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To Not Catch a Thief

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"You own a bikini, right? Or many bikinis, preferably tiny ones, that would be better."

Kat blinked and looked up from the blueprints she was studying, to see Hale throw himself in Uncle Eddie's overstuffed chair in front of the fireplace. "You're not supposed to sit there," she said inanely. "But bikinis?"

Hale waved his hand in the air. "Uncle Eddie likes me."

"Not as much as you think he does."

Hale clutched at his chest, doing his best impression of a bad actor. "I'm hurt."

Kat rolled her eyes and got up from her chair, crossing the room to drop into Hale's lap. She kissed him quickly. "Hello. Now answer my question. Bikinis?"

He grinned at her, wrapping his arms around her waist. This time he kissed her, just enough to make her head spin and reconsider whether or not she actually cared about the answer to her question. Which was of course when he pulled back to give it to her.

"That necklace we've talked about? I know where it's going to be next week."

Kat lit up like a properly disabled alarm system. Hale brought her the best presents. "Really?"

"Would I lie to you about something like this?" Hale asked. "That genuinely hurts, Kat."

Kat kissed him again, lingering over it this time, until he was the one with dazed eyes when she pulled back. Two could play at his games. "Tell me everything."

"Well," Hale started, and Kat caught the warning in his eyes just as his hand began to creep up her side, "you remember the island that the Rose & Grave own?"

Kat was Bobby Bishop's daughter and Uncle Eddie's niece, and planning cons was something she took very seriously. She did her best to listen to what Hale was telling her, she really did, but when W.W. Hale the Fifth was doing his best to take off your clothes, well, it would take a stronger woman than she was to say no.

(It went without saying that Kat made Hale repeat all the details immediately after.)

*

"Honey, I'm home," Amy called out, as she walked in the apartment door. She dumped her bag to the floor and kicked off the too tall Jimmy Choos she'd let Clarissa talk her into last week. She sifted through the mail on the table next to the door and rubbed one of her arches. Her feet would not forgive her so easily, she could tell. "Jamie?"

There still wasn't an answer. But now that she was listening for it, she heard the shower running down the hall.

And that, Amy decided, was clearly a sign.

She started down the hall, shedding pieces of the suit she'd worn for the investor meeting as she went. Clad only in her lacy underwear, she drew back the shower curtain.

"I hope you don't mind if I join you," she said.

Jamie turned and stared at her, his gaze sweeping hotly over her as it traveled from head to toe. "Not at all," he said. "But I think you're a little over dressed, don't you?"

"I can fix that," she assured him, reaching behind her to unfasten her bra. She shimmied out of her panties and stepped into the shower with him. "See?"

His arms banded around her as he pressed her back into the wet tile. "Does this remind you of anything?" His mouth skimmed over her jaw. "Anything at all?"

Amy knew damn well what he was talking about, but there was no reason he had to know that. Not when this impromptu trip down memory lane was working this well for her. "No," she managed to say. "Should it?"

He bent his head to her collarbone, sucking off water droplets in a very familiar way. "Still nothing?"

"Maybe there's something there," she gasped, as his mouth crept lower still. "Tell me more."

Jamie proceeded to do just that.

*

"Wait," Gabrielle said, her eyes darting back and forth between Hale and Kat rapidly, "say that last part again."

Kat sighed. "You heard me," she said. "Repeating it won't change anything."

"Maybe repeating it will help make it sound less obviously insane," Gabrielle snapped. She held up her hand. "I'm sorry, that's not true. This isn't insane, it's stupid. Do you like that better?"

"It's not stupid," Kat protested. She looked back over her shoulder at Hale. "Feel free to back me up anytime here."

"I thought I wasn't allowed to talk," Hale said.

Kat frowned at him. His near-photographic memory was an incredibly inconvenient attribute sometimes. "Well, you are now."

"Ah," he said, managing to infuse the syllable with far too much meaning. He patted Kat's shoulder. "Don't worry, I've got this."

Her jaw dropped, but before she could say a word, Hale was barreling ahead.

"It's really a good plan," he said. "Kat's already met the others in my pledge class; they know we've been dating for years. And face it, running off and getting married is exactly the kind of thing that I would do. So no one will think that it's suspicious." He shrugged. "It's a good plan."

"I don't object to the plan," Gabrielle said. "You two have been acting like you were married since you were sixteen. I object to the stakes. Is a necklace really worth this?"

Kat nodded. "It is."

Gabrielle let out a heavy sigh. "Fine," she said. "Did I at least get a hot maid of honor dress at this elopement of yours?" She laughed at the matching looks on Kat and Hale's faces. "What, you didn't think you were going to fake run away and get married without me, did you?"

Kat hitting her head on Uncle Eddie's kitchen table was a very near thing.

*

"Remind me again why we have to go during Eli's spring break?" Jamie asked.

They were waiting on line to go through security at La Guardia, and Amy turned back to look at him with a roll of her eyes. "It's tradition," she said. "And also, it's Derek's spring break too, so this was the only time Malcolm was free to join us."

"Who says we need Malcolm?" Jamie countered, snaking an arm around her waist and pulling her back against his chest. His hands settled on her hips and Amy leaned into him. "Just think about it; we could be alone on the island, just you and me--"

"And Salt," Amy interjected, twisting her head back to grin at him.

Jamie frowned, but continued "--wouldn't that be better?"

"It would be," Amy agreed. She turned in his arms, her purse bumping into his chest and falling down off her shoulder. Without a word, Jamie slid it back up to its rightful place. She patted him on the chest. "But you know what Malcolm has that you don't have?"

