Authors: Irene Hannon
Tags: #Private investigators—Fiction, #FIC042060, #FIC042040, #FIC027110, #Women journalists—Fiction
Praise for Irene Hannon’s Novels
“Hannon’s ability to write scenes that cause readers to feel uneasy and to second-guess their safety always makes her stories page-turners.”
RT Book Reviews
“Bestselling author Irene Hannon weaves a wonderful story full of suspense and romance. She captures your attention at page one and doesn’t let it go until long after you’ve finished the book!”
has all the things I love in a romantic suspense. A strong heroine, and a good man, and a tragedy she might not survive. Irene Hannon is a name I love to find, and
is her storytelling at its best.”
“Compelling characters and an emotionally engaging plot powered by a surfeit of nail-biting suspense.”
(Top 10 Inspirational Fiction 2011)
“Full of action, suspense, and just the right amount of romance.”
RT Book Reviews
“The strong character development and suspenseful story line here will win over readers of Lynette Eason, Dee Henderson, and Terri Blackstock.”
“An exceptional novel of romantic suspense.”
“Hannon’s intricately developed characters struggle with complex moral issues, bringing into question whether the ends ever do justify the means. An engaging, satisfying tale that will no doubt leave readers anxiously anticipating the next installment.”
“With the intense mixture of romance, mystery, darkness, and suspense, the author has done a great job introducing some truly interesting characters, including a ‘bad guy’ that will completely surprise readers.”
“Hannon’s latest has a wonderful mix of suspense and romance.”
—RT Book Reviews
“Hannon begins a new romantic suspense series, and this novel’s fast-paced plot and compelling characters make it an excellent suggestion for inspirational fiction fans as well as readers who enjoy Mary Higgins Clark’s subtly chilling brand of suspense.”
is a quick read, one of those addictive books that once started, compels you to shut out the world till you reach the very last page.”
New York Journal of Books
© 2013 by Irene Hannon
Published by Revell
a division of Baker Publishing Group
P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287
Ebook edition created 2013
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
my real-life hero.
I give thanks every day
for the gift of your love.
he house was quiet.
Laura Griffith paused inside the back door and frowned.
Where was the thudding bass that usually shook the walls as it reverberated from behind Darcy’s closed bedroom door?
Where was the soda can her half sister always left on the counter, despite repeated requests to rinse empties and put them in the recycle bin?
Where was the faint odor of burned bagel that had greeted her at the end of every workday since the teen’s arrival in St. Louis four months ago?
She crossed the room and dropped her purse and tote bag on the kitchen table, the thump of the heavy satchel echoing in the uncharacteristic stillness. “Darcy?”
As a tingle of unease slithered along her nerve endings, Laura forced herself to take a deep breath.
This could just be a new strategy. She hasn’t tried the silent treatment yet. Stay calm.
Chagrin twisted her lips as she walked toward the living room. Her placid existence had evaporated the day Darcy stepped inside the house, a hundred and two pounds of brashness, bravado, and attitude. It had taken mere hours for the girl to figure out her thirty-three-year-old half sibling had zero experience dealing with a sixteen-year-old—and Darcy had done her best to exploit that liability ever since.
Was it any wonder they clashed constantly?
Laura passed through the living room, giving it a quick scan. No gloves or hat thrown on the couch. No muffler trailing across the floor. No parka dumped in the wing chair.
Since it was doubtful Darcy had altered her typical behavior pattern and put her winter gear in the coat closet, the conclusion was obvious.
She’d broken the rule about coming straight home after school. Again.
With a sigh, Laura walked down the hall toward Darcy’s room. Not much chance she’d find the teen poring over her homework on a Friday afternoon, but it couldn’t hurt to check. Hope sprang eternal and all that—even if she was already psyching herself up for the battle of wills sure to come later in the evening.
As usual, Darcy’s door was closed. Laura knocked and called her name. After waiting a few beats, she turned the knob.
Once again, apprehension skittered through her, along with a sudden chill that had nothing to do with the frigid early February weather outside or the icy wind whistling around the corner of the house. Darcy’s bed was made, the desktop swept clean of clutter, the carpet pristine rather than littered with discarded pieces of clothing from the teen’s ritual morning search for the perfect outfit.
But it was the folded sheet of paper on the pillow that caused her heart to stutter.
Rubbing her damp palms on her slacks, she forced herself to move toward the bed. Hesitated. Then, pulse pounding, she picked up the note and flipped it open.
It took her only a few seconds to read the brief message.
A few more to quiet her chaotic thoughts.
A full half minute to formulate a plan of action.
Then she strode back to the kitchen, reached for her phone . . . and started to pray.
Stifling a yawn, James “Dev” Devlin pushed through the back door of Phoenix Inc., buffeted by a blast of Arctic-like air. Man, was he beat. His late date Saturday night had taken a toll, as had the Sunday double-shift surveillance gig for the insurance fraud case. At least those long hours of boredom in the cold van had paid off. He’d nailed the perp with that final batch of photos.
