New World Order, Chapter Six: “Disarray” (Belinda)

The front lawn seemed oddly serene in the midst of all the bustle. Only a few uniformed police officers stood outside, mostly to keep the public back. None of the neighbors tried to step onto the lawn, as though to get to close might make the murder rub off on them.

“Concentrate, Gary,” she murmured to herself, irritated at how her mind wandered. It did not reassure her when the scarab started pulsing on her shoulder.

“Ma’am?” one of the men nearby asked, brows crinkled.

“As you were,” she snapped. She strode past and up the steps, her boots banging like hollow drums.

The door handle felt hot and her elbow went numb. She hissed and pulled her hand back. Idiot! Where was her brain, dammit? Don’t touch the door of a murder scene with bare skin; psychic echoes left behind still had strength especially this close it. She rubbed her hands on her arms and shouldered the door open.

The entryway had faded brown carpeting covered by a rubber mat that stretch from the front door all the way down the hall. Immediately to the left stood a spindly-legged console table with recent mail, a basket with keys, and a well-cared-for wallet of brown leather. An EMT pushed passed her with a murmured apology and headed toward the back of the house. She could see the two wide-bodied men dressed in identical uniforms, ‘Coroner’ on the back in white letters like a protective emblem.

She shook herself and looked to the right.

The living room stretched all the way to the right exterior wall, windows in the front, back, and even a small one on the back corner, to her left, by a small reading chair. Her boot thudded on the strip of hardwood floor and then she stepped onto a rug. The minute she stepped down on it, she knew some living hand made it, cared for every braid and stitch. As the magic whispered up her body and made her hair tingle, she knew.

The deceased had been a witch.

She walked forward, one hand out and palm down, parallel to the floor. She walked the entire perimeter, all the way to that small window, and stopped. The wards gleamed in her mind’s eye, undisturbed in this room.

“Anything?” Sandillo’s voice, when it came from behind her, didn’t startle her so much as draw her back into her body.

“The wards are undisturbed.”

“What?” Jon demanded, sounding confused.

“How?” Sandillo asked. “The killer had to come in somehow.”

“The back door,” she responded. “This room is still warded.” She circled to the right, hand still out. A wave of cold flowed into her and she froze. “Stop!”

“Get back, Taylor. Let her work.” Sandillo used that ‘tone’ he got, the one that intimidated men twice his size.

Belinda glanced over and saw Jon step back into the hall, perplexed. “What are you talking about?”

“Just watch,” Sandillo advised. “She doesn’t do this often, but she’s never been wrong.”

“The rug was made by someone of power,” she told them, eyes on the walls. “There are wards in this room. It’s not where he does his circles, but…” She trailed off. “There’s something here…”

“Solitary?”

“Could be,” she hedged. “Gran would know. She lets solitaries practice here, sometimes, and it would explain why there’s not more warding, more people.”

“What about the housekeeper?” Sandillo cleared his throat. “Is she a practitioner?”

Belinda wanted to laugh. Sandillo, from another time and place, knew those who practiced Santeria. To this day, he refused to use the word ‘witch,’ and rarely the word ‘Wiccan.’ She didn’t bother to correct him. “It’s possible. There’s only male energy here, though. I’d check the kitchen.”

“That’s where the body is,” Jon put in.

Her stomach clenched. The wards tightened around her, as though they could understand his words. She stopped, dizzy.

“Belinda?” Sandillo asked. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” she answered. She straightened with some effort. “These wards are strong.”

“Not strong enough,” Jon muttered darkly.

“You don’t understand.” She swallowed around suddenly dry mouth. “They’re very strong. They’re not meant to keep out a physical threat. They’re meant to keep out psychic intrusion. The dagger is an artifact, a verifiable artifact of magical power. This man knew that, and these wards… I think these wards somehow know he’s dead.”

“That’s impossible! There’s a real, flesh-and-blood body in that other room, Belinda. Fairies didn’t kill him. The burglar did!” Jon’s face flushed.

“Okay, then you tell me why the two of you are standing on the wood and not the rug, Sergeant Taylor!” She advanced on him. “And since you’re such an expert on the unseen, explain to me how this room lay undisturbed when he’s clearly got a gun in this drawer!” She yanked the top drawer of the china cabinet by the door open to reveal the forty-five. “Now. Since you don’t have answers to those very reasonable questions, get the hell out of my way and let me do my job!” She pushed passed him into the hallway and strode to the kitchen.

“Belinda!” Jon protested.

She ignored him and walked through the door at the end of the hall. She stopped on the threshold and then had to step out of the door when another investigator needed entrance to dust for more prints.

Her mind refused to understand what she stared at. The immaculate white kitchen, with its white-painted walls and white tile around the sink, stood as though caught in the middle of a sentence and just interrupted, about to resume at any moment. The crimson splashes decorating the fridge seemed almost pretty, a bright and cheerful red in contrast to the plain fixtures. The body lay, limbs every-which-way, under a sheet. As she caught sight of it, a man from the coroner’s office walked by with a body bag and she heard the gurney approach down the hall.

She stepped into the alcove that led to the back door, a well-stocked pantry on her left. Neatly-arranged canned goods lined the shelves, as well as two fresh loaves of bread and various supplies for baking more. Behind her, aside from the body, the kitchen had been demolished. She didn’t turn around to look; the image seemed burned into her retinas like a strobe light. Broken dishes lined the floor all around the table, at least two plates, mugs, silverware, and a decanter of what had probably been orange juice. Fresh squeezed, by the smell of it. Shards of a Louisville Slugger lay on the floor, shattered by the force of a blow. Or possibly several blows.

She made it out the back door without having to vomit, and walked all the way into the middle of the back yard. Deep breaths steadied her. She squatted down in the grass and ran her fingers through it. She’d forgotten how bad it felt to be around the violently dead. The death energies swirled around that kitchen like debris in a toilet bowl.

“It takes a while to get used to. Some never do.” Jon held a wet-nap down for her. “This will help. Clear your nose.”

She tore the packet open and inhaled the unpleasant antiseptic odor deep into her lungs. It overrode the other scents and she felt herself steady a little. “I should have slept first, before coming here.” She wiped both hands with the damp cloth and it felt good, soothed her nerves.

“Because of dreams?”

“No. Because my shields are shot to hell.” She eased to her feet. “That murderer is dangerous, Jon. Agitated and violent.”

“You say that like we haven’t already seen their work.”

