In Pursuit of Justice
Everything hurt. Her jawed throbbed where he had struck her; her wrists chafed beneath the rough nylon cord that bound them tightly behind her back; and her breasts, exposed in the chill damp air, ached. The cavernous room was alive with shifting shadows, turning her fear to horror. His hands were rough on her body, holding her down, invading her, violating her. Helpless, she screamed silently, casting into the dark for salvation.
Please, please help me.
And then a voice--strong and certain and sure--calling her name. A woman, blazing with strength and purpose, stepped from a darkness deeper than night to light the corners of her terror.
Shes here. I prayed for her, and she heard me. She came.
With the cold circle of death pressed to her temple, she realized her mistake. Dread followed quickly on the heels of relief. Desperately, she shouted a warning that made no sound. She begged not for her own life, but for that of the woman she had summoned.
No, no! I didn't mean it. Don't come here. Hell kill you. Im sorry. Oh god, dont do this.
A thundering explosion, deafening her. A searing trail of fire dazzling her vision, blinding her. A thick red wash against her cheek; all that remained of her tormentor was his blood on her face and the hole in her heart.
Not my heart, her heart--oh, my heart, dont leave me like this.
Stumbling, falling, her breath tearing from her chest in slivers of pain, she forced herself to look upon her own soul dying. There on the floor in the flickering candlelight, all her hopes dissolved in a river of crimson, flowing past her hands with inexorable force. Relentless, pitiless, victorious death. The stakes had been set; the trade had been made-one life for another. She had been spared, and in the sparing, had lost everything. She would live, empty and forsaken. Guilt did not do justice to the agony of remorse she suffered for having called this one woman to her destruction.
On her knees, her neck arched as if pleading to be sacrificed, to be taken instead, to be freed from the torment, she screamed.
Cold, she was so cold. Drowning under the agony of loss and self-recrimination. So dark, no air No
Catherine, it's all right."
"Oh my God." Dr. Catherine Rawlings shot upright in bed-gasping, sweat soaked, and disoriented. Frantically, she turned to the woman beside her, her hands roaming over the naked figure, feeling the solid heat of her. Alive, she's alive. Finding her voice, she whispered hoarsely, "I'm sorry."
"No." Rebecca Frye pulled the trembling woman into her arms, stroking the damp wisps of auburn hair back from her cheek. "Don't apologize. Let me comfort you, just this once."
Not often enough.
"Having you next to me is all the comfort I need."
"Well, let me believe I'm slaying your dragons. It makes me feel important."
Oh, you are that. Catherine shivered, the image of Rebecca lying in a pool of blood chiseled indelibly on the tablets of her memory. She didn't need to be asleep to revisit that moment. Every time she looked at the tall, blond detective, she saw her seconds from death, having willingly sacrificed herself for Catherine. Those first few weeks after the shooting, she had shrugged off the swift rise of terror and dread that so often took her unawares-sometimes when she was awake, more often when she slept-and left her shaking. With Rebecca in the hospital, shed had enough to occupy her thoughts that she managed to ignore her own sleepless nights and anxious days. But Rebecca had been out of the hospital for two weeks, and the episodes were getting more frequent, and more terrifying. Smoothing her hand down Rebeccas chest, lingering for a heartbeat on the thick scar tissue above her left breast, she murmured, Youre very important. Without you Id never get that great table at DeCarlos.
Well go tomorrow then.
Itll be fine. Its just dinner. Besides, Im ready for a night out, Rebecca murmured, running her hand along the curve of Catherines side until she cradled her breast in her palm. Im going stir crazy-for a lot of reasons.
I know, but its too oh She caught her breath at the sharp point of pleasure that sparked from her nipple through her stomach as fingers closed hard on her breast. Dont.
Why not? Rebecca whispered, her mouth on Catherines neck, tasting the salt, reveling in the pulse of blood beneath her lips. Ive missed you this way.
Youre still recovering, Catherine gasped. Youre not healed. Youre still too thin; youre still so pale. Oh my god, dont do that. I want you so much. I was so afraid.
Catherines hips lifted beneath her fingers, and Rebecca Frye smiled. Ill be very still-just let me touch you. It wont hurt me. Shifting lower, she found a nipple with her teeth. Biting lightly, she slid her hand between Catherines thighs, hovering a whisper above her, her palm warmed by her heat. But I want you so much. Please.
Yes. Oh yes. Catherine relented, because she needed so desperately to feel Rebecca, to know in her bones that she was safe, to extinguish the fear that consumed her with the flames of passion, of life. Touch me, Rebecca, make me
She choked, unable to speak, as Rebeccas fingers danced lightly over her straining flesh, stroking her fleetingly, dipping into the shimmering depths of her desire to spreading liquid fire over her painfully engorged tissues. Turning her cheek to her lovers chest, she closed her eyes, struggling to contain the roar of release that thundered demandingly through her blood. Trembling, she filled her hands with Rebeccas body, fingers digging into her arms, needing to be connected to her-everywhere. Only the tiny fragment of her mind still functioning kept her from pushing her hand between her lovers thighs to claim her, too. But she resisted with the last fiber of her strength, rocking against the fingers that tormented her. Too soon toosoon ohImcomingtoosoon...
Yess Rebecca held back as long as she could, listening to the cadence of Catherines breathing, feeling her heart hammering against her own chest, sensing the tightening of muscles deep inside. When the woman in her arms went rigid, a strangled cry escaping her throat, Rebecca slid into her, filling her completely in one swift sure motion. Muscles clenched, then spasmed and Catherine arched, shouting in surprise, before finally convulsing in sweet, sweet surrender. Rebecca Frye closed her eyes and, secure in her lovers embrace, rode the crest of passion like a conquering hero. Never, never had she felt more alive.
What time is it?
Rebecca rolled over and peered at the digital clock. Almost six-thirty.
Ugh, Catherine groaned, pushing back the covers to get up. Thank god its Friday. Ohh I cant believe I just said that.
Wait a minute, Rebecca said quietly, pulling her back down. When Catherine moved against her with a sigh, she settled onto her back with her arms around the still drowsy woman. So. Tell me about the nightmare.
It was nothing. Just a dream.
The third one this week?
Catherine traced her fingers along Rebeccas ribs, down her abdomen, remembering what it was like to make those muscles flicker with urgency when they made love. What if they never She came back to herself with a start. Its a bit of stress. Nothing to worry about.
Because of me? Rebecca insisted, tightening her hold. Something I did?
No, Catherine assured her quickly. It was hardly your fault
Is it Blake?
Catherines stomach turned over. She should have realized that Rebecca was much too astute not to make the connection, although she doubted the detective realized exactly what about that night tormented her. For Rebecca, the idea of sacrificing herself in the line of duty was a simple reality of her life. It scared me, almost losing you. At least that part was true. So terribly, terribly true.
Listen, I know youve had to take care of me the last couple of weeks, but Im fine now. Everything is back to normal-at least it will be as soon as I pass the physical, qualify with my weapon again, and jump through hoops for the shrink uh Sorry. But you know what I mean.
Yes, Catherine laughed finally, loving the certainty in her voice. I know what you mean. And you should remember that I am a psychiatrist. So believe me when I tell you theres nothing to worry about.
Rebecca pushed up against the pillows until she was sitting and looked into her lovers eyes. Im still going to worry until those circles under your eyes go away.
Well, then, just concentrate on getting well.
Thats exactly what I intend to do. Starting today.
Thank you for seeing me on such short notice.
When you call me for a session, I know its important, Hazel Holcomb replied, indicating the two overstuffed chairs flanking a low coffee table. The furniture was arranged upon a thick oriental in front of a stone fireplace; the walls on either side were lined with floor to ceiling bookcases and a large antique mahogany desk sat before bay windows that looked out on a well-tended flower garden. It was a functional but decidedly comfortable space. Sit down. Do you want coffee or let me see, I think I have some soda.
No, Im fine. Ive been drinking coffee all day.
You look tired, Catherine, the chief of psychiatry said kindly, thinking to herself that the woman across from her looked more than tired. Shed lost weight, there were new stress lines around her green eyes, and a few more wisps of early gray in her hair. Even considering the fact that it is Friday night, and with your clinical load, you have every right to be weary.
I am. Thats why Im here, in part.
From the beginning, then, Hazel urged, settling back and looking for all the world as if she had nothing better to do than to listen to her younger colleague indefinitely.
Im not sleeping. They were in Hazels private home office, and the warm comfortable atmosphere was a welcome relief from the too bright, too impersonal spaces of the university clinic. Still, Catherine found it difficult to relax as she leaned forward, her clasped hands on her knees, her fingers intertwined to hide the faint tremor. I think I have post-
Lets wait before we worry about the diagnosis, shall we? Just tell me whats happening.
Of course. Catherine smiled ruefully and ran a hand through her collar-length auburn hair, then regarded her friend and mentor apologetically. At sixty Hazel was fit and vigorous, her quick blue eyes catching every nuance of expression, and allowing nothing of consequence to pass without comment. Is there anything worse than a physician as a patient?
Not many I can think of right off hand.
This is hard
Being a psychiatrist doesnt make it any easier. Thats for television programs. Maybe I can help. This isnt about work, I take it? You would have come to the cafeteria for that.
Catherine smiled. When she needed a curbside consult, or just assurance that she was following the right clinical course in a difficult case, she sought out Hazels advice during her chiefs morning ritual of coffee and danish in the hospital cafeteria. No. Its not work. Its the shooting.
What about the shooting?
My part in it.
Hazel regarded her steadily. What part was that?
I insisted on going to meet him, Catherine said slowly, looking beyond Hazels face into the past. Rebecca didnt want me to go, practically begged me not to get involved. But I wanted to. I wanted to. I thought I could stop him. She brought tormented eyes to meet Hazels. My arrogance almost got her killed.
Why arent you sleeping? Hazel asked, choosing not to comment but to let her talk. She had known Catherine since the younger psychiatrist was a resident, and she considered them friends as well as colleagues. What Catherine needed was for her to listen, not to point out the obvious fallacy in her reasoning. Reason carried very little weight where the emotions were concerned.
