While his charisma masks his loneliness, Joe Roberts is far from perfect. On the surface, he’s a womanizer dismissing many after one date. Deep down, he’s searching for an instant chemistry with his soulmate, the one person who will love him for his faults not in spite of them.
In this short story leading into Chemical Attraction, Joe is on the verge of giving up on his search. Find out what changes his mind.
“King Midas in Reverse”
Using his cell phone’s flashlight and carrying his shirt and shoes, Joe Roberts tiptoed around the coffee table and sofa. Glowing, glaring eyes held sentry on the table by his only exit. The damn cat hissed as Joe reached for the door knob. A growl from behind stopped him. He sighed. The overhead light flipped on. Busted!
“You’re seriously sneaking out without saying goodbye?” Kala Ross asked, wearing a ratty low-cut Ohio State hockey jersey. Last night’s smoky eyes had become 1:00 a.m. raccoon eyes.
Joe slipped his shirt over his head, hopped into his shoes, then lied. “I got called in,” he said, wiggling his cell in his hand. “And I didn’t want to wake you.”
“You used that excuse last time. Since when are truck drivers on-call?” she asked with a grating whine.
He ran a hand through his dark brown hair. Her sexy curves no longer held his attention. He had pursued the Starbuck’s barista for a week. On their first date, he took her to Sweet Lorraine’s sharing a bottle of wine from their long list. After dinner, she invited him back to her apartment. During last night’s rare second date, Joe couldn’t retreat fast enough when she threw out words like boyfriend and relationship. Needless to say, he won’t be going back to that Starbucks.
“You’re always on the move,” she added. Her stiff, bleach blond hair stuck out around her face like a lion’s mane.
He tried to break the tension. “Hey, you didn’t complain about my moves earlier.”
“I won’t be your whore,” she said, crossing her arms, which lifted up her breasts creating a canyon of cleavage.
Joe had been in this uncomfortable situation before. He never liked hurting these women, but he lost interest quickly. Eva and Taylor said he enjoyed the chase more than the catch. He agreed with his sisters’ assessment.
Instead of arguing—which never worked—he quoted a Hollies’ song that seemed to sum up his life. “I’m not the guy to run with, ‘cause I’ll pull you off the line. I’ll break you and destroy you. Give it time.”
She relaxed her angry stance, which surprised him. “I don’t think that.”
He stepped toward her and kissed her cheek. “Bye, Kala.”
The stealthy tabby had moved across the back of the couch and now sat in the chair next to Kala. If it could talk, it’d probably say, “Good Riddance.”
In his car, he thought about the other lyrics from “King Midas in Reverse” by The Hollies:
I’m not the man to hold your trust,
Everything I touch turns to dust.
I wish someone would find me,
And help me gain control.
Before I lose my reason,
And my soul.
I’m King Midas with a Curse.
I’m King Midas in Reverse.
Joe trudged down the dark hallway to his tiny apartment. The fact was he genuinely liked Kala. That’s why he asked her out again. Although ditzy, she had a nice personality. He wanted more than a sexy body though. Was he too picky? Should he settle with someone like Kala?
Joe’s list of negatives outweighed the positives, the general case when he assessed women. For example, Kala thought Jethro Tull was a guy, she couldn’t name a single Beatles’ song, and she liked the Buckeyes. He thought Taylor would disown him since Stuart taught at the University of Michigan.
In the shower, Joe contemplated his love life. He had dated many women, but he’d never had a steady girlfriend. These women pushed him to commit, and he pushed back by moving on. Was he selfish? Broken? Cursed? He felt nothing for any of them. Dating wasn’t fun anymore.
The only women he seemed to care about were his sisters. He wanted that chemistry like they have with their husbands. They’ve both been happily married for nine years.
Should he try abstaining for a while? To stop dating? To just stop pursuing women? To reevaluate his personal life, he’d give himself a six-month attempt … okay, maybe a three-month shot. Although his focus has always been on his career with the FBI, he’d talk to Peter Bingaman, his boss and friend, about more responsibilities. The distraction would be good for him. Too wired to sleep with the new outlook on his life, he headed for the office.
