"Mr. Taylor, do you want to make a statement?"
Michael remained still, his hands resting on his thighs, his shoulders back. He'd been in this Chicago P.D. interrogation room for the better part of an hour and hadn't said a word.
"Mr. Taylor," Detective Hollandsworth repeated, "your wife was murdered last night and you have nothing to say?"
Oh, he had a lot to say, the first being he didn't kill his wife, but if he'd learned anything running one of the nation's most elite private security companies, it was to keep his trap shut. "Not until my lawyer gets here."
An alien sensation settled on him. Shock? Disbelief? Maybe even sadness because a woman he had loved, a woman who had once been vibrant and fun and sexy, a woman who had grown into a greedy, unhappy wife was dead. Jesus. He may have wanted to end the nightmare of a marriage, but murder? No way.
In his worst bout of rage he wouldn't have done that to her. Sure they were finalizing a brutal-and costly-divorce, but money he had and if giving up some of it meant getting her out of his life, he'd do it. Simple arithmetic.
Right now, the only thing Michael knew was that these two detectives banged on his door at 8:00 a.m. to haul his ass in for questioning.
He flicked a glance to the two-way mirror behind Hollandsworth's head. The room's barren white walls and faded, sickening stench of fear-laced sweat made Michael's fingers twitch. He'd keep his hands hidden from view. No sense letting his nerves show.
The side door flew open and smacked against the wall with a thwap. Hollandsworth and his younger partner, Dowds, shifted to see Michael's lawyer storm in wearing a slick gray suit complete with pocket hanky.
Arnie Stark set his briefcase on the metal table. "Is he under arrest?"
"Not yet," Hollandsworth said.
"Do you have anything to hold him?" Arnie held up a hand and his diamond pinky ring flashed against the overhead light. "Wait. Let me rephrase. Do you have anything to hold him on that I won't shred in the next two hours?"
The room stayed quiet.
Arnie turned to Michael. "Have you said anything?"
The lawyer jerked his head without dislodging even one strand of his gelled gray hair. "Good. Let's go."
Thank you. Before Michael could move from his chair, Hollandsworth stood. "We're not done."
Arnie stopped in the doorway, spun around and said, "Charge him then."
Again the room went silent and Michael broke a sweat. The idea of being locked up scared the hell out of him. Hollandsworth's face took on the tight look of a balloon about to burst and Michael let out a breath.
Arnie pointed to the door. "We're leaving."
Once outside the police station, the late March wind coming off Lake Michigan slammed into Michael and he sucked in air as if he'd been without it for months. "I didn't do it."
"I don't care," Arnie said. "I'm your lawyer, not your priest. You want someone to hold your hand, I'm not your guy. You want someone to keep you out of prison, that's me."
Not that Michael needed a babysitter, but hell, he'd appreciate his lawyer believing in his innocence. Then again, this particular lawyer was the best in the city. Anyone living in Chicago knew that because he seemed to be on the news every other week touting another win.
"Keep me out of prison. What now?"
"We go back to my office and you tell me every disgusting detail of your relationship with your wife."
"Ex-wife," Michael corrected.
"Not yet she wasn't."
"It's on the four o'clock news," Mrs. Mackey said, pressing the button on the television remote.
Roxann tore her gaze from the declining numbers on the revenue reports and watched as the Chicago Banner Herald's longtime executive secretary, her hair teased and sprayed into submission, switched the channel from CNN to the local news station.
As much as Michael Taylor had wronged her, Roxann couldn't imagine him a murderer. Or maybe she didn't want to imagine him a murderer. "Has he been charged?"
"He's only been questioned. I heard from the newsroom that his lawyer got him out before he said anything."
"What about an alibi?"
"He says he was home alone. His doorman saw him go up."
Buildings have back doors.
"I can't believe it. I'd heard they were fighting over money and couldn't agree on a divorce settlement, but still, to kill her?"
Mrs. Mackey shrugged. "I always knew he was no good."
The secretary whirled to the office door and her head snapped back. Michael Taylor, the man who at one time had filled Roxann with unrivaled happiness, stood in the doorway. Her body went rigid. Literally frozen.
Twelve years ago he ripped her in two, carved out a chunk of her soul and left her emotionally obliterated to the point where she'd made her life so orderly there'd be no room for devastation. Ever.
She had yet to mend that wound.
How much did he hear? She shot out of her chair, sending the blasted thing careening against the wall. He stepped into the office and a tingle surged up her neck.
