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"This is going to be a tough assignment," Feeney said gravely. "You know how perceptive and ruthless the subject is. If she senses any hint of deception from you, she'll catch on to our plan and the whole thing will be ruined. Are you sure you're up for this?"

Peabody gulped nervously. She knew better than anyone how the target of this special mission had the uncanny knack of instinctively sensing when someone was lying, or even just holding back information. Peabody had gone undercover before, but this time there would be no room for error, and entire team was counting on her.

Then she lifted her chin and squared her shoulders, pulling herself together both physically and mentally. She was no longer a rookie but a full-fledged detective, someone that Dallas had chosen to be her partner, and Peabody wasn't about to back away from a challenge.

"Yes, sir!" she barked out in a crisp voice that held no sign of doubt or hesitation.

"Good," Feeney said, nodding approvingly. "It will be your job to keep the subject occupied until the preparations have been completed. It would be disastrous if she arrived home even an hour ahead of schedule."

"No problem," Baxter said with a grin. "We've set up plenty of red herrings to keep our subject busy chasing her tail."

"Well, technically they're not red herrings, just unlikely leads," Trueheart corrected.

"There's no need to worry," McNab said confidently as he gave Peabody a reassuring pat on the shoulder. "You've got it covered, right, She-body?"

"Right," Peabody said firmly. McNab was her cohab, so he was supposed to believe in her, but his confidence buoyed her spirits all the same. "I won't let you down," she promised her co-conspirators, then marched down to the Homicide squad room to face her partner, lieutenant, and the subject she was to keep distracted at all costs.

Operation Surprise Birthday Party had begun.

***

Eve Dallas was having a very bad morning.

It started off with her oversleeping. She'd been called away from one of Roarke's fancy parties last night by a case, and felt bad about it. Well, no, actually she'd felt relieved, but also a little guilty for bailing out on Roarke yet again. He had been very understanding about it, of course, which only made her feel even more guilty.

So Eve had decided to make it up to him by doing something wifely for a change and fixing breakfast for him. Or at least programming the AutoChef--which was all that Roarke did when he prepared meals for her, after all.

But she had stayed up all night interrogating the suspect before he finally broke down and confessed, and she hadn't arrived home until the wee hours of the morning. She had told herself that she'd just take a quick nap before heading down to the kitchen...

"Oh crap, I overslept!" Eve shouted when she woke up and found herself lying alone in bed. Roarke had been asleep when she came home, and she had crawled into bed beside him without bothering to undress. But now she found herself clad only in her underwear, which meant that Roarke must have woken up and undressed her. Taking care of her as usual, which made her feel like a lousy wife in comparison, which in turn made her feel grumpy and a bit resentful.

"Where is Roarke?" she demanded as she threw on a robe--some satiny thing that was one of Roarke's many extravagant and unnecessary gifts.

"He's in the kitchen, darling Eve," the house monitor replied in its serene, dulcet voice.

Eve quashed an irrational desire to make the monitor lose its temper--or failing that, to kick its non-existent ass. Instead, she ran down to the kitchen, hastily running her fingers through her uncombed hair

"How nice of you to join us this morning, Lieutenant," Summerset said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

Damn! Of course Summerset had to be there to witness her failure at being a proper wife. Not that Roarke really expected her to be one, and she had warned him from the start that she wasn't the wifely type. Not that she gave a damn about what that old sour-faced scarecrow thought of her, but it still pissed her off.

Roarke rose from his seat, leaving behind a plate that was empty except for a few crumbs. Naturally, he was impeccably dressed, with every strand of his long, silky black hair perfectly in place. "Good morning, darling Eve," he said pleasantly.

"You had breakfast without me," Eve blurted out in a voice that sounded petulant even to her own ears. "Why didn't you wake me?"

"I figured that you needed the rest," Roarke explained patiently. "You must have been exhausted after working so late."

"I'm fine!" Eve snapped defensively, then made an only partially successful attempt to sound contrite. "I mean, I ran out on your dinner party last night, so I figured we could have breakfast together to make up for it."

"That's very sweet," Roarke said, leaning over to plant a quick kiss on her lips. "But I'm afraid that I have an early meeting this morning."

"Off to buy the other half of the planet that you don't already own?" Eve asked, managing a weak smile.

"Perhaps I'll just increase it to three quarters," Roarke chuckled. "Why don't we have dinner together instead?"

"Sure," Eve agreed, but still felt disappointed and a little irritated with both him and herself.

"And make sure you eat something before heading to work," Roarke added sternly, then hurried out of the room before Eve had time to come up with a retort.

"Roarke ordered breakfast for you," Summerset said accusingly as he uncovered a tray containing plates of toast, eggs, bacon, and a bowl of sliced fruit. The last was no doubt Roarke's attempt to get her to eat something healthy.

"Yeah, yeah, I already know that I'm a lousy wife," Eve muttered sullenly under her breath.

"I didn't quite catch that, Lieutenant."

"I said that I don't have time to eat--I'm late for work!" Eve snapped. But she paused to slap some bacon between two slices of toast to appease her nagging husband, even though he wasn't here. Tearing a bite out of the makeshift sandwich, she turned to leave and nearly tripped over Galahad, who was twining around her legs, purring hopefully as he eyed the bacon greedily.

