Catnapped! (A Matchmaker Mystery Book 3) (9 page)

BOOK: Catnapped! (A Matchmaker Mystery Book 3)
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Looking up at him, she knew that he’d do whatever she asked. Not because he was getting paid. Not because Brady needed his help. But because he cared and wanted to make her happy.

About her.

It had been a long time since someone had cared enough to want to make her happy.

The thought brought tears to her eyes. She tried to blink them away, but she couldn’t get anything past Pete.

“Whatever it is”—he put a reassuring hand on her shoulder—”I can help.”

Swallowing the lump that rose in her throat, she blurted out, “I wanted to apologize.”

“For what?”

“Upsetting you about your brother. You’ve been nothing but kind and helpful since we met. You didn’t deserve that. I’m sorry.”

Frowning, Pete considered her for a long moment.

Balling her hands into fists, she waited for whatever his response would be, knowing she’d overstepped her bounds and he had every right to be upset with her.

“Kind and helpful?” he asked, clearly disappointed. “Not hot and sexy?”

She blinked. Instead of being upset with her, he’d made a joke. “That too,” she admitted slowly.

“Say it,” he urged with a quiet intensity that set fire to her core.

“You, Peter Hanlon,” she said quickly before she lost her nerve, “are kind and helpful,
and
hot and sexy
.

He grinned wickedly. “As long as you understand
that
, we’re good on everything else.”

Her mouth went dry. “I should go.”

“You probably should,” he agreed. “I won’t get any work done with you here and I have a lot to do.”

Neither of them moved.

She expected him to try to kiss her, but he just watched her. Waiting. Giving her the chance to back out. Letting her call the shots.

Her stomach fluttered excitedly as she realized he was treating her like a partner in their relationship. What happened next was up to her.

“That dinner invitation,” she began hesitantly.

A smile played at the corners of his mouth.

“Could I take you up on it after this case is done?”

He smiled. “I’d like that.”

“I think I would too,” she admitted shyly.

A phone began to ring somewhere in the house.

“You should probably get that”

“I should,” he agreed.

“So I’ll see you later?”

He nodded.

Turning, she let herself out of the house. A glance over her shoulder revealed he was watching her go.

Once she reached her car, he closed the front door of the house.

She headed back to the Michelman house, more excited about a dinner than she’d been in a long time.

 

 

Chapter 14

 

Pete frowned at his trio of computer monitors. All three featured information about his brother, Geoff.

Together they painted a clear picture of the man.

Geoffrey Hanlon was a loyal, heroic, good man according to the information Pete had dug up in the past few hours.

He hit a couple of keystrokes revealing the dirt he’d dug up on his “victim,” Danny’s ex-girlfriend. She was not the woman Pete remembered, having a string of accusations and charges attached to her name.

Groaning, Pete hung his head. Alyssa was right. He’d misjudged Geoff and effectively banished him based on claims of a professional liar.

He switched the monitors back to Geoff and slumped in his seat, staring at the image of a brother he no longer knew.

A knock at the door startled him. Instinctively, he switched what was revealed to benign screensavers. He remained seated, hoping that whoever was at the door would go away. He wasn’t in the mood to talk with anyone. Not even Alyssa.

“I know you’re in there, handsome,” a woman called. “Open up before I’m forced to huff and puff and blow the place down.”

Unable to place the voice, he jumped out of his seat and hurried to the door. Opening it, he was surprised to find Armani Vasquez standing on his doorstep.

“Are you going to invite me in?” she teased, tossing her hair and putting her good hand on her hip.

“Come in.” Pete stepped back and ushered her inside.

“Thank you. You know who I am this time?” She limped across the threshold.

“Armani, the matchmaker.”

She preened at the title. “You bet your sweet butt I am. That’s why I’m here.”

“It is?”

She nodded vigorously, sinking into the nearest chair. “Are you and blondie getting it on yet?”

Pete blinked.  “Excuse me?”

“You and Alyssa.” She arched an eyebrow knowingly. “Besides being a matchmaker, I’m also psychic.”

“Well then, shouldn’t you know the answer to your own question?”

Armani threw back her head and laughed, the sound bouncing off the walls. “So you’re not.”

