even darker, and he does as I ask. The tie comes off as well, and in no time at all he’s shirtless in front of me. God, he’s all well defined muscle. I could bounce a quarter off his pectoral muscles if I wanted to.

He’s on his knees now, sliding a hand up my leg and coming to rest on the hem of my dress. The dress has to be unzipped, so I pull him up to his feet, and I stand up.

I kiss his fingertips one at a time on both hands before turning around. “There’s a small hook at the top, then the zipper comes down.”

I hear his breath hitch for a second, as though he can’t believe that this is actually happening. He runs a finger along the back neckline, and he finds the clasp. He makes quick work of it, but takes his time with the zipper. He brings it down slowly, moves the fabric off my shoulders and lets the dress puddle around my feet.

This has left me in a purple bra and white panties, but frankly, I don’t care. As I step out of the puddled dress and kick it out of the way, Tim bends and kisses my shoulder. It’s just enough of a distraction that it takes a few seconds before I realize he’s running his hands up from my hips, over my ribcage, and moving to cup my breasts.

I moan and tilt my head back, exposing my neck. “Yes please…”

Tim’s hands reach underneath my bra and cup my breasts, never mind the material in the way. The way he’s running his fingers over the skin and playing with my nipples is sheer pleasure. I want more, much more.

“Need to turn around, need to see you,” I breathe, and I do. This isn’t fair. Tim is wearing far too many clothes, and I don’t like it. I reach for and grab his belt, tugging on the leather as he bends and kisses my neck, chuckling softly as I pull the belt through the loops on his pants and throw it across the room away from us. It’s in the way, damn it!

And so are his pants. My fingers are flying as I pull the zipper down and unfasten the button. Oh, he’s wearing boxers. Don’t care. First pants come off, then boxers.

“Oh God, Abby…” he whispers into my neck as his pants go the same way as his shirt and belt: down to the floor and kicked aside. Once he’s free of those, he picks me up and lays me gently on the bed. “Let me look at you, please…”

I stretch out underneath him, and he pauses for just a moment, bringing himself up on his elbow. “Beautiful…” he reaches out and traces the outline of my bra. “So’s this, but I don’t like it much right now. It should come off, don’t you think?”

“Good Lord, yes,” I sit up and make quick work of the clasp in the back. Once free, I lay back on the bed, and the air hits my skin, creating goosebumps.

Tim grins wolfishly, rolls over onto his stomach, and bends his head, taking my nipple into his mouth and swirling his tongue.

I bite my lip, trying not to scream. God, that’s so good! He’s sucking and licking, a combination of tongue and teeth that's just the right side of too much, and I can feel my hips coming up off the bed.

It’s not enough. He bites gently, and I moan again.

“More…” I’m begging now, and I don’t care.

Tim releases my nipple and kisses my breast. He looks up and grins devilishly. Without taking his eyes off me, his hands moves down my torso and into the front of my panties, searching and finding my clit.

My breath catches, and my free hand goes into his hair. Oh no, if your hand is there, your mouth better be following soon after.

I wiggle, and Tim pulls his hand away and gets up on his knees. Grinning, he hooks his fingers into the waistband of my panties, pulls them down and off.

“Please?” I beg him.

“Tell me what you want…” he growls as he adjusts his position on the bed.

“Please, Tim…. please.”

“I do please, so tell me, Abby. Tell me what you want.”

I’m absolutely sure he knows what I want, but I say it anyway.

“Give me your mouth.”

“Your wish is my command,” he grins, and he runs a hand up my leg to get them to bend. They do, and he places a kiss to the inside of my thigh. He’s working his way up, and, a few minutes later, he’s there , and sets to his work.

He’s good at this, and he’s worked hard to be good at this. My hands move to his head, keeping it still. I want him to show me just how talented his tongue is.

His hair is soft, I notice as I grab a handful. I’d wondered what it’d be like to run my fingers through it, preferably in a situation just like this. I got my first wish.

I’m grinding against his mouth, relishing the way his tongue is working. He groans, and it’s the most erotic sound I’ve ever heard.

He pulls away for only half a second, and within that time, his boxers come off and a condom goes on. Where had that come from? Doesn’t matter. Jesus, he’s beautiful. He leans down, and I taste myself on his lips.

I take the opportunity to flip him onto his back and straddle his hips. He looks surprised for a second, as though he can’t believe I’ve just done it. I reach down and stroke him. He’s practically vibrating .

I smirk and slowly sink down on him. My mouth drops open and I throw my head back. “Tim…”

He moves his hands to my hips, holds me steady while I adjust. “So good,” his voice is low and husky. “Abby, you’re so good.”

There’s heat building low in my belly as I lean forward and start to rock.

“Oh…” my breath hitches and I have to stop for a second. A small sob escapes the back of my throat.

Tim freezes, reaches up and brushes my hair away from my face. “It’s alright,” he soothes, cupping my cheek. “Take your time. As long as you need.”

I’m so overwhelmed by the care and concern that he’s showing me that I’m finally able to relax, and start again. We soon figure out a rhythm, and I can feel that heat building up, quicker this time.

It doesn’t take long before I shatter, heat radiating through my belly and light and colour exploding behind my eyelids. Tim’s not far behind.

I fall forward on top of him, and he catches me, running his hands down my back as I get my breath back and allow my heart rate to slow.

It takes a minute before I’m ready to slide off of him. When I do, he turns away and quickly and efficiently disposes of the condom. Once that’s done, he rolls back over, pulls me to him, and kisses me.

We lie there breathing together for a few moments more. I know I’ll have to get up and go to the bathroom soon, but for right now, I want to stay in this bed and listen to Tim Bayliss’ heart beating.

So I do.

ooOoo  

Jesus Christ, Abigail Fraser was a beautiful woman. I’d certainly thought so before, but that look on her face as I held her hip and her head tilted back, exposing her neck… I can’t describe that look. It’s beyond anything I’ve ever seen before.

Now we are curled up in bed together, and her head is resting on my chest. She’s a warm and welcome weight. She’s doing her best not to fall asleep on me, and I can’t help smiling.

I feel her move slightly, and I can tell that she's moving slowly, a sign that she’s worn out and (hopefully) satisfied. She sits up and kisses me before getting out of the bed.

“Where…” Oh, smooth, Tim. My sex-fogged brain can't put more than a one word sentence together at the moment.

“I have to pee,” she answers. “I’ll be right back.”

Oh, right. Yeah, I’d heard about that. I watch her walk to the bathroom, and she’s a little unsteady. I smile to myself, feeling a little proud and maybe a bit smug. I helped her walk like that.

She’d been so sure and confident that she wanted me. She made it so clear that she did. I still can’t believe my luck, that this woman, whom I’ve only known for about a day, thought that I was worthy to come to her bed.

I lean back against the headboard and stare at the ceiling for a moment, listening to the sound of the toilet flushing and the sink turning on, and all I can think about is the woman behind that door. She’ll be coming back to bed soon, and, if she wants to, we’ll sleep in this bed together until tomorrow morning.

The bathroom door opens, and Abby is walking back toward the bed, unabashedly naked and running a hand through her hair. God, she’s so sexy. When she climbs back in, she makes a point of kissing me again. I can taste the mint toothpaste. I’ll do the same when I get up to pee.

