Make Me A Match
“Come on. Make your move, you jerk.”
For three freaking weeks I’d been watching him. Three freaking weeks I’d been forced to shadow his every dull move…spying on some pathetic man’s life in order to get that one photo opportunity that would pay next month’s rent.
It’d never bothered me before, why now did I feel so frustrated with my life?
I sighed and lowered the camera. Spying was way less fun than people made it seem, especially when it revolved around watching from the shrubbery while perverted men tried to pick up women half their age. No cloaks and daggers for me. No running for my life through narrow European alleys. Certainly no mysterious, hot men coming to my rescue.
“Emma! Emma! I have the telephoto lens.” Lizzie’s voice carried easily across the parking lot, no doubt drawing the attention of the numerous patrons who were enjoying the outside deck…including the man we were spying on.
I glared over my shoulder. “God, Lizzie.” I pressed my finger to my lips. “What part of incognito don’t you understand?”
My sister frowned, tottering as she climbed over the curb and stepped into the pea gravel that surrounded the Lilacs and Azaleas. She handed me the lens. “Sorry. You’re in a mood.”
A deck with tables took advantage of the lake view while Bob Marley played on outdoor speakers. Our target was currently reclining in a bamboo framed chair, bobbing his head in time to the music but his gaze, oh yes, his gaze remained focused on that bar.
“Did anyone see me?” Lizzie asked, smoothing down her white, pencil skirt and kneeling carefully.
I’d been hiding in front of the pub for an hour now, waiting for our target to make his move and Lizzie had almost blown my cover in the mere five minutes since she’d arrived. “I don’t know, but they will if you don’t get down.”
Lizzie dropped to her knees, grimacing when the gravel bit into her tender flesh. “He looks pretty normal for a cheater.”
“Don’t they all,” I mumbled, wondering what my sister had been thinking by wearing a skirt and heels to a stakeout.
But Lizzie was a novice. Beyond a novice. She’d never make it as a spy. She was too naïve, too innocent. Hell, she read romance novels for God’s sake. The first thing the business taught a person was that the idea of true love was a ridiculous myth that housewives clung to in order to give meaning to their mundane lives. Yep, they clung to the idea until I arrived, camera in hand, to show them just how in love their husbands were…with the maid, the neighbor, the wife’s best friend, and the woman twenty years younger that they’d met at a bar.
The target looked our way. “Get down!”
Lizzie dropped to her belly with a grunt, half falling into the Lilac bush we were hiding behind. The purple blooms rattled in protest, sending their overwhelming perfume through the warm evening air. She might as well have waved a white flag, proclaiming our location. I closed my eyes and sighed. Counting to twenty helped…sometimes.
It was a family business, one I wasn’t ready to give up on. I might have inherited my maternal grandfather’s sleuthing ways, but not Lizzie. One thing was certain, Lizzie would never be a PI. Not like me. Nope, I was made to crush the hopes and dreams of couples in love. I suppose I reveled in it. And yeah, I might have even thrived in proving to women that men were nothing but jerks. Attractive jerks, jerks I occasionally wanted to kiss, but jerks all the same.
“Stay still,” I whispered.
Lizzie nodded, her auburn ponytail wavering back and forth.
I looked in disgust at Lizzie’s outfit. While I preferred darker, earthy colors, Lizzie liked to sparkle. She’d worn a brilliant pink t-shirt that clashed with her red hair. So much for blending in. She flittered from friend to friend, from boyfriend to boyfriend, like a clueless butterfly.
When I was younger, I’d envied my sister’s ease at conversation and making friends. While she’d been liked by all, I’d always been the quiet, good girl overlooked. The girl who’d had too much responsibility taking care of her little sister and a depressed mother to attend basketball games and pep rallies. And now, hell, I was seventeen and had only been on a handful of dates.
But the past was the past. There was no use dwelling. Pushing aside my depressing thoughts, I looked through the lens of my camera watching Kelly make her move. It didn’t take much, with a rack like hers the buxom blonde had only to give a small smile and they’d come running like dog’s in heat. I’d found the girl working in a strip club and Kelly had been only too eager to leave the smoky joint.
The former stripper gave a little toss of her head, her long blonde locks shimmering under the setting sun. I was pretty sure Kelly loved taking down the same sort of slime balls she’d been forced to endure for five years of her adult life.
“The man in the blue button up,” I said into the tiny microphone pinned to the lapel of my jacket. “Looking your way now.”
Kelly gave a discreet nod and glanced over her shoulder toward their target. There it was… the smile. He hadn’t a chance. He surged from his chair, his eagerness almost tangible. With an arrogance that belied his thinning hair and middle age paunch, he sauntered toward Kelly.
