The Point St. Claire
where true love finds a way
"Great read!" Amazon Reviews
The answer to any girl's prayers...
Jax Angel needs to make his new life work. After a case had gone tragically wrong, Jax quit the rat race for good. A month later, he inherited The M Lodge, a privileged gentleman’s club in Portland, Maine. Suits instead of jeans, watching the books instead of surveilling a suspect…yeah, day to day had gotten a little stale. Until beautiful amateur sleuth Belinda Slade breaks into the place and makes Jax an offer he can’t refuse.
A decade ago, Belinda (Billy to her friends) and her struggling single-parent family suffered a massive double blow. First Billy’s devoted mom passed away then her only treasured possession, a ruby and pearl family heirloom, was stolen. Now Billy is onto a crack lead. She’s even got a genuine private detective (albeit retired) on the case. Working with Jax Angel and his muscles and his smile must be the bonus, and distraction, of the century. But answers are closer than they think.
It all comes back to Point St. Claire.
“HEY, BUDDY, wanna toss over a towel?”
Belinda Slade heard the man’s question. It needed an answer—called for some action. But, holy snap, that dude was ripped. Every time he moved, muscle and sinew flexed all over the place.
When Belinda rushed in here a minute ago, disguised as a waiter―fake moustache and all―she’d found him in that shower stall. Facing the wall, he’d been lathering up while belting out a song about being gone in the morning and bats out of hell. Then, strumming his six-pack like he was making love to an electric guitar, he’d swung around and everything else had hit pause. Then zoned out.
Now the singing had stopped, the faucet was off and the dark-haired Adonis was studying her, his head angled and sharp blue eyes uncertain. He’d asked for help, so what was she waiting for?
Belinda found a towel from a nearby laundered pile and handed it over. Stepping out from the stall, he swiped the towel down his curious face, around that delectable GI-Joe chest.
“You’re a waiter?” he asked.
Pressing the moustache firmly under her nose, Belinda―Billy to her friends―got back into character and lowered her voice. “Yes sir.”
“I don’t recognize you?”
“I’m, er, new at the club. Started today.”
When he ran a hand through his wet locks, that bicep bulged and Billy’s insides quivered. Was he doing all that eye-popping buff stuff on purpose?
“Try again,” he said. “I personally hire all my staff.”
Her jaw dropped. This guy owned the place?
The M Lodge was an exclusive gentleman’s club reserved for Portland’s elite. Earlier, when Billy Googled to find an address, she’d come across the owner’s name: Mr. Jax Angel. She’d imagined the boss as polished, stuffy. Gray at the temples. One foot in the grave. Not this man. Not his choice of song or the tattoo trailing over one shoulder—a serpent about to sink its fangs into a shiny red apple.
Way more bad boy than angel.
And he hired all his staff…
Billy found an excuse.
“I work casual, through an agency.” She shrugged like it was no big deal. “All I know is you guys were short on hands. I got a call.”
The man’s mouth curved with a knowing smile. “Really? You’re going with that?”
“I was finding my way around. I took a wrong turn.” She jerked a thumb over her shoulder. “Actually I need to get back.”
But as she set off, he growled, “Not so fast, sport.”
Her stomach dropped before she turned back around. “Something else I can get for you, boss?”
“Yeah.” He was rubbing the towel around one side of his neck. “I want the truth, and I want it now.”
Once, back in grade school, Billy was accused of cheating on a math test, of all things. Now she drew upon that memory—that sense of injustice. This minute, she was an unjustly accused waiter who had simply lost his way in a new environment, not an undercover actress in search of information and struggling with where to look next. This would be a lot easier if he covered up that snake.
Jax Angel wiggled a finger under his nose. “Ditch the fuzz hanging off your top lip and we’ll talk. Or, if you prefer, we’ll get some badges involved.”
Powerful legs braced, he crossed his arms over that beautiful bare chest. Message received. No more games.
She tugged off the moustache and, wincing, rubbed that tender strip of skin.
With a look that said, Don’t panic, I won’t bite, he asked, “Now, what’s your name, son?”
His eyebrows shot up. “Belinda?”
“I get Billy a lot. That’s a girl’s name, too, even if my sister says it’s―”
“Whoa. Hold on a minute. You’re a girl.”
