Disclaimers: Xena and company belongs to RCA/Universal et al. I’m borrowing their personas for my own entertainment and I’m not making any money off of this. So, if I offend, I apologize. This story is copyright 2000 by RescueWarrior.

Warnings: This story involves a loving relationship between two members of the same sex. If this offends you, or is illegal where you live, please find something more suited to your tastes for your literary entertainment, and for Guiya’s sake, please move!!!!!! If you are under the age of 18, please come back later. The stories will still be as good, and no one will get into trouble that way.

Thank you’s: To M for breaking my heart. To Tara for healing it, I love you. And to kd, for saying, "It’s good. Post it." And to everyone in LOC that read it and liked it. You ladies Rock!!!! For comments or criticism I can be reached at RescueWarrior@hotmail.com Sit back and enjoy the tale. It’s my first, so be kind. Sincerely, RW


The Suspect

Part I

The car wove its way down the unkempt pavement of highway 51. The tires humming in comfortable acclimation of the road. It’s lone passenger seemingly dreaming about having other things to do today than to go to some stupid meeting. It had rained hard the night before as the occasional puddle on the pavement indicated.

As the music from the country radio station blared out a familiar song, the driver sang along, in a slightly off-key voice, with the sultry voice that filled the cars cloth interior. The sun was high in the morning sky and bright shades of blue and white filled the entire southern Illinois sky. The trees were lush and thick with green in the surrounding landscape. ‘What a beautiful day,’ the driver thought, somewhat agitated at having to be indoors for the afternoon. It had not occurred to the driver that she had not seen another car moving from the opposite direction in a coon’s age.

As she sped toward the hospital, she mentally calculated it was likely that she was going to be late. As she increased the speed of the car, she startled when an annoying bleeping sound came from the pager on her belt. ‘Damn, what do they want now.’

Looking at the number on the pager, she quickly reached down to the floorboard of the car and picked up her car phone. As she dialed the number, she wasn’t really watching the road and missed the "Road Closed Ahead" sign that was the only warning for what lay ahead.

As the car rounded a large bend and began its descent down a fairly steep hill, the driver still focused on the phone, and not the road that was in front of her: or better yet that was no longer in front of her. At the last second she looked up to find the entire road had become a large body of muddy water.

"Oh shit," she cried as she slammed on the brakes. It was about five hundred feet of being within stopping distance. The car slammed into the tapered murky levels, sinking quickly.

The front end of the car was immediately submerged and the water was soon over the top of the windshield. It became suddenly dark as the murky brown water enveloped the now stopped car. The driver became aware of water sloshing on her loafers, and soaking her jeans up the knees. ‘Oh shit, oh shit, OH SHIT!’ she thought.

She had seen her share of drowning victims and now, she thought ironically, she knew where the look of panic and wonder on their faces came from. It was the same look she had on her face now. ‘Of all the ways there are to die, I don’t want to drown.’

She tried to force the door open, but it was to no avail. The car had stalled and the electric window did not function. Looking to the ceiling of the car she yelled to no one in particular, "A little help, here?"

The water was now up to her chest and she could feel the car give under the current of the creek water that flowed around it. The movement altered her equilibrium and she began pounding on the window in an effort to break it. As panic increased, so did the pounding. She became aware of her labored breathing and her ears filled with ringing and rumbling, like a train sweeping through her head. ‘This is NOT how I’m supposed to die’ she thought. ‘I’m supposed to die in my bed quietly and at a ripe old age of 90’!

The darkness of the muddy water had now engulfed the car and the only light that filtered in through it was from the back glass. As she made her way to the passenger door, gripping it blindly and trying to open it. Just as her hand pulled the handle, she sucked in a mouthful of muddy, fishy tasting, water. She sputtered trying to raise her head, against the roof of the interior; then all went dark.

Cass Martin had been driving on the same stretch of highway 51 for over half an hour when she saw the "Road Closed" sign. ‘Well damn’ she thought ‘now what do I do’. She slowed the car down to look ahead. The road curved and began a steep sloping downward. The rain must have washed out the bottom. As she contemplated turning around she noticed the car in front of her not slowing at all. ‘Maybe the road’s actually open and they haven’t taken the sign down yet’. She didn’t know the area and knew that backtracking here would be a waste of time. Her mind made up; she slowed and followed the car ahead of her. As the car rounded the bend, she saw the entire bottom engulfed in muddy water, ‘Oh shit’ she thought.

The ‘oh shit’ was because the car ahead of her had not even slowed and Cass felt like she was watching a video in slow motion as she watched the car hit the water in front of it. She slammed on her brakes, stopping at the edge of murky waters and was out of the car at a run before the droplets from the submerged vehicle had settled. As she waded into the water she realized that it had a slight current to it. ‘This should be interesting,’ she thought as she waded further into the water. It was cold, and smelled distinctly of fish and something more acrid, like sewage. ‘Welcome to Illinois’ popped into her head from somewhere.

She was chest deep in water when she reached the back of the car. Inside she could see the form of a young woman banging frantically on the window. The car was submerged to the back glass and Cass knew the driver was panicking. Moving with the current, she moved to the passenger side of the car. Cass knew the only way that the door of the car would open was if the pressure equalized and it was with the current. As she paddled to the door, she felt the car give way under the current and slide to the side. As it pushed her backward, she glanced behind her to make sure there was nothing to be pinned to. Certain that it was safe, she proceeded to the door. As she neared the door, she took a deep breath and dipped her head under the water.

Once under the water, Cass had to go by feel alone, it was amazing how dark it was in the murky fluid around her. Feeling along the smooth frame of the door for the handle and locating it she pulled, forcing the door to yield against the water. To her surprise, the driver of the car was right next to door, making extricating her easier than she had originally planned. Cass wrapped a strong arm around the young woman’s waist and pulled her from the car and up into the light. Gulping for air, she held on to the young woman and kicked powerful legs against the current toward the more shallow water. Only when she felt her feet on the pavement in the water did she relax her hold on the young woman in her arms. As she waded into the more shallow water, she pulled the girl into both arms and picked her up to carry her to shore.

Once on dry pavement, Cass set the girl down looked at her. She was beautiful! White creamy skin and strawberry blond hair had always been a turn on for Cass. This young girl took the cake. She was short, probably 5 foot 4 inches she guessed. Clad in jeans, a now muddy white dress shirt opened loosely at the collar and loafers. Her abdomen was flat and her chest was, well it was perfect. Her face was round and very attractive; she had a small nose that accentuated her full blue lips. BLUE LIPS? ‘Holy shit, she’s not breathing!’

Cass quickly tilted the girl’s head back and felt for a pulse. The weak drumming under Cass’ fingers told her what she needed to know. She lowered her head to the girl’s lips to administer rescue breathing. Two long slow breaths; Cass watched the young woman’s chest rise and fall with each. ‘God, her lips are soft,’ she thought. It was an off -handed remark for her brain, one she had learned to live with long ago. Her brain never stopped working. Cass lowered her mouth to the younger one’s again. Two more breaths. ‘Still soft’ her mind chided. ‘Shut up’ she said to the voice. ‘Maybe one more time,’ the voice chided back. Lowering her mouth once again, Cass opened her mouth only to have it filled with the fishy tasting liquid she had just emerged from with the young goddess.

‘Yuck’ she thought, as she turned the girl on her side to let her cough up the remainder of the fluid.

Allison coughed and sucked air into her now burning lungs. Rolling onto her stomach, she continued to cough, sputter and heave for several long minutes. As she continued to replace the fluid in her lungs with the much-preferred oxygen they were used to; an odd thought crossed her mind. ‘So that’s what it feels like to drown’. As she forced herself to her knees, she became aware of another thought. There was a warm hand stroking her back and shoulders. She also became aware of a soothingly husky voice saying, "That’s it, cough it up, you’re okay". The heated pavement she lay on was a welcome replacement for the cold wet car she was just in. How had she gotten out of the car? She remembered pulling the door handle and choking, but that was it. Wasn’t that what happened?

Her chest and throat burned with the combination of fish water and bile and Allison was certain her heart was going to beat out of her chest. Slowly she rolled over and looked into the most intense blue eyes she had ever seen. They were a deep blue that couldn’t be made by contacts; no those were real baby blues. Allison shook her head thinking it would clear her vision. And clear her vision it did! She found herself looking at high cheekbones, olive skin and raven black hair that was wet and slicked back from her head. ‘A goddess saved me from my fate’ she thought to herself. She became vaguely became aware of the lips that were moving and focused on her words.

"Are you all right?" The voice was a little shaky but very sexy, Allison noticed. She stared open mouthed at the beauty in front of her. She was on her knees helping Allison to a sitting position, clad in jeans and a cotton dress shirt that was muddy and wet. She looked magnificent! ‘WOW’ was the only thought that came to Allison’s mind.

