Justice in the Shadows
In a shadow world of secrets, lies, and hidden agendas, Detective Sergeant Rebecca Frye and her lover, Dr. Catherine Rawlings, join forces once again in the elusive search for justice.
Rebecca is aided in her struggle to uncover a pornography ring and expose its connections to a traitor within the police department by a rag-tag team of dedicated cops and civilians: JT Sloan, a cybersleuth who is committed to avenging her lover’s devastating injury and walks the fine line between justice and revenge; Dellon Mitchell, a young police officer who discovers an unforeseen talent for undercover work; and Sandy, a prostitute who develops an unexpected passion for cops. Ultimately, this secret investigation may risk not just their careers, but may cost one of them their life.
Dr. Catherine Rawlings awoke, naked, her cheek against her lover’s shoulder. They’d slept with the window open in the bedroom of her first floor apartment, and a faint breeze ruffled the curtains at the window. It was dark. Five am?
Soon the alarm would go off and another day would begin, but it was all that remained unfinished that haunted her. Her last conversation with her police detective lover just before they’d fallen into bed, physically exhausted and emotionally numb, came back to her.
“What’s going to happen now?”
“I’ll be back on regular duty in a day or so, and I’ll have new cases to worry about.” Rebecca rested her cheek against Catherine’s hair and closed her eyes. “It happens like this in police work. You work your ass off and then you can’t make the case because of a technicality, or you do make the case, but the perp plea-bargains it down to nothing.”
“So you’re letting this go?” Catherine asked, surprised.
Faintly, Rebecca shook her head. “Clark will pull the plug on this task force—he’s probably already made the call. But I’ll keep doing what I’m trained to do until we make this right—for Jeff, for Michael, for those young kids.”
Jeff Cruz had been Rebecca’s partner in the Special Crimes Unit of the Philadelphia Police Department until he and another cop had been murdered three months ago. Their killer was still at large, their murders unsolved. Michael Lassiter had been struck down only hours before by a hit and run driver in a thwarted attempt to kill J.T. Sloan, her lover and the civilian computer consultant on the task force. She lay in the intensive care unit at University Hospital in critical condition. Jeff, Michael, those nameless teenagers—victims all.
“I’ll keep doing what I’m trained to do until we make this right…”
Make it right. That’s what her lover did. Catherine shivered and pressed closer.
“Catherine?” Detective Sergeant Rebecca Frye kissed the top of Catherine’s head, one hand drifting up and down her arm in a slow caress. “What’s bothering you?”
“I am so angry about Michael being hurt, and Sloan suffering, and Jason putting his life on the line. And you—working around the clock when you’re barely out of the hospital. It’s just so…unjust.”
Encircling Catherine with an arm, Rebecca rested her chin atop Catherine’s head and mused out loud. “I know Avery Clark and his whole Justice task force ties in somehow with Jeff Cruz and Jimmy Hogan being assassinated. That can’t be a coincidence. Clark might think he can just pull the plug on this operation and we’ll take it lying down, but he’s wrong.”
Catherine’s heart thudded painfully. “What are you going to do?”
“Just dig around a bit.” Rebecca was evasive, both out of habit and out of a desire not to alarm Catherine. “I know Sloan won’t walk away from what happened to Michael, and I’d rather keep her busy doing computer checks for me than worry that she’s running around grabbing people by the throat.”
“She’s in agony, Rebecca. She feels guilty for what happened and she’s terrified of losing her lover. Until Michael recovers, she’s going to be very volatile.”
“I’ll keep an eye on her,” Rebecca promised.
Catherine merely smiled. As if anyone could control Sloan.
“What are you doing today?” Rebecca asked lazily, turning to stretch against Catherine’s body, running both hands up and down her lover’s back. “Hmm?”
“Back to routine.” Catherine’s voice was husky and slow. She rested a hand against Rebecca’s chest, rubbed her thumb across a nipple. She smiled when Rebecca gasped. “Rounds in the morning, clinic…ahh…in the afternoon. I thought…that’s nice…I’d stop to see…” Catherine tilted her head back, her eyes hazy. “Unless you intend to make good on what you’ve started, Detective—”
Rebecca grinned and slid one hand between them, cradling Catherine’s breast as she rocked her leg a little higher. “I do.”
“Oh, thank god.” Catherine felt Rebecca’s mouth on her neck, felt teeth against her skin, and felt herself grow heavy and wet. “When you touch me…” She lost her thought as fingers closed around her nipple, sending streams of pleasure streaking along her nerve fibers. Her stomach clenched with excitement.
“What?” Rebecca squeezed the hard nub, twisting very gently, her head suddenly light at the sound of a quiet whimper. “When I touch you…what?”
Catherine found Rebecca’s eyes, tried to focus on them through the haze of desire, needing something to keep her from surrendering to passion too soon. “You make me…forget…everything. Oh God…stop for a…second.”
“Too much?” Rebecca murmured, easing her grip on the tense nipple.
“Too good. You’ll make me come.”
“Didn’t you just say…” Rebecca’s eyes widened as fingers stole between her thighs, sliding unerringly around the hard ache of her own desire. She felt a tug along her length and her whole body twitched. “Ohh…Jesus, don’t do that unless you want me to go off right away.”
“Not right away.” Catherine stroked her lightly. “But soon.”
Rebecca’s brain was already swimming. She drew her fingers down Catherine’s abdomen, laced them through the silken hair between her legs, glanced gently over her clitoris. “You’re so beautiful.”
“Kiss me while you make me come,” Catherine breathed against Rebecca’s mouth.
Only blocks away, a dark-haired woman with violet eyes sat beside a still figure in a room illuminated by the otherworldly glow of machines that monitored the fragile essence of her lover’s life in impersonal readouts and muted sounds. Hunched forward, elbows on her knees, unaware of the cramps in her shoulders and thighs, Sloan held Michael Lassiter’s hand tenderly in both of hers. Slowly, carefully, she turned the heavy platinum wedding band on Michael’s finger, the mate to her own, and watched with desperate intensity the pale eyelids below delicate brows for signs of awakening. The nurses had washed the blood from her rich blond hair, but Sloan could see it still. See it on her face, in her hair, pooling in the street below her head as she lay so still in the road.
There’s some swelling in the brain. She could wake up in an hour, or a day, or a week. They didn’t say, she may never wake up at all, but that was all that Sloan could hear.
“Michael,” Sloan whispered, tears streaking her cheeks. “I’m so sorry, baby. So sorry.”
Six am. Quitting time.
Sandy leaned back in a booth in an all-night diner on the corner of Twelfth and Locust and sighed. All the other girls had gone home, but she’d stayed just a little longer.
Stupid. She’s not coming.
It had been a long night and not a particularly profitable one. If she wanted to make the rent, she’d need to do more than the hand action and the occasional blow jobs in dark alleys. She’d have to fuck for it. And she hadn’t been.
Not since the night she saw Anna Marie lying naked on a dirty mattress in a filthy hotel, looking so frail and helpless. Looking so pathetic, and so very dead. She had looked at Anna Marie, and she’d seen herself. She wasn’t particularly afraid of dying. There were worse things than that. But she hadn’t run away from one kind of hell just to end up another kind of victim.
Sandy looked up into Dell’s blue eyes, remembering the night the young cop had put her life on the line for her. “Hi, rookie. You look like shit.”
Dellon Mitchell managed a smile, but her eyes were dull with fatigue. “You eat already?”
“Just about to,” Sandy lied, because she wanted an excuse to stay. “You buying?”
“Sure.” Mitchell grinned for real this time. “You order for us, okay?”
Reassured, Sandy cocked an eyebrow. “What’s with you, anyhow? Something happen?”
“Just a bad night.”
“Did you guys go after those Internet pervs?”
“You get ‘em?”
“We got the guy we wanted.” Mitchell’s voice was harsh with anger. “But the fucking Feds took him right out from under us. We came away empty.”
“That sucks,” Sandy said vehemently. “So you still don’t know where they’re filming the skin flicks or where they’re getting those kids?”
“Nope.” Mitchell tapped her fork on the tabletop despondently. “And now I’m probably gonna get pulled back to a desk somewhere.”
“So what now?” Sandy searched Dell’s blue eyes, looking for truth and afraid she’d find what she was hoping for. More afraid that she wouldn’t.
Mitchell’s gaze softened, and she almost reached out to touch her. “We have breakfast, then I walk you home. Sound okay?”
Sandy’s throat felt oddly tight. “Sure, why not.”
Forty-five minutes later they stood in front of a row house south of Bainbridge where Sandy had a small studio apartment.
“So I’ll see you later,” Mitchell said, making no move to leave. She leaned against the rickety wood railing on the small stoop while Sandy pulled a key from the impossibly tiny purse that hung on a long chain around her neck. Her scooped-neck cotton top was too thin and too tight, designed to show off her breasts, and Mitchell noticed.
Sandy looked up and caught Dell’s gaze moving over her. Men stared at her body all the time, sometimes with fever in their eyes, and their looks left her cold. The warmth in Dell’s eyes made her blush. “If they’re gonna stick you on a desk somewhere, I guess maybe I won’t be seeing you.”
Mitchell shook her head, her stomach suddenly tight. “That doesn’t matter. I’m not going anywhere no matter where they bury me.”
For the first time, Sandy realized just how bad things were for the rookie, because of her. Quickly, unthinkingly, she stepped across the small space and rested her fingers on Mitchell’s cheek. “I’m really sorry.”
Surprised, Mitchell straightened, her chest brushing Sandy’s. “Not your fault. I meant it when I said I’d do it again.”
Sandy’s nipples contracted swiftly at the touch of Dell’s shirt against her chest. Startled, she dropped her hand and backed up, wondering if Dell had felt it. “Nobody asked you to.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Mitchell grinned. “I gotta go. I’ll see you.”
“Whatever,” Sandy replied. But she remained in the doorway watching until Dell was out of sight, her body still humming.
At precisely seven-thirty, Catherine opened her inner office door to the waiting room and motioned for her first patient to enter. Officer Dellon Mitchell was still in the clothes she had worn the night before during the task force raid.
“Haven’t you been to bed?”
“Watts and I had a lot of paperwork to do. By the time we cleaned that up it was late…early…uh, today already.”
“We can reschedule if you—”
“No.” Mitchell made an effort to sit up straighter and tried to clear the cloud of exhaustion from her brain. “I need to get this done. With the task force dead, I’m going to be reassigned.” She grimaced. “And I want to get back to the street. If I have this thing hanging over my head, they’ll bury me somewhere.”
“Have you talked to Rebecca?”
“About what?” Mitchell looked confused.
“Maybe she can help you with this situation.”
Mitchell stared at her, then laughed shortly. “It doesn’t work that way, Dr. Rawlings. You don’t take your troubles to anyone, especially not a detective like Frye.”
“Who do you talk to then? Friends? A lover?”
Mitchell hesitated. “Does this have something to do with my evaluation?”
“No. This just has to do with you.”
A muscle in Mitchell’s jaw twitched and she clamped her teeth down to stop it. She thought about the late night conversations beneath dim streetlights and the early morning breakfasts. She thought about the dark alley and the hulking stranger. “I have a friend.”
“The woman I told you about…the woman who was in the alley that night. We talk sometimes.”
“What’s her name?”
“Sandy.” Mitchell smiled faintly. Her eyes met Catherine’s. “I met her on the job a while back and then I’d see her in my sector. She’s a prostitute.”
Catherine remembered what Dellon had told her about coming upon the woman being assaulted in the alley. He had one hand around her throat and the other under her skirt. Her thighs were bare, pale, ghostly in the moonlight. I saw her face for the first time then. There was blood on her face…She had been screaming before—shouting, I think—for him to stop. Now she was…whimpering. I was afraid he was going to kill her. “And does that worry you?”
Mitchell met her gaze. “Yeah.” She paused. “All the time.”
“Have you told her that?”
“Hell no.” Mitchell smiled. “She’d tell me to take a walk and not come back.”
“She sounds pretty independent,” Catherine observed, noting the tension ease from the tight body and taut features the longer Dellon spoke of her friend. More than friendship?
“Hard-headed and short-tempered.” Mitchell’s voice had softened.
“We’re about out of time, Officer. Do you—”
“Could you call me Dell?”
Surprised, Catherine nodded. “Of course. Dell, what are your plans for further sessions?”
“Do I have to say right now?” She hadn’t wanted to come, had only done it because she’d been forced to. Now…
Catherine’s eyes were gentle. “Come back any time, Dell.”
Across town, Rebecca walked into the squad room on the third floor of the eighteenth precinct and threaded her way through the maze of crowded metal desks and haphazardly placed chair toward her desk in the far left corner. She slowed as she approached, an eyebrow cocked in surprise. “What’s with the new suit?”
He looked down, then met her gaze. “I got two.”
“Uh-huh.” She picked up a stack of folders, glanced at them, and tossed them aside. She wasn’t interested in cold cases, or new ones for that matter. She was interested in two unsolved ones—Jeff Cruz’s murder and the attempted murder of J.T. Sloan. They had to be related, because both of them had the smell of an inside job. “Let’s take a ride.”
Without a word he followed her into the hall, down the stairwell, and out into the rear parking lot. A few minutes later they were rocketing south on I-95.
“Who’d you tell about the plans for the raid?” she asked without preamble.
“What? Fuck, nobody.” His voice was indignant.
“That leaves Catherine, Mitchell, Sloan, McBride, or Clark.” She looked at him, her expression remote. “Which one do you figure for the snitch?”
“It wasn’t anybody on the team,” he replied adamantly.
“I agree.” Rebecca’s voice was low, flat, the way it got when she was simmering with rage. “There’s something you don’t know,” she said at length. “Trish Marks over in Homicide told me that Captain Henry got with her Captain behind close doors, and then she and her partner were pulled off the investigation into Jeff and Jimmy’s murders.”
“That smells bad.”
“Yeah.” Rebecca eased up on the gas. “I don’t want to think it’s him, but…”
“You’d be a puss…ah, a chump to trust him right now.” He fingered his cigarettes fitfully, wondering if she’d ever let him smoke in her ride. “But it could be someone higher up in the Department.”
“Maybe. Or someone with access to department records.”
“I don’t know, but someone pulled all of Dee Flanagan’s evidence reports on Jeff and Jimmy.”
Rebecca slowed, made a U-turn across the median, and headed back north. “They hacked them out of her computer, it seems.”
“And we have our very own computer whiz kids, and one of ‘ems got an ax to grind.” Watts turned on the seat and studied Rebecca’s sharply hewn profile. “You’re thinking about running a shadow investigation of your own, aren’t you? Going after the leak in the department?”
“It all ties together, Watts. The porn ring, the Justice inquiry, the sex videos, Jimmy Hogan’s Intel—all of it.” She gripped the wheel hard, although her face revealed nothing. “Who knows, this case might even shake loose Zamora and the rest of the organized crime family.”
“We could get hung out to dry, too.”
“Who said anything about we?”
He huffed. “We’re partners, Sarge. Right?”
Rebecca eyed the shabby cop in the clean blue suit and sighed. Almost too quietly for him to hear, she grunted, “Right.”
“The haldol should be fine for the agitation,” Catherine remarked as she signed off on the resident’s progress notes and checked her watch. She had an hour before clinic.
Just outside the intensive care unit, Catherine saw a red-headed woman walking in her direction. Slowing at the woman’s nod, Catherine said, “Hello. I’m Catherine Rawlings. We were never properly introduced last night when Michael was brought it.”
“Sarah Martin.” The red-head extended her hand.
Catherine noticed that there were faint circles beneath her eyes. The smile was soft and genuine, but her cornflower blue eyes were troubled. “How’s Michael? I was about to go check on her.”
“Not awake yet.” Sarah glanced briefly at the double steel doors leading in to the intensive care unit. “If you could talk to Sloan…I can’t get her to leave, and she’s about to collapse.”
The two women parted and a moment later, Catherine entered the small cubicle where Michael Lassiter lay. “Sloan?”
“Catherine.” Sloan’s voice was hoarse, her eyes dark hollows, the normally vibrant violet brushed black with pain.
Crouching down, Catherine placed both hands on Sloan’s face, cupping her strong jaw. “You have to get some sleep. When she wakes up, she can’t see you like this. Worrying about you will not help her get well.”
“I’m afraid to leave. What if…” She looked away, trembling.
“There’s an on call room my residents use on the next floor. Rebecca’s slept there more than once. You can shower and get some sleep, and you’ll be five minutes away.” Catherine pulled Sloan to her feet and slid her arm around the muscular woman’s waist when she swayed. “I’ll speak to Michael’s nurse and give her the number there. I’ll be sure that you’re called the second there’s any change.”
Sloan wanted to protest, but she kept hearing Catherine’s words. Worrying about you will not help her get well. Carefully she lowered the steel rail that ran along the side of the bed and leaned down to kiss Michael. “I’ll be right back, baby. I love you so much.”
Catherine spoke to the staff, found scrubs for Sloan in the locker room next to the ICU, and walked Sloan up to the resident’s room. “No one will bother you here.”
“Okay, sure. Thanks.” The minute she was alone, Sloan pulled off the clothes she’d been in for over a day, stepped into a cold shower for two minutes, and then collapsed naked onto the bed. She was instantly asleep.
It seemed like only a minute when the phone rang.
“Yeah,” Sloan croaked groggily.
“This is Dr. Torveau, Ms. Slo—”
“Is she all right?” Sloan pushed herself upright, fumbling on the end of the narrow bed for the clothes Catherine had left her. “Is she—”
“She’s stable. She’s not awake, but she’s starting to show some purposeful movement. It could be any time.”
“I’ll be right there.”
Three minutes later she was waiting by Michael’s bedside once again. “Baby, it’s me,” Sloan whispered, brushing her fingers over Michael’s pale cheek. “I love you.” She’d said it a thousand times in the last forty hours. It was all she could think to say. It was the only thing that mattered in her life. “I…”
Michael’s lids fluttered. Sloan held her breath.
Sloan blinked, because she thought she might be dreaming. Blue eyes, the crystal blue of clear ocean water, met hers. Sloan sucked in a sharp breath, then reached trembling fingers for the hand that moved weakly across the crisp white sheets toward hers.
“Right here.” Sloan looked around, wondering if she should call someone. But nothing in the world would get her to move from Michael’s side. “You’re going to be okay. You’re in the hospital, but you’re gong to be okay.”
“What, love?” Sloan leaned closer. She was shaking so much she thought her legs might go. “I can’t…”
“Are you…all…” Michael swallowed painfully. “…all right?”
“Oh God.” Sloan laughed, an edge of wild tears in her voice. “You’re here…that’s all I need.”
Michael sighed and closed her eyes. Sloan’s heart tripped with sudden apprehension. “Michael?”
“She’s just asleep,” Ali Torveau, the trauma surgeon, said quietly from the doorway. “She’ll be in and out like that for a while. She was lucky.”
“Lucky.” Sloan glanced back at her lover, so fragile, so precious. Rage burned like acid in her gut. “Yeah.”
When Rebecca’s pager sounded for the third time in less than half and hour, she looked at the readout grimaced. “I think our time is up. That’s the captain’s number again. I’ll come back out later tonight—see if I can shake down some of my sources.”
“How ’bout that hooker you mentioned the other day?”
Rebecca stiffened and said nothing. Although the description was true, she rarely thought of Sandy as one of the marginal, beaten-down women who sold their bodies with seemingly careless disregard for their own ultimate fate. Sandy wasn’t like that, not yet. She was still clear-eyed and spirited, still fighting the forces that colluded to drag her down.
“I’ll let her look at some pictures.” Rebecca’s tone was clipped and short. “Maybe she can ID them for us.”
Watts cleared his throat. “We’ve got some better pictures she could look at, maybe. Recent pictures.”
“What?” Rebecca pulled in to the lot behind the one-eight and turned in her seat to regard him with just the faintest hint of suspicion.
“Didn’t Sloan say she was recording that little fuck fest last night? There’s two girls right there that we know are involved for sure.”
“And a guy,” Rebecca said softly. “Jesus, Watts.”
She unclipped the cell phone from her belt. She doubted that anyone would be around, but she tried the main number at Sloan Security first. A male voice answered on the fourth ring.
“Jason, it’s Frye.”
“Hey.” His voice was flat, tired.
“Any news on Michael?”
Rebecca pushed her sympathy for Michael’s friend and her anger at the assault aside. The best thing she could do was find whoever was behind it. “Do you have Sloan’s computer there? The one she used last night to monitor the live feed of the sex video?”
“Sure. I was just about to call you. I’ve got a good print of the guy.” Jason’s tone was animated for the first time. “I had to extract the images from several partial views and do a computer simulation to get the composite, but it’s good enough to through the databases—NCIP, Armed Forces, DMV—for starters.”
“Okay.” Rebecca blew out a breath. “Do it.”
Rebecca jumped from the car, keyed the alarm, and headed toward the back entrance to the station house at a fast clip.
“Where’s the fire,” Watts puffed as he hurried to her side.
“Look—we probably took whoever’s running the kiddie porn show by surprise last night. They’re going to be tightening up their internet security now, especially if they know that Justice has one of their mid-level guys.” She shouldered through the rear fire door on the first floor and headed toward the elevators. “They could be reorganizing the whole operation, too—changing personnel, switching out the kids, relocating the studio right now. We’ve got to get as much as we can as fast as we can.”
“You want to tell me how you managed to come away empty from an operation that you were supposed to be coordinating, Sergeant?” Captain John Henry’s voice was level, but his mahogany face was a shade darker than usual with barely suppressed irritation.
“I was hoping you could tell me, sir.” Rebecca’s eyes were winter grey and her voice colder still.
“Sit down, Sergeant.”
“I’m fine, sir.”
“That wasn’t a request.” He hadn’t raised his voice, but his formidable shoulders bunched with tension. “Your paperwork is still incomplete. No psych eval. I could pull you put of the field and sit you behind a desk until you grew roots.”
“Whitaker must have forgotten to send the report,” Rebecca replied.
“Nice try, Frye. Whitaker says you have a final meeting before he signs off.”
She gritted her teeth. “I guess there was a miscommunication.”
“I’m sure.” Henry tipped his chin toward the chair. “Now sit your ass down.”
Rebecca sat. Despite her concern that Henry might be behind the leak that had led to the attack on Sloan’s life, he was her commanding officer, and he held all the cards.
Henry sighed. “Did you come away with anything from the operation at all?”
“Other than a civilian in the hospital?” Rebecca rarely disclosed all the details of her investigations to anyone, even her captain.. “Not much. We know there’s an Internet porn ring broadcasting live sex videos in the area. The guy the feds snatched from us last night is a part of it.”
“Connected to organized crime?” Henry asked almost eagerly. “It would be big if we could tie Zamora and his crew to this.”
“Nothing solid.” Rebecca watched him for some sign that his interest was more than just that of a cop wanting to clean up the city and advance his own career at the same time. If he were the mob’s inside man, his questions might give him away.
“Have you got anything working on the streets that might pay off?”
“Soft stuff. Nothing hot.” She leaned forward almost imperceptibly. “Look, Captain. If you give me a little room to work this, I know I can break something open. I still have the whole team. We know almost as much as the Feds, and they don’t have the contacts I do.”
He leaned back in his leather chair, the only concession to comfort in the room, and steepled his surprisingly elegant hands in front of his chest. His heavy lids appeared nearly closed. “I have no authority to approve that kind of operation.”
Rebecca said nothing.
“I think it might take Whitaker another week or so to finish his report,” Henry mused. “Until he does that, you can’t go into the regular rotation.”
Rebecca knew that he was giving her the unofficial green light to keep hunting for the leaders of the porn ring, and anything else that she might turn up. Unofficial meant unprotected, too. He was out of the loop and unaccountable. She’d be alone, without department sanction. If he were dirty, it was a perfect way to set her up. Much the way Jimmy Hogan had been set up. A cop working outside was easier to dispose of.
“I’m sure he’ll want to see me another time or two, yes sir.” She needed the freedom to pursue the case, and this was the only way she’d get it.
“Sergeant,” the captain added before Rebecca turned away, “you can have a man or two to assist.”
“Watts,” Rebecca said immediately, ignoring the faint look of surprise on Henry’s face. Firmly, she said, “And the uniform—Mitchell.”
“I’ll see to it.”
Rebecca had almost reached the door when she heard the quiet words, “Good luck, Sergeant.”
She didn’t answer as she stepped through and closed the door.
Watts waited just outside. “What’s he say?”
“Not here.” She glanced at her watch. Five-thirty. Six months ago she would have immediately headed back to the Tenderloin in the hopes of finding some of her confidential informants who were just crawling out of bed and hitting the streets for the start of their night. She’d stay out—dropping into the bars, talking with her CIs, watching, listening, taking the pulse of the city—until the night dwindled into dawn. Night after night. That had been her life.
But it wasn’t now. Couldn’t be now.
“I’m going to be at Sloan’s at nine tonight. Call Jason and Mitchell and tell them to meet us there, if you want in on this. That’s all I can give you now.”
He jiggled the change in his pocket and thought about the stack of files on his desk. Cold cases—old cases that had run out of steam. No leads. No suspects. No hope of closure. He could sit on his ass and make phone calls for the next three years and retire with thirty years in. Good pension, good health benefits. Or he could throw in with Frye, who seemed to attract danger like moths to flame.
He studied the tall, blond, intense woman by his side—a tough street cop whose only agenda was justice. A cop’s cop.
“I don’t have anything cooking right now.” He shrugged. “I’ll ride along.”
Catherine stepped from the elevator and glanced around the lobby. Rebecca stood with a shoulder against a column, talking on her cell phone. She wore a gray gabardine suit and a plain white shirt. A thin black belt encircled her waist. The shoulder holster was not visible under the carefully tailored jacket, but Catherine knew precisely where it lay along Rebecca’s left side, just below her breast. Quickly, she threaded her way between the people milling about in front of the information desk.
“What a surprise.” Catherine reached for Rebecca’s hand as she kissed Rebecca’s cheek. “I’m so glad to see you.”
Rebecca laced her fingers between Catherine’s and pulled her gently out of the path of the steady stream of hospital visitors. “Any chance you can get away for a while?”
“I have a little over two hours before I need to see patients in my office.” Catherine tilted her head, searching Rebecca’s eyes, appreciating the warmth she found there. “Just what do you have in mind, Detective?”
“I suppose there’s no chance we could roll around in the on-call room for a while?” Rebecca took a step closer until her body lightly touched Catherine’s.
Catherine drew a surprised breath and then saw the amusement flickering in her lover’s face. “You shouldn’t tease me while I’m working, darling.”
“I was only partly teasing.” Rebecca’s voice dropped a register as she traced her fingers over Catherine’s forearm. “But I suppose you’d like dinner instead.”
“I’d like both,” Catherine murmured. “But I think the rolling around part should wait until later.”
“Where are we going?” Catherine asked.
“You’re kidding. On the spur of the moment like this?” Catherine turned in her seat to study Rebecca’s face. “Is this a special occasion?”
Rebecca shook her head. “Nope. I just thought you’d like it.”
“Oh, I like it.” Catherine rested her hand on Rebecca’s thigh, softly running her fingers up and down the tight muscles beneath. “Thank you.”
“For what?” Rebecca asked curiously as she pulled into the small gravel parking lot adjoining the century-old mansion that housed DiCarlo’s restaurant.
“You don’t usually stop work this early.”
Rebecca blushed. She wasn’t used to anyone being able to tell what was going on with her as easily as Catherine. It wasn’t that she minded; it was just that it continued to surprise her. “I’m not done, exactly. I’ll explain over dinner.”
Once they had ordered and were alone, Rebecca said, “I’ll be going back out for a few hours this evening.”
“Will you come by the apartment when you’re done?” Catherine still found it necessary to ask, uncertain of how much to expect at this point in their relationship.
“Yes, if you don’t mind that it might be late.” Each time they had this conversation, Rebecca was anxious. Every relationship she’d ever had had suffered and ultimately failed because of who she was. Because of the cop she was.
Catherine raised an eyebrow. “Rebecca, I know you have to work. I know what you do. You don’t need to apologize for that by taking me out to dinner.”
“I’m not…” Rebecca fell silent as the waiter brought their first course. “It’s not that. Not totally. I wanted to see you. I… I miss you. Jesus, I just saw you this morning, but I miss you.”
Catherine reached across the table and took Rebecca’s hand. “I don’t want you to feel guilty about being who you are. I love you. And loving you means loving the cop in you. I know that.”
Rebecca brought Catherine’s hand to her lips and kissed her palm softly. “I just want to do everything right.”
“Well, you’re doing very well so far.” Catherine carefully drew her hand away, because the heat from Rebecca’s fingers was making it difficult for her to think. “Are you working on a new case?”
“Uh…” Swiftly, Rebecca calculated, trying to gauge how much she should say. “Officially, I’m not working on anything. Henry wants me to see Whitaker another time or two before he’ll clear me to resume full duty.”
“Officially.” Catherine’s stomach clenched. “And unofficially?”
“Unofficially I’ve been green lighted to continue looking into the pornography ring.” Rebecca had heard the undertone of anxiety that Catherine had tried to hide. “A lot of it we can do right from Sloan’s, with computer traces, just the way we have been doing. You don’t need to worry.”
“Rebecca, darling,” Catherine said softly. “I will try my very best to understand and support you. I truly mean that. But you can’t expect me not to worry.”
“I promise it will be all right.” Rebecca reached for Catherine’s hand again. “Try to believe that.”
“Will you let me help?”
Rebecca’s first impulse was to say no, but she forced out the words. “Yes. Chances are we’ll need your profiling input.”
“Good. I hate what’s happened, too, and I want to help.”
Rebecca rubbed her face briskly with her free hand. “God, this relationship business is tough.”
Catherine laughed, her eyes suddenly sparkling. “I love you, Rebecca Frye.”
“What did I do?”
“And that’s one of the big reasons why. You give me what I need, just because you’re you.”
After Rebecca dropped Catherine off at the hospital, she made one quick stop and then headed north for Old City and the renovated warehouse that was both Sloan Security’s central office and Michael and Sloan’s home. Once inside, she found Jason McBride, Sloan’s business associate, studying a computer monitor. When he glanced in her direction, she could tell immediately that he’d been working without sleep for at least two days.
“Jason.” She glanced around. “Mitchell and Watts here yet?”
“No,” a voice from behind Rebecca answered.
Rebecca turned and saw Sloan walking toward her. The security consultant, who wore her signature blue jeans, white T-shirt, and scuffed brown boots, looked roughly twice as bad as Jason. Still, Rebecca was happy to see that Sloan’s eyes were clearer than they had been in days.
“Sloan. Good to see you.” Rebecca held out her hand in greeting. “How’s Michael?”
“She was awake for a few minutes this afternoon.” Sloan smiled as she shook Rebecca’s hand. “I’m going back to the hospital soon, but when Jason said you were coming over, I wanted to be here.”
