Coincidence, Fate, and Murder

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Chapter 2: The Risk Of It All

Kantor pulled his cruiser slowly into the crowded back alley. The area had been cordoned off, but there were tons of people packed around, craning their necks to see. He noted that several police officers were at the scene trying to control the mob. Dispatch wasn't sure of the victim's identity, but the nightclub was a favored hangout of various Lexicon drug dealers. Routine shit, he thought, probably a spat among dealers. He got out of the cruiser and saw a young woman standing with a patrol officer. She was crying uncontrollably. Kantor noticed that her body was splattered with blood and what appeared to be brain matter. He would need to speak to her before he left, but first, he wanted to check out the victim.

He stepped out of the comfort of his air-conditioned cruiser and into the muggy humidity of a hot summer night. The heat was stifling, and it was an adventure just trying to breathe. As Kantor approached the secured area, he already felt small droplets of sweat beading on his forehead. He hastily wiped the sweat away and continued moving toward the body. There were few things worse than a homicide on a tropical Florida night.

Kantor didn't immediately recognize the victim. The injury was too significant. He couldn't quite connect the dots right away, but it finally dawned on him. He was staring down at a very dead Kort Jeffries. He borrowed a pair of rubber gloves from a CSI and slipped them on. He kneeled down close to the body. Kantor had seen many gruesome crime scenes in his career, but this one ranked high on his list of the worst he'd ever seen.

Just from observing the damage, Kantor believed that Jeffries might have been shot with a high caliber weapon. Part of his scalp had been blown off cleanly. Toward the back of his head, his skull was shattered. Grayish brain tissue and chunks of bone littered the area around him. The fucking gun had to be right on him, he thought. He couldn't see another way that a bullet would have made such an injury. He reasoned that a weapon fired at close range was indicative of an ambush attack. An angered user or fellow dealer had not simply confronted Jeffries and then shot him. His killer had walked up, fired his/her weapon, and walked away.

He stood and moved away from the body. Kantor removed the rubber gloves. He turned his attention toward the crying woman. He excused the men with her, and he took her gently by the arm.

"I've gotta clean up, gotta clean up," she moaned in tears. "Oh God, let me clean up," she begged.

"Yes, you will. First, I must speak to you," Kantor said gently. She continued to cry and moan, and he wasn't sure he would be able to extract any information from her. "What happened?"

The woman didn't look at Kantor. "We were back here, fooling around. He fell on me. I've got his ba-ba-brains on me. His bla-bla blood!"

He didn't release her arm. He held onto her hoping that his grip would keep her focused and alert. She would have to give an official statement, but for now, he simply needed to know if she had seen Jeffries' killer.

"Miss," he said gently, "Please. I'm trying to find out what you saw, what you know."

"I didn't see, I don't know," she bawled. "I-I-I was on mah-mah my knees in-in-in front of him. I didn't see," she wailed. "Oh please, let me clean up."

The witness was virtually useless to him right now. He released her into the custody of a female police officer who took charge of the shattered woman. Kantor glanced over at the body of Kort Jeffries. CSI was busily snapping photographs of the dead man. Every few seconds, a flash bulb went off, bathing the gory scene in temporary, but vivid, light.

Kantor found himself thinking about Rylie Lanigan. The legal system had failed her miserably, pitifully. Jeffries had committed many unspeakable acts against her, and it was more than obvious he was guilty as hell. Yet, with the help of a fast talking attorney, Jeffries had bailed out. Someone had decided to serve a special type of justice to Kort Jeffries, and it had been served swiftly, viciously. He placed both Rylie and her husband on his mental list of top suspects. He didn't want to believe Rylie was responsible for such a horrific murder, but he didn't want to totally eliminate the possibility, either. He remembered Mara Cardiff and how wrong he had been about her. He would not make the same mistake again.

Rylie awoke, groggy and out of sorts. Since Jeffries had fucked over the justice system, she had begun taking her medication again. Her body wasn't accustomed to it yet, and it normally made her feel grumpy and hung over. Ty slept deeply beside her, and for a moment, she was irritated. I don't want our marriage to end, not like this. Once steadfast and overly protective, he was now even more distant.

She had a big day ahead of her. She had not worked in a few months, and today she would officially resign. There was no way she could go back to work and face a bunch of ex-cons. She would only see Kort in them, and she had no intention of misdirecting her hatred of the bastard toward her other clients. It wouldn't be fair. As it was, she saw him in every corner of every room. He would haunt her for the rest of her life, and she wasn't about to subject herself to such terror on the job. The Community Correction Center would simply have to kiss her ass goodbye. Her dream job had become her worst nightmare.

She sat up on the side of the bed and stared at nothing in particular. Behind her, Ty stirred. He looked at her and then sat up behind her. She sighed as she felt his hands falling onto her shoulders. If it weren't for the drugs, she would have jumped right out of her skin. He hadn't touched her in weeks, hadn't even attempted to do it. Surprisingly, his hands felt heavenly. For the first time in a couple of days, Rylie actually felt normal. She was afraid it was a false sense of well-being.

"Does it feel like it's getting better to you," she asked.

His hands continued to squeeze her shoulders gently, reassuringly. "I think so."

"It's so hard to explain," she told him. "I should really feel like shit today, but I actually don't. I just don't get it. Maybe it's because I'm stoned," she said with a little laugh.

"It's all going to work out, you'll see."

Before Rylie could comment, the doorbell rang. She glanced at the bedside clock. It wasn't quite seven in the morning. The cops on surveillance never rang the doorbell; they simply showed up. Her heart began to hammer in her chest. Paranoid now, she didn't know what to think. Would he ring the doorbell…would he be so bold? She shook it off. She had to stop feeling so afraid. Fear was the food that fed freaks like Kort Jeffries.

Her robe was lying at the foot of the bed. She grabbed it and shrugged into it. "Stay here," she told Ty. "I'll see who it is."

The doorbell rang again as she secured the robe about her body. On tiptoe, she peeked into the peephole. Falk Kantor, and whom she assumed was another detective, stood at the door. She was confused. The chief of detectives had never worked her case before; the Sex Crimes Unit had always handled it. She shook off the confused feelings, unlocked the door, and opened it.

"Mrs. Lanigan," Kantor said with a slight nod of his head. "I'm sorry we're here so early, but we need to speak to you and your husband."

Her eyes immediately locked with Kantor's. She saw something in them, but couldn't pinpoint it. They seemed muddled and mixed. She saw glimmers of suspicion, anger, aggravation, and a dash of warmth. It was a strange combination, and for a moment, she felt completely underdressed. She grabbed the top of her robe and clutched it closed with her fist.

"Of course," she said nervously. "Please come in and have a seat. I'll get Ty."

The two men entered the house and each sat on the couch side by side. She closed the door behind them and made her way back to the bedroom.

Before arriving at the Lanigan residence, Kantor and Briscoe had decided to interview the couple separately. Kantor had been tempted to get a search warrant to see if there were any guns in the house. He figured Lanigan might still have his service revolver from when he was a parole officer. At the morgue earlier that morning, Kantor had carefully studied the shattered remains of Jeffries' head. He immediately realized that it had taken at least a .357 to cause such extensive damage. A simple service revolver might not have been enough. He was plainly jumping to conclusions again, and for now, he would temporarily place his theories on the backburner. Kantor found himself hoping that the interviews would not yield a suspect.

The two men waited patiently for approximately thirty minutes before the Lanigans appeared fully dressed. Kantor and Briscoe stood.

"Mrs. Lanigan, would you please follow me to the kitchen," Kantor asked.

"Sure," she answered. She wasn't sure what was going on. Her heart continued to hammer in her chest and she had begun to feel a bit dizzy.

"Is there another room where we can go," Briscoe asked Ty.

Ty looked to his wife for a moment, seemingly asking: what the fuck? He looked back at the detective. "Yes, we can go to the den."

Rylie led Kantor into the kitchen as Briscoe followed Ty to the den. Before seating himself at the kitchen table, Kantor glanced around the room. It looked so much different in the daytime. The last time he had been inside it, Rylie was laid out on the floor fighting her pain and panic. Kantor had admired her bravery. Not many people could have taken so much and remained sane. As he pulled out a chair and sat down, he found himself thinking: but is she sane?

She stood at the counter for a moment and poured herself a cup of coffee. "Would you like something to drink? Coffee perhaps?"

He didn't look back at her. "No thanks."

Before approaching the table, she turned and stared at the back of Kantor's head. Today, he was all business. There was nothing left of the gentle comforter he had been the night Kort Jeffries attacked her. With a sigh, she walked around to the table and chose to sit directly across from him.

For a moment, Kantor studied her. He had heard about Rylie's condition after she escaped Jeffries' playroom. Her oval face held no physical scars from her attack, but he was sure that many were unseen, hidden. Was pain a motive? Of course it could be, but she was also looking at him openly, expectantly. Nothing about her gave off any signals that would make him think she already knew Jeffries was dead. Yet, he kept the image of Mara Cardiff in his mind, and the fact that she had nearly gotten away with two murders due to her ability to hold a poker face.

"Chief Kantor," she said, "If you don't mind my asking, what are you doing here? You're not with the Sex Crimes Unit, are you?"

Her voice cut through his scrutiny session. "No, I'm not. Briscoe and I are in homicide."

Rylie ran her hands through her straight dark hair. "Homicide. What's going on? I don't understand."

Kantor had questioned many people during his career, but he was having a hard time with Rylie Lanigan. He wasn't sure how to proceed. He felt it had a lot to do with the circumstances surrounding her rape case. There was much more he needed to know.

He cleared his throat and looked at her open, earnest face. "Mrs. Lanigan, Kort Jeffries was murdered sometime early this morning."

Shocked, Rylie's eyes widened. She had been gazing at the chief intently, but now she looked away. How many times had she wished him dead? She wasn't sure, but knew it was in the hundreds by now. What should have thrilled her, overjoyed her, had only made her numb. Kort Jeffries. Dead. It didn't make any sense. A new realization dawned on her. Would a homicide detective visit just to tell her Kort was dead? Lexicon wasn't a large town, but she knew the police force was too busy to sit down, have coffee, and discuss with its public who died and when.

She looked Kantor straight in the eyes. "You think I did it, don't you?"

Rylie had laid all her cards out on the table. Kantor wasn't surprised or shaken. He had been fooled by the best. But he was a bit pleased by her initial reaction. However, he didn't immediately want to dismiss her. For a moment, he silently cursed Felts for taking leave and throwing him into this difficult position. Suddenly, paperwork and administrative deadlines didn't seem so bad. What is happening here, he wondered. He thought he might be losing his edge.

"Mrs. Lanigan," he began.

"No," she spat, interrupting him. "He wanted to kill me. Chief Kantor, you were there. You saw it; saw him on top of me. If I had wanted to kill him, don't you think I would have tried before now? I've wished him dead a hundred times over for what he has done to me, to my husband, and our marriage. I'll even go as far to say he deserved it, but I-" She couldn't finish.

He sighed. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Lanigan, but all avenues must be explored. I didn't necessarily come here to accuse you."

She took a sip of her coffee and studied him over the rim of her cup. She set down her cup and shook her head. "I don't believe that. There is no way I could have done something like that. Last night, I was drugged out of my mind on anti-depressants."

"Mrs. Lanigan, again, I-"

She shook her head again. She didn't want to hear anymore. "How could a man so caring at one moment become so inhumane at another?"

Of course, she wasn't the first person who had used the term to describe him. He'd heard it many times before, and would likely hear it again. Coming from Rylie Lanigan's mouth, it seemed more biting, almost bitter, and it pissed him right off. "If you'll let me get a word in, Mrs. Lanigan, I will try to explain. We must explore all avenues. I know you've gone through hell recently, but you must understand that it is necessary to question both you and your husband. Expect it; expect to see my face again and again. Kort Jeffries was far from being citizen of the year. He was a lowlife drug dealer, a murderer, a rapist; I could go on and on. I can't even begin to tell you how many people he has hurt through the years. However, he was murdered. It's my job to figure out the who, why, and how. If it means I'll be here every morning at seven o'clock to question you to get to the bottom of this case, I'll do it. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes," she said. "Very clear. Don't expect me to shed any tears."

Too harsh, too blunt, he thought. He reached across the table and placed a comforting hand onto her wrist. "Look, I know my words came across a bit harsh. Off the record, Mrs. Lanigan, if I weren't bound by duty, by ethics, I would let it go. But I am, and I can't."

His touch was as intense as his eyes. "I understand," she said flatly.

"Do you? I wouldn't." He realized he was still holding onto her wrist. Almost hurriedly, he drew his hand away, as if he had touched something sacred without permission.

She had to remove herself for a moment from his intense gaze. Rylie stood and walked back toward the counter. She warmed up her coffee and stood with her back facing his. "If you're going to accuse me of murder," she began, sarcasm dripping from the words, "You might as well drop the Mrs. Lanigan stuff. My name is Rylie."

He found himself smiling a little. This was no joking matter, of course, but it was either laugh or cry. By the time she came back to the table, Kantor's smile was gone. She didn't need to see it. Not only was it completely unprofessional, but it also might have offended her, and he didn't want to do that. He focused his sharp eyes on her face again.

"Have you been okay," he asked out of blue, throwing his duty aside.

Since her breakdown in court, he had thought about her often. He shouldn't have asked the question, but he couldn't help it. He wanted her to be all right. Fine way you have of treating potential suspects. He wasn't quite sure he even considered her a suspect anymore.

Kantor's question startled Rylie. He was wavering between warm/caring and cold/harsh, sensitive man versus asshole detective. She wondered how two such completely different personalities could be housed in this man's body.

She shrugged. "I've been better, I've been worse," she said. "Take this any way you wish, Chief Kantor, but I have to be totally honest. I'm glad he's dead, and I won't ever apologize for that. I didn't kill him. He wasn't worth the time I would spend in prison."

For a long moment, he couldn't tear his eyes away from her face. He had fallen for a line of bullshit before, and he was continually suspicious of every single person he interviewed. He wholeheartedly believed that Rylie Lanigan had nothing to do with the death of Kort Jeffries. For his sake, as well as hers, he hoped his hunch was correct. More than anything, he wanted it to be true.

Kantor took his eyes off her and slid his chair back from the table. He stood first and Rylie followed his lead. "I'll be seeing you again," he said.

His words sounded more like a promise than a threat. "Okay," she said.

Rylie led the chief of detectives back into the living room. Apparently, Ty and the other detective were still talking.

"You can have a seat if you'd like," she said.

He nodded. "Thank you."

"If you'll excuse me," she said.

"Of course."

After Rylie left the room, Kantor sat down on the couch and crossed his legs. Thoughtfully, he stroked his beard before he began scribbling notes on his legal pad. Before long, he lost his train of thought and stared off into space. He wasn't quite sure what had distracted him. He stayed in his dream world until Briscoe and Ty Lanigan appeared from the den.

Once in the cruiser, Kantor asked, "What did you think of the husband?"

Briscoe shrugged nonchalantly. "Actually, Chief, he seemed okay. He was a little nervous, but not a guilty kind of nervous. His reactions were pretty normal. The wife?"

"I don't think she had anything to do with it," he said. "I want those SCU files."

"What about background checks?"

Kantor nodded thoughtfully and made a couple of mental notes. "Yeah, we definitely need those, too."

Ty came into the kitchen and saw Rylie cleaning up. The room was actually spotless, but when stressed, she cleaned like a maniac. He didn't say anything at first, because he actually didn't know what to say.

"Rylie? Are you okay?"

She scrubbed the sink vigorously like a woman possessed. "I don't appreciate the cops coming to my home and basically accusing me of murdering someone. Other than that, I'm fucking peachy."


She threw the tattered sponge into the sink and whirled around to face her husband. He could see the strain in her eyes and the dark circles beneath them. At that moment, she was possessed. It broke his heart a little to see her like this.

"I don't know how to feel, Ty," she said. There were tears shining in her eyes, but she was fighting desperately against her impending tears. "Kort Jeffries was scum, Tyson. He raped me, beat me, and was responsible for an abortion that you won't ever forgive. If I ever find his grave, I'm going to spit on it. God forgive me, but I'm glad he's dead. And I don't know if I should even be glad. I shouldn't be happy about a man's death, even his. I am! I must be losing my mind!" He tried to approach her, but she held up her hands. "No. I need to be alone for a little bit. Go on to work. I need to sort some things out."

