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four years later

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It’s just past 1 am at the Starboard Motel when a sleek black sedan pulls into the near-empty lot. It’s early morning in a sleepy upstate New York town: misty, dark, full of shadows.

The overnight concierge, a twenty-something townie who’s been standing behind this desk since she was fifteen, braces herself for impact. There’s a panic button underneath the smooth wood of the desk, and she likes to glance at it and remind herself it’s there. Every once in a while, a guest comes looking to make trouble.

The owners of the black sedan, however, take their time making it into the lobby. It’s a man and a woman, probably also in their late twenties, each wearing a warm jacket. They carry two heavy suitcases, and the concierge thinks she hears the red-headed woman curse under her breath as they cross the threshold, accompanied by some mumbling about a card game. (What else would ‘ace’ mean?)

“Hi!” the man says, tufts of blonde hair protruding from the hood he still wears as he approaches the front desk with an eager smile unfitting for the late hour.

“Good morning,” the concierge replies, keeping her observations to herself. “Welcome to the Starboard Motel. How can I help you?”

“Uh…” the man sends a fleeting glance toward the woman, who mouths something back. It’s clear from the woman’s widened eyes that they’re trying to communicate something they don’t want her to hear. The man turns to the concierge and says definitively: “We need a room.”

“Just for the weekend,” the woman adds, a frustrated look covering her face. Her voice is direct, to the point, and it’s a little unnerving.

“Yes, my wife Penelope and I would like a room,” the man says, and the concierge turns to her computer, absently wondering if this couple is trying to involve her in some elaborate role play. Wouldn’t be the first time. “My name is Dennis,” the guy continues.

Penelope blushes pure scarlet, which doesn’t escape the concierge’s notice. She’s too bored not to take in every detail about the guests, when they actually have guests.

“What brings you two to town?” the concierge asks, mostly amused by this clumsy couple’s act thus far.

At the same time, both the man and woman blurt out: “work!”

“Ah. Must be nice to work together, Mr. and Mrs…?”

She pauses, and Dennis quickly supplies, “Marvin.”

Penelope’s expression turns pained but she tries to cover it up with a rather fake-looking smile.

“Well, I hope you can get well rested for whatever work brings you to town,” the concierge replies, typing on the computer before handing the man a key. “That’ll be just $100 for the weekend, and I’ve given you room 2B.”

Dennis hands over a crisp $100 bill—no credit card, interesting—while Penelope scans the lobby, seemingly memorizing every inch of the sparsely decorated room. The concierge would know; she’s done the exact same thing for hours and hours of her shifts.

Penelope and Dennis exchange an intense look. “Thank you very much,” Dennis says to the concierge, who offers a polite smile.

“Weirdos,” the concierge whispers behind the couple as they finally make it to the door, lugging their suitcases in the direction she points them.

“What the fuck was that, Ace?”

Their motel room door has just closed behind them, and Nancy is already turning on Ace with an incredulous stare. In a huff, she throws off the heavy jacket she’d snagged at a thrift store.

“What?” Ace says. “I like telling people we’re married.” He has a sheepish, proud little grin on his face, like when he’s just uncovered a piece of research for Nancy.

“I don’t even know where to begin!” Nancy says, though her face flushes. “Penelope and Dennis? Giving the concierge Bess’s last name?”

“Okay, I’ll admit that last one was an error on my part,” Ace says, though the grin hasn’t left his face.

“But did you forget we were planning to get two separate rooms?” Nancy continues. “Pretend to be just colleagues so we can canvass the whole motel? In case you forgot, this isn’t some couples weekend! We have an assignment! Something shady is happening at this motel and we need to get into every room!”

“Well, excuse me,” Ace replies, moving across the room toward Nancy. He places his hand under her chin tenderly, forcing her beautiful eyes to focus on his. “I just happen to know that my wife can pick locks with the best of ‘em.”

“Hmm,” Nancy considers, picking at some lint on his shoulder in an attempt to avert her gaze from the intensity of Ace’s.

“And I couldn’t spend the night apart from you, Nancy,” Ace continues, his voice softening. “I know it’s best for the assignment, but….you know I can’t sleep without you anymore.”

Nancy flushes. “I would’ve sneaked back in here to sleep with you, you know.” It’s the first sign that she’s backing down. Ace is the only person she’s ever been able to give in to.

