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"YOU HAVE TO CALL HER."
Mac Mancusi stood, eyes focused on his perp on the other side of the one-way mirror. The jackass was forcing his hand. With teeth grinding until his jaw ached, Mac cursed. There had to be another way to save this case before it was flushed down the crapper, his career along with it.
"I don't have to do anything, Fernandez. Last time I checked, I was still the chief of detectives in this department. Or did your sorry ass somehow get promoted by the new mayor when I was wiping his footprints off my back?"
Through the reflection in the glass, Mac watched Lt. Rick Fernandez run his hand through his thick hair.
"Boss, I'm just saying We all know the mayor's been riding you since the election. His smarmy staff boys have been sniffing around the precinct all week, hunting for some damning shit to leak to the press. If this drug bust doesn't happen, you can kiss your job goodbye."
Mac forced his words through his tight lips. "I know the stakes."
"Then why are you waiting around? Call the bruja!" Sounded so easy. Call the witch who'd ripped his heart out, filleted it, then served it on an Italian roll with onions, peppers and a side of you're-a-fool. Yeah, no problem. Wasn't as if he had any pride or anything as inconvenient as self-respect to stand in his way.
"Know what, Fernandez? I remember a time when this department could beat a confession out of a perp without having to call some voodoo princess to do our dirty work."
Fernandez shoved his hands in his pockets. "Listen, boss, you want to beat the crap out of Pogo Goins and hope he gives up the location of three hundred kilos of cocaine, I'll back you up. But youknow that shit won't fly anymore. We need the location of the drugs and we need it two hours ago. I don't know what happened between you and Lilith, but it can't be as bad as what's going to happen if we don't find that blow before it hits the streets. Word is the shit ain't pure. We're going to have ODs, turf wars, retaliations. Chaos. Goins hasn't asked for a lawyer yet. He still thinks we're talking to him about his stolen car. We don't have much time before his brain clears enough to know we're trying to flip him for the information. He'll call his mouthpiece for sure."
And then the interview would be over. Mac and the detectives in his department didn't have anything to hold Pogo Goins, just a tip that the low-level hood had been the gobetween in a huge shipment of cocaine. When Goins's car went missing and he actually reported it to the cops, the Chicago PD had gotten the break they'd been waiting for a chance to put a real dent in the drug trade, maybe even take down the masterminds behind the renewed influx of highpriced, low-quality coke. If the rumors were true and the drugs weren't pure, the stakes went through the roof.
Time was running out. He needed Lilith. "Go grab a pack of cigarettes for our guest," Mac said, gritting out the words between his tightened teeth, "while I make a call."
Rick grinned, gave a quick nod, then headed out, closing the door behind him.
Mac pulled out his cell phone and hit the speed-dial button he'd yet to delete. When Lilith didn't instantly answer, his stomach hardened. She used to pick up on the first ring sometimes before. She claimed to always know when he was calling. He figured she had caller ID and a less-than-busy work schedule predicting future love matches for idiots with too much disposable income.
But today she ignored his call.
Maybe she didn't want to talk to him.
He couldn't blame her.
When he'd figured out exactly how she'd become his perfect lover, how she'd always known exactly when he wanted to talk and when chatter was the last thing on his mind, he'd never been so angry, so confused, so completely infuriated. He'd heard crime victims say they'd felt violated after a rape or robbery, and while he'd understood them on an intellectual level, he'd never truly accepted the full meaning until he'd learned what Lilith really was.
Not a clever con woman.
Not a supersmart people watcher.
Not even a deeply intuitive woman.
Nope, she was a psychic.
A real one.
The kind only fools believed in. The kind only bigger fools fell in love with.
He buried his cell phone in his pocket and charged out of the observation room and into his office. He buzzed the switchboard and asked them to dial Lilith's number from a secured line.
After four rings, she finally picked up. "Lilith St. Lyon." "Hey," he said.
Pause. Long pause. The kind of pause that made his teeth hurt. "Lilith? It's Mac."
"And I thought my day couldn't get any worse."
"I'm thrilled to hear your voice, too," he couldn't help snapping.
She hung up.
On a string of bluer curses, he had the switchboard dial again. This time she waited six rings to pick up. "What do you want, Mancusi?"
He should have expected her cold response, but he was supposed to be pissed off at her. Not the other way around.
He cleared his throat. "We've got a case."
"How nice for you."
"We need your input."
"Too bad. I'm out of business."
Mac shoved a few files off to the side of his desk and leaned his hip against the hard surface. She could be so damn stubborn.