Before Rebecca could reply, a small series of pings signaled activity from the perimeter cameras. She turned to her left and glanced at another series of monitors. Watts and Mitchell were displayed climbing the steps to the front door. Another minute passed, and then Watts and Mitchell joined the group.
“Just like old times,” Watts rumbled.
Mitchell, also in jeans, a black T-shirt, and motorcycle boots, sidled over to Jason and peered over his shoulder at the computer. “Sweet,” she murmured, a note of excitement in her voice.
Rebecca walked over to Jason. “Can you leave that program running or do you have to baby-sit it?”
He shook his head. “No. If we get a hit, it will freeze the frame.”
“Okay, then, listen up,” Rebecca said, getting everyone’s attention. “Let’s go get some coffee and assess the situation.”
They moved into the conference room in the rear, filled coffee cups, and settled around the granite-topped table.
“We’ve got a week or so to finish what we started with the investigation into the Internet porn ring,” Rebecca stated. She looked at the people gathered around. “I have two primary goals—the first is finding out how and where they’re getting the kids, where they’re stashing them, and who’s behind the video business.”
Sloan’s right hand tightened into a fist. “What about—”
“The second,” Rebecca continued, unperturbed, “is finding out who leaked the Intel about the raid last night and ordered the hit on Sloan. When we know that, we’ll know who put Michael in the hospital.”
“How we gonna work it?” Watts asked.
“From two directions,” Rebecca replied. “Sloan and Jason will work the computers ID’ing the players in the porn video. Mitchell—you work the chat rooms and see if there’s anything going around there that could lead us to a name.”
Mitchell nodded, her expression intent.
“Sloan,” Rebecca met Sloan’s hot eyes, reading the need for action, for retribution, in her purple gaze, “I need you to do some hacking.”
Rebecca hesitated, glancing once at Mitchell. The young officer returned her scrutiny steadily. “Into the police department.”
Watts muttered softly, “Fuck me.”
“Someone raided the Crime Scene Unit’s master files and derailed the investigation into the deaths of two police officers.” Rebecca blew out a breath. “I’m betting that person was the same one who fingered you for the hit, Sloan.”
“We need street Intel,” Watts said into the ensuing silence. “All this computer jerking o—uh, investigating, is fine, but we need names, leads, something to chase.”
“That’s the second wing of our operation. You and I will work that, Watts.” She glanced at her watch just as the repetitive ping of the security system sounded again.
“System—show sector one,” Sloan ordered and a monitor mounted on a wall bracket flashed to the landing in front of the main entrance.
A thin blond in low-riding jeans and a skin-tight top stood staring into the camera. The audio picked up her voice. “I’m here, so you gonna open up or what? Hey, Frye? Jesus.”
“That would be my CI,” Rebecca remarked flatly. “Better let her in before she starts taking the door apart.”
Watts swiveled in his chair to follow the progress of the newest arrival on the monitor. As the image on the screen switched from one security camera to the next, he whistled softly as he watched the woman saunter across the garage to the elevator.
“Tasty. Looks like jailbait, though.”
“Detective,” Rebecca said in a voice so soft it would have been inaudible were it not so deadly. “Be careful what you say about one of mine.”
“Sure, Sarge. No offense—”
One of mine. Mitchell, whose eyes were riveted on the monitor as well, stiffened. “Officially?”
“Yes. She’s registered.” Rebecca regarded her solemnly, noting the tension in the young officer’s body and the harsh edge in her voice. So there is something going on with these two.
Since when? Being a registered confidential informant meant that Sandy was listed with the department by name and paid out of department funds on a regular basis. And if that were the case, Sandy’s identity was now on file for anyone to find. Jesus, as if being on the streets isn’t dangerous enough for her already. Why not just hang a target around her neck.
Mitchell managed a nod as Jason walked in with Sandy beside him, but her stomach was in knots.
“Can I get you some coffee or a coke?” Jason asked.
Sandy did a quick scan of the room, hesitating for millisecond on Mitchell’s face, before fixing on Rebecca with a defiant stare. “Yeah, sure. Why not.”
Addressing the group at large, Rebecca explained, “I asked Sandy to come down because I want her to look at last night’s live feed. It’s possible she might recognize the location, or the girls, or even the guy.”
Watts grunted in appreciation. Mitchell said nothing, but her eyes never left Sandy’s face.
“I can bring it up on the big screen in the viewing room,” Sloan offered.
“Great. So’s we can all get a close-up of the guy’s pecker.” Watts inclined his head toward Sandy. “Any chance you’ll be able to recognize that?”
“Depends,” Sandy said flatly. “Most of them look pretty much the same, except…” her eyes dropped briefly to Watts’s crotch, “some of them are a lot smaller than others.”
Watts grinned, not looking the least bit offended.
Sandy stayed close to Rebecca’s side as the group wended its way through the core of the work area, aware of Dell walking just behind her. Frye didn’t tell me Dell would be here tonight. Jesus, she looks pissed, too.
Once there, Sloan pushed a button and almost immediately images sprang to life on the large screen on one wall.
“I want you to look at the girls first,” Rebecca said. “Then we’ll go back, and you can look at him.”
Sandy was oddly silent as she watched the action on the screen. A man in a nondescript uniform entered a room in which the only furnishings were a bedroom set of the type sold in discount warehouses, a few lamps, and a chair. The bed was made up with a faded quilt. She leaned forward as two girls entered the room. One was Asian and the other Caucasian. The man stripped as they feigned surprise and awkward shyness.
“Can you…you know…make this bigger?” Sandy stared fixedly at the screen. “I want to see their faces…their eyes.”
“Just a second.” Sloan made some adjustments and zoomed in on the Asian girl’s face.
Sandy nodded in satisfaction. “She’s young, but not quite as young as they want you to think.”
“Anything else?” Rebecca whispered softly.
“I don’t know them,” Sandy replied hollowly. Watching the young girls do what she herself did on a nightly basis was harder than she had expected it to be. It was even worse knowing that Dell was watching. Why do I care what anyone thinks? Even her.
“Okay,” Rebecca whispered, hearing the discomfort in Sandy’s voice. Over her shoulder, she said to Sloan, “Get us a shot of the guy now.”
The images blurred, and then a profile of the man’s face came into view. Sandy straightened suddenly. “Wait…can you go back?…There…” she pointed at the screen. “On his neck…is that a scar?”
“Can’t be sure, but Jason can work it up for us later with the imaging software.”
“Good girl, Sandy.” Rebecca’s voice was tight with excitement. “Do you know him?”
“Seen him, maybe,” Sandy replied. “I remember something about a guy with a scar on his neck shaped like a, whatdayacallit, a scimitar.”
“Turn it off,” Rebecca ordered.
The lights came up and they all stood, blinking, carefully not looking at one another.
“If you can give me pictures of those girls, I can show them around,” Sandy offered.
“Jason will get them made up for you tonight,” Sloan replied.
Sandy nodded, really looking at Sloan for the first time, slowly taking in the wild dark hair, the amazing eyes, the muscular physique. She looked a bit like an older Dell, except Dell’s body was sexier, all wiry and tight and… Oh man, what is that about!
“Maybe flashing those pictures around’s not so cool,” Mitchell said, moving closer to Sandy. She almost reached for her hand, and then stuffed her fists into the pockets of her jeans instead. “You start asking about those girls and somebody might take notice. Somebody who you don’t want to take notice.”
“Mitchell,” Rebecca warned. I’m going to rein her in before she crosses a line.
Sensing that Rebecca was about to ream out Dell for interfering, Sandy lifted her chin and snapped, “I can take of myself. Why don’t you just worry about the cop stuff.”
While the others worked out the schedule for the next day, Mitchell and Sandy slowly drifted toward the elevator.
“Come on, I’ll walk you home,” Mitchell murmured to Sandy. She rested her fingers lightly against Sandy’s bare elbow.
“Sandy,” Rebecca called, catching up to them at the elevators. “Let’s take a ride.”
“Sure,” the young woman replied with a sigh, moving her arm away from Mitchell’s hand. “It’s your dime, Frye.”
Outside, Sandy and Rebecca walked in the other direction to the Corvette. Mitchell stood on the sidewalk, shoulders hunched in the chill night air, watching them go.
“You did well up there,” Rebecca said as she drove south on Front street, the lights of the Ben Franklin Bridge glowing blue as it towered into the dark night sky just above them. Rebecca studied Sandy’s face in the light of the passing headlights. Not for the first time she realized how pretty she was. “You know that guy, don’t you?”
Sandy sighed. “I’m not sure, but I think he used to be a bouncer at Ziggies.”
Rebecca drew a sharp breath, and her pulse rate jumped. Ziggies was a sex club at 11th and Arch that featured nude dancers, and it was mob connected. A guy reputed to be one of Zamora’s front men owned it. Finally, a connection. “Did you ever dance there?”
“Who me?” Sandy snorted. “Not hardly. You need tits out to Arizona to shag in there. And you have to blow every bartender in the place.” She hesitated, unused to sharing information with the police, even Frye. But that afternoon, the detective had shown up at her apartment unexpectedly and made her an offer with a formal price tag attached. More information, more help, for more money. “But I know someone who did work there.”
“Can you put me with her?”
“I’ll see if I can find her.” Sandy pointed to a bar up the block. “You can let me out there.”
“Uh-uh. I’m taking you home.”
“It’s not even midnight!”
“When I stopped by earlier and you agreed to go official with me, you turned in your streetwalking creds.”
“I’m not gonna trick.” Sandy sounded affronted. “But I need to be out and seen, otherwise people will get suspicious. And suspicious people don’t talk. You know that.”
Rebecca had the inexplicable desire to tell her no, but she knew Sandy had to maintain her street contacts or she’d be useless as an informant. Rebecca pulled to the curb and extracted five twenties, almost all that she had, from her wallet. “Here. Your first paycheck.”
Sandy looked at the bills and smiled wryly. “Five hand jobs. Won’t pay the rent.”
“I’ll see that there’s more. And your hands are clean.”
“Yeah. Ain’t that a thrill.”
“One more thing.”
“Frye, you’re hurting me sitting out here.”
Rebecca had already checked and knew that no one was watching them. “A police officer can be suspended, even fired, for fraternizing with a prostitute.”
Dell. Sandy grew still. “Fraternizing—you mean, even if they’re just…like friends?”
“Sometimes ‘friends’ looks like something else.” Rebecca’s voice was soft, almost gentle. “Hard to prove otherwise.”
“I don’t have any cop friends.” Sandy pushed open the door, turned her back, and headed for the bar.
Rebecca watched the thin young blond walk away, knowing that she was putting the girl in danger by employing her as an informant. But the streets would be no kinder to Sandy if she was forced to stay alive by selling her body. At least this way, she might have a chance. A devil’s bargain, perhaps, but one Rebecca would have to live with.
Sloan walked quickly through the silent hospital halls, the events and conversations of the last few hours almost forgotten. When she reached the door of Michael’s room in the ICU and looked in, she saw only the empty bed with the pristine white sheets neatly made. Her stomach turned over, and her head grew light. Michael!
“I’m so sorry,” a nurse said as she quickly approached.
Sloan closed her eyes, the roaring in her head making it difficult to make out the words. oh god, oh god…what am I going to do?
“I tried to call you—”
Numbly, Sloan stared at the small, dark-haired woman with the kind eyes.
“…upstairs a half-hour of ago.”
“What?” Sloan couldn’t seem to catch hold of the words that were floating past her. “What did you say?”
“We needed the bed, and she’s doing so much better she was transferred to a regular room. Room 519.”
“Thank you.” Sloan’s voice, hoarse with fatigue, cracked.
Sloan couldn’t tolerate the wait for the elevator, but shouldered through the fire door and into the stairwell, taking the stairs from the second floor to the fifth at a run. In Michael’s room, the lights had been turned down low. From the darkness came a soft sound, the answer to her prayers.
“Hey,” Sloan whispered as she approached the bed, her vision blurred with tears. She grasped the hand that Michael lifted, clinging to the warmth. Then she leaned over and brushed her lips across Michael’s forehead. “How do you feel?”
“Weak. I’m a little confused. I can’t remember what happened.” Michael’s eyes traveled over Sloan’s face. “There was an accident, right?”
“You’re not hurt, are you?”
“No, baby,” Sloan said, her voice choked. “I’m not hurt. You don’t have to worry about anything. You just need to work on getting well.”
“You looked tired.” Michael’s eyelids drooped and she forced them open. Smiling tremulously, she said, “In fact, you look terrible. Go home.”
Sloan laughed gently and pulled a chair close with one hand. “Just close your eyes and get some sleep.”
“Yes,” Michael murmured. Then she twitched suddenly and her eyes flew open. “It was a car, wasn’t it? A car hit me.”
There edge of fear in Michael’s voice brought a rush of fury like none Sloan had ever known. “You rest now, baby. We’ll talk about it in the morning.”
She stroked Michael’s cheek as she slipped into sleep. Tonight she would stay, but in the morning, she would seek retribution.
It was just after midnight when Rebecca let herself into the garden apartment in West Philadelphia. She found Catherine in the bedroom, propped up in bed, nude, with a book. “You’re still awake.”
“Hi.” Catherine placed the book face down on the covers by her side. “You’re early.”
“Am I?” Rebecca raised an eyebrow as she stripped off her jacket followed by her shoulder holster. She walked to the far side of the bed and placed her weapon in the top drawer of the bedside table, then leaned across the bed and kissed Catherine. “I’m going to take a quick shower. I’ll just be a sec.”
The slight hint of invitation in Catherine’s voice was enough to make Rebecca’s blood surge. Within minutes she walked back into the bedroom, naked, toweling off as she approached the bed. She stopped abruptly when she observed the intense expression on Catherine’s face and lowered the towel. “I get excited just watching you look at me.”
Catherine pushed the sheet aside, and rose to her knees, moving closer to the edge of the bed and threading her arms around Rebecca’s waist. She drew one small tight nipple into her mouth, reveling at the swift gasp from her lover.
Closing her eyes, Rebecca rested her palms on Catherine’s shoulder for balance. “Please…do it harder.”
Moaning with satisfaction, Catherine sucked harder, drawing the tight rosette back and forth between her teeth. When Rebecca uttered a small cry, an answering rush of arousal flooded her thighs. Gasping, Catherine pulled Rebecca down beside her on the bed. Drawing her hand up the inside of Rebecca’s quivering thigh, Catherine found her wet and open and moved inside her. “I need things from you.”
“What…do you need?” Rebecca arched off the bed. With her right hand she grasped Catherine’s wrist, forcing her hand deeper still.
“I need…” Catherine leaned over Rebecca’s body as she pressed even further. “…this passion, this life…”
Rebecca’s words were strangled. “Take it.”
“Yes.” Catherine stroked to the rhythm of Rebecca’s heartbeat pulsating around her fingers. “Oh, yes.”
With tremendous effort, Rebecca turned her head and focused on Catherine’s face. “Take me.”
With a cry of her own, Catherine brushed her thumb rhythmically across Rebecca’s clitoris and catapulted her into orgasm.
“God God, yes yes…” Rebecca moaned, writhing beneath the onslaught of release. Breathless, panting, she finally tugged weakly at Catherine’s wrist, stilling her motion. “I’m done…I can’t…no more.”
Catherine rested her forehead against Rebecca’s shoulder, smiling. When she felt Rebecca’s hands glide down her back to cup her hips, she said, “Relax for a minute. Enjoy it.”
“Oh, believe me, I’m enjoying it.” Rebecca strength was slowly returning, and with it, her own urgency to claim her lover. Lifting her hips, she pushed upward and turned Catherine beneath her. In another instant, she was kneeling on the floor, her hands under Catherine’s thighs, drawing Catherine to her mouth. Slowly, carefully, Rebecca explored with her lips and her tongue, soothing and teasing and tormenting until Catherine twisted against the sheets, her legs pressed to Rebecca’s shoulders.
“I’m ready…so ready. Please.” Catherine’s voice was a whisper, her breath broken with need. “There. Oh, Rebecca, there.”
Rebecca slid her palms beneath Catherine’s hips and drew the last drops of Catherine’s desire between her lips. Catherine came in Rebecca’s mouth as Rebecca inexorably called the passion forth from her soul.
“Ah, God.” Rebecca lay on her back with Catherine’s head on her shoulder, the sheets pulled up to their waists as they luxuriated in the aftermath of lovemaking. “I could get used to coming home to that.”
“That could be arranged.” Catherine’s voice was light, almost drowsy, as she brushed her fingertips lightly over Rebecca’s breast.
“Are you proposing marriage?”
Catherine grew still. Before Rebecca, her life had been orderly and predictable and satisfying. Then Rebecca had come into her life on a whirlwind of passion in the midst of terror, and she had changed everything. Now, Rebecca felt as necessary as air and water and food. “Yes,” Catherine said softly but quite clearly. “I am.”
Rebecca tightened her grip on the woman in her embrace, but said nothing.
When the silence grew too heavy, Catherine asked, “Does that frighten you?”
“Yes.” Rebecca closed her eyes, waiting for Catherine to draw away.
“Why?” Catherine moved closer, drawing her thigh across Rebecca’s, curling her arm across Rebecca’s chest.
“You don’t know what you’re getting into.” There was sorrow in Rebecca’s tone. “The job…it…takes something from us. I’m afraid there isn’t enough left for you.”
“Oh no, you’re wrong.” Catherine’s voice was tender and sure. Gently, she slid onto Rebecca’s body and braced herself on her elbows, her hands in Rebecca’s hair. “I love you for what’s in your heart.”
Rebecca shuddered, needing so badly to believe. “There are things I’ve done…things I do…” She sighed again. “You remember Sandy?”
“Yes,” Catherine replied, pleased that her voice was steady. Sandy. The young woman you were with when your lung collapsed. The woman who looked like she was half in love with you. Is she the woman you see at night when you leave here?
“I did something with her you might find less than honorable.”
“What?” Catherine asked carefully.
“The details aren’t really important.”
“In this particular instance, the details matter.”
“You don’t think…me and Sandy?” Rebecca laughed. “Christ, no.”
Catherine blushed. “She’s very attractive, and she obviously cares about you.”
“Catherine, I love you.” Rebecca kissed her, lightly at first, then with a sudden surge of passion. “There is no one else. Not Sandy. No one.”
“I’m not used to feeling jealous,” Catherine confided with a touch of embarrassment.
“I kind of like it. But you don’t have to worry.” Rebecca shrugged. “Anyhow, I signed Sandy up as a confidential informant today.”
“And you thought I’d object?”
“Getting information to me is always risky, and now she’s going to be doing it a lot more regularly.”
“Yes,” Catherine murmured drowsily, “but the fact that you worry about it is what’s important.”
Rebecca drew the sheet up over them and yawned. “It’s late. We should get to sleep.”
“I’m sorry. I’m fading a bit.”
“Mmm.” Rebecca kissed her and closed her eyes. “Me, too.”
As Catherine began to drift off, she realized that Rebecca had managed to avoid the subject of their living together very neatly.
Michael turned carefully at the sound of her door opening. The pain in her head was constant, alternating between a low-level ache hovering at the top of her spine to an all-out cannon barrage that beat against the back of her eyeballs until it hurt to keep her eyelids open.
“Good morning,” Ali Torveau said as she approached the bed. “You don’t remember me, but I’m Dr. Torveau, the trauma surgeon who’s been taking care of you since you came into the hospital.”
“I have a few blanks in my memory of the last couple of days. I’m sorry.”
“There’s no need to apologize.” As the surgeon spoke, she withdrew her stethoscope from the right-hand pocket of her white lab coat and leaned over the bed to listen to Michael’s injured lungs. “How does your chest feel?”
“It hurts a little when I take a deep breath. Not too bad though.”
“What about your head?”
Michael grimaced. “That’s not doing quite as well. Major headache.”
“It’s almost always temporary, but I can’t tell you how long it will last. It could be a few days; it could be a few weeks.”
“When can I go home?”
“You haven’t even been out of bed yet,” Ali responded with a small laugh. “Let’s take things one day at a time.”
Michael glanced toward the closed bathroom door behind which running water was faintly audible. “I can rest at home as well as here. And Sloan isn’t getting any sleep at all.”
“This has been hard on both of you, I know,” Ali said sympathetically. “How about if I talk to her—”
“Talk to who about what?” Freshly showered, Sloan walked directly to the bed, leaned down, and kissed Michael’s forehead. “Good morning.”
Michael smiled, the headache diminishing for an instant. “We were talking about me going home.”
“So soon?” Sloan spun around to stare at the trauma surgeon, her eyes glowing with excitement.
“Whoa.” Ali held up her hands, but she was smiling, too. “Let’s see what this morning’s CAT scan shows. If that looks good…we’ll see.”
“Good enough.” Sloan couldn’t keep the pleasure from her voice. As the surgeon started for the door, she called softly, “And thanks.”
When they were alone, Michael reached for Sloan’s hand. “I love you.”
The words hit Sloan like a hammer blow. Her knees felt suddenly weak, and the next thing she was aware of was gasping for breath as tears poured down her cheeks. “Oh God, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry you were hurt. I love you so much.”
“Come here, love,” Michael murmured, tugging on Sloan’s hand.
Somehow, Sloan managed to get the bed rail down and very carefully stretched out next to Michael, curling on her side and pressing her face close to Michael’s on the pillow. “I’m such a mess without you.”
“Well, I’m here,” Michael soothed. “And you know I’ll never leave you, don’t you?”
Nodding, Sloan caressed Michael’s face as she slipped into sleep. I promise to take you home soon. And I promise, no matter what, that you’ll be safe from now on.
When Sloan was certain that Michael was asleep, she eased from the bed and slipped from the room. On her way through the hospital, she stopped at a payphone.
A female voice answered on the second ring. “Hello?”
“Sarah? It’s Sloan. Is Jason around?”
“He’s in the study. I’ll get him.”
A minute later, Jason said, “How’s Michael.”
“Good. There’s even a chance she’ll come home soon.” Saying the words made Sloan feel uncharacteristically superstitious, so she quickly moved on. “What are you doing?”
There was a beat of silence, then, “Phishing for addresses on our Internet ‘friends.’”
Sloan understood that to mean he was trying to pin down the on-line pedophiles the team had been tracking. Phishing referred to the practice of hijacking confidential information from on-line consumers by pretending to be a legitimate business updating a common account, such as AOL or Paypal. An individual would receive an e-mail claiming that there had been a problem with the billing of the consumer’s account and directing the consumer to click on a hyperlink in the body of the e-mail for the “Billing Center.” When the consumer clicked on the link they landed on a site that looked completely legitimate, but when they entered their confidential financial or personal data, it would be relayed back to the Internet thief.
Sloan caught her breath. “How about we discuss this at the office?”
“Now.” Sloan hung up, her fatigue magically dissipating. She was ready to hunt.
At seven-thirty Rebecca settled into a plain office chair in the drab institutional room and nodded perfunctorily to the middle-aged man seated across from her.
“Good morning, Sergeant,” he said.
“I was a bit surprised to find that you had scheduled more sessions with me.”
Rebecca shrugged. “My paperwork isn’t quite in order, and Captain Henry won’t assign me to any regular duty because of it.”
“Ahh…I see. So I’m the sticking point.”
He asked the usual routine follow-up questions, to which she answered with the obligatory neutral responses. Near the end of the session, he asked, “And how is Dr. Rawlings?”
“She’s fine.” Rebecca held his gaze, refusing to reveal her surprise at the unanticipated turn in the conversation.
“How does she feel about your job?”
“Why does it matter?”
“One major source of stress in a police officer’s life is conflict at home. There is very often domestic discord stemming from the erratic work hours or complaints of…emotional absence.”
His words hit close to the mark, and Rebecca colored. “I’m not stressed.”
“Then you may be the only officer who isn’t.” Whitaker smiled slightly.
“What do you know about Catherine?” she asked abruptly. Never let the witness lead the discussion. Always take the offensive position.
Whitaker blinked. “Uh…I know you met during the serial rape case. I know that you saved her life.” A beat passed while he visibly regrouped. “And I suspect that you’re lovers.”
“Why?” Rebecca’s tone was laser-sharp.
“You haven’t denied a personal relationship, and every time her name comes up, you become defensive. No…not defensive. Protective.” He smiled. “Which is what you do, after all, isn’t it, Sergeant?”
“That’s the job description.”
“Does she mind what you do?”
“Her name does not belong in your report. If you want me to come back for another session, you had best see that it isn’t.” And you want me to come back, don’t you? You want something from me.
“You have my word.” He leaned forward. “Is she bothered by your job?”
“We’re not going to discuss Catherine Rawlings.” Rebecca glanced at her watch. “And it’s time for me to go.”
“We have another minute or two. Would you quit if she asked you to? Theoretically, of course.”
“What difference does that make, theoretically?”
“It says a lot about you.”
Rebecca stood and pointed to the gold shield exposed on the flap of the leather badge case which protruded from her breast pocket. “That says all you need to know about me.”
“I don’t agree, Sergeant,” he rejoined softly.
As Rebecca reached for the door, she heard the quiet words from behind her. “You didn’t answer my question.”
She turned the knob, pushed the door open, and stepped out into the hall. She didn’t want him to see her face, because she was afraid he’d realize that she didn’t know the answer.
Rebecca walked directly from Whitaker’s office to the vice squad division. As she had come to expect, even though it daily continued to shock her, Watts was already at his desk. “Anything new?”
“The computer cops want us to come over.”
Twenty minutes later, they were buzzed into Sloan’s building. Jason, Sloan, and, to Rebecca’s surprise, Mitchell as well, were all seated at computer stations, cups of coffee on the counters beside them.
Glancing at Sloan, Rebecca raised an eyebrow. “How are things at the hospital?”
Despite the creases of fatigue in her forehead and the shadows marring her cheeks, Sloan’s eyes were sparkling. “Much better. Thanks.”
“Glad to hear it. So, what’s up?”
“Jason,” Sloan said, “why don’t you bring them up to speed.”
“Yesterday afternoon,” Jason explained, “I made a list of all the e-mail addresses of people who used to chat with LongJohnXXX on a regular basis, figuring that some of them must be subscribers to the porn videos. Unfortunately, the list is long, and there’s no way of knowing at this point how many of the individuals are locals. There’s also no way to know if they really have anything at all to do with the porn ring.”
“But?” Rebecca could hear the excitement in his voice.
“But once I get names and addresses, it shouldn’t be that difficult to find out other things about these guys. I can put together profiles, and we can do the same thing we did with Long John. Maybe we’ll get another hit.”
Rebecca looked skeptical. “It’s a long shot.”
“It’s not like we have a lot else going on right now,” Jason responded, looking not the least bit deterred. “Once we have some probables, I thought Catherine might look at them. She can…sense things. She’s a great profiler.”
Rebecca opened her mouth to say no, and clamped her jaws tight instead. She rubbed the bridge of her nose where a headache was forming. There seemed to be no way at all that she could keep Catherine away from the investigation. “Yeah. That’s a good idea.”
“Anything new at the cop shop?” Sloan inquired.
“Let’s go back to the conference room for a briefing,” Rebecca suggested. “I’ve got some ideas.”
Once they were all settled around the table, Rebecca studied her team, knowing that she had to make a decision now as to how much she would share. Two people present were civilians, one was just a rookie cop, and what she had to say was beyond sensitive. But all of them were willing to walk on a high wire without a net in the name of justice. She owed them her trust.
“Sandy gave me a lead last night. It’s not much, but she thinks she might have seen the guy in the porn video at this sex club called Ziggies.”
“Whoa, that’s choice,” Watts exclaimed. “That place is supposed to be mobbed up.”
“Can Sandy work the place?” Sloan asked immediately. “It would be good to have someone on the inside there.”
Mitchell’s face turned white. “You want her to turn tricks in there for information? Why don’t you just shoot her instead? At least that would be quick and painless.”
Sloan jerked around in her seat to stare at Mitchell, shocked by the ourburst.
“Officer, you’re out of line,” Rebecca shot out, watching Mitchell carefully. The young officer stared straight ahead, her back ramrod stiff, her neck flushed. She was controlling her anger, but just barely. “Unfortunately, I think Sandy’s too well-known there. If she starts hanging out for no good reason, especially if she’s talking around, someone will notice.”
“What you need is someone undercover,” Jason observed mildly. “I agree that Sandy is a good source, but she’s at risk if she becomes too visible. You need someone who’s part of the club life.”
Watts spoke up. “Maybe we can put a female cop in Ziggies.”
“To do what?” Jason asked pointedly. “Dance topless? I think most of your detectives would consider that a little beyond the call.”
Sloan eyed Jason. “Do you have something in mind Jason?”
“I know someone who can get inside.” Jason smiled at Sloan.
Of course you do, Sloan thought. Jesus, Sarah is going to kill us.
Rebecca shook her head. “I can’t bring in another civilian. And I don’t want someone on the team I don’t know.”
“It’s not what you think,” Jason said.
“You want to explain?”
“Let me set something up for later,” he said, “and if you’re not happy with it, we’ll forget the idea.”
“Fine. At this point, I’ll consider any option.” Rebecca looked directly at Sloan. “We need to dig out the leak within the department. That’s going to be on you.”
Sloan’s violet eyes flashed. This was the green light she’d been waiting for. “I need a list of everyone you can think of who might have known about the operation last weekend. Jason and I will need to trace financial records, employment histories, educational background, previous postings—anything that might tie into Zamora or point to some other criminal activity.”
“I know.” Rebecca made her decision. “For starters, there’s Capt. John Henry, commander of the Vice unit. Teri Cummings is the civilian clerk, and she probably handled the paperwork for the warrant. At this stage, I’m unaware of anyone else in the police department who might have known about it directly.”
“Are you suspicious of either one?” Jason’s question was placed mildly, but he knew by its very nature it was inflammatory.
“I wouldn’t have been suspicious of Henry if I hadn’t learned that he had previously been involved in shutting down the investigation into the murder of two cops. If he wasn’t part of the cover-up, he was at least aware of it and let it happen.” Her tone was bitter. “So that puts him high on the list. Cummings I don’t know at all, but it’s hard to believe it would be her.”
“Is there anyone who has access to your field reports or your files or anything that might have had information about what we were doing?” Sloan inquired.
Rebecca started to shake her head no, and then stopped abruptly. “Goddamn it. I was…injured…earlier this year and out of commission for a while. In order to be reinstated, I had to see the department shrink. He could have picked up something from me.”
“Are you still seeing him?” Jason asked directly, no apology in his voice. This wasn’t personal, this was business. Deadly business.
“Yes.” Rebecca gave no explanation, because the reasons didn’t matter. “Why?”
“He could have unrestricted access to any file he asked for,” Jason mused.
“It’s possible, I guess.” Rebecca’s expression was unmistakably skeptical.
“Excuse me, ma’am?” another voice interjected.
Rebecca looked at Mitchell and raised an eyebrow. “Officer?”
If possible, Mitchell sat even straighter. “I may have inadvertently revealed some information about the operation as well. In…uh…counseling.”
