Word Count: 4,030
"Hi Claire," Kylie said with a smile.
Claire looked up from the files she was putting together on a couple of drunk and disorderly charges that had come in last night. She'd always pictured a police department open and running around the clock. That wasn't the case here in Wheelsy. People were jailed around the clock, but if they were put in jail, they stayed there until Bill got there at eight.
"How was school?"
Kylie set her backpack on the floor next to the desk that she'd pretty much commandeered as hers when she came here after school. She went to the break room and came back a minute later with an apple and a yogurt.
"It was fine. Bill came in to talk to the school about drugs."
Claire smiled. "Yeah, I saw that on his schedule. Is that weird?"
"Having him come talk to your classmates?"
Kylie shrugged, taking a bite of the apple. "Not really. I mean, everyone knows I'm living with him so it's no big secret. There are no secrets in Wheelsy anyway."
When Claire had first started working at the sheriff's office, she'd thought Bill Pardy was a lot older. She didn't find out until about a week later that Kylie wasn't his daughter. She'd lost her entire family one night and Bill had taken her in. Claire didn't have all the details, but from what she gathered they'd gone through something together and Kylie wasn't willing to be put in foster care with anyone but Bill.
Claire couldn't imagine losing her entire family all at once. She was doing pretty well as far as Claire could tell, too, considering it'd only been a couple of months since it happened. She'd read the newspaper articles, but they sounded so farfetched. Zombies and things from outer space, but Claire had to put aside her skepticism because really what would people say if she told them she was invincible. And that there were people out there with other abilities.
"Who are the flowers from?" Kylie asked.
"I'm not sure," Claire said, scrunching her nose as she glanced at the bouquet of flowers that had been delivered just as she opened the office.
"Isn't there a card?"
"There is, but it wasn't signed."
"Call the florist."
"I tried that. The person paid with cash and in person."
"Oh. So, you have like a secret admirer."
"I guess," Claire said.
"My money's on Jimmy Draper," Bill said, leaning against the doorframe that separated his office from the main room.
"Jimmy?" Claire said. He wouldn't have been her first choice.
"Uh oh," Kylie said. "It doesn't sound like you want it to be Jimmy."
"I, well, no, I just hadn't thought of Jimmy like that. We danced one night at Henenlotter's, but I haven't really seen him since."
"Jimmy doesn't dance, least I've never seen him. So, I took that to mean he was sweet on you."
"Wouldn't he have signed the card though?"
"Not sure he's ever sent flowers to a girl before to know that."
"Well, that's helpful."
Bill chuckled. "Just let him down easy, sweetheart."
"Why? Is he going to shoot me or something?"
"I don't think he'd go that far, no. I just don't think he's ever been interested in a girl before."
"That's assuming it's him."
"You dance with many others?"
"I've been out on a date or two…" Claire said.
"Anyone I know?"
Claire glanced at him. Had he really asked her that? He knew everyone.
"Right. Stupid question. Well, then, until the mystery man identifies himself I guess we'll just have to keep guessing."
"I guess so," Claire said. She didn't want to admit it, because it sounded stupid even to her, but she wasn't sure she liked the idea of getting anonymous flowers. Her past dictated that she should be suspicious. Bill was right, though, it could be someone just being nice and not wanting to put his name to it yet.
"How was school, Kylie?"
"Getting to it right now."
"Good, good. All right, I'm going back to work."
"Yes, because it's just so busy today," Claire said with a roll of her eyes. Other than the two drunk and disorderly files from last night, there hadn't been too much going on.
"I'm all about slow. The full moon is coming up; things will pick up enough to keep us busy then."
"Does that really happen?"
"Yes," Bill said simply. "I'm a firm believer in it. I don't have any statistics to go with that belief."
"Huh," Claire said.
"Of course, another slow month wouldn't be so bad. We kinda reached our quota for excitement a couple months back."
"I guess so," Claire said. She was surprised Bill mentioned it. He tended not to, especially in front of Kylie.
"Anyway, I'll be in my office if you need anything."
"Thanks," Claire said. She didn't usually. He'd seemed surprised she was capable. He'd had someone working here before she came along, but it didn't work out for whatever reason. All she'd gotten out of Kylie was that the woman had been his high school sweetheart of sorts. Only they hadn't ended up together. She'd gone and married some rich guy who she'd had to kill to stop the mayhem a couple of months back.
"So, are they together now or what?" Claire asked.
"No, I think everything that happened was too much. He said something about wanting what you can't have holding some extra appeal."
"I've heard that, too," Claire admitted. "So, where is she now?"
"No one knows. She left town. Her husband's business is still open. She found someone to run it and everything, so I'm not sure she has reason to come back."
"Huh," Claire said simply.
"Oh, hey," Bill said, sticking his head out from his office. "Pizza night. What do you want on it, Kylie?"
"The usual is fine. Pepperoni."
"I keep hoping one of these days you'll surprise me and mix it up a little."
"Just order what you want then."
"Nah, I don't rightly care." He glanced at Claire then who was watching the exchange between them. "You want to join us?"
"Yeah, unless the flowers came with a dinner invite you have to eat, right?"
"I have Lucky at the house."
"Bring him along," Kylie said. "Bill's got a yard."
"Sure, you can do that," Bill agreed.
"All right. I guess pizza sounds good."
"Maybe you two can get your own pizza with whatever you want on it," Kylie offered.
"Well, now, I hadn't thought of that," Bill said, sounding very much like he really had thought of it. "That's not a half bad idea at all, Kylie. What do you like on your pizza, Claire?"
"It'd serve you right if I said pepperoni."
"No, I don't care. Supreme is fine."
"All right," he said. "I'll call in the order just before we head out and pick up the pizzas on the way home while you go get Lucky. What kind of dog is he again?"
"Oh right. A rescued dog."
"Well, then I guess his name is appropriate."
"I like to think so."
"He a good watch dog?"
"I don't know yet, hopefully I'll never find out."
"Does he bark when someone comes onto your yard?"
"Bark? No, but he goes to the door and checks it out."
"That's something at least."
"That was really good. I haven't had pizza in months."
"I don't know. My mom told me not to get into the habit of ordering out or I'd never start to cook."
"I see, probably sound advice," Bill said, sitting back on the couch. "Where are your folks?"
"My mom's out west with my brother. My dad died when I was in high school."
"Thanks," she said. She felt a little guilty saying that since Kylie's really was dead. It was just so much easier and produced fewer questions.
"How old's your brother? I'm not sure I've heard you mention your family much."
"He's in his second year of college."
"Only the one?"
"Yes, just me. My parents are still around Wheelsy. You'll see Mom for sure. She comes to the station once in a while with a pie or cookies or what have you."
"That sounds nice."
"It is for the most part. There are times I've wondered if I shouldn't have gotten away from Wheelsy after high school."
"You still could."
"I'm from here and as much as I don't like to admit it, I like my job. If I were to move somewhere else I wouldn't be chief. And, well, I might just have to work for a living, capturing crooks instead of locking up drunks."
She laughed. "Averse to work?"
"When I took the job I liked the idea of doing as little as possible. I've always gotten by doing just that."
"Well, since the episode I realized I might have been shortchanging myself. I didn't really know how to handle a real crisis. I mean we got lucky, really. Who knows what would have happened if we hadn't been able to stop it from spreading."
"That's not so bad then."
"No, I guess everyone gets a wakeup call. That was mine. Skating by is fine, but I've got Kylie to set some sort of an example by even if it's only til she's done with college or whatever."
"She likes you and seems happy here."
"I'm not sure if she's happy so much as we went through it together and I'm safe to her."
"Well, she lost her family, so happy probably isn't the right word. There's nothing wrong with feeling safe, Bill. I went through a spell where I didn't feel safe and believe me when I tell you that getting that back is a great feeling."
"Someone after you?"
"Yes," she said simply.
"Could it be the same someone that sent you flowers?"
"No," Claire said quickly. She wasn't on Sylar's radar anymore. He'd turned his focus and attention to other specials. That wasn't to say he wouldn't come for her one day.
"Yes, because when I got home there was a red rose on the porch step leading to my door."
"No," she said simply.
"I thought you seemed a little distracted when you got here."
"Claire, if you're in danger."
"I don't think I am. You're probably right. It's probably Jimmy or someone trying to woo me with gifts."
"You said there were others you'd gone out with?"
"You could try asking them."
"I might tomorrow."
"How many we talking about?"
She laughed softly. "Not many," she said.
"No one you thought was enamored with you?"
"No. And I'm not sure why I'm explaining myself to you."
"And if I asked you how many dates you'd been on?"
"Lately? Not many. My social calendar has been pretty empty except for time spent with Kylie."
"Is that because Mrs. Grant left town?"
"You know about her?"
"I've heard things. She worked at the station before me."
"It was just temporary. She wanted to keep busy and I needed someone in the office. Killed two birds with one stone."
"But she left."
"I could have stopped her I suppose. I'm not sure she really wanted me to any more than I did."
"You didn't want to?"
"You ask tough questions, Claire Baxter."
"You don't have to answer."
"No, no, it's okay. I guess I didn't. I spent a lot of time - years it seems - pining for her, I won't deny it. Coveted another man's wife, which I realize is a sin."
"And once she was free?"
"Well, I realized we just didn't have things to talk about. There was a reason she'd married Grant. She wanted a life I wasn't ever going to be able to provide for her. I'm a cop, earning a small town cop's wage, and because this is a small town my hours aren't exactly predictable. I can't come home at night and swear I'm in for the night."
"Understandable. I think anyone who gets involved with a cop has to know that."
"Well, knowing it and coming face to face with the realization are different."
"I suppose so. She couldn't handle that?"
"She didn't say, but I guessed when she worked in the office and saw how things worked. And don't ever repeat this to Kylie, but she wasn't too keen on Kylie living with me. At least she left town and we're still friends. I've known her a long time, would hate to mess that up especially when she needs a friend probably more than anything these days."
Claire regarded her beer can, tracing the top with a fingertip. "I thought Kylie was your daughter when I first started working for you."
"Do I look that old?"
"Well, no, but I didn't know the situation and she always came to the station. So, I just assumed."
He chuckled and she was glad he found it amusing not insulting.
"Speaking of Kylie, I hope she doesn't think she had to go eat by herself," he said.
Claire smiled, glancing at the TV and the rerun of Home Improvement that was on. She had an idea why Kylie had left them alone. Just like she had earlier when Bill had invited Claire for pizza. Claire wouldn't put it past Kylie to suggest to Bill he do it.
It was quiet in the office, Bill was out rescuing a cat or something when Kylie came in from school so they'd started talking about boys and other girly things. The topic had quickly shifted away from Kylie and a potential date for prom to Claire.
"So do you like him?" Kylie had asked when Claire had brought up the subject of Starla Grant.
"I don't really know him."
"But you'd like to know him better?"
"I wouldn't say no…" Claire had said. "But if he's still after her I'm not going to get mixed up in that."
"I don't think he is. I saw it that night," she said, growing quiet. "And I don't see that look in his eyes anymore. It's different. He still likes her, but he doesn't LIKE her."
"I get it," Claire said.
"I don't think she thinks that. I think she just assumed we'd be talking about stuff she has no interest in. And I'm sure she'd rather talk to her friends anyway."
"Good lord in heaven does she know how to do that! I didn't think it was possible for someone to talk on the phone that much."
Claire laughed. "That's what teenaged girls are good at."
"Yes! I drove my parents crazy."
"The popular kind, huh?"
Claire shrugged. "I was and wasn't. I was a cheerleader and had friends, but I wasn't really on the inside of the main clique or anything."
"Why would I be?"
"I don't know," she said, taking a sip of her beer.
"You need another one?"
"Need, probably not, but I'll have another one if you are."
"Sure," he said, standing from the couch and walking toward the kitchen. The layout of the house seemed similar to hers she'd noticed. It was old and the rooms were on the small side but until Kylie had come along, he probably hadn't needed a lot of room.
She couldn't help but watch as he walked. He had a really nice ass, which she had noticed more than once. She wasn't one of those women that went for a guy in uniform, but there was something to be said for Bill Pardy's uniform and the way it fit him. Very well. He didn't look bad at all in blue jeans either.
"So, your social calendar's been empty lately, Sheriff?" she asked when he returned to the room.
"Yes. Kylie keeps me busy as has the aftermath of everything that happened. People still call the station thinking they've seen something that isn't more than a dog. Well, you know, you take the calls."
"Yeah, I've noticed. I try to deflect the calls if I can."
"It's appreciated. It'll take a while for people to realize the threat is gone."
"And some may never."
"I suppose that's true."
"So, what would you do if Kylie and work wasn't keeping you busy?"
"Oh, well, that depends on who's with me."
"Someone like me?"
"Well, I don't know. What does a girl like you enjoy doing?"
"I'm pretty flexible."
"So, pizza and lame sitcom reruns?"
She laughed softly. "Works for me sometimes."
"You're a dancer, though."
"I've been known to from time to time, yes."
"You've looked pretty at home the couple of times I've seen you. Dinner? Movies?"
"Yes, I like those things."
She scrunched her nose. "I'm not very good, but sure."
"Hmm, I'd have to think on that one."
"Not a killer of animals, huh?"
"I don't think so. I suppose if I had to, you know, like to survive."
He chuckled. "Most people around here use just about the entire animal."
"Good to know."
He set his beer down on the coffee table and shifted a little so he faced her. "I'm beginning to wonder if this isn't a setup."
"What?" she asked, trying to sound innocent. Or at least as if that thought hadn't already occurred to her. She was innocent. If it was a setup it was Kylie's idea all on her own.
"It's not like Kylie not to come down here fifty times a night."
"All right, maybe a slight exaggeration, but she hasn't come down once. Not even to bring her plate down."
"Maybe she fell asleep," Claire offered.
"Maybe," he said, seeming to think on that. "Would that bother you?" He draped his arm over behind her along the back of the couch.
"If it was a setup?"
"I guess that depends on whether it would bother you."
"Bother me? Oh yeah, such a bother." He gave a soft chuckle and leaned toward her. "You drunk?"
"No," she said softly. "Are you?"
"Not even a buzz on," he said, closing the distance between them.
"Then neither of us is drunk."
"I had to ask. I make it a practice not to kiss girls who've had one too many."
"That's good to know," she whispered.
First kisses were both exciting and a little awkward. This one was no exception, especially given the fact he was her boss. Her father would probably have a thing or two to say about her getting involved with him. Then, that'd be the case with anyone.
She pushed thoughts of anything but Bill and kissing him aside. It was easy to do because he wasn't a bad kisser. Despite the few dates she'd gone on since moving to Wheelsy, she hadn't really kissed anyone in a while. She just wasn't one of those women who could kiss anyone without it meaning something.
Home Improvement had given way to Sex and the City. And in the background, Claire was aware of Carrie and the girls discussing the differences between New York and Los Angeles. Claire could identify with that since she'd lived in both areas and had experience with guys in each, too. Bill, on the other hand, seemed okay with not rushing anything.
And that was a turn-on, which probably wasn't his intention. Then again, maybe it was. She gave a soft groan as they both broke the kiss within seconds of one another to take a breath. She shifted on the couch and slid her arms around his neck, drawing him to her.
He kissed her again, sliding an arm around her to offer her support as he moved with her to slide onto the couch. She was very glad she had changed from the skirt she'd worn to work into a pair of jeans before coming over here.
She slid one of her hands to his jaw, brushing the bit of stubble there with the back of her hand before moving the hand to his shoulder. His lips parted a little, but he didn't try to force his tongue into her mouth or anything. She darted her tongue along his lower lip, initiating the idea of taking the kiss to the next level.
He took her invitation, dipping his tongue into hers. He was sweet about it, which she appreciated. She'd kissed guys that didn't seem to understand that having a tongue shoved against the back of your throat wasn't a turn-on. Bill understood that and kept his tongue moving against hers at a pace that was slow but not too slow.
He groaned when she arched into him, instinct kicked in she guessed. He broke the kiss again after she draped a foot over his calf, locking him in place. He pressed himself against her, his hand at her back rubbing lightly. His thumb stroked against the clasp of her bra back there, which is when he drew away.
"Might be more comfortable upstairs."
"Probably so," she whispered, trailing a fingertip along his jaw to his chin. She tapped his mouth with it and he parted his lips, nipping the fingertip lightly. Her eyes fluttered closed as he darted his tongue along it. They both froze when they heard movement upstairs.
"I almost forgot she was here."
"Me, too," Claire admitted, feeling guilty that was the case.
"I," he shook his head, drawing away to sit on the edge of the couch. He set his hand against her thigh, though, as if he didn't want to completely stop touching her. "I can't take you up there."
"I understand," she whispered.
"It's not from a lack of wanting to."
"I really do understand."
"It's just, I know she's old enough to realize how things work, but if I start bringing women into my bed…"
She sat up, pressing her finger to his lips again. This time for a different reason altogether.
"I said understand, Bill. I really do. And I totally respect you for feeling that way."
"I could see you home…"
She laughed and shook her head. "I don't think so. Not tonight."
"Been a while since I needed a cold shower before bed."
"It has, huh?" She sat up then, fixing her shirt a little.
"I should hope so."
Kylie came downstairs then.
"Hi," she said, glancing at both of them. It had to be obvious they were doing something by how close they were sitting together on the couch. Not to mention Claire's hair probably looked a mess.
"Hey, Kylie. You got your fill of pizza and soda?"
"Is it okay if I stay over at Tina's house tomorrow?"
"It's Friday night, I don't see why not."
"Thanks," she said, walking toward the kitchen. "Good night," she said when she came back, hands empty.
"Good night," Claire said.
"See you in the morning."
"I should go," Claire said when Kylie had gone back upstairs.
"You don't have to."
"I know, but I told my mom I'd call her tonight."
"Oh. It's kind of late, isn't it?"
"She's three hours behind us."
"That's right. I'll walk you out."
Lucky was easy to round up. As soon as he saw Claire he bounded to her side, following her to the car.
"Since it seems I have a night's reprieve from example-setting duties, care to go out tomorrow night?"
"All right. It's a date." He stepped closer, giving her a kiss. "I'll see you tomorrow then."
"You would have anyway."
"Good night, Bill."
"Night, Claire. Drive safely."
"I will," she said, holding the door open for Lucky to get into the backseat before getting in. He closed the door for her and stood on the driveway until she backed out and started driving away.
"Well, that wasn't at all what I was expecting," she said to Lucky, glancing at him in the rearview mirror. He, of course, didn't answer. "You either, huh? Well, we'll see what happens tomorrow night."
Word Count: 6,657
Claire gave a frustrated groan when her cell phone rang. She was on her hands and knees in her closet, looking for the left shoe of the pair she wanted to wear out tonight. If it wasn't in the back of the closet stuck behind something that would mean Lucky took it. It wouldn't surprise Claire, the dog seemed to have impeccable taste when it came to the things he chose to chew on and how much they were worth.
"Shit," she said into the phone, having stumbled over the dog in question. He was so stealthy sometimes, she hadn't heard him come into the room!
"Wow, that was some greeting. Did I catch you at a bad time?"
She couldn't help but smile. "No, well kind of, I'm getting ready to go out and can't find a shoe," she said, glancing at her ankle twisted at an odd angle.
"Ah. And I suppose they're the shoes you just have to wear tonight."
"Well, yes," she said, realizing it probably sounded stupid to him. Then again, maybe not given who his mother was.
"And that's deserving of answering the phone like that? It could have been your mother."
"Well, it's not my mother. It's you."
"Being that I am your biological father I'm not sure if I should take that as an insult or not."
"And I twisted my ankle," she said, running her hand over the twisted spot.
"Oh, well, if I made you twist your ankle I suppose I should apologize."
"Apology accepted," she said, watching as her ankle melded and formed back to its original shape. It was kind of gross, but certainly very cool. Going anywhere but the hospital would have been out of the question without her ability.
"So, who are you going out with?"
"When isn't it a guy?"
"Well, why'd you ask then?"
"My, you're getting ornery in your old age."
"I'm not that old," she said defensively.
"You should never mention a girl's age, Nathan. Hasn't your mother or Heidi taught you anything?"
"They both have taught me plenty."
It was her turn to chuckle.
"So, to what do I owe the honor of a phone call from Nathan Petrelli on a Friday night?"
"I'm actually stuck in Midtown traffic on my way to pick up Peter and the boys for a ball game. I thought I'd call you. Check in. See how you're fairing down there."
"Here in the sticks you mean?"
"I'm doing all right."
"Good. Anyone I have to have a talk with?"
"No," she said after a moment's pause.
"Uh huh, I'll ask again maybe in a few weeks."
"How are Heidi and the boys?" She decided a subject change was in order, particularly since she really had no idea what she and Bill were even doing. She was getting dressed up as if it was a date. He'd said it was a date. On the other hand, they worked together and he might get second thoughts about dating her.
