Like an armored tank brooking no obstacles, Gwyneth strode along the busy streets of the Big Apple. For once she wasn't worried about being mugged or stalked--just let someone try.
“Wilford Wells, just wait until I get hold of you. I'll wring your wrinkled old neck for the trick you've played on me,” she muttered, knowing she must look as demented as half the people around her. Still, she didn't give a damn what anyone thought.
“’Now then, sugar’, Uncle Wil had said, ‘This Mike Carlton, I checked him out. He's the best.’”
The best? If that phony cretin was the best, she'd hate to see the worst. She'd show her uncle what she thought of the best. She'd pull his gray, stringy ponytail out by the roots.
Dammit. She'd presented herself at Mike Carlton's office, expecting to be treated with due respect, and instead he'd hit on her like she was a lap dancer in a stripper bar.
He'd even had the nerve to kiss her in the back seat of a taxi. Never mind that Richard's kisses had never made her hot and squishy inside. Mike's lips were tender and warm, and he'd tasted of his morning coffee. How could one kiss--a kiss that reminded her of a rich burgundy, dark and earthy--upset her so?”
What was the matter with her? She had no business thinking about Mike's lips or his earthiness--no matter that she already had. Keeping her head on straight was of paramount importance. At least it always had been.
Gwyneth entered her office building and managed a semblance of self-control while riding the creaky elevator to the tenth floor. True, she and her uncle could have afforded offices in a better location, but Uncle Wil had argued that their clients might be intimidated by more ostentatious surroundings. And these were certainly humble.
Humble or not, the sight of Wells and Wells, Attorneys-at-Law always made her feel proud, even if the faux gold paint was a touch tarnished. She loved her uncle, but he was in for a shellacking. And she was just the woman to wield the brush.
“He in?” Gwyneth asked the assistant she shared with her uncle. Without waiting for an answer, she flung open the door to his office.
“Good afternoon to you too, sugar.”
She leaned across her uncle's desk, resisting the urge to throttle the only relative with whom she could stand to be in the same room. “You have some explaining to do.”
An expression of total bewilderment took up residence on her uncle's grizzled face. Rearing back in his chair, he frowned. “What the hell's the matter with you?”
“Th-that detective you referred me to--he's a joke. That's what's the matter with me.”
“You saw Mike Carlton, right? Not one of his flunkies?”
“Yeah, I saw him. He's arrogant, rude and a throwback.”
Maybe it was the glint in her uncle's faded blue eyes and the twitch of his lips--or maybe it was the prickle on the back of her neck--but something made her stop mid-rant. “He's standing right behind me, isn't he?”
“You got that right,” came the already too familiar voice.
Gwyneth whirled. “You!” Advancing on the arrogant upstart leaning against the door frame, looking ever so pleased with himself, she shouted, “I can't believe you'd have the effrontery to show your face in my office after your unconscionable behavior in the taxi.”
“You hired me, Counselor,” Mike replied with a shrug, turning his palms upward. “What else could I do?”
“I distinctly remember firing you,” she bluffed, all too aware that she'd done no such thing.
His forehead furrowed, but crystal green eyes shone under thick, dark eyebrows. “Fired? No, I think I'd remember if you'd fired me.”
“I did,” she insisted, barely refraining from stamping her foot. “I'm sure I did.”
“Were we in the taxi when you supposedly fired me?”
“Of course we were.” The nerve of the man--acting so innocent, when all the time he knew exactly what had transpired between them.
Removing his fedora, Mike ran his fingers through wavy, dark-brown hair while he appeared to consider her words. Honestly, if she weren't so mad, she wouldn't mind tangling her fingers in those curls and…
Great! The man had cast a spell over her. She was on the verge of turning into a gibbering, over-sexed hedonist.
Then he smiled. He had such a sexy mouth and gorgeous eyes, but she didn't trust his expression. She took it as a sign that he was about to say--or do--something totally outrageous.
“That's not what I remember happening in the taxi.” Then, as if remembering they weren't alone in the room, Mike stepped around her and approached her uncle. “Sorry, Mr. Wells. We weren't properly introduced. I'm Mike Carlton.” Mike offered his hand to her traitorous uncle who was actually smiling at the P.I. “Your niece has hired me to find out who's stalking her.”
“I fired you!” Gwyneth gave in and stamped her foot.
“Well, I am now.” She fumbled in her purse and pulled out a roll of bills. “Here. Take this for your time and no effort. You are officially fired--as officially fired as I know how to fire anyone.”
Mike took her money, ruffled the bills, then handed them back to her. “Too much, and besides, the taxi ride was pure pleasure on my part. You're very entertaining, Counselor.”
Outraged, she turned back to her uncle. “See what I mean? He's… he's… “
“Got you all stirred up. That's what I see, sugar.” Uncle Wil’s shoulders shook with laughter.
Exasperated, Gwyneth took a deep breath in a feeble effort to regain control--then another. “Why aren't you leaving?” she managed to ask in her most dulcet tone. “You have been dismissed. I no longer have any need of your services. Must I say it in another language perhaps?”
“I understand English, Counselor. It was my first language.” He nodded at her uncle. “Sir, it was a pleasure meeting you, however brief our acquaintance.”
“What's this butter-won't-melt-in-your-mouth act you're putting on for my uncle? That's not how you talked to me.”
All she received for a reply from the outrageous phony was a smirking half-grin as he turned to leave.
“Mike,” Uncle Wil called after the wretched detective. “I think we can do business. Since my misguided niece has fired you, I take it you're free for another job?”
“No!” she cried, unable to stop herself.
Ignoring her, Mike stopped, turned around and smiled. “Yes, as it happens I am.”
“Good, 'cause I'm putting you on retainer. I want you to find Gwyn's stalker.”
“I'd be more than happy to work for you, Mr. Wells.”