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.

“No.”

“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.”

THE END.

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?”

“Six.”

“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.”

“But…”

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

You’d think that after working for a mob boss for over a year and a half that nothing would surprise me anymore, especially since I can read minds. But, after today, I’m convinced that nothing could be further from the truth.

In the past, being summoned to Thrasher Development by Uncle Joey made my heart race and my palms sweat. Now, I reveled in my role as the mob boss’s human lie detector. I liked the power of catching people in lies and making them answer for their deceit.

But today was a different story. Instead of one of Uncle Joey’s clients doing the lying, it was Ramos. For those of you who don’t know, Ramos is Uncle Joey’s hitman, bodyguard, and all around right hand man. When he’s the person lying, it has to be for a good reason, but it still threw me for a loop.

I met with Uncle Joey in his office, where he explained that he had a client in the conference room who was late making a payment. He wanted me to get to the bottom of it, since the client had insisted she’d already paid.

Ramos was keeping her entertained, and, after we entered the conference room, she was introduced to me as Mrs. Robinson. I immediately started singing the song about Mrs. Robinson in my mind and sort of missed the rest of her introduction. That was probably because she looked beautiful, sophisticated, and sexy, even though she was in her early sixties, and I hoped I looked as good as her when I reached that age.

I couldn’t help but admire her tenacity when it came to dealing with Uncle Joey, but it was Ramos who surprised me the most. He seemed under her spell, and went along with her explanation that her husband, who had recently died, had paid his debt to Uncle Joey in full.

Uncle Joey had no record of that ever happening, and wondered if her late husband had deceived her, or if she was just saying that so she didn’t have to pay up. Since I needed more clarity about what was going on, I had to ask some questions and get her thinking.

“I’m so sorry to hear about your late husband,” I began. “Was it sudden?”

Her eyes widened. “Why yes, it was. He had a heart attack and died before the paramedics arrived.” She wasn’t exactly lying, since his heart had given out, but it wasn’t because of a heart attack. It was because she’d pumped him full of adrenalin, and, because of his heart condition, it was fatal.

“Oh, I’m so sorry. That must have been a shock.”

“Yes. It was. He was in such great shape, that it took us all by surprise.” She was thinking that it took his mistress by surprise the most. But, now his mistress wouldn’t see a dime of his money. “In fact, he was full of surprises.”

She’d acted just in time, too, since he had begun the divorce proceedings and would have left her with nothing. As far as she was concerned, his debt to Uncle Joey wasn’t her problem, and if Uncle Joey insisted that she pay, he might find himself in the same condition as her husband. It wasn’t the first time she’d killed a man who’d crossed her, and he wouldn’t be the last, since she still had her brother-in-law to deal with. But he could wait until she had everything settled here first.

Yikes! She was downright scary. As she continued to explain all the ways her husband’s death had been a shock, I swallowed and glanced at Ramos. He was thinking that I needed to handle Mrs. Robinson with kid gloves. The money her husband owed to Manetto wasn’t worth dealing her kind of crazy. He didn’t know what had happened to her husband, but, after chatting with her, he had a bad feeling about it.

“I’m sure your husband paid his debt to us,” Ramos said, even though he knew the man hadn’t. At this point, he didn’t know what I would pick up from her, but he hoped I’d go along with him. Ramos knew Manetto wouldn’t agree, since he rarely let anyone get away with anything, but Ramos had seen something alarming in her eyes, and his gut told him that the money was not worth the price. Even if I had to lie to Manetto, he hoped I’d go along with him.

Wow. He didn’t know how right he was. “I’m so sorry for your loss,” I began, once she stopped complaining. “I’m sure your husband must have taken care of his debt to Uncle Joey. We’ll go over our records again. It must have been deposited in a different account. We’ll look into it. In the meantime, don’t give it a second thought. You have enough on your plate.”

“Oh, that is so thoughtful of you.” Her eyes filled with tears. “I won’t forget your helpfulness during this difficult time.” She turned to Uncle Joey. “What a wonderful niece you have. You were right when you said she would know what to do. Thank you so much. If that’s all, I’ll be going.” She took my hand. “Thank you Shelby.” Her smile warmed my heart, and I was grateful to see it after all that darkness.

“You’re welcome.”

She exited the room, and Ramos followed her out. He came back a second later and blew out a breath, grateful she was gone. Uncle Joey glanced between us, knowing something had gone on, but he had no idea what it was. “Do you mind telling me what that was about?”

“Sure, but you’re not going to believe it.” I related her murderous ways to both of them, adding the little tidbit that her killing spree had started with her father. “He was awful to her, totally abusive, so I can’t blame her, but it was all a little bit surreal. How much did her husband owe you anyway?”

Uncle Joey shrugged. “Around a hundred grand, but he had just paid half of it, so she must have thought it was enough. I still hate to see her get away with murder though, even if he deserved it.”

