It Happened One Wedding Page 70

The investigation had gotten a little more intense this afternoon, when two different code inspectors had showed up at the nightclub to “remind” the owner of his (bogus) violation and also to reiterate that they had the authority to shut down his club at any time. That had put everything on fast-forward, and Vaughn had spent the rest of his day assisting Huxley in pulling together his undercover legend and getting everything set up with the tech team and the backup squad so that they could meet with the city inspector tomorrow for the payoff.

After that, he and Huxley had met Cade for their workout. With the triathlon only three weeks away, their workouts had intensified—today they’d swum for thirty minutes, had run for forty-five, and then had lifted weights for an hour. Vaughn had walked out of the FBI gym tired and ready to call it a night.

Admittedly, he’d been feeling a little off all week. He couldn’t quite put his finger on what was bothering him, he just felt . . . irritated. Unsettled. He looked forward to an evening alone, so he could shake off whatever his problem was, reset, and get back on his game.

But when he was driving home, he received a text message that changed all that.

One word from Sidney.

HELP.

 • • •

SIDNEY OPENED HER front door and found six-foot-one, nearly two hundred pounds of pissed-off FBI agent glaring at her.

“Never, ever do that again,” Vaughn said.

“Okay, okay. I told you—I’m sleep-deprived. I wasn’t thinking. Sheesh,” And, point of fact, she’d already apologized after his first lecture.

Yes, she’d screwed up. She’d texted Vaughn Help, and then had heard her teakettle whistling on the stove. She’d left her phone in the bedroom and had headed downstairs into the kitchen—admittedly, in hindsight this was absentminded, but, hello, she was operating on about an hour’s worth of sleep here—and by the time she’d sliced her fresh lemon for the tea, then had noticed her wilting flowers outside and had gone out to water them, and then had returned upstairs, she’d discovered that her text message had caused a bit of a hullabaloo with Vaughn, who had been trying to reach her.

“I’d already called in your number to the command room, so I could track you down by your cell phone,” he said, stepping inside her house.

“Is that even legal?”

He glared again.

Sidney smiled sweetly. “What I meant to say was, thank you, Agent Roberts. I’m so appreciative of your concern for my well-being.”

Vaughn stepped closer, putting one hand on the small of her back as he stared down into her eyes. “Just don’t scare me like that again, Sinclair. Understood?”

Something about the seriousness on his face—such an uncharacteristic look for him—put a warm feeling in her stomach. “Understood,” she said, her voice suddenly husky.

Then there it was, a loud double beep at the top of the stairs, right outside her bedroom.

She rested her forehead against Vaughn’s chest and groaned. “Please. Just make it stop.”

Her upstairs smoke alarm had started chirping last night around midnight, going off about every ten minutes. She assumed that it needed a new battery, so she’d thrown on a pair of jeans and had walked to a 24-hour convenience store a few blocks away. She’d bought a couple of 9V batteries, then had come home and pulled out her handy-dandy stepladder. The problem was, she couldn’t get the damn casing off. Granted, she didn’t have the best grip, because the ceilings in her turn-of-the-century brownstone were high and she’d had to stand on her tiptoes, but the stupid thing wouldn’t budge. Then it had stopped around five A.M., apparently just to mock her, and she’d gone off to work thinking maybe she was in the clear. But nope—the beep-beep had started up again this evening, after she’d changed out of her work clothes and had just been getting ready to settle in with her parents’ wedding albums and a nice cup of chamomile tea.

In her hour of need, she’d texted Vaughn.

“You know, those cases pretty much just pop right off,” he told her.

Yes, thank you, she was aware that this was supposed to be how things worked. She’d been up at two A.M. last night, Googling the problem and watching umpteen videos with stupid smiling men on stepladders who’d explained how to change the battery on a smoke detector. But none of the stupid smiling men—not a one—had said what to do in the apparently unlikely event that the case did not, in fact, “just pop right off.”

“It’s stuck,” she said.

“Did you turn it the correct way?” he asked. “A good way to remember is—”

“—if you ‘righty-tighty, lefty-loosey’ me right now, Roberts, I swear I will bite you again. The thing is stuck.”

Grinning, he chucked her under the chin. “All right. I’ll check it out.”

Vaughn followed her upstairs, where her stepladder sat underneath the smoke detector outside her bedroom. He climbed up, reached for the smoke detector, and gave it a twist.

Nothing.

“It’s stuck,” he said, frowning.

She snorted. “Not exactly a newsflash, buddy.” When he stared down at her, she smiled and touched his knee. “And what I meant by that was, thank you so much for rushing over here to help me figure out this mystery.”

“So saucy,” he said, shaking his head. He turned back to the smoke detector and scrutinized it for a moment. “Ah. There’s the problem. Whoever painted your ceiling was sloppy—they painted over the rim of this thing and that probably sealed it shut.”

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