Detective Darren Corliss is hanging by a thread. In between recovering from a near-fatal wound and returning to work at a hostile precinct, he’s struggling to help care for his ailing brother. His partner and boyfriend, Detective Andreas Ruffner, wants to help, but doesn’t know how. And with his own family crises brewing, Andreas is spread almost as thin as Darren.
For cops, though, life takes a backseat to the job. When a stack of unsolved homicides drops into their laps, Andreas and Darren think they’re unrelated cold cases. But when a connection surfaces, they find themselves on the tail of a prolific serial killer who’s about to strike again.
Except they’ve got nothing. No leads. No suspects. Just a pile of circumstantial evidence and a whole lot of hunches. Time is running out to stop the next murder—and to pull themselves back from their breaking points.
“This is such bullshit.”
I hadn’t known Andreas for very long all things considered, but I’d already gotten pretty good at interpreting his declarations. If he bothered to mention how he felt about something, then odds were good he was serious about it.
“Hey, at least we’re finally getting some cases,” I said as I eased out of Andreas’s car, careful not to scrape my back across the seat as I went. I’d only been formally cleared for desk duty a week ago, but it had been a week of being alternately bored and pissed off back at our station.
The aftershocks of that case, where Andreas and I had proved that not only was the former mayor of the city dirty, but that he’d employed a bunch of dirty cops as well, had brought years of police work into question. Police precincts were cleaning house, and the process was a messy one.
That had been our only active case. I’d thought, rather naively, that Andreas and I would have our hands full as soon as I was back at work. After all, we weren’t the dirty cops. In the eyes of a lot of our coworkers, though, we were worse than dirty: we were snitches. Nobody wanted to work with us, and nobody was sharing cases, even as the files piled up on their desks.
“We shouldn’t have to beg work from other precincts,” Andreas said as he locked the car and joined me. “Much less from this fucking place.”
Precinct Thirty-Two was headquartered in a red brick building three blocks from downtown. The brass handles on its doors gleamed in the sunlight. They were probably the only shiny brass left in the place; this precinct had been at the center of the mayor’s operation, and the number of officers going down here was higher than in any other location.
“I completely agree with you.” God, did I ever. I felt like I was about to be shoved right into a lion’s den, and I was no Daniel. “But if this is what it takes to get back to work, then we have to suck it up. We won’t be long.”
“We better not be.” His hands twitched like he wanted to punch someone, but when we headed up the stairs, his gait was as smooth and easy as I’d ever seen it. Better, actually—it looked like his new HIV meds were working out pretty well. Andreas hadn’t had a dizzy spell that I knew of for weeks. I, on the other hand, felt more than a little pathetic at the way my lung twinged as we approached the building.
“Nah, I’m fine.”
You had to look carefully to see beneath the surface with Andreas, but I recognized the fresh tension around his mouth, and the way he opened the door before I even had a chance to reach for it. He scanned me with his bright-blue eyes, always watchful these days for a sign that I was worse off than I’d said I was.
“I really am,” I added, and he finally nodded.
“Try to stay like that.”
Andreas led the way into the station, and . . . whoa. It was like the temperature had just dropped ten degrees, and it wasn’t because the A/C was all that great. Two cops and the desk sergeant stared—no, glared—at us as we entered. Andreas waltzed up like he didn’t give a damn what they thought, and I followed his lead as best I could.
“We’re here to see Chief Singh.”
The desk sergeant looked between us, her lips pursing into a tight, wrinkled bud. “I don’t have you on the schedule.”
“Regardless, we’ve got a meeting with her.”
“She’s busy. You’re going to have to come back later.”
“Call her and check.”
“I don’t have to call and check to know she’s busy.”
“Do it anyway.” That particular growl was very motivational, and after a moment, the woman behind the desk sniffed and reached for her phone. Andreas kept his gaze on her while I looked around the entryway. The place was . . . odd. Strangely quiet for what should have been one of the busiest precincts in the whole city. The two cops who were in the room with us weren’t moving or talking, just standing there like scowling puppets without hands up their asses to make them move.
“Yes, ma’am. It’s Detectives . . .” The desk sergeant paused. “What are your names again?”
As if you don’t know. “Ruffner and Corliss,” I said when it became clear that Andreas wasn’t going to humor her.
“Oh right, right. The addict and the commissioner’s son.” She turned back to her phone, and I resisted the urge to grab it out of her hand and smash it against the faux-marble countertop. That rumor about Andreas was a vicious one perpetrated by Trent Newberry, the same detective who’d been so deep in the mayor’s pocket he’d been willing to kill to keep what he had. Andreas wasn’t a drug addict, but the damage to his reputation had been done. And while my stepdad had been the police commissioner for years, he was retired now, and I was sick of people insinuating that the only reason I was a detective at the perfectly reasonable age of twenty-eight was due to nepotism. It didn’t help that I looked young enough to be a college freshman, though.
