Hello There




This story is one that has been rattling around in my head for a couple years now. It was inspired by a real-life celebrity encounter I experienced in the line of duty, and just kinda grew from there. Many of the places and some of the people I describe in this story are real, but the tale itself is pure fantasy.

This link will take you to the first chapter; from there you can navigate using the "newer post" buttons at the end of each chapter or using the archive on the left.

I dedicate this story to some truly phenomenal women. First, to the She-Cop Sisterhood. You Gals are my partners in crime, my confidants, and my dearest friends. Second, to the woman who inspired me to dive headfirst into the world of Jovi FanFic. Hath, your kindness and generosity are beyond compare. You are TRULY a Goddess. Finally, to all the women of law enforcement, everywhere. Thank you for your dedication, and for all you sacrifice to protect and serve. For all of you who have ever drifted away into a little fantasy during a long, boring shift, this one's for you!

Enjoy!

Epilogue



Danny took a swig of his beer, his eyes trained on the TV screen. He watched as the camera panned from famous face to famous face and up and down the glamorous dresses of the beautiful women. Then he saw a familiar smile. Danny quickly pressed the pause button on the remote, freezing the digital image on the gigantic screen.

“Here it is! Hurry up!” Danny yelled into the next room.

“Coming!” he heard her call back. Danny sucked in the last mouthful of beer from his bottle and studied the face stilled on the gigantic plasma screen.

His friend looked good, but then he always did. The hair was perfect as usual, and blonder than he had been wearing it recently. Danny chuckled to himself. She always did like his hair blonde…

“Wow! He looks hot in that tux!” Danny looked up at the sound of her voice as she walked into the room. He gave Charity a big grin as she handed him a fresh, icy beer and sat next to him on the couch, curling her legs under her and snuggling into the crook of his shoulder.

“Yeah, yeah,” Danny replied, rolling his eyes as he slid his arm around her shoulders. “I’ve been hearing that for twenty-five years now, first from Cate, now from you.” He leaned down to place a gentle kiss on Charity’s lips. “Good thing you didn’t notice him first, the night you met me,” he teased.

“I couldn’t take my eyes off of you, Lover,” Charity answered sweetly, her mind going back to that Friday night at Sonny’s almost a year ago. “Not even for him.”

“Thank God!” Danny laughed. He pointed the remote toward the screen and pressed the play button. He and Charity listened as Jon patiently answered the reporter’s inane questions about why Jon wanted to attend the event and what he thought the President would say in his remarks.

The camera angle changed, pulling back for a longer shot of Jon and the reporter, and Danny saw her. He again pressed the pause button.

“There’s our girl!” he said with a little chuckle. Cate was standing about five paces behind Jon, back from the press queue, watching him intently. She was wearing a stunning form-fitting gown of deep turquoise satin. Her auburn hair was twisted into a loose updo, long tendrils trailing down to brush her shoulders. Its soft caramel highlights shimmered in the klieg lights of the cameras.

“She looks fantastic,” Charity observed. “That dress is gorgeous!” She squinted a little at the TV, as if trying to see past Jon. “Where the heck does she put her gun?”

Danny laughed. “She has a thigh holster. I guarantee it’s in use tonight.” He snickered dirtily. If not now, then later…

Charity made a face. “Sounds uncomfortable.” She still couldn’t quite figure out how Cate could hide her gun just about anywhere on her body.

Danny pressed the play button again and looked at Cate’s image, not paying attention to what Jon was saying during the interview. He smirked as he watched Cate maintain her vigilant stance, her eyes darting around the room, looking for threats.

“Sounds like she likes the New York Field Office,” Charity commented, “An easy commute, interesting cases, more flexible with her assignments…”

Danny nodded. “Yeah. She’s really enjoying the work, and they’re great about granting her leave of absence when she needs to travel.”

“That was a huge sacrifice she made, giving up her promotion and the Branch Chief job,” Charity observed. “A couple more years, she could have been a Division Chief, maybe even a Deputy Director.”

Danny shook his head at Charity’s observation. “Nah,” he replied quietly. “That’s not Cate. She was never cut out to be a paper-pusher. She’s a field agent at heart.” He took another long drink from his beer. “It was awesome of Floyd and the Director to pull some strings to get her there. I know Floyd misses her here, though.”

Charity smiled at Danny. “You miss her here,” she said gently, leaning up to kiss his cheek.

Danny smiled wistfully. “Yeah, I do.” He chuckled as he saw Cate tense, then shoot a dirty look at a blonde woman who moved into the frame and grasped Jon’s arm as she leaned in to buss his cheek. Jon smiled and answered the woman’s greeting, then returned to the interview as she moved on.

“I’m surprised she agreed to go to this,” Charity said, giggling at Cate’s reaction. “She hates those kind of things.”

“Yeah, we’ve all worked enough damned celebrity events to have a healthy disdain for them,” Danny replied with a laugh. “But she’ll do anything for Him. Even NerdProm.” He took another sip of his beer and grinned. “No way she’s letting anybody touch a hair on his head. Secret Service has got nothin’ on Slick.”

Charity laughed. “I believe that,” she nodded. “And nobody better try.”

Danny and Charity watched as Jon wrapped up the interview, flashing his famous grin at the female reporter. Danny rolled his eyes and gave Charity a sideways look as she sighed dreamily at the sight of The Smile. “Sheesh,” he grumbled. “I’m right here, ya know!”

Charity giggled again. “I know, Baby, and I’m glad. I’ll leave the Rock Star to Cate.” She snuggled against Danny’s shoulder and looked up at his handsome face, watching him watch their friends on the screen. She saw the bittersweet affection in his gaze as Danny smiled gently at Cate's image.

Finished with his press duties, Jon turned away from the camera and stepped over to Cate. He gave her the private little grin he saved only for her and slipped his arm around her waist. Cate broke into a radiant smile as she reached up to adjust his tie. Jon leaned down and gently touched his lips to hers, then turned to guide Cate down the red carpet toward the ballroom where the White House Correspondents’ Dinner was about to commence.

“Wow!” Charity breathed. “Did you see the rock?” Danny chuckled and paused the image again, then backtracked it until he froze the frame on a shot of Cate smiling and raising her left hand to straighten Jon’s bowtie. A gigantic diamond glittered on her ring finger.

“She looks happy,” Danny observed softly. “Happier than I’ve ever seen her.” He studied the image for a long moment before pressing the play button. Then he watched Jon and Cate as they walked away from the camera, holding hands, into the darkened doorway of the ballroom.





AUTHOR'S NOTE - October 2010:  When I completed this story I had no intentions of revisiting Cate and Jon, thinking I would just let them go live their life in peace.  However, in the months that have followed I find their muses popping into my head with little snippets of their continuing story.  So, if you're interested in seeing what their "happily ever after" looks like, visit my other short stories.  Nothing huge, nothing fancy:  just moments in time from their life together.  You can find them here:






Chapter 158 - Letting Go



SUNDAY

Cate paused beside the bed for a moment, looking down at him. She gently laid the note on her rumpled pillow, ensuring Jon’s name was visible on the front of the folded page.

He had stirred when she slid out bed just twenty minutes ago, raising his tousled head and blinking at her in the murky pre-dawn grayness of the room. Cate had whispered her reassurance that she was just going to the bathroom, that he should go back to sleep. He had nodded and mumbled something that passed for “okay” then dropped back onto his pillow.

She had waited in the bathroom for ten minutes before creeping past the bed and into her walk-in closet. Cate had dressed quickly in the dark, wanting to be sure Jon was soundly asleep before she made her departure. Attired in track pants and a Center t-shirt, Cate tiptoed from the bedroom to the kitchen where she had hastily scribbled the note.

She didn’t want him to worry when he woke up and found her gone.

With a wistful smile Cate gave Jon one last longing look, then turned to leave.

*****

The door swung open with its familiar little creak. Cate chuckled softly at the noise; two years she’d been in this office and had never gotten around to oiling the hinges.

Not bothering to flick on the overhead light, Cate crossed the room to the couch. The light streaming through the windows was now a soft pinkish-gold, the sun just ready to drift above the horizon. It bathed her office with a dim, rosy glow.

It would be nice to remember it like this.

Cate dropped the box she carried onto the couch and turned her eyes upward, to her collection of memories and mementos. She let her gaze drift slowly over the wall, from right to left, taking the time to really look at each photo, to read each plaque, to savor each memory. This would be the last time she would see them like this, arranged on an office wall here at the Center.

Then with a deep breath she reached for the first frame.

*****

Jon’s soft lashes fluttered gently as a ray of golden light caressed his face. With a little sigh he turned his head away from the window, toward Cate. His eyes still closed, he reached out to touch her.

He felt only the smooth, cool cotton of the sheets.

Jon’s eyes took a few seconds to focus as the morning light chased away the haze of sleep. He saw that he was alone; Cate was nowhere in sight.

His heart stopped as his gaze settled on the folded piece of paper on her pillow. He reached out to pluck it from its resting place then rolled onto his back. Holding the note gingerly, Jon scrubbed his other hand over his stubbled face and across his eyes as he tried to prepare himself for what news it might contain.

With a deep breath he unfolded the page and scanned the writing.

Jon –

There’s something I have to do. Will be back soon with breakfast.

I Love You.

Cate


A gentle smile curved Jon’s soft lips as he traced his fingertip over the last sentence.

*****

Twenty minutes later Jon heard the garage door engage. He flicked off the television and reached to slide the remote back onto Cate’s nightstand. Quickly settling himself back onto the bed he turned his head toward the window and let one arm fall to his side, the other across his belly. His last movement before closing his eyes and feigning sleep was to adjust the sheet that partially covered him.

Cate quietly opened the door and padded into the kitchen. The house was still silent; maybe he wasn’t up yet. Carefully setting the big box on the floor near her hall closet, Cate pulled the brown bag from inside it, grimacing at the loud rustle of the paper. She carried the bag into the kitchen and dropped it on the counter, then kicked off her running shoes and advanced toward the bedroom door. It was still open a crack, like she had left it an hour and a half ago.

As she nudged the door open Cate saw Jon still stretched out in the bed, dozing fitfully. Her eyes went to her pillow and she spied her note still resting there, though it had slid sideways into the indentation left by her head. Apparently it had moved when Jon shifted position.

And he certainly had shifted. Jon’s head was turned away from her and he had kicked one leg free of the sheets. Cate’s eyes slid over his peaceful form, taking in his tousled honey-caramel hair, his bare, bronzed chest, and his rippled abdomen. Her mouth watered and she felt a little spark of lust as her gaze lingered on Jon’s uncovered hip and the delicious profile of his ass presented by his position. Slowly her eyes slipped down over his lightly-furred thigh. She marveled at how clearly defined his quadricep muscle was even in its relaxed state. Finally her gaze came to rest on Jon’s dragon ankle-tat and she unconsciously licked her lips.