Eve cursed and Galahad squalled indignantly when she nearly stepped on his tail. Then the cat mewed plaintively when Eve continued on her way without giving him the expected treat or at least a bit of petting in apology.

"My, the Lieutenant is out of sorts today," Summerset observed as he bent down to pick up Galahad. "Perhaps the party will cheer her up."

Galahad purred agreeably as Summerset fed him a strip of bacon.

***

Eve's day went from bad to worse when she got to work and found that the candy thief had discovered her new hiding place.

"Damn it!" she shouted as she kicked her desk in frustration, then uttered a few stronger curse words when she stubbed her toe. There was a tentative knock at the door, and Eve snarled, "What?!"

The door opened a crack and Peabody peered through it, eyeing her warily. "Um...are you okay, Dallas?"

Eve's first impulse was to bite Peabody's head off (figuratively speaking), but she took a deep breath and gritted her teeth because she knew her partner didn't deserve that.

"I'm having a lousy day," Eve said through her still-gritted teeth. "But people don't stop killing each other just because I'm in a bad mood." When her partner still hovered anxiously outside the door, Eve sighed and said, "Come on in, Peabody. Do we have any new cases?"

"Not exactly," Peabody said, then smiled brightly at Eve. "That's good news, isn't it, that no one's been murdered today yet?"

"The day is still young," Eve said darkly. "What do you mean, 'not exactly'?"

"We're assisting Baxter and Trueheart on their case," Peabody replied. "They need help running down all the leads that came in from the tipster hotline."

Eve groaned out loud. Baxter and Trueheart had caught the case of a young man who had been beaten to death in a rather seedy part of the city, an area known for drug dealing. He had probably gone there to score and the deal had turned sour, or someone else had mugged him either before or after the deal. An all too common type of case, one that would not have warranted undue attention except that the young man was the son of a very wealthy businessman--one of Roarke's competitors, as a matter of fact. Roarke had told her that the man was pompous, but a loving and protective father. He was exerting all his influence on the police and the media to make sure that the case was not neglected as just another mugging, pestering Baxter for constant updates, which Baxter handled with more diplomacy than Eve would have, she had to admit.

The father was offering a sizable reward for any information leading to the arrest of his son's killer, and a hotline had been set up for any possible witnesses to call in tips. Eve knew that he meant well, but she also knew that the reward and hotline would attract every con artist and lunatic in the city, and that any useful information would be buried under an avalanche of false leads.

"Do they really need us for that?" Eve grumbled.

"Commander Whitney's orders," Peabody said apologetically. "There are uniforms helping to winnow out some of the chaff, but there are a lot of leads to follow up on. We don't have any current open cases, and Baxter and Trueheart need all the help they can get. Besides, aren't you the one who told me that all the tedious legwork of following up on leads, even the unlikely ones, is a vital part of the job?"

"You're right," Eve conceded in a resigned voice. She shouldn't have needed reminding. No matter how tedious the job or how overbearing the father might be, the victim and his family deserved their best effort at bringing the killer to justice.

"Look on the bright side, Dallas," Peabody said cheerfully. "Maybe one of our leads will pan out and we'll be the ones to solve the case!"

"Not likely, with the way my luck's been going," Eve muttered, but she pulled on her coat and set out with her partner to do their job.

***

Mavis didn't so much walk into the room as burst into it like a whirlwind, laughing giddily as she stood on tiptoe to kiss Summerset on the cheek while Bella giggled and squirmed in her arms. Mother and daughter were wearing matching white dresses with fluorescent green and pink stripes, which gave them the look of neon-colored candy canes. Mavis's hair was dyed pink and green to match, although Bella's was still its natural blonde.

"Oh, this is so mag!" Mavis exclaimed. "I can't wait to see the look on Dallas's face when we surprise her!" Then she frowned anxiously and asked, "She is going to be surprised, right? I mean, she hasn't caught on to what we're doing?"

"The Lieutenant hasn't a clue," Summerset replied smugly. "She was running late for work and much too distracted to notice any covert party planning."

"Not that you and Roarke would ever have let a hint of that covert planning slip," Mira said with a smile as she and Nadine walked through the door at a more sedate pace--and in much more sedate outfits.

Summerset just smiled in response and said, "Welcome, ladies. I've left the decorating supplies and some refreshments in the living room for you." He turned back to Mavis and added, "Shall I watch Miss Bella for you while you're setting things up?"

"Oh, I'm sure Bella would love to play with Uncle Summerset while Mommy's working," Mavis cooed at her daughter, who giggled and cooed back at her. "But are you sure she won't be in your way?"

"It's no trouble at all," Summerset assured her. "Roarke will be doing most of the cooking tonight on the grill, and the caterers will be delivering the side dishes later. And I've just put the cake in the oven, so I have some free time to entertain Bella while it's baking." He held out his arms and Mavis handed Bella over to him, smiling as the butler cradled her daughter tenderly in his arms.

Summerset departed with the baby, and the three women began decorating the house with flowers, balloons, and streamers. After a while, they sat down to take a break and help themselves to the refreshments that Summerset had provided.

"I didn't even know it was Eve's birthday until Roarke called to invite me to the party," Nadine said as she and Mira helped themselves to glasses of raspberry iced tea while Mavis popped open a tube of orange fizzy. "She's probably the type who doesn't like to have a fuss made over it, right?"