The voice came again, "Are you hurt anywhere? You hit that water pretty hard." The voice was low and husky and seemed to offer comfort and yet demand a response.

"I…I think…I’m okay," she offered weakly. She didn’t feel okay, but she didn’t think she was injured. She did feel like she just swallowed a hot rock; her throat and chest still burned like the dickens.

"Good," the goddess said, "I’m going to get a blanket from my car and I guess I need to call someone for your car".

Allison stared as the goddess stood. ‘God, she must be six feet tall,’ she thought as she watched the woman straighten to her full height. She had incredibly long legs; a flat stomach and the wet shirt showed off strong arms, wide shoulders and a beautiful pair of breasts. ‘Shut your mouth Ally, you’re gonna draw flies’ her mind chided her, she closed her mouth, but continued to stare at the woman towering above her.

Cass walked to her car and after snagging her keys from the ignition; she opened the back door and began rummaging around in a large duffle bag. After securing two t-shirts and two towels she went back to young beauty in front of the car. Cass stood at the corner of the car for a moment and looked at her. She was sitting on the pavement with her knees drawn up to her chest and her head resting on her knees. Her hands trembled violently and it seemed that every breath she took made her shudder. Cass walked over and knelt in front of the young woman. Offering her the towel and a t-shirt she said, "Here, let’s get you dried off and at least put a dry shirt on you".

"Thanks," was all the young woman could say as she accepted the towel and the shirt.

Cass walked back around the car, vigorously toweling her head; she quickly stripped off the wet shirt and traded it for the dry one. Then she opened the car door and retrieved her cell phone. I’ll just call someone to come get her and her car and be on my way, she thought to herself. Then that little annoying voice started in again. "She’s awfully beautiful. What kind of idiot wouldn’t give her a ride somewhere, you know just to make sure she’s okay?" Shut up! "Come on Cass, she’s a knockout, you’d be attracted to her if you could see past the end of your nose here." The little voice she liked to think of as her id (short for idiot) was annoying and had a habit of getting her involved with people she either ended up being hurt by or hurting. No, this time Cass would not relent to her id.

Allison was sitting in front of the car still playing over her near-death experience when the tall dark goddess returned. She was still in her wet shirt and hadn’t moved to pick up the towel from her lap. Cass knelt back in front of her and asked softly, "Are you all right?" The young woman took a long shaky breath and began to sob uncontrollably, her face contorting as if in incredible pain, but Cass had found no injury on the young woman. Suddenly, she reached out and pulled Cass to her and continued to cry. Oh God, don’t cry. I can handle anything but crying; yell, or scream or hit something; just don’t cry. Before Cass realized it her arms had closed around the young woman and she pulled her close. "It’s okay, you’re alright. It’s fine now, you’re safe," she repeated to the young figure that clung to her as if she were a scared child. Cass slowly tried to pull away from the girl, but she wasn’t ready to let go yet. So Cass relented and turned them both sideways so she could sit down with her. As soon as Cass sat on the ground and leaned back against the car, the young woman clambered closer, ending up on Cass’ lap with her head buried in her shoulder. Id took this moment to speak up, "This is too good to be true, Cass old girl, she fits. She fits next to us like she was meant to be there." Cass wanted to tell the id to shut the hell up, but id was right, she had never held someone in her arms that was a perfect fit. It was as if she belonged there. I can’t be involved with someone right now, I have a job to do here, I don’t have time for this. Suddenly, id was quoting for her, "You know what the great poet John Lennon said, ‘Life is what happens while you’re making other plans’. What if she is the one, Cass?" Cass couldn’t respond to anything other than the feel of the woman on her lap. So there she sat, silently enjoying the feel of her and whispering soft words of comfort to her as she cried.

Allison was enjoying the feel of just being held. It didn’t matter that this was a complete stranger, it was someone to hold for a while. How long had it been since she was held by someone who was only trying to offer comfort to her? She couldn’t remember. When she had finally gotten the courage up to leave Bryce, she had only had Claire and it was soon very obvious that Claire wanted a lot more than what Allison was ready to offer. She knew Claire was in love with her, but she just couldn’t return that love, she didn’t feel the same thing. She had told Claire that two weeks ago. She remembered the conversation like it was yesterday. Allison had come home to find the apartment dark with candles lit everywhere. Claire was dressed in an elegant cream colored gown and was holding a glass of chardonay. She was a very beautiful woman and anyone else would have just taken what she had to offer and not questioned it at all. In Claire’s other hand was a single long stemmed red rose. She offered the rose to Allison saying, "There’s something I need to say to you that I should have said a long time ago."

"Claire, what’s this all about?" Allison asked, quite confused by the sudden change in her roommate’s attitude. She had been very comfortable in her relationship with Claire and had actually felt safe with her. There had been nights after she left Bryce that she would just lay in bed and cry and Claire would always come to her a hold her and let her talk until she went to sleep. Looking back now, Allison realized that Claire probably had thought she was leading her on.

"It’s about us, Allison." Claire started. "It’s about you and me and the fact that I think we belong together. I love you."

"You love me?" Allison repeated.

"Yes, I love you Allison. Don’t tell me you’re surprised. I thought it was pretty obvious. I just want to be with you." Claire stated the fact pointedly as if she knew Allison would feel the same way.

"Claire, I am very flattered but…" Allison’s words were cut off by Claire’s fingers. "Please don’t say anything Allison, I love you and I’ll wait." With that said, she brought her lips to Allison’s and kissed her softly.

Alarms went off in Allison’s head and she immediately stiffened and broke the contact. As she backed away, she noticed the utter look of hurt on Claire’s face. Realizing she needed to let her down as easily as possible she began, "Claire, I have very strong feelings for you, too. I am truly flattered that you feel this way about me, but I have to tell you that I love you, but I’m not in love with you. I’m sorry, but I’m just not."

"But all those nights I held you, comforted you and told you I would be here for you. What did you think I meant by that Allison?" Claire’s face was twisted into a blend of anguish and confusion.

" I thought you were just being my friend Claire. I needed one. If it weren’t for you, I would have never had the courage to leave Bryce. I didn’t mean to mislead you. I just needed a friend. I hope we can still be that." Allison finished hoping Claire would reconsider and remain friends with her without wanting something that Allison couldn’t give her.

"I’m sorry Allison, I don’t know if I can. It took all the courage I had to tell you how I feel tonight. That feeling isn’t going away anytime soon. I really don’t think I can be your friend and keep my feelings in check. It isn’t fair to you and it sure as hell isn’t fair to me." She finished the statement bitterly and with tears streaming down her face ran to her bedroom and slammed the door.

Allison stood there shocked and scared thinking she should go to her and try to explain again. Then logic argued that Claire needed some time. She would talk to her about it in the morning. She sniffed the rose in her hand sadly and went to her room.

When Allison awoke the next morning Claire wasn’t in her room or the apartment, thinking she’d gone out for her morning run, Allison showered and dressed and went to work. When she came home that night, all of Claire’s things were gone. She hadn’t seen or talked to Claire since.

Slowly Allison brought her sobbing under some semblance of control and backed her head away from Cass’ shoulder. Looking up into Cass’ eyes she was once again captured by the beauty of those azure depths. Slowly she pulled away from her upper body, leaving her hands on Cass’ arms. "Thank you," she said slowly.

As green eyes met blue, Cass held her breath and thought to herself, God I could get lost in those eyes and never find my way back. Suddenly she realized that if she got lost in them, she wouldn’t want to find her way back. She smiled softly to the young woman and said, "S’okay, you needed that. It must be incredibly scary to damn near drown".

Allison smiled back, she liked the goddess immediately and thought she had the most beautiful smile she’d ever seen. Then taking another deep, shaky breath she said, "So, to whom do I have to thank for saving my life, then offering me a shoulder to cry on"?

"Cass Martin, and I think you’ve already thanked me twice. As for the shoulder, it was my pleasure. I’m glad you’re okay." Cass smiled again and shifted her legs under the younger woman.

"Oh, god, I’m sorry. I guess I could get off of you," Allison said as she slid off of Cass’ lap. Cass immediately missed the contact but didn’t let it show on her face. She handed Allison the towel and smiled again at her.

Allison took the towel and began wiping the tears from her face and then toweling her hair. Thinking she must look a fright and then crying on this stranger’s lap. A gorgeous and strong and wonderful stranger mind you, but a stranger still. Then she remembered her manners.

"I’m Allison McDaniels." She offered her hand to the stranger who took it immediately. Her hand was much smaller than Cass’, she noticed immediately. Cass’ hand was soft and strong and had long fingers that closed gently around Allison’s.

