Category: New AU/ Homicide Squad
Rating: NC-17 for explicit m/m sex.
Disclaimer: The characters from Mag7 belong to MGM, Mirisch, and Trilogy, which is a damn shame. If they were mine, we'd be having more episodes. No copyright infringement intended, this story is strictly for fun, not profit.
Author's notes: Beta'ed by Sherri, Lumina and Lyn. Thanks to Bast for all her hard work. Published in 'The Third Kind' zine by Requiem Publications, May 2005.
Summary: A costume party and a murder mystery conspire to bring two men together.
Chris Larabee took a sip of his champagne, wishing he could be anywhere but here.
Commissioner Travis had asked him to attend the costume party in honor of the Mayor's birthday, and even though he had 'volunteered' Buck and Vin to join him, he was bored out of his mind.
And sweating. The Sheik costume he had chosen allowed a wide range of movements, and was actually light, but the room was filled to capacity and it was getting harder to breathe.
He knew there was some credence to Travis's rationale; the commissioner wanted as many people as possible to get to know Chris and his detective team, to learn more about the month-old Homicide Squad. They answered only to Travis, the man behind the idea, and were able to operate without most of the usual red tape behind all police work. Travis allowed them free rein regarding their cases, letting Chris decide on the best course of action.
But having to mingle with The Powers That Be was not Chris's idea of a good time and he wanted nothing more than to leave all the diplomatic BS behind. He hated politicians with a vengeance.
Vin seemed to share his growing discomfort; although, as usual, he hid it well. If not for the overly stiff posture and the drop of sweat clinging to his upper lip, no one would be able to tell how much the oppressive crowd was getting to him. The Texan had chosen a Native American buffalo hunter costume, with a few personal changes. He was dressed in fringed buckskin from head to toe, even wearing buckskin moccasins, but somehow Chris doubted the cowboy hat or the very real looking sawn-off Winchester rifle were standard Indian accessories.
Buck, on the other hand, was having the time of his life, having chatted with just about every single female in the room. And probably most of the married ones, as well. The mustached man had chosen to wear a blue musketeer costume, with lace up boot tops, a cloak, black tights under slit style Tudor pants and a black hat adorned with a feather. Vin and JD had driven the older man crazy, teasing him about the tights and making crude references to male ballet dancers.
Buck whistled suddenly. "Damn! Seems I have competition tonight!"
Chris Larabee watched as several heads turned to admire the new arrival that was descending the stairs leading to the main hall where the party was being held. He took a good look at the stranger, eyes following the man as he moved across the room. Whoever he was, the man had chosen a Zorro costume and it suited him perfectly. He was dressed all in black, tight pants hugging slender, yet powerful thighs, knee high leather boots. The silk shirt was opened halfway, revealing a satin-smooth chest. A black cape floated around him as he moved. The black mask covering his face brought out the man's startling eyes, pale green irises that were currently roaming the room. A hat and sword were the final props to his costume.
As if sensing he was being watched, 'Zorro' turned, looking in Chris's direction. For an endless moment their eyes locked and held, leaving Chris feeling as if he was drowning in the stranger's intense gaze. Then someone caught the man's attention and the spell was broken. The hunger in that gaze, however, stayed with the cop for a long time.
Ezra walked slowly down the stairs, feeling the lusty stares he was gathering from both the women and men attending the Mayor's party, and trying not to let it bother him.
He made his way to the hall, accepting the glass of champagne a waiter offered him. Looking around he saw the same old boring faces, with the same old boring conversations, and sighed wearily. A tingle of excitement he couldn't place made his skin crawl, and he searched for its source.
His eyes caught those of a man from across the room. The stranger wore an Arabian Sheik costume, a magnificent robe in a light, black cloth. His kafiyah, the Arabian headdress, was also black, held with a twisted rope entwined with thick silver thread. Stormy eyes pierced Ezra to the soul, while the man smiled slightly, knowingly.
Ezra felt his body react to the other man's gaze in a way that was completely foreign to him. It was rare for him to indulge in his attraction to men. It had been a long time since he had felt a muscled, hard body pressed to his, but it still didn't explain his immediate reaction to the stranger.
Their gazes held for a while, but a seductive voice behind Ezra moved his attention away from the 'Sheik'. "Hello, darling."
Ezra turned, managing to muster a fake smile. "Patricia. How are you faring this fine evening?"
The beautiful blond kissed him softly on the lips. "Fine now, but lately I've been feeling very lonely. It's been over a week since our last date."
He looked straight into her blue eyes and considered telling her the truth; that the only reason he was stringing her along, and bedding her, was because she worked for the agency and might know something.
Instead, he shrugged and answered, "I do apologize, Patricia. I have been considerably busy lately. You know how it is in this business, never a second to spare."
"Yes, I know. And you're forgiven if you dance at least once with me. Your costume is absolutely fabulous! I wanted to ravish you as soon as I laid eyes on you!"
"You don't look so bad yourself, my dear," he replied, eyeing the Xena, Warrior Princess costume she was wearing... two sizes too small.
"Why, thank you! Now, what about that dance?" she asked, batting her eyelashes seductively.
Ezra followed her to the dance floor, refusing to let it show how much her physical proximity made him want to shudder. She was too eager, too hands on, and he wanted nothing more than to distance himself from her touch. It was hard to repress a relieved sigh when Linda, his new boss, waved him over. "I'm sorry, Patricia. It seems duty calls. I will return to you as soon as possible."
"Yeah, right!" Patricia gave him a lopsided grin. "It's okay, I have to go to the ladies room anyway. See you in a while?" she half-asked.
He bowed slightly. "Certainly, my dear."
He left her and slowly made his way through the throng of people crowding the room.
"Sweetness, you look divine!" Linda chirped happily when Ezra walked over to her, making him smile.
In her forties, Linda was a tall, beautiful woman. Her long red hair and wide emerald eyes gave her a mysterious look that very few men could resist. She seemed a nice person and Ezra honestly liked her. He noticed she was dressed as Storm, one of the famous X-Men characters.
"Planning on chasing the rain away from Denver?" he quipped.
"The way the weather's been lately, not even Storm could do that, sweetie!" she replied, laughing brightly. "Come on, I'll introduce you to a few of the big shots around here you still haven't met."
Ezra controlled the urge to groan and followed Linda into the sea of costumes surrounding them. For the next half hour he greeted everyone he was introduced to with a plastered smile on his face; a senator who insisted on talking of nothing but golf; a congressman who seemed to think the sun rose and set on his person; a member of the City Council who fancied herself a fashion expert. Finally ready to call it quits, he turned to say his goodbyes to Linda when a scream was heard throughout the ballroom.
Everyone turned in time to see a young girl dressed as Venus run into the hall, crying hysterically. The news traveled fast around the room; a body had been found in the ladies room.
Ezra watched as the 'Sheik', together with two other men, rapidly took charge of the situation. It didn't take him long to realize the three men were policemen or that the Mayor seemed to know them quite well.
As he watched the three men start to question the guests about the murder victim, Ezra thought about the real reason he was at the party. A little over two months earlier, Joey Kirkland, a young model working with the 'Top Model' agency, had been found in his apartment, strangled to death.
When the police had failed to come up with the culprit, Kirkland's sister hired Ezra a private detective to find out who had killed her brother. Thinking it could be something work related, Ezra had orchestrated a way to 'accidentally' meet the owner of the model agency, Linda Stanton, and somehow get a job within 'Top Model'.
Lady Luck had been on his side. The meeting with Linda had been successful, and after an offhanded comment about him having been a fashion photographer in Atlanta, and showing her a set of fake but convincing references, he had been hired. He had always had an eye for photography; the observation skills he had learned to perfection during his FBI training came in handy for such a profession.
The two people he had the closest contact to in the agency were Linda, and Patricia Stevens, one of the models. Patricia had shown a romantic interest in him, flirting shamelessly with Ezra from the first moment they met. He pretended to go along with it, dating her occasionally, not bothering to deny the rumor they were a couple, in case it might suit him. He doubted either woman was responsible for Kirkland's death, but that didn't mean they didn't know who the killer was, especially Patricia, who had been a good friend to Kirkland. So he tried to stay as close to them as he could without looking suspicious.
So far he hadn't discovered any information connected with Kirkland's death; whoever the murderer was, he had cleared his tracks, making it difficult to find any leads as to his or her identity. In the meantime, Ezra had become one of the agency's hottest photographers. And as such, he was expected to cruise parties.
Ezra was aware that being in the fashion business had its ups and downs, and having to parade at parties to get potential clients for the agency was definitely a down. He couldn't wait for the case to be over, he despised being on display.
It was also the reason he was there tonight. Linda had been invited and decided to extend the invitation to some of her staff.
