Brett Higgins is back in the seventh installment of this popular mystery series.

Brett and her girlfriend Allie are once again caught in the middle of murder and intrigue…

When Allie’s former partner pulls a gun at a local nightclub, Brett is forced to intervene. Once separated, the cause of the fight is obvious—her former partner is living with Lauren—and Jill wants her back.

When the bullets in the dead body found the next morning match her ex-partner’s gun, Allie sends Brett to solve the murder. Brett will use all of her charm to gain information… but will it solve the murder or get her into trouble?


© 2005
ISBN-10: 1594930457
ISBN-13: 978-1594930454


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September 13, 1996 11:21 p.m.

Rowan Abernathy and Allison Sullivan searched the quiet suburban street for the “lurking figure” someone had phoned in about to the Southfield Police Department. Rowan drove while Allie used her big Maglite to search the neighborhood.

“Stop,” Allie said to Rowan, jumping out of the car. One hand was on her gun, the other still clutched the Maglite.

Rowan parked at the curb and ran up behind her.

“Stop and . . .” Allie said, pulling her gun and edging toward the teenaged boy who stood in the front bushes. She sighed and holstered her gun. “Can I help you with something?” She’d seen him lurking in the bushes, but really, he just looked like some scrawny punk kid up to some practical jokes shortly before Halloween. She didn’t see any weapons, and he wasn’t very large. Obviously some snoopy neighbor was sitting on the panic button.

“Uh, no,” he looked around nervously, almost like he maybe did have something to hide.

This got Allie’s attention. She dropped her hand to again lie casually on her gun. “What’s going on here?”

“Nothing, I was just taking a walk,” the boy said, pulling himself up to his full, rather impressive height.

“In the bushes at night. Yeah, right,” Allie said.

“Keep an eye on him while I take a look around,” Rowan said to Allie, while she slowly edged around the residence.

“Just stay put,” Allie told the kid, and she glanced around. They needed to make sure he hadn’t been vandalizing the house or breaking into it. Allie quickly assessed the location of the vehicles on the street, checking to see if anything was out of the ordinary. She thought she saw movement in one, about a half block away, and so she started toward it. It was quite late for anyone to be out and about in this neighborhood if they weren’t up to mischief.

“Do you see something?” Rowan said, stepping from the far side of the house.

“That car, down the street?” Allie said.

“What . . . Watch out!” Rowan screamed, suddenly running at Allie and tackling her.

Allie didn’t register what was going on before she heard the gunshot. The next thing she knew, Rowan was lying on top of her.

“Ow.” Allie had her gun out by the time she’d rolled Rowan off her. She pulled up into a crouch, looking for their attacker as she kept her center of gravity low. What she saw was the previously assumed young vandal running into the house. “Are you all right?” she asked Rowan.

“I’m shot.”

“How bad?” Allie knew if Rowan was able to talk, that was good.

“In the butt.”

“We need to get you out of here,” Allie said, pulling out her radio.

Chapter One
Wednesday, 2:23 p.m.

Detroit was no longer the easiest place in the world to be murdered. It was no longer filled with burnt-out streetlights, potholed roads, and burned down buildings. New construction was taking place in even the most questionable of neighborhoods, such as the Cass Corridor. The man who had reigned as mayor during much of the city’s downfall was long gone, buried, and pretty much forgotten.

Detroit was no longer the hands-down winner for Murder Capital of America.

But it would still be as stupid to wander the streets in many neighborhoods after dark as it would be to play football on the slopes of Aspen on the last run of the day. Improvement to anything usually comes slowly, and cosmetic changes are easier than real ones. Those who don’t pay attention to that simple fact might as well slam into a tree while doing seventy skiing the trees at Heavenly à la Sonny Bono.

Of course, none of this crap mattered much to Brett Higgins and Allie Sullivan who lived in Royal Oak, just a stone’s throw north of Detroit along the Woodward corridor. Ferndale, just south of them, was rapidly getting the nickname of “Dykedale.”

The Detroit area was home, regardless of the drug dealers, prostitutes, criminals, gangs, and anything else that an outsider might hold against the city. Besides, Brett Higgins was on a first-name basis with quite a lot of the so-called criminal element, having been an active part of that community for many years. Allie herself was an ex-cop, and her ex-girlfriend was a Detroit detective.

“How’s this?” Brett asked when she and Frankie moved the couch two inches to the right—for the third time.

Allie stood between the front windows and gazed at the room. “Yeah, that’ll do for now.” Brett frowned at the “for now.” How much difference could a few inches one way or the other really make, for Christ’s sake?

“Oh, no no no no no!” Kurt cried from next to Allie, “It simply must be moved exactly two-and-a-half inches to the left!”

Brett growled at Frankie’s flaming boyfriend. Kurt looked back at her, tossed off a quick three-snap and stood with his hands on his hips.

“Oh, come now,” Kurt said. “We all know how much you two love showing off those big butch muscles of yours.” This time it was Frankie’s turn to stop and stare at Kurt.

“Save it for the bedroom, boys,” Allie said.

“It doesn’t really matter anyway, you know,” Maddy said, peering out of the kitchen. “She’ll want to change everything in a few weeks regardless.” Her red hair was tousled so it looked like a fire stack on top of her head. Even though Madeline was a bit on the plump side and several inches shorter than Brett’s own five-footten, Brett always saw her as walking, talking spitfire. It was hard to imagine her as a college professor, which she was, in their old town of Alma.

“Is that another of your premonitions?” Brett asked. Madeline was a bit of a psychic and made quite a few cryptic remarks because of it. Of course, Brett didn’t believe a word of it. But then again, just a few years ago she hadn’t believed in ghosts either until she met one. Now she wasn’t quite sure where she stood on the matter of ghosts. To the side, pretty much.

