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26.12.2018

“If I win, you have to go on a date with me.”

He starts up the bike with a roar of the engine and peels away from the curb, and I swear to God I can hear him laughing as he takes off down the street.

I walk back into the house with a slam of the front door and stand in my foyer cursing myself and my stupidity.

GD gambling problem.

CHAPTER 8

Come on, ladies—harder! Faster!”

I hear a snicker from the corner of the exercise room at the fitness center and turn to see Paige thrusting her hips in the general direction of the heavy bag instead of punching it.

“Keep it up, McCarty, and you’re going to run laps around the gym,” I threaten her.

Paige gives me the finger and a sweet smile before turning back to the bag and punching it for all she’s worth. I scan the rest of my class of about twenty women ranging in ages from sixteen to sixty and I smile at the progress they’ve made in the last few months. Most of them couldn’t have hurt a fly when they walked in this room. Now, after a lot of hands-on instruction and some added kickboxing cardio, they can take down men twice their size.

I thought my Friday night self-defense class would be a good way to forget about Griffin’s stupid proposal. Unfortunately, nothing is working in that department. I can’t stop wondering if he’s serious or not. And if he is serious, what the hell is he thinking? A date? With me? Is he out of his mind? First of all, we’re friends. Or we used to be. And sort of are now, I guess. Or are we? Where the hell do we stand? I glance at the clock on the wall and realize it’s five minutes past quitting time.

“All right, class, time’s up. Great job. I’ll see you all next week.”

The sounds of twenty women hitting their heavy bags ceases and as they say their good-byes to each other and pack up their things, I walk over to Paige and Lorelei, who are sitting against the far wall chugging back water from their water bottles.

“Were you trying to kill us? I think my heart just exploded. Check my pulse.” Paige thrusts her wrist out to me.

I stare at her in irritation. Even after an hour-long workout, she still looks perfect. Not one piece of hair is out of place and she hasn’t even broken a sweat. Everyone else filing out of the room looks like they went ten rounds with Mike Tyson.

“How do you do that? How do you walk out of here looking exactly like you did when you walked in?” I demand as I take a seat across from them.

“It’s a gift. Now, tell us why you kicked our asses tonight a hell of a lot harder than you normally do.”

I sigh and start picking at the laces on my tennis shoes. “I made a bet with Griffin that if he catches McFadden before I do, I have to go on a date with him. Does that mean he asked me out on a date? I don’t know. Probably not. Or did he? Sort of. I think.”

Paige’s face immediately takes on a far-off, happy look and she folds her hands neatly under her chin. “That is so romantic. What are you going to wear?”

I ignore her and turn to Lorelei, my voice of reason.

“You told him no, right?” she demands. “I mean, this is the jerk who never told you Alex was cheating on you. Is he insane? He’s lucky you didn’t kick him in the balls as soon as the words left his mouth.”

I’m immediately bolstered by the fact that Lorelei used the word balls in a sentence and is on my side.

“That’s what I’m sayin’,” I reply, nodding my head in agreement.

“Oh, for the love of God. You two need to stop being Bitter Bettys. Not all men are jerks,” Paige complains.

Lorelei and I stare at her in shock. Is she forgetting the name of our business and WHY we opened it in the first place? All men are most certainly jerks. The stacks of case files on our desks are living proof.

“What is wrong with you? How can you say that after what Andy did to you?” Lorelei questions her.

“Well, Andy should die in the fiery pits of hell and I think I’m allowed a little extra time to be bitter. You didn’t see the black Louboutins I was denied from buying in Nordstrom that day. But I can still have hope for the future for my two best friends,” Paige tells us.

“Well, good luck with that. I’m staying single forever. There is no man worth giving up my independence for,” Lorelei says.

“Right there with you, sister,” I agree as I put my fist up in the air to bump with hers and she just stares at it like it’s going to bite her.

“You two are impossible. You’re going to change your minds when you meet the right guy. And I’m pretty sure Kennedy here is going to be the first one eating her words. So, when’s the big date and can I do your hair?”

I scoff at her and push myself up from the floor.

“I am not going on a date with Griffin Crawford.”

