Second Chances

 

Autor: anmodo

 

Author’s Note: This is a sequel to my story, Broken Trust Broken Hearts. When I originally wrote this story, I wasn’t crazy about the case file that I set up around the story. However, I did like the back story for Danny and my original character Anna Ridley. So if you do go back and read Broken Trust Broken Hearts, you may just want to focus on the back story flashbacks (in italics). Basically, Danny dated Anna Ridley in college. They fell in love, but then he left her because his drinking kept hurting her. After he left her, he finally found the strength to go to AA. Anna didn’t give him another chance after he got sober because he confessed to her that he cheated on her while he was drunk. A missing person’s case brought them together eight years later. They both realized that they still had strong feelings for each other and decided to try dating again. This story picks up right after Broken Trust Broken Hearts. This isn’t exactly a case file, but it may involve a cold missing person’s case, so all the WAT characters will be present.

(Thanks to Mariel for all your help!)

 

Last paragraph from Broken Trust Broken Hearts:

A few hours later, as the sun started to rise, Danny woke up. They'd shifted in the night, so now she was curled against him with her head on his chest. Her hand was lying on his stomach underneath his t-shirt. For a few seconds, Danny imagined it was eight years ago. How he wished he could live that time over again. He would've stopped drinking the moment he met her. But that hadn't happened, and they were here now. And she belonged to someone else. Danny felt sick at the thought of someone else holding her like this, but he only had himself to blame.

He was absently playing with her hair, as she slowly woke up. She looked up at him not quite believing he was still there. She pulled herself up on the pillow next to his so she could face him. "Thank you."

Danny looked at her skeptically. "For what?"

"For staying. For being here."

Danny gently caressed her face. "I don't want to be anywhere else."

"I never stopped loving you. Even when I got involved with Michael, I never stopped."

"Me, either," Danny replied. "But I can't ask you to walk away from him for me. I've changed…I promise I have, but it doesn't change the things I did. The lies I told you. I understand that you can never trust me."

Anna looked down as a tear escaped her eye. Those memories of Danny's deceit still haunted her. "That wasn't you, Danny. You were sick, and you got help. I can't keep blaming you for that. I know you suffered so much for so long, and you were just trying to forget," she said as she gently traced her finger along the scar across his stomach.

"So what does this mean?" Danny asked as he looked in her eyes.

"It means that I called Michael yesterday and told him it was over. It means I want to wake up like this with you for the rest of my life."

"Are you sure?"

Instead of answering, Anna leaned in to kiss Danny. Danny pulled her close, and kissed her deeply. He never wanted to let her go ever again.

As Danny kissed her, Anna started to feel overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by her feelings for him…overwhelmed by the way he made her feel. For years, she'd convinced herself that she was over him…that she didn’t need him anymore. But being with him again…she realized she needed him like she needed oxygen. The thought of that started to scare her. As she felt his hand slide under her slip, she gently pulled away from him. “Danny…I…I…I…”

Before she could finish, they heard the shrill ring of his cell phone. He sighed and lightly kissed her forehead before rolling away from her to answer it.

“Taylor,” he answered in a slightly annoyed tone. “Yes…yes…no…I planned on taking care of it…When is he being arraigned?...Okay…okay…I’ll be there. No problem.”

Danny looked at the clock on the nightstand as he closed his phone. Then he lay back on the pillow and glanced over at Anna. “That was my boss,” he said in a disappointed tone.

Anna nodded, but didn’t say anything. She was almost thankful for the interruption.

“Angela’s boss is being arraigned this morning. Jack wants to make sure that we can nail him for abusing Angela, so I need to get over to the courthouse to meet with the DA before he is arraigned.”

At the mention of Angela, Anna’s heart sank. “I still can’t believe she’s dead. I can’t believe that I couldn’t help her.”

Danny took hold of her hand and kissed it lightly. “It’s not your fault. Her boss will pay for hurting her…I can guarantee you that. And you can probably help put him away. The DA will need you to testify to what Angela told you.”

“I’ll do whatever I can,” she said as she pulled up to kiss him one more time before he got up. “Can we get together and talk tonight?”

“Absolutely,” he replied as he rose from the bed. “I’ll call you later, and we’ll make plans.”

Anna smiled at the thought of making plans and dating Danny again. Just the thought of spending time with him made her feel happy despite the sadness she still felt about Angela.

After being interrupted by his cell phone call that morning, Danny had spent an extra frustrating day at work completing paperwork on the Angela Simpson case. It had seemed like an eternity until it was time to meet Anna for dinner that night. They'd decided to meet at a quiet, Chinese restaurant, Danny already planning to casually suggest they order their dinners to go so they could talk alone, and eventually continue what they had started that morning.

He breezed into the restaurant to find Anna already there. She took his breath away sitting there sipping hot tea, intently focused on reading the menu. Her dark blonde hair was down, just brushing her shoulders. She was a wearing a light lavender cardigan over a sexy black slip dress that showed off her legs. Barely halfway to the table and Danny was already thinking about getting her out of the dress as soon as possible. “Is it possible that you are more beautiful now than ever before?”

Anna looked up to receive Danny’s charming smile. She returned the smile and shook her head. “Please…Danny…I’ve just learned how to get the most out of what little I have with age. When we were in college, I was hopeless.”

He leaned down to kiss her. She'd forgotten how much passion he could muster for just a hello kiss. Danny Taylor hadn't seemed to know the meaning of a quick kiss hello even when they'd dated previously. He held her face and whispered. “You were adorably sexy then, and you’re even more adorably sexy now.” And then he took a seat adjacent to her.

“I think between the both of us, you are the one who is aging the most gracefully, Agent Taylor.”

“I try…but I think it has more to do with the gun and badge. Drives the girls mad…,” he said before he really thought about it. As soon as the words came out, he knew it was inappropriate given their history. “Sorry…I…that was a stupid thing to say.”

Anna smiled and shook her head. “This seemed much easier this morning, didn’t it? Danny…I don’t want to look back, and I don’t want you to not be who you are because you think I’m holding on to the past. I promise I’m not. I wouldn’t be here if I was.”

He nodded in silent agreement, and then they locked eyes for a few moments until he finally broke the silence. “Speaking of this morning, I was thinking…we could order to go,” he suggested in a seductive, low voice.

His stare and the sexy tone of his voice very nearly made her melt. Her first instinct was to agree and find the first cab back to her place. But she’d had a whole day to think it through, and the hard light of day had brought cold, hard realizations that she couldn’t ignore. “There’s nothing I want more than to go home with you and just get lost…but I’ve been thinking…”

He tried to hide the disappointment in his eyes as he sat back in his chair. “Thinking about what?”

“About taking it slow…about not jumping head first into this. I was serious this morning when I said we needed to talk.”

“I know. I know you were serious. And I fully intended on talking tonight. I was prepared to talk your ear off, but this morning you said you wanted to wake up with me every morning. Did I do something to change your mind in the last twelve hours?” he asked curiously.

“No. I…I…I do want you. I want to be with you, but this is too much too soon. I feel like I am losing control of everything, and I don’t want to make the same mistakes again. I need this to last…because I don’t know if I could live through losing you again.”

“You can’t lose me…I won’t let you. I promise,” Danny said as he kissed her forehead and caressed her cheek. “But if you need us to take it slow, then that’s what we’ll do. At the very least, I owe you that.” He gave her a reassuring smile and kissed her again.

She returned his kiss and then finally pulled away. “You’re the best. You know that?”

“Yeah…I know. I can’t really help it. It’s like in my DNA or something,” he responded jokingly.

They had a wonderful night that night and for several nights after. When they'd dated eight years ago, Anna had always had a nervous feeling in her stomach whenever they went out because Danny always drank and usually got drunk. Out of habit, that nervous feeling returned when they went on dates, but the feeling quickly went away when Danny ordered water or a Coke. She had never experienced Danny when he was sober all the time, and she was falling in love with him even more because of it. It was all she could do not to invite Danny up to her apartment when they kissed goodnight outside her front door after their dates.

While she was no longer insecure about his drinking, she was still a bit bothered when Danny encountered other women. She was sure he didn’t he do it intentionally, but it seemed to her like he flirted with every woman he came in contact with. Anna knew she was hyper-sensitive. She knew that Danny was just a naturally charismatic person, but it still bothered her.

One Sunday morning, they met for brunch at a coffee house by his apartment. They’d been dating a little less than a month and were still in the process of taking it slow. The sexual tension between them was almost agonizing. Danny could barely keep his hands and lips off of her.

“You’d think we hadn’t seen each other for weeks, Danny,” Anna said teasingly as she shivered feeling his lips on her neck.

“Tell me about it. It feels like a week since last night,” he whispered in her ear.

“You mean when we attempted to take in a play, and you kept falling asleep,” she said with a giggle. “If I didn’t know better I would think you did it on purpose…just so we would get kicked out and go back to my place.”

“Hey…I tried,” he answered finally pulling away from her and taking a sip of coffee. “I worked at least 75 hours last week…and I was trying to be a good boyfriend by going to that play. Is it my fault that it was mind-numbingly boring? Besides, I had a much better time after we got back to your place.”

Anna smiled at the thought of them making out like teenagers on her sofa. “The least you could have done was not snore…”

He returned her smile. “Sorry about that.”

Anna shook her head. “No…I’m sorry. I should have planned a quiet evening at my place…so you could have gotten some rest.”

“Now that sounds like heaven. That’s my kind of date.”

“I know…,” she said as she leaned in to kiss him.

“Oh my gosh…Danny? Danny Taylor? Is that you?” a woman called out from across the café.

Anna and Danny looked up to find a tall red-head approaching them. “Hey…,” Danny responded hesitantly.

Anna could tell from the look on his face that he couldn’t quite place the red-head, but he was trying to remember.

“Don’t you remember? It’s me…Kimberly…We met at that club called Quest…it was only a year ago. And as I recall…you didn’t even drink…”

Danny nodded his head in recognition. “Of course I remember you. It’s just way too early in the morning for me. How are you, Kimberly?” he asked full of charm as he stood up from the table on polite instinct.

As Danny greeted the attractive woman with his disarming smile, Anna felt the nervous feeling return. She couldn’t even comprehend what they were saying to each other. All she could think about was whether or not this woman was a former lover. She didn’t even hear when he introduced them. “Kim, this is my girlfriend, Anna. Anna…this is Kim.”

She was only able to focus when Danny touched her shoulder. She looked up at Kimberly and responded. “I’m sorry. Guess it’s a little early for me as well,” Anna replied quickly. “Nice to meet you.”

“So you’re the lucky girl that finally tamed this guy,” Kim said playfully. Anna thought she heard a hint of jealousy in her voice. “I never thought it would happen.”

Anna just smiled uneasily and glanced at Danny who all of the sudden looked uncomfortable. “It was good to see you, Kim,” Danny said trying to conclude the encounter.

“Right,” Kim replied. “You, too, Danny…and nice to meet you,” she said as she looked Anna up and down and then walked away.

They were silent for a few moments after Kimberly left. Neither one was sure what to say. Danny finally spoke. “I’m sorry….”

Anna shook her head. “It’s not…,” she started but then bit her lip. “How do you know her?”

Danny sighed. “I…um…I met her at a club…about a year ago.”

“So you still go out…I mean…even though you don’t drink anymore…you can still go out…and…”

Danny sat back in his chair. “I don’t go out very often, and I never drink, but sometimes…with work and…everything…sometimes I go out just to blow off some steam…”

“…and have a one-night stand?” she asked without thinking.

“No…no…that’s not it…,” he answered shaking his head.

“So you slept with her more than once?” Anna asked trying not to sound hurt or accusatory, but failing miserably.

Danny raked a hand over his face. “Are we really going to do this? Do you really want to know? I thought…I thought we were starting with a clean slate? Are you going to tell me about the men you’ve been with? Because Anna…honestly…there isn’t anyone right now and there hasn’t been anyone…even casually…in months. I’m sorry that this happened today, but you have nothing to feel threatened about.”

“To be honest, it crossed my mind. I mean I have baggage, too. There is Michael, but he’s in Boston and really, I think we both knew it wasn’t right even from the start. And as far as other men…I can count them on one hand. I know you can’t say the same thing and the thought of encountering them on a regular basis…”

“Look I can’t promise that it will never happen again, but I’m with you now. The things that I did when we were together before…I never would have done them if I wasn’t drinking. And I’m not drinking now…you know that.”

“I know.”

Danny nodded and then smirked a little. “I guess it’s a good thing we are taking it slow.”

Anna nodded. “I want this to work, Danny. I’m doing the best I can.”

“I know. You are safe with me…you know. I’m not going to hurt you again,” he said as he took her hand in his and interlocked their fingers.

She leaned in and caressed his stubbled cheek with her other hand. “I know I am,” she responded.

While they continued to date, they took the time to get to know each other more. When they'd been together in college, Danny had told her very little. He'd tried to protect her from everything. This time, she insisted that he be more open with her. So he'd told her a little about his childhood, his parents and his brother. He'd mentioned that his brother was out of prison, but had also said that they didn't really speak...which was true. Danny hadn't spoken to his brother since he'd got out a few months ago. In turn, Anna had told Danny about her engagement to Michael. She'd told him that they were great friends, and that both had wanted something more to grow from that, but nothing ever really had. She also told him about her mother dying of cancer a little over two years ago. A big reason she'd come back to New York was to be closer to her widowed father, but he had quickly become involved with a younger woman and had married her. Danny had laughed when Anna called her the step-mistress.

They literally spent hours just talking about everything. They would stay up until the wee hours of the morning and fall asleep fully clothed in each other’s arms. Danny hadn’t been in a relationship that didn’t involve sex since he'd met Anna in college. At first, he was more than frustrated, but eventually he found it very comfortable and safe. For the first time in his life, he felt like he was building a relationship and not just passing time until he eventually left.He was surprised by how right it felt. When they'd been together before, in the back of his mind, he'd always known his drinking would drive her away…which was why he had been reluctant to be open with her. This time, every thing was working as it should.

After dating a little over two months, they found themselves kissing passionately on her couch in her loft. This had become their routine after a night out. They made out for at least an hour before finally breaking away from each other. Danny started to move away from her when she grabbed his arm. “This is crazy…” she said breathlessly.

“What’s crazy?” he asked as he looked down at her with a confused expression.

“Let’s go to bed,” she ordered seductively.

Danny smiled as he put his hand on the small of her back and pulled her to him. “I thought we were taking it slow?”

“We are. We were. But I can’t anymore. I’m not sure what I’m trying to prove anymore, but I’m pretty sure I am driving us both crazy.”

“I’m fine. I don’t have a problem with taking it slow,” he said in a teasing tone.

“Yeah?” she asked as she ran her fingers through his hair and kissed his bottom lip. “So…you don’t want to have sex with me?”

Danny kissed her deeply and finally pulled away. “I want it on record that you caved first. This was all your idea and you caved first,” he said with a playful smirk.

“Duly noted. Let’s go bed,” she said pulling him up as they both laughed playfully.

During their months of taking it slow, Anna had often thought of what it would finally be like to be with him again. Of course, she remembered what it was like when they'd dated in college, but she'd forgotten how connected she'd felt when she had sex with Danny. After all the years a part, they were both different. She had definitely changed. When they were first together, it had been her first time. This time, she was more confident and self-assured. He was gentle with her, but full of passion and want. He made her feel things she hadn’t felt in a long time. And she made him feel loved and needed.

Just as Anna had anticipated, sleeping together took their relationship to a while new level. She hadn't wanted to spend a minute without him.

A couple of weeks later, Danny was at Anna's loft. They had just spent another blissful evening together. They had had a quiet dinner before retiring to the bedroom. After making love, neither one had wanted to fall asleep right away. They had just talked and laughed about silly things. Even after being together for over two months, they still wanted to savor every moment together.

It had been late before they'd finally fallen asleep in each other's arms, but Danny woke up at 4AM, as was his habit. He had to go to his place before going in to work each morning. As quietly as possible, he rose from the bed, gathered his clothes, and went into the bathroom.

Minutes later, he walked out of the bathroom to find Anna standing in front of the bay window. She was wrapped in a pale green sheet. He quietly walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around waist as he nuzzled her neck. “Sorry, baby. Did I wake you?” he whispered in her ear.

“No. I was awake. I feel it…as soon as you move away from me…I feel it,” she said as she turned in his arms to face him. “Don’t go yet.”

“I have work,” he replied but was already fairly certain he would stay.

“Just stay a little while longer,” she said right before kissing him and leading him back to her bed.

Danny didn’t argue. He figured he could be a little late. After they made love again, Danny was about to roll away from her, but Anna stopped him so that he would stay on top of her. “I don’t want you to go.”

Danny smiled as he looked down in her eyes. “I don’t want to leave, baby…but I have to go to work.”

“Move in with me,” she pleaded.

Danny looked confused. “You said you wanted to take it slow. Moving in is definitely a fast step.”

“I told you that sleeping together would make things different.”

Danny smiled. “Sleeping together isn’t the same as moving in together.”

“It’s pretty close as far as I’m concerned. I hate it when you leave. I want to wake up with you…everyday.”

“I want that, too, but it is a big step.”

“You don’t think you’re ready?” she asked searching his eyes.

Danny took a deep breath. He knew it wasn’t about her. He knew that it was more about being able to completely share his life with someone. “Listen…we can talk about it…okay?

She looked down and sighed in slight disappointment.

He tilted her chin up to meet her eyes. “I love you. Don’t doubt that.”

She didn’t doubt it. She knew he loved her, but part of her felt unsure of his commitment to her. His unwillingness to accept her invitation to move in just added to her little insecurities about their relationship.

Part of the reason that Anna wanted Danny to move in was because his job took him away from her so often. Their dates and evenings together were often interrupted or cancelled by emergency situations. Not to mention her job…as a rape crisis counselor, she was also used to getting late night calls that took her away from him. She'd often cursed both of their demanding jobs that took them away from each other so often, but she also knew what their jobs meant to them. She knew he loved his job because of the way he talked about it. He needed to do well in his job to give him meaning and purpose. When she'd dated Danny in college, he’d often been so negative and pessimistic, but now his job seemed to make him a more hopeful person. And for that, Anna was thankful.

One Friday afternoon, she was waiting to meet Danny in the lobby of the federal building when she heard her named called.

“Anna Ridley?” Samantha asked as she approached her.

“Yes…Samantha, right?” Anna asked remembering the slight jealousy she'd felt when she'd first met Samantha.

“Yes. How are you? I guess I haven’t seen you since….”

“Since Angela Simpson…” Anna said quietly.

“Right,” Sam replied sadly. “Have you kept in touch with her family?”

“I talk to her sister. They are holding up remarkably well. I think they felt like they'd lost her long before she died. It was a tragic situation.”

“I guess we can take solace in knowing that her boss is doing time for hurting her. Your deposition really helped.”

Anna had testified to what Angela had told her about her abusive boss. The DA had been able to get him to plead to six months in jail instead of going to trial.

“I guess it’s comforting to know he can’t hurt anyone anytime soon.”

“Sometimes we have to take comfort in the little victories,” Samantha responded. “So are you here to meet Danny?”

“Yes…uh…he said he would try to get away at around six. I’m a little early.”

“You know what…I think he is just finishing paperwork. Why don’t you come up with me and let’s see if we can’t spring him early.”

“I don’t want to interrupt…”

“No interruption. Something tells me he’ll be very happy to see you. We wrapped up kind of tough case this morning.”

Anna smiled as she followed Sam to the elevators. It made her feel good to know that his co-workers knew they were together. Sam guided her over to the bullpen area where Danny was hunched over the conference table with Martin.

“Look who I found,” Sam exclaimed.

Danny and Martin both looked up. “Hey…Did I lose track of time?” he asked as he stood up and looked at his watch.

“No. I’m early. I guess I am ready for the weekend. I didn’t want to interrupt, but Sam…”

”You’re fine,” Danny said as he leaned down to give her a kiss on the cheek. “I’m almost ready….”

“You’re more than almost ready,” Martin chimed in. “You can get out here. I’ll finish this…”

“Are you sure?” Danny asked already reaching for his coat.

“Yeah…go ahead,” Martin replied motioning toward the table. “I got this. It will only take me a little while longer.”

“Big plans?” Samantha asked with a smile.

Danny and Anna exchanged lighthearted glances. “It’s actually a surprise,” Anna responded.

“And I hate surprises…” Danny said shaking his head.

“Danny just hates it when he’s the last to know anything,” Samantha responded with a laugh.

Anna smiled uncomfortably as she saw Samantha touch Danny's arm as they exchanged playful stares.

“You may have a point, Sam,” he answered happily and then looked to Martin. “Thanks, man. I owe you. You guys have a good weekend. I’ll see you Monday.”

“Bye,” Anna said as she took Danny's hand and followed him out of the office.

As Martin and Sam watched them walk to the elevator, Sam commented, “I’ve never seen him that happy.”

Martin looked confused. “Danny? Unless he’s pissed about something, isn’t he always pretty happy?”

“He always acts likes he happy, but most of the time…it’s just an act. Lately, he looks like he is at peace. They are lucky to have found each other again. It gives me hope…”

“Hope?” he asked with a confused glance.

Samantha started to explain, but then stopped. She just gave Martin a shy smile and walked back to her desk. She didn’t want to say it out loud, but seeing Danny with Anna Ridley made her think that maybe someday she could have another chance with Jack. They gave her hope that it was never too late.

Danny and Anna went to her place first to pick up her overnight bag. And then they took a cab to his place to get his stuff together. As they walked up the stairs, Anna said, "See...we'd be gone by now if you just lived with me."

He smirked and shook his head. "What? You don't like fighting cross-town traffic on a Friday night? I've actually been thinking about the whole moving in concept..."

"Have you, really?" she asked in a excited tone.

"Don't get too excited. I've been thinking that I probably don't even make enough to pay for the association fees. You really want a free-loader for a live-in boyfriend?" he asked as they continued to climb the stairs.

"I don't pay my association fees..."

Danny laughed. "Oh...that explains it. Well, I definitely can't live off your father..."

"I could live with you."

He laughed lightly again. "Have you actually looked around my tiny apartment? One floor to go, and then you'll be reminded as to why you will want to recant that statement," he responded and then quickly changed the subject. "So we are driving to this place?”

“Yep,” Anna answered slightly out of breath.

“It’s already 7…so we can’t be going that far away. Whose car are we taking?”

“I’m not saying another word,” she replied as they entered his small studio. “You know I’ve never actually been up here long enough to look around. We are always in such a hurry to get back to my place…”

“There’s not much to see here,” Danny said as he grabbed his duffle bag and started to fill it. "Still thinking you want to move in..."

"Well...we'd definitely get closer if we lived here," she replied as she walked around the small living and sleeping area. When he went into the bathroom to gather his toiletries, Anna tried to take a closer look around. “You’re right. There is really nothing to see,” she called out.

