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Two women. One terrible crime. Zero allies.
After being raped by a superior officer, MA3 Kim Lockhoff wants to leave the whole thing in the past. A cop herself, she knows all too well that it’s her word—and slutty reputation—against that of a respected Navy officer.
MA2 Reese Marion, a tough cop hiding her own trauma behind a hard-as-nails exterior, has no patience for pretty little princesses who use their cleavage to win favor with the guys. But when Reese is partnered with Kim, she slowly realizes that reputations can lie. Kim is whip-smart, ambitious—and scared. The man who attacked her won’t let anything damage his career, least of all Kim . . . or the baby she’s carrying as a result.
Isolated on Okinawa, thousands of miles away from home, the two women lean hard on each other. But when Kim confides in Reese, she unwittingly puts her new lover—and both of their careers—in the line of fire. Now her attacker just might have the leverage he needs to keep her quiet for good.
Finalist: Best Lesbian Contemporary Romance in the 2015 Rainbow Awards!
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.
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The door flew open, letting a gust of Okinawa’s tropical wind into the air-conditioned front office of Naval Station White Beach’s security precinct.
The voice made my skin crawl. Gritting my teeth against a sudden wave of nausea, I looked up from the logbook I’d been updating. “Yes, Sir?”
The door banged shut behind Lieutenant Stanton as he took off his black-brimmed white cover. “My office.Now.”
My heart dropped straight into my boots. It didn’t help that the other three master-at-arms in the room had abruptly stopped talking. I thought I’d even heard their heads snap toward me.
This doesn’t concern any of you, I wanted to snarl at them. Instead, I swallowed hard and managed to croak, “Yes, Sir. I’ll be right there.”
Without a word, he walked past the communal desk where I was sitting. I eyeballed the trash can beside me, wondering if I should just give in to the nausea now or wait until I was in his office. Even the thought of heaving my lunch onto his spit-shined black shoes couldn’t relieve the tension in my gut, though.
“What the fuck was that about?” MA1 Gutiérrez barked from behind me.
I closed the logbook and then stood, but I couldn’t make eye contact with him, so I busied myself adjusting my bulky police belt, which sat uncomfortably on my hips and lower back. “I don’t know.”
Liar, liar . . .
“You don’t know?”
I couldn’t continue to avoid eye contact unless I wanted to get reamed for insubordination, so I lifted my gaze. I hated the meek sound of my voice as I replied, “No, MA1.”
Still hanging back against the wall, MA3s Keller and Barkley exchanged hushed words. Then they slipped out into the hallway connecting the shared office with the rest of the precinct.
Gutiérrez didn’t even seem to notice they’d gone—he was busy staring me down. “What the fuck is going on, MA3?”
I swallowed again. He wasn’t the type of lead petty officer who tolerated his people bypassing the chain of command. It was partly because it had a tendency to come back and bite him in the ass and partly because, well, what LPO wasn’t on a bit of a power trip? And in this case, as far as he knew, I was leapfrogging him, Chief, and Senior Chief and going straight to the security officer. I might as well have pissed in his coffee in front of the entire command.
“I don’t know, MA1.” I spoke through clenched teeth to keep from throwing up. Or letting them chatter. “He didn’t say.”
You were right there. You heard him.
Please don’t make me explain this.
Please, MA1 . . .
Gutiérrez’s eyes narrowed. “So the SECO is just randomly calling you in for a one-on-one?” He waved a hand toward Stanton’s office. “To chat about the weather?” The sarcastic undertone and the slightest lift of his eyebrow made my blood turn cold.
Did he know? If he did, then who else . . .
It took every bit of willpower I had not to glance to my left and make sure that trash can was still within reach. There was no point in breaking eye contact and giving myself away.
Right then, the phone on the desk rang. I almost jumped out of my skin. Gutiérrez rolled his eyes and gestured past me. “Answer that.”
Not that I liked being treated like a secretary—that had gotten old a week into being one of only three women in the precinct—but at least it gave me an excuse to turn away.
And that trash can was still where I’d left it. Noted.
“CFAO White Beach, MA3 Lockhoff speaking. How may I—”
“My office, MA3.” Stanton’s voice was a low growl. “Now.”
The line went dead.
I hung up the receiver and took a deep breath, telling myself my mouth wasn’t really watering. I wasn’t really going to get sick and—
Behind me, Gutiérrez sighed impatiently.
And I couldn’t stop it.
I dropped to one knee, grabbed the trash can with both hands, and vomited onto the crumpled papers and sandwich wrappers.
“Fuck!” Gutiérrez flew back a step as I threw up again. “What the hell?”
When I was sure nothing else would come up, I coughed and spat into the trash. “I’m sorry,” I croaked. My head was still spinning, and now my face was burning, too.
One of Gutiérrez’s boots appeared in my peripheral vision. Then the other. I closed my eyes, bracing for him to fly off the handle.
What I didn’t expect was a hand on my shoulder.