Am I? No, no I’m not. It’s insanity to even think that for a second.

But he’s sweet, and good to your girls and every time you’re around him all you can think about is taking his pants off.

SHUT UP, evil Kennedy!

He’s an arrogant jerk who lied to your face and probably wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.

Thank you, good Kennedy.

“Why did he even ask you out in the first place?” Lorelei questions as she and Paige follow me toward the exit.

“He didn’t ask me out, remember? It’s just a stupid bet. I guess. I don’t know. I don’t even know if he was serious,” I complain. “I heard the word bet and all rational thought left the building.”

As we walk to our cars, I explain to them in great detail about how he showed up at my house the previous night trying to plead his case and his parting words before he got on his bike and drove off into the night.

“Oh my God. You know what this means, right?” Lorelei presses the button on her key fob for her sleek, black Mercedes.

“That Kennedy and Griffin are going to go on this date, fall in love, and live happily ever after?” Paige tries, but can’t hide the smile on her face.

“Will you pipe down with that shit?” I complain.

“No, it means that Griffin Crawford is going down,” Lorelei states.

“Oooooh, that’s hot,” Paige coos.

Great. Now I have images of him naked with his face between my legs floating around in my head. This is not good. Not good at all.

“Get your mind out of the gutter, Paige,” Lorelei scolds. “There are three of us and one of him. We are smart, resourceful, and good at what we do. If we can’t catch that twit McFadden and you lose this bet, I will turn my back on everything I believe in and go out on a date myself.”

Lorelei is right. Why the hell am I even worrying about the possibility of having to go on a date with Griffin? There is no way we’re going to lose because we kick fucking ass.

“You guys will seriously help me do this?” I ask, pulling open my car door and throwing my bag into the passenger seat.

“Of course we will. That’s what friends are for,” Lorelei states matter-of-factly.

I turn to look at Paige and she stands there with her arms folded in silence until Lorelei finally smacks her shoulder.

“Ugggghhhh, fine! I’m in. But for the record, I still think you should just go on a regular date with the guy.”

Ignoring her and the little butterflies in my stomach when I imagine what a date with Griffin would be like, I reach in and grab my cell phone out of the center console of my car and check my e-mail. When I see a fellow investigator’s name at the top, I almost jump up and down in excitement.

“How would you girls feel about getting to work on winning this thing tonight? One of my contacts heard through the grapevine that McFadden is going to be trying to sell his alien hats at Mulligan’s Bar and Grill tonight. If we hurry, we can make it there and catch this idiot. Someone’s got to be drunk enough to buy one and stall him.”

I glance up from my phone to see Lorelei with a huge smile on her face and Paige with an equally large frown.

“What now?” I ask her.

“We are not going out in public looking like this,” she complains, spreading her arms out, indicating her attire.

“You look like you just stepped off the cover of Vogue,” I fire back.

“Okay, fine. YOU aren’t going out in public looking like that.”

She points in the general vicinity of my hair, which is pulled up into a messy bun on the top of my head, and then down to my clothes, which include a pair of black nylon running shorts and a baggy, gray man’s T-shirt with ARMY written in block letters across the chest.

“It’s a college bar. Who gives a shit what I’m wearing?” I complain.

“I give a shit what you’re wearing. And so would McFadden—you’ll stick out like a sore thumb. As your friend, I cannot allow you to do this to yourself,” Paige replies.

“We don’t have time for this. If we don’t hurry, we might miss him. I am NOT losing this bet.”

Paige walks around to the back end of her red VW Bug convertible and opens the trunk.

“Lucky for you, I always come prepared,” she tells me, pulling out three garment bags and a makeup case the size of a suitcase. “Both of you hightail it back inside to the showers. I’ll have the two of you runway ready in less than twenty minutes.”

Lorelei doesn’t put up an ounce of complaint as she turns and hustles back toward the building. Lorelei is always up for one of Paige’s makeovers.

“I don’t need to be runway ready. I need to be ass-kicking ready,” I argue.

“Are you seriously questioning my ability to do both? It’s like you don’t even know me, Kennedy O’Brien. That cuts me deep,” Paige says with a sigh and a pout.

