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Hovering over the counter, I tried to explain. "You see," I began, "I've been working out really, really hard. My best friend is, like, a serious fitness badass. She's crazy in shape, and she sort of insisted that I get in shape too, and since she's also seriously scary, I had to say yes. So now it's been six months and my whole body has changed. I'm broad where I used to be narrow, and narrow where I used to have a little junk in the trunk. But I'm not complaining. I mean, my husband loves the new bod. He, like, loves it, if you get my drift . . . ha-ha! Anyway, because of the workouts, my body fat percentage has gone way down while the muscle mass has gone way up, and I've been eating superclean. I mean, I haven't had a piece of chocolate or a cup of coffee in ages. And I don't even crave them anymore! Yesterday, do you know what I ate? I had a whole plate of jicama. Jicama! And the craziest part? I liked it! Can you believe that? Okay, so it was slathered in hummus, but I swear to God it tasted good. And I'm totally off gluten. Also caffeine, dairy, sugar, and anything processed. I'm, like, the Paleo queen, and I don't have that layer of blubber around my middle anymore. Like, you should see my abs. Do you want to see my abs? Because you can actually see my abs!"
I paused for a moment with my hand on the hem of my shirt, waiting for the gentleman behind the counter to give me any indication that he was interested in seeing my six-pack.
When he simply stared levelly at me with a mixture of annoyance and boredom, I felt my cheeks heat. "Uh . . . I'm sorry. What was the question?" I asked.
"Your height and weight?" he said drolly.
"Ah! Yes, well, as I was trying to explain, I don't look like I weigh as much as I actually do, so maybe I should shave off a few pounds so that nobody gets confused-"
"You look about five foot four and a buck fifteen."
I blinked. "Uh . . . that's actually exactly right."
He clicked a few keys on his computer and pointed toward a white screen. "Step over there to have your photo taken."
Feeling a tad deflated, I stood in front of the screen and began to ask if I was centered okay when the Department of Public Safety clerk snapped my photo. I was positive my mouth was open and my eyes were closed when the flash went off. "Can we take that over?" I asked.
"Nope," he said, stamping some paperwork before handing it to me and indicating the small strip of white in the corner. "That's your receipt and this is your temporary license. Your new ID will be delivered in the mail within the next ten days."
"But-" I tried. I really wanted a retake.
The clerk ignored me, turned to glance at the digital counter behind him, and shouted, "Number ninety-seven!"
"Awesome," I grumbled, shuffling out of the area and over to the exit.
I found Candice-said badass BFF-leaning up against her Porsche, looking like someone straight out of a fashion magazine. She's taller than me by a few inches, broader in the shoulders, and narrower in the hips, and owns the most gorgeous set of gams. She looks like I want to, but probably never will. Still, thanks to her, I was looking and feeling mighty fine these days. "Sundance," she said warmly as I approached. "You were chatting up the guy at the counter pretty well."
I sniffed. "Yeah. He's not that into me."
She wrinkled her nose, a glint of humor in her eyes. "He wasn't up for a peek at your abs of steel?"
"Not so much."
"Poor man. Doesn't know what he's missing."
I scowled. "Clearly, you're making fun of me."
"Clearly," she agreed. "Now hop in."
I scowled again and trudged over to the passenger side. I thought about a mean little retort, but I couldn't really afford to be too contrarian; Candice was my ride home. Since I'd lost my driver's license two days earlier somewhere between the running trail and the farmers' market, she'd been my ride everywhere. "Lunch?" I asked as we set off.
"Can't. We have a client."
Candice and I are not only best friends but also business partners at a private investigation office in downtown Austin, Texas. We work lots of different cases together-some domestic, some corporate, and some we work for the FBI. It helps that both our hubbies are federal agents and they send us some work when they can. Every little bit helps to pay the light bill. Or, in my case, for a new barbell and set of weights I was saving for.
What? You're surprised? After years and years of me living on my ass, eating a diet of not much else besides nachos, pizza, chili cheese fries, and Coney dogs, you're shocked that I'm now a fitness and nutrition freak?
Join the club, ladies and gents. I'm as surprised as you are.
It happened during a case that Candice and I worked out in California. She pointed out something key: namely, that there was definitely some extra junk hanging out in my trunk.
Now, I've always been the slim chick with the fast metabolism, and over the years I have absolutely taken advantage of that metabolic miracle like you would not believe! But somewhere in my late thirties my inner engine likely became more "fuel efficient," and it started storing up the excess calories and depositing them in the bank of Big Butt & Muffin Top.
After Candice made an effort to point out the physical changes that everyone else-including me-had been ignoring, I got on board with the whole "Eat well and exercise!" plan. And I let Candice be my guide.
At first, allowing her to be my diet and fitness coach seemed like a bad idea. I mean, in those early days, thanks to a few misplaced wall balls, there was more of my DNA on the floor than at some of the crime scenes I've been to. But I got better fairly quickly and here's what happened: I started to like working out. (I'll pause here for dramatic effect. . . . Pause . . . pause . . .) I know-crazy, right? But the emotional and physical lift I kept getting after pushing myself to my physical limits wasn't easily denied. And then I noticed something else seriously weird; my intuition became sharper, more focused, and even more specific.
Oh, maybe I should also mention, I'm psychic. Like, I'm actually psychic-and not like your one weird aunt who insists she's "sensitive." I am legitimately able to predict the future. It's well documented, actually.
Anyway, my point is that all that cleaning up of my diet and regular exercise had a significant effect on my abilities, and I will confess here that it totally took me by surprise, because who would've thought that the two were even connected . . . but then, everything's connected, so, like, duh.