I dream, Catherine replied, her voice choked. I feel him. Hes hurting me, and I want her to come. I want her to make him stop. I want her to kill him.
She comes for me, and Im so glad. And then he shoots, and shes bleeding, theres so much blood oh god, theres so much blood
Catherine pushed back in her chair, as if pushing away the images, breathing rapidly, struggling to erase the vivid memories. It was my fault.
No, Catherine, Hazel said firmly. It was the fault of the man who pulled the trigger, and I suspect you know that. Ill wager thats not much help, though, is it?
Not at the moment, no.
I know. Were going to need more time than we have tonight to talk about why you feel that youre to blame. What Im more interested in right now is a quick fix so you can get some rest.
Catherine smiled. Such heresy.
Fortunately, no one will ever know, she replied with a grin. How do you feel about medication?
Id rather hold off for now, Catherine responded. I was hoping it would be better when she was better. But it isnt. Its worse.
How is she?
Recovering well. Chomping at the bit to get back to work.
She intends to resume active duty? Hazel asked noncommittally, watching Catherine carefully.
Yes. The minute shes able.
And theres no possibility she would change her mind if you asked?
No, and I couldnt ask her. She loves being a cop. Its more than a job; its who she is.
So, shell be on the streets again soon.
And how do you feel about that?
Catherine stared at her. Finally she admitted, It terrifies me.
I should think it would. I dont need to tell you about the fear that every partner of someone in a life-threatening occupation lives with on a daily basis. And you have not only that general anxiety to contend with, you have the actual experience of witnessing her almost die in the course of doing her job. She shrugged. You need to give yourself a break.
Thats it? Thats your medical opinion? Despite herself, she was smiling.
In a nutshell, yes. That and the fact that you need to see me on a regular schedule for the time being. If your detective intends to go back to work, I suspect therell be some things you need to sort out.
I know, Catherine said quietly. If she and Rebecca were to
have any future together, she would have to accept the fact that every time Rebecca walked
out the door, it might be for the last time. She would have to learn to say goodbye, and
she wasnt at all sure that she could.
Catherine watched Rebecca pack with a sense of loss. It had taken her by surprise when after breakfast that morning Rebecca had announced that it was time for her to move back to her own apartment, before the super rents it out from under me. That excuse was so thin Catherine could practically see it hanging in the air between them like a curtain of smoke. The news shouldnt have been unanticipated, because in the last week the detective had improved dramatically; nevertheless, Catherines first response had been one of disappointment. It was an occupational hazard to ask herself why, especially when she was elated to see her recovering so quickly, and as she leaned against the dresser watching Rebecca carefully fold jeans and T-shirts into a duffle, she struggled for perspective.
Too many conflicting emotions, thats all it is. Things will settle down in a week or two. As soon as I get used to the fact that shes all right, I wont feel as if my world is teetering on the brink of disaster. She jumped as the sound of the bag's zipper rasping closed cut sharply through the silence, a knife severing ties with heartless finality. Ill miss you.
Surprised, Rebecca looked up, a crease between her brows. Im not planning on going anywhere. But I cant stay here any longer.
Why not? But Catherine knew why not. Her heart might not, but her head did. Too soon. Weve spent most of our time together in crisis mode, and that kind of intensity can push things too quickly. We need time to know one another better. There are far too many secrets still to tell.
I dont want us to end up practically living together by accident, Rebecca continued, placing her bag by the bedroom door. You might discover youve made a mistake. You might decide Im not relationship material, just like the others did when they spent enough time with me. She slipped on a dark gray blended silk blazer and automatically reached under the left side to adjust her shoulder holster. Of course it wasnt there, and wouldnt be until she was no longer on medical leave and had re-qualified on the range. Some rule from the City Council about preventing impaired police officers from having access to service weapons. Impaired. Its absence was a constant reminder that she was not herself. At least they hadnt taken her shield. The weight of the slim leather case in the inner pocket was some comfort; small comfort perhaps, but a reassurance that she would be whole again. And soon. Today I start getting my life back. Especially not because you were taking care of me.
I was hardly taking care of you. You barely tolerated me cooking dinner every night without trying to do the dishes before you could even stand upright. I dont consider grocery shopping and a few loads of laundry a hardship. Skilled nursing it was not. Smiling to herself, Catherine thought about the two weeks she had taken off to spend with Rebecca after her discharge form the hospital and realized that they were two of the most relaxing weeks shed had in months. Vacations had become a rarity for her between trying to juggle private practice with her university teaching responsibilities. Theyd watched a dozen movies on DVD, discovered that they shared a passion for screwball comedies, and managed to actually complete the Sunday Times crossword puzzle togethera first time for them both. Solitary and private by nature, she had never shared that much of her life with anyone before, other than her parents, and that had been far in the past. It had been surprisingly easy. Besides, I liked it.
So did I, Rebecca said softly, quickly crossing the bedroom to her side. She lifted Catherines chin in her palm, searching her eyes. I like a whole lot of things about being with youhaving dinner with you, unwinding with you, and especially being there when you wake up. She blew out a breath, searching for the words to explain that she didnt want to build a relationship on the foundation of her own weakness. Finally she said, When things are back to normal, Ill feel like I deserve you.
What makes you think you dont already? Catherine asked, knowing even as she spoke the words that Rebecca would only feel worthwhile if she were also a cop. There isnt some test you have to pass with me, Rebecca. You dont have to qualify at anything to be cared about.
Im no good to anyone like this, Rebecca said in frustration. I can barely carry my own suitcase! Unconsciously, shed taken a step back, putting distance between them. Youve only seen me when I was hurting, or hurt. First Jeffs death and then this. I need to be able to give you something. I want to feel like I deserve you, whether you think it matters or not.
It hasnt even been six weeks. You just need a little more time.
Yeah, well, she said as she reached for her duffle, its time for me to get back to doing what I should be doing.
Meaning what, Rebecca? Catherine asked, her voice rising sharply. Putting yourself in the line of fire before youre even healed from the last gunshot wound?
What? Rebecca stopped dead, staring at her, completely perplexed. You dont think what happened is normal, do you? Its a one in a million thing. Most police officers never even have to draw their weapons in the line of duty their entire careers.
I dont care if its one in a million when its you, Catherine replied softly, unable to keep the tears from her voice. Youre the only one I care about.
Rebeccas frustration at her own sense of helplessness disappeared in the face of Catherines clear distress. Hey, she said gently, walking quickly to her side and slipping her arms around her waist. Are we fighting?
No, Catherine sighed, leaning her cheek against Rebeccas chest. Were obsessing.
Uh-uh cops dont obsess. We just act. There was a playful tone in her voice, but on some very basic level she meant it. What she did, she did by instinct and reflex. Part of it was training and part of it was just her. When you stopped to think, you got yourselfor someone else--killed. Unfortunately, it probably wasnt the best approach to relationships, but it had never mattered so much before. Cops dont go in too much for self-analysis. Nothing worse than second guessing yourself out on the street.
Catherine snorted. Dont think I havent heard that beforefrom every cop Ive ever talked to.
Well then, see? It must be true.
Shut up. And then Catherine kissed her, forgetting for the moment that her detective was still healing, and forgetting that she was worried about her safety, and even forgetting that she was angry, so angry, at her for risking her life with no thought to how Catherine would survive the loss. She kissed her hard, enjoying the feel of those familiar arms tightening around her, thighs pressing close, hands claiming flesh. She kissed her until her own breath fled and her trembling legs threatened to desert her. Much better, she finally murmured.
Yeah. Ill pick you up at seven for dinner, Rebecca said, her voice low and throaty. Another minute of that and she could forget the gym, because she wouldnt be able to walk.
As the door closed behind her, Catherine listened to her footsteps fade to silence. A silence so deep she thought she might drown in it.
Well, well, wellwill you just look at whats arrived
to brighten the mornin, a voice bearing a hint of
Rebecca finished the upward motion of her arms, deposited the barbell on the cleats, and turned her head on the slant board to eye the redhead kneeling by her side. Sparkling sea foam eyes, faintly frizzy shoulder-length hair pulled back in a haphazard pony-tail, a dusting of freckles across pale skin. And a smile to light the darkest night. Flanagan know youre loose?
Oh, no, Maggie Collins, the senior crime scene technician whispered conspiratorially. The general is mighty busy combing through a raccoon coat with a magnifying glass lookin for dandruff and what not. She didnt see me sneakin away on my lunch break.
She gives you a lunch break now? Rebecca asked, sitting up on the end of the weight bench and toweling off. Her navy blue T-shirt with the police logo on the left chest was soaked through as were her sweatpants, and shed only been working out for fifteen minutes.
Aye. Something about human rights requirements in the workplace.
Huh. Amazing. Whats she trying to findDNA from the shed scalp skin?
That or from a hair follicle that isnt too desiccated to type. Maggie offered the detective her unopened plastic bottle of water. Frye was shaking, and she looked like shed dropped twenty pounds off a frame that had always been lean. Her blue eyes were still the same, thoughsparkling chips of ice, hard and penetrating. If anything she looked more austerely handsome than before her injury, but Maggie sensed she was hurting. Hereit wont be doin you any good to get dehydrated before youve had a decent workout.
Thanks. Rebecca took a long pull before asking, Whats new in the Body Shop? She was referring to the Crime Scene Investigations unit, or CSI, which was headed by Dee Flanagan, Maggies lover. It was actually more than just the morgue, which, strictly speaking, was the purview of the medical examiner, but rather an extensive evidence analysis lab that examined all physical material collected from a crime scene and the bodies involved. What Flanagan and her techs turned up was often instrumental in pointing the detectives in the right direction to solve a crime and virtually essential for proving a case in court.
Oh, every day its a surprise. People keep inventin new and different ways to kill themselves and others. Weve been missin your company, though.
Oh, Ill bet. Rebecca laughed. Dee Flanagan made it no secret that she didnt like cops in her labbothering her techs and messing with evidence, so she scathingly remarked, and she suffered their presence with very little patience.
No, Maggie said softly, smiling a fond smile that Rebecca
had seen before when
Ill stop down in a day or two. As soon as I get back to work.
