by Gerri Hill
Tori Hunter always worked solo, but in Samantha Kennedy she found a partner, in more ways than one. Casey O’Connor isn’t thrilled to learn that she has a new partner on the way. It’s been hard enough to transition from working with live victims to dead ones. Now Leslie Turner is going to slow down the process.
Professional duty trumps personal issues as the detectives focus on their latest case, a killer whose choice of victim is solitary women. The investigation raises a lot of questions around the killer’s means and opportunities. Leslie would be happy if the questions stopped there, but she’s also wondering why she’d rather spend time with these women—specifically Casey—than with her fiancé.
Casey would also like to stick to business, but as the case intensifies she finds herself also watching Tori and Sam and wondering how they balance their public personas and private passions. Figuring it out is a pointless exercise, she tells herself, because that kind of lightning can’t possibly strike twice.
Partners concludes the series that began with the chart-topping bestseller Hunter’s Way, and continued with the Lambda Literary and Golden Crown finalist In the Name of the Father—with the sizzling intensity that only Gerri Hill can deliver.
Partners: Winner, Best Lesbian Romance-IntrigueJust About Write
Anna Furtado - May, 2009: The best part of Partners is the mystery involving the hunt for the serial killer. It's a tightly written story with tension on every page as long as it sticks to the killings. There is a character named John Doe that is very well drawn and who offers a different aspect to the book. The culmination of the hunt is exciting, scary and totally unexpected.
R. Lynne - February, 2008: Hill has given her readers a riveting mystery complete with sharply drawn characters and witty dialogue. The delicate dance between Casey and Leslie is well done, and Tori and Samantha serve well as mentors to this budding love affaire. Hill has Partners as the concluding novel in the series, but the cliff-hanger ending will have readers begging for more.
“O’Connor, back here.”
Casey followed the sound of Tori Hunter’s voice, nodding at one of the new crime lab technicians who was dusting for prints near the phone. Whereas the apartment was neat and orderly, the bedroom was in shambles. She stopped in the doorway, finding Tori squatting beside the bed, listening to Mac describe the scene. The bed was a bloody mess.
Tori looked up, then motioned Casey closer. “Spencer already took the body.”
“Hell of a lot of blood.”
“Her throat was cut.” Tori stood, pointing. “She was tied to the bed. Rita didn’t think there was sexual trauma.”
“But we found semen on the sheets and on the legs of the victim,” Mac said. “I’ve already sent it back to the lab. Spencer will do a rape kit, but it kinda looks like our guy just left a deposit on the body.”
“Who is she?” Casey asked. She was used to working with live victims, not dead. She still wasn’t comfortable referring to the victim as a body.
“Sikes is with the apartment manager now, but the ID in her purse is Dana Burrows. College student. UT Dallas.”
“There didn’t appear to be forced entry,” Casey stated. “Boyfriend?”
Tori shrugged. “Always possible. I sent a couple of the uniforms around to the neighbors to see if anyone knew her. But it’s nearly ten. I suppose most have already headed to work.”
“Who found her?”
“The manager. He said he got a call from a friend of hers. She was supposed to meet for a study session last night and didn’t show. After not being able to reach her on her cell or by e-mail, she called the manager. He only remembers her name as Julie. He didn’t get a last name.”
“Okay. Well, I’ll start at the university. Want me to take Sikes along?”
“No. I need John here. We’ll need to locate the family. I’ll have him interview them.”
Casey nodded. She’d learned it was something Tori was not comfortable with, notifying families. Sikes, on the other hand, was good at it. His good looks and charm helped portray genuine regret and compassion, and most believed him when he said the police department would have the killer behind bars sooner rather than later.
Tori went back into the living room with Casey, motioning with her hand. “Nothing looks disturbed in here,” she said.
“Maybe he had a key and came inside while she was asleep,” Casey suggested.
“Possible. And if it was a boyfriend, having a key is probable.”
“Well, let me go see what I can dig up at the university. I’ll be in touch.”
Tori stopped her. “Come by for dinner?”
Casey raised her eyebrows.
“Judging by what was on the counter this morning, Sam is making chicken spaghetti.”
Casey grinned. “My favorite. I’ll bring the wine.”
“Look, I understand the privacy rules. Really, I do. I just need some information.”
“Detective O’Connor, I can’t give you anything other than published directory information,” the registrar said for the fourth time.
“We can subpoena the information,” Casey threatened, watching as the older woman’s eyebrows shot up over her black-rimmed glasses.
“Then please do so. It would make it so much easier on me.”
Casey leaned forward. “This girl was brutally murdered. A student of yours. All I’m asking for is a little help. If I could find someone who knew her, someone who took a class with her, that’s all I need.” She gave what she hoped was a charming smile, one the registrar couldn’t resist.
Finally, she saw a crack in the professional mask. “Listen, why don’t you wait in the hallway? I’ll ask around. Maybe I can find someone who knew her.”
“I appreciate this, Mrs. Wheat. Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet, Detective. I haven’t given you anything.”
