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Addison Hale loved glitter. It hadn’t always been the case—in fact, she’d spent years surrounded by nothing but dirt and fear and things that definitely didn’t sparkle. But she’d learned (yes, the hard way) that her past didn’t have to define her, and at about the same time she’d decided to join the Remington Police Department, she’d also decided to embrace her inner glitter girl without apology or regret.
So when she saw firefighter Ryan Dempsey getting stingy with the stuff at the card-making table at Station Seventeen’s annual holiday party? Yeah. She was all in to glitter-bomb the guy.
Using her detective skills, Addison assessed the scene in order to formulate a strategy. Station Seventeen’s large, open common room had been decorated with brightly lit Christmas trees, several menorahs and Kwanzaa kinaras—all with electric candles, because helllloooo, fire safety—and piles of holiday favors and small gifts for guests. Ryan sat about ten feet away, supervising a table full of kids making holiday cards out of construction paper, and she took a minute to examine her victim. With that ruffled, dark brown hair just this side of wavy, a smile that slid over his mouth often and with ease, and a pair of shoulders that could probably block a doorframe, it wasn’t a hardship.
Unexpected heat bloomed low in Addison’s belly, taking her by surprise. Not because Ryan wasn’t hotter than she remembered, because holy God, now that she looked more closely, his biceps rivaled his shoulders in the yum-yum department. But she never, ever hooked up with friends, and while she and Ryan weren’t besties or anything, the firefighters at Seventeen and the cops at the Thirty-Third all hung out on the regular. Going there would make her no-relationships policy awkward after the fact. Getting her man-made orgasm fix with carefully selected strangers was just easier for everyone involved.
Which was a crying shame, really, because Addison was willing to bet her paycheck that Ryan Dempsey was excellent at administering orgasms.
Shaking her head, she focused on the issue at hand. Her detective partner, Shawn Maxwell, sat at the card table with his three-year-old daughter, Isla. Addison could use the two of them as her in, then get to spreading some literal holiday cheer, aka glitter, around the place. Smiling, she made her way over to the table, slipping into the seat next to Isla and booping the little girl’s nose.
“Hey, noodle face,” she said, eliciting a no-fail giggle from Isla at the silly nickname. “What are you making?”
“A card for Frankie,” Isla said. Beside her, Shawn’s gaze went across the room to his former partner and current girlfriend, Francesca Rossi. God, he was so far gone for her. Even if he couldn’t admit it yet.
“Hey, Addison.” Ryan smiled, causing her libido to wake up and stretch like a cat. No, no. Glitter. Holiday cheer. She had to focus, here.
“Hey, Dempsey,” she said, smiling right back. “How’s it going?”
Okay, good. Nice, boring question. Of course, his green eyes crinkled at the edges as he kept up with that smile, and how had she not realized how freaking sexy he was?
“Not bad. Did you want to make a card?”
Too easy. “Sure. Why not?”
Ryan gestured to the festive paper in front of him, the pages printed with Christmas trees, angels, snowmen, or dreidels. “How about angels? They kind of suit you.”
Addison’s brows lifted at the same time Shawn, the brat, let out a snort. “Clearly, you don’t know her all that well,” he said. But he was saved from her sassy retort by his daughter.
“This angel is pretty, like you.” Isla pointed to the paper, where a row of angels of different hair and skin color danced across the page. Her finger landed on a blond one, and Ryan nodded, dialing up his smile.
“I think you’re right, Isla,” Ryan said, his stare catching Addison’s and holding on tight. “These angels are very pretty.”
Wait…was Ryan Dempsey flirting with her?
If Shawn’s expression was anything to go by (and it usually was), the answer was a resounding yes. He didn’t say anything, though, as Ryan handed a sheet of paper to Addison. Their fingers touched in the exchange, and even though the contact was both slight and fairly innocent, it sent a little quiver through her. She busied herself with making her card, listening as Ryan chatted with Isla. He asked her about the latest animated movie that had come out last month, the one that Addison only knew about because Shawn—a guy with a kid—had mentioned it. Ryan seemed oddly at ease, with none of the awkwardness of a guy who had no experience with little kids, and by the time Isla’s card was done and Ryan had given her a high-five and a candy cane and sent her on her way, Addison’s curiosity was past it’s legal limit.
“You were really great with her,” she said, shaking copious amounts of silver glitter onto her card.
Ryan slid one shoulder upward beneath his dark red Henley shirt. “I come from a really big family. Loads of cousins and nieces and nephews.”
Well, that made sense, even if was a foreign concept to Addison. He eyed her card, the edges of his mouth hitching into a sexy grin. “That’s an awful lot of glitter.”
It was the perfect lead-in. She couldn’t have asked for a better one, really. “You look like you could use some glitter in your life,” she teased.
But then Ryan’s gaze turned smoky with suggestion, and her plan—hell, all rational thought—went out the window.
“Are you sure that’s what I need?”
“Are you flirting with me?” she countered, but funny, he didn’t even blink.
“Yup. Is it working?”
Yes. Yes. So much yes. “I don’t really make a habit out of flirting with friends,” she said by way of a dodge.
Which, of course, he called her out on. “That’s a shame. But you didn’t answer the question.”
Whether it was the fact that she’d been in a bit of a sex drought lately or the weird, lusty impulses that Ryan’s stare was currently stirring up, she couldn’t be sure. But something made Addison breathe, “Yes, Ryan. It’s working.”
He smiled. “So, this not-flirting-with-friends thing. Is that, like, a hard rule, or…”
“Most of the time,” she said. But she needed to get this on the table, so she added, “It’s just that hooking up with friends usually ends badly. Then there would be all this awkwardness when we run into each other at the Crooked Angel, or at things like this”—she waved a hand around the room, where no less than a dozen of their mutual friends stood in various states of revelry—“and who wants that?”
“Not me,” Ryan said. “What if we decided to just not make it weird?”
“What?” she asked, and he gave up a laugh that moved all the way through her.
“Let me lead with this. Are you flirting with me?”
Addison arched a brow. “I thought that part was obvious.”
“Consent is never obvious unless it’s in the form of the word ‘yes,’” Ryan countered, and just like that, her attraction to him doubled.
“Yes,” she said. “I am flirting with you.”
Again, with that sexy little smile. God, it was practically Kryptonite. “Okay. So, what if we decided to walk out that door”—he lifted his chin at the exit leading out to the parking lot—“and head to my place. Whatever happens, happens. Whatever doesn’t, doesn’t. And no matter what, we’re not awkward about it tomorrow.”
When he put it that way, it sounded so easy, and it really had been a long (long, long) time since she’d had sex. “No weirdness,” Addison said, just to be sure.
The look Ryan gave her in return was hot enough to make her blush. “Sweetheart, let me be clear. I could make you feel a lot of things. But I promise you this. Weird won’t be one of them.”
Addison didn’t think twice. “Meet me outside in two minutes,” she said. Then she stood and headed for the exit, feeling Ryan’s eye on her the whole way.
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