“You okay, Pez?” Brian Rafe worried as they stood in the elevator as it made its way down to the precinct’s parking garage. “You usually insist on taking the stairs like the rest of us in Major Crimes.”
Sara Pezzini forced a smile to her lips, aware that her latest partner was not the clueless-but-pretty-boy-in-a-suit he liked to pretend to be. “Just been a long week. Quit worrying, Rafe.”
He studied her a moment. “Planning on hitting your favorite hardware store?” he teased lightly.
“Hey, every city should be so lucky someone turned a historic building into a pub – and keep the name.”
“You want a wingman?”
Sara shook her head. After five years of being partners, Sara understood Rafe’s friendship ran deep. He was steadfast, loyal, insightful, and one of the best partners and friends she had ever had. It also did not hurt he knew what the bracelet on her wrist could do, and worried that it would drive her insane if given enough provocation. “No. You should go home to your girlfriend before she gets jealous again.”
Rafe rolled his eyes. “Didn’t I tell you? Madison and I broke up. She tired of me telling her I had a case.”
“You’re better off without her,” Sara told him as they stepped off the elevator and into the parking garage. A few steps brought them to where she had parked her motorcycle.
“So you kept trying to tell me,” Rafe noted wryly. “Don’t stay out too late. You have a date with Steven tomorrow; he texted me to remind you. I can’t believe you two want to go hiking. In the woods.” He shuddered dramatically.
“It doesn’t count if the woods are in the city.”
“Sure it does: they’re still woods.”
Sara hugged him as she teased, “City boy.”
“Yeah, well, I refuse to be someone who spend their weekends hiking nature. Nature and I do not get along.” He studied her as she stepped back. “You gonna tell me what’s going on with you and Steven Ellison? You’ve been seeing him more.”
Sara shrugged. “I like him.”
“He’s half in love with you already,” Rafe observed. “You trying to see if it’s going anywhere?”
“Maybe. I mean, we’ve been dating already, given how many times he’s asked me to be his date for some society event.”
Rafe shook his head. “You aren’t in love with him.”
Sara glared at him. “I could be.”
“He’s the younger Ellison, and while he’s good at business, he’s unobservant and gullible with women, especially you. Does he know you like to pick up guys for one-night stands?”
“Since when is that a crime? Guys do it all the time.”
“Doesn’t make it right,” Rafe pointed out. “I’d say the same to a guy: that shit will get old, and you need love.”
Sara rolled her eyes. Her partner was a hopeless romantic. “I can get love. It goes like this,“ she saidand demonstrated by making a loose fist with her left hand and putting her middle finger into the circle her left fingers made, pumping it in and out.
Rafe’s lips thinned. “You are so crude sometimes, Pez.”
Unrepentant, Sara shot back, “You wouldn’t want me any other way. This is why I slum with society guys like Steven. They can only go downhill from where they are.”
Ignoring that crack, Rafe continued his argument. “Is he aware you’ve slept with his brother and Blair?”
“No, and you will not tell him,” Sara snapped, aware that her partner knew about the sleeping because he had shown up at Jim’s loft, looking for her. “Besides, it was only sleeping.”
“Uh huh. You know, you’re the first woman who hasn’t caused a major rift between Jim and Blair? Everyone else has turned out to be the worst kind of luck.”
Disconcerted by Rafe’s approval, Sara looked askance at her partner. “You can’t be seriously suggesting I go for a threesome.”
“Pez, if you weren’t you, I wouldn’t even recommend going near those two. Hell, if you were anyone else, I’d say you were so out of luck, you might as well buy a lottery ticket. Least then you’d have a better chance at getting something.”
At her stunned look, he smiled. “Enjoy your weekend.” He kissed her cheek, then lifted her right hand so he could kiss the bracelet she wore on her wrist. As if sensing his intent, the bracelet morphed, peeling back the cuff of the leather jacket Sara wore and revealing golden, reptilian flourishes that doubled the bracelet’s size from a thin band to a full wrist cuff. Unfazed, Rafe kissed the carnelian stone of the bracelet before telling it, “Take care of her. Don’t drive her crazy; I like her the way she is, okay?”
Sara could sense the Witchblade’s amusement and confirmation as it reached out to touch the back of Rafe’s hand before morphing again into its usual innocuous state. The ‘blade liked Rafe, but it liked certain people more. Ignoring its hints she should go visit said people, Sara put on her motorcycle helmet, zipped up her leather jacket, put on her gloves, and mounted her bike. She waved goodbye to Rafe before focusing her attention on driving out of the downtown precinct’s parking garage and into the Friday afternoon traffic.