“Naughty,” Ace replies.

Nancy rolls her eyes in that loving way and fists his shirt in her hands. “Sorry, I’m just really worried about getting this done right. You know how the Holland family gets.”

“Impatient,” Ace replies, letting his gentle fingers trace a path down Nancy’s bare arms, creating that tingling sensation he knows drives her crazy.

Nancy closes her eyes—there’s no use, when it comes to Ace she always surrenders—and Ace takes this moment to let his fingers wander up her t-shirt, brushing the underside of her tits as she subconsciously leans into his touch.

He tugs at the hem of her shirt, pulling it off before she can even assist. Her bra quickly follows, and Nancy cries out when Ace gets his mouth around one of her nipples while his thumb circles the other.

They quickly move to the bed. Nancy can feel every lick and suck in her core, and she longs for release as he moves his mouth from her breasts and starts licking a trail down her stomach.

“Yes, yes, yes,” Nancy whispers, some horny Gregorian chant.

Ace pauses to remove her panties, and Nancy lets out a cry of frustration as his fingers make a too-brief pass over her slit.

“I need you,” Nancy whines.

Finally, finally, he noses his way between her thighs and she can’t help but let out a frustrated whine when he just circles her clit. “Please, Ace,” she whimpers.

“Like I said,” he ghosts the words across her squirming thighs. “Impatient.”

And then, without warning, he plunges his tongue into her folds, and she’s gripping the sheets tight. “Oh, fuck,” she whispers as he adds a finger in the mix, sucking on her clit until she sees stars.

He fingers Nancy through her orgasm, watching with pure awe and fascination. “Holy shit,” Nancy pants, her skin flush and her entire body on fire for Ace.

“I need you to fuck me right now,” Nancy says, and it’s not a question. Ace is already pulling down his boxers and rummaging through his suitcase for a condom.

Nancy turns over onto her stomach, arching her back so her pussy will be presented to Ace when he turns around.

Indeed, Ace lets out a low chuckle when he finally pulls the condom down his cock, licking his lips as he stares at her ass. Nancy turns her head to look at him, at the burning gaze he returns when they lock eyes. This will never get old. Not with him.

He lines himself up at her entrance easily, leaning down to plant a gentle kiss on her lips before sliding into her.

They both groan at the familiar pleasure of being connected, Ace kissing tenderly at her shoulder before starting to move. Nancy grips the sheets, crying out as he hits her at that angle that always feels…

So good. Fuck yes,” she whines, and Ace whispers, “Just don’t call me by my name, baby.”

Nancy laughs. “Oh, Dennis!” she screams instead, and Ace can’t help but laugh too though it’s soon cut off by a strangled moan.

“I’m close, baby,” Ace manages, and Nancy starts playing with her clit, moaning as he pumps one, two, three more times and then collapses on the bed beside her.

She collapses too, turning over onto her back and giggling at the stained motel room ceiling.

“That was good,” she says, giddy and content in a way that only an Ace-induced orgasm has ever made her. Her worries about the Holland case are momentarily forgotten.

After Nancy has peed and returned to Ace’s waiting arms, she gets the sense she always gets: that everything is right in the world. That this, right here, is all she really needs.

Ace, clearly similarly in his own thoughts, twirls a piece of Nancy’s hair around his finger. He breaks the silence to say, “remember the first time this happened?”

Nancy can’t help but smirk at the memory.

 

FOUR YEARS EARLIER

Nancy will never forget Littleton, Connecticut for as long as she lives.

But Nancy doesn’t know this when she first spots the sign, pointing it out from the passenger seat. In the driver’s seat sits Ace, her fellow junior PI and current investigating partner. They’d been accepted in the same class, along with two other hires, but this was now the second time their boss had paired them up.

The first time around, Ace and Nancy quickly solved a cheating scandal for a local political candidate, even having time to stop for milkshakes at The Claw, where Nancy learned that Ace used to work before accepting the PI position. Much of that was thanks to Ace’s hacking expertise, which Nancy had underestimated until that fateful day. She’d gone from mildly amused by his goofy attitude to intrigued in a matter of minutes. Only more intrigued to see how much his friends at The Claw seemed to care about him.

