Perfectly Matched: A Lucy Valentine Novel
The heat is on...
When Boston psychic Lucy Valentine finds herself involved with a group of eccentric mediums trying to fine tune their abilities, she is convinced a rare spring heat wave has flushed all the local crazies out of hiding.
Adding to her theory is her newest client in the Lost Loves division of Valentine, Inc., her family’s lucrative matchmaking firm. He’s an animal whisperer who hires Lucy to locate his soul mate—because his cat told him so. Finding his purrfect match, however, isn't as easy as it seems.
But craziest of all is the Beantown Burner, a serial arsonist who is targeting private eye Sam Donahue, brother of Lucy’s boyfriend, Sean. With the help of her kooky psychic group, Lucy must tap into hidden abilities to catch the firebug before the fires turn deadly. She never expected to discover that the motive behind the flames hits a little too close to home...and dangerously close to her heart.
“WOW! With a lovable cast, entertaining dialogue and a very comfortable tone, this is the best one ever in this delightfully appealing series.” --Dru's Book Musings
“Perfectly Matched is perfectly wonderful!” --Melissa's Mochas, Mysteries, and More
Excerpt from Perfectly Matched
There was nothing like a brutal heat wave to flush the kooks out of hiding.
For the fourth day in a row, it was pushing ninety degrees outside at almost nine o’clock in the morning—abnormally hot for the beginning of June—and I could attest that the crazies were indeed out and about in Boston.
In fact, six of them sat around a conference table in my office at Valentine, Inc., my family’s matchmaking firm.
On my left, roving reporter Preston Bailey leaned forward, adjusted her digital tape recorder, then leaned back and swiped her forehead with a wadded tissue.
It was also ninety degrees in my office. The air conditioner had broken the second day of the heat wave, and the part to fix it was on backorder. I had three tall oscillating fans set up, and even with their blades working overtime, they barely made a dent in the hot, humid air.
“Whose bright idea was it to have the meeting in Lucy’s office?” Annie Hendrix asked as if I wasn’t in the room. She tucked a damp lock of her eggplant-colored chin-length hair behind her ear.
She sat directly across from me and I watched in utter fascination as perspiration dripped down her full cheeks, dribbled down her chin, snaked into the deep line of her cleavage and disappeared. Her halter dress was so low-cut her boobs were practically splayed on the table along with notepads, pens, and a stack of photos of a missing little girl.
I felt a tap on my leg—a subtle kick from Preston. She had nicknamed our odd assortment of kooks as the Diviner Whiners. For a good reason.
We were a bunch of psychic complainers.
“I did,” Orlinda Batista, our mentor, said tartly. She glanced at her watch and adjusted the position of her wheelchair to be more in line with the airflow from the fan behind her. “And I have only twenty minutes more before I have to leave for the airport so I’d appreciate it if you all focused on the task at hand and not on the heat. Or on Annie’s bosom, Graham.”
Sitting on my right, Graham Hartman hadn’t been able to drag his gaze from the bodacious breasts since he sat down. I couldn’t blame him. They were rather mesmerizing. Personally, I had spent the last ten minutes trying to figure out how Annie kept them from popping right out of her dress. I was convinced she was a sneeze away from a major wardrobe malfunction—and making Graham’s day.
Graham’s cheeks reddened at the chastisement, and he quickly refocused his attention on the picture of a missing girl in front of him. But a second later, his gaze was back on those breasts. I noticed, too, that Annie kept throwing him flirtatious looks. Maybe being in a matchmaking office had given her romantic ideas.
Next to Annie, Dr. Paul McDermott let out a frustrated breath, ran a hand over his sweaty bald head, and said, “Maybe we should just call it quits for today?”
Orlinda, who sat at the head of the table, whipped her laser-sharp gaze to him. “We are not finished.” Snapping her fingers, she said to me, “Lucy Valentine, what are you picking up?”
Technically, this was the fifth meeting of our little soothsaying class.
