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Bird of Paradise, Page 2

Katie MacAlister

  “It’ll blow over,” Edgar said, supremely confident and utterly oblivious to the admiring looks sent his way as he and Adam strode through the busy airport. “It always does. She’ll take me back; you’ll see.”

  “She said the only way she’d ever want to see you again was if you were hanging by your balls.”

  “She’s just playing with me. That’s why I need you to tell me every damned thing she does while she’s on that TV show. It’s important.”

  “I’ll watch her,” Adam agreed.

  “Like a hawk?”

  “Like a hawk. You’re worrying about nothing—this may be my first job as a private investigator, but I think I’ll be able to handle keeping an eye on one woman on a small tropical island.”

  “I’m paying a lot of money for this,” Edgar reminded his friend. “It wasn’t pocket change buying off the TV show producer, not to mention the guy whose place you’re taking. And then there were the bribes to smuggle that monster of yours through customs. You think that comes cheap?”

  The two men approached the waiting area for the charter flight to the island. Adam said, “I know it isn’t, and I’m sorry about having to bring Jesus, but I couldn’t leave him alone. Not after what he’s been through. Dr. Miller says his last suicide attempt could well have been fatal.”

  “What sort of cat would try to kill himself by eating a box of crayons?”

  “A depressed one with a very colorful litter box,” he answered, slapping gently at the gray paw that emerged, claws extended, out of a breathing hole on the side of the carrier. Jesus had already snagged three people while Adam waiting in line for his boarding pass; he had no desire to add Edgar’s expensive silk suit to the list of damages owed. “Dr. Miller says he’s lost his will to live, and if I don’t do something drastic, one of these days his suicide attempts will succeed. And since his depression is all my fault . . . “ Adam sighed again. “Well, that’s why I’m here.”

  Edgar made no reply to that, just handed his friend a folder. “Here’s the details on the guy you’re replacing. There’s a flight booked under his name for you from Miami to Mystique Island. Read the information and then destroy it.”

  Adam grinned. “You want me to eat it, just like the spies do?”

  Edgar considered the suggestion.

  “That might not be a bad idea. I wouldn’t want Sally to find out what you’re really up to. She’s mad enough at me for bugging her office—she’d be really pissed about me hiring you to follow her during this dating show.” A sudden frown of suspicion blossomed between his thick brows. “Just because I want you to keep tabs on her doesn’t mean you can date her yourself.”

  Adam thought of the aggressive tiny blond woman who had been Edgar’s girlfriend and gave a mental shudder. “I wouldn’t think of it.”

  “Is that right?” Edgar asked, still frowning. “You said that girl you lived with . . . Bethany . . . Betty—”


  “—left you, so why wouldn’t you think of Sally? She’s got everything, a hell of a lot more that that Brittany had. Sally is pretty and smart and goes at it like a mink in heat.”

  “She also has an ex-boyfriend who is now my employer,” Adam drawled, nudging the cat carrier out of reach of a woman standing nearby.

  Edgar’s eyes narrowed as he studied Adam. Tall, blue-eyed, dark haired, Adam looked exactly what he was—a clean-cut man with few vices and a somewhat quirky take on life. “Yeah, but you’re pretty good looking. For a guy.” he added. “Women must like you.”

  Brittany’s parting words as she had stormed out of his apartment still rang in Adam’s ears. He tried hard to look suave and sophisticated and drop-dead sexy, and not at all like a man whose twelve-year relationship had ended because his significant other told him he was a lousy lover. “Regardless, the only interest I have in Sally is purely professional. So relax, I’ll call you later tonight, after I’ve had a chance to look over the situation.”

  “Don’t forget to destroy the evidence,” Edgar warned. “Oh, hell, there she is. I have to leave so she doesn’t see me with you, but don’t you forget! Watch her but don’t date her! And get me names! And pictures!”

  Adam nodded, rescued a small tapestry-covered bag from the clutches of the gray arm extended from the carrier, and watched as his childhood friend, now employer, tried to make his huge self look invisible by skulking off through the crowd. Then he glanced casually over his shoulder to take note of where his quarry was, and was astounded to see her storming up to him with murderous look on her face. Even though she only reached his shoulder, he knew from the few times he’d met her that her petite size was misleading. Extremely misleading. He summoned a smile and tried to look as if he were not the possessor of a brand-new private detective’s license.

