We survived the two weeks at Quantico.
No, that wasn't entirely true.
We kicked ass for our two weeks at Quantico.
We finished as the top two ranked agents from our training session.
And I'm not ashamed to admit that I wasn't number one. Alex was a machine on the firing range and managed to nudge me out of the top spot for the overall scores.
Not only that, but she also evaded security and slipped into my dorm room.
So really, the two weeks weren't nearly as bad as we'd expected.
In fact, it was almost like a vacation.
And during those nights when I held her in my arms, we planned out our strategy for wrapping up the Ross case.
"We need to talk to that private investigator," Alex had suggested. "If he was following McHale for Stahl, then maybe he has evidence of something, something he doesn't realize."
"Like McHale meeting with Mullins?"
"But he would've given it to Stahl," I'd reminded her. "So we're saying that she knows?"
"I have no idea what we're saying," she's admitted. "But it's a place to start."
And it was.
So we were going to talk to Dick Buster.
And in the mean time, Denise was still chatting up Isabelle.
I was glad that the meeting between her and Alex had gone so well.
There was nothing, nothing for her to be jealous about, so it made me feel a lot better to see that she had finally grasped that concept.
So we had our plan.
We got back to New York late on Wednesday evening, the night before Thanksgiving.
It was too late to talk to anyone about the case, so we'd relegated ourselves to the fact that considering it was a holiday weekend, things would have to wait until Monday.
But just in case, I'd put in a call to Buster. As expected, I had to leave a message.
But worst case, we'd go see him on our way to the federal building on Monday, and once we got to work, we'd go straight to Stahl.
So in the mean time, I was nervous about going to meet Alex's family.
Of course I'd met them before. On several occasions, actually.
But now I'd be meeting them as someone of greater significance.
Although they didn't know that.
But they did know that we were no longer partners. Or at least that's what they thought.
So as far as they were concerned, her invitation hadn't just been out of pity.
It had been out of friendship.
Although maybe they thought she still felt sorry for me since she'd had to fire me.
Maybe they did think it was out of pity.
My head was swimming with all of the possibilities that kept marching through my brain.
What did they know?
What would they think?
I understood why she didn't want to tell them about our relationship.
Her dad knew a lot of cops and her brother was a cop and eventually she and I would be going back to the department so if our relationship had to be kept on the down-low, then it wouldn't be fair to ask them to lie, too.
But would we give ourselves away?
I mean, we'd been a couple for more than six months. We'd been pretending to be one for longer than that.
And the only time we had to behave ourselves was when we met with Maas or Moran, and it was a good possibility that even Maas knew about us.
Maybe this would be a good test.
"You don't have to wear a tie," Alex said as she came up behind me, slipping her arms around my waist.
It was Thursday morning and I'd been standing in front of the tie rack for several minutes while my thoughts wandered.
"I want to look nice for your family," I replied.
"You do," she said. "Just like you are. In fact, you're probably over-dressed. My dad rarely puts on anything but jeans anymore."
I was in slacks and a button-down shirt that was presently open at the collar, but I'd planned on adding the tie and jacket.
"Are you sure?"
"Bobby, are you nervous?" she asked in surprise.
I trailed off and instead led her by the arm into the bathroom. I didn't have a clue who, if anyone, was listening anymore, but I didn't need to share with them my innermost fears.
Once we were safely ensconced in the privacy of our bathroom, I started again.
"What if they don't like me?"
"They know you," she said, and I could tell that I'd confused her. "They already do like you."
"They like me as your partner," I clarified. "This is different."
"You think they won't like you as my friend?"
"What if they don't? What if they were relieved that you fired me and that we don't work together anymore?"
"Bobby, my dad chastised me for firing you, remember?" she told me. She put her hand on my clean-shaven cheek and moved closer to me.
I'd had to lose the beard when we went to Quantico, and I had to admit that as much as I loved feeling her hands running over the whiskers, the touch of her fingers on the bare skin of my cheeks was just as enticing.
