He woke and she was gone. That wasn't completely surprising because he was pretty sure neither of them would've slept well if she'd tried to sleep with him on the cot. Not that he kicked her out or would've complained if she'd wanted to try.
He glanced over to the spot on the floor she'd made up for Randy to sleep on only to notice that Randy was gone, too. That wasn't good. He was a good dog, but he was still a dog. There was lots of stuff he could get into in a vet's office he imagined. Some of those things could probably kill him.
He got up, pulling his pants on, and grabbing his shirt to go off in search of him. He probably should have had her put him in a kennel because who knew what he could get into wandering around by himself like he was currently.
Except he was nowhere in the office that he could find. The front door to her office was locked, so he made his way to the back door he'd spotted last night while she was showing him around the place.
"I know you don't like that, but you have to wear it," he heard Claire say as he opened the door. "You can't look at me like that and think I'm going to change my mind. I do this for a living."
How soundly had he been sleeping that he missed her taking Randy out of the room as she'd apparently done to get him fitted for the cone he currently had around his head.
"He doesn't really need to wear that, does he?" John asked.
"He does until the area is healed, yes. It's better for it to have air and licking it could lead to infection. So, yes."
"All right," he said. Randy had moved beside him as soon as he saw him. John petted him, scratching his ears.
"I gave him a little bit of food. I'd recommend a little less than normal tonight as well just to be sure he doesn't have a reaction to being put under."
"Watch the wound. Any signs of infection you call his vet to have it looked at."
"Right," he said. Of course he knew that. He took better care of Randy, and Cooper before him, then he did himself really.
"I presume I can submit a bill to the SPD?"
"Uh, yeah, sure," he said, more than a little confused by her cool attitude. Had he dreamt them having sex last night? He didn't think so.
"Okay then," she said. "I'll send you home with some gauze just in case you need it, but really you shouldn't. It looked fine when I looked at it."
"You obviously do good work then."
"I do my best."
"Whose horses?" he asked.
He hadn't expected her to have so much land out here. He'd come out here a time or two as a teenager. There'd been all sorts of rumors as to why the road was private. No one lived out here back then, the buildings were abandoned and empty which only served to inspire more curiosity. He'd never gotten curious about what was beyond the road as others they'd gone to school with had. Rumor was there was a small cemetery at the end of the road. John supposed it belonged to her in-laws if this was their land.
"Ours. I mean, mine and my kids. Well, not all of them. I have some people who pay to rent space in my stable. It's not to capacity or anything, but they come out riding whenever."
"Nice," he said.
"It is. Well, listen I have some things I need to do this morning that I didn't get to last night."
"Yeah, sure, sorry."
"Don't apologize. Randy was obviously a priority."
She'd taken the time to shower and get dressed he noticed because she wasn't wearing what she had been last night. Her hair was still slightly damp he could tell, too, and her makeup looked fresh. She hadn't looked at him at all, though, since he'd come out here. She'd pretty much avoided looking directly at him entirely.
"I can take you to your car and everything since I have to go out anyway."
"All right," he said.
He took Randy with him while he went inside to get his boots on. She took the time to shut things down it seemed. He followed her out. Randy walked next to him, John was careful to adjust his stride so that he didn't have to feel as though he had to play catchup.
She knew where his car was since there was only one boat launch out this way. She'd gone over some things with him in the car. Not too much exertion or exercise. All stuff he knew, of course. He had a fenced in yard, but he supposed he'd have to keep Randy on a leash even when going out for bathroom purposes for the next few days.
She helped him get Randy out of her car and into his, but obviously when he got back to his place he wasn't going to have someone to help him. It was still appreciated. The cone was going to be one of those things that John was going to have to force himself to leave on him. He knew it was best, but holy shit did it look fucking ridiculous.
She left then. Not a good bye. Not a here's my phone number. Nothing. He had no idea what to fucking make of it. She didn't even really give him the chance to say anything about what had happened.
"All right, Randy. Let's get you home," he said once she'd driven away from the boat landing. He was tempted for about two seconds to follow her and see where she had to go that was so pressing. She did turn the opposite way from heading back to her office and house so he had to assume she'd told the truth and had things to do.
