October, 2005: Hill weaves a romance that leaves this reader breathless while crafting a police procedural that is thorough and easy to follow. The stages of tracking down a serial killer are interspersed in the story, moving it along smoothly. The dialogue throughout is on fire with passion. The tenderness in the story embraces the reader and is overpowering.GCLS Goldie Awards
Hunter's Way: Finalist, Best Lesbian Mystery.
“Hunter, get in here.”
Tori glanced at Lieutenant Malone, then tossed the file she had been scanning onto her desk. She ignored the curious stares of the other detectives as she walked calmly into his office.
“Shut the door,” he said.
She did and sat down quietly in front of him, waiting. His bald head glistened under the fluorescent lights and she silently watched him as he rubbed his bare forehead. Finally, he looked up from a thick file, locking glances with her. She looked down and realized that the file he had been looking at was her own.
“You’ve been with me seven years, Tori.”
He took his glasses off and tossed them on top of the file, then leaned back in his chair.
“You’ve had six partners.”
She sighed and rolled her eyes to the ceiling. Not this again.
“Wasn’t it only a few months ago that we went over this?” she asked.
“Yes. And at that time, you’d only had five partners.”
“You cannot possibly blame me for Dickhead’s two broken legs,” she exclaimed.
“Detective Kaplan will most likely be on desk duty the rest of his career.” Then he sighed. “Dickhead?”
“You didn’t have to work with him every day,” she said dryly. “He was a prick.”
“If witnesses hadn’t verified that you’d jumped out first, I’d be the first to think you’d pushed him out of the goddamn window.”
“Oh, please. If I’d wanted to get rid of him that badly, I’d have just shot him.”
He let a ghost of a smile cross his face, laughing outright when he met her eyes.
“Tori, you know I let you get away with more shit than anyone else in this squad. You’re my best detective and you know it. Hell, everyone knows it. But this thing with partners, it’s got to stop.”
“Stan, is it my fault they get injured?”
“Injured?” He grabbed her file and flipped through the pages. “Two were killed in the line of duty, Hunter. One is on permanent disability. Two quit the force. And now Kaplan. Desk duty because he’ll walk with a limp the rest of his life.”
She looked away. She wanted to feel remorse. She really did. But she’d not had a relationship with any of them. They had not liked her and she had not liked them. They never clicked, never formed the bond necessary to be partners. They had not trusted each other. And that makes for the worst of partners.
“You can’t blame me for this. I tried to tell you with every one of them that it wasn’t working. None of them could get past the fact that I’m a woman,” she said.
“I know you did, and I know they weren’t right for you. But I don’t always get to make the decisions. You’re too much of a maverick, Hunter. You don’t follow rules. I find it amazing that it hasn’t caught up with you yet.”
She glared at him. She’d heard this speech numerous times before. It always preceded his announcement that she would be getting a new partner.
“So who is he this time? Some burnout from Central?”
Lieutenant Malone shuffled through papers on his desk and put his glasses back on.
“Detective Kennedy. From Assault.”
“And she’s been assigned to us.”
“She?” Tori sat up straight in her chair. “A woman? You’re pairing me with a woman?” She leaned her elbows on his desk. “Stan? A goddamn woman?”
“What’s wrong with that? You’re a woman.”
She rose quickly, pacing across his office. A woman? Some bimbo from Assault? Jesus!
“She won’t last a day,” Tori threatened. “And you know it.”
“She will last a day, Tori.” Malone stood, too, and pointed his finger at her. “Because if she doesn’t, they’ll ship you out to foot patrol in Central. Or they’ll put you behind a desk in CIU. Hell, Hunter, even the Chief called me.”
“The Chief? Christ, I didn’t think he knew my name.”
“I mean it, Hunter. Make this work. I don’t want to lose you, but I can’t protect you forever. In case you haven’t noticed, no one wants to work with you.”
Tori shoved her hands in her pockets, her dark eyes piercing his. A woman. Well, this ought to be fun.
“Take her under your wing, Tori. Show her the ropes. It might do you good to have a female partner. You’ll be the only one shooting off testosterone that way.”
Samantha Kennedy smoothed her blazer over neatly pressed slacks one more time before entering the squad room. Walking confidently to the Sergeant’s desk, she stood patiently as he finished typing a report. Finally, he looked up.
“I’m Detective Kennedy. Lieutenant Malone is expecting me,” she said.
“Through there.” He pointed. “Name’s on the door.”
“Thank you,” she said politely, but he had gone back to his typing, dismissing her.
