You Beat Me To The Punch
Scotty froze, his pulse pounding at the unwanted intrusion. It couldn't be Saccardo. It couldn't be. He was supposed to be in deep.
So it couldn't be him. It was just some other big-voiced Italian jackass who thought his fancy sports car gave him license to summon a woman like he was calling a dog. Scotty was sure he and Lil would have a good laugh about it later. After he told her he loved her.
But the self-assured, swaggering footsteps behind him sounded familiar. Heavy. Booted.
They sounded like those goddamn Timberlands.
Lilly's gaze shifted from Scotty to a spot over his left shoulder. Her eyes widened; her mouth fell open. "Eddie…"
"Told you I'd blow into town under cover of darkness." Saccardo looked enormously proud of himself, with his shit-eating grin and the casual way he pressed the remote control on the keychain of that fire-engine red Ferrari 599 GBT Fiorano. The hell? Did Eddie Saccardo have an in with some exotic car rental place?
Lilly looked like she still wasn't sure whether or not she was dreaming. "What are—what are you doing here? Is everything all right?"
"Everything's fine." Saccardo brushed past Scotty and slid his hands around Lilly's waist. "Gotta confess somethin', though."
Lilly smoothed the lapels of Saccardo's worn-looking tan coat. "What's that?"
"I lied to your boss. I don't know a damn thing about your case."
Scotty tried, but failed, to resist the urge to roll his eyes. He'd known from the beginning that their "anonymous tip" was crap. He'd just grossly underestimated the specific kind of crap it'd turn out to be.
Lilly's brows lifted. "So you're the witness I'm supposed to be meeting here?"
"How do you like that?" A smirking Saccardo pulled Lilly closer. "I managed to dupe the great Detective Rush."
Laughing, Lilly slid her hands from Saccardo's lapels to his shoulders, then up further to rest at the back of his neck. Those same delicate hands had done the same thing to Scotty not even twenty-four hours ago. He could still feel the heat of them.
"I can't believe I'm seeing you." She shook her head in amazement. "Here. So soon."
"Yeah, well…" Gazing into Lilly's eyes, Saccardo reached up and brushed a lock of hair behind her ear. "You got a way of makin' a guy wanna go AWOL just to spend time with you."
She responded with that devastatingly beautiful, dimple-framed, ten-thousand-watt smile. "Yeah?"
"Yeah." Saccardo lowered his head and lifted Lilly's chin with his fingertips, and Scotty felt sick. He couldn't look. Couldn't watch her kiss another man so casually, so readily, when he could still feel the fire of her lips on his own.
To his momentary relief, Lilly cleared her throat and took a step back. When he dared to glance up at her, he was startled to see guilt in her eyes. What was that about? Was it for what she was about to do? Or what she'd already done?
"Oh. Sorry, man." Saccardo released his hold on Lilly's waist and took her hand instead, then turned toward Scotty. "You, uh…you mind if I borrow your partner for a bit?" Without waiting for a reply, he returned his attention to Lilly. His eyes roved over her like she was an all-you-can-eat buffet. "Promise I'll have her back by sunup."
Fuck yes, I mind. That was the mild version of what Scotty wanted to say. His mouth opened to let the words out, but they lodged in his throat and refused to budge. Not that Saccardo expected, or even wanted, an answer, and not that any answer Scotty could come up with would make a damn bit of difference.
"Sorry I dragged you out here, Scotty." Shifting uncomfortably, Lilly raised those large blue eyes to his. "See you tomorrow?"
He couldn't look at her. Not without his heart breaking.
"Yeah. Okay. 'Night." Scotty tugged on the sleeves of his black wool coat, addressing his reply to them instead.
"C'mon, Rush." Stepping forward, Saccardo took Lilly's elbow and guided her past Scotty down the sidewalk toward the Ferrari. "You had dinner yet? I'm starved…"
Scotty didn't wait to see her slide into that car. Instead, he took off in the other direction, around the corner to where his own car was parked. Fuming, he tore off his right glove and jammed his hand into his coat pocket to dig for his keys, but his fingertips found cool metal of a different sort. A whole bunch of skinny metal pieces, actually. Crinkled on one side, straight on the other, with rubber tips on the end. What the—?
Lilly's bobby pins.
Scotty stopped in his tracks and stared down at them, the air leaving his lungs in a quiet puff that misted up around his face in the chilly night air. Pain welled in his heart as he remembered that magical night on his rooftop, that night that almost seemed like he'd dreamed it. Removing those pins. One by motherfucking one, fishing them out of her hair and handing them to her. His insides turning to liquid at the sound of her contented sighs. Her stuffing those bobby pins into the pocket of his coat. The coat that still smelled a little bit like her.
