“First, tell me something. How do you know for sure that she’s dating the guy Andy owes money to?” I question.
“A couple of calls that came through on your phone were from a number you didn’t have programmed in your contact list. I had my guy trace the number and it was hers,” Dallas explains, pointing his thumb over his shoulder in Melanie’s direction. “I stopped by her place this morning to question her, and she sang like a canary.”
I look over at Melanie and see her pull out a compact from her purse and check her reflection in the small, round mirror. She straightens her hair and adds some powder to her nose before glancing over at us.
“Can we hurry this along? I’ve got a yoga class in twenty minutes.”
Dallas sighs and puts his back to her. “She told me she and her boyfriend got into a fight because he was talking nonstop about some hot model, and how he kidnapped her husband to try and get money that was owed to him. He was showing a picture of you in a magazine to everyone, bragging about how he was going to nail you. Melanie found your number in Andy’s phone. She was going to tell you to stay away from her man, but her boyfriend snatched the phone away before she could leave a message. It seems little Miss Melanie over there is jealous of you.”
“Oh please. I am NOT jealous of her. You know what? I changed my mind. I’m not going to help you,” Melanie says. She turns and stalks toward the door.
Dallas runs up to her and grabs her by the arm, spinning her around. “Oh, no. I don’t think so. You see, you’re now an accomplice in kidnapping and extortion. You’re going to help us, or you’re getting a free ride straight to the women’s correctional facility.”
Melanie’s face pales as she stares up at Dallas. “Prison? I can’t go to prison. I’m too pretty for prison.”
“Well, then, you’re going to tell me everything you know about your boyfriend and where he’s holding Andy. We’ll see if we can work out a deal after that.”
I clear my throat and when Dallas turns to look at me, I jerk my head to get him to come over. He sighs and walks back to me.
“Um, you don’t know who Melanie’s boyfriend is?”
Dallas shakes his head. “I didn’t get that far with her yet. I wanted to wait until you got here to grill her more.”
Biting my lip, I look up at him sheepishly. “I know who Melanie’s boyfriend is. Now might be the time to call the police again.”
Dallas grits his teeth in an effort not to shout at me. I have to commend him. He’s holding it together fairly well considering he just had to break up a catfight.
“Who is he?” Dallas growls.
“Ever heard of Vinnie DeMarco?”
Dallas closes his eyes and shakes his head. “You have got to be fucking kidding me. The biggest crime boss this side of the Mason-Dixon Line? This is information that would have been useful, oh, say, YESTERDAY!”
With my hands on my hips, I glare at him. “How was I supposed to know Matt’s case and Andy’s stupid gambling problem would collide like this? You’re a PI too, and last time I checked, you’ve been at it a lot longer than I have. Why the hell didn’t YOU put two and two together, you pompous ass?”
Dallas stares at me for a few beats before a laugh bursts out of his mouth. “Well played, Paige. Well played. You might be beating Kennedy in the ball-busting department.”
I lose the attitude, but keep my chin high. “So, are we going to kick a little Mob ass now or what?”
This is not a good idea. Can you please get your hands off her boobs?”
Matt stares angrily at Ted as he finishes up attaching a bug to the front clasp of my bra. Ted quickly puts his hands up in surrender and backs away from me while I button my shirt back up.
“I know this isn’t an ideal situation, but it’s our best option right now,” Ted explains to Matt calmly. “We’ve been trying to catch Vinnie DeMarco for years. The last call that came in stated that Paige was the only one they would allow to bring in the money in exchange for Andy.”
To say Matt hasn’t been too thrilled about the events that unfolded in Dallas’s office the other day is putting it mildly. Not only was he pissed that Melanie’s Mob-boss boyfriend is the one who kidnapped Andy, he was also really mad he wasn’t there to see me attempt to pull her hair out by the roots. He kissed the scratch she left on my arm and told me next time I should stomp on her foot with my Guccis. And he even knew they were Guccis. If I didn’t think so before, I’m now certain he’s a keeper.
Matt places his hands on either side of my face and stares directly into my eyes. “You don’t have to do this. It’s too dangerous.”