“Hi,” she keeps her voice down.

“Hi,” I answer. “You doing okay?”

“Absolutely marvelous,” she settles back under the blanket, turns her head and smiles at me. “Thank you, Tim.”

What? What is she thanking me for?

“I should be thanking you , Abby,” I insist. “You thought me worthy.”

“I did, from the first moment I saw you,” she tells me. “And I don’t mind telling you, that’s the first time that’s happened in a very long time.”

“What? Do you mean sex?”

“Oh I’ve had plenty of sex, just not in the last year. And that’s the first time anyone’s given me an orgasm in two years.”

My eyes go wide. It seems too far fetched to be true. Although, from the sounds of it, it seems like a personal choice. Perhaps she simply hadn’t wanted sex for a year? It was certainly possible.

“I’m glad I could help.” I’m smirking, but I mean it. She smirks back.

“Oh this has nothing to do with help,” she insists and moves closer, tucking herself close to my side and laying her head on my chest. “We are simply two people who consensually decided we wanted to have sex, and I’m… I’m blown away by you, Tim. Completely blown away.” She lifts her head and places her fingertips on my chin, gently making me look at her. “I’ve never had anyone show me the care and concern that you did in bed like this.”

Good God, why had that never happened for her? What kind of idiots had she dated?

“Whoever didn’t show you care and concern was a scumbag,” there’s venom in my voice that I’d never known before. “You deserve the very best,” I tell her.

“You are the very best,” she smiles and kisses me again before laying her head on my chest again.

A few moments later, she’s asleep, and I stare at the ceiling, wondering how the hell I got so lucky, even if it’s only for a little while.

ooOoo

I wake up to the sound of the room phone ringing, and Tim’s side of the bed empty. As I sit up, I know he hasn’t gone very far.     

The shower is going, so I figure that’s where he is. Not that that matters much right now, because the phone is still ringing!

I reach over and pick it up. “Hello?” I mumble.

“Hey, Abby.”

It’s Ray, and, although I always enjoy our chats, I’m less enthused about the fact that he’s calling me at stupid early o’clock when I’m on vacation! Not cool, Ray.

“Hey,” I sit up and clear my throat, rub the sleep out of my eyes. “What’s up, Ray?”

“Not much right now, sweetie. Are you just waking up?”

“Yeah, it’s….” I glance over at the clock on the nightstand. “It’s eight o’clock in the morning, which means it’s just after seven in Chicago. Did something happen?”

“No, no, I just came off an overnight and your dad told me you’d booked into another hotel after the fiasco with the first one. Did you get checked in okay? No problems?”

“No, no problems at all. I was just having a very nice dream and now I’m awake early.”

“Sorry, sweetie,” he apologizes. Ray is the only one allowed to call me that, just like Dad is the only one to call me ‘baby girl’. “Just wanted to check in with you. What are you up to today?”

“Uh… I don’t quite know yet,” I answer, and I hear the bathroom door open. I look over, and Tim smiles at me.

“Hey, I saved you some hot water,” he says before he realizes that I’m on the phone. I bring a finger to my lips to shush him, and his eyes go wide.

It’s gone very quiet on the other end of the phone. “Ray? Are you still there?”

”I… uh…” he stutters. “I guess I caught you at a bad time. I’ll call you later.”

He hangs up, and I manage to do the same before dissolving into peels of laughter. I fall backward into the pillows and cover my eyes for a second. “Oh God, I can’t believe that just happened!”

“That was your dad, wasn’t it?” Tim’s blushing as he wraps a towel around his waist and walks back toward the bed.

“No, that was Ray, my slightly less scary dad,” I beckon him closer, and he obliges. I kiss him as he climbs back into the bed beside me. Damn, I want him to do it again. “He won’t come after you with a shotgun, though.”

Tim’s shoulders relax a little.

“But watch out for his fist. He’s got a hell of a heavy right hook.”

Tim looks at me like I’ve got three heads. “How do you know that?”

“I spar with him from time to time.”

“Yeah?”

“Oh yeah. Most fun I’ve ever had without taking my clothes off.”     

Tim laughs this time. “So, did you have any other plans today?”

“Besides taking my clothes off?” Tim blushes and it’s adorable. It’s a joke, but not really a joke, because I want to do that later, preferably with him again. Still, I take pity on him and answer seriously. “I thought maybe I’d go over to the marina, explore down there a bit, and then go to the aquarium.”

“Good choice. I can come with you if you like?”

I raise an eyebrow. “Don’t you have to work today?”  

“I’d been meaning to take a few days off,” he shrugs as he unwraps the towel from around his waist and rubs his hair. I'm glad he’s comfortable being naked around me, because I don't want there to be an awkwardness between us. “I haven’t taken a vacation since last year, and I’ve been doing a lot of overtime. If I don’t use my vacation days, they don’t always roll over into the next year unless I fill out yet another set of forms, and who wants more paperwork?”

I like the idea of the two of us spending the day together, but as someone who has spent her life around police officers and detectives, I can’t help but worry about his caseload. If he had too many open cases, wouldn’t that affect his clearance rate?

“Abby?”

“Hmm? Oh sorry, lost in my own head,” I blink and reset my focus. “What about your caseload?”

Tim chuckles and wipes his face.  “Once a cop’s daughter, always a cop’s daughter,” he finishes drying off and rolls the towel into a ball. “Ninety-five percent clearance rate so far this year, and the ones that aren’t cleared are the ones that I've worked every possible angle on and there's nothing more I can do. I'm sure you understand that some cases just don't get solved no matter how hard you try.”

“Yes, I do understand that,” I watch him as he starts gathering his clothes from around the room. Granted, I should be looking fo my dress, but I really don’t want to right now. It’s not often that I get to lay in bed naked and watch a man whom I’ve just had amazing sex with look around for his clothes. It’s sweet, and surprisingly hot, especially when I’m thinking about the possibility of undressing him again later. “But maybe give work at least a day’s notice? I’m here for another eight days. Well, eight days, seven nights. There’s lots we could do if you want to be my tour guide.”

He smiles as though I’ve just offered him the moon. “Sure. How often do you get to play tourist in your own city?”

What would it be like for him to be a tourist in my city? “Alright then, it’s a plan,” I stand up and walk over to him as he’s re-buttoning his shirt. I’ve decided that I’m not getting dressed if I don’t have to, but I’m also hungry, and I can’t very well go downstairs to breakfast without a scrap of clothing on. I pick up my dress and shake it out. It’s none the worse for wear for not having been hung up last night. “I’ll be really quick in the shower, and after we swing by your place for fresh clothes… shit, it’s after eight already, we won’t have time for breakfast if you need to be at work for nine, but if you want to have dinner together again tonight, I could cook?”

ooOoo

I stop fiddling with my tie and contemplate Abby’s offer. She’d just offered to cook for me, in my apartment, tonight after work. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever heard. Most of time I either open a can of soup or heat up a frozen dinner.

“I’d like that,” I find my voice as she nods and heads to the shower. She’s done in less time than it takes for me to finish getting dressed, which is almost considered a miracle. I’ve never known anyone to shower that quickly.

