Lane shoved his hands in his pockets, hooking his thumbs on the outside. "To celebrate your coming back to work. Because you're not dead. Because Daisy wants to see you. Take your pick, really."
Parker narrowed her eyes. Flicked her pen back and forth. A part of her wondered what the catch was. Did he need to butter her up to get some evidence for a case? No. No way in hell after that whole cluster. Not even as a joke. Maybe, instead, he was trying to chip away at those favors he owed her. Regardless, her little red flag monogrammed with Victor Lane's initials shot to the top of its pole.
But what came out of her mouth was, "I'm allergic to tree nuts."
"Not a problem." She hated how sharp his jaw looked when he smiled.
"How about 7:00?"
"7:00 it is."
And 7:00 it was. Daisy attacked her with a hug as soon as she walked through the door. Lane had rolled up his sleeves, not even wearing a tie. After a moment of chit-chat - mostly Daisy recounting her day at school and explaining her hierarchy of crayon colors - they all sat down to a plate of... Well, Lane told her what it was called, but after two bites in, she completely forgot. Some kind of pasta with a green sauce.
"This one won't eat anything green unless it looks like it crawled out of a nuclear plant," said Lane, nodding to Daisy.
"By that logic, you should love pistachio ice cream! I don't get it!"
Bottom line: it was delicious. And the three of them sat at the table for about another hour after everyone stopped eating. Her hand kept landing on Lane's arm whenever Daisy said something funny. But really, that was his fault for keeping his arm within range anyway.
The dishes made their way into the sink, and the group made their way into the living room for a Mousetrap tournament. Parker had terrible luck in the first two games, and by the third, Daisy drooped against Lane with heavy eyes.
"I think it's time for somebody to go to bed," he murmured into her hair.
Daisy groaned. "Five more minutes."
"I thought you wanted to go to the park tomorrow. Don't you wanna get a good night's sleep?"
Her eyes opened a little at that, and she rolled herself off the couch.
Parker opened her arms for a hug, which Daisy gladly accepted.
"G'night, Daisy. I had so much fun." Her voice dropped to a stage whisper. "But I'm expecting a rematch. I almost had you there!"
Daisy giggled. "'Night, Lily."
"Okay. Go get your pajamas on." Lane patted her on the back, and she wobbled down the far hallway.
The silence she left behind was so comfortable, Parker didn't even realize just how much until Lane broke it.
"Now that it's just us, can I offer you a drink?"
She looked up at him to answer, but something inside her tugged on a thread. She knew Lane. That was a clear fact. She knew Lawyer Lane. She knew Smarmy Guy at the Bar Lane. She knew Crime Scene Lane. And she knew Father Lane. But the Lane before her - leaning against the couch with his dumb exposed arms she touched at least twice - he was all of those personas and none of them at the same time. She had only seen that once before, and...
Well, she had been very sad and very drunk. That didn't count.
This felt like new territory, even though it absolutely wasn't. Still, with her deep well of Victor Lane knowledge, she assumed she could handle it. Hell, she'd done a pretty good job of handling Lane for the past year they'd known each other. So she half-rolled her shoulders in a little shrug and said, "I wouldn't say no to a sip of bourbon."
"You read my mind."
He ducked into his office where he kept the drinks cart. Meanwhile, she started pulling the mess of plastic pieces off the game board to put back in the box. For all the things that changed since she was a kid, Mousetrap still looked pretty much the same.
"Oh, don't even bother," Lane said, now carrying two glasses. "She'll want to play again in the morning, and it's such a headache anyway."
"Girl's got her priorities straight," Parker hummed, taking one of the glasses and clinking the other. "Cheers."
His bourbon still went down the buttery, slow release she remembered.
"Daddy! I'm ready!"
"Wow. That was just a sip."
Lane chuckled, securing his drink on a coaster. "I'll just be a minute."
Parker nodded, watching him disappear down the hall. It took all of ten seconds for her curiosity to get the better of her, and she trotted after him.
Keeping a polite distance from the open door, she spotted Daisy tucked into her fluffy pink bed with Lane leaning over her.
"You need your fan on?"
"Okay. I love you."
"I love you, too. I like it when Lily comes over."
"Yeah. I like it, too." He kissed her forehead. "Now get some sleep."
Daisy closed her eyes, snuggling deeper into her pillow.
Lane caught Parker's gaze as he rose to his feet - not that she really tried to hide it. Her cheeks began to ache from smiling at the damn cuteness of it all. Where normally Lane would throw her a dry smirk, he simply maintained that soft grin and expertly shut the door so the latch barely made a sound.
