Every time Sam Walker woke up with a hangover to end all hangovers, he vowed never to go on another bender again. Okay, so last night had been a kind of celebration and the guys from the precinct had more or less forced him into joining them in their favorite bar…but still, was this awful freaking headache and queasy stomach worth it? Carefully, he eased himself out of bed and headed with unsteady steps to the bathroom.
Staring at himself in his bathroom mirror, he groaned. Jeez…a face only a mother could love, or so the saying goes. Well, maybe not his mother. She hadn’t loved anything about him for a long time. It wasn’t the handsomest mug at the best of times, in his opinion. His jaw was too square and that stupid cleft in his chin made it hard to shave without a deal of careful blade maneuvering. He sighed and pulled down his lower eyelid, shuddering at the red that was practically overwhelming the blue. Ugh… He ran the cold water and splashed his face and chest for a bit, hoping it would liven him up some. He could go back to bed. There was nothing pressing at the precinct. The captain had told him and Martin McCready, his partner, to take the day off, so why not take advantage of it? Maybe a cup of coffee first.
His cell buzzed as he made his way to the kitchen. He pretended not to see the trail of clothes he’d left strewn across the bedroom floor. After a glance at the ID screen he croaked, “Hey, Martin. What’s up?”
His partner’s chuckle was followed by, “You sound real chipper this morning.”
“I might be after a caffeine fix. How’re you doing?”
“Fine and dandy. Better than you by the sounds of it. Of course, I didn’t stay till closing time like I’m guessing you did.”
“And I wouldn’t have if I had a beautiful wife and kids to go home to.” Sam tucked his phone against his ear so he could prep the coffee machine and talk at the same time.
Another chuckle. “That would make headline news.”
“Smartass. So why are you calling me so damned early?”
“It’s almost ten, Sam. Liz wanted to know if you’d like to have dinner with us tonight. Think you can handle a home-cooked meal for a change?”
“Hey, I cook…”
“Yeah, anything that comes frozen or canned.” Martin tsked. “I don’t know how you keep in such good shape eating all that crap all the time. Anyway, Liz is making meatloaf, her mama’s recipe, the one you had three helpings of last time. Abe and Sara still talk about Unca Sam putting it all away. Sara wanted to know why you don’t have a belly like mine.”
Sam smiled as he spooned the coffee into the filter. “Metabolism, I guess. Plus, three workouts a week, at which you could join me if you wished. And the answer is yes, I would love to have dinner with y’all. What time and what can I bring?”
“Forget the workouts. Raising a family is enough of a workout for me. Six, and you don’t have to bring anything. You know that. And especially all that stuff you always bring to spoil the kids with.”
“Okay, six it is,” Sam said, ignoring Martin’s last remark. “Looking forward to it, Martin. Thanks.”
Waiting for the coffee to brew, he counted himself lucky to have a partner like Martin McCready. A lot of detectives had good partners, but Sam always felt he’d struck gold with Martin. An African-American, tall with big shoulders and big fists, a good guy to have with him in tight corners, but also sane, with no judgment and a great sense of humor. Sam was sure that no matter what, Martin had his back, and when it came down to it, he had Martin’s, no questions asked. He’d heard the expression about taking a bullet for someone, and he thought he really would for his partner…without a doubt.
Plus, he had the added bonus of being included in the McCready family. He had none of his own, being one of those teens thrown out for being gay—and maybe he overcompensated by bringing Martin’s kids ‘stuff’ every time he visited, but what the hey? He’d been banned from seeing his own niece and nephew so he couldn’t spoil them. Their loss, he’d told himself a hundred times over the years, but deep down, sometimes it still hurt.
Sam’s dad had stared at him, his face mottling to a dark red. ‘You are—what did you say?’
‘I’m gay, Dad. I want you and Mom to be okay with it. I know it’s probably a shock, but I don’t want to live a lie. I want—’
The punch to his jaw had taken him by surprise. He hadn’t gone down, but he’d staggered backward, staring at his father in complete shock.
‘You fuckin’ faggot,’ his father had screamed. ‘You are everything that is vile and loathsome. You are condemned by God and you will get the fuck outta my house right now.’
‘I am not your dad. Not anymore, and you are not my son, now get out. Thank God your mother and your sister’s not home to listen to this.’
Tears had sprung to Sam’s eyes. His jaw had throbbed, but it had been the hatred in his father’s expression that had caused him to sob. ‘Dad, you don’t mean this, you can’t—’
‘I mean every fucking word, now get out—get out!’
He had wanted to tell him that his friend Kenny had come out to his parents a few days ago and they’d been okay with it, telling him they loved him no matter what. That was what had encouraged him to tell his folks. Never had he anticipated this kind of reaction. Just two days ago, his dad had come to the ballpark and had cheered him on with everyone else when he’d thrown the Hail Mary that had won them the game. But now, the outrage that had darkened his father’s face had told him he didn’t want to listen to any kind of explanation.
