I'm not going to analyze why I felt a perverse sense of pleasure when I saw Denise looking less than her best.
Or maybe I'd just built her up in my head to be better looking than she really was, I don't know.
But when I met her at the entrance to the zoo, she looked just like she should.
Like a middle-aged woman who put in long hours on the job.
"What is it?" I asked her without preamble.
To her credit, she didn't ask about Bobby.
I was beginning to think that maybe my jealousy was misplaced.
Because even though I'd believed him when he said that there had never been anything between them, I couldn't help but feel as though that wasn't by her choice.
And I felt the insane urge to stake my claim.
To let her know that he was mine.
But of course, I couldn't do that.
Maybe that was what made me jealous. In fact, it probably was.
She could have an overt relationship with him.
"Captain Maas asked me to befriend Isabelle Mullins," she replied.
"I know. And we appreciate the information that you got from her."
"Well, there's more," she said. "And I tried calling Maas, but I couldn't get him. That's why I called Bobby."
"Okay," I said agreeably, wishing she'd just hurry up and get to it.
"I've been hanging out with her for a few weeks now and this afternoon…well, she made a pass at me."
"A pass?" I repeated. It was an antiquated term and I wanted to make sure that we were talking about the same thing. "She came on to you? Are you saying that she's into women?"
"Both, I think," she admitted. "But yeah."
"Are you sure? You didn't misread body language or innuendo?"
"Eames, she kissed me, okay?"
"Okay," I said with a nod. "So what makes you think that she goes both ways?"
"She would talk about different men in the department. You know, just girl talk. Who's good-looking, or who would be good in bed. That kind of thing."
"And then just out of the blue, she kissed you?"
"She said that she felt a connection with me," she said self-consciously. "I guess I'm good at this spy stuff, huh?"
"I guess so," I replied. "Okay, thanks."
"Oh, and I made a list for you," she said, handing me a piece of paper. "You know, places that she likes to eat…shop…that kind of thing. I thought it might help you, you know, cross-reference with your suspect list to maybe find a common ground that might have been where they met or something."
I put the paper in my pocket without looking at it, but I was secretly impressed.
And I had to admit that she probably hadn't invited Bobby out here just to jump him.
I mean, could I blame her if she liked to look at him?
And admittedly, I'm quite a bit more prickly than he is, so I could understand why she'd chosen to call him over me.
"Does that help?" she questioned. "I mean, the Chief told me that you guys are trying to catch Ross' killer, right? Or at least, the man who blew his cover."
I was surprised that Moran had brought Denise into the fold, but it made sense. I mean, surely there was paperwork and logistics involved with me and Bobby doing this type of thing, even though we weren't technically with the department. Someone had to help run interference for Maas and Moran, and she'd been with Moran for a very long time, so he must trust her.
"Well, it certainly opens up our suspect pool," I admitted. "I guess we're back to looking at men and women instead of just men."
"You want my gut feeling on it?"
"I'd look more at women."
An hour later, Bobby and I were back at Logan's.
"You guys were fast," Logan remarked. "Did you decide to just dump her in the river instead of actually burying her?"
"Ha ha," I retorted. "No, she was fine. Actually, her news has changed our focus."
Which in truth, really bothered me.
Because if we were looking for a woman who would've had the knowledge and the ability to hang Ross out to dry, our main suspects would be McHale or Stahl.
Or possibly Lacey.
And I really liked all three of them.
"But Stahl was in the picture," Bobby pointed out, even though I hadn't said anything aloud. "So if it's her, she's working with someone."
And he had a point.
The picture that had been found with Ross' body, the one that the killer had left behind.
It was a shot of Ross and Stahl.
"McHale has a family," I reminded him. "And she's…I don't know. She's nice."
We'd spent a lot of time with her and Lacey lately.
A lot of time.
Was that because they were trying to keep us close?
Were they sticking with the theory of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer?
Did they know that we were looking into Ross' death?
"So where does that leave you?" Logan asked.
