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“I already have his number narrowed down to two possible Larry Springers in Vegas.” I showed him my list. “Dana’s checking addresses for me.”

“Addresses?” Ramirez’s volume shot up about three notches. “Wait, you’re not actually thinking of going to Vegas to look for this guy, are you?”

“Well, I hadn’t really thought about it, but he is my fa-”

“No! No, no, no, no.” Ramirez stood up, shaking his head. “You are staying right here. Look, if that is a gunshot on the tape, I don’t want you getting involved. The Vegas PD will handle it. I absolutely forbid you from setting foot in Las Vegas.”

I blinked. “Forbid me?”

Okay, so here’s the thing: I hadn’t, in fact, been planning a Vegas trip. As much as the thought of my father lying dead in a ditch bothered me, I wasn’t exactly ready to come face to face with the man who’d abandoned me without so much as birthday card for the last twenty-six years. I’d figured once I had a couple of addresses for the police to check out, I would hand the whole thing over to the Las Vegas cops and hope for the best. But the sight of Ramirez towering over me, having the unmitigated gall to forbid me to do anything after pulling a disappearing act for the last six weeks made visions of blackjack tables dance before my eyes.

“I’m sorry; did you just say you forbid me from going to Vegas?”

Ramirez rubbed a hand over his face and muttered a curse. “I am asking you very nicely to stay home. And since I’m a police officer, I think you might want to listen to me.”

“Well, I’d say that since the message is on my machine, it is my father who called, and last time I checked it wasn’t illegal to visit one’s own father, I can pretty well decide if I’m going to Vegas or not-all by myself.”

“I’m warning you, Maddie…”

“Warning me?” I took a step closer, jutting my chest out in a display of mock bravery. “And what exactly are you going to do to stop me?”

He grabbed me by the shoulders. He looked me square in the eye. Then he planted his lips on mine.

For about half a second I was in total shock. I’d like to say I pushed him off, smacked him across the face as I’m pretty sure he deserved, and told him where he could stick his “warning.” But considering I’d been practicing unintentional celibacy longer than any woman should have to, I melted into a puddle of spineless jelly instead. I suddenly really, really wished I’d had the presence of mind to wear some sexy negligee to bed last night.

Once he’d thoroughly engaged my hormones into overdrive, he stepped back, giving me the puppy dog eyes. “Maddie, please stay away from Las Vegas.”

“No fair.”

He grinned.

“That was a really dirty trick.” I cleared my throat. “And I’m not falling for it.” Much.

Ramirez sighed, shaking his head at me. “Okay, tell you what, I’ll make a couple of calls to the Vegas PD. If anything turns up, I’ll let you know. Okay?”

“Now you’re just trying to humor me, aren’t you?”

He sighed again. “A little.”

“It’s the duckies, right? They make me seem a little crazy, huh?”

“No, honey, you do that all on your own.”

I did a straight-arm point toward the door. “Out. I have to brush my teeth.”

Ramirez sighed and shook his head again. “Look, just promise me you won’t go to Vegas, Maddie?”

I fixed him with my best imitation of my Irish Catholic grandmother’s evil eye. “Promise me you’ll call?”

To which I got nothing but his cop face in return.

“That’s what I thought.”

And I’m proud to say at that I did, in fact, slam the door. Hard enough to rattle my front window in its frame.

Men. One minute they have their tongues down your throat and the next they’re forbidding you from meeting your own father and criticizing your fashion choices. Forbid this, pal! I aimed a really unladylike hand gesture at the door.

I poured myself another cup of coffee, hoping the French roast would wipe the memory of Ramirez’s kiss out of my mouth, and dialed Dana’s cell.

“Hey,” I said when she answered. “You busy?”

“I’m on my way to an audition for a baby food commercial. Why, what’s up?”

“Did you get a hold of Verizon Ted last night?”

“Uh huh. I’m actually just leaving his place,” Dana said, giggling into the phone.

Great, was everyone getting some except me?

“And?”

“Did I ever tell you about that thing Ted does with his tongue when we-”

“What about the phone numbers?” I asked, breaking off before I started to regret sending Ramirez away.

“Oh. Right. Uh…hang on a sec.” I heard Dana flipping through her Day Runner. “Here they are. Ted gave me addresses for both numbers. One in Henderson and the other in south Vegas. You think we should call the police now?”

Actually, I’d had it with police that morning. Sure, calling them would be the logical thing to do. But if I had one more snide man with a badge humor me, I was going to pop a blood vessel. Besides, my encounter with Ramirez was a wake-up call that this was the sort of story the cops would laugh at behind their donuts and coffee. They weren’t going to take a possible gunshot reported from a hundred miles away any more seriously than Ramirez took a lady in duck pajamas. If my dad really were in trouble, I had a feeling that by the time the cops got around to finding him, it would be too late.

“Dana, what does your schedule look like for the next couple of days?” I asked.

More Day Runner flipping. “I’ve got a class with Rico tonight-Your Body, the Ultimate Weapon.”

Luckily Dana couldn’t see my eye roll this time.

“But I’m pretty much free tomorrow. Why?”

I took a deep breath. Did I really want to do this? I weighed the idea of coming face to face with the man who’d been largely myth my whole life versus letting Ramirez think he could actually warn me off. I scrunched up my eyes and hoped I was doing the right ting.

“Wanna go to Vegas with me?”

Dana did a high-pitched squeal on the other end that I’m sure had every dog from here to San Diego howling in protest. “Ohmigod, road trip!”

I held the phone away from my ear. “I’ll take that as a yes.”

“Yes, totally! It’s been like forever since I went to Vegas. Last time I was there was for that Lil Dawg music video and we totally spent the whole time out in the desert and I didn’t even get to play like one slot machine. Ohmigod, this is going to be so fun. I’m like totally bring all my laundry quarters. I heard they even have slot machines in the gas stations, Maddie. The gas stations!”

“Meet me here tomorrow. Say nine?”

“Totally!” Dana yelled. “Vegas, baby! Ohmigod!”

Oh my god was right. I just hoped I could do this.

As soon as I hung up, I booted up my laptop and scanned CheapRates.com for a hotel room. I did an eenie meenie minie mo between the Venetian and the New York, New York. In the end, the $69.99 a night room special at the New York won out. I booked a double before I could change my mind. I then spent the rest of the morning cleaning my apartment (in case any other uninvited visitors showed up) and trying not to think about the look on Mom’s face when I told her I was going to meet Larry.

I was starting to feel bad about the way I’d left things with her, both of us squaring off like stubborn little Napoleons. And I did feel kind of sneaky, taking off for Vegas without even telling her. So after a lunch of a fairly healthy peanut butter (lots of protein, right?) and potato chip (potatoes are vegetables, which are totally healthy) sandwich, I hopped in my Jeep and made the trip back into Beverly Hills.

Marco was in the reception area when I walked in, stringing a row of plastic grapes across his desk.

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