I’m not sure how it happened, but somehow, I got roped into helping at the high school Spring Dance.

My best friend Holly is actually the one who roped me into it, since she was in charge. Her oldest child is a senior and Holly is president of the PTSA, so she needed the help. It didn’t seem fair since neither of my kids were going, but that was because Savannah is still in junior high, and, as a sophomore, Josh had no interest in Senior Prom. Still, when your best friend needs you, you help out.

Holly doesn’t know I can read minds, but she believes I have premonitions, which is what I tell everyone to explain my ability. Because of that, Holly thought I would be the perfect person to watch over the dance in a security capacity to make sure nothing bad happened. Considering all the school shootings, I couldn’t blame her for wanting the event to be safe, and who better to do that than someone who had premonitions? (her words… not mine)

Naturally, I said yes, but only on the condition that I was there in an official capacity. She agreed, and provided me with a black t-shirt that had SECURITY in white capital letters across the front, along with a school pass in a lanyard. That way, I could tell the kids what to do and get away with it. I’d be sure to wear my black jeans, along with a belt that held my stun flashlight. She had another t-shirt made for the gym teacher, who would be my partner, and we were all set.

That night, I arrived at the school wearing my official lanyard, along with the black security t-shirt, jeans, and boots. My stun flashlight in a case on my belt was a nice touch, and I’d pulled my long blond hair into a ponytail and wore my black cap with ‘security’ written across the top that I’d used before when I’d helped Uncle Joey. All in all, I looked pretty bad-ass.

I walked into the gym, which had been decorated like a woodsy forest, with fake trees, grass, and dangling vines and flowers, and, I had to admit, I was impressed. Holly was already there and hurried to my side. “Shelby! I’m so glad you’re here.”

“Hey, no problem. This looks great.”

“Isn’t it cute?”

“Sure is.”

She took me to her PTSA office and unlocked the door so I could leave my jacket and my purse inside. Back in the gym, she took a deep breath, hoping her news wouldn’t upset me. “Um… it looks like Coach Monson has come down with a bad case of stomach flu, or food poisoning, so he’s not going to make it. I’ve asked a couple of the other teachers to take his place, but so far, I haven’t had any luck.”

“Oh… that’s too bad, but I should be okay.”

She nodded, but she was thinking that, even though I looked official, the kids might not take me seriously. Sure, I had ‘security’ in bold letters across my shirt, but I wasn’t big enough to haul someone out of the gym on my own. But maybe I could ask someone for a favor? She wouldn’t mind seeing the hot hitman again, and he would certainly intimidate anyone who got out of line.

“You want me to ask Ramos?”

Her eyes widened. “Uh… yeah, I was just thinking that. Do you think he’d come?”

“I can’t ask Ramos. I owe him too much already. Besides, he’s probably busy.”

“You don’t know that for sure. Even if he could only come for a couple of hours, it would be worth it. We probably don’t need him until things get going, around eight or so. You could at least ask him, right?”

I shook my head. “Only if you have something to offer him. He won’t do it for free.”

“Even for you?”

“Oh… he’d do it for me, but then I’d owe him, and I’d have to do whatever he wanted… you know? I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”

She blinked, immediately thinking that he’d want a night of hot love-making, and her eyes widened. “Oh! Wow! I see.” She was thinking that it might be worth it… unless Chris found out… then it would be bad. But a night with Ramos? It made her hot all over just thinking about it.

“Holly! I’m not doing that!”

“Oh… good. I mean… of course you’re not.” Her brow wrinkled. “Wait. Did I say that out loud?”

I shook my head. “You didn’t need to. It was written all over your face.”

“Sure. Got it.” The lights dimmed and a few of the kids from the dance committee began to drift inside. “I’ve got to go, but please think about asking him? I don’t want anything to go wrong tonight.” She handed me a small bag. “Here’s the other t-shirt. I’ll check in with you later.”

She hurried off, leaving me holding the bag – in more ways than one. Still, I was not going to ask Ramos. No way.

Half an hour later, I was having second thoughts. None of the kids seemed the least bit intimidated by me. A couple of the boys even raised their glasses of punch to me, thinking I had no idea they’d added vodka to them. I marched over and demanded that they hand over the flask they’d brought, but neither of them had it anymore. I picked up that it was being passed around, and they didn’t know where it was by now.

I spent the next half hour trying to track it down, but there were just too many students, and I had left my post at the doors for too long. Holly found me and asked me to patrol the hall outside the gym for troublemakers. I found a couple of boys trying to break into someone’s locker and told them to knock it off. One of them told me it was his locker and he needed something from it. Dismissing me, they went back to jiggling it open.

Since they were lying, it made me mad, so I stepped closer and pulled out my stun flashlight. “Move away, or you’ll get a taste of this.” I held the flashlight up and pushed the button. Instead of the zap I’d been going for, the light switched on. Crap. “I mean this.” I hit the other button and got the buzzing zap I’d wanted, but they weren’t impressed.

One of them held up his hands. “Oooo, I’m so scared.”

The other kid hit his friend and turned to me. “Don’t listen to him. We’re going.” He pulled his friend past me and back toward the dance, thinking that they’d come back later after I’d left.

The kid being pulled away called over his shoulder. “You know you can’t touch me with that thing… unless you want to get sued.”

I sighed. He was probably right. Kids didn’t seem to respect adults much. What was up with that? Or was it just me? Being the security person was a terrible idea. Defeated, I meandered back to my place at the doors. Was it even worth trying to do this job, or should I just let everything go and only act if someone’s life was in danger?

If Ramos were here, it would probably be different.

The next few minutes brought a new wave of kids into the dance. Most just wanted to have a good time, but I managed to catch a few stray thoughts of trouble… mostly pranks, but I didn’t like it. At least everyone had to pass through security, so I didn’t have to worry about guns or knives, but what the heck?

Holly came back to my side. “How’re you doing? Everything okay?” She was thinking that I might need some help with the crowd. “I called the coach, but he’s still too sick to come. Are you sure you can’t call Ramos?”

“Fine. I’ll call him, but that doesn’t mean he’ll come.” I pulled out my phone and pushed his number.

“Thank you.” She was thinking that the doors to the boy’s and girl’s locker rooms were locked, but someone needed to check them, along with the bathrooms and the halls again.

Ramos picked up. “Babe. What’s up?”

I sighed. “Um… I might need your help.” I explained where I was and how the coach was sick so I was going it alone. “But if you’re busy… it’s no big deal. But just so you know, my friend Holly really wants to see you again.”

Holly smacked me, but it was worth it.

He snickered. “Yeah… hang on.” I waited a few seconds until he came back on the line. “I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

“Great. I’ll meet you in the parking lot with Holly. She’ll make sure you can get in, but you should probably leave your gun at home.” That was mostly for Holly’s sake so she’d know what she was getting into. Ramos snickered again and disconnected the call.

“He’s on his way.”


Ten minutes later, Ramos arrived on his Harley. Holly nearly fainted, but managed to stay on her feet long enough to get him through security. I handed him the security t-shirt and the lanyard that went with it. He shrugged off his black motorcycle jacket and both Holly and I froze in anticipation. But instead of taking off his t-shirt, he just pulled the new one over it. I think Holly sighed, or maybe it was both of us. Either way, we managed to breathe again and took him down the hall to the gym.

