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Rating : PG-13
Disclaimer :/See Chapter 1
Pairing: Nico/Dani
Beta: Olfactory-Ventriloquism – Thank you Amanda for all the help. You are a great help. Any errors that are still in this document are mine.
Spoilers: None from Season II. After the end of Season I my story is AU.
Note: I know that Necessary Roughness is based on The Jets. They play at The Meadowlands in New Jersey. Since the series has Dani living on Long Island, I cut her some traffic slack and put the Hawks’ compound on the Island as well
Previous Chapters : Ch 1 - Stepping Into The Darkness ; Ch 2 - Lost But Not Alone ; Ch 3 - Things Fall Apart ; Ch 4 - The Center Cannot Hold ; Ch 5 - Turning and Turning and Turning ; Ch 6 - Shadow Boxing

Enjoy!

Fear of Flying

Ch 7 - Like Shards Of Broken Glass

By Lattelady

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What he had once hoped for the Flock, he now gained for himself alone; he learned to fly, and was not sorry for the price that he had paid. From Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
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Nico read through the information Tony brought him. “Jesus, what happened to this guy?” He examined Danny Martello’s complete financial records. “Are you sure this is correct?” He asked the older, balding man sitting beside him.

“Yap, that’s it. One of my guys, who knew Martello back in the day, said Danny used to have a real gambling problem, spent too much time at the track and in Atlantic City or Vegas, but that was ten, maybe fifteen years ago. He got himself to GA and was living clean until late last summer, then it all went to hell.”

“It’s hard to believe he could accrue this much debt in a matter of months.” Careles frowned. Numbers didn’t lie, and these numbers told him he’d found a motive for someone striking out at the Hawks in general and Terrance in specific. Nico had one question left: had the club owner acted on his own, or was he coerced? “Who are his major creditors?”

“There’s only one: Coleman Hurst AKA Dante.”

“Martello must have a death wish.” Nico scanned the papers again looking for something he missed the first time through. “According to this, Danny’s debt doubled the night of the Chicago game. He must have been trying to get out of a hole and simply dug himself in deeper. What do we have on Dante other than the usual rumors?”

“Not much. He plays it close to the vest. He makes book on all major sporting events, other than that he’s clean. Set himself up as a venture capitalist with a fancy office in the Financial District. He doesn’t drink, do drugs, or gamble and goes home to the wife and kids in Scarsdale every night.” Tony was frustrated that there wasn’t more there. A guy like that had to have a vice or two buried somewhere.

“I think we can safely add loan shark and money laundering to the list. His VC is a perfect front. Any mob ties?”

“That’s the odd part, the Families seem to leave him alone. I can’t decide if he’s too small an operation or if he’s got something on every Don on the Coast.” Tony speculated.

“Keep looking,” Nico ordered and passed an envelope of cash to the man who worked for him cash and carry. “I need to know if Dante is behind the attack on Dr. Santino or if Martello acted on his own.”

“You need anything else on Danny?”

“Nothing for the moment.” Careles had said he’d return to question Solstice’s staff, but he wanted the owner to sweat. A surprise visit tomorrow would be more effective than the promised one today. “Let me know if you get anything else and be careful. Hurst may appear harmless on paper, but we both know he isn’t.”

“Sure thing, Boss.”

After Tony left, Nico got out of his car and opened his trunk. SEAL training had taught him to keep a go-bag packed and with him at all times. It was a habit that had come in handy countless times over his years with Pittman and was going to once again. There was no time to head back to his condo for a change of clothes, if he was going to take over for the man standing guard at Dr. Santino’s.

He quickly unzipped the side of the small duffle where he kept the pancake holster for his Glock 17. He moved the bag aside and slid away a section of carpet to expose the latch to a hidden compartment. Nico unlocked and opened the built-in weapon’s safe in his car. He quickly transferred the unloaded pistol and two clips to his bag. It had been years since he’d needed to be armed, but he was as confident of his abilities, as he had been in his SEAL years, though he was relieved that he was no longer as comfortable with what he might have to do.

