Do I look okay? Am I showing enough cleavage?”
Lorelei stares me up and down, and in an uncharacteristic move from my slightly uptight best friend, she reaches out and unbuttons the top button of the already-plunging neck of my halter vest. I was almost popping out of my top as it was. Now I’m going to have to hold my breath to keep the girls contained.
“There, that’s better. Let’s go.”
As we walk side by side into Sean O’Casey’s Irish Pub, I put on my game face. Tonight, I’m not Paige McCarty, world-renowned model; I am Paige McCarty—man bait. My best friends Lorelei Warner and Kennedy O’Brien and I own our own private investigative firm called Fool Me Once Investigations, which was started after we were all screwed over by the men in our lives.
My ex—he threw away our entire life savings on his gambling habit. Do you want to know how I found out that Andy had a gambling problem? I had just found a pair of Christian Louboutins that were TO DIE for. Seriously. Black slingbacks with a peep toe, silver spike embellishments, and a black bow with spikes right by the toe. I almost cried. Actually, I did cry when all three of my credit cards were declined when I took the shoes up to the counter to pay for them. Maxed out. Over the limit. No more shoe purchases that day, or maybe ever. I figured it was just some sort of mistake until the snotty store clerk handed over the phone when she called the credit card company. Six hundred thousand dollars’ worth of debt. I know I have a slight problem when it comes to buying shoes, but not a six-hundred-thousand-dollar problem!
I confronted Andy that night when he got home from work, and the weasel broke down sobbing in the middle of our living room. He racked up that much debt in just three short months. Three months of flying to Vegas and Atlantic City when he was supposed to be in Silicon Valley at software conferences.
Lying sack of shit.
But right now, I don’t have time to think about how much I still want to strangle my ex, because I have a job to do. I have a cheating husband to catch in the act. A man by the name of Matt Russo.
“All right, so according to his file, Matt is a graphic designer and his wife, Melanie, says he’s been spending too much time away from the house and not enough time with her.” Lorelei fills me in as we walk through O’Casey’s.
Lorelei has been doing some light surveillance of him the past few weeks: staking out his place, following him to work—that sort of thing. Since his wife swears she’s seen texts from another woman on his phone, and he’s been extra secretive around her lately, it’s time to up our game. Lorelei never saw him doing anything suspicious like sneaking out at lunch with his arm around a bimbo.
And this is where I come in: the bimbo.
“I already hate the bastard and I haven’t even met him. Why do men feel the need to lie? If you’re not happy, just tell us. We’ll help you pack,” I complain.
My heels click on the floor of the pub as I make my way over to the bar. Tonight I’m wearing one of my favorite bait outfits: a nice little ensemble I like to call “my eyes are up here, moron.” My top is a gray pinstripe halter vest: completely backless and held together in the front with just four tiny buttons. Well, three buttons now, thanks to Lorelei. If I make sure not to take deep breaths, my all-natural 34Cs should stay put.
“I see him—over there at the end of the bar, nursing a beer,” Lorelei says quietly next to me.
My gaze zeroes in on our subject and I take a moment to watch him unnoticed. He looks exactly like his picture in the file. Black hair, short on the sides and messy on top; dark stubble around a jaw that I can’t deny is a little delicious to look at; and a pair of black, trendy glasses perched on his nose. My ex wore a pair of those glasses. He didn’t need glasses, but he thought they made him look cool.
Matt is wearing a blue-and-white-striped button-down with a navy blue V-necked sweater over it with a pair of khaki dress pants. Nerdy chic. Super. It’s like someone packaged up Andy and stuck him in this bar just for me. Remind me again why I picked this job instead of the easy subpoena delivery that Lorelei got?
“Wow, he looks a lot like Andy,” Lorelei says, stating the obvious.
“I know. Don’t remind me. I kind of want to slam his face into the bar right now.”
Lorelei pulls a small Nikon camera out of her purse and checks the zoom lens.
“Please refrain from beating up the subject until I can get a good shot of him making out with you,” she tells me in a bored voice before putting the camera back in her bag.
