The Key to the Cage

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Part III--Never A Dull Moment

Beep beep beep. Falk Kantor groaned deeply within his throat. His despised pager shrilly chirped beside him. He lazily opened one eye and glanced at the bedside clock. Two in the morning, he thought. I've only been in bed for two hours. Why me?

Kantor had taken the previous day off as he did every year at this time. Yesterday marked what would have been his and Selarah's wedding anniversary. He spent the day at home with his daughter and tried not to focus on grief. However, it wasn't easy.

A lot had changed in five years. Not long after Selarah's murder, Kantor's father developed prostate cancer and died within a year of his diagnosis. Of course, his entire family had been shaken to its foundation. Kantor insisted that his mother move to Florida and live with him. She balked at first, but he eventually persuaded her to come. Within weeks of his mother's arrival in the US, he decided to move out of his apartment. Kantor could no longer stand to live in the place. There were simply too many memories that tormented him. He financed a two-story house with enough room for the three of them.

He had continued to work at Lexicon in homicide as a detective until he was asked to take over as chief. Oddly, Lexicon had never replaced Matt Bruce. Kantor had run the department in an unofficial manner, but the upper brass hadn't put up any effort to hire a replacement. Kantor was simply offered the job, and he took it. His only stipulation: a new office. He did not want to house himself in the office of a man responsible for taking his wife's life.

The pager chirped again, and he had the greatest urge to smash it with his fist. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and reached over to retrieve the evil device. The number was all too familiar. Dispatch had paged him causing his stomach to tighten up the slightest bit. Dispatch paged only when a body had been found. Since he worked in a more supervisory capacity, he didn't necessarily have to go out to the scene, but he always did. He was still an investigator at heart and would never let it go.

Fully dressed, Kantor slipped into his mother's bedroom. "Mom," he said, shaking her gently.

She turned to her back and opened her eyes. "Do you have to go out," she asked sleepily.

He nodded. "Give Nas a kiss for me in the morning, I probably won't be back until after she goes to school."

"Okay, son. Be careful."

He smiled a little and bent to kiss her forehead. "Go back to sleep, Mom."

Adira Kantor sat up and watched her son with a heavy heart. He still mourned the loss of his young wife and had yet to open his heart to anyone outside the family.

When Kantor arrived, total mayhem seemed to have broken loose. Area media, police, medical personnel, and several dozen onlookers crowded around the scene. What the hell is going on, he thought.

Slowly, he approached an officer blocking the entrance to the driveway. "What are all these people doing here," he barked.

"Sir, the st-uh-victim is a well-known actor," he said.

Kantor had caught the first two letters of the word 'stiff,' and he was glad the PO had changed his words. He didn't tolerate the cheapening of human life. "Get some of your colleagues over here to help you. We don't need any contamination of the scene."

Without another word to the officer, he made his way toward the house. He noticed a young woman huddled amongst a couple of his detectives. She was obviously related to the victim as she was crying and calling his name repeatedly. The detectives were having little luck getting any information from her. He ignored the woman and moved inside.

Kantor's career had jaded him over the years, and it took a lot to shake him up. He laid his eyes on the victim and had to hold back a gasp. He was a very handsome man, probably in his thirties. His blonde hair was caked with blood and he had a broken nose. His throat had been sliced open. Kantor always had trouble dealing with these types of homicides. They were simply never ending reminders.

"That's my brother," a woman's voice cried.

He tore his eyes away from the dead man and focused them on the screaming woman. She had been the one he passed on the way inside. She looked nothing like her famous actor brother. She was petite, barely five feet four inches tall. Her dark auburn hair was cut into a one-length bob that fell just below her chin. She had pixie-like facial features and looked no older than thirty or so. There was nothing tiny about her voice. She seemed to seek Kantor out, seemed to know he was in charge.

"Ma'am, ma'am," one of his detectives called out as he followed her. "You can't go in there."

"Go to hell," she cried. She approached Kantor, placed her fists on her hips, and threw daggers at him with her gray eyes.

"Why can't I stay," she asked. "He's my brother."

Kantor sighed. He didn't like scenes like this, because he knew where the victim's families were coming from. "Miss, uh?" He had no idea what her name was.

She rolled her eyes in disgust. "Cops," she mumbled under her breath. "My name is Mara Cardiff."

"Miss Cardiff, we need to keep the scene of the crime as pristine as possible. Interference from the outside can contaminate it," he explained calmly.

"Detective," she began. "This victim is my brother. He's dead and it's obvious someone killed him. I'd like to be here with him as long as I can. I will never see him again," she spat and then broke down in tears.

He felt very awkward standing in front of the crying woman. Kantor knew he should try to comfort her, but the stone that replaced his heart when Selarah died had yet to soften. Only his little girl had the power to soften it. Before he had the chance to say or do anything, a crime scene investigator stepped in and bumped him with her hip.

"Move over, Freeze," she quipped.

He groaned in frustration as she stepped up to Cardiff and hugged her. Goddamn her, he thought. Kalissa Taylor Watts, known to all as "KT," was the newest addition to the CSI department. Watts was a pert and bubbly woman in her late twenties. She had a beautiful mane of chestnut brown hair, but she kept it up in a ponytail hidden beneath a baseball cap. Her eyes were a deep shade of sapphire blue. Her overly chipper personality grated all over Kantor's nerves.

Watts meshed no better with Kantor. Her mother had been fond of saying 'that joker is a hard boiled egg.' Watts certainly thought the chief of detectives fit that mode well. Her colleagues had told her about his detective wife, and the fact that a serial killer had murdered her. However, she came from the mindset that 'life goes on.' Chief Kantor refused to move on. He was stuck in ice, frozen solid. He seemed incapable of feeling, and because of that, Watts had little respect for him. She called him "Freeze" and didn't care.

Watts put her arm around the crying woman and began walking her away from the dead man. She glared hatefully at Kantor before turning away. She didn't see him, but he returned her glare just as hatefully.

The restaurant was crowded that night. KT had never seen so many people in a place at once. Her parents had taken her out to celebrate her new job with the Lexicon Police Department. She had started out as a fingerprint tech while in college. After graduation, she had been offered a full-time job. Thrilled, KT stuck with it until a slot came open with CSI.

As her eyes scanned around the room, she caught sight of a familiar looking man. He sat at a table for two with his chin propped on his hand. He was grinning adoringly at a small child who sat directly across from him. The girl physically resembled him, and KT reasoned that she must be his daughter. The little girl seemed to be telling him a story, perhaps about her day at school.

KT stared at the man for a long time before it hit her. She was looking at the new chief of detectives. She had seen him occasionally at the PD. He was handsome, but also seemed cold and unfeeling. He wore a wedding band, but she had heard he was single, a young widower. She had no clear idea how long she had been staring at him, but he suddenly looked away from the child and his eyes met hers. Embarrassed, she looked away quickly.

Kantor recognized Watts right away. He made it a point to know everyone who entered the police department. There would be no more Aaron Holmes' in his division.

Two weeks later, KT was back at the restaurant again. That night wasn't as busy as her celebratory night. Ironically enough, she noticed that the chief had also came back to the restaurant. This time, however, he was alone. She noticed a plate of untouched food in front of him, but he was drinking heavily from a wine bottle sitting near him. She had no idea why she cared so much for a person who seemed to care so little about himself.

By the time KT finished her meal, the chief had put away two bottles of wine, but still hadn't touched his food. She paid her check and battled herself internally, wondering if she should approach the bastard. Her 'good girl' side won out.

Kantor looked up as Watts from the CSI approached his table. "Chief? Are you okay?"

He had almost laughed. She didn't even know his name yet. However, today marked the anniversary of Selarah's death, and laughing was something he couldn't have done even if he had drank fifteen bottles of wine.

He waved a dismissive hand toward her. "I'm fine," he barked.

KT almost left it at that until she saw his car keys laid out on the table. Did he think he could drive home? He obviously wasn't thinking clearly. Quickly, she put her hand over the keys and snatched them back away from him.

Kantor's expression changed from one of curiosity at her intrusion of his evening to dark anger. "You must think I'm stupid, Miss Watts," he said. "I didn't intend on driving. Give them back," he demanded.

"No way," she said stubbornly. "You're wasted, Chief. I can take you home."

His glassy eyes grew even darker. "I'm sure you can."

She rolled her eyes and groaned audibly. "Don't flatter yourself. You're too damn old for me. Now come on. I don't have all night."

Kantor stood on shaky legs. He dug out his wallet and left some money on the table. He wasn't even sure what he grabbed, and he didn't care. He followed Watts out of the restaurant and down to the parking lot to retrieve her car. She stopped at a small compact car; it looked like an insect of some sort. He wondered how he was going to fold his tall frame into the tiny vehicle.

She stopped and turned toward him. "Sorry I don't have a larger car, I don't make as much as CODs do. And there's no air conditioning, either. You're gonna have to roll down your window."

KT unlocked and opened the passenger side door. Kantor nearly fell in the car. As he sat in the seat, he noticed that his knees nearly met his chin. She slid into the driver's side and glanced at him. Helplessly, she began to giggle. He looked ridiculous.

Between guffaws, she said, "Slide the seat back, you dork. The lever is on the side."

Although drunk off his ass, Kantor managed to finger the lever and move the seat back. A bit more comfortable now, he leaned back in the seat and closed his eyes. KT snapped her fingers in front of his face. Irritated, he glared at her.

"Don't go to sleep, Chief, you have to tell me where you live. I'm no detective, I can't follow your trail."

"My name isn't Chief," he said coldly.

She smirked at him. "Sorry, my mistake, Mr. Freeze," she spat.

"You're very irritating," he grumbled. "The name is Kantor."

She gunned the car's engine and put it in gear. "Whatever, Freeze. Tell me where you live."

"I can't go home," he said nearly moaning. "Can't let Nas see me like this."

She pulled out into the unusually light evening traffic. "Nas," she asked. "Who's Nas?"

For a long time, Kantor was silent. She wasn't sure he was going to answer her. He leaned back and turned his head away from her, toward the window.

"Nasya," he finally said. "She's my daughter. I don't want her to see me like this. I'll go to a hotel to dry out first. Do you mind?"

KT was impressed. His voice had actually softened. He sounded almost…human. "No, I don't mind."

Kantor gave her directions to the hotel where he wanted to stop. He asked that she just drop him off, but she couldn't do that. He was very drunk and she didn't want him to fall and crack open his skull. She noticed that he had a scar just above his left eyebrow already, and he didn't need another one.

KT kept her hand on Kantor's arm and led him into the hotel. There were vacancies, thank God, and he checked in. She walked with the chief to his room and helped him inside. She started to leave, but Kantor's hand gripped her upper arm tightly, pulling her back. For no reason at all, he mashed his mouth down on hers, forcing her lips apart with his tongue. Startled, she didn't know how to react.

Kantor awoke with a swimming head. He was grateful he had yet to develop a hangover. For a moment, he didn't know where he was. The room was dark and alien, it looked nothing like his bedroom at home. When he noticed a body in bed beside him, he thought he was still asleep and dreaming about Selarah. However, the fluff of hair sticking out from under the cover was chestnut brown, not blonde.

"What the hell," he whispered.

Carefully, he slid out of the strange bed. Stark naked, he stood and gazed at the girl. Oh dear God, he thought. He knew who she was, but he couldn't remember anything that transpired between them. What worsened it for him was when his sharp eyes identified crimson stains on the bed sheet. He had seen enough. Kantor searched out and gathered up his clothing, but he could not find his keys anywhere. He dressed and left as soon as he could.

The next morning, Kantor had to cab into work. He had no earthly idea where he had lost his keys. Due to his slight hangover, he sat at his desk in a bit of a daze, and couldn't quite get himself together.

Uninvited, KT came into his office. Nonchalantly, she tossed his keys onto his desk and regarded him with an unreadable expression. Kantor found it hard to even look at her.

"Did you forget something last night," she asked.

He heard nothing in her voice and saw no identifiable expression on her face. Oddly enough, she was simply blank. "I'm sorry," he began.

She crossed her arms. "For what? Are you sorry for getting drunk off your ass? Perhaps you're sorry for manhandling me? Or could it be that you're apologizing for taking my virginity?"

Kantor's jaw dropped. He felt horribly about what had happened, especially since he could remember nothing. "Watts, I-"

She held up her hands. "Save it, Freeze. I didn't let you do anything I didn't want you to do. You should close your mouth, though, you might draw flies." She turned away and walked toward the door.

He snapped his mouth closed hurriedly, embarrassed. He then stood. "Watts? Wait," he said.

She stopped and looked at him over her shoulder. "Drop it, Freeze. You were really good in bed, but I don't want to date you or anything. Don't flatter yourself."

Kantor stared at her with a flabbergasted expression on his face. "You're insane," he said flatly.

"Probably," she said, agreeing, and then she left him.

"Chief?"

Kantor snapped out of his thoughtful reverie and turned to look at the detective. "Yes?"

"Ms. Cardiff wants to speak to you."

He nodded. "Okay, thanks."

Kantor went in search of Cardiff and saw that Watts was still with her. He glared at her for a moment. "Do you mind, Watts? Your job should be confined to the crime scene inside."

She smiled at him sweetly. "But of course, Freeze. Your work is so much more important than mine," she said, her words dripping with sarcasm.

Kantor came quite close to calling her a name he rarely used. He bit it back because Watts enjoyed baiting him.

* * *

"DADDY," Nasya screamed as Kantor entered the house.

He smiled a little as she ran to him. He scooped her up in his arms and she began kissing his cheek, making loud smacking noises. "What are you doing out of bed? It's too early for you to be up," he said.

"I wanted to see you. Grandma told me you wouldn't be home this early, but I wanted to stay up."

He began walking toward her room. "Come on, Nas. I'm taking you back to bed. You need your sleep."

"But I want to stay up with you," she insisted.

"I'm an old man, my love. I'm going right to bed."

She laid her head on his shoulder. "You promise?"

"Yes, I promise."