One check in his wallet verified that his Carry Guard License issued by New York City and the one for Nassau County were up to date and on his person. Though he never doubted that they were, just like he knew that his weapon was clean, oiled and well cared for and his ammunition wasn’t outdated. He’d been in too many tight situations to take chances with his equipment. Like his Tuesday dinners at Le Taj, maintenance of his small collection of arms was done on a regular schedule.
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Twenty minutes later Nico pulled into his parking spot at the Hawks compound, better known as The Woodlands. It consisted of the practice field, offices and stadium with adjacent public parking structures and lots. His first stop was the basement complex that contained offices for most of his security team and his seldom used personal office. He examined the windowless intersecting corridors and spacious operations bullpen, wondering if this area of quiet activity was the Bat Cave of Dani Santino’s imagination.

“Amanda,” he called to the computer technician who was heading back to her desk from the coffeemaker. “There’s a file on this flash drive that I need scrubbed.” Nico had snagged Amanda Tremont from the FBI’s computer forensics division three years ago. She was the most qualified person on his team to work with the footage Carl Thomas had given him from the security cameras at Solstice. “It’s a priority.”

“Sure thing, Mr. Careles.” She took the drive and headed for her computer. Amanda loved her job with the Hawks. When she’d worked in the Hoover Building she’d been a geek in a roomful of geeks. At the stadium complex, she was surrounded by jocks and ex-military types, a definite improvement in the view, especially when that attractive Xeno Cho was around. Her boss reminded her of some of the agents she’d had an occasion to interact with at the Bureau, quiet, competent, and a bit of an enigma, but unlike those men and women, Nico Careles was willing to think outside of the box. It often added a touch of creativity to her job.

“I’ll be in my office. Knock, if you have questions.” He unlocked his door and closed it behind him.

As Amanda went to work on the information Nico had obtained from his visit to Solstice, he quickly took off his coat and jacket, and snapped the holster to his belt, snug against his back. He popped a clip into the Glock and slid the weapon into place, being sure to close the leather guard around the grip so the pistol was locked down. A quick look in the mirror in his private bathroom assured him his sport coat covered any evidence that he was armed.

“Amanda, I’m headed up to see Coach.” He told her as he moved quickly past her desk. “Once that file is cleaned-up, email it to me.”

“Mr. Careles---” she didn’t know how to word the question, she knew she shouldn’t ask. Due to her previous training, she’d understood what she was seeing during the first few seconds of the video. It made her sick to her stomach.

“I can’t talk about it.” He smiled gently at the freckle-faced woman whose glasses were always slipping down her nose.

“I know…and I’d never…” she sighed and bit her bottom lip. “I hope everyone is all right.”

“Your concern is appreciated.” Was all the reassurance he would gave her.
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“Coach, we need to talk.” Nico walked into the older man’s glass-enclosed office carrying his go-bag in his left hand.

“TK is in the hospital. He can’t be causing trouble in the condition he’s in,” Purnell grunted. He hated that King had been hurt, but for once, he was sure his star player wasn’t running wild. Between his incisions and the chest tube the doctors had left in place, the wide receiver was in enough discomfort to keep him from even flirting with the nurses. It was highly unlikely he’d done anything to warrant Careles’ chilly tone and demeanor.

“This isn’t about him, at least not directly, Pat.” Nico closed the door so they could speak in private.

The coach was immediately on guard. Something was seriously wrong. Careles only called him by his first name when it was critical. “What’s happened?”

“I need you to order an early curfew for the team. There was an incident at one of the clubs last night and until I have more facts, everyone has to stay in, that includes the wives and girlfriends.”

“What the hell happened and why is this the first I’ve heard of it?” Purnell thundered. “Is this related to the shooting?”

“That is one of the things I’m working on.” Nico was leery of saying more since the last time he spoke with Dani she didn’t want others to know she was involved.

“Was someone else injured?” The coach was beginning to wonder just how high a price the Hawks were going to pay for being in the playoffs. Maybe they were still cursed.

“I’m not at liberty to discuss the situation. Tell the team there will be heavy fines if anyone breaks curfew and that they will have to answer to me. Security is in the process of notifying ancillary staff, but it is imperative that high profile people are given the word personally and discreetly.”

“What the hell happened?” Coach demanded. Though he knew if Nico were going to tell him, he would have already.

“I’d like to meet with everyone, including staff tomorrow, after morning workout, say eleven-thirty.” It was an order and a dismissal, and both men knew it. Careles turned and left the older man’s office.
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It was almost dark when Nico arrived at Dr. Santino’s Manhasset home. He parked his black Lincoln close enough to the garage so it couldn’t be seen from the street and then went to speak to his man stationed opposite the driveway.

