Break out those V-Chips, everyone!
Created, Produced, Directed and Written:
XWPFanatic, TNovan and Tonya Muir
Episode Fourteen: Every Breath You Take
Theres something about it being November and seventy degrees. I knew deep down there was a reason that I loved living in L.A. This is it. Being able to walk down Rodeo Drive in short sleeves and a skirt has its advantages. Since I met Susan, I am taking full advantage of everything.
Oh boy, am I.
From waking up with her arms around me in the mornings to the three-hour lunch we took today, its really nice to have someone who is semi-regular in my life. I glance down at my watch as I make my way to LaPerla.
Shopping has never really been big on my list of things to do, but occasionally when the mood strikes me, I like to get out and spend a little of my hard-earned money. Okay, I admit it, occasionally I like to get out and spend a lot of my hard-earned money.
Glancing around the shop, I realize I had almost forgotten what it felt like to be attractive to someone. Now, I remember and I love every minute of it.
Three hundred dollars for a nightgown that Im going to be on for all of an hour? Oh yeah, Im losing it, but what the hell? It looks good and I know Ill feel good in it. Ill feel even better out of it.
As I make my way back to the Mercedes (Rodeo Drive being the only place I feel comfortable leaving my baby parked on the street with the top down), something in the window of Bernini Sport catches my eye.
A long sleeve black silk shirt that would look great on Harper.
I do, after all, owe her a shirt for the library thing. Hell, I owe her two shirts. I do remember biting off the buttons, not that Ill never admit that little fact to her.
And Christmas is coming soon.
I sigh as I enter the shop.
Okay, one black silk shirt, one blue silk shirt and one copper silk shirt later, I dont feel guilty anymore. Shes gonna look great in the copper one. What in the hell am I thinking? Get a fucking grip, Kels.
I rearrange my packages and make my way to the car. Placing them in the trunk, I go around to drop my purse in the passengers seat when I find the black foil florist box.
My hand is shaking a bit as I retrieve the card from the box. I know what its gonna say before I even read it. This has gone too far. I look around trying to figure out who might have put it there as I pull the card from the box. "We belong together. Cant you see that?"
Oh Christ! I wasnt expecting that.
My hands are really shaking now as I take the lid from the box. One dozen red roses. More precisely one dozen dead red roses, now nearly black in color.
I dont know whether to be scared or sick to my stomach as I put the lid back on the box and get in my car.
I sit there for a moment taking deep breaths. I hold the steering wheel in both hands like the car will somehow protect me if I do. I glance over at the box as I turn the key in the ignition.
My cell phone rings, nearly startling me out of my skin and I reach for my purse. Taking the phone, I flip it open and try to sound remotely normal.
"Kels, its Harper," she tells me unnecessarily, as if I wouldnt recognize her voice.
"Yeah ." I manage to croak out as I look at the box again.
"I need you to come back to the studio for about an hour."
"Uh okay Ill Ill be there in twenty minutes," I manage to stammer as I try to get my breathing under control.
"Yeah." I finally get some air into my lungs and lie to her. "Im fine. Ill see you in twenty minutes."
* * *
Making sure to put the top up and lock the Mercedes, I leave it in my regular parking spot in the garage, grateful now for the security camera that sweeps it every thirty seconds or so. I take the offensive black box, intent on getting rid of it as soon as possible.
When the elevator opens, I head for it without really looking and run straight into a human wall. Giving a little yelp as I jump back, still not quite focused, I feel a hand close around each of my arms.
"Kels, are you okay?"
Suddenly I realize the wall is my partner and her hands are there to steady me from the backward tumble I was about to take.
"Huh?" I blink at her trying to focus and recall her question.
"Are you okay?"
"Im not sure anymore, Harper." I look up her. I need to trust someone and we trusted each other once.
I offer her the black box.
* * *
I take the long box from her hands with a raised eyebrow. "Not from the kiddie doc, eh?" I ask sarcastically. Im still not wild about this Susan chick. But something in the green eyes watching me tell me not to joke about this.
"No. Shes not into black."
I open the box, hearing the elevator doors slide closed behind me. Holy shit.
"Or dead flowers," Kelsey continues. Shes trembling. "Read the card."
I look around the garage, not liking this setting. "Lets get inside, okay?" I wrap an arm around her shoulder and punch the elevator button with the hand holding the box of shriveled roses. My protective instincts are coming out full force and I conveniently forget all of our cold-shouldered discussions of the last several weeks.