I reach my hands up and place them over the top of his. “I’ll be fine. The place will be surrounded by cops. I’m just going to walk in, hand over the money, grab Andy, and get out.”
“We’re not going to have her out of our sight for one minute, Matt. I promise,” Ted assures him.
The door to Fool Me Once flies open and I cringe as Kennedy comes running inside, storming right over to me with a pissed-off look on her face.
I don’t know what I’m more afraid of right now—walking into a den of mobsters or dealing with Kennedy’s wrath.
“Sorry, Paige. I had to call her,” Ted apologizes.
“What. The. Fuck?” Kennedy stutters as she stands in front of me with her hands on her hips.
“Is now a bad time to ask you if I can get a promotion?”
Right when I think Kennedy is going to punch me in the face, she wraps her arms around me and pulls me against her.
“If you wanted more work, all you had to do was ask. You didn’t need to go hunt down a fucking mobster,” she whispers against my hair.
“I just wanted you to see I could do something other than sit there and look pretty,” I admit.
My friends know the whole story about the way Andy used to parade me around. I’ve never really admitted to them how deep it hurt me, though. Until now.
Kennedy lets go of me and pulls back to stare at my face. “Is that seriously what you think? Paige, I trust you. I know how smart and courageous you are. I would have never asked you to be part of this business when we met in that self-defense class if I didn’t believe in you. I just wanted you to get your feet wet with easy stuff before I let you kick some real ass. I never once doubted your abilities.”
It’s very rare to hear Kennedy say something so heartfelt. She never wears her emotions on her sleeve. I feel a tear slide down my cheek before I can stop it. I should have trusted my friend to have faith in me.
“Oh, fuck. Don’t cry. You know I don’t do crying. It gives me hives. Where the hell is Lorelei?” Kennedy complains, looking around the room.
“She’s in court, most likely cutting off another set of balls to store in her purse,” Dallas replies sarcastically.
“One of these days, Dallas, she’s going to have your balls in her purse,” Kennedy tells him smugly.
“When pigs fly, dear Kennedy. When pigs fly,” Dallas laughs.
“Can we please go over the details one more time so I can stop freaking out so much?” Matt asks, interrupting Kennedy and Dallas’s back-and-forth over Lorelei.
“Melanie is already with Vinnie. He doesn’t usually take her on jobs, but she used her powers of persuasion to convince him to take her this time,” Ted explains.
“So you’re saying she spread her legs. Got it,” Kennedy adds. She turns to Matt and shrugs awkwardly at him. “Sorry.”
“No apology necessary. Why do you think I’m divorcing her?” Matt informs Kennedy.
“Anyway,” Ted continues. “Paige will go in with the money and make sure Andy is still alive. Melanie is going to start up an argument with Vinnie about his crush on Paige in an attempt to get him to admit to some of his recent activity so we can get it on tape. Otherwise, with his contacts, he’ll easily find a way around doing less time. He’ll be in and out of jail in no time, and then we’re back to square one. This is going to be our only shot to put this guy in prison for the rest of his life and we’re going to take it. As soon as we get something concrete on tape, we’ll come in and arrest Vinnie and get everyone out safely.”
The room is silent for a few minutes after Ted finishes his explanation.
“See? Piece of cake,” I tell Matt, trying to keep the nerves out of my voice so he doesn’t worry any more than he already is.
“So how do we know Melanie is actually going to do what she promised? She isn’t exactly the most honest person,” Kennedy asks.
“Last night, I took her on a trip to the women’s correctional facility. We had a little tour. She was still crying when I dropped her off at home an hour later, mumbling about bitches with the most packs of smokes and how she doesn’t want a prison tat,” Ted tells her with a smile. “I may or may not have told her that as soon as she walks in the door, she’ll be considered fresh meat and the words ‘she’s my bitch’ will be tattooed on her ass.”
Kennedy pats Ted on the back and looks at him with respect. “I knew there was a reason why I liked having you as a brother.”
