"What do you mean you don't know?"
"I don't know, sir."
"It's not like her name is Jane Smith."
"I'll keep looking, sir."
"You damn well better," Matty said into the phone. He looked at the view of the LA skyline from his office window, a scene that calmed him. It usually did, because he was just grateful not to be in New York under his father's thumb, living in Benny the Chains shadow. The past few days the view had done nothing for him.
"She's one woman."
"Yeah, I know, finding one girl in all of the world is a pretty big task. I have every confidence in you, Carlo."
Carlo was one of his father's men assigned to LA now. Matty knew they were there to watch over him. For the most part, they stayed out of his way, stayed discreet. There were times Matty forgot they were there.
As soon as he'd spotted the muscle, he'd put a call into his dad. It was very hard to work, convince these athletes they would do well by Matty with thug looking guys standing nearby. He wanted his clients to choose him for the right reasons, not because they were scared into it.
He'd been doing well for himself so far. LA had been the answer. He'd never know why he hadn't thought of it sooner. New York City was home. His dad was home. Everything had changed, though, when he'd finally taken a life.
It was at that moment, and only then, that he had realized Teddy had been wrong about him. He did have it in him, he had all along but only under the right circumstances. Like defending what was his. His father. His business. What he hadn't been able to do as a twelve-year-old boy who wasn't sure when or if he'd see his father again no longer mattered.
He'd decided then and there, he could continue on and follow in his father's footsteps. Or he could get out while there was only the blood of one man staining his soul.
The decision hadn't been a tough one to make. He'd been out in LA for over a year. He'd landed a job with one of the top agencies in LA. It helped that he brought a couple of Knicks, Islanders, Mets, and Jets players with him courtesy of his father.
"Be careful, Matty, your Italian's coming out."
"Why that's supposed to be offensive I'm not sure, but I know you don't mean it as a compliment."
Carlo chuckled into the phone.
"Who is she anyway?"
"That's of no concern to you."
"Yes, sir, Mr. Demaret."
He smiled into the phone. It was a sign of respect, Carlo addressing him that way. Matty disconnected the call and stood from his desk. He walked to the window, gazing at the ant-like cars and people on the street many stories down.
Going to Vegas had been a whim. Taylor, Chris, Matty, and a few other buddies had decided to take in Boom Boom's fight. What Matty wouldn't do for the chance to represent a fighter with the potential Boom Boom was showing. He was the next Mike Tyson, only without the personal problems.
Or so everyone thought. If what his mystery woman said was to be believed, he had personal problems aplenty. She had no reason to lie to him, and in fact could probably lose her job were he to report to anyone what she'd told him. It wasn't until the next morning when he'd woken up alone that he'd realized she had been bombed out of her mind.
With Chris and Taylor around, Matty was lucky to get the equivalent of table scraps when it came to women. He was no slouch, but girls took one look at the other two and thoughts of Matty shifted to friend material. He was used to it, so when the pretty blonde talked to him he'd been attentive and receptive.
Their conversation at the party came back to him, and a plan fell into place. He didn't need Carlo to track the woman down. This was something he could accomplish on his own. It didn't take being overly suave or street smart, just a little common sense. He wasn't sure why it had taken him this long to think of it. He had been so focused on the following morning that the night before and the clues it netted for him had remained untapped.
"Amanda," he called out, not bothering to use the intercom. He usually did, but finally getting an idea on how to find his woman made him excited.
"Yes, Mr. Demaret."
"Get me the number for Topline Security Specialists."
"Yes, sir. Did you need me to make arrangements for a client?"
"We use them?"
"Yes, sir. They're the best. Did you want me to?"
"No, just get me the number. I'll handle it myself. It's personal."
She frowned, apparently confused as to why he'd need security when he came with his own. She didn't ask, though. She was smart enough not to. It was one of the things he liked about her. She was young, pretty, and ambitious. When he started, she hinted at extending their relationship beyond work hours. It was appealing, but just wasn't Matty's style.
He didn't want to blow his chance to finally make it. Achieve his dream. Skirts could get in the way of that if you let them. Unlike Chris, Matty didn't let that part of his anatomy control his every move. Until one night in Vegas anyway. His phone buzzed and he picked it up.
