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"Stop hovering, mom." Maggie Rivers barely glanced at the woman who'd joined her beside the ornate stained-glass window.
She'd been independent for years. Since she was a teenager, her parents had supported her from a distance while trusting her to make her own choices. But today, Carrinne Wilmington-Rivers was displaying a talent for hovering.
"I'm fine," Maggie insisted. Her entire body was a throbbing migraine waiting to happen.
"Please go sit with Dad."
Her father was somewhere in the crowd of Class-A-dressed officers who'd filled the enormous Manhattan cathedral. But her mother had abandoned their perfectly good seats to offer the kind of public support that could only mean disaster. The kind of lean on me, when you're not strong display Maggie refused to let NYPD Detective Matt Lebretti see.
Matt and the other pallbearers would be carrying the flag-draped coffin into the church any minute. Then he'd join her near the front. She had a funeral service to get through for a man she barely knew. A man whose death was entirely too personal for both her and Matt. No way was she indulging in a heart-to-heart with her mother. It was already impossible not to picture everyone being there for Matt's funeral, instead of his partner's.
He and Bill had been standing only a few feet from each other when Bill went down.
"I know how hard this must be for you." Her mother squeezed Maggie's shoulder. "If you need anything."
"I need to focus on Matt right now." Through the cathedral's open doors, she could see him waiting on the steps for the hearse to arrive. Her heart caught at the rigid set of his classic Italian features. He was determined to be okay, too, no matter how responsible he felt for Bill Donovan's death.
"It's not like this is the first funeral I've ever been to." She shrugged off her mother's touch and the echoes of everything she'd fought to leave behind.
"Matt's clearly worried about you." Her mom blinked at Maggie's wordless glare to shut up, please. "Letting people support you while you deal with something like this isn't the end of the world, honey."
Something like this.
A sea of blue.
That's what her dad had said a NYPD funeral would look like. His description hadn't begun to prepare Maggie for the reality.
When she'd started at NYU five years ago, he'd transferred from being the sheriff of small-town Oakwood, Georgia, to a captain's position in one of New York's outlying boroughs. His countyfunded job mostly involved enforcing civil laws and warrants, unlike the city officers who dealt with the bulk of the day-to-day violence and street crime. Still, he and his deputies had attended every department funeral since. They all turned out" NYPD, New Jersey police, sheriffs, port authority cops. They showed up in force to honor the ultimate sacrifice an officer could make.
Maggie glanced to where Bill's grieving widow and mother were holding each other in the front pew. Women who'd loved a hero, never believing this could happen. Not really. Not to them.
No one ever did. "I'll be fine," she assured her mother.
Carrinne walked away in silence. Her expression assured Maggie that she wasn't fooling anyone.
Okay, maybe fine wasn't the right word for standing alone in a church teeming with grieving people. But at least she'd earned herself a few moments of silence, free of her family wondering what had been going on since her trip down to Georgia last summer.
Her return to the tiny town of Oakwood for her great-grandfather Oliver's funeral had unearthed memories she'd thought were buried forever. Now, her past had a stranglehold on the life she'd worked so hard for, feeding her fear of losing Matt and her compulsion to run from everything.
Matt smiled solemnly from his post at the door. It hurt like hell, but she made herself smile back.
"You guys ready?" Tommy Callihan asked. Word had just come over the radio. The hearse was a couple of blocks away.
"Hell, no," Matt bit out as he turned away from the church.
He wasn't ready for any of it.
It was oddly dark for such a hot, July morning.
Grey-tinged clouds rolled drearily by, threatening rain. Staring at them should have been depressing. Instead, it was a relief.
Anything was better than focusing on the flood of dark blue surrounding him as he waited for the body of his friend to arrive. Or turning around again to find Maggie still watching from inside.
"Oh, my God! I'm so sorry," she'd said three days ago, when he'd told her about the shooting.
She'd clung to him, asking if there was anything she could do, for him or the Donovan family. When he'd left for work the next morning, she'd bravely battled the first tears he'd ever seen in her expressive, brown eyes. Then when he'd come back that night and every night since, she'd clung some more. And he'd let her.
He'd needed Maggie's warm, toned body in his arms, just as much as she'd needed him. Just for a day or two, he'd told himself. Just until he could close his eyes and not see Bill bleeding out while Matt was powerless to do anything but pray for a medical miracle that hadn't come.
But two days had come and gone, then three. And the haunted look in Maggie's eyes hadn't disappeared. A look that was about more than just one dead police officer.
She'd said she was fine. She'd been saying it for nearly a year, ever since they'd moved in together and things had started to change.
She'd been a force to reckon with when they'd first started dating. Fearless. Magnificent. Then last summer she'd started calling his cell three or four times a day. They'd argued about it, when they never argued, and she'd finally stopped. Next, his long hours and late nights had started to irritate her. This from a woman mired in a grueling schedule of teaching by day, and master's-level courses in education at NYU several nights a week. Then Bill had been killed, and Matt had seen tears in her eyes every time he'd left her since. And that's when he'd finally understood.
Maggie wasn't irritated. She was scared. Spooked by the unrelenting danger he faced as a lead detective on Manhattan's gang task force.
He had a friend to bury. A job to do. A flood of internal red tape drowning him after the shooting.
But what was he spending every waking moment worrying about? Holding on to the woman who'd knocked him on his ass when he'd first caught sight of her at the Central Park softball game she'd come to watch her dad pitch. At twenty-five, she'd been almost too young for him.
But she hadn't seemed the least bit impressed by his bad-boy muscles or the rough-edged charm that most women responded to. Her first irreverent comeback to one of his smoother pickup lines had lured him back for round two. Before the game was over, he'd talked her into going for a beer after, and he hadn't looked at another woman since.
Sun glinted off the windows of the hearse as it turned the corner and crept to a stop at the curb. He, Callihan and the other officers headed down the marble steps, his mind replaying the image of Bill's widow and mother crying at the front of the cathedral, powerless to stop what was happening. Just as they'd been powerless every day Bill had left home to do what he'd sworn to do for the people of this city.
The same job Matt couldn't turn his back on, not even for Maggie. Not even when, more often than not these days, it felt as if he was wasting his time.
There would always be more crime and violence, more too-young gang hoods joining the party, than he'd ever be able to stop. But he did the job better than just about anyone on the force. And that had always been enough. Making whatever difference he could had kept him going, no matter the cost.
Now, the tab included his partner's life. And if Matt didn't do something soon, his relationship with Maggie might join the growing list of casualties.
No, he wasn't ready for any of this.