by Critical Strike
The same instant Travis pushed his reading glasses up his nose, he caught a glimpse of a pale hand out of the corner of his eye. The hand was reaching for the plate of cookies near him, a plate of stillwarm, freshly baked home-made chocolate chip cookies. Anyone who had ever seen at a glance the people living in the spacious apartment would have expected the first words out of Travis’s mouth to be “Phoebe, darlin’ you’re gonna spoil your appetite that way, an’ that ain’t gonna make your momma too happy.” It would have made sense. Four people lived there. Travis Sumpter, the only blond, and the Emorys: Kai, his sister Emma, and little eight-year-old Phoebe, Emma’s daughter. But the hand didn’t belong to a dark-haired precocious blue-eyed little girl. It belonged to her just as dark-haired, blue-eyed uncle who already had the cookie in his mouth as he flopped onto the couch beside Travis. Instead of cautioning a child, Travis said mildly, his Southern accent thick, “Y’know Em’ry, they ain’t even had a chance to cool yet. I swear you must got some kinda radar for my momma’s cookies. She only just dropped them off.”
Kai Emory, the cookie culprit in question, grinned broadly before he took another bite. “C’mon Sumpter, they’re still warm. They’re your mom’s cookies; I could smell them anywhere.”
Travis couldn’t help but grin and he leaned over, licking a cookie crumb away from the corner of Kai’s gloss-covered lips. They were reddish in color and smelled sweet even before Travis leaned in. Apple Torte flavored. “You got a bigger sweet tooth than Phoebe, you know that?”
The little lick at the corner of Kai’s mouth got just the reaction Travis was hoping for. Kai’s hand came up, smoothed down Travis’s blond hair, and then moved to slip reading glasses off his face. It was maybe seconds after their lips joined that a tiny voice piped up from behind the couch. “You guys are always kissing! Uncle Kai, can I have a cookie?”
Travis stifled a groan of disappointment at the interruption and turned to see a pair of bright eyes staring up at them both. With her black hair curling around a cherubic face, Phoebe seemed both completely innocent and completely unconcerned with what she’d just interrupted, probably because she was used to it by now. She reached for a cookie, popping it in her mouth without blinking or waiting for a response.
Kai heaved a sigh. He couldn’t really chide her, not when he’d done the same. “Now what would your mom say about you eating cookies before dinner, Moonbaby?”
“She’d say that she learned all her snacking from her uncle,” came another voice and Phoebe’s mother, Emma, swept into the room fixing her brother with a look.
Travis’s homework suddenly became incredibly interesting again. He slipped his reading glasses back on as Emma chided her daughter for ruining her appetite and her brother for setting the example. Kai asked for an apology even as he swiped another cookie. Travis couldn’t keep his lips from curving at the thought of his unusual family and it took him a moment to realize that Emma was talking to him. “Hmm? What was that, Em?”
Emma picked up the plate of cookies, taking them out of both her daughter and brother’s reach. “I asked if your mom sent over anything tonight or if dinner’s up to me.”
Travis shook his head. “It’s all on you tonight, Em.”
Emma sighed. “Well at least dessert’s taken care of.” Emma looked pointedly at Kai. “You get to do the dishes after.”
Kai gave his younger sister a wounded look. “Aw, come on!” He looked to Travis, as if for assistance.
Travis held up both hands. “Hey, I’m smarter than that, Em’ry an’ you know it. I ain’t even tryin’ to get caught between you two. Now if either of you need any help, you’ve got my services, but other than that? I got some work to do.” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Kai swipe one last cookie behind his sister’s back as they headed for the kitchen. Grinning, Travis turned back to his schoolwork.
The lights were off, and that made Travis scowl. It was like an episode of CSI; the lights were always off for some reason, as though the prospect of a crime, even if it were staged, somehow turned off all electricity. His lab partner, a cute dark-haired girl, tied her hair back and pinned it up before reaching for the gloves in her kit. Travis had slipped his own on and was waiting until she was ready before proceeding into the room.
Travis liked Amelia. They’d been paired off since the mid-term exam, after all partners had been reassigned. Prior to that, Travis had been paired with Jeremy Ashland, another forensic student who was just as good at what he did. He and Jeremy hadn’t meshed as well though; not for any real reason, just a general lack of chemistry.