Lord, he was glorious. If only she could stand here forever, gazing at Jon in her bed.

Then again, why look when she could touch?

Jon tried to keep his breathing even and rhythmic as he felt Cate’s hungry eyes on him. He heard the rustle of fabric as Cate quietly undressed, then he felt her slide onto the mattress. It was all he could do not to smirk naughtily as he felt himself stir beneath the sheet that barely concealed him.

Cate settled onto the bed on her side, naked. Realizing the note was still on her pillow she impatiently flicked it aside, seeing it flutter to the floor in her peripheral vision. Running a hand through her hair, she mussed it slightly and pushed it to tumble down over her shoulder. She wanted his first sight of this morning to be something he wouldn’t forget.

Wetting her lips with a quick flick of her tongue, Cate reached out to lightly trace her fingertips across Jon’s bare hip. She smirked naughtily as the sheet stirred, just inches from her fingers.

AHA! Caught ya!” Suddenly Jon sprang to life, reaching out to capture Cate’s wrist with his hand and rolling toward her. Cate let out a loud squeak of surprise at his swift movement, then gasped as she found herself face-to-face with her lover, his blue eyes sparkling merrily and his grin making her insides turn to mush.

“You’re… awake?” Cate gasped, her heart pounding from the shock of his sneak-attack.

Jon nodded. “Yeah. I know you were standing there ogling me, you naughty minx.” He chuckled sexily as his eyes ranged downward, over her naked breasts and bare, tanned flesh. “And judging from your lack of attire, you had some rather indecent plans for me.”

“Ummm… yeah,” Cate admitted sheepishly.

Jon chortled and touched his lips to hers for a slow, suggestive kiss. “So, what did you bring me for breakfast?” He murmured against her mouth, still grinning.

“Bagels,” Cate breathed, pulling her wrist free from his grasp and sliding her hand up his chest.

“Mmmm… sounds good.” Jon replied, kissing her again. “But I’d rather have you for breakfast.”

Cate sighed happily as Jon’s hands went to her hips, pulling her hard against him. She whimpered slightly as he nudged his cock between her thighs. “Well, breakfast IS the most important meal of the day….” she cooed seductively just before his mouth devoured hers.

Their hands ranging eagerly over each others’ bodies, Jon and Cate kissed hungrily, gasping in a breath here and there. Their mouths parted and they panted lightly as Jon gently pressed Cate onto her back, settling between her thighs and pushing himself up onto his elbows. He paused and smiled happily down at her, his heart warming as her expression mirrored his. Their eyes locked, swirling sapphire and clear azure dancing together in the soft morning light.

“I love you too, Cate,” Jon whispered as he slowly pushed inside her, joining their bodies as once again their souls entwined.

*****

An hour later, their lovemaking complete, Cate and Jon finally untangled themselves from the sheets and from each other. Promising to join her after starting a pot of coffee, Jon sent Cate to the bathroom to run the shower. Yanking the now-sweaty sheet from the foot of the bed, Jon wrapped it around his waist before padding toward the kitchen.

As he passed the coat closet at the end of the short hall he saw something that made him stop and stare.

It was a box, filled with the photos and plaques from Cate’s office wall.

That was where she had gone this morning. Back to her office to close the final chapter of her life here, on her terms.

Jon blinked as his eyes grew misty with emotion. The unremarkable item at his feet was more than just a box full of Cate’s mementos. It was so much more.

It was a symbol. She was ready to let go, to begin a new life with him.

She wasn’t looking back.

*****

Jon looked to his right as Cate settled into the passenger seat of his rental SUV. She pulled the door closed and took a deep breath. Cate stared straight ahead for a moment, then turned to give him a smile.

“Ready?” he grinned.

Without hesitation she nodded, then dropped her eyes as she let out a musical chuckle.

“What?” Jon asked amusedly.

“Nothing.” Cate’s cheeks flushed a light pink with embarrassment. “It’s corny.”

“C’mon… tell me,” Jon prodded playfully. “No secrets.”

Cate shook her head slightly, her auburn ponytail swinging with the movement, then she looked back up at Jon. “I just have this song in my head, is all.”

“What song?” Jon tried to keep the laughter from creeping into his voice. He would bet a million bucks it was one of his.

Cate blushed more deeply, taking a deep breath and turning her head away to look out her window. She began to sing softly, causing Jon to lean forward to hear her clearly.

I’ve finally found my way
Say goodbye to yesterday…


Jon grinned broadly and chuckled, reaching for Cate’s hand. His fingers laced with hers as she turned her sparkling blue eyes to meet his. Jon joined in her song.

Hit the gas there ain’t no brakes
On this Lost Highway….

Cate giggled and gave Jon a radiant smile as he continued to sing while she gazed adoringly at him.

I’m bustin’ loose I’m lettin’ go
Out on this open road
It’s Independence Day…


Jon’s voice gentled as he realized the meaning the phrase held for both of them. Today truly was their Independence Day… the day they were finally free of their pasts, headed for their future.

On this Lost Highway…..

“Let’s go,” Cate said gently.


THE END




Chapter 157 - Entertainment Tonight



“I thought you said it was time for bed. Liar.” Jon teased softly as he rubbed his hand gently up and down Cate’s arm. She was sitting close beside him on the couch, his arm around her shoulders, her legs curled under her and her cheek snuggled against his shoulder.

“I know. Sorry. I’m just not sleepy yet.” Cate smirked to herself as she raised the remote to point it at the television. “You only have yourself to blame. You’re the one who wacked-out my sleep cycle.” She felt his chuckle against her cheek as she flipped through the channels. His calloused fingers never stopped tracing over her skin.

“Good thing SportsCenter is on every fucking hour,” he observed sarcastically. “Otherwise, what would we do to cure your insomnia?”

Cate giggled softly and turned her face so that her lips pressed against his t-shirt. She planted a playful, audible kiss against his chest. “I have no idea what else we could do.” Her voice held a coy tease as she knew darned well what he had in mind. She kept clicking the button on the remote, cycling through the channels, trying to find something to capture her attention during the ESPN commercial break.

“I have an idea…” Jon dropped his lips against Cate’s hair and purred softly. “How about we…”

…Sat down with Jon Bon Jovi at the Federal Agent Training Center for an exclusive look at his preparation for his new movie, which begins shooting in L.A. next week. More on the Jersey Rocker’s latest project after the break.

Jon’s gaze snapped toward the television at the mention of his name. He stared at the screen for a moment before he realized why he had been the topic of the teaser. Oh yeah, the ET interview. I almost forgot about that…. Jon smirked as he thought back to his and Cate’s activities the morning they had taped the interview. THAT part he hadn’t forgotten.

Cate raised her head from Jon’s shoulder and gave him an inquisitive look. “Do you want me to change the channel?” she asked. “I don’t have to watch it, if you’d rather not.”

Jon chuckled. “Why wouldn’t I want to watch it?”

Cate shrugged slightly, unconsciously nibbling at her lower lip before responding. “I dunno. I just thought how you don’t like to do the press stuff, so maybe you wouldn’t want to watch it either.”

“I don’t necessarily like to watch press, but I don’t hate it.” Jon grinned playfully. “I'm somewhat of a closet Narcissist.”

Cate rolled her eyes. “Sure you’re not just an outright Narcissist?”

“Yeah, well… I look good on camera. What can I say?” Jon gave Cate a smug little-boy grin, causing her heart to skip a beat. “Besides, I want to see you make your TV debut.” He leaned forward to give her a soft nuzzle, rubbing his nose against hers.

“Oh yeah,” Cate mumbled. She hadn’t thought about the fact that she was most likely going to be in the story, as well. DUH.

Cate settled back against Jon’s shoulder, dropping the remote onto the couch beside her and letting her hand rest on his thigh. She idly traced a circle over the soft cotton of his shorts with one fingertip as she waited for the commercial break to end.

…And we’re back with an inside look at Jon Bon Jovi’s new movie. ET’s own Leanne Parker caught up with the ageless Jersey Rocker-turned-Actor as he prepared for his first leading role with some real-life heroes.

Cate smiled at the little squeeze Jon gave her in response to the “real-life heroes” comment. They remained silent as they watched and listened to the feature story’s introduction. The first scenes were of Jon firing his Glock, leaning over the hood of the cruiser, and smiling and nodding at the camera in response to some question. Leanne’s voice-over explained that he was preparing to play a federal agent, and gave a brief rundown of the training Jon had completed over his two weeks at the Center. Then came Jon’s distinctive honeyed purr as the interview portion of the piece started.

Cate felt the familiar little flutter in her stomach at Jon’s image on the screen. Damn, he looked GOOD, wearing that tight black tee and that sexy smirk. She rubbed her cheek gently against the soft fabric of Jon’s t-shirt, subconsciously reminding herself that the fantasy on the television was actually right here beside her.

Jon chuckled softly and gave Cate another little squeeze at her movement. He continued to listen to himself for another few seconds, then grinned broadly when he heard Leanne’s segue into the “juicy” part of the piece. He knew it was coming; it was the nature of the Hollywood machine to turn everything tabloid. Jon wondered how Cate would react to the inevitable speculation about their relationship.

…So who was Jon’s Partner-in-Crime for the two weeks of intensive law enforcement training? Special Agent Cate Sullivan was entrusted with the task of transforming Mr. Bon Jovi from Rocker to Cop. Was she able to resist the Jersey Boy’s legendary charm?

Cate cringed slightly as she saw herself on the screen. She remembered this part of the interview, that she had done before Jon’s arrival on the range. Jon laughed out loud at Cate’s comment that she “hadn’t really noticed” Jon’s amazing physique as they trained side-by-side. “You LIE!” he teased, voicing the unscripted tone of the piece.

Jon smirked as the frame filled with images of Cate molded to Jon’s side, steadying his aim as they both looked downrange. “Damn, we do look good together, don’t we?” he observed, a smile in his voice but his comment sincere.

“Yeah,” Cate admitted softly, still listening to the television. She and Jon quieted as the piece featured a portion of their interview together, sitting side-by-side facing Leanne. Cate blushed slightly as she saw the sweet smile and adoring glance Jon gave her as she answered Leanne’s question about Jon’s potential to be a real cop. Oh Good Grief…how could anyone miss that exchange of affection? She almost choked on the thought as she heard her own words, describing Jon as a good police dog.