Youre comin back soon, then? Maggie tried to hide her surprise. Many officers injured a lot less severely than Rebecca took advantage of the disability premiums for as long as possible. But then she should have known that Frye wouldnt be one to sit at home. Goin crazy, probably.
Im seeing Captain Henry first thing Monday morning.
Well then, youd best get back to pumpin that iron. You need a spot?
No. Im not pushing. Just easing back in. In truth, shed been about to quit when Maggied come along. Her chest was on fire and even though shed reduced her usual weights by half, shed been struggling. What worried her the most, though, was how short of breath she got after ten minutes on the treadmill. Although the doctors had assured her that her lung, collapsed by the bullet that had entered between her third and fourth ribs an inch above her heart, had not sustained any permanent damage, it felt like something wasnt working right. If she couldnt run, she couldnt work. Im doing okay.
Right, Maggie agreed. Good to see you back, Rebecca.
Yes. It will be good to get back. All the way back. When she went into the locker room to shower, despite the pain and the fatigue, she felt more like herself than she had since the moment shed come to in a sea of agony to find Catherine bending over her, terror in her eyes. All she needed now was to convince everyone else that she was fit for duty. She had a lot of unfinished business to attend to, and she couldnt begin to take care of it until she had reclaimed her place in the world.
Is something wrong? Rebecca asked quietly. They were seated at a small candlelit table in the nook formed by floor to ceiling bay windows in DeCarlos, a very exclusive restaurant that occupied the ground floor of a century old mansion. A bottle of imported champagne sat chilling in a silver ice bucket beside them and the appetizersgrilled figs and sweet sausageshad just been placed in the center of the linen draped table. Despite the elegant décor and the intimate atmosphere, she had a feeling that her dinner companion was absorbed in something other than the fine meal and her own stellar company.
Hmm? Oh, no. Catherine reached for her hand, smiling apologetically. Im sorry. I drifted away there for a minute. Work.
I know the feeling. Even been guilty of it a few times myself. Anything you can talk about?
No, not really.
Rebecca shrugged. If theres something you can say, Im here.
Thanks. Fortunately, Rebecca had appreciated from the first that Catherines work was something that she could only allude to in the most general of terms, for obvious reasons of patient confidentiality. It had been just that conflict that had brought them so explosively together just a few short months before. It was one thing, however, to have the barrier exist professionally and quite another to have it crop up in their personal dealings. Because shed never had a relationship that had been so central to her life before, Catherine had never had to contend with the fact that she couldnt discuss some of the ramifications of her work with the person closest to her. She was still learning how to navigate those murky waters, and, fortunately, Rebecca, who was used to compartmentalizing her life, didnt push. It helped diffuse the awkwardness, but there were times, like tonight, when Catherine wished she could talk.
Lets get the paperwork out of the way first, okay?
No significant medical, surgical or psychiatric conditions in the past?
Never been hospitalized for any reason?
Shed wait to ask about the obvious bruise under the left eye and what looked like finger marks on the neck. No drug allergies or current medications?
Recreational drug use?
I drink now and then. Nothing else.
Do you smoke?
When I drink. Faint laughter.
Catherine smiled. She had found that with new patients it was best to start with something basic and unthreatening such as reviewing the data the patient provided on a standard medical questionnaire. It established a bit of rapport, although the young woman in her office didnt seem particularly nervous. Upright posture, no apparent tics or nervous habits. Her button-down collar pale blue cotton shirt and dark tan chinos were pressed, her oxfords polished and shined, her thick wavy hair cut short, no make-up. If anything, the clear-eyed brunette with the sharp blue gaze was watching her with just a hint of suspicionor was it something else? Intense curiosity? Not unusual from patients, but it usually developed later in the course of treatmentthat need to know the therapist as a person and not as someone who merely existed for fifty minutes once or twice a week and to whom you exposed your most intimate secrets. But about whom you knew almost nothing.
My secretary Joyce made a notation well be billing insurance, Catherine remarked, checking the intake form. It was Saturday, and she didnt usually see patients, but after Rebecca had left, the apartment had seemed so emptyalmost lifelessthat when shed picked up her messages and found one about a request for a semi-urgent appointment, shed decided she might as well work. I see you have a good plan that doesnt cap the number of visits, so that will be simple.
I dont think Ill be coming long enough for that to be an issue.
Her tone level and matter-of-fact, no hint of aggression or combativeness. Just a statement.
And that brings me to the next question, Catherine responded just as evenly. It says your reasons for coming are work-related. Can you tell me about that?
Ive been ordered to see a therapist and to obtain a written statement that I am fit for duty.
Ordered? Im sorry, Catherine said, glancing down at the form, confused. Joyce had left a message that a new patient had called asking for an appointment as soon as possible, but there had been no indication that it had been any kind of official consultation. She often performed evaluations of city employeesmostly work-related disability claims, and occasionally confirmatory profiles on detainees, but someone from the appropriate city department usually called ahead to set up the meeting. What do you
Im a police officer.
I see. Catherine pushed the folder aside, leaned back in her chair, and met the young womans eyes. Now it was time for them to talk. I didnt get any referral papers. Usually someone sends me a summary of the incident.
Its probably in transitIll call them on Monday.
No needwell take care of it. How did you get to me? Isnt there an in-house psychologist who signs off on an officers duty status?
There is, but the department has to provide alternate choices for reasons of impartiality. Youre on the short list.
The lesser of two evils? Actually, she hadnt even realized she was on any kind of list, and the only reason she minded was that had she known, she would have asked Joyce to screen new patient calls differently and to prioritize calls from police officers. Her already busy private patient schedule could only accommodate so many therapy sessions per week, but she always made time for emergencies.
Is there some reason that you didnt want to see is it still Rand Whitaker doing the psych evals for the department?
She shrugged, a move that reminded Catherine of Rebeccas dismissive gesture when she considered something unworthy of her attention. Lord, do they stamp them out of some mold somewhere, these silent women with suspicious eyes?
Im asking why you went outside channels because I need to know if there was a conflict or problem within the department that will affect how you and I communicate, or that we need to discuss.
No problem. I just want my private business to stay private. And
For the first time she looked the slightest bit uncertain.
And ? Catherine asked gently.
And I wanted to talk to a woman.
Fair enough. Let me tell you a little bit about how I do this, so that were on the same page. It helps to avoid confusion if you have an idea of how long this might take.
A curt nod, an attentive expression despite a faint frown line between dark brows. Catherine sensed her ambivalence--she had come because she had been ordered to, but she was also cooperating. Perhaps, on some level, she wants to be here.
As I said, the department will send a summary of why youre being referred, but I want you to tell me in your own words. Then Id like to spend some time getting to know you. General background kinds of things. When I feel that I can make some determination about this event within the context of your professional life, Ill file my report.
How much of what we talk about will be in it?
Two references in less than five minutes to issues of privacy and confidentiality. Shes worried about keeping something in her personal life a secret.
You may see my report. I will not discuss your case with anyone without informing you and obtaining your consent. You understand that I will need to include some details of our meetings to substantiate my findings, and that this will become part of your personnel record?
A bit of anger there. She feels violated. Betrayed by her superiors, by the system that sent her here?
Do you want to proceed? You could still see Rand Whitaker.
No. How long will this take?
I dont know. Have you been suspended?
No. But theyve got me riding a desk.
Stiff shoulders, condescending tone of voice, one quick, frustrated fist clench. Shes chafing at the restrictions.
More than a few sessions, most likely. Ill see you on an accelerated schedule, but thats as definite as I can be.
Several beats of silence.
So. Tell me what happened.
I was daydreaming about something that happened in a session today--something that brought up more than I realized, apparently. Rather like a waking version of what Freud said about dreams. He called them day residue, things we are still trying to process that we didnt finish before sleep.
He said a lot more than that about dreams, didnt he? Rebecca commented dryly.
Laughing, Catherine nodded agreement. Yes, quite a bit of which I take issue with. Linking her fingers through Rebeccas, she continued, Nevertheless, even if I could talk about it, I certainly wouldnt want to take up our time together tonight with business. After all, this is a date, right?
Theyd made love, spoken of love, but theyd never had the time to fall in love. As much as she missed Rebeccas subtle presence in her apartmentthe extra clothes in the closet, two coffee cups in the sink, her keys and wallet on the dresser, she liked this new distance. It was a distance heavy with promise and hope, a kind of charged separation shed never experienced before. It was the very opposite of lonely, because Rebecca was with her.
Well, Rebecca mused, feigning thought, her thumb playing over Catherines palm, I got all spruced up in my best suit and I washed the Vette. Im trying to impress you with the dinner and the wine.
Shed missed her that afternoon when shed opened the door of her apartment to be greeted by the musty scent of abandonment. Out of years of habit, shed dropped the duffle inside the door and walked directly across the rugless living room to the single window, pushed it up, and leaned out to breathe the aroma of car exhaust and Saturday dinners. Home. As familiar as a favorite bar, and as lonely as the tail end of the night with only a bottle for company. She leaned closer across the table, her gaze claiming Catherine with the intensity of a caress. When she was with her, the places inside that always ached stopped hurting. I was hoping that you chose that dark green blouse with me in mind, because it reflects in your eyeslike shadows in a forest, calling my
Rebecca, Catherine murmured, her heart hammering, were in a restaurant.
Undeterred, she continued in a low, husky tone, And Ive been thinking all afternoon about the way my skin burns when
We are going to sit here and consume this very fine food, or Anthony will be so offended hell never recover. Her voice cracked and she had to swallow. She had never been the focus of such undiminished attention in her life. It was a heady feeling and she suddenly understood how people made fools of themselves for love. Is this how you seduce women?
Reluctantly, they sat back in their seats, breathing a little erratically, fingertips just barely touching on the fine linen. The first time theyd been to DeCarlos theyd just met. Theyd been strangers, uncertain, wary, but drawn to one another nevertheless. In the weeks since, theyd shared fear and passion and near death, but, in so many ways, they were strangers still.
There is something wrong with the appetizers? Anthony DeCarlo asked anxiously from beside them.
No, Catherine answered, smiling quickly at him before
glancing back at Rebecca, whose eyes had never left her face. Theyre
Rebecca rolled over and opened her eyes. She smiled when she found Catherine, arms wrapped around her pillow, lying close beside her and watching her with a tender expression in her soft green eyes.
