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26.12.2018

Through the haze of my orgasm and the distraction of Matt’s tongue lazily stroking through my mouth, I hear the ringing of my cell phone on Matt’s bedside table. Moving my head away from him, I crane my head to check the caller ID while he nestles his face into the side of my neck and places soft kisses against my skin.

“Just let it ring.” Matt speaks against my neck.

“I have no intention of answering it, don’t worry,” I reassure him as I run my fingers through his hair.

When I see the name flash across my screen, I can’t help the surprised word that flies from my mouth. “Andy?”

Matt’s head jerks away from my neck and he stares down at me.

“Did you just say your ex-husband’s name while my penis is still inside of you?”

Looking away from my phone, I see the irritated look in Matt’s face and I instantly feel bad.

“I’m sorry! This is a little awkward. I saw his name on my caller ID. I have no idea why he’s calling me.”

Matt reaches over and grabs my phone, bringing it up to his ear without taking his eyes off of me. “Sorry, Andy. Paige is busy right now; she’ll have to call you later. And by later, I mean never.”

He quickly ends the call and tosses the phone onto the floor. “I hope that was okay. I don’t need your ex-husband in the room with us. I’m not quite finished with you yet.”

He shifts his hips against me and I let out a moan. “That is perfectly fine with me.”

CHAPTER 16

Paige? Oh, my God, Oh, my God, Oh, my God. Who the hell was that who answered your phone? Fuck, it doesn’t matter. It’s really bad. Those people I told you I owe money to . . . they grabbed me outside of work. They’re going to kill me, Paige! They want their money by the weekend, or they said they’re going to start cutting off my fingers. MY FINGERS, Paige! I need my fingers! They want a hundred grand now. I need you to—”

Holding my phone out in front of me with a shaking hand, I look up when the voice mail cuts off. Dallas Osborne, a friend and private investigator with a neighboring PI agency, stands quietly by my desk with his hands on his hips. His face gives nothing away. I called Dallas as soon as I listened to the voice mail, and he said he’d meet me at the office so I could play him the message. He’s listened to it three times now, and each time, he’s said nothing other than a quiet “play it again.” Lorelei stands next to him, wringing her hands together with a look of worry on her face. I didn’t want to involve my friends in this, but Lorelei was at the office finishing up some work when we all showed up. She hasn’t said a word yet, and I’m afraid of what will happen when she finally does open her mouth. She is not going to be happy with me that I’ve let things go this far without telling Kennedy.

I’ve already listened to this voice mail a hundred times since Matt and I woke up this morning, and I’m freaking out enough as it is. I don’t know if I can handle Lorelei’s wrath as well. As much as I hate Andy, I would never want to see him dead. It’s all fun and games to imagine lighting your ex’s penis on fire until you get a call from him in the middle of the night saying someone is going to kill him.

“What do we do, Dallas?” I ask as I set my phone on top of my desk.

“We need to call Kennedy. That’s what we need to do,” Lorelei states.

“I already called Kennedy. She’s in Indianapolis with Griffin serving a subpoena. I figured it was best not to worry her,” Dallas explains.

“Are you kidding me right now? She SHOULD be worried. I knew I should have told her what you were up to weeks ago.”

“Oh, pipe down, lawyer. I’ve got this under control.”

Lorelei puts her hands on her hips and stares angrily at Dallas. “Who the hell do you think you are? You don’t even work here.”

Dallas crosses his arms over his chest and stares her down. “I’m the guy who’s going to get you out of this mess. Don’t you have a case to try or something? Go away.”

Lorelei huffs indignantly, and if she wasn’t such a lady, I’m sure a whole bunch of profanities would be flying from her mouth right now. For some reason, Lorelei and Dallas have never gotten along. He thinks she’s too uptight, and she thinks he’s a Neanderthal.

“You are a pompous jerk!” Lorelei shouts.

