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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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Tomorrow.
The word loosened something inside her and she let out a longer sigh than she intended. A reprieve. “Sure.”

Silence on the other end.

Uh-oh. Had he heard her sigh and read into it more than she meant? “Really, Boone, it’s fine.”

“I promise I wouldn’t let you down if it wasn’t important.”

She hated the question in his voice and couldn’t ignore it. “It better be, pal, ’cause I was looking forward to taking you cruising in my new wheels.”

She heard laughter, then silence.

Still, she couldn’t deny the relief that splashed through her.

Until, of course, she looked at the leeches.

* * *

Jeremy Kane Investigations occupied 750 square feet in downtown Dinkytown, right next to the University of Minnesota campus, over a sandwich shop that specialized in the Big Ten
 
—salami and ham slathered with their private recipe tomato sauce
 
—and a used-book store PJ discovered the second day of
work, which stocked the complete works of Louis L’Amour. Her father would have been thrilled.

Jeremy had set up his digs on the second floor
 
—through a gold-painted door, up stairs covered by red carpet that had been worn down to the matting, and inside the first and only door on the left. What he lacked in curb appeal, he made up for in a sharp desire for a modern and slick interior, with a stainless-steel and black leather sectional, the bleached birch table he used for a desk, and two black filing cabinets filled with nothing. Rather, he’d honed his filing system into a unique trail of manila folders that spiraled around the floor, with occasional half-drunk cups of coffee like road markers where he’d stopped to peruse an old case. His open cases were piled on his desk amid a landfill of Post-it notes, empty cheese and cracker boxes, and the occasional Dr Pepper can all littered around his laptop docking station. A spider plant on the deep windowsill blocked a view of the printing shop and gym across the street.

Jeremy had all the right intentions, however. PJ had spent the first two days (after locating her favorite L’Amour books) hanging the vista of Minneapolis and the two Ansel Adams photos stacked against the lone brick wall, filing the folders (until he freaked out and she had to replace them “just as they were”), feeding (then discarding and replacing) the spider plant, emptying the coffees, sweeping the floor, hanging a whiteboard, and generally making the place habitable.

Because, in the back of her mind, someday she too might require the use of the sofa.

But more than that, she wanted a grunt of approval, something to indicate that yes, Jeremy needed her.

Wanted her.

Believed in her.

“About time, Sugar. I’ve been here since seven.” Jeremy didn’t look up from his laptop as she crept into the office carrying a tray with two coffees
 
—one black, the other with two pumps of vanilla and lots of artificial sweetener
 
—from downstairs. She’d also scored a morning paper. Who knew what new business they might harvest from the crime section?

“Sorry. I couldn’t find a place to park.” Or rather, moor her battleship. Three minutes inside the Vic this morning told her she’d need a new mind-set to drive her hot new wheels. So much for zipping around in her precocious VW Bug. The Vic took its sweet time easing away from the curb or even a stoplight, preferring to warm up first in a low growl rather than a high-pitched
whee!
Now she felt like a sea captain, skippering her land yacht down 394 into Minneapolis, circling the neighborhood outside Jeremy’s office twice before docking two blocks down in a parking space that seemed the size of a tugboat.

What had possessed her . . . ?

“Don’t drop your stuff. We’re going downstairs.” Jeremy stood, looking military and tough in a tight Navy T-shirt and a pair of black sweatpants.

“Look who’s bright and shiny
 
—”

“Snuff it, PJ. We have work to do.” He snagged a duffel bag from beside his desk.

“But I have coffee.”

He took the tray, set it on his desk, and opened the door. He was down the stairs in three steps. She noticed a sticky note on the door but didn’t have time to read it as she wrangled her
cup from the tray
 
—who knew when they’d be back?
 
—and dashed after him.

Jeremy waited for her at the corner, then crossed the street. She had to jog to keep up, something not so easy if she didn’t want her coffee to spill.

“Where are we going?”

Jeremy reached the opposite curb and strode down the street, past the print shop, past the bike store, then turned into the new gym with the wall of windows that displayed a class of coeds stopping traffic as they stretched.

“What? I’m not exercising!” PJ stopped at the door.

