Well, well!.. I' ve gotten a few comments about Part 7 of this story, and people have taken me to task (in other words, given me hell) for letting poor Rita think that Chris doesn' t love her. Now, you all know that circumstances beyond her control (Eric and Jillian) have led her to that unfortunate and untrue conclusion. As we left it, a heartbroken Rita was headed for Palm Beach, while a confused Chris was left behind in Colorado. As before, the usual disclaimers apply.
Friends, Lovers, and Liars,
Rita hefted her carryon bag out of the overhead bin, and grabbed her purse. She moved briskly into the terminal, not expecting anyone to meet her in Miami. To her surprise, Fran Lipschitz was waiting for her. " Hi, doll," the older woman greeted Rita enthusiastically.
Rita returned her embrace, relieved to see a familiar face. Fran always treated Rita more like a daughter than one of her husband' s coworkers and Rita could use a little mothering right now. She bit her lip as tears welled in her eyes. What she wouldn' t give to pour out the whole mess to her! But Fran was married to Harry, and she would tell him everything, something that Rita could ill-afford at the moment.
So, Rita just smiled and thanked Fran for meeting her plane. She tried not to notice all the families and lovers greeting each other in the crowded terminal, and ignored all the Christmas decorations, as they walked towards baggage claim.
Fran was her usual chatty self on the drive to Palm Beach, telling Rita what a shame it was that Chris wasn' t with her. She was planning a little Hanukah get-together, and invited Rita to come."Ah, Fran, thanks, but I' m not really in a holiday mood," Rita sighed.
"Nonsense-you' re family, even if you're not Jewish, dear. It' s awful to be alone at the holidays," Fran insisted.
"I' ve been alone practically my whole life," Rita chewed at a fingertip thoughtfully."I'm used to it. Really, I think I will take extra call for this week, so that someone else can have the opportunity to be with their family."
Fran shot her a sidewise look, " But you can still have dinner with us."Her voice was final.
Rita sighed, " All right." It was after eleven by the time that Rita had closed the door after Fran. Sighing, she carted her bags upstairs, realizing some of the wardrobe would have to be returned to the Feds. The glitter of the wedding ring she still wore caught the light, and she stared at it for a long moment, remembering how Chris had slipped it on her finger, less than two weeks ago. But it was all a fairy tale, she sighed, as she tugged at the ring, and tossed it on the nightstand. That belonged to the Feds, too. Time enough to deal with that tomorrow. Heading back downstairs, she fed her fish. Diana had been looking after the place for her, watering the plants and taking in the mail. Tired, but restless, Rita listened to her answering machine messages, while she rifled through the assortment of bills, Christmas cards, and junk mail piled on the hall table.
She had been keeping a tight rein on her emotions until a familiar voice came on." Sam, it' s me. I-uh-hope you had a safe flight. Rita, I miss you so much already. I meant what I said this morning-we'll work this out. Call me when you get in. I love you." The machine clicked.
Rita reached for the phone, and punched in the number to the hotel. Chris sounded sleepy when he answered, "Sammy?"
"Yes, it' s me Chris. I' m just returning your call,"she tried to keep her voice steady.
"I miss you, I wish you were here,"his voice was anguished.
"Then come back to Palm Beach,"she pleaded.
"I can' t, you know that," he sighed.
" Because of Jillian," her voice was frosty. " Did you see her today?
"Yes, I did. Rita, where the hell did you get the idea that I' m in love with her?"Chris was irritated.
"Ask HER," Rita said accusingly.
"I DID-she has no idea. We' re just friends,"he insisted." I can' t believe you' re so jealous!"
I can' t believe you wrote her a love letter," she muttered under her breath.
"What was that?"he asked.
"Nothing. Look, I just called to tell you I was back in Palm Beach. Good night." Rita was crying now, and she didn' t want Chris to know. She hung up before he could say goodbye.
Chris stared at the dead phone, still clueless as to Rita' s behavior. He' d talked to Jillian that afternoon until he practically blue in the face, but she couldn' t give him any hints as to why Rita was so upset, and she wouldn' t offer any more information about the events surrounding David' s murder.
Frustrated and angry, he'd returned to taking Celia' s statement. At least this was one woman who knew how to spill her guts, even if she had an ulterior motive.
Richard was in the doghouse with Shelby as well, due to the developments in the case. She yelled at him on the phone that she didn' t want to be having her baby all alone in Washington, while he was halfway across the country, chasing some damn drug dealers. Furthermore, she wanted him home in time for Christmas. When he met Chris met for dinner in the hotel, both men were morose," Damn job ruins your life," Richard commented, as he took a gulp of beer.
"No kidding," Chris groaned, leaning back in his chair.
" Hey, I thought you and Rita were getting along-uh-great," Richard said in surprise.