"Jesus, again Claire. What is it about him for you?" Brian said.
She shrugged. "I have no idea!"
"So, nineteen years later and he still does it for you."
"Brian! That wasn't it at all."
"Really? Because you've been separated for almost two years and that was before the divorce became final and I'd have heard about it if you'd dated."
"What makes you say that?"
"You weren't sitting here for more than ten minutes and told me about this. You don't think you'd tell me if you'd had a date in the past two years?"
"Well, I was still married!"
"Details. You know it and I know it. You were too nice as far as I'm concerned."
"Of course I was, that was the reason I got the house and everything without a fight, Brian."
"I know. That doesn't mean you still weren't too nice."
Claire shrugged. Bryce might have turned out to be a jerk who went against his word, but Claire wasn't out to ruin his career. They'd been separated for a couple of years before deciding to actually get a divorce. It was time they took to see if they really wanted a divorce or to keep things up as they had been for years. They'd changed so much since college and it was clear their original agreement wasn't working for either of them anymore. There were people whispering in Bryce's ear that he should run for governor. He hadn't done anything with those whispers yet, but she suspected one day he would. His eyes were focused on the US Senator's seat first. It was why she'd been so careful. Just because she didn't love him didn't mean he wasn't good at his job. He cared about the people he represented immensely. Sometimes too much. The gate around their house wasn't just to keep potential criminals out it was also to keep people from thinking he was available all day and night.
Until three months ago he'd lived in a guest house they had on their property so the kids saw him every day. He even ate dinner with them every night. The divorce was a very quiet one. It was, for the most part, amicable, so they were able to work things out pretty decently. There were a couple of times she wanted to strangle him, but the same was probably true for him in return. He forgot sometimes that even though they weren't going to be married any longer the relationship he had with his kids was important, especially for the image he wanted to continue to present despite a failed marriage under his belt.
"I didn't want to be dragged through the mud any more than he did. He doesn't drink in front of anyone else so I'm the only the one he got nasty with the past few years."
The drinking was just a symptom of the real problem. Bryce not being able to be himself. She knew that and understood it, tried to shelter the kids from it as best she could. It wasn't their fault. Betsy was too young to really notice, though she probably noticed more than Claire gave her credit for. Bryce, though. Well, he noticed and probably suffered in ways she didn't understand because of it. When his dad was in town he never had friends over. She hadn't really noticed that until the past few months when Bryce, Sr. wasn't living on the property anymore. Suddenly, Bryce wanted to have friends over.
"I know," Brian said.
"Oh, hi Claire," Brian's wife, Connie said.
"Hi Connie. How are you?"
"I'm well. Thanks. How are the kids?"
"They're okay. Well, if you asked Betsy last night she'd tell you she was miserable. Bryce probably wasn't much better having to listen to her cry about wanting to come home."
"Oh, that's so rough. I'm sorry," she said.
"Bryce had her call me on the verge of tears, telling me she wanted to come home."
"And you still said no?"
"I had to! I didn't want to. It broke my heart to hear her cry, knowing I could fix it and didn't. I couldn't do that, though. He needs to be a parent, too!"
"I'm so sorry," she said.
"Thanks," Claire said.
Of course Connie was one of the people who wondered what Claire and Bryce were doing having another baby three years ago when they got separated shortly after her first birthday. No one ever asked such a question, of course, but she could see the look in people's eyes when they did the math and realized they got separated so soon after Betsy had been born. Connie and Brian were two of the very few who knew Bryce hadn't lived in the house for as long as he did before he moved out.
"Well, I'll let you two talk," she said, seeming to sense that they hadn't really been talking about Bryce or the kids when she came in. Of course, Brian was the only one in the world who knew things about Bryce Claire did. She was lucky he wasn't out to make a million dollars the easy way or she'd have been screwed a long time ago.
"You are so lucky," Claire said.
Claire shrugged. "The way she looks at you and you guys have been married ten years."
"Eleven, but who's counting. And I agree, I'm very lucky. I'm sorry you didn't have that. You deserve it, Claire. It's not too late, you know."