Jon let out another bark of laughter, hugging Cate tightly and dropping a kiss onto her head. “You’re good at this press stuff,” he chortled. “Maybe I should let you handle this for me from now on.”

“No way.” Cate replied quickly. “I much prefer to be out of the limelight, thank you very much.” She kept her eyes focused on the screen and felt them widen as she listened to the remainder of the piece.

… And though the personal chemistry between Agent Sullivan and Bon Jovi was obvious, she maintains that they have a strictly professional relationship. Jon, however, gave us a hint of something more.

“Cate is a fantastic agent, a phenomenal teacher, and an amazing woman. She’s very much my leading lady of the moment. She’s the one I trust.” Cate caught her breath at Jon’s words, and her heart flipped at the dazzling smile that accompanied them. Jon chuckled softly at her reaction, again squeezing her gently in his embrace. He watched with an amused smirk as the ET anchor turned to Leanne at the end of the piece.

“So, Leanne… Jon looked pretty cozy with his teacher there, didn’t he?” the anchor asked in a wink-wink, nudge-nudge tone. “I’m not sure I buy Agent Sullivan’s story that they’re just professional colleagues. How about you?”

Leanne tittered girlishly. “No, I don’t buy it either. It was apparent that Jon is quite taken with Cate, and she with him. Though Cate told me she would not be traveling to Hollywood to coach Jon during filming, it wouldn’t surprise me if we see them around town together. At the very least, I have a feeling she’ll show up on the red carpet for the premiere.”

“We’ll certainly have to keep an eye out for that!” the perky anchor replied enthusiastically. “Thank you, Leanne. Now, from big-screen cops to TV police. 24 star Kiefer Sutherland is executive producing a new series focused on a secret U.S. paramilitary force…

“Oh, God…” Cate murmured. She sat up and looked at Jon. “Were we really that obvious?”

Jon smirked. “You saw the tape. There’s no denying we have some serious chemistry.” He searched Cate’s eyes for a flash of panic but saw nothing but a calm, inquisitive look.

“Yeah.” She paused for a moment, then chortled. “If only poor little Leanne knew what we were doing an hour before that interview.”

“I’d say she hit the nail right on the head with her speculation,” Jon agreed, gently tugging Cate back against his chest and wrapping his arms around her. Pressing a smacking kiss against her temple he grinned. “And if only she knew we were about two seconds away from naked when we were watching this on your couch…” He slipped a pair of fingers under the hem of Cate’s top and started to push it slowly upward.

Cate let out a little sigh, which turned into a yawn as she let herself melt back against Jon.

“Oh, now you get sleepy on me,” Jon teased, nuzzling at her ear.

Cate giggled. “Sorry. Really, I’m not sleepy… just relaxed. And this is such a comfortable spot.” She turned her head to snuggle her cheek against Jon’s chest.

“I can think of someplace more comfortable.” Jon’s fingertips gently traced around Cate’s navel, brushing over her piercing.

Cate smiled at Jon’s implied suggestion. She could think of another comfortable spot, too. “Give me a minute, then I’ll meet you wherever you want.” Cate paused for a moment before reluctantly pulling herself away from Jon and rising to her feet.

“Deal. Meet you in the garage,” Jon grinned playfully.

Cate rolled her eyes as she chuckled. “Sure.” She headed for her bathroom with an exaggerated shake of her head.

With a gentle smile Jon watched Cate disappear into the bedroom, then he picked up the remote. He switched off the TV before standing and wandering over to Cate’s media cabinet. He had seen something in there last night that had made him grin. It would do nicely tonight to compliment their relaxed, romantic mood. Pulling the CD jewel case from its space on the shelf, Jon stepped over to Cate’s stereo.

Cate was drying her hands when she heard the music start. She smiled at the soulful tune, feeling the familiar flush of desire creep over her. Her reaction to Jon’s romantic gesture was automatic, almost Pavlovian. After the last few weeks together Jon practically had her body conditioned to respond on cue.

Not that she minded. Not anymore.

Quickly shedding her clothes Cate reached for her Soul Jersey, which was hanging on the hook on the back of her bathroom door. She smirked as the slick fabric slithered down over her body, covering her. She wouldn’t be leaving it on for long tonight.

When she pulled open the bathroom door Cate nearly jumped out of her skin. Jon was standing right in front of her, just a few paces in front of her bathroom door. He chuckled at her gasp of surprise. “Come with me,” he commanded quietly, holding out his hand.

Silently Cate placed her hand in his then followed Jon around the bed and to the French doors opening out to her small balcony. Her heart skipped a beat at Jon’s tender smile as he turned to face her. “Let’s dance,” he said softly.

Cate nodded, her blue eyes sparkling in the moonlight. She stepped to Jon, feeling his arm slide around her waist as he raised their clasped hands to rest against his chest. They began to sway together, the soft romantic tune drifting through the open doors and into the summer night. Cate smiled as Jon sang along, crooning softly in her ear.

Darlin’ you… send me
I know you… send me
Darlin’ you…. send me
Honest you do…


Cate chuckled throatily. “Some old Sam Cooke, huh?” She quoted his lyric.

“MmmmHmmmm….” Jon purred in her ear. “You have excellent taste in music.”

“I know.” Cate grinned with her response, then sighed softly and turned her head to rest her cheek against Jon’s shoulder.

They continued to dance to the soulful melodies, one then the next and the next. The music mingled with the soft rush of the waves against the shore and the faint tinkle of windchimes from a neighboring house. A warm summer night breeze caressed their skin and ruffled their hair as Cate and Jon held each other.

As the notes of another song faded away Jon released Cate’s hand from his grasp, reaching up to trace his fingertips gently over her full lips before leaning in to taste them. They kissed langorously, tasting each other’s contentment. Upon parting they gazed silently at each other, their souls speaking through their eyes. They understood each other perfectly.

Cate circled her arms around Jon’s neck as his hands slipped down over her sides to her hips. Again their lips met as Jon slowly turned Cate around, guiding her backwards toward the door in a slow shuffle as they continued to kiss. At the threshold Jon broke their kiss long enough to dip downward and hook an arm behind Cate’s knees. In barely a second his lips were back on hers as he carried her through the doorway and over to the bed.

Jon paused for a moment before lowering Cate to stand beside him. His hands slid under her jersey, caressing her soft skin as he drew the garment upward, over, and off of her warm body. Cate stood motionless before him for a moment, savoring the feel of Jon’s gaze lingering on her. Then she stepped forward to return the favor, gently stripping off Jon’s clothing until she stared breathlessly at his magnificent nude form.

As Sam crooned softly on in the background Cate and Jon savored another long kiss, their naked bodies molding together in the soft moonlight. Their hands wandered unhurriedly over each other’s flesh, stroking and caressing with exquisite tenderness. Finally, just as Cate’s knees were about to buckle from the ecstasy of Jon’s touch he again dipped to scoop her into his arms. Jon kissed her deeply as he stepped to the bed and gently lowered Cate onto the sheets.

“Jonny…” Cate breathed as his lips left hers to travel down her throat. “Ohhhh….” She felt as if she was floating, somehow weightless and ethereal despite the anchor of Jon’s form hovering over hers.

“Cate…” Jon purred happily as he eased himself onto the bed, blanketing her with his body. He sighed at the contact of flesh on flesh, smooth skin against downy fur. He gazed tenderly down at Cate’s face, seeing her cheeks flushed with arousal, her sapphire eyes hooded with desire. “Oh, Baby…. you are so beautiful…”

Cate blinked back at him before a tiny smile curved the corners of her mouth. Unable to resist the plump softness of her lips, Jon again lowered his mouth to hers.

Of its own accord Cate’s body arched up to meet Jon’s movement as his body melded with hers. Jon let out a soft groan at the feel of her erect nipples drilling against his pecs. He knew she was ready for him without a word or a touch. As Jon shifted against her Cate opened herself to him, allowing him to settle between her thighs. Together they sighed as Jon inched his hard length into her, sheathing himself with her velvety warmth.

“Baby…” Cate whispered as he filled her. “You’re perfect.”

We’re perfect,” Jon corrected her. He raised his head slightly, pulling back enough to watch Cate’s expression as he moved inside her. She gazed back at him, fascinated by the swirling passion in his eyes as his arousal heightened with each rhythmic stroke. A soft purr escaped Cate’s throat as their intimate dance continued. She watched Jon breathlessly, unable to tear her gaze from his beauty. She knew he would be exquisite in the rapture of his release.

Jon stared into Cate’s swirling midnight eyes as he savored her. She was stunning, hypnotic in her erotic flush. The sound of her now-familiar tigress purr sent a shudder of raw desire through his already-electrified senses.

“Jon…” Cate didn’t have to say anything but his name. He knew.

“Look at me, Baby,” Jon whispered in reply, his whiskeyed rasp apparent even in his voiceless breath.

Cate stared back at Jon, lost in his eyes. As the speed and strength of his thrusts increased Cate felt the wave of her passion building, her ecstasy ready to crest.

The raw desire in Cate’s eyes was Jon’s trigger. His release was so sweet, so powerful that he felt as if he was watching from afar, not feeling it firsthand. Jon saw his ecstasy mirrored in Cate’s expression as she shuddered beneath him, gasping out his name as her tidal wave of passion crashed around him. Their gazes never flinched, their eyes locked and their souls entwined, sharing the rapture and bliss of their lovemaking.

Eventually Cate and Jon relaxed, shifting so they lay comfortably together in Cate’s bed. They snuggled together silently, not needing words to express their contentment. Sam’s voice continued to waft softly from the stereo, serenading the couple with gospel and soul. Soon Jon’s breathing was deep and rhythmic.

Cate turned her head to look at Jon and smiled. He was so beautiful in sleep, peaceful and innocent. And he was hers. He was the fantasy who had finally found his way into her bed. Into her heart. Into her soul.

Into her life.

Cate lay watching Jon for a long time, weary but unable to sleep. Her mind kept racing, replaying the past few days like a movie in her head. She had so many questions that needed to be answered. She couldn’t plan her future with Jon until she sorted out the present, and that was proving to be a more difficult task than she had anticipated.

Everything had seemed so neat and tidy, packaged in the dark blue folder presented to her yesterday. She had been handed the blueprint to her professional future, and was about to receive what practically amounted to the Keys to the Kingdom when she became Chief of the newest, largest, and most politically important Branch on the Center at the end of this year.

It should have been a no-brainer for her to accept the promotion and the position. But her head hadn’t counted on having to convince her heart.

Cate smiled again at her sleeping lover. Her heart was right where it was supposed to be. With Jon’s. But the rest of her needed to be with him, too.

