Book 1 in the Rough 'n Ready Series
Part of the Harmless World
This is the 20th Anniversary Edition with a new epilogue, series-hopping characters, and new Harmless details. Originally titled A Little Harmless Submission.
For a tough as nails Dom hunting a sadistic serial killer is nothing compared to losing his heart.
Rome Carino isn’t the kind of man anyone would call soft-hearted, but that’s okay. It’s one of the things that make him good at my job as a detective with Honolulu Police Department. He will need all his skills as sharp as possible while I hunt a killer targeting the popular club Rough ‘n Ready. Keeping his mind on his work is usually not a problem, but then that was before the FBI Agent Maria Callahan was assigned to the case.
Maria has always lived in her Legendary father’s shadow. She’s spent her entire life trying to live up to his high standards. She’s never been able to keep her mind on her work until she met Rome. The sexy detective scrambles her pulse and her brain, but she’s never been the kind of woman to throw herself at a man. Besides, she and Rome have a job to do. The only problem is Rome refuses.
Rome knows it’s a good plan, but an irrational protectiveness has taken hold of him. The only way he will agree to the scheme is to act as her boyfriend, which puts her up close and personal with Maria. From the start, the line between real and fake blur, and soon both of them start to fall. it is irrational.
But before they can deal with their feelings, the killer they’re hunting turns his sights on Rome, and the one person he cares about: Maria.
» WARNING: The following book contains: A man who thinks he can do no wrong, a woman who is about to teach him he can, palm trees, a trip or two to Rough ‘n Ready, a flirty Aussie with questionable motives, old friends, and a new enemy. Yeah, it might be a Harmless World book, but Addicts know it’s anything but.
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Rome cursed when the rain started to pound the top of his car. It figured he would get a call for a dead girl and it would rain like this. That’s the way his luck had been going the last few months. Only with hurricanes did they get this wet in Honolulu. What little forensic evidence they could have found was probably being washed away right now. He hoped that CID got there early enough to collect samples. He turned down Kuhio Street and headed to the scene. He had an itch at the base of his neck that told him this fourth girl in three months was connected to the other three. In all his life, he had never believed in coincidences, and he wasn’t about to start. What that meant for Rough ’n Ready was not something he wanted to contemplate right now. He would deal with that later.
He parked his car and sighed. There was very little media on the islands, but they all seemed to show up at his crime scenes lately. A small group had gathered at the front of the alley. Lord only knew how they discovered the scene, but on Oahu, it was like one big family. Everyone knew everyone else, and there was just no way to stop people from finding out.
He stepped out of the vehicle, grabbing a hat before shutting the door. He turned up his jacket collar against the rain. Lord, it was cold. Rome had gone soft. For a kid who grew up in Seattle, this would be nothing. Now, after just a few years, seventy degree weather had him shivering.
He shook those thoughts away and made his way to the scene. Several reporters tried to get a comment from him, but he ignored them as he pushed his way through the crowd. He was thankful to see the CID officers already working the scene.
He glanced down and saw the girl. And, like the others before, he knew her.
A rookie cop ran up, excitement and fear in his voice when he spoke. “Her name is Lisa Fender. Here’s her wallet.”
Rome accepted it and was thankful the young officer seemed to be holding it together. “Who called it in?”
“Tourist. He’s over there,” he motioned with his head. “Name’s Matt Young.”
Rome followed the direction of the officer’s nod and found a young man standing, his face expressionless as he watched the scene in front of him. Truthfully, from what Rome could tell, the witness wasn’t really watching anything. He was staring into nothing, as if in a daze. Shock probably.
After thanking the kid, he headed over to the witness. “Mr. Young?”
For a moment, Young didn’t say anything. Rome started worrying the kid had gone over the edge and might need medical care. But, in that next moment, Young shook himself and seemed to focus on Rome. “Huh?”
“I’m sorry to bother you, but I’m Detective Carino. I was wondering if you could tell me what you saw.”
Mr. Young swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing as he nodded. Damn, he was young. In that instant, Rome felt ten years older than his thirty-five years. There was a good chance Young wasn’t even old enough to drink.
The kid wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his shirt. “I was walking down here. Got left at a club by my buddy.”
“He left you at a bar? Why?”
He sighed. “He hooked up.”
Rome nodded, understanding the timeless ritual of young men. Being left behind at a bar for a hot woman wasn’t that bad of a thing. As he studied the man, Rome recognized the buzz cut.
