Author’s Note: This story takes place during Season 3 Episode 12 titled Upper West Side Story. It’s Chapter 6 in my White Collar series, which completes the series even though I wrote the chapters out of sequence. This is a story I’ve thought about writing since the episode came out, but never got around to until now – you know, 11 years after it aired. Several lines come straight from the show. Written February 2023.
Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters and I’m not making any money from this story.
Warning: Non-consensual disciplinary spanking of an adult by an authority figure.
I Complicated Your Life
Neal stood on the sidewalk anxiously waiting for Peter. He’d been planning this morning all weekend, and the execution of said plan depended on Peter being his usual punctual self. Neal checked his watch again. The coffee was currently at the perfect drinking temperature, but if Peter was late, it would start to get cold. And after the harrowing events of last week, Neal wouldn’t blame Peter for being tardy on this particular Monday. He winced at the memory of Peter’s face when they told him Elizabeth had been kidnapped by Keller. While Neal was trying to push that memory away, he caught a glimpse of Peter walking towards him, right on time as usual.
Neal took a deep breath, smiled, and fell in step beside his partner as they walked towards the office. “Morning Peter.”
“I see the hunt for Manhattan’s best brew continues.” Peter said.
Neal was immensely relieved to hear Peter sounding like himself, and not like someone who’d been through a traumatic experience three days ago.
“One is for you.” Neal handed over one of the coffee cups. It had two tickets stuck in the protective sleeve.
Peter pulled out the tickets, raised his eyebrows, and gave Neal a side glance. “Yankee tickets vs the Red Socks?”
Neal nodded. “I got them from Frankie Whispers. I’m not going to use them.”
“They’re behind home plate,” Peter said.
“Oh?” Neal asked sipping his coffee to hide a smile. “I hear that’s good.”
Peter shook his head. “Mm hm. You bought coffee and Yankee tickets. This is not your most subtle con, Neal.”
Pleased that Peter sounded fondly exasperated instead of angry, Neal smiled. “Con? Peter I’m hurt.”
“You’re trying to get back on my good side.”
Neal wasn’t about to deny it. He was just glad to know that it was still possible. “Is that a crime?”
“No, but let’s review what is.” Peter started lecturing. “Mozzie steals the treasure. Do you report it? No. You plot to steal it.”
Neal’s stomach sank, but at the same time the anxiety that had been hounding him all weekend loosened. If Peter was lecturing, that most likely meant eventual punishment and forgiveness. It meant Neal hadn’t lost all of his partner’s trust, and that they could get back to some kind of normal, even if that normal meant Neal taking a trip over Peter’s lap.
“We don’t have to do this,” Neal said quietly.
“Oh, but we do.” Peter replied. He continued to lecture for the next three blocks, through the building, and up the elevator. As they stepped onto their floor of the high rise, Peter was still going. “…and while you’re coming in here looking me right in the eye, you were hiding the art under my nose. But that’s not the worst of it.”
Neal couldn’t take it anymore. He’d been beating himself up about the whole thing all weekend long, and he wasn’t used to feeling guilty for any length of time. He cut Peter off before they made it to the office doors. “Look, Peter, I’m sorry.”
Peter studied him for a moment. “You should be.”
Neal nodded in acceptance and said softly, “I’m sorry Elizabeth was put in danger because of me.”
Peter stared at Neal, and Neal held his gaze, wanting the older man to see the sincerity in his eyes.
“How’s she doing?” Neal asked. He’d wanted to call and check on her several times over the weekend, but he wasn’t sure what kind of reception he’d get, and he didn’t think he could handle it if Elizabeth hated him now.
Peter looked away and said, “I don’t want to talk about it here.”
“Okay. All right.” Neal agreed readily. Not talking about it here likely meant they would be talking about it outside of work.
“You really want to get back on my good side?” Peter asked.
“Yes,” Neal said sincerely. He knew Peter was about to tell him to show up at his house after dinner so they could have a ‘talk’. Neal knew he was in for the full blown version of a spanking. He’d stolen the art, kept it from Peter, and manipulated people to keep it hidden, which showed a huge lack of trust. There was no getting around it, so it was better to get it over with. And maybe the horrible guilt that kept bubbling up would go away once it was done.
Peter nodded. “Then I suggest we dig in on the Mortenson real-estate scam.”
Neal frowned. That wasn’t the response he’d been expecting. Confused, Neal automatically nodded in agreement. “You’re right. Focus on work.”