That kind of surprised me, since Uncle Joey got away with murder all the time. “What is it about her that makes you say that?”

He snorted. “I guess because she’s a threat to men everywhere. But at least she’s not a threat to me, so it all worked out.” He glanced at Ramos. “How did you know?”

Ramos shrugged. “What can I say? I’m a pretty good judge of character, and I’ve seen her type before.” He glanced at me. “You were kind of like that when you first started working here.”

“I was not!”

His lips turned up in that sexy grin that always made my chest flutter. His dark eyes intense, he leaned toward me. “I said kind of like that. I knew you were thinking of ways to get rid of Manetto, even if you don’t want to admit it.”

I glanced between the men and my face heated up. “Well, I was desperate. You both scared me to death. Naturally, I wanted to get out of the situation. But… that’s all changed now.”

“Has it?” Uncle Joey asked, his brows lifted and he had a sad, lost, and hopeful shine in his eyes.

I smacked him… lightly… and smiled. “Of course I have. You’re really going to make me say it?” At his nod, I continued, only slightly rolling my eyes. “I love working here… there.”

“But you left out a part,” he insisted. “You love working for me.”

I chuckled and nodded. “Well… of course… that goes without saying.”

“And what about me?” Ramos asked. “Admit it, you like me better.”

I glanced between them and shook my head. Ramos was thinking about all the motorcycle rides he took me on, so he would win, hands down.

“I’d better get going.” I stepped to the door and glanced over my shoulder. “And just so you know, I love you both.”

I left the office with a smile, which I’m still wearing as I write this. Yes… it’s true that I love my job, and I hope that’s okay to say, because, despite, or maybe because of the surprises, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Last week, Uncle Joey called me about something that was stolen from his home. He’d already questioned the hired help, but none of them admitted to taking anything. That’s where I came in. Since I can read minds, he knew I’d get to the bottom of it.

I met him at his house, since that was the scene of the crime, and he invited me inside.

“Thanks for coming,” he said.

“Sure.” It was nice that he thanked me, even though everyone knows you can’t say no to a mob boss. “So what’s going on?”

He scratched his jaw, feeling a bit foolish, since the missing item had no value except to him. “I just noticed that my grandfather’s old set of golf clubs is missing. I’ve kept them in the storage shed for years and I just noticed they’re gone. I’ve questioned everyone, but no one will confess to taking them.”

“Were they worth a lot of money?”

“No. That’s why I can’t figure it out. I mean… they’re old, so maybe someone would think they were worth something, but I’m pretty sure they’re not.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because they’re relics from the past, and they’re made out of wood. Nothing like they make them today, and totally worthless in today’s world. I guess I’ve been keeping them for sentimental reasons.” He shrugged. “But I suppose they could be worth something to a museum, but that’s hardly a reason to steal them. All my workers are still here. Would you mind talking to them for me?”

“Okay.”

I followed him to his office. “Wait here, and I’ll send them in.”

The first worker to enter was the cleaning lady. She’d been cleaning Uncle Joey’s house for years, and she was miffed that he suspected her of stealing from him. I smiled and asked her about the golf clubs. “I’ve never seen them. I don’t clean the storage shed, so I don’t know anything about them.”

She was telling the truth, but there was something she was nervous about. “That makes sense,” I said. “And you’ve never seen anything missing around the house?”

She frowned, wondering why I was asking that. “Like what?” Her thoughts flashed to the master bedroom closet where she’d helped herself to a few items of jewelry that Jackie, Uncle Joey’s wife, had kept in the panel of drawers. The worker knew the real stuff was in the safe, but Jackie had so many sets of similar earrings, that she’d never miss the few she’d taken. Besides that, the drawers were stuffed so full of jewelry, it was like a browsing in a jewelry store. There was no way Jackie would remember what was in there.

“You know who my Uncle is, right?”

The skin around her eyes tightened. “Of course.”

“So it’s probably not a good idea to take anything from… say… his wife’s stash of jewelry, right?”

Her face paled. “Of course not.”

“Good. You’re free to go.”

She swallowed, and hurried out of the office. The next person to come in was the groundskeeper. He admitted that he had access to the storage shed, so I figured if it was anyone, it would be him. I asked him about the missing golf clubs and he nodded. “Yes, I know. Mr. Manetto is quite upset about them, but I don’t know who took them. I think they’ve been gone for a long time, though, and he just noticed it now.”

“When was the last time you saw them?”

He shrugged. “A year ago, maybe two.”

“Oh wow. Okay. That helps.”

He was thinking it was around the time that Jackie and Manetto got married. After she moved in, she made several changes, and he remembered that she’d cleaned up a lot of old junk. Maybe she did it?

“Thanks. You’ve been very helpful.”

After he left, the pool maintenance guy came in. He was more nervous than the others, but that was because he’d overcharged Uncle Joey a lot of money, and it had something to do with the pool filters.

