Sgt. Rick Hunter peered out the window of the slowly descending 747. Rain splashed against it, and all he could make out from 10,000 feet was a sea of green. 13 hours in flight was enough to put a man over the edge, he thought. 5 hours from Los Angeles to JFK in New York, two hours on Eastern Standard Time with the only highlight being a Nathan's hot dog during the layover, and now another 8 hours to London. He was able to obtain a last-minute seat in the coach section after waiting on standby, and his long legs were screaming to be allowed off the plane.
He pulled two cards out of his shirt pocket and memorized them once again. One was Dee Dee McCall-Turnan's address card that was enclosed in last month's Christmas correspondence, and the other was full of scribbled names and telephone numbers that she would need upon his arrival. May in London sure looked dismal, he thought, peering out into the fog and rain lying like a blanket on the tarmac at Heathrow Airport.
His stay would be brief, he knew. He didn't even pack a bag.
They all speak English here, he thought silently, but he sure felt like a duck out of water once he emerged from customs. Especially after changing his American dollars for English pounds, much of it in heavy coin.
It was as if he had stepped out into the world of The Great Gatsby when he found is way outside, looking for a common yellow cab. What he found was a nice long que of people waiting politely and patiently for a black FX4 that could have been found in America in a 1950s Humphrey Bogart film.
"Carriage, sir?" asked the gentleman at the head of the que. Hunter merely grunted and showed him the card with McCall's address.
"Can one of these get me here?"
The man smiled politely. "Aye, an American you are. Right so, we can get you there. It's a good 60 minutes and will cost you a bloody wallet full, though."
"Not a problem."
Hunter folded his long body into the back seat and settled in. "Dalton Street in Waltham Forest," the kind man shouted to the cab driver before handing Hunter the card. "See to it that you keep this handy for the exact house number, sir."
"Much obliged," Hunter replied as the man tipped his hat to him.
Hunter looked through the raindrops at the city that had beckoned her to leave him and shatter his heart into a million pieces one year ago. He had self-imprisoned his own heart since the day she left, sentencing himself to what seemed would be a lifetime of heartache.
"What time you got?" Hunter asked the cabbie.
"It's half past four, sir," the gentleman replied.
"Goddamn," Hunter muttered. What if she wasn't home? Maybe he should have called first. But that wouldn't have worked. She would have been suspicious and would have needled it out of him. No, he would not allow her to find out by a static-filled phone call.
"Here you are, sir," the man said finally. The cab had pulled up through a gated U-shaped driveway in front of a very large, brick home.
"You're sure, this is it?" Hunter asked, squinting at the house number and matching it up to the address on the card.
"Certainly, I'm sure," the cabbie said. "That will be 52 pounds, sir. Unless of course, you would like me to wait on you."
For a brief moment, Hunter tried to convert the amount into dollars, and then thought "fuck it" to himself and thrust 60 pounds into the man's hand. "No need to wait," he said. "As we say in America, thanks and keep the change."
Hunter walked up to the front door. Not seeing a doorbell, he lifted the brass knocker and knocked loudly at the door. He waited. He knocked again. And he waited. He finally heard some footsteps and once the door was opened, he was looking straight into the dark pools of brown that belonged to Dee Dee McCall.
For a minute, time stood still as they stared.
Her eyes rounded with disbelief, and her mouth dropped open in surprise. She reached a hand out to touch him, as if she were seeing a ghost, and quickly pulled it back as if she had been burned. "Rick?" she asked softly.
"Hey," he said softly, and it took only one more second for her to hurl herself into his arms, wrapping her arms around his neck. She felt the same in his arms – thinner maybe – and her familiar scent made his heart thump an extra beat.
She drew back from him, held both sides of his face with her hands and planted a quick welcoming kiss on his lips. "What are you doing here?!" she squealed, her dark eyes lighting up with joy. "I mean, Hunter, you NEVER leave L.A. unless you're extraditing a suspect."
"Well, maybe if you'd invite me in, I could tell you," he teased.
"Oh my gosh, yes, come in!" she said, pulling his arm. "You don't have a bag?" she asked, looking around. "Don't tell me, the airline lost it."
"Uh, no," he said, the reality of why he was visiting now crashing down on him. "This will be a short visit."