Close to the gym, Holly unlocked the door to the PTSA room so he could stash his jacket there beside my purse, and we hurried into the dance. It only took a few minutes for our eyes to adjust, but we got started right away, and I found it was a whole different story with Ramos by my side. He hardly had to say a word to intimidate anyone, and the rest of the evening went by with only a few minor incidents.

The dance ended at eleven, but by then, most of the students had cleared out anyway. Holly hurried over to thank us before we left. In the process, she managed to give Ramos a big hug that lasted a little longer than was necessary. Naturally, I couldn’t blame her, and since Ramos didn’t seem to mind, I managed to keep a straight face.

After we gathered our things from her office, we walked out together, stopping at Ramos’s bike.

I turned to face him. “Thanks for your help. It made a big difference.”

“You’re welcome. It was… interesting.”

I smiled. “That’s putting it mildly. I guess I owe you… again.”

“Yes. You do. It’s turning into a long list. I’ll have to figure out where to start, or you’ll never get to the end of it.”

I chuckled. “You mean there’s an end?”

“Not if I can help it. But there is something you can do for me right now.”

“What’s that?”

“All you have to do is stand still and don’t move.”

Alarm tightened my chest. “That’s all?”


I couldn’t pick up what he planned. Still, it was a simple request. What could happen? “Okay.”

He leaned in close and I caught his woodsy, masculine scent that made me a little dizzy. Barely holding back a smile, he lingered close for a few seconds before brushing my cheek with a kiss. His mouth moved toward my ear and he spoke in a low tone. “Goodnight Shelby.”

Chills ran down my spine. He straightened and slipped on his jacket. Before he could put on his helmet, my wits returned. “So does that count? Toward the list?”

He arched his brow. “Babe… that’s just the tip of the iceberg… but if it will make you feel better, sure.”

“Great. See you Monday.” As he drove off, I sent him a wave, happy to start witling down the list. But on second thought, did I really want to do that? Maybe not, but since it was such a long list already, I’d have the rest of my life to get to the end of it.

With that happy thought, I headed home, ready to tell my kids they were only allowed to go to a school dance if I was there working security. Since they’d hate that, maybe I’d be off the hook, and never have to do security at a school dance again.

As most of you know, I work for a mob boss whom I call Uncle Joey. He’s not really my uncle, but after working for him for a couple of years, he’s become like family. This should make me more nervous than it does, but I make it a point to stay on the good side of things, and do my best to know as little about the bad side as possible.

Of course, the main reason I work for him is because I can read minds and he coerced me into it. But, since that goes for him as well everyone else, it gives me a little more wiggle-room than most people.

I’m also a certified private investigator, so I have clients that I help as well. Which brings me to my story.

My newest client, Henry, thought someone was following him, and he wanted to know who it was. That seemed like an easy task, since all I had to do was watch him for a day or two. If someone was following him, I’d take a few pictures, and that would be that.

Of course, it turned out that he worked for a florist making deliveries, which meant that I had to follow him all over the place. After two hours of doing that, I worried that my cover was blown, since I was now the one following him. Still, I did my best to keep watch.

That’s when everything changed.

My phone rang with the familiar tune of “Devil Rider,” which meant it was Ramos calling. He’s the hot, motorcycle-riding, hitman who works for Uncle Joey. Grateful for the distraction, I quickly answered. “Hey Ramos. What’s up?”

“Babe. Why are you following Henry?”

“What? Oh my gosh! Are you the person following him?” I glanced behind me, then along the street on both sides to see him. “Where are you?”

“I’m in a car just up the street.”

I looked, but couldn’t see him anywhere. “Which one?”

“It’s a white Camry.”

I still couldn’t see it, but then, I’m not much of a car person, and there are a lot of white cars these days. “Hmm… well… I can’t see you. I guess that means you’re good at your job.” I didn’t say, and I’m not, although I thought about it.

“Well… I’ve had a lot of practice. So I take it Henry hired you?”

“Uh… yeah.”

“What did he want?”

“He said that he thought someone was following him, and I’m supposed to figure it out, and show him pictures of who it is.”

“And you didn’t pick up anything else, like… what he did, or why he was worried?”

“No. He wasn’t thinking about that, and honestly, I didn’t want to know.”

Ramos let out a breath. “Hmm. This is good. I think we can help each other.”

“How’s that?”

“Henry’s been using his delivery service for more than just flowers. I won’t bore you with the details, but he’s been passing off… certain items in a messenger bag. I’ve been trying to discover who he’s been delivering them to, so that’s why I’m following him. But now that you’re in the picture, and he knows you’re there, you can keep an eye on him for me.”

“Hmm… okay, but you’ll owe me.”

“Babe.” His voice was low and gravelly. “You owe me far more than this little favor. Do I have to remind you of how many times I’ve saved your pretty little neck?”

Guilt washed over me. “Uh… no… no… of course not. I was just joking.”

He snorted. “Right. So this is what I want you to do. When he makes his other deliveries, he takes a messenger bag with him, and he comes back without it. I just want you to take note of where those deliveries are.”

That didn’t sound too bad. “Okay. How many of these ‘other’ deliveries are there?”

“I’m thinking three at the most. But he might surprise me with more.”

“Okay.” I spotted Henry coming out of the building he’d just been in. “He’s back, so I’d better go.”

“Thanks, Shelby.” He disconnected before I could ask him if he was going to keep following us, but since I was doing his job for him, he probably didn’t need to.

As I pulled onto the road to follow Henry, I glanced at all the white cars I could see, but I never spotted Ramos. He was good.

By the end of the day, I’d taken note of five different places where Henry had left a messenger bag. Ramos would be pleased. But what was I going to tell Henry? I was pretty sure Ramos wouldn’t want me to tell him he was being followed by the mob. But that left me looking a little incompetent.

Still, I figured I could tell him I hadn’t seen anyone… since that was true, and only charge him half of what I normally did to assuage my guilty conscience.

When he was done for the day, I gave him my offer and he took me up on my generosity pretty fast. “So that’s it? You’re not doing this again tomorrow?”

“Uh… nope. But good luck and all. Stay safe.”

He looked at me kind of funny, and was thinking that I might know more than I let on. I sent him a nod. “You might want to think about changing jobs. Messengers don’t always have the best of luck when they’re delivering something they shouldn’t… you know?”

His eyes widened, and I sent him a wave. “See you around.”

As I walked back to my car, I picked up that he was having second thoughts about his other delivery service. Maybe it was time to walk away before it got him killed.

Since I thought that was a good idea, I turned around and gave him a thumbs-up.

So that’s my story. I guess it just goes to show that a mob boss has all kinds of connections I’d never know about. But you know what? Like I said earlier, that’s just the way I want to keep it.

Yesterday, I got a phone call from Dimples asking for my ‘special’ help. This particular case had stumped him and the other detectives for several days, and they’d decided it was time to call in the big guns… me. As the resident ‘psychic’ for the police, I get called in when nothing else seems to work, even though not all of the detectives are convinced that what I do is real.

Only Dimples knows the truth that I can read minds, which is just how I like it. Can you imagine how twitchy everyone would get if they knew I could hear their thoughts? It would be a disaster of epic proportions, so it’s much better to say I have premonitions. Still, it does make things a little awkward when I have to explain myself. I mean… premonitions aren’t quite the same thing, so I always have to tell them I have a feeling about someone or something that’s about to happen, and it can get a little confusing.

