“What are you doing?” Sam asked when Lizzie began to move the chairs on the east side of the room away from the wall.
“I’m paying for your investigative services,” she said, not bothering to look his way.
“You’re not moving furniture,” he insisted, and she could hear his chair scrape back as he stood.
“I am,” she said.
“You are not,” he replied.
Lizzie turned to stare at the stubborn man for a long moment. “Do you expect me to paint around the furniture?”
“I’ll move the furniture,” he said, almost, but not quite, clenching his teeth.
“It’s part of the job, part of my payment for your services. Geez, Sam, I work alone more often than not, and I’ve moved my fair share of furniture. It’s not like you have an armoire or a sleeper sofa. This I can handle.”
He stepped away from the desk. “Let me…”
“Am I going to have to ban you from your own office for the duration?”
He stopped short. “What duration? You’ll finish today, right?”
Lizzie grinned. “No way. I don’t just slap paint on a wall and call it done. This is at least a three-day job. Maybe four.”
“Five days minimum if you don’t let me get to work.”
He didn’t like the idea, but he did finally return to his desk, sit and grudgingly allow her to do what she’d come here to do. The east side of the room didn’t have a window, which made it a good place to start. She moved the furniture away from the wall—nothing heavy, just a small table with an artificial plant sitting on it and an uncomfortable-looking chair—and laid out her drop cloth. The putty she used wasn’t horribly messy, but sometimes she got carried away. Better safe than sorry. She tried to ignore the fact that Sam was in the room, but it wasn’t easy. She was going to have to tell him that he didn’t have to stay here and watch her the whole time. She liked to work alone. Usually she set up her portable CD player and popped in some music and got lost in her work. With Sam around, she couldn’t get lost in anything!
She took down the framed photograph of Sam and her dad after a long-ago fishing trip, as well as a generic landscape. When she started to remove the nails with the grooved end of her favorite hammer, he stopped her with a chilling question.
“What are you doing?”
Hammer in hand, she turned to face him. “I’m working. Don’t you have somewhere else to be?”
“You don’t paint with a hammer and I have nowhere else to be but right here.”
She curled her lip, slightly. “Must I explain myself step by step?”
“Apparently so.” He crossed his arms over his chest, and there was something about the stance he took that made Lizzie’s heart skip a beat. When it came to men, she wasn’t exactly a novice. She’d dated guys in the past, one or two fairly seriously. She knew quite a few boys, some as friends, some as more than friends—though she’d been without a more-than-friend for a while now. She’d had a few boyfriends, some serious and some not so. Sam was no guy and he was no boy. He was one hundred percent man, and he affected her differently than any other man or boy or guy she’d ever known. He made her stomach turn over and her mouth go dry. He made her tremble deep down and crave things she should not, could not crave. Suddenly she felt a little defensive, as if she needed to build a wall between her and Sam just to protect her sanity.
“If you don’t understand the importance of prep work then I’m not surprised that you don’t have a girlfriend.” The minute the words were out of her mouth, Lizzie felt a rush of heat in her cheeks. When was she going to learn to think before she spoke? That wasn’t exactly the kind of wall she had in mind.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
She tried to pretend she wasn’t embarrassed. Since she’d started the conversation, she might as well finish it. “Prep work, laying the foundation, building perfection, taking one’s time to make sure that a task is properly done. Detail, Sam, detail.”
“What does that have to do with me not having a girlfriend?” Frustration was clear on Sam’s face, and Lizzie wished once more that she’d kept her mouth shut. Keeping her mouth shut had never been easy for her.
“If you can’t figure it out for yourself I’m not going to tell you,” Lizzie said as she turned to face the wall before her. She slowly ran a hand across the surface, feeling every bump, every imperfection. Whoever had painted this wall last had simply slapped paint on over a dusty wall. “What trained monkey painted this office?”
Sam remained quiet, and Lizzie was forced to turn to look at him. He was all but steaming. “When we moved into this office building I painted the wall myself.”
“Oh,” Lizzie said, as she turned to resume her inspection. Yes, no wonder there was no girlfriend. A man who gave so little attention to detail would make a terrible lover. She glanced over her shoulder. Of course, there was nothing that said Sam couldn’t learn a thing or two about detail..