She looked at him and sobered instantly. "What? What's wrong?" she asked, her voice lowering. "There's something wrong, isn't there?"
"Let's sit down, okay?" he suggested. "Is Alex here?"
Her eyes were the windows to her soul, and a dark shadow passed over them. "No. He's in Africa," and she turned her head to hide her disappointment from him. Or was it tempered anger?
He followed her to a lovely sitting room, one that made him afraid to sit down for fear of getting it dirty or causing a wrinkle. They sat down on a love seat and he took his hands in hers. "Lookit, Dee Dee, the reason why I'm here . . ." he began, and his voice choked. He looked at her and drew a deep breath. "I'm so sorry, but I wanted to be the one to tell you, in person. Your mom passed away yesterday."
The room fell silent. Her face drained of color, and she licked her lips nervously, never breaking his gaze. "What?" she asked, her voice laced with disbelief. "My mom?" she choked out, her hand going to the base of her throat. "No, not my mom?" she squeaked out as tears pooled in her eyes.
"I'm sorry," he said, and pulled her toward him. He felt her shoulders shake with grief. "Wha-what happened" she asked, her voice muffled. "I just . . . . I just talked to her last Sunday."
"Not sure," he told her softly, remembering the conversation he had with McCall's cousin Kim yesterday after Judy Stanton's body was found by police officers who were notified that the newspapers and mail were piling up. Judy had been dead for at least a few days, and it was doubtful that McCall would be able to view her. "Looks like natural causes –there was no sign of foul play or anything."
"I have to go back with you," she said through tears.
"Yeah. That's why I didn't bring a bag." He reached into his pocket and drew out two airline tickets, one for him, and one for McCall. Interestingly enough, he hadn't even thought to get one for Alex. "Our flight leaves at 8 a.m. from Heathrow. " He held his head in shame. "I totally was focused on getting you back to L.A., and I never even thought about Alex."
She turned her head and looked at him. "He's in Africa . . . again," she said with disdain. "I won't even be able to get a phone call in to him, let alone get him to fly to L.A." She looked at Hunter as tears of grief continued to stream down her face. "Thank you, for always being there for me."
"Partners forever, right?" he asked. She simply nodded her head before leaning into the familiar embrace that she craved the moment she set foot in England.
Hunter looked sideways at McCall. Lucky for him, McCall was able to upgrade their tickets to First Class, making the flights across the ocean and continental U.S.A. a little more comfortable. She had been asleep for about 30 minutes, and he relished the feel of her small hand that he had been holding since takeoff.
They had shared dinner together after McCall placed a phone call to Kim, informing her she would be returning to L.A. to make her mother's final arrangements. The rest of the night evolved around McCall packing and Hunter sprawled on her bed to catch up on his jet lag.
Not once did she mention Alex. And that in itself was intriguing.
He watched her sleep as the plane seemed to float at 36,000 feet, the sun shining in on her face. She had changed little in the year that she had been gone. Her hair, which had been long and curly when she got married to Alex, was now shorter, just to her shoulder blades and worn straighter than he remembered, with straighter bangs cut at her brow line. She seemed thinner, and for lack of a better description, worn out. Her eyes were swollen from crying from grief at losing her mother, and despite using makeup, he could still see the bags under her eyes. He slowly caressed her hand with his thumb, hoping she would relax enough to sleep most of the way to New York.
Suddenly, he was looking into a pair of sleepy brown eyes.
"You're staring at me."
"Because I've missed you, missed seeing you," Hunter replied, the words spewing forth before he could stop to think.
She smiled at him and squeezed his hand. "I missed you, too." She drew in a big breath that was followed by a deep sigh. She smiled again and blinked her eyes. "I made the biggest mistake of my life, leaving L.A."
Hunter just gawked at her. He had a feeling that things were amiss, but he hadn't had the courage to ask.
"Alex lied to me."
Hunter's eyebrows furrowed. These were not words he wanted to hear. And unfortunately, something inside of him led him to not be surprised at all by her revelation. The man seemed likeable enough, but warning bells inside Hunter's head told him that the man who stole McCall's heart could not be trusted.
"I'm sorry to hear that," he said cautiously. "What happened?"
