Chapter 80 - Proposal


Jon pulled open the heavy glass door and entered the building. He left his sunglasses on as he strolled down the long hall, not from habit but from vanity. He looked like shit this morning, and he felt every second of his age and then some. So he decided to hide behind the shades. He didn’t think he would encounter many people up and about on the Center at this hour, but he didn’t care. He was invoking the “Rock Star prerogative.”

He swung his briefcase slightly in his right hand as he walked. Jon had spent most of the night working. He had begun with a series of phone calls to the people who would do his bidding. Most of them were on the West Coast, so the late hour at which he had embarked upon this newest project had little impact on his ability to reach them. Not that he gave a flying fuck whether he woke them up in the middle of the Goddamn night or not. There was work to be done, and time was of the essence.

However, there was one contact that required more respect. The most important one. By the time Jon had outlined a strategy and set the wheels in motion on his plan, it had been well into the wee hours of the morning here in Georgia. So he had to wait.

Jon was so keyed up that he had been unable to sleep, so he had poured himself a drink and settled on the chaise. He had watched the waves and smoked, and napped a bit, until the first light of dawn crept onto the horizon. Then he rose and went back into the villa. Jon showered, shaved, and dressed, then waited. At the stroke of 6:00 a.m. he picked up his Blackberry and made the call.

Now, a half-hour later, Jon reached the end of the hall and stepped through the open double doors. He was greeted by the attractive young secretary he had met last week, Stacey. “Good morning, Mister Bongiovi,” she smiled cheerily. “He’s on a call. Can I get you a cup of coffee?”

“Good morning. Yes, thanks,” Jon replied, his voice gravelly. He gave Stacey a tired smile as she rose from her desk. Jon took a couple steps over to the leather sofa near the window, and lowered himself onto it.

A minute later, Stacey returned with a tray bearing a carafe of coffee, creamer, sugar, and a large ceramic mug emblazoned with the Center’s logo. She set the tray on the coffee table in front of Jon and gave him another perky smile, then moved back to her desk.

Jon poured himself a cup and added cream and sugar. He sank back against the soft leather of the couch and closed his eyes, taking a swallow of the rich beverage. He sat with his eyes closed for several minutes, running through the details of his plan in his mind.

He was pretty sure he had covered all the bases, but this was unfamiliar territory. Jon’s Foundation and business enterprises had worked with government agencies before, but he had never personally been involved in marshalling federal resources. He hoped he hadn’t made any major oversights or omissions. Now he just needed buy-in from the people who counted.

“Well, hello there,” Jon opened his eyes at the familiar voice. He smiled and rose to his feet when he recognized the woman standing in front of him, grinning amusedly.

“Good morning,” Jon replied the photographer, offering her his hand. “How are you today, Mo?”

“Doin’ fine,” she chuckled. “How about you? What brings you in here so early?”

“Well, it was the only time I could get on the schedule. He’s a busy man,” Jon answered, tipping his head toward the heavy oak door behind Stacey’s desk.

Mo nodded. “He sure is. In fact, I’m in early because I’m shooting the breakfast at seven.” Mo smiled again at Jon. “How’s your training going?”

“Very well, thanks,” Jon answered. “Cate’s still kicking my butt. We were on the range again last night. Today she has me ‘blowing shit up and burning shit down’.” Jon grinned. “Can’t wait.”

Mo laughed. “Yeah, the bomb and arson boys are a hoot. You’ll have a blast… no pun intended.”

Jon chuckled. He was just about to ask Mo about her week when Stacey spoke up. “I’m sorry to interrupt, Mr. Bongiovi, but he can see you now.”

“That’s my cue,” Jon smiled. He again shook Mo’s hand. “Nice to see you again.”

“You too,” Mo replied. “Tell Cate I say ‘howdy’.”

“Will do.” Jon set his coffee cup back on the tray, picked up his briefcase, and moved toward the door where Stacey was waiting to usher him into the Director’s office. He followed her into the large, airy room, then pulled off his sunglasses and tucked them into his shirt collar as he moved to shake hands with the man.

“Paul, thanks for seeing me on such short notice,” Jon said deferentially, giving the Director a winning smile. “Sorry about the early-morning call, but this just came up.”

“Oh, not a problem at all,” the Director answered, gesturing for Jon to sit a large leather armchair. “I’m usually in early anyway.” He sat in an identical chair, facing Jon, and crossed his long legs. “So, Jon, what can I do for you?”

“Well, it’s about that idea we discussed at your house on Sunday,” Jon began. “About me doing some publicity work for the Center. I’ve spoken with some of my people and I think we have a really exciting idea. But there’s something I’d like to ask in return…”

Jon opened his briefcase and pulled out two black folders, handing one to the Director. He quickly outlined his plan, referring Paul to the documents inside the folder. Paul nodded along, a smile on his face, as he listened to Jon’s pitch. After ten minutes, he raised an eyebrow at Jon. “Wow. You did all this in just a couple days?” he asked.

Jon nodded. Actually, in a couple hours, he thought. “I’m just really excited about this opportunity to do something to support the men and women of law enforcement,” he replied diplomatically. “I wanted to get something put together before I finish up here on Friday.”

“Well, it sounds fantastic. I think we’ll be able to get everyone on board,” Paul grinned. “I’ll have my legal shop review these documents today, to be sure everything’s okay contract-wise, and I’ll have my public affairs and human resources folks put together the stuff we’ll need from our end. I’ll give you a call later today, if that works.”

“That works,” Jon replied with a smile. “I’m going to be training at the gym – DTs – until about four-thirty, then I’ll have a break until I have to be at the range at seven. You can call my Blackberry; if I’m in training I’ll call you back as soon as I can.”

“Not a problem.” Paul glanced at his clock. “Sorry, but I need to go… I have a breakfast function in a few minutes.” He stood and offered his hand to Jon, who stood as well. “This sounds great. I think it will be really exciting, for everybody.”

“Me too,” Jon grinned. “Thanks again for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.”

“Give Agent Sullivan my regards,” Paul smiled.

“I will,” Jon promised. He picked up his briefcase and moved toward the door.

When Jon stepped back into the outer office of the Director’s suite, he winked at the secretary before sliding his sunglasses back into place over his tired eyes. “Thanks, Stacey,” he said, starting to make his way to the exit.

“You’re welcome,” she answered. “Oh, Mr. Bongiovi? Mo left this for you.” Stacey held out a large manila envelope to Jon. “Have a nice day.”

“Thanks, Doll,” Jon chuckled, flashing her a dazzling grin. He felt a bit smug when Stacey let out a little sigh at the sight of The Smile. He took the envelope from her hand, then left the suite. He looked curiously at the brown packet as he strode down the hall. There was nothing on the outside to indicate what its contents might be.

Jon left the building and went to his SUV, tossing his briefcase onto the passenger seat. He climbed in behind the wheel, then ripped open the seal of the envelope. Jon slid out a plain file folder and opened it. His eyes widened slightly at its contents, then he smiled as his heart warmed.

It was an 8 x 10 print of the photo of him and Cate at the raid houses on Friday, smiling at each other as they stood close together. Jon carefully studied the photo for a long moment, his gaze lingering on the sweet expression on Cate’s beautiful face. The affection there was unmistakable.

At that moment, he had no doubt that somehow, some way, he would convince her to be with him.

Chapter 79 - Find a Way

Jon was restless. He paced around the villa, moving from room to room without any thought to where he was or where he was going.

Since he had left the range, his mind had been going a hundred miles an hour, trying to find the answer. He knew there had to be way… there had to be… to allay Cate’s fear of trusting him with her heart.

Jon knew Cate wanted to be with him. He had seen it in her eyes, tasted it in her kiss. And he wanted to be with her. They were two of a kind. They needed to be together.

The only thing standing in the way was… reality. She was a cop, he was a rock star. It was amazing that they had found each other at all. And after this experience it was probable that their paths would never cross again, unless they made it happen.

Jon frowned. How could he remedy that problem? It had been his life experience that there was no obstacle that couldn’t be overcome with hard work and determination. That had to be true in this case. Every time he had wanted something badly enough, he had done whatever it had taken to get it. He had sacrificed, compromised, bullied, and begged. And he could count on one hand the number of times he had failed.

He didn’t intend to fail now.

But how could he possibly create a situation where he and Cate could be together all the time? Their careers were far from compatible. His required frequent, often exotic travel and a grueling schedule. Hers required her constant presence at the Center and strict adherence to an unyielding timetable. There was no way either of them was going to quit, to give up their life’s work.

Jon shook his head in frustration. There has to be a way….

Looking around, Jon realized he was in the bedroom. He stared at the bed and his heart ached. Less than 24 hours ago he had carried Cate into this very room. He had held her, kissed her, made love to her, lost his soul to her, in that bed. And now the last thing he wanted to do was to sleep there, without her.

Jon sank onto the long bench at the end of the bed, resting his elbows on his knees and running a hand through his hair. He stared into the darkened fireplace for a long time, turning over the dilemma in his mind.

Then he stood and walked over to the closet, retrieving his briefcase from a shelf inside the little room. He carried the heavy leather case out to the living room and dropped it onto the ottoman. Jon sat on the couch, then dialed the combination and popped open the locks.

He reached inside the briefcase and pulled out his movie script, tossing it aside on the couch. Then he removed a thick sheaf of papers from the top pocket. He dropped the contract on the ottoman and began to thumb through it, looking for a certain section. He found it, read through the text several times, then dog-eared the page to mark its place in the thick document.

Pulling his Blackberry from his belt and grabbing a legal pad and pen, Jon propped his feet up on the ottoman. Then he did what he always did when he was confronted with a challenge. He started to work.

Chapter 78 - Please

Cate’s lips parted slightly as she drew in a surprised breath. She stared at him for a long moment, and he saw a brief flicker of emotion in her eyes. Then she looked away and shook her head. She didn’t say anything in response.

Jon shuffled his feet and looked down at the concrete. After a long, awkward silence, he spoke again, quietly. “So, after DTs?”

“Night fire.” Cate answered, her voice hoarse. “We’ll be on a different range. I’ll teach you how to shoot from cover, do close-in shooting, use a flashlight and night-vision goggles, and a couple other things.”

“Sounds cool,” Jon replied, this time his enthusiasm subdued.

“Yeah,” Cate answered flatly. Neither she nor Jon could bear to look at each other, but each was painfully aware of the distance that had suddenly appeared between them. It was as if the earth had opened up and they were standing on opposite sides of a giant chasm.

