Posts Tagged ‘Shelby Nichols Adventure’

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?”

“Sure.”

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.

“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 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.

I know it’s rude to just drop in on people, but sometimes if you really want to know what’s going on, that’s the best way to find out.

So today, I decided to stop by Chris’ office and see how things were going. He has this gorgeous new secretary – er – executive assistant, who kind of has the hots for him. Because she sometimes forgets, I’ve learned that it’s a good idea to stop by to remind her that my husband is not up for grabs.

I exited the elevator and made my way to Chris’ office. I found Elise sitting at her desk with her head down. As I approached, she glanced up with an expression of sadness which quickly changed into a smile for my benefit. She greeted me pleasantly enough, telling me that Chris was in court, but underneath that I picked up that she was barely holding herself together.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Uh… nothing,” she said, lying through her teeth. Her mind went to the results of her LSAT and how she’d just missed getting a good enough score to go to law school. If only she could get someone to help her study. Maybe if she told Chris, he could help her, and she could take the test again. That way she could spend more one-on-one time with him, and get the help she needed. Win-win.

I wanted to say, “Hell, no!” but managed to keep my mouth shut. Instead, I asked her when Chris would be back, and if I should wait.

“You could,” she answered. “But he might be an hour or so.” She didn’t really want me around, mostly because it reminded her that Chris was off limits.

Just then, Ethan came around the corner with a stack of files. He was a junior associate at the firm and Chris was mentoring him. Ethan had a few secrets of his own, and one was a connection to the district attorney’s office. They wanted him to snitch on Chris in order to get to Uncle Joey.

“Mrs. Nichols,” Ethan said. “Nice to see you.” He knew that I’d told him several times to call me Shelby, but he just couldn’t do it. My presence also reminded him that Chris was a good guy with a great family, and guilt swamped over him that he was supposed to spy on Chris. He wished there was a way out of that.

“Hey Ethan,” I answered. “You too. Uh… how did you do on your LSATS?”

“Pretty good,” he said, thinking that he had one of the highest scores possible, and wondering why I asked.

“Great. Did you know that Elise is studying for the exam?” I caught a blast of surprise from both of them before Ethan answered.

“No, I didn’t.” He turned to Elise. “That’s great. How’s it coming?”

She stared at me, thoroughly confused at how I knew, then swallowed and glanced at Ethan. “Uh… I already took it, but I didn’t pass. I know all this stuff, but taking timed tests just freaks me out.”

Ethan nodded, thinking that he’d been trying to figure out a way to talk to Elise outside of the office. Maybe helping her would get him a date. “I could help you, if you’d like. I got a pretty good score and maybe you just need a good coach.”

Elise nodded, then smiled at him. He was cute in his own way, and spending time with him might be fun. Not as great as with Chris… but Ethan was a smart guy and knew his stuff. “That would be great.”

As they worked out the details, I told them goodbye, and left the office with a smile, knowing I’d just killed two birds with one stone.

Now Elise had someone besides Chris to focus on, and Ethan might be distracted with her enough to forget about spying on Chris for a while. I always liked it when things went right for a change. Now if only I could count on that happening all the time!