Mavis pursed her lips, looking uncharacteristically serious. "Dallas has never celebrated it during all the years I've known her," she said quietly. "She said she doesn't even know when her real birthday is. Social Services just picked some random date based on her estimated age, so she says there's no point in making a big deal about it and what's so great about getting one year older, anyway?"

"Oh," Nadine said, looking chastened. "I mean, I know that she was raised in foster care, but it never occurred to me that she wouldn't know her own birthday. Is it really okay for us to be throwing this party when it's not a special day to her?"

She and Mavis looked to Mira for reassurance and she smiled at them. "Then perhaps it's all the more important for us to make it special to her," Mira said gently. "The party was Roarke's idea to begin with--he wanted to make up for all the birthdays that she's missed over the years."

"How romantic," Mavis sighed.

"Eve made quite a catch when she landed Roarke," Nadine agreed, without her usual tone of half-joking envy, but she still looked a little anxious.

"The exact date isn't as important as the fact that Eve now has people who care about her and who want to celebrate the milestones of her life with her. As her friends and surrogate family, let's help her create some happy memories of her birthday."

"I'll drink to that!" Mavis declared, raising her tube of fizzy. "To Eve!"

"To Eve!" Mira and Nadine echoed, raising their own glasses in salute.

***

"The next time I blather on about how important tedious legwork is, please just shoot me," Eve groaned. They had spent the past several hours following up on useless leads from people who gave false tips in hopes of getting the reward, or to get an ex-boyfriend into trouble, or just because they were lonely and wanted some attention. Then there were the people who were sincerely convinced that space aliens or the voices in their heads had told them who the killer was.

"Let's just call it a day and head back to the office," Eve continued. "Even doing paperwork has to be better than this!"

Peabody stole a glance at her watch; they still had over an hour left on their shift. She doubted that Dallas's sudden desire to do paperwork would last very long, and if she decided to knock off work early, the surprise party would be ruined.

"Come on, Dallas," she coaxed. "We've just got one name left on the list." When Eve opened her mouth to protest, Peabody quickly said, "You just need a little snack to boost your energy! I'll run over and get us some soy dogs and Pepsi." Without waiting for a reply, she dashed across the street to a glide-cart vendor and bought two dogs, two tubes of Pepsi, and upon further reflection, a scoop of fries to further sweeten her partner's mood.

Eve accepted the food, still grumbling about their wasted day, but the soda and greasy food seemed to calm her down a bit. Peabody bit into her own soy dog guiltily--she knew that Roarke would be serving excellent food at tonight's party, and she'd been dieting for the past couple of weeks so that she could indulge herself tonight. But she'd had yogurt and fruit for breakfast and a salad for lunch, so a little treat would not be out of line, she reasoned. Thus reassured, she reached over and snagged a few fries from Dallas.

"Get your own damn fries next time," Eve said, but without any real heat. They munched their junk food together in amicable silence until they reached the apartment building where their so-called witness lived. It was located about a block away from the crime scene, and, like most of the other buildings in this neighborhood, looked shabby and run-down. However, the inside of Georgia Johnstone's apartment was clean and neat, and it smelled heavenly--like fresh-baked cookies. Peabody took a deep breath, inhaling with pleasure, and Mrs. Johnstone smiled at her.

"Would you care for some coffee and cookies, Detectives? They're fresh out of the oven."

"Yes, thank you very much," Peabody quickly replied before Eve could say "no," and the Lieutenant shot a glare at her while the elderly woman bustled off to the kitchen. However, she noticed that Eve helped herself when Mrs. Johnstone returned with the coffee and a plate filled with sugar cookies--and covered with colored sprinkles, too!

"Mmm, this is delicious," Peabody said happily around a mouthful of cookie. Her mother would have scolded her for talking with her mouth full, but Mrs. Johnstone just beamed at her indulgently. Their witness was a plump woman, with frizzy white hair and a kindly smile--she looked like someone's grandmother, and in fact, she reminded Peabody a bit of her own grandmother.

"Please, help yourself," Mrs. Johnstone said. "I love to bake, but with all my children grown and my husband having passed on, I don't really have anyone to bake for these days. Well, I do take some over to the neighbors across the hall sometimes. A very nice couple with two lovely little girls--"

"The cookies were very delicious," Eve interrupted, her impatience barely masked. "But I'm afraid that we have to get down to business."

"Oh, of course I understand," Mrs. Johnstone said pleasantly. "I'm sure you must be very busy. Sadly, there are so many crimes occurring in the city every day."

"Yes, and one of them was the murder of Patrick Cole," Eve said. "Now, Mrs. Johnstone--"

"Oh, please just call me Georgia, dear."

Eve took a deep breath, slowly exhaled, then said, "Georgia, then. According to the statement you gave the hotline operator, you spotted a man running away from the scene of the crime around the time of the murder?"

"Yes, dear," Georgia replied. "Of course, I didn't know at the time that a murder had been committed. I just happened to be looking out the window and saw him running down the street--he seemed to be in an awfully big hurry."

Eve checked the information uploaded to her PPC and raised her eyebrows. "And according to your statement, you described the suspect as being tall with dark hair and wearing...a white jumpsuit covered with rhinestones and gold spangles?"

"Yes, that's correct," Georgia said.

