Someone mentioned they wanted a series with Spencer’s brother. I started one! Let me know if I should continue…
Partners in Crime
Piper Landry walked out of the redwood forests of Northern California in the middle of the night with no memory and no clothes. She knew only two things. The first was that her name must be Piper Landry because that’s what it said on a tag bolted to her ear. The other was that she was richer than Midas.
After she was rescued by the local sheriff and given sweatpants, a hoodie, and a pair of slippers, she also discovered that she had no fingerprints and that her DNA didn’t show up in any data banks.
“Four-Three-nine-nine-two-one-four-eight-one,” she told the sheriff.
“What does that mean?” he asked her.
Piper shrugged. “I think it’s my bank account number.”
It was her bank account number. It turned out that she had seventy-million dollars locked away in a bank with branches in every town. Besides that, Piper couldn’t remember another thing about herself.
When a woman walks naked out of the forest with no memory, her name written on a tag bolted to her ear, and seventy million dollars tucked conveniently in a bank account, she’s thrust back into the world wearing a pair of law enforcement issued sweats, a smile, and a “good luck.”
“But I can’t remember anything,” Piper told the Sheriff, as he walked her to the front door and out into the big, bad world. “Shouldn’t you find my people first? My family and friends?”
The sheriff had a doozy case of dandruff, and he dusted off his shoulder with his hand. “You’re a ghost, as far as we’re concerned. We’ll keep the investigation open. Check in with us every month or so to get an update. Look on the bright side. It’s better to not have family and friends when you’re rich.”
Piper wondered if that were true. Money was great, but she could have gone for a hug right about then.
“I have a name tag bolted to my ear,” she pointed out. “I’m cattle. I’m a steer. Is that normal? I mean, why would I bolt a tag to my ear? Odds are someone tagged me, I bet.” Like a serial killer or a person with a really weird ear fetish. “It’s not some kind of new form of piercing, is it? I don’t keep up with fads. At least, I don’t think I do. I don’t remember anything before two hours ago.”
“It’s a strange world, lady. Once I saw a guy with an earring in his ball. Craziest thing I ever saw. I mean, it’s called earrings for a reason. Ear-rings. Get it? There’s no balls in earrings.”
He had a point. There was no balls in earrings. There was no name tags bolted to the ear of a young woman, either, as far as she knew. Piper looked up at the dark sky, as if the answer to her identity would appear there. The sheriff gave her a little nudge in the direction of the sidewalk. “I don’t think I would put an earring in my ball, if I had a ball,” she told him, holding firm to her place in the doorway. “And I don’t think I would bolt a tag to my ear.”
The sheriff shrugged and nudged her, again.
“Three to four percent of all males are born with only one testicle,” she said.
“Where did that come from?’
“I don’t know. We were talking about balls, and the information just popped into my brain. I have the feeling that I have a lot of facts in my brain. Maybe that’s a clue about who I am?”
“Sure. Go with that.”
He was done with being a public servant. He had saved Piper from exposure, given her a pair of slippers, and now his work was over. It was probably quitting time, Piper figured. He probably had a family waiting for him in a warm house somewhere where no one had a pierced testicle or a bolt in their ear.
Piper took a step onto the sidewalk but turned around and faced the sheriff. “Where should I go?”
“San Francisco is nice.”
Was San Francisco nice? Had she ever been there? She didn’t know. Her past was like a dark room she couldn’t access.
Her brain bubbled up with more information. “Three thousand people died in San Francisco’s great earthquake and fires in 1906,” she said. “Holy cow. I did it again. Maybe I’m a Jeopardy winner.”
“Good idea. Start there. Maybe you’ll find yourself with Alex Trebek.”
“I guess so,” she said, but she felt disoriented. Lost. “I don’t even know how old I am.”
“Hire someone to help you. Rich people always have help. They can’t wipe their ass without help. And they stay in fancy hotels in the presidential suite. Do that. It’ll make you feel better.”
Peter Bolton had no idea why he was sitting in John’s Grill in San Francisco instead of lying on a beach on an island somewhere. He was supposed to be retired. Retired people laid on beaches on islands. They didn’t meet with two spy catchers at small table in a small restaurant in the middle of a big city.
