Let the story be told
It was like supervising a battle scene, Hutch thought. The uniforms were collecting names, addresses, and statements as fast as they could. A police tow truck showed up to impound the bat-decorated sedan. It looked like it had been worked over by a battering ram. Well, Starsky never did do anything halfway.
"Hutch!" Ray Higgins called. "Can you come here a minute?"
He jogged over. Baylor and Meredith were standing by Higgins' car. "What's up?"
Linda nodded toward the police radio Higgins was holding. "Dobey's not a happy man."
Hutch laughed lightly. Some things would never change.
"He wants to know if you'd be willing to come down and fill out some reports," Linda said. She wore a sly smile.
"Has he forgotten that we're on suspension?" Hutch wondered.
The two women grinned. "Oh, we reminded him," Meredith said pleasantly.
"Why do you think he's so unhappy?" Linda said.
Hutch shook his head and reached for Higgins' radio. Higgins seemed happy enough to give it up.
"Captain? This is Hutch."
"It's about time!" Dobey sounded as harried as Hutch had ever heard him. The sound made him homesick for before, when life was less complicated and love less confusing. "I can't make head nor tails out of the reports I'm getting from down there. What the hell have you and Starsky been up to?"
"Never mind! I'm coming in to the station. Hutch. I'm asking you as a personal favor: Can you come in and help organize these reports?"
Man, he hated it when Dobey called in a personal debt. The two women and Higgins shook their heads in sympathy.
"Sure, Captain. I'll need a little more time down here to straighten things out, then I'll be in. But I'd like to trade favors."
"Yeah?" said Dobey cautiously.
"I'd like to sit in on the questioning of the two suspects. I don't think the arresting officers would mind." He looked at Baylor and Meredith, and they both nodded in agreement.
"Well, I can hardly argue that it's irregular when I'm asking you for the same consideration. If the officers have no problem with it, neither do I. I appreciate your willingness to help out, Hutch. Is . . . Starsky okay?"
"I think he's a little shook, but he didn't get hurt," Hutch said.
"Well, thank God for that." Dobey signed off and Hutch handed Higgins back his radio.
"Starsky's right about you," Baylor said teasingly. "You are a pushover."
"I guess I can afford to be when I've got someone as ballsy as you covering my back," he said, chucking her under the chin. She smacked his hand away, grinning. But he wasn't ready to let the issue go. "You really took some chances back there with Russo."
Baylor looked insulted. "What? You think I couldn't take him?"
Hutch laughed, but he was worried, too. "You know your support means a lot to us. From both of you. But, please be careful. It's not worth getting hurt over."
"Hey, Hutch," Meredith said, "we've partnered with you guys. You were both willing to put it on the line for us. That kind of relationship doesn't end when things get tough." Her eyes were bright and full of sincerity.
But Meredith had been more than Starsky's partner. She'd been his lover for a brief time. Hutch couldn't help wondering how she viewed the whole issue. For now, he'd have to settle for her willing support, which was more than he'd get from some of his other fellow cops.
"Why don't you let us finish this?" Meredith offered. "You can touch base with Starsky, then head on down to the precinct. We can all meet there later and get this mess straightened out."
He nodded. "Thanks. You, too, Higgins." He took his leave and jogged back toward the bar. There was still plenty of activity there. The chorus line, dressed in their beautiful outfits, swept up shattered glass outside the bar. Emil and the other bartenders covered the broken window with panels of plywood. And the last few victims were being loaded into ambulances.
That was when Hutch spied the medical examiner's wagon.
Automatically, he started searching for Starsky. He found him huddled around the back of the medic's wagon with Huggy, Sugar, and Kelly. Kelly was holding a blanket around herself and drinking something warm. She was leaning against Sugar who had her arm around the woman. Everyone was incredibly somber. Hutch didn't know what to ask first.
Starsky, sitting quietly beside Kelly, finally spotted him. His eyes looked shadowed, weary. He sighed. "One death," he said succinctly, knowing that would be Hutch's first question. Quietly, he added, "It was Spike."
Hutch recognized the pain in Starsky's eyes. "I'm sorry." He put a hand on his shoulder, squeezed it. Starsky reached up, patted the hand in thanks.
Hutch turned to Kelly. "You really okay?" She looked terrible.
Her green eyes were shadowed. No doubt she knew Spike, too. "Sure. I'm fine."
"Will you stop saying that!" Sugar snapped.
Hutch was actually relieved that someone was willing to admit their real feelings.
She glared at Hutch. "She's not fine. As usual, she skipped dinner to come here after a day of negotiations with the mayor's office so she could brief you guys. Then someone declared war and she just happened to be on the front line." She gave Kelly a fierce hug. "You need some food, a few days off, and it wouldn't hurt for you to have a little TLC, either."
Kelly dropped her head onto Sugar's shoulder. "Thanks, Mom. But there are people here who got really hurt. I just lost my nerve."
"Well," Huggy said, "if you can stand up to a gorilla like Russo after losing your nerve, I'd like for you to bottle some of that for me. I nearly ruined these fine pants of mine when that monster got in your face. What's with that guy?"
Hutch gave Starsky a look. "Let's just say he's suffering from masculine insecurities." Starsky nodded, but seemed distracted. Spike's death had obviously affected him profoundly.
