Dance With Me
Author:Hayden Braeburn

chapter NINE


Saturday dawned bright, especially when a room was primarily windows. Kat threw an arm over her eyes. She might not be much of a morning person, but this was ridiculous. She felt Mason trying to hide his laughter behind her and caught him with an elbow. “What? It's bright.”

“The sun will do that,” Mason joked through a laugh.

She rolled off the couch. She was happy to hear him laughing, even if it was at her expense. “If we can't sleep in a bed anymore, we're going to have to get some heavier curtains.”

His laughter ended abruptly. “Yeah, I guess we will,” he agreed, his tone somber.

Dammit. “I didn't mean to—” she began.

He cut her off. “I know.” He rolled off the couch himself then, padding on bare feet to the master bathroom.

Kat stood rooted to the floor. She hadn't meant to make light of the situation, but it was barely seven in the morning and she'd been nearly blinded by the sun! Consigning herself to the fact she was fully awake, she took care of her own business and went to work making breakfast. Coffee, that's what she needed. Good strong coffee might keep her from stepping on another landmine.

Mason stood beneath the shower spray for what seemed like hours. He'd taken a long, hot shower as soon as they arrived home, but he couldn't wash away the damage done. His wrists and ankles bore angry red marks, the hair missing in wide swaths. His abdomen carried a long, shallow cut where the scissors had scored when Dylan Black had tackled him, and his ass was sore from multiple jabs with a needle. Add to that the IV lines and he was a mess. A mess who couldn't even make love to his own fiancee. A mess who had allowed himself to be kidnapped by a tiny woman. A mess who had almost been raped. He beat his fists against the pristine white tile. How had he let this happen? Why hadn't he done something after Melanie was essentially poisoned?

Kat heard the thumping from the bathroom and sprinted across the kitchen and through the living room. Had he fallen?

She poked her head in the bathroom. “Mason, are you okay?”

“No,” he answered, his voice raw. “I'm sorry.”

“You're sorry?” she echoed. “You have nothing to be sorry for.”

“I knew she was off. I should've done something. I should have said something.”

There was a pause and the swish of clothing hitting the floor before Kat opened the glass door and let herself in. “Carter said something the other day that is true. You can't hold yourself accountable for other people's mental illnesses.” She wrapped him in her arms. “It's not your fault.”

“But—”

She stopped him with a kiss. “It's not. Now, come have breakfast with me.”

“I don't deserve you.”

She grinned. “Maybe not, but you've got me anyway.” She shrugged into a short terry cloth robe. “Come on before the frittata gets cold.”

Gorgeous, understanding, and she could cook, too. “I am a lucky man.”

~*~

Reid Caufield glanced at his unlikely partner. Never would he expect to be conducting an interview with his Lieutenant, but that's what he found himself doing. “Miss O'Hara, I know you've done this already, but can you tell me about yesterday?” he asked Mason Everett's assistant.

Kelly nodded, sending her bright red ringlets bouncing. “Of course. She came by before Mase...er...Mr. Everett arrived and told me she had an appointment.”

“Did she?” Ian Carpenter asked.

She shook her head. “Nope. She made a stink about her assistant Drew making one, and demanded she be let into wait.” She held up her hands. “I didn't know she was planning on hurting him.”

The Lieutenant's face softened. “We know you didn't. Please, go on.”

“I guess Mr. Everett arrived when I was over at the coffee shop—I always go at quarter till eight—and when I got back to my desk he wasn't there.” She played with one long fingernail. “I should've known something was wrong, but his phone and keys were on the desk and his jacket was on the chair. He doesn't usually leave his phone on his desk, but sometimes he does.”

“So nothing seemed too out of the ordinary to you?” Reid prompted.

She scrunched up her attractive features. “Not really, no. It wasn't until Cassidy came by that I began to worry. He's a busy man, but he didn't have appointments scheduled all day, and I hadn't seen him. We usually have a bit of a meeting over coffee before his day really starts.” She shook her head again and Reid almost laughed at the mesmerized look on his boss's face. “I wish I had known, ya know? Maybe he could've been saved earlier.”

Carpenter shut his eyes for a second before concluding the interview. “Thank you for your help, Miss O'Hara.” He pulled his card from his pocket, taking the time to add his personal cell number to the back. “Here's my card. If you think of anything you'd like to speak with me about, just give me a call.”