“Focus on work,” Peter agreed, and the two walked into the office together.
When they got into the office they found a teenager waiting for them. Jones introduced the kid as Evan Leary from Manhattan Prep. After introductions, Evan explained he was there because he believed a member of the school’s faculty was stealing money from the school’s Endowment Fund, and showed them some numbers to back up his claim. When Peter heard the name of the faculty member Evan suspected, he called his team in for a meeting.
Once everyone was in the conference room Peter told them all about Andy Woods, an American financier who’d long been suspected of managing money for the Juarez cartel. Andy’s daughter, Chloe, was currently enrolled in Manhattan Prep, which was how Andy had acquired a job at the school. Peter told the team that he’d be going in under cover as a wealthy man interested in getting is teenage son enrolled. Neal immediately jumped on board and spouted out an alias for Peter to use along with a back story.
Peter stared at him for a moment. “You’re like an alias savant.”
Neal grinned at the complement, even though Peter might not have meant it as one. “And I’ll go in as your amanuensis. Follow you around and write stuff down making you look important and powerful.”
“Can’t you just say assistant?” Peter asked.
“Not at Manhattan Prep,” Neal answered.
The team spent the next three hours getting everything ready and by noon Peter had an appointment with Mr. Woods.
Peter and Neal walked into the school together, but when Peter arrived at the principal’s office to introduce himself, he told Neal to sit on the bench outside the office and wait for him.
Neal wasn’t sure what the point of bringing him along was if Peter wasn’t going to include him in the meeting, but didn’t argue the point with the principal standing there watching them.
Two minutes later, a frazzled woman came up to him and said, “There you are.”
“Excuse me?” Neal said, looking towards the closed door to the principal’s office.
“Romantic poetry?” she said.
Neal spouted some in response, still not understanding the interaction.
“Great. Come on.” The woman waved at him to follow.
“I think there’s some kind of-”
“I don’t have time for this,” she said, handing him a clipboard with the class information. “You’re the substitute Mr. Cooper, right?”
Neal looked at the clipboard and saw Chloe Woods’ name on the page. Deciding he’d be of more use posing as Mr. Cooper than being Peter’s amanuensis, he smiled at the woman and said, “That’s me.”
He got to the classroom, and waited outside for a few minutes so he could head off the real Mr. Cooper and send him home. Once that was done he went in and started to talk about one of his favorite subjects, romantic poetry.
Half an hour later, Neal was talking about Lord Byron when he heard the door to his class open. Peter gave Neal a look, and Neal felt his heartrate go up.
“Don’t mind me,” Peter said. “I’m just here to learn something.”
Quickly regaining his composure, Neal nodded. “Of course. Have a seat. Lord Byron wasn’t the only poet to rebel against convention.”
Peter interrupted. “But some poets had to answer to someone didn’t they? Like a patron who made their careers possible?”
Neal just stared for a couple of seconds before answering. “We raise our hands in class.”
Peter raised his hand, serious expression still on his face.
“Yes.” Neal acknowledged him.
“What if said poet worked for a patron, and his poetry was perceived as insubordinate?”
Neal cleared his throat. “Well, most patrons respected the poet’s process. Straying from the course was considered artistic license.”
Peter didn’t seem to be appeased by that answer. “But was a wayward poet ever punished? By say being locked in a garret somewhere?”
“I’d have to do some research,” Neal answered. He hated the way Peter could make him feel guilty with just a glance and a word or two.
The bell rang and the students started to get up.
“Mr. Cooper?” Peter said, “I’ll need to talk to you after class.”
Neal scowled at the older man as they waited for the classroom to empty.
Peter nodded towards the door. “Outside.”
Once they were out of the building, Peter started. “I said sit on a bench, not reenact Dead Poets Society.”
“You said focus on work.” Neal said, holding his hands up in a placating gesture.
“I did.” Peter agreed, “I did say that.”
“I found out Wood’s daughter was in the class. It seemed relevant to the case.”
“Do you know how many parents would be up in arms if they knew their kids were being taught by a felon?” Peter asked.
“It’s better than the real Mr. Cooper, trust me.” The man he’d cut off at the door had been a mess.
Peter shook his head. “You’re done for the day. Go home. I’m heading back to the office to look over the numbers Woods sent me.”
Neal forced a smile even as his stomach sank. “Great. I need to do some research for tomorrow’s class.” He turned and walked away feeling dejected. Maybe it wasn’t possible to get back on Peter’s good side. Maybe having his wife kidnapped had forced Peter to reevaluate their relationship. Maybe there wouldn’t be punishment or forgiveness for what he’d done.