"Well, it's not any stranger than the outfits that McNab wears, I suppose," Eve muttered under her breath.

Although she was old, there was nothing wrong with Georgia's hearing because she said, "Not strange at all for the King."

"The King?" Eve echoed in confusion. "Is that some kind of nickname? Did you recognize the man?"

"Well, he was way before your time, dear," Georgia laughed. "A bit before mine, too, but my Mama adored him, and she played his music around the house all the time." She gestured towards a painting on the wall--a garishly bright painting on black velvet of a handsome man in a spangled jumpsuit singing into an old-time microphone.

"Oh, of course, the King!" Peabody exclaimed. "Elvis Presley!" When Eve still looked puzzled, she grinned and said, "You need to brush up on your cultural literacy, Dallas. He's one of the great classic rock performers of the twentieth century. He had an amazing voice--and amazing hip-shaking action, too. I've watched some old vids of him when he was young, and he was quite the hottie!"

"So you're saying this singer is the killer?" Eve asked dubiously.

"Well, that would be kind of difficult unless you believe in ghosts," Peabody replied. "He died in the late seventies, I believe."

"Nineteen-seventy-seven, to be precise," Georgia clarified. "Though some people claimed that Elvis faked his own death. It was standard for the tabloids to run articles about 'Elvis sightings' for years after he died."

Eve stared at them like they were both nuts, which Peabody thought was a bit unfair. After all, she wasn't the one who had said that she'd seen Elvis fleeing the crime scene. And Georgia didn't seem crazy, although even Peabody had to admit that the Elvis thing was pretty out there.

"Even if Elvis were still alive, he'd be over a century old by now," Peabody said gently to Georgia. "I don't think he'd be physically capable of running from a crime scene, much less killing someone."

"Oh, I don't think that it was the real Elvis," Georgia assured them. "The King may have been a troubled soul in his later days, but he would never have murdered anyone. But it could be an impersonator--many people have tried to emulate the King, though none of them can match his true glory."

"You're right, I doubt that 'the King' had anything to do with this murder," Eve said sarcastically. Peabody winced, but Georgia seemed unoffended. Eve rose to her feet, saying, "Thank you for your time, Georgia. Peabody, let's get going."

"I'm always glad to help New York's finest," Georgia said cheerfully. "But wait just a minute, I'll pack up some cookies for you to take with you."

Eve opened her mouth, no doubt to say that they didn't have time to wait, but Peabody gazed at her partner with her best soulful, wide-eyed puppy dog stare. It wasn't just because she needed to delay Eve until the party preparations were ready--she really wanted more of Georgia's cookies! And Eve probably did, too, because although she heaved a sigh of disgust and muttered, "Knock that off, Peabody," she waited until Georgia handed them each a package of still-warm cookies.

"Well, that was a complete waste of time," Eve complained as they left Georgia's building. "Either a ghost or an Elvis impersonator was the killer? Give me a break!"

"It wasn't a complete waste of time," Peabody pointed out. "After all, we got cookies out of it." The aroma was enticing and she figured one more cookie wouldn't hurt, so she took one out and bit into it happily.

"Yeah, Georgia is a good baker," Eve grudgingly conceded. "Almost as good as Summerset, even."

"Aww, I bet he'd be touched to hear you say that," Peabody teased, and Eve gave her a murderous glare.

"If you ever mention a word to him about that, I'll be needing to look for a new partner!" she threatened.

"Chill, Dallas," Peabody said soothingly. "You're too stressed out. Have a cookie."

"I don't need a cookie," Eve retorted. "I need to get this waste of a day over with. We've checked out all the tips on our list, for whatever that was worth--which is less than zero in my book," When Peabody held up her package of cookies, she added, "Yeah, yeah, aside from the cookies."

"We're only a block away from the crime scene," Peabody said. "Why don't we go take a look at it?" She watched Eve hesitate, but knew that her partner was too dedicated a cop not to thoroughly investigate every detail of a crime. That included looking at the crime scene even if Baxter and Trueheart had already examined it earlier. Eve had been pulled into the case, and even if it had been against her will, she wouldn't brush off something so basic as "it's not my responsibility."

"Fine, but I'm sure it will turn out to be another waste of time," Eve said sulkily.

Peabody suppressed the urge to grin, knowing that Eve would take it the wrong way. As a young rookie, she had once worshipped Eve Dallas as a hero, a paragon of the ideal cop that Peabody aspired to become, but working with a paragon could be intimidating at times. It's kind of reassuring to know that she gets grouchy like the rest of us mere mortals, she thought, and this time she did grin.

Fortunately, Eve's attention was focused straight ahead as she walked towards the crime scene at a brisk pace, clearly wanting to get this over with as quickly as possible. Once they reached the alley where the victim had been found, they examined the scene carefully. There were still bloodstains spattered on the wall and pavement, but they found no evidence that Baxter or Trueheart might have overlooked.

"Like I said, a waste of time," Eve grumbled. "Unless you happened to find any stray rhinestones left behind by Elvis?"

"Sarcasm does not become you, Dallas," Peabody replied as she followed Eve out of the alley. "You really should have another cookie; it might put you in a better--"

She stopped in her tracks when something across the street caught her eye, and Eve turned around to glare at her impatiently. "Peabody, come on. We've wasted enough of our time here."