I walked into the department and Dimples sent me his biggest smile, mostly because he knew how mesmerizing I found his dimples. It was kind of like a reward for coming in to help him, so I couldn’t complain. If you saw his dimples, you’d totally understand… I mean… they’re huge and they’re always moving, like they have a personality all their own.

“Glad you could make it,” Dimples said. “Have a seat, and I’ll explain what’s going on.” I took my seat beside his desk and he began to tell me about the case. “There’s a person of interest we’ve been watching for the murders of a couple of women, but we don’t have enough evidence to get a search warrant.”

“Wait… like a serial killer?” I’d actually known a serial killer. In fact, I’d almost become one of his victims. I shook my head. “You know how I feel about those types of murderers… are you sure you need me?”

“Yes. If anyone can stop him, it’s you.” Since I wasn’t convinced, he kept talking. “Shelby… you know how they work. If we don’t stop him, he’ll keep killing people. You’ll be saving lives.”

I closed my eyes and let out a breath. “Ugh… I know, I know. I just hate being involved with them. Their minds are…” I glanced around to make sure no one could hear me and lowered my voice. “… like the cesspools of humanity. I always feel like I have to take a long shower afterwards, and I’m still not clean.”

“I understand it’s not pleasant, but we’ve run out of options.” He was thinking that taking an extra shower or two was worth saving someone’s life.

“Ouch… that hurt.”

He had the decency to lower his gaze. “Sorry… I forgot you’d hear that.”

“It’s fine. So what’s the plan?”

“I thought we’d visit him at his house and maybe you could pick up something. We’ll say it’s a follow-up, since we’ve talked with him before. I’ll tell him that we suspect one of his neighbors is acting suspiciously, and ask him if he’s seen anything unusual. It actually works pretty well since the guy told us about the neighbor in the first place.”

“Okay. Just make sure he invites us inside his house. If I can ask questions about his house, it will get him thinking about where he hid the bodies, or what he did with them.”

“I can do that. Let’s go.”

It didn’t take long before we were knocking on the suspect’s door. The curtain twitched before the door opened and a thirty-something man with a dark beard and longish hair stood in front of us. He wore glasses and jeans with a graphic t-shirt that drew my eye, mostly because of the slasher movie depicting dead people and lots of blood. That seemed a little obvious. Was that why the cops thought he was their killer?

“Hey Colton. I’m Detective Harris, and this is my colleague, Shelby Nichols. I was here the other day, and we have a couple of follow-up questions about your neighbor. Could we come in?”

His gaze darted to the side, like he was checking out the cleanliness of the living room, before he pulled the door open. “I guess. What did you need to know?”

Dimples asked him a couple of leading questions about his neighbor, while I glanced around the room. It was clean enough, but something was definitely off. Colton kept fidgeting, tapping his hands against his leg and rubbing his arms. It smelled like he was cooking some kind of meat dish, with lots of onions and garlic.

He finished answering the question, giving me an opportunity to speak. “You must be a good cook. What are you making that smells so good?”

Instead of relaxing, he got even more agitated. “Oh… it’s nothing exciting, just a beef stew recipe of my mom’s. I like to make it when I’m feeling lonely.”

“Oh… that makes sense. I take it you live here alone?”

“Yeah. My mom passed a few years ago.” He was thinking after I killed her.

I blinked. “Oh… I’m so sorry. You must miss her.”

He nodded. “Yeah… every now and then, but the stew helps me feel like she’s still here.” He was thinking it helped him lay the past to rest and get rid of the evidence at the same time.

My stomach clenched. Did that mean what I thought it meant? I swallowed and tried not to freak out.

Dimples glanced my way, noticing my white face, and wondering what was going on. Since I’d quit talking, he continued the conversation. “My wife makes a great stew, but it doesn’t smell as good as yours. Could I get your recipe?”

Colton’s eyes widened. No one had ever asked him that before. “Sure. In fact… I was just about to eat. Would you like to have some?”

I coughed to cover my gagging reflex. I couldn’t seem to stop and Dimples began to pound on my back. “Could I get… some… water?”

“Sure.” Colton left and I turned to Dimples.

“We can’t eat that… it’s people.”

Dimples’s eyes widened. “Like soylent green?”


“Never mind… I get it. I’ll figure something out.”

Colton came back with a glass and I took it. After a couple of swallows, I managed to talk. “Thanks. I’m feeling a little sick, so I’ll have to pass on the food, but thanks anyway.”

He looked a little disappointed, but nodded.

“I’d like some,” Dimples said, surprising me.

“Great. I’ll get you a bowl.” Colton hurried back to the kitchen.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I’ve got an idea.” Before Dimples could explain, Colton came back with a bowl of steaming stew and an eager twinkle in his eyes. He was thinking this was one for the history books. If anyone ever found out. Still… getting a cop to eat one of his victims was like the icing on the cake. “Here you go. I hope you like it.”

“Thanks.” Dimples stirred the stew and sniffed it. “It sure smells good… but it’s a little hot. I’d better give it a minute to cool down.”

I was ready to knock it out of hands. He glanced my way. “Shelby? Are you okay?”

I shook my head. “I think I’m going to be sick.” I wasn’t even lying this time.

“I’d better get you home.” He took my elbow and helped me stand. Then glanced at Colton. “Hey… do you mind if I take this with me?”

Colton’s mouth dropped open, but Dimples continued. “Thanks man. I’ll bring the bowl back.” He rushed me out of the house before Colton could protest. We practically ran all the way to the car. Somehow, I managed to get inside, and roll the window down for some fresh air. That would have worked just fine, but Dimples handed the bowl of stew to me so he could drive.

“Oh hell no.” A fresh wave of nausea rushed over me. “What are you doing?”

“That’s the evidence I need to nail him. Whatever you do, don’t puke.” He was thinking that the lab should be able to analyze the meat, and it would give him the evidence he needed to get a search warrant, or, even better, make an arrest.

I closed my eyes and held the bowl as far away from me as I could. Next, I leaned my face out the window so the cold air could blow over me. That seemed to do the trick, and my stomach settled a bit. Still, I didn’t dare open my eyes until we’d parked at the precinct and Dimples had taken the bowl from my hands.

“You coming?” he asked.

“Go ahead. I’ll be there in a bit.” It took a good ten minutes before I felt well enough to get out of the car. Dimples had taken the stew to the morgue, so I sat down and waited for him. By the time he got back, I had mostly recovered.

“Thanks Shelby. I know that was unpleasant, but I think we’ve got him.” He turned to the other detectives and told them what we’d discovered. I was fine until someone asked him if he’d tasted it.

“Gah! I’m going home.”

Dimples held back a chuckle and thanked me again. He said he’d let me know the results, and, in the meantime, they would be watching the house to make sure the guy didn’t leave town. He was hoping for an arrest tonight, or early tomorrow at the latest.

That was yesterday. This morning he called to tell me that he’d made the arrest and Colton was now behind bars. They’d found more evidence in the house, but I told him I didn’t want to know all the details. He was okay with that, but couldn’t help adding that he’d managed to take of photo of the stew recipe.

