Protect Me Excerpt

Chapter 1



Finn shoved his hand through his hair as he paced in front of the window, both appreciative of his godfather’s concern and irritated by his interference.  “Doug, it’s great that you want to protect me.  I appreciate it.  Really.  But I don’t need a cop hanging around for the next three weeks.  I’ll hire private security if the situation escalates.”

Finn’s hand tightened on his phone as he imagined the field day the paparazzi would have with a cop following him around.  ‘Cops called on Pretty Boy O’Roarke!’  ‘O’Roarke a danger to Chicagoans?’  ‘O’Roake arrested!’

Yeah, he didn’t want anything to do with the cops.

“You hire all the private security you want, Finn.”  His godfather’s voice boomed over the phone, as rough as the waves crashing onto Oak Street Beach below Finn’s window.  “But I’m the goddamned police superintendent in Chicago, and I want a cop in there.  This stalker is escalating.  First that note, then a wedding ring?  This is serious.”

“No cops.  Okay?”

“No one will know she’s a cop.  She’ll be posing as your girlfriend,” his godfather retorted.

“That’s even worse,” he groaned.  “I don’t want a pretend girlfriend.  If the stalker is a woman obsessed with me, the situation could escalate.”  He hadn’t dated anyone since the fiasco with Gemma a year and a half ago.  Hadn’t had the stomach for it.  Pretending would be awkward and uncomfortable and unnecessary.  And he’d be trapped, since Doug’s cop would be staying in his suite if he went along with this crazy scheme.

“Really?”  Doug’s voice took on the steely tone Finn had dreaded when he’d played with Doug’s sons twenty years ago.  “You don’t want a cop protecting you?  You want me to have to look your father in the eye and tell him I let some psycho nut job kill his son on my watch?  Huh?  Is that what you want, Finian?”

Finn closed his eyes and banged his head lightly on the window.  Doug was bringing out the big guns.  Finian.  If his full name didn’t work, the next step would be calling Finn’s mother.  They both knew what would happen then, and it wouldn’t be pretty.

“Damn it, Doug!”  Finn knew the hell that would rain down on him if his mother got involved.  “Fine.  But don’t expect me to hold her hand in public.  Or kiss her.  I’m not giving the vultures any money shots.”

“That’s fine, Finny.  Wouldn’t expect you to.  Wouldn’t expect her to, either.”  Doug’s voice was smooth and happy, now that he’d gotten his way.  “She’ll be on the job.  All business.   But she’s going to be with you, wherever you go.”

And wouldn’t that be fun.  “Yeah.  I get it.  Send her over.”

“First thing in the morning, son.”

Finn could hear the self-satisfied smile in his godfather’s voice.  “Doug, I know you mean well, but you’re a pain in my ass.”

“And your ass will still be alive when you leave Chicago,” Doug retorted.  “Now go be evil and nasty in that movie of yours.”

“Give my love to Marie,” Finn said, hanging up the phone a little harder than necessary.

*  *  *

“Seriously?”  Mia shook her head to clear her ears, positive she hadn’t heard correctly.  “You’re kidding, right?”  Mia felt her mouth gaping open and snapped it shut as she stared at her captain.  What the hell?  “You want me to do what?”

Captain Talbott pressed his thumb and index finger into the bridge of his nose.  “He needs protection, Donovan.  And you’re a cop.  That’s your job, right?  Serve and protect?”

“Of course he needs protection.  He’s ‘The Most Hated Man in America’,” she said, swiping vicious quotes through the stale station air.  “I’m guessing the bastard can’t take a step outside his door without being mobbed by a swarm of angry Gemma Radley fans.”

“Exactly.  Which is why I’m assigning you to protect him.”

Mia scowled at her captain.  “He’s a movie star.  He’s rich.  Why doesn’t he just hire private security?”

“Because he’s Superintendant Walsh’s godson.”  Talbott pressed his fingers to his nose again, as if he had a massive headache.  Which he probably did if the Superintendant was involved.