“How’s it going, Ben?” Careles slipped into the passenger seat next to the guard he’d assigned.

“Quiet as a church. There were a few joggers earlier in the day, some moms pushing strollers in the afternoon, and a few cars, but no one so much as slowed down, as they went by.” Ben Tiller looked over at the house and saw the curtain twitch in an upstairs window. It wasn’t the first time. He may be the watcher, but he was being watched.

“That’s good to know. I’ll take the nightshift. You go home and get some sleep, and I’ll see you back here tomorrow at 7 AM.”

“Uh, Boss, I’ve been getting death glares from Dr. Santino on-and-off during the afternoon.” Tiller motioned with the binoculars that he’d used to examine the house and surrounding area, every few minutes.

“And?” Careles raised his brows in question.

“Just thought you might want intel before going in.” Ben finished meekly. There were rumors of the doctor going head-to-head with his boss and the coach on more than one occasion. He didn’t believe that she’d won a confrontation with either of those men, but anyone who would try made him cautious. Added to that, it was a known fact that she held her own with Terrance King. She wasn’t someone Tiller wanted to cross.

“I’ll keep that in mind, but since she is about five foot three and one hundred and ten pounds soaking wet, I don’t think I need backup.” As Nico got out of the car, his face showed nothing, not the pride he felt that Dr. Santino had a commanding reputation even among his men, and not the urge to laugh that Ben felt the need to warn him about the small, kind woman’s impending wrath. After the phone call he’d received, a few hours earlier, he had no doubt she was pissed as hell.

“Uh…yeah…see ya tomorrow.” Tiller drove away quickly, a slight sheen of sweat on his brow. His knuckles whitened on the steering wheel as he wondered what in the world he’d been thinking, speaking to the Boss that way.
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Dani answered her outside office door when Nico knocked. The corners of his mouth twitched upward, when he saw her. She was wearing dark gray leggings that ended at her ankles and showed off bright pink toe nail polish he remembered from that morning. She had on a dark red sweater that fell below her hips but compensated by having a deep V-neck, causing the material to slide to the edge of her shoulder, exposing freckles left over from summer and a white tank top. Ben had been right, she was squinting, but it lacked its usual impact when the skin under her eyes was smudged and shadowed by exhaustion.

“Your men are out of control.” She frowned at him. He pursed his lips to contain the urge to smile. She had been drugged senseless less than twenty-four hours ago and she was already fighting back. He was damn proud of her. “I thought you said Xeno was going to check out my security system; he and Kevin are taking it apart and rebuilding it.”

“That’s correct.” Nico agreed. “May I come in?”

“Why not, everybody else is…well almost everyone, anyway,” she grouched, as she looked around him and saw that the car that had been parked outside her house was gone. Dani threw up her hands in exasperation and turned away from the door. Nico followed her into the house, discreetly leaving his go-bag under the table to his left and putting a file folder and his iPad beside a large jar of jellybeans. “Was that your man watching my house all day?” She turned back and poked him in the chest.

“Yes, it was.”

“You can’t send your posse in here and simply take over.” She raised her hand to poke him again to emphasize her displeasure, but Nico anticipated her move and caught her hand in his.

“I didn’t.” Nico insisted. “We talked about this before we left my loft and you agreed.” He tilted his head to the left and rubbed his thumb across the back of her hand in support.

“I…” She ground her teeth and pulled her hand free. Her life was out of control, and she hated it. “I…didn’t expect all of this…this disruption.” She pointed to the two men in her hall, waiting to talk to their boss and the loops of cable and equipment that were stacked in various places around her home.

“It’s so I can better protect you and your children.” He spoke softly and carefully touched her arm to try and calm her. This time she accepted his reassurance.

“I…know.” Dani caved, unable to keep on fighting. “I’m sorry. I was angry and you just happened to be here.”

“I understand,” Nico assured her.

She shook her head, refusing to let her actions slide. “I know better. There is no excuse.”

“Stop holding yourself to a higher standard. Even a therapist is allowed to be human.” His words were for her ears only. He was trying to give comfort, though it was a skill he didn’t believe he possessed. “After what you’ve been through, in the last twenty-four hours, you’ve more than earned the right.”