I fell asleep last night, didnt I? Rebecca asked.
Uh huh. Actually, you fell asleep several times last night. Catherine ran her fingers through Rebeccas thick, tousled blond hair, finally resting her fingers in the curve of her neck. Lets see. First you fell asleep in the car. I was very glad that I didnt drink more of Anthonys wonderful champagne, because I wouldnt have been able to drive us home, and you were literally out on your feet by the time we got to the Vette.
Im sorry, Rebecca said, completely chagrined. Shed had very different plans for the Saturday evening, none of which had included falling asleep at nine oclock.
Dont be. You obviously needed to rest, and I am very fond of sleeping next to you.
Well, Id like you to be fond of a few other things before the sleeping part, Rebecca murmured, shifting closer until their bodies touched along their entire length. Instinctively, effortlessly, their limbs entwined and they pressed even nearer until their lips were only a breath apart. It was supposed to be a hot date, remember?
Oh, I remember that very well. She didnt seem to have any control over what happened to her body when Rebecca was against her like this. The feel of Rebeccas skin hot against her own, a heat so much more consuming than any fever, set her blood on fire. It was hard to think, it was hard to remember that she meant to go slowly and carefully this first time. She hadnt made love to Rebecca in almost two months and her hands were already shaking with the need to touch her. Valiantly, she tried to distract herself with conversation, because she was a heartbeat away from forgetting her good intentions.
When we got home, Catherine continued, you managed to make it up the stairs with just a little help from me, but by the time I had my shoes off, you were asleep again. She ran her fingers down the center of Rebeccas chest, pausing to brush her fingertips over a taut pink nipple. The swift intake of breath and automatic surge of Rebeccas hips were exactly the reward she had been seeking. Moving her lips along the edge of Rebeccas jaw, she finally reached her ear and whispered, I had a really good time taking your clothes off, though.
Rebecca couldnt help but laugh. I am thoroughly humiliated. What a putz.
Oh, you are so far from that, Catherine replied, laughing, too.
Well, Ive had smoother moments. I guess the workout tired me out a little more than I realized.
How are you feeling? Catherine asked, suddenly serious, her hand stilling on Rebeccas skin. Shed seen Rebecca work for days at a time with no sleep, but shed never seen her as physically depleted as shed been the previous night. Even knowing that it was a perfectly natural occurrence at this stage in her recovery didnt eliminate the quick rush of fear.
Im feeling way better than fine, Rebecca replied soundly, claiming Catherines mouth for a kiss.
Ah she sighed when she could find her voice, I can tell.
Rebecca kissed her again, and it was the warmth of her tongue that was Catherines undoing, or perhaps it was the way Rebecca pressed her fingers into the shallow depression at the base of her spine, or the way she
Rebecca, she gasped, I cant possibly wait another minute.
Rebecca shifted her weight until they were reclining, Catherine beneath her. Bracing her arms on either side of Catherines shoulders, she fit her hips between Catherines thighs and rocked into her, the rhythmic pressure making them both hard in a matter of seconds.
Sighing, Catherine ran her hands up and down Rebeccas back, cupping her buttocks, squeezing the tight muscles as she thrust, forcing them together even harder. Watching Rebecca through eyes dim with need, she found the reflection of her desire mirrored in Rebeccas intense expression. Even as she felt Rebeccas strong shoulders and arms beneath her fingers and the insistent pressure of her hips working between her own thighs, she couldnt help but see the irregular, bright red scars on her chest.
How do you feel? she asked, her words punctuated by short gasps as she found it increasingly harder to catch her breath.
Im perfect, Rebecca assured her, but all she could really feel was the growing heaviness in her stomach and the slowly rising tension between her legs. Her arms were trembling with the effort of supporting her upper body, but she didnt care. It had been so long, too long, and she needed this more than she needed air to breathe.
This is torture, Catherine gasped, linking her fingers behind Rebeccas neck and pulling her head down, bruising her mouth with a kiss. Their tongues trysted with the same seeking need as their hips thrust, until the tempo of blood pounding and muscles clenching and lips searching echoed the pulsing beat deep inside. I need to taste you. Its been so long. I feel like Im starving.
I wont last if you do, Rebecca groaned. It had been a very long time for her too, and she was already crazy to come.
I dont care. Gently but insistently, Catherine placed her palms on Rebeccas chest and pressed until she relented and rolled over onto her back. Following in one smooth motion, Catherine settled between the taller womans thighs, her breasts resting for a moment in the moist heat between Rebeccas legs. Then she caught the rim of skin edging Rebeccas navel and tugged it between her teeth, drawing a deep groan from Rebecca that made her head swim. Following the insistent pressure of Rebeccas palms against her face, she inched lower until her lips brushed the fine hair between Rebeccas legs. The scent and heat of her was like being welcomed home, and with a grateful sigh, she rested her cheek against the soft smooth skin of her lovers inner thigh and slowly, reveling in the first sweet taste, took her between her lips. She had intended to go slowly, had meant to savor every sensation, but Rebeccas sharp cry at the first touch of her mouth and the tightening of the muscles in Rebeccas thighs told her how very she close was. Suddenly, all Catherine wanted to do was lose herself in Rebeccas pleasure.
Oh no, Rebecca moaned, her voice tight and choked. Youre going to make me come right away.
It was enough to make Catherines heart shatter. She loved having her like this, feeling the two disparate elements of Rebeccas being fuse at the moment of final releasestrength and surrender, power and need, wariness and trustall of her trembling, quivering on the edge of dissolving. So, so unbelievably beautiful.
Its not enough, Rebecca whispered hoarsely when her body finally stopped shuddering. I want you somewhere somewhere inside
The first time had been fast, furious--a wild, frantic reclaiming of body and soul after the threat of separation far greater than time or distance. The next time, and the next, followed on a swell of arousal that was no more possible to quell then it would have been to stop the revolutions of the earth. It was a force beyond volition and just as natural. Theyd met in the midst of crisis, and during those few hectic weeks, theyd made love in moments of need, and in moments of gratitude, and in moments of nearly desperate passion. But theyd had very little time for happiness, let alone elation. On this particular Sunday morning in early September, with sunlight painting their skin in shades of gold, they made love for the sheer joy of being alive--and being together.
Pizza or Chinese?
Chinese, Catherine answered drowsily, trailing her fingers along the crest of Rebeccas hip. More green vegetables.
Oh yeah. I guess I need to preserve my strength if were going to keep this up. Rebecca shifted, moving the arm which she just realized was numb. In fact, now that she thought about it, a lot of her seemed to be pleasantly enervated. We are going to keep it up, right?
Tell me you still need more.
Well, not right this very minute, Rebecca conceded, wondering if shed ever walk again, but soon.
Catherine leaned up on an elbow, pushing strands of damp hair back from her face, and stared at her. Are you serious?
Rebecca grinned. Okay, maybe not until the morning.
Thank god, because I am exhausted. She settled back in the crook of Rebeccas arm and drew one leg up over her lover's thigh. The room was dim, afternoon somehow having slipped into dusk, and the day held that timeless quality that only late Sundays in waning summer could. It reminded her of the naïve innocence of childhood when life seemed to be nothing more than an endless stretch of warm, lazy afternoons. Bicycles and baseball and a favorite book under the shade of a tree--no conception of disappointment or loss. Even then, and certainly never as an adult, could she ever remember having been so satisfied or so completely content. She couldnt think of a single thing to worry about. Somewhere in the back of her pheromone-saturated mind that fact rang danger bells, but she couldnt bear to break the spell by probing for the source. Id rather be here with you like this than do anything else in the world.
For a second, Rebeccas heart stopped, and she could hear the blood stilling in her veins. The idea of being that important to this one incredible, remarkable woman was terrifying and exhilarating and like nothing shed ever experienced. Nothing in her life had ever struck her with the power of that single sentence, not even getting her shield. Not even the bullet. Why? Why me, of all the women you could chose?
You remind me of whats important.
Rebecca turned on her side so she could see Catherines eyes. What things are those?
Thats the funny thing about love, Catherine mused, tracing the side of Rebeccas neck with the fingers of one hand. Theyre different things for all of us, but being in love makes us feel them just the same.
You know whats really scary? Rebecca said quietly, wondering if shed ever be able to take a full breath again. Her chest was so tight, and it had nothing to do with getting shot.
I know what youre talking about.
Yes, Catherine whispered, her voice thick with so many feelings, and her skin still raw with the aftermath of passion, I know that you do.
How hungry are you? Rebecca asked, gathering Catherines breast into her palm, rolling the nipple under her thumb.
Starving, Catherine replied, tilting her head to catch a full lower lip between her teeth. And I never even knew it.
Are you going to eat that?
Catherine studied the last shrimp in Szechwan sauce. It looked inviting. I want it, but I think Im full.
Ive heard that before, Rebecca commented as she quickly captured it with her chopsticks. Theres no time to waste then.
They were sitting naked on the bed, the Times stacked at the foot and open containers of food, paper plates and napkins between them. It was dark outside Catherines bedroom windows, and theyd turned on the shaded bedside reading lamp.
Catherine watched Rebecca deftly manipulating the slim slivers of wood, remembering the way those fingers had felt on her skin. Youre going in tomorrow, arent you?
Does your Captain know youre coming?
Not yet. Rebeccas smile was thin. Hed probably refuse to see me until after I did the thing with Whitaker.
The department psychologist.
But you are going to, right?
No choice. Theres been a lot of bad press the last few yearsreports of excessive use of force, vigilantism, escalating suicide rates among the ranks, and a million other things. So now, anything involving an officer, whether its a complaint or an officer-involved shooting or even sometimes just drawing your weapon, can land you in counseling.
But with you theres reason, Catherine offered gently, knowing that no officer wanted to be reminded of their vulnerability or of the fact that emotions were one thing outside their control.
Maybe. The silence grew heavy between them, and finally Rebecca asked, What is it?
Im worried about you, Catherine confessed.
Dont be. I feel fine. Ill be fine.