When he tugged that first bobby pin free Saturday night, he had no idea the quicksand that simple act of mercy would suck him into. No idea that by the last, when that glorious blonde hair was spilling over his fingers, taunting all the nerve endings of his hands with its tantalizing softness, he'd be royally screwed. Screwed into loving a woman who couldn't be his. Who, right now, was probably letting Eddie Fucking Saccardo run his clumsy, meaty fingers through those silky locks.
His stomach roiling at the unwelcome images, Scotty clenched the bobby pins in his fist so hard they dented his palm. Ten seconds. That was all he'd needed. Ten more goddamn seconds, and he'd have told her how he felt. He'd have lofted that perfect pass to the wide-open receiver in the corner of the end zone. But instead, he was planted on the turf; steamrolled from his blind side by the linebacker he never saw coming. Watching that same jackass scoop up the fumbled football and sprint with it toward the other end of the field, nauseous with the knowledge that there wasn't a damn thing in the world he could do about it.
The words he'd been on the verge of saying to Lilly stuck in his throat. Swelled there until he nearly choked on them. Finally, they escaped in an angry shout as he flung the bobby pins to the sidewalk next to his car. The pins hit the ground with a chorus of tiny metallic tings, an eerie soundtrack to his frustrated heartache. Several of them bounced high in the air, then landed in the grass. Dove into the sewer grate. Skittered beneath his car.
Through stinging, tear-filled eyes, Scotty watched the remaining twenty or so glint in the streetlights for a moment, then hurled himself into the car, peeled away from the curb, and sped off into the night.
He had no idea where he was going. He just knew he had to get the hell away from here.
The second the door on his side of the Ferrari closed, Saccardo was kissing her. The movements of his lips against hers were hungry. Needy. And maybe it was the shock of his sudden reappearance. Maybe it was still the stress of knowing the squad was about to change forever. Maybe it was the memory of Scotty's lips, or the odd, expectant moment right before the Ferrari pulled up to the curb, the look on her partner's face and the strange vibe between them. Maybe it was all of those things. Lilly didn't know. But something kept her from responding to Eddie's kiss the way she normally did. Her lips played along, but the rest of her was curiously absent.
Mercifully, he didn't seem to notice. Sighing with the contentment of someone who'd just devoured a giant slice of apple pie, he pulled away from her and caressed her with his gaze. "Boy, are you a sight for sore eyes."
"Everything all right?" Her brow creasing with concern, she pulled back to search his expression. His usual mask of cocky bravado was in place, but it looked as though he'd just slapped it on in a great hurry and then dashed off without double-checking it in the mirror. "Did something happen?"
A shadow danced across his face, but he quickly chased it away with a grin. "You know I can't talk about it."
"Look, I only got a few hours on the surface, and then I gotta go back under." Saccardo brushed another quick kiss to her lips. "I probably shouldn't have come up at all, but…I needed to see you."
Lilly's eyes widened, and a slow smile crept across her face. "You missed me."
Mischief sparkled in his eyes. "Not really."
Her smile grew. He'd missed her. Missed her enough to come back for her. That was what she'd always wanted, wasn't it?
And yet…it felt strangely hollow. Eddie's words had landed on her heart, but they weren't sinking in. Not the way Scotty's had, when he'd told her how he couldn't even picture a life without her in it. When he told her she was worth sticking around for.
Oh, God. She couldn't think about Scotty. Not here. Not now. If she did, Eddie would read the truth in her eyes. Suddenly, the diamond pendant felt heavy around her neck. Should she tell him what had happened in New York? He only had a few hours, and from his demeanor, he desperately needed to forget. He needed to relax. Recharge. Regroup. And her telling him she'd made out with her partner wouldn't let him do any of those things. Besides, that kiss was just a drunken, meaningless mistake. Wasn't it?
Well. Maybe it hadn't meant anything. But she couldn't say it was meaningless. And for that reason, maybe she did owe it to Eddie, to herself, to Scotty, to clear the air. But was now really the best time? Was she making a big deal out of nothing? Would Eddie be upset? Did she want him to be upset?
Dammit. This was complicated.
She looked at Saccardo, and he back at her, each with mountains of things to say to each other, and neither one with a clue how to say them. It was…awkward with him, in a way it never was before, and she didn't know why, exactly, or what to do about it. So she leaned forward and kissed him again. His grip on her was tight. Fierce. Almost suffocating.
Her stomach growled against his ribs, and he chuckled and pulled away. "Guess that answers my question."
"The one about whether you've had dinner." Saccardo brought the Ferrari to roaring, rumbling life. "Hope you can hold out for a little while longer. I know this great little place down by the shore."
"The shore?" Lilly's eyes widened. "How fast is this car?"
"Don't worry." He grinned over at her as he pulled away from the curb. "I said I'd have you back before sunup."