Her eyes slipped closed, and she nodded in agreement. Intellectually, she knew he was correct, but it was hard to accept. He had been there for her every step of the way since Terrance was shot. She should have been strong enough not to take her frustration out on him.

“Dani?” he questioned with worry. “I need to talk to my guys. You okay for a minute?” He knew she was a long way from okay, but he had one more thing to do before he could give her his undivided attention.

“Yeah, fine.” She forced a smile on her face before turning and walking slowly down the hall to her kitchen. She was ashamed of the way she’d been snipping at everyone, since Xeno brought her home hours earlier; but they were all treating her like delicate crystal. It grated on her nerves and made her want to scream.

“Boss,” Xeno spoke quietly with Careles. “Sorry we aren’t further along. We’re having to run a shi—a bunch of new cable and it takes time to snake them through the walls without causing too much damage”

“Take as long as needed. The job has to be done right. I’ll get a crew out here after you’re through to clean up, but I’m sure the Doctor appreciates that you’re keeping the chaos to a minimum. Were you able to rig anything for tonight?” Nico had received a text from Kevin stating that Dr. Santino’s old security system wouldn’t interface smoothly with the more advanced one they were putting in. Once they began exchanging cables it would likely be down until they were finished.

“No, Sir. It’ll be tomorrow or the next day before we have everything up and running. I’ve told the doctor, but I don’t think she realizes what that means,” Kevin answered since he’d been working on a solution to the problem.

“I’ll take care of it.” Nico assured his men as he walked them to Santino’s front door.

Dani came back into her front hall when she heard the door close. She was surprised to find Nico leaning against the large, mahogany, double-doors that served as her formal entry. “I thought you were giving Xeno a ride back to the city.” She could hear doors slamming on O’Connell’s pickup and men’s voices disappear in the distance, as the truck pulled out of the space where her mother usually parked.

“Kevin is taking care of that.” He crossed his arms and watched her; careful to show nothing of what he was feeling. “We need to talk.” He didn’t like to do this now, but she had some decisions to make before he could proceed.

“Oh.” Her mind spun. She didn’t want to think about what he must have discovered that would make him use his iceman face with her. She hadn’t seen it since right after he’d told her Terrance was shot.

“You know your security system isn’t functioning?”

“Yeah, Xeno told me.” She wasn’t afraid now, but was well versed in how people processed trauma. Though everyone moved at his or her own pace, she realized that her calm wouldn’t last. It would have been nice to have the reassurance of a home protection service at her fingertips.

Nico moved closer slowly, so as not to scare her, taking off his overcoat and hanging it over the banister. “Tonight, I’m your security.”

“Pardon?” she questioned, unsure what he meant.

“I’ll sleep on one of the couches down here.” He looked through the doors into her office, hoping the sofa in the living room was long enough for him. Years ago, he’d spent time on a therapists couch and had no wish to revisit the situation in any form.

“That’s not necessary.” She protested.

“It’s very necessary.” He watched her face fall and her shoulders sag. “I understand that all you want is to be left alone to try and get past what happened last night.” Nico stepped into her personal space and cupped her shoulders. “But you can’t do that, yet, especially since my men disabled your alarm. As I said, we need to talk and you have some decisions to make. Once that’s taken care of, I’ll be here, but I’ll be as unobtrusive as possible.”

“You’re good at that…the unobtrusive part.” She almost smiled as she stepped back. Her mood swings were beginning to bother her. It was one more thing she’d have to mention when she saw Molly, her therapist, tomorrow afternoon.

“Yeah, it’s one of my specialties along with sneaking up on people.” The corners of his mouth slid upward; as he thought of the many times he’d deliberately caught her by surprise.

“My dinner is ready, and there is more than enough for two. Would you care to join me?” She looked over her shoulder as she headed for the kitchen. She was stalling, and she knew it, but she was afraid that once she heard what he had to say her stomach would rebel and her hunger would desert her.

“I was hoping you’d ask. Whatever you’re cooking smells delicious.” He followed her down the hall, leaving his bag, iPad and file folder in her office.