"Well it’s nice to meet you Allison McDaniels. I am sorry it had to be under these circumstances." Why? If she’d met you in a bar or something, you wouldn’t have gotten to hold her in your arms. And she wouldn’t be thanking you for saving her life. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, Cass. Telling her inner voice to shut up once again, Cass got back to matters at hand. "I guess I need to call someone for you. Are you from around here?"

"Actually, I live about an hour north of here. I was on my way to a meeting at Vandalia’s hospital. I need to call them and tell them I won’t be there. I also need to call my boss and tell them to get someone else on their way there." Cass noticed that Allison talked rather fast. She figured it was probably her normal speech pattern as her initial shock seemed to have worn off.

Handing Allison her phone she spoke, "Here, just dial the area code and number. I have a range service for about eighteen states. So you’ll be able to get a hold of someone." After handing Allison the phone she walked back around the car and ruffled through her car looking for a pair of dry pants.

Allison called her boss and after much assurance that she was really all right, he agreed to get someone else to go to the meeting and to find a tow truck to get her car out of the water. Allison took use of the privacy to quickly change into the dry shirt that Cass had given her. The shirt was about two sizes too big, but it was dry and it smelled of jasmine and perhaps a touch of leather.

When Cass returned to the front of the car, she noticed that Allison had donned her t-shirt, and also noticed it looked incredibly good on her. She herself had put on a pair of dry jeans and switched to a dry pair of loafers. "Did you get a hold of someone to come for your car?" She asked the younger woman.

"My boss is going to find someone to do it for me. I guess I do need a ride to town at least."

"No problem, I can take you home if you’d like, unless you have someone else to come to next town to get you"?

Normally Allison wouldn’t have even considered a ride home with a complete stranger, but this particular stranger she suddenly felt attached to and safe with, "Home would be nice, but where are you headed"?

"I guess to where ever you live" Cass offered with a smile.

The smile was crooked and incredibly sexy. Allison decided she liked it immensely. She accepted the offer with a nod and a smile of her own. "Alright then, let’s go."

They loaded into the car and were on their way immediately.

Allison explained that she was on her way to a meeting further north and had come down I-57 to get where she started and was taking a short cut home in order to stop at the meeting. It had been a hectic morning already and she really wasn’t paying attention to where she had been going, by the time she had realized that the road was not in front of her, it was too late to stop. She shuddered violently at the memory of being trapped in the murky tomb she had been in earlier. Cass could relate, she had been terrified herself when it happened, and then shuddered herself at the thought that she had almost turned around, if she hadn’t come along, Allison would be singing with the angels by now.

"I just can’t believe I was that stupid," Allison declared.

"You weren’t paying attention is all, it happens more than you know." Cass replied softly. Both women went back to their own thoughts as they rode silently on.

An hour and a half later, they were in Effingham, where Allison lived. She directed Cass to the townhouses located off the interestate and soon were parked in front of the townhouse that Allison identified as her own.

Allison was the first to break the awkward silence that followed the arrival at the apartment.

"Look, I smell like fishy water and I know you must, since you were in the water with me, so why don’t you come in and get a shower and change your clothes and I’ll make us some lunch"?

Cass thought for only a moment before deciding, "Okay, that sounds good, if it isn’t too much of an imposition for you"?

"You saved my life today, Cass. I don’t think lunch and a shower are that much of a payment." Allison said smiling.

With that decided, the two headed into the apartment. Once inside, Allison immediately went to a bedroom off to the left and began shucking clothes off. "Just make yourself at home." She yelled through the door. Cass looked around the apartment and was surprised that someone like Allison lived in such neatness. The apartment was clean and orderly, a few dishes in the sink from an early breakfast, but the rest didn’t look lived in. Everything was neat and clean and in it’s place. A computer was the only thing on a desk in the corner of the living room, even it showed little sign of use. No dust anywhere. Either Allison was a nut for neatness or she was rarely home enough for the house to get dirty. Cass thought about her own life and how little she was actually there. It was rare that she was home for more than a week at a time. Her house was rarely lived in and looked much the same as Allison’s home did. She thought about how her job took her to locations for weeks at a time and how empty her house was when she returned. She had to admit, that she hated coming home to an empty house all the time. It would be nice to have someone there for her when she returned. Then she realized that it really wouldn’t be nice for that someone to have to wait weeks at a time for her to return from various job sites and locations. She sat down on a cream colored sofa and stared off into space trying to picture the young woman in the shower being in her home waiting for her when she returned.

Allison stepped out of the shower feeling much better than earlier. She quickly donned a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt with Mickey Mouse on the front. She stepped out of the bathroom and approached the dark haired woman sitting on her sofa. Her blue eyes seemed to hold a deep sadness and she was obviously lost in thought. Allison sat on the couch beside her, startling the other woman from her reverie.

"Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you, I just wanted to let you know that the shower is open for business now," Allison said shyly.

"S’okay, I was just lost in my own little world for a little bit, don’t mind me. I do it all the time." Yeah, but if she knew what you were thinking, she’d blushing like crazy. Cass smiled at the thought of the young woman blushing and immediately thought it would probably more beautiful than she could handle. Quickly getting up from the closeness of her, Cass grabbed her overnight bag and went into the bathroom to shower.

She emerged twenty minutes later, hair wet and hanging at her shoulders and clean clothes on. She found Allison in her small kitchen and approached her slowly, taking in the site of her backside with unhidden appreciation. The jeans she had on fit well and snugged her bottom in a very flattering way. Cass imagined what she looked like without the jeans and a smile crossed her face just as Allison turned to face her. "Well that looks better than the look you had on your face before you went to shower. Must be feeling better, huh"?

Cass kept smiling but simply replied, "Yeah".

"Well, I hate to tell you this, but I have nothing to feed my hero." Allison said somewhat embarassed by her empty refrigerator. "So, I have a deal for you".

"Oh, do tell." Cass said smiling still.

"Well, if you drive us over to Friday’s, I’ll by lunch," she said offering her own smile back.

"Sounds great, but you really don’t have to buy. I’m on business and my job pays for everything."

It suddenly occurred to Allison that she had no idea what her savior did for a living, so she asked. "So, aside from saving damsels in distress, what do you do"?

Cass looked at her thoughtfully for a moment and decided that she should be honest with the young woman. "I’m a profiler for the violent crimes division of the FBI." She said it as if it were a curse or burden, and obviously Allison could tell this in her voice.

"That must be a very stressful and sad job" she replied softly.

"Sometimes it is, other times it’s just plain scary," Cass replied. Wanting to change the subject, she smiled again and said, "So, I drive, you buy, right?"

"Right." Said Allison.

The drive to Friday’s was a short one, the traffic across the interstate a little hectic but all in all not bad. They arrived and were seated almost immediately. Once in their booth, Allison couldn’t help but smiling at her dinner companion. Cass looked at her and said, "What"?

"Do people stare at you like that every where you go"?

Cass took a deep breath and released it as a sigh. She had been long used to the stares she received from both men and women. When you’re six feet tall and have eyes that contrast the total darkness of the person who has them, it is easy to create a stir among people. She had resigned herself to that fact. She was attractive; people stared. It made it easy for her to do her job, but in the relationship department, it only meant that you attracted people that wanted something gorgeous to hang on their arm. She couldn’t remember a time when people didn’t hit on her. They all were interested in the trinket, not the woman in the package. She sighed again, "Yeah, people stare at me all the time. If I were a betting person though, I’d say at least half of them are staring at you."

Allison looked down at the table and softly replied, "No, I don’t think so."

Cass heard the hurt in the young womans voice and wondered who had put it there. It instantly made her angry that someone could make a woman as beautiful as Allison feel like she were just plain and ugly. Cass honestly thought that she was the most beautiful creature she had ever seen in her life. Suddenly, her id took control of her mouth. "Someone must have done one hell of a bang up job on your heart for you to not know how beautiful you are". Cass stopped just short of putting her hand over her mouth making an awkward hand gesture to cover herself. Silently cursing her id, she smiled sincerely at Allison, hoping her comment wouldn’t make the young woman uncomfortable.

Allison blushed and looked into Cass’ eyes. They were sincere, no humor, just honesty. She smiled weakly at her and replied, "Thank you."

Cass smiled back at her, glad for the young woman’s ability at least to accept a compliment. Their waitress appeared both women ordered dinner. After their drinks arrived, Allison decided a change of subject was definitely overdue. "So, where are you from anyway."

"I’m originally from Washington, DC. But I make Nashville, Tennessee my home now, when I’m there." Cass replied. "What about you"?

"I’m from Springfield originally, I moved here about two months ago. I..uh…had a rather ugly divorce and my ex-husband wouldn’t leave me alone, so I moved to Effingham. Since I’ve moved here, I haven’t had a lot of trouble from him." Allison finished the statement by knocking on the table. "Knock on wood".