"You're over-thinking it," she continued softly.
"Can you blame me?" I asked, although I did start to relax.
She was right.
I was over-thinking it.
But with so many things in my head it was hard to turn it all off.
And I really didn't want to screw this up.
I mean, making a mistake in front of Moran would be bad, and it might cost me my job, but this was her family.
And if she didn't want to tell them yet, then I certainly wasn't going to be the one to let the cat out of the bag.
"Maybe you need a distraction," she suggested, and then she purposefully dropped her eyes to just below my belt. I swear, the object of her attention moved just from the heat of her gaze. "You know, relieve some of that tension."
She slowly began unbuckling my belt and now, without a doubt, there was some serious movement down below.
"We'll be late," I warned her.
And we were.
But I was definitely more relaxed.
Bobby had been wound up tight while we got ready to go to my parents' house, and I could understand that.
It was a somewhat awkward situation since it would be our first time going there as a couple and yet we couldn't admit that we were together.
Although I was on the fence about whether or not to just go ahead and tell them.
I mean, obviously I didn't want them to be responsible for keeping my secret, but at the same time, how long would it go on? I hoped to be with the NYPD until I retired, so was I never going to tell them about Bobby?
But in the end, we decided to stick with our plan of keeping quiet.
We had enough going on in our lives at the moment.
Once everything was settled and we'd put the rat responsible for Ross' death behind bars and we were back with the department, well…then we'd come clean with my family.
So instead, I did my best to put Bobby's mind at ease. Or at least, make him forget about everything for a little while.
And yeah, it made us late, but it was worth it.
I'd never been with a man who was so focused on me while making love.
And maybe that sounds silly.
But with Bobby, I never felt like it was mechanical or routine or a means to an end.
With him, it was as if he literally could not get enough of me.
I'd teased him once about how they must love him in the produce department of a grocery store.
Well, he's like that with me, too.
He loves to touch and feel and taste…and he's never in any hurry.
So yeah, we were definitely late.
But my family is large and informal and no one seemed to care.
In fact, they were just all really happy to see me.
I loved how welcome they made him feel.
And it was all I could do not to laugh when my dad cornered me in the den.
"So he's forgiven you?"
"Bobby," he explained as though I was slow. "I guess since he's here, he's forgiven you."
I was absolutely never going to live that down.
At least not until I could tell him the truth.
"Yeah, Dad," I told him. "We talked about it, and he understands."
"Well, I still think it was a crappy thing to do."
"So do I," I agreed. "But we're past it. And he's happy where he is."
"So you two are…what? Friends?"
"We've always been friends."
"You haven't always brought him over for Thanksgiving dinner. Are you still trying to make it up to him?"
"Dad, we're fine," I insisted. "There's no making up to be done."
I held his gaze as he watched me carefully and then he gave me a sharp nod.
"Okay. Good. Because he's a good man."
"I know," I responded, secretly thrilled that he was so supportive of Bobby.
I had a pretty good feeling that when we did finally break the news to them, no one would have any problem with it.
"So tell me about your narcotics thing."
"It's an undercover," I said on a chuckle. "You know I can't talk about it."
I'd already explained to him that I was officially in jail over the holiday weekend.
"Alex, honey," he said, putting his arms around me and pulling me into a hug. "I'm your father. You can talk to me about anything. I know how to keep a secret."
"Come on, you two," my mother said as she poked her head into the doorway. "Dinner's on the table."
My father let me go, but looked at me pointedly for another minute before turning to go into the dining room.
Okay, so maybe we really weren't fooling anyone at all.
Dinner was typical. Everyone talked too loud and ate too much and then most of the kids trickled down into the basement to play video games while the adults began cleaning up the mess.
"I've got this, Alex," my mother said. "You and Bobby go relax. I'm sure he has to work tomorrow, and eventually you'll get bailed out…"
She was a real trooper to deal with so many cops in the family. And I knew that it bugged her to think about me being on undercover duty with Narcotics, but I still thought it was best not to tell her the truth.