I cleared my burning throat and lifted my head, blinking my eyes into focus.
His expression had changed completely. All the sternness was gone; his eyes were wide and his forehead creased. I couldn’t remember seeing so much concern on his face before, especially not seconds after he’d been ready to read someone the riot act.
In a gentle voice, he asked, “You okay?”
I nodded and sat back on my heels. “Yeah. I should . . .” I gestured at the trash can. “Shit. I need—”
“Lockhoff.” When I looked up again, his eyebrows had pulled together. “Does this have something to do with why Stanton wants to see you?”
I let my face fall into my hands, and just as I couldn’t hold back the nausea a moment ago, there was no stopping the tears. Shame. Fear. Nerves. God, I couldn’t even put my finger on what it was. Could’ve been the fucking hormones for all I knew, but damn it, I wasn’t ready to surrender anything to them yet.
“Hey. Easy.” His voice was lower now, as if he’d knelt beside me. Then his arm was around my shoulders. “Take it easy.”
I got my shit together as quickly as I could and wiped my eyes. “I didn’t think anyone knew.”
Gutiérrez sighed. “Rumors are what they are. They’re—”
The phone on the desk rang again, startling me so bad I would’ve fallen if he hadn’t held me upright.
“Shit,” I whispered. “That’s Stanton. I need . . . I have to . . .”
“Just sit tight for a second.” He guided me back so I was sitting against the desk. Then he reached over me and lifted the phone off the hook. “CFAO White Beach Security, MA1 Gutiérrez, how may I help you, Sir or Ma’am?”
I didn’t hear Stanton’s voice. I felt it. It seemed to vibrate through the floor, across the desk, down from the walls, straight through my skin, and right to the bone.
“I understand, Sir,” Gutiérrez said. “I needed her to take care of an urgent— Understood, Sir. I’m sorry, Sir. Yes, Sir. She’ll be on her way in a moment, Sir.” Lieutenant Stanton snarled something and then went silent. A second later, Gutiérrez rolled his eyes and hung up the phone. “Jesus.”
I let my head fall back against the desk. “I’m so fucked.”
Great choice of words, Kim.Real cute.
Gutiérrez touched my arm again. “Do you need someone to go in there with you?”
Please. Please don’t make me do this alone.
But Stanton would kick him out in a heartbeat, and I didn’t have the balls to explain why I couldn’t face the Lieutenant by myself. I shook my head slowly. “No. I . . . I have to talk to him.” My eyes flicked toward the trash can. “Fuck. I should—”
“I’ll take care of that.” Gutiérrez helped me to my feet. “Give yourself a minute if you need to.” He nodded past me in the general direction of the ladies’ room across the hall. “I’ll get this squared away.”
“Thanks.” I forced a smile. His didn’t look much more genuine.
I went into the restroom and splashed some water on my face. My eyes were still a little red, and my makeup was jacked up, but there wasn’t much I could do about that, so I straightened my uniform and headed for Stanton’s office.
On the way there, I clenched my jaw. There couldn’t be much left in my stomach, but the nausea was back in full force. As long as Stanton was in the building, my guts would be on a hair trigger. It had been that way for the last week or two. No wonder the rumors were flying. One mad dash to the bathroom with a hand clapped over my mouth could be blamed on some ill-advised food or getting used to a foreign country’s cuisine. Maybe some hard drinking the night before. The guys got away with it, anyway.
A second sprint, especially if it happened before noon, wasn’t so easily explained.
And when a female third-class petty officer got called into the security officer’s office right now in between bouts of incriminating puking?
Yeah. That wouldn’t pour gas on the fire.
As I turned the corner at the end of the hall, I fought back tears as much as queasiness. By now, the names would be circulating. The boat ho without a boat.The shore-duty whore.The home-wrecking slut.
I paused outside Stanton’s door and wiped my eyes. None of them had a goddamned clue. None of them. Not even Gutiérrez.
I took another deep breath. I straightened my police belt again, just for something to do. Tugged at my blue digicam blouse. Pretended it wasn’t getting conspicuously tight on top.
I expected a terse, Come in.
Instead, the door opened, and . . .
And I was face-to-face with him.
Not Lieutenant Stanton, though.
Oh, sure, that was what the uniform said. The bars and ribbons, the gold insignia and the black lacquered name tag—to anyone else on the base, he was Lieutenant Stanton, Security Officer at Naval Station White Beach. The SECO, as we all called him. The man who answered to no one except the CO himself.
But the guy staring me down from six foot two with an expression carved in granite, he was someone I’d never met before. He wasn’t the SECO, and he wasn’t the bourbon-scented Call me Joel that had gotten me into this mess. This man was someone else entirely, and he scared the hell out of me.
He stood aside and jerked his head toward the office.
Every instinct I had screamed to run like hell, but he was a man with a long reach. If I ran away now, I’d have to come back sooner or later.
Don’t run from the police, my uncle had always joked when we’d watched Cops years ago. You’ll only go to jail tired.
