Lilly clenched her teeth against her fiery fury as Scotty turned toward her, that damn come-and-get-me grin still frozen on his face. That damn flirtatious twinkle in his eyes. That damn casual greeting, that "Hey, Lil," he'd tossed out as though they were just bumping into each other at the office. As though the yawning chasm between them had yet to open, and everything was the way it always had been.
He didn't even have the good sense to look guilty as his gaze slid back to the too-young, too-primped woman next to him. "Frankie, you ever meet my old partner?"
Old partner? Old partner? Lilly's hands balled into fists; her nails dug into her palms.
"Maybe?" Scotty's date turned smoky dark eyes in Lilly's direction and swept them over her in a frank, evaluating glance. "I've only been here a couple months. Still gettin' to know everyone." Smiling with too much lipstick and too many teeth, the woman extended a hand. "Frankie Rafferty. I work in the lab."
Of course. This was the woman she'd seen Scotty dancing with at the Blue Ball. Eyes narrowed, Lilly gave Frankie a stiff, cursory handshake and summoned as much civility as she could muster. "Lilly Rush. Homicide." Whether it was the name of her department or the crime she was seriously tempted to commit, she couldn't be sure.
Formalities dispensed, Lilly dismissed Frankie from her mind and focused the full force of her repressed rage on her partner. Well. Her old partner.
"Listen, Scotty. I need a word with you." Many, many, many words.
He picked up his freshly-refilled glass of scotch and regarded her coolly over its rim. "'Bout what?"
Resisting the overwhelming urge to kick the barstool out from beneath him, Lilly instead resorted to calling him a litany of foul names in her head. "Just a couple loose ends."
Scotty studied her for a moment, his expression carefully guarded, then downed his drink in a single gulp. He slid off the barstool and turned to Frankie, an oily smile oozing across his face. "This shouldn't take long. How 'bout orderin' us another round?"
"Sure." Frankie tossed a playful, long-lashed glance at Scotty and a lock of curly chestnut hair over her shoulder, then swiveled back toward the bar.
Lilly stormed past her and through the rest of the tavern, stopping a couple alarmed servers in their tracks and drawing an irritated exclamation from someone who'd been lining up a shot at one of the pool tables. Trusting Scotty to follow her, she slammed into the swinging wooden doors leading to the smallish room that Jones's rented out for the occasional private party. She wasn't sure what she'd have done if she burst in on someone's retirement bash or something, but, mercifully, the room was empty.
Behind her, the door gave an angry squeak, and she whirled to face Scotty. He stood a few feet away, arms folded across his chest, eyes glinting with silent challenge. He—he…damn him, he was going on the offensive, without even saying a word. Rather than explain why he'd left, why he'd abandoned her, the unyielding set of his jaw and the defiant twitch of the muscle in his cheek almost dared her to explain why she'd pulled him away from a date. One of thousands he must've gone on in the last few years, with yet another curvy, dark-haired Elisa clone.
Lilly was so furious with him, for so many reasons, that she just picked one of them and flung it at him, more or less at random.
"The blind policeman story? Really, Scotty?"
Dark brows arched in a brief volley of surprise. "Why not? Made you laugh."
She flinched at the memory. His story had indeed drawn a laugh, the first of many much-needed chuckles she'd enjoyed over the years courtesy of Scotty Valens.
All that was over now. Scotty himself had made sure of it.
"That why you called me back here?" he demanded. "To give me first-date pointers? 'Cause looked like to me I was doin'—"
"You left, Scotty." Her voice was low and quivered with indignation; her eyes stung with angry tears.
"Look, Lil." He lifted his hands in a gesture of surrender. "There was a one in five chance I was gonna be the one to get the boot anyway. Just figured…this way it's my decision."
His words were like the sharpest of knives, the cut so swift and smooth she saw the blood before she felt the pain. But once that pain came, it stole all the air in her lungs. It was true. It really was his choice. He'd severed their partnership without a second thought, without even consulting her or thinking about her or anything. Just like everyone else. He was just like everyone else.
