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Kiss Me (To Make It Look Real)

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“Quick, kiss me.”

Hilda barely turned her head to ask Claude “Why?” before he grabbed her hip and pushed her to the wall.

His lips were full and soft as they pressed against hers. Though she could tell it was all for show (she had only known him the past few days), her breath hitched. The bass from the dance music rumbled in her ribs as bright lights flashed over the packed, dark nightclub. She kissed him back to make it look believable, scrounging her fingers into the hair at his neck, pressing her chest against his.

“…There, that would get people to leave us alone.” He shifted the kiss to her jaw, then down to her neck. Nothing too eager, just lingering pecks and nothing more. “Do you see him?”

Hilda felt a chill down her spine. Claude’s voice was low and raspy, especially this close to her throat. She looked over his shoulder, scanning the crowd for the man she saw the other night.

Basically, as she was walking, this guy with balding brown hair had shoved past her and tried to dash down an alley. She thought he was snatching her purse, so she grabbed him and tossed him into some trash cans. Of course, just her luck, the man had a gun but was too spooked to use it. He flashed it, looked behind her in panic, and then darted off into the inky night. Hilda was left scared and never walking alone again.

Luckily, she wouldn’t have to. The man with his lips at her neck and his hand at her waist was a spy! Or so he said. Claude had found her, asked her questions in a very official looking room, and showed her pictures of criminals he was chasing. None of them looked like the bald guy, but apparently, all of them were involved with some black-market deals. As soon as the next day, there was word of another meetup. She was asked to help I.D. the guy, and Claude went as her date to keep her safe.

Hilda didn’t realize helping meant this sort of hands-on action. But she wasn’t complaining.

Scattered throughout the nightclub were partiers, dancing and laughing and drinking. Typical scene, but the faces all looked too young. The man who ran into her was middle-aged and sort of pudgy. He looked so plain, but that shows you can’t know a person just by their looks.

Way in the back, men in nice suits caught her attention. They sat in the farthest corner booth of the club, lounging and talking with cool detachment. One man sat in the middle with a slimy smirk and slick dark hair. But talking to him was…

“I think I see him… You said his name was Pallardó, right?” She nibbled her lip, shifting but not pulling away from Claude. The light in an alleyway was sort of like the darkness of the club. Enough to confirm it was the same guy. “He’s turned away, talking to someone else. But I’d recognize that bad hair anywhere.”

Claude’s laugh was a shudder of breath on her neck. “Then that’s him. Who’s Pallardó talking to?”

“I don’t know…”

“Try describing him.”

“But I don’t know what information you need…! Why don’t you look.” Hilda grabbed Claude’s collar and flipped him around, pinning his back to the wall. He made a surprised oof before she dove back in for another fake kiss. He ran his hand up her back and leaned into her to make it look passionate, but his lips didn’t give. Hilda ignored her disappointment.

She broke the kiss first and snuggled up against him. She did that so he could watch the crowd, while she swayed next to him in time with the music. Her job was done once she pointed the guy out, so there wasn’t anything to do but keep pretending. Although, a fake kiss with him was better than with any date she had before…

Honestly, I’ve had worse evenings, she decided.

“Uh oh,” Claude muttered.

“…What?”

Claude blew out a breath, shaking his head. “The man he’s talking to. I know him.”

“Really?” Hilda tried to turn, but his grip tightened on her shoulder. She pouted and turned back, figuring it for the best. She didn’t need to be on the list of witnesses for more slime-bags-of-interest.

“…No, this couldn’t be a regular meeting spot. They’re probably here because it’s close by and out of the way. Unless this place is also a front…? Yeah, let me know what you find.”

The little voice in his head was Claude’s handler. Hilda was sure it was the same woman with thick brown hair she met when they questioned her, the one with the sharp eyes and the smirk like she had international secrets. But Claude looking spooked now made Hilda regret helping at all.

“…Metodey, huh?” Claude kept muttering. “Okay, I’ll see what I can learn. Yeah, yeah, I’ll be careful.”

Hilda looked up at him, drawing a finger across his chest. “Is he a friend of yours?”

Claude smiled down at her, the ever-shifting lights making it look even more manufactured. “He doesn’t know me, thankfully, but I know of him.”

“Is he a bad guy? An enemy spy?”

He laughed and looked back at the booth. He idly played with her hair as he spoke, probably to make it look like they were still flirting. “Normally I’d quip ‘not every enemy spy is bad,’ but this guy’s pretty terrible. Pallardó sure knows how to pick his friends.”

“You never did tell me what he did,” she whispered, tugging at his arm. “I helped you find him! Secret spy business or not, I deserve at least a hint.”

Claude raised a brow at her. “Feeling nosy? Even I don’t have clearance to know half the things this Metodey has done. We were trying to tie up some loose ends by investigating Pallardó, but things just got tangled. He’s connected to something bigger than we thought.”

Behind them, she heard a burst of drunken laughter, oblivious to criminals across the room. Hilda thought of the gun from the night before, and that Claude probably had one as well. “Do you think it would get… dangerous?”

“Don’t worry.” He winked at her. “As long as no one tips him off he’s being tailed, you’ll be safe. We’ll keep a low profile, then we can stay to enjoy the show. Let’s see how close we can get without drawing attention.”

Hilda frowned. “How? We can’t kiss our way over there.”

“Oh? You doubt my technique?” Claude grinned at her, leaning in. Then he stopped, eyes darting away, before sighing and nodding. “Okay, okay. I hear you, Judith.”

Hilda’s ear’s perked. “Bad idea, then?”

“Yup, vetoed. And she told me to stop having fun.” He shrugged. “I mean, you were all over me when you convinced the bouncer to let us in. I say it would be weird if we suddenly couldn’t stand each other.”

…Sounded like an excuse to her. Hilda shrugged too, but pressed her lips together, unable to get his taste off them. It felt pointless to be hung up on this, but all his teasing made her wonder… Would this go on for only tonight?

Soon her eyes found the bar. Teal neon lights illuminated all the expensive drinks for sale. It wasn’t far from the booths, which made for a good vantage point. She smiled to herself and leaned up, her mouth close to the small silver hoop in his left ear. Wondering how that might taste, she pressed a kiss under it. “Then buy me a drink? It’ll look realistic.”

Claude followed her eyes to the bar, then put on that same mysterious smile. He slid his arm around her waist and pulled her against him, leading her through the crowd. “For being a good sport,” he whispered in her ear, “maybe I will.”