“Really? That’s the best you can do? Are all your clients on death row now?” Dallas taunts.

“Can we please get back to the problem at hand?” I interrupt. “What are we going to do about Andy?”

Dallas looks at Lorelei smugly one last time before turning his focus to me. “We wait for Andy to call back with the drop-off location. In the meantime, you need to figure out a way to get a hundred thousand dollars by the weekend.”

“You can’t be serious,” Lorelei says. “We need to call the police.”

“Woman, I’ve already talked to the police, so don’t get your panties all in a bunch,” Dallas replies with a roll of his eyes.

“You did NOT just call me ‘woman’!”

Ignoring the fight in front of me, I turn to look at Matt and see the worry written all over his face.

“I’ll give you the hundred grand,” Matt tells me.

I shake my head at him and put my foot down. “You are not going to help me with this. He’s my ex and I’ll deal with it. I’m not some poor, defenseless female who constantly needs rescuing, contrary to my actions last night.”

Matt puts his hands on either side of my face and forces me to look up at him. “Don’t do that. Don’t lump me into the same category as Andy. I have never treated you like you were defenseless or weak. You are one of the strongest women I’ve ever met. I care about you, Paige. And I’m just worried about you. I don’t want anything happening to you.”

Bringing my hands up to rest on top of his against my cheeks, I sigh and smile at him.

“I’m a private investigator, Matt. I may not have a lot of experience in the field, but this is what I do. If I want people to take me seriously as a PI, then I need to be able to handle my personal life on my own. I am not going to let you bail my ex-husband out of the mess he got himself into. It’s not your problem.”

“It’s not your problem either, Paige,” he tells me softly.

“But I’m going to take care of it anyway, on my own.”

More shouting interrupts our moment.

“Stop being such an egotistical brute!”

“At least I’m not an uptight bitch!” Dallas yells back to her.

“You two need to just have sex already,” I mutter with a shake of my head.

I can’t believe I’m doing this again. I swore I was done with this business when I left Andy, and yet, here I am, sitting in a chair getting poked and prodded with curling irons, mascara wands, and tubes of lipstick. Five minutes back in this business and I already feel only good for one thing.

My agent, Penny, comes bustling up to me with a huge grin on her face.

“Darling, it’s so good to see you back doing what you do best. Didn’t I tell you that police-officer thing was silly?”

Moving away from the makeup artist with a brush aimed at my eye, I turn to look at Penny. “I’m not working as a police officer. I told you, it’s a private investigation business.”

Penny laughs and checks her reflection in the mirror in front of me, fluffing up her hair and wiping a smudge of lipstick off of her teeth.

“Same thing. Stick with what you’re good at, darling. You’ll only have your looks for so long.”

Satisfied with her reflection, Penny pats me on the shoulder and walks away to shout orders at the photographer and his assistants.

“Can I have a few minutes, please?” I ask the makeup artist, whose name I didn’t get.

“I’m finished. Just don’t get your face wet or go outside. It’s windy, and it will take me forever to get those curls just right again.”

She walks away quickly in a huff. It’s always the same thing at these photo shoots. Everyone treats me like I’m an idiot.

“Wow, you look—”

“Don’t say it. Please don’t say it,” I warn Matt as he comes up behind me and stares at my reflection.

I really don’t need to hear him tell me how beautiful and amazing I look. It’s not really me. It’s just makeup and hairspray. And besides, they’re going to Photoshop the heck out of me anyway.

But this is who I used to be and he needs to get a glimpse of that.

Even though I said I was going to do this on my own, I wanted Matt to be here with me. If he’s going to trust me, he needs to see all of me—the good, the bad, and the modeling. In the midst of all the craziness going on with his life—meeting with lawyers and talking to his board of directors to get all of their ducks in a row before they have to go to court against Melanie—he took the time out of his busy schedule to show up for this shoot. If I didn’t know it already, this would just solidify the fact that I’m falling hard for him.