Suddenly restless, Cate gently disengaged herself from Jon’s embrace and slid out of bed. She slipped her jersey back on then padded quietly out onto the deck and leaned against the railing, looking out over the ocean. Cate stood for a long time gazing at the horizon, looking for her answer in the moonlit waves.

“I think you’ve already made your decision. Now you just have to act on it.” Cate heard Danny’s gentle voice in her head.

He was right.

It was time.

Chapter 156 - Starlight and Superman



When Jon returned to the patio bearing beverages he found Cate and Danny smiling at each other. He could tell from Cate’s expression that something important had happened but he had no idea what. Whatever it was, Cate seemed happy. That was good enough for him.

Jon set the tray he was carrying down on the small table next to the lounge chairs. He handed Danny a fresh beer and Cate a glass of wine. “Here, Man...” Danny stood from his chaise and gestured for Jon to sit in his place. “I’ve gotta put the steaks on.”

“Thanks,” Jon gave Cate a little grin. “But I’ve got a seat.”

Cate nodded in agreement and scooted forward on her chaise so Jon could sit behind her. He swung a leg over the wide chair, sat back against the cushion, and waited for Cate to settle back against his chest before raising his legs onto the chaise on either side of her. His hands slid around her waist in a gentle hug as he dropped a kiss on the side of her neck. “Thanks, Baby.”

“Jeez, are we gonna be stuck watching your PDA all night?” Danny teased with an exaggerated roll of his eyes.

“Most likely,” Cate chuckled, shifting in Jon’s arms to smile up at him. She was rewarded with a gentle brush of his lips across hers.

“I’m gonna go cook,” Danny sighed. Taking a pull from his fresh beer he headed for the grill.

“Everything okay out here?” Jon asked as he reached for his wine glass. “You and Danny talking about me?”

“Kinda,” Cate confessed. “We were talking about future plans.” She smiled gently. “So yeah, we were talking about you.”

Jon’s heart squeezed at the contentment in Cate’s soft voice. Just yesterday she would have said there was no future, no tomorrow. How much things had changed. He gave her another little hug and nuzzled at her ear. “Good,” he whispered, deciding not to press her for details.

Mandy returned to the patio carrying several covered dishes. After setting them on the table she strolled over to Jon and Cate and took Danny’s vacated seat. Accepting a glass of wine from Jon, Mandy settled back on the chaise to chat with the pair while Danny grilled the steaks.

Soon the meat was prepared and the group gathered around the patio table for relaxed meal. They took their time, enjoying the food, wine, and friendship and the perfect summer evening. Finally, as twilight was descending upon them, Mandy gave Jon a little grin and a wink. “Okay, I think it’s time for you to get going,” she announced.

“What?” Cate asked, surprised. “Already?”

“Yep,” Mandy replied with a chuckle. “You guys are traveling tomorrow. Need a good night’s sleep.” She grinned cheekily. “God knows that’s something you haven’t had in the last two weeks.”

“True,” Cate agreed. “But it’s not that late…we can stay a little longer, at least to help you clean up.”

Mandy shook her head emphatically. “Nope. Danny has to help clean up.” She shot him a look. “He lost a bet.”

Danny frowned back at Mandy for a minute, confused. Then he saw the look in her eye that said “just go with it.” “Ummm… yeah,” he nodded. “I gotta help clean up.” He had no idea what was was going on but he had learned long ago just to agree with Mandy when she had a plan. It was just easier for everyone.

“You guys should take off.” Danny directed his last comment at Cate and Jon. When he turned his head to look at them he saw Jon and Mandy exchange a grin. Ahhh. Something’s up, he realized.

“Well…. okay…” Cate agreed reluctantly. “Sheesh, if you want to get rid of me that badly…”

Mandy chuckled. “You know I love you, but Holy Crap, Cate. You’re gonna be back in a few weeks. And I’m definitely coming to see you as soon as I can.” She gave Cate a saucy grin. “Besides, you have other things to…. DO.” Her emphasis on the word left no doubt that she was referring to Jon.

“Good grief, Mandy. Just tell them to go home and fuck, already,” Danny rolled his eyes as he grumbled.

“Okay. You two go home and fuck.” Mandy directed, pointing at Cate and Jon. “Then get some sleep.”

Her pointed directive was followed by gentle laughter around the table. Nodding in agreement, Cate stood and picked up her plate. “Yes, Ma’am,” she replied. “But first I’m gonna at least carry in my dishes.”

The rest of the group followed Cate’s lead, helping clean up the patio table and grill. In no time the plates were cleared and the leftovers put away, leaving only the washing of the dishes for Mandy and Danny. They followed Cate and Jon to the driveway, then the four said their farewells.

Mandy and Cate were first to embrace, then Mandy turned to Jon. As Jon gave Mandy a big hug and a “thanks for everything,” Cate and Danny regarded each other. A quarter-century of friendship made words unnecessary as they smiled at each other, then stepped into a familiar embrace.

“Bye, Slick. Be happy,” Danny murmured in Cate’s ear, hugging her tightly.

Hearing a little hitch in his voice, Cate chuckled gently. She pulled back to look at him and was surprised to see Danny’s eyes sparkling with moisture. “Hey, Big Guy,” she said with a smile. “I’ll be back in a few months. Then things will go on just like before. You’ll see me every day, whether you want to or not.”

Danny regarded his best friend for a long moment, his gaze meeting hers. “I sure as Hell hope not,” he replied gently, his meaning clear.

Cate felt tears well in her eyes and a lump of emotion choked her throat at Danny’s words. She nodded silently, then pressed a kiss against his stubbly cheek before hugging him as tightly as she could. “Love you,” she whispered in his ear.

“Love you too,” he whispered in reply.

Jon watched silently as Cate and Danny said their goodbyes, a gentle smile playing on his lips. When finally the friends ended their embrace he stepped forward, offering Danny his hand. “Thanks, Danny. For everything.”

Danny nodded and pulled Jon into a man-hug, clapping him on the back as Jon did the same to him. “Don’t give up on her,” he murmured quietly.

Stepping back, Jon shook his head with a smile. “Not a chance.” He watched as Danny nodded his acknowledgement, then he turned to Cate. “Ready?”

Cate nodded with a smile. With a gentle hand at her waist Jon guided Cate into the car, then took his place behind the wheel and started the ignition. They waved to Mandy and Danny as Jon backed the Mustang out of the driveway and turned toward the highway.

Jon reached for Cate’s hand and entwined his fingers with hers as he guided the car down the highway. He mentally ran through the directions Mandy had given him, hoping he remembered all the turns. When he saw the landmark she had mentioned he slowed and pulled the car in a left-hand turn, headed for the causeway.

“Jon?” Cate’s surprise was evident in her soft voice. “Where are you going?”

Jon turned his head to smile at her. “Don’t you mean where are we going?”

Cate’s brow furrowed at his reply. So he hadn’t just made a wrong turn; he was going this way on purpose? “Yeah…. I guess…” she responded suspiciously.

“You’ll see.” Jon grinned smugly.

Cate opened her mouth to query him again, then hesitated. She let her lips come back together, knowing Jon wouldn’t tell her anyway. He obviously had something planned. And from the direction they were traveling she had some idea of where they were headed, at least in a general sense. She felt a little smile curl her lips.

They drove on in silence for another ten minutes, Jon slowing the car to pass through the toll station then driving slowly along the narrow island roads. At each intersection he squinted at the crossroad signs, looking for the road Mandy had told him to take.

By the time he finally recognized the sign Cate was grinning in the seat beside him. He could tell she had figured out their destination, a private little beach on Jekyll Island, but she wasn’t going to ruin his moment.

Just two minutes later the Mustang emerged from the dark road that wound through the cypress grove into the hazy moonlight of the small gravel lot at the back of the sand dunes. Guiding the car to a halt, Jon killed the engine, extinguished the headlights, and turned to Cate. “Wanna go for a walk?” he asked softly.

“Sure,” Cate smiled. Jon leaned forward and gave her a fleeting brush of a kiss before releasing her hand from his and stepping out of the car. She waited as he rounded the car to open her door for her, then allowed him to usher her out. Once they were both standing Jon led Cate by the hand to the rear of the Mustang. Popping open the trunk with the button on her key fob, he reached inside and pulled out a blanket and a picnic basket.

“Where did you get that?” Cate asked, surprised. Neither the basket nor the blanket had been in there earlier.

“Mandy thought we might like to have dessert,” Jon’s voice was soft and melodic, making Cate’s heart beat a little faster. His beautiful face was partially-shadowed in the golden-hued moonlight, his smile flashing brilliantly through the dark.

“Sounds wonderful,” Cate answered.

Jon closed the trunk and again took Cate’s hand. Together they climbed the swell of the small dune, pausing at its top to gaze out at the sparkling ocean. After sharing another sweet kiss they descended the ocean side of the dune and wandered onto the smooth, peaceful beach.

Jon set the basket and blanket on the sand and turned to Cate, pulling her into his embrace. He sighed happily as his lips found hers and she melted against him. The salty-sweet breeze off the Atlantic ruffled his hair and caused Cate’s to swirl around them both as they shared a soulful, unhurried kiss. When their lips parted, Jon chuckled softly.

“What?” Cate asked, her blue eyes glowing in the moonlight as she smiled up at him.

“When I came here two weeks ago, I had no idea…” Jon answered softly. He paused and shook his head slightly in wonderment before continuing. “I thought I’d never feel this way again.”

Cate’s heart squeezed at the tenderness in his voice. “What way?”

“Happy. Content….. Complete.”

Cate nodded her understanding. “Me neither,” she whispered. They gazed at each other for a moment, marveling in their shared emotion and the fate that had brought them together. Again their lips met and they savored each other for a long time.

“How about that dessert?” Jon whispered against Cate’s lips when finally the kiss ended.

Cate nodded. “Let’s see what’s in the basket. You lay out the blanket.”

She and Jon pulled away from each other and turned their attention to Mandy’s picnic basket. Jon shook out the blanket and placed it carefully on the sand, then kicked off his flip-flops and stepped onto the soft fabric. Cate followed his lead, stepping barefoot onto the blanket before sinking down onto it and placing the basket at its corner. Jon sat close beside her, watching with interest as Cate opened the lid.

“Thank you, Mandy,” he chuckled as Cate pulled out a bottle of chilled white wine wrapped in a thermal cooler. Cate handed the bottle to Jon and took out two wine glasses.

“Hmmm. No corkscrew,” she observed, peering into the basket.

