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Название:
4. Justice In The Shadows
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Justice in the Shadows

In a shadow world of secrets, lies, and hidden agendas, Detective Sergeant Rebecca Frye and her lover, Dr. Catherine Rawlings, join forces once again in the elusive search for justice.

Rebecca is aided in her struggle to uncover a pornography ring and expose its connections to a traitor within the police department by a rag-tag team of dedicated cops and civilians: JT Sloan, a cybersleuth who is committed to avenging her lover’s devastating injury and walks the fine line between justice and revenge; Dellon Mitchell, a young police officer who discovers an unforeseen talent for undercover work; and Sandy, a prostitute who develops an unexpected passion for cops. Ultimately, this secret investigation may risk not just their careers, but may cost one of them their life.

CHAPTER ONE

Dr. Catherine Rawlings awoke, naked, her cheek against her lover’s shoulder. They’d slept with the window open in the bedroom of her first floor apartment, and a faint breeze ruffled the curtains at the window. It was dark. Five am?

Soon the alarm would go off and another day would begin, but it was all that remained unfinished that haunted her. Her last conversation with her police detective lover just before they’d fallen into bed, physically exhausted and emotionally numb, came back to her.

“What’s going to happen now?”

“I’ll be back on regular duty in a day or so, and I’ll have new cases to worry about.” Rebecca rested her cheek against Catherine’s hair and closed her eyes. “It happens like this in police work. You work your ass off and then you can’t make the case because of a technicality, or you do make the case, but the perp plea-bargains it down to nothing.”

“So you’re letting this go?” Catherine asked, surprised.

Faintly, Rebecca shook her head. “Clark will pull the plug on this task force—he’s probably already made the call. But I’ll keep doing what I’m trained to do until we make this right—for Jeff, for Michael, for those young kids.”

Jeff Cruz had been Rebecca’s partner in the Special Crimes Unit of the Philadelphia Police Department until he and another cop had been murdered three months ago. Their killer was still at large, their murders unsolved. Michael Lassiter had been struck down only hours before by a hit and run driver in a thwarted attempt to kill J.T. Sloan, her lover and the civilian computer consultant on the task force. She lay in the intensive care unit at University Hospital in critical condition. Jeff, Michael, those nameless teenagers—victims all.

“I’ll keep doing what I’m trained to do until we make this right…”

Make it right. That’s what her lover did. Catherine shivered and pressed closer.

“Catherine?” Detective Sergeant Rebecca Frye kissed the top of Catherine’s head, one hand drifting up and down her arm in a slow caress. “What’s bothering you?”

“I am so angry about Michael being hurt, and Sloan suffering, and Jason putting his life on the line. And you—working around the clock when you’re barely out of the hospital. It’s just so…unjust.”

Encircling Catherine with an arm, Rebecca rested her chin atop Catherine’s head and mused out loud. “I know Avery Clark and his whole Justice task force ties in somehow with Jeff Cruz and Jimmy Hogan being assassinated. That can’t be a coincidence. Clark might think he can just pull the plug on this operation and we’ll take it lying down, but he’s wrong.”

Catherine’s heart thudded painfully. “What are you going to do?”

“Just dig around a bit.” Rebecca was evasive, both out of habit and out of a desire not to alarm Catherine. “I know Sloan won’t walk away from what happened to Michael, and I’d rather keep her busy doing computer checks for me than worry that she’s running around grabbing people by the throat.”

“She’s in agony, Rebecca. She feels guilty for what happened and she’s terrified of losing her lover. Until Michael recovers, she’s going to be very volatile.”

“I’ll keep an eye on her,” Rebecca promised.

Catherine merely smiled. As if anyone could control Sloan.

“What are you doing today?” Rebecca asked lazily, turning to stretch against Catherine’s body, running both hands up and down her lover’s back. “Hmm?”

“Back to routine.” Catherine’s voice was husky and slow. She rested a hand against Rebecca’s chest, rubbed her thumb across a nipple. She smiled when Rebecca gasped. “Rounds in the morning, clinic…ahh…in the afternoon. I thought…that’s nice…I’d stop to see…” Catherine tilted her head back, her eyes hazy. “Unless you intend to make good on what you’ve started, Detective—”

Rebecca grinned and slid one hand between them, cradling Catherine’s breast as she rocked her leg a little higher. “I do.”

“Oh, thank god.” Catherine felt Rebecca’s mouth on her neck, felt teeth against her skin, and felt herself grow heavy and wet. “When you touch me…” She lost her thought as fingers closed around her nipple, sending streams of pleasure streaking along her nerve fibers. Her stomach clenched with excitement.

