Don't Touch Me!
Cody Paige is an author with a newly-developed fear of being touched. When he becomes a suspect in his mother's murder--despite the fact she may be the victim of a serial killer--he hires PI Brent Harding to help prove his innocence.
Will Brent be able to help Cody discover the basis for his touch phobia? A necessity, as far as they are concerned, since they are attracted to each other. An attraction they won't be able to act upon if they can't even kiss without Cody suffering a panic attack.
Brent was almost to the pharmacy at the back of the drugstore when his sister gestured for him to stay where he was. He nodded, wondering why she didn't want him to come closer. From what he could see, Ashlie was only helping a customer--a young man, from the look of it. A very slender one at that. Finally, the man turned to leave, heading not to the front of the store but toward the back entrance. He was quite good-looking in Brent's opinion--fine-featured with cheekbones a fashion model would kill for.
"So what was the problem that you didn't want me to come over?" Brent asked Ashlie a moment later, leaning against the counter separating them.
"Not a problem, per se. It's just... Cody, the guy I was helping? He doesn't like anyone touching him. And knowing you..." She grinned.
"Excuse me? I'm hardly going to assault one of your customers."
"I know. But you don't have any issues with personal space. If you'd brushed against him or anything like that..." She shook her head. "The first time he came in to get a prescription filled, I reached to take it from him. My fingers touched his and, honest to God, he almost had a full-blown panic attack--shaking, hyperventilating. I thought he was going to pass out. I didn't know what was going on so I tried to grab him to keep him from falling. He backed away like I was going to jump over the counter to assault him."
"That doesn't sound good. Did you manage to get him calmed down?"
"Yeah. He said, 'Don't touch me'--sort of trying to explain and ordering me not to at the same time--so I didn't. I talked him through it then asked what was wrong. He said he just has this thing about being touched."
Brent frowned. "Sounds like more than 'a thing'. Was the scrip for medication to help him?"
"No. It was actually for his mother. She's old, he said, and not very mobile. I got the impression he takes care of her."
"That doesn't make sense. She'd have to touch him while he's helping her."
"I asked him. He thinks, since she's his mother, it's why he has no problem with her. At least that's how he explained it. Besides, to hear him tell it, the problem only started about a year ago. He has no idea why."
"Has he been to a doctor?"
Ashlie shrugged. "I don't know. After what little I managed to get out of him, he refused to say anything else. He just asked me to be very careful not to make physical contact with him."
"Very weird. Oh well, it takes all kinds, I guess. Are you ready to leave?"
"I will be in ten."
"Take your time. You know Mom. As long as we show, she doesn't care if we're a bit late."
Ashlie snorted. "Define 'a bit'. I was fifteen minutes late last time and she about had a cow until I told her about my car breaking down."
"When do you get it back from the shop?"
"Tomorrow...or so they say." She crossed her fingers, laughing when Brent did as well. "Thank you for being my designated driver when I needed it this week."
"Of course I'm willing to help. I'm your big brother."
"You're my only brother, so you have no choice."
Brent grinned. "I could have made you take cabs. Okay, go get ready or whatever it is you do."
* * * *
"Mother, I'm back," Cody called out as he came into the house.
"It's about time," she replied from the living room. "I'm hungry."
Cody sighed, going to join her. She sat in regal splendor in the center of the sofa. Her hair was perfectly coifed, her lips bright red from the lipstick she insisted on wearing. If she had been thirty years younger and weighed a hundred pounds less, she would have been beautiful. As it was, between her weight and the arthritis that had crippled her hands, she looked like...like a blob I have to take care of, like it or not. She was his mother, and he loved her, but there were times...
"What would you like for supper?" he asked.
"That chicken thing you make, with mushrooms and cream sauce. Is there still cake left?"
"Good. And I need more coffee." She gestured toward the empty cup. "And change the channel. I want to watch the news." She looked at the bag he was holding. "Are those my meds?"
"Give me a pain one. I hurt."
He did as she requested, changing the channel, getting a glass of water, then helping her drink after putting a pill on her tongue.
"How is your book coming?" she asked, her attention vacillating between him and the TV.
Cody was surprised she'd asked. She was disdainful of his writing, despite the fact it was what kept a roof over their heads. That and the money she'd gotten when his father had been killed in an industrial accident at the factory three years ago.
"It's getting there."
"Oh. Okay." By now she was fully engulfed in a news story about a murder of an elderly woman not too far from where they lived. "Another one. That makes two now. How horrible," she exclaimed. "Cody, is the alarm turned on?"
"Yes, Mother. Isn't it always?" he muttered in exasperation, walking into the kitchen to start supper.