The coffee machine was gurgling away when Castle heard a sharp knock on the front door; an unfamiliar rap. He glanced at his watch, 7.47 am. Bit early for an unexpected visitor, and the doorman on the ground floor hadn’t buzzed the intercom to inform the household that there was someone dropping by. That implied the doorman knew who was visiting and knew Castle would accept the company.
He checked the coffee machine was okay for a few moments, grabbed a tea towel to wipe his wet hands, and threw it on the counter as he walked to the front door. Half way he slowed his gait, rooting about in the deep pockets of his track pants to retrieve his phone. The question had arisen whether the person at the door had anything to do with the phone calls Beckett had made in the past half hour or so. He had let all her calls go to voice mail. He didn’t want to talk to her right now. Last night had been enough, what with her lack of initiative to come out of her introverted shell and either stand up for herself or fight for what she wanted. He knew he had done enough provoking to get a reaction. Because he’d hit the mark so well, she’d clammed up.
He wasn’t proud of Kate this morning. Not one bit. Wasn’t last night either. If he was going to be honest with himself, he’d say he was pissed at her for having him tag along all this time on a promise she was never going to come good with. He was a fool for following her for so long, for hoping.
With Kate still on his mind, the frustration she caused him very evident on his face, Rick opened the door wide and found Esposito standing there in his gym gear.
Esposito had a cautious smile. “Is it good morning, Castle?”
Rick grunted and scratched his head, then realized he had been caught out. He immediately concealed his emotional state with a lighter expression. “Excuse me, Esposito. Morning. Yes, good morning.”
“Okay,” Esposito said evidently confused.
“What’s going on?” Castle scanned the detective. Unshaven, a little ruffled from sleep, weariness showing, but ready for a gym workout and holding a large lady’s shoe box with a purple ribbon tied around it. How odd.
“Just on our way for a workout.”
His brow knotted. “Then, what are you doing here?”
“Beckett called me. She asked me for a favor, hell, I owe her plenty.”
“Buying her shoes?”
Esposito frowned, glancing down at the box. “No, I’m not buying her shoes. She asked if I would deliver this bloody box to you. She said you probably wouldn’t answer the door if she brought it over.”
Rick silently agreed with Beckett on that, but continued, “What is it?”
Esposito rolled his eyes. “Shoe box, man.”
“I already established that, Espo. I’ve seen them before. What’s in it?”
“I dunno. She wouldn’t say. It’s kind of heavy and things are loose in it.” He held out the box toward the writer. “She was really jittery this morning, in a Beckett way. You know…”
“Hides it all, but you know there’s something going on way?”
“That’s it. Spot on.”
“Well, I said something last night and I think it shocked her to the core. She wasn’t able to say much.”
“She might not of said much, but I know she heard you. Lanie mentioned you two had a discussion last night at the bar, that she interrupted it. Kate spilled to Lanie, then took off after you. Lanie came to my place after Beckett left her.”
Rick shook his head, processing for a moment, “I didn’t see her. No texts. She’s tried to call this morning, but …” he shrugged his shoulders and waved his phone in front of Esposito then put it back in his pocket.
“Take it, Castle. Took Kate a lot to hand me this damn box. She called me because she knew I would be on my way to the gym. She’s a mess.” He pushed the box to Rick who reluctantly accepted possession.
Rick gave it a bit of a shake. Esposito was right. There was some weight in it and things were moving about.
The detective loosened his shoulders with a bit of a shake. “Dude, she said to me that you shouldn’t be proud of her, but there’s plenty to Beckett to be proud of. She’s awesome.”
Rick stood taller, surprised by Esposito sharing information. “Really? She said that?” He was aware there existed a unique and symbiotic friendship between Esposito and Beckett, and that Espo would often be the person to set Kate straight when she needed righting. He was disappointed that Kate didn’t agree with the pride.
Esposito nodded. “She really listened, Rick. I’ve gotta go. My ride is waiting downstairs.”
“Say hi to Ryan for me,” Rick said fully aware he would be going the gym with his partner. He was surprised Kate didn’t join them as the three often did work outs together.
