He was keeping things business like from here on out. That's what Magnus told himself for the umpteenth time as he looked over the list of financials again of all of the guests at the event. He was here to work, not to play with his girl, and he could not let himself get distracted no matter how tempting it was to do nothing more than stare at her as she walked from table to table, sun dress flitting about her legs, checking on the centerpieces or whatever it was that had her attention. It was just that sort of laxity that had allowed her to wander off, three times now, and risk danger. If he wanted her to respect the seriousness of the situation, he would have to as well.
He was working on the list and most certainly not fantasizing about the way she had looked with her head hanging over the bed full of his cock, when a hand came down on his shoulder. Resisting the urge to jump, Magnus looked up to see Sian Rymin, the undercover officer posing as a bartender from the catering staff, standing over him.
"A bit jumpy there, mate?" the open faced man asked with a grin.
"Sian," Magnus said, keeping his face neutral. "You're supposed to be keeping your distance."
"I was wondering if I could get you a drink, sir," the other officer said, slipping back into character. "It's warm out, and I would hate for you to become dehydrated while your watch the lady work."
Magnus rolled his eyes. Sian playing an obsequious server was a stretch to put it mildly. He was a naturally bluff spoken, pull no punches man, and Magnus knew he would hear no end of it for taking on the part of the pampered guest while his coworker was stuck in the menial role once this job was over.
"Don't mind if I do," he sighed, standing up and, making sure to keep Lanie in a clear line of sight, walking over to the bar. "Just a seltzer, I'm on girlfriend duty."
"Relax, Magnus," Sian said as he popped open a bottle of water and poured it into a glass. "Your girl is fine. No one is going to kidnap her while she arranges flowers."
"I'm not worried about that," Magnus laughed mirthlessly.
"That hard an assignment?" Sian said in commiseration.
It took a moment for Magnus to realize what the other cop was implying. He had totally forgotten that, as far as Sian or anyone from the precinct outside of Anne-Britt knew, his relationship with Lanie was an assignment. An assignment that Magnus had resented and fought against, no less! Quickly doing the adjustment in his head, Magnus sighed and took on a beleaguered look.
"You wouldn't believe it," he moaned, sipping on his water.
"I don't know, she's pretty easy on the eyes," Sian said with a laugh. "Cozying up to her beats serving rich pricks if you ask me. And you were looking pretty chummy on the dance floor last night. Never knew you had those kind of moves, Martinsson!"
"When in Rome," he shrugged. "The lady wanted to dance, and I have strict instructions from the higher ups not to let her out of my sight."
"So I get stiffed for tips by picks and you have two hotties dirty dancing with you. I still say you got the better end of this deal."
"Holly West, the other girl is single, by the way," Magnus offered, smiling at the opening. "If you're interested, I could introduce you."
"They're both single, aren't they?" Sian asked, looking down at the lime he was cutting. "I mean, once this weekend is over and you don't have to pretend any more?"
"Of course," Magnus said quickly, wanting to bite his tongue off. "I just thought Holly might be more your type."
"Sure you did," Sian grinned. "Never bull shit a bull shitter, Magnus."
"Look, Sian - "
"Don't worry, I'm not going to tell anyone. I'm just glad you're finally off the market. It'll level the field for the rest of us poor schmucks. But listen, I think I might have found something."
"You're doing better than I am then," Magnus said, smiling at his friend's bushing off of his rule flouting. "What is it?"
"There's a small shack past the glassed in octagonal building - "
"Whatever. It's in a denser part of the woods, almost to the end of the property. I saw smoke coming out of the chimney last night while I was walking the perimeter. I was due back here to mix old fashions, so I didn't have time to check it out, but it seemed a little out of place to me. I'm going look into it tonight after this place shuts down."
"I wish I could go with you," Magnus worried, looking over to where Lanie was talking to the sound mixer for the music that would accompany the evening, "but Lanie's already run off twice today, and between the psycho stalking her and her obsessed boss..."
"Say no more. I have my job, you have yours. Hey, is that bruise on the boss man's chin your doing? Please tell me it is, he gives me the creeps."
"I can never confirm nor deny that statement," Magnus grinned. "Keep safe tonight, and call me if anything seems off."
"Will do. And I'm going to hit you up for that introduction to the girl later. I liked the way she danced."
"You would," Magnus laughed, remembering Holly's roaming hands. "Thanks Sian."
"No worries. Now get back to sitting around and looking pretty, I have real work to do."
Any misconceptions Lanie might have had that Magnus was being hyperbolic in his vow to keep her tied to his side were vanished rapidly. Her belongings were tossed into her suitcase and schlepped up to his room, the cozier main floor chamber a thing of the past. He accompanied her to the main pavilion out back, where an early dinner was being set out, and hovered within an arms length as she ordered the staff about in her firm but kind manner.