He had money. That was obvious by the clothing he wore and the Jag he drove. And people with money thought they were gods. If I’d learned anything during my tumultuous teenage years, it had been that rich people especially believed they could get away with all. He leaned against the bar, his string of drool practically sliding down Kelly’s cleavage.
“You come here often?” came through my earpiece.
I snorted and stretched out upon my belly to get a better angle. Seriously? The man had made millions in the stock market and that was the best line he could come up with? I almost felt sorry for him…almost. I settled my elbows into the gravel, thankful for the leather jacket I wore, even if it was a good eighty degrees out.
I needed that money shot, the photo his wife could use to take him for everything he owned and with Kelly’s good looks, and his neediness, it wouldn’t take long. Once I got that shot, I could go home, soak in a tub, and forget for a short while the heartache I witnessed every day. It was, undoubtedly, the worst part of the mission, handing that picture to the wife, proof that her husband wasn’t the man she thought she’d married. I shook aside the thought. Besides, the check they’d write afterward made up for my unease. At least that’s what I told myself.
A soft breeze blew in from Lake Michigan, sending small purple blooms raining through the air. Perhaps I’d go to the beach for a bit. When I was lying in the sand, my eyes half-closed, I could pretend I was on the Mediterranean. Kelly giggled at something the man said. I barely paid attention. I’d get it all on tape and go over it later. I was good at my job. The best. Grandpa would be proud, although I doubted he’d appreciate our newest client list…cheating men. But you had to make money anyway you could. And we definitely needed the money.
Still, lately I’d found my mind drifting, my attention wavering. Although the family business was as busy as ever, life seemed…lacking. I needed a vacation. A little time to recoup. Heck, I needed an actual life. I might not be able to afford the Mediterranean, but maybe I could talk Lizzie into driving to Florida.
He leaned closer, resting a possessive hand on Kelly’s thigh. I smiled and clicked. “Perfect. Now give me just a little more.”
“Is he going to kiss her?” Lizzie whispered, peering through the branches.
“Shhhh,” I hissed.
He leaned in, whispering nauseating nothings into Kelly’s ear. Click. I tried not to gag. How Kelly could allow these men to paw her, I hadn’t the slightest.
“You know,” Lizzie whispered. “You should totally be the decoy. A little makeup, put some gel in your hair…”
I resisted the urge to sigh. “Lizzie please, like I want those guys pawing me. As if to prove my point the man leaned toward Kelly, his hand cupping the side of her face. Click. Click. “Yes, there we go. Kiss her, you sick freak.”
“You know, it worries me how thrilled you are when you take these men down.”
I frowned. “Why shouldn’t I be? These men lie to their wives, they should be destroyed. Arrogant asses who think they can get away with anything.”
“Yeah, but it’s totally clouding your aura.”
I rolled my eyes. At times I wasn’t sure if my sister was being serious or not. I hoped she was joking. I shook my head and refocused on Kelly. The target was leaning in close. So close. Here came the money shot. The thrill of victory coursed bitterly sweet through my veins as I knew deep down that my win was someone else’s loss. He leaned closer, I held my breath.
“Excuse me,” a refined British voice called out from behind me.
I froze. Crap. Perhaps if I ignored him, he’d go away. Frantically, I continued to push that button, click, click, click, attempting to get the money shot before this man ruined everything. “The owner knows me. I have permission to be on his property.”
Which was true, sort of. I’d had permission last year, before someone had complained.
I pushed the button again. Click. Mentally I urged the target to move closer to Kelly. Come on, come on. Why wasn’t he kissing her? She was totally kissable!
“Uh, no,” the guy insisted. “You’ve misunderstood.”
Lizzie nudged me in the arm, pushing me off balance and making me drop the camera a few inches. I sighed and glanced over my shoulder intending to give the man a piece of my mind. But his polished dress shoes momentarily surprised me into silence. My gaze moved from his feet up to his pressed, slate trousers, further to his jacket and vest, complete with pristine white shirt underneath.
Lounge and beach wear were the norm here. Even the millionaires who visited from Chicago wore their Hawaiian shirts, attempting their best imitation of Jimmy Buffet. What Ivy League college had this man crawled from and why the heck was he here in Podunk, Michigan?
He cleared his throat, shifting the brief case from his right hand to his left. “It’s important.”
Nineteen or twenty with a briefcase? Weird. Maybe he was older than I first guessed. He was tall and had nice, large, strong hands. A workman’s hands that belied his businessman attire. Curious, I couldn’t help but lift my gaze to his face. Square, smooth jaw. Firm lips. Sunlight glinted off of blond hair, trimmed neatly and parted perfectly to the side. Wire rimmed glasses over green eyes. My gaze jumped back to his. No, not just green. Intensely green. My heart squeezed, jumping slightly in surprise. If he lost the glasses and suit, he’d have women eating out of his hands.
