The Price of Loyalty
Winter in Eastland was a dreary affair. Wet bitter cold rarely transformed into the dry glitter of fresh- fallen snow. Instead the damp chill seeped into bones, dribbling past heavy raincoats to raise goosebumps on shivering flesh. It was almost Christmas now, and the house felt empty. Alan Cade took to wandering from room to room, stealing warmth from a glass of brandy, pausing here and there to look at the accouterments of his life with the eyes of a stranger.
Elena was in Canada visiting her mother. Maria was gone, perhaps dead. The force carried on, crisis following crisis, domestic and drug-related crimes rising with the season. Still, his officers were gearing up for Christmas, making plans, scheduling vacations. He'd given Wes Morton a few days off, the man deserved it - and besides, those with a family should enjoy the holidays. Cade himself could work. There was nothing else to do.
Seven PM now, and he stared moodily into the warm amber liquid swirling in his glass. He tilted it up, the rich fumes filling his nostrils, then he took a bare sip. The fiery liquid stung his tongue with numbing heat, prickly and pungent. He carelessly dropped the glass on the table and took a deep breath. This was accomplishing nothing.
It took barely ten minutes for him to gather himself together and reach the car. The drive to headquarters was longer, the combination of wet, icy roads and foggy darkness conspiring to limit his progress to a crawl. When he arrived, he found the halls empty, his footsteps loud on the polished tile. His office was inviting, high ceilings echoing, the flicker of light bright against the night outside. His desk chair felt good, the ease one more of familiarity than physical comfort. And the work was piled high, as always, a constant flood of demands on limited time and energy. Tackling it now would help keep him afloat when the next crisis hit.
He lost himself in his work, time fleeing by with little notice. Twisted to the side, eyes intent on the fluorescent shimmer of a computer screen, he didn't hear the door open or sense the presence in the room, until a soft cough stole his attention. He spun around, then abruptly relaxed.
Stifling a yawn that seized the moment to grab him, he looked up over the top of his reading glasses.
"Hello, Rose, what are you doing here so late?"
His newly promoted staff officer gave him a faint smile. "I could ask you the same question, sir."
Removing his glasses, he rubbed at the bridge of his nose, smiling wryly. "Just trying to catch up." He waved a hand negligently at the pile of paper in front of him, then cocked his head questioningly.
She waved another manila folder at him.
"Checking in on the Denning investigation. I think something's likely to break soon." That captured his attention, and his eyes focused, glinting green. Recognizing the expression, she stepped forward, and he waved at the closest chair. She slid gracefully into it, and proffered the latest information with brisk efficiency, knowing each word was being seized by a steel-trap mind. His questions were sharp, always cutting to the heart of the matter; he always challenged her. Never had anyone's nod of approval meant more to her, never had she more respected a superior officer.
They spent a quick half-hour discussing the present case. He approved her choice of action with a spare sentence and a wave of a bluntly elegant hand. But his gaze was warm as it rested on her, she felt the intensity of his attention fiercely, a powerful stirring in her gut. Her husband accused her of finding this man's company more stimulating than his own, and though she'd denied it, she knew it was true. There was something special about Alan Cade, a charisma that was soft-spoken but unrelenting, an intensity that never faltered or lost focus. She -was- attracted to him, like a moth to the flame, but it wasn't romantic, only intellectual - or so she tried to believe.
Finished with their discussion, she stood up, then hesitated. Was he really going to spend Christmas Eve in the office, alone? She hesitated as she turned to go, looking back over her shoulder at him. Sensing her regard, he looked back up at her, his eyes widening, brows lifting, in a characteristic expression. He was waiting for her to speak.
'Well in for a penny, in for a pound,' she told herself firmly. "You're not staying here all night, sir, are you?" His expression closed up and she faltered, then pushed onwards. "I mean, if you don't have plans... we're having a small party tonight, at home, and I wondered if you'd like to come." She glanced down at her watch and grimaced, she was already more than an hour late for the start of the party and she'd left the preparation to her husband and his friends. Michael was going to be furious - again - and her stomach sunk at the thought of yet another shouting match with him.
Cade was shaking his head, obviously in preparation for refusing, and she found herself jumping in. If she was going to face another battle with her husband anyway, this couldn't make it any worse. She hated the thought of this remarkable man spending Christmas Eve alone.
"Please, sir. We'd love to have you." She proffered him her warmest smile, dark eyes crinkling above white teeth.
He hesitated, and she stole the advantage. "Come on then, sir, I'm already late. Since you held me up, the least you can do is explain it to my husband." Her smile turned wry, but his broke loose like a burst of sunlight.
"Now don't blame me," he chided lightly. "I sent you home hours ago, remember." He waggled his finger at her, even as he stood up and reached for his coat.
"Yes, but when in doubt, blame the boss," she teased back, regaining that wonderful sense of ease with him that had so marked the development of their working relationship. She never forgot he was her superior officer, and yet he so often treated her as an equal, valuing her judgment and trusting her capabilities. Sometimes she felt more at home with him than she'd ever felt with anyone else.
He grimaced at her, then chuckled, urging her towards the door. They bantered gently as he shut off the lights, locked the door, and left the building.
He wasn't really in the mood for attending a Christmas party, but he had been moved by the sincerity of Rose's invitation. She was one of the few people in his life he truly trusted - a talented police officer with intelligence, imagination and leadership ability. He'd had continuing troubles trying to fit himself into the Eastland constabulary; losing senior officers on a regular basis. Most of the force thought he was difficult, a radical, out-of-touch and out-of-place. He'd managed to develop a semi-comfortable relationship with his deputy Wes Morton, but Rose... Rose was HIS. He'd offered her advancement and she'd taken to it like a fish to water, rewarding him with seamless loyalty and dedication. He could count on her - and that meant more to him than anything else.
He'd never been to her home before, but he was struck with a sense of familiarity. The place felt like her, neat and tidy, yet warm and inviting. A mix of efficiency and elegance, but without becoming cold. He could see touches of care, a worn pillow, rough spots of use on the hall floor: a glimpse of clutter in a half- open closet, the bits and pieces of human life peeking out amid the careful neatness designed for the eyes of visitors. He liked the place, unable to avoid a comparison to the sterile emptiness of his own home. For all he'd tried to stamp the place with his own personality, except for his bedroom and the kitchen, it lacked this kind of lived-in quality.
She took his coat and guided him into a brightly lit room, a large Christmas tree twinkling like a rainbow in the corner. He hadn't bothered to buy one for himself; until this moment the holiday hadn't seemed real. It struck him then. Standing in that doorway, he suffered a sinking sensation of being lost, isolated, a stranger peeking in a window at someone else's life. But Rose was urging him forward, her hand a steady pressure on his arm, and he squeezed out an appropriate smile. She drew him towards a cluster of people standing by the fireplace and he was soon fielding a sea of introductions and handshakes.
Michael Penfold was a tall, almost pretty man with a quiet manner and surprisingly cold eyes. Cade could have sworn he felt a wave of hostility emanating from him, but it disappeared quickly, swallowed by a flood of politeness. The conversation was quickly dominated by a small, blond woman, Helen Andrews, who chattered like a tropical bird, pitter patter sounds with little meaning. Her husband, Tim, seemed likable, genuine and easy- going, and the other couple was unremarkable, Cade didn't catch their names.
Penfold excused himself soon, wandering off to play host, but Rose stayed attentive at Cade's side. He was appreciative, having to push himself to be sociable, never quite comfortable in crowds of people. He had no trouble public speaking, and he enjoyed sharing a drink with colleagues after a busy day, but events like this tended to leave him cold. Rose's company helped, though, he had always been able to feel at ease with her. She had a good, earthy sense of humor, a sharp mind, and a politician's ability to steer him in the direction of the most comfortable conversations. By the time he'd downed a couple glasses of wine, he was finally beginning to relax.
Humor crinkled the corners of his eyes, and Rose breathed in a quiet sigh of relief. She'd sensed his uneasiness, and had wondered if she'd made a mistake insisting that he come home with her. Michael had been glowering silently at their backs for most of the evening. But it was worth it to see Alan Cade smiling, the drawn lines of tension easing from his brow. He was laughing now, teeth glinting, head tilted back in appreciation of the riotous tale spun by another of their colleagues. She had only invited a few, mostly women, fearing that the party would devolve into tight cliques, Michael's friends on one side, hers on another. Yet Alan Cade had bridged the gap better than anyone else could have done, the coppers were drawn in to pay their respects, and the civilians were aching with curiosity, delighted to get a chance to talk to the notorious Chief Constable. She didn't doubt that this evening would be the topic of conversation for many weeks to come.
Cade responded to the young DI with a story of his own from the streets of Chelsea, and she let the conversation flow. Her eyes took a quick survey of the room, mapping locations instinctively, finally settling on her husband's animated face. He'd been drinking a bit more heavily than usual, his skin was flushed, the purplish wine sloshed in his glass as he spoke forcefully at his best friend. She felt little more than frustration - annoyance - towards him and she couldn't help wondering when the feeling had fled from her marriage. The long hours required by her rising career were more a symptom than a cause, the joy had disappeared a long time before. Something was going to break soon, she knew that - and dreaded it.
"Rose?" Brilliant green eyes were focused on her face, she blinked, startled, as she looked straight up into Alan Cade's face. She fought for a reassuring smile, pushing her emotions down with the ease of long practice. "You all right?" he asked gently, the tips of his fingers brushing at the air beside her shoulder.
She nodded, proffering the smile, surprising herself when it turned real in response to the obvious concern in his expression.
"I'm fine. A little tired," she replied, twisting the corner of her mouth wryly. He mirrored the expression, in recognition of the obvious truth of that particular platitude. She glanced back over her shoulder towards the table, seizing gratefully on the depleted condition of the platters. "And I'd better get some more food out." Suddenly deeply aware of how close they were standing, his breath warming her cheek, she took a short step back, preparing to cross the room.
