“He’s got more money than God, I swear,” the one with the black hair finally adds.
Melanie is still keeping quiet about the boyfriend. I need to turn up the drunk-moron routine if I want her to tell me what I need to know. I can’t really go back to the office and Google “members of the Mob.”
“Wow, that must be so awesome. My ex was a total loser. He had a bunch of money, but never spent any of it on me,” I complain.
That’s all it takes. Melanie’s eyes light up and she looks at me like we’re long-lost sisters.
“Oh, my gosh, me too! My ex practically owned his own company and he wouldn’t even consider buying a summer home in the Hamptons when I asked him,” Melanie whines. “Vinnie buys me stuff every day and takes me to all the best restaurants. He’s a total keeper. But just in case, I’m still going to take my ex for all he has.”
All three of the girls laugh and clink their glasses together.
I want to punch this bitch right in her selfish little face.
“So, this guy is really in the Mob? Like, the real Mob?” I ask.
“He totally is! He’s like the boss or something. But you can’t tell anyone I told you this, okay?” she begs.
Yeah. Right. Your secret is safe with me.
I sit with the girls for a few more minutes as they all go on and on about how amazing this Vinnie person is because he isn’t afraid to shell out thousands of dollars a day on Melanie, and how Matt isn’t going to know what hit him when she takes control of the company.
It’s sad and pathetic and makes me even more determined to do whatever I can to help Matt. I also make a mental note to never send any future children I might have to the school system these idiots work for.
Unfortunately, none of them are forthcoming with Vinnie’s last name and I find out that he’s not joining them tonight because he had some business to take care of. If he really is with the Mob, I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume this “business” probably has something to do with offing someone. I might make a few stupid choices here and there, but even I know that trying to hunt down someone who works for the Mob just to get a few pictures of him with Melanie is a bad idea. I’m going to have to come up with another plan for making sure Melanie keeps her greedy paws off of Matt’s company.
No. Absolutely not. There is no way you are going to dig deeper into this guy’s background. That just has bad news written all over it,” I tell Matt.
After we left the club, we decided to stop at a twenty-four-hour diner on the way home. Since we drove separately to the club, Matt followed me in his car.
“What else am I supposed to do? You said it yourself: She is determined to fuck me over. I can’t let that happen¸ Paige.”
Reaching across the table, I rest my hands on top of his. “I know. We’ll think of something else. I have a few contacts in law enforcement. Let me have them do some checking first and find out what we’re dealing with.”
Matt stares at me across the table and I can’t bring myself to move my hands off of his even when the waitress comes over and refills our coffee cups. I think back to his words at the club about this thing between us being weird. It is weird, but in a good way. I feel like I’ve known him forever.
“Where did you even come from? My life was total shit a week ago and then all of a sudden, you show up out of nowhere and make everything better,” he tells me with a smile.
I swallow past the lump in my throat. Now would be the perfect opportunity to tell him that it wasn’t a coincidence, me showing up in his life the way I did.
“You are amazing,” Matt tells me earnestly.
I shake my head at him, wishing the words would come out of my mouth as easily as they pop into my head.
“Yes, you are,” he insists. “I barely know anything about you, but I know that much at least. I’m pretty much a stranger to you and yet you’re willing to do whatever you can to help me out. That’s amazing, if you ask me.”
Oh, but you aren’t a stranger, Matt. I’ve read your file. I’ve MEMORIZED your file.
“So, tell me something about you. I’ve bored you to death and most likely insulted the hell out of you with my problems. What do you do for a living when you aren’t trying to make it in the modeling world?” he asks, moving one of his hands out from under mine to pick up his coffee cup and bring it to his lips.
Of course he couldn’t start with something easy, like my favorite color.
“I’ve actually given up the modeling dream. Um, I mostly just do some office work for my best friend’s company.”
I am going straight to hell.
“Why would you give up on the modeling thing? You’re gorgeous, obviously. I have a hard time believing it wouldn’t be a pretty lucrative career for you once you got your foot in the door.”
If you only knew . . .
“I just realized it wasn’t something I loved doing. It got old really fast,” I explain, giving him as much as I can of myself right now. A part of me wants to tell him everything. About how I was, and still am, kind of a big deal in the modeling world. How I got tired of being paraded around in front of people for my looks, no one even considering that I might have a brain that I’d want to use for something else. And how the person I loved, trusted, and married only cared about my looks and used me for what those looks provided him. It’s so refreshing being anonymous that I’m almost drunk from the joy it brings me.
“You should never do something you’re not passionate about. I’m glad you aren’t doing it anymore if it didn’t make you happy. Although it would have been kind of cool to drive down Route 20 and see your picture splashed across a billboard,” he jokes before taking another sip of his coffee.
Well, it’s a good thing we’re not taking Interstate 69 home, then, since there is currently one of me at mile marker seventy-two modeling a bathing suit for Victoria’s Secret.
I laugh uncomfortably as I watch him drink his coffee. I can’t do this anymore. I want to be honest with him. He’s poured his heart out to me and I sit here and continue to lie to him. He needs to know where I work, and he needs to know that I know everything about Melanie.
“Matt, I need to tell you—”
“Paige, what the hell is going on?”
Jerking my hand away from Matt’s, I stare up in shock at Andy standing next to our table, staring down at us with an annoyed look on his face. He’s wearing his usual work attire: a black suit with an interchangeable shirt and tie in various colors. He’s wearing blue right now, so it must be Friday. Andy is the most anal person I’ve ever met, but something is going on with him. He’s a hot mess right now. Instead of his typical clean-cut, perfectly pressed appearance, he looks like he hasn’t slept in days, or if he has, he’s slept in his clothes. He’s a wrinkled disaster and I have never seen him with so much facial hair. He was always meticulous about shaving every single morning.