She sighed, her sigh so much like Selarah's it nearly broke his heart. "Okay. I guess I'll go to bed, too."

Kantor took his daughter into her bedroom and tucked her back into bed. Within a few moments, she was asleep. He dragged an old rocker close to her bedside and sat down. The rocker had seen him through tons of late night feedings, nightmares, and five years of snuggling and story reading. He gazed at his sleeping child, realizing the only time he was really at peace was while he was with her.

Lately, she had begun asking questions about her mother. Although Selarah was still Kantor's sore spot, he had gotten down a small photo album and showed Nasya what her mother looked like. Fascinated, she had tried to see herself in her mother. I look like you, she had told him. But she's pretty. She had then asked what happened to her mother, but Kantor could not tell her. He hadn't dealt with her death, and Nasya was too young to know the facts surrounding it. She would not understand.

Kantor's eyelids were getting heavier and heavier. Before long, he had fallen into a fitful sleep. There were no dreams, only blackness.

About an hour and a half later, Kantor sauntered into the kitchen and sat down at the table. His mother was busily preparing breakfast and fixing up Nasya's bag lunch for school. He hadn't wanted her to take over running his household by cooking, cleaning, and offering childcare. He wanted her to come to Florida and basically just be a leisurely grandmother. But she insisted on doing things the way she did them at home. Adira Kantor was a stubborn woman, very set in her ways. He supposed he had inherited those qualities from her as well.

"Falk, you should go back to bed. You're worn out."

He smiled a little. "How do you know I'm worn out? You're not even looking at me."

"I can hear it in your voice and the way you walk about. You're pushing yourself too hard."

"Mom, I'm fine."

She turned to face her son. "No, you're not fine. You're, how you say, burnt out? You're young, single, and handsome like your father. You should take a break and go out, have fun."

He groaned and shook his head. "I know you didn't just say that," he said incredulously.

"Yes," she said, her brown eyes gleaming, "I said it. You need to start dating."

"I'm not into that now, I'm not ready for it." Of course, that didn't stop you from taking Watts to bed, did it? He shook the thought away. "I can't even imagine trying to share my life with another person."

She shook her head. "I didn't say you should find a girl and get married. I said you should find a girl and have fun."

"Maybe some day, but not now," he said.

Gently, she said, "It has been nearly six years, Falk."

"But it still feels like yesterday," he said softly. "I know you're only looking out for me. I know you love me. I'm not ready, and I don't know if I'll ever be ready."

"Do you think Selarah would want you to waste away like this? To pine over her?"

Kantor pressed his lips together and held them in a tight grim line. He was getting angry, and he didn't like to be angry with his mother. "I think she would probably tell me to get up off my ass. I can't. I simply cannot," he said softly. "I loved her very deeply, and she was taken away from us far too soon. I don't even believe I could feel anything for another person. And I don't want to put myself or someone else through that. I would think at least you could understand."

She nodded. "I do, but you cannot stop living because your wife died."

Kantor didn't want to talk about Selarah or dating anymore. He pushed his chair back away from the table and vacated the kitchen. He went back into his bedroom and collapsed onto his bed face first. His mind went back to the incident between him and Watts. He didn't remember much about that night, but the one thing he did remember was that he had been lonely.

He knew that loneliness was a normal, human emotion to feel. Since Selarah's death, he had been celibate. He hadn't even attempted to look at another woman. However, he did experience loneliness nearly every day. He took what love he had lavished on his wife and put it all toward his daughter. There was nothing more left for anyone else. Yet, he still felt lonely, and when he drank the wine that night, it had pushed him over the edge. Sober, he wouldn't have touched Watts regardless of how lonely he was.

"Fuck it," he growled into the bed. "Fuck it all."

He pressed his cheek into the pillow and closed his eyes. He wished he could go back in time; go back to the exact moment when Selarah suspected Matt Bruce. Perhaps if he had been sharper, more on his toes, he could have saved her. Nasya would have her mother, and he his wife. His torture, his torment, dragged him into sleep.

Kantor went in to work a couple of hours late. He went straight for his office and ignored the questioning looks from his colleagues. It was a rare occasion when the COD came in late. He was a staunch opponent of tardiness. He had barely gotten settled in when Watts barged in his office. She had not crossed the threshold between the doorway and his office in months. She threw a thick newspaper onto his desk and planted her hands on her hips, obviously waiting for him to look at it.

Before he even gave the paper a glance, he looked up at this irritating woman. She looked ridiculous in her baseball cap jammed down on her head with all her hair fluffed out the back. If she were his charge, she would adhere to a strict dress code without question.

He shoved his thoughts aside, "What are you doing here, Watts? You don't barge into my office like this."

"Sorry I offended thee," she spat. "Look at the paper, Freeze. We have a leak somewhere."

He tore his eyes away from her and opened the paper. He was greeted with a blaring headline: Actor Heath Larson Murdered, Police Have No Suspects. Kantor skimmed the article and found a few details within that should not have been made public. Furious, he put the paper down and glared at Watts.

Startled, she said, "Hey, now wait a minute. It wasn't me. Try his sister."

Kantor folded up the paper and held it out to her. "Would you mind taking this to Briscoe and Felts? Larson is their case."

She cocked an eyebrow. "Yes, I would mind. I'm not your messenger service." She turned away and flounced out the door.

Goddamn her, he thought again.

Watts made her way back toward the hallway that housed the group of offices used by CSI. Her officemate was not in yet. She sat down at her desk and leafed through her copy of the paper. She shivered suddenly, and then groaned aloud.

Stop thinking about him, she thought. It wasn't that she wanted Kantor, or even liked him [which she didn't], but he preoccupied her mind. The night she slept with him, she had been stone cold sober. She could have pressed charges against the COD if she had wanted to push it. Yet, what she had given, she gave willingly. Although she was certain Kantor couldn't remember anything, she remembered vividly.

Kantor grabbed her upper arm and pushed her against the wall. When his mouth captured hers, she at first didn't know what she should do. She could have broken away easily and left without incident. However, the moment his hands began roaming all over her body, thoughts of escape drifted out of her mind. She realized they were both two very lonely people who needed physical contact of some sort, even empty, animalistic sex.

After the kiss was broken, they each undressed themselves. Kantor did so clumsily, Watts hurriedly. Once unclothed, Watts' eyes wondered down below Kantor's waist. Despite all the booze he had sucked up, his erection was enormous. My God, this is going to hurt, oh this is going to hurt so much, she had thought. However, that thought didn't necessarily frighten her as much as it excited her.

Together, they went to the bed. She went first; he came down after. Kantor's lips and hands began touching her. His lips lingered on her small breasts as his hands traveled lower.

Although a virgin, Watts wasn't completely ignorant of sexual activity. She had gone down on guys before and had the same done to her. Yet, she couldn't move. She could hardly touch him. He didn't seem to notice. Shivering now, she moaned aloud as his lips moved lower. With each kiss he placed inside her thighs, she gasped in delight, hungry for him to taste her.

Teasingly, torturously, he ran his tongue around the outside of her, flicking it here and there. Her hand tangled into his short hair and she moaned, begging him to stop, pleading with him to continue. His tongue entered her, licking and darting. She came almost the instant his tongue touched her inside, but he didn't immediately withdraw. He continued to skillfully bring her to orgasm after orgasm. He would not have stopped if she hadn't begged him to do so.

He placed a trail of kisses on her body that ended with her lips. She kissed him deeply, tasting her juices on his tongue. He broke the kiss and pressed forward with his hardness. She guided him inside her and closed her eyes against the pain. He felt the tightness of her, the resistance of her flesh, but it didn't dawn on him that she was a virgin. The thought was too complex for his alcohol-addled brain. He came quickly, strongly, his pulse booming in his ears, his heart thumping audibly inside his chest.

Kantor kept his body propped on his hands and remained frozen. For a long moment, he could not move. Although KT didn't know it, this marked the first time since Selarah died that he had made love to another woman. Feeling quite foggy now, he moved away from her and collapsed to his back. Breathing heavily, he stared up at the ceiling, waiting for the blackness to overtake him. He wasn't sure if he were passing out from the booze or from one of his infamous headaches.

Long after he passed out, KT lay awake. She turned to her side and propped her head onto her hand. She stared at Kantor for what seemed like an hour or more. She wasn't even sure he would remember anything when he woke up, and she didn't know how she felt about that. She wasn't even sure she would ever understand why she had even allowed him to take her. Falk Kantor was a tormented man, one with many issues. She was sure that she didn't want the job of trying to figure him out.

"HEY," her officemate yelled. "TOP O' THE MORNIN' TO YA!"

KT nearly jumped out of her chair. "You fucker," she said.

* * *

Kantor held his regular morning meeting with his detectives and went over the new cases as well as those still pending. He made them aware that someone from the department had sprung a leak about the Heath Larson murder. Briscoe and Felts said they would interview Mara Cardiff to find out if she had been the newspaper's source of information. He dismissed the detectives and headed back to his own office.

Behind him, a woman's voice called, "Detective Kantor."

He turned and saw Mara Cardiff approaching him. Speak of the devil and she appears, he thought. "Miss Cardiff," he said, acknowledging her presence. "Detectives Briscoe and Felts were just about to come see you."

"Really," she said, stepping up to him. "Why?"

He took her gently by the arm. "Let's go into my office and talk a moment. Do you have time?"

She nodded. "Of course. If it has anything to do with my brother, I have all the time in the world."

Kantor led her into his office and closed the door behind him. He sat her down in a chair across from his desk. His colleagues often called the chair 'the hot seat.' Hardly a man or woman sat down in it without confessing his/her sins. Of course it had more to do with Kantor's intimidating demeanor than the chair itself.

He went around to his chair and sat down. For a moment, he studied Cardiff. The nature of the job was to suspect any and all family members first. "Have you read the morning paper yet," he asked.

She seemed put off by his question. "No, I have not. I've been busy making funeral arrangements," she spat.

Kantor nodded. "Of course, I'm sorry." He cleared his throat. "Have you spoken to the press about your brother, or what we were doing at the scene?"

"No," she answered immediately, looking him straight in the eye.

He appreciated it when people made direct eye contact. It was a good sign. "I want to strongly advise you against speaking to the media. The article this morning disclosed several pieces of information that will harm our case when we find the suspect."

She tucked her hair behind her ears. "Why would anyone do that? It wasn't me. I want his killer found and prosecuted more than you."

"I understand," he said.

"Detective Kantor, I'm a little afraid for my safety. I was Heath's assistant, and I'm terrified I might be next."

Kantor studied the woman carefully. Her body language was open, honest. However, her words startled him. "Why would you think that, Miss Cardiff?"

"It's Mara, please," she said. She then opened her purse and dug out a letter. "I received this in the mail," she told him as he reached over his desk to take it.

The note was written in all capital letters. Kantor read it aloud: "Your brother was only a part of the great act. Watch your back, Mara, watch your back carefully." He folded the note exactly as it came to him. "I'd like to keep this," he said.

"By all means, please do. Do you now understand my dilemma?"

"Of course. We can have surveillance set up at your residence."

She sighed, relieved. "Great. But there's something else."

He cocked his eyebrow. "Yes?"

"I have to go to a memorial party thing for Heath tonight. I need an escort."

Kantor wasn't sure if she were asking him out or if she thought she needed protection at this 'party thing.' "You want me to be your escort," he asked a bit incredulously.

She smiled an embarrassed little smile. "Of course, Detective Kantor."

He wasn't sure what to do. He remembered the conversation he had had with his mother. She would really love this. Not wanting to ask what kind of escort she desired tonight, he cleared his throat and said, "Okay, I'll do it. But you must call me Falk."

Her smile grew genuine, less embarrassed. "Done. I'll have the limo pick you up at 7:00. It's black tie."

Kantor fussed with his tuxedo for thirty minutes or more. He could see his mother watching him from the other room with a small smile on her lips. She was thrilled that he had a date. He had insisted that this was no date; this was business. Of course, Adira Kantor's stubbornness wouldn't allow her to see it as anything other than a date.

Nasya sat with her grandmother and watched her father curiously. She had never seen him dressed up before. Grandma had said her dad was going on a 'date.' She wasn't sure what a 'date' was, but she noticed that he was nervous and kept grumbling under his breath. She also wondered if he acted so nervous when he knew her mother. She wanted to know more about her mother, but every time she asked, Daddy grew sad. She didn't like seeing Daddy sad, so she stopped asking.

When Kantor finally stopped fussing with the monkey suit, he approached his mother and daughter and did a model perfect turn in front of them. He faced them, and both were laughing.

"So, how did I do," he asked with a grin.

Nasya clapped her hands loudly. "Yay Daddy!"

He lifted his daughter up in his arms. He kissed her cheek. "Thanks, my love."

"Well, I'm glad you're finally going out," his mother said.

Kantor rolled his eyes. "For the fifth time, Mother, this isn't a date. You're making a big deal out of nothing."

"Okay, Falk, whatever you say," she said with a gleam in her eyes. She held her arms out toward her son. "Let me take Nas. Your da-charge will arrive soon."

Nasya held her arms out to her grandmother. Once secure in her embrace, Nasya wrapped her arms around her neck. "Behave tonight, Daddy," she said sternly.

He couldn't help but laugh out loud as he focused his eyes on his mother's face. "Now you have my daughter against me?" The doorbell rang and Kantor gave Nasya another kiss. "You behave tonight, little one."

"Okay, okay," she said.

Kantor answered the door to the driver. He followed the man out to the huge car and allowed him to open the door for him. He had not had much experience with limos, but the interior of the car seemed larger than the first apartment he had in college. Cardiff was seated inside. She was wearing a stunning emerald green formal gown. Her hair was in a complicated upswept style. She looked more like an actress than an actor's assistant. He climbed into the car and sat in the seat across from her.

She smiled at him and then glanced down at his left hand. "Wow, I hope your wife didn't freak out too much about tonight."

Kantor gazed down at his gold wedding band for a moment. Carefully, he said, "My wife has been dead almost six years."

