“Mia,” she called out down the hallway from the kitchen. “It’s time to get up, sweetheart. We have a long day ahead of us.”
Summer vacation had raced to an end, and for the first time in a month, Miranda had a couple of days off to spend with her daughter before she started her first year at Feynman School.
Her teachers had informed Miranda that Mia was a gifted kid who wasn’t challenged.
This resulted in Miranda removing her from public school in favor of a place for children with high learning potential and appropriate maturity to thrive.
Though Miranda was reluctant to send Mia thirty-five minutes away from Washington D.C., it was in her best interests.
A blur of emotions whirled through her. Pride, relief, anxiety. But what she felt most was happiness. To be in this moment. To see her daughter grow.
She grabbed her phone and opened the music app. There was nothing like music to cook to. She found the playlist she wanted, turned it up loud, and started to dance.
Perhaps she should cook Mia breakfast while she waited for her to get up. She checked the fridge and decided to make Mia’s favorite: pancakes, eggs, and bacon.
She set about making some batter, dancing her way around the kitchen. Music blaring in the kitchen helped to stave off deep thought.
Miranda finished cooking the pancakes and placed them in the oven to keep warm, and then she started the bacon.
Her phone blasted Jenny Berggren singing a song of a man and a woman in a complicated relationship.
She placed the bacon under the grill, and while it cooked, she whisked some eggs.
She turned to find Mia on one of the barstools at the breakfast bar, leaning on it, her face supported by her small hands.
She wore a sleeveless gray scoop-neck T-shirt with a hanky hem and pink dolphin-cut shorts that she’d slept in. Her brown hair was a tangled mess and her eyes puffy with sleep.
She looked both amused and bewildered. Miranda froze, flushed, then gathered herself.
“You’re so weird, Mom,” she said dryly.
Miranda smiled at her daughter, held out her hand, and said, “Dance with me.”
Her lips tried to mask her smile. “I don’t think so…”
“Come on,” she said and held out a hand, urging her to join in the dance.
She rolled her eyes but responded, holding onto her and following her lead. They spun around together, going faster and faster, Mia laughing so loud it nearly drowned out the music.
Her smile lit up her face, accentuating her bright blue eyes that enveloped her mother in a swathe of pure love. Miranda grinned down at her as the song came to a close.
“Are you hungry?” she asked, then kissed her forehead sweetly.
“Very,” she giggled.
“Pancakes, bacon, and eggs?”
Miranda served up the breakfast onto heated plates and set them on the placemats, then she poured them each a glass of orange juice. She hunted in the refrigerator and found some maple syrup.
Mia downed the orange juice in a few gulps and dug into the pancakes. Miranda sat down on the barstool to watch. She smirked.
“What?” Mia asked with her mouth full.
“You know, for a nine-year-old who eats me out of house and home, you act like I don’t feed you,” she said. “Slow down before you choke on your food, baby.”
“Okay,” she muttered between mouthfuls.
A knock sounded at her door, and as she swiveled around in her chair, the door opened. Quinn Tadford, her dearest friend and partner, entered in a rush, looking both excited and distraught.
Quinn was the first person Miranda met when she arrived at the DEA Training Academy in Quantico, Virginia, looking as lost and lonely as she did.
They recognized a kindred spirit in each other that day, and they had been friends ever since. Not only did they share a sense of humor, but they were a true partnership; an unbreakable team.
“Eli Stoker,” he said. “We’ve got a new fix on his drop…but it’s going down tonight.”
Miranda gasped and leaped up from her seat. “What?” she cried, then she cast a sidelong glance at Mia before nodding in the direction of the living area.
He complied, his hazel eyes serious, and followed her into the living room. He gently patted Mia on the head as he passed.
“Tell me everything now.”
“A couple of hours ago, an informant came in. Gave us everything we needed to take down Stoker. This time we’ve got him. I can feel it.”
She was silent.
“What? I thought you would be excited about this.”
“I am. Really. And as much as I would love to take this asshole down, I’m afraid I’m going to have to step out of this one,” she whispered, ashamed, and she shrugged apologetically.
He gasped and scowled at her. “Step out? We’ve been working on this case for over six months. I can’t afford for you to step out of this one, Miranda.”
