CHAPTER NINE

The car pulled up in front of the brownstone and William barely waited for the door to be opened all the way before leaping out. He didn't really want to go inside, but a big part of him insisted that it was better to just get the horror over with than to let himself linger in misery.

"So they're already waiting for us inside?" he asked Byron Hughes.

The bodyguard shrugged. "Looks like. O'Rielly says the police are very insistent on talking to you." He slammed the car door shut behind Alan and walked with them across the sidewalk to the front door. "The detectives I dealt with seemed pretty good and they made it really easy, but I don't know if they're who you will be answering to."

William patted Byron's broad shoulder. "It's all right. The sooner we get this done, the sooner we'll be able to get on with the rest of our lives."

"Why do I feel as though I'm dealing with some kind of pod person?" Alan asked.

William grinned at him, and it was only a little fake. "You did fall asleep on the plane. Maybe that's when I was replaced."

"Way to give me nightmares." Alan mock-shuddered. "I think I saw this movie once and Nicole Kidman ended up shooting James Bond in the leg."

William gave him a disbelieving look. "I have no idea what you're talking about, though I find your aggressive nerdiness oddly adorable."

Alan grinned at him, seeming happy that William wasn't clawing up the walls and gibbering with woe over their upcoming interview with the police. "Well, thanks for that."

Alan wrapped his arm around William's waist as they walked up the short steps to the front door Byron held for them. James had already ducked inside, moving fast enough that William had to wonder if he should be insulted or not.

He focused instead on how hard Alan was trying to take his mind off of the awfulness to come. It was another sign that he'd made the right choice when he'd fallen in love with Alan.

William leaned back in Alan's arms, letting himself be soothed by the safety Alan presented. The scent of Alan's cologne made William sigh in relief.

"You gonna be okay?" Alan breathed in his ear. William was sort of bent over to accommodate their difference in height and they probably looked ridiculous, yet William didn't care. "We could probably put them off for a day or two if you're not ready to do this now."

William shook his head. "We should just get it over with. They're already here and waiting."

"Okay," Alan said. "Just let me know if it's too much for you."

William kissed Alan on the side of his face. "I'm glad that you care, but it's going to be all right." He swept his hand over Alan's blond hair, smoothing down the flyaways. "I mean, this whole talking to the cops thing is freaky, but it's gotta be done."

Today the lobby was manned by a man with short cut brown hair and a left eye that always seemed to be looking to the side. "Welcome back Mr. Neeley, Mr. Trent. I hope you enjoyed your trip. Congratulations on your wedding."

"Thank you." William gave him a nod. He recognized the man's face but couldn't place the name; he made a mental note to bone up on the employee files. "We had a wonderful time."

Byron hit the button on the elevator and the doors slid open. He put his hand out to hold them open, a patient expression on his face as he waited for them to board. He was used to dealing with William's short attention span and spent the bulk of his time trying to keep William on task.

They rode the elevator up to their floor and William fought to keep from rocking back and forth on his heels impatiently. Alan hated when people got all fiddly and just before an interview with the police wasn't the time to push things.

Licking his lower lip, William fumbled out with his hand until he found Alan's and clasped it tight. He stared at the floor numbers as they clicked passed and tried to push away the discomfort he felt in his stomach at the thought of what was to come.

After Melissa died-was brutally murdered by a knife-wielding madman-there had been hours and days of police interviews. William had had to go over the series of events frontwards and backwards until his throat had ached from the words and he'd wanted nothing more than to hide away forever. It had been the kind of experience that had burned its way into his brain.

Now he was revisiting that horrible time in his life by talking to even more police. It was the kind of experience he happily would have missed.

The elevator doors opened and they stepped out into the antechamber where a man and woman were sitting on the red couch, two mugs in front of them on the cherry wood coffee table along with a beige colored file folder and a blue pen.

William felt a surge of relief that they hadn't been let into the apartment. He didn't know how he would have handled seeing them inside his safe haven waiting for him. It was bad enough that they were in the antechamber, the room that he would have to pass through every time he came home.

Seeming to sense his apprehension, Alan squeezed William's hand and moved a bit in front of him, taking the forefront on talking to the cops. "Hello detectives, I see you've got some coffee there. Has everyone been taking care of you?"

The detectives stood up, the woman a few inches taller than the man. She had a no-nonsense expression and her bobbed hair had been slicked back away from her face, highlighting the lack of makeup.

"Representative," she said, giving Alan a respectful nod before glancing at William. "Mr. Neeley. I'm Detective Alison Warner and this is Detective Dennis Greer. We're sorry to be bothering you today, but we really should get the questioning out of the way as soon as possible."

William glanced around for somewhere to sit down, and before he could say anything, Byron was there carrying a spindly legged, high-backed chair in each hand. William reached out and took one, sitting down in front of the coffee table. "Thank you," he said.

Byron gave him a nod and a tiny smile before setting the other chair down for Alan's use.

William looked at the detectives. He didn't see a whole lot of antagonism toward him, not like the last police that had questioned him. Then again, he'd been the main suspect in Melissa's murder and he hadn't had a fortune at the time. He'd been just a scared kid still reeling from the death of the girl he loved and no one had felt the need to show him any kindness. The apologies later hadn't meant a whole lot to him.