"The bar's a wreck," Sugar said desultorily. "Everyone panicked inside when those bullets were fired. We're damned lucky more people weren't hurt. But I can't—I won't let this close us down. We'll be open tomorrow no matter what. We can't afford to look intimidated. They already think gays are easy targets. We've got to show them how tough we can be. But, Hutch . . . ."
He looked at her expectantly.
"I've changed my mind about trying to organize a passive civil disobedience. It was terrifying in there. No one knew what to do. No one would listen to me urging calm. They were too frightened. Russo's not the only cop who's got it in for us. And who was responsible for this shooting? It couldn't be the cops. That's too crazy. We've got to be prepared for the next action, or I'll have to close the bar down for the safety of my customers. I'll call Tsuka tomorrow and meet with her. We'll start organizing right away. You'll help me, won't you?"
"Count on it," he assured her. Then he turned to Starsky. "Listen, partner . . . I told Dobey I'd go in and help Baylor and Meredith make some sense of what happened here."
Starsky's head snapped up. "You're goin' into the station? To work? While you're on suspension?"
"Yes," Hutch said, in a tone he knew Starsky would recognize as a termination of the discussion.
Kelly lifted her head. "That's not a bad idea. You've both demonstrated your willingness to protect the city even without your badges. If you go in to deal with the technicalities, it'll be another sign of your unstinting professionalism. I can do a lot with that."
Hutch laughed. "Man, I'm glad you're on our side. But Starsky doesn't need to come in with me. I can handle it by myself. I want to be around when they question those mechanics. And considering what went down tonight, I think it would be a good idea if you had some police protection you could rely on." He took a breath and plunged on. "Starsky, take Kelly home. Stay with her. Make sure she's safe."
Starsky's expression was unreadable, but he didn't miss Huggy's disapproving eye-roll.
"Look, you guys," Kelly protested. "I don't need a babysitter. You can't believe that after this anyone else would have the nerve to—"
"We don't have enough information, Kelly," Hutch insisted. "After I talk to those guys I might have a better feel for what went down and why. Until then, someone needs to be with you."
She glanced self-consciously at Starsky, and Hutch knew she felt uncomfortable. Starsky's eyes never left Hutch's face. Without saying anything, Starsky stood, took him by the arm and led him a few yards away from the group.
"Why are you doing this?" Starsky asked.
Because I have to, he thought. Before I get in any deeper with you. Before you climb back into my bed again.
"You're the one who said they were shooting at her," Hutch insisted. "You know if we ask Dobey for someone to stay with her, we won't get it." Hutch glanced back at Kelly. "Look at her, Starsk. She's used to difficult negotiations, civilized courtrooms, word battles with other lawyers. She's not used to flying lead on the street. She's devastated. She's putting everything into our defense. We owe her."
"How much?" Starsky asked bluntly.
Hutch hesitated, the question cutting into his thin armor. Starsky's eyes were midnight pools, unreadable, distant. Hutch could smell his sweat, feel his masculine heat. What he really wanted was to go home, climb into bed with Starsky and be comforted by him, loved by him. Taken by him, he admitted to himself. His mouth went dry. "Only you can answer that."
"You really want me to do this?" Starsky wasn't going to let it go. He wanted it all out front.
What I want is for you to rediscover that incredible well of love and desire you had for me that first night. But it's gone. And the only thing we have left of it is strange dreams of unfulfilled longing. My empty beaches. Your disturbing scenes of passion. And when the day dawns all we're left with is confusion.
Hutch said what he really meant. "I want you to do whatever it is you really want to do. And I think you want to be with her. Right now, she needs someone. Seems like one of those karmic occurrences Tsuka's always telling us about. Why don't we just go with it?"
Goddamn you! Hutch thought exasperated. "Yes! I'm sure!"
Starsky started back to the paramedic's wagon, when Hutch gripped his leather-jacketed arm to pull his attention back.
"Remember what I said," Hutch reminded him. "Take her home. Stay with her. You can . . . call me in the morning and I'll tell you what went down with the shooters."
Starsky looked at him for a long moment, then finally gave a brief nod. He didn't touch Hutch when he walked away.
"You sure you're gonna make it?" Starsky asked Callahan on the third floor landing of her apartment building.
She felt shaky as she paused to catch her breath. She nodded but didn't answer him. Couldn't answer him. The attack had really taken the starch out of her and put a serious crack in her nerves. She'd never experienced anything like it, and didn't like the feeling much.
"How many more flights?" Starsky asked, looking up the stairwell.
"Only two," she said, swallowing, then started up the next one.
"Only two," he parroted as he walked beside her, one hand gripping her arm. "I guess we can take comfort in the fact that anyone interested in goin' after you would probably pass out from the climb before he ever got to your front door."
She smiled and continued on grimly until they finally reached her front door. There was a note there, which had obviously been written earlier in the day.
"Filed all the reports that were on the kitchen table. Assembled a list of cross-references for the AT&T appeal. Fed the cat. Talk to you tomorrow. Joey."
It was a bizarre bit of normality that seemed to be from a different time, a different place. Before she'd been shot at. She pulled the note off and shoved it in a pocket. "Ouch!" she yelped as something sharp stuck her. Yanking out her hand, she saw that the tip of her index finger was bleeding. She sucked on it, confused.
Starsky took hold of the bottom of her jacket, felt the pocket, then turned it inside out. The note fluttered to the ground and several shards of glass clattered to the floor. He picked up the note, now smeared with blood and handed it to her.