"Fine, too. Peter is, too, since that's who you wanted to ask about first."
"Good," she said, relieved to hear that.
"I'm sorry you have to live down there."
"It's not so bad," she said with a shrug. "Definitely a different way of life, but it's not like Odessa was a hub of activity either."
Her doorbell rang then.
"I've got to go, Nathan. My date is here," she said, realizing she still hadn't found her other shoe. Just as she thought it, she saw the heel peaking out from under one of her boots.
"All right, I just wanted to say hello."
"I'm glad you did. Tell everyone I say hi."
"I will. Good night, Claire."
"Good night, Nathan. Thanks for calling."
"I always am," she said before disconnecting, sliding both shoes on. He'd assured her he was not taking her bowling. So, she'd worn a dress and with it a pair of Monola's Angela had bought her as a graduation present. Claire had seen the dress and bought it knowing it would go with the shoes. She stopped briefly in front of her full-length mirror and spun around, glad to know she had been right. She hadn't had the chance to wear them until now. Not much call for designer shoes when you work at a sheriff's office.
Lucky followed her out of her bedroom and down the stairs. He gave a soft growl when he realized someone was standing on the porch. She threw the lock and opened the door after glancing out the window to be sure it was Bill. After the rose on her porch yesterday, she was feeling a little cautious.
"Hey," Bill said his back toward her. "I was beginning to think I had the wrong house."
"Nope, right place, just had trouble finding a shoe."
"A shoe?" He turned to look at her then. He started with the shoes in question and worked his way up. It was pretty apparent by the time he got to her face he didn't mind what he saw at all. "Wow, don't you look nice."
"I love any excuse to wear my favorite pair of shoes."
"Right," he said, glancing at the referenced footwear. He probably had no idea how expensive they were. She'd practically fainted when she saw the total before Angela put them on her credit card. He hadn't dressed up as she had, but he wasn't wearing blue jeans either. So, he'd gone to some effort to look nice.
"You look nice, too."
"Well, normally I'd say thank you, but compared to you I look like a ruffian."
"I could change."
"Don't you dare," he said quickly. "I'm not saying I don’t like it."
"Just wasn't expecting me to clean up so nice?"
"Well, no, I figured you'd clean up darn nice. I just wasn't expecting…"
"Me to be stylish?"
"Well, that's one way of putting it, yeah."
"The dress is local, the shoes aren't." She'd found the dress at a thrift store. She went there looking for some old men's shirts to wear while painting and working on her house. She'd seen the dress and had fallen in love with it.
"Have you worn them here before?"
"No," she said.
"Well, let's go let them get a feel for Wheelsy." He glanced at Lucky then. "He ain't comin' along, is he?"
"No," she said, giving Lucky a pat on the head before shutting and locking her door.
"Oh, hey, I forgot to say, this was on the railing here when I came up to ring the bell," he said, gesturing to the rose.
"Just leave it," she said, trying not to show how much seeing a second rose bothered her.
"Secret admirer again?"
"I guess so."
"You don't want to take it inside? Put it in water?"
"No, I threw yesterday's away."
"You kept the flowers, though?"
"I didn't know what to do with them. And that was before the first rose was at my house. If it's Jimmy or someone, they need to rethink their strategy."
"I'd tell him that, except I guess I'm the competition now so I'm not sure I want to offer advice."
"You are, huh?"
"I'm taking you out, aren't I?"
"I guess you are," she said, taking the couple of stairs that led from the porch to her yard. She wasn't going to deal with the rose. "So, did Kylie get to her friend's house all right?"
"Yup, I dropped her off on my way here. They don't live too far from you actually, so it worked out."
"Good. She seemed pretty excited."
"It's the first thing like this she's wanted to do, so I'm taking that as a good sign."
"I can imagine."
He opened her door for her, which surprised her a little. She wasn't sure why, just that he didn't seem like the type.
"My mother," he said with a shrug by way of explanation as he shut the door.
The restaurant wasn't much to see, but the all-you-can-eat crab legs were to die for. As well as everything that came with it.
Their conversation flowed pretty easily, which she was happy about. She wasn't sure away from the office if they'd have anything to really talk about that wasn't work related. Or about Kylie.
Next door to the restaurant was a bar, which they walked to when done eating. They walked practically smack dab into Jimmy Draper just inside the entrance.
"Sheriff," Jimmy said simply.
"Jimmy," Bill had said in response.
"Hi Jimmy," Claire said, hoping she wasn't as obviously uncomfortable as she felt. She hadn't meant to lead him on. She hadn't even gone on a date with him. The band had been good, he'd asked her to dance and she'd accepted. She'd gone home afterward and while remembering his name didn't think anything of him until Bill mentioned the possibility the flowers might be from him.
"Hi Claire. I didn't know you'd be here tonight."
"I didn't either."
"Can I buy you a drink?" he asked. Maybe he didn't understand that she was dressed for a date? A date with Bill.
"I'll buy her drinks tonight, Jimmy, thanks for offering though."
"Oh," he said simply, looking a little confused.
Bill settled his hand at the small of her back and walked with her away from the entrance and Jimmy toward a table that was unoccupied.
"Sorry, I should have known he'd be here on Friday."
"It's okay," she said. "I feel kind of bad, especially from what you said yesterday about him."
"He'll get over it."
She smirked. "Pretty confident I won't be dancing with him again."
"Again? I thought you just met up with him by chance."
"You know what I mean."
"Well, compared to him I've got charm like Carey Grant, so I'm hoping I can be smooth enough to earn a second date."
"You are, huh?"
"And the fact we work together?"
He shrugged as the waitress came over and took their order.
"Want I should fire you?"
Jimmy looked as though he was coming toward their table. Evidently, Bill noticed, too, because he stood, taking Claire's hand and leading her to the small dance floor that was already full. It was a Garth Brooks song, one of his slower ones. Country wasn't exactly popular in Costa Verde or New York, but Odessa it was. So, she had some knowledge of artists. And Garth was pretty standard. Claire was glad the floor was full because while she'd gotten better at dancing to this type of music, she certainly wasn't an expert. And most of the places around here seemed to play country and western. No hip-hop to be found, that she heard of anyway.
She liked the way he danced. He didn't try and hold her too close and he didn't try to lead her forcefully as the singer went on about tomorrow never coming. He just let them move as they wanted to on the floor. Of course, it was so full that there wasn't really anywhere for them to go but the tiny circle of the floor they occupied.
"You know how to two-step?" he asked as Garth segued into something else.
"Kind of is better than a flat out no," he said, not really giving her a chance to say no as he led her right into the next dance.
He did know what he was doing, that was easy to tell. And that made it fun for her, which seemed to make it fun for him, too. They must have walked in just as the band slowed things down, because the next few songs were all fast. Bill definitely kept Claire on her toes and glad that she'd taken the time to dance with people before him. She'd definitely be outclassed by him if she hadn't done any before tonight.
"You having a good time?" he asked finally taking a break back at their table.
"I saw you two dancing and figured I'd wait to bring your drinks when you were done, Sheriff," the waitress said, setting their ordered pitcher and two frosty mugs on the table.
"Thank you, Donna, that was nice of you," he said, giving Claire a wink that Donna wouldn't see.
"You're welcome. I'll be back to check on you in a bit."
"No rush, we're good for now," Bill said, taking a seat on the stool next to Claire instead of across from her as he'd done when they first walked in.
"All right," she said, moving on to the next table.
"That's because you're the sheriff, isn't it?" She gestured to the frosted mugs. He hadn't asked for them. It was more than that, though. Donna didn't seem to care about leaving full pitchers of beer at other empty tables.
"Yes, it has its advantages once in a while."
"Like when you don't want to drink warm beer."
"Like then," he said, pouring a glass first for her and then for him before setting the pitcher down. "You dance pretty well."
"So do you."
"Had to do something to keep me occupied. And I wasn't always sheriff."
"Spend a lot of time in bars?"
"My fair share, ensuring peace was kept of course."
"Of course," she said, taking a sip of beer. She'd never really been overly fond of beer, but it seemed to be what everyone drank in Wheelsy. She didn't hate it as she knew some people did, but she'd much rather have a good glass of wine or a rum and Coke. The only bad thing about rum and Coke was that unless she made it the strength was difficult to regulate not just from bar to bar and bartender to bartender but from drink to drink even with the same bartender.
"Is Jimmy staring at us?" he asked casually. He didn't have a sixth sense or anything, but he had no doubts by the way Jimmy looked at Claire when they came in that the young man had designs on Claire Baxter.
"You more precisely, but yes."
"Should I be worried he's going to put a target on my back when I go to the men's room?"
She laughed. "I don't know. I think he looks more confused than mad."
"Good to know."
"You don't seem that much different than him anyway."
He laughed then, brushing his mouth with the back of his hand. "Whatever do you mean? I couldn't be any more different than him. I realize compared to some of the people you may have rubbed elbows with out in LA and up in New York…"
"That's not what I meant," she said, cutting him off.
"What did you mean then?"
"I mean, I get the impression you don't go out on dates often."
"Well, I told you my social calendar…"
"Yeah, yeah. I know the infestation and Kylie, but I think it goes before that. And it wasn't solely because of Mrs. Grant."
"Go on," he said, more curious now than anything. Because she was right in a way. He didn't go out much. Not that he didn't have opportunities. His infatuation with Starla aside, he just wasn't one to give the townspeople something to gossip about. Even before he was sheriff, because he'd had designs on being more than a beat cop all along.
She shrugged. "I just get the impression by the way everyone's looking at us that you coming out with women isn't exactly common."
"You're right, it ain't. A lot of times we'll go somewhere else if I do have a date. Myrtle Beach is just down the road a spell."
"Ah," she said. "Why didn't you take me there?"
He shrugged, not sure how to explain it. He wasn't even sure he could. There was something about Claire Baxter he'd liked the moment she'd stepped into the sheriff's station in response to the ad he'd run once Starla had decided Wheelsy wasn't where she needed to be now that Grant was gone. He couldn't blame her. Having to pull the trigger on the man you'd been married to, no matter what feelings were involved in the marriage, was bound to do something to someone. Starla was strong, but everyone had their limits. And Grant had been good to her through the years, giving her everything her heart desired while being able to stay right here in Wheelsy.
He took another sip of beer, setting the mug down and running a fingertip along the outline of the coaster on the table. It was beyond legible now, no doubt many a mug had been set on it in its lifetime.
He leaned toward her then, sliding a fingertip along the back of her hand and up her arm. "Probably the same reason I'm about to do this in front of everyone here," he said softly before leaning in further to kiss her, sliding his hand so his arm was around her waist.
He hadn't really planned on doing it. Oh, maybe there was a part of him that wanted to make sure Jimmy got the picture. And anyone else there who had their eye on her. He wasn't blind, he knew more than just Jimmy had eyed her with interest when they came in.
It wasn't like the kiss on his couch. He lingered a bit, but didn't want to turn it into something too intense here in the middle of a bar. She seemed to be inline with that as she drew away the same time he did.
"Throwing caution to the wind, Sheriff?"
"Something like that," he said, aware of more than a few people looking at them. That was one drawback of being sheriff in addition to a lifelong resident of the town; he couldn't kiss a girl on a date without the whole town knowing about it faster than a brush fire spread.
"I don't know."
She smiled then, tossed her hair back and laughed. "There's flattery at its best."
"Now, I didn't mean it like that. You asked a question I'm not sure I have the answer to."
"It's not just because Jimmy's here and you think he likes me?"
"Jimmy wasn't in my living room last night."
"No, he certainly wasn't," she said.
He wished he could answer her question the way she seemed to want him to. He hadn't expected to become interested in anyone so soon after Starla moved from Wheelsy. She'd been on his mind for years, married or not. He guessed the fact he could be interested in Claire was proof that what he felt for Starla wasn't much more than wanting something he couldn't have.
Oh, they'd tried. She'd come to his house a few times and he'd gone to where she was staying. She refused to sleep in the house she'd lived in with Grant. That was probably the first big tip off to Bill that she wasn't going to stick around Wheelsy.
Things just weren't right between them no matter how hard they tried. Too much water under the bridge. He was reminded of their brief conversation when things started to happen with Grant. He'd always thought it was the mutual attraction making things uncomfortable between them. Evidently, it was just neither of them being able to put the past where it belonged. He was pretty sure she liked knowing Bill still liked her even married to someone else. Someone who was able to give her things Bill never could, unless he'd become a corrupt cop. He wasn't even sure if he could then.
"Let's get out of here," he said softly.
"We haven't finished," she replied, glancing at the pitcher.
"You feel the need to finish it?"
"No, I just wasn't sure."
"I don't like being stared at."
"No one's really staring. So, ignore whoever is looking at you," she offered. "I don't want to let them run us off, Bill. You dance well, which means we do together. Let's have fun and just not care who's watching."
"You sure? I'm not the one on the receiving end of anonymous flowers."
She shrugged. "I've made no commitment or promise to anyone, so if someone likes me that's not my problem."
"I suppose not. All right," he said. "And you timed that perfectly since the band seems to be coming back from their break."
He didn't speak of leaving again. They were among the crowd that helped close the place down. He'd had to step in a time or two to break up altercations, but most everyone behaved knowing he was right there to haul them in if necessary. He had to admit, he'd had fun, too, as they walked to his pickup truck. It wasn't as nice as her car. Come to think of it, she had nice things in general. And it made him wonder what she was doing in Wheelsy, and why she'd be interested in a guy like him at all.
He didn't know a damned thing about fashion, but he knew enough about it to know the pair of shoes she wore weren't cheap. The dress, on the other hand, wasn't particularly special. It looked nice on her, but most anything did he'd noticed in her short time working for him.
He almost hadn't hired her. She was fresh out of college. Young and pretty with her whole life ahead of her, not exactly the type to stick around. But she was persistent and no one was beating down his door to take the job. So, left with little choice he'd hired her.
He backed her up against the side of his pickup once he'd unlocked her door. His truck was old and pretty badly beaten, but it was his and he kept it locked to keep curious people out. It hauled ass, which wasn't usually necessary but it had come in handy a time or two. Especially a couple of months ago.
"You had fun," he asked, brushing some hair away the wind had blown into her face.
"Yes," she said simply.
"Me, too. Better than I'd expected."
"So, dates in Wheelsy are okay?"
"I guess so."
"Enough to do it again?"
"I guess I am."
"Then yes," he said. He slid an arm around her waist, drawing her into him. He was intent on kissing her when George McNamara walked by and greeted him with a polite, "Howdy, Sheriff."
"George," Bill said simply without looking away from Claire, recognizing the man's voice. Bill had been good friends with George's son growing up so the voice was permanently etched in his mind.
"Does it ever bother you?"
"You can't go anywhere without someone knowing who you are or what you're doing."
"You get used to it, and it'd be that way sheriff or not."
"Mm, somehow I doubt it'd be like this. You were about to kiss me, weren't you."
He chuckled then. "Maybe."
"Well, if you'd just been Bill Pardy, George wouldn't have said one word to you."
"I'll have to tell him to refrain from saying hello next time he sees me."
She laughed then. "That's not what I meant."
"I know, and you might be right, but the town is pretty friendly. And I've known him most of my life. I grew up with his son. So, he probably would have said hi."
"Even if you were kissing someone?"
"I wasn't kissing you," he said, tugging her closer intent on rectifying that here and now. "Yet," he murmured before doing just that, sliding his other arm around her in the process.
Their kiss earlier in the bar hadn't been much, certainly nothing for him to be able to judge whether the pleasure he'd gotten from kissing her last night was real. Out here on the street probably wasn't much of a place to be doing that type of kissing either. Perhaps it was the beer, the way she felt pressed against him. She was so much smaller than he was. Last night on the couch he hadn't noticed it as much. Standing here, though, it was hard to ignore he was at least a foot taller than she was.
He slid his hand closest to her door free, opening the handle. The dome light didn't come on, not entirely surprising. It was temperamental and seemed to take it upon itself to decide whether it was worth coming on for.
Her lips parted just as he moved his arm around her again. He let out a soft groan as she found his tongue. She wasn't all gung ho about it, acting more as if she was curious, inquisitive. He liked inquisitive. A lot, he realized. She broke the kiss as he expected she would when he lifted her into his arms.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"Just setting you where this will be a little easier," he said, sliding her onto the bench seat of his truck, facing where he was standing. "Difference in height makes it a little…"
"Awkward? Yeah, I know, sorry," she said with a shrug. Evidently, he hadn't been the first man to comment on it.
"No reason to apologize, sweetheart," he said, stepping between her legs so he could kiss her again.
"Um," she said, settling a hand against his chest which prevented him from getting closer.
"Yes?" Had he done something wrong?
"I'm no expert or anything, but given that you're kind of held in high esteem here and all."
"Uh huh," he said, wondering where she was going with that.
"Maybe we should go back to my place rather than sit here like this. Someone's going to walk by and think we're doing more than kissing."
"You've got your clothes on."
"I'm wearing a dress and you'd be in the way of them seeing it's still at my knees like it's supposed to be."
"It is a nice dress," he said, running a fingertip along the exposed portion of her thigh. It wasn't enough as far as he was concerned. She had a nice body, fit, toned, and tan. He'd become curious where her tan lines might be while they were dancing earlier.
"Thank you, but that still doesn't change the fact that we're in public and since you're supposed to uphold the law against public indecency…"
"Kissing my date is hardly indecent."
"Perception may indicate otherwise."
He smirked then, settling both hands at the top of the doorframe of his truck. "All right, Miss Baxter, you drive a hard bargain, but you win."
"Being invited back to my place is a hardship?"
"I didn't say that," he said. He wished he knew what it was about her that got under his skin. In the good kind of way. Hell, last night on the couch if he hadn't heard Kylie walking around above them he had been of the mind - and certainly the mood - to take her right there on the couch. He hadn't even had a condom.
He'd rectified that problem, going to a discount store in a neighboring town earlier. He wasn't planning on things going that far this quickly. Something told him she wasn't the type to sleep with a guy on the first date, but at least he'd be prepared if and when it did happen.
He leaned in, hands firmly in place on the truck and kissed her. "Let them see me kissing a pretty woman," he said with a wink as he drew away. He shut the door once she'd moved to be sitting the right way.
They rode in silence to her place. She did move a bit to sit closer to him, near enough their thighs touched. Once he got the old pickup into gear, he set his hand over hers. They sat like that the entire way to her house. Well, not just like that, she scooted a little closer once he'd been driving a few minutes. He liked it, both the feel of her sitting closer and the fact she wanted to do so. Once they got out of the city limits, she even moved their joined hands to rest on his thigh, her little finger tracing along his thigh. She didn't pull her hand away once they'd gotten to her house either and he had to move his hand away from hers to put the truck in park.
And it was her house. She owned it, outright in fact. He knew that much through gossip, though he tried not to pay much attention to that sort of thing. She'd been the talk of Wheelsy before she'd even moved here because the closing was done via fax and overnight service. Bets had been placed on just who the mysterious new owner of the old McCormick place was. Being that she was out of town a ways, some had speculated she was a little old lady. The type with a houseful of cats, therefore, needing the room the lot the house sat on offered.
She certainly wasn't old or ugly or anything else that had been speculated about her. And he hadn't seen a single cat earlier.
He shut off the truck and sat there for a minute, neither saying anything. He draped an arm over her shoulders and drew her to him. She tilted her face up in perfect time with him moving in for a kiss. Finally, he was able to kiss her the way he'd wanted to most of the night. The one or two at the bar had mostly been for show. He wasn't afraid to admit he was staking his claim in a manner of speaking. Jimmy Draper wasn't the only one interested in her.
He broke the kiss, smoothing down her hair a little.
"So, do you want to come in?" she asked.
"Isn't that why we came here?"
"Well, yeah, but I wasn't sure I guess. Maybe that was a good night kiss."
"No, not yet."
"All right," she said and slid away from him. He felt the absence of her body's warmth almost right away.
He joined her outside in front of his pickup, offering her his hand. Not that they had far to walk or anything, he just wanted to hold it.
"Wasn't sure? Did I do something to make you think I'd lost interest between town and here?"
"No, it's just I don't usually do this."
"Bring a guy home."
"Well, you're not bringing me home. I'm taking you home after a date. A proper one even. There was eating dinner involved and everything. It's not as if you picked me up at the bar or anything."
"I know, I just…"
He released her hand, sliding his arm around her so he could draw her to him. She came willingly he noticed. "Just don't want me to get the wrong idea," he whispered, kissing the top of her head. She smelled nice. Flowery. Shampoo he imagined. Whatever it was, he'd noticed it all night and liked it.
"I don't," he said simply.
"You sure, because if you think Jimmy or…"
"I said I don't, Claire, and I don't. I don't want to have any other names to go with your dates. Jimmy's bad enough."
"Bad enough, huh?"
"Well, yeah, no one likes having faces to go with their competition."