  “Hi, Sally. Long time no see.”

  “You!” she said in a snarl as she pushed past the people in line behind him to brandish a piece of paper clutched in her hand. “Is this true?”

  Adam caught the name of a detective agency on the letterhead as she waved the paper under his nose. “Is what true?”

  “This bull! Is it true that Edgar hired you to spy on me while I’m in the Caribbean? Is it? Did you agree to this?”

  Adam blanched. She had a detective of her own? Watching him? Why? “Er . . . “

  “Because if it is, you can just turn around right now and go home,” Sally bellowed, crumpling up the paper in a manner that made Adam suspect she was envisioning his neck between her hands. Or worse. “It’s outrageous! It’s ridiculous! I won’t have it, do you hear me?”

  “I think just about everyone her heard you, Sally. Maybe we could talk about this—Jesus, no! Sorry, ma’am. It’s my cat; he’s a bit bored being in the carrier. Here’s your magazine back. It looks like he only tore off a little bit.”

  “Look, Fuller, I don’t give a damn what Edgar hired you to do; you’re not doing it, OK? Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a plane to catch. You can go home.”

  Adam grabbed the cat carrier and followed Sally to the back of the line, where she stood seething with fury and righteous indignation, “Sally, I don’t know how you found out about Gar hiring me, but you have to give me a break. I’ve been on unemployment for more than a year; this is the first paying job I’ve had since the dot-com went under. I promise I won’t get in the way. You won’t even know I’m there!”

  “I won’t know you’re there all right.” Sally stared straight ahead, growling in a tone reminiscent of Jesus when he was eating a particularly succulent piece of chicken. “Because you won’t be there. Go home, Adam.”

  “I can’t,” Adam said quietly, trying to keep the pathetic pleading note out of his voice. “I have to go. I’ve already put a down payment on Jesus’s surgery—there’s no way I can afford the rest of it if I don’t do this job. Besides, Gar promised to tell all his football buddies obsessed with their ex-girlfriends about me if he’s happy with my work. So have a little pity on me, Sally. I’ll take a few pictures, make a couple of notes—you won’t even see me.”

  She turned to face him. The look in her eyes made him want to flinch, but he stood firm instead. He was a man, dammit, and he had a job to do, and it wasn’t like it was illegal or anything. He did flinch at that. Not very illegal, he amended. “Stay away from me, Fuller. If I even so much as see you, I’ll tell the show’s producer who you are and have him kick your ass all the way back to California.”

  Her threats were very effective; Adam had to give her that. She was mean as a jackal and twice as vicious. Adam tried to look tough in response. He scowled. He added the tiniest sneer to the scowl, then threw in an Elvis lip twitch for good measure. “You do your job, and I’ll do mine, babe.”

  The woman at the counter motioned for Sally to come forward. Sally ignored her for a moment, leveling her finger at Adam, then poking it in his chest. “Stay away from me, or else I’ll have your balls. Understand?”

  Adam straightened his shoulders and looked dow
n his nose at the tiny blond jackal threatening him. “I appreciate the offer, Sally, but I’m really not interested in you that way.”

  She snarled something anatomically impossible before turning her back on him. Unseen by her, Adam let out a low sigh of relief as she moved to hand in her boarding pass. It was too bad that she’d found him out before he’d even set foot on the blasted island, but perhaps it was better this way. Now he knew where he stood (on the edge of a very shaky bridge), and could go from there. Handling Sally would require kid gloves, but that was no problem. He’d just explain it all to her once she had calmed down. No, it wouldn’t be a hard job at all, he reflected a short time later as he tucked Jesus’s carrier under the airplane seat with an admonition for the cat to keep his claws to himself. All he needed to do was keep a low profile and all would be well.

  Five hours later, as the chartered plane took off from Miami headed for Mystique Island, Adam opened up the dossier on the man whose place he was taking an realized he was in deep trouble. Incredibly deep trouble.

