Authors: Jennifer Harlow
Lord Nightingale, in full regalia, is hard at work with Doris when I walk in. Wouldn't they be more comfortable in jeans and t-shirts? Wonder if they'll ever slip up and let me in on their secret identities. Doubt it. Justin kept it from me for twenty years and would have kept it for twenty more if a teenager hadn't let the cat out of the bag. Bastard. Both of them. "Howdy, stranger," I say as I stroll down.
The hero spins in the chair to face me. "Hello."
"Long time no see. Miss me?"
"Um, I-I-I suppose," he says, a little flustered. I seem to have that effect on people lately.
I lower myself into the chair beside him, and he tenses as he always does when I'm within two feet of him. "Good work on Casanov. I heard they added racketeering and facilitation of rape to the charges. Could we be any better at this? I think not."
"This is your victory more than mine. You did the majority of the work. We simply finished what you started."
"Well, I am so clearly awesome. Can't argue with that."
I think he smiles, but it's too quick to be sure. "And how-how are you doing? Liberty informed me what transpired a few days ago. You weren't physically injured?"
"Nope, not a scratch."
I shrug. "I had a massive breakdown in the hospital, but a fri--
helped me through it. Nothing since then."
"Good." He pauses. "What you did was very brave. You're to be commended."
"Praise from Cesar. I'm flattered. Maybe I can get the club ring now," I say, stretching in my chair. His eyes dart to my pressed out chest then quickly spins to face the monitor. I'll let this objectification slide. "So. We took down a major crime boss. Let's not let the moss grow. What next, handsome?"
"I'm, um…" he shakes his head to clear it. My boobs are
great. "A large quantity of C-4, Semtex, and gelatin were stolen from a military base fifty miles from the city last night. What's worrisome is this is the second such theft in as many days. Both times they drove onto the base using fake IDs, incapacitated the soldiers on watch with one death, then drove off with the ordinance. The sketches the surviving soldiers provided of the culprits are generic at best. No one was really paying attention."
"Our tax dollars at work," I say. "How much did these guys get?"
"Enough to level several buildings. Best case scenario, they package it off and sell it black market."
"Worst, this wasn't for the money and whoever did it has a plan," I finish. "A fanatic with a grudge. Yikes."
"Yes. Yikes. The problem is with no fingerprints, unobservant witnesses, and no prior crimes with the same M.O. I am at a loss how to proceed. Tempest examined the scene but found nothing of use. It is a quandary."
I raise an eyebrow. "Or you've been holed up down here in the dark for hours, and your brain is fried. Scoot over." I bridge the gap between us, and he moves so the arms of our chairs touch. I start accessing the databases as he watches, still tense beside me. Don't know if I should take that personally. "It's going to be a pain in the ass to go through, but I am going to get you a list of all the black market explosives sellers and buyers within seventy-five miles." I print the page before going to the next. "I am also printing you a list of bomb makers and criminals known to have used ordinance in their crimes." I press a few buttons and out pops the list. "Done. Now, just because I like you and am super nice, I am going to get us some lunch and help you locate these bastards. Sound good, your Lordship?" I stand up. "You take a break. Go outside, fly around, do yoga on the beach, just get out of here for fifteen minutes. You need it."
Because I'm feeling particularly generous today, and we're going to be down here for hours, I assemble a feast. Salad, turkey on wheat sandwiches, V-8 juice, and chips which I will do my damnedest to resist. He's still gone when I return. I do love a man who listens to reason. I switch on the radio to the classic rock station, set up the remote laptop so we can both access the computer at the same time, sit down with my sandwich, and start culling the lists. My partner in anti-crime returns a few minutes later to resume his post. I learned in the week we were compiling the Casanov case he doesn't like to talk while working, so we do our separate assignments side-by-side. He's not the most sociable of people. Probably why we get along so well.