"I'll give you a hand," he offered, turning to follow her. It felt strange to have him behind her, she was accustomed to walking in his wake, always waiting for a word or a command. They had nearly reached the table before she answered, protesting lightly.
"You don't need to do that, sir, it won't take me long..." Rose glanced up at him, even as she reached out to pick up an empty silver tray. He beat her to it, nearly stealing it from her outstretched hand. His voice was soft and deep.
"No, let me help. Besides, how often do you get to order your boss around?" He smiled. "Take advantage of it, Superintendent!"
"Yes, sir!" She responded, his amusement infectious. Laughing, Rose quickly piled another couple of platters in his arms, eliciting an exaggerated 'oomph' with the last one. He grimaced, but his eyes were twinkling, emerald-green, as she urged him towards the kitchen.
They sorted the food out quickly, arranging rows of sticky cakes and neatly-sliced sandwiches. Fruit stewed in its own juices, cookies piled like dominoes, bright candied sprinkles quickly scattered across table cloth, floor, and hands. Alan grinned as he licked at his fingers.
"Got enough here to feed an army," he commented.
Rose chuckled, unwrapping another foil-wrapped container. "Yes, Helen likes to bake. Actually several of my husband's friend's wives do." An edge slid into her voice; she shrugged her shoulders, adding more lightly. "Guess it's a good thing they do - or we'd have had a party without food."
"Not your favorite activity," he replied, standing back to examine the results of his efforts. She moved over to stand beside him, using the tray full of cookies as an excuse not to meet his eyes. Poking at the unsteady end of a row of gingersnaps, she agreed.
"No. Always feels like a waste of time. I like to eat, but I'd rather have someone else prepare it."
He gave a brief laugh, then surprised her. "Actually, I do like to cook." Her eyes darted up to his face, and he gave a self-deprecating shrug. "Well...occasionally. And only for myself. Not sure I'd want to inflict the results on anyone else. Though I do make a mean shepherd's pie!"
Rose laughed, caught by the intensity of his eyes. His face seemed built around them, sharp angles declining from the sparkling sea-green gems, even the hard slash of his battered cheekbone only supplied an accent - a hint of something exotic - to the over-all effect. Then he tilted his head, and the changeling image was lost, again she was staring at an ordinary man with slightly too-cropped hair for the size of his ears.
Those eyes were still pinned to her face, and she felt a hint of a blush creep up across her cheeks. He didn't move away, he edged a half-step closer, bending down just enough that they could taste each other's breath. His arm moved, and suddenly she felt a whisper of a caress across her cheek, the shadow of his hand, the heat of his palm along her chin. With a sigh of something that felt almost like relief, she leaned into it, her eyes falling closed, spraying fine dark eyelashes across the pale skin of her cheeks.
They froze into a motionless tableau, breath caught in their lungs, and then they jerked out of it like marionettes on strings. He fell back, his hand dropping to his side, the fingers half-clenching. She turned sideways, reaching out to steady herself with the table. Rose sucked in a deep gulp of air, feeling her pulse beat against her temples, her heart racing within her breast. Not daring to turn and see him again, she took hold of the tray, lifted it, and hurried back into the party. He followed more slowly, bringing out a second platter. They completed the task briskly, then returned to the party in silent agreement, an unspoken mutual decision that if they acted as though nothing had happened, perhaps nothing really had.
A serial killer. If there was one kind of crime Alan Cade had prayed he'd never see during his tenure at Eastland, this was it. Even worse than random terrorism, this was act of murder distilled into its purest form, horror written with human faces. The fact that the victims came in pairs, a mother and her child, ravaged, battered, and more, only made the anger rise sharper within him. The deaths of children always cut the hardest, innocence struck down in its prime, life torn out by the roots before it had a chance to flower. And they had suffered, these victims, death at long last a welcome release from unrelenting pain. This killer knew the use of a knife all too well.
Yet, for all the vivid and bloody evidence left behind, the culprit himself always escaped into the city like a ghost. The media was in a frenzy, the public was panicked, the Police Authority and the Home Office were having fits. He'd mobilized the force, blanketing the city with officers, yet information painstakingly gathered from around the crime scenes had been frustratingly vague. A few possibilities, but nothing concrete. The suspect was young to middle-aged, definitely white, with lightish brown hair, ordinary clothes, ordinary height, ordinary everything.
Cade's weariness-reddened eyes wandered around the conference table. To his left sat Deputy Wes Morton, tall, balding, solid and respectable. An old-fashioned copper, steady and methodical, Morton had had trouble adjusting to his Chief's more fiery style, but they'd fought their way into a balanced relationship, and it was with relief and quiet affection that Cade looked now at Morton's face. Beside Morton was the quiet ACC Ops, Arthur Bannon. Another solid officer, he was more Morton's style than Cade's, but still reliable and well- liked by the force.
Next was Walter Kearns, the ACC P&I, graying, with steely blue eyes. An expert politician that one, but it was a necessary skill - the media loved him. On the opposite end of the table sat the visitor, Doctor Jane Burgess, a Scotland Yard-supplied psychologist. Cade had been grateful to get her, she was reputed to be the best. Morton had been skeptical, preferring to rely on methodical police work to solve the crime, but Cade was desperate for any help he could get. Her profile had given them little so far that they couldn't have already figured out, how much of her 'educated guesswork' would pan out in the future was anyone's guess. Still, she was a bright spark of hope amid the darkness, and he gave her a quick nod before turning to the final officer, seating close on his right.
Rose, slim and elegant, was waiting for a signal from him to begin. His eyes alighted on her pale-skinned face with warm approval, their eyes caught for the briefest of moments before she began to speak. He had put her on this investigation the moment he'd heard about the first killing. Instinct and experience had warned him, like chiming bells, that this was only going to get worse before it got better. IF it got better. She'd done all that anyone could have done, organizing the investigating team with tireless effort and determination, working hours as long as his own, supporting him patiently through the eruption of a media circus, never failing to keep him informed and involved.
"Two of the victims knew each other. Martha Ellison and Jamie Grouse belonged to the same church. They weren't close, but did occasionally 'pass the time of day,'" Rose explained, tapping a blunt forefinger against the file folder spread open before her.
"But the remaining two victims, Laurel Palter and Teresa Whitman had no contact with any of the others." Rose got to her feet, turning to face the city map spread out on the wall. "Palter lived near the Armfield in the middle of the city. Whitman lived out in the countryside, on the very edge of the city. Ellison and Grouse lived in the more affluent northern shoreside community. We've tracked each of their movements for the week before they were abducted, and except for Sunday morning church services for Ellison and Grouse, none of them went to the same place or saw the same people. They used different markets and shops. Whitman rarely ventured into downtown. Whoever our killer is, he's extremely mobile - but all that takes is a car and money for petrol."
"What about their jobs?" Morton asked.
Rose shrugged, sitting back down.
"Ellison and Grouse weren't working. They all had young children at home..." All the solemn face around that table hardened as one, no one was likely to forget the second set of victims, the three-year-old little girls with battered faces and knife-scored bodies. Rose swallowed hard, then continued calmly. "Whitman worked at home. She made doll-clothes on consignment, did some embroidery and sewing as well. I have a pair of detectives going through her records, tracking down all of her clients, but nothing's showed up so far."
"And Palter?" Cade inquired, picking up and twisting a gold-layered pen in his hand, his eyes intent on her face.
"Worked part time - 7am to noon - in a dentist's office. Nurse's assistant. Her mother lived with her, so she would watch the daughter, Sarah, in the mornings. None of the other victims went to that dentist..." She shuffled papers, dark head bent down, then looked back up at Cade. "Doctor Louis Friedman. Again, I have officers going through patient records, despite the good doctor's protests," she smiled wryly, "but so far, nothing."
Cade grimaced. Another outraged citizen who would likely end up clamoring on his doorstep about police violations of his rights, and yet, the very same type of citizen who'd be screaming to the rafters if they didn't catch the killer soon. They had piles upon piles of names, connections, fragments of evidence, yet no real answers.
The rest of his staff mirrored Cade's own frustration, anger and fear an equal part of the mix. They were fighting time, the deaths had occurred once a week with terrifying regularity. If something didn't break soon, there'd be another pair of deaths.
The press conference was a disaster. The reporters were more interested in shouting than listening, accusing rather than assisting, riding high upon the wave of public hysteria. Sensitive to the Chief's moods, Rose felt his tension tightening, burgeoning within him. Lips thinned, eyes narrowed, he held his course without wavering, giving only the information he choose to offer. He uttered the familiar platitudes smoothly, while the ache of frustration whitened his knuckles and creased his brow. Her own hand clenched upon itself, desperate to seize his, to give comfort, support, ease - but all she could offer was her presence at his side. A few of the questions fell to her directly, another several he offered, a public nod to her position in charge of the investigation, more fundamentally a statement of his support for her. That made her gut ache painfully, a sharp twisting sensation - she felt as though she was failing him.
As though he sensed her feelings, Cade made sure to turn to her as they escaped the conference room, flashbulbs shooting at their backs. There was the briefest of touches, the tingle of his fingertips on her shoulder, then it was gone. But his weary smile lingered, betraying a chipped, but pearly front tooth.
"Get some rest, Rose," he told her. "I'll stay in case anything breaks."
She shook her head, ready to protest. He stopped her with a look.
"Go home," he insisted. Then he gave a softer, drier smile. "You're no good to me if you're asleep on your feet." He cocked his head sideways at her, and she nodded, giving in reluctantly...yet not without a demand in return.
"Neither are you, sir," she pointed out, gazing firmly at him. He grimaced, then rubbed at his eyes before answering.
