The Hitwoman Hires a Manny
Confessions of a Slightly Neurotic Hitwoman Book 11
Inept hitwoman Maggie Lee has a lot to juggle.
She’s about to start a new job, her niece, Katie, who she is responsible for, is finally coming home from the hospital, and her ever “helpful” aunt has hired someone to help with her care.
Fresh out of the Navy, Angel Delveccio is not anyone’s idea of a typical nanny.
Which is convenient, considering Maggie’s life is anything but typical.
With the help of her snarky lizard, moody cat, and goofy dog, Maggie tries to solve the cold case of her sister’s disappearance, while contending with the present day threat of a violent ex-con, all while playing instant “mom” and trying to ease Katie’s transition into her new home.
Can Maggie juggle it all? Or will all of these distractions prove to be deadly?
You know it’s going to be a bad day when you get smacked in the face with a thong.
I hadn’t even worked an hour at my Aunt Loretta’s lingerie shop, The Corset, when someone decided a pink, lacy thong would make the ideal slingshot. I tried to remind myself that the customer is always right as the sound of annoying tittering laughter reached me. I took a deep breath and bent to pick up the launched underwear. I exhaled slowly, as I stood back up, pasting a smile on my face for the benefit of the bridal party that had taken over the store.
“I take it someone wants these?”
The maid of honor, Tiffany, shook her head. “I think she should get something more risqué.”
I glanced down at the scrap of pink lace hanging from my fingers. “We have the same thing in black.”
“I was thinking more like edible.”
Tiffany and her three cohorts giggled like teenagers, despite the fact they hadn’t been for at least three decades.
I could feel the edges of my fake smile fraying, and I searched the store, hoping Aunt Loretta would take over. This was her store. These were her tribe. For a part-time job, I’ve been known to kill people, not consult on their unmentionables.
Normally Loretta would have descended on these shoppers quicker than flies land on roadkill, but, having claimed that an unpleasant man had accosted her in the parking lot, she’d gone in the back to collect herself.
Like a sinful fairy godmother, Loretta, in a push-up bra, stilettos, and fake eyelashes, appeared between the racks. “If you’re looking for edible,” she trilled happily, “you have to try these.”
I turned away before I could find out what “these” were. I was pretty sure I didn’t want to know.
“Would you like to taste a sample?” Loretta offered, as the horny foursome hurried in her direction.
While they were distracted, I ducked down behind the counter. It was a childish move, but after 45 minutes of my first shift at this job, I was ready to quit.
I could hear chuckling coming from my chest, but I wasn’t laughing. Plucking at my collar, I pulled the fabric away from my skin so that I could look down my shirt. I glared at the anole lizard cradled between my breasts.
“Stop, please,” I hissed.
Godzilla, or God for short, instead said, “You really are not cut out for this job.”
“That’s what I told everyone,” I whispered. But no one had listened. Loretta was short-handed and I’d quit my job at Insuring the Future and had extra time, so everyone decided that I should help out at her shop.
I let go of my shirt, plunging God into darkness, as the shop’s telephone began to ring. I made a mad dive for it, almost spilling the bowl of dark chocolate and salted caramel-flavored condoms strategically placed in front of the cash register. I knew if I didn’t get the phone, Loretta would leave the customers.
Snatching it up, I answered. “Thank you for calling The Corset. Love, sex, romance, and a little bit of naughtiness, in one garment.”
All I heard on the other end of the call was wheezing. I didn’t know if that was someone’s version of heavy breathing, or if they just had a deviated septum. I grit my teeth. “Can I help you?”
The caller exploded into gales of laughter. The wheezing, must’ve been the man attempting to control himself. I closed my eyes, curling my free hand into a fist. If I had thought dealing with customers at my job at Insuring the Future was infuriating, interacting with the public at The Corset, was a whole other level of hell. If it was up to me, I’d hang up on the giggling jerk, but I didn’t think Aunt Loretta would approve. So I just waited to see if he would say anything.