“No, it’s a fact. The entire room will look entirely different once you finish bringing in the rest of the new furniture.” Madeline returned to her work in the kitchen, leaving Allie to plot further machinations against Brett’s sanity under Kurt’s mischievous eye, or at least that was about what Brett made of it.

“Then let’s just bring it all in and work it out from there.”

“That would make entirely too much sense,” Kurt said, swishing by. “I just love seeing you two all sweaty and butch!”

Brett looked at Frankie. “Fire extinguisher. Look into it.” She headed back out to the truck to bring in more of the new furnishings, with Frankie following her.

“Yo, dude,” Frankie said, “you brought this on yourself. With all the cheating and cyber-sexing it up and shit.”

“Yeah, I know. I’m just hoping if I complain a bit, it’ll get us off easier.”

“So how’re things with you two?”

Brett shrugged. “When we met, it was like this fierce heat, y’know?”

“Yeah, uh, well, I do get that, Brett. But I wasn’t asking about then—I was asking about now.”

Brett sat on the back of the truck. “She turns me on. I want her. I love making her come and scream my name and . . . well . . . Toblerone, dude. But see, I can’t help taking a glance around sometimes, y’know?”

“Yeah, I got that. But Allie loves ya man, and if ya keep this shit up, she’s gonna leave you. Whatchya gonna do then?”

“If she leaves me, she’ll end up dating someone else, and I’ll have to track them down and kill them. Quite simple, actually.”

“But you forget you gone legit now.”

“Only for Allie. If she leaves me, all bets are off.”

“You can’t do that, Brett. We agreed what side we’re on now. And . . .” he trailed off, looking down.

“And what, Frankie?”

“And you saying that shit, well, it’s like you’re just trying to not make anything your fault. And that’s just not right, Brett.”

He was right. She was trying to deflect all blame for her actions. She was following in her familial path and doing just what they’d always done—make everything someone else’s fault. And that it was Frankie doing such deep analysis was truly frightening. “Frankie, you’re the one always on my side. And you getting into this psychological crap is . . . well it’s scary as fuck.”

“Yeah. I know. Sorry. It’s Kurt and hanging out with you and Allie and Maddy and all that shit. Fuck, even Ski and Randi are doing it to me. I’m gonna be wearing Hawaii-type shirts and shorts next I know.” He sat next to her.

“So pretty much, we’re whipped. And we’re fucked in all the wrong ways.”


“Remember the good old days, when I fucked who I wanted to, and you got blows from half the boys at the theater?”

Frankie tucked his thumbs into the waistband of his 505s. “Good times.” He crossed his legs at the ankles. “But having somebody to pick up the groceries and make me eat something besides burgers and beer, now that’s something that’s really meaning something to me these days.”

“So are you saying I could hire a maid and get all the same perks?”

“Most maids don’t give bed service. They make ‘em, not unmake ‘em, y’know?”

“So I need a live-in maid and a live-in hooker?”

“Brett, we both done that life. We done it, lived it, bought the T-shirt, and sent it home to relatives. But y’know what? It can be fun. Enjoyable, even. But your maid and hooker won’t care about you. Love you. They’ll just be there to do what you tell ‘em to.”

“Sounds like a good deal to me.”

“And you’ll have to pay ‘em.”

“I got money.”

“But, y’know, Brett . . . You keep getting—bringing—new women into your bed ‘cause you’re just trying to convince yourself you mean something. And Allie’s the one who’ll really do that for you. If you pay somebody, it won’t mean jack.”

“Frankie, dude, you are getting so close to insightful, it’s downright scary as fuck.”

“Yeah. It is. But you’re playing these games for a reason, Brett. You’re screwing with one of the best things your life has ever offered for a reason. Your family fucked you over and there’s some things ain’t ever gonna be right. You gotta get over it, dude.”

“Okay, yeah, Frankie, you’re right. Tell you what, you see me starting to step over the line, and you can smack me upside the head. You know me better’n anyone, so you’ll see anything coming from a mile away.”

“Yeah, but you’ll just deny it all.”

“Just smack me upside the head you think I’m up to no good, ‘kay?”

“Will do. But you still gotta try to behave yourself, ‘cause I can’t be there twenty-four/seven, y’know?”

“Yeah Frankie, I know. And knowing you know ought to keep me honest. ‘Kay?”

“Yeah. And Brett?”


“What’s a Toblerone?”

Brett heard a gasp behind her just before she heard the slap of Allie’s hand against her arm. “What have you been telling him?”

Great. Just what Brett needed—a trip to the doghouse just because she’d made a slight remark to Frankie. For fuck’s sake, she didn’t even tell him what it meant!

Chapter Two
Wednesday, 11:28 p.m.

That night at the bar, all of Frankie’s insightfulness was still at the top of Brett’s mind. She knew how true it all was. She knew how close she was to losing Allie. She’d already lost Allie once because she’d been dating Pamela Nelson, who danced at the Paradise Theater as Storm at the same time she’d first been seeing Allie. Allie had found out.

Just like Allie had recently found out Brett had been cyberring with a woman and ended up meeting that woman, spending the night with that woman. Even though Brett hadn’t had sex with her, it had gotten complicated.

But then Brett had actually slept with Victoria (Pamela’s younger sister), and well, there had been someone else Brett had slept with before, and Allie didn’t know anything about either of those. As far as Brett was concerned, Allie could go to her grave not knowing anything Brett had done like that.

So Brett would behave. From now on. Really. Truly. Completely.

And overall, it pretty much scared her shitless to think about how much her familial relations guided her path—made her make the decisions she did. They had warped her in such a way that she figured she could do whatever she chose and use her past as an excuse.

Allie was the best thing that ever happened to her. She needed to make sure she didn’t lose that. She had to do whatever was needed to preserve that.

But, oh, that cute blond was so flirting with her. Brett was willing to bet she’d cream her jeans at the slightest touch from . . . No. She had to concentrate on her woman. Allie. Her world.