She heard Danny let out an audible smirk. “Sorry to disappoint you…”

“You could at least have a picture or two…”

“That is a good idea. Why don’t you give me a picture of you?” he said as he came out of the bathroom.

“That’s not what I mean…”

“I know. I’ll look around for some family pictures, but I don’t have much. I think I have one at the office,” he responded knowing from previous conversations that she was curious about his family.

Anna looked up at him sadly and caressed his cheek. “We’ll take some pictures this weekend.”

“So we are going some place scenic?” Danny asked deflecting her sympathy with a lighthearted smile.

Anna sighed. “No interrogations tonight. You’ll know soon enough. Are you ready?”

“Yep. Let’s roll,” Danny said as he opened his door and guided her out. As they walked down the steps of Danny’s front entrance, he asked, “So how are we getting to this surprise location?”

“A car is meeting us,” Anna replied looking at her watch. “Should be here in a couple of minutes,” she said as she took a seat on the second to last step.

Danny put their bags on the sidewalk and sat down next to her. “If I guess where it is, will you confirm?” he asked in an official manner.

“You don’t really want to take the fun out of this for me, do you?”

He smiled as he looked at her innocent expression. “No…I don’t. But we’re not doing anything outdoorsy, are we? You know me well enough to know that I don’t do camping or hiking or…”

Anna nodded emphatically. “Oh…I know. I would never subject you to such conditions. It will only be pampering and luxury for us…all weekend.”

“Then I don’t care where we go…as long as I am with you…and at least more than half the time is spent naked…” he said as he leaned in to kiss her.

Anna rolled her eyes as she blushed, but returned his kiss. “You really have a one-track mind…you know that…”

“I can’t help it. I think about you plus a weekend getaway…and my mind just goes there,” he replied continuing to kiss her.

As they got lost in the kiss, they heard a man clear his throat in front of them. They both looked up startled. Anna then looked down in embarrassment and was surprised when Danny addressed the man.

“What are you doing here?” he asked as he stood up.

Anna looked up to get a better look at the man. He was about Danny’s height and looked vaguely familiar to her.

“Relax, Danny. Is that any way to greet your brother?”

Anna stood up when she realized it was Rafael, Danny’s brother. She could almost feel Danny tense up as he looked at his brother.

“I’m just surprised to see you. I didn’t know you even knew where I lived.”

“My lawyer knew. She told me. I figured this is the best shot I had of talking to you…since you haven’t returned any of my calls.”

“I’ve been busy. Work is…”

“Yeah. I’m sure things are real busy,” Raffi responded at he looked Anna up and down.

When he made eye contact with her, Anna smiled. “I’m Anna Ridley…a friend of Danny’s. It’s nice to meet you…finally.”

“You, too. I’m impressed that you even know about me,” Rafael responded in a surprised tone.

“Of course, I do,” Anna said quietly.

“So what do you want, Raffi?” Danny asked impatiently.

“Well…I…uh…I wanted to thank you again for helping me like you did. That meant a lot to Sylvia…and Nicky…and me. And…and…”

A car horn interrupted him. “That’s our car,” Anna said. “Um…I’ll have him load our bags and tell him to wait a few minutes,” she said as she walked over to the car.

Raffi looked over at the expensive-looking town car. “Wow…I’m impressed. Either they are paying Feds really well, or you have a rich girlfriend.”

Danny rolled his eyes. “We’re going away for the weekend. It’s just a car service.”

“You’ve come a long way, Danny boy. There weren’t too many girls like that where we came from. I’m surprised you would even tell her about me. Does she know I did time?”

Danny nodded. “I’ve told her everything. She understands…She knows I’m nothing like you,” he said knowing it was way too harsh, but still feeling apprehensive about letting Raffi in.

Raffi smirked a little and shook his head. Danny still looked at him with mistrust in his eyes. “Good. I’m happy you’re doing so well. Listen…maybe this wasn’t such a great idea…coming here, but Sylvia wanted me to ask you to come to our wedding. It’s a week from Saturday.”

Anna returned to them just in time to hear the end of Raffi’s invitation. “Who’s getting married?”

“Me…and Sylvia, my fiancée,” Raffi answered. “We figure we have a nine year old kid. It’s time to make it official.”

Anna smiled. “Congratulations. That’s really great,” she said as she glanced at Danny who had an annoyed expression on his face. “You said a week from Saturday?”

“Right. At St. Mathew’s in Queens…2 p.m. It’s nothing fancy…just Sylvia’s family and friends.”

“We’ll be there,” Anna said quickly and then immediately regretted it when she saw Danny’s face. “I mean we’ll try to make it.”

“Great. You guys have a great weekend,” Raffi said as he backed away from them. “Hopefully, we’ll see you next week.”

“Bye,” Anna replied with a slight wave. When Raffi was out of ear shot, she asked, “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. Let’s just go. It’s getting late,” Danny said as he walked quickly to the waiting car.

Anna followed and slid into the car first as Danny held the door for her. He got in beside her and motioned to the driver that they were ready to go. Anna knew she shouldn’t push it, but couldn’t help it. “You don’t want to go to your brother’s wedding?”

Danny raked a hand over his face and hair. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Anna bit her lip, but then asked, “If you’re still angry with him, then why did you testify for him?”

Danny shook his head. “I’m not angry. And just because I testified doesn’t mean I trust him. Too much has happened…too many things I can’t forget.”

“I’m sorry that I butted in like that. I just…he seemed happy to see you. And you of all people know that people can change…”

Danny looked at her sharply with wounded eyes. “I’m nothing like him.”

“I didn’t say that, Danny. I just said…”

“You said that people can change…like I changed. And it’s not the same thing. I am nothing like him.” he responded vehemently.

Anna could tell she had touched a very deep nerve. She didn’t want to ruin their weekend by continuing to irritate him. “I know you’re not. I shouldn’t have said anything. I’m sorry.”

Danny raked his hand through his hair as he looked away from her. “Can we just not talk about him?”

“We won’t. Let’s just focus on having a great weekend.”

“Okay,” he responded quietly.

“I planned on making you wear a blindfold and everything, but that was a silly idea,” she said self-consciously.

Danny looked at her sympathetically. He knew she didn’t mean to agitate him and he shouldn’t take it out on her. “It’s not silly,” he replied with a smile. “I’ll wear the blindfold.”

“You don’t have to. I know you don’t like surprises.”

“I like making you happy, so today I like surprises. Where’s the blindfold?”

She pulled it out of her purse and put it over his eyes, and then she took hold of his hand. “We have about an hour in the car.”

Danny gave her a mischievous smile. “A whole hour…in the back of a car with a blindfold on…, “he said taking her other hand. “I didn’t think you were into to this kind of thing…”

Anna rolled her eyes. “You wish…,” she said as she kissed him.

An hour later, they arrived at their destination and she guided him out of the car. “Any guesses?” she asked.

“We’re definitely by the ocean,” he said, as he smelled the sea air.

Anna leaned up and took off the blindfold. “Remember this place?”

Danny looked around and remembered it well. It was her parent’s summerhouse in the Hampton’s. She'd taken him there during the first and only summer they spent together. “Do I remember it? Of course, I do.”

“That was and still is the best weekend of my life,” Anna said quietly as she took his hands. She looked in his eyes as she remembered that they'd made love for the first time that weekend.

“We’ll have to give you some new memories of this place,” he said as he leaned down to kiss her. “Thanks for bringing me back here.”

Their weekend started much much as it had eight years ago. Quickly losing themselves in each other, they took long walks on the beach and spent hours by the pool, their encounter with Rafael a distant memory.

Early Sunday afternoon, they were dreading going back to the city. They spent the morning by the pool and finally were trying to get the willpower to go inside to take showers and get ready to go. But they got sidetracked in the kitchen when they suddenly realized they were famished. They stood in front of the refrigerator in their bathing suits feeding each other strawberries and whipped cream.

Anna hopped up on the counter as Danny stood in front of her. She bit into another strawberry and then kissed him again. “This is quickly becoming one of the most erotic moments of my life.”

Danny smiled as he fed her another ripe strawberry. “How so?” he asked.

She returned his smile as she blushed. “We’re standing here…barely any clothes on…still sweaty from laying out…and you’ve got this sexy island boy tan going…and you’re feeding me fruit. It’s right out of a trashy romance novel.”

“Well since you put it that way…I guess I can see it. Do we really have to leave today?”

She shook her head. “You’re the one with the crazy job. I live in fear of your cell phone. I’ll stay here forever…if you want.”

“Just like this. We won’t ever get dressed again…we’ll just sleep on the beach all day…and get unreasonably dark…and then come in and make love all night.”

“You’ll get unreasonably dark…I’ll keep wearing the SPF50…and I hate to completely burst your bubble, but we are still in New York. We have to take it inside at some point.”

“We could run away to the Caribbean,” he said as he started to kiss her neck.

“Now you’re talking. I bet the FBI couldn’t even track you down there…no cell coverage. I’m starting to like this plan better and better,” she responded as she felt his hands roaming over body and his lips kissing a trail down her neck.

His fingers traced over her the bare skin on the small of back as he pulled her closer to the edge of the counter. She braced herself against him by grasping his shoulders. The playfulness that had started the encounter was quickly replaced by a burning intensity. Her breathing quickened and she moaned in pleasure when she felt his fingers tug at the tie of the bathing suit top while he focused his kissing on the curve of her neck. Once the top was discarded, his hands moved to her hips as his lips traveled down her neck. Danny loved the curve of her hips. It was obvious he paid special attention to that area because of the tiny finger-shaped marks that Anna became accustomed to seeing there.

“Oh my…” they heard a voice call out from behind them.

Danny quickly pulled away from Anna and turned his head, being careful not move away from her because of her vulnerable state. She looked over his shoulder to find her father’s startled wife. “Christi…um…,” she started but then didn’t know what to say.

Danny found a towel within his reach and handed it to Anna. When she was able to cover herself, she hopped off the counter as she and Danny faced the unwelcome visitor. “Your father and I didn’t know anyone was here this weekend,” Christi said. She smiled slightly because of Anna’s embarrassment and also took a moment to appreciate Danny’s barely dressed appearance.

“I thought you and Dad were in London this weekend,” she replied as she wrapped the towel around her.

“We got back yesterday. Since it’s so beautiful, we decided to drive out here. Clearly you had the same idea. So…Anna…are you going to introduce me to your…your friend?”

“This is Danny. Danny this is Christi, my father’s wife,” Anna replied in an annoyed tone.

Danny gave Christi a wave with a slightly amused expression as he remembered Anna’s step-mistress reference. Anna said she was young, but he had no idea she was only a few years older than Anna. Christi walked toward him and held out her hand. “So nice to meet you, Danny. I don’t believe I’ve seen you around the Hampton’s before. Where did Anna get lucky enough to find you?”

He shook her hand and smiled at her warmly.

Anna’s embarrassment turned to jealousy as Christi openly flirted with Danny. Before he could respond, Anna said, “He’s an old friend from college. Where’s my father, Christi?”

Christi didn’t take her eyes off Danny’s half-dressed body as she responded. “He’s talking to the gardener outside. Do you live in the city, Danny?”

Danny nodded about to respond, but Anna rolled her eyes and interrupted again. “Christi…Christi…Danny and I are going upstairs. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention this…”

Christi finally tore her eyes away from him. “Of course. It will be our little secret.”

Anna grabbed Danny’s hand to guide him upstairs. Once they got to their room, she hurriedly started to get dressed. “I’m going to go downstairs and talk to my dad, first. Give me a few minutes…and then…”

Danny couldn’t understand why she seemed so frantic. “Whoa…slow down. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing…I just…this doesn’t look good…I mean…us…out here. And Christi almost walking in on us…”

He nodded. “But she didn’t walk in on anything…really…and you’re father didn’t see anything. It’s no big deal. I mean…you’re a grown woman…”

“I know that, but…”

“But what?”

“He doesn’t know about us. He doesn’t know that I’m seeing you again. And I haven’t told him about breaking up with Michael. This wasn’t how I wanted to tell him…about us. I mean…now it looks like we just jumped back into this.”

“Why haven’t you told him?” he asked in a surprised tone. “And why didn’t you tell him about breaking it off with Michael? How can you consider moving in together if you can’t even admit we are together?”

Anna sighed heavily. “I don’t know. I just didn’t want to get into it. I knew that I would have to explain…and…I just…” She didn’t really have a good explanation for being afraid to tell her father about Danny, so she stopped talking. “Look I need to get down there before Christi says something…inappropriate.”

Danny nodded. “After I get dressed, I could just slip out the back door…if that would make things easier,” he said half-serious and half-sarcastic.

“Don’t…Danny…don’t be like that. Just give me a few minutes and then come down,” she said as she backed out of the door.

Anna hurried down the stairs and looked around expectantly for her father, but only found Christi at the kitchen table. “Where is he? Where's my father?”

“I sent him to the store. We need wine for dinner tonight. He’ll be back in a minute. I figured you may need a few minutes to get your boy toy out of here,” she replied with a sinister smile.

“He’s not…I don’t even want to waste time explaining it to you.”

“What’s there to explain? If I had an ‘old college friend’ who looked like him, I might plan an illicit getaway before my wedding as well.”

“I’m not getting married, Christi. The wedding is off. Danny and I are together now. I just haven’t told Dad about it yet.”

“My…you do work fast. Not that I blame you…he’s quite a catch. I needed a glass of water after just shaking his hand. I mean…those dark, smoldering eyes…the smile…not to mention the body…” she trailed off as she was obviously picturing Danny in her mind.

Anna felt another pang of jealousy as she listened to Christi talk about Danny. The she noticed her father pulling up in the driveway outside. She didn’t bother to respond to Christi. Instead she walked outside to meet her father.

Danny walked hesitantly downstairs and poked his head in the kitchen. He breathed a sigh of relief when he didn’t see anyone and silently contemplated making a run for it. Meeting parents was never one of his strong suits. Even though he’d met Anna’s father before, he knew it would be uncomfortable considering their history. He opened the refrigerator and took out a bottle of water. This was one of those times that he wished for something stronger. When he closed the refrigerator, he was startled to see Christi standing there with a demure smile.

“Hey…” he said hesitantly.

“Hello there. Anna is talking to her father outside. They’ll be in soon.”

“Okay,” he replied as he opened the water and took a drink. “So how long have you and Mr. Ridley been married?”

“Almost a year. I was waitressing at a restaurant here on the island. He walked in…I made him laugh…the rest is history.”

Danny smiled. “That’s quite a whirlwind…”

“Speak for yourself. The last we heard, Anna was on-again with her fiancé Michael. She even said they were close to setting a date. Cut to today…and well…,” she trailed off as she smiled and looked at the counter where she caught them earlier.

Danny looked down in mock embarrassment and look back up at her. “It’s not really a whirlwind for us. We dated in college. We recently re-connected and…well…here we are,” he said as he continued to smile at her.

“Yes…here you are…and you are a bit of a surprise. I mean…well…let’s just say our Anna’s taste must have changed dramatically since college. Michael can only be described as the complete opposite of…well…you,” she said as she looked at him appreciatively.

“People’s tastes change. Most would also say that you are quite different from Anna’s mother.”

Christi laughed as she touched Danny’s shoulder. “Touché…”

Anna walked in with her father while Danny and Christi were finishing their lighthearted exchange. The nervous feeling in her stomach was compounded when she saw them smiling at each other and Christi’s hand on Danny’s shoulder. She had just informed her father that Danny was with her and they were dating again. He wasn’t very pleased. He couldn’t understand why she'd give up a relationship with someone as steady as Michael for someone who had devastated her years ago. But he promised her that he would be civil and polite.

“Danny…you remember my father,” she said as they walked in breaking up the playful conversation.

Danny walked toward them and extended his hand. “Good to see you again, Mr. Ridley.”

“Danny…I must say...this is a surprise.”

Danny wasn’t sure what to say. Part of him wanted to apologize for breaking his daughter’s heart or to explain that he’d changed, but he wasn’t sure what Anna had told him about their prior relationship. Fortunately, he didn’t have to say anything because Christi took over.

“And a nice surprise it is. We have lobster and wine, enough for a fabulous feast for the four of us tonight. I, for one, look forward to getting to know Danny much better,” she said as she continued to cling to his arm.

Anna shifted uncomfortably before quickly responding. “We can’t stay. We both have to work early tomorrow. So we need to get on the road.”

Christi looked disappointed, but Danny noticed that Mr. Ridley looked almost relieved not to have to continue the uncomfortable meeting. He and Anna went back upstairs to pack their things and then left shortly after. The ride back to the city was unpleasant and full of tension.

As they rode back in silence, Danny got more and more agitated when it seemed Anna was mad at him. He felt he should be the only who was angry. He finally couldn’t take the silence anymore. “What’s wrong with you? Why am I the getting the silent treatment?”

Anna glanced at him coldly. “I’m not in the mood to talk.”

“Not in the mood? It seems you’re not in the mood to talk to a lot of people lately. Did you really tell Michael that the wedding is off…or have you not gotten around to that either?”

“How dare you…how you dare question me. Of course, I told Michael. God…Danny…I barely speak to my father anymore…he is so wrapped up in his own life. I’m sorry that I didn’t tell him. I’m sorry that I put you in an awkward position today…but as I look back…you really weren’t all that uncomfortable, were you?” she asked as she looked at him with an accusing glare.

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Oh gee…I don’t know, Danny. What does it mean? Let me think…oh yeah…why is it that you have to flirt with every woman you come into contact with? I mean…Christi was all over you and you ate it up.”

“All over me? What are you on? She was friendly to me, which is more than I can say for your father…or you after he showed up. And I don’t flirt with every woman I come in contact with. You are just…”

“Just what, Danny? Too sensitive? Well…I’m sorry…I guess I am too sensitive. How I am supposed to feel? You never set any boundaries with anyone. We go to dinner…and you charm the waitresses. We meet for brunch…and you run into some old club hook-up. I go to your office and you are working with FBI Barbie. And then I have watch as my father’s wife mentally undresses you with her eyes. And you…you don’t do anything to discourage it. You smile at them and charm them and love every minute of it…and I know you say are just being friendly…but you can’t expect me to just accept that. Not after everything you put me through.”

Danny sat back and rubbed his hand over his mouth. He knew she felt insecure sometimes, but he had no idea it had been building to this. “Do you really have so little faith in me? You told me you weren’t holding on to the past…”

“Today isn’t the past, Danny. The way you acted today…and most everyday…has nothing to do with the past.”

“It has everything to do with it. You are threatened because I am friendly to your stepmother? You feel threatened because I work with an attractive woman?”

“Every time I see you with Samantha, you are laughing with her or she is touching you. It’s the way you act around them.”

“I don’t know how else to be,” he almost shouted defensively. “Do you want me to be cold and unfriendly? Do you want me to smile less and frown more? I made a horrible mistake eight years ago…hell, I made several horrible mistakes. And I paid for it by losing you. I’d do almost anything to not lose you again, but I can’t change who I am. I try to make the most out of every day. I like to have fun with people. I like to make people smile. Life is too short to live any other way. I spent too many years of my life living a miserable, dark existence. I can’t help the way Christi acts around me. Sam and I work together…and I trust her with my life every day. The people I work with are the closest thing I have to family. And I can’t help the fact that I have had a social life the last eight years…and there is a risk of running into some one I’ve dated before. All I can do is promise you that I will never be unfaithful to you…never.”

Anna bit her lip as she tried not to cry. She knew she was being irrational. She knew that part of her was just projecting her guilt about not telling her father about Danny. And she felt trapped in the car with him. She couldn’t believe that just hours earlier they had had no worries…just hours earlier she had been wrapped tightly in his arms telling him that she loved him…and now she felt trapped.

“You can’t change who you are, and I can’t change how I feel,” Anna stated quietly as she looked out the window.

They rode the rest of the way in silence. The driver stopped in front of Danny’s building. The original plan had been for him to drop off his things and grab a suit for the next day. He'd planned on staying the night at her place. He finally opened the door and stepped out of the car. The driver took his bag out of the trunk and placed it on the curb. He looked into the car one last time and tried to will her to look at him. Finally, he asked, “Where do we go from here?”

She still didn’t look in his direction. She kept her eyes focused straight ahead. “I don’t know. I think I need some time…”

“We need to talk about this…”

“What else is there to say? Obviously, it’s my problem…my insecurities,” she said as she finally looked at him. “I’m really tired. I just want to go home.”

He looked down at the pavement and shook his head. He looked at her one more time before he shut the door and watched the car drive away.

Danny spent a sleepless night alone in his apartment. He ached to call Anna or to go to her, but he didn’t want to push her further away. Trying to fall asleep without her was agony. He couldn’t remember the last time that they hadn’t spent at least part of a night together. And he knew it wasn’t about missing the sex. It was missing the feeling of her body curled next to his. It was missing her scent that lingered when she left the room—limes and coconut. It was listening to her breathing and watching her sleep. It was all those little things that had become part of his day-to-day life like when she left a voicemail at work so that he could hear her voice to start his day. He knew she wouldn’t leave him a message after the fight they'd had. And yet, he wasn’t sure how he could fix it. He’d reassured her time and time again, but nothing could erase her memories of his deceit.

After spending a lonely, sleepless night, he got to work early on Monday morning. Vivian was the second to get to work after him.

“Good morning, Danny,” she said cheerily.

“Hey…morning, Viv,” he responded quietly without looking up from his desk.

Vivian stopped in her tracks before reaching her desk. “Well, by the look of your tan, I’d say you had a good weekend, but the sound of your voice tells a different story.”

He finally looked up at her and smiled slightly. “I’m fine.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah…I’m sure,” he replied nodding his head.

“Okay. Well did you have a good weekend? Did you go somewhere?”

“Anna and I went to her family’s vacation home in the Hampton’s.”

“Wow…very impressive. I bet it was beautiful out there this weekend.”

“It was…” he replied pensively as he thought about the good times they'd had before they'd argued. Then he quickly changed the subject. “How was your weekend? How was Reggie’s soccer game?”

“Three goals…and they won. He was over the moon,” she answered as she made her way over to her desk.

“That’s great. That’s really great,” he responded still distracted by thoughts of Anna.

Vivian noticed his distracted manner, so she stopped talking to him and let him be alone with his thoughts. Danny was rarely ever like that…so she gave him his space.

An hour later, the whole team assembled at the table. Vivian watched as Danny was able to transform himself. He seemed to be able to put his mask on for the day after she caught him in a weak moment. By the time Samantha and Martin arrived, he was his usual playful, charismatic self—acting as though he didn’t have a care in the world. He told them that he and Anna had a great weekend, but Viv knew he was putting up a front.

After the team took a few minutes to catch up on each other’s weekends, Jack gave out assignments for the day since there was no active case. He tasked Vivian and Martin with following up on a couple of cold cases. And then he directed Samantha to work with him doing some follow-up on solved cases. Danny looked up when he realized he still didn’t have an assignment.

“What about me?” Danny asked.

“Ah Danny…I almost forgot…I got a call from Karen Washington on Friday. She wants an update on her daughter’s case.”

