She shoots a dirty look in Ted’s direction.
“I apologize, ma’am. We sort of had our hands full trying to take down a crime ring and didn’t realize the Golden Girls were going to swoop in and save the day for us.”
“Oooh, the Golden Girls. I like it. I’m Dorothy,” Fran pipes up with a smile.
“You can’t be Dorothy. You’re not tall enough,” my mom informs her indignantly.
“It’s not my fault I’ve got curvature of the spine!” Fran argues.
One of the cops who are guarding Vinnie walks up to Ted. “Sir, the ambulance is two minutes out. We’ve got the bleeding stopped and Mr. DeMarco says he’ll do whatever we ask as long as we keep the old lady with the gun away from him.”
My mother smirks at Ted. “We might be old ladies, but we get the job done.”
Ted laughs and shakes his head at her. Giovanni is cuffed and dragged out of the building, complaining the whole way about old ladies who carry bricks in their purses, and how he’s going to sue the department for using excessive force. The ambulance arrives moments later and Vinnie is strapped to a gurney and wheeled outside.
My mother and her friends are taken away to go down to the police station to answer questions, and when it’s finally quiet, Ted turns to me.
“Care to enlighten me on why you whispered an apology into the mic and we never heard anything that happened in here?”
Before I can inform him that taking off that mic most likely saved my life, I hear my name shouted, and I turn to see Matt running toward me. I turn just as he gets to me, scooping me up into his arms and crushing me to him.
“Jesus Christ. Thank God. Kennedy wouldn’t let me anywhere near this place, and when she got a phone call that shots were fired, I thought I was going to lose my mind.”
Matt pulls me away from him and runs his hands over my head, my face, my arms, and every part of me he can reach, checking for injuries.
“It’s okay. I’m okay,” I reassure him as his fingers lightly skim the bruise that I’m sure is now forming on my cheek from Vinnie’s punch.
“Where is that asshole? I’m going to kill him,” Matt says.
“Don’t worry. My mother already got a head start. She shot him in the leg.”
Matt glances over at Ted in surprise.
“It’s true. Paige’s mom and her friends snuck in the back and took care of business, angry-old-lady style: with a couple of handbags and a revolver,” Ted tells him.
“Wow. Now I’m kind of regretting not bringing my dad with me. He’s got a cane that he’s not afraid to use,” Matt adds.
“Paige, I’ll give you guys a few minutes. Meet me down at the station as soon as you can.”
Ted pats me on the back and then walks out of the church.
As soon as he’s gone, Matt pulls me back up against him and runs the palm of his hand down the back of my head.
“I don’t know what I would have done if anything happened to you today. I know we haven’t known each other very long and you’re probably going to think I’m saying this because of the fear of losing you, but I swear I’m not. I wanted to tell you a few days ago but I chickened out.”
My heart thumps wildly in my chest. I pull back and stare up into Matt’s face, bringing my hand up to cover his mouth.
“Not yet. I want to say it too, but not while I’m a complete mess with Vinnie DeMarco’s blood on my pants,” I tell him with a smile.
Matt brings his hand up and brushes my hair off of my cheek. “Paige McCarty, you would still be beautiful to me even if you had blood on my favorite pair of black Guccis.”
Standing up on my tiptoes with a smile on my face, I wrap my arms around Matt’s neck and bring his head down to mine.
“Shame on me for ever thinking you were anything like my ex.”
Right before our lips touch, Matt suddenly pulls back and stares down at me. “Speaking of Andy. Where the hell is he?”
Just then, we hear a door slam open behind us. We turn to see Andy, tied to a chair, hopping and sliding his way across the floor toward us.
“Hello?! A little help here!” Andy shouts as he looks back and forth between us.
Matt tightens his hold on me and shakes his head while we stare at him struggling.
“You were supposed to help me, Paige! I’ve been tied to a chair fearing for my life and you’re out here snuggling. I had to kick that door open all by myself and I’m pretty sure I just broke my toe. You don’t even care that I almost died!” Andy complains as he continues to jump the chair closer to us, inch by inch.