Jon grinned. “Twist-off.” Grasping the bottle’s cap, he opened the wine with a sharp twist of his wrist. He tipped the bottle against first one, then the second of the glasses in Cate’s hands, half-filling them with the golden liquid. He replaced the lid on the bottle before reaching across Cate’s lap to settle the bottle back in the basket.

“Cheers,” Cate said softly, handing Jon a glass and touching hers to his. They both sipped at their wine then smiled at each other before drifting into another gentle kiss. “Mmmm…. dessert,” Cate chuckled against Jon’s lips. “At this rate we’re never gonna get any.”

“Fine with me,” Jon chortled, rubbing his nose playfully against hers.

Cate smiled and turned her attention back to the basket. She set her wine glass on the blanket, careful to brace it against the side of the basket so it didn’t fall over. Cate pulled two plastic containers from the hamper and removed their lids. The first was filled with luscious-looking fresh strawberries. She giggled when she saw what the second bowl contained: Chocolate mousse.

“What’s so funny?” Jon asked, amused at her reaction.

“Chocolate MOOSE.” Cate snickered. Leave it to Mandy to turn a simple dessert into an inside Sambora joke. “It’s nothing… just something silly from our past. Girl talk.”

Jon rolled his eyes and shook his head as he grinned. “I probably don’t wanna know, right?”

“Probably not.” Cate plucked a strawberry from the first bowl and dipped it into the frothy chocolate cream, then held it up to Jon’s lips. “Wanna taste?”

Jon accepted her offering, biting gently into the plump berry as she held it for him. “Mmmm. Delicious.” He chewed slowly, savoring the flavors of rich chocolate and sweet fruit. Swallowing, he grinned. “Would taste better on you, though.”

“I was thinking the same thing about you,” Cate replied with a naughty smile. “But probably not on the beach. We’d have to drive home all sticky.”

“Not if we went skinny-dipping like the other night,” Jon countered saucily. He waggled his eyebrows at Cate as she chuckled in reply. His expression softened as he gazed at her in the moonlight. “But I’m perfectly happy just to lay here and hold you.”

Cate nodded in agreement. “That’s perfect,” she whispered.

Jon and Cate carefully shifted on the blanket until they were reclining on their sides, facing each other. Reaching to move the dessert dishes between them, Jon offered Cate a mousse-dipped strawberry. He smiled as she nibbled delicately at the fruit then licked the mousse from his fingertips.

They lay together on the blanket for what seemed like hours, sharing the dessert and the wine, talking quietly and laughing happily. When the berries and mousse were gone Cate replaced the containers in the basket and refilled their wine glasses. Jon rolled onto his back on the blanket, pulling Cate close as she snuggled beside him. Together they lay gazing up at the stars, listening to the peaceful rush of the ocean.

“Jon?” Cate asked softly after awhile.

“Yeah, Baby?”

“Will you sing it to me?”

Jon smiled up at the stars. “Your song?” he asked gently.

“Yes.” Her voice was so quiet it was barely audible over the sound of the sea.

Jon took a breath, then began to croon softly.

There’s something about you
I want to rescue
I don’t even know you so what does that mean…

Cate felt her eyes moisten as she lay still in Jon’s arms, feeling the notes vibrate in his chest as they slipped softly from his lips onto into the night air. As she listened again to the powerful lyrics she could hardly believe she was lying here, in this beautiful place with this incredible man who wanted to be with her. Who had done so much to pave a path to their future together. Who had poured out his emotions for her in this amazing song.

Who had told her he loved her. And it wasn’t all a dream.

A happy tear slipped down Cate’s cheek as she shifted to snuggle closer against Jon, turning to pillow her head on his shoulder. Not pausing his song, Jon circled his arms around Cate, hugging her tightly against his chest.

When finally he finished singing Jon chuckled huskily, the little rumble in his chest sending a shiver down Cate’s spine. “What?” she asked softly.

“Guess I’m gonna have to write a sequel to that song now,” Jon replied, a smile in his voice. “ ‘Cause Superman got the girl.”

“Yeah, I guess you are,” Cate agreed quietly. “He saved her.”

Jon’s heart clenched with emotion as he dropped a kiss against the top of Cate’s head. Or maybe she saved him, he thought. “That one will be easy,” Jon answered. “The happy ones always are.”

They lay silently together under the stars for a long time, holding each other and listening to the sounds of the night and to each other’s heartbeat. Finally Cate raised her head and gave Jon a smile, her eyes glittering in the moonlight. “Let’s go home, Jon,” she murmured gently. “It’s time for bed.”

Chapter 155 - Saturday Night


They were both hungry by the time they pulled into Mandy’s drive.

After leaving the Center Jon had followed Cate back to her house and left his rental SUV parked in her driveway. They took a few minutes to unload the boxes from the SUV’s cargo bay into the garage, then Cate tossed the Mustang’s keys to Jon. She gave him directions from the passenger seat as he guided the car expertly along the winding road to Mandy’s little bungalow.

After climbing out of the car Jon and Cate strolled hand-in-hand to the front door. Not bothering to ring the bell, Cate pulled open the screen door. “Hey Mandy!” she called. “We’re here!”

“On the patio!” Mandy’s voice rang out through the house. With a smile Cate led Jon through the cozy living room and kitchen, then out the back door onto Mandy’s spacious brick patio. Almost immediately she was nearly bowled over by a huge mass of barking black, white, and tan fur.

“Hey Jovi!” Cate exclaimed in greeting to her big collie. “How’s my girl? How’s my Good Girrrrrl?” Jon grinned as Cate used the silly, growly voice most people use when playing with a friendly dog. He watched as she crouched and wrapped her arms around the wiggling, panting canine. Jon could have sworn he saw the dog smile as she basked in her Master’s attention, her giant brush of a tail swinging furiously from side to side.

“So this is the dog that eats out of my cereal bowl, huh?” Jon teased, leaning down to run a hand over the collie’s sleek head. “She’s a beauty.” He chuckled. “Not blonde, though. She looks more like Richie.”

“She sounds like him too,” Cate grinned back at him. “She likes the talkbox. She howls along.”

Jon laughed. “I’m sure Richie will love to hear tha… Whoa! Hey there!” Jon’s voice raised almost an octave as he jumped at the feel of an inquisitive snout poking at his crotch. Looking down, he realized there was a sleek black Labrador retriever practically sitting on his feet.

Cate giggled at Jon’s surprised exclamation. “That’s Mattie, Mandy’s dog.”

“Hey there, Mattie,” Jon reached down to scratch the dog behind her ear. You’re a sneaky one.”

“She doesn’t bark much,” Cate commented. “Unlike the Fuzzy One here.” She again ruffled Jovi’s fur, scratching the big dog's sides with her fingertips. The collie let out a contented little groan as Cate stroked her fur.

Jon chuckled and looked up, his gaze traveling around Mandy’s big fenced yard. He saw that they weren’t alone; Mandy was preparing the grill and Danny was watching from his seat at the other end of the patio. He gave Danny a little wave then looked back to Cate as she continued to pet and talk to her dog.

“Slick!” Cate grinned and looked up from Jovi at Danny’s customary greeting. Danny was lounging on a cushioned chaise, a half-empty bottle of beer in his hand and a silly grin on his face. “ ‘Bout damned time!”

“Some of us had work to do,” Cate fake-grumbled back at Danny. “We don’t have time to just lay around all day and drink beer.” Giving Jovi a final pat, she straightened and strolled toward her friend. Jovi and Mattie followed her for a few steps, then took off across the yard in pursuit of a low-flying bird.

“I did stuff today,” Danny countered indignantly. He gave her a little grin and a wink. “Twice, in fact.”

Cate rolled her eyes even as she chuckled. “Blonde or brunette?”

“Never mind,” Danny sniffed. “I don’t kiss and tell.” He grinned at Cate’s sarcastic snort as she sat on the edge of the empty lounger next to his and reached for his beer bottle.

“Since when?!?!” Mandy challenged from her post at the grill.

“Since now.” Danny watched Cate take a sip of his beer, then took the bottle when she handed it back to him. He took a long swallow, finishing the beer and closing the subject.

Jon chuckled at the easy exchange between the friends, then wandered over to Mandy. “For the Hostess,” he grinned, holding out the bottle of wine he and Cate had picked up on the way over.

Wiping her hands on the towel slung over her shoulder, Mandy smiled and accepted bottle. “Aww, thanks,” she replied. “You didn’t have to do that.”

“Well, couldn’t have you telling people about the time you had a rock star over to dinner and he was so rude he couldn’t even bring a bottle of wine,” Jon teased. “My Momma did raise me to have some manners.”

Mandy chuckled. “No worries, Jon. I wouldn’t have snitched on ya. I’ll go open this and grab some glasses.”

“I can do it,” Jon volunteered. He gave her a conspiratorial little smile as he dropped his voice. “I need your advice on something. I want to take Cate someplace romantic tonight, someplace private. Can you help me out?”

Mandy arched an eyebrow at Jon’s plea, then smirked and tipped her head toward the house. “Follow me.” She turned to address Cate and Danny. “Hey, we’re going in to open the wine. The grill’s lit; it should be ready in a few minutes, ‘kay Danny?”

“Roger That,” Danny replied in tactical cop-speak. “Hey, bring me another beer, wouldya?”

“Yes, your Highness,” Mandy answered with a little grin and a sarcastic tone. “Don’t get used to me waiting on you. I’m only being nice ‘cause we have guests.” Mandy heard his snort in response as she turned to lead Jon into the kitchen.

Cate smiled as she watched Jon retreat into the house with Mandy, then she settled back against the chaise’s thick cushion with a little sigh. She let herself really relax for the first time in this long, busy day. Feeling his eyes on her, Cate turned to look at Danny.

“So, you get everything done?” Danny asked calmly.

Cate nodded. “Yeah, I think so. I guess if I forgot anything I’ll just have to take care of it when I come back in a few weeks.” She gave him a little smirk. “Or I’ll just let you deal with it.”

Danny chuckled in response. “Bail you out yet again, you mean?” he teased gently. He regarded his friend for a moment, seeing the hint of melancholy in her eyes. “How’d it go, Slick?” asked quietly, knowing she understood his meaning.

Cate sighed again, then fluttered her lashes slightly as she dropped her gaze to her hands in her lap. “It went, I guess. It wasn’t easy.” She paused for a moment, reflecting on the past few hours she had spent packing up her office. “I got most of my stuff out so Joe won’t have to work around it, but….” She trailed off with a little shake of her head.

“But?” Danny prodded gently, not letting her off the hook.

Cate let out another little sigh. “I about took Jon’s head off. I came back from clearing out my locker and he was taking down my wall.”

