Ever since Jessica Angell was a little girl, she had dreamed of following in her father’s footsteps and joining the police force.
As she grew up, her ambitions became more defined, until her dream was set in the homicide department of NYPD.
As an officer in New Jersey, she became forced to face the reality of the ‘locker room culture’, making it hard for her, as a female, to get respect and, indeed, to get anywhere.
In June of 2006, when she was twenty-four, everything changed.
A bomb blast in Manhattan left NYPD racing to pick up the pieces and, when the dust cleared, one of their own was in hospital.
His future seemed bleak, but Jess’s had never been brighter.
Despite her lack of experience (her workload seemed to consist of cats stuck in trees and the lady three blocks over who thought her TV was out to get her), Jess was transferred over on request, and found herself being trained as a homicide detective.
It was a dream come true, if a little awkward.
Everyone in the department knew why she was there, which meant that everyone was a little stand-offish towards her.
And her training officer, Detective Benson, whilst perfectly nice and very supportive, seemed to have subconscious issues with women in the force, so she had yet to leave the precinct, except to collect a case file from the crime lab.
Jessica sighed, pulling another piece of paperwork towards her, telling herself once more that things would get better.
They had to – Captain Gerard had confided in her that, while she was technically a temporary replacement, NYPD had no intention of losing her, even if the injured detective returned.
As he crossed her mind once more, Jess automatically glanced at the desk opposite hers. It was still empty, paperwork piling up in the in-tray, although she had seen colleagues stop by and complete what they could.
He must be well-liked for them to do his paperwork for him.
She didn’t know his name, what he looked like, even how bad the injury was, but she still couldn’t help feeling for the man.
A set of keys landed in front of her and she jumped slightly, looking up to see Benson grinning at her. “You’re actually letting me drive?”
“Don’t get your hopes up, Angell.” Benson said, chuckling. “We need you to drop something off for us.”
Of course. Jess sighed mentally, and stood up, automatically retrieving her weapon from her desk drawer. “Sure. What and where?”
“Trinity General.” Benson answered, handing her a card. “Flower’s are in the car already. You’re looking for Detective Flack.”
Jess frowned slightly as he walked away. She’d met almost everyone on homicide, but that name was unfamiliar. Unless …
As she passed the empty desk, she glanced at the plaque. Sure enough, it read Don Flack Jr.
Jess left the precinct, pressing the button on the keys and following the noise to find the right car. Getting in and starting the engine, she dropped the card on the front seat, with the flowers.
Now she knew his name, she knew a little about him – at least, she did his father. Her own father had nothing but praise for Donald Flack Sr., although the two had never worked together. The only thing she knew about Flack Jr. was that he was a first grade.
Her father’s success, far from what everyone else thought, was a curse more than it was a blessing, constantly pushing her to do better and prove herself a good officer in her own right.
She wondered if her colleague had the same problem.
Trinity General wasn’t far from the precinct, and Jess soon found herself pulling into the parking lot outside reception. She cut the engine, and took a deep breath.
Jess hated hospitals – always had, since she was a little girl. It wasn’t a phobia, she told herself time and time again, but she hated the sick feeling she got in the pit of her stomach when she walked through the door.
Alright, Jessica, get over it. She told herself firmly. You’ll have to get used to hospitals as a detective, talking to victims and so on. Besides, this guy got blown up and you’re replacing him at the moment, no matter what Gerard says. The least you can do is go in and say hello.
With that in mind, Jess retrieved the flowers and card, and made her way to the front desk, where the receptionist was on the phone.
Jess waited patiently for a few minutes, until she realised that it was not a business call. “Excuse me?”
The receptionist ignored her. “He said what?! Girl, tell me she chucked his ass on the street!”
Shifting the flowers to her other arm, Jess unhooked her badge from her belt and held it up. “Detective Flack?”
The receptionist looked up, sighed, and pressed a few buttons on her computer. “Fourth floor.”
“Thank you.” Jess said, trying to keep the sarcasm out of her voice. She did give in to the urge to roll her eyes, but managed to wait until she’d turned away.
