Prologue: Last Christmas
Christmas Eve, 2018
I shivered in the cool breeze of New York City. It was Christmas Eve and the sun was down, meaning that the temperature was quickly dropping. I pulled my best friend, Sophie Lovato, in closer to me to feel her warmth. Small snowflakes flurried around us as we briskly walked through the mildly busy streets.
The sidewalk was wet from melted snow and reflected the Christmas lights wrapped around lampposts and the lights from cars passing by us. I exhaled sharply and watched my breath appear before me. The noise of our heels clacked underneath us.
“I hate New York,” Sophie muttered under her breath. “Too many damn people. I’m so glad I moved away.”
I chuckled, then shivered as a gust of wind blew the top of my coat open and brushed my bare skin, causing me to shiver. “They have nicer weather than we do, though,” I pointed out.
She scoffed. “By an average of, like, two degrees and an inch less of rain.”
We finally approached the Museum of Modern Art, where the Midtown North Precinct was hosting its Annual Twin City Christmas Gala. It was evident we were at the right place by the sheer number of people in formal clothing gathering on the stairs out front, chatting, laughing, and drinking. Christmas music poured out of the front doors every time they were opened, and the smell of baked goods greeted us.
“Thank God,” I said as we started up the steps. “It’s so fucking cold out here.”
“To be fair, that dress you’re wearing wasn’t exactly made for this weather,” Sophie teased as we strolled arm-in-arm to the door.
“Pssh, whatever. If we’re here to help fundraise, this dress will certainly help,” I responded jokingly, even though it was partially why I picked out the red ombre sequin dress that hugged my curves tightly.
A gentleman manning the doors in a black tuxedo smiled at us and opened the door. The warmth from inside washed over me, and as we stepped indoors, we were greeted by coat checkers. Sophie and I released each other and shrugged our coats off, revealing my festive dress and her chic black backless jumpsuit, the V-neck and wide straps across the upper back complimenting her slim and feminine figure. Her raven black hair was slicked back and her perfectly plucked eyebrows were dramatized by her deep brown eyes.
Sophie was the epitome of effortless beauty, and I was proud to call her my best friend.
“You clean up exceptionally well for someone who worked patrol all day,” I told her as we thanked the coat checkers and moseyed into the event.
She sighed and shook her head. “Now that you’ve made Detective, I’m nearly desperate to get off patrol. My new partner just isn’t the same as you,” she remarked.
We both paused at the entrance to a large gallery and scoped out the room. Caterers wandered the room holding trays of hors d’oeuvres and glasses of champagne.
“Trust me, if I was able to get the promotion, so can you. I hear Lopez is retiring in February.” I winked at her before swaying away from her and beelining for a glass of champagne. If I had to schmooze, I needed booze.
I plucked a glass of champagne off a tray, indicated for the waiter to stay by me, downed the glass, and reached for another. I took a sip of my second glass of champagne and felt a tap on my shoulder. I slowly turned and saw my boss, Bart Campbell, standing behind me, smiling widely. He stood beside a middle aged couple.
“Callie, dear, I’m so glad you could make it,” Bart said. “I wanted to introduce you to the Florences. They’re major benefactors to the MoMA, and after I told them about the case you’re working on, they were dying to meet you.”
I inwardly grimaced when he brought up the case that was killing me slowly, but forced a merry smile at the couple before me. I extended a hand and shook both of theirs. All the people in the room looked the same to me and held basically the same occupation, so this particular couple didn’t mean much to me. I just needed to fake my way through every interaction and hopefully they’d be writing checks by the end of the night.
The goal was to raise the most money. Those who did got a large bonus at the start of the new year, and I desperately wanted that bonus so I could move into a nicer apartment. While my new salary was significantly more than my patrol salary, I’d only been in my new position since October.
After nearly an hour of socializing and half-flirting with rich old men, I excused myself to use the restroom. I was feeling borderline tipsy and needed a break to clear my head. Once I’d relieved myself, I dampened a paper towel and gently pressed it to the back of my neck to cool off. I looked at myself in the mirror, thoroughly impressed with the woman standing before me.