  “Hi, I’m Teri,” a pert redhead sitting next to him had introduced herself a few minutes before. “You’re going to be on the show too, huh? What’s your name?”

  “Uh . . “ Adam regretted the three screwdrivers he’d had on the flight from California that had led to his sleeping through most of the flight. He blinked at the bright-eyed redhead. “Uh . . . I have to . . . um . . . I’ll be right back.”

  He grabbed the dossier as he ran for the nearest bathroom, locking himself in to read up quickly on who he was supposed to be. He stared in horror at the words until they swam before his eyes.

  If the passengers nearest the bathroom were surprised by the sudden, profound burst of cursing emanating from the bathroom, they did not express it. The did, however, look with some worry upon Adam as he emerged. He bared his teeth in what he hoped was a smile and muttered something about needing to get more roughage in his diet as he stalked back to his seat. He was going to kill Gar; that’s all there was to it. He’d have to kill him, there was just no other choice.

  “Are you all right?” the redheaded woman asked with concern as he slumped into his seat muttering under his breath the variety of unpleasant things he wanted to do to his employer.

  “Fine,” he choked, then took a deep breath and held out his hand. “Monday. My name is Monday. Monday Marsh.”

  “Monday?” she asked as she gave his hand one of those little feminine squeezes that women thought passed as a handshake. Her blue eyes suddenly grew round with surprise. “Your name is Monday?”

  Adam ground his teeth and nodded.

  “Monday Marsh?”

  The muscles in his jaw locked. He nodded again. “The Monday Marsh?” The woman’s voice was loud, strident, filling the whole dam airplane. His stomach tightened and wadded up into a tiny lead ball. People around him started to murmur his supposed name, turning in their seats to look back at him. He tried to make himself relax. If the muscles in his jaw tightened any more, his teeth would crack. “The Monday Marsh who’s on the radio? You’re that Monday Marsh?”

  “Yes,” he said, his voice as cutting as razor-edged gravel on bare fee. “I’m that Monday Marsh.”

  “Wow!” the woman said under her breath, her eyes alight with wonder. “I can’t believe you’re sitting next to me. I listen to you all the time! I love your show! It’s the best sex advice I’ve ever heard! That time you told the couple in L.A. to bring in her sister to explore the dynamics of a ménage à trois—that was such good advice! I loved your descriptions of the stuff they should do! I tried it with my boyfriend and his roommate, and it was the best sex I’ve ever had. You’re going to Mystique for the show! Are you the sex consultant or something? Are you giving classes? Do you take private students?”

  Adam ignored the hand caressing his thigh. “Yes, I’m going to Mystique, no, I’m not the consultant, and no, I’m not offering classes. I’m a”—he ground down another layer of enamel as he spat out the word—”contestant.”

  “He’s a contestant!” the woman sitting in front of him told her seat partner. Both women eyed him avidly. Adam had sudden and complete empathy with every celebrity who had ever felt hounded by the public. “Would you say it for us? You know, the thing you always say on your show!? The woman asked.

  “Yes, say it,” Teri begged, her hand squeezing and caressing his leg through the thin linen of his pants. He shifted in his seat, uncomfortable at the looks he was getting, worried that Teri’s hand would go roving. He’d never been the focus of so many women’s attention—hell, he’d never been the focus of any woman’s attention aside from Brittany. She was his first and only girlfriend. He’d never even thought about another woman until she’d left him a few months ago.

  “Monday Marsh? The nipple guy! Hey, many, say that thing you say,” a man two rows ahead stood up and called back to Adam.

  “Say it, say it, say it!” The chant started up out of nowhere but quickly gained volume as word of who he was pretending to be passed among the passengers. Teri licked her lips as her hand slid toward his groin, her eyes sending him a blatant message of invitation.

  “Say it, say it!”

  Adam squirmed in his seat, unwilling to take the pretense any farther, unsure of how to stifle the attention he was receiving. He opened his mouth to yell out the truth, to end the farce before it went any farther, but a sharp pinprick of cat claws on his ankle reminded him why he was there.

  “Say it! Say it! Say it!”