He was a total hot nerd. Like a blond Clark Kent. I’d always had a thing for super heroes. I rolled back to my belly, intent on ignoring the man and more importantly, intent on ignoring the heat swirling low in my belly.
Had Louie gotten a new manager? He was certainly taking his position rather seriously if his suit was any indication. The former manager’s idea of dress clothing was an unstained wife-beater and jeans.
“Emma!” Lizzie cried out. “He’s kissing her!”
“Shoot!” I lifted the camera and started clicking before I’d even focused on the target. Sure enough, the man was pressing his mouth along Kelly’s fragile jaw. Dang, I should have been paying attention. I could have missed the shot and the paycheck, and all because of a guy with brilliant green eyes.
“You are Ms. Emma Watts?” the English man behind me persisted.
I didn’t dare look back, or stop pushing that camera button, afraid he’d draw my attention away from my goal. “Maybe.”
“I have something for you. Papers and…such.”
Papers. Man wearing a suit.
Realization hit like a punch to the gut. I should have known. A freaking lawyer. I jerked around, looking up at him. Grandpa had been sued more than once. “You’ve got the wrong person…”
“Your aunt has died,” he said, ignoring my protest.
Relief was sweet. Not getting sued. Thank God. Although Grandpa always won the cases, it had taken time and money I didn’t have. As the relief gave way, curiosity settled in. Aunt? As far as I knew, I didn’t have an aunt. “Like I said, wrong person. So either leave, or get down. You’re blowing my cover.”
He frowned, looking more than annoyed, but finally knelt beside me. The warm scent of spice and male swirled through the air, momentarily interrupting my concentration. Visiting bars and seedy motels, I’d hung around men who barely bathed. I’d forgotten what a clean man smelled like.
“As I said, your aunt Clarice has died.”
Lord, his eyes were even more intense up close. A brilliant green, like moss after a spring shower. I shook my head. Pretty soon I’d be spouting poetry. I never should have snuck a peak at Lizzie’s latest romance novel.
“We don’t know an Aunt Clarice,” Lizzie replied for her, giving the man a brilliant smile. A smile that sent plenty of males panting to their knees. Sure enough, the man gave her a hesitant smile back.
Annoyed with their little display of mutual flirtation, I looked away. It had been the same when we were teens. Even though she was younger, guys always fell for Lizzie’s innocent and charming personality. I supposed it didn’t hurt that Lizzie was as hot as a super model with a body straight from a Victoria Secret’s Catalogue.
“She came from your father’s side,” he explained.
“Figures.” Ire fought with surprise. As much as I wanted to know what the heck was going on, my pride wouldn’t allow me to ask questions. I wanted nothing to do with my father, the man who’d abandoned us years ago for his secretary. How cliché. And I sure as heck wanted nothing to do with his family, a family who hadn’t even deemed it important to send a birthday card once in awhile.
“She’s left you something.” His warm breath brushed across the back of my neck, stirring the loose tendrils that had escaped my braid.
I shivered, an unwelcome response to his nearness. When was the last time I’d been really interested in a guy?
“Oh my God!” Lizzie cried out. “What’d she leave her?”
Curious, I glanced over my shoulder. “Money?”
He frowned as if finding talk about money vulgar. Typical snob. “No.”
“Can I sell it for money?” I asked just to annoy him, and it worked.
He sighed, obviously exasperated. “Well, not exactly.”
I turned back around, intent on getting my shot so I could head home. “Then I’m not interested.”
How had this man found me anyway? I did as much as possible to keep my address a secret, not wanting to incur the retaliation of some jaded husband.
Kelly was smiling at the target, leaning into him a little too desperately. Was he pulling back? I should have been coaching her, not thinking about my father, now of all times. How dare his family leave me something. I wanted to shove whatever it was down their throats and hope they choked on it. I wanted to tell them to go to hell. I didn’t need anything from my father’s family…ever.
“Emma,” Lizzie hissed. “You’re being rude.”
I glared at Lizzie. Had my sister forgotten how our father’s family had ignored us when we’d needed support the most?
The man sighed. “Ms. Watts, I don’t think you understand.”
I turned around once more, my anger flaring. “Oh, I understand completely. You don’t seem to though, so let me make it clear. I want nothing from the family who abandoned us when my father left. I want nothing from the family who never called, not even sent a card. Do you understand now, Mr…”
I didn’t have his name. My rant would have been so much more effective if I’d had his name. He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. There was a bump there, as if his nose had been broken during a fight. I doubted this suit had fought anyone, unless it had been bullies picking on him in school.
