Note: Response to a non-challenge comment on Senfic! (You can blame Lorelei!) With the current social climate of germ paranoia, suspicious young liberals searching for any hint of sexual harassment, and equally beady-eyed elderly conservatives on the lookout for moral depravity, this story is highly improbable. Tough.

Warning: It's a silly bit of fluff, pointless and plotless, which I concocted while waiting for a bout of writer's block to wane. And, yes, I still intend to write Blair's "date-from-hell" with Agnes (sequel to "For Sale..."), but that particular scenario is refusing to cooperate.

Kissing Ms. Hargrove

-- by Mackie

Normally, nothing on earth could have dragged Jim Ellison out on his day off (a Saturday, no less!) to rub elbows with a bunch of loud-mouthed, beer-guzzling, over-sexed university jocks. But events had conspired against him.

Blair had needed to borrow the truck to move some poles and awnings for the university's Fall Crafts Festival. Several of his promised muscle-bound volunteers had overindulged at a keg party the previous evening and were still happily heaving their guts at the med clinic. Blair had begged for Jim's assistance, with a promise to wash the loft's throw rugs finally eliciting the desired response.

The clincher, however, had turned out to be the weather. Saturday had dawned clear and warm, with no hint of the normal fall drizzles that could blot out the sun for days on end. Deciduous trees embraced the sparkling light, while confused rose bushes put out a few tentative blossoms to see if spring might accidentally have replaced winter on the seasonal rotation.

So Jim happily ignored the rowdy volunteers as he helped stake poles and erect awnings on the vast lawns of Rainier University. The air was deliciously warm, with just enough breeze to dry the light sweat raised by his exertions. He wouldn't admit it, especially to Sandburg, but he was having a good time. He might have wished for less vacuous companions than two freshmen jocks whose conversation seemed limited to the attributes of anything female that ventured within testosterone range, but he easily tuned them out and listened to Blair's happy patter from further down the row.

Jim smiled. Sandburg's enthusiasm was always infectious, and since Jim was in a good mood already, it was just a tiny step to reach blissful contentment.

He drove in the last stake, enjoying the smooth coordination between eye and muscle as he swung the hammer. Straightening, he put the tools away and sauntered over to a nearby booth.

Blair's booth, he reminded himself with a grin.

Blair's kissing booth.

He grabbed a soda from the ice chest and plopped down in a webbed patio chair. Stretching his long legs, he slouched and leaned back to expose as much of his well-muscled six feet as possible to the warm caresses of the sun. His arms and shoulders, exposed by the cut of his tank tee, were already a bit pink, but he didn't care. A day this grand was too good to pass up.

He heard giggling and cracked open one eye to gaze at three young women who were admiring him from afar. He shot them a dazzling smile and was rewarded with wide-eyed embarrassment and even more giggling.

"They're barely legal, Jim," a soft voice admonished from nearby.

"It's the 'barely' part I'm admiring," Jim retorted smoothly, opening his eyes fully to watch his partner bustle around the booth.

Blair had changed out of his work clothes. A blue silk shirt highlighted the cornflower blue of his eyes, and with his hair pulled back, he looked surprising sophisticated. Those charming good looks, plus the faint aura of "forbidden fruit" created by his faculty status, would make him irresistible to the co-eds certain to flock to the festival when it officially opened in an hour.

"Sandburg, tell me again how you got volunteered for this gig," Jim murmured as Blair sat down beside him.

"It was another one of those polls," Blair explained, "only this one was university-wide. Students and faculty -- ten men and ten women -- were chosen by popular vote. The money's going to help fund summer-school programs for special-ed students."

"A worthy cause," Jim admitted, glancing around the colorful festival grounds. In addition to several long rows of bright awnings covering the crafts displayed for sale, there was a large horseshoe-shaped cluster of booths, Blair's among them, where games and other attractions were assembled. The kissing booths were spaced throughout this horseshoe, and Jim had already spotted a couple of co-eds who would collect a few of his dollar bills before the day was finished.

He glanced again at his partner, who was nervously excited at the prospect of the day's adventure. Blair's thoughts were practically etched in his expression -- what if no one came to his booth? What if too many came to his booth? Was that even remotely possible?