“So do you keep an eye on the pool filters?”

His eyes widened. Why was I asking him that? “Yes. That’s part of my job.”

“How many filters are in Uncle Joey’s pool?”

“He has three.”

“Wow. So how often do they need to be cleaned or changed?”

He swallowed, completely thrown by my questioning. “It depends on how much the pool is used. I test it weekly.” He was thinking that he’d told Uncle Joey he needed the pool filters replaced every month, but it was more like every six months to a year. During that time, he just exchanged the filters with some he already had, but charged Uncle Joey the full price. But there was no way I could know that.

I sighed. Was everyone a cheater? “Look… I know you’re overcharging my Uncle for the pool filters. I don’t think he’ll be happy to know about that, but you’ve brought this on yourself. If you’d just been honest, you could have saved yourself some pain, now I can’t promise anything.”

“What? How? Wait… you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

My brows rose. “Yes I do, and I’m telling him.” I shook my head. “If I were you, I’d leave while you’re still in one piece.” He jumped up from his seat and hurried out the door.

I wandered into the kitchen to find Uncle Joey. He was pouring himself a soda and offered me one. I thanked him and he smiled. “So how did it go? Did you figure it out?”

“Not exactly, but I have an idea. Before I tell you what it is, I have some bad news. You’re going to have to hire a new pool maintenance company.” I explained what I’d found out and watched his face darken.

“Anyone else?”

“You might want to find a new cleaning lady too. The gal you have has taken a couple of things that don’t really matter, but I wouldn’t trust her in your house, either.”

“Damn.” Uncle Joey took a breath. “I guess it’s a good thing you came, but what about the golf clubs?”

“None of your workers had anything to do with them. But… you might want to ask Jackie. The groundskeeper said she cleaned out a lot of junk when you first got married. She may have gotten rid of them. Did you ever tell her they had sentimental value?”

He shook his head. “No, I guess I didn’t.”

I patted his arm. “Well… that might be what happened then.”

His lips twisted, and he gave a resigned sigh. “You’re probably right. I’ll ask her when she gets home.” He shook his head. “Well… that’s not what I expected, but thanks for helping me out.”

“You bet.”

“It’s kind of discouraging to think people aren’t as honest as they should be.”

“I know, and I wish it was different. I mean… they all know you’re a mob boss, so you’d think they’d be more careful, right?”

“Exactly.” He was thinking that he’d have to brush up on his image, so this wouldn’t happen again. Maybe make a few threats, that sort of thing.

I shook my head. “I don’t think that’s necessary. These guys just got complacent. But your groundskeeper’s a good guy, so it’s not everyone, and I’ll be happy to come over and check out your new workers, just to make sure.”

“Thanks Shelby.”

We said our goodbyes and I left, glad I could help.

Who knew being rich came with so many problems?

So that’s my story for today. If you’re at a thrift store and you happen to see some old wooden golf clubs, be sure and let me know. There might even be a reward!

Until next time,

~Shelby

Have you ever just needed a change of scenery? After I took my kids to school this morning, I decided to make a pitstop at the coffee shop on my way home. For a change of pace, I went inside to order and got a frothy cold drink of yumminess.

The place was nearly empty, so I took a seat at one of the tables and enjoyed the atmosphere. I put in my earbuds to listen to a podcast on my phone and watched the birds in the trees out the window. While I was lost in my own little world, a man took the seat across from me.

It shocked that a man I didn’t know was invading my space, and I just sat there with my mouth open like a dummy.

“Hey. How ya doing? Are you listening to something good?” he asked.

“Uh… yes… I am.”

“What is it?”

I proceeded to tell him that it was a podcast about the significance of dreams. I probably shouldn’t have done that because he wanted to know why I was listening, and was it because I had weird dreams? Then he started telling me about some of the dreams he’d had.

As most of you know, I have a secret ability that allows me to read minds. So I listened real close to his thoughts, hoping to figure out why he was talking to me. Was he lonely? Did I look like an easy mark? Was he interested in me? At the moment, he was too involved with his story so I didn’t get far.

When he finally finished, I smiled. “Maybe you should listen to the podcast. It might help.”

He shrugged. “Sure. Where is it?”

I proceeded to show him my phone and where he could find it. During this time, I still couldn’t figure out why he was talking to me. Then he said he’d better get going, but it was good to see me. “Be sure and tell your husband I said hello. Maybe we should all go out to dinner sometime. When was the last time we went out together? Two or three years ago?”

Since I had no idea who he was, I managed to mumble a reply. “Uh… I honestly can’t remember.”

“Yeah? I think we went to that steakhouse out on Union Boulevard. I don’t remember the name. What is it?”

This was starting to feel like the twilight zone, because I’d never been to a steakhouse there. I didn’t even know there was one on that street. “Uh… I don’t know.”

“Oh well… hey did your kids get the dog they wanted?”

