Read Chapter 2 of TROUBLE WALKS IN

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CHAPTER 2

Ronan McGuire loved women and until recently, he’d enjoyed a variety of them. All of that had changed when Maddy Morgan came roaring back into his life. The moment he’d laid eyes on her at his parent’s anniversary party last summer, it had been like a kick in the gut. She was as gorgeous as she’d been back in high school, and just as unattainable. As far as she’d been concerned, he had merely been the pesky brother of her best friend’s boyfriend.

Ronan would see her around town when he went home to visit over the years, but nothing had changed and she was still out of his reach. Maddy and Rick had been practically joined at the hip for years. Ronan was many things but home wrecker wasn’t one of them. Rick had been a good guy and he seemed to make Maddy happy, so that had been good enough for Ronan. He had never considered himself the jealous type but every time he saw the two of them together, the green-eyed monster would rear its ugly head.

When had he first fallen for her? If he had to nail it down, it was when she punched out Billy Hollibrand in the school parking lot. The woman was feisty—a take-no-shit kind of girl—and if you asked Ronan’s mother, that was exactly the type of woman he needed. Hollibrand had been the town bully and when Maddy moved there in ninth grade, Billy made the mistake of trying to push her around. The jerkoff made fun of her curly hair and grabbed her ass. Two seconds later the boy was on the ground nursing a bloody nose.

A smile curved Ronan’s lips at the memory.

“Yo, McGuire.” His Captain’s voice pulled him from his daydreaming. “You awake over there?”

Bowser was lying in his bed next to Ronan’s desk but lifted his head and turned his brown eyes toward Ronan when the Captain approached. If Ronan didn’t know better, he’d swear the dog was laughing at him.

“Wide awake, Cap.” Ronan adjusted his chair as Bowser settled his snout on his front paws again. “Can’t say the same for my partner.”

Bowser whined and made a snuffling sound before closing his eyes. Ronan couldn’t really blame the dog—he was pretty beat himself. They had gotten back-to-back calls from two of the precincts upstate. Not all of the counties in the state had K9’s, so he and Bowser helped out when necessary, lending a hand, or a paw, as needed.

Both cases had been high-stress with even higher stakes.

Luckily the little girl who had wandered away from her family’s campsite was found safely and so was the teenager who got separated from her friends on a hike.She must have been the only girl in the tri-state area who didn’t have a damn cellphone attached to her. Needless to say it had been long days and longer nights but luckily both searches ended with happy parents.

Captain Jenkins strolled over, hoisting his uniform pants over his belly. The guy might have been out of shape and only a couple years from retirement, but he was one of the best cops Ronan had worked with. Jenkins and his partner, Saratoga, a sweet bloodhound with wide caramel colored eyes, were in-house most of the time these days. Saratoga was retired, but like all K9s she would live out the rest of her days with her partner and his family—in Jenkins’ case, that was only him.

“Why are you and Bowser here?” Jenkins settled his hands on his hips and pointed at Bowser just as Saratoga sidled over and lay down next to her friend. “You two have been goin’ non-stop for the past three days. You should have taken today off, and you know it.”

“No can do, Cap.” Ronan hit a few buttons on the keyboard and printed out his report from the last search. “My brother is getting married in a few weeks and I’ll be out for a while. I’ll be using up the rest of my time for the year and I can’t risk not being able to go because I didn’t do my paperwork. I’m the best man, after all.”

“That you are, McGuire,” Jenkins said through a snort of laughter. “But all work and no play and you’re gonna end up like me and Sara, here. All we got is each other and this damn job. No wife, no kids. Just me and her.” He smiled at the aging bloodhound who currently had her head nestled on top of Bowser’s. “Ain’t that right, sweetie?”

The old girl whined in response but didn’t move.

“Seriously, McGuire,” Jenkins said, sitting in the chair in front of Ronan’s desk. “You coulda taken today, y’know. You sure as hell have enough time leftover.”

“Really, Cap.” Ronan shook his head and held up one hand. “I’m fine.”