"Dallas," Peabody said urgently, grabbing Eve by the arm. "Georgia might not have wasted our time, after all--look!"

She pointed to a nightclub across the street that had a large poster in the window advertising: "This week only--hear the rockin' sounds of the golden oldies of yesteryear! Experience the music of the 1950s and 60s with our versions of Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, and more!"

"Since when do people go to clubs to hear music from a hundred years ago?" Eve wondered out loud.

"In some circles, retro is cool," Peabody informed her. "But that's not the point. The point is--"

"That there was an Elvis impersonator performing across the street from our crime scene," Eve finished. "Good work, Peabody. Let's go have a little chat with the King."

The club wasn't open yet, but the performers were there getting ready for tonight's show. As soon as Eve and Peabody flashed their badges in the dressing room, "Elvis" (real name Walter Grady) turned as white as his jumpsuit and bolted for the exit. Eve took him down without breaking a sweat and slammed him down on the floor with a little more force than was necessary, releasing some of the pent-up frustration that had been building up all day.

Elvis sang like a bird down at the precinct, but even without a confession, the bloody jumpsuit that he'd stashed in his locker would have been enough to convict him.

"I was leaving the club after my set was over," Elvis--or rather, Grady--said. "And that punk kid asked me who I was supposed to be, was it Halloween or something? So I told him that I was playing an Elvis Presley tribute and that he should come back and check out the show tomorrow night. And he laughed at me--laughed at the King! Said that he'd never heard of Elvis and who cared about some old, dead, has-been singer anyway. And I just got so mad at him for insulting the King that I hit him. I just kept on hitting him and hitting him until suddenly I came to my senses and realized he wasn't moving anymore." He buried his head in his hands and began to weep. "I'm so sorry," he sobbed. "I didn't mean to kill him, honest! But he shouldn't have said those things about the King..."

Eve shook her head as they left the interrogation room. "His lawyer will probably plead insanity, and I'm not sure I could argue with that. You'd have to be crazy to kill someone over a singer who's been dead for nearly a hundred years."

Peabody shrugged. "People kill each other over all kinds of trivial things. Remember that case a few months ago where two guys got into a fatal argument over whose Arena Ball team would make the playoffs?"

"And I think that's crazy, too, but you're right," Eve sighed. Then she smiled at her partner. "But I have to hand it to you, Peabody--you were right. The lead did pan out, and we did solve the case. You did good, staying persistent and keeping us on track even when it seemed like a waste of time."

Peabody beamed, feeling a flush of pleasure and pride. Eve didn't hand out pats on the head just to be nice, so a compliment from her really meant something. Of course, she'd mainly been trying to keep Eve too busy to find out about the party, but she liked to think that she would have persisted even without any ulterior motives. And sometimes persistence is its own reward, Peabody thought, grinning at Georgia's cookies and the thought of a closed case.

"But don't let it go to your head," Eve cautioned sternly. "And wipe that smug grin off your face." But Peabody thought she saw a hint of a smile on Eve's face as she turned away.

"Yes, sir," Peabody said, schooling her features into a properly serious expression. But as soon as Eve was called to the Commander's office for a briefing, Peabody's face broke out into an even wider grin.

***

Eve finally finished her briefing with Commander Whitney, which included a meeting with the victim's father, who wanted to offer her his thanks in person. She tried to protest that it was actually Baxter's case and that she'd only helped with following up on a few leads, but all that mattered to the father was that she was the one who had found his son's killer. Whitney assured her in private that Baxter didn't begrudge her the credit, and that everyone was happy that the case was closed, no matter who had closed it.

Even so, Eve wanted to make sure that things were square between her and Baxter, but when she got back to the squad room, she was told that he and Trueheart had already left for the day. Well, it was past quitting time, but she had thought that he would want to at least briefly go over the case with her. Maybe he was put out, after all, despite Whitney's reassurances? If so, that was his problem, not hers--he should know better than to think that she would try to steal the glory from someone else, or even that she cared about such things at all.

She was working herself up into a good mad, then took a deep breath and told herself not to get all wound up over a hypothetical insult. Knowing Baxter, it was much more likely that he'd taken off because he had a hot date. Then she started getting annoyed all over again when she realized that Peabody had left, too, without saying goodbye or waiting for Eve to report on the briefing. Peabody had, however, taken care of all the necessary forms and red tape involved with arresting Elvis, so she decided that she'd forgive her partner--after busting her chops a bit tomorrow morning.

"At least the day is finally over," Eve sighed as she drove back home. All she wanted to do was go home and take a hot shower, then kick back with some wine and a nice thick steak. And maybe some sex afterwards for dessert.

Feeling much better, she parked her vehicle in front of the house (to annoy Summerset as usual, of course). Then she walked in the door and was hit by a hail of confetti and a chorus of voices shouting, "SURPRISE!"

She automatically reached for her weapon, then saw the grinning faces of Roarke, Mavis, Leonardo, Peabody, McNab, Baxter, Trueheart, Feeney, Morris, Mira and Mr. Mira, Nadine, Charles, and Louise. Summerset was there, too, holding Bella, and while he wasn't exactly grinning, his sour face had relaxed into a very faint smile.

"Jesus Christ," Eve shouted. "Don't you know better than to startle a cop? I damn near shot all of you!" She glared at her colleagues from the police department and added, "You guys at least should know better."