Camera in hand, Travis started taking pictures of the scene, noticing turned-over shelves, a general disarray, and… was that–? Travis held up a hand in front of Amelia, making her pause where she stood.
He knelt, carefully taking a cotton-tipped swab out of his kit, and after snapping a picture or two of the dark red drops, dabbed at one for a sample. He took a small bottle out, dripped its contents carefully onto the swab, and watched the color change. Well, well. They were being thorough, weren’t they?
“Positive for blood,” Travis murmured, more to himself than to Amelia. He didn’t question where they got the blood from to set up this scene. He nodded to Amelia, and she retrieved another sample, to take back to the lab.
Flashlights still on, they rounded the corner, and Travis’s eyes went wide. What they’d sampled before were small blood-drops. What lay on the floor in front of them now was a massive blood pool. Quick and clever grey eyes took stock of the size of the blood-pool and stayed wide. “There’s gotta be ’bout six pints of blood in this spill.”
Amelia’s eyes were every bit as wide, deep brown in the darkness. “Are you sure?”
“Not positive, but if this were human blood, an’ a real case we were workin’ on, ain’t no way anyone coulda just got up an’ walked away from this.”
Amelia looked just the slightest bit faint. Their staged case, her first real introduction to the world of crime scene investigation, and they were looking at a possible homicide.
It wouldn’t have been the first time for Travis.
It had been two and a half years ago, back in California, and yet it was still fresh in Travis’s mind. The night Lindsay Carson died, Valentine’s Day 2005. No one had really mourned the bitch. She was campus queen of mean and damn near everyone hated her. She had dirt on just about everyone too. If she’d been the only one killed, what with the shitty-ass job the cops were doing, the case would’ve have gone unsolved and no one but her parents would have cared.
But then the killer had killed again and it was Travis and Kai who’d found that body, the body of the janitor. It was that case that got Travis interested in Criminal Justice, especially considering he was the one who had solved it. But no matter the satisfaction he got from having a killer put in jail, it never erased the memory of the body he’d seen, the pleasant older woman who reminded him of his mother, dead in the bathroom right next door to his own room.
It had been a confusing time. The murders had hit the La Cinqua campus over spring break, when all but a handful of students had left the dorms for vacation. It had significantly cut down the number of suspects, which was a blessing really. When Lindsay’s body was found, Travis had been one of many to express his joy, his pleasure at seeing the bitch dead, so much so that he and Kai had gone out to celebrate.
That night their three-year friendship had become something more.
The first year or two, Travis had still blamed himself, his own inability to come to terms with his apparent sexuality. He had had worries enough considering the one secret he kept from everyone including Kai – the hidden collection of women’s underwear, the lacier the better, that he kept in his drawers and wore with increasing frequency.
But Travis had finally accepted his attraction to Kai, and had spent the next year testing the waters with him. Sometimes it seemed like Kai was flirting, and Travis would flirt right back. It got stronger, more intense and finally it all came to a head the night after Lindsay Carson was killed.
The following night Travis found himself throwing a party and nearly everyone showed. It didn’t seem to matter that one of them was a killer – whoever it was had done them all a favor. Every single person in attendance had reason to want Lindsay dead, and someone had shuffled her off this mortal coil. All had seemed fine, until the killer struck again, killing an innocent janitor who had seen just a little too much. She’d been the one to find Lindsay’s body, and that made her the next target.
When Travis and Kai had stumbled onto Tracy’s body in the bathroom, it hadn’t boded well. Suddenly everyone wanted to find the killer before he or she struck again. The police were useless, led by a corrupt detective who let his own temper get in the way of his judgment.
Travis’s instincts had been just as strong then. He started his own investigation, and discovered a world of secrets that Lindsay had been privy to, his own and Kai’s included. It was only when he found some clues left behind by detectives, followed a hunch, and discovered the diary of one of the girls who lived upstairs did Travis put two and two together. He remembered making an anonymous phone call to the police, watching them swarm the campus and arrest Roberta “Bobby” Roberts, in front of her girlfriend Cassie. It hadn’t been an easy thing to watch, less so he expected for Cassie, which explained why he chose to be anonymous, and it served him well. But solving the murder had incited his interest in criminal justice, and set him on his current path. That’s why he was where he was, studying criminal justice at Washington State University.
