Split Second by Stone

Split Second
by Stone

Part 1

“Stop! I can’t take anymore.” Rachael Stevens let go of the bed sheet and fisted her hand in the head of hair between her legs, but quickly let go realizing it only fueled her actions on. “Please, Lauren. I’m going to die. If I don’t die of exhaustion then… I’m going to…die of starvation.” As her hips began to thrust against the insistent mouth, Rachael reached for the hands that were like vice grips on the cheeks of her ass. Before she could attempt to remove Lauren’s hands, Rachael’s body bolted almost upright as her third orgasm of the afternoon tore through her body. “That is so it, Lauren. Get…away from me. I can’t move a muscle.”

Lauren chuckled as she climbed up Rachael’s body. “But…”

“But? No but’s. Are you trying to kill me?”

“Rachael, I haven’t seen you in two weeks.”

Rachael laughed. “You’ve seen me almost every day for the last two weeks.”

Lauren just stared at her with an angry pout.

Rachael’s sudden smirk was sexy. “Well, it’s true.”

“You know what I mean. I haven’t been able to touch you in almost two weeks.”

Rachael’s strength was returning so she was able to roll Lauren off her. “That’s not my fault.” Lauren tried to pull Rachael to her, but she rolled away. “No, we need to talk.”

Lauren fell back into the pillows and put her arm over her eyes. “Can’t we talk later?”

“No. I have to work later.”

“Damn it, Rachael. We agreed that we would take today off.”

Rachael touched her arm to try to calm her down. “I know, I know. Lauren, if it weren’t important I wouldn’t go, but I’ve been trying to get this girl to meet me for days. I have to go. She could have the info that David and I need to close this case before someone else dies.”

“Well then, I guess we need to stop wasting precious time.” She started biting softly on Rachael’s neck.

Rachael took Lauren’s face in her hands before she could awaken her body, again. “I’m not finished talking.”

Lauren groaned. “I don’t want to talk. I want to get back to your neck and find that spot that makes you forget how to talk.”

“I’m serious, Lauren. We haven’t really talked in months. We’re spending less and less private time together. We really need to talk.”

Lauren knew by the tone in Rachael’s voice that there would be no way to get out of this conversation. “You’re right. What do you want to talk about?”

Rachael arranged her pillows against the headboard and sat up against them. When she looked up, she noticed that Lauren had zoomed in on her breasts. “Lauren…”

Hearing the scolding tone in Rachael’s voice, Lauren let her gaze move from Rachael’s chest to her eyes. “Sorry, you’re just so damned beautiful. It’s difficult to be expected to sit here without touching you when you’re so close…naked, I might add.”

Rachael blushed as she returned the fervent look. “I completely understand. Maybe we should get dressed and try to find some nourishment before we have this conversation.”

Lauren rushed to a sitting position. “No. I can…and will control myself.” She let a seductive smile play across her lips. “Let me enjoy the view while we talk. I’ve missed this view.” Again, she admired Rachael’s body with a slow look from Rachael’s eyes to her toes.

Rachael’s whole body seem to blush at the look and the unexpected words. “You can be quite the charmer when you want to be, Lauren Henderson.”

Lauren just smiled and went about enjoying her view.

Rachael was hoping to catch up on what was happening in Lauren’s life lately. They had not spent a lot of private time together in the past few months and those brief meetings were spent in bed. “I saw you at Frankie’s on Wednesday night. You looked…nice.”

Lauren looked away before replying. “Thanks. I thought you hated that restaurant.”

“I do. I dropped David off to meet his wife for dinner. He insisted I come in and say hello. The man sitting at the table with you looked familiar.”

Lauren looked at the bed and started fidgeting with the bedclothes. “He should. It was Eric Holmes, the Assistant DA.”

“You two looked like you were in a tense conversation. We mess up on something to make his job more difficult or something? Was he giving you a hard time?”

There was a long uneasy silence before Lauren looked at Rachael. “No, he wasn’t giving me a hard time.” She looked back at the bed. “It wasn’t business.”

Rachael pulled the sheet up covering her breasts feeling very exposed suddenly. “It wasn’t business? What do you mean?” Rachael knew that Lauren dated occasionally to keep up the pretense of being straight, but the tone in Lauren’s voice and the look on her face were distressing.

Lauren didn’t miss the fact that she had suddenly lost the privilege of seeing Rachael’s body. “I’m sorry, Rachael. It was a date.”

Rachael hated talking about this part of their life, but was urged to continue by an annoying feeling that somehow this was different. “How long have you dated him? As I said, you two looked intense.”

“I don’t know. Awhile.” Again, she looked away. Refusing to meet Rachael’s probing stare. “He’s a very sweet, patient man. You would like him, Rachael. He’s a good man.”

Rachael’s tolerance of the subject was becoming too difficult. She tightened her grip on the sheet that was already tightly held to her chest. “What is this about? What are you not saying, Lauren?”

Lauren knew this time would come, but she was not prepared for the hard ache in her heart. She knew a long time ago that she was in love with Rachael, but thought having her close would make their separate lives bearable. She had worked hard for her position and they both agreed that they would not risk their careers by allowing their affair to be known. Her position as only the second female Chief of Atlanta PD and Rachael’s new promotion to the Sex Crimes Division were the most important thing to each of them. “What am…I not saying? Rachael…Eric has proposed to me.”

Rachael couldn’t speak at first. She assumed that she must have misunderstood and rushed to clarify. “Proposed? As in marriage proposal?”

Lauren’s voice was barely audible. “Yes.”

Rachael spoke aloud, but she was letting the thoughts going through her mind have a voice, not speaking to Lauren. “Wait a minute. You’ve been…dating him awhile. You two were having a…very intense conversation…” She closed her eyes. “How long have you been sleeping with him?”

Lauren reached out to her. “Rachael…”

Rachel pulled away harshly and pinned her with a stare. “How long, Lauren?”

Lauren hung her head and clasped her hands together. “Four months.”

Rachael felt sick. She got off the bed and stood on shaky legs, wrapping the sheet around her still naked body. “I want you to leave.” Her voice was too calm even to her own ears.

“We can talk about this, Rachael.”

Rachael turned and looked at her as if she were crazy. “There is nothing to talk about. Just…go.”

Lauren started getting dressed slowly. “Why did you wait ’til now to ask me about Eric? Why didn’t you ask me when I got here?”

Rachael’s hurt and confusion were quickly turning to anger. She chuckled sarcastically and started walking toward the bedroom door. “That would have been difficult with your tongue in my mouth and my clothes flying all over the room.”

“Rachael, wait!” Lauren rushed to catch her. “You have to let me explain. We need to talk.”

“No! You need to go.” Rachael walked around her and opened the door. “Now!”

Lauren slammed the door on her way out and Rachael cried herself to sleep.

**********

“Have you been drinking?” Rachael Stevens glared at her partner, David Snell, as they stood in the underground parking garage, the glow of a nearby light bathing them in orange.

They had left headquarters only minutes before, but Rachael was already sweating, rivulets of moisture gathering between her shoulder blades and running down her back. August was not a good month for Atlanta and she had started out the shift in a bad mood. Her eyes were swollen and red from crying and she just wanted to forget Lauren Henderson for a while. She didn’t need David out of it, too. She had enough to handle tonight.

When he didn’t answer, she repeated her question. “I said have you been drinking?”

“What’re you gonna do if the answer’s yes, Rachael?” Leaning his elbows on the roof of their unmarked ride, a five-year-old Crown Victoria that had seen happier times, David gave her a lopsided grin. “Spank me for being a bad boy?”

She narrowed her eyes and stared at him.

When she had joined the Sex Crimes Division at APD, Rachael had heard a lot of rumors about David Snell and his successes. According to some, his promotions had come too fast and too easily. Rachael had been so thrilled to get her assignment in the prestigious unit that she hadn’t cared, one way or the other.

Given that kind of success, though, she had prepared herself for someone cocky and obnoxious, someone who would be free with the constant teasing and sexual innuendo that were standard fare in the police department. She had vowed ahead of time to dismiss any problems. Crap like that was part of working in a man’s world, and you handled it and went on. But David had surprised her. Rumors aside, he hadn’t come on to her even once, and more important, he had turned out to be a much better cop than she had ever expected. Until lately.

Over the past few months, Rachael had felt as if she were watching a car wreck in slow motion. The topnotch officer with the arrest record that she envied had started to disappear, one piece at a time.

First, he would come to work unprepared and confused, his clothing disheveled and his face unshaven. His hours had then become erratic and his behavior unpredictable. Last Friday, she thought she caught a whiff of alcohol when she brushed past him in the hall. This morning, when she smelled it again, she was sure.

“No, I’m not going to spank you.” Slamming her car door, Rachael walked around the rear of the vehicle and came to where he stood. Up close, the fumes were really strong and she wrinkled her nose in disgust. “I’m not going to do anything with you, Snell, including work. You’re a disaster waiting to happen.”

He put his hand on her shoulder and leaned closer. She had to hold her breath. “It’s been a bad day, Rach. Gimme a break and I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”

She looked into his red eyes, the refusal she had been about to voice dying on her lips along with her anger. The sudden and unexpected hopelessness in his gaze shocked her, but Rachael hid it. “What’s up, David?” She spoke calmly, as if talking to a child. “What’s wrong? You haven’t been yourself for weeks.”

He laughed, but the sound had a hollowness to it. “I haven’t been myself? What the hell is myself? Where am I? Who am I?” He was leaning so heavily against her that Rachael had to brace her hip against the fender to maintain her balance. “Tell me how to be who I am and I’ll be happy to act like I’m supposed to.”

The sound of voices echoed over the concrete and Rachael looked up to see a group of uniformed officers spilling out of the elevator. She could feel their stares across the hot, steamy garage and she tried to back away, but David held her fast. Someone snickered then laughter rang out.

“Tell me who I am, Rachael.” His pleading voice held a quality she hadn’t heard before. “Tell me who I am ’cause I’m balancing on a thin line here, baby.”

Rachael lifted his hands off her shoulders and dropped them, his rambling discourse too strange to understand. “Go home and sober up, David. I’ll call everyone and cancel tonight.” She started to walk away, but his answer stopped her.

“I can’t.”

She turned and looked at him, raising an eyebrow.

He shook his head slowly.

Rachael leaned against the car. “You can’t what?”

“I can’t go home. Christena says I’m a loser and a freak and she threw me out. I had to leave…” Looking as if he wanted to cry, he managed to choke back his tears at the very last moment.

“Jesus, David…” Rachael returned to where he stood, a wave of remorse for her callous attitude sweeping over her. “Shit, man, I’m really sorry.” Rachael knew all about families shattered by the stress their job generated. She had grown up in one.

David lifted his gaze and their eyes met again. He seldom mentioned his wife, but Rachael had suspected trouble at home for that very reason. They had one child, a little boy named Jason. Most happily married men she knew never shut up about their wives and kids.

“I’m very sorry. I had no idea things were that bad, David.”

He blinked. “I didn’t either.”

They stood in silence beside the car, David in obvious misery, Rachael imagining the rumors that were sure to come. As soon as they had become partners, a betting pool had started to predict when they would hook up. The whole thing had irritated her, especially when she found out David wasn’t bothering to deny the gossip, but over time, she had been so grateful that he never hit on her that she let it go. Apparently all he wanted were the bragging rights, so who cared? Now she couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. She sighed heavily. “Give me the keys.” Holding out her hand, she gestured. “I’ll drive and you can sleep in the car while I talk to the girl.”

His expression filled with gratitude and he started to speak, but she held up her hand and stopped him. “Don’t say anything,” she demanded gruffly. “Just get a grip, okay? I can’t do my job and yours, too.”

He nodded and mumbled a thank-you, turning over the keys. A second later, she was behind the wheel and he was slumped over in the passenger seat. Before she could wind the big car down the ramp and out to the street, he was asleep.

She shook her head sadly. Rachael had always wanted to be a cop, but the thing she hated most about the life was the way law-enforcement families suffered. Her mother had fled her cop-father before Rachael had been out of diapers. The youngest in her family and the only girl, she had three older brothers. They were all in the business too, and between them, they had four ex-wives and one pending.

David’s fate was sealed. He and Christena would divorce, the kid would get hauled like a sack of potatoes from one house to another, then they would each find someone else and start over, making a new spouse as miserable as the previous one. Rachael flinched at her cynicism, but the truth couldn’t be denied.

There was nothing she could do to change the situation, either. She turned her concentration to the job where it belonged and headed out, vowing, as she did every time she heard this story, that she would never, ever end up with a cop herself.

She merged onto the Freeway, quickly hitting seventy. Traffic was light for a change, but then again, it was almost two in the morning. They had wasted time talking down in the garage. Rachael frowned. She hated to be late even though the woman she was meeting probably didn’t care, unless she was charging by the hour, instead of the act. The guys made fun of Rachael’s obsession with time, but she didn’t give a damn. They didn’t make fun of her collars and she was getting close to topping every one of them.

If things went as planned tonight, Rachael would be adding to that record, too. In the past six months, three hookers had turned up at the hospital with their faces pounded into bloody masks. Rachael wanted the bastard behind the beatings so badly that she dreamed about making the arrest. After days of negotiating, she had finally gotten one of the street hookers to agree to meet her and David. Candy, the friend of a friend of a friend of one of the girls who had been injured, had sounded like a flake, but who knew? Her information might help Rachael find the bastard.

Within minutes, Rachael reached the part of Crown Street known locally as “the Strip.” For several miles on either side, bars stood next to massage parlors, which stood next to strip joints, which stood next to bars. The cycle seemed to go on forever, the signs the only thing that changed as one place went out of business and another one opened. The people who haunted the area stayed the same and so did the level of trouble they generated. When the clubs closed and the heat got to everyone, they would take to the streets and drag race. Any sane person stayed away after eleven o’clock at night.

Slowing the Crown Victoria, Rachael eased into the right-hand lane to join the line of vehicles waiting to get into the parking lot of Happy Hour’s Club. David was now snoring with his mouth open, his head propped up against the window.

A space of two, maybe three feet opened up between her bumper and the car ahead of her and immediately the Impala behind Rachael blew its horn. She glanced into her rearview mirror. A wildly colored low-rider was sitting on her tail, the two guys inside laughing and passing a bottle of something between them. One white and the other appeared to be Mexican. She closed the space, then looked back again. Catching her glare, the driver raised his bottle in her direction as if to offer her a drink, then he made a kissing motion with his lips. She held his eyes until he looked away.

Fifteen minutes later she parked the Crown Vic, grabbed her bag and opened the car door. The air hit her like a wet blanket, steamy and thick. She instantly broke into a sweat that dried into clamminess when she entered the air-conditioned club.

She felt eyes following her as she headed for the bar, but she was accustomed to the sensation. All her life men and women had watched her enter a room. In the past, they had done so because of how she looked; they did it now because of how she acted. Obviously, they didn’t know who she was or what she did, but they knew she was someone they probably wanted to avoid. She had worked on the attitude since she had been a rookie and she had it down pat.

Pushing through the crowd, she took one of the empty seats at the end of a long Formica counter, the music so loud she could hardly think, much less hear. Screaming her order for iced tea, she ignored the bartender’s arch expression. Lots of cops drank on the job, but not Rachael. She did things by the book. A minute later, the aproned man came back with a glass of something amber-colored, a few listless ice cubes floating on top. The watery concoction tasted like used dishwater, but the glass was half-empty when she put it back down. In the meantime, the bar stool next to her had filled. She glanced to her right.

The girl who sat down didn’t look old enough to even be in the place legally, much less be a hooker named Candy. “You’ll have to find another spot.” Rachael turned back to her drink. “I’m saving that seat for a friend.”

“I am your friend.” The teen’s voice was high and sweet. Rachael barely caught her words over the music and the girl had to lean in closer and repeat them. A tidal wave of cheap perfume came with her as she laid her fingers on Rachael’s arm. Her nails were painted with silvery polish. “It’s cool…”

Rachael looked down at the girl’s fingers. They felt bony and slight as Rachael lifted them and placed them back on the bar. “I really am waiting for someone else,” she said firmly. “Why don’t you…”

“You’re waiting for me.” She met Rachael’s eyes. “You’re Rachael, right? I’m Candy.”

The image of the last beaten prostitute, Suzzi Tambrola, superimposed itself on the girl’s childlike features and Rachael had to take a deep breath. She shouldn’t have been surprised, but she was. “You kinda young to hang out with Suzzi’s crowd, aren’t you?”

The teenager shrugged. “I guess. I dunno…” Reaching over, she took a deep pull from Rachael’s drink then made a face and stared at the glass. “Yuck! What is that?”

Rachael smirked. “It’s iced tea.”

A ripple of noise and then movement caught Rachael’s attention and she swiveled her bar stool to get a better look. As she did so, one of the two men who had been in the car behind the Crown Vic, the driver, charged past, glancing at her for a millisecond before he kept going.

She wanted to ignore whatever trouble was taking place, but Rachael was a cop through and through. Something inside her wouldn’t let her stay where she was. “Don’t leave. I’ll be right back.”

Shaking her head, the girl frowned, her warning almost childlike in its naiveté. “I wouldn’t mess with that guy if I was you. He looks crazy.”

“I’m used to crazy.” Waving off the teenager’s words, Rachael pushed away from the bar and followed the guy. They were on the other side of the club when he came to a halt in front of a couple on the dance floor. Tightly twined around each other, the couple saw him a moment too late. The driver grabbed the second man, ripped him away from the woman and threw him to the parquet, screaming profanities as he did so.

Rachael felt her pulse rate increase. She had been off patrol for almost three years and she hadn’t had to deal with this kind of stupidity in ages. She glanced around for the bouncer, but he was nowhere in sight. Pulling out her cell phone, she speed-dialed David and prayed he wasn’t too far gone to wake up. She had to yell above the music. “Get in here. I have two drunks going at each other and I need some backup!”

Flipping the phone shut without waiting for his answer, she pulled back her jacket to show her shield and gun, then yelled, “Police,” striding to the men who were now tussling on the floor. “Okay, that’s it, ladies. The cops are here. Stop right now and let’s all cool down.”

They paused long enough to look up at her then they resumed their drunken, ineffectual swings, missing their mark more often than not. Bending over with a curse, Rachael jerked the nearest one to his feet and twisted his arm behind him. That’s when she realized the one on the floor was the second guy from the car. They had come together to the club and now they were fighting. She rolled her eyes, then kicked at the boot of the one who was still down. “I’m Officer Stevens, APD. Get up. We’re taking this outside.”

To her surprise and relief, he staggered upright. Yelling at the crowd to disperse, she pushed both men ahead of her. When they reached the door and tumbled outside, Rachael wasn’t sure which was sweeter, the comparative silence of the nearby traffic or the muggy air she had cursed before. After the bar, both offered a cleansing change.

Immediately the men went at each other again, wrestling and rolling around the steaming pavement like a couple of schoolboys, finally disappearing behind a nearby parked car. Rachael considered leaving them to beat each other silly, and then she changed her mind. She would make David handle them. Starting to get angry, she pulled out her phone and dialed again. “Get over here, David! I need some help.”

He muttered something that sounded like assent and she hung up the phone, turning back to the two drunks.

One of them was gone. The other one, now standing, held a gun. Pointed straight at her. Rachael’s breath caught in her chest and she froze, her mind spinning. A thousand thoughts came and went in the space of a single second, but only one stood out. She held the highest rating the shooting range awarded, but there was no way she would get to her weapon before he could fire. For the moment, she was stuck. She licked her lips and held up her hands, palms out. “Look, this isn’t the time to do something stupid, okay? Drop the weapon and kick it away. My partner’s on his way.”

He said something she didn’t understand, then from the corner of her eye, Rachael saw the other man rise from the pavement and start forward. She cursed under her breath, she thought he had run off. Edging to her left, she stepped closer to the nearest car and away from the club’s door. She didn’t need any civilians getting shot, too. The one with the gun kept her in his sight, moving with her and spewing a rapid-fire burst of Spanish to the other guy. She caught only bits and pieces, but it was enough to make her realize he wasn’t drunk. He was stone cold sober and his hand was steady.

“Put the gun down. We don’t have to make this any harder than it already is.”

His face was slick in the neon light of the bar’s sign. He said nothing.

“I’ve called for backup. There’s going to be a lot of cops here any second and they’re not as patient as I am. They’re men. They like to shoot.”

His eyes widened, but he still didn’t say anything. By this time, they had almost traded places. She wondered for a second why he had let her manipulate him, then she realized he wanted to get where he was. The car she had been standing by was the low-rider that the guys were driving.

Later that night and for weeks afterward, Rachael replayed the scene over and over inside her head. There had to have been something else she could have done, she agonized, some other path to take, but at the time her choice seemed like the only one.

Speaking in Spanish once more, the driver jerked his head at his friend, who suddenly appeared by his elbow. He now had a weapon as well, Rachael realized with growing panic.

As she debated her chances of trying to fire regardless, the men exchanged a glance and that split second was all she needed. Ripping her weapon from the holster beneath her arm, she aimed and screamed. “Drop your guns! Drop them now!”

A second later, David rounded the corner.

The men hesitated, then they pivoted in unison toward David, shooting blindly as they turned.

Rachael shot back. When she stopped, three men lay on the sidewalk.

Down the street, sirens filled the silence, their wails growing louder as the police cars neared. With the part of her brain that wasn’t operating on automatic, Rachael realized David had to have called for backup before he had gotten out of the car.

The door to the club flew open and she swung her weapon toward it. Whoever was behind the door thought better of their actions and it instantly shut again, slamming against the frame so hard a piece of wood broke off.

The taste of fear filling her mouth, Rachael approached the men with her gun extended. They weren’t moving, but Rachael was a woman who didn’t take chances. She kicked their weapons under a nearby car then bent down to the first man. He was slumped against the edge of the building and he sat in a spreading pool of blood. He was dead. The second one had a pulse, but it was thready.

She reached David’s side, her pistol still pointed at the other two as she dropped to her knees on the dirty pavement. Pressing a finger against his neck, she searched for a rhythm. Her own heart was beating so fast all she could feel was the rush of blood inside her veins. She took a deep breath then held it, pushing her finger deeper into the side of his throat.

His eyelids fluttered open and she nearly passed out with relief.

“Hang on. Help is coming, David. Hang on, okay?”

He smiled sweetly and said, “Okay.” Then his eyes rolled back and he went completely still.

Part 2

Chase Davidson hated when the phone woke her up at four in the morning. The news was never good, she thought, fumbling for the lamp with one hand and the phone with the other. No one called that time of the morning to tell you that you won a trip to Tahiti or that something had come up and your entire family were not going to be able to visit after all. Life didn’t work that way. “Davidson here.”

“We’ve got trouble.” Debbie McLain, Chase’s boss, sounded somewhat more awake than Chase, but just barely.

“Imagine that.” Chase tested her theory. “I thought you might be calling to give me a raise.”

“You don’t need a raise,” Debbie said sourly. “You’ve already got more money than God and you’re probably going to quit next week anyway.”

Chase ignored the money comment. She taught two night courses at the University on the side, so everyone thought she was rich. They had no idea college professors were almost as badly paid as cops. “You might be right about the quitting part. I’ll decide after I hear about this trouble.”

Debbie’s voice became serious. “It’s bad. In fact, it doesn’t get much worse. We’ve got an officer down over on the Strip.”

“Dead?”

“Not yet, but it doesn’t look good.”

“Damn.” Chase swung her legs to the side of the bed. “Who is it? Anyone we know?”

“Guy by the name of David Snell. SCD.”

“Sex Crimes? What did he do? Wander into a bust or something?”

“We don’t know right now. Chief Henderson got called so I got called so you got called. Go find out. I’m supposed to report directly to her personal assistant.”

“Directly?”

“Did I stutter?”

“Well, no, but…”

“The guy’s partner is Rachael Stevens. You do know her, don’t you?”

“The True Blue Family? That Stevens?”

“The one and only. You’re a lucky woman.”

“Chase moaned. “I’m too damned old for this, Debbie. Call someone else.”

“Can’t do that. It’s certainly not official, but rumor has it you were requested for the case. Stevens’ family is true blue and she’s tight with the chief. I suspect the Iron Lady wants this done right with no questions left unanswered.”

“So? What’s that got to do with me?”

“I don’t approve of your techniques, Davidson, but you are the best. When you’re finished with it, everyone will know the case is tight and true and they’ll be satisfied.” Chase heard papers shuffling, then Debbie spoke again. “They’re still on the scene, Twenty-nine forty-one Cain Street, Happy Hour’s Club. Bobby Palmer is the homicide lieutenant.”

As Debbie hung up on her, Chase realized what was going on. Chief Lauren Henderson might have requested Debbie to report directly to her assistant, but she wouldn’t have asked for Chase. Debbie had put her on the case because she didn’t like Chase and had probably wanted to call her out at this ungodly hour.

A former instructor at the Police Academy, Lauren Henderson had been the APD commander for some time, but Chase’s direct interactions with the woman had been too limited for her to have requested Chase, even if she were inclined to do so. Despite the gossip, Chase had heard about the woman, she was supposed to be fair and levelheaded, but a few people thought she had gotten her job through connections rather than talent and rumors continued to circulate about some type of vague corruption going on at the higher levels. Fair or biased, crooked or straight, it didn’t matter to Chase. She only delivered the truth.

Fifteen minutes later, she was dressed and in her car. Twenty minutes after that, she pulled into the parking lot of the club. Chase had the feeling she could have found the place without the yellow-and-purple neon sign of a large margarita glass. Dozens of cop cars with flashing lights were parked haphazardly on the sidewalk and in the street. Nearly that many television vans lined the street on the opposite side.

Pushing through the reporters and sight-seers, Chase spotted Bobby Palmer. Simultaneously yelling into a cell phone, talking to two other cops and answering a reporter’s questions, the African-American lieutenant saw Chase and motioned her forward.

Chase nodded but took her time, looking around first. A blue plastic sheet covered a body, but it was the only one. Scanning the scene, she searched for Rachael Stevens. She popped off about Rachael’s family’s nickname, but in truth, she wasn’t sure if she would even recognize the woman. She was supposed to be a looker and very, very smart…so naturally most of the male cops hated her and/or lusted after her. Chase couldn’t think of a more volatile mix inside a police department, resentment and sexual tension. Wonderful, she thought dryly. This was going to be a real fun case.

She came to Palmer’s side and waited for her turn. Palmer handled everyone else smoothly and quickly, then he faced Chase, his expression wary, his demeanor less friendly. Chase barely noticed. She was accustomed to the low-level hostility that followed her wherever she went. Everyone hated Internal Affairs.

They shook hands as Chase spoke. “Bad night. Any news on the officer who was shot?”

“I wouldn’t be counting on him for the next shift. They took him to the trauma hospital, but he looked like he was already gone.”

Chase held back a flinch. Most of the patients who were sent to the trauma hospital were so bad the docs swore they brought the dead back to life more often than they healed the sick. “Where’s the partner?”

“EMS guys took her, too.”

“Was she hurt?” Chase’s voice held surprise. Debbie didn’t say anything about the partner being hurt.

Palmer lifted his hand and drew a line down his cheek. “Just a graze. Didn’t look too bad, but you know the medics. She tried to stay, then finally gave in.” He tilted his head toward the blue covered mound behind him. “That’s John Doe over there. A possible Juan Doe went to the Trauma Center with the rest of the party, but I really think he has had his last enchilada.”

Palmer continued his explanation and Chase listened, her eyes going to the other side of the parking lot, where support guys had begun to crawl between the cars and underneath the bushes. Every once in a while, they would stop, open a baggie and drop something inside.

“Any questions?” Palmer finished.

“Not for now.” Chase always let the lieutenants talk, but she got her real information from the officers and the scene itself. “I’ll be in touch.”

Palmer nodded with a bitter expression. “I’m sure you will.”

Chase wandered for another half hour, talking to the uniforms and letting the details register. She was just about to leave for the hospital when she overheard two of the techs. They had been crisscrossing the parking lot, looking at the cars and trees. One of them was shaking his head as he spoke. “Even I coulda hit something. That many shots fired? These guys musta been blind.”

Chase stopped. She knew a lot of the crime-scene technicians and for the most part, they were friendlier to her than the officers. “What’s up?”

They looked up and greeted her. “No slugs. I don’t know what these guys were smoking, but they musta been shooting into the sky.” He held up his baggies. “Plenty of shells, but no slugs yet.”

“Keep looking, gentlemen. I’m sure you’ll do your best for the glory of APD.”

They grinned and returned to their search as Chase headed for her car. The techs always said they couldn’t find the slugs, but sooner or later they located them. Lodged in telephone poles or buildings, tires or pavement, the spent bullets hid themselves well.

Back on the Freeway, Chase headed for the medical center.

**********

Against the wishes of her father and her three brothers, who followed him in everything, Rachael had attended the Police Academy at twenty-one, the first year she had become eligible. The rivalry, or maybe it was animosity, between her and her siblings was nothing new, they would have disapproved of anything she did short of becoming a nun, but her father’s reaction had stung. Somehow, deep down, Rachael had always thought that if she followed in his footsteps, he might finally give her the same kind of attention he had lavished on her brothers. She was wrong.

When she had told him she had been accepted, Kenneth Stevens had frowned and muttered something about regret, then he disappeared into the garage of his aging home where Rachael had grown up. She had started after him, then she stopped. “What the hell?” She left his house, understanding, better than ever, how her mother must have felt when she left him. If you didn’t see the world the same way Kenneth Stevens saw it, you were worthless to him. No wonder her mother had hit the road and never looked back. Rachael got a Christmas card from her yearly and that was it. The lack of communication had hurt until she finally understood.

After she began her classes, the ache eased even more. Time had something to do with it, but more significantly, she made friends. She had never been very good at that and she still wasn’t, but the five people she had met during the six-month course were different from any she had ever known.

Except for one, the one she needed the most, they surrounded her now, their faces etched with concern as she sat on the table in the emergency room cubicle. Hearing the officer down call and recognizing Rachael’s partner’s name, they all came in from every side of town. Rachael was incredibly grateful for their company and support. If she had been the kind of woman who let herself say so, she would have broken down and told them what they meant to her.

Dianna McKinney stood the closest, her hand warm on Rachael’s back as she patted her shoulder in a comforting way. At twenty-eight, she was nearest in age to Rachael’s twenty-six, but she was the mother of the group. In a heartrending decision, she had dropped out of the Academy to follow the love of her life, but things hadn’t worked out. She returned to Atlanta a year later to complete her classes, ending up in patrol. Her warm eyes were filled with sympathy and pain, not just for Rachael’s injury, which was minor, but for everything that had happened in the past few hours.

Maria Santiago stood on the other side, fiercely gripping Rachael’s left hand. A Latina from the east side, Maria was thirty-three. She had a difficult time growing up in Atlanta’s barrios, but she had risen above her former life and come out a survivor. A detective, she was tough…and gorgeous. She swung her dark hair away from her face as she leaned closer. “Everything will be okay, chica.” As if her words could make it so, Maria spoke with confidence. The only hint she was upset was the Spanish that slipped out apparently before she could stop it. “Thank God, you got the sorry cabrones who did this…”

Rachael squeezed Maria’s hand in acknowledgment then dropped it as Annette Townsend spoke from the foot of the gurney. “You got them both?”

Annette was in the Missing Persons Unit of the Investigations Command. She was single-minded and ambitious and she had made her way up the department just like Rachael had, by working hard and being determined. Neither of them had a lot of free time to do things together, but out of all the women, Rachael felt closest to her. For good or for bad, they each valued their careers more than anything else in their lives.

Rachael nodded.

“That’s some kind of shooting. Those hours at the range finally paid off.”

Rachael looked at Annette as she answered. “I didn’t have a choice. When David came around the corner, they opened up.”

A voice was heard from across the room. “You did what you had to do, Rachael.” Kim Brennen spoke from the other side of the room. Leaning against the wall, her thin form dressed in black, she looked every inch the successful businesswoman she’d once been. She was a valuable member of the White-collar Crimes Unit, putting that experience to good use. She would be a lieutenant by this time next year, Rachael guessed. Even tempered and measured in her ways, Kim offered sound advice now. “Don’t look back. You did what you had to.

“I know,” Rachael lied. “But it all happened so fast and then a split second later it was over, just like that. David was bleeding and I told him to hang on and he said he would, then…” She looked down at her hands. They should have been shaking, because she was on the inside, but they lay in her lap, perfectly still with streaks of dried blood on them. She raised her eyes. “Then he died anyway. He was gone before the ambulance even got here.”

Silence filled the cubicle, as Rachael’s words seemed to hang in the air.

Maria touched Rachael’s arm. “Have you heard from Lauren?”

Rachael shook her head. Lauren Henderson’s presence would have made the group complete, but she would be swamped right now with other duties. She had been one of their instructors at the Academy and now at forty-two she was the oldest and most experienced of them. She was also the chief of police. Only one other woman in Atlanta’s history had served in that position and she had been appointed by a female mayor. To the majority of the force that had meant she didn’t count. “She won’t come,” Annette said, echoing Rachael’s thoughts. “She can’t appear to be too close to Rachael right now or people might read it wrong. Plus she’s got to deal with the media and IA and everything else.”

“Including David’s family.” Dianna turned to Rachael, her expression anxious. “He was married, wasn’t he, Rachael? Did he have any children?”

Rachael nodded slowly, instantly deciding the details of David’s disintegrating home situation would be a secret she would keep. “His wife’s name is Christena, and yes, they have a little boy. I think he is three, maybe four…” Her sentence was broken as her chest tightened. She hoped the poor kid would get a better deal than she had, but any way you sliced it, growing up in a one-parent household was not for the weak.

The curtains surrounding the cubicle parted and the doctor who had stitched Rachael’s cheek stepped in, a male nurse by his side. Pulling a piece of paper from his pocket, the physician handed it to Rachael while the other man began to clean up the remnants of bandages and tape scattered over the counter. “That’s a script for a painkiller.” Retrieving another one from his other pocket, he held it out, too. “And this is for some sleeping pills. You might have some trouble sleeping for the next few days…”

Still woozy from the shot he had given her to stitch her face, Rachael shook her head…a little too hard. She gripped the table. “I don’t need it.”

The doctor looked shocked. “You’ve just been through a very traumatic situation. Are you sure?”

His wavering image split into three men in three white coats. Each of them nodded. “All right.” The sound said he had dealt with cops before. They were all macho, the men and the women.

Rachael nodded, which was a big mistake, then she walked out of the cubicle, her friends on either side supporting her in more ways than one.

The waiting room was a blue sea and it would remain so until David’s body was released. That’s the way it had always been done when an officer got shot and Rachael expected the tradition would never change. She entered, then stutter-stepped slightly, Dianna clutching her right elbow, Annette still holding her left. Their grips were firm but discreet. Any sign of weakness from a female cop, even one who had just been injured, set them all back.

Maria whispered from behind her. “Hang tough. We’ll talk to the widow then get you out of here, okay.”

Rachael nodded, the word widow throwing her for a second.

The women waded en masse through the uniforms, eyes watching from every corner of the room. In truth, the majority of the men they worked alongside were okay, but the few who weren’t pleasant were a vocal minority. Rachael heard someone mutter, “…better partner this wouldn’t have happened…” then she found herself staring at Jonathan Hopper. A fellow S.C.D officer, Hopper was rude, repulsive and tried his best to make every woman on the force feel unwanted. Rachael read his lips as he leaned toward the cop on his right and spoke. “Five butts, one brain…”

They had almost come to blows the first time he had uttered the insult. She and her friends, still in the Academy, had been passing his table in the cafeteria when he said the words just loud enough for them to hear. Rachael had immediately questioned his manhood and his alleged affinity for farm animals, but her comeback hadn’t been enough to quiet him. He was persistent as well as stupid.

She ignored Hopper’s remark and stepped before the thin, pale woman who had been married to David. Christena Snell was in her late twenties, maybe early thirties at the most, but grief had done its job and at the moment she could have easily passed for forty. Her expression blank, her eyes red and swollen, she brushed her blonde hair off her forehead then dropped her hands to her lap, raising her gaze to Rachael’s at the same time.

They had talked only briefly at Christmas parties and the like. Not sure David’s wife would recognize her, Rachael went to her knees and put her hands over Christena’s. Too late, she remembered the dried blood that still painted her fingers. Christena didn’t seem to notice. “I’m so sorry. I tried to stop them, Christena, I swear. I…I just wasn’t fast enough.”

She blinked at Rachael with eyes as pale as her hair. “I’m sure you did all that could be done.” Her words were spoken as if they were memorized, almost mechanical.

Rachael didn’t quite know what she had expected from Christena, but this wasn’t it. Grief, for sure, anger, perhaps? She pondered the question for a second than suddenly realized the obvious; Christena was doped to her eyeballs, which was probably a good idea, Rachael decided.

Rachael squeezed the woman’s hands, still laying under hers. “I’m sorry. If there’s anything I can do…”

As Christena nodded, Rachael began to rise, but she was pulled back abruptly, Christena gripping her strained fingers to hold her still. “Did he say anything?”

Rachael looked into the woman’s tortured eyes and made an instant decision, lying without hesitation. “He said he loved you and Jason.”

A momentary confusion flickered over Christena Snell’s face, then it was gone. Without another word, she released Rachael’s hand.

Her emotions in chaos, her cheek now throbbing, Rachael stood unsteadily then turned to leave. The uniformed men parted silently as the five women walked through them. After they passed, the path behind them closed once more and the vigil resumed.

The women walked Rachael to the hospital’s lobby, arguing over who would spend the night with her. She let them argue until they reached the elevator for the parking garage. “No one is staying with me. I need a ride home and then I’ll be fine.”

Dianna looked at her with worried eyes. “You can’t be by yourself tonight, Rachael. You’ve been through too much to be alone.”

Kim concurred. “You need company.”