Jeremy turned, cupped her elbow, and practically manhandled her inside. “We’re not exercising. We’re saving your life.”

“Does my life need saving?” She let him herd her past a reception desk and nodded at
 
—or was that pleaded with?
 
—the receptionist, who didn’t even blink at the girl being accosted in the hallway.

The gym leaned toward an industrial, tough look with its painted cement floors, the stainless pipes that ran across the high ceilings, the abstract “Just Do It” black-and-white art hanging on the brick walls. Beyond a glass wall the coeds had hunkered down into a yoga position that made PJ avert her eyes.

“It does if you plan on any more stakeouts.” Jeremy led her to a door marked
Ladies
and shoved the duffel into her arms. She nearly dropped the coffee on him, then wished she had when he took it, ripped off the top, and dumped the contents into a nearby planter. She dearly hoped that wasn’t a plastic ficus tree. “No more coffee. I want to see protein shakes from now on.”

“I don’t think I like protein
 
—”

Jeremy shoved her into the ladies’ locker room. “I’ll be waiting right here, so don’t try to escape.”

“You’d be a stellar prison guard!” She let the door swish shut behind her.

Exercising. Right. She’d sort of counted on her résumé
 
—construction crew, stunt girl, waitress, zookeeper
 
—to keep her fit. The last time she’d officially exercised was in eleventh-grade gym, running laps in the hope of snagging a passing grade. It had to be some sort of sadistic crime to schedule gym during first hour.

The locker room must’ve used the same decorator as Kellogg High
 
—long benches; gray, wire lockers; the oh-so-attractive smell of body odor; a fog of humidity languishing in the air from the nearby showers.

PJ clutched the duffel bag and her own canvas bag to her chest and shuffled to the far corner.

Inside the duffel she found a pair of blue nylon shorts and a matching athletic shirt with the tags still attached, and a pair of socks. Good thing she’d worn her Converse. She would have hated to run in flip-flops.

Her tan was fading after two months in Jeremy’s tomb. She slid into the shorts and shirt, promising herself a couple hours at the beach on her first day off.

She emerged, still toting her purse
 
—Jeremy didn’t seriously think she would leave it in a flimsy locker? It had taken her a year to accumulate the right accoutrements to survive.

She found Jeremy with his back to the door, his arms crossed, leaning one shoulder against the wall.

“I could have snuck out of here and you would have never noticed,” she said as he turned.

“You think so?” His dark eyes sparked with something that looked teasing.

She didn’t answer. She ran in place. “So, ten laps around the yoga girls?”

“Nope. I have something a little more useful in mind.” He gestured for her to follow. They entered a room in the back of the gym, the floor covered with spongy pads on the floor, one wall filled with mirrors, another painted with Karate Kid–style action figures. A weight bag dangled in one corner, and a stack of what looked like padded armor lay on the floor.

“Should I bow?”

“If you’d like.”

Uh-oh. Someone’s sense of humor needed a shot of coffee.

“Take off your shoes.”

PJ toed them off, kicking them toward the far wall. She watched Jeremy circle behind her. “What are you
 
—?”

He snaked a hand around her neck, pulling her tight against his chest. She gasped, wrapping her arms around his forearm, pulling. “What’s that for? Are you still mad about the stakeout?”

“I’m not mad, PJ. I’m trying to teach you a lesson. See how unprepared you were? I just snuck up on you
 
—”

“Of course you did, you lunatic! You’re my bo
 
—well, at the very least, I don’t expect you to kill me . . . or headlock me.” He wasn’t hurting her, though, only holding her in his sturdy arms, one under her chin, the other locked around his wrist. When she wiggled, he didn’t budge. “Let me go!”

“Get away.” His voice dropped a pitch, quiet, lethal. Yes, once upon a time he’d been a very scary man. “Try to break free.”

PJ pulled on his forearm, yanked at his other arm. “Okay, uncle.”

“Really? That’s all you got, Sugar? Because you looked a lot tough
 
—”

She slammed her heel down hard on the top of his foot.

He jerked but didn’t let go. Still, he allowed a low chuckle. “Okay, two points. But if you’re my hostage, a little heel stamp isn’t going to help you. You’re going to have to fight harder to get away.”

