by Dolores Arden
Remy Devereux is an ace homicide detective with the SFPD. At work, she’s embroiled in a months-long murder investigation that has yet to show any signs of breaking. At home, she’s on the skids with her soon-to-be ex-girlfriend, while nightmares of the gruesome murder scene keep her up at night.
On the other side of the country, Giana Falco has just made the biggest change in her life. She’s ended her engagement and now she’s moving to the west coast to take a job as a forensic scientist in a town where she knows practically no one. It’s either the bravest or the stupidest thing she’s ever done.
Sparks begin to fly the moment Remy and Giana meet. Remy has never seen a woman more intelligent or more beautiful than her new colleague, but she knows that allowing herself to fall for a straight woman would be a uniquely masochistic kind of folly. For her part, Giana is intrigued by the tall and reticent detective. She sees no reason why the two of them shouldn’t become the best of friends.
The stakes couldn’t be higher as the two women put their heads together to work the case, drawing ever closer to finding the killer—and ever closer to finding each other. Try as they might to ignore it, the attraction they feel becomes something neither one of them can deny.
FROM THE AUTHOR
"I am proud to present Gray Matters as my debut novel. The work was born of a simple desire to write; I wanted to be a writer. Not an author, necessarily—I didn’t feel the need to get published or to have a lot of people read what I wrote. Initially, I didn’t think I wanted anyone to read my stuff at all. I just wanted to write.
In deciding what to write, I gave myself an uncomplicated task, and that was to build a plot—any plot—and develop some characters to act it out, and then to flesh out those characters until they began to feel real. Until they began to breathe. I wanted the challenge of creating something that resembled a good story, but without the added pressure of trying to turn it into an actual novel—one that was profound and deeply emotional and revealing somehow. In short, I wanted this “exercise” to feel like fun instead of work. I wonder how many other writers have played this little Jedi mind trick on themselves, just to get started?
When I was a kid, my favorite books by far were Harlequin Romance novels. They cost something like three bucks a pop, and there was always a tall revolving rack of them at the checkout stand in our local grocery store. I got to the point where I’d have to spin the rack and scan up and down to find one that I hadn’t read yet. I mean, I read them all; I was voracious. A few years later, some of my favorite television shows became the cop dramas—specifically the ones with dynamic female duos in the leading roles, like Cagney & Lacey, and Rizzoli & Isles. But I always felt it was such a waste—that all that crackling sexual chemistry between the woman leads was never more than hinted at, if not ignored entirely. How much more interesting would it be to cultivate that dynamic—to tease it out and celebrate it instead!
Fast forward to many years later. After an entire career spent having nothing to do with writing; after retirement and then several fits and starts, punctuated by multiple crises of confidence—Gray Matters was born. Remy and Giana, my two main characters, are the product of an old obsession with romance novels and crime dramas with hot female leads, told in a way that I hope feels fresh and entertaining and ultimately satisfying. It is my fervent desire that my readers will find as much enjoyment in reading this tale as I have found in writing it."
The Lesbian Review
This was a murder mystery that was a little different. Arden puts a lot of emphasis on the developing relationship than the actual case itself, and honestly I didn’t mind it. Arden chose to focus on that point where law enforcement isn’t entirely sure if one or two murders are actually the start of a serial killer. By taking this approach, it allows her to highlight Remy and Giana, their evolving relationship, and what they’re dealing with personally. And there is a lot to unpack between these two women.
This is Arden’s debut book, and if this is what she gives us right out of the gate, I can’t wait to see what else she delivers. Her characters are intriguing, strong, and sensual. And the mystery surrounding the case has some good twists and turns. I truly felt I was reading a veteran writer by the time I turned the last page. Definitely looking forward to future works from her.
Orlando J - A top class debut!
This book is a combination of an intrigue and thriller tale with a very exciting and angsty romance. Both parts of the story are very well-written, though I have to admit the romance in the story seems to overshadow the intrigue sometimes, in a good way. The two main characters, Remy Devereux and Giana Falco are electric together. Every time they meet there is enough chemistry and sparks in the tale to light up all of San Francisco. The push/pull between these characters creates many steamy scenes, but there is also a lot of angst in this love story. Remy and Giana do not have an easy romance, but it is definitely rewarding.
While the mystery and intrigue is sometimes treated as secondary to the romance in the plot, it is also well-written. It works well with the rest of the story, and the “who-dun-it” part of the mystery is very well done.
I had a great time reading this book, both for the love story as well as the mystery portion of the tale. I will be eagerly looking forward to more from this author.