“I’m sorry, Maggie,” the man said finally.
His voice was familiar but I couldn’t place it. “Who is this?”
“Jack Stern?” My heartbeat sped up a little. It had been a while since I’ve spoken with the crime reporter. He’d disappeared after following me on my rescue mission to save my friend Armani from kidnappers.
“At your service,” he chuckled.
I wanted to ask him where he’d been, why it seemed he’d fallen off the face of the planet, but I didn’t think it wise considering I was pretty sure that Ms. Whitehat had been responsible for his whereabouts. I didn’t trust the woman who blackmailed me into doing jobs for her, despite the fact she had sent people to rescue me on more than one occasion.
“Was there something you wanted?” I glanced back at Loretta, who was showing the bridal party something made of rubber. I didn’t really want to know what it was, so I turned my back on them and concentrated on the conversation. “The Corset has a wide variety of sexual aids,” I told Jack. “If there’s something you need help with…”
“You really should work on your bedside manner,” he teased. “Your love, sex, romance bit wasn’t terribly convincing.”
“Seriously, Jack, why are you calling?”
“I’d like to see you.” All trace of levity had left his voice.
I got the distinct impression he was now in work mode.
“Why?” A knot of worry tightened in my gut. He knew Patrick. Did he suspect that my murder mentor/boyfriend had been responsible for a certain deadly car accident?
“It’s about your family.”
That didn’t ease my anxiety. My family had a knack for getting into trouble. Trouble I didn’t need a reporter publicizing. I bit my lower lip, unsure of how to answer Jack.
“It’s important, Maggie,” he said after my hesitation stretched too long.
I sighed, resigned to the idea that even though I didn’t want to have whatever this conversation was going to be, I had no choice. “When?”
“Are you going to the hospital today?”
“Yes. I’ll be there around…” I turned to see how the bridal shower group was doing. Aunt Loretta was piling plastic wrapped doodads into the shopping baskets the women held. That had to mean they were almost done. I looked at the clock and saw it was 3:30. Loretta had said I could leave at four provided the shop wasn’t busy then. “I’ll be there around 4:30.”
“And you visit with your niece for an hour?”
“Yes.” It was kind of creepy how well he seemed to know my schedule.
“Okay, so how about we meet in the cafeteria between 5:30 and 6? I’ll buy you dinner. Anything you want.”
“I’m going to expense it,” he laughed. “See you then.” He disconnected the call.
I spent the next half hour hurriedly finishing up my work while Loretta rang up the sales of the bridal party, throwing in some of those chocolate-flavored condoms as a “free gift”.
The silence after the four women had left was the best thing I’d heard in ages.
Just as the clock reached four, Templeton, Aunt Loretta’s fiancé strolled through the door.
“You are prompt,” Loretta trilled. “That’s why I like you.”
“I hope that’s not the only reason,” Templeton said, winking at me, and making a shooing motion to encourage my escape.
“Oh,” Loretta purred seductively. “There are many other things I like. Come here and I’ll show you.”
I beat a hasty retreat before she could show him what those things were and permanently traumatize me.
Little did I know that when I arrived at the hospital, I would be traumatized anyway.
My niece, Katie, wasn’t in her room when I arrived. Neither was her roommate, Dominic, who’d only recently awakened from his coma. Since there was no one there, I settled into the visitor’s chair, closed my eyes, and tried to nap for a few minutes. I didn’t think I had dozed off, but when I opened my eyes I found I was no longer alone.
My stomach flip-flopped nervously, and I sat up straight, my heart pounding double-time at the man’s unnerving stare. “I didn’t hear you come in.”
“That’s because you were snoring.”
“Really?” I wasn’t sure if I was more surprised or embarrassed by that revelation. Either way, I wasn’t pleased that I had left myself vulnerable to this particular man.