“Jesus, kid, you too?” Watts’s tone was disgusted. “Is everybody in the goddamned department getting shrunk?”
“You’re seeing Whitaker, also?” For the first time, Rebecca’s voice held an edge of excitement. Connections were what made a case—small things that seemed inconsequential at first often turned out to be the key that fit the lock that broke it wide open.
“No, ma’am, not Whitaker. Dr. Rawlings.”
Watts sucked in a breath and Rebecca went completely still. The conversation of last night came back to her. She’d been talking to Catherine about Mitchell and Sandy. How much does Catherine know?
“Well, I can guarantee that Catherine is not the source of the leak.” Rebecca’s voice was cool, even, her hands steady as they rested on the tabletop.
“What about her reports, her files?” Sloan stood and walked to the coffeemaker. “She must keep some kind of records. Maybe there’s something in there.”
“That will be difficult to ascertain.” Rebecca drew a long breath and settled herself. “Dr. Rawlings will not discuss her patients in any way.”
Mitchell interjected, “If it would help, I’ll give my permission for her to turn over my records.”
“If that becomes necessary, we may go that route. But let’s hold on that for now.” Rebecca had been down that road with Catherine before. It was not a trip she wanted to take again.
“What about getting me direct access to the police department’s computer system?” Sloan asked.
Rebecca nodded. “I think I can get you in. Dee Flanagan, the CSU chief, is mightily pissed off that someone raided her computer and stole the files of an ongoing investigation. I think she’ll let you tear her system apart.”
“I can work on it there?”
“Sure. If anyone asks, you’re just one of the IT people who came around to upgrade her system. No one will think twice about it.”
“We have to assume that whoever went after you, Sloan, knows about all of us.” Rebecca’s expression was serious, but her voice completely calm. “That means heads up for everybody. Make sure you’re not being followed anywhere and if something doesn’t look right, assume that it’s wrong.”
Sloan thought about the fact that Michael would be upstairs, possibly in a few hours. She nodded, her eyes as flat and dark as onyx. “Understood.”
“Mitchell,” Rebecca said as she stood. “I want you here with Jason and Sloan, working up background and tracing down those email addresses. Sloan, I’ll call you as soon as I clear things with the CSU chief, and if you’ve got time, I’ll take you over there to meet her.” She glanced at her watch. “Let’s say we meet back here around five this afternoon. Jason, does that give you enough time to contact your source?”
He nodded. “Plenty of time.”
“Good.” Rebecca squared her shoulders. “Then I think I’d better pay a visit to Dr. Rawlings.”
Ordinarily, any reason to see Catherine was welcome. However, Rebecca had a feeling that this particular visit was going to be much more business than pleasure.
Mitchell stood in front of a dingy, gray-shingled rowhouse that looked no different than any of the other rundown buildings on the street. It was ten-thirty in the morning, and she had a feeling that no one was going to answer the doorbell in the upstairs rear apartment. Once on the third floor, she walked directly to the one with a painted-over metal numeral three just above eye height and knocked.
“Go away,” a grumpy sounding voice called from within.
Another minute passed and then the door was opened as far as a security chain would allow, and a flashing blue-eyed peered out.
The door closed in Mitchell’s face, the chain rattled, and the door sprang open again.
Sandy, eyes a bit bleary, looked up and snarled, “Its ten o’clock in the morning, and I’ve only been asleep for two hours. Go away.” She wore only a tiny white tank top that barely reached below the swell of her breasts and a pair of pale pink bikini underwear.
Mitchell tried not to look at the barely covered body, but just the quick glimpse she got before she forced her eyes back to Sandy’s face was enough to make her stomach tighten. “Can I talk to you?”
“Yeah,” Sandy said with a shrug, turning and crossing the room to the sofa which had been opened into a small daybed. The pale blue cotton sheets which covered it were pulled back, and a single pillow rested in the center.
Mitchell stared at the bed. Then she quickly averted her eyes and looked around the room. “Nice place.”
“Thanks.” Sandy perched on the edge of the bed, elbows on knees, her chin resting in the palm of one hand. “I’m really glad you like my decorating. Now, do you want to tell me why you woke me up?”
“Do you think you could…uh…put some clothes on?”
“I’ve got clothes on, Dell.” Sandy saw Dell’s eyes flicker down her body, then rapidly fix on some point on the floor between them. She liked the way Dell looked at her. A lot. She grabbed for her jeans and pulled them on.
Mitchell put her hands in her pockets and leaned against the corner of a dresser that stood against one wall. Now that she was there, inside Sandy’s surprisingly warm and cozy apartment, she didn’t know what to say.
“What?” Sandy’s voice was gentle.
Softly, Mitchell said, “I didn’t know you were working for Detective Sgt. Frye.”
“I wasn’t…not before yesterday. Why do you care?” Sandy’s question held no trace of belligerence, only curiosity. She wondered if Dell had any idea how much she wanted to know what put that look of fierce concentration in Dell’s eyes whenever they roamed over her face.
“It’s kind of a dangerous job.”
Sandy leaned back, her legs slightly spread, a challenging expression on her face. “So’s being a cop. You could get hurt, too.”
“There’s a difference and you know it.” Mitchell tried and failed to keep the aggravation form her voice. At least I have a gun. And back-up. Sometimes, anyhow. Without thinking, Mitchell put her fingers around Sandy’s forearm. “You’re totally unprotected.”
“I can take care of myself.”
“Oh, yeah. You’ve done a great job with that so far.”
Sandy jerked her hand away and barely stopped herself from flinging it across Dell’s face. “Get out.”
“Sandy…” Mitchell’s face was white and her eyes huge, the deep blue shadowed with pain. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that the way you think.”
“I know what you mean…that I’m just a who—”
“No.” Mitchell raised her hand slowly. “No.” She brushed a fingertip over the scar on Sandy’s forehead. “This is what I mean. How many more times can you take a beating like this?”
Sandy wanted to pull away, to spew angry words, but she couldn’t. Dell’s touch was so gentle, her expression so tender, her body so near. Dell was trembling. They both were.
“Dell…” Sandy murmured. Heat surged between her thighs, and she gasped as she felt herself grow wet. She stumbled back a step, breaking their tenuous contact.
Mitchell, her hand outstretched, wanted so badly to follow. There was something in Sandy’s voice, a hushed yearning, that made Mitchell’s stomach tighten and her head roar. “Hey…”
Sandy took another step back. “You should go, Dell.”
“Can I come back?” Mitchell didn’t even know why she was asking, but she had to.
Sandy was watching Dell’s mouth, and it was hard to concentrate. Dell had a beautiful mouth. Then Frye’s voice cut through the haze. “A police officer can be suspended, even fired, for fraternizing with a prostitute.”
“Look,” Sandy said as forcefully as she could, searching frantically for the right words to make her go. “Look, I’m Frye’s now, okay? I don’t want anything to mess that up.”
Mitchell straightened as if struck, then reached behind her for the doorknob. “Just watch your back, okay?”
Then she was gone, leaving only the echo of her footsteps in the hall. Sandy listened until she couldn’t hear her at all.
“You be careful, too, rookie,” she whispered. Her fingers rested lightly on the scarred wooden door in a final caress.
At eleven twenty-four, the side door to Catherine’s private office closed behind her last client of the morning. Trying to gather herself for the afternoon ahead, she might actually have fallen asleep if the intercom line on her phone had not rung.
“Detective Frye is here, Doctor. Your next appointment is scheduled at one, so you have a bit of time.”
Suddenly invigorated, Catherine smiled. “Tell her to come in, please.”
When Rebecca came through the door a moment later with a brown paper bag in one hand, Catherine was waiting just inside. She placed a hand on Rebecca’s shoulder and leaned close to give her a kiss on the mouth. “What a nice surprise.”
“I took a chance that I might catch you between sessions. I brought lunch.”
“I knew there was a reason that I loved you.” Catherine reached for Rebecca’s hand and led her to the sofa in front of a low coffee table. “Indian?”
“Wonderful. I’m famished.” Catherine extracted the various containers along with the plastic forks and paper napkins from the bag and spread them out on the table. “Is there another reason besides rescuing me from starvation that you’re here?”
Rebecca hesitated. There were very few things in her life that made her uncomfortable. Being at odds with Catherine was one of them. When they fought, even when they merely couldn’t see eye to eye over some issue, it left her feeling disjointed and strangely hollow inside. “I had a briefing with Sloan and the others this morning. We’ve been formulating a plan of action.”
“Problems?” Catherine continued to eat slowly, suspecting that Rebecca would not have come by in the middle of the day had there not been.
“We’re working on a couple of angles, but one of the critical things that we have to do is find the source of the information leak that led to the attack on Sloan.”
“And you suspect someone within your department.” Catherine could only imagine how difficult it was for Rebecca to investigate her own people.
Rebecca nodded. “How well do know Rand Whitaker?”
“Only casually. We see each other at local psychiatric meetings and now and then at seminars at the University.” Catherine sat back, her hand resting gently on Rebecca’s thigh. “You suspect him? How would he have gotten the information? Surely you didn’t tell him anything?”
“No, but he works in the department. And I was seeing him in an official capacity. It’s possible he could’ve gotten access to almost anything I was involved with.” Rebecca ran a hand through her hair, frustrated once more by her inability to find a solid lead.
“I suppose anything is possible,” Catherine mused, “but I don’t know him well enough to speculate.”
“I didn’t really think that you would, but I had to check.” Rebecca turned until she was facing Catherine fully, their knees slightly touching. She wanted to take Catherine’s hand, but that didn’t feel right considering what she was about to say. “Something else came up this morning as well.”
Oh?” Catherine waited, watching Rebecca’s eyes. Now we’ll get to the reason why you’re here.
“Dellon Mitchell said that she’s been seeing you.”
Catherine remained silent.
Rebecca forged ahead. “Is there anything about the investigation that she might have told you that is accessible to anyone outside this office?”
“It would be better if we discussed this after Officer Mitchell gave me a call,” Catherine said gently. “I don’t feel comfortable discussing this with you until then.”
“Catherine,” Rebecca said, trying to keep exasperation from her voice. “Mitchell already told us she was seeing you for counseling. She knew that I would talk to you when she said it.”
“There are moments when you are quite incapable of appreciating anyone else’s work other than your own.” Catherine stood abruptly and paced back and forth between her desk and the seating area, frown lines furrowed between her brows. Just as precipitously, she stopped and faced Rebecca. “Do you realize how frustrating that is?”
“Yes.” Completely unexpectedly, Rebecca felt a wave of nausea. She forced herself not to change expression but she failed.
“Rebecca,” Catherine said softly, seeing the discomfort in her lover’s eyes. “I love you. That doesn’t stop just because you aggravate me.”
“I’m glad.” In a low voice Rebecca muttered, “I think it was right about at this point that I fell in love with you the first time around.”
Taken completely off guard, Catherine’s heart lifted. “Why Detective Frye, could it be that you’re mellowing?”
Ice blue eyes suddenly bored into Catherine’s, only to soften instantly. “Sensitivity training.”
Catherine laughed out loud and moved closer to the sofa. Rebecca automatically threaded her arm around Catherine’s waist, and the psychiatrist rested her head on the detective’s shoulder. “If it’s all right with Officer Mitchell, I’ll check my notes and let you know if there’s anything in my records remotely connected to what you’ve been doing.”
“Thanks.” Rebecca looked at the remarkable woman who had changed her life. “I love you, you know.”
“Yes. I know.” Catherine smiled. “Just be careful, Detective.”
“How’s it going?” Dee Flanagan asked.
Sloan pushed back the small stool on which she had been perched since midmorning and eyed the CSI chief. “Your computer is a dinosaur. I’m surprised it still runs.”
“Police issue. You should see what the patrol cars look like.” Dee moved through the small space that was covered on every surface with stacks of journals, boxes off crime-scene mockups, files, and reference books. “Did you find anything?”
Dee sat behind her desk and sipped from the mug of coffee she had carried in with her. “Whoever took the files did it months ago. Do you really think you can find anything now?”
“If you had a body that had been buried for twenty years, would there be anything still there that would help you find the killer?”
“There’s always something there. The flesh decays, but even as it does, it changes the nature of whatever surrounds it—chemically, physically, biologically. The bones tell their own tale. Age of the victim, gender, sometimes even the manner of death. The answer is always there; you just need to know how to read the story.”
Sloan nodded. “That’s what it’s like with a computer, too. Even the best hacker leaves a trail. Just by trying to erase the evidence of their presence, they change other things, always leaving some sign of having been there.”
Dee leaned forward over the desk, her intelligent eyes alight with excitement. “So—what does he leave behind?”
“Could be any number of things, depending on how your system is set up and how he accessed your hard drive. One of the first places to look is the log files, which is sort of a diary of events. Information is constantly stored automatically by the operating system without you ever being aware of it. There are also telephone logs which will tell us when attempts were made to dial into the computer from remote access, and usually, with a little creative backtracking, I can get those phone numbers. Once I secure your system, the next thing I’ll do is to analyze the log files around the time your data disappeared and look for evidence of illegal entry.”
“Secure my system? No offense, but isn’t beefing up the security a little late now?”
Sloan regarded the other woman contemplatively. “If someone tampered with your data once, there’s no reason to think they didn’t do before or since. It would certainly be desirable if someone could access your files and find out just what evidence you had accumulated on a certain case, even if they couldn’t take a chance on altering it.”
“Altering it! Jesus Christ. Just a suggestion that evidence has been tampered with could overturn dozens of verdicts.” Dee stood suddenly, quickly threaded her way through the obstacle path on the floor, and shut her office door. “That kind of speculation could be disastrous.”
“I’m aware of that,” Sloan said quietly. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to identify the hacker and then look elsewhere for corroborating evidence to link him to the crimes. That way, we can leave your department out of it completely. But we’d better be sure your system is secure now.”
“If you find something that suggests my files have been compromised in any way, I want to know.”
Sloan shook her head, appreciating the other woman’s integrity, but also recognizing her naïveté. “Look, I’ve been involved in this kind of thing before, and if that turns out to be the case, it’s going to fall on your doorstep. That’s not something you want to have happen.” Your career will be over, and you’ll be lucky if you don’t face criminal charges.
Before Sloan could elaborate, Dee repeated forcefully, “There are people in prison right now because of evidence I presented at trial. There are also a fair number of scumbags walking the streets who were freed because my analysis exonerated them. I have to know I made the right calls.”
“Despite its importance, the crime scene evidence is only one piece of the case presented at trial. The verdict doesn’t rest on your testimony alone.”
“I don’t give a good goddamn about the other pieces of the case. I only care about mine.”
“I understand.” Sloan glanced at her watch. “I don’t have much time today, but I’ll be back either tonight or tomorrow morning. How do I get in here?”
“I’ll give you the combination to the touchpad lock on the morgue admissions bay door.”
“Thanks.” Sloan leaned over, closed her black satchel, which held tools and disks loaded with software programs, and stood. “What if someone sees me in here and asks why I’m working after hours?”
Dee grinned, a mischievous grin that was twice as charming for its rarity. “Just tell them I wouldn’t let you work in here during the day. You could throw in something about me being a pain in the ass—that will help with the authenticity of your story.”
Sloan laughed. “I’ll just mention that I touched something, and you threw me out.”
“I see that Frye instructed you well.”
Sloan just grinned as she walked with Dee toward the exit. It was time to put revenge aside. Now, it was time for Michael.
When Sloan entered Michael’s room shortly before two, she found what appeared to be a party in progress. Michael, looking pale but visibly stronger than just a few hours before, was seated in a leather-padded wooden hospital chair by the side of the bed, a thin blanket over her knees.
Sarah crouched beside the chair, her hand on Michael’s knee. Ali Torveau leaned against the side of the bed, a plastic folder containing Michael’s hospital chart tucked under one arm.
“Dr. Torveau says I can go home,” Michael’s announced, gripping Sloan’s hand with surprising strength.
Almost afraid to believe it, Sloan glanced at the trauma surgeon. “Today?”
“Right now,” Torveau replied even as she held up a hand. “Under certain conditions.”
“Anything,” Sloan responded quickly.
“Someone, preferably a trained medical professional, needs to stay with her twenty-four hours a day.”
“I’m an OMD,” Sarah interjected. “I’ll stay as long as you think it’s necessary—that is if Sloan and Michael don’t mind me moving in for a bit.”
“That would be great, Sarah,” Sloan said instantly. “Thanks.”
“That sounds good,” the surgeon agreed. “It’s also very important that I be advised immediately should there be any change at all in your symptoms, Michael—that means a worsening headache, visual disturbances, weakness—even temporary, cognitive or expressive difficulties, or seizures.”
Sloan felt slightly ill as she listened to the list of potential problems and struggled to keep her expression blank. “How long do we have to worry about something like this happening?”
“Some things could develop months from now, particularly a seizure disorder, but in all likelihood, after a week or two, we can all relax.”
“Can I work?” Michael asked. “I wouldn’t have to leave the house.”
“Michael…” At a swift look of warning from Sarah, Sloan clamped her mouth shut and swallowed the protest. All she could see, still, was Michael lying on the ground in a puddle of blood. But Michael didn’t know what had happened, and there was no reason to make her afraid now.
Ali raised an eyebrow. “I don’t expect you’ll feel like working for a week or so. But,” she added at the look of dismay on Michael’s face, “if it doesn’t involve digging ditches or moving heavy furniture, I don’t see why you can’t try it when you feel up to it.”
“Good.” Michael smiled wanly.
“I understand. Just remember, even though you’re being discharged, you’re still recovering. Don’t expect too much of yourself.”
“What about sex?” Michael kept her eyes on the surgeon’s face, but a soft sigh of resignation from Sloan’s direction was impossible to ignore. Michael merely smiled.
“You are feeling better. It’s amazing what a normal MRI will do for some people.” Ali laughed. “Usually, my position is if you feel like it, then it’s safe to do it. I wouldn’t get too vigorous the first time or so, and if you experience a headache as you approach orgasm, slow down. Maybe stop and the rest for a while.”
“Is it dangerous after this kind of…accident?” Sloan took Michael’s hand, her attention directed at the surgeon.
“Not ordinarily, no. Remember, though, there are fluctuations in blood pressure during sex and right now, Michael’s brain is a little sensitive to sudden changes.”
“Don’t worry, darling,” Michael teased softly, “I wasn’t thinking about it for tonight.”
“Darn.” Sloan grinned and hid her relief. The thought of anything harming Michael, even making love, terrified her.
Ali handed Sloan a card. “My office number. Call and make a follow-up appointment for a week.” She sketched a wave and followed Sarah to the door. “I’ll take care of the discharge orders now.”
Alone, Sloan crouched by Michael’s chair. “You sure you’re ready? Because you—”
Michael slipped her fingers into the back of Sloan’s hair and stroked her neck. “I want to go home. I want to sleep next to you tonight. I need that.”
Sloan closed her eyes. “So do I.”
“Are you comfortable? Do you need anything?”
“I’m perfect.” Michael had been home twenty minutes, and Sloan hadn’t stopped fussing for a second. She patted the sofa beside her. “Come sit here, love.”
Sloan settled carefully onto the far end of the couch, afraid that the motion would somehow hurt Michael. “Doctor Torveau said bedrest, and we’re already cheating by letting you camp out in the living room instead of in the bedroom. I want you to be able to sleep.”
“I will.” Michael shifted. “Especially if you lie down here next to me.”
“I’m not going to break.” Michael’s voice was soothing, her eyes tender. “Please, love. I miss you.”
That was all it took. Sloan could no more not answer that call than she could stop her heart from beating. Slowly, she eased herself down until she was on her side facing her lover, her head resting against Michael’s shoulder. “Okay?”
“Mmm.” Sighing, Michael rested her cheek against the top of Sloan’s head and stroked her face. “Now will you tell me what happened?”
Michael’s request was delivered so quietly that at first the words did not penetrate Sloan’s consciousness. “Michael, Doctor Torveau said—”
“I hate this. The way I feel—like something is missing.” Michael’s fingers trembled as she continued to caress Sloan’s face.
The anguish in her voice was more than Sloan could bear. “You were hit by a car, out in front of the house.”
“I can’t remember.”
“Michael. Baby.” Sloan’s voice was nearly pleading. “You just got home. You’re supposed to be resting. We can talk about this tomorrow.”
“I will. I promise.” Sloan nuzzled her face against Michael’s neck, needing to feel the heat of her skin and the rush of blood through the vessels, so vital, so alive. Her voice was hoarse as she whispered, “I love you so much.”
“I’m here. Right here.” Michael pressed against Sloan’s body, drawing solace from her nearness even as she offered Sloan the comfort of her embrace.
When Sarah walked into the living area of the loft from the guest bedroom at the far end, she discovered the two lovers asleep in one another’s arms. The ringing of the phone shattered the silence, and she grabbed it, hoping they would not awaken. “Sloan and Lassiter residence.”
“Jasmine?” Puzzled, Sarah mentally flipped through the calendar in her mind. “Where are you?”
“Why? You don’t have a show tonight, do you?” Sarah glanced over at the couch where Sloan had shifted to a sitting position, leaning with elbows on knees, her head in her hands. “Sloan’s awake now…What? When?…What kind of meeting? With the police?…You’d better come up.”
Sloan crossed to the huge double metal doors, entered the cod eon the keypad, and the doors slid soundlessly open. Just beyond, a woman stood waiting.
Although older than Sandy, she bore her a resemblance in some ways. Her layered hair was dark where Sandy’s was blond and slightly longer, but she was lithe and sensuous like Sandy. Her skin tight black pants, body-hugging lycra top, and scarlet silk blouse left open and tied casually at her narrow waist exuded an aura of confident sensuality. Her make-up was understated but artfully applied, subtly accentuating the sweep of arched cheekbones and the curve of her full lips. She might have been a high-priced call girl or a runway model.
“Hello, sexy.” Jasmine kissed Sloan on the mouth. “You look like road kill.”
“Thanks.” Hastily, Sloan cautioned, “Michael’s asleep.”
Jasmine stepped around her and kissed Sarah’s cheek almost shyly. “Hi.”
“Hi yourself,” Sarah replied, her tone subdued. Briefly, she touched Jasmine’s hand. “New slacks?”
“Mmm. This afternoon.”
“Nice.” Sarah gestured with her head. “Let’s go into the bedroom, and you can tell where you intend to wear them.” She gave Sloan a hard look. “And just what you two are getting yourselves into.”
Rebecca and Watts stepped into the elevator when a voice from behind called, “Hey, hold that, will you?”
Rebecca braced the door with a hand and turned. Sandy hurried toward the elevator.
Sandy grunted a greeting and pointedly ignored Watts. When the elevator stopped, Rebecca led the way down the hall to the conference room.
“Hey,” Sloan said as the group filed in.
“Sloan,” Rebecca acknowledged, studying the dark-haired woman by Sloan’s side. She was certain they hadn’t met, but the stranger seemed familiar nonetheless.
“Yo,” Watts said, eyeing the woman, too. Sandy sat beside him, pointedly not looking at Mitchell, who took the seat across from her.
“Jasmine, this is Sergeant Frye, Detective Watts, and Sandy.” As they all nodded, Sloan continued, “Jasmine works at the Troc, and she knows some of the regulars at Ziggies.”
“Uh…doin’ what, exactly?” Watts asked, his gaze dropping from Jasmine’s face to her breasts and lingering a moment.
“I’m a singer,” Jasmine replied, her voice whiskey warm.
Watts glanced at Rebecca, who continued to study Jasmine intently. Watts shifted in his chair, almost as uneasy at Rebecca’s silence as he was with the way Jasmine’s voice made his blood race. He didn’t usually go for hookers, but Jesus, she was something.
Abruptly, Rebecca stood. “Excuse me a moment, Miss…”
“Just Jasmine.” She nearly purred the words.
Rebecca smiled, then glanced at the blond beside her. “Sandy?”
Sandy rose, pretending not to notice the hard stare that Dell threw her way, and followed Rebecca to the far end of the room.
In a quiet voice, Rebecca asked, “Know her?”
“Uh-uh and I’d remember. She’s major competition.”
“What do you think?”
“She’s good. Really, really good.” Sandy shrugged. “I know a few trannies, but…she’s different. Classy…I don’t think she’s selling it.”
“Who do you know who could check her out for us?”
Sandy shook her head. “I’m not sure.
Rebecca sighed. She needed a street contact badly, but she was loathe to trust someone she didn’t know, even if Sloan and Jas… “Son of a bitch. I can’t believe I didn’t see it.”
Sandy stared as Rebecca turned and walked back to her place at the table.
“Jasmine?” Rebecca asked. Blue eyes rose to hers. A full mouth smiled slowly.
“Yes, Sergeant?” The tone was openly seductive now.
“They know you by name in Ziggies?”
“Probably. I drop in there now and then with some of the other entertainers from the club.”
“Other drag queens?”
“We prefer the term female impersonators.” Jasmine tossed her head. “Although some of the other performers are drag queens, of course.”
“Huh? What’s she saying?” Watt’s voice had gotten louder.
“She’s a he, you twit,” Sandy said disparagingly
“No.” Watts looked at Rebecca, who nodded. He slumped in his chair, shaking his head. “Fuck me.”
Mitchell suddenly gasped. “Oh man…Jason. You’re…beautiful.”
“What’s going on?” Watts exploded.
Sloan took pity on him. “Jasmine is Jason’s stage name, Detective. “
“Jason’s stage name?” Watts looked as if he had been pole-axed. His head tilted from side-to-side as his face turned from red to purple. “Jason?”
Jasmine smiled kindly. “Jason isn’t here at the moment, Detective. He asked that I stop by to lend you a hand.”
Watts sat, placed his hands in his lap, and stared fixedly at the tabletop.
“How friendly are you with the girls in Ziggies?” Rebecca asked. “Because if there’s someone in there who knows about the porn videos, it would be them.”
“Nodding acquaintances. Most of the working girls consider us competition and there’s little love lost because of it.”
“What makes you think that you can get what we need in Ziggies if the girls won’t talk to you?” Rebecca asked.
“I might not be able to, but the show at the Troc has female and male impersonators,” Jasmine explained. “The drag kings are regulars at Ziggies. I can put one of us with them.”
“A drag king?” Watts finally found his voice. “A girl pretending to be a guy? Who?”
Jasmine turned and her gaze fell on Officer Dellon Mitchell.
“No,” Rebecca said immediately. “Mitchell’s not trained for undercover.”
“I can do it.” Mitchell’s voice was quiet and sure.
“Undercover work takes practice, kid,” Watts interjected. “You gotta be the person twenty-four seven, because if you lose it for just a minute, you’ll get made. And then…”
He shrugged his shoulders, and a heavy silence fell around the table.
“Dell would be a sitting duck,” Sandy said into the ensuing void. “Nobody’s gonna take her for anything but a cop. Jesus, look at her.”
“Sandy,” Mitchell interrupted, her voice low. “Take it easy.”
“You’re just dumb enough to try it. Fuck, Dell.” Sandy slammed back in her chair, muttering something about moronic cops under her breath.
Rebecca glanced sideways at the young blond, contemplating the ferocity in her voice. That’s just perfect. These two are already way too involved. God damn it. Another complication I don’t have time to deal with.
“There’s no point in discussing it,” Rebecca said flatly. “We don’t even have time to create a good background cover for you, Mitchell. You can’t just one day appear. You need a history, a back story, contacts, people who know you as the person you’re pretending to be.”
“That’s where I come in,” Jasmine said, her tone mildly conciliatory. “If I introduce her, she has instant credibility. Once she’s part of the group at the Troc, that buys her entrance to Ziggies with no questions asked. It shouldn’t take more than a matter of days to establish her as a regular.”
“Yeah?” Watts asked belligerently. “And what about the little matter of Mitchell looking like a guy? She don’t, even if she does have short hair and not much in the way of tits.”
“Actually, detective,” Jasmine said, “she doesn’t have to look like a man. She only has to give the impression of one. It’s in the walk, the attitude, the tone of voice.”
“Oh, for fu—”
“Let’s assume,” Rebecca interjected, sensing that Watts was about to blow a fuse, “that Mitchell can pass…”
“I can.” Mitchell met Rebecca’s gaze. “Isn’t it what we do all the time, Sergeant? Play the game?”
Rebecca studied the unflinching, deep blue eyes. So you know already? Playing the game—yes, that’s what we do. Pretending that the things we see don’t affect us, that the fear isn’t real, that the violence doesn’t touch us. That we aren’t bleeding inside.
“Assuming that Mitchell is accepted by your friends at the Troc, how soon can we get her into Ziggies?”
“There’s a big show at the club this weekend,” Jasmine replied. “A group of us usually go out after to celebrate, while we’re still…dressed.”
Watts snorted. “To a topless bar?”
Jasmine stiffened, and, for the first time, she looked angry. “Our choices are limited, detective.”
“Where do you live, Mitchell?” Rebecca asked.
“Independence Place.” Mitchell named one of the expensive high-rises just south of Walnut at 6th Street, bordering Washington Square Park.
Rebecca shook her head. “No good. We’ll need to find you an apartment a little more downscale than that.”
“There’s a place open in my building,” Sandy said quietly.
Before Rebecca could object, Jasmine said, “That might be good. It wouldn’t hurt for Mitchell to have a girlfriend, either. Another piece of the picture.”
Mitchell blushed and Watts snorted.
“Okay,” Rebecca said, lightly slapping her palms on the tabletop. “Let’s go with this plan for now. Jasmine, you’re in charge of getting Mitchell…geared up.”
“What’s your address, stud?” Jasmine asked. When Mitchell gave it to her, she added, “I’ll be over in an hour. Why don’t you bring Sandy, too. She can be our first audience.”
Rebecca turned to Sandy. “What’s the situation at your building? Is there a building superintendent who handles renting the apartments?”
“That’s a fancy word for the guy since he doesn’t do shit around the place, but yeah.”
“Bring Mitchell around. Tell him sh…he’s a friend of yours who needs a place right away. Cash. I’ll take care of getting the money to you tonight.”
Mitchell looked even unhappier.
“Sure.” Sandy shrugged indifferently.
“And I still need you to find one of those girls that told you about making the sex videos a few months ago. There’s a good chance that they’ve been to the film site.”
“I told you before, I won’t name names.”
“I don’t want their names. I just want to talk to them.”
“Okay,” Sandy said reluctantly. “I’ll see what I can do.”
“Good. You still got the phone?”
“Use it. Mitchell, you’re dismissed. Sandy…” She hesitated, but had to admit that Jasmine’s plan for Mitchell’s new persona to have a girlfriend made sense. “Go with her.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Mitchell said as she stood. Sandy merely sniffed.
Rebecca turned her attention to Sloan. “You’ve got the interdepartmental computer traces.”
“Right. I’m going back tonight. Less traffic on the network. Fewer people to notice me.”
As Rebecca watched her team disperse, she tried hard not to second-guess her decisions. Putting them in danger was much harder than facing it herself.
