“Do you think this is going to work?” I ask Dickhead shortly after Harpo returns to drop off Sheriff Eddy Roberts and Deputy Alexis Roberts to collect their vehicle in his driveway, pick up Briscoe and leave again.
Alone, at last.
“We shall find out soon enough,” he says, not in the least reassuring.
We’re sitting in the middle of his colossal sofa with Stinky curled up in a ball on the end closest to the front door purring contentedly in her sleep.
“I’m sorry for, uh, scaring you today,” I babble. “I went out for a smoke so I wouldn’t go running into your office like a, uh, lovesick schoolgirl with her first crush. I’ve kind of gotten used to being around you all the time these past few days, and it just felt weird when we went back to our old routines.”
He looks at me then, his eyes telling me naked truths his mouth never may voice to my straining ears that yearn to hear them.
“It took great restraint on my part to stay away until after your deadline,” he confesses, “and when you weren’t there, I was quite, ah, unsettled.”
That’s putting it mildly.
“So, um, about everyone knowing … ” I falter.
“Yes, what of it?” he prods.
“Well, how are we going to handle it?” I appeal to him.
“I believe we already did,” he responds vaguely.
“How?” I insist. “From all of that caterwauling you did earlier that probably woke the dead from their eternal sleep? Yeah, I suppose you’re right, then.
“And here I thought we were going to have to take out a full-page ad in the newspaper to announce it.”
What can I say? Needling him is as natural a reflex to me as yawning. I really cannot help myself. The urge is way too fucking great for me to simply pass up.
“I most certainly do NOT caterwaul,” he says, getting all uppity and snarly with me. “And I warned you about pushing me.
“I bite back hard, love.”
He grabs me then, silencing any other sassy remarks rolling around on the tip of my tart tongue by planting a rough kiss meant to punish that only succeeds in further awakening a body once dead to any man’s touch.
I match his anger with uninhibited enthusiasm and he subsequently gentles the kiss before we bring the house down in flames around us, eventually succeeding in bridling his passion so we don’t lose ourselves in the moment to the point of no turning back for either of us. We can’t give in to this just yet, not when we most need our wits about us, not when we’re so close to getting justice for Lester Smith and Jane Gallant.
But, Lawd help me, I don’t want this to ever end.
Admiringly and regretfully, though, he has the willpower I lack to pull back entirely, leaving me grateful and unfulfilled in ways I never thought possible. Grateful because he wants it to happen when the time is appropriate, and we both know it’s not right now. Unfulfilled because this is yet another scrumptious sample of what it’s going to be like when it finally does happen, when we give ourselves unconditionally to one another with no outside distractions to hinder us.
And, oh, is the anticipation ever about to damn near kill me!
“You are becoming much too addictive,” he admits once his breathing is back to normal again.
“I thought … I wasn’t … your type,” I accuse, still trying to catch my own. “You … said so … yourself.”
He shrugs, giving me his maddening trademark smirk.
“So I did,” he grants me that point, “but I lied. Had you not been so obsessed with the state of my breath at the time, we could have been doing this much sooner. But then, I’ve grown quite fond of your mouthiness and willfulness this past year, particularly since I know just how to manage both so well now.”
By kissing me senseless.
I’ve got no argument with that because he’s right. And he knows it, too, the arrogant, conceited, egotistical, smug — Oh, how I could go on forever with the name-calling! — burr under my saddle whom I just so happen to love.
I expect life never will be boring with him, that we’ll never tire of each other. Sure, we’ll squabble often, as we always have, but making up each time will be well worth every single one of our anticipated fracases.
“You … you don’t mind my weight gain?” I ask, needing to know for no other reason than to be reassured like any self-conscious person.
“Piccolo, to me, you are perfect,” he says meaningfully.
“Down to your every curve, the way your hair flies away when you leave it to dry by itself, your zest for good food, that nonstop mind of yours when you’re off somewhere in your own little world, your cheekiness, your inability to lie, your love for your parents, your cat … and … and me. You fascinate me, and you humble me. But I’ve told you this already.”
You guessed it. I’m blushing.
“I wasn’t fishing for compliments,” I need him to know. “I just … “
But he holds up a hand, effectively cutting me off.
“I know, Piccolo. We all need reassurance sometimes. Even … even me.”
He deserves to know.
“I wish I had the right words to … to express what you’ve come mean to me,” I make a solemn attempt anyway, meeting his astonished eyes head-on in a real-life version of the old game show, To Tell the Truth, “but every single one that comes to mind falls way too short. I resented you for making me feel again when the simple truth is that I’ve never felt so alive — never been more alive — since you came tearing into my life with the force of a … a damn tornado. And I hated you for it — no, I thought I hated you — for making me feel so much — too much — when all I wanted to do was keep hiding from the world. So really, it is YOU who humbles ME. Aside from my dad, you are the most honorable man I’ve ever known. You’re fiercely protective, fiercely principled, fiercely lo … caring. You are, by far, the most worthwhile human being I’ve ever known, and to me, you are the whole world.
“And I … I love you.”
“So you keep telling me,” he says affectionately, his voice cracking ever-so-slightly, his eyes suspiciously moist.
“You really don’t mind?”
“I shall never tire of hearing you say it, Piccolo.”
“Even if it’s every day?”
“As often as you wish.”
“Does it make you uncomfortable knowing?”
“Does it make you uncomfortable that I know?”
“No,” we say in sync.
“Jinx, you owe me a Coke,” we say in concert again.
“Careful, you’re starting to pick up on my Americanisms,” I laugh.
“Well, I AM an American citizen,” he points out the obvious.
OK, so he has me there.
“So, um, when this is over … ” I stammer.
“Yes?” he coaxes.
“I’m going to want to, y’know, show you.”
“Are you now? Do tell?”
“I never kiss and tell.”
“You can kiss and tell me anything your heart desires, anytime you desire, for as long as you desire.”
If there ever was any doubt I was a goner before, there’s no question about it anymore.
“I hope you won’t be disappointed.”
“I daresay neither one of us will ever be even remotely dissatisfied, Piccolo.”
The promise in his voice gives me a case of the shivers. The good kind.
“How can you be so … so sure?”
“I have never been more certain of anything in my life, love.”
“You keep calling me that,” I try to weasel it out of him without actually coming out and begging him to say it.
Good job, Piccolo. Give yourself a pat on the back for handling that so well.
“Ah, so you’ve picked up on that, have you?” he says enigmatically, intentionally ignoring my sort-of-but-not-really-subtle cue.
“It’s kind of hard not to notice.”
“It wasn’t meant to escape your, ah, attention.”
“Well, you have it now.”
“I will be showing YOU soon enough, as well, Piccolo.”