"I'll grab some sleep later," he responded with little grace. He didn't need to add that it would be hours stolen on the newest addition to his office, a small army cot, that sat folded up below the windows. They both knew he had no intention of leaving the office that night. He hadn't for several days. She frowned. He sighed, held his hands up between them. "I promise," he said, his voice soft yet rimmed with steel. Rose nodded, realizing it was the best she would get. Stepping both forward and to the side, to let him proceed her up the stairs, she acquiesced.
"I want to check on a couple things, then I'll go home." He gave her an unconvinced look before tackling the stairs. She didn't say another word until they reached the upper lobby, then she reached out and returned his earlier gesture, barely stroking the edge of his arm.
"I promise," she said firmly, then more gently, "Good night, sir." Before he could reply, she turned on her heels and hurried away, afraid to look back, afraid that she might have revealed too much in those far too simple words. His whisper followed her as she walked away.
Days of painstaking effort followed fearful nights, everyone waiting to hear of the next abduction, all praying that some piece of the puzzle would come clear, even the tiniest fragments of evidence were perused again and again. Yet the break, when it came, was pure luck. All the long hours of methodical police work, all of Jane Burgess' thought-provoking analyses, all the media frenzy, none of it meant a thing. The Eastland Slayer caught himself. He made a mistake. An off-duty WPC just happened to be on her way to a shopping mall when she noticed a man shoving a young woman into the back of a van, a bulky shopping bag and empty child's stroller abandoned nearby. She shouted.
But the heavy concrete of the underground parking garage absorbed her words; by the time she got closer, the man was behind the wheel and was backing recklessly out of the space. Nearly run over by the escaping van, the young officer maintained the presence of mind to get the license plate number.
Cade nearly kissed her. She beamed, excited to be in the favor of the often irascible Chief. This was her moment of glory, however brief, and she sopped it up with barely concealed delight. Cade let her - despite the very serious nature of her information - she deserved the praise. Already he'd set the force in motion, and as though in psychic response, Rose broke quickly into his office, a fresh lilt to her voice.
"Sir, we've got a name and address to match the license plate. Jack Robbins. 26 Langstone Rd. Riverside. I've got a car on the way there now; others are positioned on the major roads into the area."
"Yes!" Cade leapt up from his chair, only barely remembering to stop and carefully thank the young WPC. Anticipation singing in his veins, he rapidly followed Rose from the room. He shrugged his jacket on as they walked, issuing orders and trading suppositions as they moved.
Reports came in as they drove towards the site. The van was there, though the drive-by had yielded no sign of occupation within the small, brown-shuttered house. Quick, careful allocation of men and cars shut off all access routes in and out of the neighborhood. Officers dressed as mail carriers and salesmen soon moved door-to-door down the street, asking questions, gathering information. Cade pulled the cordon tighter as his car slid to a stop on the far corner. Through a half-opened window, he peered out at the small dwelling, Rose watching across his shoulder.
The house sat silent, unobtrusive, no different than a thousand others. It was square, wood-planked walls and tiled roof, a single line of brick forming a chimney stack on the far right side. Thin, rectangular windows dotted the front and sides, tightly shuttered. The lawn was a sad stretch of winter-scarred grass, the front steps were dirty, scratched with age. The entire dwelling appeared turned in upon itself, closed up, forgotten.
"Do you think he brought them here?" Rose asked. "It's not part of his M.O."
Cade never drew his eyes from the brooding house. "He wasn't seen when he took the others. Perhaps he panicked. Or maybe he always brought them here first, then finished killing them elsewhere."
Rose sat back, considering. "We could send an officer to the door, see if he answers."
Cade finally pulled himself away from the tempting view. "Yes. Risky though. He might panic; hurt the victims or the man we send."
"He knows he's been seen by a police officer, so he might already have murdered them..." Rose pointed out.
Cade sighed, rubbing at his chin. His mouth tightened, eyes drifting back towards the window. "If he's already killed them, we've got nothing to lose. If he hasn't - then we need to know that. My biggest fear is that we might drive him to kill out of desperation or fear."
"He's going to kill them anyway, if we don't go in," Rose replied fatalistically. The somberness of her tone was underscored by the heavy darkness of her eyes, and the deep shadows marring her cheeks. Cade looked at her for a moment, then swiftly nodded, forcing the decision outwards.
"Yes, you're right. Proceed."
"Yes, sir." A few more quick words into the radio and then they could only sit in silence, waiting. Watching. Soon, dressed in a pale blue suit, carrying a heavy briefcase, a young CID detective alighted from a car on the opposite corner and slowly approached the house. His right hand hovered nervously near the front of his jacket, only someone knowing it was there would recognize the small lump under his armpit. Guns were a rare commodity for British police, they used them only when absolutely necessary. This was one such occasion.
The officer walked up to the door, put down the briefcase, and rang the bell. Nothing happened. Glancing quickly back over his shoulder at the distant black automobile, he reached out and rang the bell again. A few moments later, the door opened, bringing every watcher to instant attention. Rose's grip squeezed on the radio, Cade's hand flexed against the car door handle.
A blonde head peered out - a woman; hair obscuring her features. Cameras snapped from a borrowed living room window across the street, the officer on the doorstep froze. He seemed to be listening, then abruptly he tried to speak. The woman disappeared and the door slammed shut in his face. He hesitated, thick brown hair waving in the wind, then suddenly he turned and ran back towards the waiting vehicle. As he moved, he yanked a radio out of his pocket. His voice, when it rang through the police band, was rough and unsteady.
"He's there. He's got hostages. The woman is alive. I didn't see the little girl. He says for us to clear out or he'll kill them now. Alert, alert, Robbins has at least one live hostage..."
Hostage situations were waiting games. The police massed in force, filling the neighborhood with flashing blue lights and men in dark uniforms. An armed squad took positions next door, across the street, angling down from chilly roofs, waiting for a chance that never came. The hostages were identified, Penelope and June Simmons; a white-faced husband and father was delivered to the scene. Cade made certain to talk to him, though his reassurances were minimal. It wasn't his style to evade the truth - the chances of mother and daughter surviving weren't good.
Handing Simmons over to an attentive WPC, Cade rejoined Rose on the street. Leaning against a police car, she held a radio in one hand, was gesturing sharply with the other. A sharp burst of static sounded from the mike, followed a scratchy round of "yes, ma'am's." He waited for her to sign off, remained silent while she sensed and responded to his presence.
Her face was drawn taut, the skin like parchment. Too pale, her eyes too large. But they were focused and intent, and she spoke with clear control.
"We've got the ARU in position, and all the access roads blocked. DI Gotton is searching records for information on Robbins, but so far nothing. The neighbors are being questioned, but apparently he kept pretty much to himself. He moved in about six months ago, I've got a team stirring up the realtor to see what they have on him. Also, Jane should be arriving any moment, I think she'd be helpful when we attempt to negotiate with him."
Cade nodded, found himself tapping the edge of her arm in that fleeting caress that seemed so much theirs. A faint reassurance, hesitant, needy... and even as his hand jerked away, almost fearful, he heard footsteps behind them, clattering on concrete. He turned, Rose stepped up to stand beside him, barely half a step behind.
Jane Burgess and Wesley Morton approached quickly, the DCC's expression somber. The doctor, however, looked charged. The glitter of anticipation in her eyes was not unfamiliar, the tension created it, the long days of inaction demanded it, at last they had a chance, however risky it was.
"Have you spoken to him yet?" Jane asked, sweeping a loose blond curl back behind her ears.
Rose shook her head. "No, we were waiting for you."
"Let's do it, then," Cade interposed, tilting his head down and to the side, lifting his eyebrows towards Rose. Her entire body tensed, reading the unspoken command. She was the officer in charge, if not the most senior present. The call was hers to make.
They grouped around her, solemn and silent as she issued the command through the police radio. The call was put through immediately, the ring of the phone was sharp in her ears.
"'Ello!" A male voice came through, tinny and distant.
"Mr. Robbins?" she asked.
"Tha's right," he replied. "Who's this?"
"Superintendent Penfold, Eastland Police," she said formally, then before she could continue, he interrupted.
"Oh - yeh - the lady copper who cuts 'er 'air like a boy?" He crowed. "I saw ye on the telly. Just yesterday, as a matter of fact."
"Yes, that was me, Mr. Robbins," she confirmed, carefully maintaining a polite, even tone to her voice. Jane Burgess nodded approval. Rose pushed forward, air held tight in her lungs. "I need to ask you, sir, are Mrs. Simm..."
"Oh - I like that," he announced.
"Mmm..." startled, she tried to regain control of the conversation.
"You calling me 'sir' - off to a good start, we are," he said.
Meeting Cade's eyes, she drew strength from his presence, and tried again.
"I'm glad to hear that...sir...but I really must ask you, are Mrs. Simmons and June with you?"
"Oh - yup, they're 'ere. Right beside me, aren't you my dears?"
"Are they hurt in any way?"
"Nah..." Initially playful, his voice suddenly shifted, piercing her ears with bitter menace. "At least for the moment." Staying calm, she spoke softly, but firmly. "Could I speak to Penelope Simmons, please?" Again Jane nodded approval. It was vital to keep naming the victims, personalizing them, disturbing whatever fantasy he had towards the woman and child. The more in touch with reality they could force him to be, the better chance they had of talking him out.
But he slammed this opportunity down.
And the phone clicked off. Rose stood for a moment in the damp dusk, listening to the empty static on the line, then she clicked off the mike and turned haunted eyes towards her audience of three.
Cade stepped an inch closer to her, so that he was nearly touching her shoulder-to-shoulder, but it was Jane who spoke.
"That's all right. You did fine. You were able to make contact and gain his attention. From what he said, it's extremely likely that both Penelope and June are still alive and unharmed."
"Extremely likely?" Morton snorted. "For how long?"