"Daisy's got a good dad."
"Is that so? I should meet the guy. Send him some flowers. Or maybe a fruit basket."
Parker stifled a giggle.
"Aw, damn. The dishes. I almost forgot." He marched right past the living room into the kitchen. Threw a dishtowel over his shoulder. Wedged the plug into the drain and turned on the water.
Oh, no, he didn't. Parker slid up beside him and yanked the towel off.
"What are you doing?"
"Helping you with the dishes? What does it look like?"
"Lily, you're a guest."
"Oh, please. It'll be faster if I help."
"But you don't have to."
"Well, let me put it another way. I am not just going to stand here and watch you wash dishes. I need something to do." She slapped the towel into her palm like a whip to prove her point.
Lane just chuckled, low and warm, apparently given up. "I wash, you dry?"
"Since we're here."
He handed her the saucepan that simmered on the stove when she first arrived. That same deceptively comfortable silence crept back in while they worked. At least for a minute or two.
"So..." The pitch of his voice curved, like he couldn't figure out how to start the next topic. "How's Andrew?"
Ah. And with good reason. With a breath, Parker focused intently on scrubbing the plate with her towel. Soaking up all the little water droplets. A weight sank slowly into her chest.
"Fine, all things considered. I went to go see him yesterday."
"I didn't hear what the sentence ended up being."
"Three years." She swallowed. Scratched at a bump on the plate with her fingernail. "I told him I could try and put in a good word with the DA. But he said he'd ride it out. You missed a spot."
Lane dug the sponge into it over her shoulder. She wiped the new soap off and stacked it.
"Okay. One nosy question deserves another."
"I don't think that's the phrase," Lane smirked.
"How'd you learn to cook like this?"
"Is that a genuine question?"
"Yes! You're not a gourmet but you're a wide step from typical bachelor cuisine. And you just don't seem the type." Although the sleeves certainly helped the image. (Jesus, Parker, stop thinking about his goddamn arms.)
Lane stared into the middle distance as he ran clean water over the next plate.
"Honestly, it was the first year after Rose." Anyone but her wouldn't even notice how he struggled to put a period on that sentence. "Had a lot of free time since I couldn't work, so I made myself useful. Plus, a toddler in the produce section is unbelievably fun."
Parker hummed a content little noise. "I'll take your word for it." She ran the towel along a plate's rim and stacked it. "Is that the last one?"
"Yep. We're good to go." Lane pulled up the drain plug, and the soapy water gurgled and swirled down into nothing. Meanwhile, he snatched back the towel and blotted his hands.
She snorted as soon as he looked at her. It came on so fast, she couldn't even attempt to hold it back.
"You've, uh...got some suds behind your ear," she said through a toothy smile, miming the location on herself.
Lane rubbed the side of his neck that mirrored her. "Right here?"
"No, other side. Here--" Taking half a step closer, Parker reached up and swiped at the little cluster of bubbles. With her thumb. Right under his ear. Where she could feel his pulse. And only when it was too late did she realize this may not be the smartest decision.
Lane's eyes shifted in a way she didn't recognize. Or maybe she did but just didn't want to put a name to it. Were either of them still breathing? When did they stop breathing? She crossed something. She made a mistake. Jesus.
She moved to pull her hand away - to pull her whole body away - but he caught her wrist before she could. He was a large man, so naturally his hands dwarfed her own. Fingertips slightly dry from the dishwater, but not unpleasantly so.
Lane's eyes shifted again, softening like butter on a hot day. Staring right into hers. Unapologetically. She forced herself to take a breath, but it came through shaky and shallow.
"Lily..." he started, but it drifted off so naturally as if her name was a complete thought. His thumb brushed against the back of her hand. "God, I...it took you almost dying for me to realize how much I need you. How pathetic is that?"
Something swelled in her chest. Something fluttery and solid at the same time. And not that she didn't suspect before, but it finally hit over her head what this moment was.
This was him crossing it. That fence she built between them. Or maybe it was her crossing it. Or maybe they were both tearing it down together, piece by piece, splinter by splinter. Or maybe they had been slowly tearing it down over the past few months and this was the final stake in the ground. She just didn't realize how easy it was to remove.
Parker swallowed, mouth dry.
"Just as pathetic as I am." Her breath carried only a wisp of voice, but it rang like a clock tower between them. The very limited space between them, mind you. Her free hand twitched when she realized the very air she breathed was, in actuality, his.
"Oh, Jesus, just--"
Lily Parker never claimed to be a patient woman. Not once in her life. And here was this man - this infuriating, sharp, generous, and yes, she admitted it, attractive man - confessing to the same realization she had...
