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Eight

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Everyone knew that the first step to getting over a failed relationship--right before eating a pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream and buying a new pair of heels--was the creation of a breakup box.

The time-honored ritual involved gathering every reminder of the relationship and hiding it away out of sight until months or years later when, no longer painful, the box could be opened, smiled over, emptied. Why this was therapeutic she didn't know. Ashleigh might, but she still wasn't answering Liv's calls. She only knew it worked.

After breaking things off with Rob, Liv had gone through her apartment and office picking up all the things that reminded her of him: cocktail napkins and bottle corks, flirty florists cards and scented candles, photographs and slinky pieces of lingerie. She'd put it all in a bankers box and stuffed the box in a corner of her closet behind her luggage where she wouldn't see it until the time was right.

This definitely wasn't the right time. Digging through the detritus of her latest failed relationship held about as much appeal to Liv as a root canal. Unfortunately, it had to be done.

Pushing the luggage aside, she grabbed the box and carried it to the yellow ottoman in the center of the room. She shimmied the top from the box, careful not to ruin the manicure she'd had that afternoon, and set it at her feet.

A wave of revulsion washed over her as the scent of Le Labo Santal 33 hit her nostrils. She'd worn the oh-so-sexy perfume on her assignations with Rob at the Commorant, as much a part of their play as the scanty babydoll nighties he liked her to wear. She pushed aside the silky, gauzy fabrics and felt for the carved, wooden figurine she'd stashed beneath them.

Seven inches tall, the orange-robed figure was seated cross-legged on a lotus flower base. The Hindu goddess held smaller lotus flowers in two hands, a green jewel in a third. From her fourth hand, gold coins spilled into a bowl in her ample lap.

Liv traced a finger over Lakshmi's golden crown. The goddess of wealth and good fortune, Lakshmi glowed with saturated colors of green, orange, pink, and blue beneath the light of the closet's chandelier.

The Lakshmi statue wasn't old or valuable or rare, but she was pretty and cheerful and Liv had been charmed by her. "Sweet," she'd said, cradling the figure in her palms.

"She has your pouty lips."

He'd taken the statue from her hands, placed it on her credenza before pulling her close for a kiss. "Keep her there for good luck. Now come here," he said. "I missed your mouth."

She remembered what happened next. Dammit, now she'd probably have to get rid of that office desk, too.

Liv sighed, wishing she could talk to Ashleigh. Ash would help her put all this into perspective. She frowned. What had she been saying about endometriosis and fertility? She hadn't told Liv that she and Trevor were trying to get pregnant. Or had she?

Liv picked up the Lakshmi from the ottoman, sat down with the statue cradled in her hands. Maybe Ashleigh'd been waiting for the right moment to share, but Liv, always so wrapped up in her stupid drama, never stopped talking long enough to listen. She gazed down at the serene face of the goddess, sent out a little prayer that she'd be able to make things right.

She could live without a boyfriend. She didn't think she could live without her best friend.

Feeling pensive and out of sorts, she wrapped the statue in a couple sheets of that morning's Press Herald, tucked it into a shoe box, and took it out to the kitchen counter. She called a courier service and arranged to have the statue delivered to Rob's office at the bank downtown.

Enough wallowing. She had a case to solve.

She dressed for the day in a pair of slim jeans, a graphic tee, and a blazer. One good thing about having her own business was being able to wear what she wanted, setting her own work hours, and making her own schedule. Nobody told her which cases to take, how to do her work, or questioned her use of time. She answered to nobody but herself--and her clients, of course--and she loved it.

She turned, checked the back of her jeans in the full-length mirror, nodded. As much as she hated the yoga, she loved the results. Her butt had never looked so good. All those minutes in chair pose paid off.

She flicked the light off in the closet and wandered down to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee.

While the coffee brewed, she sat down at the kitchen table and opened her laptop to do a quick search of Mason Falwell's website and social media accounts.

There was little mention of the new book which struck her as odd. A small block on the landing page of his website had a "coming soon" notice with the book's title, but as yet there was no cover or a release date. He didn't keep a blog, but there was a "Books" tab that opened up a page with clickable book covers, ISBN numbers, publication dates, and blurbs. To be thorough, she checked the bio page, the merch page, and the contact page on the off-chance there was something of interest. Nothing jumped out at her.

Liv clicked onto Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads, but Falwell didn't have any accounts. His Amazon bio matched the website's. All in all, his online presence felt dated, tired, slack.

Pondering this, Liv poured herself a mug of coffee, carried it into the sunroom, drank it as she stood at the window looking out over the city. She watched the morning commuter traffic streaming back and forth on I-95 over Tukey's Bridge. A drizzly rain fell, and fog blanketed the peninsula in a gauzy haze.

So, the professor wasn't active on social media. She sipped her coffee and thought about what that meant, if anything. It could be Falwell considered self-promotion tacky or maybe he was just one of those writers who didn't want to deal with the internet. You'd expect with a new book coming out that he would have been doing some sort of promotion, but she really didn't know much about the publishing industry, its marketing norms, and how much promotion the authors were expected to do themselves.

Maybe big names like Falwell were shielded from all that bother, but why wouldn't he hire someone to manage his online presence? It was curious, she thought, but did it really matter?

She'd ask Cooper later, but for now this angle didn't seem worth any further investigation.

The buzzer at her door sounded. She checked the security camera, buzzed the unformed courier in, gave him the Lakshmi statue. When he was gone, she leaned against the door for a moment, closed her eyes, breathed.

Taking note of the time, Liv pushed herself away from the door, went into her bathroom to finish getting ready for work. She stuck some silver hoops in her ears, dabbed a little bit of taupe eyeshadow on her lids, applied mascara. While brushing her teeth, she wandered to the round, porthole window that faced the street. She swiped at the satiny condensation that had formed, looked out.

Slowly, she took the toothbrush from her mouth. Below her and up the hill in front of her nearest neighbor's house, a black SUV idled behind an old red Saab. Scowling, she crossed to the sink, spit, rinsed.

Enough was enough.

She ran out to her entryway, shoved her feet into rainboots, pulled on a jacket and a baseball cap. Easing away from the door, she hugged the side of the house, peeked around the corner. The SUV was partially shielded by the red Saab and positioned so the driver could watch the end of her driveway.

Pulling the bill of her cap low, she slipped around to the back of her building, ran across the backyards of the two houses up the hill, and emerged onto the cross street. Moving quickly, she hung a right and emerged onto her street uphill from the SUV.

She kept her head ducked as she approached the vehicle on the driver's side. Behind the steering wheel a dark-haired man drank from a paper coffee cup and watched her driveway. She reached his window just as he caught sight of her in the rearview mirror. He moved his hand too quickly, nearly spilling his drink. It was almost comical.

She tapped on the window. Face impassive, he rolled it down.

She lifted the bill of her cap so that she could glare at him, eye to eye. He stared back, unperturbed. She glanced past him, caught a glimpse of crumpled fast food wrappers and empty water bottles. Her eyes settled on his face again.

"Who are you and why are you following me?" Liv said.

"Hold on, Ms. Lively." The driver lifted a finger, reached into his pocket, and pulled out a case. He flipped it open to reveal a badge and said, "Colin Snow, FBI. We need to talk."

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