Fox waited in a darkened corner of the Harlem restaurant. The place was definitely low key. The patrons kept to themselves as they waited for their hot plates steaming with delicious food. As soon as he entered the place, he understood immediately why his contact demanded that they meet there and that Fox come alone. Scully would have stuck out like a sore thumb here. While he, on the other hand, knew his way around off-beaten tracks.
"More coffee?" The cute, young waitress appeared with a fresh pot.
He nodded. The first time around, she offered the day's specials. The menu described plenty of good eats, but he didn't order anything except the caffeine fix. In the days following his wife's confession, his appetite failed him. The only thing that seemed to make any sense was his job. Finding the truth about Rx Limited centered him and gave him a purpose.
"Thanks," he said as the waitress left his cup filled to the brim.
Patrons came and went. Then, an older man headed toward him. Fox stood and the two men stared. Grief and anguish were etched in the lines of the old man's face. He stuck out his hand. Fox shook it and they sat.
"I wasn't sure you'd find it," the man said.
"I know my way around Harlem. This is a good location for a private talk. Do you mind if I record our conversation?"
"That's what reporters do." The old man clenched his hands together on the table. "Let's get started."
Fox pulled his mini-recorder from his jacket pocket. Before he pressed the record button, he said, "Would you like something to eat first? The waitress has been back and forth. If you want anything, it's on me."
"I can pay my own way, but no, I don't want food. My wife is waiting for me. I need to get back to her."
The sentiment behind that statement sucker punched Fox. He understood completely because whether he wanted to admit it or not, he felt the same way. The past few months had been about fulfilling his need for his wife. Reconciling with Dawn. Getting back with her. To make his life whole. Investigating stories satisfied his quest for the truth. But being with her and loving her completed him as a man.
Shutting her out had been dumb. They went around in circles instead of connecting with each other. As soon as he concluded the interview, he planned to end their latest separation. He was wrong. Again. Making mistakes was part of life, but this was one error, he'd correct that night.
"How's everything going?"
Dara glanced from the files she downloaded to look at the man filling her doorway. Their gazes connected. On impulse, her back stiffened. She clutched the pen in her hand. "Fine."
A muscle flickered at Jerry's jaw. "Are you ready to go?"
"You're here." She began closing books and stuffing loose papers into file folders. "It's time to go."
"Not if you're not ready." He added in a husky voice, "We were friends once, Dara. This doesn't have to be a tug of war."
"You threw the first punch. How do you expect me to react?"
He crossed into the room and folded his large frame into a chair across from her. "I protect people. I've found the best way to do that is by not becoming emotionally involved. I failed."
Oh, God. Her blood soared with unbidden memories. Once upon a time, they had a few good weeks together. But that was then. Of course, he wasn't confessing to feelings for her. Not Jerry Jacks. The man had women lined up around the corner. The attraction between them died ages ago.
"I'll be ready in a second." She busied herself with filling her briefcase. Looking into his unguarded eyes a moment longer would confuse the hell out of her.
"I was jealous, Dara," he continued as if she hadn't spoken. "First Sonny Corinthos and now, you've met someone here--"
"Please." She stood so quickly her chair almost toppled over. "I'm ready. Let's go."
They exited her building in silence. As they joined the other pedestrians on the sidewalk, he lightly took her elbow.
"You don't want to talk about what happened."
She knew better than to pull free. "There's nothing to talk about. I didn't mean to hurt you, and I'm sorry if I did. Justus should have hired someone else."
"He cares about you, too, so he hired the best."
She laughed in spite of herself. "Your modesty knows no bounds."
Humor softened his tone. "Honesty is a virtue, isn't it? I'm good at what I do. No one's ever been lost on my watch. No one ever will be."
"Your confidence and track record speak for themselves. I trust you with my life, Jerry. I may not like all your methods, but I do prefer your results."
"So we agree to be civil to each other?"
Nodding, she smiled. "At least until you piss me off again."
He laughed. "You're a spitfire, Dara Jensen. I can't help it if that intrigues me."
"He is a bundle of energy." Jian smoothed his hand down Jacob's small back. The little boy lay draped across him, fast asleep. Jian closed his eyes for a brief moment. So many years, he ran. He had no idea how good standing still could be. If he didn't watch himself, he'd beg Keesha to let him stay.
"Let me put him to bed." She reached for her son. Their hands collided.
A sharp charge jolted him. He laced his fingers with hers on a whim. She didn't pull away. He smiled. "No, he's fine. I like holding him."
She joined him on the lawn chair and sat facing him. Their fingers continued to touch. Electricity sizzled. Both sat still, watching and waiting.
"I thought you did. He's becoming attached to you."
"That worries you," he said. "The last thing I want to do is hurt him. You want me to leave--"
"Actually, I want you to stay." She released his hand to stroke her son's hair. "We like having you around. I was afraid of that, but I can't live my life in fear. I can move on. I need to for Jacob and for me."
Jian swallowed hard. This was unexpected. He'd prepared himself for the door to be closed in his face, but here she was, opening it for him. "I don't know what to say."
She laughed softly. "I don't believe that. You know what you want and you know what I'm saying. Just tell me if we want the same thing."
"When you put it that way…" He reached out to cup her face. His thumb brushed the swell of her cheek. He remembered how sensitive her flesh was. Every erogenous zone came to mind. The way her body molded to his kept him awake many nights, wondering about her. "I want you and Jacob. I already feel like I'm a part of you. But I don't come without demons from the past."
"Who doesn't?" She pressed her hand to his. "I've been afraid to move on. I feel things with you that I haven't felt in a long time. Because of Jacob's father… I don't know. I guess I stopped trusting my judgment. But I know you're a good man. You're good to me and my child."
"It's not that hard. You're both so easy…" His throat constricted. He wanted to say the word, but it was too soon. She claimed to be ready, but he wasn't certain if she could handle knowing he never stopped loving her. "You're both wonderful."
"You are, too." She leaned forward and kissed his cheek. "We're both a little shaky. Let's take it day by day."
He threaded his hands through her hair, drawing her close. His lips brushed against hers as he spoke. "Okay."
"I hate to say I told you so."
Dawn glanced at Elliott and smiled. "Then, don't. Resist and be happy knowing--in silence--that you were right."
"But I can't gloat if I do that."
"You don't have to gloat. Gloating is so immature."
They paused at his car and shared a laugh. The evening spent with the other SVU detectives had been time well spent. Like Elliott warned, a few of them were leery of her. Not outright hostile, but they didn't understand her. Personal problems had no place on the job. She needed these people to watch her back. They needed the same from her. A gold shield didn't equate trust. She knew that, but being reminded of it, helped.
"Let me drive you home."
She stepped back. "That's okay. I'm good. I can walk."
He held up his hand in mock defense. "It's a ride. I don't want to cause problems with you at home. No more than I already have."
"It's not you, per se." She searched her mind for the right words. "It's just a strange time. How are things with you and Kathy?"
He shrugged. "No better and no worse than…before."
"I hoped you'd get back together."
"We don't know where we are right now. Everything will work out for the best."
"I hope so." She gestured toward his car. "Go ahead. It's only a few blocks. I'll be okay."
"All right then. See you tomorrow." He unlocked the car and slid behind the steering wheel.
"Thanks, Elliott, for tonight. I didn't realize… Our friendship is a very good thing. Goodnight."
He smiled. "Goodnight, Detective."
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