But the girl was clearly trying to hook up with her. She was dancing provocatively while staring at Brett with her deep green eyes, keeping her arms over her head as she slowly wiggled her hips. She flipped her hair, thrust her breasts forward . . .

Brett allowed Allie to take her onto the dance floor, and she flicked her glance from the woman dancing for her and Allie. The music pulsed through her, and she broke out in a sweat.

Yeah, there was no doubt about it, the woman wanted Brett, and Brett knew it. And the music and alcohol pounding through her body made her want the woman, too, regardless of what she’d told—promised—Allie. And Frankie.

She spun on her heels, moving to the music, knowing she looked good. Even the mirrors testified to this. They reflected her lean, muscular frame, dark eyes, and black hair laced (just barely) with gray. She wore black leather jeans, boots, and a white T-shirt. The T-shirt showed off her arms, which were carved with muscle and not an ounce of fat. She was sweating just enough to give her hair a slightly damp look, making it layer just right. The boots she wore were perfect for dancing—their leather soles didn’t cling to the floor at all, which allowed her the total body movement she enjoyed for dancing.

Allie, who was dancing across from her, looked pretty damned hot as well. Her simple blouse was just tight enough to reveal the swell of her breasts, and tight blue jeans flowed over her hips and down her long, long legs. Brown boots finished the look with heels that made her five foot nine height equal to Brett’s. Her slender body, long blond hair, aristocratic features, and deep blue eyes had already attracted the attention of many women tonight.

Brett enjoyed that. She reveled in knowing her woman was attracting the attention of so many others because she knew who would be in Allie’s bed that night. She also knew the alcohol of too many Miller Lites had given her a certain cockiness that made her very well aware of how many women were cruising her as well. And she loved every minute of it.

And, fuck, only a lot of alcohol would make her realize just how damned good she looked.

The song changed, briefly breezing through house music on its way to an older tune that Brett could really groove to. She flipped into her best “cool dude” image and fell to her knees in front of Allie, grabbing her girl around the waist as her hips pulsed to the beat.

Brett enjoyed these fast songs, songs she knew from her younger days, songs from the eighties, songs she could show off her body and its abilities. She liked showing off her moves, her flexibility as she knelt on the floor. She lowered herself so her back was on it before springing back up so Allie could dance and wriggle her way over her.

They danced well together.

She looked up at the screen where Olivia Newton-John, looking her very hottest with her body tightly clad in black spandex, looked down at her, singing about the one she wanted, then she looked over at the similarly blond Allie, with her smoldering looks, who met her gaze. She smirked, not allowing herself to show a full smile that would let on just how fucking happy she suddenly was. Brett pulled her gaze from the random young hottie who wanted her and focused solely on her own hottie—Allie.

The Rainbow Room had always been one of Brett’s favorite bars. These days Detroit had three primarily dyke bars—the Rainbow Room, Stilettos, and Sugarbaker’s. Sugarbaker’s was a sports bar, and Stilettos catered to a different crowd that was largely the diaper brigade and was located in the boonies as far as Brett was concerned. Normally on a Wednesday, nothing much happened at the Rainbow Room, but tonight, it was packed. And the Rainbow Room was Brett’s bar of choice anyway. Not only was it her favorite, she could drive home drunk from there blindfolded, it was that close. To home. Her home. With Allie.

Brett danced up to Allie, pressing her leg between Allie’s thighs and putting one hand on Allie’s hip, pulling her close. Allie wrapped her arms around Brett’s neck and grinned up at her before lowering her arms to cup Brett’s ass and trace muscular thighs. Brett’s other arm fell to her side. She knew her coolness, and she stuck by it, like a method actor did with a part.

Suddenly, Brett was hit across the back so hard that she fell forward into Allie.

“What the fuck?” Brett said, grabbing Allie to put her right on her feet and then whipping about to face their assailant. Wouldn’t be good to go beating somebody while dropping Allie to the floor.

“Oh, shit, sorry—didn’ see you standing there darlin’,” the woman slurred, her eyes bleary in the multicolored disco globes. Her dark auburn hair fell over her shoulders and threatened to fall into her face as well. Although she was rather pretty, she was nearly anorexic. She half-disguised this with a bulky, light blue blazer. Brett couldn’t believe she could wear such a thing in this heat.

“Yeah, whatever,” Brett replied when Allie laid a gentle, restraining hand on her shoulder. She had to listen to Allie, had to make sure Allie knew how valued she was.

“Brett, let’s go outside and get a breath of air, cool down a bit,” Allie said, wiping a hand over her own sweat-drenched brow. Brett reluctantly followed her out to the patio, thankful when the cool night air caressed her overheated body. It was funny how inside, with the flying multicolored lights and music pounding not only in her ears, but up through her limbs and into her body from every available surface, Brett didn’t really realize just how much she had to drink and how drunk she was.

It was also a wicked good way to get her anger up. Just walking outside made Brett feel ever so much calmer. The woman was just a crazy drunk who’d unintentionally bumped into her. No big.

Brett slipped her hand into her pocket for her smokes. She felt a piece of paper. She pulled it out. It was inscribed with a phone number and a cheerful Call Me! Brett had no doubt it was from the little hottie.

She smiled to herself.

• • • • •

Brett leaned against a table, her foot propped up on a chair. She was feeling pretty good with the breeze dancing through her hair, cooling her overheated system. Allie had run into a couple of old friends, and they sat at a table laughing and joking. Brett couldn’t believe she’d almost lost it on that drunk inside. After all, the woman was just out having a good time—wasn’t everyone?

Brett leaned back against one of the picnic tables and lit a cigarette, provocatively placing it between her lips while Allie sat looking up at her under the soft glow of the moonlight. A slow smile slid across Allie’s face, and Brett knew she was getting lucky tonight. Hell, Brett would have taken Allie right there and then. She could imagine pressing Allie against the high, wooden privacy fence, pushing her leg between Allie’s thighs, running her lips down Allie’s neck and over that luscious collar bone, slowly pulling Allie’s zipper down, reaching into her pants, under the elastic, feeling her wetness . . .

