SARINA Mason caught a glimpse of herself in the rearview mirror of her ancient Volvo, and sighed fiercely at her reflection. The car harkened back to an era where high class was putting black plastic anywhere it could fit, and seat covers came in various shades of leopard. But it ran, and it got her from one place to the next, which was a requirement for her job as a crime reporter at The Tribune, so what more could be asked of it, really?
What Sarina wasn’t sure was running properly—in fact, she was certain it was operating with a distinctive fault in the connectors—was her own damned brain. What other reasonable explanation could there be for her coming down to Precinct 16 in South Boston, with the intention of locating one Detective Kit Holden?
Maybe she had shorted a fuse, Sarina thought for a moment, rifling through her reporter’s kit—camera, voice recorder, notebook. She hadn’t come looking for Holden in three months, and there was a damn good reason why. But this time she didn’t have a choice. This time she couldn’t pass off the interview to a junior reporter, or put her article in with the token press statement. No, this time Sarina knew she needed some one-on-one with the good detective, and damned if that didn’t make her just a little bit excited.
* * * *
Detective Kit Holden was in a foul mood. He had a goddamned serial killer running roughshod through his city, and everyone from the college papers to the Mayor himself was breathing down his goddamn neck, looking for answers that Kit simply did not have. The amount that he did have regarding the string of bizarre homicides was so paltry he’d have encountered more luck playing Clue in the statehouse basement.
Kit was just cursing the precinct’s unpalatable coffee dregs, when he caught sight of something that made his mood go from foul to seething in two seconds flat. A flash of golden-brown hair, a self-assured, confident aura, yes, Sarina Mason had the ability to crawl under Kit’s skin and irritate in him in a way no one else in his life, press or otherwise, had perfected. Miss Scarlet, indeed.
“Miss Mason…” He stepped forward, tossing the disgusting coffee into the trashcan, and not bothering to school his voice into anything other than obvious distaste at her arrival. Truth be told, Kit didn’t dislike the beautiful reporter on a personal level. He had a grudging respect for her hardheaded desire to report the truth, and he knew that she was damned good at her job. But the age-old rivalry between cops and journos was reason enough for him to let out a little of the venom he was feeling for the day as a whole in her direction.
At least, that was what Kit told himself. He told himself that the irritation he felt when he spied Miss Sarina Mason was entirely based on the feelings of irritation that city detectives had for young, career journalists, and nothing at all to do with the way his body, all of his body, stiffened around her, nothing at all to do with how he was already close to busting a hole in his increasingly tight dress pants at the sheer scent of her wafting across the room.
“I haven’t seen you in a while, Detective,” she replied, those plump, dark red lips looking a sight too desirable on a woman wearing a simple black blazer and sensible boots. “What say we have a little chat, catch up on old times?”
Kit raised an eyebrow in her direction, leaning against the wall of the breakroom and eyeing her suspiciously. He’d always had an amicable relationship with The Tribune. The ongoing and altogether impossible to ignore flirtation that had peppered his professional relationship with Sarina Mason was both strong and mutually beneficial. Kit had never felt it wise to withhold everything from the press, having seen the disastrous effects of that strategy time and again, and so he’d offered information and details as far as he could, and Sarina had reported them fairly and cleanly. She was nothing, if not a damned good reporter.
Until. Until three months ago, after a routine interview regarding several incidents of drug trafficking, when members of a gang had attacked the precinct. He could remember pushing Sarina under his desk, eventually shielding her body with his own, as a shower of bullets, both criminal and cop, had rained down upon the station.
He had seen her only once afterward, in three damned months, when she had visited him in the recovery room of Mass General, thanking him for saving her life. And then radio silence, nothing but junior reporters and lame ass phone interviews that had Kit wondering just what had changed between the two of them that day. What he refused to analyze, even though it had remained a constant in the back of his mind, was why he had been so damned disappointed by her sudden disappearance.
* * * *
She had done everything she could have done to prepare herself for seeing him again, but it didn’t stop Sarina from nearly losing her breath at the first visage of Kit Holden, with his large, muscled frame and straight, lightly stubbled jaw. He was leaning against the doorframe, one eyebrow lifting deep into the line of his hair, both dark eyes trained upon her in a way that had Sarina remembering just what had caused her to retreat with her tail between her legs.
He was just so damned confident, with that sexy-as-sin smirk, and the breadth of his shoulders, stretched under old-fashioned suspenders, pulled taut against a collared shirt with the top few buttons popped. He looked like something out of a film noir movie, and Sarina felt the frustration bubbling under her skin. She wanted a damned interview and that was it. Not this ridiculous, unquenchable lust for the good detective.