And now, according to the murmurs currently going around the room, Patricia was dead as well.
Chris rubbed a hand over his face tiredly. He and the others were conducting the interviews with the party guests, but even after splitting up the long list between them, it was still taking hours. Not to mention they had no leads on who might have killed the young woman found dead in the ladies room.
Then there was the fact that the guest list was seriously incomplete, since there were a lot of firms who had brought several of their most influential employees such as lawyers, CEO's, bankers, etc which meant the invitation had the name of the firm, not the guest. And he wasn't even going to obsess over the number of guests who had left before they managed to secure the ballroom.
One of the guests had identified the victim as Patricia Stevens, a model working for the 'Top Model' agency. She had been stabbed in the back twice, dying instantly.
The young lady he was talking to was one of the last guests to be questioned. She was currently crying her eyes out, making it very hard for him to receive a coherent answer.
"Miss Bellamy," Chris tried again, keeping the impatience from his voice with some difficulty. "Can you tell me anythin' at all? If she had any enemies, anyone that might want her dead, that had a grudge against her?"
The woman sniffed and shook her head. "No, I'm sorry. Poor Ezra, I can't even imagine how he must be feeling!"
Chris went through the guest list rapidly. "No Ezras on the list. Can you give me a last name?"
"Sanders. He came with the 'Top Model' agency staff. He and Pat were a couple. He must be devastated!" The girl sobbed weakly.
"Okay, that's all for now, Miss Bellamy," Chris told her. "You can go, but don't leave town, we might need to talk to you again."
He dismissed the young woman and called for Sanders, who strolled in not two minutes later. Chris felt a pang in his chest when he saw it was 'Zorro'. For some reason, he hoped the man wasn't the one responsible for the murder.
"Mr. Sanders, I'm Lieutenant Chris Larabee with the Homicide Squad, Denver PD. It has come to my attention that you knew the victim. Can you tell me anythin' about her?"
"Not much, I'm afraid. She was twenty-three years old, born in Rhode Island, if I'm not mistaken. She resided alone. I can provide you with the address," Ezra replied calmly, a soft southern accent coloring his words.
"That's it?" Chris asked incredulously. "I was under the impression you two were close, a couple."
The man's shrewd gaze locked with his, a shudder running through Chris at the green intensity piercing him to the soul. "You were under the wrong impression then. Close is a relative term, Lieutenant Larabee. We had been dating for a short time. She never spoke much about herself or where she came from. That is all I know of her."
"Okay. You know of any special places where she liked to hang out?" Chris asked.
"She took me to the 'Pink Rabbit' once. I got the impression she went there a lot, at least she seemed to know the nightclub's owner quite well."
Chris frowned. "You know his name?"
"You know of someone that might want her dead?" Chris continued.
He noticed the slight hesitation, then Ezra said, "Perhaps. Lieutenant Larabee, I believe it is time to come forth with the truth. My name is Ezra Standish, not Sanders, and I am a private detective. If you check my background which I am certain you will you will discover I was an FBI agent in Atlanta until recently."
Chris nodded, willing to cut the man some slack. "What's that got to do with this murder?"
"Approximately two months ago one of the models with 'Top Agency', Joey Kirkland, was found strangled in his abode. I was hired by his sister to find the culprit. The best way to accomplish such a task was to work for the aforementioned agency, which I have been doing for the last few weeks. Patricia Stevens was Kirkland's best friend within the agency, meaning I had to get close to her in order to find useful information."
"So you're sayin' both deaths are related?" Chris said, unaccountably happy Ezra wasn't actually involved with Stevens.
Ezra shrugged slightly. "I would venture so, yes."
"Excuse me," a new voice said, and they turned to see a tall, slender man in his forties walk in. His piercing brown eyes fixed immediately on Chris. "Lieutenant Larabee, I'm William Kelly, with the City Council. The Mayor put me in charge of the situation for the moment. Unfortunately, we had several members of the press present and the situation needs to be controlled, which is what he is attempting to do, even as we speak. I hope you and your team find that poor girl's murderer rapidly. The Mayor will not tolerate any mistakes on this case." He turned to Ezra. "Mr. Sanders, I heard you were close to the young lady. Please accept my condolences. I will personally make sure you arrive safely home tonight."
Ezra looked him in the eye, disdain clearly showing, for such a long time that an awkward silence settled in the room. Chris felt like holding his breath, waiting for some kind of explosion to occur from either man, the tension between them so thick a knife would slash through it.
Finally Ezra answered, steel in his voice, "I would rather walk."
Kelly hardened his features and nodded. "Very well, I will take my leave then. Goodnight, gentlemen," he said roughly, marching away with an angry stride.
Chris shook his head in amazement. "That's a good way of gettin' yourself a powerful enemy," he chided. "The man's runnin' for Senate. If he wins..."
Ezra eyed him levelly. "He and I have an understanding, Lieutenant Larabee. I don't pretend to like him and he in turn avoids my... 'sharp tongue'."
"You know each other well, then?" Chris asked softly, dismayed at the idea.
"Since I started working with 'Top Model' we have run into each other at a few parties, yes. The owner, Linda Stanton, is Kelly's sister. Stanton is her married name; her husband died in a car accident some years ago."
"Okay. I'm assumin' almost everyone knew what kind of relationship Stevens had with you? Is it public knowledge? Could it have made someone upset about it?"
Ezra looked sharply at Chris. "Are you suggesting someone killed Patricia in an act of jealousy? That's ridiculous! If that were the case, I would be the target, not her. She was a famous model; for all intents and purposes, I'm a mere photographer."
"You'd be surprised at the amount of crimes we investigate that are related to jealousy, love, passion... These emotions drive people to do a number of unusual things, including murder." Chris said, eyes roaming over the alluring body sitting before him. "This could be the classic 'if I can't have you, no one will' case. Or you could be the one the killer desires, not her. But you didn't answer my question... Ezra." He said the other man's name huskily, unable to prevent himself from playing with fire.
He watched with amusement as Ezra cleared his throat. "Uh... Yes, it was common knowledge."
"Last question; where were you at 11:30 p.m., the time of the murder?"
Ezra's eyes flashed at the veiled accusation that he could be the murderer, but he replied nevertheless. "I was 'mingling' with Linda Stanton. Neither of us could have perpetrated the crime, we were together the whole time."
"Either of you could have paid someone else to do it," Chris countered. "The restroom area was deserted. It would be easy to do it without anyone noticing anythin'."
"I suppose," Ezra conceded with unexpected grace. "But I didn't."
"If it's any consolation, I don't think you did it either," Chris told him with a genuine smile.
"In that case... Will that be all?" Ezra asked softly.
"For now." Chris gave the words as much innuendo as he could.
Ezra obviously caught it, for he smiled. "Very well. Goodnight, then... For now."
He extended his hand to Chris, who shook it, both of them holding on for longer than necessary. Finally, Ezra bowed slightly, a small smile dancing on his lips, and left, passing by Buck and Vin on their way in.
"We're done, Chris. Anyone else on the list?" Vin asked him. "What's wrong?" he added, always in tune with Chris's moods.
Chris detailed his latest interviews, complete with Kelly's entrance. "The way Kelly looked at Standish... There was enough hunger in his eyes to eat the man alive," he said slowly, scowling at the upsetting realization. "It certainly would explain Standish's dislike of Kelly."
Buck tilted his head in thought. "Why would Kelly risk it? It doesn't add up. Chasing Standish while he's runnin' for Senate could ruin his chances of winnin'. Let's face it; John Q. Public isn't exactly liberal about homosexuality."
"Good question. I'll have to talk with Ezra again later," Chris stated, not fully understanding why the idea of Kelly having his eye on Ezra bothered him so much. He had just met the man, and even his lust for the graceful body and the handsome face didn't explain the concern he felt.
"This whole mess looks complicated." Buck remarked. "This one isn't goin' to be an easy case to solve. So, who's next?"
Vin looked down at the guest list. "Linda Stanton, she's the last one."
"Good. Let's wrap this up here then head out to the station. I'll have Josiah and Nathan check out Stevens's place. Maybe they'll find somethin' that leads us to the killer," Chris said.
"Yes, sir!" Buck replied with a cheeky grin.
Less than a minute later, Linda Stanton walked into the small room they were using for the interrogations. After a long talk where she just confirmed what Ezra had already said, Linda gave them Patricia Stevens's address and left. Tired from the party and the long interrogation session, the three men did the same, climbing into Chris's truck and driving to the police station that housed the squad.