“What?” Rebecca squeezed the hard nub, twisting very gently, her head suddenly light at the sound of a quiet whimper. “When I touch you…what?”

Catherine found Rebecca’s eyes, tried to focus on them through the haze of desire, needing something to keep her from surrendering to passion too soon. “You make me…forget…everything. Oh God…stop for a…second.”

“Too much?” Rebecca murmured, easing her grip on the tense nipple.

“Too good. You’ll make me come.”

“Didn’t you just say…” Rebecca’s eyes widened as fingers stole between her thighs, sliding unerringly around the hard ache of her own desire. She felt a tug along her length and her whole body twitched. “Ohh…Jesus, don’t do that unless you want me to go off right away.”

“Not right away.” Catherine stroked her lightly. “But soon.”

Rebecca’s brain was already swimming. She drew her fingers down Catherine’s abdomen, laced them through the silken hair between her legs, glanced gently over her clitoris. “You’re so beautiful.”

“Kiss me while you make me come,” Catherine breathed against Rebecca’s mouth.

Only blocks away, a dark-haired woman with violet eyes sat beside a still figure in a room illuminated by the otherworldly glow of machines that monitored the fragile essence of her lover’s life in impersonal readouts and muted sounds. Hunched forward, elbows on her knees, unaware of the cramps in her shoulders and thighs, Sloan held Michael Lassiter’s hand tenderly in both of hers. Slowly, carefully, she turned the heavy platinum wedding band on Michael’s finger, the mate to her own, and watched with desperate intensity the pale eyelids below delicate brows for signs of awakening. The nurses had washed the blood from her rich blond hair, but Sloan could see it still. See it on her face, in her hair, pooling in the street below her head as she lay so still in the road.

There’s some swelling in the brain. She could wake up in an hour, or a day, or a week. They didn’t say, she may never wake up at all, but that was all that Sloan could hear.

“Michael,” Sloan whispered, tears streaking her cheeks. “I’m so sorry, baby. So sorry.”

Six am. Quitting time.

Sandy leaned back in a booth in an all-night diner on the corner of Twelfth and Locust and sighed. All the other girls had gone home, but she’d stayed just a little longer.

Stupid. She’s not coming.

It had been a long night and not a particularly profitable one. If she wanted to make the rent, she’d need to do more than the hand action and the occasional blow jobs in dark alleys. She’d have to fuck for it. And she hadn’t been.

Not since the night she saw Anna Marie lying naked on a dirty mattress in a filthy hotel, looking so frail and helpless. Looking so pathetic, and so very dead. She had looked at Anna Marie, and she’d seen herself. She wasn’t particularly afraid of dying. There were worse things than that. But she hadn’t run away from one kind of hell just to end up another kind of victim.

“Hey.”

Sandy looked up into Dell’s blue eyes, remembering the night the young cop had put her life on the line for her. “Hi, rookie. You look like shit.”

Dellon Mitchell managed a smile, but her eyes were dull with fatigue. “You eat already?”

“Just about to,” Sandy lied, because she wanted an excuse to stay. “You buying?”

“Sure.” Mitchell grinned for real this time. “You order for us, okay?”

Reassured, Sandy cocked an eyebrow. “What’s with you, anyhow? Something happen?”

“Just a bad night.”

“Did you guys go after those Internet pervs?”

Mitchell nodded.

“You get ‘em?”

“We got the guy we wanted.” Mitchell’s voice was harsh with anger. “But the fucking Feds took him right out from under us. We came away empty.”

“That sucks,” Sandy said vehemently. “So you still don’t know where they’re filming the skin flicks or where they’re getting those kids?”

“Nope.” Mitchell tapped her fork on the tabletop despondently. “And now I’m probably gonna get pulled back to a desk somewhere.”

“So what now?” Sandy searched Dell’s blue eyes, looking for truth and afraid she’d find what she was hoping for. More afraid that she wouldn’t.

Mitchell’s gaze softened, and she almost reached out to touch her. “We have breakfast, then I walk you home. Sound okay?”

Sandy’s throat felt oddly tight. “Sure, why not.”

Forty-five minutes later they stood in front of a row house south of Bainbridge where Sandy had a small studio apartment.

“So I’ll see you later,” Mitchell said, making no move to leave. She leaned against the rickety wood railing on the small stoop while Sandy pulled a key from the impossibly tiny purse that hung on a long chain around her neck. Her scooped-neck cotton top was too thin and too tight, designed to show off her breasts, and Mitchell noticed.