"I have that number for you, Mr. Demaret."
He took a minute to collect himself. He wasn't even sure they took requests. They'd have to, though, wouldn't they? Clients would get attached to an agent or two, familiar with them and would want them around. He dialed, smiling with a nod as he was greeted by a generic sounding receptionist. She was real, live, not automated.
"I'd like to speak to someone about your services, please."
"Yes, sir, please hold."
Inwardly, as he listened to the music through the phone, he realized he was an idiot. If Taylor or Chris could see him, if they knew what he'd done. Well, he didn't even want to imagine what they'd do. Laugh their asses off would be the gentlest thing they could do. He wasn't really one to act on impulse. Oh, he had a time or two, when he was frustrated or felt the need to try and make something happen. That hadn't been the case in Vegas.
"This is George. How many I help you?"
"Yes, I'd like to make some arrangements. I was referred by Barry Bartucci."
"Ah, yes, Mr. Bartucci is one of our regular clients. What did you have in mind?"
"Well," he said and went into what he hoped was a winning sales pitch.
He hung up fifteen minutes later with a glance at his watch. He had an hour to get home. He could manage that. He placed a quick call to Carlo, calling off the search. He grabbed his suit coat and slid it on, gathering his briefcase almost simultaneously.
"Amanda, I'm leaving for the day. I'll have my cell and will check mail from home if anything comes up."
"Okay, Mr. Demaret. Is everything all right?"
"It is, thanks. Have a good night, Amanda."
People did stupid things when they were drunk all of the time. He could have gotten the situation taken care of without even involving her. It wouldn't exactly be legal, but it would be taken care of. Damn if he knew how much she was aware of.
He closed his eyes at a traffic light. He remembered the smell of her, the feel of her. God, she was like an Amazon but more compact. Lithe, fit, beautiful, delicious, and sizzling to the touch. It made him hard thinking about her and their night together.
"Not a good thing to think about when you're driving, ace."
He'd fallen asleep for the first time that night easily. Killing a man, even if he deserved it, and the death of his friend, weighed heavy on his mind. Sleep was not something that came easily for him. She'd kept the nightmares at bay, though.
He'd woken, reaching for her, wanting her warmth only to find her side of the bed empty and cold. He'd been unsure at first if any of it had really happened. The bed had been slept in by more than just him. He could tell by the indentations in it. The faint residual smell of her perfume was there. And there was the other, more physical evidence of his night with her.
He hadn't told anyone about her, about that night. Carlo didn't know why Matty had put him on the job of finding the woman. His father, Matty opened his eyes with a shake of his head at the sound of a horn behind him. The light was green.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm going." He waved apologetically to the person behind him.
Matty wasn't sure what his father would do or think. Bennie was a hard man to read, especially when it came to emotional entanglements. He couldn't let his father find out, it was as simple as that.
"Jim, I'm expecting someone. When they get here, please send them to the parlor, and let me know they've arrived."
"Yes, sir, Matty. I mean, Mr. Demaret."
"It's okay, Jim."
"No, sir, it's not."
Matty waved him off. It was one of those formal things he was never going to get used to. Jim was excited at the thought of getting a promotion. Matty didn't see it as much of a promotion, but then he didn't know much about the way things worked in his father's organization. If moving clear to the other coast and playing butler to the boss' son was a step-up, Matty was happy for him.
Matty went to his room and immediately set about showering and shaving. That accomplished, he stood in front of his closet wearing only a towel around his waist trying to decide what to wear. A suit was too formal. Jeans seemed too casual.
"She's just a woman," he muttered as he heard a knock on his outer door.
"Your appointment is here, Mr. Demaret."
"Thanks, Jim. Did you offer them something to drink?"
"I did, sir, she declined."
"Her loss. Thanks. I'll be down in a minute."
He decided on something to wear and headed downstairs. The house had been one of his father's, but was now Matty's. It was huge and Matty would have preferred something smaller. His father wouldn't hear of it, though. It was his reward, his father had said, for uncovering Teddy's deception. There were too many rooms for Matty to keep track of. The staff that came with it was happy to have someone living here full-time. He imagined it got boring taking care of an empty house. He tried to look at it through a visitor's eyes as he made his way to the parlor. It wasn't too extravagant. His father had nice taste, classical, elegant, nothing bawdy or pretentious.
