Slave to Love(8)

By: Nikita Black

“Well, that won't be tough,” she muttered as he pulled in behind a jumble of police cruisers, a pair of ambulances, the department's mobile Field Identification Specialist Unit’s forensics van and a fire truck. She looked around in surprise, glancing up and down the street. “Oh!”

“What's wrong?”

“This is just a couple blocks from where I live.”

“Then it looks like I've picked the right person to work with,” he remarked casually, “killers being creatures of habit, and all.”

She looked spooked for a second, but then snapped out of it. In spite of himself, again Mick was impressed.

He'd been rough on her today. More than rough. Not because he wanted to be a prick or treat her like an idiot, as she’d accused. But because he’d had to know if she could take the heat. Where they were headed it was going to get a hell of a lot hotter. She'd come through with colors flying high. If he'd thought any differently he wouldn't have chosen her to fulfill the most crucial role in his plan, other than his own.

The Teddie Killer was on the verge of causing mass hysteria in the usually quiet suburban neighborhood where he struck. And those murders ate at Mick's insides like no one would ever know.

Yeah, this one was personal. Down to the blood and bones personal.

He thought about the woman he'd hand-picked to help him bring down the fucker. She'd shocked him back in his office when she'd questioned his motives for choosing her. Everyone knew how much Caroline Palmer wanted to be in Homicide. It took a hell of a strong person to look a situation in the eye and know when to question it. That was the moment he'd decided he wanted her, and nobody else would do. He wanted that strength for himself.

For his team, he mentally corrected.

But right now he wasn't sure whether he should be elated by Caroline's agreement to help him, or to run like hell for cover. Every time he looked at her he lost his concentration.

Not that she was beautiful in the classic sense. Sure, her hair was great, she had a pleasant face and a curvy, feminine body he wouldn't kick out of bed—but he'd seen better. And yet...

And yet, the woman’s half-lidded looks and sensual moves could make a man’s temperature rise in an Arctic snowstorm. Something about those big eyes, the color of a Caribbean sky at twilight. And those hooker outfits sure didn't help.

Yeah, he was having second thoughts, all right. Major ones. Being this close to her all day every day could prove to be a real distraction, and to get through this ordeal he’d need every ounce of his concentration. He might not be interested in her beyond her involvement in this case, but hell, he was only a man.

He just hoped they wouldn't run into any Arctic snowstorms any time soon.

He opened the trunk of his car and grabbed the black sports bag holding the murder kit and tossed it to Caroline. “You're in charge of this. And memorize the contents while you're at it.”

Lifting the crime scene tape, he ushered her through, fielding a few blatant stares from the group of cops milling on the front lawn. He introduced her to Denzell Brown, who was in charge of access to the house.

“This is Officer Palmer, Denny. She's with me.”

“His new assistant,” she clarified. She gave Brown a look that dared him to comment on either that or her scanty attire.

“Coroner here yet?” Mick asked as they signed in.

“Right after FIS. Just waiting for you to give the go-ahead before transporting the bodies,” Denny said, still grinning at Caroline like a fool in love. He pointed with his clipboard. “Upstairs on the left.”

In the living room the usual carefully organized chaos reigned, and Mick felt the powerful kick of adrenalin he always got before descending into the hell of blood and stench of murder—but especially this time. The team from FIS and their equipment jostled for space in the cramped staging area, the three of them calling instructions to each other. The distraught neighbor who'd discovered the bodies was parked across the hall at the dining room table, being fussed over by a female uniform and a paramedic.

Bobby jerked his head in the direction of the sobbing witness and veered off to the dining room to get in a few questions before the medic could pump her full of tranqs.

“Stay close and don't touch a thing,” Mick admonished Caroline. He knew there wouldn’t be any more evidence here than at the last scene, but he wanted to train her well. He’d need her alert to every detail and discrepancy on this case.

“I will,” she murmured, not even reacting to his pre-emptive order. Progress.

He unzipped the black bag she still held and pulled out two PPD baseball caps, tugging one onto his own head and the other onto hers, then grabbed a couple pairs of paper booties. “Here,” he ordered, thrusting hers toward her. “Put these over your shoes.”