Casey nodded, then left with only a slight bow in her direction. She hated begging for information. And they would most likely subpoena the girl’s records anyway, but leads ran cold if left too long.
She sat down on one of the hard-backed chairs and folded one leg over the other, resting it on her knee as she watched students walk by. They all looked so young, making her feel much older than her thirty-three years. She wondered if any of these students may have known Dana, may have passed her on the way to class, may have even sat beside her in class. She wondered if the word had spread yet that one of their own had been killed—ruthlessly murdered.
It had only been a few months since she’d transferred to Homicide from Special Victims, and she still wasn’t used to it. But as Tori had told her, you never get used to it. And she hoped she didn’t. She never wanted to become accustomed to murder. But it was the main reason she’d left Special Victims. She’d become nearly immune to rape, to sexual assault. To the tears. And it had become exhausting trying to convince her victims to testify in court, to face their attackers, when all they wanted was to forget. So when Lieutenant Malone had offered her a spot on the team, she’d accepted after only a little prodding from Tori. After the St. Mary’s fiasco and Father Michael’s murder, they’d remained in touch, with Tori and Sam inviting her often to dinner or out to the boat for a weekend of fishing. They’d become close. In fact, so close, she’d call Tori her best friend.
The soft buzzing of her cell phone put an end to her thoughts and she opened it, seeing Hunter displayed in bold.
“O’Connor,” she answered.
“We have the name of the boyfriend. He’s a student there. Night classes. Are you having any luck?”
She shook her head. “None. The registrar doesn’t want to break FERPA.”
“What the hell is FERPA?”
“Privacy act that governs higher education. I tried to sweet-talk her. I’m waiting while she sees if there is something she can give me.”
“Okay. Don’t waste too much time. We’re on our way to pick up the boyfriend.”
“You got in touch with the family?”
“Yeah. Sikes did. They live in Arlington. And the boyfriend is practically a part of their family. They said no way could he have done this.”
“They always say that.”
“We also found out who the Julie was who called the manager. Julie Watts, her best friend. She’s not answering her cell. Since you’re there, maybe you could try to get in touch with her. She lives on campus.”
“Yeah, okay.” Casey jotted down the number Tori gave her then folded her phone and slipped it into the leather pouch clipped to her belt. She felt eyes on her as students passed by and she consciously moved her holster to the back and out of sight. Fall, winter, even spring, she could wear a jacket to hide her weapon. But summer? There wasn’t a lot you could do, and she—like Tori—refused to wear a sports jacket with her jeans when it was a hundred degrees out.
She turned, nodding at a young girl who approached.
“Mrs. Wheat asked me to give you this,” she said quietly, handing over a piece of paper.
“Thank you. Tell her I appreciate it.”
She turned away and unfolded the paper. The Debate Club. Under that was written a name and room number. She walked down the hallway, stopping the first student who looked her way.
“Excuse me. Can you tell me where I can find Dr. Arness? She’s with the debate club.”
“She’s in the business building.”
Casey was about to ask where she could find that building when the student hurried off. The campus wasn’t that big. Surely she could find it.
“Next block,” Sikes said, then held on as Tori sped around a corner. “I swear, it’s a miracle you haven’t killed us yet with the way you drive.”
“I get us there, don’t I?”
“Oh, yeah. You’ve just taken years off my life, that’s all.”
Tori grinned as she slammed on her brakes, tossing Sikes forward.
“Jesus Christ, Hunter!”
“The light was yellow.”
“You barely stop at red lights, much less yellow.”
“Cops aren’t above the law.” She glanced in the rearview mirror, thankful they didn’t get hit. No one stopped at yellow lights. As soon as it turned green, she sped through the intersection, tossing John back against the seat.
“You’re such a guy,” he muttered as he adjusted his seatbelt. “A teenage guy.”
“Glass Sporting Goods, there it is.”
“You think the family already called him?”
“You asked them not to, right?”
“Doesn’t mean they didn’t.”
“And most likely they did.”
There were only a few customers inside, but at one of the registers, a group was gathered, all wearing nametags. She looked at Sikes. “They called him.” She walked over to the group, holding up her badge. “We’re looking for Brian Helms. This is Detective Sikes, I’m Detective Hunter. Is he around?”
After only a slight hesitation, one of the young girls came forward. “No, he left. Dana’s mother called. We just can’t believe it. Brian was so distraught.”
“Do you know where he went?”
“He went to their house, I guess.”
“The parents’ house?”
Tori sighed. “Wonderful,” she muttered.
Tori slipped quietly into the apartment, smiling when she heard Sam singing from the kitchen. She sniffed. Chicken spaghetti it was. She stood in the doorway, watching Sam as she poured her concoction into a baking dish.
“I know you’re there,” Sam murmured without turning around.
“Do you now?”
“Yes. So don’t try to be sneaky.”
“Need some help?”
Tori took the pan, holding it as Sam scooped the last of it into the baking dish. She leaned closer, placing a light kiss on Sam’s lips.
Sam smiled, then took the pan from Tori and placed it in the sink before wrapping her arms around Tori’s shoulders. “I missed you today.”