Instead, Brett took a deep breath and hit Allie with her best bedroom-eye gaze, stalking her like a jungle cat while slowly puffing on her smoke.

“Honey,” Allie said, “would you mind getting us another round?”

“And I suppose you want me to buy as well,” Brett replied with a quick grin before she got up and walked back into the bar, leaving the three laughing women behind her.

After fighting her way to the bar, she yelled her order to the cute bartender she liked, the one with the long, curly brown hair and open smile, then turned to wait for her drinks, glancing over at the dance floor to see if there were any interesting moves happening out there. Or any cute women.

She heard raised voices and saw a bit of a scuffle between the drunken woman of earlier and another brunette, this one with short dark hair. She looked like she could take care of herself, so Brett turned back to the bartender to collect her drinks. That was when, under the reds, blues, and purples of the disco globe almost hidden within the smoke the DJ was pouring onto the dance floor, she caught a glint of steel.

“Bitch!” a woman screamed.

Brett didn’t think, she reacted. In just the flash she’d seen, she knew what the brunette had pulled, and she flew, taking the most direct route, leaping up and running across tabletops to the dance floor. Pushing aside several women who were just realizing what was happening, Brett grabbed the brunette’s arm, her gun arm, and pushed it up. Brett shoved her other arm between the two women so that the drunk sailed backward onto the relative safety of the floor.

The woman with the gun—the brunette—tried to pull her arm back, and everyone around them screamed. Brett brought a leg behind the woman’s shins and pushed her onto her back on the floor while they wrestled over the gun.

“Bitch!” the drunk screamed, trying to dive between Brett and the brunette.

Brett threw her off with one arm while she kept the gunwoman’s hand pinned to the ground with her other arm. Several patrons pulled at her from behind, trying to get her off the brunette, but Brett wanted to get the gun out of the girl’s hand first. The woman had her knee up in Brett’s chest, trying to throw her off. Brett smashed the woman’s arm against the floor till the gun skidded across the dance floor.

Both the drunk woman and Brett threw themselves toward it. Brett hated doing it, but she smashed the woman in the face with her fist when they reached the gun simultaneously. Brett rolled onto her back and quickly threw her hands over her head against the ground so she could throw herself back to her feet. She was ready to defend herself, but a pack of women were grabbing both the drunk and the brunette.

Brett emptied the bullets out of the gun into her hand. She put the bullets into her pocket and stuck the gun down the front of her jeans so no one could grab it.

“Rowan?” Allie said, looking from where she stood holding the drunk to where another woman stood holding the brunette. Allie returned to the bar when she heard the commotion. Rowan was an unusual name, Brett thought, and she recognized it from Allie’s past. Allie once considered herself Rowan’s mentor, and now, word was Rowan was a damned good cop.

A crowd gathered around them, including the bar’s bouncers, who had been outside in the parking lot taking care of another problem. “Okay, okay, okay,” one of them said. “We’ll take it from here.”

Rowan, the brunette with the gun, looked at Brett after the woman holding her let her go. “Look, I’m a cop—I need my gun back.” She put her hand out expectantly.

“You pull a loaded gun in a public place when you’re drinking, and you expect me to give it back to you?” Brett said, not quite believing anyone could be so idiotic.

A man and a woman, both fairly slender with brown hair, approached the group on the dance floor.

“I’m Jill’s brother,” the man said, indicating the drunken woman in the bouncer’s arms. “We’ll get her home and out of here. Sorry about any problems—it’s her birthday, and I guess she had a few too many.”

“Dave, I’m okay,” Jill slurred, fighting the bouncers’ grip on her. “It’s just that . . . that . . . bitch—”

The woman with Dave grabbed Jill’s arm and cut her off. “Jill, let’s get gone, okay?”

Thankfully, Rowan kept her mouth shut during this interlude, until Dave and his girlfriend got Jill out of the bar.

“One of these days I’m gonna get that bitch, and good,” Rowan said, staring toward the exit.

“Honey, just calm down, she didn’t hurt anything,” said a blond who stood next to her and laying a hand on her arm.

“Like hell she didn’t—this bitch has my gun now!”

Before Brett could react, Allie anticipated her and jumped between them. “Rowan, calm down.” She glanced around and noticed that things were returning to normal around them, but they were still in the middle of the dance floor. “Let’s go outside.”

The moonlight no longer seemed quite so enchanting out on the patio. Brett leaned against a table, sipping her Miller Lite from the bottle while puffing on a Marlboro. Rowan’s gun was still in the front of her pants. She was surprised the bouncers hadn’t taken it from her, but Rowan showing off her badge probably convinced them otherwise.

“Anytime we’re anywhere, and she’s there, she’s causing a problem,” the blond, who identified herself as Lauren, said. On this rather warm night, she was wearing shorts and a sports bra, showing off nicely tanned stomach and legs.

“If she had been a better girlfriend in the first place, she wouldn’t have lost you,” Rowan grumbled.

“What I don’t believe,” Allie said, putting her hands on her shapely hips, “is that I run into an old friend after years apart and all you can do is bitch about your girlfriend’s ex?” A smile danced across her full lips.

“I’m sorry, hon,” Rowan said, giving Allie a big hug and lifting her right off the ground.

Brett gave them a few moments then felt obligated to remind them of her presence. “Umm, I think that’s enough.”

“Oh, Rowan,” Allie said, stepping back and into Brett’s arms. “This big, bad bulldyke is my girlfriend.” She was obviously in a teasing mood tonight. Perhaps Brett should do some teasing of her own when they got home.

• • • • •

On their way home Allie filled Brett in on some of the little drama played out by Rowan, her girlfriend Lauren, and Lauren’s ex, Jill. Apparently, this tango had been going on in various permutations for quite a while.