Right. The job. Fool Me Once Investigations was started because the three of us wanted to help other women avoid looking like fools when the men in their lives played them. We take other cases to help pay the bills, but coming to the rescue of our fellow woman scorned is what we prefer. I need to remember that this is just a job and not a way for me to channel my anger at Andy through someone else. All I have to do is make nice with the little cheater, chat him up, buy him a few drinks, and then get him to kiss me. Piece of cake and bam, the wife is vindicated and can happily take her photos to her lawyer. I’ve done it a hundred times.
Oh, don’t look at me like that—I’m not a whore. Even though my mother seems to think I am whenever I tell her I’m out on another job. They say you have to kiss a few frogs before you meet your Prince Charming. Well, I’m kissing a thousand frogs to show other women that Prince Charming will screw you over the first chance he gets.
“Okay, wish me luck,” I tell Lorelei before fluffing my hair and strutting over to the bar. Just like always, Lorelei takes a seat at one of the booths across from the bar with a clear view of the subject. We’ve done this so many times together that we’ve got it down to a science. All I have to do is say my name and no matter who the guy is, his eyes will light up with recognition. I know, that makes me sound a little conceited, but I swear I’m not. It’s the truth.
I used to like the fact that whenever I told a guy my name you could see his mind racing as he remembered all of the pictures he’d seen of me on magazine covers. It made me feel special and wanted and beautiful. Now it’s just annoying. Just once it would be nice for a guy to have no idea who I am—to like me for me. To be with a guy who has no expectation that you will look magazine-cover ready first thing in the morning.
Andy liked having arm candy for a wife. He liked taking me out and showing me off. It was sweet at first, and then it got old. He wasn’t happy just sitting at home on a Friday night, wearing sweats and watching a movie. He always wanted to show me off to his friends.
Sliding onto the bar stool next to Matt, I signal the waiter and he comes rushing over.
“I’ll take a lemon-drop martini and one of whatever this handsome man next to me is having,” I tell the bartender with a wink.
Matt looks up from his drink and blinks at me in surprise.
Wow, he has really blue eyes. Like, really blue. And he smells delicious. That cologne is making my girly bits tingle. I’m pretty sure it’s Burberry Touch. I have a nose for good cologne.
“Oh, thanks, but I’m good,” he tells me with a distracted smile before looking back down at his half-empty glass of beer.
Um, okaaaay. Let’s try this again.
“Hi, I’m Paige,” I tell him brightly, sticking my hand out in front of him.
“Oh, hi. Matthew,” he tells me distractedly.
His warm hand engulfs mine and he shakes it once before pulling it away and going right back to looking down in his glass.
Fine. On to Plan B.
“It’s Paige McCarty, by the way,” I tell him sweetly, enunciating my last name. I was on the cover of Maxim last month. He’ll be asking for an autographed copy in three seconds.
“Did you say McCarty?” he asks, finally looking up and staring at my face.
Here we go . . .
“I sure did, handsome,” I tell him with a wink.
God, this is nauseating. I really am better than this. I need to talk to Kennedy about putting me on some different jobs. This is getting to be too degrading.
“My mother is Irish. Her maiden name was McCarty.”
I do nothing but sit here staring at him with my mouth open. He could be lying, considering he’s a cheater and that’s what they’re good at, but something tells me he seriously has no idea who I am. My spidey senses are not screaming “lying sack of shit” right at this moment. Obviously, they’re on the fritz. A woman doesn’t just fork over a couple of grand to have her husband investigated for cheating. She has suspicions and it’s my job to make sure they are validated, not question the authenticity of this guy’s morals.
Matt slides off of his stool and throws a twenty down on top of the bar.
“Well, it was nice meeting you, Paige McCarty. Be careful on your way home. This isn’t the best neighborhood for a woman to be alone in at night.”
And with that, Matt gives me a polite nod, turns, and walks out of the bar—without even attempting to flirt with me or ask me to go home with him.
Shame on me for thinking this job was going to be a piece of cake.
I’m thinking of wearing jeans and a nice tank top to dinner with Griffin tonight. What do you think?”