“It’s just stew that I pulled out of the freezer and a salad.” As a working mom, Dani had learned the wisdom of doubling a recipe when she cooked and storing the rest in the freezer. All she’d had to do that afternoon was defrost the meat and stock in her microwave, add potatoes, onions, carrots and celery and put it all on to cook. Making a salad had taken no time at all. Two hours later, she had a complete meal with minimal effort.

“What can I do to help?” Nico asked.

“Add another place setting to the center island. The pasta bowls and salad plates are in the cupboard behind you.” She pointed. “The silverware is in the drawer below it. What would you like to drink? water, wine, or something stronger?” Dani stretched and stood on her toes to reach glasses on a shelf that was an easy reach in her usual high heels. “I’m sticking to water but you’re welcome to something stronger if you like.”

“Water is fine. I never drink alcohol when I’m working.”

“There is burgundy in the stew. It cooked all day before being frozen and has simmered for hours since it was defrosted.” She put the salad down between their two placemats and sprinkled it with olive oil and then some raspberry-balsamic vinegar.

“Alcohol boils at one-hundred-seventy-three degrees Fahrenheit. The alcoholic content of most wines is between 12 and 14 percent. It sounds like that stew has cooked for at least eight hours?” He looked at her for conformation and she nodded and blinked, unable to form a coherent response. “Then it shouldn’t be a problem.” Nico grinned at her shocked expression and handed her the pasta bowls.

“How do you know all these things?” she gasped and began filling the bowls. Never expecting him to answer she added, “I know…I know…you’d tell me but then you’d have to kill me.”

“Chemistry class,” he spoke hesitantly from right behind her, startling her with his response. Nico reached around her and steadied her left hand, which held a bowl and her right, which gripped a ladle filled with hot stew. “Careful, you’ll get burned. Sit down. I’ll take care of this.”

Dani carefully untangled herself from the tall man and looked at him in shock. “You gave me a real answer to a question.”

“Dr. Santino, all my answers are real. I never lie. You know that.” He finished serving dinner and sat across from her. “Besides, I can’t kill you tonight. It would damage my reputation. I’m your security detail.”

Dani dissolved into laughter for the first time in what felt like forever. It made her feel great; it made her feel whole.

They were through with dinner and working companionably to clean up, when she realized Nico was still wearing his sport coat over his gray button-down and jeans. “I’m flattered that you dressed so formally for dinner, but I think you can dispense with the jacket, if you like. We’re in the kitchen and my outfit, as dazzling as it is, is usually reserved for housecleaning and gardening. You might as well be comfortable, too.”

Nico froze and looked her in the eyes. She’d told him once that a lie of omission was still a lie. He was armed and in her home. She had a right to know…or did she? Was it a lie if he was doing it to protect her? No one would be hurt if she never found out. No one else was involved… Even as the thoughts flew though his mind he knew the answers. The weapon under his coat wasn’t a lie. It simply was what it was. But, if the Glock was the reason he didn’t take off his jacket, then he became a lie. He had no doubt she would be hurt, if she ever found out from anyone else but him, or at any time but now.

“What? What am I missing?” her voice squeaked, as she picked up their water glasses.

He shrugged out of his sport coat. When it slid down his arms, he caught it by the collar with his right hand and he turned slowly around so she had a good view of what he’d been hiding, before he hung the jacket on the back of his stool.

“Nico, you’ve got a gun,” she gasped. When she saw the holster nestled snugly against his back, and the angry, black pistol, dark against his pearl gray shirt, the glasses she was holding in wet hands slipped from her fingers and crashed into broken shards on the tile floor at her feet.

“I have a four, actually. The other three are locked in my weapons’ safe at home.” His eyes had turned cold and his tone flat. All of his defenses were firmly in place.

“Why?” she whispered. Shaking her head, she began to step forward, completely forgetting she was barefoot and that there was broken glass everywhere.

“Dr. Santino, stop,” his words were clipped and devoid of emotion. In one quick movement, he was beside her and picked her up. Glass crunched under his shoes as he carried her to the counter. “Sometimes, it is necessary to take extra precautions, and this is one of those times.” He was talking about the Glock secured to his waist, but he read doubt in her eyes as she clung to him in confusion.

“Wait.” She reached for him and felt the soft material of his shirt slip against her fingers as he moved away.

“Stay put,” Nico commanded, reading her body language. She was going to jump back down onto the kitchen floor. “You aren’t wearing shoes. Where is your broom?”