She smiled and tucked the card in her pocket. “I just might do that.”

“Did you just pick up a woman while investigating a case, sir?” Reid asked as they made their way across the parking lot at Tyler Central Banking.

“That I did. Live and learn.”

Reid chuckled. “I have a woman.”

“You put a diamond on her and everything.” He stopped mid-stride. “How is that other case?”

“Just got my ex mother-in-law tossed in jail for a night, we're no closer to finding the murderer, and I was granted emergency custody of Annie.”

“That won't impede this case.” It was a statement, not a question.

“Of course not,” Reid answered, hoping it was true.

~*~

Cassidy took a deep breath. She was nervous about talking to her own brother and that just wouldn't do. Dylan was sleeping for a few more hours, so she had made her way out to Mason's to apologize. Dylan might not think everything was her fault, and it maybe it wasn't, but the guilt was still there. She should have seen Priscilla's obsession, and she should have done something about it. She grimaced at her shaky hand as she reached for the doorbell, and forced herself to buck up. She was a prosecutor, she ate criminals for breakfast. She could talk to her own flesh and blood.

Mason opened the door, surprised to find his sister on his doorstep. “I thought you were staying with Dylan?”

She smiled. “I am, but he's sleeping and I need to see you.” She peered around Mason. “Kat, too.”

At the mention of her name, Kat appeared behind her fiance. “Well, let's not stand around in the foyer. Come on in,” she said with a gesture to follow.

Kat hoped Cassidy was okay. She looked like she hadn't slept, and she probably hadn't eaten, either. Instead of sitting when they reached the living room, she headed into the kitchen. “Coffee, Cassidy? Or tea? Maybe a banana, or a muffin, or I could heat up some frittata if you'd like?”

“You sound like my mother,” Cassidy replied with a shake of her head. “I'll take that coffee, and maybe a muffin, if it's no trouble.”

Kat went to work putting together a plate including two of the mentioned muffins, a banana and a tangerine. “Cream and sugar?”

Mason watched the byplay, completely enthralled. Kat had taken her role of hostess seriously, taking care of his overtired, overwhelmed sister with no hesitation. Just a few days ago he'd wanted to strangle Cassidy for her treatment—no that wasn't right—her apathy toward Kat, and now Kat was treating her as an honored guest.

Cassidy accepted the plate and mug with a watery smile. “You didn't need to go to any trouble for me.”

Kat tilted her head, studying the slightly older woman. “When did you last sleep? Or eat?” When Cassidy directed her gaze to the ceiling to think, she continued, “It was no trouble. I made those muffins yesterday when I was worried and had nothing to do. You need to eat.”

What she needed was a less understanding almost sister-in-law. How had she thought this woman was a drug dealer? “I'm sorry, Kat.”

Kat tilted her head the other way, her black hair swishing against the chair. “I don't blame you for doubting me.”

Cassidy's bittersweet chocolate eyes widened. “You don't?”

“Why wouldn't you doubt me? I am the daughter of a convicted felon, accused of a terrible crime, and we just met, what, a week ago?” Cassidy started to protest, but Kat rolled over her. “I respect you for doubting me, for looking after your brother.”

She might, but Mason hadn't, not in the slightest. “Now, wait a minute, Kat,” he said from his seat on the couch.

“No, you wait a minute,” Kat rebutted, fire in her blue eyes. “Your family loves you, and they're protective of you.”

“I jumped to conclusions,” Cassidy said.

“You were worried.”

Cassidy shook her head and turned her attention to Mason. “I went to Dad and asked him to stop you from marrying her.”

“What did Dad say?” Mason asked, a smirk on his face. If anyone had his back on this it would be his father.

“He told me you were a grown man, able to make your own decisions.” She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “He also told me he didn't think Kat was a drug dealer.”

“That's because I'm not.”

“I know. Priscilla planted the drugs, didn't she?” Mason pursed his lips so tightly they were white at the mention of Priscilla, she wished she hadn't said anything. “God, Mase, I am so sorry. She said she'd do anything to be with you, but I didn't think...” she trailed off.

These Everetts and their misplaced guilt. “It wasn't your fault, Cassidy, just as it wasn't Mason's fault,” Kat jumped in.

