Part 6

"Until further notice, your office is off limits."

Dara stared at Jerry, wondering if his covert operations had finally driven him insane. She rubbed her temple and searched her mind for a coherent response.

He frowned and pointed at her. His Aussie accent thickened. "Don't look at me like that. You're a logical, reasonable woman. Think before you disagree."

She glanced at his left hand and smirked. "I can see why you've never married."

His gaze zeroed in on her. His lips barely moved as he said softly, "You have no idea."

Dangerous ground.

The words came to her immediately. She turned her back and began fumbling with her treasured Mr. Coffee. "You know what you're asking is impossible. I work there. That's how my clients reach me. That's where most of my reference materials are."

"I'll arrange to have the books relocated here. Your calls can be forwarded to the private line that will be installed this afternoon," he explained.

"You have an answer for everything." She threw up her hands. "I don't know why I even bother."

"Because like all lawyers, you like the sound of your voice. I don't blame you. You sound as pretty as a song."

"Jerry, please. Don't insult us both." With trembling hands, she shook the coffee grounds into the filter. "Tell me why I can't be at my office."

He hopped onto a barstool on the other side of the counter. "Because it isn't safe. The security is outdated. The cameras are a joke. Anyone has access to you. While the building is being transformed into a fortress, you will work here. Last night, I double checked this place and installed my own system. For now, everything is connected to my laptop, but once I move into the spare bedroom--"

"Hold on. Stop it right there." She turned away from the coffee maker to finally meet his wandering steely-eyed gaze. "You will not move in."

"Yes, I will. Justus hired me to protect you. I can't do that half a block away. I will be with you at all times." He stood and headed toward her living room. "Deal with it, Dara."

Deal with it? A blood-curdling scream rose to her throat. With some effort, she swallowed the cry of outrage down.

A short while later, her first jolt of caffeine worked to settle her nerves. She was by no means calm, but the idea of getting rid of both Justus and Jerry no longer took precedence in her mind. Just as she decided that she could focus on her client's case, the phone rang. She glanced at the caller ID, smiled and was instantly grateful that Jerry was elsewhere.

"Hello."

She heard Alex's smile as he said, "Good morning. How are you?"

"A lot better than I was a moment ago. I hope your morning has been kind to you."

He released a short laugh. "It could have been better…which is why I'm calling. Would you be interested in putting me out of my misery and having dinner with me tonight? I know it's short notice."

"Yes, it is, but we have to eat, right." They shared a chuckle. "I'd like dinner with you."

"What time shall I pick you up?" he asked.

"Um…how about I meet you? My day will be filled with errands. It'll be easier just to meet somewhere."

"Hey," he murmured, "no explanations necessary. Meeting at the restaurant is fine. What's the most important thing to me is seeing you again."

Butterflies fluttered in her stomach. A silly grin reinstated her serene demeanor. They made plans and Dara hung up. The earlier exchange with Jerry momentarily forgotten.

*/*

Jason kept to himself on the playground. Guards, brandishing semiautomatic weapons, stood overhead. Their silent presence was supposed to intimidate and prevent any insurgence among the inmates. Jason knew before coming in that protection from the guards was a joke. Lucky for him, his hard won connections were still in place. Although he preferred solitude, alliances had his back.

He was starting on his second set of bicep curls when a shadow landed across him. Jason lifted the seventy-five pound barbell as he regarded his intrusion. The man had a deep scar that ran high across his left cheekbone and extended to his chin. A thick white streak was blinding against his shoulder length black hair. Jason grunted in greeting. He'd recognize the man anywhere. Joey "Magic Fingers" Patroni was hard to forget.

"Yo, Morgan." Magic Fingers claimed the bench adjacent to Jason and began tricep extensions.

Jason switched the weight to his other arm. "Yeah."

"You got a bum rap, man. We all heard about it."

Jason shrugged. He acted to revenge the mother of his child and their son. There was no other way around it. He wouldn't change a thing.

"What if it was all for nothing?"

Jason lowered the weight to the concrete. He clenched his hands together to keep from knocking the shit out of the connected assassin.

"Look, man, that's not what I meant. What I'm saying is, what if she and the boy are alive? What if they didn't really die in that accident? If not, you wouldn't be stuck in here with us innocent guys. That's all I'm saying."

Jason spoke through gritted teeth. This conversation was pointless and only awakened the hollow feeling in the pit of his gut and the sensation of helplessness.

"But it didn't happen that way."

Magic Fingers cocked an eyebrow. "Are you sure?"

"I saw the autopsy reports, the death certificates…" He inhaled a harsh breath. "I even went to the Morgue. What I saw was real."

Patroni set the dumbbell on the ground and stood. "But is what you saw the truth?"

For a moment, Jason was too stunned to consider the possibility.

*/*

"This isn't something I enjoy doing."

Her Lieutenant's quietly spoken words stunned Dawn into silence. When van Buren called her into the office and closed the door, Dawn didn't know what to think. Lennie's impending departure already set her on edge. His warnings of doom and destruction threatened to make her a nervous wreck. But she worked through it. Fox even called a couple of times to make silly jokes. His concern was a soothing balm. But it wasn't strong enough to counter L.T.'s words.

"I hear it's usually better if you just do it," Dawn suggested as she sat up straight. "If there's a problem in my job performance or if my relationship with my husband--"

"Look," van Buren said, with a short wave of her hand, "your marriage to one of the most dogmatic investigative reporters hasn't been a thrill for the department, but no one here or anyone else has the right to dictate your personal life. I won't let them. You're one of my best detectives, Jensen. You and Briscoe were a good team. I hate that he's leaving. It leaves me a good man short and now with you…"

"What about me, ma'am?" Her voice hardened and was dead serious. "Why did you call me in here?"

"You've been requested in another department. I want you to stay, but it's out of my hands. I'm not a Captain."

"Which Captain?" Dawn frowned. "What department?"

"Captain Cragen of Special Victims Unit has an opening. Your work with Detective Stabler received notice and Cragen has been looking for an excuse to bring you to his team. Now, he has one."

Dawn's mouth dropped open. Oh, shit! She forced herself to breathe. "The Captain wants to partner me with Elliot Stabler? What happened to Benson? She's one of the best they have."

"No, she's still there. Your partner will be another one of my best, Reynaldo Curtis." A frown marred the Lieutenant's perfect nut-brown complexion. "You made detective after he left. He also was partnered with Briscoe. You two will have that in common, too."

Dawn barely heard van Buren's final comment. Her mind burned with memories of late afternoon rendezvous with Elliot. The sex was hot, intense and super-charged. They met for a few weeks. His attention revitalized her after Fox's betrayal. But the affair was destined for short term. Dawn loved Fox. The separation hadn't changed that. She really wanted their marriage to work so she hadn't told him about her time with Elliot.

How the hell was she supposed to work with a fellow cop she'd been intimate with? Shit. Shit. Shit!

"Cragen wants you to start tomorrow."

"B-But Lennie hasn't even left," she sputtered. "We have a few things pending."

"I've assigned Mills to help Lennie with the wrap-ups. Cragen's team has a backlog and they want you ASAP." Van Buren stood and Dawn did the same. The women shook hands. The Lieutenant added, "I hate to see you leave, but I know you will continue to make me proud. Good luck, Detective."

Dawn ignored the anxiety that attacked her from within. She gave her superior a faint smile, left the office and went through the motions of packing up her desk.

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