“Owen Emerson. I’m Mr. Emerson.”
“Wonderful to meet you, Mr. Emerson,” I sneered. “Whatever it is my aunt left me, give it to charity. Now, please leave so I can do my job.”
His annoyed gaze flickered to Kelly, then back to me. I could imagine what he thought off my “job.” The look of disgust was plainly written across his handsome face. “Ms. Watts, please listen to me. I can’t give this gift away. It’s quite… impossible.”
I admitted, if only to myself that I liked the way his voice sounded, smooth and lyrical. I completely understood why women so easily fell for an accent. Yes, his accent was hot, and I hated myself for thinking so.
“Nothing’s impossible, Mr. Emerson.”
“Eh, yes.” He hesitated, rubbing the back of his neck. “Of course, but in this case, there is no possible way to give away this gift.”
“Really?” Lizzie asked, butting her nose into the conversation. “I’m Lizzie, by the way.”
They shook hands like the best of friends. “Nice to meet you.”
“So what do you mean,” Lizzie asked, “Why can’t you give the gift away?”
He looked down briefly, staring at the gravel as unease tightened the features of his face. “Well, I suppose that’s not entirely correct. Perhaps there is one way to dispose of this gift.”
“Yeah?” I prompted, resting my camera on my knees.
“Death.” He looked up at us, those green eyes shimmering with sincerity. “The only way to get rid of this gift is by death.”
Lizzie’s gaze went wide, a look of pure horror, or was that excitement, crossing her perfect features? My sister did love drama. “Death?” she whispered.
I sat upright and laughed. He looked so serious that I couldn’t help myself. “What, exactly, is this supposed gift?”
“Emma,” Lizzie interrupted, nudging me in the side. “The target’s looking this way!”
I jerked my head toward Kelly. The man watched us, frowning, while Kelly tried desperately to regain his attention, even so much as shoving her breasts in his face.
“Crap!” I grabbed a fist full of Owen’s shirt and jerked him downward. He landed with a thud half atop me. Lizzie had somehow managed to crawl under the Lilac. But I was barely aware of my sister. No, I could only seem to focus on the man above me, the man whose body was pressed to mine.
“Ms. Watts, this is quite inappropriate,” he hissed.
I would have laughed at his outrage, if I hadn’t been offended. I was a healthy, attractive female and he was complaining? Was he gay? The hot ones always were. Or was Lizzie right? Did I need a makeover that badly? I shifted, attempting to put distance between us, but the movement only brought us more fully together.
“Dear God.” He started to rise, but frantically I grabbed him, using my weight to hold him to me. “Lizzie, is the target still looking?”
“I don’t know.” She crawled out from beneath the bush and peeked between the branches. “Oh no.”
I stiffened. “What?”
Just at that moment I heard “Abort!” in my ear piece.
“Crap.” I released my hold and shoved my palms into Owen’s hard chest. He didn’t budge. “Move, man!”
He quirked a golden brow in an imperious way that annoyed the heck out of me. “What, now you want me to get up?”
“Don’t be difficult!”
With a glare, he jumped to his feet in a fluid, easy movement I couldn’t help but admire. Almost like one who had studied the martial arts. But I didn’t have time to contemplate that little suspicion. I was much less graceful as I scrambled to my feet.
“You!” I heard someone scream behind me.
“He sounds angry,” Lizzie stated the obvious as she stumbled to her feet.
“Crap, crap, crap.” I snatched my camera from the ground. “Run, Lizzie!”
I didn’t bother to look back. I could hear the target huffing toward us. I wasn’t worried about Kelly. She knew to leave and regroup at the apartment later. But Lizzie was stumbling over her own feet, thanks to her ridiculously high heels.
“Who the hell do you think you are?” The man screamed. “Did that witch put you up to this? I’ll sue you! I’ll call the police!”
People were staring, turning to look toward us. My cover was totally blown. It sure as heck wasn’t good for business to be seen. I jumped over the curb and onto the drive.
“Ms. Watts, we really need to talk,” Owen called out.
I latched onto Lizzie’s arm and dragged my sister across the parking lot. “I’m not interested, Mr. Emerson.”
I dared to glance back. Owen was merely standing there, looking just as put together as when he’d arrived. Not a speck of dirt marred his suit, not a hair out of place.
“Whatever it is, I don’t want it,” I added.With that said, I turned back around and raced across the parking lot toward our beat-up Toyota. As I climbed inside and pulled out of the drive I couldn’t shake the bad, bad feeling that this wasn’t the last time I’d see Owen Emerson.