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Fool’s Paradise (Cartwright Brothers #5)
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My job had a very specific goal: I found people who didn’t want to be found and delivered them to whoever employed me. After that, well, I tried not to think about what happened while I spent my money on things that made me happy. Resorts, men…I lived life by the seat of my pants because I never knew where I’d be the next week, or who I’d be looking for.
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Regret clanged about inside my skull as a bleating ring pierced my consciousness and roused me from an alcohol-induced slumber… coma… whatever.
Slapping my hand on top of my phone, I squinted with one eye then punched the accept button. “What?” I croaked, balancing the handset on the side of my face as I continued to lie on my side, head throbbing, manners nowhere to be found.
I need to quit drinking.
“Blair. You sound like shit.” Big Jim, my boss and mentor. His voice sounded like gravel and most of his words joined. The only reason he’d call this early was if he had a new job for me.
Taking hold of my phone, I grunted a little as I forced myself to sit, squinting against the light of the new day. “You are a shit, but you don’t hear me complaining.”
“Always hilarious,” Big Jim said with a chuckle.
“It’s why you love me.”
“I love the money you make me.” It was true. I’d been working for the guy since I was sixteen. Originally as a filing clerk then later as a member of his elite team. I’d made his private investigation firm a heck of a lot of money over the years. I could track down practically anyone with a bare minimum of clues then deliver them to the highest bidder. If I was a decent person, I’d work for the cops and get that ‘most wanted’ list of theirs cleared out in no time. But, I wasn’t that kind of girl. I didn’t trust the authorities and would never work for those bastards.
Instead, I took jobs from less than savoury people, finding rats on the run and anyone else they paid me to find. It wasn’t the kind of living that would get me through the gates of heaven, but it provided plenty of cash for me to live a cushy life. The way I saw it, people who got mixed up in the underground had made their bed. I was just putting them back in it.
“And how much are we lookin’ at this time?” I asked, just as a body shifted beside me, startling the crap out of me until I remembered the guy I’d met in the bar last night. I barely remembered bringing him up here.
I really need to quit drinking.
“Hold that thought,” I said, slipping from beneath the sheets.
“Man in your bed?”
“Something like that.” I grabbed my dress from the pile of discarded clothes on the floor then pulled it over my head before I stepped out on the balcony, the cool morning air a blast against my warm skin. Goosebumps covered my arms as a chill ran down my spine. I closed the door behind me. “I can talk now.”
“When are you gonna quit fucking those randoms and find yourself a steady guy?” There was amusement in his voice, but I knew he was serious too. Big Jim was the closest thing I’d ever had to a father. See, my mother had never introduced me to my real one. She was a working girl who’d met an untimely end when I was only nine. I’d been unfortunate enough to be watching as she foamed at the mouth with a needle hanging out of her arm, not having a clue what to do to help. That background made me too damaged for placement with a decent foster family. By the time I’d gone to Jim and demanded a job, I was living in a girl’s home with a massive chip on my shoulder and rage swimming in my blood. He’d asked why I wanted to work for a private investigator, and I’d told him I wanted to find out who my father was so I could cut off his nuts for abandoning me. He’d laughed, told me I was too young to be a PI then offered me a job anyway. I was the office shit-kicker until I turned eighteen and got my license. Then I’d worked my arse off until I was the best PI he had. I even found out who my father was with minimal clues. Much to my chagrin, I was still yet to take the man’s balls. One day….
I rubbed my hand over my face and sighed, the idea of settling down prickling uncomfortably beneath my skin. “I don’t do happily ever afters, Jim. You should know that by now.”
“Never said nothin’ ‘bout bein’ happy, kid. Just settlin’ down. Sowing some roots and shit.” He coughed, his chest rattling from decades of cigars balanced between his teeth.
“Ah, don’t use me as your example. I’m old and I fucked up my life years ago.”
In his late sixties, Jim had had three wives and four children, none of whom talked to him. He’d always been married to his job above all else. Probably why he and I got along so well, even though I was half his age.