"A husband?"

"A yacht," Amy retorted. She stretched up to kiss him. "Get one of those, and we'll talk."

"Next!" the TSA agent barked.

*

Kat took a sip of champagne and stretched her legs out in front of her. "Ahhhh," she said, lingering over the word like a caress. She tilted her head back so that it was resting against the back of the sofa and smiled lazily up at Hale. "I love you."

"You love my private jet," Hale said.

Kat grinned. "Well, that too."

"A less secure man would be wondering if it's that only," he said. He snatched the glass of champagne from her hand and took a drink. "Luckily, I know otherwise."

"Yes," Kat said. She nodded her head solemnly. "There's also your houses all over the world and the yacht and then--"

"Yes?" Hale asked when she didn't finish her thought. He sounded amused. "Then what?"

Kat reached up to touch his face, smoothing her fingers over his skin. "Well, you're awfully pretty."

Hale caught her hand and pressed his lips against her palm. "Just awfully pretty?"

A shiver went down her spine. What he could do to her simply wasn't fair. "Maybe a little bit more than that."

Hale smirked and tugged her closer.

"Just a little bit more," Kat protested. "Nothing more than that, do you hear me? Are you even listening to me?"

"No," Hale said. "Now be quiet."

He tipped the champagne flute over and sent it drizzling down her chest, until it trickled beneath the lace edge of her camisole. "Oops."

"Hale!"

He set the glass aside and bent his head to her throat. "Let me clean that up for you," he said.

"Well, if you insist," she said.

Kat wound her hands into his hair and let him get to work.

*

"Malcolm!" Amy squealed. She threw herself into his arms the minute she was safely on board the yacht. "It's so good to see you."

"Whoa," Malcolm answered, laughing. "You say that like it's been more than two weeks."

Amy sniffed, pulling back from his arms. "Well, if you want to get all technical about it." She wrapped her arms around Derek. "I knew I liked your husband more than you."

"How nice for you all," Jamie said dryly. "Hey, Malcolm. A little help here?" He shrugged his shoulders, gesturing at the bags his arms were overflowing with. "Asking Amy for help when it involves coming back out over open water is pretty much pointless. Even if most of it is hers."

Malcolm went to rescue Jamie, and Amy linked her arm through Derek's. "Isn't he pretty like that?" she asked, dropping her voice to a stage whisper. "His arms just make me want to do things."

Derek laughed and patted her hand. "And we all know what those things are." He pitched his voice louder, so that Jamie and Malcolm could hear them. "Speaking of, we thought about soundproofing your cabin and billing you, but decided against it. Maybe just keep it down this year?"

"No promises," Jamie said. He dropped the bags on the deck and held out his hand to Derek. "How's it going, Derek?"

Amy rolled her eyes at both of them for doing the manly handshake thing instead of just hugging. It wasn't like Jamie hadn't been best man at Malcolm and Derek's wedding or anything. Or that Malcolm hadn't returned the favor at her and Jamie's. But no. They had to shake hands instead.

"Boys," she said, rolling her eyes again for emphasis.

"Yes," Jamie said with a grin, wrapping his arm around her waist. "I thought you liked that."

"Well, I do," she admitted. She tipped her face up to his for a kiss. "Most of the time anyway."

"And I think that's our cue to set sail," Malcolm said. "Before you get Jamie's clothes off and he's of no use to me."

Amy laughed. "You people make me sound like some sort of sex-addict."

Jamie, Derek, and Malcolm all exchanged looks.

"There's nothing any of us can say here that won't get us into trouble, is there?" Jamie asked finally. "Before you answer, remember that you promised to love me for better or for worse."

Amy shook her head, trying very hard not to smile, and reached down for the smallest of her bags. "You're all ridiculous."

She headed in the direction of the cabins without waiting for any of them to answer.

"I love you!" Jamie called after her.

She flapped her hand back at him. "Yeah, yeah."

An outburst of male laughter chased her inside and since they couldn't see her, Amy finally gave into her grin. She loved vacation, she really did.

*

"Will you marry me?" Hale asked.

Kat blinked and looked up from studying the map of Cavador Key that Hale had drawn for her. She found him kneeling on the floor in front of her. "Excuse me?"

"It occurs to me that what with the forging of marriage licenses and the like, we overlooked a very simple bit of window dressing."

"What?" Kat frowned. They hadn't. They'd been extremely thorough in their preparations, because they all knew how thorough Rose & Grave would be in making sure that their non-marriage was valid. "What could we have possibly forgotten? We covered everything, Hale."

Hale reached into his pocket and drew out a small, velvet covered box. He flipped it open silently and offered it to her.

Kat took it from him, relieved that her hands didn't shake. It was beautiful. Of course it was beautiful. Hale had great taste and the money to indulge it. She didn't need a loupe to know that the stone was perfect. Even if this was a ruse, Hale wouldn't give her anything else.

"Here, let me," Hale said, and then he was sliding the ring into place on her finger where it fit perfectly. Hale lifted her hand, twisting it this way and that, before dropping a kiss on her fingers. He looked her straight in the eye, his expression utterly serious. "Beautiful."

Somehow, she found found her voice. "You really shouldn't have."

Hale laughed and released her hand. "Of course I should have. I think people would have noticed if we weren't wearing rings."

"We?" she asked, her voice squeaking on the word. "I mean, there's one for you too?"

Hale produced another ring box. "You want to do the honors this time, Mrs. Hale?"