"You'll need a bandage on that," he said. "Give me your keys."
She handed them over to him without argument. He took them and gently moved her away from the door. "Let me go in first, huh?"
She suddenly realized that he was worried that there might be a threat to her in her own apartment. He was about to go in there anyway, unarmed, to check it out. The stress of it all threatened to overwhelm her and she felt her eyes tear up for the first time.
Snap out of it, Callahan! she scolded herself. He doesn't need to think he's stuck with some sniveling coward about to get the vapors. She took a deep, steadying breath and blinked hard, clearing her eyes.
He came back a moment later and opened the door wide. "Well, except for a midget tiger with a bad attitude and a paper obstacle course, the place looks safe. Welcome home."
She made herself smile and walked into her apartment. He shut and locked the door, then tried the knob as if to see if the door would hold. Evidently satisfied, he followed her inside.
Buddy stared at her from the floor. Glancing at her guest, he flicked his tail in annoyance and yowled softly.
"Forget the guilt trip," she said. "You've been fed. I've got written proof." He stropped around her legs, and she nearly fell over him.
Starsky grabbed her arm just in time and helped her regain her balance. "Any chance he could've been paid off by the bad guys? That looked like a pretty blatant attempt to maim."
"Oh, he's had it in for me for years. I think he's decided if he breaks my legs, I'll have to stay home and spend more time with him." She looked into Dave's attractive face. She could see the raw edges of pain in his eyes. She knew he was still hurting over Spike's death, just as she was. He seemed somber, but found a smile for her. He was still holding onto her arm. The tactile sense of his hand on her was like a low-wattage charge to her already aggravated nervous system. "Want some coffee?" she asked.
"Tell you what," he offered. "I'll make the coffee. Why don't you go freshen up? I'll bet you'd like to get into some clean clothes."
"All I have is instant," she admitted reluctantly.
"Instant's fine," he assured her.
"I wouldn't mind some tea myself. Everything's by the stove."
"I can handle a cup of coffee and a cup of tea," Starsky assured her. "While Hutch is the main cook, I'm not helpless in the kitchen. I can even make a mean dish of fettuccini."
"There a big demand for bad-tempered Italian food in your social circle?" she asked as she headed for her bedroom.
"Funny," he scolded. "Don't get rattled if you hear a knock. Huggy's sending over real food from the Pits, or so he promised."
"Okay," she called as she closed the bedroom door behind her.
She looked around the room as if forgetting why she'd come in. Buddy leapt up on the bed and demanded attention, which she gave him automatically, sliding her hand over his sleek back. The room was tidier than when she left, her double bed neatly made. She kept telling Joey that housekeeping wasn't part of the job, but he ignored her, tidying up behind her, making her bed, once even putting curtains up when she didn't get around to it soon enough. At least she didn't have to be too embarrassed about the place. Left to her, there'd be a layer of dust over everything thick enough to write a brief in and molding dishes in the sink.
She looked in her closet for something to wear, then realized that the one thing she really wanted was a shower. She wanted to be totally clean, to wash away the grit of the sidewalk—where he lay over me, protecting me with his own life. She could feel, still, the weight of his masculine body pressing against her, his breath blowing against her ear. She could smell his male scent. But more amazing than the physical, was his willingness to sacrifice his very existence to preserve hers. No one had ever done anything like that for her.
"Tea's almost ready!" she heard him call from the kitchen.
She realized she was just standing there in the open closet staring without seeing. Go put a bandage on your finger. Take a shower. Then maybe you can wake up your brain.
She closed the closet and stroked the cat again. He followed her out of the bedroom.
"I'm going to grab a quick shower," she said, walking past him to the bathroom.
"Sure thing," he said, staring at a stack of papers.
"No fair peeking at your file," she warned, and he glanced up guiltily. "I know where everything is, too, so don't think I won't notice if it's disturbed."
"Yes, Counselor," he said and went to the table to stir some sugar into a cup of hot liquid.
There really wasn't anything very strange about her showering while a man sat in her kitchen, she reminded herself as she dabbed first aid cream on the puncture and bandaged it. She pulled back her shower curtain and turned on the spray. Of course, the men that were usually there were almost always gay. But Dave . . . he was a whole different animal. While she knew, as did the entire city, that he'd had relations with his partner, Hutch had indicated that in Starsky's mind he was most definitely not gay.
She shed her ruined clothes and freed her hair, ran a comb through it hurriedly, then stepped under the water. She'd thought he was a homophobe when they'd met, but his interactions with the people at the Parrot were comfortable and natural. And his grief over Spike's death seemed genuine.
Thinking of Spike reminded her of the last time she and Denise were here, helping her out, chattering like girls. With all of her butch demeanor and punk trappings, Spike was all woman. They'd had fun working together, swapping girl talk. She remembered Spike teasing her about her buttoned-down look, and urging her to do something radical to unnerve her opponents, like shave her head. They had laughed so much that day.
The loss of that free spirit hit her hard and she cried quietly, letting her tears mingle with the soap and water of the shower and be swept away down the drain. By the time she rinsed off, she felt marginally in control again, and for the first time since the shooting, she felt warm.
Nothing like a good hot shower to help you get your head on straight.
From the closed toilet lid, Buddy mewed in agreement. She pulled two towels out of the closet, wrapped one around her long hair, and dried herself briskly with the other. It was to good be clean. It was like starting over.
Then she realized she hadn't brought any clothes with her into the bathroom.
