“Someone’s stealing my underwear! I need to find out who!”
Arching an eyebrow at the indignant female voice, Detective Derek McAllister raised his gaze from his computer screen. Hello. A slim blonde in a slinky red dress stood on the other side of his desk in Rosewood’s police station. Sparks radiated from the woman’s blue eyes as she dangled a scarlet G-string inches from his nose. Her hand jerked. The scrap of silk flipped off her fingertip, bonking his Mariners coffee mug and plopping onto his notebook.
Derek glanced at the front counter. Both Biggs, the balding desk sergeant, and Harding, a lanky patrol officer who shadowed Biggs like a starved-for-attention sidekick, looked back at Derek and chortled. Biggs twirled a finger near one cauliflower ear, mouthing, “Craaazy.”
Like Derek needed Biggs to tell him. Thanks a lot, boneheads. Sending me the kook, huh?
Both uniforms were working the night shift. Although Derek had reported a slow afternoon, there was still plenty to do before the bars closed and mid-July crap hit the fan. For instance, Harding. Instead of chuckling over the Funnies, the dope could be checking parks and alleys. And Biggs…rather than playing Sudoku and flirting with the female clerk, the guy could at least check email.
“Well?” The blonde at Derek’s desk stared him down. “Are you going to shuffle me off like they did—” she flicked a hand toward Biggs and Harding “—or take me seriously?” Her golden hair shimmered beneath the bright lights in feathery layers.
Hell, why not? Elbows on his desk, Derek hunched forward in his swivel chair. Taking initial theft reports wasn’t his responsibility. His job was to investigate. However, he sensed frazzled nerves beneath the woman’s righteous ire. And, considering the nature of her complaint…
He wanted to get a good sense of the problem and who she was so he wouldn’t need to do a second interview later. If kook-job poured off her in bucketfuls, he’d rather pacify her and escort her safely home than subject her to potential ridicule by directing her back to the guys up front. Sending her away to roam the Seattle suburb in her current state of agitation was out of the question.
Derek calmly eyed the G-string. He slipped a pen beneath a lacy strap and lifted the lingerie as carefully as if he were handling a piece of forensic evidence.
“Is this the underwear in question, ma’am?” he asked.
Her chin tipped up. “I’m a Miss. Miss DeMarco.” Her blue gaze darted away a moment. “No, that’s not the underwear I’m talking about. That underwear isn’t missing. Is it, Detective?”
That depends on whether you’re wearing any. Derek stifled the urge to lean across the desk and check the presence or absence of panty lines beneath her luscious red dress. “All right, then. What underwear of yours is missing?” A question he certainly hadn’t anticipated asking upon his return to the station. On a seedy street corner, maybe.
“My lingerie designs. The prototype samples.” The blonde snatched back the G-string. “This thong is a prototype, too, but thankfully the thief didn’t nab it.”
“Are you sure it was a thief?” Derek still had panty lines on the brain.
“Yes, Detective McAllister,” Miss DeMarco said with strained patience. “You are Detective Derek McAllister, right? That’s the name she—I mean, the men at the counter gave me.”
Derek arrowed a glance to the desk. Biggs, looking back again, rolled his eyes. Harding scratched his stomach and snickered.
“They would be right.” Derek tapped the cheap brass nameplate beside his computer. Miss DeMarco’s nervous gaze tracked the movement.
Her shoulders squared. “Well, Detective McAllister, usually when there’s a burglary, there’s a thief involved. Wouldn’t you say?”
“Yep. Usually, I would.” Unless she’d imagined the whole thing. Anxiety hopped off her slender curves like ants attacking a sugar bowl. Maybe she was paranoid. What a shame.
She hoisted a gigantic shopping bag off the floor. Derek’s lips tugged into a smile as she plunked the bag onto his desk, dug inside, and pulled out a skimpy lingerie top. She tossed the G-string—pardon him, thong—and pink lingerie onto the desk, then rummaged through the bag again.