“Wait,” Mia said, grabbing at straws.  “This can’t be right.  How can the Chicago PD pay me to protect a private citizen?  The press will go nuts if they find out.”

“That’s been taken care of.  The movie studio is paying your salary, plus a nice contribution to the Police Benevolent Association.  So everyone’s covered.”

Except her, apparently.  “Great.  Just great.  Not only is he a jerk, but he’s the super’s godson.  How can I resist a job like that?”

“Donovan.”  Talbott sat up straight behind his desk.  “You put in for the detective’s exam, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” she said cautiously.  She was pretty sure she wasn’t going to like where this was going.

“As I’m sure you know, after you take the written exam, there’s an oral review board.  The Chief of Detectives is head of it.  What you probably don’t know is that he’s a close friend of Superintendant Walsh.”  Talbott tossed his glasses on his desk and massaged his left temple.  “Follow the dots, Mia.  You do a good job on this detail, you keep O’Roarke safe, and it will look real good on your record.”

Mia narrowed her gaze.  “You think I have to suck up to some arrogant Hollywood asshole if I want to pass the exam?”

“No.  Absolutely not.  I think you’re very well-qualified to take it and I’m confident you’ll pass.  I wouldn’t have recommended you otherwise.  But having an edge never hurts.  Especially for someone so young.”  He tilted his head as he studied her.  “You’re only twenty-seven years old, Donovan.  That’s young to make detective.”

“All my brothers made it before they were twenty-seven,” she shot back.

“And God help you if you don’t.”  Talbott’s mouth turned up slightly.  “Nothing like sibling rivalry.”

“Exactly.”  Sibling rivalry was part of it – she’d get endless amounts of grief from her four brothers if she didn’t make detective the first time she took the exam.  But it was a lot more than that.

She wanted to be a detective so bad she dreamt about it at night.  She liked being a patrol cop, but she wanted to be more than that.  More than the grunt who arrested drunk and disorderlies and domestics.  More than the cop who broke up fights at bars.

She wanted to solve crimes.  To collect the clues, put the pieces of the puzzle together and figure out who did it.

“You want to be a detective, Donovan?  Then agree to take this job and protect O’Roarke.  Catching his stalker would be even better.  They evaluate your record when you apply to be a detective, you know.  This would make you stand out.  Give you a leg up.”

“’Agree’?”  She narrowed her eyes and watched her boss carefully.  “Why are you asking?  You usually just issue orders.”  What was Talbott neglecting to tell her?

“Because it’s close quarters for three weeks.  The Superintendant thinks the best way to protect O’Roarke is to pose as his girlfriend, and I agree with him.  But you’ll have to stay in his suite at the hotel.  Go everywhere with him.  I’m not going to put someone on this job who can’t handle that.”

“I’d have to be with him twenty-four/seven for three weeks?”  She stared at Talbott, not sure she heard correctly.

“Less if you catch the stalker right away.”  His desk phone rang, and he waved her away as he picked up the handset.  “I need to know by tomorrow, Donovan.  Think about it.”

Mia stepped out of the captain’s office and slid into the chair of the desk she normally used.  Was she willing to protect Finn O’Roarke for three weeks to have a better shot at making detective?

Or would she rather be all righteous and insist on getting the promotion based on her own merits?

She sighed, knowing she’d already made her decision.  She wanted that detective’s star badly enough to take this job.  She could spend three weeks with the devil himself if it gave her an edge.

Finn O’Roarke was the most hated man in America for the cruel way he’d dumped his ex, rocker Gemma Radley.  According to Gemma, she’d come home early from a recording session and found him in bed with another woman.

Cheaters were a sore spot for Mia, but since she’d only be pretending to be his girlfriend, she could deal with it.  She’d put in her time, do her best to catch his stalker, then take her detective’s exam.

He’d go back to Hollywood and she’d start her career as a detective.  Win-win for everyone.

