From behind him, two arms wrapped around his waist and then the smiling face of Rena, his beautiful, perfect ex-girlfriend, appeared over his shoulder. “Hey, Kylie,” she said sweetly. She squeezed Gib affectionately, resting her chin against him. “How you doing?”

“Good,” Kylie said automatically, eyes still locked in on Gib, who winced and mouthed, “I’m sorry.”

But Kylie was the sorry one, sorry that she felt like a complete idiot. “I can’t stay. Something’s come up and I’ve gotta—”

Gib tugged her inside, shook off Rena, and put a glass of wine in Kylie’s hand. “Stay. Drink. Be merry.” He lowered his voice. “Seriously, I’m so sorry. I didn’t expect her. Stay? Please?”

Mostly Kylie preferred to eat her carbs but tonight she downed the glass and, bolstered by liquid courage, even danced with Gib. Twice. And she stepped on his toes only one of those times.

When it became clear Rena wasn’t going to leave before she did, she finally headed home just before midnight, because like Cinderella, she had to work in the morning.

And because she was also a little frustrated and very tired, she didn’t notice the manila envelope that had been shoved through the mail flap on her front door. It wasn’t until she’d greeted a sleepy, adorable Vinnie and then gone straight to the kitchen for the ice cream in her freezer that she looked back as she leaned against the counter to inhale her dessert.

On the floor, just inside her front door, lay the envelope. Odd, as she’d gotten all her mail the first time she’d been home, but she set down the ice cream and picked it up. Inside was an instant Polaroid and it stopped her heart.

It was a close-up of her missing penguin in mortal danger, staged to look like it was falling off the Golden Gate Bridge into the bay.

What. The. Hell.

Someone had stolen her statue. And worse, was now taunting her with it. Why? She couldn’t think of one good reason and knew she needed to confide in someone. But who? Not Gib. You didn’t go running to your crush to play the damsel-in-distress in the twenty-first century. Or at least, she didn’t. She could try the police but she could already see how that would go. “Hello, someone stole my beloved but worthless penguin carving and is pretending to knock it off the bridge.”

They’d laugh her out of town.

She could also do absolutely nothing, but whoever had done this knew her, or at least knew where she lived. Suitably creeped out, she double-checked all the locks on her windows and doors. Then she tucked Vinnie into his crate, turned out the light, and climbed into bed.

And lay there, jumping at every creak.

Two minutes later, she got out of bed, retrieved Vinnie, and climbed back beneath the covers. Excited to be where he wasn’t usually allowed, he snuggled her, curling up on her pillow with her. A gust of wind brushed a branch against her window and she stilled. “Did you hear that?”

Vinnie, apparently secure in his safety, closed his eyes.

But not Kylie. She didn’t sleep a wink, and by morning she knew she not only couldn’t go on like this but also needed answers. And to get them she was going to need help.

The thing was, she really hated needing help of any kind. She’d been raised to count on herself and only herself. So it went against the grain, but fear was a big motivating factor here. She needed someone good at this stuff.

Archer, the head of Hunt Investigations, was the first person to come to mind. She could go to him. He’d help for sure. But the problem was that he knew she was strapped for cash so he wouldn’t charge her, and she’d feel guilty taking him away from his own work.

She racked her brain for any other way, but the only answer that came to her was . . . Joe. She could make him the mirror in exchange for his help.

Dammit.

Chapter 3

#FastenYourSeatbeltsItsGoingToBeABumpyRide

Joe Malone wasn’t a big fan of mornings and never had been. Growing up, his alarm clock had been his dad banging a pan on the stovetop. Later, in the military, it’d been some higher ranked asshole screaming into his ear.

Today it was 100 percent pure responsibility that had him rolling out of bed. He worked on a team of independent contractors who took on criminal, corporate, and insurance investigations along with elite security contracts, surveillance, fraud, and corporate background checks. There were also the occasional forensic investigations, big bond bounty hunting, government contract work, and more. The guy in charge, Archer Hunt, was a tough taskmaster, but it was the best job Joe had ever had. He was second in command and the resident IT genius. Not that he’d started out in IT.

Nope, he’d begun his illustrious career in . . . breaking and entering.

Shrugging the old memories off, he pulled on running gear and managed to get to the previously arranged meeting spot without killing anyone for looking at him cross-eyed. A real feat for how early it was.

Spence was waiting for him and wordlessly handed him a coffee. He was kind enough to wait for the caffeine to kick in before saying, “You’re late.”

“Alarm didn’t go off,” Joe said.

“Because you don’t use an alarm.”

True enough. Joe had an internal clock, one of the things he could thank the army for beating into him.

“You alright?” Spence asked. “I mean, you’re always a bitch in the mornings but you look particularly bitchy today.”

“Bite me.”

Spence was richer than God and brilliant enough that he’d once been recruited to work for a government think tank. Joe was not richer than God, and though he’d also once worked for the government—in special forces, to be exact—it hadn’t been his brain that had been coveted, but his ability to be as lethal as needed.

To say he and Spence were unlikely friends was an understatement. It’d started at the weekly poker game that went on in the Pacific Pier Building’s basement. Spence owned the building, so he played poker with an easy abandon. Joe played poker the same way he lived his life—recklessly. It’d bonded them.

Spence, not really a morning person either and certainly not a coddler, accepted Joe’s “bite me” for “I’m fine,” and they tossed the coffee cups in a trash and took off running. Today they hit the Lyon Street stairs, which—talk about being a bitch—were a straight-up torture rack of 332 steep steps, made all the more daunting by the early morning fog hiding the top third of them from view. This made it feel like an endless, unobtainable goal, not that they let this stop them. If anything, they each pushed harder, trying to outrun each other.

When they finally got to the top they didn’t stop, instead entering The Presidio, a park where one could run along forested trails for miles. Almost immediately the city vanished behind woods of thick eucalyptus and, still goading each other, they went all out.

Spence was in excellent shape, but Joe trained for a living. Five miles later Joe inched ahead of Spence and beat him back to their building, gasping for breath, dripping sweat.

“You’re insane,” Spence managed, bent at the waist, hands on his knees. “You outrun your demons, I hope?”

“Can’t run fast enough for that,” Joe said.

Spence straightened with a frown. “See, something is wrong. Your dad? Molly?”

“No, they’re both fine and so am I.” Joe shook his head. He didn’t know what was up with him, other than a general restlessness. His dad was . . . well, his dad.

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