It was eerily quiet in the room, only the constant drip, drip, drip of the coffee machine disrupting the silence. At this early hour, even the other teams were absent. DeMarcus Freeman, known to everyone as Ice, stared at the empty desks for a moment, then glanced at the large clock on the wall. They would be in soon. He knew their routine better than his own, especially after closing out a case like the one they’d just wrapped up. Eight missing boys. Yeah, they found them. Found them all. Dead. The bastard had been using them for sex toys, the longest for two months. The newest one, just two days. All dead. And Ice knew exactly how his team would handle it. His partner, Constance Jean Johnston, would go out alone to a popular lesbian bar and, after a multitude of tequila shots, would pick up a woman whose name she wouldn’t remember this morning. CJ would follow the woman home, fuck her brains out, then leave before the woman woke up. No name, no phone number. That’s how CJ handled things. Billy Calhoun, whose own young son was the same age as most of these boys, would go to his ex-wife’s house, where, for some crazy reason, she still had sex with him. Maybe she’d been around long enough to know how these cases affected him, even though on a normal day they fought like cats and dogs. Billy’s partner, Paige Riley, would always go home alone and drink a whole bottle of wine—sometimes two, according to Billy—while soaking in a bubble bath. Ice let his mind wander to the beautiful blonde agent, picturing her up to her neck in bubbles, a hand lazily holding a wineglass over the side. He pushed it away, knowing Billy would have his ass for the thought. Billy had his own crush on her although he would deny it to his dying day.

He sighed and made his way to the coffee, even though he knew the routine. On a normal day, after a normal case, Paige would be the first to arrive. Always. She was annoyingly punctual, never late. Billy would hurry in next, still chewing whatever he’d picked up for breakfast that morning. Then CJ would drag in, her hair still wet, evidence that she’d only gotten up in time for a quick shower, no coffee or breakfast. CJ was habitually late. Always. But that was on a normal day.

Today, since it wasn’t a normal day, CJ would arrive first, reeking of sex and tequila, wearing the same clothes as yesterday. She would grunt a hello at him, then sink into her chair. He would hand her a cup of coffee, which she would complain about. Billy would pop in next, his eyes red and puffy from lack of sleep. His ex-wife, to hear Billy tell it, was a sex machine. Paige would be the last to arrive. She always brought Starbucks coffee and a breakfast treat for them. Sometimes ham and cheese croissants, sometimes tacos from a local Mexican bar, sometimes only McDonalds, but she always brought breakfast. And she would watch them, looking to see if they had recovered, her eyes undoubtedly landing on CJ with a slightly disapproving look. He often wondered if that was why she intentionally arrived late—so she wouldn’t have to witness CJ walking in looking like shit.

He didn’t understand their relationship, really. When the four of them went go out for beers, they would flirt shamelessly with each other. Well, CJ would flirt, as was her nature. Paige took it, giving back just as well. But they always left separately and as far as he knew, they never did anything with each other outside of the four of them. He wasn’t certain he would even call them friends.

He sat back down again, rubbing his newly shaved head, wondering if CJ would even notice.




CJ squinted in the bright sunlight, her dark glasses doing little to temper the glare. She ran her tongue over her teeth, her mouth dry and still tasting of tequila . . . and sex. She groaned, wincing at the pounding in her head as she ducked inside the building. The woman had been a blonde. Recently, they all had been blonde. She couldn’t remember the woman’s name to save her life.

She sighed tiredly as the elevator opened. She walked into the room, sunglasses still covering her eyes. Their set of desks was separated from the other FBI teams by rows of filing cabinets, and she saw Ice sitting at his, as expected. He was the last to leave and the first to arrive. She sometimes wondered if he went home at all. She ignored the glance he gave her and pulled out her chair with her foot, sinking down slowly, keeping her head still.

“Yeah, thanks,” she murmured as he handed her a cup of coffee. She took a sip, grimacing at the taste. “Damn, Ice, this tastes like shit. When are you going to learn to make a decent cup of coffee?”

“Feel free to give it a try,” he said.

She blinked several times, focusing on his head. “What the hell happened to you?”

“Felt like a change,” he said as he rubbed his shaved head.

“Huh. You don’t say.”

She laid her head down on the desk, sunglasses smashing uncomfortably against her ear, waiting for his question.

“What was her name?”

She gave her usual answer. “Hell if I know.” She kept her eyes closed, hearing the elevator doors open, knowing it was Billy. His aftershave arrived long before he did.

