Everybody Loves Me But You
For the second time in three days, Scotty stepped through the soaring stone archways of Gina Newman's cavernous front porch. He rang the bell and waited, feeling sort of silly standing there, holding a large white cardboard box filled with the jewelry they'd recovered from a handful of local pawn shops.
But at least he was finally doing something. Something besides paperwork and errands. Upon officially closing the case earlier that morning, Mendoza had given him the box of Gina's jewels with a wink and a smile. "You've earned it, guapo. Go work your magic." So it seemed he'd finally done something to get on his new partner's good side; at least he had that going for him.
Come to think of it, Mendoza's slight thaw appeared to have coincided with Nicky and Will bringing lunch to the precinct yesterday. He'd have to thank them later. Miller, too; there was no way in hell Vera would've thought to bring an extra cheesesteak apart from her influence.
Just then the enormous front door creaked open to reveal a beefy-looking security guard, his hand on his weapon. "State your name and business."
Scotty resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "Detective Valens. Philly PD."
A sharp, skeptical gaze raked over him. "Let's see some ID, 'Detective.'"
Grumbling under his breath, Scotty shifted the box in order to retrieve his badge from his belt. He couldn't believe he actually had to prove his identity to this pompous pissant.
The guard eyed the proffered shield as if memorizing it for an exam. "You really badge number 9136, Valens?"
"Since the day I graduated Academy."
"And when would that have been?"
"August 13, 1994." He answered the guard's skeptical, narrow-eyed glare with a steely one of his own. "Go ahead. Look it up. I'll wait."
"I don't like your tone, 'Detective.' I just might do exactly tha—"
"It's okay, Roy." Gina Newman's voice bounced off her marble-tiled entryway, accompanied by the clicking of her shoes. "I know Valens. He's one of the detectives working my case."
The overstuffed, overinflated guard stared fiercely at Scotty for another moment, then reluctantly stepped aside to let him enter. Which he did, not even trying to hide his satisfied smirk.
"You all right here, Mrs. Newman?" Roy still studied Scotty with deep distrust.
"Just fine. Thank you," she said. Roy answered with a crisp nod, then shot one last attempt at a lethal glare in Scotty's direction as he marched off down the hall.
Gina gave an uncomfortable sigh and folded her arms across her chest. "Sorry about that. It's his first day. I'm still a little shaky."
"Understandable." Grinning, Scotty held out the box. "Maybe this'll help?"
Gina popped off the lid; her brilliant blue eyes widened. "My jewelry!"
"Every last piece." Despite the underwhelming nature of most of the cases he'd be working now, Scotty had to admit to some pride, some satisfaction, in righting this particular wrong.
The gemstones glittered in the morning light as Gina pored through them. Then, beaming, she engulfed both Scotty and the box in a fragrant, enthusiastic hug, replete with a series of air-kisses and a flood of gratitude. "You are my hero, Detective Valens. My absolute hero."
"Just doin' my job, Mrs. Newman." Scotty shifted the box and gave her back an awkward pat.
"Oh, you boys always say that, don't you?" Finally releasing Scotty from her embrace, she took the box and hollered for Roy, whose scurrying footsteps echoed throughout the foyer.
"You called, Mrs. Newman?" Roy's hand was on his gun again; his expression as he looked at Scotty made it clear he was almost salivating at the chance to use it.
"Could you put these back in the safe, please?" She handed him the box. Scotty couldn't help but smirk again at the guard's undisguised disappointment as he trundled back down the hall, Gina's jewelry secure in his meaty arms.
Scotty turned back to see Gina regarding him with a curious look in her eyes, one penciled brow arched, a grin playing at the corners of her artificially-plumped lips. "So now that all this drama is behind us," she said, "I want to hear how come they brought you in from Homicide just to work my case."
Scotty flashed a tight smile. "Well, I ain't Homicide anymore, Mrs. Newman. Transferred over to Northwest a couple days ago. You were my first job."
Gina's eyes opened wide. "You—you're not a murder cop anymore? Why?"
"It's, uh…it's complicated."
"Ooooh." Gina was practically purring. "Complicated. I love complicated."
"I guess it ain't really that complicated." He stared at his shoes, the black leather a sharp contrast against the white marble floor. "Budget cuts. Brass told my old lieutenant they needed to cut a salary from Homicide."
