"What in the hell is she doing here?" Wayne asked.
John and Wayne were each nursing a mixed drink with more mix than liquor in them. They had to fit in, and sitting in a bar not drinking was not blending in. The place was crowded, a given since it was Friday night.
Tonight they had three women here working undercover. He'd attacked his victims on Friday nights, so they were watching everyone. They had cops dressed in street clothes and undercovers working at all the bars Claire and Sophie had been in the night of their attack.
"She wanted to come."
"And you let her?"
"He likes her, or is mad she got away. Something. She has caught his eye. We were kind of hoping the local media attention she got after landing that contract with Marshall Field's would make him think about her again."
"John, man, setting your woman up to potentially get attacked again is not the way to keep her."
"Keeping her holed up at my house isn't either. She wants him caught. She came back from New York with a ton of work on her plate, she can't stay in hiding forever. We have undercovers following her every move."
"You mean Maguire knows she's here?"
"Yes," John said.
"Why didn't I then?"
"Because she's a good looking woman. You not checking her out would be suspicious."
Wayne shook his head, lifting his drink to his lips to take a sip. Wayne did just that then, checked her and her friends out. John wanted to tell him to keep his eyes off of her, but that would defeat the point of all of this. Wayne was interested in any woman who walked into a bar whether they had a man with them or not. It was just the way he was built.
"And she's not mine."
"You want her to be and she clearly wants to be."
"You have no idea what you're talking about."
"Yes, because any woman in her right mind would choose to stay with you at your house with your sister and dog versus a nice hotel."
"Hotels cost money."
"Her parents have a cabin in Wisconsin she could have hidden out in and worked just the same as at your place."
"Yeah," John said. "Anyway she's been different since her trip."
He was trying very hard not to watch her too closely or too often. It was hard, though, because of all the women in the bar, including the four she was here with she was the only one he wanted to look at. She wasn't the prettiest, though she and her friends were certainly some of the most attractive and best-dressed women there.
Sophie was in a room off the bar where there were security cameras. She'd remembered more and more and was willing to see if being here again would shake anything loose. Neither she nor Claire wanted another woman to fall victim to this guy. The last victim was in no condition to be here, but she'd mentioned being at this bar, too. It was the reason they were focusing the bulk of their attention and manpower here.
He saw Claire stand and go toward the bathroom. She tucked some hair behind her ear and he noticed then the slight shaking of her hand. He'd gotten real familiar with her the couple of weeks they'd shared his bed before she left for New York. They hadn't gotten to the point of sharing it with Lizzie home, but they certainly had using it when she wasn't home down pat. She'd said she wanted to be sure his sister was okay with them being together before she saw them sleeping together.
It had seemed legitimate at the time, but now since she'd been back he'd wondered. She'd kissed him, but she'd been back for a week and they hadn't used his bed once. Not that he just wanted sex from her, but she'd been just as willing to have it as he had been before her trip. She never initiated the kisses between them either.
What had her scared? Or upset? He scanned the bar for anything or anyone that may have caught her attention, but he couldn't see anyone focusing on her. A couple of women, one being an undercover cop went to the bathroom, too.
"Settle down," Wayne said.
"Huh?" John asked.
"I don't know what you're thinking, but I can tell you're itching to go after her."
"Of course she is. Leave her alone or you'll blow the reason she's doing this. Hopefully after tonight she won't have reason to be scared anymore."
Wayne flagged a waitress down and sent a drink to a woman not among Claire's group. John rolled his eyes at his partner. Leave it to him to try to pick someone up even under these circumstances. Then again, if they were supposed to be behaving normally, Wayne picking up women was about as normal as he could get.
"That would be nice," John said.
She was ready to go back home and back to her office. He understood why. She had work to do, a lot of it from the sound of it. His house was acceptable for doing some things for a few models to wear on a runway, but she had to come up with multiple designs for not just a large company but one based out of Chicago. She wanted to succeed probably more for that reason than if it had been a company from Paris or London wanting her stuff. There was something about the hometown girl doing good that appealed to her. Who could blame her?
He'd asked her for a little more time. She'd come up with this idea, which led to them being here tonight with him sitting helplessly by wondering what the fuck was going on with her that she went to the bathroom shaking.
Wayne stood, stretching a little and regarded the area around them. He nodded at the woman he'd sent the drink to who seemed (as they always were) receptive to his unspoken invitation. "I'll see what I can find out. You sit here and drink your watered down rum and coke."
"Yeah," John said. So there he was sitting at the table alone, scanning the room without being obvious about doing it. What had she seen? Anything? Nothing?
With Wayne gone John was left to replay the conversation he and Claire had had earlier today in the basement while Lizzie and Abby had been upstairs doing whatever eleven year old girls did together looking through some samples of things Claire had brought home with her from New York.
"So, tonight?" she asked.
"Yeah. We're all set. I'll be there and Wayne will. There'll be undercovers there looking out for you, too. You'll be fine."
"I know, I trust you."
"And then tomorrow."
"Yeah, I know back home you go."
"Yes. You know this means I'm going to be busy."
"Yeah, I know."
She'd sighed, looking at her feet instead of at him. That didn't bode well. "I mean real busy like deadlines every week that I can't miss busy."
"Yeah, I get how it works. I may not be the smartest guy in the world, but I get that you signed a contract and they expect you to abide by it."
