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The Rookie's Assignment

The Rookie's Assignment by Valerie Hansen
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Consider the joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

Eager to get to work, rookie officer Keira Fitzgerald paused on the stoop behind the Main Street police station just long enough to stomp snow off her boots and fill her lungs with the crisp, clean sea air of the Massachusetts coast.

The moment she stepped inside the building she sensed an undercurrent of discontent that nearly stopped her in her tracks. Something was definitely not normal.

Stripping off her gloves, hat and jacket she headed straight for her brother Douglas's desk.

"What's going on? I haven't heard this much grumbling since the Minutemen lost their last football game."

Captain Douglas Fitzgerald raised his blue eyes—a familial trait he shared with Keira—and arched his brows. "You'd better go find out for yourself. The chief is waiting."

"For me? Why?"

"I'll let him tell you."

"Hey, I thought big brothers were supposed to look out for their sisters."

"Believe me, Keira, if there was anything I could do to get you out of this, I would."

"Out of what?" She sent a comical grimace his way, hoping that teasing would loosen him up. Instead, he merely shook his head and jerked a thumb toward their father's closed office door.

"Okay, okay. I get it. I'm going."

She smoothed her short, dark hair and checked every aspect of her neatly ironed blue uniform before knocking on Aiden Fitzgerald's door and peeking in. "Morning, Chief. You wanted to see me?"

"Yes," Aiden said. "Come in. There's someone I want you to meet."

Keira was duly impressed the moment her gaze swept over the man standing beside her father. Probably about thirty, he wasn't taller or more muscular than her brothers, and his hair was brown instead of Fitzgerald black, yet there was something extremely formidable about him. Maybe it was the way he studied her, his hazel eyes seeming to change to the sea-green color of his pullover sweater.

"This is Keira Fitzgerald, the officer I was telling you about," the chief said. "Keira, Nick Delfino."

Smiling slightly she extended her hand. "Pleased to meet you."

Although Nick accepted her overture with a firm grip he didn't return her smile. "My pleasure."

"Welcome to Fitzgerald Bay." Keira had to stop herself from nervously wiping her hand on the side of her uniform pants as soon as he released it. Not only had his handshake been firm, his warm touch had sent tingles zipping through her fingertips. She clasped her hands together. "Sorry. I just came in. It's freezing out there."

"Nick is from Boston. He's used to our climate," Aiden said. He cleared his throat. "He's been reassigned here to temporarily assist us in our investigation of the murder."

"The Olivia Henry murder," Nick added.

So that was what was bugging Douglas and the others. Their expertise was being challenged. No wonder she'd sensed so much tension in the air this morning. Nobody liked having their work questioned—especially not by some supposed hotshot from the big city. Then again, maybe they did need help. They hadn't made much progress on that case in the month since the body had been discovered.

Poor Olivia had been working as a nanny for Keira's brother Charles Fitzgerald, taking care of his young, motherless twins when she'd been murdered. The town was still reeling over her death and the senselessness of the killing, not to mention the undercurrent of unrest that lingered due to their inability to solve the case.

When her father didn't elaborate, Keira felt compelled to rise to his defense. "That's the only murder investigation we're working on. I assure you, Fitzgerald Bay is not a bit like Boston."

"I see." One corner of Nick's mouth twitched as if he might be laughing at them on the inside, even if he was too polite to let it out.

Aiden cleared his throat and Keira could tell that he was deeply troubled. It was natural for her father, as police chief, to take any serious crimes personally. She just wished they'd get this particular file closed—for everybody's sake.

"I'm teaming you up on the Henry case, at least for the time being," the chief said, looking from one to the other. He finally settled his gaze on Keira. "Nick is a highly experienced detective, which is the main reason I agreed to let him help us out. I had already talked to an old friend in law enforcement about bringing in fresh eyes so I didn't hesitate when I got a call from the State Police recommending we utilize Nick. I'm sure he can teach us plenty."

Her eyes widened and her mouth gaped. "But.."

"No buts, Keira. I'm speaking as your chief and as your father. When I partner you with any of our regular officers, especially with your brothers, I worry that they'll risk their lives to protect you."

"Of course they would. I'd do the same for them," she insisted, frowning and embracing Douglas's defensive mood more fully by the second.

"That's beside the point. You wanted to be a cop, so be one. You know this town inside out. You're the perfect person to acquaint Nick with everything he needs to know to conduct a successful investigation."

"Yes, sir."

Under other circumstances she might have given her dad a cheery, comic salute to encourage him and make him smile. This time, she cautioned herself; they needed to present a fully professional front. Three of her four brothers, Ryan, Owen and Douglas, as well as the chief, were members of the Fitzgerald Bay Police Department. They had a reputation to uphold. Particularly in the presence of this interloper.