She glared at him.
“Okay, I know that’s not what you wanted to hear,” he continued quietly.
“All I’m saying is that if we plan on taking Stoker down, we’re going to need every available agent on this mission, especially you.”
“Damn it, Quinn.” She rubbed the space between her brows. “One month. It’s been one month since I’ve been able to spend some real one-on-one time with Mia.
“I’m supposed to take her out shopping this afternoon. This is going to break her heart.”
“I know,” he said softly. “And I will spend the rest of my life making it up to her, but I could really use you on this.”
“Oh, Quinn! You are the most frustrating male on the planet.” She threw her hands in the air. “Fine—I’ll go.”
With a smirk, Quinn took her elbow and led her back to the kitchen.
“We’re not going, are we?” Mia’s mouth was set into a hard line. She slammed down her fork and crossed her arms.
Miranda hesitated. “No, sweetheart, we’re not. Something important has come up at work and I’m afraid we’re going to have to cancel our plans for today.”
“Oh.” She frowned.
Mia grabbed her empty plate and made her way over the counter and placed it in the sink. “No, it’s okay.”
Miranda narrowed her eyes. “We talked about this.”
Mia moved to leave the kitchen area, only for her mother to grab her hand and stop her. “Please? Come here.”
Mia sighed, her eyes and the corners of her mouth drooping.
Miranda ushered Mia toward a barstool. “Sit down,” she said and clasped her chin, forcing her eyes to meet hers. Her brow creased.
“Look at me, baby. What do you want me to do?” she asked as she tucked a lock of hair behind her daughter’s ear.
“It’s the third time.”
“Okay,” Miranda said. “And there’s probably gonna be a fourth time and a fifth. I can’t control when bad guys act bad. Baby, I want to be with you as much as possible, I do. But this is my job.”
“I know, okay? This is the first time in a month we got to spend time together. I’ve just been looking forward to this. I’m allowed to be upset.”
“I know you’re disappointed, sweets,” Quinn chimed in.
“And I promise, once this is all over, your mom and I will put in some time off and take you on a nice vacation before school starts, just the three of us, anywhere of your choosing.”
Mia raised an eyebrow. “Anywhere?”
Quinn nodded. “Anywhere.”
“Then I want to go back to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.”
Miranda and Quinn both threw their heads back and groaned.
“What? You said anywhere!” Mia exclaimed.
“I know, but that place was so boring,” Quinn whined and pouted childishly.
Miranda tried to hide a smile as she returned to her food on the breakfast bar. Yum, not so bad, if I do say so myself.
“Was not!” Mia said. “It’s housed in the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. This museum chronicles the civil rights movement from slave times to present day.
“We’ll be able to board a replica of Rosa Parks’s bus, which we weren’t able to do the last time we were there, see lunch counters where sit-ins were held…
“And view the room and balcony where Dr. King spent his final moments. It doesn’t sound boring at all.”
Quinn looked back to Miranda, saying no with his eyes.
“What Quinn is trying to say, sweetheart, is that we’ve already been to Memphis,” Miranda said. “Wouldn’t you like to see something else?
“Something you haven’t seen before like Yellowstone National Park, the Pacific Coast Highway Drive, the Wisconsin Dells—oh, even better, Universal Orlando, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.”
“All sound fun,” Mia said softly. “Can I have some time to think about it?”
“Of course, sweetheart.” Miranda smiled. “So, are we okay about tonight?”
“That’s my girl.”
Quinn moved over to the stove, poured himself a cup of Miranda’s hot herbal tea, and sat down at the island beside Mia. He took a sip from his steaming mug and grimaced.
“You’d figure the ten years I’ve known you, you’d keep a coffee pot around for me.” He shoved a hand through his hair, mussing its careful placement.
“You know I hate coffee; no matter how much cream and sugar goes into it, it’s still bitter. You could just bring your own,” she said, matter-of-fact.
Quinn leaned back in his chair in stunned surprise. “Touché,” he murmured as his expression changed to one of amusement.
“I have to make a few calls and grab a few things for tonight. Make yourself at home.”