The woman tossed the phone to the side. “Up two floors, first door on the right.”
Andreas didn’t even acknowledge her, just started for the stairs.
“Thanks for your help.” She gave me a dirty look and didn’t reply. I beamed a smile at her, then left her in a state of confusion behind the desk as I caught up with Andreas.
“You can’t charm everybody,” he said, waving for me to go ahead of him. I swear, he was still convinced I might fall down any second. All the more reason for me to be as unruffled as possible.
“I’ll never manage it if I don’t try.” One flight down, one to go. My lung and upper back ached a little, but I could handle it. “Needs more physical therapy,” my ass. “Besides, people won’t be angry forever.”
“Cops have long memories, Darren.”
“But short attention spans.” We reached the second landing, and I leaned against the bannister for a moment to make sure I could keep going without embarrassing myself. Andreas stood right behind me. I could feel the heat of his body, close enough to prop me up if I needed it.
It should have felt invasive. Not even close. I beat down the urge to lean back against him, and sighed. “Okay, I’m fine.”
“Good. Let me do the talking with Singh, okay? She’s new, so she hasn’t had a chance to peg me yet.”
“To what, peg you as someone who’ll challenge her authority?”
“Nah.” He smiled. “Peg me as an asshole.”
“That’s what I said,” I told him, but he was already moving. He turned down the hallway, knocked, and a second later entered the chief’s office. I followed right behind him.
Samara Singh was about as physically opposite our own chief as possible. She was a tall, thin Indian woman who wore her official uniform to work, while Hamilton was probably twice as heavy and half again as wide, with a handlebar moustache and a voice that I liked to describe as “shouty.” The look on her face, though? Very familiar.
“I think she already knows about you,” I whispered.
“Sit, please.” She pointed at the chairs across from her. We sat. “So, you’re Hamilton’s pariahs.”
Andreas shook his head. “We’re not pariahs.” I was amazed his nose didn’t grow two inches then and there.
“No?” She raised one slender eyebrow. “Then what are you doing here?”
“We’re doing you a favor.”
“Oh, no.” She shook her head. “No, gentlemen, you’re doing yourselves a favor by taking these cases. One, they’re murders, and nothing redeems an officer in the eyes of his fellows like catching a murderer. Two, they’re mostly cold, so you’ll have plenty to do and no need to bother your chief. And three?” She tapped one finger against the cardboard box on her desk. “These were all being personally investigated by Detective Newberry. The chance of any of these cases making it to a conviction is next to none if they stay in-house. You, as the people who caught Newberry, have the best shot at convincing a jury that you’re unbiased, if it comes to that.”
“What kind of murders?” I asked.
Chief Singh’s lips thinned. “Bad ones. Possibly serial killers, although any links between the victims are few and far between, or possibly individual vendettas. There was a task force on it for a while, but due to time constraints, they were unable to continue their work. Major Cases is down to half capacity right now—”
“Boy, Trent really got his hooks in deep, didn’t he?” Andreas remarked.
“And so,” Chief Singh persisted with a frown, “I discussed the situation with Chief Hamilton, and he assured me you two were the right men for the job.” She looked far from convinced. “Is he correct?”
Outside, I was trying to be cool. Inside, I was practically hyperventilating from excitement. I mean, murders were awful, the worst of the worst, but there was no denying that it was a worthwhile way to spend our time. I wasn’t going to be up to running down drug dealers for a while, and this sort of case would require a lot of meticulous research. And I was so, so tired of being bored.
“Give us what you’ve got and we’ll do our best, ma’am.” That was as polite as Andreas ever got, and Chief Singh seemed to realize it.
“Very well. Sign the transfer papers and take the box with you.”
That little explosion came from the door, the one I’d left cracked while we talked. The crack became a canyon as a man pushed the door the rest of the way open. He was dressed like a detective—that is to say, in a rumpled suit that looked like it had seen better days—but I’d never met him before. “Ma’am, I have to protest this,” he declared. And loudly, damn.
Chief Singh looked unamused. “I’ve already registered your complaint, Detective Perkins. My mind is made up, however. You have more than enough to keep you busy in Major Cases for now.”
“I have prior knowledge of these incidents,” he said, ignoring Andreas and I like we weren’t even in the room. “I have more experience with the complexities of cases like this than a guy who’s been working Narcotics for most of his career and a complete newbie. Let the files stay in-house and I’ll get you answers, I swear.”