Truth to tell, she was secretly relieved. Now that she knew it was not Haas who was the killer, Lanie was discovering that she was much more fearful than before. On some level, even though she had thought him a murderer she had never believed that Erik would really hurt her. Others, yes, but she knew his feelings for her, however unwelcome and unreciprocated, were genuine. He was not a man to form attachments easily, and she didn’t doubt that once he had formed them he would do anything in his power to protect them. Hell, even when he thought she was a killer he had still tried to assist her. She had, in fact, been far more worried for Mags before than for herself.
If the killer was not Erik, though, that meant that someone else, quite likely someone here, was a murderer. A murderer, moreover, who had stalked her outside her home and gotten close enough to snap crystal clear photos of her. With that in mind, having her police officer boyfriend standing close by with his gun strapped to his hip was proving to be a welcome presence, even without taking into account how much his possessive stance made her all gooey inside.
The evening passed without incident. They were much more subdued than the night before, both by nature of the entertainment provided and a tacit agreement among the two of them and Holly, who was still nursing a headache at dinner and excused herself early, that alcohol would be left off the menu for the night.
Magnus and Lanie turned in early as well, but not before a group of guys about their age wandered over to their table. They had obviously not been abstaining, and Lanie could feel the waves of belligerence coming off of them as they stood with their chests puffed out like a group of cocks trying to impress a hen.
“You left before the game was finished, Martinsson,” one of them, obviously the leader from the way the rest all circled around him, accused.
“I had better places to be,” Magnus relied dismissively with a thin smile, draping his arm around Lanie’s shoulders and pulling her against his side.
The other man looked at the group as if drawing strength from his cohorts and tried again.
“I didn’t much like the way you talked to me,” he said, posturing.
“Well I don’t much like you tie,” Magnus smirked, eyebrow raised at the paisley monstrosity around his neck. “So why don’t we just call it even.”
There was some snickering from the other men - the tie was really an affront - until their leader snarled them into silence.
“Perhaps you’d like to settle this right now,” the dark haired man spat out.
“Don’t be more of an ass than you absolutely must, Leland” Magnus answered him, eyes rolling. “Now, I am trying to enjoy the music with Miss Greyson, so if you don’t mind?”
”Hiding behind a woman’s skirts, are you, Martinsson?” a chinless man behind him taunted.
”Afraid to look bad in front of you piece of ass?” another asked, leering at Lanie in a way that made her press closer to Magnus’ side.
”Don’t worry, honey,” the one named Leland said, eyeing Lanie up and down in the most insulting way imaginable, “he’s not the only game in town. I’d be more than happy to fuck you rough and dirty. That’s how you like it, I hear. I’ll plow you so hard you won’t be able to walk for a week. Hell, I’ll do you and you little friend with the pixie cut together if that’s what gets you pleb girls off.”
In an instant Magnus was standing, hand balled into a fist. Lanie, face flushed from the disrespect, stood with him, grabbing his arm to keep him from lunging at his for as a chorus of “oohs” arose from the surrounding group.
They were attracting quite a bit of attention now, and she could tell Magnus was struggling to keep his temper in check. His nostrils flared and his jaw was clench tight as her fingers dug into his arm.
”Apologize to the lady,” he seethed from between his teeth.
“Sorry,” the other said smugly. “I apologize you’re not with a man who can satisfy you.”
The statement was so absurd, so patently untrue, that Lanie found herself fighting to stifle a giggle. She would gladly have laughed in the man’s face, of course, but she didn’t think Magnus was in a state to see the humor.
“So what do you say, Martinsson? Care to settle this like men?”
"What seems to be the problem here?" Haas asked, stepping up to the group oozing fake charm. "Hope you're not making a scene, Detective Martinsson."
"Erik, no!" Lanie insisted, looking at all the angry faces surrounding her. "These other... men started it. Magnus was just defending me."
"This lowlife scum," Magnus spat out, eyes never leaving Leland's face, "had the gall to insult Miss Greyson and Miss West."
"Indeed?" Erik's voice suddenly dipped to icicle territory. "Leland, is this true? Have you been insulting my employees?"
"I was insulting Martinsson," Leland replied petulantly. "It's not my fault if his little friend is embarrassed that he's not man enough for her."
"I see. Detective Martinsson," Haas turned to Magnus, hand running over the large bruise on his face, "I am devoutly sorry that I can not allow you to pummel Leland here to a pulp the way he deserves. However, if you would allow me to make an alternative suggestion?"
"What?" Magnus asked in clipped tones.
"Tomorrow afternoon we will be having games of skill on the great lawn. Along with lesser events, teams of two will be competing for the grand prize of the day. Now, while it would not be nearly as satisfying as beating the shit out of him, perhaps you would join me in making up a team to take on Leland and whichever of his lackeys has the stones to team with him. I am sure between the two of us we can succeed in leaving him bruised in both body and ego by the end of the day."
Lanie looked from Haas to Magnus and back again, jaw on the ground. She knew the events, she had help decide them. Rowing, archery, tug-of-war, and, added against her wishes, boxing. It would indeed give the men a chance to work out their aggressions, but also chance them injuring themselves.
"He's all talk," the chinless man guffawed, "look at him, he won't do it."
"Haas," Magnus turned to Lanie's boss, "you've got yourself a partner."