She licked her lips nervously, looking out the window again. She finally laid her head back and closed her eyes, as if to shelter herself from bad memories as she relived them for Hunter's ears alone.
"At first, it was okay," she said quietly, still holding his hand. "Marriage and living in England – it was all so new and exciting. But we were only there a couple of weeks and he got sent to Africa, and he was gone for two months. When he came back, he told me he would only be back for about two weeks and he'd be gone again. I told him how unhappy I was, because this isn't what we discussed. And I told him that I wanted to have a baby." She looked over at him with a pained expression. "I'm not getting any younger, y'know? And then he told me – he can't have children."
"What?!" Hunter asked, incredulous that Alex would have hidden something so important from her.
"He had a vasectomy about 10 years ago," she told him, looking at him with a pained expression. "He never told me. He knew how much I wanted a family and he never told me."
"I don't know what to say," Hunter responded, although he knew what he would say to Alex if he saw him.
"I asked him to look into getting it surgically reversed, and he refused. I thought about artificial insemination, and Alex flipped. He said he refuses to raise another man's child. And when I suggested adoption, he absolutely refused. That's when he dropped the big bomb – he doesn't WANT children. Ever."
Hunter sat there, unable to find words to comfort her. Her voice was laced with longing, frustration, and pain.
"I tried to accept it. Really, I did. I tried to concentrate on our marriage, but he just . . . Africa and his work was more important. I filed for divorce about two months ago," she whispered, tears flowing down her cheeks. "I really loved him, but I can't live a lie."
"I wish you had called me," Hunter said to her.
She shook her head. "I was so ashamed, so embarrassed," she admitted. "Everyone tried to warn me that I had fallen for him too quickly." Tears filled her eyes again. "Even my mom warned me. It was my own fault." She looked at him again and sniffed. "Of all people, I should have listened to you."
"Dee Dee, you listened to your heart, and you can't help that Alex lied to you. It's not your fault." He thought a moment. "So when your divorce is final, what are your plans?"
"I haven't gotten that far yet," she admitted. "I want to move back to L.A., but now that Mom's gone . . . ." she said quietly, her voice trailing with the realization once again that her mother was gone forever. "Other than Kim and my Aunt Rose, I don't really have anyone left."
"Hey now," he said. "What about me? I'll still be there. And you have all of your friends."
She gave him a brave smile, unbuckled her seat belt and pulled up the armrest that was separating them. She made her way to his side and he took the cue by lifting his arm to allow her to burrow herself into his side so he could rest his arm around her shoulders and let his hand fall on her hip. He kissed the top of her forehead and decided to let her be. He would now enjoy the remaining 7 hours of flight.
Hunter wrapped his arm around her in a comforting embrace, trying to shelter her from a pain that he knew would not go away with his actions. She trembled as the minister handed her a single pink rose, and tears flowed down her cheeks as she tossed it in on top of Judy Stanton's copper casket that was now six feet under and right next to the vault holding the casket and body of Franklin Stanton, her long-deceased husband. "I love you, Mom," she whispered in a broken voice, and then buried her face into Hunter's shoulder as she wept.
Hunter guided her to the black limousine and helped her inside. He remembered doing the same thing about 10 years earlier when she buried Steve McCall. The only difference was this time, he got into the vehicle with her. She had been stoic since their arrival in L.A. only five days ago.
It wasn't until the funeral home handed McCall her mother's wedding and engagement rings that Judy had worn ever since Frank's death 20+ years ago that McCall could fully accept the fact that her mother was gone.
It took two weeks of seclusion in Hunter's beach house before she could muster the strength to go to her mother's home and start going through her mother's things in preparation to put it on the market.
During that two weeks of healing, Hunter woke up at 2 a.m. one night to hear her talking to someone, and at the risk of eavesdropping, he realized it was Alex Turnan.
"I'm at Rick Hunter's," she said on her end, and he could practically hear the tension and anger in her voice. "He offered, and besides, I didn't feel like going through this alone."
"No, I don't know when I'll be home. I have to get Mom's house cleaned out and get her legal matters settled," McCall told him.
"I find it interesting that all of the sudden, you give a damn," she seethed. "You know, it's only because I'm with him that you are even interested about where I am."
