“DAAAAD!” KATIE yelled, checking her watch with an exaggerated toe-tapping annoyance Matt knew she got from living with him the past few years. The living room was packed with five Cerelli children, Kent the significant other, plus their extended family, Helena and Shane, and the air had started to get a bit ripe.
“I’m turning on the air-conditioning,” Danny said as he walked by. Matt didn’t try to stop him even as Miranda balked.
“It’s still winter!” Fortunately her boyfriend, Kent, was there to wrap his arms around her with an accompanying coo.
“Too many people in the house, not enough air.” Matt glanced at his reflection on the TV screen—off, for once; he didn’t think it had that setting—one last time.
“Am I taking pictures?” Helena asked, even as her husband, Shane, gently removed the expensive camera from her hands.
They made an interesting couple, Shane in his snazzy tan suit and jade green tie—and a haircut that probably cost $150—and Helena in her dress blues, pin neat and pulled together. Something about the uniform made Matt melancholy, no doubt the tip of the iceberg before a day spent at 1 Police Plaza, in a sea of blue, with waves of memories washing over him.
And now all the water metaphors were making him need to take a piss.
“Daaaaaaaad!” Katie yelled again.
A door slammed overhead; then the clatter of footsteps began. Shane angled himself like a paparazzo at the bottom of the staircase, jostling against Katie like he was jockeying for best position.
It escalated quickly, the neat row of Cerelli children school photos shaking against the wall.
“Oh God, the pictures are going to be blurry,” Miranda huffed from behind them.
The mock fighting stopped as Evan stepped into view—and Matt let a flirty wolf whistle fly. The blush on his boyfriend’s cheeks made it even more worthwhile.
“Wow,” Matt said, low and as sexy as he was capable of making his voice.
Evan smirked as Matt easily pushed his way between Shane and Katie, then closed the distance between them. “Like something you see?” Evan asked quietly.
But not quietly enough, because retching noises began behind them, led by Helena.
As Evan paused on the last step, Matt ignored them all, sweeping an arm around Evan’s middle.
“Whatever dirty thing you’re going to say, shut up,” Evan muttered as he leaned down to kiss Matt on the mouth—quick, fleeting, but sweet enough to make Matt behave.
“Oh, that’s a nice shot. That’s the cover of our Christmas card right there,” Katie said loudly as Elizabeth giggled.
Evan leaned around Matt’s embrace. “Can we start making our way out to the car? We’ll take pictures after the ceremony.”
“Yes, sir!” That was Helena. Then all the kids echoed her sarcastically, even Miranda and Kent.
“They’re not moving, are they?” Matt asked, sneaking his hand down to pinch Evan’s ass under his jacket.
“No,” Evan answered as the corners of his mouth began to twitch.
“I got this.”
Matt moved quickly because he knew Evan knew what he was going to do—Matt wasn’t subtle. Ever.
Matt surged up to plant a wicked kiss on Evan’s mouth—tongue, a bitten lip. It sounded wet and dirty, and from the squeals behind him, it looked it too. The door slammed a few seconds later, the hooting and hollering trailing behind the kids a second after.
Evan pulled away, finally. His mouth looked lush and gorgeous, his eyes were a little unfocused, and a faint hint of perspiration was forming at his hairline.
And at some point, he’d dropped his hat.
“That cleared the room,” Evan said, a tiny bit out of breath.
“We’ll have to remember that after we get back from the ceremony,” Matt said with a smirk, so wicked that Evan shook his head.
“The uniform, right?”
“Well, it helps that you’re wearing it and I’m specifically tuned to want to jump you in any and all clothing.” Matt adopted a solemn expression. “That’s probably a good thing, or this could be an especially uncomfortable ceremony in a room with that much blue polyester.” The joking helped, even if Evan’s face was doing that painfully sympathetic thing.
So Matt kissed him again, bringing one hand up to touch his face gently.
The gesture said, I’m fine.
Evan took a deep breath as he came up for air. He nodded, his gaze never leaving Matt’s face.
That said, I know.
THEY TOOK three vehicles to 1 Police Plaza, Evan checking his watch the entire time. Matt felt validated with his “you kids go in one car, we’ll go in another” being a good call. He knew his boyfriend, and he knew the freaking out hadn’t reached full capacity yet.