I didn’t like Vinny, Tony/Anthony Delveccio’s bodyguard. The steroid-fueled, muscle-bound, henchman of the mob boss who gave me my assassination jobs, made me nervous.
Not wanting him to think he had the advantage, I leaned back nonchalantly and asked, “Where’s the kid?”
“Boss took them both for ice cream.”
“Don’t get your panties in a twist, they’re just in the cafeteria.”
I wanted to slap the smirk off Vinny’s face, instead I asked, “How come you’re not with them?”
His eyes narrowed as though I’d touched on a sensitive subject. “What business is it of yours?”
I shrugged and got to my feet. “I guess I’ll go find them there.”
He didn’t reply, but he did step aside so that I could leave the room.
I practically ran to the cafeteria, not because I was worried about Katie’s safety while in the company of a mobster, but because the last thing I needed was for a nosy crime reporter to see said mobster babysitting my niece.
“What’s the rush?” God complained.
No doubt my pace jostled him in his resting place.
“Are you trying to bruise my delicate skin?”
Since there were people around, I didn’t answer him. I also did my best to ignore the way they stared at me as my chest continued to squeak.
While I hear God as a snooty Englishman, all the rest of the world hears is squeaking when he speaks.
To my relief, Jack Stern wasn’t in the cafeteria when I reached it. In a back corner, Tony Delveccio sat with the two kids. His grandson, Dominic, was propped up in a wheelchair.
My beautiful niece Katie sat in a plastic chair, chattering away, while simultaneously licking a vanilla ice cream cone.
Tony, shirt unbuttoned halfway to his naval, was carefully spooning chocolate ice cream into Dominic’s mouth, looking every bit the doting grandfather. In moments like this it was easy to forget that he was a dangerous criminal.
I hurried toward them, but was intercepted by a man who stepped into my path. I recognized him as Tony’s backup bodyguard. I actually liked this man a lot more than Vinny. He didn’t have the same maliciousness shining in his gaze, and I’ve even witnessed him being kind to Katie on occasion.
I gave him a tight smile. “Hi, I’m Katie’s – –”
“I know who you are.” He sounded amused that I had been about to explain myself. He pitched his voice lower. “I just wanted to tell you that he got her the low sugar ice cream.”
I blinked. Was that some kind of code? Like when Vinny tells me that Delveccio wants to have some chocolate pudding, that really means he wants to give me an assassination job.
I guess my confusion showed on my face, because the more likable bodyguard told me, “That’s a good thing. It means she won’t be bouncing off the walls.”
Deciding to take his words at face value, I nodded. “Thanks.”
He stepped aside so I could continue. Little Dominic’s eyes lit up as he spotted me, alerting his grandfather to my presence.
Tony turned and smiled at me. “Ice cream?”
“Aunt Maggie!” Katie called, waving at me with her ice cream cone. “Look what Mr. D. got me.”
“Did you thank him?” I slid into the seat beside her, and pressed a kiss to her cheek.
She nodded, licking her cone for emphasis.
I look to Delveccio for confirmation.
“She certainly did.” He offered another spoonful of ice cream to Dominic, but the little boy shook his head.
Remembering how long it’d been before Katie had been allowed to have real food after she’d been in a coma, I asked, “Does his doctor know about this little outing?”
The mobster’s eyes narrowed a little bit, but a hint of a smile played at his lips. “That’s why I like you. You always say what you think.” He wagged his finger at me. “But someday that may get you in trouble.”
I shrugged apologetically.
“Ooooh.” Kati shook her head. “Maggie’s in trouble. I’m going to tell Aunt Susan.”
She sounded so much like my sister Teresa, her mother, had at the same age, that I couldn’t help but laugh. At the same time, tears stung my eyes, as I was hit once again by the loss of my sister.
Afraid I was really going to lose it, as I laughed and cried simultaneously, I jumped up from the table. “I’m going to get my own ice cream.” I stumbled away, hand covering my mouth, trying to get control of myself.
