Authors: Gemma Halliday
Tags: #General, #cozy mystery, #Women Sleuths, #Weddings - Planning, #Women fashion designers, #Mystery & Detective
Ramirez looked at the ceiling and muttered something in Spanish. I had a feeling the words “blonde” and “last nerve” were in there somewhere.
“You’re mad again, aren’t you?”
He gritted his teeth. “No, ” he lied.
“Then why is that vein bulging?”
Ramirez looked at me. His jaw flinched. His eye twitched. Then he consulted the ceiling again, blowing out a long breath. “I’m not mad at
Maddie. I just…” He trailed off, shaking his head. His gaze rested on the death threat scrawled across my bathroom mirror in lipstick. “I just sometimes wish like hell I had a normal girlfriend.” He stood up and brushed off the seat of his jeans. “Look, I’m going to go call this in. Don’t touch anything!”
I watched him walk out into my living room and pull his cell from his pocket. But I honestly couldn’t have moved if I wanted to. I was staring after him, utterly stunned.
Did he just say girlfriend?
For my favorite leading man, Nicky.
“Wait, Chad, don’t leave. I…I have something to tell you.”
“After all your lies and deception, there’s nothing you can possibly say to make me stay now, Ashley.”
“Chad, please! You know I love you. I only did what I had to to keep us together. Besides, you can’t go now…I’m carrying your baby!”
I gasped, grabbing another handful of popcorn as the TV switched to a deodorant commercial.
“Oh my freaking God, the baby is the gardener’s?” my best friend Dana shouted from the sofa beside me. “Her husband is gonna freaking flip.”
“Don’t worry, ” I said, taking a sip of Diet Coke. “He’s still in that coma, remember? He’ll never know.”
“Oh, right. I missed that episode. So does that mean the lady who hit him with the car went to jail?”
I shook my head. “No, her husband blackmailed the DA to get the charges dropped, but only if she checked herself into rehab. But instead of going to re
hab, she shacked up with her sister’s husband at his place on the lake.”
“Oooooooh, ” Dana said. “So that’s why the sister is poisoning the husband.”
I nodded. “Shhh, it’s back on.”
Dana and I went silent, our eyes glued to the screen as Chad and Ashley fell into a passionate embrace. I’m not ashamed to admit it: I was seriously hooked on this show.
was the hottest prime-time soap to hit the airwaves since Brandon and Brenda moved to the 90210, and I was powerless against its junk-TV spell.
My cell rang from my purse.
“You’re ringing, ” Dana said.
I waved it off. “Commercial, ” I mumbled around a bite of popcorn, my eyes glued to the screen as Chad asked Ashley just how sure she was that the baby was his and not her comatose husband’s. While, of course, Ashley’s nosy neighbor listened at the bedroom door, catching the whole conversation.
Just as they switched to a shot of Ashley’s husband in the coma ward, my purse rang again.
“You sure you shouldn’t get that?” Dana asked.
I shook my head. “Are you kidding? Ashley’s husband is about to wake up.”
I ignored the “William Tell Overture” trilling from the region of my Kate Spade, instead grabbing another handful of popcorn as Nurse Nan leaned over the comatose Preston Francis Barton III. Considering she was his wife’s secret evil twin sister, I figured we were in for two options: she was either going to smother him or pull the plug.
She leaned in closer. Her hands reached for the plug.
Dana and I did a collective gasp.
Then the screen went to a life-insurance commercial featuring a baby boomer in leather pants air-guitaring a Jimi Hendrix song.
“I hate it when they do that!” Dana said, throwing a piece of popcorn at the screen. Hers, of course, was minus the butter, oil, fat, salt, and flavor. Dana was an aerobics instructor-slash-wannabe actress with the kind of curves that caused car crashes on the PCH. Her body was a temple. Mine, on the other hand, required regular sacrifices from the natives of Double Stuf Oreos, cheeseburgers, and popcorn with lots of bright yellow butter flavoring made of ingredients I couldn’t pronounce. My theory? As long as my favorite Cavalli jeans still fit, I was doing okay. (Fine, so they were a little snug around the waist lately, but I could still zip them up!)
While Dana tossed another kernel of popcorn at the television, I reached into my purse and checked my cell readout. Two missed calls. Both from the same number, one that had me doing a little happy squirm in my seat. Ramirez.
Detective Jack Ramirez was not only the LAPD’s hottest cop, but as of last fall he was also mine. All mine.
Okay, so he hadn’t exactly officially said that I was his girlfriend yet, but I’m pretty sure that just last week he used the words
in the same sentence. Which was a start. Ramirez wasn’t exactly your typical happily-ever-after material. He was a homicide detective with a very large gun, a very large tattoo, and some very dangerous moves in the bedroom. More of a bad-boy Russell Crowe than a home-and-hearth Ward Cleaver. Not, mind you, that I was complaining. (See bedroom reference above.)