You dope! You're so unaccustomed to straight male company that you don't have a clue how to act. The only thing available in the bathroom to wear was her grimy clothes or her old, tatty pink bathrobe. Well, you're not going out there in a towel, so the bathrobe is it. She'd just dash through the kitchen, get back in the bedroom, and find something decent to put on. Like clean underwear to start.
She shoved the dirty clothes and wet towels into the hamper, ripped a comb through her long wet hair, then bundled up in the floor-length robe, cinching it tightly. You look perfectly decent—for a woman with wet hair, no underwear, and wearing a robe you should've thrown out five years ago. Your mother warned you about this kind of thing, didn't she? She'd have a fit if she could see you looking like this in front of "company."
Well, there was nothing to be done about it. She opened the bathroom door and prepared to make a speedy retreat into the bedroom. But two steps out of the bathroom, she nearly collided with her personal bodyguard.
"Got your tea all ready," he said, a warm smile lighting his handsome face. He held out her cup. She took it from him with one hand, as she held the ends of the robe closed around her throat with the other.
"Uh . . . thanks . . . Dave," she said. Her voice sounded like a squeak.
"I looked for some brandy to lace it," he said apologetically, "but I couldn't find any. Or anything else. Even beer." His expression was hopeful.
"I'm sorry," she said, "but I don't drink. Alcohol never did anyone in my family any favors, and a lot of my volunteers are working on their sobriety."
He shrugged good-naturedly. "Well, I'm 'on duty' anyway, so it's just as well. But right now, a little snake oil would be a good medicinal tonic for you. Next time we get shot at, I'll remember to bring my own."
She was amazed at his casual ability to joke about that, but of course, in his line of work—
"The food just got here," he explained, taking her elbow and leading her to the table. She either had to sit down or fall over the chair, so she sat.
"I . . . uh . . . really should change first," she said, looking at the bag on the table.
"What for?" he asked offhandedly. "You're home. You should be relaxing. No need to get formal. Let's see what we've got here."
He opened a container of something hot and the aroma made her mouth water. As he poured it into a bowl, he looked perplexed. She inhaled and closed her eyes in bliss.
"What the hell . . . ?" he muttered, sniffing the food suspiciously.
"Oh, wow! Huggy remembered that I'm a vegetarian! How sweet." There were steaming containers of a rich-smelling lentil stew with rice, crusty bread, and crisp fresh crudités vegetables with a light dipping sauce.
Dave was looking even more confused as he opened the rest of the containers. "A vegetarian?" He didn't sound happy about it. "And obviously, he went to some trouble to put this together for you." He gave her a funny look. "What is this strange effect you have on mortal men that makes them provide exotic rabbit food for your gustatory pleasure?" He cocked his head to one side. "I've been hangin' with Huggy too long. I'm beginning to sound like him." He took another long look at the food, then sat in the opposite chair with a sigh.
"Is there a problem?" she asked, though she suspected she knew what it was.
"I bet you and Hutch didn't have any trouble eating out together," he said, mournfully. "I was looking forward to real food. A Huggy special with all the trimmings. A good, rare burger about this thick, dripping with . . . ."
She must've let her face register how unappealing that sounded to her, so he stopped.
He took another look at the food and shrugged philosophically. "Even when Hutch isn't picking out dinner for me, I can't get away from a healthy diet. Well, after all the weird stuff he made me eat during my convalescence, this won't kill me. And I'm starved."
"Me, too." Her hunger made her stop worrying about her bathrobe. She reached for a steaming container. "This smells really good. Like it has Caribbean spices in it."
Dave was digging into his portion. "Huggy's got family in the Islands. I wouldn't be surprised if there were voodoo charms to ward off danger in here, too." He paused after sampling the stew. "This is pretty good. But I never thought I'd long for a Huggy special the way I do now!"
He went through his portion of the meal as if time were critical. She imagined he was used to eating on the run, in between cases, running from this place to that.
The phone rang. He stopped in mid-chew and stared at the plain black phone sitting on the small table by the window. "You expecting any calls?" he asked suspiciously.
"In my line of work," she said, "the phone rings all the time. There's an extension in the bedroom. If it's bad news you can pick it up in there." She leaned over and picked up the receiver on the third ring.
"K.R.?" a plaintive voice said in her ear. "It's Joey. Are you okay?"
He sounded incredibly upset. "I'm fine, Joey!" As soon as Starsky realized the caller was someone she knew, he relaxed and went back to his food. "Really. Everything's okay."
"How can it be okay? You were nearly killed! I saw the news. You didn't get hurt?"
"No, just shook up. They caught the guys who did it and everything's fine. Please don't worry." He was her most loyal volunteer. He spent so much time in her place, he was more like a little brother than a helper. "I appreciate everything you did today . . . ."
She thought she heard a sob on the other end. "You could've been killed! You sure you're okay? Suppose someone else . . . ?"
"Joey, please calm down. I'm fine, honest. And I've got police protection, so you don't have to worry. Sergeant Starsky is here watching over me, so I'll be perfectly safe."
There was a pause. He sounded calmer when he spoke again. "Is he that blond cop—?"
She smiled. "No, that's the other one, Hutchinson. This is his partner." Starsky glanced up and smiled crookedly at her.
"Well . . . I feel better . . . since you're not alone. I'll have a few hours free tomorrow . . . ."