"Hopefully long enough to get them out of there, alive," Cade responded fiercely. His jaw jutted forward, his eyes narrowed as he turned to gaze up at the shuttered house. His eyes lingered, then took a circuit of their surroundings. "It's getting dark. We're going to need some lights out here." He looked at Morton, who sighed and nodded.
"I'll see to it." The Deputy Chief turned and walked away, signaling at a pair of nearby officers who rushed to attend him.
Cade turned his focus back into Jane. "What now?"
"Try again," she replied.
And so Rose did. Three abortive conversations resulted, littered with ribald jokes and bitter comments from Robbins. He'd break her sentences with non sequiturs, his speech laden with inconsistencies. He seemed almost absent at time, then abruptly he would focus with frightening intensity. Then, when she called for the fourth time, he answered with a demand.
"Let me talk to HIM!"
Taken aback, Rose paused for a moment, then gamely took the bait.
"Talk to who, Mr. Robbins?"
"The big man in charge." When she didn't reply fast enough, he broke in again. "You know. Your boss. The Chief. The one who's always in the newspapers and on TV." He chuckled. "The media doesn't seem to like 'im much." He turned almost philosophical. "They never do, though, do they? Like to tear down other people. Society's like that. You can't give them a chance to eat you up." And then he shifted again, like the wind barreling around unseen corners. "So where is 'e? Come on lady copper...you seemed awfully close to 'im on the news, 'anging on 'is every word. Suck 'im off well, do you? Under his desk in the mornings...you're a bit boyish, though, for my tastes. I'd never let you crop your 'air like that, I wouldn't. But maybe 'e likes..."
Cade erupted, moving like lightening to seize the radio mike from Rose. His voice rumbled like thunder.
"This is Chief Constable Alan Cade."
Breaking off in mid-tirade, Robbins responded animatedly
"'Allo there Chief."
"Mr. Robbins," Cade replied formally. "I would very much like to speak to Penelope Simmons. We need to know that she and her daughter are unharmed."
"You wanna talk to her?" Robbins asked, a hint of satisfaction creeping into his voice.
"Yes, I do." Cade remained implacable.
"Then come on in."
"What?" Cade couldn't help exclaiming.
"I said, come right on in. Le'ss 'ave a party," Robbins said. "You, me, and our two pretty girls." There was a slight pause, then a sly chuckle. "I'd 'ave you bring your little lady, but that wouldn't be fair on pretty Penny 'ere, now would it?"
"Are you asking me to enter your house?" Cade asked cautiously. Rose shook her head at him, but Jane was leaning in, her blue eyes bright with anticipation.
"Yup - I'm inviting you in for tea, Mr. Chief Constable Alan Cade. Wanna come?"
"If I come in to talk with you, will you release Penelope and June?" Cade inquired. Rose pressed her hand against his arm, firmly this time, trying to gain his attention. Worry deepened her dark eyes. Cade met her gaze, tried to signal patience with his eyes. His jaw tensed as he waited for the reply.
"Maybe." Robbins' voice was airy. "After we've 'ad our little chat. I'll be waiting for ya. Oh, and don't try something stupid like carrying a gun. Or these little ladies won't live long enough to say 'ello." The phone clicked and went dead.
"Mr. Robbins!" Cade shouted into the mike, but he was gone. Cade flipped it off and dropped it inside the police car with a grunt of frustration.
"Sir..." Rose grabbed for his attention. He gave it to her instantly, and she spoke to him, for him. "You can't possibly go in there!"
"You must!" Jane Burgess broke in.
Cade and Rose turned simultaneously towards her; she gestured widely with a small, delicate hand, punctuating her words. "You have to go in, Mr. Cade. It's the only chance that woman and her little girl have."
Jane Burgess was convinced that Robbins would respond to a forceful male authority. While she could only guess at the specific trauma and circumstances that had precipitated his sociopathic behavior, she believed that his desire to speak face-to-face with Cade was a cry for help. Robbins was looking for an authority figure to take control. Cade met the explanation with obvious impatience. As far as he was concerned, the opportunity to get someone inside the house was the only thing that mattered. Despite the protests of his senior officers, he was adamant, Robbins would only let Cade in, so no one but Cade was going.
He did agree to wear a bulletproof vest and a microphone. Settling down in the back seat of his car, he shrugged out of his jacket and tie, busily donning the bulky vest. Rose followed him, closing the door behind her. She waited until he finished, then silently tucked the tiny electronic bug inside his collar, carefully pinning it to the silky fabric of his white shirt. Her hands trembled as they brushed his neck and collarbone, and she jerked away quickly when the task was done.
He didn't let her go.
"Rose..." he said softly.
"I still think someone else should go in. We have officers trained to handle these situations."
He shook his head, adamant. "No, he'll only speak to me. This is my responsibility."
"Not everything is your responsibility," she insisted.
He chuckled wryly. "I'm the Chief, Rose. I can't send another of my lads in my place - ask someone to take a risk I'm not willing to assume. Besides, better me than some young officer with a wife and kids at home. If, God forbid, something goes wrong and I... Well," his mouth twisted harshly, "at least there isn't anyone left behind to mourn."
His words stunned her, she froze for a moment, eyes pinned to the side of his face. He wouldn't look directly at her, he seemed to be searching the space at his feet as though it would tell him something profound.
"What about Elena?" she asked.
He sighed and leaned back, still refusing to meet her gaze. "As she often likes to remind me, she's done just fine without me for most of her life. She'll be fine."
"I doubt that," Rose replied, finally reaching out to take his arm and force him to turn and look at her. "Sir, you can't...You have to believe that people care what happens to you. We all do..."
He simply stared straight at her, she took a deep breath and changed tack, pinning him with fierce sincerity. With truth.
"I care about you."
There it was said, and she gulped for breath. Had she gone too far? He wasn't responding, just staring at her with darkened eyes, the sharp bones of his face in stark relief. Fear struck through her - if she'd stepped too far over the line it could destroy everything. She'd worked so hard to earn his respect, his trust ... 'Oh please God, let me not have said too much.' And yet it had also been too little. She couldn't let him go into that house, perhaps to his death, without knowing that someone cared whether he lived or died. Clinging to that determination, she lifted his chin, straightened her shoulders, and met him eye to eye.
He finally responded - the one way she'd never expected. He moved faster than she had imagined he could. One instant he was sitting beside her, studying her face with an intensity that made her breath catch in her lungs, and then next he was stealing that very air away. Crushed against him, she gasped, only to find her mouth invaded, possessed, devoured. His arms closed around her like steel bars, clutching her against the powerful heat of his body. He kissed her, tasted her, took her with a desperation that reverberated from his body to hers, a wave of desire that shook her to the bone.
She melted into his arms, fluid, giving, wanting. His grip only tightened in response, strong fingers moved up to cradle the base of her skull, holding her still as his tongue thrust into the depths of her mouth, stroking her. Meeting him in a fiery dance, she dared to stroke the tip of her own tongue across those slick, slightly ragged teeth, catching on the chipped one in front. He drew off just long enough to steal a ragged gulp of air, then descended on her again. This time she was ready, opening to him, her own fingers clutching at the short strands of his hair as they curled against the back of his neck. He lifted her up half into his lap, still bruising her lips with his own, grinding their mouths and bodies together, sheer need driving him to take what should be forbidden before he lost any chance at all.
But it was a moment stolen in time, and it broke with the hard tap of knuckles on glass. They broke apart as violently as they had come together, both heaving for breath. She collapsed back into the seat, pressing one hand against her chest, the other to her bruised and swollen mouth. He turned away, hand fussing with his clothes, the vest, instinctively checking the microphone, before moving to open the door. He slipped out of the car without looking back, without a word, striding forcefully across the street - determination massing in the bunched muscles of his shoulders, clenching in his fists.
She slid to the edge of the seat and watched him from there, following him as he paused in the glare of a spotlight, listening to Morton, moved to consult with Jane, then straightened his spine and slowly, cautiously moved across the lawn towards the silent, brooding house and the nightmare that awaited within.
Cade knocked, then slowly turned the door handle. Before he could push inward, it swung away from him. A bare yellow gleam turned the figure before him into a dark silhouette, tall, thin, it backed away and gestured for him to follow. Closing the door behind him, he stepped into a narrow hallway, which led quickly into a large square room. Part living room, part kitchen, part bathroom; scars and uneven patches of flooring showed where walls had been torn away to make three rooms one.
The plumbing stood out bare, a large enamel tub dominated the far wall. White surface peeled, dusty streaks charred the rim and faucet. The sink stood at an angle, the toilet was rusted with age. In vivid comparison, the kitchen sink and counter gleamed in their corner, spotless and scrubbed to a fine sheen. A table was set with china and bright-colored placemats, crystal goblets, gold-plated silverware, fine cloth napkins set out evenly. Place sets for four.
The remainder of the room was equally bizarre. There rested a set of bloodstained knives, there an oak table and antique vase. Bright flowers bloomed over chain-linked manacles, a child's doll lay awkward and broken on a velvet-backed chair. Cade paused in the doorway, eyes freezing images like a Polaroid camera...flash...flash...flash... and the final image burnt a permanent scar on his brain.
Alive. At least they were alive. Penelope Simmons sat like a rag doll supported by strings. Only the strings were made of iron, and they circled her body like a dress made of chainmail. Her head flopped, long strands of matted blond hair obscuring her face, but her chest moved, straining against the bonds with each breath.
She didn't see him, didn't look up, but her daughter did. His stomach flipped, sank, buried itself in his gut, then flew towards his throat. He gagged, blood rushing in his temples. June Simmons' wide blue eyes gazed helplessly at him from her prison - a dog's kennel cage, it was barely big enough for her to crouch within. A miasma of fluid dripped unheeded down her chin, the rust-tinge of blood, saline clear tears, drool and yellowed snot. Scored lines marred her cheeks and lips, crusted with dried blood, smeared with filth. Cade instinctively moved towards her, an innate rage building within the core of his being. A figure stepped in his way.
