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Authors: Susan May Warren

Tags: #FICTION / Christian / Romance, #FICTION / General

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BOOK: Double Trouble
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His proposal. So it hadn’t just been impulse, hadn’t been the sultry night air, the feeling of yesterday in the sway of the stars, the way she fit into his embrace. “I . . . need more time.”

She read his disappointment in the tight press of his lips, the way his shoulders rose and fell with his sigh. She still held his coat, and he finally reached out for it.

“Say yes, PJ. You know we belong together. Just . . . say yes.”

“Say yes to what?” Jeremy stood beside his bike, cutting his gaze between them.

Boone didn’t speak, his scowl shouting volumes.

Jeremy climbed on his bike. “C’mon, PJ, I’ll give you a ride home.”

PJ weighed her options, feeling like if she breathed wrong, the entire place might go up in flames.

“No,” she said, “I think I’ll stay with the deceased.” She went over and sat on the fender of her wounded Bug.

Jeremy didn’t move. Finally he jumped the clutch and the bike roared to life. “Last chance, Fast-Pitch. I’ll buy you a bismark.”

She narrowed her eyes at him a moment before she folded her arms and sank her head into her knees. She didn’t want a bismark . . . she just wanted to rewind the morning, stop herself before she turned talent into trouble. What was her problem that her good intentions always ended up a snarled mess of broken hopes?

Maybe Boone was right
 
—maybe unconsciously she went looking for trouble.

Two long heartbeats passed.

“I’ll call you later. Try not to cause any more blood and screaming between now and then,” Jeremy said right before she heard him roar out of the parking lot.

Clearly she couldn’t make any promises.

CHAPTER
THREE

If PJ could own any house in the world, it would be her sister Connie’s 1920s three-story Craftsman situated on a half acre of lush Kentucky bluegrass in the middle of the Chapel Hills neighborhood of Kellogg.

Okay, maybe she’d move it to some milky beach, but she’d keep the elegance abundant in the restored historical masterpiece, with its sweeping porch, complete with two rockers, the wide front steps flanked by purple viburnum and lilacs and wild roses bulky with summer flowers. Inside, the oak floors gleamed with a honeyed polish, and the stairs leading up to the second-floor bedrooms creaked appropriately, as if sighing in contentment. The dark coffee leathers of the family room, the stainless steel and blue-veined gray granite of the kitchen, the fragrant breezes collected on the screened porch . . . it all conspired to put a visual to heaven on earth.

Except, it didn’t exactly belong to her. PJ was only a
tenant
 
—a freeloading tenant at that. Not that Connie even breathed the suggestion she move out. No, she left that to their mother, who nudged the topic around during the occasional family dinner or via the blunt, red-circled rental ads left folded on PJ’s bed.

Elizabeth Sugar obviously believed Connie needed privacy during her newlywed year with Sergei. That Connie even registered PJ’s presence, however, might be in question
 
—the woman virtually sparkled, as brilliant as the two-carat marquise on her elegant finger. And why not? When she returned from her law office every night, Sergei, her Russian-born fitness instructor and new husband, lit up, his voice dropping to husky levels. And with little Davy, Connie’s four-year-old son, learning to leap into his new father’s arms, perhaps Elizabeth was right. PJ needed her own digs.

But short of joining the Kellogg hobo
 
—a rather grizzly-faced former seafarer who spent his days collecting debris and the picnic scraps from the beach
 
—in his home under the Maximilian Bay Bridge, she didn’t have a clue where she might transfer herself and the contents of her duffel bag. Especially now that her beloved Bug lay crumpled at Cooters Metal and Scraps.

Maybe Jeremy would let her take over the sofa in his office.

She stood at the entrance to the house, closing the door with a soft click behind her. Through the side-panel window she saw Boone pull away in his cruiser. Thankfully, he hadn’t rekindled their conversation or his proposal, just let her ride home in miserable silence.

“Mornin’, Auntie PJ!” Davy’s cheery voice accomplished some rescue of her spirit as the four-year-old bounced down the stairs. He wore his blue polyester Fellows Early
Education Academy uniform, clothes pressed and curly dark hair combed. In June, PJ had waged a valiant attempt to liberate the preschooler from the prep school, but Connie had reenrolled her future stockbroker the moment she returned from her two-week honeymoon. And she did it without recriminations or even comment about his truancy. PJ had tried to return the favor.

Still, she snatched every available opportunity to flee with him to the beach or into the backyard to climb on his million-dollar yard equipment or even chase the goat
 
—a gift to Davy from his new Russian family
 
—around the yard. She could hardly believe that only two months ago Connie had left her with the care of her beloved son. In truth, PJ probably deserved the bruises he’d inflicted on her shins during their early days together.

But they’d lived. And she’d found her footing back in her hometown and, for now, intended to stick around.

Besides, she was fresh out of wheels.