Oh heaven, Kantor thought. He had been awake for several hours, and he thought he would never see his warm bed again. Although he loved his daughter dearly, he was relieved for once that she wasn't home. He needed some serious and uninterrupted sleep. With Felts on leave, Kantor was responsible for his own job and picking up Felts' slack. He didn't mind the work, but he had to admit that carrying two jobs was exhausting. Kort Jeffries' murder had also thrown an additional stressor in the mix. He would have to sleep as much as he could, because he knew that in the next few days, overtime would become the key word. Within moments of his head hitting the pillow, he was asleep. Half an hour later, a silent figure crept into his bedroom, and Kantor was totally unaware.

She had taken an incredible chance coming to him like this. It had been a long time since she had seen him, and she was unsure if he was attached to anyone else. She didn't think he was, she had never heard otherwise. For a long time, she stared at him as he slept. His hair had grown a little, but other than that, he hadn't changed much. He was still one of the most gorgeous creatures she had ever seen. What the hell, she thought, all he can do is tell me to get out.

Soft mounds of flesh pressed into the unyielding muscles of his back. A light swirl of perfume enveloped him and a puff of warm breath blew into his ear. In his sound sleep, he was sure he was dreaming. It had been a while since he had had a woman in his bed. KT had been the last one, but she was in Michigan. He had stood at the airport and watched her leave. He didn't awaken right away; he embraced his dream and let it have its way with him. He felt a hand sliding into the crevice between his arm and side. Moments later, a soft pair of lips began nuzzling his ear.

This is a little too real to be a dream, he thought as he slowly opened his eyes. He turned his head slightly and couldn't believe his eyes. He broke free of her light embrace and sat up. "KT? What are you doing here?"

She studied his face for a long time. She saw shock and surprise, but not anger. "Surprise," she said with a little smile.

He had tons of questions he wanted to ask, but at the moment, he put them aside. He hadn't realized how much he missed her until that moment. Nothing about her had changed. Kantor touched her hair and allowed his hand to caress her face. His finger traced an outline on her lips.

She took his hand into hers. "I really hope you meant it when you said we were only on hold, because if you don't kiss me, I'm going to kill you," she said with a smile.

Goddamn her, he thought before obliging her request. So much for getting some sleep.

After an exhausting round or two of lovemaking, KT lay within Kantor's embrace. It had been so long, and she had missed him so much.

"What are you doing back," he asked. "Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining, but I'm a bit shocked."

"I'm in the middle of a break, and I came to visit my parents. I couldn't come back to Florida without seeing you. I'm glad you didn't change the locks."

He chuckled and pressed his lips briefly to her forehead. "I miss you."

"I know," she said softly. "So do I." She didn't want to say more than that, because she knew she couldn't stay. Shifting gears a little, she asked, "Where's Abby?"

Kantor noticed the quick subject change, and momentarily, he decided to let her get away with it. The day she told him about her acceptance at law school, he had been on the verge of asking her to marry him. Instead, they spent hours discussing the pros and cons of her going away, and she had then told him she wasn't ready to get married. It seemed as if she knew he was going to propose. Of course, he was hurt, but he couldn't fault her for her honesty. He loved her enough to let her go. It was what she needed.

"My mother took her to visit our family. They've only seen pictures of her. They're probably going to be away all summer."

"Oh," she said, disappointed. "I wanted to see them both."

"Nas misses you, too, you know," he said.

KT closed her eyes. Although she was sure he would never say so, he wanted her to stay. It was obvious in his voice, his eyes, and body language. She had learned that Kantor wasn't big on subtlety. He didn't exactly wear his heart on his sleeve, but if he wanted something, he wasn't afraid to say so.

"I know," she said, opening her eyes. "I miss her."

She wasn't sure that coming here had been a good idea. It had been hard leaving Kantor the first time, and now she would have to leave him again. She didn't want to think about it. Her departure date was still a piece down the road.

"How long can you stay," he asked.

"A few weeks. The summer session doesn't start until mid-June."

"I want you to stay here," he said.

"Did you think I'd stay anywhere else," she asked, amused.

He smiled. "I had to ask. You're full of surprises, so I never know what's going on."

She suddenly broke away from his embrace and got out of bed. She spotted his shirt hanging from a chair. She snagged it and slipped into it. When she turned to face him, he was gazing at her with a startled expression. If Rylie Lanigan had been there, she would have labeled it as his 'muddled/mixed emotions' look.

"What do you think you're doing," he asked.

"Chief, you're exhausted. You need to get some rest." She smiled a little. "If I stay in bed with you, I'd just keep you awake."

He smiled at her. "You're probably right. I'm in the middle of something really big right now. I wish I could take some time off, but I can't."

KT crawled halfway onto the bed, just out of Kantor's reach. She leaned toward him and kissed his lips very softly. "I know, I understand," she said once the kiss was broken. "But we can play catch up with the time we have."

Without another word, she pulled back and left him. He didn't immediately go back to sleep. KT's sudden reappearance had unsettled him somewhat. He couldn't quite understand where the feeling was coming from. He loved KT and should have felt thrilled to have her back, even for a little while. However, instead of being thrilled, he was confused.

After the morning briefing with his detectives, Kantor spent a good two hours catching up on his paperwork. He wasn't making much progress with his stack, because every now and then, he would stop and stare off into space. He was preoccupied. There was a lot going on in life at the moment, and for the first time in his career, he felt overwhelmed. Not only that, but the Jeffries murder consumed him. Too much at once, he thought.


Kantor's daze cleared. Briscoe stood in the doorway of his office carrying a file. "Come in," he said. "Is that the SCU file?"

Briscoe entered the office and put the file down on Kantor's desk. "Yeah. The subpoena cleared late yesterday afternoon not long after you went home. I've gone through it. There's some interesting stuff, tragic stuff."

Kantor nodded. "All right, thanks. Any information on the background checks?"

"We should have something in a few days."

Without another word, Briscoe left Kantor's office. He stared down at the file for a few minutes. He wasn't sure he wanted to open it, wasn't sure he wanted to read about the horror Rylie Lanigan endured. Fighting and overcoming his internal turmoil, he flipped open the file folder. The first thing he saw was a small manila envelope. A SCU detective had labeled it with one word: Photos. He opened the envelope and took out several Polaroids. Most of the pictures were of the crime scene and the house. He flipped through them quickly, but one photo stopped him. Aghast, he held the photo in his hand and stared down at it. It showed Rylie Lanigan's bruised and battered face. He tore his eyes away and looked at the next photo. It was a shot of Rylie's shoulder. It bore an inflamed bite mark. It was not a simple nip from the teeth. Jeffries had sunk his teeth into her flesh and torn it. The bite was more like one of a predator tearing at the flesh of its prey. Vicious, utterly vicious, he thought. He put the photos away; he couldn't look at them anymore.

The next thing that caught his eye was Rylie's written statement. He skimmed over her statements regarding the Jeffries brothers' sexual assault of her. He felt as if he were invading her privacy as he thumbed through the rest of the file. There was plenty of evidence inside that could serve as a motive for murder. The thought was disturbing, but his gut was telling him something different. For one thing, he was aware that Rylie had been a virtual prisoner in her own home. She was afraid of Jeffries; afraid he would kill her. He didn't see how a woman so fearful of Kort Jeffries could stalk him and kill him. It didn't make sense. The file and thoughts of Rylie Lanigan preoccupied him for the rest of the day.

That evening, Kantor went home on time. KT was there, and for a change, it was nice having someone there, waiting for him. He took her to bed and made love to her. Afterward, KT straddled his waist and had begun giving him a massage.

"You're so tense," she said as she worked her hands down the tight muscles of his back.

"I know," he said.

"Want to talk about it?"

He closed his eyes for a moment and sighed. "A well known drug dealer was murdered. We may have a couple of potential suspects. One of them is a woman who was brutally raped and beaten by this man. I read her file today, and I have doubts that she could have done this. This case has literally overwhelmed me. I can hardly think of anything else."

"I hope she isn't manipulating you."

He stirred a bit, and she moved off him. He turned to look at her. "Manipulating me? What you mean?"

"Does the name Mara Cardiff ring a bell?"

His eyes searched her face. Was she jealous? Did she think he had an interest in Rylie Lanigan? He had given no indication of such. She was insecure and it was blatantly obvious. "KT, this situation is nothing like Cardiff's. I was more vulnerable then, more open to manipulation. But right now, I'm quite lucid."

She had waited so long to see, touch, and kiss him, but instead of jumping at the chance to love the hell out of him, she had hurt him. "I'm sorry." It was pathetic, but she couldn't help it.

"Where is this coming from," he asked, steadily gazing at her.

"I don't know," she said. She wasn't looking at him.

Kantor sat up, placed the fingers of one hand against her cheek, and guided her face toward his. "You shouldn't look away like that, especially when you're with me. Come on, Watts, what is it? You've never been afraid to tell me what's on your mind."

She moved his hand from her face and held onto it. "You're not going to like this, and I swear I'm not trying to pick a fight with you. But I've noticed that you tend to be attracted to damsels in distress, so to speak. From what you've told me, your wife fit that category to a degree, as did Mara Cardiff. I don't know what the hell you saw in me."

He again couldn't fault her for her honesty, but her words did hurt a little, despite the truth in them. He loved her and wanted to be with her, but he didn't like this new side to her personality. Kantor had never known KT to be so insecure. Perhaps she had begun to regret her decision to leave, but simply couldn't admit it to herself. Yet, his ego had more to do with that theory than actual fact. Hadn't they both agreed to get on with their lives? Did that not include seeing other people? Of course, he hadn't begun a relationship with anyone, but what if he had? What if she had?

"Kalissa," he began. He was the only person outside her parents who could get away with calling her that. "If you're wondering if there's anyone else, there isn't. If the idea of my seeing someone else bothers you as much as it bothers me, stay. You don't have to go back."

She smiled faintly, almost sadly. "For once in your life, you've decided to be selfish. You've put your true feelings aside for me more times than I can count. I'm not sure if I'll ever find anyone else who loves me the way you do. But I can't stay, not now."

The bittersweet pain he knew so well began tugging at his heart. "You know me, I had to try," he said with his own sad smile.

"I'm glad you did. Was my coming here a mistake?"

Kantor had to think about that for a moment. When he gave of his heart freely, it took an extra long time for it to heal once it was broken. He had never voiced his intentions before tonight, and she basically turned him down. If she had not returned for a visit, he could have lived his life, his heart would have healed normally, and he might have even gotten involved with another woman. But she had chosen to come to him, and he reasoned that she must love him just as much. Did her refusal hurt? Yes. Would he have preferred that she bypass him during her break? No, absolutely not.

"Kalissa, if you hadn't come, that would have been a mistake."

She leaned toward him and kissed his lips softly. After she broke the kiss, she leaned her forehead against his. "I must be crazy to leave you again."

"Not crazy, you just know what you want."

"I hope I do," she whispered.

"We really hate losing you, Rylie," Elizabeth's husky/squeaky voice said.

Rylie had wanted to pack her things in private, and she had almost thought she would have her chance. It seemed no one other than the secretary could even look at her. They acted as if she were the rapist and Kort the victim. Of course, the staff had heard about Jeffries' murder, and she was sure they were convinced she had killed him. Maybe they just don't know what to say, she thought.

"I really hate going, Elizabeth. I'm going to miss everyone," she said without looking at the other woman.

"Do you think you could ever come back?"

Even though she had asked herself the same question dozens of times, it still startled her to hear it spoken aloud. "I would have to say no, Elizabeth."

Elizabeth asked no further questions, but she continued to linger in the doorway. Perhaps they think I'm going to steal office supplies, and they've sent her to watch me, she thought bitterly. It was a cold, ruthless thought, but it was exactly the way she felt. She had committed no crime. Her former co-workers, people who claimed to love her, were suspicious of her. She wondered how the news had gotten around so fast. She wondered if Ty received the same treatment. She found herself hating Kort Jeffries even more. He was dead, but somehow, he had managed to continue tormenting her.

"Do you need any help," Elizabeth finally asked.

She shook her head. "I would like to be alone, though. Is that okay?"

Elizabeth didn't miss a beat. "Oh, of course."

When the secretary was completely out of sight, Rylie sat down at her desk one last time. Her decision to leave was final, but she was feeling mixed emotions about the whole deal. She had quit her job, effectively allowing Jeffries to win. He had scored hundreds of points off her, and continued to do so even when six feet under. However, she no longer had the 'feel' for the job. She hated the very element she had to work with. It was time to pack up and leave the carnival behind.

It took three boxes to pack up Rylie's office. She made two trips to load the boxes into the truck of her car. On her last trip, she said goodbye to Elizabeth. No one else was around. It seemed as if they had 'disappeared,' or found something better to do. It was just as well. This chapter of her life was closing, and she didn't want her departure to be any more complicated than it already was. She carefully placed the last box into the trunk and slammed the lid down. Before she got into the car, Ty jogged toward her from the front door of the building.

"Rylie! Wait!"

She unlocked and opened the car door. She stood behind it and patiently waited for her husband. "Yeah?"

"I came up to help you, but Elizabeth said you managed on your own. I'm sorry, Rylie, I wish you would change your mind."

She was relieved to note that he meant it; he really meant it. For all his southern redneck male bravado, he was fairly open-minded. Since hearing about Jeffries' murder, Ty had begun to change. He was almost back to being the same sweet, considerate man he had been before the nightmare had begun.

"It's too late, Tyson. I resigned a few days ago, and I'm all packed up. There's no way I'm going back."

He approached her and gave her a warm hug. Oh, how she missed him. "I'll see you at home, okay?"

She pulled back from him. "Okay." She wanted to ask: Is it all right, Ty? Is it over? She bit the words back; she didn't want to push her luck.

Ty moved away from her and began to walk back to the building. Rylie climbed into the car. She found that she wanted to get away from there as soon as possible.

Rylie had barely gotten her boxes dragged into the house before the doorbell rang. Ever cautious, ever paranoid [thanks a lot, Kort, burn in hell], she peered into the peephole. Her sister and niece stood outside. Rylie stepped back from the door and stood stock still for a moment. She hadn't seen or spoken to her sister since the day she was abducted. She wasn't sure if she was ready to see her now.

"Let's go, baby, your aunt isn't home," she heard Malia say.

"But Mom," Nikki said, "her car is right outside."

Rylie closed her eyes for a moment. Had she not only blamed her sister, but her niece as well? She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Bridging the gap between her and her sister, she grabbed the doorknob and opened the door. Both Nikki and Malia jumped. They had already turned back toward Malia's van.

"Aunt Rylie," Nikki screamed before throwing herself into Rylie's awaiting arms. "I missed you so much!"

Rylie felt her eyes getting misty. "Me too, kiddo."

"I'm glad you had a nice visit with your sister," Ty told Rylie that night in bed.

"Me too," she said, securing her arms more firmly about her husband's body.

They had made love for the first time since Rylie's brutal assault. Of course, they had tried prior to tonight, but Rylie just hadn't been ready. It happened quite naturally. Rylie had made up with her sister, and was in a particularly good mood. She cooked dinner for Ty and they spent a quiet, intimate evening together. It started with an embrace and a kiss, and it escalated soon thereafter. At first, Ty had been insecure, and Rylie was afraid she would be frigid. However, as soon as the awkwardness slipped away, they were able to enjoy each other and give way to their passion. Yes, I think it is getting better, she thought.

"We never did get away, you know," he said.

She sighed. "No, we didn't."

"Those fucking bastards," he said suddenly, viciously. "I hope they all rot for what they did."

"Tyson," she whispered, "Don't ruin tonight with that. Please? Let's not think about it now."

He kissed her temple. "You're right, babe, I'm sorry."

Since Nasya and his mother had gone away for the summer, Kantor had begun bringing his work home with him. Tonight was no exception. There were piles of paperwork on his lap, and a few file folders on the bed beside him. Two of the files were related to the Jeffries/Lanigan case. On the other side of him, KT was dozing. She had gotten partially fed up and all the way bored. It seemed that as KT's departure date drew nearer, her mood became darker.

The phone rang beside him, and he picked it up quickly. He didn't want to awaken KT. She was already pissed, and he didn't want her any angrier. "Hello," he said, leaning his head back against the wall.

Static burst over the line. "Hi Dad," Nasya yelled.

With a smile, he held the phone away from his ear. He glanced at the clock. Where she was, it was right around nine in the morning. He put the phone back up to his ear. "Nas, I may be an old man, but you don't have to shout," he said, amused.

"Oops, sorry, Dad. Auntie Marnia said I could call you and talk to you for a few minutes. I miss you."

