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Monday, July 14, 9:00 a.m.
Catcalls from the homicide squad room had Sergeant Alex Kirkland looking up through the glass walls of his office. His gaze skimmed past the six grinning detectives and settled on a tall, leggy redhead who stopped to greet each person in the room.
A visit from the Boston Globe's crime beat reporter meant his first day back on the job wouldn't be as quiet as he'd hoped. But it would be interesting.
Grinning, Mackey wore her trademark getupdark dress pants, a snugly fitting crisp white shirt and a severe ponytail tied at the base of her skull that accentuated high cheekbones. Some of the detectives called her The Librarian. But Mackey was anything but dowdy or ordinary. She had a killer figure, full lips and a spark in her green eyes that always had Kirkland's body tensing.
Mackey was a Bostonian by birth but had gotten her start in journalism in Washington, D.C. She'd worked for the Post for eight years. She had returned to Boston to work the crime beat less than a year ago. She covered every homicide, regardless of the time of day or social status of the victim, and she had gotten to know all the names of the division detectives on both the day and night shifts. The cops didn't always like her hard-hitting questions, but they liked her. Intelligent articles combined with overly sensational headlines had earned her a following in the city.
Closing the file on last night's homicide report, Alex rose and allowed a second sweep of his gaze over her body. Too bad he didn't date reporters.
Mackey broke away from the detectives and came into his office. She moved well. "Welcome back."
Alex shoved his hands in his pocketsand rattled the loose change in his left pocket. "What do you want, Mackey?"
Tara's grin reached her eyes. She was clearly unaffected by his gruffness. In fact, she seemed to get a kick out of irritating him. "I see your near-death experience hasn't improved your social graces, Kirkland."
Her direct reference to his near-fatal shooting caught him off guard. No one except the depart-ment's shrink had directly discussed the ambush with him. His injuries reminded family, friends and especially other cops that a policeman's job was very dangerous. Very aware of this, he had, in the days leading up to his return to work, spent extra time sailing his boat on the bay so that the sun tanned his skin until it had regained its healthy glow. He'd lifted weights at the gym to build up his muscles. And this morning he'd taken additional time dressing.
Alex was aware that the cops in the squad room were listening, even if their gazes were averted. He moved to his office door and closed it. "Did you come to talk to me about manners?"
She laughed. "No. May I sit?"
It was a great laugh. "Sure."
Mackey made herself comfortable in the chair that was positioned in front of his desk. She crossed those long legs as he moved behind her and around to his chair. He realized she'd changed her perfume. No longer spicy, this scent was soft and feminine. He liked it. A lot.
He sat behind his desk. "So you came all this way to welcome me back to work? I'm touched, Mackey."
"Park your ego, sport. I'm here about an article."
"Really? And here I thought your visit was all about me."
"I didn't think so." His swivel chair squeaked as he leaned back.
She dug a file out of her slim briefcase. "I'm embarking on a new project."
"And I should care why?"
"It directly affects one of your old cases."
"An old case? I'm up to my ass in alligators, including three new homicides last night alone. Today is not a good day to discuss new projects or old cases."
A few of his men gawked at Mackey through his office's glass walls. Irritated, he glared at them. They all had the sense to get back to work.
"I won't take too much of your time, Kirkland. Besides, you owe me."
Alex folded his arms over his chest. "Is that a fact?"
She cocked her head. "When you asked the media to write a series of articles on those vagrant murders three months ago, everyone turned you down but me. And as I remember, you got an arrest because of the tips my article generated."
Kirkland had broken the case because of her help. "The fact that you stepped up to the plate then is the reason I haven't thrown you out yet. But my patience is wearing thin."
Mackey laid an inch-thick file of news clips in the center of his desk. "I've decided to do a little digging into one of your department's cold cases."
The muscles in his back tightened as they always did when trouble lurked too close. "Which case?"
She smiled and paused for dramatic effect. "Kit Westgate Landover. Remember her?"
"How could I forget? You couldn't have picked a more volatile case."
Kit had been a West-Coast socialite who'd taken Boston society by storm two years ago. After landing the city's most eligible, albeit much older, bachelor, she'd vanished during her wedding reception a year ago. The huge affair had been held at the Landover estate and had been the social event of the season. Over five pints of Kit's blood, enough to kill anyone, had been found splattered all over the estate's greenhouse. However, no body had been found. "Why are you digging into this case, Mackey?"
Her eyes brightened with excitement. "Why wouldn't I? When a rich, beautiful woman vanishes, it's big news. This story ate up headlines for months."
Because of the endless news stories, the brass and Kit's new husband, Pierce Landover, had screamed for the cops to find Kit and to make an arrest. Kirkland and a half-dozen other cops had worked nonstop for months. But there'd been no sign of Kit or her killer. "Pierce Landover won't appreciate this."
