Mike Logan is intrigued by the FBI agent assisting on a case involving a serial killer who communicates with the cops via Baudelaire poems. This is a companion piece to the Faith series by Arlen Wils and Jen Salonen.
Flowers of Evil
By Arlen Wils
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. -- Edmund Burke
New York City
Friday 7:37 p.m.
He didn't understand it.
For the life of him, Mike Logan couldn't figure it out. His attraction to her was primal and instinctive, and it made absolutely no sense. His taste usually ran to leggy, voluptuous types who knew the score. She had great legs, he'd give her that. Runner's legs. Long, tanned legs that he could just imagine wrapped around his waist . . .
But voluptuous? Not by a long shot. Her slender, athletic figure bordered on thin: slim-hipped, a narrow waist, flat stomach, and high, small, firm breasts.
Mike shifted uncomfortably in his rickety, squeaky desk chair. He had to stop thinking about her like that. As for knowing the score . . . she wasn't that type of woman. Not the "hey, last night was great; let's do it again sometime" type. No, she was the type who waited until she'd forged an emotional commitment with a man, then took him to bed and made it so damned good he never wanted to leave. The kind that scared the hell out of him.
The object of his confused thoughts dropped into the chair pulled up next to his desk, crossing her legs and leaning forward with her elbow propped on the corner of his desk. Special Agent Caitlin Falconetti slid a forensics report across his desk, frowning slightly. "Just like the others . . . no hair or fiber evidence," she sighed, frustration evident in her husky voice. "Just another damn Baudelaire poem."
Mike pulled his eyes from her calves, glancing at her. "Let me guess . . . no fingerprints either."
"How on earth did you know?" she asked mockingly, humor lighting her dark green eyes.
Mike leaned towards her, his voice low and conspiratorial. "Intuition."
Caitlin laughed at the innocent, teasing dig, relaxing into the hard wooden chair, and Mike grinned. "Have dinner with me tonight," he said impulsively.
She shook her head, still laughing, taking the offer as his normal, daily attempt. He had started asking her out the first day she'd worked with him and had asked every day since. She, just as predictably, had spent the last six months turning him down on daily basis. "Logan, one of these days I'm going to say yes, and then what'll you do? No, I'm going home, order in Chinese, soak in a hot tub and go to bed. And I'm not even going to think about this case."
Mike was still stuck on the "soak in a hot tub" part, a sudden vision of her doing just that mesmerizing him. He could see himself sliding into the water with her, his mouth covering hers, hand pulling her into intimate contact with him. With difficulty, he shook off the image, trying to concentrate on the agent, who was oblivious to his reaction to her.
" . . . go home, Logan," she was saying. "Get some sleep. And call me Monday if you need anything."
Anything? Mike thought. He didn't think she'd want to know what he was beginning to think he needed from her.
New York City
Tuesday 4:14 p.m.
Mike was annoyed. They hadn't heard from Falconetti on Monday, and he was irritated because he jumped to answer the phone every time it rang. He bent over the witness report in front of him again, forcing himself to focus. The phone rang shrilly at his elbow, and he snatched it up. "Logan. Homicide."
"Hi, it's Cait," her husky voice greeted him, sounding tense and strained. "Look, I've had another case come up. Can you guys get by without me for a few days?"
"Okay. Great. I'll call." The line went dead, and she was gone, leaving Mike staring confusedly at the phone in his hand.
New York City
Friday 11:47 a.m.
The week passed, and she didn't call. That in itself was unusual. In the six months Falconetti had been assisting Mike and his partner, Phil Cerreta, track a suspected serial killer, she'd been in contact with the two-seven on a daily basis, often stopping by personally when she felt she had something pertinent to add to the investigation. On Friday, Mike found himself worrying irritably. It was edging up on lunchtime, and he was reviewing his notes for court when his phone rang. Absently, he tucked it between his shoulder and chin. "Logan."
"Detective Logan. Hello." The smooth male voice sent shivers over his skin. "I've been eager to speak to you."
Mike was instantly alert. "Who is this?"
"Oh, come now, Detective, let's not play games. You know who this is." Depraved humor danced in the rich voice. "You just don't know who I am."
He'd never contacted them this way, although Caitlin had thought he might eventually. Before, he'd always left the poems, the translations of Baudelaire, which Caitlin believed were tied in some important way still beyond them to the murders, to the victims. He was talking to them, she'd told Mike, through the poetry, and she'd ignored his scathing reply to her ideas. Now, talking to the man who may have taken the lives of five young women was making Mike nervous. "Why are you calling?" he asked, trying to keep his voice professional and neutral.
"I just wanted you to know, it isn't personal, what I have to do to Agent Falconetti."
Mike struggled to remain calm, fighting against his anger and a sudden fear that left a sick, metallic taste in his mouth. "And what do you have to do?"
"She's been tainted," the voice slid over the words. "Don't you know how, Detective?"
"She's not tainted," Mike ground out tightly, and Phil glanced at him, eyes concerned. "And if you even think of --"
"You, too. Detective? Has she entangled you in that poisonous web. . . that seductively deadly trap?" the voice taunted. "Like the man she was with Tuesday night? The man at the Hilshire Hotel? I've been watching you, all of you, and I thought she was different from the others . . . that she was chaste, virtuous . . . "
"She's very beautiful, isn't she? A lovely, natural flower. But her beauty hides another flower, a flower of evil. It must be smothered, extinguished --"
Mike's teeth were clenched so hard his jaw ached. "I won't let you --"
The voice laughed softly. "You won't be able to stop me," he jeered. "I'm almost close enough to touch her now. She's wearing a red sweater and talking to a friend. She just laughed, pushed that incredible dark hair back --"
Mike was on his feet. "You son of a bitch! If you lay a goddamn hand on her --"
The squad room had fallen silent around him, and Phil had half-risen from his chair, bull-doggish face tight with anxiety. Mike was unaware of all of them, his entire being focused on the evil lurking on the other end of the phone line. "I've got to go now, Detective Logan. Goodbye."