She tilted her head up to look at him then. "Okay." The way she looked at him just then made him think that maybe there was no competition. He'd won, not that she was a thing to win or that he'd really set out to even do that. It could have been a trick of the moonlight, though.
He planted a kiss on her lips, a quick one really meant to assure her he spoke the truth. "Now did you have standing out here for the rest of the evening in mind?"
"No," she said and if he didn't know better he thought she was blushing. It was hard to tell because there was almost no light out here. She had a yard light, but it was on the other side of the house so it didn't do much where they were standing.
They walked to the house, his arm still around her until they got to the porch step. He held the screen door open for her as she unlocked the other one. Her dog was out the door like a bolt.
"I guess he has some business to take care of," he said with a chuckle.
"I guess so," she said, looking a little perplexed.
"No, just he doesn't usually do that."
"Maybe he drank more water than you thought."
"Probably," she said, leaving the front door open after he followed her inside. "Do you want anything?"
"No, I'm good," he said, letting her lead him to the living room. He'd been in here before, but not since she'd moved in. Mrs. McCormick wasn't afraid to call the sheriff's office for the most trivial of things. It seemed to be part of his job description to take pies out of the oven when she'd been taken to the hospital, forgetting about the desert baking away.
Claire hadn't done too much with the place yet. It was clear she was still unpacking and organizing. Mostly she was at the organizing stage.
"You paint?" he asked, noticing the walls in the dining room were a different color than they used to be.
"Yes," she said simply. "Do you like it," she asked.
"Yeah. I don't think old Mrs. McCormick had done much updating."
"No, I knew that coming down here, but I figured it would give me the opportunity to do whatever I wanted at my pace."
"Sounds like a plan." A plan that seemed to indicate she'd be sticking around town for a while if not the long-term. He wondered what that was about. She was college educated, attractive, and seemed to have a decent head on her shoulders. He'd yet to have to explain something to her more than once at work. And his files were more organized than he'd ever seen them. Not to mention when he asked her to do something it got done the first time. And the right way, too.
"So, music, TV, or a movie?"
"Whatever you want."
"How long do you plan on staying?"
"I'm not sure that's up to me."
"How long did you want to stay?"
"As long as you'll have me I reckon."
"All right. Well, I'm going to go change."
"I'll be right back."
He wandered around, looking at the little improvements she'd already made, and the personal touches she'd added. Mrs. McCormick had been a widow for years and the house always had that quality to it. That was no longer the case. The mementoes Claire had displayed were very much in the present, alive, evidence she had her whole life ahead of her. He saw one or two family photographs that he imagined were her parents and brother.
There was one of her in her black cap and gown with a man. They were both smiling at the camera and looked happy. They made an attractive couple and he couldn't help but wonder who the man in the photo was. Her college graduation wasn't that long ago. He supposed it could be an ex-boyfriend except he looked to be a bit older. So was he, he reminded himself.
He turned, hearing her come down the stairs. She'd changed into a pair of jeans that were pretty tight. The top she wore left her shoulders bare, just a couple bits of fabric on her upper arms kept it in place. She had no shoes or socks on and he noticed that her toenails were painted a deep shade of red.
She looked nice, but the lack of shoes surprised him for some reason until he saw her holding a rose in her right hand. The look on her face told him it wasn't meant as a gift for him.
"This was on my bed," she said simply, extending her hand to offer him the rose.
He walked past her without taking it, returning to the porch. The rose she'd left on the railing earlier was gone. He went back to the living room. She looked visibly shaken, which was good. That meant she was scared, realized there was something amiss. Anonymous flowers was one thing, but finding flowers in your bed after being out for the night was another matter altogether.
"Jimmy was at the bar pretty much all night. Can't account for his whereabouts while we were at dinner, but from the looks of him when we walked in he'd been there a while."
"I agree," she said simply, tossing the rose to the floor as if she couldn't stand to hold it any longer.
"Not really," she said.
"You'd mentioned not feeling safe before…"
"He can't possibly know where I am. We were all so careful this time."
She sighed softly. "I can't tell you," she looked away from him. "I need to talk to my mother." She glanced at the photo on the wall. "And my friend."
"I see," he said, though he didn't really. Not at all. "You do realize, Claire, that I am the police around here? Not your mother or your friend?"
"Yes, Bill, I do," she said, glancing at the painted toes he'd admired only a few minutes ago.
Apparently she wasn't going to say more. He didn't like it, not at all, but he couldn't force her to talk. And there wasn't much he could do at this point as a cop anyway. Maybe she'd been in an abusive relationship or something. It was the only thing he could think of that would have her this scared.
"You aren't staying here tonight."
Her eyes shot up to meet his then. "What?"
"Claire, he got through your locked doors and past your dog."
"Makes me wonder if he was given something and that's why he had to go out so bad when we got back. That's not normal for him."
"Maybe. Anyway, you can stay with me because I repeat you ain't spending the night here."
"Let me grab a few things," she said.
"All right, I'll be here. Is there someplace else you'd feel better about staying?"
"I don't really know anyone else well enough to ask them." She glanced over her shoulder at him as she was about to leave the room. "Except Jimmy."
"That was a joke, right?" She didn't answer, but he heard her give a soft laugh as she walked up the stairs.
That she could joke was a good thing. And then he suddenly wondered what he was going to do with her once he'd gotten her home.
She came back downstairs in about fifteen minutes with an overnight bag. She wore the same shirt and jeans, but had, disappointingly, added shoes.
"I can bring Lucky?"
"Of course, I hadn't forgot about him."
"Thanks, this goes above and beyond your responsibilities."
He walked up to her then, grabbing the overnight bag from her. It wasn't heavy, she was perfectly capable of carrying it herself but it was inbred in him to do such things. He brought his other hand to her cheek.
"Is that what you think?"
"What?" she asked, sounding confused by his question?
"Darlin', I'm not inviting you to stay with me because I'm the sheriff. If I were advising you as sheriff, I'd tell you to check into a hotel room or go visit a relative. I don't invite people to stay with me commonly, Kylie excluded."
"Oh," she said simply.
"Just needed to get that straight."
Word Count: 2,609
Claire was quiet as they rode to his house. She just couldn't believe it was Sylar. It had to be someone else. They'd all been very careful. That was the reason she picked a place like Wheelsy. Who'd look for her here? She hadn't intended on meeting someone like Bill, someone she thought she could like.
"You can sleep in Kylie's room for the night if you want."
She glanced at the stairs then at him and shook her head. "I'd feel better if I was with you."
"All right. I won't ask again, just trying to be a gentleman about it."
"Um," she started, eyes darting around. It seemed different here tonight for some reason. Maybe because the reason she was here was. "I need to make a phone call."
"Cordless phone's in the kitchen," he said. "Help yourself.
"I've got my cell," she said, showing him the small flip phone in her palm.
"Ah. All right. That'll give me time to make sure I have no socks under the bed or anything."
She laughed a little and waited until he was up the stairs to walk toward the kitchen, using speed dial to call Peter. Funny, talking to both Nathan and Peter in the same day. It was rare she talked to either of them. They'd come to her graduation, but she suspected that was more her mother's idea than theirs. Her father couldn't be there, so Nathan was kind of the next best thing.
'Hey there, how's my favorite cheerleader,' Peter said, picking up after a couple of rings. There was a lot of background noise, so she couldn't hear him real well.
"I'm not a cheerleader anymore."
"But you'll always be my cheerleader.'
"I guess. Where are you?"
'At a Yankees game.'
That's right. She'd forgotten that Nathan had said they were doing something. "Oh, well, if it's a bad time…"
'No, hang on,' he said. She could tell by the noise that he was walking somewhere. 'Okay, I'm out in the hall now. Nathan told me you had a date tonight. You're back a little early, aren't you?'
"Well, no, it's not done yet exactly."
'Then why are you calling me? Did he do something? Did he hurt you?'
"Uh, Peter? Remember who you're talking to."
'All right, rhetorical question, but if I need to come down there…'
"No, it's nothing about my date. He's the sheriff."
'Oh! You mean your boss? Didn't you say you're working at the sheriff's office?'
"Yes," she said slowly.
'Claire, don't date your boss.'
"Too late. Can I tell you what's going on now?"
'Yeah, go ahead.'
"I've been getting flowers."
'What's wrong with that?'
"Nothing at first. It was a bouquet sent anonymously to me at work. No card. I called the florist and they'd been purchased in person with cash. The clerk couldn't remember anything about the man to describe him. Innocent enough, I've gone out with a few guys since moving here. Bill thought of one in particular…"
"Yes. Can I go on now?"
'Yeah, just making sure I've got it straight.'
"Anyway, he thought of one in particular who he'd never seen dance with anyone before. So, I kind of went with that, assuming it was Jimmy, too, because it did kind of make sense."
'Okay. I still don't see the problem with some flowers.'
"I got home later that day and there was a rose on my porch. Bill came to pick me up today and there was another rose on my porch. I ignored it. I mean, no harm, right? It's just a couple of roses. I was able to think that until we got back to the house and I went upstairs to change."
'And just why are you changing? This is your first date with the guy, isn't it?'
"Ease up, will you? I wore a dress on the date and thought jeans would be more comfortable. So I changed. It's a good thing, too, because I found a rose on my bed."
'On your bed?'
'Get out of there now.'
"Already done that. Good thing about having an in with the sheriff, he brought me to his place."
'You sure it's not a ploy for him to get you into bed with him?'
"No, because he told me I could take Kylie's room."
"Sorry," she said, forgetting he didn't know all these things. She took a minute to explain Kylie's situation.
'I still don't like it.'
"Peter, I'm not calling to get advice on my love life and whether I sleep with the guy. I want to know. Do you think? I mean." She took a deep breath. "Is it Sylar?"
'I don't know. No one's heard from him in a while.'
"We were so careful this time, Peter. If I came all the way down here for nothing…"
'It wasn't for nothing. You're safe not just from Sylar down there, Claire, but from The Company and anyone like them.'
"Then why aren't you in hiding?"
'Because I have more in my arsenal than you do to get away from them.'
"I know," she said, feeling the tears starting to come. She couldn't help it and certainly couldn't stop them once they started. She'd been running for seven years now, hiding, using a name that wasn't hers, always glancing over her shoulder, and she'd lost her dad which hurt the most. And now she was cut off from everyone she loved and cared for. She knew it was for the best, but it didn't mean it didn't get to her sometimes.
'Claire, do you trust this guy?'
"Yes," she said with a sniffle.
'Then hang up with me because there's nothing I can do from you from New York. Let him handle this one. If I could give you a hug I would, but my arms just aren't that long.'
"I know," she said with another sniffle. "I thought I was done being scared."
'I don't think any of us will ever be completely fear-free, Claire, but you should be safe there.'
"Okay." She sniffled, finding a napkin and blotting her face with it.
'Let this guy do his job. If you like him and trust him then I have to trust your judgment. Just don't do anything stupid when you're emotional.'
'Good. Be careful.'
"I will. Thanks. Say hi to everyone."
'I will. Good night, Claire, and if you need anything else just call.'
'Why'd you call me and not Nathan or your mom?'
"I don't want to worry Mom if I don't have to. And I just can't talk to Nathan about this type of stuff."
'Just curious. Good night.'
"Night," she said, disconnecting.
She slid the phone into her pocket and walked to the stairs. She found his room easily enough, it was the only door on the floor that was slightly ajar instead of wide open. She knocked lightly, Lucky at her side. She scolded him when he tried to push the door open with the muzzle of his nose.
"You don't need to knock."
"Wasn't sure if the closed door was a warning for me to stay away."
"Naw, just out of habit." She pushed the door open, Lucky followed when she went in. "Hey, didn't the phone call go well?"
She didn't say anything, just walked to him and into his arms. He seemed to understand and gave her exactly what she needed. He hugged her. And she cried. And cried. She didn't think she had that much crying in her.
Eventually, he picked her up and carried her to the bed. He'd already pulled back the covers. And if she wasn't mistaken by the smell of dryer sheets, had changed them while she talked to Peter. He didn't even scold Lucky for joining them on the bed as he drew his quilt around her.
Vaguely, she was aware that his bedding was obviously male. No flowers or patterns, just plain solid colored sheets and quilt. She snuggled against him, eventually the crying fit gave way to less urgent sobs. He didn't ask any questions, didn't say anything. He just held her, letting her cry it out, which was exactly what she needed.
Somewhere along the line, his touch grew a little bolder, a little less comforting. She accepted it, tilting her head back to kiss him. She was hungry, greedy even and rolled onto her back, drawing him with her. He was big enough that if he hadn't wanted to come she couldn't have forced him.
She touched his chest, sliding her hands out to clutch both sides and then his back as he nestled himself exactly where she wanted him - between her legs. She took and took as much as he was willing to give.
Her breath caught when he slid his hand under her shirt. Slowly, it made a path up and she arched into him when he finally cupped her breast with his hand. Warm and rough, his were hands used to do many things and he wasn't afraid to let her feel that.
Their tongues danced intimately, which only served to turn her on more. Warning bells were going off in her head. This was bad, but she could only think of how good everything he was doing felt and how much she needed that right now.
He broke the kiss, lowering his mouth to her neck. He kissed her there, sucking hard enough to leave a mark. She'd have to explain away why there was no mark there later, but for right now she just enjoyed what he was doing.
He slid further along her, darting his tongue along her collarbone, dipping it into the indentation there. And then he was at the swell of her breast, kissing the top of each one before tugging the top down a bit.
He glanced up at her then. He was looking for or asking her something. She slid her hands to his head, encouraging it back to where it was a moment ago. He took the hint and she gave a soft mewling sound as his mouth closed over her nipple. Planning on staying in for the rest of the night she hadn't bothered putting a bra on so he didn't have to fight with anything but her top. And that didn't seem to pose too much of a problem for him.
Her hands ran through his hair as he showered both breasts with attention. Like at her neck, he sucked in a spot or two hard enough to leave a mark. She wasn’t sure how she'd explain to him why there weren't any. She'd gotten away with the explanation in college that she just didn't bruise that easily, but Bill didn't strike her as the type to fall for that line. Especially because he seemed to know exactly what to do to leave those marks. The few guys in college who'd tried hadn't seemed to know what they were doing.
A hand slid low along her stomach, a fingertip sliding inside the waist of her jeans. She groaned softly when he moved the fingertip, relieved when he didn't stop. Instead, he slid his hand between her legs through her jeans. He groaned when she pressed against his hand then.
He slid his hand up again, working the button at the top of her jeans followed by the zipper. They were tight enough he couldn't do much more than simply get his hand inside. His fingertips barely brushed over her clit. He could move, he suppose, and give himself better access but he was really enjoying being on top of her at the moment.
So, he did the best he could with the cramped accommodations. It'd been a long time, years, since he'd had to bring a girl off this way. Judging by her soft sounds that were slowly becoming not so soft he still knew what he was doing. Assuming the girls then had been sincere, he was young and inexperienced enough not to know the difference.
"Bill," she whispered. "Please." He watched her face, her nipples harden as he blew on each of them, and her hips roll as if to encourage his hand further. All he'd have to do to give her what she wanted was peel the offending jeans away. It was so simple and maybe he'd get the hard-on he'd been working on for a while now taken care of in the process.
"Kylie's room might be safer for you," he whispered, kissing the swell of her breast before looking at her. He was the stupidest man alive, he decided there and then. He had a willing woman, turned on pretty well and he was pushing her away. He knew what he wanted to do, and keeping her safe from him just then wasn't it.
"I'm safe with you," she whispered, biting her lip and giving a sound of pleasure that made himself harden even more. He couldn't wait to see how she'd come when he was really trying.
He chuckled with a shake of his head. "Don't be so sure of that, Claire."
"Do you want me to go to Kylie's room?"
"Hell, no, but I'm not so sure what I want you to do would be agreeable to you right now. Not to mention, you're upset and scared, I'd feel as though I was taking advantage."
"You haven't done anything to take advantage of me."
"My mind has."
She laughed then. "Are you going to arrest yourself for your thoughts, Sheriff?"
"It wouldn't stop me from having them."
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have…"
"No, I did it and I take responsibility for it. You wanted comfort and I went a little too far."
She leaned in and kissed him. "You didn't, really. It felt good." She laughed again. "Nicer than good."
"That's good to know. It's been a while so I was afraid I'd be rusty."
"I guess not, but then it's not like I have many to compare you to."
"I really don't need to hear that right now."
He moved so he could lay beside her, fixing her top before drawing her to him. He left her jeans the way they were though.
"That's kind of a turn on."
"I thought looking at dirt turned guys on."
"Some guys probably, yeah."
"You're not one of them?"
"I like to think I can control myself."
He tapped her on the nose then, groaning when she tilted her head up to capture his finger in between her lips.
"Get some sleep, Claire. We'll need to fill out some paperwork in the morning."
"Yes, you know the drill by now."
"I," she stared at him with wide eyes. "I can't, Bill."
"Well, of course you can."
"No, I really can't. I don't want to fill out a report, at least not until we find out who's doing this."
"Claire, someone broke into your house…"
"So, you have to put something on paper as proof that it happened?"
"You're really scared," he said after a minute or two of silence.
"Yes." It was hard for her to admit.
"Something tells me there's more to it than flowers on your bed."
"Care to talk about it?"
"I can't," she said simply.
"All right. I'm not going to force you not that I could mind you. And though it goes against what I've been trained we'll put off the paperwork for now. If it goes any further, though, like things start going missing…"
"Did you look to see if anything was missing?"
"Well, no, but I didn't notice anything."
He was quiet then.
"What?" she asked.
"Check your drawers and things like it."
He cleared his throat. "If you've got a secret admirer, they may have taken something of a more personal nature."
"Oh," she said, eyes widening at that. "I hadn't thought of that."
"That's why they pay me the big bucks," he said with a drawl. He did that sometimes, his drawl became more pronounced. She wasn't sure if it was intentional or not.
"I guess. Wheelsy's lucky to have you."
"Go to sleep, Claire, I'll protect you."
"Is there anything I can do for you?"
She stared at him for a minute. "You know, you did things to me…"
"That's not why I did them. I shouldn't have done them, but I couldn't resist. And I won't deny I enjoyed doing them immensely and if the time comes more happens I'm sure I'll enjoy that, too."
"I'll see you in the morning, maybe even make you some breakfast."
"That sounds good," she said, realizing now that she was tired. Exhausted was more like it. Funny, just a few minutes ago she felt like she could have climbed Mt. Everest. She'd slept with a guy before, a boyfriend in college who had his own apartment. It was only the one time, because she realized that he was a creep shortly after that night.
She'd forgotten how nice it was. She turned onto her other side, facing away from him. Lucky was there, trying to take up as little space as he could manage. Claire draped her arm around the dog much the same way Bill had his around her.
Word Count: 3,796
He woke up to two things at once. A ringing cell phone that wasn't his and Kylie talking to him. Well, three if you counted the fact his body was very much aware that he had an attractive woman sleeping next to him. A woman who'd been willing the night before. Willing and being in the right state of mind weren't the same thing. If they'd been on a few more dates maybe he'd have continued further than he had. He didn't want her hating him this morning. Or worse, quitting her job or leaving Wheelsy altogether because he moronically took advantage of her neediness. Of course she still might, getting into her pants wasn't exactly showing he had been concerned for her state of mind.
His body rebelled a little at his mind being so logical, tugging her closer against him as he opened his eyes. Sure enough, Kylie was in his room looking very much as if she'd walked in on the last thing she wanted to see.
"Thought I was picking you up?" He lifted his head, glancing at the alarm clock on Claire's side of the bed. It'd been so long since he'd slept the night with a woman things like being able to see the alarm clock were taken for granted.
"Tina's mom had to go to work so dropped me off on the way."
"That was nice of her," he said simply.
"I'll go now, I didn't know she was here…"
"It's all right, Kylie, nothing's going on." He sat up then. "See, both fully clothed. She had a bit of a scare last night, that's all."
"If you say so." He thought he saw a glimmer of amusement in her eyes. "You're adults, you don't have to explain to me."
"Well, yeah, I kind of do since I'm responsible for you now and what have you."
"You're allowed to have girlfriends."
"I know, Kylie, but really she had a bit of a fright last night. Found a rose in her bedroom," he added softly, not wanting to wake her up. She'd slept most of the night, but she'd woken quite a few times. And she talked quite a bit, too. He couldn't understand any of it, babbling and gibberish. He knew someone who was legitimately frightened, though.
Kylie's mouth formed an 'oh', but no sound came out. He'd explained to her about the other rose, so Kylie knew. It was strange, foreign even, to have someone to come home to and tell about his day. He couldn't help but think when Kylie went away to college he'd miss it.
"Yeah," he said simply, slipping out of the bed as quietly as he could. Lucky perked up at the sound of movement, though Bill was curious why he'd laid there sleeping while Kylie not only came into the house but the room his master was helplessly sleeping in.