So ordinary. Cade froze. Robbins stood before him, a polite pleasant smile on plain attractive features. Open, even-featured, his face was indistinguishable from a thousand others. The blue eyes were clear, the skin was fair and unmarked. Sandy brown hair flopped over a high forehead, he looked young, harmless, nice. Confused, yet alert, his senses tingling, Cade remained where he was, silent and waiting. Robbins, too paused for a moment, his pale eyes flickering over Cade's body before settling on his face.
He thrust out a slender hand.
"'Ello Chief!" In person his voice was thicker than it had translated over the radio. The accent was sharper, more pronounced, almost a caricature of itself.
"Mr. Robbins," he replied, staring coldly at the hand held out before him. Negotiate he might, shake this bastard's hand, he would not. It hung there for a long moment, then was withdrawn without a sign of reaction in that too-ordinary face.
"Oh surely, we don't need to be so formal, Alan," Robbins said, breaking out into a grin. "My name's Jack, ye know."
Cade nodded, sizing up the other man, trying to judge speed and distance. If he could tackle him quickly enough...
Some of his intent must have communicated itself in his expression, Jack shook his head and stepped back, brandishing a long serrated knife. "Now, now...no funny stuff, Alan. We're 'ere to talk, mate." And then just as abruptly as his manner had darkened, it gentled. "But come on in, come right in..." He turned to Mrs. Simmons and chastised her, slicing the knife through thin air in counterpoint to his words.
"And is this anyway to greet a guest, my dear? We should offer him a drink, and a seat." He turned back and gestured with knife-point towards the sofa. Cade responded slowly, warily, but he took the necessary steps forward and gingerly sat down on the faded cushions.
Jack beamed at him, then rushed over to pour some amber fluid from a large decanter into two bluish glasses. Nearly hopping with his excitement, he hurried over to offer one to Cade. The Chief took one cautiously, stared at the contents with open suspicion. Not bothering to take a sip, he looked up at the man hovering over him.
"Mr. Robbins..." At the look of utter dismay on Jack's face, Cade quickly amended his beginning. "Jack...We have this house surrounded. You must know there's no way you can escape."
Jack slugged down his drink, then cocked his head to his side, not bothering to answer. Instead he continued to stare glassily at Cade. The older man met him straight on, continuing to speak.
"If you give yourself up and let me take Penelope and June out of here right now, it will go in your favor...."
Suddenly Jack broke out laughing, mirth bubbling from him. He laughed until he was red in the face and gasping for breath. The long knife bobbed against his thigh. Finally he stilled, then moved to kneel down on the floor beside June's cage. He reached inside to tug on her hair, she cried out, scuttling as far back as she could. But she could not get far enough away.
"JACK!" Cade yelled out, trying to regain his attention. It partially worked. Jack did turn his head, though he kept petting at the terrified girl. He began to speak.
"She's sure a pretty one, innit she Dad? Just like her mommy. Mommy...mommy...oh what a pretty little girl she is. Just like her Daddy...her Daddy..." The sing- song chant built, then fell cold, lanced through with an a iceprick of hate. "But you're not her Daddy, I'm her Daddy. You're my Daddy, she's my Mommy, she's her Mommy, you're her Daddy, I'm her Daddy...and we're a family. Oh pretty, pretty girl..."
Jack was weaving now, back and forth from heel to kneel, but his eyes focused on Cade with venom. "Can't tell no one, can we? Mustn't tell. Mustn't tell! Shame, shame, bad Mommy. Bad Jackie boy. Bad Susie girl. Daddy has to punish. Punish Mommy, punish Susie, punish Jack, punish little baby girl..." His words began to tumble over each other into meaningless syllables, drool frothing at his lips. He weaved harder. Cade put aside the glass and moved swiftly to his feet.
"That's enough!" he demanded, putting every ounce of his authority into his voice. He repeated himself once, the sound ringing above the rambling chant.
Jack stopped. His mouth shut in mid utterance, his movements stilled. His eyes blinked once then opened wide.
"Daddy?" he whimpered.
Frustrated, Cade shook his head. "I'm Chief Constable Cade, Mr. Robbins. And you are under arrest. Please put down your weapon. Now!"
Jack gazed up at him, confused. He hesitated, glanced down at the caged child, then his face contorted into an animalistic snarl. "No! She's mine...mine...my sin. Your sin. We must be set free." His body tensed, coiled, then struck like a disturbed rattlesnake. The blade glittered as it rose and struck through the bars of the cage.
"NO!" Cade screamed, diving forward to leap upon Jack. They tumbled onto the floor, Cade on top, but only for an instant. Jack was quick, he twisted like an eel, yanking the knife free of the little girl, and aiming it for Cade's chest. Cade rolled, fighting to regain the initiative, missing being stabbed by less than an inch. He pulled up onto his knees, preparing to attack, but Jack leapt on him, slicing frantically. Unable to avoid contact with the knife, Cade tried to deflect the fall of the blade with his elbow. It bit him, stinging his upper arm. He gasped and struck out, aiming his other fist for Jack's gut.
His blow fell true, and Jack doubled over. Cade stole the advantage, grabbing for the knife, surfacing with a hand-hold on Jack's wrist. Jack came up, strength fired by madness, stoked by hysteria. He was chattering again, wildly, nonsensical, even as he fought for breath. His opponent was deathly silent, fierce green eyes fixated on the flashing silvery blade as it angled down towards him, then away, then down yet again. It became a simple contest of strength, arm-wrestling for life and death, will and determination pouring into aching fingers and straining muscles. They rolled upon the floor, entangled in a violent parody of a lover's embrace, bodies fighting against each other for purchase and control.
The knife blade swooped, scratching against the heavy vest, and Cade gasped. His lunge burned, his eyes itched. All he could think of was ending this. Winning the fight. Burying those deadly inches of steel far away from his barely protected flesh. Desperation poured adrenaline into trembling muscles, and he shoved upwards, twisting on Jack's wrists, feeling fragile bones snap beneath his fingers. But the motion had a life of its own, he couldn't have stopped if he'd wanted to. The knife flipped upwards and flew to its destination like a silver bird, striking deep into the exposed hollow of Jack's throat.
The sounds burbling from his mouth cut off, he gurgled and choked. His fingers moved to claw at the hilt, pain bursting behind his eyes. His own motions twisted the blade sideways and blood spurted loose, rushing from the severed jugular vein like water rushing over a dam. It flooded free, pumping forth with every pulsebeat, coating them both.
A scream of his own strangling in his throat, Cade scrambled free, his eyes blinded by a fountain of sticky red fluid, his hands slipping on the floor as he tried to push himself away. Caught in a living nightmare, he didn't hear the door burst open, didn't sense the footsteps pounding on the floor, didn't see the black- suited officers pouring into the room.
Clawing at his eyes, smearing more than wiping away the fine sheen of blood from his eyes, he reached for the kennel cage. Somehow he found the catch and broke it free, his breath whistling in ragged gulps, and then the door was open. The body within was still warm, he tugged it out into his embrace, then squatted down on the floor, cradling her in his arms. Tears mingled with the blood marring his cheeks, but his vision cleared. His eyes opened and focused on the little girl's face, and with extraordinary tenderness, he wiped away the pinkish froth from her lips. She stirred slightly, her own blue eyes flew open, remained open, she convulsed, then fell still. He stared down into those sapphire orbs, as bright as marbles, as cold as glass, and rocked her like an infant in its cradle.
Rose followed the medics into the house, her face composed, her stomach doing flips. In some ways seeing was easier than imagining, and yet the sight that met her eyes would haunt her dreams for the remainder of her life. Taking a quick sweep of the room, she left the hysterical Mrs. Simmons to the men working to free her from the chains, instead she focused exclusively on the gory, shaking figure of her boss.
Two men were moving to take the battered child's body from his arms, but Cade didn't notice their approach. He was cradling June in his lap, his eyes were fixated on her to the exclusion of all else. One officer reached out to touch Cade's shoulder, and a shriek fled her lips.
Forcing her way through the crowded room, she pushed them back.
"Leave him to me," she ordered stringently, turning every ounce of authority she had on them. Coroner's officers, dulled to the sight of death in all its many forms, they simply shrugged and stepped back beside the waiting stretcher. Giving them a brief nod of thanks, she knelt down beside Cade.
Close up he looked even worse. Coated in sticky red-brown fluid, as though someone had dumped a bucket of paint over his head. His arms squeezed around the dead child's body, he rocked slowly on his heels. Knife marks scored his hands and arms, his sleeves ripped and loose around the muscular forearms. His shoulders bunched inward, tightening, protective, his head was bowed downwards towards the senseless precious burden he held. Memory struck her, the fierce sensation of those arms holding her so tightly, the press of his lips against hers, the charismatic strength and pride of this man she'd come to admire more than any other. Tears pricked at her eyes.
Leaning close so that only he could hear what she said, knowing she was being watched, curious and concerned officers staring in their direction, she whispered in Cade's ear.
"Sir?" she called out, brushing at his shoulder with her fingers. "Can you hear me, sir? It's all over now. You're all right now," she pleaded. As though peering through a heavy fog, his eyes blinked, watered, clear tears running channels through the gory paint on his cheeks, he bleakly focused gray slate eyes in her direction. Gone were the glinting emerald highlights, these eyes were dark pools of horror, sunk deep beneath the strong browline. Her own tears nearly blinded her, but she forced out the faintest of smiles. She brushed his arm again, heart singing in gratitude when he didn't flinch away, but instead leaned closer.
His voice, when he tried to form words, was cracked and harsh, dragged out over the sore, dry tissues of his throat like sandpaper over rough wood.
"Rose?" he muttered, licking at his lips, his mouth twisting at the salty, musky taste his tongue couldn't avoid. "Rose?"
