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An Order Of Protection
By Kathleen Creighton
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"I'd like to report a missing person."
Sergeant Stemple of the NYPD sighed inwardly and it was with some reluctance that he lifted his gaze from the reports he'd been slogging through. It had been a long day and his shift was about to end; another report added to the pile in front of him he did not need.
When he saw who was standing beside his desk, though, the first thing he did was suck in his stomach. He didn't intend to, it just happened. Automatically, as if somebody'd punched him there. Second thing was, the direction of his gaze had to be adjusted downward; the woman was shorter than her voice had made her sound.
"Yes, ma'am? Can I help you?"
The woman hesitated, then placed the manila envelope she was clutching as if it were the last remaining copy of the Declaration of Independence on his desk. "It's my roommate. I think something terrible has happened to her." Her voice had taken on a breathless quality that made Sergeant Stemple feel as if his own breath was in short supply.
"Why don't you have a seat?" he said, putting on his gruff act to make up for the debilitating effect she had on him.
It was a not very well-kept secret in the precinct that Stemple had a heart like a marshmallow, but aside from that, he couldn't figure out what it was about this lady that was making it hard to remember he was a married man. Taken feature for feature she wasn't that gorgeous, not really. Okay, sure, she had nice, shiny brown hair that looked like it would be soft to touch, belling out from under the purple beret she was wearing. And when was the last time he'd seen a woman wearing a beret? True, her brown eyes had a way of angling upward through her thick dark lashes as she looked at him with a sleepy-eyed gaze, as if she'd just gotten out of bed.
He coughed and reached for a pen, pulling a pad of paper toward him. "What makes you think 'something terrible' has happened to your roommate? And ... this would be a woman, right?"
"Well, of course." The woman seemed faintly surprised by the question, and Stemple looked down at his hands and felt unaccountably ashamed.
He muttered, "Ya never know, nowadays."
She lowered herself gracefully into the chair beside the desk, and when she crossed her legs, he saw that they were clad in jeans and high-heeled boots. That surprised Stemple because her light-gray jacket was feminine and curvy and nipped in at the waist, and was the kind that usually went with a matching skirt and that hardly anybody ever wore nowadays, either, come to think of it. And the rose-pink blouse with the deep V-neckline she was wearing underneath the jacket didn't exactly go with blue jeans, either. The lady definitely had her own unique style. Looked good on her, though.
"I haven't heard from her. And she always keeps in touch. Always." There was that breathlessness again.
Stemple ran his hand over what was left of his salt-and-pepper hair, which, at his wife's suggestion, he'd just ad cut toothbrush-short. He sat back in his chair, mentally re-focusing on the job at hand. "Okay. So, when was the last time you saw your ... uh ... Sorry, this roomie got a name?"
"Oh - Yes, it's Yancy - Yancy LaVigne. Well, actually, her real name is Mary Yancy. LaVigne is more like her professional name, but it's the one she goes by, so I guess ..." She floundered to a halt - probably, Stemple figured, because she was watching him pick up the manila envelope and pull out the photographs that were inside. Photographs of the roommate, he assumed; she'd come prepared, he'd give her that.
"Whoa," he said, rearing back. His eyes flicked to the woman in the chair and back to the photo again. Impossible not to notice that the woman in the photo was drop-dead gorgeous. "Nice lookin' girl," he said, mentally putting his eyeballs back in their sockets. "What is she, some kinda fashion model?"
"No, a fashion reporter. She works for La Mode magazine. You might have seen her on TV, too - sometimes she's on those morning news shows, and, you know, Regis and -"
"Yeah, my wife, she watches that stuff." Stemple put down the photograph reluctantly and picked up the pen again.
"So, when was the last time you saw, uh ... Ms. LaVigne?"
"Three weeks ago. She -"
He fixed the lady before him with a narrow-eyed stare, no longer noticing so much the cute beret and bedroom eyes. He was, first and finally, a cop. And, if he did say so himself, a pretty damn good one. "And you're just now getting around to reporting her missing? Why is that?"
"You asked how long since I've seen her. She went on vacation - to Florida."
Looking flustered, the lady placed one small hand on the desktop not far from Stemple's big meaty one. She leaned forward, and his gaze dropped - all by itself, he'd swear - to the deep V of her rose-pink blouse.
"It was supposed to be for two weeks. And she was supposed to call me." Her voice quivered, and she tightened her lips and quelled it like a misbehaving child.
"I know what you're thinking," she said, which Stemple devoutly hoped she did not. "But it's just that Yancy's very young." She smiled suddenly, which made Stemple feel a little like an adolescent himself. "She doesn't always make the best choices, so I guess I try and look out for her. She was supposed to call me every couple of days to let me know she was okay. I gave her one of those phone cards so she wouldn't have to use her cell. Roaming charges can be awful. And she did call the first week. Then, all of a sudden, she stopped. I thought she was just having a good time and forgot, but ... she didn't come home. I went to the airport to meet her flight, and she wasn't on it."
It was a moment or two before Stemple became aware of the silence and realized she was waiting for him to say something. He shook himself, coughed, picked up the photograph again and frowned at it.
"Yeah - okay. Uh, you say she's young? How young, exactly? She's not underage, is she? Because if she is -"
"Oh, no. No, Yancy's thirty - just turned. In April. She's an Aries - an infant soul. I'm Pisces, we're very old souls. Which is why I ..." She stopped once more. Her cheeks had turned a softer version of the color of her blouse. "Oh, sorry."
Stemple gave another inward sigh. He supposed it was just as well the lady was something of a dingbat; on top of everything else, brains would have been just too much. He shifted in his chair and started again.
"Okay, Miss -"
"Starr. Joy Lynn Starr. And it's Ms."
Perfect. "Ms. Starr. That's not a 'professional' name, too, is it?" He had unsettling visions of smoky rooms and the lady slithering naked around a pole. Which would explain a lot.
Possibly because she'd been reading his mind, Ms. Starr said in a chillier tone than the one she'd been using up to now, "Starr is my maiden name. I'm divorced."
"Okay ... Ms. Starr," said Stemple, rubbing at his temples.
He was once more reminded that his day was drawing to a close and the pile on his desk wasn't getting any smaller. "Have you tried contacting the authorities down there in Florida?"
"Of course I did. Right after I called the resort and found out Yancy had checked out three days early. They told me -"
"Hold on. You say she checked out of her hotel. She did - herself, personally?"
"Yes, the desk clerk remembers -"
Stemple's pen hit his desk blotter with a gentle snapping sound. "Ma'am, it seems to me, wherever your friend might have gone, looks like she went there voluntarily and of her own free will." He realized he was frowning and drew a hand over his face to erase it. "You're not her mother, and even if you were, she's a grown woman, she's got that right. Now, maybe you feel like she shoulda called you and filled you in on her plans, but maybe she didn't feel the same way about that. I'm sorry, but I have to tell you, unless you can give me some kind of concrete evidence or a damn good reason why I should think otherwise, that's what I'm gonna have to go with here. It's just not the police department's job to go chasing after law-abiding adults, you understand what I'm sayin'?"
Excerpted from An Order Of Protection by Kathleen Creighton Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Nice. An interesting situation, with Yancy missing - since I chose to read it because I saw the sequel that's Yancy's story, I knew she'd get out but had no clue how. Interesting baggage, both of them. I like Ryan, too - a well-depicted fourteen-year-old. The twist where admitting it was love, to each other, did not produce a marriage proposal was neat. Didn't last long, of course, but still neat. Very little misunderstanding, though lots of conflict. Sehr gut.