The line went dead, and Mike looked at Phil with fearful eyes. "Phil," he rasped hoarsely. "He's threatened Falconetti. We've got to find her. Warn her."
"Mike," Cerrata said in his quietly soothing voice. "Call her office. Just to make sure."
Mike flipped through the card file on his desk, grabbing her card and punching in her office number. The phone rang twice, the tension thundering through his head. "Agent Ransome."
Mouth dry, Mike swallowed hard. "This is Detective Logan, NYPD," he said, struggling to keep his voice even. "Could I speak with Agent Falconetti?"
"Uh . . ." The sounds of rustling papers filtered over the line, and the agent's voice seemed oddly distracted. "Sorry. She took the afternoon off." Mike felt a faint lick of fear. Holy Mother, she could be anywhere in the city. "I'm her partner. If this is case related, I can probably help you."
"No," Mike snapped, not caring what the other man thought. "I really need to talk to Agent Falconetti personally. Do you know where I can find her?"
Ransome paused, considering, and Mike knew he was deciding whether to trust him or not. "You could try the Three Witches. It's a restaurant over on Gramercy. But if you'll --"
Mike slammed the phone down without letting him finish the sentence. Grabbing his coat, he sprinted out the door, leaving Cerreta to follow more sedately.
The Three Witches
New York City
Friday 12:32 p.m.
He spotted her as soon as he was in the door, sitting at the small bar in the back of the restaurant, talking to a stunning redhead. She was wearing a slim, red sweater.
Mike had an impression of crowded, towering bookshelves, hurricane lamps and classical music as he pushed his way through to the bar.
" . . . I told you he wasn't your destiny," the redhead said as he reached them.
Caitlin smiled thinly. "And I suppose you know what is? My destiny, that is?"
He had to touch her; he needed to prove to himself that she was safe, that the crazy son of a bitch had not hurt her. Mike clasped her arm lightly, and, startled, she glanced up at him, surprise darting across her features. "Logan? What --"
"Are you okay?" he demanded, brushing a fingertip over the bruise darkening her cheekbone.
Confusion flitted through her eyes. "I'm fine," she replied slowly, obviously trying to understand his agitation. "Why?"
Mike touched the bruise again. "Did he do this?" he demanded roughly.
"Who? Logan, what the hell are you talking about?" Caitlin frowned, brushing her hair back.
"He called me, Falconetti. He called me. He told me what you were wearing, what you were doing --"
"Logan. Calm down," Caitlin commanded, tapping a finger lightly against her lips, thinking. "He --"
"He said was close enough to touch you," Mike snarled, still holding her arm. "He threatened you, Falconetti. Said you were tainted." He spat out the words.
Caitlin sighed. "Logan, you're overreacting," she said, the nervousness showing through despite the bravado of her words. "Give me a minute . . . " She turned to the redhead, who was watching the interaction between the two with great interest. "Deena, the guy in the suit . . . the one who used the phone. Do you remember what he looked like?"
"Ordinary," Deena said instantly, grinning widely. Caitlin gave her a look, and Deena sighed. "No, I wasn't paying attention. I was listening to you berate yourself."
"This phone?" Mike asked, pointing to the one at the other end of the bar.
Deena nodded, shrugging. "Yes. Why?"
Mike and Caitlin exchanged a look. "Prints."
Deena moved away, picking up a half-empty glass from the bar. Caitlin looked away from Mike, watching her friend closely. An odd expression flitted across Deena's face, and fear invaded her eyes. "What is it?" Caitlin asked, and Mike sighed irritably. Caitlin waved his interruption away. She'd met the owner of the Three Witches on her first case in New York City, and Caitlin had laughed at first when another agent had suggested she consult with the reputed psychic. She'd stopped laughing when Deena had led them to two bodies with almost pinpoint accuracy. She'd learned to trust Deena's feelings almost as much as she trusted her own intuition.
"Oh, dear God, Cait," Deena whispered, turning devastated eyes in Caitlin's direction. "He's a sick bastard."
"I know," Caitlin replied quietly. She was secretly bothered by the call Logan had received, and she sure as hell didn't want this madman's attention directed at her. Suddenly, she remembered the flowers. She'd looked at the daisies that morning, read the card with its simple message of "You deserve jewels instead," and had immediately phoned Fox Mulder and bitched him out for sending them. She'd seen it as a manipulative gesture; now she thought she understood Mulder's dumbfounded reaction to her outrage.
The flowers weren't from him.
"Oh, my God," she whispered, glancing up at Mike with stricken eyes. "The flowers . . ."
"Flowers," Caitlin said, swallowing against the fear bubbling in her throat, refusing to give in to it. "Someone sent me flowers this morning. I thought . . ."
"What?" Mike snapped, aware he was repeating himself, feeling like a parrot.
Caitlin shrugged. "I thought . . . I thought they were from someone I know."
"The guy from the Hilshire?" Mike asked, not sure why he was pushing the point, except that he wanted to know. Needed to know who she'd been with.
Caitlin's eyes widened. "How did you know?" she asked, then realization sank in, and she closed her eyes, swallowing hard. "Dear God." He was watching her. The knowledge sickened her and brought with it old memories that had never stopped tormenting her.
Anger flashed through Mike, turned white-hot by a primal jealousy. "I can't believe you'd do something this stupid!"
Caitlin blinked, shocked by his vehemence. "Excuse me?"
"C'mon, Falconetti, we're after a guy who offs one-night stands, and you pick up a guy and boff him?" Mike shook his head, incredulous. "Hell, if you were that hard up, why didn't you just call me?"
"Boff?" Caitlin laughed, his last statement passing her by completely. "What kind of word is that? And you think I picked up a guy in a bar?"