"Sorry to interrupt," he said. The sound of his voice, resonant and edgy, had stayed with her over the years. A warm blanket on the coldest January day.
Then she remembered she hated him, despised him with a fury that would level a city block. Her back stiffened, pulling her into immediate battle mode. What could he be doing here?
An explosion of something Roxann hadn't felt in a long time consumed her. She'd spent years preparing a speech that would reduce Michael to a sniveling lump of flesh. Now she had her chance. Twelve years of compartmentalizing. Twelve years of missing him. Twelve years of righteous anger. Breathe. One, two, three. Stay calm. Roxann imagined starting at her toes and rebuilding herself bit by tiny bit.
Michael continued to stare, his angular face resembling sculpted rock. She had loved that face. Not quite handsome, but rugged and intriguing. He wore his dark hair combed back and the style accentuated the few wrinkles around his eyes.
Mrs. Mackey glared at him. "How did you get up here? Did you even stop at the security desk for a visitor's pass?"
This man left Roxann with enough emotional ruin to fill Soldier Field and her secretary was worried about a visitor's pass? Squeeze every muscle. More control. Tighter. Rebuild.
She held up a hand. "He's here now. Let's not worry about the pass."
"I would have gotten a pass if the guard hadn't ignored me for ten minutes. What should really fry you is I made it up eight floors unimpeded."
"Should I have him escorted out?" Mrs. Mackey asked.
A little late for that. Roxann turned toward her desk. "No, but thank you. I'll handle this."
Roxann eyed her. "I've got it. Thank you."
Mrs. Mackey offered Michael one last sneer before leaving. Any other time, Roxann would have laughed, but right now? Not so much. She ran a hand over the coil of hair tucked behind her head. Something told her this wouldn't be good.
"So," she said. "This is unexpected."
"That, it is."
The understatement of the century. If someone had told her Michael would be in her office today she'd have stayed in bed. Sure she wanted the opportunity to skewer him for the destruction he'd inflicted upon her, but seeing him now, a successful businessman whose simple presence commanded the room, took her breath away. Yes, Michael had become better looking with age and according to the media, more dangerous.
She had wanted a life with him and over the years, as she watched from afar, the what-ifs tortured her. He had given himself to someone else, when all she'd ever wanted was for him to give himself to her.
For all the time spent obsessing over it, Roxann still couldn't determine why he had chosen Alicia over her.
In place of marriage, Roxann lived alone, worked like a demon and occasionally squeezed in dating men who never managed to capture her interest.
And Michael, the one man who had captured said interest was now suspected of killing his wife.
After the Rottweiler of a secretary left-twelve years hadn't thawed her out-Michael remained standing.
The light blue silk blouse Roxann wore magnified the sparkle in her eyes, which shouldn't have been a surprise. She always did have a sense of style. Her blond hair was shorter now, but still long enough to tie back. He preferred it loose, not that his opinion mattered anymore.
"I heard about your father," he said. "I'm sorry."
Roxann had adored her old man and losing the belligerent bastard to a massive heart attack had to be rough.
It also left her in charge of the second largest daily newspaper in the state.
"I'm managing." She tapped her fingers on the desk, glanced at her chair and finally sat. "You're here, you might as well sit."
He gave the office a once over and what an office it was. No sharp corners-only a smooth cherry desk, a couple of matching guest chairs and a shiny table with a few cushioned chairs. The feminine version of a power office. Gone were the days of her being buried under stacks of newspapers in a cubicle the size of a matchbox.
On the walls hung a variety of framed newspaper front pages from all over the country. Two from The Philadelphia Times caught Michael's eye and his belly shrunk to the size of a pea. She'd gone to Philadelphia following their breakup. After he'd made the biggest mistake of his life.
Roxann studied him with those big eyes that weren't quite blue or green and had always seen right through him. After all these years, being face to face with her clawed at him, reminded him of the pitiful excuse of a man-namely him-who'd failed her. A lot had changed since then and countless times he'd thought about marching in here and telling her he'd screwed up. But he'd never done that and always went home to the wrong woman. The woman who, as of early this morning, was dead.
A knifing pain shot through his shoulders and he cracked his neck against the invasion. Toast already. What a goddamned day. He could sleep for a month.
"What can I do for you?" Roxann asked in that what-are-you-doing-here-and-when-are-you-leaving tone she did so well.