His warm chocolate gaze filled her awareness and she blinked it away before she violated his privacy again. “We haven’t.” She turned back to the house to study its backside. Out here, the paint on the exterior gleamed a soft grey that seemed to recede from view, a subtle color that didn’t clash with the trees. A breeze blew the scent of the lake toward her and she inhaled.

“There are two other sites, Belinda,” Jon told her in a tone that made it clear he thought she should have remembered that.

“It’s not the same person . That’s what I’m telling you.” She waved her hand at the house. “Whoever killed that man isn’t the same burglar as the other two crime scenes. They were methodical, surgically precise. This… This is a goddamn blood bath, is what it is. Totally enraged… There’s a mess everywhere. Broken china, even a chair. Jon, whoever did this isn’t the same person!”

He shook his head. “I’ll go so far as to grant that you may be able to see things other people can’t. But knowledge of the killer? What, did a little fairy tell you that too?”

She stared at him, hands balled into fists. She briefly considered ‘borrowing’ more of her brother’s strength to wipe that sanctimonious expression off the big man’s face, but it wasn’t worth it. “Get a ride home with one of the beat cops or Sandillo. I’m done.” She walked past him without even slapping him, for which she ought to get a prize.

“Belinda. Belinda!” He started after her and then she heard one of the men from inside call to him.

She could feel his frustration like a physical pressure. She couldn’t blame him; this case would frustrate a saint. Too many things didn’t add up. But too much had happened for her to care. Her phone buzzed and she yanked it out of a pocket.

“Bee, what’s wrong? I can –”

She snapped it closed on her brother’s sentence, and then thumbed the ‘off’ button. She made it all the way to her car before Sandillo caught up to her. Had she been a few seconds quicker, he’d never have made it at all.

“Belinda.” His voice wasn’t loud, but it carried.

She blew out her breath but didn’t turn. “What, Lieutenant?”

He walked up and leaned on the car, next to her, close but not touching. “Where are you going?”

“Home. I need sleep. I haven’t slept since yesterday.” And you dragged me out here for this fucking murder and I don’t want to be here anymore! She managed to not say that part out loud.

“Fine. I’ll cover for you with Taylor. Just be sure you know what you’re doing.”

She looked at him. “What do you mean?”

His dark brown eyes seemed unusually thoughtful. “Just be careful. I don’t want to have to explain to your grandmother how I got you killed on an assignment.”

She felt a chill and remembered the premonition she’d had, when she first met Jon. She laughed shakily. “You develop the Sight and didn’t tell me?”

He leaned closer and opened her car door. “Just be careful.”

She got in and he closed the door behind her, and watched as she drove away.

Try as she might, she couldn’t just shake off his concern as mere nerves. She turned the car toward home and prayed nothing else cropped up to interfere. As she pulled into the line of cars going down the road, she felt eyes on her. But when she looked back, she saw nothing.

Here’s hoping it really was nothing. She shivered and turned onto the main drag.

New World Order, Chapter Five: Superimposed (Belinda)

The clock on the dash read nine o’clock in the morning, like it enjoyed reporting such a disgusting fact. Belinda rubbed her eyes, exhaustion pulling at her. Jon opened the passenger door and she managed to get a more professional face on before he saw her.

“So. That’s Brock,” Belinda told him, craning around to see behind her as she backed the Prius out of the spot.

“He’s very accomplished as an artist,” Jon murmured, attention out the windshield.

Belinda got a flash of Brock standing with the teapot in his hands, his sweater somehow shrunk up to his nipples so the flat planes of his abs shown free. The vision started to get more salacious and she slammed on the breaks. “Enough!”

Jon’s brown eyes flashed at her. “Huh?”

He didn’t know! He had no idea what she’d just seen! Belinda swallowed. What was she supposed to say now? ‘I’m a psychic, and I know you want to have sex with my brother, but would you mind fantasizing about him when I’m not around?’

“Nothing,” she growled, annoyed. She pulled into traffic. Her mobile phone buzzed at her from inside her jacket and she jumped as though shot.

“What!” Jon cried.

“Relax, it’s my damned phone.” She fished it out of the pocket and thumbed the ‘answer’ button. “Gary.”

“It’s me.” Sandillo never announced himself by name, just assumed the person on the other end would know who it was. “There’s been a development. Where are you?”

“Leaving Brock’s. I was about to go home.” ‘To sleep,’ she didn’t add.

“You’re driving?”

“Yes.”

“Hand the phone to your partner. You know you should have the speaker on.”

“I just got in the car!” she protested. She handed the phone to Jon. “It’s Sandillo. He won’t talk to me while I’m driving.”

The look on Jon’s face showed her he agreed with the Lieutenant. Some days, everybody’s a critic. She turned left, heading toward the station. She didn’t need extra-sensory perception to tell her that if Sandillo called now, they’d be wanted at the station. He didn’t do ‘casual.’

Jon pulled a small, immaculate notepad encased in a red leather sleeve out of his inside jacket pocket and started writing with a gold Cross pen. She felt her eyebrows disappear into her hair. He asked cryptic questions and then hung up.

“Can you take us to North Shore Drive?”

“Yeah, why?” Belinda rubbed her cheek. “I was going to –”

“There’s been a homicide.”

She stopped at the next red light and stared at him. “Excuse me?”

“There’s been a homicide. Related to our case.”

“Are you joking? Who? We haven’t found all the owners, how do they know who was murdered?”

“Home insurance policy says, and the housekeeper knows what was taken.”

“Jesus. Who found the body?”

“Yeah.”

She shivered. Poor woman. “Where is it?”

“North Shore Drive near South Bedford. Sandillo said you’d know it. Dow Court?”

“Yeah. I’ve been through there. We’re about twenty minutes out. What else?”

“It’s messy. Killer clearly got interrupted, burglary gone bad.”

“Did they get away with the dagger?”

“Reports aren’t clear. The owner really didn’t want them to get it, put up a helluva fight. They haven’t found it missing for sure yet, but probably. If he’d had a gun or any training, instead of just a baseball bat, this might have ended a lot differently.”

She smirked. Easy to tell where he came down on the whole home defense issue; no bias there!

“What’s so amusing?”

Crap. He’d been watching her. “Nothing, exactly. I’m just amused because you’re so pro-gun, self-protection and stuff. Member of the NRA?”

“Yes.” His tone sounded defensive.

“Relax, I’m just teasing you.”

When she glanced at him, she got a flash of a body on the floor, disarranged and half-naked, blood everywhere. It filled her mind so much she almost missed the red light.

“Belinda!”

She slammed on the brakes and skidded halfway into the crosswalk.

“What the fuck is the matter with you?”

“Nothing! I’m sorry!”

“Another stunt like that and I’m driving!”