I was tired enough. I was fucking exhausted.
So I didn’t run.
I lowered my gaze, and I walked past him into the tiny room. The air conditioner and the concrete walls kept the office cold enough to make me wish my sleeves weren’t rolled to just above my elbows. Goose bumps prickled my barearms, and the rest of my uniform—blue camouflage from neck to boot tops—did nothing to keep me warm.
Blinds cut across the window on the far side of the room, each hair-thin line emphasizing that the tropical paradise beyond was out of my reach. Palm trees fluttered in the wind, and at the other end of the parking lot and across the street, the turquoise water of Buckner Bay sparkled beside the White Beach pier. It was hot and humid out there, and just knowing that made me even colder.
The harbor-security boat bobbed on the waves, and I wished I’d taken the guys up on training out there today. The nausea wouldn’t have been as bad. I had damned good sea legs, and anyway, I’d have been out there instead of in here.
In here with him.
The man who made acid sting the back of my throat as he silently walked past me. We faced each other. He leaned against his desk, our eyes almost level now as his posture brought him down to my height. Slowly, he folded his arms, and I wondered if it was deliberate, the way he put his left hand on top of his right arm so his wedding ring caught the light.
I squared my shoulders. “You wanted to see me, Sir?”
He held my gaze. “When were you going to tell me?”
There was no point in being coy. I pulled in a breath. “I don’t know, Sir.”
An odd smile quirked his lips. “You don’t have to call me that right now, Kim. This is off the record. Personal.”
Apparently there was something left in my stomach, but I swallowed just in time to put it back where it belonged. God, he was almost Call me Joel again.
The smile lingered as he rose to his full height. He came toward me, but as he reached for my arm, I jerked it away.
The smile vanished. Instantly. The Mr. Hyde part of him was back, hardening his features and narrowing his eyes. “Kim, we—”
“MA3 Lockhoff,” I snapped. I was shivering from the inside out now. “Sir.”
His lips pulled into a thin line, and he withdrew his hand. “This is a serious . . . situation.”
Our eyes locked for a long moment. Then he was back to Dr. Jekyll, his face relaxing a little. The sociopath was gone for now. “I would have liked it if we could have taken care of the problem before people started catching on, but there’s—”
“Taken care of it?” I stared up at him.
He blinked. “Don’t tell me you were planning on keeping it.”
The truth was, I hadn’t planned on much of anything. I’d only known for the past few days. Suspected it for maybe ten.Been fucking scared to death and deep in denial for the last seven and a half weeks. Not that I’d been counting.
Planning? Future? None of that had even registered yet.
“I’m not aborting it.” I fucking hated how timid I sounded just then.
“Are you an idiot?” Welcome back, Mr. Hyde. He threw up his hands. “Kim, think about—”
“My name is MA3 Lockhoff.” My voice tried to break, but I kept it steady. Sort of.“Sir.”
He eyed me coolly. “Fine.MA3 Lockhoff.” He closed the distance between us, standing so close he could have touched me, but he didn’t. “Get it taken care of.”
And what if I don’t? I wanted to ask. What are you going to do? Order me to get an abortion?
But fear kept the air in my lungs and the words between my tightly clenched teeth. I broke our staring contest to blink—once, twice, again—and to keep him from seeing the tears that threatened.
They’re just hormones. I’m not afraid of him.
I am not afraid of him.
Little by little, his expression softened. “No one’s going to care. Girls in the Navy do it all the time.” He brought up his hand and touched my cheek. I wanted to bat away his warm, sickening caress, but I was paralyzed. “Rumors will spread, but as long as the problem goes away, people will forget about it. No one has to know the details.” The slight arch of his eyebrow emphasized the last part, and something so subtle had never been that menacing before.
No one will know the details, his eyes warned. Will they?
I gulped. No, Sir.
Because it’s going to be taken care of, isn’t it?
“I want it done discreetly. Preferably off-island.” He trailed his hand down my cheek, then over my jaw. As it went lower, the touch slowly became a grasp, his thumb across my windpipe and his long fingers around the side and back of my neck. “Drop a leave chit ASAP. Take a week. Two, if you need it. I’ll make sure the leave is approved.” His thumb ran up and down the front of my throat. “There are flights out of Kadena to Hawaii twice a week. Or go back to the States. I don’t care. Just”—another slow down-up—“get it done.”
I cleared my throat, which pushed it against his thumb. “Yes, Sir.”
He smiled. Really smiled.Call me Joel smiled. His hand left my neck and went back up to my face, and the other one cupped my other cheek. “Take my advice and everything will be okay, Kim. Don’t worry about a thing.”
He leaned in like he was about to kiss me, but I stopped him with a hand to his chest and turned my head. I could feel the sudden rage in his posture, so I quickly murmured, “I was . . . sick. Before I came in here.”
That gave him pause. He settled on kissing my forehead, which was marginally less nauseating than a full-on kiss.