Tori sighed, letting Sam hold her. “Yeah, me too. It was a rough day.”
“I heard, sweetheart.”
Tori pulled away slightly. “Feel like a shower?”
“Sure. But we’ll need to make it quick.”
Sam led Tori into their bedroom. “Because being the good detective that you are, you knew we were having chicken spaghetti tonight.”
Sam pulled Tori’s shirt off, her hands going to her breasts immediately. “And that means you invited Casey to dinner.”
Tori closed her eyes as Sam’s mouth closed over her nipple. “Do you mind?”
“Of course not.” Sam left her breast, finding her lips instead, smiling against them. “Like I said, we’ll just have to be quick.” She pulled away, slipping out of her shirt and dropping it on the floor next to Tori’s. But she stopped Tori’s hands when she reached for her. “Meet you in the shower.”
Tori kicked off her boots and jeans, following Sam into the bathroom. The water was already running and she opened the glass door, her breath catching like it always did when she saw Sam this way—naked, her skin glistening from the water, mist much like a halo surrounding her. She closed the door behind her, her eyes sliding shut as Sam moved into her arms.
“I love you,” Sam whispered against her mouth.
Tori deepened the kiss, moaning as Sam’s tongue found its way inside. She slid her hands lower, cupping Sam, holding her firmly against her. Again, it amazed her, the passion they had for one another. No matter how many times they touched, it was never enough. No matter how many times they made love, each time was more powerful than the one before. So she gave in to that passion, moving Sam against the wall, pressing her thigh between Sam’s legs.
Sam’s hands moved at will across her body, boldly cupping her breasts, her fingers teasing her nipples into hard peaks.
“I love you,” Tori murmured.
Sam met her eyes, nodding slightly before lowering her head and capturing a wet nipple in her mouth. Sam’s teeth raked against it, causing Tori to flinch before Sam’s lips claimed it, sucking it hard into her mouth.
No, she would never tire of this. She leaned her head back, letting Sam have her way. And she did, turning them, pinning Tori against the wall, her thigh nudging her legs apart. Tori’s breath came fast as Sam moved her hand between them, slipping into her wetness. She spread her legs, her eyes closing as Sam thrust into her. She let herself go, her hips moving wildly against Sam’s hand, her breast aching as Sam’s mouth devoured her, her nipple swelling as Sam suckled it. She jerked as Sam’s thumb found her clit, moving in circles as her fingers continued their penetration.
Her orgasm hit then, suddenly, without warning. Her hips bucked, her mind exploding as she screamed out in pleasure, the sound echoing around them. Sam pulled her close, moving them into the water, letting the warm stream wash over them.
“God, I love doing that to you,” Sam whispered.
Tori opened her eyes, letting Sam brush the water from her face. She smiled. “How is it we never get around to the soap during our showers?”
Sam took her hand and brought it between her legs. Tori’s fingers touched her wetness. “Because something always distracts us,” she breathed as Tori’s fingers filled her. “Soap can come later.”
“I heard a rumor today,” Sam said as she filled their wineglasses. “From a good source.”
“Rumor about what?” Casey asked.
“Leslie Tucker from Assault is transferring to Homicide.”
Sam grinned. “New partner.”
“Partner? For me?”
“About time,” Tori said. “I can’t believe Malone has let it go this long.”
“Man, I hate getting new partners.” Casey took her wineglass. “Thanks.”
“I hear she’s nice,” Sam said.
“Why is she transferring?”
“She’s from Fort Worth. She worked homicide there for six years, I think. She’s only been with us for nine months.”
Casey looked at Tori. “Did you know?”
“No. Malone hasn’t said a word to me. But it’ll be good to have your own partner. You won’t have to tag around with me and Sikes. Or worse, Donaldson and Walker.”
Casey reached for the plate Sam handed her, piled high with chicken spaghetti. “Thanks, Sam.”
“I wouldn’t worry too much. I’ve heard good things about her.”
“How old is she?”
Sam laughed. “What? You afraid she’s older than you and is going to boss you around?”
“Well, it’s not like I have a lot of experience in Homicide. And if she’s got six years, yeah, she’s going to boss me around.”
“I think she’s our age, so I doubt she’s going to be a hard ass.”
“Besides, you have seniority,” Tori said, taking her own plate from Sam. “She should defer to you.”
“Seniority? I’ve been with you guys for four months.” She took a bite of the spaghetti and moaned. “God, Sam, this is so good.”
“And you’re right. It will be good to have a partner. Today, for instance, Tori had me running all over campus. And I didn’t learn a whole lot in the process.”
“And you’re sure the boyfriend didn’t do it?” Sam asked Tori.
“Yeah. He was beside himself. I don’t think anyone is that good of an actor.” Tori twisted spaghetti on her fork, then paused. “Besides, he volunteered his DNA.”
“It’s scary to think it was just random,” Casey said. “Because random means no motive.”
“And no motive means he could easily do it again,” Sam said.
“Maybe we’ll get lucky,” Tori said. “Mac might get a hit in CODIS.”