"So who was he?" Mike demanded, not caring that he sounded more like a jealous lover than a concerned colleague.
She met his eyes steadily. "An old lover," she snapped. "Not that it's any of your business."
"Not my business? This guy is killing people, Cait. He called me, and he threatened you." Mike shook his head, dragging a hand through his thick, dark hair. "For all we know, maybe your old boyfriend is this guy --"
Caitlin laughed out loud, amused by the picture of Fox Mulder as maniacal serial killer. "No way."
"He told me what hotel you were at --"
"Then he followed me." Caitlin paused, suddenly disturbed by a new realization. "Which means he knows where I live."
"The flowers," Mike prompted. "Why did you think they were from this guy?"
Caitlin shrugged. "Because of the card. There's a reference to a Baudelaire poem, the Jewels."
Dropping her eyes, Caitlin sighed. "He used to read Baudelaire to me, that poem in particular."
Mike nodded, scowling. "Okay, let's get the card and get it over to Forensics."
New York City
Friday 8:13 p.m.
Mike sat at his desk, looking for something else to do. His shift had ended long ago, and the squad room was nearly deserted. He had finished the backlog of paperwork on his desk and started on Phil's. He'd been filled with a nervous energy ever since the phone call that afternoon. Caitlin had insisted on going home after he'd followed her back to her office to get the card from the flowers. It was handwritten, and they were hoping there would be a print on the card.
His eyes fell on the plastic evidence bag that held the small, white card. "Jewels," Mike whispered to himself, eyeing the slashing black ink. Even the handwriting was insane.
An old lover.
Her voice had faltered over the words, as though the term was unfamiliar. She'd thought the flowers were from him . . . he'd recited that poem to her.
With morbid curiosity, Mike opened his bottom drawer, pulling out the leather bound volume of poetry. He ran a finger down the table of contents until he found what he was looking for. He flipped to the poem, reading silently.
The beloved was naked, and knowing my heart,
had retained only her vibrant jewels,
whose pageantry gave to her a rich and conquering air
such as belonged, on languorous days, to Moorish concubines.
This world radiant of metal and rock
ravishes me, and when its bright
and mocking noise leaps in dance, I madly love
those things in which sound is mixed with light.
She lay thus, abandoned to love,
and from the height of the couch, smiled
carelessly at my ardor that rose, deep and fragrant as the sea,
mounting toward her as toward a pale cliff.
Eyeing me like a tamed tiger,
she posed with a vague and dreamy air,
and candor, being joined to shamelessness,
gave fresh charm to all her metamorphoses.
Polished with oil, undulant like a swan,
arm and leg, thigh and loins
passed before my serene and clairvoyant eyes;
while her belly and breasts, fruits of my vine --
With a strangled curse, he slammed the book closed and pushed it away. Eyes closed, he tired to squash the images that the words evoked, images of Caitlin Falconetti with another man. Images that shouldn't have disturbed him, but did. What disturbed him more was that it was all too easy to substitute his own image for the faceless other man. He could imagine kissing her, touching her. Sensation flooded over him, and he could almost feel her skin under his fingers. He could almost hear her moaning his name as he plunged himself deeply inside her. His body tightened almost painfully with a sudden, intense arousal.
God. He had to get out of here. He had to stop thinking about her, had to get her out of his head.
Apartment of Special Agent Caitlin Falconetti
New York City
Friday 8:46 p.m.
Caitlin jerked a knot in her robe, flicking a comb through her damp hair as she walked into her bedroom. She froze when she spotted the single white rose lying on her pillow. Her eyes immediately tracked the room and the hallway, searching for the intruder, but her instinct, the intuition Mike Logan had teased her about, told her he was gone, leaving behind only this one sign that he'd ever been there at all.
Heart thudding against her ribs, she grabbed the phone, dialing her partner's number with shaking fingers, eyes locked on the exquisitely perfect rose.
Friday 9:18 p.m.
Mike stopped the car behind the brand new red Jeep double parked in front of Falconetti's building. He swallowed the unreasonable fear that irritated him as he jogged up the steps. Caitlin had made the call, so that meant she was okay. Right?
Mike held up his badge for the subdued doorman, who waved him up. The detective opted for the stairs rather than the elevator, jogging up the three flights. In the third floor hallway, a couple of uniformed officers milled with the CSU team around the open door of apartment 303.
Mike stepped into the foyer, walking into the living room with its built-in bookshelves, tall windows and high ceilings. CSU was dusting everything in sight for prints, and a fine layer of black dust covered the room. Mike had worked with Falconetti for months; this was the first time he'd been inside her place, and he couldn't resist glancing around.
He'd never seen so many books or photos in his life.
The shelves overflowed with books, leather-bound volumes mixed with dime-store paperbacks. Between and in front of the books were photographs, people and places obviously important to Agent Caitlin Falconetti. The apartment had a fireplace; over the mantel was a large painting of a dog. A beagle, for God's sake. Why the hell would anyone have a portrait of a beagle?
Caitlin's voice drifted from the bedroom, and Mike followed it into the short hallway. "Look, Kelly, I just picked up the new keys today. No one else could have one. No one has signed in or out downstairs. So the invisible man waltzed in and left me a rose, right?" She was standing at the foot of the bed, dressed more casually than Mike had ever seen her in snug, faded jeans and a University of Texas sweatshirt, arms crossed over her chest, one bare foot tapping the floor.
A tall man with tobacco-gold hair was snapping photos of the room, and he tossed a grin at her. "Sounds like an X-File to me," he teased. "Want me to call --"
"I don't want you to call anyone, Kelly," Caitlin snapped. "How many damn photos are you going to take, anyway?"
Kelly rocked back on his heels, looking at her dolefully. "Snippy, aren't we? Quit pushing my buttons, Cait."
Mike touched her arm lightly as he stepped up behind her. "Cait?"