“Jesus, CJ, aren’t those the same clothes you had on yesterday?”

“Bite me,” she murmured, eyes still closed.

“You wish.”

“Shut up.”

She sighed again, vowing—for at least the hundredth time—to stop these all-nighters with strangers. But it was the only way she could completely chase the horrors of the job from her mind. Well, not the only way, she mused, as she remembered the one night Paige Riley had shared her bed. She groaned quietly, not wanting to think of that right now. She never brought women to her own bed. It was a rule she never broke. Never. It was easier that way. No names, no phones, no addresses. But she had broken all the rules that night. Only she hadn’t been the one slinking out of someone’s bed and escaping into the early morning darkness. She was surprised at how much it stung when she woke to find Paige already gone.

“Jesus, Ice, what happened to the Afro we’ve grown to love?”

“Come on, man, that wasn’t a ’fro.”




Paige knew what she would find even before the elevator doors opened. Ice would be leaning back in his chair, watching CJ with annoyed—yet concerned—eyes as he tossed wadded up pieces of paper into the trashcan. Billy would be reading the news online, his chin resting in his palm as he tried to stifle a yawn. He wasn’t really reading the daily paper, she knew. He was reliving the night spent with his ex. And CJ would have her head down on her desk, eyes closed. If it were a really bad morning, she’d still have her sunglasses on.

She paused before getting off the elevator, her glance going quickly around the room. She silently acknowledged that her assumptions were right on. Taking a deep breath, she moved forward, smiling at Ice before handing him a coffee.

“Nice head,” she said with a smirk.

Billy reached for his coffee before she could offer, then eyed the bag she held.

“Sausage and egg wraps,” she said, handing him one.

“You’re the best. Thanks.”

She tossed one to Ice, then walked over to CJ who had yet to raise her head. She placed the coffee and breakfast down beside her, slowly shaking her head.

“You really, really need a shower, CJ,” she said quietly.

“I know,” she mumbled.

Paige shook her head again, wondering why CJ put herself through this. Couldn’t she be satisfied with a night alone? Perhaps a bottle of wine, maybe a hot soak in bubbles? Did she always have to chase the images away with sex? She allowed herself a brief glimpse into the past, a night where she had been the one CJ had turned to. Against her better judgment, Paige had given into her desires, a mistake brought on by CJ’s incessant flirting, too many tequila shots, and her own need to escape the job for a few hours. Even though she had regretted her decision the next morning, it was still a night she wasn’t able to forget.




Billy watched his partner watch CJ. He glanced at Ice with raised eyebrows as Paige shook her head for the third time before taking a seat at her own neat desk. Billy ate his breakfast wrap in silence, as did the others. Finally, CJ stood—albeit slowly—and grabbed her coffee and wrap. She stared at Paige.

“Grabbing a shower,” she said as she sauntered off.

“Good. Why don’t you take two?” Paige called, scooting the chair away from her desk and heading in the opposite direction of CJ.

“Damn. What’s with them anyway?” he asked.

Ice wadded up his breakfast wrap and tossed a perfect shot into the trashcan. “I don’t know. They’ve been acting strange for the last several months.”

Billy leaned forward, his voice low. “You don’t think . . . you know.”

“No, man. Come on,” Ice said. “Paige is Paige. She’s perfect. And CJ . . . well, you know I love her but she’s got some issues.”

Billy snorted. “Issues? Is that what you call it?”

“Cut her some slack, man. You know how she grew up.”

“Yeah, I know.” Billy leaned back again with a sigh. Yeah, they all knew how CJ’s old man used her as a punching bag when she was a kid. CJ grew up just this side of trailer park trash in a bad part of Houston, and even though she’d put that behind her, they all knew she carried it around like a chip on her shoulder. She was gorgeous as hell and could have her pick of women. But she was not beautiful in the classy, clean way Paige was. No, CJ was rough and tumble, her dark hair cut short in different lengths, always looking a little on the messy side. But even he would admit it was a sexy look, with just enough hanging over those big brown eyes to make you want to just reach out and brush it away.

He shook himself. Damn. That was CJ. What in the hell was he thinking?



“Gather round, people.”

CJ brushed the hair out of her eyes, wondering what Howley had for them this time. The Special Agent-in-Charge had given them two days off after wrapping up the missing boy case, as they’d ended up calling it. She hated when the victims were kids, hated it more when sexual abuse was involved. It brought way too many of her own demons to the surface. Obviously, she wasn’t very good at handling them. But two days off were good. One night of drunken sex with a stranger, then last night, a blissful sleep in her own bed. She felt human again this morning.