He ignored her comment and set his briefcase on the floor before sitting in one of the chairs in front of the desk. He didn't expect her to be happy to see him. Truth was, he owed her a twelve-year-old explanation, and he'd love to give it to her. Not gonna happen though. Telling her why he'd left all those years ago would only hurt her, and there had been enough of that between them already.
He glanced at the television where a local news reporter stood in front of Area Thirteen headquarters speaking into the camera about Alicia's murder.
"The victim was found in her North Side home," the reporter said.
The victim. And then a photo from three years ago of Michael and Alicia at some charity function flashed onto the screen, and he dug his fingers into his forehead. What a shit storm.
Roxann remained silent, but used the remote to turn off the television before leveling a paralyzing gaze on him. She should work for the government. He doubted any man could withstand the pressure of those eyes.
"I'm sorry about your wife."
"Ex-wife," he said.
She turned her hand palm up. "Does it matter?"
"Legally, she was my wife, but the relationship was over. Had been for two years. I didn't consider her my spouse and I did not kill her."
If that information made any impact at all, Roxann didn't show it. She simply stared at him.
"What do you want, Michael?"
"I have a deal for you."
"What kind of deal?"
Now or never, Taylor. "The P.D. is only interested in hearing a confession. If I don't want to be charged with murder, I'm going to have to find out who killed Alicia. But I want you to help me."
She sat forward, folded her hands on the desk. "That's what you want?"
"I could give you a list of things I want, but if memory serves, that doesn't necessarily matter."
Michael whistled, long and slow. Damn, he'd missed her. "I see your aim is still deadly."
"Why not? You used to enjoy verbal combat."
It had, in fact, been their version of foreplay and almost always wound up with them finding a quiet spot, wherever they were, to bang the living hell out of each other. Back then, whether it be sex or arguing, Roxann always engaged. Always. Without a doubt, there'd been times when he'd manufactured verbal swordplay to get himself laid. As selfish as it was, he always made it worth her while.
She sighed. "Our history doesn't give you the right to expect things from me."
Expect things? He didn't expect squat from anyone, particularly her. The instant throbbing behind his eyes warned of his firing temper and he stood to release some energy. You're blowing it, Taylor. "Wait-"
"My days of waiting for you are over, Michael."
Verbal swordplay engaged. "This is business, Roxann, not personal."
She stood. "I don't want any part of either."
"Yes, you do, because you'll get an exclusive. I'll give the Banner total access to my life, good or bad."
That stopped her cold. A high profile murder and an exclusive. A publisher's dream come true.
Roxann pursed her lips, probably thinking about it. "Why come to me with this deal? Why not the Chronicle?"
"I'm pissed at them."
For some reason, that made her laugh. "Why? Because they lambasted your company last year when your operative got caught in that civilian shooting in Afghanistan?"
"Yes. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was eventually cleared. The Chronicle never followed up on that detail and left the public thinking my guys were a bunch of heartless, murdering barbarians. The Banner at least got the story right."
"Yes we did. Thank you for saying that. I still don't want your deal though."
She headed toward the partially open door, pulled on it and peeked out to the reception area where the Rottweiler waited to attack.
Michael's head pounded a steady beat as his frustration mounted. This meeting hadn't gone as he'd planned. He'd expected her to jump at the exclusive. Should have known better. She didn't jump at anything. He picked up his briefcase, wandered to the door and stopped close enough to Roxann to get a whiff of her almost non-existent perfume. Was it that same fruity, kind of floral scent? He had to be imagining it. He closed his eyes and breathed it in again. Yep, the same. Good old predictable Roxann.
He opened his eyes, their gazes met and the magnetic charge pulled him closer. That deep wanting he'd never recovered from still existed.
But Rox wasn't having any of it and slid sideways to reclaim her personal space. Didn't matter. She felt the power between them. How could she not? Her eyes narrowed and he half expected her to whack him.
"Just think about it, Rox. Please." The please couldn't hurt. "You'll realize it's a good deal."
She shook her head no, but said, "I'll think about it."
Forward motion. Excellent.
"There's something else you should know."
"Can't wait," she cracked.
"As of last Friday, Taylor Security has acquired DSI, the Banner's security company. You'll get a letter. Nothing in the agreement will change."
Her eyes opened a bit wider, but she remained quiet.
"The Banner is an important client. I wanted you to hear about the change from me."
After another long minute of staring at him like he'd stolen her life savings, she said, "Well, I appreciate that. It's a bit of a shock, but hopefully the good service we've been getting from DSI will continue."
