I nod at the jogger heading toward me. Six foot. Maybe six foot one.
Marathoner. Early thirties.
It’s also possible he has a girlfriend or wife, but she doesn’t like to
run with him. Every day, rain or shine. Or as is so often the case during our
regular morning runs overlooking the bay and marina…the fog.
He nods back like he does every time he sees me, his long stride
effortlessly eating up the distance—the opposite of how the run is for me. My
legs and lungs burn, beg me to slow down. Possibly even take a siesta.
Not much farther, I remind
them. You can do this. I mentally
break out the pom-poms and cheer my legs on while I keep an eye on my
surroundings, noting anything unusual for this time of day.
That’s not to say I live in a bad neighborhood and have to watch for
thugs and whatnots. But the number one rule of being an operative with Quade
Security and Investigations is to be aware of your surroundings. The people,
the location, the vehicles. Nothing is ignored. Nothing is considered
Truth? I’m not an operative.
I’m the office manager—the person those five hot alpha men couldn’t
But although I enjoy my job, I have a different career aspiration. I want
to be more than just an office manager.
I push myself a little harder and a little further, then slow my pace for
the cool down. Even though the temperature isn’t exactly warm, sweat soaks
through my T-shirt and running shorts. I can thank the last round of fartlek
training—sprints that left my legs burning with resentment and resignation—for
I can also thank, with a healthy dose of cursing, Jayden Price.
My best friend. My colleague. And in his mind, my personal trainer.
Who is currently away on a mission, being all dark and dangerous and hot,
helping to take down a Russian mafia crime boss.
I power walk across the street to the familiar Victorian-style bungalow,
sandwiched between two taller houses. Their exteriors are light blue. Mine is
rose pink—the color my grandmother on my mother’s side painted it many moons ago.
When she died five years ago, the house became mine, and I decided to
keep the colors as they were: warm and eclectic.
I approach the stairs to the porch. Mojo, the big goofball of Bernese
mountain dog, lumbers to his feet. His face shifts into his friendly doggy
“Hey, boy. Anything exciting happen while I was running?” Despite his
size, Mojo sucks as a running companion. He doesn’t like to run. At. All.
Relaxing is his activity of choice.
Not exactly the dog you would associate with a man like Jayden, Mojo’s
owner. You’d expect something big and powerful—and a whole lot of scary—like a
German shepherd or a Rottweiler.
Mojo gives me a happy woof.
I laugh. “You don’t say. How about I shower, and then we can head to the
office? And maybe the guys will be finished with their mission today.” I untie
my sneaker shoelace and remove my front door key from it. Then I unlock the
door and let Mojo into my house.
As I walk toward the bathroom, my cell phone rings from the kitchen
table. Thinking it might be Jayden, informing me that he and the men are on
their way to San Francisco, I make a quick detour to the kitchen and answer the
phone without checking who it is.
“Isabelle, darling,” Grandma Josephine exclaims.
A smile breaks out on my face. “Morning, Grandma.” And because I know
she’s on speakerphone, and I know her routine, I add, “Good morning, Liza and
I open the kitchen cupboard and remove a glass.
The three eighty-two-year-olds say good morning back to me, their voices
more excited than they typically are for this time of day. And normally their
voices are pretty damn happy.
“I’m in a bit of a kerfuffle,” Granny says. “Can you come over right
“I have to go to work, but I can visit you afterward.”
“Now would be better. It’s rather urgent.” Her honey-smooth voice, which
seduced the trousers off many a man in her younger days, has shifted slightly
to the panicked zone.
And panic is not an emotion I associate with my grandmother.
“I just returned from my run, and I’m sweaty. Let me shower first.”
“A woman is never sweaty,” Liza says in a falsely snotty tone. “She only
“Well, my glow needs to be washed off before I can join you. And just so
you know, I have Mojo with me.”
“Oh, is tall, dark, and handsome joining us?” Henri’s tone is more
excited than usual.
“Darling,” Granny purrs, “how many times does Isabelle have to tell you
Jayden isn’t gay?”
“I know that. Besides, even if he were, I’m old enough to be his father.”
“More like his grandfather,” Liza points out with a snorted laugh.
“No, Jayden won’t be joining me. He’s away on business.”
All three of them release a disappointed sigh.
“Such a shame,” Liza says on another sigh.
“I won’t be long,” I tell them before ending the call.