So when the PI firm needed a pair to hit the road, Ace and Nancy were chosen. Nancy still isn’t sure how she feels about it, or the way she’s been unable to stop staring at his long fingers as they tap against the wheel in time to the classic rock station he’s had on for the last hour.

It’s perfectly normal to notice things about people like that when you’re alone with them for long periods of time, Nancy reminds herself.

“Are we close to the next exit yet?” Ace asks, and Nancy’s face flushes. Right, I’m supposed to be navigating.

“Y...yes,” Nancy says, scrambling to check her Google Maps app. “It’s the exit after the one we’re about to pass.”

“Cool, I had a feeling it was coming up,” Ace says, in that easy and high-spirited way he has about him. It used to grate at Nancy, during their orientation, when she was so nervous and shaky that it frustrated her that anyone could sound so positive and cheery. But now it’s starting to grow on her.

Nancy attempts some conversation. “Think there will be anything fun to do in Littleton, Connecticut?”

Ace shoots her a smile, like he can tell she’s trying. “Oh, I know we’ll find something fun to do in Littleton, Connecticut,” Ace replies. “After all, what’s more fun than a mystery?”

“Nothing,” Nancy says, a seriousness to her tone that Ace seems to recognize. It just makes her emotional sometimes, to remember that she actually gets paid to solve mysteries for a living. The younger version of her, who had solved town caper after town caper, could never have imagined having a badge, a salary, and even a cute investigating partner. Cute? What is wrong with me today?

When they reach the inn they’d mapped back in Maine, Nancy and Ace will need to pretend to be married, and Nancy is already nervous, like whoever is behind the desk will be able to tell that Nancy actually hasn’t had a boyfriend since high school. Hook-ups and one-night stands, sure. But actually letting someone see all the ugly and real parts of herself, the ones she keeps locked away? Nancy hasn’t been that brave (yet).

It’s only thirty minutes later when they’re pulling up to the Sugar Quill Inn, just as frilly and girly as the pixelated photo on the outdated website looked when Ace pulled it up back at the office.

“Wow, could this place get more pink?” Ace says, verbalizing Nancy’s own thoughts.

“Seriously,” she says with a snort, and they both laugh.

They disembark from the car, stretching their weary limbs. Ace pauses to look at Nancy, his gaze intensely searching her face. “You ready for this?” he asks, a gentleness to his tone that Nancy didn’t expect.

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Nancy replies. Ace reaches for her hand and squeezes it, once. Nancy can’t help the flush that covers her face. (Or the tingle that shoots down her spine at his touch.)

“Then let’s do this, Mrs. Jones,” Ace replies, this time more formally offering his hand.

Nancy accepts it, marveling at how well their hands fit together as they cross the lot and climb the single step into the inn, each holding luggage in the opposite hand. Their hands remain intertwined until Ace holds the door open for Nancy, placing a guiding hand to the small of her back that makes her stomach swoop.

Nancy tries to collect herself as they approach the front desk and Ace releases her, placing a hand on the counter as he says, “Hello there.”

“How can I help you?” the woman behind the desk asks, and Nancy can’t help but notice the way she bats her eyelashes at Ace. She glowers at the woman. (She has to play the role of the jealous wife, after all. Right?)

“My husband and I would like to check in,” Nancy hears herself saying before she’s even registered she’s doing it.

Ace sends her a surprised smirk, though he places his hand on the small of Nancy’s back again. “Yes. Mr. and Mrs.-” Ace leans over and kisses Nancy on the cheek. She feels her cheek burn where his lips pressed. “-Jones. We’re newlyweds.”

“So you are,” the woman behind the counter says crisply. “Ah, Jones. Reservation for two, one king-size bed. Correct?”

The woman behind the desk won’t meet Nancy’s eyes, only Ace’s, and Nancy feels some weird sort of satisfaction. I win. The woman hands over keycards with much less friendliness than she greeted them with, accepting Ace’s cash without question.

“Thanks so much,” Ace says, shooting the woman a smile, before grabbing Nancy’s hand again. He does it so casually, like it comes naturally to him, and it makes parts of Nancy tingle that haven’t tingled in...ever.

“Only one bed, huh?” Nancy says with a dry chuckle, gazing nervously around the tiny room. It’s very…

“Cozy,” Ace remarks, eyeing the many throw pillows decorating the bed.

