The first time Emma went to Reilly's Diner & Coffee Shop, it was a matter of business. She was tracking a bail jumper who she believed had gone back to his old stomping grounds. She tracked him down to Hell's Kitchen and found a place where she could keep an eye on his old brownstone without calling too much attention to herself. The pretty girl behind the counter said she could stay as long as she wanted so long as she ordered something, so Emma told her to keep the coffees coming.
There were never a lot of customers, but they had a steady stream of people coming through the doors. It was just a narrow shotgun of a shop, the counter along one wall with a row of stools at the counter. The girl and an older man Emma pegged as the girl's father moved like a well-oiled machine to keep things humming. At one point Emma offered to move if she was taking up valuable space, but the girl told her she was fine.
She drained her third cup and gestured for the girl, who came over to apologize. "Just put on a fresh pot. It'll be a minute."
"No problem." Emma looked down at her mug and thought. It was November, and she hadn't had her traditional drink yet. "Actually, do you have hot chocolate?"
"Sure. You want a cup?"
"Yeah. Could you sprinkle some cinnamon on it?"
The girl paused, then her smile widened. "I haven't tried that. Sounds amazing. I might join you."
"Well, I don't drink with people whose names I don't know."
They shared the drink, and Jenny declared it was a perfect winter drink. Emma gave her blessing to use it. "But I want a cut of the profits if you add it to the menu."
"Mm-mm," Jenny said. "No, this is your drink. Thank you for sharing it with me, Emma."
Emma grinned and looked out the window, resuming her surveillance for her target.
The bail jumper, a bookie named Walt, finally showed up on the fourth day of surveillance. By then Emma had come to like the quaint little diner. She could hear the swish and tumble of machines through the wall shared with the laundromat, and the thunk-whirr of the heating coming on was as familiar to her as it was to Jenny. Other patrons still looked toward the vent when it happened, but Jenny never stopped what she was doing and Emma realized she wasn't reacting to it either.
She grabbed Walt and dragged his ass back up to Boston. She got her reward, went back to work, and mostly forgot about New York. A few weeks passed before she had another case that took her all the way to Philly. She saw a sign pointing her toward New York and, with nothing else drawing her back to Boston, she made a decision.
Jenny glanced up as Emma entered ninety minutes later, her face lighting up with a surprised smile. "Hey. Thought you'd disappeared."
"I did. I'm back now." She sat on the stool she had come to think of as hers and folded her hands in front of her. Jenny brought over a menu, but Emma waved her off. "No, I gave you my drink so now it's your turn. What do you recommend?"
Jenny thought for a second, then took back the menu and went to the grill. Ten minutes later Emma was eating the best hamburger and thickest-cut fries she'd ever had. She lingered another hour in the diner after she finished eating, knowing full well that the longer she spent the later it would be when she finally got home. But the warm dinner and intoxicating laughter of the girl behind the bar made it worthwhile.
After that Emma took jobs that required out of state travel. She swung up to New Hampshire, down to Maryland. She was spending more time on the road than ever, dragging reluctant criminals back to Boston in the backseat of her car. And whenever possible, she made sure she stopped in Hell's Kitchen for a bite to eat and quick conversation.
The dance had been going on for about seven months when Emma walked in and found Jenny's father behind the counter. She tried not to look disappointed as she settled on the stool. "Hi, Mr. Reilly. Where's Jenny?"
"She wasn't feelin' too well today, sweetheart. She'll be upset that she missed you."
Emma ordered her usual, but she didn't enjoy it as much. She was sure that Mr. Reilly's skills were comparable to his daughter, but it wasn't just the food that kept her coming back time and again. She paid her bill with a nice tip, then left the diner and walked slowly back to her car. She sat for a while and watched the cars driving past. The drive back to Boston had never seemed longer. So she drummed her thumbs on the steering wheel, sighed, and drove to a nearby hotel that looked cheap but not dangerously so.
In the shower she thought about why she had been so disappointed. What had been the draw? Some conversation with a funny, smart woman? Was she so desperate for the company of someone who wasn't a criminal or a cop that she would drive an eight mile round trip just to have a burger at a particular diner? After her third trip, she calculated the price of the burger plus gas and time lost. The burgers cost more than if she had filet mignon every night of the week, but she didn't care.