Yeah, this conversation was awkward, but a good businessman didn't walk away from a solid deal because his ex-girlfriend would be a client.
"I'll set up a meeting with your facilities manager. We'll bring our key people over, do a walkthrough of the building and make sure your security is adequate."
Roxann grinned for the first time. "Given that you got up here, I think we both know the security isn't adequate."
She had that right. Any psycho could have stumbled into the newsroom and blown it away. "You'll need some minor upgrades."
"I'm sure we will."
Mrs. Mackey appeared just outside the doorway. "Now should I call security?"
"Unfortunately," Roxann said. "He is security."
Michael parked his SUV and jogged the last half block to Gina's. Tightly packed cars and houses lined the narrow street and his new toy, a monster of a black Escalade, made parking miserable.
He stopped in front of the house and did a visual inspection. The porch needed a fresh coat of paint and the two bright red rockers looked lonely. Michael knew that's how his widowed sister often felt.
The screen door flew open and a five-foot-three bundle of mad sent him a scolding glare. Here we go. Gina's mane of curly hair had to be the biggest thing on her, but she knew how to give a mean look. "You're late."
He climbed the porch steps and held his hands in surrender. "I'm sorry."
He had spoken to her and his parents earlier in the day to calm their panic over his trip to the P.D., and she'd invited him for dinner. His baby sister didn't want him to be alone. Stepping into the house, he smelled the glory of a pot roast and took a deep breath. Gina had made him a home-cooked meal on the worst day of his life. That alone made him a lucky man.
Seven-year-old Lily came bounding into the homey living room. She took a running leap and Michael scooped her up, only to feel a twinge in his back. His niece was getting too big for their usual greeting and he couldn't deny the stab of disappointment.
"What's up, cutie?"
"Can I paint your nails?"
Michael grinned. "I draw the line at makeup and nail polish. Find something else and I'm on it."
Lily wiggled out of his arms and charged up the stairs in search of something she could torture him with. In truth, he never minded. She was a sweet kid and if playing with dolls was all she needed, he'd oblige.
"I've been calling you for hours," Gina said, a tinge of irritation littering her voice. "You're all over the news, and Mom and Dad are freaking. Your assistant said you were out. What does that mean?"
Michael drew a deep breath and sat in Danny's battered lounger. He tried to imagine his brother-in-law sitting there, drinking his beer, but the memory had faded. Fucking tragedy.
"I was with my lawyer all day and then I had a meeting at the Banner."
"The Roxann Thorgesson Banner?"
Leave it to Gina to skip over the part about being with the lawyer. She always did like Roxann. Roxann, with the blue eyes and the blond hair and the legs that seemed to go on and on and on. Those legs could get a dead man moving. "The one and only."
He peeked down the hall to ensure no nosy kids were in earshot. "With the DSI acquisition, we're the Banner's new security company. Plus, I'm trying to broker a deal. I give them an exclusive on Alicia's case and they help me prove I'm innocent."
"Oh." Gina's mouth formed a perfect O.
"Yeah. Oh. I need to clear my name."
"I can't believe she's dead. I mean, she was a bitch for sure, but she didn't deserve this."
Hearing his ex-wife referred to that way smacked him. "How about we not call her that? Whatever she was, I loved her once."
When he'd needed a distraction from the Roxann demons, Alicia's acerbic wit had made him laugh. He often wondered what had become of the fun-loving woman who'd gone skinny dipping in the lake on a hot summer night. The unselfish woman who'd allowed him to keep her up all night making love because sleep eluded him.
All those things had vanished in the later years of their marriage.
"Sorry," Gina said.
He waved it off. "If this morning is any indication, the P.D. is bent on me going to prison." He curled his fingers into a tight fist until his knuckles ached from the pressure.
"They're morons. Almost two years of contentious divorce proceedings and you wait until now to kill her? No offense, Mikey, but if you were going to kill her, you would have done it a lot earlier and the cops know it. They just don't care."
"Frightening, isn't it?"
"So, what did Roxann say? Is she going to do it? She has to help."
"She threw me out."
Gina curled her lip. "Ew."
"She'll think about it. As of this morning, my name sells and she's got a newspaper to run. When she gets beyond the emotional crap, she'll realize it's a good deal."
"So, what's next?"
Michael shrugged."We wait and see what the cops come up with. They're already tracking me via GPS."
