Copyright ©2014 by Julie Miller
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.
“Elise? I need—”
“Right here.” As soon as the lacquered
black door between their offices opened, Elise Brown was on her feet,
carrying the file from the corner of her desk over to her boss, KCPD
Deputy Commissioner George Madigan. “Crime rate statistics for the
downtown area over the past three years. I also checked the Farmers’
Almanac for the last time Kansas City had record temperatures like this
and forwarded stats on the dramatic rise in reported crime incidents for
that summer to your laptop. I pulled up similar stats on the increased
number of 9-1-1 calls during power outages.”
“And my dinner—?”
“Done. I called the restaurant and moved
your reservation this evening back to eight o’clock. Your appointment
will meet you there.”
George’s firm mouth cocked into a wry
grin, deepening the lines beside his steel-gray eyes as he opened the
folder. “You might at least let me finish asking my questions before you
hand over the answers.”
George Madigan didn’t ask—he gave
orders—but Elise didn’t mind. She tipped her face up to his and smiled.
“Just being indispensable.”
“That you are. I swear you could do this
job without me. But I wouldn’t manage the other way around. Thanks.” He
dropped his gaze to the information he held, thumbing through the pages,
already engrossed in his work.
Elise smiled at the crown of his dark
brown hair. It was short and thick and peppered with shots of silver
that only added to the mature air of masculinity that oozed from every
pore. Not that she cared one whit about how the man looked or what he
oozed. All she cared about was this job and the way George valued her as
a trusted associate.
There were no miscommunications when her
boss spoke. No flirty double entendres she had to evaluate and dodge. No
favors or blackmail or anything that could leave her feeling like a fool
for not clearly understanding what was being asked of her.
She appreciated the mutual respect in
their working relationship, and had no intention of muddying the waters
by wishing there might be a little more charm to his authoritative
demeanor or wondering how a full-blown smile or belly laugh might soften
the life experience sculpted into his angular features.
The deputy commissioner and KCPD had
taken a chance on her when her confidence had been so close to rock
bottom that she wasn’t sure she even deserved a job in the corporate
world again. Working as an executive assistant for one of the top
administrators in the department, she was rebuilding the self-assurance
that had been shredded at her last full-time position. Fixing her
bruised heart and shattered trust in men were projects for another day.
For her, the job was enough. It was everything. It had to be.
“This is good stuff,” George praised.
“These numbers should help make my case for allocating more funds.”
“You hired me to be knowledgeable,
efficient and to anticipate your needs.”
To make her point, she flipped the page
to point out the totals he was searching for and nodded toward the
office behind him where five people sat around a cherry-wood conference
table, engaged in a heated discussion studded with phrases like, “We’re
already short-staffed,” “Not my responsibility,” “How much?” and “Would
you go there without a cop around for miles?”
Elise didn’t even need to drop her voice
for privacy. “Emergency budget meeting? Complaints from the union about
freezing salaries instead of paying overtime? The most vocal person in
the room is Councilman Johnson. Ergo, you want to be armed with the
information showing a direct correlation between hot weather and a
higher crime rate, and how putting extra uniformed officers on the
street during peak power demands will counteract that danger.”
A dark eyebrow arched as he looked up
from the file. “Ergo?”
Elise met his gaze and shrugged. “So you
can shut up Mr. Johnson.”
That earned a chuckle from deep in his
throat. Okay. So the man did possess a little charm. “You’re on to me.
Did anyone ever tell you that you’d make a good detective?”
Elise looked beyond the wide shoulders of
his blue dress shirt to see the medals and commendations framed on the
wall behind his desk. Her boss’s day might be filled with administrative
duties now, but there was no doubt who the real detective was here. “I
function much better behind the scenes than I do on the front line,
His square jaw tightened momentarily. But
before he snapped the folder shut and gave voice to whatever thought had
crossed his features, a light knock on Elise’s office door diverted her
attention across the reception area.