"We-uh, how did you know?" Chris stuttered.
Richard laughed, " I' m a detective, and I' m married. I got eyes, I see things."
Chris nursed his own beer,"Well, I sure wish someone would fill me in," he replied dourly. " Everything was fine one minute, and in the toilet the next.
" She' ll get over it," Richard said, with the assurance of a happily married man. "You' ve been partners a long time, right? And best friends." Chris looked at him quizzically.
" My wife talks," Richard laughed.
Chris looked a little uncomfortable," Then..."
"Yes, I know all about you and Shelby" Richard grinned. " In the past," he waved a hand.
"The thing is, Rita and I-we' ve fought this for so long, because...well, you know about the partner thing. Anyhow, she thinks I betrayed her somehow, and I didn' t," Chris said earnestly." She' s all I want in the world."
Take some advice from an old married man. Give her some time to cool off, then go back and talk it out. Slug it out, if you have to. I meant that figuratively," Richard added hastily.
" Maybe," Chris was dubious.
Rita returned to work the next morning, warmed by the welcome she got from her coworkers. Tom, especially, said he was glad to have someone to talk to. Cassy was still in the hospital, and they had gotten into a fight. Cap rolled his eyes, "Trust me, Lance, you don' t want to hear this." Rita shook her head, and laughed, " Like this is a news flash? They' re always fighting."
Tom nodded,"Yeah, but it' s gonna be Christmas. You' d think she' d be civilized for one holiday in the whole year. That' s not asking too much."Rita sobered, remembering the cross words she' d had with Chris.
Cap caught Rita' s wistful expression, and told her," Welcome back Rita. We missed you," he headed back to his office to work on year-end reports.
Tom was still talking, "Rita, she almost died. You know how stubborn she is. She' d been sick for quite awhile, and then her appendix burst. She could have died," he repeated.
Rita put a hand on his arm, " Want me to talk to her?"
"Aw, I don' t know how much it will help, but sure," he brightened.
Rita thought," Great, I can fix everyone else's life, I just can' t fix mine. "But she did stop to see Cassy over lunch.
She left a half-hour later, laughing. Here Cassy was just a worried about Tom as he was about her. Those two needed to talk to EACH OTHER, not to a third party. She told Tom as much that afternoon.
Detective Ryan left early, flowers in hand, laconically commenting that Cassy would probably make him eat them.
Meanwhile, Rita tried to mend fences with Chris. It was a most unsatisfactory call, as all he could talk about was some technicality that might get Jillian freed. In spite of her resolve to be loving and kind, she lost her temper at his next comment. "Jillian is thinking about moving back to Palm Beach, when she gets out. Her mom isn' t in the best of health, so she wants to be close by," Chris said, waiting for Rita' s reaction.
"Well, that' s convenient," Rita said dryly. " That way you won' t have to go all the way to Boston to see her."
" Rita, will you stop this?" Chris protested. " Jillian is just a friend."
"Oh, sure," she said. " You sound happy she' ll be back here," she said accusingly.
"You sound like you' re pushing us together," his voice rose.
"You don' t need any help from me!" She retorted angrily.
And their conversation dissolved into a shouting match, with both of them hanging up on the other.
Christmas was a dismal day. Chris talked to both Benny and Anna, but his parents, as usual, were more concerned with their own lives than that of their son. Rita wouldn' t answer her phone, and when he tried her at work, she insisted she was too busy to talk to him. Cassy was still in the hospital, and so Rita was partnered with Tom, working on a double homicide. After work, she informed him she was going to take a shift at the outreach center, trying to save a troubled teen or two from the mean streets of Palm Beach. Somewhat bitingly, she suggested he go visit Jillian at the jail.
Stung by Rita' s rejection, he said he would go do just that. After all, she had to be having an even worse day than him.
He was surprised to see Jillian' s mother in the visiting room, and even more surprised by the warm greeting she extended to Chris. " Jillian has been telling me how wonderful you' ve been to her.
Chris was embarrassed, "Well, ma' am, I' m sorry to say she' s still here, and in a fair amount of trouble. I' m just trying to be a friend."
I' m still so grateful," Jillian gushed.
Chris was hurting, but at least SOMEONE appreciated him.
The days crept by. Rita buried herself in work, trying to ignore her broken heart. On New Year' s Eve afternoon, Rita wandered into a bookstore on Worth Avenue. She listlessly browsed the bestsellers, trying to find something to pique her interest. There was some sort of gathering at the back of the store, probably some book signing. Must be a real loser, if he was signing books on New Year' s Eve, Rita mused wryly.
She was paying for her purchase, when someone touched her arm," Rita? It' s good to see you." Rita nearly dropped her bag, " What are you doing here, Eric?"
"Working, he said proudly. "Got a new publisher and a great new book out."