PJ wriggled against his grip, feeling all the while the smooth planes of his chest pressed against her back. “Where are you in all this while I’m being dragged away to my death? Eating a hamburger? You’re the Navy SEAL
 
—when do you swoop in and save the day?”

“I’ve been disarmed by a poisoned bismark. You’re the only thing that stands between Dr. Death’s world domination and thousands of orphan children. Whatya going to do, PJ?”

“And I’m fresh out of pastry.”

“Want a hint?”

“No, I just want to stand here all day staring at us in the big mirrors, watching you grin. You’re having entirely too much fun.”

Jeremy let her go. Came around to stand before her. She resisted the urge to wallop him and his hint of a smile.

“First, be aware of your weapons.”

Please. Even he could see that she didn’t have a prayer of hiding a gun, knife, or even a pair of brass knuckles in this getup. “I’m clean out of donuts.”

“PJ, think. Elbows, knees, feet.” He demonstrated some moves: jabbing, kneeing, kicking.

“Right. Weapons. But I kicked you and it didn’t make a difference.”

“We’ll fix that. Make a fist.”

“Not a problem.” She tightened her hand into a fist, as menacing as possible.

He took it and rearranged it so her thumb tucked tight in the groove of her pointer finger instead of along her folded fingers. He cupped his hand over it. “This is your hammer. You want it to be tight and compact.”

Then he grabbed her left arm at the wrist. “Let’s say an attacker grabs your arm. Give him the hammer right on the top of his arm.”

He looked at her as if expecting her to hit him. “Go ahead.”

“Hit you?”

“Not hard, but yes, give it some umph.”

She came down on the side of his arm.

He grunted as he let go, rubbing his arm. “I think you got it.”

She danced in place a bit on the spongy floor. “I like this kind of exercise. So, how do I break out of your hold?”

He stepped behind her again. She watched him in the mirror as his gaze went over her before he took a breath and stepped up, wrapping his arm around her neck again.

“Okay, the first thing you do is tuck your chin in tight and get below my hold.”

She tucked her chin down, just inside his elbow. His skin smelled clean with a hint of manly musk. “Now what?” His hold muffled her voice.

“Your attacker is expecting you to struggle. What you want to do is surprise him. I want you to step back into his hold,
grab the hand that’s wrapped around your neck, bend your knees a little, and deliver a hammer blow straight back with your left hand. Aim for the, uh, essentials, but if you can’t, hit the nerve on the top of his leg.” Jeremy shifted behind her. “Go ahead and practice, but I’d appreciate it if you’d lean more on the pretending part.”

“Is that fear in your voice, tough guy?”

“Just hit me.”

She pretended to hit him. “Uh, nothing happened.”

“We’re not done. But notice how I moved.”

“I think anyone would move if I were serious.”

“You’re right. And while they move, you yank your assailant’s hand from your neck and twist out of the hold, twisting his arm with it.”

She tried the move. He let her, of course, but there was power in breaking free from his hold, like she just might be able to really accomplish it. Really defend herself. Save the orphans from the evil Dr. Death.

“Now, while you’ve got him here, disabled, go ahead and kick
 
—a side kick to the knees, maybe.” He flinched a little as she pretended. “That wasn’t the knees.”

“Just seeing if you were paying attention.”

“I never take my eyes off you, PJ.”

The room suddenly went very still, and she saw it again, the look he’d given her in the parking lot when he’d come up behind Boone, who’d been asking about his proposal.

Hurt? Hope?

She dropped his hand and wiped hers on her shorts.

“Want to try it again? Maybe all the moves together?” There was a crispness in his voice she hadn’t noticed before.

PJ nodded without looking at him. He wrapped his arm around her neck. She could have bet her life on the fact that his heartbeat staccatoed in his chest. She cleared her throat, made a fist, and seconds later, was out of his hold.

“You had better be trying, Pizza Man.”

Jeremy held up his hands, as if to say,
of course
. “Try again.”

They did the move a dozen times until PJ refined her hammer punch and nearly sent Jeremy to the mat once. Good thing he was fast on his feet.

They were both breathing hard when they finished.

BOOK: Double Trouble
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