She digs through her bag and finds jeans and a blouse for today, and soon, we are back downstairs and walking back toward my car. Once I start it up and check the clock, there isn’t even time to go back to my apartment for clean clothes. Luckily, every one of us on shift keeps a change of clothes in our lockers. Maybe I can sneak past everyone and change in the locker room before anyone sees me.

“If it helps, you can just drop me off at the marina, and I’ll walk or cab over to the aquarium.”

“It’s a little far to walk, but I appreciate the offer,” I answer. “How about I drop you off at the aquarium and then I’ll head to work?”

“Good plan. What time do you finish at work?” He turns the corner and we’re on our way to Inner Harbour, which I don’t think is more than a ten minute drive from the precinct.

“Today? Around seven.”

“Okay, then how about I meet you at your place for seven-thirty?”

“Perfect,” he nods. We pull up to the aquarium, and he gives me his address again in case I forget before I kiss him goodbye. I get out of the car and bound up the steps. The box office is open, even if the actual aquarium isn’t open until nine o’clock. That gives me fifteen minutes to entertain myself. I am perfectly capable of entertaining myself for fifteen minutes: that’s what notebooks are for.

I find myself a table over in the corner and set to writing a shopping and ingredients list. I did, after all, offer to cook dinner for Tim and I tonight, and he lives a stereotypical bachelor lifestyle. I saw his kitchen the other morning, and while he is the most organized man aside from my dad that I have ever met, his fridge was sorely lacking in fresh produce at that moment.

I have an idea of what to cook, since I'm fairly positive that Tim’s a vegetarian, and I had gotten good at cooking both pescatarian and vegetarian while at college. My best friend Alexandra didn’t like the taste of meat, and as much as she tried, she wasn’t the best cook. So, I'd taken up the cooking duties while she did dishes. Once in a while, we’d switch if she made us sandwiches or we ordered in, or if she came over to our apartment for dinner and Dad cooked. Mostly though, she was very appreciative of my skills, and didn’t mind when I tried out new recipes on her. Her favourite, she’d told me, had been the vegetarian shepherd’s pie that I’d cooked up on a weekend.

That’s it! That’s what’s for dinner tonight. If I’m being honest, that had been one of my favourite recipes to make while at school, especially when I could find Yukon Gold potatoes to use in the topping. Pair that with a fresh garden salad, and maybe some wine… now I really want to go grocery shopping.

I quickly write down the ingredients I’ll need, and soon enough, the doors are open.

The aquarium is so big and engaging that I find myself spending at least twenty minutes in each section, just to be sure I’m catching everything on my camera. Unfortunately I won’t be able to tell how everything looks until I get the film developed, but that doesn’t matter. I’m just going to enjoy my day, hoping that seven-thirty rolls around sooner than I think it will.

ooOoo

I go up the steps of the precinct and through the front doors. I’m hoping that no one sees me, especially since I’m wearing last night’s clothes. Everyone knows that wearing last night’s clothes to work the next day means that you’re either short on laundry, or you got invited to stay the night somewhere other than your own house.

I’m not usually one for changing my clothes at work unless I’ve come into contact with something unpleasant during the course of an investigation, so hopefully I can do it quickly without anyone noticing me.

I’m halfway through changing my shirt and jacket when I hear Lewis come in.

“Hey, hey, hey, how’d it go last night?” he asks in his usual cheerful way as he opens up his locker. How someone can be that happy at just after nine in the morning unless they’ve had coffee I have no idea. Mind you, I hadn’t had my normal fix of coffee, and I was pretty cheerful. Or had been until Lewis came in and caught me in last night’s clothes… maybe he hadn’t noticed.

“Good,” I nod as I sling my tie over my shoulders and work on tying it. “We went to dinner, had a nice conversation, and then I got her home to her hotel.”

“Uh huh,” Lewis shuts his locker and leans against it. He crosses his arms over his chest and smirks. “So if that’s all that happened, why you changing from the same clothes you had on yesterday into your spare clothes?”

Well, there went any hope that he hadn’t noticed. Damn it. That was stupid of me. He’s a trained observer, same as I am. I shrug, strip out of my trousers and turn my back to him. I’m not modest. I zip and button, then turn back around, threading my belt through the loopholes.

“I’m short on laundry,” I tighten my belt and put my shoes back on.

“Huh, sure you are,” I can tell he doesn’t believe me. “Since when does Tim Bayliss, most organized man in all the squad run short on laundry?”

Shit. Maybe I should stretch my wardrobe as long as I can without doing laundry, just to see if anyone else notices.

“All hail the conquering hero.” He lowers his voice just enough to not be overheard.

Excuse me? Rude.

I slam my locker door as hard as I can, startling him. “No.” I tell him, lowering my voice. “No. Not about her.”

“Okay, okay,” Lewis’ smirk has disappeared, and I see a genuine look of fear in his eyes. He puts his hands up in mock surrender and follows me out of the locker room and back to our desks.  

I rush over to the coffee pot and grab a donut, hoping against hope that I’ll be able to eat something before the phone starts ringing.

Although, if my run-in with Lewis, even if he only said what he did in the spirit of playful banter was any indication, it was going to be a very long day.

ooOoo

The closest grocery store was half an hour away on foot, and now I remember why it’s always a good idea to have room in your budget for a rental car. Still, I don't mind the walk. It's a nice day, with the sun shining and a crisp breeze blowing after a brief rainstorm. While the grocery bags are a little heavy, I can tell by the look of the buildings I'm walking past that I'm pretty close to Tim’s apartment building. I know it's close to 7:30, and I can only hope that he’s on time, because he hadn’t given me a spare key this morning. Then again, why would he? We only just met less than two days ago. To give me, a near stranger, a spare key to his apartment would be incredibly foolish on his part, and Tim doesn’t strike me as a fool. I suppose I can't stop daydreaming about what could be.

Turns out that it’s not something I have to worry about, since he's waiting at the front door for me. I'm so glad to see him. I’ve been looking forward to this all day.

“Hello stranger,” I greet him. “Would you mind carrying a bag of groceries for me?”

“Not at all, give me the one from your left hand,” he answers. I do, and it’s a miracle nothing drops. “All this for dinner tonight?”

“I think you're forgetting, I saw the inside of your fridge the other morning,” I chuckle. “There wasn’t much in there, and I know how busy police officers can get. Believe me, this isn’t just for dinner tonight, this should last you at least a week.”

His eyes go wide as we climb the stairs to his apartment. “I don’t know how to thank you for this.”

“You just did,” I fall in step beside him as we walk to his apartment. He opens the door and all I can say is thank God he had fans going throughout the day. Even though it’s nice outside, it's hot and muggy in the apartment on account of the windows being closed all day, but at least the fans kept the air circulating so that it’s bearable.

We get inside and put the bags on the counter. Tim tosses his keys into a bowl by the front door and reappears to help me unpack.

“What are you planning?” He surveys the ingredients on the counter. There's carrots, an onion, tomato sauce, zucchini, mushrooms, red and yellow peppers, a can of red kidney beans, potatoes, cheese, and butter. Plus we've already put fresh salad ingredients, apples, oranges, eggs, and milk into the fridge. He also keeps his bread in the bread box by the stove, so I replenished that as well.

“Shepherd’s pie,” I clap my hands and turn my head. “Have you got an apron?”

