Slave to Love(3)

By: Nikita Black

“I suppose that depends on what services they're offering,” she said between sips.

“Ah.” There was a slight pause and she could practically hear his mind assessing her leg-wear. “I see you're wearing them.”

“You sure about that?” Turning, she licked droplets of water from her lips and gauged the effect she was having on him. Nada. Not even a crack in the façade.

“Yeah. And any john would, too.”

“I don't actually screw the johns, Mick. I just arrest them.”

She might have thought the Iceman didn't like women, except, on rare occasions in the past she'd caught him with his precious guard down. She'd be parking her car in the lot, or pouring herself a cup of coffee in the lunch room, and he'd be there in the shadows, watching her with a hooded expression that sent shivers down her spine. Something hot and feral and very male lurked deep in that man.

Something that liked women.

“That may be true,” he said. “But in Homicide, there's more to it than just making the arrest.”

And then, there was that persistent rumor about a woman a long time ago, when he was still on patrol in the LAPD. He'd beaten up her husband—a lieutenant on the force—for some undisclosed reason, and almost ruined his career. A new start in Pasadena was the only thing that had saved him as a cop.

“Remember,” he continued, “the three things that make a good detective are detachment, determination and details. If you're working with me you better get the details right or I'll have you back in SIS so fast your head will spin.” He pushed off the wall and strode down the corridor toward his office.

Her mind snapped to attention. “What? What did you say?” She hurried after him, shifting gears, hardly believing what she'd heard. “McGraw!”

But it was too late. They were at his office door and he was already opening it. Technically, it was Lieutenant Fredrickson's office, but as lead detective, Mick shared it. He ushered her in and closed the glass door behind them. Inside, she found Chief Trujillo, Lt. Fredrickson, Bobby Staunton, and another man she didn't know.

“Hey, Chief.” She greeted Trujillo with a smile. She liked the Pasadena Police Department's gray-haired commanding officer. He was the epitome of professionalism and fairness. She hadn't had any dealings with Lt. Fredrickson, but his rep was sterling. She smiled at him, too.

“Come in, Officer Palmer. Have a seat.” Trujillo waved at a wooden visitor's chair.

She glanced around. The small office fairly reeked of testosterone, all of which was standing with their hands in their pockets or lounging on desk corners. If there was one thing she'd learned in her year with the Big Boys, it was always look 'em in the eye.

“No thanks, Chief, I'll stand.”

“You know the Lieutenant, and Mick of course, and his partner, Detective Staunton.”

She nodded to Bobby, who nodded back with a neutral expression, but in his eyes she swore she could see a streak of amusement.

Chief Trujillo indicated the third man she didn't know. “And this is Detective Jeff Cody from LAPD.” Then he motioned to a row of four crime scene photos lined up along the edge of Mick's desk. “You recognize these?”

She walked over and took a look. Two females, stripped down to their lingerie, strangled, and laid out on their beds. Sightlessly looking on from the foot of the beds were two males, tied to chairs, their stomachs gutted.

Suddenly, her midnight lunch decided it wanted to do an encore. She swallowed hard. She'd seen crime photos before of course, but the two shots of the men were really nasty.

“The Teddie Murders,” she managed to get past the bile.

Two Pasadena couples had been found murdered during the past month, obviously victims of the same twisted killer. The press had been quick to pick up on the most titillating link—the women's attire.

Trujillo nodded. “How'd you like to join the task force?”

She yanked back her shock and said, “Sure,” as casually as she could.

She wished she'd taken that seat he'd offered. This was too good to be true—working on the biggest case to hit the area since the Hillside Strangler. She kept her excitement at bay and inquired professionally, “What would I be doing?”

Trujillo cleared his throat. “As you know, Detectives McGraw and Staunton are in charge of the investigation. In the past couple of days it's taken a somewhat...bizarre turn.”

She eyed Bobby Staunton narrowly. He was sitting on the back corner of the desk casually studying her legs. Caught, he jerked his gaze up, then over her shoulder to McGraw.

“Actually, more like kinky,” Bobby said.

“Kinky,” she repeated, frowning. “Like how?”