“Call Popo and Nana to stay with me first!” Mia said.
Miranda paused. “Popo and Nana have plans tonight,” she explained. “I’m calling Brooke to stay with you.”
“Yay. We’re gonna be up all night doing mani-pedis.” Mia couldn’t keep the sarcasm out of her voice as her eyes reached for the heavens.
Miranda laughed softly. “Go easy on the girl, will ya? She really loves you. And besides, you know you like it.”
And with that, Miranda left the kitchen, leaving Mia and Quinn alone.
Quinn watched Miranda’s backside as she left the kitchen.
“You know, staring won’t give you the power to see through her clothes,” Mia said.
Quinn choked on his tea, and he stared at Mia, eyes wide and mouth gaping. She patted him gently on the back and passed him some orange juice.
“Busted,” she said with a laugh.
It didn’t take a genius to know that Quinn had a serious problem. He was madly in lust with his partner; everything about her enticed him.
Her fantastic body and the way she moved it, her scent, her smile, her laugh, her voice, her fantastically brilliant brown eyes, her soft lips, which he longed to taste…
All of it flashed through his mind even when he wasn’t at the office, and he knew he was far too distracted to be at the top of his game, but he couldn’t stop thinking about her.
He had been drawn to her before, but now he craved her.
Even though he knew it was horribly wrong, he ached to be hers, to give her pleasure like she had never had, but every time the thought arose, he pushed it away angrily.
It seemed so incredibly unjust, but Quinn tried to hammer the fact into his head that Miranda would never be his, couldn’t be his.
Not only was he ten years her senior, but she was his partner, and a thousand other reasons made such an interaction practically forbidden.
And yet he was still thinking about it, wasn’t he?
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, sweets,” the Special Agent replied, feigning ignorance and looking down into the orange contents of his glass.
The child shook her head, her mouth twisted into a knowing smirk.
“I may be nine, Uncle Quinn, but I’m not blind,” she said. “If you like my mom, just ask her out on a date. The worst thing she can say is no.”
“It’s not that simple, Mia.”
“Why not?” she asked, then she gasped, alarmed. “Do you think you’ve been friend-zoned by my mother?”
Quinn frowned. “Friend zoned? What? No! I’m not in the friend zone. Where in the world did you even hear that?”
Mia hopped down from her chair and reached for one of the magazines on the counter.
“Brooke leaves these things lying around when she’s here. I get bored so I read. A lot,” she said, then she turned a few pages into the magazine.
“Ah, here it is. ‘Eighteen clear signs you’re in a girl’s friend zone.’”
“Gimme that.” Quinn yanked the magazine away from her and rolled it up before thumping her lightly on her head.
Before Mia could lunge at him, Quinn reached out and scooped her into his arms before tickling her mercilessly for a moment.
Mia howled with laughter, squirming and pushing against Quinn’s chest, wanting out of his arms.
Miranda reentered the kitchen, strapping on her gun and badge. She turned her head when she heard a high-pitched squeal of delight from Mia as she and Quinn romped nearby.
She smiled, marveling at her partner’s capacity for play. His patience with Mia was extraordinary.
Grinning, Quinn set her down on the ground beside Miranda and placed the rolled-up magazine in his back jeans pocket.
As Miranda began to put away her plate and the cups of orange juice, there was a knock at the door.
Brooke opened the door and set her things down on the counter.
“Listen, I really appreciate you coming over on such short notice,” Miranda said.
“It’s no problem.” Brooke smiled warmly. “It looks like there’ll be a lot of college expenses this month, so it’s actually some help.”
Glancing at the clock once more, she decided she and Quinn needed to get a move on. Miranda moved to kneel at Mia’s feet and placed her hands on her shoulders.
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”
Taking a deep breath, she kissed her forehead and turned to Brooke. “There’s plenty of leftovers in the fridge, or there’s money in the jar in case the two of you want to order out,” she said.
“You have both my work numbers. If you need me, please don’t hesitate to call. I’ll be sure to answer.”
“Don’t worry. If we need anything, we’ll give you a holler,” Brooke assured her.
Biting her lip and sneaking one more glance at Mia, she made her way out the door and off to work, Quinn following.
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