Waking up from the shock of the bullet, all she wanted was Victor's voice in her ear. His shoulder underneath her palm.
She didn't allow herself to wait any longer. She grabbed the back of his neck, pushed up on her toes (she had to, he was so damn tall), and kissed him.
Lane responded immediately, slotting their mouths against each other like a two-part lock. His hands anchored onto her hips. Her tongue brushed his bottom teeth.
Without even thinking, Parker unzipped her jacket and let it fall on the tile with a low rustle. Her hands shot up again and carded roughly through his hair, breaking up whatever rich boy product he used to slick it back. That triggered a moan - from him - and it vibrated her mouth in such a way it almost tickled, and she had to moan right back to keep herself from laughing.
They were a lot. Make no mistake, each of them was already a lot separately. But together, they were so much more of a lot. An electricity brewed between them, winding around and around in the generator with no place to go in a hurry. Crackling, buzzing, heaving. Or maybe that was Parker's own breath picking up a decent pace.
On the next inhale, Lane's hands snaked up and across her back, folding her into him. Their kiss had yet to completely break. Parker thought she could feel a small leaf of cilantro stuck in his teeth. Which, weirdly, only turned her on more.
But in one swoop, he hoisted her up to sit on the counter, and she lost purchase on his mouth in transit. So she allowed herself to open her eyes.
The clean and collected Victor Lane was quickly coming undone - both figuratively and literally as she grabbed at the hem of his shirt. A lock of black hair toppled deliciously across his brow, and his eyes...Jesus, his eyes. The blue darkened into an intense, stormy gray focused on her and only her.
Feeling she was a secure on the counter - by way of his hands just grazing the edge of her bottom and sending sparks underneath the fabric of her jeans - he scrambled for the buttons at the top of his shirt. After a charged moment, their hands met in the middle. His hands burned her in the best way. She pushed the shirt off his shoulders, and he tugged it the rest of the way down his arms.
"Wow..." Now, there were a lot of things she could say about Victor Lane's naked torso. Namely, he wasn't obscenely muscular, but still had no business being that muscular as a lawyer. And the distance across his shoulders made her want to run track for the first time since junior high. But what she chose to say what, "Your neck is really long."
Lane kind of froze, and if it wasn't for his smile and still stormy eyes, she would have thought she killed the mood.
"What?" he wheezed.
"I mean, your collars are always up to here, and with the tie and everything...!"
"Thank you for not mentioning that in the mud bath. That would have really bruised my ego."
The thought of that dumb mud bath brought on a new slew of electric thoughts, and she spread her legs enough for Lane's hips to fit solidly against her. (He had those indents in his hips, and she could have just killed him for it.) They kissed again. She reached up and mapped the expanse of his back. He sucked her bottom lip and her leg twitched like he pressed a secret button.
"Let's examine your neck while we're at it, shall we?" he murmured against her skin, against the curve of her jaw.
"Oh God, I'm never gonna live that down, am I?"
"Hm mm." His voice vibrated against her again, and her nails scraped back up his scalp.
Lips and tongue exploring, he found another of her buttons - the place on the column of her throat that made her head tilt back. Not to mention the pathetic little whine that came along with it. Her hollow, her collarbone, down to the neckline of her tank top and the small crease of exposed cleavage. As soon as he touched it, she bunched up the fabric and pulled it over her head without a word. Every inch of her skin burned, singed under that current of electricity. Ready to be touched by his hands. His mouth. His everything.
Screw the fence.
But when she pushed her ponytail back over her shoulder and refocused, Lane stood terribly still. The storm in his eyes cooled and focused on...her bra? No. His hand - still blazing warm - gently stroked across her stomach. She looked down.
The bandage. The bandage covering her scar. A couple more days and she wouldn't need it anymore, and there would only be the scar. The scar that proved she'd taken a bullet for him. If she wasn't a cop, she might roll her eyes at the cliché.
She looked back up. Sandwiched his now shaking hand with her own, the other cupping his cheek.
"Victor. I'm okay. I'm right here."
His gaze snapped up like she'd broken some spell on him. Then he combed the flyaways back from her face and kissed her. Just as electric, but different this time. Tender and urgent all at once. He was just a constant mix of so many things, it made her dizzy. Or maybe that was the weight leaning against her hips.
"Where won't she hear us?" she whispered into the shell of his ear.
A heavy breath. Then, "My office."
"You gonna have your way with me on your big important desk?"
"Something like that."
"Go get a condom. I'll meet you there."