When I agreed to stand by my best friend, Basia, on her big day, I had no idea what I was in for. Bouquets and unflattering evening wear I can handle. But between disgruntled dates, a beach venue and suspicious packages, what else can go wrong? Oh, right—my parents don’t know I’ve moved in with Slash. Oops?
Thankfully, I’ve got everything semi under control, at least as far as Basia and Xavier know. They can leave for their honeymoon happy, knowing Elvis, Slash and I will keep things safe at home.
Meanwhile, Elvis and Xavier’s boss at ComQuest has asked X-Corp—well, me—to take a quick trip to retrieve a sensitive company package from the British Virgin Islands. No hacking involved. Just show up, accept the package and bring it home safely. A cushy assignment, and a safe one. Right?
Wrong. Things start to unravel the minute I set foot on the boat to the island. Before I know it, I’m up to my neck in trouble. I’m going to have to work fast to stop the bad guys before the sun sets for good on this unexpected beach vacation…
And don’t miss the rest of Julie Moffett’s Lexi Carmichael Mysteries: No One Lives Twice, No One To Trust, No Money Down, No Place Like Rome, No Biz Like Showbiz, No Test for the Wicked, No Woman Left Behind, No Room for Error, No Strings Attached and No Living Soul, available now from Carina Press!
This book is approximately 77,000 words
Carina Press acknowledges the editorial services of Alissa Davis
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The evening before the wedding, I noticed something odd.
It's not that I go around looking for things out of the ordinary, but I have a photographic memory, and I'm also good with math and computers, so it's in my nature to look for meaningful patterns. When something seems off, I notice, perhaps more than most people.
My name is Lexi Carmichael, and first things first: the wedding I'm talking about is not mine. That honor goes to my best friend, Basia Kowalski. Tomorrow she's getting married to another of my best friends, Xavier Zimmerman, one of the most accomplished computer geniuses in the US. I have the honor of serving as Basia's maid of honor, a duty which has been stressing me out daily for the past few months.
People, parties, dancing and the beach are not my things. In fact, before Basia became my roommate at Georgetown University, I'd avoided all of them by never leaving my room. I lived online. Hacking, gaming and chat rooms. Virtual kingdoms and personal domains. Then Basia swept into our Georgetown dorm room and drowned the place in pink. She smiled at me every time I tried to ignore her, and offered to let me lecture her about password security if I'd just go to the cafeteria with her for an hour. She'd drag me to parties, and help me with my French homework. I still remember the day she introduced me to someone as her best friend. I'd been surprised and yet deeply touched, not sure how and when it had evolved to that. I owe a lot to her, more than I can ever repay. If she hadn't continually badgered me to "log off," I might still be stuck in a virtual existence. The transition hasn't been easy for me, but it's been worth it. Walking down the aisle as the maid of honor at her wedding is a small price to pay for a friendship I value highly.
Thankfully, the wedding rehearsal and subsequent dinner had gone off without a hitch. I hadn't messed it up, destroyed anything, or been shot at, kidnapped or tortured in the process. That sounds like a joke, but I'm not kidding. My life has been a statistically improbable whirlwind of all the above for the past year. My friends say I have a little black cloud of trouble that follows me around. Since I'm a computer geek and a math nerd, I started a spreadsheet noting specific events, actions and my involvement in them, so I could keep track. I called it my "Little Black Cloud" spreadsheet. I'd racked up a considerable number of entries in a less-than-one-year period. So much so, I'd mathematically proved beyond any question of a doubt that I'm a trouble magnet. My friends were right.
It concerned me more than I let on.
The fact the evening had gone as well as it had was a near miracle. Now I had only to survive the next twenty-four hours. Then my best friends would be happily married and the pressure for me to perform would be off.
Then, bam! My spidey senses went off when I saw them.