"Let's go see if we can rustle ya'll up something to eat. I told Claire I'd make her breakfast."
"I know how," he said sounding defensive, hoping the wink he gave her let her know he was teasing her back.
She gave a soft laugh. They were coming a little more frequently and easily these days. He was glad to hear them. He knew it would be a long time before she was fine again, if ever. How did one recover from what she'd seen and survived? Survived knowing her family didn't at that.
"Is she going to be all right? I mean, you're going to catch who's doing it, aren't you?" she asked as they walked downstairs.
"I'm going to do my best, but no one can know about this for now, Kylie."
"I wouldn't tell anyone anyway."
"All right, just so we're on the same page. She's asked me to hold off on an official report for now. I told her I would unless, or until, something more dangerous happens."
"Do you think she knows who's doing it?"
"I think she has someone in mind, and I suspect based on things she's said it's no one we know. So, until she's willing to open up and share all I can do is try to keep her safe."
"If you can take on a town of alien zombies, I think you can take on a stalker."
"Let's hope so," he said. It was two different animals, if it was a stalker and not just someone with a rabid crush.
He opened the backdoor for Lucky who ran out but nowhere near as quickly as he had last night when they'd gotten back to her house. That got him thinking and he ambled over to the phone.
"Who are you calling?"
"Dr. Conlin," he said simply, dialing the number he found in the phone book. Never having animals, he hadn't needed the number before now personally.
"Why?" she asked.
He held up his finger. "Dr. Conlin. This is Sheriff Pardy, I was wondering if you could do me a favor."
'I can sure try, Bill."
"I've got a dog I'd like you to test for drugs or chemicals, something that made him run outside when he was allowed to as if he'd been shot out of a canon."
"Well, chocolate would be the most obvious culprit if he didn't appear sedated or anything else, but I can take a look to be sure. I don't open for another hour, but bring him to the back door and I'll take a look."
"Much appreciated, Doc. I'll be there shortly," he said, hanging up. "I'll see to breakfast when I get back."
"it's okay, maybe we can do it while you're gone."
"If you want. I'm going to go change and tell Claire what I'm doing."
He and Lucky returned about ninety minutes later. He paused in the doorway for a minute, thinking he'd walked into his parents' house instead of his own. It smelled like, well, breakfast. Real breakfast, not something warmed in a microwave or covered in cream cheese when it came out of the toaster. And home. He couldn't remember thinking his house had ever seemed like a home before this point. Oh, Kylie being there made a difference, but there was still something missing as if he knew her presence was only temporary.
"Smells good in here," he said, Lucky darting ahead of him to the source of the smells.
"We figured you'd be hungry when you got back. How is he?" Claire asked, kneeling to pet Lucky. She was happy to have her dog back and it was equally clear she cared for him as if he was a part of her family. Maybe he was given she was alone down here.
"Fine. Doc Conlin tested him for drugs and things. He got the all clear from that. So, he got his paws on something bad for him. Chocolate being the likeliest candidate."
"I don't leave chocolate laying around for just that reason," Claire said. "I mean, I have some, but it's in a cabinet that he can't get to."
"Yes! I know all about not giving him chocolate, onions, macadamias, alcohol, and so on."
"I'm not blaming or accusing, just asking. Because that would suggest whoever came to your house knew you had Lucky and brought a treat for him."
Her eyes widened as the realization dawned on her.
"He could have died!"
"Doc Conlin wagered they didn't give him much or your house would have been a mess. Probably just enough to be allowed in."
"Thank you for taking him."
"I'm sorry I hadn't thought of it last night, the pieces just fell into place today when I let him out. He didn't seem to be in as much of a hurry as last night. And I remembered that you'd said that wasn't normal for him."
He noticed she'd taken the time to shower and dress while he was gone. He couldn't help but wonder if she'd used his bathroom or Kylie's. And cursed himself for hoping it was his. As if it mattered, but for some reason it did.
"Well, let's eat and then I'll get you home I guess. I want you to look around at the things I mentioned last night. I'll call a locksmith before we leave here and while you're looking I'll ensure new locks are put on your doors and that your windows are secure."
"I'll pay for it if money's an issue," he added quickly. He really had no idea what her situation was. The fact she owned the house outright suggested that paying for some locks shouldn't be a hardship. Of course, the outright part was gossip and nothing he knew for sure. The gossip mongers could have gotten that part wrong.
"No, that's not it. I just, thank you. You're thinking of things I haven't yet, and should have. My father would be disappointed in me."
"It's all right. It's what I do, and I doubt that about your father, Claire. You're safe, that would be most important to him I'm sure."
She and Kylie had gone all out for breakfast: pancakes, scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, sausage and ham, and hot biscuits. The biscuits were of the store-bought variety, but that didn't matter. They were piping hot as if they'd just taken them out of the oven when he walked in the door.
"You two did this?"
"No, it was the breakfast fairies," Kylie said.
"That was the best breakfast I've had in a while. Thank you both, ladies."
"Kylie said you don't normally eat breakfast. So, we thought we'd see how you liked having a good one for a change."
"I like it a lot, might just get used to it if you aren't careful."
"I'll take my chances," she said as Kylie brought the carton of milk to the fridge.
"Well, go and get your stuff together and we'll head out then."
She lived on the other side of town from him. So, while Wheelsy wasn't that large it took a bit of driving time to get there. He could sense her nervousness the closer they got to her place, almost as if she was expecting there to be trouble.
He took her hand in his much the way he had the night before last as they drove to her place after their date. Only, today, he was trying to offer her comfort over anything else.
He had no sooner come to a stop on her driveway when she tore out of the truck with a loud squeal that he was pretty sure would leave him deaf in his right ear for a few minutes at least. Lucky was fast on her heels with a joyful bark. It wasn't until he saw her throw her arms around someone that he noticed the man now standing in front of her swing.
"Good detective work there, Bill," he muttered. Judging by her enthusiasm he wasn't someone she was suspicious of, but that didn't mean Bill wasn't.
He grabbed his hat before stepping out of the truck. He tried to listen in as he approached them, but they were both talking pretty quietly.
"How did you get here? And why didn't you tell me you were coming?"
The man's eyes met Bill's and he saw the man hesitate. "Well, I flew in."
"You flew?" There was something in the way she said it that made Bill think there was more to it than him simply getting on a plane. He couldn't imagine what, though.
"Yeah, Nathan and I talked about it. The more I thought about our conversation last night the more it bothered me. When I mentioned it to Nathan, he agreed with me I should come."
"He did, huh?"
"Yes, he would have come himself, but you know."
"Yeah, I do, it wouldn't look right and Heidi would ask questions."
It sounded to Bill like she'd heard that line a time or two. And he couldn't help but wonder, in addition to who this guy was, who Nathan and Heidi was.
"At least you're all right," the man said. "I was worried about you after you called."
"Did you find out anything?"
"No, it's like I told you last night, no one's heard boo from him in a long time." He glanced at Bill then and stood, his arm remaining around Claire rather possessively. At least Bill thought so. "I guess I have you to think for giving her a safe place last night."
"My pleasure," he said simply.
"You must be the sheriff, she's told me a lot about you."
"Funny, she hasn't mentioned anyone but her brother and mother to me. And I know you ain't him."
It was a catty thing to say and wasn't usually his style. He'd never really been prone to jealousy. He'd felt a lot of things about Starla and Grant, but he wasn't so sure jealousy was one of them. Because if what he felt now was that emotion he'd swear he never experienced it before now. He didn't like the way he was touching Claire or that she was letting him as if what happened last night didn't matter. Or that she wasn't fresh out of his bed and making him breakfast.
He did, however, recognize something in the other man's eyes that he saw in Kylie's and Claire's. As well as his own when he took the time to focus on them in a mirror. This man had been through something and survived it. He hadn't asked Claire about that look in her eyes, because he wasn't sure he wanted to know the answer.
He'd assumed that something bad that had happened to her, a guy forcing himself on her or something. She didn't act that way last night, though. He wasn't sure she would have put a stop to things if he hadn't.
So who the hell was this guy then?
"Well, I guess I've just been put in my place," he said, moving his arm from around Claire to offer his hand. "I'm her friend, Peter."
"Just a friend, huh?"
He eyed the both of them and he had to admit while they looked comfortable with one another there wasn't a vibe of anything beyond friendly affection between them. He'd seen the way lovers looked at one another when they'd been separated and that look wasn't there. They were legitimately happy to see one another, but that seemed to be it. It didn't mean he wasn't cautious, though.
"I'm Bill Pardy," he said finally, taking the other man's hand. He thought he heard Claire let out a deep breath. "What brings you to Wheelsy?"
"I was worried after Claire's phone call last night. I thought I'd come offer her some company."
"You don't work?"
"I'm in between jobs right now."
"Lucky for her."
"He's a home-care nurse," Claire offered.
"And besides, if she needed my help I would find someone to take my spot for a while."
"I suppose that means your last client didn't come out too well?"
"Just the opposite, fully recovered and no longer needs me."
"I guess that's good news."
"It means I did my job at any rate," Peter said. "So, what's the plan?"
"Bill is having a locksmith come out and change my locks. We're going to go through and check all my windows, too."
"Don't forget the other things we talked about."
"I won't," she said.
"Good idea," Peter said with a nod.
"Like you evidently, I know how to do my job."
"I wasn't saying you don't, Claire's spoken highly of you when she's mentioned you."
"You have?" he asked Claire.
"Well, yeah," she said with a shrug, ducking her head a little behind Peter's shoulder. "I mean, you've come up when we've talked about how things are going here."
"I see," he said, not exactly the response he was looking for. At least she spoke of him, that was a good sign he supposed.
"How about I do this, since you two seem to have things under control here. I'll head to the office for a while and do some things I need to do."
"Your office is open Saturday's? I thought you didn't work Saturday," Peter said.
"It isn't, she doesn't," Bill said. "I use the day sometimes to catch up on work. I was going to put it off 'til later, but you two can handle the locksmith. You said you didn't need help paying."
"I'll get it," Peter said. "I've got plastic."
"They won't take that," Claire said.
"Oh, well, I can get cash."
"Don't worry about it, I have enough in my checking account yet to cover it."
"All right, just remind me before I head back to get it back to you."
"You don't have to do that, Peter. Really. I'm okay."
"I know, but Nathan would kill me if I let you pay for this."
"All right," she said, though she didn't sound entirely happy about accepting the money.
"So, do I get the grand tour or what?"
"Of the house or Wheelsy?"
"Both," Peter said, draping his arm around her. She went with him willingly, as he walked toward the steps. Lucky was waiting by the front door, tail thumping on the wooden floor beneath him impatiently.
"Any problems you've got my number."
"Yeah, I do," she said.
Well, he thought, that pretty much tells me what I need to know. Friends but definitely more there. Enough more that spending the night with him - and part of it with his hand in very private places - didn't even warrant a goodbye kiss or anything. Women, he'd never understand them.
He watched from the cab of his pickup truck as the three of them went inside, Lucky leading the way once she'd opened the door. It was only one date, that wasn't the problem. He had to work with her, though, knowing that she could kiss him and respond to him as she had last night. He could still hear her gasp of pleasure as he brought her over the edge. The look in her eyes was the most sincere thing he'd seen.
He ran his hand over his face, shaking his head. Thinking like that wouldn't get him anywhere. It was best he found out now anyway before he had invested any more into getting to know her better. Kylie would be disappointed he imagined, but the girl'd gotten over worse. She'd get through this, too. She liked Claire for whatever reason. Well, so did he for that matter.
He turned around in her yard, careful not to spin the tires as he left. He couldn't get out of there fast enough. And, well, it gave the whole thing with the flowers a whole new perspective. Was he the only one she'd fooled around with? She seemed so genuine when she said she hadn't much experience, but he hadn't actually gotten down and dirty enough to find out if that was true.
Only thing was, she didn't come across as a liar. She was withholding information from him, that he knew. He got the impression that wasn't to lie to him, but more because she was scared. He passed Billy Ray in the locksmith truck on his way back to town, waving as their vehicles passed. He had plenty to do at the office to take his mind off things. Maybe he'd call Kylie and see if she wanted to join him for lunch.
Different from most girls her age who couldn't wait to get out of the house and away from their parents, she seemed to crave whatever time he was willing to give her. He understood why, and it was an adjustment for him being responsible for someone else. His mother thought it was sweet. Whatever that meant. He felt kind of responsible for her situation truthfully. If he'd acted a little quicker, figured things out a might faster maybe…
Well, he could maybe himself to hell and back. Facts were facts. Her family was gone and for whatever reason she told the county she wanted to stay with him. Bachelor and potentially dangerous job aside, they'd given her what she wanted. She was a good student and close enough to being an adult that they were willing to abide by her wishes. If he'd said no, he supposed they would have found other arrangements for her. He couldn't find it in him to say no to her, though.
He dialed her cell phone number once he parked in front of the sheriff's office.
'Hi! That was fast,' she said.
"Nah, turns out I was playing the part of a third wheel so I came into the office. Care to join me for lunch?"
'Sure, what do you want me to pick up?'
"Whatever you want, Kylie. Just tell them to send the bill with you and I'll take care of it later."
'I do have money, you know?'
"Yeah, I know, you don't need to spend it on lunch for us."
'Okay,' she said, and he knew somehow she was smiling. It was odd to him that he was getting to know her well enough to know things like that. Before that night, she'd barely registered on his radar. She was a good kid, not one of the ones he had to worry about, even if she dressed a little strangely. However, that had stopped since her parents' death. 'I'll be there in about an hour? I still have to take a shower.'
"That's fine. Sounds good even. I'll see you then."
He hung up as he unlocked the door. Truth was, he didn't have that much to do here. Claire kept the office running pretty well so the paperwork he'd been accustomed to doing due to Shelby's inadequacies only required his signature and maybe a few additions here and there. If that at all. He found her to be competent despite his hesitance at hiring her. He still wasn't sure how long she'd be staying.
He left the lights on, walking to the back room that served as a temporary holding cell if he needed it. It was empty at the moment, so he grabbed a pillow he kept in one of the lockers and went to the cot. The sheets were clean, though it didn't much matter to him just then. Kylie didn't have a key to the office, as much as he wanted to give her one he couldn't do that. So, she'd call him on his cell when she got here. He could close his eyes for a bit until then. Maybe then he'd be able to stop thinking about how nice she felt under him last night.
Word Count: 3,924
Claire went to work Monday morning a little confused. She hadn't seen or heard from Bill since he left her place Saturday morning. She contemplated calling in sick, but Peter said that would make her look as if she was avoiding him. Well, she wasn't the one doing the avoiding. She just wasn't sure she wanted to see him if he was going to be a jerk.
Despite her confusion, she and Peter had a fun weekend together. Once Bill hadn't called or shown up Saturday night Peter seemed to know that she just needed to get her mind off of him. He asked no questions beyond asking if Bill was coming over when she was making dinner and it was evident there was only enough for two. After dinner, she drove him around town, which didn't take very long. They were careful not to do anything in public, which was Peter's idea.
As it turned out, a couple of things were missing. She thought that ruled Sylar out as he'd never stalked his victims with flowers and taken their underwear before. So, that had to mean it was someone, anyone, else. She almost felt better when she at least had a face to go with the person doing this.
"Morning," she said, setting a cup of coffee on his desk. This wasn't the first time she'd brought in coffee, so hopefully he wouldn't take it the wrong way. The last thing she needed was him to think she was pushy or took what happened Friday night to mean that they were hot and heavy. That was the only reason she could think of for his not calling, that he thought he needed to pull away.
"Mornin'," he said simply, barely a glance at her. Not even a move to reach for the cup of coffee.
Well, okay then. She left his office, noticing when she got to her desk that there was nothing there. All of the paperwork she'd left on Friday was gone.
"Um, Bill, did you take stuff off my desk?"
"What? Oh yeah, told ya I had work to do here on Saturday."
"Right," she said. She just hadn't thought he'd meant her work. He'd left her with nothing to do and gauging by his mood - or whatever was going on with him - it was going to make for a long morning.
She played a couple of games of Solitaire and Minesweeper. She got a few texts from Peter, which she responded to. The plan was for him to stay at her house, hoping to catch the person coming into her house again. Since Peter could be invisible, he'd be able to see without being seen. She really needed to tell Bill that he shouldn't mention Peter being in town to anyone, but since the tension could be cut with a knife in the office at the moment she decided to wait.
"Hey, Claire," Paul said.
"You brought coffee!"
"I did," she said, glad someone seemed to appreciate it. Paul was brother's with one of the officers who'd died a couple of months ago. He didn't talk much about Trevor, which she expected was normal. "You'll want to heat it up, but since you take it black it should still taste fine."
"You're a doll."
"Yeah, ain't she though?"
She glanced at Bill standing in the doorway. He leaned against the doorframe as he usually did when he came out to talk to her, arms crossed in front of him. Only for the first time that she could remember he didn't look happy about her being out here. The look on his face told her he wasn't thinking she was very doll-like at the moment.
"I think so," Paul said with a shrug. He didn't seem to understand Bill's mood anymore than she did. He grabbed the keys to the car as Brenda walked in.
"Sorry I'm late," the other officer, and Paul's partner, said.
"I just got here myself," Paul said. "And I'm betting that last cup is for you."
She scrunched her nose. "I don't drink coffee, Paul."
"I know," Claire said, smiling at the partners. "That's why I got you tea." She held up the tea bag as further proof she spoke the truth.
"Bless you, I didn't get to have any before I came in."
They grabbed their respective cups and left.
"Well, you made their day it seems."
"It's no big. I wanted some coffee myself this morning."
"Thanks by the way," he said.
"You're welcome," she said, offering him a smile. "Listen, if I," she said as her cell went off.
"You can get that if you need to."
"No, I don't need to. I'm at work."
"And what you were about to say was work related?"
"Well, no," she said, looking away. She glanced out the window, took a deep breath, and then looked at him again. "Did I do something wrong?"
"I don't know, did you?"
"Please don't talk cryptically. I'm asking a sincere question. I thought we had a nice time together Friday night."
"I thought we did, too."
"Well, you didn't come back to my place Saturday as you said you would."
"I figured your friend could take care of anything that needed attention. He seems capable enough and clearly wants to look after you."
"You didn't call…"
"Ran into ol' Billy Ray at the post office and he told me the job went off real slick."
"So, that would have been the only reason you called?"
"You made your opinion pretty clear."
"My opinion of what?"
"Which of us you're choosing."
"Choosing? For what?"
He had the decency to look away then and if she wasn't mistaken she saw a hint of a blush on his face.
"You think that Peter and I…?"
"Hey, it ain't my concern. Just wished you'd told me there was someone you had your eye on so I didn't make an idiot of myself."
She stood then and walked to him.
"So, you think I'd sleep with you, come pretty close to having sex with you if I liked another guy?"
"Well, he's out of town, and I don't know what you do on dates. You said yourself you've gone on a few."
She laughed then. "I guess you don't know me very well or you're being defensive right now and can't see what you normally would. I wouldn't do that."
"Well, I don't know what the situation is between you two, but you looked pretty cozy to me. And I may as well not have been there for all you noticed me."
"I was panicked. Peter understands things, we've been through stuff together that I can't describe or explain to you. I saw him and I realized it'd be okay."
"You're talking to somebody who had his town infested with alien possessed zombies. We came through all right."
"I get that, I do, and I suspect when I get to the point I can tell you you'll believe me because of that experience."
"When?" He sounded hopeful just then.
"I don't know. It's for your safety as much as mine that you don't know." She took his hand in hers, laced her fingers through his.
"I don't want you worrying for my safety, Claire."
"And just for the record and so we're clear, Peter's my uncle."
"You heard me."
"Mm hmm," she said, trying not to let her smile appear too smug.
"All right, but that doesn't explain the touching…"
"Touching? We like one another, we went through some things together as I said and some of them were before I knew he was my uncle. So, you kind of have that bond. Like you and Kylie, the reason she doesn't want to live with anyone else. You saved her. She can trust you. You're her hero. That's how I felt about Peter before I even knew we were related."
"That'll all make sense to me one day I imagine."
"Hopefully, the important parts already do." She brought their hands to her face, brushing the back of his against her cheek before she kissed it. "I'm sorry if I acted stupid, but I was so surprised to see him I wasn't thinking. I feel like I'm cut off from everyone so the fact someone came to visit me made my day."
"Why is that?"
"No one comes to see you," he said, sliding his hand away from hers. She thought he was going to pull away, but he slid his hand to her face on his own.
"Because they can't," she said simply.
"Your safety again."
"You runnin' from the mob or something?"
"Something," she said softly. He drew her into his office, kicking the door closed a bit with a foot.
"You going to bring trouble to my town?"
"I hope not."
"You'll tell me if hell's about to break loose again? I'd like to be forewarned the next time it happens if I can."