“Ugh!!” I hung up on him and tried not to puke.

So… I guess it all worked out, but seriously, I’ll never be able to eat stew again… probably for the rest of my life. Dimples told me catching the killer was worth it, and I guess he’s right. But please… if you ever invite me over for dinner… don’t make stew!

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time finding the right Christmas gifts for my family and friends. I mean… what do you give a mob boss who has a ton of money and everything he could ever ask for? So this year, I thought it would be fun to give Uncle Joey and his hitman, Ramos, t-shirts with funny sayings on them. But even that is proving hard. So I’m hoping you can help me pick the right one.

These are my my choices for Ramos. The first one I found says “If people could read my mind, I’d get punched in the face a lot.” Since I can read minds, it’s perfect, right? He teases me enough that I feel like punching him, although I’m not sure he’d think it was funny. What do you think? Here’s another one that could work. It says “I work out because punching people is frowned upon.” That’s a possibility – but then, he really does punch people, and he doesn’t think it’s so bad, so which one is better?

I found several that I thought might work for Uncle Joey, but I need your advice on that as well. The first one says, “Don’t piss off old people, the older we get the less ‘life in prison’ is a deterrent.” Saying he’s old might upset him, but the rest of it is funny. Here’s another one I found for him. It says “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss.” And “I am not like a boss, I am the boss.” Or “I’m not bossy, I just know what you should be doing.” And finally, “The Big Bo$$.” So which of those do you think I should get?

Naturally, I found a couple that would work for me. One says, “My boss told me to embrace my fear, so I hug my boss.” Cool, right? Here’s another one, “My boss told me to have a good day, so I went home.” Hahaha! But since I’m getting shirts for them and not me, probably not.

I also found one for Dimples that I’ll probably give him. It says, “Stupid people keep me employed” and it has a police car and badge on it. There’s another one that says “If you run, you’ll only go to jail tired.” So which one of those should I get?

Last, I found one for Jackie, the person who really runs Uncle Joey’s office. It says, “Queen of the Office” and I found another one that says, “Secretary: noun. 1. An individual who does precise guess-work based on unreliable data provided by those of questionable knowledge. See also wizard, miracle worker.” I’m not sure about those either, so if you have a preference, let me know!

So here’s my multiple choice list for your vote.

Ramos: A – “If people could read my mind, I’d get punched in the face a lot.” or B – “I work out because punching people is frowned upon.”

Uncle Joey: A – “Don’t piss off old people, the older we get the less ‘life in prison’ is a deterrent.” or B – “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss.” or C – “I am not like a boss, I am the boss.” or D – I’m not bossy, I just know what you should be doing.” or E – “The Big Bo$$.”

Dimples – A – “Stupid people keep me employed” or B – “If you run, you’ll only go to jail tired.”

Jackie: A -“Queen of the Office” or B – “Secretary: noun. 1. An individual who does precise guess-work based on unreliable data provided by those of questionable knowledge. See also wizard, miracle worker.”

So there you go! I hope you’ll take a minute to vote so I can get my Christmas shopping done!! Thanks so much – also here’s one for you: “A day without reading is like…. just kidding, I have no idea.”

Until next time!


The other day, I overheard Uncle Joey asking Ramos to pick up a package from a woman who did odd jobs for him. Since Ramos was going on his motorcycle, I jumped at the chance to tag along.

“Mind if I come with you?”

Before Ramos answered, I picked up from Uncle Joey that Celeste enjoyed these little visits from Ramos, and, if I went along, she might not be as happy to do Uncle Joey’s bidding.

Before I could back out, Ramos smiled at me. “That’s a great idea.” He was thinking that Celeste was a little overbearing, and having me along might keep her from drooling all over him.

I wasn’t sure I liked coming between Ramos and Uncle Joey, but if it meant going on a bike ride, I had to side with Ramos every time. I gave Uncle Joey a sheepish shrug, and hurried out the door behind Ramos.

Uncle Joey shook his head, knowing he’d lost that battle before it had even begun.

After donning my motorcycle helmet, I climbed on the bike behind Ramos, and we roared out of the parking garage. I picked up that Ramos enjoyed having me along. Not only was I good on the bike, but there was something about my arms around him that made the day seem a little brighter.

That brought a big smile to my face, and I gave him an extra squeeze to let him know I enjoyed it too.

Fifteen minutes later, we pulled in front of a quaint house in a nice neighborhood. Celeste came to the door and opened it with a smile. Her long, dark hair flowed around her shoulders, and the skimpy top she wore barely covered her assets. Her smile dropped and her eyes narrowed to find me standing beside Ramos.

Yikes. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. I gave her my best smile. “Hi. I’m Shelby Nichols. I’m Mr. Manetto’s niece, and he wanted me to meet you.”

“He did?”

“Yeah. In case I run errands for him in the future, he wanted Ramos to show me the ropes. Have you got the package?”

“Uh… sure. Come in.” She started to open the door wider to invite us in, but a low growl came from behind her and she stopped. “As you can tell, I have a dog. He’s a sweetie, but he’s a little wary of strangers. I think I’d better put him on a leash.”

She was thinking that she wanted to sic him on Ramos since he’d brought me along with him, but if I was Manetto’s niece, she didn’t dare. Still… it pissed her off. I was ruining the best part of her day.

She slipped inside, and we waited on the porch while she tried to calm the dog. He kept repeating, stranger, bad, and I thought he might be picking up some of Celeste’s animosity toward Ramos.

“I don’t think the dog likes you,” I whispered to Ramos. “Have you ever met him before?”

He shook his head. “No, he’s usually outside in the back yard.”

“Well, if she invites us in, you might want to stay out here on the porch, just to be on the safe side.”

Celeste opened the door wide. “I think we’re good. You can come in now.”

Ramos didn’t want to look cowardly, so naturally, he followed me inside. Sitting at attention beside Celeste, was a large black-and-rust Rottweiler.

“This is Rusty,” Celeste said. “He’s my buddy, aren’t you, Rusty?”

He barked yup, and she rubbed his head.

“Hey Rusty. I’m Shelby.” I held out my hand for him to smell. He sniffed me before turning his attention to Ramos. “And this is Ramos. I guess you two haven’t met yet.”

“No,” Ramos said. After my warning, he was reluctant to let the dog sniff his hand, but he held it out anyway, and tried to project friendly thoughts. Rusty sniffed his hand, then opened his mouth and began to lick Ramos’s hand and arm, like he was getting ready to take a bite. Ramos moved his hand to pet the dog’s head, but Rusty growled and bared his teeth.

Celeste gave Rusty’s leash a little jerk, and Ramos backed away.

“Sorry about that,” she said. “He’s not usually like this.” But deep down, she wasn’t sorry at all. “I’ll be right back with the package.”

To my surprise, she left Rusty there and hurried into a back room.

Rusty’s demeanor changed from friendly acceptance to total attack mode in the blink of an eye. He focused his complete attention on Ramos, making both of us uneasy.

“Just don’t make any sudden moves and we’ll be fine.”

Ramos raised a brow, thinking, no kidding.

Celeste returned with the package and handed it to me. “There you go.” Noticing our frozen stances, she took hold of Rusty’s leash.

“Uh… thanks.” I gave her a big smile. “It was nice to meet you. Bye Rusty.”