She looked up at him, green eyes filled with anger and perhaps a touch of very real fear, and Mike felt a flash of anger that the fear had touched her. She smiled at him slightly. "Welcome to the party."
Mike forced a grin, matching her strained nonchalance. "Always wanted to check out a Fed party."
"No, you don't," Caitlin sighed. "They're always dull as hell."
Gesturing around the room, Mike asked, "Anything missing? Or out of place?"
"You mean, other than my nerves, right?" Caitlin grinned suddenly, looking more like herself, and Mike couldn't help but grin back.
Caitlin shook her head. "No. Nothing. Just that." She spat out the word, waving at the rose on the bed. She shivered, rubbing her hands down her arms. "Deena was right. This guy is a sick bastard."
The CSU techie appeared in the doorway. "Detective Logan? We're finished."
"Anything?" Mike asked, rubbing a hand over his nape wearily.
"Lots of partials," the techie replied, grimacing. "We'll have to run them against the elimination prints."
The uniformed officers filed out with the CSU team, leaving Caitlin alone with Mike and her partner. She'd introduced the tall, blue-eyed man as Special Agent Kelson Ransome, and Mike had found the other man sizing him up as they shook hands. Suspicion glinted in Ransome's cerulean gaze, and Mike wondered what Falconetti had told the younger man about working with him. Ransome shrugged into his jacket, glancing at Caitlin with genuine concern in his eyes. "You sure you'll be okay? You know Sheila'd love to have you over."
Caitlin's eyes hardened, flashing coldly. "I'll be fine," she said tightly, but Mike noticed her hands were clenched so tightly her knuckles shone white. She smiled at her partner, a falsely reassuring smile. "Go home."
Ransome shot one last suspicious at Mike. "Okay," he agreed reluctantly. "I'll see you in the morning."
Caitlin followed him to the door, and Mike listened to the murmur of their voices as Ransome left. She returned to the living room to find Mike in front of the fireplace, gazing up at the beagle portrait with a quizzical expression on his face. She leaned against the doorjamb, letting her eyes linger on his face for one unguarded moment. "That's General Beauregard."
Startled, Mike turned in her direction. "Who?" He laughed.
Smiling, Caitlin crossed her arms over her midriff, thankful for a topic that would take her mind off finding that damn flower in her bed. "General Beauregard. He's my grandfather's pride and joy," she elaborated. Seeing Mike's confusion, she grinned. "He raises hunting beagles. Has a whole damn herd of the things, every one of them named after a Civil War general." Her gaze strayed to the painting again. "When my grandmother died, he put her portrait up in his study, so Beau had to come down. I was coming to New York, so I brought him with me." She shrugged, her green eyes meeting Mike's. "Would you like some coffee, Logan?"
Her offer surprised him. He'd given up on having her go out with him; the daily attempt was just because he was too stubborn to let her know he'd given up. Her asking him to stay was the last thing he'd expected. Mike nodded, eyes narrowing speculatively at her. "Sure."
Caitlin dropped her eyes from his. "I'll be right back."
While she was gone, Mike wandered about the room, glancing at her photographs and book titles. He could pick out the members of her family from the identical green eyes; there were a couple of photos of Caitlin with Ransome, a wide grin on his handsome face. Mike found himself wondering at the nature of their relationship. He'd had a female partner once; he knew how that sometimes went. In one photo, Caitlin grinned out at Mike, wearing the same sweatshirt she wore tonight. Sitting on the wide steps of a large house, she was flanked by two men with inky hair and emerald eyes. The strong features told him these were her brothers.
"Here you go. I spiked it." Caitlin handed him a mug and curled up in the armchair, wrapping both hands around her own mug. Mike took a sip of the dark coffee, finding she'd laced it liberally with bourbon. He didn't complain; after the day he'd had, he could use the alcohol. The apartment was brightly lit. Every lamp in the place was on, banishing the shadows. While Caitlin had been in the kitchen, Mike had moved through the room, lowering the blinds. If the bastard was around, he didn't' want him to be able to see in.
Caitlin was staring into her cup, and Mike watched her, concerned. She'd been pale since the other officers had filed out, leaving them alone. What do you expect, Logan? he berated himself. Someone's been in her home. If she has any sense at all, she's scared to death. Restless, Mike waved a hand at her bookshelves. "Tell me about your family, Falconetti."
She startled visibly at his voice and glanced up at him, blinking, trying to focus on his question. "What?"
"Tell me about your family," he repeated.
Caitlin glanced at him oddly, but she answered anyway. "I've got two brothers, both older than I am. What about you?"
Mike grimaced. He didn't relish talking about his family and wished he hadn't opened this particular topic of conversation. "One of each."
"And I bet you're the oldest." He nodded and she smiled. "Are you the only cop?"
"My brother's a beat cop. My sister's a stay at home mom." Mike leaned forward, setting his cup down on the table and glancing up at her from heavy lids. "So do you come from a long line of FBI agents?"
"No. Lawyers." She laughed at his dumbfounded expression. "Actually, yeah, the Falconetti family tree has a lot of law enforcement officers in it. But my parents, one of my brothers and my grandfather are all lawyers."
Mike nodded. "What does your other brother do?"
Caitlin chuckled. "He's a writer." Her tone let him know she was leaving something unsaid, keeping secret something she couldn't share with him yet, but there was no malice in her reticence. Dropping her eyes from his, she stared into her mug, running a fingertip around the rim. She was silent for several moments, then said hesitantly, "I guess I shouldn't keep you."
She didn't want him to leave. Mike glanced at her, surprised, but he could understand. The sensation of knowing someone had been in her home must be incredibly eerie. He picked up his cup again and smiled crookedly at her. "I don't have anywhere to be if you need the company tonight, Falconetti."
Feigning shock, Caitlin leaned back in her chair, one hand over her heart. "Mike Logan without a date? I'm stunned."
