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Authors: Vivi Andrews

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Finder's Keeper

BOOK: Finder's Keeper
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Dedication

For my sister, the scientist.

Author’s Note

All the Karmic Consultants books can be read as stand alone stories, but within the timeline of the series
Finder’s Keeper
begins one month prior to
The Sexorcist
.

Chapter One

Speed-Dating: It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

“I have three weeks left to fall in love.”

Mia Corregiani, Ph.D, groaned as her date blanched, a look of blind panic entering his eyes. Apparently she wasn’t supposed to be honest when the man sliding into the seat opposite her flashed a toothy grin and asked,
So Mia, why speed-dating?

Her other possible response—explaining the efficiency of testing her pheromone compatibility with twenty potential mates in a single evening, with the assurance that each of those potential mates had been vetted by the agency as educated, of appropriate breeding age and monetary stability, and currently single matrimonial status—had seemed the less romantic choice, but evidently confessing you were on a clock to fall in love was a first date faux pas.

God, why had she let her sister talk her into this?

Mia tightened her grip on her pen and considered the empiric criteria for declaring an evening the Worst First Date since the Big Bang. Did speed-dating count as one date or twenty? Was the effect taken cumulatively or did each five-minute encounter qualify as its own independent assault against humanity?

Or perhaps there was a world record for the fastest dating failure. Mia glanced at her watch. Under sixty seconds. That had to be a personal best.

Bachelor Number Twelve was still sputtering, his face flushing to an alarming purple color. “I… Are you… I mean… Do you have…”

Fabulous.
She’d paralyzed his frontal lobe. Mia frowned. “I need more words to understand your meaning.”

“Cancer?” Twelve said at a near-yelp.

“Oh no. I’m in perfect health. Excellent condition to breed.”

A choked noise erupted from Twelve’s throat and Mia flinched. Crap, why had she said that? She may not be socially savvy—okay, yes, when it came to social interaction she was a human wrecking ball—but she knew better than to bring up reproduction in the first five minutes.

She tried again. “It’s my family.”

“Oh!” Twelve beamed, visibly relieved, and patted her hand in a way that reminded Mia of her mother’s priest, Father Bob. “My folks have been on my back too. ‘Get back on the horse, Ben. Not every woman is a demented, vampiric bitch determined to take half of everything you own’.”

Oooh-kay.
Mia mentally dropped Twelve into the My-Ex-Sucked-Out-My-Will-To-Live box along with Bachelors Three, Seven and Eight.

“It isn’t that.” Well, not
just
that. She toyed with the stem of her wine glass. How to explain the depth of delusion present in her family tree without convincing him the genetic predisposition toward fantasy made her an unacceptable candidate for merging their DNA? She flicked a glance at his nametag.
Hi, my name is Ben. Ask me about Property Zoning!
That was promising. Concrete, logical work. Mia experienced a hopeful spark at the prospect of a kindred analytical spirit.

Please, let him get it.
“Ben, do you believe in magic?”

“I… Sure. I guess.”

His face twisted with confusion. Like he couldn’t quite figure out if she was flirting or accusing him of being a closet magician. Perhaps she shouldn’t have flung the question at him like it was weaponized, but this particular topic always made her cool rationality boil into frustration.

“What about soulmates?” she persisted, lifting her glass for a sip of Chardonnay in the hopes that it would soften her unintentionally hard tone.

“Um…” His eyes shuttled rapidly back and forth, the shoulders of his navy blazer lifting toward his ears as he tensed.

“I don’t,” she informed him flatly and watched his muscles unclench as she handed him the correct answer.

Ben apparently didn’t like being quizzed, even about his own opinions. Since interrogation was Mia’s primary form of communication, that didn’t bode well for his being the loins to spawn her unborn children, but she wouldn’t think about that right now. Right now she was determined to salvage this date before the bell rang in three minutes. She could do this. She could conquer speed-dating. Perhaps if she just explained…

“My family is superstitious. They believe in magic, soulmates, signs, horoscopes. The whole shebang.”

“That’s nice.”

“Not really.”

Twelve flinched, shrinking into his blazer like a turtle in his shell. Mia sighed.

“We have a family legend.”

Ben held his tongue, apparently having learned his lesson about providing color commentary.

“One hundred and forty-odd years ago, my great-great-grandfather bought a gold pocket watch from a gypsy woman. She told him within the next year it would bring him his soulmate and if he gave her the watch, their love would last a lifetime.” Her mother told it as
for all eternity
, but Mia didn’t like the imprecision of hyperbole. “He met my great-great-grandma the next week. Married her within twenty-four hours of laying eyes on her. Gave her the watch and started popping out kids.”

“Mm,” Twelve murmured.

She tapped a bitten-down nail against the wine glass. “His brother was also lonely, so Grampa Gianni lent him the watch. He found love and passed it on to a cousin, who passed it back to my great-great-grandma’s sister and so on, until the next generation. Each owner had it for one year, found the love of their life and lived happily ever after.”

Mia drained her wine to help the story flow. “For four generations, the legend of the pocket watch grew in our family. It was no longer just responsible for finding true love, it was the reason we’ve never had a single divorce. The reason babies are born healthy. The reason our men came home safely from World War II and Vietnam. For the year each member of my family was custodian of the watch, they were responsible for everyone’s happiness. By finding their own love, they ensured the chain continued unbroken and reaffirmed the magic of the watch. It’s our goddamn sacred duty to fall in love in that twelve-month period.”

Ben was nodding now, caught up in the story, and she realized in a vague, distant way that he
was
a rather attractive man. Pleasant enough to look at. No visible genetic abnormalities he would pass on to their offspring. If he hadn’t seemed more than a little afraid of her, she might have checked the little yes box next to his number on her form.

