Authors: Darlene Gardner
SNOOPS IN THE CITY
By Darlene Gardner
Copyright 2011 Darlene Gardner
Cover art by Kimberly Van Meter
Paperback edition: Dorchester Love Spell 2004
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Tori Whitley’s red pen hovered above the classified ad in the Help Wanted section of the Sunday
. Should she or shouldn't she?
On the plus side, she'd have the potential to make a lot of women happy. On the negative, she'd be like those annoying telemarketers who interrupted her dinner to hawk credit cards and time shares.
Was she so desperate that she’d consider lowering her voice to a throaty purr to entice men to buy Viagra?
She spotted the envelope for her past-due rent payment on top of the stack of unpaid bills on her laminated kitchen counter. By virtue of her latest extension, she had twelve days to come up with the money.
Yep. She really was that desperate.
Or maybe she wasn't.
The magic disco ball on her key chain tempted her from its customary spot on top of her microwave. An old boyfriend had given it to her as a joke after he’d come across her listening to disco music on an oldies station, probably never dreaming she’d become attached to it. But, hey, a girl couldn’t be expected to know everything.
She snatched up the gaggle of keys, separated out the little silver ball and shook. She waited a beat, turned the ball over and leaned closer to read the answer.
Sources say that’d be a bummer.
She hadn't been aware of holding her breath until she wasn't anymore. Good. Provocative telemarketing was out. Except that didn't solve her problem. She had a maxed-out credit card, a checking-account balance of one hundred sixty-eight dollars and no job. Scratch that. She worked weekends at the makeup counter of Frasier's Department Store, but that barely qualified.
She drew in another deep breath, then released the air slowly and carefully. She would not sigh. She would not feel sorry for herself. Above all, she would not call her parents and ask for help.
Her father, a successful civil litigator, wouldn't hesitate to open his overflowing wallet. Her mother would offer advice.
Come home and repair your broken relationship with Sumner
, she'd say.
He'll take care of you.
The upshot was that Sumner Aldridge would probably oblige even though Tori had done him a favor by breaking things off. To achieve his goal of making partner in her father's law firm, Sumner needed a corporate wife who adored him, not a girlfriend who liked him.
Besides, she had goals of her own. Turning twenty-five had made her realize it was past time she was independent, like her brother the architect and her sister the pediatrician. She wanted a career. A purpose.
No. Tori couldn't call home. Not after she'd overheard her mother tell her father that their poor, dithering youngest child wouldn't last six months on her own.
It had been late March when Tori moved across the state to the east coast of Florida from her parents' sprawling Siesta Key home to her modest Seahaven apartment. It was now mid-September.
Her six months would be up at the end of the month.
The sun blazed through the kitchen windows, reminding her that she lived in paradise. She had job applications all over town. Something was bound to come up.
The phone rang and she jumped to her feet, upsetting her bright-yellow kitchen chair. Somebody was probably calling right now to schedule an interview. Maybe even someone other than the children’s performer searching for an assistant who could learn how to make balloon animals.
Just in case it was Clara Clown, Tori reminded herself of the line she’d come up with about being long-winded and grabbed the phone.
“Hello,” she said, not quite managing to keep a breathless note out of the greeting.
“Hey, gorgeous. How goes it?"
The raspy voice belonged not to a prospective employer, but to her cousin Eddie Sassenbury.
The youngest of her Uncle Gary's four sons, Eddie stood out by being the only one without a job pulling in a six-figure income. When family members mentioned him, they called him
. As in,
Did you know that Eddie spies on cheating spouses?
Imagine anyone hiring that Eddie.
"It would go better if you returned my calls." She fought to keep her tone cheerful while she righted the kitchen chair. "I haven't seen you since I moved here."
“Sorry, cuz. I've been busy, busy, busy," he said, and she conjured up a mental picture of him. Leaning back in the faux leather chair in the Boca Raton storefront that housed his private-detective agency, his feet propped on a desk, a cigarette dangling from his lips. "You know how the private dick business goes.”
“How does it go?”
“Beats being a security guard,” Eddie said, referring to the job he’d taken after striking out at becoming a cop. Tori didn't know why he'd failed but suspected the stumbling block might have been the polygraph. “Business is picking up. I’m so busy I can’t find the time to hire an associate.”
“That’s great, Eddie. Really great.” Tori cradled the phone between her shoulder and ear, opened the refrigerator and took out a jug of cranberry juice. “I always knew you'd make a good snoop. Like I told the other kids, hiding in the bushes with binoculars didn't mean you'd grow up to be a peeping Tom."
“Job training, is what it was." Eddie sounded proud. "So talk to me. What’s this you said on your last message about the bartending not going so well?”
Something inside Tori’s chest softened. Her parents claimed
only got in touch when he wanted something. This proved them wrong.
“The bar manager fired me,” she confessed as she removed a gaily colored glass from the cabinet. “He said I let too many customers run up bar tabs. But I knew they'd make good, Eddie. Just because we hadn’t seen any of them in
“Tough luck,” Eddie interrupted. “You thinking of getting another bartending gig?”
“Nobody will hire me.” She tried to look on the bright side of being trash talked by her ex-boss to prospective employers. “Bartending wasn’t for me anyway. All those drunk men, all those late nights. I’m looking for something else.”
Tori thought of the mail-room supervisor who’d called yesterday to set up an interview that turned out to be at the county prison. She would have gone, too, if he hadn’t insisted on somebody with experience.
“Not yet." She set the glass down on the counter and picked up the jug. “But something will turn up.”
“Just did,” he said. “I want you to work for me.”
Something buoyant rose in her chest, making her realize how deflated she’d been. So what if Eddie were the black sheep of the family. He had a career, which was more than she could say for herself. She could be a sheep, too, if it meant following him into the ranks of the employed.
“I’m there," she said. “I haven’t worked in an office before but I learn fast."
"Who said I needed you in the office? I want you in the field."
The cranberry juice missed the glass and sloshed onto the counter. “You’ve got to be joking.”
“No joke. I’ve got a client wants a businessman in Seahaven investigated. Thought of you right off the bat.”
The juice dripped off the counter and spilled onto the floor in a skinny, red stream. “But, Eddie. This is Tori you’re talking to. I'm not sneaky."
"Sure you are."
"Am not. Remember the night you talked me into sneaking out my bedroom window? It shattered when I slammed it shut. Then Mom came outside in her sunflower pajamas and yelled at you for being a bad influence. Didn’t that teach you anything?"
"To suppress any memory involving Aunt Peggy in sunflower pajamas,” Eddie answered. “Okay. You're not sneaky. You don't need to be for this job. You majored in library science, right?"
Tori pursed her lips. During her four degree-free years at the University of Florida, she'd also majored in psychology, sociology, English, history and a subject she couldn't recall at the moment.
"The library science major didn't take," she said.
“But it taught you how to research. That's all you gotta do. Find out stuff and write up a report."