Chapter 1: Prologue
How it all started.
Monday night was her unofficial night with Ricky. It was the pattern they’d fallen into, this first summer that he was home from college. She didn’t want to hover (didn’t feel that it was right to hover, since she’d let Emily move to New York at the age of 17 to pursue her career in ballet), but she treasured the time she could carve out with Ricky between seeing his high school friends, working on his online summer school classes, and building God-knew-what out of old computer parts in the second bedroom of her condo.
She called it his room, but it wasn’t. Not really. His room had been packed up before he left for Stanford, most of his childhood things in a storage unit in the basement of the condo building she’d moved into days after he left the house in which he’d grown up. He stayed in this new, bare room when he came home from school, and next summer she knew he’d likely not stay there at all. Her little boy was growing up, stretching his wings. Finding better things to do on a Monday night than sit on the couch with his aging mother, rewatching some action-adventure movie they’d seen at least fifty times.
As much as she wanted her baby to leave the nest and find his own path, it still hurt when he called her at work to tell her he wouldn’t be home that night. She knew her son, and when he told her that he was going to drive up to Santa Clarita to work on his latest project with one of his fraternity buddies, she knew he was telling the truth.
She just wished it didn’t have to be on a Monday night.
Sharon sighed as she hung up the phone, mentally resigning herself to another late night at the office. She didn’t have to stay late. Most of her cases were wrapped up neatly, thanks in no small part to the care she’d taken to train each of her detectives, but she didn’t especially welcome the idea of going home to an empty condo. At least in the Parker Center, she wouldn’t be alone.
Surrounded by a building full of people who couldn’t stand the sight of her, yes, but she wouldn’t be alone.
She had the payroll application open on her computer and was halfway through approving expense reports when a phone call interrupted her concentration. Chief Pope. Just great. This day was already bad enough. He kept her on the phone long enough to deliver yet another long-winded diatribe about the behavior of one Andy Flynn, but once again hung up on her when she asked him just why, exactly, he was the one calling her and not Flynn’s commanding officer.
Not that she really needed to ask. It was obvious, from the top brass to the lowliest patrol officer, that Assistant Chief William Pope had the hots for one Deputy Chief Johnson, and in his peanut brain, he equated love with protecting his darling protegee from the hellhounds in FID, and Captain Raydor in particular.
No matter. At some point, she’d come face-to-face with Chief Johnson, and finally figure out if the woman was worthy of the hype and slobbering devotion. Until then, she’d deal with the glorified middle man who sadly outranked her.
Oh, and Andy Flynn. Sharon heaved a sigh as she went to her file cabinet and pulled out his jacket. Lately, for his minor infractions, she’d referred him to a lower-ranking detective on her squad, a situation that sat well with neither Flynn nor Sgt. Eliot, but she was the boss and she made the rules, and she had only so much patience for the hot-headed lieutenant that had done his absolute best to annoy her over the course of her 20 years on the force. She’d have happily brushed him off this time as well, but the name Bill Croelick was enough to stop her short.
Bill Croelick. Now there was a monster. Even in FID, she knew who Bill Croelick was. Knew how letting him slip through their fingers had driven Andy Flynn into such a rage that he’d punched out one of the sergeants in Traffic for, as her report said, looking at him funny. She wasn’t thrilled herself about revisiting this particular ghost from the LAPD’s past. Flynn might not want to hear it, but dealing with Croelick’s lawsuit hadn’t been exactly fun for her either, and she wasn’t in the mood to be sympathetic when he’d never bothered to thank her for saving his job the last time Croelick had reared his ugly head. Especially if his latest antics got them caught up in yet another lawsuit, which, from the gist of Pope’s phone call, sounded fairly likely.
Most days she loved her job, but on days like this where she knew she’d have to be the voice of reason to defend a criminial who so richly deserved to be behind bars, she hated it. Hated especially defending herself and the LAPD policies to Andy Flynn, a good cop (his overstuffed jacket towering over her inbox notwithstanding) who had, once upon a time, liked her just fine.
That was a long time ago, before interdepartmental politics and two marriages, crumbling due to alcoholism, got in the way. Now, every time she crossed his path, he looked ready to spit nails.
The early evening sun was burning through her windows by the time Andy slunk into her office. Even after 30 years in Los Angeles, she still wasn’t used to the summertime heat, but at least she could count the small blessing that she wasn’t in a full suit, tie and vest.
Andy dressed well; she had to give him that. Usually, he was immaculately put together. Today, though, he looked….rumpled. Faded. Rather than slamming into her office, he eased the door open and slumped into the chair opposite her desk. No barking about wasting his time or demanding to know who he’d pissed off to get FID up his ass. He hadn’t looked this defeated since he’d sat in that chair just over ten years ago and she’d told him he had two choices: AA or unemployment.
Stubborn ass that he was, he chose AA and had been clean and sober since. She’d never doubted his commitment to sobriety until today. Doubted his sanity, sure, and doubted his ability to keep his foot out of his mouth for longer than ten minutes at a time, but…this was different. He was barely hanging on, and to see him breaking down over a complete waste of oxygen like Bill Croelick broke her heart.
“Lieutenant,” she started, but he held up his hand.
“I know I shouldn’t have shoved him. I know I fucked up.”
