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Frankie's Back in Town

Frankie's Back in Town

by Jeanie London

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Doesn't take much to start the talk in this town. And no one knows that better than Francesca Raffa. Once the town's rebel and favorite topic of conversation, she's returned home a responsible single mom and respectable executive. Nothing to whisper about here. That is until police chief Jack Sloan pays her a visit—or three. Suddenly the rumor mill is


Doesn't take much to start the talk in this town. And no one knows that better than Francesca Raffa. Once the town's rebel and favorite topic of conversation, she's returned home a responsible single mom and respectable executive. Nothing to whisper about here. That is until police chief Jack Sloan pays her a visit—or three. Suddenly the rumor mill is spinning with speculation about exactly what is going on between Francesca and Jack. Some think she's the prime suspect in a criminal investigation. And others…well, they think there's something a little more intimate happening. If the heated looks Jack sends Francesca's way are any indicator, that second group might be closer to the truth!

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Harlequin Superromance
Publication date:
Hometown U.S.A. , #1616
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Read an Excerpt

Jack Sloan, chief of police, set the phone back in the cradle then reached for the intercom that connected him directly to his assistant.

"The mayor's on his way over," he said. "Just tell him to come in when he gets here and hold my calls."

"You got it, Chief," the upbeat voice shot back.

Jack got up from the desk and went to stretch before the window. He had a view of a street lined by shop fronts whose colorful awnings were now indistinct beneath a leaden gray sky. Mounds of dingy snow covered the curbs and spilled over onto sidewalks of the main street that wound through town center and bisected with Route 45, the primary highway into the valley.

Once a quarry town, Bluestone Mountain was now a fair-sized community, popular with writers, artists, musicians and sports enthusiasts because it lacked the commer-ciality of the nearby, and more widely known, hamlets of Woodstock and Bearsville.

Even now, in the dead of winter, folks came to town to enjoy some of the best skiing around. When the ice finally melted, Bluestone would attract people from all over who wanted to enjoy a renowned Catskill summer.

A good portion of his town's population consisted of part-timers from Manhattan—business people eager to escape the city for densely wooded hillsides and mountain-tops, sports and outdoor activities, all only a convenient few hours north.

Another portion of his town's demographic was made up of deeply rooted locals. Well over a century ago, people had surged to the area when miners had discovered feld-spathic greywacke, the rare, dark blue sandstone that made Bluestone Mountain unique, and wealthy.

Even now, when the whole Catskill region had been earmarked as part of New York's Forest Preserve, not all the land around here was publicly owned, which made Jack's jurisdiction an interesting mix of big- and small-town politics. A mix that had its share of plusses and minuses. A plus was the freedom to run his department the way he saw fit. A minus was being at the beck and call of the good old boy network. Some folks considered themselves the local monarchy.

Like the mayor.

Gary Trant was Bluestone homegrown—Ashokan High class of '92, a year Jack's senior and, also like Jack, an alumnus of the football team. Those were the kinds of ties that bound tight. Since the mayor had appointed Jack, he could pick up his phone any time and inform his police chief he'd be dropping by to discuss whatever was on his mind.

That was how things worked in Bluestone.

Fortunately, the timing was good. Jack had just returned from observing a SWAT class at the police training academy and wasn't due to meet with the assistant chiefs of the Professional Standards Bureau for another forty-five minutes. Plenty of time if Gary didn't get waylaid by folks who recognized the mayor's smiling face. No question whether he'd stop and chat.

Jack didn't have to wait long, though. He'd barely sat back at his desk to review some proposed changes to the departmental budget when the door opened and Gary strode into the room, hand extended.

"Good to see you, Jack."

Gary Trant radiated the kind of energy and personality that played well to the media. On the football field, too. Jack knew exactly how well because he'd followed in Gary's wake and had found the helmet a challenge to fill.

"Have a seat," Jack said. "What's on your mind?"

Gary didn't sit. He only cocked a hip against the desk, folded his arms across his chest and leveled a serious gaze Jack's way. "Heard about the trouble at Greywacke Lodge. Credit card fraud, is it?"

"We're not sure what we're dealing with yet."

"I pushed hard for that senior-living community to be built. Folks get old. Made sense to bring in developers to provide facilities instead of forcing people out of Bluestone to retire. Don't want anything to reflect poorly on that decision."

Not with reelection around the corner and Kevin Pierce looking to step up from the town council. Pierce was already generating buzz about the town needing a change. Since the Bluestone Mountain Gazetteer was giving him ad space, Jack knew which way that wind would blow.

"I've got people on it," he said. "No need to worry. You know as well as I do in this electronic climate, credit cards get stolen all the time."

"Agreed," Gary said. "But that's what I wanted to talk about. Who you've got on the case."

"Randy Tanner. Assigned him when Chuck Willis realized there was a problem with a routine stolen wallet report."

"You think Randy's the best man to put on this?"

"Randy's the best I've got."

Gary nodded. "I know. I know. No question there."

"Then what's your concern?"

"Randy isn't a local, Jack. You have half a force made up of people born and bred here. Couldn't you assign one of them?"

