Home > Breaking Cover (Life Lessons #2)

Breaking Cover (Life Lessons #2)
Author: Kaje Harper



Chapter 1

A tinny version of the theme from Dragnet woke Jared MacLean out of a sound sleep. With a now-practiced reflex, he reached for his cell phone on the nightstand with one hand and put his other hand over his bed partner’s mouth. His lover said a muffled “Mmph?” against his palm while Mac flipped the phone open.

“Hey, Mac, you awake?” Oliver’s voice demanded, much too alertly for whatever damned hour of morning it was.

“Am now,” Mac muttered. He glanced over at where Tony lay, eyes now open and shining in the faint light from the clock radio. Tony nodded slightly and Mac withdrew his hand.

“Well, drag yourself out of bed and tell her you have to go,” Oliver ordered him. “We’ve got a dead one.”

“Tell who what?” Mac asked. It was too early for what passed as his police partner’s sense of humor.

“The gal you’ve been banging. The one who has you coming in with a smile on your face lately? Tell her there’s no rest for homicide detectives and get your ass in gear.”

“There’s no girl in my fuckin’ bed,” Mac grumbled. “No fucking girl in my bed either.” Not that there was no fucking in his bed, but he wasn’t about to admit that to his partner.

“If you say so. Here’s the address.” Oliver reeled off a street location. Mac recognized the area as one of the rougher Minneapolis neighborhoods. “Second floor, apartment twenty-two. Female victim, related to something we’ve worked on. That’s all I have so far. I’ll see you there.”

Mac shut his phone and stretched, wincing at the tightness in his shoulders. His muscles felt stiff from too many laps in the community pool yesterday, while Tony sunbathed in a lounge chair. There were reasons he hadn’t wanted to get out of the water. As long as he was waist-deep, no one would notice where his, um, interests lay. Wet swim trunks didn’t hide much.

The cause of his reluctance sat up in bed next to him. The clock’s glow outlined a slender, bare, twenty-five-year-old body. A body that’d looked much too good half naked beside the pool. Tony’s dark hair was cut shorter for summer, but those black curls still looked sleep-tousled above his steady blue eyes. If Mac turned on the light, he’d see the blush of too much sun on Tony’s fair skin. And that soft, full mouth… Mac glanced away.

“That was your work calling,” Tony said. It wasn’t a question. They knew each other’s personalized ring tones by now.

“Yep. Oliver says we’ve got a case. I’ve got to go.”

Tony glanced at the clock. “Three AM. No chance you’ll be back this morning, then. Will I see you tonight?”

“If not, I’ll call,” Mac promised. “I’ll probably be pretty late.” He leaned over and kissed Tony softly, opening his mouth for their tongues to meet. Tony slid his arms around Mac’s neck and leaned pliantly against him, but when Mac pulled back, Tony let go immediately. So far, he’d been pretty understanding about the demands of Mac’s job. So far.

“Stay safe,” Tony told him.

Mac kissed him again, hard and fast, and rolled out of bed before his body could remind him how wonderful it would be to lie back down. “Go back to sleep.”

He took the fastest shower on record, just enough to wash the smell of last night’s sex off his skin. Oliver had started bugging him for details of his love life. No point in giving him ammunition. Five minutes later, he was dressed and out the door, hair still wet. The water dripping on his neck felt good in the muggy heat of Minneapolis in July.

Lots of folks thought Minnesota was always frigid cold, and there was no doubt that January could freeze your breath on your face. What people didn’t realize was that the summer could rival southern states for heat and humidity. Even in the early morning darkness, the air on Mac’s skin was steamy. This state did four seasons with a vengeance. Oh well, it keeps down the tourists.

His car was parked on the street, a couple of blocks south this time. He made a practice of moving it around and staying out of the parking lot for Tony’s building. Not that he expected to ever get noticed, but still. It was no one’s business where he spent his nights.

The building he was looking for turned out to be a run-down wooden house, tucked back behind another larger firetrap of a building. GPS got him nearby, and then he was clued in by the patrol cars on the street. None of the buildings in this neighborhood seemed to have visible street numbers.

He badged himself past the uniformed cop manning the perimeter and opened the front door. Like many of these old houses, the place had seen better days. The layout of the entry showed that at some more recent date it’d been divided into apartments. He went up to the second floor and followed the sound of his partner’s voice. Oliver was chewing someone out in a tight, irritated tone. When Mac showed his face at the door, Oliver broke off and came over to him.

“What’ve we got?” Mac asked.

“Woman by the name of Terri Brand, twenty-six, found in her bed by that girl,” Oliver pointed at a sobbing blond sitting on the floor, “who has not spoken a word of sense since she called 911. Body’s in the next room. At a guess, the victim was strangled and then stabbed in the chest sometime during the late evening, but we’re still waiting for the ME to get here and give us an official prelim on cause and time of death.”

“Strangled and stabbed?” Mac said.

“Yep.” Oliver ran a hand over his face. “Sounds familiar, right? That’s why you and I got the call.”

Mac nodded silently. A month earlier they’d caught a case like that in a different part of the city; a young woman strangled, the mark of brutal hands around her neck, then stabbed in the chest after she was dead. That case had been stone cold from the start. The woman was known to frequently bring men home for one-night stands. The body hadn’t been found for days. They had evidence for a DNA match, assuming the man she was with was the killer, but they’d never had even a hint of a suspect to make a comparison to. Someone male who didn’t have their DNA already in the system. Which left about a million suspects in this city alone.

“Does this look the same?” Mac asked.

“Yeah. Down to the body being naked and posed.”

“Fuck,” Mac said succinctly. Unless the two victims knew each other somehow, everyone would be thinking serial killer. And as rare as serials were, everyone just might be right. Hopefully, they could keep that story from breaking too soon, in a city tense and irritable from a week of extreme heat.

“You talk to her,” Oliver ordered, pointing at the blond with a gloved hand. “I’ve got the scene.” He stalked toward the bedroom.

Mac walked over to look down at the crying girl. She could be anywhere from sixteen to twenty. She was probably fairly pretty when she wasn’t in such distress. Her blond hair was long and clean, but tangled in her clenched hands. She wore something sequined, low-necked and skimpy, with heavy makeup, but nowadays everyone from twelve-year-olds to grandmothers dressed in what Mac’s mother would’ve called “hooker clothes.”

The girl sniffled and moaned, and unwound one of her hands from her hair to rub her wrist over her nose. Mac reached into his pocket, pulled out a clean tissue, and passed it over.

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