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26.12.2018

Okay. Fine. A little bit of my heart as well. But mostly the booze.

“I just wanted to make sure he was okay. He hasn’t been happy lately,” I mumble, turning away from her just in time to see Matt’s living room window go dark, and I sigh dejectedly that I didn’t get another look at him.

“How do you know he hasn’t been happy lately if this is the first time you’ve seen him since last week when he stormed out of the diner?”

I wince and slowly turn back to face her. I couldn’t keep the guilty look off my face if I tried.

Lorelei’s eyes widen and her jaw drops. “Oh, my God! The Mob isn’t stalking him, YOU’RE stalking him!” she shouts.

“SHHHHHHH! He might hear you!” I whisper. My head whips around and I stare in horror at his front door, expecting him to come bursting out of it any minute and charge over to the car, demanding to know why I’m out here watching him. Actually, now that I think about it, that might not be a bad thing. I’d be able to see his naked chest up close and personal.

“Paige, I highly suggest you never drink again. People make utterly unhealthy life choices when they drink and this just proves it. It’s one o’clock in the morning and we’re parked outside a man’s house because you have some misplaced affection for him.”

“It’s not misplaced. I know exactly where it is,” I tell her stubbornly, crossing my arms in front of me.

“You’ve been stalking him all week, haven’t you?” Lorelei demands.

It’s like she KNOWS I followed him to work once.

Okay, three times. I just wanted to make sure the anger and irritation I saw flashed across his face that first time wasn’t a fluke. And it wasn’t. Each time I saw him this past week he looked exactly the same. Like he would punch anyone who rubbed him the wrong way. I felt responsible for putting that look on his face.

“Will you stop calling it ‘stalking’? That’s such a harsh term. I prefer ‘anonymous following.’”

She clenches her jaw and narrows her eyes at me.

“What is this really about? Is it because Andy won’t leave you alone about the money? Are you just latching yourself onto the first decent guy who comes along to make him jealous or something? This isn’t like you, Paige.”

Letting my head thump back against the headrest, I close my eyes and sigh. She’s right. This isn’t like me.

“It has absolutely nothing to do with Andy. I couldn’t care less if he’s jealous. I just . . . I don’t want to end up like my mother. Seventy years old, bitter, and alone.”

It’s the first time I’ve ever admitted anything like this, and honestly, I didn’t even know it bothered me until I found someone like Matt and then lost him before it even had a chance to go anywhere.

“And who says you will? You’re the only one who has the power over your own life, Paige. YOU control your destiny. I’ll admit, I don’t like the idea that we’re sitting outside of this guy’s house stalk—”

I cut her off with a glare and she huffs in annoyance.

“Anonymously following. I think you’re insane for not telling Kennedy that you’ve strayed from the original investigation, but I guess I understand,” Lorelei tells me softly. “It’s difficult watching Kennedy and Griffin be so in love and not have the same thing for ourselves.”

This little piece of sincerity from Lorelei shocks me into stunned silence. Lorelei has always been adamant about never wanting to fall in love again. She swore off men for the rest of her life because she doesn’t think love is worth the hassle.

It completely throws me that underneath the tough exterior of hers there’s a mushy romantic just like me.

“Can we please just go home so you can sleep off the booze emanating from your pores? All of this honesty tonight makes me want to castrate Andy AND Matt for messing with your heart.”

Okay, maybe not THAT mushy.

“Will you promise not to judge me for the poor choices I made while intoxicated?” I beg.

Lorelei starts up the car and pulls away from the curb. “I promise. I’ll even help you figure out a way to get Matt to forgive you, if that’s what you really want. One that doesn’t involve anonymous following or calling a bartender a dick.”

“I should probably go back and apologize for that, huh?”

CHAPTER 11

Without bothering to remove the dark sunglasses perched on my face, I slide into the church pew at Saint Michael’s and briefly wonder if God knows I came into his house smelling like booze and shame.

“Take your glasses off—this isn’t a disco,” my mother whispers harshly in my ear.

Thankfully, I roll my eyes at her before I remove them. And avoid reminding her that it’s no longer 1970.

“Care to enlighten me on why you asked me to meet you at church?” I ask as I wince at the bright sunlight streaming through the stained-glass windows while I stuff my sunglasses into my purse.

“You mean aside from the fact that your soul needs saving and it’s been over a month since you’ve set foot into a church?” she whispers back.

Super. Hangover from hell AND an extra helping of guilt.

I raise my eyebrow at her as the organ music blasts from behind us. She immediately stands and begins singing along with the other parishioners, ignoring me completely.

I wait for the song to end and everyone to sit back down before I try again.

“What was so important that it couldn’t wait until later today?” I whisper.

She shushes me when the priest begins talking, and it takes everything in me not to loudly remind her that she chose this meeting spot. After a few minutes, she leans in closer to me.

“Someone stole the Communion hosts from the church last week. And yesterday, the gold chalice went missing. You need to tell your friend Kennedy to help us.”

I bristle a little at the fact that she didn’t demand that I help her solve this case. She’s convinced my only purpose at Fool Me Once is to be a whore. Even my own mother doesn’t believe in my abilities.

“You know I work there too, right? Why couldn’t I be the one to help you?”

Not that I would. I’m too busy right now failing to help Matt, but it’s the principle of the thing.

“You kiss strange men and take nudie pictures. How are you going to help us?”

No matter how many times I tell her that kissing those men is a way for me to catch them cheating or how tasteful the photos are that I’ve done, she knows someone whose best friend goes to this church who has a daughter who posed for Playboy and then went on to do porn, or something like that. As soon as I was hired for my first modeling job ten years ago, she started praying the rosary every single night because she thought she’d lost me to the dark side.