As we reach hour two, I have the locations on seventy-five percent of my scumbags and strained eyes from staring at this monitor. At least the tedium is broken by my new favorite game: count the times the hero glances at me when he thinks I'm not looking. Fifteen times in two hours. I don't know whether to be flattered or creeped out. Wonder if he does the same thing with Liberty. In my limited experience observing them together, I've come to the conclusion they aren't a couple. There's no touching, no tenderness of voice, nothing to indicate they bump uglies. And if he has a girlfriend, she's very understanding considering he probably has a day-job then spends hours either here or on patrol. No, he doesn't have a girlfriend. It's been a long time since he has judging from his reaction to me. Poor guy. All work and no play. No way to live.
It's my turn to glance. He rubs his neck and grimaces in pain. "Super-healing on the fritz?" I ask.
"What? Oh, no. I've just been hunched over for so long it finally caught up with me. I'm fine."
We continue working for a few minutes, and the rubs continue. After the tenth time, I throw my pen down. "You're driving me fucking nuts. Would an aspirin help?"
"No. My body metabolizes them too rapidly. Multiple Vicodin or Oxycotin might."
"Well, we're out." I came home from rehab and found all the pills and booze gone.
"I'll be fine," he says as he turns his head toward me, followed by a quick intake of breath.
I push the chair away from the desk. "Oh, for fuck's sake," I mutter as I stand.
"What-What are you--" he asks as I walk over.
"Turn around. I'm good at this." He hesitates but obeys. "Where does it hurt?"
"Um, um, the bo-bottom of my neck and shoulders. Are you--" My hands slipping onto his shoulders makes the hero jolt. Yeah, it's been awhile since he's gotten laid. "You don't--"
"Shut up," I say, kneading his shoulders. "I used to do this for Justin all the time, so don't read anything into it. It's either this or I smash my laptop over your head in frustration. So relax. You're as tense as a man facing execution." I dig my thumbs into the base of his neck, moving in a circular motion. I used to do this for Harry too. He'd take off his shirt, I'd pull out the baby oil, and work out his kinks. The massage usually only lasted a minute or two before he pounced. God I miss those nights. Lust ripples through me at the memory of our oily couplings. Nightingale's not the only one who needs to get laid. "Feel good?" Nightingale nods. I'm coming up on my old record, eleven months. It's unnatural. I mean, the program says I shouldn't start a relationship. A one night stand isn't a
. It's…stress relief. They advocate
. It'd be a mercy on both ends. Gazing down at Nightingale with his pink lips relaxed and smooth breathing, I have the strongest urge to spin this chair around, rip off the lower part of his costume, climb on top of him, and screw his brains out right in that chair. I'd leave the mask on. Be kind of thrilling to fuck a guy without knowing who he really is. My hands slowly move from his shoulders to his collarbone and the start of his pecs, rubbing up and down. "Bet this feels even better," I whisper duskily. His head tilts back to see my face. I smile seductively, but that smile falls when I meet his eyes behind the plastic coverings. I gasp a little in surprise. Fuck.
"Well, well, well. Isn't this cozy?" Liberty says behind me.
As if he were radioactive, I yank my arms away. Double fuck.
Nightingale and I spin around to see both Liberty and Tempest standing by the beach door smirking. "Do you want us to some back later?" Tempest asks.
"I-I-I had a crick in my neck," Nightingale says.
"Of course you did," Liberty says in an insinuating tone.
is going on," I insist.
Liberty's about to open her mouth again, but Tempest waves his hand and says, "We believe you. We just came for an update on the robberies."
"Of-Of course," he sputters, moving as far from me as possible. All business, Nightingale reviews our progress.
"Good job you two," says Tempest. "Liberty and I will begin interrogating the people on the lists. See what intel, if any, the scumbags can give us. We'll take it from here. Nightingale, go home and get some rest. You look like hell. I'll be in contact."
Why do I get the sense I've been dismissed in my own house. If I didn't want to get the hell out of this fucking room I'd throw a hissy fit. Instead, I say, "Thank you," and start walking toward the ramp. "Good luck." Nightingale keeps his eyes on the floor as I walk out, but Liberty isn't as bashful. With a proud smile, she gives me a quick thumbs up. I cannot get out of here fast enough. I don't feel safe until I close my bedroom door, whacking my head against it in frustration.
I let out a long, deep sigh. Why can't anything ever just be fucking simple?