Michele R. -I was immediately engaged with this story and both characters. The chemistry between the two was sizzling, however, both kept trying to deny it. Overall I would recommend this debut novel from Dolores Arden to other readers. I look forward to reading future offerings from this up and coming author.
Melina B. - This is one of the best books I've read all year. Remy and Giana were both very well developed characters and the chemistry jumped off the pages. The tension between them built slowly and deliciously, and the dialogue was beautifully written. This was a fantastic debut and I really look forward to the author's next book.
nutmeg - Trailing tight on the heels of a series of unsolved murders is a romance that has readers riled up and begging for release. With the start-stop, push-pull attraction between the pair and the clock counting down to bring the killer to justice, this book had me at every turn and corner. Giana, even if she started clueless, would certainly rock your boat and make you bow at her persistence. The way the book closed left me with a sneaky feeling that there could be a sequel.
Sarah H. - The plot focuses on two women who circle around each other romantically while they try to solve a crime. This is not a wildly uncommon story line, however the author puts a spin on it that definitely makes it feel unique. Man! This book was hard to read in the best way possible. I think I literally screamed at my e-reader at least twice. In short, it was a really good read that has you on the edge of your seat from the very start.
I found myself completely smitten with the character of Giana Falco. She was perfect.
These two women had great chemistry together. As soon as the flirting started, I was instantly all for them becoming a couple.
I would recommend this to romance fans that like a good amount of angst and push-pull in their romances. As a character-driven reader it was such a treat to meet Giana and I would love to read about her again. Arden impressed with this debut and I’m really excited to see what she has in store for us next.
Betty H. - I’m always excited to find a new author who writes stories and characters I can fall in love with. That is exactly what I found when I read Dolores Arden’s debut novel, Gray Matters.
This book is a combination of an intrigue and thriller tale with a very exciting and angsty romance. Both parts of the story are very well-written, though I have to admit the romance in the story seems to overshadow the intrigue sometimes, in a good way. The two main characters, Remy Devereux and Giana Falco, are electric together. Every time they meet there is enough chemistry in the tale to light up all of San Francisco. The push/pull between these characters creates many steamy scenes, but there is also a lot of angst in this love story. Remy and Giana do not have an easy romance, but it is definitely rewarding.
While the mystery and intrigue is sometimes treated as secondary to the romance in the plot, it is also well-written. It works well with the rest of the story, and the “who-dun-it” part of the mystery is very well done.
Bonnie S. - It’s hard to believe this is Ms. Arden’s first book. Great story, great characters. Simply put, one of the best I’ve had the pleasure to read.
Despite Remy’s best intentions, the conversation had not gone well. For the twentieth time in an hour, she stole a glance at the wall clock, then focused her gaze back on Erica before the other woman could notice her audience was less than rapt. Christ, it was nearly two a.m.
In retrospect, it was hard to imagine an occasion where one might consider it a good idea to open a discussion with: “I think we should see other people.” Yet, inexplicably, Remy had done precisely that. And she had waited until well past midnight to start down that particular rabbit hole. With a prosecuting attorney on the other side of the kitchen counter, no less.
The situation would be laughable if it weren’t so depressing. Stifling a groan, Remy rolled her head from side to side, trying to loosen the band of tension at the back of her neck. It wasn’t like she’d been sleeping much anyway. The dreams had returned several months ago, more vivid than ever. Or rather, the dream. It was always the same—immutable and inescapable, repeating on an endless loop. Remy wondered briefly if she’d done this to herself on purpose. As if spending half the night bickering with Erica were preferable to what awaited her once her eyes were closed.
She took an objective view of the woman standing across from her. They were going on two hours of fruitless debate now, and Erica did not appear to feel the strain. Her face was fresh and unlined. Her short blond hair fell across her forehead in that intentionally careless way it always did. She was still talking even now—in the midst of litigating her case—and it looked as though she was prepared to go several more rounds.
“…perfectly willing to own my part of what’s happened between us, of course. But more importantly, I think you need to stop and take an honest look at what’s holding you back.”
Remy had missed the first part of that sentence, but she didn’t need to ask for a clarification. She’d caught the gist of Erica’s argument. She’d caught the gist of it hours ago. Her only defense was to reiterate the fact that they had come to an understanding—right at the very outset. Remy had stated her intentions clearly, and Erica had agreed. Apparently, however, this was a minor detail, with little to no bearing on the case at hand.
In the few months they’d been seeing each other, what had started out as casual had morphed into something else. Remy could admit that. Even accept some of the blame for it. But only to a degree.
“I mean, what are you really afraid of?” Erica went on. “Can you ask yourself that and give me an honest answer?” She paused, her eyes wide and unblinking.
