I’m thrilled to be part of the 12 Days of Christmakw
anzaka Blog Hop! Be sure to stop by the other stories–there have been some really great ones this week!
BTW, after the story, I have some news and the link to a giveaway.
When Julia and Alyssa invited me, I instantly knew I wanted to write about a surreal moment I experienced last December, when I was on my way to a party where I would dress like this:
Yep, that’s me dressed as Mrs. Claus. With that clue and a caveat that I’m a happily married woman, I’ll leave it up to you to separate fact from fiction in this little story. Tell me any theories you have in the comments! And I hope you enjoy this short, free read!
Vic shoved open the door to the Railroad Cafe.
“Extra large coffee.”
“Sure thing, officer.” The barista gave him a cup to fill from the array of pump pots. She didn’t ring him up, so he dropped two bucks into her tip jar.
He chose his usual, the extra-dark roast. The rich coffee steam smelled damn good, but it didn’t change the fact he hated this shift—watching a stop sign on a busy residential street.
This time of year, drivers assumed the department was trying to close a gap in their budget, which just made them more pissed off to get fined. He’d spent years patrolling the streets of Fallujah, watching Iraqi women and children grasp at normal lives. Compared to that life and death shit, being an expensive nuisance to drivers felt like a waste of everyone’s time. But it was his job until a position opened up on the SWAT team, and the coffee was better here than on base.
The second he dropped behind the wheel, a car rolled past the stop sign. Silver sedan, a little body damage. From the driver’s long hair, probably a female. He flipped on the flashers and rounded the corner, accelerating fast to catch up with the vehicle.
Her bumper sticker read, Make Love Not War, with peace signs for Os like something out of the sixties.
Dated, maybe, but he’d been to war, and he had no beef with the slogan.
He beeped his siren once and she pulled over fast.
At the driver’s window, dark hair with pink streaks greeted him. Also big hazel eyes, a little stud in her nose. The kind of girl he’d stared at hungrily across the high school cafeteria, but who didn’t fly with his clean-cut ROTC buddies. She rolled down the window and the scent of candy canes hit him. Boxes of them were stacked in her passenger seat, like she was a pink-haired elf on a special delivery.
“License and registration please.”
She already had them out and her hand shook. Tattooed barbed wire circled her pale, narrow wrist, and her arm was covered in goosebumps. Was she afraid of him? He’d hated that in Iraq. She squinted up at him, her eyes glassy. Maybe she was high. He wanted to look at her pretty face until he figured it out, but instead he took the papers back to the patrol car.
He ran her through the computer. Amelia Scola. Spotless record.
Still…she’d rolled through that stop sign…
Back at her car, he passed her documents through the open window, briefly glimpsing her neon pink bra through a sheer white tee-shirt. At the thought of those small breasts bare, his mouth went dry. What was it about this girl?
“Ma’am, are you aware you failed to make a complete stop at the last intersection?”
“Did I?” She blew out a breath. “Molly told me not to drive.” Like the glassy surface of her eyes had melted, tears began to pool in her lids.
Please don’t. “Why’s that?”
She sniffed, her tears spilling.
Shit. His own eyes began to prickle. Last time this happened, when that dog owner started blubbering, Vic’s partner had given him hell for it. Just his luck, he’d turned into one of those sympathetic criers, like his mom. Thank God for sunglasses.
“No need to cry, ma’am. I just asked a question.”
“I’m sorry. God, this is embarrassing. I have a killer migraine. But I have to get to work. I’ve never gotten a ticket—” She wiped her nose with the back of her hand.
A migraine. That explained her glassy eyes.
The tears building behind his own eyes finally escaped down his cheeks. He brushed them away with a silent prayer she hadn’t seen. But her eyes widened enough to convince him she had.
“You get migraines a lot?”
“Just sometimes.” She sniffed again, not a feminine sound, and yet intimate. It made him want to know her better, hear the other little sounds she made—of joy, or surprise. If only he’d met her five minutes ago, back in the coffee shop—before the traffic violation and the damn crying. “It started to get better, and I really have to get to work.”
“What’s so important that you have to go in sick?”
“I have to—” She hiccuped. “I have to dress up as Mrs. Claus at a party for foster kids.”
“Yeah, right. Mrs. Claus doesn’t have a nose piercing.”
“It comes out. And see.” She pointed her thumb toward the back seat, where a white-fur-trimmed red dress hung.
Well, shit. Miss Make Love Not War worked with foster kids? No way was he writing her a ticket. And not just because he couldn’t help but think of getting her naked on top of all that red velvet and fake fur.
He rapped his knuckles on the top of her car. “Ma’am, I’m going to send you off with a warning–this citation would have set you back more than three-hundred dollars.”
“Thank you.” She brushed away a tear from her cheek, and the damp trails of his own suddenly felt cold.
“Just doing my job.” And in that job he was strictly forbidden to ask out women when he pulled them over for traffic violations. Not that it mattered—what kind of woman would go out with a cop who cried instead of writing her a ticket?
“Really, thanks a million.” She smiled at him, her mask of fear and pain transformed—she was so captivating he could only nod and walk away.
Behind the wheel, watching her drive off, her sudden smile seemed all wrong. Had she really had a headache? Fuck. Probably not.
And no way was little tattooed-and-pierced Amelia Scola dressing up as Mrs. Claus. She’d seen his tears and made him for a sucker, and he’d swallowed her line about foster kids hook, line, and sinker.
Two Days Later
“It’s totally him.” Amelia leaned close to Molly and whispered to her friend.