We both backed to the door, and Ramos hurried out without a backward glance, thinking that, from now on, I would always be coming with him if he had to pick anything up from Celeste.

“As long as we take the bike, I’m good with that.”

Ramos shook his head, deciding to put me to the test. “What if it’s raining and we have to bring the car?”

I twisted my lips. “If we can’t wait until it stops raining, I’ll still come. I mean… it’s the least I can do to pay you back for all those times you’ve helped me out.” I shrugged. “In fact, I kind of like saving you from something once in a while, so this is perfect.”

He snorted, thinking I was stretching it, but he couldn’t deny that saving him from Rusty was well worth it. “Ready to ride?”

“You know it.”

As most of you know, I have my own consulting business, but now I can officially add that I’m a bona fide Private Investigator. My license came in the mail and I got it framed and everything. Since I don’t have my own business office, I thought it would look nice on the wall of my office at Thrasher Development.

Uncle Joey had given me my own office space, but I’d never used it for my consulting business. By hanging my license on the wall, I hoped that would change. I was testing out my theory by bringing my best friend, Holly with me to pose as a client.

Of course, Holly wasn’t really a client, but they didn’t need to know that. Besides, we were going out to lunch, and she wanted to see my office, so this was a good excuse. Although, from her mind, I knew she mostly wanted to run into Ramos again. She’d seen him once, but that was a while ago, and she really wanted to see him again, just to make sure he was real.

It made perfect sense to me, and I hoped Ramos would be there to fulfil her dream. After parking in the garage, I knew a perfect way to find out, and took her to the corner by the elevators where he normally parked his bike. We found it sitting there in all it’s glory, and her excitement was so intense that even my heart skipped a beat.

On the elevator ride up to the twenty-sixth floor, Holly touched up her lipstick, and smoothed down her hair, just to make sure she looked her best. I would have given her a hard time, but I knew the feeling and fluffed my hair up as well.

The doors swooshed open and we stepped out, both of us looking as good as we possibly could. I led her to the double doors with ‘Thrasher Development’ above them and pulled them open with a flourish.

“Ta-da. Here we are.” Inside, we found Jackie sitting at her desk, and I introduced Holly as my best friend.

“It’s nice to meet you,” Jackie said. She glanced my way wondering why I’d brought Holly here. Didn’t I want to keep my association with Joe on the down-low? Of course, if she was my best friend, she probably knew a lot more than she should.

“Likewise,” Holly said. “I’ve heard so much about you that it’s nice to finally meet you in person.”

Oops. “Holly’s here to help me hang my private investigator’s license in my office. We’re going out to lunch to celebrate.”

“Oh,” Jackie said. “I didn’t know you’d gotten your license. That’s quite an accomplishment.”

“Thanks.” I turned to Holly. “My office is this way.”

She nodded, but wasn’t paying much attention to me, mostly because she was hoping to catch a glimpse of Ramos. I glanced Jackie’s way. “Is Ramos here?”

“Yeah. He’s with Joe in his office.”

“Okay, great. Don’t let him leave without saying hi to me, all right?”

Jackie narrowed her eyes, knowing something was up. “Sure.”

“Thanks.” I tugged on Holly’s arm to get her moving to my office. Opening the door, the lights switched on automatically and Holly followed me inside.

“This is nice,” she said, glancing around. She was thinking that the office wasn’t anything special until she caught sight of the painting. “Wow. That’s beautiful.”

“Isn’t it? Uncle Joey gave it to me. I love all the complementary colors and patterns.”

“Yeah, it’s amazing.” She turned to me. “Where do you want to hang your license?”

We discussed the best places to put it before deciding on the right one. Holly is a lot taller than me, so she held it in place while I backed away to look at it. “Yeah. That’s it. Don’t move while I find a pencil to mark the spot.”

I hurried to my desk and rummaged through my drawer. Before I found one, the office door opened and Ramos stepped inside. He looked sexy as hell, with his hair slightly curling around his ears and his barely-there beard that darkened his jaw. He even wore his regular black clothes and leather motorcycle jacket.

Have you ever built something up so much that when it actually happens, it’s a little disappointing? This would never happen with Ramos.

In fact, Holly was so stunned, that she lost her grip on the frame and it fell to the ground. Luckily, it didn’t break, but she was totally embarrassed. “Oh shit.” Her eyes widened and her face turned red.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.” Ramos sounded more amused than sorry, but hurried to her side to pick it up. He looked it over and realized it was my PI license. His gaze caught mine and he smiled. “You got it. Nice.”

“Yeah. Thanks.”

Holly had frozen in place with a funny look on her face. He turned his attention to her and she started. “Hi. I’m Holly. I’m… we’re… trying to hang that on the wall.” She pointed to the spot near her head. “Right there, I think.”

“Would you like some help?” Ramos stepped close to her and held the frame where she pointed. “Is that the right place?”

Holly caught a whiff of his clean, woodsy scent and swallowed. “Uh… maybe this way a little?” She took hold of the opposite edge of the frame and guided it toward her a pinch. “What do you think, Shelby?” She prayed that I’d take my time to answer, and I couldn’t stop the smile that broke out over my face.

“Uh… let me see.” I backed up and peered at them for a moment. “I think it needs to go lower a couple of inches, and a bit more to the left.”

They followed my instructions, but it wasn’t quite right, so I had them move it a few more times until I was satisfied. “There. That’s perfect. Now hold it still while I get a pencil to mark it.”

Again, I rummaged through my drawer for a few seconds before pulling out a pencil. Taking it over, I stepped between them to mark the top of the frame. “Okay you can take it down now.” Ramos took possession of the frame while I measured about an inch and a half lower and made the mark.

Holly picked up the nail and small hammer I’d brought and came over to do the honors. While she pounded the nail in, Ramos caught my gaze, wondering what I was up to. Had he met her before? Was she the friend I’d wanted him to meet a while ago?

I nodded and he shook his head thinking that I’d certainly taken my time with the frame. He knew I’d done it on purpose. Still, he hadn’t minded, but I should know that I couldn’t get away with it. I owed him now and he looked forward to collecting.

I raised my brow in response and he grinned.

“There,” Holly said. “Let’s hang it up and see how it looks.”

Ramos brought the frame to her and they hung it up together. Holly glanced back at me. “How’s that?”

“Perfect. Thanks so much for your help. Both of you.”

They stepped away to examine it. Then Ramos turned to face us. “I’ve got to go, but it was nice to see you again Holly.”

Her mouth dropped open that he remembered they’d met before today. “Yeah… you too.”

We said our goodbyes and he left. Holly let out a breath and fell into my chair. “That was… nice. He’s…” She shook her head. “Anyways… at least now I can die happy.”

A laugh popped out of me. “Shall we go to lunch?”


We stepped into the parking garage in time to see Ramos roar up the ramp on his motorcycle.

Holly glanced my way. “So… do you ever ride with him?”

My lips twisted into a smile. “Yup.”

She shook her head thinking holy hell, and for a moment, she wished she was me. Then she remembered all the trouble I got into and some of the times I’d nearly died, and thought better of it. Maybe just hearing about it was enough? “Nice. You have to tell me all about it.”

“Good, because I have a story I’ve been dying to tell you.”