Rita recovered a little from her shock, and took a closer look at him. He had lost weight, was tanned and healthy-looking. His eyes crinkled in that charming way he had. She gave herself a mental shake. Be careful, she told herself. He hurt you before, almost as badly as Chris did.
"Would you like to go out for coffee?" he was asking.
"No, I don't think so, Eric. There' s a lot of history between us I can' t forget," she said coolly.
He sighed regretfully, while inside, his blood was boiling. Mentally, he counted to ten before pasting on a fake smile, "I understand, Rita, and I' m sorry. If you change your mind, I' m staying at the Pan Pacific Hotel." He scrawled his number on a business card." No pressure, just as a friend. Happy New Year," he grinned with a small salute as he strode off.
She stared after him for a moment, remembering all the hurt he' d caused her. Then she dropped the card in her purse, and went home. She made herself a delicious dinner, and lit a few candles. Rita was determined to make this a nice evening for herself, as she picked up the hot bestseller she' d purchased this afternoon. She found the plot absorbing, but sleep overtook her quickly.
Rita woke the next morning, still on the couch. Stiff and tired, she vegetated all day, giving herself a manicure, a facial, and channel-surfed through some of the parades and bowl games. Chris called late in the afternoon, as Michigan was winning.
She grinned happily as he talked, nearly forgetting their argument of a few days before. Everything was going fine, until Rita caught a voice in the background." Who' s with you?"
Chris hesitated,"Jillian, her mom and stepdad. They let her out last night. Isn' t that great?"
"Yeah, sure,"Rita was unenthusiastic. "She get out on a technicality, or did they catch the real killer?"She got out on a technicality," Chris replied."Here, she wants to say something to you."
Jillian came on the line, " Rita?" her voice was warm, friendly. " Happy New Year!"
"Same to you," Rita managed to choke out. " Sounds like you have a reason to celebrate."
"Thanks to you!" Jillian laughed.
"What?" Rita was confused." You made a few clerical errors in my arrest report, enough that my lawyer got me off," Jillian laughed
Rita was sick inside. What if Jillian really was guilty and an error she made set her free? Chris was back on the line now, "Rita, it was no big deal" He knew she was feeling badly."It is if she' s guilty, Chris," she reminded him."Well, I' ll let you get back to your party. Happy New Year," she sounded far from happy.
"Sammy, don' t hang up," he pleaded.
"I really should go," Rita insisted." Oh, well, okay," he said, defeated. " Happy New Year. I love you."
"Bye," she whispered.
After a long moment, she looked through her purse, and came up with the card that Eric gave her. Slowly, she punched in the number. "Eric? Hi, it' s Rita. How would you like to go out for a little dinner tonight, just as friends?" she invited.
Eric was delighted that his plan was working so quickly. Suppressing the urge to gloat, he accepted her invitation to a new upscale diner.
She was dressed casually, in blue jeans and a new sweater, but she was as beautiful as ever to him. She held him away from her as he tried to kiss her hello.
"Sorry," he said gruffly.
" I' m a little gun-shy, Eric. Can you blame me?"she countered.
"I understand, Rita," he said soothingly. Better than you know, he thought to himself.
To her amazement, she enjoyed her evening with Eric, and when he asked to see her again, she said yes.
Over the next two weeks, Rita heard from Eric nearly every day. Sometimes, he just called. Others, they would meet for lunch or dinner. One morning, he brought her cappuccino and her favorite bagel. Through it all, he never pressured her or crossed the boundary of friendship.
Rita was still guarded with him, but she enjoyed his company. He was attentive to her, but not overly so. He didn' t shower her with expensive gifts, and seemed to spend a great deal of his time working on a new book, as well as promoting his current one. She liked this " new and improved" Eric, but she didn' t especially trust him yet.
Things were slow at the shop. There seemed to be a lull in the murder rate in Palm Beach, and the detectives were helping Cap with statistics and budget requests for the next year. Cassy was now at home, convalescing, with Tom as her willing slave. Harry said Chris was finishing up his work in Colorado, but was mum as to when he would return. Rita hadn' t spoken to Chris since their argument on New Year' s Day, the longest they' d ever gone without talking.
Chris took one last look around the suite, remembering how happy he' d been there with Rita. The bed they' d made love in, the couch, the rug in front of the fireplace...he grinned wryly. He picked up her silk nightshirt, the one she' d left hanging on the back of the bathroom door the day she left. He' d slept with it pressed close to his cheek every night, because it smelled like her. He stuffed the garment into his tote bag, and zipped it up. As he leaned down to pick up his other bag, he noticed something white peeking out from under the coffee table. He tugged out two pages of the missing love letter to Rita. So THAT' S where that was. But there was another page missing. He tipped over the heavy table, but didn't find it. Damn, the maids probably had pitched it. Carefully, he folded the remaining sheets into his jacket pocket.