"I miss you, too, my love." And he did. Nasya was growing up so fast. It was silly, but he missed her calling him 'Daddy.' Shortening it to 'Dad' only meant his child had moved one more step further away from him.

KT opened her eyes and looked up at Kantor. He glanced over at her and smiled a little. "Nas, I have a little surprise for you."

"You do? Oh goody," she squealed. "What is it, what?"

"Hang on a second." He held the phone out to KT.

Damn you, Chief, she mouthed. She missed Nasya as much as she missed him, and talking to her would only sadden her more. Reluctantly, she took the phone. "Hey there, Abby."

"KT," she questioned doubtfully. "KT," she squealed when the realization dawned on her.

Smiling, KT held the phone away from her ear. "Damn, your kid has a set of lungs," she said to Kantor.

"Are you back for good," Nasya asked.

Both Kantor and KT heard the question. Some of the light died in Kantor's eyes. For a moment, he had to look away.

KT put the phone back up to her ear and took her eyes off Kantor's face. She didn't want to see the sadness, the strain. "No, kiddo, I'm afraid not. I'm just here for a few weeks. I probably won't get to see you this time, but maybe I will next time. I love you, Abby."

"Oh," she said, disappointed. "I wish I could see you. I love you, too, KT. Me and Dad miss you so much."

As if KT's heart wasn't aching enough, Nasya had decided to pinch it a little more. "I know. Be good, kiddo. Here's your dad." She gave the phone back to Kantor. She couldn't stand to hear anymore.

He took the phone. "It's late, Nas, and I need to get some sleep. Come home soon," he said.

"'Kay, Dad. Love you. Bye."

After she hung up, he placed the phone back into the charger. KT wasn't looking at him. He gazed at her for a while, hoping she would eventually make eye contact with him. But it didn't work.

"Man. You and Abby make some team," she said.

"I'm sorry. I'm not trying to push."

She nodded. "I know."

He had known her long enough to sense that she didn't want to discuss the issue any longer. Without pressing it further, he turned his attention back to his stack of paperwork. He grabbed the Jeffries file and thumbed through Ty and Rylie's background checks. It had taken a bit longer than he expected to get them in, but it didn't matter. There was nothing in either report that was unusual. Ty had a few speeding tickets on his record, but that was it. Of course, he hadn't actually expected the couple to have any skeletons in their closets, but it might have made his job a bit easier.

KT watched Kantor out of the corner of her eye. She thought it odd that they each had such different ways of coping with discord. He had thrown himself into his work as if nothing was wrong. However, she knew he was hurting. She buried her own feelings with flippancy and sarcasm. She wondered if he knew how hard it was on her.

"Falk," she said. "This is my last week here. I don't want to say goodbye like this."

He didn't look at her. Instead, he stared straight ahead. It was obvious that he didn't want to say goodbye at all, but he wouldn't say that. His stubborn pushiness would only alienate her further. He put the file back together and silently went about placing everything back in his briefcase resting on the floor. Once everything was in its proper place, he looked at her.

"Neither do I."

She moved to straddle him and she settled her hands onto his naked chest. "Don't work, don't speak, just love me like only you can," she whispered.

Two lovely brown eyes gazed down at her warmly. His gaze sent chills down her spine, and it seemed as if he could see right through to her soul. She longed to feel his lips on hers, and reading her mind, he obliged. She found his fuller lower lip to be highly erotic, and he consumed her. Greedily, she drank in his kiss as if it were water. His large hands roamed her body. They ran through her hair, over her face, on her breasts, down her back, and finally onto her buttocks. She grinded her body into his and she wanted to tear him out of his clothes.

"Huh," Rylie grunted as she awoke. What was that, she wondered.

She shook off her dream, not sure who or what she dreamt about, but it was disturbing. Ty's half of the bed was still empty. She glanced at the clock through bleary eyes. It was after three in the morning. Ty had been working a lot of overtime lately. He said he was trying to build up enough comp time so that they could finally go on their belated anniversary trip.

As if he had sensed she was thinking about him, Ty entered the bedroom. Usually, he came directly to the bed and either kissed her or made love to her or both. Tonight, he bypassed her. He stood at the opposite end of the room and began to undress.


"Go back to sleep, babe. I'm going to be up for a while."

The room was dark and she couldn't see his face. She could hardly see anything. "Is something wrong?"

"Naw, babe," he said nonchalantly. "This is my last clean uniform and I need to wash it. It's summertime with a vengeance."

"Tyson, you must be exhausted. Why don't you leave it until tomorrow? You'll have time."

"S'okay, babe. I want to do it tonight. Go back to sleep, I'll join you as soon as I can."

After he undressed, she watched as his silhouette rolled his uniform into a ball before stuffing it under his arm. He walked out of the room. When he returned, Rylie was fast asleep.

The airport was unusually crowded. It seemed as if the entire state of Florida had decided to depart on the same day. Perhaps it was the heat. KT hadn't wanted Kantor to accompany her to the airport. It was too much like the last time they'd parted. However, Kantor was stubborn, and he wouldn't take no for answer. Now that it was time to say goodbye, she was glad he had insisted. He embraced her and held her for a seeming eternity.

She broke the embrace. "For the second time, this is it," she said.

He nodded. "And it doesn't get any easier. But I'm so glad you came."

"Don't change the locks, okay?"

He smiled a little. "The door is always open, KT. All you have to do is come inside."

With that, he turned from her and walked away. He didn't want to watch her walk down the runway again. She understood, and she didn't necessarily want him there when her flight was called.

Kantor returned to the police department and went directly to his office. As usual, he threw himself into his work to keep his mind off KT. A part of his heart wanted her to return, but another hoped she wouldn't.

Suddenly, his radio crackled to life. He grabbed it and hit 'send.' "Kantor."

"Chief," Briscoe's voice squawked. "Get down to 507 Munsford."

"10-4," he said.

The address was vaguely familiar, but he didn't waste any time pondering. He shoved his paperwork aside, grabbed the keys to his cruiser, and ran out.

Munsford Lane was a quiet cul-de-sac in a ritzy neighborhood. The three-story house marked 507 was located at the end of the street about a quarter of mile away from the other houses on the block. Kantor parked his cruiser near the curb at 507. As he stepped out of the cruiser, he winced against the heat. There weren't many bystanders around yet, but several officers had cordoned off the area anyway.

He noticed Briscoe right away and he approached the detective. "What's going on," he asked.

"Chief, you're not going to believe this," Briscoe began. "The victim is Kort Jeffries' attorney, Josh Esterhaus."

Not much of anything had the ability to stun Kantor, but this did. "What," he spat.

"The maid came by because she hadn't heard from Esterhaus. When she came to check on him, she found him dead."

"Suicide," he spat, hopeful.

Briscoe shook his head. "I wish it could be that cut and dry, but it's not. He was shot, and in about the same fashion as his client."

"The maid? Did she give a statement?" Kantor's head was pounding. He hoped it didn't turn into a blackout migraine.


Kantor went back to his cruiser. He found a pair of rubber gloves and grabbed his handkerchief. After securing both, he entered the house. The first thing that struck him was the odor. Hastily, he placed his handkerchief over his mouth and nose. The smell of death was morbidly unforgettable. He didn't stay in the room long, he couldn't. But he had seen enough. The man was shot, more than once, his head blown to pieces. He left the house as quickly as possible. Anything was better than that, even the stifling heat of high summer. He discarded both the gloves and handkerchief.

"It's got to be one of the Lanigans, and I'm thinking it's the wife," Briscoe said to Kantor.

"I don't want either of the Lanigans notified. Keep the victim's name out of everything. If the press shows up, do whatever it takes to get rid of them."

Two days later, Kantor, Briscoe, and a crew of police officers appeared at the residence of Ty and Rylie Lanigan with search warrants in hand. Rylie was the only one at home. She gazed at the gaggle of police personnel with sheer disbelief in her eyes. She glared at Kantor.

Even though she was pretty sure she knew what was about to happen, she asked, "What are you doing here?"

Kantor hated himself for a moment. "We need to search your residence." He held the search warrant toward her.

She felt betrayed. Speechless, Rylie stood back while the men entered her house and began tearing it apart. Kantor stayed with Rylie.

"Why are you doing this," she demanded. "Is this part of your routine questioning?"

He had a hard time looking at her. He couldn't talk to her, couldn't tell her about the attorney. "I'm-"

"Don't you dare say you're sorry," she spat, interrupting him. "If you think either I or my husband is guilty, why don't you just arrest us?" He didn't speak, didn't blink an eye. She continued, "You're not going to speak? The last time I saw you, all you could do was talk. But now you can't?" She got right in his face. "Say something, you prick," she said hotly.

He wanted to shrink back from her enraged stare, but he couldn't. Why could she not understand that he had to do this? When he refused to speak to her, she stepped back and sat down on the couch. She cringed every time she heard a noise in the background. Kantor stood and kept watch. He had never felt so low in his life. This woman who had been hurt so badly was being hurt yet again by those sworn to protect her. He couldn't tell her anything; he would be breaking his own gag order.

After the search yielded no evidence, Briscoe led the team out of the house. Kantor lingered with Rylie. He watched as she moved around her upset house. She silently began straightening out the disorder. She had no idea that Kantor was watching, and she didn't care.

"Look at what you've done," she said. "And for what? Nothing."

He sighed. "I-"

She didn't want to hear his voice. "Don't talk to me. You've invaded my home, ripped it apart, and I'm left to fix it. Either arrest me or get the fuck out."

Kantor approached Rylie and grasped her forearm tightly. He spun her around to face him. "Would you listen," he said. "You say all I do is talk, but you won't give me a chance to speak at all. I have to take what I can get. There is one thing you need to know and understand. Whether you believe it or not, I'm sorry we had to do this, but we had little choice."

She jerked her arm free of his grasp. "Would you please get out?"

He shook his head. "No, I won't. I'm going to help fix your house."

Had he lost his mind? Incredulously, she said, "The hell you are."

"The hell I am," he stated stubbornly.

Without a word, he stripped out of his summer suit jacket and laid it across the back of the couch. He rolled up the sleeves of his button down shirt. He crossed his arms over his chest and gazed at her with a lifted eyebrow.

"Where should I start," he asked with a dry, deadpan look on his face.

She stood and gaped at the chief of detectives. "You're serious, aren't you?"

"Do I look like I'm joking?"

She said nothing more. Instead, she went into the kitchen and came back out a few minutes later. She handed him a garbage bag and he took it without comment.

"Put whatever they broke in that," she said, trying to maintain her stiff exterior.

It took a couple of hours to get the house back in order. Rylie noted only a few broken items. It took both her and Kantor to fix the upset bed. The POs had yanked it off the frame and turned it over. Just like a cop show, she thought with disgust. She still couldn't imagine what they had been looking for.

Once the work was done, Kantor mutely followed Rylie back into the living room. She started toward the kitchen, but turned to face him instead of going inside. "Would you like a glass of wine or a beer?"

He glanced at his wristwatch. He had officially gone off duty an hour ago. He intended to grab his suit jacket and go back to his empty house. If he had been privy to what his future held, leaving was what he should have done. However, he reasoned that a glass of wine would cap off his gut-wrenching day.

"Sure," he heard himself say. "Wine would be good."

"You can sit down if you'd like, Chief Kantor, I'll be right back."

She started to go into the kitchen, but he called her name. She stopped and looked at him expectantly.

"I just cleaned your house today, so I suppose it's okay if you call me Falk," he said.

Rylie was tempted to laugh. He was quite the charmer when he wanted to be. She realized that she was supposed to be angry with him, and laughing would be bad form. He didn't react to her bland expression at all. It was as if he expected her to remain sour and unreachable. However, he wasn't blind. He could see the amusement in her eyes. She turned away and entered the kitchen.

She reentered the living room carrying two wine glasses. Rylie noticed that Kantor had seated himself on the couch. She handed him a perfectly chilled glass of Chablis. She took her wine, walked over to her favorite chair, and sat down. For an awkward moment, neither spoke. They fumbled around with their wine glasses and acted like a couple of twelve-year-olds on a first date. It was obvious to Kantor that she wanted to talk to him about something, but she was taking her own sweet time going about it. He didn't care. If her words would help nab the killer of Jeffries and Esterhaus, he'd wait a year. Patience had never been one of his issues.

Kantor decided to break the ice a bit. "I noticed several photographs of a little girl. Is she yours?" He thought that if they had something in common, he would earn her trust faster.

"Oh, no," she said. "That's my niece, Nicole. My husband and I have no children."

Her eyes seemed to dim at the words 'my husband and I have no children.' The detective in him picked it up and used it as a clue to unearth whatever secrets she held. But he didn't want to immediately plunge into it. Digging into her past at this point would be a very bad idea.

"Do you have children," she asked, taking a sip of wine.

He smiled. Despite whatever circumstances existed, at the thought of his little miracle, he could produce a big goofy grin without fail. "One, a daughter," he answered.

She returned his smile. It was radiant; it lit up her entire face. "Considering the way you're grinning from ear to ear, she must be something special. I feel the same way about my niece."

The long slender fingers of his left hand were curled around the wine glass. Rylie didn't see a wedding band. Vaguely, she was curious to know if he had a wife. The matchmaker in her wanted to set him up with her sister on a blind date. Malia would certainly not argue. He was definitely attractive. Actually, attractive wasn't descriptive enough. He was more beautiful, if men could be beautiful. His haunting eyes and soothing voice had the ability to melt the coldest of hearts. But something, some little tug, pushed the thought of matchmaking to the very back of her mind.

Kantor noticed that she was gazing at him curiously, almost thoughtfully. He didn't mind. Her vibrant green eyes were haltingly lovely. They matched her, complimented her. Her dark hair was glossy, just a shade or two away from black. It was parted straight down the middle and rested over her shoulders in an inky cascade. Her oval face was smooth, but flawed by a few pockmarks, perhaps from childhood chicken pox. Rylie's lips were her best feature. They were full and pouty, almost heart-shaped. He found himself thinking that Ty Lanigan was a lucky man, a lucky one indeed.

Kantor cleared his throat and took a long drink from his wine glass. The awkwardness was creeping back in. "Yes," he said suddenly. "My little girl is the most important person in my life right now."

She didn't take her eyes off his face. She wasn't aware that her gaze had begun to unsettle him a bit. "Are you married," she asked.

He nearly laughed. It was incredible. He had begun asking her questions to dig for information, but she had seemed to turn the tables on him. "No. I'm widowed."

His answer startled Rylie. She associated the term 'widowed' with the elderly. The chief couldn't be any older than thirty-five. "I'm sorry. How old was your daughter when you lost your wife?"

It wasn't Kantor's style to spill out details of his personal life with people he didn't know. However, he found that he couldn't resist talking to her. It must have something to do with her profession, he thought. "My wife was murdered when my daughter was less than three months old."

"Oh, how tragic."

For a moment, Rylie wasn't sure what else to say. She had obviously brought something out of Kantor that was very painful. Then, another realization dawned on her. She remembered hearing the name Falk Kantor before she met him briefly a couple of years ago. He had been one of the lead detectives whom had worked an infamous serial murder case. The killer had been related to the police department in some way. She was almost certain that one of the last victims had been a female detective. Had the detective been his wife? She was tempted to ask, but didn't want to pry.

Kantor recognized the look on Rylie's face. He had seen it time and time again when he spoke about Selarah. Mostly, the case had been archived and shelved, only occasionally profiled as a 'crime of the century' type thing on television. How easily people forget, he thought bitterly. Whatever the case, the look on Rylie's face told him she knew who his wife was.

He nodded and pursed his lips for a brief moment. "She was the one," he said simply.

"I'm sorry, Falk. I feel terrible for dredging this up," she said softly.

Kantor drained the wine from his glass. Shaking his head, he said, "No, you didn't dredge it up. I volunteered the information."

"I sometimes forget, and I tend to mix my training into my every day life. I suppose the counselor in me can never be silenced."

"It's okay, Rylie, really."

She decided to let it drop. "Would you like more wine," she asked, changing the subject.

Although he found her extremely easy to talk to, he was glad she had diverted her attention. He would forever have a hard time discussing Selarah with anyone. "No. One glass is my limit. I really should go."

Rylie set her glass down on the table beside her chair. She stood and approached Kantor and took the glass from his proffered hand. His fingers brushed against hers briefly as the glass went from his hand into hers. The touch was electrifying. Their eyes met for an instant, and both felt uneasy. She stepped back and purposely focused her eyes elsewhere. Kantor stood and grabbed his suit jacket, slinging it casually over his arm. He didn't attempt to make eye contact with Rylie. He made his way toward the front door, and she followed behind.