I looked at Bobby and shrugged. He was as baffled as me.
"We still need to talk to Banta," he said. "There's still the matter of his trips to Africa."
"Could Banta and Stahl be working together?" Logan suggested. "I mean, if you think she couldn't have done it alone."
It was a definite possibility.
Monday morning, we got to the federal building at eight-thirty and headed straight for Stahl's office.
We'd decided to take the direct approach and just ask her if she knew Isabelle Mullins.
The door was closed and the light was off.
"She's not here. She's off."
I turned around quickly and found McHale standing behind us. And for some reason, my hand gravitated toward my weapon.
"For how long?" Bobby asked. And he was covering, because I could tell that he'd been just as startled by her silent approach.
But damn, was I just being paranoid now?
I mean, Bobby and I had just spent nearly a month with McHale and I'd never had any indication that she was anything other than who she appeared to be.
Although that wasn't really true, was it?
She was a master at leading a double life. She was married with four children and yet she was a lesbian.
"I don't know for sure. But Casteel said for you two to report to him this morning."
"Do you know why?" I asked conversationally as we started walking down the hall.
"I have no idea," she said with a shrug. "But good luck."
She left us alone in the hall and I stopped to look at Bobby.
"Is it just me or does this place have a creepy feel this morning?" I asked him.
"We're getting close," he said quietly. "Wagons are being circled."
"Yeah, but which wagon? And by whom?"
It struck me for the hundredth time that I was so glad I'd joined Bobby on this case. I mean, aside from the obvious benefit of our relationship evolving, it was also dangerous.
If I'd still been with the department, I'd be worrying myself sick. At least now, we were doing this together.
"What does your gut say?" he asked me as we got on the elevator.
We'd gone over this a dozen times throughout the night as we'd snuggled together in the tiny bed in Logan's spare room. But neither of us had an answer.
It had been a lot easier when we suspected Beemer. I hated him.
But I'm nothing if not professional. And I've been separating personal feelings from work for years.
So what did my gut say?
"Before talking with Denise last night, I would've said Banta. But if it came down to which woman suspect would be able to sweet talk Isabelle, I'd have to say Lacey. And she did request us in the beginning. Maybe she wanted to keep a close watch."
"That's my thinking, too."
"But Bobby," I added. "Seriously, I'm at a loss here. Lacey is my guess, but I still find it nearly impossible to believe."
"Me, too," he agreed.
We got off of the elevator and went down the hall to Casteel's office.
"Agents Goren and Eames!" he greeted enthusiastically.
I still couldn't get a read on this guy either. He was a contradiction.
Friendly one minute, ornery the next.
At least with Ross, we'd always known where we stood, which was more often than not on his shit list. But still…
"Please sit down," Casteel continued.
"We heard that Agent Stahl is off today," I began, hoping to glean a bit more information from him.
"She's sick," he told us. "Some kind of flu thing. I don't know. I told her to take a few days. I don't need a damn bug making its way through the office."
"So should we report to Agent Lacey today?"
"I wanted to tell you two nice job on that therapist case. I know it got to be rather long, but Agent Lacey said that you both handled yourselves well," he deflected.
"Thank you, sir," Bobby said.
"I also wanted to remind you both that Quantico awaits. You know, everyone has a boss. Mine wants to know why I have two agents in my department who have yet to complete the required course."
"Well, you have kept us pretty busy," I reminded him.
"Yes, of course," he said with a wave. "But that ends today."
My heart sank at the realization of what he was about to say.
"Sir…" I began.
"Don't bother trying to avoid it," he said. "In fact, I think I may have found the perfect solution. There's a two-week refresher course for agents who have been on extended leave or those who have been reprimanded for violating policy. It starts tomorrow, and you'll be back by Thanksgiving. My boss agreed to let that suffice, so by you two going to this thing, it will serve two purposes. It will get my boss off my back, and it'll keep your plate cleared for the holiday, so to speak. Otherwise, you could end up in undercover for the rest of the year and I'm sure you have better places to spend your Thanksgiving. So go home and pack. It's a six-hour drive. You can be there by dinner."