We were supposed to meet for “drinks or something” after he got off shift. Me, I was wearing a black lace Vicky’s Secret thong under my capris in hopes of the “or something.”
I keyed in my PIN number and waited for my messages while the
theme song played and credits rolled over a backdrop of manicured lawns and a picture-perfect neighborhood.
“Hey, Maddie, it’s me, ” came Ramirez’s voice. “Listen, something came up. I’ve got to meet someone at the Cabana Club, so I can’t get together later after all. Sorry. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
Ramirez’s fatal flaw, as you may have noticed, was his tendency to make and break plans. Or, worse yet, not make them at all. Even though I was seconds away from actual girlfriend status, I hadn’t seen Ramirez since last Friday night, when dinner and a movie at City Walk had turned into appetizers and me in a cab when he got a call about a gang shooting in Compton. And now, true to form, he was blowing off our “or something” again. I narrowed my eyes at my cell, wondering what kind of
he was meeting instead.
“What’s up?” Dana asked, watching my face fall.
“Ramirez. He’s canceling on me.” Again.
“What, again?” Dana asked, voicing my thoughts.
“I know! He said he has to meet someone. What does that mean?”
Dana shrugged. “I dunno.” She popped another piece of popcorn into her mouth.
“I mean, are we talking a work-related someone or a personal someone? ’Cause if it’s a personal some-one, why not just ask them to join us for drinks? Why cancel on me? What, is he ashamed of me? He doesn’t
want his friends to meet me? That’s bad, isn’t it? It means something really bad. He’s having second thoughts about this whole relationship thing, isn’t he? I knew it. I knew it wouldn’t last. I knew he’d never settle down. I mean, not that I’m asking him to settle down. Oh God, do you think he thinks I want him to settle down? Is that it? Am I smothering him? Am I too needy? I’m not too needy, am I?”
“Whoa. Take a breath, Gilmore Girl. No wonder he needs a night off.”
Dana was right; I was beginning to hyperventilate.
“Look, he’s probably just out with the guys or something tonight. You know how those cops are. It’s a total boys’ club.”
“You’re right.” I took a deep breath. “Right. He probably just needs a night out with the guys. It’s not that he doesn’t
to be with me. I mean, of course he wants to be with me. Why wouldn’t he want to be with me? I’m so not smothery.” I paused. “But, just in case, how about we go on a double date this weekend?”
Dana shot me a look. “Double date?”
“It’s way harder to smother someone on a double date. Besides, it’ll be fun. Me and Ramirez, you and…” I paused, unsure which flavor of the month Dana was presently working her way through. As much as I loved my best friend, even I had to admit she had an uncanny ability to pick men destined for short-term romances. Case in point, her last boyfriend, Rico, a self-proclaimed urban soldier who’d ended up joining a group of mercenaries in Afghanistan searching for the last remnants of the Taliban. Dana was still nursing a sore ego at being dumped for a bunch of dusty caves halfway around the world.
She bit her lip as a little frown settled between her
strawberry-blonde brows. “Sorry, Maddie, I can’t do a double date.”
“Please! It’s not like I’m asking you to actually have this relationship for me, I just need a buffer.”
Dana shook her head. “No, no. It’s not that. I can’t date. I’m off men.”
“Oh no. Please don’t tell me you’re trying that lesbian thing again, ” I said, sipping my Diet Coke.
Dana shook her head. “No, it’s not like that. It’s…well…I can’t have sex.” She put her hands on my shoulders, turning me to face her as she put on her serious look. “I have a problem.”
“A problem? What, like an STD?”
She shook her head again. “No, Mads. This is worse.”
I arched an eyebrow. “Okay, I’ll bite: What’s worse than an STD?”
“I’m addicted to sex.”
I rolled my eyes. “Oh good. I thought this was something serious.” I laid on the sarcasm as I grabbed another handful of popcorn.
serious!” she protested.
“Dana, you are hot. Men like you. Since when is that a problem?”
“That’s not true, Maddie. I’m sick.”
“You’re lucky is what you are. You know how many push-up bras I own just to have half your cleavage?” A lot. I was pretty sure that Jack Black and I were the only people left in L.A. who still wore B cups.
Dana ignored me. “Sex can be like any other addiction. It’s a disease. One I have to accept and learn to manage one day at a time. I’m practicing positive sexual sobriety.”
I crunched down hard on a popcorn kernel to keep
from laughing. “Positive sexual sobriety?”
Dana nodded. “Uh-huh. Therapist Max says it’s the only way to break the cycle of addiction.”