The situation was dire indeed if Andy admitted to making a mistake on the job. Usually these conversations involved Sharon making accusations and Andy blaming whatever had happened on Provenza, but today…he couldn’t even come up with a defense. He just shook his head and stared at the floor.
Given that he usually stared at her cleavage, she was a bit thrown.
“Andy,” she said softly. He didn’t bother to look up. “I know this is hard. We all have cases that stay with us.”
He snorted at that. God forbid he ever think that she struggled with the cases she investigated in FID, even when it meant bringing conduct charges against people she’d once considered friends.
“We all have those cases,” she continued, struggling to keep her voice neutral, “but you can’t let it ruin your career. You’re better than that.”
His shrug was more telling than any comeback he could have hurled at her. Andy Flynn, God’s gift to Priority Homicide, couldn’t even defend himself.
Sharon knew she had an unhealthy savior complex, knew that it was a bad idea to get further into Andy’s head than she’d already delved, but she couldn’t stand to see him looking so pitiful. “That’s it,” she said as she clicked her mouse on the shut down command, “we’re getting out of here. I’m buying you some cheap, greasy dinner and we’re going to talk about this.”
“That’s not necessary, Captain. Just give me my punishment and we’ll call it a day.”
She stared him down over the rim of her glasses. “Your punishment is that you have to eat a meal with me and talk about this. So let’s get it over with, hmmm?”
If he’d put up a fight, she would have been relieved, but he just shoved himself out of the chair and followed her through the halls of the Parker Center. Down the elevator, across the street to the parking garage, and in the passenger seat of her battered department-issued Crown Vic without saying a word. She drove them to a diner in Sunset Gulch, the same diner she’d taken Jack years ago when she needed him to sober up before going home to their children. He didn’t put up a fight either in those days, and she was a little disgusted with herself - and with Andy - that the comparison was so easy to make.
She should have been at home with her son, rewatching a Die Hard or a Star Wars movie, and instead she was paying for a fancy grilled cheese sandwich for a man who didn’t even have the balls to look her in the eye. If he kept moping like this, she was going to leave him in the diner with the check and without a ride back to the Parker Center, and watch a movie by her own damn self because it would be a lot more satisfying than being the plus-one at Andy’s pity party.
“More coffee?” the waitress asked. Andy didn’t even bother to look up, which was even more disturbing. She was young and blonde, probably a struggling actress. The type that Andy Flynn on his game would have fallen all over himself to impress. Sharon waved her away.
“Hey,” she said softly, “you alive over there?”
He sighed, his focus intent on the napkin he was shredding into pieces. Sharon was about to give up when he said, “You ever just want to say enough and walk away?”
“Frequently.” Andy looked up at that, surprised. “Usually when I have you yelling at me about something idiotic you’ve done that I have to explain.”
Finally, a smile.
“But you don’t want to say enough and walk away. Andy, that’s never been in your nature.”
It might have been too much, claiming to know anything about Andy’s nature, but he squared his shoulders. Like she said…stubborn.
“I’ve got you breathing down my neck, the Pope wanting to burn me at the stake, and the Chief…” he trailed off, his obvious displeasure at letting down his commanding officer warming her heart.
Andy Flynn, notorious bad boy and player, was beating himself up because he’d disappointed a woman he’d once claimed to hate. Sharon suddenly wished she knew him better; wished she’d known his mother or the sister he spoke about on occasion. Wished she had some context as to how he could treat her so coldly and yet offer blind devotion to Brenda Leigh Johnson.
She really did have to meet the Deputy Chief, one of these days, if only to satisfy her own curiosity.
“I’m not breathing down your neck,” she said mildly. “Just buying you dinner.”
Wasn’t that the question. Why indeed. She pursed her lips as she ran through all the possible right answers. Because she needed to file a report, and she wasn’t likely to get his statement when he was moping at his desk. Because she didn’t like Pope any more than he did, and handling Andy with kid gloves was bound to piss him off. Because she was hungry, and even an overpriced grilled cheese was better than dining on vending machine fare.
“Because it’s Monday night, and I have nothing better to do.”
The words surprised him almost as much as they surprised her. He raised an eyebrow, the old Andy Flynn skittering up to the surface. He was even attempting a grin as he asked, “And what is it that you’re doing the other six nights of the week?”
“None of your business,” she snapped. “Eat your sandwich.”
He did, with gusto, all thoughts of Bill Croelick seemingly set aside as he licked crumbs off his fingers.
Sharon parked in the garage next to his maroon car, identical to her own, save for more wear and tear.Some of which she’d had to defend in court.
“Are you going to be ok?” She’d asked him that question times out of mind, and always with a 50/50 shot of getting a straight answer. Tonight, now that he’d had a meal in him and a wink from a waitress, she was fully prepared for a smart remark that landed just this side of an official reprimand.
“Once you’ve been on the job this long, are you ever ok?”
“Andy,” she started, ready to go into her practiced spiel about the stresses of the job, the benefits to the victims, the blah blah blah about psych evaluations and the need to come to terms with what they’ve all seen, but he cut her off.
“No, Sharon, I’m asking. Are you ever ok?”