Because really, what we were doing was probably even more dangerous.
The closer we got to finding out the truth, the more dangerous it was going to get.
Obviously, our perp hadn't thought twice about killing a police captain. Surely killing me and Bobby wouldn't be much of a stretch, if it was thought to be a necessity to maintain anonymity.
"I don't go back until Monday," Bobby corrected as he carried a stack of dirty plates into the kitchen.
"I appreciate the offer, Bobby. But I've got this," she insisted as she took the plates from his hands.
I knew when not to argue with my mother, so I guided Bobby towards the den.
Most of the other men had migrated into the living room where the football game was on the television, so we had the den to ourselves.
"They absolutely love you," I said quietly as we sat down on the couch. I'd left the lights off and suddenly a nap seemed like a great idea.
"That's because they don't know I'm sleeping with their daughter," he whispered.
"Maybe," I said on a chuckle. "But somehow I think they'll be okay with that, too."
We sat in silence for several minutes.
I wasn't sure where Bobby's mind was, but I knew what I was thinking about.
I was seriously starting to think that maybe Banta was working with one of those two women.
Or…or what if it was just Banta?
If Isabelle went both ways, it stood to reason that she might have been finessed by him.
He was charming.
Or at least, some women thought so.
I just thought he was an asshole.
But still…it was possible. So maybe I shouldn't let Denise's revelation sway my feelings too much.
Banta had gone to Africa. Twice. Banta was investigating Beemer and had the opportunity to plant evidence. And he was the one who'd put Casteel on my trail when it came time to find Beemer's killer.
"You're thinking too hard," Bobby said softly. "Your whole body is tense."
"Maybe you should do something about that," I challenged.
"In your mom and dad's house? I don't think so."
He laughed at me and then couldn't seem to stop a yawn, so I scooted to the end of the couch and then patted my lap.
"Lie down and take a nap," I offered. "We don't have to leave any time soon."
"How would that look?"
"If you're laying on the couch sleeping? It'll look like you're tired."
"With my head in your lap?"
"Quit worrying," I assured him. He settled his head on my legs and I immediately began to run my fingers through his hair. "It's all perfectly innocent."
"You never did this before," he murmured. "I wish you had."
He let out a heavy sigh and curled one arm around my legs so that it tucked beneath the outside of my thigh. I could feel him relaxing incrementally as I continued to stroke his hair.
I definitely wished we'd done this before.
All of those years we wasted, purposely avoiding all physical contact with each other.
How crazy was that?
Even if we hadn't admitted to loving each other, we could've least provided each other with the comfort of some harmless affection.
Although, it likely wouldn't have stayed harmless, I admitted to myself.
Because touching Bobby was like a drug.
And I was most definitely addicted.
I smiled at the thought and then a sound in the doorway caught me by surprise.
My mom stood there with two brandy snifters in her hand and a smug look on her face.
I quickly stilled my hand and carefully moved it away from his head.
"We were just…he's just…I was…"
Great, Alex, I thought. Make it worse by stuttering through an explanation.
I felt like I was sixteen again.
Of course, Bobby was oblivious, already having slipped into a deep sleep.
"I was bringing you two an after-dinner drink," she explained in a quiet voice. "But I guess Bobby doesn't need one."
She stepped fully into the room and set one glass down on the coffee table and offered the other one to me.
"He's been working a lot," I explained, silently willing myself not to blush. I took the glass from her and tossed back half of the brandy in one gulp. My mother looked at my quizzically, but didn't say anything, so I added, "Thank you for making him feel so welcome here today."
"He's welcome here any day."
And she kept smiling at me, so I had to say something.
"Mom, it's not…we're just friends."
"I just didn't want you to get the wrong idea. I mean, we're close. And he's my best friend, but it's not…there's nothing…we're not…"
"Alex, for Heaven's sake," she said with a dismissive wave. "When did you forget how to finish a sentence?"