One thing was for sure, he thought as he drove the SUV towards Denver. It was time to go home. He was no longer thrilled by the breathtaking Colorado countryside, it was only beautiful when Rita had shared it with him. Jillian was just a friend he had been trying to help. The more time he spent with Dr. Dupree, the more he realized Jillian still loved him. But Rita had his heart now, forever. Somehow, he had to make Rita see that. He wasn' t going to disappear like everyone else in her life that loved her. He fingered the small velvet box. He had been sure of Rita for longer than she knew-he had bought the ring at Jessop' s before they' d even left Palm Beach.
Rita was still in a quandary about the situation with Chris. When he came back to PBPD, could they ever work as partners, even if they did fix the rift between them? She fretted, picking at the ribbon on Chris' Christmas gift. She' d bought it in Colorado, a watch he' d admired. She'd gasped at the price, but he was so hard to buy for, and she wanted to give him something personal. She' d even had it engraved. " To Chris, my partner forever, All my love, Rita" She blushed at the other gift she' d put together, knowing now she couldn' t give it to him. She' d found one of those coupon books for lovers, that included things like, " good for one sensual full-body oil massage" It seemed like a wonderful idea at the time, she sighed as she tucked the little booklet away.
In the end, she used her key to let herself into Chris' loft, and carefully put the gift on his desk. She propped it by the phone, with a tender note that said, " Welcome home, Chris. Sorry this is late. Missed you! Love, Rita."
She jumped at the sound of a key turning in the lock. Tense, she put her hand on her gun. She relaxed as she realized it was Chris coming in the door. To her dismay, Jillian was right behind him.
The loving greeting that she was going to give him died on her lips, and she fought back tears." Rita, I' m so glad to see you," Chris' whole face lit up.
She averted her head,"I' m sorry, I didn' t know...this was a mistake!" she pressed a quick kiss on his cheek, and fled.
Jillian tried not to look too satisfied. " Chris, let her go. Is she really worth all the pain she' s put you through?"
He stared Jillian down." I told you last night that you and I don' t have a future together. I love Rita, and I always will. I could tell her that if you weren' t dogging my every waking moment," he added bitterly.
Jillian started to cry," Chris, I' m sorry. I thought w-we could at least be friends."
Chris sighed, " We can, but I have to get my life together. Until I do, I think it would be best if you stayed away. I know that sounds cold, but Rita is upset when you' re around, and I still haven' t figured out why. He continued, almost to himself, " You know, she hasn' t had a lot of love in her life, and so she has this-this tough shell she uses to keep people at a distance. It takes a long time for her to trust anyone. Somehow, she thinks I violated that trust."
Jillian fought a rising panic. This wasn' t how it was supposed to be. He was supposed to dump Rita in favor of her. The letter.....a terrible suspicion began to dawn. Did Eric fake that letter? She murmured some vaguely reassuring words to Chris, and left.
Chris tried to call Rita several times that evening, but all he got was her machine. At loose ends, he went over to talk to George." Well, well, decided to rejoin the grunts at PBPD?" George laughed.
Chris shook his head, grinning, " Yeah, but I tell you George, I have a whole new respect for those guys. I'd kill for their expense accounts."
George roared. When the merriment died down, George asked if he'd seen Rita.
To his surprise, Chris snapped,"Change the subject. I don't want to talk about her."
The ADA was taken aback," Must have been some fight! You two are usually joined at the hip."
"I said I don' t want to talk about it!" Chris said, through clenched teeth.
"I had lunch with her the other day..she looked as if she lost her best friend." George told him.
" Did she?" Chris was wistful.
Donovan was amused," Ah-ha! So, it' s finally happened. Chris Lorenzo has finally met his match. I wondered how long it would take."
Chris looked miserable, " Met my match and lost her in the same week, I' m afraid."
Shocked, George comforted his friend, "I' m sorry, man. I thought you two would be together forever."
" After all the time it took me to see it, I thought so too," Chris confessed." I love her, George, but I can' t tell anyone about it because of the damn job," he added bitterly. " Not that it matters, because she' s barely speaking to me."
His friendshook his head, " Well, what happened?"
Chris groaned, relieved that he could talk to SOMEONE, "Rita has this idea that I' m cheating on her with Jillian. All I tried to do was help her, because I thought she was innocent of murder. It had nothing to do with how I feel about Rita."
George shook his head, " Lorenzo, you idiot, that Boy Scout personality is what gets you in deep shit every time. You know Rita has trouble trusting people. You gotta put her first."
"I' m trying, but she keeps pushing me away, and Jillian is dogging my every move,"Chris said." Look, man, thanks for listening." He got up to leave.
"Come on Chris, let' s go get some dinner, my treat," George offered.