From everything Allie had ever heard, it didn’t surprise her that Jill would toy with her brother and his girlfriend and bring them to the Rainbow Room for her birthday. It was also predictable that she’d try to make the moves on Lauren after she’d had a few. Hell, it didn’t even seem as if she needed to drink anything to make the moves on the cute blond.

As it turned out, Rowan had first begun her career as a cop back in Southfield, working with Allie for a while. Brett didn’t like the fact that some cops thought they could get away with anything—from speeding, to drinking and driving, to just plain stupid behavior. Like bringing a gun into a bar—oh, and then pulling it out. Back in the old days, Brett usually armed herself, but she wouldn’t have drawn it for such a ridiculous reason, not in public, not for something so inane. She usually only drew her weapon when someone else pulled theirs, or if she knew they’d be pulling it soon.

Some people used a gun to make them feel big. Brett already knew her own strength and power. After all, she wasn’t exactly short shit.

“What are you brooding about over there?” Allie asked with a teasing smile.

Brett glanced at Allie and thought guiltily of the woman who’d been flirting with her—and how she’d flirted back. How could she have even considered fooling around with anyone else while she had this incredible woman willing to be with her?

When they got home, they were barely inside the door when Brett pulled Allie up against her. Allie kissed Brett—hard and hungry—her soft hand at the back of Brett’s head, tangled in her hair, urgently demanding Brett to deepen the kiss, to delve her tongue farther into her.

Brett pushed Allie back against a wall, putting her leg between Allie’s. Her hands started around Allie’s waist and then traveled down over her hips to caress her ass.

She wanted this woman, needed her. The smell of Allie overwhelmed her—the mixture of musky perfume, clean skin and hair, mousse, dryer sheets and detergent from her clothes. At times the entire Allie smell comforted Brett, while at other times like these, it turned her on.

She buried her face in Allie’s hair, inhaling deeply. She kissed Allie’s neck, running her tongue up the tender skin to her ear where she circled the lobe, working her way around the small diamond stud and gold hoop Allie wore in two piercings in each ear.

Allie moaned and squirmed against Brett when Brett’s tongue dove inside her ear, gently teasing. Brett could feel the warmth of Allie’s breath against her neck, the softness of her breasts against her own. She paused for a moment, laying her head on Allie’s shoulder, then she looked up and into the depths of Allie’s eyes. “I love you.” Allie smiled, took Brett’s hands in her own, leaned forward and kissed her. “Let’s go upstairs.”

“You go on ahead, I’ll be up in a moment,” Brett said. She watched Allie leave, went to the stereo, selected Chico Debarge’s Long Time No See, and put it on.

Upstairs in the bedroom, Allie hadn’t turned on any lights. Instead she had lit candles around the room, giving it a dreamlike quality. When Brett entered, Allie was bent over, lighting the last one on the bedside table.

Brett walked up behind her, wrapping her arms around her. Allie stood and leaned back into the embrace. Brett kissed her neck and used her hands to trace lines down Allie’s front, over her plush breasts, down her flat stomach, and over her hips.

She pushed herself tighter against Allie, wanting to feel her, meld with her, become one with her. She unbuttoned Allie’s shirt, gently tugging it from her jeans, then reached up and deftly undid the front clasp on her bra.

Allie moaned when Brett took her breasts into her hands, gently pinching the hardened nipples. “Oh, God, Brett, I want to feel you inside me.”

Brett finished undressing Allie, and Allie helped her to undress. Brett picked Allie up and put her on the bed, covering her body with her own, warmth on warmth.

Their lips again met, their tongues dancing with each other inside the union of their mouths. Allie pushed up against Brett’s thigh, which was again between her own. Brett could feel the wetness of Allie’s arousal against her skin.

Their bodies were molded together with nothing separating them, their curves entwined as one, each pushing against the other, trying to get even closer still so that nothing would part them. Brett couldn’t get close enough even though it felt as if they were already one—two souls united in one body, or two bodies united with one soul. Allie’s heat seeped into her, she could feel her heartbeat in her own heart, and their gasping breaths were as one.

She slowly kissed her way down Allie, tasting the salt of her sweat, teasing her nipples, nibbling gently around the navel ring, with Allie squirming beneath her all the while. She made her way down the incredibly long length of Allie’s legs until she could nibble and suck gently on Allie’s toes.

“Brett, please, you’re driving me crazy,” Allie moaned. But Brett wanted to drive Allie crazy, wanted to taste and touch each of the places that drove her nuts before taking her the rest of the way. The buildup was half the fun and going crazy made it all the more worthwhile. Brett loved making Allie scream, but she also loved making her squirm and giving her pleasure upon pleasure.

She sucked her inner thighs, kissed the spot on the back of her neck, licked between her shoulder blades, and tongued her navel before finally brushing her chin against her cunt and gently tasting her with her tongue.

Allie was drenched, and Brett first ran her tongue up and down slowly, then went inside of her with her tongue, fully feeling and tasting her before inserting first one, then two, then three fingers into her while she licked the swollen flesh of her clit.

Brett coated her hand with Allie’s own juices, then slowly inserted the rest of her fist, still working her tongue over Allie’s pussy, beating the hardened clit back and forth.

“Oh, God, Brett,” Allie said, writhing across the bed.

Brett could feel her insides, could feel her warmth, and felt a part of her. She moved her fist around, clenching and unclenching.

“Brett . . . Brett . . . Brett!”

Brett hung on while Allie whipped her around the bed.

Chapter Three
Thursday, 9:12 a.m.

When Brett was in junior high and high school, she worked multiple jobs to make sure she could get out of her house, away from all of her family’s failures and go to college, even if she couldn’t get a scholarship. She was willing to do anything to ensure that once high school was done, she’d never have to see her family again. On the other side, though, she wanted to show them all—all those teachers who never thought she’d amount to anything, the other kids who grew up around her who harassed and beat her up, as well as her drunken, violent, and abusive family.

