"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 email, 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 accusers, 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," she added.
"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 Ft. 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?"
Tori shook her head. "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."
"O'Connor? A word," Malone called from his office.
Casey glanced at Tori. "This is it."
"What?" Sikes asked. "You in trouble?"
"Sam heard we're getting a new team member."
Casey stood, shoving her chair back. "I get a partner."
"Ah. Well, I hope he's cool."
"She," Tori corrected.
"She? Well, I hope she's straight," John said with a laugh. "And cute," he added.
"I just hope we like her," Casey murmured as she went into Lieutenant Malone's office. "Yes, sir, you need to see me?"
"Sit, Casey," he said, motioning to his guest chairs.
"Is everything all right, Lieutenant?"
He rubbed his bald head and she could see perspiration glistening on his skin. She sat opposite him, waiting.
"Fine, O'Connor. In fact, I have some good news."
"Yes. You finally get your own team."
She raised her eyebrows but said nothing.
"You're getting a new partner," he said. He opened a file on his desk, reading. "Leslie Tucker. She's transferring in from Assault."
"I see. You know, I worked in Assault for a few years before Special Victims. I don't recognize the name."
"She's been there less than a year. Comes from Ft. Worth Homicide. Has an impeccable record. I think you'll like her."
Casey tapped her fingers nervously on her jeans, then stood. "You know, I've never had a female partner before. Are you sure? I mean, if we're doing partners, me and Tori, we get along really well," she said. "Maybe you could give the new partner to Sikes."
Malone laughed. "No way. Sikes can't handle working with a pretty face. Besides, I like Sam too much."
"What does Sam have to do with it?"
"Well, you and Tori," Malone said, shifting uncomfortably in his chair. "You're together all the time, both . . . well, you know. Anything could happen."
Casey laughed. "Are you suggesting Hunter and I might become involved?"
"It's a possibility."
"No, no. Definitely not." She sat down again. "It's like, you know, every relationship needs a yin and yang, you know what I mean? And Tori and I, well, we're both pretty much yangs, if you get my drift."
Malone blushed and looked away. "Well, yang or not, I'm not pairing you two. In case you're not aware, Hunter's history with partners is legendary. And we've finally got one big happy family. Well, ever since Sam came aboard. So when Tori's happy, the squad is happy. And she and Sikes, as surprising as it is, are working out so I don't want to upset the apple cart. You get the new partner, O'Connor."
"What if I don't like her?"
"She seems nice, about your age. She put her time in. Why wouldn't you like her?"
Casey shrugged. "Why'd she leave Ft. Worth?"
"Her fiancé works in Dallas and they live here. She got tired of the commute."
Fiancé? Great. We'll get to plan a wedding, she thought with dismay. "When is she coming on board?" she asked instead.
"Didn't want to give me much advance warning, huh?"
"You'll be fine, O'Connor. Like I said, she seemed real nice."
Casey nodded. "Okay. So you got something new for us? Or you want us to work with Tori and Sikes on their college student?"
"Work with Hunter and Sikes. You've started with it. Donaldson and Walker just wrapped up their case so I gave them the grandmother who was found this morning."
"Found in her car. Shot once in the head."
"Yeah. Crazy times we live in." He looked out through the windows in his office, nodding. "Perfect timing."
She followed his gaze, an eyebrow arching in surprise. This was her new partner? Dark hair, nicely layered, reaching nearly to her shoulders framed a tanned, smooth face with only a hint of makeup. Oh, damn. If she was being paired with a straight woman, at least she could have been a dog. Not this . . . this beauty walking through their squad room. How fair was that?
But Malone was standing, moving to his doorway. "Detective Tucker? In here." He stepped aside, motioning for her to enter.
Casey stood, offering her hand politely. "I'm Casey O'Connor. The lieutenant was just filling me in."
"Leslie Tucker, nice to meet you." She slipped an errant strand of hair behind her ears, her smile confident, showing no hint of nervousness. "I hope you don't mind, but I asked around about you. You still have friends over at Assault."
"I don't mind as long as they lied to you," Casey said with a grin, noting the amused expression in the woman's dark eyes.
"They had very nice things to say about you. Were they lying?"
