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Dead on Arrival
I stared down at the handwritten Jagger note that said, "Case Number 6. Practice your driving skills, Sherlock. We'll talk in the morning—at our spot."
Suddenly the noise from Goldie's "nose-revealing" party at my parents' house brought me back to reality. My dearest roommate and second-best friend was celebrating the success (in his opinion) of his recent plastic surgery. Gotta love dear Gold. We all did, especially my other roomie, Miles. They were two of the best guys in the world, and although each had their own little quirks, I loved them dearly. The guys, not the quirks. I had to admit that I looked forward on a daily basis to seeing Goldie's outfits—especially when he wore Armani from the women's department. Then again, he looked handsome in men's Armani too, but when in his female mode, he always made some fashion statement that I later stole for myself.
Since knowing Goldie, I was looking better and better.
Maybe there was hope for me yet.
I stared at the note again and decided I had to forget that Jagger had called Dunkin Donuts "our spot," as if he thought we really were an "our" (be still, my foolish heart), and forced my mind back to Case Number 6. That was my sixth medical fraud insurance case to investigate.
Practice my driving skills. Hmm. Okay, I'd be the first to admit I was no Mario Andretti, and, okay again, I admitted to closing my eyes when driving but only if something bad was about to happen. So what could case number six be about? Me and Jagger racing in the Grand Prix?
I had started to laugh, when I felt apresence behind me. My hormones ready to explode, I turned to see Jagger, but unfortunately—very unfortunately—saw Fabio Scarpello instead. My boss. A definite misnomer.
Then the recent revelation by none other than Jagger that he was, in fact, a Tonelli, making him my boss, hit me. Hard.
I grabbed Fabio, subsequently startling him. "Is Jagger the owner of Scarpello and Tonelli Insurance Agency? Does he own it? Do you? Is he my boss?"
Normally Fabio would have called me "doll" and brushed off any of my questions with a curse or two, but he looked directly at me. Damn. Was that fear in his eyes? No one had ever been able to say who Jagger really was. What was his last name? Or first name, for that matter? And whom did he work for?
However, I always figured Jagger intimidated Fabio.
"Well?" I yanked on the lapel of Fabio's dark brown polyester suit. "Wel-l-l-l-l-l?"
"Ha? That's all you have to say? Ha doesn't explain shit, Fabio. Tell me the truth!"
Finally he reached both hands up between my arms and pushed me until I lost my grip. While he tried to straighten out his always-wrinkled suit, he said, "I own it."
With that he turned and walked down the steps, out to his car and drove off, with me standing there—back to square one.
And here I thought I'd had some information on Jagger.
Not to mention that I thought he was my boss!
What a fool! No one got any information on Jagger—unless he gave it to them.
The next morning I pulled into the parking lot of the local Hope Valley Dunkin Donuts. Hope Valley was not exactly a booming metropolis, but it was where I was born, raised and lived my entire life.
As a tiny, very ethnic town with a green in the center and bordered by Hartford, Connecticut, one of the largest insurance capitals, Hope Valley was the center of my existence—which said a lot. Sad but true.
After burning out of a very successful nursing career, I decided to throw that profession out of the proverbial window and landed (through my roomie, Miles, who had connections all over town) this job. Pauline Sokol, ex-RN, medical insurance fraud investigator.
I smiled to myself as I watched Jagger's black Suburban pull into the spot next to me.
I licked my lips. Only because they were dry!
I couldn't eat a thing if my mouth went as dry as the Sahara each time the guy appeared. And appeared he did. Mostly when I least expected him, but I will say, he'd taught me a lot of what I knew about investigating medical insurance fraud.
Limited amount, sure. But when he gave me his standard "Atta girl, Sherlock," I melted—and knew I was learning and growing in this profession.
I rolled down my window. "Hey."
Once he got out of his SUV, he nodded and paused, and when I got out of my Volvo, we both walked in to get our coffee.
Jagger did the ordering—as usual. The thing about that was, it always gave me a jolt that he knew exactly what I'd want. Hazelnut decaf, light and sweet with one Splenda, and either a Boston cream donut or a French cruller. Today I was in the mood for French.
"Give her a French cruller," I heard him say to the clerk—and I didn't even blink my eyes.
However, there was no denying the little hormonal surge inside me.
It was always a "yikes" kinda moment, whenever Jagger just about read my mind. I turned my flushed face away from him so he wouldn't read those kinds of thoughts.
After we got our order, I followed Jagger to the last booth by the window.
Sometimes though, our spot was out in the parking lot—in his SUV, which was big enough for a family of four to vacation in. I actually debated about whether Jagger lived in the Suburban that wanted to be an RV.
But even if I asked as a direct question, there was no telling if he'd answer.
He was just that mysterious.
And I loved it. Damn.
He sat down and took a sip of his coffee. Black. Natch. Nothing pretentious about Jagger. "We start today on your sixth case, Sherlock."Dead on Arrival. Copyright © by Lori Avocato. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.