Good. Her fears would make little sense to Rebecca, for whom life was so much more black and white. Cops like her did not fear possibilities, because only the facts mattered. Reality for her detective was defined by events, not eventualities. Justbe careful.
What an inadequate request. Dont get hurt. Dont get killed. Dont leave me now, not after touching me like this.
Ill do everything by the book. I promise. Shed seen the uncertainty in Catherines eyes, and it killed her to know shed put it there. Shed keep her word, too. As much as she could, and still do what she had to do.
It had been more than two months since Catherine had last watched Rebeccas transformation from the woman she had held through the night into the cop. Oh, the cop was always there, whether on duty or notsurfacing for an instant in the sharp appraisal of a stranger who approached on the street or evident in the fleeting shadows that marred her clear gaze when some memory momentarily escaped her ironclad controlbut never so much as when Detective Sergeant Rebecca Frye began the morning routine of pulling on a crisp, starched shirt and creased tailored trousers, shrugged into the fitted leather shoulder holster, and slid the case that held the gold shield into the breast pocket of her blazer. As she assembled the symbols of her identity, Rebeccas expression became more remote, her carriage more guarded, and her eyes more distant. It was a frightening thing to witness when what you needed most were the things she hid away.
Youre awfully quiet, Rebecca remarked, watching Catherine gather her briefcase, beeper, and cell phone from the small table just inside the front foyer. Theyd showered separately, and when shed joined Catherine in the kitchen, theyd barely had time for a cup of coffee and toast. Nevertheless, there was a discomfiture in Catherines face that wasnt usually there.
Am I? Catherine smiled, realizing that she had indeed been preoccupied. I suppose I am. You would make a good psychiatrist, Detective.
And youre doing that shrink thing againavoid and divert. Ask a question, change the subject. Her tone was teasing, but she watched the woman in the understatedly elegant jade suit assiduously. Thats a cops trick.
They were only two feet apart, but the air between them was thick enough to walk on. It was a distance that if left unbreached would grow, and Rebecca had reached out. Catherine dropped her briefcase and stepped across the gulf, sliding her arms around the tall blonds waist.
Im trying to get used to the fact that things will be different now.
Rebecca put her hands on Catherines hips, under the edge of her jacket, and kissed her softly. A moment later, she said firmly, No. They wont.
Call me later?
Count on it.
At 7:10 she walked into the squad room and sensed the ever-present knot of uncertainty and unease in her stomach begin to loosen. Everything looked, and smelled, the same. Same shabby mismatched desks fronting each other in randomly placed pairs, same sickly institutional green paint on the walls, same worn gray tiles on the floor. The odor of stale smoke, old coffee grounds, and honest sweat permeated the air. She couldnt help but feel a wave of relief when she saw that her desk was exactly as she had left it. Her mug was there in the middle of a stained blotter, a pile of dog-eared file folders balanced precariously in one corner, and the phone was angled precisely the way she always placed it when she was working. Even the rumpled hulk of a man seated at the desk opposite hers looked exactly the same. Fiftyish, gray haired and balding, forty pounds over his fighting weightstereotypical flat foot right out of Ed McBain.
Is that your only suit, Watts? she asked as she shed her jacket to the back of her chair.
William Watts looked up at the sound of the deep, cutting voice, his expression impassive but his eyes quick and sharp as they took her in. Thin, still pale, and edgy. Not too bad, considering. He smiled, but it didnt show on his face. Not much did. What, did I miss the memo about the dress code?
Yeah, the one that recommends the laundry every few months.
He grunted, watching her slide open the bottom left hand drawer of her desk and place the empty holster carefully inside. She didnt look right without it, but she still looked damn good to him. He was relieved to find that he could look at her and not see the river of blood spreading over her chest. For a few weeks hed been afraid hed never stop seeing it. How come the Cap didnt say anything about you coming back?
Because he doesnt know it yet.
Her smile was thin and there was a new hardness in her eyes. Hed thought her tough before; now she was stone. Maybe thats what it took to come back after what shed been through. He didnt really want to know. Well, if it will get me off these goddamned cold cases, Ill go in with you.
She studied him, a big part of her wanting to dislike him still. Mostly because he was sitting in Jeffs chair, and Jeff was dead. He had just offered to back her up. Hed done that once before, when it really counted. When it had been the only thing that mattered more to her than the job. When it had been Catherine. I can handle it.
Right, he replied, reaching for another file on another old case that hadnt been solved and never would be.
When he glanced up in surprise, all he got was her back, but he smiled anyhow.
Captain John Henry looked up from the stack of departmental reports hed been perusing as the door to his small office closed and he registered the identity of the unmistakable voice he hadnt heard for several months. Frye.
They eyed one another for a moment, taking stock. Theyd worked together for six years, they respected one another, and they took nothing for granted. She stood in front of his desk as relaxed as she ever got, which was to say, hands loose at her sides but muscles coiled and set to spring. He leaned back in the leather chair, his one concession to comfort, with his summer-weight blended gabardine jacket on, tie tightly knotted beneath a snowy white collar, his handsome mahogany features inscrutable. He placed his pen on the desktop.
I take you have something to say?
Yes, sir. Im ready to work.
He sighed. Sit down, Sergeant.
She did, crossing one calf over the opposite knee, her hands motionless on the armrest. The last time shed sat in this room, shed come perilously close to insubordination and had nearly torpedoed her career. Catherine had been sitting beside her, and Henry had asked the psychiatrist to put her own life in danger. Rebecca had disagreedvocally and repeatedly. She still didnt know why he hadnt slapped her down that day, but had put her in charge of the operation instead. The one time shed seen him since had been in the hospital, when shed awakened to find him sitting nearby. She vaguely remembered him saying that shed done the department proud.
I dont suppose you remember that there are protocols for this situation. Frye was his best detective, but she didnt always play by the rules, at least not the bureaucratic ones. Most effective cops didnt. But there were some rules he couldnt bend.
I know that, she replied. I was just hoping to speed up the process. She waited a beat, then added, And I wanted to check out the lay of the land.
Spit it out, Sergeant. Ive got a busy day.
My desk is still out there. I want to make sure my job is, too.
Henry got up and walked to a small side table where a Mr. Coffee machine that wasnt even made any longer stood warming a half-filled pot. He poured a mug full and answered with his back turned, If things hadnt turned out the way they did, you could have been suspended for ignoring any number of basic rules of procedure. You didnt call for back up; you endangered yourself and a fellow officer, not to even mention putting a civilian at risk. Jesuswhat a field day the press could have had with that if shed been hurt. You were lucky.
The scar on her chest picked that moment to start itching. When it did that, she wanted to tear through the hard red flesh until it bled. Calmly, she said, Yes, sir.
No one cares about that, now. Youre a hero. He settled a hip against the counter and sipped the coffee. His wife bought the blend for him. He was grateful shed consented to marry him for more reasons than he could count, and every time he poured a cup, he remembered it. Smart woman. Youll have to ride a desk until I have every piece of paper authorizing your return signed and in my hands.
Im going to the range this morning. Theres nothing wrong with my shooting arm. Ill qualify and get my weapon back, so I should be okay for street duty after that.
Nice try, Frye. Not until the shrink signs off, and you know how slow they are. He held up a hand when he saw the fire jump in her eyes. But, we can work around it. He walked back behind his desk, took a thick blue folder off a pile by his right hand, and opened it in front of him. This just came in. The brass want us to be part of a task force the feds are setting up
Uh-uh. No way. Not a combined jurisdictional deal. Thats a dead-end job. Making nice with assho
She clamped her jaws closed so hard she was certain Henry could hear them snap. Shed expected some kind of repercussions after what had happened with Blake. The press might have made her out to be a hero, but that didnt make it true. Henry had every right to be pissed off about the way shed skirted the chain of command, but she didnt figure hed bury her in some back room pushing paper with the feds. Captain, please
Hear me out, Frye. His tone was surprisingly conciliatory. Continuing to scan the memo, he read, Justice, Customs and the Philadelphia PD are to set up a multi-level task force aimed at identifying and apprehending those individuals and organizations responsible for the production and distribution of child pornography, including the procurement of subjects.
Rebecca blinked. What does that mean? Some kind of sting operation?
Im not entirely sure, Henry admitted. The thing is in the formative stages from what I can see. But its been blue-linedtop priority. Since Special Crimes has the best working knowledge of the street side of things--child prostitution, kiddie porn, the whole ugly messweve been fingered to provide the local manpower.
For how long? Rebecca asked suspiciously. It might be an entrée back to the streets, at least she could parlay it into one, but she didnt want to be stuck in bureaucratic limbo indefinitely. There might be another important perk involved, too. If she worked the kiddie porn angle, shed eventually get up close and personal with the mob guys running the street side of all of it, and one of them, she was certain, had contracted to kill two cops. Bad mistake. Weeks, months?
Dont know. He shrugged. I cant imagine it will move all that quickly, but who knows. For the time being, its the closest thing to street duty youre going to see.
He closed the folder and fixed her with a steady stare. Youve got a few choices, Sergeant. The Commissioner would love to promote youthey like good press. Accept the Lieutenants bars, make the department look good, and you could probably transfer to some nice administrative position.
Behind a desk.
Or? Rebecca queried, although she already knew the answer.
Go through channels and get your psych clearance, take this assignment, and when I think youre ready, well move you back to catching active cases.
There wasnt much to think about. She stood, her expression nearly blank. Who do I liaise with?
He opened the folder, jotted down a name and number, and handed it to her. Avery Clark, US Department of Justice. Thats the local number. You can have one of our people for legwork and well pull a uniform to handle the paperwork from our end. Organized Crime has at least one detective undercover working the prostitution angle. Youll have to figure out how to make contact there. I dont have to tell you that whenever weve got people in that position, any move that might expose them can be risky.
She thought about Jimmy Hogan and Jeff Cruz. Two dead cops, one of them a partner she had lost. No, sir. You dont.
And this is an administrative position, Frye. You need street intel, you get someone else to get it. Am I clear?
At 7:35 a.m. Catherine opened the door that separated her office from the patient waiting area. Joyce had not arrived yet, but her first patient had. This morning, she was in uniform. Creased navy blue trousers, pale blue shirt with placket pockets over each breast, a narrow black tie, small bits of silver on collar and cuffs shined to a high polish. She was standing, her hat beneath her arm, her blue eyes nearly gray. Thunderclouds, hiding a storm of feelings.
