Seven Up

By: Janet Evanovich

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS


Thanks to Amy Lehmkuhl and Vicky Picha

for suggesting the title for this book.





PROLOGUE


For the better part of my childhood, my professional aspirations were simple—I wanted to be an intergalactic princess. I didn’t care much about ruling hordes of space people. Mostly I wanted to wear the cape and the sexy boots and carry a cool weapon.

As it happens, the princess thing didn’t work out for me, so I went to college and when I graduated I went to work as a lingerie buyer for a chain store. Then that didn’t work out, so I blackmailed my bail bondsman cousin into giving me a job as a bounty hunter. Funny how fate steps in. I never did get the cape or the sexy boots, but I do finally have a sort of cool weapon. Well okay, it’s a little .38 and I keep it in my cookie jar, but it’s still a weapon, right?

Back in the days when I was auditioning for princess I had the occasional run-in with the bad kid in the neighborhood. He was two years older than me. His name was Joe Morelli. And he was trouble.

I’m still having those run-ins with Morelli. And he’s still trouble . . . but now he’s the kind of trouble a woman likes.

He’s a cop and his gun is bigger than mine and he doesn’t keep it in a cookie jar.

He proposed to me a couple weeks ago during a libido attack. He unsnapped my jeans, hooked a finger into the waistband, and pulled me to him. “About that proposal, Cupcake . . .” he said.

“Which proposal are we talking about?”

“The marriage proposal.”

“Are you serious?”

“I’m a desperate man.”

That was obvious.

Truth is, I was desperate, too. I was starting to have romantic thoughts about my electric toothbrush. Problem was, I just didn’t know if I was ready for marriage. Marriage is scary stuff. You have to share a bathroom. What’s with that? And what about fantasies? Suppose the intergalactic princess resurfaces and I need to set off on a mission?

Morelli shook his head. “You’re thinking again.”

“There’s a lot to consider.”

“Let me hit the high points for you . . . wedding cake, oral sex, plus you can have my credit card.”

“I like the wedding cake part.”

“You like the other parts, too,” Morelli said.

“I need time to think.”

“Sure,” Morelli said, “take all the time you need. How about thinking upstairs in the bedroom.”

His finger was still hooked into my jeans and it was getting warm down there. I inadvertently glanced at the stairs.

Morelli grinned and pulled me closer. “Thinking about the wedding cake?”

“No,” I said. “And I’m not thinking about the credit card, either.”





ONE


I knew something bad was going to happen when Vinnie called me into his private office. Vinnie is my boss and my cousin. I read on a bathroom stall door once that Vinnie humps like a ferret. I’m not sure what that means, but it seems reasonable since Vinnie looks like a ferret. His ruby pinky ring reminded me of treasures found in Seaside Heights arcade claw-machines. He was wearing a black shirt and black tie, his receding black hair was slicked back, casino pit boss-style. His facial expression was tuned to not happy.

I looked across the desk at him and tried not to grimace. “Now what?”

“I got a job for you,” Vinnie said. “I want you to find that rat fink Eddie DeChooch, and I want you to drag his bony ass back here. He got tagged smuggling a truckload of bootleg cigarettes up from Virginia and he missed his court date.”

I rolled my eyes so far into the top of my head I could see hair growing. “I’m not going after Eddie DeChooch. He’s old, and he kills people, and he’s dating my grandmother.”

“He hardly ever kills people anymore,” Vinnie said. “He has cataracts. Last time he tried to shoot someone he emptied a clip into an ironing board.”

Vinnie owns and operates Vincent Plum Bail Bonds in Trenton, New Jersey. When someone is accused of a crime, Vinnie gives the court a cash bond, the court releases the accused until trial, and Vinnie hopes to God the accused shows up for court. If the accused decides to forgo the pleasure of his court date, Vinnie is out a lot of money unless I can find the accused and bring him back into the system. My name is Stephanie Plum and I’m a bond enforcement officer . . . aka bounty hunter. I took the job when times were lean and not even the fact that I graduated in the top ninety-eight percent of my college class could get me a better position. The economy has since improved, and there’s no good reason why I’m still tracking down bad guys, except that it annoys my mother and I don’t have to wear panty hose to work.

“I’d give this to Ranger, but he’s out of the country,” Vinnie said. “So that leaves you.”

Ranger is a soldier-of-fortune kind of guy who sometimes works as a bounty hunter. He’s very good . . . at everything. And he’s scary as hell. “What’s Ranger doing out of the country? And what do you mean by out of the country? Asia? South America? Miami?”

“He’s making a pickup for me in Puerto Rico.” Vinnie shoved a file folder across his desk. “Here’s the bond agreement on DeChooch and your authorization to capture. He’s worth fifty thousand to me . . . five thousand to you. Go over to DeChooch’s house and find out why he pulled a no-show on his hearing yesterday. Connie called and there was no answer. Christ, he could be dead on his kitchen floor. Going out with your grandma’s enough to kill anyone.”