I brightened. If he knew that, he had to know me, right? “Oh yeah they did.”

He sat back down. “What kind did you get?”

So I told him all about Coco, and how we’d found him at the animal shelter. I kept studying his face, hoping for something to click, but it never happened. I must be going nuts.

Not able to take it anymore, I stood. “Sorry, but I’ve got to go.”

“Sure… I should go too. I didn’t mean to take up all your time.” He followed me out to my car and watched me get in.

Before I closed the door, he waved and I picked up that he’d enjoyed talking to me, mostly because his plan had worked like a charm. Who knew? It just went to show that all you needed was a little information, and it was easy to strike up a conversation.

People were just so nice. Now the next time I saw him, I’d think he was my friend, and it wouldn’t be long before he’d insinuated himself into my life. That’s when the fun would begin. And, if he played his cards right, he might get close enough to Manetto to take him down.

“Oh wait just a minute.” I grabbed my phone and quickly snapped his picture. “There. Now I can tell my husband that we met today. He probably wouldn’t believe it without the picture.” I took a few more, determined to find out who this guy was.

He quickly got in his car and took off, but not before I managed to snap another photo of his license plate number. Armed with this information, I knew I could track him down.

Now I’m off to visit Uncle Joey to show him the photo. If he doesn’t know the guy, I can head to the police department and look him up on my computer there. One way or another, I’ll find out who he is… But what the freak? How can just stopping at the coffee shop end up complicating my life?

I’ll keep you posted, but in the meantime, watch out for strangers who act like they know you!!

The only thing I don’t like about winter is that it’s too cold to go for a motorcycle ride.

But the days are getting longer and the temperatures are rising. Maybe that’s why I like spring so much. This last week was unusually warm, with the temps climbing up into the sixties. So naturally, I decided to be prepared yesterday when I went to Thrasher Development for a meeting with Uncle Joey. I made sure I had my leather jacket, along with some warm, black leather gloves in the back seat of my car. I even threw a scarf in there… just in case.

At the end of my meeting, I walked out to find Ramos leaving to run an errand for Uncle Joey. I ran to stop him, and breathlessly asked if he was taking the bike.

“Uh… it’s a little cold for that,” he said.

“It’s in the sixties… I just checked the weather app on my phone. That’s not too cold. I could go with you.”

His brows rose and he was thinking that I had no idea how cold I could get, but he could tell that I was desperate, and he kind of liked it. “Okay. But only if you brought something warm to wear.”

“You know I did.”

He shook his head. “All right. I need to get my gloves and coat. I’ll meet you in the garage.”

Barely containing my excitement, I hurried to my car to grab my things. I slipped on my leather jacket, wrapped the scarf around my neck a few times, and slipped on my gloves. Ramos came out of the elevator and stepped toward his motorcycle. Instead of his leather jacket, he wore a black parka. He also wore a pair of outer pants over his jeans, and he carried a pair a black leather gloves that fit halfway up his forearms.

As he pulled the cover off his motorcycle, I joined him, and he glanced at me with a critical eye. “I thought you had something warm to wear.”

“I do. See? I brought my jacket and gloves, and a scarf.”

He shook his head. “I don’t think that’s enough.”

“Sure it is. It’s sixty-four degrees outside. I’ll be fine.”

He sighed. “Okay… but it’s not my fault if you get cold.”

“I’ll be riding behind you. It will keep me warm enough.” I almost said, I’m always hotter when I’m with you, but I kept that part to myself.

He popped the trunk of his car, and handed me my helmet before grabbing his own. Ready to go, he rolled the bike out of the space and started it up. Extending his arm toward me, I took hold of it, and swung my leg over the back to settle into the seat behind him. He made sure my feet were on the pegs, and my arms arounds his waist, before pulling out of the parking garage.

Just like always, a little thrill shot through me, and I couldn’t help the big smile that crossed my face. We pulled onto the street, and Ramos expertly maneuvered through traffic until we made it out of the busy city. He turned onto a frontage road and we stayed on it for several miles with only a few traffic signals to stop our progress.

That’s when I realized I had no idea where we were going, or how long it would take. Still… it hardly mattered since I was right where I wanted to be. Pretty soon, my nose started running, and I had to keep sniffing since I couldn’t wipe it. Not long after that, I noticed my toes were going numb. But that was nothing compared to my knees.

I took turns holding one hand over my kneecap while holding Ramos with the other. I did this several times, but it didn’t seem to help. How far were we going anyway? Pretty soon my eyes were watering from the cold, along with my nose, but under the full-sized helmet, I couldn’t wipe them. If we didn’t stop soon, I’d be a freezing cold mess.

Luckily, Ramos slowed and pulled onto a different road that led to a private airfield. It was another ten minutes to the airfield office, and I had begun to shiver. We finally came to a stop in front of the building, and Ramos helped me off the bike. I staggered a little and had to grab his arm to stand.