When they’d first met, it had been those eyes—the stunning, mercurial quality of them—that had impressed Remy the most. They could turn softly seductive, when there was something Erica had her heart set on, or sharp and calculating the moment she sensed an opponent’s weakness. And they could slip from one permutation to the next in an instant.
Right now, they were enormous. Tumescent blue splashes, brimming with unshed tears. Erica was pulling out all the stops, resorting to the most lethal device in her arsenal. Remy recognized it immediately because she’d fallen prey to it too many times to count. But it wasn’t going to work this time. Not at two a.m. on a Monday morning.
Remy pried her gaze from Erica’s beautiful face, steeling herself against the woman’s talents. “Look, I’m not afraid of anything, all right? I just think we need to admit that this thing isn’t working between us. That it hasn’t been working for a while now. And just, just…”—she motioned in frustration—“move on.”
Remy let the silence drag out as long as she could stand it. Reluctantly, she looked up again. Yep, there it was. Not a torrent, just a solitary tear. Bright in the glare of the kitchen’s overhead light. Tracing a silken path down the curve of a very soft, very smooth cheek. The urge to reach over and brush it away was almost overwhelming. Remy wanted to use her lips to do it, and then her tongue. Inhaling deeply, she shook the thought from her mind. It would be the end of the discussion if she did that. And then they’d wake up naked a few hours later, Erica sated and nestled up against her, Remy bleary-eyed and defeated, furious with herself for having allowed it to happen again.
Determined not to give in, she watched and waited. The dull metallic clicks of the clock marked the widening gulf between them. Then finally, abruptly, Erica relented. “Well, okay then.”
Remy felt her own eyes widen in surprise—before they quickly narrowed again in suspicion. She kept her mouth shut.
“I can see you’ve made up your mind.” Erica’s tone was suddenly light, almost brisk. “So I suppose there’s no point in arguing about it any longer, is there?” Her features shifted into an easy, vaguely unsettling smile. Remy felt the elation of a runner at the end of a thousand-mile journey. Right before she steps off a cliff.
Erica stuck out her hand. “Friends?”
It was a trick. Erica Forsyte, U.S. Attorney, Northern District of California, had never given up on anything that easily in her life. No, she was merely shifting tactics. Staging a retreat in order to reevaluate and alter her line of attack. In a few days—or a couple of weeks at the outside—she’d be right back at it again, guns blazing. Remy knew this with a cold certainty only achieved in the smallest hours of the morning. But she was too goddamned tired to do anything about it now.
Drained, she leaned against the doorjamb and watched as Erica clicked down the stone pathway to the tree-lined street in front of the house. It was a dark and moonless night, but it might as well have been the middle of the day for all the energy coiled in that high-powered step.
Erica’s vehicle chirped to life as she opened the driver’s side door and slid gracefully into the sleek interior. Moments later, the engine awakened with a low rumble, and Erica paused to look back. She gave a small wave, then steered the car away from the curb and disappeared down the street.
Remy let the air escape from her lungs, her chest like an old deflating tire. Like she’d been holding her breath for hours and had only just realized there was fresh oxygen in the room. She threw the deadbolt on the door and headed for her bedroom at the back of the small house, closing windows and flipping off light switches along the way. She refused to allow herself one more glance at the clock. Her alarm was automatically set for five o’clock every morning—no need to fixate about how little time remained between now and then.
The sheets were crisp and blessedly cool when they struck her skin. The pillow still held the scent of jasmine. Erica’s scent. Remy wondered groggily how long it would take the aroma to completely fade from her linens—and whether she was certain she really wanted it to. Erica was a gorgeous, intelligent woman who obviously cared a lot about her. It should have been as simple as that. And yet, for whatever reason, it wasn’t.
As the night rose up to wrap in an ebon shroud around her, one of Remy’s last coherent thoughts was to hope, and then doubt, that she and Erica could be friends. That, and a desperate prayer to the powers that be. That they grant her this night, for a few hours at least, a merciful and dreamless sleep.
He set the cereal bowl down with a thud, causing the spoon to clatter and the milk to slosh out on the table. There was no concentrating behind that incessant sniveling. He got up and crossed the room to the radiator and stood there staring down. He nudged at the flesh with the toe of his boot, then he squatted to check the bindings. The ankles were still snug, but the wrists had loosened up a bit. He yanked at the sheepshank to draw it tight again. Then he straightened and hawked a spit. He crossed the room and resumed his position in the recliner, but the whimpering sounds were louder now than before. He snatched up the remote and stabbed at the volume until the television noise swelled to fill the corners of the room. But he could still hear it. Chafing at him beneath the din. Mewling, like a polecat caught on a wire. He exhaled and dropped the remote on the table. Then he picked up the hunting blade and stood to cross the room again.