“Right. You always are.” Jenkins’ mouth set in a thin line. “How’s your friend? Didn’t you say that your girlfriend, that realtor lady, knew the Bowman woman they found by the river?”

“She’s not my girlfriend. Maddy’s just an old friend from back home.” Ronan went to the printer and grabbed the reports. “But, yes, she knew Lucille Bowman, at least casually. Maddy’s a broker and they ran in some of the same professional circles.”

“Well, tell your friend to watch her ass.”

Ronan stilled, and carefully placed the reports on his desk. A knot of dread curled in his gut and the serious expression the Captain’s face didn’t do anything to ease it.

“They think the murder was somehow connected to Lucille’s job?” Ronan let out a slow breath. “Shit.”

“Don’t know yet.” Jenkins folded his hands on top of his round belly. “All they know right now is she was supposed to show an apartment on the West Side. — an open house or something, and she never made it. Hell, those real estate people have now, all their contact info online. It’s easy to find someone and track ‘em down if you want to.”

“What are they thinking?.” Ronan’s gut clenched.

“Husband ain’t good for it,” Jenkins said. “His alibi is air tight. No affairs, financials are in order. Whoever did this knew her, though—or at least knew where she was going. Hell, she obviously didn’t get dragged through the streets of the city kicking and screaming, so odds are that she knew the perp in some way. They’re still waiting on toxicology. You know that shit takes forever.”

“Damn it.” Ronan ran one hand over his face and sat in his chair. “Maddy is always doing those Open House things. Not to mention the running around she does for individual appointments. She works her ass off — you’d think that her life depended on it.” He let out a slow sigh. “Hell, she lives and breathes it.”

“You’d know somethin’ about that. Wouldn’t ya?”

“It’s not the same thing, Cap. Those rich fancy clients of hers freakin’ love her because she drops everything to get them what they need. The woman is nothing, if she’s not tenacious.”

“I guess that includes resisting your charms too, eh McGuire?” Jenkins laughed and wagged a finger at Ronan. “You like this broad, so don’t even try to deny it. “

“Of course I do. We’re friends.”

“Yeah but you wanna be more than friends.” Jenkins raised his salt and pepper eyebrows. “You know how I can tell?”

“No.” Ronan stapled the reports and busied himself, trying not to let Jenkins know how right he was. “Enlighten me.”

“Ever since she came to town, you haven’t been out on a single date.” Jenkins hoisted his rotund form out of the chair with a groan. “And for a guy who seemed to have a different date almost every Saturday night for the past several years, that seems a bit odd. Don’t ya think?”

“Careful, Cap.” Ronan winked and extended the two finished reports to his superior. “You sound jealous.”

“Some detective you are.” Jenkins made a snort of derision and snagged the papers from Ronan. “Not jealous, more like impressed. I can’t remember the last time I went out on a date and believe me; it ain’t for lack of effort. A good lookin’ guy like you could be out with any woman he wanted. And here you are, pining away for the one broad in this city who turned you down.”

“See?” Ronan leaned back in his chair and laced his fingers behind his head. “You’re working under the assumption that I’ve asked her out, for an actual date, that is. I’m still in the game.”

“Sounds like you’re on the bench.” Jenkins narrowed his pale brown eyes. “You haven’t actually asked her out? You been joggin’ with this woman all the freakin’ time. What’s the hold up?”

“I told you, man, we’re just friends.” Ronan shrugged. “Period. End of story.”

“Bullshit,” Jenkins snorted. “I may be old-fashioned but men and women can’t only be friends. Not really.”

“Whatever, man,” Ronan sighed and dropped his hands the arms of his chair. He would never win that argument with his Captain. “It’s complicated, okay?”

“You mean because of the dead boyfriend?”

“Real sensitive, Cap.” Ronan gave him a sarcastic thumbs-up. “His name was Rick and he was a firefighter back in our home town. He bought it on the job. I knew him, okay? He was a good guy.”

“Right, that sucks,” Jenkins, said slowly. “But with all due respect, she can’t date a dead guy, and his memory ain’t gonna keep her warm at night.”