Another woman might be insulted. Billy only felt a measure of pride. Not an Academy Award winning performance, but at least her costume was convincing.
After he promptly lashed that towel around his hips, his chest expanded on a big, patient breath.
“So, what are you doing here—aside from having a good, long perv?”
She practically spluttered. Not fair. “You were standing right in front of me, sudsing all the way up, rinsing all the way down—”
“Sign on the door says Men’s Locker Room.”
“Yeah…well…I missed that.”
“Do your parents know where you are?”
Setting her jaw, she dragged off her wig. As hair spilled out around her shoulders, she pulled off the waiter’s vest that was squashing her C-cup breasts. “Do I look like a twelve-year-old?”
He paused, cleared his throat then hitched a hip over the corner of a nearby timber table that was stacked with magazines and complementary toiletries. “Is this your way of asking for a job?”
“I already have a job.” And a college degree. She kept some small businesses’ books, but that wasn’t how she ever introduced herself. Billy lifted her chin. “I’m an actress.”
He arched a brow. “An actress, huh?”
“I’ve done commercials.”
“You mean recently?”
“There was Dougie’s Dog Shampoo. Extra flea control. I’m the one on rollerblades being pulled by two cartoon otters—”
“I thought you said dog shampoo.” He held up both palms. “Forget it. I’ll get dressed and see you out before someone else comes in and freaks.”
To an outsider, this might seem like a desperate act. In truth she was a little desperate. She’d already tried the more conventional, legal means to sort her problem out. If she failed this time…
Billy squared her shoulders.
Not an option.
“Again―what are you doing here?” the man asked, crossing to a locker. “What, or who, are you after?”
“I’d rather not publicly say.”
“One, this isn’t exactly public. Two, you’re in no position to be pig-headed.” Opening a locker door, he flicked a look over his shoulder. “And, you never know. I might be able to help.”
“Why would you want to do that?”
“It’s been a slow week.”
Not likely. But she had nothing to lose.
“I need to speak with Hector Garfield,” she said. “He’s a patron here.”
Crystal-blue eyes narrowed on hers. “I know who Hector Garfield is. Are you a disinherited granddaughter or something?”
“Never met him.”
“But you know he’s disgustingly wealthy?”
“And already married.”
What? No. “I don’t want a sugar daddy. His wife has a ruby and pearl ring, hundreds of years old.”
“And it belongs to me.”
As he slid two dynamite arms through the sleeves of a crisp, white button-down shirt, she read his eyes. Now I know you’re nuts. But he’d asked the question. Implied that he might be able to help. Now, damn it, he’d hear the rest.
“There was a French courtesan in the 18th century,” she said. “Her admirers showered her in gifts.”
He was buttoning the shirt, tail end first. “That’s…nice.”
“The courtesan is an ancestor of mine. The ruby ring was hers, handed down through generations via every second daughter. The courtesan was a second daughter, like me.”
Still listening, he grabbed a pair of black boxer briefs from the locker. With the towel still hanging on his hips, he stepped in, one long muscular leg then the other.
“I tried to contact Hector Garfield other ways,” she went on. “But his bodyguard’s a bulldog. I did some research, found out he was a member here. Tons of movies and plays have a woman dress up as a man to gain an edge. So I got a costume together and slid in back.”
He tossed the towel aside and stepped into black pants that fit so well―looked so hot―it was a crime. “Things didn’t go as planned, I presume.”
“I found Garfield sitting by himself, working his way through a document and a hand full of mints. But then one of your staff called me over. I ran down a corridor, in through the nearest door and, well…here I am.”
“How is Garfield supposed to have come by the ring?” he asked, finding a tie and sliding the strip of blue paisley through his upturned collar.
“It was stolen ten years ago.”
“Garfield’s not a thief. He’s rich enough to own Apple.”
“I never said he was a thief. I’m guessing it was sold on. I don’t know how many people think they’ve owned that ring since it vanished. When it went missing, we contacted the authorities. They came up empty-handed.”
Billy would never forget the time when her life was tossed upside down and dumped on its head twice in a matter of months. At first, she’d felt numb, and then ill. After that, she’d gotten stinking mad.
“Was the piece insured?” he asked, and she nodded. “Money collected?”
