Act One, Scene Three

"Chet, can you bring me the BellCorp file?" Frank scribbled notes on a piece of paper with one had, the other pointing to text on his laptop's monitor. There was something he was missing, and it would drive him crazy until he figured out what it was. "Chet?" He cocked his head to the side, listening. There was no answer. He blew out an annoyed breath, his cheeks puffing out to the side. "All right, then," he muttered, "I guess I'll get it myself."

He walked into the quiet reception area, noting both the three or four bouquets of flowers that had arrived for Joe since his being featured in the paper and the fact that his brother's office door had been shut since Wednesday afternoon. Where is he? Frank wondered, then he shook his head, a slight grimace on his face. Joe was probably out doing surveillance somewhere and would call when he got bored. Although I would have expected that to have happened by now. It wouldn't be the first time Joe had neglected – or forgotten – to tell him where he was going. He shrugged his shoulders and continued on to Chet's desk.

As he put a hand out to open the filing cabinet, Frank noticed a note taped to Chet's computer. Unfolding it, he saw in Chet's neat writing: 'Filing affidavits at the courthouse. Be back ASAP.' Frank rolled his eyes. With the levels of security and bureaucracy Chet would encounter at the courthouse, he'd probably be gone for at least several hours. So I'll get to intercept any further floral deliveries. Great, just how I wanted to spend my afternoon.

It only took a few moments to find the file he needed. Frank nodded his head in approval at Chet's system and organization. Bringing him on was a good idea. None of this predecessors did this good a job. Or was as willing to put up with our quirks, he thought ruefully. At least Chet had the advantage of knowing what he was getting into when he took the job. He started leafing through the file, scanning the pages to find the information he needed and growing so engrossed in what he read, he sat down at the desk without realizing it.

Frank had lost track of how long he had been sitting there when he heard the loud noise of a clearing throat. He started slightly, then looked up to see a man, probably in his early to mid-fifties, staring down at him disapprovingly. "I'd like to speak with Joseph Hardy," the man said, his voice high-pitched with a slight French accent that Frank was sure wasn't genuine.

"He's on a case at the moment. Can I help you with something?"

The man sniffed. "I would prefer to discuss my needs with Mr. Hardy directly, not with his office staff. When do you expect his return?" He brushed some imaginary lint from the front of his grey, argyle vest. Cashmere, Frank thought as he examined the man more carefully. His pants and shirt appeared to be custom made, and Frank recognized the shoes he wore as being from a well-known – and expensive – Italian company.

Frank raised his eyebrows, his need to be polite to a potential client warring with his desire to teach the man some manners. "I don't know," he said, working to keep his voice even. "As I explained, he's on a case. I'd be happy to talk with you about the services we offer..."

"Young man, I am not accustomed to being spoken to in this manner! It is imperative I speak with Mr. Hardy immediately. It is a case of life and death." The man was practically shaking in anger as he spoke.

Frank's lips tightened into a flat line, and he counted to ten slowly before responding. "Well, sir, unless you share with me the details of the case, I won't be able to concur with that assessment." He paused a moment before continuing. "And since all our cases are confidential, I can't tell you when my brother" – he had the satisfaction of seeing the man flinch – "will be returning." Frank stood and moved out from behind the desk. "I'm Frank Hardy. If you'd care to come with me, we can discuss your problem and see how Hardy Investigations can help you."

The man's features shifted quickly from anger to astonishment as he followed Frank into his office. Frank indicated he should sit in one of the chairs, then moved to sit behind his desk, instinctively understanding this man would respond better to a show of power than politeness. "We're a rather busy agency, Mr..."

"Montvale. Pierre Montvale."

Frank's eyes widened slightly in recognition, and he cocked his head to one side. "The theatrical agent. Well, well."

Montvale looked shocked but pleased. "You've heard of me?"

Frank allowed a small smile to show on his face. "I read Variety, Mr. Montvale, and this is New York." He paused, letting the older man consider this information. "Now, why don't you tell me why you need to see my brother so urgently?"

Montvale swallowed, then reached into the small, hand-tooled, leather briefcase he carried under his left arm. He pulled out a handful of newspaper clippings. The small one on top showed Joe in a tuxedo surrounded by two or three college-aged girls; it was from Thursday's paper. The society page, Frank noted, looking at the small text in the top corner of the page. While he usually read the paper cover to cover, he had missed that section yesterday. Now at least I know why Joe's not here. The next one down was the 'bachelor' article from the weekend magazine. The rest were about a play that would be opening soon on Broadway.

"Adoration," Frank said as he scanned the papers. "That's the new Stephen Stillwater play about..." His eyes grew distant as he searched his memory. "Mary Magdalene. It's generating quite a bit of controversy. The subject matter and the potential star, if I recall." He rubbed his forehead, thinking. "Anna Gold." He looked up sharply at Montvale. "You're Anna Gold's agent. Is there a problem with the play? Or with her involvement?"