Matt leans down and kisses me on the top of my head. He grabs my hand and we walk toward Andy.
“Would it be wrong for me to kick his ass when he’s tied to a chair?” Matt whispers.
Andy continues to struggle, trying to get out of the bindings, and shoots us another dirty look when we finally get to him.
“Oh, my God, I can’t feel my hands! You guys, I CAN’T FEEL MY HANDS! I can’t live without my hands!” Andy whines.
“If you don’t kick his ass, I will,” I mutter to Matt as we begin untying Andy.
All right, Paige, I think we’ve got everything we need. Thanks for coming down to the station. I’m sure you’re ready to get home and relax,” Ted tells me as he turns off the recorder in the conference room. We stand up from the table and head toward the door.
It’s definitely been a long day. I’m exhausted and dirty and I just want to take a hot shower, preferably with Matt.
“Thanks for trusting me to do this today. Even if I screwed everything up,” I say to Ted as he holds open the door to the interview room so I can go out in front of him.
“Paige, you didn’t screw anything up,” Ted reassures me as we walk down the hall. “Taking off that wire was genius. From what I’ve been told by Melanie in her interview, you never once lost your calm. You did good, kid.”
Ted pats me on the back, and when we walk into the waiting area, Kennedy, Griffin, Lorelei, Dallas, Matt, his father, and my mother all stop talking when they see us and jump up from their seats.
“She’s not going to jail, is she? I’ll vouch for her,” my mother says, breaking the silence.
Ted laughs and shakes his head at her. “No, Mrs.—I mean, Miss McCarty. Paige is most definitely not going to jail. She did a great job today.”
My mother walks over to stand right in front of me. “I guess this job is better than you taking your clothes off all the time. So I approve.”
Rolling my eyes at her, I wrap my arms around her shoulders and pull her in for a hug. “Thanks, Mom.”
She pulls back after a few seconds and sighs. “Now I don’t have any excuse to buy that Maximus magazine anymore if you aren’t in it. Where am I going to get my information on s-e-x and relationships?”
Matt’s father walks up and holds his elbow out for her to take. “How about you and I take a seat, Miss McCarty? I can tell you about the things I learned at Paige’s photo shoot the other day. Did you know men wear skirts now?”
My mother links her hand through his arm. “Maybe we can exchange information, Mr. Russo. My friend Eunice told me about this new thing called roofies.”
I stare in shock as the two of them go back over to the chairs against the wall to continue their discussion. Luckily, Kennedy comes up and takes my mind off of the thought of my mother slipping Mr. Russo a roofie in Jell-O salad.
“I’m going to say something right now, and after I’m finished, we’re going to pretend like it never happened, got it?”
I nod at her even though I have no idea what’s happening right now.
“Paige, I love you. You are an amazing friend. I even love that you force me to get my hair highlighted every six weeks. I’m sorry if you ever thought you needed to prove something to me. I have never thought of you as just a pretty face or not good enough for anything more challenging at the office. I respect you and everything you’ve done with your life.”
This is all I ever wanted—to be taken seriously by my friends and family. The fact that it’s happening all at the same time is more than a little overwhelming. The fact that it’s so heartfelt and sweet coming from Kennedy is nothing short of a miracle.
“Kennedy, I . . .”
She puts her hand up in front of me. “And now begins the portion of our evening where we forget this ever happened. Good work today, Paige. You’ve earned that promotion. I’m going to go home now, watch football, drink beer, and do anything else un-girly that I can think of.”
“You could do me. I’m about as un-girly as it gets,” Griffin teases.
Kennedy looks at Griffin like she wants to rip his clothes off right in the middle of the station. She grabs his hand and I smile as the two of them walk over to a quiet corner.
Matt stands in the middle of the room with his hands in his pockets and a smile on his face. I start to walk over to him when I hear my name called. Turning around, I see Andy standing in the doorway.
“Can I talk to you?” he asks.