"How does being homegrown factor?"

Surprisingly, the answer didn't come fast. In fact, Gary hesitated so long Jack guessed he couldn't find any diplomatic way to say what was on his mind. Not a good sign.

"You heard that Frankie Cesarini's back in town."

Jack had heard all right. Frankie hadn't been in town for twenty minutes before he'd gotten his first phone call reporting the news—from his long-ago ex-girlfriend. And Karan Kowalski Steinberg-Reece didn't pick up the phone to call him without a reason. Not since their second year of college when he'd disappointed her by realizing his calling wasn't law, but law enforcement. A huge difference in Karan's book.

"I heard," he said.

"Then you know she's running Greywacke Lodge?"

"I also know that the man who reported the missing wallet lives there. Are you saying Frankie has something to do with my investigation?"

Gary pushed away from the desk with a sharp sigh, and Jack stared at him, waiting. Call him stupid, but he just wasn't making the connection here.

"There's speculation Frankie is involved with the crime."

Now it was Jack's turn to sigh. "Do you mind telling me how you heard there was a crime? To my knowledge Randy and Chuck haven't even determined that yet."

"How can you not know?"

"We have suspicion of a crime." Jack tried not to sound impatient when Gary had sidestepped his question. "Hence the investigation. Until we determine whether or not an actual crime has been committed, we can't determine jurisdiction. Credit card fraud goes to the Secret Service. Identity theft stays with us."

Gary closed his eyes and groaned. "Secret Service? Jeez, Jack. That's the last thing we need. Can't you keep the outsiders away from this?"

Not unless he wanted to commit a crime of his own. "Don't you think you're putting the cart before the horse? All we have right now is an elderly man who misplaced his wallet and a string of hits on his credit report."

"Credit card fraud, then." Gary looked sick.

"Maybe. Maybe not. Like I said, I got my best man on it. We should know something soon."

Gary seemed to reconsider. "Okay, the sooner the better. This is a delicate situation. I think it'll be best handled that way. The rumor mill is already grinding."

"About Frankie Cesarini?"

"She goes by Francesca Raffa now."


Gary shook his head. "Divorced. Has a teenage daughter."

"Anything else I need to know?"

"Just buzz. But don't you think it's awfully coincidental the town bad girl comes home and now we have a crime?"

"We don't know that we have a crime yet, remember?" Jack sank back into his chair and rubbed his temples. "And the town bad girl, Gary? Since when do you deal in melodrama? I don' t remember Frankie ever doing anything all that bad."

"What do you call tear-assing down Main Street on a stolen tractor?" Gary snorted.

"The tractor wasn't stolen. Not exactly. She worked for Ray Hazzard at the farm for a summer."

Gary's eyebrows shot halfway up his forehead. "What does that mean? She borrowed it for a joyride? She was like the Harriet Tubman of Ashokan, Jack. Every slacker in high school used to pay her to get them off property when they wanted to skip class. She knew every crack and crevice in the place and exactly who'd be monitoring the halls and when. She ran that racket for the better part of my junior year before Happy Harry finally shut her down."

"One could call it enterprising." Jack knew his fair share of students who'd paid big bucks for the service. "Frankie Cesarini never touched the juveniles this precinct deals with now. Curfew infractions. Skipping class. Leaving campus to smoke. I should be so lucky." He'd take Frankie's sort of rebellion any day compared to the middle school kids Randy Tanner brought in when they busted a meth cookhouse last week.

"You're defending her?" Gary looked genuinely surprised.

"I'm not defending her. I didn't know her. Hell, Gary, I wouldn't have even known she existed if not for Karan and her cheerleading posse. They obsessed over everything Frankie did."

Gary rolled his eyes. "You know what I'm talking about, Jack. She ran off to some third-world country with a guy two days before graduation, never to be seen or heard from again… until a few months ago. It's no wonder people are talking."

Folks did too much talking around Bluestone, as far as Jack was concerned. "Even if Frankie had been on the wrong road in high school, she must have cleaned up her act. Unless your developer hires felons for upper management. They must run background checks. If she'd been in any trouble—"

"My developer doesn't hire anyone for anything. They partner with a management company who does that."

"So Frankie works for the management company?"

"Same company Susanna has been with for years."

Bingo. Mystery of the rumors solved. And Jack glanced at the clock, wondering if he had time to kill one henpecked patrol cop before his appointment with the assistant chiefs. He knew exactly where the rumors had started.

The cheerleader connection. Susanna Adams had been close friends with Karan since high school. If she'd mentioned to Karan that the police had come to Greywacke Lodge asking questions about the missing wallet report, then Karan would have been all over the news because of Frankie. Karan had probably called her buddies from the cheerleading squad—most were still friends—and started up the gossiping. The only way they could have known of any potential crime meant that Becca had grilled her husband, and that henpecked patrol cop had dished out enough details to satisfy his wife.

Damned small town.

"Listen, Jack." Gary spread his hands in entreaty. "I'm not saying Frankie has done anything wrong, then or now. But I don't like the way people are talking."

