I popped another Flamin’ Hot Cheeto into my mouth and zoomed in on the office building across the street with my sleek, new binoculars. Waterproof, image stabilizing, and compact enough to toss into my bag, they may have set me back a couple months worth of after-hour cocktails, but since they were a business expense, I could write them off. Plus, they were necessary in my line of work. Up there with my Glock and spy cam brooch.
Luckily for me the building was all concrete and glass. The windows ran from floor to ceiling, and the blinds were up, which meant I had a perfect interior view from my car. Pretty sweet.
I focused on the office dead center on the third floor and waited for another glimpse of the couple. They’d walked off a few minutes ago, and I hoped they’d return before I turned into a pumpkin. My phone said the hour was inching in on eleven. They were busy bees, working overtime, especially on a Sunday night. Didn’t anyone take a day off anymore?
Then again, here I was on a stakeout. But my crazy hours were demanded by my cases.
I reached for another deep-fried, smothered in fake cheese, kernel of deliciousness when he walked back into my view. Brushing my fingers off on a napkin on my leg, I steadied the binoculars.
He read a sheet of paper and sat on the edge of his desk. His navy tie was unknotted, the collar of his white button-down loosened, and his blonde hair tousled, as if he’d run his fingers through it one too many times.
Or maybe she had.
The tall, leggy brunette strutted up to him like a cat in heat. She said something that made him look up and grin. Too bad I’d never learned how to read lips. She trailed her finger down his forearm and leaned forward so he had a perfect view of her cleavage. Her boobs nearly popped out of her tight, white blouse. She flaunted her sexuality like a flashing, neon sign. The words “subtle” and “coy” obviously weren’t a part of her personal dictionary.
He tilted his head back and laughed. It must’ve been nice to get that reaction from him.
I would know, considering we’d had a brief thing not even a couple of weeks ago.
Assistant District Attorney Aiden Prince was usually all business. It was one of the reasons it had taken him way too long to lean in for our first kiss. The other reason had been his dead wife. One minute things were hot and heavy in my apartment, and the next night he’d dumped me on my front steps. Okay, so dumped was too harsh a word. He’d said he wanted to see me but that he just wasn’t ready to move on yet. That he felt guilty about dating when his wife had died of breast cancer only a year ago.
I understood. Mostly. Besides, what could I have done? Wrestled him to the ground and demanded he date me? It was hard to compete with a ghost. It hadn’t meant he and I were over, but we hadn’t been hot and heavy since. More like lukewarm and feather light.
And if his reasoning was true, what the hell was going on in his office right now?
Miranda Valens, Aiden’s second chair in the courtroom, flipped her hair off her shoulders in that seductive shampoo commercial sorta way. This woman had cliché flirting 101 perfected. How predictable.
If Aiden fell for that…
He stood up and walked around his desk, settling into his chair—farther away from her.
“Ha,” I shouted then glanced around to make sure no one heard me.
We may have been heading toward the tail end of summer, but it was still too warm to sit cooped up. I was smart enough to have the top up on my cherry red Roadster convertible, but the windows were down. The last thing I needed was a concerned person to spot me spying and calling the cops.
When I was certain no one was around, I brought the binoculars back up again.
Miranda had walked around to the other side of his desk and perched herself on the edge. She placed a stockinged foot on his chair, beside his thigh, and arched her back.
I attempted to roll my eyes, but it was a hard feat with the binoculars pressed against them.
Aiden stayed seated and still. He didn’t lean forward, touch her, or do anything that suggested he was interested. Not that it mattered. This wasn’t why I was spying. If he was suddenly ready to move on, and it was with someone else, that was none of my business. I’d be happy for him.
No, tonight was about a tip I’d received last week that there was corruption in the D.A.’s office. Someone fixing cases for compensation that far outweighed the usual civil servant pension. My intention was to find out how far it extended before it reached Aiden. So every night I’ve been here, keeping my eye on things, hoping I’d learn who the dirty lawyer was before Aiden got burned.
My cell rang. I reached for it and glanced at the ID. Danny Flynn.
If my relationship with Aiden was complicated, throwing Danny into the mix brought the meaning of the word to a whole new level.