The them I'm referring to is three guys I passed in the lobby on my way to the hotel bar that faced the ocean. I was on my way to meet my boyfriend, Slash, who'd texted me he was waiting there. My boyfriend is Italian by birth, but American by heart. He's deep into computers and hacking like I am and was just promoted to one of the most sensitive spots in the NSA. He's so valuable to the agency, he's followed around the clock by his own Secret Service detail. It's been weird having my first real relationship in the prism of a fishbowl, but it is what it is.
I'd been in the bridal suite, because I was sharing a room with Basia on the night before her big day. I'd exchanged my dress and heels for jeans and a T-shirt because I couldn't handle the discomfort for one more minute. Then, walking through the hotel lobby on my way to meet Slash, I saw them.
They weren't doing anything illegal or overtly suspicious. They weren't even standing together. Instead, the three of them were spread out in the lobby crowded with people. But all were sweating like crazy, even though the hotel was well air-conditioned. They glanced around furtively, as if they were scoping the place or looking for someone. They never indicated they were together, but the regular eye contact with each other confirmed they were definitely operating as a team.
A team of what?
I supposed it could have been as harmless as three guys spreading out to look for a friend or a girlfriend, but that wasn't the vibe I got.
While processing all of this inside the span of about five seconds, my inner alarm went off and I froze in mid-step. The guy the farthest from me noticed first. His eyes met mine for a fraction of a second before he and his friends abruptly melted into the crowd.
I did a three-sixty in the middle of the lobby, but all were gone.
What the heck?
Frowning, I went into the bar. It wasn't hard to spot my boyfriend, especially when most everyone else in the bar was looking at him, too. Although he perched quietly on a barstool, he commanded attention. Maybe it was the way he sat, his back straight, his dark eyes constantly assessing the room. Although people didn't mind looking at his jet black hair, square jaw and well-toned physique, they seemed hesitant to meet his gaze. I suspected it was because he gave off a slightly dangerous vibe. Tonight, dressed in a white shirt and dress slacks, holding a drink in his hand, he could have easily been posing for a Vogue Italia magazine photo shoot instead of waiting at the bar for his geeky, jean-clad girlfriend.
His gaze landed instantly on me when I walked in. My heart skipped a beat when he rose to greet me.
When I reached him, he pulled me in for a kiss, running a hand down the back of my ponytail. He smelled good, like a mixture of citrus, soap and cologne. I leaned into him and pressed my lips against his, feeling the scratch of his five-o'clock shadow against my chin. It didn't matter that wed been dating for months, every time he kissed me, I melted.
Still, he knew me well enough to immediately sense something was wrong.
"Cara" he murmured against my mouth. "What's up?"
It boggled my mind that he could tell that from one brief look. Either I was going to have to work on a better poker face or resign myself to the fact he'd always know what I was feeling.
I put a hand on his chest and lowered my voice. "There were these guys in the lobby. They weren't doing anything ... but I got a feeling."
He nodded. He trusted my instincts as much as I trusted his. "Descriptions?"
"Male, all aged between twenty to twenty-seven years, maybe. Two Caucasian, one Hispanic, all average height, no overt tattoos or markings. One of the Caucasian males had a navy blue knit hat on, a dark T-shirt and blue jean shorts. He had some facial hair, a partial beard, I think. The others both had dark hair, white T-shirts — sorry I couldn't see the front of them to see if there were any markings — and shorts. All of them were wearing sandals." My descriptions could have fit half the population of a hotel at the beach. "They're long gone now, Slash. They noticed me looking and disappeared."
"Wait here." Slash walked over to speak with two guys sitting at a small round table. His Secret Service tail. The agent on the right stood and went with Slash toward the lobby. The other stayed in his seat, his eyes on me. No question what his job was.
Sighing, I ordered a cranberry juice and spritzer water and stirred in a lime when the bartender set it in front of me. I read the latest tech news on my phone until fifteen minutes later when Slash returned and sat on the bar stool next to me.
"No sign of anyone fitting that description," he said. "But I told hotel security. They'll be reviewing the security feed to check it out."
