In episode #1, we meet cheater investigator Carter Devlin, who–accompanied by her crazy band of girlfriends–was in the process of getting ready for her next mission.
In this next episode, Carter finds herself face-to-face with her next mission, the devastatingly handsome Kenneth Stevenson, and no matter how cool she tries to play it, she can’t help but to swoon under Kenneth’s gaze.
For a Wednesday night, Satisfaction was live. I managed to find the last spot in the lot to park my black Trailblazer. I could have brought my baby, a vintage green and blue Volkswagen bus, but I thought it would somehow look inappropriate. Does a Blahnik girl drive a VW bus to Satisfaction? If her name was Carter Devlin, she would, but tonight I was a C.I.
It was cool out for an early-April night in Baltimore. Thankfully, it was a short walk from the car to the entrance. I didn’t want to wear anything that would detract from what I was trying to offer Mr. Stevenson. I popped a few more Pepcids from my stash in the glove compartment, then hurried across the street.
The line into Satisfaction was long, but I walked straight up to the bouncer, Danny, a big ol’ bear of a guy at 6’5, 350 pounds.
“Wow, baby,” he said, looking me up and down. “Hot is not even the word to describe you tonight.”
“Thanks, babe,” I said. I jumped up to give Danny a hug. With me being only 5’ 5, I always needed a little run and jump to hug Danny. I ran my hand over his smooth head. I usually wasn’t the type to like bald heads, but on Danny, it fit. He had a perfect head, with no craters and ditches. When people saw him, after his height and size, they were drawn to his slick dome and handsome face, with his pretty blue eyes and long, sweeping lashes. The smile didn’t hurt either.
“On the prowl or at work?” he whispered into my ear.
I leaned back so that he could see me roll my eyes.
He laughed. “Rico came in about ten minutes ago. He said for you to meet him on level 2, at the bar.”
“Good looking out.”
“For my best customers. Go on in. No one as cute as you should be out here waiting.”
“You are too sweet.”
“You say that, but you never say yes to any of my advances.”
I laughed. “Aww, don’t make me feel bad before I go in here. I have to be on my ‘A’ game. Didn’t I set you up with a great girl last week?”
Danny shook his head. “Oh, she was great…and a freaking fruit cake. She talked about her ex all night, and when I said good night to her, she started screaming like a freaking banshee, telling me I didn’t love her anymore.”
I lifted my purse to my face to conceal my smirk.
“One piece of advice,” Danny said, “if you want to set me up on dates, cool. Just make sure you screen your ex-clients before you put them back out on the dating scene.”
I planted a kiss on Danny’s cheek and replied, “I promise.”
I moved toward the door and jumped when I felt a quick smack to my ass.
“What the hell…” I began.
Danny roared in laughter. “Chill, baby,” he said. “Make sure you shake that tonight.” He pointed toward my ass. “We got some good music in there.”
“I’ll shake it at least twice,” I said. “Just for you.”
I blew a kiss to Danny and raced into the club. To call Satisfaction a club was almost an insult. Satisfaction was a four-level ‘facility’ that offered the best in music, entertainment, food, drinks, whatever a person could like…as long as it was legal. Level 2 was the more adult floor of Satisfaction. They played old school music, mostly R&B, soul, and adult contemporary, often had sports (on mute) on the TV screens, and the older crowd came to actually socialize and not just to bump and grind on each other like dogs in heat.
Whenever I came to Satisfaction, which was often, what with the occasional investigation and weekly drinking fares with the girls, I headed to level 2.
The elevator opened on level 2 and Chicago’s “Love Me Tomorrow” welcomed me. I smiled and swayed my way into the room, singing. I instantly saw Rico over at the bar, laughing at me as I danced toward him. I twirled, I did the cha cha, I shimmied. By the time I got to him, I was ready for a seat and a drink.
“For you, Twinkle Toes,” Rico said before presenting me with a cosmopolitan.
“Thank you,” I said. “Is this seat taken?”
“Only by your beautiful self.”
After perching atop of the stool, I crossed my legs and took a sip of my drink.
“You need to be investigating more often, Miss Devlin,” Rico said. “Has Vince seen you like this?”
“Um, no,” I replied as I surveyed the room. Through the crowd of people on the dance floor, I spotted Kenneth across the room at a table with two other men. His eyes were glued on me. I offered him a short smile.