"I take it, he hasn’t been to town." Cass observed.

"No, not yet. He knows where I am. He calls about once a week. I’m actually surprised, I haven’t heard from him since two weeks ago. Not that I’m complaining mind you, he’s not a very nice person. I am just surprised not to have heard from him."

Cass studied her for a long moment, "So he won’t leave you alone? Did you two have any children?"

"No. Thank goodness." Allison said softly. She had wanted children when she and Bryce first got married, but after finding out how abusive he was, she was thankful for the fact that she couldn’t conceive.

Cass sensed by the tone of her voice that Bryce was probably not a very nice husband and was probably abusive to his former wife. The thought mad Cass very angry. "So, he was an abusive husband, huh?"

Allison looked up, slightly startled by the question and looked confused by the astute observations of her companion.

"I’m a profiler, Allison. Reading between the lines is what I do for a living. It’s okay if you don’t want to answer, but if you need to talk about it, I’m here." She reached across the table and squeezed Allison’s hand reassuringly.

"Thanks, I guess I forgot about what you do." Allison said. She looked at Cass’ hand covering hers on the table and suddenly felt much better. Cass was someone she could talk to who would probably understand anything she said. "Bryce and I met in college. I was studying to be a social worker and he was studying administration of justice. We got married as soon as we graduated. He went to work for the State Police and I went to work for DCFS. We wanted children. We tried and tried, but just couldn’t get pregnant. He was under a lot of stress at work and I was just getting into the DCFS program for abused children. He started drinking, then went to a different shift. We didn’t see each other much. Then he got investigated for ‘trading favors’ with a teenager he stopped for DUI. They accused him of having sex with the girl for not taking her in. When I asked him if he did it, he hit me. That was the first of many beatings I got. I learned to keep my mouth shut and not discuss work with him. But soon, it didn’t matter, he needed a vent and I was it. I think he still kept trading favors while he was on duty. They never did prove the first case. So I think he just got away with a lot of crap. I’m sure the police couldn’t afford a scandal and they couldn’t fire him without cause, so it just kept on going. After two years, I decided I couldn’t take it anymore and I left him." Allison finished her story, not realizing that she had never let go of Cass’ hand. In fact, she was squeezing it now. Cass had made no attempt to pull away from her at all. "You must think I’m pretty pathetic, huh?"

Cass looked at her very seriously. "No. I don’t think you are pathetic. I think that you took a lot of shit for nothing. And I’m proud of you for finding the courage to leave him. How long did he pursue you."

"For about three months he stopped by my apartment every day. Then he started calling me at all hours of the day and night. He’d get drunk and call, slobbering and crying that he couldn’t live without me and that he was sorry. Then he showed up at work one day to take me to lunch and talk about reconciliation. I had already filed divorce papers and I asked him to sign them. He shoved me into the wall and told me he would never agree to a divorce, he’d die first".

"So you decided to move here to get away from him"? Cass asked softly.

"Yes. I thought it would be better for me to transfer to another office. I forgot how convenient it was to work for the State. He found my address and phone number before I moved all my stuff in here. He hasn’t been down here yet, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before he comes to make my life hell again. Right now, he’s just content to call and harass me."

"Can’t you report this to his superiors?" Cass asked increduously.

"Cass, he’s with his superiors. They think that he has an estranged ex-wife that wants to take him for all he’s worth. They’ve been protecting him from the start. I don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to filing a complaint with them." Allison almost sounded hopeless with the last sentence. Tears filled her eyes, threatening to spill over. Cass immediately felt like a heel. She knew how thick the ‘Blue wall’ was and knew it wouldn’t do anything but make Allison’s life miserable if she pursued action against her ex-husband. She opened her mouth to speak but was interupted by the arrival of their meal. "He did finally sign the divorce papers, but I think he only did that to help himself out." Allison finished.

"Look, I have to be in Springfield tomorrow afternoon for this case I’m going to start working on, but if you’d like, I can talk to friend of mine in the FBI to see if there is something else we could do for you about Bryce."

"I would appreciate that, but now that he’s signed the divorce papers, I don’t think I need help with him. I haven’t heard from him for two weeks. He signed the papers and had them sent to me. I got them a week ago by mail."

Cass thought about this for a moment before conceding agreement. Maybe Bryce had found someone else and was going to leave Allison alone. "All right, but if you need help with this, let me know and I’ll be happy to check up on it for you. Okay"?

"Okay, and thanks." Allison suddenly found herself famished and began eating her dinner. Cass joined in and they enjoyed the rest of their meal.

After lunch, Cass drove Allison to a car dealership where she rented a car. Then they headed back to Allison’s apartment. By the time they were done, it was late afternoon and they were both exhausted. Allison conceded once again that there were no groceries in the house and offered to go to the store and make something for dinner. Cass offered to take her out to dinner instead of cooking and cleaning up afterward. So they settled on a small mexican restaurant just past Friday’s. Deciding on dinner, the pair left the apartment and headed to the little Mexican place.

The atmosphere was nice, it was a lot more crowded than Friday’s had been, so it really wasn’t conducive to more personal chatter. The two ate their meal, sharing a few tidbits of different foods and enjoying a bottle of Corona with lime. They both ignored the obvious stares of the other patrons who were struck by the presence of Cass.

When they arrived back at the apartment later in the evening, Allison offered the spare bedroom for Cass to sleep in for the night. Cass was exhausted from the day and the cervesa she had earlier had gone to her head. She still didn’t want to impose on Allison’s privacy.

"Really, Allison, I can get a hotel in Springfield tonight." She said.

"Look," Allison said firmly, "you can spend the night here, get a good night’s sleep and head to Springfield in the morning for your meeting. What time is it?"

"It’s at ten," Cass replied.

"See, you could leave here at seven thirty and be there in time to have breakfast before your meeting." Allison replied confidently.

Cass thought about it for a minute, then agreed. She didn’t really want to leave the young woman’s company anyway. So, she’d spend the night and leave in the morning.

Allison, smiled and went to make the bed in the spare room. Cass took the opportunity to call her office in Nashville and then to call home and check her messages. With nothing brewing at either place, she flipped on Allison’s television and settled back on the couch, not really watching the set, but thinking about the cute strawberry blond in the next room. She had been through a lot, and had a lot of emotional baggage. Cass knew that meant a difficult time for anyone. Let alone someone who was now alone and had no one else to turn to. Cass secretly wished that she could be there for Allison. Cass avoided relationships that packed extra baggage, it was too hard. As a rule, she never dated a woman that had children or ex-husbands. It was actually more of a guideline. She smiled ruefully to herself at the thought of someone’s ex-husband catching her in bed with his former wife. It would be awkward for all people involved and just wouldn’t be very safe. Although she did have to concede that Allison would be a woman she would have to make an exception to the rule for.

Allison walked back into the living room and sat on the couch next to Cass. She looked sideways at the smile on her face and smiled one in return. "Penny for your thoughts." She asked?

"Not sure they would quite be worth a whole penny," Cass replied, still smiling at the young woman. "I was just thinking how nice a soft bed and a good night’s sleep would be," she lied.

"Well, the bedroom’s ready whenever you are, so make yourself at home. I am going to the grocery store, do you need anything?"

Yeah, a petite strawberry blond, know where I could find one? Cass thought smiling again. Instead she replied, "Not a thing, you have coffee don’t you?"

"Absolutely," Allison grinned. "How about I make you breakfast in the morning?"

"If you’re up in time, great, if not, I’ll take a raincheck" Cass smiled at the prospect of having a chance of breakfast with this beautiful young creature again in the future.

Allison smiled back at her a flirtatiously said, "So, does that mean you’ll stop back by on your way home for a night"?

Cass smiled a very slow and seductive smile and Allison’s breath caught in her chest. She immediately had the feeling she was playing with fire with this quiet and beautiful profiler. She felt the blush flowering from her chest to her head and immediately looked down at her hands.

Cass thought she looked even more beautiful when she blushed and wanted to tell her so, but she was already too flustered by her own flirting. She reached over and covered Allison’s smaller hands in hers. "You know, a raincheck can be for dinner or lunch as well."

Allison smiled thankful for the reprieve on the flirting, taking her hand away from Cass’ she got up and went to get her keys before heading to the store. "I’ll be back in a jiff," she said as she closed the door to the apartment.

Cass took the opportunity of being alone to get her suitcase out of the car and take it inside. She quickly changed into a t-shirt and a pair of loose cotton jersey shorts, getting ready for bed. It was a half hour later when Allison returned to from the store, grocery bags in hand. Cass quickly got up and took the bags from her at the door so Allison could get the rest from the car. When Allison came back in she immediately noticed that Cass had changed clothes and the tee and shorts combo was even worse than the jeans and tee she had on earlier. Cass had long muscled legs and her bottom was slightly round and firm looking as well. Allison caught herself staring at the woman openly about the same time that Cass caught her. "Something wrong," she asked?

