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- IX -



I half-expected for my apartment door to hang off its hinges when I got there. It didn’t. In fact it looked just fine. I took a deep breath, grabbed the box of doughnuts a bit tighter and unlocked the door. The apartment stank of cigarette smoke but that was about it. It wasn’t trashed, there was no blood anywhere, nothing. I kicked my wet shoes off and went into the kitchen. I needed my coffee bad. So bad that my hands were shaking. I started the coffeemaker, grabbed a doughnut out of the box, and went into the living room.

Dylan was sitting on the couch, one bare foot underneath him, the other one tapping toes on the carpet. He had my laptop balancing on his knees and he was frowning at something thoughtfully. I moved the half-full ash tray onto the table and sat next to him. He glanced up and grabbed my wrist. He pulled me closer and took a huge bite out of my doughnut. I just hemmed at that.

“Found anything interesting?” I asked.

“Kinda”, he mumbled with his mouthful. “Mmm… Here… Check it out…”

He moved the laptop onto the couch and got up.

“Be right back”, he said. “I smell coffee.”

“Uh huh”, I looked at the screen, chewing my doughnut absent mindedly.

It seemed like he was looking up Dinah Waters - the PI that showed up on my doorstep last night. I blinked when I saw a strange little program running in the right corner of the screen. It kept spitting out some code, flashing green letters every ten seconds or so .

“Here”, he said and looked up, startled.

Jesus, he could move quietly when he wanted to. He handed me a mug full of coffee, dropped the box with doughnuts on the couch and sat down, his own coffee mug attached to his mouth.

“What the hell is this?” I pointed at the program window.

“Makes searching easier”, he said, pulling his feet up. “And makes it a hell of a lot harder for anyone to trace me.”

“So what, now you are a computer genius?” I grabbed a doughnut.

“I am not a genius”, he snorted. “But I know some very handy stuff.”

“There are at least fifteen Dinah Waters here”, I gulped some coffee down. “Any way you can pull up pictures?”

“No need”, he shook his head. “This one…” he pointed to the third from the bottom link. “I looked at it and it’s the closest one.”

I clicked on the link.

“Still no picture”, I noted while reading whatever was on the page. “She is from Texas?” I frowned. “How the hell would that be the closest one?”

“Keep reading”, he shoved almost the entire doughnut into his mouth.

“She is not even a PI anymore…” I muttered. “Dylan, this is a wrong person…”

He sighed and pulled the laptop towards himself.

“You know”, he muttered. “It’s not even that hard… You read the thing and note the important parts… Then you put two and two together… Quite simple, really… Here”, he turned the screen towards me. “I highlighted it for your benefit”, he said mockingly.

I shot him a dark look and read the page again. And then I felt stupid. He was right - all I had to do was to read the damn thing. Apparently Ms. Waters was dismissed (read: “fired”) from the PI agency she worked for. It didn’t say why, only mentioned something about “abusing the given privileges”. It also mentioned that she relocated from Texas and now was residing in Wisconsin. Working as a security staff member for one of the small publishing businesses there. I blinked. Publishing business? Didn’t Tanner say he is running a small magazine?

I looked at Dylan and frowned. He rolled his eyes and leaned forward, typing something into the browser. Another window popped up. This time it was a page dedicated to Mr. Tanner Brady.

“He is…”

“Running a magazine”, I nodded. “I know.”

He looked at me with interest.

“Do tell”, he finished his coffee.

I did. Dylan was quiet for several minutes after I finished the story of me running into Tanner this morning.

“You might wanna invest in some firepower”, he said finally.

I sighed and closed the lid of the laptop.

“Bazooka or Uzis?” I asked tiredly.

“Both”, he grinned.

He pushed the half-empty box of doughnuts onto the floor and stretched on the couch, resting his head in my lap. I started running my fingers through his hair slowly and he closed his eyes.

“What took you so long to hunt down Mickey finally?” I asked and he opened one eye. “I mean, if he did that shit to Kay what… Six years ago? Why did you only get to him now? Were you following him or something? Waiting for the best moment? What?”

He closed his eye again.

