C.J. opened the door after Matt had pulled his handgun out and palmed it out of sight. They flashed each other that look and then both turned their attention to the door. She opened it cautiously after seeing the top of red hair piled up on a woman's head.
She didn't recognize her so C.J.'s guard went up and she could sense that Matt's own body had tensed at the unfamiliar sight.
"Hi….I'm Cinder…I know you might not know me but I sell beauty products door to door…like Avon."
Matt and C.J. looked at one another. She folded her arms at Cinder who appeared in front of her dressed in casual dark slacks and a white print blouse. Her hair looked like it had originally been dark brown judging from the roots.
Cinder just smiled.
"I'm a friend of Xian and Joey's…they told me that you were on one of their live stream broadcasts."
C.J. tilted her face.
"How do you know them?"
Cinder ignored C.J.'s watchful posture and moved into the living room admiring the décor while both Matt and C.J. just watched her carefully.
"We hung out at the coffee shop together…back when we were in L.A.," Cinder said, "Of course that was a while ago and this venture of ours was in its inspiration stage."
"Neither mentioned you."
Matt slipped a hand on C.J.'s shoulder still standing behind her as they both looked at Cinder who didn't seem too flustered by their inquiries.
Cinder just walked over to a chair and sat right down.
"They told me all about your situation."
C.J. just looked at her.
"What do you mean my situation?"
Cinder leaned backward in the chair obviously enjoying herself.
"You were going to marry some jet set millionaire…not this one and he turned out to be some kind of professional hit man."
Matt rubbed his chin watching Cinder weave out some sort of narrative of C.J.'s relationship.
"When did you find out anyway," Cinder asked, "Just before you met this lowlife in Armani at the altar?"
C.J. sighed despite herself.
"Something like that."
Cinder nodded knowingly.
"I know the type…I don't know if Joey or Xian told you but I almost had a fatal romance."
C.J. furrowed her brow.
"They didn't tell us anything about you so how would we know that?"
Cinder shrugged, as C.J. and Matt went to sit down on the couch opposite from where she lounged.
"So you know about Elliot and his sister," C.J. asked, "What do you know about them?"
"I read about them in the trades…you know Delilah had ambitions to break into Hollywood when she was younger. Her family promised to pull strings if it'd make her happy but it never worked out."
That didn't surprise C.J. all that much. Delilah had a histrionic bent to her personality that had already manifested itself on several occasions. Not to mention that Elliot would do what it took to please his sister just like she had done for him by promising to be C.J.'s bridesmaid at the almost wedding.
"I don't doubt that."
Matt leaned forward.
"So why are you here?"
Cinder leaned forward too and smiled broadly.
"To help you of course…looks like you need some serious help about now."
Matt and C.J. looked at each other again and then at her.
Cinder just rolled her eyes at C.J.
"This coming from the woman who nearly married the hired help of one of the top Five Families…and had to be rescued by Romeo in cowboy boots over here…"
"He's not Romeo…he's my…"
"Don't tell me, he's your best…platonic male friend."
C.J. rubbed her forehead.
"Look…Cinder I'm sure that you mean well but Houston and I…we've got work to do here and I really don't think…"
Cinder's eyes narrowed.
"No you really don't think do you," she said, "Joey told me all about you, how you got your law degree at some fancy high fluting school back East but you don't know a thing about enjoying yourself."
"I mean don't get me wrong he thought you weren't a bad lawyer at all, but you just seemed so very serious."
Cinder just kept talking about someone she knew nothing about…after all, C.J. hadn't really gotten to know Joey all that well. Just during that case that she and Matt had taken on to keep Murray from going off on a deep bender because of fears that he might lose the money he had invested for an orphanage that he sponsored. Back then, one of Joey's robots had shot the CEO of a major electronics company where Joey had been working to invent a virtual reality game that had been the target of espionage attempts by rival corporations. But while Joey's robot had pulled the trigger, Joey himself had been innocent and some disgruntled secretary working there had done the deed. Last heard, she was spending 20 to life in the state penitentiary after being convicted of murder.