Cate breathed a sigh of relief when she heard the range door open. She looked up to see Danny come strolling back in from his smoke break. Thank God, she thought. Both she and Jon needed to get back to work, to get their minds on something besides the awkward sadness of this moment.

Danny raised an eyebrow as Cate met his gaze. He could tell something had happened while he was outside, but it obviously wasn’t a fight. Jon looked as if someone had just kicked his dog, and he saw heartache in Cate’s eyes.

Jesus Christ, you two… Danny thought. They were obviously going to have to work this out, and soon, or Jon was never going to be able to complete his training. He had done exceptionally well tonight, all things considered, to keep his focus on shooting. Danny hoped he would be able to continue, after whatever-it-was that he and Cate had just shared.

“Let’s roll, guys,” Danny said, clapping his hands together. “Lots to get through in the next hour.” Without waiting for a response, he turned his back on Jon and Cate and climbed the stairs to the control booth.

Cate took a deep breath, then looked at Jon. “You heard him. Let’s go,” she said quietly. Cate moved forward to her firing line position and picked up her M-16. Jon followed her lead.

“Alright, we’re gonna start over with the M-16,” Cate said. “You did a little bit last week, but by the time you were done you were so… frustrated…” Her mind flashed back to Jon’s response to her dropping down over him as he tried to fire the M-16 from the prone position. “…that you were lapsing into some bad habits. Tonight we’re gonna undo that.”

Jon nodded, pressing his lips together in a firm line. He was determined to concentrate tonight, to do much better than he had last week. And now, after what had just happened, he was certain Cate would do everything in her power to avoid touching him. I just have to put her out of my mind, just for awhile…

Cate and Jon both loaded their rifles, then sighted them in. Cate had Jon fire one full 30-round magazine at a target for no particular reason other than to allow him to re-familiarize himself with the feel of the rifle’s recoil, and to allow him to find a comfortable grip.

Cate stood back and directed him to fire a couple shots, made corrections to his technique, then had him fire a few more shots. By the time he had expended the last round, Jon did feel a little more comfortable handling the rifle.

As they had done with the PPC course, Cate slowly and deliberately walked Jon through the different tasks that make up the M-16 qualification course. She first had him fire from the standing position, leaning forward and supporting the rifle over a barrier. She explained and demonstrated, then watched Jon as he performed the task.

After he had fired several rounds and seemed comfortable, she added another step. She had Jon fire three rounds, then drop the magazine from the rifle and reload. He easily picked up the technique for the reload, and after a couple times performed the task smoothly and with confidence.

Cate breathed a sigh of relief. So far, so good. Jon seemed to be doing well enough just by watching and listening to her. It didn’t look like she was going to have to get any closer to him than she already was.

She had initially hoped to avoid physical contact with Jon because she knew it would remind her of their intimate weekend. But now she now felt strangely different. The awkward moment between Jon and her during the break had somehow changed things. Now it was as if she couldn’t touch him. Like she had had her chance, and now there was some sort of wall around him, preventing her from feeling his touch or his emotion.

She couldn’t quite explain what had happened, but somehow her heart or her mind had played a cruel trick. Now, even if she wanted to, she didn’t think she could reach him. Somehow he seemed as untouchable here beside her as he had been when she had watched him on a stage across a crowded arena.

Cate blinked and came back to the training. She realized Jon was quietly watching her, awaiting further instruction. She could see in his eyes that he knew she had drifted away. But he didn’t say anything.

Cate took a breath, then resumed her instruction. She explained and demonstrated, then had Jon practice firing the M-16 from the kneeling supported position. After he was comfortable she added the reload task, which he easily performed.

Next, Cate had Jon drop to the ground to perform the supported and unsupported prone firing tasks. She lay on the concrete beside him, at her station, and explained body position, support, aim, and trigger squeeze. Jon nodded along as he listened, then performed the tasks at Cate’s command. As with the other positions, he had little difficulty firing properly and hitting the target.

Shit, Danny was right, Cate admitted to herself. It WAS my fault he couldn’t concentrate. She smiled a little at the irony. Before she had slept with Jon, when their relationship was purely professional, he couldn’t think straight while she was trying to do her job. Now that they had crossed the line, he was fine with only minimal input from her. More proof that he’ll forget about me and move on, Cate thought sadly. The thrill of the chase is over.

Cate gave Jon a little smile as he cleared and safed his rifle, then tipped it sideways to the ground. “Nice job,” she said quietly. “You’ve really come a long way. So, you ready to fire the course?”

Jon nodded, giving her a little smile of his own. “I think so, Teach,” he said softly.

“Then let’s go,” Cate replied. She and Jon pushed themselves up off the concrete, then reloaded their magazines with the long, slender bullets. Cate signaled to Danny to reel in the targets, and he sent the used targets sailing down the track back to her. Cate replaced the paper silhouettes with unmarked ones, then sent the targets back downrange to their proper positions.

Cate and Jon both settled in to fire the M-16 qualification course, in the reverse of how Cate had taught Jon. Danny called out direction over the P.A. as they proceeded; first having them fire ten rounds each from the prone supported then the prone unsupported positions with reload, then directing them to fire another ten rounds from the kneeling supported position. They finished with standing, ten rounds over barricade.

Jon was a little surprised and very pleased to find it easy to concentrate on the course. As it proceeded he fell into a rhythm of firing and breathing, and he had no difficulty whatsoever in discharging all the rounds in the allotted time. By the time he was done, he unwittingly wore a little self-satisfied smirk on his luscious lips. Cate couldn’t help but smile at him. His self-confidence was just too appealing.

When the targets reeled back to them, Jon grinned even more widely. Cate scored his target, and he was proud to see he had passed with flying colors. His grin broadened when Cate informed him that he had done so well that he would have qualified for an “expert marksman” ribbon, if he were in the military.

“Great job, Jon,” Cate praised him. She couldn’t help but chuckle at his excitement. He earned it, she thought.

“Thanks, Cate,” Jon replied softly. He reached out and squeezed her hand. “I mean it. Thank you.” He smiled sweetly at her. “You’re a great teacher.”

Cate dropped her gaze to the floor, blushing slightly. “Thanks,” she mumbled. She looked back up at Jon, holding his gaze for a moment, smiling at the excited twinkle in his eyes. “Alright, we’re done. Time to clean the weapons.”

Jon nodded and turned away to pick up his rifle and ammo can. He followed Cate to the armory and laid the guns on the cleaning table beside Cate’s, then followed her over to a locker to get a cleaning kit.

Cate quietly directed Jon in cleaning and oiling the guns, prompting him about what step to take when he couldn’t remember. Her hands moved effortlessly over her own weapons as she instructed him. Jon noted that she didn’t even have to look down at her hands to reassemble either the Glock or the M-16. She was that familiar with the guns.

He also was painfully aware that Cate was more quiet and subdued than he had ever seen her. She seemed distant, her voice flat as she led him through the process of cleaning the weapons. It was almost as if she was talking to herself, not to him. Jon couldn’t explain what had happened, but he knew it wasn’t good. It was as if she had locked him out of her consciousness.

After Jon finished, Cate took his M-16 and Glock and secured them in their lockers. She directed Jon to clean up his side of the table, place his rags in the disposal can, and return his cleaning kit to the supply locker. Jon did as she instructed, taking a couple minutes to complete the tasks.

While Jon worked, Cate stepped back to the cleaning table and pulled the slide off her Glock. She re-oiled the frame, replaced the slide, and worked it back and forth several times before repeatedly pulling the trigger. Then she picked up a soft yellow cloth and began to polish the weapon, wiping away the excess oil.

Jon placed his cleaning kit back in the supply locker, then turned to look at Cate. She was facing away from him, working at the cleaning table. He stood silently, staring at Cate’s back as she wiped down her Glock.

He couldn’t stand it. He had to reach her, to somehow close this cold distance that had appeared between them. He took a step forward, toward her. Then another. Then another and another and another, until he was so close he could see her hair stirring from his breath.

Cate froze as she felt Jon move up behind her. Her hands dropped to the table, and the gun and cloth slipped from her grasp. Drawing in a deep breath, Cate closed her eyes. She tried to steel herself for what she knew was coming, what she dreaded and yearned for, all at the same time.

Jon placed his hands lightly on Cate’s hips. He pulled gently at her right hip, urging her to turn to face him. Unable to stop herself, Cate complied. She kept her gaze down, away from Jon’s face, afraid of what would happen if she looked up and into his damned hypnotic eyes.

Jon raised his hand to Cate’s face, stroking her cheek, then slipping his fingers beneath her chin. He leaned forward to place a soft kiss on her forehead, then gently tipped her face up to his. He lowered his mouth to hers, sighing at the feel of her soft lips. He felt Cate shiver slightly as he kissed her tenderly, longingly, silently begging her to respond.

Cate was overwhelmed by the warmth of Jon’s lips on hers, of the bittersweet gentleness of his kiss. His tongue slid forward to trace the opening of her mouth, then slipped inside. Cate whimpered softly as she felt herself answer Jon’s invitation, her tongue meeting his. Jon angled his head to gain deeper entry to her mouth, kissing her with more passion.

As Cate felt her body respond, her brain woke up. No! it commanded, reminding her that what she was doing was forbidden. You have to STOP. Cate groaned and slid her hands up to Jon’s chest, pressing her palms firmly against his pecs. She pulled her lips away from his with an audible gasp. “Jon, no…” she whispered sadly. “I.. I can’t.”

“Please…” Jon whispered in response, pressing his lips back to hers.

Cate felt tears spring to her eyes. She turned her head to the side, causing Jon’s lips to slip to her cheek. “I can’t…” she repeated as Jon placed trail of gentle kisses across her cheek and along her jaw. Realizing he wasn’t going to stop, Cate pushed against Jon’s chest, then turned her back to him. She braced her hands on the table and lowered her head, drawing in a deep breath.

“Cate… please,” Jon implored, his voice a husky whisper. His hands moved again to her hips.

Cate blinked rapidly, willing her tears to stop before Jon saw them. “Please leave,” she said hoarsely. “Jon…please… Just go.” She felt him hesitate. “GO!” she said, more firmly, her voice cracking with emotion. She drew in another shuddering breath and closed her eyes. Please, please, please just go…. she begged silently. I can’t take this…

She heard Jon let out a sad sigh, then felt him step away from her. Then he was gone.

Cate stood motionless for what seemed like a long time, afraid to open her eyes and find Jon still there, gazing at her with those beautiful, heartbreaking eyes. Finally she took a deep breath and raised her head. She swiped the back of her hand across her eyes, angrily brushing away the tears that had leaked from beneath her lids. Sensing a presence in the room, Cate braced herself, then looked toward the door. She saw Danny there, leaning against the door frame, watching her.

