Chapter 1 – MacKenzie
“Mack, please take this call! This woman is a loon.”
I lifted my face from the report in front of me; my eyebrows arched as I turned to Gordon who sat on the other side of the room. “What makes you think I can talk to a bird?” I wisecracked.
“Come on, Mack, she’s crazy. I can’t deal with crazy today, especially not woman crazy!”
“Neither can I. Deal with it. I need to go through these reports and get these approved and off to the lieutenant.” I turned back to the pages on my desk as he mumbled swear words under his breath.
“And you have your new partner coming today,” Jose’s deeply-accented voice reached me from the other corner of the room.
My shoulders sagged. Crap! I forgot about the new guy coming into the investigations unit today. I pulled my reading glasses off my face and dropped them on the desk before I leaned back in my chair and sighed.
For a second I thought he was actually considering my offer, but then, a smirk spread over his wizened face as he replied, “Hell, no. It will be worth dealing with all of the crazy women in the area today just to see you deal with this rookie.” He picked up the phone with a grin plastered on his wrinkled face and started talking into the receiver. His voice held a note of glee that had not been there earlier. I frowned, perplexed.
I peered at Jose who was chuckling to himself. He met my eyes and cleared his throat in mock-innocence before engaging his computer again.
Something was up. We had gotten new people into the investigations unit before, and no one ever said much about it. The guys were usually seasoned officers who knew the ropes and only had to learn the ins and outs of how we did things here. Within a month’s time, they were well-adjusted, unleashed, and allowed to work their own cases.
When we did bring in a new investigator, one of us was assigned to help him or her make the transition. We didn’t have partners per se, as we typically worked as a group. The eight of us each had our niches, and we pooled resources as they were needed.
Jose was one of our newer guys, and he was big into white collar crime. He was also our technology guru. If it had to do with anything twenty-first century and was electronic, he was the one we went to. Cellphones, computers, software, GPSs, social media, it didn’t matter, he knew them all. He was also a whiz when it came to financial crimes and knew where to get the data the fastest way possible. He even wrote the most detailed search warrants I had ever seen—and he was bilingual to boot.
Bria was our sex crimes and child investigator. She had a way with kids that I just couldn’t fathom. Kids as young as three and as old as eighteen would open right up to her. Even the adult victims poured out the details when she did the interviews.
Chad was our arson investigator, among other things, but he mostly dealt with fire investigations. His job was to figure out if the fire was set on purpose or if it was accidental. You would think that he didn’t have much to do, but with our large twenty-four-mile jurisdiction, he had more than his share of work.
Then, there were Mike and Will. While they didn’t have any specific specialty, they dabbled in quite a bit, especially gang stuff. Well, Will more than Mike, but they both had their hands in it. Between Gordon, Mike, Will, and me, we dealt with most of the calls that came in.
Gordon Brooks had been in the squad the longest and was a jack of all trades. He’d been investigating since I was in college, and he knew it all. Well, he thought he did, anyway.
The seventh person in our group was Lieutenant Gary Robinson, or L.T. for short. He was our supervisor, and a real prick. I should know, I was married to him a few years back, and that prick is what got him into trouble and the reason he became my ex.
I sighed as I unconsciously examined his closed door. When I had first come to the unit, working under Gary had been a nightmare, but we eventually moved on with our lives and learned to work together rather amicably.
Of course there was me, Det. Sgt. MacKenzie McAllister, or Sergeant Mack for short. The nickname fit, whether you were talking about my first name or last. I’m not sure what my parents were thinking when they named me, but after thirty-nine years, I had gotten used to it.
I’d been in the squad for almost nine years and had no ambitions to go anywhere else. I loved what I did, and what I did was my life—all of my life. Outside of work, I had little else.
I did have friends. I hung out with them and hit the movie theater and stopped for drinks often enough, but I didn’t volunteer anywhere, and I didn’t have kids that needed to be taxied around from one sports event to another.
Some people would be depressed by that, but not me. I loved my life. I mean, what was not to love? I worked hard solving crimes and putting people behind bars. When I went home, I curled up on my couch and read a book. I slept when I wanted, cleaned my house when I felt like it, and if I wanted peanut butter and jelly instead of a gourmet home-cooked meal, then that’s what I made. I didn’t have anyone to answer to and that was just fine by me.
If I did want to be with people, I had a list of contacts on my phone and could easily find a partner to fill a stool at the bar or even share my sheets for a good time, not that I’d done that in a while, but I had a list in case I wanted to, and that’s what counted in my book.
