"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.
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.
Continued in Part 2
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