Jim smiled and took another drink of his soda. For once, it seemed as if Blair had no clue about the potential pitfalls of his sojourn into puckering up for charity. Or maybe Jim's pessimism was just working overtime.

Well, the next few hours would tell.

Finishing his soda, he put on his shirt and ventured out to explore the festival offerings. Maybe he'd be able to get some Christmas shopping out of the way. He never knew what to buy for his niece -- well, Carolyn's niece, but his, too, by proxy -- or the ex-in-laws, who seemed determined to keep in touch, especially over the holidays. Then there was the office gift exchange. He'd never bothered to participate before, but once Blair had joined the team, Jim had quickly found himself drawn into the cycle of birthday and holiday parties.

This year, he'd drawn Nancy, a middle-aged clerical worker who helped keep the endless flow of paperwork moving efficiently through the station. Previously, he'd known her only by sight, not by name, so there was a challenge in finding something to give her. He knew the type of perfume she wore, but perfume was too personal a gift for someone who was essentially a stranger. A bit of detective work had produced the fact that she was married, with three children, four grandchildren, and a soft spot for lop-eared rabbits.

Actually, a bit of detective work hadn't been required -- Blair had supplied all that information and more as soon as he'd seen the name of the person Jim had drawn. Unfortunately, he had refused to take it as far as actually buying the gift, so Jim prowled the booths in search of something suitably lagomorphic.

Earrings filled the ticket -- a set of laser-cut lop faces so detailed, he almost expected their little bunny noses to twitch. Happily, they were within the cost limits of the gift-exchange guidelines as well, so he paid for them, tucked them into his shirt pocket, and continued to browse.

Around eleven, the crowds had thickened so much that he retreated gratefully back to the booth where Blair was engaged in his aerobic lip workout. He wasn't being mobbed, but he wasn't being neglected either, and with a perpetual blush and silly smile, he looked ridiculously happy. His little cash box was filling quickly.

Jim was hungry and debated on grabbing some lunch from one of the numerous food booths set up near the edge of the festival. The mouth-watering aromas of barbecue, stir fry, and kebabs wafted on the breeze and made his stomach growl with anticipation.

Instead, he plopped down again in his chair and opened another soda. He set his gaze on a trio of young men clustered at the end of the line. The one in the middle looked nervous, but his companions were goading him on quietly, all of them laughing and rough housing as the line moved steadily forward. Some sort of initiation, Jim figured.

He just kept staring at them, his expression carefully neutral. There was something intensely intimidating about his cop gaze, and it wasn't long before one of the men noticed Jim's interest. Soon, all three were staring back at him, but his attention never wavered. They began to fidget nervously.

Two minutes later, they were gone, off to find other, safer amusements than trying to buy a kiss from a teacher who had a stormtrooper for a bodyguard.

Blair hadn't even noticed.

The line at the booth had thinned considerably as lunchtime descended, so he finished his soda and stood up. "Hey, Chief, you hungry yet?" he asked. Once he fed his partner, he figured he'd done his good deed for the day and could head off to run a few of those ubiquitous errands he never could seem to find time for during the week.

Blair pulled a fistful of cash out of his box. "Would you count this for me first, please?" he asked. "It's been busier than I figured."

"How are the lips holding out?" Jim asked, organizing the one dollar bills into a neat stack.

Blair grimaced in embarrassment. "Actually, they're getting a little sore. I never expected so many people would turn out for this."

"Consider it training for your next marathon session with Adriana," Jim replied unsympathetically, concentrating on his counting.

Blair chuckled. "Yeah, there's always -- oh, shit!"

The last two words had come out in a panic-stricken whisper, and before Jim could react, his partner had disappeared under the counter.

Startled, Jim stared down at the still-quivering cloth beneath which Blair had vanished with such alacrity.

Then his nostrils tickled with the faint scent of rose-water, a smell which sent alarm bells clanging through his brain.

He glanced up abruptly and grinned stupidly. "Hi!" he croaked. Damn, his voice had squeaked!