"How do you know?"
He rolled his eyes. "Please. Think about what I do for a living. I had one of the guys check my car. They must have put it there when I was being questioned."
"Did you take it off?"
"My ass. I've got nothing to hide."
"Darn tootin'. Besides, where do they think you're going?"
They were expecting him to run. "They think I'm guilty. And I've got the means to establish a nice life on some remote island. That's why I went to see Roxann. I have to prove I'm innocent and, after last year, the Chronicle is out."
"Does Ma know about this?"
"No. Don't tell her. I'll do it when there's something to report." He put his palms up to his eyes and pressed hard. "Can you imagine what a nightmare that would be?"
Their parents had been on a tear for months about his catastrophe of a divorce. Not only did they hate divorce, they hated the never-ending battle over money. He couldn't imagine what kind of reaction the Banner reporting his problems would garner.
"Ma is going to nag you about airing your dirty laundry."
"Yeah, but they'll support me."
"You might hear about it for the next ten years, but they'll be with you and so will I." Gina pecked him on the cheek. "I'm so sorry. I know the marriage was long over, but it has to hurt on some level."
Michael leaned forward, flexed his fingers. "I don't know what I'm feeling."
"It's the shock. It'll wear off."
Yeah. His sister had learned all about that after a building fell on her firefighter husband and left her with three kids to raise. "Thanks, G."
Gina hugged him tight and a lump the size of a tennis ball swelled in his throat. She'd been through enough and didn't need to be worrying about him.
"They'll clear me."
She stood back and jerked her head. "I know."
A noise from the second floor drew Michael's attention. "Do the kids know?"
"I went over to school this morning and told the boys. I was afraid they'd hear something before I got to them. Lily doesn't know yet."
"How did the boys take it?"
She twisted her lips. "Not well, but they love you and know you wouldn't have hurt Alicia. Talk to them. That's what they're used to and if you don't, they'll notice."
No doubt he'd talk to them. That's what he'd done since their father died. "I'll go up now."
"By the way," Gina said, "Jake's science project made the finals. Make sure you say something."
"No kidding?" Jake was the ten-year-old Jimmy Neutron of the family. The kid could probably disarm a nuclear weapon.
"Yep. That's my boy."
A crash, followed by a howl, came from the second floor.
"Get off him," Gina yelled. Like all mothers, she had x-ray vision and could see through the ceiling.
Michael heard a thud that could have been someone's head splitting open. "Knock it off!"
The kids were generally a good bunch, but fifteen-year-old Matt was a ball breaker and harassed Jake incessantly, and as sweet as Lily was, she had a tendency to be hypersensitive about every damned thing. Girls were way too high maintenance.
Michael heard another crash from upstairs-enough of this shit-and took the steps two at a time.
"It never stops," Gina said, her voice carrying the weight of single parenting.
"I'm on it."
He stormed into the boys' room and found Matt on top of Jake shoving a beat up sneaker in his face.
"Take a whiff, buddy," Matt said.
Michael, hands on his hips, shook his head. This kid would make him nuts. "Get off him before I kick your ass."
He hated to say that in front of Jake, but it was the only thing Matt responded to.
Matt smiled. Typical. "You'd better straighten up. Someone who's seen as much trouble as you shouldn't be smiling."
Matt waved the sneaker over Jake's face before getting off him and Michael thought his head would blow off his shoulders. Pain in the ass. "Don't screw with me, kid."
Being a couple inches taller than his mom had given Matt the idea he was indestructible. They'd see about that. Gina could hold her own, but Matt needed someone to talk to him like his father would have. And Danny would have kicked some serious tail around here.
"Dinner is ready," Michael said, deciding to hold off on talking to them about Alicia's murder. "Do something useful with those toxic shoes and put them away. Be downstairs in five."
Matt jumped up, stood at attention and saluted. "Yes, sir."
Michael gave him the death look. "That Xbox I gave you? Gone for a week. Keep pushing and you'll never get it back."
Matt stared back for a second, but wised up and retreated. Smart move for someone regularly grounded for talking back to his mother. Unfortunately, the grounding never worked and he'd sneak out his bedroom window, shimmy down the porch pole and take off.
The kid needed extra attention. Michael figured the weekend would be a good time to take him to the gym and let him work the heavy bag to get rid of some anger. Michael knew about anger and how it could nibble away at your insides until all that was left was a gaping hole.