But to do all that, she’d had to keep her own name so they’d know. When she was on the lam, she had to live under an alias, but she was happy to reclaim it just so she could, if she wanted, track down those bastards she was supposed to call family and rub their faces in it—let them see how she had made it, how she had moved beyond the legacy of fear and hate she had been raised into.

To Brett’s sleep-drenched mind, the smell of food cooking squirmed into her dreams as a Mickey D’s breakfast she was cooking when she was working in one in high school . . .

Brett was swimming in a sea of sleep, trying to reach up and out. She was aware of Allie’s soft body lying next to her own, aware of the sweet smell of Allie’s hair surrounding her face. She drifted back to sleep with a smile on her face, but there was something else—the smell of coffee, bacon, and eggs drifting up the staircase from the first floor.

Brett opened her eyes slightly and saw that the sun was already up. She glanced at the clock and realized she should get up even though they’d closed the bar the night before. But Brett was of the firm opinion that “good morning” was one of the world’s greatest oxymorons. Mornings wouldn’t be quite so bad if they came far later in the day.

She lifted her head from the satin pillowcase and sniffed again, this time with her eyes open, before dropping her head back onto the pillow. Shit. She just knew it was Madeline. Maddy probably had some sort of premonition or read some tea leaves or dog shit or . . . Damn. Maddy, a professor at Alma College, and her girlfriend Leisa, a high school teacher, were on summer break and decided to spend it at Brett’s. They had already made themselves at home and this made Brett worry that they’d be hanging around way more this summer than she liked.

Brett pulled on her green and black bathrobe and her matching Pooh Bear slippers. They were a Christmas present from Allie who had explained that Pooh was the perfect counterpoint to her big bad ass image. She padded down the stairs, following the delightful smells of breakfast.

Most people would have greeted Brett with a cheery “good morning” or with a small remark about the weather and food. Not Madeline Jameson. Maddy looked up at Brett and said, “You won’t be able to help it, you know.”

Brett glanced at Leisa.

Leisa shrugged, buttering toast and slicing it diagonally. “I still don’t understand. All I know is it’s summer break, and she made me get up at seven to come down here for some sort of emergency.”

Brett stared at the two for a moment, watching Maddy flip the bacon and sausages in a pan. When Brett was certain no further unprompted words of wisdom were to follow, she grabbed the coffee pot and poured herself a mug.

“I hope you like it, it’s French vanilla. I also picked up some regular cream and some Irish cream,” Maddy said.


Madeline handed Brett a plate piled high with sunny-side up eggs, sausage links, and bacon. Leisa plopped two pieces of toast onto the corner of the plate. They knew Brett too well.

Brett lightly sprinkled salt and pepper on her eggs, cut off the whites, and ate those first with the sausage while Madeline cracked two more eggs into the pan.

Allie came down a few minutes later. “Mmm, something smells good.” Madeline handed Allie a plate with the eggs over easy and just bacon, extra crispy, and just one slice of toast. Allie grabbed a cup of coffee and joined Brett at the table.

Leisa poured orange juice for all of them. “Need the vities,” she said. Brett guessed she meant the vitamins. Leisa put together her own plate, and Maddy followed suit.

Maddy sat next to Leisa. “Allison, dear, would you please help me explain to Brett that she simply will not be able to remain uninvolved?”

Allie stopped with her fork midway to her mouth. “Umm, uninvolved in what?”

Madeline gave a little wave of her hand. “Uninvolved in whatever it is that’s going on.” She looked at Brett.

“Ya got me,” Brett explained to Allie, mopping up the rest of the yolk with a piece of toast.

“I don’t know exactly what it is that is going on,” Madeline said. “But I do know that Brett is trying to appear disinterested, opposed even. But her involvement is necessary because she knows what it is to be wrongly accused.”

“Oh, that’s happened a few times, hasn’t it Brett?” Leisa said.

Brett looked at Allie and shrugged.

“When will you two ever realize that I do not need the details in order to understand something?” Madeline inquired. “If you must be tied so to the tangible plane, then why don’t you fill me in on the specifics of the matter.” It wasn’t really a question, but not an order, either.

Brett took her plate to the sink. “I’m really just clueless. No idea what you’re on about.”

• • • • •

Brett walked into the Paradise Theater later thinking about lots of different things. It was funny to think that the Paradise she was now walking into wasn’t the original one, instead a rebuilt one. It seemed so much like the original—the turnstiles and division of auditoriums were exactly the same. Hell, everything was exactly the same.

To the left was the gay side of the theater where gay male movies played nonstop and male strippers did their thing on Friday and Saturday nights. In the eighties, male strippers danced every night, but the advent of VCRs changed the adult business—openly gay men bought porno flicks to watch at home. Only married men came to the theater. After all, they couldn’t watch them at home with the little missus around. And those men feared being seen and recognized when the lights came on to spotlight and show dancers.

Men also went to the gay side of the Paradise for a little illicit action. At the back of the auditorium there was a large, dark room, with a bathroom, just before the back exit. Without looking, Brett knew that the floor there would be sticky and littered with condoms, even though they had a maintenance man who cleaned and mopped the entire theater each day with bleach.

To the right was the straight side. Along the walls leading to the ticket window were pictures of the girls dancing this week with signs that said, “Admission: $10 Couples: $17.” The showtimes, five times a day, were also listed.

This was the way Brett entered the theater, just as she had almost every day for the first eight years she’d worked there the first time around and now for the past several years.

But she’d always know the place by the smell alone. No matter what they did to keep it clean, no matter how much they scrubbed and tried to get the dancers to cooperate, regardless of the cleansing ritual of fire that had taken it down, the smell was still there, almost a palpable entity by itself. There was the smoke from cigars, pipes, thousands of cigarettes, and more than a few joints. All this mingled with the smell of sweat and unwashed bodies, the lingering odor from women wearing far too much perfume, and, of course, the ever-present odor of come.