“Obviously, I don’t believe in this stuff. I’m a scientist.”

Ben kept nodding, his eyes flicking to the
Hi, My name is Dr. Mia. Ask me about Astronomy!
nametag on her blouse. “Astronomy is fascinating.”

“It is, but I’m a neurobiologist.” The nametag was what she got for letting her little sister sign her up for this event. Gina loved to tell people Mia was a rocket scientist.
Neurobiologist
apparently lacked the same cachet, for all that it had the benefit of accuracy. Gina called them lies of simplification. She said “rocket scientist” was just a brainy nerd and people didn’t really care about the finer points of the scientific distinctions.

All Mia saw was the factual sloppiness. “I have a rudimentary understanding of astronomy, but that’s not the point.”

“I’m a Taurus.”

Dear God, not another one.
If nothing else, the nametag misprint had convinced her that the number of men who knew the difference between astronomy and astrology was shockingly low. She wept for the state of science education. “Good for you. The point is I don’t believe in magic. Everyone in my family knows I don’t believe in this crap, but if I’m the one to break the chain, they’ll hold me responsible for everything that goes wrong in my family for the rest of eternity.” Sometimes hyperbole was just called for.

“It’s still a nice story.”

“It isn’t just a story. It’s a belief system.” An unshakable one. And God knew Mia had tried to shake it with logic a thousand times over the years. Now she was running out of time. “Eleven months and six days ago, on the anniversary of the marriage of great-great-grandpa Gianni and great-great-grandma Anna Maria, my parents gave me the watch. In short: I have three weeks left to fall in love.”

Twelve’s face, which had recovered a nice flesh color, veered toward crimson, the panic in his eyes escalating to abject terror. Mia’s frustration peaked.

“Oh, for crying out loud,
relax
. Not with
you
.”

Twelve blanched, the bell rang, and he bolted like his chair was wired to blow.

Crap.
So much for Gina’s assertion that all Mia had to do was show up at speed-dating and the watch would make sure love found her. So far Ethnic-Profiling Eric and the My-Ex-Sucked-Out-My-Will-To-Live Quartet had found her.

Twelve tossed off a rushed “Nice to meet you” and scuttled toward the curvaceous blonde in leopard print who sat fluttering and simpering at the next table. Somehow Mia doubted he would be checking the little “Yes, I’d like to meet again!” box next to her number.

The blonde was popular—Eleven was still hovering, his body bending toward her like a plant trying to absorb the last rays of sunlight, as Twelve crowded in. Mia had caught more than one of her prospective suitors stealing glances at the blonde while they were still talking to her. She should have been insulted, but instead she found herself fascinated at the phenomenon.

What was it that this woman had that made her so irresistible? Mia studied her out of the corner of her eye, trying to scientifically break down the elements of what she was doing to determine how one became a speed-dating success.

The bell rang again, signaling the start of another “date”, but the chair opposite Mia stayed vacant. With two more women than men at tonight’s event, periodically throughout the evening the women got a five-minute respite. She probably should have been ashamed by the depth of her relief at the reprieve—like a death row inmate receiving a stay of execution.

She was fairly certain dating wasn’t supposed to feel like being repeatedly strapped into an electric chair.

Mia glanced at her watch.
God, forty more minutes of this?
Apparently the only speed in speed-dating was how quickly she could repel her potential mates.

She’d never realized how long five minutes could feel until tonight. Time was gloriously, meticulously constant, a second always exactly a second long, but somehow speed-dating could make the minutes seem to stretch into eternities of awkwardness, millennia of boredom. It was an anomaly she’d have loved to study, if it wouldn’t have necessitated repeating this experience.

Why couldn’t she flirt like a normal person?

Mia’s gaze veered to the left, drawn with magnetic force to the leopard-print blonde. She was smiling, leaning forward in her chair, face flushed prettily, nodding slightly, lips damp and parted, maintaining eye contact with her eyes just a bit too wide, lending them an air of naïve wonder. She giggled at something Twelve said, reaching across the table to brush his arm, then returning her hand not to the table, but to her throat, toying with the chain of her necklace, making the pendant bob against her cleavage.

Games. Sexual manipulation. The ploys were obvious, but just as obviously effective. The men all wanted to copulate with the blonde whereas they couldn’t get away from Mia fast enough.

She’d rushed to the restaurant straight from her lab, not bothering to change out of her sensible gray skirt suit, late as usual because she’d been sucked into her work and lost track of time, succumbing to the lure of a problem that needed to be solved only to look up and realize an hour and a half had passed in the last five minutes. Yet another example of sensory time anomaly.

Perhaps there was research on time anomalies she could examine, a reputable study she could present to her family the next time she was late to an event—though recently they’d begun lying to her about start times to give her a better shot at being on time. It wasn’t like she was late on purpose, but if it was a choice between her research and punctuality, her research always won.

At least tonight no one had been mortally offended. The coordinator had smiled, handed her a form, and slipped her into the line-up between the blonde and a blushing red-head in a sundress. The event had started so quickly, Mia hadn’t even had a chance to correct the error in her nametag.

The bell rang again and Mia flinched as the men began their shuffle, saying goodbyes and rotating.
Here we go again.

No. She wouldn’t get negative. Gina would tell her she wasn’t giving love a chance and her little sister would be right.
Focus on the positive, Mia. Don’t sabotage this.
Beggars couldn’t be choosers. And she was rapidly approaching beggar status when it came to her love life. Eleven months of the maybe-if-I-ignore-the-problem-it-will-go-away dating strategy had left her on the verge of desperation with no time left for romantic failure.

BOOK: Finder's Keeper
9.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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