I pulled into the Bond Agency parking lot, stayed seated in my cherry-red Roadster, and used the moment to close my eyes and gather my thoughts. I’d awakened feeling renewed this morning, and I wanted to bask in the new era of Jamie Bond.
Not that the old me was so awful. But recently I’d been framed for murder, nearly killed two—no, three times—seen my best friend shot, and nearly lost my father. Again. It had definitely been one of the more stressful periods of my life. And stress was not pretty.
This had come to me last night while I’d sat in standstill traffic on the 405 and watched two businessmen in tailored suits scream threats to one another over a mild fender bender. Twenty minutes of being stuck would have normally made me scream a few expletives too, but watching the two overgrown children throw their tantrum in the middle of rush hour—arms flapping, faces flushed like maraschino cherries, veins bulging in places nothing should ever bulge—made me realize that it might be time to implement some de-stressing in my own life. Quickly. Before I started to look like a crimson Hulk in heels.
When I’d arrived home, instead of playing my messages or obsessively checking work email, I’d taken a long hot bath, grabbed a bottle of Pinot, and settled down for an evening of Orange Is the New Black and a salad Niçoise with seared tuna from a new café up the block.
“This will be an awesome and calm day,” I whispered to myself, then opened one eye and inspected the area, making sure no one was watching the crazy blonde talking to herself.
With a smile, I grabbed my purse and stepped out of my car. The early morning sun beat down on my head, but instead of focusing on how hot my scalp was becoming, I said, “At least it’s not humid.” Was I Zen or what?
I went into the building and pulled on the door marked Bond Agency in thick, black lettering. Maya Alexander, the agency’s office manager, stood at attention behind her desk, facing me. Her dark hair was swept up in a high bun, and her Bluetooth headset nestled in her right ear. She wore a hot-pink skirt, a cropped-sleeve orange peplum blouse, and cotton-candy pumps. She held a Starbucks cup in one hand and her tablet in the other. She looked impeccable, just as good as when she’d been March’s Playmate of the month, and I totally needed to find out where she’d bought that outfit.
“Good morning!” I said in a voice that sounded wildly chipper even to my own ears. Maybe I needed to dial the Zen down just a bit.
Maya, ever professional, didn’t seem to notice, thrusting the Starbucks at me. “Morning, Jamie. I have your itinerary.” Maya swiped a finger across her tablet. “And—” But before she could finish that thought, the phone rang, and she tapped her earpiece. “Bond Agency.”
A door opened, and my two other associates stepped out of their offices. Like Maya, they were both former models. As was I, but that was long enough ago that it felt like a different lifetime. Luckily one good thing that had come out of my teen runway career was my friendship with those two, who had become more like sisters to me than employees.
“‘Morning, Boss,” said Caleigh Presley—bubbly, blonde, and a distant cousin of the King of Rock and Roll, or so she claimed. I’d never had the heart to actually investigate if it was true. She was a whiz with a computer, could hack into databases even the police couldn’t access, and fluently spoke five languages. As an added bonus, the men loved her, which was a plus in our line of work.
“Good morning!” I said, exuding my new uber cheeriness.
The smooth skin between Caleigh’s brows puckered for a moment, and Maya’s head jerked in my direction, giving me a confused look.
Was “cheery” that weird for me?
When neither verbally commented, I flipped the plastic spout on my cup and sipped my beverage. Yum. A caramel macchiato always hit the spot.
Trailing behind Caleigh was Samantha Cross. With a mocha-colored complexion, thick, dark curls, and legs that put all other models to shame, she was the fourth member of my team. A military-brat childhood and subsequent single motherhood had made her tough as nails when the situation called for it, though I had a sneaking suspicion a healthy layer of compassion lay beneath her tough exterior. Today, however, she looked distracted, her eyes going somewhere beyond my head as she chewed on her lower lip.
I opened my mouth to comment, when Maya hung up and turned to me.
“So, you had an urgent call from Derek,” Maya said.
I inwardly rolled my eyes. My father thought every call he made to me was urgent.