She tossed and turned all night, trying to make sense of her recent insanity. When the sun rose the next morning she dressed in yesterday's clothes since she hadn't bothered to pack anything, and went back to Reilly's. Jenny was out on the sidewalk, spraying away leaves and trash, the detritus that gathered during the night. She wore a T-shirt and jeans with a woven sweater, the collar of which was wide enough to flip up over her head as a hood if necessary.
Emma watched from the corner until Jenny looked up and locked onto her, staring a challenge that revealed she'd known Emma was there for a while but had been waiting for the other woman to make the first step. Emma sighed, hunched her shoulders, and crossed the street.
"Hey. You feeling better?"
"Yeah." She watched the water sweep away crooked and half-blackened cigarettes. "I was... I dunno. Just a stomach bug or something. Figured it was better safe than sorry."
Emma shrugged. "Yeah. It's not like you knew I was coming or anything."
Jenny kept her eyes on the sidewalk. Then she looked up and immediately looked away from Emma. "Okay... look. It's nothing personal and it's nothing you did, but I just didn't feel like seeing you last night."
Emma's eyes widened. "Oh. That's..." She forced a laugh. "You're under no obligation to serve me. I just thought we got along pretty well, that's all."
"We do. And I love hearing your stories, but last night..." She sighed and stopped spraying. "I have a husband who disappeared without a trace a few weeks back and I can't bring myself to believe he'll walk back in the door. The first couple of days, sure, maybe he's sleeping off a drunk somewhere. But it's been weeks. And everyone is so supportive and calm that I know they know something they aren't telling me."
She took a deep breath and looked at her shoes. Emma looked, too. They were black and white sneakers with wide floppy laces. The cuff of her jeans fell across the top of them and Emma for some reason found that adorable.
"I grew up in this neighborhood. This building, in that same apartment where I watched your little yellow bug coming down the street last night. And I hid. I told Dad to lie. Because I was embarrassed to talk to you. When I was a kid, I was a tomboy. I ran around with these four brothers and their pal Joey. And I still see those five knuckleheads. Pretty much every day, I see 'em. I wake up in the same room, and I walk down the same stairs, and I do the same job I had when I was ten. Do you have any idea what it's like to have your whole life planned out for you by the time you're old enough to tie your shoes?"
Emma's eyes were wet. "No. I was found by the side of the road when I was a baby. I never found my birth parents. I never... had anything planned for me. You're complaining about security? You think it's a bad thing to know how your life is going to shape up? I would have killed for that when I was a kid. And the reason I keep coming back here is because it's reliable." She hadn't realized until she said it that she was speaking the truth. "I can count on you. On this place. It's a constant, and I don't have a lot of those in my life. So I'm sorry if talking to me makes you feel bad. I'll... find something else. I'm good at that. I'm real damn good at it."
She turned to walk away, moving quickly so she would be safely in her car when the tears started. She barely made it to the corner before Jenny grabbed her elbow. "Wait."
Emma was spun around and forced to face Jenny. Emotions flickered across Jenny's face; guilt for causing the pain she saw in Emma's face, frustration because she didn't know how to fix it, desperation to do anything she could to make it right.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Emma."
She leaned in and kissed Emma's cheeks. Emma ducked her head, trying to pull away, but then she twisted her head and pressed her lips hard against Jenny's. Jenny tensed but didn't retreat, and Emma used her tongue to probe gently against Jenny's bottom lip. The kiss lasted a handful of rapid heartbeats before Jenny lightly pulled away and took a step back. She swept her hair away from her face and behind her ears, her chin ducked as she rapidly looked up and down the street for witnesses. Luckily it was still too early for most people to be out.
"I'm not sorry," Emma said. "If you tell me not to do it again, I won't. But I'm not sorry. Because I've wanted to do that since the second time I saw you."
Jenny's eyes were wide, wild, and she had two fingers against her bottom lip. "You have?"
Emma chuckled softly. "Well, if you have to ask that..."
Jenny straightened her sweater, hooked her thumb on the large top button, and then gestured back toward the diner with her shoulder. "Come on. We shouldn't be having this conversation in the middle of the street like this."
"The walls have ears?"
"Everything's got ears."