Before he made his exit, he turned toward her. She stood a foot and a half away from him, her eyes locked with his. She could be in his arms in three seconds, maybe less. A few footsteps and three quick movements would do the job nicely. He could almost taste her kiss. It was crazy and very wrong. He had no idea what he was thinking.

Rylie seemed to know what was on his mind. If she had taken one step toward him, he would have lost control. However, she remained rooted to her spot. She wanted him to kiss her, but couldn't begin to understand where her feelings were coming from.

"Goodnight," she whispered harshly, prompting him to leave.

He nodded, taking the hint. "Yes, goodnight," he said, turning away from her, turning away from her beckoning emerald eyes.

Back home, Kantor went immediately to his den and the wet bar. Although he had already drunk a glass of wine, he felt he needed something stronger. He reached for a bottle of his favorite bourbon and poured himself a shot. He slammed it down quickly. It burned his throat and made him shudder, but it didn't stop him from pouring another. He slammed the second down just as quickly. He contemplated pouring a third, but he was already dizzy and a bit foggy headed. He shrugged, what the fuck. Instead of pouring a shot, he took the bottle and carried it over to the couch.

He lay down on the couch and rested the bottle on his flat stomach. Every now and then, he raised the bottle to his lips and sipped at the amber liquid. What had just happened? What had he been thinking? KT had left, and of course, he was lonely without her. Her departure had more to do with what happened earlier with Rylie than anything else. Goddamn her, he thought as he raised the bottle to his lips. Instead of sipping it, he drank deeply. This time, he did not shudder or grimace. He was swiftly getting accustomed to the taste. Sighing, he wasn't sure which 'her' he was asking to be damned.

"What am I thinking," he asked the empty room. "What am I doing?" He didn't receive an answer. He only received silence. He filled the silence with bourbon.

Rylie sat and stared at the front door for an hour or more after Kantor left. She knew he had wanted to kiss her, and she wanted him to kiss her. Not once since marrying Ty Lanigan had Rylie even thought about kissing another man. Something was happening, and she was afraid that it couldn't be stopped.

She pushed thoughts of the surly detective aside. She glanced at the wall clock and noted that Ty wouldn't be home for a few more hours. Instead of sitting in her chair stewing over Falk Kantor, she went into the bedroom and began to undress. Perhaps a long hot shower would help clear her mind. She didn't believe much of anything would help.

Rylie went to bed as soon as she finished her shower. She had tried to go to sleep, but couldn't. Thoughts of Falk Kantor tormented her, kept her awake. Ty came home on time tonight. She decided not to tell him about what happened at home today. She wasn't sure what possessed her to keep it a secret, but she didn't want to tell him. As it was, she didn't have to say one word.

"Why were the police here again today," Ty asked the instant he entered the bedroom.

"What," she asked innocently.

Ty turned on the bedroom light. "Come on, Rylie, I know the cops were here. One of the parole officers was out doing home visits around this area, and he saw the cars."

Rylie sat up in bed and squinted against the bright intrusion of the bedroom light. "They were searching the house, Tyson."

He didn't approach her or the bed. "Searching for what?"

"I don't know. They wouldn't tell me," she said evenly. Something about Ty's demeanor disturbed her. He was almost reproachful.

"I can tell you what they were looking for, Rylie. They were searching for a murder weapon. The cops think you did it. I've heard things, from friends and enemies."

"Is that what you think," she asked on the verge of tears.

Ty shook his head and ran his hand through his hair. He kept his hand at the back of his neck. "I don't know what to think anymore, Rylie. We can't have the damn cops coming in our house like that. I'm on the brink of getting fired because of this."

"I'm sorry that my crisis is such an inconvenience to you, Tyson. I didn't kill anybody. I hoped that I could count on you to believe that."

He decided to skirt the issue. There was something else on his mind. "And what was that chief of detectives doing here so late?"

Incredulous, she gaped at him. She felt guilty, as if she had gotten caught cheating on him. "What were you doing, Ty? Spying on me?"

"Don't try to change the subject, Rylie. What was he doing here? Why didn't he leave at the same time the other cops left?"

She fixed an icy glare on him. "I didn't fuck him if that's what you're worried about. The police came in and nearly trashed our home. He stayed behind and helped me straighten things out. I didn't want him to stay [liar], but he insisted."

She was sure Ty wasn't necessarily worried about her cheating on him. Again, there was something else behind his anger, but she simply couldn't read it.

"I'm sick of the shit, babe, I'm really sick of it."

"And you think I'm not," she asked, hurt.

"I need to take a shower. I don't want to argue with you anymore. Steer clear of the cops, especially Falk Kantor."

"Tyson, what am I supposed to do when a search warrant is shoved in my face? Can you answer that," she cried.

He shook his head. "I'm done."

She had thought their relationship was finally evening out, getting better. As Ty entered the bathroom, glaring at her as he walked by, she wasn't so sure anymore. The shower went on, and she leaned back in the bed.

"I'm not a killer," she said to the empty bedroom.

Kantor was out of the office for two days. The first day, he had to recover from a massive hangover. The second day, he locked up his wet bar and hid the key. He hoped that he would forget where he'd hidden it. When he returned to work on the third day, the PD was particularly calm. He didn't like it when it was calm so early in the day; it usually meant that something was about to explode.


He sighed and rolled his eyes. So much for a quiet morning, he thought. He punched the flashing button on the intercom. "What is it," he asked impatiently.

"Rylie Lanigan is here to see you."

The name sent a shiver down his spine. He didn't know if he could face her right now, didn't know if he even wanted to face her. It was on the tip of his tongue to tell dispatch to send her away.

"Send her back," he spat suddenly, finally abandoning the idea of asking her to leave.

Kantor clenched his jaws together firmly as he watched her enter the administrative area from the front entrance of the PD. He wanted to have his shit together before he looked at her. If he didn't, she would see that his need to kiss her had yet to diminish. She walked into his office and immediately settled her striking eyes on him. Without his asking, she seated herself in one of his visitors' chairs and sat on the very edge of it as if she were frightened.

"Do you mind if I close the door," she asked.

Yes, I mind, I mind a lot, he wanted to say. Instead, he cleared his throat a little and said, "No, go ahead. Do whatever makes you comfortable."

She stood and moved over to the door and closed it. He had put on his 'all business' mask, and she began to wonder if he had wanted to kiss her, or if she had simply imagined the whole thing. Rylie took her seat and again fixed her eyes on him. She sensed that he was uncomfortable, and it seemed as if he had a hard time meeting her gaze. Perhaps I didn't imagine it at all.

"What's on your mind, Rylie," he asked, his voice stiff and impersonal.

"I didn't intend to tell Ty about your search of our house. One of his co-workers saw it all and told him. He said you were looking for the murder weapon. Is that true?"

Kantor's eyes finally met hers in a steady gaze. She wasn't stupid; she should have known what they were looking for. Yet, he couldn't discuss the case with her. "You're allowed to make your own assumptions, but I can't tell you anything."

"Oh, damn you," she said. "Give me a straight answer for once."

He sat back in his chair. Stubbornly, he crossed his arms over his chest. "I don't have to tell you anything. The information I have shared is all you need to know right now. I can tell you nothing else."

"Was someone else murdered," she asked suddenly.

Her question didn't necessarily startle him, but he hadn't exactly expected it, either. He cocked an eyebrow and bore his eyes into her. "Do you know something I don't?"

"Why does everybody think I'm a fucking killer? I asked a legitimate question and you give me this shit," she cried.

Rylie stood and turned her back on him. She wrapped her arms around her body. Hot, bitter tears threatened to spill down her cheeks, but she fought them desperately. She had no desire to cry in front of Falk Kantor. He closed his eyes for a second. He was very close to approaching her to offer a comforting embrace. He hesitated, but only because he didn't want to touch her. In his current mindset, it would have been a huge mistake.

"I'm sorry," he said.

She spun around and faced him. "Would you stop apologizing? It doesn't do any good, it only serves to stroke your ego so you won't feel so horrid."

He couldn't sit still any longer. He pushed his chair back from his desk and walked around to the front of it. He didn't want to stand close to her. Instead, he half-leaned/half-sat on the very edge of his desk. He kept his arms crossed in front of him.

"Would you stop doing this," he demanded. "In your field, I'm sure you understand what confidentiality is. It's no different here. It can be called a gag order or something else, but it all means the same thing."

"I'm finished with you," she said shortly.

"Why? Because I'm not saying what you want to hear," he asked before she had the chance to turn toward the door.

"You have no idea what it's like," she said through clenched teeth.

His dark brown eyes seemed to challenge her. "You should stop feeling sorry for yourself. You're not the first person to ever be victimized or accused. It's one thing to have an ego and admit it, but it's another to have one and deny it."

When Rylie thought about it later, she realized that she should have left his office and the police department at once. However, she didn't exactly do that. Angered, she approached Kantor with every intention to knock his lights out. She didn't care that he was a trained professional who could probably break her arm with his forefinger. She balled her hand into a fist and drew back. He saw it coming for miles and easily took hold of her wrist, averting her punch. She tried with her free arm, and he blocked the incoming left hook with his other hand.

Both of her wrists were in his hands now. His grip was like a steel vise, and she couldn't break free. She didn't want to break free. At almost the same time, they each thought: what are we doing? Their eyes locked into mutual gazes as they each brought their faces closer and closer. His slightly parted lips captured hers gently, tentatively. This is wrong, he thought, this is so wrong. But it didn't stop him from pressing forward. He felt her lips part against his and her tongue slipped seductively into his mouth. As their kiss deepened, he released her wrists and she snaked her arms around his neck. His arms went around her waist to pull her closer to him. His kiss was as intense as his personality. His slightly fuller lower lip drew her mouth deeper into the kiss. The kiss was broken for a few brief moments, and their lips joined again. It was utterly mad and insane.

Neither of them gave one thought to being seen by passersby through Kantor's windows. One person saw them. He stopped for a moment and peered curiously into the window. For a moment, he thought Kantor was kissing his girlfriend, but the woman was not KT. She was taller, thinner, and had straighter, darker hair. That's Rylie Lanigan. He's kissing Rylie Lanigan. He moved quickly away from the scene.

Breathless and a bit lightheaded, Kantor broke the kiss. He wasn't sure anymore if KT's departure was prompting his behavior. He wasn't even sure if her departure had anything to do with his budding desire for Rylie Lanigan. Regardless of the cause, it was wrong. Embarrassed, she broke away from him and stepped back.

"I think I should go," she said quietly.

He ran his tongue over his lips, still tasting her kiss. "I think that's a good idea."

She turned away immediately, opened the door, and stepped out. He kept his eyes glued to her until she was out of sight. He didn't have time to collect himself. His intercom went off again.

"Falk," the captain said, "could you come to my office right now."

He ran his hands over his face briefly. "Sure, Chris. I'll be right down."

The captain's office was centrally located at the PD, but was still on the other side of the building. Kantor hadn't been called to the captain's office very often. He knew Kantor was capable enough and needed little direct supervision. Whenever Chris wanted to see him, it was usually serious.

"Come in, Falk, close the door behind you, and have a seat," he said.

Kantor did as he was instructed. He watched the captain curiously.

"I don't like doing this, Falk, but it seems I have little choice," the captain began. "You've been under an exorbitant amount of stress in the past few months. Not only are you responsible for your own duties, but you've also been picking up Felts' slack while he's on family medical leave. I've decided to give charge of the Jeffries case to Briscoe, and I'm reassigning Evans to assist him."

Kantor was stunned. "Chris, I don't quite understand," he said.

"Some concerns have been raised by your subordinates, Falk. It has been brought to my attention that you're getting a bit too close to one of the suspects in the Jeffries/Esterhaus shootings. A few days ago, you exited the Lanigan residence several hours after the other officers and detectives left. And not five minutes ago, you were seen in a somewhat compromising position with Rylie Lanigan. I'm not necessarily going to issue any type of write up, but under the circumstances, I think it would be best if I placed you on paid administrative leave for no less than three weeks, effective immediately."

Kantor sighed and shook his head in disbelief. His own division was turning against him. A sense of bitter betrayal ate at his very soul. "I have no excuse for what happened just now, because there is none. I wholeheartedly believe that Rylie Lanigan had nothing to do with these murders. After we executed the search warrant, I felt responsible for our men tearing up her house for no reason. Nothing happened. I stayed to help her."

"I didn't say I agreed with these charges, Falk. I have no doubt that you were acting in an ethical, professional manner. However, you're getting too close to this woman, and your behavior earlier is solid proof of that. You can't deny this. She is not off the hook as far as being a suspect, and I can't tell you how serious this situation could become. Take the time; you need it. It's not a suggestion, Falk, it's a direct order."

Kantor was livid, on the brink of pure, utter rage. He wanted to argue, to defend himself, but it would get him nowhere fast. The captain didn't tolerate insubordination. Without another word, he left the captain's office. He bypassed his office and went straight for his cruiser.

A week passed, Kantor was basically suspended in time. He had been tempted to retire to his den and drink his beloved bourbon for three weeks straight, but he knew he couldn't do that. He wasn't having an affair with a suspect; he had only kissed one. True, it was bad form, but not worth three weeks leave. He had tried to consider the leave as a vacation, but he wasn't a stupid man. Plainly and simply, he had been suspended.

On the first night of his second week, he was kicked back on the sofa with his nose in a book. All day, he hadn't bothered to shave or get dressed. Why should he? He was alone in the house and didn't have anywhere to be. He supposed he was doing his own share of wallowing, but he didn't give a ripe fuck. Once again, thoughts of turning in his badge and taking off for parts unknown began creeping into his mind. He laid his book aside and worked it out in his mind for a few moments. Perhaps he could move to another state and start up his own private investigations firm. He would still be in a type of law enforcement, just not directly involved. The only person he would have to answer to would be himself.

The doorbell rang suddenly, bringing him out of his daydream [or night dream]. He was tempted to ignore it, but he hated ringing doorbells as much as ringing phones. Not bothering to secure his robe about his body, he left the couch and approached the door. He swung it open and stood face to face with Rylie Lanigan.

Kantor's appearance startled Rylie. She had never seen him without every hair in place. He was clad only in an unbelted black robe and matching boxer shorts. He had a day's growth of beard on his face. He stared at her curiously, disbelievingly.

"What the hell are you doing here," he asked. "How did you find my house?"

"I need to speak to you," she said, her eyes determined, her jaw set. "I called the PD earlier today, and they told me you were on leave."

Rylie was the last person he wanted to see. He was sure that if the captain found out she had visited his residence, he would blow a gasket. "Talk to the detectives. I can't talk to you, I can't help you."

"You're the only person who doesn't believe I killed Kort Jeffries. I need to talk to you, Falk, please."

He was very angry with her. This woman before him was responsible for his suspension, and he wasn't sure he could even look at her, much less talk to her. She was desperate; it was obvious in her voice and demeanor. Giving in, he stepped back from the door and opened it wider to allow her to come inside. He closed the door behind her. She stood and stared at him, wishing he would put on some clothes. He didn't speak to or look at her. He simply walked past her and led the way into the den. She followed mutely behind him.

Kantor wanted a drink, but he had forgotten where he'd hidden the damn key. He sat down on a barstool and gazed at her blankly. She chose to sit on the worn, but comfortable, leather couch.

"Was I somehow responsible for your leave," she asked.

He could have lied, but he didn't want to. He fixed a stony gaze on her face. "Yes, you were. My whole department thinks I'm too close to you," he said. His voice was snide and bitter. "You shouldn't be here."

His robe had fallen open, revealing his chest. Scar tissue marred its smooth perfection. She again found herself wanting him to get dressed. "I'm sorry, and I know I shouldn't be here, but I have to talk to you."

Kantor was losing his patience. "What are you waiting for? Start talking. You don't need to be here any longer than necessary."

She sighed sadly. She hadn't meant to hurt him. Since their encounter a week ago, she hadn't stopped thinking about him. "I'm worried about my husband."

He gaped at her. "Why are you bringing this to me," he asked incredulously.

Impatiently, she asked, "Can I finish?" When he didn't say anything, she continued, "He's been acting strange, and I'm afraid…" Her voice died out. She couldn't say it.

Suddenly, Kantor was interested and concerned. Forgetting about the invisible boundary line he had set up between them, he moved to sit beside her. He had instantly become a detective again. "Strange? What do you mean by strange?"

She could feel his intense gaze on her, but she couldn't look at him. "It started after I found out I was pregnant," she said slowly, grudgingly.