Derek Bond had been the “Bond” in the agency for over twenty years, tailing cheating husbands all over the greater Los Angeles basin in his beat-up Cadillac. Lucky me, after my mom had passed away, I’d been the kid in the backseat, reluctantly along for the ride. While it had made for a less than traditional upbringing, I had to admit it had prepared me entirely for taking over the business myself. Not that I’d ever aspired to be a PI myself during those childhood treks, but after Derek’s heart attack a few years ago, he’d been forced to retire to his boat, the Black Pearl, and I’d been the “Bond” ever since.
Of course, in Derek’s mind, I was pretty sure he still saw me as the kid in the backseat. Hence the incessant phone calls. Me? I still saw Derek as the jerk who thought it would be cool to name his daughter James Bond. Seriously. It was on my birth certificate. Hard to forgive a guy for something like that, right?
“What else?” I asked.
“You have a conference call this morning with Mrs. McCanny and her attorney about her husband’s beach house…”
A beach house Mrs. McCanny sorely deserved to get after we’d caught her husband and their maid doing things with a feather duster that should not be talked about in polite company.
“Anything this afternoon?”
“You have lunch with Danny at one. And—” The left corner of Maya’s mouth lifted, and she whispered, “—there’s a celebrity in your office.”
I glanced to Caleigh and Sam, who nodded and smiled. Well, Caleigh smiled. Sam just sorta stared into space. Something was definitely up with her.
Beyond curious to see who my new celeb client was, I pivoted on my black patent heels and walked to my office. Just before entering the doorway, I took a quick glance at myself in the reflection of the glass that surrounded my door. I had chosen a navy wrap dress that hugged my body, which was admittedly a bit more curvy than in my modeling days but still not bad. The dress was a bit flirtier than I normally wore to the office, but it had called my attention from my closet this morning.
I stepped over my threshold and greeted my celeb, though I had to admit the woman before me wasn’t anyone I immediately recognized. Bummer. There went my dreams of busting a cheating A-lister.
I held out my hand. “Hello, I’m Jamie Bond. I’m the owner and lead investigator here.”
The woman stood, and even on four-inch heels she barely came up to my shoulders. Granted, I wore heels also, a modest three-inch, but my height was what had helped me become a fashion model many moons ago…okay, so really less than a decade ago, but after this recent chaos in my life, it felt much longer. The closest I’d come to dying while wearing an itsy-bitsy bikini was of sand inhalation from those giant fans that imitated wind. Nothing like bullets.
“Hello, I’m Bristol Claremont.” A fruity scent surrounded her when she moved.
Her name didn’t jog my memory. While it wasn’t unusual to spot the latest teen star driving through McDonald’s off Wilshire or to catch an entourage of glamour and glitz at Spago Beverly Hills, I wasn’t totally up on the latest and greatest in pop-culture celebrities.
Bristol Claremont couldn’t have been older than twenty-eight. She had long, bright-auburn hair and light-brown eyes. She wore a cream-and-brown paisley silk tunic with a brown miniskirt. A gold chain with a diamond pendant dangled between two high, perky boobs. The kind that didn’t move when you walked and that cost mega bucks.
That wasn’t unusual in the land of silicone and glitz though. It’s what L.A. did best—big dreams, big price tags, and big racks.
I stepped behind my desk and sat in the tall-backed, leather chair. “How can I help you?”
She returned to her seat but sat on the edge of it. “My husband is Roger Claremont.”
“Roger from Hoagies. The submarine sandwich chain. He’s their national spokesperson. He lost over a hundred pounds eating their sandwiches.”
Finally recollection clicked into place. Dark hair, pale complexion. He appeared on TV holding a sandwich in one hand and his former size gazillion pants in the other, touting the amazing weight-loss properties of ham and cheese on rye.
“From the commercials,” I said.
Mrs. Claremont smiled and eased back into her chair. “Yes.”
Maya breezed into the room and placed a manila folder on my desk with R. Claremont on the tab. She tapped it, and without a word she walked straight out. She had the precise timing of a clock. She was either magical or listened at doors a lot.
I flipped open the file. Maya had already printed the background check she’d run on both the client and her husband. There was also a list of Roger’s hangouts, home address, friends, and what he did during his days. He didn’t work at a regular job. It seemed as if his Hoagies gig was the Claremonts’ only source of income.
Thorough and magical. Maya needed a tiara and wand.
“How can I help you, Mrs. Claremont?” I reached for a pad of paper and a pen.