“And?” Danny’s voice remained even and soft. He knew she needed to verbalize what she was feeling so she could move on. Decades of sharing secrets and fears and dreams and nightmares had made Danny a better therapist for Cate than any licensed psychiatrist could ever be.

“And….” Cate thought for a moment. Good question. Why the Hell did that bother me so much? She pulled in a deep breath. “And, I guess I just feel like I’m being forced out of my job, off the team,” she admitted. “Even though I logically know that’s not true. I just got promoted, that’s all. I can’t stay where I am and accept the promotion. I’m moving up, moving to another slot in another branch. People do it all the damned time. But…”

“But why did it bother you that Jon was taking down your pictures?” Danny wouldn't let her ignore his real question. “Was it the fact that HE was taking them down, or that they were coming down at all?”

Cate chewed her bottom lip for a minute as she thought about his query. “A little of both, I guess…” she confessed. She turned her gaze back to meet Danny’s. “When I yelled at him I actually told him that he doesn’t get to make all the decisions.” Her eyes moistened at the memory of his reaction. “That it’s my career.”

“And what did he say?” Danny had an idea of how Jon must have responded.

“He was hurt, then he got pissed. But then he backed off. He didn’t say a word, just stood there.” Cate’s soft voice reflected her wonderment at Jon’s gentle response to her rebuke. “He was so… so sweet.”

“You kissed and made up?” Danny couldn’t resist the cliché, though he was mildly surprised that Jon had reacted so calmly. Maybe they're finally figuring each other out, he mused.

Cate nodded. “Yeah. So to speak.” She sighed again and looked toward the door where Jon had disappeared with Mandy into the house. “Danny, I don’t know what to do. Not about Jon…” she added hastily, with a little smile. “Not about going with him. That part just feels…. right.”

Danny waited silently as Cate thought for another moment. Now they were getting down to the real issue, the one he knew was lurking under the surface. Cate was finally thinking about her relationship with Jon in terms of the future. “About your promotion,” he observed quietly.

“Yeah.” Cate drew in a deep breath and shifted in her seat, turning to face her friend. “You know I never wanted this. I mean, the money and the recognition are nice, but I never wanted to be a Branch Chief. Hell, when we were in the field I never even wanted to be Special Agent In Charge.”

Danny nodded his concurrence. He and Cate were on the same page there. They were both “doers,” the kind of agents who wanted to work: run the cases, chase the bad guys, teach the trainees. They had no desire to be managers or paper-pushers. “But you know what will likely happen if you turn it down,” he replied.

“Yeah. I probably won’t ever get another chance,” Cate answered, her voice taking on a bitter edge. “Basically career suicide.” She shook her head. “I know I’m preaching to the choir here…. But that’s such SHIT. I would still bust my ass every day and work just as hard as I have up to this point, but because I didn’t take the job they wanted me to take when they wanted me to take it I’d be seen as the One who Bucked the System.” Her heavy emphasis on the word "they" betrayed her disgust with the politics of her profession.

Danny snorted his agreement. “You got it, Slick,” he replied. He gave Cate a long look. “You know you don’t have to decide right now. It just happened yesterday. But you do need to make up your mind pretty damned soon. You need to talk to Floyd and the Director if you decide not to accept. They’re gonna be looking for somebody to fill your position at FTB. You don’t want to be out of two jobs.”

“I know,” Cate sighed. “Part of me is excited about the challenge of opening up the new Branch. Not to brag, but I know I’d be damned good at it. Hell, who knows Counterterrorism better than us, right?” She gave Danny a bittersweet little smile.

“No doubt,” Danny chuckled. “We’ve certainly been in The Shit.” His voice softened. “And for what it’s worth, Slick, the Director is right. There’s nobody else who would do that job as well as you. You’re perfect for it.”

Again Cate felt tears forming at her friend’s heartfelt compliment. “Thanks, Danny,” she whispered. She blinked back her tears and smiled at him for a moment before continuing. “But you know what a huge job that’s gonna be. It would be all-consuming. Long days, lots of travel, briefing the Secretary, testifying before Congress. It would be my entire life for the next couple years.”

Danny nodded silently, watching her, waiting to hear what he expected her to say.

“But if I turn it down and stay with FTB as an instructor… well, things would be like they were before all this started. Before Jon came here, and….” She paused for a moment. “Well, not exactly the same,” she admitted.

“No, not even close,” Danny agreed. “You’d still have a lot to figure out. But you’d have more flexibility to do it.”

They sat in silence for another long moment while Cate weighed her choices in her mind. Finally she spoke.

“I don’t think I could bear to lose him because of my career.” Cate’s voice was quiet and even, her statement matter-of-fact.

For the first time Danny’s expression betrayed his surprise. His eyes widened and a little breath escaped his lips as his jaw dropped. She doesn’t want to sacrifice her relationship with Jon because of her job… not the other way around. Damn.

Cate realized what she had just said as she watched Danny’s reaction. Her own expression changed to mirror his, shocked at her own admission. The friends stared at each other for another moment, then a slow smile crept to Cate’s lips. She dropped her gaze to the ground as she felt Danny smile back at her.

“I think you’ve already made your decision,” Danny observed quietly. “Now you just have to act on it.”

Cate raised her eyes back to her best friend’s handsome face. Sometimes you know me better than I know myself, she mused to herself. She nodded slowly, realizing the truth in his words.

Chapter 154 - Moving Out



Bewildered by Cate's reaction, Jon stared open-mouthed at her. Cate glared defiantly back at him, her eyes glistening, her chest heaving, her fists balled up at her sides. She saw a flicker of hurt in Jon’s eyes at her harsh words, then they narrowed as the storm clouds of his temper began to roil their deep indigo blue. With a frustrated snort Cate spun away, turning her back to him.

Blinking furiously as tears flooded her eyes Cate jerked one of the frames from the box and reached for the wall. Her hands trembled as she tried to guide the wire onto the nail. “This is still MY office, Damnit!” she choked out. “I AM coming back.”

Jon froze at Cate’s comment, halting his own sharp response to her snarling rebuke. Suddenly he understood.

She wasn’t upset with him for taking down her photos. She was overwhelmed by the change that was happening so fast. Change that he had orchestrated and set into motion. Cate felt like she had lost control, and that scared her. She had been trying to hide it from him, trying to keep her turmoil under wraps by refusing his help, but she couldn’t contain it any longer.

Jon’s anger abruptly retreated, replaced by a pang of sympathy. This was obviously harder for Cate than he had realized. She was doing more than just boxing up her belongings for storage. She was symbolically closing a chapter of her life. One she hadn’t expected to end quite so suddenly or so soon. One she wasn’t quite ready to let go of just yet.

Slowly Jon backed away from Cate, retreating to her desk. Leaning against its edge he crossed his arms over his broad chest. He watched her silently, waiting, knowing she would reveal the reason for her outburst once she calmed down.

Cate fought back her tears as she carefully replaced the pictures on the wall. She could feel Jon’s eyes on her as she moved but she didn’t detect a sting of haughty indignation, like she expected. She knew she deserved at least a “Fuck You, Cate” from him after the way she had just about taken his head off.

Finally succeeding at re-hanging the pictures, Cate sucked in a deep breath. She reached out to straighten the Gore photo then let her hand fall limply to her side. A tear slid down her cheek as she stared silently at the wall.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered after a long pause, still looking at the gallery of images that chronicled her life. “I…” Cate’s gaze dropped to the floor as she raised a hand to wipe away her tears. “I’m a bitch. You didn’t deserve that.”

With a tender smile Jon pushed away from the desk and moved over to Cate. Stepping up behind her, he slipped his arms around her waist and pulled her back against his chest. “It’s okay, Cate,” he murmured in her ear, resting his chin on her shoulder. “I get it.”

Unable to speak, Cate nodded silently, her tears now flowing freely. She choked out a little sob as Jon guided her with gentle hands to turn toward him. She wrapped her arms around his waist and pressed her cheek to his chest.

Jon hugged her tightly, rocking Cate gently back and forth as she let out her emotion. “I’m sorry, Baby,” he said quietly. “It’s my fault.”

“No,” she sniffled, shaking her head against his chest. “You were just trying to help.”

“Not the pictures. The whole thing. The movie. The Tech Advisor job. Hollywood. It’s my fault all this was sprung on you so fast.” Jon’s voice was soft and regretful. “It really wasn’t fair. I should have told you what I was trying to do. Given you some time to adjust to the idea.”

Cate drew in a shuddering breath then exhaled slowly, trying to calm herself. “No, Jon. It’s not your fault,” she repeated wearily. She raised her face from his now-soggy t-shirt and sniffled again. “I didn’t have to say yes. It was my decision.”

“That’s true,” Jon conceded, raising a hand to gently brush a stray tear from her cheek. “But I’m glad you did.”

“So am I. I really am,” Cate answered earnestly. “Jon, I want to be with you, so much…” She trailed off, taking another deep breath. “….So much it scares me,” she admitted in a husky whisper. “It’s… it’s so fast.”

Jon nodded. “And the last time you did something this impulsive it didn’t work out,” he finished for her.

Cate dropped her head against Jon’s chest. “Yeah,” she whispered hoarsely in reply. She was quiet for a pause before continuing. “I gave up one career for the sake of a relationship….” She stopped, not wanting to continue.

And you won’t give up another, Jon finished silently. His heart clenched at her unspoken words, even as he realized he didn’t want her to sacrifice so much for him.

“Cate, look at me.” Jon ordered softly. He waited until she raised her face to his. “I promise you, I will never ask you to give up your career for me. That has never been my intention, despite that stupid shit I said when we had that fight in the mat room.”

He paused, giving her a tender smile. “The truth is I respect you, Cate. You are so strong, so independent, so brave… Christ, you’re SO much braver than I will ever be. And I swear I will never try to change any of that.” He brushed a gentle hand over her cheek. "Baby, I know it won’t be easy but we’ll figure out a way to make it work. One step at a time.”

Cate smiled gratefully through her tears. “Thank you,” she answered softly. “It’s just…” She took a deep breath and looked around her office, her eyes sliding over the walls and furniture like they were old friends. “I love it here… this place, these guys. I love being an instructor. And when I come back…” Her voice wavered and she swallowed hard. “When I come back… this won’t be mine anymore. This office, this job…” Again she trailed off, her throat closing with emotion.

“Cate…” Jon’s voice was quiet and comforting. “You still belong here. You’re just going away for awhile.” He gave her another gentle smile. “Look, think of it like this. This is your family, right? Floyd’s the Papa, the guys are your pain-in-the-ass Brothers…” He paused as Cate chuckled softly at his description. “And you’re the Big Sister, finally moving out into a place of your own. You’re still part of the family….” He paused again for dramatic effect and gave her a wink and a grin. “You just don’t have to share a bathroom anymore.”