His mind began to buzz. This was information in which he hadn't been privy. "Pregnant? You became pregnant by Jeffries?"

She still couldn't look at him. "I don't know. I was pregnant, and there were three men, Falk, including my husband. I-I couldn't have it." Silent tears began dripping from her eyes. She didn't wipe them away. "I had an abortion, and Ty was devastated. He wanted me to have it, he was sure it was his. But I just couldn't," she cried. "We fell apart after that, and didn't really get back together until after Kort attacked me the second time. He-Ty-works second shift, and-and-and he had the opportunity to do this. After we heard about his murder, Ty became the ideal husband." She stopped talking for a moment; she seemed frozen.

Kantor's heart began to ache for Rylie. He couldn't even imagine the pain she must have gone through then or now. Without hesitation, he reached out and put his arm around her. "Go on, please," he prompted gently.

"A few weeks ago," she began again, "Ty came home really late, needing to wash his uniform. He wouldn't let me turn on the light; he wouldn't wait until morning to launder it. I'm worried, Falk, I'm scared. That's why I asked if someone else was killed."

"Someone else was, Rylie, Jeffries' attorney," he told her, breaching his own gag order. He couldn't help it. Rylie was no killer.

She lowered her head and closed her eyes. "Oh my God," she said.

He swallowed a huge lump in his throat. Although the detective in him immediately wanted to seek Ty Lanigan out, he didn't want her to torture herself. After all, her hunch could be wrong. "Rylie, maybe you're jumping to conclusions."

She finally faced him. "Maybe I am, but I'm confused. Ty isn't the same man I married ten years ago. I know things like this have a way of tearing marriages apart, but I don't know. When he found out about the search warrant, he became angry and accusatory. He has never done that before, and he hasn't really spoken to me since."

"Have you not talked to him?"

She shook her head. "I can't, not about this. I don't-I don't even know if I love him anymore. He comes home at night and goes to bed, sometimes he doesn't even sleep with me."

He gazed into her beautiful eyes, but he had no idea what else he could say to dispel her suspicions. He couldn't even look into it. It was no longer his responsibility. He wasn't sure if either Briscoe or Evans would even listen to her. According to what he was told, Rylie was the main suspect. They simply hadn't found enough evidence to secure an arrest warrant.

She wiped her tears away with the palm of her hand. There was more she wanted to say, but she wasn't sure how to proceed. Instead of trying to say what was really on her mind, she cleared her throat. "I'll go. You're right, I shouldn't be here."

Kantor allowed her to move away from him. He didn't want her to leave, but he couldn't say so. He watched solemnly as she stood and turned away from him. He didn't even want to walk her to the door. He hadn't forgotten kissing her, hadn't forgotten his unexpected, wild attraction.

"There's something else," she said suddenly, mustering up her courage.

"What is it?"

"He thinks we're having an affair."

"He's not the only one," he told her. "Someone at work saw us in my office. The whole division suspects it."

Rylie turned back around to face him. "I didn't want this to happen to you. It's not right. If I had any credibility with the police department, I would repair the damage." He said nothing; he kept his eyes fixed steadily on her face. "Falk, I don't regret what happened. I've thought of nothing else."

Kantor couldn't do this to her, couldn't use her. His excuse for denying her, of course, was KT. His heart was still tender, still healing. He couldn't deny he wanted her, but he wanted it to be for the right reasons, not because he was lonely and she was vulnerable.

"Neither have I," he confessed.

"Goodnight," she said before turning away from him again.

She had gotten only a few steps closer to the door before Kantor jumped to his feet and went after her. He wasn't sure how much he would like himself in the morning as he took hold of her forearm. He gently pulled her back to face him.

"Don't go," he said.

His request stunned her and sent a delicious tingle throughout her body. "I don't want to hurt you anymore. Maybe I should leave."

He brought her body up against his. "None of that matters to me right now."

He kissed her softly before allowing his lips to touch her chin and the delicate curve of her neck. She closed her eyes and brought her hands up into his soft hair. The scent of his skin was strong and musky. Her hands moved out of his hair to his shoulders as his lips captured hers passionately. She worked her hands down and inside his robe. His body was taut, all lean muscle. Her hands moved over his warm skin during their kiss.

She broke the kiss so she could slide his robe down off his arms. Once it was discarded, her teeth nibbled at his throat and moved down to his chest. She slid her tongue around his nipples, nipping them with her teeth. Kantor found himself wincing a bit, but not from pain. Her mouth moved back up to his throat. His large hands slid up from her waist to her breasts. She felt her nipples hardening, straining desperately against her bra and blouse. His thumbs caressed the rock hard peaks. He couldn't wait to taste them.

His long fingers deftly unbuttoned her blouse. Her breath came in quick and hard in anticipation of his touch. He unhooked her bra from the front and pushed it aside. Her breasts were full, ripe, and round, her nipples a dark coffee color. He slid down a bit and took one of the hardened peaks into his mouth. His lips suckled it, and every few seconds, his teeth would brush against it, nuzzling delicately. She moaned aloud, out of her mind. He didn't neglect her other nipple. He repeated the suckling/nuzzling move with passionate precision. His lips moved back up, making a trail from her breasts to her lips. Her hand found him during their kiss, and he drew in a sharp breath. Her hand only lingered a moment, their kiss was soft and brief. Neither of them had much more patience to wait. He took her hand and led her up to his bedroom.

Once in the darkened room, they removed the rest of their clothing barriers. Kantor took Rylie to his bed and gazed down at her before touching her again. He was clearly giving her the opportunity to stop him if she wanted. She read this in his eyes; he didn't have to say a word. Both knew that once he was inside her, there was no reversing the betrayal of her marriage.

Her hand went to the side of his face, and she brought her body up against his, wrapping her legs around him. Moaning softly against his lips, she said, "Come inside me, Falk, I need you."

Rylie's whispered request was enough. He went inside her blissfully, completely losing himself.

Rylie unlocked the door and let herself inside the house. In the dark, she felt around the wall for the light switch. Before she found it, the living room light seemed to pop on all by itself. Startled, she cried out [thanks a lot, Kort Jeffries, rot in hell you son of a bitch]. Ty had been reclining on the couch, but the moment she came inside, he sat up. Apparently, he had come home a couple of hours ago. He was freshly showered and wearing his pajama bottoms. She intended to bypass him altogether.

"I took off early with the intention of taking you out to dinner, but I came home to an empty house," he said.

She didn't believe him. He had come home to spy on her. "You wanted to take a killer out to dinner," she asked coldly.

"What were you doing tonight, Rylie," he asked pointedly, ignoring the slam.

"Do you even care, Ty?"

He laughed bitterly. "Answer a question with a question. Were you cozying up to that cop again? Isn't he the last person you should be turning to? Do you think he cares about you?"


Ty shook his head. "No," he said, interrupting her. "I'm not finished. Were you with him tonight? Did he fuck you? Did he? I don't even want you to answer those questions. But if you did, I want you to keep something in mind. I've heard stories about him, babe, he's a womanizer."

Rylie wasn't sure she believed that either. She didn't say a word to Ty. There was nothing more she could say. She went past her husband and walked into the bedroom.

Kantor opened his eyes lazily, expecting to see and feel Rylie's body next to him, but he was alone. Confused, he sat up and reached for the switch on the bedside lamp. Once his room was bathed in some light, he glanced around the room owlishly. Her clothes had been left on the floor, but they were now gone. She had left him as mysteriously and as swiftly as she came to him. He wanted to see her, to talk to her, but not now. It was well past three in the morning, and she would be with her husband. Maybe she thought of this as a one time thing, he thought. Yet, it didn't feel that way, not to him, or her.

It was after ten the next morning before Rylie even attempted to open her eyes. She noticed that Ty's half of the bed was vacant and had not been slept in. He must have slept on the couch again. For a very long time, she lay in bed, flat on her back, and stared up at the ceiling. She was scared and confused, unsure what to do. She hadn't wanted to leave Kantor last night, but some wild urge attacked her, and she had fled from his bed like a scared little girl. She had walked away thinking that she would never see him again. The risks were too great. But now, those thoughts were shoved aside. She needed to see him again. However, she wasn't sure how she could go about it, especially after leaving him.

Rylie sat up suddenly and glanced at the cordless phone. It had been casually thrown onto the settee at the foot of the bed. Temptation ate away at her. Her hand itched to grab the phone. You can't do that, she thought. She plopped her body hard down onto the bed. She fixed a glazed stare onto the ceiling again.

"What am I going to do," she asked the empty room.

Hours later, Rylie was still in bed when Ty began dressing for work. He glanced at his wife casually before looking away. He sat on the side of the bed and slipped on his work boots.

"Are you not getting up today," he asked.

"No," she said, her voice partially muffled by her pillow.

"I don't want to lose you, Rylie. I never meant to imply I thought you killed Jeffries. I just don't want the police skulking around the house and digging into our personal lives. I don't want you hurt further by an opportunistic detective."

She wouldn't accept his half-hearted apology. He had meant everything he said. She still had her doubts about her husband. She didn't speak to him, she couldn't. He also didn't speak to her again. He simply finished readying himself for work.

After Ty left her, she finally dragged herself out of bed. She stared down at the phone again. She reached down and laid her hand on it. It rang suddenly, shrilly, and she pulled her hand back as if it had shocked her.

"Goddamn," she cried out. It had rung four times before her shock dissipated. She grabbed the phone and hit the 'talk' button. "H-hello," she stuttered.

"I want to see you."

She closed her eyes and exhaled. It was Kantor. His soothing, dreamy voice forced her skin to break out in goose flesh. She found herself wondering how long he had contemplated calling her. She wanted to deny him. It was too dangerous. But she only had to think of his lips, hands, eyes, and intense lovemaking, and thoughts of denying him flew out the window.

"Rylie, are you there," he asked.

"Yes," she whispered into the phone.

"We need to talk," he said. "I want to see you," he repeated.

Her hand went to her throat. Her heart was thumping hard in her chest. "Where? When?"

"Now. I can come to you."

"N-no," she stammered. "I'll come to you. Are you at home?"


Forty minutes later, Rylie parked her car behind Kantor's cruiser. Calmly, coolly, she left her car and strolled casually up to the door. She didn't get a chance to ring the doorbell or knock on the door. Kantor had apparently been waiting for her. He stood in the doorway and never took his eyes off her. Once she stepped up to the door, he silently moved away and allowed her to enter. He closed the door and turned to face her. She was holding her elbows, biting her lower lip nervously.

"Did you not want what happened last night? Are you having regrets," he asked.

"No, no regrets," she said. "I wanted you, I wanted you more than you know."

He nodded, "Okay," he said, unconvinced. He didn't move any closer to her. "If that's how you feel, then why did you leave like that?"

"I was scared," she answered simply.

"Of what," he asked, confused. "Of me?"

"Yes and no. I'm more afraid of me. I don't want a sleazy affair where I have to sneak around behind my husband's back. I don't want a boy toy or a fuck buddy. I don't want to use or feel used. I'm afraid of what could happen if…" She couldn't finish the thought, couldn't say the words. "I'm terrified, Falk, utterly terrified." Dear God, what am I saying? Tears began to fall slowly out of her eyes.

Kantor wasn't sure what either of them wanted from the other. Through the remainder of last night, and all day long, he could not drive thoughts of her out of his mind. He had picked up the phone a dozen times only to drop it back down again. Something about her had implanted inside him. It was insane. He went to her and enveloped her body into his arms. He kissed her deeply, silencing her. Her tears continued to fall, mingling with their kiss, and he tasted the salty bite of her tears and the sweet taste of her mouth. Without saying one word, he made her feel all right, and momentarily allayed any of her fears.

Within seconds, they were coming out of their clothes, throwing them everywhere. They didn't quite make it to his bedroom. He backed her up against a wall and drew her legs up around his waist. He plunged into her without hesitation. She dug her nails into his back and held onto him for dear life. Her back beat out an insane rhythm against the wall as his frenzied thrusts drove her over the edge of pleasure and into the intense state of sweet release. He came moments after her, groaning/growling deeply within his throat.

He wasn't sure how long he could maintain his hold on her body, but he knew that for a moment, he could not move. Her body shuddered against his and he felt her teeth nibbling delicately at the side of his neck. After a very long moment, he was able to help her to her feet without dropping her. He kissed her again, deeply, entwining his tongue with hers. He broke the kiss and led her up to his bedroom. Before long, they made love again, madly, passionately, with not a care or a thought as to what was happening around them.

When Kantor awoke, Rylie was against him this time, her face nearly buried in his chest. He couldn't figure out how she could breathe. But he could feel the gentle puffs of air as she exhaled, so there must have been some room down there somewhere. She stirred and brought her lips up to his throat before moving them up to his lips. She kissed him very softly.

"You're so good," she said with a laugh.

He smiled a little and returned her kiss. "I try really hard."

"That's obvious," she said. "These pictures scattered around, is this your daughter?"

"Yes, that's my Nasya," he said.

"She's beautiful. She looks just like you."

He cocked his eyebrow and a faint grin touched his lips. "Facial hair and all," he asked comically.

"You're insufferable," she said with her own grin.

"And you," he said, kissing her, "are irresistible."

Their kiss deepened quickly and Kantor had every intention of making love to her again, but the phone rang suddenly. He chose to ignore it as he pulled Rylie's body against his. His hands found the glory of her exquisite breasts as the phone continued to ring and ring. When the answering machine finally picked up the call, his lips latched onto an erect nipple.

"Chief," Briscoe said. "If you're there, you need to pick up."

Fuck off, he thought as his lips moved to the other nipple. He wasn't about to neglect Rylie for one of his betraying detectives.

"Come on, Chief. This is important. Pick up the goddamn phone."

The answering machine cut off Briscoe as Kantor's mouth moved to claim hers again. The phone began to ring again.

Although it was the last thing she wanted to do, Rylie broke the kiss. "Maybe you should answer it."

"Why should I care," he said as he gazed into her eyes. "I'm off duty, they don't need me."

The answering machine kicked on again. "Chief, come on. If you're screening, pick up. 187, Chief, 187."

The old police code drew Kantor's attention right away. He drew away from Rylie and picked up the portable phone from his side of the bed. "What is it? What's going on?"

"Prison officials found Cruz Jeffries dead in his cell this morning," Briscoe said. "He apparently hung himself, but they're investigating."

Although bitter and certain he would never forgive his colleagues for mistrusting his judgment, he became very interested, very alert. It was as if he hadn't left work at all. "They think it wasn't a suicide," he asked carefully. Beside him, Rylie watched him curiously.

"Yeah. One thing, Chief, we're looking at the counselor hot and heavy right now. An anonymous caller said she had been taking shooting lessons. We're close to having enough for an arrest warrant." Briscoe sighed. "And for what it's worth, Chief, your suspension was wrong, but be leery of this woman."

Kantor could listen to no more. He hit the 'talk' button and hung up on Briscoe. From the corner of his eye, he could see that Rylie was still watching him. He didn't believe it, couldn't believe it.

Gently, she asked, "Falk? What is it?"

He was tempted to tell her, but if he did, he would break all the rules of the game. The woman beside him, this woman who had become his lover, was on the verge of being arrested and charged with three murders. He was nearly reliving the nightmare of the Mara Cardiff affair. Yet, it wasn't the same.

She placed her hands on either side of his face and turned it toward hers. He couldn't look at her right away. What if his detectives were right about her? What if he had been played for a fool again? Not since Selarah had another woman consumed his mind so thoroughly. He couldn't handle the thought of being wrong about her. Deeply within his soul, he knew she was innocent, but how could he prove it?

He had to tell her, there was no way out of it. Kantor took her hands from his face. "Cruz Jeffries is dead, Rylie. He was found hung in his cell."

Rylie drew away from him. She grabbed an armload of bed covers and shielded her naked body. Suddenly, she felt violated, but this time, it was the violation of her mind, not her body. "That look on your face," she said, whispering harshly. "You're accusing me."

"Rylie, no," he implored, reaching for her.

She backed away further, nearly tumbling off the bed. "How could you believe that after I, after we…" Her voice died out. At every turn, there was no comfort, only heartache, pain, and betrayal. She had to get out, had to run.

Rylie managed to get out of bed without falling or tripping. She continued to back away from Kantor, and he got out of bed to pursue her. She reached the bedroom door, actually had her hand on the doorknob when Kantor pressed his body against hers. He settled his hand on top of hers, but she didn't release her hold on the doorknob.

"Let go, Rylie," he commanded.

"No," she cried. "I have to go, I have to get out."