She took the elevator up to the fourth floor, squeezed between the wall and a man in a wheelchair. She emerged on the recovery ward, which was a relief – if he was in recovery, he was more than likely awake, which meant he was no longer in any danger.
She stopped a passing nurse and asked again, this time receiving a smile and a room number – 415.
Jess thanked her and rounded the corner to find the room in question, stopping in the doorway.
Having met the rest of the first grade homicide squad, she had been expecting someone her father’s age, or at the very least a good ten years older than her, who’d clearly had one too many donuts.
They don’t really do much to change the stereotype.
The man lying in the hospital bed was her age, maybe a few years older, which reminded her of her earlier thoughts about her father. He’s either riding on his dad’s success, or he is one hell of a detective. She ran another eye over him. Please let it be the latter. I’d hate for a guy that good-looking to turn out to be a jerk.
Because he was good-looking – dark hair, straight nose, and what promised to be a dazzling smile. His eyes were closed, and she hesitated, wondering if she should come back when he was awake, when he spoke.
Don Flack was fed up with being in the hospital.
He accepted – just – that he needed to be there, but he half-wished he could just ban visitors. It was nice to see people, to have contact with someone who wasn’t a doctor or a nurse, but he wished he could do it without the pity.
Yes, he’d been caught in a bomb blast.
Yes, he nearly died.
He didn’t. And he wasn’t about to fall apart.
He had taken to feigning sleep when people visited, because at least then they said what they were thinking, instead of hiding behind false smiles that wavered whenever they looked at him.
So when female footsteps interrupted his dozing, he didn’t bother opening his eyes, because it was either a nurse, who would check his stats and IV and leave again, or Stella or Lindsay. He hoped it was Lindsay – Stella, as much as he loved her, was the worst for hidden tears.
Lindsay was much more brisk about everything, which Don had found grating at first, but found himself appreciating now. He wondered if maybe Lindsay had gone through something similar – maybe not a bomb blast, but the reactions afterwards.
The footsteps came to a halt in the doorway, and he mentally crossed the nurses and Stella off his list. “You can come in, Monroe, I don’t bite.”
Jess raised an eyebrow. His eyes were still closed, explaining his error, but she couldn’t help wondering why he’d jumped to that conclusion. “Sorry. Good guess, wrong detective.”
Flack’s eyes opened and she found herself gazing in to blue, a very sharp blue that seemed to pierce right through into her soul and paralyse her for a few moments.
Don wasn’t sure what he was expecting when he opened his eyes, but the woman in front of him surpassed all of his expectations.
Damn … she’s gorgeous …
His gaze travelled from her feet, clad in heeled boots (classy, but sensible), up her legs (since when did black work pants look that good?) to rest momentarily on the gun and badge attached to her belt.
She’s a cop. Detective, I’m guessing, since she’s not in uniform … Must be the new girl Danny’s been trying not to tell me about.
His visual sweep continued up to the gentle swell of her chest (generous, but not out of proportion to her size, like some women seemed insistent on), almost obscured by the flowers she was carrying, and finally landed on her face, meeting dark eyes, filled with gentle concern, unlike the fear present in everyone else’s, a single curl of dark hair adorning one cheek while the rest was pulled back to tumble over her shoulders.
Fleetingly, he wondered if his injuries had actually killed him, because no real woman was this beautiful, but the hustle and bustle of the hospital continued behind her, and the wound in his stomach, starting to heal but still very much in evidence, still stung, so he gave her a smile.
“I heard female footsteps. The nurses never stop in the doorway, neither does Detective Bonasera. Lindsay was the only other option.”
She was right about his smile. If Jess was one of those overly sentimental women, it would have reduced her to a puddle of goo on the floor.
As it was, her knees felt a bit wobbly. Forcing movement into her legs, she took a few steps into the room. “I’m Detective Angell.”
Flack raised an eyebrow. “Angell, huh?”
“If the next words out of your mouth are anything to do with any injuries I may have sustained falling from heaven,” Jess said flatly, “you can save your breath. I’ve heard them all before.”
“I bet you have.” Flack muttered, almost too quiet for her to hear. He shifted the pillow behind him to sit up, grimacing at the movement. “So? What have I done that warrants a visit from a beautiful woman?”