“Please call me Bristol. I’m very concerned for Roger. He hasn’t been himself lately.”
If I were to guess, she was about to say she feared he was stepping out. He slimmed down and was now cheating. Unfortunately we’d seen it all too often but usually with couples that were nearing middle age. Bristol was gorgeous and sexually in her prime. What could her husband have wanted elsewhere?
“How so?” I clicked on my pen, ready to write a big C for cheater on my legal pad.
“I think he’s cheating…”
I almost smiled to myself, but that would be rude. This was the business we were in though. The wife always knew.
“…on his diet,” Bristol finished
I blinked several times, trying to rewind my brain. “Excuse me? You think he’s cheating on his diet?”
She nodded. “Yes. He’s been nervous. He’s sneaking out at night and not telling me where he’s going or where he’s been.”
I scribbled her worries down. “What makes you think this has to do with his diet and not…” My gaze involuntarily drifted to her cleavage. “And he’s not with another woman?”
Hey, it had to be asked.
She smirked and wiggled her hips ever so slightly. “Trust me. I know. Besides, we have absolutely no problem in that department. No, this is about his health.”
“His health?” I scribbled some more.
She widened her eyes, placed a hand to her chest, and caressed her pendant. “Yes. If he’s changed his eating habits or isn’t walking, he could gain all that weight back. Hoagies would find another spokesperson and…” Her words trailed off.
And he wouldn’t be able to buy her diamonds anymore?
I didn’t ask but jotted a quick note: TW? For possible trophy wife.
“Will you take the case, follow him around, and make sure he’s not blowing our future?” she asked.
I smiled and rose to my feet. “We will do our best to find out exactly what’s going on with Roger.”
She got to her pointy-heeled feet and thanked me. With a fruity puff, she turned and left.
I tore my sheet of notes off the pad, stuck it into the folder, and then walked back into the reception area to fill the ladies in.
Maya sat behind her desk, clicking at her keyboard and talking on the phone. She was the only one there.
I walked across the space to the other offices. The conference room was dark and empty. Sam’s office was also empty.
Caleigh, however, was at her desk, staring at her cell phone. She glanced up as I entered. “Hey, Boss, how’d it go? Do we have a new case?”
“Yeah. Roger Claremont. His wife thinks he’s cheating on his diet.”
She quirked a brow and lowered her phone.
I nodded. “Yeah. We definitely get the weird ones. I think it really has to do with their income. Their cash cow is tied into him maintaining the weight he lost and doing those Hoagies commercials.”
Her blue eyes widened. “That Roger? He’s kinda cute. In a plain-Joe kinda way.”
Which meant she wasn’t interested. Caleigh’s type was anything but plain.
“Where’s Sam?” I asked, remembering her distracted look from earlier.
“She had to run an errand. Something to do with Julio, I think.”
Julio was Sam’s son. Julio’s father, Julio Sr., had been absent for the first couple of years of his son’s life, but he’d recently been back in touch, was paying child support regularly, and had been trying to make up for lost time by spending every weekend with Julio Jr. I didn’t know the details, but it sounded like things were on the mend in Sam’s domestic life lately. Then again, Sam didn’t talk much about her private life.
“Is everything all right?” I asked.
Caleigh had glanced back down to her phone. “Oh yeah, I’m sure it is.”
While I wasn’t 100 percent convinced right now, I had to get working on proving the Hoagies man was still eating Hoagies. How hard could that be?
* * *
Mrs. McCanny’s conference call lasted most of the morning as I detailed exactly what Sam and I had caught Mr. McCanny doing. It was uncomfortable, to say the least, my deposition being repeatedly interrupted by Mrs. McCanny’s wailing sobs alternated with shouted threats to Mr. McCanny’s private parts. In the end, her lawyer sounded fairly giddy at his prospect of getting her the beach house, and I was more than ready for lunch with Danny.
I’d met Danny Flynn on my first photo shoot, when I’d been all teenage gangly limbs and nerves, and he’d been an up-and-coming photographer. He’d stepped into something of a role of big brother at the time, teaching me how to turn gangly into graceful in front of the camera. Over the years Danny had gone from big brother, to best friend, to something that I couldn’t quite put a label on now. He had kissed me, and I had liked it. Where that put our relationship now, I wasn’t quite sure, but I was looking forward to lunch.