Gina's manicured hand flew to her generous chest. "What? Oh, that's terrible."
"There was this spot in Northwest, though, so I was able to transfer over. Stay with the Department."
"So why in the world did your boss decide to cut you?" Gina's eyes flitted over Scotty from head to toe in a familiar, hungry evaluation. "I watch enough cop shows to know Homicide always gets the best guys, and you?" Her lips curved in a seductive smile. "You're definitely the best."
Scotty plastered on the grin he'd adopted for this sort of conversation and pulled out the rehearsed reply he'd spit out so many times it was starting to lose its meaning. "The boss didn't cut me, Mrs. Newman. I volunteered. Took one for the team."
"Wow, that's so generous of you." Gina's smile faded as she looked at him. "But is that what you really wanted?"
Dammit. Why did everyone keep asking him that?
"Protect and serve, Mrs. Newman." He kept his grin firmly in place. "Long as I'm doin' that, it doesn't matter where I am."
Laughing low and in her throat, Gina ran a long, manicured fingernail along the lapel of his jacket. "Good thing you became a cop, Scotty, because you'd have never made it as a criminal."
"Yeah? Why's that?"
"Because you're a terrible liar."
With a sheepish grin, he turned to leave. "You take care of yourself, Mrs. Newman."
"You, too, Detective. See you at the Blue Ball next year?"
Scotty gave a bitter chuckle. No matter how many cheesesteaks he bribed his new partner with, he was fairly certain he wouldn't be able to escape it. He could almost hear Mendoza now. New guy puts on the tux, guapo. Go suck up to Gina Newman. Do your thing. Get her to buy us a new fax machine.
"I'll be there," he said. Of that he was almost positive.
Steaming-hot cardboard cup of triple Americano in hand, Lilly stepped off the office elevator and headed down the hallway toward the squad room. Upon her 3 AM return from New York, she'd managed to snag a few hours' sleep, take a shower, and feed her cats, and now she was here, ready for the new work day and whatever challenges it held. Or at least she would be, once that rocket fuel kicked in.
It seemed like eons since she'd been in this office, though it was really only a couple of days. Last time she was here, she was sitting at Scotty's empty desk. Reeling from his departure. And that was nothing compared to an hour later, after his words, after that kiss…
But now, she wasn't reeling. She was firm. Steady. Resolved. She was staying with Eddie. Holding on to her heart. It was safer that way.
Stashing her sidearm in her locker and closing the door with a defiant slam, she walked into the squad room and steeled herself against the inevitable ache of Scotty's empty desk. No amount of resolve could protect her from that.
But when she rounded the corner into the sprawling squad room, she pulled up short.
Scotty's desk wasn't empty.
Lilly gave a quiet gasp; a bit of hot coffee splashed from the cup onto the back of her hand. The man in Scotty's seat had his back to her, but her heart leaped for joy at the sight of the midnight-dark, close-cropped hair. The broad shoulders swathed in the navy blue, yellow-lettered windbreaker they wore to crime scenes.
Scotty. He was here. He'd come back. Come back for her.
But the dark hair wasn't quite dark enough. The broad shoulders too broad. The coffee concoction in the clear plastic cup was too frozen, the hand clutching it too big, the booted foot propped on the desk far too casual.
It wasn't Scotty. It was Saccardo.
Her heart sank as though its elevator cable had snapped.
Eddie must've heard her come in, because he turned to look over his shoulder. Too-thick brows arched; too-light eyes sparkled. "Hey, gorgeous."
"Hey." What the hell was he doing here? Here, in the office? Sitting at Scotty's desk, like he owned the damn thing? Why not her desk? Or Nick's, or Kat's, or—or anyone but Scotty's? She'd thought there wouldn't be anything worse than seeing that empty desk. But seeing it filled by someone else?
That was worse.
"Thought you'd be happy to see me." Saccardo's smirk faltered a bit at the corners.
Stuffing down the unpleasant emotions, Lilly set her coffee on her desk and shrugged out of her coat. "No, no, I was. I am. I just…" Wanted you to be someone else. "It was a surprise, that's all."
Eddie broke into a relieved grin. "Oh, good. So you haven't heard yet."
His grin widened, and she knew.
"Garces," she said.
"Yep. Over. Finito. He's goin' away until hell freezes over." Eddie's eyes shone with pride. "It was an unassailable triumph. Wish you could've been there to see it."