Jess was slightly irritated that her cheeks began to heat at that. She wasn’t one to blush easily, never had been – four older brothers, with friends who teased her relentlessly, had cured her of that habit in her teens.
Taking a breath, Jess held his gaze, knowing from experience not to show weakness to male detectives (very few believed women truly belonged in the force, and they could be like hyenas, picking off the weaker members of the herd). “I got sent by the precinct.” She answered, holding up the flowers as proof. “Shoulda known something was up as soon as Benson gave me the keys.”
Flack chuckled, though not maliciously. “You got stuck with Benson as a training officer? What did you do to piss the captain off?”
“Starting to wonder that myself.” Jess tilted her head curiously. “How’d you know he was my training officer?”
“The CSIs have been trying to avoid telling me I’ve been replaced.” Flack explained, with less bitterness than she expected. “Haven’t met you before, so I’m assuming you’re it, and you’re a third grade. And Gerard doesn’t like assigning partners, so you shouldn’t need him to give you the keys.”
Jess frowned. “How’d you know I’m a third grade?”
Flack shrugged with one shoulder. “Just a guess. It’s unusual for detectives to cross state lines, and there aren’t any Angells in NYPD, so I’m guessing you just moved up from uniform.”
“In New Jersey.” Jess confirmed. “I was a uni until two months ago.”
“In which case,” Flack said, “give it a week or two. Then the training wheels’ll be off and you’ll be on your own.”
“Thank you.” Jess extracted the card from the flowers and handed it to him. “I think. Right now, I’m not sure if that’s comforting or not.”
Flack flipped the card open and promptly rolled his eyes. “It was supposed to be comforting. This, I’m not so sure of. “Don’t worry; we saved most of the shrapnel they pulled from your gut.””
“I suppose it’s the thought that counts.” Jess pointed out, setting the flowers on the table and tweaking them slightly. “Oh, and I’m not replacing you.” She added. “I’m sticking around regardless of whether you come back. And you are coming back. By all accounts, you’re too good not to.”
Flack observed her for a few minutes. “You got a first name, Detective?”
Jess smiled to herself. “Of course.”
There was a brief pause, then he prompted, “And?”
“Nice try.” Jess said with a laugh. “I find it easier to maintain a professional front if people are stuck using my last name. It’s not easy being a woman in this line of work.”
“I can understand that.” Flack said to her relief. He was the first male cop she’d met in a long time who didn’t seem to take her as a challenge, even though the once-over he gave her when he’d first opened his eyes told her that he found her attractive. “Speaking of last names, any relation to Detective Sergeant Angell, over in Jersey?”
Jess grimaced. “My father. Although I don’t like to mention it. I just … I don’t …”
“You want any success of yours to be your own work, not anything to do with who your father is.” Flack finished quietly. “I get it.”
“I thought you would.” Jess agreed softly. “Well,” she said with a sigh, “I’d better get back to the precinct before Benson files a Missing Person report.”
Don laughed. “Yeah, I can see him doing that.”
Dave wasn’t chauvinistic intentionally – he was nowhere near as bad as some of the others – but a mother who had died when he was young, a younger sister who had wound up in an abusive relationship, and a daughter he doted on, all added up to a subconscious need to protect women, even if they could do it themselves.
And although he hadn’t seen Angell in action, he had a feeling she could.
He watched her stand and make her way to the door, and his gut lurched. “Hey, Angell.”
Angell turned to regard him curiously. “Yeah?”
Flack mentally berated himself. You can’t ask her to come back, you idiot, you hardly know the woman. But, deep down, he knew it wasn’t that.
It was nice to have a conversation that didn’t centre around the bomb, with someone who wasn’t treating him like he was about to collapse any second.
But pride is a detective’s first weapon in his arsenal, and he grinned at her. “Good luck with Benson. Tell him I said to let you into the field once in a while.”
Angell smiled at him, in a way that made him think that she knew what he’d really wanted when he called her name. “Will do. Feel better.”
Don leaned back into the pillows as she disappeared down the corridor, smiling to himself. Maybe she would come back later. Maybe she wouldn’t.
Either way, she’d make things interesting. And he was right.
