This was the last place she expected to spend Christmas. Worse, Holly had no idea how she was going to survive it.
A twelve-hour shift, closed up in squad car 22, sharing the front with her newly assigned partner Tony Garcetti. A deputy on loan from the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Department. Who also happened to be her ex-husband.
“It’s the holiday season!” Chief Edwards’ bellow reached across the room.
Sitting in chairs lined up, classroom style, Holly Garcetti and her fellow officers had received their Christmas Eve duty assignments.
“Experience has proven holiday eves can either be excruciatingly slow or more hectic than a midnight madness sale. Be ready either way. Budget cuts aside, we’re still understaffed. If you don’t like how your assignment shook out tonight, too bad. Deal with it. Ho-ho-ho. Merry Christmas. Now, let’s all get out there and get to work.”
Chairs scuffled on a worn tile floor as the members of the Mild, Michigan Police Department stood up as instructed. Get out there and get to work.
“Doing our jobs.” The Chief hollered over the din. “Keeping the streets safe for those who look forward to spending tonight and tomorrow with family members they love.”
Holly had all she could do to not release a heavy sigh and accompanying eye roll. We get it. A major holiday is upon us.
Does he have to be so darned descriptive? Using family and love in the same sentence?
Taking a reckless chance, she cast a sly glance in Tony’s direction. Her partner du jour was in the corner talking with a couple of officers who had been in his class at the academy. She’d met them at their recent ten-year reunion. One of his cronies cracked a joke, and Tony smiled. That bright white, dimple intact, charming smile that never failed to light up his eyes.
Forget the fact the man was runway model gorgeous with a capital G. Black hair and blue eyes set off Italian good looks that any Roman god would gladly turn human for. One of the first things she’d been attracted to was his caring and compassionate nature. Especially when it came to children.
They’d met one night when Tony provided backup to her call for help in handling a domestic dispute. Holly had an upset child on her hands, and nothing she did to console him was working. Then Tony arrived, all comfort and calm and funny stories. He had the scared little boy smiling within minutes of taking over. Not only was the youngster charmed, Holly too was hooked.
She thought for life.
They’d hit it off right away, talked for a while after the boy was handed over to child welfare. When their shifts ended, they’d gone their separate ways. Then met up again at an all-night diner—Tony’s idea—where he treated her to breakfast. They were together from that day forward.
Until their break up the previous April.
April 1st, to be exact. All Fools’ Day. Another holiday she could add to her list of special days to forget.“Garcetti and Garcetti.” The Chief’s voice shoved into her thoughts. “Front and center for some special instructions.”
Fighting back the temptation to indulge in a second eye roll, she headed front and center. Tony didn’t move quite as fast. As he separated from his buddies, his laughter grew nearer. Another glance his way was out of the question.
Not that she needed it. She’d gotten enough of an eyeful when he first walked in. Even with the bulk of his bullet proof vest under his shirt, he filled out a uniform to perfection. No amount of clothing could disguise the body builder toned arms, solid muscles of broad shoulders and washboard abs.
She stumbled then quickly recovered her gait. No way could her knees be about to give out. The floor must have a low spot. That was it. Teeth clenched, she made it to the podium.
“Whatcha got, Chief?”
Though her mouth was open, Tony’s voice came out first. His musky aftershave, a scent she used to wake up to on her pillow, should have warned her of his approach. She needed to keep her guard up. When he halted to her left, she was subtle, but leaned away from him. Until she got her bearings.
Closing her eyes to shut out his presence would be an effort in futility. He was so much a part of her soul—the sharp contours of his features, sparkling blue eyes, killer smile. It all appeared behind her lids every time she lowered them.
Taking a breath that did nothing to quiet the butterflies playing racquet ball in her mid-section, she spoke up too. “Yeah, Chief. What have you got?”
“I’m sending you out on surveillance.”
“Together?” They spoke in unison.
Holly’s mouth dropped open, and her eyes grew wide at the exact moment Tony’s features did the same. Under different circumstances their mirrored reactions might have been amusing. Comical even. If only the situation weren’t so emotionally devastating.