When she got her breath back, it was shallow and panicked. She felt like she was bobbing out to sea on a current she couldn't fight.
"So that's it, then? Just like that?"
"Boss was gonna have to pick someone, Lil," Scotty retorted.
"What, you just decided to swoop in and be the hero? Save all our jobs? Take one for the team?"
"Yeah. Exactly that."
Lilly laughed, because if she didn't, she'd cry. "Then maybe someone should get you a fucking cape, Scotty. Put a big red S on your chest."
"Well, hey, a thank you might be nice."
"What?" Her eyes flew wide with incredulity. "You—you want me to thank you?"
"Hey, I saved your damn job, all right? You, Nicky, Will, Miller…you all get to go back to Homicide tomorrow. Do what you love, without worryin' you're about to get the axe."
Oh, damn him. Damn him and his misguided hero complex. Rage choking her, she turned away and stormed a few paces to her left, toward a brick wall adorned with a multicolored neon beer sign that some enterprising soul had turned into a clock. She stared at that clock for a few seconds, then whirled back around and fixed Scotty with her iciest glare.
"You lied to my face." She could barely see him through the flood of tears. "You said you'd never leave me. That you'd always be there for me. That you—you couldn't even picture life without me, and then you left. You left me, Scotty, just like everyone else. And you didn't even say goodbye."
Turning her back on him once more, she returned her focus to the beer sign and tried to will away her tears. They streaked down her cheeks anyway, hot and quick; she brushed them away with a shaky hand.
"How the hell was I supposed to say goodbye to you, Lil?" Scotty still sounded angry, but there was a thickness, a raw, unguarded sorrow to his voice that poked through the cocky façade and started to file the edges off her fury.
Behind her, the floorboards creaked as he took a couple steps toward her. "We've been partners for six years. Six goddamn years, Lil. And partners ain't the half of what we are. You're—you're my friend, you're the one who's always got my back, you're the voice I hear in my head when I'm about to do somethin' stupid. What the hell could I have said that would've told you what you are to me, how much you mean to me, how much I…"
His voice faltered. Stunned, she turned around to see him raking a hand through his hair. Pain shimmered in his eyes; his lips were pressed together in a tight line.
Brow creased, she took a step closer. "How much you what, Scotty?"
Shadows flitted across his face. "Nothin'. Forget it."
But Lilly wouldn't. She couldn't. The truth of why he'd left was right there, hovering in the scant space between them. She had to grab for it before he could fling it away.
"Look. I'm sorry you're upset, Lil. I'm sorry I hurt you. I'm sorry this is the way it all went down, I'm sorry we're—I'm just…I'm sorry, all right?"
He turned to leave, but she stepped between him and the doorway. Pinned him in place with a desperate glare. "No, Scotty. No. It isn't all right."
Looking startled at her vehemence, he blinked, then turned and took a few steps toward the far corner of the room, one hand wandering up to rub at the back of his neck. Like her pathetic cats when they sensed food in the vicinity, she chased after him.
"It isn't all right for you—you, you of all people—to turn around and walk away from me, because you promised me you wouldn't. You promised." God, she sounded like such a child. "You said I was worth stickin' around for, remember? You said you'd always be here, and I won't let you out this door until you tell me why, Scotty. Why you were able to just—just leave, like the last six years didn't mean anything to you, like I didn't mean anything, and why it was so goddamn easy for you to—"
"Easy?" He spun around to face her. "You think this was easy?"
She spread her hands wide. "Looked like it to me."
Scotty stepped closer. So close she could feel the heat radiating from his body, could see the pulse pounding at the base of his throat.
"You really think it was easy for me to walk away from you, from the squad, from—from everything I've known for the last six years? You think it was easy for me to go from puttin' murderers away to…findin' some rich woman's lost jewelry? You think it's easy bein' low man on the totem pole again? Workin' with a boss who ain't…Boss? With a partner who—who ain't you?"
