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Mark Sharpe looked across his desk at the latest job candidate. Her hair was slicked into a tight ponytail, with a straight heavy band of dark hair falling down her back. The nose stud she obviously sported had been removed for the interview. She wore a black turtleneck blouse that looked as if it was strangling the life out of her under her suit jacket.
Occasionally, when she fidgeted with the collar, he could see the hint of ink peeking out.
A nose stud and a neck tattoo. Who knew what else she was hiding?
"I wanted to let you know how impressed I was with your work on the Anderson case," she said.
Josephine Hatcher was the second investigator he'd interviewed. The previous one had wanted to talk about the Anderson case, too. Interviewing 101, he supposedcompliment the boss on his work. Some days, though, that case didn't feel like an accomplishment. It felt like a family ripped to shreds starting with the murder of a daughter by her own father.
"First getting the coroner's ruling of suicide overturned and then learning her father was behind the poisoning had to be shocking. He'd been free for thirteen years until you uncovered the truth."
The other candidate had said almost the same thing. Mark was a genius, a detecting marvel, a hero for justice. Blah, blah, blah
"It took you a little long, though."
"Excuse me?" The other candidate hadn't said that.
"After you exhumed the body and were able to confirm the girl had been poisoned, the number of suspects was limited to her family and her boyfriend. Few others would have had sufficient access to her over the prolonged period of time it took to her kill her. Once you knew the method, how hard was it to eliminate suspects?"
Her lips twitched. "Just saying. Can I ask why you opened the case?"
"Probably someone who knew her, knew the family dynamic."
"Probably," he grumbled. Who the hell was interviewing whom?
"Did you find the source of the tip?"
"Did you look?"
Yes, but he wasn't about to admit that to her. Anonymous tips were tricky. Sometimes they panned out. Sometimes they didn't. Mark always preferred identifying the source of an anonymous tip as a way of evaluating the reliability of the information. But he hadn't been able to locate the person who had sent him the copy of the coroner's report along with the plainly typed note that simply read, She didn't do it.
It had been enough to pique his interest. Especially when he read the report and the police file. Suicide had been a stretch, he thought. When people chose to kill themselves they wanted it done immediately.
This girl had been dying for months.
"That doesn't matter nowthe case is closed. So, I should tell you I'm looking for someone with several years' experience." It was a prelude, he thought. A way to cushion the blow he was preparing to deliver.
"I've been working in the field independently for four years, and apprenticed with another investigator two years before that while earning my master's in criminology."
He sighed. He should have figured she would be the type to put up a fight. Couldn't she pick up on all the subtle no signs he was throwing out? It wasn't that she wasn't qualifiedof course she was qualified or she wouldn't have gotten as far as this interview.
The problem was her. There was something about her that made him want to squirm in his chair. It was completely irrational. He had no idea why he felt this way. But he was a man who relied on his gut. His gut said no. His gut said she was trouble.
Mark really hoped that gut feeling wasn't based on the fact that when he looked her in the eyes, he had a suspicion she was smarter than he was. Because that would probably make him an ass.
"I'm targeting a certain type of clientele." Hell, that made him sound like a snob. Now he was a snob and an ass.
"I imagine paying ones."
There was no point in prolonging the inevitable. He'd made his decision almost instantly. The moment he'd shaken her hand and it fit so securely in his. A knee-jerk reaction that told him to run.
"I'm sorry, Ms. Hatcher, but I'm not sure you're the right fit."
He watched her shoulders slump. Only for a second, though, then she straightened. "Can I ask why? You have my resume. You know I'm more than capable."
It was a ridiculously impressive resume. A bachelor's in psychology from New York University, and that master's of criminology from Columbiagraduated top of her class in both. She'd worked for a medium-size private investigator firm for the six years since. She was changing jobs only because the firm's owner had decided to retire and she wasn't happy with the new ownership. Her former boss, Tom Reid, happened to know Ben TylerMark's former boss and adversary from their days in the CIA together.
That Tom knew Ben wasn't a surprise. It seemed everybody, at some point in their life, knew Ben Tyler, who headed up the Tyler Groupa small troubleshooting firm located in Philadelphia. Ben employed a few detectives so Reid had forwarded him Josephine's resume. Benrecognizing that he had deprived Mark of his assistant, Anna, by knocking her up and marrying herhad sent Josephine's resume to Mark instead.
On paper, she was exactly what he was looking for. He'd already found someone to replace Anna's duties from an administrative aspect, but his business was gaining a solid reputation and with that came more cases. Trying to make his schedule work with his daughter's was becoming a challenge. Adding a trained, licensed investigatorone recommended by someone Ben trustedwas like a godsend.
But she wasn't going to fit. Her eyes were too blue. A deep color that made him think they could see through anythingprobably a great quality in an investigator but not such a great quality in a colleague.
"Can I ask you a question?" It was probably unfair to drag out the interview, especially since he'd decided not to hire her. He was curious and wanted to confirm his suspicions that she was, in fact, trouble.
"I think that's what I'm here for." She half smiled and again fiddled with the cloth around her neck.
"You've got a really impressive resume. Did you ever consider applying for the FBI?"
"Not really my thing."
"What about your local police force?"
"Also not my thing."
Right. Trouble. Just like he suspected.
"Yet according to your list of special skills, you've spent months at several law enforcement training camps specializing in firearms and hand-to-hand combat. I guess I'm curious why you wanted to train like an agent, but didn't want to be an agent."
He watched her crack her neck as she seemed to search for an answer that was accurate, honest and didn't cost her the jobeven though it was already too late.
Almost too late.