Precisely why he wanted Roxann's help. These kids needed him. And, if he was being honest, he needed them. He'd never be Danny, but he'd gotten used to being the adult male in their lives and didn't want to lose that.
Spending the rest of his life in prison was not an option, and he'd do whatever it took to stay a free man.
The harsh overhead light reflected off the surface of Roxann's computer and she tilted the monitor to reduce the glare. Mrs. Mackey perched on one of the leather guest chairs, pen and notepad in hand waiting for the following day's schedule. "Here it is. Schedule senior management at eight. I'll meet with the pressmen at ten-make that ten-thirty. Lunch with the sales rep from Franklin at noon, and I should be back by one-thirty. That will give me the afternoon to read the revenue reports. If anyone wants to see me, tell them I'm quarantined. Typhoid fever."
The secretary offered her typical suffering sigh, but Roxann knew she'd keep the masses at bay. It took a brave soul to attempt a breach of any space Mrs. Mackey guarded.
"You'll run yourself ragged this way, Sassy."
Roxann scrunched her nose. Mrs. Mackey had been calling her Sassy since she was ten and it had been cute then, but at thirty-five she didn't think it was so adorable. Thankfully, Mrs. Mackey only called her Sassy in private. "I'm fine."
"No, you're not. Take a few days off."
"No time for a few days off. Working is better for me anyway." Roxann's presence in the building so soon after her father's death was vital to employee morale. They needed to know they had a leader, and she'd spent the past three weeks meeting with department heads and union representatives to prove it.
Mrs. Mackey let out a huff. "I'm worried about you, and Michael Taylor showing up today doesn't help. Are you going to tell me what that was about?"
Roxann sat back and surveyed Mrs. Mackey, who, with her endless observation skills, could run the Banner single-handedly. She deserved the truth. "Well, in addition to informing me Taylor Security now owns DSI, he offered the Banner an exclusive on his story."
"Yep. He's mad at the Chronicle for their poor coverage of that incident with one of his operatives."
Mrs. Mackey set her pad and pen on the desk. "What do you think about this exclusive?"
"I think he's manipulating me."
"He's trying to leverage our past relationship. He knows how I felt about him and he probably thinks it'll sway my decision to let him use the newspaper's resources. If my father were still here, I don't think Michael would ever have considered this." She stopped, steeled herself against the ache of missing her father, but the pinch between her shoulder blades remained. She still couldn't grasp being the boss.
"What did you tell him?" Mrs. Mackey asked.
"At first I said no. Then I said I'd think about it. Getting involved with him would equal driving my car into a brick wall. Nothing good can come of it. Besides, I have enough to deal with."
A few weeks ago, she'd had her friends, an orderly life and an exciting career with her father, a man she had cherished and depended on for counsel. Today, she still had the friends but her orderly life had disappeared and her father was dead.
The word alone made her ache. Gone was better, but not much. Gone could mean at the store or out to lunch. Simply functioning wasn't a problem. If she engaged her mind, she'd be okay, but the sight of her father's coffee cup or his empty parking space made her weepy. Those were the hard times when she couldn't believe people survived losing a beloved parent. Right now, she assumed she'd never recover and would exist in a world of emotional torture.
Mrs. Mackey leaned forward. "You're getting emotional about a business decision. You need to think about what this means for the paper."
Roxann felt a twinge in her belly, that little ball of pressure that built up when she worried about making a mistake. "I have to get emotional. My mother and I own this place now. How will it look if I'm willing to risk the paper's reputation to help my old boyfriend?"
"What if you're looking at this upside down? It's a risk, but if he's innocent and you can prove it, the Banner will be helping to find a murderer. Those are the stories that win Pulitzers."
"You think we should do it?" Mrs. Mackey despised Michael as much as Dad had.
She held up a hand. "I'm giving you the other side. I don't think you have enough information yet. Chances are, the minute that man walked into your office the rational Roxann vanished. After what he did, who could blame you?"
He married someone else.
"That's the problem. He stirs people up. The last thing I need is Michael Taylor agitating me, or the reporters. He'll think he can dictate how we should be handling the story. He'll try to take over. This idea is insane. Insane. Even if my father ever would have agreed, we can't put our crime reporter on this story full-time. The managing editor would be livid."
Not to mention her Uncle Max, Chicago's superintendent of police. Max would be furious with her for interfering with an active case.
Roxann stopped and took a breath. Michael expected her to risk personal relationships and the solid reputation of the Banner to help clear his name and that took nerve. If he was guilty of murder, it took colossal nerve.