One of those victims had nearly been Matt…who had been baited by the woman to come and rescue C.J. Back then, they had handled a lot of crazy cases like that one until things had grown more serious when some of Matt's enemies started coming after him, playing for the highest stakes.
Sometimes she missed those more carefree days back when they had worked so closely together as a team.
"I had to be professional…he was looking at potential murder charges," C.J. said, "which carried the death penalty or at least a very long prison sentence."
"Yes but even at the company party when he was absolved he said you showed up in that dreary grey knit dress…"
"Hey that's one of my favorites."
Matt chimed in.
"Mine too…though not for the same reasons."
C.J. just shot him a look and he arched a brow at her.
"That party got a little wild when Serena showed up and threatened to break crystal."
Matt sighed and that attracted Cinder's attention.
"I'm sure there's a story here…."
Matt rubbed the bridge of his nose not wanting to revisit that night when his ex, a spoiled heiress from Italy showed up expecting him to waltz back into her arms. Things didn't go as she had planned and she'd reacted by wrapping her manicured talons around anything within reach and throwing it against the marble pillars.
"Just one of Houston's ex flames showing up to liven up a party," she said, "Insurance paid for the damage."
"Sounds like both of you need to come with good insurance and anyone that hangs around with you."
"It's not that bad…anyway how do you plan to help us," she said, "I think we've got it all under control."
"You do…yeah right…I heard there was gunfire in the rose garden and they were contemplating explosives when you bolted from that wedding."
C.J. hadn't been too sure about the explosives but both she and Matt had come close to adding to their bullet scar collections.
"Joey really wants to help you get this Elliot guy," Cinder said, "and I'm a bit soft on Joey…not in the romantic sense of course but I do like to see him happy so I'm offering my assistance."
C.J. believed that Cinder sounded sincere enough, she just didn't know how much Joey's friend could handle especially if the pyrotechnics began shooting off again in earnest. Matt heard his phone buzz and looked at it.
"It's Uncle Roy…I'll take it in the kitchen."
C.J. nodded and watched Matt walk with his phone out of the room leaving the two women alone. She turned to look at Cinder who had also watched Matt leave.
"He's quite a hot looking guy," Cinder mused, "No wonder you left Elliot high and dry."
"I didn't do that because of Houston…I did it for me. Once I found out what he did for a living, no way was I going to marry him."
Cinder leaned forward.
"Then why did you hook up with him in the first place…if he's such a bad boy or was it because of that?"
C.J. shook her head.
"No…I'm not deliberately into bad guys…I just needed a change after Houston and his uncle took off on a business trip and so I went to a party and that's where I first saw him."
"So what's the story then with Matt here," Cinder continued, "Are you into him too?"
C.J. just stared at the woman for a moment.
Roy had told him immediately that Elliot and Delilah had continued their forays on the talk show circuit selling the image of him as the wronged party, the man who had truly loved the lady lawyer who had jilted him at the altar in an onslaught of violence.
Matt just listened disgusted. The only violence that interested him was in breaking Elliot's face over a hard unyielding surface…because when he thought about what could have happened to C.J. it made his heart drop. What would Elliot have done if he knew that she had discovered the truth about him starting with the photos she discovered?
Love and romance would have gone out the window, replaced by the realization that he'd have to kill her to keep her silent. His hand not holding the phone clenched at his side.
"So Uncle Roy, you dropping by later," he asked.
"Sure…you want me to bring some takeout from this Thai restaurant your cousin and I discovered?"
"Sure…but we've got to come up with the next stage of our plan to bust Elliot," Matt said, "so that we can get our lives back to normal."
"You mean like things were before C.J. got engaged?"
"No I mean the way life was before I got so buried up in my work I forgot to spend time with my best friend."
"I think that's what the two of you need to do…to spend time with each other."
"That's what I want to do," Matt said, "The two of us were a great team and I miss that."
"I think she does too Matlock," Roy said, "and that might be why she got engaged to Elliot."
Matt realized that but once they got Elliot out of the picture, then maybe life could go back to normal for the two of them. Maybe even better than it had been before…everything had changed…at least that's what he hoped.
But the two of them had a lot to talk about first just like they had been doing. About their past together, their present and most importantly their future.