“And let me guess,” Samantha interrupted as she smiled knowingly. “She asked to talk to Danny, specifically.”

“As a matter of fact…yes…she did,” Jack answered as Danny gave Samantha an annoyed glance.

“What time will she be here?” he asked Jack.

“10 AM. Grab her daughter’s case file and see if we can give her something. I know there’s no new information…”

“…but just give her some peace of mind,” Danny finished. “I got it, Jack. Sometimes, I think I should just tell her that her daughter most likely ran away, but Mrs. Washington is so sure her daughter wasn’t capable of doing that. I feel bad for her.”

Karen Washington had come to Missing Person’s Unit to check on her daughter’s open case every few months. Her daughter, Sarah, had disappeared when she was 16. The team had virtually agreed that her daughter was a runaway. They’d never found signs of foul play. But Danny had still met with Mrs. Washington whenever she came in for an update. He’d usually tell her the same thing each time. Sam had teased Danny about being Mrs. Washington’s favorite because she’s always asked to speak to him.

Danny met Karen Washington in a conference room at 10 AM. He extended his hand to hers. “Mrs. Washington, how are you?” he asked as he sat down after shaking her hand.

“Oh…hanging in there, I guess,” she replied. Karen Washington was an attractive, 40 year old divorcee. She always looked well put-together even when she was desperate to find her daughter. “How are you, Danny?”

Danny smiled. “I can’t complain. What can I do for you today, Mrs. Washington?”

“How many times time do I have to tell you to call me Karen. We’ve been doing this for almost two years, and it makes me feel like an old woman.”

“Sorry. Its FBI protocol and force of habit,” he smiled apologetically while trying to encourage a professional tone to their meeting.

Karen pulled out a newspaper article from her purse. “I was on business last week in LA, and I saw this article. It’s about young women who are recruited in bus stations to go to LA. They end up involved in prostitution and x-rated movies. What if Sarah got involved in something like this? She’d always wanted to go to Hollywood and become an actress.”

“I guess it’s possible, but we never traced Sarah to any bus stations,” he said as he checked her file. And then he addressed Karen with a concerned gaze. “Did you ever consider getting a private investigator? A PI could put more focused attention on this. Unfortunately, we don’t have the manpower…”

She interrupted. “I know. I know and I’m sorry to keep bothering you. It’s just…I trust you. I hate the thought of getting used to a new investigator. I just…I miss her so much. She turns 18 this month.”

He smiled reassuringly and patted her hand. “It’s okay, Mrs. Washington. I understand you want to find your girl, and if we could…if I could…I would spend the time to track her down, but unfortunately, we can’t continue to focus on a case in the long-term unless there are signs of foul play.”

Karen looked down at his hand on hers and then put her other hand on his. “You are always so nice to me…so patient, Danny. I don’t know how to thank you…”

He smiled uneasily and gave her hand a final squeeze before standing up. “You don’t have to thank me. I’m just doing my job. I wish I could do more. But we just don’t know anything new about your daughter’s case. I would highly recommend hiring a PI. I could find some references for you…”

“That would be nice. Um…maybe…maybe we could go over the list if you met me for a drink.”

Danny tried to maintain a polite expression despite feeling uncomfortable. This wasn’t the first time that Karen Washington had propositioned him to meet her outside the office. “I don’t think so, Mrs. Washington. I can call you or just fax the list to your office.”

Karen looked down at her hands. “Oh my…I’m sorry…”

“Don’t be sorry. But like I said the last time…it wouldn’t be appropriate.”

Karen nodded. “It’s just hard going out with people…even just friends…when my daughter is always on my mind. I just think it would be nice to spend time with someone who knows the whole history,” she responded uneasily. Then she suddenly asked, “Is it because I’m older?”

Danny hesitated not sure how to handle the situation. “No…no. It just wouldn’t be right for me to see you outside of this building, Mrs. Washington. I know this is a hard time for you. I know your miss you daughter, but maybe it’s time for you to move on. Get a PI working for you, and then try to move on. If your daughter comes back, then great…but if she doesn’t…”

Karen smiled as she interrupted him again. “It’s not just because of my daughter, Danny. I like talking to you. I’m very…I’m very attracted to you.”

Danny raked a hand over his face and sighed. “Mrs. Washington…I’m sorry if I’ve misled you, but I’ve just been doing my job here. I hope I didn’t give you the wrong idea.”

Karen rose from her seat. “You haven’t misled me. I just thought I should be honest and let you know how I feel,” she replied confidently. “I should get going. Please call me if there are any new developments,”.

Danny walked her to the elevator, and then returned to the bullpen. Samantha was sitting at the conference table doing paperwork. He sat down across from her and let out a deep sigh.

“How’d it go with Karen Washington? Was she swooning?” Samantha asked jokingly.

Danny looked up at her with a hurt, annoyed expression. “Don’t say that, Sam. I’ve been nothing but professional with Mrs. Washington.”

Samantha stopped smiling. “I know that. I was only kidding. I just think it’s funny that she always asks for you. Clearly, she enjoys talking to you more than the rest of us.”

“It’s not funny. I thought it wasn’t a big deal, but…”

“But what?” Sam asked.

Danny looked at her and then shook his head. “It’s nothing. I’m overreacting…I’m sure. She’s just a lonely woman who misses her little girl.”

“Did something happen between the two of you?”

Danny looked up quickly. “No…god…no, Sam. She asked me about an article she read about trafficking girls from bus stations to LA for porn and prostitution. I encouraged her to get a PI again. I told her that a PI could focus on that kind of angle. And then I told her that I could recommend some names to her.”

When Danny hesitated, Samantha asked, “ And?”

“She suggested that I meet her for a drink to discuss the list.”

Samantha smiled and shook her head. “I knew it. I knew she had a thing for you.”

“I told her it wouldn’t be appropriate…just like the last time.”

“She’s asked you before?”

“Yeah…a couple of times. I always tell her no, but she’s kind of persistent. This time…this time…”

“What?” she asked curiously.

“This time she flat out told me she was attracted to me,” Danny replied in an embarrassed, but slightly amused tone.

“You have to tell Jack…you have to put this in your report.”

“She’s just a lonely woman, Sam. It’s no big deal. The only reason she still comes in here is because she misses her daughter.”

Samantha gave Danny a perplexed smirk. “Danny…the only reason she still comes here is for you. Her daughter’s case has been cold for two years. We’ve all but filed this case as a runaway, and yet every two or three months she shows up and asks to talk to you. And you didn’t even interview her originally…Viv did. She sought you out. She comes here to talk to you. And now she is asking you out? You need to document it, Danny.”

“You’re overreacting,” Danny responded shaking his head.

“Am I? Okay…what if the situation was reversed? What if the father of a missing girl kept coming in and asking to talk to me. And then what if he propositioned me? You would be the first person to tell me to tell Jack. Not only that, but you would probably go after him yourself.”

Danny sat back in his chair. “That’s completely different. That’s harassment.”

“Oh please…don’t go all double standard on me. So if a man does it to me…it’s sexual harassment…but if it happens to you…it’s….what?”

“It’s a lonely woman who can’t get a date. And maybe I was too friendly to her. Maybe I did do or say something that encouraged her,” Danny replied remembering Anna’s accusations about his boundary issues. “I told her I wasn’t interested, and now it’s over. I’m sorry I mentioned it,”

“So what are you saying? You asked for this because you were friendly to her? You’re like that with everyone, Danny. You didn’t encourage her…you’re just doing your job. And regardless…whether it is harassment or just a misunderstanding…my advice? Document it. Put it in your report, and then let someone else handle Mrs. Washington when she shows up next time,” Samantha said as she rose from the table and walked back to her desk.

Danny returned to his desk to file his report to Jack about his follow-up with Mrs. Washington. He was so preoccupied with the issue with Mrs. Washington that he didn’t have time to lament about what happened with Anna. As he walked home that night, he thought through his behavior with Mrs. Washington. He honestly didn’t think he’d done anything to encourage her, but he couldn’t help but second-guess himself.

He reached his apartment building and went up the stairs. As he approached the landing to his floor, he was surprised to see Anna sitting on the top step. “Hey…” he said as she looked up at him.

Her eyes were slightly puffy, but she wasn’t crying. “Hi,” she responded quietly not making a move to get up. “I…um…someone let me in the building. I wasn’t sure when you would get home.”

“You could have called. I would have met you sooner,” he replied quietly.

She shrugged. “It’s okay. I wouldn’t have known what to say if I'd called”

He stood on the step where he’d stopped when he first saw her. He wasn’t sure what he should do. He decided to wait for her cue.

She just sat in front him biting her bottom lip. “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. I didn’t even go to work today. I never miss work, but I thought how can I counsel anyone when I am such a complete mess.”

“I’m sorry…”

She interrupted quickly. “Don’t…don’t say it. You really aren’t sorry. I know you don’t think you’ve done anything wrong…you said that yourself…and really…you haven’t. You are just being you…and that is the person who I can’t seem to live without.”

He took a step toward her. “But I’ve been thinking…I mean…maybe…maybe I should be more careful,” he said almost desperately as he thought about Karen Washington.

She shook her head. “Don’t be silly. I shouldn’t have made you doubt yourself. I love the way that you are. I don’t want you to change,” she said as she stood up. “I felt guilty about keeping us a secret. It was easier to lash out than to let you be mad at me.”

“I’m not mad. I just didn’t understand…” he said as he took another step toward her.

Tears formed in her eyes and her voice cracked with emotion. “Sometimes I wish that we could just erase the past. I wish that I didn’t remember…”

“I know…I know, baby,” he said as he closed the distance between them and put his arms around her. He held her for several minutes and then he got his key out, opened his door and guided her into his apartment. He continued to hold her on the couch as she cried softly in his arms. Eventually, they both fell asleep knowing that they hadn’t solved anything, but also knowing that they didn’t want to be anywhere else.

As if they'd silently agreed to work on their issues separately, they didn't specifically discuss their argument after that night. Anna tried to focus on the fact that Danny loved her and her alone. She tried to rationalize that Danny was friendly and tactile with everyone…not just attractive women. On Danny’s part, he tried to be more sensitive to her feelings while still trying to be himself.

A few days after they’d made up, they were tangled together on her couch watching the evening news. During a commercial, Danny said, “The weather looks great this weekend. We should do something outside…maybe go to a baseball game or something…”

“I’m guessing it would be a Mets game…”

“Of course…”

Anna laughed. “That’s one of the many things I love about you…you always root for the underdog…even though rooting for the Yankees would be far less painful.”

“Who wants to root for a team like that?”

“Probably more than half this city and beyond…and, in case you haven’t heard, they are the team that actually wins every so often…”

“The Mets will win eventually…and when they do…it will be much sweeter…trust me,” he said as he kissed her neck.

Anna smiled and shivered a little. “Are you thinking about going Saturday?”

“Yeah…”

“Oh,” she replied hesitantly.

“Why? Do you already have plans that don’t include me?”

“Nothing…it’s just…your brother’s wedding is on Saturday, and…”

He sighed heavily and started to untangle their legs so he could get up.

“Don’t…don’t do that, Danny. Don’t shut down…”

“I’m not shutting down, but I told you last week that I don’t want to talk about him,” he said emphatically.

She shook her head as he rose from the couch. “Tell me again why you testified for him?”

Danny turned away from her and hesitated. Part of him just wanted to walk out the door, but he knew that would push Anna away and he couldn’t afford to do that again. He loved her too much so he had to be open with her. “I found out he had a son. And I remembered…” he trailed off.

“Remembered what?”

Danny closed his eyes and then turned back to her. He sat on the chair next to the couch and rubbed his eyes. “I remembered what he did for me when we were kids.”

“You always said he wasn’t there for you…”

“No…he wasn’t…after they died…he wasn’t. He was off getting high and getting into trouble, and I got shipped off to a group home. But before that…before they died….he protected me.”

“Protected you from what?” she asked, but she already new the answer. From her years of counseling and seeing the scars on his body, she’d already deduced that Danny was abused as a child.

“My father...my father was an angry drunk...like father, like son. You remember what I was like?”

Anna nodded.

“Well he was worse…and he took it out on Raffi and my mom, and anyone else who got in his way.”

“I’m sorry…”

He just nodded.

“So you felt you owed Raffi…that’s why you testified?” she asked.

Danny looked up sharply. “I don’t owe him anything. When he bailed on me, things didn’t magically get better in foster care. I more than paid for having it easier than him with my father. He doesn’t know about any of that. He doesn’t know about what I went through…,” Danny said as his voice cracked with emotion.

“Maybe you should tell him…” she responded as she found herself putting on her counselor’s hat.

“What the hell good would that do?” he asked incredulously.

“So he would understand where you are coming from…and why you find it hard to trust him and anyone else for that matter.”

“I testified for him to give him a chance with his family. I testified because his son wants to get to know his father. I just hope that he doesn’t bail on them, too. If he does…then I’ll be there, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to trust him. And as far as telling him anything…it won’t do any good. With Raffi…it’s always about him…his problems…his issues. He doesn’t care about hearing what I went through.”

Anna reached out and took Danny’s hand. “I think you would be surprised. I know you don’t want to hear this, but I think you should go to that wedding. If not for your brother…then for his son. If you really want to be there for Nicky, then you need to show him you are there now. That’s the only way he will trust you if Raffi all of the sudden leaves them one day.”

He looked up at her and smiled slightly. “That’s actually a fairly decent point.”

Anna smiled back. “Thanks. That Master’s degree is finally paying off.”

“Maybe I’ll go…” he replied hesitantly.

“And I’ll be right there with you…”

“No…you don’t have to go. You won’t know anyone.”

“Neither will you…so we’ll know each other. Please let me be there for you.”

He looked at her skeptically. He knew it would be a completely new experience for her. “You’re not going to try to stage some sort of intervention for me and Raffi, are you?”

Anna laughed and held up her right hand. “I promise I won’t. I won’t say a word.”

“I find that hard to believe, but we’ll give it a shot,” he replied as he moved back over to sofa.

She wrapped her arms around him and laid her head on his chest as he kissed her forehead.

That Saturday, they were two of only a few people sitting on Raffi’s side of the church. The bride’s side had several family and friends. Nicky was standing at Raffi’s side. Anna kept hold of Danny’s hand through the entire ceremony. When the newly wedded couple walked down the aisle after being pronounced man and wife, Raffi gave them a warm, appreciative smile.

The reception was held in the reception hall next to the church. While Raffi and Sylvia were busy thanking and greeting their guests, Danny and Anna sat at a table to visit with Nicky. Anna couldn’t help but notice that Nicky was fascinated by Danny. He looked up at Danny in complete awe. Nicky told them all about school and the sports he played. Then he invited Danny to his baseball game. He lit up when Danny told him that he wouldn’t miss it.

As she watched Danny with Nicky, her heart swelled. He was so patient and sweet to Nicky. She couldn’t help but see the father in him. She almost felt a physical pang to have his baby as she watch them together.

Eventually, Raffi and Sylvia made it over to their table.

“I hope Nicky isn’t talking your ear off,” Sylvia said sheepishly as Danny and Anna rose from the table to greet them.

“Not at all. In fact, we are quite entertained,” Danny replied. “Congratulations,” he said as he graciously kissed Sylvia’s cheek and shook Raffi’s hand. Then he turned to Anna. “Sylvia, this is my girlfriend, Anna Ridley.”

“It’s so nice to meet you. Congratulations to both of you. It was a beautiful service,” Anna said as she smiled warmly and shook both their hands.

“Thank you for coming and for convincing this guy to come,” Raffi said with a bit of sarcasm.

Anna shook her head. “It was all his idea. He wouldn't have missed it,” she responded as she looked at Danny.

“Right…” Raffi replied as he looked at Danny skeptically. Danny couldn’t help but notice that Rafael had a can of beer in his hand. When Raffi caught him glancing at the beer, he asked, “Hey…can’t I get you a beer, Danny?”

“No…no thanks,” he replied in a strained tone.

Noticing the tension between the two men, Anna quickly intervened. “Well, I could use a coke or something. I’ll get us both something,” she said to Danny as she followed Sylvia and Rafael back to the refreshment area.

Danny continued to sit at the table with Nicky. As Nicky continued to talk, Danny focused on watching Raffi as he circulated among his guests. Anna spent several minutes talking to different people, and then finally made it back to the table.

She handed Danny a cup of water and then sat down next to him. “Hey Nicky, your mom says they are about to cut the cake. You don’t want to miss that. It happens to be my favorite part of weddings in general,” Anna said as she smiled.

“You want to come watch, Danny?” Nicky asked hopefully.

“We’ll watch from here, buddy. But would you mind bringing us back a couple of pieces? Anna will need an extra big piece,” Danny replied with a smile.

“You know me so well,” she said taking hold of Danny’s arm as they watched Nicky go to his parents. “Are you okay? I couldn’t help but notice…you are looking bothered…” she asked with concern.

“Raffi has had four beers since he walked in less than an hour ago. And he’s left the room three times…”

“What are you charting his movements or something?” she asked jokingly.

He rolled his eyes slightly. “It’s his wedding day. I wonder why he feels the need to get drunk.”

“Have you been to any weddings lately? Getting drunk is like a rite of passage or something. Just because he drinks doesn’t mean he has a problem. I mean it doesn’t look like Sylvia has a problem with it.”

“You never wanted anyone to know you had a problem with it when I was drinking either.”

Anna sighed. “I think you are rushing to judgment…just a little…Danny,” she said as they watched Raffi and Sylvia cut the cake.

Nicky brought them cake and then they took a few moments to meet some of Sylvia’s family. Danny marveled at Anna’s ease with the situation. She definitely stood out because she was the only blonde-haired, blue-eyed wedding guest, but she didn’t seem uncomfortable at all. And even though Danny didn’t look uncomfortable on the surface, deep down, he did feel out of place because he was so skeptical of Raffi.

They finally decided it was time to leave, so they approached Rafael and Sylvia to say goodbye. Danny was fully aware that Rafael was completely wasted. He could see it in his eyes and the way he moved. “Thank you so much for having us. Congratulations,” Anna said graciously as she gave Sylvia a warm hug and then leaned in to give Rafael a quick kiss on the cheek.

Raffi quickly put his hand on the small of her back to keep her from stepping away from him. “Danny’s always had the best luck,” he whispered in her ear while slurring his words.

Anna glanced at Sylvia uncomfortably as she pried herself out of Raffi’s grasp. Danny started to lungetoward Raffi, but Anna grabbed his arm and shook her head. “I think I’m the lucky one,” she replied.

“You think?” Raffi responded. “Just don’t ever screw up or disappoint him. He’ll never forgive you…no matter what you do for him.”

“Raffi…don’t…,” Sylvia said.

“Don’t what? Don’t make poor Danny uncomfortable? He’s been uncomfortable this whole time. Danny likes to pretend that he is better than all of us…”

“Why don’t you shut up, Raffi, and have another drink,” Danny finally said. “You don’t know what you are talking about.”

“Let’s just go, Danny. I’m sorry Sylvia” Anna said as she tried to guide Danny away.

“I know exactly what I’m talking about, Danny Taylor. It must have taken some big arm-twisting to get him to come today,” he said looking at Anna. “You can probably get him to do just about anything, though. You’re quite a prize, sweetheart. Tell me something—do you bring Danny boy around your people? Does he act white enough to fit in with them? ‘Cause I got tell you…you look a little out of place here.”

“Don’t talk to her like that. What the hell is wrong with you? It’s your wedding day, Raffi.”

“You’re my problem, Danny. You think you are so much better. Hell…you even have my own kid thinking you are better than me. You make me sick…”

Danny couldn’t respond. He just shook his head in disbelief. He didn’t want to make Raffi any madder, especially since there were already tears in Sylvia’s eyes. He took hold of Anna’s hand and guided her out of the room. Before they could leave, Nicky called out to them.

“Hey…do you have to leave so soon, uncle Danny?”

“Yeah, buddy. We have get home.”

“Will you still come to my game?”

“Absolutely. Just have your mom call me to let me know when it is. Okay?”

“Okay. Will you come too?” he asked as he looked at Anna.

“I wouldn’t miss it, Nicky. It was very nice to meet you.”

“You, too. I had fun with you guys today.”

“We’ll see you soon. Enjoy finishing off that cake,” Danny said as he gave him a smile and slight wave goodbye.

He hailed a cab and they both got in. At first, they rode in an uncomfortable silence.

“I think we should talk about what happened,” Anna started.

He looked at her and shook his head. “No thanks. There’s nothing to talk about. We shouldn’t have gone. I shouldn’t have listened to you. You don’t know what he is like.”

“I think it’s good that we were there for Nicky…”

“Oh…you think? Actually, now Raffi is just pissed that Nicky seems to like me more than him…so now he’ll take that out on Nicky.”

“You don’t know that, Danny.”

“Would you stop?” he asked in an irritated, angry tone. “Would you stop acting like you know what’s best? You don’t know. You’ve never been exposed to anyone like my brother. How can you defend him?”

“I’m not defending him. I’m just saying that you shouldn’t pass judgment after one day. He was probably nervous, and he didn’t mean those things.”

“He wasn’t nervous, and he meant every word he said. He actually thinks that that I am ashamed of who I am…,” he trailed off. “I’m not ashamed…”

“I know that. I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I convinced you go today,” she said quietly.

“Let’s just forget about it. I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” he responded in a hurt, wounded tone.

Anna was surprised when Danny got out of the cab and came up to her apartment. She’d expected him to tell her that he needed space after the confrontation at the wedding, but instead he followed her. He’d started to keep a few things there, so he was prepared to spend the night. It was still only early evening, but they both felt exhausted from the emotional day. Without saying much to each other, they undressed and got ready for bed.

Danny had thought about going to his place. He’d thought about shutting down and shutting her out, but he knew he couldn’t do that anymore. Even though he was upset with her, he still wanted to be with her. So, he found himself lying next to her in bed. This was usually the time where he’d take her in his arms. He always held her close—even when they weren't going to have sex. But for some reason, he couldn’t do it. There was a distance between them that he couldn’t quite understand.

She eventually fell asleep next to him. She took solace in knowing that he’d stayed with her. She figured that she would just give him some space, and then talk to him again the next day.

In the middle of the night, she woke up suddenly to find that she’d naturally found her way into his arms while they’d slept. She looked up at him and studied his face. He looked so peaceful and beautiful, so different from the anger that that had been on his brow during and after the wedding. Without thinking, she ran her hands down his chest while she kissed his stomach. She had a sudden urge to be with him. She needed to feel close to him, and she needed to know that he still wanted her. She kissed a path up his chest until she reached his face. He opened his eyes sleepily as she hovered above him. When he parted his lips to say something to her, she kissed him. He was hesitant at first, not to mention still half asleep. But as she moved above him, he felt an urgency to be with her as well. Once again, instead of talking through their fight, they didn’t talk at all. They just made love and didn’t speak a word to each other during or after their encounter.

The next morning, Anna woke up to find a note on his pillow. The note said that he had to go into work and he would call her later.