# # #
When Peter got home that night, he found Elizabeth in the kitchen setting the oven timer.
“Hi, hun.” He gave her a kiss. “What’s for dinner?
“Yum. How was your first day back?”
She poured them both a glass of wine while telling him about her day. By the time she was done talking they had moved to the patio to enjoy the cool evening air while they waited for dinner.
“How was your day?” she asked.
He shook his head and told her about their current case. Once he’d explained the main points he ended with, “I walked in the classroom, and the girls were all glassy eyed, like they saw that kid from those vampire movies.”
Elizabeth chuckled. “You know, I bet you Neal would be a good teacher.”
“Which will validate him even more,” Peter said, annoyed that his wife always seemed to be on Neal’s side.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“It’s a pattern. Neal misbehaves, but because he’s Neal, he doesn’t face the consequences. Instead he gets a gold star for it.”
She shook her head. “Not anymore. Isn’t that why you decided to take matters into your own hands with him? So that he wouldn’t get a gold star for it every time he did something wrong?”
Peter nodded and looked away.
“This is bigger than this case,” she said after scrutinizing him.
Peter sighed. “I have to go on record tomorrow. About what happened with Keller.”
He leaned forward. “Honey, if you don’t want to talk about it, we don’t have to.”
She reached over and grasped his hand. “I am safe and sound on this patio with you. I am okay to talk about Keller. What’s going on?”
“Only you and I know that Neal was involved with the art theft. There’s no trail that leads back to him.”
She nodded. “And Keller confessed to stealing it.”
“If I sign off on this case, the art goes back to where it belongs, Keller serves life in prison, and I’m a hero for taking him down.”
“But Neal officially gets away with it, even if he has to deal with unofficial consequences from you,” she concluded.
“Yeah, except I’m not so sure about those unofficial consequences anymore.”
“What do you mean?”
Peter sighed. “I don’t know if I can do it anymore, El. I don’t know if I even should. It doesn’t seem to be doing any good. And when I found out you’d been taken because Neal had the treasure…” He pursed his lips and held his thumb and finger up with less than half an inch between them. “I was this close to decking him.”
She nodded. “You’re still angry. I understand that. And if you need more time to cool down, that’s fine, but I’m not okay with you just giving up on him. Neal had the treasure for months, and he didn’t run. Then he gave it up for us without a second thought. I think that says a lot about his character, and how much your influence has helped him change.”
Peter shook his head. “He had the treasure. That says a lot about his character.”
“The right man is behind bars. Neal doesn’t need jail time. He needs consistency from you to keep him on the right path. That means understanding and guidance along with some unpleasant punishment when he steers off course.”
Peter looked away and took a sip of his wine while thinking it over.
# # #
The next morning when Neal arrived at work, Peter gestured for him to come into his office.
“You’re going back in as Mr. Cooper.”
“Really?” Neal hadn’t expected the FBI to allow that, but he was excited to spend another day talking about poetry.
“I’m sending you back for the good of the kids, not because you took matters into your own hands yesterday.”
“I understand,” Neal agreed.
“From now on, I make the lesson plan. If you’re smart, you’ll follow it.”
“I will. I promise.”
Peter’s tone was skeptical, but he forged on. “Half way through your class at exactly one-fifteen, you’re going to excuse yourself to use the restroom. While you’re doing that, I’m going to ask the headmaster for another short tour. While I keep him busy, you’re going to search the headmaster’s office for evidence that he and Mr. Woods are laundering money through the endowment fund.”
“Sound like a solid plan,” Neal agreed.
Later that day, Neal made it to the headmaster’s office just in time to see Peter walking towards the cafeteria with the headmaster. Neal went into the office, shut the door behind him and quickly tried all the desk drawers. Only one drawer was locked. Neal had it unlocked seconds later, and found the incriminating paperwork. He stuck the paperwork under his shirt, and hurried back to his classroom.
Once he excused his class, he found Peter outside waiting for him.
“How was your visit to the headmaster’s office?” Peter asked as they started walking towards his car.
“Enlightening.” Neal dug the papers out of his shirt and handed them over. “Evan was right. They are laundering money through the Endowment fund.”
Peter grinned looking over the papers. “This will get Woods put away for a long time.”
“Yes it will.”