Pete frowned, refusing to confirm or deny, but he knew that if Alyssa had stayed in his home any longer when she’d come to apologize, it would have been a confirmation.

The memory of her agreeing to go to dinner with him brought a smile to his face.

Reaching into the oversized purse she carried, Armani pulled out a purple cloth bag. Holding it out toward him, she gave it a good shake. Something clattered inside. “Pick,” she ordered.

He eyed the bag suspiciously. “Pick what?”

“Pick seven.” When he didn’t move, she challenged, “Are you afraid of a little bag?”

“Of course not.” He closed the distance between them and plunged his hand into the bag. He pulled out four pieces of wood, realizing they were Scrabble tiles.

“Seven,” she reminded him, giving the bag another shake.

He pulled out three more.

Dropping the bag into her lap, she held out her good hand, palm up. “Hand ’em over, big boy.”

He gave them to her, watching in fascination as she studied them carefully.

“Interesting,” she murmured.

“What’s is?”

“The message.” She laid out the letters A E E H R S V on the arm of the chair.  “Ever ash doesn’t make a lot of sense. Maybe there’s a fire?” she asked hopefully.

“Maybe it’s supposed to ‘ash ever.’ Like an urn of ashes.” He paused after he said that, realizing the psychic matchmaker had managed to pull him into her odd orbit.

“Could be,” she agreed. “Do you know who keeps their cremated loved ones nearby?”

He thought of Mildred and all the stuff she had dedicated to her past and present cats. “Maybe.”

“Have they had them made into a diamond?”

“What?”

“Diamonds. People have ashes turned into diamonds.”

Pete stared at her unsure of whether this was more stuff she was making up as she went along, or if it was a real thing.

“It’s true,” she assured him.

He tried to remember if Mildred had been wearing diamonds.

“Shaver,” Armani blurted out.

“Huh?” Pete shook his head, trying to shake off the feeling he was involved in some bizarre conversational whiplash.

“It spells shaver.”

He looked down at the letters again, trying to see what Armani saw, but instead he saw something that made his entire body go cold. Panic tightened like a vise around his chest. He found it hard to breathe.

“Sit,” Armani ordered, hopping out of her chair, and shoving him down into the place she’d just occupied. The tiles fell to the floor, but neither of them noticed.

Pete was desperately trying to rationalize what he’d seen. They were just random letters, not some message from a world he didn’t even necessarily believe in.

Weren’t they?

Armani grabbed his chin and stared at him with eyes dark with concern. “What do you see?”

He shook his head, not wanting to even give it voice.

“Tell me.”

He swallowed hard, trying to get his throat muscles to relax enough to get the words out. “Save her.”

 

 

Chapter 15

 

Alyssa was starting to believe that Roscoe’s baking could make everything better. After spending a couple of hours studying Pete’s list of suspects and chasing down useless leads, she’d returned to the Michelman house tired and disheartened.

Roscoe had told her he’d convinced Mildred to take a nap, so for the moment, it was just the two of them in her kitchen. Insisting that Alyssa being hungry and exhausted wouldn’t help the situation, he fed her a bowl of chicken vegetable soup and a slab of crusty homemade bread straight from the oven. The soup may have nourished her body, but it was the bread that had restored her faith in the world.

Faith that was rewarded when he slid a slice of apple tart in front of her.

“I shouldn’t,” Alyssa protested.

“I make a mean crust.”

“Crust is overrated.”

“Not mine.” He scooped a forkful of tart from her plate, spun the fork so that the handle faced her and urged, “Try a bite.”

Grateful that he hadn’t tried to force-feed her like a series of unfortunate dates had, she took the fork and slid the food into her mouth.

The man hadn’t lied about his crust; the flaky, buttery goodness practically melted on her tongue.

He watched her expectantly, waiting for her reaction. “Good?”

She shook her head.

Surprise and disappointment warred in his eyes, making the big man appear surprisingly vulnerable.

“It’s
great
,” she hurriedly assured him and was glad to see joy and pride in his expression. “Where’d you learn to cook like this?”

His expression shuttered closed. “I have a lot of time on my hands.”   His voice, like his face, gave nothing away.

Without thinking, she reached out and patted his arm. “I know what it’s like and I’m sorry it happened to you.”