As she lay in bed that morning, she thought about what had transpired the previous day and night. She knew that they needed to talk. They needed to work so many things out, but she wasn’t sure where to begin. She’d thought it was a good sign that he’d come home with her after the wedding. And she’d felt that same connection with him as always when they'd had sex, but there was still so much unsaid between them. It was as if they both wanted the relationship to work so much that they were scared to deal with anything.

When Danny was called in to work on Sunday morning, he was almost relieved to not have to face Anna after their intense night together. Not that he wanted Mr. Phelps to be missing, but he was glad he was in the office working. He was even happier when Jack sent him and Martin to Boston to follow a lead involving Phelp’s rumored mistress. He called Anna from the airport and left her a message saying that he’d call her when he got back to town.

During their short flight to Boston, they exhausted their discussion on the Phelp’s case so Martin decided to change the subject.

“Didn’t you mention once that Anna lived in Boston for a while?” he asked casually.

“Did I?” Danny replied in a confused tone.

“Yeah…I think it was when you first saw her during the Simpson case. You said you thought she was still in Boston.”

“Good memory,” Danny remarked with a puzzled smirk. “In fact, she did live in Boston for a while. She went to grad school there.”

“So how’s that going?” Martin asked continuing to sound casual but knowing that Danny didn’t usually volunteer much about his personal life and relationships.

“How’s what going?” he answered playing dumb.

“How are things with Anna?” Martin clarified.

Oh…well…it’s going, I guess. I don’t know,” he replied rubbing his chin. “Relationships are hard.”

Martin sighed. “Tell me about it. But if you believe in fate and destiny, then you would probably think you two are meant to be.”

Danny gave him a perplexed look. “Is the altitude getting to you, man? I’m the one who usually gets freaked out in the air, not you.”

Martin laughed. “I just think it’s kind of amazing. I mean to find each other after all these years. It’s kind of…cool. And being with her seems to have changed you.”

“Changed me? She hasn’t changed me. And you are kind of scaring me with this ‘amazing’ stuff,” he responded putting the word ‘amazing’ in air quotes.

“She hasn’t changed you? Danny, the last time we flew together, you ended up with three flight attendants’ phones numbers out of a four person crew.”

“That was extremely unusual, and I only asked one flight attendant for her number. The others just…I don’t know,” he replied with a sheepish smile. “And I gave you one of their numbers. I was covering all my bases,” he answered jokingly.

Martin shook his head and smiled. “Well, today you’ve barely spoken to our flight attendant. You almost seemed to avoid her…”

“I am dating someone. So I’d be kind of jerk if I was still getting phone numbers, wouldn’t I? I still wouldn’t say she’s changed me, but I do like being with her,” he finally responded seriously.

“That’s all I was trying to say.”

He thought for a moment and then continued. “But it is hard. Being in a relationship and meshing your lives together. It seems especially hard for us,” he volunteered letting his guard down.

“Why’s that?”

“I don’t know. I mean we have a complicated history—so there is that. But then we are also from two completely different worlds, and sometimes I just think there is too much to overcome.”

“There must be something that’s making you stay,” Martin said as glanced in Danny’s direction.

Danny looked down and studied his hands for a moment before responding. “I love her. And I hate the thought of being without her again.”

As Danny made the statement, Martin couldn’t help but notice that he was saying it more to himself than responding to him. So he didn’t say anything else to Danny. They didn’t talk again until they landed, and then they focused on the case.

Anna hadn’t talked to Danny since he'd left her in bed. She’d received his message, but hadn’t called him back. She usually didn’t call him when he was on a case. Instead, she would wait until he called her so she didn’t interrupt him. Her heart fluttered when she heard her phone ring at 6:45 on Monday morning. She knew it was him.

“Hey,” she answered knowingly.

“Morning, baby,” he replied. “How did you know it was me?”

“You’re the only one who knows my schedule,” she responded. She’d followed the same routine every weekday morning. Her alarm would go off at 6:30, and she would scurry to the kitchen to pour herself a cup of coffee from her automatic coffee-maker. Then she would get back in bed to fully wake up with her first cup of coffee.

"If I'd been there, you wouldn't have had to get out of bed for your coffee" Or: "If I were there, you wouldn't need to get out of bed for your coffee."

“I know. You spoil me,” she said remembering that Danny had always brought her coffee right before her alarm went off. “How’s the case going?”

“It’s going. Hopefully, we’ll catch a break today.”

“I missed you last night.”

“I missed you, too. I actually can’t stop thinking about you. Listen, when I get back…maybe we should talk about a few things.”

Anna’s heart sank. She couldn’t respond right away.

When he didn’t hear a response, he asked, “Babe…you still there?”

“Yeah,” she replied trying not to let him know that she was crying. “What do we need to talk about?”

“We have some stuff that we haven’t dealt with. We can’t keep avoiding it.”

“Maybe you’re right,” she replied.

He could tell that she was crying now. “We’re going to be okay. We just need to work some things through.”

“Right,” she whispered.

“I gotta go. I’ll call you when I am on my way back. I love you.”

Anna smiled through her tears. “I love you.”

That same night, Anna had returned home from work anxious to sink into a hot bath. She’d thought the bath would help her sleep because she always had trouble sleeping without Danny. She’d just gotten in the tub when her telephone rang. The only reason she’d answered it was because she thought it was him.

“Hello.”

“Ms. Ridley? This is Stan.”

“Hi, Stan. What’s up?” she asked. Stan was her building’s doorman.

“Well, there’s a man down here who says he’s your boyfriend’s brother. He’s asking to see you and Danny.”

“Rafael?”

“Yes, ma’am. That’s what he said. Rafael Alvarez.”

“Um…okay,” Anna replied trying to think quickly. She didn’t even know how Raffi found out where she lived. “I guess you can send him up.”

“Are you sure, Ms. Ridley? Maybe you should meet him down here. Is Danny up there with you?”

“No, he is out of town,” she answered with a smile. Danny had even found a way to get to know her doorman. “But it’s fine. Just send him up, Stan. Thanks.”

She stepped out of the tub, dried herself off, and put on a long robe. She tried to change into something more appropriate, but didn’t have time before she heard the doorbell.

Hurrying to the door, she opened it to find Rafael waiting. Stan stood beside him. “Hi. Come in,” she said graciously with a welcoming smile.

Rafael walked in and then Stan leaned in to address her quietly. “You want me to stay, Ms. Ridley?”

“I’m fine, really. Thanks, though,” she replied quietly.

She closed the door and turned to Raffi who was taking in the large loft and spectacular view. “I’m afraid you caught me at a bad time. Were you thinking Danny was here? He’s out of town on a case.”

“Uh…yeah…I went by his place first, and he wasn’t there so I figured I’d check here. I didn’t know he was out of town. Um…but actually, I wanted to talk to you, too. I’m sorry if this is a bad time. I didn’t know how to get a hold of you on the phone. You have a very secure building,” he responded pointing to where Stan had been standing just moments earlier.

Anna nodded. “Yeah. Stan looks out for me, especially when Danny isn’t around. How did you know where I lived?” she asked curiously as she folded her arms over her chest.

“Oh…uh…I guess Danny must of mentioned it to me, but I’m not sure.”

“Oh,” she responded uneasily. “Well, can I get you a drink or something?”

“Uh…beer would be great.”

“Sorry, we don’t keep alcohol in the house.”

“Right. I guess Danny must be off the sauce now, huh? I figured as much at the wedding. Good for him. That kid could drink anyone under the table by the time he was twelve. ”

“He hasn’t had a drink in a very long time,” she said with a bit of pride. “Do you want water or…”

“I’m fine,” he said as he still took in the room. “Look I just wanted to apologize for what happened the other day.”

“You shouldn’t be apologizing to me, Raffi.”

Rafael shook his head. “It’s a lot easier for me to apologize to you than to him. I was under a lot of stress that day.”

Anna smiled. “I can understand. I mean I’ve heard weddings can be nerve-wracking.”

“Yeah,” Raffi responded continuing to look around until his eyes settled squarely on her. “You have a really nice place here.”

“Thank you,” she answered self-consciously. She all of the sudden felt very uneasy because of the way he was watching her. “How are Sylvia and Nicky?” she asked trying to deflect the attention from her.

“Great. They’re great. Nicky couldn’t stop talking about you and Danny the other night.”

“He’s a great kid.”

“Yeah, he is,” Raffi replied while continuing to stare at her.

“Well I appreciate the apology, and I hope that you and Danny can talk things out when he gets back.”

“He doesn’t want to talk to me. I’ve been out for almost six months, and I never heard from him once.”

“I know. It’s just…it’s hard for him. He went through a lot after your parents died. I think he has a hard time trusting anyone.”

Raffi nodded. “Yeah, I know I wasn’t there for him. And I should have been, but that was a long time ago. And it doesn’t look like he is doing too badly now,” he said as he looked around the apartment again. “I can tell by the look in his eyes that he is judging me.”

“Isn’t that what you’re doing to him, too? I mean you basically accused him of being ashamed of his heritage. Danny didn’t change his name because he was ashamed. He changed it because he wanted a fresh start. If you two would just talk to each other then you would know that,” she responded in a frustrated but concerned tone.

“Well he must have done something right along the way. He’s got the good job, the girl…and all of this,” he said looking around. “And I…I can barely afford to pay the rent on a one-bedroom apartment. Danny was always such a smart kid. Even when he was getting into trouble…he’d always be able to talk his way out of it. I got to give credit to him.”

“He works really hard, Raffi.”

“How hard did he have to work to get you?” he asked as he stared at her again.

Anna looked down at her feet. She was completely uncomfortable. She still wasn’t sure what he really wanted. “I love Danny. I always have.”

“Like I said at the wedding…he’s a lucky guy,” he said as he seemed to focus his attention on looking at her body more than anything else.

“Listen…I…um…I’m…um…meeting a friend for dinner…so…” she lied to get him to leave.

“Right. I’ve taken up too much of your time. I just wanted you to know that I did enjoy meeting you, and we were glad you and Danny came to the wedding.”

“We were happy to be there,” she replied.

Raffi walked toward her, and she could tell he wanted to embrace her. She didn’t know what to do. She didn’t want to be rude, but she also didn’t want to encourage him. Before she could react, he put his arms around her.

“Thanks for listening,” he whispered in her ear.

His grip was a little too tight, and she felt incredibly vulnerable in her robe. And she could smell the liquor on his breath. She knew then that she should have never let him up there. Before she could pull away, he made sure that his body brushed against hers. She finally pulled away and stepped back.

“Goodbye, Raffi. Tell your wife I said hello.”

“I’ll do that,” he responded as he started to walk out, but then stopped. “There is one more thing, and I really hate to ask you. I was going to ask Danny, but…”

She frowned slightly. “What?”

“Um…this is really stupid…”

“What is it?” she asked insistently because she wanted him to leave.

“I’ve been coming up a little short this month, and its Nicky’s birthday next week. Sylvia and I would like to get him a nice gift, but…anyway…I was going to ask Danny to float me a loan. He’d probably say no, but I’m desperate…”

Anna felt torn. She knew that Danny wouldn’t want her to give him the money, but she also just wanted him to leave and wasn’t sure what he would say or do if she didn’t give it to him. “How much?” she asked quietly as she grabbed her purse from the table by the door.

“Um…a couple hundred would be great. We could get that bike that he really wants…”

Anna nodded as she opened her wallet and pulled out two hundred dollar bills. “Here you go.”

“Thank you. Thank you so much. I’m sure Danny would’ve helped me out if he was here…since it is for Nicky and all. I’ll pay you back.”

Anna shrugged. “It’s no big deal, Raffi. I hope Nicky has a happy birthday,” she responded as she opened her front door.

“You really are an angel,” he said as he leaned toward her again, but she backed away quickly.

“Like I said, it’s no big deal. I’ll tell Danny you stopped by,” she said trying to conclude the visit.

“Right. Thanks again,” he said as he backed away toward the elevator.

Moving restlessly, she mentally chastised herself for not listening to Danny's warnings about Raffi. She remembered the feel of the man's arms around her and shuddered, wanting nothing more than to take a shower. Raffi may not have meant to make her feel uncomfortable, but she was certain he was making some kind of point by coming here when Danny was away. There was no way, she thought, that Danny would have told him where she lived.

After sleeping on it, she decided to let it go and not tell Danny about his brother’s visit. She didn’t want to cause more problems between them. In the future, she planned on making a point not to be alone with him again.

Danny and Martin returned from Boston three days later. Their trip was extremely successful. They’d found their missing person holed up with his mistress at a hotel. It had turned out he embezzled money from his company and was planning to leave the country with the mistress.

“Well that was another complete waste of time,” Danny said as he entered the bullpen with Martin.

“We found him, didn’t we?” Sam responded from her desk.

“Yeah…we found him all right…shacked up with some girl while his wife and two kids were frantic with worry. I don’t get these people.”

“You want to know someone else we don’t get?” Samantha asked with a sly smile.

“Who?” he responded with a shrug.

“Karen Washington. She’s called here eight times, at least, asking to talk to you. Both Viv and I have asked if we could help her, but she says she only wants to talk to you,” she answered as she handed him a stack of messages.

Danny sighed heavily. “This is not my day. First the mistress slaps me when we tried to take Mr. Phelps away and now this.”

“You need to talk to Jack.” Samantha implored.

“You didn’t say anything to him, did you?” he asked in a worried tone.

“You mean did I tell him that Mrs. Washington is hot for your body? No. I didn’t. But you should.”

“Thanks for the advice,” Danny said cutting her off as he picked up his phone and dialed Karen Washington’s number.

“Hello,” Mrs. Washington answered.

“Mrs. Washington. It’s Agent Taylor. I heard you are looking for me,” he said warily.

“Thank goodness you called back. I was going through the attic the other day, and I ran across one of Sarah’s old journals. I think she kept it when she was eleven. She wrote about wanting to find her father. For some reason, she got it in her head that my ex-husband wasn’t her real father, and…”

Danny interrupted and tried not to sound too annoyed. “Mrs. Washington, why couldn’t you tell Agent Spade or Agent Johnson about this? Better yet, I think it would be a lead for a private investigator to run down.”

“Oh, well, I just thought I would run it past you first.”

“Listen, Mrs. Washington, I work on a team. We’re all capable of answering any of your questions or running down any legitimate lead.”

“I know that. I just feel more comfortable talking to you.”

“Well, in the future ma’am, I would recommend that you relay any information like this to whoever is available at the time,” he said in the most professional tone possible. “In this particular case, the journal entry does not sound like something we can look into. I would again suggest a private…”

“A private investigator, I know. I’m working on that. Sorry to have bothered you, Agent Taylor,” she responded curtly and hung up.

He took a deep breath as he put down the phone. He hated being short with her, but had to get his message across. Samantha, who overheard his whole end of the conversation, walked over to him. “You handled that well. I still think you should tell Jack, but if she doesn’t get the idea after that…”

Danny just nodded and then changed the subject. “You think Jack would mind if I filed my paperwork tomorrow? I have to get out of here,” he said as he thought of not seeing Anna for almost five days.

“I’ll tell him. He won’t mind,” Samantha answered and then she smiled. “Tell Anna I said hello.”

Danny smiled in return. “Thanks. I will. See you tomorrow, Sam.”

He’d called Anna on his way there to let her know he was coming. It’d seemed like an eternity getting from his building to her apartment. As he rode up in the elevator, he literally couldn’t wait to see her. Even though they were having problems, he still felt the same way as he always had about her, and he’d realized that sleeping without her for five days was almost unbearable. As soon as he stepped out of the elevator, her door opened slightly and then wider once she made sure it was him. She was wearing his favorite blue dress shirt, which had quickly become her favorite blue dress shirt as well.

“You stole my favorite shirt,” he said quietly as he approached her— fighting to contain the urge to ravage her in the hallway.

“Do you mind?” she asked sexily while biting her bottom lip.

“Not at all. It looks much better on you, especially when it’s all you’re wearing,” he said as he came within inches of her.

Her breath quickened as he got closer and closer. “God I’ve missed you like crazy. I know we need to talk, but…”

“…but we can definitely talk later,” he said he pulled her to him and kissed her deeply.

She pulled him into the apartment while they continued to kiss. He kicked the door shut and then gently pushed her against it. His hands quickly found their way under the blue shirt. And then just as quickly, he removed the shirt in one smooth motion sending the few buttons she had buttoned flying. She managed to loosen his tie and work the buttons more carefully on his dress shirt. As he helped her take off his shirt and undershirt, he guided her over to the sofa.

Just as they collapsed onto the sofa, he heard the water running in the bathroom. “Did you leave the water on?” he asked as he stopped kissing her and looked toward the bedroom.

She smiled. “After this, we’re taking a long, hot bath together.”

“Do we have time before we have to shut the water off?”

“Yeah. This is the ‘hurry-up/I want you now’ portion of the evening. I’ve been fantasizing about this all day--so no foreplay needed. And then later, after a nice long bath, we’ll do the ‘slow down/I want to please every inch of you’ portion of the evening.”

Danny nodded as he continued to kiss her and touch her. “You’ve put a lot of thought into this.”

“I’ve had like five days to focus on it. I don’t think I can allow your boss to let you be gone for that long ever again,” she answered completely serious. “Now, you only have about twelve more minutes…”

He cut her off with a passionate kiss as he pinned her arms on either side of her head. He wanted her so much that he knew he would have little problem with this portion of the evening.

A half an hour later, they were in the bathtub. Danny was lying against her as she rubbed his shoulders with her fingertips.

“If I could bottle this feeling, I swear I’d be a millionaire,” he said in a completely relaxed tone.

“What feeling is that?” she asked.

“When I was at the office, before I got here, I was having the world’s crappiest day. Our guy was holed up with his mistress in Boston. So when we had to arrest him, his mistress hauled off and slapped me. Then I had to fly back here, and I hate flying. Martin took a nap--which made it worse--because I had no one to complain to.”

“That may be why he was taking the nap,” Anna said as she continued to massage him.

Danny smirked. “You’re probably right. He probably wasn’t even sleeping. Then I get back to the office, and…” he started, but then thought better of it.

“And what?”

“Nothing…just…more paperwork,” he said not wanting her to feel threatened by his problems with Karen Washington.

“So what about all of that do you want to bottle?” she asked trying to direct him back to his original statement.

“Oh…right…this feeling,” he said as he look up at her for a moment and then closed his eyes. “The feeling of utter peace and relaxation after a crappy day that I now believe can only be achieved by epic sex followed by a hot bath and massage.”

Anna laughed. “Actually, as I said earlier, the epic sex will be later. What happened before was intense, hot and fan-freaking-tastic, but ultimately just a prelude to later.”

Danny smiled. “I love you…you know that?”

“I love you, too. And just think, if you lived here, we could do this every night.”

“The state I’m in right now—you could probably talk me into anything.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” she answered quietly and then became more serious. “Speaking of talking, I know you said you wanted to. I hope you don’t think I am trying to avoid it. I mean maybe I am, but I just wanted us to have a nice night together.”

“We have all the time in the world to talk,” he said as he leaned his head back against her and closed his eyes. The way he was feeling right at that moment made him forget about all the lingering issues between them.

Just as the water started to get tepid, the telephone rang. “Hello,” Anna answered. “Great. Give us about 10 minutes and then bring it up. Thanks.”

“Who was that?” he asked as he frowned not liking the interruption.

“It was Stan.”

“Stan? What is Stan bringing up in ten minutes?”

Anna smiled. “I assume you haven’t eaten. And you’re going to need your strength for later so I ordered takeout.”

“You really are like out of this world amazing. When you plan an evening…you plan an evening,” he said as he rose from the tub.

“I don’t sleep when you aren’t here. So I plan what we’ll do the next time we see each other and even beyond that,” she said as she let him help her out of the tub and wrap her in a warm towel.

“Beyond that, huh?”

“Yep,” she admitted with a sheepish smile. She didn’t say it out loud, but she’d actually planned their wedding, honeymoon, and even when she would give birth to each of their four children.

They both got dressed in comfortable clothes, and then Danny went to meet Stan at the door while Anna dried her hair.

“Hey. Stan the man, what’s going on?” Danny asked in a playful tone.

“Back in town finally?” Stan replied.

“Yeah, it was a long, lonely trip,” he said as he took the bags of takeout from Stan. “You’re too good to us, amigo.”

Stan smiled. “It’s a pleasure being good to nice people like you and Ms. Ridley. Now some of the other stiffs in this building…”

“I hear ya, man. Sometimes, I feel like I need to show ID when I ride in the elevator.”

Stan laughed and then got a little serious. “I had to make sure we didn’t run into any stiffs when your brother came by earlier in the week.”

“What? What are you talking about?” he asked as his smiled faded.

“She hasn’t told you?” Stan said referring to Anna as he looked in to the apartment.

Danny shook his head. “My brother was here?”

“Yeah. I didn’t even think he was telling the truth when he told me who he was. I mean, I saw his prison tatts and thought it didn’t seem right—you being a Fed an all—but then I called up here and Ms. Ridley said he was okay. So I escorted him up here myself, just so the tenants wouldn’t get nervous.”

“Do you know how long he was up here?”

“Ten…twenty minutes max. Should I not have let him up here?”

“It's okay, Stan. But in the future, call me if he comes by when I’m not here.”

“Will do,” Stan answered before turning to leave.

Danny put the takeout bags down in the kitchen and then walked back to the bedroom. He watched as Anna put moisturizer on her face followed by lip gloss. For a moment as he watched her, he didn’t want to ask her about Raffi’s visit. He didn’t want to ruin their evening, but his anger overtook him.

Anna turned to walk out of the room and was a little startled to find Danny watching her in the doorway. “Hey. You shouldn’t sneak up on a girl like that,” she said as she walked toward him and started to put her hands on his chest.

When she touched him, he recoiled as if as if she'd burned him. “My brother was here?” he asked in a hurt tone.

She looked up at him in surprise and wasn’t sure what to say. His eyes were filled with anger. “Um…”

“Don’t try to deny it. Stan escorted him up here.”

“I wasn’t going to deny it. I just…”

“You just what? Did you call him?” he asked raising his voice slightly.

“No…no…of course I didn’t call him.”

“Then how the hell does he know where you live?” he asked skeptically.

“I have no idea. He said you told him. He just showed up here a few nights ago. I was surprised when Stan called me from the lobby and said Raffi was here. I didn’t know what to say…”

“How about saying that you barely know the man and you wouldn’t feel right about having him up to your apartment while I’m not here?”

“That would have been rude, Danny. I went to his wedding just a few days ago.”

“I know, and you shouldn’t have gone to his wedding in the first place. We agreed that was a mistake. So why the hell would you let him come up here?” he asked accusingly.

“I don’t know. I thought he was looking for you. I thought I would just tell him that you were gone and…”

“And you couldn’t do that from the lobby phone? What were you thinking? Were you thinking you could fix his relationship with me? Were you thinking he could tell you more nasty details about my tragic past? Tell me? Tell me what you could have gained by letting him come up here?” he asked as his voice rising after each question.