Gail is hovering outside Kelseys office, demanding her bosss attention, so I chase her away with an evil glare. Kelsey spent the elevator ride in silence, averting her gaze from the gift. Now, she ducks from under my arm and takes the seat behind her desk. I close the door behind us.
"Read the card," she whispers again.
The words I read give me a shiver of fear before I just get pissed off. "Is this the first one like this?" I snap.
Kelsey refuses to meet my eyes. "Yes. The others have been kinda cutesy, admiring from afar things."
"Do you have them all?" My voice is still harsh. Im letting my emotions get the best of me and shes taking the brunt of it.
"No. I threw the first ones away."
I growl with frustration. "What the fuck were you thinking? Its evidence."
She takes a deep breath and finally looks up. "Please dont yell at me," she whispers. "I didnt tell anyone. I thought it was some harmless crush. I wasnt interested in responding, there werent signatures or anything on the cards, so I threw them out. I didnt want Susan to find them and think I was involved with someone else. Harper, I wouldnt have come to you except ..." Her voice trails off.
I shake my head, angry at my outburst. Shes ready to trust me again, let me help her with something that frightens her, and I bite her head off. "Im sorry. Im only worried about you," I say gently. "We need to contact the police."
"Do you think so? Maybe its a prank. I dont want to blow this out of proportion."
I take the seat facing her desk, turning the chair to straddle it backwards and rest my elbows on the back. "Let me at least talk to some friends of mine on the force and get their feel for it. They may want to ask you some questions."
Shes quiet for a long time, tracing her finger along an invisible line on her desk blotter. "Im sure its nothing, Harper."
"Little Roo, your words and your actions dont match. This person really has you shaken up. Lets do something about it."
"Okay." She nods.
"Have you noticed anyone watching you or following you? Maybe at the gym or a new staff member at your building?"
"Any phone calls?"
Kelsey is way too quiet after that question.
"Jesus Christ, Kels," I blurt out before remembering my resolve to calm down. "How many times?"
"I dunno," she shrugs. "No one speaks on the other end. Usually they hang up, sometimes they just stay quiet and I hang up."
"Do you have Caller ID?"
I roll my eyes with exasperation. "Did you try that dial-back thing for missed calls?"
She wrinkles her nose and is undeniably cute with the action. "They charge for that. What a rip off."
"Kels, this is serious. This person knows where you live. Youre getting gifts at home, too?
"Eriks still gone, so youre by yourself?"
"Well, theres Susan," she provides helpfully, making my stomach flip.
I hate talking about Susan. Why does she keep coming up? "Oh big help. She uses a tongue depressor for a living."
Kelsey meets my eyes and is almost smiling at the banter. "You carry a camera for a living."
"Sure," I allow. "But itll hurt a lot more when I swing it at that bastard. A tongue depressor is fucking worthless."
"I wouldnt say worthless," she replies with a leer.
I do not want to know. But at least shes joking around now. I hope shes joking, anyway. Tongue depressor?
"You think its a guy?" she asks instead, when she realizes Im not rising to her bait.
We talked about this after the first flowers arrived, I remember vaguely. "I feel like it is," I admit. "I dont know why."
She nods slowly but doesnt comment.
"What other gifts have you received? Anything else like this?"
"No." She stands up and stretches her arms above her head. I try hard not to focus on how that accentuates her assets. "Flowers. Stuffed animals. Box of chocolates."
"Did you eat them?"
She pauses a long time to lay a killer look on me. "Im not a fucking moron, Harper."
Right. "Where is the rest of the stuff?"
"I think I still have one of the bears. Its at the condo. Everything else is gone."
We watch each other for a long moment. She seems calmer; shes not shaking anymore at any rate. "Tell ya what, Ill come get the bear tonight and go chat with my friends." I needed a night at The Rio anyway. When Im out, I spend less time picturing Kelsey and my clone in a naked embrace.
"Are you afraid, Kels?"
She waves me off. "Nah, Im sure its nothing." Shes lying. We both know it, but itll do little good to call her on it.
Without thinking, I rise and cross to her, pulling her into a hug. We havent touched like this since Omaha but I remember it providing her comfort then. I want it to now. She stiffens briefly before relaxing and putting her arms around my waist. I lay my cheek against her golden head. "I promise you, I wont let anyone hurt you."
"I know," she whispers. "I believe you."
Then the moment is gone and shes pulling away from me. The walls go back up and she turns into Ms. Professional. I dont like Ms. Professional very much but I have a lot of respect for her. "So what did you call me back here for?"
Garys there when I walk in. Hes always there. He needs a life.
I called Justin and Bear and asked them to meet me. Its not poker night so there was no guarantee Id run into them. A quick glance tells me they havent arrived yet.