"Very funny," Mike growled, making a move to rise. "I can leave now, Falconetti."
"No, don't," Caitlin said softly, stopping him. She smiled slightly, dragging a hand through her cloud of dark hair. She shrugged. "I don't really want to be alone in here right now, Logan. Thanks."
Mike grinned. He liked the idea of spending several hours alone with her. "No problem."
"I put myself through NYU driving a cab," Mike said two hours later, discarding a two and a four and drawing two more cards. They were sitting on the floor at her coffee table, playing poker. He quirked a grin at her, glancing around her home. He wasn't an expert in antiques, but he knew enough to know the Tiffany lamp on the sofa table probably cost more than she made in a year. And if she came from a family who could afford a portrait-sized oil painting of a dog, she obviously came from money. Usually, Mike avoided women from monied pasts, but she was different. She was real. "Guess you didn't have to worry about that, huh?"
Caitlin shrugged, not looking up from her cards. She had an excellent poker face. "Sure, I did." She looked up at him and grinned suddenly, a real smile that lit her eyes, charming him. "I was going through an independent, rebellious stage, and I insisted on paying my way through UT. Troupe, my grandfather, was livid."
Mike frowned and folded. "Why? Independence seems like a decent character trait to develop."
Laughing, Caitlin laid out four of a kind. "Because I put myself through waiting tables in a bar."
That surprised him, and he stared at her, trying to picture cool, calm Agent Caitlin Falconetti as a barmaid. "You were a cocktail waitress?"
Caitlin shook her head, eyes dancing with laughter. "I was a Lingerlong's girl," she corrected him loftily.
"There's a difference?"
"Not according to my grandfather," Caitlin conceded ruefully. She gave him a long, sly, sideways glance. "We wore these little denim cut-offs, snug little T-shirts and boots. Bet I made more in tips than you did."
Mike chuckled, his eyes dropping to those legs again. "I'll bet you did, too." Stretching, he glanced at his watch. "God, it's after midnight. And we both have to work tomorrow; I should get going." Caitlin was watching him mockingly, and Mike knew she probably was aware he often didn't fall into bed until a couple of hours before his shift started. It was a lame excuse, they both knew it, but Mike was beginning to feel way too comfortable sitting with her like this. It was time to go.
Caitlin rose in one fluid movement, and Mike found it difficult to pull his eyes from her. She caught him looking, and Mike shook his head, trying to cover up the fact that he'd been staring. "I can't picture you as a barmaid."
"How many have you known?" Caitlin teased, walking with him to the foyer.
Quite a few, Mike thought, but he didn't say it out loud. Mike rubbed a hand over his neck. "Look, Falconetti, the women I usually date aren't exactly Mensa candidates." The admission made him uncomfortable.
She nodded, eyes mischievous. "And they probably suit you very well."
Mike frowned, insulted. "What the hell does that mean?"
"You date women who are less intelligent that you because then you have an excuse to move on to greener pastures when you get bored." The opinion was delivered in the same tone she used in reading from one of her damned profiles, and Mike felt anger fire to life in him. Who the hell did she think she was?
"You don't exactly make me sound like a nice guy, Falconetti," he snapped, shrugging into his coat.
"Oh, you're a great guy, Logan," Caitlin retorted softly. "Smart, personable, a great sense of humor. It's just that you change women like you change your ties, only with less consideration."
The anger flickered in his hazel eyes. "You think so?"
"I do," Caitlin laughed, unperturbed by his ire. "And I think if an intelligent woman made a serious move on you, you'd run like hell."
He didn't like how uncomfortable her assessments made him. "Yeah?" he challenged, lifting his eyebrows.
Caitlin picked up the gauntlet in his eyes and voice. Grabbing his tie, she pulled him close to her and leaned up to press her mouth to his. His mouth was warm and soft, and he tasted of coffee. What she had intended to be a short, light, teasing kiss because she'd wanted to see what it would be like to kiss him for the past six months flared into something deeper, hotter, as Mike cupped the back of her head to hold her mouth under his, using the tip of his tongue to tease her lips apart and give him further access to her mouth.
Letting go of his tie, Caitlin slid her hands up his chest to his shoulders, smoothing over the worn leather of his coat. When Mike pulled her closer, his tongue plunging into the silky moistness of her mouth, heat flashed through her body. Kissing him was hot, hotter than anything she'd expected, hotter than walking across the sand at Lake Killeane on a blistering Texas afternoon.
And she shouldn't be doing this.
She shouldn't be standing in her foyer, sharing this searing, carnal kiss with Detective Mike Logan when she'd been in bed with Fox Mulder just days before. What the hell was she doing? And she'd started it. She'd kissed him, and God help her, she didn't want to stop. She wanted to go on forever, standing in the darkened foyer to her apartment, being kissed by Mike Logan, her body pressed so closely to his that she could feel his shirt buttons pressing into her chest, his belt buckle against her abdomen, and the heaviness of his arousal lower still . . .
His beeper was going off.
Dazed, Mike realized the irritating noise was emanating from his waistband. With a strangled groan, he pulled his mouth from Caitlin's, separating himself with difficulty from the incredible electricity arcing between them. Holy Mother, he hadn't known what it was going to feel like to kiss her. He hadn't realized that touching her was going to feel like picking up a live wire, intensity that bordered on pain. Pulling his hands from Caitlin's body, he tugged his beeper free from his belt, staring at the numerical display, disoriented. He glanced down at Caitlin, who seemed as dazed as he felt. "Can . . . can I use your phone?" His mouth was dry, and he swallowed hard as she nodded silently, fingers touched to her lips.
Automatically, he punched in the precinct's number, listening to the excited voice on the other end of the line. When he turned back to Caitlin moments later, the stunned passion had drained from his hazel-green eyes. "Goddammit, Falconetti, we've got another one."
Apartment of Lindsay Terrell
New York City
Saturday 12:34 a.m.
