“Did you finish it?” Carrington leaned out of the bathroom into the hall, ruffling his hair dry.
Erasmus poured his second cup of coffee. He was almost awake enough for guessing games. “Finish what, Mr. Cryptic?”
“The Cabal one? I did. Yesterday at lunch.” Erasmus frowned as he checked the fridge and counted blood packets. “Is your shipment coming soon? You’re almost out.”
An offended sniff came from the bedroom—one of actual offense, not the kind where Carr was kidding. “You could have said. I was looking forward to discussing.”
Erasmus choked on a laugh. “Would that have been before you ambushed me with octopus hands when I came through the door or while you were dragging me down onto the carpet because you wanted to be, and I quote, filthy and do it right in the vestibule?”
“We had all evening!”
“You fell asleep.”
Carr strode out of the bedroom, uniform pressed and polished, and Erasmus couldn’t help a soft, lust-filled sigh. He did love the tight fit of that uniform and it both warmed him and frustrated him to get to see Carr in it first thing most mornings. He still hadn’t moved in, though that was a formality at this point. When Carr worked day shift, they stayed at his place where Erasmus could walk to work and when his vampire worked nights, Erasmus went back to his place since their schedules didn’t align at all those days.
“Terribly sorry about that. I guess I was more exhausted than I realized. Inconsiderate purse snatchers running off into the sunlight.”
“Weatherman says clouds all day today.” Erasmus stole a soft kiss. “And at least the days are getting shorter. I did enjoy the book. Didn’t know how to feel about necromancer humor but it was perfect. A very dry kind of funny. We’ll have to pick up the next one. And you didn’t answer the question.”
“Shipment’s scheduled tomorrow. In plenty of time, my dear.” Carrington used the reflective front of the fridge to straighten his already straight tie. “I do wish I could take the day off with you. Maybe I should call in sick.”
“You don’t get sick and if you called in sunstroked, you’d be lying and feel rotten about it all day. You wouldn’t be any fun at all.”
“Damn you and your inevitable good sense.” Carr ruined his sulk with that adorable unsure grin, the one with just a flash of fang. “Will you be here later?”
“I’m not draping myself across your sofa to watch reality TV and languishing until you return.” Erasmus slipped an arm around Carr’s waist and hurried on before the spark of hurt in his vampire’s eyes could catch. “I’ll come back when you’re on your way home. Meeting my moms for lunch. Getting some errands in. I do have a life.”
“You’re a dreadful minion.”
Erasmus put his hands to his cheeks in an exaggerated gasp. “I thought you were the minion.”
Carr threw a balled-up napkin at him, scowling, though his eyes laughed. He grabbed his hat and his insulated lunch bag, swooped in for a kiss that curled Erasmus’s toes, and gave a cheeky salute as he left the condo. “I’ll see you tonight.”
“Have a good day! Be safe!”
He said it every time Carr went off to work and every time it gave him a little shiver. Be safe. The wish of every spouse and partner of every police officer who had ever lived and Erasmus knew enough by now to realize it meant I love you, come back to me whole and healthy. Most days, nothing dangerous happened. But it only took one bad day…
Best not to think those things. It only invited trouble.
* * * *
“How’s your head?” Amanda asked as she took the Sixth Street exit off the Vine Street Expressway.
“Surprisingly well this morning.” Carrington couldn’t help the bit of smug that crept in.
“Yeah? You looked like you were headed for a bad night after you tackled that dude. In the sun. After running three blocks. In the sun.”
“I ate and slept well. Perhaps I’m becoming more acclimated these days.”
Amanda’s sideways glance was quick and sharp. “And you got laid.”
“Certainly none of your business and I don’t see how you would know. Or how that would be of any help with the sun.” Carrington turned over an uncomfortable thought. “You don’t know, do you? Manda, you can’t see—”
She cut him off with a laugh. “Nah. I’d have to be at your place and really concentrating hard. It’d be way more info than I’d ever want. You’re just more, you know, perky and shit the next day.”
