Detective Andreas Ruffner is no fool—he’s found a man who loves him, puts up with him, and has stuck with him through hell and back, and it’s time to put a ring on it. Darren Corliss is the love of his life, and he wants the whole world to know it.
Now the fun part—the wedding!
Well, after the not-so-fun part of planning the wedding in between dealing with overbearing and impossible-to-please family members. With future mothers-in-law driving them both up a wall, the guest list growing out of control, and the wedding getting ever more complicated, Darren and Andreas have to wonder if they’re in over their heads.
But they’re going to make it to the altar if it kills them . . . and at this rate, it just might.
Andreas was acting . . . strange.
Not “I’m meeting with a drug lord behind your back” strange, or “My kids don’t know about us but I’m going to invite them all to dinner and the hell with it” strange, thank God. We were past those points in our relationship. All of the big surprises were out of the way: everybody knew about us, nobody cared, our families were happy, and neither of us were involved in anything shady for the greater good. At least, I was pretty sure we weren’t. I wasn’t, but then I wasn’t the one on edge.
You wouldn’t think it had been less than two weeks since we’d come back to the precinct after the best vacation of my life. Three weeks of sunshine, sand, clear blue water, and tropical drinks with paper umbrellas that I’d saved to give to Emily, Andreas’s youngest. It had been a nice trip—a necessary trip, as far as I was concerned, the first real break we’d gotten from the job while neither of us was recovering from an injury. My stab wound was nothing but a scar now, and Andreas’s ankle was strong enough that he’d supported my weight and his for long enough to— Well, it was fine, is the point. Pretty much recovered.
Andreas scratched a fingernail across the pocket of his jeans, the fabric stuttering under the force of his hand. He’d been worrying that seam for the past half hour.
“You’re going to wear a hole in that if you don’t let up,” I said for the second time that afternoon.
“What?” He glanced at his hand. “Oh.” He took his hand away, only for his fingers to end up tapping the top of the desk a minute later.
“How much coffee did you have today?”
“One cup, this morning. Why?”
“Because you’re acting like Erin when she’s had nothing but Coke to drink for an entire shift.” Erin was Andreas’s oldest daughter, and she worked here in the precinct as an admin for the Internal Affairs office. She was nice enough that people got along with her despite that, though.
Andreas shook his head. “I’m fine.” His phone buzzed, and he picked it up and grimaced at the number. “I’ve got to take this. I’ll be right back.” He left without another word, and I watched him go, then sidled over to Paula’s desk on the other side of the bull pen.
“Okay, what’s wrong with him?”
“What’s wrong with who?” Paula squinted at her computer screen and tapped the backspace key. She was as bad as Andreas when it came to wearing her reading glasses at work.
“What’s wrong with Andreas?” Paula Morris was probably Andreas’s closest friend, and the hardest worker in the entire precinct. She’d helped us close some very big cases over the past year, and if anyone knew what was going on with him, it was her.
“Why are you asking me?” She looked up at me blearily. “You’re his boyfriend.”
“He’s acting cagey, and he hasn’t met my eyes all day. I don’t think he’s going to tell me anything right now.” And it hit me, just then, how bothered I was by that. I thought we were past the big denials, the keeping-things-to-yourself phase that had sucked so bad. Paula was right. I was his boyfriend. I should know what was going on. That I didn’t was disturbing.
“Whatever it is, he’ll come out with it when he’s ready. Or if you just man up and ask, probably.” She laughed, leaning back in her rolling chair. “Just watch out if he wants to take you somewhere fancy all of a sudden. My last boyfriend broke up with me that way. Guess he thought if I was full of gourmet food and out in public, I wouldn’t kick up a fuss.”
“Was he right?”
“Yeah, but he made the mistake of telling me before we’d had dessert. I ordered the entire dessert menu and took most of it home with me. I was swimming in chocolate ganache and crème brûlée for a week.” She smiled. “Good times.”
“The dessert was more memorable than the guy, huh?”
“The dessert didn’t bitch and moan about me staying late to hunt down rapists and murderers instead of going home to cook him dinner and watch the latest episode of Downton Abbey together.” She pursed her lips. “In retrospect, his thing for corsets and Victorian porn makes a lot more sense.”
“Ooo-kay.” Andreas chose that moment to come back into the room, and I was desperately grateful for the out. “Thanks for the chat and never, ever talk to me about that again.”
“Be a man!” she shouted at my back as I returned to my desk.
Andreas was still fiddling with his phone, but at least he looked at me when I got close this time. “So,” he said dryly, “when did you stop being a man, and is it permanent?”
I grinned. “Ha ha, shut up. Who was that?”
“The call? Oh . . . nobody, nothing important.” His free hand was rubbing over his pocket again. “Listen, I was thinking. How about we eat out tonight?”
“Sure.” We hadn’t been out to dinner since we’d gotten back from vacation. “That sounds great. You want to invite any of the kids?” Erin had a date with her boyfriend, I was pretty sure, and we didn’t have Emily this weekend, but Lisa, Andreas’s ex, was always willing to share time.
“Nah, just you and me tonight.” He put his phone away and took a deep breath. “I was thinking Laudisio’s.”
