Cuff me, p.18

Cuff Me, page 18

 

Cuff Me
 


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  “What if the other person is aware of them—but is just scared to death,” he challenged.

  “Why would she—or he—be scared?” Jill said as they both scrambled to hold on to the illusion that they were still talking about the case.

  He searched her face. “Maybe because that person isn’t quite as open—or in touch—with her feelings as she’d like to believe.”

  Jill’s eyes narrowed. “So you’re saying that all of these people who act like Lenora Birch is a robot are incorrect? Lying to themselves?”

  “I’m saying that maybe they tell themselves that she was cold and unfeeling because they can’t face their own fear that maybe she was just unfeeling toward them.”

  Jill leaned back in her chair, taking a sip of margarita. “If Lenora felt strongly about anyone, she didn’t show it.”

  He leaned back as well, mimicking her easy posture, even as his body was held rigid with tension. “Perhaps she tried. Perhaps they missed it.”

  Jill licked her lips, but whatever she was about to say next was interrupted by the return of their server asking if they wanted another round.

  “Actually, we were just on our way to dinner,” Vincent said before Jill could reply.

  She snapped her mouth shut but waited until after the server walked away to get their bill before asking, “Dinner?”

  He pulled his wallet out of his back pocket. “Got the name of a place from Marco. Great food, buzzing atmosphere, but not annoyingly trendy.”

  Jill didn’t even try to contain her excitement. “Any chance of celebrity sightings?”

  He smiled. He knew she was going to ask that. “Marco said it’s not out of the question.”

  Jill slapped at the table and made a little squeal of excitement.

  “Okay, but first to the hotel,” she said, still drumming her fingers against the table and all but bouncing in her chair.

  “Why?” he asked, handing the server his credit card the moment she came back to the table.

  Jill gave him an exasperated look and plucked at the white blouse that was her standard “interrogation” uniform. “Um, to change. Obviously.”

  Vin rolled his eyes toward the orange and red California sky. Obviously.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

  It was unfair, really, just how exceptional the Moretti gene pool was. A fact Jill sometimes forgot, given one was her partner, one was her best friend, and the others were like brothers.

  But seeing Marco Moretti for the first time in years, Jill had to admit that it was one damn fine-looking family.

  Vincent’s brother had the same dark hair as the rest of them, and brown eyes like Vin and Anthony, rather than the blue of Luc and Elena. And while there was certainly no mistaking that all the brothers, well, were brothers, they each had own unique appeal going on.

  Anthony was the stoic, serious one. Classic tall, dark, and handsome.

  Luc was the charming heartthrob. Quick with a smile and a wink.

  Vin had the gruff, rough edges of a bad boy, which was played up significantly by the ever-present leather jacket.

  And Marco… Jill tilted her head as she studied him over her glass of delicious pinot grigio… Marco was the reliable one. The one you’d want as the bodyguard or your emergency contact.

  He was tall—nearly as tall as Anth’s six-four, perhaps—and had the same broad shoulders of his brothers. Clean-shaven jaw, crisp white shirt…

  Marc caught her staring and winked.

  Jill smiled. Apparently Luc wasn’t the only brother quick with a wink.

  They’d been at the restaurant for all of fifteen minutes, and two things were abundantly clear.

  (1) Marc had missed his brother. And vice versa.

  (2) Mandy Breslin absolutely did not deserve Marc—or any Moretti.

  Granted, the woman was beautiful. Exceptionally so. Jill remembered her as being a blonde, but her hair was currently a gorgeous dark chocolate shade that fell in long, shiny layers down to rather perfect boobs. Her waist was tiny, her butt toned and tight, her legs long. She was also one of those women who managed to look perfectly made up, yet not at all. The type that probably spent an hour putting on her makeup in such a way that made it look like she was wearing none.

  Everything about her screamed effortlessly gorgeous.