Belinda felt the scarab outline, safe under gauze, tingle on her shoulder as it tried to protect her from danger. If they weren’t so close to the address she would switch and let Jon drive after all. Her shields were crap, from lack of sleep and stress; she knew better than to let herself be distracted while driving! She blinked and the image flashed in her mind’s eye again.

“Who died?”

“I don’t have the name; Sandillo didn’t know yet.”

“No, I meant…” She trailed off.

He stared at her, eyes wide and shocked. She watched the knowledge swim into his eyes. “What are you talking about?” His voice sounded breathy, submissive; not at all like the ‘tough cop’ voice he usually used around her.

“I saw a half naked body, on the floor, covered in blood. It was awful.”

His jaw clenched and the color drained out of his face. “What are you?”

“What?” She swallowed, mentally pushing away his fear and growing dread. “It’s nothing!”

“I haven’t told anyone about how I found him. Not anyone!”

“Was it your partner?”

He looked away, but not before she saw his lips tighten to a grim line.

Great, Belinda, fucking great. Dig at his scars. “Jon, I’m sorry. It’s none of my business.”

“Let’s just get to the damned crime scene.” His voice scalded her, hot and furious but contained, like an oven.

She wracked her brains as the light turned green, trying to figure out what to say. Nothing came to mind. Neither of them spoke the rest of the ride and when they pulled up behind one of the squad cars, he just unhooked his belt and got out. He didn’t slam the door, for which she was grateful since with his bulk, he could have dented it. He strode away without a backward glance.

Make that the third partner she’d lost in as many months. Gods!

She got out and locked the car, then followed in Jon’s wake. She caught sight of a sobbing woman, her silver hair caught in a bun but wisps all undone like an areole. Her face glowed red and splotchy with makeup that had run like a grotesque skin disease.

Jon and Sandillo faced off with one of the guys from Homicide. Just as Belinda saw him, he turned and stalked off.

Her partner, at least for now, rounded on Sandillo. “No fucking way!” His arms waved around. “My partner’s been working on this case for months, Lieutenant! You can’t let them pull it away from us now!”

“It’s not up to me, Taylor. The game’s different now. It’s a homicide. You know how this works.”

“Call my Captain! He’ll give it to us!”

Sandillo’s face darkened and he took a step forward.

Belinda walked up before he could speak. “Lieutenant.”

Sandillo’s gaze raked her and returned to her partner, but he said nothing.

“Please!” Jon pressed.

Sandillo whirled on his heel and strode away. Jon took one step to follow and Belinda grabbed his arm. “Don’t!”

“No!” He pulled on his arm.

She ‘borrowed’ some of Brock’s strength and tightened her grip, praying that her brother wasn’t in the middle of anything dire. “Let him go, I said.”

Jon’s rich brown eyes glared down at her, darker than they’d been a moment before but still chocolate. “What the hell?”

She shook his arm. “Just trust me. Leave him alone.”

He stepped forward, invading her personal space, and she let go of him. “One of these days, you and I are going to have a long conversation, Gary. Don’t ever grab me again.” He spun and walked after Sandillo.

Belinda watched him go, trembling. Her mobile buzzed and she jumped, heart thudding into her mouth. “Gary!” she snapped without looking.

“What the fuck, Bee?” Brock demanded. “I was washing dishes and broke my favorite – ”

“I can’t talk now,” she told him and snapped the phone closed.

~Don’t you hang up on me!~ she heard in her head.

She slammed her shields closed. “Dammit!”

As she walked up to Jon and Sandillo, they broke off their conversation and glared at her with identical expressions of irritation.

“What?” she asked, coming to a stop a few feet away.

“Homicide agreed to give you the case,” Sandillo growled. He glanced at Jon and then walked away from them, toward his car.

“Well?” she asked Jon.

He turned his back on her and walked off without answering.

Great. Just great.

New World Order, Chapter 4: Canvas of Skin (Brock)

Brock used turning and topping off his cup of chai to hide his expression from his twin and her observant new partner. He could feel their gazes like a pair of laser beams drilling into his back. His mind racing, Brock decided how much he could tell them.

He also wondered how he could shield from his sister to prevent her from discovering more. She could easily pick up things from the connection between them. He could only do it when they were touching. He understood their powers were different and balanced, but it bugged him how much better Belinda’s skill was. Perhaps he could get her to shield instead of him?
Realizing the solution to his dilemma, Brock took a long sip before turning. He strolled back to the table and a finger moved the crude sketch of the dagger.

“Who did this? It’s awful.”

“Probably not an artist up to your standards,” Belinda commented, rolling her eyes. “What do you know about it?”

“That I can draw you one better,” he informed them.

“And where have you seen it?” Jon asked.

The other man’s voice rumbled, low and strong. Brock’s gaze met the hard stare of the cop. Nothing submissive showed in the flat brown depths and he wondered if he had been wrong.

Brock hated being wrong.

He ignored the disappointment welling deep in his belly. The other man’s earlier submissive manner could have just been an attempt to downplay his huge size. Brock knew other people’s reaction to it, seeing it first-hand many times.

Of course, the other possibility was that Jon only played in the bedroom; a normally dominant man that chose to give control when the whim, or the right master, appealed to him. That idea caused Brock’s cock to twitch in his pants.

Belinda’s snort broke the stare off between him and her new partner.

“TMI,” she told him.

“What? He hasn’t told us anything,” Jon protested.

Brock smirked; secretly glad his twin had only read his lustful musings and nothing more.

He gestured to the bench. “I’ll talk while I work.”

Belinda glared at him and he blandly returned the look. He had already wiped it down earlier, knowing he was going to tat, but not who. Belinda’s appearance actually surprised him. She refused to be under his needle while they disagreed on matters. His fingers itched to put his mark and magic on her skin. It let him protect her and she resented that he felt that she needed it.

Nope, not his lone wolf, tough cop baby sister. Belinda wanted to prove she could stand on her own without her family and coven supporting her.

She stood, her chair scraping on the hardwood floor. Belinda stalked to the bench, everything in her manner proclaiming that she agreed under duress and only because she needed his help.

Brock ignored her attitude. As her big brother by seven minutes, it was his duty and right to protect her. Besides, he really wanted to see his design on the canvas of her skin.

Jon spoke up. “Do we really have time for this?”

“Trust me, it will be easier in the long run,” Belinda assured her new partner.

“Yes, I do like getting my own way,” Brock purred.