Claire shrugged. "My own fault I guess. You know how I was." She could admit that. She and Bryce had more of a business arrangement than a marriage. She'd agreed to it, though, knowing what the facts beforehand. She hadn't ever wanted to get married, but his offer was too tempting to resist. She would get the benefits of being a wife, the money and access that came with a name like the Mercer's without having to really do anything for it. It was a dream come true for someone like her at the age of twenty.
He chuckled. "I know how you were before that day and after that day. I also know you behaved incredibly out of character on that day."
"Oh my God, why are we back to that?"
"Because you had sex with him again, Claire."
"Yes, and the chance I'll see him again are next to none so I'm not worried about it."
"Maybe you should see him again."
"Brian. I came to you…"
"To tell the one person you can admit that to without thinking you're nuts. I know," Brian said. "That doesn't mean I'm going to just let you move onto another topic."
"It doesn't matter, Brian. I don't know how to get a hold of him."
"Really? That's your excuse?"
"Well, it's true."
"He works for SPD, Claire. It can't be that difficult to find him."
"It doesn't matter! He kissed me and I just needed so badly. It'd been so unbelievably long. Bryce had been arguing with me about the kids. Betsy was in tears. He caught me at a bad time. Any other time…"
"Except the past would say any other time you'd do it again."
"I didn't see him after that day!"
"Your choice. You know it as well as I do."
"Yes, because just what I wanted to do, be one of the girls who thought sex with him meant more than it did. I knew that it meant nothing to him so I saved myself a bunch of heartache. Besides who on earth would have believed he'd become a cop instead of getting arrested by one and landing in jail for the rest of his life."
"That may be, but you know as well as I do you've had chances the past few months. I even told you about my friend who asked about you."
"I don't want to date anyone!"
"A part of you must want something if you had sex, Claire."
She knew that. Deep down she was aware that sex wasn't the need she really had. It was just the base act that had soothed her need for now. She wasn't really meant to be alone. She loved her kids, but once Bryce started drinking more and keeping to himself she'd gotten depressed herself. Despite their agreement they'd always been friends. She'd liked him, he'd liked her. It was why they'd gotten married to begin with. Had she felt depressed enough to need anything beyond run of the mill therapy? No, but she'd come to realize the past couple of years that she really had been meant to be with someone.
"Well, it doesn't matter. He didn't ask me for my number or anything either."
Their friendship was the second most unexpected thing to come out of that day of detention. Initially she'd started talking to him because she wanted to be nice, to be sure he wouldn't really try to kill himself. She was doing it to be selfish in a way because she didn't want it on her conscious that she knew that he possibly needed help and she'd done nothing.
Things changed over the summer. She'd had to talk to someone and he was the only one who would understand and talk to her logically about decisions she had to make.
They'd both gone to U of I for totally different majors, but they'd run into one another at a football game early in their freshman year and talked in a way they never had those last couple of months of high school. Connie had actually lived in Claire's dorm so in a way Claire was responsible for them even meeting at all.
"I'm so glad Connie understands our friendship," she said, realizing how odd it might seem to some that she and Brian were friends. That she shared information with him few, if any, others had. He kept secrets for her.
Brian chuckled softly at that. "We are fortunate I guess she knows that we never liked one another."
"She thought we did at first."
"Oh, I know. She told me that after the first few conversations we had."
"I'll never forget the day she found out I didn't like you. That we hadn't been together at all. I didn't have your number, though, only your dorm so all I could do was tell her I'd tell you about her the next time I saw you."
"And then you wrote me a letter at my parents' house, giving me her number. Pretty underhanded of you."
"Well, I wasn't sure you'd be interested."
"Obviously I was."
"I know! I'm so glad she said something to me because I sure didn't pick up on her liking you."
"So, did I make you feel any better?" Brian asked.
"Not really," she admitted.
"I don't know what you want me to say. Not really. I think you like him. I think you did nineteen years ago. I understand why you wouldn't have thought to pursue that attraction then, but there's nothing stopping you now."
"Bryce would freak! The ink is barely dry on our divorce papers."
"Bryce is not your responsibility anymore."
"I know," she said.
She ran her thumb over her ring finger and the spot her ring used to be. She'd taken it off about a month ago. She'd worn it, or one he'd given her before they were married, for years and it was second nature to her. She hadn't even realized she was still wearing it until one of her techs at work asked why she was still wearing it. Habit. Habits were so hard to break.