“Come on, Cap,” Ronan persisted. “They were practically married and were together for years, like almost a decade. It seems shady to be hitting on her so soon after something like that. I’m being her friend, which is exactly what she needs.”

“Maybe, but it sounds like an excuse to me.” Jenkins snapped his fingers at his dog. “Come on, Saratoga. Let’s go, girl. It’s time to head home.”

“Why would I need an excuse?” Ronan shouted after him.

“Easy,” Jenkins barked over his shoulder. “If you don’t ask, then she can’t turn you down.”

Ronan had no response to that. The son of a bitch was absolutely right. He hadn’t come right out and asked Maddy on a date because he was pretty sure she’d say no. Plus, why would he want to make it weird between them, especially before the wedding? That wouldn’t be fair to his brother and Jordan. The last complication they needed was awkwardness between the best man and the maid of honor.

He went to close his computer down, the Bowman case came to mind. A knot formed in his gut. Like the investigating officers, he too suspected that Lucille knew her killer—at least enough to go off with him without raising an alarm. But on the other hand, the New York City real estate market was massive, The odds were probably slim that Maddy knew this guy too, whoever he was.

Slim or not, he was going to have to have a chat with her about safety precautions. Bowser yawned loudly before stretching and rising to his feet.

“What do you think, buddy?” The bloodhound came over and laid his head in Ronan’s lap, as though asking to get the hell out of there. “Think Maddy will take advice from me and take the proper precautions?”

Bowser snuffled loudly and sat on his haunches.

“Yeah,” Ronan laughed softly. “Me neither. But that won’t stop me from trying.”

***

Maddy discreetly checked the time on her phone before turning her attention back to the young couple whispering with each other in the kitchen. Mrs. Bartholomew loved the place and Mr. Bartholomew wasn’t entirely sold but if she had to bet—the wife was going to win.

The Friday evening Open House, while at an unorthodox time, was turning out to be one of her busiest in the past month. Brenda was supposed to assist Maddy tonight to get a little more experience under her belt, but she’d never showed. The girl was new and eager to please, but flaking out on this Open House was not cool. Maddy loathed reprimanding people but a lecture was coming Brenda’s way. The beautiful blonde was barely out of college—would she have blown off work for a better offer and a hot date? The company had taken a chance bringing someone so young and green into the office.

It looked like they had made a mistake but Maddy hoped like hell the girl had a good reason for flaking out. A smile curved her lips. Terrence, her boss and the owner of Cosmpolitan Realty, would surely tell her to give Brenda another chance. His compassion and strong ethical code were the two main reasons she signed on with his company. His business was about people not only making the sale, which was unusual in the cutthroat real estate world.

Maddy came to this city to live without emotional attachments but time and again she found herself getting suckered in. She couldn’t help it. The city might be cold and unemotional but no matter how hard Maddy tried, she couldn’t be.

Letting out a sigh, she checked her phone again. There was no answer to the text she’d sent Brenda, and no missed calls.

Perfect. Managing staff and juggling personalities was Maddy’s least favorite part of business. She used to tell Rick she was fine not having kids, because she knew plenty of adults who acted like children. Maybe she was being too hard on the girl and too quick to judge.

She pictured herself scolding the girl but Maddy knew the fantasy would have to suffice. She’d never do it real life. One look into the sweet wide-eyed apologetic face of Brenda and Maddy would be telling the girl not to worry about it.

I’m a sucker.

Handling this Open House on her own wasn’t difficult, per se. She could handle events like this with her eyes closed. But it had been busy. The spacious Upper West side penthouse had only been on the market for a week and the owners were eager to sell. That typically happened with a divorce. Since they were so eager, Maddy set up a Friday night Open House to go with the one on Sunday but based on the interest tonight, the place could be sold by then.

God bless the Internet.

She’d done damn well back in the Old Brookfield beachfront market and many of those wealthy clients who bought summer property lived and worked in the city. Transitioning to the New York City market had been surprisingly easy.