He paused just before the parlor doors. Maybe he should have set up the appointment somewhere else. A neutral place. She'd know where he lived, how he lived. She hadn't struck him as the type to really care, though. She hadn't struck him as the type to leave without saying goodbye either.
"Sorry to keep you waiting," he said as he opened the doors and strode into the room. Confident, cool, collected. None of which were things he felt at that moment, but he'd perfected the image, the persona. If he'd appeared anything but growing up as Bennie the Chains son he'd get smacked upside the head. Or worse.
She was on her feet instantly. All business, professional. If she had been checking out the paintings and furnishings he saw no evidence of it. She probably saw homes like this all of the time. He tried to picture her defending someone, taking a bullet for someone. He couldn't do it. She was so tiny, but she was all toned and fabulous muscle in that tiny package.
"It's me," he said with a smile. He hoped it was a charming one. "Are you sure?"
"I, yes, I think. How did you find me?"
"It wasn't that difficult."
"I suppose not."
Actually, that wasn't true. For a woman with a fairly uncommon name it had taken a fluke passing thought to find her.
"You live here?"
"Yes. That surprises you?"
"Well, no, I just. You don't really need a bodyguard, do you?"
"No. I can pay you for your time, though."
"Don't be ridiculous. I'll just tell them you decided against it for now."
"If that doesn't work, let me know."
"No problem. I have to admit, I kind of wondered when the guy answered the door."
"Yes, I have my own," he said with a shrug. It wasn't something he was overly proud of or liked to brag about. It made his father sleep better, though.
"So, your name is Matt?"
"Matty, but you can call me Matt if you want to."
She tilted her head, regarding him and then let her eyes fall to the window. He wasn't sure what to do with her now that he had her here.
"I suppose you're wondering why you're here."
"I have an idea."
He watched, more fascinated than he should have been as she joined her hands together. It was then he realized she was wearing the ring. She started sliding it off and he cleared his throat.
"What are you doing?"
"Don't you want this back?"
"Oh come on. That costs more than just about anything I own."
"So, now your net worth has doubled."
He chuckled. "Never mind, sorry. Business speak."
She looked baffled and, if he wasn't mistaken, a little frightened. Of him? Of course, she didn't seem to even remember his name. She must have been more toasted than he'd thought.
"Are you hungry?"
"Am I what?"
"Hungry. My cook makes a mean lasagna and I think there's a pan in the kitchen with our names on it."
"Homemade. Did I mention she's a New York Italian?"
"Is that good?"
"Next best thing to being from Italy herself."
"You are Italian then?"
"I thought so."
"You thought on that?"
"Well, yeah, that morning. I watched you sleep for a little while. I thought you had that look to you."
She blushed at the confession and he couldn't help but like it. So, she hadn't just gotten up and left. Not sleeping very well for over a year, he must have really been out of it not to notice her leaving. He hadn't slept that well since either.
"Is that a problem?"
"Okay. Unless you had other plans, let's go find that lasagna, some wine, and we can talk."
"You want to talk?"
"What did you think I invited you here for?"
She lifted her hand. "I assumed."
At least she didn't think he'd invited her as a booty call. That wasn't his style. He certainly wouldn't have spent days hunting her down just for that.
He walked toward her, placed his hand at the small of her back. "Let's eat. Talk. Maybe we can skip the wine, I'd like to know I'm talking to you sober this time."
"I don't normally drink that much. Vegas must have been a bad influence on me."
"It happens more often than not I think."
She let him lead her to the kitchen. There was a dining room he could have taken her to. A servant would have appeared out of the woodwork and fussed over them. He didn't want that, though.
"What would you like to drink then?"
"Are you sure? I have iced tea."
"No, water sounds good."
The lasagna was still fairly warm. Not piping hot, so he turned the oven on for a few minutes to heat it up again. He got her a glass of water and a glass of wine for himself.
"This house doesn't fit you."
"You're right. It's my father's. Well, it was. He gave it to me."