She followed the others into the conference room, choosing her normal seat between Paige and Ice. Paige was speaking to her again. That was a plus. She hated the tension between them and she suspected Paige hated it as well. But it was what they did. When CJ pulled one of her all-night stunts like she had the other night, she knew it would take a couple of days for them to get back to normal. She glanced at Paige now, pleased to see that the disapproving look in her eyes was gone, the disapproving look that sometimes bordered on disappointed. That look cut deep. She smiled hesitantly, getting a slight one in return.

“Got a rather interesting assignment,” Howley said. “Get comfortable. This will take a while.”

The large monitor on the near wall came to life and what appeared to be an aerial view of a small community popped up. A smattering of buildings was nearly swallowed by a forest of tall trees. He slid a file folder to each of them.

“We’re calling it Hoganville Complex,” he said. “Population estimated at fifty, give or take. I say estimated because this isn’t a town. It isn’t even an unincorporated community. By the way, Hoganville is the informal name only. It’s not an actual named town.” He pulled up a map on the monitor next. “It’s located between the Angelina National Forest and the Sabine National Forest in far East Texas. Lake Sam Rayburn is here,” he said, pointing, “and the Louisiana border is here, in the middle of Toledo Bend Lake.”

“Disappearances?” Billy asked as he scanned the first page of the folder.

“Lots of them,” Howley said. “Let’s get some background. This investigation was originally started eight months ago. Senator Trumbley from Dallas has a stake in this. His daughter has been missing for nine months now. College student. She was driving from New Orleans back to Dallas last October. Alone. The last communication he had from her was here,” he said, pointing to the map, “in Leesville, Louisiana.”

“Looks like it’s far from a major highway,” CJ said. “Is it a case of the GPS leading her astray?”

He shrugged. “Who knows? Car was found here in Deridder,” he said. “Clean.”

“If the last communication was from Leesville, why is Hoganville in question?” Paige asked.

“Hoganville is one of three investigations. One team is concentrating efforts in Baton Rouge and Louisiana State University, which on the surface, appears to be the logical location. Another is going over the senator’s comings and goings in both Dallas and Washington, trying to determine if it’s politically motivated or not. Hoganville is an afterthought, I believe, mainly because of the weirdness of it.”

“Weirdness?” Ice tossed his pen down. “In other words, we pulled the short stick.”

“I’m afraid so. It threw up red flags, that’s all.”

CJ was ready to push the file away, quickly losing interest. “So we’re like the junior varsity team? The big boys get Dallas, Washington and Baton Rouge?”

“Look, we take the assignment we’re given and do our jobs. Now take a look at the file. It’s really fascinating reading,” Howley said. “I think there could be something here. When the team was investigating Trumbley’s disappearance, they stumbled across a rash of them, really. None appear to be linked or have a pattern to them, just random disappearances. They discovered that there have been documented disappearances going back to 1939. The disappearances are of the variety of vagabonds, the unemployed who were traveling and looking for work, college students, hitchhikers, traveling salesmen back in the day, or people just passing through. Like young Trumbley there. In the most recent cases, the last twenty years or so, most of the disappearances involve women, mostly young, always traveling alone.”

“And none have been found?” Billy asked. “Bodies?”

“None. Not a trace. In some cases, the vehicle has not been found either. Like I said, read the file. It’s interesting.”

“Is this for real?” Ice asked as he flipped through the pages. “A family compound that at one time was over three hundred people?”

“Estimated,” Howley said. “The Hogan family settled there in the late 1800s. At that time, it is believed that the original family had nine sons and two daughters. History is sketchy at best. There appeared to be two other families in the original settlers, but the only recorded name involved is Hogan. There’s little evidence that there’s been any new blood in decades,” he said. “Those that do leave for college return. We’ve been able to determine that Don Hogan went to medical school. Don’t have a record of a medical license being issued or him ever being board certified.” He shrugged. “That’s all we got on him. There’s a very small grocery store and a café on the main highway. That appears to be the only source of income, other than the one service station that sells gas and does repair work. That’s it. All three are located next to each other on the highway. The dwellings are all clumped together in a semi-circle,” he said, pulling up the aerial photo again. “From the outside, it looks like a close-knit, sleepy little community.”

“What about this school?” Paige asked.

“That’s part of what’s interesting. Hogan School for Girls,” he said. “It’s a private institution established thirty-one years ago with a federal grant. They took the name Hogan because that’s the property it was built on.”