"I will," she said.
"That's all I can ask I guess."
She smiled, biting her lower lip as he leaned toward her. He was going to kiss her and much as seeing Peter had done so on Saturday she knew this would make her day. Not that a kiss from a guy was a day-making event, just that he believed her. Trusted her.
He captured her lips softly, almost as if he wasn't really sure he should kiss her. Maybe he didn't totally believe her. Soft was good. She gave a soft groan, remembering how his mouth felt kissing things other than her mouth. He'd been soft and gentle then, too.
"Sounds like we might both be thinking of the same thing," he murmured against her ear after breaking the kiss.
"Maybe," she said with a smile, though he wasn't looking at her to see it.
"How long's your uncle here?"
"I'm not sure. He's going to stay a while I think, at least until whatever's going on gets settled. Which reminds me, don’t tell anyone he's here."
"All right, I can do that. He going to hang out at your house assuming whoever the perp is won't know someone's home?"
"Yes," she said. That wasn't the whole of it, of course.
"And is he going to shoot me for having untoward thoughts about his niece?" He skimmed her lower lip with his thumb as he asked the question.
She laughed. "I don't think he is." She opened her mouth a little, nipping at the pad of his thumb. His eyes darkened a little.
"Besides who's going to tell him?"
"You ever hear that song about daydreaming about night things in the middle of the afternoon?"
"Mm, can't say I have."
"I'll play it for you sometime," he said, drawing his thumb along her jaw toward her ear. He moved closer, pressing her back up against the wall.
"Well, it ain't afternoon yet, but my mind's wandering a bit yeah."
"Don't be. It's kind of nice, though I admit I was a bit sore seeing you walk off arm and arm with him Saturday."
"I can imagine. I didn't stop to think how it'd look or that I hadn't explained who he was. I don't really think of him as my uncle. I'm adopted and he's my biological uncle. I didn't know him until a few years ago."
"I see," he said, sliding his thumb along her throat to her collarbone.
"I think so," he said.
"I don't hear the phone or the radio."
"I, you're the sheriff."
"So you keep reminding me!"
She smiled a little at that. "Have you ever, um, well here?"
He chuckled, kissing her jaw and following the same path to her ear as his thumb had moments ago. "You offering?"
"That's better than a flat out no I guess."
She laughed, which turned into a moan when his lips and tongue found her ear. She found the waist of his jeans and twined her fingertips through the belt loops for support.
"Not that I'd do that anyway."
"Not today." He chuckled, finding the pulse point on her neck and circling it with her tongue. "I don't have any protection on me."
"But you have some?"
"Uh, yeah, went out and bought some Friday."
"You did not!" She could just imagine him walking into Lyon's Drug Store asking for condoms. It wouldn't take much detective work for anyone who saw them together to figure out who he intended to use them with.
"Oh," she said, more relieved at that than upset that he'd gone out and bought condoms for their first date.
His mouth slid lower, tongue grazing along her collarbone and she thought her knees might just give out on her when he slid a hand over a breast, cupping it through her shirt lightly.
"Christ," he whispered against her ear. She could hear his disappointment in that simple and brief utterance. Pretty much echoing how she felt.
"Who is it?" she whispered, not recognizing the voice.
"Oh God," she said, frowning. She'd met the mayor before, but not often enough to know anything about him.
"It's all right. You look fine. I, on the other hand," he said with a soft chuckle. "Need a cold shower."
"Go sit at your desk," she whispered before stepping out from his arms. She grabbed some of the papers from his desk and walked out into the main office.
"Good morning, Mayor. The sheriff's on hold at the moment, but he should be with you in a minute."
"Thank you," he said.
"Would you like some coffee?"
"No, thank you," he said after a glance at the empty coffee pot.
"I stopped and picked up coffee for everyone on the way in so hadn't gotten around to making any yet, but it's no trouble to put a pot on."
"That'd be nice, Clara," he said, taking a seat in one of the chairs. She grimaced, realizing it'd be rude to correct the mayor and probably not a great way to make an impression on the man. Interim or not.
She set the papers she carried out from Bill's office onto her desk, slipping them into a spare manila folder hoping the mayor would buy the charade. It would, hopefully, explain the reason they were not talking when he came in.
"Busy morning?" he asked as she busied herself with the coffee.
"Not so far. This and that. There's always something on Monday's after the weekend."
He chuckled. "It wouldn't be Wheelsy otherwise."
"I've heard that."
"Where are you from?"
"Texas originally, but I've lived in California and New York, too."
"And you ended up here?"
She shrugged, brushing some hair out of her face as she glanced at him over her shoulder. "I like smaller towns."
"We treating you all right so far?"
"I think so."
"Good to know."
She knew he probably didn't really care, looking for a vote when it came time for the town of Wheelsy to decide if Steve Paxton would lose the interim from his title and become full-fledged mayor.
She heard Bill curse, more than likely he'd deliberately made it loud enough for them to hear. And then he slammed the phone down. Bill walked to his doorway.
"Mornin', Steve, what can I do for you today?"
"Well, there's going to be some visitors this week and I wanted to speak to you about security and beefing up patrols."
"Well, the security we can handle, but I'm a little short handed to beef up patrols. Unless you want to grant the overtime."
The mayor followed Bill into his office. She'd bring the mayor his cup of coffee and Bill would ask her to shut the door. Until then, they'd make some small talk. And then she'd be bored again, left to think about just how exciting him kissing her was.
Bill hardly paid attention to anything the rest of the day. The meeting with Steve had been uneventful. He gave Claire credit for thinking quickly on her feet. She'd bought him time by saying he was on the phone. He had no idea how he'd missed the look in Claire's eyes, though. Of course, the mayor didn't know Claire as Bill did, even if that knowledge came from working with her more than personally until recently.
His meeting with the mayor was only the beginning of his day, and each thing seemed to keep him from talking with Claire more than they had that morning. Not that he had talking on his mind, so it was probably a good thing that he'd had things to do. More talks at elementary and middle schools. He had to admit he enjoyed that part of his job. He liked talking to the kids.
He got back to the office later than he'd intended, surprised to see Claire's shiny vehicle still in the lot. He glanced at his watch to be sure his car's clock was right. She should have gone home half an hour ago. Kylie was there, too, of course. She could go to the house by herself, but she chose not to. He couldn't blame her exactly.
He was so relieved when she'd wanted to stay at Tina's over the weekend. She'd shut herself off from her friends. She talked on the phone, but that was the extent of her involvement. Bill didn't have to be a psychologist to know that wasn't healthy.
"Ladies," he said as he opened the door.
"Hi," they said in unison.
"Don't you have something to be home for?" he asked, mindful of her request not to mention Peter. He wasn't sure he bought the uncle bit, but she didn't have any reason to lie. She'd given him no indication she was dishonest by nature so he had to trust her, which was admittedly difficult to do. Though it was years ago, it didn't seem that long ago that Starla had chosen Grant over him because he could give her the things she needed and wanted.
He glanced out the door at her convertible, mused over the fact that her house was supposedly paid off, recollected the expensive shoes she'd worn Friday night for their date. All those things pointed to the fact that she'd too want things he couldn't give her. Of course, he was putting the cart before the horse big time thinking like that. And even doing that, he couldn't really picture her staying put in Wheelsy for long. He could be wrong he supposed.
"It can wait," she said simply.
Well, damned if that didn't hit him straight in the heart. She'd waited for him. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had someone waiting for him, coming back to the office or home. Besides Kylie. And it just wasn't the same.
"Why don't you go start my car, Kylie?" He tossed her the keys, which she caught.
"Sure," she said, smiling as if he'd just given her the keys to a Porsche or something. "Should I call the police if you don't come out in five minutes?"
"I think we'll be okay."
She left, pushing the door behind her to ensure it latched.
"So, I suppose inviting you to dinner is kind of out."
"Yes," she said softly.
"On the other hand, if your plan is to work you need to leave the house once in a while."
"Right," she said.
"So, how about after dinner you come by for a movie and popcorn."
"No Home Improvement reruns?"
"I'll even let you stop at the market to pick up the movie."
"You are feeling generous tonight."
"Do I know how to win a woman over or what?"
She laughed and he noticed a slight blush on her cheeks.
"All right, I'll be over after dinner. I'm sorry if you think you have to lie to Kylie. If you think she needs to know…"
"Nah, she'll be fine. By the way, I sort of forgot to ask, did you find anything missing?"
"Yes," she said simply.
"You sure you don't want to file a report?"
"Positive. It's probably someone…"
"Don't say harmless. The flowers here are harmless. A rose on your doorstep may be harmless. Breaking and entering, giving your dog something potentially lethal, and stealing personal items is not harmless. Those are crimes."
"It really bothers you."
"Damn right. Doesn't it bother you?"
"Well, yeah, but I'm used to it by now. It just surprises me you really seem to care."
"Of course I care. And before you go and ask, I'd be concerned even if the date had never happened. I don't believe in stalking women. You're attractive and you live alone, I'd be worried regardless."
She stood then, he watched as she did. She was attractive, but it was more than that.
"No one should be used to that type of thing. And it makes it difficult for me, too."
"Well, I've got some anonymous guy, presumably a guy anyway, upstaging me with the flowers."
She smiled a little, walking up to him. She set a hand at his chest, flicking one of the buttons at the front of his shirt with her thumb.
"You could still get me flowers if you wanted."
"Well, yeah, but then you'll wonder if I got the idea on my own."
"You don't strike me as the flowers type, but if you were to give me flowers I'd think it was your idea. I think you're capable of getting an idea like that on your own. And they'd be from you, so that would be nice."
"You think so?"
She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him. "I know so," she whispered. "I'll see you later then?"
"I look forward to it."
He followed her out. She'd already gotten everything ready for going home, so all he had to do was flip the switch for the lights and ensure that the door was locked. He knew it was, but he double-checked. He told Kylie to wait until Claire'd gotten into her convertible and drove off the lot before leaving.
"You like her," Kylie said.
"Seems to me we had this same conversation a while ago about Mrs. Grant," he said dryly.
"That was different."
"You think so?"
"Yeah, because Claire might actually like you back."
"Might, huh? You know how to build up a man's ego."
"So, do you?"
"Yeah, I do, I'm just not sure I can trust her entirely."
"She's hiding things, secrets."
"How do you know that?"
"For one, she's told me."
"At least she's honest about it."
"And when I ran her background check before hiring her it just seemed wrong to me."
"How so?" Kylie asked.
He shrugged. "I don't know. It was too complete and neat. No lulls, no bare spots. It was almost as if someone scripted it out."
"Maybe it's part of the secret?"
He'd thought of that. He asked her as a joke if she was running from the mafia, but she was clearly running from something. He could think of no other reason that a woman with her potential would end up in a town such as Wheelsy. He liked the town, but it wasn't exactly up and coming as far as industrialization went.
"I hope so, Kylie."
Word Count: 4,224
She was gone as much as she could be without making it seem obvious that she was doing anything different. She would load Lucky into the car to take him to the park. She'd stay later at work than she had to - that wasn't entirely due to trying to find out who was behind the flowers.
It only took her two mornings in a row of seeing the same pickup truck pull onto the road behind her as soon as she pulled out of her driveway to wonder if things had escalated to her being followed. Both days the pickup turned off well in advance of her getting to work.
Two more days in a row she finally mentioned it to Peter.
"Why didn't you say something before now?"
"Because I wasn't sure! I mean, I don't own the roads."
"Claire, what if they'd run you off the road between here and town."
"Well, they didn't."
"Were you able to get a plate number?"
"No, the sun was shining bad enough that I couldn't see it."
"All right. Monday morning I'll walk to the road before you leave and see if I can't get it."
"You haven't mentioned this to Bill have you?"
"I don't know. I don't want him to worry. I don't want to become a case to him. I don't want him to think I'm helpless. Take your pick."
"I don't think he would to any of those choices. He's the one who wanted you to file a report in the beginning."
"I know. I just don't want anymore attention drawn to me than needs to be. He's already asking me questions, so he knows something's wrong."
"Are you going to tell him?"
"Maybe, eventually if we get to that point I will have to. Until then, he seems okay with trusting me to pick the right time. And to tell him in advance if danger's coming to his town again."
"Understandable. So, what's on the agenda for the night?"
"He's coming here tonight. You've got to be getting bored."
"No, it's good. I'm catching up on my reading and I'm relaxing. It's not so bad. And I'm looking after you. That's no hardship."
"So you say."
"So I know," he said, drawing her to him for a kiss on the forehead. "If you'd rather go to his house go ahead, I'll be fine. I know he's got that girl living with him."
"Her name's Kylie, and she probably enjoys a night to herself once in a while. I know I did when I was her age. What do you do here by yourself anyway?"
"Read, watch TV, surf the Net."
"Sounds very exciting."
"Not all of us have dates."
"You could very easily."
"You think so?"
She laughed, knowing he was kind of joking. He wasn't vain, but he had to know he was an attractive guy. Not to mention he had the whole Petrelli name going for him.
"I know so. You just don't want to put yourself out there yet, I understand that."
She didn't mention why that was the case. She didn't know the whole situation, just knew that it was painful for him to talk about. He'd lost two women. One through death, a bullet meant for him from what she was able to piece together. The other through his abilities and not being able to return to get her, leaving her in a future place and time he wasn't sure she'd live through.
"I think I've come to the conclusion that I'm just not meant to have a relationship."
"Don't talk like that! You will find someone, you just have to be patient."
"Yeah, yeah, listen to you. You're twenty-three and already have one guy sending you anonymous gifts, even if that is a little creepy. And another guy trying to gain your affections rather intently."
"Gain my affections?"
"Who says that?"
"Hmmph," she said softly. "I'm not even sure I know what that means."
"You do so."
She laughed then, hitting him with one of her accent pillows. "I know. It just sounds so funny coming from you."
"I can talk like my parents if I have to."
"I guess I never thought about it. You seem nothing like them for the most part."
"There are times I feel nothing like them."
"Peter, don't say that."
"Don't worry about it, and don't worry about leaving me here. That's part of the plan, to try and catch the guy breaking in. Besides, he seems like a decent guy."
"You think so?"
"It's not like I've talked to him at length or anything, but I get the impression he's all right, yeah."
"Were you waiting for my approval?"
"I guess someone's," she shrugged and stood from the couch at the sound of Bill's pickup truck pulling onto her driveway.
"I'll see you later," he said, getting up from the couch.
"You don't have to leave, Peter."
"Claire, it's a date, I'm not going to hang around here making him think I'm watching to see if he makes a move on you. Have a good time."
She walked to the big window at the front of the house and opened the drapes once Peter had gone upstairs. She'd started keeping them closed since Peter'd come so that he could move around, watch TV, or whatever without being seen. If someone got close enough they'd be able to see light coming from the room, but not enough to tell if it was a TV or a lamp she'd left on. She'd checked and thanked god the previous owner liked heavier drapes because she wouldn't have thought of buying them with protection in mind.
Bill was coming here tonight in part to try and draw whoever the guy was to act sooner rather than later. If he thought they were getting more serious he might do something. Whether it was finally approach her or something more sinister she wasn't sure.
"Peter," she called after him after she'd walked to the front door.
"Would you get tired of just kissing a girl?"
"Tired of it?"
He turned to face her, his eyes searching for something. She wasn't sure she could explain what she was asking without saying it outright and that was just too embarrassing.
"Oh," he said finally. "We're talking about a specific girl."
"Yes. He's older than I am obviously, and I know he's…."
"You've only had a few dates. If it were me, a few weeks or months of some frustration and cold showers would be worth the wait."
"Yes, for you. No guy's going to walk away from you just because you won't put out, Claire."
"If he leaves because of that or pressures you, he's not the guy for you anyway."
"I know, I guess I just needed to hear that. And he hasn't, I promise."
"Good to know because I really don't feel like getting arrested for assaulting a cop. See ya later."
She opened the door when Bill got to there. Lucky heard the noise but didn't get as excited as he would have at the sound of the doorbell or someone knocking.
"Hi," she said.
"Hi yourself," he said, patting Lucky on the head as the dog vied for Bill's attention. "I see at least one of you is happy to see me."
"I am, too," she said.
"Just not enough to stick your head under my hand, huh?"
He gave a soft laugh, stroking Lucky's ears before dropping his hand to his side. "Where's your guest?"
"Oh," Bill said, glancing up the stairs. "Because of me?"
"No, well, sort of, he's trying to give us privacy."
"Nice of him," he said.
Claire took his hand and led him to the living room. Lucky followed, continuing on to his bed in the corner of the room once it became apparent Claire and Bill were settling in for a while anyway.
"So what movie did you get?"
"Mm, a couple actually. If we don't get to them tonight we can watch them tomorrow at my place."
"Okay," she said.
It was kind of strange at how easily they'd settled into seeing one another. Sure, the flower thing helped, but he didn't have to spend quite this much time with her. And he didn't have to kiss her and touch her, so that wasn't an act.
She'd had a few boyfriends in college, but none of them really piqued her interest enough to care about them beyond casually. She wasn't really a casual person as it turned out, so the boyfriends never lasted very long. The idea of spending every night with someone, talking on the phone with them after her day if she wasn't seeing him - well, that just didn't seem necessary to her. Her mother teased her relentlessly about that.
She could understand the appeal now. She liked spending time with Bill, but it hadn't happened because of a plan or anything. They'd just fallen into it. She knew her mother would tell her that was when this type of thing happened, when you weren't expecting it. She certainly hadn't. If she hadn't met a guy she really liked living near LA or in New York what were the chances of moving to the small South Carolina town and doing so?
She took the cases from him.
"In an eighties mood?"
"Either that or you like Richard Gere, which I can't say as I blame you or anything he is cute."
"He is, huh?"
"Well, kinda. I mean, sure. I think I like him better in Pretty Woman, though than these two." She had to admit she hadn't seen An Officer and A Gentleman or The Cotton Club, so she really had no room to talk.
"I thought you might like them. I haven't seen The Cotton Club, it looked interesting. We've got to start getting into the habit of stopping at lunchtime to pick out movies. By the time we get there en route to your place or mine all the new releases are gone."
"So then Urban Cowboy? This one doesn't really seem to fit the theme."
He smiled a little. "I wasn't going for a theme. And I just thought it might put you in the mood to learn some of our type of dancing."
"Hmm," she said. "Are you saying I can't dance?"
"I didn't say that. Notice I said our type of dancing. I'm sure you could dance circles around me at the types of clubs you're used to going to."
"I know I'm just teasing you. I haven't seen any of them, so they're new to me. Which one first?"
"Up to you."
"Well, since you mentioned Urban Cowboy for my benefit, let's do that one," she said, handing him the case. "You put it in, I'll be right back."
"All right," he said.
She went to the kitchen to get the things she'd bought for the evening. She paused in the doorway to watch him as he worked the remote. He hadn't been at her place often, but if he was uncomfortable here it didn't show. Especially with Peter right upstairs. She wondered if he was the type of person who would seem at home no matter where he was.
"What you got there?" Thankfully he hadn't asked why she was standing there.
"Just a couple things," she said setting the glasses down before returning to the kitchen. She returned a few minutes later with the bottle of white zinfandel she'd picked up.
"Yes," she said.
"Haven't had much occasion to drink it."
"Me neither really, but I like it once in a while. I'm sure Peter would choke on this stuff if he had to, but that's okay. We won't tell him we're drinking it."
She didn't have time to think about whether she should have stuck with beer because the movie started and Bill reached to turn off the light. That was another thing she liked about him. He seemed to prefer watching movies in the dark as she did.
"Too bad Peter has to hide," Bill said in between Urban Cowboy and An Officer and A Gentleman.
"Oh, I know a girl or two in town who'd keep him occupied during his stay here."
"Maybe next time. Or maybe he'll stay for a while once this gets resolved."
"You like having him here, don't you?"
She sighed a little, leaning against him as he took hold of the remote to start the movie. "Yeah, I do. I wish I could take him out, do stuff with him. He's got to be bored, but I know he just wants me safe. And it really is a perfect plan since no one knows about him. I mean, you and Kylie are the only people I've really gotten to know and the town would start missing you if you disappeared for days."
Eventually, she slid so she was lying on the couch, resting her head against his leg. He didn't seem to mind and she liked sitting close to him like that. An Officer and A Gentleman was kind of depressing, but when it finished she could understand why it had been so popular when it came out.
"I didn't realize you were a romantic guy," she said softly.
Bill wasn't sure she was even still awake. She hadn't moved or made a sound in a while. He used the remote to turn the movie off, but neither made an effort to switch the DVD out for the last one.
"Not really, least I don't think I am. I'd say the fact I'm still single would be proof of that."
"I don’t think so. Just because someone's romantic doesn't mean they'll find someone receptive to that right away."
"I suppose not," he said, not really liking where this was going. There was nothing wrong with watching a sappy movie with a woman, but he wouldn't rate his movie choices for the night as being a romantic gesture. He just tried to think of what she might like.