I was aware of Delveccio murmuring reassuringly, but I wasn’t sure if he was telling Katie, or his bodyguard, that everything was okay.
I stumbled out into the hallway, not wanting Katie to witness my breakdown. In that moment I missed Teresa so much that my chest ached. That’s the thing with grief, you think you’re over something, past it, and all of the sudden it strikes out of nowhere, stealing your logic, breaking your heart all over again.
Tears stung my eyes, and I couldn’t quite see where I was going, which is how I stumbled into a man.
“What’s wrong?” a familiar, gravelly voice demanded to know, his fingers digging into my elbows, and attempting to keep me upright.
“She’s dead,” I wailed on a sobbing gasp.
He crushed me to his chest, pressing my cheek against leather. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
I cried harder. I missed Teresa so much.
To his credit, Jack Stern didn’t pull away. He let me cry into his leather jacket, as stoic as a seawall in the midst of a hurricane.
Finally, when my tears had slowed, and I wasn’t struggling to breathe, I pulled away from him.
He let me go, but hovered anxiously, as though he expected me to collapse at any moment. “How?” he asked gently.
“You know how.” I grit my teeth as the memory of waking up from the car accident, and being told Teresa was gone, washed over me.
“I don’t,” he said softly.
For the first time, I raised my gaze to meet his. “The car accident.”
He squinted, trying to make sense of what I was telling him. Leaning back, folding his arms across his chest, he asked carefully, “Who died?”
He let out a relieved sigh. “I thought something happened to your niece.”
Suddenly I felt like the world’s biggest idiot. I’d been blubbering all over him like a mad woman. No wonder he’d assumed that something had happened to Katie.
I shook my head. “She’s fine.”
He nodded. “That’s good news.”
“You must think I’m insane.”
A hint of a smile played at his lips. “I’ve researched your family. You have reason to be.”
I couldn’t help but chuckle. Wiping the remainder of my tears away, I dried my hands on my jeans. “Coconut doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
He raised an eye at my father’s old joke, then leaned his shoulder against the wall, as though too exhausted to hold himself up anymore. “How are you?”
He raised his eyebrows, silently letting me know that my crying jag disputed my words. “I was worried about you after what happened in Pennsylvania.”
I shrugged, and looked away. “All’s well that ends well.”
“Strange forces were at work up there.”
I stared at the floor, not wanting to look into his eyes. He was fishing. Trying to figure out what had happened when I attempted to rescue Armani from her kidnappers. It was safer that he didn’t know.
I wasn’t sure he’d believe me about the secret ninjas anyway.
A long silence stretched uncomfortably between us. I shifted my weight from one foot to the other, trying to figure out how to change the topic of conversation.
“Your friend is okay?” he asked finally.
“You’re not going to say anything about it?” Frustration made his voice even deeper than usual.
I shrugged. Still avoiding his gaze. “What is it you want me to say?”
“An explanation would be nice.”
I remembered Armani telling me that Ms. Whitehat had forbidden her to talk about what had happened. I wondered if Jack had gotten the same instruction. “I’m sorry you got dragged into that.”
“Nobody dragged me into anything. I’m the one that followed you up there. I’m just asking for an explanation as to what the hell happened.” He pushed himself away from the wall and towered over me, as though he thought I’d be intimidated enough to actually give the answer he was searching for.
“I’m not sure I even know,” I muttered. That was the truth. Armani had been kidnapped, I’d tried to rescue her from the O’Hara crime family, but it had been Ms. Whitehat’s black-clad ninjas that had ultimately saved the day.
He put his hands on his hips, and leaned closer, dark eyes glittering as he searched my face. “They scared you into silence too, didn’t they?” I wasn’t sure if I heard accusation or pity in his voice.
Deciding that the safest thing I could do was remain silent, I lifted a shoulder and stared down at the ground.
“Miss Lee?” Another man’s voice interrupted the conversation from behind Jack.