After all, that was why she had left in the first place, putting her career above her desire to press Detective Holden against the nearest doorframe and have her way with him. Sure, it was a great thing to have a good relationship with the local officers, especially as a leading crime beat reporter, but Sarina had few illusions about that kind of relationship being exactly what her editor had in mind.
Holden looked as though he were keeping in some choice words, and then a flicker of a grin passed across his eyes, so quick she could have missed it.
“I need a cup of coffee,” he said, eyeing the garbage can with a measure of venom. “Walk with me, Miss Mason?” The way he said her name had Sarina’s self-control already teetering toward the edge. She was so close to throwing caution to the wind and saying fuck it all to her job, when she stood even in the same room as him. Self-protection had kept her at a distance and, after three long months, she was instantly reminded why.
“There’s a price for my company,” she said, making an effort to seem careless in keeping up with his long stride. “Do you think you can afford it?” Kit brought out another side to her. Never in a million years would she have been caught dead flirting with a source. Well, any other source. She took her job incredibly seriously, and knew just how detrimental it could be to a woman in the field, especially on the crime beat, to be using her feminine wiles to get scoops. It almost always ended badly, and she wanted no part of being caught up in that whirlwind.
But flirting with Kit was like second nature and seemed to come without any thought or control. She was a totally different person when she was around him, a wild, uninhibited kind of woman—the kind of woman she had never been, not with late nights of studying her way to Summa Cum Laude of Brown, not with front page, hard-hitting news stories she so prided herself upon. She was a hard worker and responsible woman. She had been called too responsible at times, but no one would have ever called her wild.
The way Kit was looking at her now, however, as though payment in interview questions answered was definitely not what he had in mind, made it hard to concentrate.
“I’ll be more amiable if I have some caffeine in me.” It came out more like a growl, and she got the impression that he was definitely not thinking about the café down the street.
That was just the problem. Sarina had no illusions about her attractiveness to men. She was pretty, though she downplayed it when on the job. But her crazed confidence and will to do whatever it took to get a story had the tendency to turn men off, which was just fine by her. The good detective, however, gave as well as he got, and their verbal sparring had ratcheted to something a little more dangerous, a little fierier in the weeks before the precinct shootout.
“Oh, but I do so like the grumpy detective Holden,” she said, laughing, as she followed him out the front door of the precinct and onto the sidewalk. “It suits you, Kit.” He raised an eyebrow at her, and she nearly laughed again, right in his face.
“You’re acting like a stereotype.” She wondered where these lines were coming from, since good little reporter Sarina Mason did not flirt with gorgeous, muscled detectives on the way to get coffee. She did not.
“And you’re not?” That smooth voice was drove her a little closer to the edge of self-control, to complete and utter distraction. It was Sarina’s turn to raise her eyebrow.
“I’m intrigued.” She pulled her lower lip into her mouth subconsciously, as she watched him eye her with a measure of intensity storming his dark gaze.
Kit watched her lips, and then smiled, a genuine smile, and that had an effect on her body that was altogether different and unexpected.
“We do play well into our roles,” he said in lieu of a proper answer. “Roughed up cop and hardcore reporter. What a quaint team.” He had only the twinge of a Boston accent to his voice, more likely from working on the force than from actually living in Boston, but it ran a rough tone under his already deep words. She was going fucking crazy and they had been together for less than five minutes.
“All right then, teammate.” Sarina grasped for the strength she knew was buried very deep down. “Help a fellow player out—why are these copycat murders happening now? Why not last September, the ten-year anniversary of the original killing spree?” If Kit was surprised by her change of subject, he didn’t say anything, though his smile did slip away, and Sarina found herself missing it.
“I can always trust you to get me when I’m comfortable.” His voice was low. “But okay, I’ll play ball.”
She fumbled for the recorder in her bag and pressed the large red button, beginning the audio recording. Kit sighed at the small device, and then continued.
“We have suspicions that this isn’t just a copycat. We think it might be someone who knew Sinclair while locked up, before he was moved to Texas. If this person knew him ten years ago, it stands to reason that he might have only just been released this year, or within the last ten months. He, statistically speaking that is more likely, waits until the anniversary, because it closely resembles the original spree, but he’s not out in time for the tenth.”
They arrived at the café just as Kit finished. Sarina paused her recording as they got into line and ordered their cups of coffee. Then the two of them settled into a small, far too secluded part of the coffee shop. Sarina pressed on. Nothing like a murder spree to keep one’s mind off the subject of hot detectives.