I set my phone on the bar. "Hopefully it's nothing."
"These days it's better to be sure than hopeful."
"I agree." I noticed he'd angled his stool to have a better view of all the entrances to the bar. Since one side of the bar was open to the beach and ocean, it was a lot of ground to cover. Still, Slash didn't seem outwardly concerned. He took my hand and squeezed it lightly.
"You did a good job at the rehearsal tonight, cara."
"I didn't trip over my feet or lose the ring, so I count it as a win." The rings had gone back to the safe in the bridal suite I was sharing with Basia for the night.
"Definitely a win."
"I don't know how you can be so calm," I said. "Doesn't it bother you to be on display in front of everyone?" Slash had graciously agreed to fill in as a groomsman after Xavier's coworker, Manny, had caught the chicken pox three days ago. It meant a lot to me that Slash was going to be a part of the ceremony. When he was there to be my buffer, social interactions were much easier. I knew it meant a lot to Slash, too, because it signaled Xavier had started to see him as a friend, and not just my boyfriend.
Progress on all fronts.
"I don't let things like that bother me." Slash picked up his drink and took a sip. From the smell, I guessed it was scotch, two fingers, neat. "Not when I have more important things to worry about.. .like your parents coming to the wedding."
"Right." I sighed and stirred the lime around in my drink, thankful I wasn't the only one worried about it. "I'm going to tell them we're living together at the reception."
Slash raised an eyebrow. "How is it that I didn't know you haven't told them yet?"
My cheeks heated. "Well, I kept meaning to, but it was never the right time. There was the trip to Egypt, the last-minute wedding preparations with Basia ... and here we are."
He gave me a look that even I could read. He wasn't impressed with my lame excuses. Easy for him to think that, because he'd already told his parents. But his mom and stepdad live in England, so he had distance as a cushion, if he needed it. Lucky him. Distance, a lot of it, always made conversations easier for me. Unfortunately, my parents live twenty minutes from our new place in Silver Spring, Maryland — not that they even knew I had a new place yet. If I tried to chicken out and tell them over the phone, they'd be at our house before I had unpacked the glassware and could offer them something to drink. I'd made my decision and intended to stick with it no matter what they might say, but even I knew telling them in person was the adult thing to do. It didn't make it any easier, though.
Technically, Slash and I had only been living together for about forty-eight hours. It was a big step for a geek girl who hates change, and a loner like Slash, but so far, it was working out better than expected. Difficult to derive any significant data from a forty-eight-hour stretch, though.
I'd prepared as much as possible for the talk with my parents because I always try to be ready with things to say for important conversations. According to the book I'd now read twice, titled The Cohabitation Talk, telling your parents you were moving in with your boyfriend was best done in person and with confidence in your decision. Despite the clawing anxiety now living in the pit of my stomach, I'd figure out how to do it right.
I worried the most about my dad's reaction. He'd met Slash several times, chatted with him (while secretly employing ill-disguised, lawyerly interrogating methods) and watched him interact with me. Maybe he liked Slash a little ... even if he wouldn't admit it. Unfortunately, my dad is far too overprotective of his only daughter, even if said daughter can take care of herself just fine.
Luckily, convincing my mother this was a good development wasn't going to be a problem. She'd be thrilled to hear Slash and I had moved in together. She adored him and had been mentally fitting him for a tuxedo for months while planning our two-thousand guest wedding — which neither Slash nor I would ever attend, if we ever decided to get married.
I tried to push aside the anxiety. It wouldn't help to freak out when everything was going well. I took a sip of my drink just as Basia and Xavier walked into the bar holding hands. Basia was dressed in a bright yellow sundress with matching shoes and purse. She was glowing — literally — with happiness and the bit of extra sun she'd gotten this afternoon while tanning on the beach. She carried a package in one hand and beamed as Xavier spotted us and raised a hand in greeting.
She walked over and gave me a hug. "Lexi. There you are. You slipped out after dinner so quickly I didn't have a chance to speak to you."