Still, as Candice had so "sweetly" pointed out, the better care I took of myself, the better care I could take of our cases, which in no way means she's more concerned with our bottom line than my well-being. She's equally concerned about both. (Smirk.)
"So, who's the client?" I asked.
"Someone you won't like."
My brow furrowed. "Now, why would you say that?"
"Because you don't like most people."
The furrow deepened. "That's not true!"
She chuckled merrily. "Abby, I love you, but you do not like most people. You complain about everyone all the time and you can be a cranky beast when it comes to interacting with the world at large."
"I like people!" I shouted. "In fact, I like lots of people!"
"Okay," she said, clearly humoring me. "Name someone you like. Anyone."
I was about to say her, but at the moment, I didn't much. "I like that guy at that caf we go to for lunch," I said. Dammit, what was his name?
"Really? Tell me his name and I'll believe you."
"David," I said quickly.
"Tyler," she corrected.
"Crap. I knew it was one or the other."
She considered me demurely over the brim of her sunglasses. "I think my point is made."
I sighed wearily. It wasn't really that I didn't like people; it's more that I'm an introvert at heart, and as I'm a professional psychic, it can be hard having all that need piled into my lap day after day. It's draining and it makes me cranky, and, well, yes, sometimes it makes me not like people so much.
Reflecting back on the previous week, I had to admit that perhaps Candice had a point. I'd read for more than my usual quota of clients, due to a mix-up in scheduling, and I'd perhaps voiced a few (many) complaints about all that interaction to Candice. "Fine, who is this client that I definitely will not like?"
"Murielle McKenna," Candice said. "And, I gotta warn you, Sundance, she's not gonna like you much either."
I pulled my chin back to consider Candice. "Why not?"
"Because you two are more alike than you are different. Except for the fact that she's loaded. Like, seriously loaded, with a heavy dose of entitled. And as you've no respect for rich, snobby people, I think it'll be about ten seconds after you two meet that you'll take offense and say something rude."
I wanted to argue-really I did-but the truth is that I actually don't have any tolerance for the rich and entitled. "So why're we meeting with her if you know it's not going to end well?"
"Because we have to take her on as a client," Candice said.
"Because your husband referred us and asked me directly if I could possibly get you to play nicey-nice."
I held up my hand in a stopping motion. "Wait a second. . . . Hold on here. You're telling me that you and Dutch had some sort of secret conversation about me interacting with this client?"
"That's not fair, Candice! You're supposed to be my best friend. And if he wants to do an end run around me, you're not supposed to let him!"
"I am your best friend," she said simply. "Which is why I granted him the favor. She's commissioned three panic rooms, one for each one of her homes, Sundance-with all the bells and whistles, I might add."
"You mean, she bought the premium package?"
Candice held up three fingers. "Thrice. And, according to Brice, she's also already paid for them in full."
I sighed heavily and frowned in frustration. Six months earlier, Dutch and his business partner, Milo, had decided to end their partnership. Nothing bad had happened between them-it was more that Milo was given a chance for early retirement with the police force he worked for up in Michigan, and he decided to retire from all his jobs and spend a lot more time with his family. He'd flown down here to Texas to have a long talk with us about his reasoning and his plans, and Dutch had offered to buy out his end of the business. Milo had jumped at the chance and the transfer had been smooth and easy, and their friendship remained as strong as ever.
And then Dutch and Dave-our former handyman/carpenter/really good friend-had gotten to talking about how all new construction blueprints for homes in the seven figures were now including panic rooms as a standard feature.
Dave had said that there was a good business in retrofitting large homes in the area that'd been built prior to the panic room craze, and Dutch agreed. Dutch had offered to trade Dave some shares in his security business if Dave agreed to come on board, help start up a new division of the business, and run the crew. And then Dutch had approached Candice's husband, Brice, about also becoming a partner.
Within a few months the three had launched the new division of the business, and things quickly took off.
In fact, they took off so fast that Dutch, Dave, and Brice were caught completely by surprise, and none of them had any time to interview for an administrative support team. So Candice and I had been helping where we could, taking and making phone calls, helping with schedules and appointments, mailing out brochures, etc. Anything for the cause.
Even with our help, however, things were so busy that we barely saw our men anymore.
Between their two now-full-time jobs, Dutch and Brice were rarely home and Candice and I were starting to really miss our husbands. Brice and Dutch were working so much that the only days we could count on seeing them were Sunday afternoons, and the poor men were usually so tired by then that they weren't much fun.
Still, Dutch and Brice seemed to like the idea of all that work, and it was nice to know that Brice was quickly catching up to Candice in the moola department. I'd long suspected that it'd been a bit of a thorn in his side that Candice was worth so much more than he was. She'd been the sole beneficiary of a sizable fortune that had made her portfolio a whole lot thicker than his, and although I knew she didn't care, I'd always thought he did.
"If my husband thinks I'm such a problem," I said, getting back to my hurt feelings, "then why are you guys risking having me meet this woman at all?"
Candice shifted in her seat. "It's complicated."
"What does that mean?"
"She's heard of you and wants to meet you."
"Ah," I said, but I could see that there was more to the story, and I could also see by the way that Candice was avoiding looking over at me that she was hoping very much that I didn't ask about it. "What else aren't you telling me?" (I like to ignore subtle and not-so-subtle social cues. It's all part of my considerable charm.)
"You're not going to like it."
"I already don't like it."
"You're really not going to like it."
I rolled my eyes. "Out with it, Cassidy," I demanded, using my favorite nickname for her.
Candice took a big breath. "Well," she said, "it's like this: Apparently, Murielle has a big crush on your husband and she wants to meet the competition."
"Wait . . . what, now?"
Candice stopped at a red light and turned to look at me directly. "Murielle McKenna has been hitting on your husband for weeks, Abs."