I claim a stool to Garys right, reaching over the bar to grab a cherry and popping it into my mouth. The bartender slaps me but its more of a game than an admonishment.
"Whiskey?" he asks.
"Beer. Anything dark on tap." I havent been able to drink whiskey since Omaha. I had it once the first week back and only remembered the flavor of it on Kelseys tongue. God, what I wouldnt do to taste that again. I wonder if the rest of her tastes as sweet. I know it does.
"Hows it going?" Gary interrupts my less-than-chaste thoughts. Thats for the best, anyway. Lusting after Kelsey gets me nowhere but frustrated. And I dont want to take someone home tonight.
I place a ten inch blue teddy bear on the bar, pulling it from where Id stuffed it under my leather jacket.
Gary looks at quizzically, then looks to me. "Youve had better dates. Rough week?"
Oh, hes a laugh a minute, the asshole. "Mean anything to you?"
I shrug. "Friend of mine has been getting weird things from a secret admirer. This was one of em."
"Not so weird," he replies as I take a drink of the beer thats been placed in front of me. "You know, Harper, sometimes people court and woo a potential date. Not everyone just crooks a finger and finds something naked and willing in their laps."
I smirk. "Well, if it works-"
"Dont knock it," he finishes. "No shit about that," he shakes his head in admiration.
"Todays gift was a box of dead roses and a creepy note."
This gets Garys attention and he sets his beer down with an audible thump. Just then Justin and Bear arrive. I recap for them, pointing out the blue teddy bear with the silly grin.
"Who is your friend?" Justin asks while flagging down the bartender.
I hesitate for a moment. Its absurd to want to protect her identity, I know its safe with these men just as their poker table secrets have been safe with me. "Kelsey Stanton."
Gary stops and stares at me, the peanut hed been tossing into his mouth bouncing off his cheek. "Youre shitting me."
"Shes public enough that this could be anybody, Harper," Justin replies.
Thanks, pal. "I know."
"Shes so cold. No wonder the bear is blue." Gary should have figured out by now that type of comment is off limits. The glare I give him is not a gentle reminder.
"Do you have the note?" Bear asks, diverting my attention.
I pull it out of my jeans pocket and hand it to him. Its in a plastic baggie, not that I expect there to be anything as helpful as prints on it. I watch the large mans jaw work and it worries me.
"Can I keep this?"
"Will she talk to the police?"
"She will," I nod. "But shes a little spooked. Shes kind of shrugging it off as nothing, but those dead roses were left in her car. Shes been getting gifts at work and home. This guy is persistent."
"Does she have any of the other gifts?" Bear is much more interested than our companions. Of course, it makes sense given his job.
"Only the bear and the roses. I didnt bring the roses but theyre in my office. I can get them to you tomorrow."
"Id like them," he says seriously.
Hes worrying me. I left Kelseys building as Susan was coming in, but I dont trust the doctor to keep my partner safe. Distracted, maybe. But not safe. I glance to the other two and they seem to have lost interest; theyre watching a Baywatch rerun on the bars television. Theyre men; I excuse them for a short attention span.
"Walk with me?" I ask Bear and he nods, pushing his beer further onto the counter and following me out the door into the warm, dark night.
"What the fuck is going on, Bear?" I ask when were alone, well, except for Snake. The mountainous bouncer gives us a gap-toothed smile as we come out. "I thought she should be concerned but I didnt think youd react like this."
He sighs and seems to consider his response. "You know that case Im working on, the rapes and murders?"
"One of the women, the second one, had a handwritten note at the scene. It was gibberish: street names and off comments. We think he wrote it while he was following her."
"And?" I dont like where this is going.
"Look, Im no handwriting expert. And its not even in the same color ink or on the same paper, but theres something about this note your friend got that rubs me the wrong way. Id like to have our analyst look at it."
"Bullshit, Bear," I laugh sharply. "This is someone jealous of her and Erik. Someone who saw her when she was an anchor and watches our special reports. Hes off balanced, yeah, but not a rapist. Not a murderer." Am I convincing him or myself?
He chuckles softly and nods. "Youre probably right, Harper. Im paranoid. Those scenes ... the women it really is brutal. I want to catch this guy and I think I see clues everywhere. Let me run this note. Im sure its not even related. But well both sleep better, right?"
"Well, I will, but I bet you hope its him." Im no fool. I know Bear would piss himself to have one of the killers potential victims under his watch.
Bear stops strolling back to the bar and looks at me. His large face softens and is oddly expressive. "Harper, I hope its not him. I wouldnt want your friend to be associated with this guy."