She sucked in a quick breath. In the more than 15 years since she’d transferred to IA, nobody outside her squad had ever bothered to ask if she were ok after a tough case. Most of the LAPD just assumed that she was more than fine, happy to pound another nail in the coffin of a decorated officer. Even the younger members of FID assumed that she was untouchable, completely devoid of emotion, even after forcing yet another detective she’d known in the Academy into retirement, or worse.
No, she wasn’t ok, not after spending an evening watching Andy Flynn fight to come back to himself, but she was Sharon Raydor, and admitting that she was just as flawed and weak as every other cop in the department wouldn’t do her any good. She shrugged. “We do what we have to.”
She choked back a laugh. Blunt, that was Andy Flynn. “If I weren’t here babysitting you, what would you be doing? Getting drunk after over a decade of sobriety? Bullshit yourself, Lieutenant. You do what you have to, just as I do.”
His gaze, angry and tender at the same time, made her skin tingle. She was suddenly aware of the close confines of the car, of the dim lighting in the parking garage, of the scant inches separating them. Of the decades of history bringing them together. Of the absolutely terrible idea of having a heart-to-heart with FID’s most notorious repeat offender.
Why did Ricky have to ditch her on movie night?
Her breath caught as he tugged her hand off the steering wheel and laced his fingers through hers. “Bullshit,” he whispered. “You didn’t have to buy me dinner.”
It had been years since Sharon had held hands with anyone, and the fact that she was doing so now in the LAPD parking garage scared her more than the intensity with which Andy was studying her. Years since a simple caress in the front seat led to a lot more in the backseat, but the part of herself that she tried to keep carefully cordoned off from her professional role was raring to go, security cameras be damned.
“Andy,” she said as she tugged her hand away from his, “I was worried about you. Believe it or not, I care about you.”
He didn’t make another move to touch her. He just sat in the passenger seat, staring at her, generating enough heat with that damn smirk that she was about to burst into flame. “Oh, I believe it, Captain,” he said finally.
He clicked his seatbelt free and opened the door, turning to offer what Sharon thought would be a goodnight and a thanks for dinner. Instead, he leaned in and kissed her.
Oh. Oh. Oh, teenage Sharon considered the shortest distance between her current location and the backseat before she remembered her rank and pulled away.
“Andy,” he corrected. Before she could continue, he touched his fingers to her lips. “Believe it or not, I care about you too.”
She didn’t believe it, and God, she wanted him out of her car before teenage Sharon talked her into believing it. “Go home, Andy,” she said. “We’ll discuss the case in the morning.
“Aye aye, Captain,” he said, and that grin again. Teenage Sharon was screaming at her not to let him go, but the rational part of her brain breathed a sigh of relief as he slammed the door.
Only to jump as he opened it again and slid into the passenger seat. “Chief’s coming. Drive, Sharon.”
In the rearview mirror, sure enough, she could make out a blonde head bobbing its way toward her car. Before she could formulate a rational argument for why his commanding officer should have no issue with the two of them in close proximity, she’d started the engine and thrown her car in reverse.
He twined his fingers in hers, their hands resting against the gearshift. “Up to you, Captain. It’s Monday night, and I’ve got nothing better to do.”
God bless Ricky for having better things to do with his Monday night, she whispered to herself as she pointed her car toward her empty condo.
It wasn’t that he wanted to go along with Provenza and his former partner on their little make-over shopping date (Andy had been in the background for enough of their screw-ups to know he was better off staying as far away as possible), but he had to admit, it was flattering to hear a woman say she wanted his advice on clothes.
Even if the woman in question was George Andrews. Georgette, he reminded himself.
Sure, it was strange seeing her in a dress and heels these days, but no stranger than what Andy had seen working patrol in the early days of his career. No stranger than what he’d seen growing up in Brooklyn in the 60s and 70s, so why Provenza was ready to stroke out over it was lost on him.
“It’s like everything you’ve ever known is just gone,” Provenza continued, as they waited outside the dressing room of the men’s section in Macy’s.
“A partnership is like a marriage. And when it’s built on lies, it just…it can’t be saved. You know what I mean?”
Andy didn’t, since his marriage failed based on the ugly truth of his addiction. Since five-times divorced Provenza was the reigning expert on failed marriages, he nodded to concede the point. And also to shut him up, Jesus, he just wanted to help a woman find a suit, not play marriage counselor for his partner and the ex.
“It’s like…it’s like if I came into the office one day and found out you were banging her,” Provenza spat.
Andy jerked his head up, offended at the implication. He liked George just fine back in the day, and he had no problem with Georgette now, but she was hardly his type. He was about to argue when he realized that Provenza wasn’t looking at the fitting rooms; he was staring at the cash registers. Where one perfectly dressed, perfectly cool, perfectly indifferent Sharon Raydor stood, arguing with an older woman over two outstretched credit cards.
Oh, he could really ruin Provenza’s day with that one. Andy wasn’t sure what would be worse, George becoming Georgette or Andy banging the head of FID. And, because he was an asshole at heart, Andy was tempted to tell him the whole truth, that he’d been banging Sharon Raydor for the better part of six months and see what happened.
He was an asshole, not an idiot. As much as he loved torturing Provenza, Sharon had told him in no uncertain terms that if anyone – anyone – in his division got wind of their relationship (understanding was the word she used, but he preferred to think of it as a relationship), she’d cut him out of her life completely.
