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Alibi in High Heals
By Gemma Halliday Dorchester Publishing Copyright © 2008 Gemma Halliday
All right reserved.
Chapter One I love shoes.
I mean I really, really love them. If my tiny studio apartment in Santa Monica were-heaven forbid-to go up in a blazing inferno, the one thing I would rush back inside to save would be my favorite pair of strappy silver sling-backs. Granted, I'm single, live alone, and have never been able to keep a houseplant alive, let alone a pet. But still-it's bordering on obsession.
So it came as no surprise that when an incident of minor Internet fame resulted in a trendy Beverly Hills boutique asking me to design a line of shoes for them, I squealed, squeaked, and generally jumped around like a six-year-old minus her Ritalin. Thus far in my illustrious design career, the biggest break I'd had was working for Tot Trots children's shoes, where my SpongeBob slippers had been the top sellers at Payless last season. (Something to brag about or bury in a deep, dark corner of my résumé? I still wasn't sure.)
But then things got even better when the first pair of Maddie Springer originals was sold to an up-and-coming young actress who just happened to be wearing them when she got arrested outside the Twilight Club on Sunset Boulevard for drug possession. Suddenly my shoes were all over Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, and even CNN. I got calls from the hippest boutiques in L.A. and Orange County, all clamoring to stock my line-aptly named High Heels Seduction.
And then the impossible happened. (Oh yeah, it gets better.) The most utterly amazing, best thing to enter my life since DSW started carrying Prada. Jean Luc Le Croix, the hottest new European fashion designer, asked me, little ol' me, to come show my shoes in his fall runway collection at Paris Fashion Week.
I had died and gone to heaven.
Not surprisingly, I first had a mild heart attack, then did a repeat of the six-year-old-Ritalin-addict thing.
What was surprising, however, was my boyfriend's reaction to my news of the century.
"You're going where?" Ramirez asked.
"Paris." I sighed the word, visions of the Eiffel Tower dancing in my head.
Ramirez rolled over in bed to face me, his dark eyebrows drawn together. "What do you want to go to Paris for?"
"Are you kidding?" I sat up, covering myself with a sheet. Even though we'd been dating off and on for over a year now, I still had my modest moments around Ramirez. Probably due to the fact that I never quite knew what was going on behind those hooded eyes of his.
Jack Ramirez was a homicide detective with a very big gun, a very big attitude, and a very big ... Well, let's just say that certain parts of his anatomy weren't entirely lacking in the size department either. He was tall, with a compact build that was all tight muscles and hard angles. Dark hair, dark brown eyes, and a dark, intense look about him that made men wary and women drool. One white scar cut through his left eyebrow, and he had a black panther tattooed on his bicep, the sleek, powerful lines of its back rippling along Ramirez's arm as he propped his head up on one hand, waiting for my answer.
"Why wouldn't I want to go to Paris? It's the fashion capital of the world! The home of haute couture, Chanel, Dior. The Eiffel Tower!"
"Where will you be staying?"
"Jean Luc has set up rooms for all of us involved with the show. We'll be at the Plaza Athéneé. It's all taken care of."
"Do you even speak French?"
I waved him off. "I know how to ask where the bathroom is and, 'How much do those shoes cost?' I'll be fine."
"I've heard the French can be pretty rude to American tourists."
I pinned him with a look. "Trust me-for Paris Fashion Week, I can handle a little rude."
"Hmph," Ramirez grunted, then shifted his weight, his half of the bedsheet slipping down his bare torso, exposing a six-pack to make Budweiser jealous.
For a moment I completely forgot what we were talking about.
"What?" I snapped my eyes back up to meet his.
"How long will you be gone?"
"Oh. Uh, a couple of weeks. Three at the most. Jean Luc wants me there to help set up, and then of course I'll be there for the full Fashion Week. Maybe a few days after to help him pack up."
Ramirez shook his head. "I'm not thrilled about this."
"Come on, Jack. Why not?" Had he not heard the Paris part?
"Maddie, I don't like the idea of a woman being in a foreign country all by herself."
If the statement hadn't been so blatantly chauvinistic, I might have been touched by his concern.