Tears started to fall out from Anna’s eyes. She hadn’t seen Danny this angry since his drinking days. “I don’t know. I don’t know,” she shouted back. “I shouldn’t have let him up here. I know now it was a mistake. I was just trying to be nice. I just wanted—”

“Why do you know now it was a mistake?” Danny interrupted training in on that one part of her response. “What happened while he was up here?”

Anna shook her head. She didn’t want to tell him about feeling uncomfortable around Raffi. “Nothing. Nothing happened.”

“Tell me. Did he try something? Did he touch you?” Danny asked as his voice hitched.

“No,” she lied as her voice cracked with emotion.

“Then what? Did he make you feel uncomfortable? Did he ask you for something? Did he…”

She wanted him to stop. She felt like she was one of his suspects. “At first, he said he wanted to apologize to both of us.”

“At first? Then what? What else?”

She sighed in frustration. “He ended up asking for...”

“Asking for what?” he asked still in a raised voice.

“Money. He said he was going to ask you for money to pay for a birthday present for Nicky,” she finally answered.

“Tell me…Please tell me you didn’t give it to him,” he said as he ran a hand over his face and hair.

“I felt bad for him,” she answered, not wanting to tell Danny the truth—that she actually just wanted to get Raffi to leave her apartment.

“How much?”

“$200. He said it was for a new bike. I didn’t see the harm--”

“No. You wouldn’t’ see the harm,” he responded in angry frustration. “I told you to stay out of it. We talked about this. You knew how I felt about this. How the hell could you let him up here? And how could you give him money? He’s a junky--”

“It was for Nicky,” she yelled back.

He shook his head and rolled his eyes. “Nicky’s birthday isn’t for three months, Anna. Three months. Raffi lied to you. I told you…you can’t trust him. But you didn’t listen…just like you didn’t listen when I said I didn’t want to go to that damn wedding. I am so sick…”

She took a deep breath and waited for him to finish the statement, but he didn’t. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I didn’t listen to you. I’m sorry for everything,” she said as tears continued to stream down her face.

“Were you planning on keeping this a secret? You weren’t going to tell me, were you?”

“I don’t…”

“Did Raffi tell you not to tell me? Did you two plan to keep this a secret together?”

“No. Don't be ridiculous. I just didn't want you to get mad. I knew after I did, it-" She paused searching for the right words, then finished, "After I gave him the money and he left...I knew that I shouldn't have done it. I knew it was-"

“Promise me…promise me you’ll stay out of this from now on,” he pleaded. “I don’t want him near you, especially if I’m not around. I don’t want to talk about him anymore, and I don’t want to hear about how I should rebuild my relationship with him. I don’t need that—not from you,” he said trying to remain calm and not raise his voice again.

She bit her lip as he looked at her. She could see the anger and disappointment in his eyes. “I promise,” was all she could say.

He didn’t leave that night, but he didn’t sleep with her either. He slept on the couch. He knew she genuinely thought she'd been helping, but it was hard for him to get past the fact the she hadn't trusted what he'd said. He couldn’t understand how she could, at times, have so little faith in him and yet seem to trust his brother without any grounds for doing so.

The next morning they did their best to pretend the night before hadn't happened, but the tension lingered between them. They experienced an awkward goodbye outside the lobby of her building. He hailed her a cab and opened the door for her.

“Will I see you tonight?” she asked. Normally, it was a given that she would see him.

He shook his head. “I left a ton of paperwork when I came home early yesterday. I’ll be there late tonight finishing it. It’d probably be best if I just crashed at my place.”

“I guess last night didn’t go quite as I planned,” she responded. Then she tightened her lips together to keep her tears at bay. “I am sorry…”

“Don’t. It’s over. I don’t want to discuss it anymore,” he said in an annoyed tone.

“When will I see you again? We still need to talk,” she asked trying not to sound desperate.

He wanted to tell her he needed time. He wanted to tell her he needed space. But he couldn’t. He couldn’t look in her eyes and hurt her like that. “Dinner tomorrow? Russo’s at eight?”

Her lips softened into a slight smile as she internally breathed a sigh of relief. “Sounds good.”

He kissed her forehead before she got in the cab. He knew he needed to do a lot of thinking between now and when they met for dinner. Somehow they had to figure out a way to communicate with each other, or he knew it would never work between them. But before he could see her again, he had to get the rest of the details about what happened during her visit with Raffi.

Danny didn’t have time to find Raffi until the next day during his lunch hour. He walked in to the auto shop that Raffi worked in and nodded to a couple of the men that he recognized from the wedding. One of them motioned over towards the office. Danny saw that Rafael was sitting at a table in the office area.

He took a deep breath before he entered the room. As he walked in the door, Rafael looked up from reading the paper and smiled. “Danny boy. This is an honor,” he said sarcastically as he stood up.

Danny rolled his eyes and smirked. “Raffi. This isn’t a social call. I’m here to get a couple of things clear.”

Raffi laughed and shook his head as he walked over to a refrigerator. He took out a beer and then looked at Danny. “You really clean and sober?” he asked as he dangled the beer in Danny’s direction. “’Course with a girlfriend like that…who needs to get drunk…”

Rafael’s remark made Danny snap. He rushed him, tore the beer out of his hand and put his forearm into Raffi’s chest as he pushed him against the refrigerator. “Shut up. You don’t talk about her. You don’t look at her. And you definitely don’t go near her. Is that understood?”

Raffi just laughed as Danny gave him one more shove and then moved away from him. “Is that what you wanted to clarify?” Raffi asked.

“How do you know where she lives?”

“What?”

“You showed up unannounced at Anna’s apartment the other night. Why were you there and how did you know where to find her?”

“What did she tell you? Did I scare her or something?”

Danny frowned and shook his head. “Tell me what you did.”

“Nothing. I didn’t do anything. Maybe the princess is overreacting. I know where she lives because I followed you there one night before I came to see you at your apartment. I wanted to talk to you, but then I lost my nerve. When I saw her with you at your place that day, I assumed that she lived in the building that I followed you to. That’s how I knew. I’m not stalking your girlfriend, Danny.”

“Why did you go there?”

“To apologize to both of you for losing my temper at the wedding. I am sorry, Danny. I didn’t mean those things I said.”

“Sure you didn’t,” he answered skeptically. “What else happened?”

“Nothing…”

“You’re lying, Raffi. What else happened when you were at her apartment?”

“The money,” Raffi answered as if he just remembered.

“Right the money. You told her it was for Nicky’s birthday gift.”

“It is…”

“His birthday isn’t for three months, you lying son of bitch. Are you using again?”

Raffi looked up at Danny as anger flashed in his eyes. “No…I’m not.”

“Then what was the money for?”

“I didn’t think she’d give it to me unless it was for a good excuse. I didn’t think that someone like her would understand that I would just need help making the rent. I thought if she knew it was for Nicky, she wouldn’t question it. And I was right. She didn’t question it.”

“How could you do that, Raffi? How could you ask someone in my life for money? Why wouldn’t you just wait to ask me?”

“Because I walked into that apartment and it was a freaking palace. I’ve never seen anything like it. I figured she must have money to burn with a place like that. I saw an opportunity and I took it.”

“Still trying to con everyone, aren’t you?” Danny replied quietly. “Did you even think about me once while you were up there with her? Did you think about how doing that might affect my relationship with her? You didn’t, did you?”

“Danny, I…” he started to respond.

“I know you didn’t. You haven’t thought about my feelings since I was twelve years old. Maybe you’re not using anymore and maybe you’re staying on track, but you still haven’t changed. Do you really hate me that much, Raffi? I never asked you to protect me. You want me to be a part of your life, but then you go behind my back to ask my girlfriend for money and making her uncomfortable in the process? You wanted to try to screw with my relationship with her, didn’t you? You don’t want to see me happy, do you?”

Raffi didn’t answer. He just looked down at his feet.

“Stay away from her, Raffi. She’s all I have,” Danny said before walking out the door.

When Danny returned to work, he couldn’t mask his bad mood. His co-workers knew just by looking at him that he needed space, so they stayed out of his way. Jack also noticed Danny’s foul mood, so he gave him a stack of phone records to sift through from a cold case. Jack knew that Danny was in no frame of mind to work with the others or be out in the field. He wanted to ask Danny what was wrong, but he knew from past experience that it would be a futile effort.

Danny became so focused on matching the phone records, that he didn’t hear Martin calling his name three times. “Danny…Danny….Danny.”

He finally looked up and answered in an annoyed tone. “What?”

“Karen Washington is down in the lobby asking to see you again. She says it’s about her daughter’s case.”

He sighed heavily. “You can have my first born if you go down there and tell her I’m not here.”

Martin laughed thinking that it was another of Danny’s jokes and walked away.

“Thanks a lot,” Danny mumbled as he got up from his desk to head downstairs.

As Danny approached Karen Washington, she was sitting in a waiting room chair. He couldn’t help but notice that her skirt was about three inches too short and she was wearing four-inch heels. This struck him as strange because usually she always came to the office in impeccable, professional dress. On this afternoon, she looked like she was ready for a night out clubbing. Danny thought the she looked much younger in the outfit.

“Mrs. Washington.”

She stood and straightened her skirt. “Thank you for seeing me. I wasn’t sure you would.”

“What can I do for you now?” he asked wanting to expedite the encounter.

“Well, first, I wanted to tell you that I was sorry for hanging up on you. You were right. I have become too dependent on you. You’re not the only person who can find my daughter.”

Danny nodded his head. “I’m glad you understand that now.”

“Also, I hired a PI. The one you recommended on the list you faxed me. He seems quite competent.”

“He’s the best from what I hear. That’s good, Mrs. Washington,” he responded feeling encouraged by her progress.

“That brings me to the actually reason for my visit. Since I’ve hired the PI, and I won’t be bringing any more leads to your team…then I was thinking that there wouldn’t be a conflict of interest anymore.”

Danny was perplexed. “Conflict of interest?”

“Yes. You know…for us. There’s no reason we couldn’t go out.”

His head snapped back in surprise as he stifled a sigh. “I told you before--”

“You said it wouldn’t be appropriate as long as your team was working my daughter’s case. You don’t have to work on it anymore.”

“It still wouldn’t be appropriate, Mrs. Washington.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Mrs. Washington—”

“Danny,” she interrupted as she grasped his arm with her hand. “Don’t fight this. There’s been something between us for quite some time.”

He shook his head in disbelief. “Mrs. Washington, I’ve tried to be polite. I’ve tried to be professional, but now I’m afraid I have to be blunt,” he said as he pulled his arm out of her grasp. “I’m not interested in pursuing a relationship with you. I’m sorry.”

She looked like he slapped her. “Oh…I…I…guess I misunderstood,” she replied as she started to walk away from him. “I’m sorry,” she said as she quickly walked out of the room.

Danny shook his head as he wondered if the day could get any worse.

Outside the glassed-in waiting room, Jack and Samantha were returning from a quick coffee break, when Jack stopped to watch them in the room. “Mrs. Washington is here for an update again,” he said matter-of-factly.

Samantha gave him a sidelong glance and mumbled, “Yeah, I bet she wants an update.”

“What?” Jack asked as he looked over at her.

“Nothing,” she replied. And then they both watched as Mrs. Washington took hold of Danny’s arm and he shrugged it away moments later.

“What’s that about?” Jack asked giving Samantha a confused glance.

“I don’t know,” she answered. “She probably just frustrated since there is nothing new about her daughter.” She didn’t like lying to Jack, but she didn’t want to betray Danny’s confidence even though she knew it would be for his own good.

After he ran into Karen Washington, Danny checked his phone messages. Anna left a message telling him their plans had changed and she needed him to meet her at a hotel bar uptown. They were supposed to meet at Russo’s, their favorite Italian restaurant, for dinner. He wasn’t sure why she changed the plans, but he didn’t question it. He just gathered his things and grabbed a cab uptown.

He arrived at the Ritz Carlton hotel bar to find Anna sitting at a table playing with a napkin. She’d ordered them both club sodas with lime. “Hey. Why the change of plans?” he asked as he gave her a quick kiss and then sat down.

She could tell he was preoccupied and not in the best mood because of the quickness of his kiss and thefrown etched on his brow line. “Hi…I…uh…I’ll explain in a minute. How was your day?”

“My day? You really want to know?”

“Of course,” she replied sincerely.

“It kind of sucked,” he responded with a smirk.

“You want to talk about it?” she asked hesitantly.

“Not really. I was actually looking forward to just having dinner and then going home and crashing.”

She looked down and took a deep breath. “The reason I asked you to meet me here is because my dad and Christi are in town tonight. He really wants us to meet them for dinner in about twenty minutes at that sushi place across the street.”

“Why didn’t you just tell me this in your message?”

“I didn’t want you to find an excuse to skip it. I know the last time we saw them…it wasn’t exactly comfortable. And that was my fault. This time, he knows about us and he knows that we are serious. And he wants to get to know you better,” she said as she smiled slightly.

After dealing with his brother and Karen Washington, Danny was in no mood to spend an evening under the scrutiny of Anna’s father, especially since they were having troubles of their own. “I’m sorry, but of all nights to spring this on me…this isn’t the night.”

“Come on, Danny. We’ll have dinner and talk for a while and be home in two hours. It will be painless.”

“Painless…right. Why couldn’t he tell us he was coming before the last minute? I don’t get it.”

“I don’t know. He just called me late this afternoon. This means a lot to me.”

He rubbed his eyes and sighed. He was still angry with her because of the fight about Raffi. And he knew she hadn't told him everything because of the things Raffi had said. But he had a hard time saying no to her. “I guess I’ll go. But you’ll have to let me know the rules with Christi,” he said sarcastically.

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“You tell me. Can I look at her? Will you get pissed if she looks at me the way she looked at me in Hamptons? Should I talk to her or not? Can I shake her hand? I need to be clear so I don’t exceed any boundaries.”

“That’s not fair—” Anna started to respond in a slightly raised voice.

“Not fair?” he interrupted. “The last time we saw your father’s wife, we ended having a huge fight, and you accused me of being incapable of controlling myself around women.”

“I didn’t say that. I told you I felt insecure.”

“Well I don’t feel like dealing with your insecurities tonight,” he said warily.

Anna shook her head. “If it’s going to be that hard for you, then don’t bother,” she said as her voiced cracked with emotion and she rose from the table. “I don’t want you there if you are going to act sarcastic and cold.”

Danny looked up at her and started to rise from the table, but she stopped him. “No…don’t. You don’t want to come. You’re obviously still pissed off at me. That’s fine. Don’t come. I shouldn’t have asked you in the first place,” she said as she walked out.

Danny sat back down and ran a hand through his hair. He must have sat there for fifteen minutes before deciding what to do next. He thought that Anna should’ve known better than to have a fight with him in a bar. He finally found the strength to get up and find the nearest AA meeting. Since he’d been with Anna, he hadn’t felt the need to go as often as he used to, but he knew he needed to go tonight because he kept wishing that the club soda tasted like a vodka tonic.

Just as he rose from the table, someone approached him.

“Is this seat taken?” Karen Washington asked as she sat down in the chair across from him and put her Cosmopolitan on the table.

“What are you doing here?” he asked in a confused and annoyed tone.

“I could ask the same to you. What a coincidence,” she said with a sly smile.

“Did you follow me here?” he asked.

She laughed. “As a matter of fact…yes…I did. And when I saw you with that very attractive young woman…it all came together. You should have told me you have a girlfriend. Everything makes sense now. I’m so relieved.”

Danny shook his head. “She has nothing to do with it. Whether I have a girlfriend or not, that doesn’t change the fact that this isn’t right.”

“What’s not right? We’re just talking, Danny.”

“I should go,” he said, but before he could rise she put her hand on his.

“Have one drink with me. Just one…and then I’ll never bother you again. Please…Danny,” she pleaded turning serious all of a sudden.

He sat back down uneasily. He figured one drink wouldn’t hurt if it meant she would leave him alone.

“Good. Now what are we drinking?”

“Club soda,” he answered.

“Oh we can do better than that,” she said motioning to the waitress. “I bet you are a scotch man.”

“I don’t drink.”

“Oh come on, Danny. One drink won’t kill you. I won’t tell your little girlfriend,” she said and then she ordered the most expensive scotch on the menu.

Danny sighed heavily. He knew he should get up and leave but something made him stay at the table with her.

“Tell me about your girlfriend. It looks like you had a fight.”

“We didn’t. We’re fine. We’re very happy,” he said and then felt his stomach go in knots when the waitress put the scotch in front of him.

“I bet you are. You are probably an attentive, sweet boyfriend. I can just imagine it.”

He wanted to say that he wasn’t very sweet to Anna that night, but didn’t say it. “What do you want, Mrs. Washington?”

“Well, first, I want you to call me Karen. And then I want us to have a drink together. How did you meet her?”

“Who?” he asked confused again.

“The girlfriend.”

“College. We met in college.”

“You’re kidding? I don’t believe you’ve been dating the same woman for that long.”

He shook his head. “We broke up a long time ago and recently got back together,” he answered not quite sure why he was still talking to her. Being in the bar with Karen and a drink sitting in front of him was like standing in front of the abyss. He was scared and thrilled all at the same time. He knew he should walk away, but he was so tempted to take the leap.

“That explains a lot. Are you in love with her?”

“Yes. Very much,” he answered emphatically.

Karen laughed. “Sounds like you are trying to convince yourself of that,” she replied. “Do you remember when I came to see you at your office that day. I brought you the article and you tried to act so professional? Do you remember what I told you that day?”

He remembered but he didn’t want to admit it. “No.”

She smiled. “I told you that I’m attracted to you. Are you attracted to me?”

His first reaction, for some reason, was to say yes. She was completely different from Anna with a sexy, sophisticated, worldly quality. But he shook his head. “It’s doesn’t matter…”

She interrupted him. “You don’t have to answer. Knowing you are in a relationship fills in so many blanks. What if I told you that I’m not looking for commitment? What if I said that you could keep your sweet girlfriend and have me at the same time. No strings attached. I know I don’t look like her…I don’t have her youth and wholesomeness going for me, but I guarantee I can make up for it other ways. I’ve been attracted to you for two years. I’ve been curious about you for just as long. One night…Danny. Then…if you ever want me again…”

He shook his head again. “I love my girlfriend, and next to her…my job is the most important thing in my life. I won’t jeopardize either of those for a fling.”

“Then why are you still here? You could have run after her, but you didn’t. You could have walked away at any time, but you haven’t. You’re still here. We could just be what the other needs…just for a few hours. You want to take that drink, and then you want to take this and meet me upstairs,” she said as she slid a hotel room key card across the table. “No strings attached.”

She rose from the table and he watched her walk toward the hotel elevator. He took a deep breath as he picked up the key and inspected it. And then he looked down at the expensive glass of scotch. He wanted to escape. He wanted to forget about his brother and his problems with Anna. He wanted to forget about all the work and heartache it took to be a committed relationship. He tried to will himself to find a reason not to drink the scotch and follow her upstairs because getting drunk and losing himself in someone was sounding more and more appealing.

Instead of having dinner with her father and Christi, Anna had feigned fatigue and excused herself. She’d lied and told them that Danny was working on a case. When she’d left the restaurant, she hadn’t known where she was going, but eventually she’d found herself at Danny’s building. He’d given her a key after she’d waited for him there after their fight in the Hampton’s.

She knocked on his door, then let herself in when he didn't answer. Surprised he wasn't there because he'd said earlier that he'd wanted to crash, she tried calling his cell phone, but there was no answer. Obviously, he'd turned it off.

She couldn’t understand because he never turned his phone off. Then she called her apartment. Stan told her that he hadn’t seen Danny.

Finally, she just laid down on his bed and waited for him to show up.

At some point, Anna must have fallen asleep because the next thing she knew it was 1 AM and she heard the sound of his shower being turned off. She sat up and squinted when Danny opened the bathroom door. Watching him walk out with a towel wrapped low around his hips felt very familiar, but she didn't want to admit that to him or herself.

“I was worried about you,” she said quietly.

“I was surprised to find you here,” he replied as he sat on the edge of the bed.

“Where were you? You weren’t answering your cell.”

“I…um…I took a walk. I needed to clear my head. And then I went to your place, and Stan told me you were here.”

She nodded.

“I’m glad you’re here,” he whispered as he touched her face and let his fingers run through her hair. He looked at her almost desperately. He wanted to say more, but the words wouldn’t come.

She saw fear in his eyes. “I don’t want to lose you, Danny. Nothing has happened that we can’t work through…right?” she asked hesitantly.

For a moment, he was taken aback by her question. He looked in her eyes and then looked down while shaking his head. “I don’t…,” he started, but then said, “We can get through this.”

Anna sat up in the bed, put both of her hands on his stubbled face and pulled him closer to her. She looked deep in his eyes before kissing him. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew she was testing him. He pulled her even closer and kissed her back passionately. He slowly laid her back down on the bed and within minutes removed his towel and her remaining clothes.

Since they’d started dating again, their lovemaking had been equal, meaning both had participated vigorously. But on this night, Danny took control in a way that reminded her of their first time when she’d been so timid and unsure. He hadn’t just made love to her that time. He’d also constantly reassured her and made sure she was okay. She’d never felt safer or more whole in her life. Just like her first time, on this night, Danny uttered soft whispers of reassurance in her ear while he was inside off her telling her that he would always love her and she was safe with him and could trust him.

After they finished, they laid facing each other on the bed, their bodies still tangled together. For some reason, they weren’t able to fall asleep right away. Danny played with her hair as they just stared into each other’s eyes. And then he finally spoke.

“I should’ve gone with you tonight to see your father. I’m sorry, baby.”

“I shouldn’t have sprung it on you like that—”

He shook his head and put his thumb on her lips. “Don’t apologize. This was my fault. I was a jerk, and I’m sorry.”

She kissed his thumb. “But we were supposed to talk tonight.”

“We’re talking now. The stuff that happened with Raffi—I hate that you were exposed to that. He came to see you to get under my skin. I don’t know what kind of relationship he and I can have, but I never want you in the middle of it. I know I should do a better job of talking to you about it. And I will. I promise.”

“I just want to help you.”

“I know. Sometimes I think we are so different. I’m not used to having someone like you in my life. I’ve tried to be more open with you. I know that’s important. I have tried, but sometimes I’m afraid…”

“Afraid of what?” she asked in a surprised tone.

“…Afraid that I’ll lose you, and you’ll leave me if you hear something that is too much for you. So I want to protect you from it. I can deal with the fights, the misunderstandings and the insecurities, but I can’t lose you again.”

Anna reached out and put arms his neck. She held him as tight as she could. She always thought she was the only insecure one in the relationship. “You can tell me anything. I know I can be a over-sensitive, insecure basket case, but as long as I know you still love me, I can deal with just about anything.”

Danny held her just as tightly burying his face in hair as a tear rolled down his cheek.