After he dismounted, he pulled off his helmet and glanced my way. “You okay?”

I nodded, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to pull my helmet off since I wasn’t sure how presentable I’d be.

“Let’s go in and warm up.”

I nodded again, and waited until he turned his back before I pulled off my helmet, and wiped my nose. I grabbed a tissue out of my purse and cleaned up my face, hoping I didn’t look too bad. Ramos held the door open for me and I could barely get my legs to move. I’d never been so stiff in my life.

Inside, Ramos greeted the manager who seemed surprised we’d ridden in on the bike. “Come on into the break room,” he said. “And have a cup of coffee. Looks like you need some warming up.”

He was looking at me when he spoke, thinking that, without the helmet covering my face, I would have frostbite for sure. I shuffled into the break room while Ramos took care of the business part of our visit. After pulling off my gloves, I poured a hot drink into the first mug I found, and wrapped my hands around it, reveling in the warmth.

Soon, Ramos joined me, pouring a cup and taking a few swallows. “Are you going to drink that?”

“Yes… I’m just getting my fingers warm first.”

He smirked. “Colder than you thought huh?”

“Yeah. I thought it was warm enough outside… guess I was wrong.”

“Yeah… it’s easy to underestimate.”

“What about you?” I asked. “Are you okay?”

“Sure.” He took my hands in his, surprising me at their warmth.

It gave me an idea. “Hey… do you mind putting your hands on my knees?”

His brows rose with surprise, but he did as I asked. “Holy hell. They feel like ice.”

I closed my eyes. “Oh… that feels so good. Thanks.” He held my knees for a few more minutes before the manager came in. The manager thought we looked funny sitting there with Ramos’s hands on my knees, but I didn’t care. I stifled a groan when Ramos let go to take the folder from the manager.

After sliding it into his messenger bag, Ramos glanced at me, hoping I was ready to go. Besides needing to get back, he was getting hot sitting there in his warm clothes. With a shake of my head, I finished off my drink, feeling marginally better. Standing, my frozen legs even held me up, and I could almost walk normally.

The ride back was a test of endurance. Ramos had offered me the use of his outer pants, but I’d refused, knowing he would take most of the brunt of the breeze. I tried tucking my knees in closer to his body, and that helped, but they were still nearly frozen solid by the time we got back.

After I staggered off the bike, Ramos shook his head, feeling sorry for me. He slipped our helmets into the trunk of his car, and glanced my way. “I tried to warn you.”

“I know. It’s not your fault.”

“Go home and get warm.” I nodded, but before I could move, he pulled me into a hug. His warmth felt amazing, and I couldn’t get over how he wasn’t freezing like me.

He let me go and I smiled up at him. “Thanks. I feel better now.”

“Good. Maybe we’d better wait until it’s a little warmer next time.”

“Yeah… you’re right.” I picked up that he regretted taking me, and he hoped it hadn’t put me off going on motorcycle rides with him. I chuckled. “Oh… you don’t need to worry about that. Sure, it was freezing cold, but I still enjoyed it.” He sent me that sexy smile of his that turned my insides to mush and I grinned back. “See you later.”

After I got home, it took two hours before my knees warmed up.

Still… I would do it again… only I’d be sure to wear warmer clothes… and snow pants on my legs.

But… with spring just around the corner, next time I wouldn’t have to.

Holiday Hijinks

Posted: December 11, 2020 in Experiences, Thoughts
Tags: ,

All my kids wanted for Christmas was a PlayStation 5. If you know anything about PlayStations, you know this is the newest and most sought after PlayStation in the history of PlayStations, and getting one is like winning the lottery. So… being the wonderful mom that I am, I dutifully put in all the time and effort… including a deal with the devil… to track one down.

So… besides all the time it took to actually order, pay for it, and have it delivered… this happened….

On delivery day, I didn’t want to take any chances that someone would steal it off my porch. So I used my tracking number to pin down the estimated time of delivery. Then I waited, watching out the window for the delivery truck to show up. It got tedious, but, after all of my previous effort, it didn’t matter how long I had to wait by the window and stare out into the street, I would make sure I got that PlayStation or die trying.

At long last, the truck pulled up in front of my house, causing my heart to race with excitement. Not wanting to wait another minute, I opened my door and stood out in the cold while the delivery guy got my package. It seemed to take him a long time to leave the truck, and I was starting to shiver in the cold, but I couldn’t go inside now.

Finally, he hopped out of the truck, carrying a big box with the PlayStation logo on the outside. Seeing me, he hesitated a second before continuing up to the porch. I smiled to put him at ease and gushed out my thanks. “Is that what I think it is?”

“Yup.” That what he said, but he was thinking, if you want an air fryer.

In case you don’t know… I have the rare gift of reading minds. His thought brought me up short and my brow furrowed. He handed it to me, and I looked him in the eye. “This is a PlayStation 5, right?”