She walked into the large room, easily sidestepping two uniformed officers who nearly bumped into her. She glanced around, noticing that most of the desks were empty. A phone rang insistently and she wondered why no one picked it up. Her eyes finally landed on a handsome young man with blue eyes who flashed her a grin. She nodded at him and continued on, her eyes scanning the offices for Lieutenant Malone’s name.
“Need some help?”
She turned. The blue-eyed man was standing, his eyes traveling up her body and resting on her breasts. God, could he be less subtle?
“Hey, eyes are up here,” she said slowly, pointing to her face. When he finally looked up, she asked, “I’m looking for Lieutenant Malone.”
“Two doors down. Right there,” he said, pointing with one well-manicured hand. Then he walked over. “I’m Detective Sikes. John. Is there something I can help you with?”
Samantha looked him over, much as he had done her. Then she smiled.
She knocked once on the Lieutenant’s door, then entered.
Tori hung up the phone and looked up as Sikes intercepted the young woman walking through. He flashed his most seductive smile and she shook her head. Any woman was fair game as far as Sikes was concerned. She was about to turn away when the woman walked purposefully to the Lieutenant’s office.
Surely to God this was not her new partner. She leaned back in her chair and studied the woman. She would have called the blond woman petite, but she was a bit too tall for that. She looked almost slight in the blazer that hung loosely from her shoulders. She watched until the woman walked into the Lieutenant’s office, then slid her eyes to Sikes.
“Back off, Hunter. She’s out of your league,” Sikes said from across the room with a laugh.
Tori gave him a humorless smile. “She looks like she might have a brain cell or two. I think she’s obviously out of your league, Sikes.”
The other detectives laughed and John Sikes took his seat.
“Good one, Hunter.”
Tori looked up and caught the laughing eyes of Tony Ramirez. He was really her only friend on the squad, if she would even call him that. She often wondered why Malone didn’t partner her up with him. They got along well and on the few occasions they had worked together, he had never once treated her as anything other than his equal.
She looked around the room at the other detectives. Matthew Donaldson had come up with her in the Academy. He probably knew her better than anyone here, but he avoided her like the plague. She was the only woman and he was the only African-American. He knew all about discrimination. Apparently he thought it only involved skin color, not gender.
Then there was Richard Adams. A fifty-two-year-old who was strictly old-school. Women had no place on the force, and they certainly had no place among the detectives. He took every opportunity to belittle her. But what he and the others didn’t understand was that she simply didn’t care whether they liked her or not. She did her job.
She finally glanced at John Sikes. Even she had to admit he was handsome. Blond and blue-eyed, he used his looks to get witnesses to talk time and again. Unfortunately, that was his best quality as a detective. He, most of all, despised Tori. Not because she was a woman. Sikes was probably the only one here who could work with a woman. No, he disliked her because she was gay.
She shrugged, then went back to her files. None of it mattered. She had the best conviction rate among them all and she never rested until her cases were solved. Night after night, they would all go home to their lives and their families and she would stay, poring over reports again and again. But then, it wasn’t like she had someone to go home to.
“Yes, come in. You must be Kennedy.”
Stan observed the woman who walked into his office and took a seat in front of his desk. He hadn’t known what to expect, but he assumed it would be someone older, more seasoned. Not the young blonde sitting before him now. She was attractive. Her blond hair reached just to the collar of her blazer, and she nervously brushed it away from her face. Oh, Hunter would eat her alive. He gave it two days before the woman came running scared to him, asking for a new partner. Then green eyes met his own and he smiled. She returned the smile and his old heart did a flip-flop. She was beautiful.
He cleared his throat and picked up the file he’d been given yesterday. He’d barely glanced through it.
“I understand you requested this move,” he started. “Your Lieutenant said they had you earmarked for CIU.”
“CIU doesn’t really appeal to me,” Samantha said. “More desk work than anything.”
“A stepping-stone to the FBI,” Malone countered. “We’ve lost some good men that way.”
She smiled. “Yes, but I’m a woman.”
Stan felt his face flush. “Figure of speech.”
“So, you’ve been with the Assault Division four years. You have a good record, your Lieutenant spoke highly of you. Why the change?”
“Every Lieutenant and Captain I’ve met comes from Homicide. Not Assault.”
He smiled. “So, you have higher aspirations than just a lowly detective, huh?”
“I spent three years on the East Side, three in Central. I was honored when they requested me at Assault. But after four years, I watched men come and go, moving on to Homicide, CIU, Tactical. They skipped right over me. Please don’t take this the wrong way, but as a woman, I understand if you want to move up higher in the chain, you have to do things twice as well as the men. Where better than Homicide?”