  “So, Mandy, how are things with you?” Jill asked, once it became abundantly clear that Marc’s girlfriend was wildly bored with Marc and Vin’s nonstop “cop-talk.”

  She glanced up from where she’d been nibbling at the bruschetta on her plate—no bread, mind you, just the tomatoes.

  It was as though she came alive right before Jill’s eyes. The bored, vaguely sulky look disappeared.

  “Really good!” Mandy said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear as she let her eyes go all animated and sparkling. “My agent thinks I’m on the verge of a big break, but I’m trying not to get cocky, you know?”

  Jill had to give the other woman credit; she may not have hit her big break yet, but she was a better actress than the Morettis gave her credit for. She was currently nailing the role of girlish and modest.

  Jill felt Vincent shift in his chair beside her, and she sent him a silent message to bite his tongue.

  “That’s great,” Jill asked. “So how does that work, you just tell him or her the types of roles you’re interested in?”

  “Yup! My agent’s one of the big names, so she’s the first to know about all the prime roles.”

  “Does your next role require you to be a brunette?” Vincent asked, taking a sip of his beer before gesturing to her newly dark hair.

  “Oh, no, I don’t have anything specific lined up. I just got so sick of everyone trying to cast me as the clueless bimbo. Brunettes get taken more seriously. No offense,” she said with a glance at Jill.

  “None taken,” Jill said with a thin smile. She was totally willing to bet that Mandy’s previous platinum shade of blond hadn’t been any more natural than the dark chocolate tresses she was rocking now.

  Mandy leaned forward. “So, have you talked to, like, a ton of famous people on your trip?”

  “Sweetie,” Marc said, resting a hand on the back of Mandy’s chair. “You know they can’t talk about the case.”

  She pouted prettily. “But the case is all over the news. And they wouldn’t have flown all the way to LA if they weren’t interviewing somebody famous.”

  Jill and Vincent were saved from having to evade her question by the server who came to take their dinner order. Truth be told, they sometimes fudged the rules when they were within the Moretti circle of trust. Vincent’s father all but demanded to be kept apprised of updates, as though he were still the police commissioner. And Luc and Anth were part of the force, which meant they were privy to more information than most.

  And Jill was pretty sure that had it not been for the presence of Mandy, they’d probably be filling Marc in. He wasn’t NYPD, but he was a cop. They could trust him.

  But every instinct told Jill that they absolutely, in no way, could trust Mandy Breslin to keep her glossy mouth shut.

  Not that there was anything to report.

  She and Vincent had spent the entire day going from gorgeous mansion to gorgeous mansion. She’d been offered more iced tea and flavored cucumber water than she could stand.

  Every meeting had been a virtual repeat of yesterday’s meeting with James Killroy.

  Yes, I was in New York the night Lenora Birch was killed. No, I didn’t see her. No, didn’t want to see her. No, why would I?

  It was sad, almost. As famous as Lenora Birch had been, she seemed to have virtually no friends. No enemies either.

  The woman seemed to inspire virtually no emotion in the people around her, which was as strange as it was frustrating.

  Vin touched her arm and she glanced up, startled to realize that it was her turn to order and she’d completely zoned out.

  “Oh, sorry!” She glanced down at the menu, completely forgetting what she’d
planned to order.

  The restaurant was one of the New American–cuisine dining places, which offered everything from fancy house-made pasta, to elaborate salads, to squab—whatever that was.

  “I’ll try the butternut squash lasagna,” she said. “And another glass of wine.”

  Mandy was staring at Jill in wonder as the server took their menus. “Oh my gosh, I love that about you!”

  “What?” Jill asked.

  “You didn’t even flinch when ordering carbs!”

  “She’s a homicide detective,” Vincent said irritably. “If she doesn’t flinch at the sight of a decapitated drug dealer, I don’t think pasta’s going to do her in.”

  “Vin,” Marc said mildly.

  “What?”

  Jill patted Vin’s arm. “I’m guessing maybe it’s the decapitation talk your brother’s objecting to.”