“Damn it, I wanted to make sure he—I’m pretty sure the thief is a he—didn’t steal more samples, so I grabbed as many as possible before catching the bus over.” Out flew blue underwear and a yellow slip thing. “Trouble is, these prototypes take up so much room I’m having trouble finding my wallet.” The shopping bag coughed up a purple bra and some flimsy, pale green panties.
Derek put down his pen. “Don’t worry about the wallet.” Did she think she had to pay him?
“I see it!” She continued emptying the bag until an explosion of frothy colors littered his desk, reminding him of his twin sister Janie’s rooftop garden after her ex-boyfriend broke her heart and she’d weed-whacked every blossom formerly planted in honor of their love.
It occurred to him Janie would like Miss DeMarco. He could visualize the two of them whacking blossoms together.
“Ah ha!” The blonde produced a slim wallet. A cell phone clattered out of the bag, bouncing across the lingerie and clunking his jar of pens. Amid the chaos, she opened the wallet, withdrew a business card, and handed it to him.
A flowery script on creamy stock announced: Lacey’s Little Underthings. Lacey DeMarco, President and Head Designer.
“Lacey?” Derek muttered. “Give me a break.” Yeah, she’s a wing-nut.
A blush stained her face. “That’s right, Lacey DeMarco. My mother, Cather—uh, Christina DeMarco, is the famous lingerie designer out of Milan. My sister is Silken and my brother is Teddy. My mother believes in theme names.”
“Does she now?” Placing aside the card, Derek pressed down another smile. He’d never heard of Christina DeMarco. Or Cather-uh DeMarco. “Look, I need to understand the situation. If someone’s stealing your underwear, what’s all this?” He sifted his fingers through the pile.
She gazed at the heap. “This is...what’s left. What I’ve rescued.”
“Mm-hm. From the culprit, you mean?”
“Yes.” Her voice rose. “This hasn’t been stolen. Yet.” She stuffed the cell phone and lingerie back into the bag.
Derek picked up the green panties and studied the inside label. Well, lookee here. The hand-stitched label read Lacey’s Little Underthings, like her business card. Maybe his sexy wing-nut was on the up-and-up.
“Okay.” He tossed her the panties, which she caught with surprising deftness. “Please sit.” He indicated the chair in front of his desk. On his computer, he saved the grid he’d drafted showing a week of vehicle thefts. “Tell me what happened,” he said as he logged out of the computer and reached for his notepad.
She remained standing. “I’d rather tell you on the way over.” She shoved the wadded panties into the bag.
“The way over where?”
“My design studio—it’s in my apartment. That’s where the theft occurred. Don’t you want to inspect the scene of the crime?”
“I’d rather take notes first.”
Her eyebrows high-jumped. “I don’t have time! I never know when he might strike again. He’s already plundered me twice!”
Derek chuckled. “The panty thief?”
“The corporate panty raider,” Lacey returned in an uppity tone he swore she employed to disguise her obvious jitters. Because, if her dress was anything to go by, she didn’t look the uppity type. “Lacey’s Little Underthings is a legitimate company, Detective McAllister. I’ve produced my business card. I demand your respect.”
Derek tapped the pad against his palm. Finishing the vehicle theft grid could wait. While he didn’t buy into Lacey’s business-card definition of respect, she deserved his attention and protection as much as any other Rosewood citizen. Even if he wasn’t technically on-duty.
“Just a minute,” he told her. He got up and strode to the counter. “Harding. I need a ride-along. You available?”
“Sorry.” The guy plunked on his hat. “Just got a call.”
Biggs backed away, hands raised. “I need to write a report.”
Derek nodded. Typical.
He glanced back at Lacey. She stood at his desk, clenching the shopping bag and nibbling her lip.
He drew in a breath. Okay, then. He’d poke around her design studio, call in the crime scene techs if necessary. Volunteer an hour of his time toward her peace of mind, tops.
He motioned her over. “Not to worry, Miss DeMarco. I’d be happy to take a look.”
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