Roscoe looked down at where her hand rested on his forearm for a long moment, considering her offer of support. “You were accused of a murder you didn’t commit, crucified by the media, and lost everything you’d spent your whole life working for?”

She was surprised to hear grief, not anger in his tone. “Not exactly, but—”

The chiming of the doorbell interrupted her.

“That’ll wake Mrs. M.,” he growled protectively, jumping to his feet and stalking toward the front door.

“Wait,” she cried, hurrying after him. “It could be a trick.”

Slowing his pace, he glanced down at her. “A trick?”

“Assuming that Brady’s right, and I think he is, this could be a ruse for someone to gain entrance while we’re distracted by the whole cat thing.”

“And here I was thinking you were distracted by the whole Pete thing,” he ribbed gently.  Before she could protest, he continued, “Don’t worry, they’ll have to get through me to get to Mrs. M.”

Scooting ahead of him, she peered through the peephole, wondering, not for the first time, why a house as opulent as the Michelman’s didn’t have a camera set up with their security system.

Peering through the distorted glass, she struggled to focus on the yellow bow-tied man on the other side. “Gerald?”

He waved. “We’re here.”

“We?” she asked, moving away to disarm the alarm system.

“They wanted it to be a surprise,” Gerald explained as Roscoe swung the door open, allowing the visitors entrance.

“They?” Roscoe asked suspiciously.

“Who the hell is he?” a man demanded to know.

“He’s the friend of Brady’s I was telling you about,” Gerald explained quickly. “Roscoe, this is Mr. Michelman, Mrs. M.’s husband.”

“Nice to meet you, sir,” Roscoe said easily, managing to both extend his hand and step back from the door, in one fluid motion.

“Where is she?” Mr. Michelman asked, giving Roscoe’s hand a perfunctory shake. “Where’s my Mildred?”

“She’s taking a nap,” Alyssa supplied helpfully.

The older man turned his gaze on Alyssa. Even though he was dressed in a polo shirt and khakis, she would have guessed he was an attorney from the way he summed her up in a half-second glance. Automatically, she stiffened her spine and made her face as blank as Roscoe’s, having faced Mr. Michelman’s kind before.

“You’re the one Brady hired.” The older man stated it as a fact.

She nodded.

“You’re not earning your keep.”

Alyssa winced internally as he voiced her own doubt, but she maintained a neutral expression.

“Brady wanted her to protect Mrs. M.,” Gerald interjected. “Mr. Burberry wasn’t even a consideration.”

The older man whipped his head in the younger man’s direction.  “Interns are not paid to correct me, Gerald.”

“Actually,” Gerald replied mildly, though his eyes flashed with resentment, “since I no longer work for your firm, you’re not paying me.”

“Why are you here then?” Mr. Michelman asked, making a dismissive shooing motion with his hand.

Fiddling with his bowtie, Gerald held his ground. “I’m here because I like Mrs. M. and I want to help her.”

“And I’m ever so grateful, Gerald, dear,” Mildred Michelman trilled. “I do so appreciate you being here.”

Everyone’s gaze swung to her as she walked daintily down the staircase, her hand on the bannister, but her eyes firmly locked on those of her husband.

Alyssa tried to read the older woman’s expression, but she had one of the best poker faces she’d ever seen. Her husband, on the other hand, looked distinctly uncomfortable, seemingly pinned by her stare.

Reaching the bottom of the stairs, Mildred finally eased up on Sarge and smiled warmly at Alyssa, Roscoe, and Gerald. “Pay no attention to Mr. Michelman,” she ordered. “I’m grateful to you all and I’m certain that you are all doing your best in a difficult situation.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Gerald murmured reflexively.

Sliding her hand into the crook of her husband’s elbow, she led him away, saying, “I didn’t expect you to come.”

Once they were out of earshot, Roscoe slapped Gerald on the shoulder. “You’ve got balls, kid. Come have some tart.”

Gerald blinked. “Um… thanks, I think…”

Before following Roscoe back toward the kitchen, Gerald said to Alyssa, “I should have told you they were coming when he called to ask me to pick him up from the airport, but Mr. Michelman wanted it to be a surprise.”

“They?” Alyssa asked.

“His son came home too. We dropped him at his apartment on the way over.”

BOOK: Catnapped! (A Matchmaker Mystery Book 3)
6.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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