Dev detoured into the small kitchen, rubbing his hands together to restore circulation as he made a beeline for the coffeepot. Too bad he wouldn’t be there to see the look on the claimant’s face when he got a load of the incriminating shots. If you were alleging debilitating back damage from a slip on a wet floor at work, it wasn’t too smart to play a lively game of Twister in front of a picture window where there was no reasonable expectation of privacy . . . and where any PI worth his salt could snap away in full compliance with the law.
The guy was not only a cheat, he was an idiot.
“About time you got here.”
At the reproving comment behind him, Dev stifled a groan. So much for sneaking in an hour late.
He poured his coffee, took a long swallow, and braced himself as he turned.
With a pointed glance at her watch, Nikki folded her arms across her chest, raised an eyebrow, and waited.
“The streets are a sheet of ice.” Why he felt the need to justify his behavior to the Phoenix receptionist/office manager escaped—and annoyed—him.
“I got here on time.”
He took another fortifying sip of java. “I had a busy weekend.”
“I’ll bet. Who was it this Saturday, the blonde rocket scientist you brought to the company picnic who forgot to refrigerate the potato salad she contributed and made us all sick, or the nuclear physicist from last year’s Christmas party who thought computer forensics was a new video game?”
need a razzing first thing on a Monday morning.
“For the record, I worked all day yesterday. And I mean all day. I put in a freezing double shift on the workman’s comp case while you lazed around in your warm house and changed the color of the stripe in your hair.” He squinted at the hot pink streak in her short platinum blonde spikes. “What happened to the purple?”
“I was in a pink mood. And don’t try that best-defense-is-a-good-offense baloney on me. We have a new client in the waiting room, who fought her way here through the ice storm. She’s been twiddling her thumbs for half an hour, which has not helped calm her down. Why haven’t you been answering your phone?”
“It didn’t ring.”
“Is the battery dead?”
“No.” He pulled it off his belt.
The battery was dead.
“I guess it needs to be charged.”
“I guess it does. You want me to show her back?”
“In a minute.” If this potential client was anything like the hysterical woman he’d dealt with last week, who suspected her husband was cheating on her and wanted Phoenix to gather incriminating evidence so she could sock him with a huge settlement, he needed
a few slugs of caffeine before he explained that wasn’t their kind of case and sent her on her way.
“It’s not a marriage-on-the-rocks issue.”
He narrowed his eyes at Nikki. What was she, psychic? Or was he that transparent? Had to be the latter—but how had he survived as an undercover ATF agent if he was that easy to read?
Then again, he almost hadn’t.
Pushing that thought aside, he snagged a packet of sugar to cut the bitterness of the coffee.
If only he could cut the bitterness of his memories as easily.
Nikki gave him another disapproving look. “I bet you ate a bowl of sugarcoated cereal this morning too.”
Without responding, he ripped the top off the packet and dumped the whole thing in—an act of defiance more than prudence.
“That’s what I figured.” She leaned a shoulder against the door frame, expression smug.
He grabbed a plastic stir stick, fighting down another surge of irritation. “Just because your new husband caved under your health-food crusade doesn’t mean we all have to sign on to the cause.”
“Hey.” She lifted her hands, palms toward him, and shrugged. “It’s your body—but I don’t want to hear any complaints when it starts to fall apart. So can I show this woman to your office? With Cal on his honeymoon and Connor tied up with that protection gig, you’re it.”
“How come Connor gets all the glamorous assignments? I wouldn’t mind protecting a Hollywood star for a week while she films a movie in town.”
“If you were a former Secret Service agent, you might get a few of those plum jobs too. As it is, you get a distraught woman by the name of Laura Griffith. It’s a runaway case, by the way. I’ll stall her for three more minutes. Drink up.”
She swiveled in her high-heeled leather boots and exited into the hall with a swish of her short skirt.
Dev took a sip of his coffee as he watched her disappear. Grimacing, he dumped the rest down the drain. It was far too sweet—unlike their saucy office manager. But she knew her stuff. They’d be hard-pressed to find someone else who was not only a skilled administrator but also happened to have a gift for bookkeeping and computer forensics . . . not to mention a heart of gold—though he’d never admit that to anyone.
After refilling his cup and leaving it black, he followed in her wake. When she said three minutes, she meant it—ready or not . . . unless she took pity on him and decided to give him more breathing space to get his act together.
But he wasn’t going to count on her generosity.
“He’ll be with you in a couple of minutes.”
Laura turned as the receptionist reentered the waiting area through the door behind her desk. “Thanks.”
Clasping her hands in her lap, she switched her focus to one of the larger-than-life nature-themed photos that decorated the walls. The office was nicer than she’d expected. Based on what she’d read about real-life private investigators, most PIs bore little resemblance to the glorified Hollywood version of the profession. A lot of them sounded like sleazy, work-out-of-the-car-and-at-the-fringes-of-the-law types.