Fuck. Rome wasn’t in the mood to deal with the military. “What service?”
The kid’s eyes widened. “I have n-no idea—“
“Cut the shit. You’re military.”
He swallowed again, then his shoulders sagged. “Yeah. Army.”
“And let me guess, too young to be in the club you were in? Not to mention, it’s off limits to military.”
He swallowed again. “Yeah.”
“I don’t give a shit about that. What I care about is that woman lying dead on the ground.”
The kid started breathing through his mouth, and Rome should have seen it coming. As it was, he barely missed getting the kid’s vomit on him. Rome jumped back with a curse as the private emptied his stomach contents on the street.
“You said a mouthful, Carino.”
Rome turned and found his partner of just over a year walking up behind him. Jackson Daniels—who everyone called Jack Daniels just to piss him off—was officially his partner for the next three days. The paperwork was already filed, and Jack would be gone before the month was out.
“What are you doing here?” Rome asked.
He shrugged. “I got the call, too. Thought I would stop by.”
His knowing look told Rome that his partner thought the same thing he did. “You can’t finish out the investigation.”
“Yeah, but I can take the rest of the kid’s statement. Why don’t you get over there with the body, talk to the geeks?”
Rome wanted to correct Jack’s use of the name, but decided to ignore it. Jack was the kind of cop that would use the science CID gave them, but hated it just the same. It was one of the things that had always been a bone of contention between the two of them. Thank God Jack wasn’t Rome’s responsibility anymore.
“Sure. I got up to the part where he and his other underage buddy parted ways because of a hot girl.”
Jack shot him a grin. “Hey, it happens.”
Rome chuckled as he turned and worked his way toward the scene. He could just imagine what it had been like for a woman to walk down the alley. Lights illuminated the dark corners now, but it would have been gloomy, dank…not to mention the smell of rotting food and booze. No one, whether woman or man, would walk down this alley without a purpose in mind. And definitely not alone.
The first person to notice him was Tim Takewodo, a first-rate detective with the CSI. He had been the lead on all the investigations so far, and having him there made Carino feel somewhat better.
“Hey, Carino. Glad to see that you got the call.”
He nodded. “What ya have?”
Tim’s smile faded. “Raped. Beaten, strangled. Coroner will have to give us the exact way she died. Panties are missing again.”
He shot Tim a look.
“Yeah, I’m guessing manual strangulation like the others, and I’m sure he also used a scarf. I’m sure we will find the same fibers on her. I take it you know her?”
He looked back down at the young woman. He had seen her at Rough ’n Ready once or twice. “She looks a little familiar. I didn’t recognize the name, but since I started working homicide, I haven’t had as much time over at Rough ’n Ready.”
It was a half-truth. Rome was avoiding his friends. He’d had to distance himself from his friends to make sure there were no questions later. He had learned a long time ago to never take anything for granted. He knew in his gut that Micah and Evan had nothing to do with this, but he needed that separation to make sure they didn’t get tangled up in the investigation.
“They have a lot of new members, and with the new club opening on the other side of the island, they had to hire new people. She might be one of the newbies.”
Tim sighed. “I’d lay odds. And this makes the fourth one.”
Rome nodded, knowing it would prick the interest of the FBI. Dammit, he wasn’t in the mood to deal with the feds. They would definitely come in and take over the case. “Find anything new?”
“Nope. Again, we can’t be sure she was raped until there’s a kit done.”
Rome wanted to argue. Because the first three women had been regulars or worked at Rough ’n Ready, people thought they were into any kind of rough sex. Because a person was into BDSM didn’t mean they would do something stupid. In fact, a lot of times, people in the life were smarter than most about that part of their life. Anyone with any sense wouldn’t end up having sex in an alley of Kuhio Street. It was one of the rougher parts of Honolulu. Why leave the nice, warm environment of Rough ’n Ready and wander into a backstreet that would leave them vulnerable? Didn’t make sense, but it was his job to make it make sense.
Rome glanced around. “Have you seen a car nearby that might be hers?”
“They did a search. Haven’t found it, but that doesn’t mean anything. You know if she was club hopping…”
She could have parked anywhere in the area. Tonight’s weather aside, a person could probably bet on warm enough weather to make it from here to at least a bus stop.
He turned and saw the coroner had arrived. The sooner they got the poor woman out of here, the better. And then maybe they could find the bastard who did it.
Rome looked out over the crowd, wondering where the son of a bitch was hiding.