Blue eyes, impossibly long lashes, and he’d cried in sympathy of her Mrs. Claus predicament. She hadn’t stopped thinking about him, even though cops were so not her type. She’d been arrested enough times in her wayward youth to have major residual fear of that species of men. Except him.
“That’s officer cry baby?” Molly took a sip of her hard cider, eyes trained across the room. “Way hotter than I pictured.”
He sat at a booth, surrounded by other guys who had the rumpled look of off duty cops. The Philosopher’s Club was Amelia and Molly’s local drinking hole. Their buddy tended the dive’s bar, full of community college students and the blue collar folks who eked a living in this far corner of San Francisco. The cops and firefighters usually hung out one block up at Portal’s Tavern, but PT’s had a sign up that said closed until New Year’s Eve.
Amelia took a swig of her vodka gimlet, hoping it would cool the flush in her cheeks.
Officer Lopez sat straight and stoic as the other guys laughed, one of them even punching his shoulder. Maybe it was the light, but his high cheekbones looked a little pink, too.
The urge to thank him overwhelmed her. “I’m going over there.”
“To a table full of cops? Gi-rrrr-lll.” Molly shook her head with disbelief, drawing the word out into three syllables.
Determined, Amelia ducked under a sagging strand of Christmas lights. But halfway to his booth, her memories came back—the half-dozen times she’d been arrested for shop lifting, loitering, petty things any kid living on the street had to do. There’d been nice cops, but she mostly remembered the ones who’d threatened or propositioned her. Mid-stride she lost her nerve and detoured, hiding behind a partition to rethink her plan.
The other cops spoke loudly, perfectly audible from her new location. They were razzing Lopez about something…An old lady who’d tripped on the curb…An effeminate man who’d lost his dog…
Both times he’d cried in sympathy, and these guys weren’t going to cut him a break about it.
With no thought but to spare Lopez, she marched toward the cops acting just like the macho pricks she expected them to be. Recognition transformed his impassive features, and his bright blue eyes burned with anger.
At her? Maybe he’d seen her record and regretted letting her go. She faltered but forced her feet forward. All that stuff was sealed tight since she’d been a minor. “Hi.”
“I don’t have anything to say to you.”
Ouch. Maybe he was another macho prick after all. She should spin right around and return to Molly, but something about his fiery, pissed-off stare held her. She didn’t want to be afraid.
The men seated around him shifted, raked their gazes over her. Assholes.
“I can think of lots to say to her,” one volunteered.
“She,” Amelia said, “doesn’t want to hear it from you.”
“Go away, Ms. Scola,” Lopez growled.
Her skin broke out in goosebumps. He remembered her name.
“So now you’re hard as nails?” asked one of the cops, who jabbed him in the ribs. “Just tremble your lower lip, sugar. He’ll buy you a drink.”
Her handsome cop scowled, and she took a step back, ready to retreat.
“I’ll buy her a drink if Vic won’t,” said another cop.
She opened her mouth to refuse, but Officer Lopez said it first. “No.”
He vaulted himself over the table in one blurry movement, took firm hold of her elbow, and steered her toward the bar. If only it was to buy her a drink, and not to keep her from adding another story to their case against him.
“How was the party?” he growled.
“Uh?” Weird question. “My head pounded the whole time, but otherwise it was fine.”
“Give me a break. We both know you made that up to get out of a ticket.”
“Excuse me?” She grabbed her phone, calling up the pictures as proof. When she found one capturing an adorable pair of girls seated on her lap, she handed it over.
He sucked his cheeks in a little as he contemplated the picture. After a long moment, he said, “I thought for sure you’d fed me a bullshit story.”
“Geez. Suspicious much. You saw my costume.”
“Yeah. But you don’t exactly seem like the baking cookies type.”
She crossed her arms. “Hey. I can pre-heat the oven and slice store-bought cookie dough as well as anybody.”
He cracked a smile, like she’d hoped he would. “I guess I’m a little defensive about…” He shrugged and averted his gaze. “You know…the guys think I’m a softie.”
Her belly fluttered. He was so big and hot and freaking adorable. “Those guys seem like assholes.”
“They’re all right. Just being cops.”
“I don’t like cops much.”
“Not usually, I mean.” On him, it was totally working for her. She reached up and smoothed the collar on his flannel shirt. His shoulders fell a little, relaxing under the touch. “See, I wasn’t always a good girl.”
“Are you one now?” One brow cocked over his blue eyes, stoking some hidden fire inside her.
“Mostly. Though I have my naughty moments.”
“I certainly hope so.” He clasped her wrists.
The gesture could have freaked her out from some other guy, but with him, it felt safe, good.
“And I wouldn’t worry about being a softie, Officer Lopez. From where I’m standing you’re hard in all the important places. Although, obviously I’d have to step closer, to be absolutely sure.”
He nodded gravely. “Well, we want you to be sure.” His big hands came around her waist, pulling her close enough to whisper in her ear. “You know, the other day, I was sorry we’d met like that, and not some other place.”
A rare sort of hopeful excitement bubbled up in her. “Yeah? Why?”
“So I could do this.” His mouth brushed hers. Soft, careful lips. So much control.
She inched closer, pressing into him, opening her mouth to his tongue, and her heart to this one cop whom she wanted to know a lot better.
Want to play a Romance scavenger hunt?
Want to see me in my pajamas?
Want to hear the Rev. Amber Belldene Rx for how to get over a break up? Come play!
I’m participating in a fun author video scavenger hunt this month. It’s hosted by Rachel at the RayKayBooks blog. You can find an explanation here, with links to all the videos and giveaway, including the chance to have a secondary character in one of my books named after you.