"Of course," Kat said, striving for lightness in her tone and failing utterly in the attempt. She took the ring box from him and removed the simple band from the lining. She slid it into place on his finger. If her fingers shook this time, neither of them mentioned it. She didn't mention how right it looked either. But it did. "There."

Hale reached over to link their fingers together and squeezed them tight.

"Let's go steal a necklace," he said.

*

"Why do salad bars always have beets?" Amy asked. She set her plate down on the table and pulled her chair out. "I mean, who eats them?" She turned to look at Jamie. "You're a vegetarian, and in ten years, I don't think I've seen you eat beets once."

"I eat beets," Jamie said.

"They're delicious," Derek agreed.

Amy shot Malcolm a desperate look. He shrugged in response.

"I'm on your side with the beets; they're disgusting," Malcolm said. "But I also think that you've spent far too much time thinking about this. Does Jenny not give you enough to do at Caritas?"

Amy wrinkled her nose at him. "I stay plenty busy, thank you."

Malcolm sent her a vaguely pitying look. "Because I adore you, I'm not even going to touch that one," he said. "Now, do any of you mind if I invite someone over to join us?" He didn't give them a chance to say no, but raised his arm and waved. "Hale! Over here."

"Who's Hale?" Amy asked, twisting her neck so that she could look behind her. There was a couple walking towards them, hand in hand. The woman was short with cropped dark hair, and the word that came to mind to describe her was striking. The man on the other hand, well, when someone looked like some kind of Adonis, words seemed superfluous. "That's a Hale?"

Jamie gave her a wounded look.

"Is he married or something?" Amy asked instead of repeating herself. She reached under the table to take Jamie's left hand in hers, rubbing her thumb across his wedding band in an apologetic gesture. "Who's the girl?"

"It looks like his girlfriend," Malcolm said, frowning. "She's not a Digger. But I didn't think they were married. This is interesting."

The couple reached their table, and Malcolm pushed his way to his feet. "I didn't know you were going to be here," he said, holding out his hand. "Good to see you, man."

"Malcolm," Hale said. He nodded at Derek. "Good to see you again, Derek."

"Likewise," Derek said.

"Hale, these two are Jamie Orcutt and Amy Haskel-Orcutt," Malcolm said, nodding to each in turn.

"Hello," Jamie said.

"Hi," Amy added, with a little wave.

Malcolm rolled his eyes at her.

"What?" she defended. "I was being friendly!"

"And speaking of friendly," Jamie said, tightening his grip on Amy's hand, "Aren't you going to introduce us to your companion?"

"Companion, really?" Malcolm asked. "That was the best you could do?"

Jamie shrugged. "I'm not the one at this table that lives to make assumptions about others."

"He has a point," Derek said.

"Thanks, honey," Malcolm said. He refocused on the standing couple. "It's Kat, right?"

Kat nodded. "It is. Nice to see you again."

"Since Malcolm is apparently wearing his politician's son’s polite pants, I'll be the one to ask," Amy said. "Is there anything the two of you wanted to announce? A wedding, perhaps?"

Hale laughed and tugged on Kat's hand, so that they could all see the prominent diamond sitting on her left hand. "I was wondering how long it would take you to ask."

"When?" Malcolm asked. He came around the table to kiss Kat's cheek. "I don't remember seeing any kind of announcement."

"Two weeks ago," Hale said. "We sort of eloped."

"Sort of?" Jamie asked. "I thought eloping was more of a binary state. Either you did or you didn't."

"Lawyers," Malcolm said, his mouth twisting up in disgust.

"Like finance vice presidents have any room to talk," Jamie retorted.

"We did," Kat answered. "I think he was afraid I'd change my mind if he gave me too long to think about it."

"I like you," Amy said.

Kat looked amused. "I'm glad?"

"Come with me," Amy said. She pushed her chair back from the table and stood. "That way I can ogle your ring without commentary from the peanut gallery and we can get celebratory ice cream. It's a win-win."

"For you," Malcolm said. "I'm not sure what Kat is getting out of the arrangement."

"I'm not even going to dignify that with a response," Amy said loftily. She hooked her arm through Kat's and pulled her in the direction of the dessert bar.

To Kat's eternal credit, she didn't send a single pleading look back in the direction of her husband. It only made Amy like her more, but she decided not to mention it yet.

She didn't want to scare the new girl too much. She left that kind of thing to Jamie.

*

Amy seemed nice, Kat thought. She was a little nosy, maybe, for a member of a secret society, but at least she was upfront about it. When you lived your life pretending to be other people, sometimes a lack of subtlety was refreshing.

"So how long have you two been together?" Amy asked, as she passed Kat a bowl. "I mean, if you don't mind sharing."

"No," Kat said, amused despite herself. "It's fine. Let me think, though, it's been almost seven years? That sounds right."

Amy let out a low whistle. "Seven years? You guys had to have been babies when you got together."

"Sixteen," Kat said. She repressed any impulse to smile the goofy smile that she knew tended to come out when she was talking about Hale, but then remembered she was supposed to be a newlywed and let it slide unnaturally over her face. Being herself was harder than it should have been. "But don't get the wrong impression, we haven't been together that whole time."

Amy waved the hand that held the sprinkles spoon through the air. "Please," she said dismissively. "After we'd been together for a month, Jamie left me to go be a spy."

"A spy?" Kat asked curiously. This did not sound like a normal story.

"Something like that anyway. But the point is that he came back three weeks later, realized he'd made a mistake about the job -- and the leaving me part, though he won't admit that -- and we've been together ever since."