“Um… I did, once upon a time,” he looks a bit lost. “Haven't seen it for quite a while, though.”

“Oh well, here, catch,” I toss the onion to him; he deftly snatches it out of the air with one hand. “I thought we could cook together.”

“I like that idea,” he puts the onion back down on the counter and strips off his jacket. “Okay, now I'm ready. Put me to work.”

I love his enthusiasm. “Alright then, Tim Bayliss. You start with chopping the onion and carrot, and I will show you my favourite recipe for vegetarian shepherd's pie.”

“Hey, how'd you know I’m a vegetarian?” He cuts into the onion.

“I guessed.” It's the most reasonable explanation.

“You guessed?”

“Mmm hmm, last night,” I nod as I get a pan heating on the stove, then grab the potato peeler and get to work. “A vegetarian entree at dinner, plus no bacon or sausage with French toast yesterday morning.”

“You can get bacon or sausage with French toast on breakfast menus?” Tim asks. “Don’t tell Lewis or Kellerman. They’ll be ordering that every morning for the rest of their careers.”

“Not typically, but I guess Ray does it every so often because he likes bacon and sausage.” I shrug. “I know one vegetarian entree and the absence of pork products at the breakfast table is not concrete evidence of following a vegetarian lifestyle, but it made the most sense to me. By your question, was I right?”

“Yes, you're right.”

I put down the potato peeler and do a little victory dance. “My observational skills have paid off!”

“I can tell you’re a cop’s daughter- you’d make a great detective.”

“I’m glad you think so,” I pick up the peeler once again and finish working on the second to last potato. “Detective Abigail Fraser…” I roll the name around in my mouth, testing the feel of it. “No, doesn’t sound right. I like Abigail Fraser, Senior Editor much better.”

Senior Editor?”

“Well, not yet, but that’s my goal.” I toss the potato peels into a separate bowl that will henceforth be known as the ‘garbage bowl’ while we cook. “Honestly, this is one of my favourite dishes to cook. My best friend and college roommate loved it the first time I made it, and every time since. She's vegetarian too.”

Tim laughs, and it’s the best thing I've heard all day.

“My turn to make an observation.”

“Okay…” It’s only fair, after all.

“I’m going to guess that you’re not a vegetarian?”

“No,” I shake my head as I continue peeling and dicing potatoes for the shepherd’s pie topping. “With the lack of abundance access to fresh produce in the Territories, it’s very expensive. As a consequence, my dad and I lived by the ‘waste not, want not’ principle, almost religiously in order to save money. For my family, even all these years later, it doesn’t make sense to not use what resources you do have available.” I scrape the peeled and chopped potatoes into a cooking pot set aside for that purpose and continue. “and for us, it was what my grandfather and uncle could hunt and bring back.”

Tim nods. Nothing I’ve told him about growing up so far North seems to phase him.

“That doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy vegetarian food, as evidenced by the fact that I’ve learned how to cook it.” God, my mouth is running away on me. “Oftentimes it’s easier, especially when it’s hot out and the thought of turning on the oven is just too much.”

Tim smiles at me. “Fair enough. I’m not going to judge anyone on their food choices. Whether or not you’re vegetarian doesn’t matter in the long run, I’m still glad we’re having dinner together.”

In the long run?

“Alright then, Abby Fraser, what am I doing now that these are done?”

“Um… chop the mushrooms, please. I’ll get the potatoes into boiling water, and then I’ll chop the zucchini.”

“Deal.” Between the two of us, everything, including the zucchini, beans, and the peppers, is prepped in less than fifteen minutes. As I guide him through cooking and assembling the shepherd’s pie, he’s keeping an eye on the pot with the potatoes in it, to make sure it doesn’t bubble over.

“Now, I like putting cheese into the mashed potatoes, but I can leave it out if you don’t like it.”

“I’d like to try it,” he answers as he takes the potatoes off the boil and strains them through the colander I found tucked away in the corner.

“Perfect. Cheesy mashed potato topping it is.”

He adds milk, butter, salt, and shredded cheese to the pot, then mashes and stirs the potatoes before adding them on top of the mixture.

“Into the oven, and now we wait half an hour, maybe forty minutes, depending on your oven.”

“This is sounding better by the minute,” Tim closes the oven door and sets the timer. “Since you cooked, do you want to set the table while I do the dishes?”

“A man after my own heart,” I move the pot and pan into the sink and go in search of plates, cutlery, and glasses. “By the way, who’s Kellerman?”

“Mike Kellerman, he's Lewis’ partner,” I can tell Tim already has the sink full and is quickly working through the mess that comes with cooking.

“What's he look like?” I'm wondering if I met him the other morning. “Oh hold on, was he the one tossing the football in the air?”

“Yeah, that's him,” Tim shuts the water off and I hear him open the fridge. “Hey, I forgot to ask: did you want some wine with dinner?”

I stop and think for a moment. Wine would pair nicely with the shepherd’s pie, but it’s not a good idea if I want to go back to the hotel tonight. What’s the point of having a hotel room while on vacation if you're not actually going to use it?

“No thank you,” I answer. “Wine and driving don't mix.”

“Agreed,” he sounds a little dejected. I hear him close the fridge and he comes out to the kitchen. “Hey, we still have about half an hour before it’s ready. Did you want to turn on the TV or something?”

“I never really watch TV,” I shrug. “But, actually, I wouldn't mind hanging out on the couch with you and just chatting with a glass of wine.”

“So you would like some wine?”

“Now that I think about it, we could take a cab to the hotel.”

“We?”

“Yes.” I am suddenly feeling very brave. “Because if you got your vacation time approved, I figured that the first stop on our city tour after I call home to assure them that I’m alive and tell them all about what I did today, should be an all night and all day excursion to my hotel room.”

“Oh?” Tim smirks and goes back into the kitchen, grabs the wine out of the fridge, and brings it back to the table. He opens it and pours us both a glass. “And, assuming I got my vacation time approved, which I did, by the way, what would this excursion entail, Abigail Fraser?”

God, the way he says my full name sends electricity straight through my body.  

“Well, since you did get it approved, this excursion...” I accept my glass from him and swirl it, not yet ready to take a sip. “This excursion would involve a ‘do not disturb’ sign on the other side of a locked door, calling room service when we get hungry, and the two of us naked and making love all over said aforementioned room.”

His eyes go dark. Oh, I can tell he really likes this idea.

Tim raises his glass. “To vacations and hotel room excursions.”

I echo him as we clink our glasses and each take a sip.

Once I do, I put my glass back down on the kitchen table and pull Tim to me. I kiss him as hard as I can, and it’s still not enough. I can’t wait to finish this dinner and get Tim back to the hotel.

We grab our wine and go to the couch. Sitting down together, I burrow into Tim’s side and settle down. It’s only been two days, and I already feel such a connection to him. I can see this happening between us, every day if we wanted.

But of course that’s silly. With him being rooted in Baltimore and me situated halfway across the country in Chicago, I’m also trying not to think about having to go back. What if I do go back and then I never see him again?

“Penny for your thoughts?”

Hmm?” There I go, lost in my own head again. Ray says that Dad does that a lot too. Maybe that’s where I get it from. I don’t remember Dad ever telling me whether Mom was prone to woolgathering.