Forty-five minutes later, I’m in Sausalito, pressing my grandmother’s
doorbell. After a heartbeat, her housekeeper opens the door and lets Mojo and
I hug Juanita, who is more like family to me. She’s been in my
grandmother’s employment for as long as I can remember. Because the elegantly
furnished estate home is too massive for her to handle on her own at her
advanced age, she mostly does the cooking and light cleaning. A gardener and
housekeeping company are also on Granny’s payroll.
Juanita fusses over Mojo, who laps up the attention like a paper towel.
“Now, don’t you get fur all over the place, young man,” she chastises him with
her typical warm and friendly smile.
He whimpers as if to apologize for snoozing on Granny’s couch the last
time we were here.
“They’re on the balcony,” she tells me, even though I already know that.
Unless it’s cold and rainy, the trio always eats their breakfast outside.
Mojo and I step onto the large deck that overlooks the bay. My stiletto
heels click against the light, reddish-brown tiles.
Granny and Liza are seated on the wicker sofa, looking as elegant as
always in their designer outfits. Henri sits in a matching armchair.
In front of them, the coffee table is loaded with teacups and an
assortment of cut fruit and pastries, including my
favorite—strawberry-and-cream filled croissants.
Which Granny only has on hand when she knows I’m coming over.
So, this definitely wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment request for me to join
Henri, being the gentleman that he is, stands. Or at least attempts to
stand. It takes him a minute to get to his feet, his movements not as spry as
they were twenty years ago. He’s wearing an expensive Italian-cut suit, the
jacket a checkered camel fabric. He also has on a burgundy tie, dark-brown
slacks, a fedora, and leather shoes that are worth a small fortune.
Henri has always had an eye for fashion.
I walk over to him, and he kisses me on both cheeks. “Looking gorgeous as
always, Buttercup. I can’t believe you still haven’t found a beau yet. Those
men are nothing but fools.”
I laugh because he says that every time.
“There’s nothing wrong with our Isabelle being particular,” Liza says. I
lean down and kiss her powdery cheek. She pinches mine in return, with a
teasing gleam in her eyes. “Although if she doesn’t hurry up and find herself a
man, her eggs will be as old and wrinkly as mine.”
“Darling,” my grandmother says, “your eggs withered away decades ago. As
did mine. But Isabelle has no need to worry about that. Thanks to modern
technology, she can freeze her eggs now, so they are still youthful for when
she’s ready to settle down with Mr. Perfect.”
I kiss her on the cheek and hug her. “I’m not interested in settling down
with a man. I’m too busy with my career.”
Okay, that’s not entirely true. My career hasn’t exactly traveled in the
direction I had envisioned it would when I obtained my political science
Before attending college, I had planned to be a human rights lawyer and
follow in my grandmother’s humanitarian footsteps. She was a popular film and
stage actress in the sixties and seventies and then switched to focus on her
She never went to law school. It was my father who pursued his law
degree—corporate, not human rights. It was my father who strongly encouraged me
to follow in his footsteps.
Except, being a lawyer wasn’t for me, I eventually realized.
A lifetime of legal talk sounded dull and uninspiring.
“That’s true,” Liza says. “It can’t be easy working for those five hot
men.” She fans herself.
“Any luck yet convincing your boss to promote you to an operative?”
“Not yet. I know Liam wants to hire at least one female to join the team.
Possibly two. But he’s been too busy to even consider candidates.”
Plus there’s the matter of him wanting experienced individuals, which I’m
not. Or at least not experienced at the level he’s looking for.
“What you need to do is prove you’re fully capable of doing the job.”
“I know, but it’s not like I’ve had the opportunity to do that.” Other
than some minor tasks, like interviewing persons of interest who were more
likely to open up to a woman than a man.
But I want to do more than that. I want to be involved in the dangerous
missions. Like when the government hires the team for operations that require
outside assistance, beyond what the FBI and CIA can do.
The side of the company that the general public doesn’t know about.
As for the threesome’s original discussion about my love life—or rather,
lack of one—I’m not looking to find my own happily ever after. My father
cheated on my mother when I was a little kid. Mom never remarried after that.
Dad did. Four more times. His marriages tend to last as long as a harvest moon.
But I didn’t let this jade me against relationships. Not at first,
anyway. I’ve had boyfriends over the years. But none—except for one—lasted
long. Richard was a fellow political science major. The love of my life.