“Excuse me, sir.” Elise crossed the taupe
carpet to meet the deliveryman hidden behind the extravagant bouquet of
yellow roses at the hallway door. “Yes?”
“Is this the deputy commissioner’s
office?” a winded voice asked.
“Finally. Do you know how far I had to
carry these things?” When the twenty-something man poked his head around
the tall glass vase, his ruddy cheeks and forehead were dotted with
perspiration. She also noted that he was wearing a visitor’s badge
around the sweat-stained neck of his brown uniform. Good. That meant
he’d been cleared at both the ground floor and the security desk at the
eighth floor elevators, and she didn’t need to screen him as any kind of
threat to the higher-ups at KCPD.
“Has it topped a hundred degrees out
there yet?” Elise asked, reaching for the electronic signature pad he
pushed toward her. Since a heat wave was bearing down on Kansas City for
its third straight week, it was a topic of conversation friends and
strangers alike could share. She hoped her friendly smile might improve
the man’s mood.
But she got little more than a weary
grunt in return. “I just need you to sign for these, ma’am.”
Understanding how a heat index of one
hundred and ten and humidity that was nearly as high could make tempers
and frustrations flare, Elise quickly wrote her name. “Could I get you
something cold to drink? Some ice water?”
The man’s grim expression relaxed as he
traded the vase for the keypad. “I’ve got a cooler in my van in the
parking garage across the street. But thanks.”
“Looks like Commissioner Madigan has a
special admirer.” Elise hefted the over-the-top bouquet into her arms.
Had George won some award he hadn’t mentioned? Been seeing someone
during the few hours he wasn’t in the office?
“They’re for you, ma’am.” The deliveryman
glanced down at his keypad screen. “You’re Elise Brown, right?”
Surprise warred with confusion inside her
at the unexpected gift. “For me?”
“Yes, ma’am. Enjoy. And stay cool.” The
man was all smiles as he walked away.
Elise touched her nose to one velvety
blossom, cautiously inhaling its cloying, perfumey scent as she counted.
Eleven, twelve…twenty-three yellow roses, complete with golden ribbons,
baby’s breath and a cut-glass vase—for her?
The flowers grew unbearably heavy.
roses. One for every day we’ve been together.
“Easy.” Suddenly, a strong hand cupped
beneath hers, taking the weight of the glass. “We don’t want a flood on
A flash of blue danced into Elise’s
peripheral vision a split second before her boss’s crisp voice startled
her from her momentary paralysis. She backed away a step and hugged her
arms securely around the vase. “I’ve got them.” She turned and carried
them to the corner of her desk. “Thanks.”
The flowers might be a different color,
but the similarity…twenty-three? Elise breathed in deeply, clearing the
troubling thought from her mind. It wasn’t possible. The florist had
simply miscounted. Or the deliveryman had stolen one for his girlfriend.
This was just a coincidence and she’d overreacted. That part of her past
was over and done with.
Dead men didn’t send flowers.
But who would?
Shuffling through the stems and greenery,
Elise searched for a card that wasn’t there. She pulled the empty
plastic clamp from the vase that should have held the sender’s name or a
message for her, and hurried out into the hallway. “Wait a minute,” she
called after the deliveryman. “Who are these from? There’s no card….”
But he’d already disappeared around the
corner by the elevators and security desk. She could either kick off her
heels and run after him, or solve the mystery on her own. And since
Nikolai was dead… With another steadying breath, Elise had made her
decision. Ease up on the paranoia. There’s a rational explanation.
Figure it out.
But when she turned around, she froze,
her path blocked by George Madigan filling the doorway. His sturdy
forearms were exposed by his rolled-up sleeves, and their tanned
strength formed an impenetrable barrier folded across the front of his
chest. “Did I miss your birthday?”
Although he wore no gun, his badge was
right there, clipped to his belt, its polished blue enamel and extra
brass chevrons indicating he had the right to stop her and ask any
questions he wanted in this office. Elise tipped her face up to his
narrowed gray eyes. Was that suspicion she saw there? Curiosity?
