George nodded at her show of support, even as he dismissed it. “There was more than my job wrong with our marriage.” He picked up the folder he’d set down without elaborating any further. “When Court calls back, and she will—since she dropped Madigan, she must want something pretty badly—you can refer to her as Ms. Reiter.”
“Commissioner Madigan?” Henry Johnson’s voice was shrill and impatient, calling from his office.
George’s chest expanded with a deep breath. He checked his watch. “It’s almost four o’clock. Why don’t you close up shop out here. As soon as I wrap up this meeting and connect with Cliff Brandt, you can head home early. I’ll lock up.”
Although Elise appreciated the kind gesture, and knew she needed to go home to let Spike out into the backyard for a romp, the otherwise empty expanses of her torn-up house with its two overworked window air conditioners didn’t seem particularly inviting right now. What if that phone call hadn’t been a mistake and exactly twenty-three roses were meant for her? What if that ghostly voice was leaving a message on her personal answering machine or voice mail right now?
Even the unlucky coincidence of these flowers coming from James or some other old boyfriend wasn’t exactly comforting. That meant her “no thanks” on a relationship hadn’t registered, and that she had another long conversation, if not an outright confrontation, to look forward to this evening.
Right now, work—and the confines of her nicely appointed, if slightly humid, office—seemed more of a solace than the paint cans, phone calls or potential surprise visits that might be waiting for her at home.
“If it’s all right, I’d like to stay here—I need to type up the notes for your speech at the annual officers’ retirement luncheon.”
George groaned. “That damned speech. If Commissioner Cartwright-Masterson wasn’t expecting her first grandchild...”
Elise smiled and shooed him toward his office. “The commissioner wouldn’t have asked you to take her place on the podium if she didn’t trust you to represent her and the department in stellar fashion.”
“That doesn’t mean you need to stay late just to make me sound good at the banquet. I’ll work on it. You get out of here and enjoy the AC someplace where you actually have to put on a sweater because it’s so cold.”
Instead of laughing at what she assumed was a joke, she offered him a half-truth. “Sounds tempting, but...I’m getting out of an unwanted date tonight with an old friend. The excuse I gave for not meeting him for dinner was that I had to work late. Do you mind?”
George arched one of his dark brows in a skeptical frown. “Maybe that unwanted date is who sent the flowers. Could be he’s trying to change your mind.”
“You should still ask him.”
Elise considered the possibility. Maybe she would give James a call. But later, so he wouldn’t think she’d changed her mind about his dinner invitation. “I’ll check with Shane first and call the desk downstairs if he doesn’t have the florist’s name.”
Shaking his head, George headed for his office. “Fine. I’ll alibi you out. Tell Mr. Unwanted that your boss is an old curmudgeon who works your fingers until they bleed and doesn’t allow you a personal life.”
Elise smiled at the self-effacing comment and watched him walk away, idly noting that there was nothing old or curmudgeonly about the way his shirt hugged his powerful build. And though she knew he was more than a dozen years her senior, the lines beside his eyes and salt-and-pepper hair only added to the air of seasoned authority and masculinity he wore like a second skin. There was no mistaking George Madigan for a boyish college sweetheart or a duplicitous charmer who’d prey on her vulnerable feelings to get what he wanted from her. He was an old-school, straightforward, get-the-job-done man’s man.
After an unintentional betrayal that had nearly cost her former boss at Gallagher Security Systems and his family their lives, Elise knew she was lucky to have this job. And although Quinn Gallagher claimed he didn’t blame her for any of the mess that had nearly destroyed him, Elise knew she could have saved him a lot of trouble if she’d been thinking with her head instead of a broken heart. Turning in her resignation to the man she’d loved but could never have had been the right thing to do. But picking up the pieces of her life again hadn’t been easy.
With that kind of personal and professional track record, Elise was grateful to have this well-paying, well-respected position doing meaningful work for the department and Kansas City. The deputy commissioner’s faith in her had done more to heal her self-esteem and rebuild her trust in men than any self-help book could. That’s all she should be focusing on. Noticing that George Madigan was an attractive man, noticing anything more than him as a fair leader and kind friend, could only lead to the sort of trouble she didn’t need in her life.
So she ignored those little frissons of awareness that warmed her blood and sat down to work. “Thank you, sir.”
He paused at the door, exhaling an audible sigh before glancing over his shoulder at her. “It’s ‘George’ when it’s just you and me talking. Okay? ‘Sir’ makes me feel like an old man.”
Not a chance.
But before Elise could do something foolish like tell him he was a fit man in his prime, Henry Johnson shouted from his office again. “Deputy Commissioner? Today?”
With a smile that was part relief, part sympathy, Elise shooed him on his way. “You’d better not keep him waiting any longer. You want to win his support, remember?”
George paused with his hand on the doorknob, looking as if he had something more to say. Instead of speaking to Elise, though, he opened the door. “I got the file I needed, Henry. Now let’s compare the costs of prevention strategies versus...”
When the door closed behind him, Elise turned to her computer and pulled up the memos he’d sent her for distribution and started proofing and addressing them. With the discussion on the other side of George’s door now muted, she worked in relative silence for several minutes.
But the bouquet was casting a shadow over her work space, drawing her attention away from her keyboard and screen. Maybe she should take the time now to walk down the hall to chat with Shane Wilkins, the floor officer. Or maybe she could spare a few minutes to call James. Or her parents. Do a little investigating on her own.
Elise rose in a huff and picked up the heavy glass vase to move the roses out of sight on the counter behind her desk. “Or maybe I should just get my work done and deal with you later. I know a nice hospital where you’ll be very happy and greatly appreciated,” she said to the flowers as she set them down.
With that much of a plan in mind, Elise sat down to finish the memos and save them for George’s final sign-off in the morning.
Do you like my gift?
The breathy whisper seeped into her thoughts to distract her again. Who else knew that her murdered mobster lover had sent her twenty-three roses, thanking her for the unintended pillow talk regarding her former employer, making a mockery of the way she’d given her heart and body to him? Or was this just an unfortunate coincidence that she was turning into something more sinister?
Lots of people got roses every day. Red ones, pink ones, yellow ones—any color of the rainbow for any occasion or no reason at all. They didn’t mean anything other than “congratulations” or “get well” or “thinking of you.”
So why did it feel as though someone was looking over her shoulder now?
Elise spun her chair around and gazed at the hated gift. Then she picked it up and set the vase back on her desk.