Oh God, why am I thinking about her now? I’m so incredibly happy to be in Baltimore and being here with Tim, and now I can’t stop thinking about Mom. Did she feel this way about Dad when they first met? I like to think so, even if they were only twelve at that point.  

“Penny for your thoughts?” Tim repeats himself.

“That’s all they’re worth at the moment,” I take a sip of wine. “I’m really just enjoying this. You and me sitting together…”

Tim smiles and puts his arm around my shoulder. “So, Abigail Fraser,” he starts.

“Yes, Tim Bayliss?”

“You said you don’t really watch TV?”

“No, we never had one in the Territories, so we didn’t see the need for one in Chicago.” It’s as good an explanation as any. You can’t miss what you never had.

“What’d you have instead?”

“Books.” So many books. “And a radio, and… what else? Oh! Um, our landlady, Mrs. Schwartz, she has a piano so she’d let me play on it whenever I wanted. I’m not any good though.” I stop to take a breath. “Plus, with the boxing and the ballroom dancing, there wasn’t a lot of time. I sometimes wonder what I missed, but other times, not so much.”

“Well, Mighty Mouse, for one thing,” Tim chuckles and takes a sip of wine himself. “And a lot of cartoons that were worth getting up in the morning for. Bugs Bunny is another.”

“I’m not entirely new to the concept, Detective,” I tease him gently. “I have seen a few episodes now and again. My favourites are the ones with Sam and Ralph. The wolf and the sheepdog?”

“Oh yeah, and they have a punch clock where once they punch in, they’re mortal enemies because Ralph keeps trying to steal and eat the sheep, right?”

“Yeah, and by the end of the cartoon Sam has given Ralph such a once over that he can barely walk to the punch clock again. But then they get up the next morning and do it all again.”

Tim laughs again, and he’s still so ridiculously handsome. How is it humanly possible to be so handsome?

We sit together in silence for a few moments.

“I was just thinking,” he starts

“What about?” I run my hand up over his shirt. I like the feel of the fabric underneath my palm, but I also love that I actually know what his bare skin feels like, and how much I want to feel him again.

“I should probably bring my toothbrush and a change of clothes, just in case, shouldn’t I?”

“Maybe, if you like.” Sadly, we are interrupted by the oven timer beeping. “Although, since we’ll both be naked and sweaty, make sure they’re comfortable and easy to remove.” I find the oven mitts, put them on, and open the oven. Yep, this is ready, but it needs to cool for a little while. “Supper’s up.”

“It smells really good,” Tim comes into the kitchen. He stands behind me and wraps his arms around me, his hands resting on my hips and his chin resting on my shoulder. “But probably not ready to dig into, huh?”

“About ten minutes, which is just enough time to put a salad together.”

He kisses my cheek and lets go. It actually takes him less time than that to put a salad together and get it on the table, along with salad dressings and a refill for our wine glasses.

As we sit down together and dish out our supper, I know for a fact that, once this week is over, I will be loathe to leave both Tim and the city of Baltimore. I don’t want to do it, but I know I’ll have to.

But I don’t want to think about it right now. I want to sit here with Tim, have a nice dinner, and take him back to the hotel afterward and make love to him any way I want.

An idea pops in my head, and I can only hope he’ll like it.

ooOoo

There’s something different about the cab ride on the way over to the hotel. It’s like Abby is lost in her own thoughts, and maybe wondering if what she asked me was a good idea. I’d been absolutely stunned at her courage when she’d told me what she wanted, and I’d be more than willing to give her what she wanted, provided she still wanted it.

So apparently she’s not the only one who gets a little maudlin after having a few glasses of wine. Or maybe I’m reading it completely wrong and she really is just lost in her thoughts. I may be a Detective, but sometimes I can be wrong, and I don’t usually have trouble admitting when I’m wrong. In fact, this time I hope I’m wrong. I want us both to have a good time.

We pay the cab driver and as we walk back into the hotel, she slips her hand in mine. It feels electric. She leans on me all the way up to the fifth floor, and, once we’re back inside the room, I can see that it’s been made up. Housekeeping must have been by earlier.

Abby squeezes my hand and lets go before heading over to the phone. Right, she’d promised to call home and let them know what she’d been up to and that she was okay. As she does, I set my bag down and head into the bathroom. Might as well do something useful while I wait for her to finish on the phone.

She’s waiting on the other side of the door when I finish with a small bag in her hand, and I can tell she’s already feeling a bit better. Maybe she really had just needed a few minutes to reconnect with Home. I remember how much that helped if I was away on training exercises when I first started with QRT. My mom had made me promise to call her as often as I could, and, being her only child, I’d agreed. Looking back now, having that connection really did help.

“I’ll be right out,” she whispers and kisses my cheek. “I’ve got a surprise for you.” This time, her smile reaches all the way to her eyes.

“You want me to wait on the bed?” I whisper back.

“God, yes,” her voice is low. “Undo your tie and take off your belt, but that’s it. Everything else stays on for now.”

I flush. Sweet Jesus, that’s hot.

She disappears into the bathroom and I have no qualms about doing exactly as she asked. I hear the water running in the sink, and it’s taking a little longer than it did the last time.

Not that I mind, really, because once the door opens, I’m glad I’m lying on the bed because I’m sure I would have fallen over from the shock.

Abby is dressed in some of the sexiest lingerie I have ever seen. She’s paired a barely there black bra with matching see-through panties, a garter belt, stockings, and her high heels from the other night.

She walks toward the bed, her head held high, and all the blood in my head has drained southward. She’s also got something else in her hand. It’s quite small, but I think I can tell what it is. It looks like a…

Jesus Christ on a bike, it’s a vibrator .

Abby climbs up on the bed and tosses the toy to the side. Straddling my hips, she bends down and makes quick work of the buttons on my shirt. I sit up, and she pulls it off my shoulders, tossing it away.

“So, you have three choices here,” she tells me. Confidence in a woman is fucking sexy.  “You could finish getting undressed, sit on the end of the bed and stroke yourself while you watch me get myself off with this ,” she picks up the vibrator and runs her fingers over it. “Or I could pull your cock out and ride you, or you could lie back on the bed and I sit on your face.”

I hear my throat click, but no sound comes out.

“Hmm?” she grins and grinds against me, and I’m getting so hard it’s starting to hurt. “Tell me, Tim. Tell me what you want.” She positions herself and wraps her legs around my hips so she’s sitting in my lap.

I lean forward to kiss her, but she puts a finger to my lips. “Ah ah,” she shakes her head. “Tell me…”

I’d gotten so used to not saying anything, to not telling anyone, because I was such a good little boy.

Why are you lying, Timothy?

There’s a ghost in the room tonight, and I don’t want it here. Having her insist that I tell her what I want… it feels like I’m a snake trying to shed a skin that doesn’t fit anymore. I’m too big for it. I want to tell her, I want her to hear me, but I can’t make the words come out.

My back tenses, and I gather her to me, bury my face in her shoulder so she won’t see me.

“Hey…” I hear a plunk on the mattress behind my back, and her hands come to rest on the back of my neck. “It’s alright, it’s okay…” she whispers as she runs a hand through my hair. “It’s okay, we can slow down.”