She scooped Davy up in her arms and hugged him, inhaling his sugar-cookie sweetness as she meandered to the kitchen. Her stomach roared, and she desperately hoped Connie had stocked the freezer with Moose Tracks. At this point, she’d even settle for frozen yogurt.

“Where did you go?” Davy asked, disentangling himself from her grip and hitting the floor before he hustled over to the cereal cabinet.

Sadly, Connie had cleared out all remains of the Cap’n Crunch. Oh, the deprivation.

“I had to check on something,” she said. “A friend needed me.”

She wondered if Jeremy had called Cynthie yet and informed her that she’d been right. How she loved the sound of that. Right. Correctamundo. On the money. Speaking of, she also had high hopes of a payday in the near future.

She pushed around a package of frozen organic burritos, a couple shiny bags of coffee, and a frozen whole-wheat pasta dinner before conceding defeat and closing the freezer door.

Davy had found some Shredded Wheat and poured it out on the counter, dividing the hay bales into piles. She stole one and he stuck out his tongue at her. She answered in kind.

“Oh, that’s nice, PJ. Keep it up and I’ll stick you in a uniform and send you to face Director Nicholson.” Connie arrived in the kitchen looking like a junior version of their mother
 
—dark hair neatly cinched in the back, subtle pearl earrings, the smell of culture and power radiating from her in her linen suit and some expensive fragrance.

PJ threw a hay bale at her. “Has she forgiven me yet for my ‘insolence’?”

“I’m pretty sure your three tardies, coupled with a view of the Superman pants, have relegated you to the untouchables.” Connie propped her Coach briefcase on the counter. “Were you out all night?” She finally met PJ’s eyes with something that looked half-curious, half-concern.

“No. I . . . sorta had to get to work early.”

“Midnight early?”

So Connie had heard her escape from the house.

“I couldn’t sleep.” She turned to the fridge, hunting for anything with real sugar. “The good news is that I caught the bad guy.”

“Auntie PJ is a superhero!” Davy crowed, climbing onto
the counter and springing at her, arms wide. PJ turned just in time to catch him. He wrapped his legs and arms around her. “Aren’t ya?”

Apparently he remembered a very different version of their near miss with an international assassin. However . . . “You got it, little man.” She kissed his pudgy cheek and set him back on the counter.

Connie frowned and helped him down. “Please go get your shoes on, Davy.” Then she turned to PJ, her voice lowered a notch. “Did your late-night escape have anything to do with Boone?”

PJ’s eyes widened. “No! Connie, I told you, I’m not that girl anymore.”

“I’m seeing you spend a lot of time together, and frankly, he has a ‘settle down’ look in his eyes.”

Gulp.

“Is he getting serious with you?”

PJ managed a wry smile.

“You are still dating, right?”

“Yes
 
—of course. But I’m not sure about, uh . . . getting serious. Maybe it’s too soon. Just a couple months ago, I was in Florida wondering if he even remembered I existed.”

Connie shook her head. “It’s this new job, isn’t it? You’re under some delusion that you’re going to become a hotshot PI
 
—”

“No. I’m . . . well, maybe. But that has nothing to do with Boone.”

“Doesn’t it?” Connie sighed. “I’m with Boone on this. I don’t like your new job, PJ. I especially don’t like the idea of not knowing if you’re going to come home beat up, or worse,
how about with a bad guy on your heels, invading our house, putting my child in danger
 
—”

PJ held up her hand. “Okay, I got it. I agree. I would die if anything happened to Davy.” For a heartbeat, her thoughts went back to a showdown that could have easily caught Davy in a deadly cross fire. “I promise you, Connie, I’ll be careful. I’ll keep my personal and professional life separate. Just like you do.”

Connie drew in a breath. As a prosecutor, she might also be on a few bad-guy lists. “Are you sure you won’t consider the receptionist position at my firm? It’s still open . . .”

PJ turned back to the fridge, found the juice, and poured herself a glass. “I like my job.” Even if she had yet to get paid. “It’s . . .”

“Exciting?”

PJ lifted a shoulder. “Unique. And I’m good at it.”

“Good at suspecting people?”

“Good at spotting trouble.”

Connie looked at her with a wry smile and grabbed the juice carton. “Yes, you are remarkably adept at that.”

In the pause that followed, earthy snorts crept into the kitchen from the maid’s quarters–turned–guest room. Connie’s father-in-law Boris’s snoring could awaken the dead.

Connie took a sip of her juice, then met PJ’s eyes. “I’m just praying that isn’t Sergei in twenty years.” She made a face.

PJ tapped her glass against Connie’s. “I’ll drink to that.”

They stood in silence for a long moment, trying not to laugh.

Finally Connie set her glass on the granite countertop. “I understand about Boone. Maybe it’s too soon, too fast. Maybe you need other options.”

Other options. PJ refused to let herself even consider that list. She took a drink. “How’s Boris’s job hunt going?”

“He doesn’t want to work at Walmart, and so far, the applications are killing him
 
—mostly because they’re in English.”