Rachael repeated. “I’ll be fine. Besides, I want to be alone. I need time to think about everything that happened.”

Maria stepped up beside her. “That’s the problem. You’ll think too much and get even more upset.” She put her arm around her shoulder, squeezing her gently.

As usual, Annette was the lone dissenter. “Come on, you guys, Rachael knows what she’s talking about. Let’s let her work this out like she wants to. I think that’s for the best.”

The others looked uncertain but, one by one, agreed, albeit reluctantly. Exchanging a final hug, they went their separate ways, Maria the one elected to drive Rachael home since she lived nearest her. They headed down an almost deserted Main Street, winding through the University area until they came out at the freeway again.

Maria glanced into her rearview mirror then over at Rachael. “You did the right thing tonight, so I hope you don’t start second-guessing what happened.”

“I won’t.”

Maria sighed. “Yes, you will. You already are. I heard what you said to Christena.”

“I didn’t know what else to say.” Rachael stared blindly out the window at the passing buildings. “I had to say something.”

“So you’re okay with how it went down?”

“I’m okay with it.”

The rest of the twenty-minute drive was silent until they pulled into the driveway of the modest townhouse Rachael had bought the year before. She said thank you and started to climb out, but Maria’s voice stopped her.

“You better prepare yourself, Rachael. This could get rough, you know. I’ve seen the system chew up and spit out a lot of people and sometimes the truth gets lost in the process, especially when the IA group gets involved.”

“I know that there will be a dog-and-pony show, but I’ll get through it. I’m a cop’s daughter, remember?”

As the words left her mouth, Rachael winced. Jesus, her father. He was sure to know what had happened by now. He was even more connected since he had retired than he had been in the past. He always heard the department’s latest gossip before Rachael.

“All I’m saying is you have to look out for yourself, okay? No one else is going to do it for you.”

Rachael stepped out of the car then glanced back through the open window. “I’ll be fine.”

Maria nodded then Rachael turned and went up the sidewalk, the Jeep’s lights shining on her as she unlocked the door. Inside the sanctuary of her home, she closed her eyes and lay her head against the front door, a weariness sweeping over her that quickly found a path all the way down to her bones. Her eyes were dry, though. She wouldn’t cry, because she couldn’t. She had been just a child when her last tear had been shed and she could still remember her father’s mocking voice as it had slid down her cheek. “Buck up girl. Rachael, you know Stevenses never cry.”

“Stevenses never cry,” she repeated softly in the dark. As if waiting for an answer, she paused, but there wasn’t one, so she straightened and walked into the kitchen, going directly to the refrigerator. She wasn’t a big drinker, but she kept some beer on hand for her friends. Pulling a Coors Light out, she popped the can open and was lifting it to her mouth when the phone rang piercingly. “Kenneth Stevens, Senior” flashed across the caller ID screen and her hand hesitated over the receiver. Two more rings sounded before she picked it up.

She said hello and her father answered her, his gruff greeting followed by a heavy, accusatory silence. She hated the games he played and usually she fought them, but tonight she didn’t have the strength. Something about life-and-death situations took it right out of you, she guessed.

Her voice held a tinge of sarcasm, but like always, her father ignored it. “You heard the news? Thanks for calling to check on me.”

“I know you’re alive and your partner isn’t.” He stopped there, his unspoken censure obvious. Your brothers wouldn’t have gotten themselves into this kind of situation. I always knew something like this was going to happen. You’re supposed to back your partner, not get him shot. What the hell have you done now, Rachael?

She had never measured up. And she never would. Swallowing her defensiveness, she gave him the details, leaving out David’s inebriation. Her father would be the last one to let it slip, but if the truth got out, Rachael feared David’s family might be in danger of losing all they had left now…his pension. Should the medical examiner run a drug-and-alcohol scan, which he probably wouldn’t without cause, then the chips could fall where they did, but Rachael wasn’t going to bring the subject up. “I’ve got everything under control. You don’t have anything to worry about.”

“I don’t have anything to worry about regardless. This is your bag, Rachael. You gotta carry it by yourself.”

“Yeah, well, I wouldn’t want to do anything to make the family look bad.” Her father had left the force with all the right metals pinned to his chest, and her brothers were equally well regarded. The four of them were known as cop’s cops. Rachael lightened her tone. “Gotta keep the Stevens rep, you know.”

He spoke without hesitating, his criticism slicing her heart in two. “I think it’s too damned late to worry about that now.”

**********

Noon had come and gone when Chase Davidson wheeled her two-year-old Porsche Boxster into the police headquarters parking garage and made her way up the ramps to her assigned spot. The car was her only extravagance, but she frequently left it at home for weeks at a time, driving an old Jeep to work instead. Sometimes it wasn’t worth putting up with the gibes she got whenever one of the guys saw her in the Porsche. This morning she decided she didn’t really give a damn.

Picking up the Stevens/Snell file from the seat next to her, Chase rubbed her eyes and sat for a second. She had stayed up all night, reading the records she downloaded after coming home and she felt like hell. When this case was over, she should head somewhere down in the islands, like Jamaica. She needed a break. Maybe she needed a permanent break.

Locking the car, she reached the elevator and punched the recall button, thinking of Kimberly, her ex-lover. Seven years ago she had walked into Chase’s office late one night and said that she was married to the job so she didn’t need her and she left. Kimberly didn’t give her a chance to explain or to defend herself, but that hadn’t really mattered, because she was right. And nothing had changed since then. Chase still didn’t have a life outside of work. She was thirty-eight, but she felt like a hundred. She couldn’t remember when she had her last date and she was daydreaming more and more, her mind wandering when it should have been concentrating. Sometimes she imagined herself as one of the monkeys she had studied while getting her Ph.D. They would literally work themselves to death for the food pellets that she and her first-year psych students would give them.

Chase continued to labor as hard as the animals had, but the satisfaction that had once made the sacrifices worthwhile was nothing but a memory now. She wasn’t quite sure how it had happened, but that had definitely become the case.

After getting a cup of coffee, she went to her office and dropped the file on her desk. She was on the seventieth floor and the view was incredible, but she didn’t glance at it as the file on her desk fell open to Stevens’ photo. She sipped her coffee and stared at the picture instead.

When she had gotten to the hospital last night, Rachael Stevens had already left, but if she matched the photo in front of her, she was a knockout, no doubt about it. Dark hair and green eyes. A body that looked fit and trim. She was studying the woman in the picture almost too closely for her own comfort, when Debbie knocked on the door and startled her. Chase cursed loudly as hot coffee splashed over the photo then dripped onto her newest shoes.

“Whoa, settle down!” Her boss looked at her with resentment. “What’s wrong with you?”

Chase rolled her eyes and grabbed a tissue from the box sitting on the corner of her desk, propping her foot up on the edge to dab at her shoes. “Did you need something, Debbie?”

“I want to know where you are with the Stevens thing. Any thoughts yet?”

She looked up. “For God’s sake, Debbie, they haven’t even had time to mop up the blood. Gimme a break…”

“Okay, Okay! I’m just checking, that’s all. Don’t get your panties in a wad. I’m asking for the mayor.”

Chase thought to herself. Damn, first the chief, now the mayor. Who was next? The governor? Chase continued to brush at her shoes. “You can tell the mayor I’ll let you know what I know after I talk to Rachael Stevens and find out what she knows.”

Debbie knew better than to press Chase; she had her own way of doing things and had never played by the book, but Debbie didn’t expect a real answer anyway. All she wanted was the ability to report back to her superiors that she had asked. She fled as Chase took another swipe at her shoes then tossed the tissue, wondering again about the role of the higher-ups in the situation. Maybe Debbie hadn’t been lying about Chief Henderson. Knowing there was only one way to find out for sure, Chase picked up the wet file and headed for Rachael Stevens’ office.

After several false starts, Chase found the Sex Crimes offices. An older woman with neatly braided hair looked up as she entered their area. Her name tag read, Wendy Cambell, and she had been crying, her eyes were rimmed with red and glistening.

Chase introduced herself, but left out her department. “I’m here to see Rachael Stevens.”

“She didn’t come in today.” The woman pursed her lips. Chase didn’t recognize her, but she seemed to know who Chase was. “She was wounded last night and the boss told her to stay home.”

Chase nodded with a pleasant expression and started back down the hall. As she turned the corner, she heard the woman pick up her phone and punch out a number. Before she could return to her office, Rachael Stevens would know she was looking for her. She pulled her car keys from her pocket and walked quickly down the corridor.

**********

Gingerly touching the bandage on her cheek, Rachael stared into her bathroom mirror then reached for the vial of pain pills on the counter. She regretted not taking the sleeping pills the doc had offered, but she didn’t handle that kind of stuff too well. Her cheek felt as if it had been branded though, and she had to do something. Shaking out one of the capsules, she broke it in two, then paused, her mind wandering.

When he had gotten to the scene last night, Bill Canton, her boss, had ordered her to stay home today. She had ignored his words and had been getting ready when he called her earlier that morning. He demanded as soon as she answered the phone. “Take off the suit and forget about it.”

“How did you know I was…”

“I meant what I said last night, Rachael. I want you to stay home today and take it easy. We aren’t doing anything productive anyway. Everyone’s pretty rattled.”

“I could come in and help, look at the books or something.”

“No. You stay home. That’s it. No arguing.”

She had gone back to bed and hadn’t woken until the phone had rung again a half hour ago. She was expecting, or maybe it was hoping, that it would be Lauren. This time, Wendy had been on the other end and she explained about the woman who had been looking for Rachael. The secretary seemed to know everyone on the force and she had been positive that the woman was IA, but Rachael had doubts. Things generally moved slowly at APD, but the Internal Affairs department was notorious for its unhurried process. When Rachael looked down at the half pill in her hand, though, she decided to wait. Opening her fingers, she let both pieces of the capsule drop into the sink, then she turned on the water to wash them away. If by chance, Wendy was right, Rachael wanted all her wits about her.

Pushing away from the counter, she shuffled downstairs with the vague intention of eating something. She hadn’t had anything since lunch the day before, but the thought of food made her stomach churn. She decided on coffee instead. Heating a cup in the microwave from the pot she made earlier, she stared out the kitchen window to the small alcove that was her yard.

Last night had been the worst night of her life. She tried to sleep, but all she had done was replay the shooting over and over. The few times she managed to drift off, she jerked herself awake, dodging bullets. She had looked around the room hoping to see Lauren, but she was alone in this nightmare. If she thought she would have gotten any help, she would have called her dad, but even as desperate as she had been, she had known better. He had never thought she would make it on the force. And maybe he had been right, she thought, as the microwave dinged and she pulled out her mug. What kind of officer let would let her partner get shot, point-blank? The doorbell sounded and Rachael jumped, splashing hot coffee down her sweats that she put on after changing from her suit and going back to bed. Not nearly enough time had passed for it to be the IA woman that Wendy had warned her about, so the damned reporters had to have returned. Rachael cursed and brushed at the stain with a towel, then she gave up and tossed it to the countertop, the bell sounding again, this time with more insistence. She had already told two of them she had nothing to say. Storming into the entry, she jerked the door open with harsh words on her lips. “Look, I already told you people I wasn’t saying anything.”

A woman stood on the front porch. Rachael didn’t know who she was, but she was not a reporter or a cop. The woman’s suit was too expensive and there were no cameras behind her or vans in the driveway. There was a Porsche, however. Rachael’s eyes came back to the woman. Her eyes were the color of cold ashes and she shivered without thinking.

“Rachael Stevens?” Her voice was smooth, a direct contrast to the chill in her stare. “I’m Chase Davidson.” She held out her hand and Rachael took it. “A lieutenant with APD Internal Affairs.”

Rachael’s stomach tightened and she sucked in her breath. So much for her cop judgment. Score one for Wendy.

“May I come in, Ms. Stevens?”

“Of course.” Rachael stepped aside and she brushed past her. The IA lieutenant was tall, a lot taller than Rachael. She made her five-six height feel insignificant. “Please sit down.” Rachael waved toward her living room. “Would you like some coffee? I just spilled half the pot on my pants, but I think there’s some left.”

Chase made a wry face then lifted her right foot. Her leather shoe, also expensive, was freshly spotted with something dark. “I’m wearing my caffeine today, too. But I’d like to have some to drink, if it’s not any trouble.”

Rachael nodded. “No problem. Give me a minute.”

Back in her kitchen, Rachael made fresh coffee, her nerves on edge. She couldn’t believe the woman had gotten to her townhouse so quickly. She was obviously a fast worker and a fast driver. Watching the first drips of coffee flow into the thermal pot, she tried to talk herself out of being anxious, but she failed.

She put everything on a tray and returned to the living room, sitting down on the couch. “How do you take your coffee, Lieutenant?”

She turned away from the photos hanging above the fireplace. “Black is fine and frankly, I’d rather you call me Chase.”

Rachael filled a cup and held it out to her as she walked toward the sofa, her request surprising Rachael. Rachael’s tone sounded skeptical, even to her own ears. “Are you sure?”

Chase smiled in a friendly way and took the coffee. “I always drink it black.”

Rachael shook her head. “I’m talking about the lieutenant part.”

She sat down right beside her. Her closeness made Rachael feel uncomfortable, but if she realized it, she pretended she didn’t. Then again, Rachael thought abruptly, maybe that was exactly why she had sat where she did.

“I may be in Internal Affairs, Officer Stevens, but I’m not immune to what the rank and file think about my division. I find it more helpful if we try not to get too stuffy during these kinds of investigations.”

The lieutenant took a swallow of coffee then looked at her over the mug, her strange gray eyes measuring her in a manner that left her even more apprehensive than her proximity. “If the laxity makes you ill at ease, feel free to use the title, Officer Stevens.”

It did just that but Rachael was not about to let the IA lieutenant know it. “Chase is fine.”

“You were wounded.” Chase smoothly changed the subject and nodded toward her bandage. “How do you feel today? Are you in any pain?”

“I’m okay. I would have gone in, but my boss wouldn’t let me.” Rachael touched the bandage briefly. “It’s nothing.”

“But the loss of your partner isn’t.”

Her eyes went to her hands which were wrapped around her coffee mug. She had scrubbed them for a long time last night, removing David’s blood. The red stains had washed off easily, too easily, considering what they represented. “David Snell was a good cop.” She lifted her eyes once more to the lieutenant’s. “And a good man. I’ll miss him.”

“Have you thought about talking to the department shrink? Phillip Layton is very professional and he knows his stuff.”

“I assume I will be seeing him at some point during all this. He’s part of the package, isn’t he?”

“The package, as you call it, varies with each situation, Officer. A lot of what happens next will depend on you.” Chase put her coffee down on the table. “For example, you need to decide if you want to contact your union rep before we talk. That’s your option, you know.”

“I’m not a member of the union.” Rachael’s tone changed then to sound almost dismissive. “I don’t need anyone to hold my hand.”

Chase’s dark eyebrows lifted almost imperceptibly. She nodded slowly. “I understand, but sometimes it is nice to have the support.” She tilted her head toward the fireplace and the photos. “How about your dad?”

“How about him?”

“Have you talked to him?”

“Yes.”

Chase waited for more, but she gave her nothing. “What about your friends?”

“They were with me last night.”

“What about the chief? I understand you’re pretty tight with her.”

Rachael’s eyes jerked up then. “Lauren Henderson was one of my instructors at the Academy. We are friends, but you can leave that out of this equation, Lieutenant.” Rachael knew that there were enough rumors going around the station about corruption, who’s sleeping with whom, and the all important rumors about who really deserved the promotion they received. The last thing she need was the IA to find out about her and Lauren’s relationship.

“I intend to.” The lieutenant held her gaze for longer than was necessary, then she leaned back and put her arm across the top of the couch. Her fingertips were an inch away from Rachael’s shoulder and the lieutenant seemed totally relaxed with the casual gesture. “Tell me what happened, Rachael. In your own words. At your own pace. I want to hear the whole story and I’ve got plenty of time.”

It was past four by the time Rachael stopped talking. She had been tight-mouthed at first, especially since she had explained everything over and over the night before, then the lieutenant’s gray eyes had warmed and she relaxed. Relating the same story to Chase Davidson somehow felt different. For one thing, she was an excellent listener, and for another, she knew the right kind of questions to ask. She had almost forgotten that she was talking to IA. She felt as if she were talking to a friend instead. Which was probably a big mistake on her part.

She looked at the lieutenant sitting still sitting on her sofa. At some point during the story, Rachael had risen from the cushions and walked to the other side of the room, but the other woman stayed in the same relaxed position.

“Anything else, Rachael?”

“I think that’s it. I did everything by the book, but I know there’s a world of difference between sustained and exonerated.”

If the lieutenant found the first, Rachael could face criminal charges. Needless to say her career would be over. If she found the second, Rachael’s record would stay pristine.

No one except the IA department understood the mazelike paths their investigations could take and rumor had it, even some of them got lost on occasion. A lot of officers, especially the union guys, felt the obfuscation was deliberate, but Rachael wasn’t sure. All she knew for certain was that Chase Davidson was in charge of what would happen next. She could recommend more training and counseling for Rachael, but written reprimands, a suspension or even termination were options, as well.

Whatever she decided, after her investigation, she would present her recommendation to her boss who would, in turn, hand it over to the assistant chief of IA. The assistant chief and the Citizens’ Review Committee would examine everything, then the chief would get her chance.

Lauren would make the final determination. She could send the case to the district attorney and a grand jury if criminal charges were to be filed or she could dismiss the whole affair. Either way, she counted on the IA investigator. Nine times out of ten, IA’s original suggestion became the final outcome. Everything depended on Chase Davidson.

“Whatever the outcome, you can always appeal if you’re unhappy with the decision.”

Rachael looked her straight in the eye. “I won’t be unhappy because I followed department procedures. It happened in a split second. I didn’t have time to do anything else.”

“That’s why your training is so important. Sometimes it’s all you have. Your training…and the truth.”

They stared at each other from across the room. She seemed to be waiting for Rachael to say something else. Finally, after several more seconds, Chase stood and reached inside her pocket, removing a business card that she dropped on the coffee table. “That has all my numbers on it. Home, cell, and office. If you think of anything else you would like for me to know, don’t hesitate to call, 24/7.”

“I’ve told you everything, but I’m sure we will be talking more.”

She murmured, “Oh, yes,” then followed Rachael as she led her back to the entry.

Despite the smoothness of the interview, Rachael still felt anxious as she opened the front door. Chase took a step toward the threshold then stopped. They stood close, almost touching, and Rachael’s gaze went to the woman’s hair. It was thick and longer than she had thought, curling at the base of her neck. More than one strand was gray, but she found that reassuring, that meant she wasn’t a rookie. She also found it strangely sexy.

Chase leaned against the door. “When you come back to the office, we’ll start the paperwork, but it may take a few days. Be prepared for delays.”

She frowned and focused all her attention on Chase once more. “Delays?”

“You know how it is.” Chase smiled. “Forms to get the forms to get the forms. It’s all routine and the whole deal won’t last long, even though it might feel differently.”

Rachael stilled. “I don’t think I understand. What’s routine and won’t last long?”

Chase’s eyes met hers, and she suddenly wondered why she thought them warm.

Chase spoke in a quiet voice. “I assumed you knew. Until this situation has been cleared, you’ll be behind a desk.”

Rachael Stevens’ eyes widened until Chase felt herself enveloped by them.

“That’s crazy! I know it’s the rule, but I can’t sit on my butt while this investigation is ongoing! My partner’s dead! I’m not going to stay on the bench while everyone else is out there doing their best…”

Chase interrupted her calmly. “Your team will understand. This is SOP for an officer-involved shooting.”

“I don’t give a damn what’s standard.” Her expression was fierce, energy vibrating around her “This is different; I have to do something.”

“You don’t have a choice in this matter, Officer Stevens.” Chase stared at her, the sympathy she felt for her well hidden now. “You’re off the beat and the case, until this investigation is resolved. Homicide will be handling it.”

“But I can help!”

“Your cooperation will be necessary, yes, but not as an officer. You were a participant and, as such, you can’t work the case, too. Surely you understand that?”

“Well, of course I do, but this situation is different.”

“It seems that way because it’s happened to you, but all I can say is I’m sorry. I do know how you feel.”

“I doubt that.” Rachael looked at her with open animosity. “Not unless you have lost a partner too.”

Chase started to tell her the truth, something she hadn’t done with anyone in a very long time, but she swallowed her answer as she stepped off the porch and into the sunlight. “Call me when you decide to return to headquarters, Officer Stevens. I’ll be waiting.”

**********

Bill Canton phoned Rachael that evening. “Everyone is bugging the hell outta me to find out how you’re doin’ so I thought I’d better call. You okay or what?”

Rachael couldn’t help but smile. “Thanks for the concern, boss. Knowing you care so much makes me feel really loved.”

He made a sound between a snort and a chuckle, then spoke again. “Just answer the question, Stevens.”

Her fingers went to her bandage. “I’m okay. I’m coming in tomorrow.”

“No, you’re not. We got a new rule on the books. Injured officers gotta stay home for at least two days.”

“Forget it, Bill. I’m coming in. I want to work. It’s better for me than sitting here and thinking.”

“Yeah, thinking can be dangerous, but I don’t want you back yet. You, ah, need to rest some more.”

He was bullshitting her. She waited a second before answering. “What’s going on, Bill?”

The silence continued until he broke it with a curse. “The IA Bitch, Davidson, came in this afternoon and told me there’s some kind of holdup with your file. Nothing important, Rachael, just some bureaucracy crap.”

“It’s okay. You shoulda just said so in the first place.”

“I knew you wouldn’t be happy about it.”

“It’s part of the deal, Bill. I understand how it’s going to work. You don’t need to baby me.”

“I’m not.”

Rachael automatically smiled. “Yes, you are, but that’s okay, too. Maybe I could stand a little babying, whether I want it or not.”

“I’m glad you’re not mad at me ’cause tomorrow is going to be bad enough as it is.” He hesitated as if he wasn’t sure of her reaction to what he was going to say next. “They’ve scheduled the memorial service, Rachael. Two o’clock at Tanner-Oak, day after tomorrow. Later on, there’s gonna be a private cremation.”

Rachael swallowed as she realized what Bill meant. An autopsy had to be performed and David’s body could not be buried or cremated until those results were in. They talked for a few more minutes about the status of her cases, then they hung up. Closing her eyes, Rachael put her head down on the kitchen table. But she didn’t cry. She thought instead. She thought about David and his kid. She thought about her and her father. Finally, she thought about Chase Davidson, as Bill had put it so succinctly, the IA Bitch.

Chase had told her to be prepared for delays, but what did it matter now? When she did get back, she was going to be stuck behind a desk instead of doing anything worthwhile.

Her mind struggled to cope with the chaos that had taken over her life. Yesterday morning, a little more than twenty-four hours ago, Rachael had had everything in order. Her future, her career, her very existence and now nothing but anarchy ruled. Her partner was dead, she was under investigation and her job had just disappeared. For one split second, she had the feeling that she might just follow.

She cursed Chase Davidson, then she took a deep breath. The woman was simply doing her job, just as she told everyone she was. Nothing more. Nothing less.

The situation was only temporary. In a matter of days, if not weeks, the IA woman with the spooky eyes would conclude her investigation and Rachael would return to the street and do what she had been trained to do. Instead of whining, she should be on her knees thanking God. Eventually, she would have her life back. David wouldn’t.

**********

Chase took a final look in the mirror and ran a brush through her hair. She had come home after a late lunch to change for the memorial service. She got as much grief over her clothes as she did her car, but she liked being well dressed. It was a throwback to her peanut-butter sandwich days. When she had been a kid and, later on, a starving student, she had promised herself she would dress well when she got older, even if she didn’t have the money. People believed what they saw and if they saw someone who looked successful, they thought she was successful. Chase knew better, of course. She had worked IA too damned long to believe anything, including her own eyes, but most people hadn’t witnessed all she had. Turning away from the mirror, Chase walked down the hall of her three-bedroom house. She lived in the Heights, an eclectic, historic area off the Freeway. The neighborhood was perpetually “in transition” as the architects put it, commercial property next to homes and vice versa, each one fluctuating wildly in value. Kimberly had insisted on living there, though and so she financed the place. It had been way out of bounds for Chase’s salary, but by that point she hadn’t cared. She let her have her way and when Kimberly left her, she paid her off, getting a loan on the side. The community had grown on her, but it wasn’t for everyone.

Rachael Stevens lived in a completely opposite milieu. An organized enclave of town homes and condos, her part of Atlanta had restrictions and fences and manicured lawns with scheduled maintenance. If everything in her file was the truth, and Chase had no reason to believe it wasn’t, then her surroundings fit her as well as her own did her. She was willing to bet serious money that Rachael had always colored between the lines as a child.

Chase reminded herself as she backed out of her driveway that she shouldn’t be making hasty judgments about the people she was investigating. She had attended a seminar last year about sensitivity in IA matters, where they had all been admonished to keep an open mind and let the natural traits of the officers reveal themselves. Don’t jump to conclusions, their instructor had instructed. Police intuition is the stuff of TV series, the instructor pronounced. Chase had pronounced her theories “bullshit” and had walked out. She had always depended on her gut and she wasn’t about to start doing anything different now. Especially not with Rachael Stevens.

She knew Rachael Stevens was what she had already decided she was, an honest, conservative cop, too bright to be on the force but too dedicated to leave. Her actions the other night had most likely saved her life, though not her partner’s. She had done what she had to in order to survive and Chase was ninety-nine percent sure she could investigate her until the end of time and she would not find anything to the contrary. But that one percent did exist and she knew it did because she had been bitten on the ass by it before. Also, there was something about Rachael Stevens that bothered her. She seemed like a pretty together person, yet she couldn’t shake the feeling that underneath the polished exterior something more existed. For lack of a better word, she defined it as “energy.” A ferocious, determined and potentially dangerous kind of energy. If she didn’t keep it under control, it might end up controlling her. Chase had seen too many cops who had gone to the other side in the war they were all fighting because they couldn’t handle themselves.

She swung into the right-hand lane and took the exit for the ramp. Traffic was bad. The late-lunch crowd was still on the road and the sneaking-out-early guys had begun to join them. By the time she got to the funeral home, she was almost late. Despite that fact, after parking the Jeep, she sat for a moment and watched the mourners cross the funeral home’s parking lot. The majority of them were cops and Chase couldn’t help but wonder which one of them would phone her. In every investigation, someone contacted her halfway into the case with a tip. The caller was always anonymous and always a cop, but not always helpful.

From the corner of her eye, she saw Rachael Stevens approaching. Talking to four other women, she passed directly in front of her car. She didn’t recognize the Jeep, of course, so Chase took the opportunity to study her. Straight almost black hair hung past her shoulders and it gleamed in the hot sunlight. Her sleeveless dark dress revealed arms that were tanned and fit. She had played tennis in college, Chase remembered from her file and obviously still did. As she cleared the car, Chase glanced at her legs. They were tight and firm. As was the rest of her.

Chase shook her head vigorously, as if to shake the thought from her mind. At twenty-six, Rachael could have almost been her daughter, especially in this day and time. There were certainly twelve-year-old kids around now who had babies. She saw them everywhere. She shook the thought from her mind again and climbed out of the car.

Five minutes later she was seated two rows behind Rachael and her friends. When the service started and everyone rose, Chase stood too. But she didn’t turn around to watch Christena Snell and her son approach. Instead, she faced the front so she could see Rachael’s reaction as Christena walked down the center aisle.

Unfortunately, Rachael spotted Chase before she saw the widow. Her green eyes widened and she seemed to catch her breath. One of the women looked at her with a questioning glance, but Rachael shook her head at her friend’s concern, mouthing the words it’s okay. From where she stood, Chase read her lips, then found herself distracted by her mouth itself. She had on lipstick that seemed to be made for her. The family passed by and Chase remembered where she was.

Rachael looked at Chase one more time. She had regained her composure and Chase couldn’t have read her expression had her life depended on it.

*********

The day after the shooting, Kim had picked up Rachael’s Camry from the downtown police garage and dropped it off at her house. Rachael could have driven to the services, but when Dianna had offered her a ride, she had accepted, surprising herself and Dianna. Usually independent and self-sufficient, Rachael still felt nervous and fighting Atlanta’s traffic was not something she wanted to do. As they left the memorial service and headed to the south side of town where David Snell had lived, Rachael found herself even more grateful. She wasn’t sure she would have made it on her own, especially after seeing Chase Davidson at the services.

She’d actually trembled when her eyes had connected with the IA Investigator’s and she had no idea why. Except for what she did, she seemed like a perfectly nice woman. She decided to blame her reaction on the pain pill that she had taken before leaving the house.

Behind the wheel, Dianna worried. “I wish everyone else was coming. Annette said she had something going with a case, and Maria had some kind of meeting planned. Kim didn’t say why she wouldn’t be there. Did Lauren tell you if she would be at David’s?”

Rachael’s thoughts drifted back to Chase Davidson, then she realized Dianna was asking her something. For the second time.

“Rachael? Have you heard from her?”

“From who?”

Dianna shot her an anxious glance. “From Lauren…Will she be at the Snell’s?”

Rachael shook her head. “Wendy told me that she stopped by David’s earlier this morning because she was going to give the press a statement after the services.” She turned back to the window knowing that Lauren was more than likely avoiding any chance of seeing her.

Dianna reached across the seat and touched her arm. When Rachael looked over, Dianna asked, “Are you okay?”

Rachael’s lied. “I’m fine.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

Rachael smiled affectionately at her friend. She was lucky to have Dianna and all the others, but like her father had said, this was an ordeal Rachael was going to have to go through alone. “There’s nothing to talk about, Dianna. David is dead and for the moment, my hands are tied. I want to help with the investigation, but I can’t. End of story.”

Switching topics, Dianna kept the conversation light after that, Rachael answering her occasional question. Just as they pulled to the curb outside David’s house, Dianna’s cell phone chirped. Rachael stepped out while she took the call and a second later, still behind the wheel, Dianna rolled down the window closest to Rachael and called her name.

Rachael bent down to look at her. “What’s up?”

Dianna’s face was wreathed in concern. “I’ve got to go. The team’s had a call. Something is going down and it’s all hands on desk. I hate to strand you like this, but I don’t know what else to do.”

“Forget about it. I’ll find a way home, don’t worry.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure. If nothing else, I can call a cab.” She made a dismissive motion with her hand. “Go on. Duty’s calling.”

Dianna nodded and pulled back out to the street, her car disappearing in a haze of heat a minute later. Rachael smoothed her dress and started up the sidewalk. Dianna’s support would have been great, but until she had attended the Academy and met everyone else, Rachael had never been close to anyone. Her father and brothers had seemed to share some kind of testosterone-laden pact that she had been left out of and with no mother or even an aunt nearby to compensate for it, Rachael had had to make do on her own. Meeting Dianna, Annette, Maria and Kim, Rachael had finally learned what it meant to have friends. Lauren’s success had cemented the group, giving them inspiration as well.

Jonathan Hopper opened the Snell’s front door before the doorbell could finish its peals. Sucking in her breath, Rachael stifled her reaction as the overweight cop scowled then led her to a white satin guest book. When she finished signing the book, he pointed toward the back of the house, his attitude cold and indifferent. “Everyone’s in the living room. There’s coffee and cake in the dining room.”

There were over five thousand law enforcement officers in Atlanta. Why had Christena chosen Hopper to stand at the front door and greet everyone? She had probably asked him to help since he had been on David’s team. Certainly not for his charming ways.

Rachael put him out of her mind and walked down the hall. Five feet down the narrow corridor, she found the dining area. A tiny space to begin with, the crowd made it seem even smaller. All she could see was wall-to-wall uniforms, then Wendy appeared at her side. Taking Rachael’s elbow, the secretary pulled her out of the stream of people and into a nearby corner. My goodness, Wendy, what a crowd!”

“I know it. It has been this way since this morning. So many people have come by, there hasn’t been room to move an inch.” She reached out and plucked a plate off the laden dining-room table, handing it to Rachael. “Get yourself something, then let’s go into the other room. There are less folks in there.”

Rachael held her hand up, the thought of food curling her stomach into a knot. “I’m not hungry, but escaping this mob sounds like a good idea. You lead the way, I’ll follow.”

Replacing the plate, Wendy turned around to push a path through the crowd. They came out in the comparative serenity of the kitchen. Stuffed with cabinets and open shelves full of knickknacks, the area was actually smaller, but there were fewer people in it. Rachael focused on the refrigerator, a photograph of Jason catching her attention.

Following her stare, Wendy spoke softly. “Poor little guy. It’s hell to be that young and not have a daddy any more.”

Rachael’s throat tightened. “Is he here?”

“I haven’t seen him. I think I heard someone say a neighbor has him.”

A few months ago, his car in the shop, David had asked Rachael for a ride home. After she had eased into his driveway, the front door had shot open and his son had barreled out, Christena right behind him. He had been yelling something about a cartoon show. When David had scooped him up and kissed him, Rachael had seen the kind of love shining from his eyes that she had always wanted but never received from her own father.

Rachael shook the memory from her mind. “Where’s Christena?”

“In there.” Wendy nodded toward an open area off the kitchen. “She’s sittin’ on the couch. Looking bad, too.”

Rachael knew she should go into the living room and give her condolences to David’s wife, but her feet wouldn’t move. Not understanding her reluctance but yielding to it all the same, Rachael stayed where she was, listening to Wendy. After a while, when it seemed as if they had been interrupted a hundred times, Rachael came to the realization that almost everyone present had stopped and spoken to her, some briefly, some not so briefly. Despite the lingering prejudice in the department, these men understood, in a way no one else could, the relationship between partners. The widow had lost her husband, but Rachael had lost someone important, too. Their support bolstered her and after an hour or so, she put her hand on Wendy’s arm, finally halting the secretary’s nonstop flow of words. “I think I should go talk to Christena.” Rachael nodded toward the living room. “You want to come with me?”

“Of course, honey.”

The crowd had thinned a bit but not much. They were directly in front of the sofa before Rachael even saw Christena. She wore a shapeless navy dress with a white collar, the pale lace at her neck accentuating her pallor, the dark fabric drawing attention to the bruised shadows beneath her eyes. A uniformed officer sat beside her, her hand in his as he patted her back and murmured something. He could have been a model with his blue eyes and thick blonde hair. Rachael looked closely at him, but she failed to come up with a name as Wendy pulled her forward.

“Christena?” Wendy bent over and gently touched the woman’s shoulder. “Rachael’s here. She wants to visit with you, honey.”

The man beside Christena stood and started so speak but before he could, Christena jumped to her feet, screaming. “What do you think you’re doing here? I can’t believe you would show your face in my house!” As if to attack Rachael, the woman lurched forward with both hands in the air. “My husband would still be alive if it weren’t for you! He loved me and you took him from me!”

Dismayed at Christena’s words and shocked by her action, Rachael gasped and tried to reverse her steps. She didn’t get far. In the crowded room, her back hit someone’s chest and she stumbled. She lost her balance and started to fall.

A second later Christena was on top of her, her fists pounding, her nails scratching. She continued to scream incoherently and all Rachael could do was duck.

“That’s enough. C’mon, stop it!” The cops nearest the two women sprang into action, but Christena continued to pummel Rachael, after they got to their feet. From across the room, Chase, who had only arrived a few moments before, heard the commotion then cursed when she saw what was happening. Pushing her way through the crowd, she stepped between the two women and thrust Rachael behind her. Their eyes met briefly. Rachael looked terrified and completely confused.

Separated from the target of her anger, Christena let her hysteria morph into noisy sobbing. She tried one more time to lunge forward, but the officers contained her and she collapsed into a heap on the sofa, disappearing behind a wall of blue.

Chase took Rachael’s hand and pulled her from the room. They didn’t stop until they were outside. Rachael looked over her shoulder toward the house, blinked several times, then turned to Chase, her eyes dark with disbelief. “What the hell was that?”

“I don’t know.” Chase kept her expression neutral. “She did seem upset, didn’t she?”

Rachael’s eyebrows lifted into perfect twin arches. “Upset? I think she was speeding past upset and heading straight for hysterical.”

Chase played the psychiatrist. “People handle grief a lot of different ways.”

“That wasn’t grief. She was pissed.”

“Why do you say that?”

Rachael gave her what Chase called ‘The Look’. She had never known a woman who didn’t have it in her repertoire of expressions, but her ex had been a master at it. Big eyes, curled lips, slightly tilted head. Its meaning was simple. Are you really that big of an idiot?

“Why?” Rachael repeated. “Why? Maybe because she just tried to beat the shit out of me!”

She trembled as she spoke, but with fear or with anger? Chase couldn’t tell. “It’s a natural reaction, if somewhat dramatic. She has to blame someone for David’s death. You were handy.”

Rachael shook her head. “She didn’t feel that way the night of the shooting?”

“How do you know?”

“She said so at the hospital. I made a point of speaking to her before I went home. I told her…” Pausing, Rachael licked her lips and took a breath then continued. “I told her I had tried my best and she said she knew I’d done all that I could. What happened between then and now?”

Chase was pretty sure she knew, but she kept the information to herself. “She was probably in shock.”

“She was out of it. You could have driven a truck through her pupils.”

Chase smiled a sad smile. “The doctors must have given her something.”

“Maybe. Maybe not.”

Her answer was too ambiguous to let slide. “What does that mean?” Chase paused, an idea forming before she could stop it. “Did David Snell use drugs, Rachael?”

Her green eyes shot up instantly. “Why do you ask?”

“You just implied his wife might . Chances are good that if she does, he did.”

“I’m not sure I agree with your logic.” Her voice was stiff, her spine the same. “But to answer your question, David didn’t use drugs, as far as I knew.”

Something about the way Rachael said the word drugs tugged at Chase’s brain. Rachael’s abrupt announcement gave her no time to figure out why. “I’m wiped out. I’m going home. I’ve had enough of this for one day.”