Belinda peeled off her shirt knowing that Brock wanted her back. While her black lacy bra was revealed he reached back to braid his hair out of the way. This caused his sweater to ride up again. An intent brown gaze examined his treasure trail and the flat plane of his belly, ignoring the curves of his sister’s breasts.

Brock might be wrong about whether Jon possessed submissive qualities, but the evidence proved the other man definitely like his own sex. With him at least being partly right about Jon and his sister needing his help, Brock’s morning was improving.

“Gloating is such a shallow emotion,” Belinda informed him.

He sat on his stool and rolled it closer; bringing his tray holding his gun along. Brock smoothed his palm along his waiting canvas, and ignored Belinda watching him over her shoulder from her now prone position.

“Yes, it is,” Brock agreed, smirking. It changed to a deliberately concerned expression. “So, how are you adjusting to a new partner?”

He accompanied the question with a slight mental nudge and hid his pleased reaction when her mental shields slid into place. He could almost ‘hear’ the echo of a clang. This was exactly what he hoped for. With her shields solidly up to block Brock she hampered her own ability to read his thoughts.

Now he could discuss the daggers and not worry about his twin discovering more than he wanted to reveal at this time.

Brock glanced at Jon and nodded his head towards the sofa. The studio ran the length of the brownstone with his drafting table near the front window to take advantage of the natural light. The middle part of the room held the discussion table and kitchenette and at the other end his chair also sat in spilled sunlight from the windows overlooking his back garden. Positioned close by Brock had placed a comfy sofa for his client’s companions. Seldom did one get a tattoo alone.

He watched with open pleasure as the larger man moved with fluid grace. A sharp punch on his upper thigh, too close to the proximity of his groin for comfort, reminded him of his waiting sister.

“Spill,” she informed him.

Ignoring her prompt, he cleaned the area with liquid soap and warm water before shaving it. He used a little pink disposable razor and then swabbed with alcohol. Pushing up the sleeves of his sweater, he felt Jon’s gaze on the colorful ink adorning his wrists and forearms.

Drawing the outline of his design on her skin Brock began. “There are several daggers that form a set.”

“We know that, Jolly.”

He frowned at Belinda. She didn’t need to refer to him by her personal nickname, ‘The Jolly Green Giant,’ in front of company.

“There are six of them. Five are identical. They look like the drawing, which is crappy, by the way. I’ll draw you a better one.”

“And just how do you know how it looks?” Jon repeated.

Brock grinned at the other man. Already he loved the low, growly tone Jon used sometimes.

“Wilfrieda is a member of the Madison Historical Society. As the oldest object in her small collection she’s shown it off to other members. She’s only had it less than a year. You’ll need it.”

“We should be getting the insurance photos any time now,” Belinda interjected.

“And they will be blurred or fuzzy; you know how magical items don’t want to be recorded by ‘modern means.’ Something will be wrong with them,” Brock reminded her.

Belinda remanded silent while Jon gave a disbelieving grunt. It seemed the practical detective did not ‘believe.’ Brock ignored the other man’s reaction. He examined the designed drawn on the smooth skin of his sister’s shoulder. He free-handed it, preferring not to use transfer paper this time, like he usually did. The sketches he labored over right before their arrival, now abandoned on his work table, were still fresh in his mind.

“Mirror. You likey?”

Belinda glanced over her shoulder to look at the scarab crouched on her left shoulder using the mirror placed on the ceiling for that purpose. Now she grunted, but Brock knew she hid her pleasure.

“No ink,” she cautioned him.

He rolled his eyes. “I’m not using up my canvas so soon. I’ve got years worth of art waiting.”

“You wish.”

“I know,” he retorted in true sibling fashion.

“It’s a bug,” Jon announced, interrupting their squabbling.

Brock blinked. The flowing lines of the scarab, the ancient Egyptian symbol for rebirth and protection, were so much more than a ‘bug.’ He did not appreciate the criticism of his choice or skill by the ignorant. A tense silence filled the spacious room after Jon spoke.

Jezebel’s plaintive meow broke it as the cat door flap swung shut behind her entrance. Her paws making soft patting sounds on the hardwood floor, she traversed the length of the long room to join them.

Her amber eyes begged as she circled and danced where she stopped nearby. Brock had trained her not to approach his actual work space and compromise the sterile setting. Her need to greet Belinda threatened those ingrained teachings.

Belinda crooned and Brock sighed and rolled away. His sister moved and ended up sitting on the floor, an ecstatic tortoise-shell feline in her lap. He grabbed the pot and topped off his mug and then moved to do the same for Jon. His mugs were oversized, painted and glazed by a fellow artist, but appeared tiny when cradled in the other man’s huge hands.

He wondered what they would feel like on his skin, warm and rough. He crowded close to the detective, letting his legs press against Jon’s while he purposely loomed over him. Brock wanted to straddle those thick thighs and sink down to sit on that large lap. To discover if the loose folds of the other man’s dress slacks hid a growing erection that would feel wonderful pressed against his ass.

“So, is Gilberto Balistreri also a member of the Historical Society?” his sister asked, interrupting his private fantasy.

Brock gave Jon a last smoldering look before backing away. The detective hurriedly sipped and gasped, the fresh chai hot and scalding. Brock added more to his sister’s mug before returning the pot to the warming plate.

After returning to his stool he answered her question. “Yes, Gilbert is always trying to impress Gran with his knowledge, as if making up for his lack of magic.” Brock frowned. “But, lately he’s been flirting with Wilfrieda. I thought he just gave up on the old bird and switched to a more obtainable objective.”

Belinda returned to her spot on the bench despite Jezebel’s plaintive sounds. Brock watched his pet notice an empty lap and make a bee line for it. The grunt Jon made as she leapt and landed on his groin make Brock wince.

“Sorry, I hope you like cats,” Brock commented.

“Have one of my own.” Jon’s fingers scratched under Jezebel’s chin and she began purring for him.

Ohhhh, did this man get better and better, Brock thought. He watched the detective’s large, calloused palm stroke the long, multicolored fur, almost envious of his pet. He felt his sister’s shields tighten against him and hid his smirk.

“Did you know that Mr. Balistreri also owned a dagger?”

That brought Brock’s attention back to the reason of their visit. “No, and I can’t believe that he never showed it off to Gran. So they both have been stolen and that drawing is of the esteemed Miss Greenlee’s dagger?”

“Perhaps your grandmother knew and chose not to share that information with you?” Jon said.

Both twins gave him a disbelieving look.

“I’m her favorite. She tells me everything. Even stuff I don’t want to hear about,” Brock clarified.

His sister grunted her agreement.

“Are they both okay?” He couldn’t believe he forgot to ask until now.

