In A Fix (Excerpt)

First of a new series, we invite you to enjoy the opening of In A Fix by Linda Grimes, out on September 4:

In this sparkling series opener, Ciel Halligan is not a shape-shifter, but she does have a genetic quirk that allows her to look like someone else by changing her aura. Ciel has cunningly turned this ability into a profession as a “life coach”: instead of instructing her wealthy clients, Ciel poses as them to solve their problems. When Ciel goes undercover as socialite Mina Worthington to facilitate her engagement, she assumes the worst that could happen is a sunburn and the odd bit of sand in her bikini. That’s before she nearly gets blown sky-high by a bomb meant for Mina’s prospective fiancé and has to turn sleuth to investigate his disappearance. The wisecracking, whirlwind romp of a romantic urban fantasy adventure gradually spirals into the ludicrous, but endearing characters will satisfy readers willing to shrug off plot holes for the sake of fun.

Chapter 1

 

The ideal vantage point for observing a half-naked man was definitely across the rim of a crystal champagne flute. Especially when the champagne was expensive, the backdrop was a postcardperfect Bahamian beach, and the man was that one.

He had muscles in all the right places under summer-bronzed skin. Hair on the long side, wavy and breeze-blown, streaked naturally by the sun. No phony salon highlights for him. When he flashed a smile it was sparkly clean, bright, but without that annoying Chiclets perfection. The icing on the beefcake: he didn’t even glance at the bikini-clad beach babes strolling by, some of them close enough to reach out and touch. His ocean-blue eyes were mine alone.

God, I love my job.

He slid into the chair across from me at the boardwalk bistro and lifted a bottle of Dom from the ice bucket. “Another glass?” His question was moot—he was already pouring.

I shrugged. What the hell. There’s always room for more champagne.

He filled a glass for himself and raised it. “To us.”

“To us,” I echoed, gazing into eyes that had the late-afternoon sun glinting in them like miniature whitecaps on a stormy sea. (Normally I gag when overwrought poetic comparisons pop into my head, but this time I was too busy heaving a happy sigh.)

“Mina, I thank heaven every day for the piece of luck that brought you to me.”

“No, I’m the lucky one,” I gushed. The sentiment was surprisingly true. Sure, his words were corny. But he was sincere, and that made it romantic.

It was enough to make me wish I really were Mina.

My client’s soon-to-be fiancé—Henry Howard Harrison III, nicknamed “Trey” for the “III”—took some bills from the wallet he’d just retrieved from our bungalow and anchored them under the ice bucket. He pulled me out of my chair into sun-warmed arms.

“Let’s go back to the house,” he whispered, one hand chasing goose bumps down my back. When he got to the top of my sarong he slipped his fingers beneath it. My breath caught in my throat, hampered by the sudden pounding in my chest, and I leaned in for a kiss that would have knocked my socks off, if I’d been wearing any.

Damn. I could almost feel guilty about taking money for this.

Before I was overwhelmed by . . . um, let’s call it remorse . . . he yanked the brightly colored cloth off my waist and ran away with it, tossing me a wicked grin over his shoulder. I was left standing, stunned, in a thong bikini I would never consider wearing as myself.

The corners of my mouth lifted. But I wasn’t me right now, was I? I was Mina. Wilhelmina Augustine Worthington, to be precise. Rich, pretty, pampered . . . and having fun. I gave chase.

 

I reached the front porch of the bungalow minutes after my quarry, puffing from the run. Really, Mina should exercise more. The trouble with borrowing somebody else’s aura is that you get their level of fitness along with it. Not that I’m one to talk. My favorite aerobic activity is reading steamy romantic thrillers. I figure an increased heart rate is an increased heart rate. Why quibble about methodology?

I dabbed my dewy brow with the sarong before tying it back around my waist. I’d found it snagged on a wood-encased garbage bin on the boardwalk—a distraction, no doubt, to slow me down. Obviously our boy liked games. Okay by me. I was ready to play.

“Tr-hhhey?” I wheezed as I went in, blowing silky strands of black hair out of my face. Make that almost ready. But I was sure I’d be fine in a second. Slow breaths, in . . . out. There.

He wasn’t in the living room or dining area. It was one big open space, tastefully furnished in expensive beach modern, and there was no seminude male figure in it. It wasn’t something I’d overlook. The kitchen was a bust, too.

The door to the bedroom was ajar. Ah. Perfect. I took a second to adjust my bathing suit top, knowing Mina wasn’t the type to approach even a spontaneous romp in bed with boobs awry. They were great boobs, too. I’d miss them when the job was done.