This setting, however, didn’t fit that image. The nubby Berber carpet, the neutral, patterned fabric of the three chairs, the glass-topped coffee table—classy. And the prominent rectangular wooden plaque with the Justice First brass lettering was comforting.
The receptionist, on the other hand, was more than a bit off-putting.
Laura stole a look at the woman. Her streak of hot-pink hair, miniskirt, boots, clunky metal jewelry, and heavy-handed makeup
were a disconnect with the low-key, discreet setting. But Darcy would no doubt approve of her splashy look.
Just one more example of the 180-degree difference in their viewpoints.
On the other hand, if she hadn’t called the receptionist’s teenaged brother last night after stumbling across his name and number scribbled on a slip of paper in Darcy’s room, she’d have been on her own with the daunting task of finding a reputable PI firm. Instead, the boy had passed the phone to this woman, who’d sounded businesslike and capable. The Phoenix website had also been impressive, as had the law-enforcement backgrounds of the three PIs. So here she was.
For better or worse.
She hoped it was the former. Because so far, she hadn’t been impressed by official law-enforcement reaction to her sister’s disappearance. She needed expert help—and she needed it fast.
“I can show you back now.”
As the receptionist spoke again, she rose and joined her at the door behind the desk. The woman pushed through, then led the way down a carpeted hall to the first office on the right, where she paused and gave a discreet knock on the half-closed door.
“Your client is here.” She stepped aside and gestured for Laura to enter.
“Thanks.” As Laura murmured the word, she slipped past the receptionist, crossed the threshold . . . and did a double take.
While glitzy Hollywood-type PIs might be more fabrication than reality, the athletic-looking man who rose to greet her did fit the stereotype. As he circled the desk to shake her hand, she did a quick assessment. He was tall, topping her five-and-a-half-foot frame by a good six inches, and definitely handsome, his herringbone jacket emphasizing his broad shoulders. But he missed the mark on the dark attribute. Instead, he had striking, deep auburn hair and eyes the color of polished jade.
“Ms. Griffith, I’m James Devlin.” He took her hand, his firm grip warm and somehow reassuring.
As their gazes locked, Laura’s throat tightened. All weekend, she’d borne her worry and stress alone. Yet as his fingers squeezed hers, some of that burden lifted. The PI seemed strong, confident, and capable—the kind of man who could take on any challenge and succeed.
Her relief was palpable . . . and she hoped not premature.
“Thanks for seeing me on short notice.” If he noticed the slight quiver beneath her words, he didn’t let on.
A dimple dented one cheek as he smiled and released her hand. “Short notice is par for the course in the PI world. Please, have a seat.” He indicated a small round table off to one side of his office.
As she walked over and slid onto a chair, he picked up a pad of lined paper and a pen from his desk. “Did Nikki offer you a beverage?”
“Yes. I turned her down, but I’m rethinking coffee. It’s been a long, sleepless weekend.”
“Not a problem. Cream or sugar?”
“Just cream, please.”
“I’ll be back in a minute. Make yourself comfortable.”
Once he disappeared out the door, Laura tried to follow his advice. She took a deep breath. Let it out slowly. Repeated the process as she scanned his office. Better. The vibrating hum in her nerves quieted, and the knot in her stomach loosened—thanks perhaps in part to the impressive ATF-related awards and honors on the walls that confirmed her favorable impression of James Devlin. Distinguished Service medal. Medal of Valor. Framed letters of commendation, including one to her left that included the words
That was just the kind of person it would take to track down Darcy, who’d left few clues.
And her half sister needed tracking down.
Because no matter how mature she thought she was, Darcy wasn’t anywhere close to being old enough to survive on her own. And Laura was counting on James Devlin and his Phoenix col
leagues to help her find the runaway teen before she wound up in far deeper trouble than she’d ever encountered during her past forays into independence.
Maybe he hadn’t drawn the short straw after all.
As Dev poured a cup of coffee for Phoenix’s newest client, he grinned. While he hadn’t been psyched up to launch his week with a demanding case, when the client was as pretty as Laura Griffith . . . not so bad.
He dumped a container of cream into the steaming brew and stirred, watching the dark color lighten to mocha. Interesting that he would find their new client appealing. Brunettes didn’t usually attract him. Not that her hair was a plain mousy brown or anything. Not with those gold highlights that glinted every time she moved. Too bad she wore it in that single French braid, becoming as the style was. He’d much prefer to see it loose and full. Still, the more severe style did draw attention to her long-lashed blue eyes, soft lips, and model-like high cheekbones.
Still grinning, he straightened his tie, tossed the stir stick in the trash, and started toward the door. Even though Phoenix had an unwritten hands-off rule for active clients, there was no law against looking . . . and enjoying. Discreetly, of course.
Discretion top of mind, he used the short return trip to his office to shift back into professional mode.
After setting the coffee in front of Laura, he took his own seat. “So how can I help you, Ms. Griffith? Our office manager mentioned a runaway situation?”