Montvale shook his head in disbelief. "I owe you an apology, Mr. Hardy. I came here to talk about a case, and instead you're telling me about it. I misjudged you. Please accept my apologies." He leaned back in the chair, suddenly looking older and much less sure of himself. "It's about Anna that I'm here. I want to hire your brother as a bodyguard for her when she's out in public. I want him to pose as a new boyfriend, escort her to evening events, accompany her to parties, that sort of thing."

Frank gave the man a puzzled look. "Is there a reason for this, Mr. Montvale? Do you believe she's in danger? It just seems odd that you would be approaching us rather than Ms. Gold herself."

The agent's lips formed a tight line, and he looked at Frank for a moment before speaking. "I trust you are discreet, Mr. Hardy." The man fidgeted in his chair, looking uncomfortable. "Part of the reason Anna agreed to do this play was to get out of Los Angeles. Disturbing things were happening – cryptic notes, phone messages on her private line, that sort of thing."

"A stalker? And if you're coming to us, he's followed her to New York."

Montvale nodded. "It may not be the same person. We don't know. There have been a few messages at the theater that comment on where she's been and who she's been with. Nothing you couldn't get from the local press. But I would feel better if she had someone to protect her." He cast an appraising look at Frank. "If you know of Anna's career..."

"I know she was the victim of a sexual assault when she was younger," Frank said, his face taking on a grim expression. "A deranged fan who confused her and the role she played in those space movies. If I remember the news reports correctly, one of the crew members rescued her before it went too far."

"Yes," Montvale no longer looked surprised at the depth of Frank's knowledge, "but ever since then Anna has been...” He let out a breath. “… leery of trusting young men. I managed to convince her I could find someone who..." He stopped, trying to find the right words.

"Who wouldn't hurt her?" Frank finished.

"Yes," Montvale sighed. "I've known Anna since she was a child, Mr. Hardy. I love her like she's my own daughter. I only want to keep her safe." He turned his head and looked out the window at the skyline. "I wanted her to come to New York, to get away from whoever was frightening her, but I argued against her taking this role. Strenuously. The controversy around the play..." He shrugged his shoulders, the action making him look helpless. "It puts her even more firmly in the spotlight, but she wanted a chance to prove to the world she should be taken seriously as an actress. And to star in a Stillwater production..." His voice faded. "Then I saw the article in the paper this weekend, and thought I had found the perfect solution."

Frank nodded. "Given what you're asking, Mr. Montvale, I'll have to talk to my brother before we can agree to take the case. I have to make sure he doesn't have any upcoming engagements or commitments that might conflict with a long-term assignment that takes place mostly evenings and weekends."

"I understand." The agent rose and handed Frank a card. "I look forward to hearing from you soon, Mr. Hardy." He held out a neatly manicured hand, which Frank shook. "Thank you for your time."

Frank walked him to the door and saw him out. As he turned back to his office, his eye was caught again by Joe's closed door. "Okay, little brother," he muttered softly. "Time to get your butt back here and get to work."

"Are you so starving for attention, you had to be in the paper twice in one week?" The conversation with Kara about the charity auction was not going well, Joe decided. It hadn't helped that one of her team members – Probably Travis, he thought with a flash of anger – had somehow gotten Kara the picture the news photographer had taken of him with the winners of his date. Someone from the office must have emailed or faxed it to her location. It also didn't help that they were having the conversation over the phone after Kara had been up for the better part of two days doing surveillance on a high-profile stockbroker related to her money-laundering case from several months ago. "Really? And sorority girls? Are you trying to tell me something, Hardy?" The phone line crackled.

Joe ground his teeth in frustration. "No, of course not. I was trying to raise money for cancer research. I had no idea what was going to happen."

"Really?" Kara's tone indicated her total lack of belief in what he was saying.

Joe groaned. From the moment he had arrived at the charity function, he had known he had made a big mistake, but backing out wasn't an option at that point; he had given his word. Stupid ego. What was I thinking? Then he had to admit to himself that he wasn't thinking. He had been too busy feeling under-appreciated and jealous. I am so stupid.

The bidding had come down to a nice, elderly lady in her seventies who wanted to give a lot of money to a worthy cause and the three sorority girls from the photo who had wanted a hot, not-too-old guy to take them dancing. Joe had kept his fingers crossed for the old lady, hitting her with the full force of his charming smile, but luck hadn't gone his way. The girls had outbid Mrs. Clarkson by ten dollars in a bidding war that had taken nearly forty-five minutes and had garnered the attention of one of the society page photographers who moved in at the very end to take a picture of the girls with their prize. Joe had then spent the intervening day and a half working his own surveillance gig and trying to get through to Kara's private cell phone in order to confess to his idiocy before she found out about it some other way, but his luck hadn't held there either. Now, as he heard her voice for the first time since Monday, he realized just how childishly he had behaved. And how much he missed her.

"Kara, look..."

"No, you look. The article was cute. Funny, even. Because it happened several months ago." She paused, and Joe could almost hear the steam pouring out her ears. "But this? I'm trying really hard to give you the benefit of the doubt, but I'm not amused, Joe."

Joe blew out a long breath. "I was trying to do something... I don't know... to make you react differently. To the article. I guess I was a little hurt." He paused. "So I did something dumb. I'm sorry." He let out another breath, waiting for her reaction.