"Ah, man, I' d just be crying in my beer,"Chris shook his head.
"Drown in the beer if you want, I' ll be your designated driver," he offered.
Chris gave in, and they decided to walk to a new diner a few blocks away. They' d just gotten their meals, when a familiar woman walked in.
Chris froze when he saw who was with his Rita-that son-of-a-bitch Eric Russell. Bile rose in his throat as Eric met his gaze. No matter why she was with him, Chris' heart shattered at that moment. Rita waved, but made no move to join them.Chris got up and walked out, with a hasty apology to George.
Next day, Chris strode into Harry' s office, before 7:30. " Lorenzo, good to have you back." He gave him a hearty handshake.
" You may not think so after I tell you this," Chris said soberly, handing him a piece of paper.
Lipschitz gaze was wary. He looked at the form, shut the office door, and bellowed," What the hell is this? Gone from here a month and then you come back requesting a transfer to Narco? Why? Does Rita know about this?"
Coolly, Chris replied, " I have no idea what Sergeant Lance thinks, but I seriously doubt that she' ll care. As for the reason why, I feel there' s a need for me there. After what went on in Colorado, Cap, it' s important," he pleaded.
Cap motioned Chris to take a seat,"You' re sure about this, son? Because I' d hate to lose you from Homicide just because you had a disagreement with your partner."
"More than a disagreement, Cap," Chris admitted. "Please, it' s only temporary. I want to try it for a month."
Something told Harry that it would do no good to argue. Reluctantly, he signed the transfer, with a word of advice,
"I'd tell her, Chris, before she hears it from someone else"
"I will," Chris assented soberly.
That night, he showed up at Rita' s apartment, pizza in hand.
"Who is it?"she called
" Pizza delivery,"he replied in a nasal voice.
"I didn't order..." she trailed off as she saw him standing there.
"I did,"he pushed past her. " Are you alone?" Chris asked cautiously.
Rita, standing in sweaty workout clothes, made a disgusted noise."Yes."
"Just checking," Chris smirked. He was wearing old sweats and his Michigan sweatshirt, hat on backwards. He looked cute and he knew it. "Thank you for the watch, I love it. He held up his wrist. "This is for you," He handed her a gaily wrapped box.
"Thank you," she whispered. She sighed happily as she carefully opened the box, and lifted out a crystal snowglobe. She recognized it from one of the exclusive shops in Vail, and knew it was an artist' s original." Oh, Chris," tears stung her eyes as she stared at the blizzard of snow, surrounding a couple skiing down a mountain. It' s beautiful."
"I saw you looking at it, and I wanted you to have something to remind you of our time in Vail," he offered shyly.
" Thank you,"she pressed a tender kiss to his lips, then backed off,"Uh, I really need a shower."
"Well, I went to all this trouble to deliver you dinner, are you gonna eat it?" Chris asked.
"After my shower,"she said firmly.
"Ritaaa,"he whined. " I' m hungry" He hauled out his best puppy dog look. For a moment, things were back to normal between them.
"Then eat," she replied." I' ll be back in a few," and she flew up the stairs, carrying her present.
Chris laughed to himself. Maybe there was hope for them yet. He heard the bathroom door bang, and the shower turn on. The laughter died in his throat, as he thought of her naked under the shower spray. He swallowed hard, remembering all the showers they' d taken together......His feet were headed for the stairs before his mind really registered the thought.
Up the winding staircase, through the bedroom, to the bathroom....the door was slightly ajar. Steam rolled out the door, and the smell of her shampoo tickled his nostrils. The only other sound in the room was the swish of his clothes hitting the carpeted floor. Chris opened the glass door, and wrapped his arms around Rita before she could make a sound.
" Shh," he whispered as his mouth descended on hers.
"Chris," she gasped into his mouth, but after the first touch, she couldn' t resist him. Oh, she had missed him so much...she realized as his hands touched her everywhere...her belly, her breasts, between her thighs....she moaned and began to shake. "Yeah, touch me there" she pleaded. Any thought of resistance was swept away by the riot of sensation rushing through her body.
"Ah, Rita," he whispered hoarsely as her hand stroked him possessively, with erotic intent." More" he begged.
In the shower, then to the bed, bodies warm and dripping wet, they rolled over and over, satisfying a soul- deep need.
" No fair," she whispered at last."Now we' ll have cold pizza," she nuzzled his earlobe.
"Life is uncertain" he began." Have dessert first!" they laughed together.
Chris leaned over and teased at her nipples with his teeth." Ouch!" she protested, tugging at his hair.
"Sorry," he murmured gruffly.
"I didn't say I didn't like it, just be careful," she grinned.
"You're insatiable, Sammy," he teased.
"Look who' s talking," she giggled, rising over him.....