I was getting psychic lessons, and I was flunking out.
Staring at the picture of the little girl in front of me, I tried to concentrate.
She was a sweet little thing, with blond hair, straight near the crown, then turning to curls at the ends. Brown almond-shaped eyes twinkled at the camera, and blue cake frosting covered most of her chubby cheeks, her lips, and teeth. The pose, caught in mid-laugh as she gazed up at her parents standing behind her, nearly broke my heart. It was taken on the girl’s fifth birthday—the last celebrated with her family.
She’d been missing for two years now.
I looked into her parents’ faces. At her mom, who looked like a cool suburban soccer mom with her blond-streaked dark hair. At her dad, who stared at the girl as if she was the most precious thing on earth.
I could only imagine the anxiety her parents felt now. The anguish. Running my hand over the picture, I silently cursed my limited psychic abilities. Sure, I had been working with the Massachusetts State Police for the past eight months to help locate missing persons, but the way I found those people wasn’t through photographs.
I had the ability to find lost objects. Fortunately, sometimes those things led to lost souls.
Glancing at Orlinda, I shifted uncomfortably. I’d met her, a practicing psychologist and highly gifted psychic, a few months ago while working on another case—that of a missing man. In the months since, I wasn’t convinced that our meeting had been happenstance. It was as if fate had put us together.
I looked away from her probing gaze. I didn’t want to fail her. She had taken me—and Graham, Annie, and Dr. Paul—under her prodigious wing. Each of us had limited psychic abilities, but Orlinda was convinced that we all were capable of more. That there were other gifts within us and that she was just the psychic to nurture—or browbeat—them out of us.
Running my finger over the picture, I focused on the girl. Stared into her eyes.
From Annie, we had learned the girl’s name started with a B.
From Graham, we learned that she had been kidnapped in front of her house after being dropped off by the kindergarten school bus.
From Dr. Paul, we learned that there was a man with a dark beard involved in the crime.
All of which Orlinda had validated.
From me...we had learned nothing. Absolutely nothing. I wasn’t picking up a thing, except for Preston’s nervous energy.
I could feel the jiggle of her leg beneath the table.
Over the past eight months, reporter Preston had gone from sworn enemy to friend. For a long time, she had tried to get the inside scoop on my family, convinced we were keeping secrets. She planned to use the headlines to make it big as an investigative journalist.
It was true—my family was keeping secrets. Lots of them. Some of which Preston had discovered and written about, and some she still didn’t know.
She’d been the one who exposed my psychic abilities. But she didn’t know the whole story behind how I’d come to acquire my particular gift.
She didn’t know that my father, and generations of Valentines before him, had the psychic ability to read auras. The talent had been parlayed into a highly successful matchmaking company, Valentine, Inc. It was the top matchmaking company in the world, and it had made my father a very rich and famous man.
However, very few knew that my father’s success came from matching people based on the colors he saw surrounding them. Blues matched with blues. Yellows matched with yellows. It was fairly simple, and up until I was fourteen, I’d been expected to continue in his footsteps of matchmaking.
Then the unthinkable happened. A lightning strike had taken away the auras I had been able to see…but left me with the ability to find lost things.
“Lucy?” Orlinda pressed.
Putting the picture back on the table, I shook my head. In the last five weeks, I’d not had any luck whatsoever in broadening my psychic abilities. While Graham, Annie, and Dr. Paul were making headway, I lagged behind. I was still only able to find lost objects—but only if I touched the hand of the person who either currently owned the object—or had owned the object at one time. I found a lot of missing people by using presents as a conduit because it was often the only time an object belonged to two people. Most recently, I’d found a missing teenager because I’d touched her mother’s hand and was able to see the Ugg boots the mom had bought her daughter for Christmas. That case had a somewhat happy ending—the teen had been a runaway but was now home, and the whole family was receiving counseling.
Feeling like a complete failure, I didn’t dare look at Orlinda. “Sorry. Nothing.”