Danny didn’t say a word. He walked over to Cate and wrapped his arms around her, letting her tears fall against his shoulder.

Chapter 77 - Back on the Range

After Jon left and Cate showered and changed, she and Danny walked over to the Dining Hall for dinner. They had a quiet meal, talking about Danny’s kids, sports, and other odd topics. Cate was grateful that Danny didn’t bring up Jon. She was tired of explaining her decision, of justifying it.

Before today, Cate would never have thought she could have tired of talking about Jon Bon Jovi. But then again, she would never in her wildest dreams have imagined finding herself in this situation, either.

Once they finished their dinner, Cate and Danny went back to the office and did some paperwork, then headed over to the range a half hour before Jon’s training was scheduled to begin. In the armory, Cate pulled guns from the lockers while Danny counted out bullets. After preparing the weapons and ammo, the pair climbed the steps to the control booth to await Jon’s arrival.

They didn’t have to wait long. At five minutes before seven Jon strolled in the door, carrying his black range bag. He stopped on the concrete platform near the center of the firing line, looking around. Cate let out a little groan when she saw that he was again wearing the faded button-fly 501s, along with a snug dark red t-shirt.

Danny smirked at her reaction. “Easy, Slick,” he said. “Listen, promise me you’re not gonna turn into a Bitch on Wheels like you did last week.”

Cate turned her gaze to Danny. “I won’t. I swear, I’m gonna control myself. Even if he tries to provoke me,” she vowed. And I know he will…

“Good.” Danny gave her a stern look. “And no climbing on him. He needs to pass the damned rifle course tonight.”

“Don’t worry,” Cate replied sarcastically. “Been there, done that.”

Danny chuckled. At least Cate was trying to keep a sense of humor about this situation. But he could see the heartache in her eyes. He shook his head to himself. Jesus, Cate, just give in… he thought.

Jon looked up at the control booth. Spotting Cate and Danny, he gave a little wave, followed by a dazzling grin.

“Here we go…” Cate muttered. She turned to the door. Danny grinned and swatted Cate’s ass as she turned her back to him.

“Behave,” he warned her.

“Fuck you,” Cate replied, without venom. She drew in a breath, then left the booth and descended the stairs.

Jon gave Cate another grin as she approached him. “Hey, Baby,” he said.

Cate bristled at his greeting. “Jon,” she said evenly. “We have a professional relationship now. Please don’t call me ‘Baby,’ especially not when we’re working.” She looked at him calmly, determined to keep her cool.

Jon raised his eyebrows, surprised by her reaction. His expression sobered. Man, she’s not messing around tonight, he thought. She’s got her game face on. Jon remembered Danny’s warning not to push Cate so far as to piss her off. It seemed like good advice right now.

“Okay. Sorry,” he said contritely. He took a breath. “So, what are we doing tonight?”

Cate gave an inward sigh of relief at Jon’s response to her rebuke. He seemed to take her seriously, to be ready to focus on training. “We’re gonna do both handgun and rifle. We’ll warm up with the Glock, do the basic qualification course and the PPC a couple times, then we’ll do the M-16. You need quite a bit of work on that, so we’ll probably spend a good amount of time with the rifle.”

Jon nodded. “Sounds good,” he replied. He was looking forward to shooting tonight. It would require him to concentrate, to focus on something other than his emotions.

He was pretty sure there wouldn’t be a repeat of his last shooting lesson, when he and Cate had ended up going toe-to-toe. Tonight she seemed distant, closed off. Jon had a feeling she wouldn’t be touching him much tonight, let alone laying on top of him. Damnit.

Cate led Jon to the armory and gave him a Glock and an M-16, along with a can of ammo, then grabbed a rifle and ammo can for herself. They returned to the firing line and loaded magazines with bullets from the cans. Jon could see they were going to be doing a lot of firing tonight; Danny had issued over 300 rounds of ammo for the Glock and over 200 for the M-16.

Once they were ready to begin, Cate directed Jon to position 12 on the firing line, while she stood at position 10. As before, they began the lesson by warming up with the Glock, completing the qualification course.

Cate was pleased to see that Jon seemed comfortable with the Glock, and that she didn’t need to give him any correction. As before, his stance and mechanics were excellent. Jon easily completed the qualification course with a passing score.

Then they moved on to the Practical Pistol Course, which Jon had found significantly more difficult during their last range lesson. Cate shivered slightly as she remembered molding herself to his side as she attempted to correct his over-aiming problem during the Z-pattern sequence. She hoped Jon would be able to focus enough tonight to avoid a similar corrective action. She was pretty sure such close contact wouldn’t do anything to help either of them.

Taking the lesson slowly, Cate coached Jon through the first part of the PPC, first explaining and demonstrating each technique, then having Jon fire at his own target. Cate had him repeat each portion of the PPC several times before moving on to the next part.

First they worked on chest and head shot combos, in which Jon had to fire two shots at the silhouette target’s chest then one at the head, in quick succession. He quickly picked up on that technique.

Then they practiced one-handed shooting with the “strong hand.” Keeping his left hand behind his back, Jon had to fire ten shots at the center of the target, then drop his empty magazine, crouch, and reload using only his right hand. After he successfully performed that tactic, Cate coached him through the same tasks using only his weak, or left hand.

Jon found that portion of the PPC particularly difficult, as did most students. He never realized just how weak his left hand really was. Though he could easily finger notes and chords on his guitar for hours with little fatigue to his hand, he found it rather difficult to squeeze the trigger on the Glock ten times in rapid succession.

Finally, they worked on the portion of the PPC that had given Jon so much trouble last week – the Z-pattern. Cate patiently explained to Jon how to move his eyes to the point on the target he wanted to hit, then to move the gun to line up the sights with his eyeline. Jon took a deep breath and tried to do what she said.

After several attempts, he realized the technique was working; he was able to place rounds in the small circles on the silhouette target’s shoulders, chest, and hips. Jon grinned to himself, proud that he had made it past the hurdle that had tripped him up last week. Cate gave him an encouraging smile, glad that she hadn’t had to resort to physical contact to help Jon correct his technique.

After they worked through the PPC task by task, Cate and Jon fired the entire course together, within the allotted time limits. Cate watched Jon closely, seeing that he had successfully focused his full attention on the task at hand. He seemed much more relaxed and confident than he had been last week; his stances were stronger and his aim and trigger pull more fluid.

When the course was through, Jon broke into a beaming grin as his target returned to him. He had placed all the rounds on the target; most of them within the correct circles.

“See, told ya you could do it,” Cate praised him, pulling her earplugs out of her ears. “You just needed to settle down and concentrate to get the technique down. Once you figured out how it felt to fire the course, you locked in. Nice work.”

“Thanks, Teach,” Jon replied with a smile. I was thinking with my head instead of my dick this time, he wanted to say. But he kept his mouth shut, not wanting to provoke Cate. Her icy demeanor had thawed considerably as they worked together, and they were now in a comfortable rhythm. He didn’t want to ruin that.

“Okay, let’s take a break, then we’ll get started on the M-16.” Cate turned and gestured to Danny in the control booth. “Want a bottle of water?”

“Yeah, thanks,” Jon replied. He watched as Cate walked toward the range office and disappeared inside. He heard the door to the control booth open, and looked up as Danny descended the stairs.

“Doin’ good, Man,” Danny commented. “You look a lot more comfortable tonight.”

“Yeah,” Jon replied. “I’m a little more focused than last week.” He gave Danny a meaningful little grin. “Shit, I don’t know how the male students can pay any damned attention when she has to move in and correct them.”

Danny laughed. “Well, most of them are scared shitless of her, so it’s usually not a problem.”

Jon chuckled. He looked back toward the range office door. Seeing that Cate was still inside, he dropped his voice. “Has she said anything to you? About changing her mind?”

Danny shook his head. “Naw. We had dinner and I didn’t even bring it up. She talked to Mandy today, too. Her mind’s made up, but it’s killing her.” He sighed and glanced toward the office. “I don’t know, Jon. I hope she’ll come around, but you’re running out of time.”

Jon looked down at the concrete and shook his head sadly. “I gotta figure something out,” he muttered. He was silent for a moment, then looked back up when he heard Danny discretely clear his throat. Cate approached the two men and handed each a cold bottle of water.

“Thanks, Slick.” Danny said, twisting the top off the bottle and taking a long drink. He let out a long “ahhh,” then grinned. “I’m gonna go burn one. Be back in five.” He gave Cate a look that said “behave,” then sauntered toward the door.

“You wanna have a smoke too?” Cate asked Jon. “We probably won’t take another break. We need to get through a lot with the rifle tonight.”

“No, I’m fine,” Jon replied. He looked at Cate, his eyes searching hers as he tried to read her thoughts. But he saw that they were once again closed off to him, her eyes grayish-blue in the harsh light of the range. “So,” he said, trying to fill the silence. “What are we doing tomorrow?”

“A lot,” Cate replied. “It’s gonna be another long day.” In many ways… “You’ll need to be in by nine. At 9:30 you’re going to bomb and arson training.”

Jon’s face lit up. “Really? That sounds awesome!” He grinned. “What am I gonna do there?”

Cate had to smile at his response. It warmed her heart every time she saw him so genuinely excited about his training. “Well, you’re only gonna have two and a half hours – that’s all the time I could get you – but you’ll get the basics of arson investigation, then of how to process the scene of a bomb blast.” She couldn’t help but grin mischievously. “You get to burn shit down and blow shit up.”

“Fuckin’ A!” Jon laughed excitedly. “Damn, that’s gonna be fun!”

“Yeah,” Cate agreed. “It’s my favorite course on the Center. Shhh… Don’t tell Mandy!” she teased. “In fact, I’m gonna play too. It’s really cool.”

Jon felt a little surge of excitement at that. Cate was going to work with him again, side by side, as they had in the FATS training last week. He thought back to the unspoken affection they had shared there, the ease of their partnership. He hoped they could recapture that tomorrow. That would be a step in the right direction to convincing Cate to give him another shot at a personal relationship with her.

“That’s great,” he smiled. “So, what are we doing after that?”

“After lunch it’s more DTs. We still have to cover baton use and offensive strikes. We’ll be at that all afternoon.” Cate gave Jon a pointed look. “It’s gonna be rough, okay? You’ve gotta get it through your head that you’re gonna have to hit me.”

Jon couldn’t help himself; he cringed slightly. Christ, not again. After the weekend they had spent together, him holding and stroking and caressing her, Jon could hardly bear the thought of hitting Cate. He stared back at her, his reluctance evident in his expression.