*  *  *

Twelve hours later, at the ungodly hour of five AM, Mia stepped off the elevator at the Drake and glanced around.  The walls were a creamy beige with white trim, and the carpet was a deep blue.  The Drake was a beautiful hotel, and it was a smart choice for O’Roarke.  They had good security and plenty of experience with high-profile guests – even Princess Di had stayed here when she visited Chicago years ago.

She took a deep breath and knocked on the door of O’Roarke’s suite.  Here we go.

The door opened almost immediately, as if he’d been standing right behind it.  Waiting for her.  Finn O’Roarke stared at her for an uncomfortably long moment, and Mia lifted her chin.  “If you’re done checking me out, I’m Mia Donovan,” she finally said.

His ears turned red.  “Sorry.  I’m Finn O’Roarke.”

“I know.”  He looked a lot better in person than he did in the tabloids, and he looked pretty damn good in those rags.  Even in the crappy pictures.  Wavy, honey-gold hair was a little long.  Soft, grass-green eyes and a mouth made for sin.

He towered over her – a couple of inches over six feet.  His shoulders were broad, but he looked lean and wiry rather than bulky.

He held out his hand, and she shook it.  His fingers were warm and strong, and he drew his hand away a little too slowly.  Callouses on his palms rasped against her skin, making sparks jump deep in her belly.  She closed her eyes.  She’d thought she was better than women who swooned over celebrities.

Apparently she was as stupid as everyone else.

“I doubt you have to introduce yourself to many people,” she said, snarky because she’d been staring and his twinkling eyes told her he’d noticed.

“You’re right.”  His mouth curved into a self-mocking smile.  “Everyone’s seen me in the checkout line at the grocery store.  Is that going to be a problem for you?”

Mia stood straighter.  “Of course it’s going to be a problem.  You don’t exactly blend in.  Hard to protect you when you draw a crowd.”

He scowled.  “Believe me, a crowd is the last thing I want.”  He stepped aside and waved her in.

She watched as he closed the door, and the glint of light reflecting off the tiny window reminded her of what he’d neglected to do.  “You opened your door without looking in the peep hole.”  She tapped on the solid wood next to the small circle.  “Don’t do that again.  Ever.  You’re being stalked.  Not checking before you open your door makes you too stupid to live.”

He drew his eyebrows together in a frown.  “You’re right.  I can’t believe I didn’t check.  I was expecting you, but that’s no excuse.”

“No.  It’s not,” Mia managed to say, shocked by his answer.  She’d expected him to be defensive.  To justify himself.  But he’d merely admitted he was wrong.

“We have fifteen minutes before we leave.  Would you like a cup of coffee?”

“I’d love one,” Mia said fervently.  She’d rushed out of the house early, determined to be on time.  “I didn’t have time to stop this morning.”

He gestured her over to the room service cart standing next to a table in front of the window.  It held a pot of coffee, a giant bowl of fruit and a plate stacked with croissants.  “Help yourself.  They brought enough food to feed all ten of my fans.”

“I think you’re exaggerating,” she shot back.  “No way do you have ten fans.”  Shit.  Did she really just say that?

“Yeah, you’re right.  I was rounding up.”

She glanced at him and caught him smiling.  If he was the arrogant jerk she’d been expecting, he was hiding it well.

She let herself smile back as she poured a cup of coffee and added cream.  She plucked a fat, juicy strawberry from the bowl and bit into it.  It was perfectly ripe.  Exactly what she’d expect from the Drake Hotel.

She took another berry as she waited for the coffee to cool a bit, but before she could eat it, she noticed that O’Roarke was staring at her.

Oh, God.  Had she dribbled juice down her chin?  She picked up the napkin sitting beside her coffee cup and swiped at her mouth, then tossed it back onto the table.  “Since we have a few minutes, why don’t we talk about how this is going to work?”

“I’d rather watch you eat those strawberries,” he said, his eyes gleaming.

Just the slap of reality she needed.  She pointed the strawberry at him, irritated that she’d allowed herself to be distracted by his self-deprecating humor.  “You are too stupid to live, Mr. O’Roarke.  You’re not taking this threat seriously.”  She kept her voice even.  Calm.  “It’s really hard to protect an idiot who who’d rather flirt than discuss how to save his life.”