She knew that George Madigan on a mission
could be an intimidating thing. His devotion to the department, his
single-minded determination to solve problems, made him a force to be
reckoned with in city and departmental politics. But the idea of him
turning that perceptive intelligence and laser beam focus on her was as
unnerving as it was thrilling.
And that made those little ripples of
awareness stirring her blood far too dangerous.
Tempting as it might be to share her
fears with her boss, Elise nixed the idea. Her problems were her own.
She understood George Madigan well enough to get her job done, and that
was as far as their relationship needed to go. Mixing work and personal
was definitely a bad idea.
Oh, snap. How long had she been staring
at the loose knot of his tie?
Despite the air-conditioning that cooled
the building’s temperature to a tolerable level, Elise suddenly felt
hot. She brushed aside a short, dark wave of hair that clung to her damp
skin and tucked it behind her ear before scooting around the file he
fisted in one hand. “My birthday’s not until September.”
Two months away. Elise set the card
holder beside the vase and sorted through the ribbons and greenery
again. She found one broken stem being held upright by sprigs of baby’s
breath and the oversized bow, but still no card.
A queasy sense of unease turned in her
stomach. Nikolai had sent her twenty-three red roses after he’d gone
back to Russia. A thank-you, apology and
do svidaniya all in one.
But Nikolai was dead. Murdered by her former boss Quinn Gallagher’s
father-in-law when Nikolai had dared to threaten Quinn’s daughter.
“I know it’s not Administrative
Professionals’ Week. I marked that on my calendar.” George followed her
to the desk and reached out to finger one of the blooms. “These are
It wasn’t a question.
“Yes,” she conceded, wishing she could
mask her emotions as well as her boss could. “They’re definitely a
The only men in her life were her father
and her poodle mix, Spike, and neither one was the flower-sending type.
Her mother was the one to remember special events, but nothing was
happening in Elise’s life today, or even this week. She hadn’t completed
the renovations on the Victorian home she was restoring, so any
celebration of that was premature. Successfully housebreaking the dog
hardly merited all these flowers. And the last man she’d gone out with
certainly had no reason to send such a gift. Although they’d once shared
a college romance, she’d made it clear to James this past weekend that
she was only interested in friendship now that he was back in town after
spending several years working abroad.
After her disastrous track record of
unrequited love and getting involved with the wrong men, she wasn’t
interested in any kind of relationship.
Elise startled at the warm hand on her
arm and looked up into George’s eyes. “What’s wrong?”
She jumped again when the telephone rang.
Shaking off his touch and any further speculation about the roses, she
leaned across her desk and picked up the receiver. “Deputy Commissioner
Madigan’s office. This is Elise speaking.”
There was a long pause on the line, and
then she heard, “Did you get them?”
The hushed, breathy voice was barely
“I got them special. Just for
you.Suddenly feeling too shaky to stand, Elise sank onto the edge of the
cherrywood desk and turned her head toward the mysterious bouquet. “Who
The phone was pried from her grip by a
stronger hand. “This is Deputy Commissioner Madigan of KCPD. Who—?”
The click of the call disconnecting was
loud enough for Elise to hear. When she jerked her head back toward the
sound, her gaze was filled with George’s paisley tie and broad chest.
That chest came even closer, almost folded around her, as he reached
behind her to hang up the phone.
Elise pushed to her feet, curling her
toes inside her pumps to steady herself, when she realized she’d nearly
turned her nose into the inviting haven of the older man’s crisp shirt
and body heat.
But George didn’t move. He stood there,
feet planted like tree trunks to the floor, watching her reaction.
“What’s going on?”
Rubbing at the goose bumps revealed by
her sleeveless dress, Elise shrugged off her confusion about the flowers
as well as that sudden and inexplicable urge to take shelter against her
boss’s chest. “I have no idea.”