I’d insisted on picking the restaurant, and as soon as I walked through the door, the heady scent of yeasty bread hit me. I inhaled deeply. I was definitely not one of those low-carb girls.
Danny stepped up right behind me and kicked the back of my heels with his sneakers. He whispered in my ear, “What the heck are we doing here, Bond?”
I shivered at his breath against my earlobe. Then I turned around and had to stifle another small shiver.
Danny was a few years older than I was—old enough that fine laugh lines were starting to crease his pale blue-green eyes, giving the look that he was perpetually smiling at some inside joke. But he was still young enough that his little black book was filled with numbers of up-and-coming models and actresses who thought he was “totes hot.” In that moment, I had to agree with them. The hotter-than-average summer had tanned his skin to a warm golden brown, and his sun-streaked hair hung just a little too long, threatening to brush the top of his shoulders. He dressed casually in a dark T-shirt and jeans, though there was nothing casual about the way those jeans hugged his athletic frame.
For a moment I completely forgot his question.
Before I could answer, a woman in a brown apron and little paper hat greeted us. “Welcome to Hoagies. What can I get for you?”
I took a quick survey of the small, narrow store. It was empty except for an older man paying the cashier. The glass-enclosed buffet counter of meats and vegetables took up most of the space, but there were four tables crowded by the front windows. There was also another table toward the back. It was surrounded by a red velvet rope—the kind you’d find at a theater. It separated the table from the rest of the establishment.
“Why is that table sectioned off?” I asked the woman, whose name tag read Debbie.
Her eyes lit up. “That’s a private table. It’s for VIPs.”
Danny coughed. “Hoagies has VIPs? Who?”
“Well, the company’s bigwigs, but they don’t visit that often. Usually it’s just Roger who sits there. You know, this is the store he ordered from while losing all his weight.” She smiled with pride.
Yes, I knew. It was the reason we were here and about to endure cola from a soda machine, instead of frosty margaritas at my favorite Mexican place.
I turned to Danny, pulling out my wide-eyed-and-super-excited look, and hoped he’d play along. “Does this mean I’ll actually get to meet a celebrity?”
Danny frowned at me and started to take a step back. But then something shifted in his eyes, and his expression became as zealous as mine felt. He looked to Debbie. “Yeah, that would be neato.”
Neato? I clenched my teeth to keep from laughing.
Debbie’s smile turned down a notch. “He used to come in for lunch every day, but I haven’t seen him at all this week. He’s probably busy with traveling all over the world and signing autographs.”
She did realize he was a sandwich rep and not the member of a boy band, right?
“Hopefully he’ll show up before you leave though. What can I get for you?”
I looked up to the menu hanging on the wall, just beneath the ceiling. There were so many options. This wasn’t my first time eating a Hoagies sub, but it also wasn’t my regular place. The menu had definitely grown since my last time here.
“What does Roger usually have?” I asked.
Debbie’s grin amplified. She grabbed a loaf of bread behind her from a rack. “That’s easy. He gets the small turkey and American cheese on our whole wheat bread. It has extra fiber.”
She cut the loaf in half and started to put the one half back on the rack.
“I’ll have the same,” Danny said, giving Debbie a wink that had her giggling like a teenager.
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes as I watched her cut each half of bread open. She laid the pre-portioned turkey on the bread and then topped it with triangular cheese slices. She squirted mayo—at least I think it was mayo—from a bottle and then slid the sandwiches down to the veggie section of the bar. She then piled shredded lettuce, thinly sliced tomatoes, red onions, green peppers, and black olives on top.
I was certain the sandwich wasn’t going to close, but sure enough, she wrapped it up in yellow-and-green designed wax paper and slid it into a plastic bag.
After paying for both sandwiches and a couple of drinks—I insisted that lunch was on me—Danny and I sat at one of the tables against the window. We didn’t say anything as we unwrapped and took our first bites. Although it was mostly a mouthful of lettuce and bread, it was pretty good.
My cell chirped, and I glanced at the caller ID. Derek. It could wait. I changed my settings to vibrate.
“So, why are we here? And what was with the starry-eyed tourist routine?” Danny asked.
I sipped on my soda. “New client. Roger’s wife believes he’s cheating on his diet.”
