“The Red Room.” The officer’s voice lowers and his gaze narrows as he speaks. He slips his hands into his coat pockets and I wait for more, simply nodding at his words.

Some cops are easy to pay off. They need money, they want power, or even just to feel like they’re high on life and fitting into a world they could only dream of running themselves.

I can spot them easily. The way they walk, talk—shit, even the clothes they wear on their time off. It’s all so fucking obvious. The only question that needs answering is: how much do I need to pay them until they’re in my back pocket?

Not Cody Walsh.

“What is it that you want, Officer?” I ask him and then add, “Anything I can help you with?”

“Anything you had in mind?” he asks in return, tilting his chin back and waiting.

The smirk on my face grows. “I don’t dislike having conversations with cops.” I follow his previous gaze just as he looks back at me and see Carter and Aria making their way back to the car that’s still running. “But I don’t really like to start a conversation either.”

He’s playing me. Thinking I’ll try to bribe him for nothing. What a fucking prick.

“Is that his wife?” he asks me, and I tell him the truth. “His fiancée.”

“Aria Talvery,” he comments.

“You know a lot of names for being new around here.”

“It’s my job,” he answers defensively.

“Is it?” I rock back on my shoes as I slip my hands into my pockets. My warm breath turns to fog in the air. “You know everyone’s name who you pull over then?” I ask him.

“Not unless their name is in the file of the case I’m working on.”

“A case?” I ask him as the cold air runs over my skin, seeping through my muscles and deep down into the marrow of my bones. I feel the shards of ice everywhere, but I don’t show it. “It’s the first time I’m hearing about a case.”

“A house burned down, killing over a dozen men, explosives.”

“Aria’s family home,” I remark, acknowledging him with a nod. “What a tragedy.”

“It was arson, and one of a string of violent crimes that leads back to you and your brothers.”

With the sound of the car door opening behind me, indicating Carter is helping Aria into the backseat, my patience is gone.

“If you have questions, you can ask my lawyer.”

“I don’t have any for you,” he tells me and I huff a humorless laugh before responding, “Then why come to pay this visit?”

“I wanted to see her reaction; if she was remorseful at all.”

“Aria?” The shock is apparent in my tone and my expression, because I didn’t hide it in the least. I shouldn’t be speaking her name. I shouldn’t even engage with this fucker. And that’s the only reason I’m silent when he adds, “Knowing she’s sleeping with her father’s killer…”

He shakes his head, although his eyes never leave mine.

“Is that all then?” I ask him.

A moment passes, and with it comes a gust of cold wind. Each day’s been more bitter than the last and with a snowstorm coming, the worst is yet to come.

“That’s all,” he says and then his eyes drift to my windshield before he adds, “And pay your parking tickets. Wouldn’t want that to be what gets you.”

All I give him is a short wave, right before snatching a small piece of paper off the windshield. It’s not a parking ticket, it’s a thick piece of yellow paper folded in half. It’s been here for a while, partially covered by the snow. And knowing that, I look back to see if Walsh is watching. His eyes are on Carter, not me. Thank fuck.

I don’t know who the fuck left it, but I’m not going to figure that out while under the watchful eyes of Officer Walsh.

Lacking any emotion at all, I bid the man farewell. “Have a good night, Officer.”

With my back to Walsh I share a glance with Carter, who’s waiting by the backseat door on the driver’s side, one hand on the handle, his other hand in his pocket.

“You too,” the officer calls out in the bitterly cold air, already making his way back to his car.

It’s silent when I close the door. Aria tries to speak, but I hear Carter shush her, telling her to wait for the officer to leave. Peeking at her in the rearview mirror, worry clouds her tired eyes.

“Everything’s fine,” Carter reassures her and she lays her cheek, bright red from the frigid air, onto his shoulder.

My gaze moves from the cop car, reversing out of the spot, to the note. The sound of the thick paper opening is all I pay attention to as Officer Walsh drives away, leaving us alone in the parking lot.

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