When they got back to the office, Peter barely had time to hand over the paperwork for processing before he was called into his supervisor’s office to give his testimony about the Keller case.
Neal went to his desk and focused on a cold case to keep himself from going stir crazy while other people decided his fate.
Less than thirty minutes later, the team overseeing the Keller investigation left without a word to Neal. He looked at Peter, but the older man didn’t make eye contact as he went back to his office and sat at his desk.
Neal lowered his eyes. He knew Peter had compromised his principles yet again to keep Neal safe, and this time Neal didn’t feel particularly worthy. He sat quietly at his desk until people started heading home. When the office was mostly empty he made his way up to Peter’s office to talk.
He stepped inside the door, and Peter didn’t look up as he spoke. “We’ve got an early day tomorrow.”
Not wanting to be brushed off again, Neal said, “I know I complicated your life.”
Peter looked up sharply. “Stop. Don’t say anything else.”
“Can I say thank you?” Neal asked.
“No need. I told them the truth.”
Neal shook his head. “Yeah, but you didn’t tell them everything.”
Peter sighed, put his pen down and went to stand in front of Neal. “Maybe you did complicate my life. But if I could go back and change things, leave you in prison instead of making you my C.I.” Peter shook his head and shrugged. “I wouldn’t.”
Neal blinked back tears and nodded. “I wouldn’t either.”
After a short pause, Peter nodded to himself. “Elizabeth said I should invite you to dinner tonight.”
“She did?” Neal knew that most likely meant punishment, but all he felt was relief because it meant Elizabeth didn’t hate him.
“She did. I’ll take you to June’s so you can pack an overnight bag.”
Neal’s stomach did a flip-flop, and he re-evaluated his eagerness to get his ass handed to him. “Uh… what about those Yankee’s tickets I gave you? Isn’t that game tonight?”
Peter put a hand on Neal’s shoulder. “I gave the tickets to Jones. It’s past time for us to clear the air.”
Keeping a lid on all the protests that came to mind, Neal glanced at the floor. “Yeah, it probably is.”
Peter patted his shoulder. “I’ll call El to let her know we’re coming, while you get ready to go.”
# # #
Luckily June wasn’t home when Neal dropped by to get his bag, and before he knew it, he was in front of the Burke residence. A place he thought he might never be welcome again. He grabbed his overnight bag and followed Peter to the front door.
Elizabeth was sitting on the couch, apparently waiting for them, and stood to greet them when they walked in. She walked over and pulled Neal into a quick hug. “Thank you for helping to rescue me.”
Neal hugged her back with one arm and shook his head. “You shouldn’t be thanking me, Elizabeth. It’s my fault you got taken.”
“No.” She pulled back, held him at arms-length, and looked him in the eyes. “It was not your fault that Keller decided to take me.”
Elizabeth’s eyes narrowed, and she put her hands on her hips. “No. I refuse to listen to that kind of talk. You almost got killed trying to rescue me, Neal. And I know in my heart that you’d never intentionally do anything to jeopardize my safety.” She turned to her husband and added, “And you’re not allowed to punish him for what happened to me.”
Peter held his hands up. “I wasn’t planning on it.”
Neal shook his head. “But none of this would have happened if I hadn’t kept the treasure.”
Elizabeth put a hand on Neal’s arm and said, “True, but if you’d known he was going to kidnap me, you would have turned it over to Peter.”
Neal bit his lip. He wasn’t sure that was true. He would have done things to ensure Keller couldn’t get to Elizabeth, but he didn’t know if he would have turned over the treasure.
Peter focused on Elizabeth. “I know you were planning to take Satchmo for a walk while I dealt with Neal, but since he feels like his actions caused your kidnapping, maybe it would be more fitting for you to stay. You could sit with Satch upstairs.”
“Upstairs?” Neal asked, wide eyed. Other than the very first time, Elizabeth always left when Peter punished him. The thought of Elizabeth overhearing it was almost unbearable. He shook his head vehemently. “You should definitely take Satchmo for a walk.”
Elizabeth scrutinized Neal for a moment. “Tell me it’s not your fault I got kidnapped, and I’ll take Satchmo for a walk.”
He broke eye contact and mumbled, “It’s not my fault you got kidnapped.”
“Well that’s a lie if I ever heard one,” Peter said.
Neal’s eyes snapped to his. “She told me to say it; she didn’t say I had to mean it.”
Elizabeth’s eyebrows creased with sympathy as she took Neal’s overnight bag out of his hand. “I’ll just take this upstairs.” She turned to Satchmo and said, “Come on boy, let’s go upstairs.” The dog got up and followed her.