“I’m sorry,” I say into her shoulder, a safe haven, even if just for a few minutes.

“It’s alright,” she cranes her neck away and softly shrugs her shoulder so that I have to look up. Her eyes are warm, happy to see me. “How about this?” she unwraps herself and stands up. “Lie back, Tim.”

She’s being cautious, as you would with an animal you don’t know that well and don’t want to spook. I scoot up the bed so my head is on the pillows but I can still see what she’s doing.  

I watch as Abby takes off her heels, unclips her stockings from the straps on her garter belt, and rolls them off. Next comes the actual belt, and, once that’s gone, she climbs back up the bed and stretches out beside me. “Hi…” she whispers as I turn my head to face her. She runs a finger down my cheek. “How about I roll back over and help you with your pants? Then we can do whatever feels good. We’ve got all night and all day tomorrow.”

I nod, and she does. She lets me take the lead, and we make love together for the second time in as many days.

When we finish, and she comes back from the bathroom, we fall asleep facing each other, and the ghost is gone.

I wake up the next morning and she’s sitting up in bed with a book, her half of the blanket kicked down around her ankles.

“Good morning starshine,” she quips at me, and it takes me a moment to realize that she’s referencing the song by Oliver. “Coffee’s ready if you want some.”

“The Earth says hello,” I sit up and pinch the bridge of my nose. “What time is it?”

“Close to ten,” Abby seems quite engrossed in what she’s reading. I can’t see the front cover, but she puts a bookmark in and replaces it on the nightstand. I catch a glimpse of it. Journey to the Centre of the Earth . I don’t remember ever reading it in school, but that copy looks well-loved.

“I’ve really slept that late?”

“You looked like you needed it,” Abby answers. "I didn’t want to disturb you, you looked so peaceful.”

I can’t help but smile, and I lean over to kiss her good morning. “You hungry at all?”

“A little, but I didn't want to order without you being awake.”

“Pancakes and fruit sound okay to you?”

“Absolutely. Do you want me to order?”

“That’s alright, I’ve got it,” I pick up the phone and order, glad that I’m still lying in the bed. I sincerely hope that she doesn’t feel cheated out of last night. I hadn’t expected that to happen, nor did I know that Abby was going to be as compassionate as she was. “About fifteen minutes, they said.”

“That gives us plenty of time,” she smiles and rolls over onto her stomach. She positions her head on my chest and presses her ear over my heart. As she starts running her hand up and down my torso, I’m in awe of how soft her hands are. “I could stay like this for a long time.”

“How long?” I’m relishing her touch.

“The rest of the day, the rest of the week even,” she says.

I’m sorely tempted to take up the offer, but we’d need to get out of the room and explore the city a little bit for her to have the full experience. Plus, I have to do a shift or two at the Waterfront, since Lewis, Munch, and I all own it together, but that’s not till later in the week.

A few minutes later, there’s a knock at the door. We’d put the ‘do not disturb’ sign up on the handle, so I’m sure that they’ll just leave it, which is precisely what happens.

Abby gets up and walks to the door, doesn’t even bother to pull a robe on. I love how confident she is in her own body. Once she brings the tray in, she puts it down on the table, and that’s when she grabs her robe.

“There’s one for you, too,” she pulls hers closed and brings a second one over to me. “I guess they figured it out. Although I’m sure they don’t care.”

I have to agree with her. We’re certainly not the first two people to use a hotel room for this purpose, and we certainly won’t be the last.

“Don’t want breakfast getting cold.” She lays out cutlery and walks around the room to grab the coffee pot. “And after we eat, we can get back in bed…”

And we do.

ooOoo

An all day excursion in my hotel room was definitely a good idea. With such a demanding job, I could tell that Tim needed to relax and unwind. We both did, really.

Looking back, the entire lingerie set had been too much, but once I had taken most of it off, he seemed calmer. I saw an extremely vulnerable side of Tim Bayliss last night, and, although he’d tried to hide it from me, I’d been able to coax him out a little, and discovered that he was a very gentle lover. He didn’t really want explosive and rough sex, he wanted to take his time and let us explore each other’s bodies, wants, and needs. I was perfectly fine with that.

Tim has given me my confidence and courage back, after the fiasco that was my relationship with Michael. I’m tired of hiding myself away. As I lie here beside Tim, I realize just how important he’s become to me in only a couple of days.

I’d never believed in love at first sight, even if that had happened for my own parents. I’d always tried to be rational about it, told myself that feelings develop over time, and that what people actually call love at first sight is really just lust. Once the lust settles down and you start to see what the person you’re with is really like, that’s when the hard work starts.

But looking up at Tim from my position on the bed, it doesn’t feel like it would ever be difficult with him. Sure, we’d probably fight and be mad at each other for a while over some silly thing, but then I can also imagine there being times where things are calm and quiet and we have the opportunity to just be together. The strange thing is, I want that. I want to try, and I want to try with him.  

How does something like this happen? I come to Baltimore on vacation and then I trip over myself and fall in love with a homicide detective.

Well done Abigail Fraser, I chide myself. Well done indeed.

ooOoo

By the time the next morning rolls around, I start to realize how lucky I am. I get to spend the day exploring Baltimore with Abigail Fraser. Like I said before, how often do you get to play tourist in your own city?

“Where did you want to go today?” I ask. “Wait, just so I know, what have you already seen?”

“I’ve been to the Maritime museum, the marina, and the aquarium,” Abby pulls on a green blouse and a pair of jeans. “I’ve been thinking of either the Science Centre or Fort McHenry.”

“We could do both if you want?” I suggest. “Although it’s supposed to be really hot later today, so maybe it’s better to do Fort McHenry first, and then the Science Centre. Or we could do Fort McHenry today and the Science Centre tomorrow? That way we can really take our time and enjoy ourselves without thinking of rushing from one place to the other.”

“I like that last idea,” Abby nods. “Fort McHenry today, and then tomorrow we can enjoy the great indoors.” She picks up her purse and puts it over her shoulder. “But first, let’s grab breakfast.”

“Good idea, and that way we can grab a few snacks for later, and some water.”

“Oh I’ve got that already,” she picks up a cloth bag that I hadn’t noticed before. “I picked a few things up for myself when I went grocery shopping. There’s water, some trail mix, peaches, watermelon, and some cheese and crackers.”

I can tell my mouth is open in shock.

“I’m a Mountie’s daughter, neither of us leave the house without a hunting knife, a compass, and some beef jerky,” she winks at me. “But in this case, it’s not beef jerky, it’s cheese and crackers.”

I chuckle. “But no hunting knife here, right?”

“Not in my handbag ,” she emphasizes the word handbag, so my logical brain jumps to the fact that she must have it safely tucked away in her suitcase. “Come on, let’s go have breakfast, then we can come back up and finish getting ready before we head out.” She makes a point of putting the entire cloth bag into the mini fridge under the sink by the coffee maker.

I follow her out the door and we go down to breakfast. Neither of us want anything heavy, so we both settle for cereal, yogurt, and fruit salad, the typical continental breakfast.     