"I won't let you run," he said gently. "I don't think you've done anything. I want to help you, but we have to be totally honest with each other."

"What am I going to do," she asked, leaning her forehead against the door.

His free hand fell onto her naked shoulder, and he caressed it gently. "You're going to trust me. I'll do whatever it takes, Rylie, even if it means I'm dismissed permanently. But you can't run. If you run, I can't help you."

"You can't risk your job, your family, or your life for me. I won't let you do that."

"You have no other choice, Rylie. They're trying to build a case against you as we speak. I can stop that, I can help, and I'm doing it. This is the only way out."

Kantor loosened his grip as her hand slipped away from the doorknob. He moved back a few steps as she turned toward him. "It's not worth all this," she whispered.

He took her upper arms into his hands. His grip was firm, but incredibly gentle. "Don't ever say that again," he said, staring into her eyes intensely. "All I'm asking is that you trust me, Rylie. We'll let whatever happens happen."

"Falk," she moaned.

He kissed her, not only to silence her, but also because he could not resist.

Much later that night, Rylie returned home. She thought the house looked strange, a bit disheveled. It didn't hit her until she entered the bedroom. Ty had returned home some time that day or that night and packed up all his things. Although it was obvious he had left her, he had left a note for her anyway. He had nonchalantly taped it up onto the bathroom mirror.

She read the short note aloud: "'I have doubts about you, doubts about us, and it has very little to do with Falk Kantor. I think you know what I mean.'"

She ripped the note to shreds and threw the pieces into the trashcan. She didn't want to stay in the house, didn't want to sleep in the bed. Rylie went back to Kantor, where he was seemingly awaiting her return.

The next day, Kantor insisted that Rylie stay at his house while he went out on an 'errand.' Of course, this particular 'errand' would surely get him fired if he was seen, but he didn't care.

It was only two in the afternoon, but the sleazy joint was already jumping. The Hollywood Burn was a club frequented by various clientele seeking booze, sex, and drugs. It was also the place where Kort Jeffries had died. Kantor sauntered into the club and took a seat right at the bar.

The owner of the club, Tony Diaz, had been busted numerous times for running prostitution rings around the city. Kantor hadn't had any dealings with him, but Diaz kept a sharp eye on his customers, and he might have information. Diaz saw the man the instant he entered. The lean stranger was decked out in blue jeans, a black tee shirt, a leather jacket, and sunglasses. Leather in this heat, Diaz thought. This guy must be insane. He groaned inwardly when he recognized the stoic detective.

"Look, detective, I'm keeping my nose clean," Diaz said as he approached Kantor.

Kantor took off his sunglasses and focused his eyes on the other man. "I'm not here in an official capacity. I have no badge or gun."

"Then what the hell are you doing here?" His business had declined a bit after Kort Jeffries was shot. A lot of Jeffries' customers had drifted away.

"I just want to ask you a couple of questions," he said.

Diaz sighed and rolled his eyes. "I knew this was going to happen. Let's go back to my office."

Kantor followed Diaz into the back where his office was located. He seated Kantor and sat down behind his small desk.

"What do you want," Diaz asked.

"I want to know if you saw anything the night Kort Jeffries was shot in your back alley," he said.

"I told the cops what I saw, which was nothing."

"What about the girl, Diaz? Isn't she one of yours? I want to speak to her again."

He sighed. "She isn't one of my girls. I told you, I'm straight."

Kantor chuckled sarcastically. "I'm not here to bust you. I don't care about you or your petty pimp jobs. I want to speak to the girl. Can you arrange it?"

"I can call her down right now."

Kantor waited patiently for the girl. Diaz talked non-stop during the wait, and his droning voice nearly lulled him to sleep. Finally, after an hour, the girl came into the office. She didn't recognize Kantor.

"Is he a special client, Tony," she asked with a smile.

Diaz's face turned green. It was almost funny. "No, Norene. He needs to talk to you."

She focused her blue eyes on his face. "You a cop," she asked suspiciously.

"Sort of," he answered. "I want to talk to you about Kort Jeffries. Do you remember him?"

The light in her eyes died a little. Not much could shake her up, but that did. "Sure I do," she spat. "Hey, wait a minute," she said, recognition dawning in her eyes. "You were the one asking all those questions. Tony, I don't have time, I have work to do."

She started to go out the door, but Kantor grabbed her arm and pulled her back. He sat her down in a chair next to his. "What do you know," he demanded.

Norene wouldn't look at him. "I know nothing. I told you that night, I was sucking him off, and I didn't see anything."

Kantor leaned as closely to the girl as possible. His face was almost right in hers. "Listen to me. If you're lying, you'll go down, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow. I'm asking you again, what do you know?"

Stubbornly, she refused to look at Kantor. "I got money to hit on Kort, to take him around back. It was supposed to be a big joke, you know? I didn't know Kort was gonna die, I swear," she cried. "And I didn't see who did it. Kort…he…fell on me."

"Who gave you the money?"

"I don't know, some guy."

She was lying to him, and he was tempted to shake her until she told him the truth. "Who gave you the money," he demanded through clenched teeth.

"I don't know," she cried out. "I don't remember."

"This is far from over, Norene. Don't get too comfy," he said coldly.

Without another word, Kantor stalked out of the office and left the bar. He went out to his car and grabbed his cell phone. From the list he had compiled last night, he called every shooting range in the state of Florida. None of them had heard of Rylie Lanigan.

Several weeks later, Kantor returned to work and went about business as usual. He did not discuss the Jeffries/Lanigan case with either Briscoe or Evans. He didn't even mention it during his morning briefings with the detectives. Briscoe and Evans answered only to the captain with regard to the murders. It was fine with Kantor. He continued his own investigation after hours. His frustration grew day to day. Other than the information the young prostitute had given him, he had very little to go on.

Kantor had not ended his affair with Rylie Lanigan, even though it was only a matter of time before the captain found out. He didn't care about that, either. Rylie had begun to mean a lot to him, and he was determined to prove that she had nothing to do with the murders of the Jeffries brothers and Esterhaus. He knew Briscoe and Evans still wanted to arrest her, but they continued to have difficulty finding solid evidence. He hoped that trend didn't stop.

One morning, Kantor was completely distracted. Half of his mind was on his job, the other half on Rylie. He abandoned his paperwork and sat gazing out the window. He was tempted to call Rylie, he needed to hear her voice, but he dared not.

"Falk," a familiar voice called.

Shocked, he turned toward the voice. It was KT. "What are you doing here," he asked, stunned. So much had changed since he last saw her, and he wasn't sure how to tell her. She couldn't keep dropping in on him like this.

"Surprise," she said, smiling.

"This is a really bad time," he said.

"Oh," she said. "I'm sorry. Can we have lunch? I need to talk to you."

He glanced down at his wristwatch. It was a quarter after eleven. "S-sure," he stammered. "I can meet you in half an hour at that little diner around the corner."

"I kind of wanted to go home with you and talk there," she said.

He swallowed a huge lump in his throat. She still thought nothing had changed between them. They could not go to his house. Rylie was there. "I have to get right back," he said. He hated lying to her, but he had to tell her about Rylie, and he couldn't take her to his house.

KT shrugged nonchalantly. "Oh, okay, Chief. No big deal." She approached his desk, leaned over it, and placed a soft kiss on his lips. She pulled back and gazed at him reproachfully. He hadn't quite responded to her kiss as she expected. Perhaps he's just tired, she thought. "I'll see you then."

He nodded and watched KT walk out of his office. Her return had thrown him for a gigantic loop. The emotional stew brewing in his body was cold and bitter. He left his office and went out to his cruiser. He took out his cell phone and dialed his home phone number.

"I can't make it back as planned," he told Rylie after she answered the phone.

"Okay," she said. "Falk? Are you all right? You sound strange."

"I'm fine. I have to meet someone for lunch and settle some things."

"Are you sure you're okay?"

"Yes, I'm sure. It's turning out to be a stressful day."

"Do you want me to wait here for you?"

He closed his eyes and thought of her beautiful face, vibrant eyes, and soft, soft skin. "Yes. Don't go back home."

"All right," she said. "I'll be here when you come home."

He opened his eyes. "Good."

Kantor entered the diner right on time. He noticed that KT had been seated toward the back. She waved him over. As he drew nearer to the table, he noticed that she had brought along a bottle of champagne. Kantor's heart began to ache. She wanted to celebrate something, and he intended to break her heart. He knew that most of this was not his doing. She had come back to him believing he would still be there for her. Of course, he remembered telling her his door was always open to her. But he hadn't planned on Rylie Lanigan taking such swift hold of his heart.

As he sat down, she gestured toward the champagne. "Would you like some," she asked.

"No," he said. "I'm on duty. KT, I've-"

She interrupted him. "Can I go first," she asked. Without waiting for him to respond, she plunged ahead, "I came back after days of soul searching. I've made a terrible mistake by leaving, and I want to come back, for good."

Kantor was taken aback. What horrible, horrible timing. "KT, we can't do this to each other anymore," he said. "This isn't what you want, not really. You know what you want, but you're having doubts."

"No, Falk. I was wrong, I-"

It was his turn to interrupt her. "If that were true, you wouldn't have left at all."

KT sat back in her chair and shrewdly assessed him. Something had definitely changed about him, and she had thought it was all in her mind. "Oh my God," she said softly. "I've lost you, haven't I? That door finally shut, didn't it?" He didn't speak, so she continued, "I can't necessarily blame you for moving on, but when I saw you last, I thought…" Her voice died out.

"KT, we-"

"You've found someone else, haven't you," she asked, interrupting him again. "Who is she?"

Kantor was about to speak until a server approached their table, eager to take his order. "I don't want anything," he said. The server then went blessedly away. "There is someone else," he said slowly, carefully. "I didn't plan it, I didn't expect it, and I wasn't looking for it."

She drained her glass of champagne and poured another. "And that's supposed to make me feel better," she asked as she sipped her champagne.

"No," he said sadly. He hadn't wanted to see their relationship end like this. "I didn't say it to make you feel better."

"Who is she," she asked again.

He shook his head. "I don't think knowing who it is will make this any easier, KT."

"I don't care about easy, Falk. I just want to know. Is it that woman you were talking about? The one who was attacked?"

He realized that she would not drop it until he told her. Sighing, he sat back in his own chair and crossed his arms over his chest. "Yes," he said with a sigh. "It's her. Her name is Rylie," he said, preparing for a fight.

She smiled, bitterly and sadly. "Why am I not surprised?"

Kantor leaned forward. "KT, please. This isn't easy for me, either. I know you probably don't believe that. I'll never forget what you brought out in me."

"Yeah, well," she said laughing, trying not to cry, "I never thought it would be shared with someone else."

"Come on, KT, you've already said you don't want to be married or have kids. Your life goal doesn't just change over a period of weeks. I knew you loved me, but you never wanted to marry me. I was your crutch, your security blanket. I don't blame you for that, KT, because I let you do it. In your heart, you know that our relationship ending like this is the best thing that could happen for you."

"That's really easy for you to say, Falk," she said. "You have somebody already in line waiting."

He pushed his chair away from the table and stood. Looking down at her, he felt like a cold-hearted bastard. "I'm sorry, KT. I must go."

He had turned away from her. "Falk, wait," she said.

Kantor stopped and turned back around to face her. "Yes?"

"I won't say I'm not hurt, I can't say I don't hate you a little, but some of what you said is true."

Not wanting to draw the scene out any longer, he didn't say another word. He turned away from her and left the diner.

Kantor went home early that day. His meeting with KT had depressed him immensely, and he had trouble concentrating on his work. He pulled his cruiser into the driveway. He was pleased to note that Rylie's car was still parked under the carport. He wasn't sure how long he could protect her from the police. Every time the phone rang, he held his breath. Kantor entered the house and hung his keys on a hook by the door.

A nice aroma wafted toward him from the kitchen. He smiled a little. Rylie was cooking for him again. He moved from the living room to the kitchen where he saw Rylie at the sink. She turned her head and smiled at him.

"What are you doing," he asked as he raised his arm and made a sweeping motion around the kitchen.

"I thought I'd do something nice for you. On the phone earlier, you sounded down."

Kantor didn't take his eyes off her, he couldn't, and he felt his heart fluttering a bit in his chest. He felt silly, drunk. "Bad, bad day," he said.

"Want to talk about it," she asked.

"Maybe later."

Unable to help himself any longer, he approached her from behind and placed his hands on each side of her hips. Her hand came up and rested on the side of his face. His simple touch alone sent chills down her spine. He had such a way of driving her crazy without trying.

"You are too good to me," he said, his voice falling in her ear. He could feel her body trembling a bit, and he knew it wasn't because she had a chill. "Do you think anything will burn," he asked as his hands slid up and began unbuttoning her blouse.

"No," she said with a sigh. "I think it'll be just fine."

Later, they were both in bed, their dinner forgotten. Rylie was on her stomach, her arms wrapped around a pillow. Kantor lay beside her, gazing at her curiously.

"I don't know what you're so worried about," Kantor said.

"I know," she groaned into the pillow, "but meeting your daughter is a big deal."

Since Kantor discovered that his daughter and mother were returning to Florida in a few weeks, he wanted them to meet Rylie. He had already discussed it with his mother. He was a bit nervous himself, because Nasya was so standoffish.

"It is, I agree." He sighed a little. "I hope what I'm about to say doesn't make you want to run away screaming, but you mean a lot to me. I think it's very important for you to meet Nasya."

She leaned up on her elbow and stroked his cheek. "It didn't scare me at all. I feel the same," she said softly. She kissed his lips very gently before pulling herself away from him and back into reality. "But all this might be conjecture at this point, Falk. I'm going to be arrested any day now. I can feel it."

"I'm doing what I can to stop it, Rylie."

"You may end up in the cell right beside me."

He drew her body close to his. "I'll do whatever it takes." He was about to kiss her when the phone rang. He wanted to ignore it, but he didn't. He grabbed the phone and punched the 'talk' button. "Yeah?"

"It's Briscoe, Chief. The police have been trying to reach Rylie Lanigan, but she's not answering her phone. Is she with you?"

Kantor could have lied, but he didn't. "She is." Rylie was looking at him.

"Her sister's house was torched, Chief. Both her sister and niece were killed. The police and fire inspectors are there right now. They're pretty sure it was arson."

Kantor hung up on Briscoe. A pattern seemed to be developing, and he needed to work it out with Rylie, but first, he had to tell her this horrible news. He dropped the phone as shock quickly entered his system.

"Falk," she asked. "What is it?"

He looked at her with pain in his eyes. "Oh God, Rylie, I don't know how to tell you this," he couldn't go on, couldn't break her heart. He knew how special Rylie's niece was to her.

"What," she cried. "What's wrong?"

"Your sister…your niece…" he spat, gazing at her intensely.

"No. N-no. You're lying," she said, although she knew he would never do that to her. "You're lying."

He shook his head. "Rylie, it was a fire, arson," he said slowly.

She shook her head. "No. I don't believe it, I won't believe it until I see it."

Without a word, she jumped out of bed and began searching out her clothing. Kantor went after her. He took her by the arm and pulled her back. "Rylie, you can't-"

She jerked her arm out of his hand. "What do you mean I can't? I have to go. Maybe this detective was wrong. They can't be dead, Falk, they can't be," she cried out, her tears suddenly overtaking her.

Kantor took her into his arms and held her against his chest. Through her tears, she struggled against him, trying to break free, but he held fast.

"Take me there," she said through her tears. "You have to take me."

It was not a good idea, but there was no way he could deny her.

Once at the scene, Rylie's denial changed to horror. All that remained of her sister's home was smoldering ruins. She screamed out in terror and tried to run toward the house. Kantor grabbed onto her arm and held her back.

"No! Rylie! Stop," Kantor yelled.

"Let me go," she demanded.

Some how, some way, she broke free of Kantor's vise-like grip. She ran toward the house crazily, yelling out the names of her sister and niece. He was intent to pursue her, but a hand clamped down on his arm. He whipped around to face the captain. Behind him, he could hear Rylie screaming to be released. Someone had grabbed her, but he couldn't see whom.

With anger in his eyes, the captain asked, "Kantor, what are you doing out here?"

"What do you think," he spat.

The captain sighed. "This is it, Falk. I'm having Briscoe and Evans get an arrest warrant the first thing in the morning. We have to arrest her, tonight capped it off."

Kantor glared at his captain. "You think she did this? Do you think she would murder her sister and her niece? I know, based on fact, that she had nothing to do with this, Chris. She has an iron clad alibi. For several weeks, I have been with her constantly, steadily. I've known her every move. You don't have enough. Back off and leave her alone. This is her family. If you want to seek a suspect, look for Ty Lanigan."

