Title: Compliments and Conversations
Author’s notes: I own nothing from the Breakout Kings. No money is made and no infringement was intended. This is part three of my "Beyond Bars" series. It’s earlier than I’d expected in the long road to a relationship, but we’re still making progress. Ray certainly is. Lloyd is a lot closer to convincing Julianne of something too.
Compliments and Conversations
She’d said it softly. So softly that he only heard it because Julianne was standing only inches from his side. Right where he liked her to be. Lloyd pulled his eyes off the wall where they’d stuck all the relevant info on their current runner. Turning, he sat on the edge of the desk and smiled up at her. The instant blush edging onto her cheeks said clearly that she hadn’t really meant him to hear the words at all. “I never get tired of hearing that.”
“Well, you are. I stare at all of this stuff with you on every case and you always find the one thing, the one piece of information out of the mess of it all, that we need to get ahead of them. You’re amazing, Lloyd, brilliant.” She shifted under his gaze nervously until her feet were between his on the floor. It put her body almost between his knees, the curve of her waist within easy reach of hands that were itching to do just that.
He nodded, but now his attention wasn’t on the case. It wasn’t even on his own brilliance. It was firmly on her. Julianne Simms was the amazing one, and she was willingly close to him, she chose him. “It’s not every day a man hears he’s amazing from a beautiful woman.”
Her eyes dropped instantly, followed a fraction of a second later by her chin. Julianne was suddenly staring at her own hands playing with the end of her long scarf. She’d gone from a happy smile to a heartbreaking expression before he could breathe in to ask why. “Julianne?” She shifted from one foot to the other, but didn’t look up or speak. This was something serious. Lloyd reached up, curling one finger under her chin to lift her eyes to his. He needed to see her, to figure out what he’d said to hurt her so he wouldn’t do it again. “Sweetheart?”
She resisted the gentle pressure of his hand, angling her face and her eyes even lower and off to the side. He wouldn’t force her chin up, but he did slide his hand along the sweet line of her jaw to cup the back of her neck, the pad of his thumb rubbing just behind her ear. Lloyd waited for and got the instinctive cuddling of her face into his hand, the trust and warmth of her body pressing closer to his. “But I’m not, Lloyd.”
“You’re not my sweetheart?” That was what he needed, her instant denial. Julianne looked up with a little shake of her head and the sudden grip of her hand around one of his. Good. Julianne needed to know that she was his sweetheart.
“No, not that… I am your sweetheart, Lloyd. But I… I’m… I’m not… beautiful.” Her eyes left his, wide and shiny, but she didn’t try to drop her chin.
It wasn’t the last thing he’d expected to hear, that would mean it had ever crossed his mind at all. He’d never even thought she doubted that. Julianne was simply gorgeous. “The hell you’re not.” Lloyd curled his arm around her waist, tucking her closer against his chest even as she tried to shake her head again.
“Julianne, I need you to look at me.” When she hesitated, he stole a quick kiss just to feel her melt a little into the contact. Lloyd loved the way she always responded to him, to his kiss. The warmth made him linger an extra moment on her lips before pulling back to meet her gaze. “That’s my girl. You are beautiful.” She tried to look away and he cupped her face in both hands. “You are, Julianne. You are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known.”
A sound burst past her lips, something that wasn’t quite laughter. “Now, I know you’re lying. We work with Erica and you’re not blind.” Good. If she was arguing with him, then she was listening, not hiding.
“She’s attractive, even striking. But you’re beautiful.” Lloyd wrapped both his arms around her waist, helping her lean on his chest. Her arms slowly curled around his neck, her body relaxing bit by bit against his. “She doesn’t have warm chocolate eyes that heat me up from across a room. She doesn’t have lips so soft and sweet that I’m always desperate for a taste.” Before his adoring eyes, she licked those lips, smiling at his helpless groan. “She doesn’t have skin like pale silk, hair a man can lose himself in, your kind heart, or your brilliant mind.” He brushed the very tips of his fingers under the edge of her shirt, rubbing back and forth against the small of her back. She shivered in his arms, her eyes falling to his lips instead of dropping in embarrassment. His voice dropped a little lower and rougher in direct response. “You are so damn beautiful, Julianne, inside and out.”