Besides, her favorite part of being a realtor was helping people find the place they would call home. The one space where they could kick off their shoes, snuggle up on the couch, and find shelter from the world and their worries. It was the most satisfying part of her job.

Maddy gave the wealthy young twosome the space she knew they wanted, and loitered by the front door while they chatted quietly. Twelve other realtors had been through the massive apartment with their clients at last count, in addition to seven walk-ins. It had been a long and emotionally draining week., and there were about ten minutes left before she could go home and collapse.

Just as that thought rushed through her weary brain the private elevator to the penthouse dinged. The doors slid open and a man stepped out. He was older, probably late fifties, good looking and distinguished in a Gordon Gecko kind of way. He had Wall Street sleaze ball written all over him and reeked of over compensation. She’d be willing to bet he drove either a Porsche or Corvette—probably bright yellow.

It was something about the way men like him carried themselves: shoulders back, head up, expensive suit—but the fear of discovery lingered behind their eyes. It was like at any moment someone might reveal them for the fraud that, deep down, they believed themselves to be.

Sucker or jaded bitch? Maddy forced a smile and extended her hand. This city has already done a number on me.

            “Hello, I’m Maddy Morgan.” She shook his hand briefly as he moved into the large foyer. His gleaming polished shoes clicked on the tumbled marble floor. “You made it to our Open House just in time.”

“Thank you.” He didn’t look at her but scanned the foyer as he continued toward the open living room. “Peter Gregory.”

“Did you have an opportunity to sign in at the front desk? The building’s board insists upon it.” Maddy strode up next to him. “The security here is top notch, which is, of course, one of the selling points.”

“Of course.” He gave her a tight smile and nodded toward the window bank on the opposite wall. “May I have a look around? I’ve just begun the process of finding a new home and this one seemed perfect on paper.”

“Absolutely.” Maddy folded her hands in front of her and glanced at the yuppies. Still whispering. “Then you know that this lovely home has four bedrooms and three and a half baths. The kitchen is state of the art and you have a private garden terrace off the master bedroom.”

“Yes. As I said, I’ve seen the listing.” He tilted his head and strolled across the room with an air of arrogance around him. “Thank you, Ms. Morgan. I’ll just take a quick walk through. I realize the showing time is almost over and I wouldn’t want to throw anyone off schedule. My wife will be joining me in a few weeks and if I don’t have something decent to show her, she’ll be quite perturbed with me.”

A wife? That was surprising. Maddy thought for sure this man was a bachelor.

“I see,” Maddy said as she scolded herself for jumping to conclusions. “Is there something in particular she’s looking for?”

“I’ll know it when I see it,” he said quietly. He held his hands behind his back and surveyed the space. “Finding a new home, knowing when it’s the right one, is more of a feeling. It’s not something one can put on paper. Wouldn’t you agree?”

“Yes, absolutely.” Her lips lifted. She had definitely misread this man. “In fact, I couldn’t agree more.”

“Well, then. I’ll be just a moment.”

“Take your time, Mr. Gregory.” Maddy meant it, too. She may have been tired but time was money. Besides, if he and his wife weren’t already working with another realtor, she’d be more than happy to help them. “I’ll be right here if you have any questions.”

“Excuse me, Ms. Morgan?” The young Mr. Bartholomew strode out of the kitchen with his wife’s hand clasped tightly in his. Based on the excited twinkle in the pretty blonde woman’s eyes, she’d won the whisper war. “We’ll be putting in an offer. We didn’t officially sign the contract with you and Cosmopolitan Realty yet but I’d like to rectify that immediately.”

“Absolutely. I know you had to rush out to another appointment after our last meeting.” Maddy smiled warmly. She pulled her card from her pocket and handed it to him. “This is my listing and I’m happy to help you.”

“Thank you,” the young woman squealed with excitement. “I know you’re not supposed to show how much you love a place but I can’t help it.”

“Believe me, I understand.” Maddy nodded. “I knew my apartment would be mine from the second I stepped through the front door. It just felt …”

“Like home?” She asked hopefully.