George tossed the file onto her desk and
quickly inspected the bouquet. “You don’t know who these are from?” He
didn’t give her time to answer. “Did you recognize the caller on the
Elise shook her head. “I think it was a
man’s voice, but he was whispering. I could barely hear him. I would
have thought it was a wrong number, but he…asked about the flowers. At
least, I think that’s what he meant. He didn’t actually say ‘flowers.’”
“I didn’t catch a company logo on the
deliveryman’s shirt. Did you?” George was already headed for the hallway
before she realized his intent. “I’ll check with Shane at the front desk
to see if he remembers the uniform. He should have logged him in, so we
can at least get a name and who he works for. Then we can call and find
out who ordered them.”
Elise hurried after George, stopping him
with a hand on his arm before he got out the door. “You don’t have to go
to all that trouble.”
“Clearly, not knowing where these came
from has upset you.” He turned to face her. “I may spend my days
balancing numbers and taking meetings, but I’m still a cop. I know when
something doesn’t smell right, and I remember how to track down a lead.”
“But there’s no crime here, Commissioner.
And it’s not your job to take care of me.” As easy as it would be to let
him find answers for her, Elise knew he had more important things to
worry about than her self-conscious paranoia about mysterious romantic
gestures. “If anything, I’m supposed to take care of you. I’ll talk to
Shane before I leave this evening.” She nodded toward his office.
“Besides, you’re keeping the councilman and precinct chiefs waiting, and
with this weather crisis, tempers are already shorter than usual. You
need to return to your meeting.”
“You’re sure?” He glanced down at the
spot where her pale fingers still clung to his tanned, muscular forearm.
Feeling her cheeks heat with
embarrassment, Elise snatched her fingers away from the lingering
contact and went back to her desk. “These could have been delivered to
me by mistake. I’m probably just making trouble for myself by worrying
It was a flimsy excuse, and George wasn’t
buying it. “The price of that bouquet is an awfully expensive mistake to
make. Plus, the deliveryman called you by name.”
This wouldn’t be the first time she’d had
to deal with an unwanted suitor or suffer the repercussions of a
relationship mistake. She didn’t have a good track record with men. But
she certainly didn’t want the boss she respected, and whose opinion of
her she valued, to find out what a failure she was in her personal life.
Whether this was someone’s pathetic attempt to worm his way back into
her good graces, a poorly timed coincidence or just a bad joke—she
didn’t want her problems to ever become a concern for George or the
deputy commissioner’s office.
Elise’s gaze landed on the stack of pink
message papers on her blotter. She circled the desk to pick them up and
hand them to him. “You have three messages to handle when your meeting
is done. Denton Hale has phoned twice. He wants a private meeting
without the other union reps regarding possible staff cuts.” Running
interference between her boss and disgruntled officers and citizens was
part of her job, and Elise had no problem doing it. Still, she felt a
pang of sympathy, knowing how difficult a police officer’s job could be
without having to worry about money. “If we don’t get extra funding from
the city, some of the officers and support staff are going to be laid
“It’s a possibility,” he answered
honestly. “The city is pouring a lot of money into their infrastructure
right now. I hope we can keep the personnel budget in check through
attrition and simply not hire replacements for this year’s retirees. I
pray that’s enough to avoid a strike. Hale isn’t the only police officer
worried about his job.”
Elise nodded her understanding. “But he
seems to be more worried than any of the others. He’s pretty chatty on
the phone. I said I’d have to discuss it with you before I scheduled
“Elise. What’s wrong with the flowers?”
Without answering, she moved on to the
next message. “Cliff Brandt from the city power district says his people
have received more threats in response to the brownouts and power
outages. He wants to know the result of this meeting as soon as you do.
He’s reluctant to let his people go out on calls unprotected, especially
at night. And Mrs. Madigan said it was urgent that you return her call
George was smart enough to see her
diversionary tactic for what it was. But he played along, respecting her
unspoken request to let the mystery of the flowers drop. “Don’t stick my
nose into your business, right?” Familiar lines bracketed his mouth
again as he sorted through the messages. “Schedule Hale for tomorrow.