"Your weapon is set on 'stun'--at worst, it would only have knocked us out for a bit," Baxter laughed.

"But leave it to you to try and stun the people who came to throw you a surprise birthday party," Feeney said with grin.

"Birthday?" Eve asked, staring at him blankly until she noticed the banner hanging from the ceiling (along with a crap-load of streamers and balloons) that said: "HAPPY BIRTHDAY, EVE!"

"Oh, I completely forgot," she said. "It's not really a big deal; I don't even celebrate it."

"Well, you are going to celebrate it today, Dallas," Mavis said firmly, giving her a rib-crushing hug with surprising force from someone so tiny.

"Mavis...can't breathe," Eve gasped, only half-jokingly while Roarke leaned over and kissed her cheek.

"Happy birthday, darling."

"You," Eve said accusingly to her husband as she disentangled herself from Mavis's embrace. "You set this up, didn't you?"

"I plead guilty," Roarke said, flashing his most charming smile at her. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Peabody swooning and going all goo-goo eyed, such was the force of even the spillover effect of that charm. "I did have help, though," Roarke added.

Nadine, Mavis, and Mira all grinned from ear to ear. "We did the decorating," Mira confessed. "And Baxter and Peabody made sure you stayed out of the way until everything was ready."

"You sent me on a wild goose chase on purpose?" Eve demanded indignantly.

"What are you complaining about?" Baxter retorted. "You solved the case, didn't you? Thanks for that, by the way. There was a lot of pressure on me to close that one, from both the brass and the father."

"And you--" Eve said, turning threateningly towards her partner, but suddenly Trina stepped out from where she'd been hidden behind Leonardo's bulk. Eve turned pale and began backing away, completely forgetting about Peabody. "Wait," she pleaded shamelessly. "You're not going to torture me on my birthday, are you?"

"Because it's your birthday, I'll go easy on you," Trina said. "I'll just give your hair a little trim--it's starting to look like a rat's nest. But next time I come over, you're getting the full treatment."

"There won't be a next time!" Eve shouted, but Trina and Mavis ignored her protests as they each took hold of one arm and dragged her upstairs.

Actually, Trina did go easy on her, relatively speaking. Eve was allowed to take a quick shower by herself, although Trina did insist on giving her some kind of moisturizer and conditioner crap to use along with her regular soap and shampoo. Afterwards, wrapped in a bathrobe and feeling a little more relaxed, Eve gave in to the haircut, which as Trina had promised, was just a quick trim, evening out the hack job Eve had done on her own hair when it had gotten too long for convenience.

"If you would just come to me for regular maintenance, it wouldn't have to turn into such a big production," Trina scolded. "But since it's your birthday, I'll stop the lecture there. Okay, we're done."

"Thank God," Eve muttered, then was taken aback when Mavis shoved a box at her.

"Here, put this on."

"What is it?" Eve asked.

"Part of your birthday present from Roarke," Mavis replied. "After all, you have to have something nice to wear to your party, don't you? Actually, it's a gift from my huggie bear, too--Roarke commissioned it from him, so it's a one-of-a-kind Leonardo original."

It was a sleeveless black dress, made of something incredibly soft and sleek and velvety. It clung snugly to her torso, then flared out slightly at the waist and fell in loose pleats to her ankles. The skirt was voluminous enough to hide a weapons holster strapped to her thigh, and there was a slit in one pocket for easy access. There was also a matching jacket in case she wanted to go with a more traditional shoulder harness. Eve didn't really care for wearing fancy dresses, but she had to admire the thought that Roarke (and Leonardo) had put into this one.

And secretly, she did think it looked pretty good on her, although she made a show of shrugging indifferently when Mavis said, "You look totally frosty, Dallas!"

Naturally, there were matching shoes to go with it--with low, practical heels, not those crazy stiletto things that so many women went gaga over for reasons that Eve could not comprehend. She also put on the diamond pendant that Roarke had given her before they'd married, although she didn't normally wear it out in the open where people could see. But this was sort of a special occasion...although she hadn't thought of it as special up until now. It made her feel both happy and a bit uneasy, to have all her friends celebrating her birthday that wasn't really her birthday, just some random date chosen because the social workers had to put something down in the "birth date" box on the required government forms. It had more to do with red tape than anything else, and yet here everyone was, making a big fuss over it.

A short time later, she was back downstairs mingling with her guests, drinking wine and eating hors d'oeuvres. Some of the partygoers spilled outdoors, where Roarke and Dennis Mira were cooking dinner on the grill and hopefully not burning it.

Eve needn't have worried. After that initial disastrous attempt, Roarke had mastered the grill, since his wounded pride wouldn't permit anything less. The steaks and burgers turned out perfect--as did the fresh fish fillets and vegetable kabobs, for those who inexplicably preferred something other than red meat. In addition to the grilled stuff, there was potato salad, corn on the cob, and a salad of mixed greens. Eve ate some of the latter to appease Roarke when he dumped some on her plate, and she had to admit that it wasn't half bad, made tolerable and even tasty by the tangy dressing.

Everyone ate until they were stuffed, and then Eve opened the presents that everyone gave her. The gifts ranged from the personal (a hand-knitted scarf from Peabody) to the comical (a mug that said "NYPSD's #1 KICK-ASS COP!" from Baxter), and also the edible: from Charles and Louise, a cold-sealed canister of Mocha Java ice cream made with real coffee, real chocolate, and real cream. Eve's mouth watered just looking at it.