Looking at the time on my cell phone, I mutter and curse to myself as I throw my hands up in the air in defeat and trudge along behind Lorelei. There’s no point in arguing with Paige; she will always win. And honestly, there’s a reason why she is the master at catching cheating spouses: she always looks gorgeous, she’s resourceful, and she never takes no for an answer.

GD model and her guilt trips.

CHAPTER 9

I don’t see him yet, do you?” Paige asks as she scans the crowded bar.

“I can’t see anything through all this fucking mascara,” I complain as I blink my heavy eyelids and look around the packed room.

“Oh, quit your bitching. You look amazing,” Paige replies as she rests an elbow on the edge of the bar and signals the bartender.

Looking down at myself, I must agree. After Lorelei and I took the fastest showers ever, Paige unzipped the first garment bag and pulled out a black, pleated dominatrix-style bustier with a zipper down the front and two black buckles across the waist and a pair of skinny Seven jeans. It was badass and it was totally me. Unfortunately, it was also totally Paige’s size since the clothes she keeps stocked in her car are for her assignments.

As I didn’t have enough time to do anything other than throw on the ill-fitting clothes and hop into the car, Paige jury-rigged my outfit while I drove with a few well-placed safety pins, double-sided tape, and a sewing kit. A pair of tall, pointy-toed matching black boots with buckles on the sides completed the outfit and once they were on and Paige disappeared under the steering wheel while I was stopped at a red light to cuff the bottom of the jeans, you couldn’t even tell they were a mile too long for me.

I might keep the jeans to replace the ones I ruined during my and Griffin’s roll in the grass. Not to be confused with roll in the hay. Even though sometimes I think I want to be confused with a roll in the hay. With Griffin. Naked. In a bed. Or against a wall. Or on a kitchen table.

Shit!

“Could you order me a white wine spritzer, please?” Lorelei asks as she moves to my other side and perches on the edge of a bar stool, wiping the edge of the bar down with a wet wipe before placing her folded hands there.

As Lorelei scrunches up her nose at the bartender when he tosses down a bowl of peanuts in front of her that spill everywhere, I take in her usual work outfit—a cream, formfitting silk button-down blouse, black straight-leg dress pants, and black patent-leather Mary Janes and I have to admit, Paige really is a genius. Not because she had a perfect Lorelei outfit in her bag, but because she backed down when Lorelei threatened to have her committed if she tried to dress her in a red leather minidress and matching thigh-high stiletto boots.

“Sweetie, this is a dive bar. They probably don’t even know what wine is,” Paige informs her with a laugh.

“I’m confused. Why would this McFadden guy even come to a place like this? It’s a college bar. It doesn’t seem like his scene,” Lorelei questions as she looks around.

“Supposedly, he comes here all the time to try and recruit college kids for his cause. I guess drunk twentysomethings must be easy to fool into believing that aliens exist,” I explain as I tug the front of my bustier up a little higher so I’m not arrested for indecent exposure.

“Or drunk twentysomethings are easy to put foil hats on and convince to prance around the bar,” Paige adds.

“That too.”

“Oh my God. Oh no. Oh. My. GOD,” Lorelei whispers as she stares with wide eyes at something over my shoulder.

“Really, it’s not that bad. Just get a rum and Coke or something,” Paige says with a roll of her eyes as she digs in her clutch and pulls out a tube of lip gloss.

“Turn around. Wait, no. Don’t turn around. Oh my God. Okay, turn around really slowly but act natural,” Lorelei tells us in a voice filled with panic.

Paige and I completely ignore her instructions and quickly turn around at the same time.

The blood drains from my face and the noise from the bar suddenly disappears. Across the bar, right by the door, standing arm in arm with a gaggle of girlfriends, is Chloe with an e. I’m now even more appreciative of Paige and her decision to pretty me up before we left the gym. It’s bad enough that this bitch is thirteen years younger than me, but she also looks like Malibu Barbie with long, straight blonde hair, a spray tan, and fake boobs that are so high up on her chest she could rest her chin on them.