Leslie Hope and Simon Baker, The Mentalist

After two seasons of hunting the serial killer that murdered his wife and daughter, is The Mentalist's Patrick Jane ready for a little off-the-clock happiness in his life?

In Thursday's penultimate Season 2 episode (10/9c on CBS), Jane (Simon Baker) investigates the murder of a man who works to fight human trafficking. While on the case, Jane's path crosses once again with Kristina Frye (24's Leslie Hope), the psychic therapist he met last season and who is now also consulting part-time for the police. And it's safe to say that Jane is a little smitten.

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"The producers were looking for somebody to engage Jane in a slightly different way than has been happening with his character at work," Hope tells TVGuide.com of her character's return. "They felt he was ready for a little flirting and a dating possibility. And they wanted to give him a little bit of a challenge to his assuredness with the work he's been doing."

Indeed, Jane and Frye test one another. In an interesting reversal, Jane, who spent years pretending to be a psychic for fame and fortune, thinks Frye is a charlatan, while Frye believes Jane really does possess a psychic gift.

"Kristina's a wonderful counterpoint to Jane in the sense that as much as he finds her fascinating and interesting and amusing and attractive, she's doing the exact things that caused him all the tragedy in his life," creator and executive producer Bruno Heller says. "He's drawn to her and repelled at the same time."

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Though though bickered last season, Frye was ultimately able to give Jane some peace: She told him that his daughter was asleep and didn't feel any pain when she was killed. Hope says Frye's return offers another chance for Jane to move on from his painful past.

"I think the very idea that he's receptive to the notion of having a date with anybody suggests that he may in fact be ready to consider a life without his wife and child," Hope says. "He's moving to some kind of acceptance of it. ... So, we definitely go on a real date — twinkling lights, candles on the table, fancy silverware and everything."

But what about those fans who hoped Jane would move on with his CBI partner Lisbon (Robin Tunney)? "Kristina Frye's return throws the cat among the pigeons," Heller says. "It won't so much change the relationship between Jane and Lisbon, but it will throw it to a very different kind of light. It is certainly a potential carry-over to next season, though not in the way anyone would expect."

Hope pleads innocence: "I didn't realize what kind of impact this whole notion of Jane having a love interest would have on upsetting the possibility of a relationship with Lisbon," Hope says with a laugh. "Lisbon is a little more suspicious of Kristina's motives. She gave her a little slack last year, but this year she's more guarded in how she responds to her."

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CBI Chief Madeline Hightower (Aunjanue Ellis), however, is very receptive to Frye. "Hightower is of the mind of any means necessary — whatever gets the job done," Hope says. "She doesn't spend a lot of time thinking about the hows and whys of it, but just the bottom-line results. If Kristina Frye is going to deliver results with less drama than Patrick Jane, she'll take that."

But when Red John reappears in the season finale, Jane's new feelings for Kristina could get in the way of the case. Even though the team won't catch its nemesis, Heller promises a showdown between Jane and Red John. And it could get ugly, Hope says.

"By the end of the episode, everyone is in danger," she says. "Red John is back and no one's safe, not even Patrick Jane."