No signs of life in the master suite. The bed was still made, which wasn’t odd since we hadn’t actually been to bed yet. Trey had flown in after I’d arrived, and he’d met me on the beach. I always like to have my first encounter with a significant other in a public and fairly lively place. The distractions help smooth over any small inconsistencies I might show before I get a bead on what I’m dealing with. Trey hadn’t presented any great difficulties—he was pretty much exactly how Mina had described him when she hired me. Adonis incarnate.

Just thinking about him made the king-size bed look a lot emptier.

“Trey? Honey? Where are you?”

No response.

I’m cool. I can get with a good game of hide-and-seek. But he wasn’t in the closet, or under the bed either.

The bathroom. He was probably in there, just waiting to fill up the tub and play dock the submarine.

Okay, that was a crude and totally un-Mina-like thought.

Not that I could help it. When you grow up with a bunch of guys and a propensity for eavesdropping, crudity is the default mode when sex is on your mind. It’s a situational hazard. Still, I tried hard to stomp it down, along with other vestiges of my real identity—Ciel Halligan, Facilitator. Intrepid Fixer of Other People’s Problems. (Yeah, I know. Goofy. What can I say? I read a lot of comic books as a child.)

My job is made possible by a genetic quirk that allows me to adapt my aura into an exact copy of another person’s. No, it’s not shape-shifting, which is a crock, by the way. Give me a break. Shape-shifting on a biomolecular level? Directed cell morphology—the actual physical changing of tissue—takes time, and lots of it. It wouldn’t be practical. Aura adaptors deal in energy. Much faster, and quite a handy trait for someone in my line of work.

Guess you could say I’m a kind of life coach. At least, that’s my cover with all but the select few nonadaptors who know about us. Only instead of teaching people how to solve their own problems, I just do it for them. My clientele tends to be more comfortable with delegating than learning.

The only tricky part of the job is getting the internals right. The personality. But this time I was determined to stay totally in character on the job. Looking, smelling, and sounding exactly like another person wasn’t enough. To give a believable performance I had to immerse myself in the client’s psyche as well. Otherwise, the whole illusion could collapse around me like a bad soufflé, and I couldn’t afford that. I had bills to pay. Big ones. If I screwed this job up, I could say bye-bye to my business.

Alas, the bathroom was empty, the large array of foaming agents and botanical oils on the counter untouched. Huh. This was getting a little weird. Oh, well. I’m flexible. He had to be around here someplace. While I waited for him to emerge, I ran a handy brush through Mina’s hair. Primping in front of a mirror was certainly in character.

Wait a second . . . that’s odd. There was a smudge on my forehead. I peered more closely at my reflection. It looked like—

I grabbed a tissue, moistened it, and dabbed the spot. Sniffed it.

It was blood. When had I . . . ? I scrubbed my face clean. No cut. It wasn’t me.

The sarong. It must have been on the sarong. I pulled it off and examined it. Sure enough, there was a still-damp (ick!) splotch, camouflaged by the gaudy, crimson-flower print. I did a quick personal check, even though I knew good and well it wasn’t that time of the month for Mina. All clear.

So what happened? Had Trey tripped and skinned his knee? Maybe he’d gone to the resort’s clinic to get it bandaged. But why would he do that when he had someone right here, ready and willing to play doctor? No, he must be hiding. I just needed to be patient.

I twitched. I don’t really do patience.

My eyes settled on Trey’s luggage. I hesitated, but only long enough to come up with a plausible excuse to use if he caught me: But, honey, you were gone. I found blood. I thought something was wrong—I had to search for clues.

I shrugged. Worked for me.

The bags contained the usual well-off bachelor vacation assortment. Casual clothing, a few dressier duds, a shaving kit with some wonderful-smelling toiletries, a velvet ring box, a spare bathing suit—

Whoa. Back the expectation train up. A ring box? Had Mina turned the reins over to me prematurely? I flipped open the hinged top and was nearly blinded by the flash from the solitaire. I whistled, long and slow. That sucker had to be at least three carats. High clarity, emerald cut, platinum setting. The man was serious.

Well, bite me. Now I couldn’t in good conscience employ any gratuitous persuasive techniques to obtain the marriage proposal Mina so desperately wanted. That part of the job was officially over as soon as I found the ring—professional ethics wouldn’t allow otherwise. (Professional ethics suck.)