On the dark twenty-sixth floor of the Federal building, offices surrounded the perimeter with the hallways connecting as a square. In the middle were eight larger rooms for meetings, evidence, and work areas. Joe preferred the larger workroom. He didn’t want an office since he wasn’t around to use it. He preferred undercover work.
In jeans and a gray t-shirt, he walked toward the back corridor. Across from the breakroom, he used his passkey to open the door. The impersonal room was plain but functional. Shoved together, four desks with phones faced each other in the middle. Only two had flat-screen monitors and keyboards.
Sitting behind the one with a computer, he used a tiny key on the bottom drawer and pulled out three folders. He’d use the time to finish the paperwork closing these cases. At five-thirty, he sat back propping his tennis shoes on the corner of the desk. Grabbing a yellow legal notepad, he started a bullet point list of reasons for Peter to give him more responsibility and tougher assignments. He needed a bigger challenge.
Hearing the increase traffic of agents outside the workroom door, Joe ripped off the top page and stuffed it into his back pocket. He headed for the small café on the first floor for some breakfast.
Returning with a large black coffee, Joe nodded to Jane Whitmore, the doe-eyed young woman behind the reception counter. Peter’s assistant had a secret. None of the agents knew she was also Peter’s oldest daughter. Joe had seen her picture at Peter’s cabin. He appreciated her need to succeed without the agents treating her differently because of her father. The nepotism in this place was full of unprofessional agents.
“Is he in?” he asked, pausing by the counter.
“Yes, but he’s in a briefing,” she replied.
“I’ll catch him later then.”
Jane knew the truth that Joe and Peter were friends outside the office—much different from the rumors that Director Bingaman hated Joe. The agents assumed the Director berated Joe when called to his office. Actually, he and Peter played chess. Joe held his own, winning some, losing some.
Whenever Peter lost, he’d jokingly reprimand Joe for any minor issue—usually his casual attire. From the open doorway, he had hoped to scare the other agents into working harder. They stayed professional in public. The rumors amused them though.
Passing the first open office door, Agent Rita McMillian winked and gave him a flirty little wave. Joe winced and kept walking. Because of her bigwig uncle, Rita had yet to take her job seriously and flirted with the agents for favors. He despised that about her. Besides, Joe had a strict No Dating policy with the women in the office. Now, he added the No Dating Any Women rider to his rulebook.
Baby-faced Agent Mike Garrett waved a folder to get Joe’s attention. With a slight curl to his brown hair, Mike usually boasted his Love ‘Um/Leave ‘Um strategy with women. Joe knew the truth, which is why he added Mike to his team two years ago.
Mike’s fiancée had died in an automobile accident a week before their wedding. Hiding his depression and pain, he became a habitual Yes Man. Hating it, Joe worked Mike hard pushing him to the edge in the hope that he’d find his passion for life again. Joe still hadn’t figured out if losing the love of your life was worse than not finding one.
Out of breath, Mike stopped in front of him. “Agent Roberts, we may have a new case. Agent Orr said that you have a personal connection to the town Allenton.”
Surprised at a case in Eva and Matt’s hometown, Joe took the folder holding a single page. “I do, so let me read this over first. Orr took the call?”
“Yes, Sir,” Mike replied, before heading to the computer lab.
In the empty workroom, Joe read over the half sheet of paper that was the short transcript of the call, which didn’t give him much information. A woman scientist working at BennTech’s Medical Research Facility in Allenton uncovered possible illegal financial and chemical component errors there. That was all they had to go on? He suddenly felt a compulsion to find out why she would call the FBI and not the locals like Chief Connor. Joe would keep this assignment hush hush from his family until he knew more.
Joe dialed Eva to make arrangements. She’s been bugging him about attending a fundraiser for the twenty-three people who had died from the flu last year. Sylvia’s husband and Matt’s parents were among the victims.