Patricia's next-door neighbor didn't seem too happy about being dragged out of bed in the middle of the night, but answered all the questions Josiah and Nathan threw her way. According to her, Patricia Stevens was a quiet girl who kept much to herself, but who was nice to everyone. Her neighbor had never seen her in the company of any man, never met any of her friends. Other than that, there was nothing else she knew or remembered.
Satisfied the woman didn't know anything else, the two cops finally went into the apartment...
And found they hadn't been the first to arrive.
The whole apartment had been searched top to bottom, and from the looks of it, by someone in a hurry. There were papers everywhere, the furniture was a mess, all the drawers were wide open, paintings were hanging off the walls, the safe was open and empty.
"No stone was left unturned," Josiah said.
Nathan looked around. "Yeah... Wonder if they got what they wanted."
Realizing it was pretty much useless, but willing to try, the two men nevertheless swept the place, looking for any clues left behind.
"Nothing," Josiah finally said with a sigh. "We better get back to the station. The others should be there already."
"There goes the weekend," Nathan groused with a playful grimace.
Nathan still remembered the sense of pride he had felt at being asked to join the Homicide Squad, the first of its kind in all of the country. Six detectives with different backgrounds, but with a common goal. Chris was their leader, having been with the Major Crime division for years, as well as the SWAT team before that. Buck shared most of Chris's background, having also been a Navy SEAL with the blond before they joined the force together.
As for himself, Nathan knew he had been chosen for his medical knowledge, while Josiah's degree in psychology came in handy to create profiles on suspects; JD was their computer and surveillance genius, Vin, their top sniper and weapons expert.
Josiah chuckled. "Yeah. We better work fast on this one. I'm certain the Mayor will put as much pressure on Commissioner Travis as he can. He can't be made to look bad."
"Ya gotta love politicians," Nathan sighed as they exited Patricia Stevens's home.
"Patricia Stevens was twenty-three, born in Rhode Island, moved to Denver when she was twenty after her parents died in a car accident. Tried a few odd jobs, then turned to prostitution. A year later she started working at the 'Pink Rabbit', supposedly as a waitress, although there were rumors she was the owner's new 'squeeze'. About a year ago, she went to work for the 'Top Model' agency as a model," JD read from the file he had compiled on the victim.
"A strange career move," Chris noticed as they sat at the conference table discussing the case. "We have to question Linda Stanton again. I want to find out why she hired Patricia in the first place. Stanton must have checked her out. Why would she hire a former prostitute as a model?"
"A very good question. She seems a shrewd business woman." Buck said. "She wouldn't have made that move unless she would gain something from it."
"What about Joey Kirkland?" Vin asked JD.
"At the time, the case was given to the former Homicide division," JD replied with a grin. "No leads were found. There was no breaking and entering, so he must have known his killer. The neighbors didn't hear anything out of the ordinary. Kirkland lived in this huge apartment building; some of the other tenants didn't even know who he was or what he looked like. He also lived alone and at the time of his death had been a model with 'Top Model' for about two years."
"And Standish?" Chris asked softly.
He still couldn't explain his reaction to the Southerner the night before. There was just something about Ezra, something beyond the obvious sensuality surrounding their encounter, that drew him inexplicably. The only thing he knew for certain was he had been left with a sudden need to see Ezra again, to be near him. He had never felt so drawn to anyone so fast; it was something new, exciting.
Buck grimaced. "He told us the truth, or part of it anyway. He was with the FBI in Atlanta until six months ago. I talked to a friend who works for the Bureau here in Denver and asked him to check Standish out. Apparently he was one of the FBI's best undercover agents... Ever. Somethin' of a wild card, but since it got results, no one really called him up on it. About a year ago rumors started that he was on the take, and although nothin' could be proved, it pretty much ruined his career. The fact he owns a Jaguar didn't help either, especially considering no one knows how he got it in the first place. There's no record of it havin' been bought by Standish, either with cash or credit, and although he has made some successful investments, he still couldn't afford such a pricey toy."
"Do we know why he left?" Vin asked.
"Not really. He was shot durin' a bust. The... bullet was standard Bureau issue. He was... shot in the back," Buck finished with an angry frown.
"By the people he was supposed to trust with his life." Chris shook his head wearily. "What else?"
JD took it from there. "He moved to Denver about five months ago and became a private detective. He's expensive, but so far he has managed to solve every single case he was handed. According to his FBI file, he is highly intelligent, a top marksman, a true chameleon, manages to fit in comfortably within any given environment. He's also headstrong, hates authority, has a total disregard for the chain of command or following orders, and works solo."
Chris nodded. "Okay. What about suspects?"
"There's nothing to connect the two murders," Josiah said. "I would suggest we focus on Patricia Stevens for now. Excluding Standish from the suspect list, I would venture we have two left; Linda Stanton and Harry Green."
Nathan nodded his agreement. "Linda Stanton started out as a model and made a fortune. When she decided she was too old to continue paradin' down the catwalk, she started 'Top Model'. The agency is a success; she has an eye for beauty and manages to find some of the best models around. Maybe there was somethin' behind her wish to hire Patricia, or maybe Patricia found out somethin' she wasn't supposed to. Like who killed Kirkland."
"Or maybe Chris is right and this is about Standish," Vin ventured. "I don't know if you guys noticed it, but when we were leavin' the Mayor's house last night, I saw Linda Stanton walkin' with Standish down to her car. She had her arm around his waist, just like a lover. If she was jealous enough..." He left the statement unfinished, but the others caught his meaning.
"Okay. Next suspect, Harry Green. What would be his reason?" Chris queried.
"Same as Linda, jealousy. He might have been involved with Patricia when she worked for him. If he found out she was chasing the 'photographer', he could be jealous enough to have her killed. The 'no one betrays me and gets away with it' type of thing," Buck replied.
"Makes sense. What do we have on him?"
"He started his 'career' involved in anything illegal he could get his hands on. Prostitution, guns, drugs, you name it. Then the word got out that he had decided to become a legitimate businessman. Green opened the 'Pink Rabbit' soon after that. Vice suspects he still runs a prostitution ring based in the nightclub, but has never managed to prove anything," JD said.
Chris took a deep breath. "So we have two possibilities; either this was a crime of passion, possibly havin' to do with Ezra Standish, or it's connected with Joey Kirkland's death. Just in case it's the former, I want you to run a check on William Kelly, JD."
Vin chuckled. "Already done, Cowboy. After the way ya were droolin' all over Ezra last night when he arrived at the party, Bucklin and I thought it was best to investigate Kelly. Check out your competition, ya know?"
Chris glared at them, trying to ignore the flash of jealousy at the thought of Ezra and Kelly together. "Well?" he growled.
"Nothing unusual. Good student, moved into politics when he was very young. One of the City Council's best known members, he's runnin' for Senate," Nathan said. "He's a widower, his wife died seven years ago. No known lovers or affairs, before or after his wife's death. Made his career by usin' people, but in such a subtle way that no one can point a finger at him. He's a charmer and people fall easily. We couldn't find anythin' rotten or any skeletons in the closet."
"Okay. " Chris glanced at his watch. "Nine a.m., already. Vin, you and I are goin' to have another word with Linda Stanton. Buck, JD, I want you to question Harry Green. Josiah, Nathan, I want you to keep diggin' into everyone's lives. The press is making a circus out of this, and I want this case solved before the Mayor starts breathin' down my neck."
Vin grinned cheekily. "Yeah. Much better havin' Ezra breathin' down your neck, right, Cowboy?"
"Go!" Chris snapped at them, flushing slightly at the idea of having Ezra that close.
"Sir! Yes, sir!" Buck quipped, giving Chris a mock salute and ducking just in time to miss the paperweight thrown his way.
Linda Stanton was in a photo shoot with some of her models, and they had to track her down. The location for the shoot was a huge fountain on the grounds of a private mansion on the outskirts of town. The mass of people busy around it made Chris think of an ant colony. Everyone had their designated role, some placing the lights in just the right position, others taking care of the photography equipment, others doing the makeup... It was controlled chaos.
The owner of the 'Top Model' agency left a trailer with three of her female models, Ezra trailing behind them with a camera in his hand. He was dressed in black jeans so tight they left little to the imagination, and a t-shirt the same color, glued to his torso, giving the perfect image of sensuality and seduction. He saw them immediately and Chris felt something inside lurch as Ezra smiled slightly at him.
Stanton saw them at that moment as well and approached them. "Can I help you, detectives?" she asked coldly.
"We need to ask you a few more questions, Ma'am," Vin replied from beside him.
"Can it wait until after the shoot? It won't take long."
Unable to resist the urge to speak with Ezra again, Chris nodded. "No problem."
"Thank you," Stanton said without a smile, her voice never softening. They watched her walk up to her models, giving Ezra an affirmative nod. "Everything is ready for you guys."