Yesterday, I got quite a shock.

I had just arrived at Thrasher Development where I work for Uncle Joey, who happens to be a mob boss. He isn’t really my uncle, but I started calling him that so he wouldn’t kill me. It worked because all this time later, I’m still alive, and he’s claimed me as part of the “family.” All because he found out my secret that I can read minds.

The whole reason I met him was because of a woman named Kate, who worked in the same law firm with my husband. She’d been after my husband, and, after the accident where I got my mind-reading ability, I found out exactly how much she wanted him. Needless to say, it made me angry.

Naturally, I confronted her, and picked up from her mind that she worked for Joey “The Knife” Manetto, I threatened to tell the firm everything. At the time, I hadn’t realized that would backfire on me. She told her Uncle Joey (he isn’t her uncle either, but that’s another story) all about me and I had to tell him my secret so he wouldn’t kill me or my family.

It wasn’t the ending Kate had hoped for, and, since then, we’ve had to work together for Uncle Joey’s benefit. Now Kate lives in Seattle, and I haven’t seen her for several months. She runs a shipping company with the Passinis for Uncle Joey. It keeps her far away from me, so I can’t complain.

Until now.

I’d gone into Uncle Joey’s office to speak with him, and found her sitting in front of his desk. I jerked to a stop, nearly giving myself whiplash. Uncle Joey didn’t seem to notice, and welcomed me inside with a smile. “Shelby! Come on in. Look who’s here to pay us a visit?”

I gave her a thin smile. “Kate. What a surprise. What brings you here?”

She frowned, unhappy that I’d come into the office before she could leave. “Hi Shelby. I’m just going over some ideas I have for the business with Uncle Joey.” She was thinking that, now she’d have to speak with me, but at least she didn’t have to pretend she liked me.

“Yes,” Uncle Joey said. “After the merger with the Passinis she’s run into a roadblock.” He glanced at Kate. “I’m sure Shelby could help.”

With deep reluctance, Kate dutifully nodded her head, even though she didn’t want me involved. She knew I could read minds and it always put a damper on everything. Now I’d know exactly what she’d been trying to hide from Uncle Joey. This was the worst.

“What are you hiding from Uncle Joey?” I asked. Since she knew my secret, there wasn’t a reason to act like I couldn’t hear her thoughts.

She drew in a sharp breath. She was thinking damn you Shelby and pressed her lips closed.

Hmm… maybe it was a good thing I’d come in a little early. Uncle Joey sent me a clear nod of approval before catching Kate’s gaze. “Yes Kate. Tell us what’s really going on, and don’t make up some sob story because Shelby will know if you’re lying.”

Kate sighed in defeat. “Fine. I want to dissolve our partnership with the Passinis.”

That was a shock. She and Alec Passini had become quite close. I picked up that they were more than just business partners. They’d been lovers for over a year. So what had changed?

“Any particular reason?” Uncle Joey asked.

“I don’t trust them.” She’d had a big fight with Alec, and she knew he was keeping secrets from her. If he wasn’t willing to be honest with her, then they needed to part ways for good. “He’s been making deals behind my back, and I think… I think he’s having an affair.” Tears filled her eyes and she choked back a sob. That was the first time she’d said it out loud, and it hurt worse than she’d imagined.

“How do you know?” he asked.

“I’ve heard some of Alec’s conversations on the phone. He’s been talking to someone about giving her everything she needs and taking care of her… he even has a nickname for her. It’s Red… Red Velvet. Like she’s some cake or something. It’s disgusting.”

Uncle Joey held back a smile and I picked up his mirth at the whole situation. He felt bad for Kate, but she wasn’t being rational. She’d always been more than a handful, and when she wanted something, nothing would get in her way. Even if what she wanted was right in front of her, she couldn’t always see it, and suspected the worst.


“What?” she asked.

“No. We’re not dissolving the partnership.”

With a huff of indignation, she nearly flew out of her chair. “You can’t say that. Not after what he’s done!”

Uncle Joey picked up his phone and pushed a button. “Jackie, I need Alec Passini. Can you get him on the phone for me?… Thank you.” He put the phone down to wait. A few seconds later it rang and he picked it back up. “Alec? … Yes… I just have a question for you. Who is Red Velvet?”

Kate closed her eyes and covered her face with her hands. She was totally humiliated and thinking that she was going to kill Uncle Joey for this.

“Yes,” Uncle Joey said, glancing at Kate. “She’s here. I see. Well, I hope you’ve learned your lesson. Yes… that’s too bad, but it has to be done. No… I’m afraid not. Do you want out of the partnership? I didn’t think so. Yes. I’ll tell her.” He hung up the phone and pursed his lips.

“What did he say?” As much as she pretended otherwise, Kate didn’t want to lose Alec. But now that Uncle Joey was involved, she couldn’t back down, and she braced herself for the worst.

“I’ve got some good news, and some bad news. Which do you want first?”

“The good news.”

“Alec is not having an affair.”

“He’s not? Then who’s Red Velvet?”

“That’s the bad news,” Uncle Joey said. “You remember the yacht that got blown up?” At her nod, he continued. “Well, Alec got the insurance money for it, and he ordered a new one. He named it, Red Velvet, after you, I guess because of your red hair and sweet disposition.” Uncle Joey knew that part wasn’t true, but he wanted to rub it in a little. “Alec was hoping to surprise you with it when you got back from your trip. Now he won’t be able to.”

Kate’s shoulders fell. “Oh.”

“You still want to dissolve the partnership?”

She pursed her lips. “No.” She was thinking Alec should have told her instead of trying to make it a surprise. So it was partly his fault… still, she felt horrible that she’d ruined it. Now she’d have to make it up to him, and she hoped he wasn’t too mad or disappointed in her.

She gathered her things. “I guess I’ll be going now. Uh… sorry… why don’t you come visit and we’ll take the yacht out for a few days. Bring Jackie.” She glanced my way. “I guess you can come too as long as you bring Chris. It will be fun.” She didn’t want to invite me, but if Chris came, it would be bearable. She’d always had a soft spot in her heart for him.

“Gee… thanks.”

She ignored my sarcasm and stood. “Sorry for the misunderstanding, but it was an easy mistake to make. Hopefully Alec has learned his lesson. I’ll see you later.” With a quick wave, she hurried out the door.

Ramos came in as she left, nearly bumping into her. After a quick hello, she continued down the hall. Ramos gazed after her before coming inside. “What was Kate doing here?”

I smiled up at him. “You know… at first I wasn’t sure, but now I think there really is such a thing as karma.”

Uncle Joey snorted. “Come… sit down, and we’ll tell you all about it.”


Sometimes I wonder if I made the right choice in how I first explained my psychic powers. When I realized I could read minds, telling the truth scared me to death, so I covered it up by telling people I had premonitions. Sure, that was a big lie, but it seemed close enough to the truth that I could get away with it.

Now I’m not so sure. Having ‘premonitions’ comes with its own set of problems. People expect me to see into the future… or at least some version of it. They also expect me to have some kind of ability to read more into a situation based on the ‘vibes’ I get from my premonitions. That can be pretty complicated, and it isn’t easy keeping everything straight.

If people knew I could read minds, they wouldn’t have so many unreasonable expectations. Of course, they would also want to stay as far away from me as possible. So maybe lying about it wasn’t such a bad idea. Still… it isn’t easy any way you look at it.