"Come in, please, Officer."
"Thanks for seeing me so early."
"That's all right. It works out better this way for my schedule, too." Catherine gestured to the leather chairs in front of her desk as she walked behind it. "I take it you're on your way to work?"
"If you can call it that," the young woman said with a grimace as she sat down and planted her feet squarely on the floor in front of her, her back not even touching the chair. "I'm supposed to find out from the duty Sergeant this morning exactly what my assignment is going to be while we get this all sorted out."
Desk duty, you said?
A scowl and a curt nod was all she got in response.
"What's your regular assignment?"
"Most of the time I'm walking a beat. Sometimes I patrol in a cruiser."
The young cop hesitated briefly. "I'm usually by myself, yes."
"Is that normal? Don't officers usually have a--partner?" Catherine couldn't help but notice her patient's reluctance to confide specific details about her job. That was obviously going to pose a problem, since it was a job-related issue that had brought the officer to her. Nevertheless, she was content to let the young woman tell her story at her own pace. She was just as interested in what she wasnt saying.
"Some cops work in pairs. It depends on how the assignments shake out."
"I see," although she didn't really. She knew that Rebecca usually worked with a partner, but perhaps it was different for uniform officers. It was a point she would have to come back to in the future. "I still don't have your paperwork, so I need you to tell me the details of why youre here--in your own words. Assume I know nothing." She smiled. In this case, its true.
"I've been taken off street duty because a complaint of excessive force was lodged against me."
The delivery was flat and unemotional. Catherine's tone remained conversational. "Is that the same thing as being suspended?"
"Not exactly--I still get paid, and it doesn't go down in my file as a disciplinary action--yet. But, for all intents and purposes..."
"It's still a black mark. It's going to hurt me. I wanted to make detective, but now..."
Her voice was bitter, and it wasn't difficult for Catherine to imagine how devastating something like this could be for someone who was so obviously committed to her job. "What happened?"
"In the process of apprehending a suspect, I used bodily force to subdue him. His attorney is claiming police brutality."
"Is this the same altercation which led to those contusions on your face and neck?" Catherine asked quietly. She rarely took notes during a session. In this instance, she wouldn't need to because the look in the young woman's eyes was unforgettable. Although the information was delivered in a detached, clinical tone and cloaked in the dry vocabulary so typical of police jargon, the officers eyes betrayed her. Whatever had happened had left its mark on her, and it was something far more indelible than the bruises that still marred her fresh clear features. Did he do that?
"He got--physical. Yes."
And you protected yourself?
I hit him with the butt of my revolver. Twice.
"Can you tell me all of it, from the very beginning, just as it happened?" This was the moment. The trust would come now, or never. Some leap of faith, some need to believe that someone was listeningif they were to have any connection that would make a difference, it would begin here.
"It will be in the report."
"I know. But will you tell me?"
"It was five nights ago. Just after midnight. I was working the night shift like usual, in the tenderloin--that's my regular sector." She stopped without realizing it, thinking back to that night. It had been raining and it was a cold miserable rain. She was wearing a slicker and her cap was covered with a protective plastic case. Her hands were cold. She wasn't wearing gloves. Every minute seemed like an hour. She been over it so many times in her mind...what she should've done, what she did, what she wanted to do.
"Officer?" Catherines voice was calm and gentle. The woman seated across from her gave a small start of surprise and then smiled in embarrassment.
"No. That's all right."
"I had just come out of the diner. I'd stopped for coffee. It was so damn cold. I heard noises coming from an alley, one of the blind ones with nothing but dumpsters and derelicts in them. The streetlights were all broken and it was dark. I couldn't see a damn thing. I started down it as quietly as I could. I didn't want to turn on my mag light, because I was afraid that would make me a target. I wasn't even certain that I'd heard anything at all. I remember thinking it was probably going to be a big rat. I'd almost convinced myself that it was my imagination when I heard someone scream--or what I thought was a scream. It was just a short sharp sound and then it was quiet again."
She looked at Catherine, and her eyes were bleak. "The facts are in the report."
"Yes, I know." Catherine leaned forward, her hands in front of her on the desk, her fingers loosely clasped, never taking her eyes off the young woman's face. "It sounds very frightening."
"I didn't feel it then."
Catherine shivered, although she knew it didn't show. It was a finger of ice trailing down her spine. She acknowledged it; then ignored it. This wasn't about her, and in this room for these fifty minutes, her feelings didn't matter. But unlike the young officer who struggled so valiantly to separate her feelings from her experience, Catherine's work required that she let the emotion in, even if it stirred her own pain. She knew what it was to remember fear. It was a subtle enemy; it returned in the dark of night or when one was weary, to remind one of one's weakness and vulnerability. Focusing, listening to the words beneath the silence, she asked, "But you kept going? You walked down the alley?"
"Yes." Her voice was stronger now. "I could hear sounds of a struggle more clearly by then. I radioed for backup, and I drew my weapon. I was in the narrow space between two apartment buildings, and there was light from one of the windows high up. The fourth floor I think. Enough so I could see a little. I could make out a man and a smaller figure, a woman, I thought. He was holding her against the side of the buildings, and she was fighting him."
"I didn't know. It could have been anything--a domestic dispute, a robbery, a rape."
It was hard to imagine anyone, man or woman, facing such uncertainty and danger on a daily basis. No amount of training or experience could possibly prepare one for that. What did it take, and what did it cost, to face that everyday? "You were still alone?"
Again, the hesitation, and this time she averted her gaze. "Yes. I hadn't heard any response to my call for backup, so I assumed that no one was coming."
"Is that usual?"
Her hands were fisted tightly around the ends of the leather chair arms. Her pupils were dilated, but she maintained her rigid posture. "It can happen. On a busy night, there might not be anyone in the immediate vicinity. Depending on the nature of the call, something like that might be low down on the list of priorities."
Might be? Catherine knew there had to be more to it, but this was not the time to explore that. Right now, this was about one young woman alone in the dark. "I see. So you confronted him by yourself?"
"Yes. By myself."
You back in the saddle? Watts asked, looking over Rebeccas shoulder as she poured a cup of coffee at the long narrow table in the rear of the squad room. Sarge?
What are you doing, Watts?
What. You mean now?
Shuffling folders. Why?
She sipped the coffee. Terrible. Bitter, thick, and suspiciously filmy. She sighed contentedly as another piece of her life slipped back into place. Lets go to the range.
And shoot? His surprise showed in the sudden rise of his voice.
Yes, Watts. To shoot. Jesus.
As usual, she didnt wait, and he found himself hurrying to keep up. Just like old times.
What did the Cap say? he ventured to ask as he lowered his butt into the contoured front seat of the Vette. Man, hed missed that car. She was silent for so long, he risked a sidelong glance in her direction. What did
I heard you. She spun the wheel, pressed hard on the peddle, and rocketed onto the on-ramp of the expressway that ran through the center of the city. The firing range was at the police training academy, which was now housed at One Police Plaza, a newly built complex of administrative offices and classrooms. Although it was inconvenient for working cops to drive there for their semi-annual qualification exercises, no one complained. It was worth the twenty minutes to have the brass tucked away in some out of the way place where they couldnt interfere too much with the real work of policing. He assigned me to a task force the feds are setting up to chase down kiddie porn peddlers and chicken hawks.
Huh. Watts shifted in his seat and tried to find someplace to stick his knees. He didnt see how the Sarge managed to fit behind the wheel, her being so tall. Whats that mean?
What about me?
Slowly, she turned her head and looked at him.
He stared back. Us being partners and all.
Were not She stopped herself, remembering that something in the man, something that rarely showed but that she sensed nonetheless, had made her trust Catherines life to him. He would never be Jeff, and it would never be the same. But then, what was? Im supposed to be the desk jockey. Ill need legs.
Yeah sure. I can think of worse things than driving around talking to whores and pimps and perverts. He fumbled in the inside pocket of his shapeless sport jacket for his cigarettes, then caught himself. She wouldnt let him smoke in her ride. Shit.
LookI can get a uniform. I wouldnt want you to actually have to work
No way. Im getting a hard-on just thinking about it.
Rebeccas hands tightened on the wheel, as she suddenly recalled all the reasons she couldnt stand him. Just forget it.
Hey, Watts said quickly. Joke. That was a joke. It takes a lot more than that to give
I dont need to know about that, Watts, she assured him as she pulled into the lot behind One Police Plaza. Ill fill you in when Ive met with the suits from DC. If theres something I can use you on, Ill let you know.
Good enough. He sat back, glad to be out of the squad room, happy to contemplate some real work. Even if it was with a bunch of bureaucratic assholes who didnt know dick about police work. The Sarge could handle them. Hed give her a week before she was back on the street. Frye a desk jockey. Sure. And Ive got a ten-inch pecker.
Staring straight ahead through the windshield, she added, I never thanked you for that night we nailed Blake. I counted on you to save Catherines life. You came through for me. I owe you.
Nah, you dont. We both hit him. He shrugged. Besides, I couldnt let him waste the doc. Guess I got a soft spot for dames. But you know, Sarge, you cant let yourself take em too seriously. Youre finished if you do.
Rebecca smiled to herself, deciding not to be offended. Catherine is special.
Oh, man, Watts moaned, shaking his head in mock sadness. Youre already a goner. He cleared his throat. But I wouldnt mind if you didnt make yourself a target like that too often. The investigation after that went down really busted my balls.
She turned her head and regarded him unblinkingly. Youre breaking my heart, Watts.
Then she ignored him for the rest of the trip as she piloted the sleek car through the streets. He just sat grinning happily to himself. Frye was back. Things were looking up.
Rebecca sat with the Vette idling at the curb, surveying the address that the anonymous female voice had given her when shed called the office of Avery Clark, US Department of Justice, Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section. CCIPS.
Alphabet soup--Initials and Acronyms. Frigging feds just love them.
