After six years of partnership, it seemed to Sgt. Dee Dee McCall that the city of Los Angeles was more interested in trimming its crime-fighting budget than it was trimming the amount of criminals off the streets. Partnered police officers seemed to be partners in name only anymore. She and Hunter had become like almost every other partnered police officers – working cases alone most of the time.

Sure, they would try to discuss their cases and bounce ideas off of each other. But it was futile. And the last two months especially were wearing on her nerves. Hunter had been working on a single case for far too long, and his tight-lipped information that at first had become annoying to her was now a cause for worry. The tall sergeant seemed preoccupied and on edge. This sent McCall's sixth sense on high alert.

"I don't know what you're talking about, McCall," said Capt. Charles Devane when she brought her concerns to him. Devane, too, looked frazzled. "Hunter is working on a high-profile case with specific instructions from people higher up on the food chain than me. I know you'd like to work on it with him, and frankly, it would please me to no end. But he started on this before you came back from London, and it was too late for me to add you as a detective on that case. I'm sorry."

McCall blanched at the memory of that conversation. Returning from London only two months after her marriage to Alex Turnan had seemed like such a good idea at the time. She lost her loving feeling of the United Kingdom and her ex-husband at the same time.

She heaved a heavy sigh as she recalled the afternoon that changed it all. She was intent on surprising Alex with a picnic lunch at his lab, but she was the one who turned out to be shell-shocked when she found him sitting in his office chair, groaning with pleasure and winding his fingers through the long blonde hair belonging to his lab assistant, on her knees in front of him, giving him head.

She had her bags packed and her one-way airline ticket purchased before Alex had arrived home. She came home to her old job and her old partner. The city of L.A. had welcomed her with open arms, hired her back onto the force and partnered her with a very welcoming and jubilant Hunter. But like all other partnered officers, she and Hunter found themselves often working cases alone. The professional distance between herself and Hunter was growing to be too much to bear.

And it was starting to affect their personal relationship, too. It had been four months since she returned from London, and their conversation one night shortly after she got back was one that changed her forever.

"So, tomorrow you're back to being my partner," Hunter said triumphantly, his feet slowly moving the porch swing at her mother's house back and forth.

"Just like old times, right?" she asked. Her need for normalcy was great. Although she looked at tomorrow with trepidation. Not one cell in her body thought tomorrow would the same as it had been the previous six years together. The work would be the same: trying to rid the streets of L.A. of the most dangerous criminals under a tight budget. But to return only a little more than two months after her wedding, which many of her coworkers attended, was not something she looked forward to. At the age of 33, she was ashamed for making such a rash decision to marry Alex.

She felt Hunter's hand gently squeeze her shoulder, and she smiled at his instinctive ability to read her thoughts. This had not changed. "Don't worry about coming back to work. They are your friends. They understand."

She leaned her head into his shoulder. "I feel so stupid," she said softly. "I should have known better."

"Hey, it's not your fault." And then he was silent for a while. "I blame myself, actually."

She straightened up and looked at him with surprise. "Why on earth would you be to blame?"

He looked down, not meeting her gaze, and concentrated instead on squishing an ant with the toe of his flip flop. "I uh, I should have told you how I really felt about you. Maybe you would have stayed."

McCall's jaw dropped. Hunter looked at her for a second, gave her a shy grin and then looked away.

"Don't look at me like that," he said. "I can't think when you look at me like that."

"What are you telling me?" she asked.

Hunter's gaze shifted to the floor again, looking for another ant to kill.

"Did Alex ever tell you about my visit to him at his hotel before you got married?"

"No – but you told me you had words with him. I believe you said you were out of line."

Hunter heaved a sigh. "I told him he was messing you up, and he needed to back off. He told me I was out of line, and that he loved you."

She could tell there was more. "And?" she prodded.

"I told him I loved you, too."

Her swift intake of breath told him that he had surprised her with this admission.

"I should have told you," he said. "But I thought you knew. And he was offering way more than I was. He was willing to give you 'Leave it to Beaver.' The house, the white picket fence, a station wagon full of kids."

"Oh God, Rick," she whispered. Her eyes filled with tears. "It's so much more than all of that. I just want to be with someone who loves me, and who wants to share their life with me forever. The rest of it is just a bonus."

He looked at her and wiped an errant tear off of her cheek with his thumb. He breathed deep for courage. "Then I hope I'm you're guy, then. Because I love you. Nothing will ever change that." And before she could even think, his lips were on hers. And then their hands were all over each other. And then they got into his car and drove to his beach house, where they made love with the windows open amidst crashing waves and a warm sea breeze.

McCall's eyes misted over. Their personal relationship was suffering thanks to this case.

"Penny for your thoughts," said Hunter's familiar voice behind her. She almost melted into her chair when his hands gently grasped her shoulders and began to massage them, working out the knots between her shoulders and spine.

"I was just thinking that I don't get to see you nearly enough," she said softly.

"You just miss my massages," he said with a laugh.

If he only knew the truth, McCall thought silently. She sighed again and leaned her head back to look up at him. "I miss you, all of you," she said thickly. He quickly removed his hands and sat down across from her, pinching the bridge of his nose with his fingers. He looked worn out.

Hunter finally looked at her with his shoulders slumped. "Let's get dinner tonight," he said, not asking, but telling.

"Really?" she asked, suddenly interested in breaking the monotony of the days and weeks past.

"Thai?" he asked hopefully.

She wrinkled her nose – it was much too spicy for her taste. "Italian?" she countered.

"That's all I've been eating lately – leftovers from my mother."

And then she grinned, suddenly remembering. "Well, tonight IS Thursday . . . ." she began, drumming her fingertips against the desk. Her smile grew wider when he recognized the significance.