Travis shook his head clearing it of his thoughts as he knelt carefully next to the blood pool. Grey eyes scanned it further, looking for any detail he could find. He caught some fibers, tiny, minuscule even, and carefully collected them as well. “Got anything, Amelia?” He looked up at his partner, who was standing over him snapping a picture of the corner of the desk.
“You bet I do.” Amelia pointed to the desk, where a clearly visible smudge of blood decorated the corner. “Better swab that.”
Travis looked up at her, noticing her pallor. “You all right there? Anythin’ wrong?”
Amelia swallowed hard and stepped back. “Nothing. It just… It’s probably pig blood – I’m a vegan.”
Travis raised an eyebrow as he stood. “No offense, darlin’, but how the hell you expect to be a CSI if you’re gonna get into strict vegan hang-ups like this? It ain’t always gonna be clean easy cases, y’know.”
Amelia smiled wanly. “It’s okay, Travis. I can handle it. Really.” As if to prove it, she swabbed at the blood herself, taking the sample from the desk before crouching to take one from the floor as well. “Chances are it’s all the same blood, but…”
“But we can’t be too careful.” Travis clapped a hand on her shoulder. “C’mon let’s go see what else we find.”
“So, what do you think?” Travis picked up one of the blood samples they’d collected, preparing to run a series of protocol tests. The labs and classrooms were full of students all working on their own cases. Travis waved at a few classmates. Jeremy Ashland waved right back. Kevin McElroy shoved his glasses up his nose and grinned, quite nearly knocking over a beaker. Monica James looked confused, but then she always did, and always left Travis wondering how she pulled such good grades.
Amelia was flipping through her notebook. “Um, I dunno know. I guess if I have to speculate? We’re looking at a possible homicide, though since there were no footprints, not even the victim’s, it could have been an accident. A slip and fall.” She rubbed her arm absently, but almost gingerly.
Travis nodded. “Except there ain’t a body. If they’re really goin’ for authenticity here, there ain’t no way that could been an accident if there ain’t a body lying in that pool. Someone else woulda had to move it, right? Which would explain this here.” He pointed to one of the pictures he’d taken, of a trail by one end of the pool. “Looks like drag marks. Maybe someone started to move the body, dragged it a bit before getting a better hold.”
“What? What is it?” Amelia asked.
“Just… dead weight ain’t light. Either the body was on the smaller side and our killer a large person, or there was more than one person involved. Two maybe. Two very careful someones who know how not to leave a trail.”
Amelia chewed on the inside of her lip. “This is freaking me out a little, Travis. You really think they gave us a homicide?”
“Why not? We’ll have to face them sometime, won’t we?”
“Hey. How’s your case going?”
Travis and Amelia both looked up at the voice, not having noticed when Jeremy approached.
“Pretty good so far,” Travis responded, leaning back a bit. “Obviously we can’t tell ya too much about it, but it’s already been pretty surprisin’.” He grinned at Amelia and then nodded at Jeremy. “How about you?”
Jeremy rubbed his head, darting a glance at Amelia before speaking to Travis. “Not bad. I’ve got Kevin running some samples right now. Man, I’m lucky he’s got a better background in the pharmacology aspect than I do. I mean hell, I can press buttons, but I’d really rather be out in the field. Hands-on, you know?”
Amelia gave him a weak smile. “One day, Jeremy, one day.”
Travis watched them for a minute and then turned back to his own tests. After a moment Jeremy headed back to his own table, Amelia looking after him.
Travis looked at her as the machine in front of him dinged. He looked at the results and whistled slowly. “Shit.”
“What? What is it?” Amelia drew her attention back to Travis.
“No need to worry about the pig blood, darlin’. This stuff’s all human.”
“I dunno, Em’ry, somethin’ just don’t feel right about it.” Travis trailed fingers along Kai’s bare chest, tracing the tattoo around his left nipple. “I mean I know that they’re supposed to make it look like a real crime scene an’ all, but somethin’ just ain’t right. We can’t discuss it with any other groups an’ we can’t ask the professors anythin’ because it’s all supposed to be on our own, but…”
“But what?” Kai smoothed a hand down Travis’s hair, over his shoulders, down to one hip before rolling over and tugging Travis atop him.
Travis straddled Kai’s hips, draping himself against the length of his body. “I just keep expectin’ to find a real body someplace. Or somethin’. Did I tell you the results of the tests we ran on the blood? Came back human. Now I know they get stock blood from time to time just like they get cadavers, but…”
“Think you can run something for me? In the lab?” Travis hadn’t meant to take advantage of Kai’s Pharmacology studies, but he knew something just wasn’t meshing.