Brett remembered working there in her early days. She hadn’t questioned how many condoms she sold to the guys on the straight side. She just assumed the dancers were doing slightly more fullservice lap dances than they were legally allowed. But one day Rick, the owner and her boss, explained that the men didn’t want to splooge their clothes, so they wore the condoms while they jerked off watching the dancers and movies. They didn’t want their filthy and telltale come to give away how they spent their time.

Many people might have been surprised, but it didn’t shock Brett at all to discover she felt like she had finally come home. Except . . . except all of that was before Allie. All of that was who she was then, instead of what she was now. She breathed in the filth, studied the sleazy pictures on the walls and toed the dead body of a mouse that had crawled into a corner prior to its demise.

Using her key, she went through the door instead of the turnstile and headed for the box office through which the upstairs offices were accessed.

She remembered one night when the clerk passed out in the box office, and two of the dancers broke down the door. The interesting thing was that those particular dancers were probably the only two who would’ve done what they did—they didn’t touch a cent of the money in the cash register. Instead they just wanted to ring in more customers because it was to their advantage to have as many johns in the audience as possible.

She nodded to the clerk and unlocked the door that led upstairs.

When Frankie tried to talk her into coming back to work at the Paradise, he had outfitted an office for her and had done it well. The walls were a cream-colored, textured tint, the floors real hardwood with a deep green Oriental rug, and the walls were accented by two of her favorite Ansel Adams prints. The large desk, credenza, bookshelves, and bar were all a deep, rich oak. Her chair, the couch, and two visitors’ chairs were upholstered in dark leather and set in oak frames. She liked leather and wood. Real wood—not pressboard and definitely not mod-deco-metal stuff.

She pulled out a Marlboro Light and a Zippo, the one Allie had given her. She went to the window and looked out at the potholed street and broken pay phones. Across Woodward was a still-operating convenience store with boarded up windows. One day she had been standing at this very window when she realized someone was mugging a nun across the street. She stood and watched it for a moment before realizing she had it wrong—the nun was mugging someone. And then, just as she was thinking maybe she ought to go downstairs and do something about it, the muggee hit the nun upside the head with something so Brett could see it wasn’t a nun doing the mugging, it was some dude dressed up as a nun. She had figured he deserved what he got and let the muggee beat the crap outta him.

She grabbed a can of Diet Pepsi from the fridge and glanced at her watch. Almost eleven. She usually got in around ten, but flex time was one of the perks of being the boss.

The dancers were already at work, and music was pumping through the building, coming up through the floorboards from the auditorium below. She flipped the switch on the power strip for her computer. She spent the next several hours reviewing the budgets and timelines for some of their upcoming projects. The phone rang. She reached over and hit the speakerphone. “Hello.”

“Hey honey.” It was Allie. Her voice covered Brett like a warm cloak. “How’s it going?” Brett detected a strain in her tone.

“Tell the truth, my bloody head feels like it’s about to explode. I’ve been working with spreadsheets all day today.”

“Well . . . I hate to be a bother, but I was wondering if you could do me a favor?”

“Whatcha need babe?”

Allie took a deep breath. “Jill, that woman who caused all those problems at the bar, was murdered last night.”


“Somebody broke into her house in the middle of the night and shot her. Her brother Dave found the body this morning. She lives . . . lived in Ferndale. So it’s Ferndale’s case.”

“And you’re calling me about this because . . . ?”

“The police arrested Rowan. Apparently they found out about the fight at the bar and the bad blood between Rowan and Jill.”

“And again, I’m not tracking.”

Allie sighed. “The Ferndale police are pretty much not saying anything about it at all to the Detroit cops, since Rowan’s a Detroit cop now. Randi thought maybe you might be able to help us out.”

“Hold on. Randi can’t find out anything. Ski can’t find out anything.” Ski, or Joan Lemanski, was a Lansing detective and Randi’s girlfriend. “So you’re asking me if I can find out anything?”

“Yeah. That’s about the size of it. Ferndale says they don’t want a bunch of extra cops running around messing things up. They’re already pretty . . . Well.”

“What do you know so far?”

“They arrested her. Rowan. She tested positive on the paraffin test—showing that she had recently fired a gun. And her gun, which incidentally matched the bullets found in Jill and her house, had been fired recently.”

“Sorry to say, Al, but it sounds pretty open and shut to me.”

“Yes, I know. And some other people seem to think so, too.”

“What do you mean?” Brett asked, looking out her window just in time to see a mugging in progress. It wasn’t anyone she knew.

“Brett, we all know that cops behind bars aren’t really safe. Not only do the guards resent their presence, but the other cons . . . She got away.”

“Got away? What do you mean she got away?”

“From the police station. She was about to be booked and . . . she got away. Another cop, or maybe several, must’ve helped her, knowing how bad it looked for her and how she’d get treated in the lockup and all.”

“Oh, shit, man. Allie, even if the woman isn’t guilty, which is a slim-to-none chance if you ask me, then this sure as hell makes it look like she is.”

“Brett, I’m not sure of a whole lot right now, but one of the few things I am sure about is that I don’t really need your interpretation of things at the moment. Another thing I know is that I have to help Rowan.”


“Brett, we were partners.”

It didn’t take much for Brett to fill in the blanks. She knew about debts like this. She might not understand a lot about Allie being a cop, but she could understand partners. For instance, Brett would do anything for Frankie. Quite simply, you watched your partner’s back and vice versa. Even if you weren’t partners any more. “What do you need me to do?”

Allie paused. Brett knew she was going through a lot right then. “Do you guys have anybody from Ferndale on the payroll?”

“Um, Allie, just where are you calling me from?”