The bar Sara liked was on the southern side of the downtown core from the precinct, in an area of Cascade known as Founder’s Park. Art galleries, trendy bars, eclectic shops, loft-style condos, and small corporate offices occupied the buildings, many of which dated back to the city’s original founding in the 1800s. The three-acre neighborhood was also home to the city’s original Mercantile Building, which had been home to a hardware store, among other businesses. Some enterprising soul had turned the hardware store into a pub. Sara liked it because the back of the pub had the best pool tables in the city, the drink and food tasted good, its prices were reasonable, and the patrons included a cross-section of the city. It also had a small parking lot in the back of the building, which Sara appreciated since it meant she was not parking her bike on the side of the street. The pub also had the advantage of being in a neighborhood on the other side of downtown from Sara’s home neighborhood of Miller’s Pond, which meant that on the rare occasions when she got too drunk to drive home, she could catch a bus that would take her across the central core to her southeastern neighborhood.
Stepping into the pub, she scanned the interior for a place to sit. It was nearly seven p.m., which meant the bar was already more than half full. She found a space near the far end of the bar and ordered a bottle of her favorite beer, paying for it before making her way back to the pool tables.
One of other regulars spied her approach. “Hey, Pez!” the slender black man said, holding up a hand. “Over here, I saved you a spot!”
Relieved, Sara made her way through the crowd and hugged the foxed-faced man before she took a seat at the small table close to one of the pool tables. Not for the first time, she marveled at how muscular he was in his narrow-framed body, courtesy of his dedication to fitness. He was the same five-foot-seven-inches as Sara, something she appreciated since she worked with people who were taller than her. Tonight, he wore a purple short-sleeved dress shirt and tan khakis, indicating he had walked over from work.
“Thanks, Matt. How are you doing tonight?”
Matthew Falk grinned. He was an architect who worked for a small firm whose offices were four blocks away from the pub. He had also become a friend, someone outside of the PD who would be there for Sara. Gregarious, flamboyant, and outgoing, he offered Sara a welcome respite from her usual crowd of fellow police. “Just finished a big project, so I’m celebrating. You keep the streets safe out there?”
Sara chuckled. “Best as I can.”
“You haven’t made the news lately,” he noted as he took a sip of his drink. “Got kind of used to your name up there with Jim, Blair, and the rest of Major Crimes.”
“We turned off the ‘major crimes happen here’ beacon for a while,” Sara joked. She was glad that the city was not experiencing the high-profile cases that had put her name back in the media. “Sent it down to Olympia, let them handle it for a while.”
Matt laughed and toasted her. “Good. I was wondering if you would get a break.”
Sara nodded briefly. She did not tell Matt that the mystical bracelet on her wrist had warned her this period of respite would end in August, or that what would come would be filled with screams of terror, blood, and death. Tonight, she wanted to focus on having a few beers with a friend, shooting a few rounds of pool, and maybe picking someone up for a no-strings-attached encounter. She did not want to think about how she missed sleeping in a Sentinel’s arms, or how Blair cuddled her close, or how she fit between them and loved that they understood what it was like to have a destiny. She had no business getting in between them, not when she had witnessed what it had taken for them to be lovers. What she had with them had to be enough, no matter what. She had already buried one lover and too many friends for one lifetime.
Two hours later, Sara leaned over the pool table and executed a perfect combination shot, dropping the ball she had called into the pocket. Lounging against the wall, Matt told the man Sara played against, “Told you she could make it.”
The heavyset man scowled. “Nobody should’ve made that shot, let alone a girl.”
Sara ignored him. Though it was true wielding the Witchblade gave her an extra edge in how she perceived the world, including being able to make impossible shots in pool, she had been a pool shark since she was a little girl. The stranger she played against would not have survived the pool halls she had haunted in New York. Deciding she had had enough of his misogyny, and wanting to play someone else, she cleared the table.
Her opponent’s scowl deepened. Looking at Matt, he accused, “You’re hustling. You her pimp or something?”
Matt laughed. “She’d have to arrest me if I was a pimp; she’s a cop.”
The stranger looked her, as if expecting her to be in a police uniform and not in a pair of black jeans and a white t-shirt, and dismissed her with a disbelieving look.
Disgusted, Matt shook his head. “Look, man, you asked if you could play. I told you she’d win. You didn’t believe me. Now if you’ll excuse us, I’d like to play a game with my friend.”
The stranger eyed him, then Sara. Disgusted, he tossed down the twenty he had bet, then walked away.
Grinning, Matt pocketed the money before turning to Sara, who set up for another game and scowled as she did so. “Hey, you okay?”
Sara shrugged. “Just wondering if you’ll scare away all the guys tonight. That’s two in a row.”
Matt lifted a brow as he waited for her to finish racking the balls. “Depends. Did you want me to?”