"Well, since we'll be working together, I guess you'll find out sooner or later."
Malone was the one who gave a nervous laugh as he looked from one to the other. "I'm sure you'll—"
"Hey, sorry to interrupt," Tori said as she stuck her head in the door. "Mac called. They've got results. He had a hit in CODIS."
"A name?" Casey asked.
"He didn't go into it. We were about to walk over. You want to come?" Then she glanced at Malone. "Sorry, Lieutenant. I'm assuming she's still working the case with us."
"Yeah. And this is Detective Tucker."
"Leslie," she said, offering her hand to Tori.
"Tori Hunter. Welcome aboard." Tori stepped back out of the doorway. "Let's walk over. Have you met Mac and his team before?"
"I know who he is, yes. One of his guys, Emerson, was the one who worked with Assault the most."
Casey followed Leslie Tucker out of Malone's office, then stopped and turned back with a grin. "Dang, Lieutenant, couldn't find someone old and frumpy I guess?"
"I was about to warn Sikes to keep his hands and eyes off her. Do I need to warn you as well?"
"No, no. I learned a long time ago never to mess with straight women. Don't worry. I won't pull a Tori and Sam on you."
Leslie sat around the small table with the others, her gaze moving over them one by one. John Sikes, ladies' man and resident pretty boy. She'd been warned about getting too friendly with him. He was always looking for a date, they said. And Tori Hunter, she'd heard all the horror stories from pushing her partner out of a two story window to punching out a lieutenant. But she seemed pleasant enough. Of course, she'd heard those other rumors too, about her affair with Samantha Kennedy. Samantha, like Casey O'Connor, had started out in Assault. The guys there had been only too happy to share what they knew about both women. She let her eyes drift to Casey, her new partner. She was tall and thin, her dark blond hair an unruly mess, as if the wind had blown it dry this morning. Everyone she asked had practically the same thing to say about her. She was a good person who genuinely cared about her job. She was friendly and likable and very popular on the force. All around good gal, to which Leslie was thankful. She'd never been partnered with another woman. How hard would it be if it ended up being someone like Tori Hunter? She was still staring when Casey turned, catching her eye. She smiled, then looked away as Mac came into the room.
"Sorry to keep you waiting. I wanted to pull the post Jackson did on this previous victim."
"What previous victim?" Tori asked.
"The DNA hit matches a crime scene about three months ago." He looked at his notes. "Donaldson and Walker had the case. The girl was found in her apartment. Cause of death was strangulation. Her throat was cut postmortem."
"Raped?" Casey asked.
"No. Just like your vic, tied to the bed. Semen was found on the sheets and on the victim's legs. That's it."
"And Donaldson and Walker had the case?" Tori stood, pacing behind their chairs. "Goddamn."
"Don't overreact, Hunter," Sikes said. "Read the file first."
Leslie watched them, wondering if she was about to get a Tori Hunter moment. She looked across the table at O'Connor with eyebrows raised, but Casey only gave her a tell you later look.
"We're running all the prints now," Mac continued. "No hits in AFIS from the first crime scene but we might be able to match prints from both scenes. Not that it's going to help you much with IDing our guy."
"Okay. Did Spencer find anything on her post of our vic?"
"Tox is not back. COD was a severed carotid artery." He looked up from his notes. "Of course, we already knew that. No trace. There was an unusual fiber that didn't appear to match anything in the bedroom. My guys are trying to find the origin on that."
Leslie listened, curious about the case she was being thrust into. She'd hoped to start fresh, not in the middle. Of course, it would help if she'd at least had the opportunity to read the file. As it was, she had no clue as to what case they were working.
"You want me and Tucker to pull Donaldson's file and go over it?"
Leslie was surprised when Tori flashed a smile at Casey. "What? You afraid for me to do it?"
"No sense in someone getting shot, that's all."
She was even more surprised when Tori Hunter laughed.
"Yeah, that's probably a good idea, O'Connor. Besides, she needs to get up to speed on our case," Tori said, tossing a glance her way. "Fill Malone in. Don't just pull the file."
Casey stood and grinned. "Why? You'd just pull it."
"Yeah, but I don't have any qualms about shooting Donaldson. You might."