"No….I…uh….you’re ready for bed already." She stammered out.

Cass smiled and said, "Yeah, it’s been a long day already and after the beer and dinner, I’m afraid I’m just a bit on the tired side."

"Why don’t you go ahead and turn in, I left an alarm clock on the bedside table for you, and if you need anything else, just holler" Allison offered softly.

What if I holler for you? Cass thought wickedly, instead she said "Thanks, I think I will. Goodnight Allison."

" ‘night Cass".

Cass went into the small bedroom, closing the door and laid down on the soft bed. It felt really good to lay down, and her body became instantly aware of just how tired she was. Her back stretched painfully against the flat softness of the bed; it felt wonderful to lay down. Cass closed her eyes and drifted off thinking about a gorgeous strawberry blond in the next room.

Allison finished putting her groceries away and tidying up the kitchen. As exciting and frightening as her day had been, she was almost afraid to go lay down. She thought about writing in her journal for a bit, but conceded she needed time to think about her near-death experience before putting it down on paper. She quietly walked up to the closed door where Cass had retired for the evening and listened for a few seconds, sure that things were okay, she turned into her bedroom to change and go to bed.

Cass awoke to the sounds of someone pleading for help. She was slightly disoriented and looked around the room in vain for a clue as to where she was. Seeing the alarm clock on the nightstand, she remembered she was at Allison’s apartment. The clock showed one o’clock, she’d been asleep for four hours. Then she heard the plea for help again, jumping up she opened the door to the bedroom to follow the sound. It was coming from Allison’s door, thinking her ex-husband may have found her, Cass cautiously opened the door and peeked into the darkness. The sounds came from Allison’s bed, she was in the middle struggling against the comforter and sheets that had become tangled around her in sleep. She was writhing on the bed kicking at the blanket, a fine sheen of perspiration covering her face. Cass’ heart went out to the young woman and she instantly went to the bed to wake her from the nightmare.

As she sat down on the bed she reached out to shake the young woman awake. Instead she found herself pulled down onto her side, a warm trembling body clinging desperately to her. Cass took the woman into her arms and held her, whispering soft words of comfort to her as she slept. Soon, the trembling subsided and the younger woman stilled and slept peacefully, Cass tried to slowly disentangle herself from the clinging limbs, but every time she moved Allison pulled her closer. Resigning herself to her fate (yeah right) she adjusted a pillow behind her head and went back to sleep.

Cass woke before dawn with a strange but comfortable weight on her chest. As she opened her eyes, she saw a mass of strawberry blond hair spilling out across her chest. Allison had moved again in her sleep and was now almost lying on top of her. Cass smiled to herself thinking what a terrible fate it had been to be here all night. Then she wondered if she could sign up for this detail every night. Every night Cass? You should be so lucky to be sentenced to such a fate. Slowly her hand made circles on Allison’s shoulder and Cass reveled in the feel of the woman on top of her. She had planned on getting up early enough for her morning run, but decided that her current detail would suffice until the young woman in her arms woke up.

Allison drifted slowly awake to the feel of a wonderfully warm body beneath her and a comforting hand softly rubbing her back. She hadn’t felt this safe or slept this well for the longest time, it felt wonderful to have someone in her bed again. I am in my bed aren’t I? Her eyes flew open and she looked around nervously to orient herself. She was stopped mid-orientation by a pair of intense blue eyes looking at her. Cass was in her bed, holding her! And it felt wonderful! Allison blinked twice to make sure the eyes were real, they were. She slowly lowered her head, suddenly embarassed.

"Good morning," Cass said softly, "Are you feeling better"?

Allison looked up at her, her green eyes filled with confusion and still with embarassment. "How did you get here"?

"You had a nightmare last night, when I came in to wake you I got pulled into bed and then you settled down and went back to resting. When I tried to get up, you wouldn’t let go of me, so I stayed," Cass explained it matter of factly, like she did this sort of thing all the time.

"I’m so sorry, I … you should have woke me up." Allison looked down again.

Cass lifted her free hand to tilt Allison’s chin up. Looking directly into her eyes she began, "You needed someone here. I was here. And I’m definitely not complaining about where I ended up. I’m actually glad I was here for you. I hate to think of you having to relive that dream and wake up alone and afraid. Okay"?

Allison blushed thoroughly and but didn’t look back down. "Thank you." She said softly as she pulled away from Cass and got off the bed.

"No problem, any time," Cass replied sincerely. She already missed the contact with the young woman and wished she had slept a little later, like until noon or so. Cass quietly stood from the bed as well. "It’s early, you do any running"? she asked.

"Actually, I don’t run, but I power walk if you’re interested."

"I am," Cass replied. Soon the two were dressed in work out clothes and out for a morning walk.

After the walk they returned to Allison’s apartment and proceded to have breakfast together. After a shower and the cleaning of the dishes it was time for Cass to get moving.

Allison helped carry her bags out to the car and stopped Cass with a hand to her arm, "You’re not one of those heroes that just rides off into the sunset and is never to be seen or heard from again are you?"

Cass smiled down at the young woman and replied, "It’s sunrise. And I definitely want to be seen and heard from again. Can I call you tonight?"

"I’d like that very much," Allison said as she hugged the tall woman to her tightly. "Thank you for saving me yesterday and for being here last night, I really needed that." She spoke so softly that Cass almost didn’t hear her. She simply smiled and returned the hug saying only, "I’ll talk to you soon."

Allison watched the car pull away and hugged herself tightly remembering the feel of the larger woman as she had held her the previous night. She hadn’t slept that good for a long time and silently wished that Cass Martin could be in her bed every night. Not just for sleeping purposes either, her mind thought wryly.



The Suspect Part 2

Cass arrived in Springfield with time to spare, and after running to a local bagel shop for bagels and coffee, proceeded to the District headquarters for a briefing on her case. She arrived at the office about twenty minutes early and decided to go inside and look over the case file. She had been summoned for this case with the explanation that is was an inside case and they wanted FBI supervision without direct case involvement. That meant send someone in that was least likely to pose a threat to the group. A profiler often fit this bill perfectly. She opened up her files as she took a bite out of her blueberry bagel. She chewed slowly, enjoying the flavor. As she chewed, she realized she hadn’t seen a word in the case file. Her mind was picturing a certain strawberry blond that she couldn’t seem to get off of her mind today. Leaning back in her chair, Cass thought about the woman she had saved the day before.

Allison was stunning. It was the only word that came to mind. She just simply was stunning. Cass closed her eyes and thought about how good it had felt to hold her the night before. She glanced at her cell phone in her briefcase and thought about calling to see if she could come back tonight. Then it occurred to her. She was married before. What makes you think she bats for the other team. If the way she fit into her arms the night before was any indication, she would bat for another team. The Cass Martin team.

Mike Dobinski, the captain of the task force walked into the room, waking Cass from her reverie of the previous night. "Morning," he said softly, "you must be the profiler." He extended his hand in greeting, smiling at Cass while she sat in her chair.

"Yes, I am. Cass Martin, nice to meet you." Cass replied nonchalantly.

"Mike Dobinski, task force captain. Nice to meet you too." Mike eyed Cass’ tall frame guessing her height at five ten. Then thinking how sexy she was. He put on his most charming smile, "I didn’t know the FBI had such beautiful agents."

Cass, was immediately put off by Mike’s arrogance. While a nice looking guy, he had the persona of a wet mop. She wanted to tell him that very badly. Why did every cop she meet have to hit on her? Instead she smiled sweetly and replied, "They don’t. I’m a profiler, not an official agent. I do consult profiling for them out of the Nashville office."

Mike smiled again, "Well, welcome to Illinois, Ms. Martin. Actually, I think you’re familiar with one of our agents. Detective Reese?"

"Kate Reese?" Cass asked.

"The one and only, Kate Reese," Mike said smiling. "I take it you do know her, then?"

"Of course, we worked together on the Bon Vista Murders a few years back." Cass replied. She was growing increasingly uncomfortable under this man’s watchful eye.

Mike looked at the woman in the chair and thought to himself, ‘So this is the one that was sleeping with the enemy, huh? Well the enemy had excellent taste.’ He was about to ask her about the case when the door flew open and in walked Kate Reese.

At five foot seven inches, Kate was towered over by both Cass and Mike. She paid no mind to Mike as she walked over and stood directly in front of Cass. Smiling down at her friend, she held her arms out to her sides, "What no hug? Cass Martin, where are your manners?"

Cass smiled widely as she stood and accepted the bear hug from Kate. "Good to see you, hon, how ya been"?

