Prelude to a Kiss
None of psych belongs to me, sadly. Very sadly. For I would do some lovely things with it. Alas. Probably best this way anyhow. TPTB own all of it, I'm just playing.
And lo, the "one-shot" comes to a close… twenty-three chapters later. *g* Thanks to all of you who encouraged me to keep going—believe me, I had no idea it was going to turn into such a rambly epic, but it sure has been fun. Thanks for coming along for the journey and for all of your lovely reviews. Oh, and special thanks to hfce who gave me the kernel of the idea for this epilogue.
One year later…
Carlton knelt alongside Juliet supporting her forehead and rubbing her back as she heaved miserably into the toilet. Talk about déjà vu—back at the Tahoe Sun, in the same suite, even, the morning after their first anniversary which they had celebrated with a private vow renewal, and just like that morning exactly one year ago, he and Juliet had woken up, nude, married, and with her bolting for the bathroom, hand over her mouth.
At least this time they remembered every damned thing.
"So, tell me, is this how you're planning on celebrating all our anniversaries?" he asked drily. "Not that it's not memorable, but a guy's ego could start taking a hit after a while."
Even hunched over the toilet she was still capable of delivering a fairly painful elbow to the ribs.
"Quit mocking or I won't give you your gift," she managed between heaves.
He gathered the soft mass of her hair in his hand, holding it back from her face. "I thought you already had."
The engraved cufflinks she'd given him the evening before were simple and elegant and probably the nicest piece of jewelry he'd ever owned outside of his wedding band but truth was, nice as those were, the simple fact he woke up next to her every morning was gift enough for him.
With a deep breath, she pushed away from the toilet and rose. "Not the only gift I got you." After rinsing her mouth, she padded into the bedroom, indicating he should follow. Curious, he perched on the edge of the mattress, watching as she rummaged in an inside pocket of her suitcase, extracting a small wrapped box.
"I suppose, though, knowing how much you appreciate accuracy, Detective Lassiter, this could be considered a mutual gift." Climbing back into bed, she handed him the box.
Confused, he took it from her but made no move to unwrap it, his brain analyzing the cryptic—to him—statement. She'd gotten him the cufflinks… he'd gotten her the diamond solitaire earrings she currently wore… they hadn't talked about getting anything… anything…
"Juliet," he breathed, still making no move to open the long, narrow box because he was reasonably certain what it contained, especially given how she was smiling.
A year earlier it had been stress contributing to her suspicions, leaving them both undeniably relieved. The time to learn themselves as a couple had been wanted, not so much out of selfishness as Juliet had joked, but because it was all so very new. There was so much for them to learn and explore about each other, some moments better than others, because no matter how much he loved her and she loved him, he still had his difficult pain in the ass moments and she was every bit his match in sheer bullheadedness with a wicked temper to boot. Part of what made them such a good team, both professionally and personally, but they still needed to achieve some measure of balance—establish a distinct boundary between Lassiter and O'Hara and Carlton and Juliet where work stayed at work and their home life remained a private sanctuary.
Every now and again, however, he'd sensed an air of wistfulness about her. One he recognized because he felt it himself. It hadn't been the right time—they both acknowledged it—but part of both of them had so wanted…
"Open it, Carlton."
He'd thought it was a stupid wives' tale—all that glowing crap—but damned if it wasn't true. The sun couldn't begin to touch how beautiful and warm and perfect she appeared to him in this moment. "I don't need to."
Placing the box on the nightstand, he shifted to gather her close, needing her warmth and to feel her holding him.
"We only just started trying last month," he murmured against her neck.
She gently stroked his hair, soothing and arousing all at once, especially given how she shifted beneath him, aligning her curves more closely to his body. "You're the one who keeps insisting you're so determined."
"Damned straight." He rose onto an elbow, stroking her hair back from her face. "I do promise to try my damnedest not to be an insufferable pain in the ass."
"Oh, Carlton," she murmured, "determination is one thing, but you're liable to hurt yourself if you try for the impossible."
"Hey—" he protested, but yeah, it was weak. He was going to be an insufferable pain in the ass. He just hoped he could curb it enough so that she didn't feel an overwhelming need to pistol whip him.