She hesitated and nodded again. “But I never gave up hope. Then, a few weeks back, I caught a picture of Garfield’s wife on the net. She was wearing my ring. I’d know it anywhere.”
“There’s a lot of jewelry out there.”
“Not like this. The ruby is surrounded by a special casing. A delicate wreath of gold wings.”
Jax Angel seemed to digest that before asking, “So, your plan is—what exactly?”
“Explain the situation to Garfield, and, ultimately, somehow, get my property back.”
“Any evidence to prove it’s yours?”
“A photo of my mother wearing it. The insurance papers.”
“Didn’t your mother suggest you contact the police again?”
“She passed away not long before the theft. The ring belongs to me now.” Billy lifted her chin. “Or it should. And I did go to the police. The sergeant took my details, but when I mentioned Judge Garfield’s name, he went white. I followed up and was told nothing yet, be patient. That was two months ago.”
When Jax Angel rubbed the back of his neck, the shirt strained across his power-house chest before he fetched a pair of polished lace-ups and sat on a bench. “It’s a decade old case.”
“With a fresh lead.”
“Which will probably go nowhere. There comes a time when it’s wiser to walk away.”
Her mouth tightened, hands clenched. “You mean no one wants to annoy one of the State’s richest men, a retired judge, because of some crackpot’s claim.” She edged forward. “But you said you’d help.”
“I said I might help.”
“You could ask Garfield about the ring for me.”
Looking amused, he set the shoes on the floor and then lifted his square-angled jaw to finish straightening his tie.
“A couple of quick questions, that’s all,” she went on, really liking the idea. “Where and when his wife came by the ring. I can take it from there.”
He grunted. “Sorry. That ain’t gonna happen.”
“But if you think about it―”
“I said no.”
Billy paused then drew in a long, deep, purposeful breath. “Then it’s back to plan A. I’ll find out myself.”
“Not here. Not on my watch. Stick with the police. Trust me, you need to leave these kinds of problems to the grown-ups.”
She bristled, set her teeth. “Did you say grown-ups?”
“I mean people who have experience in investigating criminal activity—or should I say alleged criminal acts. If a valuable item was lifted, chances are there’s a potentially dangerous element involved somewhere along the line. Do you own a firearm?
Her head went back. “Ewww.”
Straightening, he slapped his thighs as if that sealed it. “It’s tough enough when you’re trained.”
When he pushed to his feet, she saw empathy shine in his eyes. Except, this man could never walk in her shoes. Billy had grown up in Point St. Claire, a quiet close-knit town a little north of here. Her mother had been a single parent who cleaned offices in the evenings, so Billy and her older sister Ann had spent most nights alone in their two-bedroom ranch-style home. That heirloom had been their only valuable possession, and yet no matter how tough times had gotten, the ring was never pawned. Her mother had said it wasn’t hers to sell.
Before her mom had died, she had squeezed Billy’s hand and asked of her just two things: follow her dreams, and never ever surrender that ring. But within weeks of the mother’s death, the ring had vanished.
Even if that piece was worthless, Billy would still fight tooth and nail to get it back. She wanted to put a name to the creep behind the theft. After ten long years, she still needed him caught and punished.
Now, some club-owning Hollywood lookalike, who obviously knew nothing about ‘sucking it up’, thought she ought to walk away?
Crossing her arms, Billy spoke over the knot in her throat. “I won’t turn my back on this.”
He pushed out a weary sigh. “You’re asking for trouble.”
“Says my years as a private investigator.”
Okay. He’d lost her. “You’re not a P.I.”
“I am. Or was.” He crossed over. Tall as well as built...in her flats, he towered above her. “Look, you seem like a nice girl.”
Again. “I am not a girl.”
“You have no experience in crime investigation.”
“I found that first clue, didn’t I?”
“And look where it got you.”
“Here, talking with a P.I.”
She was shaking, inside as well as out. Why wouldn’t anyone take her seriously? Why would no one help? This guy had gotten her hopes up, held out a branch then whipped it away before she’d had a chance to grab a hold.
Billy screwed her eyes shut. Muttered under her breath.
Somehow, somewhere, she’d find a way. For now, she needed to get herself together, cool down and put Jax Angel, and his snake, out of her head for good.