Of course, there were times when I envied the guys who had families. I scanned the room and on almost every desk stood at least one framed photograph of a wife or kids. I took in my paper-strewn desk, no pictures here. Actually, that wasn’t true. I did have a picture of my nieces sitting on the front porch of my sister’s house tacked to my corkboard. At least I had one picture, right?
Well, I had more than one tacked to my corkboard, but wanted suspects didn’t count. My desk phone rang, and I pushed the thoughts of loved ones and pictures to the back of my brain and reached for the receiver.
I was deep in conversation with Rick, a detective from another department, when I heard my name being spoken from the doorway in a deep flowing voice. It was not one I recognized, and I ignored it while I continued my conversation about a suspect we were searching for that was involved in over twenty burglaries. Whoever it was could wait.
A few minutes later, Gary’s voice cracked through the squad room. “Mack!” I lifted my head from the papers in front of me in annoyance. Gary knew how much I hated being interrupted when I was on the phone. I glared at him and he returned it, “Get off the phone and get in my office.”
I held up my pointer finger to tell him I’d be a minute, although the middle finger would have been more appropriate.
“Now, Mack! Get off the damned phone,” he yelled. I ground my teeth, fighting to keep a blistering retort contained.
“Rick, I gotta call you back. I’m being dramatically summoned,” I said sarcastically into the phone, and he laughed. I’d known Rick for a while, and he knew about the love-hate relationship I had with the L.T.
With a loud plop, I dropped the receiver back onto the phone base, hoping Rick had removed the phone from his ear before it landed, and shoved my rolling office chair back from my desk. I clicked a ball point pen with my left hand, showing my frustration non-verbally as I made my way to his office. The click of my two-inch boot heels tapped in tune with the click of the pen, and I scoured the room, trying to find a reason to delay.
Gordon, Jose, and Will were all attempting to contain themselves, but the chuckles and grins were present despite their attempts at self-control. Gordon was the only one who made eye contact, and his smile lifted. I was tempted to throw my pen at him and I didn’t even know why.
“What?” I snapped as I passed in front of him.
He reached into the drawer of his desk and pulled out the small hand towel that he kept there to clean up spills. He was notorious for spilling his coffee. He tossed me the towel, “You might need this.”
I caught the towel in mid-stride and gave him a curious look. What the hell was up with these guys?
“Mack!” Gary’s raised voice carried out from his office, and I rolled my eyes in annoyance and clicked my pen again.
When I stepped through the threshold, I saw another person sitting in front of his desk, but I dismissed him without thought.
“What the hell, L.T.? I was talking to Rick about the burglary cases. They had another two last night.” I moved to his desk to stand at the corner, the towel forgotten as it dangled from my hand.
Gary was leaning back in his chair, his hands crossed over his slim waist. He was in good shape, almost to the point of extreme. When he wasn’t working, he was working out, usually with weights, sometimes with other women. I pinned his hazel eyes with a hard look and ground my teeth. Now was not the right time to remember the past.
“It can wait. Sergeant McAllister, this is your new partner, Drew Bradley.” He motioned with his chin towards the other person in the room, and I glanced his way to get a cursory view, then I did a double take.
I studied his facial features: strong cheekbones, smooth straight nose, bright clear blue eyes, and a solid chin. His brown hair was trimmed short in a traditional military-style cut and the urge to run my hand over the top to see how soft it was flitted through my mind. Holy crap! The guy was probably the hottest thing I had ever seen in person. He could have just walked off the pages of a magazine.
His neck was thick, but not as thick as Gary’s, and his shoulders were wide. His light blue dress shirt fit snugly over his chest, and his striped tie accented his eyes. I looked back up to his face before my thoughts ran wild and moved lower.
The side of his mouth was tipped up in a smile. It was as if he knew that I was practically undressing him with my eyes-a freaking playboy! I closed my eyelids and shook my head slightly.
He stood up as I opened them and offered his hand to me, “Sergeant McAllister, I’ve heard a lot of good things about you. I look forward to working with you.”
I traded the hand towel to my left hand where my pen was and reached out to take his offered hand, “It’s Sergeant Mack. Nice to know one of us has the upper hand. I know nothing about you. It’s Bradley, right?”
We shook hands and I found that he had a lot of strength in his palm and fingers, but I gave as good as I got. I hated men who tried to prove their strength and power with a handshake. Not that I was sure he was doing that, it could just be how he normally shook hands.
“Drew Bradley, yes,” he replied as our hands parted and dropped back to our respective sides. I twisted the towel between my two palms, suddenly needing to wipe the dampness off of them.
