** PLEASE BE ADVISED ** - the following chapter contains STRONG sexual references for adults only - 18+ ONLY
It was the stare into each other’s eyes. It lasted a few seconds longer than normal. Passing food to each other, fingertips brushing. Clint Stone noticed the subtle differences as he dried glasses, dumping them behind his counter. Working over thirty years on the job with the LCPD gave him a world of experience but it was owning a bar that did it. He had a lot of different types walk in here, mostly other cops, a lot of those he worked with, then there were the badge bunnies – gorgeous women with the specific intention of sleeping with a cop. Only a few customers came off the street, music pumping from the jukebox drawing them in. He noticed the ADA in here sometimes, even some local politicians when they wanted to let their hair down. Point was, he noticed things. Heard things too. As a bartender, you became people’s glorified shrinks, without the hourly rate, and the tips were lousy. But what did he care? It kept him up with the gossip. It’s how he knew his son’s partner had been the subject of four Internal Affair investigations. Four! He knew she was reckless, ruthless, and insubordinate. He glanced at them again. Something had changed between them. He could tell. She used to hold his boy at an arm’s length but no longer. They sat closer. She smiled at him more. His biggest fear was she was going to get him killed. She’d already gone and got herself shot and now they’re all running around on this secret task force chasing a serial killer. No one knew the details about it, not even the Commissioner can give him information. No leaks. He couldn’t even gain access to her I. A packet. What use was there being a retired Lieutenant? Brock signaled him over. Asked him for two more beers. He popped the cap off for them both. He seemed happy his boy. For Christ’s sake, he’d been in war zones, and he was a 33-year-old man. But matters of the heart had a way of twisting the mind, which led to distractions, and distractions on the job meant the difference between life and death.
“Where’s Tate?” Harlow asked the rest of the team.
Callie stirred her coffee, her cell ringing in her bag. “Shit.” She fished it out. “Tate text me this morning. Something’s up with his mom...health, I think. I told him to take the time he needs.” She closed her eyes, plastered a smile on her face. “Good morning, Commissioner.” She answered with false joy in her tone. Harlow could hear the boom of his voice and noticed the color drain from Callie’s face. “I would know-” He cut her off. “No Sir.” Callie turned her back and lowered her voice. “I am sure, Sir.” Her voice hardened. “It wouldn’t be against department policy because they are the same rank. Look, Commissioner, with all due respect, we have a serial killer to focus on, not petty relationship rumors to worry about but if you want to pull two of my best detectives in front of the Chief, be my guest.” She hung up.
Harlow frowned. “What the hell was that about?”
Callie looked toward Cole who had narrowed his patient files considerably, making himself look busy, even though he had heard the reaming from the Commissioner as much as everyone. Brock just shook his head. “We’ll talk about it later,” Callie said.
Harlow let it go… for now. “Marnie, any luck at all on the security cameras?”
“No.” She hit a couple of buttons on her computer and brought up a filed complaint with LVPD about the theft of surgical relaxation drugs. “But we did confirm the stolen Suxamethonium.”
Hetty spoke up. “I tested Justin’s brain tissue and found succinic acid. It’s what we thought," she nodded.
“We have to do the notification.” Harlow looked at Cole. “We’ve put it off as long as we can.”
Cole sighed heavily. “Zoey stares out the window. Mom cries. Jake seethes. They know.” He shrugged. “There’s been no questions unless it’s from the kids.”
Harlow bumped Brock. “Let’s go.”
Cole stood up too. “I’ll go with you, that is if you don’t mind?”
“Are you sure?” Harlow asked. “They’re going to suspect you knew and didn’t tell them.”
He nodded. “They already do.”
“Things tense when you went there last night?” She grabbed her bag.
Cole straightened up the files, put his coffee cup in the bin. “They’ve been tense since Lilly’s funeral,” he admitted.
Tense seemed to be the right word, lately, Harlow thought. Her hands felt clammy. Her stomach curdled. Callie’s words with the Commissioner kept tumbling around her mind, distracting her from the hell they were about to walk into. Tense.
Pulling up in suburbia, Justin King provided a good life for his family. Only a ten-minute drive from rush hour stood a beige, two-story home with a basement, an attic, a white picket fence, and a beautiful garden full of an explosion of colors. The American dream. Zoey’s silver BMW parked on one half of the driveway, the other half Justin converted into a makeshift basketball court for Owen, his nine-year-old son.
