Excerpts

Unexpected Partners

  

Chapter One


          Tantalizing aromas of blended coffee beans and fresh-baked cookies filled the small café. “Absolutely not,” Dana Blake said, sipping her coffee. 

          “But she checks all the boxes.” Maribel Murphy had been Dana’s friend and sole confidant for the past four years. She was unrelenting in her quest to set Dana up on a blind date. 

          “And what boxes are those?” Dana glanced over Maribel’s shoulder as the door swung open and another customer entered in need of their morning caffeine fix. Boston’s chilly November air drifted in and grazed her hand as she set the mug down. She’d selected a table with a view of the door, positioning herself with her back to the wall—a habit she’d developed from her time on the streets as a cop. Even now, as a plainclothes detective, it was a habit she couldn’t shake. She had already done her usual Saturday morning assessment of everyone in the café. She was off the clock, but these days you could never be too careful. 

          “Smart, sexy, athletic, and not a cop.” Maribel sipped her own coffee and studied Dana with a scrutinizing gaze. “Or a prosecutor,” she added. 

          “What do I have against prosecutors?”

          “Chris Slater,” Maribel shot back. 

          She laughed out loud. “Seriously?”

          “Everyone in the office knows he chased after you for years. You rejected him at every turn.”

          “Not because I have something against prosecutors. I never went out with him because I’m gay.”

          “I thought you were bi.”

          Dana frowned. “How on earth did you get that impression?”

          “You mentioned a boyfriend in college.” Maribel cast her eyes to the floor in thought. “Charlie. That was his name.”

          “Charlie was a spring fling—”

          “So you were bi.”

          “And her full name was Charlene,” Dana finished.

          “Oh.” Maribel leaned back in her chair. “So you really don’t have anything against prosecutors?”

          She shook her head. “I’d even date you if you batted for my team.” As one of the top ADAs in Boston, Maribel was smart, headstrong, independent, and beautiful. Exactly her type.  

          “I’m flattered. And I’d date you if I liked women. You’re totally hot.”

          “Thanks,” Dana replied, genuinely grateful for the compliment. They’d been working cases together for years and had developed a solid friendship that allowed them to speak their minds without fear of judgment. Dana had never been attracted to Maribel. She’d never even thought about it until now. Their chemistry was in the friendship department. Nothing more.

          “Will you at least think about meeting her? I invited her over for drinks tonight at seven and told her you’d be there.”

          She knew Maribel had her best interests at heart, but this was getting old. “I’m not ready.”

          Maribel softened her gaze and leaned forward. “It’s been four years. I miss Gabbi, too. But she’d want you to move on at some point.”

          Maribel and Gabbi had been best friends for years before Dana entered the picture. Gabbi’s death was just as much Maribel’s loss as it was hers. She was sure Maribel was right, but she couldn’t force herself to open up before she was ready. Closure was all she needed. She could only get that closure by finding the bastard who murdered Gabbi and putting him behind bars.

          The door to the café swung open again. Dana recognized this customer at once. A recent addition to the Boston PD, Chloe Maddox was building a solid reputation as a sex crimes behavioral profiler. They hadn’t worked a case together yet, but she was sure their paths would cross eventually. 

          Maribel followed Dana’s gaze as Chloe stepped in line. “That’s Dr. Maddox. We’re working a few cases together. Have you two met?”

          She shook her head, still staring. Wearing a red windbreaker, gray leggings, and black and white Hoka sneakers, Chloe was obviously a runner. A red headband covered her ears, and her wavy blond hair was pulled back in a ponytail. With her bagged pastry and coffee to go, she turned and headed toward the door. 

          “Chloe!” Maribel stood and waved her over.

          Chloe looked back, smiled, and walked over to join them. Her cheeks were flushed from cold and exercise. 

          “I see you’ve already found the best café in town.” 

          “Chocolate almond croissants.” Chloe held up the white paper bag and grinned. “I’m addicted. This is my reward after my run.”

          Dana couldn’t take her eyes off Chloe. She was gorgeous. 

          Maribel looked back and forth between the two women. “Dana’s a runner. Maybe the two of you could run together sometime.” 

          She finally tore her eyes from Chloe to give Maribel a look of warning. 

          Oblivious to the warning—or, more than likely, choosing to ignore it—Maribel went on, unhindered. “Chloe, this is Detective Dana Blake.”

          Dana stood and reached out to shake hands. 

          “I’ve seen you around the precinct.” Chloe set her coffee on the table and reached back. “Nice to finally meet you.”

          “You, too,” she said, impressed by the firm handshake. Limp introductions irked her to no end. “How do you like it here so far?”

          “Not bad. The Vineyard was too quiet. Boston suites me better.”