“How can we be sure that Paige isn’t going to be in any danger? I mean, this is the Mob we’re talking about. What if they know she’s been in contact with the police and this whole thing is a setup?” Matt asks worriedly as he wraps his arms around me from behind, resting his chin on top of my head.
“There’s always that risk, Matt. I’m not going to lie. But we have a couple of informants on the inside who swear there hasn’t been any talk about this drop being a setup. They all just assume Paige is a ditsy model coming to bail out her ex,” Ted explains.
“Dammit, now I’m jealous. Paige gets to go in there, act all stupid and giggly, and help take down one of the biggest crime rings in the state, and I have to go back and finish delivering a boring subpoena,” Kennedy says.
“Wanna trade places? I can do your makeup and hair and put you in something really cute. We can practice your giggles,” I tell her with a smile.
“On second thought, Paige is a much better choice for this job. Good luck.” Kennedy gives me a thumbs-up and takes a seat at her desk.
“Don’t be too sad. We can celebrate by getting our hair highlighted next week. I got us a new stylist.”
Kennedy scowls at me and I can’t help but laugh. Laughing feels better than curling up in the fetal position in the corner, rocking back and forth in fear. It’s not like I haven’t been trained for this. Kennedy made Lorelei and me take a private investigator course online so we could get our PI license. But studying and taking tests online is a little easier than walking into a situation I might not be prepared for. I’m pretty sure the course never covered the topic of “Taking Down a Crime Ring without Dying.” If all else fails, though, at least Kennedy made sure these last few months that my self-defense skills are top-notch.
“Paige, can you say a few things so I can test the sound level of your mic?” Ted asks as he walks over to Kennedy’s desk and types a few things into the laptop he placed there earlier.
“I can take down a crime ring without dying.”
Matt’s shoulders slump and he hangs his head. “This really isn’t making me feel better right now.”
I give him a sympathetic smile and I’m overcome with the urge to tell him I love him. I don’t know where that thought comes from, but it’s right there, front and center and on the tip of my tongue. It’s crazy, though. I mean, I just met him. Do I really love him, or am I just scared to death that I’m not going to come out of this alive?
While Kennedy, Ted, and Dallas are busy fiddling with the sound levels with the microphone app on the computer, I take the time to stare at Matt’s profile. He really looks nervous and scared. Nervous and scared for me. He keeps running his hand through his hair and sighing. Even though we haven’t known each other that long, I know it’s a sign that he’s trying to keep it together.
Matt turns his head and catches me looking at him. He comes over to me and pulls me up against him. I breathe in his fresh, clean scent and let the warmth of his body calm me.
“Promise me that you’ll be careful. I need you to come back to me, Paige,” he whispers in my ear.
Shame on me for thinking it was crazy to be already in love with this man.
It’s okay, Giovanni, you can let her in.”
The goon by the front door of an abandoned church steps aside when he receives his orders from across the room. He doesn’t put his gun away as I walk through the doors.
The church looks like it hasn’t been closed for very long; I can still smell incense from Sunday morning church services. It must have soaked into the walls. There are pews scattered throughout the huge, vaulted-ceilinged room, but some have been ripped up from the floorboards and moved around so there’s more of a wide-open space. There’s a large statue of the Virgin Mary staring down at me right next to the door. Even though my mother is the religious one in the family, I still say a quick prayer to her that I make it out of this alive. Hopefully she’s forgiving of the fact that I am not a regular churchgoer. Or a virgin.
I swallow nervously when I see Vinnie DeMarco lounging in a pew across the room, his big, beefy arms resting on the back. I only got a quick glimpse of him the night Matt and I saw him with Melanie at Blake’s Seafood Restaurant, but I’ve seen plenty of pictures. He reminds me of Tony Soprano: receding hairline and a belly that sticks out of his three-piece suit, proving that he has a weakness for pasta and a dislike of anything involving exercise. The butterflies in my stomach calm down when I think about all of the episodes when Tony doted on his kids and kindly gave money to the hookers he screwed. But then I start thinking about the hookers he killed and the butterflies are back in full force, trying to claw their way out of my stomach.