My disappointment was interrupted by the sound of Mina’s cell phone.

On the other hand, it occurred to me with expedient clarity, I would be derelict in my duty if I didn’t give the job my full effort until that ring was on my finger. So I dove for the phone and answered with Mina’s sexiest hello.

“Mina, get out of the house.”

“What? Who is this?”

“Get out. Now.” It was Trey, his words tight with fear.

“Trey? What’s the matter? Where are—” I was cut off by another voice, darker, with some sort of accent I didn’t recognize. “Miss Worthington, I suggest you do as Mr. Harrison says. Take your phone. You will be contacted shortly.” Click.

What the . . . ? Crap. I clutched the cell and ran out the front door. Twenty yards later I was knocked off my feet by a teethrattling blast. When I looked over my shoulder, there was a pile of debris where the bungalow had been.


Chapter 2

 

Dust descended, choking and blinding me. Holy freaking cow. She was right.

Coughing, I pushed myself up and stumbled toward the boardwalk, where a group of evening strollers stood transfixed. An elderly woman was the first to come to my aid, taking my elbow and leading me farther away from the destruction.

“Are you all right?” she asked, concern pouring from her kind eyes.

My still-ringing ears made out a muffled British accent. She looked awfully familiar, but I couldn’t place her. Probably just one of the tourists I’d seen around the resort over the course of the day.

“I-I’m fine. I think.” My voice shook more than I thought it should, and my body started to follow suit. I sat down abruptly, right there on the edge of the boardwalk. Guess my legs weren’t taking the situation too well. Still, buzzing in the back of my brain like a two-hundred-pound mosquito was damned if she wasn’t fricking right.

“She” was my mother, whose favorite saying when I was growing up was “God punishes right away.” Mom popped that little gem out every time one of us kids got hurt while doing something naughty. And here I’d only been contemplating having sex with somebody else’s boyfriend, and kaboom! If that wasn’t right away, I didn’t know what was. Sure, the sex was contractually sanctioned by my client, as per our working arrangement, but God probably didn’t care about loopholes.

Though, as loopholes go, you have to admit it’s a great one. Not much can top your client telling you, after serious consideration of the clause in question, “Well, I guess if you’re being me, then he’s not really cheating, right?” (Yeah, I know. My clients can be kind of out there, bless their gotta-have-what-I-want-whenI-want-it hearts. If people weren’t so impatient for results, I wouldn’t have a business.)

I glanced skyward warily, on the lookout for any residual fallout from on high. No lightning bolts, so maybe I was being let off with a warning. A fierce flash of joy at still being alive swept through me, making the urge to jump up, shake my fist and yell, Ha! Missed me! almost impossible to resist, but I managed. I hoped God gave extra credit for restraint.

The old lady turned to one of the gawkers and spoke firmly. “Young man, do find some water, if you would be so good.” The boy kept gaping. “Now, please. Go.” He went, snapped out of his fixation by her command. She might look like a dowdy old tourist, but authority fairly dripped from her. After turning back to me she said, “Now then. Was there anyone else inside with you? I noticed you had a companion earlier today.”

“No. My friend wasn’t there. I was alone.”

“Fortunate,” she said, looking quite pleased. “I doubt anyone could have survived that.” She gestured toward the remains of the bungalow, shaking her head.

A middle-aged man in a Hawaiian shirt, linen pants, and leather sandals came running from the direction of the resort’s office, stopping when the dust got too thick for him. He put his hands to his head, grasping for hair that hadn’t been there in quite a while.

“Holy shit. What happened?” He turned toward us, homing in on me. He knew it was my bungalow—he’d been the one to handle the rental. I waved weakly and shrugged.

“Miss Worthington—thank God you’re okay.” He rushed over and went down on one knee next to me. For a crazy second I thought he might propose.

“Hi, George. How’s tricks?” I quirked a smile at him, not much caring how Mina would’ve reacted under the circumstances. I figured shock was a big umbrella for any possibly inappropriate behavior.

“I don’t know what to say . . . I don’t know how this could’ve happened . . . you are okay, aren’t you?” He scanned my arms and legs (dirty and scraped but not bleeding much), then rose and looked frantically around. “Oh, my God—where’s Mr. Harrison? He’s . . . he’s not . . . ?” The last was a horrified whisper.

“Relax, George. Trey was out.”

George looked like he wanted to ask more questions, but was interrupted by the sound of approaching sirens. The water boy returned, bearing designer water in small plastic bottles. When I reached for one I realized I had Mina’s phone in a stranglehold. I was trying to pry open my fingers when it rang. I dropped it like it had stung me.

