The Detective's Secret Daughter. Rachelle McCalla
MILLS & BOON
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Then you will know the truth,
and the truth will set you free.
To Shirlee, Valerie, Stephanie, Lynette and Terri—my fellow continuity writers—and to Emily Rodmell, the amazing editor who helped us sort through it all. You ladies rock! I wish we could all meet for coffee and pastries at the Sugar Plum Café in Fitzgerald Bay.
I didn’t invent these characters. Long before I was introduced to Victoria Evans and her daughter, Paige, or Owen or the rest of the Fitzgeralds, people I’d never met had already wrestled over who these characters should be and where their journeys should take them. Then, in an enormous feat of trust and courage, they handed them off to me, and entrusted me with bringing them to life. To all those who worked together to make the 2012 LIS continuity the series it is, I offer my deepest gratitude and humblest thanks. It is an honor to be a part of these books.
A police cruiser tore up Main Street in Fitzgerald Bay, lights flashing.
Victoria Evans glanced back over her shoulder from the doorway of the Hennessy Law Office. Who was in trouble now? She half expected the patrol car to stop in front of the police station, but it skidded to a halt on the other side of the street, and a uniformed officer leaped out, running toward the Sugar Plum Café and Inn.
“My shop!” Victoria turned to face Cooper Hennessy, handing off the frosted cookies she’d walked up the street to deliver. “Paige is in there.”
“You’d better check it out.”
Immediately afraid for her nine-year-old daughter’s safety, Victoria didn’t need any urging. She leaped from the stoop and sprinted down the street, reaching her front door just as the police officer, who’d darted around the side of the building, circled back to the front.
Victoria reached for the door handle the same instant he did. Gloved fingers brushed her hands. She looked up past the broad shoulders to close-cropped brown hair. The handsome face turned toward her with eyes as blue as the Massachusetts sky. She knew those eyes too well.
“You can’t go in there,” he warned.
Her heart plummeted to her stomach. “But my daughter—”
“She’s okay. She called 911. I don’t want you contaminating the crime scene. Wait here.” He turned away and rushed inside, leaving Victoria on the porch.
Tumultuous emotions broke like waves inside her heart. She’d already had a crime scene at the Sugar Plum Café and Inn a few weeks before—an ugly break-in that had caused expensive damages. Fortunately no one had been seriously hurt.
What now? Was Paige really okay? Victoria prayed again for her daughter’s safety. Having lost her own mother and father years before, Victoria had no family left besides Paige, and the little girl was dearer to her heart than anyone. She had to force herself to follow the officer’s instructions not to go inside.
It didn’t help who the officer was.
Of all the officers on the Fitzgerald Bay Police Department, why did Owen have to come?
“Mommy!” Blond braids bounced as Paige threw herself through the front door.
“Paige!” Victoria scooped her daughter into her arms, holding her tight for one long moment before looking her over to make sure she hadn’t been hurt. “Thank God you’re okay.” After the horrible incidents of late, especially after that mysterious murder in January, she was relieved to find her daughter unharmed. “What happened?”
Owen’s deep voice answered behind her. “A break-in and robbery. Your safe was punched.”
Owen led her back through the inn to the kitchen. “Basically your perp knocked the dial off with a hammer, placed a punch over the central hub and rapped on the tumblers. The tumblers disengaged and he opened the door. A newer safe will lock up if anybody attempts to punch it, but these antiques don’t have that feature.” He pointed across the room to where the Sugar Plum Café’s antique floor safe sat gaping open, empty.
“I’ve been robbed?” Victoria stared at the safe. “I was only gone a couple of minutes. I’d just taken a platter of cookies over to the Hennessy Law Office—barely a block away.”
Owen crouched on level with Paige. “Did you see the robber?”
“Can you tell me what you saw?”
Victoria’s first instinct was to shield Paige from questions. She didn’t want her daughter distressed any more than she already was, and she especially didn’t want her talking to Owen. He might recognize the family resemblance and realize who Paige was. But Victoria reminded herself that she couldn’t let her personal history with Owen interfere with his investigation of the robbery.
Someone had stolen the entire weekend’s receipts from the Sugar Plum Café and Inn. And since most of her customers paid for their small purchases of coffee, rolls, pastries and cookies with cash, that money would be irretrievable.
Just like her business, if things didn’t turn around soon. Fewer folks had been visiting town. And fewer townsfolk venturing out. Partly because of the blustery weather, but mostly due to the ongoing investigation of the murder of Olivia Henry whose body had been found near the Fitzgerald Bay lighthouse in January. Her murder was still unsolved and her murderer still at large. Victoria prayed the case would soon be solved. Olivia deserved justice, and the people of Fitzgerald Bay deserved peace of mind. Hopefully, once the murderer was caught, business would pick up again. With the added burden of repair bills from the recent break-in, Victoria was barely meeting expenses.
The empty safe didn’t help matters.
Paige faced Owen.
Victoria braced herself. Paige had never met her father. Owen didn’t even know he had a daughter. She’d been putting off their reunion the whole six months she’d lived in Fitzgerald Bay, unsure how she could admit the truth to either of them. Granted, part of her reason for returning to Fitzgerald Bay was so she could clear her guilty conscience and finally do the right thing by telling Owen about Paige. But knowing what to do was easier than working up the courage to actually speak the words to the man who was so much more intimidating now, in his crisp police uniform, with his muscular shoulders and intense blue eyes.