Daylight streamed through the port holes, stabbing me awake. I pushed my face into the pillow and groaned. Did the man not believe in shades?
After wobbling along the pier in my snakeskins last night, I'd found Derek in a "loving" embrace with a bottle-blonde wearing more makeup than Bozo the Clown. Trying to avert my eyes, I'd asked, "Can I crash here until I clear my name?"
His reply: "Knock yourself out, kid."
Luckily that had been the extent of our conversation. I had a feeling he was saving the real interrogation for this morning, when he was sober(ish) and alone.
While Aiden and his crew would know full well that Derek was biologically linked to me, it would take a little more digging to find my dad. As a PI, Derek had always believed in living off the radar—P.O. Box for all his mail, no home phone, utilities in a corporate name. The harder it was for an angry husband to find him the better, he'd always told me. And his security obsession had only grown after getting shot. Making the boat registered to a "Captain Jack Sparrow, Inc." (Derek always did have a sense of humor) the perfect secure hideout.
The delicious aroma of dark roast weaved its way around my dull senses, awakening me further. I shrugged off the covers and stretched. After Derek had welcomed me aboard, the captain and I hadn't spoken a word. Which meant this was the big moment. No messages to delete, no screened calls, no egg timer.
I sighed and headed to the bathroom. My headache was light, and the throbbing in my knee had gone down, but I still limped. There'd be no chasing unfaithful husbands for me for a few days.
I splashed water on my face and noticed an unopened, packaged toothbrush. I couldn't help a grin. Why did I get the feeling Derek was used to unexpected overnight guests?
I tore open the package and squeezed white paste onto the bristles. After feeling a bit more human, I hobbled toward the scent of coffee and found a full pot in the galley. On the counter, nestled between the microwave and a box of Cap'n Crunch, sat a coffee can of fresh cut wildflowers.
The same ones at Mom's grave.
A sudden wave of nostalgia hit me. After Mom had died, Derek had refused to talk about her. Even though I was young at the time, I'd understood somehow that it was just too painful. But as the initial shock and pain had subsided some for me, morphing into a dull sense of loss that never quite went away, it had frustrated me that no one ever mentioned her. But Derek had stood fast. She was gone, and that was all there was to say on the matter. I guess over the years I'd just stopped associating Derek with my mom. The small reminder that he still thought of her was comforting. Okay, maybe the guy wasn't all bad.
I poured a cup and sat at the table, gazing out to sea.
Small waves rippled the water. Over the horizon the sun rose, coloring the grey sky with strokes of orange and yellow. It looked like another horrendously hot day approaching.
Giggles pinpricked the quiet.
I sucked in a breath. Great. Bottle-blonde was still here.
I grabbed my coffee and started toward the cabins when Derek appeared in the doorway.
"Morning," he grumbled then reached for my mug, taking a healthy swig. Hair tousled, dressed in shorts and tank, he didn't look ready to tackle the day. And I definitely didn't want to spend the day with a bear.
Another giggle sounded, and I turned to find Elaine, from the news station, in the doorway. Her hair was mussed, her makeup smudged on one side, and her cheek bore a wrinkled pillow impression. In person she was shorter than she'd appeared on camera. Kinda like the reverse effect of a car's side view mirror.
I looked away, trying with all my might not to imagine the two of them together.
"Don't mind him," she said with a smirk. "He's always grouchy before the first cup, which is why I showed him how to operate the machine's automatic timer."
How domestic of them.
He waved away her words and gulped the hot liquid. Like a superhero in a phone booth, he went from scary old geezer to attractive old man in seconds. He stood taller and more alert. He smiled at us, looking from one to the other. "Elaine, this is James."
"Jamie," I corrected automatically.
She extended her squat arm and wrapped her hand around mine. "Good to meet you. He talks about you all the time."
I raised an eyebrow in his direction. "Really?"
She widened her eyes, giving off an innocent look, but I doubted there was anything naïve about this woman. "Oh yes. He's always mentioning the agency. Wondering how it's going."