“I’ll have the Dashiell Hammett lamb chops and a dirty martini. And keep ‘em coming. The martinis, not the lamb chops,” Peter told the waiter.
John’s Grill had been a hangout for the Noir crime author nearly a century before, and if the lamb chops were good enough for Hammett, Peter figured they were good enough for him.
“We’re not here for food. Focus,” one of the spy catchers spat. It was Jeremy Rosenblatt, a career lifer agent in a Top Secret black ops organization that wasn’t on the books anywhere but nevertheless had a hefty budget and license to kill, capture, and maim. Rosenblatt had no sense of humor and even less patience. Peter had worked with him three or four times in the Middle East. He was a stand up guy, but a royal pain in the ass.
“We’re at a restaurant, Rosenblatt,” Peter pointed out. “Don’t meet at a restaurant if you don’t want food.” He looked past Rosenblatt. “Oh, hello, there.”
Peter’s attention was drawn to a woman, sitting in the corner of the restaurant. She had ordered the lamb chops, too, and she was holding a crystal tumbler halfway to her face. Whiskey, neat. Peter would have recognized the drink anywhere. He liked a woman who wasn’t afraid to drink brown liquor, but he loved a beautiful woman who wasn’t afraid to drink brown liquor.
And this woman was beautiful.
She had long red hair that fell loose past her shoulders in thick waves. Her eyes were sparkling blue, clear from across the room. She was wearing a red dress, which showed a lot of leg and ample cleavage. Peter had more than his share of experience with women, but he was distinctly attracted to this one, and more than a little happy that she was staring back at him with a cat-that-swallowed-the-canary smile on her beautiful face.
Peter’s martini arrived, and he raised it to the stunning woman in a toast. They both took a drink without breaking eye contact.
“What the hell is going on here?” Rosenblatt demanded, looking from the woman to Peter and back again. “This isn’t Studio 54, you know. This is a matter of national security!”
Peter took another sip of his martini. “I’m not in the national security business. I’m retired.”
“Nobody retires from being a patriot,” the other spy catcher said. Ryan Livingston. What a dweeb. Peter had locked him in a cargo container in Thailand once because he was such a sanctimonious ass.
“You’re thirty-five years old,” Rosenblatt told Peter. “Thirty-five-year-old men don’t retire.”
“This one does,” Peter said. The waiter arrived with Peter’s lamb chops. Peter flicked his napkin open and laid it on his lap. “These look good,” he said, digging in.
Rosenblatt leaned forward. “This is serious, Peter. Terrorists.”
“It’s always terrorists,” Peter said, rolling his eyes. “It always has been terrorists, and it always will be terrorists. Nothing changes. Same ole, same ole. You want a bite? These chops are delicious.”
“These are a higher grade of terrorists,” Livingston explained. “Bigger weapons. Insidious. Chemical, biological, and nuclear. We’ve got hold of some scary intelligence.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Peter watched the beautiful redhead walk toward his table. The dress had a slit up to the top of her thigh. He had never been more thankful for a piece of clothing than he was for her dress. It showed off the woman wearing it, perfectly. She sauntered over, her hips rocking with each step, her unblinking blue eyes locked onto Peter. He felt his blood pressure rise and his pulse do a dance. It was seduction at its best.
She sat down next to Peter. “I heard what you said about terrorists,” she told Rosenblatt. “In 1984, there were ten thousand-four-hundred-fifty deaths worldwide due to terrorism.”
“Fascinating,” Peter said, studying her perfect profile and taking in her intoxicating scent.
She turned toward him and smiled. “I get bursts of trivia in my head.”
“I’m suddenly jealous of trivia,” Peter said.
“This is a private conversation, Miss,” Rosenblatt sneered. “Don’t you know the meaning of private?”
“Private?” she asked. “Adjective. Intended for or restricted to the use of a particular person, group, or class. First known use in the fourteenth century.”
