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Authors: Heather Webber

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #chick lit, #Heather Webber, #Lucy Valentine

Perfectly Matched

BOOK: Perfectly Matched
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Perfectly Matched

A Lucy Valentine Novel

By Heather Webber

 

Dedication

To all of you who love Lucy as much as I do

and pushed me to continue writing her stories
.

Thank you.

 

 

Chapter One

 

There was nothing like a brutal heat wave to flush the kooks out of hiding.

For the fourth day in a row, it was pushing ninety degrees outside at almost nine o’ clock in the morning—abnormally hot for the beginning of June—and I could attest that the crazies were indeed out and about in Boston.

In fact, six of them sat around a conference table in my office at Valentine, Inc., my family’s matchmaking firm.

Including me.

On my left, roving reporter Preston Bailey leaned forward, adjusted her digital tape recorder, then leaned back and swiped her forehead with a wadded tissue.

It was also ninety degrees in my office. The air conditioner had broken the second day of the heat wave, and the part to fix it was on backorder. I had three floor fans set up, and even with their oscillating blades working overtime, they barely made a dent in the hot, humid air.

“Whose bright idea was it to have the meeting in Lucy’s office?” Annie Hendrix asked as if I wasn’t in the room. She tucked a damp lock of her eggplant-colored chin-length hair behind her ear.

She sat directly across from me and I watched in utter fascination as perspiration dripped down her full cheeks, dribbled down her chin, snaked into the deep line of her cleavage and disappeared. Her halter dress was so low-cut her boobs were practically splayed on the table along with the notepads, pens, and a stack of photos of a missing little girl.

I felt a tap on my leg—a subtle kick from
Preston
. She had nicknamed
our
odd assortment of kooks as the Diviner Whiners. For a good reason.

We were a bunch of psychic complainers.

“I did,” Orlinda Batista, our mentor, said tartly. She glanced at her watch and adjusted the position of her wheelchair to be more in line with the airflow from the fan behind her. “And I have only twenty minutes more before I have to leave for the airport so I’d appreciate it if you all focused on the task at hand and not on the heat. Or on Annie’s bosom,
Graham
.”

Sitting on my right, Graham Hartman hadn’t been able to drag his gaze from the bodacious breasts since he sat down. I couldn’t blame him. They were rather mesmerizing. Personally, I had spent the last ten minutes trying to figure out how Annie kept them from popping right out of her dress. I was convinced she was a sneeze away from a major wardrobe malfunction—and making Graham’s day.

Graham’s cheeks reddened at the chastisement, and he quickly refocused his attention on the picture of a missing girl in front of him. But a second later, his gaze was back on those breasts. I noticed, too, that Annie kept throwing him flirtatious looks. Maybe being in a matchmaking office had given her romantic ideas.

Next to Annie, Dr. Paul McDermott let out a frustrated breath, ran a hand over his sweaty bald head, and said, “Maybe we should just call it quits for today?”

Orlinda, who sat at the head of the table, whipped her laser-sharp gaze to him. “We are not finished.” Snapping her fingers, she said to me, “Lucy Valentine, what are you picking up?”

Technically, this was the fifth meeting of our little soothsaying class.

I was getting psychic lessons, and I was flunking out.

Staring at the picture of the little girl in front of me, I tried to concentrate. She was a sweet little thing, with blond hair, straight near the crown, then turning to curls at the ends. Brown almond-shaped eyes twinkled at the camera, and blue cake frosting covered most of her chubby cheeks, her lips, and teeth. The pose, caught in mid-laugh as she gazed up at her parents standing behind her, nearly broke my heart. It was taken on the girl’s fifth birthday—the last celebrated with her family.

She’d been missing for two years now.

I looked into her parents’ faces. At her mom, who looked like an edgy soccer mom with her blond-streaked dark hair. At her dad, who stared at the girl as if she was the most precious thing on earth.

I could only imagine the anxiety her parents felt now. The anguish. Running my hand over the picture, I silently cursed my limited psychic abilities. Sure, I had been working with the Massachusetts State Police for the past eight months to help locate missing persons, but the way I found those people wasn’t through photographs.

I had the ability to find lost
objects
. Fortunately, sometimes those objects led to lost souls.

Glancing at Orlinda, I shifted uncomfortably. I’d met Orlinda, a highly gifted psychic, a few months ago while working on another case—that of a missing man. In the months since, I wasn’t convinced that our meeting had been happenstance. It was as if fate had put us together.

I looked away from her probing gaze. I didn’t want to fail her. She had taken me—and Graham, Annie, and Dr. Paul—under her prodigious wing. Each of us had limited psychic abilities, but Orlinda was convinced that we all were capable of more. That there were other gifts within us and that she was just the psychic to nurture—or browbeat—them out of us.

Running my finger over the picture, I focused on the girl. Stared into her eyes.

From Annie, we had learned the girl’s name started with a B.

From Graham, we learned that she had been kidnapped in front of her house after being dropped off by the kindergarten school bus.

From Dr. Paul, we learned that there was a man with a dark beard involved in the crime.

All of which Orlinda had validated.

From me...we had learned nothing. Absolutely nothing. I wasn’t picking up a thing, except for
Preston
’s nervous energy.

I could feel the jiggle of her leg beneath the table.

Over the past eight months, reporter
Preston
had gone from sworn enemy to friend. For a long time, she had tried to get the inside scoop on my family, convinced we were keeping secrets. She planned to use the headlines to make it big as an investigative journalist.

It was true—my family was keeping secrets. Lots of them. Some of which
Preston
had discovered and written about, and some she still didn’t know.

She’d been the one who exposed my psychic abilities. But she didn’t know the whole story behind how I’d come to acquire my particular gift.