My cheeks were flushed from the alcohol, but it complimented my very blue eyes, which resembled the sky on a cold winter’s day. My dark brown hair hung in Hollywood-style curls down my back, and my simple jewelry screamed class, elegance, and good taste. I held myself with a confidence I didn’t have as a patrol officer; now that I was a detective, I felt more accomplished and carried myself that way.
I picked my clutch up off the counter and left the bathroom. I stood between the bar and the area reserved for dancing, and craned my neck to see if I could find any familiar faces. I spotted Sophie across the room, laughing joyously with some of the officers from our precinct, before she turned and made her way to speak to an older couple on the outskirts of the room.
Always a social butterfly.
I sighed and decided I needed a strong drink. I turned on my heel, but kept my gaze over my shoulder for anyone else I might know. Not paying attention to what was in front of me, I felt myself collide with another person, causing me to teeter on my heels and drop my purse on the ground. I heard its contents scatter. I huffed in frustration as I immediately squatted to pick up my items. I mumbled a half-assed apology when suddenly a pair of masculine hands helped pick up my phone and lipgloss from the floor below us.
I glanced up, expecting to see just an average Joe kneeling before me, but a double take told me otherwise. Instead, an attractive man was handing me my iPhone and lipgloss, and I couldn’t help but stare at him. Deep green eyes similar to the color of the forest I used to go camping in as a teenager bore into mine, and a dazzling smile accompanied by irresistible dimples stared back at me. Sandy blonde hair was pushed out of his face, and a dusting of facial hair adorned his masculine jawline.
I slowly rose to my feet, matching his speed as I did so, and carefully took my stuff back from him. I noted that he wore no wedding ring. It suddenly felt like a hundred degrees inside, and my internal body temperature seemed to spike to near feverish levels.
“S-sorry,” I stammered. “I guess I should’ve looked where I was going,” I stated with a nervous laugh.
I shouldn’t be reacting to a man this way. I was seeing someone, after all. Albeit not very serious and having only dated him since the beginning of November, I was still dating him. But he was celibate, and I was a twenty-six year old woman with needs, and I hadn’t gotten laid in nearly six months, so my hormones were ill-behaving and completely out of my control.
“I should have too,” he responded, his voice deep and smooth and laced with charm. He was a few inches taller than me, and I wore nearly five-inch heels. At five feet three inches, that had to have put him nearly six feet tall. “Sorry your stuff went everywhere.”
I flushed and awkwardly shoved my stuff back into my clutch. “It was collateral damage. No harm done here.”
He looked really good. He wore a burgundy velvet suit jacket, slim fit black slacks, black dress shoes, an expensive watch. Paired with a white dress shirt, black bowtie, and cufflinks, he looked stylish and incredibly attractive.
I noticed the sticker on the lapel of his suit jacket that read: Hello, my name is DETECTIVE. It was written in masculine, blocky letters. I pointed at it and chuckled because mine read the same way.
“Interesting name, might I add,” I teased, batting my lashes at him.
He smirked and raised his eyebrows. “It’s not a very common one, and I somehow met someone with the same name as me,” he reciprocated. “Can I buy you a drink?”
I nodded, still unable to look away from him. I followed him to the bar and slid into a barstool next to him. “I don’t like putting my name on a name tag because it’s an easy way for people to remember my name. If I’ve made an impression like I’m supposed to, they’ll remember on their own,” I explained, and fought the urge to inwardly groan. Am I being too awkward? I felt as if I’d never flirted before.
The other detective gave me a curious look. “Oddly enough, that’s exactly why I do it too.” He paused as the bartender approached us. “The lady can order first,” he told the bartender as he handed a card over to open a tab.
The corners of my lips tipped upwards as I forced myself to look at the bartender. “I’ll take a scotch. Neat, please,” I ordered, then turned my attention back to the man before me.
“I’ll have the same,” he said as he narrowed his eyes at me. “Good taste in alcohol, too.”
I shrugged. “I need something a little stronger to get through tonight,” I admitted.
He nodded understandingly. “I second that. I just filed for divorce, and this is my way of celebrating.”
My jaw dropped. I wanted to acknowledge his proclamation, but felt it was inappropriate to do as a stranger. “Everyone’s rewarding me on a case I have yet to solve that’s eating me alive, and I honestly just want to forget it for a damn day.”