          “From what I’ve heard, we’re lucky to have you.” Catlike hazel eyes stared back at Dana, making her uncharacteristically nervous. 

          “Thanks. How many miles?”

          She was so taken by Chloe’s beauty she couldn’t quite comprehend the question. “Huh?”

          “How many miles do you run?” Chloe asked.

          She cleared her throat and willed her brain to focus on the conversation. “Five, usually.”

          Chloe smiled. “Same here.”

          “Then maybe we should go running together sometime.” The words were out of her mouth before she realized what she was saying. She could feel Maribel’s unbridled enthusiasm from across the table.

          “I’d like that.” Chloe’s eyes lingered on Dana before she turned to Maribel. “We still on for Monday?”

          Maribel nodded, barely able to contain the smile that was obviously fighting like hell to break the surface.

          Chloe cast her eyes on Dana once again. “Nice to finally meet you.” She grabbed her coffee, turned, and swiftly disappeared into the sea of customers.

          Dana sat back down and sipped her lukewarm coffee. She could still smell subtle wisps of a sweet fragrance she would now associate with Chloe. “What’s on Monday?” she asked, feeling nosier than usual as she turned her attention back to Maribel.

          “Court. She’s helping with a case.” Maribel drained the last of her coffee. “Jealous?”

          “Martha’s Vineyard has its own police department?”

          Maribel nodded. “Four, actually. Chloe was a cop with the Tisbury PD. She went back to school to get her doctorate in psychology with a subspecialty in sex crimes. She’s damn good at interviewing victims, getting them to talk when no one else can.” 

          “Why sex crimes?” she wondered aloud. 

          “I have no idea. Maybe you can ask her yourself when the two of you go running together,” Maribel said with a self-satisfied smirk.

          “We’ll see.” Something about Chloe nagged at Dana. Something she couldn’t put her finger on. 

          “I know that look.” Maribel rolled her eyes and sighed. “What’s wrong now?”

          “I don’t know. Maybe nothing.”

          Maribel leaned forward. “Spill it.”

          She shrugged. “I feel like I’ve seen her somewhere before.”

          “Where?”

          “I can’t remember,” Dana admitted, searching her memory banks at warp speed.

          “I’d imagine she’s kind of hard to forget, especially for someone like you.”

          “What’s that supposed to mean?”

          “All I’m saying is she’s drop-dead gorgeous. Even for a mere mortal like me, she’d leave a lasting impression. Let’s face it, being a lesbian is your secret superpower.”

          She narrowed her eyes. “How so?”

          “It’s like you’ve been inoculated against the influence of well-defined biceps in the male population. In my book, that makes you superhuman.”

          Dana laughed. She knew Maribel was a sucker for a handsome face and decent biceps. This fiery ADA had a long history of failed relationships with men who could never quite measure up in the intelligence department.

          They finished their coffee, hugged, and parted ways, agreeing to meet up for lunch on Tuesday at their favorite burrito cart outside the courthouse. She shoved her hands inside her coat pockets and hurried to her car as fat raindrops pummeled the sidewalk with an audible splat

          Hunching her shoulders against the oncoming storm, she found her thoughts returning to Chloe. Where in the world had she seen her before? It was going to drive her crazy until she figured it out.


***


          “Can’t get her to talk.” Detective Dana Blake sat on the edge of the desk, one hand resting comfortably on the gun at her hip, the other massaging her temple. “Sorry for calling you in so late.”

          Chloe glanced at the clock on the precinct wall: two thirty a.m. This wasn’t the first time she’d been roused from sleep by a detective, and it wouldn’t be the last. As the newly appointed sex crimes behavioral profiler for the Boston PD, she was often called upon to elicit information from a victim who was either too scared or too traumatized to talk. 

          She set her briefcase down. “Fill me in. What do we have so far?” Chloe studied the detective as she spoke. 

          A small heart-shaped pendant hung from a thin gold chain and rested between the points of Dana’s collarbones. Her formfitting, honey-colored sweater swooped into a low V-neck. The brown crewneck underneath tastefully covered what the sweater did not, effectively drawing attention away from her chest and up to large dark knowing eyes.

          Dana was stunning but still somehow managed to be just one of the guys. From afar, Chloe had watched other cops interact with her, and she admired the way Dana handled herself. Forthright, intelligent, and more than capable of handling herself if a physical confrontation arose. The athletic curves of her body, graceful hands, and shoulder-length black hair hinted that something more feminine lurked beneath the hard outer shell of a cop. She moved with purpose and confidence, seemingly unaware of how many eyes followed her in the course of a day. 

          Chloe wasn’t sure what had prompted Dana to make the leap to detective, but she’d heard she was very good at her job. With eight years under her own belt as a cop, Chloe understood how hard it was to be taken seriously in such a male-dominated field.