"Something sweet for Lieutenant Sugar," Charles said with a mischievous smile

"And something that combines your taste for both coffee and chocolate," Louise laughed.

"It is, as Mavis would say, totally frosty," Eve agreed almost reverently.

"I fear my gift can't compete with that," Roarke said, smiling ruefully as he handed her two boxes. They probably contained expensive jewelry and clothing, and honestly, Eve did prefer coffee and chocolate to diamonds and silks. But still, Roarke's extravagant gifts were his way of expressing his feelings for her, so she tried to appreciate the thought behind them.

The smaller box contained a pair of black pearl earrings and a matching bracelet, to match the dress he had already given her, Eve presumed. "They're beautiful," she said sincerely, and allowed Roarke to put them on her. It wasn't the sort of thing she would have chosen for herself, but the pearls were lovely and she felt a little more comfortable wearing them than the flashy, glittery rocks that he usually bought for her.

"You're beautiful, darling Eve," Roarke whispered huskily as he put the earrings on.

"Stop that," she scolded lightly, to cover the sudden flash of desire that heated her body. "You'll make Peabody swoon again."

Then Eve opened the larger box and laughed out loud with delight. It contained a holster and harness made of shiny, supple black leather.

"I'd have bought you a weapon, too, but I know they're required to be police issue," Roarke said.

"It's wonderful," Eve exclaimed, grabbing his face with both hands and kissing him soundly. "Thank you so much!"

Nadine shook her head and said, "Leave it to Eve to prefer a gun harness to pearls."

"That's our Eve," Mira said fondly.

"Well, I do enjoy showering you with jewels, but that's more for my pleasure than yours," Roarke admitted. "For your birthday, I thought I ought to give you something that you would really enjoy."

"It's absolutely perfect," Eve assured Roarke, kissing him again, and he grinned.

"Maybe I need to give you police equipment more often!"

Eve finished opening her presents, which included a set of skin and hair products from Trina. Trying to feign more enthusiasm than she felt, Eve thanked her politely.

"Don't worry," Trina replied. "I'll come over and make sure that you're using them properly since I'm sure you have no idea what to do with them."

"I can hardly wait," Eve said sourly, abandoning the pretense of politeness, and Trina smirked back at her, unoffended.

Once the presents were all opened, Summerset brought out a huge cake lit with an embarrassing amount of candles. Everyone sang "Happy Birthday" to her, then insisted that she blow out the candles.

"Jesus, there's over thirty of them," Eve grumbled, but took a deep breath and did her best to oblige. Even so, it took two tries to blow out all the candles.

After dinner, everyone had groaned about how stuffed they were and how they couldn't possibly eat another bite, but once the cake was sliced, they all suddenly had room for dessert. And it was delicious--in spite of all his other faults, Eve had to admit that Summerset was an incredible baker. There was also ice cream to go along with the cake, which was a good thing, because Eve didn't intend to share her gift of Mocha Java ice cream with anyone except maybe Roarke (and even that was a bit iffy), and certainly not with her detective colleagues who had a habit of devouring food like starving wolves.

Even so, there was still quite a bit of cake left after the wolves were done feasting, enough to send some leftovers home with her guests (including a very happy Peabody) and still have a couple of pieces to set aside for breakfast tomorrow. Roarke would probably tell her she should eat something more healthy, but if he didn't want her to have cake for breakfast, then he shouldn't have thrown her a birthday party.

Finishing dessert seemed to be the unofficial signal that the party was over, and the partygoers began dispersing after giving her hugs, kisses, and a few last birthday wishes.

"Happy birthday, Lieutenant Sugar," Charles said, brushing a kiss against her cheek.

"You know, someday you're going to have to tell me how you get away with calling her that without getting your ass kicked," Baxter said.

"I should think that would be obvious," Nadine said, giving Charles an admiring look, which Louise did not seem to mind at all. Then again, it hadn't bothered her when he had slept with other women as a Licensed Companion, so a bit of discreet ogling was nothing compared to that, Eve supposed.

"Hey, I'm good-looking, too," Baxter protested.

"Though your modesty leaves something to be desired," Eve said dryly. "And if you ever try to call me 'Lieutenant Sugar,' I will kick your ass so hard that you won't be able to sit down for a month."

"Hey, don't worry," Baxter laughed, throwing up his hands in defense. "I value my life--and my ass!"

Eve noticed Nadine taking a closer look at Baxter's ass as she followed him out the door. Baxter was something of a ladies' man, and Eve wondered if she ought to be worried, then reminded herself that Nadine was a big girl and could take care of herself. But if they did end up dating and he did break her heart, then Eve might end up kicking his ass anyway. On the other hand, Nadine could end up breaking Baxter's heart--but Baxter was a big boy and capable of taking care of himself, too.

Summerset efficiently cleared away the dirty dishes and discarded gift wrappings except for a shiny gold ribbon that Roarke was dangling to amuse Galahad. The butler absented himself without a single insult or pointed remark to Eve, which perhaps was his birthday present to her. Eve scooped up Galahad, plopping him down on her lap as she sat next to Roarke on the couch. The cat uttered an indignant meow at being taken away from his game of bat-the-ribbon, then settled down and began purring when Eve stroked him.