The bartender slid our drinks toward us, and the man before me held his up in a toast.
“To distractions,” he murmured.
“To distractions.” I clinked my glass against his before taking a healthy swig of the delicious amber liquid in my glass.
I uncomfortably fiddled with my cufflinks to avoid running my thumb over my naked ring finger. I had only taken off my wedding ring today, and it was still a foreign concept that I had filed for divorce.
Christmas Eve of all days.
I just couldn’t get through another holiday pretending to be alright, and pretending like I was still in love.
Now I stood in a crowd full of mostly strangers in an event designed to raise money for New York and Newark’s police departments. I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to put on a smile and act like my personal life wasn’t falling apart. I shook hands with a few people, made small talk, and drank some, but it wasn’t enough of a distraction.
My phone buzzed in my breast pocket. I pulled it out, frowned at the Caller ID of my soon to be ex-wife, and declined the call. I put it on Do Not Disturb, slid it back in my pocket, and snatched other glass of champagne off the caterer’s tray that passed by. I looked at all the people bustling around me, and felt no urge to socialize. I was here solely to distract myself, and yet I couldn’t find a damn thing that would do just that.
I swished the bubbly liquid in my mouth and set my empty glass down on a cocktail table. Drowning my sorrows certainly wouldn’t do anything for me, and the few conversations I had weren’t stimulating my brain. Perhaps I’d be better off wallowing in my misery at the hotel I was staying at while I waited for my new lease to begin.
I went to the bathroom and then decided to leave. Being at an event I usually brought my wife to — well, ex-wife — was difficult enough on its own. I didn’t need to be asked where she was by people I normally spoke to at these events.
I distractedly headed toward the exit, and stumbled right into a petite woman as I did so. All I saw was a flurry of red sequins and glossy brown hair as she muttered a quiet apology and dropped to pick up the contents of her purse.
I sighed heavily but knelt to help her pick up her stuff. It was the least I could do, and judging by the tone in her voice, I could tell she wasn’t enjoying herself either. I looked at her as I grabbed her lipgloss and her phone, and was surprised at how young she was. She couldn’t have been older than her mid-twenties.
What surprised me was the evidence of wealth with the jewelry she was wearing. The distinct turquoise face of her watch gave away the brand, and the hearts hanging at the base of her neck matched the brand. Either she had someone at home gifting her jewelry, or she had no shame in buying nice things for herself.
As she rose to her feet, her eyes met mine, beguiling blue to deep green. They blinked at me, wide and innocent. Her rich brown curls were pinned away from her face and complimented her skin tone. I fought the urge to look at her body, but her red and pink sequined dress that hugged her curves made it nearly impossible.
“S-sorry. I guess I should’ve looked where I was going,” she said with a nervous laugh, her lilting voice wavering slightly as her face reddened.
I didn’t expect my dick to twitch the way it did at her chagrin. Perhaps it was the alcohol, or the realization that I was moving on from the woman who’d nearly destroyed me, but either way I was surprised that my sex drive was rearing its head at such an odd time. It had been a long time since… well, since anything sexual had happened in my life.
“I should have too. Sorry your stuff went everywhere,” I replied to her. I instantly wanted to smack myself. Was that really the best I could do?
She shrugged, her bare shoulders raising to support the motion. “It was collateral damage. No harm done here.”
I smiled, surprised that she wasn’t more upset, but welcomed the sense of humor she was clearly displaying.
I forced my eyes to stay trained anywhere but on her body, or the sparkly heels that adorned her feet. Instead, I read her name tag, hoping to find out her name so I could introduce myself. She beat me to the punch, though, with her next statement.
“Interesting name, might I add,” she cooed, amusement lacing every word as she pointed at my name tag. I had thought the same thing when I saw hers had feminine writing spelling out detective on her sticker. I was instantly eager to know more.
“It’s not a very common one, and I somehow met someone with the same name as me,” I said, matching her playful tone. “Can I buy you a drink?” I wondered boldly, suddenly wanting to stay and talk to this woman more.
Her beauty struck a chord so deep inside me that I failed to remember to even ask for her actual name. Instead, I was rendered nearly stupid.