Her smile fell away. "Oh, I'm so sorry. Open mouth. Insert foot. Sometimes my mouth has the tendency to run too much."

He looked up and waved a dismissive hand. "Not your fault, you didn't know."

The rest of the ride to the party was made in silence. Mara was gazing at Kantor intently throughout, wondering how she could catch his eye. Kantor was distracted and stared blankly out the window. He knew his charge was watching him, gazing at him. However, he didn't try to meet her gaze. He was vaguely curious about her, but didn't want to complicate the job at hand.

Kantor had attended quite a few memorial gatherings, but nothing came close to the one held for Heath Larson. It was more like a movie premiere party than a gathering of mourners. Cardiff took his arm and led him inside a huge hotel. A grotesquely sized portrait of Heath Larson sat on an easel by the entrance to the ballroom. It seemed to greet passersby. Kantor thought it grim and a bit over the top, but he kept his opinions to himself. He was busy scanning the crowd, looking for suspicious people.

"I know this must look terrible," she said, as if reading his mind.

He glanced down at her. "Was this organized by you?"

"No. His girlfriend. She's over there among that group of actors."

Kantor glanced over to the group that Cardiff had pointed out. He hadn't known Larson had a girlfriend. She would have to give a statement, and Kantor mentally placed her on his list. "What's her name? Do you have her contact information?"

"I can introduce you," she said.

"Good idea."

She led Kantor over to the woman surrounded by the group of actors. She turned to Cardiff and immediately hugged her. "Oh, Mara, it's so tragic, isn't it," she cried.

She was drunk; Kantor could smell it on her. He recognized the girlfriend. She was an actress on a daytime soap opera that his mother refused to miss. She pulled back from Cardiff and set her eyes on him. Although he had never met her before, there was a glimmer of recognition in her eyes. I can't believe I'm face to face with him, she thought.

"Who is this hunk on your arm, Mara," she asked, playing it drunkenly cool.

Kantor was taken aback by her lack of grief. Of course, he had to realize that not everyone simply closed off and remained cold like he did.

"Falk Kantor, this is Darian O'Connor."

The blonde actress held her hand out and Kantor took it briefly. "How ever did you find him, Mara," she stage-whispered while maintaining her poker face. It was hard to think through the alcohol.

"I'll tell you later, dear."

During dinner, Kantor sat with Mara at the head banquet table. Several people came up to give speeches about Heath Larson while everyone else ate and/or looked on. Kantor was uninterested in his plate of food and the free flowing champagne. He kept his eyes locked into the crowd and would ask Mara every now and then about people he thought might be suspicious looking or not fitting in the group. His overall scan yielded no suspects. He was beginning to wonder if Mara had actually been afraid to attend the party alone, or if she had simply wanted to ask him out. He heard Watts' voice in the back of his mind: Don't flatter yourself.

Mara was genuinely upset during the entire two-hour eulogy, even through O'Connor's drunken speech. Kantor was empathetic, but he still couldn't offer comfort. Sitting beside this woman was strange, unnatural, even more so knowing that he could not reach out and take her hand. He wanted desperately for the evening to be over.

Later, Kantor slid into the limousine and dug out a notepad. He jotted down each and every name on his mental list. Mara slid into the seat beside him. Kantor felt awkward around her, almost adolescent. She leaned over his arm and watched as he scribbled down name after name.

"How can you remember so much," she asked.

He shrugged nonchalantly. "Lots of practice."

"I have a confession to make," she said suddenly.

Intrigued, he tore his eyes off the notepad and looked down at her with a raised eyebrow. "You've chosen an excellent person in which to confess," he said with a small grin.

"I wasn't that afraid to attend alone tonight," she admitted with a smile.

"Why does that not surprise me?"

His gaze was constant, deadpan. Mara couldn't read his thoughts, and she knew her way around men. Her next move would be bold, but she couldn't help it. If she didn't kiss him, she would go insane. She needed to taste his lips, to feel his tongue in her mouth. Curiously, cautiously, Kantor watched as Mara's face moved toward his. She's trying to kiss me, he thought, startled.

Her lips met his, and at first, Kantor was tempted to pull away. However, he couldn't quite do it, and didn't understand why. After a moment's hesitation, Kantor began to relax a bit, and he returned her kiss, plunging his tongue into her mouth. Remembering what had happened between him and Watts, Kantor broke the kiss.

"I think we should slow down," he said.

Surprised, she said, "Slow down? Falk, it was just a kiss."

"True," he agreed. "But I'm not even sure if I'm ready for this," he said.

"Your wife?"

He nodded, but didn't say anything at first. "I'm sorry."

"You don't have to apologize, but I really would like you to give me a chance. I want to see you again."

Kantor gazed down at Mara for a long time. He carefully considered what he could say, what he could do. He wasn't altogether sure if he wanted to see her again outside the police department. However, the voices of his mother and colleagues were pushing him, prodding him. It's okay to let go, Kantor.

"We'll see," he said when he finally decided to speak again.

She smiled at him and then kissed him again. "That's better than a no," she said once the kiss was broken.

The house was darkened when Kantor entered. He immediately loosened the bow tie that seemed to want to strangle the life out of him. He thought about having a glass of wine before retiring, but changed his mind. Alcohol was an easy fix, and he needed to avoid it at all costs. Instead, he went upstairs and stopped at Nasya's room. She wasn't in her bed. When he went into his room, he saw her curled up on his bed. Her little arms were wrapped around his pillow, hugging it. Kantor leaned over and scooped his daughter into his arms. She didn't wake up until he had carried her into her own room.

"Hi, Daddy," she said sleepily as she tried to focus her foggy eyes on his face.

He laid her down on her bed and covered her up. "Hello and goodnight, love," he said before kissing her forehead.

"Daddy, before you go, can I ask you a question," she said with half-lidded eyes.

He sat on the side of her bed and smoothed her tousled black hair away from her face. "Sure, love."

"Did you have a good time?"

He chuckled. "Did your grandmother put you up to this?"

She smiled faintly. "No," she said, which obviously meant 'yes.'

"Go to sleep, Nas."

"Love you, Daddy."

He leaned over and kissed her forehead again. "Me too."

Kantor left her and went back to his room. He sat down on the bedside and began freeing his body from the monkey suit. Once he had totally discarded the tux, he sat back down on the bedside. He found himself gazing down at his wedding ring. In nearly six years, it had never left his finger. He wasn't sure if he could ever take it off. However, there was no way he could let go and live normally while it was still on his finger. He tore his eyes away from the ring and buried his face in his hands.

"Selarah," he moaned into his hands, "I miss you."

* * *

After a fitful night's sleep, Kantor dragged himself out of bed on time and managed to make it to work without being late. He held his morning meeting and gave Briscoe and Felts the list he had put together the night before. His crew of detectives noticed that Kantor was more morose than usual, but none of them pressed the issue. He never spoke about his personal problems to any of them, even the departmental shrink.

Kantor made his way back to his office and mountain of administrative paperwork. As he went through the stack of paper, he often wondered why he had chosen to take the COD position. He missed going out; he missed digging.

"Chief," a voice squawked over the intercom.

Tense, Kantor nearly jumped out of his chair. He punched a button, "What is it," he growled.

"There is a Darian O'Connor here to see you."

Darian O'Connor, he thought. She had been Heath Larson's girlfriend. Why in the world would she want to see him? He wasn't even sure she even knew how to find him. He didn't think Mara had introduced him as a 'detective.'

"Send her to Briscoe or Felts," he said.

"Sir, she insists on seeing you."

Kantor glanced at his stack of paperwork and then down at his calendar where he examined his deadlines. Sighing deeply, he said, "Okay, send her in."

Frustrated, Kantor picked up a stack of paper and shuffled it to another spot on his desk. His back was turned when the flighty actress entered his office. He smelled her perfume before she entered the room.

"Your name is Falk. Correct?"

He turned around to face her. His professionalism was the only thing that kept his jaw from dropping down to the floor. The young actress was decked out in a black leather micro mini-skirt and a matching halter. Her ample breasts threatened to burst out of the halter, and he was sure that if she exhaled a bit too heavily, they would be free. The jacket she wore over the halter provided little cover.

She must have noticed the look on his face, because her cheeks reddened the slightest bit. "Excuse my appearance," she said shyly. "The soap I work on shoots on location here in Florida, and I just came off set. I didn't have time to change."

Kantor wasn't sure he believed her, however, he was in no mood to quibble. "Sit down, please." She did as he instructed. "How did you know where to find me?"

She crossed her legs, and her 'barely there' skirt slid further up her thighs. "I called Mara and asked. I've never seen you before until last night, and I was fairly certain that you were working on Heath's case."

Kantor had the impression she was lying to him. Without confronting her, he said, "You should speak to Detectives Briscoe and Felts. They are handling your friend's case, Miss O'Connor," he said evenly.

She took a deep breath and exhaled [her halter held out, much to Kantor's surprise]. "I don't want to talk to them, I don't trust them. However, I do trust you."

Confused now, Kantor sat back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. For a very long moment, he studied O'Connor. Beneath the makeup and sexy attire lurked the heart of a child. What kind of game was she playing?

Coolly, he said, "Miss O'Connor, I don't understand. How can you trust me? Unless I've missed something, we didn't meet until last night."

She leaned forward in the chair as if she were about to share a grand secret. "That's true, Falk," she said. "But I do know you. At the time, I was only fifteen, and you never spoke to me directly. Aaron Holmes killed Steffie Grant; she was my sister. Back then, I was plain ol' Diana Grant."

Kantor was stunned; he could say nothing.

His inability to speak didn't dissuade the actress. She continued, "I appreciate what you did for her." She stared intently into Kantor's eyes. Softly, she said, "You were partnered with a woman-Selarah Steeler-right? If I recall correctly, the two of you eventually married. She was Holmes' last victim, wasn't she?"

Kantor was a man who didn't lose his composure easily. However, he closed his eyes tightly against the memories, against the pain. Bitter tears formed behind his eyelids, but he would not allow them to fall. He vaguely wondered if it would ever get any easier. There seemed to be no escape. He often had the desire to turn in his badge, take his daughter, and simply disappear to some remote location where no one knew him. Slowly, he regained control of himself. When he opened his eyes, he noticed that O'Connor had not looked away from him.

For a moment, she had been afraid the detective was going to pass out. "I'm sorry, Falk," she said. "I didn't intend to upset you. I simply wanted you to know how much my family and me appreciated what you did for my sister. You're the only person in this police department whom I trust."

"Why did you come here," he asked, a huge lump still in his throat.

She took out a small handbag and begun to dig around in it. She pulled out a piece of paper and handed it to him. With a sick feeling building in his gut, he glanced down at the note. The message was identical to Mara's. He didn't trust this woman before him. He took the slip of paper and folded it back the way it had come to him.

"I'm keeping this," he said.

"Believe me, I don't want it," she said.

Not long after O'Connor surrendered her own threatening letter, she excused herself and left him. As with Mara, he offered to set up surveillance at her home. However, O'Connor refused. She claimed she would be satisfied to have an occasional police cruiser to patrol by her residence.

After his bizarre meeting with O'Connor, it took Kantor several minutes to refocus his energies back to his work. With vigor, he attacked the stack of paperwork. Although he hated it, it occupied his mind, and kept the old ghosts from haunting him.

He groaned when he saw transfer papers on a new undercover detective. He had totally forgotten about it. The sad part was that this particular person would take the position he had vacated when he took over as COD. He didn't understand how it could take so long to fill an empty slot. He glanced down at a letter from the Los Angeles Police Department and noticed that the new detective was due in today. Goddamn red tape, he thought. He hadn't even had time to request a background check.

A few hours later, Kantor was face to face with his newest detective, Dylan Evans. Evans was twenty-nine years old and stood about five feet nine inches tall. His body was lean and muscular. Kantor frowned on Evans' shoulder length hair [it was obviously bleached]. However, Evans would primarily work undercover and the detective needed to blend in. Besides, Kantor couldn't be a hypocrite. After all, he had had long hair until he became COD. And it wasn't that long ago, he thought. He also frowned upon Evans' casual dress of faded blue jeans and a black pullover. But again, he had to remember what Evans' role would be in his division. There was no room for nitpicking, not today, not with this new detective. He had the perfect assignment in mind for Evans.

Before he briefed Evans on the specifics, he cleared his throat and said, "Now for some ground rules. While in the office or court, you're to wear your hair tied back…"

"What an asshole," Evans grumbled as he made his way toward his new office. He had tons of shit to unpack.

A giggle issued forth from behind him. "You must have just met the COD," a woman's voice said.

He turned around and saw a young woman in a baseball cap. He rolled his eyes dramatically and said, "Yeah. Is he always so difficult?"

KT approached the new detective. "Oh yeah. The longer you're here, the harder he gets." She held out her hand. "I'm KT Watts, CSI."

Evans took her hand and shook it. "Dylan Evans, the new whipping boy."

From his office, Kantor could see the interaction between Evans and Watts, but he couldn't hear what they were saying. He tore his eyes off them and reached for his phone. He punched in a number and listened to the burring rings on the other end of the line.

"Yes," he said when the line was answered, "this is Kantor. I want an extensive background search on Dylan Evans." A pause. "How extensive? Let me just say that I want everything. If he received nothing more than a ticket for jaywalking, I want to know."

He hung up the phone a few moments later and noticed that Watts was still lingering outside Evans' office, talking to him. Oddly, their unheard conversation unsettled him, made him nervous. His intercom buzzed sharply, and he tore his eyes away from them.

"Chief," a voice questioned.

He jabbed the flashing button. "What is it?"

"Mara Cardiff is here to see you."

He wasn't sure why Mara was here to see him. Don't be stupid, you know why. Shaking off his inner demon he said, "Thanks. Send her back."

A few moments later, Kantor looked up as Mara approached. She was carrying a small cooler, the type that most people would use to ice down a six-pack. She stood in the doorway and smiled at him.

"What are you up to," he asked her, his eyebrow cocked curiously.