Disappointment stung my nose, and I sniffed it away. Under the table, Preston rested her fingers on my arm—she knew better than to hold my hand. The energy I used to find lost objects came from palms, so I rarely touched people’s hands if I didn’t have to.
Across the table, I heard a frustrated sigh—from Annie, though I suspected Graham and Dr. Paul felt the same way. The three of them hadn’t made it a secret that they believed I should have been kicked out of our group weeks ago. I was holding them back from exploring their true potential.
But Orlinda had nipped all that talk in the bud. She believed in me, believed I possessed undiscovered abilities, and wasn’t going to let me quit—as the three of them had wanted me to after only two weeks of embarrassing classes.
The thing was, even though I was failing, I didn’t want to quit. Because I believed there was more within me, too. In fact, I knew there was. There were times I could see into the future; flashes of visions destined to come true. The caveat was that those insights only came to me when I touched P.I. Sean Donahue’s hands. He was a partner with me in Lost Loves, my division of Valentine, Inc. Together we used my psychic abilities and his P.I. skills to reunite long lost loves. We were also dating. Dating seriously. Just thinking about it made my stomach tingle and my palms sweat. I was giddy about it, but at the same time, I had a serious fear of commitment, thanks to a pesky family curse. Thankfully, Sean was a patient man—and had issues of his own to work through.
“Take another minute, Lucy,” Orlinda said softly, encouragingly.
Dr. Paul muttered, “For crying out loud.”
I glanced at him—but he wouldn’t meet my eye. Huh. There was nothing worse than a cranky gay man.
“Seriously. I have an appointment for a showing soon,” Graham, a real estate agent, said sourly.
Huh. Except for a cranky straight man.
I glanced at Graham. He had finally stopped staring at Annie’s cleavage and met my gaze straight on. His pale face was flushed, and his blond fancy hairdo had wilted a bit from the heat. Blueberry-colored eyes flashed with irritation. Like an ornery little kid, I felt like sticking my tongue out at him but managed to refrain.
Orlinda whapped the table loudly. “Enough!” she said sharply. “If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it ten times already. We are all in this together. Perhaps supporting your peer would be better than your remonstration.”
I heard someone whisper, “Teacher’s pet.” Dr. Paul, maybe. It had come from the opposite side of the table. I was grateful Orlinda hadn’t heard it, or she might have had a cow right there in my office.
“Try again, Lucy,” Orlinda said.
I felt all their eyes on me as I stared at the picture, willing myself to see something. Feel something. Anything. But I didn’t.
After a long minute, I shook my head. Again, I fought back tears. Stupid, frustrating tears. I refused to let the others see how upset I was.
“Do not be discouraged,” Orlinda said. “It is possible that photographs are not your path. However, there are many trails leading to the top of the mountain.” She reached behind her, to the knapsack attached to the back of her wheelchair.
As she searched for something in particular, I checked my watch. I had an appointment with a Lost Love client in ten minutes.
Even though I had my long hair pulled back, I could feel the sweat dampening my hairline, and droplets sliding down my back. This place was a like a kiln, and my agitation had amped up the temperature by a good ten degrees.
Preston anxiously tapped her pen on a notepad. She was a fidgeter, and especially so around Orlinda. The woman made Preston skittish. Maybe because when Orlinda first met Preston, she predicted a huge upheaval in my friend’s life.
The reading had come true almost immediately. After she had written a huge art-theft exposé that had gone national, Preston had been offered a monthly column in the Mad Blotter, a national magazine that was part Reader’s Digest, part New Yorker. The Mad Blotter had loved Preston’s previous human interest stories, which were mostly about my clients (a deal she had set up through my dad). The magazine’s offer was pretty much everything Preston had been dreaming of and she’d readily agreed to become a columnist. She had already written two stories for them, and now she was working on another—one about this class. So far, she hadn’t gleaned much, except that we were complainers.