"What do we have to do?" one of the girls asked.
"Fight each other," Ezra replied with a smirk.
"What?" One of the others looked at him with a puzzled frown.
"What you heard, my dear. I want you to jump into that fountain and pretend to fight amongst yourselves. Have fun with the water. Just remember, let loose your sex appeal and show the product to the camera, all right?"
The models shrugged and jumped in the fountain, ignoring the cold. It took them a minute to relax, but when they did, everyone in the area seemed paralyzed by their graceful movements and beauty. The water fight was leaving them soaked to the bone, but they were laughing, and even though two girls had ganged up against the third, their joy was something to behold.
"Well done, ladies! You can stop now," Ezra told them, handing the camera to his assistant, but the girls completely ignored him, continuing their battle, yelling and laughing, and soaking anyone standing close enough. Ezra chuckled as he approached the fountain. "That is hardly appropriate behavior for such delicate young ladies," he teased with a smile.
"Oh, yeah?" one of them taunted with a wicked grin. Before Ezra could react to her mischievous smile, he was pulled into the fountain, disappearing into the water with a loud splash.
He surfaced sputtering, glaring at the giggling models. "You do realize this means war, don't you, ladies?" he drawled, straightening up, clothes completely glued to his body, tendrils of wavy chestnut hair sticking to his forehead and dripping water, like tears, across his face.
Chris felt his pants getting tighter at the erotic image, and he heard Vin sigh next to him.
What happened next was a splashing battle of enormous proportions, Ezra losing only because he was severely outnumbered. It was exhaustion that finally made them leave the fountain and go back to the trailer for warm clothes.
Chris sighed, relieved when Ezra's tempting and soaked body disappeared from sight, and forced himself to focus on the job as Linda Stanton walked over to them.
"So, what was it that you wanted to ask me?" she asked.
"You were the one responsible for hirin' Patricia Stevens as a model, right?" Vin asked her.
"Of course! It's my agency, I choose who I hire to work for me."
Chris narrowed his eyes. "Did you check her out before hirin' her?"
A knowing smile crossed Stanton's face. "So that's it, then. You're asking if I knew she'd been a hooker. The answer is yes, detectives. I also know a winning face when I see one and she proved me right by becoming one of my best models. I don't judge people, I judge their work, and hers was excellent. She was a natural."
"Fair enough. You know Harry Green?"
"Not personally, no. I know he's the owner of that nightclub, the 'Pink Rabbit', and that he and Pat were close friends."
"Just close friends?"
The woman shrugged and looked at Chris. "There are rumors she was one of his hookers and that along the way he fell in love with her. I never asked, don't know if it's true or not. None of my business, you see? Just as long as she did her job and didn't cause any problems."
"Have you ever been to the 'Pink Rabbit'?" Vin asked her.
"A couple of times. Not my type of place."
Chris nodded, satisfied for the moment. "Okay, that will be all for now. Thank you for your time."
She nodded and left the location shortly after that. Not five minutes later, Ezra joined them. He had changed into a pair of black pants and a dark red silk shirt, that probably cost more than Chris made in a month, and he still looked good enough to eat. Or so Chris thought.
"Gentlemen," he greeted them. "Any news on the murder I should know about?"
"Not really. We just wanted to ask your boss some questions," Vin said.
Ezra glanced around. "Where's Linda?"
"From what we gathered, she had to leave in a hurry. Some problem at the agency," Chris said.
Ezra sighed, looking up at Chris with a provocative pout. "She was to drive me to my condo when we were finished here, seeing as my Jaguar is under repair."
"I can take you home," Chris volunteered immediately, responding to the other man's subtle flirting.
Ezra chuckled as he looked up at Chris. "Wouldn't that inconvenience you, Lieutenant Larabee?" he murmured huskily.
Chris smiled back, feeling the electricity flowing between them and enjoying it thoroughly. "Not at all... Ezra."
"In that case... thank you, I accept." Ezra replied, licking his lips sensually, eyes lit with both amusement and arousal.
"I'll go back to the station," Vin announced, giving Chris a wicked grin. "Have fun, Cowboy."
Chris watched him go with an annoyed grimace, then gestured towards his car. "Come on, I'm parked right here."
As Chris drove them to the address Ezra supplied him with, they talked amicably, getting to know each other better.
"So, why a private eye?" Chris asked abruptly, eyes focused on the noon traffic.
Ezra shrugged slightly. "I guess you can say it was the closest to a federal agent I could be, under the circumstances. I enjoy this sort of work; the investigative process, the gathering of information, even the constant danger. What about you? Why a cop?" he asked in turn with a grin.
Chris chuckled. "Family thing. My grandfather was a cop, my father was a cop -"
"And you are a cop," Ezra interjected with a soft laugh. "I get the idea."
Once they arrived at their destination, Ezra insisted he come up for a cup of coffee. "It's the least I can do after your gallant gesture, Lieutenant Larabee," he said with a mischievous glint in his eyes, as he opened the door to his apartment.
He guided Chris to the living room, offering him a seat and then disappearing into the kitchen to brew them the warm beverage. He brought the coffee to the living room a few minutes later, sitting next to Chris on the sofa and sipping from his cup.
Chris turned to him, doing his best not to let Ezra's proximity affect him. "Ezra, can I ask you somethin'?"
"Of course, Lieutenant Larabee. However, I do reserve the right to answer... or not," Ezra grinned.
"Were you on the take?" Chris asked bluntly, figuring it was best to cut to the chase.
"With the FBI, you mean?" Ezra didn't seem offended by his forwardness. "No. But I was never able to prove my innocence and after what happened during my last case which I'm certain you are aware of I decided to move to greener pastures. I do value my life quite a great deal."
Ezra frowned in confusion. "Kelly?"
"William Kelly. What's the real reason you don't like him?"
Ezra tilted his head thoughtfully. "The man is a contradiction. He is running for Senate, he should balance his actions and words carefully, and yet doesn't give chasing me a second thought. I do detest the man; he seems to have a problem understanding the word no, but I can take care of myself. He just comes on a bit too strong sometimes." He seemed to hesitate, and then asked, "You checked him out as well?"
Chris sipped his coffee, and instead of answering, asked a question himself.
"Why? Think he could have killed Joey?"
"It has crossed my mind. He visits his sister at the 'Top Model' frequently, so he undoubtedly knew of Kirkland. Maybe Kirkland said no once too often. However, there is no evidence to suggest they knew each other. It's a big agency and we both models and staff are not needed every single day of the week. They might have never crossed paths."
"Did you know Patricia was a prostitute a few years ago?" Chris asked, changing the subject.
Ezra nodded. "Yes. I investigated her as soon as I discovered she had been Kirkland's best friend. Always thought it bizarre that Linda hired her in the first place. She checks everyone before signing them to the agency."
"She told us that she knew about Stevens's earlier profession, but that she was an excellent model and that she had liked Patricia's work. She didn't seem to mind."
Ezra seemed to be thinking that over. "It is possible. At first contact Linda seems an easygoing person, one who doesn't judge anyone at face value. And Patricia was a good model," he said.
Chris placed his empty cup on the table and rose with a reluctant sigh. "I have to go back to the station. I'll keep in touch and let you know if we come up with anythin'."
Ezra nodded with a smile. "I'll do the same."
"Okay. And Ezra..." Chris touched his fingers to Ezra's cheek lightly. "Be careful."
Ezra cleared his throat. "I will, I promise."
Chris let himself out, resisting the impulse to go back and kiss the other man senseless. He didn't know why this was happening to him, but once the case was over and both he and Ezra were free, he was going to ask Ezra out. There was something going on between them and he wanted nothing more than to find out exactly what that something was.
It was early and the 'Pink Rabbit' was closed when Buck and JD arrived to question its owner, but their badges got them immediate entrance. Harry Green was playing a game of patience with a deck of cards. In the chair next to him was another man reading a porno magazine. JD wrinkled his nose as the scent of 'Old Spice' reached his nostrils; the man reeked of it.
"Mr. Green, I'm Detective Wilmington, this is Detective Dunne. We would like to ask you a few questions."
Green didn't even look up at them. "So ask," he said, steel in his voice.
"Did you know Patricia Stevens was murdered?" JD began.
"Of course. I read the papers and watch the news, you know? It's not every day that a person is murdered in a party organized by the Mayor. He must be driving you cops up the wall, huh?" he finished with a dirty chuckle. He was a strongly built man, with a shiny bald head and big, dark eyes that seemed to see right through you. His face turned deadly serious all of a sudden. "What of it?"
"What was your relationship with Ms. Stevens?" Buck shot at him, not in the least intimidated by the dangerous expression.