Her ass did look just as good as the rest of her.
The second Jess entered the precinct, her co-workers descended on her, all talking at once, demanding information.
“How is he?”
“Was he awake?”
“Did he talk at all?”
“Did he mention the bomb?”
Jess took an automatic step back, brought two fingers to her mouth, and whistled sharply, effectively shutting them up. “Thank you!” She squeezed through a gap in the crowd and made her way to her desk, tossing the keys to Benson as she did so. “Right, in answer to your questions: He seemed fine to me; yes, he was awake; yes, we had a conversation about just how comforting the thought of you lot saving shrapnel that had been pulled from his gut could possible be; and, no, he didn’t mention the bomb. At all.” She resisted the urge to suggest that, if they were that worried, they could have visited themselves, instead of delegating to the one person who had never actually met him.
Instead, as the others dispersed, muttering to themselves, she turned to Benson with a smirk. “He did, however, tell me to tell you to let me into the field once in a while.”
“I take you into the field!” Benson protested.
“Yeah?” Jess raised an eyebrow. “Name one case I’ve actually worked on since I got here.” She held up a hand to stop him. “Paperwork doesn’t count.”
Benson shut his mouth again and thought for a few seconds. “Alright, so I haven’t, but …”
“Benson!” Gerard called from his office. “Homicide on 33rd. Take Angell with you.”
Jess rolled her eyes. Even with an explicit order, Benson had always found some reason to leave her in the precinct.
“Got it.” Benson called back, tossing Jess the keys again. “You’re driving.”
Jess stared at him for a moment, before breaking into a smile. “I shoulda talked to Flack earlier.”
The actual crime scene was in an alleyway off of the main road and, when the two detectives arrived, it had already been roped off with crime scene tape, and the Crime Scene unit was already there.
“Victim’s name is Isabelle Carter, according to her ID.” Lindsay Monroe told them, as they approached. “28-years-old, worked in an advertising company. Hey, Angell. I was wondering when I’d see you out here.”
Jess had met Lindsay only a few days previously, when she’d gone to the Crime Lap to pick up a case report. Lindsay was about Jess’s age, light brown, almost blonde, hair curled down to her shoulders, with a no-nonsense attitude and a strong accent that betrayed her Montanan heritage.
“Yeah, so was I.” Jess muttered, observing the dead woman. She was dressed quite smartly, in a dress suit and heels, lying face down, her blonde hair fanned out like a halo. “Cause of death?”
“Not sure at the moment.” The other CSI stated. “Montana, give me a hand, let’s turn her over.”
“Danny, stop calling me that.” Lindsay sighed, kneeling beside the body. The retort seemed to have slipped from her mouth automatically, because it didn’t sound heated and her colleague paid no attention to her.
Isabelle was duly rolled on to her back and a wound became very evident, blood spreading across the front of her white shirt.
“Stabbed.” Lindsay concluded. “Time of death …”
“Under an hour.” Her colleague finished, straightening up.
“Detective Angell,” Benson said, “this is Detective Danny Messer. I’ll have uniform canvas the area; see if anyone heard anything.”
“How you doin’?” Messer shook her hand, his blue eyes lighting up behind his glasses. “So did it …?”
“Don’t even think about it, Danny.” Lindsay interrupted, beating Jess to it. “I’m sure she’s heard that line too many times, and she’s out of your league anyway.”
Jess couldn’t hold back her snigger, hearing the slight note of jealousy in Lindsay’s voice, and Messer gave his partner a wounded pout. “I thought you never met Aiden, Montana.”
“No, I’ve never had the pleasure.” Lindsay responded, photographing the body. “Why?”
“Because I swear that was her talkin’ just now.” Messer turned back to Jess. “First of all, just call me Danny, we don’t tend to stand on ceremony at the crime lab like you do down in homicide. Second of all, what I was going to say was did it take you long to convince Benson to bring you into the field?”
“Two months.” Jess answered. “So what’s your opinion?”
Messer – no, Danny – turned back to the body. “Well, this alleyway’s popular with junkies and her money and credit cards are missing. I’d say a robbery gone wrong. But that’s your job, Detective. We just use the science to back it up.”