I smirked. "Yes, his love for the cases is exceptionally touching."
He shot me a look, then handed me back my mug (empty) and reached into the cupboard for one of his own.
Elaine glanced at her watch. "Well, I need to get to my place to change before work. It was super nice meeting you though, James."
She ignored me, turning her attention to the captain, murmuring some thankfully unintelligible sweet talk that had even Derek blushing by the time she was done.
I poured myself a fresh cup, headed back to the table, sat down, and stared at the water, trying to block out the scene.
Giggles and wet lip smacking erupted that reminded me of junior high braces, sneaking under the bleachers, and heading back to class chewing flavorless gum that wasn't mine. Ick.
I rolled my eyes and considered throwing myself overboard.
"Call you later," Elaine finally promised.
I turned in time to catch Derek playfully slap her on the butt.
She walked out, and Derek sat opposite me at the table.
"How's the leg?" he asked. "That limp seemed bad last night."
"Want to tell me what happened?"
"So, what's going on with the Martin case?"
I rested my head on the table. This would be the longest day of my life. "Don't you have something to do?"
Someone else to torture.
"Are you kidding? This is the first time I get to spend time with my daughter, and she can't escape or ignore her phone. Do you think I'd pass it up by running errands?" The mocking seriousness of his tone made the hairs on the back of neck prickle.
"I have more pressing issues than the Martins at the moment," I mumbled in response.
Derek stared at me a beat. Then nodded. "I know, James."
I ducked my head, really not ready to have this conversation without another cup of coffee. Which, by the way, (I had to hand it to Miss Trix) was really good.
"She makes good coffee," I said, doing a lame attempt at subject change.
Derek nodded again. "She does. Elaine's a good woman."
I held my breath and waited for the sexual innuendo, but it never arrived. Sitting up straight, I brought the mug to my lips and took a long sip.
"You really like her, don't you?"
"Nice try, kid. We were talking about you. And your legal troubles."
He was good.
Just then footsteps sounded on the dock.
My heart leapt, and I froze. I stared wide-eyed at Derek, who was on his feet and out the door in a flash. Voices sounded. I couldn't make out any words, but one sounded higher. A woman? I prayed that Elaine had forgotten something and that Aiden hadn't sent a female officer after me.
The footsteps grew closer. Two pair? Three? I couldn't tell. Derek wouldn't allow the cops to search his boat without a warrant, would he?
Suddenly a boy in long, baggy shorts and an Angry Birds T-shirt jumped into the room. A backpack draped over his right shoulder, he clutched a portable game system in his hand.
"Hey, Aunt Jamie," he said, then plopped across from me.
Derek entered a beat later with Sam. "Look what I found up top," he said, gesturing to Sam. Or, more accurately, to her long legs, clearly visible beneath a denim mini skirt.
I shot Derek a warning look.
He gave back an innocent stare in response, then walked over to Julio, watching the child play some alien-sounding game.
Skin folds formed between Sam's perfectly arched brows. "I hope you don't mind. I have no other choices, and I want to make headway with the Peters case. Your dad said it was okay."
I cringed at the word "dad" and walked to her. I pulled her in for a quick hug, spotting the tension and worry in her clenched jaw. "It's fine."
I glanced at the guys. Derek seemed enthralled with the game. Maybe Julio could keep him occupied all day.
I lowered my voice. "In fact, you probably just saved my bacon."
* * *
After a morning of literally staring at paint dry (I'd found a bottle of red nail polish in the bathroom cabinet) and listening to the guys squeal as they fought whatever creature-slash-bad guy, I was ready to commit myself. Nothing seemed to pass the time quickly enough. I'd never been much for naps, and lying in the sun meant being exposed to whomever sailed by. Not conducive for hiding out.
I stepped into the galley and found Derek and Julio at the table. Playing cards were spread out between them—a king of hearts, eight and five of diamonds, and a four of spades. The old man was teaching him poker. A mound of yellow, pink, blue, purple, and green cereal nuggets sat to the side.
