Suzannah Ruggieri blew into Valentine, Inc., like a category five hurricane. The antique mahogany door slammed into its stopper, rattling the beveled glass panes. Her eyes were wild, her hair disheveled, her round high cheekbones flaming. Winded, she huffed, "Hurry! The Lone Ranger's back!"
Spinning, she rushed out the way she came, her heavy footsteps thudding on the cherrywood stairs leading down to Beacon Street.
Preston Bailey, roving reporter, didn't need to be told twice. She jumped up from the russet-colored love seat in the reception area, sending notes flying in all directions. She barely paused at the door to see if I was following. "Lucy, come on!"
I jumped up, hesitated. I had been manning Suz's desk while she was at lunch. If I left, no one would be here to answer the phones. I had a responsibility to the company—after all, my name was on the door. Valentine, Inc., the country's most successful matchmaking firm, had been in the family for generations. And though I wasn't a true matchmaker like my father, I managed to have a great success rate with clients in my division of the company, Lost Loves. My father and I used our psychic gifts in very different ways.
"Lucy!" Preston bellowed up the stairs. The sound echoed up to the third floor and back down to me. "The. Lone. Ranger. Move your ass!"
Ah, hell. I grabbed my coat and followed Preston down the steps and out the thick metal door into a typical gunmetal gray February afternoon of a Boston winter.
We dodged through stopped traffic and sprinted toward the mob gathered at Boston Common. A piece of paper fluttered across the crunchy dormant grass and I stomped on it.
"You got one!" Preston cried.
I picked up the twenty-dollar bill. Others floated by, people chasing after them, pushing and shoving.
"Do you see him?" Preston stood on tiptoes, but even in heeled boots she was vertically challenged.
Standing a good five inches taller, I scanned the throbbing crowd for any sign of a masked man. "No."
"He has to be here somewhere!" She threaded her way through the masses, throwing bony elbows and hips to get people to move aside. There was no stopping a reporter on the hunt of a huge story.
The Lone Ranger had struck again.
It was the fourth time in as many weeks. No one knew where he came from or who he was. By all accounts, he simply appeared in a mask and cowboy hat and started throwing money.
Last week, the unofficial tally hit two thousand dollars. By the look of the loot still skittering across the ground, this week's total was going to be even higher. Preston, a reporter for the South Shore Beacon, a daily paper that mostly covered areas south of the city, had taken to trolling the Common during the day, even though she was supposed to be writing feature stories on my Lost Loves clients. She was dying to find the man the media had labeled the Lone Ranger and crack the reasoning behind such outlandish behavior.
A WHDH news crew arrived on the scene, and a reporter tottered across the grass to interview people clutching fistfuls of money.
As I tucked the twenty into my pocket and leaned against a tree, waiting for the crowd to thin, I glanced to my left and found a homeless man watching me intently from a nearby bench. Caught, he looked down and started fussing with a plastic garbage bag filled with his worldly goods. He held a thermos of what I hoped was coffee.
Sudden guilt flooded me. I didn't need the money, yet here I was eager to catch a few flying twenties. I tried to justify that I'd been caught up in the moment, but that excuse didn't pass muster, as I'd caught three twenties last week and used them to buy myself a cute scarf from a shop in Harvard Square.
Feeling slightly sick with shame, I pulled the twenty from my pocket, walked over, and handed it to him.
He looked up at me with a wary faded blue gaze before reaching out with gloved fingers for the cash. A holey knit cap covered his head and an oversized black Michelin Man–type coat sheltered him from icy gusts. Dirt smudges darkened pale, yellow-tinted skin. White stubble covered his chin.
"Mind if I sit?" I asked.
He nodded to the bench.
This, I thought, was the real story. This man and all the other homeless who called the Common home, even in the midst of a brutal winter.
"You didn't want in on the action?" I asked, nodding to the crowd. I spotted Preston weaving in and out, still searching. Suz was headed my way.
"Legs don't work so well anymore!" he shouted, his voice becoming louder with each word. "Can't fight off those young'uns like I used to, and it's not so bad being poor."
I jumped a bit before I adjusted to the volume. I only had vague memories of my Grandpa Henry, who died when I was five, but I remembered he used to shout, too. He'd needed a hearing aid and had been stubborn about getting one. Vanity at its finest.
"Did you see the guy who was throwing the money?" I asked loudly, doubting this man's lack of a hearing aid had anything to do with how it would look.
He took a draw from his thermos. "Masked. Hat. No horse. Tossing money this way and that."
That about summed it up. Then I smiled when I realized he was speaking (well, shouting) in rhyme.
Suz counted twenties, her eyes glowing, as she walked toward us. It just went to show how anyone could get caught up in a situation. Valentine, Inc., paid her well. Not only because she was a valued employee, but also because she was practically family. And thus, we had entrusted her with all the family secrets.