Kai cocked his head. “Sure, what do you need?”
“Not really sure yet, but I’ll let you know. I think I’m missing somethin’.”
Kai chuckled and smoothed his hands down Travis’s back again. “Like what, the body?”
Travis bent and nipped at Kai’s jaw. “Besides that.”
“Mmm,” Kai arched his neck, a smile playing at his lips. “Listen, Sumpter. I’ve got you naked and in my lap, and Emma and Phoebe are asleep. You really wanna talk about your case right now?”
The slow smile that spread over Travis’s face was answer enough. Lips met and it was with a contented sound that Travis fitted himself against Kai’s body. Whatever flavor lip gloss Kai had been wearing was a faint memory now, like the location of the blue panties Travis had been wearing before Kai nearly tore them off. A hum of pleasure caught between their lips and Travis wasn’t certain where it originated. He arched into the smooth strokes down his back, over his hips and returned them touch for touch.
The kiss didn’t last long enough, not in Kai’s opinion, but he was hardly complaining when Travis’s talented mouth slid downward, sucking and biting over the jawline. Travis paused there, nibbling then sucking hard on the sweet spot beneath Kai’s jawline, one spot that never failed to — there it was. An appreciative sound and hands sliding into his hair. He let a smile curve his lips against pale skin and then kept moving.
Travis kissed his way down Kai’s chest, pausing to flick his tongue in the hollow of his throat. He kept moving south, rubbing against Kai in a light purposeful tease. He didn’t hesitate at all, though, before catching Kai’s left nipple in his mouth and sucking. Hard. The sharp sound that tore from Kai was nothing short of encouraging, and Travis rolled the bud of flesh between his teeth as his hand slipped down between them. It ghosted over stomach and hips, tickling into the hollow of Kai’s hip before teasing their way up and down the length of his dick.
“Ngh! Fuck, Sumpter!”
The grunt and swear had Travis smiling again as he worked his way down Kai’s body. He pressed chaste kisses in the hollows of Kai’s hips — kisses that would have been more chaste but for their location and for what followed. Travis fixed grey eyes on Kai’s blue ones as he took first the head of Kai’s dick, and then its entire length in his mouth and throat. There was no build-up, no warning, just a meeting of eyes and then Travis engulfed him in wet heat.
The sound Kai made then wasn’t even a word. It was a jumbled smattering of moans and breaths as his hips jerked and his fist tightened in Travis’s hair.
Travis sucked, hard, cheeks hollowing and then hummed, sending vibration all along Kai’s dick. He swallowed twice, throat muscles working the head of Kai’s dick, as he breathed noisily through his nose. Kai’s other hand twisted in sheets and Travis wanted to chuckle at the power he felt.
And then almost as suddenly as he started, he stopped, backing off and sucking the base of Kai’s dick, licking his way back up to the head. Kai groaned in disappointment, but the sound grew edged in warning when Travis kept teasing.
Kai’s eyes narrowed and he tugged Travis’s head up. “Don’t tease me, Sumpter. You know I wanna fuck you.”
“Then what’s stopping you, Em’ry?” Travis laid his accent on thick, knowing full well what effect his honeyed drawl had on Kai. And he was right. With a low growl of warning, Kai gripped both Travis’s hips and flung him over face down on their bed. He grabbed for the lube on the nightstand, slicking his fingers. Shoving Travis’s legs apart with his knee, Kai bowed his body over the blonde’s, pressing in two fingers slow and sure.
Travis’s eyes opened wide, then squeezed shut as the hot, perfect press ripped a moan from his throat. He pressed back against Kai’s hand, muscles clenching in the sweetest welcome.
Kai’s eyes nearly rolled back in his head at that reception and he groaned, hips jerking forward of their own accord. He moved his fingers, twisting and scissoring them before curving them to press against the bundle of nerves there.
Travis bucked under that first light stroke, Kai’s name falling from his lips in staccato bursts. His fingers gripped bed sheets, his mouth hung open as he panted into the pillow.
Kai’s lips pulled into a wide smirk as he increased the pressure, shoving his fingers almost painfully against the spot that kept sending rockets of pleasure through Travis’s body. And then he stopped, just when he thought Travis was getting close, long enough to ease him away from orgasm.