"Detective Ellison," Agnes Hargrove purred in greeting as she covered the last few yards to the booth.

The matriarch of Hargrove Hall was eighty-three years old. A stooped five-feet of frailty, she nonetheless managed to seem imposing despite the elegant cane she needed to help navigate the bumpy lawn. A chauffeur-cum-bodyguard -- six-and-a-half feet of raw power barely contained within the seams of a genteel dove-gray uniform -- held her elbow with surprising tenderness and helped keep her upright.

Jim was thoroughly cowed in her presence. It went beyond the mere fact that Blair was terrified of the woman, whose lecherous tendencies had left bruises on some very tender portions of his anatomy. There was something predatory in her eyes, rather like the gaze one might expect to see in the eyes of an aging lioness eager to make one last kill.

Or a buzzard, hovering patiently for the final, dying breath from its prey.

"Mrs. Hargrove," Jim managed to sputter in reply. "Blair's not here." Stupid, inane, not completely accurate, but what the hell?

"When will he return?" the woman asked without a trace of disappointment in her proper British tone.

Jim was starting to panic. "I don't know -- he had to, umm, go -- " His words trailed off. This wasn't going well at all.

"And you're manning the booth while he's gone," Agnes continued approvingly. "That's very generous of you."

Jim hastened to correct the misconception. "Oh, no -- I'm just minding the money box and making sure no one steals the cokes."

"Isn't that the same thing?" Agnes prodded indulgently.

Jim frowned. "Well, no, it's not -- not quite. I mean, I'm not -- umm -- accepting any money."

Agnes would not be deterred. "Still, I'm certain you'll make an exception for me," she said confidently.

From beneath the table covering came a desperately muffled twitter. Surreptitiously, Jim kicked at the sound, almost hoping to elicit a yelp from his partner but equally terrified of the subsequent embarrassment. After all, he'd told Agnes that Blair wasn't here, so he'd become part of the childish ruse, however unwillingly. It was just too absurd for a grown man, a police officer at that, to be caught in such juvenile antics.

But Blair had anticipated the reprisal and remained stubbornly silent.

Irrelevantly, Jim wished he'd let the two rowdies coerce their friend into kissing Blair. He could have gotten his revenge before the fact, had he but known!

His eyes widened with dread as Agnes reached into her tiny beaded purse and produced a bill, which she proffered toward him.

As if reaching toward a viper that was preparing to strike, Jim reluctantly took her money.

It was a twenty.

"Uh, change," he murmured desperately. "We have plenty of change."

"We may not need any," Agnes returned with a sly little smile. Her face was carefully made up and powdered to a matte finish. The dry thinness of her ancient skin looked like fine craquelure.

Jim had hardly noticed the arrival of another woman at the booth, but he turned toward her now, grateful for any distraction from the horrors he sensed in his immediate future.

Simply put, she was gorgeous. Drop-dead, super-model gorgeous, but with a special something else, too, which only added to her allure. She had sophistication and style, an aura of confident sexuality that exuded from the sheen of her waist-length chestnut hair to the tips of the perfectly manicured toenails peeking from expensive Italian sandals.

"Hi," Jim said. This time, his voice didn't crack at all.

"Hi," she replied, her voice a throaty whisper of sound that sent shivers down his spine. But her next words almost gave him a heart attack. "Surely, Grandmama, this can't be the anthropologist you were telling me about." She put the emphasis on the final 'a' in 'grandmama', giving it an eloquence only centuries of careful breeding could produce.

Agnes scoffed lightly. "Of course not, dear. This is Detective Ellison, his roommate."

The woman appraised him up and down, practically making Jim squirm under the scrutiny. "A detective?" she echoed in a delightful murmur. She leaned closer, and Jim automatically leaned forward as well. "Do you carry a really big gun?"

"Big enough," he promised with a slight grin.

A camera shutter clicked as the behemoth bodyguard faithfully committed the event to film.

Luscious lips tickled his own. "Remember, it's for charity," the breathy voice said.

"Anything for charity," Jim vowed courageously, closing his eyes and gamely going for the gold.

From beneath the table, a frustrated fist smacked into his toes, but he didn't even notice.


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