“Home for troubled girls,” CJ said, reading the brief description of the school.

“Yes. Girls who have been kicked out of public school, girls who would otherwise be heading to juvy perhaps. This is an alternative. It’s pricey. But also subsidized by the feds.”

“What’s the school got to do with all this?” Billy asked.

“The school is the only outside entity there. And it’s totally separate from Hoganville. It’s located about three miles away, out in the middle of nowhere. It was built on property sold by the Hogan’s. Over the last thirty-one years, they’ve had six girls come up missing. None in the last ten and we can attribute that to better security.”

“So what? Serial killer?”

“I think it’s worse than a serial killer if we’re talking over seventy, eighty years’ worth,” CJ said.

“Exactly,” Howley said. “Unfortunately, worse could be any number of things. So, what we’ve done is replace the director of the school with an agent. A paper pusher, but an agent nonetheless. He’s been there nearly seven months, getting a feel of the community, gathering information. He suggests we bring in two agents.” He glanced at them one by one. “A couple.”

“A couple?” CJ looked at both Ice and Billy and shook her head. “Oh no. No way am I going to pretend to be a couple with one of these guys.”

Howley gave a quick smile. “That’s not exactly the type of couple I meant,” he said. “It’s an all-girls school. Most of the teachers are women. In fact, all but two, actually.”


He glanced at Paige. Paige’s eyebrows shot up into her bangs.

“A couple? Us?” she asked, pointing to CJ.

“Based on what Avery has told us—he’s the agent posing as the director—that’s the best course of action, if we want to fit in.”

“What do you mean?” CJ asked. “What kind of couple?”

“What kind do you think, CJ? A couple. A lesbian couple,” he said.

She arched an eyebrow. “Seriously?”

“Seriously. Avery says there are eight lesbian couples on staff. He thinks that’s the best way for us to get a team in and to fit in.”

“Eight couples?” CJ glanced at Paige. “That’s pretty high, isn’t it?”

Paige shrugged. “It’s an all-girls’ school. Stands to reason the teachers would be female”

“God, can you imagine the drama? Who’s sleeping with whom? Who’s cheating, who’s fighting.”

Paige laughed. “You’ll fit right in.”

“Ladies? Let’s stay on task, please.” Howley handed them both another piece of paper. “That’s your backstory. Memorize it.”

She and Paige both scanned it quickly. Paige was the first to speak.

“Six months? We’ve been together only six months?”

“What’s wrong with that?”

CJ laughed. “At six months, you’re still fucking like bunnies.”

They all laughed, even Paige, who responded by tossing her pen at her. CJ read on, smiling. “Oh cool. I get to be a campus cop.”

“A gym teacher?” Paige groaned. “Really? I’m a gym teacher?”

“Look, I didn’t write this, okay,” Howley said. “I’m just passing it along. Live with it.”

Paige tossed the paper on the table. “Okay. Just what does this all mean? We’re a couple. What’s the plan?”

“The plan is to infiltrate the teachers and hopefully the community.”

“Where will we stay?”

“Housing is provided at the school. It’s tight as a prison,” Howley said. “The school is secured with a high fence and a locked entry. Remember, this takes the place of juvenile detention. A security guard operates the gate at all times. Dorms for the students, cottages or cabins for the staff. All the teachers live on campus. The only locals who work there are janitorial and cafeteria staff, and that’s part-time. Less than two hundred students, thirty staff, give or take. Sixteen teachers. Your objective is to infiltrate the main staff—two of which are locals. Fiona Hogan, a science teacher. And Gretchen Hogan, the nurse.”

“So we’ll live on campus too?”

“Yes. Like I said, you’re going in as a couple. This isn’t going to be a quick fix, ladies. It’s likely to run several months.”

CJ glanced at Paige, seeing the stricken look on her face. “Months?”

“As you’ll see in the file there, there have been documented cases all throughout the years, very random. The most recent records are more accurate, as far as where the victim was last seen and so on. Earlier records are speculation only. The victims are not necessarily from this area. In fact, they rarely are.” He pulled up another file on the monitor. “This is Ester Hogan. Descendant of the original Hogan who founded the town. Avery tells us she’s the matriarch.”


“We have no idea. It’s a very closed off community. Everything we have is speculation. It took months to get as much as we have.” He glanced from one to the other. “They are very secluded. They don’t venture out very often. Not for Sunday church. And as far as we can tell, not for funerals.”