They spent a busy weekend together that included finally going to a Mets game and culminated with meeting Anna’s father and Christi for Sunday brunch. Christi was as flirtatious as ever. She seemed intent on endearing herself to Danny, but he barely took his eyes off Anna the whole time. Anna couldn’t help but notice that he was even more attentive to her that weekend than usual. He stayed at her place the whole weekend. Her father even commented to Anna that they seemed very much in love, and he was happy that things were working out this time.

On Monday morning, Danny went to work with the usual spring in his step. Vivian and Samantha both commented on his improved mood from the previous Friday. He told them that he'd needed one good weekend to get him back on track.

They didn’t have an active case going on so they all kept busy at their desks. Danny was diligently reviewing case files, when his telephone rang.

“Taylor,” Danny answered.

“Agent Taylor. This is SAC Olczyk. I need to see you in my office ASAP.”

Danny frowned, but didn’t hesitate. “Yes sir. I’ll be right up.” Then the phone went dead.

He rose from his desk, put on his suit jacket and straightened his tie. For some reason, he felt nervous. Olczyk, Jack’s boss, had never asked to see him before. “Where’s Jack?" he asked as he looked into Jack’s office.

Vivian and Samantha looked up from the conference table and accidentally answered in unison. “Chicago.”

They smiled and then Vivian continued. “He was in Chicago this weekend. His flight got in early this morning. He was coming straight here after he landed, even though I told him he should take the day off. Why? Do you need something?”

“Um…no…I’m sure it’s nothing. Olczyk just called me. He wants to see me right now.”

Martin looked up from his desk and exchanged perplexed looks with Vivian and Sam, and Vivian then responded again. “You’re probably right. It’s nothing, but you should get up there.”

“Yeah. I’ll be back in a few,” Danny said as he walked out of the bullpen.

“What on earth could that be about?” Martin asked as soon as Danny was out of ear shot.

“Who knows?” Vivian said as she returned to her desk.

Samantha didn’t respond, but she had a nagging feeling in her stomach.

Danny took the stairs up to Olczyk’s office two at a time. When he entered the receptionist’s area, she addressed him. “Agent Taylor?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he answered.

“Go right in.”

“Thank you,” he answered and then walked into Olczyk’s office. Olczyk was on the phone, but he pointed to a chair in front of his desk. Danny sat in the chair and then nervously played with his hands until Olczyk finished the call.

Olczyk didn’t greet Danny at all when he got off the phone. He just started to leaf through a file in front of him. Danny wasn’t sure whether he should speak or not. He’d only been around Olczyk a handful of times, and Jack had always been there so Danny never really had to talk to the man before.

Olczyk finally looked up at Danny and addressed him. “You’re in a world of trouble, Agent Taylor.”

“Excuse me, sir?” Danny replied in a confused tone.

“Yesterday, I got a call from my boss…on a Sunday no less. He received a complaint from someone about you, and asked me to look into it. From what I’ve gathered so far, things aren’t looking so good for you.”

“A complaint?” he asked. “Who from?”

“Does Karen Washington ring a bell?”

Danny swallowed hard as his heart started to pound. “What...what did she say?”

“If you don’t mind, I’m going to ask the questions, Agent Taylor. Where were you Friday night?”

Danny shook his head as he rubbed his chin. “Um…I….where’s Jack? Why isn’t Jack here?”

“Jack can’t help you, Agent Taylor. I spoke to him early this morning. He agreed that I should conduct this inquiry. OPR is giving us 48 hours. If we can’t get this straightened out before then—”

“Inquiry? What are you talking about? I want to know what Mrs. Washington said before I answer any of your questions.”

“Fair enough. She said that you met her at the bar at the Ritz Carlton. She says that after having a few drinks, you went up to a hotel room and had intercourse with her.”

“She’s lying, sir,” he responded as he rubbed his eyes.

“She’s lying?”

“Yes, sir.”

“So you weren’t at that bar?”

“No sir, I was there.”

“Oh, you were there?”

“Yes sir, but I met my girlfriend there. I didn’t go there to meet Mrs. Washington.”

“Your girlfriend? Mrs. Washington mentions her as well. She says that you and she hooked up after your girlfriend left. She says you instructed her to wait until the girlfriend left.”

“That’s not what happened, sir. I didn’t know she was there. I swear I didn’t know. Anna left, and then Mrs. Washington just showed up out of nowhere.”

“So you do admit to seeing her at the bar?”

“Yes sir, I saw her.”

“What did you say to her?”

“I told her that it wasn’t appropriate—”

“You didn’t tell her that you would help her find her daughter if she performed a sexual act on you?”

“What? Are you crazy? No—”

“No? No? According to Karen Washington, you told her that you could find her daughter if you had a little more motivation. She says that you then instructed her to check into a hotel room. After finishing your drink at the bar, she says you met her in a hotel room and had sex with her. She’s not saying you forced her. She admits to being willing, but she then says that you laughed at her after you finished, and told her that her daughter was as good as dead and there was nothing you could do for her.”

Danny sighed and almost laughed at the absurdity of the accusation.

As Olczyk continued to grill Danny, Jack returned to the office. He hadn’t been there more than a minute, however, when Viv walked in.

“Welcome back,” she said.

“Hey. Anything hot this morning?” he asked referring to a possible new case.

“No, but do you have any idea why Olczyk would want to see Danny? He called him up there twenty minutes ago.”

Jack sighed heavily and sat in his chair. “I was hoping that it would blow over.”

“What?” Viv asked curiously as she took a seat across from him.

“Olczyk called me before I got on the plane this morning. Karen Washington has accused Danny of inappropriate behavior. I don’t really know the details. Olczyk was supposed to speak to her this morning. I was hoping it was some kind of misunderstanding.”

“I don’t think it’s a misunderstanding. Danny’s been up there for almost a half hour. What the hell are you doing down here, Jack? Why aren’t you up there with Danny?” she asked incredulously.

“Olczyk instructed me to stay out it. And I don’t think I’m in a position to really support Danny, considering my history with OPR,” he answered warily.

“This isn’t about you, Jack—or your history. This is about Danny, and he needs you. If you don’t go up there, then I will. You and I both know he isn’t capable of inappropriate behavior, whatever that means.”

“I know that, which is why I think it will blow over.”

Viv stood up and started for the door. “I’m going up there. He shouldn’t have to face Olczyk alone. I know you have a lot going on in your life, Jack, but you have an obligation to your agents. If you can’t be there for them, then I will.”

Jack stood up. “Wait, just wait a minute. I’ll go. Olczyk will be pissed, but I’ll go up there.”

“Good,” Viv said in an agitated tone as she continued to walk out the door.

Jack trudged his way upstairs and then knocked on Olczyk’s door before entering. The first thing he noticed was that Danny’s usually calm, cool demeanor was replaced by utter panic.

“Jack, I told you I was handling this,” Olczyk said as Jack entered.

“I know you’re handling it, but I want to know exactly what is going on. I find it very hard to believe that Danny is involved with Mrs. Washington at all, let alone in an inappropriate way.”

“I’m not involved with her at all,” Danny interjected as he looked up at Jack.

“Well, that’s not completely true. Is it, Danny? You had a drink with her at that bar, didn’t’ you?” Olczyk asked.

Jack gave Danny a sidelong, confused glance.

“No, sir,” Danny answered emphatically.

“She didn’t order you a scotch? It says so on her bar tab. 1 cosmopolitan and 1 scotch.”

“Yes sir, she ordered it, but I didn’t drink it,” Danny replied as he looked at Jack with a pleading expression.

“So you did meet her outside this office?” Jack asked in a surprised tone.

“That’s right, Jack. Agent Taylor has already admitted that he and Mrs. Washington had a liaison at the Ritz Carlton bar.”

Danny rolled his eyes and shook his head. “It wasn’t a liaison, Jack. She just showed up there. I was there with Anna. I wasn’t there to meet Karen.”

“What does Mrs. Washington say happened?” Jack asked as he looked from Danny to Olczyk.

“She says that she and Danny had a drink after his girlfriend left the bar. She also says he told her he would work harder to find her daughter if she had sex with him. According to her, he met her in a hotel room and they had sex. The hotel registry shows that she checked into a room Friday night.”

“It’s not true, Jack,” Danny said desperately.

“See but that’s where I get confused because it seems like part of the story is true--so why wouldn’t the rest of it be true,” Olczyk countered. “Maybe you figured it wasn’t a big deal--because she didn’t fight you. You didn’t force her. She’s a lonely, attractive older woman, and you figured she was ripe for the picking.”

Danny shook his head and rubbed his eyes. He couldn’t understand why Jack was so silent. “I did not have sex with Karen Washington. I didn’t go up to that hotel room. She wanted me to. She bought me the drink. She gave me the hotel room key. But I didn’t drink it and I didn’t go up to that room. I went home to my girlfriend.”

“So Anna was there before Mrs. Washington showed up?” Jack asked.

“Yes.”

“Why did she leave and why did you stay at the bar?” Jack asked.

Danny looked down. He didn’t like being interrogated by Jack. “She wanted me to go to dinner with her father, and I didn’t feel like going. So she left to meet him. Believe me—I wish I’d just gone now. I sat there for like ten minutes. I was getting up to leave, and then Mrs. Washington showed up.”

“We’ll need to talk to her,” Olczyk interject.

“Who?” Danny asked.

“Your girlfriend. We’ll need to find out if her timeline agrees with your timeline. Can you set that up Jack?”

“No sir, he can’t. I don’t want her involved in this,” Danny said emphatically realizing that if Anna found out about this she would surely leave him forever. The accusation was bad enough considering what he’d done to her in college, but he’d also kept this from her when he’d promised to be more open with her.

“You don’t have a choice, if you want to keep your job. She’s the closest thing you have to an alibi, although you still would have had time to go to Mrs. Washington’s hotel room and get back to your girlfriend. We have two days to sweep this under the rug, otherwise OPR takes over, and we will be subject to a lawsuit.”

Danny stood up. “Should I get an attorney?”

“That’s definitely your prerogative, Agent Taylor. You’ll be on desk duty until this is resolved,” Olczyk answered. And then addressed Jack again. “Set up that meeting, Jack. And Danny, don’t try to prepare your girlfriend so she can lie for you.”

“He wouldn’t do that,” Jack said in a tired tone.

Danny just glared at both of them before walking out of the office.

Jack then turned to follow him, but Olczyk stopped him.

“One more thing, Jack.”

“What is it?” Jack asked in an annoyed tone.

“Agent Taylor told me before you got here that he confided his concerns about Mrs. Washington to Agent Spade. He said that Mrs. Washington has been pursuing him for quite a while and Agent Spade is aware of it. Talk to her, will you? See if she can help us at all.”

“Fine,” Jack responded icily.

“If we can’t clear Agent Taylor, then I will be forced todemand his dismissal. You know that, right?”

“I know. I’ll let you know about Agent Spade, and I’ll set up the interview with Anna Ridley,” Jack repliedwarilybefore walking out the door.

Jack hurried to catch up with Danny at the door to the stairwell.

“Danny…Danny…wait up,” Jack called up.

Danny stopped and turned to face him. He had a steely, cold look on his face. “What?”

“This will all work out. Just be patient.”

“Thanks for your support,” Danny responded sarcastically before turning away.

Jack grabbed his arm to stop him. “What does that mean?”

Danny shrugged out of his grasp. “Where the hell were you, Jack?” he asked trying to mask the hurt in his voice.

“I was late getting back from Chicago.”

“That’s not what I mean. Why didn’t say more in there? Do you believe what he is saying?” Danny asked as his voice hitched with emotion.

“No, I don’t. But I also don’t understand why you allowed yourself to be alone in a bar with her, Danny. That worries me. And why you didn’t tell me that she’s been pursuing you prior to this. If it was important enough to confide into Samantha, then you should have told me as well.”

Danny laughed incredulously and shook his head. “I didn’t think it was a big deal. And me being in a bar worries you? Thanks for the confidence, Jack,” he said as he turned away and went into the stairwell.

Jack rubbed his temples. The Danny he knew wasn’t capable of taking advantage of anyone, but he didn’t know what Danny would be capable of if he was drinking. He headed down to his office to contact Anna Ridley to see if she could shed more light on the situation.

When Jack returned to his office, Samantha and Vivian came in quickly. As soon as Jack saw Samantha, he shook his head and addressed her. “You should have told me. You should have told me what was going on Friday when we saw them in the waiting room, if not before. All of this could have been prevented, Sam.”

“Danny asked me not to,” she replied hesitantly as she looked from Vivian to Jack. “He assured me that it wasn’t a big deal. I tried to tell him it was basically harassment, but he didn’t see it that way.”

“Well it wasn’t up to him to see it any way. You should have told me, Sam,” Jack said in a disappointed tone. “When did you first become aware of it?”

“I thought it was strange all along. She always wanted to talk to him. She wouldn’t talk to anyone else. And then a little over a month ago, he told me that she asked him to meet her for a drink, and he told her no. Last week, I heard him on the phone with her. He told her in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t her personal investigator, and she couldn’t rely on him solely for her case. I thought she would leave him alone after that, but I guess it just pissed her off.”

“I want you to document everything Danny told you and everything you heard and have a report to me by close of business today,” Jack directed.

“I will and I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” she said knowing that Jack was hurt because she hadn't trusted him.

“One more thing—have Martin get the security tapes at the Ritz. We have to see if we can see any of Danny’s movements on Friday night.”

“I’m on it,” Samantha said as she turned to leave.

“How’s he doing?” Viv asked.

“He’s pissed. He’s pissed at Mrs. Washington, Olczyk and me.”

“You?”

“Apparently I wasn’t supportive enough of him.”

“You didn’t defend him with Olczyk?”

“I tried, but Viv, he was in that bar with her. She ordered him a drink. Why didn’t he leave? Why was he still in that bar after his girlfriend left? It doesn’t make sense.”

“You know he has enough of that with Olczyk. He doesn’t need it from you, too. He needs your support, Jack.”

“Viv, with my track record with my agents, I can’t afford to not play this by the book. I can't cover for him - I can look for the truth and then help him, but I can't cover for him.

“I’m not talking about covering for him. I don’t think he needs that. He needs your support. And your history with Sam has nothing to do with this. He shouldn’t have to suffer because of your reputation,” Vivian responded vehemently before walking out.

As Samantha filled Martin in on what they needed from the Ritz, Danny walked in and sat down at his desk. He rubbed his eyes and then picked up his phone. He wanted to call Anna to prepare her for what she was about to hear, but then he put the phone down. He couldn’t afford to cloud what she would say.

After he put the phone down, Samantha and Martin walked over.

“I’m documenting everything you told me about Mrs. Washington. I’ll give it to Jack as soon as I finish. It should help,” Samantha said quietly as she looked at him with concern.

“And I’m headed over to the hotel right now. I’ll run down the security tapes. With any luck, we’ll be able to prove that you didn’t go up to that hotel room.”

“So you both know, and judging by the fact that no one has looked me in the eyes all morning, I guess I can assume that the whole office thinks I’m some kind of sexual predator.”

“No one thinks that, Danny. This place is a gossip mill, but it will get cleared up. Don’t worry. No one actually believes you are capable of that,” Samantha reassured.

“It could happen to any of us. We all put ourselves in positions where people feel vulnerable to us. This isn’t about you, Danny,” Martin said.

Danny looked up at Martin and smirked. “This isn’t about me? Give me a break, Martin. If this happened to you, people would literally line up to defend you. Your father, Jack, Olczyk and half of Washington would move heaven and earth to cover for you. Olczyk doesn’t care if I get hung out to dry for this. He just doesn’t want it to go public. And Jack? I’m not even sure if he believes me,” Danny said as he rose from his desk. “I need to get some air.”

They watched as Danny stalked out of the office. “He’s right, you know. He’s not getting the same kind of support you would get.”

Martin gave Samantha an offended glance. “That’s not my fault, Sam. I don’t think Danny could have done what he is being accused of, but we’ve all seen him operate. Maybe Mrs. Washington misunderstood.”

Samantha shook her head. “We all do it--just like you said. We all charm answers out of people. We all do what we have to do to console a grieving parent. Danny is especially good at it. He shouldn’t be punished for that,” she said as she walked back to her desk to complete her report to Jack.

Later that day, Anna met Jack in the lobby of the FBI building. “I was surprised to hear from you, Agent Malone. Is Danny okay?” she asked with concern.

“Yeah, he’s okay. But something has come up—a delicate situation—and we need to ask you a few questions about it. We are going up to Agent Olczyk’s office. He’s my boss. Danny is in a bit of trouble, but we are hoping you can clear it up for us.”

“Trouble? What kind of trouble? Where is he?” she asked in a worried tone.

“He’s here. And he’s fine. We asked him not to call you about it, so that we could get an untainted version of the events as you experienced them.”

“Events? I’m completely confused.”

They stepped off the elevator and headed into Olczyk’s office. “This will become clear very soon,” Jack said as he guided her into a chair across from Olczyk. “Anna Ridley, this is SAC Olczyk.”

Olczyk shook her hand and then sat in his desk chair. Jack leaned against the wall opposite the desk.

Olczyk started. “Ms. Ridley, Danny has been accused of sexual misconduct with the mother of a missing girl.”

Jack sighed at Olczyk’s bluntness as he watched Anna’s eyes widen.

“Sexual misconduct? What the hell are you talking about? Where is Danny?”

“Anna, let me explain. Danny’s been dealing with a woman named Karen Washington for the last couple of years,” Jack started. “Her daughter went missing and we haven’t been able to locate her. She’s probably a runaway. Apparently, during the last two years, this woman has developed some kind of attachment to Danny. We are just trying to find out what actually happened between them. Can you walk us through what happened Friday night?”

“Friday night? Something happened on Friday night?” Anna asked as she looked from Olczyk to Jack.

“According to Mrs. Washington, she and Danny had an encounter at the Ritz Carlton last Friday night,” Olczyk continued.

Anna’s memory flashed to that night. She thought of their fight in the bar and then not being able to find Danny. She remembered waking up to find him coming out of the shower. A chill went down her spine. He’d done the same thing when he’d cheated on her in college. He’d always sneak out at night and then come back and shower before getting in bed with her.

“What time did Danny meet you at the bar?” Jack asked.

Anna hesitated for a moment. Feeling sick to her stomach, she wanted to run from the room. But she answered. “7:30.”

“What happened when he got there?” Jack asked.

“Um...I told him that my dad asked us to meet him at a restaurant across the street. He said he wasn’t in the mood to go.”

“Did you argue?” Olczyk asked.

Anna looked up at Olczyk and shrugged. She didn’t like the way Olczyk was asking her questions, so she didn’t want to give him any satisfaction. “I wouldn’t say it was an argument. I wanted to go and he didn’t want to. So I went without him.”

“Did you meet your father for dinner?” Jack asked.

“Um…I spent a few minutes with them at the restaurant, but then I didn’t feel like staying so I excused myself.”

“Did you go home?” Jack asked.

“No, I took a walk. Eventually, I ended up at Danny’s apartment.”

“Was he there?” Jack asked hopefully.

Anna bit her lip. She wished she could say that he’d been there. “No. He wasn’t there.”

“Did he ever return home that night?” Olczyk asked skeptically.

“Yes, he got there sometime after midnight,” she answered in an annoyed tone.

“Did you ask him where he was?” Olczyk continued.

“Um…yes…he said he just needed some time to clear his head. He took a walk, too.”

“How did he seem when he got to his apartment?” Olczyk asked.

“He seemed fine.”

“Did you argue? Were you upset that he ditched you that night?” Olczyk asked.

Anna rolled her eyes as she felt more and more agitated by his questions. “I wasn’t upset. He apologized for not coming with me, and that was that.”

“So he didn’t say anything? Did anything seem strange to you? Did you get any kind of vibe that he’d been with someone else?”

“Alex,” Jack interjected. “That’s enough.”

“No, its okay, Agent Malone. What do you want know? You want know if I smelled perfume or found lipstick on a collar? No. I didn’t. I don’t really understand how this is any of your business. I mean why do you care if Danny slept with this woman? Is she a suspect or something?”

Jacked sighed and then answered. “She’s saying he coerced her. She’s saying that he told her that he would find her daughter if she slept with him. That’s the issue here.”

Anna almost laughed and shook her head. “Do you even know Danny at all? He’s not capable of doing that. He wouldn’t do anything to intentionally hurt someone else like that, and he definitely wouldn’t use his job to coerce someone into sex. That’s insane.”

“I know,” Jack replied quietly.

“Well I don’t know,” Olczyk countered. “How can you be so sure? It seems pretty strange. And he was with Mrs. Washington in that hotel bar. He’s already admitted to that, Ms. Ridley. Where was he all that time? Didn’t you wonder? What did you two talk about when he returned?”

“We didn’t talk a whole lot,” Anna said as she became angrier after each of Olczyk’s questions.

“You weren’t curious? You’ve got to be the only woman in the world who wouldn’t be suspicious. What happened after he returned to his apartment?”

“It’s none of your business,” she replied as she looked at Olczyk squarely in the eyes. “I don’t understand why I am even here.”

“It is our business if it becomes a federal OPR investigation. You’ll be asked to give a formal statement. If you know something that proves he did what Mrs. Washington says he did, then we will compel you to tell us,” Olczyk said in an irritated tone.

Anna was fuming at this point. She hated the way Olczyk was talking about Danny. Tears welled in her eyes as she finally answered him. “You’ll compel me? You’ll compel me to tell you what happened that night? We didn’t talk. He didn’t confess anything to me. We had sex…twice, as a matter of fact. Is that what you want to know? Do you need to know details?”

Jack dropped his head as Olczyk interrupted. “Ms. Ridley…”

“No…you wanted to know, right?” Anna asked as she stood up from the chair. “Danny’s not capable of doing what you said he did, and then coming home to me. He would never do that…not ever. I’m not saying anything more to you. If you want more information, you can contact my attorney.” She stormed out of the office as Jack followed her out.

“Anna…Anna…wait….”

Anna turned around quickly when she heard Jack’s voice. “How could you let him talk about Danny like that? Danny could never…”

“I know that. But the accusation is still there, and we have to investigate. I’m sorry we had to drag you into this.”

“Who is this woman, Agent Malone? Why would she do this to him?”

“I’m not sure, but I’m trying to find that out. I have to ask you one more thing, Anna.”

“What?” she asked as she continued to cry.

“The Danny I know isn’t capable of doing this, but I don’t know what he would do if he was drinking. Would he lie? Would he deceive us? Is it possible he was drinking that night?”

She put her hands to her face to try and stop herself from completely losing her composure. “Danny’s not drinking. He’s not--”

“How can you be so sure? According to Mrs. Washington, she ordered him a drink at the bar.”

She shook her head as she rubbed her eyes. “Oh god…I can’t…I can’t deal with this right now. I have to go,” she said as she backed away from Jack toward the elevator.

Jack didn’t stop her. Before she got on the elevator, he said, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry we had to involve you in this.”