"While law enforcementeither as a police officer or a federal agentis an honorable career path for many, I was concerned that the confines of the hierarchal structure would be too limiting. Especially for someone in the minority sex."
She didn't like authority or sexist pigs.
The sexist pigs he could get behind because she was right. While many of the government investigative agencies from the FBI to NCIS were opening their doors to more women, it was still a man's world.
But it was the authority part of her explanation he had a problem with. Since, if he employed her, he would be the authority she had a problem with.
"Can I see the tattoo?" That was for his curiosity again.
"The tattoo. Can I see it?"
She smirked. "I have a few. In some rather interesting places so you'll have to be more specific."
"Specifically the one on your neck."
She lifted her eyes to the ceiling, a move that reminded him vividly of his teenage daughter, then she pulled down the collar.
Black ink barbed wire. With spikes. Covering both the right and left sides of her neck. Not completely circling her skin the wires trailed off as they neared her larynx. Still, a signal to the world to back off.
"Yes, I can see where you might struggle within ahow did you phrase it?a hierarchal structure."
"I'm a good investigator. No, check that. I'm a great investigator. I prefer to work on my own, but I never fail to get results. I don't see why a tattoo should be a problem in getting a job."
"Except that you know it is or you wouldn't have covered it up with the turtleneck."
"Some people are more conservative than others."
As a rule, Mark was not. In fact, a couple of months ago he wouldn't have given a rat's ass about a tattoo. But that was before the mother of his estranged daughter died in a car accident. Before he left the CIA to return to the States. Before he started the process of building a relationship with said estranged daughter.
And failed at it miserably.
Now he was trying to do everything right. He wanted the right type of company. The right type of people around his daughter. The right everything.
Nose-stud, barbed-wire-tattoo chick was not it.
He glanced at her resume again. She'd included a list of high-profile cases she'd worked on. Some very high-profile cases. What had she said? She was a great investigator. That was probably true, damn it.
"Why the move to Philadelphia?"
"To get away from New York." She quickly added, "Not that there was anything bad there. Tom's brother Tim is assuming the role of president of the firm. Tim and I don't see eye to eye on a lot of things and we both knew when he took over I wouldn't stay. Tim will never make me a partner. So I figured this might be a good chance to leave the craziness of the city behind. Stop pouring all my money into rent on a studio apartment not much bigger than a closet. I considered Boston, Philadelphia and D.C. but then when Tom brought up Ben Tyler's name Well, everyone knows his reputation. Even in New York. I came here for him, but he sent me to you. Now you're sending me away because you don't like tattoos. Is that on all people? Or on women in particular?"
Mark gritted his teeth. He would not be backed into a corner on this. "You and I both know you have problems with authority. It's why you chose private investigation and probably why you couldn't work with Tim Reid. He's former FBI as I understand."
"He might be former FBI but he's a current ass." She winced, probably knowing that calling her former boss an ass was not helping her case. "Sorry. I shouldn't have said that. For the record, I didn't have a problem with him, or his authority. He, however, had a problem with me and the fact that I have breasts. He's not a big believer in women in the workforce in general. He's an old-school, barefoot-and-pregnant kind of a guy."
"They still exist?"
"He does. Which is how I knew I would never be partner."
"Is that what you want?" Mark hadn't thought that far ahead. When he came back after Helen's death his objectives had been pretty clear. Find a way to reconnect with Sophie and find a way to make a living out of doing what he did best: gathering information. He hadn't seen much beyond that.
Everything changed so quickly when he realized that it made the most sense to have Sophie live with him. Now she was his first thought every day. Then came the business.
Strange that, despite his priorities, progress on his first objective was, to date, rather abysmal, while his second objective was prospering beyond his imagination. Hence the need for help.
"Yes, I want to be a partner. I want a piece of what I create. Eventually. I'm willing to earn it over time."
"Why not start your own business? Then nobody can tell you what to do."
"That's not practical at this point. I don't have the savings I would need for a proposition like that and, well, health care. It's a bitch. Got to have it in case one of my tattoos gets infected."
See, he thought. She was snarky. Nearly unprofessional. She'd referred to her former boss as an ass, for Pete's sake. She had penetrating deep blue eyes and she was too damn smart. All of that spelled trouble, just like he'd thought.
He was trying to establish something different in his life. Something solid and conservative. Something that was the opposite of whatever he had been in his former life.
Because being daring to the point of recklessness wasn't something a stable father should be.
She nodded and stood. Then she pulled out a card case from the black purse she carrieda purse he highly suspected saw the light of day only when she was interviewingand handed a card to him.
"I'm staying downtown at the Marriott for the next few days. I figure I'll take in the city, do the tourist thing before I head to D.C. I have an interview at a firm next week. If you change your mind, you know where to reach me."
Mark had to chuckle. "I turned you down for the job, yet you're letting me know where you're going to be in case I change my mind. That's awfully ballsy."
Josephinesomehow that name didn't fitshrugged.
"Look at my casework again. Tell me you'll find someone more qualified."
She offered her hand and he took it. Her grip was firm and confident just like it had been at the beginning of the interview. Certainly not the handshake of someone who had been rejected.
She wasn't the right fit for him, but he wasn't going to deny that inwardly he was sorry about that. The woman had guts. Guts, in his opinion, was a necessary ingredient in a successful life.
"Lucy, I'm home!" Mark opened the door to his condo in a city-center high-rise and wondered if tonight would be different.
He'd been coming home to his daughter for the past two months and not one night had she greeted him with a smile.
He set down his briefcase, one he'd recently purchased to replace the leather satchel he used to carry. The satchel made him feel like Indiana Jones. The briefcase made him feel like his father. Mark figured that was a good thing. Might make him more fatherly.