“Not sure what that means,” he said. “We can assume people die there. What they do with the bodies is anyone’s guess.”

“Okay, now it’s getting weird,” Billy said.

“You think it’s just now getting weird?” Ice asked.

Howley pulled up another photo of the community on the monitor. “Everything is basically funded by Ester Hogan. They got their original fortune in timber back in the early 1900s. They acquired hundreds of thousands of acres. It’s one reason they’ve been able to remain isolated. It’s hard to tell if other families might have moved into the community but judging by the age of the houses, I’d say it’s been forty, fifty years, maybe more.”

“What about utilities?” CJ asked.

“They’re pretty much off the grid. They have a community water system. Basically, it’s just a large well and cistern that feeds all the houses. Again, built at the expense of the original Hogan family. It’s considered a private water well so there’s no state inspection. There is no evidence of phone lines. I would assume, but don’t know for sure, that some have cell phones. Avery says there are no TV antennas and no satellite dishes. There are generators and solar panels. Not very many cars. Like I said, pretty much isolated.”

“So . . . are we looking at something like the Stepford Wives here?” Paige asked. “Or a situation like Waco?”

“We’re not sure what we’re looking at,” he said. “Like I said, on the surface, things appear perfectly normal. Dig a little and you find all this. There are no birth records, no marriage records, no death records.”

“But what evidence is there linking this community to the disappearances?” Ice asked.

“None. No evidence.”

They all looked at him questioningly.

He shrugged. “It’s all we got. It threw up red flags because, frankly, it’s a little too similar to David Koresh’s setup in Waco.”

Paige leaned back in her chair, twirling a pen between her fingers. “Evidence of firearms?”


“I thought this was a family, not some religious cult,” CJ said.

Howley shrugged. “We don’t know. Your job is to find out. Again, there’s no evidence linking Hoganville to the disappearances. This is purely a precaution.”

“Well, this is going to be loads of fun,” Paige said dryly.

CJ nodded. She hated cases like this. Precaution. In other words, killing time. She glanced at Paige, wondering what her take was on the “couple” thing. That part of it was going to be uncomfortable as hell.

“Okay, that’s all I have. Read the file. Ice, you and Billy will stay here in Houston. Your job is research. I’m sure after CJ and Paige get there, they’ll have lots of questions. Your job is to find the answers.”

“Cool with me,” Ice said. “I have no desire to go to the woods.”

He looked at CJ and Paige. “The cabin you’ll be staying in is furnished. Avery has given me an inventory list so if there’s something you can’t live without, bring your own. That list is in the file. You leave in five days.”

Howley left them alone and CJ could feel the tension in the room. The guys were glancing between her and Paige. She wondered what they were expecting. So, she did what she normally did with them. Reverted to flirting.

“So,” she said, wiggling her eyebrows teasingly at Paige. “Should we go practice kissing or something?”

Paige rolled her eyes. “In your dreams, tiger.”

“Oh yeah, baby,” she called after her, staring at Paige’s backside as she retreated. “You’ve definitely been there.” CJ grinned at the guys. “My lucky day, huh?”

“Damn right,” Billy said. “Man, I would trade places with you in a heartbeat.”

CJ raised her eyebrows.

“What? I’m just saying, she’s smokin’ hot. She may be my partner but she’s still smokin’ hot.”

CJ had to agree. But Ice came to her rescue.

“Paige is the lucky one, man. She gets to be with my woman, CJ. Now this is hot,” he said dramatically, motioning to her. “CJ Johnston, the woman with abs of steel.”

CJ stood up and pulled her shirt out of her jeans on cue, showing off her stomach, eliciting whistles from both men.

“Wow,” Billy said, reaching out to touch her, but CJ slapped his hand away. He looked up sheepishly. “Okay, so, yeah, that’s hot too. I mean, if you’re into that sort of thing.”

“Yeah, man,” she said. “Chicks love it.”

            “Chicks love what?”

            They all turned, finding Paige standing in the doorway. CJ quickly lowered her shirt but not before she saw Paige’s eyes glued to her exposed skin. She didn’t know why she was the one blushing, but she was. Paige’s expression shifted to one of boredom as she walked away.



            Paige methodically packed her clothes, her thoughts not on her impending role as a gym teacher. Rather, they were bouncing around, scene by scene, from a night six months ago. She had no interest in CJ Johnston romantically, of course. None at all. CJ was attractive, sure. If CJ were playing a role, she would have made a perfect female version of James Dean. She had just the right amount of rakish charm, was just enough of a rebel with that bad boy attitude to pull it off. Plus, she had brooding down to a fine art. She paused in her task, sighing as she stared off into space. Yes, CJ was very attractive, but CJ was definitely not her type. Definitely.