Remy snapped awake and sat upright, automatically reaching for her service pistol on the table next to the bed. She rested her hand on the firearm and waited, straining to hear anything besides the drum of her own heart in her ears. The bedroom was silent, as still and empty as the rest of the rooms beyond. If there had been anyone present in the small house with her, she would have sensed it immediately. But there was no one.
She blew out a breath and sank back against the cooling sheets. The remnants of the dream still played in a fading montage across her mind. The shabby room. Poorly lit and sparse with rundown furniture. The woman. Bound and gagged, with the man standing above her. The glint of the steel blade in his hand. Remy could never make out his face in the dream, nor that of the young woman who made those terrible, piteous noises. But she knew.
Samantha Kaye Willard was an elementary school teacher and mother of three. Her body had been discovered three months ago—nude, with its throat cut, in a dumpster in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. Samantha Willard was 32 years old, coincidentally the same age as Remy, born in the same year and the same month, only a few days apart. Remy had started having the dreams a few days after they’d caught the case.
As of now, she and her partner Cookie were three months and eleven days into it. Three months and eleven days without a suspect. Three months and eleven days without a lead.
Remy glanced at her bedside clock and groaned. The glowing numerals read 4:58 a.m. She turned off the alarm before it could sound, slapping at the button harder than she needed to. Stiffly, she climbed out of bed. Unable to bear the thought of turning on a light, she squatted half naked and groped through the inky blackness of her closet, stepping into socks and sweatpants and running shoes as she happened upon them. Waking now, she made her way unerringly through the dark house. Splash of cold water in the bathroom, earbuds and house key by the front door.
Outside, the neighborhood still slept. Remy leaned on the railing of her front porch and gently stretched her calf muscles. The shadowy street lay empty in both directions. No movement. Barely a sound. She hit the play button on her phone, and Fatboy Slim’s “Rockafeller Skank” struck up a throbbing chord in her ears. Bobbing her head in time, she cranked the volume a little higher, then skipped down the steps and headed up the street at a rapid clip.
Panting, Giana leaned her weight against the cardboard box and shoved. The heavy carton barely budged at first, but then it suddenly gave way with a gritty scrape across the concrete floor, nearly throwing her off balance with it. She should’ve taken Lena’s advice and donated the damned books to the library. Someday, she’d learn to listen to her aunt, she really would.
Giana stepped back to catch her breath, surveying the wall of packing boxes that now rose from the floor to the ceiling of her aunt’s garage. It was a humbling experience to look at the entirety of one’s own life, wrapped in crumpled newspaper and tucked away in a corner.
A lump was beginning to form in Giana’s throat when her aunt Lena strolled into the garage and stood beside her. With slender builds and dark, shoulder-length hair, the two women were carbon copies of one another, separated by thirty years. The older woman placed an arm around her niece’s shoulder and squeezed. “It’ll all be here waiting for you, sweetie. Whenever you decide you want to come back.”
Giana exhaled and nodded. The truth was, she couldn’t care less about the stuff in these boxes—it was her auntie she didn’t know what she would do without.
As a child, Giana had shown the typical young girl’s adoration for her father and her big brother, Tony. But it was her aunt who had always formed the true cornerstone of her universe. The closest thing to a mother she’d ever known, Lena was her best friend and her most loyal confidante. In a house dominated by strong-willed men, she was her biggest defender. When Giana had “gone away” to college at nearby U Penn, her aunt was the one who’d helped her decorate her dorm room. Four years later, when she’d moved off campus to complete her postgraduate work, Lena had helped her find an apartment. And then, some years after that—when Giana was devastated to discover that her fiancé was in fact a lying, conniving, shitheel of a cheat—it was Lena who’d been there to pick up the pieces.
“What about this one over here?” Lena kicked her toe at a lone open box, sitting apart from the rest.
Giana walked over and stared down at its contents. A scrapbook and various picture frames. David’s favorite cable-knit sweater. A stuffed animal he’d won for her at the fair. All of them remnants of a life lived together. A life she had finally summoned the courage to leave behind.
“Oh, that,” she finally answered. “That’s all junk for the dumpster.”
Lena nodded, her eyes on her niece’s face. After a moment, she said, “You can do this, you know. Don’t be afraid. You got this, kid.”
Giana nodded vigorously, blinking against the sting in her eyes. She was no longer a kid, far from it. But Lena’s use of the old endearment suddenly made her want to weep.