Get Brandt on the phone for me in thirty minutes—it’ll help me wrap up
this meeting.” He tucked the notes into his shirt pocket. “And
Courtney’s my ex-wife, not Mrs. Madigan. She gave up the right to use my
name a decade ago when she said she couldn’t be married to a street cop
anymore. Any clue what she wants this time?”
Elise’s attention shifted from the
troublesome flowers to the weary sigh in George’s tone. “A street cop?”
“I know. Hard to imagine, isn’t it? I
keep my sidearm locked in my desk and carry home budget reports instead
of case files.” He buttoned his collar and straightened the knot of his
tie, although he didn’t touch the rolled-up sleeves. “But I did my time
in Vice and Narcotics once I made detective. I got into administration
because I thought the desk job would make her happy. Turned out I had a
knack for paper pushing and bottom lines so I stayed with it, even after
Elise frowned, surprised to hear faint
echoes of resignation and regret in his voice. “You still wear a badge.
You’re still KCPD. A lot of people in the department count on you to do
your job—even if your ex-wife doesn’t appreciate that.”
George nodded at her show of support,
even as he dismissed it. “There was more than my job wrong with our
marriage.” He picked up the folder he’d set down without elaborating any
further. “When Court calls back, and she will—since she dropped Madigan,
she must want something pretty badly—you can refer to her as Ms.
“Commissioner Madigan?” Henry Johnson’s
voice was shrill and impatient, calling from his office.
George’s chest expanded with a deep
breath. He checked his watch. “It’s almost four o’clock. Why don’t you
close up shop out here. As soon as I wrap up this meeting and connect
with Cliff Brandt, you can head home early. I’ll lock up.”
Although Elise appreciated the kind
gesture, and knew she needed to go home to let Spike out into the
backyard for a romp, the otherwise empty expanses of her torn-up house
with its two overworked window air conditioners didn’t seem particularly
inviting right now. What if that phone call hadn’t been a mistake and
exactly twenty-three roses were meant for her? What if that ghostly
voice was leaving a message on her personal answering machine or voice
mail right now?
Even the unlucky coincidence of these
flowers coming from James or some other old boyfriend wasn’t exactly
comforting. That meant her “no thanks” on a relationship hadn’t
registered, and that she had another long conversation, if not an
outright confrontation, to look forward to this evening.
Right now, work—and the confines of her
nicely appointed, if slightly humid, office—seemed more of a solace than
the paint cans, phone calls or potential surprise visits that might be
waiting for her at home.
“If it’s all right, I’d like to stay
here—I need to type up the notes for your speech at the annual officers
George groaned. “That damned speech. If
Commissioner Cartwright-Masterson wasn’t expecting her first
Elise smiled and shooed him toward his
office. “The commissioner wouldn’t have asked you to take her place on
the podium if she didn’t trust you to represent her and the department
in stellar fashion.”
“That doesn’t mean you need to stay late
just to make me sound good at the banquet. I’ll work on it. You get out
of here and enjoy the AC someplace where you actually have to put on a
sweater because it’s so cold.”
Instead of laughing at what she assumed
was a joke, she offered him a half truth. “Sounds tempting, but…I’m
getting out of an unwanted date tonight with an old friend. The excuse I
gave for not meeting him for dinner was that I had to work late. Do you
George arched one of his dark brows in a
skeptical frown. “Maybe that unwanted date is who sent the flowers.
Could be he’s trying to change your mind.”
“You should still ask him.”
Elise considered the possibility. Maybe
she would give James a call. But later, so he wouldn’t think she’d
changed her mind about his dinner invitation. “I’ll check with Shane
first and call the desk downstairs if he doesn’t have the florist’s
Shaking his head, George headed for his
office. “Fine. I’ll alibi you out. Tell Mr. Unwanted that your boss is
an old curmudgeon who works your fingers until they bleed and doesn’t
allow you a personal life.”