Ever since third-generation real estate mogul Danforth Mills married his considerably younger third wife Rachel, daughter of his old business partner, he became less known for his business savvy and more for his over-the-top parties. Millions wasted on fire breathers, a chocolate fountain as tall as a house and pop stars serenading his young bride. Don't know how they'll be able to top the circus themed soirée this summer with the entire troupe from
Cirque de Marquee
meandering around and contorting right in front of you. Ugh.
At least I get to wear classier clothes this time. The 1920s was an impressive era fashion wise. Lexie and I figured all the other women would be decked out as flappers, which my stylist Isolde confirmed, so we went different routes. Lexie's more dapper than her husband in a tuxedo a la Greta Garbo, complete with top hat. We do match in the make-up department with bright red lipstick and dramatic eyes. Even dressed as a man she's prettier than me.
I decided to go simple yet elegant with a sleeveless black satin couture dress with an asymmetrical, layered hemline. Lexie thought it was too plain and insisted crystals be added. She actually put my whole look together with great detail, including the peacock feather on my headband, even bossing her hairdresser around while he worked on me. Don't know why she cares so much, but I was happy to have her take over. Beauty rituals are not my wheelhouse.
"We're just making an appearance, right?" Brendan asks.
Lexie rolls her eyes. "You TiVo'ed the game. It'll be there." We, really Lexie, insisted we ride in the limo together. Built in excuse, blame the other person when we leave in half an hour. Devious mind, I like that in my friends.
"It's not just the game. I have practice early tomorrow, among other things."
"Sweetie darling, I love you to bits, but you really need to stop complaining. This is your debut into society. You don't want everyone to think you're some uncouth, ungrateful anti-social jerk do you?"
"Yeah, that position is filled, thank you very much," I say with a smirk.
Lexie playfully smacks my arm as Brendan and I chuckle. The limo door opens, and the flashbulbs begin popping outside. Brendan climbs out first, then helps Lexie and me out. There are about a dozen paparazzi and entertainment news outlets behind the barrier shouting questions and snapping pictures outside the Austen Castle entrance. They shout for us to pose, which Lexie does like the pro she is. Brendan holds his wife, smiling and kissing her cheek with pride. I walk on. The camera loves me about as much as I love it.
Austen Castle is an old mansion, even older than mine, with a turret, ten acres of gorgeous gardens and even a labyrinth. The city purchased it when the owner killed himself in the crash of 1929. I wonder if the Mills appreciate the irony of holding their twenties party here. Probably not. I've been here over a dozen times for parties through the years with Justin, so I don't dawdle awing over the paintings and sculptures. Seen one naked chick on a fainting couch, you've seen them all. I wait for the Darby's by one such painting, instead observing the high end party people. There are a few women dressed in my style, and even one or two dressed like Lexie--she's going to hate that--but most are in elaborate flapper dresses with cigarette holders sans cigarettes. The majority of men are dressed either as gangsters with fake Tommy guns or in seersucker with straw hats. Down the hall in the ballroom jazz music booms. It's damn catchy. A few flappers grin as they pass me, then whisper to their date when their backs are to me as if I've vanished into thin air. I pull up my wrap, making sure it covers the burn on my arm. Half an hour. I can do half an hour.
A minute or two later, my dates finally stroll in. Even in this glamorous crowd, you notice them. "We thought you ditched us!" Lexie says.
"I try not to talk to the press if I can help it," I say.
"Wish that trait would rub off on her," Brendan says.
"Light of my life, we are celebrities. It's expected of us." She shakes her head. "Anyway, duty done. Let's get in there and party." She links arms with us. "I need some hooch."
The ballroom is packed with the two hundred plus guests milling around, chatting, swilling champagne, eating hor'dervs, or dancing the Charleston over by the twenty-one piece band. Blown up movie posters and fashion magazines from the era line the walls. The lights are dim to give it a speakeasy feel I guess. It just makes me claustrophobic. "I need a beer," Brendan says.
We worm our way to the huge bar. I order my usual ginger ale before we locate an empty table to sit at. I spot my CFO Lane and his wife Heidi and wave. I do the same with Clinton Bell and his fiancée Gwen, who glares at me then pulls him away. He's had a crush on me for years. "So, you want me to introduce you to people or--"