I looked toward its source, desperate to extricate myself from the conversation with Jack. The reporter didn’t want to be interrupted. He stepped closer to me, to block my view of the other man.
“Everything okay?” the other man asked, a forced note of cheerfulness in his tone, as he stepped around Jack so that I could see him.
Angel Delveccio, tall, dark and brawny was watching me with concern.
We’d first met at the mental health facility where my mother and his cousin reside. He’d been kind enough to use his bulging biceps to change my flat tire. We’d sort of hit it off, but then I found out that he’s the nephew of my favorite mobster.
As seemed to usually be the case, the former sailor was wearing a Navy shirt.
I wondered whether that was his way of declaring an identity separate from that of his crime-loving family.
“She’s fine, buddy,” Jack growled.
Looking from Jack’s frustrated face, to the concern on Angel’s, my gut flip-flopped nervously. The last thing I needed was for these two men to get into a fight over me. It couldn’t end well.
While Jack had the life-hardened edges of a crime reporter, I was pretty sure he was no match for Angel, who I’d seen toss a car tire like it was a frisbee.
Needing to diffuse the situation, I struggled to come up with a smile for Angel. “I’m fine.”
Angel looked from me to Jack, and back to me, as though deciding whether or not to believe me.
“Then I apologize for interrupting,” Angel said smoothly. “If you do decide you need me, I’ll be in there.” He moved past us into the cafeteria.
Before Jack could start asking me again about the fiasco in Pennsylvania, I went on the offensive. “Why did you want to meet? You said it had something to do with my family.”
Jack stared at me, assessing. Then he shook his head, his mouth a flat grim line. “Now’s not the time.” He turned to walk away.
“What do you mean now’s not the time?” I called after him.
He didn’t answer, just waved a hand, and kept walking.
I watched him disappear from sight, wondering what kind of game he was playing. The fact that he was jerking me around made me angry. I had enough to contend with, without his games. Not the least of which was explaining to Katie what had just happened, and dealing with Angel.
I took a couple of deep steadying breaths, threw my shoulders back, and marched back into the cafeteria, head held high, determined to fool Katie into thinking everything was okay.
Delveccio’s gaze was sharp as it settled on my face.
“Sorry about that,” I said breezily, settling back into my seat beside Katie. “It’s been a crazy day.” I hated the wide-eyed, worried gaze of my niece. She had enough problems, I didn’t need to add to them. I kissed the top of her head. “Trust me, if you’d spent time with Aunt Loretta, you’d be stressed out too.”
“Did she make you play dress-up?” Katie asked innocently. “Mommy didn’t like it when she made her play dress-up.”
I ruffled her hair. “Something like that.”
She nodded as though she understood, returning her concentration to eating her ice cream cone.
I marveled at the resilience of children.
I met Delveccio’s gaze over the table. I wanted to assure him that I was okay, that I wasn’t losing it, that he had no reason to worry about my stability. If a mobster thought someone was mentally unstable they might want to get rid of them.
“Your sister?” he asked.
“What she said before,” he jerked his head in the direction of Katie, “she reminded you of your sister?”
Dumbfounded by his perception, I nodded.
He glanced affectionately at Dominic, who’d fallen asleep in his wheelchair, his head hanging. “He does the same thing sometimes,” Delveccio said sadly. “Sounds just like his mother at the same age.”
My eyes welled with tears again, but this time it wasn’t pain causing them, it was gratitude that someone understood.
“There’s no shame in loving deeply.” The mobster reached out and rested a hand on his grandson’s shoulder.
“How’s everyone doing?” Angel asked from behind me.
I blinked away my tears while his uncle answered.
“We’ve had ice cream,” Delveccio said lightly. “How bad could the day be?”
Grabbing a chair with one hand, Angel slid it over and placed it at the end of the table. Settling himself into it, he dug into a fruit salad.
I wasn’t sure whether I appreciated his willpower to pass up a sweet snack, or if I disliked him for it.
“How’s little guy doing?” Angel asked.