But, after what happened the other day, I think I’ve changed my mind. Let me explain…

I got a phone call from a woman who wanted my help with settling a family matter involving her deceased father’s estate. Between her and her siblings, there was an argument about who was supposed to inherit a specific family heirloom.

I wasn’t sure how I could help with that, but the woman insisted I ‘consult’ with them by saying my agency was called “Shelby Nichols Consulting,” so it was part of my advertising. She also stated that she hoped I could use my premonitions to determine which child their grandmother had intended to leave the heirloom with. How could I argue with that?

I arrived at the woman’s home and found all three siblings there. The oldest, Sarah, was the one who’d called me. Her sister, Jane, came next, and the younger brother, Michael, brought up the rear. I picked up pretty fast that Michael was tired of all the bickering between his two sisters. He’d had enough, and hoped that my involvement would end things once and for all.

Under that layer of thought, I picked up a thread of satisfaction that he’d have the final say in the matter, and he couldn’t wait to see the surprise on his sister’s faces. I wasn’t sure what he meant by that, but I looked forward to finding out.

After the introductions were made, Sarah asked me to sit down on the couch, and motioned toward a wooden jewelry box. “The heirloom is in there. It’s a necklace with a two-carat teardrop ruby that belonged to our grandmother. She claimed it was given to her mother from an Indian Maharajah when she lived in India as a child. As the oldest daughter, it should go to me, but Jane doesn’t agree.”

Jane’s lips flattened. “That’s because Grandma Lucy told me I could have it. You know how close we were, especially at the end. I thought she told Papa, but he never mentioned it in his will.”

“What did the will say?”

“That everything was to be divided up evenly between the three of us. But I’m willing to give up a portion of my inheritance to compensate the others, if that will help.”

“That sounds reasonable,” I said.

Sarah shook her head. “But it’s always been handed down to the firstborn daughter. That’s me. Jane can take the rocking chair, and Michael can take the grandfather clock. They’re comparable in value.”

Jane gasped. She was thinking that the rocking chair was hardly comparable to either of those items. Sure, it was handmade and carved with lovely vines, but that didn’t mean it was on the same level as the ruby. Of course, what did she expect from Sarah? As the oldest, she was always throwing her weight around.

“Why don’t we let Shelby have a look at the necklace?” Michael asked, his eyes bright with mischief. “Maybe touching it will give her a premonition about who it really belongs to?”

Sarah frowned, but turned to the box and flipped it open. Her hand flew to her mouth. “It’s gone!” Sarah turned to Jane. “You took it!”

“No I didn’t. You’ve had it all this time. You must have planned this. You’re hiding it somewhere so you can keep it from me.”

“I would never do that!!”

While they argued back and forth, I glanced at Michael, who took perverse satisfaction in seeing his sisters fighting. He was thinking how easy it had been to take the necklace earlier while his sisters had been arguing in the kitchen. They’d always been competitive, but they should be ashamed. His grandmother would have hated seeing them bicker and fight over a piece of jewelry.

He’d thought hiring me was going overboard, and he’d hoped his sisters would at least try to act civilly to each other for my sake. But look at them now. It was pathetic. Neither of them deserved it, but if he had to pick, he’d want Jane to have it before Sarah. Jane had always been the nicer of the two.

“Excuse me,” I said, breaking into the argument. “I know where it is.”

They all froze and turned to stare at me.

I sent them a smile and glanced at Michael with a raised brow. “Michael has it in his pocket.” I held out my hand. “Please hand it over.”

His jaw dropped open, but he did as I asked and set it in my palm. I examined the ruby and held it in my hand for a moment before closing my eyes and taking a couple of deep breaths. I waited for a good, long minute before opening my eyes, hoping to make them believe I was communing with the spirits.

“Your Grandmother is not pleased with how you’ve handled this. Because of that, it will not go to either of you, but rather, to Michael’s daughter.” I turned my gaze to him, hoping my hunch paid off. “How old is she now?”


“Good. Then that’s settled.” I glanced at Sarah and Jane. “If you want to honor your grandmother, the best way to do that is to treat each other with love and kindness.”

Before I could say another word, I heard a voice in my mind. Bravo Shelby… Bravo.

I snapped my mouth shut and blinked. After a quick swallow, I gave them what I hoped was a smile. “I’ll send you my bill.” With that, I swept out of the house and outside into the cool evening air. My breathing might have come a little faster than I liked, but at least my heart was slowing down.

Still, what the freak? Maybe saying I had premonitions was closer to the truth after all.

It was a weird day, and just getting worse. I stood at the Tiki Tabu Bar, waiting for my Diet Coke with a lime. I was dying of thirst, and the bartender didn’t seem to care how many orders he filled before he got around to mine. I’d told him what I wanted ages ago, and he just ignored me.

Frustrated, I jumped off my stool and went in search of Big Kahuna, the owner of the bar. I found him in the back by the pool tables, only he’d changed them out for poker tables. When had that happened? He sent me a friendly wave and hurried to my side.

“Shelby,” he said, his face splitting into a big smile. “You are just the person I wanted to see.” He gestured toward a poker table where four men were playing a game. “I really need you play for me and win all the games you can. Those haoles are taking all my money. Please, come and sit down.”


He took my arm and led me to the table. He was a big guy, and I couldn’t break his hold on my arm no matter how hard I tried. As he practically shoved me down into an empty chair, the men turned to stare at me.

I picked up their thoughts easily enough, and heard most of them thinking that they were going to eat me alive. I hoped they didn’t mean that literally, because, with their beady eyes, sharp teeth, and wide smiles, it was hard to tell.

Suddenly the crowd parted and Ramos walked in. It relieved me to see him, mostly because I could depend on him to come to my rescue… and those sharp teeth were scary. He was about the hottest man I’d ever seen, and tonight, the dangerous, predatory vibe, oozed off him in waves. Naturally, he was dressed in black, wearing his motorcycle leathers, and dark glasses.

One of the players at the table instantly jumped up to give Ramos his seat, and Ramos shrugged out of his leather jacket, revealing every single tantalizing muscle under his tight black tee. He pulled off his glasses and stared across the table at me. His mouth quirked up in that sexy, challenging smile of his, and my stomach did a little flip-flop, turning me into quivering mass of goo.

Big Kahuna stepped to my side. “You have to beat him Shelby. You’re my only hope.”

“What did you just say?” He ignored me and placed several thousand dollars worth of chips in front of me. “Don’t let me down.”

“But… it’s Ramos. He’s on my side.”

Big Kahuna’s gaze narrowed. “Not anymore.”

Something wasn’t right, but I didn’t know how to stop it. I glanced at Ramos, but he wasn’t his normal, friendly self, and my heart sank. There was nothing for it, but to play against him, and hope for the best. The cards were dealt and the bets placed. I used my mind reading skills to figure out everyone’s cards, but I hit a rock wall when I got to Ramos. Oh no… he was blocking me. Of course, what did I expect, since he knew my secret. Still, this was terrible.

The cards came and went in a blinding flash, and each game took more and more of my chips. Ramos couldn’t lose, and my heart began to race. Needing a break, I opened my mouth to put a stop to the onslaught, but I couldn’t make a sound. The game kept going, and I managed to win enough games to stay in. Before long, it came down to just Ramos and me.