"Last night went so well that I thought I'd bring by lunch," she said with a smile.

How many ways could he tell her he wasn't ready to date and she listen? He wasn't sure, but this woman was persistent. He could understand why her brother had chosen to hire her as his assistant.

"I normally skip lunch," he told her.

She entered his office and plopped the cooler down on his desk. "Today you don't."

He glanced at his mountain of paperwork and then his eyes fell on Mara. "Only today," he said, smiling a little.

"What's she doing here?"

Evans glanced over at Watts. "What did you say?"

Startled, KT jumped. She tore her eyes off Mara Cardiff. "Oh? Huh?" She hadn't even realized she voiced the question aloud. "Nothing."

* * *

That night, Kantor and Evans had set up surveillance at the residence of Mara Cardiff. Briscoe and Felts would be taking over at around midnight. Kantor was a bit aggravated by Evans' casual attitude. He glanced stonily at the detective as he leafed through a magazine without a care in the world.

Coldly, he said, "You might want to take this assignment a bit more seriously. This woman's life is in danger."

Evans didn't look up from his magazine nor did he miss a beat when he said, "I can multitask, Chief. It may appear that I'm not paying attention, but I know what's going on."

Kantor didn't speak, he simply grunted. He had read most of the information that came in with Evans' transfer packet. He had received several glowing reviews from California, but there was something about Evans that he didn't like, and he couldn't quite put his finger on it.

"Why did you leave L.A.," Kantor asked, deciding for once to pry.

Evans turned a page and didn't look up at Kantor. "Frankly, Chief, I don't see why my decision to transfer is any of your business. But since you asked, I came to Florida to be closer to my son."

"Divorced?"

He looked away from his magazine and looked over at Kantor with a bitter smile. "No, it's an ex-girlfriend. I wanted to keep contact with my kid, so I requested a transfer." Evans had been warned that the chief of detectives was overly cautious with his division. "There are no skeletons hiding in my closet, neither figuratively or literally." Without another word, he went back to his magazine.

* * *

The very next morning, Kantor found himself entering a chapel. He didn't feel comfortable attending the funeral of Heath Larson, but he knew it was his duty. Not only did he feel obligated due to his job, but he also wanted to be there for Mara. She had fought tooth and nail to have his services in Florida instead of L.A., and she needed support. He wondered if Mara was beginning to get under his skin.

He sat with Mara and eyed each person as they walked in. His radio was turned off, but Briscoe and Felts waited outside if anything happened. O'Connor arrived not long after he did. Today, she was tastefully dressed in a simple black dress. She chose to sit directly behind Kantor and Mara. She was reserved and quiet. Neither he nor Mara spoke to her.

During the service, Kantor tried to keep his mind focused and clear, but it was difficult. No one liked attending funerals, but he especially hated them. He supposed it was selfish of him to only think of his pain, but he couldn't shake it. Debilitating numbness began to creep into his brain, freezing him. I think I understand why Watts calls me Freeze, he thought crazily.

A hand reached over and took his. Startled, he looked down and then over at Mara. Through her tears, she smiled at him reassuringly, as if trying to let him know she understood. For the first time since meeting her, the thought of dating her didn't seem so unnatural or wrong. He held onto her hand tightly and brought it up to his lips briefly. She held onto his hand throughout the service, and he was profoundly grateful. I should be comforting her, he thought.

Later, Kantor stood with Briscoe and Felts just outside the perimeter of a large cemetery. The gravesite service was for family members only, but regardless of that, Kantor hadn't wanted to attend. The instant he pulled his cruiser onto the street leading up to the cemetery, he recognized it as the place where Selarah was buried.

He hadn't come out to the cemetery very often, and Nasya hadn't been here at all. To him, it seemed as if visiting her grave meant letting go, and he wasn't ready to let go. He also wasn't ready to subject his daughter to this place of mourning. Steadfast, he remained rooted to his spot until he assumed the gravesite service was halfway complete. He looked to Briscoe and Felts and excused himself. The detectives thought the COD was going down to the Larson service. However, Kantor had other ideas.

Slowly, steadily, Kantor moved through the cemetery crowded with headstones. Even though he rarely visited, he knew the exact spot where his wife had been buried. It was a location he would never forget.

Dazedly, he glanced down at the headstone: Selarah Marx Kantor. After a few moments, he kneeled before the headstone and began to brush away some fallen leaves and grass clippings that had cluttered it. He caressed the cold granite as if it were her face. It had been far too long since he had come out here, and he wished he had brought flowers.

"I'm sorry," he said suddenly. Kantor wasn't even sure why he was apologizing, but for some reason, it felt right.

After the service was over, Mara walked away from her brother's coffin. She turned toward the detectives waiting a few feet away. She didn't see Kantor with them. Her eyes scanned the huge cemetery, but he was nowhere in sight. She began to walk toward a waiting limousine, but something stopped her. From a distance, she caught a glimpse of Kantor approaching the detectives. She turned away from the limo and walked toward Briscoe and Felts.

Kantor saw Mara as she walked up to the detectives. As he drew closer to them, Mara noticed that Kantor seemed a bit more at peace than he had earlier. He didn't immediately speak to her. Instead, he told the detectives to go back to the office. He obviously wanted to be alone with her.

She didn't speak to him until Briscoe and Felts were out of sight. "I know you were just doing your job, but I'm glad you were here today," she said.

"I wasn't just doing my job," he said softly.

Confused, she said, "No?"

He shook his head. "No." She started to say something, but he held up his hand for a brief moment. "I owe you an apology."

"An apology? For what?"

"I was self-centered and self-pitying. I shouldn't have brought this baggage along with me today. For what it's worth, I want to thank you for opening my eyes. My family has been trying to do that for quite a few years, but they haven't succeeded."

Kantor was gazing at her intensely. His eyes seemed to burn into her very soul. She understood how he had gained success at his chosen profession.

"I don't know what to say," she told him, stunned.

"You could say 'yes' to a dinner invitation."

She smiled a little. "I could do that."

* * *

Kantor went back to the PD after leaving Mara. He had a stack of messages waiting for him on his desk. Only one of them drew his immediate attention. He picked up the phone and dialed. He only said three words: "Send the fax."

As soon as he hung up the phone, he stood and waited by the fax machine. As the pages were received, he retrieved them one by one. A giggle drew his attention for a moment. He looked up and noticed that Watts was in Evans' office again. Goddamn her, he thought. He continued to retrieve the pages, but he also glanced back and forth between the fax machine and Evans' office.

After the fax machine finished, he took the pages and folded them in half. At first, he almost ignored Watts and Evans. However, Watts giggled again, and he found himself stalking toward the new detective's office.

"Watts," he barked.

She turned to look at Kantor over her shoulder. "What," she spat, aggravated.

"Evans is very busy, and you shouldn't be here distracting him. Go back to your own department before I report you to your superiors," he demanded.

"Chief," Evans said in exasperation, "she isn't distracting me. Chill out."

Kantor focused his eyes on Evans and stared at him blackly. He opened his mouth to speak, but Watts spoke up before he had the chance.

"For your information, Freeze, I am on a break," she spat. "I can go wherever the hell I please. If you feel the need to tattle, then by all means, do it. You are not God. What you are is pompous, self-centered, and conceited."

He focused his eyes, blackened with anger, on Watts face. "Get out, now," he demanded through clenched teeth.

"With pleasure, asshole," she said sweetly before making her exit.

Kantor looked over at Evans. "I'll deal with you later."

He stalked away to his office and picked up the phone, intent on carrying out his threat to Watts. After a moment, he placed the phone back on its receiver. His blind rage startled him. He couldn't allow Watts to aggravate him. Goddamn her, he thought for the millionth time.

Forgetting about Watts for the moment, he focused his attention on the fax he just received. It was Evans' background information. He was startled that he had received it so quickly. It normally took several days. He unfolded the pages and began to skim over the information.

"My private life is private, Chief."

Kantor took his eyes off the paper and looked up at Evans. He stood in the doorway of his office. "If she worked over here, it wouldn't be a big deal. However, she doesn't. If you want to socialize with her, do it on your own time," he said stiffly.

"Are you into her or something," Evans asked.

He had the greatest urge to throw the new detective out of his office. "No. I'm far from being into her. If you haven't heard, I run a strict division, and you have more important things to do than entertain a crime scene investigator."

A slanted grin framed Evans' lips. "You are into her."

Enraged, Kantor's face began to turn dark red. He could almost hear his blood pressure rising. "Get out of my office before I have your ass shipped back to L.A.," he spat.

Evans sighed. "Okay, Kantor," he said. "I'm sorry. I simply want you to butt out of my private life."

He didn't want to hear another word from Evans. If he didn't leave, Kantor was afraid he would start throwing things at him. Evans seemed to sense what his chief was thinking. Without another word, he backed out of the office and moved toward his own.

Kantor sighed and briefly rubbed the bridge of his nose. He felt the onset of a major headache. He had begun to regret accepting the transfer. It had been a difficult emotionally draining day. For once, Kantor ignored his stack of paperwork, his deadlines, and Evans' background information. He left his office and signed out. He was taking the rest of the day off. Tonight, he would see Mara, and he hoped he would be back to normal by then.

Kantor sat up and slammed his hand down onto the alarm clock. He hated the buzzing menace and he normally awoke early just so he could turn the alarm off before it started its annoying wake up call. However, that morning, he hadn't quite made it. He had basically been too tired to wake himself up. Within the past few weeks, things at work had slowed down and evened out. Evans background information yielded no secrets, and Kantor tried to avoid him and Watts as much as possible. It wasn't hard. Much to his mother's delight, he had been dating Mara steadily, and between seeing her and his administrative duties at work, he had little time to think about anything else.

He threw back the bed covers and swung his legs over the side of the bed. He found himself gazing down at this left hand. He had taken off his wedding ring about a week ago. It had been somewhat of an event for him. He recalled walking into the bedroom and digging out a small jewelry case. Inside was Selarah's wedding and engagement rings. He had requested and received her rings before her funeral. He intended to give them to Nasya some day. While staring down at Selarah's rings, he had thought of Mara and how she had never once complained about his refusal to remove his ring. He knew she felt awkward being with a man wearing another woman's wedding ring. He often wondered if she felt like 'the other woman.' It was ridiculous, of course. He had begun dating Mara, but could not remove his ring, an object that bound him to his lost wife.

Although he hadn't immediately recognized it, Kantor was afraid. His fear was completely irrational. He had been shot twice, once nearly fatally; he had led drug busts; he had helped hunt down a serial killer; and he had lived through the brutal murder of his wife and the death of his father in the same year. However, he could not muster up enough courage to slip a gold ring off his finger.

It's okay to let go. He had closed his eyes and then took hold of the ring. He slowly slipped the ring off his finger and opened his eyes only after it was off. He had stared at the ring for several minutes. He brought it up to his lips briefly and placed it into the box. Quickly, before losing his nerve, he snapped the case shut.

He had placed his hand on top of the box and said, "I'll never forget you."

Kantor shook his head to drive the thoughts out. If he didn't get moving, he would be late for work.

* * *

Kantor stepped up to the doorway of his office but stopped before going in. He actually couldn't enter the room. Watts and Nasya were sprawled belly down on the floor. There was a coloring book and a huge box of crayons spread out between them. The two of them were busily coloring the same page. Neither of them noticed him right away.

Sensing his presence, Nasya looked up at him. "Hi, Daddy," she said with a smile.

Watts said nothing. She ignored Kantor.

A bit amused a lot confused, he gazed down at his daughter. "Nas, what are you doing here?"

"Grandma brought me," she said and then turned her attention back to the book.

"How long were you here by yourself? I didn't even know your grandmother brought you." He had been in a two-hour meeting.

Although interacting with the COD was the last thing Watts wanted to do, she looked up at the asshole. "Your mother came by about an hour ago and needed to leave her here. I volunteered to look after her until you were finished with your meeting."

"Yeah," Nasya said. "And she took all the best color pages," she said, and then giggled when Watts stuck out her tongue.

Watts laid down the crayon she had been using. "Okay, kiddo. Your father is here, so I suppose I need to go back to work."

"Don't go," she begged. "At least help me finish the page."

Kantor was stunned. Nasya was very much like her mother had been when it came to strangers. She simply just didn't take to people that easily. He remembered the night he introduced her to Mara. Nasya hadn't even wanted to shake her hand. Yet today, she lay on the floor with someone she just met and treated her as if she were her best friend.

Watts brought herself up to her feet. "No can do, Abby," she said. "I have to get back to work."

Abby, he thought with a start. His standoffish child had told a complete stranger her middle name? It was absolutely unbelievable.

"Please," she begged.

He looked down at Nasya. "Nas." When she looked up, he shook his head.

Nasya knew what it meant when Daddy shook his head. "Okay," she huffed.

"Take it easy, kiddo."

"Bye bye," she said with a little wave.

Watts moved past Kantor without further word or another look. Kantor entered his office and leaned against the edge of his desk so he could face his child. He brought his hand up and ran it thoughtfully over his mouth. Nasya was always full of surprises, but today, she had really pulled some rabbits out of her hat. Nasya wasn't looking at her father. She was a bit upset with him for sending Watts away. She focused her eyes on the coloring book instead.

"I liked her, Daddy," she said suddenly, perhaps trying to justify her anger.

He also detected an unspoken addition to her statement: I liked her better than Mara. "That's fine, baby, but she has a job to do. She's busy like me."

She dropped her crayon and chose another. "Are you going to be home tonight?"

He nodded. "Sure."

"Good."

What's on your mind, he wanted to ask. However, he didn't bother. Nasya wouldn't tell him anything until she was darn good and ready. If he questioned her or tried to pry, she wouldn't say a word. She never gave too much of herself away. It was a trait he actually admired. He was put off by people who insisted on sharing everything about their lives upon first becoming acquainted.

"Is that lady coming over again," she asked without looking at him.

"Not tonight."

She sighed. "Okay."