“Come on.” Lena gave her shoulder a final squeeze. “Your brother is on his way over here. If you want anything at all to eat, you’d better get in there now.”
The women abandoned the gloom of the garage for Lena’s sun-filled kitchen, where Giana settled herself in her customary spot at the dinette by the window. Her aunt mounded steaming piles of food onto her plate, and Giana beamed her gratitude.
All of her favorites were represented. A fluffy egg frittata with pesto, olives, and roasted red peppers. Mini Italian sausages, succulent and sweet, tucked inside of rosemary-scented bread rolls. But what nearly brought her to tears for the second time that morning were the cornetti al miele—those classic homemade pastries only her auntie seemed to know how to properly bake.
Warm and flaky, the cornetti from Lena’s oven were infused with honey and love. They were normally reserved for Christmas dinner or Easter Sunday or some other very special occasion as that. Giana supposed her last meal at her auntie’s house—on her last day in the only city she’d ever known—certainly fit the category.
She could hardly believe it, but it was finally about to happen. Whether she was truly ready for it or not. She’d sold her car last week and handed in the keys to her apartment this morning. By this afternoon, she’d be on her way to the airport. Off to the West Coast to start a new career and a new life in a town where she knew exactly one person. It was either the bravest or the stupidest thing she’d ever done, and she never would have had the nerve to even try it without her aunt’s support.
The screen door leading to the backyard opened and shut with a bang as a massive body in a dark blue uniform eclipsed the doorway. The grinning giant crossed the small kitchen in one stride, leaning down to give his aunt a peck on the cheek. In another stride, he’d reached the kitchen table.
“Anthony.” Giana nodded a greeting.
“Squirt!” Tony grunted in reply. He reached out a huge paw to ruffle her hair, as if she were still six years old and in pigtails. Giana ducked her head in annoyance. She watched over the rim of her coffee cup, mildly impressed as her brother managed to seat his bulky frame at the cramped little table without upsetting any of the glassware on top.
With a sigh, he shifted his gun belt to a more comfortable position. “You still got time to change your mind, you know.” He was about to say more, but his attention was quickly waylaid by the small mountain of food Lena set down in front of him. He grabbed a fork and began to attack it before the plate had fully come to rest.
Their aunt seated herself at the table with them and joined in on the meal. For several minutes, the only sound in the room was the scrape of forks against plates. Anthony finally paused to take a slurp from his coffee cup, his eyes homing in on Giana once again.
“So, Squirt,” he said with a lazy drawl. “You come to your senses yet? It’s not too late to save yourself the embarrassment, you know. Maybe you can get a refund on that plane ticket you bought. So this whole fiasco doesn’t turn out to be a waste of time and money.”
Giana took a sip of coffee and gave her brother a contemplative stare. Then she returned her attention to her breakfast plate. Tony was trying to bait her, but she wasn’t going to bite. Not today. In the end, she supposed it must be difficult for him. Finally being forced to face the fact that, after so many years of blind devotion, his baby sister was now an adult and no longer subject to his influence. If he wanted to spend her last meal at home taking potshots, so be it. She wasn’t going to participate.
Giana took another bite of her cornetto and released a small sigh. It was still warm. She gave a nod of acknowledgment to the cook, and Lena gave her an approving wink in return.
Anthony watched the two women ignoring him. He snorted and shook his head. “I can’t believe Pop is really gonna let you do this,” he grumbled. “He could’ve got you a job in two seconds flat. Right here in the department. You know that, right?”
Eyes flashing, Giana set her fork down with a clank. “I guess it still hasn’t occurred to you that maybe I don’t want a job right here in the department. And Daddy’s not letting me do anything. I don’t need his permission to decide where I’m going to live, Tony. And I certainly don’t need yours.”
So much for calm detachment.
The two of them stared each other down, neither wanting to be the first to look away. Giana knew what rankled her brother the most, even more than her moving away, was the fact that he’d been shut out of the decision-making process altogether. It rankled the Chief too, but at least her father was trying to make his peace with it now. The men in her family had grown far too accustomed to being in charge of things for far too long. It was one of the reasons she’d applied for a job on the opposite side of the country. Nor did it hurt that there’d be zero chance of running into her ex-fiancé if she were three thousand miles away.
Lena cleared her throat. This was their aunt’s unsubtle directive to cease and desist. “So, Anthony,” she said mildly. “How are Grace and the kids?”
Tony stubbornly eyed his sister for several seconds longer before he finally glanced at his aunt. He shoveled another forkful of food into his mouth and mumbled around it. “Good. Junior just made All-City for the second year running. And Petey is just killing it in Little League. That kid’s a monster.”