“Pleasure to meet you, Bradley.” I turned my attention back to Gary. He was biting the inside of his cheek, probably to keep from busting his gut with laughter.
“You know what to do with him, Mack.” There was a leer on his lips, and I wanted to throw both the pen and the towel at him.
“Of course I do.” The sarcastic comment wasn’t missed by him, or the new kid—and a kid was what he was. “Can I have a word with you, L.T.? Alone?” I refrained from glancing at Bradley and stared a hole into Gary’s forehead, hoping to burn right through to his stupid brain.
“Sure,” the grin he had suppressed so far filled his handsome face, and I turned towards the door.
“Bradley, you see that desk over there?” I pointed to the one on the other side of mine.
“Yep, I take it that’s mine?” he asked as he hesitated beside me. I tried not to stare at his solid chest. The top of my head came up to his chin, so I tilted my head back to see his face.
The bright blue irises sparkled down at me, almost taking my breath away. I swallowed. “Yes, go have a seat.”
He smiled wide enough to show me bright white straight teeth and strode away. I would have been ignorant not to watch as his slacks tightened over his butt when he moved. Holy hell, he had a nice backside. I yanked my gaze away from the view to see everyone in the squad room grinning like fools.
I stepped back and slammed the door. Now, I knew why Gordon tossed the towel at me: to wipe away the drool, very funny.
Gary chortled behind me, and I spun on him. “Since when do I have to not only train someone but babysit, too?” I grilled him.
He shook his head and pulled himself up to his desk, resting his arms on the top. “You’re not babysitting. Give the kid a chance, he might surprise you.”
“Surprise me? I’d be surprised if he didn’t need an afternoon nap. How the hell did a kid get assigned to this squad?”
He shrugged, “He tested, and from what I understand, his scores were the highest we have ever had.”
“So he can read and write. At least, I won’t have to teach him that.” I stared at the floor, shaking my head with my hands on my hips. “How long has he been on the force?”
“A few years.” He picked up a pen and wiggled it in his fingers.
“So, I not only have to teach him the ropes of the squad, but the ropes of investigation and how to be a cop in general? Great! Just freaking great! Thanks, Gary. Like I don’t have enough to do already.”
He laughed softly, a warm mellow sound that used to curl my toes when he did it in my ear after we made love. Now, it just irritated me.
“Hey, this isn’t personal. You’re good at what you do, and I know if anyone can handle him, it’s you.” He paused for a minute. “You weren’t much older than him when you joined the squad, you know.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t look like I was eighteen, Gary. I looked like a responsible adult, not some piece of eye candy.”
He dropped his pen and laughed heartily. “Eye candy, huh?”
“He looks like he should be in an underwear ad in some fancy sex magazine,” I snorted and paced back and forth in his small office.
“Come on, Mack, just because the kid has looks doesn’t mean he doesn’t have any brains. Give the kid a chance.” He paused for a moment, and I turned to pace back the four steps that would take me to the plain beige cement wall. “Or are you concerned you won’t be able to control yourself around him?”
I stopped abruptly and snapped my neck to stare at him. I stalked to his desk and put both my palms down on the smooth wood top. I leaned over as close to him as I dared.
“I’m not the one who has trouble controlling themselves around the opposite sex,” I snarled at him.
He bounced in his seat slightly, and his eyes darted off to the side for just a second before he responded. “Maybe you should try it once it a while. When is the last time you had sex, Mack? It might loosen you up a little bit.”
“You son of a bitch!” I yelled right before I lunged over the desktop to grab his tie. I wanted to choke him with it. He must have anticipated the move because he pushed his chair back so quickly that he was just out of my reach. The thought of vaulting over the desk came to mind, but the door behind us opened.
“Everything alright in here?” Gordon asked as he eyeballed both of us.
Anger rolled through me, and my chest heaved with the barely-controlled emotion.
“Yeah, we were just finishing up.” We stared each other down as I stood up to my full five foot six inches plus the two extra from my heels. “You ever make a comment like that to me again, and I’ll file a report on you, you got that?”
He didn’t answer, but I knew by the tick in his jaw that I had gotten his attention.
I spun around on my heel and stomped out of the room. As I passed Gordon, I tossed the hand towel in his face and made a beeline for my desk.
The thing that pissed me off the most about what he had said was that he was probably dead on with his assumption. How long had it been since I had had sex? And why was it that as I thought about my lack of sex, I peered over at the new guy reading the operations manual at his desk?
As if he felt my scrutiny, he lifted his chin and smiled in such a way that my heart thumped against my breast bone. I dropped into my chair, closed my eyes, and took three deep breaths. This was going to be a long month of training.