Danny grinned. A dimple showing up in his left cheek made my heart beat a little faster. “You get all the good cases.”
“Tell me about it,” I mumbled, and then I filled him in on the details.
When I was finished, he stabbed a finger in the air. “So Mrs. Hoagies sees Roger as her cash cow?”
I nodded. “That’s my guess. It doesn’t matter though. If the guy is eating junk food, it should be easy enough to catch him in the act.”
“Should be a switch from your usual stakeout. Gonna run surveillance on Baskin-Robbins? Krispy Kreme? Cold Stone Creamery?” Danny teased.
I kicked him under the table. “Hey, a celebrity client is a celebrity client. We make Mrs. Hoagie happy, and I’m sure she has lots of D-list friends she can refer our way.”
Danny grinned again, munching down on a slice of onion. “Who knows? You get lucky, you might even get a job doing surveillance for Mrs. Jack in the Box.”
I narrowed my eyes and sent him a death look. “Very funny.”
“Hey, at least you keep me around for comic relief,” he said, that dimple making an appearance again.
“And eye candy,” I mumbled.
“What was that?”
“Nothing.” I took a big bite of my sandwich to avoid saying anything I might regret.
Danny’s gaze traveled to my chest and then to my face. “You look nice today. A bit overdressed for Hoagies.”
I leaned closer and whispered, “Jeans are overdressed for Hoagies.”
He chuckled deeply, causing Debbie to glance our way.
My cell vibrated noisily in my purse again.
“Derek?” Danny asked.
I shrugged, swallowing my bite of turkey and cheese. “Third call today.”
“How’s he doing lately?” While the tone in his voice was purposely neutral, I could see actual concern in his eyes. Danny and my father had been like oil and water from the very beginning, though I couldn’t entirely blame Derek for not being excited about his teenage daughter hanging out with a ladies’-man photographer. However, recently Danny had taken a bullet for Derek, softening the old man’s attitude toward him. A bit.
“He’s fine,” I answered quickly, suddenly feeling slightly guilty for not calling him back.
“Good. Glad to hear it.” Danny popped the rest of his sandwich into his mouth. He stared at me thoughtfully while he chewed, before finally speaking again. “And Aiden?”
I nearly choked on my sip of soda.
Danny raised a questioning eyebrow my way. “Internal affairs drop the case?”
I paused, biting my lower lip. The last time I had seen Assistant District Attorney Aiden Prince, he’d been standing over a dead body with a gun in his hand. The dead person in question had homicide on the mind, so in my opinion, Aiden had done the right thing—maybe the only thing. But while the shooting had been completely justified and in self-defense, an internal affairs investigation and temporary suspension had been inevitable.
“Yeah. I think. I guess so.”
Danny raised his other eyebrow, doubling the question. “You don’t know?”
I squirmed in my seat. “We haven’t exactly talked lately.”
While my past with Danny was long and varied, my relationship with Aiden had been fast and furious. Emphasis on the had been.
Aiden was tall, blond, and handsome in a just-stepped-off-the-cover-of-GQ kind of way. He was a straight-laced, by-the-book professional who was a phenomenal kisser. He also happened to still be in love with his dead wife, which had thrown a bit of a monkey wrench into our relationship. Add in the fact that somewhere in the back of his mind, I had the feeling that Aiden blamed me for the fatal shooting and his suspension, and our relationship was not exactly peachy keen at the moment.
“Are you ready to get out of here?” Danny asked, finally taking pity on my discomfort.
“Sure.” I folded up my trash and pushed it into the plastic sandwich bag.
After throwing it all away and smiling good-bye at Debbie, I walked out onto the sidewalk just as my phone chirped. I glanced down. It was Derek again. What could possibly be so darn urgent?
Instead of sighing and eye rolling like my formerly stressed self would, I took a deep Zen-filled breath and put on a smile. “Hello, Derek. What’s up?”
“It’s about time, James. I called you hours ago.” His voice sounded gruff and anything but Zen.
“It’s been a busy morning. Clients.” It was only a half lie, and it was much less stressful to lie than to listen to him yell at me for not doing what he wanted.
A passing car honked so loudly that I had to push my finger into my free ear.
“I’m here now though, so what’s going on?” I asked.
He had no misgivings about sighing loudly and clearly. “I’ve been arrested.”