"No, Alex, nothing has changed. When are you going to get that through your head? I want out."
A long period of silence ensued, and Hunter could hear Alex's voice on the other end, pleading, and then hear her begin to weep.
"Alex, no amount of marriage counseling is going to fix us," she said, her voice choking. "I appreciate that you're willing to reconsider having kids in the picture, but you just don't understand. Having a baby or adopting a child isn't going to make things better between us, it will only make it worse. I won't have a child involved in a broken marriage. You lied to me. I'll never get over that."
More silence on her part.
"This has nothing to do with Rick," she said softly. "At least he was honest with me. He has never wanted children, and never hid that from me. You did. And besides, my relationship with Hunter is irrelevant. He's my friend." And after short pause, "No, I am not sleeping with him!"
Hunter's heart stopped.
"Once I get my mother's affairs in order, I'll be back. I don't know what I'm going to do yet. I'll let you know when I decide. Just sign the damn papers and be done with it."
And then she hung up.
Hunter tiptoed back to bed, and laid on his back with his hands folded under his head. "He has never wanted children, and never hid that from me. You did." Her words played over and over in his mind. And that was when the big revelation hit him like a ton of bricks.
The next morning, Hunter stood in Judy Stanton's living room with McCall. "I don't even know where to begin," she said softly. "I mean, what am I going to do with all of this stuff? This is another reason why I always wished I wasn't an only child."
She sank into the couch and laid her head back onto the cushions. Hunter sat down on the coffee table in front of her and forced her to look at him.
"Lookit, I don't want to pry, but um, have you given any more thought as to what you want to do once your divorce is final?"
"No, not really. But I thought about what you said. I have you and my friends, which is a helluva lot more than I have on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. All I know is I want to come back here, eventually."
"There you go. Have you thought about keeping your Mom's house for yourself? I mean, it's fully furnished. At least until you decide what you want to do for sure. There's no reason to make rash decisions and put it on the market right away, is there?"
McCall smiled and wagged a finger at him. "Y'know, there is a reason why we were partners. We could always bounce ideas off of each other." She paused while she ran the suggestion through her head a few times. "I guess you're right. There isn't any reason why I have to do this right away or rush into things."
The ranch-style home was in one of the best suburban areas of the city with one of the lowest crime rates. People here looked out for each other and held neighborhood barbecues. And besides, it was her childhood home.
She stood up and looked around. "Yeah, this could work for me." She turned around raised an eyebrow at Hunter. "Want a tour?"
Hunter smiled. While he had certainly made Judy's acquaintance over the years, he never really got to know her. She and McCall had a tumultuous relationship – one that McCall blamed on the early death of her father. McCall had been "Daddy's girl" and when he passed, and she and her mother never really seemed to click. "I love my mom," she confessed to him once. "But we just don't get along sometimes, y'know?"
McCall showed him the large kitchen and formal dining room, all of which were neat as a pin. There was a huge back yard that was fenced in, and a patio for entertaining. There was one large master bedroom with a walk-in closet, and McCall immediately decided that she would move in to that room if she kept the house. The bedroom across the hall was mostly empty except for a desk and chair and a sofa, most likely used for an office or den. The back bedroom, painted lavender and white, had been McCall's growing up. Hunter sat down on the double bed complete with a frilly canopy and chuckled. "Sooooo, this is where teenage McCall dreamed her naughty little dreams," he said, making his eyebrows go up and down as he teased her.
She smacked him. "You've got a dirty mind." And then she looked around some more. "Mom and I fought viciously over this bedroom," she explained. "She sent me off to a summer horse camp for two weeks when I was 13. It was the summer after Daddy died. And she decided to surprise me by painting my room and making it all girlie," she said, pointing to the canopy. "I was mortified."
"Why? It looks very nice to me." It looked like a teenage dream.
"You don't understand. I was a tomboy. I was playing baseball, climbing trees and riding skateboards with the boys. It drove my mother insane. She wanted me to be a girly-girl, with dresses and curls. And of course, I fought it tooth and nail."
Hunter looked at the beautiful woman standing in front of him. She was the epitome of femininity. Manicured nails, jewelry, makeup, and just absolutely beautiful and put together like a runway model.