When she responded, her voice was frosty. "Sorry that you got caught? Or sorry you did it?"

"Sorry I did it." He paused and took a deep breath. "As long as I'm admitting stupid things, do you want to know why I did it?" He waited for an answer. When one didn't come, he continued. "I was jealous that you were going off on this assignment with Travis. I wanted to do something that would make you as crazy as I felt."

There was a long pause on the other end. "You're jealous of Travis? Why?" Her voice sounded muted.

Joe snorted. "Come on, Kara. It's clear he can't stand me. He's always making those cracks about dumb blonds when I'm around. And it's painfully obvious he cares for you. Why wouldn't I be jealous?" he asked, his voice rising.

"Joe, Travis is married."

"Married?" Joe felt his jaw drop. He hadn't known that. It had never even occurred to him to ask.

"He and Heather just celebrated their fifth anniversary. And the smart-ass comments? He only makes those to people who'll get them." Kara sighed heavily, and Joe could hear frustration in the sound. "If you think the comments are annoying, you should hear how he talks to people he doesn't like. He treats them like they're four years old." She sighed again. "Look, I have to go. I don't know if I'm going to be able to call again. We'll talk when I get home."

"I miss you," he said, pouring as much emotion as he could into the three words. He heard her swallow, then the line went dead. He clicked off his cell phone, closed his eyes, and shook his head. Then he gathered up his things and headed back to his own surveillance duties.

It was dark out when the door opened and Frank finally heard his brother's shuffling gait walking through the office. "Joe, can you come in here, please?"

"Frank? Why are you still here?" Joe's voice sounded startled.

"I think the more pertinent question is where the hell have you been for the last two days?" Frank couldn't keep the annoyance out of his voice. He watched his brother's face flush. "We had a potential client come in. I've been trying to call you all afternoon. Is your cell phone even on?"

Joe's hand went to the front pocket of his jeans. He pulled out his phone, and glanced at the screen. "Battery must have run down. Sorry." He sounded subdued.

"Well?" Frank pushed.

"Well, what?"

"Where have you been?" There were times when Frank wished his brother was quicker on the uptake. This was one of those times.

Joe looked down at the floor. "I finished up the Patterson job." His voice was listless. "The report will be on your desk in the morning."

Frank regarded his brother, suddenly realizing what the problem was. "Kara saw the paper, didn't she?" Joe's head shot up. "Come on, little brother, what were you thinking?"

Joe let his gaze travel somewhere over Frank's right shoulder. "I don't want to talk about it."

"Fine, we can talk about our new case instead. We're being hired to do a protection detail." Frank watched as Joe's eyes jumped back towards him, a glimmer of interest appearing in them. "Or rather, you are."

"Wait. Just me?" Joe walked over to Frank's desk. "Why just me?"

Frank recounted the events of Pierre Montvale's afternoon visit. "He's really worried about her. He may be an agent, but I don't think he's that good of an actor."

"Annie Gold? From the Teens in Space movies?" Joe shook his head in disbelief. "Man, I haven't thought of those in years."

"She's known as Anna now," Frank corrected. "And you've just landed a starring role as her new boyfriend courtesy of all your recent publicity."

Joe's eyes grew wild. "I thought you said it was a protection detail."

"Montvale wants someone around her at all her public events. Someone more or less unremarkable." Frank stood and walked around to the front of his desk. "Given the article and the auction, his plan makes sense. With the press you've gotten this week, it's logical that she would have seen your picture and been interested. And you can keep her safe."

"Why can't it be you? You've done a lot more undercover work than I have. You're a better actor." Joe started pacing. "You should do it."

Frank's eyes followed Joe as he walked back and forth. "It's about time you're finally admitting it, but Montvale specifically asked for you." He reached out and grabbed Joe's shoulder, understanding immediately what the problem was. "Joe, it's a job. Kara's a professional. She'll understand."

Joe flinched and pulled away. "I'm screwing this up, Frank. I've already screwed it up. I can't make it worse."

Frank's expression softened. "I won't argue with you. The auction? Not one of your brighter ideas, but Kara's not unreasonable, Joe. Just don't push the act too far." He sighed. "Anna Gold is a person who needs help. We can help her. You can help her. Do you really want to say no?"

Joe ran a hand through his hair. "Why do I feel like I'm being forced into this?"

"If you say no, we'll walk away."

"Fine." Joe tipped his head back, closing his eyes. "We need the business, and how hard can protecting an actress be anyway?" He opened his eyes again, and turned his gaze on Frank. "If Kara breaks up with me over this, you realize I'll kill you, yes?"

Frank raised an eyebrow. "I think you'll be all right."

"What makes you say that?" Frank could hear the skepticism in his brother's voice.

"Easy," he responded, "and I've been waiting a long time to say this. You're not that good an actor." He grinned at Joe and was pleased to see a small smile show on Joe's face. "Now go write that Patterson report. I'll be in tomorrow morning looking for it."

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered book publisher, offering an online community for talented authors and book lovers. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books you love the most based on crowd wisdom.