His voice was faltering again, his eyes inky pools of something she couldn't read. What was it? What was he so desperate to keep hidden, yet equally desperate to say?
"Then why, Scotty?" Her eyes scanned his face, frantic for answers. "Why the hell did you take that job?"
He swallowed hard. "Because as hard as it was to leave? Stickin' around would've been worse."
Scotty caught her gaze and held it with a depth, a richness she'd never seen before. His whole face softened. His hand reached out as though to touch her, but it stopped halfway and fell back to his side.
"It's because…" He blew out a long breath between pursed lips, then flashed a hint of a sheepish smile. "Because I'm in love with you, Lil."
Lilly's eyes flew open, and she stopped. Stopped moving, stopped breathing, stopped blinking, stopped doing everything except trying to process what her partner had just told her.
Shaking his head, Scotty turned around and started to walk slowly back and forth. "I didn't…I didn't know I was. Didn't even have a clue until that night on my roof, when we stayed out 'til three AM, just talkin' and laughin', and—and I didn't wanna take you home. Doesn't matter how much time I get with you, it's never enough. And I love that. I love how you can be so gentle with a witness, and then turn around and be a badass with a doer. I love how you won't rest until you get justice. I love your smile, I love your laugh, I…" He broke off with a chuckle. "I even love it when you're pissed off at me, 'cause it makes me wanna try again. Do better next time."
He looked up at her then, his eyes shining with tears. "You're…you're everything to me, Lil. Everything. And I love you. So goddamn much it hurts."
Lilly stared. She stared and stared, watching him pace miniature laps around his little patch of the worn wooden floor like a wild animal in too small a cage. Heart pounding, she wished real life came with a back button the way her DVR did, so she could go back and listen to what he'd just said again. And again. And again.
"But you're with Saccardo," he was saying.
Saccardo. Right. Her fingers flew to the necklace at her throat. In the face of Scotty's confession, she'd almost forgotten Eddie existed.
"And you just told me he's thinkin' about comin' back, to give the two of you a chance." Scotty dragged a hand through his hair. "And if he does come back, then…he's gonna be around. All the time. All the time, I gotta watch the woman I love lookin' at him the way I wish she'd look at me." He gave a bitter, humorless laugh. "And if he doesn't come back, then I'm right back where I was. I'm the guy you hang out with when the guy you really wanna be with ain't around. And—and I can't do that, Lil. Not with you. Not anymore."
"So you left." The words were a dull, hollow thud.
"You wanted to know why. That's why."
Lilly was silent for a long moment. Turning his words over and over in her head. Trying to reconcile them with the evidence.
"So you think this makes it okay? You telling me you—you love me?" The words felt strange and false on her tongue. "You think that makes everything okay, just like that?"
"No!" The palm of his hand smacked a nearby table. "None of this is okay. There ain't a single goddamn thing about this that's okay. Because I did the thing I swore I'd never do to you, the last thing in the world I wanted to do. But it turns out I ain't near as strong as I thought I was. 'Cause there's no fuckin' way I'm strong enough to stick around to watch you fawnin' all over Eddie Saccardo."
Lilly gave a bitter laugh. "Funny, you havin' such a problem with Saccardo when you just did the same thing to me he did."
Scotty's eyes flashed a warning, but it was one she didn't heed.
"No, wait, Scotty, y'know what? What you did was worse. Eddie didn't have a choice to leave, but you? You volunteered." She flung her hands into the air. "Dammit, Scotty, do you even hear yourself? You say you love me, you say you'll never leave me, and—and not only do you leave the squad, but your goddamn date is out there at the bar waiting for you!" Her voice was so shrill she barely recognized it.
His brows slammed together. "Wait, are—are you jealous?"