“Will do. Go easy on her. I know she hides her emotions but she ….” He trailed off aware the writer knew where he was going to finish up.
“Thanks Espo for doing it.”
“No worries. See you in a few days.”
With Esposito on his way to the gym, Rick kicked the front door shut and returned to the kitchen, setting the box down on the counter. He opted to finish making his coffee first. He needed caffeine to deal with the contents of the box, with Kate, and he also wanted the said box concealed in the office before his daughter and mother came downstairs from their respective bedrooms.
While the coffee machine was in the throws of preparing his first cup, he waited, leaning against the counter, his palms flat on the cold marble counter top. His attention was drawn to the simple black box. It was as mysterious as the woman who had given it to him. He peered at the schematic drawing of the boots that were once in the box and read the label. Dare. Black calf.
“Boots to the knees, reasonably high heeled. Size 9.” He released a moan of longing, “Would love to see you in these with a short skirt.”
Moving from the boots, instincts pricked that the stuff in the box was strictly for his eyes only. Kate had trusted Esposito to hand it on to him. It would have taken strength for her to release it. So, if his mother clapped eyes on the box tied with a purple ribbon, he would be pressured into sharing. He appreciated that Kate would rather give up a limb than have his mother know her innermost secrets. Fair enough too.
So, he found himself at a busy cross road and he had been there, standing on the curb, since he had heard her confession to Lopez. Before retiring to bed last night, he had written down questions on a sheet of note paper and he needed to find the answers that would help him make a decision about his future. More so, he needed to stick to that decision.
Was he willing to walk away from Beckett, the Precinct, virtually his current life? or
Was he willing to continue to pursue a woman he loved more than any other he had spent time with?
The obvious solution, being Option A, was to cut ties with Kate and the Precinct.
First problem: New York City was not big enough for him to stay away from her.
Second to that, was he loved his role with the NYPD and, with pride in mind, he was enormously proud of the success he had with solving crimes with Beckett and the boys. They worked well as a team and they had the highest solved crimes rate in the State.
Thirdly; Meeting the Detectives, especially Beckett, had changed his life completely, had breathed much needed fresh air into a stale place.
Fourth and looping back to the first issue; Kate.
He softly closed his eyes, tilting his chin towards his chest, granting himself another moment to reminisce about the night they met. Created only by the tones of Beckett’s voice there was a foreign yet magical awakening that transpired within. It still happened. Not as powerful but she still did it for him. His soul had woken up; senses, nerves had tingled, a curiosity never experienced before had sparked to life and hadn’t ceased to burn yet. There had been an internal pull on his heart strings, on every cell of his body the night the young ambitious detective had gatecrashed his party to arrest him. The moment he had turned about, to see her for the very first time; he’d soaked, no drowned in the sight of the tall woman pressing a NYPD badge out at him. All that had been in his mind was just how beautiful she was, especially her large dark eyes. There’d been a message hidden in her eyes. Just a flash, but he’d seen it at the bar. He’d seen it in the interrogation room. There had been other times, like she was on the brink of confessing, but then it would disappear and her eyes would clear. She had unbelievable eyes.
“Bedroom eyes,” he murmured.
Those damn bedroom eyes.
His one obsession had begun that night, and he’d had no protection for his heart, no warning he was going to fall so hard. His heart hadn’t had a chance. Even today, when she stared into his soul he was totally vulnerable and unable to resist her at all.
Rick opened his eyes when the coffee machine fell silent. The box was in his direct eye line, seemingly impatient for him to open it.
He took a deep breath, returning to his crossroad dilemma and his coffee, going to the fridge to fetch milk.
Option A would also kill off Nikki Heat, his bread and butter, the love of his creative life.
Killing Heat wasn’t going to be easy, for him or Black Pawn. It left Option B.
“Fucking two hard choices. Give up everything I love, or stay in limbo.”
Using both palms he roughly rubbed his eyes and face to snap out of his thoughts for a while. He needed a shower and a walk in fresh air to clear his head. He lifted his head, gazing about the living room, his gaze settled on the promotional poster of Nikki Heat leaning against the piano. His bread and butter. How could he walk away from that?