Rachael opened her purse and removed a cell phone instead of a set of keys, punching the buttons almost angrily. Chase reached over and took the phone from her shaking hands, closing it gently. “I’ll take you home. There’s no need for that.”

“A friend of mine brought me, but she was called out the minute we got here.” She took her phone back and began to dial again. “I can get a cab…there’s no point in troubling you.”

Chase closed her phone one more time. “It’s on my way,” she lied. “I insist.”

She started to argue, but stopped and tottered slightly. Chase took both of the woman’s elbows in her hands. “Whoa, whoa. You okay?”

Before she could answer, Chase noticed her bandage. This was a new one, smaller and less conspicuous than what she had worn right after the shooting, but in the scuffle, one corner of the tape holding it down had come undone.

Rachael spoke faintly. “I’m fine. It’s just the…the pain pill I took. I don’t do so well on meds.”

Chase lifted her hand to Rachael’s cheek and smoothed the small dressing back into place. Her skin was unbelievably soft and almost transparent and Chase wondered what it would taste like. Her fingers lingered a little longer than they should have.

Rachel repeated. “I’m fine.”

Chase wanted to agree, but something told her she might not appreciate the compliment right now. She dropped her hand from Rachael’s cheek. “My car’s right here.” Chase nodded toward the other side of the street. “Let’s get you home.”

**********

Chase walked her up the sidewalk, took her keys and unlocked the front door. Half worried she might pass out, Chase put her hand firmly in the center of Rachael’s back and directed her into the entryway ahead of her.

She made it to her sofa then sank down. Chase took off her coat and found her way to the kitchen, where she filled a glass with cold water then brought it back to her.

She took the tumbler with shaking hands. “Thank you. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

“Getting shot makes some folks a little woozy. Everything’s just hitting you at once. I’m not surprised.” Chase perched on the edge of the coffee table and stared at her. The paleness of her complexion made her eyes look even more green. She waited until she regained some color, then she spoke. “If I were you, I’d avoid Christena Snell for a while.”

“Don’t worry, I will. She might come after me with something besides her fingernails next time. I don’t need any more scars.”

Chase found herself reaching over to touch the bandage on her cheek. Again. “Does it hurt?”

Rachael blinked, then shook her head. “Not really. Not like I thought it would.” Looking into the glass she held, she stayed silent for a bit, then she raised her gaze to Chase. “The wound isn’t my problem. And the pills probably aren’t either. It’s just the whole…the whole damned thing.”

“Losing a partner is hard.”

Rachael’s expression went thoughtful, and Chase braced herself as she spoke. “You’ve been through this yourself, haven’t you?”

Chase wasn’t the kind of person who lay in bed at night and worried about what should have been instead of what really was. The past was over. She started to lie as she usually did but changed her mind. “Yes, I have. It’s not something I like to talk about.”

“I can certainly understand why” She paused. “But would you mind telling me? It might…help.”

She couldn’t say no. Rachael Stevens was a woman hard to refuse, no matter what the request. “I was a beat cop in New York. I’d been partners with the same guy for almost six years. During the day, I went to school and he took care of his kids while his wife worked, so we did the graveyard shift. One night, we caught a domestic in Hell’s Kitchen.” She shook her head, remembering the uselessness of what had followed. “The call was totally routine, nothing special. We go up the stairs, knock and announce and the next thing I know there’s a bullet busting through the door and into my partner’s chest. He never knew what hit him.”

Her hand at her throat, Rachael seemed to hold her breath. “Was it an ambush?”

“Nah.” Chase looked out the living room window to the sidewalk where a kid pushed a bicycle with a flat past the mailbox. “The perp was aiming for his wife. She was standing by the door, but he missed her and got Jimmy instead.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I am, too.” Their stare held for a moment longer, then Chase stood abruptly, suddenly uncomfortable with what she had shared. “It happened a long time ago. The shooter got stabbed two years into his time and Jimmy’s widow remarried six months later.” She shrugged. “Life goes on.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I’m sure.” Chase took her coat off the chair where she had dropped it. “It may not seem like it will, but it does. Eventually.”

“How long does it take to stop hurting?”

“That’s one I can’t answer.” She slipped her arms into her jacket, then looked at her. “A lot of years have passed and I’m still waiting.”

Chase walked out of the house, closing the front door behind her. She had a hunch Rachael’s healing time might last a lot longer than hers. She and Jimmy had just been partners. From what Chase had heard, and apparently Christena now, too…Rachael and David had shared more than just the front seat of a cruiser. Gossip had it they had shared a bed as well.

**********

That weekend, Rachael tried to call each of her friends, but Kim was the only one home. They talked for a bit, then after they hung up, with nothing but time on her hands, Rachael began to nitpick the entire conversation. In the end, there was nothing she could actually point to, but in retrospect the chat felt awkward. Kim just hadn’t been herself. After thinking about the situation more, Rachael decided she hadn’t been, either. Her anxiousness had probably rubbed off on her friend and Kim had simply reflected Rachael’s feelings. She spent the rest of the weekend wondering how Lauren could stay away in this situation. She wanted to know how someone that you shared your dreams with, not to mention your body with, could be so distant when she needed someone so much right now. She understood that they argued the last time they had seen each other and she knew that Lauren had to be worried about her career, but if the tables were turned she knew that she would be there for Lauren.

**********

Monday morning, a lot of officers stopped her and said something about David, but a few seemed cold, too. She puzzled over their attitude then blew it off just as she had Kim’s. Whatever the problem was, if it even existed, everything paled in comparison to the fact that she kept expecting to see David around every corner. She missed him. The conversation she had with Chase about losing her own partner echoed in her mind. She obviously knew what she was talking about, but at the same time, Rachael hoped she was wrong. She couldn’t stand the empty, hollow feeling in her gut. If it lasted forever, she was doomed.

She closed her mind to the pain just as she had to Christena’s strange behavior the day before and entered the cubicle Bill had assigned her. The desktop was smooth and completely clear except for the telephone. For a moment, she panicked. What the hell was she supposed to do all day long? Thankfully, the phone rang just as she dropped her purse into one of the drawers.

Annette Townsend’s voice made Rachael immediately feel better. “You doing okay?”

“I’m hanging on, but I’m sure glad you called. I’m looking at a very clean disk and eight hours to kill. Why don’t I come down and we can run over to Starbucks for a hit?”

“I can’t get loose right now, but I do need to talk to you, if you’ve got a minute.”

“No problem. What’s up, Nett?”

“I heard about the episode at the Snell’s. What was the deal with Christena?”

“I have no idea.” Rachael took the chair behind the desk and stared out her door to the wall on the other side of the hall. The cubicle didn’t have a window. “I guess it was just an emotional thing, a delayed reaction or something.”

Annette paused. She seemed to be considering what Rachael said. “Hmm…”

Rachael heard a warning in Annette’s tone. “Did you hear something?”

“Not directly, but you could say I have some news about the situation.”

“Someone told you what’s going on with her?”

“Maybe.”

“C’mon, Nett. What the hell is this?” Rachael’s tone was impatient. “Twenty questions?”

“If I were you, I’d be grateful to know whatever came my way, Rachael. People have a way of clamming up when things get tough.”

Annette’s abruptness wasn’t completely out of character, but Rachael fell silent. She didn’t know what to say. Apparently neither did Annette. She was quiet for a moment, then she cursed softly. “Look, I didn’t call to give you a hard time, okay? I called because certain people know certain things and they felt you needed to know these things as well. I’m just the messenger.”

Rachael stiffened. “Why didn’t that person call me and pass on the information directly?”

“Because that person can’t.”

Rachael understood instantly. “Are you talking about Laur…”

Cutting Rachael off, Annette interrupted her again. “I’m not naming names and neither should you.”

Was Annette implying Rachael’s line was bugged? She sure as hell hoped not, but an image of Chase Davidson’s cold eyes shot into Rachael’s mind. “All right. What is this important information?”

Annette corrected her. “It’s gossip, not information. But either way, it’s going to hurt you and you need to be prepared.” Rachael heard her friend draw a breath. “Rumors are being spread that you and David were having an affair.”

Rachael almost laughed, her relief was so great. “Are you kidding me, Nett? Jesus, that’s old news. Surely no one in their right mind thinks that’s true.”

“Christena Snell is the one doing the talking, Rachael.”

Rachael’s amusement evaporated.

“And she’s making sure people in high places hear her.” Annette paused. “There’s more, Rachael.”

Her mouth suddenly dry, Rachael waited.

“She’s telling people you wanted David to leave her for you, but he refused.”

“That’s crazy, Annette.”

Annette continued, as if Rachael hadn’t spoken. “And because he rejected you, you took things into your own hands.”

“Took things into my own hands? What does that mean?’

Annette didn’t hold any punches. “She’s saying you killed him.”

Rachael’s throat closed and she couldn’t breathe. On the edge of panic, she wondered how long a person could live without air, then her lungs escaped their paralysis and stared working again. “Christena thinks I shot David? That’s…that’s insane! She can’t really believe that.”

Annette sounded stiff and strained. “She’s told a lot of people she does.”

Rachael realized she was gripping the telephone with both hands. She forced her fingers to relax, but she couldn’t control her heart. It continued to beat way too fast. “Jesus, Annette, please tell me Laur…” She stopped and started over. “Please tell me no one actually believes this. The idea is completely mental.”

“I don’t know who believes what right now. Things are getting…complicated.”

Since they had left the Academy, once a month the five women had made it a point to get together and have lunch. Over chicken-salad sandwiches, they had spent endless hours speculating on the rumors of corruption within the department. The topic shot into Rachael’s mind now, burning its way into her brain without her completely understanding why. Rachael pulled in a sharp breath. “Do you think…”

“I’m not implying that I think anything, Rachael.” Annette’s voice turned even more curt. “I only called to pass on the message. Since I’ve done that, I’ll let you get back to work and I’ll do the same.”

In a daze, Rachael hung up the phone. Wendy came into her cubicle a second later with an armful of files that she dumped on the desk. “You wanna clean these out for me? I need to shred all the pink copies, file the yellow ones and send everything down to the IT department.”

Her mind still on the conversation she had just had with Annette, Rachael answered with distraction. Only after Wendy walked out of the cubicle did Rachael realize she must have said yes.

In the days since the shooting, Rachael had practically tied her hands behind her back in an effort not to call Lauren. She knew their friendship could not interfere with any kind of investigation, but if Christena Snell was spreading rumors like this, something had to be done. Rachael couldn’t allow the woman to ruin her reputation, much less bring up such serious charges with no proof whatsoever.

Besides, if Lauren had heard this gossip, who else knew about it? Rachael’s answer came to her immediately. Maybe that was what had been bothering Kim. It obviously had Annette on edge. Then she thought again and her heart stopped. Chase Davidson.

After Chase had left yesterday, she examined their conversation from every different angle, but she hadn’t been able to figure out where the IA lieutenant had been going with her queries. Now it all came together.

Rachael pushed her chair away from the desk and headed out the door. She had to find her and explain.

Chase was walking out the entrance when she heard her name called. She turned, but the double doors had already swung shut and she assumed she was mistaken. Continuing down the sidewalk, she was stopped a second later by a tug on her jacket. She looked down to see Rachael.

“Your secretary told me I might be able to catch up with you if I hurried. We need to talk, Lieutenant Davidson.”

The thought of Rachael had been with her all weekend and she was old enough to know that meant trouble. The kind of trouble that appealed to her greatly. She analyzed the situation and came up with the brilliant deduction that Rachael’s powerful personality and seductive looks were tinged with just enough vulnerability to make her one of the sexiest women she had ever encountered. “Call me Chase. I’m sorry, but I’m on my way to district court. I’ve got to be there in fifteen minutes.”

She started walking again, but Rachael caught up with her in two paces and this time when she stopped Chase, her fingers dug into the woman’s arm. “I’m sorry, too, but this can’t wait. It’s about my case and it’s important.”

Pedestrians flowed around the island they made, separating then coming back together on the other side. “I don’t know anything new and even if I did, I can’t…”

Rachael pushed at a strand of hair the humidity had dropped into her eyes. “I just heard about Christena Snell’s gossip and I know you’ve heard it too. But there’s something you should understand before you get the wrong idea. It is not true. Not at all.”

While Rachael’s candor surprised her, rules were rules. She couldn’t reciprocate. “Look, I can’t talk about this with you…”

Rachael tightened her fingers, interrupting Chase and her voice softened. “Chase…” She took a breath and let it out slowly. “Please.”

That was all it took. One word and her name and she was done. She looked down the street with a sigh then brought her gaze back to Rachael. “I’ll be finished in an hour. Meet me at the diner on Clay. It’s about six blocks north of here.”

“I know where it is. I will be there.” Rachael gave her a small smile. “Thank you.”

**********

A noontime stroll in the middle of August was not something a sane person did in Atlanta, but, restless with anxiety, Rachael walked up one street and then down the next, glancing at her watch every five minutes. After half an hour, she found her way to the tiny diner Chase had mentioned and stepped inside. The dark and dingy restaurant felt like a cave, but it was a cool cave, so she took a table and ordered iced tea.

Time slowed to a crawl that matched the speed of the roach going up the wall beside the door. Rachael thought about leaving several times, but she had to talk to Chase so she stayed and planned out what she would say, the words playing inside her head over and over. The idea of her shooting David was so ludicrous she didn’t even address that part of the issue. The pending autopsy results would prove she hadn’t. Christena had obviously turned unstable in the face of her grief.

The supposed affair, that was another thing altogether. Drawing her finger through the circle of water her glass left on the table, Rachael shook her head. As far as she had known, the old gossip about her and David stayed at the station. It hadn’t followed him home, she was sure. Who would have been so malicious as to tell Christena Snell and why now of all times? Obviously she had given the information credence and that’s why she had gone after Rachael, but it simply wasn’t true.

She thought of her conversations with Kim and Annette. Surely her friends didn’t think she had hooked up with her partner, a married man.

The bell over the door sounded and Rachael looked up to see Chase cross the threshold and come toward her table. Waving a finger to the waiter who was lounging by the double doors of the kitchen, she slid into the seat opposite Rachael.

Rachael didn’t wait for her to settle in. She went straight to the point. “Look, I need to make sure you don’t believe this awful gossip…”

The waiter appeared with a glass of iced tea and set it on the table in front of Chase. She thanked him and waved him away. Immediately Rachael picked up where she had left off. “…that Christena Snell is spreading. I know you have heard it so let’s cut straight to the chase.”

Chase leaned back in her chair and stared at her. Chase wore a pair of sunglasses she hadn’t had on when she had seen her before and they made her look even more stern. And sexy. “I am not allowed to discuss ongoing cases, especially with the officers involved in the investigation. Surely you realize that?”

She started to argue then she realized what Chase said. She spoke carefully. “I don’t want to discuss the case. I want to give you some information about it.”

Chase paused. “You can talk all day long if you like. I’m just here to enjoy a nice cold glass of iced tea.”

In the face of her growing anxiety, Rachael’s carefully rehearsed speech disappeared. “It’s not the truth. What Christena Snell is saying about David and me. She’s lying.”

Without giving any indication she even heard her, Chase took a sip of her tea.

Rachael leaned across the table. “It’s important you know this. I did not sleep with David Snell. He was a married man and a cop. I don’t mess with either.”

Chase looked at her and nodded. “That’s good.”

Chase’s lack of reaction was frustrating, so she pressed. “Do you believe me?”

“I have no reason not to.” She removed her sunglasses and looked up at her again. “Unless you’re lying.” She paused, her strange-colored eyes steady. “Are you lying?”

On the surface of it, her question seemed ridiculous. If she were lying, she obviously wouldn’t say so. As she stared into her eyes, Rachael suddenly felt as if she had been connected to some kind of psychic polygraph machine. “I have my share of faults, but lying isn’t one of them. Especially considering how important this is.”

“But that’s exactly when most people do lie.” Mimicking Rachael’s earlier movement, she leaned closer to the table. “The stakes have to be big, don’t they? That’s the motivation.”

“That may be true, but not in this case. Not with me.”

Chase paused for a moment before speaking. “All right.”

The nervous hole in Rachael’s gut remained. In fact, it seemed to grow even larger.

Chase then got the waiter’s attention and showed him her empty glass and looked around the diner. After the waiter came over and refilled her tea glass, she looked up again and seemed almost surprised to see Rachael still there. “Was there something more?”

Uncomfortable and anxious, she only shook her head then stood and started to leave. At the last minute she paused beside the table. “There is one more thing.”

Chase looked up, her slate eyes unreadable. “Yes?”

“Just for the record. I didn’t kill David Snell.”

Through the row of windows that lined the diner, Chase watched Rachael cross the street. She wore an off-the-rack navy suit that was a little too big and a blouse that didn’t match, but men and women still stopped and turned to watch her pass. Chase didn’t blame them. She would have done the same, hell she was doing the same. Something about the woman demanded your attention. Unless you were blind or dead, you had to take notice of Rachael Stevens. David Snell hadn’t been blind, but he was dead. Had she lied to Chase? Had there been an affair? Had she killed him? Chase took off her sunglasses again and polished them thoughtfully. She hadn’t actually believed Christena Snell’s vicious talk when she first heard it and she still wasn’t sure she believed it now. Regardless, if Rachael Stevens and David Snell had been a couple, their actions would have been stupid but hardly illegal. Of course, nailing the guy was one thing, but killing him was another matter entirely. Still something about the situation bothered her and she was suddenly afraid that something might be Rachael herself. The thought disturbed her. She finished her tea, threw some bills on the table and walked back to her office.

**********

By Thursday Chase finished the proper forms and conducted most of the necessary interviews. In the process, her file on Rachael had grown to over six inches thick, but what was growing even faster was the grapevine. Its tendrils had reached into everyone’s office and no matter where Chase went, she heard the rumors being repeated. She knew from experience that even if solid evidence proved otherwise, the salaciousness would continue to spread. It was much more interesting than the truth.

Picking up her phone the following day, Chase punched in Homicide’s number and asked for Bobby Palmer, the officer who was handling Snell’s death. The lieutenant came on the phone a few minutes later. “Just checking in, Lieutenant. You got any news for me?”

“I was hoping you might have some for me.”

Palmer hadn’t heard the gossip. If he had, he would have said so, Chase decided to keep the information to herself, although she didn’t know why. Chase stated vaguely. “Not really. I’m messing with the reports, doing the paper shuffle, that kind of thing. Did the techs ever find any slugs?”

“Not a one. That’s weird, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, but not unheard of. Sometimes they just seem to disappear. How’s the shooter?”

Palmer snorted. “Hangin’ in there. The docs still won’t let me talk to him. No ID on him yet. It’s driving me crazy. I call the nurses twice a day, but they’re getting downright irritated with me. They may do him in just so I’ll stop calling.” He paused. “Which, now that I think of it, wouldn’t bother me one damned bit.”

Chase understood what the man meant. No officer accepted the death of another one lightly. In fact, most of them took it very personally. “Stay in touch, Palmer.”

“You, too.”

Chase put down the phone, then picked it right back up and dialed the medical examiner’s office. In a building separate from headquarters, the medical examiner’s office stayed busy all the time. In addition to handling all the metro cases, the pathologists performed contract work for some of the nearby smaller counties that had only justices of the peace for coroners. “Where do we stand on the Snell case?” Chase didn’t bother with preliminaries. The secretary who answered the phone knew who she was.

“The autopsy’s been done, Lieutenant Davidson, but we are still waiting on some last minute reports. We’re getting to it. I’m afraid your case isn’t the only one we’re dealing with right now.”

“Of course.” She had heard that before. “How much longer?”

“At least another day. Maybe two or three.”

She sounded so unsure, Chase labeled her reply as a guess more than an answer. She hung up, her frustration only growing. Becoming restless, she rose from behind her desk a few minutes later. Until she had these last few components, the autopsy report and its subsequent findings, Rachael’s case would be on hold. And Rachael would be behind a desk, her life in limbo.

Chase stopped beside her window and put her hands on the glass, the sun warming her fingertips. When Rachael had said her name the other day, she had felt herself falling into a very deep well. Chase had been there before with other women. It was a great place to be at first, then something inevitably happened and the walls began to press in.
When that time came and it always did, it was a long climb out. And she was too damned old to take on something so daunting, especially with someone as young as Rachael. Turning away from the view, Chase went out to the hallway and began to wander aimlessly, her mind on the case. She got coffee, drank half of it, then threw away the cup, pouring another one five minutes later. She stared out the windows in every direction then made the circuit, returning to her office. Sitting down in her chair, she popped up again and walked back in the corridor. When she found herself outside Rachael’s cubicle, she wasn’t too surprised.

**********

Even more uneasy now than she had been before she talked to Chase, Rachael gave in to temptation Friday morning. She picked up the phone and dialed Lauren’s office. But when her assistant answered, she lost her nerve and hung up. Immediately she picked up the phone and dialed again. “Annette? It’s Rachael. Can you talk?”

In the millisecond of silence that followed her question, Rachael suddenly and unaccountably felt uneasy. Annette’s unit was always incredibly busy. Sometimes she simply didn’t have the time to chat and she would say so. But this pause felt different. “I’m trying to decide if I should call Lauren or not, Nett. Do you think I should?”

“I’m sorry, Rachael, but this isn’t a good time.” Annette’s voice was cool and remote. “But I wouldn’t know how to advise you on that, regardless.”

“Oh…Well, okay. I…I’m sorry I bothered you.” Rachael hung up, confusion and doubt sweeping over her. She tried Dianna next, but once she started talking and making sympathetic noises, Rachael couldn’t get away fast enough. Pity wasn’t what she needed. She said a hasty goodbye and left Dianna in mid-sentence.

Telling herself she was acting crazy, Rachael stood up and left her office for the break room down the hall. Maybe some caffeine would clear her mind of the unpleasant thoughts that were beginning to form. As she drew even with the elevators, the doors opened and a woman stepped out from the crowd.

“Maria!” Rachael’s cry was automatic. She started forward then suddenly faltered when she realized her friend didn’t look as pleased to see her as she was to see her.

Turning, Maria spoke to a man who had gotten off the elevator with her. “I’ll be right there. You go on.” He shot an unpleasant look at Rachael then nodded and went to the end of the hall to wait.

Maria stepped forward. “Rachael…How are things going? I, uh, haven’t seen you in a while.”

“I’m hanging in there. I haven’t really talked to anyone since we went to David’s service. Is everything okay?” The question sounded feeble, but Rachael didn’t know what else to ask.

“I guess we’ve all been really busy.” Maria’s expression shifted and she moved the folders she held from one arm to the other. “I’m sorry I haven’t called, Rachael, but…” Her voice died out and she looked toward the man who waited for her. “I…I haven’t had the time. Things have been kinda rough lately.”

Kinda rough? Rachael almost laughed. She didn’t know what Maria was talking about, but unless she was under investigation for the murder of a fellow officer, too, Rachael wasn’t impressed.

“Look, I’ve got to go.” Maria tilted her head toward the end of the hall. “I’m sorry but…”

Rachael lied. “It’s okay. You go on. I understand.”

Maria nodded, then hurried down the hallway. At the corner, she paused and glanced back and her gaze locked on Rachael’s. Still standing by the elevator, Rachael held her stare. A second later, Maria disappeared.

Rachael forgot about her coffee and decided to return to her office. Lost in thought over the strange behavior of Annette and now Maria, too, Rachael didn’t look up until she was halfway down the hall. When she finally did, her heart began to hammer. Chase Davidson stood outside her door. She was dressed as elegantly as she had been the first time they met, her dark charcoal suit obviously custom-made…and obviously expensive. Whoever the woman’s tailor was, knew her business. The cut of the jacket emphasized Chase’s already broad shoulders and the pants hugged her narrow hips in all the right places. Her shirt was a soft gray. A much warmer, much nicer shade than the eyes behind her glasses. Reluctantly Rachael headed toward her and when she reached her side Chase greeted her. She was a soft spoken woman, Rachael realized, and in different circumstances, she might have been tempted to label her voice seductive. Right now, as crazy as it seemed, she actually sounded sympathetic when she spoke her name, which made even less sense. Rachael told herself she was losing it.

Chase gave no indication she had heard the conversation between Rachael and the other woman, but it was clear to her that Rachael had been snubbed. Looking into her green eyes, Chase decided she knew what had happened, but she didn’t understand why. Her expression was filled with a confused bewilderment that made Chase hurt for her. She suddenly wanted to take her in her arms and comfort her. The thought shocked her so thoroughly she physically shook her head as if to dislodge it. “I was just passing through and I thought I’d stop by.” She spoke as Rachael halted beside her. One lie was as good as any. “I had to come down and see a guy around the corner. How are things going?”

Rachael nodded, her expression becoming more composed, her professional mask back in place. “Fine. Just fine.”

Chase doubted that.

“As you can see, Lieutenant, I have plenty of work.” She waved a hand toward the files stacked on the desk inside the cubicle. “Our unit secretary is delighted to have some help, but she doesn’t yet know how inept I am at filing.”

“We all have our strengths and our weaknesses.”

Rachael’s eyes suddenly sparked and she moved closer to her. For a moment, Chase thought she was going to take her arm, but she didn’t. “We do,” she said, suddenly intense. “And sitting at a damned desk isn’t mine. Get me out of here, Chase. I’m going nuts.”

“I can’t do that. Until the investigation is complete…”

Rachael shook her head impatiently. Her spiel meant nothing to Rachael. “But I could help. We’ll never get more media coverage than we’re getting right now and we should be using everyone we’ve got. If we don’t push hard and ID those guys while the cameras are running, it might take months to figure out who they are.”

She continued to plead her case. She was eloquent, too eloquent and Chase felt herself wanting to help her, which she couldn’t. She cut her off with her hand. “Everything you’re saying is correct, Rachael. But I can’t change the rules. You have to be patient and let me do my job.”

Rachael just glared at her.

Chase found herself apologizing, then she walked away. Her physical escape turned out to be meaningless, however. Rachael’s angry eyes stayed with her the rest of the day.
At five, Chase left the office and headed for the south side of town and the university. Midway through her lecture, she decided it sounded incredibly stupid. When she counted three kids in the back row snoring, she finally gave up. The sleeping thing didn’t usually happen until they were much further into the summer session. She wanted to blame the students, but she knew the fault lay with her. Her heart wasn’t in explaining the theory of personality regarding the freedom of will versus reductionism. She woke everyone up and dismissed them.

Putting the top down on the Porsche, she left the university and drove faster than she should have up the Freeway. The humid night air sticky and hot despite her speed. She was on the Strip in twenty minutes and not quite sure why; the car had seemed to find its way on its own. Things frequently happened to Chase that she couldn’t explain.

A line of vehicles waited to get into the parking lot at the Happy Hour’s Club and it was only nine. Apparently David Snell’s death hadn’t slowed things at the club. Instead of fighting the crowd, Chase turned right and pulled the Boxster into the darkened lot of a small office building across the street. Removing her Official Police Vehicle sign from under her seat and sticking it on her dash, she decided that the dermatologist wouldn’t mind if Chase took up one of his patient’s spots. He wouldn’t be having any business this late in the day. Sitting back, Chase stared at the steady stream of patrons and wondered what in the hell she was doing. Two seconds later, she had her answer. On the other side of the street, Rachael came around the corner, paused, then entered the bar.

*********

She hadn’t wanted to meet Candy at Happy Hour’s, but the teenager had insisted. As Rachael passed the spot where David’s body had lain, she started to tremble, her eyes jerking to the sidewalk without her permission. A faint stain still darkened the concrete. Or did it? Maybe she was imagining things again. Crazy things. She had begun doing that yesterday after she had talked to everyone. Maybe her friends weren’t really her friends after all and maybe Chase really was on her side.

By the end of the day, she had decided she had to concentrate on what she knew. She made a vow to take her life back and then she had figured how to do so. Her first step had been to track down Candy. Tunneling through the crowd now, Rachael made her way to the bar stool where she had sat before. A different bartender brought her a lukewarm Coke, but it tasted even worse than the iced tea she had ordered before and she pushed it away after one sip.

Candy said that she had already told Chase everything she knew about the shooters, but Rachael had told her she needed to hear the story, too. Making up a wild tale connecting the bum who beat up prostitutes with David’s murder, she had gotten a promise from Candy to meet her again.

Rachael imagined how Chase’s gray eyes would look if she found out she had called the teenager. Quickly eliminating the image from her mind, she told herself it didn’t matter. One, she would never find out and two, if she did, Rachael really didn’t give a damn.

“Is this seat taken?”

Rachael jerked her head up, her heart jumping into the middle of her throat as shock, pure and cold, washed over her. How in the hell had she found her. “No…no, it’s free.”

Chase had leaned down so the could hear her, the music as loud tonight as it had been the night of David’s death. “Are you sure?” Chase’s breath brushed her ear. “I thought you might be waiting for someone.”

“Who would I be waiting for?”

Her eyes still connected with Rachael’s, she tilted her head behind her. “I assumed it might be her.”

With a sinking feeling, Rachael looked past Chase’s shoulder. Candy stood at the other end of the bar and as Rachael watched, she raised her right hand and wiggled her finger, pointing to a drink in her other hand and mouthing the word thanks.

“I bought her a glass of iced tea.” Shaking her head, she sat down beside Rachael then swiveled the bar stool, her back to the mirror, her face to the crowd. “Strangely enough, that’s what she said she wanted.”

Rachael made no move to answer. She still couldn’t believe the IA Lieutenant was there.

Propping an elbow on the bar, Chase leaned closer. “What are you doing, Rachael?” She smelled of an expensive cologne whose name Rachael couldn’t dredge from a suddenly blank mind. “Why did you ask Candy to meet you here?”

“I wanted to talk to her about the case I was investigating when David got shot.”

“Really? That’s not what she told me. She said you wanted to discuss the shooting.”

“Actually, yes, it matters greatly.” Chase pulled back and looked at her. Rachael dropped her focus to Chase’s mouth, which seemed safer to look at than her eyes. Until she focused. She had full, perfect lips and in a bizarre flash she could only blame on stress, Rachael let herself imagine what that they might feel like pressed to her throat.

Chase’s voice broke her fantasy. “You aren’t supposed to be investigating anything. You’re on desk duty.”

“I’m on my own free time.”

“Cops like you don’t have free time.”

“You don’t know what kind of cop I am. You don’t know me, period.”

Chase waited for a heartbeat to pass before she spoke slowly. “Your mother left the family when you were barely two and you seldom hear from her. You and your three older brothers attended school a block from where you lived. Your brothers are all in law enforcement and your dad retired two years ago from the force. Your father was against your becoming a cop and your brothers agreed because he rules the roost and they agree with everything he says. Regardless of that, right after college, you went directly into the Academy where you graduated top of your class. You spent a year on probation and eighteen months in patrol, then you joined Sex Crimes. You’ve never been married, you live alone and you’re a size six.

Rachael corrected her without thinking. “I’m a size eight.”

“Maybe that’s what you wear, but you are a size six. Trust me on that one.”

Rachael just stared at her.

Chase smiled. “My ex was a purchaser for Neiman-Marcus. I used to go along on buying trips. I know my Versaces from my Laurens, but the rest of it came from your file.”

Rachael made a mental note of the word ex. Not ex-boyfriend, ex-husband or ex-girlfriend. “All that stuff might be true, but it doesn’t mean you know me any better than I know you.”

“Well, what would you like me to tell you?” Chase held out her hands in a gesture of openness. “Ask away. You already know the only secret I tend to keep.”

At her invitation, Rachael realized a thousand questions about Chase had plagued her since she had walked into her house, but she wasn’t about to ask her any of them. “Your personal life is none of my concern.” Her tone was stern

Chase shrugged. “Fine by me, but let me point out one thing that is your concern.”

Rachael stood, anxious to get to Candy and even more anxious to get away from Chase. Looking over Chase’s shoulder, she tried to spot the teenager but the corner where she had stood was now empty. Had Chase paid Candy to leave? Cursing under her breath, Rachael turned back to Chase. “What is that?”

“You have no business doing what you’re doing and if you persist, I will have your badge pulled.”

Her threat froze Rachael in place. “Are you serious?”

“Dead serious. No pun intended.”

Recovering quickly, Rachael slung her purse over her shoulder and spoke with renewed determination. “Christena Snell is spreading gossip and vicious rumors about me. Since I have no one else to depend on, I’m going to do what I think is best. That means defending myself and establishing the truth. I’ll talk to whomever I please.”

She started past Chase, but she reached out and stopped her. Her grip was loose, her expression casual, yet something told Rachael both could change in a split second. “Let’s not make this harder than it has to be, Rachael.” Her voice was almost pleasant. “Believe it or not, I want the truth and that means I’m on your side.”

Deep inside her, a tiny flame of hope flickered. But being who she was, Rachael extinguished the light before it could grow any brighter. What was wrong with her. Was she so desperate for help, she thought Chase might be it? She is IA, for God’s sake. She could accept that she might be attracted to Chase physically, but she couldn’t trust her. What would it take for her to realize that? “I’d like to believe you, but I’m afraid I know I’m on my own. Don’t try and make me think otherwise.”

Part 3

Rachael spent the weekend trying to reach Candy again. The activity was probably pointless, Chase had obviously convinced the girl to disappear, but she had to do something. The minute her mind went idle, she started thinking about David, her friends, Lauren or Chase, none of which were subjects she really wanted to examine any closer.

By Sunday evening Rachael was almost grateful for her pending family dinner. Normally she dreaded the once-a-month get together, but driving down to her father’s home, she knew the meal would at least give her mind a respite from her problem, even if it wouldn’t be a pleasant one.

The smell of burning charcoal greeted her as she stepped out of her Toyota. Her father had turned himself into a fairly decent cook after she had left home, but he still preferred to grill and in the summer, that’s all he did. A glance down the street told her that her oldest brother, Kenneth, Jr., and her middle brother, Phillip, had already arrived. As she started up the sidewalk, William, the youngest one, pulled up to the curb and parked.

Pausing between the azalea bushes that lined the walkway, Rachael waited as he went around his car and opened the passenger-side door. He had brought Kate with him. She was in line to be wife number three. If she had half a brain, she would have run for her life, but that apparently wasn’t the case, because she and William had been dating for two years. He was presently divorcing wife number two.

The three of them, along with the dog Kate never left at home, started for the front door. As they drew near, Kenneth Jr., opened it and waited on the threshold. He shook his brother’s hand, kissed Kate, then nodded coldly at Rachael, his green eyes mirrors to her own. His cold-shoulder didn’t bother her. He didn’t have half a brain, either. Unlike Kate, however, he didn’t need one. He had his father to do all his thinking for him. Case in point had been Rachael’s decision to go into law enforcement. Her father had been against her choice from the very start and Kenneth Jr., had agreed completely. Phillip, a County sheriff’s deputy, had quickly followed suit. William was a Department of Public Safety officer. He hadn’t been quite as vocal in his disapproval, but his position had eventually lined up with theirs. Women didn’t belong in law enforcement. They weren’t physically fit for it, they weren’t big enough and they couldn’t provide adequate backup. The only thing her brothers hadn’t said was that women weren’t mean enough, but after all the ones they’d been through, they probably knew that wasn’t true. Phillip and Kenneth were both single at the moment.

They managed to finish most of the meal before Kenneth Jr. brought up the subject. “My partner’s breaking my balls over you, Rachael.” Kenneth Jr., an APD cop in the Auto Theft Unit, pushed aside his plate and glared at her. “When in the hell is this mess gonna be over? I’m not real crazy about having my name dragged around in the mud with yours.”

Before she could answer, Phillip jumped in. “My lieutenant asked me about it, too. In fact, everybody’s talking about it.”

Rachael shook her head. “Thanks for the sympathy, guys. It’s nice to have the support.”

“Hey, you’re the one who wanted to be a cop…”

William interrupted Kenneth Jr. before he could get too wound up. “Who’s handling the case, Rach?”

“Chase Davidson.” Rachael’s father answered for her, his eyes on the steak that covered half his plate.

Rachael looked at her dad in surprise. For some reason, she never thought of asking him about Chase. “You know her?”

Phillip shook his head in disgust. “Another woman in a job too big for her. I’ve heard she’s a loose cannon.”

Rachael jerked her eyes to her brother. “I didn’t ask you.”

Her father interrupted. “She is a loose cannon. Doesn’t follow the rules, does things her own way.” He sawed a piece off the steak then looked up at her, his tone bitter. “She’s straight, though.”

Rachael had no idea of Chase’s sexual orientation, but even if she had, she knew that wasn’t what her father meant. He was saying Chase was honest.

Kenneth Jr. spoke his unwanted opinion again. “That’s not what I heard. Look at her clothes. Hell, look at her car. The woman has too much money for a cop. Everyone knows she’s on the take.”

“Actually she teaches two night classes at the university. Maybe her money comes from there.” Kate was a secretary for the union head and she knew every cop in APD, including the ones not in the union. She reached for her beer. “I think she’s smart and for a woman, she’s really cute.”

As William glared at his fiancé, Rachael’s father spoke again. “Chase Davidson isn’t who you need to worry about.” He caught Rachael’s eyes, his gaze as dark as his scowl. “Snell’s widow is the one you’d better take care of. She’s told the whole damned world you were screwing her husband.”

Rachael steeled herself as the others fell silent. She had been waiting for someone to bring up Christena Snell; she should have known it would be her father. “Go ahead and repeat the rest of it, Dad. She is telling everyone I shot him, too. You might as well say it.”

For the briefest of moments, she thought her father had winced, but Rachael knew better. He had no sympathy for her. As far as he was concerned, she had made her bed and now it was time for her to lie down in it. “I don’t need to say it. You just did, so the question is, how are you gonna handle her?”

“I’m not sure.” Rachael cocked her head, her anger and defensiveness getting the better of her, as they always did around her father. “Do you have a suggestion? Maybe you could give me the name of a hit man? Or…since I killed David, I guess I could just handle her myself, couldn’t I?”

