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Gemma Halliday

Spying in High Heels

The first book in the Maddie Springer series, 2006

Chapter One

I was late.

And I don’t mean the kind of late where I spent too much time doing my hair and was now stuck in traffic. I mean I was late late. The kind of late where the 99% effective warnings on the side of condom boxes flashed before my eyes as I white knuckled my way down the 405, silently screaming, why me? Why, oh why me? I’m a new millennium girl. I took copious notes in 6 grade Sex Ed. I carry just-in-case condoms in the zippered section of my purse. And, after that first singularly awkward experience in the back of Todd Hanson’s ‘82 Chevy after junior prom, I have been meticulously careful. Me. I was late. And I was not taking it well.

“Dana?” Silence. “Dana, I need to talk to you.” Silence. “I swear to God if you are screening me I am never speaking to you again.”

I switched my cell phone to the other hand as I changed lanes, narrowly avoiding a collision with a pick-up that had “wash me” carved in opaque dust, before continuing my desperate pleas into my best friend’s answering machine.

“Dana, please, please, please pick up? Please?” I paused. Nothing. “All right, I guess you really aren’t there. But please, please, please call me back as soon as you get this message. I mean pronto. This is a serious code red, 911 emergency. I need to talk to you now!” I punctuated this last word by laying on my horn as a bald guy in a convertible cut me off then had the audacity to give me the finger. Welcome to L.A.

I flipped my phone shut, breaking a French tipped nail in the process, and counted to ten, trying to remember some of that calming yoga breathing from the one class Dana had dragged me to last month. Unfortunately, at the time I’d had my full attention focused on not falling flat on my face during a downward facing dog, and I think I was beginning to hyperventilate.

I merged onto the 10 freeway, glancing down at the digital readout on my dashboard clock, and realized with a twist of irony that I was now not only late, but late. As in not on time to meet my boyfriend, Richard Howe, for lunch. He’d made one o’clock reservations at Giani’s and it was now twelve fifty-eight. I eased my suede ankle boot (which had maxed out my Macy’s card, but was so worth it!) down just a little harder on the accelerator, after checking the rearview mirror to make sure the highway patrol was nowhere in sight. Not that I was speeding. Much. But considering the day I’d had so far, an encounter with the CHP was not on my list of to-do’s.

As I checked for motorcycle cops, I also gave myself a quick once over in the mirror. Not bad considering I was having the freak out of my life. My ash blond hair was still tucked into a flattering half twist, a few flyaways but the messy look was in, right? I pulled out a tube of Raspberry Perfection lip-gloss and applied a thin swipe across my lips, ignoring the obscene gestures from the guy behind me. Hey, if a girl in a crisis doesn’t have her lipstick, what does she have?

I’m proud to say I only got flipped off two more times before pulling my little red Jeep (top up today as a concession to my hair) into the parking garage on the corner of 7 and Grand. I fastened The Club securely on my steering wheel and prepared to hoof it the two blocks to my boyfriend’s firm where I was supposed to meet him… I looked down at my watch… damn. Twelve minutes ago. Well, on the up side, as soon as I told him about being late, I had a feeling he’d forget all about my being late.

A conversation I was seriously dreading. In my mind it went something like this: Hi Richard, sorry I’m late, by the way I may be having your child. Insert cartoon sound of Richard hitting the door at roadrunner-like speeds. Ugh. There was just no good way to ease into information like that. We’d only been dating for a few months. We hadn’t even made it to the shopping at Bed, Bath and Beyond stage yet, and suddenly we had to have this conversation? I adjusted my bra strap as I walked, tucking it back under my tank top, trying like anything to present the appearance of a woman with it all together. And not a woman trying to remember which pregnancy test commercial touted early results with digital readouts.

Exactly fourteen minutes behind schedule I walked into the law offices of Dewy, Cheatum and Howe. In reality the firm was called Donaldson, Chesterton, and Howe. But I couldn’t resist the nickname. Considering the type of clientele they represented (the Chanel and Rolex crowd) it fit like an imported, calfskin glove.

Beyond the frosted front doors maroon carpeting yawned across the reception area, muffling the sound of my heels as I made my way to the front desk. The large oval of dark woods stretched along the back wall of the spacious room, flanked on either side by more frosted doors leading to the conference rooms and offices beyond. The faint clicking of keyboards and muffled conversations billed at three hundred dollars an hour filled the background.

“May I help you?” asked the Barbie doll behind the desk. Jasmine. Or as I liked to call her, Miss PP. As in plastic parts. Jasmine spent two thirds of her salary every month on cosmetic procedures. This week her lips were collagen swollen to Angelina Jolie standards. Last month it was new boobs, double D of course. As usual, her bleached blond hair was moussed within an inch of its life, giving her an extra two inches on her already annoying height of 5’6”. I’m what could be referred to as a petite person, topping out at an impressive 5’1 ½” on a good day. I was lucky if I made the height requirement on half the rides at Six Flags.

“I’m here to see Richard,” I informed Miss PP.

“Do you have an appointment with Mr. Howe?” Her blue eyes blinked (with difficulty due to the brow lift two months ago) in an innocent gesture that I knew was anything but. Jasmine’s sole entertainment here at Dewy, Cheatum and Howe was wielding the power of entry to the sacred offices beyond the frosted doors.

I narrowed my eyes at her. “Yes. As a matter of fact I do.”

“And you are?”

I tried not to roll my eyes. I’d met Richard here for lunch every Friday afternoon for the past five months. She knew who I was and by the tiny smile at the corner of her Angelina lips, she was enjoying this all too much.

“Maddie Springer. His girlfriend. I’m here for a lunch date.”

“I’m sorry, Miss Springer, but you’ll have to wait. He’s with someone in the conference room right now.”

“Why didn’t you just say that in the first place?” I mumbled as I sat in one of the tan, leather chairs punctuating the waiting area. Jasmine didn’t answer, smirking instead (which looked a lot like an Elvis lip curl in her new super-sized lips) as she opened what I’d guess was a game of solitaire on her computer and pretended to look busy. I picked up a copy of Cosmo from the end table and began flipping through the pages of drool worthy designer clothes I could never afford. Or fit into if I was actually pregnant. Oh God. What a depressing thought.

After what seemed like an eternity of listening to Jasmine’s acrylic nails click against her keyboard, Richard walked into the reception area. Despite the anxiety building in my stomach, I couldn’t help a little yummy sigh at the sight of him. Richard was six foot one and all lean muscle. He was a religious runner, doing 10k’s for all the charities in his spare time. Muscular dystrophy, autism, even the breast cancer run last April. When we first started dating he tried to get me to run with him once. Just once. My idea of a cardio workout was elbowing my way through Nordstrom during the half-yearly super sale. Running was something I didn’t do. Besides, I figured if the heels were high enough, walking the two blocks from my apartment to the corner Starbucks burned almost as many calories as running, right?