Jon’s analogy was rewarded with a husky laugh and a wistful smile from Cate. He gave her a little squeeze, reaching up to stroke her hair as she again dropped her cheek to his chest. With a smile in his voice he continued his tale. “And you’ve got this great new job… You’re gonna kick some ass and take some names, show the Boys how things are really done. But first you’re gonna take a little vacation. You’re gonna go lay on the beach, get a great tan, hang out with an awesome guy…” He chuckled as he described himself. “… and have a little fun teaching some goofy movie stars how to act like cops.”

Jon pulled back from Cate enough to smile down at her, reaching up to touch the tip of her nose with a gentle finger. “And when you come back and move into your new place I’ll carry all the boxes. Then I’ll sit on the couch and watch you put everything away because you won’t let me touch anything.”

His gentle sarcasm made Cate laugh. Raising a hand to swipe away the last tears from her lashes, Cate smiled sheepishly. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be all weepy-girly. All this just kinda got to me.”

“I know, Baby,” Jon pressed a kiss against her forehead then gave her a silly grin. “Jeez, good thing I have such a big Rock Star Ego, or I’d be worried you were crying because you HAD to spend the next few months with me!” His tease evoked another melodic chuckle from Cate. Jon reached up to stroke her cheek. “So, no more tears, huh?”

“No more,” Cate agreed. She accepted his kiss then gave him another hug before pulling away from his embrace and turning face the wall of photos. She took a deep breath, hesitating.

Recognizing she needed a moment to herself, Jon moved for the door. “Hey, I’m gonna carry these boxes out to the car, ‘kay?”

Cate nodded, glancing at him. “Okay.” She watched Jon as he squatted to pick up three boxes then backed out the door.

When Jon returned several minutes later Cate was still standing motionless in front of her “I Love Me” wall, the frames still in their places. He could read the conflict in her expression.

“Leave them up,” Jon urged gently. “They’ll be here when you come back.”

Cate stood silent for a minute, then nodded slowly. “Yeah,” she agreed quietly.

With a gentle hand at the small of her back Jon guided Cate toward the door. She leaned down to pick up the duffel containing her items from the locker room and Jon stooped to pick up the remaining boxes that were stacked by the door. “That everything?” he asked, stepping through the door into the hallway.

Cate took one last look around the room before nodding. She paused for one more second before flicking the switch to turn off the light. With a sad smile she pulled the door closed behind her as she followed Jon into the hallway.

Chapter 153 - Plans and Action




Cate and Jon planned their strategy for the day over a simple breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast, which Jon insisted on making after dumping the remainder of his soggy Cheerios from Jovi’s dish. Together they decided that “divide and conquer” was the best way to attack the long list of tasks on the “to do” list to prepare for Cate’s journey to California.

Taking Mandy up on her offer to help pack, Cate called her friend and invited her for a “working lunch” at the house. Realizing he would be most useful by being absent during that task, Jon decided to go back to the villa and pack his own bags, then check out of the King and Prince.

When Mandy arrived a half-hour later Cate gave Jon the keys to her Mustang and directions back to the resort. The three agreed that Mandy would drop Cate at the villa to pick up her car, then Jon would follow Cate in his rental SUV to the Center to help her pack up her office. After completing that task they would go to Mandy’s house to spend a little time with Cate’s dog and grill steaks for dinner. A quick text to Danny confirmed they would be a foursome for the evening meal.

With a kiss and a promise to meet him at the villa after lunch, Cate sent Jon on his way.

Cate and Mandy chatted as they cleaned up the kitchen, washing the morning dishes and clearing out the refrigerator. Mandy peppered her friend with questions about the events of the previous day, then they both speculated on what adventures the coming weeks might bring. Mandy eagerly accepted Cate’s invitation to fly out for a visit when she had a few days off, joking that even though Jon was now “off the market” his friend Kiefer was still single.

Once they finished in the kitchen Cate and Mandy moved on to the more difficult task: packing for the trip. They started with basic clothing items, but by the time they were finished almost the entire contents of Cate’s closet was strewn about the bedroom. Cate had no idea what attire she would need for her new role as a technical advisor so she finally settled on three suitcases full of clothing: One packed with polo shirts, range pants, and gear, a second filled with casual clothing and exercise togs, and a third containing several suits and various shoes and accessories. The rest would have to wait until later, when she returned with Jon for his publicity work. She was sure she would be doing some shopping once she arrived in L.A., anyway.

After ordering in sandwiches from a nearby deli Cate and Mandy did a quick clean of the house, preparing it for Cate’s absence. Both women had traveled exhaustively during their careers so they knew exactly what needed to be done. Working together they quickly completed the necessary chores. It was mid-afternoon when they finally headed for the King and Prince.

*****

“Hello Ladies,” Jon grinned, pulling open the front door in response to Cate’s knock. “C’mon in.” He stepped aside to let Cate and Mandy enter the villa, leaning in to give Cate a quick kiss as she passed.

“You all ready to go?” Mandy asked Jon as she wandered into the living room, looking all around to again admire the villa’s gorgeous décor.

“Almost,” Jon answered, trailing behind Cate as she followed Mandy. “I had some business calls to take care of, so I actually just started packing my clothes and stuff a few minutes ago.” He gave Cate a little grin in response to her arched brow. “Don’t worry, it won’t take me long. I just shove all my shit into whatever bag it fits in. Folding is overrated.”

Cate chuckled as she shook her head. “Must be nice to be a guy. Everything’s a lot simpler for you.”

“That’s because men couldn’t handle all the crap we women have to deal with,” Mandy called out from across the room where she now stood next to the French doors, peering out at the ocean. “Their fucking heads would explode.”

“That’s true,” Jon agreed with a laugh. “I don’t pretend to have any earthly idea as to how you gals manage. I’ve often said that women should run the world, ‘cause men can’t think about more than one thing at a time.”

“That’s because you all have one-track minds,” Cate replied sweetly.

“Guilty as charged.” Jon gave Cate a little smirk as he pulled her into his arms and kissed her suggestively.

“Jesus…. Do I have to throw a bucket of cold water on you two?” Mandy smiled as she gently chastised the affectionate couple. “Good Lord.”

“Go pack,” Cate ordered when their lips parted, giving Jon’s ass a light smack. “We have to get to my office.”

“Yes ma’am,” Jon answered contritely, giving her a little wink. He obediently stepped away from Cate and headed for the bedroom.

Cate wandered around the big curving sectional sofa and out onto the deck, where Mandy was now standing at the railing gazing out at the Atlantic. “This is gorgeous,” Mandy sighed as Cate stepped up beside her. “God, you’re so lucky.”

Cate chuckled. “I know. It still feels like a dream, like I’m living in some sort of fairy tale.” She gave Mandy a grateful smile. “Thanks, Mandy. If it weren’t for you and Danny….” She trailed off as a lump formed in her throat.

“I know, Babe,” Mandy replied gently, slipping an arm around Cate’s shoulders and giving her a little hug. “No thanks necessary. You deserve to be happy.” She gave Cate a little grin. “Now go help Rock Star in there pack so you can get moving. I need to take off -- gotta pick up a few things at the store for tonight.”

“Okay,” Cate nodded. “I’ll give you a call before we head over.”

“Sounds like a plan.” The women strolled back into the villa, where Mandy made her departure with a quick "see ya later" to Jon. After Mandy had gone Cate wandered into the bedroom as Jon was stuffing the last pile of t-shirts into his yellow-and-black duffel. She stood watching him as he zipped up the bag then pulled it off the bed and dropped it on the floor next to the two suitcases he had already filled.

“That’s it,” he announced, turning to face her as he brushed his hands together. “All packed. See? Didn’t take long.” He paused as he noticed her wistful smile. “What?”

Cate shook her head mutely. Jon watched as her gaze traveled around the spacious bedroom, lingering on the big canopied bed. He smiled in understanding.

“I know.” Jon’s voice was gentle as he moved over to Cate and wrapped his arms around her. “We made a lot of memories here.”

Cate chuckled and snuggled against him. “You could say that,” she replied softly. “Some I’ll certainly never forget.”

She tilted her head to rest her cheek against Jon's chest as she looked again at the bed, intimate scenes from the past week flashing through her mind. Cate felt a tingle run down her spine as she recalled that ecstasy-filled night less than a mere week ago, when Jon had laid her down on those soft sheets and made love to her for the first time. They had lived a lifetime since that night.

“We’ll come back,” Jon promised softly, kissing her hair. “Soon.”

Cate nodded and hugged Jon tightly before pulling away. “Deal,” she smiled.

*****

Two hours later Jon sat helplessly on the couch in Cate’s office, watching her sort through files at her desk. He felt completely fucking useless.

He sighed softly and scrubbed his hands over his stubbly cheeks before addressing her again. “Are you sure there’s nothing I can do?”

Cate shook her head, glancing up at him. “No. I have to go through this stuff myself.”

Jon tried to stifle the frustrated little growl that rumbled in his throat as he glanced at his watch again. His eyes turned to the pile of boxes near Cate’s office door. They were filled with books, binders, and a few tchotchkes and awards that had adorned the bookshelves behind her desk. He hadn’t been allowed to put a single item in those boxes; Cate had packed them. Every time he volunteered to clear a shelf or move a pile of books he had been warned, politely but sternly, not to touch anything.

His role in packing Cate’s office had consisted of fetching Diet Cokes from the break room and tearing pieces of plastic packing tape from the roll.

Jon sighed again and looked out the window. He idly watched a fat gray squirrel scamper around the yard for a few minutes, until he heard Cate’s voice. “Okay. Done with these.”

“Can I close up the box?” Jon asked a little too eagerly, jumping to his feet.

Cate shook her head. “Not yet. There’s still some room in it. I want to put some of my extra gear in there.”

She let out a little sigh as she stood from her chair, her gaze sweeping over the clean top of her empty desk. All evidence that it was hers had been removed. Her name plate adorned with a facsimile badge; the Center coffee mug she used as a pencil cup, her business card holder, and her glass U.S. Air Force paperweight were all packed away in a small box, ready to be moved to her new office when she returned from her detail in Hollywood. Only the empty inbox, the government-issue desk calendar, and the computer monitor remained.

“Where's your gear?” Jon asked. “I can load it up, then seal up the box and take it to the car.” He was trying not to sound impatient but he was ready to get away from the Center and over to Mandy’s. He could use a cold beer and a juicy grilled steak. Even more, Jon was looking forward to relaxing with Cate, spending one last romantic night with her here in the Golden Isles.