He wasn’t expecting that, and his eyes widened. “Of course. That’s what it says right on the box. Have a good day.” Clearly uneasy, he rushed back to his truck, wondering why was I questioning him. There was no way I could know that he’d switched them out.

“Wait!” I yelled. “Don’t you have to scan the box or something?”

He glanced over his shoulder. “Uh… I already did.”

As he closed up the back of his truck, I ran into the house, ditched the box, and jumped into my car. He drove off, but I managed to back out of my driveway in time to follow him. He went a few blocks before making another stop, and I took that moment to put a call through to Ramos, my friend, and a hitman for the mob.

I wasn’t about to let this guy get away with robbing me of my prize, and I knew Ramos was my best chance of getting it back.

“Hey Babe, what’s up?”

“The delivery guy stole my PlayStation 5. I’m following him around so he won’t get away with it, but I could use some help.” I kept him on the phone while following the truck to his next stop, relaying all the pertinent details about where I was.

“I’m on my way. Don’t lose him.”

Just knowing Ramos was coming helped calm me down, but I was so angry, I could hardly see straight. At the guy’s next stop, I wrote down his license plate number, just to be on the safe side. I also got a little closer to his truck than I should have, but he hadn’t seemed to notice me yet.

At the truck’s fourth stop, Ramos arrived, pulling up beside me in his black sports car. After giving me a nod, he parked his car in front of the delivery truck, boxing it in, and I pulled up behind it. This was a perfect spot for a confrontation, since the delivery guy had stopped on a lonely stretch of road with only a few houses.

After dropping off a package, the delivery guy jumped into his truck and noticed Ramos had blocked him in. “Hey!” He yelled at Ramos. “What do you think you’re doing?”

Ramos got out of his car and shrugged. “Oh… am I in your way?”

Before the guy could answer, I made it to the other side of the open doorway and stepped inside the truck. His head whipped around to see me holding my stun flashlight at him.

“What the hell?” The flashlight didn’t scare him, but the look in my eyes finally registered, and he took a step back.

“You stole my PlayStation 5, and if you don’t give it to me right now, I’m calling the police.”

“Go ahead,” he said, deciding to call my bluff. “You have no proof, and I’ll be happy to tell them you’re threatening me.”

“Where is it?” I asked, not the least bit worried. He was thinking that he had it stashed next to his seat in the air fryer box.

“You’re crazy, lady. Now get out of my truck.” He moved toward me, thinking he’d shove me out if he had to. Lucky for me, he’d forgotten all about Ramos.

At that moment, Ramos stepped inside the cab and pushed the guy into the back, up against the side of the truck. “How much do you want to live?” Ramos’s hand came around the delivery guy’s throat causing his eyes to bulge.

“Stop… you’re… choking me. Okay,” he gasped. “It’s under… the seat.”

“No it’s not,” I said. “He put it in an air fryer box.” I searched through the boxes behind his seat until I finally spotted the right one. “Here it is.” I pulled the hastily taped flap open, and there it was. My PlayStation 5.

“Is everything there?” Ramos asked.

I found all the paperwork, and examined it. “Yes. It’s all here.” After pushing everything back into the box, I picked it up and stood. Ramos still held the guy down and I gave him my fiercest look. “I really want to stun you.”

I slid my gaze to Ramos. “Can I stun him?” I held my stun flashlight where the delivery guy could see it, and slowly moved it toward his face. Just to scare him, I pushed the button. The tongs flickered and buzzed, sparking and sounding just like a downed electrical line.

The guy jerked back, hitting his head against the side of the truck.

Ramos’s lips quirked up and he tried not to smile. He glanced the delivery guy’s way. “What do you say?”

Looking between us, the guy swallowed. “Look… I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done it. Okay? Just take it and go… You’ve got your PlayStation now… it’s all cool. Just let me go. We can forget this ever happened.”

That hardly seemed fair to me, but we’d been sitting there long enough that I was afraid one of the neighbors might get suspicious and call the police, and I didn’t want to deal with that. Still… it wasn’t right that he just got away with it.

“Okay. Fine. But I want your name in case I change my mind.”

He gave it to me, and I checked the lanyard around his neck to make sure it matched. “Don’t forget that I know how to find you.” He swallowed and nodded again. I glanced at Ramos. “Okay, let’s go.”

Ramos waited until I stepped out of the truck before he released the guy. As I backed my car up, Ramos did the same, and the delivery guy took off pretty fast. Ramos pulled behind me and got out of his car. As he came to my door. I rolled down the window, and he leaned in close.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so mad,” he said. “It was downright scary.”

I heaved out a breath. “If you knew what I’d been through for that PlayStation, you’d understand.”

“I can imagine… I’ve heard they’re pretty scarce, so it makes perfect sense. I’m glad you got it back.”

“Yeah… thanks to you.”

He grinned. “Oh… I’m not sure you needed me all that much, but I’m happy to help. Besides that… now you owe me.”