Sloan peaked around the corner into the bedroom. Michael, her blond hair freshly washed, lay in bed in one of Sloan’s old cotton shirts that had once been blue but was now faded nearly to white. “Everybody gone?”
“Hello, love. Yes, I’m quite alone.” Michael smiled and stretched out of hand. “I missed you.”
“Me, too.” Sloan crossed the room and settled onto the corner of the bed.
“How you doing?”
“Sarah told me a little bit about what happened.”
Sloan’s heart lurched in her chest, and her stomach was instantly queasy. “What do you mean?”
“About the accident.”
“Damn it,” Sloan burst out, one hand fisting the covers. “It’s too soon—”
“It’s not her fault. I asked her.”
“What happened Saturday night?
Sarah continued gently toweling Michael’s hair. “What can you remember?”
“Not much.” Michael, a thick terrycloth towel wrapped around her naked body, leaned back against Sarah for support. “I know there was an accident, and Sloan told me I was hit by a car. She said the driver didn’t stop.”
“Then you know almost as much as we know.” Sarah carefully worked a wide-toothed comb through the long tresses, stopping intermittently to remove the small islands of clotted blood that clung assiduously to the silken strands.
“I know there’s more.” Michael closed her eyes, the headache exhausting, just by virtue of its constant presence.
“Sloan will tell you.”
Michael started to shake her head, then stopped when the pain escalated. “No. She can’t. It kills her to talk about it. I can’t stand to see the pain in her eyes.”
“God, I know.” Sarah’s sighed. “Sloan is incapable of hiding her feelings, despite how hard she tries. If it hurts me to see her hurting, it must be awful for you.”
“Yes. Agony.” Michael reached for Sarah’s hand and held it tightly. “So for both of us, could you help me understand what’s happened?”
“You will remember, given enough time.”
“It’s not the memories I need as much as knowing what’s coming. There’s a meeting downstairs right now, isn’t there?”
“Sloan is an idiot if she thinks she can keep anything from you,” Sarah said, her voice husky with tenderness.
“She thinks she’s protecting me,” Michael replied, instantly coming to Sloan’s defense. “I love her for that. For that and so many other reasons.”
“You know she lives for you, don’t you?” Sarah leaned down and kissed the top of Michael’s head. “She would never intentionally keep something from you, except to prevent you from being hurt.”
“Sarah,” Michael said softly, “you needn’t tell me how she loves me. She’s the heart of my heart.”
“Of course, she is. I’ve always known that.”
“Then, please, tell me what’s happening.”
“Do you remember that Jason and Sloan were involved in an investigation with the local police and the Justice Department?”
Michael was silent a long moment. “Something…about the Internet…a pornography ring, right?”
“Yes. Something…ah, God…something went wrong. Someone found out what Sloan and the rest of them were investigating.”
The silence stretched longer this time. When Michael spoke, her voice trembled. “So the accident…wasn’t an accident.”
“Here, put this on,” Sarah directed, holding up the shirt she had pulled from Sloan’s closet. She helped Michael stand and finished drying her off. Her expression was carefully blank as she gently patted the soft cotton over the large bruises on Michael’s ribs and back. “I should put something on that abrasion on your hip. Wait a minute.” Quickly, blinking back tears, she turned to the medicine cabinet and fumbled about until she found a large tube of antibiotic ointment. Despite her care, Michael winced as Sarah spread the soothing ointment on the raw surface were the skin had been stripped away by her body’s impact with the harsh surface of the street. “Sorry.”
“No. That’s all right.” Michael rested one hand on Sarah’s shoulder for balance. “But they couldn’t have meant to hurt me, could they? I didn’t know anything.”
When Sarah met Michael’s eyes, her distress was clearly evident.
Tears overflowed onto Michael’s cheeks. “Sloan. Of course they wanted Sloan. Oh, God.”
“Hey,” Sloan said anxiously, moving nearer on the bed. She brushed her fingers over Michael’s cheeks, catching the tears on her fingertips. “Hey, hey baby. It’s all right. It’s all right.”
“Is someone still trying to hurt you?”
“No! No.” Sloan settled on the bed next to Michael and wrapped her arm around her lover’s shoulder. “Everything is fine. There’s nothing for you to worry about.”
“You’re sure?” Michael’s pressed close, swallowing a moan when her tender ribs protested. It felt too good to be in Sloan’s arms to move away, even to ease the pain.
“Absolutely.” Sloan consciously eased her grip, because all she wanted to do was hold Michael more tightly.
Michael rested her cheek against Sloan’s chest, listing to the rapid rush of breath and the wild pounding of her heart. She had always loved the heat of Sloan’s body and the quick rise of her passion, but never more than now. Just knowing that someone had wanted to harm her made Michael desperate to keep her safe. “I can’t imagine life without you.”
“You’ll never have to.” Sloan trembled as she tenderly kissed Michael’s lips. She kissed her again—gently, carefully—her passion restrained but her devotion unbridled.
“You hungry?” Mitchell asked, breaking the silence. Sandy had been quiet since they’d left Sloan’s. “Should we get a pizza or something?”
“How about we go somewhere after Jasmine does her thing with you? You’ll need the practice.”
Does her thing. Mitchell blushed. “Yeah, right. That.” What if I can’t do it? Jeez, what if Sandy laughs?
“You’re crazy for doing this.”
“It’s my job.” Mitchell stared straight ahead, her pace quickening.
“It is not.” Sandy grasped Mitchell’s wrist and tugged until Mitchell looked at her. “You’re supposed to be walking a beat, not club crawling and…picking up sluts.”
“Picking up…oh, come on! You know that what I do while I’m undercover doesn’t mean anything. It’s just the job.”
“Does that include fucking one of them, too?” Sandy jutted her jaw and wondered where the hell that had come from. Like I care who she fucks.
“You’re impossible, you know that?” Mitchell raked a hand through her hair in frustration. “I’m not going to be fucking anybody. Jesus.”
Neither of them said anything else until they were inside the high-ceilinged lobby. The elevator arrived and, when they stepped in, they were alone.
“You mad?” Sandy asked.
“Sure?” Sandy leaned with one shoulder against the wall, her hip cocked, a strip of bare skin showing above the waistband of her tight slacks.
“Yeah,” Mitchell said hoarsely, her attention riveted to that pale smooth inch of flesh. She wanted to see if it was really as soft as it appeared. She felt hot and a little dizzy.
Mercifully, the elevator glided to a stop. “This is it.”
Suddenly shy, Sandy hesitated. “You sure about this? You know, if people see you with me—”
Impatiently, almost angrily, Mitchell took Sandy’s hand and pulled her from the elevator. “What do you think, that you have a big sign that says hooker around your neck? Let them think whatever they want to think.”
“What about your job? That could be a problem, right?”
Mitchell’s head snapped around. She stared hard at Sandy. “Who told you that?”
Frye said…I’m Frye’s now… Mitchell jammed her key into the lock and twisted viciously. She pushed the door open and waited for Sandy to enter before walking into her apartment and flicking on the light switch to her right. “What did Frye say to you?”
Sandy couldn’t miss the current of desperate pain in Mitchell’s voice. “Listen…Frye was just looking out for you, okay?”
“I don’t need her to look out for me, especially not where you’re concerned. What did she say?” Mitchell took a step forward, and when Sandy flinched, Mitchell jerked back, instantly feeling sick to her stomach. “God, Sandy, do you think I’d hurt you?”
“No.” Sandy shook her head. Tentatively, she placed her palm flat against Mitchell’s chest, just above her heart. “No, I…I don’t think that.”
Mitchell stood very still, afraid if she moved Sandy would take her hand away. The heat from Sandy’s small hand burned her skin through the fabric of her shirt. She couldn’t feel anything else except those few square inches of flesh, and in that one single spot, she felt terribly alive.
“I won’t,” Mitchell whispered. “Never. I swear.”
Tremulously, Sandy smiled. Mitchell’s heart thudded against her palm. She couldn’t remember ever feeling anything like that insistent pounding—wild and strong and strangely gentle. Like Dell. “Don’t ask me things, and I won’t have to lie.”
Mitchell took a cautious step forward. Sandy didn’t move her hand, but slid it higher up Mitchell’s chest, until her fingers touched the skin of her throat.
“That’s not how it works.” Mitchell’s voice was husky, her body taut with tension.
“How what works?” Sandy asked, unable to look away from Mitchell’s face. Your eyes get so dark when you’re excit…oh god.
Sandy stumbled back and dropped her hand. Mitchell leaned toward her, breathing fast, but she did not follow.
They smiled at one another.
“You okay?” Sandy finally asked.
Mitchell nodded. “Yeah, you?”
The doorbell rang.
Mitchell drew a deep breath. “Show time.”
Catherine pushed up on one elbow and brushed the hair from her face with her free hand. “What is it?”
“Christ, I’m sorry.” Rebecca sat up quickly and swung her legs over the side of the bed. Her voice was muffled as she said, “Look, it’s not you, okay?”
“I could point out that I’m the only one in bed with you, so it most likely is me—but I’m too old to waste my time on false pride.” Gently, Catherine rested her hand against Rebecca’s bare back. The skin was slick with the heat of their passion, the muscles tight with tension. “And fortunately, we’ve been together long enough that I believe you. So, if it’s not me, what is it?”
“Nothing, it’s just…” the detective ran a hand through her hair. This is how it starts. First she’ll be confused, then she’ll be hurt, and eventually she’ll be angry. This is when it all starts to come apart. “It’s nothing. I guess I’m just tired. Sorry.”
“Rebecca,” Catherine said as she sat up and slid a leg around each side of Rebecca’s body, wrapping her arms around Rebecca’s waist from behind at the same time. She rested her chin on top of her lover’s shoulder. “We’ve made love when you were so exhausted you could barely move a muscle. We’ve made love when you were still recovering from a gunshot wound. Lord, we’ve made love in places and at times when sane people couldn’t conceive of being turned on. This is not about being tired.”
Without looking around, Rebecca found Catherine’s hand where it lay on her stomach and held it. Catherine’s breasts were against her back, a soft warm comfort. Maybe, maybe this time it really would be all right. “It’s the case.”
“Mmm, I thought as much.” Catherine snuggled her cheek against Rebecca’s neck. “What’s worrying you about it?”
Rebecca heaved a sigh. “Just about every damn thing you can think of. I’ve got a rag tag team, short on cops and long on civilians—one of whom is a goddamned streetwalker.” And another who’s my lover. “I’ve got Sloan trying to smoke out an informant within the department—someone who might be mob connected, someone who probably tried to kill her once already. Watts’s career, maybe even his pension, is shot to hell if this operation runs afoul of someone with a lot more clout, or connections, than we can handle. I’m putting a rookie undercover, with no prep time and barely any back-up. Civilian back-up at that. Jesus, what a mess. I should be taken out and shot.”
“Don’t even joke.” Catherine stiffened, and for the first time, her voice held an edge. The nightmares had only begun to abate, and there were still nights when she woke in a sweat, images of Rebecca’s life bleeding away through her fingers.
“Sorry.” Rebecca turned her head. “I’m sorry.”
“You’re the team leader—the commander. Your burden is every bit as great as theirs, and you care.” Catherine kissed her gently. “You’re exactly the right person to lead them.”
Rebecca turned her face to Catherine’s neck and pressed her lips to the soft skin. She followed with her body, rolling over and pulling Catherine beneath her. Resting on her elbows, one thigh between Catherine’s, she gazed into the tender, knowing eyes that never failed to welcome her. It took her by surprise, every time, how quickly the comfort of Catherine’s gentle strength could transform into wanting. Feeling the sensuous rise of Catherine’s hips and the light brush of nipples against her own, Rebecca forgot everything except the heat rising within. When Catherine stroked her breasts, her abdomen, the swell of her hips, she let herself be carried beyond thought on the tides of their singular desire. Surrendering to the pull of Catherine’s mouth and the rush of fingers over her skin, Rebecca closed her eyes as Catherine claimed her, abandoning control as the knowing touch found the places that made her weak, made her gasp, made her cry out with the swift surge of pleasure rising too quickly to crest and break.
“Now there’s only you,” Rebecca murmured, riding the surge of excitement that gathered deep in her stomach and poured down her thighs, drowning her in pleasure. “Ah Catherine, you’re making me come.”
Catherine watched, awestruck, as Rebecca arched above her, braced on trembling arms, shuddering on the brink of orgasm. So terribly defenseless, so terribly precious. “I love you.”
Rebecca’s eyes flickered open, her usually piercing gaze glazed and unfocused. “I need…you. So much.”
“I’m here,” Catherine whispered, sliding her fingers from the pulsating clitoris, moving lower, inside, taking possession of what was hers. “And here.” She thrust deeper, and Rebecca tensed, poised to shatter. “And…here.”
As Catherine caught the skin below Rebecca’s jaw in her teeth, the sharp edge of pain cut through the deep well of pleasure, and Rebecca lost her tenuous grip on control. “Oh God, don’t…go.”
Catherine pulled Rebecca into her arms as she came, cradling her while the breath tore from her on a hoarse cry of fulfillment. “I’m here, I’m here,” she soothed, over and over until Rebecca relaxed in her embrace.
Sandy sat hunched on the edge of Mitchell’s bed, and, while Jasmine sorted through the clothes in Mitchell’s closet, studied Mitchell.
What would Mitchell look like as a guy? She wasn’t tall, but a bit above average height and well-built. Her shoulders were nicely developed and her hips and thighs toned and tight. That would help. But more than her body, there was her face. Chin and cheekbones boldly sketched by a few strong lines, large, deep set eyes, a generous mouth. Her dark hair, as close to black as hair could be, was just beyond short, and thick. Combed the right way—yeah, that could work. And of course, she doesn’t have to look like a guy; she has to look like a really good drag king. Yeah, Dell can do that.
“What do you think?” Jasmine asked, addressing Sandy as she turned from the closet with a pale blue silk shirt in one hand and a pair of dark trousers and matching jacket in the other. “Maybe add a tie?”
Sandy studied the very nice suit, then shook her head no. “Too uptown. She’ll fit in better if she just looks like a boy version of herself.”
“What do you mean?” Mitchell asked, uneasy.
“She’s right,” Jasmine said, casting Sandy an appreciative glance. “We can’t just dress you up and expect it to work. You still have to be as naturally you as possible.” She put the clothes back.
“Can I look?” Sandy asked.
“Sure,” Mitchell said, resigned to having little say in the process.
A minute later, Sandy handed Jasmine first a pair of soft, well-worn black leather pants, then a snowy white T-shirt, and finally a pair of scuffed black motorcycle boots with heavy heels and a wide strap across the arch. “Have you got a jacket to go with these pants, Dell?”
“I don’t suppose you have a bike, too?”
Sandy looked at Jasmine. “Well?”
“The guys at the Troc will die of envy.” Jasmine laid the clothes on the nearby dresser and turned to Mitchell, her expression suddenly serious. “The first time or two you’ll need help wrapping your chest. It’s not as simple as it sounds because you don’t want the ace to show under your shirt. Are you okay with me helping you?”
“I…sure.” Mitchell pulled her shirt from her jeans and began to unbutton it. “Let’s just do it.”
“I’m gonna get a beer. You got beer, Dell?” Sandy suddenly realized that she didn’t want to see Mitchell naked. Or rather, she did. A lot. And that was a good reason not to.
“In the fridge. You’re not leaving, are you?”
“Nah. I’ll hang out for a while.” She walked toward the door and said over her shoulder, “Have fun.”
Jasmine opened a small duffle bag she’d carried into the bedroom earlier and extracted a lightweight white cotton ace wrap. Keeping her gaze on Mitchell’s face, she approached with the ace in her hand. “Raise your arms.”
Mitchell complied, and Jasmine quickly and expertly wrapped it around Mitchell’s chest. “Too tight?”
“No.” Mitchell lowered her arms, flexed her shoulders. “Seems okay.”
Jasmine reached for the white T-shirt from the nearby dresser. “Let’s see how it lays. And remember, you’ve got to expand your movements, not make them smaller. Guys take up a lot of space.”
“Like cops.” Mitchell smiled and pulled on the T-shirt. “I’ve had plenty of practice acting like I’m physically bigger than I am.”
“I know. That’s a big reason why I think this will work—you’ve already got the walk. Plus, your face was made for this.” Jasmine took Mitchell’s hand and drew her to the bed. “I made a call to one of the boys as soon as the meeting broke up, and he took me on a quick shopping trip for your drag gear.”
Mitchell rubbed the back of her neck as she stared at the items laid out on her bed. Oh jeez.
“I got a few different ones, because you need to wear one big enough to give you a bit of a bulge—that’s pretty much required for a drag king. But personally, I don’t go for the perpetually hard look. The packing dicks are just for show—they won’t function, but they don’t look like bananas in your pants, either.”
Mitchell picked up the pale pink packing dildo in its clear plastic envelope and squeezed It felt real. “Well, I’m not gonna need it to work.” She kept her face expressionless as she unzipped her jeans and pushed them down.
Abruptly, Jasmine turned and walked to the floor to ceiling windows on the opposite side of the spacious room. Keeping her back to Mitchell, she remarked, “You’ve got an incredible view of the square from here. Of all of downtown, really.”
“Yeah,” Mitchell replied as she pulled the leather pants up and settled herself. “Okay.”
Jasmine turned. Mitchell stood with hips thrust slightly forward, a thumb hooked over the top of her pants, her fingers splayed across the leather, close to but not quite touching the subtle but definite swelling to the right of her fly.
“Well, Mitch,” Jasmine said quietly, “I’m having a gender confusion moment.”
Mitchell laughed a bit shakily. “Good. So am I.”
“Ookaay.” Jasmine took a deep breath, wondering briefly how Sarah would feel about a full out cross-dressing date. Mitchell, just beyond androgynous now, was Eros personified. “Time for the final touches. Bring that chair into the bathroom. I need good light for this.”
A minute later, Mitchell sat down, automatically sliding a hand up the inside of her thigh to cup her crotch, adjusting for the new position.
“Good move,” Jasmine murmured, running her fingers through Mitchell’s thick hair. “Men and drag kings are fond of frequent manual dick checks.” She laughed. “Lest it disappear.”
“Should be fun on the bike,” Mitchell muttered. The unaccustomed pressure between her thighs that escalated intermittently with every small movement was disturbingly arousing. Her entire body was tingling, and she couldn’t wait for Sandy to see her. Oh man. What if she doesn’t like it? Jesus Christ. What if she does?
“Are you and Sandy an item?” Jasmine asked as she altered the arch of Mitchell’s dark brows with several adept strokes of the eyebrow brush.
Mitchell met Jasmine’s gaze in the mirror. “No. Why?”
Jasmine switched to a wider brush and picked up a dark shade of toner. As she accentuated the width of Mitchell’s naturally strong jaw, she said, “She’s hot for you.”
Mitchell twitched. Everywhere. “There’s nothing going on with us.”
“Uh-huh.” Jasmine walked around from behind the chair and held out her hand, then pulled the nouveau drag king to his feet. She checked Mitch’s beard shadow, ran her eyes over the hard muscled chest, let her eyes drop to the prominence of genitalia nestled in soft dark leather. Nice. “Do you want there to be?”
“Want what to be?” Mitch was aware of the languid scrutiny, and unexpectedly, he got hard. If this keeps happening, I’m going to go nuts.
“Something to be going on between you and Miss Cutie-Pie.”
“Yeah.” It felt so good to say.
“Well, then, stud,” Jasmine said, taking Mitch’s hand, “I think you’re about to get your chance.”
When she heard footsteps, Sandy looked up from the couch where she’d been nursing her second beer and rifling through a magazine about vintage cars. Jasmine walked into the living room with her arm around the waist of … Oh fuck, Dell. Look at you. You are so, so hot.
“Sandy, this is Mitch.”
Watts’s voice echoed in Sandy’s memory. You gotta be the person twenty-four seven, because if you lose it for just a minute, you’ll get made. And then…
“Hiya, Sandy.” Mitch hoped his nervousness didn’t show. Sandy hadn’t said a word, and he couldn’t tell if she liked it or not. Maybe she doesn’t go for drag; maybe she doesn’t go for girls any way at all. Christ, maybe she’s straight. Mayb…
Well, if he’s supposed to be my boyfriend, time to prove it. Sandy put the bottle on the coffee table and walked directly to Mitch, not stopping until her breasts nearly touched his chest. Wordlessly, she stood on her tiptoes and kissed him on the mouth.
Mitch’s head spun wildly. He had imagined a lot of reactions when she saw him, but not this. His first thought, before the incredible feel of her mouth drove every thought from his burning brain, was that she was only kissing him because he was a guy. But then he knew that this was not what Sandy did when she was with men. This was something special, just between them. Then he couldn’t think at all because his heart was pounding so loudly and his insides were turning over, and his legs were shaking too badly to do anything but struggle to stay upright. And God can she kiss.
“So, boyfriend,” Sandy said calmly after she broke the kiss, “you promised me pizza.”
Jasmine laughed, shaking her head in delight and admiration for Sandy’s aplomb. “Mitch, love, if that’s the way she asks for pizza, you might want to go for a four-star restaurant next time.”
Jasmine let herself out, her soft laughter drifting back to them.
“Is it okay?” Mitch asked quietly when they were alone. He still hadn’t moved, and neither had Sandy.
“You look great.”
“You okay calling me Mitch?”
Sandy shook her head, exasperated. “You are Mitch. You have to be, or else you’re going to get your ass killed.” She took Mitch’s hand and squeezed. “You told Frye you could do this, and I’m starting to believe it. So do it, rookie.”
“Why did you kiss me?”
Sandy smiled a small, secretive smile. “Because you looked a little nervous, and that’s not how you need to look. You need to look tough and sure, and I figured a kiss would get you on track.” And because you looked so good I just had to.
“I’m not nervous now.” Mitch’s voice was low, husky.
“Then it worked.” Sandy dared a quick peak into Mitch’s eyes. They were that dark, dark blue again. Hazy and hot. She liked knowing that look was for her. But she wasn’t ready for more. “You gonna feed me or not?”
“Yeah.” Mitch’s throat ached with wanting her, but it would have to be on her terms. He pulled out his leather jacket, shrugged into it, and then held open a second, softer brown one. “It’s getting cold at night now.”
Sandy hesitated and then turned to let Mitch slide the coat over her arms. For just a second she leaned back against him. She felt the quicksilver brush of lips against her neck, and she shivered. “Thanks.”
“Come on, girlfriend,” Mitch murmured close to Sandy’s ear. “Let’s go get that pizza.”
Sloan closed her eyes and rubbed her face wearily. The symbols on the screen had blurred to the point where she knew she’d miss something critical soon. She was alone in the CSU lab, and the quiet colluded with her exhaustion to lull her into torpor.
“One more scan,” she muttered, “then I’ll call it quits for the night.”
She opened the root directory and began to search for the activity log from the time period in question. Data scrolled by, all routine. So routine, in fact, that she almost did miss it. A password query, a series of them, and then a password change—followed by file access.
Sloan jolted upright, her attention totally focused, her mind absolutely clear. Fingers flying over the keyboard, she was quickly immersed in the data stream, functioning on a subconscious level, guided by the intuitive logic leaps that only the master hackers ever attained. She was on the trail of her quarry, and she was close.
Mitch looked around the small dark empty apartment that was just down the hall from Sandy’s. “I’ll be fine here tonight.”
“There’s no furniture.” Sandy tugged his arm toward the door. “What are you gonna do, crash on the floor?”
“I’ll get a few things tomorrow. I won’t need that much.”
“Fuck that. You’re sleeping at my place.”
Ignoring the fact that he’d never won an argument with Sandy yet, Mitch was too tired to argue. It had been nerve-wracking being out in public with Sandy, even though they had hung out in the Tenderloin around 13th and Locust where just about anything goes. No one had seemed to pay them any attention as they’d walked around, Mitch with his arm around Sandy’s waist, her with a thumb hooked over his belt in the back. Despite their apparent anonymity, that was only part of the problem. For three hours, Sandy had been all over him, and it was driving him crazy.
She rubbed her hand up and down his back while they walked, squeezed his butt from time to time, and sidled up to him when they stopped to look in the window of a video store, her pelvis pressed to his hip, her breasts against his arm, her fingers stroking his abdomen just above his pants. When they ended the evening in a neighborhood bar because Sandy had said it would be good for them to be seen together, she’d practically climbed into his lap. All of which had left his nerves shattered and his body screaming for relief.
Much more of anything from her and he was going to come out of his skin.
“Okay, fine,” Mitch conceded as they walked down the short dingy hall and into the startling warm oasis of Sandy’s apartment. “I’ll crash on your floor. At least it’s clean.”
Sandy regarded him steadily. “You can sleep with me.”
“I can’t.” Mitch’s voice was low, nearly mournful.
“Sandy, for God’s sake.” Jesus, she never makes anything easy. “I’m gay.”
“No foolin’.” Sandy’s smile when she looked back at the handsome drag king was oddly tender. “So? Can’t you be good?”
“Usually.” Mitchell blew out a frustrated breath, rubbing at the restraining ace on her chest. I want you to touch me so bad. If you’re next to me… “But not tonight. I’m so wound up…I…I just don’t think I can.”
“Well, I’m not worried, Dell.” Sandy took a step closer, which in the tiny room brought them within touching distance. “And I’m not scared.”
Mitchell’s heart tripled-timed. “Well, I am.”
“Does that hurt?” Sandy asked with concern, pointing to Mitchell’s chest. “You’ve been rubbing it.”
Sandy took Mitchell’s hand. “Come over here and sit down.”
“Be quiet, Dell,” Sandy said as she put both hands on Mitchell’s shoulders and gently forced her down on the edge of the sofa bed. Then she knelt between Mitchell’s legs and reached for the bottom of the white T-shirt. Her belly brushed the leather between Mitchell’s thighs.
“I’m so turned on,” Mitchell confessed in a whisper. “You’re making me so nuts, I can’t stand it.”
When Sandy pulled the shirt from her pants, Mitchell closed her eyes and leaned back on her elbows, unable to do anything but surrender. Her stomach was in knots, her skin on fire, her clitoris full and hard and pounding. Whatever this was, whatever this wasn’t—no matter what anyone said—she needed it. Needed Sandy’s small hands on her, needed that warm mouth…
“Oh Jesus,” Mitchell moaned as Sandy leaned forward and kissed her abdomen. “Your lips are so soft.”
“Mmm, so’s your skin,” Sandy murmured, licking a circle around the tight navel. Her breasts rested against Mitchell’s fly, and she rubbed them back and forth slowly as she worked her lips over the taut muscles. “You taste good.”
The weight of Sandy’s body pressing into Mitchell’s crotch forced the firm form in her pants harder against her straining flesh. Discomfort became acute stimulation, and her clitoris twitched with warning spasms.
“Wait…wait a second,” Mitchell uttered in desperation, one hand cradling Sandy’s cheek, the other reaching for the fly of her leathers. “Let me get this out of here.”
Sandy grasped her hand and looked up. “Leave it for a little while. It’s sexy.”
Mitchell blushed and met Sandy’s eyes. “It’s not…it won’t work.”
“I don’t need it to work, idiot.” Sandy pulled the T-shirt over Mitchell’s head and reached for the tape holding the ace wrap in place. “I know who you are, Dell.”
Mitchell looked down as Sandy carefully released her breasts, the blond head bent over her naked flesh. With trembling fingers, Mitchell stroked Sandy’s cheek, then ran her thumb over the full pink lips. Sandy bit the tip of her thumb, and her thighs tightened. When Sandy brushed her fingers over Mitchell’s nipples, she tensed and cried out.
Sandy’s breath came faster, her hands shaking as she flattened her palms over the small firm breasts, massaging them gently. Moaning in surprise, she felt herself get wet. She hadn’t really expected that. All night she’d told herself she was just playing with Mitch to get him used to being treated like a guy. But she’d enjoyed it—more than enjoyed it. She hadn’t wanted to admit it, but she’d been hot all night. And she wanted Dell now, wanted her the way she hadn’t thought herself capable of wanting anyone—not this way, not in her body, in her blood. “Oh yeah, you feel so fucking good.”
Through eyes gone dim with arousal, Mitchell watched Sandy suck a hard nipple into her mouth, and the sight and sensation drove her close to the edge. Whimpering faintly, dangling on the brink of exploding, Mitchell turned her head and sought Sandy’s gaze. “Please, Sandy…please.”
“Mmm,” Sandy murmured, leaning close. “You are so sexy when you’re hot, you know that? I wanna keep you this way for a while.”
“I’m gonna die…” Mitchell ached for the feel of skin against her skin, for Sandy’s flesh beneath her hands.
They both jerked as a shrill ring pierced the room. Mitchell stiffened as Sandy cursed.
“What is it?” Mitchell asked, her stomach so tight with unrequited need she thought she’d be sick.
“My phone.” Sandy’s voice was wild.
“Ignore it, okay.” Mitchell drew Sandy’s hand down to her fly and pressed her fingers to the swelling there. She whimpered; she couldn’t help it. “Please.”
The sound shrilled again.
“No—it’s my phone. Jesus Christ.” Sandy was having trouble thinking clearly. She was so excited her brain was mush. “Frye’s phone. That’s her calling.”
Mitchell went cold.
The phone rang a third time and Sandy lunged for her purse. “Yeah, what?”
“How you doin’, Sandy?”
“Peachy.” Sandy glared at Mitchell who had sat up and was pulling on her T-shirt in quick angry motions.
“Did you get Mitchell squared away?”
“Yeah.” Sandy laughed without humor. Oh yeah, I took care of her all right. Fuck.
“I still need the street Intel on those filmmakers.”
“How about right now.”
Sandy panicked. “You can’t come up here.”
“I wasn’t going to.” A beat of silence. “What’s the matter? You got someone up there with you?”
Oh no, just Dell with a hard-on and pissed as hell. Jesus, she’d probably go for your throat right now. Sandy made a fast decision. “A john.”
“That wasn’t the deal. You work for me, you don’t turn tricks.”
“Look, I’ll meet you right now.”
Another pause. “Okay. Meet me at Woody’s, in the back room.”
Sandy closed the phone and faced Mitchell. “I have to go out.”
“She calls and you jump? She that good?”
“You’re a jerk.” Sandy gathered her small purse and headed for the door.
“Take my jacket.”
Sandy pulled a tiny royal blue satin zip-up top from the coat tree by her door and slipped it on. “Don’t you know by now that they don’t buy what they can’t see?”
Mitchell paled. “Sandy…”
But she was talking to a closed door.
Sandy threaded her way through the crowd clustered around the bar for last call and walked into the dark recesses of the rear. She dropped into the seat across from Frye at a tiny back table. “Funny place for a meeting, unless you’re looking to get laid. You looking for some action? Cause I’m free now, thanks to you.”