She turned and walked back to the diner, giving Emma little choice but to follow. Her father was in the office and Jenny asked him to cover the morning rush for her. He acknowledged without looking up, so he didn't see Emma following his daughter up the narrow flight of stairs to the bedroom. Jenny held the door open for her and, once she was through, shut the door and twisted the lock. Jenny put her hands on her hips, businesslike as she composed what she had to say. She finally met Emma's eyes.
"I've never been with a woman before. Never even kissed one before."
"I have," Emma said.
Jenny nodded as if this was to be expected. "If you kissed me again..."
"...I wouldn't stop you."
Emma smiled and stepped forward. Jenny brought her hands up, hooking them on Emma's bent elbows, and leaned forward slightly to meet her kiss. Emma gripped Jenny's forearms and they stood together like partners in an awkward new dance. Emma turned her head and her lips pulled away from Jenny's.
"Just like kissing a guy."
"No. It's not." Jenny kissed her with passion and, this time, it was her tongue that came forth first. They stepped closer together, their arms slipping past sweater and leather to embrace each other. Jenny exhaled sharply and seemed suddenly possessed with a desire to get Emma out of her jacket. They stepped away from each other and began attacking zippers and buttons, Emma's red leather jacket tossed aside first. Jenny hunched her shoulders and pulled her arms up and out of her sleeves so that her sweater could fall to the ground.
"C'mere." Emma pulled Jenny to her and they danced toward the bed. Jenny's tongue was a tentative explorer, and Emma let it move across her bottom lip and teeth before meeting it with her own. Jenny was tracing arcane symbols on Emma's bare upper arms, then moving up to the straps of her tank top.
Emma broke the kiss and looked into Jenny's eyes. A question was asked without speaking, and the answer was given just as silently. Emma eased Jenny down onto the bed and knelt in front of her. She eased the sneakers off and put them aside carefully, not wanting to alert her father by dropping them. She ran her hands under the cuffs of Jenny's jeans, cupping the back of her ankle just above the curve of her heel, and pulled down first one sock, then the other. She brought it to her lips and kissed the big toe as she peeled off the other sock.
"Oh, Jesus," Jenny said.
Emma couldn't help but smile. "These aren't even the dangerous curves."
"I know... sorry..."
"It's okay." She lowered Jenny's foot and sat up between her knees. She put her hands around Jenny, fingers crossing in the small of her back, and she pulled her forward to the edge of the bed. Emma put her hands flat on Jenny's body, brushing the strip of skin between her jeans and T-shirt, and unbuttoned the pants. She slipped her fingers through the first two belt loops and looked up into Jenny's eyes.
Jenny flattened her palms on the mattress and pushed herself back. The jeans skimmed down her long legs, and she bent her knees to pull her feet free. Emma dropped them to one side and crawled up, moving into the space between Jenny's bent knees as Jenny sat up and kissed her again. Jenny put a hand on the back of Emma's neck and leaned back, pulling Emma down on top of her. Emma gripped Jenny's bare thigh with her hand, moving the other one under Jenny's shirt to tease her flat stomach.
Jenny ran her hands down Emma's side, pausing with every descending movement to pull Emma's white tank top just a little higher. When it was tucked under her arms, Emma sat up and pulled it off, gasping as Jenny took the opportunity to kiss Emma's breasts. Emma gripped Jenny's hair with both hands, looking down to watch as her tongue ran along the curve of one breast and into the valley between them.
"God, I don't know what I'm doing," Jenny whispered against the flushed skin of Emma's upper chest.
"You seem to be doing okay to me..."
Jenny looked up. "Y-you said you've done this before..."
"Thank God." Jenny closed her eyes and swallowed, then shook her head. "I, uh, I just didn't want to ruin your first."
Emma smiled and angled Jenny's head up. They kissed and Emma reached back to unclasp her bra. Jenny pulled it away, suddenly eager, and sucked in a breath when she saw Emma's breasts. There was a moment of pause, a hesitation in Jenny's eyes where the moment could have gone either way. Jenny could have suddenly realized what was really happening and retreat, or she could surrender to the inevitable. She wet her lips and whispered Emma's name.
Bracing herself, Emma whispered, "Yes, Jenny?"
"No, I'm-- I'm just saying your name." She leaned in and kissed Emma's breast, then took the nipple into her mouth. Emma grunted and held Jenny's head, pressing forward. She put her thigh against the crotch of Jenny's underwear, and Jenny lifted her hips to grind down against her. Her tongue circled Emma's nipple and Emma whispered encouragement as she rocked her hips forward.