"I’d be a lot better if you’d call once in a while. Jesus Cass, a phd in psychology and you can’t operate a telephone?" Kate’s brown eyes sparkled mischieviously up at Cass.

Cass actually blushed at the teasing, and squeezed Kate once more for good measure. "Well I majored in the criminal mind, not communications, Kate."

Kate smacked Cass on the arm lightly. At 34, Kate was one of the youngest women to get promoted to the detectives division of ISP, department of criminal investigations. She was an overachiever, very competitive, and took no shit from anybody. She also had a sixth sense for crime scenes and suspects that was like none other Cass had ever seen. They had been friends for years. If it hadn’t been for Kate, Cass would be teaching Criminal Psychology at a junior college. She owed Kate Reese her life. Literally. "How about you buy me lunch and we’ll call it even, since you can’t use a phone?"

"You’re on, hon," Cass replied easily. She was going to say something else, but was interupted by another person entering the room. Two more men, Cass pegged as detectives walked in and surveyed the room. They were both tall, about six one each, and looked like they stepped out of a crime movie. Cass almost laughed. Mike looked at the men, and made the introductions. The detectives both in white shirts and black neckties sat down at the table opposite of Cass and Kate.

"Detectives Meyer and Holgrom, this is Cass Martin, our liason from FBI profiling division. You both know Kate Reese, our chief investigator." Mike made the introductions matter-of-factly, and quickly. "Let’s get to work here, folks".

The case was a rather interesting one. An ISP officer was found dead at home, and foul play was suspected. He was found in his home naked, hanging from a door handle in on the inside of his closet. Cass looked over the photographs from the scene, a swollen and bloated body hanging on the door handle, the face so distorted it couldn’t be readily identified. Apparently, one of his coworkers had gotten worried after he didn’t show up for work on night. The officer went to the man’s house and found the front door unlocked, so he went in, noticed the smell, and went looking for a body. Originally the coroner had suspected an autoerotic asphyxia, but an examination of the genitalia, and absence of semen at the scene had ruled that out. It was suspected that the person was killed then it was set up to look like an autoerotic asphyxiation, to be deemed an accident. Cass listened to the brief from the detective while scanning the photos of the scene. It did look like an accident from the photos, and autoerotic asphyxiation was not unheard of……even in adult males. It did occur more frequently in teenagers, but there had been cases of it in adults.

Looking up from the case file, Cass asked detective Meyer, "What was the cause of death"?

Meyer looked at Cass and replied hesitantly, "Oddly enough, the cause of death was asphyxiation. We have no idea how it happened though."

"So you have a cause of death, that is consistent with the way you found the body, and you suspect foul play?" Mike was asking for clarification of their purpose in this case.

"Basically, Mike, we don’t think that is what happened." Kate replied evenly.

"Why not? You have a cause of death, and it is consistent with the injury. What’s there to look at?" Mike asked. He was quite agitated with the whole thing so far. It was an open and shut case as far as he was concerned.

Cass looked up from her pictures to meet Mike’s eyes. "Actually, I’d like to go look at the house, if I could."

Kate smiled a knowing smile. ‘Good girl, Cass, you know I’m on to something.’

"Why, you think there is something here?" Mike asked increduously.

"I won’t know until I look at the house. Then I’ll make my decision as to what I think." Cass sipped her coffee enjoying the taste of the brew. Right up to the time, Kate said, "The victim’s name is Bryce McDaniels".

Cass coughed, spewing coffee through her nose, and choking all at the same time…….Bryce McDaniels? Holy Shit! Please, Please tell me this is some kind of dream.

Kate was at her side immediately slapping her on the back, and saying "Jesus Cass, breath will ya." Cass sputtered and coughed a few more times before finally composing herself. I can’t tell them I know his ex-wife. Holy Shit! I’ll bet she’s their number one suspect! Cass straightened in the chair. As she looked around, she realized the other three men were on their feet, not sure what to do, but up no less. She held her hand up, "I’m okay, went down the wrong pipe. I hate that."

The men looked at each other and convinced that she was alright sat back down. Kate looked at Cass questioningly, but said nothing.

"You okay?" she asked Cass.

"Yeah, fine, let’s go to the house."

Kate made sure that Cass rode to the house with her. Cass was quiet most of the ride. Aside from the normal, how ya been, I’m doing good, there wasn’t a lot of talk. This was totally unlike the Cass that Kate knew and loved. After the third time of "Are you sure you’re okay, Cass?" Kate gave up asking. She’d get it out of her sooner or later.

They pulled up to the house, a small ranch with a nice lawn, two car garage, little white picket fence. It was how Cass pictured a house that Allison would live in. She could almost see her out pulling weeds, tending the small flower bed……..Stop it Cass. You’re treading on very thin ice here. She and Kate exited the car and walked up to the house. The yellow tape was lifted and they entered what used to be Allison McDaniel’s home. It was not a large house, nicely furnished, not very neat. Apparently when Allison left, Bryce lost his housekeeper as well. It was also apparent, that the day he died, he was not alone. Cass looked at pictures on a small desk in the corner and noticed a pair of startling green eyes smiling at her. It was a picture taken apparently when she and Bryce were still happy, because, the young woman’s smile was happy and it reached her eyes. Bryce was not in the picture, so it was safe to assume he was the photographer. Cass looked at the photo for several moments, thinking how this young beauty had felt in her arms this morning. Oh god, what am I gonna do? I really like her. She looked into the picture at the smiling, loving face. I want to see that look when she sees me. Cass sighed.

"She’s a knockout, isn’t she?" Kate asked. Startling Cass out of her daydream. She hastily put the photo down, "Yes, she is."

Cass looked around the rest of the room. Bryce’s clothes were scattered around in dissaray on the floor near the couch. Hmmmm, interesting. Lousy housekeeper, but only one set of clothes in here. She looked in the kitchen, finding an empty beer bottle in the sink. Then looking in the trash can, found another one. Okay, one in the sink, one in the trash. This means what? He emptied the slush in the bottom before throwing it away? Looking at the pile of dirty dishes in the sink, Cass thought that was pretty unlikely. She opened the refrigerator and looked in. Beer, cokes, hotdogs, insulin, syringes…….wait, insulin, syringes?????

Cass closed the refrigerator and looked at Kate. "He was a diabetic?"

"Good deduction, Sherlock. What gave it away?" Kate replied with a smirk.

Cass snorted at Kate and walked down the narrow hallway toward the bedrooms. She was halfway down the hall when she noticed the smell. The acrid smell of decaying flesh was one Cass never got used to. It was also one, you never forgot. It clung to your skin and clothes hours after you were away from it. Sometimes you could smell it at night in your sleep. Cass breathed slowly through her mouth as she went into the bedroom. The bed was neatly made in the center of the room. To the right was a chest of drawers, on the far wall was a small doorway that looked like a bathroom door. Then to her left Cass saw the closet, the door was still open. Cass could visualize Bryce’s body hanging from the door handle. Her mind recalled the way it was setting. She closed her eyes and could see the picture in her mind. A flash of light raced behind her eyelids and she saw a pair of hands hooking the belt over the door handle. Then the picture was gone.

Cass opened her eyes to find Kate staring at her. "What?" she asked.

"You aren’t buying this being an accident either are you?" Kate asked.

"Were there any marks on his body?"

"Except for the ones from the belt on his neck, no. Why?" Kate was certain this case was a homicide, but so far only the other two detectives had thought the same thing. Now she was hoping with Cass’ help, they’d have reasonable cause to keep the case open. She was already catching hell from the powers that be to rule it an accident and closed the case.

"What about time of death, do we have an idea?" Cass asked.

"He’d been on vacation for a week, the body had been here at least four days. So we really aren’t sure. What are you thinking here Cass?" Kate was sure she was on to something, but Cass’ analytical skills were far superior to hers. She needed someone in the FBI to notice that something just didn’t fit. If it was here, Cass would find it.

Cass had already made up her mind that this was a homicide. She walked over to the bathroom, flipped on the lights and found Bryce’s clothes strewn about the small cubicle. She remembered he was naked in the photographs. That couldn’t really pin a time frame down. Cass looked over again at the bed. Still neatly made. Now why is that? She frowned thinking it odd that a man with no domestic skills at all would make a bed. Maybe he didn’t Cass. Maybe someone else made the bed? She was about to agree with her id, when Kate took the moment to speak up.

"Cass, you got a theory here or what? Please tell me I’m not imagining this. This just doesn’t fit together to you either does it?"

Cass thought very seriously about telling Kate she didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. You can protect Allison that way Cass. Think about it. If you say this is an accident, this case dies, right here, right now. You could be at dinner with her tonight. Cass almost laughed at the irony of the situation. Gotta admit Cass, you sure can pick them. She took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. Ice blue met golden brown in a dead stare. Kate was daring her to disagree with her. "You’re right. I think it’s a homicide."