He twisted his hands together in his lap and fought his leg's need to jitter. "I don't really know what to say about what happened. There were several attempts made on my life, then I beat the guy up when he, I assume, tried to kidnap me. I mean, I got things like his name afterward, but I've never met him before."

"Actually, you have, though you don't remember it," Detective Warner said.

William raised his eyebrows. "I have?" He tried to think of he remembered Damien Prince at all, but there was nothing.

"Prince worked as a janitor at your university," Warner said. "It seems that he's been following you since then."

"I was fifteen years old." William blanched at the idea of some man following him around in secret for all those years of his life. There was the soft warmth of Alan's hand against his and he quickly twined their fingers together. "That's so creepy."

"It's more than creepy," the detective said. "Prince was an incredibly disturbed individual."

"Was?" Alan asked.

Warner shared a look with her partner. "Damien Prince committed suicide in holding. Somehow he managed to hang himself before the guards knew what was happening." There was a note of discontent in her voice.

"Is it bad that I'm glad he's dead?" William asked. His voice sounded thin to his own ears, but that's kind of how he felt on the inside, as though he'd been drawn thin. Just thinking about Prince made him feel helpless and afraid; which he hated more than anything.

"It means that you're human," Warner said. "He attacked you and terrorized you and threatened the people you love. Hating him is a perfectly normal response. Have you thought about arranging some sort of counseling or anything?"

She was giving him the sympathetic gaze he'd never enjoyed receiving. That "You poor thing. You're so damaged" look that made his skin itch.

"Not yet," Alan spoke up. "We just got back today."

William rubbed his chin with his forefinger. "Was this man really following me around for years?" It was a creepy idea: To imagine that someone had been watching his every move and he had never noticed.

He thought that he would be arranging more than just one permanent bodyguard. And Alan would accept heightened security practices. It was just common sense in a situation like this where they could be murdered at any turn.

William didn't realize he was starting to shake until Byron grabbed his shoulders from behind in a friendly squeeze.

William forced himself to relax.

Byron left his hands there for a few seconds, a reminder that William wasn't alone. Then his hands slid away, yet William was reminded that he was safe. Damien Prince was gone.

"I don't think I'm handling all of this very well at all," he admitted. "Do we really have to rehash everything? He was caught red handed and now he's dead. Can't my part in all this be done?"

Warner looked surprised for a moment, then understanding. She nudged her partner. "Just a few things more and we'll be out of here," she told William.

He sighed but nodded. They were just doing their job.

.

When the detectives finally left, William let himself be led into the apartment where he immediately headed into the bedroom and changed.

He'd thought about going to the lab, but he really wasn't in the mood anymore. He felt like he deserved sweatpants and grilled cheese sandwiches.

"Are you okay?" Alan leaned against the counter to watch William putter around in the kitchen. He had this worried expression on his face that William tried hard to ignore.

"Probably not." William laughed and put slices of bread in the toaster. "This whole situation is so fucked up."

"Do you want me to call and arrange some therapy?" Alan asked. He was just throwing the idea out there; there was no pressure behind it.

"No. I don't want to go to a therapist." William put a slice of cheese between two pieces of toast and put the plate in the microwave for fifteen seconds. The cheese bubbled. "I can handle what happened."

"Well, the option is always open," Alan said.

William looked at Alan for a moment, then a smile quirked his lips. "Keep being you." He offered the sandwich to Alan, who took the plate with a "Thank you" and pulled out one of the tall barstools.

William turned around to make another sandwich for himself. He also broke out the dill pickle spears and the ketchup.

"You want another one while I'm in here?" he asked. "I could do you some bacon or sliced turkey on it?"

Alan laughed. "I haven't even started this sandwich. Just get over here." He slapped the seat of the stool next to him.

William grabbed his sandwich out of the microwave and sat down next to Alan. "Do you want to watch a movie with me?" He broke off a corner of the crust and nibbled on it.

Indecision moved behind Alan's eyes-he probably had a million things to catch up on-then he smiled at William. "Sure. I'll watch something with you."

William gave a quiet sigh of relief and bit into his sandwich. "Thanks."

* . * . *

It was obvious that William was spooked, but there wasn't a whole lot Alan could do other than be there. It just sucked that they both had such intense careers that tried to pull them apart. Carving out the time for their honeymoon had been a miracle.

Alan wanted to spend every moment with William until all the shadows of fear disappeared, but he had work to do. He was a congressman; it wasn't like he could blow his job off forever.

"Are you going to be all right while I'm gone?" he couldn't help asking again.

William gave him an impatient look. "Dude, I'll be fine."

"Did you just call me dude?" Alan shook his head. "Whatever. Make sure you call me. Unless I hear your voice once a day I'm going to assume the worst."

William blinked. "Are you scared to leave me alone?"

"What? No. I know you're completely self-sufficient." Alan put his hands up defensively. "I know you can take care of yourself."

William looked at him for a long moment with a faint crinkle between his brows. Then his lips twitched in amusement. "Why do you have to worry so much all the time? I'll be perfectly fine and I will call you so much that you're going to get sick of the sound of my voice."

William stepped close and wrapped his arms around Alan's waist. His breath was warm on the side of Alan's neck. "I'll call you."

Alan blinked the itch from his eyes and pressed his forehead against William's. "I will never get tired of the sound of your voice. Call and text me all the time."

"I will call the fuck out of you," William promised.

"Okay."