“When will you do that?” Chief Singh demanded. “In between all the other homicides, suicides, and sexual assaults your team is supposed to be working on? Not to mention the kidnapping that just came your way, and that’s your priority as far as I’m concerned. You don’t have the people for this, George, and I don’t have any reason to wait for that to change. I’m handing them over.”
“We’re done with this conversation. Leave, before I send you home early for listening at my door.”
Detective Perkins’s jaw clenched. “I was just walking by, ma’am. Anyone else’ll tell you that too.”
Chief Singh scoffed. “Oh, I bet they will too. Get out, Perkins.”
He turned his glare on us, and if he’d been capable of killing us with his brain, we’d have keeled over right there. Then he left, and I exhaled a little more noisily than I’d intended to.
Andreas just looked unimpressed. His resting bitch face was a thing of beauty. “Is that all?”
“For now, yes. Do what you can with them. Hopefully, that will be more than we managed here.” She shook her head. “They were Detective Newberry’s private obsession for a long time. I don’t think it did him any good.”
Andreas stood up and grabbed the box of files before I could even attempt to take it. “We’ll let you know if anything turns up.”
“Thank you,” I added, and this time I got a smile. Darren’s charm: +1.
We left her office and headed for the stairs, and I could practically feel the eyes following us as we left. “I’m glad we’re leaving,” I said as we started down. “I feel like I’m gonna get knifed in the back any second now.”
Andreas stopped and stared incredulously at me.
“What?” I grinned at him. “Too soon?”
“Not too soon, just not funny.”
“But it could be funny someday,” I argued as I kept moving, Andreas following close. “I mean, it feels like something we could laugh about eventually.”
“You taking an actual knife to the back feels like something we could laugh about? You’re a maniac.” We were almost to the bottom floor.
“You have to admit, there are some funny aspects to it. Like—” My wit was derailed by the sudden wave of hot coffee that splashed against my shirt, almost throwing itself from the mug of the guy who ran into me. The cop who ran into me, actually. One of the ones who’d been hanging out at the front desk. He’d accidentally-on-purpose driven his shoulder into my right side, sliding over the healing edge of my wound and, fuck me fuck me fuck me, that hurt. I hissed a pained inhale and gingerly pulled my wet, steaming shirt away from my chest so it didn’t burn me.
“You should be more careful where you’re going, Detective Corliss,” the guy said, full of fake concern. He raised a hand, probably to thump me on the shoulder again, and wouldn’t that feel great—
The box hit the ground with a thud as Andreas caught the guy’s wrist. “What you did here?” He used his free hand to gesture to me and the mess of coffee on the floor. “That was a dumb move. What you’re trying to do now? That’s a form of fucking suicide. You understand me?”
“I didn’t . . . I didn’t mean . . .”
“I know what you meant.” Andreas gave his arm a little shake, and then let it go. “Don’t fucking do it again.” He looked at me. “You ready to get out of here?”
Thank God he wasn’t babying me. “Yeah. Let’s go.”
He picked up the box, and even while carrying it, he still got the door, but I wasn’t going to complain.
“So, are our tires slashed?” I asked. “Or can we get the hell out of here?”
“The tires are fine.” Andreas opened up the back of the car and put the box down, then threw me the fresh towel from his gym bag. “Take this.”
“Thanks.” I stripped off my jacket and got into the front seat, unbuttoning my shirt slowly. The skin was irritated, but not too red. “No harm done,” I said, wiping drops of subpar coffee from my chest. “Except for the smell, sorry.” I smiled at him. “You do a pretty good knight-in-shining-armor impression, I’ve got to say. Can you valiantly defend my honor in the bedroom too?”
Andreas snorted. “You don’t have any honor in the bedroom.”
“Fair point. Is it five yet?” It was 4:40. “Close enough. Can we take these back to my place for the night? I really want to get changed before we dig in to them.”
Andreas gave me an odd look. “Don’t you have to help move Asher tonight?”
“Nah, that’s tomorrow.” And I was grateful for that, because it was going to be a shit show and I needed a little more time to mentally prepare myself for the process that was moving my older brother into a damn nursing home. He was only thirty-five, and so deep in the grips of early-onset Alzheimer’s that my parents couldn’t handle him by themselves anymore. I’d offered to move back home to help, but I was quietly, shamefully grateful that my parents had refused point-blank. “Home?” I asked hopefully.
“Yeah, we might as well.”
Just what I wanted to hear. Hello pain pills, sweatpants, and new case files. It was the perfect evening in.