They stared one another down, as if ready to count six paces then draw their weapons.
Derek laid down his two cards. A king of clubs and four of hearts. "Two pair, kid. Beat that."
Julio pulled his bottom lip in with his teeth then put down a seven and six of clubs. A wicked smile broke out across his face. "If you insist."
I chuckled so loudly, I startled myself.
Derek face-palmed and groaned into his hand.
Julio giggled, making hissing sounds with his tongue between his front teeth.
"Beginner's luck," Derek said with a smirk. He gathered the cards. "Go get some sunshine. In a bit, I'll teach you blackjack."
Julio scrambled to his feet, snatched his gaming device, and ran out.
"Stay away from the edge," I shouted then took his seat. "You think Sam will appreciate you turning her son into a gambler?"
"Ah, he'll have a snazzier 'how I spent my summer vacation' report."
"Yeah, playing poker on a yacht with an old man and a murder suspect. That should go over well with the school district."
I stared out the window, tapping my phone's stylus onto the Formica tabletop. "You're good with him."
Derek grinned. "What can I say? We're on the same wavelength."
A laugh blasted from my throat. "Good point."
"He's a good kid," Derek said, shuffling the deck of cards. "Could use a dad around more, but Sam's doin' okay with him."
"I'm glad you approve," I said, not able to keep the mocking tone from my voice.
And it didn't escape Derek either. He glanced up. "What? You questioning my parenting skills, James?"
I held up my hands. "Who me? Never."
"Hey, we had some good times when you were growin' up," he said, dealing us each a hand. "Remember that time I took you to San Diego?"
"On a stakeout," I reminded him.
"And we went to Sea World."
"Following a mark."
"And you got to feed the dolphins."
"While you took pictures of the mark with his girlfriend and her two kids."
Derek grinned at me. "Good times, right?"
I shook my head. While he'd never win father of the year, it was almost as hard to hate Derek as it was to love him.
"You got a phenomenal memory, by the way, James," Derek said, picking up his cards and studying them. "I forgot how many kids she had."
I picked up my cards. I had nothing. "A boy and a girl. Both had brown hair and freckles, and the boy was two years older. The girl got a stuffed octopus, and the boy got a toy pirate sword."
Derek glanced at me over the rim of his cards. "See, you're a natural born investigator, James."
Whether it was nature or nurture (or lack thereof), I wasn't sure. But I took the compliment all the same.
"Have you heard from any of your girls?" Derek asked, his eyes going to my right hand. I looked down and realized I was still tapping on the tabletop.
I forced my hand to be still. "No."
Maya was checking into Club Dante's Shooting Stars trade today, gathering all the info she could on who was using, who was dealing, and where they got their supplies. Sam and Caleigh were, as Sam had stated, working Peters again. They'd protested when I'd said it was business as usual as far as our clients were concerned, but honestly, there wasn't anything else for them to pursue. We were hanging on by a thread as far as leads went, and Club Dante was about it.
And Danny was silent. Not that I expected much from him after I'd told him to take a hike, but part of me kind of wished he'd at least call and make sure Aiden hadn't nabbed me last night.
I loathed to admit Danny had total I-told-you-so rights. Aiden had played me big time. The easy smile, the warm eyes—I'd bought it all. Even enjoyed it a little, if I was being brutally honest. And all along it had been just to gain info before he threw me in jail. Interrogation 101—tell your mark what they want to hear, and they'll tell you everything. It had been a long time since I'd let a guy take advantage of me, and I wasn't proud of it. One reason I wasn't entirely unhappy I hadn't heard from Danny that day.
Derek placed his cards on the table, face down, apparently folding, and stood. "I better get up there and keep an eye on him. I'm not the strong swimmer I once was."
I nodded, honestly a little touched at his paternal-ness.
But he hesitated in the door, his eyes frowning, mouth working through a few different thoughts before settling on one.
"It's gonna be okay, kid," he finally settled on. "You're tough. You'll get through this."