Kate breathed a sigh of relief and Cass felt like she’d just stuck a sword in her own chest. God, why do I have to put her through this? Why do I have to go through this?

"So I can put on the report that FBI recommends further investigation?" Kate asked.

"Yes, I’ll sign it. It was definitely a homicide." Cass said softly.

"Anything I need to look at more closely?" Kate asked.

"Yeah, the bottles of beer in the sink and trash can. Check out the belt for prints. Did you run toxicology on the body?" Cass ran through a quick list.

"Yeah, blood alcohol was less that .08. So he wasn’t drunk. Been drinking but wasn’t drunk." Kate replied.

"You run chromatography on him?" Cass looked down into Kate’s face, noticing the confusion. "He didn’t struggle and he wasn’t drunk. Maybe somebody slipped him a mickey in his drink or something." Cass shrugged.

"Holy shit, Cass. That hadn’t occurred to me. But when they did the autopsy, and determined the cause of death. They killed the rest of the screens. We don’t send chromatography out on normal homicides. They were treating this like an accidental death.

What are you thinking, Cass?"

Cass looked at Kate again. "Well, I don’t think he was alone when he died. I also don’t think this was an accident. Open this case. Get the body exhumed and let’s find out what the hell happened." Cass looked back at the bed and then thought for a second. "Kate, take the sheets in from his bed, have them analyzed. I have a feeling he didn’t sleep alone his last night."

"Have the next of kin been notified?" Cass asked.

"Everyone, but the ex-wife." Kate replied.

Cass looked confused, "Why wasn’t she notified?"

"Well, apparently they had been separated for months, she had moved recently, the family said not to bother her with this. We complied. Besides, she’s a suspect now." Kate stated it so matter-of-factly, it almost sounded funny.

Yeah, because I just made her one. Time to push a little. "Do you think she did this Kate?" Cass asked softly.

"The detectives under me want to rule out everything. That includes the ex. You know in …….."

"Yeah yeah, I know in half of all murders, the significant other is the guilty party. Doesn’t explain why she wasn’t questioned or notified, Kate. Care to enlighten me?" Cass was almost as angry as she was hurt right now. She really liked Allison and no matter what, couldn’t believe that beautiful young woman was capable of such a thing.

"There have been rumors, Cass." Kate said, cautiously.

"About what?"

"We’re thinking she was a battered wife before she left him." Kate stated like that should automatically make Allison guilty.

"So you think this was some kind of retribution on him for hitting her?" Cass asked incredulously. "Why bother leaving her home if she was going to kill him, Kate? Doesn’t make sense to me."

"We think he’s been stalking her." Kate stated flatly. "Maybe she didn’t see any other way out at the time."

"I just want you to know, for the record, I’m not buying that. This whole case stinks to high heaven and I’m not buying it. I don’t think his ex-wife killed him."

"Then who do you think did, Cass" Kate asked softly?

"I don’t know yet. That’s why I’m gonna stay on as consultant for this case. I know there’s something fishy going on here, and I think the ex-wife is gonna make the perfect ‘fall guy’ for it." Cass was almost angry as she raised her voice to Kate.

Kate backed up against the bathroom door hands up in submission, "Okay, Cass, you made your point. You wanna get out of my space now?"

Cass looked at Kate and realized she’d backed her into the wall with her ranting. "Jesus, I’m sorry Kate. Look….."

"It’s okay, Cass. Take me to lunch and maybe I’ll forgive you." Kate punched her on the arm lightly for good measure.

Cass smiled a smile she really didn’t feel, but nodded her head in agreement. They left the house in search of some food.
The Corner Pub was one of Kate’s favorite hangouts. The food was good, the prices were fair, and the all around mood of the place was comfortable. It was usually comfortable. For some reason, a certain six foot raven haired beauty couldn’t seem to get that way today. After fifteen minutes of watching Cass push her salad around her plate with her fork, Kate had had enough.

"Cass, what the hell is going on?" she started. "You’ve been acting strangely since the meeting this morning. Wanna talk about it, or do I have to play twenty questions with you?"

Cass continued to push her food around on her plate. After a minute she looked up, meetings Kate’s eyes she asked, "I was just thinking how much I owe you for saving me from myself when all that stuff with Sara broke loose."

"Ah ha, we have a winner." Kate said jokingly. When Cass looked confused, Kate decided to elaborate on her theory. "You’ve been acting strangely all day. I’m not sure why, but I get the impression that you have a personal interest in this case, Cass. Wanna tell me about it?"

Cass looked back down at her plate suddenly feeling a pang of fear and an ache she couldn’t describe. "Kate, you remember how bad this thing with Sara was for me? I wanted to quit my job, I moved to Nashville to get away from it. I didn’t do anything for months. I haven’t dated or seen anyone since that time," Cass paused trying to let Kate fill in the blanks, "until now."

If Cass was waiting for Kate to fill in the blanks, she wasn’t to be disappointed. The young detectives eyes met hers in a fearful moment of realization, "You know the wife."

It wasn’t a question, it was a statement. Kate said it so softly, Cass barely heard her. Cards are on the table Cass, play ‘em, or fold ‘em. "Yes, I do. I met her yesterday. I ….." Cass struggled for what to say, but nothing came to mind.

"Oh God, Cass. Please tell me you aren’t sleeping with her." Kate said increduluously. She couldn’t believe Cass’ luck with women.

Kate knew about Cass’ preference for women and had never had a problem with the fact that she liked them. It was just that her taste in them seemed to be very hazardous to her health. Sara Jamieson, had turned out to be a serial killer and was sleeping with Cass the whole time that special ops was investigating the crimes and tracking her. It had made catching her difficult and the trial was almost career suicide for Cass. And now she was involved with a woman that was a suspect. THE SUSPECT in yet another homicide. God Cass, what are we gonna do about your taste in women?

Cass smiled an ironically pained smile and replied, "Well, I slept with her last night, but I didn’t have sex with her."

"Cass this is really serious. I need you on this case with a non-biased and objective opinion. What the hell were you thinking?" Kate said hastily.

Kate saw a brief flash of anger in the ice blue of Cass’ eyes and thought for a moment she had overstepped her bounds with the beautiful profiler. Then Cass replied to the question, "I could have killed this case back at the house. I knew then who she was, I could have said that this was an accident and closed it there. I don’t think this was an accident. I think it was a homicide. You want me to tell you what I think, that’s it. It was murder. But as for a suspect, Allison isn’t one I want to put on that list."

"How can you be sure Cass?" Kate asked.

"For starters, she doesn’t know he’s dead. She hasn’t heard from him for two weeks. She didn’t know who I was or that I was coming to in to consult on this case. I just don’t get that edgy feeling with her that I always had with Sara. It isn’t the same thing Kate. You’ve got to believe me." Cass was practically begging Kate to see her side of this.

Kate sighed, then set her fork down on her plate. "Then maybe we should go and talk with the ex-wife."

"Will you let me go and help with the interview?" Cass asked.

Kate knew she was overstepping her bounds here. Cass had nearly lost her life with the last case they had worked together. But for some reason, nothing else in this case had been as it seemed. Why would a woman who ran from her husband come back to kill him? She’d already relocated, changed jobs, taken steps to insure her own safety. It just didn’t fit. But right now, she was the only suspect they had. And she didn’t want another detective getting killed as a result of bad judgement. Carl Benson was not really a good cop, but he was a cop no less. His decision to sleep with Sara had been the worst and last one of his life. Looking at the case in retrospect Kate and Cass had had this niggling in the back of their minds that whoever the killer was, they had an inside line into law enforcement and were close to the cases. Cass just hadn’t looked in the right direction. Until Carl had been killed. Then a light went off in Cass’ head. It had nearly killed her to fill in the profile and watch it become someone she was sleeping with. So far the killer had one victim. No other bodies with the same MO. No reason to think this was going to be a serial killer. This was an isolated case. With a motive, but what that motive was continued to elude Kate. As much as she hated to admit defeat and the need for help. She did need help. Cass was brilliant at solving cases. It had taken a while to get her back in the field, but once she stopped second guessing and looking too hard. She’d become one of the best in the business. Kate needed her on this case.

"Yes, you can go." Cass sighed and prepared to thank her friend but was stopped by Kate raising her hand. "But, I do the interview, you can be there for moral support and for a look at her reactions. I don’t do this how should someone feel crap. But, if I sense that you are getting too close to this case, I’ll yank you in a heartbeat and have the bureau send another profiler in. You got it?" Kate pointed the fork at Cass for emphasis.

"Deal, Kate, thank you." Cass smiled her gratitude.