She simply nodded and followed me as I guided her to the bar. She sat next to me at the bar, and the dim lights at the bar reflected off her beautiful dress, so festive for the holiday. She spoke up before I could prompt the conversation any further.
“I don’t like putting my name on a name tag because it’s an easy way for people to remember my name. If I’ve made an impression like I’m supposed to, they’ll remember on their own,” she elaborated, and I was so distracted by her glossy lips that I couldn’t recall whether or not she had given me her name and I had just forgotten.
I looked her, intrigued at her explanation. “Oddly enough, that’s exactly why I do it too,” I told her. The bartender approached us then, and I turned my attention to him. I nodded my head towards the female detective sitting beside me. “The lady can order first,” I said, ever the gentleman as I slid my card in his direction. He took it from me and then looked expectantly at the woman.
“I’ll take a scotch,” she said. I wanted to react, because I was accustomed to my wife ordering wine, or a cosmo, or any other variation of fruity and sweet. “Neat, please.”
Neat? Good God, who was this woman before me?
She glanced at me with one eyebrow raised, as if challenging me, but it seemed like an involuntary facial expression.
I ordered the same as her and complimented her taste in alcohol; what she ordered was actually my favorite.
She shrugged again and told me she needed something stronger to get through the night.
I nodded and agreed with her. “I just filed for divorce, and this is my way of celebrating.” As the words left my mouth, I wondered if it was TMI, but in that moment I didn’t care. It was the first time I’d said it aloud aside from making the decision with my attorney.
Her lips parted, and I could tell her mind was racing to respond, but she elegantly closed it and responded with something personal. “Everyone’s rewarding me on a case I have to solve that’s eating me alive, and I honestly just want to forget it for a damn day.”
In perfect timing, the bartender set our drinks in front of us, and it felt appropriate to give some sort of toast to our awkward meeting and reasons behind drinking.
“To distractions,” I stated.
“To distractions,” she agreed before taking a large drink of her scotch. She gently ran her tongue over her lips afterwards, and the tiniest of frowns formed on her forehead. To a normal person, they probably wouldn’t have noticed it, but my line of work required me to recognize these sorts of social reactions.
“So, which of the twin cities are you from?” I asked her, in part because I didn’t want her focusing on what she was trying to forget, and also because I just wanted to know more about her.
“Newark. I rarely come into New York,” she responded, disdain coloring her voice. “It’s too crowded for me.”
It was my turn to shrug this time. “It’s not so bad once you get used to it.”
“I guess that answers which city you’re from,” she giggled.
I looked at her with amusement. “You’re perceptive.”
“Can you be a detective and not be perceptive?” She questioned, her blue eyes reflecting all the twinkling lights decorating the gallery we were in.
I chuckled at her response and took another sip. “I’m guessing you haven’t been a detective for long then, huh?”
She grimaced. “Only a couple of months. It’s that obvious, huh?”
I softly touched her hand, hoping I wasn’t crossing a line. “It’s not obvious. I’ve just interacted with a lot of ignorant and unqualified people in this profession.”
She blushed, her eyes flickering from meeting my gaze, to my hand on hers. She took a sip of her drink and then turned her body to face mine more. “So then I’m guessing you’re from this precinct, the Midtown North Precinct,” she noted.
I raised my eyebrows in surprise. “What gave it away?”
She cocked her head to the side. “You confirming it just then,” she admitted, then playfully hit my arm. It broke our hand contact, but I welcomed her touch. “But also with the way that you’re dressed, your watch, and your obvious comfort with our surroundings.”
I looked down at my watch, then back at her. “I don’t understand. You guessed where I live because of my watch?”
She reached for my left hand and turned it over to reveal my watch face. While it may seem strange that two strangers were being handsy at a professional event, it felt completely natural. “It’s a Tudor. This is an expensive brand, with impressive technology inside. This particular model is probably close to five grand. You’re wearing it in public, which indicates you know the area and trust you’re not going to get mugged. So, it was a safe bet that you either lived here or worked here. You just confirmed it for me,” she explained, and quite impressively might I add.