"Look, Lilith, clearly you're still pissed at me."
"Ooh, do you suddenly possess the evil clairvoyance? Aren't you afraid of yourself?"
"I wasn't afraid of you," he insisted, affronted.
She sighed, her tone lilting with disbelief. "I'm hanging up now," she said. "Not that I need to tell you that. You already knew, right?" "Hey, those cracks should be coming from me, not you," he barked.
"Maybe I've developed a new skillchanneling! Either way, I don't want to talk to you any more than you want to talk to me."
"Then talk to Fernandez," Mac offered, thinking quickly. His lead detective viewed Lilith with a mixture of fear and respect, topped off with a heavy dose of good old-fashioned lust. Every guy in the department had the hots for the woman, and he couldn't blame them. He'd bullied every single one of them out of his way on the path to her bed. Slim, sleek and brunette, Lilith strutted to a soundtrack of "Black Magic Woman." But despite Mac's territorial warnings to the men he supervised, Lilith and Fernandez had struck up a weird friendship. Mac wasn't beyond exploiting the relationship for his own benefit. He'd learned some lessons from her very, very well.
"Rick's in on this?"
"The whole department is. This case isn't a joke. We're talking large quantities of drugs about to hit the streets unless we can pry the location of the stash out of Pogo Goins."
"Goins? He's a moron," Lilith snapped. "Why would he have such high-level information?"
"That's what I want to know."
Silence. Mac replayed the conversation in his mind while he waited. He definitely had her interest. That much he knew without any extrasensory perception.
"I'll be there in a half hour," she said, her voice resigned.
"Twenty if you're lucky. And I want my hot water ready, got it?"
She disconnected the call.
Mac placed the handset down gently on the cradle, his breathing surprisingly even, though a little deeper than usual. A smile teased the edge of his lips, but the moment he acknowledged the warmth of laughter in his chest, the emotion turned to ice. He couldn't afford to let his guard down. He'd called her. He'd heard her voice. Sparred with her. He couldn't allow the old feelings to resurface.
Except the anger.
Mac knew he had to drop this resentment, but it was hard to let go when Lilith's secret abilities had caught him so completely off guard. The revelation had wrecked what he thought might have been the relationship of a lifetime. They'd been so compatible. So in sync. But that had been an illusion. A con. She'd used her powers to become his perfect partner. She'd stripped away his free will. Made him fall in love.
Lord, how pathetic.
Except for the one supersize secret of her psychic ability, Lilith had been the quintessential what-you-see-is-what-you-get woman. And now that he thought about it, she hadn't really kept a secret at all. She'd said from the start that she was a genuine clairvoyant. He'd simply never believed her.
Sure, he'd used her in his investigations, having met her when the parents of a missing child had begged her to help find their daughter. He remembered their first encounter vividly. She'd been in the little girl's room. Alone. Lightly fingering a tiny porcelain tea set, her eyes glossy, her cheeks streaked. She didn't try to cover up her emotions when he barged in but instead threw them at him like weapons. She'd been raw and uninhibited and larger than life. He'd instantly realized that she wasn't some charlatan trying to raise false hopes in the hearts of desperate parents. She hadn't wanted to be there. She hadn't wanted to help. But she had, and the child who had disappeared without a clue, without a trace, had been recovered in less than twelve hours.
Mac tried to remember exactly how he'd rationalized her talents back then, but accepting that she possessed real extrasensory power had never been an option. He'd simply attributed her talents to hypersensitivity in reading other people. The missing child's stepfather had, after all, been involved in the kidnapping. She'd realized quickly that he had been lying and had not only produced the child relatively unharmed, but had also helped Mac wrangle a confession that had held up in court.
After her initial performance, Mac had authorized her to work with the department, mostly with interrogations. She was more reliable than any polygraph and much nicer to look at than a department examiner. He'd established a comfortable sexual banter with her that inevitably exploded into a full-blown affair the night he'd lost a detective in the line and she'd shown up as if she'd known someone had ripped a hole in his gut.
From that night on he'd ignored all the other signs that pointed him toward facts he couldn't accept. How could one person know what another person was thinking? He'd made a conscious effort to never lie to her, since she was so adept at ferreting out the truth, but he'd never in a million years imagined that she could creep into his psyche and extract tiny facts and fantasies he'd never admit to out loud.
And now, with her on her way back into the precinct and his life, he wouldn't be able to hide anything from her.
Or from himselfand that rankled most of all.