What is it about Mara that you don't like? The question was eating away at his mind, and he was quite tempted to voice it aloud. However, he knew better. Nasya was more stubborn than him, even more than her mother had been. Yet, it was something he needed to know. Kantor was far from being in love with Mara, but regardless of how many relationships he would have in his lifetime, Nasya would always be his daughter. She was top priority in his life.

Knowing that he would not get any further with his bullheaded daughter, he asked, "Nas, are you hungry?"

Apparently not angry anymore, she looked up at him and smiled. "Yes, but can I pick where we go?"

In good nature, he groaned. "Oh no. Sounds like burgers and fries again. You're trying to put me in the hospital, aren't you?"

She giggled. "Daddy, you're silly."

"Yes, baby," he said, "Daddy's silly."

Much to Kantor's surprise, Nasya chose the restaurant that he visited on occasion. She was plainly trying to please him, to subtly get on his good side. Tonight, he would let her win. He hadn't been to the restaurant since the incident with Watts, but of course, he couldn't really go into that with his five-year-old. Once they were seated and Nasya had ordered her usual burger and fries, Kantor saw a couple of familiar faces sitting at a table across the room.

Watts and Evans sat at a cozy table for two. He had thought that Evans was interested in Watts, but he wasn't aware they were dating. The thought of Watts and Evans together disturbed and intrigued him all at the same time. He found himself staring at the table for quite some time. Kantor wasn't sure why he was so interested. Jealous perhaps? Are you into her, his inner demon questioned. Of course he wasn't into her. It was an absurd thought. He looked away quickly before his stare caught their attention. Kantor only hoped Nasya wouldn't notice Watts.

"Daddy, there's KT," Nasya said.

So much for that, he thought with disdain. He glanced over at their table again, but this time, only for a few seconds. "Yeah," he said, "that's her."

"Can we go over and say hi?"

He shook his head. "No, Nas. I don't think that's a good idea. She has company."

She sighed huffily. "Daddy, why don't you ever bring her over?"

Right when she asked her question, Kantor had taken a drink of water and nearly choked on it. He quickly grabbed his napkin and wiped away the droplets of water that had fallen on his chin.

"Nasya," he said after he recovered, "it's different."

"How," she asked, "don't you like her?"

Despite how bright Nasya was, she would not understand, and he tried to think of something original to answer her loaded question. "Of course." Do you? Do you really? You certainly liked fucking her, didn't you? He drove the thoughts out of his head. "KT is a friend, Nas." He tried to tell himself that what he told his daughter was not a lie, just an exaggeration.

"Isn't Miss Cardiff a friend, Daddy? She comes over."

Kantor was amused and shocked at the same time. His five-year-old child was interrogating him. She would make a wonderful detective some day. "Love, Miss Cardiff is a different kind of friend. Do you understand?"

"I think so."

KT glanced over and saw Kantor and his daughter. Much as Kantor did her, she stared at him for an undetermined amount of time. She wondered vaguely if he had seen her.

"The chief has a kid," Evans asked incredulously.

She glanced at Evans and saw that he was looking over at Kantor as well. "Yeah," she said. "Didn't you see her today at the office?"

He shook his head. "Nope. How could I? I was busy staking out his girlfriend's house."

She gave him a weird look. "Girlfriend? Cardiff is his girlfriend?"

Evans smiled and took a sip of his whiskey sour. "Didn't you know? They're a pretty hot item. Or as hot as a cold fish like him can get, I suppose."

Watts was a bit stunned. She never thought the COD would date a woman like Mara Cardiff. Why do I care anyway, she thought. There was no logical reason for her to give one ripe fuck who the COD dated. Cardiff was a stuffy rich bitch who would be perfect for the stiff COD. However, the thought of Cardiff actually with Kantor was unsettling. She shuddered. She had to stop painting such illicit mental pictures before they drove her insane.

Later, Watts and Evans left the restaurant well ahead of Kantor and Nasya. Their departure relieved Kantor and he was finally able to relax and enjoy his meal. Before they left, he had had to struggle to keep his eyes off them. When Kantor and Nasya left the restaurant about thirty minutes later, he walked his daughter to the car and helped strap her in. A low giggle caught his attention. Recognizing the giggle, he looked up and saw that Evans had Watts backed up against the back alley wall of the restaurant. They were in a somewhat compromising position, and for a moment, Kantor could not look away.

"Daddy, can we go?"

Nasya's voice from inside the car drew his attention. Embarrassed, he said, "Yeah, sure. Sorry, love."

* * *

With a groan, Evans slid off KT's body and lay at her side. Almost immediately, he was asleep. There was no cuddling, no basking in the glow of good sex, he had taken her to bed, fucked her, came, and passed out. She wasn't even sure if he liked her that much. Evans definitely liked taking her to bed, but other than that, she wasn't sure. He hadn't even introduced her to his son. She also suspected he was sleeping with his ex-girlfriend as well.

At first, KT had been flattered by all the attention from Evans. He was young, hot, and looked like a rock star. She had been greatly attracted to his youth and passion. He didn't do anything half assed. Well, with one exception. The first time he took her to bed, she absolutely expected it to be better than her encounter with Kantor. However, it was not. It didn't even come close. He didn't try to please her at all; he was a selfish lover and only thought of his own release and desire. Of course, Kantor had used her as well, but he at least had been considerate enough to give as much pleasure as he took.

God, what am I doing, she thought as she stared up at the ceiling. Kantor was nothing to her; he was an asshole. She hated him, loathed him, and her skin crawled whenever she walked by his office door. The only thing good about him was his kid. She was nothing like her stuffy father.

Suddenly feeling dirty, she slid out of bed. She glared at Evans for not even noticing her departure. She went into the bathroom and showered under the hottest water she could stand.

* * *

Beep beep beep. Am I dreaming or is my pager going off, Kantor thought in his sleep. Please tell me I'm dreaming. However, when he opened his eyes, he realized he was definitely not dreaming. The pager chirped away as the blinking light on top flashed intermittently. Blindly, he groped for his wristwatch and glanced at its lighted dial. Oh damn. It's four in the morning on Saturday no less. His hand groped around for the nightstand phone, but he couldn't find it. You idiot, you're not at home, he thought vaguely. Beside him, Mara slept soundly.

This was the second time in about a month that he had stayed with Mara. It was more convenient to be at home while he was on call, but Mara had yet to spend the night with him in his bed. Kantor didn't necessarily think her staying with him was inappropriate, but his daughter made it no secret that she didn't like his new girlfriend. Mara had tried everything in her power to win over the child, but nothing she did seemed to please Nasya. Kantor eventually told Mara to stop trying so hard, that Nasya would eventually warm up to her. However, he was almost certain that his daughter would never like Mara, and she had yet to explain to her father why she couldn't get along with her.

The pager chirped again and Kantor reached over to silence it. Mara kept a cordless phone on the end table on her side of the bed, but in order to get to it without waking her, he would have to get up. He slipped silently and motionlessly out of bed. He crept up to her bedside, grabbed the phone, and took it with him into the bathroom. A half hour later, Kantor came back into the bedroom fully dressed. By that time, Mara had noticed his absence, and she was looking at him curiously.

"Duty calls," she asked.

He nodded. "Yeah. I probably won't make it back," he told her.

She grasped his hand and pulled him toward her so she could give him a quick kiss goodbye. He broke the kiss after a moment and looked at her once over his shoulder on his way out the door. Kantor enjoyed spending time with Mara, enjoyed sleeping with her, but he didn't love her; he couldn't love her. It had nothing to do with a devotion to his dead wife, but for some odd reason, this woman had yet to touch his heart.

Kantor felt ill as he drove up to the crime scene. While on the phone with dispatch, he thought he had recognized the address, but he wasn't sure. However, the instant he parked his cruiser and killed the engine, he knew where he was. The crime scene was the multi-million dollar estate of none other than Darian O'Connor. He only hoped the victim didn't turn out to be O'Connor. But he was not naïve.

Kantor noticed that CSI had already made it to the scene. He gained access inside the house and felt his stomach tighten. Darian O'Connor's nude body laid spread eagle on the floor. As her boyfriend before her, her throat was sliced open. Kantor kneeled before the body and took note that there was no defense wounds on her hands or arms. He had also noted the same thing about Larson. And like Larson, it was apparent that O'Connor had known her attacker, and perhaps her attacker was the same person who murdered her boyfriend. He stared at the gaping wound in O'Connor's throat for a very long time. Please, not another serial killer. Another thought entered his mind: Mara. He drew away from the body and dug out his cellular phone. He had to make sure that surveillance was in place to protect Mara.

Once Kantor ensured that Mara was safe, he began walking through the huge house. In the bedroom, he saw Watts and a few other CSIs dusting for prints. It was ironic that both he and the young CSI were both on call at the same time. Watts noticed the COD when he walked into the room, and for once, she chose not to ignore him. Oddly, it seemed as if he had sought her out. Their rapport was not ideal, but Watts was one of a few CSIs that could converse with Kantor despite her feeling he was a bastard. None of her other colleagues had enough patience to deal with the arrogant fuck.

"How long have you been here," Kantor asked as Watts approached him.

"Maybe an hour. I'm not sure. Dispatch told you it was an anonymous report, right?"

He nodded. "Having any luck?"

"Yes and no," she said. "We're lifting dozens of prints, but I wouldn't be afraid to bet my next paycheck that most of them are going to belong to her or to her boyfriend."

He nodded again. "Thank you, Watts, you do good work."

Without another word, Kantor turned and left the room. Perplexed, KT remained rooted to her spot and stared after the COD. He was definitely full of surprises. She sensed that the murder of O'Connor had touched him in some way. She wondered if it had anything to do with how his wife was murdered. KT was nosy by nature and itched to study Aaron Holmes' file.

Instead of going back home after her job was done, KT went back to the PD. She had seen Kantor leave, and she figured he was going back to Mara's. The graveyard shift was usually the quietest shift at the PD. There were no more than a dozen cops milling about, and she hoped that there weren't any in the administrative area. Luck was with her that morning. Most of the offices were vacated.

KT saw that the door to Kantor's office was standing wide open. He rarely left it that way, and she was glad that he had decided to be careless for once. She slipped into Kantor's office unnoticed. She closed the door and pulled the shades, again unnoticed. There were three filing cabinets in the office. Although she figured it would be fruitless, she tried to open the drawers, but they were locked. As if, you dumb ass, she thought. He probably kept the keys to the cabinets on his key chain.

Taking a chance, she tried his desk drawers. All but one was locked. She closed her eyes and prayed that the cabinet keys would be in that drawer. She cursed when they were not. KT went down on her hands and knees and crawled partially under the desk. There was a spare key taped underneath. Hot damn, she thought. She hoped it would open the right cabinet. She took it to the first cabinet, and it hit home beautifully. Excited, she thumbed through each file, but the Lexicon file was nowhere to be found. She shut the drawer and locked up the cabinet.

Irritated, KT was about to leave until a brilliant idea entered her head. Perhaps this one key unlocked all three cabinets. Come on, Watts; don't be stupid. It would be too easy, too good to be true. However, she tried it anyway. To her utter surprise, each cabinet popped right open. Once again, she hoped her luck would hold out. In the last drawer of the last cabinet, she found the thick Lexicon file. She gave not one thought as to what would happen to her career if she were caught. At the moment, she didn't care. She lifted the hefty six-part file folder and placed it down onto a credenza behind Kantor's desk. She cracked it open and became immediately transfixed.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing?"

KT was so engrossed in the file that she hadn't even heard the door open. She spun around and faced a very pissed off Falk Kantor.

Kantor came to the PD after finishing at the scene to get a head start on the paperwork. He had also gone there to avoid breaking the news to Mara. He had found it odd that his office door was closed and the shades drawn. Paranoid, he had been tempted to draw his weapon. He was enraged not only because she had invaded his privacy, but he could also have shot the young CSI.

She didn't know what to say. The COD was staring at her with anger-blackened eyes. She had never seen him so enraged. She bumped into the credenza and sent the folder down to the floor, causing it to burst open. Kantor took his eyes off KT and moved them to the fallen file. Shock replaced some of the rage that had filled him. If he didn't keel over dead from a heart attack, KT would be surprised.

Kantor couldn't move, think, or breathe. "Answer me goddamn it," he demanded once the red fog lifted a bit. "You have no right or cause to be in here; no right or cause to be viewing that file," he said through clenched teeth.

KT was too frightened to speak. She halfway expected Kantor to take out his pistol and shoot her. He stalked into his office and went for the file. She shrank against the credenza as if afraid he would strike her. He retrieved the file and tried to put it back into some kind of order. He slammed it onto his desk and whipped around to face Watts. He stood over her, glowering down at her, and glared into her eyes.

"I should have you fired for this," he growled. "I want some answers, Watts. What were you doing?"

She tried to shrug off her feelings of intimidation. "I wanted to read the file," she said weakly. She had meant to shout at him, to make him feel as low as he made her feel. However, she couldn't, he was imposing and overly formidable. He could easily snap her neck with one hand.

He took hold of her arm just above the elbow. His grip was vise-like, and there was no way she could free herself. Kantor intended to drag her out of his office and into the hallway. He was tempted to slap handcuffs on her and throw her into the drunk tank for the remainder of the weekend to teach her a lesson.

Like an idiot, she began to cry. "I'm sorry, I-"

Her words were abruptly cut off as Kantor's mouth mashed down onto hers. Here we go again, she thought. She wanted to push him away, but she didn't. He kissed her deeply, thrusting his tongue into her mouth, tasting and exploring. His iron grip on her upper arm loosened and his hands roamed her body as her arms went around his neck. He was giving her exactly what Evans wouldn't, what he couldn't.

She wanted him to take her right then, right there. She was even tempted to rake off everything on his desk and let him have his way with her. However, the thought of Evans crept into her mind, as did the thought of Mara Cardiff. What were they doing? She broke the kiss and pushed him away.