Of course, Giana thought. Always the boys. She would never doubt her brother’s love for each one of his children, but she knew what it was like to grow up the only girl in a household full of males. Giana was therefore her niece’s most committed champion, and it pained her to know she would now have to fill that role from afar. “What about Chloe?” she interrupted. “I heard she went out for soccer tryouts the other day.”
“Soccer?” Judging by the look on his face, this was the first Tony had heard about it. And he clearly wasn’t sure if he liked the idea or not.
Giana suppressed a smile. Tony’s wife Grace had a way of simplifying the most complicated situations. She’d learned years ago how to manage her husband—and their entire family unit, for that matter—exactly the way she saw fit. The only one who didn’t realize this was Tony.
The screen door opened and banged shut again, and Giana started, surprised to see her father standing in the doorway. The Chief was only a slightly smaller version of his son, with grayer hair and a dark blue suit in place of the uniform. Joseph P. Falco, chief inspector of the Philadelphia PD, hadn’t been required to wear a badge in years, but Giana suspected he wouldn’t have minded.
When it came to suits, the man’s imagination was limited to navy blue or charcoal gray—invariably paired with a starched white shirt and understated tie. This was her dad’s uniform of choice, and her myriad attempts over the years to liven his wardrobe with the bold splash of a printed tie or the whimsy of a paisley pocket square had done nothing to change that. She imagined there was a drawer somewhere crammed full of these rejects. Like an abandoned pirate’s chest, with colorful bits of fabric for booty.
“What are you doing here, Daddy?” Giana was out of her chair and into her father’s arms. “I thought you had to be downtown today.”
“What, and miss my girl’s big send-off?” he rumbled. “Not on your life.” Chief Falco’s reputation in the Philly police force was based less on his charm than on his formidable bearing—though he did possess the former in spades. These fine qualities, combined with an iron resolve, had all but guaranteed his meteoric rise in the department.
Giana stepped back and inspected her father now with atypical clarity. She noted his thinning hair and the slight paunch around his middle. The creases that had always sprung like starbursts from the corners of his eyes were deeper than she remembered. She reached up and hugged him again, her throat tightening as she tried to process the full weight of his looming absence.
The Chief returned Giana’s embrace, holding on tight until she let go of him first, and this made her want to cry for the third time that morning. She watched as he removed his suit jacket and carefully picked his way around the crowded dinette, ultimately sandwiching himself in next to his son. The two large men looked like a pair of mischievous grownups raiding the children’s table for make-believe tea. Lena produced a fourth plate, as amply apportioned as the others, and the Chief joined the feeding frenzy.
Conversation bubbled around the table, and she took a moment to sit and quietly observe. The picture was complete. Flawed or not, these were her people, and this was her home. And yet, she was choosing to leave it.
She reached for another cornetto. She resolved to silence the doubts that niggled at the back of her mind—at least for the duration of this meal. It was the last chance she’d have for a long while to simply enjoy her family’s company, and she vowed to make the most of it. A few hours from now she’d be boarding a flight to San Francisco. There’d be plenty of time for angst, ambivalence, and everlasting regret once she got on the plane.
Remy tipped her head back and drained the last disappointing dregs of her latte. She took aim at the waste bin in the corner and sent the paper cup flying. It clipped the rim of the can and hit the floor with a hollow thud. Two extra shots of espresso, and the fog on her brain had barely lifted. Rising from her desk with a lazy stretch, she bent to scoop the cup off the floor, depositing it in the bin on her way out into the corridor. She paused in front of the open door labeled Insp. A.P. Cook and peered inside. Her partner’s office was as cramped and cluttered as her own—and at the moment unoccupied.
Remy’s bootsteps rang hollow through the barren corridors of Homicide Division, each one as starkly lit as the last. She reached the main floor and found Cookie waiting for her at the coffee station, propped against the counter, a steaming mug of java cradled in his beefy brown hands. He watched her approach, his examination brief but incisive as one eyebrow inched upward in his rounded face. “How’s it hangin’ there, boss?”
Remy nodded and gave the question some thought while she went for the coffeepot at his elbow. She hadn’t heard a word from Erica in ten days—not that she was counting. She’d been eating right, for the most part. And getting plenty of exercise. And she’d managed to get herself to bed by eleven o’clock every night for a week straight. The dreams notwithstanding, she was in pretty good shape. She was exhausted, of course, but that was beside the point.
“I guess I can’t complain,” she answered. She filled her coffee mug and waited for Cookie’s standard response.
“Wouldn’t do you any good if you did,” he muttered.