"We were close friends, lovers for a while. We parted on friendly terms."
"So, you weren't bothered by the fact she had the hots for the photographer, Ezra Sanders?" JD insisted.
The dirty chuckle was back. "Sonny, I've met the photographer. Can't really blame her, can I? He's hot, maybe too hot to handle, that one. Pat and I were history. What she did with her own life was her business, nothing more to it. I didn't kill her or have her killed, if that's what you're getting at."
"Where were you at the time of the murder, Mr. Green?"
"I wasn't invited for the party, Detective Wilmington."
"True. But it would've been easy to arrange a costume with a mask hidin' your face and make yourself a guest, wouldn't it? Maybe even forge an invitation or buy one from one of your many contacts. Surely, that would be nothin' for a man like you. In the middle of that sea of people, no one would even give you a second glance."
"I could have, yes. But I was here all night and I have witnesses. Like the perfect host that I am, every night I greet my guests and this time was no exception. We always have celebrities here on Saturday nights, so I couldn't possibly leave."
"Very well. And this gentleman...?" JD turned to the man with the porno magazine.
"This is Tom Jeffries. He's my... secretary," Green informed them with a smirk.
"Ah, I see. And where was your... secretary at the time of the party?"
"Here with me, of course."
"Of course, silly me," JD grinned cheekily.
Buck nodded. "Very well, that will be all for now. Let us know if you're plannin' on leaving town, will you, Mr. Green? And that goes for your... secretary as well. See you around, gentlemen."
They were on their way out when Green asked, "Am I a suspect, then?"
JD's grin got wider. "Of course. You and your... secretary," he replied, enjoying enunciating Jeffries's profession again, knowing it was the furthest thing from the truth. "Goodbye, Mr. Green."
When Buck and JD walked into Chris's office, the others were already there and looking none too happy.
"Any news?" Buck asked.
Vin shook his head. "Nothin'. You?"
"Our talk with Green was damn interestin'. He said he had an alibi for last night, that he was at the club and that several people saw him. We have to check that, but I think he was tellin' the truth."
"What was so interesting then?" Nathan asked.
"There was a guy with Green when we went to see him, a Tom Jeffries, who Green claims is his secretary," JD replied. "We're talking muscle man here. He could've easily killed Stevens. Both men exuded danger. I don't know why, but I got the feeling Green had a serious crush on Stevens and that she was probably the one who dumped him."
"What makes you think that?" Josiah asked curiously.
"He was too blase about the whole thing. I mean, according to the rumors they were together for most of the time Patricia worked for him. She suddenly leaves him, goes to work for a model agency and now gets hot for one of the photographers. And he doesn't mind?" JD shook his head. "I don't buy it. He doesn't look the type to just let go."
Buck nodded. "I agree with the kid. If he heard about her relationship with Ezra... He might have been furious enough to have her killed."
"Okay. Let's put Green on the top of our suspect list," Chris said. "Check out that guy, Jeffries. After that go home and get some rest. It'll do us no good to be running around exhausted and today is Sunday, after all."
JD and Buck left Chris's office and went to hunt information on Tom Jeffries, JD navigating expertly through the computer, while Buck went through the previous Homicide division files. Jeffries had been Green's 'secretary' from the beginning, having been in prison a few times for robbery or assault. He was also suspected of a few murders, but nothing had been proven.
"Just your average secretary," JD remarked sarcastically.
"Yeah. Come on; let's get out of here. This can wait for a few hours."
The early afternoon was cold and windy as they said their goodbyes and went their separate ways. Buck had a romantic lunch planned with his latest conquest and would still make it now that Chris had let them go.
JD decided to go home, having nothing special to do since Casey was out of town with Nettie. Lost in his thoughts, he never noticed a shadow silently following him.
There was nothing JD could have done to prevent what happened. Nearly home, passing a small deserted alley, he was suddenly grabbed from behind and secured by an arm that might as well have been a steel band. A knife grazing his neck stopped him from struggling, while the strong scent of 'Old Spice' reached his nose. Tom Jeffries was his captor.
"What do you want?" he snarled.
"I want you to leave the Stevens case alone," the man growled, disguising his voice easily.
"I can't do that," JD replied, relieved his nervousness didn't show.
"You better do it if you want to keep breathing, cop!" Jeffries threatened.
"Don't be a fool, man!" JD snapped, angry at himself for having fallen so easily and for failing to break free. "That isn't the way the game is played. Even if I asked to be removed from the case, the others would continue the search for the murderer. Whoever you are, you can't win," he said, hoping the fact he had pretended not to recognize Jeffries's voice would buy him some time.
"That's too bad," Jeffries's voice whispered hotly in his ear. "In that case, I guess I'll just have to make an example out of you. Show your friends what will happen if they keep the investigation going."
JD tried to free himself again, to no avail. Something hard connected with his head, and he fell to the ground, nearly unconscious. Suddenly weak, he was powerless to stop the flow of kicks and punches that followed the first one, and soon he was losing the battle to stay awake.
His last memory of the night was a distant voice asking if he was all right.
"Ambulance..." he heard himself say, and surrendered to darkness.
JD woke up to a gentle hand caressing his head, fingers tenderly playing with his hair. He forced his eyes open and saw his best friend sitting on the bed, a worried expression on his face.
"Hey, Buck..." he whispered weakly.
"JD! How are you feeling? You scared the shit out of me!" Buck said, concern coloring his voice. "Ya want anythin'?"
"Water. I feel like I've been hit by a truck." After sipping from the cup Buck held up for him, he said, "My whole body hurts. What happened?"
"A man found you in an alley and called an ambulance. My number was in your wallet so the hospital called me. I already called the others. Who did this to you?" Buck gritted out angrily.
"Tom Jeffries. He wanted us to drop the case; can you imagine that? I can't believe Green was stupid enough to send his lieutenant after one of us like that!"
"Just as long as you're okay, I don't care about anything else... God, when I got the call..." Buck choked around the lump in his throat. He looked down at the young detective. "If anything had happened..."
JD reached for his hand. "I'm okay, Buck, promise."
The others arrived at that moment, the room seeming to shrink at they crowded close to the bed, wanting to make sure their youngest was indeed all right.
"JD, how are you?" Josiah asked in a gentle tone.
"Sore. I've got bruises on my bruises," JD replied with a lopsided grin. "Other than that I'm okay. I'll have to stay overnight, though. Mild concussion," he added at the several quizzical looks sent his way.
"Who did this?" Vin asked with a scowl.
JD gave him the same answer he had given Buck, then said, "I never actually saw him, but I recognized his aftershave and his voice, although he tried to disguise it. Pretty stupid of Green, if you ask me."
Chris narrowed his eyes, pensive. "I agree. Too stupid, especially for someone who's been around for as long as he has. Time to have a heart to heart with Jeffries," he hissed determinedly.
They left Buck to watch over JD and went after Tom Jeffries. No one messed with a member of the team and got away with it.
The first thing they did was go to the address Buck and JD had found on Green's lieutenant. Knocking on the door provided no answer, so Nathan went to fetch the landlord, who got them inside.
Tom Jeffries was dead, his body bleeding on the living room floor, the crimson a stark contrast to the snow white carpet he was lying on.
"Shot through the heart," Josiah said. "Guess he won't be telling us anything."
Chris sighed tiredly. "Yeah. Nathan, call the coroner and the forensics team. I want this place searched from top to bottom as soon as the scene is cleared. We need a lead, and fast."
Nearly an hour later, Vin found a skeleton costume hidden in a small box at the back of the man's wardrobe. "Guess Jeffries was at the Mayor's party after all." He grinned as he showed his finding to the others.
"And since the mask covers the whole face, no one would be able to recognize him. If he had an invitation..." Josiah trailed off knowingly.
Chris nodded. "He could've easily killed Patricia Stevens without anyone spottin' him. Nothin' like hiding in the middle of a crowd. We need to have a little talk with Harry Green. Come on, the lab guys can take it from here."
It was getting dark when they arrived at the 'Pink Rabbit', finding Green at the entrance, opening for business.
"Mr. Green, we'd like to ask you a few questions," Nathan said.
The man looked at them, his expression serene. "Cops again?"
"Got it in one. I'm Lieutenant Larabee, these are my Detectives, Jackson, Tanner and Sanchez."
"What's wrong this time? I already told you people I didn't kill Patricia."
Chris grinned ferally. "Not you, no. But your man Jeffries did. You told my men he'd spent the night with you here, but we found a skeleton costume in his house. Considerin' we're no way near Mardi Gras and this isn't New Orleans, I find it too much of a coincidence. Not to mention your man beat the crap out of one of my detectives. It's more than enough to haul your ass to the station for questionin'."