Rachael instantly regretted her rash words, but she couldn’t bring them back. Everyone around the table froze. She had actually managed to shock them. Her father recovered first. Tossing his napkin to his plate, he got up and glared down at her. “You’re the one who got yourself in this fix, Rachael. You’re gonna have to be the one who gets yourself out.”

Without a word, Kenneth Jr., and Phillip stood as well, following her father from the table to the backyard for the cigars they usually lit. William sent Rachael a look that held a modicum of pity, then he left too. Seemingly oblivious to the tension, Kate began to chatter as she collected the dirty plates, her schnauzer yapping at her feet hoping for a handout. “I brought a chocolate cake for dessert and we have some ice cream, too. It’s really good. I’ll get us some.” She continued to talk as she disappeared into the kitchen. Rachael left before she came back.

Rachael ended up back at her town house without any memory of having driven there. Climbing from her Toyota, cold with anger, she went up the sidewalk, unlocked the house and walked inside, punching in the code to turn off her alarm. The day had gone as badly as she had known it would. The thought briefly crossed her mind that her prediction of how it would unfold might be seen by some as a self-fulfilling prophecy, but she didn’t believe so. It had simply been another round at the Stevenses’. If she had half a brain, she would have stayed away. Guilt immediately kicked in. Showing up for dinner once a month was all her father expected of her. Regardless of how she felt, he was still her father and as such, she had always believed she owed him something. But maybe she didn’t.

Discarding her purse and keys, as well as her thoughts, Rachael climbed the stairs and peeled off her clothes as she went. By the time she reached the bathroom, she was naked. She turned on the shower and stepped into the stream of water without waiting for it to warm, her mind focusing on a single topic. Since the night David had died, only one person had seemed to be on her side. Rachael said her name out loud, rivulets of water dripping off her hair and sliding down her bare skin to tap onto the tile. “Chase.” Within the shower walls, the sound of her voice echoed and she wondered how an IA cop, a woman she hardly knew, could be the lone individual who seemed sympathetic to her plight. Turning off the water, she leaned her head against the nearest wall and repeated her name, the feel of it lingering on her tongue. The word was still resonating when something downstairs shattered.

Rachael caught her breath, her blood turning as icy as the water had been moments before. What the hell…? The noise had sounded like breaking glass. Being the cop she was, she instantly started going through her checklist. Had she left the door unlocked? Had she turned on the alarm before she had come upstairs? Had she opened a window? She couldn’t remember. All she could think about was her gun. It was locked up, somewhere deep within headquarters. Her backup weapon, a Glock was in the drawer beside her bed.

Rachael stepped from the shower to the bath mat. Soaking wet, she listened closely but heard nothing. Cops were usually paranoid, but a woman living alone, Rachael was worse than most. She kept a weapon of some sort in almost every room. Grabbing the putter she had hidden in the linen closet, she wrapped herself in a towel then moved toward the door. The hinges creaked like a coffin’s, but she had left it open. As she slipped out into the hall, she held her breath and listened again, the golf club gripped with both hands. Once again, there was only silence. She eased into her bedroom, but the room was empty. If someone had broken into the house, he hadn’t made it this far. Going to her bedside, she opened the drawer in the nightstand and felt inside for her weapon, her eyes never leaving the doorway. A second later, her fingers brushed the textured grip of the automatic. She brought the gun out slowly and a minute later she stood at the head of the stairs. She started down, stopping to listen after each step.

By the time she reached the bottom, she had almost convinced herself she was alone. The house didn’t feel as if anyone else was in it, but pausing on the last tread, she didn’t let down her guard. Gun held in a double grip, she swept the kitchen first, her eyes searching the corners and shadows. Everything looked okay. Turning to her right, she slowly entered the living room, her every nerve on alert. Immediately, before she could even fully register what it was, a fluttering motion caught her peripheral vision. She pivoted, raised her weapon and aimed, her finger on the trigger as she took a shooter’s stance. Instead of firing, she stared. Her living room window had a huge hole in the center of the glass. Through the gap, a humid summer breeze lifted the blind then released it. With each breeze, the bottom slat scraped over broken bits of glass on the sill. Turning, Rachael studied the rest of the room. Everything else looked untouched and her chest eased slightly. She took a careful step toward the sofa then found herself paralyzed. A brick lay on the couch, perfectly centered, perfectly placed. If she had asked someone to gently arrange it on the cushion, they couldn’t have done a better job. A message had been scratched on one side and she whispered the words out loud. “Quit now, cop-killer, or die yourself!”

**********

Chase cooked when she needed to think. At the moment, she had four pots on the stove and the oven preheating. As she reached for her knife, the microwave beeped, too. She had barely been home an hour when the M.E. had called her. They finished the preliminary report on Snell over the weekend and the doc had wanted to give the information to Chase as soon a he could.

Actually, that wasn’t quite correct. The medical examiner had wanted to warn Chase about the results and in fact, Chase herself was already feeling the effects. The M.E.’s news had taken her by complete surprise, so much so she had already begun to wonder if it was past time for her to retire. Naive wasn’t a good trait for an IA cop. The more she thought about what the examiner had told her, the more she had begun to wonder, technology be damned. Where was the motivation? When someone killed, there was always a reason, and she had yet to find one where the evidence was pointing.

As Chase chopped onions and tried to puzzle out the news, the scanner on the kitchen counter came awake. She never silenced the thing, the confusing chatter had provided background music to her life for years and generally it was simply white noise. This current transmission caught her attention. It took her a second to realize why she had tuned into the call. Then she realized that the street address was Charter Lane, Rachael’s street. She made the rest of the translation without thinking. Meet the woman at this private home. Possible prowler…

Chase dropped her knife on the cutting board, ripped away her apron and turned to the range, switching off everything with a sweep of her hand. She then ran for the back door, only slowing long enough to grab her service revolver from the closet. She backed out the Porsche with squealing tires and the engine roaring, barely missing the garage door as it lifted. She beat the cop to Rachael’s town house.

Wheeling into Rachael’s driveway, Chase immediately spotted the broken window and imagined a thousand scenarios, all of them bad. When Rachael answered the door, Chase realized she had been holding her breath.

Rachael’s green eyes widened. Clearly she had expected a uniform, not Chase. “Chase! What are you doing here?”

“I heard the call on the scanner.” Her gaze skimmed Rachael’s face. She looked upset and exhausted, but Chase still found herself more attracted to her than she had been to any woman in years. Dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, with wet hair and no makeup, she was gorgeous.

Rachael stepped to one side. “Come on in. Since you’re here, you might as well see the damage first-hand.”

Chase followed her into the living room, where she pointed to the sofa. A brick sat in the center, crooked words scrawled across its pitted surface. Chase read the message. “Quit now, cop-killer, or die yourself.”

“Nice, huh?” She spoke lightly but when she raised her eyes, Chase read the anxiousness in her gaze. Despite her latest news, Chase suddenly wanted to strangle the bastard who had pulled this childish prank.

“I was taking a shower and I heard glass breaking. I got my Glock and came downstairs. It was lying there just like that.”

“No cars? No sign of anyone?”

She shook her head. “Nothing. They must have tossed it and run. I’m pretty sure…”

The doorbell interrupted whatever she was about to say. Trailing the scent of honeysuckle, she strode to the entry and opened the door to a patrol officer. His demeanor businesslike, the cop greeted them both then whipped out a small pad of paper and began to take notes. If he knew about Rachael’s situation, he didn’t say anything about it. When she finished her explanation of what had happened, he then promised to file a report. Standing side by side in the living room, they watched the patrol officer leave fifteen minutes after he arrived.

Rachael folded her arms and spoke dryly. “I’m sure he will be right on top of this. No doubt about it.”

Chase smirked. “Absolutely. We can all sleep well tonight knowing officers like that are protecting us.”

For the first time since she had met her, Rachael smiled at Chase. It was a lopsided expression and more ironic than sincere, but it made her heart thump all the same. Unnerved by her reaction, Chase spoke softly. “Are you okay? This must have been upsetting.”

She walked to the sofa and sat down, avoiding the place where the brick had been as if it were still there. “It was…unexpected, but I’m more worried about the sentiment than I am the incident.” A vulnerability darkened her expression and her voice sounded hesitant when she spoke again. “Chase, please tell me people don’t really think I killed David. The idea is so outrageous I can’t even begin to defend it.” She shook her head. “Why would I want to kill him? He was my partner, for God’s sake.”

Chase wanted to sit beside her on the sofa, but she wouldn’t let herself. The information on the M.E. report buzzed inside her head like a hive of angry bees as she perched on the edge of the coffee table in front of her. “People think you killed him because his wife is telling the world you did.”

“But she’s crazy…”

“That may be the case, still David never denied having an affair with you, either.”

Rachael replied quickly. “I know that, but I never slept with him and frankly…”

She broke off with such abruptness that Chase leaned forward, her brain on full alert. “Frankly, what?”

“I guess I was just relieved all he wanted was to take credit.” She spoke as if she were confessing a weakness and suddenly, Chase got a glimpse of the cop she really was, the one Chase assumed she was but hadn’t seen before now. Dedicated, smart, out to do her job no matter what that entailed, including working with guys who still thought women’s lib was a radical idea. “As long I didn’t have to put up with anything more, I let it slide.”

Chase raised a brow. “How did you know that’s all he wanted? He might have been working you somehow…”

Rachael spoke with conviction. “David Snell never put the moves on me. Maybe he did on some of the other women officers or secretaries, they thought he was handsome and plenty of them would have been happy to accommodate him, but I wasn’t interested and I made that clear at the very beginning.” She paused, as if reluctant to go on. “But it was more than that.”

“What do you mean?”

“When a man or a woman means business, a woman can tell.”

Chase just waited for her to explain.

“It’s hard to explain.”

“Try.”

“You’re a woman. You must know what I’m trying to tell you.” Chase said nothing, so Rachael nodded and licked her lips trying to find the words to explain. “There’s a certain kind of tack their interactions seem to take.”

Chase could have been fantasizing; she was good at that lately, but it seemed to her as if something personal passed between them. Something dangerous. Something tempting. She forced herself to ask the next question. “And your relationship with David didn’t take that route?”

“No. It didn’t even head in that general vicinity.”

“For you, you mean?”

“For both of us. Like I said before, one, he was married. And two, he was a cop.” She shook her head. “I worked too hard and too long to get my assignment in Sex Crimes and I wasn’t about to jeopardize all I’d accomplished. There were men in the department, a guy named Jonathan Hopper in particular, who was angry about my placement. He was at Christena’s the other day, manning the door, as a matter fact. I didn’t want to give him or anyone else, something to talk about. Regardless of all that, David simply wasn’t interested in me. I guess I wasn’t his type.”

Chase didn’t know what to say, mainly because she couldn’t imagine anyone feeling that way. Rachael misinterpreted her pause. “You think I’m lying.” Her voice was flat and devoid of emotion.

Chase stood and walked to the broken window, confused and concerned. She could tell her about the report and let her try and defend herself or she could stay quiet and see what happened. Either way she wouldn’t be following the book. That had never bothered her and it certainly didn’t now, but she wanted to be fair, whatever in the hell that meant. With her back still to Rachael, she spoke in a soft voice. “Actually, I do believe you.”

Chase heard the sofa creak and a second later, Rachael stood beside her, so close she could smell her shampoo, so near she could feel her warmth. A gust of humid air rattled the blinds. “Then what’s the problem? Why don’t you just close my case and let me go back to work?”

Chase looked down at her. Since she had seen her last, she had her bandage removed. The thin red line made her wince. The bullet had come so close. “I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because the M.E. called me this evening. His report is provisional pending the lab test, but things have gotten more complicated. I shouldn’t be telling you any of this, but I generally ignore regulations I think are stupid. Besides, you’re going to find out sooner or later anyway, so it hardly matters.”

Rachael frowned, a distinct uneasiness coming over her features. “What do you mean ‘more complicated’?”

“David was hit with a bullet from a .44. The perps didn’t have .44s.”

She understood immediately. All the color left her face and her cheeks turned the shade of old bones. She swallowed hard. “That caliber ammo can be used in lots of different weapons.”

“You’re absolutely right, but the slug that was removed from the body didn’t come from just any weapon.” Chase put a hand on each of her shoulders as if to steady her. “It came from yours, Rachael. Whether you meant to or not, you shot David and there’s no getting around it.”

As her brain processed Chase’s words, the floor dropped out from beneath Rachael’s feet and her stomach quickly followed. An awful taste filled her mouth and suddenly she wanted to throw up. She forced herself past the sensation and stared at Chase in disbelief. “That’s impossible! I didn’t hit David. I couldn’t have.” She wrenched herself away from Chase’s grip. “The report’s wrong. It’s got to be wrong.. Tell them to redo the tests. The lab must have made a mistake.”

“There was no mistake. They shot the water barrel twice and each time the results were the same. The lands and grooves matched perfectly.”

Rachael felt as if she had been the one shot. Chase couldn’t possibly be telling her the truth. Another thought flashed inside her head. “But I fired seven times. Seven slugs and seven casings were recovered. I couldn’t have…”

Chase corrected her. “Eight casings were recovered.”

“What? That’s impossible! Look at my weapon. Count what I had left…”

“That was done, Rachael, and it all added up. You had a thirteen-round magazine in the .44 and there were five rounds in it when you turned it over to IA. That means you discharged your weapon eight times. Eight casings were picked up, logged and matched to your weapon, along with eight slugs…one of which pierced David’s heart.”

She understood what Chase was trying to tell her, but it didn’t make sense. It couldn’t make sense. Regaining control of her voice and of her emotions, she stated flatly, “You’re wrong. They screwed up when they did the testing. I’m too good a shooter to make a mistake like that.”

“Rachael.…”

Her chest felt as if it were caught in a giant fist. “You know my record at the range. If I’d shot David, I would have known.” Her voice broke as she said her partner’s name, but she caught herself. Swallowing hard, she focused all her energy on Chase. “I did not kill him. You have to believe me.”

“I’m sorry, Rachael.” Her gray eyes took on the color of melting snow. “But tests like this don’t lie.”

Rachael held herself stiffly, her shoulders straight, her eyes steady. From the look on her face to the way she stood, Chase knew she was telling her the truth…or at least, what she thought was the truth.

“I understand that.” Her hands became fists at her sides. “But they’re incorrect. I did not shoot my partner. If you want the truth like you said you did, you won’t accept this report without more investigating.”

Reaching out, Chase violated fifteen different department regulations and squeezed her shoulder gently, her gaze never leaving Rachael’s. Rachael trembled beneath her touch and she softened her voice without conscious effort. “Accidents happen, Rachael. Even if you shot David and that’s proved, it doesn’t mean you’re guilty of murder. Friendly-fire tragedies are a sad fact of life…”

“That’s not what happened.”

“When something like this goes down, things get confused. You might believe you didn’t shoot him, but you can’t be sure. That’s why we test and retest.”

“And you can keep at it ’til the end of time, but I’m telling you right now, I didn’t shoot him.” Chase wasn’t going to change her mind and neither were the facts.

Chase couldn’t stop the sigh that escaped. “All right. I’ll register your protest in the morning with Debbie McLain, my captain. She’ll take it up the ladder from there. In the meantime, you better find yourself an attorney.”

“I don’t need one,” she said stubbornly.

“That may be what you think but…” She broke off when Rachael’s expression closed. She wasn’t listening. Chase turned to leave, then hesitated when the damaged window caught her eye. She tilted her head toward the shattered glass. “Do you need some help covering that?”

“I’ve got something in the garage…”

“Go get it,” she instructed. “It won’t take us two minutes, then you’ll be set for the night.” Chase expected a protest, but Rachael headed for the kitchen. Chase heard a door open and close. A few minutes later, she returned with a rectangle of quarter-inch plywood, a battered hammer and four nails.

The wood fit the window perfectly and she turned to Rachael in surprise, her hand holding it in place. The questioning look obvious.

“The kid across the way likes to play baseball. Last summer they had a game going and the ball came right through. His dad measured the window and put that over it until the glass guy could come. I kept it.” She shrugged. “If he’s as bad a baseball player as my brothers were, I figured it would happen again.”

Even though her answer made sense, it was clear she was in shock, the startling information Chase had just revealed more than she could handle. Her voice sounded brittle and her expression matched it. She looked as if she might fly into pieces at any moment.

Chase wanted to comfort her, to pull her into her arms and pat her on the back and say it’ll be okay, but she couldn’t. That wasn’t part of her job description, and, in fact, she could get in a lot of trouble for even trying. Definitely with her boss and probably with Rachael.

Chase put three nails on the windowsill and one between her teeth. “You hold the wood and I’ll hammer it in place.”

Rachael moved closer and leaned over, pressing the plywood against the frame of the window. “There should already be holes where the nails were before.”

Chase located the first three easily and hammered the nails in. Picking up the last one, she searched the wood trim but couldn’t find the original nail hole.

“It’s there. It has to be.” Rachael moved to Chase’s left side to get a better line of sight and ended up trapped between her and the window. Not realizing her current position, Rachael continued. “I know they’re there because I checked just moments ago. Look closer.”

When she didn’t reply, Rachael raised her head to look at her.

“I am looking.” Chase was staring at her and she stared back. The sudden darkness in her green eyes contrasted sharply with her skin; her cheeks so pale, her skin seemed made of marble, white and cold. Like a candle on a window ledge, her expression flicked and Chase felt herself pulled relentlessly closer. She raised a finger and drew it down the line of her jaw. Her skin was soft and smooth and warm beneath her touch. It didn’t feel anything like it looked.

Rachael went so still she had to be holding her breath.

Chase studied her face. “Your mother must have been a beautiful woman, because I’ve seen your father and he’s not all that.” Her voice was a whisper.

“That’s not what my father called her.”

They were inches apart and as she spoke, her breath brushed Chase’s face. Chase let her finger drift down to her chin, capturing it between her thumb and forefinger. Rachael looked at her with such intensity she could feel it. Chase continued to whisper. “That’s understandable. No one likes to realize their lover has fallen out of love with them. Most of us don’t handle the truth very well.”

“I hope that’s not the case with you.”

Chase spread her fingers on one side of Rachael’s neck, her thumb resting on the pulse point of her throat. Drops of water from her wet hair clung to her skin and Chase imagined lifting the heavy, dark strands and licking the moisture away from the nape of her neck. The idea was foolish, of course, but she felt as if she already knew the secret spot. “I’m not afraid of the truth.” Chase’s eyes fastened on hers. “But sometimes I don’t like it.”

Rachael’s pulse was racing and she knew Chase could feel it. “Is that how you feel right now?”

She had a full mouth. Chase wanted to taste it, too. “I don’t know how I feel at this point.” She took a breath and let it out knowing she was lying. “But I have to be sure, one way or the other.”

“Then be sure about this.” Rachael’s voice was hoarse and it scraped along Chase’s every nerve. “I didn’t shoot David Snell. I don’t know why the tests came back the way they did, but I can guarantee you I didn’t kill my partner.”

Her conviction was so powerful Chase found herself wondering if she carried the same kind of passion into the bedroom. She allowed herself a moment longer to drink in the closeness, then she took a reluctant step back.

Rachael blinked and seemed to come to her senses, as well.

Taking the last nail off the sill, Chase pounded it in with one swift hit. Two minutes later, she was gone.

**********

Rachael stared at the ceiling above her bed and thought. She thought about dinner at her father’s house. She thought about the brick that had come through her window. She thought about Chase’s mistaken report, and then she thought about Chase herself. She knew that she had not shot David, but the test results made it hard not to doubt herself. Matching slugs to a particular gun was about as basic as it got. But she hadn’t shot David. She couldn’t have shot him. She would have known. Wouldn’t she? Tossing the covers aside, she stood with a restless curse. The community had to trust their law-enforcement officials and that meant someone had to police the police. The lecture Lauren had given them at the Academy about that very subject rang in her head. While everyone else in the class had made disparaging remarks about the IA department, Rachael had held her tongue. Her father had always said IA had a place and a role to fulfill and she had absorbed that philosophy, taking it as her own. But Chase was making a terrible mistake. She walked to the bedroom window and stared out into the darkness, her thoughts following her.
She spent hours at the firing range every month. She liked keeping her skills sharp and she enjoyed the challenge shooting provided her. It was a black-and-white situation with instant feedback. She either hit the target where she aimed or she didn’t. Unlike life, the task provided no grounds for argument and the results were obvious. She leaned her head against the glass, a catch suddenly coming into her throat. If she had shot David…God, she couldn’t even imagine how she’d feel were the test correct. The thought of David’s son being without a father because of her made her nausea return. Until this point, she had assumed grief and accusations and she’d almost understood. As Chase had pointed out earlier, when things like this happened, you had to find someone to blame or you’d go insane over the unfairness of it. But if the tests somehow proved right….

Rachael forced her mind still. She couldn’t continue to think about it. Instead she made herself think about opening the door this evening and finding Chase on the threshold. She’d been shocked to see her, but Chase’s expression had surprised her even more. She looked…well…almost worried. Had Chase’s reaction been genuine or was she manipulating her? The first time Chase had questioned her, Rachael learned how she operated. Quiet, slick and unassuming, she lulled you into relaxing your guard then pounced. She’d known this, yet when Chase slipped her hand behind her hair this evening and drawn her closer, she had been unable to resist. In fact, she would have taken them past that point if Chase hadn’t stepped back. Her chilly eyes had melted her and her touch had left Rachael wishing for more. She wanted someone to be on her side. She needed Chase to be her friend or maybe even something more and she knew Chase was too damned smart not to know that and use it. Rachael thought Chase only pulled away because she couldn’t yet fully read her. But Chase isn’t a friend and she felt she had better not forget that.

**********

Chase was almost home when her cell phone rang. Because she had thought of nothing else since she had left her house, she assumed it might be Rachael and she answered it immediately. “Davidson here.”

“You don’t know me,” the caller said, “but I got some info for you. On the Snell thing.”

Normally Chase would have been thrilled at those words, but disappointment swelled inside her when she realized Rachael wasn’t on the other end of the phone. She pulled herself out of fantasyland and rejoined real life. It was The Call. “Who is this?”

“You don’t care who I am. But you’ll want to know what I’m about to say.”

She flipped the phone over and looked at the caller ID screen. Unavailable. She thought about having the call traced and she stalled as she tried to decide. “If you’ve got pertinent information about an ongoing investigation, you may be called to testify…”

“Cut the shit, Davidson. It’s not your style.”

Chase slowed to a reasonable speed, then pulled to the curb. The caller’s voice was whiskey rough. Chase had assumed it was a man, but now she wasn’t so sure. “You’re right. It’s not my style. So what do you have?”

“This is about Snell’s wife.”

“Christena?”

“Yeah.”

“What about her?”

“She’s getting’ a little something extra on the side. I thought you oughta know.”

Chase leaned back against the car’s leather seat, the night suddenly turning even more strange than it had been already. “I don’t think I understand.”

“Don’t be dense. She’s been screwing another guy for months and everybody but Snell knew. I’m surprised you didn’t. He was a good cop and so is Stevens. I don’t like what that bitch has been spreading around about them now that David’s gone.”

The words and the tone definitely sounded male, but Chase couldn’t be sure. “You mean the gossip about his affair with Rachael Stevens?”

“No. I mean the gossip about Stevens shooting him.” The voice on the other end of the line paused and Chase thought she could hear a dog barking in the background. “If anybody wanted David gone, it wouldn’t have been Rachael Stevens, it woulda been that crazy ass wife of his. She was the one sleeping with someone she shouldn’t have been. And that’s called motivation.”

“Who was she sleeping with?”

Another long pause came down the line and for half a second, Chase thought the caller had hung up. The answer came a second later. “I don’t know his name, but it shouldn’t be too hard to find out, even for an IA asshole like you.”

Chase gripped the steering wheel tightly, the insult washing over her without impact. She had been called much worse. “Why is that?”

An ironic twist deepened the caller’s voice. “I saw them together and he was wearing the blue. Christena Snell’s sleeping with another cop.”

**********

The next week dragged by. Rachael tried not to notice, but every day the sideways looks got sharper and the snide remarks got louder. The autopsy results had been leaked and the gossip fires were now blazing.

After an awful weekend, she was grateful when Monday morning came, because it put her a day closer to the monthly luncheon she and her friends had. She’s decided she had been confused about Annette and Maria’s attitudes because she couldn’t face any other possibility. She needed them now. Typically they each called her the day they were to meet and confirmed and she found herself looking forward just to hearing their voices.
When Rachael got to her desk, however, Annette’s message was waiting in the voice-mail box. She had called late the night before and it struck Rachael that the timing had to have been deliberate so she would miss speaking to her in person. “I can’t make lunch tomorrow. Something’s come up. I’ll explain later.”

Rachael never quit thinking about her own cases, so she knew nine times out of ten that when Annette sounded that curt she had the image of a missing child in her mind and she couldn’t get it out. But just as there had been when she had phoned earlier about the gossip, a deeper layer of something echoed in her voice and this time Rachael couldn’t convince herself to ignore it. She puzzled over what Annette’s problem might be, but before she could take her thoughts further, the phone rang again. This time it was Dianna. “Are we meeting for lunch?”

“Well, I don’t know…”

“Because if we are, I can’t. I have to work tomorrow and there’s no way I can get out of it.”

“Okay. Work. I understand.”

Dianna hung up with a promise to call later.

An instant after that, the phone rang again. Rachael reached for the receiver as a shadow appeared in her doorway. She answered and glanced up at the same time. Maria spoke in her ear as Chase captured her gaze. Rachael had been pretty successful at telling herself nothing had happened between them Sunday, but seeing Chase now made her question herself about that situation, too. Chase held a sheaf of papers in one hand and a coffee cup in the other. Rachael’s heart in her throat, she waved the IA officer into her cubicle and tried to concentrate on Maria’s voice. Maria’s words finally penetrated Rachael’s thoughts. “You’re canceling, too?” Rachael made a sound that should have been a chuckle but was too anxious to be called that. “If I didn’t know better, I might think you guys were ganging up on me or something. Just when I need to see you, you’re all bailing on me.”

“I’ve been trying to catch this witness for weeks, Rachael, and Saturday is the only day she had available. I hope you understand.”

“Sure.” Rachael’s eyes connected with Chase’s over her desk. “No problem.”

Maria’s soft goodbye was lost as Rachael hung up the phone.

Chase pushed the papers she had been carrying across the desk. “More forms. You can fill them out whenever you have time.”

“Okay.”

Chase made no effort to leave or to hide the fact she’d listened to the conversation. “Sounds like you’re having trouble with your friends.”

“It would seem that way.” Unbelievably, the phone rang a third time, interrupting her answer. Rachael cursed under her breath and refused to even look at the flashing caller ID window.

Chase leaned her arm on the desk and tilted her head toward the phone. “You might as well answer it. You gotta deal with it sooner or later.”

Rachael glanced at the display, then picked up the receiver and spoke before Kim could say a word. “We’re not meeting so don’t worry about making up an excuse. Everyone else has already canceled.”

A small silence trickled down the line, then Kim spoke. “That’s too bad. You could probably use the support right now.”

Kim’s answer surprised Rachael, but her defenses had already been deployed, so she lied. “I’m all right. Just fine, in fact. But I have a visitor in my office right now. Perhaps we could discuss this another time?” Rachael didn’t care how terse she sounded. She was hurting and she really needed this get-together, really needed their help. Shouldn’t her friends have realized that?

“I’ll call back later.”

“You do that,” Rachael snapped. She hung up, replacing the receiver a little too firmly.

In the silence that followed, the mail cart rattled down the corridor then someone called out Wendy’s name. Chase stared at her from the other side of the desk the whole time before speaking. “Do you get it now?”

“Get what?”

Chase nodded toward the telephone. “Your friends are running scared. The last time I dropped by I saw you talking to someone…”

“That was Maria Santiago. Five of us went through the Academy together and Lauren…Chief Henderson was one of our instructors. We’re still pretty close. We meet once a month for lunch.”

“Well, Maria was already feeling the heat then. I wondered if you knew they were about to leave you to your own devices.”

“We’re all very busy and…”

“How many would have made your luncheon this month?”

“Two.”

“You and one other?”

She nodded.

“They’ve heard the rumors. And they know about the report, as well. I’m sure you’re aware the results were leaked. Everyone in the building knows the M.E. found your slug.”

“Well, the M.E.’s wrong and so are you.”

“Which one of your friends told you what Christena Snell was saying?”

Rachael could not hide her surprise. “How do you know that’s how I found out?”

“Stands to reason.”

“It was Annette. I’m closest to her. But I think it came from…” She caught herself at the very last minute. She had already told Chase to leave Lauren out of the situation and she needed to do the same.

Chase guessed. “From higher up?”

She didn’t answer. She stared at her instead and when Chase seemed to realize she was going to stay quiet, another small smile lifted Chase’s lips. “Well, at least you’re a loyal pariah. I guess there is something to be said for that.”

“Pariah?” The word cut. “Is that what I have become?”

“When IA knocks on your front door, anyone with sense goes out the back. Your friends are smart to understand the situation. They have to distance themselves or risk being tarred by the same brush.”

A small, dark wound opened up inside Rachael’s heart and despite her best intentions to ignore it, she couldn’t. Deep down, so far down she hadn’t been able to acknowledge it even to herself, she’d been worried about this possibility, especially after thinking over Annette’s attitude and Maria’s snub. Her friends had worked hard to get where they were and they couldn’t jeopardize what they’d accomplished. Chase wasn’t telling her anything new, but accepting her words was painful. She had to acknowledge them, though she couldn’t take both sides. “It isn’t fair.” She spoke quietly, almost to herself more than Chase.

“Doesn’t matter. Until things are proved otherwise, you’re guilty of something. We just don’t know what yet.” She paused. “And if you’re not…well..that’ll get buried on page four of the APD News.”

She had shared almost everything with these women. Everything except her relationship with Lauren. They had agreed that it was best that no one knew about their intimate relationship. Knowing better, she argued regardless. “But real friends don’t act that way.”

Chase slipped her hand into her pocket and pulled out a wad of money. Peeling off a dollar bill, she laid it on the desk and stood. “I’m not much of a gambler, so this doesn’t constitute a wager, but I’m willing to put some money down that says your friends are doing what they have to. They’re scared and they can’t afford to stand by you. It’s the way of the world, Rachael.” Chase nodded toward the bill with a cynical expression. “Why don’t you put that somewhere for the sake of argument and we’ll revisit the subject when the investigation is over. I might be wrong; who knows?”

Rachael reached out, took the money and tucked it into her pocket without a word. With a final look, Chase left the office.

Moments after Chase left, Wendy came storming in with an excited voice. “Rachael, have you seen the paper. I can’t believe it. It’s wonderful…surprising, but wonderful.”

Rachael glanced at what Wendy had in her hands. She was holding a section of the Atlanta newspaper. It was folded in half and Rachael could see a picture on the page, but she couldn’t make out who it was. “What is it, Wendy?”

Wendy threw the newspaper down onto the desk and it slid in front of Rachael. Rachael looked down and staring back at her were the last two people she needed to see at the moment. The caption read “Wedding Announcements” and the first announcement was “Atlanta Chief of Police Lauren Henderson to marry the Assistant DA Eric Holmes.”
Rachael just stared at the picture in shocked silence until Wendy’s voice startled her. “Did you know, Rachael? How long have they been together? This is big news.”

Rachael looked at Wendy and then back at the picture. She knew the answer to both questions. Lauren told her this, but seeing it in black and white in front of her was different. “I…I don’t know.” She picked up the paper and headed for the door. She didn’t know what to do. She never cried, but she felt something breaking inside of her. She had to get out. She looked back at Wendy and saw the confusion on her face. She waved the paper between them and lied. “I’m going to try and find Annette and the rest of the group and see what they know.” She then smiled and walked out of the office as calm as she could. Once she was a safe distance from the door, she looked down again at the paper and quickened her pace.

Chase had stopped in on an old friend a few offices down. She was exiting his office when Rachael rounded the corner. Rachael didn’t see her because she was still staring at the picture in the newspaper. Chase stepped into the hallway and they collided. Chase reached out to stop the woman from falling and realized it was Rachael. Her face was pale and she seemed unnerved. “Rachael, what’s wrong?”

Rachael looked up to see Chase holding her. “I…I’m fine.” She stepped back out of Chase’s arms. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to run into you. I’m just in a hurry.”

Chase looked over Rachael’s body. “Yes. I can see that. Are you all right? You didn’t hurt yourself, did you?”

“No, I didn’t.” Rachael looked around and noticed a few people watching them. “I really need to get going. Excuse me.” She quickly moved down the hall not realizing that she dropped the section of the newspaper.

Chase watched her rush away before turning to go in the opposite direction. She saw the newspaper at her feet when she turned. She looked back to try and tell Rachael that she dropped something, but Rachael was already out of sight. She picked up the newspaper and as she scanned it contents, she realized why Rachael was so unnerved. Chase remembered the rumors about Lauren Henderson, but she never would have guessed it to be Rachael. Chase stared into the Lauren Henderson’s eyes on the newspaper and whispered aloud, “So the rumors are true?”

**********

Wheeling out of the parking garage a few minutes later, Rachael headed for the freeway, her mind in a turmoil. Chase’s words had made a lot of sense, yet the idea of her friends’ abandonment was so distressing that Rachael actually winced as she thought about it. With a tearful heart, she accepted the fact that Chase had probably told her the truth, but that didn’t mean she had to like it. Then, on top of everything else, the announcement of Lauren’s wedding. It was all too much.

The sign for the exit ramp flashed by and glancing at the clock on her dash, Rachael abruptly changed lanes. A few minutes after that, she was on the street in front of her father’s home. They hadn’t spoken since their disastrous dinner, but that wasn’t unusual. She and her family could go for weeks without talking to one another. Pulling to the curb, she parked. With a greasy rag in his hand, her father answered the doorbell so quickly he caught her by surprise. The television blared behind him at full volume, his expression uncertain. Suddenly she realized she’d never come home like this before, in the middle of the day, without good reason or invitation. “I was…down the street. Working on a case. I thought I’d drop by.” As soon as the words escaped, she cursed silently. Damn, he knew she was desk-bound. Couldn’t she have come up with something better? When he didn’t say anything, she started to back up. “Look, if this isn’t a good time…”

“No, no.” He held up the oil-stained towel. “It’s fine, I just wasn’t expectin’ anyone. I was working on the lawn mower. Is everything okay?” He stepped aside as he asked his question and Rachael walked into the home where she’d grown up.

“No, actually, it’s not.” She turned. “In fact, nothing’s okay.”

What she said surprised him and herself, too. He paused then headed for the rear of the house. “Come out to the garage. I don’t wanna lose my place. I got this damned engine spread from here to kingdom come. If I don’t get back to it, I’ll forget how it goes together.”

She was right behind him when he stopped abruptly and looked over his shoulder, his eyes dropping to the wrinkled black skirt and jacket she’d yanked out of her closet this morning. “Oh, wait, you got on a nice suit there, don’t you? You don’t wanna mess it up and get all dirty. What am I thinking about?”

Rachael didn’t know what to do. He’d never come that close to complimenting her before and she could hardly believe he’d even noticed. “No, it’s okay, Pop. The garage is fine.”

He shrugged and resumed his path through the crowded house. In something of a daze, Rachael followed him out the back door. A bundle of gray hair and yapping confusion jumped on her as she cleared the threshold.

Her father yelled at the dog. “Get down, you useless fleabag!” Get outta here.”

“Isn’t that…”

“Kate’s mutt?” He made a halfway kicking motion toward the dog that had already slunk away at his voice. “Yeah, it’s hers, all right. She asked me to take the mutt to the vet this afternoon and I said I would for some ungodly reason I can’t remember right now.”

Her dad doing Kate a favor? Rachael felt as if she’d wandered into a parallel universe. Who are you, she wanted to ask, and what have you done with my father?

He stepped over a pile of engine parts and waved his rag toward a lawn chair. “Have a seat.”

Rachael did as he instructed, a sharp memory from her childhood coming to her along with the scent of spilled diesel and used oil. For a while, when she’d competed with her brothers for her father’s attention, she’d thought she could win if she hung out with him in the garage and acted interested in whatever he was doing. He hadn’t seemed to appreciate the company and she’d eventually given up.

Leaning against the fender of his ’57 Chevy, he crossed his arms and stared at her. The silence built.

Rachael finally broke the silence. “I’m in deep shit.”

“I know.”

“The ballistic reports are in. They’re saying the slug that…the slug that killed David came from my weapon.”

He didn’t react and she realized he already knew. She wasn’t surprised.

“Tell me everything, Rachael.”

She recited the story, Chase’s information coming out in halting sentences that she couldn’t seem to organize. She kept expecting her father to interrupt and say she wasn’t making sense, but he didn’t. In fact, he didn’t utter a word, even after she finished. Instead, he stared past where she sat, his eyes going to the empty street in front of his house. She couldn’t read his expression because he didn’t have one, but suddenly she knew what he was thinking. He hadn’t wanted her to become a cop. He’d made it clear he didn’t want her to go to the Academy. He’d practically predicted disaster would follow. And now it had.

Rachael wanted to kick herself. What on earth had she been thinking? Why had she come here? Looking to her father for help was as stupid as looking to Chase for sympathy. The stress she’d been under lately had obviously pushed her over the edge. She stood up so abruptly the lawn chair collapsed behind her with a rattle. Her father jerked his eyes away from the street and stared at her. “I shouldn’t have come here.”

“You’re right.” He agreed with her, breaking her heart before he continued. “You should be talking to that IA woman instead of me. For God’s sake, she obviously has her head up her ass or she would have already realized what’s going on.”

Prepared for something else entirely, Rachael frowned in confusion. “What are you saying?”