Rebecca ignored the taunts. Sandy’s anger was one thing she counted on, and she had a feeling it was a big part of what kept Sandy from being swallowed by the street. “You get rid of your visitor?”
“What do you think? I left him at my place?” Sandy ried not to think about where Mitchell had gone, what she was doing, who she might be with. “You gonna be calling all the time now? It cramps my style.”
“You’re not supposed to have a style any longer, remember?” Every night as she drove the streets, Rebecca watched the young girls sell their bodies to survive, knowing there was nothing she could do to change their fates. She tried, and would probably keep trying—scanning the faces, looking for likenesses to the blurred images on the missing persons bulletins, taking those she could convince to leave the life to shelters or women centers—but it was a never-ending battle doomed to failure. Every day there were more of them. Why Sandy meant more to her that any of the others, she couldn’t say. “I have an investment in you, and I expect you to take care of yourself.”
“I’ve managed just fine so far.”
“Yeah—that new scar on your forehead is proof of that. Someone beat the living hell out of you, didn’t they?”
“It was nothing. I could have handled that even if Dell—” Sandy clamped her jaws shut. Shit!
Rebecca’s eyes narrowed. “What does Mitchell have to do with it?”
“Her life is on the line now, Sandy. Don’t fuck with me, I don’t have time.” Rebecca’s tone was harsh, not with anger, but worry. What in hell have I missed?
“A guy was roughing me up. Dell stopped him.”
“Stopped him how?”
“Like cops do—she took the fucker down and arrested him. She got into trouble for it, too—because she pulled her gun and got rough or something.”
And the pieces tumbled into place. Mitchell on suspension. Mitchell undergoing counseling—mandatory in situations like that. Catherine and Mitchell—Catherine who must know all about it. How much hasn’t Catherine told me?
“Okay,” Rebecca said quietly. “So let’s talk business. I need you to find an Asian girl named Lucy.”
“No last name—she’s about sixteen, and she might work for Angel Rivera.”
“Angel’s a mean pimp.” Sandy’s eyes grew hard. “He hooks his girls on smack to keep them working.”
“I know that,” Rebecca said, her anger barely contained. And I’d love to put him away, or kick the crap out of him, but he always manages to slip through some crack in the system. “I tried showing the picture of the girl from the video around Chinatown. I thought maybe she was a runway and someone might know her.” Four hours in and out of every bodega and restaurant in a ten-block area and one slim lead to show for it. “No one knew her, but someone said they thought maybe she was a friend of this Lucy.”
“That’s kinda thin, don’t you think?”
“It’s what I’ve got.” Roberta looked at her watch. “Where’s Mitchell now?”
That twist of pain was unexpected and Sandy jerked involuntarily. To cover her surprise, she laughed harshly. “How should I know? You’re the one told me to stay away from her, remember?”
“Things have changed.” Rebecca leaned forward intently. “She’s good, but she’s a novice. I need you to watch her back.”
“So what do you want me to do? Move in with her?”
“If you have to.”
Sandy stood. “You know something, Frye? You use people.”
Rebecca made no reply and Sandy walked away.
You use people.
It wasn’t the first time she’d heard it, although not quite as honestly as Sandy put it. Jill had complained that Rebecca put the job first and gave her what was left. Which was never enough. Rebecca thought of Catherine, and how much she needed her. How she so often came to Catherine, weary and drained, and let Catherine comfort her with her body and her tender soul. I use her, too.
Catherine rarely slept deeply when Rebecca was working. She rolled over and opened her eyes, having been roused by a soft noise in the darkened room.
“I’m sorry. I was trying to be quiet.” Rebecca padded across the floor, slipped naked into bed, and buried her face in the sweet softness of her hair.
“Everything all right?”
“Mmm. I love you so much.”
Catherine heard the faint catch in her lover’s voice. “Darling? Did something happen?”
“No, I’m just beat.” Rebecca took a long breath. She wasn’t going to burden Catherine with more of her guilt.
Catherine hesitated, knowing there was more. She always knew. She kissed Rebecca’s forehead, then her eyelids, then finally her mouth. “We’ll talk tomorrow.”
“Catherine,” Rebecca whispered. I need you so much. I don’t know if I could keep going…
“I…you’re the best thing in my life. The most important thing.” Rebecca smoothed her fingers over Catherine’s cheek, along her neck, and then lowered her head to kiss Catherine’s breast just above her heart. “I just want you to know that.”
“I love you.” Catherine held Rebecca tightly, letting that be enough.
Michael rose carefully. The clock read five-thirty. The side of the bed where Sloan had lain was cold.
She went into the bathroom, splashed cold water on her face, then looked into the mirror for the first time since the accident. She blinked, drew a shaky breath, blinked again.
Thank god Sarah washed my hair because the rest of me is a fright.
With horrific clarity, she abruptly recalled the conversation with Sarah.
Car accident…skull fracture…broken ribs…bruised kidney.
Someone had tried to kill Sloan, and she had been hurt instead.
Michael made her way carefully to the guest room at the opposite end of the loft and halted at the door. “Sarah?”
A light came on, and Sarah was instantly by her side.
“Michael? What is it? Are you sick?”
“I…what?” Sarah took Michael’s hand. “You should go back to bed. You’re white as a sheet.”
Michael looked beyond Sarah to Jason, who was just tying his sweat pants. “Where is she, Jason?”
He looked helplessly at Michael. “She said she was going to check on some data for Rebecca.”
“You left her alone?” Michael’s voice rose with anger and fear. “What were you thinking? Someone tried to kill her.” Michael’s vision dimmed and a wave of pain rolled through her head and flooded her consciousness. She swayed and Sarah grabbed her arm.
“Michael. Sit down.”
“I’m fine.” Nevertheless, Michael allowed Sarah to lead her to the bed. “I’m sorry.” She lifted anguished eyes to Sarah and Jason, who stood side by side a few feet away, both looking distraught.
“Ah, hell,” Jason muttered, looking to Sarah for guidance.
Michael’s voice cut through the air. “Tell me. What?”
“She was working on finding the leak in the department—maybe she found it.”
“Someone tried to kill her and almost killed me instead. Don’t you realize what she’ll do? God, she’ll be crazy.” Michael’s voice was cold and eerily flat. “Find her, Jason. You find her right now and bring her home.”
Six a.m. Quitting time.
Sandy trudged up the dark narrow stairwell to the third floor on autopilot. She unlocked her apartment door, stepped inside, and stared at the woman sitting on the side of her bed. For a moment, neither of them spoke. Then Sandy found her voice.
“What are you doing here?”
“I wanted to say I was sorry for being an asshole.”
“Okay. You said it.”
Mitchell curled her fingers over her knees to hide the shakes. She was so fucking tired. “I didn’t have any right to come down on you for leaving last night. I was…I was a little crazy.”
“You were a lot crazy if you think Frye and I have anything going on.”
“I know. I just…” Mitchell drew a long breath. “I was wrong. I’m sorry.”
When Mitchell started to rise, Sandy put a hand on her thigh, stopping her. “I’m sorry for leaving you in a state. I didn’t want to.”
Mitchell blushed. “Not your fault.”
“Oh, yeah?” Sandy bumped Mitchell’s shoulder with hers. “I thought it was.”
“I was so hot for you,” Mitchell whispered, glancing at Sandy with a half turn of her head. “I couldn’t think straight. I didn’t know what the fuck I was saying.”
“Was hot for me?”
“Am.” Mitchell took Sandy’s hand, caressed it gently. “Have been for quite a while.”
“Same here.” Sandy leaned her head on Mitchell’s shoulder. “You wanna stay?”
“Yeah. I’d like that.”
Silently, they both rose, undressing slowly, watching each other in the breaking dawn light. Sandy lifted the covers and slid under, then held them open for Mitchell. The bed was narrow, and they turned to face one another, their bodies lightly touching. Mitchell rested her hand softly on Sandy’s hip. Sandy nestled her face close to Mitchell’s on the pillow.
“Is it okay if we just…” Sandy shivered. She’d never been this way with anyone. “Is just sleeping okay for now?”
“It’s fine.” Mitchell’s body was doing the all-over tingle thing again, and she was wet. But that was okay. It was good, great. Perfect. “You’re really beautiful, you know.”
“Dell,” Sandy said gently. “You are such a blockhead.”
Carefully, Mitchell inched forward and kissed Sandy, a tender whisper of lips brushing lightly. “I know. But you’re still beautiful.”
Catherine lifted the phone mid-way through the second ring. “Hello?…Yes, she’s right here.” She extended the receiver to Rebecca. “It’s Jason.”
“Sorry, Rebecca…we can’t seem to find Sloan.”
Rebecca sat up, instantly alert. “I’ll be right over.”
Jason, unshaven in wrinkled clothes, looked up hopefully as Rebecca walked into the central office area just after eight a.m. “Anything?”
“Nothing.” Rebecca had never seen him with a hair out of place, even when he’d been lying on the floor with his hands cuffed behind his back, Mitchell’s knee between his shoulder blades.
“I should have realized she’d go after whoever hurt Michael on her own. Michael is…everything to her.”
Rebecca understood that. That’s what she would do if anyone hurt Catherine. “It’s my fault. Not yours.”
“I know her bes—”
He cocked his head, listening to the sound of the elevator descending to the first floor, then the slow steady whir of the gears reversing. Together, he and Rebecca watched as the double-wide doors slid soundlessly open.
Sloan’s eyes were rimmed with dark shadows, her cheeks gaunt, her clothes beyond creased. Her shoulders sagged, and her step was unsteady.
“You hurt?” Rebecca asked sharply.
Sloan shook her head and sat heavily into the nearest chair. “I got him.”
Jesus, god. Rebecca’s body turned to ice. “Who?”
“Captain John William Henry.”
Rebecca’s face never changed expression but her stomach heaved. With effort, she kept her voice even. “What did you do?”
Sloan looked at her, her eyes slightly unfocused. “I sat across the street with my gun in my lap, locked and loaded, all night. Knew he’d be out early.”
Jason jumped to his feet. “Sloan, don’t say anything else! I’m calling Jack Goldberg.”
Sloan sat up straighter. “I don’t need an attorney.”
“Are you willing to talk to me without an attorney, Sloan?” Rebecca was quiet, nonthreatening, and she hadn’t moved an inch since Sloan arrived.
“No, she isn’t,” Jason said adamantly.
“I didn’t do anything.” Sloan leaned her head back and stared at the ceiling. “He came out, he got in his car, he drove away.”
“That’s it?” Rebecca asked.
“You carrying now?”
Again Sloan nodded.
Rebecca walked to her and extended her hand. “Give me you weapon.”
After a long moment, Sloan complied.
“Jason,” Rebecca said, ejecting the clip and putting it along with the automatic in her pocket, “take her upstairs and see that she stays there.”
“You can’t do that. This guy is mine.” Sloan jumped up, her eyes suddenly bright.
“Get her out of here, Jason.” Rebecca’s voice was flat and hard. “Now.”
Rebecca remained motionless until Jason and Sloan disappeared into the elevator. Captain Henry. And Sloan almost took him out. Christ, how many more ways can I screw up this case.
Mitchell was awakened by a persistent pulse of pleasure centered in her left breast. Raising her head, she focused on the blond head bent over her chest and watched Sandy suck her nipple between her lips.
“Ahh, jeez Sandy.” Mitchell’s head dropped back and she closed her eyes again. “What are you doing?”
“I couldn’t sleep,” Sandy whispered, stretched out on top of Mitchell, one thigh between hers. “And I couldn’t stand to just look any longer.”
Eyes still closed, Mitchell trailed her fingers along Sandy’s side, brushing the curve of her bare breast. “Feels good. So good.”
Sandy shifted, nestling her own breast in Mitchell’s palm. Her voice was soft as she said, “You can touch me now.”
Ever so carefully Mitchell ran her fingertips over the gentle swell of silken skin, thumbing lightly back and forth across the erect nipple. Sandy made a small mewling sound.
“Okay?” Mitchell asked, opening her eyes and pushing up against the pillows.
Sandy nodded, lids half closed, as she rocked slowly against Mitchell’s leg. “You can do it…harder.”
“You sure?” Mitchell asked, squeezing rhythmically, harder each time.
“It…oh…Dell…I can feel it…all the way down.”
Mitchell groaned and captured the other breast in her hand. Sandy arched upward on extended arms, pressing her breasts harder into Mitchell palms. As Mitchell rolled and tugged her nipples, Sandy began to shiver, her hips moving insistently against Mitchell’s thigh.
“Stop,” Sandy gasped abruptly. “Dell, stop.”
Immediately, Mitchell stilled, her entire body rigid. Her voice was hoarse with tension and arousal. “What? Sandy, what? Did I hurt you?”
Sandy lowered herself against Mitchell’s body and pressed her face to Mitchell’s neck. She was trembling.
Mitchell caressed her back, rocking her gently in her arms. “Hey. Hey. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” Sandy mumbled, her fingers tracing the curve of Mitchell’s jaw. She kissed the side of Mitchell’s neck, then the corner of her mouth.
Mitchell worked to stay focused through the mists of arousal. “Sandy? Come on. Help me out here.”
“I’ve never come with anyone touching me before.”
Mitchell’s eyes darkened; her breath stuttered to a stop. She eased onto her side, keeping Sandy in her arms. Their heads rested close together on the pillow, their breasts and thighs lightly touching. “Do you want to?”
“I almost did, and then…” Sandy turned her face away.
Mitchell tapped a finger on Sandy’s chin. “And then?”
“I got scared.”
“Ah, babe.” Mitchell kissed Sandy gently. “I want what you want. You tell me.”
“I want to touch you.” Sandy drew a finger down the center of Mitchell’s body, resting her fingers in the dark triangle at the base of her abdomen. “I want to make you come.”
Mitchell moaned softly. “I want to touch you, too. So much.”
“I want you to,” Sandy whispered. She found Mitchell’s hand and pressed it between her own thighs. Her eyes flickered closed, then opened, the pupils wide and dark. “I don’t know if I can.”
Mitchell felt the heat, felt the hard shape of her desire, felt her tremble. “Anything you say…I’ll just stroke you a little, okay?”
“Yes. Yes.” Sandy slipped her fingers between Mitchell’s legs, squeezed lightly, and smiled when Mitchell gasped. When Mitchell mirrored the motion, she moaned. “Nice. Dell…that’s so nice.”
“Yeah.” Mitchell struggled not to come immediately.
“Dell,” Sandy breathed. Touching Mitchell made her so excited, she could barely discern what aroused her the most—Mitchell’s pleasure or her own. “Oh…you just got so hard.”
“I’m gonna come,” Mitchell gasped. She pressed her forehead to Sandy’s, groaning softly as she spasmed in Sandy’s palm, shuddering with the swift and merciful release of the tension in her depths. “Sandy. Sandy.”
“Oh, yeah.” Sandy watched in awe as Mitchell closed her eyes and arched her back, so beautiful. The sharp rise of her own orgasm took her by surprise and she cried out, every muscle clenching as it struck.
“Incredible,” Mitchell whispered. Her throat closed around sudden tears, and she swallowed hard. “You are so beautiful.”
“Yeah?” She still had her hand between Mitchell’s thighs. She pressed the base of the swollen clitoris, then stroked.
“Uh-huh.” Mitchell jerked, moaning softly.
“You’re doing that again.”
“What?” Mitchell’s voice was hoarse, her stomach tight.
“Getting really hard.”
“That’s cause…you’re making me come again. Ah…god.”
Sandy leaned up on an elbow, grinning. “Yeah?”
“Ye…” Mitchell choked on the word, coming too hard to do anything but fight for air. When the last ripple of orgasm faded, she fell back, gasping. “Thank you.”
Sandy’s smile of self-congratulation changed to an expression of astonishment. “Dell, Jesus. You’re nuts.”
Mitchell tried to focus and finally fixed on Sandy’s face. “Why?”
“Because…I wanted to be with you.” Sandy leaned near and kissed her. Long and deep and hard. “You got a girlfriend, rookie?”
“I’m holding out for Mitch’s girl.”
Sandy laughed. “I don’t know, Dell. Mitch is fucking hot.”
“Uh-huh. I noticed you thought so.”
“Yeah, I did.” Sandy rolled over and straddled Mitchell’s hips, rubbing herself against the base of Mitchell’s belly. She was still wet and the fleeting friction against her erect clitoris made her groan. “But then, so are you. Big time.”
Mitchell reached for Sandy’s breasts, gently cupping them as she arched her hips, making Sandy bite her lower lip and close her eyes. “So I’ve got a chance?”
“We’ll see, rookie,” Sandy whispered. “We’ll see.”
Michael rested her palm against Sloan’s chest and smiled faintly. “You look awful. Take a shower and go to bed.”
A few minutes later, Sloan, naked and still damp, emerged from the bathroom.
“Come to bed.” Michael loosed her robe and slid under the sheets, stretching an arm out across the pillow.
Sloan lay down next to her, rested her cheek on Michael’s shoulder, and sighed. It had seemed so clear when she’d arrived outside Catian’s Henry’s house what she needed to do, but as time passed, she’d become confused and uncertain. She knew Michael wouldn’t want her to take matters into her own hands; Frye would know immediately it was her doing if anything happened to the guy; and, as she turned the automatic over and over in her hands, she had come to doubt that she could pull the trigger. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to worry you.”
“You didn’t worry me so much,” Michael replied, threading her fingers into Sloan’s thick, dark hair. “You scared me.”
“I’m really beat, baby,” Sloan murmured. “I fucked up last night. I…I’m not thinking right. I haven’t been right since you got hurt.”
“I know, love.” Michael kissed Sloan’s forehead. “Everything is going to be all right. I’m going to be all right. So are you.”
Sloan didn’t reply. She was already asleep.
Michael closed her eyes. They were together, and it was a start.
Mitchell stepped off the elevator at Sloan Security and hurried down the hallway toward the sound of voices. She was late. Way late. She thought about Sandy as she’d last seen her, lying naked, asleep in the midst of the tangled sheets. Feeling almost high, Mitchell grinned, knowing that she wouldn’t have changed anything about the last few hours.
“Sorry I’m late,” Mitchell said, her eyes on Rebecca.
Watts gave her a hard stare. “Late night out with the boys, Officer?”
“No, sir, I—”
“Did you get settled into the apartment?” Rebecca asked briskly.
“Yes, ma’am, I di—”
“Good. Sit down. We were in the middle of a briefing.”
Mitchell sat, her gaze forward. What the hell has happened? And where is Sloan?
“Sloan thinks she’s nailed our leak. I want to be sure, because we’re going to have to concentrate all our resources on building a case against him if she’s right.” With a black marker, she wrote Suspects at the top of the blank board and underlined it. “Let’s go through them, one by one.”
Next she wrote Police Dept to the far left of the board. Beneath it, she wrote Captain Henry—Special Crimes, Adams—Civilian Clerk-SC, Trish Marks—Homicide, Charlie Horton—Homicide.
She moved over an inch and wrote City Hall. “Watts? Want to fill in the players?”
Watts pulled a tattered leather bound notebook from the inside of his brown suit jacket, flipped it open, and read dispassionately. “Two ADAs handled the warrant for the bust at LongJohn’s. That would be Margaret Campbell and…uh…George Beecher. The judge was Sally Marchamp.”
As he spoke, Rebecca added the names. With one more shift to her right, she headed the last column under Suspects with Civilians. Beneath that, she wrote Whitaker and Rawlings. When she turned, she met her lover’s gaze. Much as she’d expected, Catherine regarded her calmly, but there was a quizzical expression in her eyes.
Rebecca surveyed the room. “Who can we absolutely eliminate?”
Watts cleared his throat. “Marks and Horton. They got assigned the Cruz and Hogan hits on a random rotation, and they have no other connection to anyone in the case other than that.”
Rebecca knew that Watts was biased against the leak being a cop, but she tended to agree with him that Marks and Horton were low on the list. “Who else can go?”
“Dr. Rawlings,” Mitchell said clearly. She glanced briefly at Catherine, who smiled back. “I didn’t tell her anything about the detail—only that I was on it. I did not discuss the nature of the operation or the timing for the raid.”
“There was nothing in any of my notes or reports that specified what Officer Mitchell was involved in professionally at the time of our sessions,” Catherine advised quietly.
“Fair enough.” Rebecca crossed out Catherine’s name.
“If I might add,” Catherine said steadily, “I’ve known Rand Whitaker professionally for many years. Although anything is possible, I can’t see him being involved in anything nefarious.”
“He’s got a house in the Hampton’s, drives a vintage Ferrari, and owns a huge estate in Merion. He doesn’t get all that on what the PPD pays him as a consultant,” Jason pointed out.
“In addition to that, he’s got too many potential avenues of access to information within the department,” Rebecca said flatly. “He stays on the list until we get the in-depth financials, at least.”
“Adams, the clerk, was hired by the department after the information from Flanagan’s reports went missing. Since we’re assuming that the person who set up Sloan is also behind that, she can go,” Jason recommended.
“Agreed. We’re down to five, then,” Rebecca said to Jason. “You need to run the ADAs and the judge.” She took a deep breath. “And we need everything you can get on Captain Henry. As soon as Sloan is able, I want to talk to her. She’s going to have to give us a solid reason to go after him. He’s a ranking officer with a good rep.”
Jason took a breath and carefully did not look at Watts. “Henry’s credit cards are maxed out, he has a second mortgage on his house, and nothing showing in the way of assets. He’s borrowed against his retirement fund as well. Money could be a motive for him to turn.”
“Any indication of where his money is going?”
“No sign yet.” Jason kept his voice level. “I’ll have more tomorrow.”
“Make it today. I want all of you all over that suspect list. I want everything there is on every one of them, ASAP.” She explained about the possible connection between the Asian girl in the video and the prostitute named Lucy. “I’ve got a slim lead on one of the girls from LongJohn’s video, and I’ve got street sources looking for her.”
Mitchell stiffened. Sandy.
“Mitchell, you with us?” Rebecca asked sharply.
Mitchell jerked upright. “Yes, ma’am.”
Rebecca gave her a hard stare. “Where do we stand on the inside action at Ziggies?”
Jason said, “Jasmine will take Mitch to the Troc tonight. Introduce him around. We should be good to go for him hitting Ziggies within a day or two.”
“Mitch? Who the hell is Mitch?” Watts barked. The mention of Jasmine set his teeth on edge.
“Friend of mine,” Mitchell replied evenly, meeting his gaze.
“Oh for fuck’s sake.” Watts appeared as if he wanted to say more but a deadly look from Rebecca had him coughing into his fist instead. “Right. Mitchie.”
Mitchell straightened in her seat, and she almost seemed to grow in size. Her alto voice resonated with warning. “That’s Mitch. Not Mitchie.”
For a second, Watts just stared. Then the corner of his mouth twitched and finally, he grinned. “Okay, kid. Okay. Don’t get your…balls…in an uproar.”
“Wouldn’t think of it, Detective. Sir.”
Rebecca rubbed the bridge of her nose. Christ. The two of them are like kids. But she recognized the camaraderie beneath the jibes, and that’s what made the team work. That’s what made someone put their life on the line without a second thought. “We’re looking for any information on the guy in the sex video who might work or have worked at Ziggies, and any information that the girls there might have about how the videos are getting made. Who organizes it, who picks the girls, when and where they’re shooting the flicks. Anything to point us to a location. Questions?”
No one had any.
“We’ll meet here at the usual time tonight. If anyone gets anything before then, I’ll expect a call. No one makes a move without my say so.”
As the group dispersed, Watts sidled up to Mitchell. In a voice too low for Rebecca to hear, he asked, “So, kid—what’s the deal? When you walked in this morning, you had that ‘just got laid last night’ look.”
“Yeah?” Mitchell replied curiously. “How can you remember, considering how long it must have been since you’ve looked that way?”
Watts shook his head remorsefully. He had a hard-assed female partner who outranked him, which was bad enough, but now he had a snot-nosed rookie giving him shit. He laughed out loud. Life is good.
Rebecca slumped into a chair and blew out a long breath. “Jesus, what a crew.”
“How are you doing?” Catherine pulled her own chair closer and rested her hand on Rebecca’s forearm.
“Okay.” Rebecca gave her a weary smile. “I feel a bit like I’m walking a tightrope without a net here, which I guess I am.” She rubbed her face. “I can’t believe it’s Henry. Or maybe I just don’t want to believe it.”
“Maybe it isn’t?”
Rebecca kissed Catherine, then drew away with a sigh. “I have to go. I’ve got a meet with a source.”
It’s a dangerous game you’re playing. Catherine said nothing, because this is the life her lover led, but it frightened her none the less. As she watched Rebecca walk away, Catherine wondered if she would ever get used to it.
“Do you really think it’s Henry?” Watts asked when Rebecca pulled away from the curb, heading the Vette south on 10th.
“I don’t know. He’s in the right place. It’s got to be someone with rank.”
“Yeah,” Watts agreed dispiritedly. “I hear you. Man, I hate to think it’s him, though. Not like I love the guy or anything, but still…”
“He’s one of us.”
“Yeah.” Watts looked out the window. “Where we goin’?”
“We’ve got a date with some girls.”
His eyebrows raised. His voice sounded hopeful. “Yeah?” At the look from Rebecca, he swallowed his grin. “That cute little whore come through for you?”
“Sandy,” Rebecca said very softly. “Her name is Sandy.”
The warning note that resonated in her voice made his gonads tighten, pull up, and run for cover. “Okay. So, she’s yours now. Got it. Sorry.”
“Sandy found us a girl. I don’t know if it’s the girl. We’re going to buy them breakfast and find out.”
“Workin’ girls and a double date. My favorite.”
Rebecca ground her teeth and pulled into an angled slot in front of the Melrose Diner. “You sit. I talk.”
“Sure, sure, Sarge.”
Once inside the crowded noisy diner, they found Sandy and a smooth-faced Asian girl who looked about fifteen seated on one side of a red vinyl-covered booth. Watts slid in first, then Rebecca. A waitress stopped with a coffee pot in hand and said, “What youse havin’?”
Both girls ordered meals that would give a truck driver pause. Watts and Rebecca ordered coffee.
“Hiya, Sandy,” Rebecca said softly, just a touch of menace in her tone. “This Lucy?”
“Yeah.” Sandy sounded sullen and did not look Rebecca in the eye. It was important for Sandy’s safety as well as her future credibility that she not appear to have a friendly relationship with the police. “So we’re here. You promised you’d pay.”
“Later. If we like what you have to say.” Rebecca was impressed that Sandy had gotten the girl to agree to a meet. “If we don’t, you miss dinner and I’ll be dropping around when you least expect it to ruin business for a while.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Sandy shifted on the seat, clearly unhappy. “So ask, then leave us alone.”
The girl with Sandy had kept her eyes on the tabletop the entire time. Rebecca slid Jason’s composite of the guy in the sex video into her line of view. “Know him?”
The girl shook her head no.
“Ever seen him?” Watts grumbled.
The girl shrugged.
Rebecca’s pulse jumped. Good man. Rebecca slid a folded twenty across the table and under the photo. “Where?”
“Around the clubs,” the girl replied after a pause. She had no accent and her voice was soft, gentle. “He drives.”
“Drives?” Rebecca glanced at Sandy, who made an I don’t know gesture. “What does that mean?”
“He brings some of the girls to the clubs.”
“Some of the dancers?”
“Do they just dance? Or do they hook, too?”
“Where? Which clubs?”
Rebecca passed another twenty. She didn’t think the girl was holding out for more money. She was scared. “Which clubs?”
“I don’t know…I haven’t seen him in a while. Maybe the Blue Diamond—”
“The place on Delaware Avenue?” Watts asked.
Shrug. “Ziggies once. I don’t know.”
“What’s his name?”
Negative head shake.
“Okay,” Rebecca said. She passed the photos of the two girls who had been in the video with him. “How about them?”
The young girl stiffened.
“Fifty dollars,” Rebecca whispered. Come on. Help me.
A trembling finger landed on the Asian girl’s photo. “She used to dance at the Blue Di. Maybe she still does.”
“I don’t know.” Her voice was almost transparent now. Her dark hair framed a face both guileless and world-weary. She raised liquid eyes to Rebecca’s. “Her stage name was Trudy.”
“What about the other one?”
“No you don’t know her?”
“She just said that, Frye,” Sandy interjected, sensing Lucy was about to bolt. “Jesus. You got your money’s worth. Leave us alone so we can enjoy the food. You and Bluto there kinda spoil the appetite.”
Rebecca folded a fifty dollar bill around her card. As she slid that across the table under the rim of Lucy’s plate, she said quietly, “I can take you to a shelter where you can get a new name, a new start.”
A head shake. Definite. No.
“You need help—any kind of help, call me.” Rebecca gave Sandy a hard stare. “You—keep your nose clean. And keep your ass out of the alleys.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Sandy snorted with a kiss-my-ass attitude and turned her attention to her breakfast.
Rebecca and Watts left, handing the waitress money for the check on the way out the door.
“Did we just get anything?” Watts asked as he crammed himself into the Vette.
“I don’t know,” Rebecca mused, heading north out of South Philly towards Sloan’s. She looked at Watts speculatively. “Have you ever heard of prostitutes having escorts?”
“Nope—pimps might cruise around checking up on their stables, but they don’t drive the girls to work.”
“Sex videos, Internet porn rings, girls being shuttled around to sex clubs.” She shook her head. “What does that sound like to you?”
“Definitely that and—” Her phone rang and she pulled it from her belt. “Yeah, Frye…okay, fine…on our way.”
“What’s up?” Watts asked.
“Sloan’s awake, and she wants to talk to me.”
“Huh. You gonna chew her ass?”
“The thought has crossed my mind.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet,” he said, laughing. “Can I watch?”
Rebecca eyed him flatly. “Gee, Bluto, I don’t know about that.”
When Sloan opened the door, Rebecca stood still on the threshold, taking stock. The security consultant looked like a different woman than a few hours before. Her eyes were clear and bore barely a hint of shadow.
“Thanks for coming.” Sloan stepped aside with a sweep of her arm, bidding entry. “Please.”
What caught Rebecca’s attention almost immediately was the exquisitely beautiful woman seated on the sofa in the central living area. Her classically elegant features were scarcely marred by the bruises and obvious swelling. There was pain swimming in her deep blue eyes, however, and it hurt Rebecca on some basic, instinctual level to see it.
“Detective Sergeant Frye, my partner, Michael Lassiter.”
“Rebecca,” Rebecca said, walking forward to offer her hand. “Hello.”
“I’m so happy to meet you,” Michael said, smiling into the arctic blue eyes.
“I’m glad to see that you’re better,” Rebecca replied.
“Yes, thank you.” Michael glanced at Sloan, who stood quietly to one side. “It was my idea that you come upstairs. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Not at all.” Rebecca smiled. “Is there something I can help you with?”
“Other than keeping my impetuous lover out of harm’s way?” Michael ignored a slight groan from Sloan’s direction, smiling softly. “You can accept an invitation from Sloan and me for you and Catherine to join us for dinner when I’m a bit more worthy of company.”