And then he did it again.
After the second time, Travis let out a growl that rivaled Kai’s, forced out through gritted teeth. “Stop fuckin’ teasin’ already and just fuck me.”
Kai laughed and pulled his fingers free. “Well, since you asked so nicely.” He poured more lube in his hand, and stroked his dick up and down until it was well coated. With no other warning, Kai gripped Travis’s hips and pressed in, one long hard stroke that left Travis keening in pleasure.
Again Travis pressed back in welcome, immediately trying to draw him deeper. Muscles clenched and pulled in a harshly teasing rhythm as if he were hellbent on forcing Kai past the last semblance of control he had.
It worked. One hand slid up Travis’s back, pushing him down while the other yanked his hips up higher. The new angle made it impossible for Travis to move and it was all he could do to lie there and just take it. Take every hard fast shove of Kai’s dick, every drive that pressed right against that sweet spot, making every sound that caught in his throat and vanished into his pillow a sound of pure undiluted pleasure.
It was hard, it was fast, it was dirty, and it was what they both wanted. Kai’s hand on Travis’s hip clenched hard and they both knew he’d have finger-shaped bruises the next day. And that thought combined with the slapslapslap of skin against skin, the moans of pleasure coming from them both, and the hot hard shove of every thrust was what pushed Kai over the edge only moments after Travis screamed his release into the pillow, partially muffling the sound. Travis’s muscles clamped down around Kai’s dick like a vise as they shook and rode out the storm together.
Kai collapsed against Travis in a heap, twining both their hands together. Lazy smiles spread across both their faces as they slowly came down. “Mmm, see now, wasn’t that better than talking about your case?”
Travis’s reply was nothing but a sound of pure assent. Words would come later.
“Love you baby, really, but I’m late. I gotta meet Amelia in twenty minutes.” Travis’s voice came through the bathroom, where he was getting dressed in a hurry. Getting dressed in their bedroom always led to taking far more time than either of them had planned, and it didn’t leave Travis much room for his daily surprise. “I’ll make it up to you when I come home, I promise.” He stepped out as he pulled a shirt over his head. “I put on a real special pair for you today Em’ry. Wanna guess what color?”
Kai’s libido picked up, lust slamming into him hard. It didn’t matter how many times Travis said something like that, the thought of what his boyfriend wore under jeans or khakis never failed to get Kai’s blood heated. “Mmm. Let me think… How about those little lavender ones, with the white lace?”
Travis grinned. “Ooh, so close Em’ry; you’re half-right.”
Kai smirked. “Which half?”
“The white lace.”
The smirk widened, deepened, and Kai’s hands slid around Travis’s waist. “Peach.”
“A-plus, Em’ry.” Travis raised up an inch or two on his toes and pressed a kiss against Kai’s lips. They were devoid of gloss yet today; he knew Kai would call later, and tease, asking him to guess the flavor he’d put on. It was a ritual. Travis guessed the flavor of Kai’s lip gloss; Kai guessed the color of the panties Travis wore. It never ceased to please Travis just how much it turned Kai on. He licked at Kai’s full lower lip, sucking on it gently before pulling away. “I gotta go. You’ll get to see later.”
Kai let out a sound of disappointment but the promise was enough for now. “Later Sumpter,” he said, squeezing Travis’s hip before the blond finally gathered his things and left. Kai still had some time of his own to kill, so he settled down at his computer, scanning news articles when one caught his eye. It was a video clip from a broadcast from one of the California news stations. It had been two years since they had left California, but every once in a while, they’d still check in with the friends they left there and sometimes caught some news. Eyes focused, Kai clicked the video.
“Body parts were found today in the Mojave desert. No head was found, nor hands or feet, making identification next to impossible. The torso found was likely male, though deterioration made even that detail just as hard to determine. Missing persons reports so far have turned up nothing –”
Kai switched off the volume, covering his mouth with one hand. “Shit.” He leaned back, eyes seeking Emma’s door, and he swore again. “Well. I guess he couldn’t stay buried forever.” He stood up and headed into the kitchen, grabbing one last cookie before getting ready to head out himself. He had a day of research ahead of him, and he couldn’t let a news flash break his concentration. At least it seemed as though they were at a dead end. For now.
“Tell me again why we’re here at night snooping around the dumpsters, Sumpter?”
Travis looked back over his shoulder. “Because somethin’s not right here an’ you’re the only person I trust.”