Stan Malone grinned, then laughed. Well, looked like he’d just found Tori Hunter the perfect partner. A woman with ambition.
She raised her eyebrows. “Funny?”
“No, no. I’m laughing at myself, not at you.” He patted the thick file on his desk. “I take it you don’t know anything about your new partner?”
“No, sir. But please don’t tell me he’s some old-timer who can’t stand to work with women.”
“Oh, no. Detective Hunter. He’s a she.”
“Heard of her?”
Samantha had heard the stories. She was a nutcase, by most accounts. Great. Just great.
“I’ve heard some,” she said. “Didn’t her partner get killed a few years ago?”
“She’s my best detective. Somewhat of a rogue. It’s hard to keep her on a tight leash. But you can learn a lot from her. If she’ll let you.”
“If she’ll let me?”
“She likes to work alone. Damn near lives here. Her partners go home, she stays here, cleans up the case. They come back the next day, it’s all done. Most men can’t take that. She rarely listens to advice from her partners, just does her own thing. They either follow her or get lost in the chase. Two have been killed in the line of duty. Everyone wanted to blame Hunter. But in both instances, they decided not to follow her lead. She came out unscathed and got her man. They ended up dead by simply making the wrong decision.
“Two actually quit the force after working with her. Another was injured when a car ran over him. Permanent disability. And Kaplan, your predecessor, jumped out of a two-story window and broke both legs.”
“Why in the world did he jump?”
“He was following her.”
Samantha’s eyebrows shot up. “She jumped out of a two-story window?”
“Yes.” Then he grinned. “Just like the movies. Jumped to the fire escape, swung down the railing, bounced off the trash Dumpster and caught the perp.”
“Great,” she murmured. Definitely a nutcase.
He stood, motioning her to do the same.
“Let me introduce you around. A couple of things, but you’ll find out soon enough yourself: Adams is old-school. You’re a woman and he won’t give you the time of day. And Sikes, he fancies himself a ladies’ man. He will give you the time of day. Every day. But there’s no love lost between them and Hunter. In fact, Ramirez is the only one that gets on well with Hunter. A mild case of hero worship or a crush or something.” He stopped before opening his door. “Don’t you dare tell either of them I said that.”
He motioned her out the door, then followed, stopping in the middle of the squad room.
“Listen up, people.”
All heads popped up except Tori’s. She continued with her phone conversation, ignoring the Lieutenant and the young woman.
“Detective Kennedy’s been assigned to us from Assault. She’ll be replacing Kaplan.”
He pointed around the room and Samantha followed his introductions.
“Richard Adams and Matthew Donaldson. John Sikes and Tony Ramirez over there. Sergeant Fisk out front there. And Tori Hunter. That’s our team.”
Samantha nodded at them, murmuring hellos, her eyes finally landing on the woman who would be her new partner, landing on her profile anyway. The woman had yet to look her way.
“Make her feel at home.” Then, to Samantha, “Come on. I’ll introduce you personally.”
Tori hung up the phone just as Malone walked over.
“Hunter, this is Detective Kennedy. She’s been assigned to you. Try to play nice,” he said with just a hint of a threat.
Tori looked over the blond woman in front of her, with her pressed slacks and neat jacket. No jewelry, save the watch and earrings. Hesitant green eyes peered back at her, then the woman offered her hand.
“Nice to meet you, Detective Hunter,” she said pleasantly.
“Yeah. A real pleasure,” she said dryly. The woman looked like an attorney, not a cop. She wondered if she’d ever done fieldwork or just sat behind a desk. “That’s yours,” she said, pointing to the desk butting up against her own. At least the woman would be nicer to look at than Kaplan’s old sour puss.
Samantha looked quickly at Lieutenant Malone, who smiled apologetically and squeezed her shoulder.
“You’ll be fine,” he said quietly, then left them alone.
Samantha looked back to the other woman, who had already picked up the phone again. Great. Just great. She hates me already, she thought.
She stared at the woman, who had the phone cradled against her shoulder, and took the file she handed her. She sat, her eyes still on the dark-haired woman.
“Yeah, this is Hunter. I need the lab results.” A pause. “You said it would be this morning.” Another pause. “It’s goddamn nine o’clock! That is morning.”
Samantha raised her eyebrows.
“Fine. If you meant noon, then say noon.” Tori slammed the phone down. “Idiots,” she murmured.