“You were just released from the hospital. Isn’t it past your bedtime?” I said into the phone.
His deep, infectious laughter filled my ear. “And hello to you too.”
I’d known Danny since I was a gangly fourteen-year-old, when I’d first started posing in bikinis and haute couture for DeLine Model Agency. He was the first photographer who’d filmed me and the only one who’d used a combo of over-the-top comical flirtations and brotherly love to make me feel at ease.
But some time in the last couple of months the brotherly love had morphed into something else. It wasn’t what I’d call love love, but I wasn’t entirely sure what I felt where Danny was concerned anymore. Something bordering on affection with just the slightest hint of lust.
“The docs say I can’t drive for another week, but they want me to go to therapy. Do they expect me to walk?” he asked.
“How dare they. Maybe they expect you to take the bus.” I knew what he was after, but teasing him felt like a great distraction. I smiled and lowered the binoculars.
He gasped. “Los Angeles has public transportation?”
“Shocker, right?” Clearly we were both practicing our sarcasm.
“The appointments are from three to four. I have rides there. Mrs. Rosenbaum is dropping me off every day this week.”
Mrs. Rosenbaum was his next door neighbor who baked him Bundt cakes and asked him to sit in on weekly games of pinochle when one of her other fond-of-baking, retired friends couldn’t make it. She treated Danny like a son, always looking out for him and offering unsolicited advice.
“But she can’t pick me up,” he continued. “She volunteers at the library.”
She also loved books and was always dropping off ones she thought Danny would enjoy from her massive collection. I don’t think I ever saw him read a book, but he always graciously had it sitting on his coffee table. The bookmark never moving.
He cleared his throat. “I know you’re busy with cheaters and liars and all, but maybe you can find time in your busy schedule to pick up a poor, injured man?”
“Flynn, is that your way of asking for a favor?”
I bit my lip to keep from laughing. “Yes.”
“You wound me deeper than a bullet, Bond.” While his tone was joking, the words hit just a little too close to home. He had, in fact, taken a bullet. For my father no less. To say I owed him one was a massive understatement.
“Of course I’ll pick you up,” I promised.
“Great.” I could practically see his grin. He’d known all along I’d cave. “Where are you?” he asked. “It sounds like you’re outside.”
I glanced at a car turning at the intersection. “I’m on a stakeout.” One I seriously needed to get back to.
“It’s safe, right?”
I smiled at how protective he sounded. “Of course. Besides, I’m almost done. And you need sleep to heal. Good night.”
“‘Night, Jamie.” Something about the way he said my name made my insides go warm and liquid, like a shot of Cuervo.
I clicked off the call and reassumed my position.
Aiden was still seated, and Miranda still trying everything in her arsenal to get closer to him. She leaned forward so much, she was practically in his lap.
My cheeks grew warm, and I suddenly felt weird and uncomfortable. And way too voyeuristic. I was keeping an eye on corruption, not Aiden’s potential love life. And clearly the only person with “corrupting” on their minds tonight was Miranda.
I tossed the binoculars onto the passenger seat, feeling an “ick” settle in my stomach that had nothing to do with my Cheeto dinner. I was not a jealous woman. I didn’t spy on potential boyfriends. Well, unless it involved payment, but I was not a client. No, this was supposed to be about helping Aiden. Nothing more.
Then why did I feel like I needed a shower?
I turned my key in the ignition and headed home.
* * *
The next morning I stepped into the Bond Agency groggy and in need of a caffeinated I.V. drip. When I’d gotten home the night before, I hadn’t been able to force my mind to settle down enough for sleep. I’d tossed and turned for two hours before my weary body won out. This morning it was still tired and fought me every step of the way.
Maya Alexander, former March Playmate and current office manager extraordinaire, greeted me with a Caramel Macchiato.
God, I loved this woman.
“Morning, boss,” she said in her chipper, morning-person tone.
I took a scalding sip while she grabbed her tablet and followed me to my office. We were in the process of turning the agency over from paper to digital, unbeknownst to my father, Derek—founder of the Bond Agency.
Sam was waiting, seated cross-legged in one of the chairs facing my desk. While she flipped through the latest fashion magazine, her top leg bounced. An adorable, black with gold accents, open-toed, high-heeled mule balanced precariously on her toes.
