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Through the semi-translucent glass door, Nathan Fisher could make out the silhouette of the woman who had been his partner at the Twentieth Precinct of the NYPD two years ago. Lindsay Fox had her back to him, her hands assertively posed on her hips as she spoke to someone he couldn't quite see.
When she'd packed up her desk at the precinct and cleared out her locker, he'd assumed he'd never see her again. She'd made it rather obvious that that would be best. Part of him had agreed. They were just too opposite to work well together—to do anything well together. But a lot of crap had happened since then. His life was in free fall and he no longer presumed to have all the answers.
Lindsay was smart, a woman of action, intuitive, with a keen sense of justice. These things had made her a good policewoman.
She was also impatient, thought rules applied to other people rather than her and had trouble accepting orders from her superiors.
These qualities had not made her a good policewoman, and Nathan supposed it wasn't much of a surprise that she'd only lasted on the job for just over a year.
But there was one thing about Lindsay that defined her above all, in his mind. That quality was integrity— something he'd seen precious little of the last while.
It was why he was standing here, less than a week after his own career with the NYPD had been terminated.
Voices on the other side of the door grew louder. Nathan realized Lindsay was turning the handle, about to exit, so he slipped out of sight, down the corridor and around a corner. He didn't want her to see him until he'd scored a proper interview first. That would make it difficultfor her to not at least listen to what he had to say.
He'd spent his weekend researching her business, her new career, and he was impressed. She had more clients than she could handle, and most of them were very satisfied with her services.
Fox Investigations, as far as he could tell, was a successful going concern. This location—on the second floor of an historic brownstone on West Seventy-ninth Street—was central and convenient to the subway. After one call to the rental agency, he'd learned that Lindsay was locked into a favorable five-year lease that included expansion possibilities.
From down the hallway, he heard the door open and Lindsay call out to her receptionist, "You can reach me on my cell if it's an emergency." The door closed and the sound of her footsteps on the wooden floor receded.
Nathan waited until she was gone before retracing his steps to her office. Carefully he reached into his jacket pocket to pull out the ad he'd seen in the Saturday paper.
Help Wanted: Professional investigator. Experience necessary, references required, no attitude.
He had to smile, reading it again. Especially at the no attitude part. Lindsay had her nerve making that request.
He pushed open the door to Fox Investigations and took stock of the professional, almost austere furnishings. The walls were pale gray, the furniture modern, functional… and cold. The only spot of color came from the receptionist, who was wearing an expensive-looking pink blouse. She was in her twenties—a petite, dark-haired woman who was quick to smile.
"I'm sorry, but do you have an appointment? I'm afraid you just missed Lindsay."
Quite deliberately, I assure you, he thought. "That's okay. I should have called first, but I was in the area and thought I'd take a chance." He showed her the ad.
"You're here about the job?" She put a hand to her mouth. "Sorry, I shouldn't sound so surprised. Lindsay requested experience, but she wasn't really expecting… not that you're old. Heaven's no. It's just that we've been getting a lot of recent high school graduates, who aren't at all right for the job."
"No insult taken," he assured her.
"I'm so glad. Sometimes I wonder why Lindsay gave me my job. I've never been a receptionist before," she confided. "And this is just my second week."
"I think you make a fabulous receptionist." To hell with experience. Lindsay had made a smart choice, selecting someone so unguarded and warm. He glanced at the nameplate next to the computer. No matter how many gaffes Nadine Kimble made, the clients would love her. She was the perfect yang to Lindsay's yin.
"That's very nice of you to say." Nadine clicked the mouse and opened a calendar on the computer screen. "Lindsay is booking interviews for Thursday. Right now you have your choice of time slots. Any preferences?"
"The earlier, the better." Lindsay was a night owl. Best to catch her when her instincts were at their dullest.
"How is nine o'clock?" Nadine's fine, dark brows rose in consternation. "I'm sorry but Lindsay doesn't come into the office any earlier."
"Nine is good."
She studied him apprehensively, then seemed to come to a decision. "I should warn you. Lindsay can be a little… prickly. That's why she put that stuff about 'no attitude' in the ad. She said we might as well weed out the wimps from the start." Her gaze swept over him. "But I'm guessing you're not one of those."