“I’d be delighted to accept for both of us.” Rebecca was surprised to realize that she’d have a hard time denying this woman anything. “As to Sloan, that’s another story. She’s a little independent.”
Michael nodded carefully. “I won’t argue. I won’t even mention extenuating circumstances of which you’re well aware. So, I’m going to leave you two to sort that out.”
Sloan moved forward quickly to help Michael rise. Slipping an arm around her lover’s waist, subtly supporting her, she glanced at Rebecca. “I’ll be right back.”
When Sloan rejoined her, Rebecca waited for Sloan to make the first move. It wasn’t what she expected.
“Sorry if that put you on the spot,” Sloan said quietly. “Michael is having trouble remembering things, and—”
“You don’t need to explain. Seeing her like that…it makes me want to put a gun to someone’s head.” Before Sloan could reply, Rebecca added, “But I won’t.”
“Neither will I.”
“You’re too close to this one. I knew it from the beginning and I let it slide. That was my mistake.” Rebecca fixed Sloan with an unyielding stare. “But you blew it last night. You should have called me as soo—”
“I know. I was wrong. I apologize.”
Rebecca nodded slightly, accepting the apology. “The fact remains, I don’t know that you won’t decide the investigation is moving too slowly and take matters into your own hands.”
“I won’t.” Sloan’s face tightened and a muscle in her jaw jumped. “I won’t because it would hurt Michael.”
Rebecca considered it. Considered what she had seen of Sloan’s condition when Michael had been injured. Considered the effect that love, no, not just love—bone-deep need—had had on her own life since meeting Catherine. She blew out a breath. “Your word on it.”
“Watts will be deeply disappointed.”
Sloan raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“He was hoping for a royal ass-chewing.”
“You can always fake it,” Sloan suggested with a laugh.
“Nah. He’d enjoy it too much.”
When Rebecca and Sloan walked into the conference room together, Watts craned his neck and examined Sloan from head to toe. “I don’t see any bite marks.”
“They’re there,” Sloan said quietly in passing.
Watts smiled, satisfied.
Rebecca settled into a chair at the head of the table. “Okay, Sloan. It’s your show.”
“I found a back door in Flanagan’s computer,” she said. “In simple terms, that’s a secret way into a system unknown to the user. Depending on the level of access, the intruder can remove, alter, or delete files. This user had root access.”
“That’s good?” Watts asked sharply, hating the way these discussions left him feeling like a rookie again.
Sloan shook her head. “That’s bad. At least for the person whose system has been compromised. It means that the intruder can do just about anything to the data and then alter the logs so that it’s impossible to see what he, or she, has done.”
“And you identified him?” Rebecca asked.
Sloan nodded. “I tracked the log-on data back to Henry.”
“Can you prove it’s him from what you have?” Rebecca asked sharply.
“Not yet,” Sloan admitted. “I need to go back tonight. I need to look at what Henry’s been doing. With the information I have, I can easily access his files.”
“Do it,” Rebecca said immediately. “In the meantime, we work the other angles. Sandy nabbed us a solid lead—a dancer who might be our video girl. Watts and I will look for her.” She turned to Mitchell. “I need you in those clubs, as soon as possible. We’re looking for information on an escort service that might be transporting girls to the clubs—to perform, to hook, we’re not sure. That and any word you can get for us on the video shoots.”
Rebecca looked at Jason. “What kind of cover story are you going to use?”
“There is a big drag scene in DC. A place called Club Chaos on Dupont Circle is the heart of the drag king scene, and Jasmine performed with some of them there a couple of times.” Jason looked at Mitchell. “I thought we could put Mitch out as having been a bouncer at the club. That way, he won’t be expected to perform.”
Rebecca stood. “Okay. Anything breaks, I want to know.” She purposefully did not look at Sloan. “Anything.” Then she turned to Watts. “I need a couple of hours, then let’s cruise the clubs down on Delaware.”
“Sure, Sarge.” He heaved himself to his feet. “Sounds like my kinda night duty.”
Mitchell, sweating and swearing under her breath, humped the mattress up another few stairs. She looked out from under the leading edge, which was balanced on her back, at the open-toed, stack-heeled shoes and skin tight black slacks of someone standing on the third floor landing. Nice toes. Craning her neck, she looked up the length of the very sexy body into laughing eyes. Totally nice everything. Her legs got shaky and it wasn’t from the effort of carrying the mattress.
“Hi, Dell. Whatcha doin’?”
Sandy eased down a step on the narrow staircase, grabbed one side of the mattress, and lifted. Together they dragged it the rest of the way down the dim hall and dumped it unceremoniously into the middle of the empty living room of Dell’s studio apartment.
“This is pathetic,” Sandy observed, wrinkling her nose in distaste.
“I get a hot plate in here—it will be fine.” Mitchell couldn’t look anywhere but at Sandy, so bright-eyed and fresh and oh-so-hot-sexy-kissable… Mitchell jerked at the warm touch on her hand.
“Uh-huh.” Sandy took Mitchell’s arm and tugged. “Come on. You can shower at my place.”
“I gotta go to work.”
“So do I. Come on.”
Once inside the apartment, Sandy closed the door and put both arms around Mitchell’s waist beneath her leather jacket. “I thought you’d never show up.”
Then, Sandy pressed full-body against the startled cop and kissed her, taking her time, working her way over the surface of Mitchell’s lips before slipping her tongue between them and exploring. By the time she was inside Mitchell’s mouth, sucking slowly on her tongue, Mitchell had walked them across the room to the sofa, and they fell onto it in a jumble of arms and legs. Mitchell groaned as Sandy’s hand slid up the inside of her leg and cupped her through the jeans. Sandy moaned as fingers found her nipple through the thin material of her top.
“Sandy,” Mitchell gasped. “Jesus, you’re making me crazy with that.”
“Yeah. Me, too. Do something about it, will ya?”
Do something about it, will ya? Do something…Something inside snapped. Mitchell stood abruptly on shaking legs, stripped off her jacket, and threw it behind her. Then she reached down for the bottom of Sandy’s top, curled her fingers in the thin fabric, and dragged it up and off. Swiftly, she knelt before the sofa and, with one arm around Sandy’s waist, pulled the startled young woman toward her, forcing Sandy to spread her legs on either side of Mitchell’s body. Tight between Sandy’s open thighs, Mitchell leaned forward and put her mouth to Sandy’s breast, closing around the nipple with her teeth as she caught and squeezed the other between her fingers.
Sandy gave a startled cry, drove her fingers into Mitchell’s hair, and pressed her breast harder to Mitchell’s mouth. “Oh my god. Dell.”
Mitchell was on fire. All day, the memory of being with Sandy—her smell, the softness of her skin, her surprised cries of pleasure—had simmered just below the surface of her consciousness. All day she’d wanted her, and now, now she couldn’t touch her enough.
“Dell,” Sandy gasped, tugging at Mitchell’s hair. “Dell, take your shirt off. Come on, baby…let me feel your skin.”
With her lips still around Sandy’s nipple, sucking the hard knot of flesh relentlessly, Mitchell began tearing at her clothes, pulling her shirt from her jeans, fumbling at her fly. Sandy’s hands joined hers and finally she had to release Sandy’s breast long enough to lean back and remove her shirt. In the next instant, Sandy’s hands were on her, running over her breasts and abdomen, pushing below the edge of her jeans. Everywhere, everywhere she burned.
“Sandy.” Shivering with need, Mitchell looked up into Sandy’s eyes. “I want to taste you. Please…is it okay?”
Sandy’s eyes widened. Her hands trembled as she framed Mitchell’s face. “You have…such a fabulous mouth.”
Still kneeling, Mitchell groaned as Sandy’s hands moved lower beneath the waistband of her open jeans. “Do not…go there,” she warned, her stomach board-hard with arousal as she pulled away.
“Hey!” Sandy protested.
“Be patient.” Carefully, Mitchell slid Sandy’s tight black slacks down and off, then drew her fingertips up the inside of Sandy’s smooth thighs. Sandy, heavy-lidded and breathing quickly, was propped on her elbows, watching her.
“Okay?” Mitchell’s voice was hoarse.
Sandy nodded, placing one hand behind Mitchell’s neck. “Uh-huh. Better even.”
Mitchell let Sandy guide her head down, closing her eyes as she immersed herself in the warm, wet welcome. The first kiss drew a sound of surprised pleasure, the next a long sigh, and when she carefully traced the delicate folds and firm prominences with her tongue, a sob of joy. Sandy’s fingers on the back of her head pulled her closer, and as she played the nerve bundle with her tongue, she unconsciously lowered one hand to stroke herself.
“Ohh,” Sandy gasped, jerking nearly upright, both hands on Mitchell’s head now, holding her close, just holding on. “Dell…Dell, I’m gonna come.”
Mitchell swiftly forgot her own needs, bringing both hands beneath Sandy’s hips, holding her fast as she carried her higher. Breath suspended, she followed the rise and fall of Sandy’s hips, timed her strokes to the pulse beating between her lips, and thrilled to the sensation of her lover climaxing in her mouth.
Sandy grabbed a handful of Mitchell’s hair and tugged weakly. “C’mere.” She edged one leg between Mitchell’s thighs. “Oh, you’re really wet.”
“Yeah. You make me so hot.” Mitchell turned her face to Sandy’s neck and kissed her. She wanted to come, but she never wanted the excitement to end, so she held very still, holding back. “You feel so good.”
Sandy put her mouth to Mitchell’s ear and whispered, “Come on my leg.”
The words shot through Mitchell like a bolt of lightening, triggering her nerve endings, everything going off at once. Her control shattered, and she came with a shout.
“That’s it, baby, that’s it,” Sandy soothed, stroking the length of Mitchell’s back. “You’re so sexy, Dell. God.”
“You kill me,” Mitchell mumbled.
“Mmm. I like that.” Sandy tightened her hold, feeling at once incredibly strong and incredibly vulnerable. Mitchell did scary things to her.
But when Mitchell sighed, “Yeah, me, too,” all Sandy really felt was happy.
“Will you stop fidgeting?”
“Aww.” Sandy drew the brush along Mitch’s jaw. “I bet you didn’t give Jasmine a hard time.”
“Jasmine wasn’t standing between my legs.” Mitch shifted on the stool, and Sandy pushed closer, making Mitch gasp.
“Good thing,” Sandy muttered. “She’s way too hot.”
“Shut up, Mitch. You’ll ruin my line.” Sandy switched to a pencil and widened the already dark brows. “So, where you goin’?”
“Jasmine is taking me to the Troc. Depending on how things go, I might go out clubbing with some of the kings later. The sooner the better, Frye says.”
Sandy reached down and gently squeezed Mitch’s crotch. “Just make sure you don’t spend it anywhere else tonight.”
Mitch got wet and hard. Shit. “If I don’t get out of here soon, I’m gonna spend it right here.”
“Mmm. I can do fast.”
“Liar.” Sandy reached down between his legs again.
“Not right now, anyhow.” Mitch grabbed her hand. “Will you give me a break?”
Sandy laughed again. “No freakin’ way.” She kissed him, seriously this time, until she felt him start to rock against her, then she stepped back. “See ya later then, stud.”
“Jeez, you’re a tease.”
“Mmm, you complainin’?”
“You hear me complaining?” Mitch murmured, sliding off the stool and pulling her close. “I’m sorry I can’t stay. Man, I want to.”
“Sure. So go already, since you’re no good for anything else right now.” She kissed him one last time to soften the words.
“I’ll be good later.”
“Promises, promises.” But she was smiling as he walked out the door.
Jasmine wore figure-hugging deep red slacks, a scoop top, and a short shiny black vinyl jacket. “Sandy did a great job. You look great. Are you ready?”
“As I’m ever gonna be.”
“You okay on the background stuff we reviewed?” Jasmine hooked a hand around Mitch’s forearm as they walked. “I’ll be with you tonight, and we’ll just hang out. Tomorrow I’m performing though, so you’ll be on your own for a while then.”
“I can handle it.”
Jasmine slid her arm around Mitch’s waist as they reached the door of the club. “I have no doubt.”
Immediately inside the door a burly guy in a tight black T-shirt and black jeans stood with arms folded across his massive chest.
“Hi, Jas.” He leaned over and delicately kissed her cheek. “You look gorgeous.”
“Thank you.” She smiled. “Ronnie, this is Mitch.”
He held out his hand. “Yo.”
“Hey,” Mitch said, shaking the huge hand which was firm but surprisingly gentle.
“Is Kennie here?” Jasmine asked.
“Sure. He’s in the lounge with a few of the other guys.”
Jasmine took Mitch’s hand. “Thanks.”
Mitch took a deep breath. Show time.
The lounge was a paneled, low-ceilinged space with a sofa, a couple of overstuffed chairs, a coffee table and a pool table. Two drag kings stood, cue sticks in hand, intently studying the lie of the balls on the faded green felt. A third sat with his booted feet propped up on the table, watching the game, a beer bottle in one hand. All three were dressed in jeans, Tshirts, and boots, and all had the smooth-faced, androgynous features so typical of drag kings. One had a small trim mustache that looked real, one had convincing sideburns, and all of them were flat-chested.
Mitch couldn’t help a quick glance at their crotches, wondering how he measured up. Nothing too obvious. Guess I’m okay there.
The seated guy rose as they walked around the pool table toward him. He was Mitch’s height and a few pounds heavier with a small tattoo, a kanji symbol from the looks of it, low on the side of his neck.
“Jasmine! Hey, didn’t expect to see you tonight.”
Jasmine dipped her head and kissed him on the mouth. “Hi, Kennie.” She tugged Mitch forward. “Ken, this is Mitch. Mitch, Ken Dewar, the troupe leader of the Front Street Kings.”
“Hey,” Ken said, extending his hand.
The drag king with the mustache snorted. “Yeah, make him sound important, why don’t ya.”
“Aww,” Jasmine soothed. “We all know how special you are, Dino.”
“Uh-huh.” He grinned. “Hiya, I’m Dino.”
“Mitch.” Mitch shook hands all around. The third guy Mitch recognized from the Front Street Kings’s website. Phil E. Pride.
“Mitch just moved up here from DC. I thought you guys could show him around.”
Ken lifted a shoulder and looked Mitch over. “You perform, Mitch?”
Mitch shook his head. “Nope. No talent. At least not on stage.”
That drew a laugh.
“What brings you up here?”
Ken raised an eyebrow and glanced at Jasmine.
“Oh, not me, Ken.” Jasmine smiled sweetly. “You know I adore every one of you, but you’re way too much men for me…” They all laughed. “And I am oh so already taken.”
“I keep hoping,” Ken said.
“I’m going to go talk to some of the girls,” Jasmine said. She squeezed Mitch’s arm. “I’ll see you later, stud.”
Mitch took the seat opposite Ken in one of the lumpy chairs and leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. “I haven’t been here very long and I’m trying to get a sense of the scene. It’s tough, you know…on your own.”
“Most kings hang here, because of our shows. There’s seven of us in the troupe, and maybe that many regulars who aren’t performers.” Ken reached for his beer. “You looking for a job?”
“I could use one. I’ve got a straight day gig, but it doesn’t pay much.” Mitch grinned. “Like I said, I’m not looking to perform. I used to be a bouncer, and I can do almost anything around a bar.”
“Ought o be able to find something around here then.” Ken propped his feet back up on the coffee table. “So—you’re friends with Jasmine.”
“Yep.” Mitch waited, sensing Ken considering that fact.
“You interested in the club scene or is the thing with your girl serious?”
“It’s serious,” Mitch replied. “But I’m not married.”
And just like that, he was in.
“What did you say your name was?”
“Sandy.” Sandy turned her back on the guy at the end of the bar who was giving her the once over. “Lucy said maybe you could put me with this movie guy to make some fast cash.”
Trudy, the thin Asian girl from the video, looked away. “Lucy sent you?”
Sandy nodded, then swiveled on her seat as a hand stroked her shoulder. It was the guy from the end of the bar. “Buzz off, will ya?”
“What’sa matter, honey? You too busy or something?”
The guy moved his hand lower, brushing the side of her breast.
Sandy’s eyes narrowed and, without moving anything but her arm, she slid a hand up the inside of his leg and closed her fingers around his balls. Then she squeezed, gently. “Well…”
She kept squeezing.
His smile turned to surprise, and then his eyes suddenly widened in shock. “Jesus,” he whispered desperately. “Let go.”
“I’m trying to have a conversation here.”
“Okay, okay.” His knees buckled, and he grabbed the edge of the bar. “Ah, Christ…please.”
His eyes started to tear, and satisfied, Sandy released her hold. “Goodbye now.”
“Bitch,” he croaked, but his voice lacked any venom.
The girl with Sandy watched the stranger limp carefully away. “Aren’t you afraid he’ll be waiting outside for you?”
“Most of the time they’re too drunk by then to do anything, but I’ll go out the back just in case. So—can you help me out?”
“Maybe. I don’t know.”
“Look, if you do, I’ll split the money with you.”
Trudy’s eyes widened. “No way.”
“It’d be worth it to me. I’m tired of blowing slime balls like that guy over there for small change.”
“Yeah, you got that right.” Trudy picked at a nail. After a minute, she said, “I’ll ask around.”
“Hey, thanks.” Sandy tried not to look as happy as she felt. I earned my money tonight, Frye. “So let me give you my number, ‘k?”
When Sandy left the bar on Delaware Avenue it was almost four in the morning. Ordinarily, she would have strolled over to the strip on Locust and tricked for another two hours in the dark alleys or front seats of parked cars. Tonight she headed home, hoping that Mitch, or Dell, would be there waiting.
Rebecca groaned and reached for the phone. “Frye.”
“It’s Sloan. I have to talk to you.”
“What time is it?”
“Ah, Christ. Okay.” Rebecca sat up and pushed the sheets aside. “Your place?”
“That’ll work. I’ll wake Jason.”
“You need the rest of the team?”
“It can wait til later.”
“Am I gonna like this?”
Catherine waited until Rebecca put down the phone. Voice fuzzy with sleep, she asked, “Everything okay?”
“Sloan has something.”
“Call me later.” She burrowed back into the pillow.
Rebecca smiled, walked around to Catherine’s side of the bed, and leaned down to kiss her cheek. Lips close to her lover’s ear, she whispered, “What’s the matter? Something tire you out last night?”
“Mmm.” Eyes closed, Catherine smiled at the memory. “Something.”
Mitch stood uncertainly before the door to 3B, listening intently for any sound from the other side.
“Sandy?” he called softly, tapping very gently. He waited a minute, then turned to go down the hall to his own apartment. The door behind him opened.
Mitch spun around, heart racing. “Hi.”
“Where ya goin’?”
“I didn’t want to wake you.”
“Well, you know…it’s late. Early…whatever.”
Sandy wore only a pair of dark string bikini underwear and a tank top. She leaned a shoulder against the doorframe, her eyes moving slowly over Mitch’s body. He looked even better than she’d remembered in his black T-shirt and leathers. “So, you wanna come in?”
Mitch nodded, trying not to look as hungry for her as he felt. “Yeah.”
“How was your night?” She didn’t move.
“Long.” He moved to the opposite side of the threshold and stretched an arm up along the frame, tilting his body toward hers, but not touching her. And inch separated them, and he could feel her heat across the chasm, penetrating his clothes, soaking into his skin. His insides twisted he wanted her so bad.
“Did you go out with the boys?” Sandy asked casually as she lazily drew her fingers across her bare abdomen.
“Uh-huh.” Mitch’s throat was dry, his eyes riveted on the slow caress. “We…uh…hit a few places.”
“Did you score?” This time there was a slight edge to the question.
Softly, Mitch replied, “Not yet.”
Sandy reached out, pushed her fingers beneath the waistband of his pants, and yanked him into the room. “Smart answer.”
She swung the door closed and then pushed him back against it with the weight of her body glued to his. She wrapped her arms around his neck, pressed her mouth to his, and rubbed the tiny square of black fabric covering her groin over the swelling in his crotch.
“I’ve been so hot for you,” she breathed against his neck. “So…crazy…hot.”
Mitch cupped Sandy’s butt and held her as she rode him, letting her have…take…do…whatever she wanted. She was going to make him come pretty soon just from the pressure of her thrusting hips, but he figured she knew that, because he couldn’t help groaning with pleasure and need.
“Unzip your fly,” Sandy gasped, pulling his T-shirt from his pants. She raked her nails down his abdomen, her thighs braced against his. Then she pulled her tank top off as he opened his pants for her. She looked down, saw the full white jockeys. She looked up and met questioning blue eyes, so filled with longing it made her heart ache. Gently, she took Mitch’s hands and brought them to her breasts. Moaning softly, she closed her eyes and bit her lip as the first touch of his fingers against her hard nipples sent pleasure streaking deep into her core.
“Oh,” Sandy moaned, straddling a rock hard thigh and sliding her slick skin over the cool leather. “You make me want to come so bad.”
“Sandy,” Mitch whispered, “I want—oh, god…” He leaned his head back against the door and fought to stay standing as Sandy reached into his pants. He felt the force of her fingers on the outside of his underwear, gripping him in her palm and slowly, rhythmically squeezing.
“Can you feel that?” Sandy murmured. “Baby?”
“Yes,” Mitchell groaned as the insistent pressure massaged her clitoris.
“Enough to come?” Sandy watched the muscles in Mitchell’s neck strain and a pulse race erratically the length of her throat.
“Oh, yeah…Sandy…” Mitchell gave a small cry as Sandy removed her hand and the tantalizing pressure disappeared. “Please…I’m almost there.”
“Next time,” Sandy reached beneath everything inside Mitchell’s briefs until she found skin, then slid a finger on either side of Mitchell’s hard clitoris, “wear your working gear.”
Mitchell couldn’t answer. Sandy’s fingers, tugging and stroking her quivering, poised-to-explode flesh, were quickly bringing her to orgasm. With her last bit of will, she pushed her hand down Sandy’s belly and inside her bikinis.
“Oh,” Sandy cried in surprise, instantly ready to come. “Dell…Dell, put your hand inside me. Oh…hurry, baby.”
Shuddering, Mitchell climaxed as she slipped gently inside Sandy’s warm depths. Hips bucking, she wrapped her free arm around Sandy’s waist and held them both upright as Sandy buried her face in the curve of Mitchell’s neck, clinging to her and crying out her pleasure, over and over.
In the midst of her orgasm, Sandy instinctively followed the lift of Mitchell’s hips and entered her, pushing Mitchell to yet another, deeper, climax.
“Oh god, Sandy,” Mitchell moaned, “you’re so good…so good.”
“Dell.” Sandy rested her palm against Mitchell’s cheek and stroked her gently. Carefully, she withdrew her fingers from between Mitchell’s thighs and immediately wanted to return. “That was so…so…”
“Yeah. It was.” Mitchell sighed and opened her eyes. She looked down into Sandy’s sated face and kissed her gently. “You ready for bed?”
“I should shower,” Mitchell said tiredly. “I smell like a fucking barroom.”
“I don’t care,” Sandy replied, taking Mitchell’s hand and pulling her toward the open sofa-bed. “Shower later. I want to go to sleep with you naked next to me, and you just wiped me out.”
“Me?” Mitchell laughed. “Jesus, you were the one who jumped me.”
Sandy smirked. “I did, didn’t I?”
“I just came from having another look at Flanagan’s computers,” Sloan announced. “Looks like I fucked up in more ways than one the other night. I missed something.”
Jason sat up straight. “On the back-trace to Henry?”
Sloan shook her head. “On the back door itself.”
“What, there isn’t one?” Rebecca asked sharply, fatigue coupled with her lack of expertise in a critical area of the investigation making her very short on patience.
“Oh, there is one.” Sloan grimaced. “In fact, the whole department’s system is so wormy it looks like Swiss cheese.”
“Just give me the bottom line,” Rebecca snapped. “It is it Henry or not?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Christ.” Rebecca wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or to tear Sloan’s head off. “God damn it, how could you have made that kind of mistake? Jesus, we could have blown this whole case!”
“Sergeant,” Jason interrupted quietly, “maybe we should hear her out?”
Rebecca spun in his direction, but just before she let loose with another string of invective, she caught sight of the shadows under his eyes. Then she took a good look at Sloan, who’d been up all night. Again. The cybersleuth looked worn out, although she was making an attempt to stand tall. “Ah, hell.” She leaned back and shrugged her shoulders, forcing herself to settle down. “Explain it to me.”
“Networks, especially big ones like those that link municipal services, have all kinds of maintenance functions that run in the background constantly. A lot of it happens automatically—preprogrammed updates and the like.” Sloan waited, gauging Rebecca’s reactions. At a nod from the detective, she continued. “There have to be avenues for that work—that information—to travel to individual computers, and the way that happens is via file transfer ports, or entry ways.”
“Okay,” Rebecca said. “I got it.”
“Those ports are always open and provide a way into a network—in essence, they’re huge potential highways for hackers. That’s how the Blaster and So.big worms spread so fast. So,” Sloan said, “all someone has to do is bring in an infected computer, connect it to the system, and launch the worm. Some worms don’t even have to be attached to email or any kind of file, so the user never even suspects. Just—boom—information will start pouring back to the source computer, or anywhere else the hacker programs it to go. Want a password? No problem. Want to read someone else’s mail? Have a seat. Want root access to alter or erase entire files? Tougher, but with a good code writer creating the worm, possible.”
“And that’s what happened?” Rebecca asked.
Sloan nodded. “Someone inserted a worm into the system at the PPD, and it has infected any number of computers. I missed it the first time, because it’s a tiny bit of code piggybacked onto a huge file and when I saw that log-in hack, I went off in another direction. Henry’s computer is one that was hit, which is how his password was usurped. I don’t know how many others there are, but there could be any number.”
“You’re sure it’s not Henry?”
Sloan shrugged. “I couldn’t find anything in his files to suggest he’s dirty, and my guess is that he’s just a fall guy. But someone is able to read and possibly even modify just about every bit of data in the entire system.”
Rebecca rubbed her face, drank more coffee, and digested the information. The thought made her stomach heave. Entire cases were built on lab reports, witness accounts, and other information stored in the system. Personnel files, home addresses, health records…the list was endless. And Sandy’s name is in there now, too. All spelled out and officially listed as my CI. “This is bad.”
Sloan and Jason were silent.
“So, we’re nowhere?” Rebecca looked from one to the other, working to beat back the hopeless feeling.
“No, we’re definitely somewhere.” Sloan’s eyes lit up. “I know where the worm came from.”
Jason whistled. “You have been busy.”
“I screwed up the other night.” Sloan’s eyes were hard, her voice like granite. “That could have cost us all.”
“Who?” Rebecca’s heart raced. Name. Just give me a name.
“Not who, yet,” Sloan advised. “But I’ve got where. It came from a computer in the District Attorney’s office.”
“A name,” Rebecca said quietly. “I need a name.”
Sloan and Jason spoke simultaneously. “We’ll get you one.”
“What’s that?” Sandy mumbled, pulling the thin blanket over her head and burrowing deeper into Mitchell’s side.
“Shit! My beeper.” Mitchell jumped from the bed and almost fell over Sandy’s platform sandals. “Mitchell,” she said after a few seconds. “Uh-huh. Okay…sure.” She put the phone down and stood up, dizzy with fatigue and hunger. “I gotta get over to Sloan’s.”
“Now?” Sandy’s voice was muffled by the pillow over her head.
“First I gotta shower. I smell like I spent the night in the drunk tank.”
Sandy stumbled into the bathroom in Mitchell’s wake and crowded into the tiny shower stall with her. Eyes closed, she put her arms around Mitchell from behind and rested her cheek against her back. “Fuck, Dell, you worked all night.”
“Yeah,” Mitchell muttered as she let the spray hit her in the face. The water was still cold and the warmth of Sandy’s body felt good against hers.
“I dunno.” Mitchell doused her whole head in the lukewarm water. “Why?”
“I wanna talk to her.”
“You got something?” Mitchell asked, waking up quickly now.
Sandy stood with her head back, eyes closed, desultorily working up the lather in her short blond hair. “Maybe.”
“You didn’t say anything last night.”
“We were fucking, remember?” Sandy yawned and edged Mitchell aside to stand under the water.
“Yeah.” Mitchell grabbed her around the waist and kissed her neck. “I recall it was spectacular.”
“It was.” Suds-free, Sandy threw her arms around Mitchell’s neck and kissed her, rubbing her wet skin against Mitchell’s. “Mmm, you feel so good.”
Mitchell tightened her hold, running her tongue over Sandy’s lips and into her mouth. Somehow they ended up against the wall, legs entwined, bucking and groaning and groping each other. Mitchell yanked her head back, panting. “I don’t have time!”
“What?” Sandy gasped unbelievingly. She grabbed Mitchell’s hand and tugged it between her own thighs. “You don’t have a minute? Feel me.” She rocked against Mitchell’s palm. “Come on, baby. Touch me.”
Time lost all meaning as Mitchell eased her fingers into the heat and promise of her lover’s desire. “You’re so beautiful,” she whispered, slowly pushing deeper into the welcoming folds.
Sandy arched her back and threaded her fingers into Mitchell’s hair, claiming her mouth with bruising intensity as the sensation of being filled spread though her belly. Never, never had anything—anyone—touched her like this. “You make me feel so alive,” she whimpered, her hips beginning to lift with the first ripple of orgasm.
Stomach taut, legs trembling, Sandy held on to the one solid thing in her world, helpless to do anything but surrender to the desire she both needed and feared. Slowly, the rolling contractions stopped and she could breathe again. “I’m…like…addicted to you or something. I can’t stop wanting you to do that to me.”
“What?” Mitchell murmured. “Make you come?”
“Uh-uh,” Sandy replied, cupping Mitchell’s breast and toying with her nipple. “Making me come out of my mind.”
“Sandy, honey.” Mitchell laughed shakily, easing Sandy out of the stream of water and backing away. “I have to go.”
“What about you?”
Sandy looked just a little worried, and Mitchell shook her head. “No, I’m stone-hard, and I’d probably come if you touched me for ten seconds, but—”
“But work’s more important?” There was more than a bit of ire in Sandy’s voice. “Right?”
“No, I just can’t come while imagining Frye’s face if I’m any later.”
“Oh.” Sandy reached for a towel. “I can see that. So let’s go already. Jeez.”
When Mitchell got off the elevator with Sandy, the first person she saw was Jason.
“Where’s Sloan?” she asked when Jason swiveled in his chair to greet them.
“Rebecca sent her to bed.”
“Lucky her,” Sandy grumbled, squinting in the bright sunlight. “Jesus, it’s not even noon and we—”
Mitchell coughed and Jason grinned.
“Just get to sleep, did we?” Jason asked archly.
“Who said anything about sleeping?” Sandy tossed back.
“Sandy,” Mitchell groaned.
Jason sighed. “Sorry, Dell, but I need help. Frye wants these backgrounds done yesterday, and I can’t run them all myself.”