If he was to successfully adhere to the theoretical conditions of Option A, he firstly needed to toughen up. Alternatively, he would move out of New York and somehow have someone swipe his memory of every detail about Kate Beckett. If only he could create an alternative universe that didn’t have a certain woman in existence.
That’s not toughening up.
Oh! To have the ability to see life in an alternative universe.
“You can, you fool. You’re a fictional writer. Even Rook gets lucky. He caught his girl.”
His fictional self scored, yet Rick hadn’t been sexually active in way too long. He couldn’t remember the last time. Meredith? No. That was another score for Option A. Sex. He would be available for women, many women.
But he only wanted one woman. Option B it was, and he would have to wait for the sex.
He poured full cream milk into a small silver jug and popped it under the milk frother, and hit the button. The milk heating and frothing was loud in the quietness of the loft, but his imagination remained distracted and only saw Kate standing beside him at the Precinct’s coffee machine, keen for a mug of fresh coffee. In white lace lingerie. He knew she preferred the way he made coffee. It pleasured him to know that. It also pleasured him that he had the ability to imagine her at the Precinct, in the break room, wearing only lingerie. And the new boots.
He smirked to himself. That was alright.
As he poured the fluffy milk into the coffee mug, he sighed in resignation that his instincts would pull him on the right path of his destination, regardless of whether he was dragged there kicking and screaming. It had after all brought him every step of the way to where he was now.
So, it would be Option B, no doubt.
His desires were stronger than his mindset. He set the jug down on the kitchen bench, then wiped away the spilt milk with a cloth.
“Kate Beckett, my long limbed, gorgeous woman. You will break my soul.”
With his coffee in one hand, he scooped up the box with the other and leaned it against his chest to balance it as he carefully made his way to the office. He placed both items on the desk then stepped back to the door to close it wanting privacy. Seated at his desk, he moved aside his MacBook then slid the black shoe box tied with the purple ribbon so it was right before him.
His eyes were drawn to the cream envelope taped to the top of the box. Kate had written ‘Rick’ on the front of the envelope in her neat cursive script. She had used a fountain pen. Blue ink. It was promising that she had addressed him as Rick. Had she written his surname, Castle was sure his anxiety would have been well on the rise earlier, and Option A would have been it.
His hands were a little sweaty. He swiped them down the thighs of his track pants then held them in the air a moment wriggling the fingers; a nervous habit he wasn’t aware of. He could feel his pulses banging away, his throat constricting a fraction and the pressure of an oncoming headache was present.
He inhaled deeply, held for a count of four and exhaled.
“It can’t be that bad, Dude. Man up.”
With care, he peeled off the envelope and flipped it over to see It was sealed. The envelope knife was within an arm’s length but he paused his progress, touching the textured paper to the tip of his nose, in hope. He breathed in, closing his eyes and there it was, a whiff of her scent, her perfume. His heart rate increased. Warmth blossomed in his loins. She must have held the envelope against her skin at some stage, maybe intentionally. What he would do to wake up to that scent every day.
“Hopeless romantic, is all you are Rick,” he muttered to himself. He drank his coffee.
The phone still in his track pants’ pocket, vibrated causing his nerves to jump. He pulled it out and swiped it. A message from Kate.
“Your timing, Beckett is unbelievable. I’m about to start.”
He read: Esposito said you have the box. It’s my heart. Please don’t break it.
He breathed out heavily. “Geez Kate. How many times have you punished mine?” He put the phone screen up on the desktop, not ready to communicate with the woman yet.
But then he read the text again. She was scared.
But she needed to wait a bit longer.
Using the knife, he sliced open the envelope then slid the piece of paper from it. Nice quality writing paper. He took a deep breath to control anxiety rising within him, fearing she had written him a Dear John letter. If it was, then the box contained items that belonged to him, had been in her possession for whatever reason. There were a good dozen novels at her apartment that he’d passed on to read at her leisure but the box definitely didn’t contain novels. She always returned the books one by one as she finished them.
“It’s a Dear Rick letter,” he whispered.
She’s called numerous times, and she just sent you that text, Dude. She’s as anxious as you are. Nip the anxiety.
He unfolded the sheet of paper and set it right way up.