Carrington huffed. “I am not perky. Dreadful choice of words. Though I do wonder if sex mitigates the effects of sun exposure.”
“Guess you’d have to run tests.” Amanda snickered when he swatted at her. “Sorry. I’m ragging on you too hard today. Carr?”
“It’s good to see you happy.”
Not at all the sentence he’d expected. Carrington snapped his mouth shut, unable to process a quick answer, and when nothing clever or sarcastic presented itself, he murmured, “Thank you.”
She gave him an awkward pat once she’d parked in the station’s lot, obviously out of words as well. Quite all right—they understood each other and Amanda wasn’t the best with, as she said, mushy stuff.
The majority of the squad had already arrived that morning, a trend that had become more prevalent. Vance chatted in animated fashion with Shira about what he’d done with his kids that weekend. Someone had made Audacity a paper airplane to bat around, but Tim had been eyeing it. The game had become one of the kitten snatching the airplane up and racing off with it while Tim pursued in his paper ball house. Every time he caught up, she dashed off again.
Krisk lifted his huge foot to let them both race under his desk, most of his attention on his screen. Carrington didn’t envy him the email cleanup after his extended hospital stay. Wolf related something to Eva and LJ that required a lot of complex gesticulation.
For a moment, Carrington allowed himself to lean in the doorway and observe, an unfamiliar sense of pride warming the space around his heart.
“Taking in the view?” Kyle stopped near him on his way in.
“Having a moment, I suppose.” Carrington swallowed against a sudden lump in his throat. “Two years ago, half of them didn’t like the other half. Everyone resented being here. They straggled in barely on time. Complained about everything. Now look at them.”
“They grow up so fast.” Kyle let out a tragic sigh, though his eyes twinkled. “I know what you mean. Believe me. I guess shared trauma goes a long way.”
“Hmm. I’m certain that’s a good portion of it. Where’s Kash?”
“His turn for the coffee run. He’ll be here in a couple.” Adorable how Kyle’s features lit up with such a simple mention of his husband. There were certainly more cheerful reasons than shared trauma for the increased harmony in the squad room.
Carrington made his way through the desks, careful to step around Audacity and over Tim. She’d decided the game was over and now stood on her hind legs with the paper airplane in her teeth, trying to place it atop Tim’s house. Peeping encouragement, Tim leaned out and helped by patting the airplane flat with his fuzzy head and adding it to his construction.
“Hey, Carr!” Greg called from across the room. “Your mom’s on line one!”
“Why does that sound like the beginning to a terrible joke?” Carrington set his lunch bag on the desk and stared at the blinking light on his office phone. “Did you tell her I’m not in yet?”
Greg shifted uncomfortably. “I’m not gonna lie for you. I told her you just walked in.”
Carrington glanced around the squad room to determine if anyone might be a willing ally, but Jeff caught on before he could say a word. “Talk to your mother, Carr, or I’m getting on the phone and telling her you’re avoiding her.”
“Abandoned and friendless. I see how it is.” Carrington sighed as he sank into his desk chair.
“Drama queen,” Amanda muttered.
“Ice-hearted prol,” he shot back, then took a deep breath before he picked up the phone. “Mom? A bit on the early side to be calling the station. All’s well, I trust?”
“Carrington.” She huffed and he cringed to hear himself in her mannerisms. “I wanted to catch you before you went driving about.”
Yes. That’s what I do. Drive aimlessly around the city. He hoped the eye roll didn’t bleed into his voice, though Amanda snickered. “Oh, yes? How can I assist?”
As she explained in that I have spoken, there will be no debate voice, Carrington’s optimistic energy drained from him. “I certainly hope I can depend on your help with arrangements.”
“That’s…” Carrington began, trying to buy himself a moment while his morning brain tried to parse this sentence. Of all the things she could have possibly said, he would never have predicted that. “Probably something you should clear with the lieutenant, don’t you think?”