"I'd like to think not." He glanced around the offices one more time, trying to get a feel for the place. Trust Lindsay to keep the decorating elements to a bare minimum. She always had been all about the work.
Nadine seemed to sense that he was judging the place and finding it lacking. "Almost surgical, isn't it? I'm trying to talk Lindsay into some plants. She's agreed to silk, because they're low maintenance, but I'm holding firm on real, growing plants."
Good luck with that, he thought. Obstinacy was another of Lindsay's stronger traits.
"Well, thanks for your help. I guess I'll see you Thursday morning." As he was about to leave, Nadine waved her hand anxiously.
"Oh, I forgot to ask your name." She smiled sheepishly. "I told you I was new at this."
He'd been hoping to capitalize on her inexperience, and leave without needing to resort to subterfuge, but now that he'd been asked, he gave her his second name and his mother's maiden name. He had no doubt Lindsay wouldn't let him in the front door if he was honest about his identity.
And he wanted in that front door.
He needed to keep a roof over his sister and nephew's head someway. And his father's legacy demanded redemption.
When she'd started her own investigative agency, Lindsay Fox had been tempted to combine her office and living space in the same building. Her sister, Meg, had talked her out of that plan.
"You need to make an attempt to separate your work from your private life," she'd argued, and so Lindsay had acquiesced and rented a one bedroom in a different building… but on the same block.
She figured she had to have one of the easiest commutes in Manhattan, which came in very handy on the mornings when she was off to a slow start—like today.
She'd had another tough night. This was nothing new for a chronic insomniac, but that didn't make the lack of sleep any easier to deal with. As long as she had time for a cup of coffee before her first appointment of the day, though, she'd be okay.
Heels clicking on the sidewalk, Lindsay took long strides toward her destination. The hazy sky and cool temperatures didn't bother her—in truth, she hardly noticed that the sunshine and warmth of summer had faded. Today she was hoping to hire a new employee and she had ambivalent feelings about that. She was glad her business was thriving and growing…but she was also concerned about finding the right person for the job. Nadine had been a bit of a risk but she was working out surprisingly well. Could she be so lucky a second time?
Lindsay crossed from the north side of the street to the south. She passed a middle-aged couple who had stopped on the corner to kiss goodbye. As she squeezed past them amid a crowd of other pedestrians, the couple separated and headed in opposite directions. Lindsay turned to the brown brick building on her left, then went up a short flight of stairs to the front door.
Inside was a foyer with a bank of mailboxes on one wall and an elevator on another. Lindsay bypassed both and took the stairs. One flight up and she was in the short corridor that led to Fox Investigations. As soon as she stepped inside, she headed for the coffee station. Nadine was already there, filling a cup for her.
"Thanks, Nadine. That smells wonderful." Her well-groomed receptionist was wearing a sea-green cashmere sweater and gray trousers, neither of which Lindsay recalled seeing before. This was her third week, and so far she had yet to repeat one outfit.
"How many interviews do we have lined up?" Lindsay asked.
"Um…let me check. I have the schedule here somewhere…"
As Nadine fussed with the computer programs that were still relatively new to her, Lindsay added cream and sugar to her coffee. Today she craved the caffeine even more than ever. Perhaps it was because of the chill in the fall morning. Or maybe it was the light pounding behind her ears. Not a hangover, quite, but close.
"Three interviews," Nadine said finally.
"Maybe it was that bit about 'no attitude.' Possibly some people found that a little intimidating."
"If they did, then they don't belong here." Damn it, though, she did need to hire someone. And fast. Nadine was making inroads on the backlog of administrative tasks, but if she didn't get a new investigator soon, she'd be forced to turn away clients.
She'd never expected her business to do so well, so quickly. Just two years she'd been operating and the cases kept coming, most of them referred from her sister's legal firm, or from her contacts on the police force. Lindsay was determined not to drop the ball on a single case.
"Stanley Hodges is your first applicant and he'll be here at nine o'clock," Nadine said.