Then, thank God, he drew back. “I’ll expect that leave chit on your LPO’s desk first thing in the morning.”
I stepped into the precinct and exhaled as the cold air hit my face. The air-conditioning in my patrol car was broken, so walking into this place was a huge relief. Even if I didn’t feel like handling whatever bullshit my boss had called me in off patrol to deal with, it got me out of the heat and humidity for a little while.
MA3 Weiss, my partner, fanned himself with his cover. “Man, it’s too fucking hot out there, but I’m going to go have a smoke.”
“Go for it. I’ll be out as soon as I’m done with whatever MA1 wants.”
“That was fast, MA2,” Alejandro—MA1 Gutiérrez to everyone else—said as he stepped into the room.
I shrugged and dropped my cover on the communal desk. “We were just up by the gate. Not too—” I paused when I noticed the wastebasket in his hand and watched him set it down. “Chief’s got you on trash detail, boss man?”
He smirked, but it quickly faded. He toed the wastebasket closer to the desk, as if he wanted it as far away from himself as possible. “Listen, uh . . . I need a favor.”
Oh, for fuck’s sake. Another one? Feigning infinite patience, I smiled. “What do you need?”
He glanced over his shoulder at the door leading to the hallway. When he faced me again, he lowered his chin and his voice and said, “It’s about MA3 Lockhoff.”
Forget faking patience. I groaned. “Now what?”
Usually, he’d have chuckled. He knew how much I hated being the go-to girl when other females in the command couldn’t get their shit together in this male-dominated environment. For some reason, he expected me to be the mother hen for all these chicks. Specifically, the mother hen who’d grab wayward girls by the hair, dunk their faces in a nice bucket of reality, and teach them how not to set gender equality back ten years every time they opened their goddamned mouths. Or legs, as it were.
Alejandro always thought it was entertaining as hell, watching me straighten out girls who had no business in the Navy, never mind as cops. Especially when the girl in question was a vapid twit like MA3 Lockhoff. The kind who used her pretty little smile and her pretty not-so-little tits to bend every man on the island to her cute little will. MA3 Lockhoff was one of the reasons we got emails before every formal event reminding the female service members to please not dress like whores this time. Women like her drove me insane, and Alejandro lived to watch them do it.
Today, though, he wasn’t joking. The tension in his neck and between his eyebrows hadn’t been there this morning, and he only pressed his lips together like that when he was deathly serious.
I cocked my head. “What’s going on?”
He hesitated, then gestured for me to follow him. We stepped across the hall into the office he shared with MA1 Harris, who wasn’t there, and he shut the door.
“Alejandro, what’s going on?” I practically whispered it, and not just because I didn’t want anyone hearing us on a first name basis.
He cradled his elbow in his hand and chewed his other thumbnail. “You’ve, uh, probably heard the rumors, right?”
“Which ones?” I struggled to keep the sarcasm out of my voice. “Rumors have been going around like crazy ever since she checked in.” She’d been at the command for six months, and I was pretty sure she’d fucked her way through the barracks, a couple of off-base apartments, and the temporary lodging on both the White Beach and Kadena bases for good measure.
“Yeah, well.” He exhaled hard. “She got sick during PT yesterday. And at a meeting the other day. And”—he gestured back at the office we’d just left—“today.”
“Got ‘sick’? As in . . .”
I covered my face with one hand. “Oh Christ. Please tell me she just can’t deal with the heat.”
“It gets better.”
I looked at him through my fingers.
He rubbed the back of his neck. “Were you at Senior Chief O’Leary’s retirement?”
I wrinkled my nose and dropped my hand. “Unfortunately. I don’t think I’ll ever get the taste of his wife’s potato salad out of my mouth.”
No humor. Not even the faintest laugh. Jesus. What the hell was going on?
Alejandro swallowed. “She was, uh, flirting. With a lot of the guys.”
“That’s news,” I muttered.
Alejandro lowered his gaze, and his voice was barely audible. “I saw her leave with Lieutenant Stanton.”
My heart stopped. “Oh my God. Stanton? Really? Didn’t he have his wife with him that night?”
He shook his head. “Not that time. I think she was off-island. Or something. I don’t know. But I saw him and MA3 getting a little, uh, cozy, and the—”
“And no one said anything?” I huffed sharply. “He’s how many pay grades above her?”
“And they’re both of age,” Alejandro snapped. “Remember, every goddamned person at that barbecue wanted to make rank eventually. You really think any of us were getting between him and a piece-of-ass du jour?”
I said nothing. Wouldn’t I have done the same thing if I’d seen them? Of course I would have. If I didn’t get promoted in the next couple of cycles, my Navy career was over, so stepping in between two consenting adults—even if they were drunk off their asses, which I had no doubt they were—when it meant career suicide? Not a chance.
“So what do you want me to do?” I asked. “That was weeks ago.”
“Yeah.” He looked me straight in the eyes. “About, oh, not quite eight weeks ago.” He gestured at the door again. “And now MA3’s getting sick all over the office.”