Good Samaritan lady picked it up and handed it to me. I checked the number—it wasn’t one I recognized from Mina’s file—and spoke cautiously. “Hello?”

“I see you made it out in time. Smart girl.” Same voice as before, the one who had Trey.

“I try.” What else could I say in front of all these people?

“Another word of caution, since you’ve proven yourself adept at staying alive. The police will be questioning you soon. Tell them you were about to cook something. When you turned on the stove, it made a funny noise and flamed up. You couldn’t see a fire extinguisher, so you left the cottage to get help. You don’t know anything else.”

“But—”

“The evidence they find will support your story. If you say anything else, next time you won’t get a warning. Understood?”

“Yes, but—” Click. “. . . what about Trey, you asshole?” I finished in a whisper, impotently, and jabbed the end-call button with my thumb.

The Good Samaritan cleared her throat. I glanced up and saw her mouth twitching a smile into submission. Guess she heard me. “The authorities will want to speak with you soon. Perhaps you’d care to come to my cottage afterward and clean up a bit? It’s right over there, and I may have something you could wear until you have an opportunity to shop. I doubt your own clothes are salvageable.”

I looked down at myself. Blushed. Adjusted my top. There wasn’t much I could do about the bottoms. “Thanks.”

“You sit there while I see if I can expedite the matter.” She strode off, posture perfect, straw hat riding atop her head like a crown.

That was it. I knew who she reminded me of—she was a dead ringer for Queen Elizabeth. Which could only mean one thing. My cousin Billy was spying on me.

 

I waited until we were in the Queen’s cottage before I turned on her. Two policemen and three insurance adjusters had just grilled me, and I wasn’t in the mood to put up with any nonsense. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I know it’s you, so you can cut the innocent act.”

She backed half a step away, like she thought perhaps I had a screw loose. Crap. Maybe it wasn’t Billy. Maybe the blast had addled my brain. “I, uh, I’m sorry. I thought for a minute you might be . . . I mean, you look like somebody I know.”

“I’m quite certain we’ve never met, my dear. By the way, my name is Edith Hathaway. How do you do?” She extended her hand hesitantly. I took it, still not entirely certain of her, but deciding it was better to take her at face value until I was thinking more clearly.

“I’m Mina Worthington. Please, call me Mina.”

Her hand was warm and dry, softly wrinkled. “So nice to meet you, Mina. Shall I show you to the lavatory? You can have a good wash while I find you something to wear.” She led off briskly.

Her bathroom was a lot like ours had been before it was blown to smithereens. A stack of plush, sea-green towels waited on a stand between the glass-enclosed shower and the soaking tub, along with an assortment of flowery-scented soaps.

“You go ahead and start, dear. Take your time. I’ll find some clothes for you and leave them on the vanity.”

After she left I reached into the shower stall and turned on the water. While it warmed up I slipped off the bathing suit. Regardless of the skimpy garment’s sex appeal, I can’t say I was sorry to get rid of the wedgie. My envy of Mina’s lifestyle was rapidly ebbing.

I grabbed a rosebud-shaped soap and stepped under the hot spray. Aaah . . . bliss. I lathered quickly, top to toe. Rinsed. Looked for some shampoo. There was none at hand, so I assumed it must be in the little guest basket on the vanity, and stepped out to reach for it.

Queen Elizabeth was leaning casually against the sink, ankles crossed, shampoo bottle in hand, enjoying the show. “Looking for this, dear?” There was no mistaking the leer.

I snatched the bottle and leapt back into the shower. “You are such an ass.”

“Why, whatever do you mean? And wouldn’t you like a little help washing your back? I’m wonderful with a loofah, you know.”

“Billy Doyle, get out now or I swear I’ll knock that phony aura right off your sorry carcass. Wait for me in the living room.”

“Aw, come on, cuz. Let me have another peek. This is some of your best work yet—a true masterpiece.”

I squeezed a blob of shampoo onto my head and started scrubbing. “Go away, you pervert.”

Sorority sisters, Ciel,” he reminded me for the umpteenth time.

True enough. We weren’t actually cousins. Our mothers were both Tri-Delts. Couple that with being BFFs ever since their respective adaptor parents put them in the same preschool, and it was natural they’d be honorary aunts to each other’s offspring. “Technically, that’s not pervy. And don’t forget I’m a bastard. There’s that, too,” he added, just to bolster his argument. Also true. Billy was Uncle Liam’s son from a prior relationship. He seemed to think that gave him license to behave as family or not-family, according to whim.