Green exhaled slowly. "I'm not a stupid man, Larabee. Having Jeffries beat one of your men would be beyond stupid, seeing as you immediately would believe I'd been the one behind it. Look, whether you believe it or not, I am trying to go legit. So I'll come clean with you; Jeffries did kill Patricia, but not by my hand. He was working for someone else."
"You expect us to believe that?" Josiah asked him, looking at the man through narrowed eyes.
"It's the honest to God truth. I can even give you the name of the person behind it. It's..."
He never got a chance to finish. A shot echoed loudly in the silence of night, and Green crumbled to the ground, a red stain rapidly spreading over his shirt.
"Damn it!" Chris swore angrily. "Josiah, call for backup and an ambulance. Vin, the shot came from one of the rooftops above us; get the bastard. Nathan, help me get Green out of firing range."
While Chris and Nathan dragged Green inside the deserted nightclub, and Josiah reached for his phone, Vin went in search of the killer.
It was too late. Whoever it was, was gone. He found a rifle on the roof of the building directly in front of the club, but no other sign of who might have been up there. He was certain the weapon wouldn't have any fingerprints on it either.
When he joined the others, Green was dead. "Lost him. Did ya manage to get anythin' out of Green?" Vin asked.
Chris shook his head slowly. "No, not a single word. We're back to square one... With two more deaths to the list."
The next morning when Chris arrived at the station he had a message from Ezra asking him to meet him at his townhouse apartment. Leaving Vin in charge of updating Commissioner Travis on the case, Chris flew to Ezra's house, afraid his cover had been compromised somehow and the younger man was in danger.
He knocked briskly and almost immediately the door opened up to him. "Lieutenant Larabee, please come in," Ezra offered with a smile.
"Thanks." Chris followed Ezra to the living room, a wave of fierce relief stabbing through him at finding Ezra safe. "Is everythin' okay? All I got was a message sayin' you needed to see me..."
"Sit down, please. Everything's fine. I believe I might have good news for you regarding the case. A letter from Patricia Stevens arrived this morning with the mail. Inside, there was this key." He handed it over to Chris. "And a note with a single word airport."
Chris looked down at the key in his hand, then at the man standing so close to him. "The key is probably from one of the lockers in the airport. It seems Patricia might've known she was in danger and decided to trust someone. Our luck that it was you, Ezra. This might be the break we've been lookin' for," he stated with a smile.
Ezra smiled back, his whole face lighting up as he looked up at Chris, and the cop held his breath as he became extremely aware of the closeness between them, of the warmth emanating from Ezra's body. He looked into sparkling green eyes and suddenly it was too hard to breathe, to think.
Before he could stop himself, he brushed his lips across the younger man's mouth, wrapping his arms around Ezra's body and bringing him even closer. After Ezra's initial surprise faded, he began to return the caress wholeheartedly, his lips firming under Chris's, mouth warm and moist as they kissed almost savagely, devouring each other with all the need and frustration that had been mounting since they had first locked gazes.
Chris finally sighed into Ezra's mouth, before pulling back. "I can't do this," he whispered, voice hoarse and breathless.
"Why not?" Ezra asked softly, looking down at his hands.
"This... thing between us... it could turn dangerous, for both of us. Until this case is over... Think you can take a rain check?"
Ezra gave him a lopsided grin, apparently understanding his reasons for stopping before things got out of hand. "Yes, I believe I can manage it. Just as long as you promise that there will be a raincheck."
Chris chuckled, thumb brushing over Ezra's kiss-swollen lips. "Oh, believe me, there will be." Taking a deep breath, he got back to the matter at hand. "I've got some news. Harry Green and his right-hand man, Tom Jeffries, were both shot yesterday." He told Ezra everything that had happened the day before, then rose from the couch with an unhappy grimace. "Id better get movin'. I'm goin' to check the lockers at the airport, I'll call you if I find anythin' worth while."
Ezra nodded. "I have a meeting with Linda at the 'Top Model' agency in an hour; call me on my cell phone." He handed Chris a small card with the number.
"Okay. I should be able to call before your meetin'. Hopefully this time we'll have somethin' to keep us goin'. The body count on this one just keeps on risin' and we still don't have a clue who's behind this." He waited until Ezra opened the door for him before speaking again. "See ya soon."
"Very soon, I hope?" Ezra half-asked.
Chris winked at him. "You betcha." Then he was gone, already dialing Forensics to meet him at the airport.
It was, in fact, forty-five minutes before Ezra heard from Chris again. He was in Linda's office, waiting for her to arrive when his cell phone began to ring.
"Ezra, it's Chris."
"Did you found what you were hoping for?"
"Sort of. Found an envelope with a bunch of Polaroids. You might be right; this whole mess might be about Joey Kirkland's death."
Ezra frowned. "Why do you say that?"
"The Polaroids showed Kirkland and William Kelly together and I can tell you one thing; if the media got hold of them, Kelly's career would definitely be over."
"Compromising, were they?" Ezra grinned.
"Try lots of naked skin and two men doin' the wild thing. You can see their faces really well."
"So, now what?"
"Well, it's still circumstantial evidence. Just because Kelly was involved with Kirkland doesn't mean he killed him. I'll have to think of somethin'. Think you can meet us at the station when you're done there? We could use your help."
"Certainly. I should be done in an hour or so."
"I'll be waitin'. Bye."
"Goodbye, Lieutenant -"
"Chris," the cop interjected, amusement clear in his voice. "After the all-out kiss we shared this morning, I think the least you can do is call me by my first name, Ezra."
Ezra chuckled quietly. "All right. Goodbye, Chris."
He pocketed his phone, looking pensively out the window. "Well, well, well... Compromising photos of Kirkland and Kelly," he whispered, not noticing Linda walking into the room.
"Do you have them?" Her hard voice cut through his thoughts.
Ezra turned, startled. "What?"
He was dismayed to see a gun in Linda's hand, aimed high at his heart. His snug fitting clothes didn't allow for much room, forcing him to wear an ankle holster, which at the present left him defenseless against her. Besides, if he was honest with himself, he truly hadn't believed Linda to be involved with his case and hadn't deemed it necessary to carry further protection. He suddenly realized that he had been fooled by her easygoing act and that she knew more than he had at first believed.
"Patricia's photos," Linda replied. "Do you have them?"
Berating himself for his carelessness, Ezra decided to try and bluff his way out of this mess. "What if I do?" he taunted, crossing his arms defiantly.
"How much money do you want for them?" she asked, eyes cold and calculating. "How much to keep quiet?"
"I have no wish to ask you for money, Linda," he sighed sadly. "The photos of Joey and your brother... I take it, it was Patricia who took them?"
"Yes," she replied. "That's why I hired her as a model in the first place." Seeing Ezra's confusion, she explained, "Joey and my brother met at the 'Pink Rabbit' a little over a year ago, while Patricia was working there. I guess she saw the sparks between them and knew what would eventually happen. She became a good friend to Joey and soon found out he was having an affair with William. The night those photos were taken, there had been a party at the nightclub and both Joey and my brother were beyond drunk, so Patricia drove them home. Convincing them to have sex and that she should take some 'mementos' of that special occasion wasn't too hard in their intoxicated state."
"She used the photos to blackmail you?" Ezra guessed.
"Yes. Showed up here the next morning, all smiles and sarcasm, the little bitch," Linda spat. "At first she wanted money, then she decided she wanted to work for 'Top Model', get a career going. My brother was already working with the Mayor, this would've destroyed him, so we agreed to her terms. Besides, she was beautiful and she really did an amazing job, but her demands were getting worse and worse, it had to stop."
"Who killed her?"
"A man named Tom Jeffries. I paid him good money to do the job. All I had to do was ask William to get me some extra invitations for the Mayor's party for my staff and give one to Jeffries. Our invitations had the agency name only, so his name wouldn't even be on the guest list."
"Jeffries worked for Harry Green, did he not? How did you make his acquaintance?"
She chuckled humorlessly. "I met Harry and Jeffries when I was in my early twenties, before I even became a famous model. I was a wild one then, liked to party, to live life to the fullest. Harry and I met in a club, hit it off from the start and became friends. He was the one who helped me start my modeling career."
"Why did you have Patricia killed now of all times? As far as I know, she has been with the agency for almost a year now."
Linda fidgeted nervously. "She was Joey's best friend. Both William and I tried to tell him she was blackmailing us, but he never believed us. She... found out I had Joey killed and raised the stakes. Even with the profit I was making from the agency, I would've never been able to pay the amount she was asking for."
"So it was you who killed Joey, not your brother?" Ezra insisted.
"William wouldn't do such a thing!" she sputtered, paling visibly.
