Arouse Suspicion

By: Maureen McKade

When police officer Paddy Hawkins is found dead in his bedroom with a revolver in his hand and a note on the nightstand, all the evidence points to suicide. Case closed--except to one man. Ex-Army Ranger Nick Sirocco was the last person to hear from Paddy. And the message that Paddy left him didn't sound like a man about to take his own life. To find out what happened to his friend, Nick will turn to the one woman he knows he can trust...

Ex-cop Danni Hawkins didn't buy that her father was murdered--until she heard his final message. Now, with Nick's help, she must uncover the tracks left behind by an elusive killer. She can't afford to let herself get distracted by the steamy attraction between her and Nick. But as their trail takes them deeper into the heart of corruption, Danni realizes the killer may be closer than she ever thought possible...

Chapter One

"He stared at the man who had once been his friend but who now was a heartless mercenary on the wrong side. Longstreet couldn't afford to let their past friendship cloud his judgment or sway his resolve. He had a job to do, and he had never failed yet. He blanked his mind and snapped another magazine into his Glock, then took aim. The pistol barked—"

Nick Sirocco swore and held down the backspace button until the words vanished from the monitor, leaving behind nothing but a pristine white screen and an insolent flashing cursor. He rubbed his eyes and glanced at the digital clock radio precariously perched on a stack of papers and books. 3:20 P.M. Less than twenty-four hours to finish the damned manuscript, which was only half completed.

The phone rang, startling him. Nick poked under a pile of papers where the handset was supposed to be but wasn't. He growled a few choice words and tried to remember where he'd left it. He rolled back his chair from his cluttered desk and rose. His right knee cracked audibly. The joint proceeded to make a muted pop with each step. Nothing like a couple of hundred parachute jumps to waste a guy's knees.

Fortunately, he didn't have to search long for the missing phone. Gus, his part golden Lab, part Irish setter mutt, came trotting down the hallway, the handset in her mouth. It rang a third time.

"Hand," Nick commanded, and Gus dropped it into his palm. "Good girl." As Nick wiped the doggy-drooled phone across his sweatpants, it shrilled impatiently again. He pushed a button. "Yeah."

"Hey, Nick, how's it going?"

The disgustingly cheerful voice of Steve Hardick, his agent, elicited a groan. "Why're you calling so late?"

"It's not even three-thirty."

"In New York it's after six," Nick reminded dryly as he walked back to his desk. "What's going on?"

In the pause that followed, Nick could almost hear the agent's smile fade. "Is the Longstreet book done?"

Nick squeezed the bridge of his nose and sighed. "Not yet."

"It's due the day after tomorrow, Nick. You've already had two extensions."

"It'll get there on time," Nick assured him. "I'll finish tonight and overnight express it tomorrow."

"It should've been done four weeks ago. You've been dicking around for two months. What's going on with you, anyhow?"

Nick bristled at Steve's nagging tone. He counted to ten to defuse his irritation. It didn't work. "I'm sick and tired of writing the same old thing: beer, bombs, and babes. Hell, Gus has more personality than Longstreet does."

Lying on the floor, the dog looked up at him and wagged her tail.

"Geezus, Nick, you knew this wasn't classic literature when you agreed to write for the line."

"Yeah, well, I needed the job back then, but after three years, it's gotten old. I feel like I'm writing the same frigging book over and over."

"Do you know how many men would give their left nut to write Travis Longstreet books?"

"I could've lived without that visual," Nick said dryly. He sank into his desk chair, the wheels squeaking as if punctuating his comment. "I want out, Steve."

"You're under contract for one more book."

"Get me out of it."

Steve's disbelieving snort came through loud and clear. "This is business, Nick, not some kid's game."

"Writing Longstreet books is a kid's game." Nick gripped the phone tighter. "Look, I've been working on something. A cop thriller."