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Partners in Crime
Author: Alisha Rai

 

Chapter One


Her matchmaker was going to fire her.

Mira Patel dabbed her napkin at the corner of her lips and placed it neatly next to her empty plate. “Can you please repeat that?”

Her lunch date folded his hands together. “I think we should break up.”

She exhaled, long and low, releasing all her breath down to her toes. That’s what she’d thought he’d said.

Correction. Her matchmaker was going to murder her. “I see.”

“I’m so sorry. I talked it over with my mom, and while these past few months have been nice, she just doesn’t believe we’re compatible.” Jay gave her a sheepish look. He was a handsome man, with a shiny shaved head, solid shoulders, and kind eyes. Physically attractive to me (conventional or not) had been on her list. There was no grand passion when they touched or anything, but the sex had been satisfactory, with little to no cuddling afterward. Which was fine! Passion wasn’t on her list, and neither was cuddling. Actually, she wasn’t sure if she knew how to handle either anymore.

She looked out the window at the traffic on Melrose. They’d gotten a good table at one of the best restaurants in Los Angeles. Perfect to see and be seen, though Mira was that rare breed of Angeleno who didn’t need to be noticed. “Your mom doesn’t think we’re compatible,” she parroted.

“Right.”

“I haven’t met your mom yet.” It had only been three months, they hadn’t gotten to that step. Hema Auntie was a relatively modern kind of matchmaker, and she advised her clients to spend a couple months getting to know one another before bringing parents in. Partner, families, wedding, that was the correct order.

“I’ve told her about you. As did Hema Auntie, of course, and she has all your information from your biodata. She was concerned from the beginning, but then she ran our star charts. Apparently, Hema Auntie input our information wrong when she had her astrologer look at us.”

“An understandable clerical error,” she murmured. More like, Hema Auntie was eager to get Mira off her books and she’d fudged the astrology results.

If Mira believed in horoscopes and birth charts, she would have told everyone that hers was doomed from the start. She’d totally made up her birth time. It wasn’t like she had a parent she could ask.

A waiter interrupted them to place a plate in front of her, topped with a beautiful frothy white cake. “I took the liberty of ordering dessert for you while you were in the restroom,” Jay murmured.

To make the rejection taste sweeter?

She thanked the waiter, then lightly scraped the raspberries off the delicate cake. Berries made her throat itch. “Is this dairy free?”

“It is not, ma’am.”

“Oh, sorry, I forgot about your allergy.”

Of course he had. She put down her spoon. “Can I ask why your mother was concerned from the beginning?”

Jay grimaced. “I—it’s not really important.”

“No, I’d love to know.” Without too much conceit, she could say she checked the main boxes for most Desi grooms’ mothers: attractive without being flashy, well educated, had a good, yet boring job that wouldn’t overshadow their son, sensible, respectful. The fact that she was so unassuming and unobjectionable was probably the reason Hema had kept her for a client for as long as she had.

“Well . . . she felt your background was rather mysterious.” He hurried to add, “Of course, Hema Auntie wouldn’t take on a client who wasn’t from a good family.”

Unless the client was a family friend of people who had paid her the big bucks twice over already.

Under the table, she curled her hand into a fist. There was that one box she’d never be able to check: from a good family. “Not mysterious at all. My parents passed away and I have no siblings. I—”

“Have an aunt who leads a nonprofit focused on educating young women in underserved areas of the world, so you don’t see her very often,” Jay finished. “I know. So you’ve said.”

She caught the hint of suspicion in his eyes and clenched her fist tighter. Oops. She’d grown too accustomed to the story. It had become rehearsed, and no one believed you when you got too comfortable. “Had an aunt,” she said softly. “She passed away last month, remember?”

He had the grace to look uncomfortable. “Apologies. I forgot. You didn’t seem that close.”

“We were close.” Just because they’d talked only a couple times a year didn’t mean she hadn’t loved and grieved her aunt.

Jay had been out of town that week. She’d cried herself to sleep the first night after she’d gotten the call from some authorities in Mexico. She’d cried again a few days later when they’d shipped her aunt’s ashes to her, and again that evening when she’d laid her to rest, all by herself. By the time she’d picked Jay up at LAX, she’d been cried out, and even more grimly determined to focus on her future.

This is how you get thanked for picking a man up at LAX at rush hour a couple months into a relationship. For future reference, that is fiancée/wife behavior only.

“I’m sorry,” he repeated.

She wished she could eat a giant bite of this allergy-ridden cake.

“I like you. It’s . . . my parents.”

“And the only thing that matters is what your family thinks of me?”

He cocked his head, confusion flitting across his face. “I mean, it’s very important. You knew that about me.”

Yeah. That had been in his profile. What did she want from him, to buck his whole family for her?

Yes.

Mentally, she slapped herself. Thirteen-year-old Mira could dream of a man who did that sort of thing. Thirty-five-year-old Mira understood the value of thinking with your head over your heart.

“I didn’t want to waste your time, or mine.”

“I understand,” she said, and drew her composure tighter around her. No scenes here. “Thank you for informing me.”

He placed his napkin on the table. “I can let Hema Auntie know, if you like.”

Could she block the woman’s calls? No, that wouldn’t stop her. Hema would carrier pigeon a pink slip to Mira. “Sure.” She straightened. “Can you make sure to tell her it was your idea?” Not that that would matter.

“Oh. Yes.” Jay adjusted his tie. “She did let it slip that you’ve had a number of failed matches over the years. That may have also swayed my parents. My mom doesn’t want a picky daughter-in-law.”

Damn it, Hema. Clearly her impatience with Mira messing up her perfect track record had come ahead of her business sense.

Mira took a sip of her water. She wasn’t about to litigate her failed romantic history with someone who was now a footnote in it. “Sure.”

Jay stood. “Goodbye, Mira. Good luck.”

“You too.”

The waiter came by a couple minutes later and cleared his throat. Mira wondered how many breakups he’d seen. Probably none as bloodless as this one. Mira nodded. “I don’t suppose he paid already?”

“Sadly, no, ma’am.”

She handed him her credit card and passed the time before she left picking at the smashed remnants of the outrageously expensive cake she’d bought and couldn’t eat.

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