"Me, too." Juan Antonio Garces, one of the vilest drug lords in Philly's history, had been Saccardo's entire world for the past two years. And now Eddie had emerged the victor. He'd come back to the surface. He was back. He was here.
And yet…he wasn't the one she wanted to see sitting here. At Scotty's desk. Why, why couldn't he have just picked somewhere else to sit? At least when the desk was empty she could still picture Scotty there. Could pretend, for just a moment, that he hadn't left. But now, with Saccardo's damn Timberland boot plopped on the surface, dangerously close to Scotty's favorite mug, his musky cologne overpowering the last remaining molecules of Scotty's comforting spicy aftershave, she was overwhelmed by the sheer wrongness of it all. It was like Eddie was trying to erase everything she had left of her partner. To—to replace him. And he couldn't do that. He couldn't replace Scotty no matter how hard he tried. He couldn't replace Scotty.
He…couldn't replace Scotty.
"It's all over the news," Eddie was saying, and Lilly forced her reeling mind to focus on his words. "They're callin' me a hero, but of course I was just doin' my job." He looked up at her, a slightly wounded expression in those golden brown eyes. "I came by your place last night after it was all over. Wanted you to be the first to know."
Eddie toyed with the straw in his coffee. "I waited for a while, but…you never showed."
"Sorry. I was in New York." Her own voice sounded a million miles away, and there was a hint of concern in his expression.
"Work," she added quickly. "Tyin' up some loose ends on the King job. It…kinda turned into a late night."
Eddie slid his boot off Scotty's desk, and Lilly couldn't hide her sigh of relief. "You get your guy?" he asked.
"Girl…yeah." Briefly, she recapped the case for Eddie.
"Proud of you, Rush." He lifted his frozen coffee concoction in a silent toast. "Knew it wouldn't take you long."
"Well, thanks for findin' the case for us." Lilly raised her own coffee cup, the memory of poring through Ellie's suitcase with him suddenly seeming a lifetime ago.
Saccardo smiled, then cleared his throat and leaned forward in Scotty's chair. "So I'm under strict orders from the boss man not to darken the door of the office for at least a week."
"Yeah?" Lilly's stomach knotted at the suddenly-serious look in his eyes. "You got plans?"
"Well, that kinda depends on you." Eddie took a sip of his drink. "Pretty sure you got enough lost hours to take off from now 'til Christmas if you want to. So I'm thinkin' we could lay low. Hole up in someone's apartment and not come out for a week."
The knot tightened. A few days ago, she'd have thought this ideal.
"Or, hell, maybe we just take off," he continued. "Go somewhere. Kick back."
"I dunno…Tahiti, maybe?"
"Tahiti?" She shook her head slowly. "Eddie, I—I can't…"
"Can't?" The look in his eyes was searching. Piercing. "Or won't?"
Here it was. The moment of truth. He needed her decision. And when she entered the office, she thought she had one.
But now, he was here. He'd come back for her. He wanted to be with her. To be there for her.
And all Lilly could think about was how much she wanted him to be Scotty instead.
Her plan to stay safe, to keep her heart protected, had one fatal flaw: her heart's stubborn refusal to go along with it. Her heart wanted Scotty. It craved Scotty. It had, at its center, a hollow place that could only be filled by Scotty.
The truth slammed into her like a bullet.
She loved Scotty.
She was in love…with Scotty.
The last of her resolve unraveled like a ball of yarn in an eager kitten's paws. She couldn't go through with this. She couldn't be in a relationship with someone she didn't love. It wouldn't be fair to either one of them. Eddie Saccardo was a wonderful guy, and he deserved to be loved. To find someone who would give him her heart, not wall it off for safekeeping.
Regardless of how things turned out with Scotty, she had to let go of Saccardo.
Lilly glanced around, suddenly aware of the other detectives milling around the room. "Eddie…can we take this somewhere more private?"
"Sure." His eyes clouding, Saccardo swallowed and stood up from Scotty's desk. He seemed to know what was coming. And maybe that would make it easier.
Lilly opened the door to the interview room and allowed him to enter first, then stepped in, closed the door quietly behind her, and faced him on the other side of the table.
"My Spidey senses are tellin' me you didn't call me back here to take me up on my offer to quit Narcotics," he said lightly.