I froze in the act of putting on my jacket. Laudisio’s was the nicest Italian restaurant in the entire city. I had eaten there all of two times, and I could still remember exactly what I’d ordered, it had been so good. It was ridiculously popular and exorbitantly expensive, and not the sort of place where you just dropped in. “We’ll need reservations,” I said slowly, finishing with my jacket and putting my hands in my pockets, just in case they were visibly shaking.
“We’ve got them.” Andreas wasn’t avoiding my eyes anymore, and the intensity of his look would have been enough to send me running if I were a criminal. Or if we’d been at home, it would have had me tackling him to the bed. But this wasn’t the time. Especially since I had no idea what was going on.
Ask him. But my tongue was stuck to the top of my mouth, dry and useless, and I couldn’t quite make myself unstick it. Awesome. Now I was nervous.
We took Andreas’s car to the restaurant—we pretty much took his car everywhere, since we worked and lived together. Mine had been relegated to the apartment’s garage for months, and I didn’t miss it, but now I found myself wondering if I needed to get an oil change, or at least check the battery. Just in case I had to start driving it again regularly. Just in case Andreas asked me to move out or something.
“Hmm?” It was my turn to be jolted back into the real world. Thank God I wasn’t the one behind the wheel. “Yeah, I’m fine, just wondering why tonight. I haven’t missed an anniversary, have I? You’re not having another birthday, right?”
“No,” he said emphatically. “I’m not in any hurry to get older.” The fact that he was in his midforties and I hadn’t quite hit the dirty thirties yet bugged him sometimes.
“Oh, I don’t know.” I sank into bantering with grateful ease. “I think you’d make an excellent silver fox. We could frost your tips, get you used to the idea.”
“I would sooner shave my head than dye it.”
“Mmm, that would work too. Make you look tough.” Well, tougher. “You could grow a goatee and really complete the supervillain look.”
“And then you could grow a beard and pretend to be a— Oh wait, no, I forgot, you can’t grow a beard.”
I rolled my eyes. “My mother should never have showed you those photos.”
“They were cute. You were trying so hard to be grunge.” And failing miserably, he didn’t have to add.
“Well, I think if you let yourself go, you’d have the hipster look down to a tee.” Ah, there was the dramatic scowl I was going for. “You’d have to grow your beard out really bushy, maybe curl your moustache. I bet Erin would be happy to take you shopping for skinny jeans and vintage T-shirts.”
“All of my T-shirts are already vintage, according to her.” Now he sounded a little annoyed. “She stole my favorite Metallica shirt for a concert and hasn’t given it back yet.”
“Want me to hunt her down for you? Bring her in for questioning?”
“Eh, I can take it back later. I know where she lives.” He parked the car, and I realized with a start that we’d arrived. The restaurant gleamed with warm light, and elegant gold letters spelled out Laudisio’s over the door. I swallowed hard.
Any ease we’d established in the car vanished by the time we were seated at our table. It was nice, near the back and kind of removed from the rest of the dinner crowd. The tablecloth was perfect white linen, the water glasses were crystal, and the napkins looked like tiny cloth palaces. It was still the nicest place I’d ever eaten in, only this time that distinction scared me shitless. Was he going to . . . Was this . . .
Andreas finally broke the silence. “Okay, look.” I lifted my gaze from the table to him, and he was shaking his head and frowning. “I was going to wait until the end to do this, but I can’t put it off anymore. It’s been driving me crazy ever since we got back from vacation, and if I don’t say it now, I won’t be able to eat.”
“Uhm.” Very eloquent, moron. Fortunately, Andreas didn’t seem to need any input from me. He ran a hand through his hair, and I followed the movement with the kind of quiet focus that I only felt in a life-or-death situation. He was gorgeous, his dark hair lightened from three weeks on the beach, his skin warm and sun touched. His eyes had completely lost the wariness that had defined them when we first met, and I tried to see that as a good sign. If it was bad news, he’d be more tense, wouldn’t he?
“Here’s the thing. I— Look, I’ve thought a lot about it, about the two of us, and I—” He seemed stuck, and I resisted the crazy urge to slap my hand over his mouth so he couldn’t continue. “I just . . . Fuck, I’m doing this all wrong.” He sighed, then reached down into his pocket. “I love you, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you.” He opened his hand and held out a two-toned gold ring. “Marry me?”
I promptly choked on nothing, waved off both Andreas and the waiter, grabbed for my fancy water, and drained half the glass in one long go.
“Jesus Christ,” I managed once I could talk again. “Really? I thought you were breaking up with me!”
“What?” Now he sounded as astonished as I was. “Why the hell would I break up with you?”
“I don’t know! That’s what I was trying to figure out!”
“How could you even entertain the idea?”
“You’ve been weird all day,” I shot back. “Avoiding me, acting anxious, not talking unless it’s to witnesses or suspects, and then you got that phone call and wouldn’t tell me who it was, and then—”
“That call was from this place. Just checking to make sure I wanted the champagne and tiramisu for later, when I was going to be asking you to marry me, instead of now, when I actually did it and apparently broke your brain.”
“Oh.” I blinked at him. “I love tiramisu.”
“Yeah, I know, it’s your favorite.” Andreas looked worried. “So. I have to say, this proposal isn’t going exactly the way I pictured it.”