“You took the words out of my mouth,” Nancy replies with a laugh. Ace’s eyes light up, and Nancy hopes they can keep this energy going throughout the night. Keep it from getting...awkward.

“Do you want me to use that sleeping bag we packed just in case?” Ace asks before Nancy can say anything more. Her eyes dart up to meet him, and she finds he’s already watching her.

“No,” she blurts out immediately. She feels a flush creep up her neck. “I mean...you don’t have to. We can share. It’s a...it’s a big bed.”

“Right,” Ace says. “As long as you’re comfortable.”

“I’m comfortable,” Nancy says quickly, automatically. In the back of her mind, Nancy can’t help but think she wants to share a bed with Ace.

He lets out a nervous laugh, though Nancy thinks she spots a blush brighten Ace’s cheeks.

“Cool,” he says, his eyes leaving hers to begin unpacking his suitcase. He starts a conversation about grabbing dinner, admitting to being an avid Yelper.

“I wouldn’t expect that,” Nancy says, laughing.

“What kind of cuisine are you in the mood for? I’m gonna find us the best of whatever you want.” There’s a glint in Ace’s eye, like he really wants to impress her. She finds it incredibly charming.

“Chinese,” Nancy challenges.

“How’d you know it was my favorite?” Ace replies, already thumbing through his phone.

They decide to pick up takeout, climbing back in the car as Ace remarks that he can’t handle eating in some Connecticut restaurant without true crime to accompany him.

“Be it podcast or TV, I need true crime with my orange chicken,” Ace explains, one hand on the wheel and the other dangling dangerously close to Nancy’s hand, as if he’s forgotten they no longer need to pretend they’re married.

“I love true crime podcasts over dinner,” Nancy says.

“Well then,” Ace says. “The only challenge will be finding one neither of us have listened to yet for our feast.”

“Nothing more fun than a mystery, right?” Nancy says, and she finds herself genuinely smiling once again. It’s sad to say, but Nancy can’t remember the last time she smiled so much. She doesn’t have many friends, and especially not any who share her weird interests.

Nancy scrolls through her phone for podcast ideas while Ace runs into the Chinese restaurant. By the time they return to the inn with a steaming bag of food, they’ve settled on a particular and peculiar murder podcast.

They listen through the entire hour and forty-five minute episode, breaking open fortune cookies and giggling at each other’s fortunes. Ace’s commentary on the podcast itself makes Nancy laugh at least half the time, whereas Nancy’s insights tend to make Ace contemplate thoughtfully. More than once he compliments her, the way she’s often one step ahead of the podcast host.

“You have great instincts, Nancy,” he says the third time. It’s getting late; the podcast has long ended, and they’ve just been shooting the shit, eating candy Ace brought along from home.

“Thanks,” she says, trying to keep her face from warming with an inevitable blush, but it can’t be stopped. After all, Nancy finds that she likes it when he compliments her. She could listen to his voice say her name forever. Which is, Nancy admits, a decidedly non-platonic thought.

“Nancy?”

She jerks her head up. “Huh?”

He chuckles. “Did you hear me ask if I could use the bathroom first?” He pauses, searching her face and Nancy fidgets under his gaze. He can see her too well.

“That’s fine,” Nancy says. “Sorry, guess...guess I’m pretty tired, I must’ve spaced out.”

Ace laughs. “I’ll be quick.”

Nancy rises to her feet, stretching her arms above her head and letting out a yawn. As Ace hastens past her with his toiletry bag in hand, their arms brush.

“Sorry,” Nancy says quickly, trying not to be too obvious about the effect the little touch has on her.

“Nothing to be sorry about,” Ace replies, though he looks at her just a moment too long. Does he feel it too?

The bathroom door closes behind him, and Nancy rummages around in her backpack for pajamas, suddenly regretting her choice to bring just a tiny crop top and sleep shorts. Somehow, in all of her meticulous planning for this investigation, she hadn’t thought about the fact that she’d almost certainly be sharing a bed with Ace.

“All yours,” she hears from behind her, almost jumping at the sound.

He’s wearing just a white tank top and boxers, and Nancy almost forgets to breathe.

“Thanks,” she chokes out before hurrying into the bathroom.