* * *
Maria Callahan pretended to be reading something on her computer as she waited. Still, she couldn’t stop her toe from tapping. She wasn’t very good at waiting. It was one of the few lessons her father had failed to teach her. It was hard to be patient when something that could make or break your career was being decided.
She knew this was The Dom. Maria grimaced. That name irritated her, but reporters thought it was catchy. Damn reporters were making it damned hard to catch him. These new killings in Hawaii were him. She could feel it to her bones. Besides that, she had done enough research to know it was him. Her plan could work, and for once, she had worked up the nerve to approach her supervisor about it. It was unorthodox, but it could work.
“Callahan!” Agent Smith bellowed. “Get in here.”
It took every bit of her control not to jump and run.
Don’t even let them see you sweat. Make them think they can’t rattle you. Falling apart is for later.
Drawing in a deep breath, she slowly stood and walked to her supervisor’s office. She shut the door.
His head was bent, showing her the bald spot none of them were allowed to mention. He had put on a few pounds in the last several years, but he was still in good shape. He signed a form then looked up at her. His face was expressionless. She still could not tell what her father’s old partner was thinking. Then he smiled.
“It’s a go. I talked to the HPD captain. He agreed we need to be there. He wants you working with his man.”
She could barely pay attention for a few seconds. For the first time, she was going to head an investigation.
“Callahan.” Smith sounded worried. She realized he had said her name several times. She gave herself a mental shake and focused her attention on her boss.
“Sorry,” she said, then cleared her throat. “The detective? He’s been checked out.”
Smith nodded. “He’s been on the island for the last eighteen months, except for one trip to Seattle for the weekend. Sister graduated from college. He didn’t leave the area. So he’s clean. Apparently he’s pretty sharp, so try to play nice.”
He said it sarcastically, and she tried not to wince. She didn’t like the fact that she would be walking into a local department and taking over their investigation. It had to be done sometimes, but the behavior of some agents always upset the locals. For her plan to work, she would need their help, especially the lead detective.
“You’ll take Masters.”
She tried her best not to show her irritation, but failed. Smith knew her too well.
“You look just like your father when you get pissed.”
She sighed. It was a problem working for a man who knew her family so well. Martin Smith had started at the FBI about the same time her father had. When her mother died, he had been the one there for them, the one to pick up the pieces. He and his wife were the closest thing she had to family. Which made it harder to conceal what she was thinking from him.
She settled down in the chair in front of his desk. “We don’t get along. Other than his wife, I don’t think he likes women. At least, he doesn’t like me.”
“You know why he’s like that, why a lot of them are like that. Every single one of them thinks you got this job because of your father’s legacy. But I can’t send you without an agent who doesn’t know how to run a case like this. He’s only going to get you started, and then he’ll come back. We want this low key, just like you said. If you need help, you’re to contact the Honolulu office.”
She nodded. “I understand. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
He chuckled. “I didn’t ask you to like it. Just do your job.”
People’s opinions shouldn’t matter, but they did. Not to her personally. More that it made her job harder to do when no one wanted to work with her. It wouldn’t change until she solved a big case. It wasn’t fair because she had a good reputation from her time in vice, but that didn’t seem to matter. She pushed those morbid thoughts aside and stood to leave. It would do her no good to worry about people’s perceptions. “If that’s all?”
“Flight’s at eight tomorrow morning from National. Make sure you make it on time.”
She nodded and had her hand on the doorknob.
She looked back over her shoulder. “Yes?”
“This could be a huge step up for you, but please, be careful. This guy isn’t just smart, he’s fucking dangerous. We’ve never had a woman on the case before, and if he finds out, he might fixate on you.”
She nodded again and slipped out the door. She wanted to dance down the hall, but she decided that would be unprofessional. Instead, she went to the bathroom and leaned up against the wall and let it sink in. She was going to Hawaii, and she was going to hunt The Dom killer. Panic settled in her chest first. In the five years she’d been with the FBI, she’d had to fight her way to the top. Sure, she had to work five times as hard as the other agents to prove herself, but there were always those whispers that Big John Callahan was the reason she got her start.
She pushed away from the wall and looked at herself in the mirror. She had his nose, and his mother had always claimed, his frown. But this time, she was going to prove that Big John Callahan’s daughter was more than just the memory of a beloved agent.
* * *
“Carino,” Captain Akada yelled down the hall. “Need you in my office right now.”
