Connor spent a frustrating couple of hours chasing the shadow that was Julie Crenshaw. The news station turned out to be his first big mistake. Those bloodhounds never knew how to leave well enough alone. The second he’d given his name at the door, he’d been guided right inside. Clenching his gut to smother the annoying butterflies—probably heartburn from the burrito he’d wolfed down for breakfast—he rubbed his pec a couple times and followed a woman in corduroy coveralls down the hall.
“Aren’t you that detective who upset Julie at the beach last week?” She glanced over her shoulder and gave him the once-over. The look in her eye said she found him lacking.
“I’m pretty sure she was distraught before I arrived,” he said, noncommittedly. How long was this hallway?
They sidestepped around a scissor-lift parked against the wall and the door came into view. He let out a near silent sigh of relief that turned out to be premature because she turned and held up a hand, halting their progress.
“Listen, I get that you have a job to do, we all do, but Julie is different. She’s been through some bad shit, so take it easy on her, okay?” Striking blue eyes zapped him with laser-beam intensity. He’d been warned.
If he weren’t so anxious to make sure Crenshaw was safe, he’d have found this little exchange amusing. Connor was glad she had people in her corner, it must be tough juggling a full-time job and both parenting roles to a couple of growing boys.
The thought of her struggling to get by after losing her husband twisted the tension in his stomach another notch. Though why it should matter to him that she’d once been a happily married woman, he didn’t care to guess.
“I just have a few questions,” he said to the firecracker bristling before him. “I’m not here to cause trouble.”
“Well, see that you don’t,” she huffed, then spun on her heel and slapped the crossbar on the door, allowing it to open with a crash loud enough to wake the dead.
Several sets of eyes centered on him like he was a bullseye and they held the darts. Friendly bunch.
He followed Julie’s champion down a row of mix-and-match desks, some occupied, some recently vacated if the mess of papers and flickering computer screens were anything to go by.
She slowed near an empty desk crowded with different-sized framed pictures, stacks of folders, and maybe the largest red coffee mug he’d ever seen.
“Ron, where is Julie?” The woman stood, hands on trim hips, and glared at the surly looking hulk leaning back in his seat, feet crossed on the edge of a scarred wooden desk.
“Do I look like her mother?” he scowled. “What do you want from me, Sam?” He dropped his legs, but remained seated, his dark gaze landing on Connor. “Who the hell is this?”
Connor stepped forward, angling between the combatants. “Detective O’Rourke. Mind answering a few questions…?” This guy was carrying a serious chip on his shoulder. Connor was tempted to knock it off. He didn’t like men who spoke offensively to women. It reminded him of his childhood a little too much for comfort.
The guy finally got to his feet. He was big, three or four inches over Connor’s own six feet. With linebacker shoulders and visible ink, he cut an intimidating figure. Not that Sam seemed very alarmed.
“That’s Ron Henderson. He’s supposed to be helping Julie learn the ropes,” she said, sarcasm ripe in her voice.
“I can talk for myself, thank you. Don’t you have a truck to clean or something?” He kicked his chair out of the way and strolled around the corner of his desk.
She shot him a go to hell look and touched Connor’s arm. “His bark is almost as bad as his bite. Don’t get too close and you’ll be fine.” Satisfied she’d gotten the last word in, Sam grinned and sauntered down the rest of the row and out of sight.
Ron shook his head and turned to Connor. “What do you want to know, detective?”
“How long have you been a reporter, Henderson?” The man had the look of a jaded cop. Eyes that had seen too much, a mouth that had lost the ability to smile naturally. Tough, leathery skin. A lot like himself. Connor rubbed his pec again.
Henderson stood taller. “What difference does that make?”
“I just wanted to know how qualified you are. Telling the news is a big responsibility.” Connor quit prevaricating and made his point. “You don’t want to be jumping any guns and creating a mass hysteria with the public. I think Julie… Mrs. Crenshaw, could be in over her head. If it’s your job to take care of her, I suggest you do it. Get her off this case before she gets hurt.”
Fuck, stick to business shithead.
Henderson’s ears perked up at the personal reference. He relaxed and leaned against the desk, boots crossed at the ankle, hands cupping the edge of the desk on either side of his jean-clad hips. “She’s right pretty, ain’t she, detective. Maybe you’re a touch more invested in her than the case.”
Connor’s hands fisted and of course Henderson picked up on the tell. His lips quirked. “Julie is her own person, O’Rourke. I’ve already tried to talk her out of following this story, but she’s sunk her teeth into it. All I can do now is watch her back, and keep her as safe as possible. Meanwhile, if you quit harassing the news media, do your job and catch this motherfucker, we won’t need to worry about our girl anymore. Right, Detective?”
How the hell had he managed to lose control of this conversation? And who decided she was our girl? Julie Crenshaw was no one’s girl. She was all woman.