He would bet she didn’t even know she was nodding. Julianne believed him, at least subconsciously. It was a beginning he could work with. “I’m just pretty, but you make me feel beautiful.” Julianne ran her fingers through his hair, before cupping her hand along his jaw and leaning in for a kiss. He always loved it when she reached for him, when she claimed a kiss. He fucking adored the way she was always comfortable and relaxed in his arms. Julianne felt safe with him, felt beautiful. It was amazing, and a damn good place to start.
“Hmm, my beautiful Julianne.” He rested his forehead against hers with a smile. “I guess we need to work on it more, but ‘just pretty’ is a decent place to start.”
“Speakin’ of work…” They both jumped, her automatic step back countered by the tightening of his arms. Lloyd kept her close and looked past her at Ray. He was standing in the doorway with his arms folded threateningly across his chest. The man’s face wasn’t nearly as pissed as he’d been worried about, but neither was he pleased to find his data tracker and pet psychologist playing on the clock. “You better have something for me, Lloyd.” Lloyd heard the ‘or else’ even if it wasn’t spoken aloud.
“His girlfriend lied to you. She is the only reason he broke out of prison and he has contacted her by now if she wasn’t in on it from the beginning. It was probably the first thing he did.” Lloyd opened his arms, but claimed one of Julianne’s hands between both of his own. He wasn’t about to give up the warmth of her skin until someone made him. “If you trail her, she will lead us to him.”
“Alright, then. Erica and I will go plant a tracker on the girlfriend. I’ll call Charlie and Shea to follow the signal.” Beefy arms unfolded and Lloyd couldn’t help but remember those hands fisting in his shirt and pinning him to a wall. Especially when Ray pointed two fingers at them with a sharp motion. “You two… are gettin’ back to work on a backup plan incase this one doesn’t work. Not making out. We clear?”
“Yes, boss.” Lloyd found himself smiling as he dragged himself to his feet and away from Julianne’s skin. “I’ll dig deeper into his mental issues, see if I can predict his next move.”
Julianne gave him a warm glance before returning to her desk and her laptop. “I’m on his resources. I’ll get you the info on anyone he might go to for help.”
“You two do that. Call me with anything you get immediately.” With one more weirdly considering look at Lloyd Ray disappeared into the elevator and closed the door.
Lloyd tried to ignore the sudden chill in his fingers and went back to the papers all over the wall. It was time to catch the Breakout Kings another runner.
She kept catching herself glancing at him over the surface of her desk. Every now and then he would catch her looking and give her a warm little smile. //Warm chocolate eyes that heat me up from across a room…\\
She wondered if he was feeling even a little of the warmth his eyes always built in her. There was always so much heat in those blue eyes when he looked at her. Lloyd’s gaze was better than a thick winter coat and an electric blanket. //That amazing man thinks I’m beautiful.\\ Julianne bit her lip and dragged her eyes off his lips. She loved it when he kissed her, damn well adored the feel of those lips against her own. He certainly wasn’t the only one desperate for a taste. Julianne raised one shaking hand to brush back a loose strand of hair. In the process, she ran a fingertip over his spot on her skin. It sounded cheesy, but it was honest. Every single time Lloyd touched her, he ended up rubbing his thumb back and forth right there. That spot always felt cold when she hadn’t gotten to be in his arms in too long. Like right now.
She wanted that hand at the back of her neck, wanted the delicate stroke of that thumb against some of the only bare skin he’d ever touched. She wanted those arms around her waist and those long fingers rubbing her back. Julianne wanted him to reach for skin that was even softer and paler. She wanted to climb into his lap again, across his hips this time, get his hands into her hair and her hands under his shirt. She wanted the time and the freedom to explore him and be explored by him.
“Concentrate, Julianne.” She jumped, a sharp, sudden flinch of all her muscles that came with a little helpless squeak. “I’m enjoying the extra warmth, but the team needs us to figure this out. More typing and less staring would distract me less.” He didn’t actually look at her until after he’d finished speaking and then she knew exactly what he meant. Blue eyes trailed over her face before focusing on her lips with enough heat to make her breath catch and her hands clench. “And if you keep biting your lip, I’m coming over there to do it for you.”
“I’m working, Lloyd, I’m working. You have to concentrate too or we’re both gonna be useless.” She angled the screen of her laptop higher. If the line of sight was blocked, maybe it would be easier to ignore him. It wouldn’t be easy to ignore him, not with his voice whispering ‘you’re beautiful’ in her ear, not with the memory of the heat in his eyes as he tried to convince her.