The pieces came together in my head.
“Oh God.” I put a hand over my mouth. “Oh my God.”
“Yeah.” He ran his fingers through his short hair. “She’s in his office right now. He called her in right before I called you. And he is not happy.”
“I don’t imagine he is. His wife is going to skin him alive.”
“I’m a little worried about her, to be honest. Lockhoff, I mean.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Why?”
“She was a mess.” He grimaced. “Not just because she was sick. I mean, she was fine this afternoon right up until Stanton came into the precinct. Quieter than usual, but fine. Then he shows up, tells her to come into his office, and suddenly she’s shaking like a leaf.”
“Wouldn’t you be?” I shrugged and folded my arms across my blouse. “If I had to tell Stanton I was having his kid, I’d be a wreck, too, and not just because I’d let that creep put his dick in me.”
He still didn’t laugh. “Listen, I know I’m always asking you to help the new girls get their shit straight, but this time, I think she really needs someone.”
“Alejandro . . .”
“Please.” He spoke even softer now. “I might be imagining things, but my gut feeling is she could really use some support right now.”
I pressed the tip of my tongue to the roof of my mouth, fighting the urge to roll my eyes again. “You want me to support her? When she’s gotten herself into a stupid situation like that?” I shook my head. “You know damn well I’m liable to tell her how it is and make her cry. I can’t even put up with the other girls using their periods to get out of PT. You really think I’m the best person for this?”
“I can’t think of anyone else, Reese,” he whispered. “I know you don’t have any patience for girls getting themselves into shit situations, but you’ve got your head together and your feet on the ground. Just . . . talk to her. Make sure she’s all right and let her know you’re there if she needs you.”
“And what am I supposed to say if she wants my sympathy for getting into this mess?”
Alejandro blew out a breath. “If I knew, I’d do it myself. Right now, it’s all I can do not to drag her in here and chew her out for being stupid enough to have an affair with a higher-up. That kid’s going to fuck both of their careers, especially Stanton’s.”
I pursed my lips. Alejandro liked Lieutenant Stanton a hell of a lot more than I did, but I wasn’t about to get into another argument with him about the man’s lack of virtue.
One thing we did agree on, though, was that girls like MA3 Lockhoff were part of the reason women in the military still didn’t get the respect we deserved.
But whether Alejandro and I agreed with her choices or not, she was still his Sailor. She was technically my Sailor, since I outranked her. And rank aside, she was a fellow cop. For that matter, as geographically isolated as we were on this island, people had no choice but to rely on their command for support because friends, families, and civilian resources were an ocean away from all of us.
I didn’t have to agree with what she did, but I couldn’t throw her to the wolves, either.
Swearing under my breath, I rubbed my eyes with my thumb and forefinger. Then I dropped my hand and glared at him. “You owe me so big for this.”
And finally—finally—he smiled. “Thank you.”
“I need a cigarette,” I muttered.
Usually that would have elicited an ironic Those things will kill you, you know comment from him, but he’d already pulled a can of dip out of his back pocket and would probably have a pinch of it tucked into his cheek before we made it out the door. Lucky bastard.
We left his office and headed back toward the communal one, but before I could get outside to smoke, someone out in the hall said, “You okay, MA3?”
Alejandro and I both stiffened and turned to each other.
“I’m fine.” Even from here, Lockhoff sounded anything but fine.
Alejandro glanced at me, eyebrows up in an unspoken Please don’t bail on me. I gave a slight nod, and he relaxed a little.
A second later, she stepped into the front office.
And good God, she looked like hell.
Her uniform was squared away as always, and she’d pulled her near-black hair back into a tight bun, but she was paler than anyone on a tropical island had a right to be. Her eyeliner wasn’t as perfect and smoky as it usually was. I suspected that had something to do with the redness in her eyes.
She stopped in the doorway, her cover in both hands. Her eyes flicked back and forth between me and Alejandro.
“How’d it go?” he asked quietly.
She glanced at me again, eyes narrowing as if to say, A little privacy, please?
Don’t mind if I do.
I put on my cover and made a beeline for the door. “I’m going to have a smoke.”
Alejandro nodded but didn’t look at me.
As I stepped out, I’d never been so grateful for that rush of tropical heat. In ten minutes, I’d be praying for sweet death and looking for any reason to either step into an air-conditioned building or strip out of this suffocating blouse and heavy police belt, but for the moment I basked in it.
I went up to the smoke pit—a gazebo twenty meters from the precinct with a couple of chairs and a coffee-can ashtray. There, I lit a cigarette and took a deep drag. As the nicotine seeped into my bloodstream, some of the tightness in my shoulders unwound. I rolled them slowly and replayed my conversation with Alejandro.