Once we’re finished, Tim goes to call a cab, and I go back up to the room, grab the snack bag, and make sure that I’ve cleaned up my things from last night so the housekeeper doesn’t panic and think we must be having really kinky sex parties. I kid, I kid, I’m sure they don’t care, but it would be good gossip for the staff.

By the time I’m back downstairs, Tim’s chatting with the cab driver, and we’re off to Fort McHenry. I love exploring old garrisons and monuments that have been restored like this one has. It’s also the place, Tim tells me as we walk around, where the Battle of Baltimore was fought, and it inspired the writing of the Star Spangled Banner. There are people in proper historical military regalia parading the grounds, and I end up using an entire roll of film here alone. Of course, I make sure to get a few of Tim enjoying himself as well. Once they’re developed, I’ll mail them to him for his own photo collection. I’m going to assume he has one.

I’m glad I wore running shoes, because the amount of walking we did would not have been kind to my feet had I worn sandals. I know I have to go through the gift shop, and I make sure to pick up a bookmark for Dad and a keyring for Ray. Yes, I know I sound like a tourist, but really, that’s what I am.

“I think we should get one more picture of this place,” Tim mentions as we’re about to leave.

“Should I take it?” I dig the camera back out of my handbag.

“I meant you and me together,” he smiles at me. “Here, let’s ask someone if they wouldn’t mind taking our picture.” Just as he says it, there’s another couple walking by. “Excuse me!” Tim approaches them. “Would you mind taking our photo?”

I see the woman nods and smile at him.

“Thanks.” He hands the camera over and comes back, putting an arm around my shoulder.

I hear the camera click, and she shouts “one more for luck!” before closing the shutter and walking it back to us. “It's so nice to see a couple like you so in love. I hope you have many good years together.”

She meant it in the most unobtrusive, sweetest way possible, but it hurt to hear her say it. Although she'd meant to be kind, she had no way of knowing that in five days time, I'd have to leave Tim and get on a plane back to Chicago.

She also had no way of knowing how much I didn't want to leave.

Fuck, it’s not fair. I want and deserve so much more time with him. I need more time with him.

I turn in toward him and hug him tightly. At least I’ll have something to remember him by.

ooOoo

I know that tourist had meant to be kind, but after she’d walked away, I noticed a change in Abby’s body language immediately. I know this has to end, but I don't want it to. Neither does she, judging by the way she's got her arms wrapped tightly around my waist. Eight days simply isn't enough for us.

Abby’s throat is clicking like mine did last night, but, like me, she can't make the words come out.

“We’ll just stay here like this,” I bend and whisper into her hair.

“Okay,” she whispers back and takes a deep breath. “I want more time with you.”

How can she practically read my mind?

“I've never been as happy as I am right now,” she turns her head and sniffs before bending down to see if she has a tissue in her pocket. “And I know I sound like a big sap, but it’s the truth.”

I hold her tightly.

“What do we do?”

Damn it, I wish I knew. I can't very well ask her to pull herself up by the roots she's put down in Chicago, especially when she's just started at a new job. I can't leave Baltimore, either. My mom’s all by herself now that my dad’s gone, although to be fair, he's been gone for years. I'm also taking care of my uncle, bringing him groceries and making sure he eats. He's an old man now, tired and sick, and when he dies I’ll either gut his house and sell it, or have it demolished.

“We should enjoy the time we still have,” I manage, keeping her close as she tries to get her breathing back under control. “After that, we’ll find a way. We’re resourceful people.”

She chuckles, lets go of me and wipes her eyes. “That we are,” she nods. “Come on, let’s head on back to your apartment.”

“My apartment? Why?”

“Remember you mentioned Mighty Mouse and Bugs Bunny the other night?”

“Yeah?”

“Let’s pop some popcorn and watch a few of the tapes.”

I kiss her hair again, and we walk arm in arm toward the taxi stand.

ooOoo

It’s my second to last night in Baltimore, and I’m meeting Tim at the Waterfront after he finishes his shift. Although he’d gotten vacation time approved, the team had caught what is known as a ‘red-ball’ the day after Tim and I had spent the day at Fort McHenry. A red-ball, I learned, was an extremely urgent case that required all hands on deck, including people on vacation. As a result, Tim, Meldrick, John, and the rest of the team had been working flat out for the past forty-eight hours. They’d made an arrest, which meant Tim could use the rest of his vacation that he’d booked off, and he’d be able to recoup the vacation days he’d lost solving this case. Nevertheless, everyone deserves a break, and the Waterfront was their go-to place to unwind.

And so I’m sitting at the bar with Meldrick, John, and Detective Laura Ballard, whom I was formally introduced to when I walked in the door tonight. Mike Kellerman would be coming in a few minutes. The bar is quiet for a Thursday night, which I’m sure they’re thankful for. If a bar is quiet for one night, it’s a break from the chaos. If it’s quiet every night, then it’s cause for concern.

“So Abby, how have you been spending your vacation here in our city? Have you been enjoying yourself?” Meldrick asks as he nudges my shoulder.

“It’s been lovely,” I nod as I take a sip of my Natty Bo. It tastes a lot better than the first night I was here, although to be fair, I hadn’t really had a chance to drink it before all Hell broke loose. “I spent the first couple of days at the marina, the aquarium, the Maritime museum, and went to Fort McHenry the other day…” I sneak a smile at Tim and hope that no one is coherent enough to notice. “Yesterday I was at the Science Centre and today I found Druid Hill Park and went to the Zoo.”

Meldrick chuckles and clinks his glass with mine. “Sounds fun, playing tourist. Think you’ll ever come back?”

I look at Tim, and time slows down. We stare at each other for a few seconds before I speak again.

“You can count on it.”

“Alright, that's what I like to hear. We may convince you yet.”

“Convince me to what?”

“Dance, if you want to,” Tim cuts in just as the song on the jukebox changes over to the beginning chords of Bob Seger’s Feel Like a Number. “That’s what you were about to say, wasn’t it, Lewis?”

“Damn right that’s what I was about to say. Let’s move these tables so you have a clear path.” Ah, Meldrick Lewis is incredibly smart. He’d known to back off with just a look. It takes us about thirty seconds to move the chairs and tables. “This is fast , though. What kind of dancing can you do to music that’s this fast?”

“This is good Jive music. Watch…” I do a few basic steps and then pick up the pace. Everyone in the bar disappears, and I’m lost in the music and my feet flying across the floor. I’m not even aware of what my hands are doing, although I do know that my fingers are flexing.

The song abruptly changes, and my head begins to clear. Blinking, I see everyone at the bar staring at me in shock. They applaud as I walk back to my seat and sit back down. “That was fun,” I’m trying to catch my breath. “Although it would have been a lot smoother if I had my proper shoes with me.” I blink again. “Could I have some water please, Tim?”

I hadn’t needed to ask. He poured me a beer stein full of water and I drank half without stopping to breathe. “Oh thank you,” I tell him.

“Where’d you learn to do that?” I’d overheard John mention how he liked to dance as well. I wonder if he knows how to Jive, or if he only learned ballroom. Yes, there is a big difference.

“My stepdad is a dance teacher as well as a Detective,” I shrug. “He wasn’t my first teacher but he helped me refine my technique.”

“You been doing it long?”

“Does ten years count as long?”