"I already have my uniforms and lieutenant's brass," Nick announced. "All I'll need is a FBPD badge and I'll be set. I can start immediately if you want."

"Fine." Aiden produced the ID Nick had asked for, then dropped down onto his leather desk chair as if the weight of the world lay on his shoulders. "That's all. You may go."

Keira's cool glance met Nick's resolute one and held it for long seconds before she led the way out of the private office.

"I'd tell you I was sorry you got saddled with a rookie like me if I didn't think I was the one being picked on," she said over her shoulder as they proceeded into the main part of the station.

"No problem. You aren't the first partner I've had who wasn't particularly thrilled with me."

She couldn't help herself. The opportunity for wry humor was just too perfect to pass up so she sent him the most sardonically sweet smile she could muster and said, "Good to know. Add my name to that list, will you?"

Nick had been floored when the beautiful, dark-haired young woman had waltzed into the chief's office.

That was a cop? Not in his book. Keira Fitzgerald didn't look able to take adequate care of herself, let alone fight crime. No wonder her father had assigned her to him. At least that would keep her out of trouble. For now. If he decided that the whole department was dirty, as he'd been led to suspect, he was pretty sure the starry-eyed rookie would find that conclusion impossible to accept.

Yeah, Nick thought, remembering what had happened after his last successful assignment in Boston, but Keira probably won't try to shoot me over it. That was a definite plus in his book.

Briefings and his own additional internet research had shown him that the Fitzgerald Bay Police Department hierarchy was mainly composed of Fitzgeralds; Ryan was the deputy chief, Owen was a detective and Douglas was a captain, not to mention rookie Keira and the chief. Which was one of the primary reasons Nick had been recruited by the Massachusetts State Police to conduct this undercover Internal Affairs investigation.

It wasn't going to be easy. Cops normally stuck together. Add the fact that many of these officers were blood relatives and you had an impenetrable barrier to the truth, particularly since Charles, the only Fitzgerald brother who wasn't on the force, happened to be a suspect in the Olivia Henry murder.

"Well, I suppose you want to get started right away," Keira said, pausing beside a small, cluttered desk that Nick assumed was hers.

"Yes. I got here last night but I wasn't sure when the chief would want me to start so I left my uniforms in my room at the inn across the street. I'll go change and be right back."

"I may as well walk over with you. I can introduce you to the staff of the Sugar Plum Cafe and Inn as part of your orientation."

"Okay." He didn't care if she dogged his steps 24/7. The more details he observed and could put into his report, the faster he'd be done with this assignment and could get back to his regular job—starting with looking into a few of his old cases that were still nettling him.

Holding the front door for her to pass he said, "I'd like to begin with you, if you don't mind. I understand you were present when the body was found."

"Not exactly," Keira replied. "A bunch of us were at my father's house when we heard the call and headed over there. Olivia had been late for a lunch date with a friend, Merry O'Leary. It was Merry who spotted her lying at the bottom of a cliff near the lighthouse. We thought she'd just slipped and fallen until some men rappelled down there and could inspect the scene closely."

"It looked like murder right away?"

Keira shook her head. "Not exactly. Like the report says, at first glance we thought Olivia had fallen. It was the bloody rock nearby and the way she hadn't bled much after she landed that made us suspect foul play."

"How many bystanders had already tromped all over the evidence by then?"

Watching her face closely he saw nothing but honesty underlying her prompt denial. "None. I just told you. A couple men went down the cliff on ropes before we did anything else."

"Why take that approach?"

"When you see the area you'll understand. That was by far the fastest way in, and at that time we weren't sure whether Olivia was injured or actually dead."

Nick noted that his new partner shivered as she spoke and wondered just how much of a rookie she was. "This is your first major case?"

She rolled her eyes and tried to smile at him, failing miserably. "Oh, yes. The only death I remember ever seeing up close was a pet hamster I had when I was a kid."

She paused, swallowed and licked her lips, making Nick slightly uncomfortable for reasons he couldn't quite fathom.

"I refused to look in the casket at my mother's funeral," Keira continued. "I wanted to remember her when she was happy and full of life."

"I'm sorry for your loss, but having to deal with tragedy is part of this job. Surely you knew that when you chose a career in law enforcement."

That observation brought a smile back to Keira's face and a twinkle to her bright blue eyes. "Yeah, well… I'm afraid I pictured my job more as that of an understanding friend, kindly suggesting that lawbreakers behave themselves instead of having to exert authority over folks who have known me since I was a kid."

"Sometimes there are far worse problems to deal with, as you found out."

"I sure did," she said with a nod. "The hard way."

Harlequin; February 2012
224 pages; ISBN 9781459221253
Read online, or download in secure EPUB
Title: The Rookie's Assignment
Author: Valerie Hansen
 
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