It wasn’t easy, but nothing worth doing was. Julianne managed to get her mind… //your brilliant mind\\... on the task at hand. At least most of it. “Lloyd, how likely is this guy to go to family for help? He does have a brother fairly close to the last sighting of him.”
“Possible enough to call Ray. He’ll want to pick up his girlfriend with the means to support her. Money is always useful. Maybe a car. He wants to impress her, to prove he’s worthy of her.”
“Makes sense. He was convicted of that jewelry store robbery because he took such an expensive diamond ring for her. Way too flashy to go unnoticed by her coworkers.” Julianne was already reaching for the phone to pass on the lead when Lloyd smiled at her. Her fingers started shaking again at his words.
“Any guy would want to give his girl the most beautiful ring.” She felt his eyes brush heat over her left hand. And for just a second she knew she was imagining the same thing he was, his fingers guiding a ring onto hers. Those hot blue eyes would be glued to her face as he knelt at her feet. His voice would be rough with emotion and his arms would be strong around her when her knees gave way. //Lloyd,\\
Julianne closed her eyes and fought for breath as she listened to the phone start ringing on the other end of the line. “Yeah, Jules, what ya got for me?”
“A brother, older. Michael lives less than a mile from Warburton Avenue and his brother might go to him for money or a car. I’m sending you the address now.”
“Good work, Jules. We’re on our way there now.”
“Good luck.” Hanging up the phone, Julianne let her eyes find Lloyd. “Now we wait.”
“We’ll get him, Julianne. It’s what we do.” Lloyd turned back to the wall and tried to concentrate. Julianne could only do the same.
Several leads, near captures, and close calls later, they finally did get their runner. When the others got back with the captive in tow, Ray was smiling. “Good work, animals. Get changed, the van to Maybelle will be here soon.”
When the room cleared, Ray moved to lean against the edge of her desk. The way he was looking at her was just a little uncomfortable. “Yeah, Ray?”
“He was right, you know.”
“Lloyd, about the girlfriend and the car? Of course he was.”
“Not that, but he was.” Ray cocked his head at the doorway he’d be standing in when he’d interrupted the two of them earlier. “He was right about you. You are a beautiful woman, Jules. You’re more confident than I’ve ever seen you. You glow around him. It looks good on you.”
“Ray,” Her hand was in the air before she knew she was reaching out. Ray caught it before it would have covered her mouth.
“Shh, just listen, okay?” He paused, rubbing rough fingertips along the back of her hand. “Lloyd is good for you, seems to be good to you. That being the case, he’s okay with me. That ever stops being the case and he and I are gonna have a very different conversation than the last one.”
//The last one?\\ Her breath caught in her throat and her mind raced. This was sounding like something she never expected. This sounded like an… approval. “You’re okay with us, really okay? You won’t kick us off the team, separate us?”
“I care about you, Jules. I want you to be happy, healthy.” Ray shrugged and looked just a little embarrassed. “While I really don’t wanna see more than I did today, Lloyd makes you happy, makes you stronger. Unless he hurts you, he’s okay with me. He does ever hurt you, I’ll do more to him than kick him off the team.”
She almost laughed at the thought. Lloyd would cut off his own hands before he used them to hurt her. “He won’t, Ray. He wouldn’t hurt me, not ever. Lloyd’s very, very careful with me.”
“Good,” Ray gave her a warm smile and leaned forward to press a kiss on her forehead. “If you’re quick, you have time to steal a kiss before the van gets here.” He got to his feet and let go of her hand. “Go and say goodbye.”
“Thanks, Ray.” Julianne was on her feet and headed down the hall before her mind had really wrapped itself around the words. Those feet led her to Lloyd without actual control from her brain. His arms opened automatically when she moved in close to his chest. Those arms tightened around her waist when she clung to his neck and leaned up for a kiss. She knew she was glowing just like Ray had said she did. She felt beautiful at the low sound in Lloyd’s throat and the need in his arms, on his lips, in the dance of his tongue against hers. Weakly pulling back, Julianne basked in the heat of her eyes on her face. “You’re amazing.”
“So are you, sweetheart, and so beautiful.”
And just maybe, Julianne was starting to really believe him. He certainly made her feel beautiful. She reached for another kiss, heat flowing through her at the slide of his thumb back and forth behind her ear. It wasn’t enough, not yet.