Lindsay straightened up and handed the camera to Danny, before smacking him over the head. “Just process the scene.”
“Now I know you’re channelling Aiden.” Danny muttered, rubbing his head, but he followed her instructions regardless.
Lindsay shook her head, stepping closer to Jess. “He was so gonna use that line.”
“I know.” Jess muttered back. “I can see it coming a mile off.”
The case had taken a ridiculously short time to solve. Lindsay had pulled prints from Isabelle Carter’s purse that matched John Peters, a heroin addict who was in the system for robbery and assault with a deadly weapon – namely a knife, and one that was very similar to the one that Dr Hammerback said had killed the victim.
Benson and Danny had gone to pick him up, sending Jess to talk to the last person to see Isabelle alive – an old friend, who worked as a nurse in Trinity General and was unable to go home until the end of her shift, bereavement or not.
Jess offered her sympathies, got the information she needed, and left the woman to it, thanking her quietly. As soon as she was out of earshot, she pulled out her cell-phone and dialled Benson’s number.
“Hey, it’s me. She remembers a man of Peters’ description talking to Isabelle just after she said goodbye to her this morning. Says she could pick him out of a line-up.” Jess sighed. “Looks like Danny was right - just some junkie who needed a fix and stabbed her when she wouldn’t hand over her purse.”
“And we have Peters’ in custody.” Benson concluded. “Go home and get some sleep, Angell. The guy’s wasted, we won’t get any sense outta him until tomorrow anyway.”
Jess narrowed her eyes, ignoring the fact that he couldn’t see her. “Alright. But if I’m not there when you talk to him …”
“Gerard’ll have my guts.” Benson finished. “That is, if you don’t get there first. See you tomorrow.”
Jess flipped her phone shut and was just about to call for the elevator, when the familiarity of the witness finally made itself clear in her mind.
It was the same woman who had directed her to Flack’s room that morning.
And she was on the fourth floor.
Her fingers wavered over the ‘call’ button for a few seconds longer, before she turned on her heel and made her way to Room 415.
Flack was sitting up properly when she reached him, watching a hockey game on the small TV in the corner of the room.
“Who’s winning?” She asked.
Flack glanced over, and smiled when he saw who it was. “Rangers. You a hockey fan?”
Jess shrugged. “When you’re the only girl in a family of boys, you don’t have much of a choice.” She sat down in the chair beside the bed, deciding not to mention that she wasn’t a Rangers fan – according to squadroom gossip, Flack was the biggest fan out there. “No one coming here to watch it with you then?”
“Nah.” Flack pulled a face. “Why come here when you can drink beer at the same time?”
As much as he tried to hide it, he sounded thoroughly miserable, and Jess smiled slightly. “Well, I never liked drinking alone, and I have no one else to watch it with. Mind if I stick around?”
“Sure.” Flack looked curiously at her. “You’ve got no idea what happened to me, do you?”
“I read the overview before I got to New York.” Jess admitted. “But I don’t know any specifics. I didn’t need to know, and it didn’t seem any of my business. How could you tell?”
“You’re not treating me like I’m about to fall apart.” Flack answered, looking back at the TV.
Jess shrugged. “Hey, I’m sure what you went through was awful. But me constantly reminding you of it isn’t going to change that.”
“I’m not complaining.” Flack said. “It makes a nice change. Hey, c’mon, man, what was that?!”
Jess grimaced as one of the players on the other team slammed his opponent into the side of the rink. “It’s not hockey without a fight or two.”
“Damn straight.” Flack agreed. “Benson let you out yet?” He asked, once the two players had been dragged apart.
“Yeah, but our suspect’s in the drunk-tank.” Jess explained, rolling her eyes. “He sent me home.”
“But you’re here.” Flack pointed out, smirking.
“I was following up a lead when I got the call.” Jess said, trying to ignore the jolt his smirk had sent through her stomach. “One of the nurses was a friend of the victim.”
Another nurse appeared in the doorway. “Detective.” When they both looked up automatically, she smiled sheepishly. “Oh, sorry – Detective Flack. It’s time to change that bandage.”
“I should probably go.” Jess said, moving to stand up.