Much later, they were eating rewarmed pizza in bed, and talking. Chris broached the subject of his transfer to Narco, explaining his feelings about the drug bust in Colorado. "And," he added cautiously," I wanted to give you some space, if you need it."
Her face closed a little bit, " I see" was her only comment.
Chris caught her face in his hands," Do you see, Rita?"
She looked into his tender blue eyes," Yes, I do see,"she smiled. " This is a hard thing for me, Chris. As much as I love you, I still have a lot of doubts."
He asked the question, hating himself in the process," And is Eric part of those doubts?"
No, he' s just a friend," Rita said in surprise. " What about Jillian?"
"I was just being a friend," he insisted. " I want you, just you."
"I know, but..." she began.
He held a hand to her mouth, " No buts. Just you and me, no one else..." as he lowered his body over hers.
Chris was assigned to an undercover, right away. Rita was worried about him, but knew she needed to support him. She still saw Eric, as a friend. Saturday, she planned to surprise Chris with a romantic dinner at his loft. But fate had other plans.
At the last minute, she and Tom were called out on a triple homicide, the work of a deranged sister of a city council member. Even though they found their suspect with the gun still smoking, so to speak, there was still paperwork and the press to deal with. As the hour grew late, Rita took a moment to call Chris. She glanced at her watch. One o' clock. Oh, well-she knew he' d understand. She picked up her cell phone and hit her speed dial, smiling as she pictured him in his bed.
Jillian tossed restlessly on Chris' couch. She had gotten into a knockdown drag-out with Eric, and then her mother, so she pleaded with Chris for a place to stay. He offered her the couch, while he went upstairs to bed. He was exhausted after being up for 48 hours straight, so he didn' t hear the phone ring "Hello?" Jillian asked sleepily.
Rita felt ice form around her heart, " I want to talk to Chris."
Jillian shifted restlessly on the couch, " He' s asleep, Rita" she said softly. She covered the receiver pretending to ask Chris if he wanted to take the call, then her voice came back on. " He' s tired, Rita. He' ll call you in the morning."
Rita listened to the dial tone, stunned. All the tender feelings she had for Chris turned to bitterness in her heart. "It' s over," she whispered.
"What did you say?" Tom looked over at her.
" Nothing,"she brushed him off. " I' m going home, do you care?"
Tom shook his head, "No, go ahead. See you later?" Rita nodded,"Yeah, I'll be back about noon." Once at home, she poured herself a large glass of wine, and took a gulp. She gagged in disgust, and spit it out. "Must be bad," she muttered. Well, wasn' t this a rotten night? Red ball homicide, and a lovers betrayal, and she didn' t even have a decent wine to drown her sorrows, she thought as she got into bed. She reached for the shirt Chris had left, and held it to her cheek. The shirt was well-soaked with her tears by morning.
Monday, Jillian showed up at the shop, and asked to see Rita. Tom waved her towards an interrogation room, where Rita was eating a quiet lunch alone.
"Could I talk to you?" Jillian asked.
"You are the last person I want to see right now," Rita said coldly.
"I'm sorry you found out that way," Jillian said, pouring on the sympathetic act." He just doesn't know what to say to you."
"Did he tell you we were together last Monday night?" Rita countered. " In my shower, in my bed, even on my couch the next morning. Did he tell you that?"
Jillian had the grace to look ashamed, " No, he didn' t."
Rita looked coldly at her," You know, I can't blame Chris entirely for this. You have an agenda that I' m sure even he doesn't know about, and God help the poor bastard if he ever figures it out."
Jillian heard the threat in her words, and covered nicely." Well, I have decided to stay in Palm Beach. The last few days with Chris have been so wonderful, I feel we do have a future together. Have a nice life, Rita."
The door closed behind her.
Meanwhile, Chris was on his way to Tallahassee, unaware of the upheaval in his love life. He was working with a state task force on drug use in smaller cities. It was an honor, and he wanted to make the most of the opportunity. He tried to call Rita, but all he got was her machine.
Rita was busily trying to pick up the pieces of her life, an icy shell forming around her heart. But she finally let the shell crack, just a little, when Eric told her he was leaving for Paris, day after tomorrow.
Her bitter feelings about Chris and Jillian spilled out, and he listened, seemingly like an understanding friend. He patted her shoulder comfortingly." I can' t handle it anymore, Eric. Chris is going to be done in Narco in a few weeks, and will be back in Homicide. I can' t bear to see him every day, with her. I' ll quit first" she was vehement.
"Rita, it' s not your fault. You didn' t do anything wrong " Eric soothed.
"I just can' t do it," she insisted, sobbing against his chest.
Eric stroked her hair, a plan forming in his head, " Rita, I may have a way out of this for you. Come with me to Paris."
"What?" she lifted her tear-stained face.