“Trust me, I could never forget that! Now leave, before I squirt shampoo in your eyes.”

He left, chortling a queenly chortle. I was going to kill him.

 

“Why are you here?”

I was dressed in elastic-waist, aqua polyester capris and a shapeless, floral-print blouse. All I needed was a huge handbag and some orthopedic sandals, and I could make my reservations for Leisure World.

My interfering cousin eyed me with approval. “Oh, you look lovely, my dear. Simply lovely.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Answer the question.”

“Okay, okay. Don’t get your knickers in a twist. Mark just asked me to check on you.” Mark was my oldest brother’s closest friend, practically a part of the family. (People with aura-adapting capabilities are a relatively small population, and tend to stick together.) He was also the object of my unrequited childhood passion.

“Why would Mark ask you to do that?”

Billy cocked his head and shrugged, his mannerisms sitting oddly on the Queen’s frame. “Why does the spook do anything? Overdeveloped sense of protectiveness, maybe? Either that or the sadistic pleasure of making me watch you fawn all over a dumb piece of meat.”

“Trey isn’t dumb!”

He wagged a regal finger at me. “Ah-ah-ah, my dear. Remember your professional detachment.”

I looked at the ceiling. No guidance there. “You’re such an idiot. I don’t believe Mark sent you at all. And didn’t he warn you to stop calling him a spook?”

“As I recall, we both got that warning. Besides, semantics. He’s the spookiest spook they have, the very wet dream of spookdom, and you know it. They would kill to have more like him.”

“Apparently they have you,” I said, still cross.

“No, they don’t. Every now and then I do a favor for Mark, that’s all.”

“Favor, is it?”

“A compensated favor, yes,” he said with a cheeky grin. “One does have to pay the rent.”

“Yeah, right. Like you ever have any trouble coming up with cash. Why are you really here?”

“Like I said, to keep my eagle eye on you. Seems Mark’s afraid you might slip up with your little homegrown business, and give yourself away. I’m here to help make sure that doesn’t happen. Think of me as a business tool.”

I snorted. “Don’t know about ‘business,’ but ‘tool’ fits.” Then it hit me. “He pays you to spy on me?” I couldn’t keep the shock out of my voice. Making money by helping Mark on his assignments was one thing, but turning me into a business transaction? That was going a little far, even for Billy.

“What’d you think? That I can’t tear myself away from you?”

“No,” I said sincerely, though of course it was exactly what I’d been thinking. I’d noticed him in the background on previous jobs—which I never could’ve done if he hadn’t intended it—and had assumed he was just indulging his inborn urge to bug me.

He shrugged. “I’d do it for free if I could, but I gotta make a living. Mark knows watching you keeps me from pursuing more lucrative endeavors, so he tosses something extra my way to make up for it, that’s all.”

“Lucrative? Huh. You sure ‘illegal’ isn’t the word you’re searching for?”

“Eh. Potato, potahto.”

No point in getting into a morality discussion with Billy. He lived by his own code. “Look, I’m careful, all right? Anyway, I think you just enjoy tormenting me with your presence. Can’t I have one job without you showing your face?”

“Well, technically, I don’t show my face.”

True. On my last job, he’d appeared as Brad Pitt, only with buck teeth. The one before, he was George Clooney with a pot gut. He got a kick out of adding a twist. I was surprised he hadn’t given poor Liz leprosy, but maybe he thought being old and a Windsor was bad enough.

“You know what I mean. You’re worse now than when we were kids. At least then you only pulled my hair and pinched me when our mothers weren’t looking. Now you’re trying to ruin my career.”

He drew himself up with a look of injured innocence. Exasperated, I turned my back—never a smart move where Billy is concerned, but it’s hard not to trust the Queen. The yank and pinch were simultaneous. I whirled on him, but the bugger was too fast. He’d already made it across the room.

“Feel better now?” he taunted.

“You . . . you . . .” I took off after him. “You never grow up, do you?” I grabbed a bright yellow pillow off a club chair and threw it at his head.

He caught it effortlessly as he danced around the couch. “Look who’s talking.” If the Queen could have seen her doppelgänger, she would not have been amused. But I was.

Oh, hell. I never could keep a good mad going with Billy. Giving in to laughter, I plopped down on the sofa. He sat next to me and took my hand. “I keep telling you, just come work with me. My jobs are way more fun than this boring stuff you do. Plus, I hardly ever get blown up.” (I huffed. He winked.) “The pay is better, too. What do you say? Shall we ditch this place for greener— and I do mean greener—pastures?”

