(For Part I, be sure to visit Linda‘s Blog)
Tick’s jaw tightened. “Jim Beam’s fine.”
“I’ll be right back. Get us a table.” Sam leaned in to kiss Ethan. “Try to behave yourself.”
She sauntered away, Ethan’s gaze following her. Tick crossed his arms over his blue-stained chest. “Now, do you two want to tell me how you really know each other?”
Caitlin linked her arm through his. “It’s not important. Come on.”
He refused to budge. “You don’t think I’m going to give up that easily, do you?”
She tunneled a hand through her hair again, the silver beads on her dress clicking. “One could hope.”
He smiled, his good-ol’-country-boy smile. “One can start talking, too.”
Ethan waved a hand between them. “You two did have premarital counseling, right?”
Tick’s face darkened. “Cait, who the hell is this guy?”
“Here you go.” With a side smile, Sam extended a glass of amber liquid in Tick’s direction. He took it with two hands and extreme caution.
Confusion darkened Sam’s brown eyes. “I thought we were getting a table.”
“We are.” Caitlin gave Tick a gentle shove toward a shadowy booth.
“I know you don’t think this conversation is over.”
“Would you give it a rest, Lamar Eugene?”
They settled into the booth, Caitlin and Tick on one side, Sam and Ethan on the other, a candle flickering in a cut-glass globe between them. Tick spun his glass on the table. “So, Dr. McClane, you specialize in working with kids?”
Ethan nodded. “I have a private practice, but do some work with the state juvenile justice system.”
Tick’s eyebrows winged upwards, and he glanced at his wife. “I see. Oregon.”
Caitlin glanced away, muttering a curse beneath her breath.
“Hello?” Sam settled back into the booth. “Is there some secret code I’m missing here? What is going on?”
Tick lifted his glass, a hard smile playing about his mouth. “You know, Miss Parker, that’s exactly what I’d like to know.”
Caitlin shot him a glare. “God, you never quit, do you? Fine, Tick. He was my therapist. I worked a horrific case in Oregon last July, and the Bureau forced me to spend the afternoon from hell in his office before I could go back to work. Are you happy now?”
“Falconetti, I swear to God, if it’s the last thing I do, I’ll get even with you for this.” A broad-shouldered man with short dark hair and sharp gray eyes set his beer on the edge of the table and tugged up a chair. “Today’s Law Enforcement and the Media? What the frik’ is that?”
Fingers shaking, Caitlin sipped at her drink. “That, Cookie my friend, is revenge for that stunt you pulled the night before my wedding.”
Mark Cook leaned back in his chair, took a long pull from the bottle. He darted a knowing smile Tick’s direction. “Didn’t hear good ol’ Lamar Junior over there complaining.”
Tick chuckled. Caitlin drew in a long breath, darting a glare her husband’s direction. He coughed, sobered quickly and lifted his glass to his lips.
Sam glanced around the table. “Just what did he do?”
Mark glanced her direction for the first time. An easy smile spread across his face. “Well, now. Looky what we have here. I don’t think we’ve met.” He leaned over the table, held out his hand. “Mark Cook. Everyone calls me Cookie.”
Sam’s brow raised, and she shook his hand. “Sam Parker. And just why does everyone call you Cookie?”
He winked, settled back in his seat. “Sweet as sugar. Just as addictive. Don’t know a woman alive who can’t resist a good Cookie.”
Caitlin rolled her eyes and groaned. “I know several. Cookie, leave the poor girl alone.”
A lopsided grin quirked his mouth. “Damn, Falconetti. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were jealous.”
Caitlin almost spit her drink out. Sam suppressed a giggle. Ethan’s eyes narrowed on the newcomer, his jaw clenched.
Mark raised his brows, looked toward Sam. “Why don’t we let the pretty girl with big brown eyes find out for herself.”
“Down, slick,” Ethan growled.
Caitlin lifted her drink, an amused smirk across her lips. “Need a cigarette yet, Dr. McClane?”
He narrowed his eyes on her and tossed back the rest of his drink.
Mark glanced at Caitlin, jerked a thumb Ethan’s direction. “Who’s this guy?”
“Dr. McClane,” Tick said, waving his hand. “They’re together.”
Mark’s eyes widened, focused on Sam. “You’re with him? Oh, honey, we need to have a chat.”
Ethan dropped his glass on the table with a thunk, shifted toward Mark and opened his mouth. Sam placed a hand on his arm to stop him. “Behave,” she said under her breath. She glanced back at Mark. “So, Cookie, what did you do the night before their wedding?”