" Marry me," he said softly, brushing her cheek." We' ll see the world, have fun, and leave them all behind. You' ll never have to see them again, if you don' t want to. I still love you, Rita."
Her eyes dilated in shock. When she found her voice, she said, " Eric, that' s really sweet of you, but I don' t love you. "I' m sorry."
"That' s okay," he smiled." I just want you to be happy, and can you really be happy here, seeing them in your face every day?"
"No, I guess not," she said soberly. Rita didn' t believe her next words. " Okay, I' ll marry you."
He swept her into a tight hug, " You won' t be sorry, Rita." He started to kiss her passionately, reaching for the buttons on her blouse.
"Eric,'"she began." I-uh. I' m not ready for this yet."
He took a deep breath, and held her away from him, " Okay. So, what' s next?"
Again, she had a surreal feeling, ' Um, I guess resign or take a leave of absence, sublet my apartment?"
Eric reminded her," We don' t have a lot of time."
They discussed the plans for a quick wedding the day after tomorrow, January 31. Her first hurdle was to break the news to Harry and Fran. Eric sat next to her on the Lipschitz' couch, feeling he was being examined under microscope.
Harry was shocked, but allowed her to take a leave of absence. Something in her expression made him loath to question her further about this sudden decision.
Frannie, however, was more blunt. "Don' t do this, Rita, you' ll ruin your life," she pleaded, her plump face streaked with tears.
That pretty much summed up the reaction of all her friends. To their pleas to wait, she turned a deaf ear. She had made up her mind, and she was not about to change it. She tried to find Chris, but to no avail. All Narco could tell her was that he was in Tallahassee.
Chris was searching computer records for connections to the Colorado drug bust, when he happened upon Jillian' s bank records. His heart pounded as he looked at the dates of the transactions, and where the money went. Ten thousand dollars to Eric Russell, on November 30. That was the first of many transactions, including several entries to dummy corporations, in Swiss and offshore accounts. One transaction nearly jumped off the page at him. $500,000 to the retirement account of one Christopher Lorenzo, Palm Beach Florida. He sat back in shock. That account was in a Philadelphia bank, started by his father years ago. But no way did that money come from his father! Chris researched for hours, the original purpose of his work forgotten. By the time he finished the next day, he was beginning to get the picture, an ugly picture of deception. He couldn' t sleep as he boarded a charter flight to Palm Beach.
Rita woke that rainy morning with a pounding headache, and a queasy stomach. Great time for a migraine, she groaned inwardly -on my wedding day. Wedding day....yeah, that' s what it was. Thunder rumbled outside, and rain slapped against the window. I can' t do it, she realized in a panic. I can' t marry Eric today, or any day. But Jillian' s words came back to her, " I' ve decided that my love for Chris is more important than my career, so I' m back in Palm Beach for good."
Rita fought the tears welling up in her eyes. Yes, she WOULD do it. Anything was better than staying here, where she would have to see Chris and Jillian probably every day of her life. After all, she told herself, Eric was clean and sober now, he said he still loved her, and he had done everything he could to ease heal her broken heart. He even understood when she confessed she wasn' t ready to make love with him yet. Rita continued to bargain with herself while she showered, dressed in a simple ivory suit, and applied makeup. She had loved Eric once, maybe she could again. Certainly he had a lot of her father's traits, and wasn' t that how it went-women tended to marry men like their fathers? He had a successful writing career, and he could afford to take her to places she' d only dreamed of. She' d never have to look at the corpse of a young kid, eaten alive by the streets, ever again. Resolutely, she picked up her purse and glanced at her watch. Time to meet her future.......
In Judge Martin' s chambers, Rita nervously accepted a bouquet of lilies from Eric.
"You look beautiful," he whispered in her ear."
"Thanks," she said shakily," You look pretty terrific yourself." He was dressed in a Versace tux, obviously new for the occasion, but definitely out of place for a simple courthouse ceremony
Captain Lipschitz, Frannie, and George were the witnesses. Rita insisted on keeping the ceremony as simple as possible. Keisha, Diana, and Taylor refused to attend, telling their friend that she was making the worst mistake of her life.
The judge came in, his robes rustling. Judge Martin was new to Palm Beach, and he didn' t know the couple about to be wed, but he sensed a strain in the room. Strange for a wedding ceremony, he thought, as he opened his Bible. He began with a few welcoming comments, and a little joke to set everyone at ease
Everyone relaxed only minimally, except the groom. Of all the people in the room, he appeared the happiest, most relaxed, even cocky. The bride was pale and shaky, and her voice was barely audible........
Meanwhile, Chris and Jillian were having a serious discussion about her future. Chris confronted her with the bank records and witness statements, connecting her and Eric in Boston and Vail. His eyes were cold as he told her he was finished with the games.