Cate let out an exasperated sigh. “Damnit, Jon. When are you gonna trust me?” She met his eyes with the challenge.

The words were off his lips before he could stop them. “When are you gonna trust me, Cate?” he asked softly.

Chapter 76 - Without Love

They walked across the road and entered the FTB building. When they approached the locker room door, Cate halted Jon in the hallway.

“Wait a second,” she said, pulling open the door next to the locker room entrance. Jon saw that behind the door was a janitor’s closet. Cate stepped inside and pulled a roll of plastic trash bags from a shelf, then tore a bag from the roll.

“Here,” she said, handing the bag to Jon. “Take off your clothes before you open your locker, then put them in here. You don’t want these to come in contact with anything else. And when you have them laundered, be sure you keep them separate from your other clothing.”

Jon nodded, his lips curving slightly upward as he saw Cate’s cheeks flush while she spoke. He knew she was picturing him standing naked in front of his locker. “Yes ma’am,” he said softly, his voice a sultry growl. “Sure you don’t wanna help me with that?” he asked seductively, raising an eyebrow.

Cate shook her head and pressed her lips together. “No,” she answered firmly. She gave him a direct look. “Jon, if you’re gonna continue to work with me you can’t keep throwing out these little comments and innuendos,” she warned.

Jon held her gaze for a moment, then shrugged, a sly little smile still on his lips. “Okay,” he said simply. “I’ll come to the office after I’m done showering.”

“Fine,” Cate responded. She matched his gaze, blinking silently back at him.

Jon gave her a little smirk, then turned and pushed through the locker room door.

Cate waited for the click of the lock, but she didn’t hear it. She heard a rustling as Jon shook out the plastic trash bag, and she closed her eyes, envisioning Jon stripping down. Her mind went back to last night, to his gloriously perfect body as he stood beside the bed, letting her look her fill. Cate took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. Stop it, stop it, stop it….

Hearing the muffled metallic sound of a locker door opening, Cate opened her eyes. Okay, get moving, she prompted herself. She couldn't stand here and fantasize for the rest of the afternoon. Cate turned and walked down the hall toward her office, then decided to detour into the break room for a Diet Coke. She retrieved a cold soda from the fridge, then went to her office.

Popping open the can, she started to sit at her desk, then realized she had forgotten to pick up the papers from her mailbox in the admin office. Cate took a sip of her soda before setting the can on her desk, then started back down the hall to the office at the far end.

When she approached the locker room, Cate heard running water. Jon’s in the shower, she thought, feeling a little surge of lust. She ignored it and continued on to the end of the hall.

She entered the admin office and walked over to the wall where the instructor mailboxes were posted. Cate pulled a handful of papers and interoffice memo envelopes from her box, then turned and headed back down the hall. As she passed by the locker room again she heard something that made her hesitate outside the door.

All night long she spoke to me
She whispered in my ear
Beneath that sweet, soft melody
She said, "Don't you know that a rich man
A rich man might be poor
If money is all that he has”

Without love, there's nothing you can do - oh, oh, oh
Without love, you're not really you - oh, Baby

Jon was singing. In the shower. His voice was muffled but unmistakably sexy, even through the rush of the water and the thick door. And he was singing one of her favorite Southside Johnny tunes.

Cate groaned quietly and closed her eyes, leaning against the wall next to the door frame. She tipped her head against the wall. Dear God, how am I gonna survive this week? she thought as she listened to Jon continue the song.

Cate knew Jon was going to take every opportunity to use his charm, his looks, and his damned sexy voice to try to persuade her to come back to his arms, to his bed. She could prepare herself for those confrontations. But the unguarded, spontaneous moments like this, when she could see or hear or watch him without his knowledge… Shit. These are the moments that are gonna kill me,” she thought.

She was still standing there, letting Jon’s voice carry her away, when she felt the hand on her shoulder. With a loud gasp, Cate sprang away from the wall and spun around, her eyes flying open. She found herself face-to-face with Danny. “JESUS! Danny!” she exclaimed.

Danny gave Cate a little grin, then a questioning look. “Why don’t you go in there and give him a hand?” he asked, dropping his voice to a discrete murmur. “You know you want to. I’ll cover for you.”

Cate’s eyes narrowed, then she shook her head. “Danny, you know I can’t do that,” she answered, a hint of melancholy creeping into her voice. “Not just because I could get busted, either. I told him. We’re gonna maintain a professional relationship only, from here on out.”

Danny cocked his head to the side. “And lurking outside the locker room, listening to him shower, is professional?” he asked sarcastically. “Yeah, sure.”

Cate shot him a dirty look. “I never said it was gonna be easy,” she replied, her voice barely above a whisper. “But you know why it has to be this way.”

Danny shook his head. “Cate, I know you think this is the way it has to be.” He sighed when he again saw the sadness in her eyes. “Look, if you’re so Goddamned determined to do this, then you better get your shit together. You still have a job to do.” He gave her a stern look.

Cate blinked at him for a moment, then sighed and nodded. “I know,” she whispered. “I know. I’m trying.”

“Good,” Danny replied, more gently. “Now get outta here. I gotta change too, and I don’t want you lurking out here listening to me singing in the shower.”

Cate stuck out her tongue at Danny, then gave him a little smile. Then she turned and walked toward her office.

She needed to change her clothes too, but not until after she gave the boys a chance to shower. They had been in the middle of the OC cloud; she just had traces on her clothing. And it wasn’t bothering her, so no hurry. She would try to get some paperwork done while she was waiting.

Cate returned to her office and tossed the pile of paper she had retrieved from her mailbox on the desk. She took a drink of her soda, then sank down into her chair. Sighing, she started to shuffle through the contents of the pile, sorting the papers from the brown envelopes that were used for Center intra-agency mail.

Setting the envelopes aside, she read through the stack of papers, tossing some in the recycle bin and placing the rest in the inbox on her desk. Then she turned her attention to the envelopes. She opened the first three, finding updated copies of schedules and the Center’s Hurricane Evacuation Plan. When she opened the fourth, she let out a little gasp.

The contents of the envelope were from Mo. Encased in a clear plastic page protector was a glossy eight-by-ten photo of Cate and Jon, arms around each other’s waists, smiling at each other. It was one of the photos Mo had taken at the raid house exercise on Friday, when she had the instructors pose with Jon.

Cate felt her heart swell as she evaluated the photograph. Jon looked stunningly sexy in his black raid gear. But it was the look on his face that made her eyes widen. It was adoring, intimate.

Cate looked at her own image and saw that her expression matched Jon’s. It was as if Mo had captured them sharing a private joke, a delicious secret. And their body language spoke volumes. Cate and Jon were pressed closely together, his hand visible just above the gun on her hip. Her face was tilted slightly upward toward his as she smiled sweetly. His chin was lowered just a bit, his lips slightly parted and the corners of his mouth turned upward as he gazed into her eyes. They looked as if they were ready to wrap their arms around each other and share a passionate kiss.

Cate stared at the photo for a long time, then laid it on the desk in front of her. She looked down into the envelope and saw something else there. She slid out a CD in plastic case, and quickly read the note Mo had attached to it. As she suspected, the CD contained the other images Mo had shot on Friday.

Cate shook her head slightly, her eyes going back to the print Mo had sent. She couldn’t even begin to think about viewing the other pictures now. It would just be too much.

I have to get my head on straight, Cate thought, shaking her head again as if to erase her thoughts. In just a couple hours I’m gonna be back on the range with him. And I can’t let things get away from me. Not tonight. Not ever again.

She was startled from her thoughts by the sound of Jon’s voice, down the hall. Cate quickly slid the photo and CD back into the envelope, then slipped it into her desk drawer. She looked toward her office door. Seconds later Jon appeared there, wearing track pants and a Center t-shirt, his hair damp.

“Feel better?” Cate asked, trying to sound normal.

“Yeah, a lot better,” Jon replied. His eyes were still red from the OC, but other than that he seemed fine. He chuckled and walked into Cate’s office, stopping beside her desk.

“That was quite an experience,” he said, giving her a sheepish smile. “I feel like a wimp. I get a little whiff of that stuff and about choke to death, and the rest of you guys are just hanging out, doing your thing, not affected at all by the giant cloud of crap floating around your heads.”

Cate laughed at Jon’s statement. “Nobody thinks you’re a wimp,” she replied gently. “Candy-ass? Maybe. Wimp, no.”

Jon chuckled in response, then moved closer, settling on the corner of Cate’s desk as he had this morning. “Yeah, well…” he said softly. “So, now what? We’re on the range in a few hours, right?” His blue eyes sparkled as he gazed at her.

Cate nodded, looking away from Jon, to the clock on her wall. Here we go… she thought. Jon was giving her that private little smile, using that sexy, soft voice, knowing it would affect her. Knowing it would remind her of the time they had spent alone this weekend.

“Yeah. You need to be back by seven. We’ll be on the same range as last time.” Cate tried to keep her voice neutral, matter-of-fact. She hoped it sounded that way to Jon.

Jon leaned in a little, closer to Cate. “I have to go back to my villa and change. I don’t have any range clothes here,” he said, his voice a silky purr.

Cate swallowed and looked back at his face, meeting his eyes with what she hoped was a disinterested look. “Okay. You should have plenty of time to change and grab a bite to eat. We’ll probably be on the range for about two hours.”

Jon looked back at Cate for a long moment, then silently slid off the corner of the desk. He stepped around behind Cate’s chair. Cate drew in a breath as she felt him stop behind her. Jon leaned forward, moving his lips into position next to Cate’s ear. “Come with me,” he whispered seductively.

“No,” Cate responded, willing herself to stand firm. Jon was doing the same thing he had done to her last night, when he had moved up close behind her, pushed the door shut, and implored her to stay with him. He obviously expected it to work again.

“Come on, Cate…we have a couple hours…” Jon purred.

Cate abruptly pushed herself up from her chair, causing Jon to jump back in surprise. She turned to face him, the chair between them. “No,” she repeated firmly. Cate gave Jon a withering glare. “I told you this morning that I can’t… I won’t… see you outside training. You said you could deal with it.”

Jon was surprised by the sudden hard edge to Cate’s voice. “I can deal with it. Doesn’t mean I want to deal with it,” he responded quietly. “And I told you this morning that I’m not gonna give up on trying to make you see that you’re wrong.” He stared back at her.

“Well, you may as well give up. ‘Cause it’s not gonna work,” Cate replied shortly. “Now, I have stuff to do. Go home, change, and I’ll see you on the range at seven.”