“Doctor says his recovery is nothing less than a miracle,” the mobster said proudly. “He’s a tough kid.”
Angel’s gaze slid from Dominic to Katie. “And what about you, Little Miss?”
Katie couldn’t answer because she’d just shoved the remainder of her ice cream cone into her mouth, so she gave him an enthusiastic thumbs-up.
I picked up a napkin from the pile in the center of the table, and wiped her chin, which was covered with chocolate. “Thanks so much for getting her out of the room for a while, Mr. D.” I stood up, eager to get away from Angel, even though he hadn’t even looked at me. Being around him made me feel as nervous as I had when I’d attended my first junior high dance. “We should get back.”
“But – –” Katie began to protest.
“You have PT in 15 minutes,” I told her firmly. Suddenly I realized I didn’t see a second wheelchair. “How’d you get down here?”
“I walked halfway, and Mr. D carried me the rest of the way,” Katie replied matter-of-factly.
I looked to the lifelong criminal for confirmation.
He nodded. “She’s getting stronger every day.”
“I can carry her for you,” Angel offered, putting down his virtuous fruit, and getting to his feet.
“I can do it.”
My tone must’ve been sharper than I intended, because both Katie and Angel looked worried.
“She’s my responsibility,” I explained. Softening my tone, I added, “But thanks for the offer.”
Angel sat back down, his expression unreadable.
I wondered if I’d offended the macho man by telling him I didn’t need his brute strength.
“It’s a pretty long walk,” Delveccio warned.
“I can handle it.” To prove my point, I scooped Katie up out of the chair, snuggling her to me. “Ready, baby girl?”
“Ready.” She waved to the two men. “See you later.”
I walked away, clutching her to me. I felt strong at the beginning of the trip back to her room, but by the end, my arms ached, and I sort of wished I’d taken Angel up on his offer, but when I got back to the room and found Jack leaning against the wall opposite the door, I was glad I hadn’t.
Jack and Vinny, the bodyguard, silently faced off against each other, looking like two mountain rams ready to lock horns.
Like Angel, I was pretty sure that steroid-pumped Vinny could crush Jack like a beer can, but the reporter’s safety wasn’t my main concern. Katie was.
“Excuse me,” I said loudly, making sure I had Vinny’s attention.
Sure he hates me, but I knew he wouldn’t cross his boss and make a move against me, especially when Katie was involved. I held his gaze while I walked between the two men and carried my niece into her room.
Putting her down on the bed, I said, “I’m going to leave when they come to take you to PT.”
She nodded her understanding. “Two more days, right?”
“You bet.” I smiled, ignoring the terror that clawed on my chest at the idea that in two days I’d be bringing her home to the B&B. “Aunt Leslie will have dinner with you tonight.”
Katie clapped her hands. “Yay! She always brings me a cookie, but,” she leaned closer to confide, “she won’t give it to me if Aunt Susan is here.”
I bit back a smile. Some things never changed. Leslie had been the one to sneak us kids cookies when I was Katie’s age, while Susan was the ‘mean’ aunt who’d made us eat our vegetables.
The orderly, a slight young woman who didn’t look strong enough to do her job, walked in, pushing a wheelchair. “Ready, kiddo?”
“You bet!” Katie jumped off the bed, forgetting that she still wasn’t strong enough to do that kind of thing.
Before I could reach her, she crumpled to the ground in a heap.
“I’m okay,” she called cheerfully, as I sucked in a worried gasp. Brushing her hair off her face, she smiled at me. “Whoops.”
“Whoops indeed.” Bending, I helped her up and into the wheelchair, exchanging a look with the orderly.
“Fearless,” the orderly said, shaking her head.
I kissed the top of Katie’s cheek. “No more jumping, young lady.”
“Bye,” Katie called as the woman wheeled her away. “Love you.”
“Love you too,” I replied, but they were already gone.
What I didn’t love, was the thought of the two men waiting outside the room.