Undercover Crush Keeps Hadley Out of Handcuffs

(Told from Officer Appley’s Point of View)

“That woman was up to something, Officer. I’m like a human lie detector; I can sense dishonesty from a mile away. When I told Hadley I was calling the police, she practically ran out of my hotel.” 

Anna Delgado, the manager of Hotel Darlington, saw herself as the community watchdog. She had a habit of calling the cops about anyone and everyone she deemed suspicious. Most were frivolous complaints that we barely blinked an eye at, but today’s call sparked my interest.

“I’ve never met a private investigator,” Anna went on, “but I can tell you right now that woman isn’t one. She’s too pretty, and she tried too hard to sweet-talk me into giving information about the homicide victim. If I had to guess, I’d say she’s a reporter. Probably works for some big-city TV station wanting to do an exposé about how Darlington Hills isn’t the safe little town it once was.”

Anna was right about the pretty part. Hadley’s full lips, smooth skin, and those big brown eyes—oh those eyes—were all I could think about the last couple of days.

“Thank you, Ms. Delgado. I appreciate the information. We’ll look into it.” I hung up with her, yanked the wheel of my patrol car to the right, and sped off toward the hotel.  

With any luck, I’d intercept Hadley on her way back since she had left by foot according to Anna.

At the intersection of Oakwood Lane and Forest Grove Avenue, I spotted a woman walking towards me wearing a form-fitting black dress with matching heels. I couldn’t see her face since she was busy digging through a purse hanging from her shoulder, but she looked like Hadley: tall, slender frame, and soft, light-brown curls that fell below her shoulders.

Curls I’d like to run my hands through.

I drove into the lot of the local dry cleaner and parked behind a cluster of boxwood shrubs to stay out of sight, then watched as she fiddled with her bag.

Last night after I delivered the news to Mr. Reading about his deceased fiancée, I drove Hadley over to her aunt’s house on the west side of town. It was a short ride—only five minutes or so—but it was long enough to get the blood flowing faster through my veins.

She had hesitated before getting into my patrol car, saying she’d never been in one before. I reassured her there was a world of difference between sitting in the back seat and riding shotgun with the law.

From the moment Hadley had strapped on her seatbelt, it became clear that she was full of curiosity—even at four in the morning. She asked about every switch and button on my console, and I sensed she was itching to press them.

I wouldn’t have minded. It would have given me an excuse to pull over and give her a thorough tour of my car. 

But I had to get her to her aunt’s quickly so she could sleep before her job interview. If she didn’t get the job, she wouldn’t move to Darlington Hills. 

The woman down the street looked up from her purse. It was indeed Hadley.

My thumb hovered over the siren button on the car’s control box. Technically, it was my duty to bring her to the station for posing as a private investigator.

But that might blow my chances of ever getting a date with her.

Unsure of what to do, I picked up my phone and called the one person who would be brutally honest with me—my older sister.

“Hey Dennis, what’s up?” Kate sounded distracted, and there was a lot of noise in the background.

“Are you at work? I can call later if you’re busy.”

“No, I left early because the preschool called and said Kinsley has an earache and fever. We’re waiting at the pediatrician, but I can talk because they take forever to see patients.”

I grimaced as I imagined little Kinsley in pain. “Poor girl. Tell her Uncle Dennis hopes she feels better.”

It seemed like only yesterday that Kinsley was born, and now she was already four-and-a-half years old. She was my only niece, and I didn’t get to see her as often as I’d like since my sister and her husband lived in our hometown of Dallas, Texas.

“So I met this woman…” I started.

“Ooh. Now you have my ear.”

I rolled my eyes. For the last four-and-a-half years, Kate had been begging me to “make” a cousin for her daughter. She even put it on Kinsley’s Christmas wish list last year.

“Her name’s Hadley. She’s sweet, she’s gorgeous, but I can’t decide if I should ask her to dinner right now or haul her to the police station.”

Oh. So you’re into naughty women now? Just wait till Mom finds out. She’ll disown you. What’d Hadley do?”

“She impersonated a private investigator.”

Kate laughed. “So what? You impersonated Dad that time Principal Walters called home about the fight you got into.”

“That’s different. I never got caught.”

“Yeah, because you had a freakishly deep voice for a fourteen year old.”

“Well, that wasn’t a Class A misdemeanor. This is. Around here, it’s punishable by up to one year in jail, and-or a hefty fine.”

“Wow, Dennis, you sure know how to reel in the ladies. For your information, ‘you have the right to remain silent’ is a lousy pickup line. You don’t have to handcuff women to get them to hang out with you.”

I sat up straighter and peered over the tall shrubs at Hadley. She was closer now, and her pace had slowed. It almost looked like she was in pain. 

I instinctively reached for the door handle, ready to pull it open and see if she needed help. Was she injured? 

Hadley stopped walking, slid off her heels and stuffed them into her bag, then strode forward with renewed energy. 

I relaxed a little, settling back into my seat. 

“It’s complicated,” I explained. 

“It shouldn’t be. If you like her, ask her out.”

“Hadley’s doesn’t live here—yet. She’s in town for a job interview, so if she doesn’t get it I may never see her again.”

“I guarantee you she won’t come back if you chase after her with handcuffs. Try flowers instead.”

“What are you, the love guru?” I said with a laugh. “You suckered Mark into dating you by pretending to be interested in his bird watching hobby.”

“Hey, it worked. I have a ring on my finger to prove it. And now I have my very own pair of bird-watching binoculars. They’re fog-proof and waterproof.”

My eyes shifted from Hadley to the glove compartment, which held my pair of agency-issued binoculars. A close-up view of her pretty pink lips would be nice.

Nope. Too stalker-ish.

Hadley was almost directly across from me now. She slowed again to dig through her bag, this time retrieving a phone and bringing it to her ear.

I brushed the tip of my finger against the siren button.

With one push, Hadley would take another ride in my car, and I’d spend the afternoon chatting with her at the station. 

I wouldn’t actually handcuff her—that wouldn’t be necessary. I’d start by explaining what she’d done wrong and how we do things here in Darlington Hills. Then I’d smoothly transition to other topics, like whether she had plans tonight.

I sighed. Who was I kidding? A trip to the station was out of the question. If I came down too hard on her for pretending to be a P.I., she might never return to Darlington Hills. 

Hadley looked briefly in my direction. One swift, fleeting glimpse of her eyes ignited a spark of hope within me.

Patience wasn’t my greatest strength, but this woman deserved every last drop I could muster. She’d been through a bad breakup recently, as she told me the day we met, and was taking a break from men. 

At this point, patience was my only option.

“The doctor just called us back to a room,” Kate said. “But one more question before I go. Why did Hadley impersonate a P.I.?”

I shook my head, a smile forming on my lips. “I don’t know, but I’m gonna find out.” 

Miss Hadley Sutton was trouble, no doubt about it.

Trouble in the sweetest, sexiest sense of the word.

It was the kind of trouble I wanted to dive into heart-first.

Don’t miss the next book in the Hadley Home Design Mystery Series, Pearl White Peril!