He looked at her with an expression that seemed to confirm her earlier assumption. He thought she was an idiot. She wanted to flee the criticism but she couldn’t. She had to hear his answer first. It came quickly and with unmistakable authority. “Things aren’t always what they seem, Rachael. You, and apparently Davidson, too, are looking at the surface. You’re seeing what they want you to see.”

“Who’s they?”

“I don’t know yet.”

His cryptic answer only served to frustrate her more. “Look, Dad, I’m not getting it.”

With a heavy sigh, he tossed the oil-stained rag toward a pile of others in the corner. “I had this case…it was March ’90. I remembered the date ’cause we were grilling steaks and listening to the ball game. It was a game that I had been waiting on and halfway through the game, we got the call and had to leave.”

“And?”

“Our lieutenant’s brother-in-law had been shot and he wanted us to go down to Wayne County where the guy had been a sheriff’s deputy. We were supposed to find out what the hell had happened, talk to the sheriff, that kind of stuff. The lieu couldn’t go ’cause his wife was going off the deep end and he trusted us. We left and went to the scene.” He paused as if remembering. “Some kids had gone out to this rice field to park and smoke pot and they’d found the body.”

Instantly hooked, Rachael stared at her father in fascination. He’d shared stories like this with her brothers when they’d been younger, but he’d never included her. At least, not intentionally. She’d always listened from a nearby hidden spot. “What had happened?”

“The sheriff said suicide. Showed us the wound and the pistol, blood everywhere. Situation seemed cut-and-dried and we hauled the body back to Atlanta. The minute the M.E. peeled back his eyelids, he told us the truth. Somebody had smothered the man first. They’d shot him to cover it up and make it look like a suicide.”

With her brain spinning, Rachael tried to put the pieces together. “Was it the sheriff?”

“Of course not. The sheriff woulda known better.” He paused. “At least, I hope he would have. No, it was the wife. She couldn’t tell a hemorrhage from a hole in the ground, not to mention the fact that her now-dead husband had no residue on his hands. She’d drugged him first and that showed up in the chem analysis, too.”

“So she shot him after he was dead? Where’d the blood come from?”

He seemed surprised by the astuteness of her question. “It wasn’t his blood. She’d cut up a chicken or something. Hell, the woman wasn’t a rocket scientist, okay? She just wanted to fake the suicide, take his money and run.” He paused. “If she wasn’t bright enough to know insurance won’t pay off on a suicide, do you think she could have figured out anything else?”

Rachael went silent as she considered his words and put the information into context. Finally she spoke. “Pop, David’s murder wasn’t staged. It happened in front of my eyes.”

He shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not.”

“I saw him fall and he stopped breathing right in front of me. I watched him die.” Her voice almost cracked, but she caught herself at the last second. “I don’t think this is the same thing.”

“Of course it isn’t the same thing, Rachael, but for God’s sake, use your brain. At first glance, a situation can look like one thing, then when you look again, it can appear to be something else entirely different. That’s my point. Don’t settle for the obvious. You can’t always believe your eyes or an autopsy report. Dig deeper.”

“That’s good advice, but I have a feeling I can dig to China and I’m not going to find the truth.”

“Well, you better find it, Rachael. Your life depends on it.”

He was right, of course, but suddenly the situation seemed overwhelming. She’d lost her friends, her career and her partner. The world felt upside down with her father helping her and Chase affecting her so much. She couldn’t think straight, much less creatively.

Behind the garage, Kate’s dog barked once then quickly fell quiet, as if remembering where he was. She spoke quietly. “What happens if I can’t?”

“That’s not an option. You’re a Stevens. And Stevenses don’t fail.”

The connection Rachael had felt between them shriveled under the force of his answer. Her throat went tight as he stared sternly at her. “Pull yourself together,” he ordered, “and act like you know that.”

**********

Rachael wasn’t convinced of her father’s argument when she drove away that afternoon. She was equally unsure which had surprised her more, his ideas or the fact that they’d actually discussed the situation without one of them getting pissed off and storming away in a huff. He’d hurt her feelings with his gruffness, but she somehow felt better after talking to him, too. It was a weird combination, then again, her life had been nothing but weird since the shooting.

It seemed like a miracle, but the glazier was right on time. As soon as he finished and she’d paid him, Rachael changed clothes, then grabbed her duffel bag from the closet and left again. Thirty minutes later she parked in front of the private gun range where she practiced. A lot of cops belonged to the club and Rachael had been a member for years. The owners were good people. Usually a stickler for doing her own cleaning and maintenance, she’d let the club’s tech adjust her trigger pull last month. He’d done a good job.

Regardless of that, she didn’t really want to run into anyone she knew. But if she did, well, she did. She had nothing to hide, she told herself. She should act innocent because she was innocent. Looking neither left nor right, she registered at the front desk, got her lane assignment, and walked directly to the indoor shooting area.

The club was high tech all the way with twenty-five air-conditioned, soundproofed lanes. The stations were four, maybe five, feet wide and fifty feet long, each one outfitted with a computer that allowed the shooter to select from over twenty different courses. The programs were preset and tactical, challenging for some, but useless as far as Rachael was concerned. They felt like video games to her and she wasn’t there to play. Dropping her duffel to the black rubber mat at her feet, Rachael knelt down and pulled out her equipment, including her pistol.

The range had special wall tiles that absorbed the sound as well as bullets, but she always wore ear protection and safety glasses too. With everything in place, she punched up her program, adjusting the speed and placement to make the task more difficult as she progressed, took her stance and began to fire. An hour later, she was sweating and exhausted, but the tension she’d had in her neck and arms came from physical effort and not from stress and worry.

She flipped on the gun’s safety catch and stepped back from her stand, her eyes briefly meeting the curious gaze of the man in the lane next to her. She knew him, but from where? A second passed then she placed him, a hard knot forming in her chest. He was the blonde who’d been at Christena Snell’s side before she’d attacked her.

Laying his weapon on the table before him, the cop pulled off his own ear protectors and said hello, sticking his hand out in a friendly manner. “You’re Rachael Stevens. I’m Kevin Connelly. We met at…”

“At the Snell house.” Rachael preempted him. “I thought you looked familiar.”

“I’m surprised you remember. Things got a tad confused that day, didn’t they?”

He seemed amicable enough, but Rachael no longer trusted her judgment. “I’m afraid they did.” Speaking in a dismissive manner, she decided to cut her session short even though she’d paid for two hours. She squatted beside her bag, put her gun away then her towel and zipped the bag shut. Standing up, she slung it over her shoulder and started to leave.

His voice stopped her before she managed one step. “Christena was really upset.”

It seemed rude to simply walk away without comment. “I’m sure I would have been upset myself if I’d just lost my husband.”

“Maybe so, but losing a partner is no picnic either. You’ve had a tough go of it too.” Reaching inside the pocket of his black T-shirt, he removed a card and held it out to her. “If you need a shoulder, I’ve got a broad one. I’d be happy to listen.”

His offer startled her, but she wasn’t sure why. Men had been trying to give her their phone numbers, or get hers, since she was twelve. His manner was matter-of-fact, thoughtful, and not a come-on. He was being friendly, nothing more. She accepted his card. “Thanks. I’ll keep your offer in mind.”

He smiled. “Please do.”

She returned his smile and started once more toward the door, the direction taking her between him and the wall. Just as she drew even with him, he reached out and patted her shoulder. “I mean it.” His eyes were bright and blue. “Call me.”

She muttered something vague then quickly left. The incident, strange at it was, was forgotten until later that evening when her thoughts returned to the conversation she’d had with her dad. Passing a picture of her dad and his unit back in the day, she paused. Kevin Connelly didn’t look like any of them with his fine blonde hair and bright blue eyes, but something about him reminded her of all the old-time cops in the photo. They were masters at saying one thing but meaning another and, even as a kid, she’d sensed their subterfuge and arrogant attitudes of invulnerability. Connelly’s assurance mixed with her father’s words and her brain started spinning. Had her father been pulling the same kind of shit his former cronies liked to pull? He’d suggested a setup, then implied the question: Why would anyone want David dead? A new idea came into her mind. Rumors of corruption had been floating around the department for years and her dad had to have heard them all, as connected as he was. Maybe he’d wanted her to turn her mind in that direction, but he knew better than to push her because she would have gone the opposite way. Planting a seed and letting it grow would produce far better results.

She went upstairs, but she didn’t sleep. In fact, when her phone rang a little past midnight, she was still awake. Her father’s gruff voice answered when she said, “Hello.”

“I been thinking about something since you left. Then I talked it over with Larry, you know my old partner? I think we might be on to something.”

Rachael was glad she was lying down. She could count the times her father had called her on one hand. She responded slowly, unsure of what he expected of her. “Okay.”

“I don’t know who ‘they’ are yet, but I think I know what’s happenin’.”

Rachael wondered if she should take his words at face value or try to interpret them. Earlier, she’d been convinced he was manipulating her, yet now she wasn’t so sure. He almost sounded excited. “And that is…” She coached him to continue.

“Somebody’s settin’ you up.”

She took the phone away from her ear and stared at it in open-mouthed disbelief. Bringing it back, she spoke in a shocked voice. “What? That’s crazy…I…I…”

“Never even considered the possibility,” he finished flatly.

“Of course not! Because it’s too outrageous. Why on earth would anyone want to frame me for David’s murder? That doesn’t make sense.”

“But you shooting him does?” He took a breath and she heard the schnauzer barking in the background. “The man’s dead and he wasn’t hit by a train. The lab says your bullet killed him. Either you shot him or somebody else did. If somebody else did, as outrageous as that sounds to you, they did it in a way that makes you look guilty. Which version do you wanna believe?”

She ignored his question and asked one of her own. “How did you come up with this theory?”

“Larry and I had a case once that was a professional hit, a setup. We can’t remember all the details, but we remembered enough to figure out the same thing might be happenin’ to you. Larry’s got his cousin down in records lookin’ up the case so we can get the details back.”

“Dad, I appreciate the help, but this sounds like such a long shot.”

“It may be, but the other option is that you killed him. You like that better?”

“I didn’t shoot my partner.” Her voice was quiet.

“Then we better figure out who did or you’re gonna be the one who goes down for it.”

**********

From behind her desk, Chase’s boss looked as if she wanted to explode. “I told you to take care of this case, Davidson. What the hell went wrong?”

“Nothing went wrong.” Chase sipped her Starbucks. “She doesn’t believe the test results and she wants to contest them.”

“Is this woman a cop or what? I can’t believe she thinks like this. It’s crazy! Any idiot knows those findings can’t be messed with and what’s more…” She stopped sputtering when she realized Chase had yet to reply.

“Rachael Stevens is an excellent officer with an outstanding record.” Chase paused. “Unlike some in the department, she knows what she’s doing and she does it well. She deserves a full investigation.”

Debbie had never been on the street. She’d served her patrol time by driving the mayor around town. From there, she’d gone straight into her first, but not her last, admin position. Debbie’s eyes slid past Chase’s, then quickly came back. They held defiance at Chase’s subtle put-down, after all she was Chase’s boss, but a certain amount of curiosity was in them, as well. She leaned back in her chair and studied Chase a moment longer. “Then the tests are wrong?”

Chase smiled. “I didn’t say that. But I’m working the angle.”

“And the brick incident?”

“Too soon for a report, but I doubt we’ll get anywhere with it. Somebody’s pissed and they wanted to let her know. The brick was thrown the same night I got the M.E.’s initial report, though. I need to make sure there isn’t a link between the two.”

“When will you be done?”

Chase looked directly into her boss’s eyes and tilted her head slightly. “When I’m finished.”

“I need a time, Davidson. The mayor doesn’t like this dragging out and the press is pounding my ass for a resolution. I want to turn this over to the CRC and the assistant chief ASAP.” She glanced at her watch then looked back at Chase. “I’ve got a reporter due any minute and he’s gonna want an update.”

Disgusted, Chase stood and drained her coffee, then crushed the cup and tossed it into the wastebasket. “When I have a recommendation, you’ll be the first to know.” She then walked out of Debbie’s office and directly into Rachael’s path.

Rachael spoke without as much as a hello. “I need to talk to you.”

Distracted and nervous, Rachael looked as if she’d fallen out of bed and come straight to the office. Her dark hair had been combed and she’d put on a little make-up, but if she’d had on pj’s beneath her suit jacket Chase wouldn’t have been too surprised. Chase marveled at the way this endeared Rachael to her. Before she’d met Rachael, the women who’d always caught her eye had looked as if they’d just walked out of the salon and were heading for the mall. Seeing her in the flesh released the demons Chase had been fighting since the night at Rachael’s house. Desire. Lust. Heat. She thought she had finally banished them, but now Chase knew she was wrong, especially after defending her to Debbie. She wondered if Rachael could tell. Then she wondered if she knew anything about David’s wife having an affair. With Debbie’s eyes on her back, Chase took Rachael’s elbow and steered her out of her boss’s line of sight. “This isn’t a good place for you to be.”

“I don’t care. I need to talk to you. Right now.”

They ended up six blocks down the street. The Webster Park was an oasis of green in the middle of downtown Atlanta, the towering skyscrapers at odds with the eclectic assortment of historic structures that had been moved to the park over the years. Rachael led Chase straight to one of her favorite spots in the park. She entered an enclosed gazebo, taking a seat on the bench inside. It was dark and cool. Even more importantly, it was quiet and very empty. Chase spoke as she sat down beside her. “I’m all yours.”

She took a deep breath and met Chase’s eyes. They looked less chilling and more intense in the sunlight, but she wasn’t sure. Her nervousness made her uncertain of everything, including the reason she’d brought Chase here. The more she’d thought about her father’s suggestion, though, the stronger her conviction had grown. She’d woken this morning, knowing she had to tell Chase. Without giving herself more time to fret, she spoke. “I talked with my father for a long time yesterday and he basically said we aren’t looking deep enough. Then he mentioned something I hadn’t considered before. After sleeping on it last night, I came up with more questions than answers and I thought, well, I thought I should talk to you about it.”

“What did he say?”

“I’ll explain in a minute, but first I have to ask you something. It might not make sense to you, but I have to know.” She hesitated then took the plunge. “Do you think it’s possible that David could have been dirty?”

Chase blinked as Rachael’s words registered. She had been thinking about how much she would like to bury her face in the crook of Rachael’s neck…right below her ear, in that tender spot…

“Chase?”

“I heard you.” She shook her head. “But I don’t have an answer I’d swear to at the moment. As far as I know he was clean.”

“Well, remember the other night when I told you about Jonathan Hopper? He’s the guy who was at Christena’s? He wanted the position in Sex Crimes that I got instead of him.”

“And?”

“When I came into the station this morning, I checked on Hopper. He was off Sunday night.” She paused. “His unit secretary told me he was gone because he’s building a cabin up by the Lake and he had to brick the façade this weekend.”

Chase didn’t react, but this time it wasn’t because she was thinking about Rachael. She was remembering her anonymous caller from the other night. The one who’d said Christena Snell was having an affair. With a cop. “There are construction sites all over the place, Rachael. Anyone could have picked up a brick anywhere and you know it.”

“I agree, but you’d have to admit it’s mighty coincidental, isn’t it?”

“Maybe. But there’s no connection.”

“Yes, there is.” She moved closer as if to better make her point. “Chase, David was an ambitious cop and he hadn’t gotten to the top rung in SC without stepping on some toes. I never gave it any thought, but there were some very unsatisfied officers in our unit who believed he had manipulated the system to get where he was, payoffs for advancement, that kind of thing. Hopper was one of them and he hated both of us. He would have gotten a double play by killing David, then somehow blaming me.”

“And somehow covers the fact that David was shot with your gun? That you were holding at the time?”

“That’s a problem,” she conceded, “but I think the idea bears looking into. Everyone’s speculated about corruption in the department for years. David was a good cop, but it’s not inconceivable that if he paid for his promotion…”

“You’re stretching it, Rachael.”

“Maybe I am, but this is my career we’re talking about.” Her eyes blazed with sudden determination. “If you won’t look into this possibility, then I’ll start my own investigation. I’ll prove you’re wrong, all on my own, if I have to.”

“Look, we’ve talked about this before. I’m the one who’ll work this out.” Chase tensed. “Let me handle this.”

“I would if you were handling it,” she said hotly. “But you’re not. You already made up your mind and now you’re finding the facts to back it up. Like that bogus report from the lab. I’m not going to let you railroad me.”

She stood up and tried to pass her, but Chase blocked her path. They were inches apart in the cool dark and her hands were on Rachael’s shoulders when she finally spoke. “You’ve misunderstood me from the beginning.”

“I don’t think so.”

“I’ve defended you. I’ve cut you slack. I’ve told you things about the case you shouldn’t know until it’s over.” Chase gripped her tightly. “I know you think I’m lying, but this is the truth. I want you to be innocent, Rachael.”

“Why should I believe that?” She searched Chase’s face as if she could read the truth from her expression. “What do you care? Why do you want me to be innocent?”

“I want it because you are a good cop and because APD needs officers like you. I want it because you want it.” She paused and leaned closer, breathing in Rachael’s perfume and her nearness. “But mostly I want it…because I want you.”

Chase’s lips closed over Rachael’s. Because Chase was so quiet and unassuming, Rachael expected something gentle from her, something soft, but her kiss was nothing like that. It took Rachael by complete surprise, eliminating her hesitations and replacing them with unrelenting desire. It was nothing like what she expected.

The shock rippled over her, yet the power of the kiss didn’t dissipate. It seemed to grow instead, taking her energy as its own and fueling her need. Rachael held on to Chase’s arms and tried not to react, but when Chase’s tongue parted her lips and the kiss became more intimate, Rachael relinquished all control as a low groan escaped from the back of her throat. Chase matched the sound with one of her own and she felt it as much as she heard it, her body vibrating. They’d both been holding back, she realized belatedly and now they’d reached the point of explosion. She wasn’t sure how long the kiss lasted, but when Chase pulled away, she wasn’t ready.

Chase took a step back and lowered her eyes. “What in the hell am I doing?

Rachael was trying to catch her breath. “I…I think that’s called a kiss.”

Chase smiled. “I’ve never had a kiss like that before. Are you sure?”

“Not really.” The confession slipped out on its own. “Maybe we should do it again, so we can be positive. I’d hate to not know.” She could tell Chase liked the idea.

Chase started to bring her closer but stopped and did just the opposite, dropping her arms and taking a step backward. “This is insane. We can’t do this. I’m supposed to be investigating you. We could both get thrown off the force and we’d deserve it for being so stupid.”

Rachael nodded. She knew the woman was right.

Chase showed her frustration with an audible sigh. “Trading my job for a woman like you might be worth it to me, but you can do better. A helluva lot better. I’m too old for you. I’ve seen too much. I work too hard. I’m a cop and you don’t date cops.”

Rachael smiled nervously. “I’ve never openly dated a woman either, but that didn’t stop me from kissing you back. Are you making these excuses for me or for you?”

Chase looked around nervously. She needed to think, but she didn’t have a clear head for that. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m making excuses for the both of us.” Chase thought about Lauren Henderson and the wedding announcement in the newspaper. “This woman you spoke of, what happened with her. Why aren’t you still with her?”

Rachael dropped her gaze as she allowed the last time she saw Lauren to enter her mind. “She tried to break my heart. It’s…complicated, but it doesn’t matter. It’s…it’s over.”

Chase studied the woman’s face and her words. She wasn’t so sure. Rachael looked hurt, but she also looked confused. “Are you sure?”

Rachael didn’t expect the question. She looked away and asked herself the same question. She decided to answer the question truthfully. She let out a long breath, trying to relieve some of the tension of the moment. “Am I sure it’s over? I’m not sure there really ever was anything to be over. The affair was an illusion. I’m not sure any of it was real.”

Chase could see the sadness in Rachael’s expression. “Real to you or real to her?”

Rachael was getting annoyed by all the questions. She didn’t want to think about it, much less put words to it. “Does it really matter, Chase? If it wasn’t real to her, then how could it have been real to me?”

Chase had more questions, but the tone and sarcasm in Rachael’s voice told her that she wouldn’t get the answers she was looking for. The woman before her had been through so much. She had no one to trust and no one to comfort her. Chase unconsciously took a step toward Rachael before whispering, “I won’t try to break your heart.”

Rachael looked up into those mesmerizing strange eyes and felt fear. “I know. You will break my heart…if I let you.”

A split second passed and Rachael’s pulse roared in her ears. Then Chase pulled her close and they started all over again. They never saw the shadow in the window.

**********

Chase left Rachael standing on the sidewalk outside the station and headed straight for the parking garage. Rachael’s suggestion seemed like a remote possibility, but if Jonathan Hopper had had it in for Rachael and David and he turned out to be Christena’s lover, Chase would have to start over. And she wouldn’t even know where to begin because the physical evidence, like an elephant in the living room, would still be too overwhelming to ignore.

Between the construction and the traffic, it took Chase an hour to get to the Snell house and she had plenty of time to curse herself. She’d been crazy to kiss Rachael, but how could she have resisted? She savored the memory of their encounter then told herself it would never happen again. At the very same time, the other side of her brain was plotting how soon she could see her again.

Christena Snell answered the doorbell after four rings and Chase almost wished she’d called first. The woman wore a rumpled, dirty housedress and a very blank look. “I’m Chase Davidson.” She tried to remind the woman. “I’m with APD Internal…”

“I know who you are. What do you want? I’m kinda busy right now.”

Chase used her most sympathetic tone of voice. “I’m sorry, but I need to ask you a few more questions. I’m trying to wrap up a loose end or two.”

She looked as if she wanted to close the door in her face. Half expecting just that, Chase was surprised when she threw the lock and pushed the door open instead. “C’mon in. I can give you ten minutes.”

The day of the memorial service, the home had been neat and clean, but that was no longer the case. Unfolded laundry was piled on the sofa and dirty dishes littered the dining-room table. A thin coat of dust covered everything. She waved Chase toward a recliner as she pushed aside some of the wash and sat down on the sofa. She didn’t seem to notice when half of the laundry tumbled to a rug that looked as if it hadn’t been vacuumed in a month.

She threaded her fingers through her hair then dropped her hands to her lap, before looking at Chase. “You’re the one who took that woman out of here, aren’t you?” Not waiting for her answer, she went on, spitting out the words as if they tasted bitter. “David’s partner…Rachael. She shot him, I know that for a fact.”

Her outspokenness should have surprised Chase, but it didn’t. Her dilated eyes and dazed attitude registered and Chase remembered Rachael’s earlier comments. Christena was either drunk or high. “How do you know that Mrs. Snell?”

“I been told.”

“By whom?”

“The same person who told me they were sleeping with each other.”

“Was it Jonathan Hopper?”

The woman looked at Chase so emptily, she knew the answer before the woman answered her. “Jonathan who?”

“Hopper. He’s a cop.”

“Oh, the guy on David’s team. No, of course not.” Changing the subject as abruptly as she had a second before, she continued. “She had a thing for him, you know. He did for her, too.”

Chase assumed she was back on Rachael. “I’m surprised you’d say that, Mrs. Snell. Most women wouldn’t be as forthright about their husband’s affairs.”

“She’s beau…ti…ful.” She pronounced all three syllables so distinctly Chase knew she was trying not to slur her words. “What kinda man wouldn’t wanna sleep with Rachael Stevens?”

Chase definitely didn’t have an answer for that one. The woman rambled on. “We…we’d been married five years and I…I thought…” Her restless fingers found a kitchen towel and she brought it to her face. She touched her eyes with the rough fabric, then let it fall. “We’d had our troubles, just like any married couple, but I thought I could make it work. After the baby came, I…I put on some weight and it was hard, but I thought having a kid would make David change.”

“Change how?”

She stiffened at Chase’s question but answered immediately. “I thought it’d make him want to stay home more.”

Her answer made sense, even though her delivery seemed strange. “I understand, Mrs. Snell. You wanted some help. It’s hard to find time for yourself when you’re a new mom.”

“Time for myself?” She looked puzzled. “Why would I want that?”

“Well, I assume you have a job, a career. Most women these days have their own lives beyond the family. Even if you didn’t work outside the home, I can see how you might want to get out and be with your friends.” Chase thought to herself, or your lover.

Whatever she had used to dull her senses was wearing off. Her voice went sharp. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m investigating your husband’s death, Mrs. Snell, but that means I have to look at everything in his life. Even though he’s gone, in a sense, I have to get to know him and his family as well.”

Her skin took on a greenish tone and for a moment, Chase was afraid the woman might get sick. “I’m sure you already know the important stuff.”

“Do I?”

She blinked but didn’t say anything.

“I’ve heard some rumors, Mrs. Snell.”

“They aren’t true!”

“You don’t even know what I was going to say.”

Her voice was getting higher. “It doesn’t matter. They aren’t true, whatever they are. Everything was fine. Just fine. We were…were a perfect family.”

“Perfect families don’t generally include affairs, Mrs. Snell.”

She clutched the towel in her lap, wrapping her fingers around it as if she were drowning and it was a rope. “I don’t think he loved her, if that’s what you’re implying.”

“I’m not talking about David and Officer Stevens. I’m talking about you. I’ve been told you were seeing someone outside your marriage, Mrs. Snell. Another officer, in fact. Is that true?”

She jumped up from the sofa, her face alarmed. “That’s outrageous! Who told you that? You ought to be getting the woman who killed my husband instead of coming over here and harassing me. How dare you barge in here and accuse me of something like that?”

Chase remained seated. “I’m not accusing you of anything, Mrs. Snell. I’m telling you what I was told and asking if it’s true.”

“It’s not true. Not at all. It’s a lie. Why would I even want to have an affair when I had a husband who looked like David?” She pursed her lips then nodded toward the door. “I think it’s time for you to leave. Your ten minutes are up.”

**********

After Rachael went back to her office, she decided she didn’t want to think about what had happened in the park, but her mind didn’t seem to care what she wanted. All she could concentrate on was Chase. Who would have thought Chase could kiss like that? Sure, she’d been attracted to her, but she’d attributed her feelings to the desire to have Chase on her side, not in her bed. Now she wondered. The quiet, bookish exterior hid an unexpected woman, her cold gray eyes and piercing demeanor a cover-up for something far different. What else, Rachael wondered, lurked behind her façade?

Realizing she was making a giant mistake but willing to risk it, Rachael did the only thing she knew that would get her thoughts off Chase. She picked up the phone and called Kim. She didn’t really know what to expect, since she hadn’t spoken to any of her friends since the canceled lunch date, but in retrospect, Kim had seemed the least upset of all of them. More importantly, Kim was very well connected, both inside the force and out. All Rachael needed was a simple answer to a simple question. Surely Kim would help her.

Kim answered on the third ring.

“It’s Rachael. Have you got a minute to talk?”

Was there a hesitation or not? Rachael couldn’t tell. “There’s a meeting in half an hour I need to go to, but I’ve got some time. How are you doing, Rachael?”

Rachael kept her own voice as cool as she could make it, since she was having a hard time determining whether or not Kim sounded aloof or not. “I’m, fine. I have something I need to ask you.”

“What is it?”

This time she was sure she heard caution in Kim’s voice. Rachael plunged ahead regardless. “I had a brick come through my window the other night and I think Jonathan Hopper might have had something to do with it.”

“Oh, Rachael…That dick!” Kim’s distress sounded genuine, but Rachael wouldn’t let herself believe it was. “I’m so sorry, Rachael. You weren’t hurt, were you?”

“All I suffered was a broken window.”

“Well, I’ve heard nothing. At least not about Hopper…” She stopped all at once, the break in her speech too abrupt for Rachael to ignore.

“Because everyone’s too busy talking about me?”

The usually levelheaded Kim rarely got rattled, but she did so now. “Well, actually…yes. Your situation is being discussed a lot right now.”

Despite herself, Rachael felt her throat tighten. “You don’t believe I killed David, do you?”

“I don’t know what to believe, Rachael. The ballistics tests the lab performed…they’re awfully reliable, you’d have to admit.”

“Oh, they’re reliable, all right.” Rachael spoke in a voice tinged with bitterness. She was too tired to hide her emotions, especially with Chase’s wager in her mind. “More reliable than my friends.”

“Rachael, please…”
“Please what, Kim? No one’s called, no one’s come by. Everyone bailed on the luncheon. It’s pretty obvious you guys are abandoning me.”

“Maybe we’re not helping you as much as we should, Rachael but…”

“How about you’re not helping me at all?” Rachael’s anger got the better of her, her frustration bubbling to the top and boiling over. “I didn’t expect anyone to hold a rally for me on the square downtown, but I thought I could count on my friends to support me.”

“We’re all concerned…”

“That’s for sure! You’re concerned about your own positions, aren’t you? I’m off limits and so are my problems. Has it occurred to any of you that I might be innocent?”

Kim’s voice was quiet when she answered. “It’s occurred to all of us, but you have to see the position we’ve been put in, Rachael. If we defend you too vigorously, they’ll say we’re just sticking by you because you’re a woman. And God help us all if there were any hint that Lauren might come to your aid. Each of us has to be very careful, yourself included. We’re handling the situation the best way we know how and that might end up being different for each of us. We have all had to take a step back from our friendship.” She paused. “Maybe Hopper has a point, albeit a crudely expressed one.”

“What do you mean?”

“We’re each going to have to use our own brains to work this out, Rachael. There’s no other way.” Silence came down the line because Rachael didn’t know what to say. Kim broke the silence with a soft gentle voice. “Suppose our positions were reversed. What would you do if you were in our place?”

Her question wasn’t a new one. Ever since she and Chase had discussed her friends’ reactions, Rachael had been thinking about the situation and even though she didn’t like what it said about her, she knew that nothing meant more to her than her career. She had worked too long and too hard to jeopardize it for anyone. Aside from Lauren, the friendship and the closeness she’d shared with her friends was great, but the preservation of all her efforts was more important. She would have to give Lauren more thought. She might have made the very same choice her friends had, but that knowledge still didn’t mitigate the sting of their self-imposed distance. “I don’t know what I’d do.” She took a deep breath. “But I pray to God I’ll never find out, because right now I wouldn’t wish my life on my worst enemy.”

She gave Kim time to comment. She simply said goodbye and hung up the phone. There would be no more pretending now. Friends or not, the break was complete. Her friends were gone and Rachael was on her own.

Rachael finally managed to wrestle control of her thoughts away from the conversation with Kim and turn them back to where they needed to be. On her case. Her father’s suggestion came to the forefront of her thinking and, ten minutes later, she stood before the crime lab. She wasn’t quite sure what she hoped to accomplish, yet something told her this was the place to start. She walked inside with Chase’s warning echoing in her mind. Pulling out her badge, she flipped it in front of the receptionist’s nose, then dropped it back into her purse. I’m with SC. I need to check on some old cases. Gotta tech around I could talk to?”

The woman barely looked up from her computer screen. “Frank Telson’s back there somewhere. Try his office, third door down the hall.”

So much for security. Rachael muttered her thanks then headed quickly down the corridor, half-afraid the woman might call her back. She’d never heard of Telson, but a few summers ago she’d worked closely with one of the techs on a serial rapist case and they’d developed a loose kind of camaraderie. Slinking down the hall with what she hoped was a low profile, Rachael tried to remember the location of the woman’s cubicle.

Before she could get too far, an officious-looking man with a bad comb-over stopped her. He wore a stained lab coat that had been white and gray tennis shoes that had been black. She didn’t know him and as far as she knew, he didn’t recognize her, either. He certainly didn’t seem happy to see her. “I’m Frank Telson, the afternoon supervisor. Reception paged and said someone was coming back. May I help you?”

Rachael gulped. “Actually I’m looking for a tech that helped me a while back. Her name was Teresa…”

“Teresa Webb. Teresa is no longer with us.” His thin lips pressed together as if it hurt him to speak. “Did you have a question about a case?”

“Not exactly.”

He raised an eyebrow and waited.

She stumbled over her words. “I just wanted to review something with her…about your chain of custody and how evidence is handled, like from the M.E.’s office to here.” She paused. “I’m aware of all the procedures, of course and I know how everything works, but I had a theoretical question about evidence integrity.”

“Then I’ll give you a theoretical answer. It’s secure.” He smirked, clearly pleased with his answer. “Was there anything else?”

She ignored his attitude. “So blood evidence or something physical, like a weapon or say a slug…they’re signed for each step to the way, aren’t they? And…theoretically speaking, of course…one could trace who had handled each piece of evidence?”

He seemed to stiffen. “That’s correct, more or less. Who did you say you are? I didn’t catch your name…”

“I’m with SC. I’m working on that case about the guy who beats up hookers.” She’d encountered men like Telson before and there was only one way to handle them. By being a bully. He opened his mouth to speak but she stopped him, drawing herself up to her full height and gave him a hard look. “Look here, Telson, this is something I can’t afford a leak on, okay? It’s sensitive. If you mention this to anyone, there’s going to be trouble. You need to forget I was even here.”

“I’d be more than happy to forget this encounter.”

“Thanks for nothing.”

“My pleasure.”

**********

Chase told herself not to do it. Even as she dialed the number, she was thinking, I shouldn’t do this. This is crazy. What am I thinking? Then she answered. “It’s me. I know it’s late but–“…

“It’s okay.” Rachael’s voice was softly slurred and Chase knew she had wakened her. The thought brought with it a slew of images and she enjoyed every one of them.

Chase tried to clear the thoughts from her mind as she spoke. “I went to see Christena Snell this afternoon.”

“How’s she doing?”

“Her housekeeping is suffering and her personal hygiene could stand some improvement, but she wasn’t foaming at the mouth…until I mentioned your name.”

“Thanks for sharing. Is that what you called to tell me?”

There was a long silence before Chase answered. “No, that’s not why I called.”

Rachael waited but she didn’t say anything more. “Am I supposed to guess the reason?”

“Can you?”

Rachael’s voice seemed to catch. “I probably could, but should I?”

“I can’t answer that. I’ve been doing a lot of things lately that I shouldn’t be doing, so maybe you need to ask someone else that question.”

“I’d rather ask you, Chase.”

“I’m thirty-eight years old. You’re twenty-six. That’s twelve years difference.”

“You know your math.”

“I’m investigating you for a serious crime. I have a responsibility to find out the truth.”

“Absolutely.”

“But I’m not sorry I kissed you this morning. I’m not going to apologize.”

A smile came to Rachael’s face, despite the serious tone in Chase’s voice. “I don’t want you to apologize.”

“I wanted to make sure you understood that.”

“I do.” Rachael waited as the silence grew again.

Chase finally spoke. “There’s more.”

“What is it?”

“I think Christena Snell is having an affair with another cop.”

Rachael caught her breath and sat up in bed. She had been thinking of Chase and their kiss. When she heard her voice on the other end, she almost freaked. Now this. “Are you sure?”

“No. I’m not sure, but I’d heard she was and I went over there this afternoon. I wanted to decide for myself before I said anything.”

“Did she admit it?”

“Of course not. She lied and threw me out of the house.”

“How do you know she was lying?”

“IA personnel have built in truth detectors. I could tell.”

Rachael smiled. “They have egos, too. Who’s the guy she’s sleeping with?”

“That I don’t know. Yet. I had been thinking it was Hopper, but she said it wasn’t and she was telling the truth, then.”

“Hopper or not, this is big, Chase. This could be the motivation you’ve been looking for. Maybe Christena wanted to be with this other cop. They could have been working together to get rid of David and they set me up for it, just like Dad suggested. The officer’s access would make the whole thing a snap.” With sudden excitement, she swung her feet to the floor. “David told me the night he got shot that she’d thrown him out and he couldn’t go home. She’d called him names and told him not to come back.”

“None of the other people I’ve interviewed have said anything about marital problems.”

“David wasn’t a talker, at least not about his family.”

“Did he say why she kicked him out?”

“Not really. Just that they’d fought and she wanted a divorce.”

“Why kill him if she’d already asked him for a divorce?” Chase spoke as if to herself.

“Maybe there was a life-insurance policy. Maybe he would have fought her for the kid. Why does anyone kill his or her spouse instead of divorcing? If she and her lover did this, it certainly wouldn’t be a first, would it?”

Another small silence built up, then Chase spoke. “Why didn’t you tell me about this earlier?”

Rachael thought for a split second. In her mind, David’s fight with Christena had been linked to his drinking and Rachael hadn’t wanted to jeopardize his pension by mentioning either that night. But her own situation had changed since then. Because of the ballistics report and Christena’s accusations, there was now more at stake. She took a deep breath. “David was drunk the night he died, Chase. In retrospect, maybe it wasn’t a good idea but….”

“You’re damned right, it wasn’t a good idea. This is why you hesitated when I asked you if David used drugs, isn’t it? You didn’t want a screen done because you knew the family might lose his annuity if the truth got out. I admire your loyalty, but you should have known better, Rachael.” Suspicion tinged her voice. “Is there anything else you might have ‘forgotten’?”

“No.”

“Are you sure?”

Chase had asked her the same thing this morning. Right before she had told her not to investigate on her own. It was time to change the subject. “Look, we need to concentrate on the problem at hand, not my memory. We need to find out who it is that Christena’s been seeing. That’s more important.”

Chase corrected her. “I need to find out. Me. Not you. Not even we. Do you hear me?” Chase’s voice rumbled with her warning, reminding Rachael of the way she had spoken to her at the park. Chase’s cold voice brought her back to the moment. “I mean it, Rachael. You’re only going to make things harder on yourself. Leave the investigating to me.”

**********

Chase caught Rachael walking out of her office right before six the next evening. She had deliberately waited to the end of the day to come see Rachael, but the effort had been costly. Instead of working in the intervening hours, she had stared at the clock. Last night, she had come to the conclusion that she had to know, once and for all, if Rachael and David had been lovers. Rachael’s revelation that Snell had been drinking had been an eye-opener. What other secrets did Rachael have? She told herself she had to know the truth because of what it meant to the case, but her need went beyond that. It was personal. Very personal. “Officer Stevens, if you can spare a minute…” Rachael was saying good-night to the secretary Chase had talked to that first day. Both women looked up as Chase came closer. “I need to discuss a few things with you.” She spoke formally then dipped her head to acknowledge the secretary. The secretary’s brown eyes gave her no welcome.