They walked through the gate, Harlow gritting her teeth the whole way. They didn’t knock. Zoey opened the door before they had the chance. Harlow let Brock and Cole take the lead, but Cole was right, Zoey already knew before the words came out of their mouth and so did Jenny. No one said anything for a long time.
“When can we put him to rest?” Jenny wrapped thin arms around herself, her voice numb.
“He’s ready to be released now,” Harlow said.
Jenny simply nodded. No accusations. No glaring. No hate. None of the anger Harlow expected. The last time Harlow had been the harbinger of death, Jenny had slapped her so hard, the red outline of her hand imprinted on her face for hours. She never blamed her. She understood more than any of them knew. This woman standing here now wasn’t Jenny. This woman was the husk of her former self. Meanwhile, Jake, the second eldest of the three boys, sat at the kitchen table staring ahead as if the words were no longer real.
Harlow motioned for Zoey to sit. She did but sidestepped Cole in the process. Jenny didn’t seem very welcoming to her youngest boy either.
“The last time you saw Justin, do you remember anything different about his behavior?” Harlow fished out her notebook and pen.
“Like what?” Zoey asked, her tone flat. It sounded as if her tears had been cried, late at night when everyone slept. Dark circles marred her otherwise milky skin. Her hair usually pulled tight into a bun on top of her head, instead, today messed into a quick ponytail.
“Like, did he receive a text message, one that might have made him leave the house abruptly?”
“Not that I noticed.” She squeezed the bridge of her nose. “I should’ve noticed.”
“What about suspicious cars around the neighborhood?”
Zoey shook her head.
“Anyone paying particular attention to the house?”
“Nothing,” Zoey sighed.
Harlow wrote it all down. “Just one last question,” she said. “Any workmen in the area? Pest guy? Anything like that?”
She shook her head again. “It’s a close-knit neighborhood too if there were anyone suspicious around. We’d all know about it.”
“Thank you for talking with us, Zoey.” It’s the only thing Harlow could say, anything close to ‘sorry for your loss’ wouldn’t come as a great comfort to her or any of them right now.
“How long are we going to need protection?” Her eyes flicked over to one of the men standing in the doorway. “Just them being here scares the kids.”
“I get it. I do.” Harlow nodded. “But until we catch him. You all need round-the-clock protection.” Harlow slid the pad and pen away. “We appreciate you all being there for one another.” She glanced at Cole but paid particular attention to Zoey and Jenny keeping their eyes off him. Yeah, they were blaming him. Hardcore. Poor Cole.
They stayed most of the day and went through Justin’s movements leading up to his disappearance. Harlow tried to speak to Jake. Jenny didn’t have much to say either and her aversion to Cole kept speaking volumes. How did this family go from family dinners every Friday, massive gatherings every holiday, laughter, light, and special bonds to forever broken? Harlow left feeling emotionally exhausted, she wanted to help them and yet no solution appeared. Short of catching the monster responsible, she suspected the damage to the King family was irreparable. Pulling away from the curb, Harlow stared into the review mirror leaving behind the picture of the American dream, inside a home living a nightmare.
Back at task force central, everyone’s mood darkened with every passing hour and after spending most of the day with Cole’s family it made Brock realize dealing with Cole wearing kid gloves no longer worked. “Cole is at the center of this, and we have to find out who he pissed off enough to get back at him.”
“I’ve narrowed down my patients-” Cole began.
“-and now we all need to go through them, or we get a warrant.” Brock glared at Callie. “He shouldn’t be working this case, not like this. C’mon.” He stood up, shaking his head. “If this was one of us, one of our sister’s and our brother, we’d be off the case. Period. Cole shouldn’t be anywhere near this! We should’ve got a warrant for his patients in the first place.”
Cole exploded out of his chair. “What the actual fuck is your problem?”
“You just sat in that house with your family and not once offered an ounce of comfort!” Brock yelled. “You’re a pressure cooker, Cole. In denial.”
“They all blame me right now.” Cole spat. “Don’t you see that?!”
“That’s all I see,” Brock yelled back. “And it’s going to cost us the case or worse another victim!”
“I go back to Zoey’s every night, sleep on the couch. I know they don’t want me there. Jake doesn’t even look me in the eye anymore.” His fists, tight by his sides. “This is the only thing giving me meaning right now. At least I’m helping bring justice to them instead of just pain.”