She didn’t respond she just looked down as the doors closed.

Right before Anna was due to meet with Jack and Olczyk, Danny’s phone rang while he was standing on the balcony.

“Taylor.”

“Hey, it’s Rafael.”

Danny sighed. “Raffi, I don’t have time--”

Rafael interrupted. “Please don’t hang up. I know you are busy, but I really need to talk to you. It’s really important.”

“What do you want?”

“I’m actually at the coffee shop right across from the federal building. Can you meet me here?”

Danny hesitated. He didn’t want to deal with Rafael, but he knew he couldn’t do anything at work anyway. And somewhere deep in his heart, he knew he couldn’t let Raffi go completely. He wanted to forgive him. He wanted his brother back, but he didn’t want to be hurt or disappointed again. “I’ll be down in five minutes.”

“Great. Thanks, Danny.”

A few minutes later, Danny walked into the coffee shop and slid into the booth seat across from Rafael.

“What’s up?” Danny asked.

“You want a coffee or something?” Rafael asked.

“No, I’m fine. Just tell me what you want so I can get back to work.”

Rafael sighed. He could see that Danny was very agitated and distracted. He almost didn’t want to say what he came to say, but knew he couldn’t put it off any longer. “I need to apologize to you. And I also owe your girlfriend an apology, but I know you don’t want me to go near her so…”

“Why are you sorry?” he asked in an icy tone.

“I was drunk when I went to her apartment that night. When I walked in there and saw the way you lived--saw everything you have--I got jealous. Just like I’m jealous that my son doesn’t look up to me like he looks up to you. You were right. I didn’t think it was fair so I wanted to ruin it for you. I intentionally made her feel uncomfortable. I’ll never do it again. I promise--”

“Tell me what you did.”

“I crossed the line with her, Danny. I know I scared her,” Raffi admitted.

Danny sat back in his chair as he felt anger simmer inside him. He hated the thought of Raffi doing anything to Anna, but he had to know the truth. “Tell me what you did,” he demanded again.

“I could tell she didn’t feel right about me being up there. And I wanted to get the money from her. So I kind of repeated my performance from the wedding. I put my arms around her, and she’s so polite…she didn’t stop me. I held her a little too tight. After that, I knew she just wanted me out of there so I asked for the money. She couldn’t give it to me fast enough. I was bastard, Danny. I drank too much before I went over there, and I wasn’t thinking clearly. It won’t ever happen again.”

Danny agitation level rose to a new height when heard Raffi’s admission, but he remained composed. He shook his head as he thought about the futility that was his brother. Now he wasn’t sure if he even wanted to forgive him. “You’re right. It won’t…because you won’t ever be alone with her again. How can you expect me to ever trust you after you do something like that? How can you sit there and just expect me to accept your apology?”

“You always make the right choices. You always do the right thing. And even when you do get into trouble, you find a way out. You have everything, Danny. I have nothing.”

“How can you say that, Raffi? You have a beautiful wife and son. And you’re free to make the right choices now,” he pleaded. He hesitated for a moment and then continued. “And I haven’t been making the right choices lately. You’ll be happy to know that I’m about to lose everything…my job…Anna…everything.”

“What? That doesn’t make me happy. What’s wrong?”

Danny looked up and started to explain, but then stopped. “It’s…it’s nothing. I just…we aren’t so different, Raffi. Seeing you now—that’s painfully clear to me.”

Danny’s words stung him, but he reached out anyway. “Is there anything I can do?” he asked genuinely.

Danny shook his head. “No, not for me anyway. What you can do is make the most of this fresh start and stop dwelling on the past and what you don’t have. Do the best you can for yourself, your wife and son. If you can do that, then maybe I can trust you again.”

“I’ll try, Danny. I really will. And I do need to apologize to your girlfriend. I know that I scared her that night. I don’t want her to feel scared around me. And I know I need to pay her back.”

“I already gave the money back to her. So don’t worry about that. If she and I can work things out, then I’ll tell her you’re sorry.”

“Work things out? Are things really that bad?”

“I don’t know. I’ve made a real mess of things. Sometimes I think she’d be better off without me.”

“I doubt that. She loves you, man. You’re lucky to have each other.”

Danny felt uneasy and skeptical about Raffi’s sudden show of support. “Listen…I…um…I have to get back,” he said as he rose from the table.

Raffi stood with him. “We will see you sometime soon?”

“I don’t know, Raffi. I have a lot going on, but we’ll see.”

“Okay. Thanks, Danny.”

“Yeah. Bye,” Danny said as he headed out the door.

When Danny returned to work, he stopped by Jack’s office.

“Is Anna still here?” he asked hesitantly as he stood in Jack’s doorway.

Jack shook his head. “No. She left a few minutes ago. Why don’t you sit down for a minute,” he suggested as he pointed to a chair.

Danny sighed as he walked into the office and took a seat. “How’d she take it?”

“She was surprised to say the least. Olczyk was pretty hard on you. For what’s its worth, she defended you admirably. Of course, she couldn’t offer you much in the way of an alibi.”

“You make me sound like a criminal, Jack,” he said solemnly.

Jack looked at him and then closed his eyes for a moment. “Poor choice of words. Sorry.”

“Yeah,” Danny said as he rose from the chair. “If it’s okay, I’m going to take off. There’s not a lot for me to do here.”

“It’s fine. We’ll get this straightened out. I hope things are okay with Anna.”

“Me, too,” he answered quietly as he walked out the door.

After struggling through the invasive interview with Jack and Olczyk, Anna desperately just wanted to go home. She knew she should try to find Danny before she left the federal building, but she wasn’t sure what she would say to him. And she didn’t feel like getting into an intense, emotional conversation with him at work, so she left without even looking for him. Her plan to go straight home was foiled after she received a phone call from the Rape Crisis Center. One of the volunteers called to tell her a client was asking to speak to her and her alone. So Anna headed back to her office to meet with the client.

A few hours later, she finally made it home. She warily entered her building and headed up to her apartment. As the elevator doors opened, she shuddered a little when she found Danny sitting in front of her door. She took a deep breath before stepping off the elevator. She’d seen Danny in some sorry states in the past when he’d been hangover, but nothing like this. He looked desperate and broken with his hair disheveled, tie untied, and a 5 o’clock shadow. Her first inclination had been to be angry with him, but looking at him now, she just wanted to hold him.

“What are you doing out here, Danny? Why didn’t you use your key?” she asked as she looked down at him.

“I didn’t want to assume that I would be welcome so I didn’t go in. I tried to call you at your office after Jack said you’d left, but someone at the center said you were busy. I figured you were avoiding me.”

“No…I mean maybe a little, but I did have an emergency client this afternoon. I couldn’t be interrupted.”

He nodded. “How’d the meeting go with Jack and Olczyk?”

Anna sighed heavily. “Let’s go inside,” she said as she held out her hand to help him to his feet.

He stood up in front her and ended up standing closer to her than he’d intended. They stood just inches from each other as she looked up at him. He let his fingertips trace over her cheek as she bit her bottom lip. Looking into his deeply wounded eyes was almost too much for her to bear. Part of her didn’t want to talk at all because she was so afraid of hearing something that she wouldn’t be able to overcome. She just wanted to hold him and tell him that everything would be okay. But she knew she couldn’t do that. She needed answers.

Anna stepped away from Danny, and he moved out of the way so she could open the door. He followed her inside but had no idea what to do next so he just stood inside the doorway.

“I know that you didn’t sleep with her, but I need to know where you were that night. Were you drinking?” she asked as turned around to face him.

He leaned back so that his body was braced by the door. “No.”

“Jack said that she ordered you a drink. He said that you were in that bar with her, and she ordered you a drink.”

“I didn’t drink it. And I didn’t go up to that hotel room,” he said as his voiced quivered a little.

“Where were you?” she asked surprised at her level of composure considering she felt like she could fall a part at any moment.

“I…I…called my AA sponsor. I met him at a meeting, and then we talked for a while. I didn’t drink that night, and I didn’t sleep with her, but part of me wanted to,” he answered honestly.

She swallowed hard after hearing his admission. “You wanted to?” she asked as her voice cracked. Her composure was quickly withering away.

“I felt weak. I felt like we were hanging on by a thread, and I fought with Raffi that day, too. And I just wanted to forget about everything. And she…she was making it so easy—”

“Oh…god…Danny…I can’t…I can’t deal with this again. I can’t,” she responded in a raised, emotional voice. “It’s bad enough that I worry that you could drink again, but that you could even consider being with someone else…I don’t understand. I don’t get it. I can’t even stand the thought of someone else touching me.”

Danny closed his eyes. For a moment, he thought maybe he told her too much, but then he realized he had to get it out in the open. “Don’t you understand? I know. I know that being with someone else is the one thing that would drive you away for good. I know that if I slept with someone elsethat would be it for us. And that’s why I was tempted to do it. Because opening up to you…and trusting what we have…it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Sometimes, I think it would just be easier if I was alone.”

“Why? Why are you like this? Why now? Our troubles…our problems haven’t been about this, Danny.”

“When I see my brother, I see the person I could become. He and I aren't that different. I’m just a few bad choices away from being where he is. I think about that, and I realize that I don’t deserve someone like you. I could be just as screwed up as he is. You should have better than that.”

Anna shook her head emphatically. “You’re wrong. You’re not like him. You’ve never been like him. Just because you both have addictions doesn’t make you the same. The difference between you and your brother is that when you’ve been faced with tough choices, you’ve always made the right choice. You can’t use him as an excuse to mess up what we have. I won’t let you.”

He ran a hand through his hair and rubbed his eyes before responding in frustration. “I talked to him today. He told me what he did to you that day. Don’t you see? Just that you had to deal with that—it’s enough for me to think about walking away. You shouldn’t be exposed to that.”

Anna took a deep breath and tried to wrap her brain around the whole situation. “So it really wasn’t about being with this woman or any woman. It was about doing something awful that would destroy us so you could protect me?”

His eyes widened upon hearing the dire statement, but he couldn’t disagree. “In that moment—when I thought about drinking the scotch and following her to that hotel room—I thought that would be the easiest way to get out of 'us'. But then as I sat there, I realized I didn’t want to get out of it. I remembered that I really didn’t want to live without you so I called my sponsor.”

“Why didn’t you call me?” she asked in a hurt tone as a tear escaped her eye.

He sighed heavily. “Because I needed to focus on helping myself. I couldn’t let it be about you. I had to not want to take the drink for myself. If I had called you, then I would have been doing it for you. That’s what happened in college. I tried to quit for you and I ended up hurting you so much. I couldn’t do that again,” he said solemnly before continuing. “Then after I talked to my sponsor, I came home and there you were. I watched you sleep for the longest time. I knew I made the right decision.”

“My heart sank when I saw you come out of the bathroom. I felt like that naïve nineteen year old that had no idea what you were doing behind my back. But when you made love to me, I knew you hadn’t been with anyone else.”

“How did you know?”

“I just did,” she answered with a shrug. “Why didn’t you tell Jack and Olczyk about your AA sponsor. You could have at least told Jack. Your sponsor is your alibi for that night.”

“I shouldn’t need an alibi. I didn’t go up that hotel room. Jack should know that,” he said defiantly.

“He knows that you wouldn’t do that, but he’s worried about what you would do if you were drinking.”

“He has no faith in me.”

“Don’t say that, Danny. Yes, he does,” she said emphatically. “You should have told him about this woman from the very beginning. How long have you known that she wanted more from you? How long have you been dealing with this?”

Danny shrugged. “I’ve known for a while that she had a thing for me, but it’s only been in the last few months that she’s pursued me.”

“The last few months…since we’ve been together? Why wouldn’t you tell me?”

“For the same reason that you didn’t tell me what Raffi did to you when he came here that night. I wanted to protect you, just like you wanted to protect me. We’d already had the fight about Christi, and I was afraid that you would feel threatened.”

Anna shook her head and rubbed her temples. “What are we doing? How are we ever going to make this work if we don’t tell each other things?”

“I’m sorry.”

“God, I’m getting so sick of hearing that and saying that. It seems like we have to apologize for something every day. It shouldn’t be this hard Danny. It kills me because I love you so much. I don’t want to be with anyone else.”

“Me, either,” he responded quietly.

“Okay…then can we just promise each other that from now we won’t try to protect each other? We’ll be brutally honest with each other. I know you think I’m some kind of china doll that will break at the first sign of trouble, but I promise I won’t. Please Danny.”

“I promise.”

“Will you make me one more promise?” she asked in a concerned tone.

“Anything.”

“You need to tell Jack about calling your AA sponsor. You need to tell him so we can move on from this mess and get this crazy woman out of your life.”

“No. No way. My word should be enough, Anna. I’ve worked my ass off for him for seven years. He should believe me. And once Olzcyk knows the whole office will know, and I don’t want that.”

“Is this about pride? No one will think less of you if they know you’re an alcoholic. Your team knows, and they don’t think any less of you. Just tell Jack that that is where you were. Maybe it won’t have to go further than him. Don’t be stubborn about this, Danny.”

He thought for a moment about the reason he didn’t want people to know. He hated the thought of people seeing weakness in him and liked the fact that everyone in his office saw him as a carefree, competent agent. He didn’t want that to change, but he knew Anna had a point. “I’ll think about it, okay?” he replied earnestly and then shook his head. “I’m so tired of thinking about all of this. I can’t even think straight anymore.”

“Maybe we should just sleep on it. Things will be clearer in the morning,” she said quietly.

We should sleep on it?” he asked in surprised tone thinking she may want some space after their intense discussion.

“I don’t want you to go. I want to be here for you,” she said as she took his hand and lead him into the bedroom.

The next morning, Anna forced herself awake before 5 AM. She wanted to make sure she was up and gone before Danny woke up. For the first time that she could remember, she seemed to be holding Danny instead of the other way around. His arms were around her waist under her tank top and his head was nestled on her chest. Her fingers were tangled in his hair. They’d fallen asleep almost instantly after getting into bed.

She had to move carefully not to wake him. Once she got out from under him, she watched him sleep for a few moments. He looked like a little boy. She knew that they’d just talked about not protecting each other the night before, but she had to do it one more time. He needed her help, and she wanted to do the only thing she could think of to help him. She grabbed the cell phone from the nightstand and took it into the bathroom.

She found the number on the speed dial and pressed talk. After hearing a wary voice answer, she responded. “Hi. It’s Anna Ridley. I need to talk to you about Danny.”

An hour later, Anna was sitting nervously in the coffee shop across from the federal building. Her hands were wrapped tightly around her cup of coffee, and her eyes were closed as she silently tried to work out what she was going to say.

“Should I be worried that all those deep thoughts are going to be fired at me?”

Anna looked up as Jack tossed a file folder on the table and then sat down across from her.

“I probably shouldn’t be doing this. There about a million reasons not to talk to you about this, not the least of which that Danny will not be happy, but I don’t know what else to do.”

Jack gave her a tired but reassuring smile. “I’ll make you a deal--if you can help me find a way to get him out of this mess, then I will do my best to absorb the bulk of his wrath. I don’t care if he gets mad at me—just as long as he is out of trouble and still working for me.”

“He was talking to his AA sponsor,” she blurted before she lost her nerve. “That’s where he was for most of the evening. He said they went to a meeting together and then talked afterward. He said that that woman propositioned him in the bar and gave him the key card, but he never went to the room. Last night, I begged him to tell you about his sponsor, but he won’t do it.”

“He’s beyond stubborn. At least, we know he’s still on the wagon,” he responded earnestly.

Anna smiled slightly. “But he was tempted. He was tempted to take the drink and take Karen Washington up on her offer. He and I have been through all this before…in college,” she said hesitantly as she glanced up at Jack not sure why she was telling him. “When Danny gets overwhelmed, or he feels too much pressure, he gets weak.”

“He hasn’t done too badly with having a high-pressure job,” he replied matter-of-factly.

“That’s not the kind of pressure I’m talking about,” she responded in almost a whisper.

Jack just nodded as he took in the young woman in front of him. She looked exhausted and like she had a just cried a river, but the love and commitment she had for Danny seemed to shine in her eyes. For a moment, Jack felt jealous. Samantha had been the last person to look at him like that, and he realized he missed it more than he liked to admit

“Have you found anything else out that could help him? I still don’t understand how this woman could be so vindictive. I know Danny pretty well, and I’m sure he was more than patient with her. He can be flirtatious, but I can’t imagine that he would be that way with the mother of a missing child,” she asked as she motioned toward the file folder.

Jack sighed heavily and opened the file in front of him. “I had Martin do a full background check on Karen Washington. He’s actually still working on it. I was hoping she had a history of false accusations, but nothing is documented. I’m thinking the stress of losing her daughter lead her to transfer those feelings onto Danny. I don’t think he led her on at all, but one of his strengths is his compassion with family members and victims. She is most likely attracted to that quality in him. When he didn’t reciprocate, she got angry and wanted revenge,” Jack said, drawing upon his psychology background to analyze Karen Washington. “It doesn’t help that we can’t pick Danny up leaving the Ritz that night. But the tapes don’t show him going upstairs either.”

Anna nodded as she leaned in to look at the file. She wanted to see the woman that was doing her best to ruin Danny’s life. Her breath caught when she saw Karen Washington’s picture. “Oh my god. Jack, I know her. I mean I just met her yesterday.”

“Are you sure? How did you meet her?”

Anna looked up at him with a confused and tormented expression. “I can’t…I shouldn’t tell you. It’s…it’s confidential.”

“What is she in AA, too?” Jack asked in a sarcastic manner.

“No. That’s not it. She must have known about me…about what I do for a living. This woman came to see me at my office yesterday.”

Anna quickly made it to the Rape Crisis Center when she got the call that a victim asked to speak to her directly. When she walked in she addressed Liz, the volunteer covering the reception area. “Hey, Liz. Where is she?”

I put her in your office. She was pretty upset when she got here. I tried to talk to her, but she said that you helped a friend of hers a while back so she only wanted to talk to you.”

“What’s her name?”

“Karen. She hasn’t given us a last name, and she says she hasn’t filed a police report or seen a doctor,” Liz said as she handed Anna a file. “I started a file on her. She said it was a man she knows.”

“So what else is new?” Anna asked sarcastically as she took the file and headed towards her office.

As she approached her door, she noticed the woman was looking at the picture of her and Danny that she kept on her desk. She knocked lightly on the door so as not to startle to the woman. “Karen?” she asked carefully.

“Yes. You must be Anna,” she answered as she put down the picture and stood up.

“Yes, I’m Anna Ridley. Please sit.”

Karen looked back at the picture. “Sorry to be nosey. I just couldn’t help but notice—you look very happy in that picture.”

Anna walked around the desk and took a seat in her chair as she picked up the picture. “I am…happy in the picture. It’s of my boyfriend and me in Central Park. I think we had a hot dog vendor take it,” Anna replied with a smile. This was a tactic she used to put her clients at ease. She always tried to make them feel like they were talking to a friend so she didn’t hesitate to open up about herself when she could.

“How long have you been with him?” Karen asked as she motioned toward the picture.

“This time?” she asked sheepishly and then continued. “Not very long…just a few months. He was my first love, and then we broke up in college. Now we are trying again.”

“That’s sweet. He’s very handsome.”

Anna laughed lightly. “And don’t think he doesn’t know it. I’m one of those hopelessly insecure women who happens to be dating a man who is much prettier than me.”

“Is he good to you?” Karen asked timidly.

This is what Anna was waiting for. This always happened. Victims would want to talk about anything but what happened to them, but eventually, a door would open. “Yes. He’s very good to me,” she answered. “Why? Is your boyfriend or husband not good to you?”

Karen hesitated and looked down at her hands, and then she looked up at Anna with tears in her eyes. ‘I’m divorced, and I haven’t had a boyfriend in a long time. But I did find myself very attracted to someone recently. He was doing some work for me.”

So he’s an acquaintance?” Anna asked as she made a note in her file.

I guess you could say that. We never really became friends, but he was so nice to me…so charming. He’d look at me with these beautiful, warm eyes, and I’d swear that he really cared about me.”

It sounds like you like him a lot.”

Yes. I did. And I made the mistake of telling him how much. I should have known better than to think he’d really be attracted to me. He’s much younger and so handsome. But he played along and I believed him. I asked him out for a drink. He met me at bar. We had a few drinks. And before I knew it, we were in a hotel room…” she said and then tears started to fall.

Its okay, Karen. Take your time,” Anna said sympathetically.

I wanted to be with him. I wanted him to kiss me and touch me and make love to me. But once we got in that room, he wasn’t the same person. He wasn’t charming or nice. He didn’t even kiss me. When I realized what he wanted, I told him to stop. I told him I wasn’t ready, but he didn’t listen…,” said as she dissolved into tears.

Anna reached out and took Karen’s hand. As often as Anna heard these horrific tales, she still cried with the victims every time.

“I can’t believe she lied to me, Jack,” Anna said shaking her head. “I held her hand. I cried with her. What could she possibly gain from lying to me like that?”

“She’s playing a sick game. Some part of her is getting off on this. Did she tell you she would report it to the police?”

“No. She said that she didn’t think anyone would believe her. I, of course, went into my talk about how I believed in her and together we could get through it. I was such a fool. I even have a follow-up appointment scheduled with her this morning.”

“You couldn’t have known,” Jack responded and then thought for a moment. “You’re meeting her today?”

Anna nodded. “This morning at ten. Why?”

“Well, I think we can find a way to make this go away without making Danny angry at both of us.”

“How?” asked Anna.

“Let me work through this, okay? I’ll meet you at your office at 9,” he said as he rose from the booth.

“Okay. Should I do anything?”

“No. You’ve been more than helpful. Danny is very fortunate to have someone like you in his life,” Jack said as he gave her a warm smile and walked out the door.

As Jack left the coffee shop and headed toward his office, he flipped open his phone and hit the first number on his speed dial. A groggy, hoarse voice answered.

“Spade.”

“Sam, I need you. Can you meet me at the office?”

“Of course. Is it a case?” she asked as she wiped the sleep from her eyes.

“No. It’s about Danny. I think I know a way to get Mrs. Washington off his back.”

“I’ll be there in a half hour,” she said before hanging up.

Danny woke up slowly and instinctively reached out to pull Anna into his arms. He became startled when he only found her pillow. Instead of letting it go right away, he inhaled her scent and then opened his eyes to look around the room. At first, he feared the night before had been a dream. Her willingness to believe in him still surprised him considering their complicated history. He’d half expected her to cry out in anger when she’d found him sitting in front of her door. When he’d met her concerned, sad eyes, he knew she was more confused than angry. And then after they’d talked and went to bed, he wasn’t sure if she’d want him to touch her after telling her about being tempted by Karen Washington. But then Anna had reached for him in the darkness and pulled him into a comforting embrace. He’d gone from feeling cold and alone sitting in front of her doorway to feeling warm and loved wrapped tightly in her arms.