With his left hand holding the phone to his ear, his right hand turned on the computer screen. “Hey, I got some time off in a couple of weeks. Do you still have a ticket to that shindig?” Wincing, he pulled the phone away from his ear. Why did Eva just squeal?
“I do!” She sounded too giddy for his question. “Joey, you can stay in our guest room.”
“Actually, I thought I’d stay at Sylvia’s,” he said, logging into the FBI’s computer system. He could come and go as he pleased at Sylvia’s B & B whereas Eva would track his every move.
“Even better,” she exclaimed. “Do you want me to reserve you a room with her?”
“No. I’ll do it. I want to pay in advance for the two weeks.”
“You’re going to have so much fun,” she said.
“What’s the matter with you? You sound too cheery about my visit. You’re freaking me out. Are you high?” Joe asked.
“How dare you! I’m a mother,” she replied, sliding back into her usual domineering attitude. “Bring your suit. This is a formal affair. Love you. Bye.”
Before he could mockingly complain, she hung up on him. He’d confirm his ticket for the fundraiser with her again next week.
Agent Tim Orr entered their workroom. The weightlifting hulk with massive arms sat across from him. “What did you think about that anonymous call from Allenton?” Tim asked.
“Since my sister’s married to the police chief, I think I’ll go alone and talk to the woman. I’ll call if I need help,” Joe replied, uncomfortable mentioning anything about his personal life.
“Not really your sister,” Tim corrected.
Joe glared making Tim flinch. “Close enough to one.” It shouldn’t surprise him that his team checked into his background. After all, he knew all of theirs.
Tim nodded. “When are you going?”
“In two weeks, the town is sponsoring a fundraiser. Since she wants this to be a clandestine meeting, she can meet me there. Call her back.” Joe paused. “Let’s go with the lyrics from “King Midas in Reverse” by the Hollies.”
Tim took the sheet of paper with the number. At least she was smart enough to use a burner phone, not her work phone or, worse, her home phone. Joe wondered what spooked her to be so secretive.
While Tim made the call, Joe struggled to keep a straight face. Tim had to explain three times that the anonymous agent wanted her to use a code word from the song to identify herself at the fundraiser.
Frowning, Tim hung up. “She’ll do it, but she wasn’t happy.”
“She should have given her name then,” Joe said, using a hardened tone that the agents knew intimately.
Joe handed Tim the three finished case files to submit to Director Bingaman’s office. Tim left and Joe made another call to Taylor, who was nine months pregnant with her second child. Joe hated not knowing the gender.
“Hey, did you have that kid yet?” He knew she hadn’t; Stuart had promised to call.
“Any day now,” she replied. “What’s new? How was your second date with Kala?”
“There won’t be a third,” Joe replied.
“So Eva told me you’re going to the fundraiser in a couple weeks,” she said.
“You already heard? Damn, Eva’s got a big mouth,” he replied. “Yeah, I have a few weeks off.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re going to show support to Matt and David. I think I’ll be a bit busy to attend.”
“Can Stuart handle this delivery without me?” he asked with a laugh.
“Good Lord! I better have this kid by then! I can’t take much more of this.” She paused. “Joey, promise me you’ll have fun while you’re there.”
“I’m taking my fishing pole,” he replied. “Keep me posted.”
“I will. Love you.”
“You, too,” he replied. He swore off other fun for six—for three months.
Joe typed BennTech Medical Research & Development into the FBI’s data base search engine. Their website popped up. Under the Distinguished Scientists page, he scanned the list of names and easily identified the anonymous caller as Dr. Madeline Pierce, the only high-ranking female scientist working at their Allenton facility.
Propping his feet on the corner of the desk again, Joe clicked on her name bringing up her bio and picture. In the professional headshot, the gorgeous woman with her hair in a tight bun smiled back at him.
In that instant, a sharp electrical charge surged through the computer mouse jolting his body. Twitching, he howled in pain. From the abrupt shift, his chair tipped over knocking him on his butt. His arm buzzed with numbness.
He blinked. “What the hell just happened?”
Joe’s Quest for Love continues in the romantic thriller, Chemical Attraction