"You're thinking about other things, too, aren't you?"
"Yes," she admitted.
"Maybe it's time for the truth to come out, Claire."
"No! You know he works the schools with his dog."
"So he could have…"
"God, no. He'd know, wouldn't he?"
"I don't know. Do you think he'd see what you and I see not knowing?"
"I don't know."
It was too much to think about and giving her a headache. She left shortly after that. There wasn't a whole lot more to say, really. She'd just needed to tell someone what had happened. Somewhere down the line she was going to owe Brian a huge favor, more than merely introducing him to his wife as she had years ago.
She went grocery shopping after leaving Brian's house. Their conversation hadn't really helped at all. She had no idea what she was hoping it'd do. Brian was the only person who knew for sure what had happened between Claire and John that day. She'd never admitted it to Andy too afraid he'd tell other people. She wasn't embarrassed, but she also didn't want to be lumped in as someone who John screwed and blew off when she hadn't given him the chance to do that.
She sighed softly when she saw a motorcycle waiting outside the gate that led to her house. She didn't know anyone who rode a motorcycle, but she didn't have to guess who it belonged to anyway. He was leaning against the gate, smoking a cigarette. He obviously wasn't concerned about being seen by anyone. She had no neighbors and he was the police.
He followed her onto the property when she opened the gate. She wasn't going to sit out here and talk to him and she suspected he'd just come back if she blew him off. Plus, the thought that something was wrong with Randy entered her mind, but she doubted he'd be leisurely standing outside her gate if that was the case.
"Is Randy okay?" she asked, just in case that was why he was here. It was Saturday afternoon. She imagined he had a regular vet he took Randy to, he'd have to, but she knew lots of vets closed early on Saturday.
"He's fine. Yeah. He was sleeping in a makeshift bed when I left."
"Oh, good. I thought maybe he'd done something to the stitches already."
"No, I left the cone on. He looks fucking ridiculous, but I can appreciate he needs it to prevent infection. Obviously I want him back on his feet as quickly as he can be."
"Will you still be able to work?"
"Yeah. I have plenty to do for the next week."
"Good," she said. She opened her trunk then, reaching for some of the bags. The kids weren't due home for a few weeks, but she had stocked up on many of the items she knew they'd eat and use with quite a bit of time remaining before Bryce went back to school. Betsy didn't eat that much yet, but she swore she was going to go broke having to feed Bryce.
"I can do that," she said when he reached to grab a couple of the bags she couldn't grab in one trip.
"It's fine," he said.
"Well, I can really get them."
"I'm sure you can. I'm offering. It's fine."
"Sure," he said.
She tried to be insulted that he was focusing on her house more than he was on her as they walked toward the front door. She was planning on going out again in a couple of hours so she hadn't parked in the garage. She had to admit it was an impressive house. Bryce wouldn't have settled for anything less. She wouldn't have settled for less either, truthfully. They'd done a lot of entertaining at the house over the years because they had the space to do it comfortably and Bryce liked to show off not just his family but how well he did for himself.
He seemed surprised she had dogs of her own who were very excited when she let them inside at the prospect of company. They missed the kids terribly.
"Wow. Horses. Dogs. Anything else?"
"Uh, a cat who's probably hiding in my bedroom about now."
"Oh, she would've been down here to greet me. She usually is, but as soon as she realized I wasn't alone she'd run for the hills."
"Yeah. She's not exactly a people person. She's happiest right now with the kids gone and it's just the two of us."
"The dogs don't bother her?"
"The dogs realize she's the boss and leave her be."
He chuckled at that, setting the bags he'd grabbed on the kitchen table to pet the dogs.
"That's Rosencrantz," she said. "And the other is Guildenstern."
"Yes," she said.
He rolled his eyes, but continued petting them.
"If everything's all right with Randy…"
"Well, I figured I'd come find out if I did something wrong last night."
"Why ever would you think that?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. The ol' brush off this morning made me wonder."
"I had things to do!"
"Don't give me that. You wouldn't even fucking look at me this morning."
He looked as if he was thinking about something as he scratched Rosencrantz's ear.