When she emerges a few minutes later, Ace is already sitting up in bed, politely situated at one end of the bed so it’s clear he’s not trying to cross that invisible boundary. He locks eyes with her immediately, and she swears he swallows as his eyes trail her outfit.

She steps gingerly across the room, flicking on the bedside lamp and turning off the overhead lights as she makes her way to the bed. Mirroring Ace’s actions, Nancy folds herself into a ball on the opposite end.

Before reaching over to turn out the lamp, she whispers, “Good night, Ace.”

She’s almost startled by how deep and gentle his reply is: “Good night, Nancy.”

Nancy wakes up first.

The first thing she registers is warmth. It takes her a minute of blinking in the morning sun for Nancy to realize the reason she’s so warm is that she’s wrapped, inexplicably, in Ace’s arms.

Fuck. How did we end up like this? Does he know we’re...cuddling right now?

It’s too much for Nancy to take in, and when she starts thinking about what might happen if Ace were to wake up and find her fully awake, just enjoying the warmth of her investigative partner’s arms...before she can finish playing out the scenario in her head, Nancy is already plotting an escape route.

When she closes the door to the bathroom behind her, Nancy registers that her heart is beating unbelievably fast.

After showering and brushing her teeth, Nancy returns to the room to find Ace awake and pulling a change of clothes out of his suitcase. He doesn’t say anything about the way they were intertwined, like they were holding on for dear life.

“I’ll shower and then we can make our plan of attack over breakfast?” Ace says instead, and Nancy takes it in stride. Maybe he really hadn’t noticed, and she’s certainly not gonna be the one to bring it up.

“I’ll look for a diner on Yelp,” Nancy offers, and Ace flashes her one of his signature smiles as he heads for the bathroom.

“Thanks, Nance,” he says, and she blushes at the nickname as the door closes behind him.

The thing that’s funny is that Nancy can almost never remember the details of the case she was working with Ace when they first got together. She remembers the diner—that Ace buried his pancakes in so much syrup that she teased him about it, that he teased her for taking her coffee with three sugars. She remembers laughing, and the occasional brushing of fingers, and so much electricity that Nancy wonders if it’s been there all along.

She remembers making an attack plan in the diner, writing notes on the back of a menu, one of those paper ones advertising dry cleaning services and local auto dealerships.

(In later tellings, Ace and Nancy will adopt a routine. “I can never remember anything about the case we were working,” she’ll say, turning to a blushing Ace.

He’ll grip her thigh. “Sure you do, Nance.”

“I just remember it was an open and shut case.”

“Yeah, she only remembers the celebration afterwards,” Ace will say with a wink that’ll have Nancy giving him a playful slap on the arm, followed by a loving kiss.)

What Nancy doesn’t remember is that Ace and Nancy are trailing a corporate rival for one of their more evil clients.

When Ace and Nancy—both similarly fight-the-establishment types—tried to object, their boss reminded them that they all had to suck it up once in a while for the corporate cases in order to finance their more interesting cases, the ones that involve cork boards lined with thumb tacks and string.

And so the case that brings Nancy and Ace together in the end is one of the most boring they’ve ever worked. Supposedly, their target is staying at the Sugar Quill too, some sort of romantic anniversary weekend with his wife. But their sleuthing before leaving Maine had already determined that the target was having an affair back in New Jersey, where he lists his residence. So it seems far more likely that the anniversary weekend with his wife is cover for some shady business dealings. Business dealings that their client needs to know about.

“Nothing more fun than corporate espionage, huh?” Ace remarks as they walk back across the lot, both properly full of diner food and armed with a plan.

Ace tosses the keys to Nancy, who catches them without missing a beat. “I don’t know, I find this genre of mystery the least fun, to be honest,” Nancy admits, opening the driver-side door.

As she takes her time adjusting the seat to her liking, Ace laughs and says, “Oh, you know I agree. Fuck capitalism and all that. Isn’t the allure of being a PI the possibility of taking down some of these fuckers once in a while?”

“Yes, yes it is,” Nancy replies, a flush of arousal shooting through her body at his words. “And helping one of these guys fuck the other over isn’t quite as satisfying.”

Ace nods. “Amen to that,” he agrees. “Gotta do what we gotta do to make a living, I guess.”

“Exactly.”

As they talk, Ace quickly pulls out his on-the-go PC set-up, getting ready to be her right-hand-hacker.