I blinked. “Therapist Max? You’re seriously taking advice from a guy named ‘Therapist Max’?”
Dana nodded again. “Yes, Maddie. We’re all first names at SA. Even the therapists.”
I knew I was going to regret asking. “SA?”
Mental forehead smack. “And I thought
“Oh, Maddie, ” Dana said, her eyes lighting up, “you should totally come with me to a meeting. There are tons of hot guys there, and they’re always super-nice to new girls.”
“Thanks, but no thanks. Besides, I have a boyfriend. Sort of, ” I added ruefully, thinking of my Vicky’s thong going to waste tonight. “You sure Ramirez isn’t blowing me off?”
Dana opened a bottled water and took a long drink. “Positive.”
“All right. Then I promise not to freak out about it anymore tonight. I mean, if he wants to go with the boys to the Cabana Club, I’m not going to be one of those whiny kind of girlfriends about it.”
Dana’s head snapped up and she did a little cough/choke thing with her water. “The Cabana Club!”
“Maddie, have you ever been there?”
I shook my head. To be honest, my idea of a night on the town started with dinner on Ventura and ended with a turn around the Beverly Center and a new pair of pumps. I wasn’t exactly a regular on the club circuit.
“Ohmigod, Maddie. It’s a total hookup place. You didn’t tell me Ramirez was going
Oh shit. I felt my stomach bottom out, fizzy Diet Coke mixing with fake buttered popcorn mixing with pure dread. “Oh God. This is it. He’s totally dumping me, isn’t he? It was all about the chase, wasn’t it? Now that he’s got me where he wants me, he doesn’t want me anymore! I’m stale, Dana. I’m like that day-old bagel no one wants. Oh God, what am I going to do?”
“I’m sorry, hon.” Dana laid a hand on my arm and sent me the same pitying look she’d been giving me ever since my mother insisted on giving me a bob with bangs in seventh grade. “Look, I’m sure it’s nothing. I’m sure he’s just…” She trailed off, unable to come up with an adequate lie.
“Right.” I took a big gulp of my Diet Coke, the carbonation burning all the way down my throat. “But, just in case, you feel like grabbing a drink?”
The Cabana Club was a large brick building on the corner of La Brea and Sunset, painted pink and flanked by flashing neon flamingos. Since it was Friday night, there was a line to get in. Luckily Dana knew every bouncer in town (most on a more intimate basis than I knew my gynecologist), and we were in-side before you could say, “Lindsay Lohan.”
As my eyes adjusted to the dimly lit interior, which was punctuated by pink and green flashing lasers, I realized Dana was right: the placed reeked of hookup. A crowded dance floor to our right held L.A.’s hottest bodies—actress-slash-waitresses, model-slash-waitresses, a bunch of CW actors, and that girl from
everyone hated—all gyrating together in a way that couldn’t even air on HBO. Tables to the left were
filled with groups of men and women doing the heads-bent-together thing and drinking tall cocktails while grabbing one another under the table. The bar straight ahead was two people thick with singles looking to score a martini and a phone number. I squinted through the darkness, praying my boyfriend wasn’t one of them.
not a boys’ night out, ” I shouted over the techno beat pulsating off the walls.
not the place a recovering sex addict should be spending her Friday night.” Dana eyed a guy at the bar wearing leather pants, an unbuttoned shirt, and a “how
He winked at her.
Dana bit her lip.
“Let’s find Ramirez and get out of here fast before I do something I’m going to regret, ” she said.
Fine by me. We wove our way through the crowd, circling the bar. I got elbowed by an Olsen twin look-alike, and a guy in a cowboy hat spilled a margarita on my capris, but I didn’t care. I was on a mission. I had been patient with Ramirez. I had given him his space. I had even waited a record two months before having sex with him. (Not entirely by choice, but that was beside the point.) I had done everything known to woman to make this relationship work. And what did he do? Blow it all for a night in hookup heaven. “Woman scorned” didn’t even begin to describe the anger surging through me as I scanned the club.
Then I spotted him. He was sitting at a table near the back, a half-empty glass of beer in front of him. I gnashed my teeth together, my vision going red as I stared my worst fear in the face.
Ramirez was sitting next to a woman. A
woman. If there’s anything in this world that my five-one-and-
a-half self hates more than being dumped, it’s being dumped for someone tall.
Her legs were almost as long as I was, tucked under the table beneath a barely-there leather mini. And her top didn’t cover a whole lot more. A plunging neckline dipped almost to her belly button, showing off cleavage that was obviously man-made. Over her shoulders was a little red shrug jacket, more for fashion effect than actual coverage, and her long black hair was loose, flowing down her back, giving her that dark, exotic look that a blonde Irish/English mutt like myself could never pull off.