Friction (Red Hot Private Eye, Novella, Vol. 2)

Friction

by

Melanie Shawn

Cover Design by Hot Damn Designs

Published by Red Hot Reads Publishing

Copyright 2013 Melanie Shawn

All rights reserved. This copy is intended for the original purchaser of this book. No part of this may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without permission in writing from Melanie Shawn. Exceptions are limited to reviewers who may use brief quotations in connection with reviews. No part of this book can be transmitted, scanned, reproduced, or distributed in any written or electronic form without written permission from Melanie Shawn.

This book is a work of fiction. Places, names, characters and events
are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locations, or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

Chapter One

You
are focused. You are capable. You are in control. No one can hurt you. You can handle anything.

It’s
going to be a great day
!

Raiza sat in her Audi, looking into the small square mirror that was built into her sun visor as she applied a coat of
lip gloss to her full, naturally red lips. She finished her fourth round of daily affirmations at exactly the same moment she finished applying the gloss. She loved that! Synchronicity.

After her last check in the mirror, she flipped up her visor and replaced the tube of liquid shine in its designated slot in her makeup bag. Then she replaced the bag inside the left compartment in her purse.

She smiled.

Every time she looked inside her purse, it made her happy. There was nothing out of order. Any time she needed to add a new item to carry, she would immediately find a home for it to live in, and every time she would use said item, she would immediately return it to its rightful place.

Order + Structure = Sanity.

That was the equation she lived her life by, and it had served her well.
As a child, her life had been
anything
but predictable. As an adult, when her life was in her own hands and not subject to the whims of others, Raiza had made sure that her life was just that—predictable.

Predictability had its advantages, one of which was a sense of security. That was definitely a feeling she had longed for as a youth. Of course, everything in life was a trade-off, so it also had its drawbacks. One of those was complete and utter boredom, which was something she definitely did
not
crave.

This
tightly structured world she had built for herself ensured that there were never any surprises. Which was great except for the fact that...well...there were never any surprises!

A loud knock on her driver’s side window ended her short jaunt to the island of self-reflection and yanked her abruptly back into reality. She looked up to see who had interrupted her rather pleasant reverie and found that there was an extremely tall and lanky police officer standing beside her car, waiting for her attention.

She opened the door and he stepped back to allow her to exit.

“Can I help you with something?” she asked as she swung her legs out of the car gracefully, setting her black Jimmy Choos on the pavement and smoothly rising to stand beside her car.

He looked momentarily stunned as she stood. She patiently waited. She was used to men, and sometimes even women, needing a moment after they first laid eyes on her. On occasion it took them a minute to collect themselves, remember what they had been about to say...and where they were, what year it was, etc.

Her Aunt Margie used to tell her that she was the walking, living, breathing definition of a stunner. Well, being from New Jersey, she had actually said ‘stunna.’
But Aunt Margie’s
point
had been that when people saw Raiza, nine times out of ten they had a very strong reaction to her.

Which was fine with Raiza.
The attention was fine. Certainly, if she had been forced to choose, she would definitely prefer to be attractive rather than not, she always thought. But, still, sometimes it was a little isolating. People usually didn’t really
see
her, or listen to her. They almost always had preconceived notions about her, theories about everything from her intelligence to her level of promiscuity. And, of course, these assumptions were wrong ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the time, as assumptions generally tend to be.

This was one of the many reasons she loved her job, and loved the people she worked for and with so much.
They saw her–really
saw
her.

Most days it was just her and George in her office. She loved George. George
didn't care what she looked like. He didn't judge her by the size of her cleavage or the sway of her hips. He listened. He was responsive to her every request. He was the perfect man, basically.

If only George
wasn't her computer!

But
, she reflected, most of that could also be said for her co-workers. They saw her for who she was

brains, wit, creativity, and all.

She did
not
believe the same could be said for the police officer standing in front of her right now. She didn't think he had the ability to see anything beyond what was right in front of his nose, and he was having trouble processing what he did see. She shook her head. She needed to move this along if she was going to be on time for the Monday morning meeting.

She cleared her throat to get his attention. “Can I help you with something?” she repeated slowly.

The officer looked into her eyes—finally—and furrowed his brow as he said, “I was about to ask you the same thing.”

Oh, you’ve
got to be kidding me
, Raiza thought to herself. At least he had the good sense not to look self-satisfied at what he must think was a very clever line. “Oh, is that what you were working up to?” she asked sardonically.

Her tone must have been a little too sarcastic for Mr. Law and
Order’s liking because his posture and demeanor did an immediate one-eighty. His voice lowered an octave, and he planted his feet and puffed out his chest in what must've been an attempt to seem authoritative. It didn’t work. “Ma’am, I am going to need to see some ID,” he said gruffly.

Raiza was not about to give this man anything until she knew he was on the up-and-up.

She smiled a slinky smile and said, “Show me yours and I’ll show you mine, Officer.”

He raised an eyebrow to her, seemingly unimpressed by her charms, and tapped on the badge pinned to the upper left side of his uniform.

“That’s a very nice badge, but I'd like to see your identification card,” Raiza said, politely but firmly. Uniforms and badges were very easy to fake; Raiza knew this all too well. The same could not be said for identification cards.