That one action on her behalf was enough to break the spell that had overcome him. Dear God, what am I doing, he thought. He couldn't take his eyes off Watts for a very long time. Did he not learn the first time he had kissed her? He wasn't sure what had possessed him to kiss her again. He didn't even like her or want her. Or did he? He backed up and turned away from her. No no no no, he repeated to himself.

"Get out of here, Watts," he said softly, not bothering to look at her. "Get out of here, and we'll forget this happened."

KT had yet to move. Even though he had turned away from her, she kept her eyes focused on him. "You're good at that, aren't you? You're good at forgetting about things that happen, especially when it doesn't involve your wife."

He closed his eyes tightly and clenched his teeth. "I'm not ready for this, Watts. Leave before I change my mind."

She still did not move. She crossed her arms over her chest and leaned against the credenza. "I wanted to understand," she began.

Kantor turned toward her. He was still angry, but the wild black look in his eyes had left. "It's not for you to understand, Watts. I'm giving you one more chance to leave. If you don't take this final shot, you might as well start vacating your office."

She realized that he was not bluffing. He meant every single word he said. "You're a cold, cold man, Kantor. I'm surprised Cardiff isn't frozen solid by now."

KT made her way toward the door. On her way out, she purposely bumped into him, wishing she had knocked him flat.

He stood stock still for fifteen minutes or more after Watts left him. When he was able to move again, he put the file away and hid the spare key where no one else could find it again. Once the file was secure, he decided to go home. There was no way he could concentrate on paperwork now. He still had Mara to think about, but for the moment, he couldn't deal with her, either.

Kantor went home immediately. Both his mother and daughter were asleep. He checked in on them both, and found Nasya in his bed again. He left her where she was and he went into the den. He stretched out on the couch and began to feel the first stirrings of a major headache. He closed his eyes and tried to relax, but it was no use.

What right did he have to treat Watts like a whore? What had he really been angry about? Had he cared all that much that she was rifling through his files? He was very protective of his privacy, but was it worth all the shouting and anger? He hadn't been afraid that Watts intended to distribute confidential information regarding the Lexicon case. What he had been afraid of was that someone else would discover his well-guarded secrets. Another person would know him and his pain. He wasn't ready to share what he kept hidden in his heart or that file. He hadn't shared that information with anyone yet, not even his own mother. What she knew, she had learned from being there at the time.

Had he changed? Had he really changed? Had he really let go? He was with Mara and he had finally taken off his wedding ring. But did it mean anything? Did it really mean anything? He wasn't sure how he felt about Mara. Where did he see the relationship going? How long would he string her along? Watts had called him correctly. She was the only person who had the nerve to say it.

The pain began to balloon all over his head. He recognized it right away as one of his infamous black out headaches. He hadn't had one in several months, and this would be a doozy. I'm going to try harder, he thought as the fog slowly began to envelope him. No more secrets, secrets only destroy.

Kantor awoke several hours later feeling a bit hung over. He wasn't sure how long he had been out, but when he glanced down at his watch, he nearly passed out again. It was almost four in the afternoon. Dear God, he had to get to Mara. He got up and headed toward the small bathroom just off the den. He splashed several hands full of ice-cold water on his face. He grabbed a towel and began drying off.

"Why didn't you tell me," Mara demanded.

Startled, Kantor removed the towel from his face and focused his eyes on Mara. "How long have you been here," he asked, surprised.

"An hour or more. Your mother said you had blacked out, and I came back to check on you, but you were already up."

Kantor took Mara's hand and led her back into the den. After sitting her down on the couch, he shut the sliding doors on each side of the room to give them the privacy they would need. Kantor chose not to sit. He ended up doing what he did best: pacing. Mara watched him for a very long time before she spoke again.

"Why didn't you tell me, Falk," she repeated.

Kantor stopped pacing to look at her. How could he go into specifics without mentioning what happened between him and Watts? "I wanted to tell you," he said.

She laughed bitterly. "I'm sleeping with a detective, but I was the last to know. I thought I would hear directly from you about Darian's murder. Instead, I heard it on the radio. I was terrified, Falk, utterly terrified. I know I have surveillance twenty-four seven, but I was still terrified. Why didn't you come to me?"

Instead of sitting beside her, he sat down on the coffee table in front of her. He took both her hands in his. "Mara, I'm sorry. Something happened at the office today that upset me. When I came home, I had a black out headache. I wanted to tell you."

She took one of her hands out of his and ran it along his face in a soft caress. "What happened at the office that upset you so?"

"I'd rather not talk about it," he said, and then immediately regretted it.

Mara's face changed from receptive to closed in an instant. "I see," she said. She sat back on the couch, moving away from him.

He lowered his head a bit and sighed. Good going, asshole, he thought. When did he intend to start trying harder, now or never? He raised his head and looked up at her. She sat with her arms and legs crossed. Everything about her was closed now. At that moment, he almost ended their affair. However, he wasn't one to give up so easily.

"Mara, please forgive me," he said. "That's not what I meant to say at all."

"You don't have to apologize. I thought I was getting through your hard shell of resistance, but I suppose I was wrong."

He shook his head and gazed at her intensely. "No, you weren't wrong. I've not been making this easy. Today, I didn't come to you sooner because I found someone in my office going through my personal files."

She assumed the 'someone' was KT Watts. Kantor didn't talk about her much, but she had seen the young woman a few times at the police department. "Why would anyone do that to you?"

"My wife was murdered by Aaron Holmes. In my office, I keep the file pertaining to him and his murders. I suppose this individual wanted to look at it."

Mara had heard of the Lexicon killer, of course. There weren't many people in Florida, or the world, who hadn't heard of the serial killer cop. "Falk, I had no idea your wife was murdered by a serial killer." Kantor said nothing. She continued, "Why would anyone want to view such information? Was it some kind of sick prank?"

He stood and walked over to the wet bar. Kantor poured himself a shot of whiskey and downed it quickly. "It was no prank," he said as he set the glass down.

"Who was it, Falk? Was it that Watts woman? Did she do it?"

"Yes," he answered simply. "It was Watts."

"Why? I don't understand."

He poured another shot and drank it down. The liquor was quickly warming him up, relaxing his inhibitions. "She was doing what you've been trying to do, which is figuring me out. I lost my temper, we exchanged words, and I came directly home. That's why I didn't come to you."

"Did you and this woman have something going on," she asked, finally voicing the question she needed answered.

Kantor went back to the table and sat down. "Not exactly. A few months ago, I got drunk. It was the anniversary of my wife's murder, and I didn't want to sit at home. I went out alone and ran into Watts. She had only been working as a CSI for a little while. I barely knew her. She took care of me and made sure that I didn't drive in my intoxicated condition. I asked that she take me to a hotel so I could dry out. I didn't want to come home and have my little girl see me like that. I was so lonely and wasted; I took advantage of her. Since then, our relationship at work has been very strained."

"And this is why she was digging for information about you?"

He sighed and ran his hand through his hair. He didn't want to talk about Watts with her. He didn't feel comfortable talking about Watts at all. "The file isn't a big deal. I completely overreacted. The big deal is the fact that I haven't been very good to you. I thought I was, but I wasn't. I'm trying, Mara, but I must ask that you be patient."

"I can be patient, Falk," she said, "but I need to ask you something."

"Okay."

"Do you want her?"

Why did all the women in his life continuously ask such loaded questions? Did he want her? He didn't think so, but lately, he wasn't sure about anything anymore. "No," he said, but he couldn't guarantee he was telling the truth.

Much later, Kantor lay with Mara in her bed. She was asleep, but he was wide-awake. The entire time he had been making love to Mara, he felt as if he were lying to her.

Unable to fall asleep no matter how hard he tried, he slipped out of bed. He felt tormented and confused. Something was simply not right, and he couldn't put his finger on it. Instinctively, he went to the window and peered outside. He halfway expected the night sky to be black, but it wasn't. Hundreds of thousands of stars were out twinkling, seemingly mocking him.

Sharing some of his torment with Mara had been the right thing to do, but those tiny pieces he gave her were nothing. You're good at forgetting things that happen. Watts' words haunted him, summed up his entire being. He had told her he wasn't ready to deal with it, to deal with her, and suddenly he understood what he meant. He wondered if Watts had picked up on it. I can't let this happen. I can't, he thought. He glanced at Mara who slept so soundly.

Mara was easy. There was nothing complicated at all about his relationship with her. She wanted to complicate things, and he even agreed to go right along with her. Falk Kantor was a man who wasn't afraid of much. However, the prospect of opening his heart literally terrified him.

The rest of Kantor's on call weekend was quiet. He was more than grateful for that. He spent Sunday at home with his daughter. His mind was still not clear or focused. He was nervous, jumpy, and had a hard time breaking free of the confusion. At any other time, he would have insisted on working surveillance with his detectives at Mara's residence, but he couldn't. There was a fine line between doing his job and trying to make a relationship work. However, when the relationship was with a potential victim, lines that didn't need to be crossed were trampled upon.

After putting Nasya to bed Sunday night, Kantor went to the den. Although the den was supposed to be a 'family type' room, Kantor was normally the only person to spend any time there at all. His mother didn't come into the den because the dark wood walls and leather furniture were too 'mannish' for her. Nasya didn't bother entering the room because normally, Kantor spent his nights there, and she was either in bed or doing something else.

He turned on a lamp near the couch, and the room was bathed in just enough light to suit him. He had carried in a book with the intent to read until he became sleepy. However, the instant he sat down with it, he had lost all interest in reading. Kantor found himself staring off into space. He wasn't sure why his life had suddenly become so complicated. Two women haunted him, and for a change, neither of them was Selarah.

Watts occupied Kantor's mind more than Mara. She was the most annoying person he had ever met. She was nosy, abrasive, and utterly childish. Despite that, some how, some way, she had managed to get through to him more than Mara ever could. He remembered their heated discussion in his office the day before. It seemed as if a type of understanding had passed between them, and he wasn't sure if he would be able to look at her again.

What are you so damn afraid of, his inner demon asked. He wasn't sure; he couldn't even imagine it. Yet, buried deeply within his soul, he knew. He had always known, but consciously, he couldn't deal with it.

"Falk," his mother's voice called out, "Are you okay?"

Her voice cut through his dazed fog. He looked up at his mother standing in the doorway. "Sure, I'm fine. I was just daydreaming, I suppose."

"Would you like a cup of tea before you go to bed," she asked.

He shook his head. "No, but thanks."

"Are you sure you're okay?"

"Yeah, Mom. Don't worry about me."

She left him then, and he reached over and turned off the lamp. His daze returned and he began to stare straight off into space again. His mind drifted back to Watts and the fact that he would be seeing her in less than seven hours. It wasn't going to be an easy task facing her, not after Saturday. Do you want her, Mara's voice suddenly asked inside his head. He had said he didn't, but if she had asked him right at that moment, his answer might have been different.

* * *

Kantor held his morning meeting with little fanfare. He hadn't seen Watts and was profoundly grateful, but he noticed that Evans was fidgeting around. He thought it odd, but didn't press the issue with the young detective. He didn't have very good rapport with Evans. Honestly, if the truth were known, Kantor loathed Dylan Evans.

He dismissed the morning meeting and headed back to his office. Evans was virtually on his heels. Kantor had barely gotten seated before the detective stopped in his doorway.

"Is something on your mind," Kantor asked.

"Yeah, Chief, something big."

For all Kantor's loathing, and Evans' ego, he could see that the detective was serious. "Come in and close the door."

Evans entered the office and shut the door. Still fidgety, he approached a visitors' chair and sat down. "Chief, last night after my shift at Cardiff's, I went out to a bar. There were a couple of guys drinking a few stools down from me, and they were pretty sloppy. I heard them talking, and they basically said they knew Cardiff."

Kantor's mind was buzzing, and he felt his blood pressure rising. He knew where this was going, and he didn't want to hear it. "What are you saying, Evans," he asked even though he knew what the other man was about to say.

"They said she paid them to knock off Larson and O'Connor. She wanted his money, and O'Connor was in his will." For the first time since Evans came to work at Lexicon, he wanted to be respectful toward his chief. "Sir, I know she's your girlfriend, but I tend to believe the story."

Kantor was stunned; he was utterly stunned. He was angry to the point of screaming and breaking things, but he couldn't move. Evans' accusations were serious, but he couldn't believe it.

Evans cleared his throat and fidgeted in his chair again. "Sir," he said, again holding onto his respectful tone. "I think she started dating you to throw you off track." Even though Evans held Kantor in contempt, he couldn't repeat what the men had actually said. She's dating some dumb cop at the PD, some upper brass dude. She thinks that if she's fucking him, he won't suspect her. She said the other day that he was too stupid to see it. Poor pussy whipped motherfucker.

"Get out," Kantor demanded.

"With all due respect, Chief, I think this is something we have to pursue."

"I already know this. Get out, Evans, I need to be alone."

Without another word, Evans left Kantor's office, closing the door behind him.

This cannot be true, he thought as he buried his face in his hands. He was in denial and he felt like a fool. But why would two men simply start saying these things if it weren't true? Evans didn't look like a cop, he didn't act like a cop, and there was no reason for these men to set up Mara. Further, why would anyone want to set her up? The one person who might have wanted to was dead.

To have Larson and O'Connor killed by slashing their throats was not only brutal, but also cruel, especially with regard to the Lexicon killings. Mara claimed not to have known how Selarah was murdered, but what if she had been lying the whole time? What if she had had Larson and O'Connor killed in such a fashion to purposely torment him? What if she had known O'Connor's sister was one of the first Lexicon victims to die?

I'm such a fucking idiot, he thought. He had been blind all along. You don't know for sure if this is true. Of course, he was jumping the gun, but he would not let it go. Although he was a COD and it wasn't necessary for him to work a case, he intended to throw himself right back into the game. He would not allow anyone to use him, or get the better of him. If Mara was involved, he wanted to be the one to bring her down.

When Kantor got himself under some type of control, he left his office and walked over to Evans.' Standing in the doorway, he said, "I want you to get with Briscoe and Felts. Have arrest warrants prepared for the men you spoke with at the bar. I assume you got their information?"