"I'm not sure about my morning. I think I'll have to go downtown and give a statement, maybe ID those guys. But I should be back in the afternoon. I could use some help."
"Okay, great. Hey, be careful, will you? I worry about you."
"Thanks, Joey, it means a lot to have a friend like you. I'll see you tomorrow." She hung up the phone.
"One of your volunteers?" Dave asked. She nodded and went back to her food.
He finished before her. Wiping his mouth on a napkin, he asked, "Could I take a shower? After all that exercise, I'll be a lot more pleasant to be around if I could wash up."
"Oh, I'm sorry, Dave," she said, spoon halfway to her mouth, "I should've offered. I'm still not quite with it. Sure, go on in the bathroom. There's a linen closet with towels and washcloths. Help yourself."
"Great. I'll only be a minute." He looked at her seriously, all light-heartedness gone. "I don't want you answering that door for any reason. Even if it's someone you know. Understand?"
She tried to imagine what a wet, nude, unarmed cop could do in her defense if anyone meaning her harm did arrive, but thinking about this cop both wet and nude was entirely too distracting. "Uh . . . sure . . . . I won't answer it."
"Good. Be right back."
There aren't any clean clothes in there for him, either, she realized. Knowing how much she hated putting dirty clothes on after a shower, she racked her brains for a solution, but there were no clothes in the apartment that would fit him. She rarely had guests, and it had been ages since she'd had a date, never mind had a man actually stay over. A straight man, anyway. Assuming Dave was straight.
She shoved all that out of her mind. Whether he was straight or not wasn't any of her concern. He was her client. Tonight he was a cop keeping her safe. Period.
She heard the shower running and realized one of the most attractive men she'd ever seen, who at least might be straight, was currently stark nude and as wet as a seal in her bathroom. She focused on the remnants of the food in front of her and tried not to think about it.
It was a good thing Sugar wasn't here. If she were, she'd be shoving Kelly into the bathroom, "For your own good, girl. Use it or lose it."
Finish your food. Go change. Get ready for bed. No. Get ready for sleep.
Yeah. Right. Like you could sleep a wink with him in this apartment.
That made her think of something else. Where was he going to sleep? Her couch was decrepit. After what he'd been through tonight, he deserved a decent bed—
Stop. Right there. Do something productive.
She realized the only way she'd manage to get any more food out of these containers was if she licked them clean. Gathering them up, she carried them to the trash. She'd have to do something nice for Huggy. He'd been so kind to her outside the Parrot, holding her, comforting her. He never left her side once Dave had handed her over to his care. She wondered how long Ken and Dave had known Huggy and how they'd formed such an unusual alliance. White LA cops weren't usually that well thought of by young black men like Huggy. But, of course, they were hardly your average cops.
Before that train of thought left the station, she decided that she'd forego changing. She'd just take her poor battered briefcase into the bedroom, like every night, curl up with Buddy and go over her notes to organize them for tomorrow. No doubt, she'd have to deal with the shooting. Give statements, depositions, describe what had happened. She tried to focus on the events as dispassionately as if she were in court.
She'd been watching Dave give his interview to Barbara. Yes. She'd been watching Dave. He's easy to watch. He stood there, all in leather, as tense as a bowstring as he confronted the reporter. He kept glancing over at me to be sure he was doing things right. She remembered reaching up to remove his sunglasses. And she'd found herself getting lost in those midnight blue eyes—
"Man, that's an improvement!" he said right behind her.
She jumped, nearly knocking the trash over, and wondered when this ridiculous case of the jitters was going to pass. Normally, she had nerves of steel. She didn't like feeling this twitchy. Feeling this . . . afraid.
"You okay?" he said, coming closer.
She turned and was just as startled by his appearance. He was barefoot and bare-chested, holding his tee shirt and undershirt bunched up in his hands. The only thing he'd put back on were the black leather biker pants that seemed molded to his body. She could see droplets of water still beaded in the profusion of brown hair that covered his chest and abdomen. And she could also see the faint crisscrossed maze of scars that remained from the assassination attempt that had almost killed him.
Will you get a grip on yourself! What did you expect him to wear after a shower? She looked away before he could think she was staring at the scars. Or at him.
"Y'know, anyone would be jumpy after what you went through tonight," he said gently. "It's okay. You're a tough lady. A good night's sleep and you'll be back on your feet, ready to go another round with the bad guys."
She forced a smile. Yep. That's me. The original tough broad. So, straighten up, Kelly Rose. You wouldn't want your image to slip.
He took hold of her hands suddenly and she had to fight the urge to jerk them out of his grasp. His own hands were amazingly warm, alive, strong. He had long fingers, beautifully sculpted hands. She wondered distractedly how it was the LAPD had managed to team two of the most beautiful men in the city together.
"You're warm again," he assured her, "and your color's back. I'll have to tell Huggy his food did the trick."
Her hands weren't just warm, her whole body was flushed, and she could feel a trickle of sweat tracking down her spine. She didn't think the food could take all the credit. His touch could raise the dead. Smiling, sort of, she extricated herself from his gentle clasp, then went over and picked up her briefcase.
My shield, Greg calls it. That sanctimonious trial lawyer kept pressuring her to go out with him, but the thought of him putting his smooth, clammy hands on her turned her stomach. He accused her of using her briefcase more effectively than a chastity belt.