The captain was fuming. "What are you talking about, Falk," he demanded. "She is running a game on you. Her husband is a model state employee. His record as a parole officer and that at the prison is impeccable. She has the motive and the opportunity."

"He owns a gun and can shoot, Chris. I checked out every shooting range in Florida, no one has ever heard of Rylie Lanigan. Some of them do, however, know Ty. The prostitute Kort was with the night of his murder said someone paid her off to take him to the back alley. Do you know what preponderance of evidence means? Use it. You're not going to arrest her, Chris. I'll hide her if I have to."

"I refuse to discuss this with you right now, Kantor. You will report to me the first thing in the morning, and we will discuss your ethical and professional dilemmas."

Kantor jerked his arm out of the captain's hand. He threw a black glare toward him as he went after Rylie. He saw that a firefighter had nabbed her before she had the chance to dart toward the ruined house. She was shattered.

He took charge of her and held her against him as she continued to cry. "Come on, Rylie. I need to get you out of here," he said softly. She didn't answer him, she couldn't.

He took her by the arm and walked her back to his cruiser. On the drive back to his house, she leaned against him, and he held her tightly with one arm. When they arrived back at his place, they walked toward the front door with their arms wrapped around each other.

She stopped suddenly. "I…I have to call, I…"

He shook his head and looked down at her. "Not tonight, you don't."

Kantor gently prodded her forward, and together they went inside. She started upstairs, but her legs refused to carry her body. Shock and grief had taken a toll on her. She felt dizzy and sick. Without warning, she passed out. He caught her before she fell backward. Once her body was secure in his arms, he carried her up to his bedroom and placed her gently on the bed. He climbed onto the bed beside her and gently brushed her hair out of her face. After several minutes, her eyes fluttered open. The first thing she saw was Kantor's handsome face and warm brown eyes.

"It's Ty who is doing this, Falk," she said foggily.

He caressed her face and hair. "Don't talk, Rylie. Just rest."

"No," she said. "It makes sense now. The abortion sent him over the edge, shattered something inside him, and made him hungry for payback. He has killed everyone involved, except for one person. You're the only one left. He's coming after you, Falk. I know it."

"You don't have to worry about me, Rylie. I can hold my own against him."

A few stray tears slid out of her eyes. "I can understand his hatred of the Jeffries brothers and that attorney. I can even understand why he would hurt Malia, but what did my precious little niece ever do to him? Why? That's all I want to know."

Her pain came off her in waves and it seemed to embed itself in his body like sharp little daggers. "I only wish I had the answers you seek, Rylie. I wish I could do or say something that could ease your pain, but I can't. I've known loss; I've experienced it to a degree where I'd never wish it on my worst enemy. I'm here for you, and I'll do whatever I can."

She took his hand, entwining her fingers with his, and kept her eyes locked onto his. "I…I," she stopped, not sure whether she should say it or keep it to herself.

"What are you trying to say, Rylie," he asked softly.

She closed her eyes for a moment and sighed. Her tears fell freely down her cheeks. When she opened her eyes, he was looking at her and waiting patiently for her to finish her thought. "I love you," she said quickly before she lost her nerve.

He leaned very close to her. His lips weren't quite touching hers, just barely brushing against them. He had never thought he would hear those words leaving her lips so soon, never thought he would feel it in his heart so quickly. What had she done to him?

"I love you, too," he said against her lips, and God help him, he meant it.

She kissed him gently, running her tongue along his parted lips. He returned her kiss, drawing her tongue into his mouth, touching it with his. She molded her body into his, getting as close to him as was humanly possible. She threw her leg over the side of his hip, and she felt one of his large hands sliding down to her buttocks. He held onto her tightly, crushing her into him. They did not make love. Through the night, he held her against him, kissing her, only letting go when it was necessary.

Kantor sat in Captain Chris Caulfield's office at 8:00 a.m. sharp. He hadn't wanted to leave Rylie this morning, but she insisted. She felt responsible for his problems at work. If it hadn't been for Kantor's sheer stubbornness, she would have allowed the police to arrest her days ago. He would not allow Rylie to suffer any further for something she did not do. As he sat and stared blankly at the captain, he was honestly ready to turn in his badge. The entire department thought he was wrong, but Kantor knew he wasn't. Casually, he waited for the wrath of his superior officer. The captain was playing it cool, trying to build up anxiety and fear in Kantor. However, it wasn't working. Kantor wasn't easily intimidated.

"From our conversation last night, Falk, I have a tremendous list of violations before me. You have apparently worked illegally on a case that was stripped from you; you've begun having an affair with a lead suspect in an ongoing murder investigation; you have threatened to harbor said suspect; and violated the terms we agreed upon when I placed you on admin leave."

"I stand by it all, Chris. You're wrong about Rylie," Kantor said stubbornly.

"Falk," the other man said, "outside your late wife, you're one of the best detectives we've ever had. You have performed better than any COD we've ever had. But this woman has penetrated your brain and screwed you up. Your judgment is shot, and not only are you risking your safety, but ours as well. I'm not sure if you know what your priorities are."

"I know where my priorities lie. This position, this department, falls about fifth on my list right now. Do whatever you want to me, but leave her out of this. Rylie Lanigan is not the killer. Look into her estranged husband, talk to Rylie, let her tell you."

"Falk, for God's sake, stop letting your penis think for you. Use your brain; open your eyes. Right now, your career, your freedom is on the line. Is she worth that? Is she worth the separation from your child?"

Kantor set an icy gaze on the other man's face. "You're all making a horrible mistake," he said, fighting desperately to remain calm.

"No, Falk, the mistake is yours this time. I can't allow these violations to slide. I was willing the last time, because I had hoped you would cut all ties with this woman. Apparently, this is something you're not willing to do. Until further notice, you're on paid suspension. We'll bring this to the disciplinary committee in a few weeks. At that time, we'll decide if we should sanction you further. Leave your badge and revolver with me. After that, you're free to go."

Rylie was speaking softly into the phone when Kantor entered the house. She noticed the rage in his eyes, and the quiet way he moved about the room. She had seen this behavior before. Whatever had happened to him at work had not been good.

"I have to go," she said into the phone before hanging up. "Falk?"

He wasn't listening to her, wasn't looking at her. His anger and hurt had increased tenfold since leaving the captain's office. He had never been so close to destroying his career as he had come today. He had been stripped of everything, but it was worth it. It was all worth it. He had risked his entire way of life for Rylie, and he was amazed that he had no regrets. A hand touched him tentatively. He turned and faced her. Her eyes were red and swollen from the tears she had shed for her sister and niece.

"Falk? What happened?"

He took her hand, brought it up to his lips, and kissed it. "Nothing that can't be fixed."

"Don't patronize me," she said. "Something really terrible happened, I can see it all over you. Drop the macho bullshit for one second and talk to me. I want to know."

Sighing, he ran his hand through his hair. "I was suspended."

She drew away from him and turned her back to him. "Goddamn," she spat. "We have to end this right now, Falk. I've destroyed you."

"Is that what you want, Rylie? Can you face me and say that?"

His voice was soft and low. She couldn't stand it. "That's what I want," she said.

"Turn around and look at me," he demanded.

She turned around, but she could not look at him. "You know I can't look at you," she whispered harshly.

"So I'll ask again," he said, the tone of his voice never changing. "Do you want to end this? Do you want to walk out and never see me again? Do you?"

"You know I don't."

"If that's true, if that's how you feel, you must stop. Stop taking the blame for everything that happens. It's not your fault that these murders occurred. It's not your fault I was suspended. I made a choice, a conscious choice. I chose you, I chose us. I'm not about to give up, not now."

"You're going to end up hating me, Falk, and I don't want you to hate me."

Slowly, he approached her and caressed her soft, inky black hair. "I love you, Rylie. The police will find the truth."

"What about you? What about Ty coming after you?"

He brought her body against him, and he kissed her forehead. "I told you not to worry about me." He took her hand and placed it over his heart. "I'm indestructible. Ask anyone." He cupped her face in his hands. "What about you, Rylie? Are you okay?"

"Honestly, no, I'm not okay. I thought what happened to me in the woods was bad, but this is much, much worse," she said. "I had to arrange everything today. Nikki's father refuses to come. It wasn't good today, and it's going to get worse."

She tried not to cry, she had been crying all day, but it was no use. Her tears dripped steadily from her swollen eyes. She didn't know how she could have anything left. He cradled her head to his chest and held her close. He was an intimate friend of loss. He was well acquainted with the idea that the person so violently taken away would never be seen again. He knew the anger, emptiness, helplessness, numbness, and coldness. He knew grief well, and he hated that it had claimed Rylie as its next victim.

Three days later, Kantor stood beside Rylie at the gravesite service held for both Malia and Nicole. Rylie's family had not known that she had separated from her husband. None of them knew what to think of the dark, lean stranger holding firmly onto Rylie's arm. She offered no explanation, she couldn't. She was on the verge of a terrible breakdown, and it took sheer iron will for her to keep and maintain control. Kantor heard the whispered innuendo, saw the questioning looks. Can't you let her grieve, he wanted to shout.

What made a bad situation worse was the presence of Ty Lanigan. Kantor saw him a long time before Rylie did. Rylie's lover and estranged husband stared at each other with mutual hate and disgust. Their eyes locked into stony, murderous gazes. Ty stood to the side, blending in with a few of Rylie's cousins. Kantor didn't take his eyes off the man once.

Rylie took in a sharp breath. Only then did he realize that she had seen Ty. "What is he doing here," she whispered harshly.

"Keep cool, Rylie," he whispered. "You don't want to scare him off."

She tore her eyes away from Ty and focused them on the two coffins placed a few feet before her. Her body trembled with anger and hatred. Kantor tightened his hold on her. She gripped his arm firmly, almost digging her fingers in. She was not afraid of Ty. She was afraid of what he would do to Kantor. Throughout the service, she refused to release her hold on Kantor.

Much later, Rylie's family met at the house she had once shared with Ty. Since becoming involved with Kantor, she hadn't spent much time there, but it was the only appropriate place to meet after the funeral. Kantor did not hover over her, but he kept close watch. Ty had followed the crowd from the cemetery. He did not approach Rylie right away. Kantor watched him carefully.

"And how did you meet Rylie," a voice asked.

He didn't want to break his watchful gaze. For a moment, he took his eyes off Ty and focused them on an elderly woman standing beside him.

"I'm sorry," she said before cackling. "I'm Rylie's Great Aunt Robbia."

Before taking the woman's proffered hand, he looked toward Ty again. He was still keeping his distance from Rylie. "I'm Falk Kantor," he said, once again looking at the woman.

"I still thought she was with Tyson. How did you meet my niece," she asked.

He didn't have much patience with Rylie's prying aunt. He looked back and forth between the woman and Ty. "We met through my work," he said, distracted.

"Oh," she said, "You work at the prison?"

"No," he said, "I'm a detective."

The aunt continued to yammer away about Rylie, her failed marriage, about Malia, and Nicole. Kantor kept his eyes riveted on Ty. He noticed that he was seeking out Rylie. He wanted to be alert and watchful in case something happened. He vaguely wondered if the aunt had been sent over to distract him so that Ty could be alone with Rylie.


She turned toward Ty. He had come decked out in a black suit and stood looking at her with his hands crossed in front of him. He looked concerned and genuine. However, she could never fully trust him again. She had been tempted to claw his eyes out for what he had done, but she kept calm. Kantor was right; she couldn't let him know she was onto him. And there was a chance, remote at best, that he was innocent.

"I'm really sorry about what happened to Malia and Nikki," he said.

I'll bet you are, you fucker, she thought. She couldn't say anything at first; she could only stare at him. From the corner of her eye, she saw Kantor with one of her elderly aunts. "Thank you," she said grudgingly.

"How have you been," he asked.

"Not good," she answered.

"I can understand."

You have no idea, she thought viciously. "I want a divorce," she said.

"Do you think that's a good idea, Rylie? I was hoping we could work things out."

Rylie gawped at him. She couldn't help it. Was he insane? He wanted her back? Did he think she was stupid? Blind? "I don't think we can, Tyson. It's over."

"I suppose it is. I noticed that you brought along my replacement. I don't see how you could stand to be with him. Look how he failed you, Rylie."

"You don't know what you're talking about," she said. "I want a divorce," she repeated.

He shook his head. "I'll fight it tooth and nail, I just want you to be prepared for that."

"Do what you must," she spat. "I don't care. It's over. It's been over for a long time, I was just too stubborn to see it."

Ty drew close to her, so close that Rylie was afraid he intended to hurt her physically. "I hope you enjoy fucking that cop, babe," he said carefully. "He'll fuck you over before you know it. Don't trust him, I wouldn't." Without another word, he left her.

It was past midnight when the last relative left the house. Rylie had curled up in her favorite chair. The grief she felt over the deaths of her sister and niece had not abated. It stayed with her, making her heart ache. Mingled with the grief was her awkward confrontation with Ty. She didn't believe the venomous words he had spoken about Falk Kantor, but he was still a threat.

Kantor had seated himself on the arm of the couch nearest her chair. Neither of them had said much. He tried to give her all the space she needed, but it was hard not talking to her. He was very concerned.

"Falk, I want to apologize for my aunt today. I think she was trying to distract you for Ty," she said.

"I think you're right, but that's okay. You were married to him for so long, and they didn't understand. I just didn't want him hurting you."

"He keeps telling me these awful things about you," she said.

"What awful things?"

"That you're using me and you have a reputation as a womanizer. I don't believe it; he's only trying to manipulate me. I'm so confused lately, I don't know what I think."

"You've gone through a lot, Rylie, and confusion is part of it. I want you to know that I admire you greatly. Your strength is amazing," he said.

She shook her head. "I don't think it's strength, Falk, I think it's shock. If things begin to settle down, I'll probably literally start falling to pieces."

He approached her, and she went willingly into his embrace. The closeness of his body, his touch, and his scent mingled together, making her heart flutter in her chest. The power he held over her was frightening. She had given him everything, and wanted to give what she didn't have. She loved him, truly loved him, and wasn't simply rebounding as her family thought.

She pulled back from him for a moment and gazed into his eyes. "All day long, I've needed you, wanted you, and I've felt horribly because of that. I shouldn't have thought of myself at all."

Kantor said nothing to her. Instead, he kissed her. "You're so hard on yourself," he whispered against her lips.

"I know." She began unbuttoning his shirt. "Make love to me. I want you so much."

It was a request he couldn't deny. He reasoned that he probably wanted her even more than she wanted him.

Rylie awoke alone. She could hear the shower running in the bathroom. She glanced at the bedside clock and noticed it was around seven in the morning. My God, she groaned to herself. How can he even function this early? She didn't attempt to get out of bed. She knew today would be a big day for her. She had to clean the house spotless because a couple of potential buyers wanted to tour it. There was too much going on, and she wasn't sure she was ready for it.

She looked up only when Kantor reentered the bedroom from the bathroom. He didn't have one stitch of clothing on. Beads of water were glistening on his body and in his hair. She found herself again thinking how gorgeous he was, and how unaware of it he seemed. He noticed that she had awakened. He smiled a little and climbed onto the bed.

Kissing her gently, he said, "I thought you would still be out."

"I awoke and didn't see you. When I heard the shower running, I waited before going back to sleep just to watch you walk around naked," she said with her own smile.

It did him good to see her smile, even if it was forced. "You don't have to wait to see me, all you have to do is ask, and I might consider it," he teased.

"Are you trying to make me crazy," she asked.

"Yes. That's my devious plot."

There was something else on her mind, something she needed to get off her chest. Her hand found the side of his scruffy cheek. He hadn't had a chance to shave, but she didn't mind. "Please, Falk," she whispered harshly. "Be careful today. I'm worried about your safety. If anything happens to you, I will never forgive myself."

"Rylie, nothing is going to happen to me. I'll be fine. This may sound terrible, and if it does, I will apologize right now. In a way, I hope he does come after me. You'll be free of this worry and stress."

"I understand," she said. "And I agree."

"I know you do. I don't like leaving you alone at all. I think the detectives are waiting for me to get out of the picture so they can move in. I hope that what I told my superiors will get them off your case."

She sighed, troubled. "I don't know, Falk."

"You be careful."

Kantor's phone rang in the still of the evening. He didn't attach any significance to it. He even allowed it to ring three or four times before he reached over and picked it up. "Hello," he said casually.