I take a five dollar bill out of my pocket and shove it into his hand. "Pay for my beer." I punch Snake in his thick arm good-naturedly. "Thanks for watching over my baby."
Snake shrugs. "Everyone needs someone to watch over them."
Aint that the truth. I hope it doesnt get too chilly tonight since it looks like Ill be spending it outside Kelseys building.
The first thing I notice when I get to the office is Harper looks like hell. Her dark hair is pulled back into a tight French braid and her eyes are haggard. Shes drinking coffee like its a life source and Im worried that I pissed her off again.
The reason I get such a good look at her is because shes sitting in my chair, her feet on my desk.
"Big story?" I ask by way of greeting.
She shakes her head. "Are you okay?"
I think were both surprised by the sudden question. She looks exhausted and apparently her filtering systems are down. "Im fine."
"Any gifts or phone calls? Anything?"
"No." Shes worrying me and she must see it on my face.
"Im sorry," she sighs, getting up. "Gail is bringing your tea. Dyou believe I had to ask her? Is she fucking stupid? Even I know you drink tea every morning."
I wave it off. Gail is no brain trust, thats for damn sure. "Thank you." She nods.
"Did you talk to your cop friends?"
She appears to freeze, blue eyes wide. "A little. Theyre looking into some stuff. No big deal."
"Right." I study her for a long moment. I dont think Ive ever seen Harper Kingsley this tense. Shes strung tight, long fingers constantly fidgeting with the mug in her grip. "Are you okay? I know you have plenty of friends to talk to but ... Id like you to know you can talk to me, too. If somethings wrong. Id try to help you." God, I sound like an idiot. Im not very good at this friendship thing. No wonder I dont have any.
She seems to soften at my words but the worried look doesnt leave her eyes. "I appreciate that, Kels. I really do. It means a lot to me. But Im fine. Im expecting a phone call, kind of eager about it. I better get back to my office."
She may be gorgeous but Im relieved to find out shes as odd as the rest of us.
"Bear." About damn time. Its nearly noon. "Tell me about the note."
He doesnt waste time. "No match. You can relax. It wasnt even close."
Jesus. I feel instantly relieved. "Thank you."
"Id like those roses. Your friend still has some kinda weird stalker thing going on."
"Yeah. Should we meet for lunch? You can talk to her directly," I offer, hoping Kelsey doesnt have plans with Susan. "And dont mention the suspicions we had last night. I didnt tell her."
"No problem," he agrees. We make plans for him to come to the station first.
Kelsey is less receptive than Id hoped.
"Do you have lunch plans?" I fish, trying to figure out her reluctance. Is it me? I thought we were past that. Id hoped we were, anyway.
"No," she says slowly.
"Its just business, Kels," I say shortly, allowing myself to get angry at her rejection. "And my buddyll be there. So Ill have to keep my hands to myself."
"No," she responds quickly, rising from her chair. "No, Harper, its not that." She runs her hand through her hair and I know shes trying to get the courage to tell me something. "Its just ... if this person is following me, I dont want him to see me talking to the cops. Your friends been on TV with those murders and I dont want my admirer to think I ratted on him."
I understand her fear now. "Of course, youre right. Im sorry." I try my best lopsided grin, knowing I shouldnt have gotten so defensive with her. Weve both been trying.
"Can I talk to him here?"
"Yeah. Im sorry, Little Roo. I should have thought about that." I should have, too. How the fuck am I supposed to keep my promise to her if I lose my ability to think after one sleepless night? Ive had a shitload of sleepless nights before. Of course they were filled with arousing activity and not sitting on a curb with a thermos of coffee. I guess the arousing activity was more stimulating than Maxwell House. Hell, I know it was. I am glad to say, though, that Susan didnt spend the night. She left just before midnight and I refrained from stuffing a banana up her tailpipe. Ooh, another thing that sounds dirty, but isnt.
"Lets order pizza," she suggests. "My treat."
I guess Ive been forgiven.
Bear smiles nervously when I introduce him to Kelsey. "Pleasure," he manages, blushing to his roots.
Kelsey smiles back politely, obviously used to eliciting this reaction. "Thanks for coming here, Detective Brice."
"Call me Ted, please."
"No, call him Bear," I interject. I motion to the two pies lying on my desk. "Come on, lets eat while its hot."
We settle around the desk to gorge ourselves on pizza. It is topped with pepperoni, sausage and hamburger. Kels makes a face as I pick up the first slice to my mouth. I pause in mid-bite. "What?"
"Is anything on four legs safe around you?"