"Yes, sir," she responded, crouching down over him so that her body shielded their faces from prying eyes. "It's me. Are you all right, sir?" It was a stupid question to ask, of course he wasn't all right. But the very polite inanity of it seemed to bring him further outward, he blinked, then nodded, instinctively proffering the lie that invariably answered that question.
"Yes, I..." His eyes fell downward towards the dead child in his embrace, then he looked up past her towards the waiting men. She could see the struggle within him, the Chief Constable fighting for control of the man. A gasp of agony escaped his lips as the cramped, strained muscles protested the sudden release of tension, but he succeeded in getting to his feet and gently, tenderly, placed June's body on the stretcher. Rose stepped up close behind him, placing a supportive hand on his shoulder. He was unsteady on his feet, appearing almost drunk, but he was visibly fighting to retain control - to put on a show for his men.
But when he turned around to follow the stretcher from the house, he found himself standing above Robbins' body, his eyes dragged irresistably downward towards the still-warm corpse. A steady flow of blood continued to froth from the gaping wound that had nearly severed the head from the body, the inside of the throat ripped open and exposed. A shock wave of heaves shook Cade, he suddenly turned to the side, dropped to his knees on the floor, and vomited, trembling helplessly. Rose knelt down behind him, taking hold of his shoulders to keep him upright, yet letting his body do what it needed until he stilled. She stroked his back as gently as she could, then drew him back around. Oblivious of the effect on her already bloodstained suit, she used her coat sleeve to tenderly wipe his mouth.
He accepting her ministrations with unspoken gratitude. Eyes dazed, he wrapped his arm heavily around her shoulders as she guided him out of the house. They garnered more stares as they walked across the street, the heavy yellow spotlights turning the streaks of gore into a strange orange color.
She drew him over to an ambulance and sat him down, then tried to step back to let the medic examine him, but he clutched at her, fingers roughly grasping, the pit of his eyes pleading. Emotion boiled within her as his face lifted towards hers, the light drawing deep shadows beneath the powerful bones, flesh drawn so tight across those prominent ridges of brow and cheek and jaw that it looked frozen elastic, ready to break. The streaks of blood only added to the ghostly image, drew it in horror, he looked a refugee from a slasher film. Only this was real, and she only barely restrained the impulse to draw him into her arms and cover him with kisses, to touch him, to hold him, to caress away the anguish... But on a crowded street, media clamouring in the distance, flashbulbs popping and sirens blaring, all she could do was sit down beside him, steadying him with that arm still propped around his shoulders.
The medic accepted her presence easily enough, seeing quickly and efficiently to the physical wounds. Using cloth and alcohol wipes, they cleaned away the majority of the blood, both sighing in relief to find it was almost all Robbins'. With her help, the medic stripped away Cade's vest and ruined shirt, applying antibiotics and small bandages to the worst of the cuts; luckily most were superficial. The silent patient sat through a pair of shots, more antibiotics and a tetanus booster. Then, finally, the young man wrapped a heavy blanket around Cade's shoulders, stepped back and sighed.
"That's all I can do for him here. Physically he's not too badly hurt. Emotionally...He's in shock. We should take him to the hospital for observation."
"No." Both Rose and the medic turned in surprise, neither had been expecting a word from Cade.
"Sir," she protested. "You need to be under a doctor's care."
"No!" he was adamant. He took hold of her arm, his grip almost painful. His voice was still hoarse. "Take me home, Rose. Wes can handle the clean-up."
Gazing from him to the medic, she gained only a shrug of the young man's shoulders.
"If he's aware enough to insist that he doesn't want to go to the hospital, I don't see a reason to force him. You can do just about as much for him at home. Keep him warm, make sure he rests. I'd recommend getting him round to his personal physician tomorrow."
Unsatisfied, Rose turned back to Cade. "Sir, please, let us take you to the hospital and have a doctor look you over."
"No!" he shouted, his eyes widening. His hand tightened even further on her arm, she knew she'd have a bruise there later. His voice turned low and intense. "Rose, please, just take me home." She wavered, and he whispered again, "Rose..."
She couldn't resist that plea, the anguish in his shadowed eyes robbed her any ability to protest. "All right." Quietly thanking the medic, she got Cade to his feet and walked with him to his car. Charlie was standing beside it, staring anxiously at them as they approached. He came to their side, offering a broad shoulder to help support Cade's smaller, but more heavily-muscled form. Together, they bundled him into the back seat of the car. Rose pulled back, and he clutched at her in sudden panic.
"Shhh," she murmured, squeezing his shoulder. "I need to check in with Deputy Morton. I'll be right back, I promise." He hesitated, then accepted, his attention flickering in and out like a dying light bulb. She stroked his cheek ever so gently, then slid out of the car and closed the door.
"Stay with him," she ordered Charlie, getting a quick nod of understanding in return, then she strode briskly across the chaos of the crime scene to find DCC Morton.
Rose was relieved to find the calm, yet understanding Deputy Chief more than willing to take charge of cleaning up the scene. They drove to Cade's home in silence, and he allowed them to help him inside without comment or expression. He responded only to the sound of her voice, obeying like a small child, moving with the arthritic awkwardness of old age. Rose settled him on the couch, then dismissed a reluctant Charlie with firm authority. The decision to stay herself was taken without question or hesitation; Cade welfare was the only thing that mattered.
Charlie offered the Chief a manly squeeze on the shoulder, then left. The house fell silent. Rose had never been here before, it was difficult to resist the temptation to examine her surroundings, seeking clues of Cade's nature from the place he called his home. But he himself was her first and truest concern, and he sat as though entranced, the flicker of his eyelids and the trembling of his hands the only signs of life.
Some quick searching located a decanter of brandy, sharp and pungent to her nostrils, and she poured them each a glassful. She downed her own gratefully, appreciating the heat that followed its path down her throat. Cade swallowed his own after she curled his hand around the glass, still responding to her with simple obedience. Sitting beside him, she wrapped the blanket tighter around his shoulders, stroking his shoulders softly through the thick wool. He lowered his glass, staring down into the dregs for a moment, still unwilling to speak. But something in his manner told her he was fighting to come alert, and she reached for his attention.
"Sir, would you like something to eat?"
He shook his head, struggled to speak, came out with a whispered "No."
"Some more brandy?"
"Would you like me to run a bath for you?" she persisted.
That received a slow nod, a sibilant "Yes," though he didn't lift his head to look at her. She squeezed his shoulder and got up, hesitating to leave him there alone. At last he gazed up in her direction, and he - almost - managed a smile. "I'm OK, Rose," he offered, a faint glimmer of awareness resurfacing in his eyes.
She didn't believe that for a moment, but she nodded and smiled reassuringly in response. "All right, sir. One hot bath coming up." Turning, she hurried out of the room and up the stairs.
Nearly finished with running the bath, she was testing the water when she heard footsteps behind her. She looked up to find him watching her, weaving slightly on his feet, the heavy woolen blanket wrapped around his legs, trailing behind him on the floor. Getting to her feet, she untangled the blanket and tossed it away, then urged him into the bathroom.
"Do you...ummm...need any help, sir?" She hesitated, looking from him to the steaming bath and back again. His arm curled around her shoulder for support, he actually chuckled, warming her with a sudden breath of simple amusement.
"I think I can manage this," he said, his voice still raw.
"Good," she grinned, easing him down until he was sitting on the toilet lid. "I'll be right outside if you need me." She turned to leave, fighting a mixture of embarrassment and tenderness. Part of her wanted to stay, the rest wanted to flee this abrupt intimacy. A small chiming in the back of her mind kept saying, 'he's your boss...he's your boss...'
He interrupted it all, calling out her name softly.
"Rose..." She turned in the doorway.
Curled up in the tub of clean, hot water, he kept scrubbing at his skin, hands, arms, face, trying to strip away the feeling of contamination. He kept smelling and tasting the musky, sickly-sweet odor of spilt blood, feeling the sensation of it showering over him. So much of it in the human body, and Robbins' heart had pumped out liters in what seemed a spare instant. Cade's hand squeezed on the soap, too hard, it shot out of his slick fingers and collided with the far wall, slipping over the edge of the bathtub and onto the floor. He hardly noticed it was gone. Instead his mind was replaying that moment of feeling the knife blade strike home, it had slid through flesh as though through creamed butter, then stuck against bone, the impact reverberating up Cade's arm.
He'd killed a man. For the first time in his life, he'd taken another human life. Like most policemen, he'd dealt often with death. He'd come close to dealing it out before, the shooting incident that took Jack's life and a previous one back in Chelsea, but he'd always been spared the final act itself. Most British policemen went their entire career without firing a gun at someone, much less killing anyone. His mind kept skittering over the truth of that, but it circled back on him again and again.
"I killed him, I killed him..." he moaned the words aloud without realizing he was doing so. He dropped his head under water as though the action would somehow cleanse his brain, but he came up gasping for breath, the agony in his mind unaltered. Images were burnt into the back of his eyelids, interposed themselves across the walls, reflected up at him from the surface of the bath water. June Simmons haunted him, her sightless eyes staring into the depths of his soul. He'd killed for her, and yet he'd failed. He'd slit a man's throat, and a mother would be burying a three- year-old child because he'd acted too late.
Guilt burgeoned within him, boiling up in a sea of nausea, and he heaved dry and hard, bending his head over the edge of the bathtub, but his stomach could offer little more than a trickle of brandy-flavored bile. He coughed, water splashing around him, his fingers digging painfully into the side of the tub. The sound must have penetrated through the slitted doorway, because suddenly cool hands closed down on his shoulders.
"Sir! Oh my God, Sir!" It was Rose. She drew him back up to a full sitting position in the tub, then gently wiped his mouth and face with a damp washcloth. He slumped against her, needing her strength, finding in her presence a barrier against the horrors replaying in his mind. She soothed him with tender words and soft caresses, waiting until the dry coughing stopped and his breathing evened out before drawing him up out of the bath. He obeyed, finding it easier to follow her instructions, stepping out of the water into the embrace of a large bathtowel. She sat him down again on the toilet, and efficiently towel-dried his feet and legs, moved up to rub at his hair, wipe at his face, his chest and arms.