Brock folded his arms across his chest. “At what cost? You’re not the only one who lost people. There are four more victims, and your involvement could be the difference between a needle in the arm and an acquittal.”
Cole let the wind go out of his sails. “Look, please, take some files home. We can all look through them. Just think about keeping me on. Please.” He divided the files into piles for himself, Brock and Harlow. “Callie?”
Callie turned to Harlow for her opinion, and everyone knew, Harlow’s opinion was law. Callie might be the L.T but Harlow didn’t sugarcoat shit for anyone. Harlow shrugged. “I’m sorry but Brock’s right.” She stared at Cole even when his mouth fell open in shock.
“Are you serious! You too?” He looked between them both. One then the other. Slowly nodding. “I should’ve seen this coming, right?”
“This isn’t just about you, Cole.” Harlow stayed calm. “But this isn’t our decision either. Let’s call it a day. See what the Lieutenant decides tomorrow.”
By then, everyone recognized the formality while Harlow ignored Cole’s deflated glare. She felt bad about all of it but not about supporting her partner's point of view when it happened to be right. Cole had been hiding behind doctor/patient confidentiality, shaky ground at best, and they should have got a warrant. If it was anyone else, they probably would have long ago. But it was Cole, a trusted forensic profiler with ties to the Department. They handled this wrong from the get-go.
Harlow stepped forward and took her pile of files. About thirty of them. She knew what she was going to be busy doing tonight. Take out, a six-pack of beer, it made her miss her house. She couldn’t go back and immediately blocked it from her mind before flashes of Justin’s murdered corpse in her bed ruined her mood completely. She shoved the files in her black bag, checked her watch, and told Marnie and Hetty to go home too. On her way out, she dialed Tate. She wanted to check in on him and his mom. She didn’t know his story yet but, from the few comments he flung her way, she suspected it was a story much like hers and if so, he was a kindred spirit. No answer. She walked back to Brock’s. She liked the fresh air. He, on the other hand, was lazy. Despite living around the corner, the echo of the Mustang’s engine turned every head in the neighborhood. She smiled. A couple of Uni’s yelled out ‘show-off’ when he sped off, ‘accidentally’ spinning the wheels a little, all she saw was Brock’s responding arm pop out the open window, flipping them the bird. He drove and she still made it up to his apartment before he did. Which meant she got the shower before he did.
After thirty minutes, fresh and clean, she poked at her healing scar. Still a way to go yet. She shook out two of her pills before following the scents only a wok can make. Thai, Japanese, Chinese, she didn’t care, all she cared about was the ridiculous number of boxes spread out on the counter with cold beer open and ready to go. “Just confirming, we get paid the same, right?”
Brock laughed as he picked up his chopsticks. “Just eat it.”
She grabbed the files from her bag. Brock already had his in front of him. It’s why they worked so well together. He had the same idea as she did for a night in. Take away, work, beer. She picked out one of the cartons, opened it up, slid her chopsticks together a couple of times.
“You know the Commissioner called about us this morning, right?” Harlow scooped noodles into her mouth, chewed.
Brock grunted, mouth full, swallowed. “What about us, Harlow? There is no us,” he challenged.
She grabbed her beer, drank. “Right,” she agreed.
They ate in silence, drank their beer, flipped through their files.
“It’s fucking scary,” Harlow said at last. “Some of these cops we’ve worked with. Sociopathic tendencies? Jesus.” Harlow rubbed her tired eyes and looked at her watch. 11 pm. “There’s a few who didn’t get to become cops at all because of Cole or get to become detectives. That’s a big deal.” She got up. Three beers and a fourth trip to the toilet.
“You broke the seal,” Brock’s voice followed her down the hall.
“That’s a myth,” she tossed over her shoulder as she shut the door.
She came back out to find Brock cleaning up. Putting all the leftovers in the fridge, she started to help. Just having him close to her made everything flip inside. He said he didn’t want to be a rebound. She didn’t think he would be. If she had to be honest, she’d never felt like this about anyone, not even Cole. Cole was her safe place. Brock, she didn’t even know. But a rebound, he was not. She never let herself feel anything for Brock. He’d always been her partner first. When that changed, she didn’t know that either, but it had.