“No!” Flack said hastily. “Sorry, I …” He sighed, apparently giving up on pride for the time being. “Could you stay?”
Jess glanced at the nurse. “Is that alright?”
“Perfectly fine …” The woman trailed off, looking at her questioningly.
“Detective Angell.” Jess filled in, reading her expression. “Alright, I’ll stay.”
“Thanks.” Flack muttered, reaching out and grasping her hand. “It’s gonna sound crazy, but I really hate having my bandages changed.”
“One of my brothers hates peanut butter sticking to the roof of his mouth.” Jess retorted. “I know crazy.”
“Okay, that’s just weird.” Flack’s hand tightened around hers, as the nurse peeled away the hold bandage. “I don’t … I don’t like other people touching my injuries, that’s all.”
“Neither do I.” Jess confessed quietly. She shifted her grip to make his a little more comfortable, refusing to think about how her hand fit perfectly in his. Right now, he might be a very good-looking man in hospital, but he’d be her co-worker soon enough, and she couldn’t afford to think of him anything more than platonically.
Her gaze drifted down of her own accord, landing on the now-exposed wound on his stomach. It was still quite nasty, and promised to be quite a scar when it had healed properly.
“The phone that detonated the bomb hit me.” Flack said quietly.
Jess snapped her eyes back to his. “Sorry, I …”
“It’s fine.” Flack told her. “They thought it was going to kill me. That’s why everyone treats me like I’m made of glass or something.”
She could hear the resigned note in his voice that said he believed she would now do the same thing. As harrowing as it was – and the wound was worse than anything she’d imagined – she laughed. “Grip like this? No way.”
Flack’s eyes searched hers for a few seconds, and she fought not to look away. Clearly, he found what he was looking for, because he smiled softly. “Thank you.”
“All sorted.” The nurse announced, breaking their eye contact. “Just remember …”
“No unnecessary movements.” Flack finished, giving her a charming smile. “I know.”
The nurse smiled back, a slight hint of pink in her cheeks. “Then I wish you’d pay attention.”
“Where’s the fun in that?” Flack called after her as she left, releasing Jess’s hand as he did.
“And you’re a homicide detective.” Jess said, shaking her head in mock-sorrow. “Are we sure this city’s safe?”
Flack grinned at her. “You haven’t seen much of NYC, have you? Compared to the rest of them, I’m perfectly normal.”
Jess sighed. “Unfortunately, I have seen enough of NYC to believe that. It can’t be that bad, can it?”
“Oh, it can. We once had a victim who was killed by being force-fed live octopus.” Flack told her matter-of-factly.
“Live octopus?” Jess repeated incredulously. “Where did they get that?”
“The guy worked for Exotic Cuisine.” Flack explained. “Really expensive place, specialises in really strange food – deep-fried spider, mealworm spaghetti, grasshopper chutney …”
Jess raised an eyebrow. “You really expect me to believe that?”
“It’s true!” Flack insisted. “Ask Danny Messer if you don’t believe me.”
Jess snorted. “I’d be more inclined to believe you.”
“Then ask Lindsay.” Flack suggested. “She actually ate the stuff.”
“Speaking of Lindsay, is something going on between her and Danny?” Jess asked, changing the subject, but making a mental note to talk to Lindsay next time she saw her. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one for gossip, but they were kind of …”
“Obvious?” Flack finished. “Yeah, I know. I’m glad someone else sees it. Apart from Stella. But she sees that kind of thing everywhere, even when it doesn’t exist – I think she’s a conspiracy theorist.”
“You mean, they’re not together?” Jess asked. “But they … I mean …”
Flack shrugged. “I know. Try telling them that though.”
“Someone should do something about it.” Jess said, more to herself than to Flack. “The tension was unbearable and I was only with them a few minutes.”
“No, I’ve thought about that.” Flack sighed. “But Danny hates being pushed into things; he’d end up hurting her, even if it is unintentional. And Lindsay’s like my other sister, so that means I’d have to kill him, which creates a lot of paperwork.”
Jess sniggered. “That doesn’t mean we can’t drop hints.”
Flack grinned at her. “You know, Detective Angell, I think this could be the start of a beautiful friendship.”