“I gotta go talk to Frye,” Sandy announced as she walked away.
Jason and Mitchell mumbled goodbyes, then Jason confided, “Sloan traced a worm back to the DA’s office, so we’re looking at the two ADA’s and the judge for being our inside person.”
“How did Mitch do last night?”
Mitchell glanced across the room to where Sandy stood talking to Frye. “Depends on how you look at it.”
Jason glanced over and raised an eyebrow. “Things looked pretty good with Kennie and the others.”
“That was fine. It was later.” Mitchell stared straight ahead at the monitor. Data scrolled by, and she watched it, automatically shifting through the figures. “This is between us, right?”
Jason’s eyes grew dark. “Dell, what happened?”
“Nothing,” she said quickly. “We went to Ziggies, which is just what we’d hoped for.”
“Too soon to tell.” Mitchell forced a grin. “But I’m set to go out again tonight after your show.”
Jason studied her intently, then looked at the group across the room. Watts was talking, Sandy was gesturing emphatically, and Rebecca was shaking her head in a vehement negative motion. He kept his voice low. “Did you sleep with someone. Is that it?”
“No!” Mitchell glanced at Sandy. “But what if…what if something happens, and I have to do…something?”
“No one expects you to do anything you don’t want to do.” He leaned forward, patted her thigh. “Draw a line, Dell. Whatever you can live with.”
“What if I get pushed into a corner, and I have to go along to save my cover?” she asked miserably. “Jesus, Jase—I think Sandy would kill me.”
He laughed. “I think you’re right. Maybe Mitch had better keep that kind of thing just between us boys.” He looked up. “Speaking of Sandy, here comes the team.”
“Time to talk,” Rebecca announced. “Sandy has a proposition.”
Mitchell rose, a question on her lips, but Sandy walked by without looking in her direction.
“Finally,” Rebecca said, “we’ve got a direct link to the porn ring, at least the part making the videos. Now, we need to work this angle as hard as we can.”
As Rebecca outlined the newest plan, Mitchell clamped her jaws tightly together and stared straight ahead. Her hands were balled into tight fists beneath the table and bile churned in her gut. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Letting Sandy work a sting on the guys who were running the live sex videos? It would be like sending a cadet into the front lines of a skirmish. It was crazy. And Mitchell was scared. Scared right down to her toes. If something happens to her…
“The first meet will most likely just be for a talk,” Rebecca continued. “Hopefully Sandy will get a location and a time for the video shoot from that.”
“What about a wire?” Watts interjected. “It wouldn’t hurt to have this guy on tape setting up the job .”
“Not a bad idea.” Rebecca looked Sandy. “What do you think?”
Sandy shrugged. “Depends on how big it is, and where I need to put it.” Watts sniggered, and she gave him a cutting look. “I don’t, you know, wear a whole lot of clothes most of the time. It would look funny if I was all of a sudden covered up.”
Mitchell couldn’t stand it any longer. “What’s the point of her wearing a wire if we can’t monitor what’s going on? There’s no way anyone is going to be able to cover this meet.” She finally looked at Sandy. “You’ll be out there on your own.”
“Officer,” Rebecca said quietly. She wasn’t entirely happy with the idea herself, but Officer Mitchell appeared to be having major difficulties with Sandy’s new role. Before the young officer could say something that Rebecca would not be able to overlook, she softly said, “This is a command decision. If you’re having problems working on this team, I can have you reassigned.”
“No, ma’am,” Mitchell said, biting off the words. “No problem.”
“Good.” Rebecca worked her shoulders to ease some of the tension, then she looked at Sandy. “If Trudy or anyone else contacts you, I want you to at least try to postpone the meet until you can call me. Watts will fit you out with a wire—”
“Uh-uh. No freakin’ way is he doing it.”
“Aw, I can’t believe you’d say no to a little fun.” Watts grinned. “Believe me, you’d like it.”
“I don’t think your heart could take it.”
“As long as I live long enough to slip it up—”
“Shut up, Watts.” Mitchell said the words quietly, calmly, as she turned in her seat to face him.
He stared at her in surprise. There was something cold and lethal in her expression.
“Dell—” Sandy’s voice was soft, gentle.
“Mitchell, you’re dismissed. Wait in the other room.” Rebecca didn’t even spare a glance in Mitchell’s direction as Mitchell stood abruptly and walked from the room.
“Let’s go, officer.” Rebecca turned and headed for the elevator.
Mitchell rose from the chair where she had been sitting motionless for thirty interminable minutes and followed into the elevator without a word. When they reached streetside, Rebecca turned right and began walking toward the river. Mitchell fell into step.
“We have a problem,” Rebecca said flatly as they crossed Front Street at Market.
Mitchell said nothing. She knew what was coming. Another disciplinary action. And this time it would mean the end of her career.
“What’s going on with you and Sandy?”
“I’m in love with her.” Mitchell couldn’t see any point in lying. Not any longer.
“That’s just terrific.” Rebecca sighed. Silently, she led the way onto the concrete footbridge which arched over Delaware Avenue to Penn’s Landing, climbed to the top, and stopped. “What if I ordered you to choose between Sandy and the job?”
“Christ,” Rebecca muttered. She turned her back to the wall, leaned a hip against the stone, and faced Mitchell. “You’ve got the makings of an exemplary officer in almost every way—you’re intelligent, dedicated, trustworthy.” She didn’t add brave, but she believed it.
“Thank you, sergeant.”
“Don’t thank me. I’m not done yet.”
“But you’ve got a very serious weakness, Officer Mitchell. Your temper. You were insubordinate back there, and it’s not the first time. I’ve let it slide before, but I can’t do that now.”
“I understand, ma’am.” Jesus, just tell me I’m out. Just say it.
“I don’t think you do.” Rebecca watched Mitchell carefully. “Ordinarily, a little bit of temper isn’t a bad thing. You need that fire burning inside to face danger without flinching. Do you understand?”
Mitchell thought about going down the alley in the dark, in the rain, alone, barely able to see an inch in front of her face. Knowing that whoever was waiting was probably bigger, probably stronger, and probably armed. But she’d heard a woman scream, and that had made her angry. It was the anger as much as her sense of duty that had carried her into that alley. Softly, she answered, “Yes, ma’am. I understand.”
“But a fire you can’t control will eat you up, and something’s eating you up now.”
Mitchell said nothing. Her insides rolled, and for a minute, she feared she might vomit.
“You need to take yourself off the team if you can’t deal with what Sandy is doing.”
“Aren’t I off already?” Mitchell looked at Rebecca, confusion in her eyes.
“That depends. I can’t tell you who to sleep with. I can’t tell you who to love.” Rebecca looked past Mitchell to a ship that slowly made its way into the port of Philadelphia. She thought about Catherine, and how having Catherine in her life had made her a better cop because her own fires consumed less of her now. “I can tell you that if you can’t give her up, you’re going to have to learn to live with who she is.” Rebecca turned her gaze back to Mitchell’s face. “And what she does.”
“Not hard enough.”
“You need to sort this out, in a hurry. I can’t order you to, but I think maybe you need to talk to Dr. Rawlings.”
“I want to be on this team more than anything in my life, except being with Sa—”
“I got that the first time, Mitchell,” Rebecca snapped. “Stop telling me things I don’t want to know about.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Mitchell straightened. “I’ll talk to Dr. Rawlings.”
“Your business.” Rebecca held Mitchell’s eyes. “You lose it one more time and you’re gone. I’ll put it in your file, and they’ll bury you somewhere until you quit from sheer boredom.”
Rebecca nodded and turned toward back toward Old City. “Let’s go. Jason says he has work for you.”
“Thank you, sergeant. I hope I—”
“Don’t thank me, Mitchell. Just get me a lead, will you?”
“Yes, ma’am. I’m on it.”
At the corner of Front and Arch, Rebecca spied the thin blond in the short leather skirt, shiny black faux-motorcycle jacket, and calf high, stack-heeled boots lounging against a light pole. Her face betrayed nothing but ennui, but her eyes were alive and riveted on Mitchell’s face. Rebecca sighed and glanced sideways at Mitchell. The officer’s expression was just as nonchalant as that of the woman who watched her, but her gaze was hungry.
“Christ.” Rebecca pulled her keys from her blazer pocket and stopped by her car. “Five minutes, Mitchell, and then get your ass back upstairs.”
In a rare breach of protocol, Mitchell forgot to reply as she hurried over to Sandy. She barely heard the Vette revving in the background or the engine roar as Rebecca pulled away.
“Hi,” Mitchell said quietly, reaching for Sandy’s hand. Their fingers entwined and she held their joined hands between their bodies, out of sight of casual observers.
“You okay?” Sandy asked.
“Yeah.” Mitchell grinned sheepishly. “I’m missing a few pieces of my anatomy, but, yeah.”
“I’m sorry, Dell.” Sandy searched Mitchell’s eyes, looking for the real wounds. “I’m really sorry.”
“Why? It wasn’t your fault. I got hot upstairs and mouthed off to Watts. That’s what Frye was on me about.”
Sandy looked away, remembering the pain in her girlfriend’s eyes when Frye had come down on Mitchell at the briefing. She remembered, too, Frye’s warning about what any kind of relationship with Sandy could do to Mitchell’s career. “You know, rookie, I can’t afford to cross Frye on this deal. If hanging around with you is going to screw it up, maybe we better coo—”
“Don’t…” Mitchell’s voice broke and she swallowed hard. “Don’t do this to me, Sandy. Please.”
Sandy had never imagined that someone else’s pain could hurt so much. “Dell, I…I don’t know what to do.”
“Just don’t leave me, okay?” Mitchell caught Sandy’s hand. “I need you.”
“You’re nuts.” Sandy’s heart hurt, hearing the words. Hurt in a good way, like something inside of her that had lain cold and buried for longer than she could recall was coming to life. “I don’t want to need you.”
“That’s okay. You don’t have to.” Mitchell smiled sadly. “I always knew you were the tough one.”
Sandy brushed her fingers down Mitchell’s chest. “I said I didn’t want to…I didn’t say I don’t.”
“That sounds so good.” Mitchell closed her eyes and rubbed Sandy’s fingers against her cheek.
“Jeez, will you cool it.” Sandy jerked her hand away and looked around nervously. “What if Watts or someone sees us.”
Mitchell shrugged. “Won’t matter now. I told Frye about us.”
Sandy gaped. “You what?”
“I told her I was crazy in love with you and if she wanted to fire me, to go ahead.”
“Oh, man.” Sandy hooked her fingers around Mitchell’s belt and dragged her to relative privacy under the overhang of the nearest building. Then she put her arms around Mitchell’s neck and kissed her until they were both breathless. Leaning into Mitchell’s body, she muttered, “I want to rip your clothes off and…do things to you.”
“Go. To. Work. Dell.” Sandy kissed the grinning young cop again and hurriedly walked away before she totally lost her cool.
Laughing, Mitchell watched until Sandy turned the corner, thinking how hot she looked in that leather skirt.
Sloan savored the warm breath against the back of her neck and the soft hand caressing her abdomen. It was twilight, and Michael lay pressed against her, one arm encircling her waist. The soft swell of breasts against her back and the whisper of gentle lips on her skin was the most precious sensation she’d ever experienced. The terrible fear that had filled her chest for endless hours disintegrated like ice in the sunlight and flowed from her on a healing river of tears.
“Sloan. Darling?” Michael tightened her hold, sensing the subtle shift in Sloan’s breathing. “Oh, no, my love, don’t cry.”
“I’m okay,” Sloan rasped quickly, lifting a hand to brush away the moisture. “Just happy. Have you been awake long?”
“A while.” Michael slowly drew her fingers over Sloan’s breasts, flicking over her tight nipples before drifting down her abdomen. “I didn’t want to wake you.”
“You’re waking me now,” Sloan murmured as Michael brushed her fingertips lower. “Michael…”
Michael laughed quietly and traced one fingertip along the valley between belly and thigh.
“Michael, we can’t,” Sloan warned, edging her hips away.
“Don’t make me have to follow you, darling,” Michael cautioned. “I seem to do best if I stay in one place. You don’t want to give me a headache, do you?”
Sloan sighed and grew still. “That’s blackmail.”
“Is it?” Michael sounded surprised, and then she laughed again. “All right. So I’ve been found out.”
“We should wait until you’re better.”
“I am better,” Michael insisted, placing her palm gently between Sloan’s thighs, her fingers resting against slick, ready flesh.
“I won’t be able to come.” Sloan drew a sharp breath as a fingertip circled her clitoris. “I’ll be worried about you the whole time.”
“Oh, this is serious.” Michael’s voice held a hint of playfulness. “All right. You are not required to come. You merely need to submit to my attentions.”
“Michael…” She thirsted for Michael’s touch, hungered to touch her. But the memory of fear rode hard on her heart, and she fought the desire. “Why are you doing this?”
“Because I’ve missed you.” Michael’s tone was serious now, almost wistful. “Because I need to be connected to you. Sloan, I need you back, too.”
Sloan’s heart turned over in her chest, and she was lost. Lost as she was each time the enormity of Michael’s love washed over her. “Oh, god. Anything you want. You know that.”
“I love you.” Michael smiled tenderly. “I just want to touch you. I want to feel your heart beat beneath my fingers. I want to feel your passion flow for me. I want to hear your breath break just for me—”
“Promise me,” Sloan asked, her pupils dilating with the surge of arousal mounting beneath Michael’s teasing fingers, “that…ah, god…that…”
“What, darling?” Michael watched Sloan’s lids slowly close as she pressed the length of her clitoris. “What?”
Sloan forced her eyes open. “That you’ll stop if…” her hips jerked and she gasped. “If it hurts…you…anywhere.”
“Sloan,” Michael soothed, her own heart beating furiously. “Touching you could never hurt me.”
“I love you.”
Michael smiled. “Then let me watch you come.”’
Sloan rested her forehead on Michael’s, her hand gently cupping Michael’s breast. She kept her eyes on her lover, but she couldn’t see. Love, desire, and need colluded to make her blind. Michael’s presence, alive and beautiful and loving, was more exciting even than her exquisite touch. It was too much for Sloan to hold.
A small cry of surprise and wonder escaped her. “Ohh…there…”
“Yes. Yes, my love.”
Gasping, Sloan slumped down to the bed, her limbs boneless, her chest heaving. “I’m…out of practice.”
Michael laughed, a husky sensuous purr of satisfaction. “Oh, I don’t think so.” Michael rested her head on Sloan’s shoulder, drawing lazy circles on Sloan’s belly with her fingers. “What are your plans for tonight?”
Sloan nuzzled Michael’s ear, then lightly bit the lobe. “I should head downstairs. I left things up in the air this morning.”
Michael lifted her chin and kissed the undersurface of Sloan’s jaw. “Promise me something.”
“When you find out who caused the accident, let Rebecca handle it.”
There was nothing Sloan could do. There was nothing in her, nothing she was, that Michael didn’t own. “I promise.”
“Thank you.” Michael kissed her again. “I know what that took.”
“You don’t know how much I love you.”
Softly Michael smiled. “Oh yes, darling, I do. You always make me know.”
Catherine stretched and sighed. “God, I love sex in the afternoon.”
“It’s not afternoon,” Rebecca pointed out.
“Mmm. It was when we started.”
Rebecca grinned. “Wonder what Joyce thinks about where you disappeared to.”
“I hardly disappeared,” Catherine pointed out. “I merely took some…personal time…before my evening sessions.”
Rebecca stroked her lover’s hair, aware of a strange new emotion. Contentment. “I’ll be late tonight.”
“Has something happened?” Catherine asked carefully. She wanted to say, Don’t go out. Stay here. Let me close my eyes knowing you’re safe. Let me fall asleep in your arms.
“Not yet, but soon. Mitchell is going out undercover again, and I want to be nearby.”
“Be careful, hmm?”
“What, with Mitchell?” Rebecca asked.
“No, my sweet detective, you.”
Rebecca sighed. “I more or less ordered Mitchell to see you professionally today.”
“Ordering someone to undergo therapy isn’t usually the best way to start that process.” Catherine’s tone was mild, but her eyes were deeply serious.
“Maybe not, but she’s about to fuck-up her career. I gave her a choice.”
“Me or what—traffic patrol?”
Rebecca grinned. “Something like that.”
Catherine sighed. “Rebecca, darling—”
“It’s not as bad as it sounds. I said she could see anyone she wants, and that whether she did or not was up to her. I wouldn’t check up on her.” Rebecca brushed her fingers over Catherine’s cheek. “Okay?”
“It sounds like a done deal.” Catherine rolled onto her lover and kissed her, a kiss that soon deepened and grew hungry. “Oh, dear,” she gasped.
“Uh-huh,” Rebecca muttered, wrapping her arms around Catherine and turning until she was on top. “Oh dear indeed.”
“Aren’t you hungry?” Sandy asked.
“What?” Mitchell picked up her chop sticks, then set them down with a sigh. “Not really.”
Sandy tipped her beer bottle back and drained it. “So. What’s up?”
Mitchell met Sandy’s inquiring gaze with worried blue eyes. “Look, will you just please promise not to go off to some meeting with this porno guy without checking in? Just do that?”
“Ah, jeez, Dell. Not that again.”
“What if something happens, and we don’t know where you are?”
Sandy put her hand on Mitchell’s leg and leaned close. “Nothing’s going to happen. Trudy will take me to meet the guy. I’ll say, Oh yes, I’d love to take off my clothes and suck your dick, and then he’ll say, Great, I’ll pick you up at such and such a time blah blah blah. Then you and Frye and Bluto will kick his ass.”
Mitchell smiled despite the unease that was burning holes in her gut.
“I’m a big girl, rookie. Don’t worry.”
“I know,” Mitchell said softly, playing with Sandy’s fingers. “Will you just try, really try to call Frye if anything goes down. I…I can’t take thinking about you getting hurt again.”
“Okay, baby, okay.” Sandy leaned into Mitchell and kissed her, her hand sliding to Mitchell’s stomach and then around her waist. As her tongue met Mitchell’s, she whimpered faintly and half climbed into Mitchell’s lap.
“Home,” Mitchell gasped when Sandy finally broke the kiss. “Home—Jesus, we gotta go home now.”
Breathing hard, Sandy rubbed her hand over Mitchell’s middle, then down the front of her jeans. “Yeah? To do what?”
Mitchell fumbled for her wallet, her hands shaking. “Take off our clothes, roll around—you know.”
“Oh, that. Okay.” Sandy tugged lightly on Mitchell’s waistband, grinning at the hazy need in Mitchell’s eyes. “Then we can dress Mitch.”
“Oh, Jesus,” Mitchell moaned.
Laughing, Sandy tugged her from the booth by the hand. “Come on, rookie. You got business to tend to.”
“Mitch? Mitch, you okay?”
Mitch blinked and focused on the bare breasts two feet in front of his face. Quickly, he averted his gaze and turned to Jasmine. “Yeah. Fine.”
“I have a feeling she’d like you to look a little more interested.” Jasmine studied the drag king with some concern. “You look a little bit out of it.”
“Just tired.” It was after three in the morning, and he hadn’t had much sleep the night before. Knock-down, drag-out sex with Sandy had pretty much taken everything he had left. After Jasmine’s show at the Troc, Jasmine and all the kings had gone barhopping. Ziggies was their last stop and by then, Mitch was bleary-eyed with fatigue.
“You need to be sharp,” Jasmine said as she leaned close and rested her hand on Mitch’s thigh. With her lips close to Mitch’s ear and her hand roaming over his leg, anyone watching would have thought they were lovers, which was just what she intended. “You lose focus, you’ll be in trouble.”
Mitch tilted his chin and kissed the corner of Jasmine’s mouth. Then he moved his lips along her jaw and murmured, “I got it. I faded out a little, but I’m okay now. Thanks.”
Jasmine nuzzled Mitch’s neck. “Frye would have my ass if anything happens to you.”
“Mine, too, if there was anything left of it.” Mitch blew softly in Jasmine’s ear. “You can probably take your hand off my dick now.”
Jasmine laughed and settled back in her seat. “I never get to play with any of the boys.”
Laughing, Mitch stood and stretched, then pulled a dollar from the pocket of his leather pants, reached out, and tucked it into the barely-there red G-string of the woman dancing just in front of him.
“You coming back, hot stuff?” she purred as she swiveled her hips suggestively.
“I will if you’ll still be here.” Mitch glanced at the other kings and Jasmine. “I’m gonna grab another beer.”
I need to get someone to talk to me, not just flirt with me. I need to make something happen.
“There’s so many things wrong with this picture, I don’t even know where to start.”
Rebecca balanced her third cup of coffee since midnight on her knee and gave Watts a wordless stare.
He returned her gaze with righteous indignation. “I’m a detective second grade, and I’m sitting on my ass out here in the cold while a wet-behind-the-ears rookie is inside where it’s nice and warm.”
“You’d look…” Rebecca shuddered, “out of place in leather pants. So you’re with me out here in the cold, and if you want to make detective one, you’ll act happy to be along.”
Watts snorted, his good sense having vanished with the last ten degree temperature drop. “And another thing…I’m freezing my nuts off while the kid with the fake johnson gets to watch the girls hump those shiny steel poles. Probably can’t even get a decent hard-on.”
Rebecca rubbed at the blistering headache that pounded between her eyes. “I don’t want to hear about your ass or your nuts or any other part of your anatomy, freezing or otherwise. I just want you to sit there and shut up. We’re on surveillance here, not Entertainment Tonight.”
“At least I’d be able to appreciate all the bare tits getting thrown around in there,” he grumbled. “So, can I smoke? It’s a department ride.”
“No,” Rebecca replied for the fifth time in an hour. She lifted her coffee cup, halted with it half way to her face, and squinted at two figures approaching from the far end of the block. Softly she said, “Oh, oh. What’s this?”
“So,” Mitch said casually to the bartender when he passed him the beer, “how do I get some action around here?”
The bartender seemed not to have heard, his attention focused on something across the room. Mitch turned in that direction, and his heart stuttered to a stop while his stomach convulsed with shock. A pretty Asian girl wended her way between the tables, followed closely by Sandy.
For an instant, Sandy looked in Mitch’s direction, and when their eyes met, there was nothing in Sandy’s expression to suggest that she had ever seen Mitch before in her life. She looked back to her companion. “What did you say this guy’s name was?”
“I didn’t.” Trudy shrugged. “I don’t think he ever said. He’s got some kind of accent…I don’t know what. Italian. Russian. Something like that.”
“I’m gonna get a drink. You want something?”
“Nah.” Trudy sat at one of the tables opposite the kings and Jasmine. “He should be here soon.”
Sandy sauntered to the bar and edged a hip up onto a stool six seats down from where Mitch still leaned with his back against the bar. The bartender took his time approaching, and when he got within earshot, she said, “Would it be too much trouble for you to get me a beer?”
“Would it be too much trouble for you to suck my dick?”
“Not if the price is right.”
He laughed. “You think in a place like this I have to pay for it?”
“If I told you what I think, I might not get my beer.” Sandy lifted a shoulder, a slow easy smile on her face. “And I’m very thirsty.”
Still laughing, he pulled a bottle of Budweiser from the cold case beneath the bar, popped the top, and slid it to her. “Four bucks.”
Sandy pulled a bill from a slit pocket beneath the waistband of her crotch-high red skirt. Her shoes were the same deep red, and she wore a black satin top with spaghetti-string straps.
“Give me five minutes in the backroom, and you can keep your money.” As he spoke, his eyes dipped to her breasts and fixed on the outline of tight nipples stretching the shiny material.
“You wouldn’t last a minute, but it’s still not worth my time.” She pushed the bill across the bar.
As he snorted and picked up the money, Sandy hefted the bottle and turned in Mitch’s direction. Their eyes met, and Sandy nodded, then turned and walked away.
“What do you think?” Watts asked.
“I think there’s going to be a meet right now,” Rebecca said sharply. “Christ almighty. We’ve got three people in there, and we’re deaf and blind out here. There’s no way we’re going to know what’s going on.”
“She should have waited, god damn it.” Furious, Watts regarded the windowless door of the sex club. “We were supposed to get her the wire tomorrow.”
“She gets the call, she goes. Sandy knows the game.” Rebecca’s stomach writhed with apprehension, but her voice was cool, her face expressionless. “Jasmine and Mitch will keep an eye on her while she’s inside.”
“Right—a flaming fruit civilian and a rookie whose head is harder than her dick.”
“They’ll stand up,” Rebecca murmured, recognizing Watts’s insults for what they were. Concern. Gaze nailed to the door, she willed Sandy to walk back through it. Come on, sweetheart. Bring him out to us.
“You want I should call for backup?”
“For what? Right now all we’ve got is a CI looking for information.” Rebecca shook her head, then, with more confidence than she felt, said, “We’ll tail them when they leave—find his studio.”
“This don’t smell right.”
A few minutes later, Mitch watched from the bar as a muscular, dark-haired man in a surprisingly expensive looking suit entered from the rear of the semi-dark room. The newcomer stopped at the far corner of the stage where two women continued to gyrate and casually, but thoroughly, surveyed the room. After his perusal of the bar’s occupants, the man walked to Sandy’s table and sat down.
It was the guy from the video. There was no way for Mitch to get close enough to hear the conversation. All he could do was watch helplessly as the man leaned forward and put his fingers beneath Sandy’s chin, then turned her head from one side to the other. Acid burned a hole in Mitch’s stomach, and when the stranger ran a thick index finger down the side of Sandy’s neck and then between her breasts, Mitch’s vision blurred with a combination of rage and sick terror.
Do the job. He forced himself to walk casually back to his seat. As he sat, he slid an arm around Jasmine’s shoulders. “You see them?”
“Yes.” Jasmine snuggled beneath Mitch’s arm, keeping her voice low. Mitch’s body vibrated with tension. “Take it easy. Nothing’s going to happen in here.”
“I’m not worried about in here.”
Mitch stiffened as Sandy, Trudy, and the man rose. “They’re going to go out the back door. Fuck. Frye won’t see them leave.”
“Mitch,” Jasmine warned as Mitch stood. “What—”
“I’ll take my bike down the alley and come around on the street behind the bar. I should be able to pick them up from there. Tell Frye.”
“Wait for back-up…”
But Mitch was already half-way to the door, and he was not turning back. He was not going to let Sandy disappear into the night.
The young cop swung a leg over the motorcycle, started the engine with one swift, hard leg kick, and wheeled the motorcycle down the alley next to the building that housed the bar. In less than five seconds, she had disappeared from sight.
Watts turned in his seat with some difficulty, released the lock on the rear door, and Jasmine tumbled in, saying breathlessly, “Thanks. They’re on their way…out the …rear exit.”
God damn it. Rebecca gritted her teeth, knowing that they’d been caught unprepared. “What the hell is Mitchell doing?”
“Following them,” Jasmine reported grimly.
“Jesus Christ.” Slowing, Rebecca edged the vehicle into what was little more than a wide alley. Most of the buildings that backed up to it were dark.
“There!” Jasmine pointed through the windshield as she leaned forward over the front seat. “At the other end of the alley—I think I saw taillights.”
At almost four in the morning, there was very little traffic in North Philadelphia. Since she hadn’t seen the target vehicle, she was forced to follow the motorcycle, hoping that Mitchell could manage to keep the suspect in sight. She followed the motorcycle as closely as she dared, using the few cars that were on the road for cover.
“Jesus H. Christ on a crutch,” Watts muttered. “I hope to hell that rookie doesn’t give himself…herself…ah, fuck…the tail away. If these guys think they’ve been made, they’ll do those girls and dump them somewhere.”
Watts was right, and Rebecca said nothing, her jaws clamped tight and her unblinking eyes fixed hard on the road in front of her. As they turned onto a dark street of mostly abandoned buildings and empty lots, Mitchell surprised her by accelerating fast and disappearing, the red taillight of the motorcycle fading like a candle extinguished in the wind.
“Let’s hope that was a signal,” Rebecca murmured as she pulled to the curb behind a broken-down car that sat tireless on rusted rims. She looked in all directions and saw no sign of life. There were half a dozen vehicles parked along both sides of the street, but no one on foot and no lights in any of the buildings.
Five minutes passed.
No one spoke.
Rebecca tilted her head, concentrating on a faint rumble in the distance. She glanced into the rearview mirror. There were no streetlights and little moon, and the street behind her was shrouded in shadows. As she watched, a ghostlike form emerged.
Watts glanced over his shoulder. “Son of a bitch.”
Driving without lights, Mitchell slid the big motorcycle in behind the surveillance sedan and cut the engine. Keeping low, she came alongside the vehicle and tapped on Watts’s door.
“Where are they?” Watts asked as he opened the door to find Mitchell crouched beside the car.
“Fourth building down from the end of the street on the right. Warehouse of some kind.”
“Okay,” Rebecca said briskly. “Watts, call for two black and whites for backup. We’ll take one unit in with us and put another on the vehicle in the alley.”
“You want to take him now,” Watts asked flatly.
“We have him ID’d from the video. We know he’s in there with at least one minor and violating local, state, and federal laws. I’d say we have probable cause.” She glanced at Mitchell whose eyes were riveted on her face. “Besides, if we don’t move on this, Sandy and Trudy are going to have to go through with the video.”
Watts’s face hardened. “Then let’s bust up his party.”
Against Watts’s objections, Rebecca went through the door first. She took in the big room in one sweeping glance. The studio set up right in the middle and brightly lit. Same bed, same backdrop, same pathetic props. Same star, except this time the woman he had his hands on was Sandy, and Rebecca wanted to drop him in his tracks. Her blood was burning, but her mind was crystal clear.
She shouted police and never stopped running until she had her weapon in his face and her knee in his crotch. Then she flipped him onto his stomach and slapped on the restraints.
“The other guy’s headed out the back,” one of the uniforms yelled and ran after him.
“Watts, cover this guy.” Rebecca got quickly to her feet and glanced at Sandy. You okay?
Sandy nodded, her face pale but her eyes clear. She smiled weakly. Glad ya made it.
“And keep your eye on these two,” Rebecca ordered for the suspect’s benefit as she headed after the uniforms to join in the pursuit.
Sandy wanted to ask where Dell was, but she wasn’t supposed to know these cops. She wasn’t supposed to be anything other than a hooker making some quick money in a skin flick. But the question was in her eyes as she looked at Watts.
The alley was dark and the bricks against Mitchell’s back were rough and cold. When the side door banged open and a large dark figure hurtled through, she saw was the patrol officers tackle the guy.
He was big and strong and he didn’t go easy. Both uniforms were on him, and still he writhed and twisted and kicked. The alley reverberated with shouts and grunts and curses. Mitchell came at a run from her spot just inside the mouth of the alley where Frye had positioned her.
She was three feet away from the thrashing snarl of arms and legs when she saw the glint of steel as the suspect pulled the blade from his boot. He swung it in a flashing arc toward the back of the female officer who had him pinned and Mitchell dove.
“Knife!” She shouted while still in mid-air.