“Both slick jobs while the owners were away, only the pugs were scared,” Belinda replied.

“Well, the ‘boys’ do have delicate sensibilities.” Brock continued in a more serious vein. “Celtic legends claim that the daggers were a sword broken down, melted and re-smithed into the set. That’s why the last one to be found will be different, it is the original hilt.”

He picked up the gun and checked the depth of the needle’s penetration. Since no ink needed to be deposited below the epidermal level the taps would be shallower. Brock bent over, the familiar hum comforting him. He started the outline of the sacred beetle as he continued to talk. Pink dots bloomed where his needles tapped.

“Is the sword evil?” Jon asked.

Brock hid his grin. For someone that didn’t believe in magic the possibility of an inanimate object being evil revealed a lot.

“No, it just bestows power. Some claim that it is a soul sword, Gran might know more.”

Brock waited.

Belinda knew better than to sigh under his gun, but he could hear it in her voice. “Could you ask her next time you see her?”

“Oh, as a favor to you?”

Jon answered instead of his sister. “No, as a favor to the Madison Police Department. Unless you believe my questioning her would provide more results?”

Brock’s mind boggled at the idea of his grandmother being hauled in and put in one of those little rooms with the one-way mirrors. He knew his mental images were an exaggeration, based on the cop shows he and his twin watched growing up with Uncle Matt. He wondered if Gran’s one allowed phone call would be to him or the governor.

~Move the gun~ his sister advised, her voice a whisper in his mind.

His hand lifted as Belinda’s body convulsed with giggles. He couldn’t help joining her as Jon glowered at them. Somehow that made it funnier.

Wiping the tears streaming from his eyes, Brock realized how long it had been since he heard her laugh. Too long.

He wiped the skin one last time before framing the area with his fingers and pushing. Gently breathing on it, Brock said the incantation silently as the blood welled up.

“Done,” he told Belinda, leaning back.

She studied in the overhead mirror the outlined scarab formed of blood drops. They gleamed like tiny rubies on her back. She smiled at the result.

“And, yes, I will chat with Gran,” Brock volunteered.

When his sister’s smile extended to include him at his offer, Brock knew that this case would be the bridge rebuilt between them. He hoped the information he hid for now didn’t jeopardize that fragile foundation.

New World Order, Chapter 3: A Cup of Chai (Brock)

Brock stepped from the shower, steam billowing around him. Amelia sat vigil from her perch on the toilet seat. Her ears flattened at the moisture and she mewed worriedly. He went to her and scratched under her raised chin. She hissed at the dampness clinging to his fingers.

“You can relax, the shower didn’t eat me,” he reassured her.

With a look at feline disdain at his teasing she jumped down and left the bathroom. Brock grinned at her final tail twitch. Though not his familiar, her emotions were still easy for him to decipher.

As he toweled his long body dry he noticed again his sense of anticipation. After running a comb through his long hair he left it loose to air dry. He knew work awaited him today, his fingers fairly itched; but he decided against braiding his hair back. Instead, he tossed the damp towel away and strode naked to his closet.

He pulled on his favorite low-waist jeans. The worn denim faithfully hugged his lean hips. His hand hesitated over the sweater. Brock loved the feel of the chenille and his fingers stroked it as he considered. The shade flattered him, the rich forest green making his hair more honey blonde. The fit, though, left much to be desired. Its width wider than needed, he felt it made him look too bulky. In Belinda’s opinion, fat; but he ignored that. He excelled at ignoring his twin.

Its length, also, was too short; the hem didn’t quite reach the top of his pants. It bared a circumference of skin and drafts whipped under it. Still, he kept it. Fondness for the color and for the knitter, one of his grandmother’s bosom buddies, assured its place in his closet.

For some reason it felt important to look his best. He did not possess the high degree of intuitiveness of his twin, but he learned to listen to the whispers he could hear.

From the depths of his closet he unearthed heeled cowboy boots. The inches added to his considerable height of six five. Again, he followed his inner urging.

He grabbed a banana and put fresh kibble in the cat dish, nimbly sidestepping the feline stampede. Humming, he clomped down the stairs to his studio. Earlier he checked his book, no appointments were written down. He did not do walk-ins. Checking the front window he frowned. Its bare, unadorned glass looked out onto the quiet street.

Sometimes hopeful customers left drawing of artwork taped to his window for him to consider. If he deemed it worthy of his time and talent he called.

Peeling the fruit, he slid onto the high stool in front of his drafting table. Brock began sketching the tattoo and waited for its future canvas to appear.

The slamming of the car door interrupted his concentration. The slam sounded forceful and he looked up. His lips curved into a grin upon seeing the sky blue Prius. Through the glass his twin’s glare speared him. He let his smile grow to a smirk.

She needed his help.

Brock did not use his meager intuitive abilities to reason this conclusion. Their fight over her plan to miss their Samhain celebration assured avoidance for least another week, perhaps even until their birthday in November.

Ergo, she needed something from him.

A puzzling thought marred his smugness. Why would he feel the urge to dress up for his sister?

The large male who uncoiled from the passenger side answered that. A large, handsome, yummy looking male. One muscled enough that Brock could collapse upon him and not worry about crushing after a vigorous bout of sex. And vigorous it would be, Brock concluded happily.

He let his smile turn more sensual as the stranger stared in at him through the window. Belinda stomping around the car to his door Brock easily ignored. He waited, hearing the beeps and muttered cursing. After a few moments his sister strode in.

“You couldn’t get up and let us in, your royal highness? The door was locked.”

“And you need the practice of figuring out my alarm code, sister dear, before all your talents wither away like your sex drive.”

The fact that her answer only consisted of a scowl alerted Brock that she really need his help. He decided not make her visit easy. He had noted immediately she wore her hazel contact. Brock hated that, and she knew it. She felt it put others at ease while the flat color that did not change with the subtlety of her natural one unnerved him. There was nothing wrong with not being ‘normal.’ A subject they constantly disagreed on.

Waiting for her to reveal the reason for her visit, Brock slid from his stool and stretched. The time spent bent over working stiffened his back. As his tall frame arched, he noted the other man’s reaction. Faint surprise lighted the brown eyes surveying him.

Brock guessed that his own height triggered it. The other man stood around six foot three and, with the boot heels adding to his own six five, Brock stood taller. He was sure that Belinda’s new friend did not find many taller than himself.

The following behavior especially intrigued him. Most males, upon finding another physically larger, puffed themselves up. This man actually slouched instead, making himself appear smaller. That combined with the lingering look at his bared navel while he stretched, made Brock smile again.