Prep work. No girlfriend. Trained monkey.
It didn’t take Sam long to figure out what Lizzie meant. Fortunately by the time it hit him she was facing the wall again, displaying an oddly sexy form in loose-fitting jeans and a T-shirt with paint splattered all over it. How exactly had she gotten paint on her back, anyway?
He’d show her prep work, dammit.
Sam had taken two steps from his desk before the force of his foolishness hit him. Lizzie was no longer a teenager with a crush, and the difference between twenty-four and thirty-two wasn’t impossible the way fourteen and twenty-two had been. But she was a client, and more important, she was Charlie’s little girl.
Charlie had wanted so much for his daughter. She’d deserved better than a mother who left without warning and a father who worked all the time. Maybe if Charlie had found a decent woman and married her, their lives would’ve been different. It wasn’t that he hadn’t met and dated any nice women, they just hadn’t lasted long. Burned badly by his wife’s desertion, Charlie had been unable to trust that what he saw in a good woman was real. The ones who were less than nice—at least they were honest. That had become his skewed way of looking at things.
Lizzie certainly deserved better than a private investigator who could never offer her a permanent relationship. Sam had given up on permanent the day his wife had walked out of his house and directly into another man’s arms. He’d given up on permanent when the citizens of the town he’d risked his life to protect had come out to picket the precinct after the shooting. He’d thought his marriage would last forever, that he would be a cop until retirement came along. But nothing was forever, he knew that now.
And kids? Forget it. Working child custody cases only made him glad that he wasn’t a father. He couldn’t imagine raising a child in this world.
Lizzie was young. She still believed in forever, and he hadn’t missed the spark in her eyes as she’d asked about him about wanting a wife and kids of his own. She idealized family and happily ever after; her heart was still whole—and he wouldn’t be the one to take that from her.
Though he would like to prove to her that he wasn’t entirely clueless when it came to handling women.
Sam grabbed his cell phone and made a quick and almost incoherent excuse before he left his office. He dialed Darryl Connelly’s number, wondering how best to approach the situation and absolutely certain that he needed to get this over with ASAP.
A young girl answered the phone with a breathless “Hello.”
Sam was momentarily speechless. He’d expected Connelly himself to answer. Maybe a butler or a maid.
In a crisp, businesslike voice, he asked, “May I speak to Mr. Connelly, please?”
“Sure.” Jenna barely moved her mouth away from the receiver to shout, “Dar—Dad? It’s for you.” Sam instinctively moved the phone away from his ear.
His ear was still ringing when Jenna turned her attention back to the caller. “He’ll be right here. I hope you don’t keep him too long. I have a soccer game and I’m supposed to be there in fifteen minutes. None of the other girls are driven to the games by drivers. Their parents take them. It’s so embarrassing to be delivered to the school field and dropped off when everyone else shows up with their families. Darryl, I mean Dad, well, he’s actually my stepfather but he likes me to call him Dad, he promised he would take me to today’s game, so whatever you do don’t keep him on the phone too long.”
Sam took a deep breath. If there had ever been any doubt that Jenna was Lizzie’s sister, it had just flown out the window. He quickly dismissed that thought. Many young girls rambled, related to Lizzie or not. “I can see that I called at a bad time. Please tell Mr. Connelly I’ll call him on Monday to discuss his insurance needs.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Jenna said. “I gotta run. Wish me luck!” With that, the call ended. Sam leaned against the wall and closed his eyes. This was what Lizzie needed, what she’d hired him to do. It wasn’t his business if Lizzie got her heart broken. She’d hired him to find the kid, not guarantee a happy ending. He didn’t see many happy endings in his line of work.
He stood there for a few minutes, wishing he could make this case go away, wishing he didn’t have to deal with a grown-up Lizzie Porter. Best to get this over with. Before he had time to talk himself out of it, he stalked back into the office, walked straight to Lizzie, grabbed her arm and said, “You want to see this girl you think might be your sister? Let’s go.”
“I can’t meet her like this!” Lizzie said as Sam ushered her out of the building and locked the door behind him.
“You’re not going to meet her. You’re going to see her from a distance. There’s a soccer game at her school and she’s playing.”
“How do you know that?” Lizzie asked as Sam took her arm and led her toward the parking lot and his boxy gray car.