Elise smiled at the self-effacing comment
and watched him walk away, idly noting that there was nothing old or
curmudgeonly about the way his shirt hugged his powerful build. And
though she knew he was more than a dozen years her senior, the lines
beside his eyes and salt-and-pepper hair only added to the air of
seasoned authority and masculinity he wore like a second skin. There was
no mistaking George Madigan for a boyish college sweetheart or a
duplicitous charmer who’d prey on her vulnerable feelings to get what he
wanted from her. He was an old-school, straightforward, get-the-job-done
After an unintentional betrayal that had
nearly cost her former boss at Gallagher Security Systems and his family
their lives, Elise knew she was lucky to have this job. And although
Quinn Gallagher claimed he didn’t blame her for any of the mess that had
nearly destroyed him, Elise knew she could have saved him a lot of
trouble if she’d been thinking with her head instead of a broken heart.
Turning in her resignation to the man she’d loved but could never have
had been the right thing to do. But picking up the pieces of her life
again hadn’t been easy.
With that kind of personal and
professional track record, Elise was grateful to have this well-paying,
well-respected position doing meaningful work for the department and
Kansas City. The deputy commissioner’s faith in her had done more to
heal her self-esteem and rebuild her trust in men than any self-help
book could. That’s all she should be focusing on. Noticing that George
Madigan was an attractive man, noticing anything more than him as a fair
leader and kind friend, could only lead to the sort of trouble she
didn’t need in her life.
So she ignored those little frissons of
awareness that warmed her blood and sat down to work. “Thank you, sir.”
He paused at the door, exhaling an
audible sigh before glancing over his shoulder at her. “It’s ‘George’
when it’s just you and me talking. Okay? ‘Sir’ makes me feel like an old
Not a chance.
But before Elise could do something
foolish like tell him he was a fit man in his prime, Henry Johnson
shouted from his office again. “Deputy Commissioner? Today?”
With a smile that was part relief, part
sympathy, Elise shooed him on his way. “You’d better not keep him
waiting any longer. You want to win his support, remember?”
George paused with his hand on the
doorknob, looking as if he had something more to say. Instead of
speaking to Elise, though, he opened the door. “I got the file I needed,
Henry. Now let’s compare the costs of prevention strategies versus…”
When the door closed behind him, Elise
turned to her computer and pulled up the memos he’d sent her for
distribution and started proofing and addressing them. With the
discussion on the other side of George’s door now muted, she worked in
relative silence for several minutes.
But the bouquet was casting a shadow over
her workspace, drawing her attention away from her keyboard and screen.
Maybe she should take the time now to walk down the hall to chat with
Shane Wilkins, the floor officer. Or maybe she could spare a few minutes
to call James. Or her parents. Do a little investigating on her own.
Elise rose in a huff and picked up the
heavy glass vase to move the roses out of sight on the counter behind
her desk. “Or maybe I should just get my work done and deal with you
later. I know a nice hospital where you’ll be very happy and greatly
appreciated,” she said to the flowers as she set them down.
With that much of a plan in mind, Elise
sat down to finish the memos and save them for George’s final sign-off
in the morning.
Do you like my gift?
The breathy whisper seeped into her
thoughts to distract her again. Who else knew that her murdered mobster
lover had sent her twenty-three roses, thanking her for the unintended
pillow talk regarding her former employer, making a mockery of the way
she’d given her heart and body to him? Or was this just an unfortunate
coincidence that she was turning into something more sinister?
Lots of people got roses every day. Red
ones, pink ones, yellow ones—any color of the rainbow for any occasion
or no reason at all. They didn’t mean anything other than
“congratulations” or “get well” or “thinking of you.”
So why did it feel as though someone was
looking over her shoulder now?
Elise spun her chair around and gazed at
the hated gift. Then she picked it up and set the vase back on her desk.
Better to keep the things that worried her
in plain sight than to let them sneak up and nearly ruin her life again.
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