He liked being in her life, even if it was only on the fringes, in the dark of night and completely on her terms. Andy stared at the little drama unfolding at the cash register and chuckled as Sharon, lips pressed in a firm line, relented and tucked her credit card back into her wallet.
What would that be like, winning an argument with Sharon Raydor?
Right, he was here for a reason, and that reason had nothing to do with mentally jacking off at the sight of Sharon Raydor out and about. Georgette was standing in front of them, looking just like the George he’d used to know. “Perfect,” he said. “Cut the tags off and let’s go.”
By the time they got to the registers, Sharon and her companion were long gone. No matter…he’d just find a way to get her alone and ask her just who she was buying things for in the men’s section of Macy’s. It was a risky question – she hated when he dug into her private life – but he figured that the man who shared her bed at least a few nights a week had a right to ask.
Bullshit. He was just hoping she’d say she bought something for him.
She was long gone by the time they’d wrapped their case. Andy tried to sneak out of the murder room after the confession, but Provenza and Georgette stopped him before he’d made it to the elevator. To thank him for his help, they’d said, but the way they stood – three feet between them and never making eye contact – they needed a buffer. And, they stammered, a ride to the train station.
The things he did for this job.
Once Georgette was on her way, Provenza needed a few more beers and a few more hours with a captive audience to bitch about the ways the world done him wrong. Andy finally got him off the barstool and into the car, barely listening to the rest of his partner’s tirade before Andy dropped him off. Once Provenza’s door was closed and the lights snapped on in his house, Andy hightailed it straight to Sharon’s.
He needed a rational conversation with a rational adult.
He wanted to pull her into his arms and feel the weight of her, snug against his chest.
He needed to know why, when she’d looked up from the register and seen him watching her, she hadn’t even acknowledged his presence.
He wanted her to acknowledge him now, when there were no prying eyes to interrupt.
Except for the prying eyes raking him over as he stood on Sharon’s doorstep. He should have figured it out in the department store. They had the same nose, the same posture. The same way of looking at him like they were debating whether or not to tell him that he smelled of last week’s garbage. The same way of making him feel that he needed to apologize for every bad thing he’d ever done with a simple phrase like “Can I help you?”
Sharon’s mother. Of course.
“I’m Andy Flynn. Is Sharon here?” God, he even sounded like an ill-intentioned teenager. He half-expected Sharon’s mother to fetch a broom from behind the door and beat him with it until he ran back to his own walkup in Brooklyn, just like Julie Avila’s mom had done back in the 70s.
Fortunately, Sharon came from WASPier stock, so her mother just stood aside and waved him in. Andy very carefully removed his jacket, weapon and shoes, just in case she was making notes.
“We’re making dinner,” she said. Obviously, because the scent of garlic hung in the air, and he could hear Sharon muttering to herself as the dull thud of a knife hitting a cutting board indicated that she was, as usual, struggling with chopping onions.
“Sharon said you might be stopping by, so we made extra. Pot roast,” she continued as she led Andy into the kitchen. “My specialty.”
Perhaps now was not the time to tell her that he was a vegetarian.
Mary O’Dwyer reminded Andy a lot of Willie Rae Johnson, not that he’d ever tell Sharon that. She spoke with clipped New England vowels rather than a slow Atlanta drawl, but she was just as determined to feed people as Brenda’s mother. If only Sharon had a dog, he wouldn’t have to spend most of the meal distracting Mary with questions and then shoving bites of beef into his pockets.
The things I do for this job.
Listening to Mary’s stories, Andy realized with a dull throb in his chest how much he missed his own mother. She bitched every night about the extra mouths to feed brought home by the five Flynn kids, but she still found a place for them around the table.
His mother also told stories about dating his father that scared the shit out of his friends, but they still came back. Stories about nickel prizes won on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, which to a young Andy Flynn had been the goddamn height of romance. Sharon’s mother told stories about weekends in the country and summers in the Hamptons. Teresa Flynn had never seen the Hamptons and had never gone farther than a ferry ride to Westchester, but his ma would have loved Sharon’s mother. For every very proper and upright story she told about Sharon’s upbringing, debutante balls and all, she threw in a joke about finding one of her sons in the backseat of a car.
He tried to picture Sharon being as amused at catching Ricky in the backseat of her Toyota. He knew enough about her to know that she wasn’t exactly opposed to backseat sex, his own Crown Vic being witness to that, but he couldn’t picture Sharon approving of her son doing it. More so, he couldn’t picture Ricky actually pulling it off.
He tried to imagine what he’d say if he caught his own kids in a backseat, but it was too painful. In every scenario, they’d tell him to get lost. Nicole wouldn’t need him to protect her, and Danny wouldn’t need his advice. Sandra would just call the cops, and he’d have to deal with patrol rather than giving the sort of fatherly advice he’d wished he’d gotten back in Brooklyn.
No, better to listen to Mary’s stories, until she mentioned Jack showing up on their doorstep.
Suddenly, he didn’t want to relive Sharon’s childhood memories.
“Thank you for that,” Sharon whispered as she wrapped her arms around him.
He was tempted to ask for what, but they were on her balcony, his second-favorite spot in the city, and he didn’t want to start a fight. He pulled her closer, his fingers laced through hers as they looked out over the hazy city below.
“My mother likes you,” she said.