Referring to Maddy’s apartment as home would be a major stretch. Nowhere in this huge heartless city ever would ever be her home. Not really. Honestly, she’d begun to wonder if she’d ever feel at home anywhere ever again.

“You could say that,” Maddy smiled. “It felt safe.”

Yeah, safe for you to hide from your life and the rest of the world. Coward.

            “Honey,” her husband said warningly. “We still have to go over a few items. I’m sure if Ms. Morgan gets any offers between now and nine o’clock tomorrow morning she’ll let us know, so we can jump into the bidding. Right?”

“Definitely.”

Maddy showed the Bartholomews to the elevator and let out the weary laugh the instant the door slid closed with a dull thump. Their enthusiasm was refreshing if not, naïve. They were first time buyers and from a big money family. Private schools and country clubs had been their playgrounds, and dropping several million on this apartment didn’t seem like it would faze them in the least.

Really, though, what did Maddy know? They could have won the freaking lottery, or maybe the guy hit it big with some start-up company. At the end of the day, where they got their money didn’t matter. It was none of her business, but that aside, she did like to speculate. It kept the process interesting and forced her to pay attention to details. Usually, it was the smallest detail that gave the largest amount of information.

Like Ronan McGuire and the coffee, for example.

A smile curved her lips when she recalled the way he effortlessly ordered her coffee exactly the way she liked it. It might have seemed silly to some, but that small bit of knowledge showed his attentiveness. Her smile faltered and she fished her phone out of the pocket of her suit jacket. In all the years she’d been with Rick, the man never had remembered how she liked her coffee. He got it wrong so often it had even become a running joke between them. Then again, he’d always had a rotten memory and had even forgotten her birthday a couple times.

Details hadn’t been Rick’s strength.

“Ms. Morgan?” The voice pulled her from her memories and Maddy spun around quickly, feeling foolish for drifting off like that. “Are you feeling alright?”

Mr. Gregory stood behind her and was peering at her as though he was worried she was going to faint or something.

“Yes,” Maddy said, quickly.

“You’re certain? Because my wife has been ill and…well…she sometimes gets a faraway look on her face, like the one you just had. It makes me worry.”

“I’m so sorry, Mr. Gregory.” Maddy’s voice softened. “I hope she’s on the mend.”

“As much as one can be after a few rounds of chemotherapy.” He dropped his gaze from hers and cleared his throat before turning his back to her. “I don’t think she would like this penthouse and given the circumstances, it must be exactly right.”

“Of course.” The broken tone of his voice tugged at her heartstrings. “If you decide work with me, I promise you we’ll find the perfect home for you and Mrs. Gregory.”

“Thank you.”

“Do you have any questions?”

“Yes and no.” He turned to face her again, his cool demeanor once again in place. “I saw what I needed to see. As I am just starting my search, I’d like to go look at some other spaces. Do you have time on your schedule this weekend?”

“Of course.” She squared her shoulders and grabbed a copy of the listing off the table before handing it to him. “I apologize, I should have given you this when you came in. I will tell you that the couple that just left have said that they’ll have a bid in by morning. No pressure, but I want you to have all the information you might need to make an informed choice.”

“I see.” He folded the paper lengthwise and slipped it inside his jacket pocket, and all the while his cool gaze remained pinned to hers. “While I like this particular apartment, I want to see others. While I am not a man who normally makes decisions quickly, time is of the essence. For obvious reasons.”

“Understandable.” Maddy gathered the extra listing sheets into a folder. “If you’re not already working with a realtor, then I’d be happy to help you.”

“I was but…it didn’t work out.” He lifted one shoulder and waved his hand dismissively. “She wasn’t a good fit. The woman seemed more concerned with her commission than finding me what I needed.”

“I’m sorry to hear that you had an unpleasant experience.”

“It’s business,” he said flatly. “I want the best and based on everything I’ve heard lately, that would be you. You came highly recommended.”

Maddy tightened her grip on the folder and held it against her chest.