It was the closest he would ever come to warm and fuzzy. I felt tears back up in my throat, but quickly shoved them down.
* * *
After several more butt-numbing hours of card games (I totally won a round of go fish) and listening to the alien sounds from Julio’s game, I was officially going insane. I was honestly tempted to raid Derek's liquor cabinet, but instead I opted for a box of mac 'n' cheese, splitting it with Julio. As I placed a bowl in front of him, his eyes lit up, he shoved a spoonful into his mouth, and the video game was blissfully silent for the first time all day. God bless Kraft.
We were halfway through our bowls of decadent, gooey cheesiness (which, honestly, was making me feel better) when footsteps sounded above us. Two pair, but I didn't panic this time. They were obviously high heels, and the last time I checked, police officers didn't wear stilettos.
Sam and Caleigh stepped into the galley.
Julio ran to his mother, wrapping his arms around her waist. "Derek taught me how to play poker, and I won."
She looked to me, brows raised. "Well isn't that sweet of him."
I shrugged. Hey, what do you expect when you chose Derek Bond as your babysitter?
Caleigh snickered and walked over. A black dress was draped over her arm, and a tote bag dangled from her hand.
"How'd it go with Peters today?" I asked.
"Julio, go finish your food," Sam said, automatically. Julio frowned, clearly getting the kids-out-of-the-room signal.
I stood and huddled with them near the sink.
Caleigh's eyes sparkled, and a small smile etched onto her face. "He's not cheating on his wife."
"You're sure?" I asked, hearing my voice drop with disappointment before I could catch it. No cheating equaled no big payday.
They nodded in unison.
"He spent the whole day running errands, playing golf—just all over town." Caleigh rolled her eyes as if thinking about it exhausted her. "And none of it involved a woman."
"But…" Sam teased. She glanced at Julio before whispering, "At one point we lost him, and when we drove past his house we saw Mrs. Peters driving off with another man."
I raised an eyebrow. "Oh reeeally?"
"So I stayed with her while Sam located the husband," Caleigh said, taking turns ping-ponging the information at me.
"Mr. Peters met some guy at Dugan's Tavern for a drink. They laughed, ate way too many peanuts, and watched sports," Sam said.
"While Mrs. Peters met some guy at Motel 6, where they played sports for two hours. I don't think peanuts were involved." Caleigh winked.
Part of me was elated to find a husband who believed in his vows. The wife, however, left a bitter taste in my mouth. Why couldn't people simply keep it in their pants until they had nice, civilized divorce papers signed?
"You think she was a kettle calling a pot black?" Sam asked.
I shrugged, trying to remember my first meeting with Mrs. Peters. "More like hoping, I'd guess. She mentioned a prenup. Maybe she wanted to catch him before he caught her."
"We left the video at the office," said Sam. She paused. "The cops finally cleared it."
I nodded, ignoring the reference to my fugitive status. "Perfect. I'll call Mr. Peters on Monday."
"Mr. Peters?" Caleigh asked. "I thought our client was the wife."
"She was. But chances are Mr. Peters will pay more than she will to have evidence of his wife's infidelity."
Sam grinned. "You are evil, Jamie."
What I was, was broke. But I let the comment go.
"We set for tonight?" I asked.
Caleigh nodded, then handed me a stack of papers. "Maya's research on Shooting Stars."
I glanced down. It was thorough, I'd give her that. "You're ready to run point?" I asked Caleigh.
"What do you want me to do?" Sam asked.
She opened her mouth to protest, a frown forming between her eyebrows again, but I ran over her.
"Julio's had enough of Derek today. Unless you want him turning into a card shark before fifth grade, take him home."
She bit her lower lip. "I could possibly ask my neighbor to watch him again," she offered.
I shook my head. "No, spend time with your son. Caleigh and I have got this."
"Yes we do." Caleigh held up the dress. "You'll be wearing this and…"
I grabbed the slinky, low cut garment while she opened the tote.
She held up a pair of strappy stilettos and an auburn wig.
I always wondered what I'd look like as a redhead.