Remy gave him a tired smile and took a sip of the scalding, flavorless brew. This was the point where they would normally hash out their plan for the day. The various calls to be made, which interviews to pursue, what leads to run down. But neither of them was very eager to jump right into it.
There was still no break in the Willard case. Samantha had disappeared on the morning of January 23 during her routine jog in the suburban town of Pleasanton. Six days later, she was found in a dumpster behind a Chinese food restaurant in San Francisco. The body bore indications of sexual assault, with ligature marks about the neck, wrists, and ankles. Notably absent were fingerprints, bodily fluids, or DNA matter of any kind other than that of the victim. Cause of death: a complete severing of the external jugular veins.
The husband’s alibi was airtight, and a thorough canvassing of the neighborhood had turned up nothing out of the ordinary. It was three months and three weeks now without a lead. As much as they hated to admit it, Remy and Cookie were nearly resigned to the fact that the case would go cold.
Remy shifted and leaned her tall frame against the counter. At five foot eleven, she was shoulder to shoulder with Cookie. She took another sip of the bland coffee and winced. “Did you make this?”
“Anything from your ballbreaker yet?” Cookie shot back.
Remy eyed him over the rim of her coffee mug. No sense of humor this morning, obviously. And starting right in on Erica like that. Things must be on the rocks again with the wife and kids.
Remy injected into her tone a confidence she didn’t feel. “Nope, no. Not a peep. I think this time it’s gonna stick.” She paused and forced herself to hold his gaze. Cookie had a way of dissecting people with a placid stare. Right now, he was taking Remy apart, and she felt her shoulders rising under the scrutiny. “What? I told you, the breakup is amicable, all right?”
Partners for almost four years now, Remy and Cookie had initially accepted their assignment together with a guarded professionalism. Over time, that reserve had mellowed into a deep and abiding admiration for one another—one that was rooted in genuine affection.
But it had taken some time to get there. Remy was senior to Cookie in both age and experience, and his habit of calling her “boss” let her know he was conscious of that fact. Even now, he was reluctant to comment much about her personal life, including the women she dated. Apparently, however, when it came to the assistant DA, he was willing to make an exception. There Cookie had abandoned his code of silence with a single unambiguous recommendation: “Boss, don’t shit where you eat.”
It was the first rule of the homicide detective. Cases didn’t get solved by running down leads and gathering evidence alone—you had to see the thing through to the end. That was the whole point, after all. Without a conviction, an investigator’s sweat and pain and due diligence were so much piss in the wind, and the district attorney’s office was the final, most vital element in that equation.
Everybody knew about the pugnacious ADA with the killer legs and even more impressive conviction rate. Erica Forsyte sank her teeth into a perp and didn’t let go. Not until he’d given up his contacts, his associates, and his friends—plus their entire crews and anyone else who’d ever had the misfortune of meeting the guy. Forsyte was a rising star, and she had the pull to bring a case to a swift and lawful conclusion—or to send it to the bottom of the pile, never to see the light of day again. Suffice it to say, you didn’t want to get on the lady’s bad side.
Remy glanced at her partner’s brooding face, struggling to come up with the right thing to say to put his mind at ease. She knew he worked just as hard and had just as much invested in the cases they handled together. It was unacceptable to think of any one of them withering on the vine because of something so mundane as a jilted ex-girlfriend.
Erica Forsyte might be a ballbuster, but she was a professional above all else. The woman couldn’t have gotten where she was by indulging in petty bullshit. No. Erica would move on, and this thing would blow over. Devereux and Cook would get back to solving cases, and the DA’s office would do its level best to convict them. Remy had faith. She just needed to convince her partner of that.
“Cookie, look—” she began, but he abruptly cut her off.
“I think it’s worth taking another run at the Jenssen woman before we let go of that thread.”
It was a deliberate subject change, and she paused to analyze Cookie’s expression. She could see the Erica Forsyte discussion was far from over—he’d just decided to shelve it for now. Fine. She was more than happy to let the matter drop. Even if the alternative was broaching the dreaded Willard case. “You think so? I don’t know. I’m beginning to think the woman’s a ghost.”
Said ghost was one Rhonda Jenssen. On the day the Willard body was discovered, Jenssen had appeared in the Tenderloin police station with a story to tell. She claimed she’d been present when the body was dumped—which, if true, made her the number one witness in the case.
The processing officer on shift at the time was some greenhorn just months out of the academy. He’d left the witness unattended while he attempted to track down Devereux or Cook. In the meantime, Jenssen had simply walked out of the station, never to be seen or heard from again.
The officer’s all-illuminating recollection was as follows: female Caucasian, middle-aged, possibly homeless. Brown eyes. Brown hair. Medium height and weight. It was a description fitting roughly one fifth of the population of the Tenderloin.