He threw himself onto the blue satin loveseat facing the table.  “That’s twice you’ve called me stupid.  That doesn’t bode well for a good working relationship.”

“Are you telling me I’m wrong?  That it wasn’t stupid to forget to check the peephole before opening the door?  Or that only an idiot flirts with the person sent to protect him instead of discussing the situation seriously?”

He sighed.  “I don’t want you here.  I agreed to this to humor my godfather, but I don’t think police protection is necessary.  I think it’s a waste of your time and an expense the city of Chicago shouldn’t have to bear.”

“I’m not crazy about living with you for the next three weeks, either, but I’m going to do my job and make sure your stalker doesn’t get a chance at you.”  Mia took a sip of coffee and clutched the cup more tightly.  “And your studio is paying for this.  We’re stuck with each other, so I suggest we make the best of it.”

“If you don’t want to do this, why did you agree to it?” he asked.

Mia loosened her grip on the coffee cup.  “My reasons don’t matter.  My captain offered me the job, and I agreed.”

“He didn’t just order you to do it?  I thought the police were all about giving orders.  And obeying them.”

He made it sound as if she were a mindless drone.  “No,” she said, her voice short.  “Given the circumstances, knowing I’d have to stay in this suite with you for three weeks, he wanted to give me a chance to say no.  I didn’t.”

She gulped the rest of the coffee, glanced at the stainless steel carafe on the table, then set the cup on the table.  She’d kill for another cup, but they needed to talk before they left.  “Why don’t you tell me about this stalker?  What has he or she done?  Have you gotten any notes?”

He nodded at the carafe.  “Help yourself to another cup.”  He shifted on the loveseat, and she realized he didn’t want to talk about the situation.  Intrigued, she poured herself another cup of coffee and sat in one of the chairs at the small table.

Then she waited.

Finally he sighed.  “You do that really well.”

“What’s that?”  Mia took another gulp of coffee and tilted her head.  She knew what he meant, but she wanted him to say it.

“The cop thing.  Staring without saying a word.  Does it make everyone blurt out their deepest, darkest secrets?”

“Sooner or later.  So why don’t you fill me in?”

He leaned against the back of the loveseat and stared at the ceiling for a moment.  Finally he leaned forward.  “I got a note the day I checked into the Drake.  I had meetings the next day but that afternoon was free, so I walked around the area.  Went up the Hancock building, got a drink at the Signature Lounge on the 95th.  Ate dinner at a pizza place.  Pizzeria Uno, I think.  Typical tourist stuff.”

“Okay.”  Mia pulled a notebook out of the inner pocket of her jacket and jotted down notes.  “Anything seem off?  Did you see the same person more than once?  Anyone approach you and try to talk to you?”

“Nope.  I wore a baseball cap and glasses.  Baggy old clothes.  I don’t think anyone recognized me.”

“Now that’s just false modesty, Mr. O’Roarke.  Of course some people recognized you.  They were just too polite to approach you.”

“Is that what Chicagoans are?  Polite?”

“Most of us,” she replied evenly.  “There are always a few exceptions.”

“Well, the note wasn’t very polite,” he said.

“When did you find it?”

“The next morning when I walked out of the bedroom.  There was an envelope near the door.  I figured it was from someone on the production, with an agenda about the meeting or some other information.”

“So you opened it, right?”

“Of course.”

“And what did it say?”

“It said, ‘I’m so glad you came for me.  I’ve been waiting for you.  I know that’s why you’re in Chicago.  You’re here for me.’”

“What did you do with the note?”

“I called my godfather and he sent someone to pick it up.”

“That would be Superintendant Walsh?”

“Yes.  He had it checked and there were no fingerprints.  Nothing else that could identify the sender.  Except for one thing.”

Mia glanced up from her note-taking as Finn jumped up and began to pace the room.  “And that would be…?”

“There was perfume on the note.”  He swallowed.  “An expensive, almost impossible to find perfume.  The one Gemma uses.”