Sandy looked up and caught Dell’s gaze moving over her. Men stared at her body all the time, sometimes with fever in their eyes, and their looks left her cold. The warmth in Dell’s eyes made her blush. “If they’re gonna stick you on a desk somewhere, I guess maybe I won’t be seeing you.”

Mitchell shook her head, her stomach suddenly tight. “That doesn’t matter. I’m not going anywhere no matter where they bury me.”

For the first time, Sandy realized just how bad things were for the rookie, because of her. Quickly, unthinkingly, she stepped across the small space and rested her fingers on Mitchell’s cheek. “I’m really sorry.”

Surprised, Mitchell straightened, her chest brushing Sandy’s. “Not your fault. I meant it when I said I’d do it again.”

Sandy’s nipples contracted swiftly at the touch of Dell’s shirt against her chest. Startled, she dropped her hand and backed up, wondering if Dell had felt it. “Nobody asked you to.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Mitchell grinned. “I gotta go. I’ll see you.”

“Whatever,” Sandy replied. But she remained in the doorway watching until Dell was out of sight, her body still humming.

CHAPTER TWO

At precisely seven-thirty, Catherine opened her inner office door to the waiting room and motioned for her first patient to enter. Officer Dellon Mitchell was still in the clothes she had worn the night before during the task force raid.

“Haven’t you been to bed?”

“Watts and I had a lot of paperwork to do. By the time we cleaned that up it was late…early…uh, today already.”

“We can reschedule if you—”

“No.” Mitchell made an effort to sit up straighter and tried to clear the cloud of exhaustion from her brain. “I need to get this done. With the task force dead, I’m going to be reassigned.” She grimaced. “And I want to get back to the street. If I have this thing hanging over my head, they’ll bury me somewhere.”

“Have you talked to Rebecca?”

“About what?” Mitchell looked confused.

“Maybe she can help you with this situation.”

Mitchell stared at her, then laughed shortly. “It doesn’t work that way, Dr. Rawlings. You don’t take your troubles to anyone, especially not a detective like Frye.”

“Who do you talk to then? Friends? A lover?”

Mitchell hesitated. “Does this have something to do with my evaluation?”

“No. This just has to do with you.”

A muscle in Mitchell’s jaw twitched and she clamped her teeth down to stop it. She thought about the late night conversations beneath dim streetlights and the early morning breakfasts. She thought about the dark alley and the hulking stranger. “I have a friend.”

Catherine waited.

“The woman I told you about…the woman who was in the alley that night. We talk sometimes.”

“What’s her name?”

“Sandy.” Mitchell smiled faintly. Her eyes met Catherine’s. “I met her on the job a while back and then I’d see her in my sector. She’s a prostitute.”

Catherine remembered what Dellon had told her about coming upon the woman being assaulted in the alley. He had one hand around her throat and the other under her skirt. Her thighs were bare, pale, ghostly in the moonlight. I saw her face for the first time then. There was blood on her face…She had been screaming before—shouting, I think—for him to stop. Now she was…whimpering. I was afraid he was going to kill her. “And does that worry you?”

Mitchell met her gaze. “Yeah.” She paused. “All the time.”

“Have you told her that?”

“Hell no.” Mitchell smiled. “She’d tell me to take a walk and not come back.”

“She sounds pretty independent,” Catherine observed, noting the tension ease from the tight body and taut features the longer Dellon spoke of her friend. More than friendship?

“Hard-headed and short-tempered.” Mitchell’s voice had softened.

“We’re about out of time, Officer. Do you—”

“Could you call me Dell?”

Surprised, Catherine nodded. “Of course. Dell, what are your plans for further sessions?”

“Do I have to say right now?” She hadn’t wanted to come, had only done it because she’d been forced to. Now…

Catherine’s eyes were gentle. “Come back any time, Dell.”

Across town, Rebecca walked into the squad room on the third floor of the eighteenth precinct and threaded her way through the maze of crowded metal desks and haphazardly placed chair toward her desk in the far left corner. She slowed as she approached, an eyebrow cocked in surprise. “What’s with the new suit?”

He looked down, then met her gaze. “I got two.”

“Uh-huh.” She picked up a stack of folders, glanced at them, and tossed them aside. She wasn’t interested in cold cases, or new ones for that matter. She was interested in two unsolved ones—Jeff Cruz’s murder and the attempted murder of J.T. Sloan. They had to be related, because both of them had the smell of an inside job. “Let’s take a ride.”

Without a word he followed her into the hall, down the stairwell, and out into the rear parking lot. A few minutes later they were rocketing south on I-95.

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