Part 17

"You're a hard woman to contact."

Dara shrugged as Jack McCoy swallowed a shot of whiskey. Her fingers toyed with the stem of her wineglass. This drink with a colleague was a welcome diversion from the chaos caused by the filing of the lawsuit that morning. The media jumped on it. Some championed Rx Limited while others sided with the plaintiff. As time progressed, no doubt the tides would shift.

"What can I say?" she said. "I've been busy."

"That's an understatement. I read the complaint against Rx. Very impressive."

She knew Jack well enough to know there was more. "But?"

He signaled for another drink. After the bartender poured it and left, Jack said, "They don't play by the rules. A few others have tried to make them accountable and lost. I see your friend over there." He nodded toward Jerry who lingered at the bar. "He's your protection. That was a smart move."

"He's good at what he does. You don't have to worry about my safety if that's what you're getting at."

"What about your clients?"

"They're protected, too." She gave him a half smile. "I'm not the young clerk you remember. I've been doing this for awhile now. The i's are dotted and the t's are crossed."

He traced the rim of the shot glass. In the dim lighting, it was hard to accurately read his facial expression. As one of the best EADA New York ever had, he knew how to play his cards close to his chest and reveal only when and how he wanted. Dara learned several of his tricks while working with him so many years ago. Yet, even with all his masks in place, she knew his concern for her was sincere and she appreciated that.

"I know to be careful," she said quietly.

He reached out and gently patted her hand. "I hope so."

~*~

Alex stood across the street from the law and order hang out. He saw Dara and Jacks enter the bar about thirty minutes ago. From his contacts, he knew she was meeting Jack McCoy. The two shared history. A sharp twinge of jealousy stabbed Alex's chest. He swallowed hard and fought the emotion. Again.

He pulled his cell phone and punched in the familiar seven digits. She answered quickly.

"Hi, there." Her breathy tone signaled that she recognized his number on the caller id.

"Hi yourself," he said, maintaining a painstakingly even tone. "What are you doing?"

"Sharing a drink with a friend," she said. "I thought you had a business meeting tonight."

"I did, but it's over. I want to see you."

"I'd like that." Her voice softened.

He imagined her smile and almost groaned aloud. "Tell me where you are and I'll pick you up."

"Well, um…" she hedged. "Why don't you meet me here? We can have dinner."

"I'd rather have dinner at my place. I have a feast planned just for you."

"This is last minute."

"It doesn't matter. I do some of my best work last minute." He chuckled. "Is there a problem?"

Yeah and his name is Jerry. But he didn't expect her to say that. Part of him wished she would. A healthy dose of honesty from both of them would do his soul good.

"Um, not exactly. Let me work something out. I want to see you, too, and I'm dying to sample your culinary skills."

"Okay. Call me back."

"I will."

"And Dara…"

"Yes?"

"Hurry."

~*~

Keesha rang the final sale of the day. The grand opening brought in a steady flow of customers. She hadn't expected that many people to have an interest in gardening. The information gathered at Granny Mae's side came in handy. Relief swept through her several times with the calm assurance of knowing what she was talking about.

"Whew." Jian hauled the last outside display inside the shop. He joined her at the counter, resting his forearms on the countertop as he peered at her. "Are you at a million yet?"

"As in served?" She laughed. "It certainly feels like it, doesn't it?"

"And then some. I never knew that Connecticut had a large gardening population."

She slammed the cash register shut and moved around to the counter. Taking his hand, she led him to a chair and stood behind him. Her hands rubbed his neck and shoulders. His muscles rippled with every caress. Desire shot through her.

"You don't have to do this," he murmured in a husky voice.

"I want to." She ran her fingers through his short, silky brown locks. "You've been lifting and carrying all day."

"You've been on your feet all day," he countered. He turned, caught her around her waist and pulled her onto his lap. Before she could protest or wriggle free, he removed her sandals and began a foot massage that made her moan and purr.

"Careful," she whispered. "I could get used to this."

He tilted his head to meet her eyes. His moist, warm breath fanned her lips. "That's the plan."