Why? Her mother, so full of stories about Jack and Sharon in their glory days, stories he’d never heard, had barely asked a single question of this stranger who showed up unannounced on her daughter’s doorstep. Stories that told him so much more about her than he’d ever known. Why the hell would she like Andy, when Jack was Sharon’s leading man in the O’Dwyer family annals, and Andy was the interloper in Sharon’s life?
“She likes Jack,” he said, angry at how sour and bitter he sounded. He’d tried so hard not to be jealous of Jack, but one dinner with Sharon’s mother had done him in. Fuck Jack. Fuck him for leaving Sharon, and fuck him for disappointing his kids without trying to do better, and fuck Mary O’Dwyer for thinking that Sharon couldn’t do better than that asshole.
Sharon pulled Andy a little closer. “She hates Jack. She’s always hated him.” Andy struggled to hold on to his bad temper as she pressed kisses along his neck. “She just wanted to know if you hated him too.”
“You couldn’t give me a little heads-up?”
She interrupted her upward journey to give a little laugh. “If you took me home to Mother Flynn, would you have given me a heads-up?”
God, the thought of Sharon Raydor and his mother in the same room was almost too much for him to bear.
“I thought so,” she muttered. “Besides, I spent ten years running interference for Jack. My mother would kill me if I tried to do it again.”
He should have been annoyed that Sharon expected him to show up tonight, and even more annoyed that he’d been put to the test by the two of them. Instead, he focused on the weight of her in his arms. Sharon Raydor, separated but not divorced, was just a sliding-glass door away from her Catholic mother and had no reservations about being in his arms. His peanut brain struggled to work out the how and why of that, but it had been a long day and he was tired. He’d rather just take what looked to be a victory in their fledgling relationship. Understanding.
“She doesn’t mind that…you know…I’m here? With you?” She doesn’t mind that you’re married? She doesn’t mind the vows, and the sneaking around, and the betrayal? he wanted to ask, but, as always, he was afraid of the answer.
“She’s a pretty forward thinker,” Sharon said. In the dim light cast from the kitchen, Andy could make out Sharon’s smile. Of course her mother was a forward thinker. As much as she clung to her marriage, Sharon was the most open-minded person Andy had ever met. She had to learn it somewhere.
Andy took a second to send up a thanks to whomever might be listening for mothers who overlooked the big sins in favor of the small blessings that the Church seemed to overlook, his own long-suffering mother included. “My ma would have loved you.” He brought her hand up to his, pressing the words against the soft skin of her fingertips, the touch of them a blessing and absolution as well.
“Bullshit,” she replied. The way she enunciated each syllable sent a shiver up his spine. Yeah, ok, it was bullshit. His mother would have hated her, but she would have hated her less than Sandra. She’d at least have respected her, and damn, his ma and Mary O’Dwyer…he’d give his right arm to have his mother alive again and in a room with Sharon’s mother and a bottle of whiskey.
Something he’d never wished during his first marriage, but wanted so badly now that he could feel the weight of it digging into his chest. “Do you ever wish you’d done things different?”
Differently, she murmured, but he wasn’t in the mood to fight with her for picking at his grammar. “No, I don’t.” He could feel the shrug of her shoulders, pressed so close against him that he couldn’t figure out where he ended and she began. “We did what we did, and we had what we had, and we’re here now.”
Stubborn asshole that he was, he pressed the point. “And where we are is good enough?”
“No,” she sighed. He tensed, every muscle in his body screaming to run from the balcony.
“Where we are is exactly where I want to be.”
Oh. Oh. Well, hell. It wasn’t a declaration of love, but it was as close as he was going to get.
“Your mom’s pot roast was pretty good.”
She hummed. “Is that why most of it wound up in your napkin?”
“Don’t tell her,” he pleaded. She neither agreed nor disagreed, just led him back inside, where her mother sat on the couch, shifting her eyes between a baseball game and a book that Andy recognized as one of Sharon’s favorite trashy novels.
“I’m going to bed,” Mary said. “You kids don’t stay up too late, and I’ll see you at breakfast?”
She stared at him as she asked the question. Breakfast? He was shocked into silence until Sharon jabbed an elbow into his ribs. “Yeah,” he agreed. “I make a mean frittata.”
“Good.” Mary looked far too satisfied for Andy’s comfort. “Sleep tight.”
“Love you, Mom,” Sharon called out as Mary disappeared down the hall.
Would it be too forward of him to say he loved her too?
Chapter 3: Prologue
“Mike hates you,” he whispered.
Sharon’s fork was halfway to her mouth, Willie Rae’s green bean casserole ready to slip off and land with a splat on her plate. “He what?” she hissed.
Andy shouldn’t get such a kick out of teasing her, but he couldn’t help himself. He was well aware of how much the Chief resented Sharon’s presence, and Provenza had told him - more than once, and in great detail - about how much he also hated the Wicked Witch of the 5th Floor.
Even Andy had his moments where he’d happily shove her off a cliff. Those moments were few and far between these days, but missing Christmas Eve dinner with his kids, even if it wasn’t exactly her fault…well, he couldn’t blame the team for being pissed. Even if he had far more satisfying post-Christmas plans that were most definitely still on. His bag was packed and nestled in the trunk of his Crown Vic, ready for a long weekend of snow and skiing and Sharon getting tipsy on her mother’s overly potent egg nog.