Rachael looked at her. “Of course.”

Chase took her by the elbow and maneuvered her out of earshot from the woman behind the desk. “I’d like to go somewhere quiet where we could talk. If you’ve got the time later tonight, do you think we could take a drive? Around nine or so?”

A momentary hesitation came across Rachael’s features, then it seemed to disappear. “That would be fine. I had something to do, but I can reschedule it.”

Chase wondered reflexively if Rachael had a date, then she answered her own question, reminding herself if she’d been seeing anyone, she would know about it. She shook her head. What other kind of proof did she need to show how clouded her judgment had become? She realized Rachael was staring at her. “I’ll see you at nine, Rachael.”

“I’ll be waiting.”

How in the hell could Chase have found out she had managed to locate Candy and set up another meeting? It seemed awfully coincidental that Chase had to see Rachael tonight of all nights. But then again, who could say? More things than she liked to consider seemed to rest on luck and nothing else. She called Candy on her way home and left a message on the girl’s machine.
“I’ll get back to you and we can schedule another time, Candy.” Fighting the traffic all the way from downtown to her neighborhood, she grabbed take-out Chinese from her usual place on the corner then drove home, munching on an egg roll. What did Chase want? Did she have something new to report on her case? Was she going to turn her loose? Or was she going to arrest her? The questions rattled around and grew, taking root in her imagination. Maybe she had learned the ballistics tests were wrong. Maybe Christena had confessed to engineering the whole event. Maybe a terrible mistake had been made and nothing was what it seemed to be.

She finished eating when she got home, took a shower and changed. By the time she had dried her hair and applied fresh makeup, it was almost nine. That’s when she realized what she had done. Without even thinking about it, she had gotten ready as if for a date. She considered washing her face and combing her hair into a ponytail, but the doorbell rang. With a curse, she threw the lipstick she had been about to put on into the sink and went downstairs.

Chase had replaced her suit with a pair of jeans and a black short-sleeved shirt. She held a black ball cap in one hand and a silk scarf in the other. Rachael decided right then, if this had been a date, they wouldn’t have made it far. She would have dragged Chase right inside and then up the stairs. Along with her silk scarf. She might just do it anyway.

“Are you up for a ride?” Chase tilted her head behind her and Rachael came to her senses. Her Porsche, with the top down, was parked in her driveway. Chase held up the scarf and explained. “For your hair.”

Rachael smiled and lied. “I knew that.”

Chase smiled back. “Of course.”

Five minutes later, they were on the freeway and heading south. As the traffic eased and the endless fast-food places and office complexes gave way to farmland, Rachael found herself relaxing. If Chase had come to tell her she was under arrest, she was certainly doing it the right way. She was almost sorry when Chase slowed the sports car and took the exit. Turning into what looked like a down-home bar, she turned off the powerful engine and looked at her. “Best music for miles.” She nodded her head toward the bar. “Coldest beers, too.”

Rachael just stared at her. She was an IA cop who wore custom suits, taught college on the side and liked good music. The woman didn’t even acknowledge that she worked brilliantly in a man’s world, everyday. Nothing about Chase fell into neat categories. As Chase opened her door and helped her out, Rachael decided she needed to stop trying to put her in a box. There wasn’t one that would fit.

The place was almost empty. Beer signs flashed over a polished mahogany bar and at the other end of the room was a small stage. In between the bar and the stage was a long wooden dance floor. Rachael looked at the other patrons in the bar. A few men sat near the bar, clearly gay and an exhausted looking salesman type took up one of the booths. The only other patrons, a straight couple, were seated near the back. They wore their guilt like bright red coats and Rachael wondered what their spouses were doing while they hid here and held hands. “I’ve seen a lot of bars in my life, especially after I joined the force, but this one takes the prize.”

Chase smiled. “I complimented the music and the drinks. I didn’t say anything about it’s clientele.”

“True.” Rachael slid into the booth Chase indicated and issued a silent prayer of thanks that there was not a band on stage now. The idea of dancing with Chase was one she couldn’t wrap her mind around. For one thing, she didn’t want to get that close to her and for another…she didn’t want to get that close to her. She just couldn’t be sure of her control over her desire, right now.

Chase ordered a soft drink, but Rachael needed something stronger. With some reservation, she took Chase’s suggestion and ordered a martini. She waited until the waitress left before speaking. “Are you sure, Chase?”

Chase nodded confidently. “It’ll be fine, I promise.”

They made small talk until the bleached blonde waitress returned with their drinks. Rachael took one sip, then arched her eyebrows as the martini slid down her throat in a fine cold rush.

Chase smiled at her expression. “I told you. One of these days you’ll start to believe what I say.”

She took another sip then set her glass down. “I’m afraid that day might be closer than you think?”

“Why is that?”

Instead of answering, she reached into her purse and pulled out the dollar bill, pushing it toward Chase. “I owe you this.”

Chase made no move to take the money. She leaned closer and her voice took on a soft gentle tone. “Your friends disappeared on you?”

Rachael nodded her throat stinging and she couldn’t blame the drink. “I talked to the last one today. I thought she could help me with…” She stopped but it was too late. Chase already understood what she had done. She could read it in her eyes, so she finished her sentence quietly. “I thought she might tell me something about Jonathan Hopper, but she didn’t know him.”

“No one seems to be on your side anymore.”

She nodded. Giving her a moment, Chase took a drink and stayed silent. Rachael appreciated the fact that she didn’t try to analyze the situation or give her advice. When she changed the subject, Rachael appreciated it even more. “I submitted your protest to my boss.”

“So you didn’t bring me out here to arrest me?”

“I wouldn’t take you for a ride then throw the cuffs on you. That would be too cruel, even for me.”

Rachael took another swallow of her martini. “Actually, I thought it might be a nice way to break the news. How much more time is this going to take?”

“My captain will sit on your protest for a while. Then we’ll have a meeting. Then another one.” Chase shrugged. “I can’t answer that question. I have no idea. Because of who you are, they’ll drag their feet before filing any charges.”

Rachael caught her breath, then let it out slowly. “Did you ever find out anything about Hopper? I know you said he’s not Christena’s lover, but I still think he threw the brick.”

“I think he had something to do with it, too. I did some checking and the timing fits. Plus, I got the lab to confirm that your brick came from the same batch as the ones on his lake house.”

“Chase! Why didn’t you tell me this earlier?”

“Because it doesn’t matter. Hopper’s too dumb to plan a dog napping much less a complicated frame-up job. In addition, he has no motive. Unless you’re crazy, being pissed about a promotion isn’t a good enough motivation to kill someone. Hopper’s not crazy. He’s just stupid. He deposited fifteen hundred dollars cash into his checking account the day after your window was shattered. I’m working the possibilities, but I need to find out where that money came from before I do anything else.” Chase’s expression changed as she reached across the table and covered Rachael’s hand with her own. “Forget about Hopper. He doesn’t matter. I brought you out here for another reason, and it’s important I have the truth. I’ve asked you this question before, but it’s even more important that you answer me truthfully now.”

Rachael sat as still as she could, her heart racing inside her chest. “What do you want to know?”

“Were you and David Snell having an affair?”

Her relief was so palpable, she knew Chase could see it. “No.” Her eyes locked on Chase’s before she continued. “I never slept with David. I don’t mess around with married men…” She had started to add her usual or cops, but what was the point? She knew that she would not only prove herself wrong about not messing around with cops, if Chase wanted it, too. But she would do something that she promised herself she would never do again. She would have an affair with a woman. “We were not lovers, Chase.”

From somewhere in the back, a jukebox switched to a slow song. Chase seemed to sit in judgment for a moment, then relief, or something damn close to it came and went across her face. She stood and held her hand out to Rachael. “Let’s dance.”

Rachael looked around the bar and with a shrug, she slid from the booth and joined Chase on the empty wooden floor. When the song finished, they continued to sway and in a second, another one started up. Five tracks later, Rachael had lost what little will she had to stay out of Chase’s arms. Instead, she felt as if she never wanted to leave them.

Chase looked down at her. She could have been wrong, but the expression on Chase’s face seemed to reflect her own need. Chase pulled her a little closer and whispered in her ear. “Let’s get out of here. I want to be alone with you.”

Rachael was silent for a moment. “I’m not sure that’s such a good idea.”

“I didn’t say it was. But I still want to do it.”

Leaving enough cash on the table for their drinks and a tip, Chase grabbed her hand and they walked out to the Porsche.

As soon as they were in the front seat, Chase pulled Rachael to her and began to kiss her. Rachael’s lips were as soft as she remembered, her skin as fragrant. She wasn’t the kind of woman who went for heavy perfume and Chase was glad. Her natural scent was heady enough. Helping her lift herself over the gearbox, Chase brought her into her lap and Rachael curled around her. Her hands immediately finding their way to the back of Chase’s head and neck, the tip of her tongue coming out to tease Chase’s bottom lip. The feel of Rachael’s body against hers made her moan and suddenly she felt like a teenager in the back seat for the very first time. Except for one big difference. She had been in a roaring hurry at that age, but Chase knew better now.

She took her time and slowly savored each sensation. The lingering taste of gin on Rachael’s lips, the tiny whimpers she made as she snuggled closer, the satin feel of her hair. She took off Rachael’s jacket then ease one of the thin straps of her camisole down, pressing her lips against the hollow of her collarbone. She kissed her way back to her mouth as her hands dropped to Rachael’s breasts. Beneath the fabric of her top, her nipples stood up and Chase gently rubbed a thumb over first one and then the other. Her breasts were full and begging for attention. Chase was just about to dip her hand inside the camisole when the distant ringing of a cell phone penetrated the fog of her desire. Cursing loudly, Chase fumbled for the phone at her waistband. Rachael started to move away, but she grabbed her and held her still, somehow shaking the phone open with her other hand and answering. “Davidson here.”

Chase sounded out of breath, because she was out of breath, but Bobby Palmer didn’t seem to notice. The homicide lieutenant had more important things on his mind. “We got trouble. The hospital just called and something has happened with John Doe Two. We gotta get to the hospital fast.”

“Shit.” Releasing Rachael, Chase ran a hand through her hair. “Is he conscious? Has he said anything?”

“I don’t have time to explain. Meet me at the hospital as soon as you can.”

“I’m on my way.” Chase snapped the phone shut, then looked across the car at Rachael. “I’ve got to get to the medical center. Something’s going down with John Doe Two.”

Rachael buckled her seatbelt. “I’m coming with you.”

Her hand on the key, Chase looked at her. “No, you’re not.”

“But I have…”

“I’ll call you after I get more details.” Her voice was firm, as the engine roared to life and she put the car in gear.

“But–”

Chase shook her head. “No buts, Rachael. You can’t come with me and you know it, so why are you even asking?”

Rachael wanted to scream because it means so much, but they hit the freeway at eighty and above the roar of the wind, any conversation became impossible. Forced into silence, Rachael fumed. She understood Chase’s position, but she needed to know what was happening. Her whole future depended on it.

They arrived back at her house quicker than she would have thought possible. She argued her case the entire time Chase walked her to the front door. When they reached her steps, Chase lifted her chin, stared down at her and said two words. “I’m sorry.”

“You’re ‘sorry’?” she repeated angrily. “‘Sorry’ isn’t good enough, Chase. You need to take me with you.”

“I can’t do that, Rachael, and you know it.”

“But–”

Chase lowered her head and cradled Rachael’s face between her hands, kissing her with such passion that she almost made Rachael forget the argument. Almost.

Rachael looked up at her breathlessly. “Chase…please.”

Her eyes went cold; then she kissed Rachael again, hard and fast. “I’ll call you.”

Standing where Chase left her until the taillights of the Porsche had faded, Rachael went inside, frustrated and angry. Her knees were trembling, she realized unexpectedly, and an emotion that was at once empty and foreign stormed inside her. She wasn’t sure if she was more angry because Chase had to leave or because she refused to take her with her.

Either way, every nerve was on full alert. She slammed into the kitchen, grabbed the first glass in the cabinet and poured herself a drink of water. She guzzled it as if it were the martini she’d left behind, then she set the glass down so hard, the plastic cracked. She picked it up and glared at it. The surface had remained intact, but the plastic itself was completely cracked, a thousand spider webs of weakness now threatening its integrity. Lifting her eyes, she stared blindly out the window over the sink, a set of headlights sweeping through the darkness as a car took off. She looked back down at her hands. The damned glass was a perfect metaphor for her entire life. She was holding herself together, but just barely. With the slightest nudge, she would shatter.
Opening her fingers, she let the tumbler fall into the sink. It bounced once, rolled toward the center, then came to a stop on its side. She turned with a sigh and went upstairs, but she didn’t even try to sleep. Instead, she called Chase too many times to count. Each time, Chase had no news. She gave up at three; then, two hours later, her phone rang.

Chase sounded strange; her voice seemed strained. “He’s dead.”

“Shit!” Disappointment rippled over her as she sat up in the bed. “Did he say anything before he went? Please tell me he said something.”

“He didn’t tell us a damn thing.” Chase paused for several moments. “He was gone before I got there.”

Rachael needed something. “What about an ID?”

“His name is Rico Sanchez. Palmer said he has a sheet a mile long. I’ve ordered a copy of it–”

“Stop right there. If the guy had a sheet, why has it taken us this long to ID him? We should have had his name the day David got shot. Please don’t tell me he wasn’t printed.”

“He was printed, but somewhere between the hospital and headquarters, the cards got lost. Nobody realized what had happened until he died and the morgue printed him again.”

Chase paused, an undercurrent in her silence something Rachael couldn’t ignore. Gripping the phone with both hands, she carefully swung her feet to the floor. “So what aren’t you saying, Chase?”

“Somebody came into his hospital room and smothered him with a pillow. He didn’t just die…he was murdered.”

Rachael’s mouth fell open. “Jesus. What…? When…?”

“The staff was holding a meeting when one of the nurses realized she’d left something in his room. She went back to get it and caught a guy in a mask beside the bed. He knocked her out, then finished the job he’d started. They locked down the hospital as soon as they discovered her, but he was long gone by the time she came to and explained what had happened.”

“We didn’t have a guard on Sanchez, Chase?”

“There was no reason to.”

“I’m coming down there.”

“No!” Chase lowered her voice and spoke again. “Don’t even think about it, Rachael.”

“But, Chase–…”

“Don’t do it.” Rachael had never heard the tone Chase’s voice now held. “If you show up, I swear to God, Rachael, I’ll arrest you myself. Do you understand me?”

She exhaled slowly. “Yes, I understand.”

“Don’t say a word about this to anyone, either.” She repeated herself. “Anyone, Rachael!” Then she hung up.

There would be no more sleeping. In a daze, Rachael got up and dressed. All she felt was confusion, a thousand questions running through her head. Clearly someone had a stake in keeping Sanchez quiet, but who? And why? Could Hopper have done this? She felt a tiny bit of hope, but it was quickly followed by a dose of reality. Until she got more information, she simply couldn’t understand the situation completely. After a fast cup of coffee, she went into the office. She had been there a little more than an hour when a man appeared in her doorway. Looking up in surprise, she met her father’s eyes.

“I’ve got some info for you,” he said without any greeting. “But you didn’t hear it from me.”

She had called him right after talking to Kim. It had been another one of those awkward conversations and when she had hung up, Rachael had wondered why she had phoned him in the first place. He had said so little she wondered if she had imagined the closeness that she had felt the day she stopped at his house. “Okay.” She motioned him to a chair across from her desk. She thought of telling him about the shooter, but then Chase’s warning came right behind it. She stayed quiet.

“You told me the other day that you had learned that someone wasn’t being faithful. You remember who that was?”

He clearly didn’t want to speak Christena Snell’s name out loud for anyone to possibly hear. Rachael felt her skin prickle at his cautiousness. “Yes, I do.”

“I know the identity of someone who might be connected to that situation.”

This time it took her a second, but she finally got it. “You know who her…accomplice is?”

“I do and you do, too.”

She had been rocking back in her chair, but all at once, Rachael froze.

“You made his acquaintance at an inauspicious time the other day. I wasn’t there but I heard about it later. He was sitting right by her and holding her hand.”

Rachael thought for a minute, then sucked in her breath. Kevin Connelly had been next to Christena on the sofa when she had attacked Rachael. A few days later, he had made a point of speaking to her at the firing range. If he were Christena Snell’s lover, it could explain a lot and raise some more questions, as well. “Are you sure about this?”

“I’m sure of the information. What it means is something you’re going to have to handle.” He stood up before she could thank him, then walked out.

Part 4

Chase stepped from the shower to the sound of her doorbell ringing. Something about the way it buzzed told her the finger that was on it had been there for a while. She wrapped a robe around her and threw the towel over her shoulder. “I’m coming; I’m coming.”

Rachael stood on the doorstep. She took in Chase’s lack of clothing and wet hair. It looked for a second as if she had something caught in her throat, then she composed herself. “I’m sorry. I should have called first, but this is important. May I come in?”

Without waiting for her answer, Rachael brushed past her and walked into the entry. Chase closed the door as she spoke in a sarcastic tone. “Sure. Please…come on in and make yourself at home.”

Rachael turned and met her eyes. There was no humor in her gaze, just steely determination. “I want to know more about the shooter’s murder, but I have to tell you something first. I know who Christena Snell’s lover is. He’s a guy by the name of Kevin Connelly. He’s on the”

“The SWAT team.” Chase finished her sentence, her mind in sudden turmoil. “How do you know this?”

“My father told me. After I got to my office this morning, he dropped by.”

Chase hid her surprise. “How does he know?”

“I didn’t bother to ask, because he wouldn’t have told me. He may not be on the payroll anymore, but he always protects his sources.”

A light went on in Chase’s mind and for some reason, she remembered The Call. “Does your father have a dog?”

Rachael frowned. “No, but sometimes he keeps my brother’s fiancé’s mutt. Why on earth–” …”

Chase waved off her question. “It’s not important. Just tell me this…do you believe him?”

“We don’t get along, but my father isn’t a person who plays games. He said it was the truth so, yes, I do believe him.”

“He wants to help you.”

Rachael’s jaw went tight. “He wants to protect the family’s reputation.”

Chase sat down on her sofa, wet towel and all. Rachael sat beside her, her voice turning urgent. “You said Hopper was too dumb to plan something like this, but Kevin Connelly doesn’t look like he would fall into that category. If he and Christena were lovers and they wanted David out of the way, he could figure out a way to set me up. Connelly’s been on the edge of this thing from the very beginning. He could have even been the one who gave Hopper the money you saw deposited in his account.”

Chase met her eyes and shook her head. “He’s not on the edge of this, Rachael. He’s right in the middle of it all.” Chase took Rachael’s hands, her expression more serious than Rachael had ever seen it. Rachael’s fingers looked small in her larger grip and suddenly Rachael didn’t feel as confident as she had when she had burst through the woman’s front door. “I didn’t tell you this before now for reasons I can’t explain, but I have a tape, Rachael.” Chase squeezed the small hands that were now in hers. “It is a tape from the security cameras at Happy Hour’s.”

Rachael felt her mouth go dry as she imagined reliving that moment, even if just by video. “Are you saying the shooting was filmed?”

Dropping Rachael’s hands, she stood to walk across the room to a series of bookcases and cabinets that spanned the length of the wall. “The camera was programmed to take snapshots of the area at timed intervals. It didn’t catch the actual shooting, but it caught a lot.”

Rachael’s pulse was pounding, it was roaring inside her ears. Chase’s words seemed to come from a distance. “Why didn’t you tell me this earlier, Chase?” she asked faintly.

“I have my reasons.” The way she spoke told Rachael that she wasn’t going to explain.

“Then why tell me now?”

“I probably shouldn’t have, but you surprised me with Connelly’s name. He’s on the tape. He was there that night.”

Rachael frowned in confusion, then she cleared her expression. “SWAT came…after the shooting.”

Chase nodded. “They wanted everyone on deck. Snell sounded panicky when he called for back-up. They wanted to cover their bases.”

Rachael understood. When an officer requested help it was considered serious. David couldn’t have known at that point that the men had guns, but he had been asleep, she reminded herself. And drunk. His judgment would have been completely off, his mind in chaos. “Do you know Connelly, Chase?”

“I’ve met him. How about you?”

“I didn’t before the incident at Christena’s, but a few days after that, I saw him at the range. I thought then it was just a coincidental meeting, but maybe it wasn’t.”

“You think he was following you.”

“I don’t know. He could have just seen me and decided he’d yank my chain a bit. He gave me his card.”

“Why?”

Rachael explained, but Chase was shaking her head before Rachael even finished. “You think it was a come-on? Chase, that doesn’t make sense if he and Christena are an item.”

“I don’t think any of this makes sense, but I know for sure that he was there the night David was killed and you think he is sleeping with David’s wife. Those two things are enough to make me wonder.”

Rachael crossed the room and put her fingertips on Chase’s chest. “Would you show me the tape?”

Her expression started to close. “That wouldn’t be a good idea, Rachael.”

“I told you that last night, but you didn’t listen to me. You took me to your car and kissed me anyway.” She flattened her palms against Chase’s skin. “Why should I listen to you?”

“Because this is different.” She covered Rachael’s fingers with her own, twining them together and gripping them tightly. She needed them off her skin, so she could think. “I don’t want you to get hurt any more than you already have been.”

Chase’s answer should have surprised her, but it didn’t. She’d already begun to see, if not acknowledge, the woman behind the IA rules. “I can handle it, Chase.”

“I’m sure you can, but it isn’t necessary. Kevin Connelly was there. You can take my word for it or ask Palmer. He’ll confirm it.”

“I believe you, but I still want to view the tape.”

Her eyes went over Rachael’s shoulder as if she were considering her request or lying. When they came back to Rachael’s face, their color had chilled. “I don’t have the tape here, Rachael. It’s at the office.”

She wanted to argue but knew it would be useless. Chase wasn’t going to give in. “All right.” She dragged out the syllables. “I’ll accept that for now. Where do we go from here, Chase?”

“We don’t go anywhere.” Tightening her robe, Chase stepped around Rachael. “You’re leaving and then I’ll decide the next step. It’ll probably involve putting a tail on Christena Snell and Connelly.” She padded into the entry and waited at the front door for Rachael to follow. “You’re leaving,” she repeated in a louder voice.

When Rachael didn’t appear, she reversed her direction. Rachael was still in the same spot. “I’m not going anywhere.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “If you want to get rid of me, you’ll have to throw me out, Chase.”

“Rachael, c’mon! I’ve got to get dressed then I have to decide how I’m going to handle this. I want you out of here.” When she didn’t move, Chase put her hand on the knot in front of her robe as if she were about to pull it off. “I need to get dressed. I warning you…Rachael.”

She dropped her gaze to the knot where Chase’s fingers rested, then she lifted her eyes to her face. “What?” She paused a moment with a raise eyebrow. “Do you need help…getting dressed?”

Cursing loudly, Chase turned around, ripped off the robe and headed for her bedroom. Standing in front of her closet, she yanked on a pair of jeans and a sports bra. Rachael was right behind her when she turned around.

The sight of Chase completely bare from behind stunned Rachael for a moment. It was very apparent to her that the thirty-eight year old worked out. She shook her head and made her legs move to follow the frustrated woman. “I can’t just stand on the sidelines, Chase. This is tearing me up inside.”

She put her hands on Rachael’s shoulders with a sigh. “Rachael…” She closed her eyes tightly and paused for a moment, trying to control her tone. “Do you understand just how many rules and regulations I’ve already broken? You’re a smart woman so you must know. Are you trying to get us fired?” She didn’t give Rachael time to answer. “You must be. That’s the only reason I can think of that you would insist on being included in your own damned investigation.”

For a second, one split second, she thought Rachael might start crying, but she didn’t. Instead, she looked Chase straight in the eye. They were inches apart, so close Chase could feel Rachael’s breath when she spoke. “If that’s the only reason you can think of, Chase, then let me give you a few more.” She moved a little closer. Chase didn’t know if she should take advantage of her nearness and try to kiss her or be worried for her own safety. Rachael spoke slowly and deliberately, her manner as set as her expression. “My job is my life. I don’t have a spouse or a lover. I don’t have kids. Hell, I don’t even have a pet. All my so-called friends have abandoned me and I’m on my own. If I’m not completely exonerated by this investigation, I might as well quit. My career is the only thing I care about and I’m not going to abandon what little control over it I have left. Not to you. Not to anyone. I can’t.”

She stopped to take a breath and that’s when something appeared in her expression that Chase hadn’t seen before now. It looked like desperation and Chase’s heart cracked open. She slipped her hand behind Rachael’s hair, her fingers curling around her neck. “You should give me a chance, Rachael. I can help you. I’m good at what I do.”

“So was I,” she said tightly. “But no one remembers that now.”

Chase closed her eyes as if it hurt her to hear the words. When she opened her eyes, Rachael could read her surrender and a flicker of hope came over her. “Let me finish getting dressed. I’m not promising you anything, Rachael, but we’ll talk.” She tilted her head toward the bedroom door and smiled. “Go wait for me in the living room. I can’t think when you are this close to my bed.”

Chase’s obvious desire warmed her, but her acceptance of her plea meant even more. She put her hand on Chase’s cheek then she kissed her. “Thank you, Chase.” Her voice was a whisper, but her heart was screaming the words.

Chase kissed her back. “Go fix us some coffee or read the paper or whatever. I’ll be done in a minute.”

“I’ll be waiting.” Returning to the living room, Rachael wandered around the room, her mind a thousand miles away. When she finally stopped pacing, she found herself in front of the huge cabinet where Chase had stood earlier. She assumed it hid the television and stereo equipment. The double doors in the center were ajar and without thinking, she reached out to close them. But they wouldn’t shut. She pulled them open and the reason was immediately obvious. An empty cardboard tape case protruded from between the television set and the side of the cabinet. She reached in to push it back and the familiar label caught her eye.

The case was from the APD crime lab. The date and case number, as always, had been printed on the side. Security Camera was written just below the time. Her eyes flew to the VCR where the tape was in the slot. She caught her breath as her heart began to hammer. Chase had lied. She had told her that she didn’t have the surveillance tape. She said it was at the office, but here it was.
Her hand trembled as she pushed in the cartridge and turned on the television set. The black-and-white scene was grainy, the images jerky. They stuttered past in a broken sequence. She recognized the parking lot of the club and the entrance, people coming and going. The picture then skipped a bit and blurred. The crime lab had clearly worked on the tape to eliminate dead space. When the recording slowed and focused again, she saw herself coming around the corner to the building. A knot of pain began to build inside her chest. The tape sped up again and more patrons walked into the bar, then the door burst open to reveal her pushing the two suspects ahead of her. She tensed, waiting for what happened next. Just as Chase had said, the few seconds of the shooting itself had not been captured, but the aftermath had. Her fingers over her mouth, Rachael watched as she kneeled beside David on the now-bloody sidewalk and tried to get a pulse. No sound had been recorded, of course, but none was necessary.

Sinking to the floor in front of the television set, Rachael stared at the screen in disbelief. Flooded with adrenaline at the time, then with grief and confusion later, she had only relived the tragedy in her dreams. Seeing it now, the details so stark and the results so permanent, she felt the façade of strength she had been able to maintain slowly disintegrate. Unlike the glass in her kitchen last night, she shattered into a thousand separate pieces, each one sharp as a razor.

“Damn.” Chase’s curse was whispered, but she could have screamed it and Rachael would never have heard it. She walked quickly to the VCR and shut it off.

Wide-eyed with shock, pale with disbelief, Rachael continued to stare at the screen, even though it had turned solid blue.

“You didn’t need to see that, Rachael.”

She didn’t reply.

Chase took her by the arm and pulled her to her feet, the movement jarring Rachael out of her silent agony. “I was wrong, Chase.”

“About what?”

She looked up at Chase. “I said I could handle it, but I was wrong. I shouldn’t have watched that tape.”

Leading her to the sofa, Chase sat and pulled her down beside her, putting her arm around her, her sympathy for Rachael welling up from a source she couldn’t control. She knew she was about to make a terrible mistake, but she really didn’t care. “You never give yourself a break, Rachael. Why couldn’t you just let it slide for once?”

Her eyes were huge and filled with pain. “I learned to be tough when I was a kid and the lesson has stayed with me. I’m afraid to let up now. Who knows what would happen?”

“You might be surprised.”

“I doubt that.” She turned her head slightly and looked at the television set. “I might not have a choice anymore, though. This one–this one’s gonna be hard to beat.”

Her voice caught on the last word and the desire to comfort her overtook Chase’s common sense. She pulled Rachael to her and just held her. Rachael looked up into Chase’s eyes and her eyes told Chase what she wanted. Chase kissed her, her mouth fitting perfectly over hers. Rachael put her arms around Chase’s neck and a low murmur escaped from the back of her throat.

She needed Chase, Chase thought in a daze. The independent, strong-willed woman who intimidated men and women, needed her. She needed her strength, her encouragement, her ability to make things okay. Rachael needed her and Chase knew that wasn’t right.

Clinging to Chase, Rachael deepened the kiss Chase had started, her tongue slipping into her mouth, the last of her misgivings disappearing as her passion grew. She wanted Chase to make her forget what she had just seen. If she didn’t, she would have the images in her head forever. Despite her earlier speech, suddenly the cost didn’t matter to her. She was ready to pay any price to stop the pain.

Their kiss eased into something other than consolation. Chase’s mouth turned even more insistent than it had been last night in the car and Rachael felt herself falling into a place she wasn’t sure she could find her way out of. For Rachael the need to be in control was vital to her very survival, right now. Realizing how quickly it had all gotten out of hand, she felt a moment of pure panic. But then, with Chase’s mouth on hers, and those wonderful hands moving over her, she realized that she hadn’t lost control. She’d given it. Freely.

Chase lowered her to the sofa, her mouth never leaving Rachael’s as her hand went beneath her blouse and caressed her bare skin, her fingers sliding upward to her bra. Etching a path around the lace cup, Chase started to groan just as Rachael found the buttons on her shirt.

Undoing them one by one, Rachael stopped long enough to allow Chase to lift her blouse and pull it over her head, then she slid Chase’s shirt off her shoulders. She buried her hands in Chase’s hair and pressed her face to her chest, then willed time to stop. If she never moved again, she would die a happy woman.

Chase didn’t allow that to happen. She brought her hands to Rachael’s shoulder, then used one of them to tip Rachael’s face up. Chase’s expression and her body shifted subtly. Rachael wouldn’t have noticed if she hadn’t been holding her so tightly, but beneath her fingers, Chase’s muscles grew taut and corded and even her jaw turned to stone. Her eyes, so strange to begin with, seemed to become a different color.

Desire, dark and swift, sparked deep within Rachael and everything began to shift, including her need for solace. The transition wasn’t smooth, either. A violent shudder ripped through her as she looked into Chase’s eyes. Tottering on the edge of a cliff she had never been to before, she realized that Chase had initiated the change deliberately. Chase read the dawning comprehension in her expression and that was all the confirmation she needed. The air between them heated and then ignited. Neither of them cared what was burned in the process.

Kissing her forcefully, Chase removed her bra so quickly Rachael heard something tear. Chase then slowed her pace and began laying soft wet kisses along the sensitive column of her neck, causing Rachael to arch her neck, giving her easier access. She lingered there, pressing light, feathery kisses to the hollow of her neck and shoulders, then lower, until she reached her breasts. She put both her hands around her breasts and her mouth found a nipple. With Rachael’s fingers digging into her shoulders and back, she kissed then gently bit her right breast. Her teeth softly scraping at her nipple and soft skin. The feeling was an exquisite combination of pleasure and pain. Everything but the need for the pleasure being promised fled from Rachael’s mind.

Rachael reached down and framed Chase’s face in her hands, staring into those strange beautiful gray eyes and wondered at the feelings flowing through her for this woman. Suddenly, annoyed with even the slightest barrier between them, she tugged Chase’s sports bra off in one quick motion. Still looking into Chase’s ever-changing eyes, her fingers reached for the buckle on Chase’s belt and she began to unfasten it, the cool metal warming beneath her feverish hands. A split second later, Chase’s pants were off, then so were her own.

Chase’s hand glided slowly down Rachael’s body, feeling her tremble at her touch. She dipped her head and took Rachael’s nipple into her mouth and picked up where she left off. Taking Rachael back to the thin line of pleasure and pain.

Rachael arched her back and held Chase’s head to her breast. “Chase, please, I need you to touch me. I can’t wait. Touch me.”

Chase left her breast and slowly kissed a path down her smooth stomach, before settling between her thighs. “I want to taste you…not just touch you,” she whispered.

Rachael breathed one word. “Yes.”

Chase nudged Rachel’s thighs farther apart, then cupped her hips, letting her tongue move over her inner thighs, teasing.

Rachael moaned loudly and her hips rose, searching for Chase’s mouth. “Please….”

Chase breathed deeply and closed her eyes. She slowly touched her with her mouth, then opening her mouth over her she let her tongue dive into her wetness.

Rachael’s breath caught in her throat. Her hips moved meeting Chase’s plunging tongue as it entered her.

All tenderness gone, Chase wanted to devour Rachael and she took hungrily from her. Her shoulders pushing Rachael’s legs farther apart, higher on her shoulders. Her tongue stoked her swollen center and Rachael wrapped her legs around Chase and held her, her hips rising again to press Chase more firmly against her. Chase felt the trembling under her mouth as Rachael’s legs tightened around her.

Rachael’s eyes shut tight trying to fight to prolong the explosion that was consuming her. She felt herself pulse against Chase’s mouth as she continued to stroke her. Wave after wave crashed on her and she cried out with pleasure, shocked by the sounds that were coming from herself. Just as Rachael felt another orgasm coming to an end, Chase entered her swiftly with two fingers and Rachael’s fire started all over again. Finally, her legs fell lifelessly to the sofa and she was too weak to even hold Chase to her.

When Rachael had calmed her breathing and was able to focus, she found gray eyes staring at her. Chase had kneeled down beside the sofa and was just staring down at Rachael. Rachael cupped her cheek. “I knew it would be like this with you. Out of control to the point it made me weak. I hate to admit, you scare me, Chase Davidson.”

Chase lowered her gaze. “I know. It scares me too.”

Rachael used her fingers to lift Chase’s face so she could see her beautiful eyes. “Come here. Let me touch you.”

Chase’s expression turned sad, but she managed to smile. “I don’t think I could stand it. Your touch…it would be too much, Rachael. I can’t.” Chase got to her feet and continued to stare at Rachael.

Rachael was shocked. She didn’t know what to say, but she couldn’t look away either.

Chase knew that Rachael deserved an explanation. “I’m sorry, Rachael. We both know I have a job to do and your touching me will only confuse the truth when I find it. I’m just glad I was able to see through my desire before this went any further.”

Rachael just stared in silence. She could hear the strain in Chase’s voice, but she could also see the determination in her eyes. She would not beg to touch her.

Chase left the room so she could dress in private. After the intimacies they had just shared, Chase wasn’t quite sure why she felt the need to do this, but she didn’t examine her motivation closely. There were too many other issues racing around inside what was left of her mind to give the thought the consideration it was due. Issues like how Rachael’s career would be over if anyone found out what had just happened. Issues like whether or not she should even continue on the case. Issues like how stupid they had both been.

Chase had to admit the truth. She had not stopped when she realized comfort was not what Rachael needed. The emotions she was dealing with were too traumatic, too life-changing to be handled so delicately. She had to have passion, passion so overwhelming that it momentarily took her to another place and time. Chase tried to give her just that, but like an out-of-control blaze, the flames had consumed her, too. Their entire relationship had been dangerous in ways she didn’t want to think about, but now they had risked everything.

Facing the other direction, Rachael was pulling on her blouse when Chase returned. Putting her hands on Rachael shoulders, she brought her back against her chest and buried her face in the dark silk of her hair, wrapping her arms around her from behind. “What have we done, Rachael? What in the hell have we done?”

She turned in the embrace and lifted her eyes to Chase’s. Her expression was different, Chase thought, softer somehow and more open, but as she spoke, a flash apprehension came over her features before she could hide it. “Please don’t tell me you regret this, Chase.”

“Oh God.” She pulled Rachael against her and spoke in a whisper. “Why in the hell would I say something like that.”

“I don’t know.” Her voice was muffled as she spoke. “Maybe because you might feel that way? That’s why you wouldn’t let me touch you.…”

“Never.” Chase shook her head. She knew if she let Rachael touch her that she would never want her to stop. She wouldn’t give her up. “No matter how long I live, I’ll never regret this. I had to touch you.” Bringing her hands to Rachael’s cheeks, she cradled her face with tenderness, emotions flooding her that she couldn’t ignore no matter how much she wanted to. “You are a special woman, Rachael. There is so much more to you than I realized.” She paused and searched for the right words.

Rachael closed her eyes. “Don’t say that word. I hate that word.”

“What word?”

“The one that’s coming next. But…” As she spoke, Chase’s throat closed. Rachael opened her eyes and there was resignation in them. She stepped away from Chase and cursed softly. “Dammit, Chase…”

She tried to draw her back but Rachael resisted her tug. “I shouldn’t have let this happen, Rachael. I should have stopped us, but we cannot let it happen again.”

She turned. “What difference does it make now? We’re already in so deep…”

“I am, but I don’t really give a damn about my career anymore. You do. And you should. You still have a chance at keeping it as long as no one finds out.”