“Yes it does,” John finishes his bourbon and hands Tim the money for the shot. “Too bad you didn't tell me earlier. I would have asked you for a dance myself.”

“Then why don't you?”

John looks at me over his glasses. “Abby, would you like to dance?”

“I would,” I answer, my glass of water still in my hand. “After I finish my water and my beer.”

“I shall wait with bated breath.” He sits down on his stool, rests a hand on his cheek and turns to stare at the clock above the bar.

“What are you planning to do for your last day tomorrow?” Meldrick asks as John settles in to his new hobby.

I finish my water and go back to nursing my Natty Bo. “I’ve got to find the laundromat. I don't want to head back to Chicago only to have to do laundry on top of unpacking and going back to work.”

“Good call, although are you sure you want the laundromat?” John asks. “I’ve heard stories about people’s clothes getting stolen out of the washers and dryers. Who knows what the clothes are used for.”

“Are you speaking from personal experience?” I take another sip of my drink. “Because I’ve never had a problem, especially if I stay at the laundromat and wait. Who would want to steal my clothes?”

“I’m just saying, better to be safe than sorry.”

“I think I’ll be okay, John,” I chuckle. “But thank you for your concern.”

“No problem. Hey, Tim, pour me another bourbon, would you?”

“Mmm hmm, coming up,” Tim pours John the shot and turns his attention back to me. “So, anything else planned for tomorrow?”

I lay my finger alongside my nose, and he does the same. We are definitely going to spend my last day in Baltimore together, but nobody else needs to know that.

“Hey John? How about that dance?”

When closing time rolls around, I’m given goodbye hugs and made to promise that I will not be a stranger. Even though I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with the rest of the shift, I’m glad I met them. After all, they are the living embodiment of the mantra that cops take care of each other and their families.

Once Tim and I are back in my hotel room, we don't waste any time. We both brush our teeth and then climb into bed.

This time, everything feels different. Every kiss, every touch, every sound we make is heightened. It’s not enough. I refuse to accept that, after I go back to Chicago, I will never see him again.

ooOoo

I watch her, fascinated, as she rolls over and snakes her hand across my chest, rolling herself on top of me, lifting herself up and reaching for me.

I groan, my eyes losing focus. I lift my head, strain my neck up to kiss her as her hand moved up and down on me, a second coil of heat building in my belly as she watches my reaction. Lord, what had I done to deserve a woman like Abby?


I hear my own breath catch as she sinks down on me, arched back as I fill her once again. Our breathing synchronizes as she rides me slowly, savoring the hours of the night and the cover of darkness, permeated only by the faint light from the street lights filtering through the curtains.

I reach up, put my hands on her hips, and roll her over. Lying on top of her, I wait, searching her features for permission.

Abby runs a hand over my cheek, then smooths my bangs out of my face.

Then slowly, very slowly, I realize that I know but one way tonight. I move over and let her lift her hips, allowing her to shift.

“A little wider, Abby.” I breath, amazed at her features bathed in the light.

She listens, as though she’s trying to find a position that won’t cause cramp if she holds it for too long.

“Good,” I lay myself on top of her and guide myself. I push gently, allow her to adjust. Her eyes roll back, and a throaty groan escapes her lips.

“Go, go…” she runs her hands over my back and pulls me deeper, throws her head back, her hair spilling down on the pillow. “Tim, please…”

I kiss her quickly and pump my hips slowly, for we have time tonight. And tomorrow as well, but tonight is what matters most.

Time has almost stopped as her hips come off the bed to meet mine, and she fills the room with the longest and loudest keen I’ve ever heard.

I relish the feel of her finishing first, and I’m not far behind her. I roll off her and kiss her again as she tucks herself into my side. She refuses the blanket, instead lying bare-breasted in the minimal light, her breathing steadying as she comes down from her orgasm.

And when it comes to sleep, it’s not long before we’re both away.

When I wake up the next morning, I hear her switching on the coffee maker. Again, she hasn’t bothered to put on a robe, and I notice a small bruise starting on her breast and collarbone.

“You’ve got love bites…” I smile to myself.

“I know, you put them there,” she walks back over to the bed and climbs back in. “I see a few on you too.”

“That’s good, because I’m not about to forget you.”

“Me neither,” Abby flops back on the bed. “Although I was just thinking… once my photos are developed, I’d like to send you copies. What’s your zip code?”

“What?” That’s certainly a first. I don’t remember a woman ever asking for my zip code, especially after sex.

“Your zip code,” she repeats. “I have your address, but there’s no point sending a letter if there’s no zip code.”

Well, duh. Aren’t I smart?

“Does this mean we’ll be in touch?”

“Of course it does, Tim Bayliss,” she rolls her eyes in mock exasperation. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but eight days is simply not enough.”

“I agree.” And I do. I’d never expected anything like this.

“So, I’d really like to try and keep this going.” I can see in her eyes that it’s costing her a lot to say this. “Even if it is long distance, can’t we try?”

I chuckle, and my face breaks out in a smile.

“I can’t think of anything I want more, Abigail Fraser,” I kiss her long and hard this time.

ooOoo

It’s an absolute wretch getting on the plane home to Chicago. Tim drives me to the airport, waits with me while I check in, and sits next to me in the chairs while I wait for my flight to be called.

“Here…” I write down my address for him on a piece of paper I found in my handbag. “I wish this wasn’t on such a small piece of scrap, but it’s all I’ve got right now.”

“It’s okay. I’ve got an address book at home,” he tells me as he pulls a business card from his wallet and writes his full address for me, including his zip code. “I can’t wait to see how those photos turn out.” He studies the piece of paper before putting it in his jacket pocket. “What’s the C for?”

“My middle name. I’ll let you guess what it is,” I wink and lean into him, rest my head on his shoulder. “That’s usually how I address my letters. My dad and my granddad do the same thing. And this way, you’ll know they’re from me when we write back and forth.”   

He smiles at me and leans into me so that we’re holding each other up. “I’m glad I met you, Abigail Fraser.”

It’s my turn to smile. “I’m glad I met you , Tim Bayliss.”

Our last moments together are interrupted by my flight being called.

“And this is one of the hardest things,” I stand up and hug him tightly. “I don't want to leave but I know I have to.”

“I know.” Tim’s struggling to speak as much as I am. “But this isn't goodbye forever.” He takes the card back and writes his phone number down. “There, now it's not just letters.”

“Have you got that piece of paper?”

He nods and digs it out of his pocket.

“That's my phone,” I explain as I write it down. “That way our conversations won't get mixed up with business calls.”

It’s the second call for boarding, and this time I've really got to go.

“Would you kiss me goodbye?”

Tim nods, wraps his arms around me, and kisses me. It's just as powerful as the first one had been.

“Thank you, Tim. For everything.”

“I’ll see you again, Abby.” He whispers as he lets me go.

It takes every ounce of strength I have not to run back to him. I have to go home. I have a life, my career, and family in Chicago…

Besides, it’s not as though I’ll never see Tim again. We’d agreed to try long distance, and that we'd find a way to make it work.

After all, I work in publishing, and he's a homicide detective. We’re resourceful people.

Those thoughts are enough to sustain me as I land at Chicago O’Hare, and walk toward the Arrivals gate, where I see Dad and Ray both waiting for me.

I’m Home.