Jon gave Cate a long look, then smirked and nodded. “Okay,” he replied. “See you in a couple hours.” He chuckled softly and shook his head, then moved to the door. He gave Cate one last backward glance, then disappeared into the hallway.

Cate let out a breath, then sank back down into her chair. Crap. This is gonna be SO hard…. She sat there for awhile, thinking, formulating a strategy. Finally Cate rose and headed down the hall to change her clothes in preparation for another two-hour face-off with Jon on the range.

Chapter 75 - Just Breathe

After parking her car in the FTB lot, Cate and Jon walked to the outdoor range that was directly across the perimeter road from the FTB offices.

Jon saw a large group of BATs, all dressed in PT uniforms and wearing their web belts of gear, gathered near the firing line. Off to the side, Danny and Steve were busy uncoiling garden hoses and hooking them up to four hydrants. George dragged two large bins of clean towels over to the water stations. Brandon, Troy, and Bobby moved among the students, talking to them in small groups.

“So, this is where we do OC Spray training,” Cate said, sweeping a hand toward the scene in front of them. She and Jon strolled over to the edge of the range, stopping near the water stations. Steve and George called out a “howdy” to Jon, and he waved in reply. Cate gave Danny a sad little smile in response to the concerned look he sent her way.

Jon watched her response from the corner of his eye, then flicked his own glance at Danny, subtly acknowledging that she had told him of her decision. He watched as Danny shook his head slightly, then turned back to his task.

“So, how does this work?” Jon asked Cate. “Do the students spray each other, or what?” He couldn’t quite picture how somebody could “practice” being pepper sprayed. It seemed to Jon that it was something that would only happen once, then the practice would be over.

Cate smiled, grateful that Jon was staying focused on training. “Well, sort of. The training is actually in two parts. The first thing the students will do is practice using the spray in a confrontational situation. They have training canisters filled with aerosolized water on their belts. They will practice discharging them, using the proper commands and technique.” She paused at Jon’s puzzled look.

“You mean there’s a right way and a wrong way to mace somebody?” Jon asked. “I thought you just spray and run.”

Cate chuckled. “Well, you would think so, but there are actually some really important considerations for law enforcement officers. First off, a cop isn’t gonna just randomly spray somebody. He or she is gonna use OC in a confrontation, as an intermediate weapon. So, the officer wants to be sure to get the maximum effect of the spray on the bad guy while minimizing his or her own exposure.”

She watched Jon’s brow furrow as he concentrated on her words. “It’s actually part of defensive tactics,” she continued. “Remember how I taught you weapon retention? A lot of times an officer will use OC against a suspect who’s trying to fight, or to take his gun away. The officer has to be able to retain control of his firearm, protect himself, and subdue the suspect. Then he has to be able to apprehend the suspect. And he has to do all that with a cloud of pepper spray floating around, affecting him, too. It ain’t easy.”

“Wow,” Jon replied. He hadn’t considered that the spray would affect the cop, too. But it made sense. “Doesn’t sound like much fun, either.”

“Yeah, well, there’s a lot about being a cop that isn’t fun,” Cate replied. “It may be a cool job, but it’s not for the faint of heart.” She smiled slightly. “Anyway, officers have to be certified that they can properly discharge OC spray as an intermediate-level use of force tool. That way, if they have to spray somebody in the field and they get sued, or questioned by a defense attorney under oath, they can hopefully prove that they acted properly according to their training.”

Jon nodded. “So it’s kinda a CYA thing,” he observed.

“Not just that, it helps ensure the safety of both the officer and the civilian. The goal is always to use the minimum amount of force necessary to achieve the desired outcome. Just like in defensive tactics. That’s how people avoid getting hurt.” Cate smiled. “Believe me, no good cop ever wants to fight, spray, or shoot in the line of duty. The goal is to protect and serve, not maim and kill.”

Jon chuckled at her choice of words, but he understood what she meant. “So the students are just gonna spray each other with water?” he asked. “Then what are the hoses for?”

“Oh, the BATs are gonna get sprayed with the real stuff, all right.” Cate replied. “But they aren’t gonna spray each other. One instructor will spray the student, then the BAT will have to ‘run the gauntlet’ while under the effects of the spray. The other instructors will try to fight, try to disarm. The BAT has to make it from point A to point B without losing his or her gun and without getting knocked down.”

Shit,” Jon breathed, surprised. “And I thought getting beat up in DTs sucked.”

“Yeah. This is probably the worst day of training for these students,” Cate answered. “They’re gonna feel this for hours. Even after we hose down their faces, they’re still gonna be burning for awhile.”

“So you spray them just so they know what it feels like?” Jon still couldn’t quite believe what he was hearing. This sounded like some cruel cop hazing ritual.

“Partly,” Cate answered. “It makes the students realize what may happen if they have to discharge their spray. It also gives them the confidence to do it when necessary; it takes away the ‘unknown factor.’ And it gives them a legal defense down the road, when they have to testify in court as to why they used OC spray on a suspect. They can honestly say they know first-hand the physiological effects of the offensive use of pepper spray.”

“Shit,” Jon repeated. He was silent for a long moment as he looked over at the group of BATs, who were laughing and talking while they waited for the training to begin. He was glad he only got to watch this training. Participation sounded like no fun whatsoever.

Cate watched Jon’s face as he considered what she had just told him. A light breeze stirred his hair, and his lips puckered slightly in concentration. She felt a dull ache in her heart as her eyes played over his perfect features, pausing on those beautiful lips. She remembered how soft they had felt against her skin just hours ago. She sighed inaudibly at the thought of never kissing him again.

Jon turned back to Cate. “One more question,” he said, his lips forming a little smile. “What the heck does ‘OC’ stand for?”

“Oleoresin Capsicum,” Cate answered. “The ‘capsicum’ is literally the pepper in the pepper spray. It comes from ground hot peppers, which are mixed with an organic solvent, then aerosolized.”

“So if I just say ‘pepper spray,’ I don’t sound as cool?” Jon asked, teasing her gently, hoping to evoke a smile. He succeeded.

“No, you don’t sound as cool,” Cate chuckled. She looked back toward the range and saw Danny striding toward the group of BATs. “Go time,” she said, nodding at Danny.

Danny let out a shrill whistle, silencing the chattering students, who all turned their attention to him. Jon and Cate listened as Danny gathered the BATs and gave them a brief overview of how the training would proceed. Then he directed the class to line up on the range, in two facing rows. The BATs hustled into place as the instructors moved among them.

After the students were lined up, Danny and Steve stepped between the lines and demonstrated the proper technique for use of OC Spray. After two demos, they stepped back and called out direction, leading the students step-by-step through the procedure as a group. Jon observed with interest, noting the same training methodology as Cate had used with him: explain, demonstrate, practice.

Jon smiled as he watched the students’ reactions, several of them giggling self-consciously as they spritzed their classmates in the face with water. He felt every minute of his age as he looked at the youthful faces of the trainees. He glanced at Cate and saw her watching him. Their eyes met and she gave him a small smile, then looked away.

In that brief moment Jon was sure he saw her true emotions; longing, affection, and sadness. What the hell are we doing? He thought to himself. We’re not kids anymore, like these BATs. Life’s too fucking short... He shook his head, renewing his resolve to make Cate consider a future with him.

After about fifteen minutes of practice, during which the instructors moved among the class and evaluated each student individually, Danny ordered the BATs back behind the firing line. They quickly scampered over to the designated area, then stood shifting nervously as Danny explained what would happen next. George, Steve, and Brandon lined up behind him while Bobby and Troy moved over to the water stations, each picking up a hose.

“Here we go,” Cate said quietly. Jon watched as she cast her eyes skyward, then glanced at his forehead. She saw his hair ruffle in the light breeze and her eyes narrowed slightly.

“What?” Jon asked, confused by her expression.

“Just checking to be sure we aren’t downwind,” she replied. “There’s gonna be a lot of OC floating around in the air.”

“Oh.” Jon didn’t know what else to say. They were a good twenty yards away from Danny. Surely that would be far enough. Cate didn’t tell him to move, so Jon shrugged and turned his attention back to the students.

At Danny’s direction, the students lined up single file, tittering nervously. The student at the front of the line, a tall, athletic young man with close-cropped hair, looked relaxed and confident. Jon guessed he had previously been a state or local police officer. He mentioned his observation to Cate, who confirmed his suspicions.

Danny put a coaches’ whistle to his lips and nodded toward the student. He blew a short tweet on the whistle, then the BAT stepped forward, slipping into character for the scenario Danny had verbally outlined. He approached Danny and ordered him to stop and put his hands up. Danny approached the trainee, simulating a threat, and the BAT swiftly drew his training spray canister from his belt. He issued another stern warning for Danny to step back.

In role, Danny continued to advance on the student. The trainee shouted “SPRAY!” then discharged his canister, spritzing Danny in the face with a light mist of water then flinging the canister away, freeing his hands.

In response, Danny raised the real OC Spray canister in his hand and aimed a short blast of pepper spray at the BAT’s face. The trainee squinted his eyes closed just in time, then pitched forward with one hand on his holstered rubber training gun, charging toward the instructors. He put his other arm out in front of him, barring an approach from an assailant, as Steve, George, and Brandon all grabbed at the student’s arms and belt and shoved at his shoulders and hips.

The BAT charged forward, battling past the instructors, his eyes cracked open and tears and snot streaming from his eyes and nose. His face was bright red, the capsicum residue burning his skin.

Once he made it past the third instructor, Danny blew the whistle to indicate the end of the scenario. Brandon quickly grabbed the student’s arm and led him over to the water station, where Bobby took over. He told the trainee to bend forward at the waist, then flushed the BAT’s face with cold water from the hose. The BAT panted and winced, but submitted to the care. After a couple minutes he was able to hold the hose to his face on his own.

Jon watched the entire scene with wide eyes. Holy SHIT! he thought, again glad he didn’t have to participate in this training. He heard Cate chuckle at his reaction.

“Yeah, it sucks,” she said softly, giving him an amused little smile. “Makes your line of work look pretty good, eh?”

“It damned sure does,” Jon breathed. He looked back toward the range at the sound of another sharp tweet from Danny’s whistle. This time a female BAT stepped forward, challenged Danny, and eventually received a blast of OC Spray in her face. She stumbled past the instructors, barely keeping her feet, until she was led by Brandon over to the water station. She whimpered slightly as her face flamed bright red from the spray. Jon shuddered slightly and shook his head. Thank GOD I don’t have to do this…

One by one the students stepped up to take their turn at the torturous training. Some did better than others, and several didn’t make it past the instructors without falling or having their weapon taken away. Those unlucky students had to go back to the beginning of the gauntlet and try until they succeeded, though they were sprayed only once.