"One hundred forty! Woo-ha! I'll be treating myself to some nice wine while eating a nice big steak at The Hilltop tonight."
I jerked my head toward the guy next to me, silently asking her to make a donation.
Suz frowned as she followed the motion.
I widened my eyes and continued twitching.
She huffed, peeled off two twenties, and handed them to him. "Oh fine." She gave him the rest of the cash. "You need it more than I do."
He quickly tucked the money inside his glove and stood up.
"Ladies, I'll be on my way!" he shouted, tipping an imaginary cap. "Have yourselves a wonderful day!" He winked, turned, and hobbled off.
"For the love of Dr. Seuss, Lucy. You know he's probably just going to drink the money away," Suz said in an are-you-crazy kind of whisper.
"So were you."
She flipped her dark hair. "Touché."
I stood, searched for Preston's spiky platinum hair in the thinning crowd. "Besides, you don't know that he'll spend the money on alcohol. Maybe he's hungry. Maybe he wants a nice steak."
Soulful eyes narrowed. "You don't know he won't drink it away."
"You don't know he will."
"You can't be that naïve, Lucy."
I'd lost a lot of my naïveté over the last six months when I started freelancing as a consultant for the Massachusetts State Police, using my psychic ability to find lost objects to help locate missing persons. Often the cases didn't come with happily ever afters.
"I just want to believe that in every person there's a little decency. Is that wrong?" My breath formed little white clouds as I spoke. It was twenty freezing degrees, and I questioned why I'd left the warmth of the office.
Oh right. Greed.
Now I felt really queasy.
Her eyes softened. "It's dangerous to only see the good in people. You, of all people, should know that."
I tossed a look over my shoulder. The homeless man had only made it ten feet or so, shuffling along at a snail's pace. It was because I'd seen firsthand the evils of the world that I searched for the good. I had to.
"We should head back," I said.
"What about Preston?"
"I'll leave a trail of bread crumbs."
Preston and I had come a long way in our relationship. At first, I'd hated her for revealing my biggest secret in the pages of the Boston Herald. But as we collaborated on articles featuring my Lost Love clients, things between us had thawed a bit. I wouldn't go so far as to say we were close—I still didn't completely trust her—but I didn't want to throttle her anymore. That was saying something.
The cold was starting to seep under my skin as we climbed the steps to the second-floor office. The door to Valentine, Inc., was ajar. I cautiously peeked inside and found my grandmother, Dovie, sitting in Suz's desk chair, flipping through client files. Dovie harbored dreams of matchmaking, but since she'd married into the family, she didn't possess the ability to read auras that was genetic only to bloodline Valentines—a gift, legend declared, bestowed on my family by Cupid himself.
It had been my great-grandfather who had founded Valentine, Inc. What our clients didn't know was the company's incredible success had little to do with the long questionnaires and personality tests endured on a first appointment but everything to do with … color. Every person carried with them a colorful aura, which only those gifted could see. True love was predestined by pairing lovers with similar hues.
Unfortunately, I'd lost my ability at fourteen when a surge of electricity changed my life. I'd gone from living in a world surrounded by colorful people to being able to find lost objects—a quality that for a long time I thought was pretty useless. Not only because my family was in the business of making matches based on auras but also because I didn't think I could do the world any good being able to find a lost wallet or car keys or a lucky key chain.
I'd been wrong. There was more to my gift than I ever dreamed.
"What are you doing here?" I asked Dovie. My father would have himself another heart attack if he found her rifling through his files. Was she trying to make matches or looking for love herself? Her most recent relationship, with a man I'd set her up with, had only lasted three fun-filled weekends. Dovie, like all Valentines, was as commitment phobic as George Clooney. That being said, she might change her mind if he came walking through the door.
My mother came in from the back hallway, carrying two mugs of coffee. She handed one to Dovie and air-kissed my cheek, then Suz's. Mum was fairly glowing. Her hazel eyes danced, the gold specks glittering, and a smile flirted playfully at the corners of her lips.
"What's up with you?" I asked. She looked truly lovely in a purple cowl-necked sweater, dark jeans, and ballet slippers. Her pixie-style hair had just been cut and colored a golden blond. She looked younger. Happier.
"Me?" Mum waved a hand in dismissal as she sat on the love seat. "Nothing. Nothing at all."
"Something," Suz said, shooing Dovie from her desk chair. "You look great."
Mum shrugged coyly. "Been on a little diet, that's all."
"Diet?" Mum didn't diet. Ever. She firmly believed in eating what she wanted, when she wanted, and the hell with people who cared about calories and cholesterol. Living life to the fullest with Mum meant having a New York–style cheesecake in the fridge at all times. "Diet" was the worst four-letter word in her vocabulary.
"I'm getting older," Mum said. "I need to be more careful about my weight. I'm taking a Zumba class, too." Her eyes brightened. "You should come with me, LucyD!"