"Why not? You said it yourself, if his relationship with Joey got out, he would be destroyed."
"But he didn't, I did!" she said angrily.
"All right. Why did you have Joey killed?"
"He was in love with William, wanted to be by his side during his campaign for Senate," she replied, not looking Ezra in the eye. "He kept talking about how William should set an example for all gay men in the country, how they should get out of the closet and admit they were homosexual. I love my brother, Ezra, there is nothing I wouldn't do for him."
"Including murder?" he asked softly.
"Including murder," she admitted in a whisper.
"And Green and Jeffries? They were also killed."
"I killed them, I had to. That moron, Jeffries, panicked when the cops went to see his boss and attacked one of them. It was a stupid move, he ruined everything. So I went to his apartment and shot him. Before, the cops were just throwing around conjectures; after the attack, they would focus on Harry. I knew Harry would talk and I couldn't afford it. I waited until he was opening the club, and before he could tell anything to the cops, I killed him."
"Harry knew you were the one responsible for Patricia's demise?"
"Of course. Do you really think a gorilla the likes of Jeffries would keep something like that a secret from his lord and master?"
"Weren't you afraid the photos might appear in the wrong hands once Patricia was dead?"
She sighed. "I assumed she kept them at her house. I ordered Jeffries to leave the party as soon as she was dead so he could avoid questioning, and told him to go to her apartment and search it. She was a loner; it was unlikely she would've given them to anyone else, and besides, she was too cocky and thought she had us eating out of her hand. I guess I was wrong, huh?"
During the conversation, Ezra had managed to get closer to Linda, waiting for the right opportunity to act. When her aim wavered slightly, he took his chance. He suddenly threw himself at her, wrestling the gun out of her hand and taking her arm in a restraining grip.
"Linda, you know I'm going to have to call the police," he said, feeling somewhat sorry for her.
She struggled weakly for a moment, but he only tightened his hold on her arms. She finally slumped, a resigned expression settling over her face. "At least it's all over now," she whispered. "I won't have to keep looking over my shoulder anymore."
Ezra reached for his cell phone and dialed Chris's number. For once there was no thrill in having solved a case; only sadness and disappointment. No matter how long one was in this business, there was always that one person who had you fooled. And Linda Stanton had definitely been the one for him.
"Let me see if I've got this straight," Buck began with a focused expression. "Linda Stanton killed Joey Kirkland because he was goin' to out her brother; had Jeffries kill Patricia Stevens because she got too greedy; and then killed Jeffries and Green because they were basically loose ends and could point a finger at her. That's about it, right?"
Nathan nodded. "Yep. As for the weapons used, the revolver she shot Jeffries with the one she had with her when we busted her had been given to her by Green years earlier and she stole the rifle from Jeffries's house. The lab guys found a hidden compartment in the man's livin' room with enough weapons to arm a small third world country. Guess she knew about it. The knife used to kill Patricia hasn't been found yet. My guess is Jeffries got rid of it somewhere; we may never find it."
Chris looked at Ezra. "You're awfully quiet," he commented.
Ezra sighed tiredly. "I believe she's lying," he said, looking at the men gathered around the conference table, sharing a sympathetic grimace with JD. Wilmington had brought the young detective directly from the hospital, and it showed. It also meant both cops had missed most of the morning as Linda was brought into custody.
"Lyin' 'bout what, exactly?" Vin asked him curiously.
"I believe she was telling the truth about having paid Jeffries to kill Patricia, and I also believe she killed Green and his lieutenant. But I think she's protecting her brother regarding Joey Kirkland's death. Kirkland was strangled with a winter scarf and while I find Linda to be a strong woman, she would be no match for someone like Kirkland who undoubtedly fought his murderer valiantly. Also, while she stood firm during most of her confession, whenever she mentioned Kirkland, she would look away and seemed exceedingly nervous."
Josiah nodded. "I agree. I got the same feeling when Nathan and I questioned her."
Chris ran a hand over his hair. "All right. But considerin' she did confess, and her brother's position in our government, we can't just go accusin' the man of murder. The Polaroids are not enough to bring him in."
"There's one way," JD said. "Entrapment," he added with a cheeky grin.
Nathan raised his eyebrows in question. "Entrapment?"
"Yeah. Kelly's got the hots for Ezra, right? So, we set him up. Have Ezra call him, ask him to meet him tonight at his apartment, and get him to talk. We set up surveillance and capture his confession on tape. I'm sure Ezra can make him spill his guts."
Ezra nodded. "Shouldn't be too difficult, he is rather sure of himself. He will be particularly open, since he won't be expecting it. And I can up the stakes by letting him know I have the photos Patricia took. Well thought out, Detective Dunne."
JD flushed under the praise. "Thanks."
Chris frowned. "I don't like it. If he did kill Kirkland, he's a dangerous man. Besides, we arrested his sister, he's bound to know it's a trap."
Ezra cleared his throat. "Well, that's not exactly true. I hoped you would come to the same conclusion I did regarding Linda's confession, so I asked her secretary to tell everyone including Kelly that Linda is away on unexpected business for the next two days. It's not unusual for her to do so, since she's often searching for exotic locations suitable for photographic shoots. I told Sherri, the secretary, it was police business, so I believe she will do as I asked. No one was privy to Linda's arrest and you can keep her here at least twenty-four hours before actually having to charge her with anything. So, why not try it?"
"He's right, Cowboy," Vin agreed calmly. "'Sides, we'll be there to arrest Kelly, and if need be, protect Ezra."
"I can take care of myself just fine, thank you very much," Ezra replied somewhat dryly.
Vin grinned. "Didn't mean ya couldn't, Ezra. Was just tryin' to convince Chris it's the right thing to do."
Chris exhaled softly. "All right, you win. But the man so much as twitches and I'm all over him!" he warned, sharing a warm smile with Ezra.
Ezra nodded, amusement shining in his eyes. "Very well, Lieutenant Larabee. I believe I'll call Kelly now, it will give us time to work on the final details in the plan." He rose smoothly from his chair, walking by Chris and breathing softly onto his neck, enjoying the way the cop shuddered in response. "Detective Tanner happened to mention you wished me to breathe down your neck," Ezra whispered in Chris's ear, mischief lighting up his face. "Was it everything you dreamed of?" he drawled softly before leaving the room.
Buck hooted with laughter. "Green was right; he is too hot to handle! Pard, you'll have your hands full with that one!"
Chris glared at him, then turned the glare full force on the innocent looking Vin. "You are so goin' to get it, Tanner," he vowed in a low tone.
Vin chuckled. "Bring it on, Cowboy."
The call to Kelly worked as predicted; the politician was quick to accept Ezra's offer to share a cup of coffee after dinner. Kelly was supposed to arrive at Ezra's apartment at nine sharp, but ten minutes before the agreed time, there was a knock on the door.
Chris had decided earlier that there was no need for the whole team to be there, so Ezra waited until the blond joined Vin and Buck in the next room before going to answer.
Sure enough, it was Kelly, a wide smile on his face as Ezra guided him into the living room. "I'm glad you accepted my invitation, Mr. Kelly."
The man sat on the sofa, gesturing to the seat next to him. "Join me, please. I must confess I was surprised to receive your call. I always got the impression you didn't like me very much."
"Actually, there is a reason for this meeting. I have something I wish to discuss with you," Ezra told him, giving the man a sultry glance, playing him along.
Kelly swallowed thickly, cheeks flushing lightly. "What?"
"You are aware Patricia Stevens and I had become close in the last weeks, are you not?" Ezra asked, silk in his tone.
Kelly's face was suddenly set in stone. "Yes. What's that got to do with me?"
Ezra smiled gently. "Well, she gave me something to keep for her in the case of her... demise. Some photos, I believe?"
Kelly jumped from the sofa, looking down at Ezra with angry eyes. "You little... " He trailed off, obviously striving for control. He took a deep breath, then tried again, "Let's cut the bullshit then, Sanders. I'll give you a million dollars for those photos... and for a night with you."
Ezra regarded him curiously. "You still wish to take me to bed? Even with me blackmailing you?"
Kelly leered. "Business is business, pleasure is pleasure. I want you, it's as simple as that. I never could resist having a handsome man in my bed. Like all good things, beauty is meant to be possessed, to be taken. So, what's your answer?"
Ezra had no illusions about the fact that he would have been dead the moment Kelly'd had his fun if their conversation had been for real. "I accept the million, Mr. Kelly..." he said, nibbling wantonly at his bottom lip, pushing for a reaction. "...for the photos. I wouldn't want to end up like Joey Kirkland, now would I?" he drawled, a smug smile gracing his lips.
"You little shit!" Kelly snapped, taking a step closer to Ezra. "Don't play games with me!"