A balding head bobbed. “Hell, yes, together. I’m not that much of a Scrooge to make anyone spend the holiday alone. It’s a cushy assignment. Here’s the deal.”
He went on to detail how the Christmas tree set up in the center of town had been shamelessly vandalized the past couple of nights.
“Nothing major. No spray painted graffiti or anything like that. They’re just taking a few of the decorations here and there and dropping them to the ground. Some of them break, some don’t.”
Holly waited until he finished. “With all the businesses nearby, hasn’t anyone seen anything?”
Chief Edwards shook his head. “Nothing’s been shared with us.”
“What about installing cameras?” Tony crossed his arms over his chest.
“You get me the budget, I’ll get them installed. Right now, it’s officer hours to crack this case. The patrons on the Community Beautification Board are running out of replacement ornaments—and patience. You hide—all night if you have to—in the alley between Ridley’s Appliance Emporium and the Interdenominational Church. Figure out what the heck is going on.”
“No doubt kids with too much time on their hands.” It was Tony’s take on the matter.
Holly added hers. “And not enough parental supervision. A bad combination.”
The Chief nodded his agreement. “Whoever’s doing it, I want them caught. Understand?”
“Yes, sir.” Again they spoke as one.
“You know how many citizens in this town have the, um—” Lips pursed, he glanced to one side. “—propensity to call me at home?”
Edna, the head jail matron, paused on the way past to pipe in before either of the Garcettis could reply. “Most all of them, I’d say.”
“Got that right. This town’s too big for that kind of familiarity.”
Though Holly disagreed, she kept her mouth shut. In her opinion, their little town was the perfect size to settle down in. To raise a family. Their family. Hers and Tony’s.
If only she hadn’t been so close-minded.
Her breath caught, and she shut down her thoughts. Tony was by the door getting into his field jacket. She’d best do the same.
Experience has proven holiday eves can either be excruciatingly slow or hectic as a midnight madness sale. Hoping for the latter, she and Tony had drawn the former.
When they headed toward the exit, side by side, he paused when they got there to let her go first. Even physical contact as harmless as a possible brush of shoulders was off limits.
While others in the group of officers jabbered about what lay ahead as they walked down the stairs and across the parking garage beneath the station, the two of them walked in silence. External silence. Inside, Holly’s thoughts and memories were alive and thriving.
Following three years of living together and two months shy of their fifth wedding anniversary, Holly Marie Tompkins Garcetti and Anthony Joseph Garcetti had decided to part company for good.
Irreconcilable differences was the cause listed on the divorce papers. Neither one of them chose to argue the point. However, before they could officially go their separate ways, there was an abundance of togetherness and accumulated stuff to divide up. One of the notable items no one seemed to want was a box of blended Christmas decorations. Most of them brought by Holly, a couple Tony contributed. Back then, giving them up was easy. In April, with its early spring splendor, all things Christmas future didn’t seem important. Not when compared to Christmas now.
“This must have fallen out of the box.”
He’d held up an ornament retrieved from the floor. A cute little mouse figure playing the guitar. Though they enjoyed music, neither played an instrument. Its sole significance being it was the first item they ever bought together.
“Your call. You want this or not?” His face, along with his voice, contained no emotion. No love. No hate. Nothing.
Doing her best to present an expression to match the rest of her hard-fought I could care less façade, she forced herself to look him directly in the eye. Only to feel the familiar hot surge of tears. She blinked them away. “I’m not attached to it either. That can go in the give-away pile.”
“Give-away it is.” He’d tossed the boxed ornament into a small pile of other articles by the door. The one between larger piles on either side, ‘his’ and ‘hers’.
She’d had all she could do to not run over and retrieve the keepsake as it landed sideways between some old hiking boots of his and an even older yoga mat of hers.
But didn’t, so it was gone now. She doubted he remembered its significance. Or even cared.
“Do you want to drive?” At Tony’s question, Holly’s trip down memory lane came to an abrupt halt.
“Do you want to drive or have you decided it doesn’t mean you’re the weak female side of the partnership if I do?”
On that sour note, their evening alone together began. She, for one, was adult enough to have gotten over the sterile, scandal free dissolution of their short lived marriage.
He, apparently, had not.
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