"So what happened?" Hunter asked, a slow smile spreading across his face. "You are definitely not a tomboy now."
"Let's just say I was a late bloomer. I didn't get hit with puberty until I was probably 15? I didn't even get my first period until I was 16 . . . ." she began, and then blushed. "That's probably more than you needed to know."
"And I guess that's when you turned every head at Chatsworth High School," he mused, looking at the bulletin board loaded with awards, ribbons and certificates. Model Student. Citizenship Award. Class President. Academic Achievements.
"Yeah, I guess so. I discovered boys were worth a hell of a lot more than just throwing a good curve ball."
"I would have never guessed," Hunter said, looking at her again. "So that made Mom happy, right?"
She stifled a laugh. "Well, yeah. Until she caught me making out with Ray Deavers right on that very bed."
"McCall, you devil."
"She was not happy, believe me."
"Were you naked?" he asked, and the thought of McCall under the sheets naked as the day she was born made him instantly hard.
"No!" she said, partially annoyed and partially humored by his question. "But Ray did have his hand up my shirt . . . ." she added, a naughty little grin on her face.
Hunter looked at McCall who was standing there in white jeans and a pink tee-shirt. The thought of putting his own hand up her shirt and caressing her breasts while he captured her every sigh and gasp of pleasure with his mouth strangled his erection even more. Ray Deavers was a lucky guy . . . . and this was exactly why he kept her at arm's length when they were partners for six years. You can't kick ass and take down names when your brain is otherwise occupied with getting laid by your partner.
Except that one time that they ignored the unspoken rules they had set up like concrete walls. When afterward, everything almost collapsed around them like a house of cards.
McCall was looking at him with interest. She could still read him like a book, and suddenly the air in the room grew thick and heavy. Her gaze traveled to the zipper of his jeans, and he knew she could see the bulge on the right side. Hunter always dressed to the right, and after being his partner for six years, she still knew where to look. He groaned and got off the bed quickly to escape, but he wasn't quick enough. She stepped in front of him and took his hands in hers.
"No, don't go," she said, her voice low. She looked up at him and stepped closer, putting the palm of her free hand against his chest. His arm went around her waist and held her there, waiting for her next move, and Hunter had a good idea of what it might be. He dared to breathe.
"We're not partners anymore," she whispered.
"No, we're not," he admitted thickly.
"I don't want to make the same mistake twice."
"What mistake would that be, exactly?"
"Going to England . . . marrying Alex," she responded, her lower lip trembling with sadness.
"You should have never left."
"I know," she responded, her eyes misting with tears again. "But . . . you didn't ask me to stay."
Hunter sighed, and pulled her closer. His hand wandered from her waist down to the curve of her behind and he caressed her lightly through her jeans. "You were in love with him," he ventured. "Even if I had asked you to stay, you wouldn't have, because he promised more than I could."
She leaned her forehead onto his chest, inhaling his familiar scent that brought her feelings of comfort and safety. And desire. "I know," she said quietly. "I had to see it for myself. I was in love with his promises." And then she looked up at him. "But I was still in love with you."
"His promises meant more to you, though."
She nodded her head, admitting her fault. "I wanted a guarantee of a family," she said. "I never had one of my own, it was mostly just me and my mom."
"Dee Dee, if you're looking for a guarantee, I'm not the man for you. I can't give you a guarantee. I don't want to give you false hopes and then you leave me because I can't give you what you want."
"I know. I'm not asking you to."
He pulled her closer and leaned down to kiss her. The kiss started light and slow, and deepened to the point that he had to either come up for air or pass out from pure pleasure. He met her for another drugging kiss, and he heard her gasp of pleasure as he squeezed her bottom with one hand and slipped his other hand under her tee-shirt, cupping her breast through the material of her bra. She was so responsive to his touch, and within minutes, he was seated on the canopy-covered bed with her on his lap. She wriggled on his thighs and he groaned with discomfort as the action made him grow painfully harder.
"Will you stay with me?" he asked, his voice low and husky as he nuzzled her neck and slowly took her sensitive ear lobe between his lips and nipped at it. She shivered in his arms.
"Yes, I'll stay."
That was all he needed to hear.