“Really?”

“Yes.” He nodded curtly. “I’m new to the city. Until recently, I operated out of our company’s Chicago offices. After my unpleasant experience with the other realtor, I was told by our CEO, Bill Weinstein, that you are the best in the business on every level.”

“I’ll have to thank him for the kind recommendation.” Maddy’s chest puffed a bit with pride. The Weinsteins were one of her best clients, and had rented houses in Old Brookfield from her every summer for the past several years. They had been persnickety about their new home in the city but she’d stuck with them and found them a fabulous duplex that met every one of their needs. No small task, to be sure.

“If you know Bill,” he said, a hint of a smile played at his lips, “then you know he’s not one to pass out compliments easily. My wife, Helen, told me if I didn’t take his advice I was a horse’s ass.”

Maddy’s brows lifted and her reaction elicited a small smile from Mr. Gregory.

“Thirty five years of marriage and one learns to listen to one’s wife. Especially when she refers to one as an animal’s backside.”

“Then I’ll be sure I take the time to find out exactly what you’re looking for.” Madd’s lips lifted . “Perhaps we could meet at my offices tomorrow, or Sunday. Just let me know what’s best for you. I like to meet with my clients first to find out exactly what they are looking for.”

Maddy handed him her card, which he promptly slipped into his pocket without even looking at it.

“Sunday.” He strode past her to the elevator and hit the button. “Your office at noon.”

“Wonderful.” Maddy smiled. . “I’ll see you then.”

The door slid closed and Maddy was left alone in the enormous apartment. She hoped that his former realtor wasn’t anyone that she knew.That could get awkward fast. This business was nothing if not cutthroat but Maddy wasn’t. Stealing clients was plain old wrong and there was no way she would knowingly poach from another realtor’s list.

Gregory was uptight and bossy but none of that mattered. Maddy had a new bee in her bonnet and it was finding a home for him and his ailing wife. Thirty-five years? Holy shit. That was a long damn time to be with one person.

She made quick work of shutting off all the lights and making sure everything was exactly as the owners had left it.

Her phone buzzed in her pocket as she stepped out of the elevator into the ornate lobby. She expected to see a voicemail or text from Brenda, explaining where she’d been.

Maddy glanced at the screen and a slow smile curved her lips. Her heartbeat picked up along with a giddy fluttery feeling in her belly, making her feel like a swarm of butterflies had been let loose. Definitely not Brenda.

It was a text from Ronan.

Meet you in the park for our Saturday morning run tomorrow? By the Alice in Wonderland statue. 9am. Be there or be square.

            Maddy bit her lower lip and started to type back but her thumb paused above the screen. It hovered there like an indecisive squirrel in the middle of the street, choosing whether or not to get run over by the oncoming car. If she continued meeting up with Ronan, eventually, their platonic relationship would likely take a hefty turn toward lusty.

Would that be so bad?

Before she could talk herself out of it, she typed back.

Yes. See you then and this time coffee is on me.

            She went to put it in her pocket but Ronan, the speed texter, texted back immediately.

Good. You do know how I like it don’t you?

            A wicked grin cracked Maddy’s face because the message was brimming with sexual innuendo. Before she could come up with a witty response, he texted again.

My coffee…I was talking about my coffee…really 😉

A delicious shiver flickered and got her blood moving. How silly was it a flirty text exchange could give her such a thrill? Maybe pathetic was a better word but she didn’t care. She was having too much fun and it had been far too long since she’d had any of that. Maddy puffed a curly strand of hair away from her eyes and texted back.

Sure, McGuire. See you tmrw.

            Smiling and filled with an almost schoolgirl giddiness, Maddy tried to maintain her professional exterior. She collected the sign in sheet from the front desk bell captain and slipped it into her folder. She placed everything on the quilted bench by the desk and pulled on her wool coat, bracing herself for the dark chilly night air. Her last message to Ronan was still on her screen and without even thinking about it, she scooped up the phone and sent one more text.

And for the record, I bet I know exactly how you like it.

****

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