“Only the creeps like that last one,” Sara told him, and gestured for him to make the break.
“In that kind of mood tonight?” Matt asked, taking his cue, breaking the triangle of balls, and sinking a ball. He checked to see what it was before making a second shot, which he missed. “Because what a misogynist thinks has never mattered to you, so that means you’re looking for someone else.”
“And if I was?”
“Then I’d tell you there’s a white dude who’s been watching you and me since he came in fifteen minutes ago. He’s pretty – not as pretty as your partner, more’s the pity – but those jeans outline how that boy’s packing heat. He’d give you a good ride.” Matt took another look at the stranger. “He looks like he’s barely out of college, if that.”
Sara shot Matt a smile as she leaned in to make her shot. “So why don’t you make this quick, so I can go pick him up?”
“Hey, don’t let me slow you down,” Matt said, chuckling. He had been her wingman enough times in their three years of friendship to recognize the men she picked up. “You want him, you go for him. I don’t think he swings my way.”
Sara made her shot, which sank no balls, but blocked Matt’s options. “Wouldn’t be the first time you seduced a straight guy.”
Sighing, Matt smiled wryly. “Yeah, well, that’s what happens when you don’t cruise gay bars. Not in the mood to get laid tonight; I’ll leave that fun to you.” He studied the table before he reached for his beer and took a drink. “Shit, Pez, did you leave me any options?”
Sara laughed. “Yeah, one or two.” In the back of her head, she could sense the Witchblade stirring, intrigued by the notion someone was watching its Wielder. Who is he? she asked, aware it would tell her. Is he worth chasing?
For one evening’s pleasure, no more, the Witchblade told her, disapproving. It had picked who it wanted Sara to be with and did not care that those people were together. His name is Tyler and he will want to fuck you in the bathroom. You are better than a bathroom fuck.The Witchblade showed her the graphic scene, as if hoping by doing so it would persuade Sara to avoid that path. It also told her he was a recent Rainier University graduate, living in a shared apartment.
Thanks, Sara said. Ignoring the ‘blade’s desire too long was a dangerous path to follow, though following it had brought her to Cascade. The years since had been a salve to Sara’s soul and had allowed her to rebuild her life and her reputation as a highly respected police officer. Seven years of being the ‘blade’s Wielder had taught her the sentient, intelligent, ancient, and symbiotic weapon would respect her wishes for a time. If she ignored it for too long, the weapon would become temperamental and inclined to seek another Wielder. If she followed the ‘blade, Sara could continue to experience delayed aging, precognition, immortality, and a second consciousness in her brain that liked to comment on almost everything she did and show her the past and future Wielders’ experiences in her dreams.
Sara was playing with fire, but she could not see herself asking Jim and Blair if they wanted her as a lover. She had slept with each of them platonically off and on over the years, usually when her nightmares got to be too much to bear, or when the ‘blade fed her apocalyptic visions in her dreams and she could not find peace. The ‘blade liked them; both Jim and Blair had told her it sometimes manifested in her sleep and curled around them. That was not enough for Sara to take the next step.
You already showed me their deaths, she told the Witchblade. Why do you want me to be their lover, knowing how they will sacrifice themselves?
You need them as much as they need you, the Witchblade snarled in her head.
I will see them tomorrow at dinner. Isn’t our friendship enough?
Sara felt the ‘blade huff at her words but it went back to sleep, much to her relief.
The man who had been watching her did not take long to approach the pool table and introduce himself as Tyler. He was the pretty Sara liked, with the bravado of someone in his late twenties. That he reminded her of Blair, with his curly hair and glasses, only added to the attraction. As the Witchblade had told her, he had taken the bus to the pub, lived in a shared apartment close to the university, and had recently graduated. She took him home on the back of her motorcycle, giving him the first ride on a motorcycle he had ever taken. Once in the privacy of his bedroom, Sara fucked him until he was gasping her name like a mantra and he sated her lust. If her heart was closed off, and she pretended he was someone else, she kept those secrets to herself.
In the afterglow, Sara rose from the bed and dressed. Propping himself on his elbows, Tyler watched her.
“Guess that means you don’t want me to ask for your number so we can do this again?” Tyler asked, disappointed.
Sara pulled on her t-shirt and flashed him a smile. “You’re a smart guy. I’m not looking for a relationship.”
Tyler studied her as she stuffed her feet into her motorcycle boots, zipping them up each turn. “What about a fuck buddy? I mean, you liked what we did, right?”
“Yeah, but that’s still a relationship,” Sara countered as she picked up her jacket and helmet. “Thanks, Tyler. Good night.”
To his credit, Tyler did not protest further, but let her go.