"I won't be all by myself. There are tons of people involved with the show: models, producers, designers. Besides, most of the time I'll be with Jean Luc."
"Jean Luc." Ramirez mulled over the name. "I'm not sure that makes me feel any better."
"Don't tell me you're jealous?" I asked coyly, reaching one finger out and tracing a line down Ramirez's granite chest.
He grinned. "Of a guy named Jean Luc? You're kidding, right?"
I gave him a playful swat. "Well, don't be. You have no idea what kind of work goes into Fashion Week. I'll be lucky if I have time to sleep, let alone ogle the male models."
Ramirez narrowed his eyes at me. "Male models? Now you are trying to make me jealous."
I swatted him again. "Don't worry, I'll be fine."
"And what about me?" He gave my sheet a teasing tug.
"What about you?"
"I'm not sure I'll be fine. Two weeks is a long time for a guy like me to be alone."
"I'm sure you'll manage."
"I don't know." He traced a finger down my bare arm, leaving a trail of goose bumps. "I'm getting kind of lonely just thinking about it."
"You're a big baby, you know that?"
His grin widened.
"Besides, may I remind you that this is the first time I've even seen you in two weeks anyway?"
His smile faltered a little. "Can't be."
"Oh, yes." I nodded my head for emphasis, my blonde hair bobbing up and down. "Last weekend you had to cancel because of a shooting in South Central. Then Wednesday it was the three-car pileup on the PCH, and Friday they found that stripper's body in the Hills."
Ramirez's one flaw in the boyfriend department was his devotion to his job. Not that I blamed him; he was damned good at it. In fact, it had been the way we'd originally met, when I'd stumbled onto a case of his involving my ex-boyfriend, $20 million in embezzled funds, and a string of dead bodies. But since then it had served only as a wedge between us, keeping Ramirez wrapped up at crime scenes and me at home watching Sex and the City reruns and waiting for the phone to ring.
Not, mind you, that I was complaining. Much.
"Huh. I guess it has been a while," he conceded.
He blew out a long puff of air. "All right, then. I give in. I'll survive while you go make your shoes and visit the Eiffel Tower."
"Really?" I squeaked. Okay, fine, so I was totally going to go anyway. I mean, come on, it's Paris! But it was nice to know he wasn't going to fight me on it.
"Really." He paused. "Under one condition."
I arched an eyebrow at him. "One condition?"
Ramirez let his gaze stray down to the thin white sheet covering my barely Bs. He gave me one of those long, X-ray-vision stares. "Uh-huh." He nodded. Then he broke into his patented Big Bad Wolf smile-all big teeth and wicked eyes. "Tonight you're all mine."
A shiver hopped down my spine, ending somewhere south of my belly button. I did a dry gulp. Then nodded.
And dropped the sheet.
Currently I had two vices: Mexican food and (as you may have noticed) Mexican men. Thanks to an early morning shooting on Olympic that had Ramirez crawling out of bed at the crack of dawn (see, what did I tell you?), I couldn't indulge in the latter. Which left me with the former, in the form of a grande nachos supremo at the Whole Enchilada in Beverly Hills. And I had to admit the gooey cheddar-and-salsa-induced semiorgasm I was experiencing was almost as good as what I'd had planned for Ramirez that morning.
"So did Ramirez spend the night again last night?" my best friend, Dana, asked, leaning both of her elbows on the table across from me.
I nodded. And grinned. I couldn't help it. After spending a night with Ramirez, there was nothing I could do to wipe that sucker off. "It was hot."
Dana licked her lips. "How hot?"
I picked up a stray jalapeño from my plate and held it up. "Ten of these and you still wouldn't even be close."
Dana sighed, then started fanning herself with a napkin imprinted with a dancing cactus. "You know, it's been so long I can hardly even remember what a one-jalapeño night would be like."