No, he couldn’t blame the rest of the team for being pissed, because they wouldn’t be spending the next four days sleeping next to Sharon Raydor. But Mike Tao, of all people, announcing to the Murder Room that he hated Sharon …well, it was funny. Maybe not to her, but it sure as hell was to him. Mike didn’t hate anyone, except help desk peons who took too long to answer the phone and didn’t respond well to the words “I have a warrant.”
“Oh yeah,” he continued, trying to hide his amusement as her face fell. “Told us and everything. Hates you and your ski trip and your Happy New Years.”
“Lieutenant Mike Tao? The same Mike Tao who came to me for help on LAPD policy and regulations before his lieutenant’s exam? That Mike Tao?”
“DId he look like that?” Andy pointed at Tao, his cheeks blushing enough to match his Hawaiian shirt. Tao never could handle more than a single glass of wine, and with Provenza pouring, he was on his third at least. “If that’s the guy, then yeah. He hates you.”
“Another glass, Captain?” Provenza interrupted, waving a bottle of the Chief’s favorite Merlot.
“No. No, thank you, Lieutenant, I believe I’ve had enough.” She pushed away from the table and disappeared from the Murder Room, the ominous sound of her heels echoing against empty hallways sending an involuntary shiver down Andy’s spine.
In the 20 years they’d known each other, he’d lost count of how many times he’d told her that people hated her. At first, it was a desperate attempt to rattle her. Then, as they got to know - and very grudgingly like - each other, it was just a way to tease her. Once they began sleeping together, he’d tell her that Captain West or Detective Ross hated her, then spin a lengthy, and mostly fictional, tale of how he’d defended the honor of the poor, defenseless head of FID.
Apparently it was only funny when it was people she didn’t like so much either.
“What’s her problem?” Provenza asked.
Andy shrugged. “Probably you? I dunno. I’ll go find out.”
She’d go to one of a few places - her office, the bathroom to hide out in a stall until she regained her composure, or the third floor break room where the IT Bureau commander hid the fancy chocolates from Bottega Louie that Sharon liked so much. He took a chance and settled himself against the wall opposite the women’s restroom.
Andy was just about to give up and go on a search of the mostly deserted PAB corridors when he heard the splash of water running. He had to hand it to his girl - even when she only escaped to the bathroom to hide from his team, she still wouldn’t walk out without washing her hands.
“He doesn’t really hate you,” he said as she emerged, causing her to jump at let loose a little gasp. Normally, he’d be proud at evoking that sort of reaction from her, but normally, he got that reaction by using his tongue for far more satisfying pursuits than shooting off his mouth and hurting her feelings. “He’s just annoyed that his plans got ruined.”
“Oh, well, he has my deepest sympathies,” she snapped. “Lord knows I had nothing better to do with my Christmas than ruin Mike Tao’s vacation.”
Shit. He was gonna have to grovel for this one. “Hey, hey, babe,” he whispered as he pulled her into his arms, one hand rubbing her ramrod-straight spine, “we’re all a little on edge today. Didn’t you tell me you hoped the Chief chokes on her fried okra?”
Sharon sniffled, relaxing just enough in his embrace to bring a grin to Andy’s face. “I didn’t mean it.”
“Neither did he,” Andy reassured her. “Give it a week, and we’ll all forget what a shitty Christmas we’re having.” He kept up the pressure on her spine, pressing into the ever-present knots she carried until she relaxed fully against him.
“You’d better take it back about your shitty Christmas, or I’m not letting you on that flight with me tomorrow.”
“Bullshit. Even if you don’t want me there, your mother loves me.”
“My mother is a sucker for a pretty face,” she muttered into his neck.
Andy leaned back and tipped up her chin, waiting until her eyes met his. “That makes two of us,” he said before leaning down to brush his lips against hers.
“Captain,” Tao said, his head popping out from the doorway to Major Crimes, “Your phone was ringing so I answered….” he trailed off as he processed the scene in front of him. “Oh. You’re busy. I’ll just, uh…” He dropped the phone on one of the benches lining the hallway and disappeared back into the Murder Room.
“Great,” she muttered. “Just great.” She pulled away from Andy and retrieved her phone. “Hi, baby. Did you have a merry Christmas?”
One of her kids, Andy guessed. Emily, given that she wasn’t immediately answering the third degree about where she was, who she was with, and what she was doing. He brushed past her, stopping long enough to drop a kiss on her temple, and left her to her call with her family.
The most elite squad in the LAPD had no problems getting in Andy’s business, but it never failed to amuse him that they never, not once, noticed that he had more than a passing acquaintance with their nemesis from FID. Not a single member of the squad batted an eyelash when he said it was getting late, and he’d see the Captain home.
Except Tao. Andy didn’t think he could get redder in the face, but damn if Tao didn’t surprise him when he helped Sharon into her jacket and picked up her purse. He rested a hand on Sharon’s back, pushing her with a little more force than necessary toward the elevators.
“I’m going to get fired,” she sighed. “All these years of being careful, and I’m going to get fired because Lieutenant Tao had to miss out on his trip to Hawaii.”
“If he makes trouble, I’ll beat him up. Same as I’ve beat up anyone else who’s looked at you funny.”