"Aw," Kat said, because the situation seemed to call for it. "That's sweet. I think."

Amy laughed and belatedly offered Kat the spoon she was still holding. "It was. But I didn't mean to talk about me. Tell me about the wedding."

"It was just us and a judge," she said. She added sprinkles to her ice cream, because why not. When in Rome and all that. "Like I said, after all the convincing it took to get me to agree, Hale was determined not to give me a chance to change my mind."

"That is really very adorable," Amy said.

Kat let her mouth curve up into the goofy smile one more time. "Yeah," she said. "It really sort of is."

"Are you good?" Amy asked, nodding at Kat's bowl of ice cream. "Because personally, I don't like leaving Jamie and Malcolm alone together for long stretches of time. It invariably ends up in some kind of plot against me. I obviously don't know if Hale's the type to join in, but--"

Kat held up a hand to cut her off. "Say no more."

Amy grinned at her. "I really do like you."

"I'm glad," Kat said again, and to her very great surprise, she actually meant it.

Maybe more than one good thing could come from this trip. She followed Amy back to the table.

*

"So what did we miss?" Amy asked as she sat back down at the table. "Am I going to end up locked in a closet again?"

"First of all, you were the one that decided to hide there without checking to make sure the door didn't lock from the other side," Malcolm said. "And second of all, we were discussing going out on the yacht to go fishing tomorrow."

Amy wrinkled her nose. "Pass," she said. She turned to look at Kat. "Do you have any pressing desire to spend the day with smell fishy?"

"I can't say that I do," Kat answered. "Did you have another suggestion?"

"The beach," Malcolm and Jamie answered in unison.

Amy sent each of them dirty looks in turn, adding an elbow to her husband's ribs for good measure. "Are you suggesting that I'm predictable?"

"Yes," Jamie said. He covered her mouth with his hand before she could answer. "And I love you for it."

Amy pried his hand loose and leaned over to kiss him. "Good answer."

"Would you two get a room," Malcolm said good-naturedly. He turned to look at Kat and Hale who were watching Jamie and Amy like they were a nature documentary. "I'd lie and say they're not always like this, but they are. It's just that it's worse here. I think it's because it's where they first hooked up."

"Do people even say hooked up anymore?" Derek wondered out loud.

"Thank you for making me feel old," Malcolm said.

"Getting back to the subject at hand," Amy said, turning to look at Kat. "Are we on for the beach tomorrow? I warn you, I am mostly a work on my tan kind of beach dweller. People have told me before how boring it is."

Kat shrugged and exchanged glances with Hale. "It sounds good to me."

"Excellent!" Amy said. She took a last bite of ice cream and pushed her chair back from the table one more time. "And now, if you'll excuse us, I believe that my husband and I will go in search of that room that Malcolm so helpfully suggested."

"I do what I can," Malcolm said modestly. "God knows your sex life would suffer if I didn't."

"Right," Jamie said dryly. "It's all because of you." He stood and offered his hand first to Kat and then to Hale. "It was nice to meet you. We'll see you tomorrow."

"Good night," Amy said. She slipped her hand into Jamie's and led him from the room.

When they were outside, Jamie stopped and raised an eyebrow at her. "A room already?" he asked. "Not that I'm complaining, mind you."

Amy grinned up at him. "I was thinking it might be nice to take a long stroll, say past the showers, first, but whatever you want to do is fine by me."

"I do love the way you think," Jamie said.

"I know," Amy answered.

*

"So what do you think of Cavador Key?" Hale asked.

They were strolling down the beach, hand in hand, Kat's white skirt billowing around her legs in the breeze. They were the very picture of a blissfully happy newlywed couple. It was the perfect cover for reconnaissance.

"It's very sandy," Kat answered finally. She lifted her free hand to her eyes to shade them from the setting sun. "Not many places to hide a necklace."

"No," Hale agreed. "Bryce Crawford and his wife are staying in one of the cabins over there," he pointed to a cluster of structures in the distance, "so that's the logical place to start."

Kat shot him a sideways look. "Where are the illogical places?"

Hale shrugged his shoulders. "There's probably a safe in the main house somewhere. I haven't ever seen it. The Tomb."

Kat stopped, digging her feet into the sand to hold herself in place. "Wait. There's a tomb here? Where?"

Hale wagged his finger at her. "That's Digger business."

"Please," Kat said with a roll of her eyes. "I'm a Digger wife now, remember? Surely that gives me Tomb privileges."

"Nope," Hale said. "Still off limits. But if you're very good, I'll show you where it is tomorrow."

Kat frowned at him. "What's wrong with tonight?"

"Well," Hale said, stepping closer and bringing his free hand up to cup her face. The cool metal of his ring burned against her skin. "We are supposed to be newlyweds. Still on our honeymoon. I propose we act like it."

He brought his mouth down on hers, and Kat's knees went weak. It really wasn't fair. Seven years of kissing Hale should have built up some sort of immunity. But no, she'd have sworn that the effects had gotten stronger with time.

She tore her mouth away, panting lightly. "I am not having sex on the beach," she said. "I mean it, Hale."

He grinned down at her and slid a hand down to cup her ass. "Are you sure?"

"Yes."

He sighed, heavily. "Fine. Then I'll just have to do this instead."

He swept her up off her feet before she even realized what he was doing. He strode purposefully back down the beach, heading in the direction of the boat slip.

"Put me down," she demanded, spoiling the effect by laughing. "I can walk, you know."