A submissive, gay giant.

How the Goddess blessed him today.

He spied the folders held against the enormous chest, under the rolled- forward shoulders. The paperwork the man held for his sister while she fiddled with the keypad.

Belinda seemed to remember her manners and waved a hand. “Jon Taylor, this is my brother, Brock. Brock, my new partner.”

Brock hid his relief. Though he wished this scrumptious piece of manhood was not a cop, his sister did need another partner. Jon did not look like the type to fold under his sister’s vile mood swings. Despite his manner now, when he had first climbed from the car the cop’s carriage radiated self confidence and purpose.

Brock strode forward, his boots causing his steps to echo on the hardwood floor. He stopped a little too close, making Jon look up at him. He saw the widening of the milk chocolate gaze when it met his. He knew his own mismatched eyes, one pale blue and other hazel, startled the cop, but that was the only reaction. When he shook the warm hand of the other man he let his grip linger.

Belinda sighed loudly behind him.

“I doubt you dropped by just visit,” Brock commented. Or to introduce me to my future lover, he added silently.

“I have a case that you might be interested in.”

Brock turned and grinned. That sounded so much better than asking for his help and gave his sister a mental point. He waved further into the long room. A small round table and a deep couch both waited. She chose the table and pulled out a chair.

“Then let’s get to work,” Brock told Jon.

Jon followed him, Brock’s smile widening at the precise two pace distance from his heels. He met Belinda’s knowing gaze with a smirk. At the table the other man straightened and handed the files to Belinda. Brock noted with disappointment that the other man was ‘all cop’ now.

Against the wall a small kitchenette counter held needed fuel for his late night designing. At some point during the morning he must have started a pot of Chai. Brock poured the fragrant liquid into mugs and brought them to the table, now covered with photos and paper.

Belinda wrapped her hands around it and sniffed. Jon did the same, but his seemed prompted by suspicion and not pleasure. Brock sipped his while still standing. Looming over them annoyed his sister and seemed to subtly turn on his future bedmate. He looked down and spied the rough drawing.

Crap, the case concerned the daggers.

New World Order, Chapter Two: Sibling Rivalry (Belinda)

Belinda sat back and rubbed her chin. Her caseload sat on the left side of her desk, labels facing toward her, so she could see them. She knew the one she should look at, but truth to tell, she didn’t want to deal with a new partner on it.

“So, whatcha got?” Jon asked, leaning back in the chair and watching her. His milk chocolate brown eyes seemed penetrating and very serious, a lot more intelligent than a moment before.

She wasn’t going to be able to fool this one easily.
“I have a few to look at,” she told him. She slid the main case file onto her desk blotter and handed over the stack of the rest of them. “I’ll be right back, I need to powder my nose.”

He nodded, examining the labels. She walked out to the hall and slipped into the ladies’ room, grateful no one else used it. She washed her hands and then ran the cold water. It felt good on her face, chasing away memories of Monica’s blue eyes. ‘Blue’ didn’t really describe them; it was the kind of shade a lake turned just before a rain, deep, dark and shadowed, but very, very blue.

She turned away from the mirror, scrubbing at the tears angrily. “Get a grip, Belinda,” she snarled at herself. “And pick a new word for ‘blue.’” She nearly ripped the door off the hinges but managed to school her features to a polite mask by the time she got back to her desk.

The Balistreri file wasn’t on her blotter.

“What’s the deal with this one?” Jon asked, the file in his hands. He had the crime scene photos spread in front of him.

“You just take without asking?”

He shrugged. “I can see why you don’t want to share, new partner and all. But this saves time.” He glanced at her and it seared her to her toes. “Trust is earned, not guaranteed. On both sides.”

She swallowed and sat down. “Fine. You’re right. I didn’t want to share.” She inhaled deeply, trying to clear her thoughts and focus. Her eyes fell on her keys. “Look. You want to get out of here?”

He cocked his head and then slipped the photographs back in the file. “Yeah.”

“I’ll drive.”

She grabbed the second file, the related theft, and her purse. He followed her, his strides long enough that she’d have to jog to keep up but he didn’t move as fast as he must normally go. He just paced next to her, content to let her set the speed.

Interesting. After the little stunt with the file, she didn’t expect him to let her ‘drive.’

He held the door for her and they walked outside into the Madison air, chilly with the onset of Autumn but not yet cold. She led the way around the side of the building to the parking lot where she left her Prius.

“So, what’s the deal with Balistreri?”

She shivered, nipples tightening in a sudden gust of chill air. “Don’t say his name out here, please.”

He glanced at her, startled. “You’re serious?”

“Very. Get in the car, it’s the blue Prius.”

He folded himself into her tiny automobile, surprisingly compact for a man of his bulk.

“These are roomier than I thought,” he grunted as she got in.

She shrugged. “My brother fits in it just fine.”

“Your brother your size?”

“No, yours.”

He seemed impressed by that. “Older? Younger?”

“Twins, actually.” Why were they discussing Brock? It just reminded her she was mad at him. “Can we get back to the case please?”

“Sure.”

Belinda pulled the case file out and put it in his lap, then pulled out of the lot and headed for the edge of town. She figured they could find a park and talk there, look at the trees instead of stare at blank walls. Maybe it would wake her up.

“Mister Gilberto Balistreri owns an antique shop downtown. Been there for years, very successful,” Belinda told him. “Shows up to work last week and finds something missing.”

“Something? Not several somethings?” He spoke without looking at her, thumbing through the papers.

“You’re quick,” she purred. “Just something. A dagger, to be specific. Only, it’s not just any dagger. But he’s been really cagey about what, exactly, it is. Which is where we come in.”

He thumbed through the file to her notes on the dagger. “‘Eight inches long, two wide at the base, sharpened on both sides, folded steel…’ What the hell is ‘folded steel?’”

“Very magical,” she answered. “It’s a technique of creating very strong metal in the forging process, and there are all sorts of legends about them. Sometimes called Damascus steel, it’s said to have magical properties.”

“Like what, witchcraft?”

She shrugged. “Some say.”

“What does Balistreri say?”

“Nothing. Refuses to meet with me.”

He turned to stare at her, his eyes wide. “Pardon me?”

“He’ll only talk to Sandillo,” she confirmed. “Says he won’t deal with ‘the help.’ Has enough clout to make it stick, too. Knows the mayor, a bunch of important people in town, the usual.”

He whistled. “Was the item insured?”

“It wasn’t in the shop for sale,” she told him, eyes twinkling. “It was in his own personal collection.”

“Not listed on the home insurance?”