Kai grinned. “I know. But that’s not what I meant. I mean why the dumpsters? What exactly are you even looking for?”
Travis bit his lower lip. “Honestly? I don’t know. I just know I’ll know it when I find it. I just have a hunch is all.”
Kai couldn’t argue that. Travis’s hunches were usually very good ones. He glanced back to make sure the coast was still clear and then shone his flashlight over the pile Travis was currently standing on. “Travis?”
Travis froze. Kai never used his first name unless it was something serious. “What do you see?”
Kai aimed the flashlight. Peeking out between from a large black hefty bag was what looked decidedly like a human hand. “Oh shit,” he said, rather quietly.
It got worse. The hand wasn’t attached to an arm. In fact, it wasn’t attached to anything else at all. Five bags of garbage later and there were enough remains of a body to determine two things. First: it was definitely female, and second: she had one hell of a head wound. Well. What was left of her head.
The body belonged to one Kerrilyn Samuels, second year Sociology student. She’d presumably gone home for some family business a few days ago, but apparently she never arrived. The family was shocked to learn of her disappearance, especially since they hadn’t been expecting her at all. News spread across the Pullman campus of Washington State University like wildfire, and unsurprisingly police came in to question people she knew, starting with her boyfriend, Jeremy Ashland.
Travis sat in the lab at a mostly clear desk, fingers steepled together. He knew Jeremy. Jeremy was brilliant and really good at what he did. Travis pursed his lips. Maybe too good. Travis reached into his knapsack, pulling out a brown paper bag. Inside were two covered cotton swabs. The body of the victim had been picked up by the police, after Travis placed an anonymous call with its location. But that was only after he’d followed another hunch.
He sat in front of a machine that suddenly started whirring. He’d already tested both samples for blood and they came up positive. Now however, one of the new samples was being compared to the blood samples from the crime scene. He nodded to himself at the results, not at all surprised. It was a match. The blood he’d swabbed from the victim was as the same as the blood all over his staged crime scene, the one he realized now was not staged at all. One sample left. This one he’d scraped from under the victim’s nails. He had nothing to compare this one to but– his brows furrowed again. Could that be…? “Kai?”
“What?” Kai called from across the lab. He had run the test for Travis, and now he came over immediately. “What is it?”
“The sample I took from under her nails. It’s–” Travis shook his head. “It wasn’t Jeremy. Whoever she was fighting was female.”
Travis was close. Very close. Most people at this point would have gone to the police with what they knew, but Kai knew Travis better than that. His instincts were too strong; he needed to have it all, figure it all out. And he would. Kai smoothed a hand down over Travis’s hair and smiled at the sleepy hum he made. Kai sighed. Sleep wasn’t coming easy tonight. He hadn’t said anything about that earlier news brief, not to Travis and definitely not to Emma. He wasn’t going to tell her; there was no need to bring any of that up, no need to reopen old wounds, wounds dealt to them by their father years ago.
They hadn’t identified the body yet, and with no fingerprints, no dental records and no missing persons report filed for him, there was little way the police could discover the body belonged to the father of Kai and Emma. Kai’s fingers tightened in Travis’s hair. He’d killed more than once now for the ones he loved, and he knew he wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.
Kai rolled over and curled against his boyfriend. Christmas was coming, finals were just around the corner. There was plenty enough to be focused on, to worry about. They didn’t need yet another murder investigation; more importantly Kai didn’t need to find himself involved in another. With his track record, it wouldn’t look good for either of them.
Kai buried his nose in soft hair, and smiled when a sleepy arm wrapped itself tighter around him. Shoving away the thoughts that kept him awake, Kai slowly drifted off to sleep.
The next time Travis headed to the lab, he was completely preoccupied. He hadn’t gotten a chance to tell Amelia his findings yet, hadn’t told her their crime scene was real. He looked across the room at Jeremy, who looked pale and harangued. Kevin, his lab partner kept eying him as he checked over his notes, and Travis noticed people keeping a definite distance. Travis shook his head and glanced next to him where Amelia’s chair was empty. It wasn’t really like her to be late.
“Wow. I hope she’s okay,” came a voice over Travis’s shoulder. He looked up, surprised to see Monica standing next to him. He’d missed when she’d risen and crossed the room.
“Who, Amelia? Why wouldn’t she be okay?”