He had run up to his room and stuffed his backpack with some clothes and his textbooks. Jim Walker had been waiting for him at the foot of the stairs.
‘You take nothing with you.’
‘I have to have clothes, Dad, and I need my books for school.’
‘I said nothing!’
He’d grabbed for Sam’s backpack, but Sam wouldn’t let go. They’d tussled, his father had tripped and fallen on his ass and Sam had made for the door. His father had become a raving lunatic and Sam had needed his stuff. He’d grabbed his bike that was lying on the driveway, vaulted onto it and taken off down the street, his dad’s hate-filled words following him until he’d turned the corner and could no longer hear him.
Sam shook his head to clear his mind of those ghastly memories. Shit, why would a call from Martin send his mind spinning into that vortex of hate? Bad enough that the case they’d closed only yesterday had been brutal.
Long hours tracking the suspects, days of frustration when it looked like they couldn’t get enough to justify an arrest, then, like in a lot of cases, the unsubs had gotten careless. One of the victims had managed to escape and there they’d been, Sam and Martin, ready to scoop the little girl up and listen to her directions to where the creeps had been holding her and her sister. Busting up that child-slave ring had been one of the more rewarding moments of Sam and Martin’s lives, along with the other cops they’d used as backup. Sam had relished putting his fist on the jaw of the fat slob terrorizing the kid’s sister and the other little ones being held in that vile place.
When the rest of the felons had been rounded up, cuffed, charged and locked away pending a court date, Sam had felt in need of a drink and had voiced that opinion long and loud.
‘Just one,’ he’d lied. It had taken more than one to help him forget, for the time being at least, the state of those little kids, the fear etched on their faces and the sheer trembling relief when they realized they’d been saved from whatever hell their kidnappers had in store for them. So, he’d overdone it a bit and was now paying the price. The coffee tasted good though…damned good.
He sank down on the couch and tuned the TV into the morning local news. Yep, there it was, the coverage on the kiddy slave ring. The police chief up there giving the reporters what they wanted to hear, kids reunited with their families after weeks of anguish, pics of the little tykes—How in hell could any human being even think of selling these pretty girls, or any kid, to some slavering sex monster? God, but he’d wanted to rip the heads off the slavers. It was of some consolation that those pigs would have a really rough time in prison. Guys in there had their own code of justice, especially when it came to dealing with those responsible for child molestation. Oh, and a picture of me without Martin…he’ll be pissed. Heh, heh…
His cell buzzed and he reached for it. Not a number or name he recognized. Robertson, Justin?
“Hi, Sam.” The voice was nice, but he didn’t recognize it…or did he?
“Hi…uh, Justin? Do I know you?”
“Um, well…uh, you did last night.”
“Last night?” Sam searched his memory banks. I met this guy last night?
Justin laughed lightly. “Well you were kinda drunk, but I’m hurt you don’t remember me. You kissed me. Guess you don’t remember that either.”
I kissed him? He thought harder. After Martin had left—and he did remember that, some of the other guys had split too and he—that was right, he’d taken a cab over to the Blue Bar on Santa Monica.
“Uh…were you at the Blue Bar?”
“Ah, it’s starting to come back.” Justin laughed again…a nice laugh, low and throaty. “I was sitting at the bar, you came in, smiled at me, sat next to me, bought me a drink. We talked. You said you were a cop. Or was that a come-on? Are you a cop?”
“Uh, no, not a come-on. Uh, yeah I’m a cop…detective.”
“Okay, so we talked for some time. I figured at some point it was getting late and when I looked at my watch you said, ‘don’t go’, and you kissed me.”
Shit. Why couldn’t he remember? And what the hell else did he do—or rather, try to do? “Uh, wow, I’m sorry.”
“Sorry you don’t remember me or sorry you kissed me?”
“Both, I guess. Hope I didn’t come on too obnoxious.”
That laugh again…so sexy. Why can’t I put a face to it? “No, you didn’t. I said I had to go and you wanted my phone number, so we traded. After you kissed me you said, ‘call me’. So here I am, calling you.”
“And I bet you didn’t expect this kind of response. I’m sorry, Justin.”
“Don’t be, it’s okay.” His voice was gentle along with that trace of laughter. “You were kinda drunk, so…”
Sam groaned. “I’d like to make it up to you. Maybe meet for a drink sometime? I won’t put any moves on you, promise.”
“Well, where’s the fun in that?” Justin’s tone was a definite tease. “Now that you’ve offered, I would like to see you again…tonight? If that doesn’t sound too pushy.”
“Uh, can’t tonight. I’m having dinner with my partner and his family.”
“Oh, you have a partner?” Justin’s chirpy voice sounded suddenly deflated. “Then I guess this isn’t a good idea.”
“No, no…not a partner partner. Working partner.”
“Oh, okay. So what’s good for you?”