She snorted. “Yes, because that’s exactly what I need. Investigating intra-department violence instigated by my own careless disregard for ethics. Andy, you do know how to make me feel better. What would I do without you?”
He didn’t even want to consider possible answers to that question. He just wanted to get her home, curl up next to her, and breathe her in until he had to wake up and drive them to the airport to catch their flight to Salt Lake City. He jabbed the button for the elevator again, impatient to get her out of this building and away from the dark cloud that he’d unwittingly brought down on her.
When the elevator dinged and the doors opened, he guided her in, pulling her close as he pushed the button for the lobby. The doors were almost closed when a hand stopped them. As they slid open, Andy sighed. Of course.
Sharon stiffened again and pulled away, but the damage was already done. He kept a firm grip on her waist. “Tao,” he said.
“I, uh, was heading home.”
“No shit,” Andy agreed. “Well, come on. We don’t have all night.”
The three of them stared at the display, watching the numbers tick down from 9 to L. Tao ignored them; Andy ignored him; Sharon shrunk further into herself as if she could disappear on the spot.
When the doors opened, Tao made a beeline for the PAB entrance. He threw open the door, then stopped and caught it before it could slam in Sharon’s face. Holding it open with one hand, he gestured with his other. “Captain.”
“Lieutenant,” she acknowledged. She swept past him with as much dignity as she could muster.
“Thanks,” Andy muttered under his breath. The three walked in silence to the parking garage. And wasn’t it just his luck that Tao had parked next to him this morning. Tao waited for Sharon to open the passenger door of Andy’s Crown Vic, but before she could shut it, he rested his hand against the frame.
“Captain, do you remember when I was taking my LT exam and I asked you for help on policy and procedure?”
She nodded, a little hesitant. “Yes, Lieutenant. I remember very well.”
“I didn’t think it mattered much at the time, but I do recall that there are specific rules about fraternization within the LAPD, and I’m pretty sure that all of them refer to officers within the same chain of command. Anything else…I don’t think that falls under the rules of unethical conduct. So it doesn’t need to be reported, or ever discussed again.”
“I believe you’re right, Lieutenant.”
“Of course I’m right,” Tao said. “I had the foremost expert on LAPD policy teaching me. You enjoy the rest of your holidays, Captain.” With that, he closed the passenger door.
Andy waited until the taillights of Tao’s car disappeared around the corner, then got into the driver’s seat. “Still mad at me?” he asked, reaching out to twine his fingers with hers.
“Always. Take me home, Andy.”
He brought her hand up, kissing it gently before letting it settle on the console between them. “Yes, ma’am.”
The first night she spent in her condo, boxes piled upon boxes in every room, she remembered breathing a sigh of relief that it was all hers. Gone were the rooms where she’d fought with Jack, gone was the bedset they’d bought from a shady furniture store on La Brea when they’d first moved to LA. The walls were freshly painted, the locks were freshly changed, and she was the only person who’d leave an imprint on these walls.
And then...Andy. A month after she’d bought the place, Bill Croelick had reared his ugly head, and she’d called him into her office for an informal interview to check up on him.
Offered to take him for a sandwich that night, because even after she reassured him that he wasn’t in trouble, she was still afraid that he’d go out and find the nearest scumbag to beat out his troubles, or the nearest bar to drown his regrets. He’d been so silent in the car that she was afraid to say a word to him. And then after dinner, he'd been so...Andy...that she was afraid to let him go. She’d let him sleep his temper off on her brand-new couch and try and talk some sense into him in the morning.
He hadn’t slept on the couch, and in the morning, she had better things to do than to talk to him. Things she needed to confess to her priest, and possibly her mother, but definitely not things she needed to discuss with the ranking officers of the LAPD.
She wrote the rules on fraternization, after all, and she was well aware she hadn’t broken any rules.
The more time she spent with the Major Crimes squad, the more she realized the rules were getting blurred. She could rationalize a one-night stand, but three years of Andy showing up at her doorstep were a little harder to justify. Even more so when he called her in the middle of the day, just to say hello and tell her that he was thinking of her. Naked, yes, but he was thinking of her.
Somehow, she’d gotten so tangled up in his life that she forgot that he had no place in hers. And now he was here, flicking on the lights in her condo and dropping his keys – his keys that he used to unlock her door – in the glass bowl on the console table in the entryway. He hung his jacket on the hook she always left empty for him, right next to the hook that held his Dodgers ballcap.
You should just leave it here. My condo is so close to the stadium. And he had.
He made his way into the kitchen, pulling down two mugs and setting the kettle on the stove to boil, because he knew that she preferred her chamomile tea from a steaming kettle rather than from the microwave. While he waited for the water to boil, Andy swept a few errant crumbs from the toast he’d made for them that morning into the sink, then opened her refrigerator to pull out a few containers of yogurt and a bag of baby carrots to tuck into a bag for tomorrow’s flight. Yogurt he’d bought, and carrots he’d teased her about. Baby carrots are just overpriced chopped-up carrots. You know that right?
She wasn’t sure when he’d stopped showing up for sex and started coming home for the night, but she couldn’t deny it at this point. Whether she liked it or not, Andy had left his mark on her home.
He finished pouring boiling water over the teabags, then set the kettle back on the stove. On the back burner, because he knew full well that she was afraid of waking up to a fire because she was careless about leaving the kettle on a hot burner. When he looked up, holding out her favorite mug, his brow furrowed.