As more airborne OC floated around the range, Jon felt his eyes become slightly watery and his nose begin to run. He coughed and sniffed, then looked at Cate. She seemed unaffected. He looked back to Danny as Danny sprayed the next student in line. He, too, seemed only slightly affected by the spray, though he was right in the middle of the thickening cloud.

“How the hell can the instructors stand being right there?” Jon asked hoarsely, feeling a little tingle down his throat a he breathed in a tiny bit of the OC.

Cate looked at Jon, unable to hold back a smug little grin. “We’re used to it. Nobody’s ‘immune,’ but after awhile your body becomes conditioned to protect itself. We know when to hold our breath, how to breathe, when to close our eyes. It becomes instinctive.”

She watched as Jon cleared his throat and swiped the back of his hand across his watery eyes. She couldn’t help but chuckle softly. “Do we need to move?” she asked quietly.

Jon shook his head. “Naw. I’m fine. Just a little runny nose.” He pulled the hem of his t-shirt up to wipe across his face, uncovering his tanned abs. Cate felt her stomach flutter at the sight, her body responding to the memory of feeling of those hard muscles pressed against her. She quickly looked away, back to the range.

The training continued on for another half hour, as each of the 48 students took his or her turn facing Danny and the other instructors. Jon took it all in, silent except for an occasional question for Cate.

As shocked as Jon had been by the actions of the training, he was even more startled by the aftermath of the exercise. After flushing their faces with cold water for as long as necessary and pressing clean towels against their skin, the students sat on the grass near the water station. Their faces were raw and pink, their eyes watery and bloodshot. Their expressions conveyed a combination of pain, relief, and triumph. They had survived.

There were only three students left to run the gauntlet as the training day wound to a close. Thankfully, the day wasn’t too warm and the slight breeze that stirred the air picked up, bringing a welcome cool draft to the range. Jon breathed deeply and crossed his arms over his chest as he watched a large, muscular trainee approach Danny to begin his scenario.

The BAT challenged Danny, Danny responded in role, then the student discharged his training spray as he should. However, when Danny pointed the real OC at the student, the BAT dropped to the ground and rolled to escape the spray. The OC blast shot into the air, over the student. Danny scowled and reacted quickly, dropping the canister downward and shooting the BAT directly in the face as he rolled. Danny barked at the student to get up and run, goading him to perform after his smart-ass little trick.

Jon laughed at the BAT’s antic and Danny’s reaction. But then he stopped short, his laugh strangled by the burning sensation that assaulted his senses. He felt his throat closing and his eyes blurred as they welled with tears. Jon’s eyes widened as he gasped for breath, then felt the fire race down into his lungs as he breathed in the airborne OC. He sputtered and coughed, his hands going to his throat. HOLY FUCK! he thought, beginning to panic. I CAN’T BREATHE!

“Jon?” He heard Cate’s voice near his ear and felt her hand close over his bicep. “JON!” she commanded, trying to focus his attention on her. But Jon’s only thought was to escape the horrible fire that had consumed his respiratory system. He raised his hands to his face, rubbing desperately at his eyes, nose, and mouth.

“JON! Don’t rub your eyes!” Cate barked as she saw his hands go to his face. SHIT! she swore to herself. Now he’s really gonna suffer.

“Try not to close your eyes. Over here.” Cate commanded. She pulled on Jon’s arm, leading him swiftly over to the water station. “Bend over,” she ordered him. “Put your hands on your knees.”

“FUCK!” Jon gasped out as he followed her direction. “This fuckin’…. It fuckin’ BURNS!” he rasped.

“Don’t talk. Let me flush your face,” Cate replied sternly. She grabbed the end one of the hoses and pulled it upward, flooding Jon’s face with a stream of cold water. She placed her free hand on the back of Jon’s neck, preventing him from raising his head. “Keep your eyes open as best you can, and don’t let any of the water get in your mouth. Just try to keep your face down and let it run off. Stay there, and stay calm. It’ll get better in a minute.”

Jon let out a grunt in reply, and did as Cate told him. Cate let the water wash over Jon’s eyes, nose, and mouth for a minute, then raised the hose to the top of his head, to wet his hair. Once his blonde locks were soaked, she moved the hose back to Jon’s face. She shifted her hand from Jon’s neck to his forehead, pulling his wet hair back away from his face.

“That any better?” she asked. Jon grunted again and nodded slightly in reply. “Okay, here. Take the hose and move it to where you need it. Be sure you flush your eyes out really well. Since you rubbed them you got the OC on the membranes around your eye sockets. You’re gonna feel it for awhile.”

Jon raised his right hand from his knee to Cate’s hand. He took the hose from her, then stood groaning as he moved the cold water over his face. He coughed occasionally, sputtering against the water and wincing at the rawness of his throat.

After a couple minutes, he heard Cate’s voice at his ear, more gentle than before. “Better?” she asked.

Jon nodded, dropping the hose slightly and turning his head to look at her. “Jesus Fucking Christ!” he said hoarsely, water dripping from his nose and chin.

Cate chuckled at Jon’s reaction, and felt a pang of sympathy for him as she took in the bewilderment in his red, watery eyes. “Told ya it sucks,” she smiled gently. “But you’ll live.”

Jon groaned and ran a hand through his wet hair, slicking it back from his forehead. Holding the hose down at his side, he slowly straightened up, blinking rapidly and clearing his throat. He shook his head slightly, sending droplets of water flying from his face.

Cate stepped over to the bin and retrieved a clean towel. “Here,” she said, moving back to Jon and standing in front of him. She gently pressed the towel against his wet cheek. “Pat, don’t rub. If you rub you’ll make it worse.”

She held the towel to Jon’s face until he raised his hand to take it. Then she took the hose from him and dropped the end back on the ground. That done, she turned back to Jon and watched as he dabbed gingerly at his face. He sniffled and coughed slightly, but breathed more evenly.

Finally Jon lowered the towel and looked at Cate. “That was one of the most horrible things I’ve ever felt,” he said, his voice gravelly. He cleared his throat and winced. “I still feel it in my throat.”

Cate nodded. “I know. You sucked in a lungful of airborne OC when you laughed. Unfortunately, that double-shot Danny had to give that BAT headed directly for us.” She smiled sympathetically. “And then you rubbed your eyes, and made it worse.”

Jon nodded, dabbing his eyes with the towel, then pulling his hand through his hair again.

Damn…. Cate thought, taking in Jon’s wet form. His t-shirt was soaked, clinging to his broad chest, and his damp bangs curled sexily down over his forehead. His blue eyes sparkled with moisture, beautiful even though they were rimmed with swollen red lids.

“How come you didn’t get it?” Jon asked, a hint of indignation in his voice.

Cate smiled. “I told you, I’m used to it. As soon as I felt the first effects of the spray, I automatically held my breath and closed my eyes. It’s just conditioned reaction. I still felt it, I just didn’t suck it in like you did.”

Jon sniffed again, then cleared his throat. He spit the phlegm he dislodged onto the ground beside his feet. “Sorry,” he apologized. “That was gross.”

Cate laughed. “Yeah, it was. But we’ve all done it.” She grinned. “You wanted to be ‘one of the guys’….well, now you are. Baptism by fire,” she teased gently.

Jon smiled at that. “Hell of an initiation,” he commented.

Cate chuckled again. She looked back over her shoulder at the range, and saw that Danny, Steve, and Brandon were standing there, talking. The last student had completed training, and was being hosed down at the water station. She turned back to Jon. “C’mon,” she said. “Let’s go get you out of those clothes.”

Jon’s eyebrows arched in surprise. “What?” he asked, confused. NOW she wants to get me naked?

“The OC is on your clothes. You need to shower and change, so you don’t get it in your car, in the villa, or back on your skin. That’s why I hosed down your hair.” Cate explained. Her eyes met his. “It’s not an invitation,” she muttered under her breath, reading his expression.

Jon grinned at her response. “Too bad,” he replied softly. “I could use some help cleaning up.”

“I think you’ll do just fine on your own. You have clean clothes in your locker?” Cate asked coolly. God, stop tempting me…

“Yeah, I have PT clothes,” Jon answered. “I’ll have to go home and change before the range tonight, though.”

“That’s fine. You just don’t wanna wear these clothes home. You need to launder them as soon as possible.” Cate responded. She jerked her head toward the FTB Building, across the road. “C’mon, you need to get in there before these guys do.” She indicated the male instructors, who had started cleaning up the water stations.

“Okay,” Jon nodded. He tossed the towel onto the pile of used linens on the ground, then followed Cate away from the range.

Chapter 74 - Crash and Bang

After grabbing a quick lunch with several of the guys at the Dining Hall, Cate and Jon made their way to Vehicle Ops. The Vehicle Operations Branch was based in a repurposed aircraft hangar, the long concrete former flight line outside its doors perfect for high-speed driving.

When they arrived, Cate led Jon across the open hangar bay to a small suite of offices. As they entered the office door a handsome, dark-haired, tanned, muscular man stood. “Hey, Cate!” he called out with a grin.

“Hey Ernie,” Cate smiled back. She walked over to the man and took his proffered hand, then leaned in to give him a peck on the cheek. “How ya doin’?”

“Great, Honey, how ‘bout you?” Ernie replied. He looked at Jon, who had followed Cate through the door and was standing a couple steps back from her.

“Ah, you know. Monday,” Cate answered, her voice sounding weary.

“Long weekend?” Ernie teased, flashing her a flirty smile.

Cate chuckled softly. “Something like that.” She couldn’t help but shoot a glance at Jon. In the split second her eyes were on him, she saw the rigidity in his posture and his tightened jaw. He didn’t like the familiarity with which she had greeted Ernie. Cate couldn’t stop the tiny little flash of smugness she felt at his reaction.

Cate stepped back from Ernie and gestured to Jon. “Ernie, this is your willing student for the afternoon,” she said, more brightly. “Jon Bon Jovi.”

“Pleasure to meet you,” Ernie grinned, thrusting his hand forward to Jon. “I’m a big fan of your music.”

“Thanks,” Jon returned Ernie’s greeting with a guarded smile, and gave his hand a firm shake. “Nice to meet you. Thanks for taking time out of your training schedule to work with me.”

“Not a problem at all. We’re gonna have some fun.” Ernie turned his grin back to Cate. “You gonna drive today, too?”