"I wouldn't come any closer if I were you," Ezra said calmly. "Let's cut to the chase, shall we? I have the photos, I know what you did to Kirkland. And I am not going to have sex with you, not for all the money in the universe. It so happens I do not have a death wish. Now... I am willing to keep silent, and a million sounds like a reasonable price. If not..."
"Don't you dare threaten me, you bastard! You may end up like Joey yet!"
"You admit you killed him, then?" Ezra asked softly, fingers playing with the top button of his jeans.
"Yes, I killed him!" he spat. "He wanted me to give up everything I worked so hard for, wanted me to admit to the world I was homosexual! I tried talking with him, reasoning, but he wouldn't listen."
"So you strangled him," Ezra said in the same soothing tone.
"I had to," Kelly muttered, shaken, as he looked down at his hands. "I... I loved him, but I had to do it. I couldn't lose everything, I just couldn't."
"You are disgusting, Kelly," Ezra said with a grimace.
Ezra's voice seemed to bring the man out of his mental fog. He drew a gun out of his pocket and aimed it at Ezra. "I want those photos. Give them to me now, or I'll kill you!"
"I'm afraid they are not in my possession any longer."
Kelly frowned. "You're lying."
"I am not. I gave them to the police; they have them now."
Kelly's eyes narrowed dangerously. "In that case, I have nothing left to lose. I may go down, but I'm taking you with me, Sanders," he said as his finger began to squeeze the trigger.
"I wouldn't try it," a new voice echoed loudly in the room.
Ezra watched as Kelly turned, facing the three detectives keeping him in their sights before finally admitting defeat and dropping his weapon.
"Mr. Kelly, I believe your political days are over." Buck grinned at the slumped figure. "You're under arrest for the murder of Joey Kirkland. You have the right to remain silent..."
Ezra looked into Chris's eyes, seeing the worry and the desire warring for supremacy, Buck's voice disappearing into the background as they smiled at each other; it was over.
Chris waited until Vin and Buck had disappeared from view with their prisoner before going back inside and joining Ezra in his living room.
"You okay?" he asked softly.
Ezra smiled. "I'm fine, Chris. Kelly didn't even touch me."
"Good," Chris growled, not sure where his possessiveness was coming from, but not bothering to conceal it. "Because if he had, I would've broken all of his fingers."
Ezra chuckled quietly. "Pretty sure of your welcome, aren't you?"
"I know you feel somethin' for me. I feel it, too."
Ezra nodded, serious now. "Yes. Behind the desire, the lust, there's something more... a connection. Feels right."
"Time for that rain check?" Chris asked hopefully.
Their eyes locked and Chris swallowed hard as Ezra nodded, then tilted his head to the side and covered Chris's lips with his. The kiss started out soft and gentle, but as with the one before, they soon lost themselves in the sensual caress. Chris felt the tip of Ezra's tongue licking at his lower lip and he opened up to it, allowing Ezra's tongue to invade his mouth, to taste him, to explore at will.
The kiss shattered the last of Chris's misgivings about surrendering to the frightening emotion which flowed through him each time he got anywhere near Ezra. He felt himself getting weaker as the heat between them got higher. When Ezra pressed his body up against him, and Chris felt Ezra's arousal firm against his hip, control was a thing of the past. He wrapped his arms around the younger man and threw himself into the kiss, plundering Ezra's lush mouth greedily.
Ezra moaned weakly into Chris's mouth, fingers twisting his sweater, as he tried to pull him even closer. Amused at the other man's eagerness, Chris complied, cradling the back of Ezra's head with one hand, fingers combing through the silky mass of chestnut hair, while his other hand caressed under Ezra's shirt, touching smooth skin. His mouth left Ezra's and roamed to the alluring throat, nibbling the Adam's apple, then licking his way down to the neck.
Ezra mumbled something unintelligible, head falling back to give Chris better access, his hands caressing Chris's taut chest over the sweater. Chris felt him tracing his torso, finding his nipples and rolling them with his thumbs over the wool.
Moving away suddenly, Chris stood and pulled Ezra up with him. "Bed," he all but growled.
Ezra obviously agreed, for he grabbed Chris's hand and led him to the bedroom. He took off his shirt, then stood waiting expectantly at the end of the bed while Chris pulled his sweater up and over his head.
Narrowing his eyes with a wicked gleam, Chris walked over to Ezra, hands moving past the waistband of Ezra's pants, cupping his firm buttocks as their groins came together, hardness rubbing against hardness. He opened the buttons of the pants and slid them down Ezra's hips, kneeling and pulling them off.
Ezra stepped out of them and Chris ran his hands up his bare legs, over calves and thighs, up to Ezra's ass again where he gently squeezed. He got rid of Ezra's boxer briefs, taking his time to enjoy the breathtaking body in front of him.
"Beautiful..." he breathed over Ezra's cock, making him moan deep in his throat.
Chris heard Ezra suck in a sudden sharp breath as he ran his tongue over the hard shaft, stroking the length of the cock with his tongue, bathing it, one of his hands cupping Ezra's balls, while the other played lightly at the crease that separated the younger man's buttocks.
Ezra clutched at his shoulders for support as Chris took him deep in his mouth, his moans growing louder, knees buckling, his entire body breaking into a sweat. Feeling Ezra getting closer to the brink, Chris suddenly stopped.
"I want to come inside you, Ezra..." he whispered roughly.
It obviously took Ezra a moment to register what Chris had said; he was panting hard, eyes squeezed shut, lips parted in a wordless plea.
When he finally opened his eyes, he smiled down at Chris, "Yes..." he whispered, walking over to the bed and lying down on the covers.
Chris finished undressing, knowing Ezra was watching his every move, taking in every bit of exposed flesh with his roving eyes. He dropped his boxers to the floor and then crawled up the bed until he was covering the younger man completely with his entire body, and kissed him hard. Then, for the first time since they had met, both let their hands roam at will over hot skin, stroking, teasing, caressing, discovering all the secrets to each other's bodies.
Chris waited for Ezra to retrieve the lube stashed in the nightstand drawer before settling between Ezra's parted thighs. He snatched the lube from Ezra's hand and poured some onto his fingers, then began to massage the muscular ring to Ezra's body, carefully inserting a finger in the tight channel.
When the digit slid in easily, he added more, stretching Ezra with tender care. No matter how much he wanted this, he was unwilling to hurt Ezra, to betray the trust the other man was placing in his hands. Removing his fingers, he took a moment to coat his own erection thoroughly, taking a deep breath to control the fire raging inside.
Finally, he replaced his fingers with the tip of his erection, grinning as Ezra whimpered softly. Needing no further encouragement, Chris pressed forward, inch by inch, slowly becoming immersed within Ezra's hot and tight body. Soon he was fully inside, his body resting against the soft curves of Ezra's buttocks.
Chris began moving in a gentle rhythm, slowly at first, keeping Ezra's cock firmly trapped between the two of them. Ezra was having none of that; he whimpered again, thrusting his hips up, trying to force Chris to move faster. They both wanted it, they both needed it.
Chris surrendered and thrust deeper into the hot channel. Faster, harder, he rode Ezra, losing himself in the warmth and passion surrounding him. Ezra arched from the bed in ecstasy, pulling at Chris, evidently trying to get him as close as humanly possible, as deep as he could, needing their connection to last forever as much as Chris did.
Chris reached between their bodies, gripping Ezra's cock and stroking him in time with their tempo, as their thrusts grew shorter and faster. It was all it took; Ezra arched back, face contorting as he fell over the edge, Chris's name escaping from tightly pressed lips. Hearing Ezra cry out, and feeling his lover's body quivering around him, was all it took to sweep Chris over the edge to his own completion, filling Ezra's body with his seed.
When their breathing returned to normal and their sated bodies actually obeyed the command to move, they wrapped their arms around each other and kissed unhurriedly for a while. Finally starting to get uncomfortable, Chris got up and went to the bathroom. He returned with a warm cloth, using it to tenderly clean Ezra and then himself. Dropping the cloth on the floor, he went back into Ezra's embrace.
"I should be goin', Ezra," he finally broke the silence, caressing his lover's hair gently. "Travis will want me there for the media circus which will undoubtedly form around Kelly's arrest."
"I know..." Ezra sighed. "But stay a bit longer. I'm sure your men will be able to handle any unexpected occurrences."
Chris kissed him gently. "Okay, I'll stay for a while."
"Only for a while?" Ezra teased.
"Today, yeah. As the man said, this could be the beginnin' of a beautiful friendship."
Ezra snuggled up to him, head pillowed on his shoulder. "Good," he murmured contentedly.
They cuddled together and promptly fell asleep in each other's arms.