“Don’t be silly. You’re right there.”
“I’ll present your proposal but I won’t make promises.” Carrington cringed as he snapped a pencil in half. “Will that suffice, Mother dear?”
“It’s far too early for that tone, Carrington. Let me know what Mia says.”
Carrington hung up and slumped in his chair, staring at the ceiling.
“You okay?” Amanda peered around their monitors.
“Never better. I’ve always wanted to play go-between for my mother and Lieutenant Dunfee.”
Amanda withdrew, her voice muffled as she said, “I’m not laughing. Nope.”
“Hush, you,” Carrington muttered.
His partner’s teasing didn’t bother him. His family, on the other hand, most assuredly did. They made him so tired, his controlling mother, his emotionally detached father and his idiot brother. To be fair, Mom had her moments and she did worry about Carrington in her own way. Her priorities just tended to be skewed.
Carrington spent roll call worrying over how to start the conversation with the lieutenant and when everyone scattered to start the day, he decided to dive in with both feet and hope there was water in the pool.
“Ma’am? Would you have a moment?”
Lieutenant Dunfee’s stare could have stripped paint from a suspension bridge but her words weren’t quite as harsh as he feared. “What is it you can’t bring up in front of the squad, Loveless? Tell me you haven’t screwed up again.”
“No, ma’am. It’s nothing to do with investigations.” He hesitated, fighting against foot scuffing. “My mother called this morning…”
“Gods preserve us,” Lieutenant Dunfee muttered. “My office.”
When they’d entered the office and closed the door, he forced himself to sit straight in the chair in front of her desk rather than curl into the ball of mortification he would’ve preferred.
“Apologies in advance, ma’am, for any irritation or inconvenience.”
“Spit it out, Loveless. The suspense is already getting on my last nerve.”
“Yes, ma’am. Mother has gotten it into her head that we—the Seventy-Seventh—should have an open house of sorts. Not really an open house, since it would be by invitation, but an event where our, ah, benefactors could come for a meet and greet luncheon sort of thing.”
“You mean to see how we spent their money.”
Carrington shrank despite himself. “I don’t think I can deny that. Apparently, Dr. Hayes had mentioned something about visiting the station the last time he and my mother had lunch. She took the thought and ran off with it. I realize it was years ago, ma’am, but we did have help…”
She waved him off with an aggravated snort. “I haven’t forgotten. Damn right we owe some of the old money in this city. Irritating to have our workspace invaded but saying no would be flat out stupid. And might cost you an ear, if I know your mother.”
“Probably. Possibly half my face, as well.”
“I know she didn’t come to you without a date.” Lieutenant Dunfee turned to her screen, presumably to pull up calendars. “When does Helen want this?”
Carrington consulted the little notebook from his shirt pocket. “She mentioned the thirteenth.”
Lieutenant Dunfee’s eyebrows drew together. “Valbuena’s due for his visit that week. Though having brass in from State is probably more good than bad.”
“As if we’d specially invited the elite in just for his benefit,” Carrington murmured.
“Don’t get smart. Richard will be in his element. Charming the local royalty.”
“Mmm.” Carrington choked down all the smartass things he wanted to say about Valbuena. Not that he hated the captain with the forge of a thousand suns as he hated some of the vamps at State. No. Valbuena wasn’t so bad and was a serious, competent detective. He was still dreadfully high-handed and full of himself.
“Tell her the date works and I trust her to make any arrangements she sees fit. But—”
“You are a law enforcement officer, not a damn party planner, and she’d better remember it.”
“I’ll be abundantly clear, ma’am.”
“Out. Get to work. Stop bringing me complications.”
“Ma’am.” Carrington touched the illusory brim of a nonexistent hat in salute and fled.
All things considered, not the worst meeting he’d ever had with Lieutenant Dunfee.