I casted my eyes skyward, but caught her wrist before she could pull away completely. I turned her wrist over the way she did mine, and made my own observations. “This Tiffany’s watch,” I started, “is encrusted with diamonds. From personal experience I know how much this watch is. Paired with your Tiffany’s necklace, I could have made the same argument for you, but given how you said you’re from Newark, I would’ve been dead wrong. So, what, you wore these to indicate your success, make these rich folks feel comfortable with you, and therefore obtain more donations?”
She recoiled but smiled at me. “I normally don’t like being profiled, but somehow I don’t mind that you did,” she admitted. She tipped her glass back and I watched as the remaining amber liquid slid down her throat. The elegant curve of her neck sent my thoughts spiraling in ways they shouldn’t. “So, since you’re from here, I’m guessing you know your way around this place. Why don’t you show me around?”
I was shocked at her brazen offer, but I knew I couldn’t resist. I finished my drink and closed out my tab, then turned to her. “Shall we?” I offered her my arm, which she happily accepted.
We wandered away from the party in a tipsy stupor, and I guided her through the museum, showing her different pieces of art as we quickly rushed through the exhibits. She was right; I did know my place around this museum. My soon to be ex-wife owned a small art gallery and had many times dragged me through this place. While I didn’t mind because I was supporting her, I had a hard time understanding and appreciating other peoples’ artwork.
As we wound our way through the museum, I led her back to the employees’ only section, knowing there was an office back here.
I knew how bad this would look — two cops essentially breaking into a prohibited area of the museum to fool around? Now, not to be presumptuous of what this woman and I were about to participate in, but I had a pretty good feeling of where this was heading.
Surprisingly, the door was unlocked. We laughed as we snuck into the office and back into the copy room. I mean, what kind of Christmas party office hookup would this be if we didn’t do it in a copy room?
I flicked the light on and locked the door behind us. She glanced around us before settling her big blue eyes on me. The look she was giving me caused my dick stir once again in my pants. I couldn’t resist my urges anymore, so I reached out and grasped her waist, pulling her into me.
Her intoxicating smell filled my nostrils. The combination of oranges, vanilla, and hints of floral and spice seemed fitting for Christmas and yet like sensory overload for me.
I carefully twined my fingers in her hair at the base of her neck, conscious to not mess up her hair as I did so, before I lowered my lips to hers. The cinnamon flavor of her lipgloss coated my lips and I suddenly craved more. I turned and flattened her against the door, pressing myself against her.
She matched my urgency and grasped handfuls of my hair as our tongues met, tasting sweetly of scotch and cinnamon. My hands ran down her back, cupping her waist, coursing over her hips. I appreciated every curve of the stranger who was about to expose herself to me.
After a few moments, she pressed her palms against my chest and pushed me away. I looked at her in surprise before she practically lunged at me, forcing me against the counters behind us. Even though she was much shorter than me, she clearly wanted to be in control of the situation.
My hand involuntarily tugged on the zipper of her dress. It slid down like butter, exposing her back to my overly eager hands. I felt like I hadn’t touched a woman in years, when in reality it had been months. She smelled so fucking good, tasted delicious, and felt like a forbidden fruit underneath my fingertips. I moaned against her mouth, and I felt her dress fall off her body.
I couldn’t resist looking. I opened my eyes and took in her strapless red lace bra and matching panties. I was so speechless I felt like leaving my tongue hanging out of my mouth like a dog. She had beautiful feminine curves, and the way her long brown hair tumbled down her caused things to stir inside me.
I eagerly pulled my suit jacket off while her fingers worked quickly at my bowtie and dress shirt. The second she pulled my shirt open, I felt the coolness of the air hit my skin, and I was so grateful for it because I felt like I was going to overheat from the tension between us. She pushed the shirt off my shoulders and tossed my bowtie on the counter behind us, then pressed her near naked chest against mine. The skin-to-skin contact caused goosebumps to raise on my bare skin. I reached for her, but she stepped out of reach, and out of the pooling of her dress.
Before me stood a short brunette woman, proud and confident in who she was, unbelievably gorgeous, and she wouldn’t let me touch her.
Or so I thought.
I had forgotten what it was like to be touched by a man. I was so used to be ignored by Otus — my boyfriend — that I stuffed my libido down to where it was nearly impossible to access.