With a sad smile, she shook her head.
He sighed. "Figured as much." He turned away and started to pace the small enclosure on the other side of the table. Slow, measured, loping steps; his steady progress reflected in the mirror behind him. "I thought, y'know, maybe if I gave you some time to think about it, you…wouldn't flip out on me. Wouldn't—"
"I'm not flippin' out, Eddie," she said with a pang of sympathy. "It's not that."
He searched her face. "There someone else?"
"Yes." Unable to bear the sadness in his eyes, she dropped hers to the tabletop. "I'm sorry."
"Okay." Eddie blew out a breath. "Who?"
"You sure you wanna know?" Her mind flashed suddenly to James Fleming, who'd sat here at this very table, telling her he'd never asked his fiancée who'd stolen her heart, because he simply couldn't bear to know the man's name.
"I got a hunch," Eddie replied. Lilly glanced up to see him fiddling with his shield. "Guess my detective's ego wants to know if I'm right."
Lilly took a deep breath. "It's…my partner. Valens."
"I knew it." Saccardo gave a quiet chuckle. "I knew that guy was trouble from the moment I met you. I saw the way he was lookin' at you. I knew if I was ever gonna have any competition for you?" He raised dark eyes to her, an unsteady index finger punctuating his words. "It'd be him. I just…kinda hoped it'd stay one-sided, y'know?"
"I'm sorry." It was the only thing she could think of to say.
Broad shoulders lifted in a shrug, though he didn't look at her. "The heart wants what it wants."
"If it's any consolation…" Lilly leaned on the table, seeking his gaze. "I didn't think for a minute your heart wanted to give up your undercover work."
He raised his head then; his dark eyes lasered straight into hers. "My heart wanted you."
Those four little words were like a dagger. Oh, how she wished she could return his feelings. He was such a wonderful guy. Such a wonderful guy. And it would make things so much easier.
But feelings were never easy, were they?
Lilly found herself unconsciously scraping the pad of her thumb over the surface of the diamond pendant he'd given her. A gesture she'd repeated often over the last several days, always when she was trying to force herself to feel something she didn't feel.
Well. Something she did feel.
But not for the one who'd given her that diamond.
With a shaky smile, she undid the clasp. "I should give this back to you."
He nodded, and she held the pendant out and let it spill, shimmering, into the palm of his outstretched hand.
"Listen, Eddie…I wanna thank you. After I was shot, I…wasn't myself. For a long time. And you helped me through all that. You helped me learn to smile again. To laugh again." Lilly swallowed hard around the lump in her throat. "I won't forget that."
Across the table from her, Eddie cleared his throat as he tucked the necklace into the pocket of his coat. "He's a good guy. Valens." He said Scotty's name as though tasting a familiar food covered in a different sauce. "Got a good heart. He'll take care of you."
Her eyes snapped up to search his expression. "How do you know?"
"He was there for you." With a sad smile, Saccardo started for the door. "He was there when I wasn't."
"Hey." Ignoring the pang of irony Saccardo's comment brought, Lilly tugged at the sleeve of his jacket. He turned, one hand on the doorknob.
"Be careful, okay?" She scanned his face with pleading eyes. "The only time I wanna see your name in the news is when you're some big hero."
He grinned. A shadow of his trademark smirk. "Only if you make me the same promise, Rush."
Lilly smiled. "Done."
"All right, then." He stood there for a moment, searching her eyes, looking as though he were about to say something else, but then flashed a tight-lipped grin, slipped from the room, and closed the door behind him.
With a heavy sigh, Lilly sank down at the table and cradled her forehead in her hands. Despite the ache of saying goodbye, she knew it was the right thing. Eddie Saccardo deserved more than being a consolation prize. He deserved to find someone who would give him her heart without reservation. Who, if he were to sacrifice his undercover work for her, would make that sacrifice worth it.
She wasn't sure yet that she could trust Scotty with her heart. Even less sure was she that he'd still be waiting around for her to make up her mind. For all she knew, he'd closed the book on her and was in it whole-hog with Frankie Rafferty.
But Lilly was sure she loved him. Adored him. Didn't want to go another day without him.
And because of that, a new resolve formed.
Maybe it was too late for them. Maybe it'd all crash and burn.
But her stubborn, ridiculous, irrational heart wouldn't let her rest until Scotty knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, how she felt.