"Yes, I'll have to thank Huggy. It was very good food." She ran a hand distractedly over the inexpensive Naugahyde. Its once-shiny skin was scraped down to the fabric and split along one seam. She picked at it mindlessly. Falling on it had kept her from splitting her skull on the sidewalk, and from scraping her face raw on the concrete. "I . . . uh . . . I've got to get my notes together for tomorrow . . . ."
He was back beside her and suddenly the apartment seemed too small for two adults and a cat. He took hold of the briefcase and touched its bruises. "You need a good leather case, there, Counselor, especially if you're going to use it for stunt work. Plastic doesn't hold up. See my leather jacket there, these pants? Good quality cowhide. It'll hold up under almost anything."
If she had to look at the good quality cowhide barely containing his taut, virile body, or the prominent groin lashed behind the leather thongs on his fly, she thought she'd have a meltdown. She reached for the briefcase, but he held it out of reach. "It's getting late . . . . I really need . . . I really . . . . Dave . . . !" She looked up at him, confused, and realized she was trembling.
His face was soft. It wasn't an expression she was prepared for. "Y'know, most people couldn't have kept it together as well as you did out there, Callahan. You handled it like a pro. You got through the scene, as bad as it was, and you came out swinging. Russo's not used to losing face-to-face confrontations with people smaller than him, never mind women-type people. That took a hell of a lot of brass, lady."
"Oh, cut it out!" she snapped, losing patience with herself. "I was a wreck out there! I was scared shitless, my voice was quavering, I could barely walk under my own power, and I was a heartbeat away from hysteria through the whole thing." And now she was a heartbeat away from tears. She fought it, and her whole body shook from the battle.
"Yeah," he said simply. "Me, too."
His gaze was so full of honest understanding that she was in serious danger of imploding under it. Forcing herself to talk around the tightening constriction in her throat she said, "Y'know, I've been through a lot of confrontations. I've been threatened, even physically. I've seen a lot of intimidation tactics. And I've gotten through them. But . . . but . . . " her voice was breaking up and she couldn't keep it steady, "but . . . no matter how bad it got, no matter how rotten the situation . . . " she drew in a deep shuddering breath and felt a hot tear course involuntarily down her cheek, "no one . . . no one ever shot at me before."
He dropped the briefcase to the floor and slid his arms around her just as her legs threatened to fail again. His warmth and strength were too sweet a haven for her to resist. She couldn't remember a time, even when her father was alive, that she'd had the privilege of turning to anyone stronger than she was. Her arms went around his narrow waist and she clung to him, fighting the shakes, the tears, the bitter anger and sorrow over the loss of her friend, and the genuine terror for her life that she knew would haunt her for a long time.
He tightened his hold and rocked her, murmuring soft, meaningless sounds, assuring her it was okay. His lips brushed her forehead in brotherly comfort and it surprised her how grateful she was for that simple kindness.
When her shakes finally lessened she felt strangely enervated by the emotional outburst. Wiping her eyes on her sleeve, she took a deep breath. "Thanks. I'm okay. Really." She'd regret it when he released her, but she didn't dare get used to this. It was too seductive. It wasn't real.
He didn't let go. Instead, he pressed his cheek against the top of her head. "Yeah, well, maybe I'm not okay yet."
She felt bad. She'd been so ready to take his comfort without offering any. She'd seen his face after Spike died. And immediately after the shooting. And after Russo had cuffed him. He'd been through the wringer, too. She hugged him hard, and stroked his back, trying to return some of the warmth he'd given her.
"You smell good," he whispered against her nearly dry hair. "I like your soap."
He would've had to use the same soap. One of her clients ran a health-food store, and was forever sending her fancy bars of herbal castile soap. It was a pleasant scent, not too flowery. It smelled completely different on him. His own masculine musk combined with the pleasant smell into something nearly intoxicating. "Smells good on you, too," she said.
She pulled back to look into his face. Worrying about his needs was a good distraction. She wasn't used to intense introspection. She'd rather focus on someone else.
She was startled by the expression on his face. It was a combination of grief, anxiety, and complete confusion. He looked tortured. "Oh, Dave," she whispered, and stroked his bristly cheek. She'd never expected him to seem so vulnerable.
"Callahan?" He murmured her name, as if trying out the sound of it in his mouth. The chaotic emotions evident on his face didn't change, even when he bent lower, taking her mouth in a slow kiss.
She gasped, wondering how she could be so surprised. Had she been so long without the company of straight men that she'd had no idea how to react to a normal sexual advance? Her gasp parted her lips and his tongue entered tenuously, timidly, as if unsure of its welcome. Her own tongue-tip met it just as hesitantly, as if finding its way blind into a new experience.
He sighed as if in relief, as if the familiarity of kissing a woman was an anchor he could grab hold of. He moved more aggressively, pulling her tight against his larger body, kissing her strongly, as if deliberately overwhelming her just because he could.
It's the first time he's touched a woman sexually since that night with Hutch, she realized. The clear, analytical part of her mind that had always managed to be two steps ahead of her enemies, that had kept her from making the wrong moves at the wrong time, wasn't about to fail her now. She suddenly hated that part of herself. She wanted, just once, to act on her most basic feelings, like any sensible woman would at this moment. But she'd never been like any sensible woman.
She pulled back from the kiss, turned her head, leaned away from him. It was pointless, really. He must feel her shivering in his arms and would know it was his kiss that had shaken her. "Dave!" she protested. "Wait!"