I huffed. “Yeah… I guess so. What do you want?” Realizing what I’d said, the blood rushed to my face, and my eyes widened. “Uh… I mean within reason… of course.”

He chuckled. Then he got that wicked gleam in his eyes. “A round of pool at the Tiki Tabu, and wear that black shirt… you know which one I mean.” He was thinking about the shirt with the round neck-line that I’d worn the last time we were there. It tended to gape open every time I took a shot.

“Really?”

“Uh-huh.”

I tried to come up with a way out, but I couldn’t think of a single thing. So I tried to put it off. “Fine. But it might have to wait until after Christmas… you know… because it’s such a busy time of year.”

He pursed his lips and shook his head. “Tomorrow… at noon.” His brow lifted and I knew he wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“Okay… I’ll be there.”

“Good. See you then.”

He got into his car and took off, leaving me sitting in a daze. What had I just agreed to? Dang. Oh well… at least I got the PlayStation back, so that was good. And playing pool with Ramos was probably getting off lightly. Ha! Who was I kidding… to be honest, I looked forward to it, and that probably made me a bad person. It was like playing with fire, but I didn’t have much of a choice, right?

So… see what I mean about a deal with the devil? What I do for my kids…

The other day I got a phone call from a friend of mine.

Jerry lives downtown in the condominiums above the mall plaza, and I hadn’t heard from him for a while. We’d struck up a friendship a few months ago, when he’d helped me investigate a man who lived in his building. In fact, he’d called Ramos to save me from a crazy person who wanted me dead, so I owed him.

After a few pleasantries, he got right to the point. “I have a problem, and I wondered if you could help me out?”

“Of course. What’s up?”

“Can you come to the plaza? My usual table? It would be easier to explain in person.”

“Oh… sure. I’m actually at Thrasher Development right now, so I’m not too far. I could be there in about fifteen minutes, would that work?”

“Yes. Do you think you could bring your friend, Ramos?” I hesitated, so he explained. “Not that I think it will get out of hand, but I’d feel better if he were here.”

“Uh… I’m sure he’d be happy to come if he’s not busy. Just a minute and let me ask.” I set my phone down on my desk, and found Ramos in Uncle Joey’s office.

“Sorry to interrupt, but do you remember Jerry from the mall?” They both nodded, so I continued. “He needs my help with something, and he wondered if Ramos could come with me.”

“What’s going on?” Uncle Joey asked.

“He said he’d explain when we got there, but if he needs Ramos, it must be serious.”

“We’re basically done here, so that’s fine, as long as he doesn’t make a habit of it.” He was thinking that I owed Jerry, and sending Ramos along would help keep me out of trouble, so he didn’t mind too much.

I hurried back to my office and told Jerry we’d be there soon. Ramos followed behind, and I picked up that he looked forward to this little diversion. “Want to take the bike?”

“You know it.” Luckily I’d worn my black jeans, boots, and leather jacket to work. Of course, lately, it had become my standard style of dress, and I only rotated between different shirts these days. What can I say…I like to be prepared.

The ride to Jerry’s wasn’t far, but I’d take what I could get. After parking, we took the escalator to the plaza, and found Jerry sitting at his table. He smiled and waved us over. After giving me a huge hug, he asked us to sit down while he explained what was going on.

“Thanks for coming on such short notice. I really appreciate it. Uh…the reason I called is because I have a problem with one of my neighbors.”

Jerry shook his head before continuing. “I’m usually pretty happy to live here, but my new neighbor is a college student who plays his music really loud, and he’s had some people over for parties that have lasted all night. I’ve talked to him and complained to the manager, but nothing has changed and I’m at my wits end.” He glanced at Ramos. “I was wondering if you could scare him straight?”

“Is he home?” Ramos asked.

“Yes, that’s why I wanted you to come now.”

“Sure. Let’s do it.”

Jerry let out a sigh and smiled. We followed him into the building and up the elevator to his floor. As we stepped to the neighbor’s door, Jerry stopped us. “Uh…Brayden won’t be happy to see me, so I should probably wait out here while you…uh…talk to him. Also…maybe Shelby should knock. He’s more likely to open the door for her.”

Ramos looked me over and nodded, thinking Jerry was right to think the guy would open the door for me, so it was a good call.

I rewarded Ramos with a smile and he winked. Shaking my head, I rang the doorbell. Ramos and Jerry stood out of view. A few seconds ticked by before the door swung open and I got my first look at Brayden.

He had that classic rich-boy smirk, with unkempt hair and a lazy demeanor. He leaned against the door-jam and looked me over like I was a prize. “Hello gorgeous, where have you been all my life?”

“Hi Brayden.” I patted his cheek. “We need to talk.” I stalked past him into the room. He followed behind, pushing the door shut. Before it closed all the way, Ramos stepped inside.