“Andy? What are you doing here?” I demand.
“I didn’t like how our last conversation ended. You didn’t answer my calls this afternoon and I got worried,” he explains, with a dirty look at Matt.
“So you followed me? Are you insane? GO HOME, Andy.”
Andy ignores me and continues to stare at Matt. “Who are you?”
Matt looks back and forth between us before sliding out of his seat and standing up in front of Andy.
How did I ever think that the two of them were anything alike? Seeing the two of them side by side, the differences are glaringly obvious. Andy is short, whiny, and annoying. Matt is easily five inches taller than he is, and working in an office all day hasn’t diminished his intimidation skills in the least. I watch in awe as Matt stares Andy down and Andy visibly shrinks into himself and takes a step back.
“My name’s Matt, and I’m a friend of Paige’s. I think it would be best if you do as she says and go home,” he tells Andy in a calm voice.
Andy gets a sudden second wind of self-confidence and puffs out his chest, stepping around Matt and up to my side. “Look, I talked to Penny again. She said you still have plenty of time to say yes to the InStyle photo shoot. The mag has even upped their original offer—a hundred and fifty grand and the promise of the cover. It’s their anniversary issue and they really want you for it.”
Pushing myself up out of the bench seat, I get right into Andy’s face. “I already told you this earlier. I’m not doing this just to pay off your debt. I’m done modeling, Andy. Get that through your head.”
Andy crosses his arms over his chest and huffs at me. “You’re being childish, Paige. You’re one of the top models in the entire country. You’ve been in every fucking magazine they print in the US and CoverGirl wants you to do another commercial. You don’t just up and quit something like that for some silly pipe dream of being a private investigator.”
“Shut up, Andy. Shut up right now,” I warn him, refusing to look over at Matt.
“I think it’s time for you to leave,” Matt tells Andy through clenched teeth as he steps in between us.
Luckily, the waitress rushes over to check on us before I pick up my fork from the table and stab it into Andy’s smug face.
“Is everything okay here? Do I need to get the manager?” she asks, glancing back and forth between the three of us.
“Oh no, there’s no need for that. Everything is fine. He was just leaving,” I state, staring angrily at Andy.
Andy huffs and turns away from me to look at Matt. “Maybe you can talk some sense into her. She’s never going to amount to anything at that stupid, man-hating Fool Me Once Investigations. The only thing she’s good for is sitting there and looking pretty.”
Andy barely finishes his tirade before Matt’s fist connects with his face. Andy’s head whips back with the force of the blow, and he immediately starts screaming like a girl.
“OH, MY GOD! I THINK YOU BROKE MY NOSE!”
Andy is bent over at the waist, holding both of his hands over his nose as the blood drips down his fingers and onto the floor by his feet.
“Get the fuck out of here before I break something else of yours,” Matt growls at him.
I’m pretty sure my underwear just spontaneously combusted.
Andy finally gets the hint and scurries out of the restaurant without another word, whimpering the entire way out the door. After he’s gone, Matt turns around to face me.
“I think I should probably tell you, that was the hottest thing I’ve ever seen,” I admit to him.
“Stop. Just . . . stop.”
I shut my mouth and quickly realize that now is not the time for jokes. Even if I’m not joking at all. I really want to throw him down on the ground and rip his clothes off.
“A little modeling? You must think I’m a complete idiot,” Matt says softly.
I shake my head frantically back and forth. “No! It’s nothing like that, I swear.”
“You HAVE been following me, haven’t you? Jesus Christ, is anything about you even true? Did Melanie hire you?”
He waits for me to argue, but I have nothing to say. Not one word.
“She did, didn’t she? Fuck! This entire time, you’ve been playing me for a fool. I really am an idiot,” he mutters angrily.
“Matt, please. Just let me explain,” I plead.
“I think I’ve had enough explanations for one night. Tell my ex I hope she enjoys the company.”
Matt turns and storms out of the restaurant, slamming the door open so hard it bangs against the outside of the building.
“So, you ready for the check now?” the waitress deadpans.
I flop down into the booth and stare longingly out the front door.
Well, so much for this night ending with another amazing kiss.
On Sunday morning, there’s a knock at my door and I contemplate ignoring it. I haven’t showered in two days. I’m facedown on my couch, where I’ve been since I got home Friday night. At least I changed out of my dress when I got home that night. Too bad I haven’t changed out of the Hello Kitty pajama bottoms and tank top I put on after I ripped off my dress and threw it in the trash. I feel gross. But I deserve to feel gross. I suck.
There’s another knock at the door, this one louder than the first. I don’t even lift my head from the cushion or move my body. They’ll go away eventually.
“PAIGE McCARTY, OPEN UP THIS DOOR RIGHT NOW OR I’M GOING TO KICK IT DOWN!” Kennedy yells.
Shit. Kennedy will never go away. And she really will kick my door down. I’ve seen her do it before.
With a sigh, I push myself up from the couch and shuffle my feet over to the door, opening it up while Kennedy continues to pound on it with her fist.
“Jesus Christ, you look like shit,” Kennedy tells me as she pushes her way into my condo.
“Well, aren’t you just a ray of sunshine this morning,” I deadpan as I close the door behind her and go right back to my previous position on the couch.
I know why she’s here. Aside from the fact that I’ve been ignoring her since Friday night, I’m positive that Matt called the office and filled her in on what a lying bitch I am. She’s probably here to fire me. I’m an ex-model and now an ex-almost-private investigator. I’m washed up. A has-been. They’re going to do an E! True Hollywood Story on me and it’s going to be depressing.
“Care to tell me why you haven’t answered my or Lorelei’s calls in the past two days?” Kennedy asks.
“Don’t feel bad about firing me. I already know I screwed up,” I mumble into the couch.