Monica leaned closer. “Well, she was Kerri’s roommate. Cops are probably questioning her. Unless of course something’s happened.” Big blue eyes were wide with concern.
Travis sat up, his own grey eyes narrowed in suspicion. “An’ why would anything have happened?”
“C’mon Travis, I know you heard what happened to Kerrilyn. People who do things like that rarely stop at the one. And God, it seemed so personal. Whoever did it has to know her really well.” She glanced at Jeremy. “And that means they know Amelia too.”
Travis squinted. “How well did you know Kerri?”
Monica took Amelia’s seat. “Pretty well. We were in undergrad together, same sorority and everything. Except she went for cheerleader. I can’t toss a pompom to save my life. She’d been dating Jeremy for a couple years now. I always thought they were so happy.”
Travis watched as she spoke. Bleached blond hair and vacant blue eyes aside, Monica was actually pretty smart. Smarter than she looked. “Police haven’t questioned you yet, have they?”
Monica shook her head. “No, but it’s only a matter of time. Boyfriend, roommate, good friends. They’ll work their way over to me.”
“You don’t seem real worried.”
“Why should I be?” Monica stood and headed back to her seat, leaving Travis to stare after her.
Ten minutes later the door opened and in rushed Amelia, looking flustered and harried. Travis pulled her seat out for her. “Hey. You look–”
“–Awful, I bet.” Amelia collapsed into her chair. Her hair was wild, bushier than usual, as if she hadn’t had a chance to tame it. “I guess you heard what happened.”
“Yeah. It’s kind of all over campus. How you holdin’ up?”
“I’m… I’m okay, I guess.” She wrung her hands and darted a glance at Jeremy. “You heard…?”
“That he’s the prime suspect? Yeah. Pretty standard; Cops usually suspect the boyfriend or husband or whatever first.” Travis’s Southern drawl came out particularly thick on the last few words; it often did when he was distracted, thinking about something else. “I don’t think…” And then he cut himself off.
“Don’t think what?” Amelia asked glancing up with worried dark eyes.
“Didn’t really think he’d be capable of somethin’ like that, y’know? Who does that to someone else?” Travis paused. “To someone they supposedly love, anyways.”
Amelia muttered something so quietly Travis didn’t catch it. “What was that?”
Amelia looked down. “I dunno. Maybe he didn’t love her as much as everyone thought.”
Travis squinted at her. “You were her roommate. You ever heard them fightin’ or anythin’ like that?”
“Well, yeah. I mean not anything huge, but boyfriends and girlfriends fight, you know?”
Travis tapped his pen against his lips. “Hmm. Well, I guess things’ll get easier for the cops when they find the actual crime scene. Ain’t much to go on when that was just the dumpin’ grounds.”
“You think they will?”
Travis gave her an odd look. ”Course. An’ if not that’s what people like us are for.”
Amelia paused and gave him a weak smile. “I hope so.”
This time Travis thought ahead. This time, instead of putting himself in danger alone, sneaking into a murderer’s room to find evidence against her like he’d done over two years ago, Travis went right to Kai. “I know what happened.”
Kai turned around, a snowman-shaped Christmas cookie in hand, its head conspicuously missing. “I was going to tell you your mom made more Christmas cookies. I think she’s trying out a new recipe. I’m always willing to be her guinea pig.”
Travis blinked and then laughed, the expression on Kai’s face — complete with cookie crumbles — only making him chuckle harder. “That’s not what I was talking about. No I’m serious, Em’ry.” He stepped closer, lowering his voice. “I mean that body we found? I know who killed Kerrilyn. I just need to find the evidence so I can go to the police.”
Kai actually put down the cookie. “Well, fill me in and tell me what you need me to do, because you know damn well I’m not letting you do this on your own.”
“I know, Em’ry. What I need is for you to keep an eye on someone, see who they’re meetin’ with, an’ more importantly, how those meetins go.”
“I get to play spy? I can handle that. Who am I spying on?”
Kai cocked his head. “I thought you said he didn’t do it.”
“He didn’t, but I think he’s helping who did.”
“All right, when you wanna do this?”
Travis looked up at Kai, a suggestive smile spreading across his face. “First, you finish your cookie. Then you can fuck me. And then we can get to work.”
Kai’s mouth hung open just a bit. “Yes sir.”