“Are you waiting for me?” I asked, which in two-second hindsight was pretty obvious.
She glanced to Maya and waved a hand. “It can wait.”
Samantha Cross, fellow former cover model, an associate, and our weapons specialist, grew up as a military brat, living all over the country. She knew how to handle a man as smoothly as an automatic. The one thing she didn’t handle well was having to wait. You’d think being a single mom to a growing boy would’ve taught her this over the years, but not so much. And that leg bouncing suggested there was something she needed to say.
Maya cleared her throat. “Jamie, Mrs. Griffin is coming in so you can hand over the proof on her husband.”
Ah, yes, the infamous panty stealer.
As if it wasn’t heartbreaking enough that I’d caught and filmed Mr. Griffin cheating on his wife with a bartender downtown, her yoga instructor, and her sister, I’d also caught him breaking into seven women’s homes to steal their underwear. Seven. I had no idea if he knew them or not, and I didn’t want to know. That man needed a shrink and a really good divorce attorney, although I was rooting for the wife to have a better one. I was thrilled this case was over.
“You also have lunch with Derek,” Maya said, interrupting my thoughts of the Panty Prowler.
I tried not to sigh too heavily. A part of me felt obligated to endure thirty minutes of my father talking with his mouth full because this was his agency. I’d taken it over three years ago after he’d been shot and his doctor had forbidden stress. Then again, the other part of me, the one still nursing a grudge that, among other parental missteps, the man had named me James Bond, wished he’d lose my number.
But he was my dad, and it was a free lunch.
“There’s also a new case coming in,” Maya continued. “You’re meeting with Mrs. Livingston this afternoon.”
“What’s her story?” I asked, perching on the edge of my desk.
Maya grinned. “She and her husband have an open marriage.”
Sam raised her brows. The leg stopped bouncing.
Maya glanced at her notes. “She’s worried that her husband might be secretly monogamous. And she doesn’t want that. She said, and I quote, ‘the fact that we are both with other people is what makes the relationship work.’ End quote. She’s hiring you to find out if he’s not cheating.”
Well that was a first.
Maya handed over my itinerary, and I checked to make sure there was a gap in my day to pick up Danny. Luckily, there was. “Thanks, Maya.”
When she walked out, I stared at Sam. “What’s going on?”
She glanced over her shoulder, as if making sure no one else was listening, and leaned forward.
Butterflies swarmed my stomach. This had to be big. My girls weren’t usually secret keepers. They were pretty transparent about most things.
“Something is up with Caleigh.”
I frowned, not even a little bit sure what she referred to. “In what way?”
Sam rose and cocked her head toward my door. “Come on. I’ll show you.”
I grabbed my coffee and followed her out across the waiting area to Caleigh’s office.
Before even stepping inside, I noticed a full-length mirror propped up against a wall. That wasn’t there yesterday. Was Caleigh having another new-date fashion crisis?
Caleigh Presley rounded out our quartet. Another investigator and retired model, she told everyone she met that she was the distant cousin of Elvis. Smart, sexy, and southern, Caleigh brought a bubbly touch to the agency. As well as the skills of a professional computer hacker. She was Yin to Sam’s Yang, in not only personality but looks too. Caleigh was blonde, naturally pale with big blue eyes, and had the temperament of cotton candy—light and sweet. Whereas, Sam was all long legs, mocha-colored skin, and dark curls wound as tight as her aim.
When I stepped inside Caleigh’s office, I sucked in a breath.
She was wearing a wedding gown. Victorian lace, high collar, pearl bodice, puffed shoulders, long sleeves, blinding white, floor-length with a train, and a full veil, wedding gown.
I glanced to Sam, who pressed her lips together and shrugged. I couldn’t speak for a moment. Had Caleigh been dating someone and forgot to tell us?
“Cal, what’s going on?” The words finally made it out of my mouth.
“Need a couple of bridesmaids?” Sam asked.
Caleigh puckered her brows at Sam then shook her head. “This isn’t real. My God, you’d be the first to know if I was dating anyone serious enough to marry.”
Sam and I let out a collective breath.
“Then what’s with the dress?” I asked.
