Jeremy winced as Jane's thin fingers poked the area near the bruise on his temple. She clucked her tongue and lightly swatted the back of his head. "You've got to be more careful, Jeremy."
"I'm fine," he slapped her hands away. She was doing more harm than good. He should have known she'd make a big deal out of a little bump on the head. "It's just a bruise."
"You need to see the doctor. You've obviously suffered a traumatic brain injury."
"Because I opted to work from home today?" Jeremy slurped the last of his coffee and slid the mug across the counter towards Jane. Sharon had left minutes earlier after dropping off the files he needed to get through the day. Though she'd been surprised when he'd told her to take half the day off, Jane had been even more shocked.
"Because you let poor Sharon take a half-day with full pay, and you're smiling. You're practically broadcasting happiness, and you didn't kick the cat off the bed."
Jeremy grinned and shook his head. "I met a girl last night."
Jane leaned across the counter, ears perked and ready for gossip. "While you were hunting the Fwar? Is she a Tracker or was she a victim? Is she pretty? How did you meet her?"
"Yes. No. No. Yes, very. She took down the Fwar." Jeremy chuckled when Jane's eyes narrowed in anger. She hated getting one-word answers. "She used to be with the Network, but something happened and she got out. She's a viewer, so I'm guessing she's using the timelines to do a little vigilante work."
"What's her name?"
Jeremy's smile faltered. He knew that her eyes were green, that she bounced and flitted like a fairy, that her joy tasted like cotton candy and her guilt tasted like vinegar, and that she shone like the sun. He didn't know her name. "We never got around to that."
"Jeremy Whittier!" Jane scolded. It figured he would finally find someone after her and he'd screw it up. She'd thought she'd raised him better than that, but apparently they'd missed a few key lessons.
"I gave her my card and told her to call anytime. She'll call." The cotton-candy joy he'd tasted when she pocketed the card made him confident that he'd hear from his golden-haired angel.
"For your sake, I hope she does." Jane set his mug in the sink and rinsed it. "Now go on, get out of my kitchen. I've got better things to do than sit around and chat with you."
"No you don't." Jeremy gathered his files and slid off the barstool. He rounded the corner of the island and pulled Jane in for a one-armed hug. "We'll have lunch on the patio, okay? I'll let you grill me about my girl."
Sharon had included her file on Celia Buckley with the other files she'd delivered. In his home office, Jeremy set the others on the corner of his desk and opened Celia's file. A few news articles printed off the internet were first: Media Heiress Crashes Car! Buckley Heir Partying Again? Buckley Birthday Bash Ends in Crash!
The articles painted the picture of a spoiled, troubled heiress. Numerous auto accidents were attributed to possible drug and alcohol abuse. Mention was made of her "zoning out" during dinner parties and even on the dance floor. One article claimed that she'd gone through nearly a quarter of a million dollars worth of cars in one year.
Sharon had also dug up a few articles from Celia's high school days. She'd been a member of the volleyball team and the drama department. An actress living in Los Angeles, Jeremy scoffed silently, how unoriginal. He closed the file and tossed it aside. Though no photos had been attached, his mind was quick to conjure up an image. She was undoubtedly glamorous, tan, and artificially enhanced. She and Blake were wasting their time setting up dates with Jeremy. Superficial party girls were his father's type not his.
He was halfway through his stack of files when his Network cell phone rang. The number on the i.d. was a Baltimore number but not one that he recognized. "Whittier," he greeted tersely.
"Hello, Jay." Downtown in the back of her brother's town car, Celia rested her head against the cool glass of the window and closed her eyes. Blake had only promised to be in his office for ten minutes, so there wasn't enough time to savor the sound of J. Whittier's voice. Besides, she wasn't calling for a friendly chat. "Sometime after sunset, a Llgon is going to attack the homeless shelter on Calvert Street."
Jeremy stiffened. He quickly jotted down the address and demon type. "Are there going to be any casualties."
"Possibly. It depends on how quickly you intercept the Llgon." When there was no response, Celia sighed. While helpful, her information wasn't enough. "I'm sorry. There are just too many variables. It's split fifty-fifty."
"No, no, it's okay," Jeremy was quick to reassure her. Didn't she see how she was already improving the odds by telling him about the demon? He sent a light wave of cheerfulness through the line. "Does this mean you're not going to come swooping in at the last minute to save me?"
The laughter that filled his ears reminded him of the wind chimes Jane used to have hanging on the back porch. A broad grin stretched across his face as the sticky sweetness of cotton candy coated his tongue. Her happiness was infectious.
"Not tonight, buddy. I've got dinner plans and there's no way I'm swooping or anything else in the shoes I just bought." Celia reverently stroked the top of the shoe box in her lap. She'd started off shopping for a dress for the upcoming Buckley Media Fiftieth Anniversary Gala, but had been sidetracked, as usual, by a shoe display.
Jeremy sucked in a jolt of jealousy and disappointment. He didn't even know her name. He was in no position to monopolize any of her time. He opened his mouth to ask her name, but was cut off by a sharp gasp.
"Damn, I've got to run, Jay. Don't forget: Llgon, Calvert Street, after sunset." Celia ended the call as Blake opened his door. She beamed up at him when he ruffled her hair.
"What'cha doing, sis?" Blake eased out of his parking space and navigated the car through the parking garage. He'd gotten out from his doctor's appointment when Celia had finished her shopping extravaganza, so he'd offered to drive her home.