  He shrugged, and Marco quickly steered the conversation toward safer topics. The family. The latest movies. Mandy and Marc’s renovation project.

  Even with Mandy’s slightly inane contributions to the conversation, it was, in some ways, the perfect evening.

  The weather was ideal—they’d opted to sit on the heated patio, and there was just the slightest breeze coming off the water. The wine was amazing. The food some of the best she’d ever had.

  But mostly, she was happy because Vincent was happy and relaxed.

  She knew that he was probably frustrated about their lack of progress in the case, as she was, but for once, he seemed to be able to put it aside. To enjoy himself.

  His posture was easy, his smiles more frequent than usual.

  As though sensing her thoughts on him, he glanced at her as Mandy lectured Marc on the differences in tile they’d been selecting for their bathroom remodel and lifted his eyebrows.

  “Okay?” he asked quietly.

  She smiled. “Yeah.”

  “Then you won’t mind if I do this…”

  He reached over and helped himself to a generous portion of her lasagna. Jill watched as he chewed, then glared at her plate. “That is not lasagna.”

  She patted his arm. “Don’t worry. I won’t tell your mother that you liked it.”

  “In that case…”

  He took another bite, which Jill then countered by taking a bite of his braised short ribs, which was decadent and meaty and absolutely amazing.

  “Oh my God,” she muttered, taking another bite, this time washing it down with a sip of his red wine, which as the server had promised was the perfect match for the heavenly dish.

  She caught him watching her and she gave a sheepish smile as she took another sip of his wine. “Sorry, not sorry?”

  His smile was slow and warm, which in turn made her warm, which made her realize…

  She hadn’t thought about Tom. Not once, all day.

  Jill had been perfectly, utterly unaware of her former fiancé.

  Vincent purposefully held her gaze—as though knowing exactly what she was thinking and daring her to look away.

  His smile had faded, but the warmth in his eyes hadn’t. If anything, his gaze heated, and then it dropped to her mouth.

  Before Jill realized what was happening, Vincent’s hand lifted, and with his napkin he wiped gently just below her lip.

  She reared back and he gave a rueful smile. “Red wine.”

  Jill licked at the spot he’d just touched—regretting that it had been with his napkin instead of his finger.

  Her eyes closed in dismay at the realization.

  Because she knew then.

  She wanted Vincent Moretti.

  She’d always wanted him.

  She sucked in a shuddering breath and looked away from him, staring down at her plate.

  Jill started to take another bite of her lasagna, only to realize her appetite had fled, and worse… her hand was shaking.

  She dropped her hands to her lap, and because she couldn’t look at Vin, she lifted her attention to Marc and Mandy, whose argument had finally subsided.

  Marc was watching her, his expression both thoughtful and sympathetic, as though he knew exactly what she was thinking.

  And Jill resisted the urge to howl, because this Moretti—the one who knew her least—seemed to realize in moments what Jill had taken years to acknowledge.

  That Vincent Moretti was more than her partner.

  So much more.

  What Vincent was to her, she didn’t know how to name. Or wasn’t ready to.

  But it didn’t change the fact that she’d been out of a relationship for all of a week.

  No. Out of an engagement.

  She shouldn’t be having these feelings, much less acting on them.

  Jill barely remembered the rest of the meal. She remembered ordering dessert, although that had been more to provoke the small salad, no dressing Mandy than it had been about actual hunger.

  And she only managed a tiny portion. Her stomach was too wound up in knots to manage more than a couple bites of the amazing bananas foster.

  Outside the restaurant, Jill hugged Mandy good-bye with a promise to check out some sitcom where Mandy had six lines as a “prominent guest star.”

  Marco gave Jill a warm hug and kissed her cheek, lingering just long enough to whisper, “You’re good for him.”

  She pulled back and gave him a long look.

  Both of them knew who “him” was, and Jill wasn’t at all sure she and Vincent were good together. They couldn’t even seem to have a straight conversation unless it dealt with a grisly murder.