That gave her just ten minutes. Could she clear her brain-fog by then? She gulped more coffee. "Fine. Send him in when he arrives."
She retreated to her office with her usual sense of pride and ownership. This was her business. She'd started it from nothing and it was actually thriving. Over the past few weeks Nadine had let her know that she found the decor rather severe. But Lindsay had chosen everything for its functionality. She loved the furniture's straight lines and the tranquility of the gray color scheme.
Her own desk was glass and stainless steel. She wheeled up her chair and opened the slick, iMac computer to find her favorite news site. Kicking off her shoes, she scanned the local headlines. She'd just relax with her coffee and prepare her thoughts before—
A timid tap on her door interrupted her. She frowned. "Yes?"
Nadine opened the door with an apologetic smile. "Stanley Hodges is here. He's early, but you said—"
"That's fine." Lindsay tamped down her annoyance as she glanced up from the computer screen. "Send him—"
Her throat closed as her mind disconnected from the present and rewound to the past. To the one, frustrating year she'd spent as a member of the New York Police Department.
The man entering her office was lean and muscular, with whiskey-colored hair and eyes a shade lighter than that. Two years ago she'd thought she'd said goodbye to him forever.
"Hey, partner. It's been a while."
For a wild moment her stomach dropped and her pulse quickened. Her ex-partner was looking good, but then he always had—if you liked the clean-cut type. Beyond his boy-next-door looks, however, the polite facade, the pressed khakis and button-down blue shirt, Nathan Fisher was a man with lightning reflexes, who kept his body in top physical condition.
For one year they'd spent pretty much all their working hours together. Since she'd quit the force, they hadn't crossed paths once, by mutual preference.
So what was he doing here now? She gave herself a moment to regain her equilibrium. Calmly she rearranged the papers in front of her, then finally cleared her throat. "Stanley Hodges, I presume?"
One side of his mouth curved up. The cheeky bastard. He didn't even apologize, just dropped a clipping onto her desk.
It was her ad from the newspaper.
"Is this some sort of joke?" Maybe the guys at the precinct had put him up to this. They'd all have a good chuckle at her expense later, over lunch.
But Nathan shook his head. "I quit the force. My last day was Friday, October 9, to be precise."
"What? Why?" This just got stranger and stranger.
"Let's just say I needed a change."
"I don't believe it."
His eyes darkened. "You're not the only one."
This had to be bullshit. But maybe she should play along a little. "Okay. Say it's true. What are you doing here? You can't expect me to believe that you want to work for me."
"I don't want to work for you," he agreed.
"I want to be your partner."
A four-letter expletive exploded from her mouth.
He wasn't fazed. "Fisher and Fox Investigations. Sounds good, right?"
"Get out of here." She pointed at the door. Yeah, right, Fisher and Fox. He was definitely yanking her chain.
"I'm serious, Lindsay. From past experience, you know our skills are complementary."
She remembered one dark, rainy night, when it had been more than their skills that had been complementary. Hell. Why was she thinking about that? She had to get him out of here. Fast.
"When we were partners, you drove me crazy."
"You may not always appreciate my style, but you need someone like me around. Bending the rules now and then is one thing, but you don't bend them. You bulldoze them." He scooped something from the floor, surprising her when he surfaced with her red pump.
"High heels with your jeans?" He cocked his head assessingly. "Never saw you as the type."
She snatched the shoe from his hand. She'd bought the Jimmy Choo heels full price, with the last paycheck she'd received from the police department, and she was going to wear them until the three-inch heels were worn down to the ground.
"Either you've changed, or I didn't know you as well as I thought."
"It's not a big deal. I happen to like nice shoes."
"Not enough to wear them, apparently."
She slipped the shoe onto her foot, then fumbled for the mate. "Every morning when I put on a pair of heels, I'm reminded that I don't work for a big organization anymore. There is no chain of command. The buck stops with me." She lifted her chin. "It's a good feeling."
Nathan nodded. "I respect that. In fact, I respect a lot of things about you. That's why I'm here."
Despite herself, she felt flattered. Hearing Nathan say that he respected her… well, that was something.