Mark grinned, rested his forearms on the table. He reached for the bowl of nuts near the flickering candle. “Good ol’ Lamar Eugene here has a thing for blondes.” Tick rolled his eyes. Mark smiled wider. “Since he was shackling himself to Agent Uptight over there, I just figured I’d give him a nice little send off.”
Caitlin’s eyes narrowed. “Handcuffing him to two blondes the night before our wedding is not a nice little send off.”
Tick ran a hand over his mouth to keep from laughing. Sam giggled.
Ethan lifted his drink. “I’m surprised you didn’t handcuff them to the coffee table,” he muttered under his breath.
Tick’s eyes widened. He whipped toward Caitlin. “You told him? Holy hell, you told him?”
Caitlin covered her red face with both hands.
Sam held up a hand, looked toward Ethan. “Wait. These are the two?”
“Sweet Jesus,” Tick said with wide eyes. “She knows, too?”
Ethan leaned back, waved a hand. “She snoops. I accidentally left the file lying around the house.”
“Oh, my God,” Sam said. “These are the two?” Laughter consumed her. She wrapped an arm around her middle, slapped her free hand on the table. Drinks sloshed in glasses. Ethan and Tick both reached out to brace the table from falling over.
“Oh, God,” Caitlin groaned, dropping her head.
Mark’s brows shot up. “I think I missed this one. Someone fill me in.”
“No.” Caitlin and Tick spoke simultaneously.
Caitlin glared at Ethan. “Whatever happened to doctor-patient confidentiality?”
“Oh, that went out the door when you threatened me in my office.”
“I did not threaten you.”
A grin lightened Tick’s thunderous expression. “She doesn’t threaten. She promises.”
“Oh, come on. Fill me in. Please?” Mark said.
Tick scowled. “No.”
“Pretty please?” Mark slid a grin in Caitlin’s direction. “With sugar on top?”
Caitlin quirked one eyebrow at him, her green eyes icy. “Not in your wildest dreams.”
His gray eyes glinting with wicked glee, Mark pointed at Tick. “Actually, I want to hear more about his wildest dreams. Sounds like one of them came true.”
The slow, country-boy smile appeared again, and Tick lifted Caitlin’s knuckles to his mouth. “They all came true.”
Sam giggled. “Oh, he’s good.”
Caitlin lifted her eyes to Tick’s, a sultry grin curving her mouth. “Very.”
“Oh, God.” Mark rolled his eyes and signaled the server. “I need another beer.”
Smiling, Sam wrapped her fingers around Ethan’s forearm. “Maybe what you really need is the right woman.”
Disconcerted, Mark stared at her, then laughed. “Honey, there’s no such thing.”
Caitlin nudged his knee with her foot. “He has commitment issues-“
“Yeah, anything longer than one night is an issue.” Tick lifted his glass, chuckling.
“Maybe Dr. McClane can help you with that, Cookie.” Caitlin flashed an evil smile in Ethan’s direction.
He shook his head. “I don’t treat law enforcement officers anymore, Agent. You cured me of that. Now I’m the one with nightmares.”
Sam patted his arm. “It’s all right, honey. I’ll hold you.”
Tick pulled his blue-stained shirt away from his chest and glanced at Caitlin. “Whatever this crap is, it’s sticky. What say we get out of here so I can clean up?”
She tossed off the rest of her drink. “You just want an excuse to get near that Jacuzzi.”
Mark’s jaw dropped. “Your room has a Jacuzzi? Oh, that’s it. The next time we do one of these conference things, I’m filling out the paperwork.”
Tick slid from the booth and held out a hand to his wife. “Nice to meet you, Dr. McClane, Ms. Parker.”
“Good night.” Caitlin smiled. The couple walked away, hands clasped, winding their way through the tables and the pulsing crowd.
Sam traced a design on the back of Ethan’s hand. “You know . . . this many cops in one place, there has to be a spare pair of handcuffs around here somewhere.”
Ethan grinned, his gaze fixed on hers. “I’m sure.”
A pair of metal bracelets clanged on the table. Sam and Ethan jumped.
Mark sighed. “Have fun.”
Ethan’s gaze dropped to the silver circles, lifted to Mark’s, and he grinned. Snagging the cuffs, he slid from the booth and nodded. “Thanks.”
With Sam giggling, he pulled her toward the lobby.
Mark watched them go and shook his head. He reached for another handful of peanuts as the server set his beer on the table.
“Right woman, my ass.”