I loved the man to death, but it drove me crazy the way he believed I was the one who should handle situations like this. If it was because she was a junior Sailor and it was my damned responsibility, fine. But he and I both knew that wasn’t the case. Alejandro hadn’t called on me when some idiot seaman had been caught having an ill-advised affair with Senior Chief Ellis’s wife or last year when one kid’s drinking problem had gotten out of control and almost caused an international incident.
But when a woman who’d gotten on my nerves since the day she’d checked in decided to get herself into a situation like this? Suddenly he was speed-dialing MA2 Marion, the female- Sailor whisperer. As if my tits and ovaries made me more qualified than anyone else—including her boss, damn it—to tell Lockhoff she was being stupid.
I rolled my eyes and blew out some smoke.
Truth be told, I had hoped Lockhoff wasn’t that kind of girl. I’d been disappointed as fuck when I realized she was, well, her, because on the surface, she was very much my type. She had the fit physique that the military demanded, but there was also something about the way she carried herself that made my heart race. Chin up, shoulders back, looking the world in the eye. And the few times I’d seen her in civvies with minimal makeup and that dark hair falling down, she’d been . . . Hell, who was I kidding? She was stunning.
Maybe that was why she irritated me so much. She was everything I wanted physically in a woman, and she was everything else that made my teeth grind.
The door opened a few minutes later, and Lockhoff came out and joined me in the smoke pit. She’d taken off her police belt and downloaded—no gun, no pepper spray. While I finished my cigarette, she stared off into the distance and eventually broke the silence. “Listen, um, Gutiérrez wants me to go over to Camp Courtney. To medical. He said you were heading that way.” After a moment, she met my eyes. “Would you mind giving me a lift?”
Alejandro, you bastard . . .
I dropped my cigarette and crushed it under the toe of my boot. “Sure. Let’s go.”
I poked my head into dispatch to let Weiss know I had to run an errand for Gutiérrez, and then Lockhoff and I walked across the parking lot to my patrol car.
“The AC’s busted.” I rolled down my window. “Sorry.”
“Does it work in any of the vehicles?” she muttered and rolled hers down, too.
“Not really. Just the one Stanton drives around.”
I wasn’t sure, but I thought she shuddered.
In silence, I drove us through the gate and out onto the main road. At least now that we were off-base, I could drive faster. Twenty clicks an hour didn’t generate much of a cross breeze in the car, but fifty plus did the trick, and after a few minutes, the air was nice and cool.
Beside me, Lockhoff stared out the window.
“So, um.” I cleared my throat. “You okay? You seem a little . . .” Pregnant with Stanton’s kid? Yeah, that would be tactful.
“I’m fine.” She didn’t look at me.
“Okay. Uh . . .” I idly played with the peeling cover on the wheel. “Well, Gutiérrez wanted me to take you to medical. Do you need me to stick around to give you a ride back after?”
“You don’t mind?”
“Just doing what Gutiérrez asked.”
“Oh. Okay. Yeah, I do need a ride back. Thanks.” She was quiet for a moment, then finally turned to me. “Do you mind if I ask you something? That doesn’t leave this car?”
That question was a dangerous one when it came from the woman carrying our married superior’s kid, but I managed to unstick my tongue from the roof of my mouth and give a quiet, “Go ahead.”
She didn’t say a word for almost a full minute, instead just staring straight ahead, a hand on her stomach right above her seat belt. I wondered if she hadn’t heard me and was still waiting for permission to ask, but then she said, “How confidential is a sexual assault report?”
I damn near ran off the road. “What?”
Lockhoff squirmed in the passenger seat. “If I wanted to talk . . . If someone wanted to talk to the SARC, is it confidential? Or an official report?”
You want to talk to the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator? About . . .
I will fucking choke her. Pull this goddamned car over, fly into the passenger seat, and fucking choke her. Sexual assault?
Oh hell no, sweetie. Half the command saw you leave with Lieutenant Stanton. No way they would’ve stood by and let him drag you out against your will.
Gripping the wheel tighter, I focused on the road. Women like her didn’t just give the rest of us a bad name. They were the reason the real sexual assaults weren’t taken seriously.
It’s sexual assault when you wake up tasting blood. Not when he doesn’t want to leave his wife and raise your kid, you little bitch.
“I’m not sure.” I forced myself to speak evenly. “I’ve never needed to . . . I’ve never reported one.”
Silence fell. I didn’t realize she’d been staring at me until I glanced at her again.
Her tone was flat when she finally spoke. “You don’t believe me.”
Not even a little.
“I don’t know the details.”
“But you’ve already made up your mind, haven’t you?” She kept her voice low and calm, but the slightest waver gave me pause.
“I . . .” I didn’t have an answer. Not one that would’ve gone down easily, anyway.
“Stop the car.”
“Just stop. I’ll get a cab to medical.”
“I didn’t say I didn’t believe you, MA3.”But you d on’t, do you? “I—”
“Stop the fucking car,” she hissed.
What else could I do?
I pulled the patrol car up to the curb. “MA3, listen. We—”
But she was gone.