"What do you want to do about work?" he asked, because sorry—that was a real concern for him. However, he would defer as best as he could to her wishes.
"We've got a doctor's appointment for when we get back," she replied, her fingers tracing light, sensuous patterns on his chest.
"We," she replied firmly. "We got here together, we go through as much of it as possible together."
"Really?" A grin tugged at the corners of his mouth.
"Really." She rolled her eyes. "I can't believe you'd even think—"
"I just wasn't sure you'd want—"
"Shut up." Lifting her head, she punctuated her command with a physical echo. After several moments that left him lightheaded and flushed and yeah, shutting up, she lowered her head back to the pillow, her thumb tracing a slow, devastating path along his lower lip.
"We'll see what the doctor has to say about me being in the field. I'll do whatever she says, but Carlton," she said with a telling arch of her eyebrow that he knew very well. "If she does let me work in the field, you're going to have to do your best not to be overly distracted or we're going to have to work with other partners."
"No." Given that choice, he would work like hell to keep his emotions under wrap on the job so long as he actually had her in his sights. She'd know, of course, like she always knew, but that sort of silent acknowledgment was part of that balance they'd achieved.
"Okay—we'll leave it up to the doctor then." She fell silent, studying him with those changeable blue eyes, the bright winter morning light bringing out the hints of green. "You look awfully thoughtful," she said quietly. "What's up?"
What's up? Such a simple question with such a complex answer. How to explain that from the moment he'd realized what the box contained and what it meant, an entirely new world had opened up to him—inspiring visions of houses with the sound of the sea in the distance and orange trees shading a patio with a green lawn where dark-haired, blue-eyed children wobbled through their first steps and played on a swing set and encouraged him to play Cowboys and Indians and God help him, even made him dress up for tea.
"I just love you," he replied.
"Hm," she said with that smile—the one that had the ability to take him from badass cop to soft-hearted husband in less than a heartbeat. If they had a daughter who inherited that smile, he was doomed. "I somehow suspect there's more."
"There is," he agreed, "but it's also the sum of everything." He breathed deep, scared shitless and confident all at the same time. "It all comes down to I love you, Juliet Lassiter."
"I love you, too." She stretched beneath him, prompting a groan which in turn elicited a wicked smile and another stretch from her. "So, can you tell me at least a little of what had you looking so thoughtful?"
"I'd rather you did a little more of that stretching stuff," he said with a smile of his own, grinding down gently, but careful to keep his most of weight supported on his own arms.
"Come on, Carlton—one little thing." Another stretch and undulation. "Then I'll stretch some more for you, in any way you like."
He groaned again. "Fair enough." And really, this was practical. "How do you feel about orange trees?"
"Orange—" An instant later her eyes widened and he found himself tumbling off the bed as she took off for the bathroom once again.
"Aw, crap—" He scrambled to his feet. "Juliet, baby—I'm sorry." He skidded to a stop in the bathroom, dropping once more to his knees and holding her forehead, babbling, because other than holding her, it's all he could do. "It's just I was thinking we might want to start to consider buying a house."
She heaved again and only his hold kept her from hitting her head on the tank. Dear God, how long was this going to last? What the hell was nature thinking, doing this to the woman he loved? Helpless, he continued babbling, "A fifth floor condo's no real place to raise a child, no matter what those whackjob Farrows think and then you take into consideration what a weird little kid Tony is and do we really want our kids playing with him, and then I got to thinking about Madeleine's house. It's got this beautiful yard with an herb garden and these trees and it all smells so nice—"
Juliet shot him a grim stare over the bowl's rim. "Shut up, Carlton!"
She turned back to the bowl, her "Later," echoing off the porcelain interior.
In between heaves she reached out and patted his thigh. "Yes. House. Orange trees fine. Just—"
After another bout of heaves she continued. "Let me… get past… morning sickness… first, 'kay?"
"Whatever you want."
She patted his thigh once more, her touch reassuring as she relaxed back against him, finally done. "Just… want… you."
Carlton shifted slightly to better support his wife, sweat-soaked, exhausted, still more than a little green around the gills and the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen in his entire life. Gently, the tips of his fingers grazed her abdomen.
"Oh, God, Juliet—you've got me." He kissed her sweaty forehead. "For good."