I know exactly what he’s going to say. He’s going to beg for my forgiveness and tell me he was an idiot. He might even add in a few promises that he’s going to change.
Been there, done that, don’t want to hear it. A few months ago, I might have given him a chance to explain and even told him that I forgive him. I’ve let him control the way I feel and the way I think for far too long. Lorelei was right. I’m the only one who controls my destiny, and right now, my destiny is screaming at me to man up and put an end to this bullshit once and for all.
Turning away from Matt, I stalk over to Andy and hold myself tall.
“Andy, I couldn’t care less what you have to say to me. You are a pathetic excuse for a man, and I’m sorry I ever wasted my time with you. The lying, gambling, getting mixed up with the Mob and expecting me to bail you out, making me feel like I wasn’t good enough for all those years—it’s over. It should have been over the day I kicked your ass to the curb. Have a nice life. And if you ever even think of picking up the phone and calling me again, I will shove my Louboutins so far up your ass you’ll taste leather.”
Dismissing him with a turn of my body, I leave him standing in the doorway with his mouth gaping open.
Matt opens his arms and I walk right into them, burying my face into his chest.
Kennedy starts to clap from the corner of the room and I suddenly realize that everyone in here heard my entire tirade.
“That was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard,” Kennedy announces.
“Is that a tear? Are you crying?” Ted asks, staring at her in astonishment.
“Shut the hell up. There’s nothing more moving than watching a worthless man have his ass handed to him. I’m so proud,” Kennedy says as she beams at me.
Matt hugs me closer to him and I tilt my head back to look up at him.
“So, Miss Hotshot PI, it looks like all of your dreams have come true.”
I stand up on my tiptoes so we’re eye level. “Not all of them. Not yet, at least.”
He was seconds away from telling me that he loved me back in the abandoned church. I didn’t just stop him because I wanted it to happen someplace a little more romantic. I stopped him because I wanted to make sure he really meant it when he said it. I wanted to be certain that he didn’t have any lingering feelings left over for Melanie.
He looks at me in confusion and before I can elaborate, there’s a commotion behind us.
“Matthew! Don’t let them put me in jail!” Melanie shouts as she’s taken past the waiting area with two police officers flanked on either side of her. “I forgive you for not paying enough attention to me. We can work this out!”
Her shouts are cut off as the officers lead her into the interview room and shut the door behind them.
Matt looks back down at me and when he sees the worry on my face, he smiles. “You stalked me, put your friendships on the line to catch Melanie, and saved your sorry excuse for an ex-husband. It’s been a crazy month, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Melanie doesn’t, nor will she ever, hold a candle to you. I’m sorry for ever thinking I couldn’t trust you, Paige McCarty. There’s no one else in this world I could ever rely on more.”
“No, I don’t need assistance with a subpoena delivery. I’m pretty sure I can handle it,” Lorelei tells Dallas sarcastically on the other side of the room.
“Are you sure about that, lawyer? We wouldn’t want you to accidentally cut the poor guy’s balls off with that sharp attitude of yours,” Dallas replies.
Lorelei huffs. “Don’t you have anything better to do, like club a woman over the head and take her back to your cave?”
I roll my eyes at their typical exchange and block out their voices, content to just concentrate on the man holding me in his arms.
Sometimes you have to kiss a few frogs in life. Sometimes you have to marry a frog and then learn how to be strong again after that frog turns into an ass. But eventually, Prince Charming will finally show his face and make all those damn frogs before him worth it.
Two weeks later . . .
Can we get everyone a refill? I’d like to do a toast,” Kennedy announces.
Griffin walks around Fool Me Once Investigations and adds champagne to everyone’s glasses.
I stare around the room at my friends and family. Kennedy is curled up against Griffin’s side, Lorelei is shooting daggers at Dallas as he lounges against the wall, Ted is listening to my mother scold him about police response time, and Mr. Russo is standing next to Matt and me, complaining about the state of a world where nice, older women are forced to take matters into their own hands to catch a hardened criminal.