Fuck. Gutiérrez would have my head on a stake if this got back to him.
And if she really had been assaulted, then . . .
She was right: I didn’t believe her.
But . . .
I had nothing to base my disbelief on except her reputation, which would mean buying into the nauseating motto some of the guys on my last deployment had lived by: You can’t rape the willing.
But how could I assume she had been willing? Eagerly fucking ten men in a row didn’t mean she was obligated to fuck the eleventh, or that it wasn’t rape if he fucked her anyway.
And I’d sworn that no matter how much some of the pretty girls drove me insane, I’d take every sexual assault report seriously. From any woman. Any man, too. Any cop gave them grief, I’d have them hemmed up so fast their heads would spin. I, of all people, had no business sandbagging a woman who’d worked up the courage to report an assault. Especially against a superior.
And now . . . this?
My mouth went dry as she strode farther away.
Every cop needed a sixth sense about these things, and Alejandro’s was better than any I’d ever known. His gut had told him this situation was off enough to warrant bringing in a woman to offer her some support, so maybe he’d caught onto something I’d missed.
Whatever the case, what right did I have to decide if Lockhoff had or hadn’t been raped?
There was no legitimate reason for her to be storming off alone in the blistering heat after Alejandro had tasked me with making sure she was all right.
Jesus Christ. What did I just do?
I quickly shifted into drive and peeled away from the curb. As I pulled up beside her, I slowed down again and called out the window, “MA3, wait.”
She didn’t stop.
“Please, just get in the car.”
She spun on her heel and faced me, and I hit the brake. She leaned on the open window and glared at me. “Why? So you can—”
I put up my hand. “Listen, I’m sorry. I . . . Can we please go sit down somewhere and talk?”
Her eyes narrowed. “Why don’t you just pull rank and order me?”
I gritted my teeth. “Get in the car, MA3.”
She muttered something under her breath, probably something that amounted to gross insubordination, but I let it go. I deserved it.
And at least she got back in the car.
MA2 Marion drove us onto Camp Courtney, and we walked into the tiny food court near the gate. She waited in line to order us a couple of bottles of water from the Burger King while I snagged a corner table.
As I watched her, my stomach was still doing somersaults. I didn’t trust anyone at this command. It shouldn’t have surprised me that I didn’t have an ally in her. Hell, the first moment I’d set foot in the precinct, she’d looked me up and down, and she hadn’t quite turned her head before she’d rolled her eyes in that Oh Lord, she’s one of those kind of way.
I wanted to like her. Hell, I’d had a crush on her from the start—bitch or not, she was gorgeous. And more than that, she was a take-no-shit cop and a squared-away Sailor. Exactly the kind of cop and Sailor I wanted to be. My first thought, after noticing how her uniform fit, was that I wanted her as a mentor, but she obviously didn’t like me. I wasn’t sure if she liked anyone, actually. MA1 Gutiérrez, maybe, since they obviously had something going on. Otherwise, Marion pretty much kept to herself and didn’t speak unless spoken to.
It didn’t surprise me when I’d heard she’d been over to Afghanistan and maybe Iraq. A lot of people came back from the Sandbox with a distinct look about them. Like part of them was still over there, and the part that had come back had . . . dimmed.
But I’d thought if there was anyone in the command who I could tip my hand to, it was her. She was a woman, after all. Every woman in the military knew the risk we took just by enlisting. The other female in our command worked nights, so we never crossed paths, plus she was also barely out of boot camp. She had almost no experience being out of high school, never mind with some of the harsher realities of military life—I hoped, anyway. For her own sake.
MA2 Marion had been in for several years, though, and she’d been to a couple of war zones, so she had to know how often this shit happened.
Yet her first instinct had been skepticism. Hostile skepticism. Even if she hadn’t said it out loud, I’d seen it in the way her jaw had tightened and her eyes had narrowed.
I tore my gaze away and stared down at the table, wringing my sweaty hands. I didn’t have to ask what was going through her mind. She and everyone else on this island thought the same thing about girls like me. That was why I’d never reported it to begin with. Why I probably still wouldn’t. Why I was desperately searching for a reason to avoid going to medical like MA1 Gutiérrez had ordered me to.
My heart sank, and I sagged back against the cold metal chair. I didn’t have many options, did I? And either way, even if I reported it, I was still pregnant. For now, at least.
“Just get it done.”
“You all right?”
Marion’s voice startled me. I looked up as she joined me at the table with two water bottles in hand.
“I’m fine.” I took one of the bottles she’d offered. “Thanks.”
“Don’t mention it.” She avoided my eyes for a moment, then cleared her throat as she unscrewed the cap on her bottle. “Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—”
“If you don’t believe me, you don’t believe me.”
“It’s not that simple.”
“You didn’t believe me in the car.”
MA2 Marion’s shoulders fell. “I . . . Listen, I just wasn’t expecting it, that’s all. I’m sorry.”
I chewed my lip. “Most women would err on the side of finding out what the fuck happened before they pass judgment.”