If she were concerned, she didn't show it. "I can handle him."
Kirkland shook his head. "Landover went to the mayor and then to the governor to have me fired when I couldn't crack the case. My arrest record and a few connections of my own barely saved my ass."
Her eyes narrowed a fraction. "Can you confirm that you think that Kit's dead?"
He drummed his fingers on his desk. "I didn't say that. We never did determine what happened to Mrs. Landover." And that fact still bothered him. He hated unsolved cases. "Look, Mackey, the Boston Police Department has a dozen homicides pending right nowcases with bodies. If you want to play Nancy Drew cover one of them."
She ignored him. "Care to have a peek at a mockup of next week's Metro section?"
Alex watched as she dipped long fingers into her briefcase. "Why do I have the feeling I won't like this?"
"You may really love it." Her voice had a throaty quality that had him wondering what else she might love. "My articles have helped you solve cases before."
"Let's have it."
She laid the Metro section in front of him. "This is how I envision the story laying out. A friend of mine in production did it for me."
Above the fold was a full-color picture of Kit Landover. The woman was stunning. In her late twenties, she had that magical combination of womanly confidence and flawless looks. Her hypnotic gaze stared at the camera lens as if she knew a secret that everyone else wanted to know.
It had been two years since he'd seen Kit in the flesh. She'd arrived at a gallery opening on Pierce Landover's arm, and had immediately stopped conversation. An indigo silk halter dress had clung to her high, full breasts, small waist and sizzling, tight body. Rich blond curls, parted on the side, had accentuated seductively high cheekbones and enhanced violet eyes.
Every man in the room had entertained erotic fantasies. Every woman in the room had oozed resentment.
Alex flipped the paper over and read the bold headline just below the fold. It read Socialite's Disappearance Still Unsolved After One YearPaper Seeking Tips. He shoved out a breath. "You're opening a hornets' nest, Mackey."
Two slim gold bracelets jangled on her wrist as she ran a hand over her ponytail. "That was the idea. Anniversaries have a way of stirring things up, and I'm hoping this mock-up shakes people up and gets them talking to me. After a year, I'm banking on the fact that someone will remember something about Kit they hadn't shared a year ago."
He laid the paper down. "Do yourself a favor and drop this case."
The glint in Mackey's eyes told him his warning had fallen on deaf ears. "Do you have any theories on what happened to Kit?"
Tension rippled through his muscles. "I don't comment on open cases."
"Murder. Killing. Open. It's not like you to be so unguarded, Kirkland. You must have a theory on this case."
He didn't usually make rookie mistakes around reporters. He stiffened and frowned. "Don't use my words against me."
She leaned forward, matching his glare. "There is more to this story, Kirkland. I can feel it."
If he dropped his gaze a fraction he'd have a clear view of her cleavage. "What made you choose this story?"
She shrugged and glanced at her mock-up. "I've had the idea to do a cold-case article for a while. And the Kit Westgate case seemed the perfect choice."
His gaze dropped to her breasts. Nice. He moved his gaze to her pale face and the faint sprinkle of freckles on her nose. "Find another case."
She straightened. "No can do, Sergeant."
"I've given you a friendly warning. Stay out of this." But she was right. There was more to Kit's disappearance, only he hadn't been able to figure out what it had been.
She grinned. "Kirkland, please. Since when have I ever listened to your warnings?"
He almost laughed at that one. "Never."
Mackey possessed a sparka vitalitythat made other women uninteresting. "Whoever was involved in Kit's murder or disappearance covered their tracks carefully. You're not going to shake anyone up with a mock-up."
She rose as if sensing she'd get nothing more out of him. She picked up her briefcase. Her fingers were long, but her nails were neatly trimmed, un-polished and not fussy. "We'll see. I'm betting something does happen."
Rising, Alex ran his hand down his tie. "You're a good, solid reporter, Mackey. Why stoop to a sensational case like this one?"
She frowned. "Regardless of her social standing, something bad happened to Kit Westgate Landover. And she deserves justice."
He rubbed the back of his neck. "Come on, this isn't really about justice. This is about headlines and advancing your career."
She leaned forward, giving him a better view of her breasts. "Sure. I won't lie. The headlines are a definite advantage. But I also want to know what happened to Kit."
"This is still an open investigation. If you find something, bring it to me. And if I find out you're holding back information, there's going to be trouble."
She smiled, moved toward his office door and rested her hand on the doorknob. "I would never hold back on you, Kirkland."
"That's a load of bull, and we both know it."
She laughed and opened the door.
He watched her walk toward the elevator and muttered an oath. Damn, but he did admire the way her hips swayed.
Alex had the feeling that all hell was about to break loose.