Dana was a blonde, blue-eyed aerobics instructor-slash-wannabe actress with the kind of body that had Playboy Bunny written all over it. Which generally meant she saw more action than a NASCAR fan. However, her boyfriend du jour was Ricky Montgomery, who played the hunky gardener on the hit TV show Magnolia Lane. Amazingly, my fated-to-short-term-romance friend had actually taken a vow of monogamy with Ricky, which, thus far, had lasted a record three months. I was pretty proud of Dana. Especially considering that as soon as shooting ended for the Magnolia Lane season, Ricky had flown off to Croatia to shoot a crime-drama movie with Natalie Portman. Ricky said the script was amazing and had Oscar written all over it. Dana said she was investing in a battery-powered Rabbit and praying they wrapped quickly.
"So, when is Ricky coming back?" I asked around a bite of cool sour cream and hot salsa. I'm telling you, pure heaven.
"Three more weeks. I'm just not sure I can make it, Maddie. This is the longest I've ever gone without sex."
I raised an eyebrow. "Ever?"
Dana nodded vigorously. "Since ninth grade."
Wow. I think in ninth grade I was still negotiating with Bobby Preston over second base.
"So, why don't you just go visit him?"
She shook her head. "Can't. The set's in a military zone. They needed all sorts of permits and things just to be there. 'Booty call' isn't exactly on the list of approved reasons."
"Thanks." Dana sipped at her iced tea: decaf, sugarfree, packed with antioxidants. Dana was of the my-body-is-a-temple school of dieting. Me, I'm pretty sure my million-calorie nacho platter spoke for itself.
"If it makes you feel any better, last night was the only action I've gotten in weeks, too." Not to mention that I was currently substituting a morning of naked sheet wrestling with chips and refried beans.
Dana sighed again, giving my jalapeño a longing look. "Not really, but thanks for trying."
"How about some shopping? Retail therapy always makes me feel better.
Dana nodded, her ponytail bobbing up and down. "Sure. But just for a little while. I've got an audition at one. I'm reading for the part of a streetwalker on that new David E. Kelley show. I can so nail this one."
I looked her up and down, taking in her denim micromini, three-inch heels, and pink crop top. I hated to admit it, but she so could.
After I'd fully consumed my nacho supremo, stopping just short of actually licking the plate, Dana and I walked down Santa Monica, making a right on Beverly.
Now, normally actually walking two blocks in L.A. was an unheard-of phenomenon, but this was prime window-shopping territory. While the busy street was filled with sleek sports cars and imported sedans, the boutiques lining the street held windows full of designer purses, thousand-dollar tank tops, and Italian leather shoes with stitching so small you'd swear it was the work of leprechauns.
After drooling over a pair of crocodile boots, a fabulous deconstructed jacket, and two to-die-for evening gowns, Dana paused in front of the Bellissimo Boutique. "Ohmigod, Mads! Are those yours?" She pointed to a pair of red patent-leather Mary Janes with a black kitten heel.
I grinned so wide I felt my cheeks crack. "Yep," I said, beaming with a pride usually reserved for mothers sporting student-of-the-month bumper stickers. "Those are my latest. You like?"
"I love! Oh, I so want a pair. Hey, you think you could do something for me to wear to the premiere of Ricky's movie?"
"I don't know if you can afford me. I'm a pretty hot designer now," I joked.
"Well, with the way shooting's dragging on, it's not likely to be anytime soon." Dana pouted, staring longingly at the red heels as if they might magically turn into her leading man.
"So what kind of shoes do you want?" I asked, trying to cheer her up. "Any idea what color you'll be wearing?"
"Oh, I totally know what I want!" Dana said, instantly perking up. "I saw the cutest pair of wedge-heeled sandals on J. Lo at the MTV Awards. They were, like, black with this little line of sequins going down the ..." But Dana trailed off. Her eyes fixated on a point just over my shoulder, then suddenly went big and round.
I spun around and stood rooted to the spot. A little yellow sports car was careening down Beverly at Daytona 500 speeds. It sideswiped a Hummer, narrowly missing a woman carrying a Dolce shopping bag, then bounced back into traffic, tires squealing.
"Ohmigod, Maddie," Dana said, her voice going high and wild. "Look out!"
I watched in horror as the little car cut across two lanes, jumping the curb and accelerating.
Straight toward me.
Excerpted from Alibi in High Heals by Gemma Halliday Copyright © 2008 by Gemma Halliday. Excerpted by permission.
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