Cate shook her head. “Nah. I’ve got some work to do. Mind if I use your computer while you’re on the track? Everything I need is on the network.”

“Sure, go ahead,” Ernie agreed readily. “If you need anything, Colleen’s around here somewhere. She can hook you up.”

“Cool,” Cate responded. She gave Jon a little smile. “You’re gonna have a blast. In addition to being a great driving instructor, Ernie’s a full-time gearhead. He races stock cars and dragsters on the weekends. I’m sure you’ll have plenty to talk about.”

Jon grinned more widely as Ernie nodded. “Yeah, Man,” Ernie added. “Besides, I’ve always wanted to ask you about that Chevelle of yours. Gorgeous car.”

“Thanks,” Jon answered. “She’s my baby.” His posture relaxed slightly.

Cate chuckled. “Alright, I’ll leave you boys to it. Ernie, I’ll be in your office if you need me.” She gave Jon a little grin. “Have fun. Don’t hurt yourself, and don’t crash into anything you’re not supposed to,” she teased lightly.

“Yes, Ma’am,” Jon answered, a little hint of excitement creeping into his voice. He needed this, to focus on something other than Cate.

“C’mon. I’ll get you geared up,” Ernie said, beckoning for Jon to follow him.

Jon gave Cate a wink and a smile, then turned to follow Ernie across the hangar bay.

Cate sighed and watched them go, her eyes lingering on Jon’s back as he strode away. She shook her head sadly at herself. Damned shame, she thought. At least he was mine for the weekend. That’s more than most women get. I should consider myself lucky.

But logic wasn’t going to soothe her aching heart. Cate sighed again and turned to enter Ernie’s office.

Closing the door behind her, Cate sat at Ernie’s desk and wiggled the mouse to bring his monitor to life. She logged on to the Center’s network, glancing out the wide office window as she waited for the system to acknowledge her password and grant her access. Ernie’s office had a spectacular view of the tracks; she would be able to watch Jon’s training. Great, more distraction, she thought snarkily.

Cate glanced up at the clock above Ernie’s office door, then reached over to pick up the phone receiver. She dialed and waited as the phone rang, then heard the familiar voice on the other end of the line.

“Special Agent Cusack.” Mandy’s voice was cool, professional.

“Hey, Girl, it’s me.” Cate answered. “What’cha doin’?”

“Cate! Hey! Where are you calling me from?” Mandy sounded surprised. “I didn’t recognize the number.”

“I’m at Vehicle Ops, using Ernie’s phone. Jon’s doing the Crash and Bang Course,” Cate answered. She sighed. “Just thought I’d see what you’re up to. I should be doing some paperwork, but I can’t get in the groove.”

Mandy detected the melancholy in her friend’s voice. “Want some company? I’m just updating lesson plans. I don’t teach ‘til tomorrow.”

Cate smiled to herself. “That would be great.” She could use a little girl talk. “Want me to meet you somewhere?” Jon was going to be busy for awhile; she could slip away to meet Mandy.

“Nah, I’ll come to you. Wouldn’t mind getting another look at that gorgeous boy!” Mandy chuckled. “Oh, and Jon, too,” she teased.

Cate laughed. Mandy had always found Ernie extremely attractive, and she took the opportunity to flirt with him whenever possible. “Okay, see ya in a few.”

“On my way!” Mandy said cheerily. “I’ll bring the Diet Coke!”

“Deal.” Cate grinned and placed the receiver back in the cradle. She looked back out the window and saw Ernie leading Jon over to one of the ops cars, a big white Crown Victoria cruiser with a standard light bar and a large black number “3” on the door. Cate smirked at the coincidence; Jon was driving the car bearing the same number as he wore on his Soul jersey.

She watched as Jon pulled a helmet on over his golden locks, then fastened the chinstrap. He pulled open the door and ducked into the driver’s seat as Ernie crossed around the front of the car, donning his own helmet. Ernie climbed in on the passenger side, then Jon put it in drive, pulling away and cruising slowly down the tarmac toward the first circuit.

Cate looked back toward the computer screen, seeing she was now logged on to the Center’s network. She shook her head briskly, to clear her mind. She needed to at least check some schedules before Mandy arrived. Her hands moved to the keyboard and she began to type rapidly, the rhythmic clicking of the keys helping focus her attention.

Fifteen minutes later Mandy sauntered through the door to Ernie’s office, a relaxed grin on her face.

“Hey Chickie! How ya doin’?” she asked, handing Cate a cold can of Diet Coke. Her eyes swept over her friend’s face. “Damn, Girl, you look tired.” Mandy lowered herself into the chair beside Ernie’s desk and popped the top on her soda can.

“I am,” Cate answered with a little sigh, leaning back in the chair and swiveling it slightly toward Mandy. She opened her soda and took a sip.

“Yeah, well, you had a big weekend,” Mandy replied with a smile. Cate had called Mandy Sunday night while Jon was at the Director’s dinner party, giving her the details of the wonderful night and day she had spent with him. “But you were in early last night. What’s the matter? Couldn’t sleep?”

Mandy had teased Cate mercilessly when Cate had admitted she stayed up all night on Saturday with Jon, but they hadn’t had sex. She knew how long it had been since her friend had last been with a man, and she couldn’t believe that Cate hadn’t jumped Jon the first chance she had.

“Yeah, something like that,” Cate answered softly. She raised her eyes to meet Mandy’s, and Mandy read her mind.

“Holy SHIT! You DID it!” Mandy exclaimed. “You lucky bitch! You fucked Jon Bon Jovi!”

Cate couldn’t help but chuckle at Mandy’s outburst, and the gleeful look on her friend’s face. She shot a look at the open office door, hoping nobody was lurking around the corner. Following her glance, Mandy leaned over and pushed at the door, swinging it shut with a light slam.

“So? What happened? Details, woman!” Mandy demanded. “Was he as good as you dreamed?”

Cate smiled, dropping her eyes to her hands. “Better,” she answered quietly. “Oh, the way he made me feel… ” She paused and drew in a deep breath as Mandy stared at her, waiting for the story.

Cate chuckled again and gave Mandy a quick rundown of her passionate night with Jon, giving her enough detail to satisfy her curiosity, but being modest enough not to embarrass herself. She didn’t tell Mandy about the dream, or about fleeing from Jon’s villa this morning in a panic.

Mandy let out a low whistle at the end of Cate’s narrative. “Wow,” she said, then she grinned. “You needed that, didn’t you?”

Cate chuckled again. “Yeah, it had been a loooong time.” She smiled again, a bit wistfully. “God knows how long the next drought is gonna be,” she mused.

“What? Jesus, Woman!” Mandy exclaimed. “ You’re absolutely fucking insane if you don’t spend every spare second you have this week with that gorgeous man between your thighs!” Mandy grinned lecherously.

Then she saw the sadness in Cate’s eyes. “Cate… what?” she asked, her expression softening.

“Mandy, as wonderful as it was, it was a mistake,” Cate said quietly. “I… I told him we crossed the line. I’m not gonna spend any more time with him outside of training.” She took a deep breath, thankful that she was almost numb to the emotion of the topic, after dwelling on it for the past few hours. She was tired of the tears.

“Oh, Cate… No!” Mandy breathed. “Why?”

“Because he’s leaving Friday, Mandy. I have to let him go. I can’t go through that again. And if I keep kissing him, spending time with him, sleeping with him, it’s gonna be that much harder,” Cate gave Mandy a sad little smile. “But I always have that amazing memory, right?”

Mandy shook her head. “Cate, that’s the dumbest damned thing I’ve ever heard you say. You said Jon wants to keep in touch, to see you after he leaves here and goes out to shoot the movie. Friday isn’t the end of time, you know.”

Cate sighed. Here we go again. She was getting tired of having to justify her decision, to herself, to Jon, to her friends. Every time she did, her excuse for pushing Jon away sounded more pathetic.

“Yeah, Mandy, it may as well be.” Cate's voice took on a hint of bitterness. “So what would happen after that? I’d fly out to California and fuck him a few times, until he got tired of me? No thank you.”

Mandy was taken aback by the hard edge of Cate’s voice. “Cate, I really don’t think he’d treat you like that. He doesn’t seem like that kind of guy.”

“Maybe not, but it’s inevitable. Sooner or later it would have to end. So I may as well end it before it starts,” Cate answered miserably. She took a drink of her Diet Coke. “Besides, it’s a moot point now. I already told him.”

Mandy’s shoulders dropped as she gave her friend a sympathetic look. “Oh Cate, you didn’t,” she said sadly.

“Yeah, I did,” Cate replied.

“How did he take it?” Mandy asked, raising her eyebrows slightly. She couldn’t imagine Jon would be happy about this.

Cate gave a little snort, followed by an ironic chuckle. “How do you think he took it? He told me he refused to accept my decision. He’s positive he’s gonna change my mind, make me see that everything will be wonderful, perfect, and we’ll ride off into the sunset together.”

“Well, maybe he’s right,” Mandy replied, giving Cate a direct look. “Why don’t you give it a chance?”

Cate shook her head at her friend’s persistence. “Because, Mandy, this isn’t one of the stories in one of his songs. It’s not ‘I’ll get down on my knees for you, and make everything alright’.” She smiled as she quoted a lyric from Mandy’s favorite song. “Though I think he sincerely believes he can do that.”

“So, what now?” Mandy asked.

“Now, I finish teaching him how to act like a cop, then he goes on his way. And you and I go see the movie when it comes out, and hope it doesn’t suck.” Cate gave Mandy a wry smile.

Mandy laughed, then shook her head. “You’re crazy, Woman,” she said softly. “But I get it. I think you’re wrong, but I understand.”

“Thanks, Babe,” Cate smiled gratefully. She could use a little unconditional support right now. “Now can we please talk about something else?”

“Sure,” Mandy agreed.

The two women chatted for awhile, talking about training, mutual friends, and odd gossip. Every now and then they stopped to gaze out the window, watching Jon tear around the training circuits in the cruiser, lights and sirens screaming and tires squealing.

Cate smiled each time she caught a flash of Jon’s grin through the cruiser’s window as he drove down the flat straightaway past Ernie's office. She was glad he was having a good time, after the way she had disappointed him this morning.

Finally, Jon’s time on the track was up. Cate watched as he parked the cruiser and climbed out, pulling the helmet off and running a hand through his sweaty hair. She sighed involuntarily at the sight, her reaction not going unnoticed by Mandy. The girls stood, then wandered out into the hangar bay. A minute later, Jon and Ernie swaggered in, through the huge open bay doors.

“Well, hello, gorgeous!” Ernie called out, giving Mandy a big grin. “What are you doing here?” He and Jon strode over to Cate and Mandy.