Faster than she could blink, his mouth claimed hers. Slow and thorough, he massaged her mouth with his lips and tongue. Longing rose inside Keesha. Her arms closed around his neck. She opened her mouth to his exploration. Need flared at the apex of her thighs and spread throughout her body.

Then, small hands tugged her toes. She and Jian broke apart to meet the curious stare in Jacob's bluish brown eyes. "Mommy, you and Jian were kissing."

She pressed the back of her hand to her mouth. Heat of embarrassment coursed through her. She came too close to forgetting about her maternal responsibilities and succumbing to passion. "Yes, we were."

She tried to rise from Jian's lap, but he refused to release her. All she could manage was to sit on one thigh except both.

Jian pulled Jacob onto his vacate thigh. "Did you mind seeing us kiss?" he asked.

The little boy hid his mouth with his hands and he giggled. "No. Mommy looked happy."

Both Jian and Keesha suppressed a laugh. "I suppose I was," she said.

Jacob smiled. "Me, too. Daddies kiss mommies. Can Jian be my daddy?"

Panic struck Keesha hard. She stiffened. "Um, Jacob--"

"It's okay, Keesha." Jian's tone and stroking hand on her back worked to soothe her. "I would love to be your daddy, but that takes time."

"How much?"

"I don't know, but maybe not too long," he said and looked at Keesha.

She nodded.

~*~

"Hi."

Fox's head jerked. He looked up, a startled expression on his face.

Dawn smiled. "Sorry. Your eyes were glued to the screen."

"Don't apologize." He rose from his desk and crossed the office. His arms closed around her. A deep, drugging kiss followed. When they parted, the sound of their labored breaths echoed in his office. "You didn't tell me you were coming."

"It was a spur of the moment thing." With his hand closed around hers, she let him lead her to his desk. She perched on the edge while he returned to his chair. "You said you were working late and I didn't want to go home alone. Are you almost finished?"

"I'm doing my final edit. After that, I'm done."

His hand settled on her khaki-clad thigh as he began to work again. She closed her hand over his, enjoying the sensation of his touch. A few hours ago, she and Rey wrapped up the college coed rape case. Nailing the perp had felt good. But nothing could change what happened to the victim. Understanding that was not the same as accepting it. Just being with Fox helped calm the uneasiness somewhat.

"Hello?"

The curt, surprised tone broke Dawn from her reverie. She and Fox looked toward the door. A petite red head stood in the doorway. Ah, Fox's sometime writing partner, Dana Scully. Dawn pushed off Fox's desk and waited for the formal introduction.

"Peaches, this is Scu--I mean, Dana Scully," Fox said, his hand now resting on the small of Dawn's back. "Dana, this is my wife, Detective Dawn Jensen Mulder."

Dawn elbowed him. "You don't have to be so formal."

"I'm proud of you," he said, his tone and expression serious.

"Thanks," she whispered before extending her hand to Dana. "It's a pleasure to meet you. I've read several of your pieces. Wonderful work."

"Thank you."

They shook hands.

Dana looked past Dawn to Fox. "I saw Skinner at the photo lab. He's close to making demands."

"I hope you told him it was ready."

"I wasn't sure."

Dawn witnessed the interchange with interest. She couldn't help but notice how the other woman kept looking from her to Fox. Then, Dana's gaze would linger on Fox for a tad second longer than necessary.

Fox grumbled under his breath as he returned to his laptop. He curved his hand around Dawn's leg and pulled her back to his desk. "Sit," he said. "This won't take long."

"Don't rush on my account," she said.

"I'm not. I'm ready to get out of here." He gave her a quick smile. "I'm in the mood for Thai. How about you?"

"Always." She glanced at Dana. "Would you like to join us?"

"She has plans."

"Fox!" Dawn pinched his hand. She'd never seen him behave so rudely before.

"Thanks for the offer, but he's right. I do have plans."

Dawn didn't believe the other woman for a second but instinct told her to let the subject drop. A short while later, Fox finished and they left.

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