She didn’t know that my father, and generations of Valentines before him, had the psychic ability to read auras. The talent had been parlayed into a highly successful matchmaking company, Valentine, Inc. It was the top matchmaking company in the world, and it had made my father a very rich and famous man.

However, very few knew that my father
’s success came from
matching people based on the colors he saw surrounding them. Blues matched with blues. Yellows matched with yellows. It was fairly simple, and up until I was fourteen, I’d been expected to continue in his footsteps of matchmaking. Then the unthinkable happened. A lightning strike had taken away the auras I had been able to see…but left me with the ability to find lost things.

“Lucy?” Orlinda pressed.

Putting the picture back on the table, I shook my head. In the last five weeks, I’d not had any luck whatsoever in broadening my psychic abilities. While Graham, Annie, and Dr. Paul were making headway, I lagged behind. I was still only able to find lost objects—but only if I touched the hand of the person who either currently owned the object—or
had
owned the object at one time. I found a lot of
missing
people by using presents as a conduit because it was often the only time an object belonged to two people. Most recently, I’d found a missing teenager because I’d touched her mother’s hand and was able to see the Ugg boots the mom had bought her daughter for Christmas. That case had a somewhat happy ending—the teen had been a runaway but was now home. The whole family was receiving counseling.

Feeling like a complete failure,
I didn’t dare look at Orlinda. “Sorry. Nothing.”

Disappointment stung my nose, and I sniffed it away. Under the table,
Preston
rested her fingers on my arm—she knew better than to hold my hand. The energy I used to find lost objects came from palms, so I rarely touched people’s hands if I didn’t have to.

Across the table, I heard a frustrated sigh—from Annie, though I suspected Graham and Dr. Paul felt the same way. The three of them hadn’t made it a secret that they felt I should have been kicked out of our group weeks ago. I was holding them back from exploring their true potential.

But Orlinda had nipped all that talk in the bud. She believed in me, believed I possessed undiscovered abilities, and wasn’t going to let me quit—as the three of them had wanted me to after only two weeks of embarrassing classes.

The thing was, even though I was failing, I didn’t want to quit. Because I believed there was more within me, too. In fact, I
knew
there was. There were times I could see into the future; flashes of visions destined to come true. The caveat was that
those
insights only came to me when I touched P.I. Sean Donahue’s hands. He was a partner with me in Lost Loves, my division of Valentine, Inc. Together we used my psychic abilities and his P.I. skills to reunite long lost loves. We were also dating. Dating seriously. Just thinking about it made my stomach tingle and my palms sweat. I was giddy about it, but at the same time, I had a serious fear of commitment, thanks to a pesky family curse. Thankfully, Sean was a patient man—and had issues of his own to work through.

“Take another minute, Lucy,” Orlinda said softly, encouragingly.

Dr. Paul muttered, “For crying out loud.”

I glanced at him—but he wouldn’t meet my eye. Huh. There was nothing worse than a cranky gay man.

“Seriously. I have an appointment for a showing soon,” Graham, a real estate agent, said sourly.

Huh. Except for a cranky straight man.

I glanced at Graham. He had finally stopped staring at Annie’s cleavage and met my gaze straight on. His pale face was flushed, and his blond fancy hairdo had wilted a bit from the heat. Blueberry-colored eyes flashed with irritation. Like an ornery little kid, I felt like sticking my tongue out at him but managed to refrain.

Orlinda whapped the table loudly. “Enough!” she said sharply. “If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it ten times already. We are all in this together. Perhaps supporting your peer would be better than your remonstration.”

I heard someone whisper, “Teacher’s pet.” Dr. Paul, maybe. It had come from the opposite side of the table. I was grateful Orlinda hadn’t heard it, or she might have had a cow right there in my office.

“Try again, Lucy,” Orlinda said.

I felt all their eyes on me as I stared at the picture, willing myself to see something. Feel som
ething. Anything. But I didn’t.

After a long minute, I shook my head. Again, I fought back tears. Stupid, frustrating tears. I refused to let the others see how upset I was.

“Do not be discouraged,” Orlinda said. “It is possible that photographs are not your path. However, there are many trails leading to the top of the mountain.” She reached behind her, to the knapsack attached to the back of her wheelchair.

As she searched for something in particular, I checked my watch. I had an appointment with a Lost Love client in ten minutes.

Even though I had my long hair pulled back, I could feel the sweat dampening my hairline, and droplets sliding down my back. This place was a like a kiln, and my agitation had amped up the temperature by a good ten degrees.

Preston
anxiously tapped her pen on a notepad. She was a fidgeter, and especially so around Orlinda. The woman made
Preston
skittish. Maybe because when Orlinda first met
Preston
, she predicted a huge upheaval in my friend’s life.

The reading had come true almost immediately. After she had written a huge art-theft exposé that had gone national,
Preston
had been offered a monthly column in the
Mad Blotter
, a national magazine that was part
Reader’s Digest
, part
New Yorker
. The
Mad Blotter
had loved
Preston
’s previous human interest stories, which were mostly about my clients (a deal she had set up through my dad). The magazine’s offer was pretty much everything
Preston
had been dreaming of and she’d readily agreed to become a columnist. She had already written two stories for them, and now she was working on another—one about this class.

So far, she hadn’t gleaned much, except that we were complainers.

Preston
was getting antsy for a juicy breakthrough in our learning. But that wasn’t from where her current nervous energy stemmed. More recently, Orlinda had predicted another upheaval in
Preston
’s life—and so far, nothing big had happened. It was driving
Preston
crazy. This in turn drove me crazy, because
Preston
was a constant pestering presence in my life. Not only did I work with her (kind of), she was also dating my brother. There was no escape. Thankfully, we’d long ago put our contentious past behind us and had become friends. Or I might have had to throw her out the window or something.

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