Brayden glanced over his shoulder and froze. “Who the hell are you?” He glanced my way. “What’s going on here?”

“Like I said, we need to talk.” The room was nicely furnished, but messy, with plastic cups and plates sitting on any available surface. “I hear you like to party.”

“Uh…yeah. So? There’s no law against that.” He wondered if his stupid neighbor had complained again. That guy just wouldn’t shut up, and it was messing with his social life.

My gaze rested on him. “No, but the way you party is a problem. Loud music, lots of people doing who-knows-what at all hours of the night. It’s a little much for your neighbors.”

“Hey…we’re just having a little fun. I can’t help it if it gets a little loud sometimes, but it’s not that bad, and mostly just on the weekends.”

I shook my head and turned to Ramos. “He doesn’t seem to get my meaning. Maybe he’ll listen to you.”

Ramos stepped toward him, and Brayden backed up until he hit the wall and couldn’t go anywhere. His face paled, and I picked up his fear at the hardness in Ramos’s eyes. Brayden had never been confronted by anyone like him. Then Ramos spoke, and Brayden nearly wet his pants.

“Brayden. Normally I wouldn’t bother with someone like you. But Jerry is my friend. He doesn’t like all the noise and loud music.” Ramos put his hand on Brayden’s shoulder and squeezed. “I don’t like it when Jerry’s unhappy. It brings out the worst in me.” He squeezed a little harder. “It makes me want to hurt something.”

“Ow… okay, okay. I get it. Let me go.”

Ramos dropped his grip and stepped away, his face still hard. With a quick glance my way, he asked, “Does he?”

I picked up that Brayden wasn’t convinced that Ramos would actually do anything to harm him. He might take a break this weekend, but after that, he wasn’t about to change anything. He’d party if he wanted to. “Maybe for a few days…then it’s back to party time.”

Brayden’s eyes widened. Before he could say a word, Ramos stepped close. This time Brayden tried to shove Ramos away. Before he knew what hit him, Ramos held his arm behind his back and had his face smashed against the wall.

“This is a warning, Brayden. One word from Jerry about your parties, or loud music, and I’ll be back. You might wake up in the middle of the night with me standing over you, and I won’t be so nice next time. Now…do you understand?”

“Yes…yes…it won’t happen again.”

Ramos stepped back, releasing his hold, and Brayden slumped against the wall. Ramos raised a brow at me, and I nodded, letting him know that Brayden was sufficiently intimidated. With a hard look at Brayden for good measure, I opened the door and walked out, Ramos following behind.

Jerry waited in the hallway, his eyes anxious. “What happened?”

“I think your problem is solved,” Ramos answered. “But if it happens again, be sure to let me know. I’d be happy to come back.”

Jerry’s shoulders relaxed. “Thanks. I really appreciate this.”

“No problem.”

“I’ll walk you out.”

We left Jerry with a promise to stay in touch, and headed to the elevator. “Wow, that was kind of fun.” Ramos’s brows rose, so I continued. “I mean…not that I’m glad you had to nearly beat the kid up, but setting him straight was rather satisfying. That doesn’t make me a bad person, does it?”

“You? No. You may have your weaknesses, but you’ll never be a bad person.” He gave me that sexy half-smile that turned my insides to mush. “Even though I might wish for it once in a while.”

“Ha-ha.”

He shrugged. “The only bad thing about doing a favor for Jerry is that you don’t owe me for it.”

“Thank goodness. I already owe you too much as it is.” As his eyes lit up, I quickly continued. “Uh…but we’re almost even.”

He shook his head. “Not even close.” He stepped closer, nearly pinning me against the side of the elevator. My breath caught and I froze, mesmerized by the desire in his dark eyes. The elevator doors opened, and I knew I should just jump right out of there, but for some reason, I couldn’t move a muscle. My breathing even got a little ragged.

Ramos stepped away and grabbed my hand to pull me out, since several people were now getting on the elevator and sending me curious glances.

Stepping to the bike, Ramos handed me my helmet, smirking at my total loss of composure. “You want to take the long way back?”

I could have smacked him and said no, but the only person I’d hurt would be me, and there was no way I was that stupid. So I just kept my mouth shut and nodded. His sexy grin accompanied by the twinkle of mischief in his eyes was totally worth it.  

After snapping my helmet on, I climbed behind Ramos and wrapped my arms around his waist, hugging him tightly. We started off, and he took a long and winding route up into the backstreets of the hills on the edges of the city. The sun hit the leaves as they fell, sending a cascade of golden light all around us, landing on the earth in fallen kisses.

The blue sky and white fluffy clouds was the perfect backdrop for this amazing autumn day, and I breathed in the fresh air that carried a chill to it. Soon, it would be too cold for a ride like this, but it didn’t bother me too much. On those cold winter days, I knew this would be one of those perfect memories that I could pull out and savor. But until then…I’d hold on tight and enjoy the ride.