Caleigh stared at me straight in the eye. “Because Daddy’s coming, of course.”
“And you plan on marrying him?” Sam asked.
Caleigh shook her head, oblivious to the ribbing Sam was doing at her expense.
“I kinda told him I was getting married.”
Sam snorted. I covered my mouth to hold back a laugh.
“Oh, honey,” I said, “what on Earth possessed you to do that?”
Caleigh plopped into her desk chair. “He’s always going on and on about how I need to settle down and do the housewife thing, have babies, you know. With Mama gone, he’s been pushing my sisters and me harder than usual. So, to get him off my back, I blurted out, ‘Surprise, I’m engaged.’”
She held out her left hand and showed us a ring with a rock as big as my thumb. “It’s not real. Just a two-carat, marquis Cubic Zirconia. I bought it off Amazon and had it shipped overnight. Isn’t it beautiful though?”
While she admired her fake diamond, Sam and I exchanged looks again. Sam was right. Caleigh’s behavior was beyond any she normally displayed.
“This was my Mama’s wedding dress, when she married Daddy. He sent it up so I could wear it, like I always said I wanted to.” She sniffled. “Wasn’t that sweet of him?”
I stepped closer. “It is, but how long do you think you can keep up this pretense?”
Caleigh shrugged. “I was kinda hoping forever.”
“Just tell him the truth,” Sam said.
Her eyes widened. She looked like Sam had raised a palm and struck her. “Are you kidding? There’s no way I am going back on anything. He’d never let me forget it. Oh no, I’d endure phone call after phone call about how much I pained and embarrassed him. I’m sure he’s told everyone we know from back home. That man is as stubborn as they come.” Her tone had hardened.
I thought of Derek. I knew exactly what it was like to have an interfering father who thought he knew best. About everything.
Sam groaned. Her father was Command Sergeant Major Cross. She also knew it all too well.
“How can we help?” I asked.
Caleigh wiped the corners of her eyes. “Right now, he’s on his way to visit my sister in Florida. He’ll be here in L.A. the week after. He’s staying for five days and four nights, so I only have to pretend for less than a week. It can’t be that hard, right?”
In theory, maybe not, except… “What happens when he wants to meet his future son-in-law?” I asked, hoping she’d realize how insane this was and figure out a way to call it off. There was no reason her father would hold it against her if she and her mysterious fiancé suddenly called their engagement off.
“Well, that’s where I’m planning on begging someone to play along.”
“Someone?” Sam asked. “Like a stranger off the street?”
Caleigh scrunched up her face. “No, I asked Danny.”
I froze. “My Danny?” Well, not that he was mine exactly but…
“Why is that funny?” Caleigh asked Sam, ignoring me.
Sam glanced to me. I wasn’t sure if she was looking for help or if she heard me. Either way, she faced Caleigh and frowned. “Because this is crazy. You can’t pretend to be engaged.”
Caleigh stood and went back to admiring herself in the mirror. “Why not? People do it all the time.”
“What people? The ones on soap operas? They don’t exactly count. Besides you can’t do it with…him.”
From the mirror’s reflection, I watched Sam cock her head toward me.
It took Caleigh a moment. Then she turned and grabbed my arms. “Oh my goodness, I didn’t mean to upset you. I mean, I didn’t even really mean to ask Danny. That afternoon I visited him in the hospital, I’d just heard from Daddy, and I was rambling, and the idea popped into my head.”
Her eyes widened when she said, “popped,” all animated-like. She let me go and took a step back. “If it makes you uncomfortable, well, I’ll just find someone else.”
When she stopped speaking, she gasped for air.
Sam had scrunched up her mouth and squinted, as if she was anticipating my response and assumed it would entail yelling or crying or something less than pleasant. Which surprised me considering she knew me well enough to know I did neither of the two. Usually.
“It’s fine,” I said. And it was. Danny and I were just friends. Like Aiden, Danny could see, pretend with, and date whomever he wanted.
“You’re sure?” Sam asked, giving me her best get real look.
“Positive.” And I was. Even if the odd twist in the pit of my stomach at the thought of Danny cozying up to my hottest employee as her fiancé wasn’t as convinced.