She shook her head. “He had it in the shop, but he won’t say why.”

He digested that while they drove. She pulled into the parking lot overlooking Lake Mendota and cut the engine.

“This is gorgeous,” Jon said after a moment of staring, wide-eyed, out the windshield.

She smiled, touched. “I like coming here to think. It’s peaceful.”

“No kidding!” He blinked and seemed to pull himself back into the car, looking down at the papers in his lap. “So. Balistreri won’t talk to you. He has a rare dagger but doesn’t put it on his insurance… Do you think he’s had it for a while?”

“There are six in existence. One is missing and has been since eighteen forty-three. One of the others is owned by… it says in the file…”

“Mrs. Wilfrieda Kincaid?” he asked.

“That’s the one. One was in Mr. Balistreri’s possession.”

“Provenance?”

“Says he can produce it, but hasn’t yet.”

He whistled again. “Do you think it was stolen?”

She felt her eyes widen. “You mean, maybe he was fencing it? I honestly hadn’t thought of that…” Mr. Balistreri didn’t seem like the type to do that, but you never knew about people. “It’s a possibility.”

He thumbed through to the other file. “And what about Mrs. Kincaid?”

She sighed. “Poor old thing got a fright. Home invasion, but she wasn’t home. Convinced her little dogs were disturbed.”

Jon eyed her with a grin in his eyes, but he didn’t laugh outright. The warm chocolate seemed like syrup, rich and friendly. He sure had a good ‘good cop face.’ She wondered how genuine it was.

Since she had an expression similar to it, she figured it wasn’t very.

She cleared her throat and looked back at the lake, watching a duck flap heavily up from the surface and take off toward the far shore. “Their names are Mr. Churchill and Franklin D.”

His brows drew down. “Who?”

“The two pugs.”

His eyes widened. “You’re joking.”

“Do I look like I’m joking?” She laughed. “Mrs. Kincaid’s a widow. Mr. Kincaid died a few years ago, but she kept the dogs for company and to bark at the neighbors. She spoils them rotten. She got home and found the dagger missing. Nothing else was disturbed, not the jewelry, the television or home entertainment equipment, computer, nothing. Just the dagger missing.”

“Insured?”

She nodded. “The file’s coming from the agent, but it won’t get here for another day or two.”

“So that leaves two more.”

“Nancy is looking them up for me. I’ll introduce you, she’s our research associate and all around fix-it lady.”

“Ah,” he nodded sagely. “Bring her chocolates, flowers and concert tickets.”

“She likes dark chocolate, yellow gladioluses, and Elton John.”

He chuckled. “Thanks for the tip.”

She hesitated. Jon hadn’t seen the part in the file about her ‘nameless’ informant. She knew her brother could help her, could tell her more about the daggers and their magic. But the problem lay with the fact it was police work, and Brock Gary wasn’t a cop. Wasn’t anything like a cop, and didn’t really like the police service to begin with.

Lord knew, he threw it in her face often enough.

“What aren’t you saying?” Jon asked, startling her.

“You’re good,” she grumbled.

He shrugged. “Just tell me.”

Or what? she almost asked, but didn’t. “Fine. I think I may know someone who can help us, but he’s not part of official channels.”

“Who?”

“My brother, Brock Gary. He’s a Wiccan priest and knows a lot about magical artifacts.”

Jon studied her. “And you think he knows something about Balistreri?”

“I think he knows something about the daggers. See, the legend is, there are six daggers, with all sorts of magical properties. A lot of it is fairy tales and hokum, but if two of the daggers really exist…”

“He have expertise in this area?”

She nodded. “He’s a tattoo artist. One of the best in the Midwest, actually,” she admitted grudgingly. “He’s interested in all sorts of the occult.”

“Can you trust him?”

“Of course!” she snapped, anger filling her so fast it startled her.

“Easy,” he soothed. “I’m just saying, you seem to want to hide this whole case from me, and then not tell me you wanted to see him.”

“That’s not why,” she told him. She looked out the driver’s side window. “I’m mad at him.”

“Why?”

“What does this have to do with the case?”

“If he knows you’re mad, he might not tell the truth. And if you’re mad, you may not be thinking clearly, and you’re giving confidential information to a civilian.”

“I know my job, Detective.”

“So why bring the case file? Why not just interview him?”

She sighed and looked back. “You always this pushy?”

He nodded, but didn’t say anything. Just waited.

Jerk.

“Fine,” she snapped, annoyed. “I need to have all the information or he may not be able to help. Psychic ability isn’t like science. If I leave something out that’s important, he won’t be able to get the whole picture. I’ve involved him before, Sandillo knows about it.”

“Then why isn’t he on the department’s list of experts?”

She stared at him, flabbergasted. “My brother?”

“Yeah.”

Because he’d kill me? she thought, but didn’t say. “He’ll only talk to me.”

He sniffed and leaned back in his seat, staring out over Lake Mendota. “So, an informant.”

“Yes, exactly!”

“Why didn’t you just say that then?”

She flushed. Good question.

His eyes caught hers again, utterly serious. “I looked up your file, Gary. I know about Monica.”

She got ten feet away from the car before the tears spilled down her cheeks. She walked, steps quick and tense, until she came up to a picnic bench. She just stopped in front of it, back rigid. The trees in front of her wavered and jumped in her vision.

A car door behind her slammed and then a second one. She must have left her door open. He made no sound as he walked up.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured.

She said nothing. Truth to tell, she wasn’t sure her voice would work right that second.

“Look. When I got assigned, I had no idea what I walked into. Sandillo’s got a reputation for playing things close to his vest. So I researched you and the team. I don’t mean to dig up the past.”

“But you did.” Her voice came out hoarse and low, hardly sounding like her at all.

“I get why you don’t want to trust me, Belinda. But if you give me a chance, we can solve this case.”

She glanced at him. A crease between his brows formed as he watched her, though he didn’t quite frown. She could feel his earnestness radiate from him, but then the window in her mind opened and she saw more than she wanted to. He’d had a partner once too, but watched him die in the street.

She didn’t bring it up, no matter how much she wanted to throw it in his face. “Fine. Can we just get back to the case?”

“Yeah.”

Neither of them spoke on the way to the car and got in silently. He picked up the files and thumbed through. “So you think these daggers are magical in some way?”

“Yeah. I have a sketch of one of them.”

He pulled a sketch out of the pile. “This it?”

She nodded. “Yeah. I found that from a book written in eighteen forty-three by a wealthy society lady here in Madison.”

“Wait. Isn’t that the year…”

“The other dagger went missing. Yup. That’s the one.”