          “Nineteen-year-old female. Name’s Sarah Millfield.” Dana took a sip from the mug on her desk. “She called nine-one-one at twenty-two hundred hours to report a break-in. When officers showed up to check it out, they noticed ligature marks on her wrists. They searched the apartment and found pieces of rope tied to the headboard and blood on the sheets. She refused to give a statement to the officers, so they called me in.” Dana took another sip and shrugged. “I managed to coax her down here to the station. But she won’t consent to a medical exam, and now she’s not even talking to me.”

          “No injuries other than the ligature marks?”

          Dana shook her head. “None that I can see.”

          “You said there was blood on the sheets. How much?”

          Somber eyes regarded her as Dana thought about the question and probably what it meant. “Not much.” 

          She nodded. “Okay.” The blood on the sheets was probably from the assault. “Where is she?”

          “Upstairs. Room eight.” Dana stood and headed toward her own desk across the room to grab a ringing telephone. “Go ahead. I’m right behind you.”

          Chloe made her way through the precinct and up the stairs, getting several nods and innocent winks from the familiar faces she passed. Wearing a charcoal blazer with matching slacks and a plain, forest green mock-turtle, she was accustomed to hiding her femininity in order to discourage unwanted advances from the men she worked with. As an attractive woman in law enforcement, the last thing she wanted was to be seen as one. 

          Her own mother had cursed her with blond curly locks, full lips, and a body fit for the cover of Playboy. Most men lost about fifty IQ points whenever she walked into a room, but she found that the detectives here were different than most men. It appeared as though they genuinely respected her. She figured it had something to do with Dana and the way she commanded respect from her peers by achieving that balance between strong and beautiful. In a sense, Dana had already paved the way. 

          The detectives here were a tight-knit group. Most had been working together for a number of years, their passion for solving cases and putting the bad guys behind bars made clear by the long hours they worked without complaint. Strangely enough, Chloe had found it wasn’t a tough group to break into at all. She’d prepared herself for a long and tedious battle to win their respect and gain their trust but was shocked when they readily accepted her and her expertise pretty much from the get-go. 

          Every Friday night, their entire unit would hit the local cop hangout, commiserate about the week’s caseload, play some pool, and drink themselves into oblivion. And every Friday without fail, they’d invite Chloe to tag along. For three full months, she’d managed to dodge their invitations. But she was running out of excuses. She knew she’d have to relent at some point and start letting people in again. She just didn’t feel ready to do that yet. Her walls were there with good reason.

          Standing outside the interview room, Chloe leaned against the glass, crossed her arms, and watched the young woman inside. Sarah was curled in a ball on one of the chairs, picking at a string on the sleeve of her gray Boston College sweatshirt. Her eyes were red-rimmed, puffy, and haunted. There was a small split in her lower lip and a fresh bruise just beginning to form on her right cheekbone. Red hair, pale, freckled. She looked so young and afraid. 

          Chloe straightened as footsteps sounded on the stairs behind her. Dana joined her at the glass, and they both looked in on the girl. 

          Long seconds passed. Dana was the one to break the silence. “Rumor has it you have some kind of magic to get victims talking.” She pierced Chloe with a steady gaze. “So what’s your secret?” 

          She swore those dark eyes could see straight through to all her private thoughts and fears. Of course, it was ridiculous to think that was even possible, but she found herself avoiding the eye contact just the same. “No magic. I just sit with them.”

          She stepped to the door and paused with her fingers curled around the door handle just long enough to take a deep breath. No matter how many times she did this, it never got any easier. 


***


          Dana watched from behind the glass as Chloe pulled up a chair beside Sarah and sat in silence. Sarah began talking almost instantly. Little by little, the young woman unfolded her body on the chair like a flower, petal by petal, as she opened up to Chloe about what happened. 

          Dana had tried everything she could think of to get Sarah to talk before she’d resorted to calling Chloe. Absolutely nothing had worked. She’d pulled every single tool from the toolbox she’d assembled over the years as both a cop and a detective. She liked to think she was good at building a rapport with people in general, but victims especially. She now found herself suddenly questioning her skill set. 

          Regardless, she was glad Chloe was there. BPD had obviously made the right call with hiring her. She shook her head in amazement. Watching Chloe, she decided, was like watching a magician up close and still not gaining insight into how the slight of hand actually worked. 

          The feeling of having seen Chloe somewhere before was even stronger now. Every time she tried to corner the memory of Chloe’s face, it just evaporated. Maybe she should simply ask her. On second thought…Gee, haven’t we seen each other somewhere before? sounded too much like a come-on line. Scratch that. She’d have to figure this one out on her own.