She bent over, put the last of the cartons in the fridge, wearing her small PJ shorts, she knew she wasn’t playing fair, she also knew he was right behind her. She stood up, turned around, his brown eyes, full of heat, didn’t leave hers, she licked her lips and that was all the invitation he needed.
Lips. His, hers. Hands everywhere. Shirts on the floor. His, hers. Bare skin against the cool fridge. No bra. Brock’s tongue trailing down her neck to her breasts, sucking on her nipples. One then the other. Wet. His muscles bunching under her fingertips. His smooth skin. The art over his body. Her lips over the pictures. Kissing. Nipping. Licking his neck. Back to their mouths. Tangling their tongues, perfectly in sync. His lips kissing a path from her cleavage down her stomach, past her navel to the top of her shorts. Anticipation. Peeling them down, panties too. Breathing hard, her muscles are so close to releasing, the moment she felt it, his tongue, her knees almost buckled. Inside, out, the man knew how to please. Slow and firm, then fast, so close, teasing her to the point of no return don’t stop, don’t stop, right there, don’t you dare stop…the orgasm came on strong making Harlow groan low in her throat. Brock didn’t move straight away, he loved hearing her, feeling her clench around him, and most of all her taste, all of it making him strain against his jeans. He stood up, his big hands trailing down her back gripping her arse, pulling her whole body up onto his, her jelly legs wrapping around him as he walked them both down the hall into his bedroom and onto his bed.
“Brock,” she whispered as she lifted her hips slightly.
He stared into the green depths of usually hard eyes and knew this was it. She was giving him the key to her soul. A key to everything. Something no one else had ever had access to not even Cole. With that one vulnerable whisper, he knew too, if he did anything to hurt her, he’d be the last person Harlow would ever let this close again. He kissed her with everything he had because she had no idea, he had given her his key a long time ago. With his mouth on hers, Harlow felt herself get wet, wetter than she was even before, as his fingers teased their way back up her thighs. He was going too slow, teasing. She pushed toward his hand, encouraging his fingers. His hot searing mouth, their dancing tongues. Brock pushed away, both of them panting, long enough to unzip his jeans. He leaned over to his bedside table and pulled open the top draw, in the draw. Harlow plucked the condom from his hand. Ripping open the packet, she stared at him, not once looking away as she rolled it over his impressive size. He parted his lips and closed his eyes at her delicate touch. She gently tugged him. He didn’t even realize when it happened… he ended up on his back, she ended up on top, slowly lowering herself on top of him.
“I’m not going to last long,” he said. “It’s been a while.”
She bent down. “Makes two of us,” she whispered, and kissed him.
He grabbed her hips, moved her back and forth, watched the bounce of her breasts, she was perfect. Harlow kept moving, faster and faster, the build-up starting slow. Brock sat up, his hands wrapping around her back, his lips caressing her neck. Her soft moans pushing him closer to the edge. Her moans turned louder. The pace faster. He tried to slow it down. To savor it. But she was riding him with intense focus, he couldn’t control his reaction to the wild feelings sparking inside, she felt so good, hot, wet, and still, she pushed against him deeper, thrusting her hips and throwing her head back. Fucking hell … The panting by both of them reaching new heights until that moment. His groan, his end took her over the edge. Both of them collapsing, a tangle of his and her legs around the 1000 thread count sheets against naked skin.
“That was-” Brock’s voice cracked.
“-the best you’ve ever had,” she finished, her chest rising and falling in quick succession.
He chuckled. “Exactly what I was about to say.”
He was about to tell her to give him ten minutes to be ready again but…
Both their cell phones started ringing from the kitchen. “Shit.” Harlow got up. No longer worried about nakedness. It made Brock smile. “It’s got to be past midnight.” She padded out there grabbing hers off the counter. One missed call – Callie. Harlow pressed re-dial. Callie answered on the first ring.
“We’ve got a critical missing, Harlow. All hands on deck.”
Harlow’s stomach dropped. “Who?”
“16-year-old Lilly Briggs.” Callie cursed. “The parents are beside themselves.”
“We’re on our way.” Harlow pressed end and put the phone down.
She took off down the hall. Brock propped himself on the pillows, the sheet covering his bottom half, an expectant smile on his flirtatious lips, soon gone when he saw the look on her face.
“He’s got another one, another Lilly is gone.”