Caitlin stepped into the harshly lit bedroom behind Mike and froze. "Oh, dear God," she whispered, sickened by the sight that met her eyes. The woman's body lay on the bed, one leg drawn up, exposing her intimately to the world. She was nude, save one flashy, sequined thigh-high stocking and a matching garter. She'd been beheaded, blood spilling off the bed to pool thickly on the floor, and her head, with its wide, staring eyes, had been placed on the bedside table.
"Holy shit," Mike breathed. He'd been doing this for years and couldn't remember anything like this. Caitlin drew near the bed, but couldn't go further, unable to bear the savagery before her.
Dragging in a deep breath, Caitlin began to pull her trademark professionalism about her, putting it on the same way she'd donned a black suit before coming here. This was a body; the woman was gone. There was nothing Caitlin could do now to help her except find the monster who had done this and put him away, so far away he'd never even dream of daylight again. Her eyes darted over the bed and the room, lingering on the small square of linen paper pinned to the white rose lying on the dresser. "Gloves?" she asked the closest CSU technician, pulling them on with a snap. She bent over the note, knowing what she would find, an English translation of Baudelaire's "Murdered Woman."
She was aware that behind her Mike was standing in the doorway, talking to Phil Cerreta in a muted voice. The skin along her neck prickled, and she glanced up and around the room. You're missing something, the little voice of her intuition whispered. Pay attention, Falconetti.
Stepping back, Caitlin looked around again. The room was luxuriously decorated. Rich fabrics covered the bed and windows. Fresh flowers filled the three or four vases scattered throughout the room. Cut glass bottles sparkled on the --
Her gaze jerked back to the fragrant bouquets spilling out of the vases. "Logan."
He looked up, intrigued by the note of excitement creeping into her voice. He came further into the room to join her by the bed. "What?"
"Flowers," she murmured, taping a finger against her lips. "Did any of the other vics have fresh flowers in their homes?"
Mike shook his head, frowning, not seeing what she was driving at. "I don't remember," he replied shortly. "Why does that matter --"
"Flowers, Mike," Caitlin insisted, waving a hand around the room. "I'm telling you what we're looking for is tied to flowers." She spun away from him, digging a hand into her pocket for her keys. "I'll meet you back at the precinct. I'm going to take a look at our vics' credit card transactions."
New York City
Saturday 3:17 a.m.
"Bingo," Caitlin said, dropping a stack of credit card bills on Mike's desk at exactly three-seventeen that morning. She sank wearily into Phil's vacant chair, running both hands through her hair. "God, if only I'd thought to look earlier --"
"Damn," Mike whispered, laying the four groups of bills Caitlin had clipped together in front of him. Each woman had purchased flowers on a regular basis from Pandora's Florist. He glanced up at Caitlin suddenly, a question in his eyes. "I don't suppose you . . ."
Caitlin nodded, her eyes dark and hunted. "Yeah. Two weeks ago. I sent my cousin Sheila lilies for her birthday. And the month before that, I wired flowers to my cousin Kim when she had her baby."
Mike rubbed hand over his eyes. "Jesus."
"Yeah," Caitlin agreed, her voice tight. "Some coincidence, huh?"
Peering at her from between spread fingers, Mike sighed. "Guess we should go get a couple hours' sleep, and then we can hit this place first thing in the morning."
"Right. Sleep," Caitlin echoed, dropping her eyes from his. She stood, pulling on her classic, stylish black overcoat, and Mike knew she was thinking of that damn rose again.
Leaning back in his chair, Mike studied her, weighing the odds of his sleeping after the night's events: the break-in, that kiss, the victim. "Tell you what," he said, rising and reaching for his own coat. "You hungry?" Caitlin looked at him quizzically, and Mike shrugged. "It's been a long time since dinner, and I doubt either of us will sleep anyway. I know this great diner that stays open all night . . ."
Caitlin smiled, grateful. She hadn't been relishing spending the night alone in her apartment, knowing it was not totally secure, afraid of the memories that knowledge would arouse, memories of a hand covering her mouth, bringing darkness and the horror that had come afterward. Pushing away the dark thoughts, she tied her belt tightly. "All right," she grinned up at him. "But I'm buying."
New York City
Saturday 8:51 a.m.
"God, it's cold," Caitlin complained, huddling into her coat, watching the dark storefront across the street.
Mike glanced at her sideways from the corner of his eye. "It's thirty degrees out there," he scoffed, taking a sip of his lukewarm coffee. "It's not that cold."
The look Caitlin shot his way was baleful. "I'm from south Texas, Logan. Thirty degrees is cold."
He laughed, knowing this was her first full winter in New York City. "What are you going to do when the first bad storm blows in?"
Caitlin didn't hesitate. "Ask for a temporary assignment in Tempe. Or Miami," she said, leaning her head against her hand. "I like the ocean." She cast another distasteful glance out the window. "However, I hate snow." She picked up her cup again, grimacing when she found it empty. Mike handed her his, and she smiled gratefully. She sipped, and heat kicked off in Mike as she put her mouth to the same spot his had been, images of the kiss they'd shared rising in his mind. Caitlin sat up straight. "Hey."
Jerking his eyes from her face, Mike peered out the window. The lights were coming on in the small floral shop, and a shadowy figure was unlocking the front door. "Let's go," he said, grabbing the keys from the ignition and swinging out of the car, Caitlin following close behind.
The middle-aged woman behind the counter looked up and smiled as they entered. "Good morning. May I help you?"
Mike held up his badger for her. "I'm Detective Logan with the NYPD. This is Agent Falconetti with the FBI." The woman's eyes widened. "We'd like to ask you a few questions about a few of your customers, Ms. --"
"Hines. Panny Hines." The woman was looking at Caitlin. "You've been in before," she said slowly. "You ordered lilies last week, didn't you?" She tapped a finger on the counter, resolve setting her face. "You were, because I remember Jason was so nervous while taking your order. And afterwards, he kept staring out the window after you left. Jason is my assistant; he's very talented." She smiled self-consciously as Mike and Caitlin exchanged a look. "I teased him a little because I thought he was smitten with you." She glanced at them nervously. "What's this about?"