"You've got that right. First and foremost, no one should know about this investigation. And I don't like that people are placing blame. I can't even say a crime's been committed yet."

If life didn't dish up enough drama, then some folks weren't happy unless they manufactured their own.

Frankie's return was news to warm up a cold winter.

"High school was a long time ago, Gary. What do you know about Frankie now?"

With a frown Gary settled back against the desk. "She's been running Greywacke Lodge since the doors opened and must be doing a decent job. I worked closely with the developer when they were putting together the deal for the property. The management company is top-notch. The investment bankers, too. I had no idea senior living was such big business."

"Makes sense," Jack said. "Baby boomers grow up."

"As far as I know they're running a first-rate community up there. Really, Jack, Frankie is the director of operations. The whole property answers to her. Including Susanna. Frankie must know what she's doing or we'd have heard something."

"You'd think."

Jack tried to remember back to the "good old days," when he, Karan, Susanna and her then-boyfriend Skip had been a frequent foursome. Susanna hadn't seemed much for instigating gossip, but as a member of Karan's cheerlead-ing squad, she'd been part of a group that obsessed about Frankie.

Jack had never understood why. In fact, he really didn't remember much more about Frankie than she'd been orphaned young and reared by her grandmother. With the obtuseness of a teen who'd been more interested in football than girl drama, he'd only listened hard enough to figure out how to shut them up.

Especially Karan. When she started to rant, she could go on for hours, working herself up so much that nothing he did could bring her down again. That much he remembered.

The good old days. A chill ran down his spine.

"All right," Jack conceded. "I know why you don't want to add any more fuel to the fire, but I still don't understand your concern about Randy running the investigation."

"I don't want to add any more fuel. That's the whole point. Randy's the best you've got, no question, but that doesn't change the fact he isn't local. If people are on fire already, I don't want to give them anything else to speculate about. If you put another detective on the case with Chuck, say Rick or Brett Tehaney, then no one can say your people didn't cover all the bases. Rick or Brett knows the history around here. They're not likely to miss anything."

"Neither is Randy." To hell with anyone who even thought his department wouldn't run a tight investigation.

"I'm not telling you what to do, Jack. Just consider what I'm saying. Greywacke Lodge is a draw to Bluestone. Half the movers and shakers in this county have sent their old folks to live there. Kevin Pierce called my office an hour ago asking if he should be worried about his grandfather. He didn't come out and question my integrity, but he made it loud and clear that he knew something was going on up there."

Bull's-eye. The real reason for this visit.

Pressure from the competition.

"I hear what you're saying," Jack said. "And I'll take another look at the situation, but I can't jeopardize an investigation—"

"I don't want a few malcontents who can't get their heads out of the last millennium starting up bad press about Greywacke Lodge." Gary checked his watch. "I've got to go. So as long as you know you're sitting on a powder keg here, I trust you'll deal with it. Do me a favor, though. Keep me up on what you learn. I don't want to be sideswiped by anyone else."

"No problem."

"Good luck then."

The door had barely shut behind Gary before Jack followed.

"I'm heading over to Professional Standards," he told his assistant, without adding that he'd be making a pit stop on the way. If he managed to restrain himself from throttling a patrol cop who couldn't keep his mouth shut, he would at least insist on some answers from his best detective.

Chuck was off duty, but Jack found Randy working at his desk. "Where are you on the Hickman case?"

"You got ESP?" Randy leaned back in his chair and tilted the computer monitor toward Jack, who glanced at the display.

"The Federal Trade Commission. You got something." It wasn't a question. The FTC's Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse ran a complaint database that catalogued identity theft victim and suspect information nationwide.

"Not yet, and let's hope I don't. Just got a call from one of your council members who heard we were up at Grey-wacke Lodge. Says his grandfather is there, and he'd appreciate it if we'd keep him up on how the investigation is going."

Jack winced against the dull ache starting in the recesses of his head, the foreshadowing of what promised to be a headache unlikely to go away any time soon. "Kevin Pierce."

That also wasn't a question.

"I gave him your cell number," Randy said with a chuckle. "But I'm guessing I better not drag my heels on this."

Randy didn't know the half of it.

"Don't worry, Jack," Randy said. "Natural for folks to worry after that grocery chain got hacked. Two-hundred-and-fifty-thousand debit card numbers. Friggin' nightmare. I'm heading back up to the lodge. I've got more questions for Hickman. If this does turn out to be identity theft, I'll walk him through the process. He'll have to file a fraud alert because I'll need his help to have a shot at nailing the perp."

When Jack didn't reply, Randy kept going.

"If he'll give me authorization, I can get his theft-related transaction records from creditors without a subpoena, which will save me some time. We need a list of the places

Meet the Author

Jeanie London writes romance because she believes in happily-ever-afters. Not the "love conquers all" kind, but the "we love each other, so we can conquer anything" kind. Jeanie is the winner of many prestigious writing awards, including multiple Romantic Times BookClub Reviewers’ Choice and National Readers’ Choice Awards. She lives in sunny Florida with her own romance-hero husband, their beautiful daughters, and a menagerie of strays.

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