He looked more than a little put out at her request, not to mention suspicious, but he did supply the card. Raiza examined it closely, taking her sweet time just because she thought it was funny to get his goat. The card was legit. She pulled out her driver’s license and passed it over to him. As soon as he saw her name, his tune changed yet again.

Dude
, she thought,
bipolar much
?

“Oh, Ms. Diaz, yes,” he said, checking her name against a list on the clipboard he carried. “Umm...you are cleared for entry. Come this way.”

‘Cleared for entry' to her own office? Ooookaaaaay.

Hmmm...
?

As Raiza rounded the corner of the building where Red Hot P.I. was located, she saw at least a half dozen uniformed officers and four detectives in plain clothes in the suite next door to the Red Hot agency.

They were all gathered in the offices of Thrive Therapy. Hmmm. Raiza knew that several therapists, who each had their own specialty, shared that office suite. She knew them all in passing, enough to smile and say good morning, but not more than that.

She tried to step around 'Officer No Info' so she could get into Red Hot and find out what was happening, but the officer held out his arm to block her just as two paramedics passed in front of them, pushing a stretcher that held a zipped up body bag.

Okay
, Raiza thought uneasily,
that’s not something you see every day
. A very unsettled feeling welled inside of her, like a storm brewing in her psyche. Not good. This was not order and it was not structure. In fact, it was the opposite of both of those things.

Raiza did
not
like being around dead bodies. No siree, not at all, not one little bit. Did. Not. Like. It. Probably stuff left over from her childhood, she knew—she was the one who had discovered her grandma’s body after Grandma Ida had died in her sleep. Raiza shuddered. She remembered how cold the old woman's skin had felt when Raiza had tried to shake her awake. She could still feel the clammy, freezing skin under her fingertips when she recalled that fateful morning.

She shook her head to try
and clear all reminders of that life-changing day. Yeah. It wasn’t working.

Raiza needed to get into her office, sit at her desk, and see all of her things in order, everything in its place. She needed to re-center herself among her carefully designed ‘happy place’ of order and structure. She needed to boot up George, to hear the soft swishing sound of him coming to life. She needed to feel the keys under her fingers as she worked.

She closed her eyes, the urgency to be in her soothing and predictable environment consuming her and making her heart beat faster until she felt the officer release his arm back down to his side, effectively releasing her as well. As soon as he did, she started putting one foot in front of the other as quickly as she could. Raiza heard him saying something as she walked away, but didn’t wait to find out what it was. If he needed to talk to her badly enough, he could damn well follow her.

She entered the lobby of Red Hot and felt as though she had tunnel vision. She could see people in her peripheral vision but did not stop until she made it to the safety of her office. Shutting the door behind her, she leaned against it and tried to calm her racing heart.

“Good morning, Beautiful. You okay?”

She jumped at the sound of a man’s deep voice. Turning, she saw Mateo sitting at the once unoccupied desk in her office—which
now
appeared to be
very
occupied. His laptop was sitting to the right on the desk and next to it sat a coffee cup and a bottle of water—neither of which had coasters underneath them, she noted with mounting irritation. Not only that, but there were papers strewn all over the desk, none of them were contained in folders or wire baskets. None of them were even in symmetrical piles for God's sake.

What are we, animals?
she thought to herself incredulously.

“What are you doing in here?” she asked curtly as she made her way past him and stood behind her desk. She felt the tight knot inside her belly loosen just a little. Looking down at her pristine workspace did make her feel a little better. Everything was just as she had left it the night before.
In perfect order. Just as things should be.

She sat down in her ergonomically designed desk chair and placed her hands on the flat, empty surface of her desk. This was her happy place.
Her safe place. She wasn’t going to let some unwanted visitor take anything away from that.

She turned to look at him, waiting for an answer. He had invaded her personal space, her sanctum, and now he had some explaining to do.
But rather than turning toward her and illustrating the proper contrite manner, he simply sat with his back to her and continued typing away on his computer, not a care in the world. His shirt was pulled taut against his strong muscled back as he worked. And he was completely ignoring her.
Ignoring
her. He could be
so
frustrating.

“Mateo,” she said, carefully modulating her voice so that it sounded friendlier...sort of, “what are you doing in here?”

Still no answer. Damn him, she knew what he was waiting for. She just didn’t want to play his little games. Not today. Not after what she had just seen. But she knew for a fact that if she wanted information, she had to play.

Taking in a deep breath in through her nose and trying desperately to suppress a loud sigh, she put a smile (sure it was fake
but, oh well) on her face and into her voice and said, “Good Morning, Mateo. You startled me. What, may I ask, are you doing here?”

He turned and she saw a satisfied smile forming across his handsome, chiseled face. “Well, since you asked so nicely, I’ve been assigned to be your office mate. Because of all the recent personnel changes that have been going on, with Dominic and Cristal bringing on more people, space is at a premium. So we have to double up.”

Cristal Hart was Raiza's best friend and mentor, and now boss, as well. She and Dominic Charles had recently become equal partners in the firm of Red Hot Private Investigations. They each owned 40% and Red, who had started the agency, retained 20%. Raiza knew that things would probably be shaken up a bit when Dominic and Cristal took over, but she hadn’t been prepared for the possibility of having to share her office with someone. Even someone as sexy as Mateo. Hell,
especially
someone as sexy as Mateo.

She needed to talk to Cristal and get this resolved,
asap.

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