Unmarked Man, page 1
Cut from the same cloth, they’d either kill each other or love each other like no other. Either way, they were doomed.
Cissy slid out the car door. “You’ll let me know if you get anything from Eddie.”
“What are we? Partners now?”
“That’s right. Call me.” She slammed the door and walked to the motel office, giving Nick her best backside show.
If she were sixteen again, and he was seventeen, he would gun the engine and peel out. But she wasn’t sixteen. He wasn’t seventeen. She was thirty-two with a missing mother and sister and only a month of severance between her and the streets. He was thirty-three, a detective who had seen human depravity in all its many incarnations. Still, she’d bet her last year of decent dividends that as he eased the unmarked vehicle into traffic and pulled smoothly away, he was smiling. Just like her.
Dear Harlequin Intrigue Reader,
Take a very well-deserved break from Thanksgiving preparations and rejuvenate yourself with Harlequin Intrigue’s tempting offerings this month!
To start off the festivities, Harper Allen brings you Covert Cowboy—the next riveting installment of COLORADO CONFIDENTIAL. Watch the sparks fly when a Native American secret agent teams up with the headstrong mother of his unborn child to catch a slippery criminal. Looking to live on the edge? Then enter the dark and somber HEARTSKEEP estate—with caution!—when Dani Sinclair brings you The Second Sister—the next book in her gothic trilogy.
The thrills don’t stop there! His Mysterious Ways pairs a ruthless mercenary with a secretive seductress as they ward off evil forces. Don’t miss this new series in Amanda Stevens’s extraordinary QUANTUM MEN books. Join Mallory Kane for an action-packed story about a heroine who must turn to a tough-hearted FBI operative when she’s targeted by a stalker in Bodyguard/Husband.
A homecoming unveils a deadly conspiracy in Unmarked Man by Darlene Scalera—the latest offering in our new theme promotion BACHELORS AT LARGE. And finally this month, ’tis the season for some spine-tingling suspense in The Christmas Target by Charlotte Douglas when a sexy cowboy cop must ride to the rescue as a twisted Santa sets his sights on a beautiful businesswoman.
So gather your loved ones all around and warm up by the fire with some steamy romantic suspense!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Darlene Scalera is a native New Yorker who graduated magna cum laude from Syracuse University with a degree in public communications. She worked in a variety of fields, including telecommunications and public relations, before devoting herself full-time to romance fiction writing. She was instrumental in forming the Saratoga, New York, chapter of Romance Writers of America and is a frequent speaker on romance writing at local schools, libraries, writing groups and women’s organizations. She currently lives happily ever after in upstate New York with her husband, Jim, and their two children, J.J. and Ariana. You can write to Darlene at P.O. Box 217, Niverville, NY 12130.
Books by Darlene Scalera
HARLEQUIN AMERICAN ROMANCE
762—A MAN FOR MEGAN
807—MAN IN A MILLION
819—THE COWBOY AND THE COUNTESS
861—PRESCRIPTION FOR SEDUCTION
896—BORN OF THE BLUEGRASS
923—HELP WANTED: HUSBAND?
967—MAY THE BEST MAN WED
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Cissy Spagnola—The disappearance of her mother and sister have pushed her back into the arms of her first love, a man who could ruin Cissy faster than a cheap bikini wax.
Nick Fiore—Bad boy turned cop, he now protects the same mean streets he once ruled. It’s his duty—and desire—to stay as close as possible to Cissy.
Fat Eddie Spagnola—No one believes the violent drunk when he claims his wife stole some cash and left him in the middle of the night—least of all his stepdaughter.
Louise Spagnola—She believed in the sacraments of her religion…and she loved her red 1950s Thunderbird. What would make her suddenly abandon them both?
JoJo Spagnola—Cissy’s little sister had a habit of falling for the wrong kind of man. But would this last man be the end of her?
Tommy Marcus—He has the face of a padre and the connections of a politician. Cissy hopes his help will lead her to her mother and sister.
Philip Lester—The unassuming suburban tax clerk has a black Harley and friends like “Stevie the Sledgehammer.”
The Lords—An FBI sweep broke this gang up years ago, but they’re back to reclaim their South Side stronghold.
The streets were narrower than Cissy Spagnola’s memory. Front yards were a stoop flush to cement. Later, after the day’s high heat, fat old ladies would set up chairs on the sidewalks to scream at each other in Italian.
The station house was a dung-colored square with dirty windows. The neglect continued inside with scarred chairs, slow-turning ceiling fans, files stacked high and carelessly.
Cissy moved to the front desk. “I want to file a missing person’s report,” she told the woman behind the brown desk.
The woman didn’t look up. “Child or adult?”
“No,” Cissy told the woman’s crown in need of a touch up.
“Physically disabled? In need of medication?”
“Possible victim of foul play?”
“Bingo.” Cissy had never perfected the art of making friends.