"You were responsible for all this, weren't you?" Eve asked her husband.

"Everyone pitched in to carry out the plan," Roarke replied. "But yes, I accept the credit for it--or the blame, depending on your point of view."

"It was nice," Eve admitted. "I had a lot of fun. Although it was also kind of weird at the same time. I've never celebrated my birthday before. You know that today's not really my birthday, right? Or at least, I don't think that it is. I suppose there's a very small chance that it could be, but it's not very likely."

"Yes, I do know," Roarke said quietly. "Neither of us had much of a childhood, did we? That's why I wanted to make up for all the birthdays you've never had. But if it doesn't feel right to celebrate it on this date, maybe you could pick another day, one that has more significance for you."

Eve thought it over. If someone had asked her that before she'd met Roarke, she might have said that Eve Dallas had started a new life when she'd graduated from the police academy, or even years earlier, on the night that she had killed her father and escaped from his abuse. And it would be true, but that Eve was different from the person that she was now, the Eve who no longer kept people at arm's length, who had friends that loved her--friends crazy enough to plot a surprise birthday party behind her back. Not to mention a gorgeous and sometimes infuriating husband who loved her and helped her to face the nightmares of her past, who had been stubborn enough to keep chasing after her even when she had done her damndest to run away from him, because the fact that she loved him in return had scared the hell out of her.

"If I were the sappy type," Eve said aloud, "I would say that I was reborn on the day we got married." Roarke smiled tenderly at her, and she hastily added, "But I'm not the sappy type, so I didn't say it."

"You are the least sappy person that I know, Lieutenant," Roarke said gravely, although a hint of amusement gleamed in his blue eyes.

Eve chose to pretend that she didn't notice it and continued, "So I think I'll just stick with this day instead. It's already my legal birth date, after all, and it would be too much hassle to change it. Maybe it didn't mean anything to me before, but now it does, because it's the first time I've ever had a birthday party. Which means that you're going to have to keep doing it every year, you know."

"It's a heavy responsibility, but I shall endeavor to fulfill it," Roarke purred in a smooth, rich voice that reminded Eve of a fine whiskey. She couldn't resist leaning over to press her lips against his, savoring that kiss far more than she would have the whiskey, and he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her closer.

Galahad jumped out of Eve's lap to avoid being crushed between their bodies and he meowed at them reproachfully. Roarke and Eve both laughed, and Roarke said, "Sorry, Galahad, but tonight she's all mine."

The cat gave them one last glare, then turned and stalked off, but Eve knew all would be forgiven tomorrow morning with a piece of bacon, or maybe some fish leftover from tonight's dinner. And then her attention turned back to Roarke as his hands teased and inflamed her, one hand caressing her breasts while the other stroked her thigh through the hidden pocket-slit.

"Searching for weapons?" Eve murmured.

"Aye, and I'll have to do a most thorough search," Roarke purred, unzipping her dress and sliding it off her body. Through the building haze of desire, Eve wondered if he'd asked Leonardo to deliberately make it easy to remove. If so, she ought to have him design some clothes for Roarke, too.

"Too many damn buttons," she complained as she wrestled with his shirt, which was a lot less easy to take off than her dress. She was tempted to just rip them off, but Roarke deftly unbuttoned the shirt and tossed it on the floor.

Her underwear and the rest of his clothes quickly followed, and she savored the sensation of his bare skin beneath her hands, and of his hands moving on her body. Their lovemaking was often passionate and explosive, almost violent, but tonight it was gentle and tender as they took their time exploring the familiar contours of each other's bodies, letting their desire build slowly and steadily until Eve finally wrapped her arms and legs around him, drawing him inside her. She moaned as their bodies moved together slowly at first, and then more urgently as that steady flame of desire suddenly flared up and burned out of control, and she surrendered herself to him even as he surrendered himself to her. In the end, it was pretty damn explosive, after all--so much so that they tumbled off the couch and fell to the floor with a thud as they climaxed.

They both laughed, and Roarke said, "Are you all right?"

"A few bruises are nothing," Eve scoffed. "We've had rougher sex than that before."

"True," Roarke chuckled.

"Not that I'm complaining, mind you," Eve added. "That has to be the best birthday present I've ever gotten."

"Even better than Mocha Java ice cream?" Roarke asked.

Eve pretended to think it over, then nodded. "So good, in fact, that I might actually share some of that ice cream with you."

"High praise, indeed," Roarke laughed. "And here I've been wasting my money on diamonds and pearls when I could've been giving you sex for free."

"I could have told you that a long time ago," Eve retorted. "There are a lot of things I prefer over jewelry: sex, coffee, candy, red meat--"

"I get the picture," Roarke interrupted, stemming the flow of words with a kiss. "But since I enjoy showering you with expensive baubles, why don't we just compromise, and I'll give you both jewelry and sex in the future."

"Works for me," Eve said with a grin. "Although I still think you're wasting your money."

"I have a lot of it to waste, darling."

"That's true," Eve laughed. Then in a more serious voice she said, "Thank you for the party, Roarke. It really meant a lot to me. I know I don't say it enough, but I really do love you."

"I love you, too, a grha," Roarke said tenderly, planting a gentle kiss on her forehead and then another on her mouth. "Happy birthday, Eve."