“‘Constance Greenlee,’” he read. “Scary looking lady.”

Belinda nodded. Miss Greenlee, not Ms., died a spinster at the ripe old age of ninety-four – not notable by modern terms, but an eternity in the pre-Civil War years. She dressed all in black, from her bonnet to her skirts, and the lines on her face all pointed downward – not a smile line among them. She didn’t look unhappy, precisely, more that she believed life cheated her of something rightfully hers. No, Miss Greenlee didn’t seem unhappy, so much as angry. Angry and calculating, as she glared at the camera such that Belinda could feel it more than a century later.

She shivered and rubbed her arms. “So. I was going to go see Brock before I called it quits,” she announced.

Jon blinked. “What, now?”

“Now.”

He studied her. “Well. Why are we parked then?”

It took a moment, but she felt her grin appear. Jon smiled back and the look in his eye matched hers: calculating, challenging, and altogether energized.

Maybe coffee could wait. She started the Prius and pulled back onto the road, headed for Brock’s house.

New World Order, Chapter One: The Hunkman Cometh (Belinda)

“Hey, Lieutenant,” Belinda Gary called. She handed her sidearm through the slot to the waiting Sergeant and turned to greet the tall Latino. “You’re up late.”

“You got a minute?” Lieutenant Sandillo spoke with no trace of a Spanish accent, though she knew he was fluent.

“Yeah, let me drop my stuff at my desk. Your office?”

He nodded and pivoted on his heel. She watched him go, bemused. Least he could do is pretend he knew how to talk to other people.
She walked over to her steel desk, the light blue color faded to an indeterminate grey. The window looked out on the parking lot, but at least she got natural light. She adjusted the Venetian blinds to let in a little more of the pre-morning light. She’d been up past dawn.

Again.

She stifled a yawn and looked longingly at her car keys. Instead, she headed to Sandillo’s office.

Guillermo Sandillo wore his habitual black suit, white dress shirt, and thin black tie. He never seemed aware of the seasons, preferring to wear his suit in any situation. Occasionally, and very occasionally at that, he would consent to remove the suit jacket, but she could count the times she’d seen it on one hand. Without using her thumb.

“Hey, Lieutenant.”

“Close the door, please.”

She did so and sat on one of the hard metal chairs in front of his desk. Nothing cluttered its surface besides a phone and black laptop, closed now, its cord snaking off to the right. As she watched, he retrieved a single case file from a drawer and set it in the precise center of the desk. She glanced at it, but his hand covered the label.

“You have a new partner.”

It took her a minute to process what he said, then she shot to her feet. “Oh no. You aren’t going to foist some rooky on me, Lieutenant! Not like the last time. I work just fine –”

“Belinda.”

It wasn’t loud, but she stopped mid-sentence and stared at him, chest heaving. “What?”

He tented one long-fingered hand on the top of the folder. “He’s not a rooky.”

She chewed her bottom lip and then sat down. “Fine. So tell me about him.”

“He’s on loan from Chicago. Homicide. One of their best undercover men.”

“If he’s so good, why’d he leave?”

“Mandatory two-year rotation.”

She felt her eyes widen. Only team that had a mandatory rotation like that worked serial crimes unit. The profilers and their ilk. “He’s a profiler?”

The lieutenant inhaled and lifted one shoulder in a partial shrug. “Not exactly. Close enough for us. But he’s got a good record and we can use him.”

Superstition pricked her and she tamped it down. Just because the lieutenant may have implied there’d be more murders for the Investigative Unit to deal with, didn’t make it so. No matter what her brother might have to say about it.

At the thought of her brother, anger swelled in her chest. They’d argued again over the upcoming Samhain holiday. He wanted her there to celebrate with him, but she wanted no part of it. She wanted to be normal, dammit.

A light knock interrupted her reverie and she realized she’d missed the Lieutenant’s last comment. His gaze intensified in annoyance, but he said nothing and stood to greet the newcomer.

Her new partner.

She turned and looked up. And up. She finally got out of her chair, intimidated by the huge leviathan that swam in. At least six-three, maybe six-five, he was a big son-of-a-buck. Probably bigger than her brother, a part of her mind noted smugly. A thatch of silvery brown hair flowed to his shoulders in loops and waves, but his chiseled jaw saved him from being effeminate.

As though anyone that big could be ‘effeminate.’

“Lieutenant Sandillo. I’m Jon Taylor, from Homicide.”

“Good to meet you,” Sandillo responded. He moved around his desk so he could shake hands, and then turned to Belinda. “This is Sergeant Belinda Gary, your new partner.”

His eyes fell on her, a shade of brown just this side of milk chocolate. His grip, when he shook her hand, felt firm but not too strong, though his hand engulfed hers like a catcher’s mitt.

She had the irreverent thought, ‘you know what they say about a man with big hands and big feet.’ She turned to retrieve her cup of coffee and to cover the slight blush covering her cheeks. She turned back, in control of herself. “It’s good to meet you.”

“Madison coffee better than Chicago coffee?” he asked, eyebrow raised.

She laughed outright. “Doubt it.”

He grinned, teeth very white. “Sounds perfect.”

“I’ll show you where it is.”

She could feel Sandillo’s eyes on her back as she left and resisted the urge to rub the back of her neck. God damned psychism just had to flare up now. She tried to close the window in her mind but knew the Lieutenant watched her, wondering about her former partner Monica Carlyle and whether Belinda could learn to deal with this one.

The fact her last partner died a gruesome death on their last case colored his thoughts, though he didn’t bring it out to examine.

Not the way she did, every night, in her dreams.

She nearly spilled coffee on herself at that thought, but managed to get the liquid in the cup with only a quick swipe of the towel required. They’d given her two different rookies after that, to “test out” the waters. Both were abysmal failures, one even drummed out of the service entirely.

She hauled her mind back to business. “How do you like your coffee?” Belinda asked the man-mountain hulking beside her.

“Strong and bitter.”

“Like you like your women?” she quipped.

He eyed her, but said nothing. She got a sudden flash of a naked man, Chippendale dancer style, and nearly choked on her coffee.

“You all right there?” he asked.

“Yeah, I’m fine. Let’s go look over our case file, shall we?”

He nodded and followed her to her desk. She pointed at Monica’s old desk standing back to back with hers, so they could sit facing each other, and tamped down the memory of Monica’s blue eyes dancing as they discussed music and men. She cleared her throat.

“You can sit there, it’ll be your desk now.”

“Thanks.” He set the coffee down. Monica’s chair creaked under his weight but didn’t collapse under him.

Shame, really.