“Ghost or not, it’s all we got,” Cookie pointed out. “I say we hit the pavement down there again. Maybe check out that soup kitchen on Turk and—”
He stopped and tightened his grip on his coffee mug, just in time to catch a mock punch to the gut from Nicholas Pierce. The man had appeared like a whack-a-mole at Cookie’s side. Pierce continued his attack, feinting an uppercut to the jaw, even providing his own whooshing noises for effect. Remy stifled a yawn.
“Too slow, Cooks. You’re still way too slow.” Pierce’s face was overly tanned, his teeth a polished neon white. He barely acknowledged Remy’s presence, tossing her a curt nod before he turned his back to give Cookie his full attention. “You still holding out for them beloved Warriors? I got twenty bucks says they’re gonna get spanked tonight.”
“Man, please. You still owe me for that game last week.”
The banter continued, and Remy sipped from her coffee mug, watching the pair of them with mild disinterest. Pierce’s icy demeanor toward her was typical—although some years ago, when she was the newest female face at Homicide Division, he’d taken a decidedly different approach. The charm had been cranked up to full wattage then. And he’d kept at it with a kind of dogged determination she normally would’ve admired. If it hadn’t given her the creeps.
The man simply could not take a hint. Finally—exasperated after one too many come-ons—she was forced to spell it out for him, explaining he might actually have a better shot at drawing her interest if he shaved his legs and put on a pair of heels. Pierce had failed to see the humor.
Remy studied him now, noting his expensive haircut and the slim, form-fitting trousers. Pierce reached out to goose Cookie in the armpit, and she shook her head at the irony of their homoerotic play. She reached around them for the coffeepot, intent on topping off her mug and returning to her office. She’d catch up with Cookie later—after juvenile hour was over.
“Look alive, people!” Captain Bronson’s throaty bark echoed down the corridor. Remy had to fight the urge to snap to attention at the sound of it. Cookie and Pierce paused in their antics as well, and the three of them stood in silence as Bronson approached, their gazes fixed not on their boss, but on the beautiful stranger who strode alongside him.
Bombarded with multiple impressions at once, Remy struggled to take it all in. Massive, sparkling green eyes. Thick sable hair, curling loosely at the shoulders. Olive skin and a full, voluptuous mouth. Stunning was the only word that came to mind, and even that seemed woefully inadequate. Mesmerized, she watched as the woman drew closer, transfixed by her flaring hips and shapely, athletic thighs. She easily kept pace with the captain’s loping strides, although the heels on her feet had to be four inches high, at least.
Bronson and his companion halted in front of them, and for a moment nobody spoke. The captain cleared his throat. “I’d like you all to meet our latest addition in Forensics next door. This is Dr. Giana Falco, from Philadelphia.”
Remy pried her gaze away from the woman to briefly glance at the captain. The older man’s watery blue eyes were more animated than usual. “Dr. Falco,” he continued, “these three characters here are Inspectors Devereux, Cook, and Pierce. On a few rare occasions, you might actually find them conducting a little police work around the division.”
The woman, Dr. Falco, stepped forward and looked directly at her, and the air emptied out of Remy’s lungs. “Please, call me Giana.”
Giana. The husk in her voice was like a warm blanket. Remy nodded stiffly and held out her hand, supplying her own forename in what she hoped was a normal voice. Giana’s grip was warm and firm. Her smile was dazzling. The nerve endings danced in Remy’s palm long after the contact was broken, and she realized with a sinking sensation that she was in trouble. Even as Pierce sidled forward and blasted his thousand-watt grin.
Remy watched Giana’s gaze skim over his muscular torso, lingering briefly at the trim waistline, flitting back up to his face to lock eyes a millisecond longer than necessary. The exchange was discreet, but it didn’t take a detective. Nick was a good-looking guy, and this woman was clearly straight, clearly not an option. At least not for Remy.
The realization should have come as a relief—the last thing she wanted or needed at this point was another romantic entanglement. And yet, she couldn’t explain the profound sense of disappointment that settled over her like a pall.
Suddenly annoyed—and then confused by her annoyance—Remy could barely wait for the introductions to finish. “Well, I’m swamped,” she said abruptly. “Better get to it.” Giana’s green eyes were on her again, like a tractor beam holding her in place. “Uh, it was nice meeting you, Giana. Welcome to San Francisco.”
Without waiting for a reply, she spun on her heel and narrowly avoided a collision with Cookie. Smoothly recovering, she set a brisk pace in the direction of her office, focused entirely on the complex and challenging task of placing one foot safely in front of the other.