She stayed lying against him and he couldn't resist running his fingers through her hair. He liked doing that and judging by the soft sigh she gave she did, too.
She turned then onto her back so she was looking up at him.
"Huh?" he asked.
"The look on your face doesn't say nothing."
"Do I bore you?"
"I'm sorry?" What was she talking about?
"All we do is go to one another's houses and watch movies."
"Well, if I didn't have Kylie to look after I might be more prone to doing more things. And I have to admit, in case you haven't noticed, I'm not exactly made of money. So dinner out every night isn't really an option for me. I guess I should ask you the same question."
"No," she said, shaking her head so that it rubbed against his thigh.
"Yes," she whispered and sat up then, curling onto her side as she did. And then she was on his lap, arms around his neck. Her lips were there, closing in on his and he wondered how she could think she was boring.
His arms went around her. Not long after she started kissing him, her lips parted and her tongue slid in between his. He knew how to take a hint and joined her tongue with his. She groaned softly, which turned him on something fierce. She had that effect on him quite a lot.
He got a little bolder with his hands, sliding them lower from her back to cup her ass. He sensed somehow despite the way things had gone that night in his bedroom that she wasn't exactly swimming with experience. A virgin? He doubted that. He didn't think too many were left in the world once they hit college. He wasn't even sure about Kylie, truthfully. She'd fallen into a wild streak for a while before everything'd happened.
He wondered if the guy who was doing this realized that he actually cemented Bill getting involved with her that night. Before that, he hadn't been sure. He still wasn't entirely, but since that night in his bedroom he was willing to try. If that night had gone differently he wasn't sure he'd be as all in as he was. It wasn't the touching they'd - he'd - done either. She'd trusted him, come home with him, and had wanted to be near him. That last part was a pretty heady feeling. Kylie was different.
He was hesitant to label it stalking but it was certainly sinister in nature. People just didn't break into someone's house to leave them gifts in their bed. That was just wrong on so many levels.
She shifted a little on his lap, pressing her center against him and he just about bit her tongue from the surprise. And the feel good aspect of it. She gave a soft giggle as if knowing what had made him react that way. He slid a hand from her ass to her thigh, bringing it high enough that his thumb could touch between her legs. He longed for her to be wearing one of the skirts she was so fond of wearing to the office.
Mirroring him, she reached between them, deepening the kiss even more as she cupped him through his blue jeans. He couldn't stop the sound that escaped his lips. It'd been a while since anyone had touched him like this. He longed for her to be touching him flesh to flesh, but he wasn't of the mind to scare her off by pushing.
He reached for her hand, lowering it a little so she could touch him better. More completely. Which on second thought may not have been the wisest thing to do.
"You are going to save me a lot of money on my gas bills," he whispered.
"I am, huh?"
"Not much need for hot water when I leave you, that's for sure."
She gave a soft laugh, pressing her cheek against his jaw. "I'm sorry."
"Not complaining. It's different, but kind of nice."
"Not used to having to wait, Sheriff?"
"Well, I didn't say that either…"
She laughed. "That's okay. I've seen the way some of the women about town look at you. I can't blame them, I look at you, too. A few of them look at you as if they know you quite well."
"Well, let's not go talking about them. I'm here with you."
"I know you are," she whispered, kissing his ear as she squeezed him through his jeans enough to make him shiver. "I like you here."
"Me, too," he managed to whisper.
She gave a soft giggle, kissing his neck. And then she wasn't just kissing anymore. He knew he should stop her, but he really didn't want to just then. He'd deal with covering it up in the morning.
"Or not," he murmured as she lifted her mouth and moved it maybe an inch or so from the last spot.
"Hmm?" she mumbled.
"Nothin'," he said, lifting a hand to stroke her hair, tilting his head so she had easier access.
"Uh, Claire," he managed when he felt her hand reach for and find the zipper on his jeans. He'd have to remember to rent more movies with a romantic bent to them in the future if they'd put her in this kind of mood.
"Mm hmm," she whispered, taking a break from her attention to his neck.
"I, uh, didn't bring anything with me tonight."
"Well, with your houseguest and all…"
She gave a soft laugh, working the button at the top of his fly before sliding his zipper down. She slid her hand into his pants and that was about the time all thought left his mind. He let his head fall back against the back of the couch and just give into the sensation of her touching him. He'd dreamt of it a time or two already. His dreams didn't come close to how she really felt holding him, stroking his shaft, cupping his sac, and circling his tip with her thumb.
He hissed a little at that.
"Did I do something wrong?" she asked.
He chuckled. "No, darlin', you're doing just fine. Just felt good is all."
She returned to his neck then and he couldn't bring himself to care if she left him a whole necklace of the damned things just then. She broke away, reaching for his ear and nipping that.
"Can I ask a favor?"
He gave a laugh. "I think you're in a position to ask for pretty much anything you want right now."
"Unbutton your shirt."
"What? Oh, sure," he said, reaching for his shirtfront to do just that. Her question had kind of thrown him for a minute. He admittedly was hoping she'd ask him to take her up to her room or return the favor of touching her as she was doing to him.
She followed the path of his hands with her mouth as he worked each button, kissing him and making his hands a little unsteady.
"I think it's a good thing you changed into jeans tonight," he murmured as she used her cheek to move his shirt enough so she could kiss one of his nipples. Normally, it wasn't that exciting for him. Sure, it felt nice, but it just didn't do much. Normally. That wasn't the case tonight. Or maybe it was the woman doing it. He couldn't be sure.
"Why," she murmured, glancing up at him before taking said nipple in between her teeth.
"Because I'd be sorely tempted to do something else with my hands besides unbuttoning my shirt."
She tugged a little on the nipple before releasing it.
"Such as," she whispered. And damned if he didn't feel himself grow what seemed like ten times harder than he had been a second ago.
"Take hold of your hips and slide inside of you."
"But you didn't bring anything," she whispered, kissing lower almost to his stomach now. He'd always taken pride in staying fit and being told enough times he had a decent body to realize there must be some truth to that. Those were by people his own age, though, who didn't really have a whole pool of specimens to choose from in Wheelsy. Not that Claire was ages younger, but there were times he had to remind himself she was older than Kylie despite the fact she may not look it. And she wasn't from here.
"Not sure that'd matter right now."
"Throwing caution to the wind?"
"Which is bad."
"Terrible," she whispered, sliding even lower. "Except for the fact I can't get sick or anything, which means you're pretty safe when it comes to me."
She took him into her mouth then and he had to agree he was pretty safe right where he was. It wasn't inside her the way he ached to be, but it'd do. He gave a groan as she took him further into her mouth. It'd definitely do.
Bill started his truck, gripping the steering wheel with both hands and stared at her door as he let it warm up a bit. She was the world's greatest tease is what she was. Relentless.
Only thing was, she did eventually make good on all the teasing. Hell, she even swallowed and didn't make one complaint about it afterward. Afterward, she crawled back up onto his lap and hugged him as if she wasn't expecting anything in return. And maybe she wasn't. Eventually, she'd drifted off so he carried her up her stairs and to her bed. He'd knocked on Peter's door to tell him he was leaving so Peter would know to let Lucky out one last time and lock up the house.
If her uncle had any clue what had gone on downstairs he wasn't upset by it, so Bill had to presume that what Claire had said was true. That they were more friends than uncle to niece. Because if he came face-to-face with a guy who'd just gotten off in his niece's mouth he'd just have to punch him. Or punch something.
He turned around on her driveway, appreciating once again the space she had out here. He liked living in town for sure, but there was something to be said for having the space to do things like turn your vehicle around so you weren't backing out onto the street.
He turned the radio on once he pulled onto the highway that would lead from her house to the thriving metropolis that was Wheelsy. He found an old Garth Brooks song playing and decided to listen to Garth singing about having friends in low places.
Last thing Bill saw was the reflection of headlights in his rearview mirror. He squinted, lifting his hand to the offending mirror, hoping to adjust it to shield his eyes from the offensive bright lights. He should have been more worried about driving offensively, though. Because it wasn't just tailgating the driver behind him had in mind.
Word Count: 4,886
Claire woke to her phone ringing, even though she didn't realize what it was at first. Everyone who knew her called or texted her on her cell. She opened her eyes, glancing out the window to be sure she hadn't overslept. Nope.
She picked up the phone by her bed. Bill wouldn't be calling her. She'd - oh my god - fallen asleep on him so he would have let her sleep.
"Hello," she mumbled.
"Uh huh, who's this?"
"Kylie? Bill should be home any minute, I don't think he left that long ago."
"That's why I'm calling."
"Claire? Are you there?"
"Huh? Yeah, I'm here." She must have dozed back off. She normally didn't get this tired. She'd blame it on the wine.
"Did you hear anything I just said?"
"No, Kylie, I'm sorry. I guess I'm really tired tonight." She sat up then, realizing Bill must have brought her up to bed. "What's up?"
"Bill's at the hospital."
"Did someone get hurt?" Her brain was all kinds of cloudy. She just couldn't understand why Kylie would call to tell her that.
"No, Claire. He's the patient." That got Claire's attention. "Someone hit him on his way from your place I guess, rammed his truck Paul says it looks like."
"I'll be right there," Claire said. "Is he…" She couldn't finish the question. Kylie had been through so much, she had to be beyond frightened at the idea of losing Bill so soon after her family.
"He's not conscious yet, but he's alive and everything. Well, Dr. Carl says he is anyway, he's got a tube or something to help him breathe and stuff."
That didn't sound good. "All right. I'll be there in a little bit. I'm going to shower so I wake up a bit, but I'll be there."
"Yes, I promise, Kylie. I'm awake now, I won't fall back asleep."
"Okay." She sounded scared. How had Claire missed that tone in her voice right away?
"Do you have my cell phone number?"
"Yeah, he's got it written down in his wallet."
Claire closed her eyes, thankful that Bill hadn't thought to bring any condoms tonight. She'd be eternally embarrassed in front of Kylie if she'd opened up his wallet and seen those. Not that most guys over the age of sixteen didn't carry one. And that probably shouldn't be her main concern right now, but she was glad nonetheless.
"Okay, if you need anything call me on that, but I'll be there as fast as I can."
She hung up and threw the covers back.
"Problems?" Peter asked from the doorway.
"Bill was in a car accident."
"Is he all right?"
"I don’t know. Kylie says he is, unconscious though."
"I'll head over there."
"No, Peter, it's too risky."
"No one's going to know who I am but Bill. If they ask I'll just say I'm looking for someone, but I'll stay invisible."
"Are you sure?"
"Are you worried?"
"Yes," she said simply. "Paul told Kylie it looked like someone rammed his pickup from behind."
"You think it might be your flower guy?"
"I don't know. If he was here tonight." She glanced away, knowing she was blushing.
"Ah, he would have gotten an eyeful?"
"Something like that."
"Well, if he's got a thing for you, yeah, that could have set him off. I'll go see what I can learn."
"Thank you," she said, pausing in the bathroom door to tell him exactly where the hospital was. He'd probably spot it flying, though, so she wasn't too worried he'd get lost.
It didn't take her long to get dressed. She wasn't worried about how she'd look, she just wanted the shower to wake her up. Peter had started a pot of coffee before he'd left so that was ready for her. She poured it into her travel mug, let Lucky in (Peter again), and was out the door.
She glanced in her rearview mirror constantly for any sign of the pickup truck she'd noticed recently. She had the road to herself, though. She slowed to barely a crawl when she passed the spot on the road where the accident must have happened. The highway wouldn't be cleaned off until tomorrow so the road was filled with crushed headlight and taillight plastic. And some glass. Bill's pickup wasn't in sight. They must have towed it somewhere. The skid marks. Oh God, they went on forever, which made her look away. If they'd pushed him off the road and into the ditch there was no telling when anyone would have found him. Maybe that had been the plan.
Kylie would have assumed in the morning he'd stayed at her place. He would have been missed when she got to work, but if he was that hurt that he was unconscious, it could have been too late by then.
"Claire I'm right here," Peter said as soon as she stepped off the elevator. She saw Paul, Brenda, the mayor, and countless others standing down the hall a ways and knew that had to be where Bill's room was.
"Thanks," she said, wishing she could see him and actually like hold onto his arm or something. "I can't do this."
He reached into her pocket and slid her cell phone into her hand.
"Hold this so it doesn't look like you're talking to yourself. You can. There's been no change in him and from what the officers are saying they didn't find anyone at the scene. There was some transfer of paint to his pickup and not all of the broken glass was from his truck. The headlight they're assuming is from the guy who hit him. So that's something. I'm going to go in with you. Kylie's in there with him by herself right now. See if you can talk her into leaving you alone with him for a little bit."
"You can heal him, Claire."
"Adam did it for Nathan. You must be able to do it, too."
"But wouldn't that make him…"
"No, it doesn't work that way. It's temporary."
"I'm not sure Kylie will leave him alone, Peter."
"She lost everyone only a few months ago, Peter. She chose to live with Bill over foster care because of what they'd gone through. Together. She's not going to let him out of her sight until she knows he's okay."
"Then you have a decision to make."
"Yeah," she whispered.
"You could tell her."
"Come on," she said, sliding her cell phone back into her pocket as she approached everyone. Everyone stepped away from the door they seemed to be guarding with their lives except the mayor. She couldn't blame them.
"Clara," the mayor said.
"Mayor Paxton," she said simply, stifling a cough to cover Peter's. "Paul, Brenda. Can I see him?"
"Sure, Kylie's been expecting you."
"Doctor Carl said only one at a time. I don't think any of us are going to be the ones to tell Kylie she's got to leave."
"Come on, Steve, she's his girl, have a heart. Doc ain't going to care if there's two of them in there for a few minutes."
She wasn't sure she liked being described as anyone's girl, but she saw the interim mayor hedge so she bit her tongue. Peter's calming hand at the small of her back helped, too.
The Mayor glanced at those around him, everyone but him was a police officer. And her. They were the ones putting their lives on the line, even if Wheelsy was pretty uneventful for the most part. Would he stop someone's wife and kids from being in there together? He seemed to recognize that as he stepped aside.
"Thank you," she said simply and pushed through, feeling as Peter brushed past her first.
Kylie ran to her and threw her arms around her. Claire did what came naturally and hugged the girl back, which only made Kylie cling harder. Claire had always seen her as so strong. It wasn't until tonight she realized how flimsy the strength she'd built up was over the past few months.
"It's okay, Kylie."
"They have him on tubes and so many things."
She drew away and gave a sigh. "I can help him."
"I can help him, Kylie. I need to trust that what you see me do won't go beyond this room."
"It's a long story, and I promise to explain it to you when Bill is better and his life isn't on the line. To sum it up, I'm genetically different than most people. My blood can heal him."
"Are you sure?"
"Peter?" she said softly. And just like that Peter showed himself.
"This is a friend of mine. He's special, too. He's seen someone do this for his brother."
"It's not the same. I know you just lost your family, but I wouldn't have let someone harm Nathan for the world."
Her eyes were wide. Her hands still had a deathlike grip on Claire's forearms. If she didn't heal she'd have bruises the size of quarters on her arms tomorrow.
"Okay," she said softly.
"Do you want to leave?"
They walked to the bed then with Peter so he could help with the IV.
"I don't even want to know where you got that," she said with a soft laugh.
"Good thing I'm a nurse, I know where to look for things. And how to start an IV," he said. "Kylie, can you watch the door, if anyone tries to come in I'll make Claire and I both invisible. But we'll still be here, okay?"
"Yeah," she said with a dazed nod. "He's going to be okay?"
"He should be ready to go home tomorrow, but because he'll have such a miraculous recovery the doctors will want to keep an eye on him probably for a day or two."
"Okay," she said, sounding more relieved at the idea Bill would be okay than shocked by what she was seeing.
"He's not going to wake up right away, Kylie," Peter said cautiously. "It'll take a while. My brother had radiation poisoning so his situation was a little more severe. Bill may wake up in an hour. I really don't know."
"Long story. Like Claire said, she'll tell you when Bill's out of the woods."
"But you can't tell anyone Peter's here. That's the most important thing."
They all watched as Claire's blood started traveling through the IV line Peter had started going from her to Bill.
"This is why they wanted me, isn't it?" she whispered to Peter.
"Yes," he said simply.
"And how they saved," she broke off, not wanting to admit her father was alive. Certainly not right now, that would just be cruel to do to Kylie. "Noah," she said finally.
"Yeah," he said again. "Probably."
"That should be enough," Peter said finally, removing the IV from her arm. Kylie looked then, watched as the mark from the needle disappeared.
"That is so weird."
"Tell me about it," Claire said.
"And you can be invisible."
"Actually, I don't have any powers of my own, but I can take on the powers of people I come into contact with. So, I can heal and fly and lots of things."
Peter chuckled. "Yes."
Claire took a seat next to Bill then and grabbed his hand.
"The few that know seem to think that's the coolest, yeah."
"Well, it'd be like Superman."
"You okay, Claire," Peter asked.
"I just can't help but think if I hadn't fallen asleep…"
"If it was a deliberate attempt they were likely waiting for him and would have no matter how long it took him to leave."
"I know," she said. "If I'd filed a report like he'd asked…"
"Claire, don't beat yourself up. This isn't your fault. A piece of paper wasn't going to give you the answer of who's been sending you flowers."
Kylie gave a soft sound, but Peter must have heard the door opening at about the same time she had because he was just suddenly no longer visible.
"Everything okay in here?" Paul asked.
"Yeah, sorry, I didn't mean to hog them," Claire said.
"I brought you some coffee," Paul said.
"Thank you," she said, realizing now she'd forgotten her mug in her car.
"Just returning the favor."
The nurses on duty didn't seem in any big hurry to rush them all out of there. Claire was glad of that. She imagined Paul and a couple of the others probably would have put up a fight. No one was planning to leave him alone until he regained consciousness.
She and Kylie never strayed too far from his bed. The others came and went, milling out in the hallway or going down to the vending machines for more coffee, pop, or snacks. No one but Claire and Kylie seemed to be holding out much hope, which made Claire wonder what the doctors had told them they hadn't told Kylie.
She heard his voice, hoarse as it was. She was getting to know it in all types of circumstances. She was admittedly glad that it was Kylie's name he called not hers. She wasn't sure Kylie would have taken that well tonight.
The tears Kylie had been fighting back for hours came out then. Until that moment, she probably hadn't really known if her decision was the right one.
"Shh. It's okay." He frowned, glancing at everyone's curious gazes. "In fact, I'm better than fine." He moved to sit up and the mayor put a hand on his shoulder to stop him.
"Bill, don't be exerting yourself. You're really banged up."
"I'm fine, Steve, but I wasn't planning on going for a jog or anything. I just don't want Kylie thinking I'm going to drop dead is all. Let me up," he said, though it came out as more of a growl than anything. It was the most authoritative Claire had ever heard him.
Kylie clung to him even as he sat up and the mayor stepped out of the room. Probably to get a doctor or nurse. The others headed out as well; evidently realizing Kylie needed him more than they did. They just wanted to be sure he was going to be okay.
"I should go, too," Claire said.
"No," Kylie said quickly.
"Kylie, he's going to need to rest and I'm sure the doctor will be in here in a few minutes so we'll all be told to go anyway."
"Can't you tell Dr. Carl you want her here?"
"We'll see what he says, Kylie. Claire may want to go home and get some sleep, too, you know."
"I'm fine, I'll stay if the doctor says it's all right. Kylie probably shouldn't be alone and I imagine you'll sleep."
"I feel good actually."
She felt a comforting hand at her shoulder and knew that was Peter's way of telling her she'd done the right thing.
"Well, I hear you're awake and talking, wanting to sit up and go catch the bad guys." She'd never seen him before, but the white coat, stethoscope and chart in his hand told her he was the doctor.
"Something like that," Bill said.
"Well, let's take a look, shall we? Ladies, can you excuse us for a minute," the doctor said.
"It's okay, Kylie, you can come right back in when he's done looking me over."
"That's right, Kylie. He has some bruises and lacerations in places under that gown that he'd probably rather not be seen by you. Seatbelts save lives but there is a cost in collisions like the one Bill was in."
"Okay," she said, not sounding entirely convinced.
"We'll be right outside," Claire said, sliding an arm around Kylie.
"I told myself I wouldn't do this, be a nutcase if he got hurt, but I can't help it," she said once they were out of the room. "I mean, he's a cop. I know the risks even here in Wheelsy." Claire had to smile a little at that considering she'd had the same thought.
"It's totally understandable, Kylie," Claire said, offering her a hug. "You're so brave and strong. I can't even imagine functioning after what you've been through."
"But you lost your dad…"
"Not in the same way you did and it was just my dad, not my entire family. And Bill told me that whatever those parasite things were, you had one try to get inside of you but you managed to fight hard and pull it out."