“You ready?” Ace checks, and Nancy nods.

“You tell me, you’re the one tracking a dude’s cell phone from our car, the technology behind which I will never understand.” Nancy can’t help but let her lips tug into a smile.

Ace shoots her an impossibly charming grin back. “Don’t worry about it. Just drive. I’ll navigate.”

“Perfection, el capitan,” Nancy says, surprised by how quickly their rapport has turned from cordial to friendly. She’s never felt as in sync with any of the other junior PIs she’s been paired up with. But to be fair, the boss also hadn’t booked an overnight trip disguised as a married couple for her and any of the other junior PIs.

Nancy is happy to just drive, listening to Ace’s soft voice instruct her to hang this left, change to the right lane, keep straight for half a mile. Driving is something she’s always understood, since the first time her dad took her for laps around a parking lot at fourteen.

They find their target within twenty minutes of leaving the diner—he has a driver, but the car is inconspicuous, a boring Honda Civic.

“Game respects game,” Ace jokes, gesturing at their own car, on loan from the PI firm, which pretty exclusively owns inconspicuous used sedans.

Nancy giggles, though she lifts the camera when she hears the Honda door open. Snap, snap, snap, snap. Nancy had long ago learned that when it comes to trailing targets, the more photos, the merrier. Ace is typing away furiously on his laptop, and then the man disappears into a building, one of those nondescript office parks sprawling all over the state of Connecticut.

“There are three vacancies in that building,” Ace says. “And four registered businesses. At least two of them sound like fronts.”

“Laundromat?” Nancy takes a wild guess.

Ace touches his finger to his nose and looks up to smirk at Nancy. “Want to chance a guess at the other one?”

Nancy considers, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth. “How about…an accounting firm?”

“I was thinking of the real estate company, so close enough,” Ace replies, laughing.

Nancy sighs, both of them knowing they’re missing valuable insights on what their target is doing with every second they sit out here. “I should head in there,” she says, and Ace nods.

“I’ll stand guard out here, text you if anything goes wrong,” Ace agrees, and Nancy finds that she trusts him without question.

Inside, Nancy tries to act casual, reminding herself that her name is Valerie Jones, were anyone to ask. They picked out the law firm as her pretend destination; as much as she likes her fake husband, in a bind she’d divorce him for the good of the case.

The law firm is situated down the hall from the aforementioned real estate office, and Nancy can’t believe her luck when the target exits the real estate suite just as she’s halfway down the hall. She stoops to tie her shoe, snapping a couple stealthy phone photos as the target heads for the elevator.

She waits until the elevator door closes behind the target and his driver, then starts racing down the stairwell, texting Ace updates as she goes. She makes it downstairs just as the target exits the lobby.

Nancy stands outside the building, pretending to be on the phone. In their car’s darkened windows, Nancy is sure that Ace is snapping photo after photo of the target as he climbs back into his car. The driver pulls away almost immediately, and Nancy races to the passenger seat as soon as they’re out of eyesight.

“Go, go, go!” Nancy shouts, happy to see that Ace had anticipated the quick exit and switched to the driver’s seat. She lets out a couple of shallow breaths. “Got some phone photos of our guy leaving that real estate firm.”

“Good job, partner,” Ace says as he follows the target’s car. “Because while you were in there, I connected that real estate company to one of the three business associates our client suspects the target of working with.”

“Score!”

Nancy lifts the camera again, ready to capture whatever their target does next.

Nancy and Ace work seamlessly together. It’s something Nancy already knew, but something about the ebb and flow of this case—low stakes by their standards—has Nancy stopping to appreciate the little things.

They follow their target to a couple local construction sites and take photos of various handshakes as Ace tries to identify the subjects of their photos. When they match yet again with the list of associates given by the client, Ace and Nancy can’t help but give each other a triumphant high five.

“Three out of three, baby!” Ace cheers. “What’s for celebratory dinner?”

Nancy whoops but feels more cautious. “Not yet, Ace,” she says, and his smile fades a bit, he’s watching her so intently. “I have a feeling we should follow him a bit longer.”

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned,” Ace says, putting the car into drive. “It’s to always follow a Nancy Drew instinct.”

Nancy can’t help the blush that covers her face, but she tries to concentrate on her hunch.