What if he's innocent?
"Well," Mrs. Mackey said, "if you make this decision and the editors don't approve, too bad. You're the boss now. I know it hurts, but your father would tell you the same thing. He'd also tell you to move into his office, which I know you're avoiding."
The secretary stared at her with penetrating hazel eyes that saw all her fears and Roxann, buckling under the scrutiny, spun her chair toward the window. Grief settled on her as she remembered her father lying on his office floor. A ripping sensation charged up her spine, gripping harder and harder until it reached her throat and caught. Had she been turned inside out? Every artery seemed exposed and vulnerable, but she wouldn't cry in her office. She'd never done that before and wouldn't start now. Put yourself back together. Start at the toes. Control. Control. Control.
"Sassy, he wanted you to have the newspaper and do the things you always talked about. He knew you could do it. Why do you think he sent you to work for that idiot in Philadelphia? Experience. He wanted to make sure no one would question your ability, and no one ever has. Except you."
Twelve years ago, Philadelphia had been Roxann's father's solution to her broken heart, and he'd gotten her a job at The Times as an assistant to the vice president of operations.
Hoping to reconcile with Michael, Roxann resisted the move, but after constant pressure from her parents, she'd taken the job. She spent two years in Philadelphia and loved the anonymity of a new place. She wasn't the boss's daughter, and it freed her from self-imposed standards.
She'd dated periodically and even had a relationship, but the man had fallen in love with her, creating more problems than she could handle. She didn't just want to love him, she ached for it, begged for it. It would mean she'd gotten over Michael. But that spark she'd had with Michael never materialized.
Joel deserved to be loved with the ferocious, all-consuming need she'd had for Michael. For Michael, she would have sacrificed everything. That's what love meant to her. She ended the relationship with Joel and came home with knowledge that would propel her to a management position at the Banner.
Roxann spun back to face Mrs. Mackey. "You were always more than a secretary to Dad. To us. I hope you know that."
She reached across and touched Roxann's hand. "I know and I love you for it. That's why I feel comfortable telling you that you can do this, but do it your way. Don't worry about what your father would have done."
Leave it to Mrs. Mackey to cut right through the flesh and hit bone. This emotional stuff made her crazy. She preferred her orderly way much better.
Mrs. Mackey had a point. Roxann needed to look ahead and not worry about everyone else.
"Max," Roxann said. "I need to ask him about the investigation."
She and her Uncle Max had a long standing agreement when it came to utilizing each other's professions. She made sure to pass along any information the Banner received about unsolved crimes and, in return, Max gave her a periodic heads up when something big was about to break.
He wouldn't be able to relinquish much about the case, but he could give her an indication of where the investigation stood, and whether there was proof of Michael's guilt. She would then be able to make an informed decision regarding working with him.
The knots in Roxann's shoulders began to loosen. She didn't know what to hope for. If Max had a solid case, she'd decline Michael's offer and live with the fact that he was a murderer. Maybe then, she'd be able to get him out of her system and stop wondering what went wrong all those years ago.
What was she doing? The Michael she'd known, even with the emotional issues stemming from his military days, couldn't have murdered someone.
Or could he? After twelve years, how would she know?
However-big however-if Max seemed ambivalent about the evidence, she'd risk the consequences and chase the story.
"That's what I'll do. I'll talk to Max."
When Mrs. Mackey stood, Roxann circled the desk and met her halfway to the door. "Thank you. I don't know what I'd do without you."
"Good, because I'm not going anywhere. And you're welcome. Now go home and get some rest."
"I will. I need to clear some emails first."
Roxann dropped into her chair, opened her desk drawer and grabbed a handful of M&Ms-her version of painkillers-from the well stocked crystal bowl. She spun toward the window again and stared at the bank across the street, appreciating the intricate Art Deco scroll that gave it such character. Her building, with its plain cement corners, seemed boring in comparison.
Sometimes boring wasn't bad. Right now, she ached for boring and with Michael involved, that wouldn't happen. Still, this deal might be good for the newspaper. That would never be a bad thing. No matter what kind of personal turmoil it caused. She leaned back, grabbed her phone and dialed Max.
Text copyright © 2011 by Adrienne Giordano
Cover Art Copyright © 2011 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A. Cover Art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved ® and ™ are trademarks owned by Harlequin Enterprises Limited or its affiliated companies, used under license.