"Yeah, I guess," she said.
"That was incredibly brave."
They grew quiet then, Claire wasn't sure what else to say, and Kylie evidently didn't want to say anything. So, they just stood there until the doctor opened the door again. They followed him back into the room. Claire hadn't felt Peter since that touch in the room, but she knew he was nearby. Hopefully, he'd tell her the truth if the doctor was exaggerating.
"Well, I wish I could explain it," he said, not really looking at them but instead at his chart, making notes.
"But he's fine. I've never seen anything like it. The bruises and lacerations are almost completely healed. I'll be honest, I wasn't sure he was going to make it through the night his condition was that critical. I was on the verge of calling around to see if there was a bigger hospital better suited to helping him than what we can offer here."
"But he's okay," Claire said.
"Yes, he's recovering quickly. We'll keep an eye on him. And you can both stay if you want to, though I can assure you the chairs do not make good substitutes for beds."
Claire smiled slightly. "You sound as though you speak from experience."
"More than I care to admit to. And I don't believe we've met," he said, extending his hand. "I'm Dr. Carl."
"Claire Baxter. I…"
"She's Bill's girl friend," Kylie said quickly.
"That, too I keep getting told tonight. I work at the sheriff's station."
"An office romance. Good for you. All right, good night then. I'll let the nurses know you have permission to stay."
"Thank you, Dr. Carl."
"You're welcome. He's a lucky man," he said.
Claire decided to give Kylie and Bill a little time alone. She'd seen how frightened the girl was at the thought of losing him and didn't want to intrude on that. So, she went down to the vending machines to get some coffee. She'd had more than enough tonight already so she probably wouldn’t drink it, but it kept her busy until returning to his room.
"I hear I've got you to thank for my feeling this chipper," Bill said when she returned to his room.
He nodded his head toward the closed bathroom door.
"What did she tell you?"
"Not much, said she didn't know much. That you and Peter gave me some of your blood."
"And it healed me? Doc Carl says the cuts I have that should have taken days or weeks even to heal are almost gone."
"That's what Peter said would happen," she said simply.
"Care to explain how that works?"
"I would if I could. Like I told Kylie. I'm a genetic anomaly. Or special as my dad said. There are a few of us. We all seem to have special abilities, or just an enhanced version of senses we already possess."
"And yours is healing?"
"Yeah. And my blood heals, though I'd never seen it put into practice until tonight."
"Yes, there's a man like me he helped save Nathan's life."
"She said his brother had radiation poisoning."
"Yes," she said simply.
"And Peter can fly?"
"Among other things. He doesn't actually have any abilities of his own. His is being able to mimic the abilities of those he comes into contact with."
"So would his blood have healed me, too?"
"I'm not sure. It must not be able to otherwise he could have healed Nathan instead of needing Adam to."
"That why you running?"
"Yes. There's a guy, Sylar is what he goes by. I'm done running I hope, but I'm trying to stay off his radar."
"Read about him. Serial killer, cuts up peoples heads and takes the brains out or something. Some speculation he might eat them. Others speculate he's doing something else. Don't quit blame you for not wanting to be captured by him."
"Yes," she said, arching her eyebrows in surprise. She supposed it shouldn't surprise him he knew about the case. "Well, I'm not sure of the technicals, but he's able to gain abilities as Peter does but only through killing he does. That's what it seems like anyway."
"And your ability would be pretty handy to have. Can you get hurt?"
"Well, I can. I mean, I feel pain and bleed and stuff, I just heal any damage real quickly."
"Hmm," he said simply.
"There's this place my dad used to work for. They're looking for me, too. So, between the two of them I just decided getting away from my family and anything familiar to me would be best."
"And coming to a town that claimed to be visited by alien life forms?"
"Well, I figured who'd look for me here?"
"If this is too freaky for you… I mean, I can go. I came here to start over. To get away from places I'd been where people knew my family and got suspicious of me. Us. I can start over again. I never dreamt I'd be in a position to use my ability or for anyone to find out about it. But someone always does no matter where I go."
He slid his hand over hers, taking hold of it. "Not so fast, Claire. I don't recall asking you to leave, here or town. You said you'd tell me if all hell was about to break loose again around here and I trust you'll keep to your word. Am I right?"
"Assuming I know in advance."
"I understand. Doctor Carl says he thought I was a goner."
"He didn't tell Kylie that, but I got that impression from a few things he said and the way the others were acting."
"He wouldn't have told her, he knows what she's been through."
"Lying to her isn't going to help her," Claire said, feeling defensive of Kylie and the idea that people felt they had to lie to her for her own good. She had hated that when her parents did that.
"No, but taking away her hope isn't either."
"You're right, but kids aren't stupid. I'm sure she knew anyway."
"You saved my life…"
"I don't want you to want me here because of that. I've kind of grown to like living here honestly. It's a different pace of living, but it's nice. And the people are so friendly. Well, for the most part," she said, realizing that probably sounded bad considering he'd just gotten rammed by another truck. "I'm happy I was here, but if this is too freaky for you."
"Come here," he whispered.
She slid closer. "Yes?"
"If Kylie weren't in the bathroom just a few feet away I'd be more than happy to show you how unfreaky I find you."
"She's been in there a while."
"I think she's trying to give us time to talk the same as you did us."
"That obvious, huh?"
He smirked. "Just a little, especially since you set the coffee cup down and haven't touched it since. That's all right, though, I appreciated it. I've never thought of what kind of parent I'd make or how I'd handle responsibility of this sort. I don't claim that having her for a few months makes me an expert, but until she decides otherwise she comes first."
He reached then, sliding an arm around her so he could kiss her.
"Remind me when I'm out of here to thank you properly."
"A simple thank you will do I think."
He slid his thumb along her lower lip. "I'm sure I can come up with something better than simple words."
"Maybe," she whispered.
"Now, I want you to take Kylie home. You stay there, too. She's not going to do me any good here. If she wants to stay home from school tomorrow, that's fine, but I don't want her here all night."
"All right," Claire said.
"My keys. Well, she's got keys. And you've got your car."
"I'll send Peter to my place for something for me to wear tomorrow."
"Thank you," he whispered.
"You're welcome." She giggled softly as his thumb moved to her cheek, tickling her as he did. "You'd have shown me here?"
"Damn straight. Small bed and all."
"I'll have to keep that in mind for the next time I'm in a position to save a man's life."
"Don't go rushin' out to save anyone else's."
"I have plans for you."
"I like to think so. They involve you and me and Kylie."
"Wouldn't want to forget the dog."
"And something real in my life not built on fantasy, wishes, or what-could-have-been's."
"You don't fantasize about me?"
"Now, I didn't say that! You're incorrigible, you know that?"
"I've been told. So, are you saying you want to be with me. Like a girlfriend type thing?"
"That is what I was getting at, yes."
"Hmm. Only one thing…"
She lowered her face to his. "You'll have to protect me."
"From what? Me? That would defeat the whole purpose of my plan. Unless you're talking about what I didn't bring to your house earlier. Then I'm all about not leaving home without them again."
She laughed, kissing him. "No, from the single women of Wheelsy who have their own plans for you."
"I'm not the one with an admirer running you off the road."
She froze at that. "You think that's who it was."
"Pretty sure. The truck came out of nowhere. He wasn't on the road driving when I pulled out I remember that much."
Her heart caught in her throat. If she'd told him about the pickup she'd seen could this have been prevented?
"No apology necessary. It's not your fault you have some nut after you, but I assure you none of the women who may have thoughts of me in that way are going to harm you."
"No, but Janine might just start spitting in my coffee."
He chuckled then. "Nah, she'd just haul off and hit ya' if she really wanted to get a message across." He set his hands at her shoulders, setting her back a bit. "Just to set your mind at ease about that. There's no one I've been seeing lately or anything. And even then, never anyone regularly or seriously. There wasn't room you know? With the ghost of Starla and all it was already pretty crowded and no one seemed to want to be the third in the ménage à trois. At least not that kind of one."
"Well, they might think now that she's gone…"
"I've got who I want right here. If I needed proof of that, Kylie's reaction to you tells me everything I need to know."
"We do get along."
"Too well. Sometimes I think you two will conspire against me one of these days."
"It'd serve you right." She laughed and leaned in, kissing him. "I'm going to take her home now."
"Get some rest."
"I'm sure that won't happen. I imagine nurses will be coming in here all night to take my temperature or blood pressure or whatever."
"We'll see you in the morning."
"I'll be here."
She smiled, drawing away, surprised to see Kylie standing in the doorway of the bathroom. She looked as though she'd been there a while.
"You ready to go home and get some sleep?"
"You sure you'll be all right?" she asked Bill.
"I'll be fine, and will rest easier knowing you and Claire are snug as bugs in a rug in real beds instead of these chairs here."
"And besides, someone's got to bring me breakfast in the morning. Have you seen what they try and get away with serving as food here?"
Kylie laughed and walked to his side, leaning down to hug him.
"Get some rest, Kylie."
She waited until they were alone in the elevator.
"Can you go to my house?"
"Yeah, yeah, get you some things for the morning. I'm on it. I'll see you in a few minutes."
"Night, Kylie, glad Bill's going to be all right."
"Me, too, and thank you!"
"You're welcome," Peter said, taking off as soon as they were off the elevators and out the doors.
"That is so cool," Kylie said, watching him.
Claire only laughed, leading Kylie to her car. It was both scary and exciting, the idea of spending the night in Bill's house without him there. She wasn't sure what those feelings meant exactly, but she'd told him she would do it and for Kylie's sake she would.
Word Count: 7,320
"You up for a little fun as well as hoping to flush this guy out from the rock he's holed himself under?"
While there was paint transfer from the pickup that had run Bill off the road two weeks ago, it'd been standard on thousands of General Motors pickups. So, narrowing it down had been a next to impossible task. Bill had kept a close eye on those he knew in town to see if anyone had suddenly changed from driving a pickup to something else. No one had.
"I'm going to see Ma this morning."
"Okay," Claire said not sure where the fun was in that. Not that she didn't like Bill's mom, but she wasn't going with him. Unless he was inviting her along.
"Well, I've been thinking about that night I was run off the road."
"It would seem that maybe he was watching."
"I've thought of that, too, yes," she said. She hadn't mentioned it before now because she really didn't like mentioning the accident. Sticking her head in the sand maybe, but he didn't push talking about it either so she figured it was okay.
"Well, it would seem I was run off because our relationship took a more personal turn. Unless he had a ladder he wouldn't have been able to see into my bedroom that one night."
"Well, let's flush him out."
"I'm not having sex or engaging in any sex act in public."
He laughed then.
"I'll be sure and remember that, but public indecency wasn't exactly what I was going for."
"I'm going to tell Ma that I want to bring you over for dinner, that I'm thinking of asking you to marry me."
She frowned. "Uh, okay. Why?"
"Something I haven't told you about Ma. She loves to talk and I'm her favorite subject. So, I figure between breakfast and my coming to pick you up later for dinner word will have spread like wildfire that I'm finally thinking of taking the plunge."
"I really don't want you to get run off the road again."
"Yeah, that's where I'm not sure exactly how to go about it. I just figured news that our relationship was serious might draw him out. I'll formulate a plan out between now and then, I just need to know you're all right with the idea. Ma's relentless. I'll have to tell her I chickened out or she'll be at your house tomorrow morning to plan a shower or something."
She laughed. "She sounds sweet."
"Yeah, I guess."
"Are you sure you want to deceive her like that?"
"She won't know."
"No, but if you tell her you chickened out she's going to think that one day you may unchicken out."
"There is that. Honestly, the idea of settling down isn't nearly as offensive to me as it was a year ago or even six months ago."
"So, I'm not saying I'm going to be asking tomorrow or anything, but the thought's crossed my mind. I may be a small-town boy, but I know a good thing when I see it. Assuming you plan on sticking around Wheelsy anyway, you know, I realize you may not. I'm just saying, I could see that being the ultimate outcome. And when I thought this through it didn't bother me so much Ma thinking it."
"Well, as long as you're all right and think she'll be all right."
"She'll think there's hope for her boy yet. She wants grandbabies."
"She does, huh?"
"Wants them all to look like you, I imagine?"
"Uh, I'm not so sure about that. She's never said."
"Well, why wouldn't she? You're a good looking guy."
"You think I'm good lookin'?"
"Hmm, fishing for compliments Sheriff Pardy?"
"Only from the pretty woman I'm on the phone with at the moment."
"Oh well, in that case, yes, I think you are."
"All right then, darlin', you leave the planning to me. Just be dressed up in something nice, which doesn't seem like a problem for you."
"No," she said. "I've got a dress or two I can choose from."
"I figured as much."
"I'll see you later then," she said softly.
"I look forward to it, it's usually the highlight of my day."
"That's sweet, thank you."
"It's the truth or I wouldn't say it."
"I heard lines in college."
"Oh, I've got a few of those, too."
She laughed. "I bet you do. Too bad I don't get to hear them."
"I tell you what. This is over we'll figure out a way for you to hear 'em."
"There are other towns with bars in them."
"You mean like picking me up at a bar even though you're not really?"
"Yeah, something like that."
"That sounds kind of fun actually," she said with a laugh.
"Well then, consider it a date."
"Okay. I'll see you later then."
"I'll be there, hopefully with a plan formulated to get this done with because frankly I'm tired of looking in my rearview mirror every time I leave your place."
"I know," she said. She was, too.
"Oh, hey, Kylie's gone for the night so if you want to stay the night again you can."
"Mm, did I mention Peter left this morning?"
"No, ma'am, you did not."
"Well, he did."
"So, it would seem we have our pick of places then."
"Yes, at least two." They hadn't done anything since the night of his accident. Whether they both had it in their mind that her admirer might witness something else to send him off the edge she wasn't sure. For her, there was still the idea that maybe her blood didn't cure everything and she didn't want to hurt him.
"All right, I'll see if I can't work that into something."
"If you can't, don't push it. I haven't heard from him since the accident, so maybe he smartened up."
He grew quiet then. She almost thought he'd hung up.
"Oh, and, I do want to bring you to dinner to meet Ma. That was what made me think of the idea."
"You want me to meet your mother?"
"Yes, I do."
She smiled, ducking her head a little when she saw how silly she looked in the mirror she passed by just then. "I'd love to meet her."
"All right. We'll figure out a time for that, after I've told her the justice of the peace ain't necessary just yet."
"That'd be a good idea, yes."
"Bye, Bill. Good luck."
She hung up, going over their conversation. He wanted her to meet his mother. He apparently liked her enough he didn't mind if people thought he was planning on proposing. Even if some people found out eventually it was part of a plan, some wouldn't know all the details.
Two weeks now they'd settled into something comfortable since that night at the hospital he admitted he wanted something from her. She didn't need to know him before she came to town to know that admission was pretty significant. She didn't think he'd tell his mother he was thinking of asking just anyone to marry him either, part of a police plan or not.
And while she didn't really worry about people spitting in her coffee as she'd joked about Janine doing, she was on the receiving end of looks more than once when they were at the store together picking out movies or food for dinner that night. None were real nasty, but some went beyond a friendly and curious look. Those she was used to by way of being the woman who'd bought her house via fax and overnight service. She supposed she was the new person in town who no one knew anything about and it just rubbed some wrong.
It seemed so strange to have her house to herself again. Peter was gone. He'd given her a hug and a kiss and then just like that he was gone. She knew he had to go back, had been surprised he'd stayed this long. His mother had started to become suspicious about what exactly was keeping him away for so long. Angela did not know her whereabouts and would not approve of Peter putting her at risk. She'd needed to see him, though, it made her feel better about things.
She ran her few errands in record time and was back at home to get ready for the night. Since Kylie was spending the night, presumably at her friend Tina's, that meant she and Bill were going to be alone for the first time since their first date. No matter whose house they stayed at. It was a little scary, especially with his talk of taking things with her more serious. And now the plan he was working on today. Well, it was hard to know what he'd expect.
Thinking of his expectation led her to trying to decide what to wear. Too nice and people might wonder if she was expecting something from him, like the proposal he'd mentioned to his mother hours ago now. However, she'd always gone out of her way to look nice to this point when they'd gone out.
So, she'd gone with a black linen skirt that fell past her knees but had a slit in back that was almost indecent it was so long with a white silk blouse. A coral necklace she'd gotten from Hawaii a few years ago topped off the outfit. Simple and classy as Angela had commented on a good many outfits she'd taken Claire shopping for. She rolled her eyes now thinking about it, but she had a closet full of expensive clothes thanks to those shopping trips so she really couldn't complain. Even if most of the clothes would sit in her closet unused more often than not.
With an extra button on the blouse undone, she thought the outfit took a step toward flirtatious and sexy. The sheer black stockings she wore with seams up the back of her legs helped, too. Guys seemed to like them a lot for whatever reason, at least in her perhaps limited experience they did.
Lucky ran down the stairs and started barking at the door as she slid the second stocking over her calf and thigh before stepping into her heels. Bill let himself in and Lucky settled down almost immediately. It should bother her that her dog had taken to both him and Kylie so well, but he liked Peter, too, so she recognized it wasn't a conspiracy.
"I'll be right down," she called down, giving herself one last glance in the full-length mirror on the back of her door.
"Take your time, I'm early. Remind me to lecture you about leaving your doors unlocked while the madman who drove me off the road is still on the loose."
"Sure, I'll be sure and do that right away."
She heard him laugh and say something in a hushed tone to Lucky. She didn't need to hear him to know he was complaining about her still thinking she was safe in a town like Wheelsy. Considering she was safe from injury, excluding cutting her head off and she somehow doubted whoever the guy was had that in mind. Well, it was hard for her to worry, though she imagined there were things someone could do to her to make her wish she was dead.
"Hi," she said at the top of the stairs.
"Hi yourself," he said, watching as she came down the stairs. He stopped her from taking the last stair, though. "You look nice."
"I meet your requirements then?"
He slid his arms around her waist, drawing her to him once she'd gotten near the foot of the stairs.
"I'm feeling pretty confident about that, yes."
"You are, huh?"
"Uh huh," he said, closing the distance between them. It was so seldom that he could kiss her comfortably while they were standing up she'd almost forgotten what it was like. And she liked it. She mewled into the kiss, sliding her arms around his neck.
She kissed him with more urgency than she'd meant to. He hadn't told her what he'd come up with as far as a plan went, but it bothered her to think he could get hurt again. Because of her. A lot.
One of his hands slid lower, cupping her ass and pressing her into him at the same time. He didn't have to push too hard she was more than willing to be pressed up against him. He had a nice body to be up against, even if she hadn't really seen it all yet. The hand didn't stop there, though. He continued lower. She felt his fingertips warm through her skirt as he caressed the back of her thigh, tugging the skirt up the lower he went.
Her tongue stopped when she felt his fingertips over her stockings. She didn't want to stop him, which surprised her. She'd frustrated more than one guy over the years by her unwillingness to take things to that last level. It wasn't as if they were doing anything wrong. Higher still, his hand caressed and worked his way up her thigh only under the skirt this time.
"Wrinkling your skirt," he murmured.
"Uh huh," she agreed.
"Want me to stop?" he asked.
"Nuh uh," she murmured, kissing his lower lip.
"Ain't asking again," he whispered.
"Okay," she said with a soft exhale as his fingertips just barely grazed the top of her thigh above the stocking.
"You're making me all kinds of undone."
"And this is bad?"
"If you're hungry and actually want to get to dinner it is," he murmured.
She gave a soft laugh, it sounded way more seductive than anything she could remember doing before in her life. Guys had claimed she was nice looking, beautiful even, but she just never felt like much of a seductress. It was hard to take things to that level knowing she was lying to the guy or that she'd have to leave without saying goodbye as she'd done a few times before over the years.
None of those things were true for Bill. He knew the truth, at least part of it. She hadn't laid it all out for him, but he got the gist of what she'd been through and why she'd chosen Wheelsy and a small town life.
She kissed him again, sliding her hands from around his neck to the front of his shirt and resting one there. The other one continued lower, polished fingernails tracing a light path over his chest and stomach. Lower still, which she found kind of funny considering his hand was moving up. Slowly he was working the nicely pressed linen skirt to the point she should have been embarrassed.
He discovered with his other hand that the panties she was wearing left her ass bare and he murmured something into the kiss that she thought might just be cussing.
"Problems?" she asked with a light laugh, kissing his jaw.
"Just wondering what exactly you had planned for the night."
"And you know I don't wear underwear like this every day?"
"Well, I don't, just you look and smell nice, your blouse is undone a button or two lower than I can remember seeing you do before. You've got these stockings on that are designed to turn a guy's head."
She worked the button at the top of his pants, a little awkwardly worked the zipper down, and reached into them. Her palm pressed flush against him she slid her hand lower, under his underwear to touch him. She hadn't done this since the night of his accident, not for lack of wanting exactly. Time and neither of them having their houses to themselves made it difficult at times.
