Paid Luck

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"Six weeks. Six goddamn weeks. Children all over the country go missing every few seconds, but the whole world has to stop for a journalist who's run off," Georgia Battle, ex-cop turned Private Investigator grumbled to herself for what was probably the hundredth time that hour. She tried to shift in her car seat, looking for the sweet spot that would keep her ass from going numb. Whoever said stakeouts were fun could swallow a cactus.

It was cold. Damn cold. Too damn cold to be cooped up in an old blue Chevy without the engine running or the heat on. No use wasting gas when all she was going to do was sit and watch. Ensconced in a thick thermal coat, gloves, and beanie, Georgia fought to keep from shivering, the chemical hand warmers shoved into her gloves starting to lose their edge.

She blew out a breath that steamed, sipping from her thermos and wincing at the lukewarm contents. Was nothing warm in this city? "Why am I doing this? Oh, that's right. The money's good. So good it's 'get your business off the ground and buy a new car' good."

Reaching over, Georgia snagged a handful of goldfish crackers from the plastic bag wedged in her cup holder and popped them into her mouth, chewing while keeping her eyes trained on the building she was stationed outside of.

She'd seen the news when all this went down. Who hadn't? Renowned journalist gone missing. Manhunt underway. At least, that's how it went those first two weeks. Georgia remembered seeing the fliers and hearing the news reports. The speculation handed down by media pundits extrapolating how someone could just leave the face of the earth without a trace. People were worried. The political climate wasn't exactly friendly. Not with the Towers having fallen two years prior and the Afghanistan war effort now in full swing. There were a lot of people throwing around words like "terrorist cells" and "infiltration." Georgia had her own theories about what happened. Alexandra Bailey wasn't exactly neck-deep in digging up damning information on Al-Qaeda. Her areas of journalism tended to have more domestic roots, but anything was possible.

It did, however, come as a surprise when Christopher Bailey descended from his high throne in Washington D.C. to seek Georgia out and hire her. He claimed she was the best in the business, which Georgia knew was bullshit, but she wouldn't refute that to the man's face. There were plenty of other private investigators chomping at the bit to be a part of this. Likely, he drew her name out of a hat and just went with it, but she wouldn't complain. The Baileys were loaded.

"Rich girl isn't coming back," she mumbled between bites, picking up the conversation she was having with herself. It was a great way to pass the time even if it made her look a little loose in the head. "Rich girl probably ended up in the river because she stuck her nose in someone else's business. That's what you get for being a journalist, but that's not my problem."

Finishing her less than nutritious meal, Georgia reached for her coffee again when movement caught her attention. It wasn't anything unusual or particularly brow wrinkling. This was New York; there were people coming and going everywhere at all times. But this person looked like a rabbit flushed from under a bush. People didn't look like that without a reason, and people didn't usually run out in front of oncoming traffic — getting shouts and honks from startled motorists — without a good reason either.

"What's your problem, little miss?" Georgia muttered, brown eyes tracking the figure as it made a mad dash for the apartment building across from her. Something about this ignited sparks between her shoulder blades. Digging out her binoculars, she held them up and focused the knob. She froze, then looked again more closely, heart taking off like a 747.

"Holy fucking shit!"

No way, no possible way her luck was this good, but it couldn't be anyone else. She had been looking between the missing person's flier and the picture pinned to her visor for six weeks. That was Alexandra Bailey.

A thousand and one questions popped off like flashbulbs. Namely, where the hell had Alex been, and why she was showing up now?

Georgia put her thoughts on hold, kicking open the car door and carefully making her way across the street. It was easier to look at the woman now that there wasn't a windshield between them, and her instincts were spot on as usual. That was Alex Bailey, though there were clearly marked differences between the circulating media photos and the woman on the sidewalk. Alex's clothes were a well-worn kind of second hand and a bit too small for her figure. She also seemed to have lost a considerable amount of weight, which for someone her size, raised more than a few concerns.

What, exactly, was happening here?

"Alexandra Bailey?" Georgia called when she moved close enough her voice would carry without shouting, keeping a cautious eye on her surroundings. Missing persons didn't just show up out of the clear blue sky at their place of residence. Not in this city and not without a reason. Without the ability to tell if this resurfacing was nefarious or not, Georgia kept her hand on her concealed pistol while the other dug out her license.

Truth be told, she didn't know what to expect, so when Alex whirled with a hand out to stave off whoever was behind her while the other clutched the front of her worn hoodie, Georgia knew this whole situation was going to be like an onion. Stinky and layered.

"Hey, hey, easy. You're okay," Georgia soothed, putting out a forestalling hand. "My name is Georgia Battle. I'm a Private Investigator hired six weeks ago by your father to find you."

Alex didn't seem remotely convinced. The poor thing looked absolutely traumatized, and it didn't take a genius to see why. Most of the bruising on Alex's face had faded or were faint yellow patches, but Georgia couldn't help notice how the woman's hand drifted to her left side almost like she was covering something sensitive.

"Miss Bailey, are you all right? Are you in any kind of —" She didn't get a chance to draw breath to finish her sentence. Alex bolted. "Hey! Do not make me chase you!"

Showing no sign of slowing, Georgia took chase lest she lose her mark after just making contact. By right, her job was done, but she had to actually deliver the woman to the police or Alex's father before any kind of final payment would be exchanged.

"Fuck my life! Just, fuck it."

Running after so many hours sedentary was like trying to get a car to turn over in the cold. Georgia forced her legs to cooperate, stumbling only a few times before the movement warmed her muscles. In just a few strides she was almost on top of Alex, managing to snag the woman's thin wrist when she tried to swing around a corner. The flush of victory, however, came to an abrupt end when a fist connected with the bridge of Georgia's nose, making the world flash white. Stunned, she let go, blind from involuntary tears and the sudden wash of blood painting her upper lip.

"Jesus!" she swore when the pain kicked in. Leaning heavily against the brick wall beside her, fingers pinching her bleeding nose, Georgia helplessly watched Alex disappear around a corner. Just like that, her query was gone...again.

"She actually got the drop on me. Damn, I'm getting rusty." Scrunching her wide nose to make sure it wasn't broken, she spat blood and exhaled a great puff of steam like hitting the reset button. "Is the money that good?" A brief pause to consider. "Hell yeah, it is."

Returning to her car, Georgia cleaned herself up as much as possible. No use crying about the blood on her jacket. She could buy another one when Christopher Bailey's payment went through because it was going through. She hadn't wasted six weeks of her life just to lose Alex in the clutch. Fuck that.

So now came the planning. Alex was obviously alive and well — or at least well enough to take a swing at someone. Georgia should have made the call to the NYPD and let them know what she found, but without a body physically in front of her, she wasn't about to do anything until she could get Alex cornered. As cliche as it sounded, tipping off the boys-in-blue could lead to a sticky situation if someone unsavory was listening in. Plus, this was her mark. Best to play it safe. Georgia would wait, knowing it wouldn't take long for Alex to resurface again. This was home, this was familiarity, and she recognized that desperate burn in the other woman the moment she set eyes on her.

Alex wanted to go home, so home was where Georgia would wait.

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