After her disastrous track record of unrequited love and getting involved with the wrong men, she wasn’t interested in any kind of relationship.
Elise startled at the warm hand on her arm and looked up into George’s eyes. “What’s wrong?”
She jumped again when the telephone rang. Shaking off his touch and any further speculation about the roses, she leaned across her desk and picked up the receiver. “Deputy Commissioner Madigan’s office. This is Elise speaking.”
There was a long pause on the line, and then she heard, “Did you get them?”
The hushed, breathy voice was barely audible.
“I got them special. Just for you.”
Suddenly feeling too shaky to stand, Elise sank onto the edge of the cherrywood desk and turned her head toward the mysterious bouquet. “Who is this?”
The phone was pried from her grip by a stronger hand. “This is Deputy Commissioner Madigan of KCPD. Who—?”
The click of the call disconnecting was loud enough for Elise to hear. When she jerked her head back toward the sound, her gaze was filled with George’s paisley tie and broad chest. That chest came even closer, almost folded around her, as he reached behind her to hang up the phone.
Elise pushed to her feet, curling her toes inside her pumps to steady herself, when she realized she’d nearly turned her nose into the inviting haven of the older man’s crisp shirt and body heat.
But George didn’t move. He stood there, feet planted like tree trunks to the floor, watching her reaction. “What’s going on?”
Rubbing at the goose bumps revealed by her sleeveless dress, Elise shrugged off her confusion about the flowers as well as that sudden and inexplicable urge to take shelter against her boss’s chest. “I have no idea.”
George tossed the file onto her desk and quickly inspected the bouquet. “You don’t know who these are from?” He didn’t give her time to answer. “Did you recognize the caller on the phone?”
Elise shook her head. “I think it was a man’s voice, but he was whispering. I could barely hear him. I would have thought it was a wrong number, but he...asked about the flowers. At least, I think that’s what he meant. He didn’t actually say ‘flowers.’”
“I didn’t catch a company logo on the deliveryman’s shirt. Did you?” George was already headed for the hallway before she realized his intent. “I’ll check with Shane at the front desk to see if he remembers the uniform. He should have logged him in, so we can at least get a name and who he works for. Then we can call and find out who ordered them.”
Elise hurried after George, stopping him with a hand on his arm before he got out the door. “You don’t have to go to all that trouble.”
“Clearly, not knowing where these came from has upset you.” He turned to face her. “I may spend my days balancing numbers and taking meetings, but I’m still a cop. I know when something doesn’t smell right, and I remember how to track down a lead.”
“But there’s no crime here, Commissioner. And it’s not your job to take care of me.” As easy as it would be to let him find answers for her, Elise knew he had more important things to worry about than her self-conscious paranoia about mysterious romantic gestures. “If anything, I’m supposed to take care of you. I’ll talk to Shane before I leave this evening.” She nodded toward his office. “Besides, you’re keeping the councilman and precinct chiefs waiting, and with this weather crisis, tempers are already shorter than usual. You need to return to your meeting.”
“You’re sure?” He glanced down at the spot where her pale fingers still clung to his tanned, muscular forearm.
Feeling her cheeks heat with embarrassment, Elise snatched her fingers away from the lingering contact and went back to her desk. “These could have been delivered to me by mistake. I’m probably just making trouble for myself by worrying about it.”
It was a flimsy excuse, and George wasn’t buying it. “The price of that bouquet is an awfully expensive mistake to make. Plus, the deliveryman called you by name.”
This wouldn’t be the first time she’d had to deal with an unwanted suitor or suffer the repercussions of a relationship mistake. She didn’t have a good track record with men. But she certainly didn’t want the boss she respected, and whose opinion of her she valued, to find out what a failure she was in her personal life. Whether this was someone’s pathetic attempt to worm his way back into her good graces, a poorly timed coincidence or just a bad joke—she didn’t want her problems to ever become a concern for George or the deputy commissioner’s office.
Elise’s gaze landed on the stack of pink message papers on her blotter. She circled the desk to pick them up and hand them to him. “You have three messages to handle when your meeting is done. Denton Hale has phoned twice. He wants a private meeting without the other union reps regarding possible staff cuts.” Running interference between her boss and disgruntled officers and citizens was part of her job, and Elise had no problem doing it. Still, she felt a pang of sympathy, knowing how difficult a police officer’s job could be without having to worry about money. “If we don’t get extra funding from the city, some of the officers and support staff are going to be laid off, right?”
“It’s a possibility,” he answered honestly. “The city is pouring a lot of money into their infrastructure right now. I hope we can keep the personnel budget in check through attrition and simply not hire replacements for this year’s retirees. I pray that’s enough to avoid a strike. Hale isn’t the only police officer worried about his job.”
Elise nodded her understanding. “But he seems to be more worried than any of the others. He’s pretty chatty on the phone. I said I’d have to discuss it with you before I scheduled it.”
“Elise. What’s wrong with the flowers?”
Without answering, she moved on to the next message. “Cliff Brandt from the city power district says his people have received more threats in response to the brownouts and power outages. He wants to know the result of this meeting as soon as you do. He’s reluctant to let his people go out on calls unprotected, especially at night. And Mrs. Madigan said it was urgent that you return her call by five.”
George was smart enough to see her diversionary tactic for what it was. But he played along, respecting her unspoken request to let the mystery of the flowers drop. “Don’t stick my nose into your business, right?” Familiar lines bracketed his mouth again as he sorted through the messages. “Schedule Hale for tomorrow. Get Brandt on the phone for me in thirty minutes—it’ll help me wrap up this meeting.” He tucked the notes into his shirt pocket. “And Courtney’s my ex-wife, not Mrs. Madigan. She gave up the right to use my name a decade ago when she said she couldn’t be married to a street cop anymore. Any clue what she wants this time?”
Elise’s attention shifted from the troublesome flowers to the weary sigh in George’s tone. “A street cop?”
“I know. Hard to imagine, isn’t it? I keep my sidearm locked in my desk and carry home budget reports instead of case files.” He buttoned his collar and straightened the knot of his tie, although he didn’t touch the rolled-up sleeves. “But I did my time in Vice and Narcotics once I made detective. I got into administration because I