"Chér, most things with two legs arent safe around me," I reply, giving her my most lascivious look.
"Hand me a slice," Kelsey answers, surprising me. Who knew she could flirt? Was she flirting?
Bear chuckles at my discomfort. "Ms. Stanton, when did the gifts begin?"
"Its Kelsey. They began the day after Erik received the Popular Picks award. It started off with a dozen roses and a note."
"And how many have you received now?"
"About one every other day for the last three weeks. Flowers, chocolates, stuffed animals, balloons, little poetry books, all that type of stuff. All with the same note: From a Secret Admirer. Until yesterday when he put the dead roses in my car." She shivers, and its not from the cold.
"Do you still have that first note, Kels?" I ask, remembering she put it in her desk drawer.
"I think so. Want me to go get it?"
"That would be great if you could, Ms Kelsey."
"Excuse me," she says, wiping her mouth and hands. I watch her leave, noticing yet again that she has a perfectly proportioned body. Damn Susan.
Bear catches me lusting after her but wisely says nothing. "Jesus, Harper, that means shes received more than ten gifts from this nut."
"Some at home, some here, some in her fucking car. Hes called her at home, on her unlisted number."
"We need to get her some protection."
I laugh. "I dont think she needs condoms."
He joins me, grateful for a break in the tension. "Ill speak to Greg Komansky, hes head of the Threat Management Unit."
"Well, we didnt want to call it Stalkers Anonymous for Gods sake."
I wonder whats taking Kelsey so long. I look over at her office and see her curled up in her chair, crying. "Bear!" I call as I am bounding out of my office and into hers.
On the floor are scattered pictures of her, and me, and Erik, and Susan. Shes clutching a note in her hand mindlessly. I remove it, trying to only touch it at its corners and place it on the desk. It reads "You belong to me."
"Come here," I say, even as I take her into my arms. She hugs me readily. Our boundaries are forgotten in the midst of crisis, as per standard operating procedure with us. I enfold her in a strong embrace, rocking her gently, whispering calming words.
Bear is gathering up the photographs with a gloved hand. Hes scared, I can tell. So am I.
"We need to get Komansky over here now, Harper. I want a written report on file. She needs to start keeping a diary of the incidents and report each of them. And its time to get a bodyguard."
"No, no bodyguard," Kelsey protests against me.
I dont release her. "Yes, a bodyguard. Me."
"You?" she echoes.
She stares at me for a long moment, her green eyes still wet with tears. "Okay."
"Good. Glad thats settled." And that means no Susan. At least, I hope it does.
Bear interrupts us as he lumbers to his feet. "Im going to take these things in to the station, Harper. Ill call you later."
"Thanks, bud." I say over Kelseys head. It feels so good holding her.
But shes moving away from me now, wiping away her tears and reaching for the phone. "I need to call Susan," she explains.
"And tell her not to come over tonight. Its not safe."
"No, its not," I readily agree. Because if she comes over, Ill be there. Definitely not safe for her.
"Hey, what are partners for?" Unfortunately, were still talking partners in the non-sexual sense here.
* * *
I roll over and face the back of the couch. Kels offered me the guestroom, but if I cant be with her I want to be near the only entrance into this joint.
So the sofa it is. Kelsey has good taste and its not horribly uncomfortable for a sofa. Ive slept on a hell of a lot worse, with and without company. The pillow came off of Kels bed and I have to admit its got me so distracted I cant sleep.
Id know the smell of her shampoo anywhere and this aint it. Susan must have been the last one to use this pillow. I toss it to the end of the couch. Rolling up one of the two blankets, I place it under my head instead.
As I turn back over, I glance at the bedroom door and notice a light is still creeping out of it. She left it slightly cracked when she went to bed. I look to my watch. One-thirty in the morning. Hell, she went to bed hours ago.
I get up and move to the door, knocking softly. "Little Roo?"
No answer. I push the door open and find her sleeping. Shes curled up tight under the blankets and as I approach the bed I can tell shes been crying. God, she must be terrified.
While Im not wild about Susan, some part of me feels guilty that shes not here to offer Kelsey the comfort I cant. Well, that she wont let me give her. God knows I want to.
There is a book laying next to her, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." At least her reading tastes are excellent. Nothing better than a book set in the deep south. However, maybe not the best choice for her at the moment.
I take the book and place it on the night stand as I let my fingers brush through her hair just once. Its as soft as I remember and my touch lingers a moment longer than necessary. "No one will hurt you while Im around, Kels. I promise."
Snapping off the light, I leave her room and close the door behind me.
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