“Nico, stop!” She glared at him. It was making sense now. She’d wondered why he was wearing a boxy jacket that was so different from the sleek slim fitting suites and sport coats he usually wore. He’d dressed like that this morning, before they’d left his loft, all the time he’d known he might need to put on a gun. Hell, he might have even been wearing it then, but somehow she doubted it.

“Your broom, Dr. Santino?” He read her easily, since she was so tired and unable to mask what she was feeling. In a matter of seconds, she’d gone from surprised, confused, angered, and finally to hurt.

“No, you’re not doing this. I’ll go to a hotel or Margo’s house.”

“You don’t need to go anywhere, I can clean up the glass in no time.” He deliberately chose to misunderstand her.

“Damnit, Nico, that’s not…” She covered her mouth with one hand and gripped the counter with the other. Dani felt her throat and eyes fill with tears, if she spoke now they would come pouring out.

Nico had stopped waiting for her to answer and found the broom on his own. He swept the floor clean in the time it took her to regain her control.

“Just a little broken glass.” He walked slowly to where she was sitting on the counter. “Not anything to get upset about.” He reached out and gently brushed a stray tear off her cheek.

“That’s not---” She began but he wouldn’t let her finish. Nico held up a finger in the small space between his lips and hers. He didn’t understand what was happening, but knew that her soft breath against his throat was a very dangerous thing.

“I may have missed some of the glass. You shouldn’t walk on this floor without shoes.” He picked her up and carried her into the hall and flipped off the kitchen light as if to put an end to something he wanted no part of.

Dani shivered, unsure what was going on. It wasn’t until her feet touched the hardwood floor that led to her living room that her thought process reasserted itself. “Wait, Nico, you aren’t walking away without talking about this.” She grabbed his arm and felt the muscles ripple under his sleeve. “The gun. Why are you wearing it?”

“I told you, it was a precaution.”

“No…no…” She shook her head. “You can’t do this. I won’t be the reason you might have to kill again. I won’t put you in that position.”

Nico Careles was caught completely by surprise. He was sure she would be repulsed or disgusted; instead she was worried about him. She was upset that she was putting him in a situation of potentially doing violence. “Dr. Santino, Dani, after what happened to Terrance and then you last night, I’m not taking chances. Anyone who I would have sent here tonight would be armed. It’s part of the business.” They both knew this was something he’d never delegate and neither was willing to examine that thought.

“It’s not what you usually do. If you can’t bribe them, you look the person in the eyes and play with your sunglasses…and they…panic.” She had a tight grip on his arm, afraid he’d give her an evasive answer and walk away. He usually did that, too.

“That particular strategy only works if my target can see what I’m doing.” Nico’s lips curved up slightly at the corners of his mouth. They were having an absurd conversation, but it felt dangerous and far too revealing.

“That’s not what I mean, and you know it. Just being you is enough.” Dani’s chin rose with determination.

“There is a reason for that,” he sighed, knowing it was the truth. “There are some situations where looking and acting tough aren’t adequate.” He knew he was fully capable of backing up his words with actions but it wasn’t something he ever wanted her to see.

Dani read soul deep sorrow in his eyes, but needed more information. “I want to understand, Nico.”

“Do you really?” he masked the question as a harsh warning, hoping it hid the desperate hope she awoke in him. His emotions erupted and something inside of him snapped. The ground was slippery beneath his feet, and he was being drawn in by an innocent woman who didn’t know when to butt the hell out.

“Of course,” she stuttered at the blank, cold expression on his face.

“Okay, lesson number one,” his words rushed out in quiet, controlled anger. Nico let old reflexes take over. His right hand reached automatically for the back of his waist and he drew his weapon. A moment later he’d popped the clip and stowed it in his pocket.

“What…what’s gotten into you?” Dani gasped.

“Nothing that hasn’t been there all along. You were so interested in my weapon; now’s the time to learn.” His body moved with a contained strength and elegance that, up until now, she had only seen at the ballet, but this was no dance. Seconds later, he’d spun her around until her back was pressed flat against his chest and his long fingers were wrapped around her wrists as he shoved the grip of his pistol into her hands. He held her tightly with his elbows between her body and her arms. The control was his.