“They aren’t nudie pictures. How many times do I have to tell you this?” I whisper angrily.

She shushes me again.

“We’re in the Lord’s house. This isn’t the time to be talking about your boo-boos,” she informs me, her hands waving in the general direction of my boobs.

I love my mother. I love my mother. I love my mother. Maybe if I keep reminding myself, I won’t strangle her in a church full of people.

The organ music starts up again and everyone stands.

“Mom, we’re a little busy at work right now. Why doesn’t someone just call the police and report the theft?”

She frowns at me. “That chalice was a gift from the Pope.”

She quickly crosses herself at the mention of the Pope and I roll my eyes.

My mother was born and raised Catholic and she had a very strict upbringing. When she left for college, she sowed her wild oats and went a little crazy. She never settled down and by the time she was forty, she had given up on ever finding Mr. Right and having a family. Fate decided to give her a nice swift kick in the ass on her fortieth birthday, however.

My mother was . . . how do I put this nicely . . . basically, my mother was a cougar. On her birthday, she decided to celebrate with a few girlfriends at a local college bar. After too many shots of whiskey, she met my father. He was a college student from the University of Michigan, visiting a few of his friends at Notre Dame for the weekend. Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am, and six weeks later, the stick turned pink. She never got my dad’s name and was too mortified to ever go back to the bar and ask around about him.

My mother immediately went back to her Catholic-guilt roots and started going to confession and Mass every single day. At seventy years old, she continues to go to Mass every day, I’m sure to pray for my soul, which she assumes is indecent and always naked.

“See that nice young man two rows in front of us with the blue shirt? That’s Harold Johnson. He’s single and his mother told me he’s always had a crush on you.”

I don’t even bother looking at the man in question. Ever since Andy and I got divorced, she’s been trying to set me up with random men at church.

“You’re kidding, right? His name is Harry Johnson?” I whisper back, trying to contain my laughter.

“What’s wrong with his name? It’s a strong Christian name,” she argues.

“That’s not a strong Christian name. It’s a name that shouts ‘my parents hate me.’”

“He has a good job and he even takes care of his mother,” she replies, ignoring my barb.

“Takes care of her, or lives in her basement?”

She huffs in irritation. “There is nothing wrong with a forty-year-old man living with his poor, ailing mother. You’re not getting any younger, Paige. You need to find someone special.”

“How do you know I haven’t found someone special?” I demand.

She pulls her head away and stares at me, searching my face to see if I’m being honest. I’ve never been able to lie to my mother and she knows it. Even in high school when I thought I could get away with anything because she was always gone from the house doing one thing or another for the church. Five minutes in the door and she’d be able to figure out just by looking at me how many beers I snuck at a party when I was supposed to be studying.

“Maybe I’ve already found a great guy,” I mumble, sniffling in sadness.

“You’ll never find a great guy if you continue working as a floozy,” she counters.

“Oh, my God, I am not a floozy! I haven’t had sex with anyone since Andy!”

Of course the church chooses that moment to go completely silent. My mother looks around frantically and smiles embarrassedly to the people within hearing distance.

“At least wait until after Communion to talk about s-e-x,” she scolds in my ear, spelling out the word like I’m a toddler.

I make it through the rest of Mass without doing my mother any bodily harm and as we exit the church, she walks me up to the priest.

“Beautiful sermon today, Father Bob. You remember my daughter, Paige?”

Father Bob shakes my hand and gives me a warm smile. “Of course I remember her. It’s been a while since I’ve seen you at Mass.”

My mother looks pointedly at me and I immediately feel like I’m in second grade at confession for the first time and quickly drop Father Bob’s hand.

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been a month since my last church service and I’ve been having impure thoughts.

“My mother mentioned you’ve had problems lately with some thefts in the church. I’m not sure if she told you, but I work for a private investigations firm,” I tell him, quickly shutting down my brain and thoughts of being impure with Matt.

“Oh, yes, yes. It’s really not as bad as it sounds. I’m positive it’s just some poor, homeless soul who has strayed from the path of God. All we need to do is say some prayers and everything will be fine.”

Father Bob quickly excuses himself before I can reply and rushes away to greet other parishioners.

I watch him silently for a few minutes and every once in a while he looks back over his shoulder at me, turning away quickly when he catches me staring.

“Father Bob looks guilty. I think he knows more than he’s letting on,” I tell my mother as we make our way to the parking lot.

“Paige Elizabeth! Father Bob is a saint. That man baptized you, gave you your First Holy Communion, and married you and Andy,” she admonishes.

“Yeah, and we see how well that turned out,” I mutter.

“Fran, Eunice, come over here and say hello to Paige.”

I turn in the direction my mother is looking and see her two friends quickly amble over to us. Well, as quickly as they can considering Fran uses a cane and Eunice is pushing a walker.

“Paige, it’s good to see you back at church. Did you hear that Harold Johnson is single?” Eunice asks.

Oh, for the love of God.

“Eunice, who in their right mind would date that man? He lives with his mother and collects aspirin,” Fran interjects.

“I’m sorry, he collects what?” I ask in bewilderment.

“Aspirin. Every size, shape, and color imaginable. He glues them to poster board and hangs them up all over his mother’s house. I think he’s a serial killer,” Fran explains, dramatically whispering the last part.

“I think it’s very artistic,” my mother says indignantly. “I heard he even has aspirin from Germany.”

“I’d be willing to bet next week’s bingo winnings that those are roofies hanging all over his mother’s house.”

We all turn to stare at Fran.

“What are roofies? Are those the ones from Germany?” Eunice asks.

Fran opens her mouth to most likely school Eunice on all things roofies, and I quickly change the subject before this conversation goes downhill any faster.