Jillian looked at him desperately, " It started out as a way to get you back. Eric-he promised me he could help. We didn' t realize you and Rita were together, and when we did....she sighed. "It just made me want you more. I didn' t think anyone was going to die over it."
Chris pressed, " Go on."
"The day of the shooting, Eric called me and told me there was a problem, that one of his agent friends had something on him. He told me that he could make it look like you had something to do with it, that you were playing both ends against the middle."
She got up and looked out the window. " Chris, I told him I would go to you and confess everything. I was pretty hysterical," she admitted."Eric told me to meet him in the back hallway, by the concierge's office. When I got there, I heard two shots, and Eric ran from the office. He put something in my hand, and shoved me in the door, and ran off." Her eyes were haunted, remembering. " I didn' t realize I was even holding a gun until you got there. All I could see was David, and all that blood."
" And you couldn' t tell me it was Eric?" Chris asked tiredly.
Jillian' s eyes cast downward, " I love you so much Chris, I would have done anything to have you back, whether you still loved Rita or not.
"That' s not love, that' s obsession," Chris replied coldly. " It' s sick."
"Then why did you write me the letter?" Jillian wondered, whirling to face him. "I was ready to tell the truth, then Eric brought me a love letter, from you."
Detective Lorenzo was stymied, " Jillian, I NEVER wrote you a love letter. The only letter I wrote in Colorado was..." Realization dawned on his face, and he scrambled through his briefcase. " A letter like this?" He held out two of the pages from his letter to Rita.
Jillian pulled her own letter from her purse, and compared the pages. Tears of shame and anger boiled from her eyes, as she threw all three sheets on the counter.
Chris spoke solemnly," So that's where it went. I tore the suite apart, looking for the missing page, and you had it all the time. Russell must have broken in and taken it that night," he mused aloud.
" I showed it to Rita, the day before she left Vail," Jillian admitted, sobbing.
"You WHAT?" Chris yelled. " No WONDER she left! She thought I was cheating on her with YOU?" He spat out the words, beyond angry." I' m sorry" Jillian sniffled.
" That' s not good enough!" Chris thundered, yanking her arm. " We are going to find Rita and you are going to tell her everything you just told me."
"You' re hurting me!" Jillian yelped. " Besides, it doesn' t matter anyway."
"What the hell does that mean?" Chris lowered his voice, but didn' t let loosen his grip on her.
Jillian looked at the clock, " Rita is marrying Eric today at City Hall."
All the color drained from his face," She can' t!"
"Well, she is. I saw her and Eric last night. Later he told me that she wants out of Palm Beach, because she couldn' t stand to see you ruin your life with me," Jillian said bitterly.
She neglected to add that Eric had told her this in his hotel room, while he was practically raping her.
Chris was frantic, " I have to stop her!"
Jillian sighed," Just let her go, Chris."
He shook her fiercely," Let my whole LIFE go? Never!" He slammed out of the door, Jillian at his heels.
Slapping lights and siren on, he made it to the courthouse in mere minutes. Sprinting up the stairs to the license bureau, he asked which judge was performing the ceremony.
"Judge Martin, Chamber 6," the clerk replied.
Down the hall, heart pounding, tears in his eyes, a silent prayer on his lips," Please God, don' t let her marry him."
Judge Martin was at the part in of the ceremony where he asked, '"If anyone present objects to this union, let him speak now or forever hold his peace."
The room was tense, silent, and Rita felt a wave of dizziness. I can' t go through with this, she thought, but she couldn' t form the words.....
Harry was praying for all he was worth that she would stop this right now.....
George was sick inside as he looked at Rita' s ashen face......
Eric smiled at her friends smugly, as if to say," She' s mine, now."
The door flung open, as Frannie opened her mouth to speak.
"I object!" Chris yelled." Rita, I love you! You can' t marry him, he' s a murderer!"
But Rita didn' t hear him-she slumped to the floor, in a dead faint.
Now, wasn' t that MEAN of me? Chris stopped the wedding, but what' s wrong with Rita? Will she finally see the light about Eric? And will Eric and Jillian finally get what' s coming to them? Now, you all know that Rita HAS to find her way back to Chris! I apologize for the long installment, but I had a lot to say today! For the rest of the story, stay tuned to Lisa' s site for the Conclusion of Friends, Lovers, and Liars. Any mail (including hate mail-LOL!) can be addressed to CSFan95@aol.com
Yes,Lorry,I speak for us all when I say ,this was very mean of you to do this to us,right at this point in the story! All I can say is I am so glad you can't do this to us AGAIN....You have to end the story in Part Nine....You promised! LOL!!! Now,all you readers...you know the drill...you all email Lorry and pester her into hurrying up the conclusion,and I'll do my share to get it posted as soon as possible....... once I get it!...... And Lorry...Stay out of those furniture stores !!! LOL!!!
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