Libby Fox is just a regular private investigator, snooping on cheating business partners and wayward husbands. That is, until Adam Ryder walks into her office and asks her to find a missing person. Before she even gets a chance to do much investigating, it turns out that the missing person has been kidnapped to force a trade for a beautiful and dangerous artifact, and Libby’s job description changes to hostage exchange. But there is more to her client than she could possibly have realized, and Libby is drawn into a world darker than she dreamed had existed. Now she’s torn between the feelings she’s beginning to have for Adam, and the fact that he lives in a world she’s not sure she can be a part of.
I wasn’t in a very good mood the day I met him. I had just been stiffed by a client when the check he gave me bounced like a rubber ball. It was seven o’clock on a brisk October day in Georgia when I heard the knock at my door.
“I’m closed!” I shouted at the person who dared darken my door after hours.
Although I thought I had used my firm voice, the visitor persisted, the knocking becoming a little more insistent. I sighed and wearily rose to my feet, wondering what sort of reprobate I had attracted this time. My clients weren’t the most upstanding people in town. But I was hoping to change my image.
I unlocked the door to my small office and prepared to usher my visitor in. But he stood there looking at me expectantly, as if my “come in” gesture was beneath him.
“Would you please come in?” I said, somewhat sarcastically. It was lost on him, it seemed.
“I wish to contract your services,” he said rather formally as he walked into my office.
“Right to the point, huh? Okay, sit down and we’ll talk about it. I’m Libby Fox. Well, I guess you know that since my name is on the door.”
He eyed the dilapidated chair that sat across from my desk, and to tell the truth, I didn’t really blame him. He gingerly sat down, not doing a very good job of hiding his distaste. Again, I didn’t blame him.
“So, Mr., um….” I started.
“Ryder. Adam Ryder.”
Bond. James Bond. “Okay, Mr. Ryder, what can I do for you?”
“I have a serious problem that I think you might be able to help me with. Do you find missing persons?” he asked.
“Find them? Well, I do my best. Is someone missing?”
He hesitated. “Will all this be kept in confidence?”
I assured him it would and encouraged him to go on.
“The problem is that I’ve lost someone who was in my charge. I need you to help me find her.”
I studied him closely. Mr. Ryder was definitely easy on the eyes. Of course, I didn’t have much to compare him to these days. But he was a handsome man, if a little on the pale side. He was tall and thin, and his face was as close to perfect as I had seen in awhile. He had dark hair that was thick and a little curly. It was his eyes, though, that was his most striking feature. They were the strangest shade of dark violet I had ever seen. His eyes reminded me of a purple storm cloud. And those eyes seemed far too old and wise for someone who looked about thirty.
“From where did this person disappear?”
“She was at my home and I was responsible for her. She disappeared while I was…out.”
The hesitation wasn’t lost on me, and I wondered what was really going on here. But, hey, it was a paycheck.
I said, “So the last time you saw her, she was at your house? What’s the missing person’s name?”
I raised my eyebrows at him and he said, “Julie Bowman.”
“I’m going to have to have some information on her. How old is she? Why was she in your charge?”
“She’s sixteen years old and her father needed me to watch after her for awhile. I don’t think the reasons for that are relevant to the investigation,” said Mr. Ryder.
“Let me be the judge of that,” I said. “For right now, I’ll let that go. But be prepared to give me more information when I start the investigation. If I start the investigation. First, we need to discuss my fee.”
“That’s irrelevant,” he said with a wave of his hand.
“Irrelevant? Excuse me, but it’s very relevant to me,” I said.
“Forgive me,” he said. “I didn’t mean to imply your fee was unimportant. What I meant was that it doesn’t matter how much it costs. I have to find Julie regardless of the fee.”
Now he was talking. “I’ll need a retainer of, um, five thousand dollars.” I pulled a figure out of the air. He didn’t flinch.
“Then,” I continued, “I’ll submit an expense report every couple of days, and I assume you’ll be prepared to pay those expenses. We’ll talk about the rest of the fee when I find out more about the situation and what all it will entail. But I expect it will be somewhere in the vicinity of five hundred dollars a day. That’s not counting the expenses, of course.”
“That’s fine,” he said. “I’ll come back tomorrow evening at this same time with a file containing all the information you need. At that time, we’ll start on the investigation.”
“Whoa, wait a minute,” I said. “We won’t be starting an investigation. I’m the private investigator. You’re the client. We don’t work together like that. And what’s this about coming at the same time tomorrow? I close at six. You just happened to catch me here because I worked a little late tonight.”
“Ms. Fox, forgive me, but you work late nearly every night. Do you really think I wouldn’t have done a little investigation on my own before hiring you?”
“You’ve been watching me?” I asked.
“Of course I have. You come in at eight o’clock every morning after stopping for a biscuit at the local breakfast shop a few doors down. You bring the biscuit here to eat while sipping on gourmet coffee that you make here. Good coffee seems to be your only indulgence. Your clients are, shall we say, questionable, but you seem to do a good job at whatever they hire you to do. You often stay here until eight o’clock at night. And your fees are usually much less than what you’re charging me, but I’m willing to pay whatever you ask.”
My mouth was opening and closing like that of a fish as he turned and walked out my door, looking as good from the back as he did from the front. For the first time in years, I was speechless.
After the shock of being practically stalked wore off, I starting going over in my head the conversation that I had just had. I wondered why he had chosen me to find his missing person. There had to be many more private investigators with much better resources than I had. It was probably best not to look a gift horse in the mouth, though. After all, this was the best paying job I had ever had. My clients were usually men or women wanting to find out if their spouses were cheating on them. I’ve also had cases where the client wanted me to find items that had been stolen from them and didn’t want the police involved. So this was a step up.
I locked up my office and drove the ten minutes to my apartment building. I climbed the stairs to the fourth floor, since the elevator had been out of order since the Ice Age. Or maybe the Stone Age. I never could get my history straight. I unlocked the door and stepped inside, and was greeted by my cat, Sherlock, who wound around my legs as I went into my tiny kitchen to put cat food in his bowl. After feeding him, I took off my work clothes, jeans and a nice top, and put on my relaxing clothes, pajama bottoms and a t-shirt.
I turned on the television, and there on the screen was my brand new client! He looked handsome in a black suit that fit him perfectly. Definitely not off the rack. On his arm was a raven haired beauty with long legs and a dress that showed them off perfectly. I felt a little twinge of jealousy, not because I wanted him in particular, but I wanted someone like him instead of the losers I usually ended up with. The newsperson was going on about some charity art auction, and how much money was likely to be thrown about tonight. No wonder he didn’t worry about my fee. If he could afford to bid on art in this auction, he had money to burn. Maybe I should have asked for more. Or maybe not. I didn’t want to be too greedy after all.
Sighing, I turned off the television before I got depressed about the things I didn’t have…lots of money, a nice place to live, a newer car, a hot guy. I went back into my little kitchen and heated up a microwave meal, some kind of chicken that looked much better in the picture on the box than it looked in reality. I’m not even going into how it tasted. I’ve always been one to really enjoy good food, and this was really hard to stomach.
I went to bed early and had a weird dream about Adam Ryder standing up on a mountain and pouring buckets of money down on my head. I truly hoped that it was a good sign.