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Chapter One


May, 1942


Regan had the top down on her 1934 Ford as she drove away from Hartford. She needed the feel of the wind in her hair, hoping it would help to blow away the cobwebs. She hadn't slept much the last couple of nights. It wasn't the upcoming job that bothered her. She'd been a private eye for several years and had undertaken dangerous jobs before. Not as dangerous as this one could turn out to be, but if you didn't take risks, you would end up doing the same thing every day for the rest of your life. And Regan O'Reilly wasn't a same old thing kind of girl.

No, it wasn't what lay ahead that bothered her. It was what she was leaving behind; Mark Harris and his terrific little boy. Patrick was only nine years old, but he'd captured Regan's heart from the first minute she'd met him. The boy had considered his near-kidnapping a grand adventure.

His father was a life insurance adjuster with Amalgamated and had been investigating a claim. It turned out that the man claiming the insurance money had murdered his wife and he'd had the ridiculous idea that he could force Mark to pay by kidnapping Patrick. Thanks to Regan's quick action, if she did say so herself, Wells had been caught in the act. Patrick and his equally adorable little dog, Mitzi, had been saved.

That was the start of it. Mark had invited Regan over for a thank you dinner, burned the meatloaf, and they'd ended up scrambling eggs together followed by a fierce game of Crazy Eights. It had been one of the best evenings of her life.

When she thought of Mark and Patrick, she thought of sandy blond hair and identical brown, cocker spaniel eyes. She'd only been exposed to those eyes for a few days and already found them impossible to resist. Regan had to wonder how Mark's late wife had managed to hold out against the pleading of her two men. One wasn't too bad, but when both turned those eyes on her, Regan melted.

Regan found it easier to think of them both together, though. That meant she didn't have to think of Mark and his magic mouth.

Regan's first experience with a man had been her fiancé, Lonnie, who she'd turned to after the death of her brother, Bobby. Then Lonnie's fishing boat had gone down with all hands. All that loss had been too much for Regan, and her father had sent her to Hartford to train as a P.I. with a fellow cop who'd retired from the force.

It was a long time before Regan allowed herself to get involved with a man, and she'd always broken it off before it could become too serious. Somehow she didn't think she'd be able to put off Mark as easily as she had the others. He was a determined man, and when she'd driven away from him the other night, she could feel his eyes pulling her back. Mark and Patrick Harris were even more compelling reasons to take this job in Cheshire.

Regan was getting close to Cheshire and it was time to put on her new persona. Her new name was Helen Flaherty, and Eddie McIntyre, who'd hired her, had done an impressive job of supplying her with the new identity in just a few days’ time. He'd also supplied her with a small but expensive wardrobe; flamboyant but not flashy. It was consistent with a woman who had expensive tastes but not enough money to indulge herself too frequently.

First she'd get settled into Mabel McIntyre's house, and then she'd spend tomorrow walking around downtown Cheshire looking for a job. It was up to her to apply and get hired at Magnum's. There was no telling who might be involved in the thefts throughout Magnum's chain of stores, and they couldn't risk setting her up with the job.

Regan drove around downtown Cheshire as planned, letting people see her. She knew she would be noticed with the top down on her bright red convertible. It wasn't the best color for stake-outs, but it was her late brother Bobby's beloved car, and she couldn't give it up. It was perfect for this purpose, though, and Regan made a point of smiling and waving at a few people as if she already knew them.

Then she drove into the residential area as if looking for something in particular. She stopped at a few places that had a room for rent sign out front, finally ending up at Mabel McIntyre's trim little bungalow. There was the sign in the window as promised.

Regan pulled to the curb and took out her compact to touch up her make-up, then ran a comb through her hair. She strolled up to the door, more cocky than confident. She wanted to look like a woman who wanted to be classy but hadn't quite succeeded.

She thought of Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire and Lady Eve. Barbara was her favorite actress, and she was wonderful at playing sassy women who wanted more. So, that's who Helen Flaherty was, with a little bit of Regan O'Reilly thrown in.

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