“Well, I’d like to say tomorrow night, but I’d have to call you once I know what my schedule looks like.”
“Uh, this is going to sound crass, I know, but can you describe yourself so I know who to look for when we fix a time and place?”
Justin’s laughter was contagious. “Look in your phone, Detective. You took a selfie of us last night.”
I did? “I did?” Shit. This is beyond embarrassing. Just how hammered was I? He stared at the photograph of himself and Justin. How could I have forgotten what this hottie looks like? Curly auburn hair and a smile that would light up the darkest room…or heart.
“Was that a good wow or a what-was-I-thinking wow?”
“That was a very good wow. And I look like a moron. What in hell were you thinking talking to me, anyway?”
“I thought you were cute.”
Sam laughed. “Your powers of observation are a mite faulty. Sad thing is I look even worse today.”
“How’s that possible?”
“Hey!” He laughed again. “You’re right. I promise to clean up my act for when we meet.”
“I liked what I saw the first time around and I’m looking forward to seeing you again. Oops, gotta go, Sam. Duty calls. Bye.”
“Oh, okay, bye.” Duty calls? What’s that about?
* * * *
Justin slid his cell into his pocket and jumped up from his desk when his boss barged into his office. “Where the hell are those designs, Justin?” Maria Esteban stared daggers at him. “You were supposed to have them on my desk first thing this morning. Where are they?”
“On your desk. They’ve been there since nine o’clock.” He tried to keep the irritation out of his voice, replying as calmly as he could. Why does she always have to be such a cow?
“What?” She threw an accusatory glance over her shoulder at Paula Downs, her secretary, who had ambled in behind her. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Paula shrugged. “I thought you’d have noticed. Like Justin said, they’ve been there since nine. You were on the phone to Watson Industries. I thought you would’ve seen them then.”
“Huh. Well, I didn’t.” She glared at Justin. “You should’ve flagged them for my attention or something.”
Oh, so of course, it has to be my fault. “Maria—”
“Never mind.” She cut him off. “I’ll go look at them now, and I’ll be back with them if they’re not up to Esteban standard.”
Justin closed his eyes and mentally counted to ten. When he opened them, Maria was gone and Paula was regarding him with sympathy.
“Don’t take it personally. She’s in a foul mood this morning.”
“No kidding.” He sighed. “This morning and every morning. Don’t know how much longer I can take this.”
“Don’t you even think of quitting.” Paula walked over to his desk. “Justin, you are the best we have…have ever had, if that makes sense. And she knows it too.”
“Yeah, but being the best designer of ladies’ and kiddies’ apparel is not something I want to be doing for the rest of my life.”
“I know, you want into one of the big fashion houses, and you deserve it. Just consider this a good training ground, and”—Paula grinned at him—“learning to deal with the likes of her is also good training for when you have to go rounds with real bitches.”
Justin chuckled. “You’re probably right. But what are the bets she won’t say a word about the new designs, good or bad?”
“Well, we know they’re not bad. She’ll like ’em.”
After Paula left, Justin glanced at his watch. After eleven. He could head out for lunch and deal with Maria when he got back. No point in getting upset with her. Paula was right. If he could deal with the fiery Puerto Rican lady, he could deal with just about anyone. It wasn’t a bad job. He’d had worse and had considered himself lucky when he’d been hired by Esteban Fashions. It was a step in the right direction toward the bigger fashion houses, if he could make the grade.
The coffee house on the first floor of the building that housed Esteban Fashions and a dozen or so other businesses wasn’t busy and, after ordering a tuna sandwich and a hot tea, he sat at a table near the window and cast his mind back to the night before.
He was miffed the hot cop didn’t remember him. Well, he’d been more than just a little tipsy. Still, he’d thought there might have been some semblance of a memory of the kiss he’d laid on Justin’s lips. A kiss that had stolen Justin’s breath and a piece of his mind. A great kiss and one he wasn’t going to forget anytime soon. Too bad it hadn’t had the same effect on Detective Walker.
He wondered if he’d ever hear from him again. This time the cop’s going to have to call me… He’d made the first move—now it was up to the detective to show some interest, if he had any. Maybe during the day he’d get little flashes of the time they’d spent together at the Blue Bar. It had been crazy hot, sitting there leaning into each other, Sam’s face mere inches from his own, his full lips so tantalizingly near, his smile a little off kilter from the booze, but sexy nevertheless, and that body… Muscles clearly defined under his shirt, the sleeves turned up revealing strong, slightly hairy forearms.
He was getting hard just thinking about the guy. Harder when he thought about the kiss they’d shared. Those soft, warm lips, the glide of his tongue when they’d opened to each other, the way Sam had pushed into the kiss as if he’d never wanted it to end.
And neither did I. He could have gone on and on into the wee small hours just taking my mouth, making it his own. Dammit, but I want a repeat performance…and soon!