“When was the last time I had to dress up at the office?” I asked.
“I’ll make sure we make that a policy. Somebody about to investigate me in a minute.”
I hit the bar and chuckled. “Rico, hush.”
“Make me about to molest you in here.”
“Rico,” I reprimanded, “don’t make me call Daria and tell her what you…”
“Okay, okay.” He leaned in a bit then scoped the room. “I’m sure Vince wished he could be here.”
“And why is that?”
Rico looked at me and shook his head. “Let’s check your audio.” Rico slipped his fingers into his pants pocket and then inconspicuously placed a wireless piece into his ear.
“Okay.” I looked toward Kenneth, who was still staring my way. “Turn on. This is Investigator Devlin. It’s 9:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 6, and I am at Satisfaction to begin surveillance of Cheater Number 5302.” I finished my cosmo. “How was that?”
“Heard everything, loud and clear.”
“I see everything.”
And though Rico sat there in his black on black suit with seemingly only an earpiece in his ear and a beer in his hand, I believed he could see everything. Between Rico, his gadgets, and our high tech F.A.C.E. van, I knew Rico had it under control.
“Now,” Rico said as he lifted his beer and saluted me with it, “I’m going to go mingle and watch. Be safe.”
“With you around, why would I not be?”
Rico tilted his head toward me and then walked off. He found an empty table on the outskirts of the room and sat and nursed his
“Would you like another drink, pretty lady?”
I swiveled in my seat and came face to face with Sean, my favorite bartender, a big, stocky but cute brother that had muscles for days. I touched his right bicep. He flexed.
“Tell me, Sean,” I said in my sexiest, breathiest voice, “what do you recommend for pretty ladies?”
He leaned against the bar, his face closer to mine. “You always order cosmos or caramel apple martinis.”
I rested my elbows on the bar and propped my head on my hands. “You remember me…and my drinks.”
“Always the pretty ones. How about I fix you up an amaretto sour?”
“Don’t think I’ve had that before.”
“Good. A virgin.”
“You so dirty.”
Sean grinned and walked off, leaving me lusty and slightly in love. It had been a while since my buttons were pushed just right, and after Kenneth’s picture, Danny’s flirts, Rico’s jokes, and Sean’s taunts, I was feeling nothing but ready to meet and sexually greet someone for about an hour, maybe two or three, but I couldn’t. I was on the job. I closed my eyes for a moment, trying to collect my thoughts.
“Um, yes,” I said before turning around. When I did, everything in me went slow. The pictures of Kenneth Stevenson did not do him justice. Seeing him across the room didn’t either. Yes, he could pass for George Clooney’s twin, but I had never been this close to anyone who could even almost pass as Clooney. I kept myself from reaching out and touching his face. It was classically beautiful. He was tanned, like a man who enjoyed outdoor activities. His chin was strong, determined. His brown, slightly graying hair was thick and brushed back, touching ears with kissable lobes. His brown eyes, better than chocolate, and you know that’s saying a lot.
He smiled. Bright, straight teeth gleamed at me. “Is this seat taken?” he asked before trailing his sight down from the seat to my lap, down my legs and to my feet. I swiveled a bit in my seat so that he could get the full view of the gams and shoes.
“No,” I whispered. He finally turned his attention to my face. “It’s not.”
“Are you sure?” He looked around the room and then back to me. “A man was sitting here earlier.”
Rico was nowhere to be found. He knew how to make himself ghost.
“Oh, I have no idea who he was,” I said. “Just someone nice who bought me a drink.”
“Here’s your amaretto sour, love,” Sean said.
I patted his hand lightly before accepting the drink. “Thanks, sweetie.”
“Perhaps I can be someone nice and buy this drink for you,” Kenneth said. “Can I have a gin and tonic, please?”
“Sure thing,” Sean said.
I waved my hand across the empty stool. “Have a seat.”
As Kenneth sat, I took a look at his left hand. Platinum ring on wedding finger. At least he wasn’t trying to hide the fact that he was married. So far he had been more than polite, but that meant nothing. There were a lot of highly polite cheaters in the world; it was part of what made them so good at being cheaters.