"Has Jason worked for you long?" Mike asked, pulling out his notebook from the inner pocket of his charcoal suit coat.
Panny shrugged, real anxiety invading her eyes. "About eight months. He started working here right after he moved up from Baltimore." She swallowed, her throat working visibly. "Is Jason in some sort of trouble?"
Caitlin smiled reassuringly. "We just need to talk with him," she said quietly. "Is he working today?"
"He is, but he's running late --"
Mike looked up, his eyes brightly alert despite the lack of sleep. "Does he have access to customer records, addresses, that sort of things?"
"Why, yes, he delivers for me. And he's learning the billing system, so . . ." Panny's voice trailed away as the door opened, a tall, thin man in his early thirties entering, rubbing his hands against the cold. "Jason? These people are from --"
Jason's pale blue eyes met Mike's, and Mike saw a flare of shock in the other's man gaze scant moments before he turned and sprinted through the door. Mike started after him, aware Falconetti was with him, keeping pace with him despite his longer legs. Jason obviously wasn't a runner; he already sounded winded, and once he stumbled clumsily, allowing Mike to close the distance between them. Grabbing the man by his coat, Mike slung him into a wall, holding him there with one arm while he quickly searched him. "Whatcha running for, Jason?"
"I haven't done anything wrong!" Jason panted, face twisting painfully against the rough brick wall. "You don't understand --"
Mike recognized the voice as the smooth, educated one form his phone call, despite the edge of panic. "You're right," he growled, snatching his cuffs from his belt and cuffing the struggling man roughly. "I don't understand." Gripping the shackled wrists roughly, he pulled Jason up straight. "And you know what, man? I don't want to understand."
Jason was in a rage now. "They deserved to die," he ranted, his eyes glaring hatefully at Caitlin, who'd stopped a few feet away. "All of them. Whores," he spat, and Caitlin flinched from the word. "Evil lived in them . . . it had to be smothered. I had to smother it . . ."
"Right," Mike snapped, pulling him toward the car. He grinned at Caitlin as he passed by her, missing the tense pain in her face. "Sound like a confession to you?"
Caitlin closed her eyes, listening to the rantings of a madman until they were muffled as Mike shoved him into the backseat. She stood still, Jason's accusations echoing in her ears, until Logan called her name, questioning, and she turned to join him.
New York City
Monday 6:57 p.m.
Caitlin dropped triplicate copies of her completed reports in the basket on Logan's desk and turned away, glancing around to make sure he was still out of the squad room. She didn't want to see him. She wasn't sure she could face him, remembering the way she'd acted Friday night. First, she'd clung to him like a shrinking violet, all because Jason Minderherst had managed to get into her apartment and, in doing so, had dredged up the long-buried memories of her own abduction. Secondly, she'd instigated that damn kiss when she had no right to do so because she had no intention of following through with any further involvement. Logan wasn't into commitment. She knew that, and she wasn't into being another of his conquests.
Moot point. It was time to leave. They had Minderherst's confession. Even now, Ben Stone and Paul Robinette were in discussions with Minderherst's lawyer about a plea. Caitlin just wanted to leave, to go home until the next homicidal lunatic showed up, so she could start the whole process over again.
Outside, it was dark, a few stray snowflakes drifting down to the pavement. Caitlin glared at them hatefully. She detested snow, and it only darkened her mood. Pulling out her keys, she started down the street to her little Toyota.
Caitlin froze at the sound of Logan's jubilant voice, then turned to see him jogging down the sidewalk to meet her. His coat flapped out from his long body, the frigid wind ruffling his thick, dark hair. Shuddering slightly, Caitlin found herself wanting to be wrapped up inside that coat with him, digging her fingers into that hair. She wanted his mouth on hers, hard, demanding, taking. Shaking her head angrily, she pushed the wanting away as Logan reached her. He grinned down at her as he reached her, the warm, spicy scent of his aftershave enveloping her. "C'mon, I'll buy you dinner," he offered.
Caitlin shook her head, and he frowned. "I can't," she said miserably, turning away. "I have something to do tonight."
Mike tilted his chin up. "Tomorrow night, then."
"No," Caitlin said quietly. "Not tomorrow. Not ever, Logan."
Logan's thick eyebrows lowered even further. "Why the hell not?" he demanded, hazel eyes betraying his confusion.
Caitlin shook her head again, walking away. "I don't have to give you a reason."
Mike stared after her angrily for a moment, then started after her. He gripped her arm firmly when he caught up with her, steering them to the inside of the sidewalk. "What is your problem?" he asked in a deadly quiet voice, backing her into the shadowed doorway behind them.
She stared up at him, unflinching. "We don't exactly have much in common, do we, Logan?"
"Let me show you just what we have in common, Falconetti," Mike whispered, just before he covered her mouth with his. Her hands moved to his chest to push him away then clutched into his lapels, her mouth opening under his. Mike buried one hand in her hair, his tongue sweeping inside the velvet darkness of her mouth. He kissed her, lost in her, not even caring that they were only feet away from his precinct house. He slid one gloved hand into her coat, cupping her breast, fingers caressing her through the thin silk of her blouse. Caitlin moaned throatily into his mouth, and arousal settled in him heavily.
The kiss went on and on, their bodies pressed tightly together. Finally, Mike pulled away, breathing heavily. "Let's go to my place," he rasped.
Caitlin closed her eyes to block out the lines of his face in the dim light. "Logan . . . I can't," she whispered miserably, still holding onto his coat.
"Why not?" he asked roughly, his hands sliding to her shoulders. "Dammit, Falconetti, you want this as badly as I do. We're both adults. And it's not like you . . ."