"Yes, sure. I can also run NCIC right now. What about Cardiff?"

"Once we have these men, we'll get statements. I'll handle her. In the meantime, I'll have subpoenas prepared to get copies of Larson's will."

"I'm sorry, Chief," Evans said.

Kantor laughed bitterly. "Not nearly as sorry as I am."

He left Evans' office to get the paperwork moving on the subpoena. However, the instant he entered the room, something stopped him. The subpoena can wait. He had another chore to complete first, a more important one. He dug out his keys and went to a filing cabinet sitting in the corner of the room.

KT sat in her office pretending to read the morning newspaper. Her officemate was at his desk writing up a report. She wanted to sit in the room alone, but that was not to be this morning. Although the remainder of her weekend had been relatively quiet, she had had a bad couple of nights. Evans had been with her during most of it, but she refused to sleep with him. She had a lot on her mind, and his presence only complicated things more.

She was worried about facing the hostile COD. They had had their moments in the past, but she had never seen him so livid, so ready to murder her. While Kantor had been stewing about her, she had also done her own slow burn. She had no intention of allowing this man she loathed to get under her skin. Yet, he had, and she wasn't sure how she had let it happen. I'm not ready for this, Kantor had told her. What, exactly, was he not ready for? Her?

Shit a brick, she thought. She had to get her mind focused on something else. She couldn't allow Falk Kantor to torment her so. He wasn't worth it; he wasn't worth the effort it took to even say his name. Who does this arrogant piece of shit think he is? She was tired of Kantor, tired of Evans, tired of everyone.

Someone knocked on the doorframe, but KT didn't care to acknowledge. She kept her nose buried in the paper. Her officemate took the initiative.

"Excuse me," Kantor said.

Oh God, she thought, he's here. She wished she could bury herself beneath the paper and be out of his sight. There was no hiding from him now.

"Could you give us a few minutes," Kantor asked Watts' officemate.

Oh God, she thought, he wants to be alone with me. She wanted to leave, but again, there was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

"Sure, Chief."

Kantor waited until Watts' officemate was out of sight before he entered the office. He closed the door behind him. He stood by the door and stared at the only thing he could see, which was her newspaper. She hadn't made one move toward acknowledging his existence.

"Watts, would you please put that paper down? I'd like to talk to you," he said.

Mustering up her bravado, she spat, "I have nothing to say to you."

Sighing, he moved away from the door and approached her desk. He laid out something onto her desk that landed with a meaty thwump. She tore her eyes off the paper and neatly closed it. KT didn't look at Kantor. Instead, she focused her eyes on what he dropped before her. To her utter shock and amazement, it was the Holmes file. Two days ago, he had been ready to kill her for even touching the file. Today, he was bringing it to her as if it were a gift.

"I don't understand you at all. I still have the finger marks on my arm where you nearly tore it off. You come into my office this morning and offer the file two days after you were set to kill me over it. I'm sorry, that doesn't make sense."

She had yet to look at him. Her eyes were still focused on the thick file. "No, it doesn't make sense, Watts. But the thing is, you know why I brought this to you. I think you know and understand more than you're letting on." Goddamn her, he thought, I wish she would look at me.

KT turned her back to him. She didn't want to look at him. If she did, she'd be all over him, and she was sure she didn't want that. "I don't want you here."

He sighed and shook his head incredulously. "Okay." What else could he do?

"And for the record, Chief, I don't think you should be dating Mara Cardiff. She's creepy."

Oh, the irony, he thought, if she only knew. "I'll leave, but there's something I want you to think about." When she didn't immediately respond, he continued, "If it's what you want, Watts, it is for you to understand."

Without another word, he left her. Watts turned around only after she heard the door clicking shut. Damn the arrogant fuck. How dare he. She stared down at the file for what seemed like hours. A few days ago, she had been frothing at the thought of reading this file. But as it sat in front of her, she felt sickened at her own desperation. He had given her the file clearly as an act of attrition. Yet, there was more attached to it, and she simply thought it had been in her own mind. But it wasn't. If it's what you want, Kantor had said.

Dear God, she wanted it; she wanted him. She had wanted him all along. What amazed her even more was the fact that he wanted her. But if he did want her, why had he tied himself to Mara Cardiff? Even though she had a few more things figured out, she still didn't understand. She got up and ran out of her office toward Kantor's. The COD's office was vacant.

"Damn," she said aloud.

She made her way back to her office and noticed that the file was still waiting for her. Kantor was not available to answer her questions, so she sought the next source. She cracked open the file and began to read.

* * *

Later that day, Kantor received an emergency subpoena to receive a copy of Heath Larson's last will and testament. Evans, Briscoe, and Felts, with warrants in hand, were out after the two suspects. While waiting for the three men to return, he stood out by the fax machine and waited impatiently for his copy of the will. Every few minutes, his eyes would wonder back toward CSI. He hadn't seen or heard from Watts since this morning.

Sighing impatiently as he waited for his fax, he could not drive the thoughts of the young CSI out of his head. He realized that Watts was a very complicated woman. She was the only woman complicated enough to unlock the cage that held his heart captive. He hadn't seen it, hadn't wanted to see it because until recently, he hadn't truly let go. The sad part was that he had obviously let go with the wrong woman. Innocent until proven guilty, you jerk, he thought. Whatever the case, his affair with Mara Cardiff was history.

The fax machine rang once, and the pages began to transmit. As he did with Evans' background information, he retrieved the pages one by one and read them where he stood. His heart fell a little when he saw that both O'Connor and Mara were named in Larson's will. The drunken stories told to Evans were slowly coming together.

Kantor took the pages to his office. He closed the door after he entered the room. Instead of going to his desk, he chose to sit on the couch. He had been blind when everyone else had not. He had never understood why his daughter never liked Mara. It appeared that even she had known something was not right. He still had not heard from the two suspects yet, but his mind was made up now. How she must have enjoyed getting a good laugh at his expense. Kantor found himself feeling the first stirrings of hatred. He hated her for his own stupidity, hated her because he had shared some of his torment with her. She had used him to gain material wealth. He felt immense guilt because he had not properly questioned or protected Darian O'Connor. She didn't have to die, but he had failed her, just as he had failed her sister.

A tentative knock on his door brought him out of his self-defeating daze. He wasn't sure if he had the energy to even get up. "Come in," he said.

He wasn't looking toward the door. He was leaning forward with his hands covering his face. At the moment, he didn't care who it was. He simply wanted this day to end without his having to arrest Mara Cardiff.

"Is this a bad time," KT asked.

Startled to hear her voice, Kantor uncovered his face and looked up at her. She was holding the Holmes file against her chest much like a schoolgirl would clutch an armload of books.

"It is, actually, but I need a break," he said softly.

She entered his office and closed the door behind her. KT didn't approach Kantor. Instead, she took the file over to his desk and laid it down. He watched her closely, carefully.

She didn't face him at first. "I… I," she stammered. You're a goddamn idiot, she thought. She cleared her throat. "Sorry."

"It's all right," he said, keeping his eyes on her. "What are you trying to say?"

"I'm not sure," she said with a nervous laugh. "I read through the file even though I didn't think it was such a great idea. I had no idea how brutal your wife's murder was, and I know now why you're so guarded."

Kantor left the couch and moved toward KT. His hands fell on her shoulders and he turned her to face him. He wanted to kiss her, but his intercom came to life, stopping him. Frustrated, he sighed, and then barked, "Yes?"

"We're in interrogation with the guys," Evans' voice said. "We got statements, but one of them is leaning. I think you need to come in."

"Neither asked for an attorney," he asked.

"No."

He released KT and backed away. "I have to go."

She nodded. "Yeah, I know."

"I want to finish this," he said as he walked toward the door.

"So do I."

Kantor left his office and walked toward interrogation. He didn't immediately go into either room. Instead, he went into the room in the middle. On each side of the room, there were two-way mirrors. Briscoe and Felts had one suspect in Room A, and Evans had the other in Room B. Kantor's heart sank further when he recognized the man with Evans. This particular fellow had attended Larson's memorial service. He turned on the intercom for Room B. The suspect was blubbering, and Kantor couldn't understand a word he was saying. He would be the squealer, the one to cave in under pressure. Kantor would eat this man alive.

He left what he affectionately called the 'stealth room,' and entered Room B. The man regarded Kantor's stony gaze for a moment, and shrank away. He recognized the imposing COD as the 'pussy whipped motherfucker.' Mara was wrong. This man was anything but pussy whipped. Mara had sorely underestimated him.

"Chief, this gent here is Vinnie Deitz," Evans said.

"I don't think introductions will be necessary, Evans. I've seen Mr. Deitz once before, haven't I," Kantor growled.

There was no hiding from Kantor's vicious glare. "S-sure."

Casually, Kantor approached Deitz where he sat. Deitz half expected the cop to beat him to death with one of the table's legs. Kantor pulled out a chair and sat down, as if he were about to have a nice dinner. Deitz relaxed a bit, hoping that he had mistaken Kantor's stony exterior for weakness.

"So," Kantor said, "what were these stories you were telling my detective?"

Deitz relaxed even more. "S-sir, I gave a statement. We-we was drunk and f-fucking around."

Kantor grinned. It was a bitter, dark, ugly grin. "You was, huh," he said. Suddenly, Kantor was on his feet. He leaned his tall frame over the table. His face was right in Deitz's. "Stop fucking around," Kantor demanded. "You're lying your ass off, your statement is bullshit. Do you think I started working here yesterday?"

Evans was a little stunned. He hadn't ever seen the chief at work like this. He had seen some fine 'good cop/bad cop' acts, but this was no act. Kantor was ready to tear this man a new asshole. Evans was afraid to leave the room.

Kantor glanced over his shoulder at Evans. "I need some time alone with this man. Get out," he demanded.

"Chief," Evans began in protest.

"Get out," Kantor said. "That's a direct order."

Evans left immediately. He didn't want to be Kantor's next target. Although he left the suspect with Kantor, Evans went into the stealth room to check things out. He noticed that the COD was still leaned over, but he wasn't saying a word. He's fucking cracked, Evans thought. He was also interested in the other room, but he couldn't tear his eyes away.

"Are you going to continue with the bullshit, Deitz, or are you going to tell me what really happened," Kantor said. "It's your choice."

"I… I," Deitz stuttered.

"Fuck it and fuck you," Kantor spat. "You and your friend confessed to a cop. That's enough to fry your fucking hide right there. You could have been lying or fucking around, but guess who my money is on? Not you, that's for damn sure." Kantor backed away then and he sat down. "Now, Mr. Deitz, what happened? I can cut you some slack, but if you continue to feed me the same line of bullshit in your statement, I'll be on your ass until the day you die."

The fucker hasn't even read the damn statement, Evans thought.

Kantor dug out a tape recorder, clicked a button, and set it down on the table in front of Deitz. "I can sit here with you all night."

Deitz began to sing like a canary, and Evans was amazed. How in the world did that work?

A few hours later, Kantor was back in his office, reclining on the couch. He had closed the door and pulled the shades. Deitz's confession had exhausted him. Kantor was at his lowest point right then, and he wasn't sure how long it would take for him to climb back up to the surface. He didn't want to go home until he received the arrest warrant for Mara Cardiff, and arresting her would be one of the hardest things he had ever done. He didn't like it when people played him for a fool.

Kantor sat up slowly. After a few minutes, he was able to stand. He went to his desk, reached for the phone, and dialed a number. When the other line was answered, he said, "Mom? Give Nas a kiss for me. I have no idea when I'm coming in," he said.

"Okay, son. Are you going to be at Mara's?"

At the mention of her name, he gritted his teeth together. "No. It's work. I have a situation going on here, and I think it's going to take all night."

"Be careful, son," she said.

He closed his eyes for a moment and sighed. Why was it that a mother could make a grown man feel like a child again? "I'm always careful, Mom," he said, and then hung up.

* * *

KT had spent a very trying half hour on the phone with Evans. He wanted to see her, but she had no interest in seeing him. He had wanted to brag about a big arrest he had helped make tonight, but she wasn't interested. She hardly ever got a word in edgewise while on the phone with him. What the hell was I thinking? How did I get with him? And why did I even try? She had tried to break it off with him, but he wouldn't stop talking long enough for her to get the words out of her mouth.

She found her mind wondering to thoughts of Falk Kantor. She didn't want to bother him, didn't want him to think she was desperate. But after seeing him in his office today, she was damn near desperate. She was still utterly confused and had no idea what to expect from him. He had promised to get back with her, but she hadn't seen him again after leaving his office. Apparently, he was involved with the big arrest Evans had tried to tell her about.

Earlier, she was sure he had wanted to kiss her, and for once, she was ready to feel his soft kiss. Of course, he had kissed her before, but had done so brutally, as if staking a claim. God, I fucking hate him, she thought. He had been nothing but a thorn in her side her entire tenure at Lexicon, and he was driving her over the edge. Perhaps she would gather both Evans and Kantor in one room and tell them both to fuck off at the same time.

Her doorbell rang. She glanced at the wall clock and noticed it was past eight. KT groaned aloud. Evans couldn't take a hint even when knocked right on the head with it. Stupid bastard, the bleach has soaked right through to his brain. When she opened the door, her guest was not Evans, it was Kantor.

Like an idiot, she stood and stared at him for several minutes. He didn't seem disturbed by this behavior. He simply gazed at her steadily and said absolutely nothing. How had he found her? Duh, stupid, he is a detective. So, she thought, am I going to stand here all night and stare at him? His calm patience was unnerving.

"What are you doing here," she finally managed to ask.

"To finish what we started," he said evenly.

He had to say nothing more to her. Just a few short moments ago, she hated him and wanted to tell him to fuck off, but now, she felt her body moving away from the door, allowing him access not only to her apartment, but to her as well. She had barely managed to close the door behind him before she was in his arms. He had crushed her body between the door and a bookcase nearby. As his lips took hers hungrily, her elbow connected with the shelf, and she managed to knock several textbooks onto the floor.