Samantha watched, her apprehension growing with each passing second. She should have stayed in Assault. She should have requested CIU.
“Teenage girl found in a trash Dumpster on the East Side. Jane Doe,” Tori said, pointing to the file she’d handed Kennedy. “Hooker, most likely. Consensus is a john killed her. But I don’t think so.”
“If a john killed her, why would he go to all the trouble of dumping her body? Why not leave it?”
Tori looked up, startled. That was her theory as well.
“Maybe if he left her at the scene, there would be too much evidence that would point to him,” Tori said.
“Motels that rent by the hour? Come on. You could get hundreds of prints.”
“Okay. Her pimp?”
“That would be logical, but we can’t find anyone who recognizes her.”
“Then maybe she’s not from East Dallas,” Samantha said. “Downtown?”
“Probably. There’s a small area on the West End and Little Mexico. That’s about it.”
“She was black. I doubt she worked Little Mexico,” Samantha said.
Tori leaned back and studied the other woman. She looked young.
“How long have you been a detective?”
“Five years. Why?”
“You barely look thirty,” Tori said.
“Thirty-four, but does it matter?”
“Of course it matters. No one takes a woman seriously, especially when she looks like she’s fresh out of college.”
“Why, thank you. I knew there was a compliment in there somewhere,” Samantha said sarcastically.
Tori Hunter stood and grabbed her coffee cup and walked away. Samantha stared after her. She was taller than Samantha, but only by a few inches. Short dark hair, dark eyes. She wouldn’t call her boyish, she was too attractive for that. Definitely moody. Why the sudden change? Did she answer one of the questions wrong?
“Don’t worry about her, honey. She’s just being her usual bitchy self,” John Sikes told her as he walked over.
“Hunter,” he explained.
“No. Honey? Were you talking to me?”
He flashed her a charming smile and sat on the corner of her desk.
“Sorry. No offense.” He stuck out his hand. “John Sikes, at your service,” he said.
She took his hand, then dropped it quickly as he squeezed.
“No offense, John, but I’d appreciate it if you didn’t call me honey. I’ll try to refrain from calling you names as well.”
He laughed and she smiled at him. He really was attractive, she had to admit.
“So, you’re stuck with Hunter. Sorry about that. I wish you luck.”
“I’m sure I’ll be fine,” she said.
“Well, if you need anything … anything at all, you just let me know.”
“Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind.”
Tori came back with two steaming cups of coffee and set one on Samantha’s desk. She flicked her eyes to Sikes.
“Don’t you have work to do?”
“Just introducing myself, Hunter. Don’t get excited.”
“Trust me, you don’t excite me.”
He laughed again, then pulled himself off of Samantha’s desk, ignoring Tori. “So, Samantha, you want to maybe get dinner some night? I can fill you in on all the local gossip,” he offered.
“No thanks. I’m involved with someone. I doubt he’d appreciate that,” she said.
He shrugged. “You never know. Offer is always open,” he said as he walked away.
“Stay away from him,” Tori said. “He’s a jerk.”
Samantha smiled. Yes, she agreed.
“Does anyone here like you?” she asked.
“I don’t bullshit, I don’t play games.”
“That doesn’t mean you can’t be friends with the people you work with,” Samantha said.
“Friends? With those guys?” Tori leaned forward. “Adams hates me because I’m a woman. He could care less about my job performance. I’m just a woman. Donaldson, his partner, follows his lead, even though Adams barely tolerates him because he’s black. Ramirez is the only one who shows me even the slightest consideration and because of that, he has to listen to ridicule from the others, especially Sikes, his partner.”
“That can’t all be because you’re a woman.”
“No, not just because I’m a woman. Because I’m a woman and I’m better at the job than they are.”
“Oh. Well, it’s good to know you’re not in the least conceited,” Samantha said with a smile.
“Why are you here?”
“Did they ask you or did you volunteer?”
“I requested a transfer months ago. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Tori nodded and sipped from her coffee. “So, you have a boyfriend?”
Tori shrugged. “It’ll make it easier on you. Sikes will only hit on you every other day. Adams will at least think there’s hope you’ll get married and pregnant and get out of his territory.”
“You paint a very bleak picture of this office, Hunter. I’ve worked around men my whole career. I’ve never had a problem with them. I doubt I will here, either. I do a good job.”
Tori shrugged again. She was probably right. She was straight and attractive. She was no threat to them. Unlike herself.
“I’m going to go down to Central and show our girl’s picture around. Maybe she’s been hauled in before. Want to come?”
“As opposed to staying here and being leered at by Sikes?”
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