“Couldn’t stay away from you, Baby!” Mandy growled playfully, winking and accepting a kiss on the cheek from Ernie. Then she laughed. “Dropped by to see Cate.” Mandy turned her attention to Jon. “So, looks like you had some fun!”

Jon nodded enthusiastically, a huge grin on his face, his eyes sparkling. “That was just fuckin’ COOL!” he exclaimed. He gave Cate a happy look, again pulling his hand through his sweaty hair.

“As much fun as the raid house?” Mandy asked Jon, recalling how supernaturally hot he had looked in that black raid gear. She shot Cate a devilish little grin.

Jon considered her query for a moment before answering. “Well, almost. A close second. Only ‘cause I didn’t get to shoot anything today.” He chuckled and gave Cate a coy look. “But I think DTs is still my favorite subject.”

Cate’s cheeks colored a bit, comprehending his meaning. Mandy chuckled. Nope, he’s not giving up without a fight. Good Boy.

“So, did you learn something?” Cate asked Jon, unable to resist a smile at his enthusiasm.

“Yeah, a lot. This training will come in handy, driving in Jersey,” Jon joked. He turned to Ernie. “Hey, Man, thanks again. This was awesome.” He extended his hand, and Ernie gave him a vigorous handshake.

“Anytime. In fact, if you have a little free time this week, let me know and we can run some more circuits.” Ernie responded. “Just have Cate give me a call.”

“I’ll do that,” Jon agreed. “I don’t know what all she has planned for me this week, but if I have some time I’ll be sure to let you know.” He gave Cate a little grin and a wink.

“Thanks again, Ernie,” Cate said, smiling at the handsome man. “Unfortunately, we gotta get going. OC Spray training in half an hour.”

Ernie made a face. “Yikes. Glad you had fun here, Jon, cause OC sucks!”

Cate laughed. “Yeah, it does,” she agreed. “But Jon’s just observing. We can’t spray visitors, because of liability reasons. And I’m sure his movie’s production company would be just thrilled if we shot him with a face full of pepper spray and he had a reaction.”

Jon pulled a face at the thought of that. “Eeesh. Sometimes it’s good to be a Candy-Ass Rock Star,” he joked. He smiled as Cate chuckled at his comment.

“Yeah, I guess it is,” she teased back wryly. “C’mon, we gotta get going.”

Jon again thanked Ernie, then he, Cate, and Mandy walked out of the cavernous hangar to the parking lot. Cate and Jon bid Mandy adieu, then climbed into Cate’s Mustang and made the short drive back to the FTB offices. They chatted about what Jon had learned during his offensive driving training.

Jon sensed that Cate didn’t want to talk about anything personal, so he didn’t push. But he could tell from her reserved manner that her decision was weighing on her. He just had to bide his time until the right moment, until he could take the first step toward convincing her that he should be part of her future. But he was not a patient man, and time was running out.

Chapter 73 - The Way We Were

Cate didn’t notice when Jon appeared in the doorway to her office. She was staring out the window, not seeing the scene outside.

She had spent most of the morning struggling to concentrate on the paperwork she had to do, but she just couldn’t focus. She was dreading the task before her, and she found herself imagining the conversation between Jon and herself, over and over, each scenario a little different.

Jon leaned against the door frame, watching her. His heart twinged at the sadness in her eyes. But her forlorn expression gave him a flicker of hope, that maybe she would change her mind and not go through with her plan.

Jon reminded himself that he couldn’t let on that he knew what Cate had done after leaving his bed. Seeing the look on Cate’s face, Jon was grateful that Danny had forewarned him. This was going to be painful, even with his opportunity to prepare.

“Hey, you,” Jon said brightly. He gave Cate a dazzling smile as she turned her head to look at him. He felt another little stab in his heart as he looked into her tired eyes.

Cate gave Jon a small smile in return. “Hey,” she answered quietly. Her heart squeezed. He was as gorgeous as ever, in faded jeans and a plain, silvery-gray t-shirt.

Jon pushed away from the door frame and walked over to Cate’s desk. He settled on its corner and gazed down at her as she leaned back in her chair. “I was worried about you this morning,” he said softly, dropping his voice to a discrete murmur. “Is everything okay?”

His heart sank as he saw Cate’s eyes narrow, her defenses going up. Her eyes were flat, a slate gray rather than the swirling, sparkling blue that so intrigued him.

“I’m fine,” Cate lied. “I just… I needed to go home for a few hours before work, to give myself a chance to get things together, to get ready. You know I wasn’t home much this weekend.”

Jon paused for a moment. Go with it, he reminded himself. He gave Cate a knowing little smile. “Yeah, I know,” he replied. He leaned toward her, his hand moving to the back pocket of his jeans. “By the way, you forgot these,” he whispered, pulling Cate’s black panties from his pocket and holding them out to her. He gave her a little grin.

Cate’s eyes widened slightly and she grabbed the panties from Jon’s hand. “Um… thanks,” she mumbled, pulling out her desk drawer and stuffing the undies inside, then sliding it quickly shut. Her face colored slightly. She shot a nervous glance to her open office door, hoping no one had witnessed the exchange.

Jon chuckled. “Listen, I know we have to keep this quiet, but I just wanted to say…” He gave her a direct look. “Last night was incredible. I hope it was for you, too.” His voice was just above a whisper, husky and intimate.

Cate stared back at him. “I… I had a really good time,” she replied carefully, struggling to keep her emotions in check.

Jon frowned slightly, allowing a puzzled, slightly hurt expression to creep across his face. “Cate… are you having morning after regrets? Is that why you left so early?” He was sure the answer was “no,” but he wanted to give her an out, an excuse to re-evaluate her feelings and change her mind about walking away from him.

Cate shook her head, looking away from Jon’s gorgeous face and those damned hypnotic eyes. “No,” she sighed. “That’s not it.” Damn. May as well get it over with now.

She looked again toward her office door, then pushed herself up from her chair. She slipped past Jon and walked over to the door, closing it to give them privacy. He shifted on her desk, turning his body toward hers.

Turning to face him, Cate sank back against the door and took a deep breath. Then she raised her eyes to meet his. “Listen, Jon.” Her voice was gentle, trying to lessen the blow of what she was about to say. “I had an amazing time with you this weekend. Truly. It was the most extraordinary, romantic, magical weekend of my life.” She sighed. “And for that, I thank you. I will never, ever, ever forget it, as long as I live.”

She gave him a sad little smile as her voice softened even more. “And yes, last night was…heavenly. It was… it was like a dream come true.” She blushed slightly and looked down at the floor. Hell, it was my fantasy come to life.

Jon closed his eyes for a brief moment, steeling himself for what he knew was coming. Though Cate’s voice was gentle, he knew her words would stab him like a dagger. He took a deep breath and opened his eyes, fixing them on Cate, preparing to respond as he had rehearsed.

Cate paused for a long moment and looked back up at Jon. “I’m sorry, Jon, but I can’t continue to see you like… that. It was wrong of me. I was way out of line to become so… intimate… with you.” She drew in a deep breath, willing her voice not to waver as the lump rose in her throat. “I never should have let things go as far as they did. From now on, we have to maintain a professional relationship. Just a professional relationship. Instructor and student.” She swallowed hard. “We have to go back to the way things were.”

“No,” Jon answered quietly. “I can’t do that, Cate.” He gave her a long look. “I told you how I feel about you. I don’t want to have just a professional relationship with you, though I understand that we have to keep it quiet. Really quiet. That’s fine with me.” Jon paused, giving her the opportunity to cut in.

She remained silent, so he continued. “Cate, I mean it when I say I want us to continue to see each other after this week. I want to come back here to see you, to fly you out to California or Jersey or wherever. Honest to God. We can figure out some way to make it work.” Emotion crept into his voice as Jon spoke. He suppressed his urge to stride over to Cate, pull her into his arms, and kiss her until she believed him.

Cate sighed. “Jon, I know you think you mean it when you say all those wonderful things. You’re having a good time here, you like being part of the gang, part of this world. I'm just part of the package." She paused and swallowed hard before continuing on. "You said yourself that you like how I make you feel. But Jon, when you leave here, that feeling is gonna go away. You’re gonna move on. Without me.” Cate's voice was level, soft, and steady. She was grateful that she was able to control her voice, because inside her heart was throbbing miserably.

Jon shook his head. “You’re wrong,” he replied. “And I’m gonna prove it to you. I’m not gonna let you push me away, Cate. I can’t.” He fixed her with an intense gaze. Cate knew that look. It was the same one he had given her when they had faced off in DTs and on the range. The look that said “end of discussion.”

Cate drew in a breath, steeling her resolve. “Well, then, that’s gonna be a problem. Because if you can’t detach yourself from your feelings, I can’t be your instructor.” She stared back at Jon, matching his look. “You have a lot left to learn, and if you can’t focus because I’m the one teaching you, then that’s not fair to either of us. I can ask Floyd to assign you another instructor. Maybe Danny.”

Jon blinked at her. He hadn’t expected this. “No,” he replied firmly, after a moment. “I want you to continue training me. You’re the best instructor here, Floyd says so himself.” He took a deep breath. “I’m a professional, too. I can handle it.”

“Okay.” Cate answered, secretly relieved. “Good.”

“But Cate, when we’re not working, I’m still gonna try to change your mind,” Jon warned her softly.

Cate let out a sad little chuckle. “Of course you are,” she said, a bit snarkily. You wouldn’t be Jon Bon Jovi if you didn’t fight to get your way. “But you won’t succeed. I’m sorry, but my mind’s made up.”

Jon bit back his response, fighting the urge to challenge her further. Don’t piss her off, he reminded himself, recalling Danny’s warning. “If you say so,” he finally answered, keeping his voice as neutral as he could. He gave her a sad little smile. “But I’m sorry, too.”

Cate nodded and sighed again. “Okay, let’s go get some lunch, then I need to deliver you to the track for your driving lesson.” She gave Jon a weak smile. “Hope this didn’t dampen your enthusiasm for the driving course. I know you were looking forward to it.”

“Nah,” Jon replied, though inside his soul ached. “I’m sure I’ll still have a blast.” He gave her a genuine smile. “Besides, I have faith.”

“Faith? In what?” Cate asked. She knew his answer before the words were off her lips.

“In you,” Jon answered simply.

Cate felt her heart flip at the look of longing Jon gave her, but she forced herself not to reply. She pulled open the door and nodded to the hall. “C’mon.” she said to Jon.

With another little smile, Jon stood and followed her out of the office.