Yet here I was, mostly naked in front of the most attractive man I’d ever man. I could see the lust in his eyes, and the bulge in his pants. He stood shirtless, and while he probably thought I wasn’t letting him touch me, I was mostly just enjoying the view before me. The abs that complimented his torso were like something off a statue, and the tattoos that decorate his skin did things to me that I couldn’t explain.
I let him slowly approach me. He pressed his lips to mine and grabbed the ends of my hair, tugging to tilt my head back. My now exposed neck was open to him, and he leaned down and left a trail of wet kisses behind. My nipples were so erect they were nearly chafing; I pushed my chest out, grazing his. He groaned against my mouth and lifted me up onto the counter he was just leaning against.
While our tongues danced, I made quick work of his belt and pants button, pushing them over his hips so he was just as exposed as I was. He wore boxer briefs, tight fitting over his nice ass, which I gratefully cupped in my hands.
His smell seemed to surround me, like the earth, woods, and spices rolled into one. It was absolutely delectable and intoxicating.
I slid off the counter and shimmied out of my panties, leaving me completely willing and ready for the taking. My upper thighs felt damp, and I didn’t give a damn about not using protection.
He spun me around and bent me over the counter, then slid himself inside of me. I was pleasantly surprised at how much he filled me, and how much I had missed this feeling. I involuntarily moaned at how he stretched me in ways I didn’t know were possible. Over and over again he thrust inside me, hard, hitting my G-spot.
Within minutes I felt a familiar pressure building inside of me, one that I had forgotten existed after how long it had been. I gripped the edges of the counter and relished as his hands rested on my hips. Not longer after I felt an orgasm rush through me. My insides quivered and my knees threatened to buckle, but for the first time in nearly six months I felt a release that I was in desperate need of.
As I came down from it, I felt him finish inside me. Since I was still holding out for Otus giving in to me, I was still on the pill, so the idea of unprotected sex — and especially that from a married man — didn’t scare me at all.
We stayed like that for a moment as we came down. I still felt the warmth and tipsiness of the alcohol. He finally pulled out of me, and I felt empty the moment he did. I straightened up and turned to the attractive green-eyed man before me. I bent over and pulled my panties back on. Why I decided to wear a matching red lace set, I wasn’t sure. Maybe it was the need to feel attractive after the weeks I’d thrown myself at my boyfriend, and to no avail.
There was an awkward silence that followed as we fumbled to grab our clothes, so I felt the need to say something.
“Thanks for the tour,” I joked, hoping to make light of the situation.
He laughed loudly. “I think that’s probably the best tour I’ve ever given, if I’m being honest.”
I giggled and pulled my dress back up, settling the straps on my shoulders. I turned my back to him and glanced over my shoulder. “Do you mind zipping me?” I queried softly.
“Not at all,” he breathed, reaching forward and gently zipping my dress back up. For the next few minutes we re-dressed ourselves, and after a final check of our reflections in the windows, we left the copy room and returned to the party.
I turned to ask for his name so I could potentially keep in touch with him, when I felt a sudden pull on my arm. I looked and saw Sophie grasping onto me. Her flushed cheeks told me she had drank quite at bit. She drunkenly glanced at the detective I’d just fucked before turning her attention back to me.
“Can you take me home? I’m ready to leave,” she slurred.
My mouth opened. “Of course. Sophie, this is—,” I went to introduce the man standing beside me when she interjected.
“Oh my God, did you two sleep together?” She whisper-yelled, leaning in close enough that I could smell the booze on her breath.
I tried to communicate with her using my eyes, but she her gaze was unfocused. I snaked my arm around her waist to support her and threw an apologetic smile at the other detective. He gave me a charming grin before turning to look at someone over his shoulder. He said a few words to the older woman. I so badly wanted to get his name, but one look at Sophie told me she was wanting to get out of there.
Unable to say goodbye to my one night stand, I guided my best friend out of the gallery, into the lobby where we retrieved our coats, and out into the New York City cold.
I glanced once more over my shoulder to see if the man had followed me, but I couldn’t see him through the thicks of people in the gallery. I returned my attention to Sophie, and put the whole altercation behind me.
All I was left with was the memory of his touch, and the faint smell of his cologne lingering on my skin.