The four story, brick fronted warehouse looked nothing like a
government building. Rebecca was certain it wasnt. What she wasnt sure of was
what it was, and why the task force was going to be run out of there instead of
She shut off the engine. She wouldnt find out what was going on in there by sitting in the street waiting for a clue. Besides, as bad as this was going to be, there was the possibility that it could lead her places. Places she wasnt going to have easy access to any other way. Like organized crimes undercover ops. The same ops that had had lead to her partners death.
The wide reinforced door to the first floor was locked and she pushed the bell next to an intercom. A disembodied genderless voice requested, ID.
Slowly, she opened the fold-over leather case displaying her badge on one side and a police photo ID opposite and held it up to a small camera mounted in the corner of a narrow recess above the entrance. The door lock clicked open and she pushed through into a surprisingly well-lit garage that occupied the entire first floor. A sleek black Porsche Carrera convertible sat in the center of the large room. At the rear, she could make out a freight elevator with yet another intercom and no visible controls. Probably remote controlled.
Third floor, a voice instructed as she approached the
lift, and several more cameras swiveled to follow her progress across the room. The whole
set up made her skin itch, but she never even twitched. She did, however, unbutton her
blazer as she stepped into the doublewide elevator car to give her access to her weapon.
That at least was something that had gone well. An hour on the range with
The elevator moved soundlessly upwards and opened onto another huge
space, this one lit by sunlight from the floor to ceiling windows on the wall opposite her
as well as rows of overhead tracks. Through the windows she had an unimpeded view of the
waterfront and the river beyond.
Rebecca took her time getting her bearings. Lots of computers, lots of assorted electronic paraphernalia, and lots of communication equipment. It looked like a government operation from the scope and probable cost of the hardware. The government always went big on the technical stuff and skimped on the manpower.
Detective Sergeant Frye?
Rebecca turned slightly to her left and surveyed the woman who approached across the highly polished wood floor. Five-ten, , muscular build. Black hair, eyes deepviolet, about thirty. White T-shirt, leather blazer, jeans. Heavy platinum band on the left hand ring finger.
Thats right, Rebecca replied, taking the outstretched hand. The grip was cool and firm but not over-powering. Confidant, like the stance and the voice.
J.T. Sloan. She indicated a slender blond man who looked like he might have been a Ralph Lauren model seated at one of the computer consoles. My associate, Jason McBride.
Nodding to him, Rebecca said, I was supposed to meet
He called, Sloan said, her expression carefully neutral. Said hed been detained at the Federal building. Theres a meeting set for seven-thirty tomorrow here.
Rebecca frowned. It was starting already. The inevitable meetings and lousy communications that usually ended up wasting more time than anything else. With who?
Him, someone from Customs, you, and us.
What department are you with? Rebecca asked, feeling the beginnings of an enormous headache gathering behind her eyes. She was tired, and that added to her annoyance. Christ, shed only been on her feet half a day. She shouldnt be tired.
The words came as a surprise, although they shouldnt have. Rebecca looked around the state of the art room and thought about Jeff the last morning shed seen him alive, two-finger typing out a report on an ancient Smith Corona. It was too elaborate for the police department, and somehow too sleekly efficient for the feds. Your place?
Sloan nodded, watching the detective who had slipped both hands into the pockets of her trousers, hands which Sloan was pretty certain were clenched into fists. This is one unhappy cop. Wonder whose shit list she got on to pull this assignment.
Theres supposed to be a uniform assigned here, Rebecca remarked, trying to decide whether she should ask about the operation or wait for the guy from Justice. She had no idea what these two were doing on the task force, and she didnt want to advertise her own ignorance of the situation. Our departments paper chaser.
Havent seen anyone, Sloan observed noncommittally.
Jason had turned on his swivel chair and was watching the two of them, his head moving imperceptibly back and forth with the stops and starts of the staccato conversation. The two women regarded each other steadily in the loud silence--Sloan, darkly good-looking and unconcernedly casual, Frye starkly handsome and tautly reserved. Lots of room for fireworks here.
Sloan considered the upcoming operation and assessed the complexity of alliances and allegiances likely to be a factor. The past was much further from her mind than it had been a year ago, but some memories never fade completely, despite apologies and retractions and concessions. Avery Clark had never been an enemy, but neither was he a friend. Hed called her because he needed her, and she didnt owe him anything except her expertise. She owed this detective, who was most likely going to end up with the dirty part of the job, even less. Why dont we grab some coffee and Ill fill you in on what I know.
Rebecca glanced at her wristwatch, a functional unadorned timepiece with a broad leather band and solid gold face. She wore it every day, just as her father had until the day hed died. . She stretched her long frame in the uncomfortable straight-backed chair in the small, windowless room and thought about the spacious waiting room outside Catherines office. Thick Oriental rug, shaded floor lamps, a coffee table with up to date magazines. Professional, but human. Warm and welcoming. Like Catherine. She remembered that first nighther own impatience, the pressure of a horrendous case, Catherines calm, firm resistance to being questioned. A stalemate that had eventually led to something far different. Just a few months ago, two very dissimilar women finding
Sergeant? a male voice asked as the door across the tiny anteroom opened with a creak. The plain entrance to the inner office carried no identifying label or occupant name.
Yes. She stood, her face carefully blank.
A middle-aged man with thick unruly brown hair and a linebackers build dressed in a plain white shirt and dark trousers, sleeves rolled to mid-forearm, extended his hand and stepped toward her. Rand Whitaker.
She shook his hand and followed him into another bland room crammed with an institutional appearing desk, a wall of mismatched bookcases, and two generic arm chairs as he said, Come on in. Fluorescent lights in a drop ceiling and wall-to-wall dark gray carpet completed the impersonal space.
Have you done this before? he asked as he settled behind the desk in a swivel chair that squeaked in protest.
No. She eyed the plain fronted manila folder that sat closed in front of him. The label was obscured, but she knew what it was. Her jacket. Everything the department had accumulated on her in her twelve years of service. There were no reprimands, no inquiries, no investigative reports in that fileat least not to her knowledge. There were two citations.
You understand this is routine after an officer involved shooting or a serious injury to an officer in the line of duty. In your case He regarded her intently, then continued, Its both.
I understand I wont be able to get back to work until you say I can. I understand that youre supposed to be here to help the rank and file, but youre not one of us. And I understand that cops arent allowed to have problems, at least not the kind of problems that you deal with. She met his gaze directly. Yes, I understand.
Okay. Good. He leaned back in his chair, seemingly undisturbed by the ominous sounds that any movement produced. Youre Special Crimes, right?
Its my job.
He smiled. Have you ever been shot at before, Sergeant?
Yes, once. She knew it must be in the fileit had been a domestic dispute, like the one that her father had been killed in. Like him, shed responded to a call from a concerned neighbor who had heard screams from the apartment next door, and as with him, when she and her partner had announced themselves as police officers, the husband had opened fire. Unlike her father, she had been lucky.
You werent hit that first time, were you?
Did it frighten you?
Not really, Rebecca replied, wondering where he was going. It happened quickly, and then it was over. We fired over his head, he threw out the gun, and we were on him in a second. There was nothing to be afraid of.
Did you think about it later? Dream about it?
What about this time?
It had been different the second time. Shed known it was coming. Shed been prepared for it from the second that shed stepped into the dark, cavernous room. Shed been looking right at Raymond Blake while he held a gun to Catherines temple. Hed been twitchy, raving, and she knew there wasnt much time. She wanted him to focus on her; he had to be angry at her; he had to move the weapon from Catherines head and put it on her. She knew exactly what would happen as she goaded and taunted him into turning the automatic on her.
What do you remember about it?
Not much, she answered, sitting relaxed in the chair, one ankle crossed over the opposite knee. It was only a minute or two.
He opened the file, shuffled a few papers, glanced down for a few seconds as if reading, then regarded her neutrally. The report from Detective Watts says that you and the suspectBlakeexchanged words, but your partner stated that he couldnt hear what you said.
Rebecca waited. He hadnt asked a question.
What did the two of you talk about?
I identified myself as a police office and ordered him to drop the weapon.
There wasnt time for anything else.
You were alone at the time?
No, Rebecca replied evenly. Detective
Outside the building.
Yeswith a clear sight line to the subject.
The psychologist was silent for another few seconds. Im not IAD.
She waited again. He might not be Internal Affairs, but she didnt doubt that her confidential psych eval would be available to them for the asking.
Im not inquiring because Im faulting your procedures, Detective, he continued. Im wondering why a seasoned detective would walk into a situation where the risk was so high.
I felt that the hostage was in immediate danger of execution.
Yes. Catherine. The bastard had struck her, torn her blouse open, bound her hands. He hadnt had enough time yet to do anything else to her, but I knew what he intended to do. I remembered his voice on the tape, describing it in detail, and I wanted to kill him then. I can still hear his voice. Sitting there, recalling his smooth, intimate tone as hed talked about fucking her lover, she had to concentrate not to clench her fists.
Detective, Rand Whitaker asked softly, did you walk into that room intending to trade yourself for the hostage?
Rebecca met his eyes, her cool blue eyes unwavering. Very clearly she replied, No.
At nine-forty, Catherine stepped out onto the sidewalk in front of a building that had once been a gracious four story Victorian before it had had been purchased by the University and converted to offices. It was dark, the night was cool; summer was dying. A shadow moved from beneath a tree nearby, and she stiffened.
"It's me. I'm sorry."
"Rebecca," Catherine said with a soft sigh. She held out her hand. "How long have you been here?"
"Not longfifteen minutes, maybe. Joyce said that you had an eight-thirty so I figured you'd be done about now." She linked the fingers of her left hand through Catherine's. She was right-handed and needed to keep her gun hand free on the street.
"You could have waited inside."
"I didn't want to run into a patient. Besides, it's nice out here." They began to walk. "Drive you home?"
"Mmm, yes. My car's in the parking garage. I can leave it if you bring me in tomorrow. Can you stay tonight?" It was hard needing to ask, but this was new territory for both of them. She didn't want to make assumptions.
"I'll need to go early. There's a meeting in the morning."