She was pleased to find him hard and ready for her as she wrapped her hand around his shaft.
"Maybe I'm trying to seduce you," she whispered.
Apparently, that was if not the right answer a good one anyway. She wasn't exactly sure how he managed it so effortlessly, but she was suddenly ass down on the stairs with him hovering above her. Her skirt being wrinkled was the least of her concerns, not that she had room for any at the moment, because he had a view now of everything there was to see.
Her hand, free now for the moment because of moving, worked the buttons on her blouse. They were a little shakier than a moment ago unbuttoning his pants. The skirt bunched up around her hips as it was, the blouse was already loose in some spots so untucking it was a cinch. The last few buttons undone she let the blouse fall open. She'd purposely worn a sheer red lace bra, the one that matched the thong she wore, knowing the red showed through the blouse just enough he'd know she was wearing something colorful.
His whispered muttering as he took her in made her blush.
"Why are you doing that?"
"What?" she asked.
"Blushing. Surely you've been told you're beautiful a time or two."
"Well… yeah," she agreed.
Just never by a guy looking at her the way he was just then. Oh, he wanted in her pants, but there was a difference between him and the guys she'd dated in college. That was all they'd wanted from her for the most part, especially when they found out she'd never been with a guy before. She'd decided guys were pretty much creeps after a while. Why being the one to take a girl's virginity was such a turn-on that it became a competitive thing that rivaled any Olympic event she wasn't sure.
Bill, on the other hand, seemed to want the whole thing. He'd mentioned wanting to bring her to meet his mother. Guys just didn't do that to someone they weren't thinking of being serious about. At least in her experience. And he didn't seem to mind if the whole town thought he was on the verge of asking her to marry him. In mentioning his plan, he hadn't really said he'd go out of his way to let anyone know it was just a plan to catch a bad guy.
Not that she was holding out for a marriage proposal. Considering they were on the verge at this very moment said that pretty loud and clear.
"Good, cuz I was going to have to have a word or two with the guys in your life if you hadn't."
"There aren't any in my life now. Well, besides you…"
"Good to know," he whispered, tugging on her ankles and pulling them apart to spread her legs more than they were. "You match," he said, eyes moving from between her legs to her bra.
"Uh huh," she said simply because he didn't really seem to want a response. In fact, if she wasn't mistaken he was… "Ohhh," she moaned as he kissed her inner thigh, inches away from her core.
And he didn't stop there. She'd had a couple of guys go down on her before, but she quickly learned that while it felt good there was a way to make it feel better than good. And better than good led to orgasms that made her glad she didn't have super strength otherwise she would have hurt him from their intensity.
She watched as he pulled away from her and stepped out of his pants. She shifted a little, her back against the wall, taking him in. She'd seen him before, but he'd had jeans on and the lights had been off so she really hadn't gotten to look. She hadn't, for instance, noticed the scar on his abdomen. It looked pretty recent and she remembered Kylie mentioning he'd been punctured by one of the creature-thing's tentacles. The foil packet in his hand made her forget about that for the moment. She realized this was her last chance to stop things from going further.
He slid in between her legs, draping one of her legs over his arm after he'd sheathed himself. Her other leg was pressed toward her as far as it could go. She imagined he had quite a view with her legs spread like that, but wasn't embarrassed. At least not at the moment, maybe later she would be when going over everything in her mind.
He slid his other around and under her, more supporting her she imagined than copping a feel. Not that she minded either way. He slid inside of her, just a little at first. She grabbed onto his forearms and gave a soft cry, biting her lip to stop it from being louder at the twinge of pain that coursed through her as he thrust the rest of the way into her.
"You're bleeding," she whispered, running the palms of her hands over the spots on his arms where she'd drawn blood.
"So I am," he said with a shrug. "Those are some battle scars I'll gladly accept."
"They've got to hurt."
"Sting a little, I suppose. Fair is fair, though, you didn't mention that this was your first time."
"I planned to."
"Eventually. I just wasn't thinking we'd…"
"Succumb to raw desire and go at it on your stairs like nothing else mattered?"
"Yeah, that," she said, knowing she was blushing again.
"Stop that," he said, his lips turning up into a smile as he slid a fingertip along the swell of her breast. He'd already voiced his frustration at the fact the bra clasped in the back.
"I can't help it!"
She laughed then, nodding her head. "I'm fine. Cell regeneration, remember?"
"Oh right," he frowned then. "Even there?"
"I don't think it's something I can turn on and off."
"So, it'll be like that next time?"
"And the time after that and so on and so on."
"Huh, that's definitely something I'll have to explore. A lot."
"It is? Do you like inflicting pain, Sheriff Pardy?"
"No, not the pain part, I'd hope it wouldn't hurt so much after a while, or at least you know what to expect now. But the, um," it was his turn to blush and she laughed.
"Always feeling like the first time from my end."
"Yeah, well, you asked."
"I know." She shifted with a bit of a wince, more from her back being stiff than any pain or discomfort.
"Let's get you upstairs and cleaned up. I mean, I assume you still want to go to dinner?"
"No one will deliver to me out here and I don't have anything thawed, so yeah, unless you want to go to bed hungry."
"I'm not sure going to bed with you would leave me much room to think about anything but seeing how to go about getting you to make those sounds again."
He stood then, offering her help to stand before grabbing his pants from the floor.
"I probably would have chosen somewhere more conducive to showing off my prowess than the stairs had I known you hadn't…"
"Have I complained?"
"Well, no, but," he said, stopping as he watched her shimmy the skirt back down. "I like it better the other way."
She laughed with a shake of her head. "I can't go out in public like that."
He followed her upstairs and into her bedroom, tossing his pants on her bed. He went to the bathroom first, returning to her room after a minute - if that.
"Sorry," he said. "Just, well, you kind of have to get rid of them promptly or it gets messy."
She noticed then the condom was gone. "Oh, I didn't, I mean, of course, that makes sense."
"Now, about getting you cleaned up."
She smiled, reaching for his hand and sat on the edge of her bed. He followed her, which she expected he would since she'd taken the time to remove her blouse altogether.
"It can wait a minute. Are you in a hurry?"
"Well, no, not particularly other than I don't want to be accused later of not feeding you."
She laughed. She ran her fingertips gently around the scar she'd noticed downstairs. He'd come close to dying. She wondered where Kylie would be if that had happened. Some faceless stranger's house who didn't know her and probably wouldn't believe what she'd gone through.
"Does that hurt?"
"Not so much anymore, no."
"I'm sorry, and I'm glad it wasn't more serious."
"Me, too," he said with a grimace.
"There's food at the bar, isn't there?" Her other hand reached between his legs as she posed the question.
"Uh, yeah, nothing special or of real quality or anything. Munchies more than anything."
"That's fine with me."
"What did you have in mind," he asked, though he didn't sound entirely clueless.
"Well, I have to change my skirt."
"Of course you do," he drawled with agreement.
"It's all wrinkled and unsightly."
"Right," he said as she reached behind her to work the button and zipper at the small of her back. "Want some help then?" he asked when she slid her hands to either hip so she could push the skirt over her hips and off.
"I thought you'd never ask."
"I might be a little slow on the uptake, but once I'm in the game you can count on me to be all in, darlin'."
"That's good to know," she said, her breath catching a bit as his hands replaced hers.
"Turn around for me?"
She did as he asked, giving a soft whimper when he moved his hands away from her hips without removing the skirt. Fingertips grazed the length of her spine from the small of her back up to her bra. Adept hands undid the clasp and he slid the straps down along each of her arms to the point it was just easier for her to move her arms and take it off the rest of the way.
He slid exploratory hands along her back, shoulders, and along her arms. His touch was gentle yet thorough in touching every inch of her he could. Finally, he slid his hands under her arms so he could cup her breasts one in each hand. She gasped a little, it'd been so long since she'd really been touched like this and she was more than a little worked up at this point so she was sensitive.
"I sometimes wonder what you could possibly see in a guy like me," he whispered. She wasn't sure he'd meant for her to hear him.
"You're beautiful and I can't find a thing wrong with you, and going by what you've said about yourself that will forever be the case. Yet here I am, a small-town guy who's not afraid to dirty or mess up his hands overhauling an engine for his pickup."
"And you think I mind those things?"
"First thing I thought when I saw Peter was, 'there is a guy she looks like she fits in with'."
"I really don't," she whispered.
"I knew it," came the rather shrill sounding voice from the doorway to her bedroom. She actually wouldn't have known who it was from the voice alone.
"Paul," she said softly.
"I knew you would be up here with her, doing that," he said, gesturing to them. It was only then Claire noticed Paul held a gun in his hand. And from what she could tell, it wasn't his official weapon either.
Bill reacted quicker than she did, drawing away from her after a brief pause to be sure she wasn't going to fall. He held up both hands at his sides.
"What's going on, Paul?" Bill said calmly.
"Ruining Starla wasn't good enough. I knew when she come to work for you you'd do the same thing to her, too."
"I didn't do anything to Starla."
"Ol' Grant Grant would say different if he were alive today."
"But he ain't, and whatever he had to say was speculation on his part, nothing more."
"Trevor would be alive today if it wasn't for you."
"Trevor died in the line of duty, Paul. It's a risk every one of us take putting on the uniform, showing up for work each day." He gestured to the scar on his abdomen. "I didn't walk away unscathed from it either, Paul. Li'l Kylie lost her whole family!"
"Because you didn't act fast enough, didn't take it seriously."
"Oh, come on now, would you have? Really? It looked at first to be a poacher or something, nothing more."
"Get away from her," he said, gesturing wildly with the gun for Bill to step away from Claire.
"All right, at least let her put something on."
"No one else can have her, is that it?"
"Wait," Claire said, crossing her arms in front of her. "It was you?"
"Yeah, I thought. I don't know what I was thinking."
Claire glanced at Bill. She honestly hadn't thought Paul was interested in women so the thought it might be him leaving her flowers didn't even enter her mind.
"Let her put something on, Paul. Come on now, it's the gentlemanly thing to do."
"And fucking her from behind is?"
"Now, we ain't done no such thing."
"I saw you," he said, sounding adamant about it.
"No, what you saw was me touching her. She still has her skirt on you'll notice," Bill said. Not that she'd needed to take it off on the stairs, but she kept that to herself.
"Go, get a top then," he said, gesturing her over to her dresser with his gun. Did Bill know she had a gun in there? She couldn't remember if she'd told him. She wasn't a real good shot or anything, but if she could get the gun to Bill…
She fumbled through the drawer.
"Sorry, wrong drawer," she said, holding up a bra so he'd see she had in fact gone in the wrong drawer. She put the bra back and opened the next drawer down, reaching to the back for the gun and pulling it out at the same time as a new shirt. It was loaded. Since she didn't have roommates or kids she didn't have to worry about keeping the gun and ammunition separated.
"Paul, I'm sorry, I didn't know," she said, trying to make conversation with him.
"Because you were too busy with him I wager. I thought you were a good girl."
"I am," she said, sounding more defensive than she meant to.
"You're with him!"
"He's not a bad guy."
"I'll be the judge of that."
"No, Paul, you won't," she said, holding the gun up and pointing it at his chest. She walked to where Bill stood quickly, banking on the fact Paul wouldn't shoot her to get to Bill. He didn't know that shooting Claire wouldn't kill her. She gave Bill the gun, but stayed in front of him enough that Paul wouldn't be able to get a clear shot at anything vital.
"Get away from him!"
"No, I'm not going to. Did you know it was him?" she asked Bill.
"I had my suspicions, gut feeling really. He had some bruises after the night of my accident."
"I didn't notice."
"I don't think anyone did, and if they did they probably attributed them to him pulling me out of the wreckage. I saw the way he looked at you the day we weren't speaking and you brought coffee into the office. I just didn't think he was dangerous."
"Lucky," she said, realizing she hadn't heard her dog in a while. And why hadn't he barked or anything when Paul had come in.
"Your dog and I are buddies now."
"You could have killed him!"
"No, I knew how much to give him just enough to make him sick, nothing more."
Bill cocked her gun. "It's even loaded," he said, sounding impressed.
"Wouldn't do you much good if it wasn't," she said simply.
"Drop the gun, Paul. You aren't getting out of this without getting hurt."
"I can shoot you."
"Then I'd just pick up the gun and shoot you," Claire said.
"You wouldn't! For him?"
"No, not for him, for gunning down an innocent man."
"My brother's dead…"
"I get that, and I'm real sorry," Claire said. "I've heard enough about Trevor…"
"It wasn't just Trevor neither. There was Wally and Margaret. All dead because he couldn't get over the fact she married someone else."
"He didn't kill them, Paul, surely you know that."
"It's his fault! And then you come along and you look like her, you know?"
Claire frowned. Kylie had shown her pictures of Starla and she didn't think they looked alike, but she supposed if you lump all blondes together maybe. Kylie hadn't commented on the resemblance either, and she would have because the girl held nothing back.
"Why didn't you just ask me out?"
"Cuz I saw the guys you danced with down at Henenlotter's, I ain't like none of them."
"But sending me things, breaking into my house."
"I know, all right," he said, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. His hand was shaking now, so he clearly didn't want to shoot anyone. Claire was afraid his nerves might make him do something accidentally.
"Paul, please put the gun away. I'm sorry if my being with Bill hurts you, but I didn't know it was you. And hurting him isn't going to make me think differently about him."
"It would if he was dead."
"You're a police officer, you can't possibly want to kill someone over this."
"You're worth it," he said.
"Except you won't have me, Paul. You'll be in prison for murder."
He leaned back against the door, shifting his weight enough that it made him unbalanced and he practically slumped to the floor. He dropped his hand, the gun falling beside him. Tears were trailing down his cheeks. He looked, for lack of a better word, miserable.
Bill handed Claire her gun before walking toward Paul. He kicked the gun away from him.
"Hand me my cuffs," he said.
"What?" she asked.
"In my front pocket is a set of Plasticuffs," he said.
"Oh," she said, walking to the bed and digging through his pocket for the cuffs. It was rather awkward to do while holding a gun, but she managed. She walked toward them, handing it to Bill. She wasn't sure what to say to Paul. She wasn't sure what she was more upset about either. The fact he'd gone through her things, taken some of her things, sure that bothered her. The fact that he had such a casual disregard for what he'd done to Lucky really got to her. Then there was running Bill off the road. To make matters worse, he'd played hero, being the one to pull Bill from the truck.
"Where'd you get the truck," she asked.
"What?" he asked.
"The truck you used to follow me with and run Bill off the road with. Where'd you get it?"
"A friend bought it for me and I drove it into a lake the night after the accident."
"He followed you? You didn't tell me that," Bill said.
"I wasn't sure it was him, I tried to catch him but every time I thought there was a consistent pattern it would change. And then after your accident it stopped altogether."
"I'll just bet it did," Bill said.
"I still don't know how you survived," Paul said, sounding both bitter and defeated.
"I guess I just have a high constitution. Or Lady Luck got to my bedside in the nick of time," Bill said, fastening the cuffs around Paul's wrists. Bill had regular handcuffs, but he carried these around with him when he was off-duty. They were more difficult to get free of and cheaper, but they weren't reusable. The mayor had them on a tight enough budget that they couldn't justify using them in lieu of handcuffs.
"Mind a little detour on our way to dinner?"
"No," she said simply. "I just need to…"
"Get dressed? Yeah, I get that. You don't need to get all dressed up again."
"You sure," she said.
"Positive, though the skirt did have appeal," he admitted. She realized she must look a sight with the skirt wrinkled to the point she wasn't sure a professional dry cleaner would get it looking right again. And with the skirt her grandmother had bought her she wore a white cotton T-shirt with an advertisement for Corona on it.
"I'll see what I can come up with," she said.
"Don't take long, we'll be in my car," he said with a frown. He had to drive his county vehicle around until he got the insurance money from the accident to buy a new truck. "Come on, Paul," Bill said, gathering Paul up. Now that he'd confronted them he looked lost, and kind of sad. She felt a little sorry for him, but Bill didn't give her much time to think on that. He escorted Paul into the hallway and down the stairs without hesitation.
She kept the shoes and the stockings. The blouse was pretty well a lost cause like the skirt. So, she chose a black leather skirt that was about the same length as the linen one and a white peasant-like top that fell to her midriff.
They drove into town, Claire waited in the car while Paul was processed. She'd be called on to testify if it got that far. She'd seen the defeated look in the man's eyes and wasn't sure he wouldn't plea to something just to save himself the humiliation.
"Now," Bill said once he'd joined her back in the car. "Where to?"
"We don't have to…"
"No, no, we had a date scheduled for the evening. I ain't letting him and his craziness stop me from taking you out."
"You were taking me out to flush him out, though."
He turned to face her, draping an arm around her headrest.
"Is that what you think?"
"Well, that's what you said."
"I was using a date with you as an excuse, yes, but the desire for a date came first and set off the idea."
"Did you ever come up with a plan?"
"Why, yes, I did. Brenda and her brother were going to be at my house. We were going to drive there and stay a while, then they were going to leave in my car."
"So, Paul would follow them thinking you were taking me home."
"And we could follow him in turn. You sure you don't want to become a cop. It seems I'm short another one. Any more depletions and I'm going to be a one man office because no one will want to work for me."
"I'll think about it."
"All right. So, where to?"
"I don't care, dinner's fine. So's just grabbing something at the bar."
"That wouldn't be right."
"Treating you to a dinner like that after what happened at your house."
"You think because we had sex you need to buy me dinner?"
"Well, no, I didn't say that and maybe it sounded like I was suggesting that. I just want to take you to dinner."
"All right, then let's go. Um, pizza."
"Pizza it is," he said, putting the car into reverse. "I meant what I said back there, by the way. In case you were wondering."
"About Lady Luck visiting me in the nick of time. I wasn't referring to the night of the accident, though. I needed to be knocked on my ass a bit, to see the world for what it really is and not what I'd like it to be. Starla leaving my life started that process. You coming into my life finished it."
"Are you going to tell your mother?"
"That you aren't, we aren't… It was all part of a plan to catch Paul?"
"No, I'm not stupid. And I already told you, it's not as if I ain't thought about it. We haven't known one another real long, and you've got some things going on with your life I realize you may not be in the position to settle down anyway. And if I do ask I want you to be surprised and not thinking I'm doing it as part of a case."
"But everyone's going to think…"
"All part of my devious plan, darlin'. They think I'm about to pop the question to ya', there won't be any more Paul's."
"Them neither. That all right with you?"
"Yeah," she said.
"Before I forget, since I got kind of sidetracked all evening. Dinner tomorrow night, you, me and Kylie at Ma's."
"Oh God, tomorrow?"
"Yeah, you got something going on?"
"No, just nervous about meeting the mother."
"She'll love you same as Kylie and I do."
"Thanks," she said, trying not to get excited by what he'd just said. It could have just been a slip of the tongue. "And, by the way."
"You don't need to worry about condoms."
She bit her lower lip lightly. "Well, I sort of thought this might happen between us, had this feeling you know?"
"I think I do."
"So, I went on the pill," she said.
"You didn't mention that earlier."
"It happened so fast and I'm not sure how much of the healing thing you understand. I can't get diseases or anything, so I'm a pretty safe partner."
"As much as I hate them things I've never been with a woman without one."
"No little Bill Pardy's walking around then?"
"God no," he said.
"You don't want them?"
"Not without, you know, a wife first."
"Ah," she said.
"That okay with you?"
She smiled then. "Yes, that's just fine with me."
"Good," he said, offering her his hand, which she took.
"Ever done it in your car?"
He chuckled. "No, I haven't always been chief and would have been too afraid of getting caught."
"Care to change that?"
"Mm, we can stop for pizza first, forget the drinks part of the evening. You can drive me home and, well."
"I get the picture, yeah."
She smiled. "I thought you might."
"Could always stop at the store and pick up a frozen pizza," he offered.
She laughed and leaned in to kiss him. "That sounds like a real good plan, Sheriff."
"At least one plan is working out the way it's supposed to tonight."
"I'm sure we could come up with one or two others if you really want to increase your success ratio."
He chuckled, draping an arm around her as he pointed the car in the direction of the county market.
"I have a feeling I'd like just about any plan you could come up with, Miss Baxter."
She winced. "Bennet," she whispered.
"Huh," he said.
"Oh, right." He stepped on the brake for a minute and leaned over to kiss her. "I won't tell a soul."
"Thank you. Maybe Lady Luck visited both of us."
She certainly never imagined coming to Wheelsy and falling in love. She'd come here a couple of months ago certain she was going to be miserable and high tail it back to the civilization that was New York. Kylie had won her over first really, but it was seeing Kylie and all that Bill was doing for her that made her realize there was more to the sheriff than the gossip around town said. She was glad to find out that was true and looked forward to finding out even more.
"Maybe so," she agreed, snuggling into the crook of his arm as he started driving again.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com