Preston was getting antsy for a juicy breakthrough in our learning. But that wasn’t from where her current nervous energy stemmed. More recently, Orlinda had predicted another upheaval in Preston’s life—and so far, nothing big had happened. It was driving Preston crazy. This in turn drove me crazy, because Preston was a constant pestering presence in my life. Not only did I work with her (kind of), she was also dating my brother. There was no escape. Thankfully, we’d long ago put our contentious past behind us and had become friends. Or I might have had to throw her out the window or something.
“Ah,” Orlinda said, finally pulling a small bundle from her pack. She made a grand show of setting the package on the table, keeping her hands wrapped tightly around the plastic bag. Orlinda had a flair for drama.
Preston asked the question on all our minds. “What’s that?”
“Another path,” Orlinda said. She slowly slid the parcel toward me.
I gingerly reached for it. Plastic crinkled as I untwisted the bag’s handles.
Nervously, I looked within, where there was another bag—this one a clear plastic type with a zippered top. I pulled it free and my heart clenched tightly at what was revealed.
A forlorn pink teddy bear. It looked well-loved, with its matted fur and threadbare paw. Maybe eight inches high, it was short and squat, with an adorable nose, two black eyes, and a thin smile that probably once looked cheerful but now appeared so terribly sad.
“Does that belong to the missing girl?” Graham asked. He looked like he wanted to snatch the bear away from me.
“It does, yes,” Orlinda said.
Dr. Paul leaned forward, his bald head glistening. He was obviously eager to get his hands on the teddy as well.
Boobalicious Annie, however, appeared more interested in flirting with Graham than anything. I was pretty sure they were playing footsies under the table.
“Psychometry,” Orlinda boomed. “It is the ability to communicate with a person by holding an object that belongs to them.”
Next to me, I felt Preston perk up. She had once goaded me into trying psychometry, but believing that it was impossible, I hadn’t put forth much effort. Maybe I could get readings from objects. Why not? I could get readings from people about lost objects. It wasn’t that much of a stretch.
“I want you to remove the bear from the bag, Lucy,” Orlinda advised, “and hold it between both your hands.”
I slowly slid open the zipper of the plastic baggie and reluctantly reached inside. My stomach was in knots. Part of me didn’t want to touch this piece of the little girl’s life. Another part was terrified that I would fail yet again. But the biggest part couldn’t help feeling hopeful. Maybe with the right guidance, I could uncover hidden abilities.
Letting out a breath, I pulled the bear free of the plastic. I settled it between my hands.
Orlinda’s voice dropped two notches. “Let the energy flow from your palms. One to the other. Visualize the little girl. See her playing with this bear.”
The only sound in the room was that of the fans, their blades whirring. My heart beat so loudly, I was surprised the others couldn’t hear it. I stared into the eyes of the bear.
Please let me see her.
I often carried around guilt for all the people I couldn’t help. All the children I couldn’t find. But if I had a new ability...I could help so many more.
“Close your eyes,” Orlinda said.
I let them flutter shut. I tried my best to drown out the doubts screaming in my head along with the endless chatter of my internal thoughts.
Think. Focus. Breathe.
The fans whirred. I rested my chin atop the bear’s head and took even, deep breaths. My palms tingled, and behind my closed lids, I found myself looking through a strange set of eyes. I glanced around, taking in the new sights, absorbing details.
Suddenly, I felt a poke on my arm.
“Do you see something?” Graham asked.
Just like that, the view was gone.
My eyes popped open. I felt woozy—I always felt dizzy after a vision.
Orlinda groaned. “Psychic rule number one, Graham. Never interrupt a reading.”
“You never gave us any rules,” Annie said, flipping through her notes as if she’d forgotten a lesson.
Orlinda rolled her eyes.
“Well?” Dr. Paul asked. “Did you see something, Lucy?”
Preston had her pen at the ready.
I focused on Orlinda. “I saw...”
Orlinda beamed. “What did you see?”
“I saw a school bus. And I saw a man. The man with the dark beard.”