"Chowder Night," he responded, his own face smiling back at her. "Let's get outta here."

And so they sat, heads bowed over their bowls of take-out chowder on the couch of McCall's living room. McCall grew increasingly disturbed. Hunter seemed preoccupied and pensive. Finally, after they finished their chowder, McCall curled up into his side and closed her eyes as he put his arm around her. She turned her head into his shirt, inhaling his scent of cologne and everything that was Hunter. She felt him place a kiss on the top of her head and pull her closer.

"What's wrong?" she asked softly.

"Just a lot on my mind," he replied. "This case is making me nuts."

"Can I help?" she asked. She felt him take a deep breath and sigh.

"As much as I would love to have your help, no, there's nothing you can do."

"This whole budget crisis stinks," McCall whispered. "I miss you so much."

"I miss you, too," he replied, and then he yawned. "Goddamn, I'm tired."

"Well, I bought an extra-long couch just for these occasions," McCall answered. "Why don't you stretch out a while?"

He responded with action and made quick work of stretching out on her couch, but keeping McCall in his arms as she reclined with him. They found themselves chest to chest, their hearts hammering in unison. Her eyes closed as he gave her a light kiss on her forehead. She opened her eyes and smiled at him, and lightly tried to use her thumb to press the wrinkles of worry from his forehead.

"You can do better than that," she said softly, and smiled at his tired chuckle. Suddenly, his lips were on hers, slow and drugging, and oh-so-powerful. Their tongues mated as they fondled each other. She caressed the hard muscles of his torso and back while he made quick work of unbuttoning her blouse and unfastening her bra. His hot mouth traveled downward and teased her nipples, gradually increasing the pressure as he teased them into hard buds. McCall gasped as she felt a tugging sensation in her lower belly, and the feeling grew stronger as Hunter pleasured her, causing a warm feeling spread from her belly to the rest of her body.

Before she knew it, their lovemaking grew desperate. There was no time to remove clothing. She deftly unbuckled his trousers and reached down to free his eager cock, hot and heavy in her hand. He grunted when she began to stroke him. "Gah . . . ." he growled into her ear, his body shaking with need. "I can't wait," he finally said, moving between her legs after he raised her skirt and pulled down her underwear. And then he went still, cursing as he began to go through his pockets looking for a condom.

"It's okay, we don't need it," she told him, raising her pelvis toward him, searching for her prize. He looked down at her and smiled.

"Thank God," he replied, and then met her for a searing kiss as he thrust into her. She gasped at the sudden onslaught, and secretly screamed with delight at his wanton need to be with her in every sense of the word. The pleasure crashed down over her in waves, and after she hitched her ankles around his waist, she felt him slide even deeper. She would have climbed him like a giant oak if she could. He groaned into the curve of her neck. "You feel so good," he whispered into her ear, and then she hissed as she felt his fingers reach between them to stroke her. Her body tightened like a bow string, and a small squeal of distress erupted from her mouth. "Come for me," he ordered, and like magic, she cried out as her body did his bidding, her orgasm washing over her in waves as she shuddered beneath him.

And then she felt him stiffen and groan as he pushed even deeper, erupting inside her, the hot and sticky wetness of him filling her. He collapsed on top of her, suddenly kissing her tenderly as they came down from their sexual high together. He looked down at her, pushing her stray curls away from her flushed face.

"It has been way too long," he murmured into her hair as he shifted his weight off of her.

"Yeah, I know," she responded, meeting him for another light kiss. "We never see each other."

"Hopefully, this will wrap up soon," he said, his face now drawn and pensive. She tried to smooth the worry lines from his forehead with the tips of her fingers.

"This case really has you bugged, doesn't it?" she whispered. "I've never seen you so concerned."

"It's just some really bad people who are very smart," he said quietly. He turned to face her. "I'm going undercover in the morning. I can't tell you where I'll be, or what I'll be doing. It's too dangerous. It may be a while before I can contact you. So please, promise me you won't ask questions?"

Her heart hammered in her chest. This was very serious, and now she was scared. That was a bad sign all around. She swallowed hard. "I promise."

Hunter smiled at her again and then drew her close as he kissed her. He stirred against the softness of her stomach, and she sighed as his hand followed the curve of her spine to cup her naked backside. He pulled her closer and soon he was on top of her again. But this second time, he took his time and teased her mercilessly until she begged. It was slow, sweet and ultimately mind-blowing. And when they were finished, he held his forehead against hers as his breathing slowed. "I love you," he whispered to her, his voice desperate.

"I love you too," she whispered to him in the dark. "Always."

###

It had been a week. She hadn't seen or heard from Hunter at all. Devane was tight-lipped, but also worried. He barked at everyone from being on edge himself. And after 9 days had passed, McCall answered a knock at her door at 2 a.m.

Devane was standing there, with an ashen-faced Kitty O'Hearn and Brad Navarro. They didn't need to tell her, because the look on their faces said it all. It was the same look that Hunter had when he came to her door and told her Steve had died.

McCall swallowed hard, looking at the tears in everyone's eyes. "What's wrong?" she whispered, her voice eluding her. She felt her body begin to shake uncontrollably, and her heart thudded in her ears. "It's Rick, isn't it?"

"I'm sorry," Devane said, his voice choking. "There was a shootout two days ago, and we hadn't heard from him. We had the entire team looking everywhere. Sources came up empty. He was found under the pier this morning by a couple of fishermen," Devane said. "He was shot. Looks like he was dumped there." The last few words he said went unheard by McCall. "Found under the pier . . ." were the last words she heard before she bent over, screaming. "Nooooooooo!" over and over again.