"You are divorced, right?"
"What," she asked indigently.
"Well, I just realized I never actually asked. You could be separated or the husband and kids could be spending some quality time together or whatever."
"I'd never do that!"
"Then what's the problem?"
"John, there is no problem."
"What's the cat's name?"
"What?" she asked. He couldn't possibly be asking her that now.
"The cat. Just wondering what her name is."
"Oh. Gertrude," she said.
He nodded simply. Guildenstern butted in to get some of the attention he'd been giving Rosencrantz.
"They always this friendly?"
"For the most part."
"You and the kids living out this far from everything you should really have…"
"I have a gate and walls! I think we're fine."
"Besides, they're friendly. That doesn't mean they wouldn't do something to someone trying to break in here or hurt one of us."
He stood then, patting Guildenstern one last time before making his way to her. Good timing, or bad she supposed. She just finished putting away the groceries that had to go in the fridge or freezer so her hands were empty. Bad because it meant he could reach for he and she didn't have any legitimate reason to stop him. Like her hands being full of groceries that would melt or go bad.
He drew her to him and kissed her a lot better than the first kiss he'd given her last night. She hated herself for responding to something as basic as a kiss as she had. She'd been surprised he'd kissed her as long as he had last night. That was one huge difference from that day at school. He'd kissed her, but not for very long and she'd gotten the distinct impression he hadn't wanted to at all once things moved past kissing in that closet.
He broke the kiss, nipping at her jaw before finding her neck. She groaned softly as he worked the buttons on her blouse so he could move his mouth lower.
"That was a yes to the being divorced, right?" he asked before finding the top of a breast.
"Uh huh," she murmured and he chuckled softly.
"Just making sure. Once I might not have felt so guilty about, but twice…"
She slid her hands to his shoulders, completely intent on pushing him away. Stopping this. She absolutely had to. This was so completely wrong and bad on so many levels. She didn't want to, though. She really, really didn't. He was making her feel so good and so wanted. That was something she couldn't really remember ever feeling with anyone but her kids.
"I think poor Gertrude doesn't like me," John said much later from the side of her bed he was laying on.
"I think you're probably right."
Of course Gertrude wasn't used to Claire sharing her bed with anyone but her. Occasionally one of the dogs would sleep in here, but they didn't usually last the whole night long. Most mornings she found them in Bryce or Betsy's rooms.
"Your bed is much better than that cot was."
"I'd love to say you're wrong, but I'd be lying."
"Not that I'm complaining," he added.
She laughed softly. "I'll try not to be insulted."
"All right," he said, sliding a fingertip along her hip. "You left your car outside earlier."
"Yes," she said cautiously.
"I was going to go see my brother for a while."
"Oh? Chris, right? He still lives in town? I guess I didn't realize that."
"Yup," she said.
"Kids?" he asked.
"Yes," she said. "Three. Two boys and a girl."
"Nice," he said. "I don't know him. I remember that day at school, though, you talked about him and sounded like you loved him. I assume by that he was decent."
"He is," she said. More than John would ever know.
"So, do you have to leave?"
"No," she said. "I was just going to drop by and see my nephew. Well, both of them and my niece."
"Missing your kids?"
"Yes," she said.
"Can I distract you from that?"
She laughed softly, turning to face him. She ran a fingertip along his jaw lightly. "I don't know. Can you?"
"I'm willing to try."
"That's probably best. I'd get accused of being the crazy aunt for coming over again today."
"I was just there this past Thursday."
"Oh," he said.
"I try to get over there once or twice a month. With the kids gone like this, away from me for the first time really, sometimes I go more than that."
"That's good that your kids are close with his."
"Yes. Did you have cousins?"
"Yeah. I was never close with them. I suppose when we were little."
"Do you see any of them now?"
"Some. Yeah. We got older, I got out of my parents' house. I hated them all for a while, but eventually I realized it wasn't their fault how I grew up any more than it was mine. Now my aunts and uncles, no, I have nothing to do with them. They could've spoken up."
"I understand that."
"I know when we were kids things like good and bad touches weren't talked about, but people still had consciences back then."
"Yes, you're right."