Until I found the love of my life going down on another woman. In our
He’d never gone down on me, so
my discovery was a double layer in the brick wall of disappointment.
I guess it was my fault for not kicking his sorry ass through the door
sooner. Even before the situation with the other woman, I knew deep down that
he wasn’t the right man for me.
For one, he hadn’t been a fan of the colored streaks in my hair (they
were purple back then). And he preferred that I didn’t speak my mind when I
accompanied him to the dinner parties his graduate school professors had
He even hinted more than once that I should also go to grad school and
become a boring academic.
All right, he didn’t use the word boring.
That was all me.
A slight breeze blows a strand of hair into my face. I brush it behind my
ear and bite into the yummy croissant. “So what was so urgent that I needed to
Last time it was because she needed a fourth opinion on an outfit she was
wearing to a gala for the opening of an art gallery. It was exhibiting photos
by famous photographers—both alive and dead—that showcased the movie stars of
the past—also both alive and dead.
“Urgent” means something entirely different to me than it does for
She exchanges a glance with Liza and Henri. They both rapidly nod their
encouragement. “I’ve got the perfect opportunity for you to prove to your boss
that you’ll be a great operative.”
“An ex-boyfriend of mine needs your help.”
“Do I know him?” There have been a string of casual boyfriends since Grandpa’s
“No. Bernard Bradshaw and I used to be an item before I became famous. He
was a director at the time, waiting for his big break. We dated for a few
years, but then he had an offer to work in Europe.”
“Okay, but what kind of help are we talking about?”
Henri picks up his teacup. “The kind of help that you and that tall glass
of hot stuff can give him, Buttercup.”
Granny grins. “He means Jayden. You and Jayden would be perfect for this
mission. And Bernard agreed with me when I told him about you two.”
“Great, but what exactly does he need help with?”
“Bernard would rather talk to you face-to-face about it—because of the
sensitive nature of what happened. But what I can tell you is that some
information might’ve been stolen from at least one guest while they were
staying at his resort. Bernard has several security guards employed there, but
he wanted to hire someone from the outside, in case it was an inside job.”
“Paradise Springs Resort.”
“It’s in Huntington Beach,” Liza chimes in.
Granny nods. “That’s right. You and Jayden would be staying there. You’ll
love the place. The five-star resort is supposed to be incredible.” She’s
positively beaming as she tells me this.
“Jayden and the rest of the team are away on a mission,” I inform her.
“But I’ll call Bernard, and he and I can discuss what he needs from us.”
“He doesn’t want to talk about it on the phone. He has kind of grown
paranoid in his old age. He wants to talk to the two of you in person about the
case. He’s willing to fly you both down for the weekend. If not this weekend,
then I’m sure he will be happy to wait until Jayden returns home.”
“Jayden’s pretty busy for the next while.” As the firm’s office manager
and Jayden’s best friend, I am more than familiar with his schedule. “But I can
easily fly down and meet with Bernard.”
She shakes her head. “That won’t do. If you two agree to help him, you
will need to go undercover as guests at his resort.”
“Okay, I can do that. And I don’t need Jayden to join me for that.”
Henri chuckles. Liza giggles. “Buttercup, Paradise Springs Resort isn’t
the kind of place a single woman goes to, hoping to find her soul mate. It’s a
place where married couples go. Together.”
“That’s right. You and Jayden will go undercover as a happily married
couple.” For some reason, Granny looks almost pleased by this.
But I can’t imagine why.
“Why Jayden? The other men I work with are just as good at their jobs as
he is.” However, like Jayden, they’re also busy with other cases for a while.
“Yes, but from what you’ve told me, Jayden doesn’t want you to advance in
your career at the firm. This would be the ideal way to demonstrate to him that
you’re more than capable of doing the job. Just think about it. But I really do
think you’ll agree that you don’t want to miss out on this golden opportunity
to prove yourself to your boss.”
She has a point there.
“But what if Jayden doesn’t want to come with me?” Which is likely the
case if he believes the mission is too dangerous—for me.
Liza giggles again, for a reason only she’s privy to.
Or maybe it’s just me who’s clueless about the cause. The other two
appear to be in on the joke, their lips pressed together as though stifling
“I’m sure, Buttercup, you can persuade him,” Henri says with a wink.