“You know what happens if you lose, right?” he asked, his voice low and hard.

This Ramos was a little scary. “What? I’m not losing. I can’t lose. Big Kahuna wouldn’t like it. In fact, he might even kill me.”

Ramos chuckled. “We’ll see about that.”

The next cards came out. My hand was great, so I went all in, ready to end the suspense. Even though Ramos’s mind was still blocked, my cards were too good and my advantage too great to pass up the opportunity.

Ramos cocked a brow at my sudden move. He stared at me and I tried not to squirm… or fidget, or do anything that would give me away. With a hint of a smile, he pushed all his chips forward to call my bet, and his eyes narrowed into a challenging gleam.

With a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, I turned over my cards and gasped to see a terrible hand full of lousy cards. I didn’t even have two pair. How had this happened? My hand was better than this just a minute ago. What was going on?

Big Kahuna suddenly appeared at my side, his lips turned down and his eyes blazing. “You lost. You weren’t supposed to do that.”

I swallowed and pushed out of my chair, taking a step back. As he advanced, Ramos stepped between us. “Chill out. You can have your money. I just want Shelby.” He turned around and pinned me against the wall. “You’re mine now.”

“Wait… what?”

“The penalty for losing is this…” His body pressed against me and my breath caught. His face lowered closer to mine bringing his lips within a fraction of an inch. I parted my lips and tilted my head, moving forward to meet his mouth, a shiver of anticipation roaring over me.

Then I woke up.

What? It was just a dream? No wonder it seemed so strange… but… what the freak? I took a deep breath and let it out to release the tension. Then I got mad. Since it was just a dream, why did I have to wake up right then?

Part of me wanted to slip back into sleep and hope the dream would continue. As I closed my eyes and tried to settle back down, my alarm went off.

Maybe it was for the best. I had to go to Thrasher Development today for a meeting with Uncle Joey and some of his associates. Ramos was certain to be there, and I didn’t need the distraction of remembering a crazy dream during the meeting.

Nope, cool and professional. That was me all the way. And the dream? Well, that was just my little secret. And… who knew… maybe next time I wouldn’t wake up at the wrong moment. I mean… it was just a dream, right?

It’s not often that I am surprised anymore. Not since the day I went to the grocery store for carrots, and ended up with a head injury that gave me the unexpected side-effect of being able to read minds. Now that you know that, I’m sure you can understand how I usually know what if someone is cooking up a surprise for me… and I have to act surprised, even when I’m not.

But today was a different story.

This morning, I headed to Thrasher Development to give Uncle Joey and Ramos the Christmas gifts I’d picked out for them. It’s not always an easy task to buy something for a mob boss and his hitman, but I’d thought long and hard about the gifts I wanted to give them, and now they were wrapped up and ready to go.

I’d called ahead so they’d know I was coming, and it was nice to find them both in Uncle Joey’s office when I arrived.

“Merry Christmas!” Uncle Joey said, as I came into his office. “Come on in.” I gave both of them a hug and sat down. We caught up for a few minutes, before I pulled their presents from my bag.

“Who wants to go first?” I asked.

“Me.” Uncle Joey took his gift and pulled the paper off his box. He lifted the lid and his face broke out into a pleased smile. “Wow. Would you look at that?” He pulled the pearl-handled knife from the box, and held it up to examine it. “This is great. Thanks Shelby. I don’t have one like this.” He balanced it on his index finger, thinking that it was well-made, and he couldn’t wait to throw it.

Relieved, I glanced at Ramos. “Your turn.”

Ramos was thinking that a knife like that would be pretty handy, and my heart sank, since that wasn’t what was in the box. He pulled off the paper and opened his box to find a glasses case. Prying the case open, he pulled out the dark glasses and grinned. “These are perfect. Thanks.”

“I knew you lost your favorite pair up in the mountains, so I hope you like them.”

“I do. These are great.” He slipped them on his face and sent me that sexy grin of his that always made my heart flutter. “How do they look?”

I swallowed and tried not to drool. “You look amazing… I mean the glasses… they look really good on you.”

His lips tilted up, and I caught his thought that he liked how flustered I got around him. Even my face had turned a little pink. It was adorable.

“Now it’s your turn,” Uncle Joey said, unable to contain his eagerness. “This year, Ramos and I decided to go in on a gift together. So it’s from both of us.” He glanced at Ramos, thinking that it was all Ramos’s idea, but they’d both decided it was more appropriate coming from both of them, since Chris might not like it coming from Ramos.

With my curiosity piqued, I glanced at the box Ramos held in his hands. It was a large rectangular shape, and I had no idea what could be in it. They’d both managed to block their minds and the only thing I picked up was a sense of excitement. Both of them could hardly wait to see my face when I opened the box.

“Merry Christmas, Shelby.” With solemnity and anticipation, Ramos handed the box to me. I glanced between him and Uncle Joey, totally in the dark about what was inside. I knew they wanted me to be surprised, and they had certainly accomplished that.

“You guys! What is it?”

“Uh, uh,” Ramos admonished. “None of that. Hurry and open it.”

I took a deep breath and pulled off the wrapping paper. The black, rectangular box looked like it could be holding jewelry, and a thrill of anticipation washed over me. Holding my breath, I pulled the lid off and gasped.

Inside, a beautiful necklace and earring set rested on a blue velvet cloth. But it wasn’t just any necklace or earrings. The stone was familiar, even though I hadn’t seen it for a while.

“Is this…. ?? Oh my gosh! It is!” The delicate golden chain held a teardrop-shaped piece of smooth, polished, white quartz with veins of gold running through it. The earrings were the same polished quartz, only a little smaller.

“I don’t know what to say… it’s beautiful. How did you do it?”

Uncle Joey smiled. “We know a guy who was more than happy to work with the raw material we provided.”

“We thought you might like something you could keep … without giving anything away.” Ramos added, thinking about our recent adventure into the mountains where he’d almost lost me.

“It’s perfect. Thank you both so much.”

“And if anyone asks,” Uncle Joey continued. “Tell them it’s to make up for not finding all the gold you were looking for… like a consolation prize.”

“That totally works.” I pulled the necklace from the box to put it on.

“Here… let me.” Ramos took it from my fingers and placed it around my neck. After he finished, I took the earrings out of the box, and put them in my ears.

“How do they look?”

“Beautiful,” Ramos said, looking into my eyes.

My eyes teared up, and I gave Uncle Joey a hug and kiss on the cheek. I turned to Ramos and he held me extra tight for a while longer, but I wasn’t about to complain. Then he planted a quick kiss on the side of my mouth before pulling away, and I wiped a tear from my cheek.

We all thanked each other for the gifts, and the warmth of the meaning behind them sent love and gratitude into my heart. After that, we said our goodbyes and I hurried home, grateful for such wonderful people in my life. Glancing at the stone, it caught the light, making the golden veins gleam.

What a sweet surprise. Now, every time I looked at it, I would be reminded of a time when I felt so much love from all my family and special friends who had come to my rescue. They’d saved my life. Because of that, I knew I would treasure this amazing gift forever and ever.

For all of you out there ~ May the gift of love be yours this season!

XOXO ~Shelby