"A zoo what?" I asked.
Dovie laughed and launched into a cha-cha, her long legs lithe and graceful. When she was younger she danced Burlesque at a club in Manhattan—it's where she met my grandfather. After they married and secretly divorced, she continued her dance training and eventually became a choreographer. These days she mostly used her talents for local musical theater and social events, but it didn't take much for her to randomly break into dance. "Zumba. It's an exercise program featuring dancing."
"Fun!" Suz squealed. "When and where? Count me in!"
Diet and exercise? I stared at Mum. Who was this woman? Certainly not my mother. "What's going on? I mean, what's really going on? You're not sick, are you?" She didn't look sick, but it would take something as monumentally life-changing as a chronic illness to get her to break a lifetime of (bad) habits.
"Do I need a reason to better myself?" Her nose twitched.
Aha! She'd stumbled on the word "better." She wasn't as keen on all this diet and exercise as she let on. The nose twitch was a dead giveaway she was hiding something.
Dovie was still cha-chaing. "Oh go on, Judie. Tell her. It's past time."
Mum shot her an evil look. Good thing the two of them were the best of friends, a relationship Dad absolutely hated. His mother. His somewhat-ex wife (technically they were still married). It was a nightmare for him when they ganged up.
"What? What-what?" I pleaded.
Dovie dragged Suz into her dance. The two held hands as Dovie counted aloud, "One two three, cha cha cha." She thrust a hip and singsonged in the same cadence, "Judie has a boyfriend, cha cha cha."
I gasped. "You do? Who?"
"Just someone," Mum said.
"Spill!" I urged. Though my parents were happily separated, it had been years since Mum had anyone serious in her life. Her little on-and-off flings with my father hardly counted.
"Where's Sean today?" Mum asked.
She was referring to Sean Donahue, the supersexy PI who worked upstairs and partnered with me in Lost Loves. We were partnered in other ways, too. Just thinking about him made me go all warm and gooey inside.
For almost fifteen years my abilities had been a closely guarded family secret until a skeleton, a lost little boy, and Preston Bailey changed my life forever.
She'd "outed" me in the Boston Herald, and I'd been swarmed by the media. It had been quite an adjustment. But after a long talk with my father, Lost Loves was born. I now used my ability to help reunite lost loves whenever possible by using old letters, jewelry, photos. Though my gift had limitations, it had proved invaluable for some of my and Sean's tougher cases.
"Don't change the subject," I said.
"I was simply asking a question, LucyD," she said, using her pet nickname for me. My mother was a rabid Beatles fan, and I'd been named after the song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." When I was very little, my mother used to call me Lucy Diamonds, but it had been further shortened over the years to LucyD.
The door crashed open. Startled, I jumped as Preston stormed in, limping.
"How can he just vanish?" she asked, throwing her hands in the air. "Poof. Gone. How? You'd think that a man who was tossing twenties like rice at a wedding wouldn't escape unnoticed. Hello," she said, taking notice of Mum and Dovie. She kissed their cheeks. My family had taken Preston under its wing—whether I liked it or not.
"The Lone Ranger?" Dovie asked.
"Struck again," Suz said, setting her desk to rights. She was fussy about what went where, and Dovie had obviously been rifling for a while before we caught her. "I had a hundred and forty dollars before Lucy made me give it all away to a homeless guy."
"He'll probably just drink it away." Mum sipped her coffee.
"That's what I said!" Suz shot me a look.
I sat on the edge of the couch. I could argue, but I was outnumbered.
"Well, I didn't get anything." Preston sighed. "Not any money, not a story, not anything. And I broke my heel." She sat next to Mum and peeled off her boot. The heel dangled sadly. "Someone had to have seen something."
"Doubtful." Dovie patted her hair to make sure it was still in place. Her stunning signature white locks had been loosely twisted into a knot at the base of her neck. "Once money starts flying, no one's going to notice anything but the green."
"I suppose you're right," Preston said, leaning back. "But there has to be a way to catch him." There was a look in her eyes I was coming to recognize. She was hatching a plan.
I checked my watch. Preston and I were meeting with a new client soon. The whole new-boyfriend conversation with Mum would have to wait until I had time for a more prepared inquisition. "Are you two in town for a little shopping?" I asked Dovie.
"Actually, no," she answered.
I tipped my head at her serious tone. "A court hearing?" She and Mum had been arrested not long ago for disturbing the peace. I thought everything had been worked out, but—
"Time served." Mum sounded like a felon who'd been locked up for decades instead of a protester sentenced to serve community service.
Dovie pulled the latest issue of the South Shore Beacon from the hobo bag at her feet and handed it to me. "We actually came to see Sean."
"Sean? Why?" I scanned the headline.
LOCAL MAN STILL MISSING
"I'm hopizng you won't mind sharing," Dovie said, "because I want to hire him."
Copyright © 2011 by Heather Webber