"I think he'd planned on retiring here or something," he shrugged.
"What does he do?"
"He's an entrepreneur, got his hands in a lot of different pies."
"Ah. One of those."
"He's the best."
"I guess so, if this wasn't his primary residence."
"What about you?"
"What about me?"
"Tell me how Buffy Summers got into the security specialist business?"
"I like the work. I like knowing I'm making a difference. I don't have any real high-level skills as far as office work or anything. I've got athleticism, strength, and self-defense going for me, though. I need to put myself through college. It pays well, I get to travel some."
"So, it's not permanent?"
"I doubt it. And you?"
"I'm a sports agent."
"I think I knew that."
He laughed then. "Yeah, you did. We'll just start from scratch, though. So, ask away."
"What's with the ring?"
"You get straight to the heart of things, don't you?"
"Well, it's been bothering me since I noticed it."
"You're wearing it."
"Because I didn't want to risk someone breaking into my house to steal it! I'm telling you, it's worth more than everything I own."
"It's not that expensive."
The timer on the oven went off. He got plates ready for both of them, setting them on the table.
"Matty," she said. He recognized the tone in her voice. He didn't have to know her well to know she wasn't going to let this drop. He noticed she did follow him to the table, though.
"Smells good, doesn't it?"
"It smells delicious. I haven't had homemade lasagna in forever, and somehow I doubt my mom's can compete with this."
"I'm sure your mom's is fine. Does she live in LA, too?"
"Mom? No, she died a few years ago."
"Oh, sorry, I didn't know."
"It's okay. How could you?"
"Mine's gone, too."
"I was a kid, though, so," he shrugged, placing the salad and bread on the table. "I think we're set."
"And you're going to answer my question, right?"
"Okay, because it's really been bugging me." She sat, picked up her fork after placing her napkin in her lap. She looked at him then. "Did we? I mean," she cleared her throat. "I woke up naked."
"Yes, you did. It was a sight I was looking forward to seeing, too."
She blushed again. "Why?"
"Why? Well, I wanted to see you in the light."
"No. Why was I naked?"
"You really don't remember?"
"No! I'm serious when I say I don't do that sort of thing. I had a one-night stand in college, and it's just not my thing. I'm pretty much an all-or-nothing girl."
"I got that about you."
He took a bite of his lasagna and nodded. "Yes, and that's why while you were naked nothing happened."
"Come on. Why else would I have been naked?"
"Oh, I won't deny I thought about it, but it was about the time I came back to the bed with the necessary items you passed out."
"I so did not! I don't pass out."
"You did, I'm serious."
"So, nothing happened?"
"Well," he said and paused, drawing it out.
"No. I mean, there was some general, consensual touching and kissing. But you were unmolested."
"So, we fell asleep. And you sought me out why? I mean, I can't be the first woman you've slept with."
He didn't answer that, because she was.
"Okay, I guess I could be. I mean, you've?"
"Yes, I've just never spent the night with a woman before."
"Oh. One of those."
"No, they were one of those and I wasn't."
"Not all men are dogs."
"I didn't say that."
"Okay, so now that we have established what didn't happen. Answer my other question."
"Which question was that?"
"That was a movie, wasn't it?"
"Ha ha! Why do I get the feeling you're trying to avoid answering my question?"
He smiled, took a bite of his bread. He was trying to, because he had been hoping they could get to know one another a little bit before the truth came out. He wasn't sure what he envisioned. More nights of peaceful sleep were appealing.
He stood then, walked behind her chair and leaned over her. He placed his left hand over hers. Other than the larger diamond on hers, their rings matched. Her band had the same patterned carvings his did. He felt the warmth of her hand beneath his, knew when her hand began to bunch into a fist when she was seeing the answer.
"No, I did not run off and marry someone I didn't even know."
She did not push his hand away, he noticed.
"I like to think I was particularly charming that night."
"Okay. So, we'll pretend in this universe I did something irrational. I'll admit, I've been known to do things in the past that aren't always sane. There's no way I could afford that," she said pointing at his ring with her free hand.
"I bought it."
"Why would you do that?"
"Because I liked the ring you're wearing and wanted you to have it."
"Matty, this is crazy."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com