I look up at Kennedy as she paces back and forth in front of my desk. Kennedy is going on her first official date with Griffin tonight. They’ve been hot and heavy for a few weeks working on a bail-jumper case and due to some genius thinking on Griffin’s part, he finally got Kennedy to go on a real date with him. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be the highlight of her family’s week, since they’ve wanted the two of them together forever.
“You cannot dress like a hobo to go on a date with Griffin.” I shake my head at her and she rolls her eyes at me.
“Jeans and a tank are not hobo wear.”
“Kennedy, comfort should not be your first order of business when planning your attire for the evening. It should be picking an outfit that makes him want to skip the date just to rip your clothes off.”
Kennedy sits down at her desk in a huff and crosses her arms in front of her.
“This is dumb. We already skipped to that part. Several times. I don’t know why this date is such a big deal.”
“It’s a big deal because it’s romantic and sweet. Griffin wants to treat you well and prove to you that he’s not with you just for sex. Wear something red and show off your legs,” I tell her, powering up my laptop.
“Please tell me you’re not suggesting I wear a dress,” she grumbles.
“You’re wearing a dress. You’re also going to wear heels. Quit your bitching.”
While Kennedy moans and groans about stupid men and something about seeing her in a dress at prom if he wouldn’t have ditched her, I decide against asking her how to find more information on Matt Russo. She’s got enough on her plate tonight. Going right to Google, I type in Matt’s name and wait for the hits to load.
“I’m guessing I can’t just stop at Walmart on my way home and find this red dress you speak of, can I?” Kennedy asks as she grabs her keys from her desk and stands up.
“If you buy a dress from Walmart for this date, I will disown you.”
Turning away from my computer, I dig into my purse, pull out a business card, and hand it to her. “Go to Nordstrom and ask for Alicia. She used to be my personal shopper, you know, before Andy decided all my hard-earned money should be flushed down the toilet. She will find you something amazing.”
Kennedy looks at the card for a few seconds and then shoves it into the back pocket of her jeans as her dad, Buddy, walks through the front door of the office. “I feel like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Except I’m not a hooker.”
“Can you please tell that to my friends at the VFW? They’re still asking me about the escort service ad Griffin ran in the newspaper last week. They’re concerned that you aren’t returning their calls because you used the Google on them and saw that they’re all old as dirt,” Buddy states. “I reassured them that you are a good person and would never discriminate based on age.”
During Kennedy and Griffin’s brief courtship, if that’s what you want to call it, Griffin decided to get back at Kennedy for a joke we played on him by placing an ad in the local paper that said Fool Me Once Investigations was an escort service. Buddy is having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that it’s not true.
“Dad, still not a hooker. How about you just tell them that?”
Buddy looks at her like she’s insane. “I’m the most popular guy at the VFW right now, Kennedy. People yell my name when I walk in and everyone buys me drinks. I’m not about to kill my popularity. This is the only thing I have to live for. Don’t deny me this.”
Kennedy gives up the argument for today, kisses Buddy on the cheek, and heads out of the office, hopefully to buy a dress.
“Okay, now that she’s gone, here’s the plan for tonight. The whole family is going to stop by so we can see Kennedy and Griffin off on their date,” Buddy whispers to me, looking over his shoulder to make sure Kennedy didn’t sneak back in.
“You know she’s going to kill you, right? She doesn’t want to make a big deal out of this.”
Buddy shrugs and backs toward the door. “My daughter is finally dating Griffin. I never thought I’d see the day those two would finally get their heads out of their asses. I want a front-row seat so I can make sure it actually happens and she doesn’t chicken out.”
I laugh at Buddy and he gives me a small wave over his shoulder before walking out the door.
Once he’s gone, I get back to my Google search. The file we have on Matt isn’t very detailed, since all we really need to know about Matt for this case is where he’ll be at certain times of the day so we can follow him. He’s not a criminal—that we know of—so Lorelei didn’t need to do an extensive court-record search on him. And he didn’t break the law, so Kennedy doesn’t need to hunt him down and kick his ass.