Sean returned with the drink, and both Kenneth and I sat facing the bar. Every few seconds, one of us would sip our drink and look up at the TV screen. I gripped my glass and hoped the coolness would somehow seep into my hands and spread out across my body. I dared to look at Kenneth out the corner of my eye and saw his strong fingers wrapped around his glass. I swallowed hard. Typically, I did surveillance, sitting out in cars and vans, taking pictures, sifting through garbage, installing cameras in clients’ homes. I had been on a handful of covert operations, and I had never met a cheater as devastatingly handsome as Cheater Number 5302. He damn near left me motionless.
A full five minutes later, Kenneth reached out his right hand and said, “Kenneth Stevenson, and you are?”
I swiveled a bit in my seat and said, “Cassie Deckart.”
I shook his hand. His grip was firm. The pad of his thumb swiped the hollow between my thumb and index finger. I closed my legs tight as I crossed them again.
Earth, Wind, & Fire’s “Can’t Hide Love” began to play, and I channeled my attention from Cheater Number 5302 (I had to at least pretend I was thinking of Kenneth in working terms) and to the song.
I bobbed my head and sang, “You want my love and you can’t deny. You know it’s true, but you try to hide, yeah.”
“Nice voice,” Kenneth said.
I smiled. “I’m sorry. This is one of my favorite songs.” I took a sip of my drink, and then asked, “So what brings you to Satisfaction tonight, Mr. Stevenson?”
When both Kenneth and I turned to face one another, our knees touched. He didn’t seem to notice, and I could do nothing but.
Get it together, girl, I thought. He ain’t the first guy you’ve met.
No, I inwardly replied to myself, but he damn sure is the finest.
“Sometimes I come out with my co-workers to relax,” he answered. “They’re around here somewhere, trying to make connections.”
“Is that what you’re trying to do?” I asked. “Make a connection?”
His blushing was endearing. He lowered his gaze from me and ran a hand through his hair. On anyone else, the graying would have been aging. On Kenneth, Cheater 5302, it only made him look more distinguished.
He took a peek at my feet before answering, “Not trying to connect in that way. I just saw you and thought we could talk.”
“And what about me, from across the room, made you want to come talk to me?” I teased. “Was it my brain? Wait, wait, wait, it was my sense of humor, wasn’t it?”
Kenneth laughed. “If it wasn’t, then it is now. May I ask a question or two?”
I drained my drink, ordered another, and replied, “Knock yourself out, Mr. Stevenson.”
“What do you do?”
“I’m an aerobics instructor. I run a fitness center here in town that provides nutritional and fitness alternatives to overweight women so that they can stop learn to eat right, exercise, and live their lives.”
Kenneth looked away from me at nothing in particular. He stayed that way for a few seconds before facing me and saying, “They must hate having you around.”
Not the response I expected. Wasn’t sure how to take the comment. I could have easily gotten an attitude. I mean no, I wasn’t one of them waif-thin chicks who bounced around with dental floss up her ass in the gym, but I was very athletic despite my fuller curves. I was sure I could teach him a thing or two about a thing or two. Instead of flaring up, I asked in an even tone, “Why you say that?”
“Have you seen yourself lately? You don’t have a problem at all.”
This was more like the response I expected, but having it come from his mouth made every nerve in my body vibrate. “My dress hides all my so-called flaws.”
“I would gather you have no flaws.”
It was my turn to blush, and I did. Hard. You could fry an egg on each of my cheeks. I squirmed a bit in my seat and used it as an excuse to cross my legs closer to him. My left knee bumped against his right thigh. He glanced at the connection, and then at me.
“You would gather wrong, Mr. Stevenson,” I said. “We all have flaws.”
“Tell me one.”
I leaned back in my chair and gave Kenneth’s face the once-over. He appeared to really want to know, and I needed him to show substantial interest in me, so I answered, “I don’t believe in love.”
I reached in my glass and pulled a cherry out from its stem. I licked the cherry, and then nipped it from the stem. I placed the stem on the napkin and grinned. Kenneth never took his eyes off me.
“You really don’t believe in love?” he asked.
I sipped from my drink and shook my head. Though these C.I. connections started on false pretenses, I always felt the need to add a bit of realism to my performance. How could someone believe I was Cassie Deckart if I didn’t make her real?
So, I told him something true. I didn’t believe in love. I didn’t know how one could be a C.I., a great C.I. and still believe in it. I was always surprised at the fact that Rico and Daria had been together for over six years. But then, he was the only one in the company with a stable relationship.