“Not even gonna take off your shoes?” he asked.
What? She looked down at her feet, still encased in her favorite Brooks Brothers snakeskin heels. Usually, when they got home, he’d head to the kitchen and she’d kick her shoes into the hall closet, replacing them for her Uggs in cooler weather and socks in warmer. Usually, she’d be settled on the couch, waiting for him to bring tea while she flicked through channels to find something they both liked. Usually, she wasn’t so rattled by the idea that he was here, and he wasn’t going anywhere, and tomorrow he’d be there with her parents and her children.
“What are we doing?”
Andy looked back at her, his brows rising. “Drinking tea? Then going to bed? I think?”
“Do you?” she asked. “Think?”
He stiffened, tightening his fingers around the handle of his mug so that the bones showed through in his knuckles. “No, no, no,” she said, in no mood to revisit their earlier argument, “I mean think about what we’re doing. Why are you here? Why is there an extra suit in my closet? Why are you coming to Park City with me tomorrow?”
“Because you asked?”
She did ask, she had to give him that. “But do you want to be here? Putting your clothes in my closet and coming on a family vacation with my parents and children?”
“I’m here, aren’t I?”
It reminded her of her one and only premarital counseling session with Father Ferebee, when he said that the right answer to “Do you love me?” wasn’t “I married you, didn’t I?” She wished she’d paid more attention then, but she wasn’t going to make the same mistake now. “Do you want to be?”
“Sharon,” he said with a sigh. “We have to get up at 5am tomorrow. If you want to hash something out, fine, but at least tell me what we’re going to fight about.”
“I’m not fighting, I’m asking,” she said, ignoring the snort that indicated that the two were one and the same. “Andy, do you want to be here? With me? Or is this just convenient?”
He put his mug down and pulled her into his arms. “Lady, you are many things, but convenient isn’t one of them.”
It was her turn to snort, and she pushed at him, now ready to start the fight that had been brewing all day. “Uh uh,” he said, “you don’t get away that easily.”
Andy locked his fingers behind her back, forcing her to abandon her own mug rather than dump it down his chest. “I want to be here. With you. I want to spend the night with you. I want to spend the rest of what’s left of this partially shitty Christmas with you. And your family, but mostly with you.”
Why? She wanted to ask. Why her? Why now? Why not someone younger, someone without kids, someone who was still flexible enough to fuck him on a desk and not have a sore back the next day? Someone who didn’t look in the mirror each morning and see her mother staring back at her? “You could do better, you know.”
“Not from where I’m standing.” He leaned in and nuzzled at her hair. Not quite a kiss, but she could still feel his breath against her skin. “Hell of a thing. Met this woman, and she drives me crazy. Most of the time I think she hates me, but damn if I’m not completely in love with her.”
Love. Love? Love. He’d never said that to her before. To be fair, she’d never said it to him either. Never even thought it about him, but once the word was out there, she couldn’t stop her thoughts from skittering up to it. Touching it and running away like a timid schoolgirl, then tiptoeing back to admire its warm glow. Love.
Love was anger and resentment, and a drained joint bank account, for as long as she could remember. Love was Jack coming and going as he pleased, always expecting her to be waiting, but never bothering to tell her where he’d been. Love was a gold band on her finger for as long as it was necessary to scare the men of the LAPD into leaving her alone, then dropped into a drawer and forgotten.
Love was once wanting someone to be there when she came home at night. Andy was that. Love was nights of frantic fucking against the wall, and other nights of slow, languid strokes while they whispered and laughed, and other nights where they fell into bed, too tired for anything other than reaching out to grasp hands before they fell asleep. Andy was those things too. Love was getting up early to make coffee, stronger than she preferred, but she knew he liked it potent enough to burn a hole in his insides.
Love was him being a complete idiot, and knowing it, and doing his best to make it up to her, because he’d rather shoot himself than intentionally hurt her.
“Love,” she whispered. “Does that mean that you and I are an actual relationship?”
“I hope so. Your parents think we are. Ricky definitely thinks we are. And do you think I leave my expensive suits in every woman’s closet that I’m banging?”
She snickered. “And how many women are you banging, Andy Flynn?”
“Just one. I hope. Tonight, before we have to go to sleep because she’s making me get up at the ass-crack of dawn to drive us to the airport.”
“I don’t want to make you do anything,” she pressed. She wanted him here because he wanted to be here with her.
“You’re not,” Andy reassured her. He gripped her shoulders and turned her, giving her a gentle shove down the pristine walls of her pristine condo, down to the bedroom that she’d never shared with anyone but him. “But I wouldn’t say no if you want to suggest some things.”
Oh, she had a suggestion or two. Her fingers came up to tease at the buttons of her blouse, and she didn’t miss his quick intake of breath as she made short work of shedding it. “I suggest you take me into that room, and finish undressing me, and make me forget that Mike Tao hates me. Then you should make me forget and that I should have thought a little bit harder about certain lieutenants when I wrote the policies about fraternization,” she stopped, stumbling into him enough to send his head rebounding off her pristine walls. She caught his groan in her mouth, nipping at his lips until his pout gave way to eager exploration of her lips, her neck, her ears. “And then, maybe then, I’ll tell you that I love you too.”