"Nope," Hale said. He paused long enough to kiss her again and then resumed walking. "Newlyweds, remember? This is for our cover."

"My mistake," Kat said, giving in and winding her arms around his neck. "I thought this was so you could get laid."

"Well that, too," Hale admitted.

And okay, there really wasn't a point in playing hard to get when she wanted him every bit as badly as he wanted her. Kat leaned up to bite gently at his earlobe. "Walk faster."

"Yes, Mrs. Hale," he said.

*

The next morning, Amy found Kat examining the bookshelves in the main house. "Hey," she said. She nodded her head towards the stacks of paperbacks. "Looking for a beach book?"

"I was thinking about it," Kat said. "The selection isn't exactly inspiring, though."

"It's not," Amy agreed. "I always load my Kindle before coming down here."

"Hale did not mention that necessity," Kat said. She reached out and plucked a thick John Grisham paperback from the stack. "I guess this will have to do."

"I have magazines, too," Amy said. She patted her overfull beach tote. "Of course I don't know your feelings on celebrity gossip and fashion, so you might not be interested."

"Guilty pleasure and not," Kat said. "I leave the fashion to Hale and my cousin, Gabrielle. I believe in playing to my strengths."

"Which are?" Amy asked.

Kat tilted her head to the side and adopted a thoughtful expression. "Planning, I suppose. I am excellent at planning."

"Interesting answer," Amy said. "Would you care to elaborate on just what you plan?"

"No," Kat answered. She offered an apologetic smile. "A girl has to have some secrets."

"Say no more," Amy said, holding up her hands. "As a Digger, I am obligated to respect the word secret. Also to try to ferret them out of you, but the respect comes first."

Kat laughed and nodded towards the door. "Shall we?"

"Yes," Amy said. She headed out onto the wide front porch. "We don't want all the good beach real estate snapped up."

"Is there bad beach real estate?" Kat asked, following close at Amy's heels.

"You know, not really," Amy acknowledged. "But I'd like to be able to see them come in on the boat. Forewarned is forearmed and all that."

"Do you have a marriage or a war?" Kat asked curiously. She held up a hand. "Sorry, none of my business."

Amy waved the comment away. "Don't worry about it. And I suppose, it's both." She flashed a bright smile at Kat. "But that's what happens when Diggers marry each other. Or so we've figured out."

"Duly noted," Kat said.

"Good," Amy said. She dropped her bag to the sand and reached down to pull out her towel. "And now, we beach."

*

Kat awoke to water dripping on her face. "What the--" She brushed the water from her eyes and looked up. Hale stood above her, shirtless, clearly just in from the ocean. She wanted to lick him.

"Hi, honey," Hale said. He squatted down next to her in the sand and pulled her up to a sitting position so that he could kiss her. "Having fun?"

"Since when do you call me honey?" Kat asked, reaching for her sunglasses and sliding them back on. "And yes."

"Just trying it out," Hale said cheerfully. "Isn't that what husbands are supposed to call their wives? Honey and dear and sweetie?"

"Not this wife," Kat retorted.

"Take a firm stand against pet names now," Amy interjected, nodding her head. "If you don't, you'll never hear the end of them."

"And that is my cue to kidnap Amy for her annual swim," Jamie said. He bent down to scoop Amy up off the sand and ran down into the ocean with her kicking and screaming all the while.

Kat looked at Hale. Hale looked at Kat. They both started laughing.

"Do you think we were supposed to help?" Kat managed to say between bursts of laughter.

"Nah," Hale said, shaking his head. "Apparently this is some weird part of their mating ritual. Malcolm was telling me about it while we were fishing."

"I still can't believe you actually fished," Kat said.

Hale grinned. "Well, if we're being honest--"

"And we are--" Kat interjected.

"--then you force me to admit that they were the ones doing the fishing. I watched. And listened."

Kat liked the way he said that last word. She leaned closer. "Did you happen to hear anything good?"

"Maybe," Hale drawled, drawing the word out until Kat wanted to hit him. "Are you going to make it worth my while if I tell you?"

"What do you want?" Kat countered, her eyes narrowed at him behind her sunglasses. "My beach sex refusal remains firm."

"I will talk you into it before we leave," Hale said. "But I had something simpler in mind."

"What?" Kat asked suspiciously.

Hale stood and held out a hand for her. "Come for a swim with me."

Kat looked at his hand and then back up at him. "That's it?"

"That's it," Hale said. He wiggled his fingers at her. "Now come on!"

He didn't wait for her to answer, but pulled her to her feet and then up over his shoulder.

"Hale!" she laughed, pounding at his back. "Put me down!"

"This all seems very familiar to me somehow," Hale said, as he waded into the water. "I wonder why?"

"Put me down!"

"Well, if you insist," Hale said. He dropped her into the ocean.

Kat came up spluttering, wiping water from her face. "Oh, I am going to make you pay."

Hale grinned at her fondly. "That's the idea."

*

"What did you and Kat talk about today?" Jamie asked, as they walked down the beach after dinner. "Anything interesting?"

Amy shrugged. "Art and New York and I don't know, stuff." She shrugged again. "I like her."

"Yes," Jamie said dryly. "I can tell by the way you've adopted her."

Amy made a face at him. "Your little boys club seems to have done the same thing to Hale."

"That was all Malcolm," Jamie said quickly. "But I do like him. He's very charming."

"And hot," Amy added, unable to help herself. She grinned when Jamie made a face back at her. "Aw, you know I love you most."