There was a pause while Allie realized exactly what Brett meant. “Oh, shit. I’m calling you from home.” Just what Brett needed, her lover implicating her over the phone in bribery or something worse. Obviously, Brett needed to have a talk with Allie about not discussing illegal activities over the phone. Allie should have known better, Brett thought.

“Then you know the answer already. But, regardless, I think it would be the same no matter where you were calling me from.”

“Well, could you try to think of anything? Find out anything?”

Brett smiled. “Yeah, I will. I love you.” She put down the phone and called out, “Frankie!” His office was next to hers, and they were the only two who worked up here now.

“Yeah, boss. Whatcha need?” When he’d rebuilt the Paradise, he’d made sure all the doorways could accommodate his massive six-foot-four frame. Today he was wearing a black suit, black shoes, a white shirt, and a thin black tie. His thick, wavy black hair looked recently cut, and his suit and shirt were neatly pressed. Obviously, his new love was having an effect on him. But Brett couldn’t help but wonder if he’d been watching Pulp Fiction again.

“Do we got anybody from Ferndale on payroll?”

“Shit, no. Why would we need that? I mean, we used to have a few guys there, but even then it wasn’t really necessary.” Ferndale was located between Royal Oak and Detroit, lying right on the Eight Mile boundary that marked Detroit’s northernmost points. It was a bedroom community that was again becoming a hotspot ever since the gays had started moving in, renovating, and increasing property values. Ferndale, an older community, was now a very gay-friendly place. In fact, on their city marquee, which stood right at the corner of Nine Mile and Woodward, they frequently advertised the goings-on of the local LesBiGay group called FANS of Ferndale. Brett always wondered what FANS stood for.

Most of Brett’s and Frankie’s operations took place in Detroit and were legal. Mostly. Any adult business wasn’t likely to keep strictly on the right side of the law, so it always paid to keep a few of the local force on payroll. And maybe a few judges as well. But Brett and Frankie did business in Motown, and that’s where they invested their cash.

“Whatcha need, anyway?” Frankie asked.

“Well, a friend of Allie’s got fingered for a murder that happened there, and I guess the Ferndale cops are locking out Detroit ‘cause Rowan’s Detroit PD.”

Frankie let out a hearty chuckle. “Leave it to the cops to shut down on their own kind. A cop wouldn’t know a friend if they was introduced.”

“Maybe they do, Frankie. Someone helped Rowan escape. She’s nowhere to be found.”

“Huh. I’ll see if I can find anybody if you want.”

“That’d be great, Frankie. I’m sure Allie’d really appreciate it.”

• • • • •

Brett spent the rest of the day doing various business analyses and working with some budgets. Frankie brought Brett back into the biz to help build it back up and beyond what Rick DeSilva had made of it. Only this time they were doing it all legally. For the most part.

They had decided against having anything to do with the drug trade, but the Internet and technology had opened myriad possibilities that hadn’t been available in Rick’s time. Brett wanted to take advantage of them all.

Initially she figured they’d explore one or two additional revenue streams, but then she realized there weren’t any published industry trends to track for her analyses and few places to mine for business development information to determine what areas would be ripe for expansion. She settled on trying a few at a time, based on potential risks and gains and other things she was feeling her way through.

Of course, such well-laid plans required some patience, and she wasn’t big with that.

Reese Szymanski standing in front of a theatre with the word Paradise on the marquee right over her head.
Last time I was in New York—to see a play with Elize Dushku in it—Cheri, who went with me, saw a this theatre two doors down from our hotel. She insisted it was preordainted and we had to get a pic of me in front of it, since Brett's Paradise Theater was cloned in New York. Or something like that ;-)

Behind the Book

O, what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!

—Sir Walter Scott (1771—1832)


I remember negotiating the title of this book years ago with Barbara Grier. I can’t remember what title I’d proposed, but at about the same time, when we were discussing it, we came up with this title. (I’m thinking Barbara knew the correct quote and who said it, however, which is something a lot of folks screw up.)

Anyway, this was set to be the fourth Brett Higgins, after Body, from Naiad Press.

But then I left Naiad, and I thought Evil was a lot stronger, so I ran with that one when I was able to. Then I decided to do a major rewrite on this one and put it in as number seven, since the idea still intrigued me and I still liked the book and all that it brought up in the relationship of Brett and Allie. Even if I was doomed to get mucho hate mail from it all.

Amber and Erika were to make their first appearance ever in this book, but they kept bugging me until I wrote them into an earlier book. I like it when characters insist on being written. I also like to use various characters throughout a series because, in real life, we do see the same people more than once.

I know one reviewer (the one who said the notable Amnesty International line) loved the scene with Brett and Erika and Amber and… well, I think a dildo. (And yes, I do sometimes end up chatting with people who dislike me. I’m weird like that. I think sometimes these folks just think I’m unbearably cocky and butch and shit, and… well… really, I’m not. More on that with Shawn.)

One of the troubles with a series featuring a non-cop is, how and why they keep getting involved in murder cases. With Corpse I finally had someone come after Brett, which is an old standby in the genre. With this, I had Brett and Allie get called in to help others, which I’ve done before as well.

When I started writing this series, my idea was to have Allie end up as a P.I., and to have them in a non-monogamous relationship, which, for lack of a better phrase, would drive Brett ape shit. Someone early on (I think it was Julia Watts) said that was very overdone and that she hoped I wouldn’t do such (she said this before I said anything about my long-term plans for the series. So I went in a different route. A lot of times, in writing, it’s about making the most interesting decisions that are also believable and viable. Doing the same thing as everyone else isn’t really that interesting, so I try to avoid it before I even think about it.

Buy the Book

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Make sure to check out all of the heartpounding
Brett Higgins Motor City Thrillers!
When the Dancing Stops When the Dead Speak When Some Body Disappears When Evil Changes Face
When Good Girls Go Bad When the Corpse Lies When First We Practice Front cover of When It's All Relative