He knew he’d have much more trouble to face concerning his job, but his confidence in his relationship had been restored ten-fold when Anna had told him that she believed him—which is why he felt nervous when he didn’t find her in bed next to him. Rising, he headed into the bathroom, where he found a post-it note stuck to the mirror. “Smile. We’ll find a way out of this. Had some business to tend to. Call u later. Remember I love you.” That explained it, he thought, she’d most likely been paged by a client. He smiled as he read and then reread the whimsical note. He desperately wanted to adopt her positive attitude, but he wasn’t sure how he could considering the sloppy way he’d handled the situation with Karen Washington.

As he stared into the mirror, he realized there was only one thing to do.

An hour later, he was sitting in the reception area of the posh public relations firm where Karen Washington worked. Her receptionist told him that she was due any minute. He watched as she walked quickly down the hallway into the reception area at promptly at 8:30 AM. Before she could blindly duck into her office, Danny stood up and called out to her. “You’re looking awfully chipper for someone who has been so traumatized.”

Karen stopped dead in her tracks with her back to him. She glanced over at her now very curious secretary and then slowly turned around to face him. She smiled sweetly at him and then responded. “My lawyer says I shouldn’t talk to you, just in case we have to bring a lawsuit against the FBI.”

Danny nodded. “I really shouldn’t be here either, but I had to look you in the eyes to see if you were really capable of this. I tried to help you. I did everything…we did everything we could to find your daughter. And this is how you repay us? All because I didn’t go up to that hotel room? Why are you doing this to me?”

“You know what happened between us that night. Don’t deny it.”

“I’m not wearing a wire, Mrs. Washington. You don’t have to continue to lie.”

She glanced over at her secretary again who was trying to look like she wasn’t eavesdropping before answering him in a whisper. “Why don’t you come into my office? We can discuss this.”

Danny laughed and shook his head. “You’re kidding, right? I may have been stupid enough to stay at that bar with you, but I’m not stupid enough to ever be alone with you. The only reason I’m here is to tell you that I am going to do everything I can to make sure the truth comes out. You make for an awfully convincing victim, and I played right into your hand. But I will make sure that people will know the truth. I’m not going down for this,” he said before turning to walk away.

“Does Anna know the truth?” she asked with a sinister grin.

Danny stopped, but didn’t turn around. “How do you know her name?”

She walked toward him so her receptionist couldn’t hear and dropped her voice even lower. ”I know everything about her. And I’m going to make sure she knows everything about you. After I tell her my version of what happened that night, I might just drop that complaint against you. Seeing that sweet, young woman drop your sorry ass will be enough for me. You'll wish you had taken me up on my offer.”

Danny smirked as he turned around. “Tell her. She won’t believe you.”

“You really think she could handle it, Danny.”

“I think you’d be surprised,” he said before turning to walk away.

As Jack and Samantha drove to Anna’s office, they went over how they were going to confront Mrs. Washington. After they hammered out the details, Samantha asked, “Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure,” Jack answered casually.

“Why did you recruit me for this little mission?” she asked as she glanced over at him.

“You care about Danny—“

She cut him off. “We all care about Danny. You could have called any of us—Martin, Viv, me—we all would have done whatever we could. Why me?”

“You’re a woman, and—“

She cut him off again and, this time, she smiled. “Viv’s a woman, too.”

“Okay, you caught me. You’re the one I thought of when I needed help with this. When I talked to Anna Ridley this morning…something about her reminded me of you.”

“Me?” she asked quizzically. “What about her reminded you of me?”

He glanced over at her and sighed. “I don’t know. You were just on my mind after I talked her. That’s all,” he said trying to sound matter-of-fact and then added with a smile, “Maybe it is because you’re both blonde.”

“Yeah, I’m sure that’s it,” Sam responded smiling.

They rode in a tension-filled silence. Jack felt like he was blushing, and he didn’t ever blush. The tension was finally broken when his cell phone rang. Samantha listened as Jack spoke into the phone.

“Malone…yeah, what do you got, Martin?…You’re kidding? Unbelievable…Yeah…No, I’ll take care of it…Good work.”

After he hung up the phone, Samantha asked, “What is it? Good news?”

“Very good news…in more ways than one. I think we’ll be able to solve a case and get Danny out of trouble all in one day.”

Minutes later, they arrived at Anna’s office at the Rape Crisis Center which was housed in a small, rundown building. She stood up anxiously when they walked into her office.

“I’m not sure this is such a good idea,” she started before they even had a chance to say hello.

“It’s our best chance to confront her. This is the best way to help Danny,” Jack answered reassuringly.

“Believe me, there’s nothing I want more than to make this all go away for him, but this place is supposed to be a safe haven for victims,” she said as she looked around her small, sparsely furnished office. “I know she’s lying, but this place isn’t supposed to be about confronting people. It’s about comforting them.”

“But she is lying, Anna,” Samantha said emphatically. “I admire your dedication and I understand your feelings about this place, but Mrs. Washington is not a victim. Danny is the victim.”

Anna looked up at Samantha in frustration with tears in her eyes. “I know that. Every time I think about what she’s done, it makes me angry.”

“Then this is the only way,” Jack insisted.

“I understand. I do. Part of me wants to confront her. I want know how she could do something so awful, but the other part of me never wants to set eyes on her again.”

“Well that can be arranged. You really shouldn’t be here when she gets here,” Jack responded.

“What? This is my office. She’s expecting to see me. I should be here.”

“This is about getting her to admit the truth. She might get too much satisfaction out of seeing your reaction to what she’ll say. You don’t want to be here for that,” Jack said wanting to protect Anna from hearing Karen Washington spout more lies. “I’m angry too, but I understand what’s at stake here. Let us handle this.”

Anna nodded. “Okay. I’ll do whatever you think will help Danny the most.”

After Anna left, they sat in silence, waiting. Both looked up when the door opened, and Karen Washington walked in. The surprise on her face when she saw them there was evident to say the least. “What the hell is going on? I have an appointment with Anna—,“

“We know all about your appointment with Danny’s girlfriend. That’s a strange coincidence,” Jack said.

“I had no idea--,”

“Cut the crap, Mrs. Washington. The lying stops here,” Jack continued.

“I don’t have to stand for this. I’ll call my lawyer--,”

“Go ahead. Call your lawyer. I’m sure he’ll be very interested in what we have to say. If I were you, I’d come in and sit down,” Jack ordered.

“Why should I?”

“Because I wouldn't be here if I wasn't absolutely sure that you are lying and that we can prove it.”

She hesitated for a moment before shutting the door and walking into the room. Her expression was one of annoyance rather than fear. “This is a low tactic—confronting a victim at a rape crisis center.”

Samantha smirked. “That’s rich coming from someone who is lying about being a victim and trying to ruin a man’s career.”

“I’m not lying. You just can’t believe that Danny could be capable of something so callous, but he is.”

Samantha shook her head and started to respond but Jack stopped her and then responded himself. “You really expect us to believe that this is a coincidence? You just so happened to request to speak to a counselor that is dating Danny Taylor?”

“Yes.”

“According to Ms. Ridley, you were looking at their picture when she walked in yesterday,” he said as he picked up the picture off the desk. “If you didn’t know before, surely you would’ve known after you saw a picture of them together. And don’t try to deny seeing the picture. Anna Ridley documented your entire conversation yesterday.”

“She had no right to divulge that. That is confidential—“

“It’s not confidential if it is an out and out lie. Why are you doing this Mrs. Washington? Why are trying to ruin Danny’s life?”

“I’m not lying, but I’ll admit it’s also not a coincidence that I am here. We talked about his girlfriend in the bar that night. He told me she worked here. He also told me that they were fighting, and he was miserable. You don’t want to believe it, but we had a drink at the bar and then he met me in a hotel room and we had sex. After he finished, he treated me like I was a piece of garbage. He became a different person so I decided to get even by filing a complaint against him and coming here to let this woman know what bastard her boyfriend is. He deserves it.”

“He did not go up to that hotel room. We know exactly where he was Friday night,” Jack stated emphatically.

“Agent Malone, it’s not like we were up there making love for hours. It was a brief, rough encounter. He wasn’t exactly taking his time with me.”

Jack hesitated not because he believed her, but because he couldn’t believe how pathological she was. He knew she was lying, but she was awfully convincing.

Samantha didn't like the smile that crossed Karen's face when the other woman saw that Jack appeared to to searching for his next words. Turning her attention to Jack, the agent threw him a supportive glance.

Jack then decided to take a different tactic. “Do you know the type of man you are trying to bring down? Even if we didn’t have evidence that told us he couldn’t have been with you, we still couldn’t believe what you are saying. Danny is one of the most honorable, respectful, compassionate people I know. But you already know that, Mrs. Washington.”

“No--,”

“Yes, yes you do. He’s been there every step of the way while you were looking for your daughter. He’s treated you with respect and kindness because that is just who he is. You picked the wrong target. Maybe if you tried this with me, you could get away with it, but not Danny.”

Samantha watched Jack as he valiantly defended Danny’s character. She had never been more proud of him than at that moment.

“I don’t know what you want me to say, Agent Malone. I’m not going to change my story. Yes, Danny was nice to me. It’s what made me like him so much, but then he took that and—“

Jacked sighed in exasperation. “Shut up. Just shut up. You are lying. If you don’t drop these charges against Danny, then I will be forced to bring charges against you.”

For what?” she asked incredulously.

“For lying to a federal agent and obstruction of justice.”

“What on earth—“

“When you attacked Danny, we did everything we could to defend him including doing a thorough background check on you.”

“You had no right—“

“The hell I don’t. You go after one of my people; I go after you. Where is your daughter, Mrs. Washington?”

Karen Washington’s hand went to her face and she gave Jack a horrified glare. “What? What are you talking about?”

“Your daughter, Mrs. Washington. Where is she?”

“I don’t know…”

“Lie to me one more time. Please. I’ll arrest you right now.”

Mrs. Washington looked down and shook her head as tears welled in her eyes. “How do you know?” she asked in a whisper.

“Phone records. Since your daughter’s case is still open, we were able to check your most recent phone records. You’ve been calling a Sarah Logan in Los Angeles once a week for the last six months, although she rarely returns your calls. Why did you do it? Why did you keep leading us to believe that she was still missing?”

Karen looked down at the floor and tears fell from her eyes. "She called me and told me she wasn’t coming back. She met a man and got married. She has a child now. She said she was finally happy. I was left with nothing. I came to your office to tell you six months ago. Danny met me in the lobby, and he was so sweet to me. For some reason, I didn’t want to tell him. I didn’t want to admit that my daughter didn’t want me anymore. And I hated the thought of not having a reason to see him anymore.”

Samantha took a deep breath. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She hadn’t planned on addressing Karen, but the next question just slipped out. “Then why are you trying to destroy him?”

“All I wanted was one night. That’s all I wanted. And he wanted it to. I know he did, but he used his job and her as an excuse,” she said as she motioned to the picture on the desk. “I got angry. It’s horrible to wake up and realize one day that no one wants you. My daughter doesn’t want me. And Danny—I thought he really cared about me, but he wanted someone younger and prettier.”

“He cared about your daughter’s case, Mrs. Washington. That’s all,” Jack responded.

Danny didn’t go to work right after seeing Karen Washington. Instead he went to an AA meeting. He’d been going each day since he'd been tempted to drink in the bar. After the meeting, he finally went to the office—where he was immediately met by Vivian.

“Glad you’re here. I was just about to call you,” she said as she approached his desk.

“Sorry I’m late,” he replied looking at his watch. “I had an errand to run before work. What do we got?”

“A missing 16-year old boy, Alan White,” she responded, pointing to the picture on the white board. “NYPD found his car last night in the school parking lot, but no sign of him. Martin is at the parent’s house right now. I’m on my way to meet him. Jack and Sam are headed to the boy’s school. Jack wants you to—“

“—work from the office. I know, Viv,” Danny answered in a frustrated tone. “I’ll start background and run the financials on the family.” He paused a moment then asked in a hesitant tone,“Has Jack said anything? Has he said anything to you about…about me?”

“I know that he was talking to Olczyk before I called him this morning about the case, but I didn’t have time to get an update. I’m sure he’ll tell you as soon as he hears something,” Vivian replied gently.

Danny smirked as he nodded slightly. “Right. Okay. You better get going. I’ll call if I find something on his family.”

“Hang in there, Danny,” Viv said as she touched his arm supportively before turning to walk away.

Danny took a deep breath as he sat down to start the process of tracking Alan White’s background. He didn’t get very far before the phone rang on his desk.

“Taylor,” he answered in a distracted tone.

“Agent Taylor? Can you hold for SAC Olzcyk?”

Danny sighed as he rubbed his eyes. Part of him wanted to tell Olczyk’s secretary that he had more important things to do, like looking for Alan White, but instead he responded, “Yes, ma’am.”

He waited for a good two minutes before Olczyk came on the line. “Agent Taylor?”

“Yes sir,” Danny answered.

“I got a call from Mrs. Washington’s attorney this morning.”

Danny’s stomach tightened with nerves. He was sure that her attorney had called to complain about his visit to her office that morning. “What did she say, sir?”

“She’s dropping the complaint against you. Apparently, she had some sort of a breakdown, which led her to make a false accusation against you. Agent Malone will fill you in, but I wanted to inform you that there will be no OPR investigation and you are free to resume your field duties.”

Danny breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you, sir.”

“In the future, I would suggest not putting yourself in a situation that could be misconstrued. I’m recommending that Agent Malone make a note of that in your next evaluation.”

Danny rolled eyes and shook his head. “Yes sir. I understand.”

Then Olzyck hung up without so much as a goodbye or an apology. Danny didn’t think Olzcyk owed him an apology because he’d known that he screwed up, but at the very least, Danny thought, he owed Anna an apology for dragging her over the coals. For the most part, he was just thankful to be in the clear. He looked around to tell someone, but then realized that no one was there to tell. He thought about calling Anna, but then saw the picture of Alan White on the whiteboard. The picture reminded him that he had a job to do so he quickly resumed compiling the background on Alan White and his family.

Several hours later, they found Alan White alive and locked in his stepfather’s trunk. Danny found out through a financial records check that Alan’s stepfather was obviously having an affair. He called Martin and Vivian who then questioned the stepfather. The stepfather finally admitted to them that Alan had found out about the affair so he wanted to make Alan disappear. Luckily, he hadn’t killed him yet.

Before Danny left for the evening, he stopped by Jack’s office. He softly knocked on the door before opening it.

“Got a minute?” Danny asked.

“Come in, Danny. I know Olczyk spoke to you this morning. I wanted to be the one to tell you, but then we got the case--,”

“Its okay, Jack. I understand,” Danny interrupted as he sat down. “Samantha just gave me the cliff notes on your excursion this morning. You two make quite a team.”

“And don’t forget Martin. He traced phone records for half the night.”

“I owe all of you more than I can ever repay. I’m sorry that I questioned you, Jack. I know I should’ve said something sooner. I made a mess of things.”

“It wasn’t your fault, Danny. Karen Washington is a disturbed woman. The U.S. Attorney is working out a deal with her. He’ll drop the obstruction charges if she agrees to psychiatric counseling.”

“When I think about what I almost let happen. I almost ruined everything—my job, my relationship—everything,” Danny said almost desperately.

“But you didn’t. You were strong enough to walk away.”

“I guess,” Danny replied in a sad tone.

“Speaking of your relationship, you’re very lucky.”

“Sam told me what Anna did,” he responded quietly.

“Don’t be angry with her. She genuinely wanted to help you. Without her, I don’t think this all would have worked out.”

“I’m not angry. I’m just glad it’s over, and she’s still with me.”

“I’m sorry that we had to question her. And I’m sorry that I questioned your sobriety.”

Danny smiled slightly. “I should have been up front with from the beginning. You had a right to be skeptical. But I appreciate your apology and I’m sure Anna does too—that’s more than we got from Olczyk.”

“Well, he doesn’t know you like we know you,” Jack responded genuinely. “You should get going.”

“Yeah. I should. I got so busy with the case today that I was only able to leave Anna a message,” he replied. “See you tomorrow, Jack.”

“’Night Danny and good work today.”

“Yeah, you too,” he replied with a smile before walking out the door.

Danny headed straight to Anna’s apartment. He was so happy and relieved that he felt like he was floating. When he arrived, he walked in quietly to find her standing at the kitchen counter, cutting vegetables. She was wearing the light pink tank top that she usually wore to bed with a pair of soft knit track pants. Her hips were swaying back and forth to the music coming from the stereo. He could have watched her for hours like that if he hadn't felt such an urgency to get close to her.

Slowly creeping up behind her, he gently let his hands slide around her bare waist as he planted a soft kiss at the nape of her neck. He thought she’d be surprised, but instead she leaned back against him.

“How’d you know it was me?” he asked surprised.

“Samantha called a few minutes ago. She said you were on your way home.”

“Hmmmm. What did Sam want? Did she want to thank you for all your help today?” he asked as he continued to nuzzle her neck.

“So I guess you heard?” she asked hesitantly as her breathe hitched slightly. She was still a bit afraid that Danny wouldn’t have wanted her to meddle.

“Yeah, I heard all about the business you had to tend to this morning.”

“You’re not mad?” she asked already knowing he wasn’t because of the way he was holding her and kissing her neck.

He shook his head. “Definitely not. I just feel incredibly lucky to have you in my life.”

She turned around his arms to face him as his hands locked at the small of her back. “I’m so relieved its over,” she said before rising up to kiss him.

They kissed passionately and intensely against the kitchen counter for several minutes before finally breaking from each other. And then they just stared into each other’s eyes. Running her hand against his cheek, she raised up to kiss him once more before wrapping her arms tightly around his neck. As she felt his arms tighten around her waist as he pulled her even closer, her eyes filled with tears because at that moment they both realized the whole ordeal was finally over.

Weeks later, they found themselves settled into a comfortable routine of almost living together. Danny’s unwillingness to officially move into her loft was still a point of contention for them, but she knew it wasn’t because he feared commitment with her. It was more about his pride. He didn’t feel right living somewhere he couldn’t afford to live. They discussed this issue at length during the trip up to her family’s Connecticut home when her father and Christi invited them up for a long weekend.

“I don’t feel comfortable living off your father,” he continued to state emphatically.

“It’s like a gift, Danny. I mean, he doesn’t give me Christmas or birthday gifts. He just makes sure the apartment is paid for each year. It really isn’t a big deal.”

“It’s a big deal to me. And that’s not a normal ‘gift’, Anna. In the real world, where I live, parents don’t give their kids million dollar apartments.”

Anna sighed. “Then I’ll move in with you.”

He laughed and shook his head. “And how long will that last? You'd hate it. You'd hate the leaky shower that only stays hot for five minutes. You'd hate the next door neighbors who have unreasonably loud arguments followed by even more unreasonably loud make-up sex. And then there’s the summer—the air conditioner never works—”

“I’d survive, Danny. We could just live there until we could find something we could both afford. And until then, we could give the neighbors a run for their money—maybe they'd get the hint,” she said with a giggle.

Danny laughed. “At least we’d have fun trying. We’ll figure something out,” he said reassuringly as he reached for hand and squeezed it.

That afternoon, Christi insisted that she and Anna go shopping in town. The last thing Anna wanted to do was spend the afternoon with Christi leaving Danny alone with her father. However, Danny assured her that he’d be fine. Several hours later, Anna finally returned from shopping completely exhausted.

“God that woman is like a machine. She found literally a thousand ways to spend my father’s money today,” Anna said as she entered her childhood bedroom, kicking off her shoes and flopping on the bed. “Did my father totally interrogate you today?”

Danny smiled as he sat down next to her. “Come on now. No one interrogates Danny Taylor,” he said jokingly. “It was fine. He showed me around this place. Did you know there’s a whole lake back there?”

Anna laughed. “Yeah, I noticed that. My mom used to take me down there every Saturday morning to feed the ducks. I used to hate the winters when they flew south for the winter.”

“This place is pretty impressive,” he said in a slightly overwhelmed tone.

“It’s just a house, Danny. It’s not who we are.”

“I know,” he answered quietly.

That night, they didn’t plan on making love. In fact, Anna basically told Danny that the thought of being with someone in her childhood bed with her father in the house made her feel a little strange. But in the middle of the night, they found themselves kissing intensely and pulling closer to each other. He looked in her eyes searching for a sign to go further, but she still looked a bit uneasy. So Danny pulled away from her and tossed their pillows and comforter on the floor next to the bed. She laughed at his quick thinking as he guided her down to the floor.

She bit her lip so no one could hear her moans as she moved above him with her eyes closed. She literally loved the way her made her feel. When she opened her eyes, she saw that he was watching her intensely. He almost looked nervous. She leaned down to kiss him and he cradled her against his bare chest—hesitant to let her go.

When they finally finished, he hovered above her looking into her eyes as they both caught their breath. She noticed that he still had a strange look in his eyes.

“What is it? What’s wrong?” Anna asked as she caressed his cheek.

“Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Everything is so right it scares me,” he answered. Then he shifted his weight so his body still lay against hers, but he wasn’t on top of her. He kissed her forehead. “I don’t think we should move in together.”

The statement came so fast and matter-of-fact that Anna could hardly believe what she was hearing. Frowning, she looked up at him. “What? How can you—“

“Let me finish,” he said as he put a finger to her lips. “I was going to do this when we got home tonight but I don’t think I can wait anymore.”

Her stomach turned at the thought of what he was about to say. She feared that didn’t want to move so fast because he was still scared of messing up their relationship.

“Do what?” she asked with the frown still firmed etched in her brow.

“I talked to your dad today.”

She shook her head completely confused. “You what? Why—”

He sighed and put his finger to her lips again. “We talked about the loft and what our options were, and we decided—“

She grabbed his finger from her lips. “Whoa, whoa. You decided? Why is it any of his business where we live or what we do?”

Danny smiled. “The whole living arrangement talk was a part of a bigger conversation that he and I had while we walked around that lake.”

Anna couldn’t say anything else. She wondered what her father did to her Danny on that lake today.

“You see,” Danny continued, “I asked Christi to take you shopping today so I could talk to your Dad about us.”

“Us?” she asked as the picture started to become clearer in her mind.

“Yeah. I thought I should ask his permission—“

Before he could finish his sentence, Anna leaned up to kiss him. “Oh my god. Oh my god,” she said as her head fell back to the pillow. “Oh my god.”

“Are you gonna let me ask you?” he asked in an exasperated tone.

She nodded. “Sorry, go ahead,” she answered with a trembling voice.

“I don’t think we should move in together because I think we should get married. Your dad gave me his blessing today. I have the ring back at my apartment, but I can’t wait anymore. Will you…marry me?”

As her body literally shook with emotion beneath him, she leaned up to kiss him again. He returned the passionate kiss enthusiastically.

“Is that a yes?” he asked finally pulling away.

She nodded. “Yes, yes, of course, yes. I’ve been waiting for that question from you since I was eighteen years old,” she exclaimed as she thought about the first time she’d seen him in that coffee house at NYU.

“Better late than never,” he said as he kissed her again.

END