Excerpt: Chapter 1
Nicki had a way of turning Michael on, even while wearingyellow rubber gloves and an oversized Buccaneers t-shirt. So what if her ambereyes flashed with bleach-induced craziness. That was part of her charm. Michaelstubbornly stuck with his “just friends” façade, while underneath it all hecouldn’t deny that sizzle.
“This place still feelscontaminated,” Nicki said.
She stood in her kitchen,gripping a wet sponge in one dripping yellow-gloved hand. Michael leanedagainst the wall, straight-faced because even cracking a smile would likelyearn him a slap. He said, “It smells like a truckload of Clorox exploded inhere.”
“I’ve scrubbed everythingtwice,” Nicki said. “Not counting the cleaning you and I did before I movedback in. But I can still smell him.”
“Does he smell like bleach?”
“No, but keep it up and youwill.”
“The best forensic team in thecountry wouldn’t be able to find a trace of that guy in here.”
Nicki dropped the sponge in thebucket and pulled off her gloves. She said, “But I know he was here, touchingeverything, breathing my air.”
Michael stepped closer andwrapped his arms around Nicki. A loose ponytail held her long deep brown hairaway from her face, though a few stray strands had managed to free themselvesto caress her cheeks. Golden highlights shimmered in the stream of sunlightcoming in through the window. The faint scent of her perfume managed to capturehim through the haze of bleach. As always, Michael’s body reacted despite hismind’s protests.
Michael did his best to ignorethe desire that always came with being close to Nicki. He said, “It’s beenthree weeks.”
“I know,” Nicki said. “I’m beingstupid. I can’t help it.”
Having someone break into yourapartment, rip the place apart, hide out there, then drag you outside in anattempt to kidnap, gang rape, and kill you, would make most anyone behave alittle nuts. Thinking about how close Nicki had come to death still made hisstomach clench. He said, “You’re safe now.”
“Thanks to you,” Nicki replied.She planted a kiss on Michael’s cheek, then spun on her bare toes, doing alittle twirl before heading toward the refrigerator. “Which brings me back tomy earlier proposition. Have you thought about it?”
Michael shook his head. “Ialready told you, the answer is no.”
“So you haven’t thought about itthen. Want a root beer? Or a water? I bought you Perrier.”
“You’re trying to bribe me withwater?”
“I’ll take the water,” Michaelsaid. “But the answer is still no.”
Nicki handed Michael a bottle ofPerrier and opened a root beer for herself. “We’d make great partners,” shesaid.
“I could be an asset. I stillhave connections on the street. And, back when I was in the business, a localcop was one of my regulars. I’m sure he’d rather provide me with occasionalinformation than have his captain find out he was paying for sex.”
“And I’ve even come up with aname for our business.”
Michael sank onto one of thekitchen chairs. He put his Perrier bottle on the table and rubbed his handsover his face. “We have no business for you to name,” he said into his palms.
“Lost and Found,” Nicki said.
She plopped onto a chair besidehim, grinning like a happy child. Whether her happiness came from the conceptof running a business together or from tormenting him was hard to tell.Probably a little of both. Despite his resistance, Michael found himselfsaying, “Lost and Found?”
“Catchy, don’t you think?” Nickireplied. “We’ll be a place where people go to find someone they’ve lost. Amissing family member, a runaway kid, things like that. The cops don’t do muchin those situations. So we’d find them. Hence, Lost and Found.”
“That’s what P.I.s are for.”
“Sure, private investigators dothat, too. But we’d be better at it because we wouldn’t be constrained by allthe nuisance laws that licensed investigators have to follow. It would be ourspecialty.”
“Our specialty,” Michael said.
“Now you’re catching on,” Nickireplied with a wink.
“Then, of course, there’d be theother side of the business.”
“Yeah, like you do now but you’dhave me to help you.”
“Jesus…” Michael muttered.
“Restoring the balance,” Nickisaid. “Isn’t that how you put it the other day?”
In a slow, deliberate tone,Michael said, “Nicki, you are not a hit man.”
“Hell, I know that silly. I’d beyour assistant.”
“Why do you keep repeating mywords?”
“I’m hoping they will somehowsound better the second time around.”
Nicki chuckled. “Don’t be souptight. You know this would work. You could give up the software design. Anddon’t deny having told me that you’re tired of it.”
“I’m not denying that.”
“The Lost and Found name worksperfectly for both aspects of our business. The legitimate end speaks foritself. Then, for that other segment of people who need us, we’ll find the badguys and make them disappear. Lost and Found in reverse.”
Undaunted, Nicki said, “Thinkabout it. I have a feeling the idea will grow on you.”
“We’ll talk about it morelater,” Nicki said. “I’m going to shower, then you can take me out for Mexicanfood.”
Michael shook his head inexasperation. Nicki had more determination than anyone he’d ever met. And whilehis common sense screamed for him to put an end to her crazy ideas, a part ofhim was intrigued. He sighed, took a swallow of Perrier, and acknowledged thathe very well may have lost his mind.