Which brought her back to the night she went home with CJ. What in the world had possessed her to follow CJ to her apartment? Was it the flirting mixed with tequila? Was it that she, too, wanted to forget about the case they’d just wrapped up? Or was it the needy, nearly desperate look in CJ’s eyes that had propelled her on? Perhaps a combination of things but she could still see that haunted look on CJ’s face. A home invasion had turned into a hostage situation. Only on TV did those end well. A husband and wife, two kids—all dead at the end of the day. They had been bound and gagged and doused with gasoline. The fire took them quickly but it was a horrific scene. When it involved kids, CJ always took it harder. She knew CJ had been abused as a child but she didn’t know the details, just bits and pieces she’d picked up over the last three years. She and CJ weren’t friends, really, and she never thought it was her place to ask questions about it.

But that night, for some reason, she’d followed CJ to a bar. She’d kept her distance, watching from afar as CJ made the rounds. She obviously knew quite a few of the women there. Paige wondered how many of them she’d slept with. Then their eyes had met across the room. Paige had been rooted to the spot as CJ sauntered over in that distinct walk of hers, with a sexy, mischievous look on her face.

“Special Agent Riley, this is sinking a little low for you, isn’t it? Shouldn’t you be at some high-dollar bar sipping martinis?”

Paige smiled at the memory. It was the one and only time she’d set foot in that bar. Her wine was quickly replaced with a shot of Patron tequila and CJ had pulled a chair close to her, her eyes dancing as she shamelessly flirted with her. It was a game they played and played quite well. Ice and Billy expected it of them now. Only that night, Ice and Billy were nowhere to be found. Nonetheless, they slipped into their roles, moving past the verbal flirting when CJ had boldly touched her, her hands moving with a purpose between her thighs. Paige had been stunned by CJ’s bravado, but was more surprised by her own reaction. Instead of pushing CJ away, knowing she had crossed the line, she parted her thighs invitingly, feeling a thrill as those hands moved higher. She had been shocked by how aroused she was. Shocked that she hadn’t wanted those hands to stop. It was then, looking into CJ’s eyes that she saw it—a desperate need for contact, for physical intimacy. She told herself to stop, to get up and leave, to run. And fast. But she couldn’t look away—couldn’t pull away—not even when CJ leaned closer, her lips brushing against her mouth teasingly. Instead, she turned her head, finding CJ, their first tentative kiss deepening quickly, her mouth opening, allowing CJ inside.

The rest was a complete blur. CJ’s hands finishing their trek between her thighs, the wetness she couldn’t hide from CJ, the soft moan she heard—hers—as CJ’s fingers rubbed against the seam of her jeans, pressing intimately against her. Then they were up and walking, hands clasped, hurrying outside. She had been in a daze as she listened to CJ’s directions to her apartment, surprised to find herself following CJ, too aroused to come out of her stupor.

They didn’t speak. Not one word. CJ closed the door behind her, then pinned her against it, her hands making quick work of the jeans Paige wore. Shaken—dazed—Paige found herself helping CJ undress her, found herself grabbing CJ’s hand and bringing it inside her panties, the desperate need now hers, not CJ’s. She barely registered CJ’s fingers on her, inside her. Her orgasm was hard and quick and she bit down on CJ’s shoulder to keep from screaming out. Then CJ led her to her bedroom, closing the door to the world as they fell together. How many hours they were there, she no longer knew. Sleep came intermittently, the sex between them thrilling and exhausting, electrifying and exhilarating all at the same time.

She had slipped out of CJ’s arms and out of her bed, gathering her clothes quietly while CJ slept. It wouldn’t do for her to still be there when CJ woke. What would they say? How could it be explained?

She drove home, once again feeling like she was in a fog, her thoughts muddled, confused. And for the next week, maybe two, she and CJ avoided each other, speaking only when necessary. If the guys noticed—which surely they did—they never mentioned it. Then another case came around, giving them something to focus on and little by little, she and CJ reverted back to what they were accustomed to. The gentle flirting over beers with the guys looking on, the teasing, the taunts. Things got back to normal. Never once in the last six months had they mentioned the night they’d spent together. Truth was, they’d never once been alone together. By choice or coincidence, she wasn’t sure.

Now, they were heading off to Hoganville—alone.

As a couple.

Pretending to be lovers.