Every goldfish looks the same… right?
Ethan McGinty glanced at the empty glass bowl on the edge of the nightstand and back at the clear plastic bag in his hands, knowing the answer to his earlier question. He normally enjoyed the solace of watching his sister’s empty apartment, but not today. Since discovering the bowl empty, he’d spent the better part of the afternoon driving across town to the nearest pet store. But no matter how many rows of fish tanks he inspected, every fish failed to measure up.
Too big. Too many fins. Not enough gold… Too much gold.
After an hour, he’d finally settled on what he hoped was a close enough match. Guilt-ridden replacement in hand, he’d waited in line until the woman with the perm to match her toy poodle was finished, then zipped back to his sister’s apartment as fast as he could.
But the longer he stared at the miniature toy castle and sherbet-colored beads lining the bottom of the bowl, the more he questioned the logic of his decision.
Did the fish have three white spots on his back, or two? And wasn’t he smaller? Surely Sadie would notice the difference, too. His eight-year-old niece was nothing but observant. One look at the imposter, and she’d no doubt react as if the sky were falling.
“So, here’s the thing.” Ethan raised the bag to his face so he was level with the fish’s golden eyes. He couldn’t believe he was actually talking to the thing, but desperate times and all.… “If we’re going to pass you off as James Pond, you’ll have to play a convincing agent. Just pretend you’ve gone undercover and assumed a new identity, and we’ll all make it out of this alive.”
Mr. Pond stared blankly back at him, a few bubbles escaping his open mouth. What had he been expecting? A nod of approval? With a sigh, Ethan twisted open the bag and tipped the contents into the glass bowl.
“I thought his name was Goldfinger.”
Ethan spun around, nearly spilling the water across the counter, and froze when he saw a woman standing in the open door.
“Emily?” The presence of his sister’s next-door neighbor threw him off balance. This had been a strictly need-to-know operation, and from the looks of it, his cover had just been blown. The last thing he wanted was for her to find out he’d already lost his niece’s fish after only three days of watching the apartment.
“What, no interrogation? Positively shocking.” She flashed him a grin and sauntered toward the sink and yellow watering can. Despite the fact he’d already watered the plants that morning, she filled the container and flitted from succulent to orchid with ease.
He couldn’t help but watch. Aside from the fact she’d nearly scared the living daylights out of him, she was just as breathtaking as usual. Blonde curls, friendly smile, great friends with his sister and niece… He’d thought about asking her out once or twice, but the timing had always seemed off. And thanks to Mr. Pond’s mysterious disappearance, he may have ruined his chances altogether.
“The ficus has already been watered,” he blurted out without thinking and inwardly groaned. Great job, Ethan. Very 007.
For the first time since barging in, her brow seemed to dip in question. “Oh? I was positive I hadn’t checked on them since last night.”
It struck him that his sister must have asked them both to watch the apartment. Knowing Dani, there was little doubt it had been intentional. Another one of her schemes to set him up. He loved his older sister, but he didn’t need her to play matchmaker.
Before he could explain the situation, Emily was reaching into one of the bags she’d brought in with her and pulled out a suspiciously familiar plastic bag. When she set it on the table, he stared at the goldfish with three white spots on his back.
To his astonishment, it was Mr. Pond, completely unharmed and back in his apartment.
“Where did you…? How did you…?”
She gave him a funny look and reached back into the bag. “I noticed the bowl was dirty. So rather than leave him there, I transferred him to the tank in my apartment until I had more time to clean it.”
“And you didn’t think to leave a note?” This turn of events was as unexpected as a tube of exploding toothpaste.
“Honestly,” she said, a wire scrubber in her right hand. “With Danielle and Sadie out of town, it didn’t really cross my mind.” Her gaze drifted to the new fish already swimming in Mr. Pond’s bowl and grinned. “Although it appears that may have been a mistake.”
“About that… Any chance we can keep this a secret between you and me?”
Her eyes sparkled with laughter. “Not a chance. How many pet stores did you have to go to before you found a match?”
“I’d tell you, but then I’d—”
“Have to kill me?” she teased.
“I was thinking more along the lines of take you out to dinner.” His boldness shocked even him, but her surprise only lasted a second.
“I think that could be arranged.”
“Really?” he asked.
“Of course.” Her gaze dipped to the bowl and back to him. “I always thought two were better than one.”
Whether she was talking about the fish or them, he wasn’t sure.
“But first,” she added with a smile. “I think we need to buy a bigger fish tank.”
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