“Chase…”

“I’m not just talking about this, Rachael.” She tilted her head toward the sofa behind them. “The sex is the least of what I’ve done wrong. It’s a little late to point this out now, but I’ve told you things I shouldn’t have. I’ve let you know details of the case. I’ve done everything wrong that could possibly be done wrong. I don’t want to prove your innocence only to have some idiot question the outcome because of how we’ve acted. Someone could and you know it.” She stalked away from Rachael. Her heart felt as heavy as the burden she had been carrying, the burden of proving Rachael’s innocence. She had never wanted to clear an officer as much as she wanted to clear Rachael, but that very desire could be Rachael’s undoing, not to mention her own. Her back stiff, she stared out her front window, then she spoke without turning. “Go home, Rachael. Go home and let me do my job.”

She almost made it to her house without breaking down. Somewhere between the end of her street and her driveway, she let the last few hours go through her mind. Everything they had done, everything they had said and everything that they didn’t say. Parking her car, Rachael put her head against the steering wheel, the words they had spoken repeating themselves inside her brain over and over. She had thought her life was spinning out of control before this, but tonight she had actually seen it disappear. Chase was right. If anyone found out they slept together, her career in law enforcement would be over, not to mention Chase’s. Despite its size, the community was a close one. Everyone would know. A hint of hysteria rose inside of her and came to the surface. She started to laugh, then something else happened and her eyes began to sting. Her throat went tight and all at once, her chest hurt. She reminded herself that Stevenses never cry. Lifting her head, she stared out the windshield that was suddenly blurry. She clearly wasn’t a Stevens anymore.

**********

Chase was on her way to her office to talk to her boss when her cell phone rang. “Davidson,”

“This is Chief Henderson. Lieutenant, we need to talk. Can you meet me in my office in half an hour?”

“I assume this is about the Stevens case?”

“I don’t want to get into this over the phone. Will you meet me?”

Chase allowed a long silence between them as she debated whether or not it was a good idea to meet with the woman. She also wondered if she were meeting the Chief of Police or Lauren Henderson, the woman. “Yes. I will meet you.”

A half hour later Chase walked into Chief Lauren Henderson’s office and was surprised by her first impression. Lauren radiated strength and control. People were drawn to the strong confident personality and Chase could see why. ‘Charismatic’ was the word Chase would choose to describe the woman.

“What can I do for you, Chief?”

She gestured toward a chair on the opposite side of her desk. “Please have a seat, Lieutenant.”

Chase sat down. “Thank you.”

“I need to know how it’s going with the case. What I’ve been hearing and seeing doesn’t look good. This officer should be cleared of this by now.”

Chase shook her head. “I know you’re getting my reports. I can’t give you what I don’t know.” Chase started to get up. “If that is all, Chief, I have a job to get back to….”

Lauren stood up. “Please sit down, Davidson. I have to ask you something.”

Chase slowly sat back down. Her curiosity was obvious.

“If I could give you some infor….”

Chase held up both hands. “Stop! Whatever you have to say, know this. I will make it official. I will not hide or lie about anything for anyone. Now, unless I have misunderstood you in some way, do you still want to tell me anything?”

Lauren sat down and glared at the Lieutenant. After a long silence she sighed. “I received a call at home from a man. He told me an interesting story about Webster Park.” Lauren gave Chase a chance to comprehend what she was saying. A chance to read between the lines. “Rachael is very vulnerable right now for many reasons. I would hate for you to make that worse.”

Chase studied the woman. She decided that she was looking at Lauren Henderson, the woman. And the woman was not only jealous, she was scared. “Since you’re not holding any punches I’ll show you the same courtesy. I know that you are one of the many reasons that Rachael is vulnerable.”

Chase saw true fear in Lauren’s eyes for a split second before Lauren put her mask back up. “What is it that you think you know, Davidson?”

Chase didn’t miss the angry tone in Lauren’s voice. “I’m surprised that you are willing to have this conversation here at the station. You have gone to such pains to keep it a secret.”

Lauren took a deep breath. “Rachael’s career is at stake. She has gone through so much recently. I don’t know how much more she can handle. Maybe you should just do your job and leave it at that. Leave Rachael alone.”

Chase could hear and see the sincerity in Lauren, but she also knew that Lauren had selfish reasons for not wanting Chase to pursue Rachael. “Rachael is a good cop. I know that. She is also an incredible woman and I believe we both know that. I will do my job just as I always have, but I will not be threatened. What happened at the park was…unexpected. Rachael needed comforting and it got out of hand. I know that you can get me removed from this case and maybe even thrown off the force for what happened, but I want to prove Rachael’s innocence. I don’t think you are going to report this, because it might open a can of worms that you can’t close.”

Lauren knew Chase was right. She wanted to try and bluff her and it was backfiring. “I just don’t want Rachael hurt anymore. She doesn’t need you confusing her or using her.”

Chase’s anger was coming to the surface now. “You should have thought about that before you hurt her.”

“I’m sure you have heard the rumors. I’ve heard them concerning you. I couldn’t risk it.” She got up out of her chair and walked to the window without looking at Chase. “The rumors…I was hearing them more often. I tried to put some distance between us. Hoping the rumors would die down, but it didn’t work. I had to choose.”

Chase shook her head slowing, not believing what she was hearing. “Between Rachael and your career?”

Lauren turned abruptly and faced Chase with anger showing on her face. “Don’t judge me. I’ve worked hard to get here. I couldn’t give it up for….” She couldn’t finish the sentence. She dropped her head as tears burned her eyes.

A look of disgust added to Chase’s expression. “You couldn’t give it up for a woman that was risking the same thing.”

Lauren straightened her shoulders and wiped her eyes. “I didn’t want Rachael to have to choose, so I chose for her. She would have chosen her career. I know that. I know Rachael.”

Chase stood up and walked to Lauren. “Rachael had a right to choose for herself. She may have to make that choice again in the future and I will not take that from her. There is one very big difference between you and me, Chief. I would give up my career for a woman like Rachael and would have no regrets or shame in doing so.”

“She will choose her career over you or me. Why put her through that?”

Chase lowered her eyes and thought about her response. “You want to make this all about Rachael, but it was your career that you were concerned about. It was your hard work. Your image. Did you ever really love her?”

Lauren rushed forward, but restrained herself. “Damn you, Davidson. You know nothing about me. Don’t pretend you do.” She stepped away from Chase and calmed herself. “Get out of my office.”

Chase smiled. “Sorry about the sore spot, Chief.” She walked out before Lauren could say more.

**********

Debbie McLain threw a fit at Chase’s request for a tail on Christena Snell and Kevin Connelly, but in the end, she relented. Approving the expense for two days, her boss made it clear Chase would get nothing more. Chase understood. She only got what she did because Debbie didn’t want to look bad in front of the chief should Connelly’s involvement be proved. Two days of surveillance were worthless unless they got lucky, but either way, Debbie could claim success. After checking Connelly’s schedule, Chase put one man on Christena and one on the SWAT cop on his first day off. Nothing happened. On the third day, Connelly put in for a vacation day for the following Friday. Chase hadn’t spoken to Rachael since she had made love to her because she didn’t know what to say to her. She still didn’t, but that afternoon, she called her.

She didn’t bother to say hello when Rachael answered. “I’ve had a tail on Christena and Connelly for two days, but we’ve gotten zip. I’m going to follow them myself on Friday. I’ll let you know what happens.”

If she was nonplussed by her lack of phone manners, Rachael didn’t show it. “Let me go with you.”

“Absolutely not.” Her voice was firm. “Things have been screwed up enough already, Rachael. I’m not going to compound the issue.”

“Please, Chase. I–I’m going crazy. I’ve got to do…something.”

“I let us do something already.” Her reference to their lovemaking was clear. “We can’t afford a repeat, Rachael.”

“I understand.” She spoke quietly. “That’s not what I want, either.”

A sharp pain stabbed Chase as Rachael spoke. Chase softened her voice. “I didn’t say I didn’t want it, Rachael. I said we can’t afford it. Don’t twist my words. You know what I mean. I’m talking about us being seen together. Not what happened between us.”

“I knew exactly what you meant, Chase. You’re the one who turned the words around. The truth is I don’t care about what happened between us. It was over before it even started.”

She had been in IA way too long not to recognize a lie when she heard one. But Chase had never fallen in love with a cop she was investigating, either. Maybe she thought Rachael was lying because that’s what she wanted to think.

“All I’m concerned about is my career, Chase. If I don’t take the risk and try to help myself, I won’t have anything at all later. I told you this the other day and nothing has changed. You’ve got to let me help. It’s the only thing I have left.”

Truth or not, Chase didn’t know which hurt her more, Rachael’s denial of what happened between them or the searing pain in her voice. Chase put the choice out of her mind. “And if someone spots us?”

“You can lie and say you were interviewing me again.” She paused, her jaw tightening. “I’ve got to see for myself, Chase. I’ve got to be sure.”

“Pick me up at ten.” Chase’s tone was composed. “We’ll take your car. Christena won’t recognize it.”

**********

Before they got to the end of the block Friday morning, Chase pointed to a convenience store with a phone booth out front. “Stop there. I want to make sure she is at home before we start this wild-goose chase.”

Rachael followed her instructions then watched as she crossed the parking lot to the booth and inserted the coins. She wore a pair of jeans a and dark blue T-shirt. The jeans hugged her narrow hips and the shirt made her eyes seem lighter. Despite what she had told her over the phone, Rachael had thought constantly about what had happened between them. She knew in her heart nothing between them was over and she suspected, no matter how the investigation ended, the situation would stay that way forever. Chase had tunneled into the deepest part of who Rachael really was and she was there to stay.

What made Chase so damned attractive? Was it her power? Was it her age? Was it her body? All three? The thought of spending hours alone with her doing surveillance had almost sent her over the edge, but her career was in the balance, so nothing short of her own death would have kept her away. Still, it was going to be a long day.

Chase opened the car door and slid inside. “She’s there. Let’s go.”

On the way over, Chase outlined the route she wanted their surveillance to take. She didn’t stop talking until Rachael exited the Southeast Freeway and wound her way to Snell’s subdivision. “Any questions, Rachael?”

Rachael’s mind had returned to their lovemaking and she hadn’t heard a word of her plan. “No.” She shook her head. “No questions.”

Chase didn’t reply. Stopping the car four houses down from the Snell’s house, Rachael parked the Toyota, relief sweeping over her that Chase hadn’t pressed the issue. She should have known better.

Chase was quiet for a moment more, then Rachael felt her stare move from the house to her profile. Chase spoke slowly. “Actually, I’m not too sure about that last part of the plan. Do you think that’s the best way to handle it? What would you do if you were Christena and we did that?”

Rachael turned to face her. “I don’t have a chance in hell of getting the answer to that question right and you know it. I wasn’t listening to a word you said.”

“Why not?”

Rachael’s eyes went to slits. “Why do you think?”

Chase looked away from her and said nothing. After a while, she reached over the seat and drew a line down the back of Rachael’s hand. Her soft touch left a fevered trail that did nothing to clear up Rachael’s mounting frustration. Then Chase spoke softly. “Why don’t you talk for both of us. Otherwise, we’re going to drive ourselves crazy.”

She didn’t know if she felt better or worse to know that Chase shared her confusion. She bit her bottom lip then released it and began to speak. “I always wanted to be a cop. I grew up hearing my brothers and father talk about the life and I never considered doing anything else.”

Chase sighed inwardly with relief. If she wanted to talk about her childhood, it was fine by her. Just about anything Rachael wanted to do was turning out to be fine by her. Unfortunately. “I’ve heard rumors about you and your dad. That he didn’t really want you to join the force. Is that right?”

Rachael gave her a teasing look. “I thought you knew everything about me. Wasn’t that in my file?”

Chase shook her head. “Afraid not.”

“Well, it should be because it is the truth. He didn’t even go to my graduation.” Her words were tinged with more sadness than anger. “He went to my brothers’. But not to mine.”

“Have you ever asked him why?”

“I don’t need to…he made his feeling clear.” She flicked her gaze in Chase’s direction then back toward the Snell house. Her glance was fast, but not fast enough for Chase to miss the pain in her eyes. “He never thought I was good enough for the force. And he still doesn’t.”

“Because you’re a woman?”

“Probably. Who knows?” She shrugged. “Who cares?”

“You do,” she said quietly.

Rachael’s expression closed and her profile went stony. “You couldn’t be any further from the truth. I learned a long time ago that my brothers were my father’s priority. I came in a distant fourth, after them, his job and his car.” She shook her head, her dark hair glinting in the summer sun. “He doesn’t know it, but I made a deal with him after my graduation. I don’t want his approval anymore and in return, he never gives it.”

Before Chase could pursue the issue, she turned the tables on her. “So what was your ex’s problem? You told me she didn’t want you to be a cop, either. Couldn’t she handle the hours?”

Rachael’s interpretation of her failed relationship with her ex made Chase laugh. “My hours were the least of her concern. In fact, she worked more than I did. It got to where we never even saw each other, but that was fine with me because whenever we did get any time together, she would use it to launch into her you-don’t-make-enough-money routine, which was always followed by her your-job-stinks-and-isn’t-prestigious-enough routine.”

“She was right.”

“I know, but that doesn’t mean I wanted to hear it.”

“Is that why you teach on the side?”

“You been reading my file?

“Gossip.”

Chase nodded. “No, that’s not why I teach. I teach because I enjoy it. Most of my students are officers already and they’re trying to climb an extra rung on the promotion ladder or they just want to learn. They’re motivated.”

“Would you ever quit the force and teach full-time?”

“Actually, I’ve been thinking about doing that very thing.”

“Why is that?”

She met Rachael’s gaze. “Because I’m too damned old to do this anymore. I’ve seen it all and done it twice. I’m ready to move on.” Chase suddenly leaned forward and grabbed the dash. “Start the car, Rachael. The garage door’s opening and she’s backing out.”

Looking at the Snell house, Rachael did as Chase instructed. The Van headed away from them and Rachael put her Toyota in gear.

Chase cautioned her. “Not too close.”

“I know how to tail. I’m very good at it, in fact.” Her voice went sharp. “When was the last time you followed a suspect?”

“Fine. I get your point.” Chase made an impatient motion with her hand. “Just keep her in sight and don’t let her know we’re back here.”

Rolling her eyes in response, Rachael slowed the Toyota while ahead of them, Christena slid the green Windstar through a stop sign. When the van swung into a parking lot of a daycare center twenty minutes later, Chase glanced at Rachael with new appreciation. “You are good at tailing. I’m impressed.”

Rachael sent her a look. “I shoot even better than I drive.”

Chase opened her mouth to answer, but Rachael interrupted, nodding toward the center. “She’s dropping her son off. Does she have a job?”

“Not that I know of. She didn’t before the shooting.” They watched the woman and child join the parade of parents and children going into the low, square building.

Seeing David’s son prompted Rachael’s next question. Rachael didn’t look at Chase as she spoke. “Did you and your ex ever discuss having or adopting children?”

“Yes.”

Rachael’s head turned quickly of its own accord, her expression showing that she expected Chase to explain.

Chase glanced at her then sighed. “She never thought the time was right and I didn’t push her.” She paused and seemed to be remembering a time that was gone. “I think I knew deep down that the relationship wasn’t going to work. I didn’t see the point in having children just so we could fight over them later.”

Her answer made sense and it confirmed what Rachael had already suspected. Chase was one of those people who really did care more about the people around her than she did about herself.

They sat in silence until Christena Snell reappeared. She walked quickly to her van and climbed inside, but she didn’t pull out of her parking space. Rachael watched as Christena’s head ducked down and she reached for something on the floorboard. A second later, she came back up then leaned toward the rearview mirror.

Chase spoke impatiently, squirming in her seat to get a better view. “What in the hell is she doing? Getting a phone or what?”

Rachael spoke calmly. “She’s putting on lipstick. In a minute, she’ll probably take out some mascara and a hairbrush, too. She bent down to get her purse.”

Finally the van backed out. Rachael followed the vehicle to the nearest freeway entrance. Christena led them straight into the Village. An upscale area of shops and older homes near the University, the minivan stood out among the BMW’s and Mercedes. She slid into the first parking spot she found and left Rachael and Chase stranded.

Chase spoke as she opened the car door. “I’ll follow her. You park. We’ll reconnect by phone.”

Rachael had to go over two more streets until she found an empty parking space. Her phone rang as she was locking the car. “She went into a Cuban place. Lots of window, though. I’m across the street at a juice bar and I can see her.”

Rachael hurried down the sidewalk, joining Chase a few minutes later. Chase had bought two drinks and was sitting at a bistro table that fronted the street. “Here.” Chase pushed one of the cups toward her and made a face. “I don’t know why the hell they say these things are good for you. They taste awful.”

“Of course they do.” Rachael climbed onto the stool beside her and reached for the cup. “If they tasted good, they would be bad for you. That’s the way the world works. We always want what we shouldn’t have.” Their eyes met over the drinks then they both looked away.

Ten minutes later, Kevin Connelly walked into the restaurant and sat down with Cristena Snell. Rachael sucked in her breath as Chase cursed.

Kevin Connelly reached over and covered the grieving widow’s hand with both of his. Leaning closer, he said something and she gave him a small smile, ducking her head and looking up at him through her lashes.

Chase shook her hand slowly in disbelief. “Shit.”

The waitress set drinks before Connelly and Cristena and they lifted their glasses and tapped the rims together. Rachael spoke with barely disguised excitement in her voice. “They’re celebrating something.”

Chase sent her a look. “C’mon Rachael, you’re too good a cop to jump to conclusions. We don’t know that’s what they’re doing.”

“Chase, there’s no other reason to do what they just did.”

“It still doesn’t make them killers.”

They sat for another hour and watched Connelly and Christena eat their lunch. Chase ordered another round of juice, but the second ones tasted worse than the first.

Finally Connelly signaled the waitress for their check and five minutes later he and Christena were on the sidewalk. He wrapped her in a tight hug then pulled back to lightly stroke her cheek. After a bit, he kissed her and they separated.

Chase stood. “Tell me where you parked and I’ll go get the car while you watch them. We’ll meet at the corner.”

Rachael pulled her keys from her purse and handed them over, giving her directions at the same time. Five minutes later, Chase pulled to the curb and she jumped in. “Christena left and went toward the freeway. He’s just pulling out.”

“We’ll go with him this time.”

“Okay.” She nodded toward a dark SUV. “He’s up there. In the Hummer. I guess the SWAT guys get paid pretty well, huh?”

“Not that well. He’s a car nut. Last count, he had six stickers for six vehicles.” Chase angled the Toyota back into the line of traffic and they ended up two car lengths behind Connelly. “His family has money. Haven’t you ever heard of Connelly Towers over at the medical center?”

Chase could feel her stare of surprise. “He’s one of those Connellys? I’m impressed.”

“You should be. Connelly’s parents are at every A-list event. If they are not, then it isn’t an A-list event.”

Rachael’s expression turned skeptical, so Chase explained. “I keep up with the society pages. His grandfather makes the money and his father gives it away. They’re very big in the conservative wing of things. Very big as in White House big. They’re very generous with their wealth, too.”

“So how on earth did Kevin end up a SWAT cop?”

“That’s one for the shrinks, not me.” Chase slowed and changed lanes. Connelly was heading for the west side of town. “He’s doesn’t need the money; that’s for sure. His house is paid off, he doesn’t use credit cards and as far as I know, he’s the only guy on the SWAT team who has his T-shirts tailored.”

Rachael shot Chase a questioning look, but made a statement. “You didn’t get that from the newspaper.”

Chase threw her a look, then changed lanes again. Connelly was weaving from one side of the freeway to the other, looking for breaks in the traffic. Chase might have thought the cop had spotted them, but almost everyone in Atlanta drove the same way. They followed Connelly for another twenty minutes before he took an exit at the last minute.

“He’s going to the club.” Rachael thumped her hand against the dash. “Damn, I should have realized that’s where he was headed when he started out this way.”

Chase glanced across the seat. “The club?”

“Connelly belongs to the same shooting club I do. It’s right down here.” The SWAT cop signaled a turn a few miles later then swung the vehicle into a paved parking lot. Chase continued past the low-rise building, pulling into the parking lot of a McDonald’s a few blocks down to make a U-turn.

Five minutes later they were back on the freeway. Chase tried to make conversation but Rachael only answered with grunts. When Chase parked the Toyota in her driveway, Rachael roused herself from her thoughts and told Chase goodbye, but her mind was a somewhere else.

**********

Rachael went to bed thinking of Chase and woke up the next morning doing the same thing. The hours in between had probably been filled with dreams of her, too, but she couldn’t remember. Thank goodness. Being with her yesterday had been enough of a nightmare. All day, she wanted to pull Chase to her and never let her go and then she would remember Chase’s words and hold herself back. A few minutes later, Chase would look at her a certain way or turn her head just so and the cycle of desire and longing would start all over again. Rachael thought the day would never end, but when it did, she hated to leave her.

The only way she could function was to deliberately focus on the man she had seen approaching Kevin Connelly in the parking lot of the range as they’d driven past. The supervisor of the crime lab, Frank Telson, had appeared to be furious as he walked up to the SWAT cop, who looked none too pleased himself. Rachael had said nothing about what she had seen to Chase and she rationalized her silence to herself that morning as she headed in to work. Chase hadn’t told her she had the tape, so she hadn’t told Chase she’d spotted the two men. Her actions didn’t make sense, but it did make them even. Maybe she could tell Chase later. After she talked to Frank Telson.

Stepping out of the elevator, she started to her cubicle on automatic pilot. Suddenly a woman came out of one of the side offices and Rachael had to dodge to her right to miss her. The other woman did the same and they stopped just short of colliding. Rachael raised her head with a smile, then her expression slowly changed. Too late to pretend they were strangers, she and Annette stood face-to-face in the center of the corridor.

They said each other’s names in unison and a pang of loneliness hit Rachael squarely in the chest. It didn’t matter that the hallway was full of people, all she could think about was how much she had missed her friends and the support they had once given her.

Annette recovered first, but her manner was stiff and uneasy. “Hey, Rachael. How are things going?”

“I’m great,” she lied. “How’re you?”

“Fine.” Annette’s eyes darted over Rachael’s shoulder then came back to her face. Annette didn’t want anyone to see them talking. She would have cut and run if she could have done so without looking obvious. “I’ve been busy, you know. With work and everything.”

“Have you seen any of the gang?” The question popped out before Rachael could stop it.

“They’re all fine.” A dull blush spread up Annette’s strong cheekbones. They had gotten together. Rachael realized instantly and they had left her out. Although it was no surprise, the discovery hurt, and Rachael pulled back. This wasn’t high school, she reminded herself. This was the real world and she had to stand on her own two feet. She didn’t let her reaction show, by speaking calmly. “That’s good.”

A clumsy silence filled the space between them, then they both spoke again, at the same time.

“I’ve got to get going…”

“I’d better get back…”

They smiled at their awkward synchronicity, then Rachael stepped to one side and Annette started past her. As the other woman drew near, however, Rachael had a sudden brainstorm. Before she could decide if it was a good idea or not, she reached out and touched Annette’s arm. “Annette? Can I…can I ask you something before you go?”

Annette sent another quick look up and down the corridor. “I don’t really have the time…”

Rachael didn’t wait for her to finish her excuse. “Do you know a SWAT cop named Kevin Connelly? He’s blond, nice looking, blue eyes?”

Annette nodded almost instantly. “I know who he is, but I don’t really know him. He was friends with an admin assistant I know named Taylor Martin. They used to meet sometimes after work for a drink. Knowing Taylor, more like three or four drinks.

“Big drinker?”

“Taylor was. In fact I’m sure I wouldn’t have known anything about the situation at all, except we were at a party and the alcohol had been flowing pretty freely. Otherwise, Taylor was very discreet, even with me, and we were pretty close.” She paused. “Long story short, I think they might have had something going on, but you know how tough it is around here if you’re not part of the ‘team’. In the end, Connelly was interested in a long-term relationship and Taylor wasn’t. Connelly apparently turned kinda scary after that.” Her expression shifted. “Look, Rachael, I’ve really got to go. I’ll…see you around.”

Rachael wondered why Taylor Martin was not part of the team, but Annette was already halfway down the hall. Rachael decided she would just have to find out on her own. And she would. Right after she talked to Frank Telson.

**********

The usual stack of bullshit announcements and memos waited for Chase on the corner of her desk that morning. She swept them into her wastebasket without a second glance, setting her briefcase in their spot. After flipping on her computer, she went for coffee, then returned to look up Connelly’s personal file. Thoughts of Rachael kept intruding, however. Chase knew she should keep her hands to herself, but she wasn’t sure she had the willpower, despite sending her away the other day A relationship between the two of them wouldn’t take either of them any where but down. She didn’t give a damn for herself, but this wasn’t just about her.

Rachael’s explanation of what her career meant to her had made her ache, but it took that kind of dedication to be the kind of cop Rachael was. Chase knew because she had been one once. Sacrifices were made to reach that level, but what Rachael didn’t yet understand was that in the end, the rewards weren’t always worth what you gave up. Rachael still thought she could make a difference. Naivete aside, if that’s what she wanted, then Chase needed to see that she got the chance. And then that meant keeping her out of her bed, not matter how desperately she wanted her there. Chase had done a lot of bad things in her life, but ruining a good cop’s career wasn’t going to be added to the list.

Sipping her coffee, Chase turned her concentration to the task at hand, renewing her memory with the mundane: Connelly’s address, his record of commendations, his length of service, complaints against him. The scant details of the SWAT cop’s personal life held none to the messiness inherent in the majority of records that Chase read. He’d never been divorced because he’d never been married and on paper, at least, he seemed like a model citizen. The cleanliness of the man’s life said a lot, though. And Chase wasn’t sure it was all good.

Her coffee was cold by the time she closed the file, exited the program and made her plan. Picking up the phone, she got the information she needed in order to proceed. She had let everything slide when she had started on Rachael’s investigation and her normally well organized files had become chaotic. She cleaned them up, but while she did so, her mind returned to her living room and Rachael.

The time went swiftly. Glancing at her watch, she realized she was running late. She put herself in high gear and reached the Jeep in record time. Stabbing her remote in the direction of the vehicle, she pressed the button with a jerk, but the click she usually heard didn’t happen. She hit the button again, but this time the car locked itself. Frowning, she leaned down and looked through the window. The Jeep had been unlocked already. She spoke out loud to no one. “What the hell?” Unlocking the vehicle once more, Chase bent to peer inside and spotted a piece of paper lying on the passenger seat. It had writing on it. And it wasn’t hers.

Chase set her briefcase down, considered a booby trap, then reached for the door. It opened with a loud click, no bomb, so Chase reached inside, pulling the note toward her with the end of her ballpoint pen. The letters were all caps, neatly printed in a single line on an ordinary piece of white copy paper.

SINCE WHEN DO BAD COPS DO THEIR OWN INVESTIGAIONS? BACK OFF, BITCH. SHE’S NOT WORTH IT!

Chase read the note a second time. Then a third. After reading it a fourth time, she knew she didn’t need to be a detective to figure this one out. Somehow, Connelly had learned about Chase and Rachael. If they persisted, he would see that everyone else knew about them, too. And he would have their jobs.

Crouched beside her open car door, Chase sighed and rocked back on her heels. She hadn’t bothered to tell Rachael what an asshole Kevin Connelly was because there had been no reason to, but a friend of Chase’s had tangled with the SWAT cop before on an excessive force complaint. The IA officer had recommended an extended leave and psychological counseling. Connelly had gotten a slap on the wrist and back pay.

Chase threw her briefcase onto the seat, then closed the door, making sure this time that she locked it. Reaching the ground floor of the parking garage, she started walking. The evening sun had dipped behind the high-rise buildings that lined the downtown Atlanta streets, but the temperature hadn’t abated with its disappearance. The unlucky workers who were just now escaping their desks moved down the sidewalks with such lethargy Chase almost slowed herself. Then she remembered her goal and sped up.

Two blocks over and three blocks down, she came to the double doors she had been searching for, “Charlie’s” spelled out on the glass in elaborate gold lettering that seemed inappropriately ornate. Primarily a boxing gym, Charlie’s had been an Atlanta institution for years. Chase hadn’t been too surprised to see the automatic draft from Connelly’s paycheck even though she might have expected the SWAT cop to exercise at some expensive fancy gym on the rich side of town and not a sweatshop like Charlie’s. The gym probably had the same draw for him that it did for all the cops, Chase decided. It was convenient to downtown and they couldn’t get a better deal anywhere else because the owner gave them discounts on their memberships. Cops had always worked out here. In her younger years, Chase had been one of them, but it had been a while since she had been inside the gym. When she called, Charlie had remembered her and had been more than happy to tell her when Connelly worked out. Chase wondered now if Charlie’s helpful attitude had been part of Connelly’s plan. The SWAT cop obviously wanted to make his stance known.

Chase pushed her way through the doors. The smell of old sweat and testosterone almost knocked her to her knees, the sound of grunts and groans following up with a hard right. Chase blinked, then narrowed her eyes, searching the various stations for the trim, blond cop.

“Looking for somebody?”

Chase turned. A young man with stiff hair and a blank look stood right behind her. Under his painted on Lycra was a body that had been sculpted into rock. Chase eyed him carefully, then her ego decided she could probably take him down. The kid had muscles, but he obviously didn’t know how to use them. He looked like one of the gay male models that her ex use to drag her to watch on one of her buying sprees. “I’m supposed to meet a guy here.”

The young man put his hand on his hip and shifted his attitude to a more flamboyant manner. “Does this guy have a name?”

“Yeah, he does. It’s Kevin Connelly.”

She couldn’t have flipped a switch and gotten a more dramatic change. The blonde stepped back, his expression closing as he pointed toward the rear of the building. “He’s in one of the boxing rings. Head back there and you’ll find him.”

Glancing in the direction he’d pointed, Chase turned back to say thank-you, but the young man was already walking away. As Chase watched, he shot an anxious look over his shoulder then increased his pace until he was practically running.

Dismissing the guy, Chase headed for the rear of the building. As she neared the three rings set up along the back wall, she easily picked out Connelly. A large crowd had gathered around the ropes to watch him box a man who looked to be at least five years younger than Connelly. Boxing wasn’t the right word for what Connelly was doing. He was beating the poor kid to death and clearly enjoying it. Chase could have arrested him for assault. But she didn’t.

A bell sounded and Connelly pulled back from his opponent, flinging the guy’s arms off of his shoulders. Connelly had been his only support and when he withdrew, the kid crumpled to the canvas, bounced once, then lay without moving. Spitting out his mouth-piece, the SWAT cop laughed and high-fived his way around the ropes until he came to where Chase waited. There was no surprise in his eyes. In fact, confirming Chase’s suspicions, Connelly actually looked pleased to see her.

Chase nodded toward the center of the ring. An employee of the gym had gotten the still groggy young fighter to his feet and was trying to get him to the corner. “I’m real impressed, Connelly. That was quite an exhibition.”

Connelly raised his right hand to his mouth and tugged the laces of his gloves with his teeth. He loosened them and spoke. “What are you doing here, Davidson? I didn’t think Charlie’s was your kind of place?”

Chase looked around the place and back at Connelly before speaking. “It isn’t. But neither is the Smoothie Shoppe and I sat there for an hour just so I could watch you and Christena Snell eat lunch across the street.”

If the blond cop was surprised at Chase’s directness, he hid it. “Don’t you have better things to do? Maybe you and your girlfriend need to go back to the park.” He smiled sweetly. “You being into women doesn’t surprise me, but Rachael Stevens, now that’s another story. I wonder what her TRUE BLUE family will think of that?” He gave another sweet smile and leaned against the ropes. “Besides, I would have taken you for the picky type. I would have guessed your type as the blonde, not a hair out of place, never broke a nail in her life type of look. Not young beautiful Rachael. She is beautiful, but she also has brains and chooses to use them. Let’s hope they don’t get her into trouble.”

Connelly had seen Chase and Rachael at the park that day downtown. The revelation left Chase feeling queasy, but at least she knew they hadn’t been spotted when they trailed him or he would have said something by now. “I’m not sure I know what you mean.” Chase pursed her lips thoughtfully. “You wanna be more specific there?”

“You know exactly what I mean.”

“Hey, I’m just an IA cop.” Chase draped her hands over the bottom rope of the ring. “You have to explain certain things in detail to us or we don’t get them.” She paused. “You know, things like why you seem to have such a close relationship with Christena Snell. Can you explain that to me?”

“I’ve been comforting her. She’s grief-stricken”

Chase smirked. “She doesn’t seem too stricken to me. At least not with grief. Maybe pills or something stronger.”

Connelly ignored the reference. “She covers up her distress well.”

“And just how long have you been comforting her? Would that have started before her husband died?”

Without taking his eyes from Chase’s, Connelly let his right glove drop to the canvas where it landed with a dull thud. “That wouldn’t make sense, would it? For me to comfort her before she needed it?”

“Lots of things don’t make sense.” Chase shrugged. “Look at poor David Snell. Cut down in the prime of his life.” Chase shook her head. “Just doesn’t seem right and here you are, with his wife already…”

Connelly stilled. “If I were you, I’d back off and find someone else to hassle. Warnings are warnings for a reason. Next time things might not be so simple.”

Amazed at the man’s arrogance, Chase shook her head. “That sounds like a threat to me, Connelly. I’d hate to have to write you up for being uncooperative with an IA investigation. You know that won’t look good on the nice clean report card you’ve got going in your file.

With a look of disgust, Connelly delivered the message he’d brought Chase to the gym to hear. “Call it whatever you want, Davidson, the facts stay the same. You better watch your back and remember who I am. Your career will go a lot smoother and so will Rachael’s.”

**********

By the time Rachael got away from her desk that evening, Frank Telson had already left for the day. Disappointed but determined, she drove away from headquarters and went directly to her father’s house. He didn’t seem as surprised to see her as he had been the previous time, but his eyes rounded all the same when he opened his door and found her on the sidewalk. “I’ve got to ask you something.”

“Okay.” He opened the door wider and she stepped inside. “You, uh, want something to drink?”

She shook her head. “I don’t have time. I need to know more about the case you mentioned the other day, the frame-up you and Larry investigated.”

He’d been frowning, but his face cleared. “Yeah, yeah. Far as I know, Larry’s cousin never called back on that. But lemme buzz him right now and make sure.”

Rachael followed him into the kitchen where the same dark brown phone hung on the same papered wall that had been there when she had been a teenager. Her father dialed his ex-partner’s number by memory as she stood by and shifted impatiently from one foot to the other. When her father finally spoke, it was in shorthand like old friends do. Her father finished the cryptic conversation too quickly to have learned anything, she decided a moment later. Replacing the receiver, he shook his head and turned to her, confirming her assumption. “The kid never called back, but Larry finally remembered some of the details. It was a professional hit. The husband wanted the wife dead, but he wanted her lover to look like he’d been the trigger man so he could get rid of both of them at once. This was back in the sixties. Things weren’t quite as tight as they are now. They planted some evidence in the lover-boy’s car then switched what they couldn’t plant. It was a big damned mess, but we finally got it straight.”

Rachael tried not to show her disappointment. She had been hoping for a revelation. Or maybe a miracle. “That’s it?”

He looked at her steadily then he pointed to the kitchen table. “You know more than you think you do. Sit down and talk. Tell me what you’ve learned.”

They went over everything again, but in the end, neither one of them could come up with a new angle. “I just don’t understand it. I feel like I’m missing something and if I could try just a little bit harder. I’d figure out what it is.”

His best advice was for her to think about Frank Telson and the crime lab. “The lab’s always the weakest link. I think something might be going on there. I’d look into that a little closer, Rachael.”

Swinging her purse over her shoulder, she stood up and thanked him, then silently discounted his words. Security wasn’t perfect at headquarters, but a new generation of cops ran the place now. Switching evidence and beating people up were ghosts from the past. As she started for the front door, his voice stopped her. “Rachael?”

She looked over her shoulder at him. “Yeah?”

He pushed himself up from the table and took a step toward her. His voice sounded strained. “We’ve had our differences in the past, but you’re a damned good cop. Don’t let some son of a bitch out there make it seem otherwise. You keep at this until it’s resolved.”

Her mouth fell open. “I…I don’t know what to say.”

“Don’t say anything.” He turned back to the table, gathered up their coffee mugs and carried them to the sink. “Just go home and do what I said.”

As a child, she had thought he was a giant. His back was still broad and straight enough to block the evening sunlight coming through the window above the counter. Ignoring his order to leave, she walked slowly to his side and stared at his profile. “You just called me a damned good cop?”

He turned to face her. Their eyes collided for one swift moment, then he looked away. “So what? I complimented you. What’s the big deal? A father can’t say something nice to his daughter once in a while?”

“You’ve never said anything like that before. At least not to me.”

He looked at her. “I had my reasons.”

“Yeah, Dad, I know you did. They’re named Kenneth, Phillip and William. You didn’t care what I did as long as they wore the blue.”

“You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, Rachael.”

“Then why don’t you spell it out for me?” Fueled by the worry and anxiety of the past few weeks, Rachael felt her emotions take control of her mouth. “Why don’t you go ahead and tell me exactly why you’ve never thought I had what it took to be a cop.”

He turned to her, his eyes blazing. “I wanted something better for you, okay? I wanted you to have a good job, damnit! Something safe, something important. Something…clean. I didn’t want you rolling around in the gutter with the drunks like I did for twenty-five years. It was never a matter of whether or not you could handle the work.” He stopped and drew a deep breath. “I wanted something better for you. I wanted to…protect you.”

Confusion rolled over her in a wave that almost took her under. “But I thought you said…”

He interrupted her. “I know what I said and I know what you thought.”

She stared at him speechless while inside her chest, anger squeezed her heart and held it tight, bitterness and disbelief accompanying the reaction. “How could you have done this? It’s…it’s crazy. It’s cruel and heartless and…” She broke off, her voice cracking. “Dad, why in the hell didn’t you just tell me the truth?”

“Because you wouldn’t have listened.” His voice was blunt and when their eyes met, she was the one who looked away first. “You’re exactly like your mother. Stubborn as hell. I knew I’d never change your mind if I asked, so I had to try something other than the truth.”