Damn. Rome had almost escaped the building without having to talk to the captain. From the time Rome had returned from a call, Akada had been locked up in his office with some suits, which was fine by Rome. Three days after finding Lisa and they had nothing more than they did before. Hell, they almost had less than with the other three killings. The bastard was getting better. Worse, Rome knew the killer was getting more infatuated with his work.
He reached the door and discovered it open. He slipped in and found three people in the room. One was, of course, the captain, the other were two dark suited, very unhappy looking people. Feds.
The man was typical of the species. Dark suit, blank expression. He looked like the kind of guy who would sell his mother to the highest bidder to gain a promotion. Short brown hair, brown eyes, and a frown. Typical. The woman, not much different, but there was something vaguely familiar about her. The suit showed nothing of her body. Her dark hair was pulled back into a tight bun at the base of her neck. When she looked in his direction, he felt like he’d been punched in the gut. He hadn’t expected the luminous blue eyes or the full, pouty lips. Her skin was flawless.
“Shut the door, Carino.”
He shook himself out of his stupor and did as ordered. Since the other two chairs were occupied by the feds, he leaned against the wall.
“This is Brice Masters and Maria Callahan of the FBI.”
He nodded in their direction. “What does the FBI from the mainland want with Honolulu PD?”
The woman’s eyes widened, but if he hadn’t been watching, he wouldn’t have seen it. This one was used to hiding her feelings, but what fed wasn’t trained to do that? Still, there was something ice cold about her behavior, something that bothered him on a level he couldn’t understand. Possibly because he couldn’t read her emotions, which left him on the outside.
“They’ve been chasing a serial killer. The Dom. They think he might be our guy.”
Of course he had heard the name. It had been splashed on every headline for the last year. He wanted to argue with them, but he knew it would be useless. When the FBI sunk their teeth into an investigation, they didn’t let go until they chomped off a huge piece.
Despite that, there was a good chance this was their guy. Without any DNA, he hadn’t been able to make any kind of match. Still, he knew from the crime scenes, this wasn’t an amateur. This was someone who was very good at what he was doing. This one had been killing for a while.
Still, he refused to let them know what he thought. “What makes you think that?”
Masters smiled and opened his mouth, but the woman beat him to answering.
“Let me make some assumptions about your man. He picks up women at BDSM clubs. Or singles them out. No one really knows how he finds them, but they all go to the same club. Then, he beats them, sometimes tortures them, rapes them, and in the end, strangles them with a combo of a scarf and then finally manual strangulation. Their panties are missing, also. Did I get it right?”
So close it made him twitch. “A bit.”
The smile she offered him didn’t reach her blue eyes and was as cold as the top of Mauna Loa. “Really? I have a feeling I was spot on.”
He hated her cockiness. Besides the fact that she was correct, he didn’t like the premonition that was winding its way through his brain at the moment. He glanced at the captain. “Are they taking over the case?”
Akada shook his head. “No. Not officially.”
He allowed for a beat of silence to go by. “In what capacity?”
“Agent Callahan, would you like to explain?”
From the look on her face, she didn’t want to, but she straightened her shoulders. When she turned all her attention in his direction, he felt like he had been hit by a bolt of lightning. His body reacted without him being able to control it. She had looked at him before, but now she was concentrating on him only. Her attention had his blood heating. Her eyes were so large, so luminous, they were at odds with her clothing. There was nothing staid about the dark blue gaze she trained on him. Even now, he couldn’t seem to concentrate on what she was saying. His mind had melted the moment she’d looked directly at him. What the hell was wrong with him? It took all his power to get his head wrapped around the idea that he should be paying attention to her.
“We’ve gotten close to our man a few times. Of course, we don’t go in right away because we usually wait for a few deaths before we try to take over. Our problem is that every time we show up on the scene, our man disappears into thin air. Well, when the former agents showed up.”
The look she got from the other agent told her he wasn’t happy she relayed that bit of info. She ignored him. Or pretended to. There was a slight wince after she realized what she said. Revealing the FBI was fucking things up wasn’t always the smartest thing to do. They liked to pretend they were invincible.
From Rome’s study, Masters was older than Callahan. Probably sent to supervise, and that wouldn’t go over well with a go-getter like Callahan. Masters, for his part, didn’t look happy about being there.
“So, you move in to investigate, he vanishes?” he asked, already getting a sour feeling in his stomach.