The shrill cries of seagulls pierced the gentle swish of the waves as Lilly perched on a large rock next to Saccardo. Snuggled up on his right, she looked out toward the eastern horizon, where dawn stretched tentative, peachy-pink fingers out over the ceaselessly rolling gray-blue water of the Atlantic.
"Haven't done this in a while," she said.
"What's that?" He glanced toward her. "Skee ball or go-karts?"
Lilly smiled. "Watch the sun come up."
"It's good." He rubbed her knee affectionately, then turned twinkling brown eyes on her. "I'm sorry I got us kicked out back there."
Lilly laughed at the memory. "You ran a ten-year-old kid off the track."
"Hey. Him or me. Punk tried to box me in." He grinned. "You should see me on the bumper cars."
Amusement warmed her heart at the thought. It had been another night of impulsive, anything-goes fun. Go-karts. Skee ball. Slot machines. Bowling. All interspersed with snacks and drinks and stolen kisses. Eddie seemed to need that release, that escape into the clanging, chaotic world of Atlantic City. The lights and the sound and the action, drowning out whatever it was he was trying to run from.
She hoped it had worked for him. Because no matter how hard she tried, Lilly couldn't quite lose herself on the thrill ride that was Eddie Saccardo. Not like she had before. Maybe it was because he'd been gone, or because she knew he was leaving again, that all they had was just these few sweet hours. Maybe it was because her brain insisted on comparing the frenetic pace of a night with Saccardo to that peaceful night on Scotty's roof, where time seemed to stop and the world went still. Maybe it was because she kept hearing Scotty's words in her head, words that warned her the relationship had a glass ceiling, and she deserved more.
Or maybe it was because she saw Scotty's face every time she closed her eyes. Felt his lips on hers every time Eddie leaned in for a kiss.
God. She really needed to tell him.
Her stomach clenched at the serious undertone in his voice, as well as the use of her first name. He'd only called her Lilly a couple times.
Wait. Dammit. He was about to break it off with her. Somewhere amid all the flashing lights and clanging bells, he must've sensed the distance between them. Could he guess the truth in her eyes? Did he know about Scotty?
Eddie swallowed hard. Long-lashed brown eyes focused on the Timberland boots braced against the rock. "We gotta stop meeting like this."
Lilly gave a quiet sigh and stared out at the ocean. It was as she'd feared. He was ending it. They'd given it a go, but a part-time relationship just wasn't going to work. She braced herself for the inevitable as she always did…but this impending breakup didn't seem as devastating as she thought it might. She wasn't sure why.
"Yeah," she replied. "We do."
The fabric of Saccardo's jacket rustled as he turned toward her. "So I'm thinkin' I might… talk to the boss. Tell him to make this my last undercover job."
Lilly's eyes fluttered wide. She stared at him. Was he serious?
"'Cause I think me and you could really have somethin', y'know? And…I wanna give us a shot. A real, honest-to-God shot."
Words. Words. She needed to say words. Frantically, she searched her shell-shocked brain for scraps of them in hopes of forming at least some sort of response. "You're not leaving the Department, are you?"
Eddie's face broke into a relieved grin as he looked out at the waves. "Nah. There's still plenty of places for someone with my…expertise. Nothin' else, I hear there's an opening over in Northwest Detectives. Maybe I'll go for that." Glancing up at her once more, he gave her knee another gentle pat. "But don't you worry about that, all right?"
The wind whipped her bangs into a blonde curtain across her eyes; she lifted a hand to brush them back. "No, I—I'm not, I just…" That seemed to be all the words her brain could come up with, so she was left with feelings. Feelings she couldn't even identify entirely, let alone process. Eddie wanted a relationship. A real relationship. And he was willing to quit going undercover to make it happen. To change his job. The job he loved. To be near her. To give them a shot. To stay. To be around. To be here. To stop leaving.
It was what she'd always wanted. Wasn't it?
And yet. And yet she was only a day removed from a drunken makeout session with her partner, one that had undeniably gotten into her head. She really should tell Saccardo. Maybe she'd lose him. Maybe this precious thing he held out to her would get yanked back as quickly as it was offered.
But she had to tell him. He had to know. Had to know the whole story behind what he'd be committing to.
He cut her off with a slow, sweet kiss. "Don't say anything now. I still got a job to finish up, and I'm not sure how long it's gonna take. But when I'm done with Garces, you just say the word, and I'll make it happen. I'll figure out a way to be around as much as you want." He leaned in for another kiss. "Just think about it, all right?"
Stunned, all she could do was look into his earnest brown eyes and nod. "Okay, I'll…I'll think about it."
"Okay." His face split into a wide grin as he got to his feet and extended his hands to help her up off the rocks. "Well, looks like I owe Valens an apology."
The name hit her with physical force. "What? Why?"
Saccardo looked out over the ocean, glittering in the early morning's golden glow, and pulled her close. "Told him I'd have you back before sunup."