Rachael eyes swam, but she blinked away the tears. She’d be damned if she would cry now. “So why are you telling me this now? Why, after all this time?”

“When the shit hit the fan with Snell’s death, everything changed. You…needed help.”

They both stood staring at each other in the silence that followed. Rachael broke the silence first. “Do you have any idea how much you’ve hurt me?”

“It was for your own good, Rachael. I thought you’d give up and get a good job. A decent job. I…I didn’t care if you didn’t love me. I just wanted you safe. Maybe it was selfish on my part.”

“Selfish? I can’t believe…”

He stopped her, gripping the counter with both hands, a vein throbbing in his neck as he turned to stare at her. “All right! I screwed up. I’m a terrible father! You can blame me for the rest of your life for every little problem you have, okay?”

The kitchen went quiet again until Rachael finally spoke. “I don’t think I can forgive this.”

“Then don’t.” His jaw twitched. “But know this, Rachael. You’re a better cop than I ever was and ten times the officer your brothers are. Your record proves it. I know now that you’ll never leave the force and you probably shouldn’t. So go ahead and hate me for the rest of eternity, but whatever you do, don’t let the bastard behind this take the life from you. You wouldn’t let me do it. Don’t let him do it, either.”

**********

Snell’s widow wouldn’t even let Chase inside when she showed up that evening. Unwilling to push her, Chase asked her questions through the screen door and she denied everything from the other side. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I didn’t have lunch with Kevin Connelly and even if I had, why would you care? It’s still a free country, Ms. Davidson.”

Chase started to correct her, it was Lieutenant Davidson, but she had already closed the door in her face. Chase walked down the sidewalk to her car, shaking her head.

Driving on automatic, she aimed her car for the freeway. For once, traffic was light. She only wished her thoughts felt the same. The case was getting more and more complicated and she wasn’t sure what to do next. Taking her exit, she drew to a stop at the red light and muttered to herself, her mind switching gears. Her intuition told her Connelly was the key, but how? And why? Was there insurance money Chase hadn’t yet uncovered? Money that Connelly didn’t need. Had Connelly killed Snell because of the illicit love affair with Christena? Christena Snell had asked her husband for a divorce. Had David Snell found out and been jealous? Maybe. Finally, she asked the real question that was bothering her. Am I on the right track or am I just asking these things because I falling in love with the person I’m investigating?

Only when a horn sounded behind her, did she realize the light had changed and she was talking to herself. She floored the jeep, turned left and reached her street fifteen minutes later. Her mind completely focused on her thoughts, she pulled into her driveway and parked. Rachael was waiting on her steps.

Rachael held up her hand before she could speak. “I know you don’t want me here, but I need to talk to you.”

After leaving her father’s house, Rachael had desperately wanted to call one of her friends, but that wasn’t an option so she drove to Chase’s house, feeling a turmoil that went beyond anger, beyond hurt.

Chase looked as if she wanted to turn her away, but she unlocked the door, flipped on the lights and stepped aside, Rachael passing before her. Once they were inside and the door was closed, Chase opened her arms and Rachael fell into them. Chase’s embrace was nothing like it had been before. This was gentle and soothing. Rachael automatically lifted her arms and wrapped them around the taller woman’s neck. She just clung to her, swallowing the sting that had been building in her throat ever since she had talked to her father.

When Chase pulled away, everything rushed back. Her words spilled out as Chase led her into her living room. They sat on the sofa and she told her what had happened.

“I’m sorry, Rachael.” Her expression turned fierce as she cursed. “Damn, I can’t believe he would do that to you.”

“I can. He’s the most obstinate person I’ve ever known. He said I was like my mother, stubborn, but he got it wrong. He was always the one who had to have his way.” She lifted her eyes to Chase’s. “But it doesn’t matter. I’m more tenacious than either one of them could ever dream of being.”

Chase didn’t smile but a light came into her eyes. She lifted her hand to Rachael’s cheek and slowly stroked it with the back of her fingers. “Is that a warning?”

“I’m afraid it is.” Her smile disappeared. “I saw Annette this morning and I have to tell you what she said.”

Chase held up her hand. “Whatever it is, hear this first. Connelly knows about us. He’s threatened to tell the brass and everyone one else. Including your family unless we back off.” Chase didn’t see the need to tell her that Lauren knew as well. Chase figured it was Connelly that told Lauren, but he must not have known that if Lauren rocked the boat that she would fall out too.

She processed the new information, a few more pieces of the puzzle slipping into place, her expression turning excited. “This could only mean one thing, Chase. Connelly’s behind what happened…he has to be. He and Christena must have engineered David’s death.”

“I’m beginning to believe you. But how in the hell did they do it? And why?”

“I don’t know how, but why is obvious. They were having an affair.”

“That’s not good enough. They could have been screwing around, sure, but why kill David? I know it’s happened before, of course, but it just doesn’t seem to fit right. Christena even told David she wanted a divorce. The motivation isn’t strong enough.”

“What I heard today might change your mind.” Standing, Rachael started to pace. “Annette knows someone Connelly dated. Her friend said that Connelly got really serious really fast. She said he was frightening, he was so insistent. Maybe he fell like that for Christena, too. It’s possible.”

Chase rubbed her temple with her forefinger. “Can we talk to Annette’s friend?”

“I’ve got to find her first. She’s an admin assistant named Taylor Martin. I meant to look her up today and see if she’s still on the payroll…”

Chase’s expression shifted so drastically that Rachael fell silent, her explanation forgotten. Even Chase’s eyes seemed to chill, the color switching from dark gray to cold silver. “W-what is it, Chase?”

“Are you talking about the Taylor Martin down in Records?”

Rachael nodded impatiently. “Yes. She and Annette are friends. I never met the woman but–”

“That’s obvious.”

“Why?”

“Because Taylor Martin is not a woman, Rachael. Taylor Martin is a man.”

Rachael froze, her expression locking itself into surprise and disbelief. Finally she blinked and the motion seemed to set her free from shock. “That’s impossible!”

“Call her. Call your friend.” Chase pulled her cell phone from her pocket and handed it to her. “Make sure we’re talking about the same Taylor Martin.”

Rachael gripped the phone and dialed. The conversation was short and Chase could tell by Rachael’s face, she had made no mistake. Rachael hit the end button and handed the phone back to her, an emotion too sharp to be called disappointment sweeping over her expression. “You’re right.” Her answer was hollow and distant. “We are talking about the same person. Taylor Martin is a man. And he dated Kevin Connelly.” She walked over to Chase’s sofa and sat down heavily. “Kevin Connelly is gay. I can’t believe this. Jesus, we haven’t just been on the wrong track, we’ve been on the wrong damned train.”

The news did put a different spin on things, but Chase found herself focusing on the pain in Rachael’s eyes instead of what they had just learned. Nothing was more important to her than erasing Rachael’s hurt and suddenly she knew no matter what happened, when this case was over, so was she.

“What are we going to do? I’ve worked this thing from every direction possible but every time I think I’m getting somewhere, I run into another wall. I don’t know what else to do, Chase.”

“You don’t have to do anything.” She smoothed a hand over the back of Rachael’s hair. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you all along, Rachael. Let me do it. It’s my job.”

“But…”

Chase silenced her protest with her mouth, her lips gently covering the smaller woman’s. Rachael responded immediately, almost hungrily and feeling her need, Chase’s own desire grew. Chase told herself to pull away and turn back. If she had any chance in hell of helping her now, she needed to concentrate on the investigation itself and not Rachael. But even as she argued with herself, she knew she was past that point. Rachael had become more important to her than the investigation. And right now, she needed comfort.

Deepening the kiss, Chase let her hands drop down to Rachael’s back. She slipped her hands beneath her blouse and found bare skin. Everywhere she touched, it was soft and warm.

Rachael pulled Chase’s shirt from her pants, she began to unbutton it and a moment later Chase moaned as Rachael’s lips pressed against her neck. Chase reached for her blouse to remove it, but Rachael shook her head. Her eyes locked on Chase’s, she stood and slowly undressed herself. Then she very slowly undressed Chase. She slowly guided Chase to the bedroom.

The house was silent as Rachael held Chase’s hand and walked in front of her. Inside her chest, her heart was racing so fast she actually felt dizzy. Nothing could have stopped her, though. Chase’s embrace offered the only hope she had of maintaining her sanity, the only place of refuge she had left. She needed to be in Chase’s arms and she wanted to be in her bed. She could make her forget.

A moment later, that’s exactly where they were. She made Chase stretch out then she straddled her and starting at the top of her head, she began to kiss her, lingeringly and slowly. Her lips touched her gently in some places, roughly in others. By the time she got to her waist, Chase was trying to catch her breath. “Rachael…you have to…stop.”

“Stop what, Chase?” She was whispering between nips and kisses with an innocent tone. “We’re just getting started.” Rachael knew Chase was fighting her need because of the investigation, but she had no intention of letting Chase get by with it this time. She slowly kissed and caressed her way back to Chase’s lips.

Chase was trying to keep her eyes open, but Rachael was making that difficult. “Rachael, I don’t want us to regret this.” Rachael’s fingertips lightly grazed over her taut nipples. “Jesus, Rachael…I can’t…think. I can’t talk you out of…this, if you keep doing that.”

Rachael smiled down at her. “That’s the point Chase. You’re not going to talk me out of this.” She let her fingers graze over Chase’s nipples once more and smiled when Chase let out a long moan. “I’m going to talk you into it.”

Chase opened her eyes and grinned. “Keep talking.”

She flipped her hair to one side and leaned down to Chase’s lips, teasing her with a quick tender kiss. “I plan on it.” She smiled against Chase’s neck as she heard the sharp intake of breath caused by her descent back down Chase’s body. She positioned herself between Chase’s legs, and first kissed her lower abdomen, then the inside of her legs, and slowly moved up to her goal. She did not allow her mouth to touch Chase there yet, she breathed in the scent of her. Chase raised her hips to her, but she only backed her mouth away, making her wait again. Making herself wait. Finally, her tongue reached out, and barely touched her.
Again, and again, her tongue reached out, each time, touching her a little firmer. At last, she buried her face in the warmth, and wetness of Chase. Chase’s hands pushed Rachael’s head into herself, urging her to fulfill her. Rachael’s tongue seemed to find every nerve and make it cry out for more attention. Her teeth held Chase’s clit gently, and her tongue danced upon it. Chase’s moans had become stifled cries of ecstasy, and her hips rose and fell with pleasure. Rachael’s hand slid up the inside of her thigh, and her finger slipped inside her. She pulled the single finger out, and replaced it with two, then, added a third. In and out she plunged, and Chase moved her hips begging for more. She moved her free hand to Chase’s nipple, and rolled it between her thumb and finger, then pinched it, gently. Rachael was taking Chase along that fine line between pleasure and pain, and she knew just the right steps to take. Chase’s back arched until she was almost seated upright, and then it happened. The fire that she had been trying to keep under control for weeks, exploded.

Rachael kissed her way back up Chase’s body, lingering at her breasts, finding her way again to her mouth. The kiss was less urgent now, more passionate. “You are absolutely perfect, Chase.”

Chase was struggling with the bittersweet of the moment. She couldn’t remember a time in her life that she had ever given that much. Allowing Rachael to take what she wanted. She felt wonderfully drained, but she also knew beyond a shadow of a doubt she was in love with the very person she was investigating. “Ah, I’m in so much trouble.”

Rachael gave Chase’s lips another tender peck. “Why is that, sweetheart?”

Chase waited for Rachael to look at her before answering. “Because, I’m in love with you.”

Rachael stared at her for a moment, in total shock. She was not expecting to hear the words from Chase. She slowly closed her eyes and let it wash over her. It was wonder and scary at the same time, but she couldn’t afford to return it. “I…I don’t know what to say. I…”

Chase put her finger over Rachael’s lips to interrupt her. “You don’t have to say anything. Just know that I do love you. Now, come here.” Rachael happily went into Chase’s arms and paid for every nip and gentle kiss she had given Chase’s body with building agony. Chase’s mouth and fingers teasing her to no end. When she thought the end was near, Chase would begin again.

**********

Rachael woke in the middle of the night. Chase lay beside her, her hand twisted in Rachael’s hair. She gently untangled her fingers, then she slipped out to the bed, but she didn’t walk away. She stood by the edge and stared down at the woman who had become so important to her. She wasn’t sure how it had happened, but Chase had turned into someone she needed. The idea scared her. She had never needed anyone but herself before this.

Padding naked into the living room, Rachael picked up the first piece of clothing she found, Chase’s shirt. Thrusting her arms through the sleeves, she rolled them up and wandered into the kitchen, her footsteps as random as her thoughts. She filled a glass with water, drank it, then returned to the living room. If Christena and Kevin Connelly weren’t having an affair, then what was going on between the two of them? Rachael considered the possibility that Connelly could have been bisexual, but she immediately dismissed the idea. Thinking back to the embrace she had witnessed between Christena and Connelly, Rachael realized something about it had bothered her at the time, but she had put the notion aside and forgotten about it. Now she remembered and understood.

Their actions had held no passion. Connelly was gay. And he was using Christena’s vulnerability to his advantage. The connection between Christena and Connelly was still there, but it wasn’t configured the way Rachael had thought. She found herself standing in front of Chase’s television cabinet. Her fingers reached out and she opened the double doors. The tape was right where it had been when she had seen it the first time. She caught her breath. Did she really want to put herself through the torture of seeing it again? She had to, she decided after a moment. If there was even the slightest chance she could learn something from viewing the tape one more time, she owed it to herself and to Chase to try. She punched it into the slot and turned on the set. The recording picked up a few minutes past where it had been when Chase had switched it off. The now familiar scene of the Happy Hour’s parking lot flashed onto the screen, the tarmac full of people and cars. Rachael put her hand to her chest as the tape played and she spotted herself sitting on the curb. One medic was kneeling at her side while another one rummaged through a kit nearby. Recalling the moment as if she were still there, her pulse raced painfully.

She remembered exactly what she had been thinking as the man had cleaned up her wound. She was staring at a bullet casing that had landed by the curb. Even in her shock, she had noted its placement, thinking she had to remember to tell the techs about it later. The metal jacket was barely visible in the frame. She was absent from the next shot. After that, she watched a variety of officers and crime-scene attendants going over the area. Bobby Palmer, the lieutenant in charge, dominated the next few pictures. She glanced at the time recording and saw Chase come into focus a little more than an hour after the shooting. She talked to the homicide investigator for a bit, then the frame switched again. The random snapshots that followed didn’t amount to much.
Nothing but cops and techs swarmed in and out of the picture. Punching the rewind button, Rachael stared numbly as the awful sequences played in reverse the surreal images flying by, the cops, techs, her figure by the curb, the meds arriving. When she realized the tape had reached the point where she would see David’s body again, she seemed to wake up. Her hand shot out to the recorder but, at the last minute, she paused, an officer in black suddenly catching her eye. He wore the clothing of a SWAT team member and looking closer, she recognized the blond hair and striking features of Kevin Connelly. Her curiosity aroused, she hit the play button and backed up the tape a bit more, checking the timer as she did so. A tech walked by, then ten minutes later, Connelly passed the curb. In several subsequent frames, Connelly was in some but absent from others. Rachael let the video continue until she finally saw her image sitting on the sidewalk again.

Her face wore such a stunned expression she wasn’t sure she would have recognized herself if she hadn’t remembered the moment with such clarity. The recollection set something in motion inside her brain. She tried to catch the random flash but the task proved harder than she would have imagined, the thought too elusive to snag. She told herself to concentrate, then as she did, her abstraction turned into confusion. She rewound the tape until the tech and then Connelly came back into focus. She played the images again, this time in slow motion, her eyes going to the ground instead of to the men themselves. Her pulse stuttered and her body went cold. She had to be mistaken. Once again, she fast forwarded to the frame that showed her sitting on the curb. She froze the segment, her nose practically against the television set. Placing her fingers against the screen, Rachael held her breath and stared, her mouth open in shock.

Suddenly Chase spoke from behind her. “We were wrong about Christena.” Rachael turned slowly as Chase continued. “But we were right about Connelly.”

She walked across the room and took Rachael’s hands. She had on a pair of baggy drawstring pants and a sports bra and when she squeezed her fingers, Rachael hardly felt her touch. “I started thinking about something when I woke up. So I went and checked my files. Gay or straight, I think Connelly killed David Snell and set you up for it. And I just figured out why.”

Rachael looked at the screen again before speaking. “That’s good because I think I just figured out how.”

Chase’s eyes went wide, then darkened. “You first.”

Rachael pointed to the television set. “Come watch.” She played the segment of the tape showing the tech and then Connelly. Then she went to the frame where she sat on the curb. Chase stared and shook her head when Rachael stopped the recorder. “Look again,” Rachael instructed. “Look for what isn’t there.”

She replayed the tape and pointed to the curb as the tech walked by. Then Connelly came and went. Finally, when Rachael’s image showed up, she pointed to the curb again. “There’s a casing by my foot,” she said quietly. “It wasn’t there when the tech walked by the first time or he would have stopped and marked it or even bagged it. No one walks by that spot again except Connelly.” She turned her eyes to Chase. “But the casing was there when I sat down later. I remember seeing it.”

At her words, Chase blinked, a stunned look coming over her face. She didn’t need to ask if she understood. It was clear by her face that she did. “I told you I had thirteen rounds in my weapon and that I shot seven times, but you said eight casings were found.” She tapped the glass screen and it made a hollow sound. “That’s why. Right there is where the eighth casing came from. Connelly planted it.”

“What about the round missing from your pistol?”

She clenched her jaw. “I’d risk next year’s salary that Frank Telson got rid of it after I turned my gun in to the lab for testing.”

“Why would the supervisor of the crime lab do something like that?”

“I don’t know, but he and Connelly are connected.” She explained seeing the two men together at the range.

“And the slug that killed David?”

“I can’t explain that either,” she admitted. “But I know I didn’t kill him. Either ballistics screwed up the match, which is doubtful, or the slug the coroner recovered wasn’t the same slug that ballistics got to test and compare.”

“You think it could have been switched?”

“It’s an option. My dad and I talked earlier about one of his old cases where something similar happened and it made me wonder. Things aren’t as tight in the lab as they’re made out to be and Frank Telson has to be part of the problem. It’s a wild-eyed guess, but I’d say Connelly’s either paying him off or blackmailing him.”

“That would fit. Especially when you combine it with the information I went to check on. I had the rap sheet for Sanchez, the second shooter, in my files. I wanted to make sure before I said anything to you, but I was right.”

“About what?”

“Sanchez and his buddy were picked up in a SWAT team operation a few months ago, but they were released with charges. Connelly was the officer in charge. He let them go.”

“Why?”

“I think he was already planning something and needed them. In his eyes, they were disposable. He knew whatever happened to them later wouldn’t matter.”

The image of the two men stumbling out of the club sent something skitter up her back. Then she remembered. “They weren’t really drunk. I wondered about it at the time, then I forgot.” Rachael’s stomach turned at the thought. “He knew I’d shoot them.”

“Sure, he did. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gave them the guns they used with blanks. The techs never found any slugs that night but yours.”

“Why?” Her voice cracked. “Why would he do this?”

“It all comes down to motivation. Every time. I’ve been going crazy trying to figure out how Connelly and Christena would profit from David’s death, then I realized where I’d gone wrong when we learned he’s gay. I’ve been looking at things from the wrong end of the binoculars. I shouldn’t have concentrated what Connelly stood to gain. I should have concentrated on what Connelly had to lose.” Chase paused. “The man is set to receive a fortune. What if the elder members of his oh-so-perfect family aren’t as open-minded as the rest of us? What if he won’t get his inheritance if the truth came out about him being gay? Maybe Christena is his cover.”

“But what does any of that have to do with David?”

“Maybe Snell knew. Could he have been blackmailing Connelly?”

“That doesn’t sound like the David I knew.” Rachael hesitated. “Then again, David wasn’t himself those last few weeks. I guess anything’s possible.”

“I’m not sure, either, but with that tape.” Chase nodded toward the VCR. “And a good judge, we’ve got enough for a search warrant.”

Rachael turned to Chase and moved a step closer, wrapping her arms around her waist. “You finally believe I’m innocent, don’t you?”

“I thought you were all along. But thinking alone won’t get you too far in this job. I had to have evidence, Rachael, and you know that.”

Chase lifted her chin with her fingers and then leaned down to kiss her. For a second, Rachael’s lips trembled beneath hers, then she gathered herself and kissed her back, her arms holding Chase tight. Chase wanted to pull her back into the bedroom and make them both forget the reasons they had come together, but she couldn’t do that. Not now. Maybe when this was over, they could have some kind of future, but what that was, she had no idea. Regardless, she allowed herself a few minutes to fantasize along those lines, then she gently untangled Rachael’s arms from her waist. “We have to get to headquarters. I want to put an APB out on Connelly and get the warrant going.”

They were almost to the front door when Chase stopped abruptly. “Damn. I’ve got to get my briefcase. It’s in the study. Give me a second.”

“I’ll wait in the car.” Rachael tilted her head toward the street. “Don’t take too long.”

Chase nodded and started toward the back of the house as Rachael opened the front door and went outside. The sticky night air was hot and expectant and a lingering heaviness in it felt ominous. Rachael scoffed at the idea as soon as it entered her mind, but after the day she’d had, who could blame her? She took two steps and tried to clear her mind. Without warning, a hand clamped over her mouth and a gun dug into her ribs. The voice in her ear was harsh but familiar. Fear rolled through her as Kevin Connelly spoke. “Pull your weapon from its holster and hand it to me, barrel first.”

She did exactly as he ordered and she felt his movements as he took her Glock and put it in his waistband. “Good. Now don’t do anything but reverse your steps. If you try to scream, I’ll shoot her before she clears the door.”

Her heart pounded.

“Do you understand me?” His breath smelled like peppermints.

She nodded.

“All right. We’re walking to the door as if you forgot something, then we’re going inside.” He forced her backward, a shadow on the porch no one could have seen even if they looked. “Open the door, slowly.”

Her nervous fingers slipped against the round brass knob then she gripped it. She turned it and the door gave way. Connelly waited a second longer, then they pushed inside together. Chase hadn’t had time to return and for a split second, Rachael thought she might have a chance. Her eyes darted frantically around the entry as she looked for something she could kick over or knock down. All she saw was Connelly’s steady stare as it met hers in the wall mirror. “Don’t even think about it,” he whispered. “You know what kind of shot I am. She wouldn’t have a chance.”

Rachael nodded again and he dragged her into the living room. Before leaving the room, Chase had switched off the lights and only the blue glow of the blank television screen remained. The color painted the furniture and walls with an underwater tint. Connelly laid Rachael’s gun on a table beside the wall then suddenly jerked her to him. Against her back, he tensed, tightening his arm around her neck. “Not a word,” he breathed.

A second later, she heard Chase walking toward the front door. She opened it and stepped outside. The lock turned and her footsteps rang out as she headed toward the street, the sound fading after a moment. “She’s going to come back when she doesn’t find me.”

“That’s all right. By then you’ll be dead.” Connelly looked toward the door. “And she’ll be next.”

Carefully searching left and right, Chase paused on the sidewalk, then headed for her car. She unlocked the driver’s side and climbed inside, then turned around once more and craned her neck, eyeing the sidewalk and the street behind her as if looking for Rachael. When the map light went out, she reached up and switched the lamp all the way off, her heart pounding so loud in the silence she imagined the neighbors could hear it. Chase had installed a burglar alarm a few years back when a cop she had investigated had gotten upset over an unfavorable report and threatened to come to her house and do some serious bodily harm.
Since then she had managed to piss off her share of cops. Whenever a door or a window opened, whether the system was armed or not, a light blinked on a panel in her bedroom. After going to her study, she had seen the red dot pulsing. She had started to call out for Rachael then she had decided against it. She had a security camera hidden on the front porch and a real time monitor, too. Her legs had turned to water as she stared at the flickering screen. Climbing to the other side of the vehicle, Chase opened the door and slid out. She had two, maybe three minutes, certainly no more than five. Using the cover of Rachael’s Toyota, she eased another fifteen feet. Just behind the Camry, her neighbor had parked his camper and for once Chase was grateful. She sprinted the length of the camper, then dashed between the houses to the street south of her own. Snaking through the darkened alleys, she doubled around until she came to her own backyard. Climbing the cedar fence, she approached the rear of the house in silence, her hand on her weapon. Within a minute, she stood beside the window in her living room. Taking a deep breath, she eased her body beneath the brick ledge then slowly raised her head to look inside. What she saw turned her blood to ice.

**********

“I don’t know what you think you’re doing, Connelly, but whatever it is, you aren’t going to succeed.”

Forcing her into a nearby chair, Connelly pushed Rachael down as she spoke. He held both of her hands behind her back and gave them a painful yank. “Shut up. I don’t need your commentary. Especially since it’s wrong.” She heard the distinctive snick of the handcuffs. Connelly tightened them more than was necessary and the hard edges bit into the skin around her wrists. He came back around and faced her. “You and your IA bitch have been so wrong all along it’s almost laughable, I’m not worried.”

“You should be.” She spoke with an assurance she didn’t feel. “We know Frank Telson’s been working with you and we know that you killed the second shooter.”

He turned his blue eyes on her.

“We also know your affair with Christena Snell isn’t real.”

He blinked this time but recovered quickly. “That leaves quite a bit you don’t know, doesn’t it?”

“The rest doesn’t matter. We’ve got enough to send you up. I’ve heard that they love ex-cops in prison.”

The threat of prison didn’t appear to faze him. “You and your new friend aren’t going to send me anywhere because I’m sending both of you to hell first.” He shook his head in a parody of dejection. “A Murder-suicide…so …sad. Often happens with burned-out cops. Guess you just couldn’t take the pressure.”

Rachael’s dry mouth made it hard to talk, but she persisted. Once Chase came through that door–and she would any moment–she was dead. “I think you’re the one who couldn’t take the pressure. I just don’t understand what David had to do with any of it. He was a damned good cop and you killed him. Why?”

Connelly’s expression morphed slowly from puzzlement to wonder to bitterness as he stared at her in the blue light. He cursed softly, then shook his head. “You didn’t know, did you? He told me that you knew, but he lied about that, too. I can’t believe this. And I trusted him.” He cursed again, but his expression didn’t match his words. Not anger or rancor crossed his face, only something that looked surprisingly like regret.

His reaction made no sense; then something seemed to unwind inside Rachael. She held her breath, then expelled it slowly, the whole picture coming together for the first time since David had died. His attitude toward her, his words that night, Christena’s actions…no wonder she’d gone nuts over Chase’s questions about ‘an affair’ in the family. She hadn’t been the one cheating. Christena had never been Kevin Connelly’s lover. David had. She should have been more shocked, but Rachael had gone past the point. “You didn’t have to kill him,” she said sadly.

“Yes, I did.” Connelly’s face hardened. “He wouldn’t leave Christena. I couldn’t let her have him.”

“That’s crazy.”

“Yes. It probably is, but that’s how love works sometimes.”

**********

Holding her weapon against her chest, Chase stood in the darkness of the dining room and listened. When she had looked through the window and had seen Rachael tied up, cold determination had replaced her earlier concern. She had thought Connelly was smarter than this, but obviously his desperation was too big to contain. Staying as close as possible to the wall, Chase crept toward the living room. She waited only a split second, then she swung around the corner and extended her weapon. “Drop the gun and move away,” she said loudly. “Do it right now, Connelly, or I swear, I’ll shoot you.”

Rachael’s heart flew into her throat. She had been praying Chase would simply leave when she couldn’t find her, but deep down, she had known she’d return. Thank goodness, she had somehow realized what was going on and Connelly hadn’t been able to surprise her.

After a momentary start, Connelly answered Chase’s threat. “I’m not dropping anything, Davidson. I think you’ve been watching too many cop mini-series on television. I’m going to kill her and then I’m going to kill you and after that, I’m going to have a drink and celebrate.”

“I’ve called for backup,” Chase said in a calm voice. “Your SWAT buddies are going to be surrounding the house any minute. Let’s not make this situation any crazier than it already is.”

“You’re the one who got us here. If you’d left everything alone, the situation wouldn’t have developed.”

“I’m not paid to leave things alone, Connelly. I’m paid to find out the truth.” Chase’s eyes flickered to Rachael’s. “Are you all right?”

Connelly answered for Rachael. “She’s fine, But she won’t be for long and neither will you.”

Taking a step to her right, Chase ignored the threat. “You won’t get away with this.”

“Yes, I will. Have you forgotten that my last name is Connelly? It’s a name that goes a long way here in Atlanta, Davidson. There might be a little stink at first, but the press will quickly forget. Money makes bad things go away.”

Chase moved another small step. “How much of that money is gonna be yours when your family finds out about your lifestyle?”

“They aren’t going to find out,” he said confidently. “I’ve got a girlfriend, remember? We’re quite close.”

Rachael closed her eyes and held back a groan. Poor Christena. First David, now this. Thinking she’d been the one to keep David from him, Connelly had obviously set out to destroy her.

Chase moved another step to her right. “I somehow doubt that relationship will last. Once she finds out you engineered her husband’s death, Christena Snell won’t be too pleased.”

“I didn’t engineer shit. I killed David with a single shot from fifty yards away.” He looked down at Rachael. “I forgot to warn Sanchez and his buddy how good a shooter you are, not that it mattered since I provided them with the guns…and the blanks. I apologized when I visited him the other night at the hospital. I let him know I was sorry his print card got lost, too.”

“And ballistics?” Chase asked.

“Frank hasn’t been very discreet with a small problem he’s got. He likes little children. I offered to see that he gets help with his situation, but he declined and in return for my silence, he substituted the slug from David’s body with one I provided. Ballistics analyzed the one they were given. Unfortunately for Rachael, the one they analyzed came from her gun.”

He was proud of what he’d managed to do and eager to brag. So eager, Rachael finally realized, he hadn’t noticed how close Chase had gotten to the two of them.

Chase tensed. She was ten feet away, maybe less, from the chair where Rachael was tied. She could leap that far and fall on top of her, but she’d have to shoot Connelly in midair. Rachael could make that shot, but Chase wasn’t positive she could. It was a risk she didn’t want to take with Rachael’s life in the balance. Chase weighed her choices as Connelly continued to talk, then it hit her. The SWAT cop didn’t own all the odds. They had something to negotiate with, too. “You planned the whole thing quite well, Connelly. I’ll give you that.” Chase sent a steady look to Rachael then turned her eyes back to Connelly. “You skipped one detail, though. Unfortunately, for you,” she said mockingly, “we have proof of what you did. There was a security cam in the parking lot. It recorded everything.”

A look of alarm crossed Connelly’s face then it cleared immediately. “I was too far away when I shot. Don’t even try…”

“I’m not talking about the shooting. I’m talking about the fake evidence you planted.”

“You’re bullshitting me.”

“There’s a copy in the VCR right behind you. Go ahead and watch it.”

Connelly’s gaze flicked toward the television. The blue light was steady and the color matched his eyes. “We were looking at it right before you got here. That’s why the TV’s on.” Chase motioned with her gun. “Go ahead. Be my guest.”

“You turn it on,” Connelly ordered.

“I’d be happy to, but first you’re going to untie Rachael and let her go. If you don’t, you’ll never find out where the original tape is.”

For the first time, he seemed to hesitate. Chase pressed her case. “Believe me, Connelly, it will be found. And you will be caught. Unless you cut her loose.”

“Then what?”

“”We’ll decide that together. It’ll depend on you,” Chase promised.

“How do I know you won’t screw me?”

Chase smiled unpleasantly. “How do you think I’ve managed to survive this long in IA, Connelly? Where do you think the Porsche came from? The clothes? The house…” Chase shook her head. “Look at it like this, you’ve got extra income from your family and so do I. APD’s just one big happy family, right? Most of the cops I’ve investigated have been more than happy to help me…when I’ve helped them.”

Believing Chase was dirty was easy for Connelly since that was the side he walked on. He thought a moment longer, then he reached inside his pocket, pulled out the key to the cuffs and tossed it to the floor at Rachael’s feet. “Pick it up and release her cuffs.” He pointed the gun at Rachael’s head. “You do anything but move your butt to the sofa, and Davidson is dead. You understand?”

Rachael nodded, her eyes dark as she turned to Chase. Kneeling at her feet, Chase picked up the key then moved behind her chair, her weapon on Connelly the whole time. When Chase glanced down to look for the key hole, Rachael whispered urgently. “Drop your gun and dive right. I’ll grab it and go left.”

Rachael went one way and Chase went the other. Connelly screamed a curse and fired a split second later, but Rachael shot back. He grabbed his shoulder and cried out, tumbling to the carpet, his gun hitting the floor first and bouncing to one side. Rachael launched herself to where the gun landed and covered it with her body. Wrapping her finger around the grip, she scooted backward and aimed at the same time, a weapon in each hand.

Connelly lay motionless, Rachael jumped to her feet and called to Chase without looking. “Are you okay?”

Chase didn’t answer.

She chanced a look and wished she hadn’t. Chase was slumped against a chair, one side of her face covered in blood, her hands lying limply at her sides, her legs splayed out before her. Rachael’s knees buckled, then she pulled herself together. Swinging her pistol back to Connelly, she stumbled to where Chase rested. Her heart should have been pounding, but it wasn’t doing a thing. Instead, adrenaline and pure fear keeping her going. Just as she’d done to her dying partner, Rachael bent down and jabbed her fingers into Chase’s neck.

Chase opened her eyes.

But as raw relief swamped Rachael, Chase yelled and wrenched her weapon from Rachael, pushing her down to the carpet at the same time. Rachael did a face plant, the rug burning her lower jaw as something whizzed by, inches above her head. She looked up to see Connelly clutching her gun, which he’d laid on the table coming in. He only managed the one shot

Chase continued to fire until the magazine was empty.

**********

Rachael and Chase were still on the floor when the front door flew open. Four men in black with a battering ram charged inside, then three men with automatic weapons followed; as instructed, Chase and Rachael threw their up their hands and stayed where they were.

Four of the SWAT cops dispersed inside the house and checked it room by room while one ran to Connelly and a second to Rachael and Chase. The last man, clearly the team leader, stood by the front door. The officer checking Connelly looked up and shook his head once, then the other four returned with an ‘All clear.’ The leader walked to where Chase and Rachael sat.

“We checked through the windows with a camera” he said almost apologetically, “but we had to make sure it was safe.” He threw a look over his shoulder. “Get your kit, Rogers, and check these officers for injuries. Ryans, call for a wagon. Peterson, give Communications a heads up.”

Chase watched the team follow orders as quickly and efficiently as she and Rachael had when they’d heard “Hands up.” As the officer continued to organize things, however, Chase let her head slump to the chair at her back, the last of her adrenaline seeping away, weary disbelief replacing it. Her eyes met Rachael’s. “Are you really okay?”

“I’m fine. But how did you know to come back inside? I was so afraid you were going to come through the front door. That was his plan. He was going to shoot you then.”

Chase explained the burglar alarm and camera then winced as the medical officer began to clean her wound.

“I know it hurts.” The SWAT cop looked at Chase with sympathy in his eyes. “But it’s a superficial wound. I don’t think you even need stitches. You’re gonna have a whopper of a headache tomorrow, though.” He smoothed a bandage onto her temple then stood and motioned to Rachael. “Let me take a look at you now.”

When the man finished and declared her fine, Rachael thanked him and returned to Chase. She blinked several times before she could speak. “You risked your life coming back in here like that. I…”

Chase raised her hand and even though it was bloodstained, she laid a finger across her lips. “I did the same thing you would have done in my place.”

Rachael’s voice was serious, but a light shone in her eyes Chase had never seen before. “You would make someone a damned good partner. How come I never knew what a good shooter you are?”

Chase shook her head then groaned at the movement. “It wasn’t important until now.”

“What other skills are you hiding?”

“Too many to name and a few you don’t even want to know about.”

Rachael cradled her jaw in her hand, then leaned over and gently kissed her. “I want to know about all of them. There aren’t going to be any more secrets between the two of us. It’s my turn to investigate you and I’m gonna take the rest of my life to do it. I love you, Chase.”

Six Months Later

Sunshine poured through the window and coated the breakfast table with light. At Chase’s end, the place mats were covered with a pile of books and notepads. Concentrating to the exclusion of everything else, she was bent over a journal with a yellow Hi-Liter in her hand.

At Rachael’s end, a single cup of coffee cooled, a squiggle of steam rising above it. She rustled the newsletter she held, folded it then laid it down with a sigh.

Chase looked up. No more able to resist her now, six months later, than she had been able to the day they met, she stood and came to her side. Crouching down so she could look into her eyes, she put her arms around her, then leaned over and kissed her. “What’s wrong?”

“I hate that you’re always right.”

Chase shrugged and pursed her lips. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. I know it’s a terrible fault, but I can’t seem to help myself.” Nuzzling her neck, she kissed her again, then leaned back. “What did I do this time?”

Rachael tapped the paper. “Page four. APD News. Have you read it?”

She opened her eyes in mock surprise. “Have I read it? Why on earth would I want to read that rag? I’m a member of the professorial elite now.” She raised her voice and spoke in singsong. “I’m a college profess-or. I don’t have to keep up with the pedestrian goings-on at APD.”

“Still you might want to check out the article.” Rachael looked out the window then back at Chase. “You predicted it would be there.”

Puzzled, Chase flipped to the page she’d indicated. “What happens if I say I told you so?”

Rachael took Chase’s face in both hands and kissed her passionately. When Chase opened her eyes they were half lidded and Rachael knew she had the desired affect she was looking for. “Do you want to continue to enjoy me like this?”

Chase lowered herself to the floor. “You know I do.”

Rachael used her forefinger to give Chase the come here gesture. When Chase’s lips was about to kiss her, Rachael whispered, “Then you will never say I told you so.”

The End

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