“Elizabeth, please,” Neal begged.
She stopped on the staircase and said, “For what it’s worth, I don’t blame you for the kidnapping and I forgave you for everything else days ago.”
Neal watched her ascend the stairs with Satchmo at her heels, and then heard the soft click of a door closing. Feeling sick to his stomach, Neal turned to Peter. “We don’t have to do it like this.”
“Sorry kid, but I think we do.” Peter grasped Neal’s upper arm and started towing him to the dining room table. Peter let go of Neal’s arm, turned one of the dining room chairs around to face the living room, and started to take off his belt.
Neal backed up a step and shook his head. “Peter…”
The older man put the belt on the dining room table behind the chair where he could reach it later and sat down. He pointed to the spot on the ground between his open knees. “Come on, let’s get this over with.”
Neal looked back towards the staircase, and then shook his head again.
Peter rested his elbows on his knees and laced his hands together. “You said you wanted to get back on my good side.”
“I do, but-”
“No. You either do, or you don’t. No buts.”
Pouting, Neal said, “I do.”
Peter sat up and pointed to the spot on the floor again. “This is the only way to get there. So either you come here, or I come get you.”
Neal hung his head and shuffled the two steps over to Peter, because no matter how much he was going to hate the next few minutes, he did want to get back on Peter’s good side.
“Thank you,” Peter said. “Pants down.”
Neal glanced back at the stairs again.
“Just the pants, not the boxers. Same as before,” Peter assured him.
The younger man undid the button and fly on his slacks but kept a hand on them so they wouldn’t fall to the floor.
Peter grasped his arm and tugged Neal over his left thigh. As Neal fell over the leg, he let go of the slacks so he could put both hands on the floor to hold himself up. The slacks fell to his ankles, and then Peter’s right leg clamped over both of his to keep them down and prevent kicking or escaping.
Peter’s left hand settled on Neal’s back. “I’ve told you and told you not to steal anymore, and I’ve spanked you for stealing twice. Tell me what you stole this time.”
“I stole the U-boat treasure from Mozzie.”
“Four with the belt for that.”
“Four?” Neal protested. Usually it was two for each offence, and they added up fast.
“Between you and Mozzie stealing it back and forth I think four is lenient.”
Neal opened his mouth to protest, but Peter’s hand slapped his backside at the same time, and all that came out was a surprised yelp. He clenched his jaw shut, thinking about Elizabeth upstairs hearing it, but he knew from experience that it was a losing battle. Peter’s hand came down again and again as he lectured.
“You should have come to me the second you found out Mozzie had the treasure. You should not have stolen it. Your stealing days are over, Neal. You’re working for the FBI now, and more importantly with me. That means you don’t steal unless it’s part of an official FBI investigation and you’ve been specifically ordered to do so. I don’t care what it is. I don’t care who has it. You don’t take it if it doesn’t belong to you. Do you understand me?”
“Yes!” Neal had been struggling to keep his reactions to a minimum, but it was getting more difficult as the swats accumulated.
After roughly twenty-five swats, Peter paused. “Okay next one. Tell me about lying, manipulation, and trust.”
Neal took a deep calming breath before answering. “I didn’t tell you about the treasure when I found out Mozzie had it, which shows a lack of trust and you consider it lying by omission.”
“I do. And how many times would you say you had to manipulate me and everyone at the FBI to keep the treasure hidden?”
Neal winced. “I don’t know for sure. A lot.”
“Two with the belt for not telling me Mozzie had it, two for not telling me you had it, and six for all the manipulations to keep it hidden, bringing your total to fourteen.”
Neal groaned, but didn’t protest. Fourteen was less than the last time he’d really screwed up.
Peter’s hand started slapping his backside again. Neal whined, hissed, and ‘owed’ his way through the next set of swats as quietly as possible while Peter lectured.
“For our partnership to work, we need to be able to trust each other. We’ve put our lives on the line for each other more than once, and we’ll most likely have to do it again in the future. Every time you manipulate me and keep important information from me, I feel betrayed.”
“I’m sorry! Ow! Peter, I’m sorry!”
“You’re sorry you got caught red handed, and you’re sorry Elizabeth got caught in the crossfire, but I don’t believe for one minute that you’re sorry for taking the treasure. But maybe after we’re done here you will be.”