The knife caught her in the left thigh before the second officer grabbed the suspect’s arm and efficiently snapped it. For the first few seconds it didn’t hurt at all, and then the pain rose up like a wave of red fire and took her breath away. She rolled away, grabbed for the shank buried in her thigh, and reflexively pulled it out. It took all her willpower to clamp down on the scream that threatened to erupt from her. Oh fuck, fuck. God. It hurts.
From somewhere close she heard shouts and then a steady deep voice that seemed to penetrate the pandemonium with calm strength.
“Stay put, Mitchell,” Rebecca said sharply as she bent down. “Let me get a look.”
“I’m…okay, sergeant,” Mitchell gasped, coughing. “Sandy…is she okay? Did he—”
“She’s fine. He never touched her.” At least that’s the story unless she tells you different.
“Tell her…I’m all right.”
“You can tell her yourself in a little while.” Rebecca looked at the pool of blood beneath Mitchell’s leg and her stomach roiled. There looked to be a lot of it. She pulled off her jacket and wrapped the sleeve tightly around Mitchell’s thigh, then pulled out her cell phone and called for an ambulance. Kneeling, she put one hand on Mitchell’s head, and with the other she applied steady pressure over the leaking wound in the younger woman’s thigh. Mitchell’s skin was clammy. “You just take it easy.”
Catherine jerked awake at the first ring of the phone, her heart pounding. Her eyes flew to the clock. 5:44.
She knew instantly that she was alone, and she knew with absolute certainty what the call was about. Oh my god. No!
“Catherine, I’m fine,” Rebecca said immediately.
The relief was swift and sweet, but short-lived. “What is it?”
“Mitchell’s on the way to University. Knife wound. I can’t leave the scene…”
“I’m on my way,” Catherine said at once as she pushed back the covers and rose. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Fine. I’ll be there soon.” Another pause. “Catherine, take good care of Mitchell.”
“Like she was my own.”
“I love you. I gotta run.”
The phone went dead.
I love you.
“Interesting team you’ve got here, Frye,” Dee Flanagan said as she stood just inside the warehouse door, hands on hips, surveying what was now her crime scene. Her blue-jacketed CSU techs were busy photographing the studio, diagramming the layout, and collecting and cataloging evidence. To her left, an astonishingly sexy woman in clothes that should rightfully only be worn between the hours of midnight and five a.m. sat conferring with Sloan before a bank of video monitors, computer screens, and other electronic equipment.
“Unconventional, perhaps, but unparalleled.” Because she trusted Flanagan as she trusted almost no one else in the department, with the exception of Watts, and because she needed to see for herself that Mitchell was all right, Rebecca added, “As soon as Sloan is satisfied that the electronic data is secure, you can take anything out of here that you need to.”
Again, Flanagan nodded, her eyes everywhere at once, ensuring that everything was being handled appropriately. “Looks like you made a big score tonight, Frye. Nice going.”
It was true, but it wasn’t everything that she wanted. They had a piece of the puzzle, and they were likely to get media-worthy arrests from it. But she didn’t yet have the source of the leak within the department, and she didn’t have Jeff Cruz and Jimmy Hogan’s killer. She didn’t have Michael’s assailant. They’d made a start, but the job was far from finished. “What I’ve got is an officer in the hospital.” Rebecca sighed and rubbed her forehead. “Hell.”
“Go take care of business, Detective.” Flanagan patted Rebecca’s back and walked off to chastise a tech for failing to blue light the sheets on the bed for bodily fluids before bagging them.
“Look, I don’t need to be examined by any gynecologist. The guy didn’t leave anything on or in me,” Sandy said hotly. “And believe me, I’d know.”
“It’s just routine.” Watts pulled the unmarked surveillance sedan into the turnaround in front of the emergency department at University hospital.
Sandy eyed him suspiciously. He hadn’t looked at her once since they’d gotten into the car, and he hadn’t insulted her, made any lewd comments, or been the least bit suggestive. Something was wrong. There was only one thing she could think of that he would keep from her. Her stomach cramped. “Where’s Dell?”
“The operation is still ongoing,” Watts replied stiffly.
“I want to talk to her right now. Get her on the phone.” The longer he stalled, the more frightened she became. Oh, baby, what’s happened? Where are you?
“Fuck me.” Watts rubbed his face with both hands, wondering what he’d done to deserve this ass-end of the detail. “Okay, just take it easy, okay? She got a little dinged up, and she’s in the ER being looked—hey!”
He stared after Sandy’s retreating back as she raced toward the emergency room entrance.
Catherine stepped outside the curtain just in time to witness Sandy rush headlong down the corridor. She reached out and caught Sandy’s arm. “Are you hurt?”
Sandy shook her head vehemently. “Is Dell here?”
“Right inside,” Catherine replied with a tilt of her head toward the curtain.
“Is she—” Sandy’s voice broke. “Can I see her?”
“I don’t see why not.” Catherine took Sandy’s hand and with the other reached to pull the curtain aside. “She’s going to be fine.”
“Sure,” Sandy said flatly. Like anyone would tell me the truth.
It was worse than she expected.
Mitchell lay on a stretcher, eyes closed, with intravenous lines running into both arms. And she was white. Not pale. White. Sandy’s heart sank. Slowly, she walked to the head of the stretcher and touched her fingers to Mitchell’s cheek. “Dell? Baby?”
Mitchell’s lids flickered open, her pupils wide and unfocused. She blinked, her vision cleared, and she focused on Sandy’s face. “It’s okay.”
“You hurting?” Sandy’s lip trembled and she caught it in her teeth. She stroked her hand over Mitchell’s hair.
“Not so much. They gave me stuff.”
The tears came. Sandy couldn’t remember the last time she hadn’t been able to stop the tears. But it was all too big, too much to hold inside. Letting Dell into her life, loving her, the terrible fear of losing her.
“Honey,” Mitchell said soothingly. “Don’t…jeez, couldn’t you…yell at me for being too slow or something?”
Sandy sniffed. Smiled tremulously. “Were you?”
“Maybe a little. But Frye put me way back in the alley…I had to run a long way.” Mitchell struggled to keep her eyes open, but the drugs were winning. “Don’t worry, ’k? I love you.”
“Yeah, I know.” Sandy leaned close and kissed her. “I love you, Dell.”
Mitchell closed her eyes. “You go home. Don’t worry.”
It was terrifying to watch her slip away. She brushed her lips over Mitchell’s ear. “I’ll just wait for you.”
Rebecca found her lover and her confidential informant tucked away in the corner of the hospital cafeteria a little after nine a.m. Catherine looked beautiful, and just seeing her eased the ball of tension she’d been carrying in her chest. Sandy looked worn out, but unexpectedly cute in Catherine’s University Med sweatshirt and baggy jeans.
“Hi,” Rebecca said as she slid into the free seat.
“Hi.” Sandy watched Catherine out of the corner of her eye.
“Hello, Detective,” Catherine said in a tone that was almost a caress. She quickly took in her lover’s rumpled shirt, which was uncharacteristically untucked. Of more concern were the deep shadows beneath her eyes and the faint tremor in the hand that held the paper coffee cup. “Have you had breakfast?”
Rebecca lifted a shoulder. “Not yet. How’s Mitchell?”
“We’re still waiting. She’s been in surgery a little over an hour, so I expect we’ll hear any time now.”
“I have to get back to the station soon.”
“Right away?” Catherine couldn’t hide her concern. Less than two weeks before, she’d been the one waiting in the ER while Rebecca underwent emergency treatment. She very much did not want to experience that again.
“Mmm.” Rebecca sighed tiredly and leaned back in her chair. “Sloan’s still at the warehouse, and Jason’s back at the office coordinating the data. Between what they got from the computers on site and the IDs we’ve been collecting the last few weeks, we’re going to have a list of names by midday. I need to arrange warrants and put together a couple of strike teams to hit these guys all at once.”
Catherine turned to Sandy. “Would you excuse us for just a few minutes?”
“Sure,” Sandy replied, getting to her feet with a grin. Frye’s gonna get her ass chewed. Wow.
When Sandy was out of earshot, Catherine leaned forward and put her hand on Rebecca’s arm. “You’re in no shape to lead a strike team. You’ve been up all night, and you just went back to full du—”
“I beg your pardon?”
Rebecca linked her fingers with Catherine’s. “I said, you’re right. I’m not going to.”
“But…I still need to organize it. I need to get Watts to walk the warrants through and I need to brief the teams and I need to be in the surveillance van timing the arrests.” She sighed again.
“You won’t be…going through any doors today?”
Rebecca shook her head.
“I won’t ask about last night.” Because I already know. Sandy was inside, one of your own. Of course you went through first.
“Okay.” Rebecca ran her thumb over the top of Catherine’s warm hand. “Thanks.”
“Where’s your jacket?”
“I had to throw it away.” Rebecca looked around for Sandy. “Mitchell’s blood was all over it. She saved a cop’s life tonight, Catherine.”
Catherine smiled fondly. “She’s just your kind of cop, isn’t she, my love?”
“Yeah.” Rebecca grinned. “Yeah, she is.”
Mitchell swam up through dark heavy waters, struggling against the unseen hand that threatened to pull her ever deeper. Her chest ached, hungry for air, and distantly, pain broke over her like an angry surf. Gasping, she opened her eyes.
“Take it easy,” Rebecca said gently, resting her palm lightly against Mitchell’s shoulder. “You’re okay. You’re in the recovery room.”
“Sergeant,” Mitchell said hoarsely, struggling to focus. “Where’s…Sandy?”
“Waiting outside with Catherine. I had to pull some strings to get in here.” Rebecca smiled, pleased to see that Mitchell’s eyes were clearing rapidly. “You’ll be able to see her in a bit.”
“What’s happening…with the case?”
Rebecca grinned. “In about two hours, we’re going to kick some major ass.”
“Are your hurting? You need me to get the nurse?”
“No. I can’t believe…I’m going to miss this.” She tried to raise her head but was still too weak.
“Unfortunately, your kicking leg is temporarily out of commission, officer.” Rebecca squeezed Mitchell’s shoulder.
“Is it bad?”
“Nah. The surgeon said you’d be back on your feet in no time.”
“Back on the team?”
“I don’t know that there will be a team after today,” Rebecca said quietly.
Rebecca raised an eyebrow.
“Kick some butt for me.”
The corner of Rebecca’s mouth lifted into a feral grin. “You can count on it.”
When Mitchell next awoke, the pain was less, and her overwhelming sensation was one of hunger. She started to sit up, and a small hand gently pressed her down.
“You’re supposed to lie still.”
“Like I’ve got a choice.” Mitchell turned her head on the pillow and smiled at Sandy. “Hi, honey.”
“Am I supposed to starve to death, too?”
Sandy grinned. “They didn’t mention that part.” It was so good to hear Mitchell’s voice that she felt tears threatening again. That was crazy. She waited until she was sure her voice was steady. “You okay?”
Mitchell gave the question some thought. She felt weak, and her leg felt like she’d been kicked by a horse. But the pain was tolerable. “Yeah, I think so. You?”
“You look cute.”
“Huh?” Sandy glanced down at the too-big sweatshirt and the shapeless jeans and then snorted. “Oh yeah, terrific. Did something happen to your head, too?”
“My head’s just fine.” She reached out and caught Sandy’s hand. “What time is it?”
Mitchell asked, “Can you help me sit up?”
Sandy carefully worked the bed controls and positioned pillows until Mitchell was upright. “Okay?”
“Perfect.” Her leg was throbbing, but Mitchell managed a grin. “Maybe you should get one of those hot little nurse’s outfits—you know, the ones with the tight, short, see-through white dresses?”
Sandy regarded Mitchell thoughtfully. “Blow me, rookie.”
“Okay.” Mitchell caught Sandy’s hand and brought it to her lips. She kissed her knuckles gently. “You’re the boss.”
The worry and fear of the past hours slipped away like mist on the sunrise. Leaning down, Sandy kissed Mitchell again. When she drew her mouth away, she whispered, “You know, you’re pretty smart for a cop.”
Sloan looked up at the sound of the elevator’s soft whir, perplexed because she hadn’t buzzed anyone in. Looking over her shoulder, she gasped in surprise, then jumped to her feet. “Michael!”
Dressed in a white silk T-shirt and loose cotton slacks, Michael smiled and walked slowly into the office. “I realized that if I was ever going to see you, I would have to track you down.”
“Jesus,” Sloan cried anxiously, grabbing an office chair and wheeling it in Michael’s direction. “Sit. You shouldn’t be down here.”
“Hi, Jason,” Michael called as she settled into the plush leather. From across the room, he raised his hand and waved a greeting while she eyed her lover critically. “You didn’t come home last night, and I didn’t see you for breakfast, and you didn’t call all day. I missed you. How are things going?”
“We got Rebecca the names of half a dozen Internet porn distributors and ten times that many customers. The operation is going down now. Depending on how the sweep plays out, it could be big.”
“I’m proud of you,” Michael said softly.
Sloan pulled another chair near, sat, and took both of Michael’s hands in hers. “It wasn’t just me. It was the whole team.”
“Yes, but you’re the only one I’m in love with.” Michael streaked her fingers through Sloan’s hair. “Will you promise to come to bed later?”
“It’ll be late, probably.” Sloan caught Michael’s hand and kissed the palm.
“I don’t have any plans.”
“How are you feeling?”
“As if I’m going to get bedsores if I sleep any longer.” Michael laughed. “Better. The headache comes and goes, but at least once in a while, it does go.”
“Thank God,” Sloan whispered.
“Are things almost wrapped up here, then?”
Sloan looked away.
“We know that someone downtown leaked the details of the task-force operation. I’m close to finding out who.” A muscle jumped along the edge of Sloan’s jaw. “I’ve narrowed it down to two people. When I get the name…I’ll give it to Rebecca.”
“I believe you. I do.” Michael sighed, slid her fingers to the back of Sloan’s neck, and pulled her close. With her mouth a breath away from Sloan’s, she murmured, “There are countless reasons why I love you. But I fell in love with you for the way you love me.”
At a little after nine p.m., Watts walked into Sloan’s office carrying a magnum of champagne. Rebecca followed, a tired smile on her face.
“Well?” Jason asked, rising rapidly to his feet.
“Sixty-four arrests,” Watts bellowed. “Including five who have been under surveillance by the OC division for the last six months because of suspected ties to Zamora.”
Sloan handed around plastic cups. “Outstanding.”
“You’ll be able to hear all about it on the 10 o’clock news,” Watts continued exuberantly as he poured champagne. “Sarge?”
Rebecca shook her head, then glanced at Sloan. “Any coffee?”
“In the back. I’ll get it.”
“Why don’t we all head back there, and we’ll see where things are,” Rebecca suggested.
The group trooped back to the conference room and settled around the table.
“The Sarge looks really good on camera. The brass are practically creaming over her.” Watts refilled his cup happily. “And rumor has it…”
Rebecca coughed. “Okay, Watts, okay.”
He grinned at her.
“Everyone did fine,” she said, looking at each of them in turn. “We did what the joint task-force should have done—we broke the back of the Internet porn ring.”
It was a victory, and it felt good. She knew, though, that such triumphs were short-lived, and the beast would rise again. That’s what police work was—a series of battles in a war that was never won. She had learned to take satisfaction in each small conquest, but there were days when she wearied. She squared her shoulders. “But we’re not done yet. We’ve got days of interrogations in front of us, because the distributors are all hard-core professionals, and they’re not going to roll easily, if at all. Plus, we still don’t have a handle on where the girls are coming from.”
“What do you mean?” Jason asked.
“This operation was too big and too well organized to rely on casual street-pick ups like last night. I’m willing to bet there are still girls out there being exploited by the guys who set up this deal, if not for other videos, then for good old-fashioned cash money.”
“Yeah,” Watts agreed. “And we still need to plug our leak.”
Rebecca just nodded. “Sloan? Anything on that?”
Sloan hesitated then blew out a breath. “I’ve got two very good possibles as the identity of our inside ‘man.’” She stood, too restless to sit. “Margaret Campbell, age twenty-nine, joined the DA’s office three years ago. Single, one child.”
“Divorced?” Watts asked, suddenly serious.
Sloan shook her head. “Never married.”
“A woman,” Rebecca mused. “In the middle of a porn operation?”
“She doesn’t have to be part of the porn network itself,” Sloan pointed out. “She just needs to be tied to whoever is behind the pornography racket.”
“And is she?”
“Counselor Campbell used to dance in a strip club in Manhattan. Since it was during the time she was a law student at NYU, I’d guess she did it to pay the rent.”
“So,” Watts said, “you figure what…she got into trouble while working the wrong side of the street and owes someone now?”
“Could be.” Sloan leaned against the counter and jammed her hands into her pockets. “Zamora or someone in his organization could be squeezing her.”
“Anything else that doesn’t look kosher?” Rebecca asked. She’d worked with Campbell a few times. Tough and competent. But she didn’t know her. And she’d learned not to trust anyone she didn’t know. “Like big cases she lost that might have been mobbed up?”
“None that I found, but I haven’t exhausted the search.”
“And the other one?” Rebecca asked.
“The other ADA—George Beecher.” Sloan rolled her shoulders and swallowed the rest of her champagne. “On the surface, he doesn’t fit our profiler at all. Thirty-two, been with the DA’s office four years. Ivy leaguer, comes from old money, owns a condo on the waterfront—which he can afford.”
“So why do you like him?” Rebecca asked.
“When he was twenty, Counselor Beecher was charged with raping a coed at a fraternity party.”
Watts straightened abruptly. “Charged—but no conviction?”
“Charges dropped. Could be the victim recanted, could be she was paid off, could be she just didn’t want to go through the indignity and humiliation of a trial.” Sloan’s features hardened. “Justice is not necessarily kind.”
“So what now?” Rebecca asked.
Sloan looked at Jason. “Time estimate?”
“Depends on if we get lucky. A few days, could be a few weeks.”
She turned to Rebecca. “We have to…access…the home and work computers of both subjects, look at phone records—including mobiles, dig out every bit of electronic data available, and do it without whoever launched that worm in the first place noticing.”
Rebecca rose and walked to the windows, surveying the familiar view. She was surprised at how hard it was to say what she had to say next. The group behind her was silent. At last she turned.
“All we’ve got are suspicions and conjecture and gut feelings, but no hard evidence. And our bust tonight has made my Captain very happy. We salvaged something out of that federal fubar. He’s made the brass happy because the numbers look great. City Hall is happy because we made the national news. Everybody’s happy—end of story.”
“But the case isn’t finished,” Watts complained.
“That’s the way we see it—but to the powers that be, it’s all wrapped up with a nice little bow.”
“Well,” Sloan said calmly. “We all know how politics work. It was a pleasure working with you, Sergeant. You, too, Watts.”
Rebecca regarded Sloan thoughtfully, then said to Jason and Watts, “You want to give us a minute?”
Watts picked up the champagne bottle and gestured to Jason. “Come on, I’ll buy you a drink.” He cocked his head as Jason rose. “Although I kinda wish you were wearing that little red number.”
Jason’s perfect eyebrow arched. “And you think Sloan is scary?”
As the two men left, Rebecca walked over to Sloan. “You’re not going to let it go, are you?”
“Would you, if it had been Catherine?”
Rebecca’s eyes narrowed. “I’m a cop.”
“Your point is?”
“Don’t go rogue on this, Sloan.”
“Then figure out how to sell it to your Captain, Sergeant.”
“I thought I heard you come in,” Catherine said, sitting on the arm of the overstuffed chair and threading her arm around Rebecca’s shoulders. “Are you going to come to bed? It’s late, darling, and you’re exhausted.”
Rebecca leaned her head against Catherine’s shoulder, rubbing her cheek over the soft silk of the ivory camisole. “I’m still keyed up, I guess.”
“You looked very calm on TV,” Catherine murmured, rubbing the tense muscles at the base of her lover’s neck. “In fact, you looked fabulous.”
“God, you feel good.” Rebecca closed her eyes, lulled by the gentle hands and the sweet seductive fragrance of Catherine’s skin.
“So do you.” Catherine reminded herself that Rebecca had been working for nearly two days straight, but her body didn’t seem to be listening. She slid her fingers beneath the collar of her lover’s shirt and stroked the skin above her left breast.
Rebecca groaned, feeling the familiar ache settle between her thighs. “I need to shower.”
“And then you need to sleep.” Catherine’s voice was breathy with desire.
“I will,” Rebecca promised, pulling Catherine into her lap. As she kissed her, she slipped her fingers beneath the sheer material and cupped Catherine’s breast. She moaned in appreciation as the nipple hardened instantly against her palm. “Later.”
Catherine wrapped her arms around Rebecca’s shoulders and fisted the hair at the back of her neck, losing herself in the pleasure of Rebecca’s mouth. When she felt Rebecca’s hand drift lower, across her abdomen and under the edge of her silk pajama bottoms, she stopped the questing hand with her own. Gasping, she warned, “If you start, you’ll have to finish. You know I can’t hold back when you do that.”
“I was planning on finishing,” Rebecca growled, brushing her fingers over the inside of Catherine’s thigh. “Ah god, you’re wet.”
“Then go shower and come to bed,” Catherine said urgently. She pushed away and stood on trembling legs. “Because I want you to finish with me.”
Rebecca’s eyes darkened, and she rose quickly, all thoughts of fatigue, of frustration, of powerlessness gone. Now, there was only Catherine.
“Rebecca. Rebecca, darling, it’s time to get up.”
Groaning, Rebecca turned onto her back, opened her eyes, and blinked against the light, which seemed awfully bright even though the lamp on the dresser was turned down low. It took her a second to focus on Catherine, who stood beside the bed in a two-piece, deep plum colored silk suit, the jacket of which she wore buttoned over apparently very little.
“What?” Catherine asked, perplexed.
Catherine glanced down and blushed, noting where Rebecca’s gaze was fixed. “This is my going-to-work suit. It is not supposed to be seductive.”
“Sorry, but it is.”
“To you, maybe,” Catherine noted with a laugh.
“Not maybe—definitely. Any chance you could come back to bed?”
“None.” Catherine leaned over and kissed her, then stepped back out of touching range. She didn’t trust her lover, or herself. “Besides, I thought I’d taken care of that particular urge of yours not too long ago.”
“You did, spectacularly, but that was last night. Today’s a brand new day.” Rebecca sat up against the pillows, carelessly unconcerned about her nakedness as the sheet fell away. “What time is it?”
“Seven.” Catherine’s eyes flickered over the scar so very close to Rebecca’s heart and her own heart missed a beat. God, it was so close.
“How come you’re up and I’m not?”
Catherine forced a smile. “Because I need to leave for work, and you needed to sleep.”
Rebecca patted a spot on the bed next to her. “Stay for just a minute.”
“Mmm—okay, but you’re not allowed to touch.” Catherine sat on the edge of the bed and crossed her legs, her skirt sliding to mid thigh.
“I’m not very good with authority figures.” To prove her point, Rebecca leaned forward and kissed the cleft between Catherine’s breasts. “Or…” Rebecca ran her finger under the hem of the skirt, “orders.”
Deftly, Catherine captured Rebecca’s fingers and moved them. “I’m in doctor mode and therefore immune to your charms.”
“So this is what happens to romance when you live together, huh?” Rebecca’s eyes were dancing.
“We’re not living together,” Catherine said softly, her eyes searching Rebecca’s face.
“I seem to remember you asking.” Rebecca’s blue eyes were serious now.
“I did. Yes.” Catherine traced her fingers along Rebecca’s jaw and down her neck. “And I sincerely doubt that seeing you like this more often would dampen my ardor.”
“Oh, yeah?” Rebecca’s voice was husky.
“I can assure you, my love, that fifty years from now I’ll look at you and want you just as much as ever.”
“Those seem like pretty good terms to me.”
“I want you to be sure.” Catherine’s voice was gentle, her smile wistful.
Rebecca leaned forward, her hands framing Catherine’s face, her thumbs brushing the elegant cheeks. Her mouth was very near to Catherine’s when she murmured, “I’m certain that I could never love anyone more and that I will never stop loving you.”
Catherine slips curved into a smile against Rebecca’s mouth. “Those seem like the perfect terms to me.”
“Well, well, well,” Captain Henry said with undisguised delight. “The detective of the hour. Sit down, Sergeant…or should I be the first to say, Lieutenant?”
“Sir?” Rebecca sat in the familiar chair and crossed her trousered legs.
“You’re not going to be able to refuse the promotion this time, Frye. I’ve already had a call from the Chief who said he speaks for the Commissioner, and they both want your promotion made effective immediately. The department needs good officers, and you’ve earned this.”
The department wants to be able to point to a few women of rank, come election time. Rebecca chose her words carefully. She wasn’t entirely certain she wanted a promotion, especially not if it meant she’d be riding a desk at One Police Plaza. But perhaps she could play this to her advantage.
“I’m a street cop, Captain. I don’t want to sit in an office and push paper.” She held his gaze. “There’s still work to be done on the case my team’s been investigating.”
He waved a hand dismissively. “Organized crime is going to work with the DA firming up the cases against the distributors. They’ve all lawyered up at this point anyhow, so there’s nothing that you need to do there. The paperwork on the individual arrests can be handled by some of the detective ones and our clerks.” He leaned forward and folded his hands on his desk. “Look, Sergeant, I’m expected to deliver you to the promotion ceremony in person. The press department is ready to announce it. Don’t jam me up on this.”
“I wasn’t talking about tying up last night’s loose ends, sir. I was talking about the other aspects of my investigation which are still open—including the source of an inside leak that fingered Sloan and maybe Jimmy and Jeff.”
His eyes narrowed. “Those are serious allegations, Sergeant.”
“Yes sir, I’m aware of that.” She played her final card. “You might be interested to know, Captain, that whoever’s been pilfering files and leaking the details of confidential police operations made things look like you were the source of the leak.”
His mahogany features darkened dangerously, and he said stiffly, “How?”
“Computer intrusions that track back to you. It’s complicated—I’d need Sloan to lay it all out for you.”
“Why am I just hearing about this now?”
“Because until very recently, I didn’t have enough facts to bring them to you.” She didn’t see any reason that he needed to know everything that she knew, or when she knew it. Or that for a while she had seriously suspected that he was guilty.
“And now you do?”
“Nearly the whole package. With the right team, I can give you a direct link to Zamora—the same person who’s responsible for setting up Jimmy Hogan and Jeff Cruz. We’re close, Captain.” And while I’m at it, I’m going to find out where Zamora’s people are getting the girls to keep his sex businesses running.
He studied her contemplatively, and Rebecca knew that he was figuring his angles just as she was working hers. She wondered what the price would be.
“Let’s say I approved a special high profile case unit within our division, with you as the lead, reporting directly to me. You’ll accept the promotion?” He tried to read her response, but saw only the cool blue gaze. The Chief had already the floated the idea to him, but Frye didn’t need to know that. Or why the offer was on the table.
“I get to choose my own people, and,” she added quickly, “I want official department recognition for my civilian consultants.” If I can talk Sloan into doing anything official.
He leaned back, a shadow of a smile on his face. “We might be able to work something out. Of course, there might be a few conditions.”
She waited, because there always were—and it was his move.
Henry picked up the phone and punched an extension. “Send him in.”
Rebecca turned her head at the sound of the door opening behind her and met the flat stare of Avery Clark, the Department of Justice agent who had headed the defunct joint task force and who had usurped the evidence and the arrest that belonged to her team.
“Congratulations, Detective Sergeant. Very nice job,” Clark said with apparent sincerity.
Rebecca inclined her head slightly.
“I’d like to know how you identified the suspects so quickly. Commendable.”
“You can read my report for the details.”
“I’m sure it will be quite elucidating.” He took the seat next to hers and nodded to Captain Henry.
“Agent Clark contacted me last night about the scope of your investigation, Sergeant. He said he was impressed.”
“I’m flattered,” Rebecca said sarcastically.
Clark turned in his seat to face Rebecca. “You made a dent in Zamora’s organization, and I’m willing to bet that you’ve got more leads cooking. We’re very interested at Justice in what you might be pursuing.”
“I don’t work for the Justice Department.”
“I lost a man, too, Sergeant.”
“And if my team had been allowed to work the evidence from the last arrest, we’d be closer to knowing who’s responsible.”
“But you’re still close, aren’t you?” he asked softly.
Rebecca said nothing.
“I’m not asking for joint jurisdiction,” Clark continued. “I’m asking for cooperation and a sharing of intelligence.”
Rebecca grimaced. “I think you’ve already proven that sharing is not high on your list.”
“Sergeant,” Henry said blandly, “I think that the Chief would look favorably upon the development of a major crime unit that interfaced with a federal unit. It’s got selling power.”
So that’s the deal breaker. If I want to keep the team together, I’m going to have to play ball with the feds. A muscle in Rebecca’s jaw tightened. “Watts gets promoted to detective third grade, and Mitchell gets her shield.”
“I think we can manage that, Lieutenant.”
Clark stood as did Rebecca. He held out his hand. “Let me be the first to congratulate you, Lieutenant. I’m sure we’ll be in touch soon.”
“I’m sure.” She shook the offered hand and turned to Henry. “Thank you, Captain.”
“Lieutenant.” He watched her walk out, pleased with the morning’s work.
When Rebecca stepped into the squad room, Watts jumped up and hurried over to her.
“Well? What’s the word?”
“Not here, Watts. Let’s take a ride.” She kept walking, waving her thanks to the frequent calls of congratulations from other detectives.
“Oh for Christ’s sake,” Watts puffed, “just tell me…are the rumors true? Is it Lieutenant now?”
“You always believe everything you hear, Watts?” Rebecca hit the door to the stairwell and started down. From behind her, she heard a long whistle and then a small hoot of pleasure that had her smiling despite herself.
“So where we going, Loo?” Watts hurried to catch up to her on the stairs.
Striding into the parking lot, she said, “We’re going to the hospital to see how Mitchell’s doing.” She pulled open the driver’s door of the Vette and slid in. As she started the engine, Watts dropped into the seat beside her. “Then we’re going to Sloan’s to brief the rest of the team.”
He caught his breath sharply. “The rest of the team? Officially?”
“Yep.” She gunned the Vette out of the parking lot and grinned. “We’re going to be on our own, more or less. HPC…high profile crimes.” She’d tell him the bad news about Clark after he’d had a chance to enjoy this a little.
“Oh man, that is sweet.” He fumbled in the inside pocket of his jacket for his cigarettes, a broad smile on his face.
“Yeah, it is,” Rebecca said softly, allowing herself a brief moment of pleasure as she imagined telling Catherine about the promotion. Then she glanced over at her partner, who was just about to strike a match. “Even D-threes don’t smoke in my ride, Watts.”
“Sure, Loo,” he said with satisfaction, pocketing his smokes. “You’re the boss.”
When an instant later he gaped at her and sputtered, “D-three?”, Detective Lieutenant Rebecca Frye merely smiled.
She was already thinking about the hunt to come.