“Tempting, but Mom made me swear never to work with you. She even got out the Bible.”

“What? I can’t believe she doesn’t love me anymore! My own aunt.”

“Oh, she loves you to pieces. She just doesn’t trust you as far as she can spit. And, yes, that’s a direct quote.”

Billy laughed and squeezed my hand. “Smart woman, your mother.” The ghost of masculinity beneath the small, elderly persona he was projecting comforted me in spite of myself.

“God, Billy, what’s going on here? Trey disappeared between the bistro and the bungalow. I waited—”

“All alone,” he interrupted. “Worried. Distressed. So very horny.” This said in a proper, upper-class British accent.

I broke up again. “Stop. I’m trying to explain things to you.” I told him about Trey calling, and the guy with the weird accent.

“I gather you don’t want to tell the cops about the phone calls. Do you think that’s wise?”

“I don’t know! All I could think about was Trey getting killed if I said the wrong thing. Maybe the police could rescue him, but . . .” I dropped my head to my lap and hid behind a sheet of black hair.

He patted my back. “Yeah. But.” I felt him leave, and when he returned he had two beers. He popped both cans open and handed one to me. “The odd-accent guy didn’t give you any idea what he wanted?”

“Not a clue. I’m waiting for the next call. I assume there will be instructions.” I sipped gratefully. My throat was still sore from all the dust. “Gee, Your Majesty, shouldn’t we at least pour these into glasses?”

The Queen chugged her beer and followed it with an openmouthed belch. Most unregal. “Nah. Liz is a common girl at heart. Word in the palace corridors has it she sneaks down to the local and knocks back tequila shots on her birthday. Oh, wait—maybe that’s just when I’m there.”

I looked at him sideways, doubting the real Queen had ever grinned so impishly. “Does Mark know you snatched a reigning monarch’s energy? I don’t imagine he’d approve.”

“Pish. He doesn’t care, as long as I don’t cause an international incident. No one here recognizes Liz, anyway, not when she’s out of context.”

“No one?” I raised my eyebrows and took another, much longer, drink. Mina’s burp was barely a whisper compared to the Queen’s.

“I suppose it’s possible the management is under the impression they have a member of the royal family here incognito.”

“And might one assume you are getting the royal treatment while you are here?”

“Call it a perk,” he said with a twinkle.

“Well, as long as you are here, make yourself useful and help me figure out what to do. Should I call Mina and tell her what happened?”

“Is she the sort to take bombing and kidnapping in her stride?”

“She’s more the sort who wants everything taken care of and presented to her in a neat package. Like the engagement she contracted with me to deliver—” I vaulted to my feet. “Oh, shit! Shit, shit, shit!”

The Queen rose, too. “What? What’s the matter now?”

“The ring! Mina’s engagement ring—I left it in the bungalow, and now it’s . . . it’s . . .”

“Relax. Diamonds are hard. They’ll probably find it when they sift through the debris.”

I tried to calm down. “Yeah . . . yeah, I guess you’re right. Sorry. It’s just that this whole job centers around getting that ring. I’d hate to disappoint Mina.” Not to mention see my business go down the tubes. But there was no need for Billy to know how imminent failure was.

“Heaven forbid. So, you squeezed the proposal out of him?” He gave me a congratulatory clap on the shoulder. “Good for you, cuz. But when did you manage it?”

“Well, he hasn’t exactly popped the question yet. While I was waiting for him earlier, I just sort of . . . um, came across the ring.”

“Snooping, were you?” he said, happy as a frat boy at a kegger to catch me admitting to something naughty.

“I was just looking for some clue as to where he might have gone,” I said, chin up. “I don’t make a practice of it.”

“Right. I know that.” His eyes said otherwise.

“Look, it was part of the job. It’s not like I snoop in regular life.”

“Oh, no. You’re an absolute angel. Angels don’t snoop.”

“You are not helping.” Glaring, I grabbed his beer can and squashed it one-handed. Did the same to mine. His, at least, had been empty. I stomped into the kitchen to look for the recycling bin, my hand dripping.

“You know what your problem is?” he called after me. “You’re tense. If all this had happened after you’d boinked Trey, you’d be a lot more relaxed right now. And that, my love, is something I can help you with.”

Uh-oh.

 

In A Fix © Linda Grimes 2012

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