“You can’t argue with that,” Peter said and downed the rest of his martini. The door to the restaurant opened, and three thugs entered. Russians, and they were armed and ready for a fight. They scanned the room, looking for Rosenblatt and Livingston, Peter assumed. He sighed. It was like the whole world was conspiring against his retirement.
The beautiful redhead studied Peter, taking in his mouth, specifically. In response, his body thrummed with arousal. Chemistry was an amazing thing, and there was all kinds of chemistry going on between them. Or maybe it was more than chemistry. He was willing to believe it was more. Like maybe it was magic or one of those super viruses that came from Chinese chickens. It could also be lo…lo…lo…that thing that other people felt. Nah, it was too hard to believe that he could fall in love with a stunning woman at first sight, just because she was smokin’ hot, looked at him like he was lava cake, and knew how many terrorism deaths there were in 1984. Soulmates aside, he wanted to see what was under her dress, and he wanted to see that for a long time.
She arched an eyebrow and ran her tongue over her lips, making Peter’s breath hitch like he was a junior in high school and got his first look at a boob under the bleachers.
“If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to powder my nose,” she said and laughed softly, waggling her eyebrows. She stood and shot Peter a look that revved his engines. He watched her walk away for two seconds before he followed her into the alcove where the bathrooms were located.
Piper stood with her back to the wall. The tall man in the Armani suit leaned into her and put his hand on the wall over her head. She had never picked up a man before. At least she didn’t remember ever picking up a man. But she didn’t remember anything, so maybe she had been a tramp her whole life and picking up a man was an everyday occurrence.
Since she had walked out of the forest three weeks ago, though, this was the first man who got her attention, so maybe she wasn’t that much of a tramp, after all. His blue eyes locked onto hers, and she felt her insides turn into liquid heat. His breath smelled like gin and like Christmas.
She loved gin and Christmas. At least she thought she did.
“Peter, are you coming back here?” the small man at the table with the greasy hair yelled.
“I think your friend is calling you…Peter,” Piper croaked, squirming under his gaze.
“I don’t care. He’ll forget me in about a minute when he has to get busy with the three Muscovites at the front door.”
“The big guys in the leather jackets?”
“Carrying Glocks, I assume.”
“The weapon of choice of Russian secret service agents is the SPS Serdyukov autoloading pistol with silencer.”
“I’m impressed with your knowledge.”
She shrugged. “It comes to me like hiccoughs. I don’t know where from.”
The three Russians approached the table where Peter’s two friends were sitting, but Peter didn’t take his eyes off of Piper.
“I wanted to introduce myself properly,” he said, his voice velvety smooth. “I’m Peter Bolton, and I know who you are.”
“You do? Who?” Piper got her hopes up. She hadn’t learned one more thing about herself since she had been rescued. The bank that held her money couldn’t give her any more information than her name and the amount of money she had, which grew every day with the interest that seventy-million dollars provided. She would have loved to get her hands on some information about her identity.
“You’re Mrs. Bolton,” Peter said, trailing his finger down her cheek and over her jawline.
“I am? Isn’t that your name?”
“Soon to be your name. We’re getting married.”
“Oh,” she said. Her initial disappointment was replaced with the thrill that came from the suspicion that he might just be right. “Piper Bolton,” she said, feeling the words on her lips.
The Russians were growling at Peter’s friends, and one of them threw a bread basket at the short greasy haired guy. As the tensions escalated, the other patrons wisely ran out of the restaurant.
“Are you going to help your friends?” Piper asked Peter.
“They’re not my friends, and besides, they can handle themselves. Rosenblatt is a third-degree black belt, and the sanctimonious son of a bitch Livingston is a master knife-fighter and has already palmed my steak knife. They can handle three Russians. So, tell me more about you, Mrs. Piper Bolton.”
“I’m around thirty years old, plus or minus three years, and I have seventy-million dollars. No, make that seventy-one-million-five-hundred-thousand. It keeps growing, no matter how much I spend. Did you know that the Blue Whale gains thirty pounds every day?”
There was a loud crash, as one of the Russians upended a table, and Peter’s greasy friend did a karate chop yell. As if by magic, Peter moved Piper into the women’s bathroom and pushed her up against a stall.