"That means I'm not going to have much time."
"Much time for what exactly?"
"Claire," he said cautiously.
He hadn't expected this to come out of her trip at all. They'd talked once while she was gone if talking for about ten minutes could be considered a conversation. He didn't think it was, but then what did he know? He'd tried more than once to call her, but he never caught her in her room. He left a couple of messages with the front desk of the hotel she was staying at, but after the second or third one didn't get returned he'd stopped. She eventually called late one night. She'd apologized for not returning his calls, but hadn't offered a real seeming reason. Busy just seemed so vague and as if she was blowing him off.
And then this conversation.
"I just think that maybe we should take a break for a while."
"A break from what? We haven't even started anything yet. Not really."
"Yeah, and I think that's probably best. I'm just not going to have time. I mean, this is Field's we're talking about, John. It's like the mother ship for me. Do you get that? Do you know how many times I've shopped there with Mom over the years and thought, ‘God one day that's going to be my dress on that mannequin.'? It's happening."
"Yeah, I know, but I'm still not sure where the break comes in. It's not like I don't have a job and responsibilities, too."
"I know," she sighed softly. "I just don't want to hurt you."
"Hurt me? Jesus, and casting me aside doesn't hurt?"
"I'm not. I'm just asking for some time. You know? Let me get started and then we'll see."
"What I can balance. I'm just not sure. I've never had much of a personal life before to worry about."
"What about Lizzie?"
"What about her?" Claire asked. "I didn't think you'd told her anything about us."
"Not that. You made her a promise."
"And I'll keep it, I promise I will. I just can't commit to what you want from me."
"You don't know what I want from you."
"I do. You want dinners and movies out and me to spend the night here."
"I thought you wanted those things, too."
"It's just real bad timing, John. I can't right now. I told you that first night that I'd been too busy and I meant it. I have to be focused on this. I can't have distractions."
"So, what I'm supposed to just sit here and wait for you to what? Decide you want to make time for me? A relationship with me? That I'm no longer a distraction?"
"I don't expect you to do that at all, no. If you've found someone else well then I guess that'll be my loss to deal with."
"I told you before I'd be happy to bring you lunch or dinner at work."
"I know, but instead of eating at my desk in five or ten minutes I'd be tempted to take an hour or longer and I just can't afford to do that."
"You can't work yourself to death either."
"It's my choice, John. I have a chance, a shot, I can't back away from it."
"I'll keep my promise to Lizzie, I swear I will. After tonight whether you've caught him or not I'm going back home."
He'd never been … broken up with before. He wasn't even sure that's what she'd done. Asking for time. What the fuck did that even mean? It wasn't as if they were married or he expected her to see him every second of every day.
He swore if it was at all possible for his heart to break again because of her it did. Only this time it wasn't through his own stupidity. He'd never gotten close enough to anyone again to feel anything for them. He'd forgotten what it was like, but then he'd always loved her so he imagined that's why it felt as though she'd pulled his heart out from his chest with her bare hands.
He saw some activity going on toward the rear fire exit and decided to go check it out. He had to do something to stop that conversation from replaying in his head.
"Your girl and her friend have identified him," Wayne said, pulling him aside from where he'd been headed.
"Claire said she smelled his cologne. Her friend…"
"Sophie," John corrected.
"Yeah, whatever," Wayne said. "Recognized his ring."
"His ring?" John said. "No one said anything about a ring."
"I know," Wayne said. "Anyway, he just left with someone so let's go."
"No, not Claire. She's fine, still in the bathroom. She was asked to stay put. We're not even sure he saw her."
"All right," John said.
"When this is done you can tell me why you have that kicked in the gut look about you tonight."
"Not talking about it."
"All right," Wayne said, leading him outside. They were pointed in the direction the guy had gone by one of the undercovers who'd left the bar as soon as he'd left with someone new.
The takedown went fairly easily, considering. He wasn't so tough against two pretty big guys. The woman he'd left with didn't seem to understand at all what was going on as they slapped the cuffs on his wrists and escorted him to a waiting squad car.
"Meet you at the station?" Wayne asked.
"Go talk to her, I know you want to. Just be quick about it. The sooner he's processed the sooner we can go home."
"I know," he said, returning to the bar.
He knocked on the bathroom door, flashed his badge at the civilian who answered the door. She left without John having to say anything, so did the two cops in there with her. Claire was huddled in the corner, looking more than a little afraid just then. He was reminded of what she'd looked like in her bedroom that first day he and Wayne went to interview her. It still made him want to kill the guy, but he wouldn't do that. She'd never forgive him if for no other reason.
"We got him."
"You did?" she asked.
"We did. I have to go to the station for processing and everything."
"I'd appreciate it if you could stay with Lizzie for tonight."
"Yeah, sure," she said.
"Thanks," he said. "I know you're probably itching to get home and everything, so thank you."
"Okay then, I have to go."
"Good luck," she said.
"Thanks," he said, leaving the bathroom. He was prepared for a very long night and very grateful to have a distraction from the fact that tomorrow his house would be missing someone he'd kind of gotten used to having there for the last little while.
Wayne was right, she could have stayed at a hotel or at her parents' cabin but she'd stayed with him. That had to mean something, right? If only he could make her see that, because otherwise it did him no good.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com