“So have you compiled a list of all of the inmates released from Wellington in the past ten months? What leads have arisen?”
Kit let out a sigh, and she got the impression his investigation was going less than swimmingly. “Wellington, yes. But the list is long, eighty-nine people, narrowed down to just seventy-nine for folks who weren’t in long enough to have met Sinclair.”
“So what’s the next step?” She felt the familiar rush of a story looking oh-so-good, the interview process giving her more than she could have expected. Maybe Kit was being generous because her arrival had caught him off guard.
“Nothing fancy.” Kit rubbed his temples. “We go through the list until we’ve narrowed down any more possible suspects, and then we mark them off one by one. But you already know this bit, Sarina.”
She hated the way he said her name. She hated it because he spoke with a deep, rich tone to his voice, and when his tongue rolled over her name, Sarina, she ceased to function. Ceased, it seemed, to be capable of focusing on anything other than his devilish tongue, and what it might be able to do to her, if only she let it, if only she let loose long enough to enjoy more than just a flirtation. But was she even capable of that? Was she the kind of woman who could go through with it? Without hesitation, without pause, she answered her own question—she was definitely the kind of woman who wanted to try.
* * * *
If she kept chewing on her damned lower lip, Kit was going to pop right through his pants. She had delicious lips, and Kit had no doubt in his mind that Sarina would be the kind of woman who enjoyed having her lips kissed, nibbled, and bit until there was more than an echo of pain. Fuck. The idea of biting her lower lip, or biting the skin just below her ear, right under the tight, prim bun she wore to concentrate on their office planning board, well, it was making things damned difficult for him. One might even say hard.
“Have you followed the path Sinclair took to Texas?” She looked up from a small board in the conference room of Precinct 16. “He might have inspired someone along the way there.”
Kit looked down to his notes and back to the board, anywhere but at the curving slope of her hip, currently angled in his direction, or the delicious swell of an ass he desperately wanted to wrap his hands around and squeeze. Hard. Oh, for fuck’s sake.
“We checked in with three different stops on the way to Texas, and it looks like only seventeen inmates were let out in total, only four of which were in prison long enough to have met Sinclair. Of those, two were in solitary.” His tone was completely flat. They had gone over this information a dozen times now. “And it would have been difficult for them to have gotten much contact, anyway. Sinclair was kept largely isolated from the rest, specifically for this reason.”
Sarina pursed those damned lips together, and then turned back toward the board, humming as she thought. The woman was a hard-knocks crime reporter, the kind of person who saw gruesome stories on the regular, stories Kit knew all too well. But that didn’t seem to make her harder. It didn’t seem to make her numb to the goodness of the world. No, she hummed. While looking at a mock-up of the travels a serial killer took after an eight-murder spree. She hummed. What kind of woman was Sarina Mason, and why was she so making him so wildly uncomfortable?
“I’m going to head back to the office,” Sarina said after a moment. She eyed the green folder in his hand, and Kit gave her a wry grin.
“Don’t you think about it,” he said. “I’ve let you see the board and I’ve answered your questions. Don’t test how not nice I can be when I’m pushed.” She gave him a sugar sweet smile and pursed those damned lips again.
“Fine.” She paused. “For now. But if I come across something that might help, I’ll be sure to pass it along.” She eyed the folder again, and he sighed.
“We’ll talk if you come up with something.” Kit tried not to think about how he’d like to help her come up…with something. Oh, come on.
It wasn’t unusual for her to stick her head into the conference room and run over a couple things. Kit’s relationship with the press was amiable, but more than that, Sarina did her research and often brought new details or clues to help their case. She was always up front about their relationship in her stories, and Kit had long ago stopped barring her from entering. It did neither of them any good. But he did still have to draw the line somewhere.
She fumbled for something, and the small recorder fell from the table between their feet. Together, they both bent toward the floor, and it was only when their hands brushed over the recorder, that Kit looked up and realized just how damned close she was, how beautiful she looked with the one wayward curl escaping her bun, how close those bright lips were to his own, and if he just—
“I’ll call you if I find anything,” she said, standing abruptly, as if only now realizing how dangerous things could get if the two leaned just an inch toward each other. He nodded his ascent, and she was halfway out the door before he called her name.
She popped her head back into the room, looking slightly frazzled, a thought that distantly amused him.
He moved past the way that word sounded on her lips, the way it might sound if it were followed by please, may I have another? He nearly groaned aloud. “It’s good to see you again.”
She smiled and nodded.
“It’s good to see you too, Kit.” Then she was off.