“What else?” Orlinda asked.
There hadn’t been much else—not that I could immediately decipher anyway. I shook my head. “It happened too fast. I’m not sure.” Hopefully I could go back to the vision later, when all was quiet again, and study the details.
“You will, Lucy,” Orlinda said. “It just takes practice.”
Annie gave me the stink eye. “We already knew a man with a beard took her after school. How do we know you had a real vision and didn’t just copy what you learned from us?”
“Yeah,” Dr. Paul said, crossing his arms over his narrow chest.
I was beginning to dislike the whole lot of them.
Preston scribbled away. I could only imagine how she’d spin this conversation in her article.
“I—” I glanced at Orlinda. “Is that even possible, to have a vision of what they saw as my own?”
Even as I asked, I knew that wasn’t what had happened to me. I’d seen the scene. I had the wooziness. I hadn’t made that up. In fact, I was pretty sure I’d been looking at it through the eyes of the little girl.
“Possible, yes, as a type of psychic transference,” Orlinda said, “But doubtful. It isn’t unusual for multiple psychics to have similar readings. You’re picking up on facts, on feelings. Those are unchangeable.”
“Could it have been telepathy?” Dr. Paul asked. “Maybe one of the three of us unconsciously sent Lucy the images?”
“Again, possible,” Orlinda said, “but doubtful.”
“Well, I’m doubtful,” Graham said loudly, pushing his chair back. He shoved his pad of paper into a messenger bag and draped it over his shoulder.
“Big surprise,” Preston said drily.
He threw her a withering look and said to Orlinda, “I need to get going.”
“Me, too,” Annie said, standing. I could have sworn I heard a suction sound as her breasts lifted from the table.
“I, as well,” Dr. Paul piped in. “I have patients to see.” He glanced at Preston. “Are you ready?”
She reached for her tape recorder and shut it off. “Hold your horses.”
I held in a smile. Preston was shadowing Dr. Paul today, Graham tomorrow, and Annie on Friday for her Mad Blotter article. I didn’t know who to feel most sorry for—them or her. She was an acquired taste, but they were meanies.
“Well, go,” Orlinda said, dismissing them all with a wave of a hand.
Graham said, “Are we still on for Sunday?”
“Noon, at my office,” Orlinda said. “Do not be late.”
Other than Preston, none of them said goodbye to me as they trooped from the room.
“I need to be on my way as well,” Orlinda said, packing her knapsack. “I have to catch the water taxi to Logan.”
She was attending a psychology conference in Chicago and would be gone until early Sunday morning.
I continued to hold the bear. The electricity in my palms had vanished. I felt nothing.
Nothing at all.
I handed the teddy back to her.
“No, no,” she said. “Keep it. Practice. You’re on the cusp, Lucy. More than anything, you need to trust and believe in yourself.”
I tucked the bear back into its pouch but didn’t say anything. My emotions were all over the map. Up, down, around. Inside out.
I’d been looking through the girl’s eyes. Even now, I was starting to pick out more of what I’d seen in my vision. But I was also worried that I wouldn’t be able to recapture the process—and that I didn’t have enough information to find where she was now.
Orlinda spun her wheelchair around and rolled toward the door. “Noon. Sunday.”
I followed her to the door. “I’ll be there.”
“Do not let the others get to you,” she warned over her shoulder.
“I won’t,” I assured her. “If they get out of hand, I’ll just sic Preston on them.”
Amused, Orlinda nodded. “Good plan. You don’t have to see me out, Lucy.”
“Okay, but let me know if you have trouble with the elevator.” It was the only elevator in the building and could be a little tricky.
She was halfway down the short hallway leading to the reception area when I called out to her.
She stopped and swiveled her chair so she could see me.
“Her name is Bethany,” I said, my voice cracking. “It was on her backpack.”
The corners of Orlinda’s eyes crinkled as she gave me a knowing smile. “Very good, Lucy Valentine. Very good.”