"You were busy," I said. "I just got out of your way."
She noticed the jeans. "You changed already?"
"I hope that's okay. I figured I was off duty."
"It's fine." Slash slid off his stool and insisted Basia sit next to me. As there was no place left for the men to sit, they stood behind us. Basia perched on the stool and smiled. "Guys, I'm so happy. Everything was wonderful tonight. The rehearsal was perfect, and the dinner was spectacular. It all went exactly as planned."
"That's the part I liked best," I admitted. "The going-exactly-as-planned part."
The bartender came over and took Basia's and Xavier's drink requests — a glass of chardonnay for Basia and a beer for Xavier.
I tapped the package she'd laid on the counter. "Another wedding present?"
"Yes. The front desk handed it off to me."
For some reason, Basia wanted the packages to be on display for the reception and Xavier didn't care, so those of us who chose to get them something from the registry had our packages mailed to the hotel. Didn't seem logical to me, but I wasn't the bride, so I kept my mouth shut.
Since Basia and Xavier had apparently received an avalanche of gifts, the hotel ran out of room in their safe and storage area. So, upon our arrival at the hotel, Basia and I had taken several of the larger packages and stored them in our room. It was clear, however, if they got any more presents before tomorrow, we'd have to rent a room just for them.
Basia waved at Finn Shaughnessy, our boss at XCorp as he strode into the bar, loosening his tie and carrying his suit jacket over his arm. He saw us and came over, joining our little party. After giving the guys high-fives and the girls a kiss on the cheek, he realized someone was missing.
"Where's the best man?" he asked looking around.
"Elvis is in our room," Xavier explained. "He needed a little downtime."
I totally got that. Elvis was as much of an introvert as I was.
The conversation immediately turned to the rehearsal, how well the cute flower girl and ring bearer had carried out their duties, and how everything had gone swimmingly.
Eventually I figured I needed to participate a little, so I turned to Basia. "Tonight is your last time sleeping as a single woman. Remind me again, why you're spending it with me?"
Finn cleared his throat and Slash looked at me in amusement.
Okay, maybe that hadn't come out like I planned.
Basia swept her hand out in front of her, the diamonds in her engagement ring sparkling in the light. "Because you are my best friend and because the groom absolutely, positively cannot see the bride on her wedding day until the moment she walks down the aisle."
"That tradition is supported exactly how?"
"I'll answer that." Finn leaned against the bar with one hand, his Irish accent thickening, which it always did when he drank. "Traditionally, it was done in medieval times to ensure arranged marriages were completed. The bride didn't even meet the groom until the ceremony and wore a veil until after the vows were repeated and the deal was sealed, so to say. This prevented the groom from backing out until it was too late."
"Whoa. That's so sexist," Basia protested.
"Don't kill the messenger, lass," Finn said grinning and lifting his hands. "I'm telling it like it was."
"You wouldn't need a veil," Xavier told Basia. "You're stunning. There would be a rush of men to have you. But you're mine. Plus, you know I love you for your mind." Xavier bent down and kissed her. She laughed and slid her arms around him, kissing him back.
Jeez. Get a room already.
I glanced over their heads at Slash and Finn in exasperation. They look amused. It was totally unfair.
"Come on, guys, are you sure you don't want to spend tonight together? I'm more than happy to abdicate." I didn't want to admit it publically, but the truth was, these days I slept better when Slash was around. Seeing as how tomorrow was going to be an extremely nerve-wracking time for me, I needed all the rest I could get.
Basia unwound her arms from around Xavier's neck and pressed her cheek against his. "Nope. We're sticking with my plan, mostly because I want to surprise Xavier with my dress."
"I'm going to be so floored, babe," Xavier said. "No doubt about it."
Excerpted from "No Regrets: A Lexi Carmichael Mystery, Book Ten"
Copyright © 2017 Julie Moffett.
Excerpted by permission of Carina Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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