“If I had known, I could've done something,”

Kat shot a look at Mason. “Didn't we just have this conversation? You two are more alike than you realize.” She toyed with the pillow in her chair. “Even if you had said something, Priscilla is rich, and her family is powerful. What are the chances someone would have listened?”

“She poisoned Melanie,” Mason said.

“And you couldn't prove it,” Kat replied.

“No, but I still should have said something.”

“To whom? To me?” Cassidy asked. “I wouldn't have believed you. I would have asked if it was food poisoning or the flu or something.”

“Is Visine really even considered poison?” Kat asked.

Cassidy nodded. “It's bad stuff. It can even cause blindness and seizures.” She turned her dark eyes to her brother again. “She Visined your last girlfriend?”

“Yeah, she did. That's why you didn't know about Kat until this week.”

“You've been keeping the love of your life a secret for over a year because of Priscilla?” She stood then, gesturing wildly with her mug. “How?”

“Planning. Very careful planning.”

“I am the worst sister in history!” She placed the mug on the coffee table before taking the few steps necessary to reach her brother. “Please forgive me, Mase,” she pleaded when she wrapped him in a hug.

“Always.”

~*~

Drew Polanski rubbed his damp palms on his chinos. The two men sitting across the table from him were nothing if not intimidating, and he didn't even have anything to hide, not really. “Yessir, Ms. McClaren had been acting strange,” he answered.

“How so?” Reid asked.

“She asked if I was a hunter just the other day. Said she had a cat problem.”

The two detectives exchanged a look. “A cat problem?” This time Ian asked the question.

“Yeah. She wanted me to kill it, I think.” He shrugged. “I told her to call the ASPCA.”

Reid cracked a smile. “Good for you.”

“I wasn't about to kill an cat, feral or otherwise. I high-tailed it outta there after she came on to me, though. Another weird thing.”

“She came on to you? How so?”

“I think she just really wanted me to help.” He held up a hand. “I'm not a cheater. I love my girlfriend.”

Ian forced himself to keep a straight face. “No one thinks otherwise.”

Drew rubbed his hands on his thighs again. “Am I done now?”

Ian jerked his chin toward the door. “Sure thing.” He handed his card to the nervous young man. “Call me if you think of anything else.”

As soon as the door shut, Reid let out a laugh. “Wonder what he was hiding.”

“I'm betting it was pot,” Ian speculated. “Even if he had agreed to shoot Ms. Nemecek, he'd never have hit her.”

“Boy was shaking like a leaf. You believe his story?”

“I do.”

Reid pulled his notepad out of his pocket. “What day did Polanski say he was propositioned?”

“Two days ago.”

“So, after getting turned down by her assistant, she decided to take matters into her own hands?” Reid asked.

“It's looking that way. Miss Priss knew Everett's schedule. She conned her way into his office just before his assistant's break, knowing exactly how long Kelly would be gone and that there was a skeleton crew before eight in the morning,” Ian surmised.

“Right. She makes a stop at Night and Daze, changes clothes, drugs him again, then heads up to the park.”

“She changes again, this time into that barely there number, preps the new drug; what did Dr. Marquette call it?”

“Injectable viagra?” Ian offered with a banked laugh.

Reid didn't think rape was funny, but he ignored his boss's laugh anyway. “It had some scientific name, but that'll work,” Reid accepted before continuing, “only she doesn't get a chance because Everett freed himself right before everyone arrived.”

“Then, bang, bang, tackle, bang, bang, tackle.”

How the hell did Ian Carpenter make it to Lieutenant? “Right.” He stood. “The case is solid. With Chris and Jason's accounts, the evidence collected at the Night and Daze along with the park, and the testimonies of Black and O'Dell—not to mention that of both assistants—it's a done deal.”

“You sure?”

Had he been listening? “I am.”

“Take care of it,” Carpenter ordered. “I have a date with a stacked redhead.”

“Sir?” Reid questioned.

“What?”

“Are you sure you want to go out with a witness before trial?”

“Are you questioning my integrity?”

“Of course not, sir, but Peters will.”

“I just wanted to fuck her,” Carpenter muttered as he quickly composed a text.

“She'll keep.”

“She'd better.”

Nice. Had his boss always been this big an asshole?