I could easily blame my cynicism on the job. For almost eight years, I have helped women and men realize that the people they loved were cheaters. I witnessed tears. I saw the hurt and anger. I had to jump in the middle of many a fight between a woman scorned and her “outed” husband, and vice versa.
To some extent, F.A.C.E. helped to fester my belief, but if I wanted to be truthful, it was my mother who decided that she must have my father, who didn’t make her happy AND a bevy of men who she thought could make her happy. I was always the alibi. We were always going to the store. I just don’t remember ever getting to a store. Too many Motel 6, Budget Inn, The Motel signs played in my head during these excursions. Me sitting in the front passenger seat, doors locked, drinking a soda and trying to be a big girl and not cry. A week after each outing, Mom would come into my room and bring me a gift—usually a dress or pens and a new journal. It was her way of thanking me for being a part of the infidelity team.
Of course Kenneth would never know all of this. This would be reserved for after a romantic evening full of wining and dining and mind-blowing sex, sex that could only be given to the person I thought I loved. I didn’t believe in love. I didn’t date perps. Good ol’ Mom would stay in my head for forever.
“I haven’t really found a relationship, in my life or in my friends’ and family’s lives that has worked,” I finally added. He didn’t have to know that Rico and Daria were freaks of nature.
“That’s sad,” Kenneth said.
In a way, I mean, if you believed in love and all, I guess it was sad.
“You’ll believe,” Kenneth said after finishing his drink.
“How you figure?”
Kenneth gave me a crooked smile. “Someone will make you change your mind.”
“I might have to bet you on that.” I traipsed my fingertips along the knuckles on Kenneth’s left hand. I rested my index finger on the edge of his wedding band. He never flinched. “So what’s one of your flaws?”
Kenneth closed his eyes, then opened them, gazed at me, and asked, “Care to dance?”
The question threw me.
“I like this rendition of ‘Stay in My Corner’,” Kenneth added.
He stood and raised his hand to me.
At once, I had churning in my belly, flutters in my chest, and wooziness in my head. I leaned against the bar and stared at him. His royal blue shirt played nicely against his tanned face. After pausing long enough to remove my bad, anxious nerves, I took Kenneth’s hand and responded, “A dance would be nice.”
Kenneth led me to a small space on the dance floor and pulled me into his arms.
My face fit right in the crook of Kenneth’s neck. I could smell the rich aroma of his cologne intermingled with the skin of his neck. Each of the fingers on his right hand pressed against my lower back; his other hand enveloped mine. He had rhythm. Good rhythm that led me across our little space on the floor.
I tried to take my mind off the dance and spy for Rico, but I couldn’t find him. What I found instead was Kenneth’s steady heartbeat thrumming from his neck to my left temple.
Inwardly, I shuddered from hair follicle to soles of feet. Everything I expected him to do—grind up on me, ‘grow’ in anticipation, moan, tell me how good I felt—he did none of it, but I sure as hell wanted to tell someone about how affected I was. I was in swoon mode, and then Patti had to hit that damn 23-second-long stay in the song.
I stumbled closer to Kenneth.
“Sorry,” I mumbled into his neck.
“It’s okay,” he whispered.
Just the brief contact of my lips on his neck made me want to just sample a kiss from his neck, or maybe behind his right ear, a personal favorite spot of mine. I hoped he couldn’t feel the stiffening of my nipples against his chest. He wasn’t wearing a suit jacket. There was just the thin material of my dress against his shirt.
He’s a cheater, I told myself. God damn it, get a freaking grip.
But I couldn’t. Patti’s high, powerful voice, her begging her man to stay in her corner. Kenneth’s fingers on my back. My breasts against his chest. His heartbeat on my temple. I was affected. Or infected. I couldn’t figure out which.
Infected, I decided. I closed my eyes tight. I stopped letting Kenneth’s smell infiltrate me. I refused to let the warmth of his body or our connected rhythms sway me. Instead, I thought about a ten-year-old Carter sitting in the back of a station wagon while her mother drove her and her latest to Days Inn.
Not one of those cheap places this time, her mother said. He’s classy. He’s going to take me away and we’re going to be happy for forever. Carter nodded and drank her grape soda.