"I don't know," I admitted.
"I don't need you to spell it out for me," she went on. "You're not sleeping with him." And then she winked at me and added, "Yet."
"It's fine. It's none of my business."
"We're friends," I said again, this time a little more firmly.
"Okay, sweetheart. No need to get yourself worked up. You two relax and send Bobby upstairs when he wakes up. Your father bought some new cigars he wants to share."
My mom left without waiting for my response.
She'd completely flustered me, but I couldn't seem to make myself be too upset about it.
"You lied to your mother," Bobby murmured, his face still pressed against my thigh.
"And you were faking sleep?" I asked in surprise. I put my hand on his shoulder and encouraged him to turn onto his back.
"I thought it would be best if I stayed out of that one."
"I think I was right earlier. You are a chicken," I teased. "One great big chi-"
He kept me from finishing my sentence by bringing my lips down to his. And there was something about the way he took his time with the kiss, leisurely exploring in a sleepy, comfortable way that made me ache for him.
He finally pulled back from me and then he ran his tongue over his lips.
"You taste like brandy," he said.
"Is that a good thing?"
"I'm not sure," he said, skimming his hand up my arm and along the side of my neck. "Let me try it again."
This is what I meant about Bobby being addictive.
Because I've made out on the couch in my parents' den before.
Many times, actually, back when I was still in high school.
A couple of times in college, even.
But now here I was, forty-three years old and yet I was completely caught up in the moment.
And maybe it was because, considering our location, we knew that kissing was as far as we were going to take it. I don't know. But the feel of his fingers in my hair and his lips on mine…it was nearly enough to put me over the edge.
"Where's Aunt Alex?" I heard my niece call out from down the hall. And that was enough to bring us back to reality.
Bobby quickly sat up on the couch and I ran my hand over my hair to smooth it out and then tossed back the rest of the brandy. Bobby reached for his glass and drank it all in one swallow. By the time my niece came into the room, we were mostly back to normal.
As it turned out, I was needed for my video game prowess, so I headed off to the basement while Bobby went to smoke a cigar with my father. An hour later, I rescued him from a debate about who was better, the FBI or the NYPD. Considering our current situation, there was no way that discussion would end well.
"We'd better go," I said to my dad.
"Wait, we didn't hear what Bobby had to say," my brother Sean interrupted. Of course, he was the one who'd started it since he was a cop with the 3-4.
"Next time," I promised. I grabbed Bobby's hand, and then realized what I was doing and quickly let go. "Come on."
"Hey, the little lady says go, you'd better go," Sean joked.
"This little lady is gonna kick your ass if you keep that up," I warned.
"Language, Alex," my dad scolded, although he was grinning. He loved when me and Sean picked at each other.
We finally managed to say all of our goodbyes and escape my parents' house. It was nearly eleven o'clock, but I was buzzing with energy.
"That was so great," Bobby told me as I drove us home. "Really. I'm just…thank you. I'm so glad you asked me to go with you."
"You're welcome," I replied, pleased by the compliment. "It's just the first of many, right?"
"And maybe next time you won't be such a chicken," I added with a grin.
He chuckled at me as he picked up his cell phone from the console where he'd left it.
"I missed a call from Buster," he said excitedly. He caught my eye and there it was again. That feeling in the pit of my stomach. Not only did I love what he could do to me physically, but I loved how much he enjoyed the hunt. He and I were of one mind when it came to solving puzzles.
I waited while he checked his voice mail, and then he hung up and looked at me.
"Well?" I asked.
"He said that we can come by tonight."
"His message says anytime. Apparently his office is out of his home."
"Did he say what he'd found? Is it anything good?"
"I don't know," he answered. "But he has all of the negatives."
"So if he was following McHale, and she met with Isabelle…"
"Uh huh," he answered with a grin.
"Well then. Let's go meet Dick Buster."