The smacks paused after that set of twenty-five, and Neal wiped a couple of tears off his face as he said, “I’m sorry you feel betrayed.”
“Yeah, I know you are kid. That’s why you’re over my knee. If you weren’t sorry about that, we wouldn’t be partners. Hopefully this spanking will help connect that guilt about my hurt feelings to the theft itself so that you’ll think twice next time.”
Neal felt Peter shifting, and looked back to see him picking up the belt off the table. Fresh tears rolled down his face and he shook his head, desperately not wanting the upcoming pain. But he couldn’t bring himself to verbally protest.
Peter doubled the belt over and then met Neal’s eyes for a brief moment. “Put your hands behind your back.”
Neal whined and turned to face the ground before putting both of his hands behind his back. He hated feeling complicit in his own punishment, but he was certain that’s why Peter ordered him to do things instead of just manhandling him. It made it clear to both of them that on some level Neal knew he deserved it.
Peter firmly grasped both of Neal’s wrists in his left hand. “No more stealing, no more lying, and no more manipulations. Put your trust in me and our partnership, and just maybe you’ll be a free man someday.”
Neal felt Peter’s legs clamping down tighter a moment before he heard the awful whistle of the belt followed by a dulled crack when it landed against his boxers. Thankfully, Peter never dragged this part out or bothered with lecturing as he brought the belt down again and again, setting Neal’s ass on fire.
Neal yelped with the first couple of licks, but the yelps soon melded together into one long wail as he got lost in the sharp biting pain. His body flailed under the onslaught, but Peter didn’t seem to have any trouble holding him in place as he continued the lesson.
Once all fourteen licks had been burned into Neal’s rear end, Peter’s grip slowly loosened, and Neal’s loud wail turned into sincere crying.
Peter let go of Neal’s wrists and patted his back. “Okay, all done. I forgive you for all of it, but it better not happen again.”
Neal pushed himself up off Peter’s leg, took a couple of steps back, and reached down to untangle his slacks from around his ankles. Once he had his slacks back on, he put both his hands on his ass to rub out the sting.
While Peter put his belt back on and turned the chair around, Neal glanced at the stairs and tried to stop crying. But it was impossible while thinking about Elizabeth overhearing the entire thing.
Peter startled him out of his musing by pulling him into a tight hug.
“I’m sorry,” Neal said softly through his tears, hugging Peter back.
“I know you are. Keep that in mind the next time you have the opportunity to steal something and make better choices.”
“I’ll try,” Neal answered.
Peter patted his back a couple of times before letting go. He gestured to the downstairs bathroom. “Go clean up while I get Elizabeth.”
Neal grimaced. “How am I ever supposed to face her again?”
“The same way you faced her earlier tonight, but hopefully with less guilt this time around.”
Neal wiped the tears off his face and slowly made his way to the bathroom. He shut the door and looked at himself in the mirror. He was a mess, but for the first time all week, he could look himself in the eyes. He splashed some water on his face, and ran his fingers through his hair. Once he looked as presentable as he could with red puffy eyes, he glanced at the door, and tried to talk himself into facing the inevitable.
Ten minutes later there was a tentative knock on the bathroom door.
“Neal?” Elizabeth’s voice called.
Neal took one more look at himself, sighed, and opened the door. “Hey Elizabeth,” he said, keeping his eyes on the floor between them.
She grasped his right hand in both of hers, and said, “Hey look at me.”
He darted his eyes to hers momentarily with the intention of focusing back on the ground, but when he noticed that her eyes were red and puffy, too, he kept her gaze. Frowning he said, “Are you okay?”
She chuckled and shook her head. “I’m okay. Are you okay?”
He shrugged. “Not really, but I’ll be okay in a couple of days. Were you crying?”
She nodded and pulled him into a hug. “I hope there’s never a next time, but if there is, I’m going to be on the other side of town when it happens.”
“Sorry,” he said.
“Enough with the apologies.” She patted his back and let go. “Come help me make dinner. Peter’s opening a bottle of wine as we speak.”
“Okay.” Neal followed her thought the house to the kitchen, where Peter was pouring wine.
Peter handed a glass to each of them and said, “I thought after dinner we could watch the game. Maybe we’ll even spot Jones.”
Watching baseball wasn’t exactly Neal’s favorite pastime, but he knew Peter would enjoy it, and no one would notice if Neal’s attention strayed from the game from time to time as he thought over the events that led him to tonight.
“Sounds perfect,” Neal said with sincerity before taking a sip of his wine.