He broke the kiss for a moment. "Do you want to take care of that," he asked comically as his eyes swept over the pile of books.

"No," she said, her voice husky with desire. "They'll keep, but I won't."

He smiled a little and kissed her again, thrusting his tongue into her mouth. He plunged his hands into her hair, finally able to touch it, to run his fingers through her thick, silky mane. Blindly, her hands groped for the buttons on his shirt, and she couldn't unbutton them fast enough. As he broke the kiss, his hands left her hair and traveled downward. He slipped them under her tee shirt and began to push it up. She didn't have a bra on, and he was grateful. He leaned down a little and his eager lips captured a nipple. She plunged her hands into his hair and arched her back. Of course, her head hit the bookcase again and sent a few more volumes flying. His lips attacked her other nipple, and she cried out a little. After several moments, he backed a few steps away from her as he helped her remove her tee shirt. He began working on his belt, but her hands fell on top of his.

"No," she said, "Let me."

He stripped out of his shirt as her hands worked on opening his pants. She barely had them open when he moved to kiss her again. When the kiss was broken, he turned her around so that her back was facing him. His lips found the side of her throat as his hands moved downward. At first, she thought he was going to encircle her waist. Instead, his hands snaked around to the front of her blue jeans. Going on touch alone, he managed to undo the snap and zipper. He slid his hands inside her jeans and slipped them down each side of her hips.

Oh, the sweet, sweet agony of his touch. How she had secretly longed for it. With the force of his hands against her moist flesh, he began pushing her jeans and panties down all at once. She stood stock still as he slid them lower and lower until they were off her body. He took her hand then and helped her step away from them. God forbid if she fell. The moment would be destroyed, and she didn't want anything to come between them.

Totally nude before him, she realized he was still in his slacks, still in his shoes. "God, I wish you'd get undressed," she whispered.

Kantor laughed a little and went about discarding the rest of his clothing. When he was completely undressed, she approached him and kissed him. His hands moved from her hair down to her naked back, where they settled on her buttocks. He pressed her body against his, grinding her into him.

"Where's the bed," he asked, breaking the kiss. He felt a bit like an idiot. He was in her apartment, trying to make love to her, but he didn't even know where her bedroom was.

"This way, Chief," she said with a smile.

She took his hand and led him to her small bedroom. Together, they came down onto the bed. KT wanted to touch him, to explore every sensitive spot on his body. Her lips nibbled his earlobe before moving downward onto his chest. She paused for a moment. She had seen the scar before, but hadn't really asked about it. Knowing that this was not the time for twenty questions, she traced her finger gently down the scar and allowed her mouth to follow the same path.

She straddled his waist and he sat up to meet her. He gripped the bed's metal railing behind her for balance as he kissed her again. He wanted to do his own exploring, but he wasn't sure he had the patience for it. He was ready for her, he wanted inside her, and he wasn't sure he could hold out much longer. She lifted her body the slightest bit and reached down to grasp him firmly. There was nothing gentle about her touch. It was urgent and fevered. His lips were still very close to hers, and she could feel his breath coming in sharp and heavy.

"Now, goddamn it. Now," he whispered harshly, almost demanding.

Her grip fell away and she brushed her lips against his briefly. "Hey," she said against his lips, "we're not at the office. You can't order me around," she teased. "I kinda like you in this position."

"You're insane," he said, not unkindly.

"I thought you knew that already."

Without another word, he nudged and she guided. Desire met insanity and the mix was quite explosive.

Later, KT lay in the comfort of Kantor's embrace. She found herself tracing a gentle line on his scar. She rose up a little to get a closer look his chest. "What happened here? Were you shot?"

He took her hand and kissed it. "Yeah, about ten years ago. They had to crack me open." He was surprised to realize that thinking back to that incident didn't quite hurt as much as it used to. "I almost died."

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to pry."

He shifted his position a bit and sat up. She snuggled closely to him. "You're not prying," he told her, kissing the top of her head. Shifting gears a bit, he said, "I have always meant to apologize for how harshly I treated you."

"You made up for it tonight," she said with a smile.

"I should have made up for it a long time ago."

She looked up at him with sparkling eyes. "Well," she said, moving to kiss him gently, "You could always make love to me again, and I might consider our score settled."

He ran his fingers through her hair and realized that it wouldn't take much for him to be raring to go again. Mara Cardiff's arrest warrant was still pending, and he knew that his pager might go off at any time. Yet, he wanted her again and for the moment, he was willing to take a chance.

He kissed her deeply and lowered her down to the bed. Once the kiss was broken, he allowed his hands and lips to roam all over her body.

"Oh shit," she sighed as his tongue entered her. "Pay back is a bitch!"

* * *

Kantor was dozing when his pager went off. He snagged it quickly, trying hard not to awaken Watts. He had gotten a call from dispatch, and he assumed it was the call, since he wasn't on call. He had to find a phone, and more importantly, his clothes. Kantor came back into the bedroom and dug his cellular phone out of his pocket. He then went in search of the bathroom so he could make his call.

KT awoke and noticed that Kantor wasn't in bed. She thought she could hear his voice coming from the bathroom. She walked up to the partially closed door and peeked inside. He was fully dressed, but his shirt was still open. He saw Watts peeking into the bathroom, and when she noticed that he had seen her, she cracked the door open a bit wider. Unabashed, she stood before him completely nude. Her wild head of hair was tousled and messy. God help him, but he wanted her again.

"I'm sorry, but I have to go," he said, looking up at her.

"I heard the pager go off. What's going on?"

"I'm making an arrest."

"At this hour," she asked, stunned.

He stood and approached her. "Yes. We'll talk about it later. I really have to go." He kissed her softly on the lips. "Look me up in the morning, I'll want to see you," he told her.

She slipped her hands into his shirt. "You can count on that."

He kissed her again and removed her hands from inside his shirt and held them in his. "I wish I could stay."

"Me too, Chief."

He pulled back from her and walked away, buttoning his shirt.

Kantor wanted to be the one to arrest Mara. He knew it was due more to a sense of vengeance than anything else. He floored his cruiser to meet his backup down the street from Mara's house. He instructed his men to stay back. He didn't want her to catch on to her arrest before he was ready for her to know.

Casually, Kantor strolled up to her front door as he had done many times. He became a bit dizzy when he realized that he had been in her bed just a few short days ago. Right at that moment, he was set to arrest her. It was unbelievable. Sighing, he reached out and rang the doorbell.

After a few minutes, the door came open and Mara stood before him clad in a silk dressing gown. For a moment, Kantor was frozen. He didn't know what to say or what to do. This woman, who had been his lover, was a vicious money-seeking killer. Her hands had not touched blood, but she was still covered in it.

"Falk," she said with obvious surprise. "What are you doing here?"

Mara reached for him, but he took hold of her arms. They were like snakes set to strike. "This isn't a social call," he said blankly.

She stepped back away from him. "What? What are you talking about?"

Coldly, he waved the arrest warrant around in the air. "I'm here to arrest you," he said.

She turned on her heal and ran. Frustrated, he lifted his radio. "She's on the run," he barked into it. Without another word, he took off after her.

Kantor knew the lay out of the house well. It didn't take long for him to catch up. Mara had tried to make a run for the back door. He reached out with his long arm and snagged the back of her dressing gown. He yanked her back toward him, and she nearly lost her balance. She turned her body violently toward him, and he heard an audible ripping sound as part of her gown gave way. Blindly, she threw a punch that he effectively blocked. He grabbed her wrist and jerked her arm behind her. He leaned her body over her small kitchen table and held her with one hand as the other groped for his handcuffs. By that time, his backup had made its way inside the kitchen.

"Why are you doing this to me," she cried, "I don't understand why you're doing this to me."

Kantor said nothing. He simply secured the handcuffs and began reciting her Miranda rights. When he finished speaking, he backed away from her. Briscoe and Felts flanked her on each side.

He looked to his detectives. "I don't want her in my car," he said.

Kantor went immediately to his cruiser and drove straight to the police department. He went directly to his office and sat at his desk. He needed to get his shit together before the detectives got back with Mara. Up until she ran from him, he had felt there was a slight chance she was innocent. But the instant she had taken off, there was no longer a single doubt in his mind. He hated her almost as much as he hated Aaron Holmes.

"Chief," a voice called tentatively.

He looked up to see Watts in his doorway. "What are you doing here," he asked.

She entered his office and walked around to his desk so that she could face him. "I was worried?"

Amused, Kantor noted her questioning tone. "You wanted to see who we busted, didn't you?"

KT shrugged. "Yes and no. I also knew that Dylan was with you tonight, and I needed to talk to him." She noticed the slight stiffening of his body at the mention of Evans' name. It thrilled her to know he was jealous.

"Evans, huh," he said nonchalantly.

She could almost see the green in his eyes, and she wanted to laugh. However, it was obvious Kantor was not in a joking mood. Shaking off her amusement, she said, "I wanted to see him so I can tell him to piss off. It seems I'm kind of into somebody else."

He took her hand and pulled her onto his lap. "I'm glad you're here," he said.

She smiled a little and kissed his lips gently. "I'm so surprised to hear that coming from you."

He buried his face in the hollow between her shoulder and throat. She could feel him delicately nibbling at the flesh on her neck. His beard was tickling her, sending chills down her spine, and causing her arms to break out in goose flesh. KT closed her eyes and sighed a little. It was incredible how he had learned exactly what buttons to push.

"Unless you want me to fuck you in front of your colleagues, I suggest you stop that," she said.

With one last kiss on her neck, he pulled away from her. "Don't take this the wrong way, but I think you should leave. Things around here are about to get ugly."

She searched his face. "What?"

Kantor sighed and shook his head. She hadn't simply gotten under his skin; she had gotten embedded in it. "It seems your hunch about Mara Cardiff was right. We arrested her, and Briscoe, Felts, and Evans are on their way back with her."

"Oh," she said. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay," he said. "If she hadn't turned out to be a vicious liar," he began with a bitter chuckle, "I was going to break it off anyway. She wasn't who I really wanted."

She started to kiss him again, but a loud ahem interrupted them. KT was startled to see Evans leaning in the doorway. I suppose there is no longer a need to tell him to piss off now, KT thought. As if caught cheating on her husband, she jumped straight up out of Kantor's lap.

"If you care," Evans spat, "your girlfriend is here."

Kantor glanced at Watts apologetically. He knew he must go, but he felt uncomfortable leaving her with Evans. He didn't speak to or look at Evans.

Once Kantor was out of earshot, Evans turned on her. "What are you doing," he demanded. "I thought you hated him. I walk in and you're all over him like a two-dollar whore. Is he the reason you didn't want me to come over tonight? Were you fucking him?"

"Yes, Dylan, I was. He was a better lay than you will ever be. And before you get all self-righteous with me, I know that you've been screwing your ex-girlfriend." Without another word, she left him.

Shaking off the awkwardness of the scene that just played out before him, Kantor entered Room A. Mara sat at a table similar to the one in Room B where her friend Vinnie Deitz spilled his yellow guts. She was still cuffed.

"How could you do this to me, Falk? How could you," she cried.

He ran a hand through his hair and then stuffed them into his pockets. He didn't want to get near her with his hands exposed. He was quite tempted to throttle her. "I did nothing to you. You have done all this to yourself; it was cruel and sadistic. But never mind that. I don't want this to get personal."

"I didn't do anything," she wailed. "I loved my brother!"

He nodded. "I'm sure you did," he said coldly. "And I'm sure you loved his money even more. Your friend, Mr. Deitz, told us all about it, Mara. Felts and Briscoe will be in shortly to take your statement."

At the mention of Deitz's name, something broke inside Mara, but she recovered soon enough. "I want my attorney," she said stiffly.

"Fine," he said, his voice still as cold as death. "I'm glad I was there when you went down, and I hope I'm there when they put you away for a long, long time."

Kantor left without another glance at her. He went back to his office, hoping to find Watts. But she had left. He sat down at his desk and dug out a leave slip. It had been a few years since he had taken some time off. He needed to get away from the office before he lost his mind. He completed the leave slip and carried it down to his superior's office. After that, he walked out of the building.

He climbed into his cruiser, gunned the engine, and turned it toward home. He drove for a few miles before stopping and turning around.

KT opened her door to Kantor. As if expecting him to return to her, she was clad only in a robe. She stepped back and allowed him to enter her apartment. He closed the door behind him. Without a word, she came out of the robe. Just as he expected, she had nothing on underneath. He approached her, cupping her breasts into his hands, and kissed her deeply. When the kiss was broken, she helped him get out of his clothes for the second time in less than twelve hours. He was already hard and ready for her, eager to be inside her.

Neither of them wanted to take the time or effort to walk back into KT's bedroom. Instead, he took her down to the floor. His large hands roamed her body, alighting fires that only his lovemaking would extinguish. She wanted to touch him, but he wouldn't quite allow her to do it yet. He was focused on pleasuring her, and he was pleasuring her right out of her mind. He slipped a couple of his fingers inside her and she moaned. She was as ready for him as he was for her. His middle finger began to gently manipulate the most sensitive part of her sex. Oh, she was aching now. He did not let up for one instant. He continued torturing her until she came. She cried out sharply, whispering his name, begging him to come inside her.

He kissed her long and hard, inserting his body between her thighs. He broke the kiss after a few long moments. He entered her slowly, taking his time. The sensation was incredible, mind bending. She wanted it fast and furious, and after his initial agonizing thrust, he gave her exactly what she wanted. Her legs, her arms, her entire body encircled him, enveloped him. He grinded his body into hers, thrusting furiously, until his sweet release. He groaned low in his throat as his climax ripped through his body.

As he came, Kantor felt a slight pain in his chest. It was an odd, unexplainable pain. His body collapsed on top of KT's, but the bittersweet pain did not go away. After a very long moment, he understood. The cage that had held his heart prisoner for so many years was finally cracking open, causing his heart to ache the slightest bit as it was freed. KT had been the key all along.

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