"Okay. We'll meet you back there." Casey looked at her and motioned to the door. "I'll fill you in on the way over."
Leslie stood, not sure what to say, so she said nothing, just followed O'Connor out the door. Despite what she'd heard about Tori Hunter having mellowed in the last couple years, she never heard anything about her having a sense of humor.
"Our victim is Dana Burrows," Casey said when they walked outside. "She was found in her apartment. No forced entry."
"Wait." Leslie stopped Casey with a light touch on her arm. "Why was Hunter upset about Donaldson?"
"Bad blood between them. A few years ago, there was a serial killer. Turns out the first victim was a case Donaldson and his partner had. Transvestite. They hardly worked the case, turned up no leads and let it go as a cold case. When Tori found the link between that case and her serial killer, she went ballistic. She refuses to work with him. She doesn't trust him."
"What about you? Is he a good cop?"
"From what I hear, yeah. He was fairly new at the time, paired with an old guy who couldn't get past the transvestite thing. And well, there was some personal stuff, but I don't think Donaldson had a whole lot of say on the case."
They continued walking and Leslie was surprised at how close the new crime lab was from their squad room. Much more convenient than driving downtown to the old building. "Okay, how do you normally do this? I've never worked a case where there were four detectives on it. I'm assuming Hunter is the lead?"
"We don't normally have four, no. But I've been here less than six months and haven't had a partner, so Malone has had me tagging along with Hunter and Sikes, learning the ropes."
"You were Special Victims, right?"
"How was that?"
"Sucked. I used to think it was better than Homicide because at least my victims were still alive." She shook her head. "But it takes a lot out of you, seeing the despair in their faces, listening to their agony, knowing some of them wished they weren't still alive."
"How'd you end up here?"
"I worked a case with Hunter. Father Michael from St. Mary's. They were going back and forth as to whether he was a victim of sexual assault or just plain murder."
"Yeah, I remember that one."
"Well, we hit it off. Stayed friends. She and Sam are great." Casey paused. "Samantha Kennedy. She's with CIU now."
"I've heard of her. She was with Assault before."
"That's right. I suppose you would have heard her name. Anyway, Malone had a spot open so I requested the transfer after a bit of prodding from Hunter." She smiled. "It just took a little while to get a partner."
"Well, I'm happy to be here. Not that Assault was bad or anything, but after six years in Homicide, Assault seems a little tame."
"Yes, I'm finding that out." Casey held the door open and Leslie preceded her inside.
"What will you tell Malone about Donaldson's case?"
"You mean, what will we tell him?"
"Throwing me to the wolves right away, are you?"
"No. But I've never had to do this before. If it was me and another detective was going over my case, I'd be pissed as hell. But I've learned that Malone is easy to talk to. He doesn't play games. Everything is out in the open."
They walked into the squad room, finding it empty. Casey went purposefully to Malone's office, motioning for her to follow.
"You didn't get to meet Donaldson and Walker, right?"
"No. But their desks are over there, right?" she asked, pointing to the far wall. "I saw them."
"Yeah." Casey tapped on the doorframe with her knuckles. "Lieutenant? Got a minute?"
"Sure, O'Connor. What's up?" He looked past Casey and smiled at her. "Need to break up the partnership already?"
Leslie shook her head, then looked at Casey, hoping she would take the lead. She did.
"Got some news from Mac. The DNA hit on the semen matches a case from about three months ago."
"That's great, O'Connor. But why the long face?"
"Cold case," she said.
"I wouldn't call a three-month old case a cold case."
"Donaldson and Walker had the case. No leads."
"Jesus," he muttered. "And I guess Hunter flipped out over that one."
"And you want to pull the file and take a look?"
"If we can, yes."
"May I ask why Hunter is not the one in here demanding the file?"
Casey grinned. "I was afraid she might shoot Donaldson."
He laughed and Leslie was surprised at the amount of levity in the group. First Hunter teasing with O'Connor, now the lieutenant. This was something she wasn't used to. Not at Assault and certainly not in Ft. Worth.
"Okay, pull the file. Do what you need to do. I'll let Donaldson know what's going on."
"Thank you, Lieutenant." Casey took her arm and led her back into the squad room. "That wasn't so hard, was it?"