Page 16

 Laura Thalassa

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No thank you.
“It’s not like he and I are going to date.” I mumble. “His sister is friends with a girl that doesn’t like me.”
I don’t have to spell out the rest. The Bargainer raises his eyebrows. “Ah.” I can feel his gaze dissecting my body language.
What does he see? My embarrassment? My frustration? My humiliation?
He swings his legs off the bed, the sudden action startling me. He reaches out a hand and pulls me to my feet. “Grab a coat.”
“Because we’re going out.”
In the morning before I head off to work, I pad over to my bathroom and inspect my broken door.
Fixed. The Bargainer repaired it without making a deal. My heart pounds harder at this realization. The Bargainer’s a trickster; everything comes at a price. So why not this?
And the Bargainer’s parting lines. I squeeze my eyes shut. Something he said stuck in my mind.
Seven years is a long time to wait, especially for someone like me.
The Bargainer waits for no one, especially not a moonstruck client who was once only too eager to pay back all her favors. But it sounds as though that’s exactly what he did—he waited. It makes no sense.
I roll my bracelet round and round my wrist, counting, then recounting my beads.
Three hundred and sixteen of them are left. That means that the Bargainer removed some after I bought his precious furniture. Several beads in exchange for the secret I revealed.
I scrub my face.
Right now, more than ever, I think I hate the Bargainer. Hate that he came barging into my life when I was really making something of it. Hate that I had to break up with Eli over the phone because I didn’t know what tasks Des would ask of me. But most of all, I hate him because he is easier to hate than myself.
I shuffle into West Coast Investigations twenty minutes late, a pink cardboard box tucked under my arm.
For the last six years, Temper and I have been in the PI business. Though what we do is a bit more questionably legal than what the job entails. West Coast Investigations can procure just about anything for you—a missing person, a confession, proof of a crime.
“Yo,” I call out from our reception area, “I got us breakfast.”
The typing in Temper’s office pauses.
“Donuts?” she calls out hopefully.
“Nah, I picked us up some fruit. Thought today would be a good day to start working on our swimsuit figures,” I say, dropping the box of donuts on a table in our waiting room, a little cloud of dust billowing out around it.
Reminder: need to wipe down the sitting area.
“Swimsuit figures my ass.” Temper comes stomping out of her office, giving me a look like I blasphemed. “You think I want to look like a skinny whi—”
Her eyes land on the box of donuts.
“I got us blueberry old-fashioned and jelly-filled,” I say, handing her coffee as well. “Boom—fruit.”
She harrumphs. “Bitch, I like the way you think.”
“Ditto, love.” I head into my office.
These are the same offices we moved into five years ago when, on graduation night, we packed up and all but fled Peel Academy, our boarding school, for something better. Our office space still holds that same excited, desperate feel it did then, back when the two of us were running—me from my past, and Temper, her destiny—and eager to make something new for ourselves.
I smile when I see the check from my last assignment on my desk. Dropping my stuff, I slide into my chair and grab the check, stuffing it into my purse. I hope Mickey, the shitty son, is treating his mother right. It’s a privilege to have one at all.
Kicking my heels up on my desk, I turn on my computer. While I wait for it to come to life, I flip through messages on my office phone.
One is from a former target, a stalker by the name of Sean who’d been following one of my clients home. Both Temper and I had to get involved in the case, and we clearly left a lasting impression, judging by all his colorful language. I delete the message and move onto the next.
The following three messages are from potential clients. I slide a legal pad over to me and grab a pen, jotting down the names and contact information they leave behind.
And then there’s the final message.
My muscles seize up when I hear the warm, gravelly voice. “Baby girl, I’m not breaking up with you. Not over this. When I get back, we’ll talk about it.”
My back goes ramrod straight.
No, no, no.
“Until then,” the message continues, “I’ve pulled some strings and moved the Bargainer up on the Wanted List to Top Priority.” A.k.a., top ten.
This is exactly what I didn’t want to happen. Eli taking my mess and making it his own.
As soon as my computer loads, I open up the Politia’s website, moving to their Most Wanted List.
The list goes all the way down to a hundred, but the top ten most wanted criminals are front and center, their photo right next to their name.
Coming in at number three on the list: The Bargainer (real name unknown).
“Motherfucker,” I mutter, kicking the file cabinet next to me.
I don’t know why I’m so bothered. The Bargainer can handle his own shit, and I can handle my own shit. Or I could, until I got involved with an alpha-fucking-werewolf.
My eyes move to the sketch of Des’s face. The Politia doesn’t even have a photo of him, and the picture itself … he could be anyone. The only thing they got right are his silver eyes and white hair. Which, to be fair, is enough.