“We’re good. We’re early. Calm down,” Matt soothed, following the slow-moving traffic toward the nearest parking garage. Three blocks away and he’d already made a reservation online—not to mention he’d purposely gotten everyone out of the house forty minutes early.
His phone beeped and Evan reached into the center console to read the text.
“Jim is already here,” he read.
Matt put on his blinker and waited for an opening in the traffic to pull into the entrance of the underground parking. A guy in an orange vest across the street was waving at him frantically with his flag.
“I bet you Jim got here an hour ago.”
Evan read the text again, then laughed as he dropped the phone. “Ninety minutes.”
Jim Shea, Matt’s old friend and now security company partner, had made the drive down from Dutchess County to help them celebrate. His fiancé, Griffin, was away in Los Angeles finishing up production on a movie, so Matt and Evan were making sure Jim got fed and watered properly in his absence.
While they weren’t the best of friends, Evan had grown comfortable with Jim’s presence in their lives. And Evan adored Griffin, Jim’s fiancé—who, in turn, adored trying to make Evan sputter in public—and the jealousy he’d felt over Jim and Matt’s one-time affair had dissipated.
“Griffin sent me a very nice e-card with a rude joke in it,” Evan commented as Matt finally put Orange Vest Guy out of his misery and pulled in, followed by the second SUV, driven by Miranda, and then Shane and Helena’s kicky Fiat.
“I would expect nothing else.”
“He also sent a gift with Jim, but apparently I’m not allowed to open it until we’re alone.”
Matt fist-pumped as he parked the car at the bottom of the ramp. “Woo-hoo, sex toys!”
“Oh my God.”
THE ENTRANCE of 1 Police Plaza, predictably, held a slow-moving line to security. Their sprawling group got ID’d and searched eventually, with everyone seeming to have been bitten by the same jittering bug of nerves at the same time. Evan gave each of the family a kiss (except Kent and Shane, though the latter asked nicely) and then dashed to the stage. Matt watched him go with a ridiculous smile on his face.
“Ugh, so gross,” Katie said, dreamy and delighted, as she looped her arm around his.
His favorite Cerelli child on one arm and the two youngest accounted for—Danny shadowing Helena and Shane and Elizabeth stuck to Miranda’s side—Matt led everyone to the auditorium.
Jim was “by the flags” and saving a row; even with the crush of humanity excitedly filling seats, Matt felt confident Jim’s glare would keep interlopers away.
He was right.
In his own Seattle PD dress blues, retired detective Jim Shea cut quite the distinguished figure. Several ladies were checking him out without even bothering to hide it, and at least two rookies tripped on a stripe in the rug walking by.
Matt couldn’t hide his grin when he caught Jim’s attention.
“Hey, Officer Stud. If you had a boom box, everyone would think you were the entertainment,” Matt teased as Jim stood to give him a hug.
“Jackass.” Jim punched him in the arm as they separated. He exchanged pleasantries with the kids, Shane, and Helena; then everyone played musical chairs for the best view.
Shane sat on the end, Katie by his side, as professional photographers for the day. Miranda put Elizabeth on her lap so the petite teen could see over the tall people in front of them, while Danny slouched as he played with his phone.
Matt and Jim sat on the other end, Matt flipping through Jim’s program to find Evan’s name. Two other captains were getting moved up today, and a half-a-dozen speeches were on the agenda as well.
Boring. He might join Danny and disappear into his phone for a while.
A bit of jostling about ten rows ahead caught his eye.
More press than usual for this sort of thing, a fact that most people in attendance wouldn’t realize. Matt gave Jim an elbow to his side, gesturing with a chin raise toward the people setting up cameras and microphones.
“Oh,” Jim said.
They didn’t say anything out loud. Elizabeth and Danny were in earshot, and who knew what gossips were hanging around behind them.
Today was interesting beyond the usual buried picture and a few inches of copy. From today on, an openly gay captain would serve in the NYPD.
“He’s gonna flip,” Jim murmured as Matt sighed, tugging at his tie.