“You’re absolutely right. And I’ve been kicking myself ever since.” She finally met my eyes, and her expression was softer than I’d ever seen it. “I meant it when I apologized, and I mean it when I tell you this stays between you and me, I promise. Just tell me what happened.”
“I . . .” Of course my subconscious chose that moment to kick in and remind me of the gleaming gold shield on her uniform. My gaze shifted to the badge, and my heart dropped.
Anyone else on this island could listen to me in confidence.
But not her. Not a mandated reporter.
I exhaled. “It can’t stay between us. You’re a cop. I’m a cop. If I tell you something happened, then you have to report it.”
Marion swallowed. “Except you’ve already basically told me that something happened.”
“But I haven’t said what.”
She held my gaze. Yeah, she knew. Of course she did. But woman’s intuition wasn’t evidence.
Marion swore and sat back. “Fuck . . .”
I played with the cap on my water bottle. Even if her first instinct had been to disbelieve me, and even if she was a mandated reporter, who else could I talk to? Of course, I could tell her and ask her to keep it quiet, but then if it came out later that she knew, she’d be screwed.
She drummed her fingers beside her water bottle. “Do you want me to take you over to see the SARC?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know. I’m . . . kind of not sure who I can trust.” I arched an eyebrow. “Doesn’t seem like many people take me seriously.”I exhaled and rolled some tightness out of my shoulders. “I mean, what should I do? I don’t know if I can talk to the SARC.”
“This is his job, though. If you can’t trust the SARC, then . . .” She sighed and lowered her gaze. “I get it. I do. Commands like this are so incestuous, it’s hard to know who to trust.” Through her teeth, she added, “Assuming there’s anyone you can trust.”
I swallowed, not sure if I was relieved that she didn’t think I was crazy or if I wanted to cry because she’d confirmed one of my biggest fears. Probably a little of both.
I took a drink just to wet my mouth. Then, “I don’t know if I’m going to report anything or not. I . . . I need to think on it.”
“MA3, if he . . .” She chewed her lip. “If something happened, you need to report it or nothing can be done.”
“And what do you think can be done?” I narrowed my eyes. “You really think an E4 who the whole command thinks is a slut is going to convince anybody of anything?”
She dropped her gaze, and my stomach twisted into knots. Nothing like having more of my worst fears—and that asshole’s threats—confirmed. By another woman, no less.
“You still need to go to medical.” She continued avoiding my eyes. “So they can confirm, um . . . Well, so they can get you a light duty chit, for one thing.”
I cringed. So she knew, too. Then again, I supposed most people knew by now, especially cops who were trained to be observant. Shifting me to light duty wouldn’t help with the rumors flying around. But of course, unless I did what Stanton had ordered me to, I wouldn’t be able to hide this much longer. Sooner or later, I’d have to break down and switch to a maternity uniform, but I wasn’t ready to announce anything to the universe. Especially not to all the assholes who’d been taking bets on who’d knock me up first.
Watching Marion shift uncomfortably, I wondered if she’d won or lost money in that betting pool.
She sat up straighter and folded her arms on the table. “Listen, let’s get you over to medical. Make sure you’re taken care of.” She met my eyes. “If you decide you want to make a statement, or you need someone to go to the SARC with you, let me know.”
I nodded. “If I go to medical, they’re automatically going to give me a light duty chit, aren’t they?”
Marion furrowed her brow. “Why?”
“Where do they send most MAs on light duty? Either Pass & ID, training, or dispatch.” I swallowed hard to keep what was left in my stomach where it belonged. “Training or dispatch means working in the same building as Stanton.”
“Oh. Shit.” She grimaced. “Well, I’m sure Gutiérrez could pull some strings.”
“And if he can’t?”
She broke eye contact and slowly shook her head. “I don’t know.”
“Maybe I should wait.” I took a deep breath. “At least sleep on it.”
She met my gaze again.
“Please,” I whispered, cursing the pitiful sound of my own voice. “I’m not ready to be penned up in the same building with him. And my shift’s almost over today anyway. It’s not like I’ll be out on any calls.”
“But tomorrow . . .”
“I’ll figure it out. Just . . . not now.”
“But you’re . . .” She held my gaze and then sighed. “Okay. It’s your call. But when you’re ready, let me know.”
“I will. Thanks.”
“And . . .” She bit her lip, dropping her gaze for a second. “I’m sorry. For not . . .”
I capped my water bottle. “Don’t worry about. We, uh . . .” I glanced at the clock on the wall. “We should get back to White Beach since we’re not going to medical.”
She nodded. “Okay. Let’s go.”
Gallagher...really makes the short novel format work: spare, lean, and erotic, without a wasted word.
* Starred Review * Gallagher’s well-drawn, multifaceted characters revitalize traditional plot elements, and the sexually explicit love scenes show sweet tenderness within the women’s refreshingly forthright embrace of caring and trust in a world where few seem worthy of such generosity.