Royal was the best friend a guy could ever ask for and she knew me better than anyone, aside from my family. I didn’t have to go into details about the heady sexual tension that was pulsing between me and the handsome physical therapist: she could tell by all the things I wasn’t saying and by the frown that I couldn’t seem to shake.
“Because I need his help more than I need to get laid, and I don’t want to offend him or make him uncomfortable if he’s flat-out not interested.” Even if he gave off very interested vibes when he thought I wasn’t paying attention.
She made a face and pushed some of her long, auburn hair over her shoulder. What can I say? Redheads were my favorite, and she was the prettiest girl I had ever seen. I felt like I had been keeping her safe not only from overzealous boys but also from herself since the first moment we met. She always deserved more than to be just another pretty face and she worked hard to prove it. We were kindred spirits that way. No one had ever questioned my ability to do my job, but I never wanted to give them the chance to.
“Well then, once you’re back to one hundred percent and back on the force, then you can ask him out and the worst that can happen is he can say no.”
I grunted a response, because being rejected by Lando on a personal level really did seem like the worst thing that could happen, which was insane considering the reason I had him in my life in the first place.
“I need to worry about getting my job back, not getting a date.” I lifted an eyebrow at her as she smiled a little sadly at me. “I miss it. I miss you. How’s the new partner working out?”
She sat back in the seat across from me and fiddled with the label on her drink. Her dark brown eyes shifted to the tabletop and I saw her bite on her lip. I blinked a little and scolded myself for asking something I didn’t really want to know the answer to in the first place. Life went on whether I wanted it to or not and I could tell by her almost guilty expression that Royal was enjoying being on patrol with a cop that was not me.
“It’s good. He’s good. It’s different working with someone that hasn’t known me since I was five, but I miss you, too, Dom, and I want you back at work as soon as possible.”
I copied her pose and lifted a hand to rub it over the top of my short hair in frustration. “You want me back, but you don’t want to be my partner anymore, do you?”
She flushed and tapped her fingers nervously on the side of her beer bottle. Royal was my best friend in the entire world and I would do anything for her, even if it meant letting her go.
“When you fell off that building and I thought I was watching you die right in front of me it was the worst thing that had ever happened to me. I couldn’t be a cop in that moment because I was so worried about you and I couldn’t be a good cop after, because I was convinced it was my fault you got hurt. I don’t think about the new guy that way. He’s my partner, I have his back, we’re a team, but I don’t feel like my life is going to be over if something bad happens to him. Does that make sense?”
I grunted again and finished the rest of my beer. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but it made sense. “There are no guarantees I’m going to be deemed fit enough for duty anyways. I want you to be the best cop you can be even if it’s partnered with someone that isn’t me. I’ve always wanted what is best for you, Royal.”
She bit down on her lip even harder and lowered her head, but not before I saw a sheen of tears flash over the surface of her dark eyes. “You will be back, Dom. I know you will.”
It was depressing to think about any other option, so I changed the subject with all the subtlety of a bulldozer. “How are things going with your southern charmer?”
I wasn’t the biggest fan of Royal’s new boyfriend and it wasn’t just because the guy had a criminal record and a smile that could charm the pants off of even the most jaded of hearts. I couldn’t trust a guy who was that pretty and that smooth. I honestly believed he cared about Royal, but he had already broken her heart once and that was pretty much impossible to come back from in my book. I tried to play nice because I knew she was a goner for the guy and he was it for her, but generally I just stayed away and stayed out of their relationship. I knew Royal was hoping I would warm up to Asa eventually, but I didn’t see it happening anytime soon.
A smile made her already stunning face truly beautiful in the way only love could. “Things are good. I wasn’t sure how moving in together so quickly was going to work out, but so far so good.” She laughed a little. “Plus he always comes to get me when I lock myself out of places and never complains. That automatically makes him a keeper in my book.”
She was happy. Really, truly happy and more than that she was settling into the person she had always struggled to be. There was no more doubt about the choices she had made and the path she was on. Royal was owning the things that had always made her so special and unique and I couldn’t be happier for her.
I was about to tell her as much when a tall familiar figure suddenly cut through the crowd at the bar. I shouldn’t have been surprised to see him here considering the bar I picked was close to the gym, so I didn’t have to go far after my therapy session, but it was still startling to see him outside of the serious and professional setting I was used to spending time with him in. I let my eyes roll over him as he caught sight of me and faltered a little. Instead of being dressed in his typical polo shirt and pressed slacks he had on a pair of track pants similar to mine and a white tank top. His rust-colored hair was tousled on the top of his head and if I had to wager a guess, I would bet he had just come from doing a workout of his own.