The woman’s head snapped up. Her mascara had already begun to melt. “Gruber,” she yelled, her eyes shish-kebabing Cissy. “Possible missing.” She jerked her head toward the back, her sprayed bouffant solid. “Third desk on the right.”
Cissy was almost to the waiting Gruber with the keen, beady gaze when she heard her name spat as a question. She yanked her head around to find herself chest to rib cage with Nick Fiore. He was bigger than she liked to remember and solid as the brick walls she’d been running into her whole life. He sported the shaved hairstyle popular among cops, sports figures and skinheads, the white of his scalp suggesting an innocence Cissy knew he’d never known in his thirty-three years. The planes of his face were steeper, the line of his mouth as hard as when she had first pressed her own to it.
She reined herself in while he checked out her two-hundred-dollar haircut, the designer clothes, the air of success and confidence she’d struggled for since she was ten. Only she knew the third-rate brokerage firm where she’d worked had gone bust, her stock portfolio was in the crapper along with her ex-customers’ and her personal financial strategy of making no more than ‘the monthly minimum required’ was a hint as to why she should never have stepped onto Wall Street in the first place.
But she forgot all that as her gaze fell to where it shouldn’t have, and she caught the badge low on her old lover’s belt loops.
“Son of a bitch,” she said to life in general, more specifically to the unwelcome hum in her limbs gaining power.
The hard lines of
Before she had a chance to redeem herself with a more tasteful response, the man who’d taken her virginity on a studio couch with bad springs turned to his fellow officer. “I’ve got this one.” With the same power he’d used to claim her maidenhood, Cissy was led to a cubicle with fake oak walls.
“Have a seat.” He indicated the worn chair by the desk. She thought of bad springs.
She tried for an elegant lift of her head. “Are you sure it’s ethical for you to handle this report, considering our past?” Much better than her initial discharge.
He propped one muscled hip on the desk’s corner and smiled down at her.
His eyes alone could make a woman say yes.
She tightened her mouth, tightened her limbs. “Don’t try and weasel out of it by telling me you don’t remember.”
His tone, even more than his honesty, told her the man he’d become. She shot him a smile. After all, she had been as eager as he. Last virgin on the block had held no honor in her neighborhood. Nor any pleasure for a curious teenager whose closest run-in with titillation had been when she confused which orifice between her legs should be plugged with a tampon.
“Nick Fiore. A cop. Damn.” She plopped down in the chair. A spring impaled her.
He cocked his head, gave her another good, long once-over. “Stockbroker?” he said as if it were a guess.
Her eyes narrowed. “You’re good but you’re not that good.”
He chuckled, the sound hitting her square in the gut. “You’ve got a ripped up stock order ticket stuck on a wad of gum on the bottom of your shoe.”
So much for aplomb. He was right. She stunk of the neighborhood.
“My mother might have mentioned it, too.”
He could have gotten away without telling her that and impressed her big time. He hadn’t.
“More than once,” he added in a way that said his mother had harangued him daily.
Cissy suddenly adored Mrs. Fiore. “How is your mother?”
“Moved to Coco Beach two years ago with a guy with Elvis hair.”
Knocks on the door of the yellow rowhouse with the brown roof at 2:00 a.m., Cissy and her sister on the stoop in their pajamas. The door would open to Mrs. Fiore, cigarette in hand, pink tape across her bangs and the spitcurls in front of her ears. Sometimes Cissy’s mother had still been bleeding, always starting to swell. Once there’d been cracked ribs…
He studied her, the pain of his own past no less than her own. “She was right. You did okay, Cissy, for a skinny, flat-chested runt from the neighborhood.”
“I wasn’t too skinny for you one night.” But already her voice was softening. Even if he had broken her heart, she’d happily handed it to him. And Nick’s mother had been a good friend to Louisa Vitelli and her two girls. Not that Mrs. Fiore had ever been able to convince Cissy’s mother to leave her second husband. Mrs. Fiore’s own marriage had ended after her thirteen-year-old son had tried one Saturday night to protect her from her drunken husband. It’d taken twelve years and Nick’s two-week hospital stay. So Mrs. Fiore understood what didn’t seem understandable, and with a cloud of smoke and hot pink curls, opened her door to Cissy and her sister and mother any time day or night. Even knowing after one or two days, an apology and the promise it would never happen again, and Louisa would go home to Eddie.
“You didn’t do so bad yourself, Fiore.”
He smiled. The hum inside her swelled.
“For a lying skunk.”
His expression showed no offense. “I didn’t lie, Cissy. And you aren’t stuck in a three-story walk-up with sagging boobs and a couple of kids on a cop’s salary.”
He smiled wider. “Then what are you pissed at me for?”
She attempted indignation. “You could have at least called and given me the chance to turn you down.”
“I wasn’t that nice a guy.”
“You weren’t a nice guy at all.”
“I’m still not a nice guy.”
Cissy heard the warning and appreciated it.
“So, what brings you back down memory lane?”