As if driven from the bedroom, Sergei’s mother, Vera, suddenly cracked open the door and slipped into the kitchen wearing an orange bathrobe, her hair tied back in a white handkerchief. She looked at them in surprise.
“Dobra ootra.”

PJ translated for Connie. “Good morning.”

“I can figure out what
dobra ootra
means, Peej. It’s everything else I can’t understand.” Connie grimaced as Vera moseyed past them, pulled out a cast-iron pot from under the stainless cooktop, and slapped it on the stove. She reached for the sunflower oil.

“This is where I check out,” PJ said, bypassing the coffeepot. Maybe she could score a couple hours of sleep before Jeremy
 

“Could I ask you a favor?” Connie asked softly.

PJ turned back to her, caught more by the tone than the words. “Are you kidding? Last time I checked, I was living rent-free and scarfing down your food. Your wish is my command.”

“You know you can stay as long as you want.” Connie stared at the countertop as she said it, the pleading so quiet PJ might not have caught it. But she’d heard it once before, the night Connie cleverly negotiated PJ’s return to the hometown she couldn’t face. Yes, Connie might have named Davy as her reason, but in truth, and especially now as she glanced at PJ, she wore an expression that suggested it might have been for herself.

PJ sighed. “What?”

“Don’t leave me with the Russians. I don’t understand them. Boris . . . sometimes he scares me. He was a cop, you know. And Vera, well, I think she might be trying to take us out with cholesterol poisoning.”

PJ glanced at Vera, the way her hips swayed as she hummed to herself, cracking eggs into the pan to swim and sizzle. Already grease filmed the air. Despite her high-fat cooking, Vera loved Davy, and they spent hours playing games and working on Vera’s English together. In fact, maybe she and Connie should keep their voices down, in case Vera knew anything beyond the Barney song.

Boris, on the other hand, who’d already been arrested twice by Boone for sunbathing nude in the backyard, lived by his own set of rules. Usually dressed in a muscle shirt and tight nylon running pants, he started his morning with a vigorous set of push-ups and ended his days singing on the deck to a bottle of Smirnoff.

Yes, Boris scared her too.

Connie leaned close, touching her manicured hand to PJ’s. “I need Boris to find a job. To do something productive.” Then she hooked PJ by the arm and dragged her to the screened porch. PJ stopped at the lip of the French doors, her eyes wide on the wreckage of the backyard.

Where there once stood terraced gardens overflowing with gladiolas, roses, and a lush bleeding heart, all surrounded by an emerald lawn bathed every week by Connie’s yard service, now lay mounds of glistening, rich black dirt, dug up, turned over, and ready for planting.

Presiding over it all, tied to a stake in the yard with plenty of lead, stood the goat.

PJ had no words.

“Boris is planting potatoes,” Connie said in a voice not her own. “I came home last night to discover he’d spent the day furrowing my backyard.” Her hand tightened on PJ’s arm, even as she inhaled a deep breath. “I love Sergei. But I’m seeing blood and carnage, and I don’t want the next mystery you investigate to be Boris’s murder. . . .”

“Got it, Sis.” PJ put her hand over Connie’s tightening grip. “I’ll find him a job.” And then, as if she might be some sort of addict, the words rushed out. “I promise.”

“I knew I could count on you,” Connie said, facing her now with a tight nod. “Davy! We’re off to school.”

Davy bounded to his feet. Waved at PJ as he raced to the front door.

Vera swayed and hummed in the kitchen.

As PJ finished her juice, Boris came out of the bedroom. He smiled at her, showing a host of gold teeth.
“Dobra ootra.”

PJ leaned back against the door of the screened porch.
“I promise.”
Great, PJ, just great.
But how hard could it be to find Boris a job? It wasn’t unlike solving a mystery . . . with the right clues, the right contacts . . .

This she could do.

With a quick survey of Vera’s culinary skills to make sure the house wouldn’t burst into flames as she slept, PJ went upstairs and barricaded herself in her bedroom, on the mission-style bed, underneath the crisp eyelet sheets. She slept, with the sun skimming the oak floor, the fresh breeze blowing across her forehead, the mattress slowly consuming her body. . . .

“PJ!”

She woke hard, sweat slicking her temples, a line of drool
pooling into the pillow. Her brain heard the voice calling, but she couldn’t seem to pry her body from the sludge that trapped it.

“PJ!”

She rolled over, then tried to dig her voice out of hibernation. “Here. I’m up . . . here.”

Her eyelids weighted and she drifted again, so heavy, so warm. . . .

Pounding at her door shot her straight up, the sheet falling to her waist. She’d climbed right into bed in her stakeout clothes, only managing to remove her shoes and socks. As her gaze slashed across the mirror on the opposite wall, she saw her shoulder-length auburn hair plastered to her head on one side, sticking straight up in a gnarled mess on the other. Mascara smudged under her eye added to her dazed and confused expression.

BOOK: Double Trouble
10.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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