With the deal made, Cass paid the tab for lunch and the two took their leave to the office. After packing up their things, Cass and Kate took separate cars and headed back south to Allison’s. While driving along the grooved pavement, Cass silently prayed to whatever god would listen that she was right about Allison.

Part 3

Kate and Cass arrived at Allison’s townhouse just as she was getting home from work, as Allison exited her car, she smiled a brilliant smile for Cass as she walked up to hug the taller woman.

"Hi! Did you finish your business early, or did you want to cash in your raincheck now?" Allison asked looking up at the profiler. She was completely unaware of the presence of Kate behind her as she spoke.

Cass shifted nervously in the young woman’s arms, looking back at Kate with an uneasiness that made her feel very vulnerable. She slowly released Allison and turned her to see Kate standing there watching them.

Allison stopped and blushed, not expecting the new audience for her display of affection and she cleared her throat before continuing her babbling. "I see you brought a friend. Ummm, hello, I’m Allison McDaniels," she supplied, extending her hand to Kate.

At least she had the decency to blush, Kate thought as she extended her hand to Allison. She shook Allison’s hand while introducing herself , "Hello Allison. I’m Detective Kate Reese, of ISP, Criminal investigations unit". She deliberately dropped her title to see if Allison gave any sign of recognition to her department.

Allison looked confused, then almost scared as she looked back to Cass, who said nothing. Allison feared that Cass had gone back on her word and had brought an investigator to talk to her about filing a complaint against Bryce. She was ready to ask Cass what was going on, when Cass began to speak.

"Allison, Kate is a friend of mine. She is working on the case I’m here to consult on. We need to talk to you and Kate needs to ask you a few questions. Is that alright?"

Allison looked utterly dumbfounded. What do I have to do with a case that Cass is consulting on? And why is this woman here? How long have she and Cass known each other? How good "friends" are they?

Cass took Allison’s arm and steered her gently toward the house. Kate followed behind them at a slower pace. As they walked Cass explained to Allison what was going on. "As it turns out, you are sort of involved in the case I’m here to consult on." Before she could finish Allison spoke up abruptly stopping the profiler in her tracks.

"What do you mean, I’m ‘sort of involved’ in the case you are here to consult on "?

"Allison, can we go inside and discuss this please?" Cass pleaded.

"NO! I’m not going anywhere until you tell me what the hell is going on. You work on violent crimes right," Allison asked?

"Yes, I do." Cass supplied.

"Then what the hell does that have to do with me? Have one of the kids I was caseworking on been killed or hurt?" She asked, suddenly fearing the worst for a client she wasn’t there for anymore. She looked at Cass then to Kate expecting to hear that she had let one of the children down.

"It’s about Bryce, Allison," Kate supplied, "we need to go inside, sit down and discuss this matter. Now.

When Kate put her foot down, even gently, it was made clear that she was done playing and the niceties were over. Allison slowly nodded her head and unlocked the door, Cass held it open for her to enter, then for Kate to follow.

Once inside, Cass ushered Allison to the couch and gently directed her to sit. A sudden quietness had enveloped her and she was trembling slightly. Kate took the chair opposite the couch and waited until Cass seated herself next to Allison before beginning.

For Allison fear had kicked in once she heard the mention of Bryce’s name. She was suddenly wary of this detective and what she wanted from her. She was scared that Bryce had sent her on a mission to find out where she was and what her weaknesses were. How long would this last? Would he ever stop chasing her and just let her get on with her life?

Kate began the interview in the same tone she had ushered Allison into the house with. "Allison, when was the last time you saw Bryce?"

Allison looked at Kate for a moment, not quite sure whether or not to trust this woman. She looked at Cass, who nodded and squeezed her hand gently; taking a deep breath she began. "I saw Bryce about three months ago. It was before I moved here. He came into my office in Springfield and made a scene about the divorce papers. I haven’t seen him since. The last time I talked to him was about two weeks ago, give or take a day or two."

"So you haven’t had any physical contact with him since three months ago?" Kate asked.

"No, none. He called me here on a regular basis, but like I said, he hasn’t called for about two weeks. What does this have to do with violent crimes? Did Bryce hurt somebody else?" Allison asked the question almost as if she felt responsible for someone else Bryce would have hurt.

Kate saw this as an opportunity to delve a little further into the rumor mill. If what she’d heard about Bryce being a wife beater, they were going to be hard pressed to find a suspect as likely as Allison. But she had to know the whole story. "What do you mean by ‘hurt someone else’ Allison"?

Allison blinked at Kate as if she couldn’t believe the questioning. "Just what I said. Did Bryce hurt someone else?" She restated.

"Allison, did Bryce hurt you?" Kate asked, a little more bluntly than she wanted, but it would have to do.

"Look, Detective Reese. I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors. If you’re familiar with Bryce at all, I’m sure you think that I’m an estranged wife trying to take my husband for all he’s worth. I know how the "Blue Wall" is in the police department. But just for the record, my husband beat me on a regular basis and I’m not trying to get anything from him. I just want away from him and for him to leave me alone. I signed over the house, I didn’t want spousal support. I just wanted away from him. He signed the divorce papers two weeks ago and I’m hoping I don’t have to see him again. I just want him out of my life." She finished almost angrily. As she turned to Cass and saw the look of support, she lost her fire. "I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be angry with you. I’m just so afraid he won’t ever leave me alone. I’m afraid every time I go out, whenever I come home. I never know when he will show up, or what he’ll do if he does. He knows where I am right now, and I’m just a little worried about that." Allison finished softly, looking down at the floor. Her eyes tearing, she stifled a sob and excused herself for a moment. As she ran to the bathroom, Cass got up to follow her, but was stopped by Kate’s hand on her arm.

"Let her go Cass. She’s gonna need you, but not right now." She said sympathetically.

"You could’ve been a little more tactful there, Kate," Cass said softly.

"I wanted a reaction out of her. This was not the one I expected. I’m sorry for that." Kate said looking Cass directly in the eye.

"Well you got a reaction all right. This is just gonna get worse from here on out. She doesn’t know he’s dead Kate. She doesn’t have a clue. She’s still talking about the guy in the present tense for Christ’s sake!" Cass was angry at Kate for pushing. Her logic told her that she should understand this need for reaction, should be studying it to see if she truly was a suspect. But she couldn’t get past the fact that Allison was a victim of Bryce McDaniels’. Cass was glad someone had killed the jerk. She believed that Allison didn’t do it.

Allison sat in the bathroom on the edge of the bathtub rocking back and forth while she hugged her arms tightly to herself. Why won’t he just leave me alone? I’m not doing anything to him. I’m not taking money from him, I gave him the house. I just want to be left alone. I want to start my life over and be with someone who loves me for me, not for a punching bag. As Allison thought about starting her life over, and of finding someone to love she immediately pictured the azure eyes in the next room. Suddenly missing the contact of the beautiful profiler, she got up to return to the questioning from Detective Reese. As she opened the door a slightly, she stilled hearing their voices in a heated conversation. What were they arguing about? As she opened the door further, she heard Cass tell Detective Reese that she didn’t even know that he’s dead. Who’s dead? She opened the door the rest of the way and charged into the room. "I don’t know who’s dead? And What about the present tense?" she demanded.

Cass and Kate looked at her stunned, they had no idea how much of the conversation she’d heard. Kate looked at Cass, then back to Allison.

"What are you talking about?" turning to Cass, she asked "Cass?"

Cass looked back at Kate, who said nothing. It was clear she had no intention of telling Allison what she’d just overheard. Just tell her and be done with it, Cass. Just tell her. Cass took Allison’s hands in hers and looked down at the angry young woman. "Allison, sit down with me, and I’ll……."

"No. Tell me what is going on, Cass. Now. I’m not liking this one bit and I’m not setting down until you tell me what the hell is going on." Allison put her foot down hard and was about to see that it landed in a big pile of madness, that centered around her.

Cass decided to obey the command from id. She took Allison by the upper arms and planted her feet squarely in front of the young woman. "Allison, Bryce is dead. He was found murdered in his home three days ago." She shook the girl gently with the final words, letting them sink in.

Allison suddenly felt like the world tilted. Bryce is dead? How did that happen? What did she say about three days ago? He was murdered??? She suddenly felt weak in the knees and was glad that Cass was holding her arms. She allowed herself to be led back to the couch, where Cass sat with her, still holding her arms. She took several gulps of air, suddenly feeling nauseated. As she shook her head and concentrated on breathing, she could feel the warmth of Cass’ hand on her back as she leaned forward on the couch. "Somebody killed him?" she asked incredously. She looked to Cass then to Kate for more information.

"Yes, Allison, someone killed him in his home.

 Continued - Part 3 - 5


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