“Now where were we?” he asked her. In the other room, there were a series of crashes and the sounds of men grunting and screaming in pain.
Piper blinked up at him. “I think you were going to kiss me.”
Peter arched an eyebrow and smiled. “Yes, of course. How could I forget?”
A shot was fired in the other room and then then there was the ear-splitting sound of a lot of glass breaking. Peter’s hand cupped the back of Piper’s head, and he crashed his lips against hers. Her body melted against him, letting him take control.
It was Piper’s first kiss. At least, it was the first kiss she ever remembered. And boy, was it a good kiss. At first he was aggressive, pulling her in close, claiming her. But the kiss quickly turned passionate. Gentle. The fireworks of chemistry turned and altered to something different. Something deeper. Piper was only mildly aware of the war raging in the restaurant. Right there against the handicapped stall in the women’s room, Piper’s head swam in a sea of hormones, spinning around, making her dizzy from whatever was happening between them.
Whatever was happening, it had never happened to Piper before. Sure, she still had no memory of her past, but no way could this have ever happened before. It was a once in a lifetime happening. Something out of an opera or a really good Hallmark movie. In fact, Piper suspected that this kind of connection had never happened to anyone else on the planet. Nobody could get this lucky. If it were common, the world would be a much happier place, and there would be no time for wars, foot fungus, or shopping center complaint departments.
Peter ground his hips against her, revealing his arousal. She was hot and ready, too, and wondered if the counter could hold her weight. She would have said, “take me now, big boy,” but Peter’s tongue was in her mouth, making her mad with desire and unable to speak.
Somebody groaned. It might have been her.
Somebody growled. It wasn’t her. The bathroom door burst open, and one of the Russians burst in, wielding a knife over his head, as if he was getting ready to pop balloons in the air. Peter pushed Piper into the stall and closed the door behind her. She looked up just in time to see the knife fly through the air and clang against the wall behind her. She ducked.
From under the door, Piper saw Peter’s Prada shoes and the Russians utilitarian work boots dance around. The bathroom was filled with the echoes of flesh making impact on flesh. The two men moved away from the door long enough for Piper to open it.
The Russian had Peter on his back on the counter with his bear paw-sized hand smashing Peter’s face into the granite. It cleared up the question of whether the counter would have supported her weight, but it also looked like Peter wasn’t long for the world, and if he died, so did Piper’s chance at some killer orgasms. Without thinking, she ripped the tampon machine off the wall and crashed it down onto the back of the Russian’s head. Tampons flew around the room, like it was raining periods.
The Russian stood up straight, letting the tampon machine fall to the floor. He looked at Piper, in shock that she had attacked him. He squinted with definite purpose, and Piper expected smoke to come out of his ears. She took a couple steps back.
“That wasn’t me,” she said, trying to diffuse his anger. “It fell off the wall. Workmanship isn’t what it used to be.” Of course that was a total lie. She had no memory of what workmanship was like even a month before. It was also a lie about the tampon machine falling off the wall. Not that the Russian believed her. He growled, which she figured would be the last sound she ever heard.
But Piper had forgotten about Peter. He half rolled off the counter and punched the Russian right in his family jewels.
And he punched him hard.
The Russian’s eyes rolled up into his head, and he squeaked like a mouse who had just had his balls punched up into his abdominal cavity.
Peter picked up the tampon machine and swung it at the Russian’s head, as if he was Hank Aaron going for Babe Ruth’s homerun record. The metal box broke in half when it made contact with the Russian, who collapsed to the floor, knocking his head against the pipe under the sink, as some kind of Tarantino-like finale to the fight. The floor was a sea of tampons and pads.
The restaurant had turned quiet, and Piper wondered if Peter’s friends had as much luck as he did, or if two more Russians would be waiting for them when they would leave the bathroom. Peter stepped over the unconscious Russian and a pile of tampons and took Piper into his arms.
“Where were we?” he asked, his face inches from hers. “I think I was kissing you one last time before I took you down to city hall to marry you. Am I right?”
“Yep. That’s how I remember it, too.”