"Why?" he asked bluntly, but didn't force himself on her. "Why wait? For what? We're here. It's happening."
It was a simple philosophy, and she ached to go along with it. She wanted to dissolve in his arms and let him be the man he wanted to be with her. But her brain wouldn't shut off. She shook her head. "I . . . I . . . ." Her mouth couldn't make anything sensible come out.
His leg slid in between hers as he held her up. She could feel the smooth leather covering his corded thigh. A flush of goosebumps ran up her spine. If he didn't let her go—
"What's the matter? You don't want me? Just say it, that's all." He was growling the words at her, sounding almost angry.
Was it need? Desire for her? Or something else? She had to know. To be sure. Before something happened when she hadn't read the fine print, discovered all the contingencies.
She said the one word she knew would stop him cold. "Hutch!"
He froze, his face a mask of tumultuous emotions. "What?"
She said it straight out, as honest as she wanted him to be. "I don't want to hurt Hutch. He's my friend. He loves you."
He let her go so fast, she staggered, barely regaining her stance. He walked away, his back to her. She tried not to look at his half-bare torso, the fine lines of his scars were no distraction as she noted his perfect spine, the fine musculature playing across his shoulders—the beauty of his rear end played to maximum benefit in the tight black leather pants. She wanted to kill Sugar for dressing him like that.
"You think Hutch isn't my friend? You think I don't love him?" He was angry now, but he still wouldn't look at her.
"How can I know, Dave? Hutch isn't sure what you're feeling, how can I be? Unless you tell me. I know this: Hutch is in love with you."
"No, he's not!" He spun now, facing her, eyes dark with emotion. "He's confused! He doesn't know what he's feeling. He went through hell when I was shot. He watched me, helpless, nearly die. And all he could do was go after the guy responsible. He got him, too. Using his brains, doggedly pursuing the vaguest leads, hours of detective work while I just laid there, tryin' to live. We went through months of recuperation together, side by side. He never let me give up, even when I thought I couldn't walk another step, even when I thought I'd never be strong enough, fast enough, to get back on the streets. That's love. That's what he's feeling. He's my partner! We been watchin' each other's backs since the Academy. Nearly died for each other over and over. What else could it be but love, huh? This thing with the drug . . . it just . . . just confused and complicated something beautiful and simple and pure . . . and changed it into something . . . ." He trailed off, staring at the floor, at the ceiling, at everything but her.
"He's in love with you," she said again. "He's not confused about that. And there's nothing complicated about it. What's complicated is your feelings about it. And whether or not you feel the same."
He rounded on her. "We are straight men! It doesn't matter what the papers say or what the whole world thinks. I know what I am and I know what Hutch is. We're not gay! We're not bi! We are two straight men who were made to feel something we never should have felt, made to do something we never would have done—!"
"Dave, no drug can do that," she said gently. "All it can do is remove inhibitions, make you more inclined to act. You had to have felt some need for him that night."
"I CAN'T REMEMBER THAT NIGHT!" he shouted, then realized how loud he sounded and turned away again. She was relieved when she didn't flinch in the face of his fury. He turned back and said it more reasonably. "I can't remember any of it. Sure, I must've felt . . . something . . . that made me do those things but . . . I don't feel it anymore. It's gone. If it were real, if it were something intrinsically a part of me, don't you think I'd feel it now?" He stared at her and the intensity of his gaze made her want to squirm. "I know how Hutch thinks he feels. And all of the stuff we've been going through sure hasn't helped. But I can't feel somethin' that ain't there. I'm Hutch's partner. And I'll always love him like that. That's something I'd never deny."
He walked back to her slowly as a flood of tormented emotions played over his face and body. "Sending me here to be with you was Hutch's idea. He knew what might happen. He knows me. It's his way of getting back to reality. Of going back to the way things were, the way they're supposed to be. Someday I'm gonna dance at Hutch's wedding. And he's gonna dance at mine. That's reality. The rest of this stuff, what we've been goin' through—none of it's been real. It's all been smoke and mirrors and . . . bad dreams . . . ."
She took a step backwards to slow his advance. "Well, that's just fine. You throw Hutch at me, and now he returns the favor. Am I supposed to be thrilled at being appointed the Holy Restorer of Sacred Masculinity?"
"I don't know how thrilling it might be for you," he said sarcastically. "You haven't done any restoring yet."
She felt a flare of anger and grabbed onto it like a lifeline. Her temper had always shored up her nerve at dangerous times. "You can't make Hutch's feelings go away by denying them!"
"And I can't be responsible for them just because they're hurting him," he insisted. "I don't want him to be in love with me. And while I don't want to hurt him, I want what we had before. Our normal life, our work, our partnership. And somewhere inside him, Hutch wants it, too. I know he wants me to be happy. And he knows I'm not happy this way. I can't be the fantasy lover he dreams about. I can only be Dave Starsky. His partner. A straight man who loves women . . . ." He took hold of her shoulders.
Her stomach dropped when he gripped her, and she feared she wouldn't have the resolve to turn him away again. The power of his touch reached inside her soul, grabbing hold of her loneliness with both hands. It had been so long since any man had looked at her with desire.
" . . . Who loves pretty women . . . ." he murmured, staring fiercely into her eyes. "Strong, pretty, honest, green-eyed women who smell good, who have the balls to stand up to men three times their size."
Pretty? she thought dazedly as she stood before him in her frayed, faded robe and damp stringy hair. How he could see her like that?