This time, the target leads them deep into a wooded recreational area. Nancy has a sudden thought that if they were to be found out by the target, they’d almost certainly have to pretend to be lovers looking for a place to park. The very thought of making out in the back of a car with Ace makes Nancy’s ears warm.

“Well, this isn’t at all sketchy,” Ace jokes.

They decide to get out of the car, which Ace parks out of the way. They creep through the brush, making it just within earshot of their target and the other car that was clearly waiting for him in the clearing.

Crouched behind a tree, Ace and Nancy are so close that Nancy can feel his breath hot on the back of her neck. There’s something intimate about being close like this. And for a case too. There’s nothing Nancy holds as close to her heart as investigating.

As it turns out, what Ace and Nancy overhear from behind that tree seals the deal: the target is meeting with someone Ace quickly identifies as a government official in Littleton. Not only do they watch a suitcase of money change hands, but they capture photos of it.

Ace and Nancy wait until the target and his accomplice finally clear out, just standing patiently and undetected in the woods. They’re so impossibly close, even though Ace’s fingers are moving fast through his phone, typing out data and research and whatever else he does on his little screen that Nancy doesn’t completely understand. Maybe that’s what’s so alluring and intriguing about Ace—she’s rarely met someone whose investigative abilities complement hers so well. Someone whose strengths match her gaps in knowledge.

Finally, finally, the sound of the cars driving off into the distance fades to nothing, and Ace and Nancy can come out from their cozy hiding spot.

Nancy stretches her arms above her head, a giddy look covering her face when she realizes they did it.

“I can’t wait to send all of this back to the firm!” Nancy says, pumping her first in the air.

“Wasn’t Nick saying we’d be gone a whole week?” Ace refers to his friend from The Claw, where they’d grabbed coffees before hitting the road. Back in Maine, being around other people, suddenly feels a million miles away, Nancy feels so safe and at home with Ace.

“Wouldn’t be the first time we proved someone wrong, huh?” Nancy replies.

“Right,” Ace says, something serious flickering in his eye.

Back in the car, Ace offers to drive back to the hotel. From the passenger seat, Nancy uses Ace’s laptop to send initial findings to the boss, who compliments them in no uncertain terms.

“Is there anything better than that?” Nancy says, whooping a little bit, to Ace’s surprised delight.

“It’s a bit of a high, what we do, Nancy,” Ace agrees, a cute little smirk on his face.

Nancy rolls down the window, letting the wind whip her hair. She giggles, closing her eyes and surrendering to the feeling of now.

She only half registers that Ace turns into the inn parking lot, that the car comes to a stop.

“You’re gorgeous, Nancy,” Ace whispers, and Nancy opens her eyes to find Ace staring at her, but not like he usually looks at her. If there’s anything Nancy knows, it’s when a guy wants her.

“You did a really good job out there today,” Nancy compliments back, gulping a little bit as she holds Ace’s intense gaze. It feels like something is about to change between them, perhaps irreversibly. She finds that she’s cheering it on, looking forward to it.

“You too, Nancy,” he finally says, his own voice sounding strained with emotion.

He offers his arms for a hug, and Nancy finds herself sinking into them. It’s just as warm as it was this morning, when she accidentally woke up in his impressively strong arms.

He lets out a deep breath, and Nancy is hyper aware of how close they’re pressed together. She wants more. She wants Ace everywhere.

Ace slowly begins to pull back from the embrace, and she stares at him, daring him to kiss her.

His eyes dart to her lips then back to her eyes, like he’s checking that she’s on board with this. And then he’s sliding his hand under her chin and leaning in to kiss her, and she’s kissing him back harder than she’s ever kissed anyone.

He doesn’t seem in the least bit surprised about her passion, like this is the natural conclusion to the last day of tension and teasing, and maybe that’s true.

Ace and Nancy make out for what feels like hours, but is really only five minutes. Nancy didn’t know it could feel like this. Like she’s found her way home.

When they finally pull back, both panting, Ace smirks and holds out his hand, “What do you say we take this to our room, Mrs. Jones?”

As they rush into the inn hand in hand, Nancy’s mind is racing. She knows there are probably things they should discuss, but right now all she can think about is Ace: the feel of his hair between her fingers, the way he slipped his tongue into her mouth, how she’s never felt this way after kissing someone before.