“My mother. I’m afraid something’s happened to her. She’s missing.”
“Missing?” He became all cop now. Again Cissy saw the man he had become.
“I called her last night. My sister had left a message on my machine yesterday to call her. She sounded a bit hysterical, but then again, that’s not unusual for Jo Jo. She seems to thrive on high drama. I called the last number I had for her, but it’d been disconnected. That’s also not unusual for Jo Jo. So I called my mother to see if she had a number for her. When there was no answer at the house, I called the bar. They said Mama hadn’t been in all night, and Eddie had just left. I finally reached Eddie at the house. He said Mama was gone. Said she’d taken some cash and left him.”
“You don’t believe him?”
The cynical twist of her lips revealed the woman she had become. “Would you?”
“I don’t believe anybody.”
Nothing in his eyes flickered sympathy. She was grateful.
“She say anything to you about leaving him?”
Cissy shifted. Her gaze skittered about the office’s cheap walls. “I never really got that dutiful daughter routine down. I sent flowers on birthdays, Mother’s Day, checked in with her every few months, but we weren’t close.” She didn’t have to ask for understanding, not from Nick, but she knew her eyes pleaded with him anyway.
“So, how do you know your mother didn’t take the cash and split last night?”
“People don’t change, Nick.”
“Maybe.” She’d give him that much, but she could see the brittleness that kept his eyes dark and made him choose to wear a gun strapped to his side. Despite all appearances, he was holding on just like her.
“How far could she have gotten without her car?” she asked.
“She left her car?” Nick was cool enough not to lean forward but she’d gotten his interest.
“And that’s about it.” Her mother’s dresser drawers had been empty; her bedroom closet had been the same except for a few hangers. Nothing. Not one odd sock, old shirt. In the mirrored medicine chest in the bathroom, there’d been no makeup, no Noxzema, no Topaz that her mother said was the only thing that killed the stink of a Saturday night behind the bar. It was almost as if someone wanted to erase all traces. Except her mother’s hot red 1950 Thunderbird convertible she’d called “Cherry” had been parked in the drive.
“My mother’s car keys were on the kitchen counter along with a dry cleaning ticket for next Tuesday and an overdue video. Mama always did like to meet her responsibilities.”
“No note? Anything like that?”
Cissy shook her head.
“Somebody picked your mother up. A girlfriend?”
He was respectful enough not to say “boyfriend.” After all, Louisa Vitelli had changed his diapers. Still, the possibility Louisa had run off with another man was there like the spring bruising Cissy’s butt right now.
“I guess anything’s possible.” She gave Nick a deliberate glance. “Nah. You know my mother. She was brought up that marriage is a sacrament, divorce is a sin.”
Louisa’s first husband’s—Cissy’s father—heart had exploded one morning over cornflakes and coffee when Cissy was seven. Four years later her mother had married Fat Eddie Vitelli. The honeymoon hadn’t lasted long. Louisa’s choices in love were as bad as Cissy’s hot stock picks.
“Only a few months ago, my mother and Eddie had gotten a new place. Bought a fixer-upper not far from downtown, but far enough. The place needed some work but it had a couple wooded acres. Mama said the deer would come and eat right out of her hand. Last time I spoke with her, she…” Dead air. “She sound
“When was that?”
She counted back mentally, avoiding Nick’s gaze. “Five, six, maybe eight weeks.”
“That’s a long time for happiness to last.”
At least in the world they’d come from.
“When’s the last time you talked to your sister?”
Guilt made her gaze flit about the room again. “She called me about three, four months ago. We didn’t talk much.” She shrugged, hating that she still felt the need to ask for absolution. “Same old, same old. She needed money. I sent it.” She was almost afraid to ask. “You know anything about her? Maybe where I can find her?”
“She was hanging out at a place called Mother’s down lower South Street.”
“Near the port?”
“I’ll find her,” he said.
Stay out of it, she heard in his tone. She threw him her best low look of warning. He gave it right back to her.
“I used to walk these streets too, Fiore.”
“Yeah, in K-mart closeouts.” His gaze raked over her body and her five-hundred dollar French outfit.
He had a point. That pissed her off even more. “Hey, I wasn’t the only one who got my butt kicked from one end of Lansing to the other on more than one occasion.”
“Stay away from the port.”
He’d tried to tell her what to do. He’d made a big mistake.
He took out a business card. “Where are you staying?”
She had no idea. When she’d called and learned her mother was missing, she’d used her frequent flier miles to take the first available commuter, then a taxi to her mother and stepfather’s house where she’d found only “Cherry” and her bald-headed, beer-bellied stepfather in his boxers. She hadn’t thought any further ahead than that. She wasn’t going to stay at her stepfather’s. She didn’t know who was left in the old neighborhood.
“I’ll get a hotel room.”
“They just put up a new Americana downtown a few months ago. You have a cell phone?”
“Write it down. Your sister, your mother have that number?”