Then she helped him up, reaching for his robe and easing him into it. She tied the belt around his waist, then led him into the bedroom. He went silently, still trembling, acquiescent when she urged him into the bed. Tucking the sheets up around his neck, she sat down beside him and watched him, anxious concern wrinkling the corners of her big brown eyes.
Cade lifted a hand to touch her cheek, needing to reassure himself that she was real. She leaned into the faint caress, her own hand stealing up to trap his palm against the side of her jaw. Her eyes were full of questions, but he didn't have the answers. So they remained silent, still, for a while, the moist heat of her breath warming his hand.
"Rose..." he finally murmured, the name more a question than a statement. She smiled in response, lowering their clasped hands to rest against his chest, her fingers interlocking with his.
"Feeling better?" she asked.
It took a moment to answer that, he settled for simple honesty. "I don't know."
"It's all right," she told him, reaching out with her other hand to smooth down the damp spikes of his hair. "It's all over now."
"Is it?" he questioned, unable to keep the bitter edge from his voice. "I killed a man tonight, Rose. I..." his voice cracked, then reformed low and husky. "I slit his throat wide open and he bled to death."
"I know," she replied firmly, squeezing his fingers with her own. "But you had no choice. He would have killed you, and Mrs. Simmons, just like..." She faltered, but he forced it out.
"Just like he killed the little girl."
"Yes," she replied bluntly.
His gut clenched, his eyelids squeezed tight, then opened, stung with tears. Frustration, anger, guilt all welled up inside him, swelling like a cancer in the pit of his belly.
"I tried to stop him. I TRIED! He moved so fast. But I shouldn't have waited, Rose. I should have known he would do that. Instead of playing therapist, I should have tackled him the moment I stepped into that house."
"No! Sir...you did the right thing. If you'd attacked him, he might have killed you. He almost did!"
"Better me than that poor little girl." He fought the tears, desperately willed them away, bit hard on his bottom lip to stop it from trembling.
"Don't say that!" she hissed. "Look, sir...you did the best you could. There was no way you could have anticipated what Robbins might do. You risked your own life to save that woman and her child, and you did succeed. You saved Mrs. Simmons' life. She's alive tonight because of you. And a monster who would have kept on killing will never harm another child again. That's worth holding onto." She spoke passionately, her intense gaze willing him to believe her. And he did... but...
"I felt him die, Rose. His body was so close to mine, I could sense the life flooding from him with every pint of blood. The look in his eyes... the sheer terror of knowing he was going to die, and then the emptiness that was left behind." Cade shuddered, trying to avoid saying the truth that was the worst of it all, the horror that struck at his own sense of self. But the words flew out of him, choking him on their own truth. "But I was glad of it, Rose. I wanted him to die. We were struggling over the knife, and it could have been accidental, but it really wasn't. I tried to push the knife at his throat. I drove it into him with everything I had. I did it deliberately, and then afterwards, I could only wish that I'd done it sooner. I sat there, watching him die in a sea of his own blood, at MY hand, and all I could be was sorry I hadn't done it sooner. Dear God, Rose, am I any better than he was?"
His control finally broke, shattered into a thousand tiny fragments. Tears blinded his eyes, and a huge racking sob exploded from his throat. He barely noticed when he was taken up into her embrace, he doubled over, a firepit of indistinguishable emotion clawing at his insides. The floodgates broken, he sobbed helplessly. She gathered him up, cradling his head against her belly, stroking his hair as he wept.
He cried for a long time, in waves that crashed and receded upon him, until he fell limp. She continued to hold him, stroking his hair, murmuring softly over him, rubbing at his shoulders. When he had been truly silent for a while, she eased back, settling him down on the pillows. He rubbed at his eyes and nose, sniffling, then blew heavily into the tissues she offered. Once his nose was clear, he looked up into her eyes, a slight touch of embarrassment arising in the aftermath of the uncharacteristic display of emotion. But the look in her eyes was so accepting, her expression so gentle, he felt the shame give way to a flood of responding tenderness.
"Rose," he whispered.
"Yes," she whispered back, sliding down to lay beside him. He turned to face her, reaching out a tentative hand to stroke her cheek.
"Thank you," he said, feeling the words fall flat, but not knowing what else to say.
"You're welcome," she replied softly, reaching up her own hand to return the caress. He closed his eyes and rubbed his jaw against her palm, tilted his head to press a kiss against her fingertips. Something stirred within him at the touch of her flesh against his lips, it startled him, yet warmed him all at once. A small piece of his mind chimed in warning, but emotionally spent, desperately needy, he opened his eyes and stared into hers, the question forming there without a single word.
Her answer was equally silent, yet unequivocally clear. She ran sensitive fingertips across his lips, then lowered her own to give him the most fleeting of kisses. Unlike the hurried, demanding one he had stolen earlier, a moment that seemed a lifetime ago, this one was sweet and undemanding. But his response surged within him, desire rising from the remnants of his emotions. He reached out to take her into his arms, something deep and primal crowing within him as she came willingly, offering herself to his embrace.
Suckling on her mouth, he rolled over upon her. She shifted to bring him down, spreading her legs to cradle him. His arms went wide, supporting his weight, allowing only their hips and mouths to touch. They kissed long and deep, exploratory, easy. The decision had been made, need exposed and answered, the rest was something to be savored. So she welcomed the intrusion of his tongue, electric tingles of desire originating at the contact, sliding down her spine to pool in her groin. Her muscles clenched, heat rising within her as her body responded to the pressure and presence of his.
He leaned down harder upon her, and she took the heavy weight of him, wrapping long arms around his back. Her hands explored the length and breadth of his spine, sought and massaged the powerful muscles that rippled beneath the thin silk of his robe. He was not much taller than she, his body slim and tight, wide shoulders narrowing to a slender waist, strength braided in the flesh of his arms and legs. He tasted of brandy and soap, a salty remnant of his tears lingered on his cheeks. Kissing the remnants of those tears away, her tongue flickered below his eyes, across his battered cheekbone, traced down the hard slash of his jaw.
He buried his mouth in the hollow of her neck, warming her pulsebeat with his breath, alternately biting and suckling at the sensitive flesh. She moaned, arching her head back to offer him access, weaving her fingertips into the short strands of his hair. A faint hum of his voice against her throat stirred her senses even further, though the sense never penetrated her ears. She didn't need to hear the words, she felt as though she could sense his meaning through the very pores of her skin. He moved to capture her mouth again, and then the only communication needed was the slide of tongue against tongue and skin against skin.
She unfastened and slid his robe from his shoulders, tossing it aside with a quick flick of her wrist. Her own clothes were removed in a joint effort, Cade stopping to explore each new area of flesh as it was revealed, bathing her with kisses and caresses, stroking her desire with every touch of his hands and mouth.
"Rose," he moaned, sliding across her, sharing the velvet-smooth contact of bare flesh on flesh. She urged him to her, tugging on his arms and shoulders, fighting to get a grip on his shoulders. Again she cradled him upon her, entangling her legs with his, rubbing the slick rounded flesh of her belly against the protruding hardness that jutted from his groin. That elicited a rough snarl from his throat, a guttural sound of pure need rising from his throat. She met it with a sensual purr, inviting him, urging him, rocking against the growing urgency of his hips as he began to move against her.
He covered her mouth and neck with kisses, reckless and fervent now, teeth dragging against her skin. She responded in kind, nibbling at any part of him she could reach, then arching her head back to cry out when he pulled his head down and buried his face in the sweaty hollow between her breasts.
"Please..." she moaned, offering and demanding at once. He answered without a word, the wet furnace of his mouth descending swiftly on an already hardened nipple. She arched, sobbing out her pleasure, writhing beneath him as he suckled on the distended tip, then moved to lave the twin, drawing trails of moisture that cooled sharply on heated skin.
But his need was raging, it had been too long, the horrors of the day too terrible, he sought relief, release, with near-frantic obsession. He wanted to be gentle, but his body was screaming, his mind was too shattered, to maintain his tenuous control. Groaning, he lifted himself up, then came down upon her, seeking the entrance to her body with angry flesh. She gasped and writhed in his hands, fighting and encouraging him at once, their bodies grinding together in a familiar, yet foreign dance.
He found her, and plunged within, sighing through gritted teeth as a blessed wave of heat rolled over him, searing his mind, driving everything out before it. He needed this; more than anything in his life, he needed to lose himself in her. She bucked beneath him, her body briefly resisting, then accepting the violent intrusion of his. Tight, hot, she squeezed in on him, he cried out in an agony of ecstasy, forcing her down beneath him.
Her hands closed on his shoulders, her legs wrapped up around his flanks. She opened to him, enclosed him within her. She clawed at his back, raking his shoulders with blunt nails while her head tossed back on the pillow. The open expanse of her chest and neck was an invitation, he lowered his mouth to take it, matching the thrust of his hips with the dart of his tongue in the hollow of her throat.
Their movements were awkward at first, slowly building, easing, adjusting, until they found a rhythm that matched their strengths. He demanded all she could give, and she offered herself willingly, letting him take the lead, surrendering to the unleashed power of his body and soul. He gave her all that he was in return, thrusting deep within her, melding his body to hers, bruising her with the intensity of his need, finally roaring aloud as he poured himself into her, his muscles straining with the oblivion of release. She tumbled after him, clenching a second tremor from his body with the force of her own. Then together, they fell limp and sated to the disheveled mattress, pulses racing, lungs heaving.