"I believe you were supposed to tell me how hot you think I am," Jamie said. "Wasn't that one of the marriage rules that you made up? It's so easy to lose track."

"Really, they all boil down to that I'm always right," Amy answered.

"I do remember that one," Jamie said, nodding his head. "I think you were going to make me get it tattooed on my forehead once."

"Don't be silly, you wouldn't have been able to read it there," Amy said, and she shrieked with laughter as Jamie reached over to tickle her sides. She darted away from him, only to trip over her own feet and end up sprawled in the sand. Jamie dropped down onto his knees and leaned over her and she said, "Don't you--"

Jamie kissed her and Amy relaxed into it, wrapping her arms around his neck. They were not going to have sex here where anyone could see them, but that didn't mean they couldn't fool around a little, even if they were old enough to know better. She was so focused on kissing him that she didn't even notice when his hands touched her sides until he was tickling her again.

She broke the kiss and squirmed in his arms, gasping for breath. "Jamie! Jamie, stop." She managed to wiggle her way free and ran down the beach, away from him, though he was close at her heels. He was so close that when she spotted what looked like Kat and Hale wandering near the visiting cabins, he ran straight into her.

"Giving up already?" Jamie asked.

"No," Amy said absently. She pointed at the two people. "Doesn't that look like Kat and Hale?"

Jamie squinted. "I think so? It's hard to tell from this distance."

"You need new glasses," Amy said. "But that's beside the point. What would they be doing down there? I thought they were staying on Hale's yacht?"

Jamie shrugged. "Looking for somewhere different to fool around?"

Amy gave him a look.

"What?" Jamie laughed. "It's not like those two are very good at keeping their hands off each other."

"I believe this is where Malcolm would say something about pots and kettles," Amy said wryly. "But shouldn't we tell them that some of those are occupied? I don't think that some of the others would take kindly to two horny kids using their cabins as a temporary love nest."

"A fact I know all too well," Jamie said with a sigh. "Come on, let's go rescue them from themselves."

Amy took his hand and pulled him down the beach. "You're a good man, Jamie Orcutt."

"Remember that, please," he requested.

Amy laughed.

*

"There's someone coming," Kat hissed. She looked back over her shoulder at Hale, who was still fiddling with the cabin lock. "That means stop."

"I could still get it," Hale protested, but he did what she asked and came back down the steps. He slung an arm around her shoulder. "Relax. It's just Jamie and Amy."

Kat turned her head to the side and rolled her eyes at him. "It doesn't matter who it is," she said. "The idea is not to get caught, or had you forgotten?"

"I remember everything," Hale said.

"Quoting Pacey Witter will get you nowhere," Kat said sternly, her words at odds with the kiss that she leaned up to give him.

Hale grinned at her. "I beg to differ."

"You beg to differ what?" Amy asked, as she came up to them. "Hi, guys."

"He's quoting the best of Pacey Witter's greatest hits and hoping it will get him lucky," Kat supplied. "Hi."

"Excellent choice of wooing material," Amy said approvingly. She elbowed Jamie in the side. "Take notes."

"I'll do that," Jamie said dryly.

"See that you do," Amy said. She turned back to Kat and Hale. "Less excellent is your choice of location. I'm pretty sure these are all occupied and I sort of doubt the residents would appreciate their cabins being used for, uh," she coughed, "romantic purposes. They're old-fashioned like that."

"Ah," Hale said. "We must have missed the occupancy memo from Salt. Thanks for the heads up."

Amy shrugged. "No problem. It's not as if I don't understand how difficult it is to listen to Salt. Just thought you should know."

"We appreciate it," Kat said. She sent Hale a fake angry glare. "If someone would keep them hands to themselves, we wouldn't have these problems."

"Please," Hale said, wrapping those hands around her waist. "You love my hands."

"And that's our cue to leave," Jamie said. "See you guys tomorrow?"

"Definitely," Kat answered.

"Good night," Amy called back over her shoulder as Jamie dragged her away. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do!"

"Which is what, exactly?" Hale called after her.

Amy's laughter was the last thing that they heard as they disappeared from view.

Kat sagged back against Hale in relief. "That was far too close."

"Nah," Hale said. He turned her in his arms, so that he was looking down at her. "That wasn't even close. They didn't suspect anything other than that we don't have our hormones under control." He leered down at her. "Which, for the record, is true."

Kat swatted at his chest. "You're ridiculous."

"It's true, I am," Hale said cheerfully. "Which is why you have to humor me. Think of what I'd be like if you didn't."

"Please don't make me," Kat said. She turned serious. "So do we give up on the cabin? Is it worth coming back? I'm not even sure that Crawford would keep a priceless necklace in his cabin without security."

"Well, we don't know for sure that he didn't bring security with him" Hale pointed out.

Kat glared at him.

Hale laughed. "Sorry. I thought it needed to be said."

"You're right," Kat said with a sigh. "I'm beginning to think that this was a terrible idea. It's impossible to plan for something when you don't know all of the variables and it's impossible to know everything when the people involved are the most secrecy obsessed people in the world!"

She buried her head in Hale's chest to muffle her scream.

"Hey," Hale said, rubbing her back soothingly. "This was not a terrible idea. And even if it was, you get to spend the week on a beautiful, private island. There are worse things, you know."

"You're right," Kat said. She tried to frown at him, but ended up smiling instead. "I hate it when you're right."

"I know," Hale said. He took her hand and started walking with her back down the beach. "But it has to happen occasionally."

"I don't see why," Kat said.

Hale shook his head in mock dismay. "The things I put up with for love."