He moved to kiss her again. She turned her head slightly, but it was a half-hearted gesture. He caught her easily, his mouth pressing hard against hers, ripping a soft moan from her. Her hands gripped his upper arms as he anchored her in place, his tongue demanding entry this time, all its shyness gone. I know you now, his mouth said. I know what you want. What you need. I'm going to take it. And you're going to give it to me.
Her nipples were so hard they ached, and she knew he could feel them against his skin through the worn, thin fabric of the bathrobe.
He pulled away first. "Now you be honest, Callahan. Tell me you don't want me. Say it to my face, and I'll never lay a hand on you again."
The words knifed through her and she knew it would be impossible to lie to him. She grasped at one last protest, as feeble as it was. "Dave! You're my client. It's not a good idea for a lawyer and client . . . ."
"Don't give me that crap!" he snapped. "I work with lawyers, men lawyers, every day. Don't tell me about their scruples. Don't tell me they act like priests with their women clients." He wrapped his arms around her, gripping her as though she might escape. He kissed her again roughly, and she felt an ache between her legs. "Tell me how you feel, Callahan. Go ahead. Say you don't want me. You don't want my hands on you. My mouth. Come on. Tell the truth. You don't want me in your bed. Say it now."
"I . . . I . . . ." She couldn't make the words form. Then his mouth came down on hers again and the breathy gasps she'd been making to refuse his passion were swallowed by his lips, devoured by his tongue, his teeth, as he nipped her tongue, her lips, and made her need flush through her every cell.
As he moved her inexorably into the suddenly unknown territory of her own bedroom, her tumultuous feelings careened through her body and mind as unfamiliar sensations rocked her every nerve ending. He wrenched away the threadbare sash on her robe. His long-fingered hand surrounded her breast, cradling it like something precious he had lost. As he laid her back carefully on her bedspread, he pushed the robe out of his way, baring her body to him, exposing the sexual flush on her chest and belly. His mouth slid down her throat to the breast he held, his tongue hot, wet, his teeth giving small sharp nips of amazing pleasure. She thrashed, her hands scrabbling at his back as if she were falling and only holding on to him could stop her from crashing.
He fed her nipple to his own mouth, then released his hold on the breast, letting the power of his sucking mouth take over. He slid that arm around her back, gathering her to him, his lips, tongue, and teeth playing a concert of delight on her throbbing aureole. His weight half-covered her as one of his leather-clad legs slid between her bare ones, pushing them apart, announcing his clear intent. She shuddered, not from fear but eagerness, her reaction to him so strong it shocked her. She craved him, ached for his touch, his penetration.
When his hand suddenly carded through the soft, reddish hair of her mons she cried out in surprise. His teeth closed gently on the tip of her nipple, and the surge of tender pain it caused made her legs spread wider, wantonly, inviting him, pleading with him to touch her. He held off, teasing, playing with her fur, making her insane. He wanted her helpless, and she knew it. He wanted her to surrender the very strength he was attracted to.
Impulsively, her hands slid down his back. They were shaking, timid, yet they had never been so aware of shape and texture as they were this minute. The strong slope of his shoulders yielded to the sweet curve of his spine. Her palms ran down his surprisingly smooth skin, her fingers searching. She found a triangle of coarse hair at the small of his back and toyed with it before finally finding the waistband of taut leather that covered his beautiful rear. She tried to slip her fingers beneath the skins, but couldn't and moaned in frustration. Oh, God, how she wanted to touch him, feel that ripe roundness under her hands, just once.
As if he'd read her mind, she felt him shift, untie the thongs that barely held the pants together. Without releasing her breast, he managed to slide the pants off, kicking them over the side of the bed.
Then he was against her, his bare skin surrounding hers. The sense of his nude body excited her as nothing ever had. She felt the texture of the hair on his legs as he once again moved one in between hers. She stroked his calf with the sole of her foot and he purred around the nipple in his mouth, making her moan. She reached for his ass, greedy now, unable to wait. The voluptuous mounds were pliant beneath her hands, but there was a muscular strength there, too. She gripped them, stroked them, and ached to feel them flexing as they drove him into her. He was only half hard yet, but that would come. She could feel the tension of his excitement all through him, his need for her a palpable thing.
Her mind was still a jumbled tangle of chaotic thought. He felt so good, so strong, his passion so overwhelming, sweeping her along in a rush of sensation she couldn't control. When, finally his left hand gave her pubic hair a warning tug, she lurched up, searching for the promised touch. Then his elegant fingers were there, finding her, discovering her wet secret. His touch was unerring, skilled, more knowledgeable about her womanhood than she could've imagined.
She'd never known a man who could be more intent on giving pleasure than getting it. But as he slipped his fingers inside her, carefully preparing her for his entry, his intense focus on her reactions, and his careful consideration was obvious. His thumb, wet with her lubricant, brushed her swollen clitoris back and forth, tender and compelling, and it was suddenly too much. An unexpected orgasm overtook her. Digging her nails into his rear, she cried out. He repeated the touch expertly and brought her higher, higher, making her come again and again in rapid succession. As the powerful, mind-wracking sensations tore through her, disassembling her, there was only room for one small chaotic thought.
As she cried out his name, her body clenching and spasming under his hands, her mind repeated a sorrowful prayer.
Forgive me, Hutch! Please forgive me . . . !
Some make you spin,