"Ahyou've seen your Captain." She'd known it would be soon, but did it have to be this fast? Of course, there were some things that the police always did quickly. They worked non-stop when a case was new and the blood was still fresh; they interrogated people before the tears had dried and they were emotionally the most vulnerable; they buried their dead and moved on before the ground was cold. At least they tried to, until something inside them broke or turned to stone. She thought about her new patient, the young officer who was trying so hard not to acknowledge the pain and terror and abandonment she must have felt walking down that dark alley with no one at her back. Her heart twisted, but her voice was even. "You're working again?"
Rebecca leaned down to unlock the Vette. "Not quite. He put me on a desk. Have you eaten?"
"Uhlunch." She was relieved at the idea of a desk assignment and then reminded herself that the reprieve was temporary at best. "Doing what?"
"Feel like Thai?" Rebecca pulled away from the curb and reached for her cell phone at Catherine's affirming nod. "There's a menu in the door. Just call out what you want," she added, punching in numbers from memory. She relayed the order, then drove in silence a few blocks, watching the traffic, the people on the sidewalks, the city teeming with life. Finally, she said grimly, her jaw tight, "I'm not entirely sure what I'm supposed to be doing. I'll find out in the morning. It's a task force to ferret out the important players in an interstate porn ring. Maybe even an international one, apparently. I don't have the details yet. It's need to know bullshit, which means that probably no one knows anything."
"Why a task force?"
Rebecca shrugged. "To make the job twice as complicated and three times slower. The feds are involved, but they can't really operate effectively on a local level. They're bureaucrats--they don't have any street contacts."
"But you do," Catherine said slowly. No wonder she's not more upset.
"Yes." Rebecca smiled for the first time. "I do."
"How come I get the feeling that this isn't such a desk job after all?"
Rebecca pulled to the curb and turned on the seat, stretching her arm behind Catherine's shoulders, her fingertips resting on the bare skin at the base of her neck. "It's the fastest way for me to get back to work. I don't have much choice. And I do know this territory. Four months ago, Jeff and I busted two prostitution houses that were dealing children. We bagged a handful of low-level organized crime members, but we knew at the time it was just the tip of the iceberg. We were never able to figure a way inside the network, and then the Blake thing sidetracked us. Maybe this internet angle will give us a break."
Catherine listened to her talk about her partner Jeff Cruz as if he were still alive. Of course, he had only been dead a few days before Rebecca herself had been shot, and the two intervening months had an aura of unreality about it. Time and events had been suspended while the detective struggled to survive and then heal. It was no wonder that Rebecca hadn't really assimilated the hard truth of his death. What in god's name was the police psychologist thinking to let her work? "What internet angle?" Catherine asked, trying unsuccessfully to quell her anger. She couldn't believe that Rebecca's superiors didn't know that this was a tacit approval for her to go back to street duty.
"The feds brought a couple of civilian computer hotshots on board, at least that's what I think they are. They're going to try to contact some of these characters on the Internet."
"Why civilians? That seems unusual."
"It would be if it were any other kind of case, but we sure don't have anyone with the technical know how." She thought about the conversation she'd had with the computer consultant, Sloan, earlier that afternoon. It had shed a little light on the situation, but she knew damn well there was more that the woman hadn't told her. "Apparently there are so many problems on the national level with corporate and even military break-ins by hackers that the feds are stretched thin enough to see through. They're recruiting college kids to fill in the gaps."
Rebecca pushed open the car door and caught her breath as a sharp twinge knifed down her left arm. "Let me run in and get dinner." Carefully, she slid the rest of the way out and straightened up. The pain was gone.
Catherine watched her cross the sidewalk, wondering if the detective really thought she hadn't noticed her quickly suppressed grimace of pain. When Rebecca returned, by unspoken agreement they avoided further talk of her new assignment, letting casual conversation and easy silences dissipate the vestiges of tension.
"I'll get plates," Catherine said as she dropped her briefcase by the door, and Rebecca carried the take out toward the coffee table in front of the sofa. Walking into the kitchen she called, "Want soda?"
"Just water is fine," Rebecca answered, settling wearily on the couch. She glanced at her watch, amazed to see that it was only ten-twenty. Leaning back, she closed her eyes and absently rubbed the ache in her chest.
A minute later Catherine returned, balancing plates, silverware and napkins. She stopped a few feet from the sofa and quietly set the items on the table. Carefully, she lifted a light throw she kept on the back of the nearby chair and spread it out over the slumbering woman. She could wake her, but Rebecca was already deeply asleep. If she awakened before dawn, she would come to the bed. If she didn't, Catherine would sleep well knowing that for tonight at least, she was safe. That thought comforted her, but there was a dull ache of loneliness in her heart as turned off the light and made her way by the dim light of the moon through the quiet apartment toward the bedroom.
JT Sloan leaned against the windows edge in the large darkened loft, staring into a night only faintly illuminated by the glow from ships moving slowly on the wide expanse of river a few hundred yards below. Off to the left, the huge steel bridge arced over the water, its towering arches outlined with rows of small blue lights. Shed stood in the same spot countless times before, but the melancholy that had been her companion then was gone. The muted sounds of the elevator ascending in the background brought a smile to her lips. She walked to the long bar-like counter that separated the loft living space from a sleek, efficient modern kitchen, turned on a few recessed track lights, and poured from a bottle of Merlot she had opened earlier to allow it to breathe. On her way to the door, she set the wine glasses and a cutting board with crackers and cheese on the low stone coffee table that fronted a leather sofa in the sitting area. She slid the heavy double door back on soundless tracks just as the blond in the hallway outside approached.
Hello, Michael said, her full mouth curving into a soft smile.
Hey. Stepping forward, Sloan slid her arm around the slender womans waist and pulled her close to kiss her. Shed only intended to say hello, but the touch of her, the faint hint of her perfume, settled the lingering uneasiness in her stomach that had been plaguing her all afternoon, and she brought her other hand under the hair at the back of Michaels neck, caressing the smooth skin while she explored her mouth. Finally she lifted her lips a whisper and murmured, Welcome home.
Yes, Michael said softly. It certainly is. She leaned back in Sloans arms and studied her intently. Are you all right?
Sloan smiled ruefully. Just missing you.
Uh huh. And as smooth as ever. Michael reached for her hand and gave it a tug. Come on, lets take this inside.
Sloan grabbed one of the suitcases and followed. Inside the door, Michael kicked off her heels, shed her suit jacket to the back of a chrome and leather Breuer chair, and pulled her silk blouse from the waistband of her skirt.
Tired? Sloan asked, resting her palm against the small of Michaels back, under the fabric, on her skin. It was always like this when shed been gone. She had to keep touching her, just to be sure. That she was back, that she wasnt a dream.
Yes, Michel replied. She found Sloans hand again and drew her around to the sofa. When they were settled, she reached for the wine. This is wonderful. Just one of the many reasons that I love you.
How was Detroit?
Michael groaned. Hot and smoky. Four days felt like a month.
And the meetings?
They went well. Michael sipped the full-bodied red wine and sighed. A decade ago, the catch word was image. Image was everything. Now, thank god, innovation is everything. Daimler-Chrysler has a new team of design consultants and I have a lot of work to do.
Michael smiled. Thanks.
Are you going to have to go back? Sloan tried to keep her tone casual, but she hated it when Michael traveled, which as head of her own company, Innova Design Consultants, she did frequently. She just plain old missed her. Nothing felt quite right, no matter how busy her days might be, when at the end of the night Michael wasnt beside her in bed.
Not often, Michael answered, glancing at Sloan quickly. She lifted a hand, ran her fingers lightly along the edge of her jaw. Danny will do that. He likes to travel. I dont. Michael hooked her fingers under the collar of Sloans T-shirt and pulled until the other woman was leaning toward her, then kissed her. I dont like being away from you either.
I know that. Sorry.
Then, patting her lap with her free hand, Michael said, Stretch out, put your head down here, and tell me whats going on.
Sloan considered protesting, but she knew it would do no good. Michael read her too well. Besides, she wanted to talk. She just hadnt quite gotten used to doing it, even after a year of never being disappointed. With a grateful sigh, she turned and laid her head in Michaels lap and closed her eyes.
So, Michael asked, running strands of thick dark hair through her fingers, talk. You're edgy and something is not right.
I took that job with Justice.
Michael stiffened, her hand stilling on Sloans cheek. When?
Two day ago. Sloan opened her eyes, reached into the back pocket of her jeans, and removed a thin black leather case. She held it up, allowing it to fall open. Im an official civilian consultant, ID badge and all.
What about Jason?
Michael considered the night she'd sat on this couch for the first time, a little over a year before, and listened to Sloan's tale of Justice and the injustices done in the name of patriotism and honor and national security. She remembered every anguished word, and every tremor of pain in Sloan's body, and now her own anger at the memory threatened to make her voice harsh. Tenderly, still stroking her lover's face, she took a deep breath and asked quietly, "What about everything that happened before?"
"They made nice; all is forgiven." She said it lightly, but her shoulders were tight against Michael's thigh.
"I don't care about them. I care about you. Are you all right to work with them again?"
Sloan turned her face and pressed her cheek against Michael's breast,
brushing her lips over the swell of flesh beneath the sheer fabric. "I'm okay with
"Is it dangerous?"
"No." Sloan laughed. "I'll just be doing some net trolling, looking for sites that are clearing houses for the hard core porn sites and trying to find any that are actually making the stuff. Especially the videos. Jason is going to play net bait and see if he can make contact with anyone that way. The police will be doing the search and seizure part of itif we ever get that far."
"You're sure?" Michael leaned over, kissed her again, and this time her kiss was hungry. "I don't want you hurt."
Raising one hand and encircling Michael's neck, Sloan pulled her down, shifting on the couch until they were lying side by side. As she slid her hand beneath the edge of Michael's skirt, finding warm soft skin awaiting her, she whispered huskily, "Don't worry. I'm a cybersleuth. Safest job in the world."
Michael worked a hand between them, deftly opening the buttons on the denim fly. Moving her hand inside, swiftly rewarded by Sloan's soft groan and the subtle lift of her hips, she brought her lips to Sloan's ear. "It had better be. Your services are required right here at home, and I need you all in one piece."
Sloan meant to answer with something clever, but Michael's fingers found her and she was lost. It was nearly dawn before she caught her breath again.
Return to The Bard's Corner