“It’s in my locker.” Cate answered. “I’ll get it. I need to clear out my clothes and stuff too.”

“I can do that for you,” Jon volunteered.

NO, Jon…” Cate rebuked him. “I’LL do it.” She let out an exasperated little breath. “I just…. I need to do it, okay?”

Jon bit back his snarky response as he saw the conflict in her eyes. Though she hadn’t said a word to him, he could sense her discomfort as she slowly packed up her belongings, preparing to surrender her office to another instructor. He just wanted to help her get it over with, so they could get on with their life together.

“Okay. Go,” Jon sighed. “Can I at least empty the trash can?”

“Yes. That you can do,” Cate replied. “Dumpster’s out back.” She turned and disappeared through her office door, heading down the long hallway toward the locker room.

With a deep sigh Jon leaned down and snatched up the metal trashcan from beside Cate’s desk. It was only half-full but he needed to move, to do something. He was bored out of his fucking mind.

It took Jon all of five minutes to carry Cate’s trash can to the dumpster in the parking lot, empty it, and return it to her office. It would have taken less time than that had he not stopped to watch the squirrel, attempting to coax it closer with stale potato chip he had found in the bottom of Cate’s trash can. The squirrel was not fooled, scampering up a tree and regarding Jon suspiciously. With a little snort Jon returned to the building.

Jon heard Cate moving around in the locker room as he passed it by on his way back to her office. He considered pushing through the door and offering his assistance but he was sure he would just be rebuffed again. So he continued on his way.

Once the now-empty can was returned to its proper place Jon stood looking around the office. His eyes swept over the bookcase, the two locked safes, Cate’s desk, the small table and chairs, and the credenza against the back wall. She had covered all of those spaces, removing her personal items.

Continuing his visual sweep around the room, Jon realized there was one space she had forgotten. It was something he could help her with, something he couldn’t possibly screw up.

With a little smile he grabbed an empty box from the pile by the door and dropped it onto the couch. Turning to face Cate’s “I Love Me" wall he reached for the photo on the far right, the one of Cate with Al Gore. He chuckled softly as he paused to look at it before placing it carefully in the box. This wouldn’t take him any time at all.

He next removed the college photo of Cate and Danny, the picture of Cate and her team in their desert fatigues, and the photo of Jovi the Collie. Those items safely in the box and the wall nearly half-cleared, Jon reached for the frame containing the snapshot of the grinning women.

“What are you DOING?”

Cate’s voice knifed through the silence, making Jon jump. He snapped his head around to look at her, his eyes wide with surprise. “I… I’m putting your pictures in a box…” he stammered.

STOP IT!”

Dropping her duffel on the floor in the doorway, Cate strode swiftly over to Jon and yanked the frame from his hands. “How… Who told you you could do this?” she demanded sharply, turning toward the wall and hanging the photo back on its nail. “You can’t… You…” she stammered, her voice growing hoarse as a lump swelled in her throat and tears sprang to her eyes.

She wheeled around to face him, giving him an accusing glare. “GodDAMNit, Jon! You don’t get to make all the decisions! This is MY career! MY life! I’M the one who calls the shots – Not YOU!

Chapter 152 - The Morning After




SATURDAY

She stood silently in the doorway, wondering what had happened.

Things weren’t how they were supposed to be. Nothing was as she had expected, as she had feared. She had told him time would end on Friday. Then they would go their separate ways, with no regrets.

It was Saturday morning. The Morning After. The day she had dreaded. The day she would have to try to forget it all. The day she would have to pick up the pieces of her shattered heart and try to start over, to move on with her life as if nothing had happened. Alone.

But she wasn’t alone.

He was here.

Jon was here.

Cate’s eyes traced over his sleeping form. He looked peaceful, innocent, almost angelic. He lay on his back, one arm resting across his abdomen and the other curled up over his head. His sculpted chest, sprinkled with silver and brown downy fur, rhythmically rose and fell with his breathing. His face was turned toward Cate’s pillow, his softly-stubbled cheek fully visible. Warm rays of morning sunrise kissed his tousled mop, lighting the honeyed strands a glinting gold. The corner of his perfect mouth was curved slightly upward in a private smile.

Cate knew that smile was for her.

She watched Jon sleep for what seemed like a long time, marveling at his beauty. Finally with a bewildered smile and a slow shake of her head Cate turned away, headed for her morning shower.

*****

When she emerged from her bathroom twenty minutes later Cate found the bed empty. The delightful aroma of brewing coffee and the sound of happy singing quickly dispelled her worry that she had dreamed all that had happened before.

Tossing her damp towel onto the bed Cate moved over to the chair in the corner of her room. Jon had left his clothes there last night before he slid into bed beside her and wrapped her in his gentle embrace. She saw that his jeans were gone, but his grey t-shirt remained. With a smile she slipped it over her head, inhaling deeply of his scent as the soft cotton whispered over her dewy skin.

“Mornin', Beautiful.” Jon’s honeyed voice was music to Cate’s ears as she wandered into the living room. He was in the kitchen, smiling at her through the pass-through. “Want some breakfast?”

Cate ambled around the couch to reach for the TV remote. “Just coffee. But help yourself to whatever you can find in there, if you’re hungry.” She clicked on the television then turned to head for the kitchen.

“Here ya go.” Jon held out a mug of steaming coffee toward Cate as she strolled into the kitchen. “Just like you like it, sweet and chocolatey.” He grinned as he teased her. “Not tasting like coffee at all.”

“It does too,” Cate muttered before taking a sip. She sighed happily; it was perfect.

“You gonna tell me you love me?” Jon’s blue eyes sparkled as he referred to her spontaneous utterance the first time he had made coffee for her.

Cate paused for a moment, smiling at the memory. Her eyes met his. “I love you,” she said softly.

Jon’s hand went to his heart as he gave her a beaming grin. “Ahhh… she loves me!” he sighed dreamily, casting his eyes skyward as if directing his words to the Heavens.

Cate giggled and moved over to him, setting her mug on the island before slipping into his arms. “Thank you for the coffee, Baby,” she said gently, raising her face to his for a sweet good-morning kiss.

“Welcome,” Jon whispered when their lips parted.

“Mmmm….” Cate purred happily as they stood together, holding each other. She turned her head to pillow her cheek against Jon’s bare chest, smiling at the tickle of his chest hair on her face. “So, did you find something to eat? I don’t have much food in the house. I think there are some eggs….”

“Yeah, I found some cereal.” Jon pulled gently away from Cate with a pat on her behind. He gave her a mischievous grin. “I guess you’ve been waiting to make me breakfast for awhile, huh?”

“What?” Cate asked, confused.

“Well…” Jon turned his back to Cate as he faced the counter behind him. Cate’s gaze slid over his strongly-muscled back before shifting to the countertop. She saw an open box of Cheerios and a half-empty jug of milk resting on the black granite surface. Her eyes widened a moment later when Jon turned back around, a giant bowl of cereal in his hands. “I have my own bowl and everything!” he exclaimed cheerfully.

Cate felt the heat of her blush rushing over her face as she stared at Jon, open-mouthed. He had poured cereal and milk into one of her big ceramic dog dishes… the one with the name of her collie painted in bold letters on the side.

“Oh GODDDDD!” Cate groaned as her cheeks flamed with embarrassment. She covered her face with both hands, then peeked between her fingers to see Jon grinning broadly as he shoveled a big spoonful of Cheerios into his mouth.

“MMMMMM!!!!” he announced enthusiastically, chewing then swallowing. Cate saw that he had been careful to rotate the dish so that the word “JOVI” was clearly visible to her.

“Jon! What are you doing?!?!” she exclaimed. “That’s my dog’s food dish! Eeew!

“Hey, I washed it first!” he replied. “What do you think I am? Some sort of… animal?” His comedic timing was perfect, coupled with the silly faux-indignant look he gave her.

“Oh My God,” Cate repeated, shaking her head. “Shit. I should have hidden those.”

Jon laughed, stepping closer to her and slurping in another spoonful of Cheerios and milk. “Want some?” he asked through his mouthful, offering her the spoon.

NO!” Cate exclaimed. “Oh, Jesus.” She lowered her head, shaking it slowly from side to side. “You must think I’m a TOTAL Psycho-Fan now.”

“Because you named your dog after me?” Jon grinned. “Well… yeah.” His eyes twinkled merrily as he teased her. “That is kinda psycho.”

“But she’s a really sweet dog!” Cate protested feebly.

Jon chuckled at her embarrassment, realizing it was time to back off. He didn’t want to upset her; he was just having a little fun. Reaching to place the bowl and spoon back on the counter, Jon turned back to Cate and pulled her to him. “I’m kidding, Baby,” he said gently, dropping his forehead to hers and rubbing their noses together. “Just teasing.”

“Uh huh,” Cate replied doubtfully. “Sure.”

Jon snickered then gave her a sweet kiss. “Promise. So, is that the last of your embarrassing Fan-Girl secrets? Or is there something else I should know?" He gave her a little squeeze. "Any other pets named after me? A pony named ‘Kidd’? A hamster named ‘Francis’?”

“No, nothing else named after you…” Cate replied, the flush still on her cheeks. She looked up at him, then shrugged. “But I do have a vibrator... named King of Swing,” she confessed in a sheepish half-mumble.

WHAT?” Jon almost choked on his laugh, his eyebrows arching and a huge grin spreading across his face. “A…. a….” He couldn’t stop laughing long enough to get out the rest of the sentence.

“Yeah,” Cate answered wryly. “But you can blame Mandy for that one. I sure as hell didn’t name it. And I’m only telling you because if I don’t I’m sure she or Danny will.”

“And why ‘Swing’?” Jon chortled, arching an eyebrow teasingly. He suspected he knew.

“Because it’s…. large.” Cate muttered. She dropped her forehead against Jon’s chest as again her cheeks flamed. “Oh God. Can we please not talk about this anymore?”

“Sure, Baby…” Jon chuckled, wrapping his arms around Cate and rubbing her back. “Besides…” He dropped a kiss onto the top of her head. “You won’t be needing your King of Swing anymore. You’ve got Superman now.”

“Good. It’s almost worn out anyway.” Cate chuckled against Jon’s chest then looked back up at him. “And that’s what we’re calling your penis now? Superman?”

“Yep. Man of Steel.” Jon grinned and puffed out his chest, making Cate laugh in response. His laughter joined hers until again their mouths drifted together in a sweet kiss. “I’m your Superman, Baby….” Jon repeated softly when their lips parted.

Cate nodded, her eyes shining with affection as they met his. “Yes, Jon… you are."