He kissed her again, offering the caress as silent appreciation, a final benediction before he lifted himself from her and turned over to lay on his back. But he didn't release her, his hands drew her against him, satisfied only to slide into slumber when she was nestled in his arms, the dark silk of her short hair resting in sharp contrast to the fairness of his skin.
Only then, arms wrapped around each other, lungs rising and falling in matching rhythm, did they fall, together, into sleep.
She woke slowly, unwilling to leave the shelter of the bed and the encircling arms that held her tight against a warm male body. It took a moment to orient herself, to remember whose chest served as her pillow. To remember a night of horror and a night of love, both so intertwined it was hard to distinguish the emotions even now. But her body knew, already it was stirring, the nerve endings still tingling with the aftermath of pleasure so intense it had sheared away her sense of self. She'd lost herself in him, giving more than she'd ever offered anyone else, finding herself treasured with such a balance of passion and tenderness that the very memory of it threatened to bring tears to her eyes.
He'd needed her so desperately.
And now? Now she wanted more than anything else in the world to draw the sheets up over their heads and pretend the outside world didn't exist. She wanted to wake him with kisses, and drown in his smile. She wanted to believe this would last, and knew that it couldn't. Already the strands of reality were collapsing in around them; the tense ball of uncertainty and fear growing in the pit of her stomach. Oh dear God, what had they done?
A light caress on the small of her back warned her that he was awake, and she lifted her head to stare up into sea-green eyes. Resting her chin on his chest, she essayed a smile. He returned it in full measure, but she could see an echo of her own fears staring back at her. Still, he swept his hand up the length of her spine to cradle the back of her head, drawing her in for a sweet, short kiss. She kissed him back, savoring it, pouring it into her memory so she'd never forget how it felt. How good he tasted, warm and musky, the salt of sweat and a flavor all his own. Her eyes closed briefly, then opened, and she saw the answering recognition in his own. They really had to talk.
Moving as one, they readjusted into a sitting position, side-by-side. Both opened their mouths to speak at once, both paused to let the other begin, then hesitation gave way to amusement. The laughter was a relief, it reset communication, lessened the sudden awkwardness. They'd never had trouble talking before, even though he tended to keep to himself.
"Alan." She tried out his name, tasted it. Decided she liked it.
"Alan," she repeated, and he smiled in response. She returned the grin, then her expression turned solemn. There were so many things that needed to be said, but it was difficult to choose where to begin. She stumbled, and blurted out the first thing that came to her mind.
"My marriage is over."
He blanched, his eyes fixing wide on her face. She shook her head, pressing a fingertip to his lips.
"Let me finish." He nodded, his eyes unblinking.
"It's been a long time coming. Michael thinks it's because I've been working so much. He blames me and my career for the distance between us, but that's more a symptom than a cause. Whether he wants to admit it or not. We married so young, maybe too young. And we've changed since then, both of us. He wants a stay-at-home wife and a bunch of kids, the picture-perfect framework for the successful executive. I want more. I love my job, the opportunities it gives me - that you've given me. I'm ambitious, I want to sit in a Chief Constable's chair someday if I can. To make a difference in the world the way that you do." She felt as though she was rambling, but it was a relief to speak these feeling aloud to someone she knew would listen and understand.
"We've been fighting for months now. He hated the idea of my taking the staff officer job - and I think that was the breaking point. If he couldn't respect enough to be proud of what I'd accomplished... I lost the respect I had for him. Maybe I did a long time ago."
"It's not your fault," she warned him firmly. "I guess that's what the point of all this is. My marriage is dead no matter what happens between you and me, it's only a matter of time."
"Are you sure?" he asked after a long pause; he seemed to be searching for the words.
She nodded, then leaned down to kiss his forehead. "It doesn't take much to figure it out, when I'd rather spend my time talking shop with my boss than going home to my husband."
His eyes darkened again, and she shot him another pointed look. "Alan, it is not..."
"...my fault," he finished for her. He sighed, gently caressed her cheek with a forefinger.
"I still feel..." he struggled again, then came out with a painful truth. "I feel like I took advantage of you."
That made her laugh. He looked startled, and she strangled off her mirth.
"If anyone took advantage of anyone, I took advantage of you," she pointed out. His mouth twisted, his eyes clouding up. She could see the memories of the previous night strike home, he flinched. Instinctively, she reached out to reassure him, and found herself buried in another hungry kiss. When they pulled apart, there was a clear, if somewhat wry, smile on his face.
"I think we've got a problem."
"You noticed!" she responded lightly, willing to banter all morning if it kept his mind away from the anguish of the previous day. He laughed, then settled back against the pillows, rubbing at his eyes. When he looked at her again, his expression was somber again.
"Even not considering your marriage, Rose, there's still the question of our jobs. I'm still your superior officer, and there are strict rules against this kind of fraternization among police officers. If anyone else on the force did this, I'd probably throw the book at them."
"I know," she replied, settling down beside him. She stared up at the ceiling for a moment. "Me too..." And then she laughed briefly, turning up to rest on her head on her hand, gazing down at him. "Remember the conversation we had about Malcolm Kennedy. I didn't understand at the time how anyone could risk so much for so little..." she paused, then added. "God help me, I understand now."
He tapped at her chin, then cupped it in the palm of his hand. "I think I always understood. In a way, I envied him, despite it all. I was angry, furious at Webster for playing such games with people's lives, but I think Kennedy won in the end." He smiled softly. "Last I heard, he was planning to marry her."
"Seriously?" Rose asked, surprised.
Alan nodded. "Yeah - I wonder if he'll invite me to the wedding. Wanna come?"
The sparkle in his eyes was infectious, she couldn't help laughing. "I'd love to." They shared their amusement for a moment, then turned back to the problem of their own situation.
"I wish..." he offered, then fell silent, shaking his head. "Unless one of us leaves the Eastland force, I don't see a way for us to continue this." Then he looked up sharply at her, suddenly realizing he'd made some massive assumptions. "Rose..."
"You're right," she replied, missing his glance. "God, what a mess!" she cried out.
"This can end right here, and right now," he told her, fighting down the anguish that sprung up inside him. It felt like a knife blade in his side, but the consequences of continuing an affair were too heavy to be ignored. She deserved better than sneaking around, stealing hidden moments of passion while pretending in public that they were no more than colleagues. And, honestly, she deserved better than him.
All she heard were his words, and they struck her like a fist in the belly.
"Is that what you want?" she asked, biting down on the rest of what she wanted to say. His expression was shadowed now, his eyes cloudy, he was moving to shut her out and it hurt more than she could have realized. "Alan?"
He paused, then shook his head mutely. Then he stared at her for a long tense moment. "Rose...I just can't see a way to reconcile this with our careers. I know it's selfish, but I need you on the job. You're the one person on the force I can trust completely, and I've come to rely on you more than I can say. I don't want to lose that."
"I don't want to lose that either," she responded, his words washing over her on a wave of pure joy. "I love working with you. Surely..." she broke off, unable to find a solution that made sense, except... "No one needs to know. If we're careful, no one has to find out."
"For how long?" he asked, unable to stop the swell of exultation that rushed over him at her offer. He wanted to take her up on it, more than anything in his life, he wanted to seize her and make love to her all over again. He wanted to tell her how beautiful she was, how much her loyalty meant to him. But he couldn't drag her down into this kind of situation, for she would be the one to suffer the most if an affair between them became public. He'd weather it, as he had so many previous scandals, but she'd be finished as a copper. He couldn't let that happen, whatever the personal price he had to pay.
"Rose, sooner or later we'd slip up. Someone would figure it out. And it isn't fair to you to live like that. Sneaking around, lying to our friends and colleagues. It's no way to live." He fought to keep the tears from his eyes, but his voice betrayed him, cracking ever so slightly.
She saw the anguish in his eyes, heard the break in his voice, and it staggered her. Though she wanted desperately to soothe away his pain, all she could do was struggle for control of her own. He was right, she knew that. She hadn't fought for so many years to make it in the police force, without knowing well what the effect of this could be on both their careers. He was trying to protect her, even when it tore him up inside, and that only made her love him all the more. A tear trickled down her cheek, even as she accepted the choice he was making for them both.
"You're right," she agreed, hating the way her own voice wavered. "This wouldn't work, we'd only end up ruining our careers. And I...I guess I owe it to Michael to give our marriage one last try." That last was a cheap shot, borne of her own pain, and she flinched when she saw it hit home. Before he could withdraw physically, she bent forward to brush his lips with her own.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have..."
"No. You're right. I...I wish you luck." Even as he forced the words out, he caressed her cheek. She closed her eyes, leaning into his palm.
"Alan..." she whispered.
He drew her down for one last kiss, drawing it out, barely able to tear himself away. But he did, almost roughly, pushing himself up from the bed and bending down to retrieve his robe. Wrapping it snugly around him, he avoided meeting her eyes. His voice was husky with barely concealed emotion, but the words were matter-of-fact.
"I'd better get ready for work. Take the day off, Rose. Go home and get some sleep."
Clutching the sheets around her, she tried to focus, to find a way to return to the old balance of their relationship. It felt like something tore apart inside her as she responded in a similar tone.
"Yes, sir. But I'll need you to drive me. Charlie brought us here last night, and my car is still at headquarters."
He looked startled, then somber as he remembered. Nodding, he agreed. "Yes, of course. There...there's another bathroom down the hall if you want to clean up before we leave." He paused, struggling for something else to say, but whatever it was died on his lips. Instead he turned and fled for the bathroom, leaving her sitting alone, silent tears streaming down her cheeks.
The drive was spent in silence, not so much awkward as heavy. He pulled up behind her parked car, and turned to meet her eyes.
She shook her head. "It's for the best. We both know that. I just...I love you, Alan Cade. I always will." Before he could reply, she opened the door and leapt out, nearly slamming it shut behind her. He watched as she got into her car, his own voice trapped in the confines of his own ears.
"I love you too, Rose."
-- THE END --