It wasn’t easy hanging back and letting Kai do the casual spying, but it had to be him. Jeremy knew Travis and if he really was up to no good, Travis’s presence might put him on guard. But Kai was a perfect stranger and so Jeremy ignored the tall slender Pharmacology grad student as he hurried across campus. Jeremy glanced about furtively, checked his watch, and picked up his pace. Not necessarily odd behavior in and of itself but…
Kai slipped his hands into his pockets and whistled softly to himself, strolling after Jeremy. Sharp pale eyes followed the other student’s every moment, as he turned off the campus path into a cluster of trees near the library. “Interesting.” Kai followed at his sedate pace, pulling his cell phone out of his pocket. Looking as though he were just making a call, Kai switched to camera mode.
It wasn’t long before he found Jeremy, or the person he was meeting. With his lean body slouched against a tree, Kai snapped two silent pictures. And then, eyes widening, he snapped one more and sent it directly to Travis. “Here’s your money shot, Sumpter. Clearly this ain’t the dead girlfriend.”
Across campus, Travis’s phone buzzed and he whipped it open. The picture loaded and all his suspicions were confirmed. Hidden from public view, locked in the kind of embrace that went well beyond comfort was Jeremy. With Amelia.
Travis immediately headed for a campus pay phone. Time for another anonymous call to the police.
“Honestly, I would have thought it was the blond ditz. She knew too much,” Kai said later, relaxing on the couch. Travis was draped across him, a Christmas tree cookie in his hand. Unsurprisingly, Kai was munching on a Santa-shaped one. Phoebe was in her room, after absconding with a reindeer cookie. Emma was finishing up a few last minute decorations before Travis’s mom showed up for their Christmas party. “So what exactly happened?”
Travis hummed his agreement. “Who, Monica? Nah, I guess she’s just really more intuitive than she looks. She’ll make a great CSI one day, especially if people keep underestimatin’ her like I did.” Travis shifted fitting himself more comfortably against Kai. “Well, what I found out was this: Amelia and Kerrilyn had been roommates for two years, which was about the same amount of time Kerri’d been datin’ Jeremy. Kerri and Amelia didn’t really get along as well as it may have seemed, especially since Amelia was sleepin’ with Jeremy behind Kerri’s back.”
Kai shook his head. “Who’d have expected that from that shy little mouse?”
“I know. It gets better. Kerri found out one way or another, and went all snoopin’ after Amelia thinkin’ she was going to see Jeremy. Turns out, Amelia was actually checkin’ out the crime scenes, trying to get a leg up for our final.”
Kai whistled and then finished off his cookie. “Did she know which scene you’d be getting?”
“Don’t think so, which was why she was snooping them all. She wasn’t alone though – Jeremy was nearby, scoping some others. But anyway, Kerri now had Amelia on cheatin’ not just with her boyfriend but academically as well. Here’s where it gets a little hazy. I can only guess this is what happened here. There was a fight – Amelia must have been chokin’ Kerri; there was all kinds of bruisin’ on her neck, and then…”
Travis trailed off and then added after a pause, “Then it could have been an accident. Kerri coulda fallen, hit her head and bled out. Or Amelia could have pushed her. Don’t know that. Thing is, accident or not, she covered it up, an’ called Jeremy to help her move the body. I bet he was the one who, you know, cut her up like that. Honestly I don’t see Amelia doin’ it without throwin’ up. Anyway, they falsified the staged crime scene, knowing full well we wouldn’t be able to talk about it to professors. I don’t know if Amelia was hopin’ on gettin’ that crime scene for her final to muck it up some more or if she was surprised as shit to realize she’d have to work her own case, but it gave her opportunity to muddy the waters.”
“Lucky you’re too smart for that, huh?” Kai tipped Travis’s chin up and kissed him.
“Damn right I am.” The sweet taste of cookies and lip gloss merged and Travis smiled against Kai’s lips. “No fair puttin’ on sugar cookie gloss when you’re eatin’ sugar cookies.”
Kai grinned. “That’s just for now. I have something special for you for later.”
“That makes two of us.” Travis shifted and lowered the waist of his jeans giving Kai a peek at red and white lace. But they weren’t panties. It was the bottom edge of his corset that he showed and it was edged in the same white lace that skirted along his garters. “Merry Christmas, Em’ry.”
A wide grin spread across Kai’s face as he tugged Travis down for a kiss. “Merry Christmas, Sumpter.”