“I was going to tell you that you look like the Bride of Frankenstein with all that crap on your face. I think a few pictures of you just wearing one of my T-shirts would be much better.”

I feel tears well up in my eyes and I blink quickly to keep them contained, but it’s no use. A few slide down my face and I swipe them away before anyone notices I messed up my makeup.

“Oh, great. Now I’m going to have to fix her foundation. Who made her cry?!” I hear the makeup artist shout from somewhere behind us but I don’t care. Matt just said the most wonderful words to me ever.

I stare at him through the mirror while my foundation is re-applied. He walks up closer and rests his hands on my shoulders. “I’m sorry. I should know better than to insult a beautiful woman.”

I laugh and shake my head at him. “Believe me, that wasn’t an insult. That was beautiful.”

The makeup artist touches up my face, shooting Matt dirty looks the entire time.

“I can’t believe this is what your life was like for so many years. People dressing you and fussing over you. Did you see the craft service table over there? There’s lobster on it, Paige. Lobster,” he stresses with a smile.

“I know. It’s hard to believe I gave all of this up for the glamorous life of catching bad guys. I’m lucky if Kennedy brings in bagels once a month.”

When the makeup artist is satisfied with her touch-up, she walks away and leaves us alone again.

“I’m glad you asked me to come. Even though the food table is a thing of beauty, I think I understand. This isn’t you, Paige,” he tells me, gesturing at all the people rushing around setting things up for the shoot. “You shouldn’t just sit in front of a camera and not have a say in what happens. You’re smart and you’re strong and you should be doing something that makes you happy. Watching you take charge and do what you were trained to do at Fool Me Once—that’s you. That’s who you were meant to be.”

It’s amazing that this man who has only known me for a handful of weeks gets it. He can see the mold I’ve been trying to break out of.

“Thank you, Matt. You have no idea how much that means to me. I’m glad you’re here,” I tell him softly.

Matt looks at me sheepishly. “You might want to take that back when you see who I brought with me. The board meeting ran a little late today, and my dad’s car is in the shop, so I had to give him a ride home.”

“Is it too hard to get a chair in this godforsaken place? I got bad hips.”

Looking over Matt’s shoulder, I see the man who was in the photograph with Matt at his house. Except he’s not smiling and looks a little irritated as he walks up to us.

“Matthew, that man over there has an earring in his nose. Is he a gay?”

Matt closes his eyes and shakes his head. “Dad, I told you to stay in the car.”

His father grunts and walks over to my chair in front of the mirror, taking a seat and crossing his arms in front of him. “I couldn’t figure out that fancy radio of yours.”

Matt walks to my side and puts his arm around my waist. “Dad, this is Paige McCarty. Paige, this is my father, Eric Russo.”

I reach my hand out to him with a smile. “It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Russo.”

He just stares at me and after a few seconds, I drop my hand back to my side.

“Are you going to be taking your clothes off for these pictures, young lady?” Mr. Russo asks.

“DAD!” Matt scolds.

A laugh bubbles out of me. “It’s okay, Matt. No, Mr. Russo, I will not be taking my clothes off for this photo shoot. This is for a well-known magazine, so clothing is required.”

Mr. Russo narrows his eyes at me. “It’s a good thing I came in here. I see a lot of charlatans in this room who could lead you astray. Like that woman over there with the blue hair and pink skirt.”

I turn around and see that he’s staring right at the photographer for this shoot.

“Actually, that’s a man. His name is Simon Viper, and he’s one of the best photographers in the world,” I tell him.

Mr. Russo’s eyes go wide. “This world is going to hell in a handbasket. Matt, get me some ginger ale. I’m feeling parched.”

Matt sighs and gives me an apologetic look as the photographer’s assistant signals to me that it’s time to start the shoot. I kiss Matt on the cheek and hear Mr. Russo mumble as I walk away.

“If she takes her clothes off, you better cover your eyes, Matthew.”