"Aw," Kat said. She dropped his hand and wrapped her arm around his waist, pressing herself into his side. "I love you, too."

"Whatever you say, dear," Hale answered.

*

When it got to be the next afternoon, and Amy hadn't seen Kat or Hale all day, she went looking for them. Jamie tried to stop her, telling her that they were probably off doing more of the same thing they'd caught them doing yesterday, and she admitted he had a valid point. But well, she was bored. What Jamie had told her ten years ago about the island being boring if you weren't willing to swim was true. And because of that, she'd made the effort to get over her phobia, but swimming was never going to be her favorite thing.

Looking for people who didn't want to be found was much more fun anyway.

Amy found them in the main house's game room. Hale was sitting in one of the overstuffed chairs, watching Kat with a fond expression on his face, and Kat was peering intently at a painting on the wall.

"Hi," Amy said.

Kat started and spun around to face her. "You scared me," she said. "Has anyone ever told you before that you need to wear a bell?"

"No," Amy said, amused. "I cannot say that they have."

"You should," Kat said, nodding her head emphatically for emphasis. "A loud one."

"Never mind Kat," said Hale lazily from his chair. "She's just mad that someone actually scared her for once. You should be proud, Amy. That almost never happens."

"Really?" Amy asked.

Kat nodded. "Really."

"Huh, well, I'm sorry," Amy replied. "But what were you doing? Giving us a free appraisal?"

Kat and Hale glanced at each other, and then Kat turned her attention back to Amy. "Not exactly. I was just studying it for fun. Have to keep up."

"I wouldn't have thought you could get rusty in a week," Amy said.

"Well, no," Kat admitted. She shrugged and looked rueful. "What can I say? I'm a workaholic."

"It's true," Hale interjected, and Amy slid her glaze over to him. He wore a pout that Amy was sure was just for her benefit. "She never has any time for me."

"That's so obvious," Amy said, nodding her head and playing along. "It's like you two don't know each other at all."

"Fine," Kat huffed. "I can take a hint." She held up her hands in surrender. "I promise, no more assessing Rose & Grave's art collection when I'm supposed to be having fun."

"Good," Hale said. He held out a hand for her. "Now come here."

"And I'm out," Amy said, starting to back out of the room. "I know when I'm not wanted."

She closed the door firmly behind her and went back down to the beach.

*

"Is she gone?" Kat whispered. She sat on Hale's lap, her face pressed against his throat. If anyone walked in, it would look like they were, well, walking in on something. And given that Amy kept almost walking on on them doing other things, interrupted clandestine foreplay seemed like the better alternative.

"Yes," Hale said. He stroked his hand down her arm reassuringly. "And she didn't suspect anything. It's fine."

"I know," Kat said. She drew back so that she could see Hale's face. "But still. I don't like this. We never get caught, Hale. And now twice in two days, someone who isn't even trying has almost managed to catch us. It's a bad sign."

"I caught you," Hale pointed out, grinning at Kat's frown. He leaned forward to kiss her. "But you're right. Maybe we should give it up."

"Maybe," Kat said. She chewed on her lip, considering. "We didn't find anything in the house. Going back to the cabins really isn't an option." She looked at Hale expectantly.

"You want to try the tomb?" Hale guessed.

"Yes," Kat said, nodding her head. "And if that doesn't work, we give it up as a bad job. For now," she added quickly. "I'm not giving up completely."

Hale kissed her again, his hand cupping her cheek. "I would expect nothing less."

*

"I swear, those two are like rabbits," Amy announced, plopping back down in the sand next to Jamie. She leaned over to kiss Jamie's cheek. "Hello."

"Hi," Jamie said. He set his book down and turned to look at her. "Found Kat and Hale, did you?"

"Yes," she said. "And yes, you were right about what they were doing. Or what they were eventually doing."

"I'm going to regret asking this," Jamie said, "but what were they doing when you found them if it wasn't groping each other in plain sight?"

"Kat was studying one of the paintings in the game room," Amy explained. "I told you that she's in art, right?" She didn't wait for Jamie to answer. "And Hale was just sitting watching her. It's adorable how besotted he is with her." She coughed. "Certain people could take lessons."

"I am plenty besotted with you," Jamie protested.

"It's true," Malcolm said, leaning over Jamie to look at Amy. "You never see him watching you. It's revolting."

Jamie pushed his head back. "Thanks for that, Malcolm."

"I was helping!"

"You weren't," Jamie said. He looked back at Amy. "But still, he's right."

"If you say so," she said.

"What do you want me to do, prove it?" Jamie asked.

Amy looked at him thoughtfully. "Actually, yes. I would like that very much." She leaned over to kiss him again. "In fact, I think I'll leave you to your planning. I expect a heartfelt declaration and nothing less."

She stood and waved at Malcolm and Derek. "See you later, boys."

She didn't need to look behind her to know that Jamie was spluttering at her back. She grinned. This was going to be fun.

*

It was late when Kat and Hale went to break into the tomb. The moon was half-full above them, and Kat had the fleeting thought that under different circumstances it could be very romantic. White sand, lapping waves, the moon overhead, a hot man that she loved and that loved her back, it all added up to something that this excursion definitely wasn't.

"I can hear you thinking," Hale said. He pressed her back against the wall of the tomb. "What are you thinking about?"

"The moon," she said truthfully enough. "Can we get on with this?"

Hale nipped at her jaw and shivers went down her spine. "Not until you tell me the truth."

Kat closed her eyes. "You."

