“Please?” She grips my cheeks in her small hands and pulls my face to hers, leaning her forehead against mine playfully. “I love you, Daddy.” She’s staring me in the eyes.
“I love you too.” My lips twitch, and I want to laugh, but I’m very proud of myself for standing firm.
“May I please wear my purple shirt?”
“But Masie will be wearing purple, and I promised that I would wear purple too, and that’s the only purple shirt I have!”
God, give me patience.
“Enough.” I kiss her forehead and lift her onto her feet. “Find another shirt. Masie will not die of disappointment.”
“No, but I might,” she says with a scowl.
“Hello?” Franny calls out as she lets herself in the front door. “Sorry I’m running late. This morning sickness is ridiculous.”
I smile at the pretty blonde woman my brother had the sense to marry and kiss her on the cheek.
“You’re fine. It’s late start today, and I don’t have to be to work for a while yet. In fact, if you have things handled here, I’ll go for a run.”
“Daddy won’t let me wear my purple shirt,” Casey says, ratting me out to her aunt.
“You wore it yesterday,” Franny says, making me smile and Casey deflate in defeat. “Besides, he’s the boss. What he says goes.”
“When do I get to be the boss?” Casey asks, folding her arms over her chest.
“When you grow up and start paying your own bills,” I reply. “So, you okay here?”
“Maybe.” Fran leans on the countertop and crosses her arms, studying me with pure calculation on her pretty features.
“Does this run take you past Café du Monde?”
“Beignets!” Casey exclaims and claps, bouncing on her feet, the purple shirt clearly forgotten. “Can we have some? Please?”
“Maybe,” I reply with a laugh, but when I turn to walk away, Fran grips my arm in her small but surprisingly strong grasp.
“You don’t understand. I’m pregnant, and this baby wants beignets. Today.” She points to her still flat belly, mutiny in her eyes. “Do we understand each other, Smith?”
“You just assaulted an officer.”
“I’m married to an officer. You don’t scare me.”
“Beignets!” Casey shouts and high-fives Fran.
“Well, I’d be a stupid man to try to come between a pregnant woman and food.”
“And you’re not stupid, my friend,” she replies with a satisfied smile. “Plus, you’ll be the baby’s favorite uncle.”
“I’m already the favorite uncle.”
“Bring those beignets, and yes, you are.”
I laugh as I jog upstairs to my bedroom, quickly change into a tank and shorts, lace my shoes, plug my earphones in my ears and set out.
The French Quarter is a few miles from our townhouse, which is the perfect distance for a run. Fall Out Boy blasts in my ears as my feet pound on the concrete. The sidewalks are uneven, making me watch my step carefully. It’s a gorgeous early spring day, warm and sunny. The sunlight filters through the leaves of the massive oak trees that line the boulevards.
This city is not only rich in history, but it’s just plain beautiful. Moving here last fall was the best thing for both Casey and myself. She made friends quickly in school, and with Fran and Mike so close by, I never have to worry about who is going to help out with her.
And with a promotion from detective to lieutenant, I can’t complain a bit about my job. I enjoy the work here more than I ever have.
The music in my ears stops as my phone begins to ring. Without breaking my stride, I answer while pulling my tank off and tucking it into my shorts at my waist, letting it hang over my hip.
“Do not tell me you’re having sex,” Matt, my former partner from Seattle, says.
“I’m running, asshole.” I grin as I cross Canal Street, over the tracks, into the French Quarter. “What’s up with you?”
“I’m just checking on you. How are things in the Big Easy?”
“It’s kind of weird to have you breathing heavy in my ear,” Matt complains, his voice completely serious, but I can just imagine him grinning.
“We used to run together all the time.”
“Yeah, but the heavy breathing wasn’t in my ear.”
“How’s the family?” I ask. “How’s Nic?”
“I know that,” I reply. “I’m glad she finally made an honest man of you.”
He chuckles. “We might come down there, spend a few days in a couple weeks.”
“Look, man, I’m sorry I missed the wedding.” I grimace. “If this fucker hadn’t started killing these girls right before—”
“I get it. It’s fine.” And I know he means it, but regret hangs heavily in my gut. I love Matt, as if he was my own brother, and Casey and I both adore Nic, his new wife, as well. I was looking forward to their wedding.
But, duty called.
Duty always calls.
“So, what brings you to New Orleans?”
“Neither of us has ever been. I want to get away for a few days and we don’t have time to go out of the country. With her bakery, and the force, we can’t take that much time off of work.”
“Will she bring some cupcakes with her?” I ask with a smile. God, that woman can bake. “Casey would love it.”
“Don’t bullshit me. You would love it.”
“Tomato/tom-ah-to,” I reply.
“I’ll mention it to her. What dates work?”
“Nothing works. I’ll make it work, though. I’m in the middle of a serial case. Maybe I can bounce some ideas off you.”
“The Tulane University case?” he asks with surprise.
“You’ve heard of it?”
“A serial killer makes the national news, partner.” I grin at the nickname. “Don’t worry about us. Just make time for dinner. We can show ourselves around.”
“I’ll make time,” I reply as I approach the green and white awning of Café du Monde. Sitting at a table at the edge of the seating area is a pretty redhead and gorgeous brunette, and I smile widely as I slow down to a walk. “I have to go, partner. Just e-mail me the details. Looking forward to seeing you.”
“Me too. See you soon.”
I end the call and approach the wrought iron railing that the girls are sitting next to, their heads together, talking and nibbling on beignets.
Lila licks her lips and my dick immediately stirs to life.
I want to feel that tongue on me.
“Good morning, ladies.”
They both look up in surprise. Kate smiles, and Lila’s mouth drops open as her eyes roam up and down my naked torso, making me chuckle.
She likes what she sees.
Which is damn convenient because she’s about to see a lot of me.
“These should be illegal,” Kate says and takes a bite of her piping-hot, powdered sugar-covered nugget of deliciousness. I simply nod in agreement because my mouth is too full of my own nugget of deliciousness to speak.
When I finally swallow and take a drink of my coffee, I lick my lips and smile at my friend. “Thanks for tearing yourself away from sexy Eli to have breakfast with me.”
“I don’t have to be with him 24/7,” she says with a roll of the eyes. “Besides, he had to leave early for a morning meeting.”
“So things are still going well?” I ask before taking another bite.
“Yep,” she replies. “We have our moments when we want to strangle each other, which I assume is normal when you live with someone¸ but then we just have crazy awesome sex and all is better.”
I laugh. “Well, here’s to crazy hot sex.” I salute her and take a sip of coffee. “Not that I remember.”
“That’s your own fault,” Kate says. “You could so get laid.”
“I’m not exactly the one-night stand type, and I don’t have time to date.”
“Bullshit and bullshit.”
“You had a one-night stand with Asher, and you do have time to date, you just choose not to.”
“My job takes up a lot of my time,” I insist and glance over at a man as he starts to play his saxophone not too far away. “And I don’t usually do the one-night stand thing. I’m way too responsible for that.”
“Everyone’s job takes up a lot of time,” Kate says and waves me off as if I’m being ridiculous. “It’s all about priorities. If seeing someone is important, you’ll make room for him.” She tosses me her sly Cheshire cat grin and pulls another beignet apart before popping part of it in her mouth. “And now that Asher is back, you can make room for him.”
“I knew you were going to start with this.”
“What’s wrong with Asher?”
“Nothing.” Not even one thing. I stop talking and can’t help the smile that slips on my lips. “God, nothing is wrong with him. You saw him.”