She nodded once. The gesture was familiar. There had been an agent, one of the first profilers who hunted serial killers. John Callahan. The eyes should have told him. Almost luminous blue, just like her father’s.
“That can mean only one thing.”
Yeah, and Rome didn’t like it one bit. “He’s one of you or one of us. Or someone connected to us. Someone with access to this kind of info.”
Her eyebrows arched in surprise, and Rome tried not to get pissed. He failed. The fact that she thought he wasn’t smart enough to figure that out irritated him. He expected it, had dealt with it before, but for some reason it made him mad.
She moved her hands on her lap. He noticed that she didn’t wear any rings, and for some odd reason, he was relieved by that. If he hadn’t been that intrigued by that, he wouldn’t have noticed the way her thumb tapped her leg. The movement was so slight, he would have missed it if he hadn’t been paying attention. She was nervous.
“If we come in here and take over, he’ll know. He has some kind of connection, whether it’s through him or someone he’s close to, someone he knows. Since I’m new to the case, he won’t know me, won’t pick up on me being here for it. But we can’t let anyone know I’m with the FBI.”
He studied the two of them and shook his head. “Then you better do something about the way you’re dressed. Did anyone see you come in?”
She glanced at Masters then down at her own suit. When she looked up, she grimaced. “Dammit, you’re probably right.”
He shouldn’t want to help Callahan, but something in him wanted to make sure she stayed. “We’ll fix it. We can say that there was an old case from Seattle when I worked homicide there. Then you two need to assimilate.”
“What does that mean?” Masters asked, but his partner was smarter.
She sighed. Rome could barely hear it, but he picked up on her irritation. “Look around, Masters. People don’t wear suits here. I should have thought of it, but we came straight from the airport.”
At least she was smart enough not to get pissed at him for pointing it out. Which in his book made her smarter than the average agent. “Where are you staying?”
She didn’t even allow her partner to speak. The older agent might have been sent to babysit Callahan, but she definitely saw herself in charge. “Right now, the Hilton Hawaiian Village. But we’re looking for something more permanent.”
Masters made a face. It was easy to see the agent didn’t want to be here. Of course, it was probably more to do with who he was with. No one, not even Rome, would want to come to Hawaii with a woman who didn’t know how to have fun.
“Okay. I’ll meet you for drinks in the lounge right by the big pool at the Hilton.”
She said nothing for a second but studied him as if he were a bug of some sort. Then, she nodded. “Time?”
She sighed. “Okay. Let’s go, Masters.”
Both of them stood, and Rome couldn’t help but admire her height. He glanced at her shoes and saw that she wore low heels. She was as tall as Masters. The agents walked out the door, and it shut with an almost silent snick.
For a moment, the captain said nothing. Then he chuckled. “That was very friendly of you, Carino.”
He watched Callahan and Masters walk through the squad room until they disappeared through the door. Rome shot a smile over his shoulder at his boss. “Considering who her father is, I figured I’d play nice.”
“Was. Big John died about eighteen months ago. Did you know him?”
He nodded, thinking of the giant man he’d heard talk. “Went to a few of his lectures years ago when I was stationed in the DC area.”
“Make sure you continue to make nice. The FBI might want to take this over, but I want to make sure that when we catch this son of a bitch, Honolulu PD gets some credit.”
Rome offered his boss an angelic smile. “I promise to be a good boy.”
“I didn’t tell them your connection to the club, but I think you better tell her. She’s pretty sharp, and if you aren’t careful, you’ll find yourself off the case.”
He nodded and headed out the door. No matter what, he was on the case until he caught the bastard. And no one, not the FBI or the HPD, would tell him differently.
End of Excerpt
by Melissa Schroeder
is available in the following formats:
This is the 20th Anniversary Edition with a new epilogue, series-hopping characters, and new Harmless details. Originally titled A Little Harmless Submission.
Whoa! I LOVED this book. I will take one Rome....delivered to my house with restraints in hand. Talk about an amazing alpha hero...Melissa wrote a really good one here!!! And he has met his match with FBI agent, Maria, who is pretty much an alpha herself in her everyday life, but when this Dom gets her in the bedroom, well, then she is the perfect sub. Theirs is a great romance and I loved that I got to read it!
A Little Harmless Submission is another winner in the A Little Harmless Series. I have enjoyed everyone of the ALH series, even the short stories that can be found on MS's website. A Little Harmless Submission one is one of my favorites and can be read as a stand alone. I can't wait to see what MS has in store for us addicts next!
All of Melissa's Series
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