  He disengaged Jesus’s claws from his sock, standing with reluctance to face the planeload of chanting people. From where Sally sat in the far rear he could see her smiling a mocking smile at him.

  “Say it!”

  He straightened his shoulders.

  “Say it!”

  He lifted his chin.

  “Say it!”

  He sighed, and looked out into the faces of strangers, men and women he’d never met before, men and women who were gathering from around the country to participate in a six-week-long television show with the goal of finding someone special. Where had his life gone wrong? How had it all come down to this moment? He held up his hands for quiet. Instantly the voices were hushed, the silence expectant, a hundred or so people leaning forward to catch the words as they left his lips. Adam took a deep breath, swearing to himself that if he lived through this, he really would see to it that his name was put down for sainthood. “My friends, I am a contestant like the rest of you. I am here purely as an amateur, not as an expert in the field of sexuality. I ask that you not treat me any differently than anyone else on the show. I appreciate the request, but I’m sure no one here really wants to hear that silly catchphrase. Thank you.”

  “Say it!” they roared back at him.

  He sighed again, then gave in to the inevitable as gracefully as possible. “And then my nipples exploded in delight.”

  The entire body of passengers, himself and Sally excepted, burst into ear-shattering cheers. Adam forced a smile onto his lips, gave a light bow to acknowledge the applause, and took his seat.

  He really was going to have to kill Edgar.

  Chapter Two

  “Depraved, all of them. Nothing but a bunch of depraved steroid-riddled sex fiends,” Hero muttered to herself as she stood behind a large potted palm as the Mystique Island airport watching the men ogle the women. She was taking furtive photographs, unwilling to let anyone see her snapping their photos lest it lead to explanations she didn’t want to make. She took a picture of a particularly lustful leer on a man’s face, and corrected her statement. The men were ogling all the women but her, that is. Did she care? She did not! She had better things to do than allow a bunch of beefy, perfectly coiffed male American sex fiends to ogle her. She had some standards, after all. No matter what anyone else might think, she was not desperate; lots of women lived perfectly happy, successful lives without a man. She would simply be one of them. There was certainly nothing here to tempt her, no cause to be worried ab
out Gemma’s dire prediction.

  “Jesus, no!”

  The hoarse whisper caught her attention as much as the person tugging on the back fringe of her blue-and-purple batik cotton wrap. She hastily punched random buttons to turn the digital camera off and stashed it in her purse before she spun around in time to see the fringe disappearing into the hole on the side of a black plastic box with a handle on the top. A man squatted next to the box, speaking to it quietly but firmly. “Let go of it, cat.”

  Hero’s eyebrows rose. There was a cat in the box? Someone was bringing a cat to the island? She thought the television show had taken over the entire resort for the duration of the show—why on earth would a man bring his cat with him to a film dating show?

  “How many times do I have to tell you not to grab at ladies’ dresses?”

  Her eyebrows arched higher as she looked down at the doubled-up figure of the man as he tugged her fringe out of the box. “Let go of it, damn you! I’ll buy you your own fringe later. Jesus, drop it!”

  A frown forced her eyebrows together. Honestly, American men! If they weren’t sex fiend oglers, they swore at innocent cats. She wanted nothing to do with them, absolutely nothing. The next few weeks were going to be sheer and utter hell.

  Still she didn’t like to see a cat in trouble.

  “Perhaps I can help.” She said as she knelt down carefully next to him, reaching for the material he was tugging out of the box. “I have a way with animals, and I’m very fond of cats.”

  The man looked up, blinking at her as she gasped in response, all the air in her lungs having suddenly disappeared. Dear Lord, he was gorgeous. Oh, not in the conventional manner, but in a much more devastating way, a way that suddenly made her feel extremely conscious of the fact that she had given up far too early on the latest diet guaranteed to whisk away unwanted pounds. He was perfection, he was manliness personified, he was everything she’d ever loved in a man—short black hair, two ebony swoops of eyebrows, lovely little laugh crinkles around dark blue eyes, a long nose that had a kink in the middle, and an indentation on either cheek that hinted at dimples. She swallowed hard, forcing herself to look away from him, suddenly aware that she was shaking.