  Vincent had refused to do valet, which meant that the walk back to their car was long… and quiet.

  Unfortunately for Jill, she hadn’t bothered to check the nighttime temperatures in LA when she’d been packing, and she was learning firsthand that California in late winter wasn’t quite as warm during the evening hours as her short-sleeve shirt would have wished for.

  “Cold?” he asked.

  “Yes.”

  “Want my jacket?” he asked.

  She glanced at him, surprised. In all the years they’d been working together, he’d never offered her his jacket. Held doors for her, put furniture together, even patiently held up artwork for her in her apartment so she could find the precise place to hang it…

  But he’d never offered the jacket.

  Granted, she usually had her own jacket.

  But still, the offer felt personal somehow. And because of that…

  “No, I’m okay,” she said.

  She felt his eyes on her profile.

  He stopped and she stopped with him, holding up a hand as he started to shrug out of his jacket.

  “No, really, it’s okay—”

  He moved closer, pulling his coat around her shoulders, and Jill’s objection scattered because the coat was warm and heavy and familiar.

  She glanced up at him, but he refused to look at her, already walking away, his pace faster than before.

  “If you’re going to be grumpy about it, I don’t want it!” she said, scampering after him.

  He didn’t bother to look back.

  She kept it on, even on the car ride back to their hotel, studying the well-worn sleeves. “Where’d you get this, anyway?” she asked. “You’ve had it as long as I’ve known you.”

  “It was a gift.”

  She rolled her eyes. “Okay. I get it. The talkative mood is gone.”

  It wasn’t until they pulled into the parking lot of their hotel that he spoke again. “My dad bought it for me. A graduation gift from college.”

  She glanced at him. Vincent never talked about college. All of the Morettis had gone—a degree wasn’t necessary to join the NYPD, but Maria Moretti had insisted that all her children attend. She’d told Jill once that she wanted them to know that being a cop was a choice, not a family obligation.

  The Moretti matriarch had wanted her babies to have options.

  And then one by one, her sons had attended college. Graduated. And then promptly entered the police acade
my.

  “Penn State?” she asked, searching her memory for Vin’s alma mater.

  He nodded. “My family came down the weekend of graduation. My mother started squeaking about how I didn’t have anything appropriate to wear under the stupid cap and gown. My dad took me shopping with strict instructions from Mom to get a respectable suit. I saw this jacket and just… wanted it. It was badass, and man did I want to be badass.”

  Jill smiled at the boyish admission.

  “Your dad got it for you?”

  “Not right away.” Vincent pulled into the parking spot. “It was ridiculously expensive. There was no way I was about to ask him for it, and I had exactly zero money of my own.”

  He stopped the car, but neither moved. “I didn’t even realize he saw me looking at it until later that night when my parents gave me my graduation gift.”

  Jill smiled at the sweetness of the memory. Tony Moretti was a gruff, but caring, man—much like Vincent. She was betting the moment was all the sweeter from the awkwardness of it.

  “Well I appreciate you lending me such a beloved item,” she said as they walked into the lobby.

  “Don’t be weird about it,” he muttered.

  Jill smiled.

  Yup. Gruff and caring all right.

  The elevator ride up to their floor was quiet.

  Vin paused outside his room, and Jill shrugged off the coat. She didn’t look up at him as she handed it back.

  But then his fingers touched hers as he accepted it, and her eyes flicked up of their own volition.

  It was a mistake.

  Because whatever was written on his face made her want to lean into him—to toss that coat, beloved or not, to the side and wrap herself around…

  She took a step back and swallowed.

  Tom’s warning went through her head.

  He wants what he can’t have.

  She took another step back.

  “Well, ’night.”

  “’Night,” he said, his voice a little rough.

  She nodded once, and started to move toward her own room next door when he caught her arm.

  Jill froze, even as common sense made its first appearance of the evening and told her for the love of God, walk away.

 
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