He kissed her. Before they got out the car, the “latest” leaned over to the driver’s side and kissed Carter’s mother square on the mouth. Carter had never actually seen another man touch or kiss her mother. She wasted her soda down the front of her t-shirt as she watched. Her mother didn’t bat the guy away, didn’t tell him how inappropriate he was. Carter knew then that her mother wasn’t running and hiding in shitty motels out of embarrassment for what she was doing. Her mother didn’t really care if Carter saw. She didn’t really care what Carter thought; she just needed a patsy to join in on her secret club.
Her mother didn’t know that Carter had remembered every man, by face and by name, had decided that she would never be like her mother. In fact, Carter would end up the exact opposite of her mother; she would stop wanting, would never really begin looking or hoping to find her own love for fear of wanting too much and from too many men.
Thinking about Carter made me, Cassie, stiffen up. Even Patti’s guttural cries of love and stay and forever couldn’t affect me when Carter was in the picture. Carter kept me as Cassie in check—kept me from falling and wanting…and she couldn’t have done it at a better time.
I was just about to step out of Kenneth’s arms and thank him for the dance when Kenneth stopped us.
Beside us stood two men who smiled at me and gave Kenneth knowing, you-done-good looks.
“We’re about to leave, Ken,” one of the guys said. “You coming?”
“Be right there,” he said.
We watched the men walk off, and then Kenneth turned to me and said, “I really enjoyed the dance, Cassie.”
“I did, too. Thank you.”
He dug into his shirt pocket and pulled out a few business cards.
“If I gave you this, would you call me sometime if you wanted to get together?”
I raised my eyebrow. “Get together?” I asked.
“Maybe go to an art museum or a movie.” He shrugged. “Just go out, like friends do.”
I dug into my purse and pulled out a card. “If you take mine, I’ll take yours.”
“One Body,” he read. “Catchy name.”
“Well, we only get one body. We need to take care of it as long as God gives us the opportunity to do so.”
Kenneth smiled, nodded. “I have to go, but please, consider calling me, Cassie.”
“I will. And you, too.”
We shook hands, and Kenneth walked away and disappeared through a door with his friends.
“Get together as friends?” I muttered aloud. “A handshake good night?” I stopped reading his card long enough to moan and say, “Damn, he didn’t tell me his flaw.”
I stood there, dumbfounded, yet happy that the heat pulsating throughout my body was dissipating. A cold shower was probably in order once I got home.
Someone sidled up behind me. From the cologne and the pattern of breathing, I knew it was Rico.
“Interesting,” he said.
I wouldn’t turn around. I knew I had acted an ass tonight. Like a teenage girl falling head over stupid heels in idiotic love. I didn’t need Rico’s chastisement. I would chastise myself enough tonight.
“Please, Rico,” I said. A lump formed in my throat and my eyes began to water. I was breaking down in the middle of a club. This was insane. I sucked the tears back, but the lump remained, threatening to break loose and make its own tears.
“The jury’s still out on if this guy’s a cheater,” Rico said.
“I know,” I whispered.
“You sure fall hard for a chick who proclaims not to fall at all.”
When I looked his way, something in my eyes must have shut him right up, for he lowered his gaze a moment before looking back at me.
“I know I fucked up, Rico,” I said. “I don’t know why. It won’t happen again.”
“Unfortunately, you’ll have to hear it from Vince tomorrow. Anyone who sees what I saw won’t be happy. He might pull you from the case.”
“How could he? There’s only Raven and me, and I’m the only one that looks like Cynthia Stevenson.”
“He could easily put someone on stake out, Cee. We thought this guy would flip on the first meeting. Vince thought this would be over tonight.”
I sighed. Tomorrow, I would go back to sweats and tennis shoes and driving around in one of the company cars, taking pictures and tracking cheaters. Not a bad gig, but I wanted this one.
“Maybe I can convince him to let me stay on,” I said.
Rico playfully punched my chin.
“You knocked yourself out with this, bella,” he said. “If you can convince Vince to let you stay on, you’re better than I thought.”
Rico put his fist out to me, and I tapped it with one of my own.
“Night,” he said. “See you bright and early at the office.”
I watched him stroll away from me, and all I could think about was how to convince Vince to let me stay on this case. Three cold showers and five prayers were what I needed when I arrived home because somehow, I would push the enticing thoughts of the night out of my mind and make sure Vince knew that Kenneth Stevenson was Cheater Number 5302 to me, no ifs, ands, or buts.
What happens next? Come back next month to find out!