The door to their room slams behind Ace and Nancy and they’re immediately on each other again. They make their way to the bed, both unable to get enough of each other.

Clothes are quickly discarded, Nancy desperate to feel Ace’s bare skin underneath her hands.

She relishes in the feel of the soft comforter on her back as he lowers her to the bed. She’s so turned on, she can barely think straight.

“Are you sure about this?” Ace whispers, hovering above her, looking just as tantalizing as she’d imagined in her daydreams.

She nods, feeling too naked and vulnerable to put words to what she’s feeling just yet.

He reaches down and kisses her, the most tender kiss yet. Nancy will remember it forever.

When he pulls back, he unwraps a condom plucked from his wallet and she waits, her entire body on fire. Every part of her is screaming out that she wants Ace.

Ace turns back to her, his gaze focused on Nancy and Nancy only, before he covers her body with his own, his hands reaching for her as if hungry, desperate, in need. He devours her mouth in the same way, and she’s addicted to it.

He slides inside her while they’re still kissing, and Nancy finds herself moaning obscenely into his mouth. “Ace,” she breathes.

Everything about this just feels so…right.

“Fuck,” Ace whispers against her lips, adjusting to the feel of her. “You’re...perfect.”

Nancy kisses his neck, moaning into his skin as he starts moving inside her. It’s as passionate and hot as any hook-up she’s had before, and yet, in his thrusts and her cries, in the way he cradles her head between his hands and kisses her gently, she can tell something about this is different.

He rubs at her clit until she’s crying out, her entire body clenching with pure pleasure. He follows soon after, letting out the sexiest sound she’s ever heard. She kisses his shoulder as he rides out his orgasm, feeling so utterly connected to Ace. She doesn’t ever want to let go.

Afterwards, Ace holds Nancy in his arms, seemingly unwilling to stop touching her. Nancy finds that she doesn’t mind. She usually hates cuddling after sex, but something already feels different about this, about him. The way he can read her so silently and accurately.

And so, rather uncharacteristically, Nancy doesn’t run when he says what comes next.

“God, Nancy. I’ve wanted to do this since…” He sounds nervous but so earnest, she wants to kiss him again. He rubs her arm affectionately as he talks, his eyes trailing her skin instead of meeting her eyes. “...well, basically since the day we met.”

Nancy lets out a little gasp, processing the words and finding that they warm her entire body. To think that he’d just been...pining for her? While Nancy sat in the passenger seat on the way here, wondering if the electricity shooting through her every time they touched was something only she felt. Between the orgasm and Ace’s words, Nancy positively tingles with pleasure.

“I really like you, Ace,” Nancy says now, more forthcoming than usual but she doesn’t know how else to explain what he’s starting to mean to her. She figures this simple fact is a start. “I want…you. I don’t want this to be just a one-time thing.” The words feel almost unnatural coming out of her mouth, the polar opposite of what she’s used to, but they’re true.

Ace’s entire face lights up, and it confirms what she’s feeling. She suddenly feels that she would do anything to make Ace happy.

He grabs her face—some inexplicable combination of tender and dominant that only Ace can achieve—and crashes their lips together. Nancy threads her hands through his hair, relishing in the little moans he makes against her mouth when she tugs lightly.

When they finally pull back from their post-coital embrace, Nancy excusing herself to pee, Ace can’t help but say, “This isn’t a dream, right? Like I’m not gonna wake up in the morning having done something very embarrassing in this bed we’re sharing?”

Nancy stops in her tracks, letting out a deep belly laugh. He smirks as she holds her stomach, laughing and laughing in a way she hasn’t laughed in ages.

“Do you need me to pinch you?” she asks when she finally catches her breath.

Ace makes a suggestive face. “Maybe I do…”

Nancy laughs, feeling her face flush. “You and me, Ace,” she says. “We’re a thing. A very real thing. Not a dream. A dream come true, maybe.”


PRESENT-DAY

“‘A dream come true maybe,’” Ace quotes in his very best Nancy impression. She shoves him teasingly, a flush covering her face even four years and one courthouse wedding later.

“It’s the corniest thing I’ve ever said, okay?” Nancy admits, melting into Ace’s arms. “But I stand by it.”

Ace kisses the top of Nancy’s head, whispering into her hair, “Same.”