Dani felt surrounded. Terror ripped through her, but she didn’t have the breath to scream. This was too much like her imagination of the night before.

“Tighten your fingers on the grip and feel the weight.” Nico’s voice rasped in her ear. His scruff rubbed against her skin and caught in her hair. “It isn’t loaded, so it’s only a little over a pound. With the clip in, it’s almost two pounds.”

“I…uh…uh…don’t want to do this.” She huffed and tried to wiggle free, but he had her contained. She closed her eyes and concentrated on his scent and his voice instead of his actions.

“Hold still,” he ordered. “Your lesson isn’t over yet. Now hold the weapon like you mean it.” He was damned if she would slip away to try her therapist tricks on him again. No one tried to psychoanalyze him and got away with it.

“Now what?” she challenged, glad for the anger that edged out her panic. Her fingers clung so tightly they trembled. If he weren’t supporting her wrists, she knew his ugly toy would land on the ground.

“You learn.” He told her, trying to concentrate on what he was doing and not the way her hair smelled of his shampoo or that it tickled his cheek that was pressed tightly against hers. “You’re holding a Glock 17 4th Generation. I bought it two years ago to replace my original 17. It’s a semi-automatic 9mm. It’s round travels at 1109 feet/second, and due to an almost non-existent recoil, the entire magazine can be emptied without having to re-sight, making this an extremely fast and efficient weapon when being used by an experienced marksman. Dr. Santino, I was and still am a very experienced marksman.” As his fury slowly drained, he became aware that she was trembling, but he had one last piece of information to impart. “That is who I am. The damn sunglasses are simply show.” What he’d done to her was mean and spiteful, but her softly worded concern had taken a large chunk out of a wall it had taken him years to build. Nico needed that wall in place. She was already playing havoc with his desires, pushing her away was the only safe option.

“Are you through?” her words contained venom laced with tears. “This gun is not who you are. You’re a hell of a lot more than a mindless killing machine.” Her eyes were swimming but she refused to give in. “And I like the damn sunglasses!”

Nico shook his head and gently peeled her fingers away from the grip of his pistol. “I’m sorry.” He popped in the clip and holstered it. He saw her chin wobble as she blinked away tears and knew that this time he was the one who had reduced her to sorrow. It was a truth that burned like a bitch. “I’m sorry, I just…” he whispered unsure what to say so he simply pulled her around so her head was in the hollow of his shoulder and he could ran his hands up and down her back. He’d hated seeing her with the Glock in her hands even if he’d forced it there.

“You were upset, and I was here.” She paraphrased their conversation from after she lost her temper when he arrived.

“No, that’s not it.” He denied it because he wouldn’t give her a lie of omission no matter how much it cost him. She’d been hurt enough by men who took advantage of women.

“Do you remember what you said to me that night you came here seeking clarity?” she asked as she rested her forehead against his chest, too exhausted and shaken to do the smart thing and put some distance between them.

“Yes.” He reached for her sweater that had slipped in their tussle. It was resting on her left bicep and he pulled it back to her shoulder. Nico studied his fingers rubbing along the strap of her tank top. It was his self-imposed punishment to touch only cotton when he desired the silk of her skin.

“I’m talking about the very beginning, when I asked you if you’d killed someone.” She finally looked up and met his eyes.

“And I told you that I hadn’t, recently.” He stopped torturing himself with her strap. He couldn’t afford to be distracted. Even bone-weary and broken, Dani Santino had a mind like a steel trap.

“When was the last time you had to carry that thing or one like it?”

He looked at her carefully, weighing his answer. “I go to the shooting range every week, but other than that it’s been years. Only once or twice since the military when I was transporting…some items…for Marshall.”

“Stop holding yourself to a higher standard.” She gave him a gentle smile and returned his words from earlier. “Even a tough security guy is allowed to be human and after the week you’ve had, you’ve more than earned it.”

“There is more to it than that.” He gripped her shoulders so she wouldn’t dance away and distract him from his point. “You need to understand that the man I was a few minutes ago is very much a part of me. It might not be as easy as it once was, but if I needed to, I could point that Glock at someone and pull the trigger. I don’t carry it for show or to scare people. It’s not a pair of sunglasses. If I couldn’t or wouldn’t be willing to use deadly force, walking around armed is an easy way to die and take others with me.”