He let the words trail away, but she understood that he was referring to what had happened with Fox Mulder Tuesday night. "Oh, I get it," she snapped. "If I slept with him, why not you? Right?" He opened his mouth, but she rushed on. "Do you want to know what happened Tuesday, Logan? He called me by the wrong name. How many women's names do you remember? How long would you remember mine?"
Forever. The thought shook him as it skittered through his mind.
"I can't," she continued in a soft, miserable voice. "I can't because it would mean too much to me and not nearly enough to you." She pushed her hair back and stepped around him. "But don't let my saying no drag down your ego, Logan." She smiled bitterly. "I thought I was still in love with him, and the whole time I was with him the other night, I wanted it to be you."
With that last surprise, she walked away, leaving him alone in the dark, frigid air.
Three weeks went by before Mike tried to contact her. He was angry with himself because he wanted to see her again. His pride told him he should just cut his losses, but another part of him told him he was an idiot if he didn't try again. The first time he tried to contact her, he came up with an excuse to drop by her office. The secretary, Gina Boccaccio, told him regretfully that Agent Falconetti was in Denver until further notice. Mike eyed the pretty agent with the tumbling red curls and grinned. He'd talked to her several times on the phone during the Minderherst case. Mike perched on the edge of Gina's desk. "So you know what she thinks of me?" he asked teasingly, giving her his best smile.
Gina sat back, eyeing him with knowing eyes. "She thinks you have a nice ass," she said dryly, laughing when his eyes widened. "Seriously? She thinks you're smart and brash and sexy and very good at your job. And she thinks you're not her type."
Mike grinned. "What do you think?"
Gina laughed. "I think you're probably just what she needs," she replied. "Don't give up on her."
So he didn't. Two more weeks slid by. Late one afternoon, Mike slid open his desk drawer, looking for his tape recorder, and his eyes fell on the small, leather bound volume of poetry. Leaning back in his chair, he loosened his blue and green plaid tie and opened the book at random, reading.
How sweet all things would seem
Were we in that kind land to live together
And there love slow and long,
There love and die among
Those scenes that image you, that sumptuous weather.
Drowned suns that glimmer there
Through cloud-disheveled air
Move me with such a mystery as appears
Within those other skies
Of your treacherous eyes
When I behold them shining through their tears.
There, there is nothing else but grace and measure,
Richness, quietness, and pleasure . . .
Slowly, he closed the book, staring at it where it lay on his desk. He rubbed a hand over his eyes, pinching at the bridge of his nose, thinking. Richness, quietness, and pleasure. All these things he associated with Falconetti. He had to give it one more shot. Something told him she'd be worth it.
Apartment of Special Agent Caitlin Falconetti
New York City
Saturday 11:06 a.m.
Caitlin shoved the lemon oil and her dusting rag under the sink and washed her hands. The doorbell rang as she was drying them, and she brushed her hair off her face on the way to the door. She opened the door to find Mike Logan standing in the hallway. With the warm, wet weather, he'd exchanged the familiar leather coat for a gray raincoat, and Caitlin stared at him for a moment, suppressing the surge of gladness that ran through her. She wasn't supposed to be happy just to see him again. She was supposed to be forgetting about him, about kissing him and wanting more. "Logan? What are you doing here?"
Mike held up the book of poetry. "Returning this," he grinned crookedly. "You left it in my desk."
"Oh," Caitlin murmured, taking the book and running her fingers over the smooth leather binding. "Thank you."
Mike shrugged carelessly. "I've got to go. Phil's waiting downstairs in the car."
Disappointment rose in her. He wasn't here to see her again; his only purpose was to return her book. His interest in her had died with her refusal to sleep with him. "Well, goodbye, then."
"Later, Falconetti," Mike grinned, and then he was gone.
Caitlin moved to the bookshelf, intending to return the book to its spot. Something stopped her, a familiar little voice. Open it, the little voice whispered, and Caitlin flipped the book open. It fell open where someone had placed a makeshift bookmark, a folded slip of paper. Intrigued, Caitlin lifted it out, unfolding it to find a single ticket to the next Yankees game, against the Texas Rangers. Frowning, she read the words scrawled on the sheet of paper, recognizing Mike's handwriting. I'm sorry, it read. For everything. Join me? Mike.
Smiling, Caitlin folded the ticket back into the note and tucked it into her pocket, sliding the book back onto the shelf.
Malloy's Bar and Grill
New York City
Friday 11:37 p.m.
After all the effort it had taken to get the damn tickets, he missed the game. A jealous boyfriend had gone nuts and shot not only his girlfriend, but three of her coworkers as well. He and Phil had spent the evening taking witness statements, and when he got back to the precinct, the game was over. The Yankees had lost, three to one, and Mike figured he had lost, too.
Shoulders slumping wearily, Mike walked into Malloy's, the pub where many of the two-seven's officers went for a drink after work. He stopped just inside the door, surprised. The brunette sitting at the bar, sipping a glass of white wine, had legs just made for wrapping around a man's waist. Mike grinned and approached her, sliding onto the stool next to hers. "Nice night. You here alone?"
She smiled. "Yes, it is. And yes, I am."
Mike shook his head, face serious. "What the hell is a beautiful woman like you doing all alone in a place like this?"
"Well, I had a date. And he never showed up," she explained, just as seriously, although humor danced in emerald green eyes.
Mike nodded sagely. "I see. He's an idiot." He accepted a beer from the bartender and took a long swallow before turning back to her. "So . . . is he an idiot?"
She shook her head, running a slender finger around the edge of her wineglass. "No, he's not an idiot. He's a cop. He probably had a case come up."
"So, you should probably give him another chance," Mike observed.
Caitlin smiled, letting her hair slide forward to cover her face before shooting him an amused glance. "You know, I was just thinking the same thing."