It was Rylie, and her voice sounded strained. "Rylie? Is something wrong?"

"I've been arrested, Falk," she said quietly.

He closed his eyes tightly. "Oh God," he spat. "I'm coming, Rylie. Hold on."

The security officers at the jail had been ordered not to allow Kantor in to see Rylie. However, Briscoe had stationed himself there to face off the COD. Kantor was surprised and shocked to see the detective at the jail, seemingly present to hold him at bay.

"What the fuck is going on," Kantor demanded of Briscoe.

"It's Caulfield's orders, Chief. You're not to see Ms. Lanigan," he said apologetically.

"You can't deny her visitors, Briscoe, you know this."

"We're not denying her visitors, we're denying you visits. The captain believes you would try to help her escape."

Kantor stood aghast. He had been working at the PD for several years. He didn't understand how anyone would assume he would do something so over the top. He had threatened to harbor her, but to help her escape from jail was an entirely different ballgame altogether. The entire division was overreacting to a degree close to insanity.

"I've been ordered to place you under arrest if you force your way back, Chief," Briscoe said.

He focused his eyes, black with anger, on Briscoe's face. "Then I suppose you should get ready."

What Kantor did not know was that Rylie was in a holding cell not six feet from where he stood. She had heard the angered conversation between the two detectives. At first, she could not speak. Stress had claimed her body, and she was leaned over the toilet bowl throwing up everything but her shoes.

Once she had recovered sufficiently enough, she stood close to the bars in the small cell. "Don't, Falk," she cried out. "Leave me. Go."

Kantor turned his head toward the shouting voice of his lover. He was torn. He was hell bent to get back to see her, but she had asked that he leave. Once again, he found himself questioning his loyalties.

"Don't do it," she yelled. "I'll never forgive you if you don't go."

"I'm only going because she asked," Kantor told Briscoe coldly.

Without another word, Kantor turned and walked away. It killed him to leave her behind, to not see her. He had failed her, and he was not sure if he could ever forgive himself.

Kantor whipped his car into the driveway. He was unsure what steps he could take to get Rylie out of jail. He killed the car's engine and sat behind the wheel for a few minutes. He mulled over what he could do and what options he had. He sat in a dazed state, not paying attention to his surroundings at all.

The back window imploded suddenly, filling the interior of the car with an ear splitting CRASH. Something whizzed past Kantor's head, digging a deep, hot groove down the side of his cheek. He was familiar with the sensation. I've been shot, he thought vaguely. Instinctively, he dived down into the seat as the bullet exited through the windshield. Another deafening CRASH issued forth. Kantor shielded himself with his arm and buried his face in the seat.

For several minutes, he lay completely motionless. He hardly noticed the burning pain and trickling blood where the bullet had grazed his face. If he left the car, he was an open target. He had nothing in which to defend himself. He had a gun in the house, and he would eventually have to take a chance to get inside. It would be the only way he could survive.

Slowly, carefully, he slid down the car seat and reached for the passenger side door. It was the closest to the house. Steeling himself and taking a deep breath, he engaged the door handle and swung it open. Another bullet zipped past, missing his hand by a mere three inches. The bullet hit the door with a metallic CHUNK. Using his arms for momentum, he pushed his body forward and rolled out of the car, doing a clumsy back flip, and ended up landing on his back.

Stunned for a moment, Kantor righted himself, but kept his body in a tight crouch, low to the ground. It was pitch black outside, and he couldn't see anything. He noticed that every single security light around his property was blackened. He heard another sharp report from the gun. It has to be a .357, he thought crazily. His keys, of course, were still dangling from the car's ignition. However, he would not go to the front door, it was what the fuck expected him to do. Instead, he stayed as low to the ground as possible and tried to find an open window. There were none.

Kantor's eyes identified a window low to the ground. It led into the den. He knew he must make a run for it. Throwing caution to the wind, he stood up fully and darted toward the window. As bullets began peppering the ground all around him, he drove his body through the glass, shielding his face as best as he could. He felt a dozen or more sharp pricks in his flesh, and couldn't be sure if he had been shot, or if the glass had cut him. He didn't care. He was inside.

As he struggled to get to his feet, he felt a stitch in his side. He had taken a bad fall. Unsure of the source of the pain, he didn't stand. He continued to half-crawl/half-crouch through the den. He had to find either his gun or the phone. Kantor then heard feet crunching down on the broken glass. He ducked behind the couch and waited. As soon as he saw a pair of legs entering the den, Kantor sprang to life and went into a flying tackle.

Two bodies crashed down to the floor, and Kantor felt the cold steel of the gun digging into his abdomen. He grabbed his attacker's wrist and shoved the gun aside just as it was fired. A bullet embedded itself into the floor. In the distance, he heard approaching sirens, but he blanked it out. If he lost focus, Tyson Lanigan would succeed in killing him. Kantor's fist connected with Lanigan's nose, and the gun went off again. Burning, excruciating pain ripped into Kantor's body as he realized he was hit. He felt an immediate and horrifying spurt of blood.

Almost positive he was fatally wounded, Kantor lay still as Lanigan stood to reload a fresh clip. Kantor was losing a lot of blood, and his body didn't seem to want to listen to the cues his brain was giving it. He waited, patiently almost, for the other man to finish the job. Without a word, without a sound, Lanigan aimed his weapon. With his last burst of strength, Kantor kicked out his good leg, and it connected with Lanigan's foot, forcing the other man to struggle for balance. Lanigan's body went one way, his gun another. It gave Kantor a few more minutes to fight for his life.

Only guessing at this point, Kantor tried to push his body forward toward where he figured the gun had landed. It didn't matter; Lanigan quickly recovered and soon found the gun. He picked it up and aimed it at Kantor. Another loud report issued forth, and Kantor barely felt it at all.

Voices. All around. Voices talking. Voices crying. Voices begging. Faces. All around. Some welcome, some not. Flashing lights. Bright light, dim light, no light. Pain. No pain. Love. Hatred. Anger. Highs and lows. Medication and vegetation. Tubes. Wires. Prickling sensations. The mix was weird and disturbing. Everything seemed to come in all at once in his subconscious. Falk Kantor didn't know if he was alive or dead. He was surrounded by the color white: white walls, floors, and ceiling. His body seemed to be swaddled in white as well. Is this what it's like to be dead, he wondered. Perhaps I'm being reborn.

"Can you hear me?"

He thought he recognized the voice, but he wasn't sure. He wanted to answer the voice and tell it that he could hear just fine. It seemed as if his mouth could not open. His lips felt heavy, as if they weighed a ton. Nothing on his body seemed to want to work. Kantor imagined himself lying flat out on a coroner's slab. It might explain where he had heard all the commotion. How funny it was that the coroner was asking him questions.

"He's laughing, he must hear you," another voice said.

He recognized that voice as well, but again, he didn't seem to be able to acknowledge. Weird. Frightening. Where was he? Heaven? Hell? Limbo? Timbuktu? He laughed again.

"Falk? Can you open your eyes?"

Nope, I'm dead. Dead people cannot open their eyes and converse with you, he tried to say.

"He has been injected with massive painkillers," a third voice said. This one he didn't recognize. "He may not wake up for hours."

Wake up! "Ah…Ah," he spat, trying his best to work his mouth.

"Falk? Please say something."

Of course, he recognized the voices now. Rylie. His mother. "Ah…alive," he said. "Not dead, alive."

"Oh God, thank God," Rylie said through tears.

Kantor struggled to open his eyes. His eyelids weighed two tons. He was apparently zoned out of his mind on drugs, and his eyes couldn't focus very well. He saw his mother, and then he saw Rylie. And then…nothing.

When Kantor finally came out of the drugged daze, it was dark in his room. Confused, he looked around at his surroundings. His leg was in a cast up to his thigh. It was suspended in mid-air, attached to what looked like a torture device. He slowly brought his hand up to his cheek. Wincing in pain, he ran his hand over the healing graze wound. He felt other cuts and scratches all over his arms and face. He hadn't dreamt it all; he wasn't dead. He saw Rylie standing close to the window, her back facing him.


His voice startled her, and she spun around with a look of shocked surprise. "Falk?" She came to his bedside. "We thought you weren't going to make it." Fresh tears had welled up in her eyes.

"Didn't I tell you once that I was indestructible," he asked with a very tired grin.

"Yes," she said, trying her best to smile through her tears. "But even those who are indestructible have a weakness every now and then."

"You're right," he croaked out, his throat extremely dry and scratchy. "Superman had Kryptonite. Falk Kantor has bullets." He chuckled a little, the chuckle tiring him out even more. "What happened? I remember very little."

"Later. You have to get your strength back."

Without his asking, she poured him a small cup of water. He wanted to gulp it down, but he was still pretty weak, and he didn't want to overdo it. She held the cup to his lips, and he held onto her wrist. Touching her again felt wonderful, even if it was simply holding on to her wrist.

He finished the cup of water and gazed up into her eyes. He released her wrist, but held onto her hand. "Tell me, please."

She had a difficult time denying his request. "It was Ty. He came after you. I think he told the police he attacked you in such a way so that I would be released. He thought I'd go back to him, that I'd be grateful. You were shot twice in the leg. The first bullet ripped through an artery. The second broke your ankle. If the police hadn't come…" She couldn't finish. The thought was too horrifying to express.

"What about Ty? What happened to him?"

"He was arrested, and that prostitute came forward when she heard you were near death."

"They're not going to charge you?" That worry was foremost in his mind.

She shook her head. "They couldn't." She diverted his attention from Ty and his shooting. "Your entire department has been here, Falk. I think your captain wants to promote you."

Hurt and betrayal had yet to leave him, but at least they knew the truth. Then there was the promotion. He wasn't even sure he wanted to go back. His eyes grew heavier and heavier by the second. He was so very tired.

"I don't want to stop looking at you, but I need to sleep," he said softly, almost apologetically, his eyes already starting to close.

"Yes," she said. "You need it."

"Rylie?" His voice seemed to be coming from far, far away.


"I love you."

"I know," she whispered. "I love you, too."

It took Kantor a couple of weeks to begin feeling like his old self. He was still in the hospital, but he hoped to be released soon. There were a few life-changing decisions he had made, and he wanted to get his plan rolling. Most of the tubes and such had been taken out of his body. The cast had not gone away, and wouldn't for a couple more months.

Kantor found himself smiling a little. Rylie had just left with Nasya. She had snuck her in to see him a couple of times since his condition had improved. His persistently stubborn daughter had demanded to see her father, and Rylie obliged after speaking to him about it. More or less, crisis had really brought his picky child close to Rylie. The thought of his daughter warming up to Rylie pleased him immensely.

Three days before Kantor's scheduled release, Rylie was with him as usual. She looked absolutely lovely in her dark blue sleeveless dress that hung loosely on her body. However, she was unusually quiet, distant. He knew something was bothering her, but she had yet to speak. He felt an ache in his heart as he recognized the symptoms.

"Are we going to talk about it, or are you going to let it eat you alive," he finally asked.

She looked at him and smiled a little sadly. "You are so amazing. You have the ability to read my mind sometimes."

Kantor had played this scene out with KT. He knew what was coming. "You're leaving, aren't you?"

She sighed and brought herself to her feet. She sat on the bedside to face him. "A friend of mine wants me to be her partner in a rape crisis center in Tampa. I think the move will help me heal. But it's not only just a job. It's something close to my heart, something I want to do."

As with KT, he did not argue, he hid his true feelings deeply inside his heart and gave way. He focused his eyes on her face and noticed the same 'please talk me out of this' look that he had seen before. But he wouldn't. He loved her so very deeply, and the thought of her leaving killed him, but he decided not to voice it. He didn't realize he was making the same mistake again.

Forcing the words out of his mouth, he said, "Then you should do it."

"I love you," she said, not letting go of her 'talk me out of it' gaze.

Although the same thing had happened with KT, this time it felt different. It actually seemed as if Rylie really didn't want to go. It wasn't that she was afraid to leave or had doubts as KT had, but she actually loved him enough to let go. Vaguely, he wondered if she was trying to protect him from something.

Giving way again, he said, "I love you too, Rylie. If you want it, you must do it."

There were no long goodbyes, no tearful scenes at an airport. Rylie left him that night after visiting hours were over, and he didn't see her again. Kantor was not a man who cried easily, he was not a man who questioned his motives, but that night, he found himself doing both.

Kantor sat in Captain Caulfield's office. The huge clunky cast had come off, and a smaller one had replaced it. He could walk with the use of a cane. He wasn't thrilled about that, but he would get used to it. He had little choice.

"I can't apologize enough for the mess we made of this case. I certainly wish you would withdraw your resignation. You were well overdue for a promotion," the captain said.

Kantor stared down solemnly at his badge. It had been a huge part of his life for over a decade. But too much had happened in his career, and he wanted to leave on a high note, before he lost the feel for the work. Of course, he had other plans, and he wanted to get things straightened out before he began his new life.

"Thanks Chris," he said, "but I don't think it would ever be the same around here again. For a change, I'm following my heart. Now if you'll excuse me, I must find the woman I love and ask her to marry me."

A few hours later, Kantor found himself outside a small brick building. The sign at the front said: The Nicole Zierling Women's Crisis Center. She had named the clinic after her beloved niece. Below that: Simone Behring, M.D., Rylie Storm, LSW. He smiled a little and found himself so very proud of her. He hobbled to the door and let himself inside. Three women stood behind an L-shaped receptionist cubicle. One of them was Rylie. Her back was turned to him.

"Hello, sir," an attractive young woman said. "Can I help you?"

"Yes," he said. "I'd like to speak to Ms. Storm."

Instantly Rylie recognized his voice. It couldn't be. It had been nearly two months. Her heart began to pound in her chest, and butterflies danced in the pit of her stomach. Oh, how she had cried for him, yearned to hear his voice, to see him. How she had wondered if he still cared. Of course, there was a crooked stitch in the fabric, and she was unsure if she could straighten it out.

Slowly, Rylie turned around. Once her eyes settled firmly on Kantor's face, she approached the edge of the desk and gazed at him in wonder. He looked good, healthy, nearly healed. If it weren't for the cane to aid in his walking, she wouldn't have thought anything had been wrong with him at all.

Kantor had thought of a thousand different ways to ask her to marry him. He had gone over every detail, every word. However, the instant he laid eyes on Rylie, he lost his voice. He couldn't say or do anything. His eyes were transfixed on her beautiful face. He had no idea how he could have let her leave.

Comically, Rylie's co-workers stood and exchanged confused glances as they each looked between Rylie and this handsome, mysterious man. Rylie didn't speak of her former lover often, but they were sure this was the one. All they had to do was look at Rylie's expression. What a surprise she had in store for him.

"Falk," she asked. "What are you doing here?"

Slowly, steadily, he walked toward her. He couldn't see the clients, her co-workers, the walls, the floor, anything. All he could see was her. "I'm here to do what I should have done two months ago. I didn't want you to leave, I hate it that you left. I didn't say a word, and I refuse to allow another day to go by without letting you know how much I love you, how much I want you back."

Although she wanted to tell him she felt the same, wanted to share her own heart, she couldn't speak. Behind her, she felt Simone poking her back, seemingly saying, speak, you idiot!

"I don't want to live without you anymore," he said. "I love you, Rylie. Marry me."

"If you don't say something, if you don't say yes, I'll marry him," Simone said from behind.

Rylie didn't want to speak to him, to change her life, behind a receptionist's desk. She came from behind it and approached Kantor slowly, cautiously. He took hold of her arm gently, lovingly. She was more beautiful today than she ever was.

"I'll marry you," she said softly.

Relieved, he sighed and tossed his cane aside. He took her into his embrace. He kissed her deeply, pulling her body close against his. Something about her had changed; something was different. It took a moment or two for it to dawn on him. He broke the kiss and drew away from her a bit. She was dressed in a loose fitting outfit, and he hadn't been able to see, but he could feel. His hand drifted down to her abdomen, to the tiny life nestled there.

"Rylie, why didn't you tell me," he asked, the shock evident in his voice.

"I wanted to tell you the last time I saw you at the hospital, but I was afraid," she said quietly. "Your words made me believe you didn't want me to stay. I thought if I said anything, you would think I was trying to trap you. I intended to tell you, but I couldn't do it that day. I can't totally blame you, because I was set to leave."

He shook his head. "I'm an idiot, Rylie. I'm sorry for being so blind, so stubborn. I let you walk out, I could have stopped you, but I didn't. I'll spend the rest of my life making it up to you, to the baby."

"No," she said. "It doesn't matter anymore."

And it didn't. The page was blank.

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