And that was it. He was done with us.
This was going to suck.
"Two weeks of classes on how to be a better agent," I muttered as we went back to the elevator. "Physical training and ethics lessons…"
"And sleeping apart," Bobby added.
"Why do I get the feeling that we're being punished?"
"I don't think we are. I mean, it was supposed to be four months and now it's only two weeks. I think that Casteel believes he's being nice."
"Or he's getting rid of us again. Maybe there weren't any cases to send us on, so he's using this instead, just to keep us away from the federal building."
"If he wanted to get rid of us, he would've given us the full training course," he argued gently.
"I know," I admitted on a sigh. "I'm just…pissed."
The doors opened up in the parking garage and we headed for the car.
"Look at it this way. We'll be back for Thanksgiving. You'll be able to go have dinner with your family."
"We'll be able to have dinner with my family," I countered. "You're coming with me."
"We don't have to tell them about us. I mean, I'd love to. But I don't want them to have to lie."
"What are we going to tell them?"
"That we're friends," I answered simply. "We'll say that I'm still working undercover, but that as part of the cover, I let myself get arrested. That way, the bad guys think I'm in jail while I'm actually at Thanksgiving dinner."
"And me? What have I been doing since you fired me?"
Damn, I still hated hearing those words.
Eight months later and it still stung.
"You can be working for the Bureau," I told him. We were at the car by this point, but he stopped me before I could get in.
"Is it worth it?" he asked quietly, settling his hand along the of my neck and allowing his thumb to stroke my jaw.
"Is what worth it?"
"Having to come up with such an intricate story just so that I can eat dinner with your family."
And if I didn't know Bobby as well as I do, his words might have made me mad.
It almost seemed as though he was trivializing the importance.
But he wasn't. He just didn't consider himself to be worth the effort.
"Absolutely," I assured him. "But if you don't want to go…"
"I want to go," he said. "I just don't want to make it more difficult on you. Besides, you haven't seen them in a long time, and I don't want to get in the way."
"Okay," I said, grabbing onto his belt loops and pulling him closer to me.
"Okay, we won't go."
"We? What? Alex…"
"Either we go together. Or we stay home together."
"Don't you sense a pattern here, Bobby? We've been through this already with all kinds of other topics. We're partners. In absolutely every sense of the word. Got it?"
"I got it," he replied as a slow smile spread across his face. "Now let's hurry up and go home so that we can get packed and then have some quality time in the bathroom before we get on the road."
"You really know how to romance a girl," I teased, although his words had caused my pulse to quicken.
"Two weeks of sleeping apart," he reminded me.
"We slept apart for ten years," I replied. "I'm guessing we can handle two weeks."
"No," he said with a shake of his head. "We slept apart for ten years before I knew what I was missing. I'm not sure if I can survive one night now."
And yeah, okay, so he did know about romance.
"Maybe I'll just sneak into your room at night."
"That's probably against the rules," he said, and his low gravelly voice was wreaking havoc on my system. He leaned down close to me, his lips hovering barely an inch from mine.
"Even better. You know how I feel about rule-breaking."
"I don't remember you liking it so much when I used to do it," he retorted, still teasing me by lingering close without touching.
"That's because I couldn't admit to you how hot it made me," I answered huskily, and he finally closed the distance, bringing his lips to mine with surprising intensity.
I stepped into him until he was backed against the car and I let myself relax into the moment. And it was actually several long moments before we both forced ourselves to pull away, mindful that we were still in the Bureau parking garage.
"You know you're going to be in so much trouble now," he said with a grin after walking around and climbing into the car.
"Why?" I asked him as I buckled my seat belt.
"Because you're going to be my boss pretty soon," he explained. And then he dropped his voice again to that raspy pitch that put a tingling feeling in the pit of my stomach. "And now I know you love it when I break the rules…"
Yeah, I was going to be in trouble.
But a good kind of trouble.
And I couldn't wait.