If I’d believed in coincidences, I’d have said that was a doozy. Even though Mr. Neon was gone, I suddenly felt very exposed standing out in the open. I took the stairs two at a time up to my studio and locked the door behind me. Just for good measure (and because I’ve seen way too many teen horror flicks), I checked under the futon, behind the bathroom door and in the closet. Predictably, no bogey men in waiting. Which, of course, made me realize how foolish I was being. The Neon probably belonged to my neighbor’s son. Probably how fast he pulled away from the curb had nothing to do with me approaching him. Probably it was a totally different car I’d seen following Dana and me.
But I still felt I should probably keep my door locked and my Ginzu knife handy while I ate my takeout. Just in case. (Hey, I’m no dummy. The blonde always dies first in those horror movies.)
I polished off my Chinese in record time and spent the rest of the evening doing half-hearted sketches of the Rainbow Brite jellies in between calling the Larry numbers again. And again. With the same results each time. I hoped Dana was getting along better with Verizon Ted. After Letterman I did one more round of calls before calling it a night myself. I pulled out my futon and fell into a restless sleep, visions of the Mob a la Ray Liotta invading my dreams.
I could swear I’d only been asleep for five minutes when the sound of my door being pounded down woke me. But when I cracked one eye open I saw the sun was up and my digital clock read 7:13 A.M. I groaned as another knock sounded. What was it with morning people?
Reluctantly, I rolled over, throwing off my sheets and shuffling in that half-asleep, half-awake zombie walk of those who have stayed up much too late gorging on takeout.
“Coming,” I called as Mr. Impatience threatened to rattle my door off its hinges again.
I squinted one half-opened eye at the peephole.
The sight that greeted me woke me up faster than any grande mocha latte ever could. Dark, tussled hair. Dark eyes with one small scar cutting across his left eyebrow. Tightly set jaw, dusted with sexy day-old stubble and that black T-shirt fairly painted onto a body that instantly made me feel like a dog in heat.
Oh, shit! I immediately recoiled from the door as if he could see me through the little peephole. My gaze whipped around my apartment. Clothes on the floor, empty take-out cartons on the counters, lipstick, mascara and drawing pencils scattered everywhere-not exactly Martha Stewart ready for visitors. I hated people who showed up unannounced almost as much as I hated morning people.
Maybe if I stood really still he’d think I wasn’t home and come back later. Like, after I’d had a chance to straighten up. I did a quick sniff test of my person. Ugh. And a shower.
“I know you’re in there, Maddie. Your Jeep’s out front.”
Damn. I guess he didn’t make detective for nothing.
“Open the door, Maddie, or I’ll have to break it down.”
I was ninety-nine percent sure that was a bluff. But from the way he was pounding, I didn’t think it wise to risk the one percent. Reluctantly, I slipped off the security chain and opened the door.
For a full two seconds we both just stood there staring at each other. He was wearing his trademark faded jeans, work boots, and gun bulge tucked at his side. A tattoo of a panther flirted with me from beneath the sleeve of his shirt, and his dark eyes did a slow sweep of my body that made me very aware I hadn’t brushed my teeth yet. I did a dry gulp thing while I tried to decide whether I hated him for not calling or loved him for finally showing up on my doorstep.
Finally he broke the silence. “Nice outfit.” The corner of his mouth jerked up into a half smile.
I looked down. Just my luck he’d show up the day I throw on yellow duck pajamas.
“Thanks,” I said with as much dignity as a grown woman wearing duckies could.
“Can I come in?”
I stepped back, hesitating only a minute. The way we’d last left things was somewhere in that vast limbo land of maybe relationships. I mean, he’d seen me one inch from naked and I already knew his condom size. We weren’t exactly strangers. Though the fact that he hadn’t called me in weeks didn’t exactly make us a hot item either.
So I opted for a cool, casual air of indifference, leaning against my kitchen counter and crossing my arms over my ducky jammies as I pretended his sexy stubble and Russell Crowe build had no effect on me whatsoever.
“So what are you doing here?” I squeaked out, wishing my voice was just a wee bit better at pretending.
“You didn’t return my call.”
“Me? Me? Me!” I sputtered. “I haven’t heard from you in weeks!”
He shrugged. “I’ve been busy.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “Too busy to make a piddley little phone call?”
“Work.” He spit out the single syllable, then tightened his jaw, doing his silent cop routine. I imagined it was a really effective look for interrogating a suspect, but it wasn’t winning him any brownie points with me.
“Uh-huh. And so, what, your schedule just suddenly freed up this morning so you thought you’d pop over and harass me about my choice of sleepwear?”
“You know, you’re kind of grumpy in the morning.”
My eyes narrowed into fine slits. “You should see me after coffee. I really hit my stride then.”
He grinned, his face creasing into his big bad wolf smile. The one that made me worry my panties might be across the room with one little huff and puff. I shifted my stance, reminding myself this was the man who had driven me to rent Joanie Loves Chachi.
“Actually,” he said. “I took a personal day. Someone,” he gave me a pointed look, “left a message about gunshots and dead bodies on my voice mail. Kind of makes a guy worry. Especially knowing you.”
“Ha, ha. Very funny. It was one boob, okay? I popped one freaking implant and suddenly I’m Calamity Jane.”
His mouth quirked up again. “Why don’t you just tell me about this phone call, huh?”
I hesitated. Yes, I had called him in the first place, but this whole smirky slash sexy slash casual-and-not-even-hinting-at-the-fact-that-we’d-been-nearly-naked-together thing he had going on was starting to irritate me.
But the way I saw it, I had two options. One, tell him to go to hell for not calling once in six weeks, then having the nerve to show up while I’m in ducky jammies. Or two, swallow my pride, make a pot of coffee, and play the message for him. (I ignored the voice in my head screaming to go with option three: Jump his bones right here and now, you idiot! Before he disappears again for god knows how long.)
As much as telling him to go to hell sounded fun, I figured option two was the most productive. So I set my Mr. Coffee to perk, tossed in some French roast, and played the message for Ramirez.
He listened, his face unreadable. I bit my lip, half hoping he’d say it was obviously a car backfiring, even though the more I listened to it the more likely Dana’s theory of forty-five Berettas seemed.
“So?” I asked. “What do you think?”
He sat down on my futon and rubbed a hand over his face. “He said his name was Larry on the tape. Larry what?”
Ramirez sighed deeply, his face still a solid wall of Bad Cop. “Nothing. Look, it’s probably a prank phone call.”
“But we should check it out, right?”
“We?” He gave me a look like I’d just proposed a June wedding, all trace of his previous humor gone. “No, you shouldn’t check out anything. If you hear from him again, have the police check it out.”
“But if he’s dead, he can’t very well call again. Don’t you think someone should investigate?”
“Someone, maybe. You, definitely not.”
I was beginning to take this personally.