"Oh, just checking my voicemail. By the way, we need to meet with the caterer and choose a cake. Can you give me a date and time or do I need to check with Isabel?" Though she didn't like having to make appointments with her own brother via his uber-efficient secretary, she'd made peace with the fact that Blake was a busy man.
"Sorry, honey, you're going to have to check with Isabel. I'm swamped next week."
"No problem." Celia tapped out a quick e-mail to Isabel and refreshed the screen. There was no response from Jeremy. Had her e-mail driven him away or had he given up when she'd missed their date? She hadn't even had a chance to figure out Jeremy's last name. She snuck a peek at Blake through her eyelashes.
"Is Jeremy's office around here? I feel terrible about skipping out on him the other night, and I'd like to apologize in person." She crossed her fingers and prayed he bought the excuse. She had to toe the line between overly sweet and casual.
"Actually, I was supposed to have lunch with him but his secretary called to say he was working from home today. I'm going to stop in to see him. We'll go right now."
Celia gulped. That's not what she was expecting. "N-no, that's okay. You can drop me off at home. I've been shopping all morning and I'm sure…"
"Oh, you look fine," Blake interrupted. He caught her eye in the rearview mirror and winked. "He won't mind. But, since you asked, there's his building. It's only two blocks from our building, so we often meet for lunch."
Celia followed Blake's outstretched finger to a tall, gray-brick building with "Whittier Publishing" spelled out on a sign over the front entrance. 'JW' at Whittier Publishing. Jeremy… Whittier? J. Whittier? Jay? The guy her brother was trying to set her up with was the same guy she'd 'rescued' the night before?
It didn't make sense. Why would Blake try to get her involved with the Network regional director? He'd made it more than clear that they weren't part of the Network any longer. He had to know that his BFF Jeremy was a Tracker. Did he think that only someone used to the weird and unusual would understand that she was… off?
"On second thought, Blake, I would like to join you. I shouldn't put off apologizing to Jeremy any longer."
On the short drive to Jeremy's house, Celia resisted the urge to check the timelines. Her nerves were shot, and there was no guarantee she could keep from slipping up in front of the ever-vigilant Blake. Her palms grew damp when Blake turned onto a familiar street and a green Victorian-style house came into sight.
While Blake jogged around the car to open her door, she grabbed her most recent shoe purchase and held the delicate sandals by the heels. Blake rolled his eyes, but grasped her elbow and escorted her up the walkway. "No one's going to steal your precious shoes, Celia."
"It's not a risk I'm willing to take," she giggled. "These were the last size sevens in stock."
Nervous energy drumming through her, Celia bounced on her toes while they waited for someone to answer the door. Blake's quelling look did nothing to calm her down. A matronly woman with a short silver bob and warm brown eyes greeted them. Something about her soft smile eased Celia's nervousness, though, in all honesty, it could have also been the mouthwatering aroma of chocolate brownies that followed the woman.
Blake seemed to already know who the woman was. He introduced Jane, Jeremy's housekeeper, to Celia. Those brown eyes narrowed slightly as Jane shook Celia's hand. Celia hoped it was only because she looked odd carrying evening sandals and not because Jane knew that she'd blown Jeremy off thrice.
Jane ushered them into an open, airy foyer. Using the intercom system wired through the house, she informed Jeremy about his visitors. Spotting white-and-black running shoes on the top step of the curved staircase, Celia put her hands behind her back. She'd already screwed up her shot at a good first impression. No need to be known as the crazy shoe lady.
"I'm sorry about lunch, Blake. I wasn't feeling well this morning and chose to spend the day at home. Sharon should have called to reschedule with you." Jeremy clapped Blake on the shoulder, but his eyes were fixed on Celia's flushed face.
"Oh, she did. I couldn't believe it when she told me, though. You take the day off? I had to make sure you weren't on your deathbed," Blake joked. With a hand to the small of Celia's back, he gave her a small shove forward. "I also wanted to introduce you to my sister."
Jeremy extended his hand, though he already knew how Celia's fingers felt when twined with his. Well aware that both Jane and Blake were watching them, he kept his smile cool and the handshake brief. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Celia."
"Thank you. It's a pleasure to meet you, as well. I am sorry I missed the last several opportunities to do so." Her eyes darted up to the slight swelling at his temple. The bruise looked better than it had the night before. He hadn't moved as if he was in pain, but she knew he had to be sore. Doing her morning yoga had been hellish. It was going to be a long time before she body-slammed a Fwar again.
Jane cleared her throat and excused herself with a comment about a timer going off. Blake's cell phone rang a moment later. He checked the phone's display, smiled tightly, and stepped outside.
"Hello, Jay," Celia repeated the greeting she'd used on the phone earlier. She didn't believe that he'd known who she was the night before. He would have said something about her date-breaking if he had. Besides, he looked as shocked as she felt. "How's your head?"
"It aches, but I've had hangovers that hurt worse." He relaxed and flooded the room with calmness. He wanted some of Celia's joy to replace the dill pickle tang of her nervousness. "What are you hiding behind your back?"
"Oh," Celia chuckled. She held up her new sandals. The overhead light made the crystals on the thin straps sparkle.
Jeremy swallowed down a rush of lust. The high-heeled sandals were little more than a few straps of crystal-studded leather and padded insole. The delicate ankles he'd admired the night before would be left bare. In his opinion, she'd break her neck teetering in those heels, but he wouldn't mind at all if it was his arm she leaned on.
"They're very nice."
"They are, aren't they," she cooed, lightly stroking the satin-covered heel in a way that made Jeremy sweat. "I told you I couldn't swoop in these."