"Guess I shouldn't be surprised." She gave a breathless, humorless chuckle. "Hell, you couldn't even keep it in your pants long enough for Elisa's body to get cold—"
"Don't. Talk about her." The words were an ominous snarl. His grip on the back of the chair in front of him turned his knuckles ivory.
"Long hair, short skirt, young. God, Frankie Rafferty is just textbook, isn't she?" Lilly's vision blurred with her fury; she could barely catch her breath. "She even legal? Not like you'd care enough to check. She's just another piece to you, right, Scotty?"
The chair flew from his grasp and skittered a few feet across the floor, then fell onto its side with a loud crack. He started toward her, his eyes wild, his face a thundercloud, but she didn't back down.
"Is everything you say just meaningless bullshit, or do you—"
Lilly's words turned into a muffled cry of surprise as Scotty's mouth crashed down onto hers.
His kisses were untamed. Unrestrained. Completely uninhibited. Her body melted under their ferocity. Her knees rebelled, refusing to hold her upright any longer, and she was utterly at his mercy. One hand, hot and firm against her back, caught her as she fell; the other dragged along her cheek, then tore the elastic—and a couple strands of her hair along with it—from her ponytail.
His hand fisted in her newly-loosed hair; his tongue stormed her mouth. Dizzy and lightheaded, she clung to him for support. Dug her nails into his back through the thin barrier of his shirt, wishing she could return some of the pain he'd caused her when he left.
But right now, that didn't matter. Because right now he was here. Oh, dear God, was he here.
Backing them up a few inches, Scotty pinned her against a table, then bent her over it, a low, possessive sound rumbling in his chest. He ravaged her mouth, consuming her until she was aware of nothing but him and need and want and—and this ache in the depths of her that she couldn't define. One that could be assuaged only by the fire of his raging, relentless kiss.
And then he stopped. Tore his mouth away with a vicious growl, his breathing ragged against her tingling lips. Lilly's eyes snapped open to reveal him hovering over her, his arms braced on either side. The heady scent of his aftershave filled her senses, his dark eyes glittered with desire, his cheeks were flushed, his forehead beaded with sweat and oh God did she want him.
Crying out in frustration, she reached up and clutched handfuls of his shirt. Grabbed his shoulders. Tried to pull him back. But he resisted, his arms rock-hard and quivering, his wet, swollen lips curving with odd satisfaction.
"You think that was meaningless bullshit, Lil?"
She could barely even hear him over the sound of her frantic breathing and the pounding of her pulse in her ears. To answer him would've been impossible. But the triumphant gleam in his eyes told her it was also unnecessary.
"Does Eddie Saccardo make you feel like this?" he ground out. "He do this to you?"
Instinctively, she felt for the diamond pendant, but it seemed to have traveled around to the back of her neck in the melee.
"You tell me, Lil. You tell me, right here, right now, that he loves you like I do. You tell me he makes you feel like this. Makes you want what you want, as bad as you want it, right now. And if he can, Lil? If he can? More power to him."
His eyes raked over her face. Lingered on her lips for just a second.
And then he pushed himself off the table. Stood up. Turned away. The coldness flooding between them was more than she could bear. Struggling to her feet, she bit her lips to keep her emotions in check. She tasted him, and every inch of her throbbed with need.
"But I don't think he does, Lil. I don't think he does, because if he did, then you wouldn't have kissed me like you just did. You wouldn't be lookin' at me the way you are. You wouldn't be so goddamn jealous of Frankie Rafferty."
Just before he reached the door, he turned back toward her, hands spread wide. "So you gotta decide if what you already got is good enough for you, or if you got the guts to go after what you really want. And if you do…you'll know where to find me."
Lilly knew she should formulate a response, but she couldn't, and the tiny flicker of hope in his eyes died.
"But after all this, if you still wanna be with Saccardo? Then go be with him. Go be with him, Lil. God bless. But you sure as hell can't expect me to stand around and watch."
At that, he slammed into the swinging double doors and disappeared without a backward glance.