EVAN SECURED his hat backstage, breathing in and out as people flitted around him. They were about to start, and he couldn’t fight the growing sense of worry. He didn’t like being on display, particularly if it meant calling attention to himself for reasons less than important in his mind. A promotion felt good, but Evan felt much more proud of lives saved than shiny squares on his uniform. This was a course of action that would put him in the spotlight—for things not entirely related to his record.
For most captains, that light swung to big cases and political hot topics that might fall into their laps.
The attention would be on Evan for an entirely different reason.
He turned at the sound of his name, coming face to face with a welcome sight: Casper Vaughn, a friend from GOAL—the LGBT police organization—and a bit of relief from the strangers swarming about.
“Casper, hi,” he said, shaking his hand. “What are you doing back here?”
“PR liaison.” Casper gestured toward the badge on the lapel of his expensive navy suit. “I’m moving over to Midtown South.” The smile on his face was wide and grew wider as Evan realized what that meant.
“Thank God,” Evan muttered.
Casper laughed, clapping one hand on his shoulder. “You’ll be fine. I’ll take care of you.”
“Why’d they move you over from…,” Evan started then clamped his mouth closed. Oh, right.
“It’s fine with me. I like the idea of trailblazing our way through Midtown South. You and I are on the front line.”
“Of matinee traffic jams and street closures due to filming,” he said dryly.
Casper, who always looked like he was ready to step in front of a camera, reminded him of an even more polished version of Shane. A Harvard-educated beach bum. Older, broader, but still brimming with charm and direct eye contact that eventually made you want to blush a little. When he winked and leaned in like he was sharing a secret, Evan wasn’t surprised by the intrusion into his personal space.
“With your authoritative presence and my ceaseless sparkle, we are going to make such a great team, they’ll be moving us somewhere better in no time.”
Of course Casper saw that as a good thing. Evan, on the other hand, knew that meant more serious crime, more victims, more intensity, and making statements in the middle of chaos and anger. But he didn’t pop Casper’s balloon just yet.
“I’m counting on you not to let me make a fool of myself,” Evan said with a smile, ducking back a half step. Casper’s aftershave had started to tickle his nose.
“No worries, Evan. I’m going to make you look great.” That wide smile stayed in place, even as Evan heard someone calling in the distance that they were ready to get started.
“Are you coming to the reception afterward with Tony?” Evan asked, readjusting his hat.
A somber veil fell over Casper’s expression. “No. Uh, Tony moved back to Chicago two weeks ago.”
Evan stopped mid-wrinkle-inspection. He’d seen them—last month? At the GOAL fundraising meeting?—and everything seemed fine between Casper and his friendly partner, who worked for an advertising agency in midtown.
“Tony and I split up. I haven’t really told anyone.” Casper looked around, clearly uncomfortable. “It wasn’t pretty,” he said with a grimace. “It’s been eleven years, you know? How do you make that announcement?”
Evan had no clue, because when he’d experienced a breakup like that—breaking up with Matt all those years ago—he’d told no one, not until those horrible few weeks nearly knocked the last bit of life out of him. And then only because his depressive grief threatened to derail his entire life, a fact his friends and his boss at the time couldn’t overlook as he fell apart. Evan just hadn’t been able to hide it anymore.
Evan knew what it felt like to miss someone so badly you thought it might actually kill you.
“I’m so sorry,” Evan murmured, moving closer to Casper, touching his arm gently. “For both of you.”
Casper’s pale blue eyes got shiny, but he threw that smile back into place and hitched his shoulders back into perfect posture once again. “Thanks.”
“No, it’s—I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be getting into this right now. This is your big moment, and I know your whole family is out there waiting to see you sworn in.”
The brief stutter in Casper’s expression was worse than tears, but Evan also understood stoicism in the face of emotion because you knew damn well if you started, you weren’t ever going to stop.
“Find us at the reception. You have a lot of friends out there. I’m sure everyone would be glad to see you,” Evan said.
“We’ll see. And anyway, you and I will be getting a lot of time together come tomorrow.”
Evan nodded and gave Casper a little salute before heading over to where a woman in a headset was lining people up.
Time to become Captain Evan Cerelli.