She wasn't sure what to say really. He didn't seem to want to talk about things like his childhood anymore anyway. Then, he didn't seem to want to talk about anything anymore. She should maybe be bothered by that, but she wasn't really. The kids weren't here. She was single. She wasn't doing anything wrong. She was allowed to feel good once in a while.
He was very good, too, with his hands and mouth at making her feel good enough she wanted to feel that way for a while longer. She tried her best to make him feel the same way, but she was so out of practice she could only hope she did as well for him as he did for her.
"I can't remember the last time I was in bed for hours," she said a while later.
"Me either," he said with a soft chuckle. "I should get home, though."
"I wasn't planning on being gone for hours and Randy's not used to be alone that long because I usually take him everywhere I go."
"You can't take him with you when you go for rides on your motorcycle."
"No, but I don't usually go on motorcycle rides for four hours either."
She blushed at that. She'd never spent four hours in bed with someone before today. Ever in her life except her kids when they were sick and wanted to sleep with her.
"You're very good with him."
"Thanks," he said.
"And I'm not mad."
"Good," he said, sliding out of the bed and starting to dress. "You still going to go over to your brother's?"
"I don't know," she said. It was kind of late, but she'd had a crazy need to go over there today.
"Well, if you wanted to grab dinner or something…"
"No," she said softly. "I'm fine, John. Really. I know you didn't plan on this happening."
"Well, no, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't like it to again or that the invitation to dinner wasn't sincere."
"I really shouldn't."
"We shouldn't do a lot of things, Claire."
He shrugged, glancing at her as he slid his shirt on. "You sure? You can stay as long as you want. No pressure. You could check Randy's wound…"
She sighed softly. He had to throw that in there. He knew it, too, because he chuckled. He grabbed a pen and paper she kept by her bed and wrote something on it.
"My address," he said, setting the pad of paper down. "You want to come by and check on Randy, that'd be great. You want to pick up some Chinese on the way that'd be great, too. I'd pay you back."
"You don't need to pay me back for dinner."
"Oh, I realize I don't have to, but I'm asking you to do it so I'd pay you back."
"Come, don't come. Bring the dogs if you want."
He shrugged. "Sure. I don't have the space you do, but they'd make do in my yard just fine."
"I'd be afraid they'd get Randy riled up."
"Maybe so. Up to you. I'm not going anywhere tonight."
"You don't work tomorrow?"
"No, unless I'm called out to a scene."
"Oh," she said.
He leaned down and kissed her. "I'll give you a ride on my motorcycle."
"Do you have a spare helmet?"
"Of course," he said.
"That might just be incentive enough."
"Really? The motorcycle ride did it?"
"I haven't been on one in years."
"All right. Well, bring a jacket then."
"John," she said. This had bad idea written all over it. Seeing him was so, so beyond dangerous on many levels.
He ran a fingertip over her collarbone. "Don't give me an answer, but now that I mentioned Chinese I'd really love some Szechuan chicken."
She got out of bed and grabbed her robe.
"What's through there?" he asked.
"There's the door to the hallway. That's to your closet and your bathroom," he said, gesturing to the doors in her dressing area. "That goes out to your balcony." She was surprised he noticed the door to the balcony, but then she supposed he was a cop. There was probably little that got by him.
"It went to Bryce's room."
"Oh," he said with a slight frown.
"I'll walk you down," she said.
"Yeah, sure," he said. She shook her head at the dogs being all over him when they got downstairs.
"I'm sorry," she said.
"It's all right. Did they like your husband?"
"Yes," she said.
"Maybe they miss him. You know, that male presence. Whatever. They get used to their routines, too, and it seems like it was fairly recent."
"What was?" she asked.
He took her hand, sliding a finger over her ring finger where her wedding band would have been a month ago.
"You have tan lines there. So, I take that to mean you didn't take it off too long ago."
"No," she said.
"So, they probably miss him. They're not crazy out of control or anything. Believe me, I've been in people's houses that couldn't keep their animals under control. These guys are fine even if you gave them funny names."
"They're not funny!"
He chuckled softly, leaning in to kiss her.
"Szechuan chicken would be a great thing not to eat alone."
"I'll think about it."
"All right. See you later then maybe."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com