He kissed her face, her throat, his hands sliding down her body, setting off fireworks under her skin. "What about me?"

"You'll laugh," she said. Somehow her hands were clutching at his shoulders, she didn't know how it happened.

"I won't," he said. "Look at me, Kat."

She did. There wasn't anything but complete sincerity in his eyes. She took a shuddering breath. If he could be honest, so could she. "I was thinking that this could be real."

"This can be real," he said, and suddenly there was urgency in his voice. "All you have to do is say the word, Kat."

"It's not that easy."

"It is," he said, and he was almost begging. She'd never heard Hale beg before. "Say it, please."

"I--" she started, "I want--"

"Oops," came a voice from behind them. Amy's voice.

Kat squeezed her eyes shut and her head fell against Hale's shoulder. "Hi, Amy."

"We'll be going now," Jamie's voice said. "But if you're going to do what I think you're going to do, reconsider. There are privileges that not even wives get. You know that."

"Thanks for the reminder," Hale said, his voice tight with anger.

"Sorry!" Amy called out.

Kat didn't hear them walk away.

But Hale's hand nudged her chin up and forced her to meet his eyes. "They're gone," he said. "You were saying?"

She shook her head. "I'm sorry, I can't."

She pushed past him and ran down the beach. The last thing she heard was Hale yelling her name.

*

"I told you," Amy hissed, as she tried to keep up with Jamie's longer legs. "Rabbits."

"I don't remember ever disagreeing," Jamie said with a sideways glance. "Did I?"

Amy frowned, trying to remember. "You might be right."

"I'll skip the part where I say that I usually am," he said.

"Oh, thank you," she answered sarcastically. "Where are you taking me anyway?"

"You can't tell?" he asked. He made a tsk-ing sound. "I'm disappointed in you."

"It's dark!" Amy protested. "And I have a terrible sense of direction, you know this."

"True," Jamie said. "But still, I would have thought that this would have been more memorable." He stopped walking and Amy realized they were back at the sandbar where they'd had their mutually agreed upon first date. "We're here."

"Oh," Amy said, her hand coming up to cover her mouth in surprise. "Jamie..."

He grinned down at her. "You can say that I'm the best husband ever now."

"You are," she said feelingly. She stretched up to kiss him, lingering over it until neither of them could see straight. "I love you."

"I know," he answered.

Jamie pulled her down into the sand and for once, Amy didn't protest at all.

*

When Kat woke up, they were on open water. She made her way up to the deck to find Hale, not sure at all how she was going to face him.

She'd been ridiculous. She could admit that now. But even if she could admit it, she still wasn't sure why she'd freaked out so badly on the beach. It would be a lie if she said she didn't know that things between them had always been headed in this direction. It was a direction she wanted, a direction she'd chased, but something about it suddenly being where she was, she found unbearably frightening.

But Kat owed Hale better. She owed herself better.

And that meant facing Hale head on, even if all she wanted to do was bury her head in the covers and pretend yesterday had never happened.

Kat found him on the deck, flipping through an issue of Vogue that Gabrielle had optimistically tucked into Kat's bag. "Hi," she said, and she cringed at how lame the word sounded. "I mean, good morning."

"Good morning," Hale returned. He set the magazine aside and patted the spot next to him on the chaise. "There's room for two."

Kat laughed and relief coursed through her. He wasn't going to make her suffer unnecessarily. That's why he was a better person than she was. That was why she needed him so much.

"There's not," she said, but she sat down anyway, more on him than on the chaise.

Hale's arms went around her, helped her get comfortable. "It's cozy."

"It's cramped," she corrected. She brought her hand up to cup his cheek and looked him straight in the eye. "It's perfect."

"Good," he said. He kissed the corner of her mouth gently. "I'm glad."

He would have kissed her again, a real kiss, but Kat held herself back. She wouldn't let herself give into what was so easy between them, not with last night hanging between them. "I'm sorry," she said.

"No." Hale shook his head, denying her apology. "I'm the one that should be apologizing. I shouldn't have pushed."

Kat wanted to laugh or tear her hair out, she wasn't sure which. "Of course you should have," she said. "It's what you want, isn't it?"

"Yes," Hale said. "But Kat, I want you more. And if more than what we have isn't what you want or isn't what you're ready for, then I can wait."

"But you shouldn't have to," she said.

Hale frowned at her. "What are you saying to me, Kat?"

"I'm saying," she said, and she slipped from his arms down onto her knees on the deck, "W.W. Hale the Fifth, will you marry me?"

Hale stared at her for what felt like a year. He stared and he stared and Kat felt her stomach tie up into knots. Surely he wasn't going to say no. After all this, he wasn't going to say no.

But then he laughed, and pulled her up into his lap again. "Yes," he said. "I will."

Kat grinned at him, happier than she'd known she'd be. "Really?"

"Really," he confirmed, and he leaned in to kiss her.

Kat held up a hand to hold him back. "Does that mean I get to know your name now?"

Hale shook his head. "Not until we're married," he said, and kissed her anyway.

Kat's last rational thought was wondering just how long it would take Gabrielle to plan a wedding.

*

"Where did Kat and Hale go?" Amy asked. She sat down at the breakfast table and grabbed the syrup from the center of the table. "Their boat is gone."

"They left a note with Salt," Malcolm said. "Something about a family emergency with Kat's Uncle Eddie. They apologized for running out, and said that they'll be in touch."

"Good," Amy said. She took a forkful of pancakes. "I like that girl."

"We know," Jamie said. He kissed the side of her head. "Believe me, we know."