“I wasn’t following Mickey”, he muttered after a minute or two. “I could care less about that bastard. Also Kay made me swear on the freaking Bible that I won’t go chasing him…”

“Who were you following then?” I frowned and he popped his eye open once again.

“You”, he said simply with a hint of a smile. “After you left I thought I was gonna go nuts… I managed to hold myself together for a couple of years until that thing with Kay. And then I realized that I couldn’t do it anymore. So after I made sure that Kay will be fine, I took off. Didn’t take me long to find you. Caught up to you in Boston. And then I followed you to Washington, Denver, LA… And then here.”

I stared at him speechless.

“You stalked me for six years?!” I managed finally.

“Yup”, he said lightly. “I can tell you every single address that you used… Every single name of every lover you’ve had…”

“That’s just…” I shook my head. “Jesus Christ! Six freaking years?! Why didn’t you… I don’t know… Say hello or something?!”

He shrugged and closed his eye again.

“I was afraid you won’t wanna see me”, he muttered.

“So you spied on me instead?” This was unreal.

“Yup”, he nodded. “By the way, I was somewhat flattered when you wouldn’t date any guys…”

“I have never had a thing for guys”, I said tiredly and now he opened both eyes. “You are the only one… Jesus, Dylan… This is just creepy, you know that?”

He didn’t say anything, he just shrugged.

“And then I ran into Mickey”, he said finally. “Nose to nose… Got bad after that. I guess I wouldn’t let you know that I am here if I wouldn’t be in a bad shape. So I decided to take my chances… I am glad I did”, he added in a smaller voice.

I didn’t say anything to that, I just stared at him. He was spying on me for six years?! God Almighty… I guess I am slowly becoming as sick as he was because I realized that this knowledge was turning me on. He felt it as well and gave me one of his smiles.

“You never stayed with anyone for longer than a month”, he murmured.

“Let me guess”, I grumbled. “That flattered you as well, huh?”

“It did”, he admitted. “Did you know that Amy Walsh was the one who slashed your tires after you dumped her?”

I blinked.

“No”, I sighed. “I didn’t know that… Amy? Seriously?”

“Uh huh”, he nodded.

“And you didn’t stop her from doing that because…” I frowned. Those tires were expensive, dammit!

“It was entertaining to watch”, he said with a grin. “For such a tiny woman she sure had some serious arm strength!”

“I am glad I could provide you with amusement”, I said with restraint and he laughed softly. “How many lovers did you have?” I narrowed my eyes at him.

“None”, he said immediately and I just snorted at that.

“Oh please! Like I am supposed to believe that?”

“I am serious”, he said. “I had sex partners but I didn’t have a single lover. I don’t even know most of those people’s names.”

“Technicality…” I muttered, feeling strangely satisfied.

He smiled and grabbed one of my hands, the one that wasn’t caught in his hair.

“I’m not gonna let you leave again”, he muttered into my palm. “Just so we are clear.”

I stroked his hair. God, he had the silkiest hair, I swear…

“I won’t be able to leave again”, I said quietly. “Plus even if I somehow manage to do that, you’ll just stalk me… And probably leave dead fish on my doorstep or something…”

“Dead fish?” he frowned. “Why?”

“I don’t know”, I shrugged. “You are psychotic… That’s what psychos do…”

“I am not psychotic”, he sighed. “I am damaged, unstable, and sometimes dangerous. But I am not psychotic.”

“I am glad we clarified that”, I nodded seriously.

He scooted upwards a little bit, his head relocating to the pillow next to me. Then he pulled me down. I pressed my arms into the couch on either side of him.

“It takes three to six weeks for broken ribs to heal somewhat properly”, I said. “Sometimes longer.”

“I know that”, he murmured. “Your couch is big enough. Just lay next to me. I am not trying to get in your pants although it is quite tempting…”

“You have no idea”, I said darkly. “I am the healthy one, it’s more tempting for me…”

“Just hold me”, he said without a smile this time.

I slid next to him, wrapped my arms around his shoulders, and buried my face in his hair. He interlocked his fingers with mine and then we just laid there without moving or talking. I was getting drunk on his scent again and it was the best feeling in the world.
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