They watched each other carefully, both digesting his words and understanding them as the truth he honored.

“All right, then.” Dani’s voice shook, but she needed to know more. “What did you discovered today that is so bad that you’d put on your gun after all this time?” She held onto the front of his shirt not sure he wouldn’t simply walk away in silence.

“My weapon, not my gun,” he suppressed a grin, remembering hours of military drills.

“Pardon?” She blinked in surprise as much from what he said as the feel of his hand lightly holding her elbow.

“It’s called my weapon, not my gun.” His lips twitched when her pale face suddenly flushed and he knew she understood what he was referring to.

“Oh…Oh…” Dani squinted at him, knowing she couldn’t let her mind, or eyes, go there. It took her a moment but she shook off her embarrassment and stepped back. “Well whatever. I’m in no mood to quibble over semantics. What has changed?”

“I have some answers about last night.” He reached for her elbow again as she rocked back on her heels.

“Oh.” She gripped the sleeve of the arm that was supporting her. “How much did you find out?”

“Enough.”

“Stop it. You’re being evasive again. It makes it worse because my imagination runs wild.” Dani turned to sit down and was surprised to discover they were still in her hallway, a few steps away from the dark kitchen.

“I know who drugged you, but the information I have won’t hold up in a court of law.” It was as much as he was going to say without an audio scrambler and there wasn’t any place to set it up in the hall.

“Oh, God.” Dani had been right. Nico was armed because of her. Because of what he’d discovered following leads for her. “I need to sit down.”

“My files are in your office.” He put his hand on her back to keep her steady as they walked down the hall.

“Uh…wait…I don’t want to go over them there. It’s where I work with patients.” She’d done everything in her power to make that space feel safe, intimate and tranquil. She had an idea there was nothing safe or tranquil about what was coming and she’d closed the door on intimate with this man, the first time she’d seen him with Gabrielle Pittman.

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Quotes

The moving finger writes: and having writ Moves on. nor all your piety nor wit Shall lure it back to cancal half a line, Nor all your tears wash out a word of it...The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

If I quiet the voices in my head, I would face the day with nothing to write. - Unknown

I must go down to the seas again the lonely sea and sky...J Masefield

Cinderella walked on broken glass,
Sleeping beauty let a whole lifetime pass.
Belle fell in love with a hideous beast,
Jasmine married a common thief.
Ariel walked on land for love and life,
Snow white barely escaped a knife.
It was all about blood, sweat, and tears.
Because love means facing your biggest fears


The heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing of...French Proverb

I have drempt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after. They've gone through me like wine through water and altered the colour of my mind ...E. Bronte

To love someone deeply gives you strength. Being loved by someone deeply gives you courage...Lao Tzu

It takes chaos to give birth to a dancing star ..F. Nietzsche

How many loved your moments of glad grace, and loved your beauty with love false or true? But one man loved the pilgrim Soul in you, and loved the sorrows of your changing face...Yeats

Let us go, you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky...T. S. Eliot

In that book which is my memory, on the first page of the chapter, that is the day when I first met you, appears the words, "here begins a new life".
La Vita Nuova

Midnight courage of the heart...Jen Kirkwood

The three o-clock in the morning courage which Bonaparte thought was the rarest...Thoreau

Did you say it? I love you; I don't ever want to live without you; you changed my life. Did you say it?
Make a plan, set a goal, work toward it, but every now and then, look around, drink it in, 'cause this is it. It might all be gone tomorrow. - Meredith Grey

Shakespeare is easy, life is hard...Wheels

Don't try to be a great man, just be a man. Let history make up its own mind...Z.Cochron

I had a job to do and I was unafraid...Jack to John Creighton

For I dipt into the future, as far as the human eye could see. Saw the vision of the world, and the wonders that can be...RWW Hipwell

Without diviation from the norm, progress is impossible...F. Zappa

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea, In a beautiful pea-green boat: They took some honey and plenty of money, Wrapped up in a five-pound note. The Owl looked up to the stars above, and sang to a small guitar...E Lear

Sweet and low, sweet and low, Wind of the western sea, Low, low, breathe and blow, Wind of the western sea! Over the rolling waters go, Come from the dying moon and blow, Blow him again to me;... Tennison

Charmed magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn... Keats

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