Emma reached down and tugged on Jenny's shirt. Jenny leaned back and lifted both arms so Emma could lift it and toss it, Jenny's hair collapsing around her head like waves. She flipped her chin to get the hair out of her eyes just before Emma descended and kissed her hard. Jenny fell back and pulled Emma with her, fingers curled so that the nails were like needle tips on Emma's shoulders.
Emma got Jenny out of her bra and moved down to kiss her breasts. Jenny went rigid on the bed under her, hands flat against the headboard as she stretched her toes toward the opposite wall. Emma licked and sucked her breasts, undoing her belt and pushing her own jeans down. She shifted her weight from one knees to the other and kicked the tangled denim away, raising her head only when they were gone. She put her leg over Jenny's, sank down onto her thigh, and pressed forward.
"Oh, God. Emma..."
"It's okay. Just let me, okay?"
Jenny nodded, her face bright red and eyes wide as Emma's face hovered in the air over her. Emma found a comfortable position, her hand on the wall above Jenny's. Emma lowered her head and kissed high on Jenny's cheek. Beads of sweat shone on Jenny's cheek and Emma smudged them with her lips. She spoke in a husky whisper, her eyes closed as she brushed her lips over the shell of Jenny's ear.
"Put your hands on my hips, Jenny. Just rest them there... gently... barely touching."
Jenny did as she was told. Emma could feel her fingers trembling.
"I want you to guide me. As fast or as slow as you want."
Jenny's grip tightened slightly and she pulled Emma to her. Emma's thigh was pressed tight against the crotch of Jenny's underwear, the material wet enough that it spread to Emma's skin. Jenny pushed Emma away, then pulled her back close with a desperate gasp. Emma kissed her way up to Jenny's eyebrow.
The bed squeaked beneath them, swaying with their movements. Jenny quickly began to move faster, digging her heel into the mattress so that she was pressing her thigh hard against Emma's sex. Emma kissed Jenny's temple.
"You're going to make me come, Jenny Reilly..."
Jenny groaned and moved her hands toward each other and then down, cupping Emma's ass. Emma pushed down and their bodies seemed to clench against each other. Emma threw her head back and Jenny kissed the column of her throat, her lips parted and her tongue flat against the thrumming pulse point. Despite the warning, Jenny came first, dragging her nails up from Emma's ass to the small of her back. The mixture of pleasure and pain dropped Emma off the edge and she clutched Jenny's shoulders as she came.
Jenny collapsed and Emma settled on top of her, twisting her body so their sensitive spots weren't aggravating each other. She cupped Jenny's small breast and kissed her neck, and Jenny whimpered with desire and exhaustion. She turned her head, her cheeks and throat still painted pink, and she accepted Emma's kiss with weary eagerness.
Emma's nose brushed against Jenny's and she smiled. "I think I have a new reason for coming to New York."
Emma kissed her again. "How long will your dad cover for you?"
"I got another hour at least."
Emma rolled on top of Jenny and began kissing her way down her body. "Good. Because there are a couple of other things I think you need to know..."
Jenny closed her eyes and prepared to learn.
Two Year Later
Emma made sure Henry was dozing before she took out her cell phone. She hated people who texted while driving, but she didn't want to risk waking Henry up by pulling over. She kept her eyes mostly on the road as she typed the message without looking, glancing down when she was done to make sure auto-correct hadn't screwed her. She fixed the misspellings and then looked over at the boy sleeping in the seat beside her. It shouldn't take too long to get him back to Maine and talk to his mother. She would be back in Boston before Jenny could even notice she was gone. But still, just in case... she felt better letting her know she might be out of touch for a while.
Jenny read the text message while sitting on the top step, staring down into the Firecracker's basement. That much blood... maybe a butcher's shop could explain it. Maybe they had been holding something for a butcher or--
She rubbed her face. She was lying to herself, and the sooner she admitted what she was looking at the easier it would be for everyone. She closed her phone and stuck it into her back pocket before she went to fill a bucket of soapy water. She had to clean it up. It was a compulsion. She would clean it up, and then she would deal with whatever the Donnellys were involved with.
Maybe it was better that Emma might not be coming back around for a while. Jenny had a feeling things were about to get hectic.