She heard a combined sigh of resignation and exasperation. “I have to see a client in Elmhurst in an hour. You can ride out there with me. Meet me in front of my office at two. And if you're not on time, I'm leaving without you.”
“I'll be there.”
She hung up and grinned at the woman sitting across the green metal bistro table from her. “Bingo.”
Gwen Phelps Bingham set down her iced tea glass. “You talked him into filling out the questionnaire?”
“Sort of,” Annabelle replied. “I'll have to interview him in his car, but it's better than nothing. I can't go any further until I get a more specific idea of what he wants.”
“Boobs and blond hair. Be sure and give him my best.” Gwen smiled and gazed toward the collection of weedy day-lilies that formed a border between her yard and the alley behind her Wrigleyville duplex. “I've got to admit, he's quite a hottie… if you like your men rough and tumble, but oh so rich and successful.”
“I heard that.” Gwen's husband, Ian, poked his head through the open patio door. “Annabelle, that big fruit basket doesn't even come close to making up for what you put me through last week.”
“How about the year of free babysitting I promised?”
Gwen patted her nearly flat tummy. “You've got to admit, Ian, it was worth it just for that.”
He wandered outside. “I'm not admitting anything. I've seen pictures of that guy, and he's still got hair.”
Ian was more sensitive about his thinning hair than he should be, and Gwen regarded him affectionately. “I married you for your brain, not your hair.”
“Heath Champion graduated at the top of his law class.”
Annabelle said, just to make trouble. “So he's definitely got a brain, too. Which is why he was so captivated by our Gwennie.”
Ian refused to bite. “Not to mention the minor fact that you told him she was a sex surrogate.”
“Wrong. I told him she was an authority on sex surrogates. And I read her master's thesis, so I know it's true.”
“Funny you neglected to mention she's now an elementary school psychologist.”
“Considering everything else I neglected to mention, it seemed a minor point.”
Annabelle had met Gwen and Ian right after college when they'd lived in the same apartment building. Despite his thinning hair, Ian was a great-looking guy, and Gwen adored him. If they weren't so much in love, Annabelle would never have considered asking to borrow Gwen for the evening, but Heath had backed her into a corner, and she'd been desperate. Although she had several women in mind for him to meet, she hadn't been certain any of them would score the knockout punch she needed to ensure that he'd sign her contract. Then she'd thought of Gwen, a woman who'd been born with that mysterious gene that made men whimper just from looking at her.
Ian was still feeling put-upon. “The guy's rich, successful, and good-looking.”
“So are you,” Gwen said loyally, “except for being rich, but we'll get there someday.”
Ian's home-based software company had finally begun to show a profit, which was why they were about to move into their first house. Annabelle experienced one of those pangs of envy that hit her every other minute when she was with them. She wanted a relationship like this. Once she'd thought she had it with Rob, which proved the folly of believing in following her heart.
She rose, patted Gwen's stomach, and gave Ian an extra hug. Not only had he lent her his wife, but he was also designing
Annabelle's Web site. Annabelle knew she needed a presence on the Web, but she didn't intend to turn Perfect for You into an Internet dating service. Nana had been vehement on the subject. “Three-quarters of the people who sign up for those things are already married, sex deviants, or in prison.” Nana had exaggerated. Annabelle knew couples who'd found love online, but she also didn't believe any computer in the world could beat the personal touch.
She freshened up her makeup in Gwen's bathroom, checked her short khaki skirt and mint green blouse for stains, and set off downtown. She reached Heath's office building a few minutes early, so she ducked into the Starbucks across the street and ordered an overpriced mocha Frappuccino. As she came back outside, she saw him emerge with a cell phone pressed to his ear. He wore aviators, a light gray polo shirt, and slacks. An expensive-looking sports coat dangled over one shoulder from his thumb. Men like him should be required by law to carry a heart defibrillator.
He headed toward the curb, where a shiny black Cadillac Escalade with darkened windows sat with its motor idling. As he reached for the passenger-door handle, he didn't even glance around for her, and she realized he'd forgotten she existed. The story of her life.
“Wait!” She made a dash across the street, dodging a taxi and a red Subaru. Horns blared, brakes squealed, and Champion looked up. He flipped his cell shut as she finally stepped up on the curb.
“I haven't seen anybody run a pattern like that since Bobby Tom Denton retired from the Stars.”
“You were going to leave without me.”
“I didn't see you.”
“You didn't look!”
“Things on my mind.” At least he held the back door of the rapmobile open for her, then climbed in at her side. The driver moved up the passenger seat for more legroom before he turned to check her out.
The driver was big and terrifyingly buff. Tattoos decorated a massive set of arms and the wrist he'd draped over the steering wheel. With his shaved head, wise-guy eyes, and crooked smile, he had a Bruce Willis's evil twin thing going that was sexy in a very scary sort of way. “Where we off to?” he asked.
“Elmhurst,” Heath said. “Crenshaw wants me to see his new house.”
As a Stars fan, Annabelle recognized the name of the team's running back.
“The Sox are up two-one,” the driver said. “You want to listen in the back?”
“Yeah, but unfortunately I have some business I promised to take care of. Annabelle, this is Bodie Gray, the best linebacker who never played for Kansas City.”
“Second-round draft pick out of Arizona State,” Bodie said as he pulled the SUV into the traffic. “Played two years for the Steelers. My right leg was crushed in a motorcycle accident the day I got traded to the Chiefs.”
“That must have been terrible.”
“You win some, you lose some, right, boss?”
“He calls me that to piss me off.”
Bodie studied her in the rearview mirror. “So you're the matchmaker?”
“Marriage facilitator.” Heath swiped her mocha Frappuc-cino.
He took a drag on the straw, and Bodie chuckled. “Marriage facilitator, huh? You got your work cut out for you with the boss, Annabelle. He has a long history of lovin' and leavin'.” He made a left on LaSalle. “But here's what's ironic… The last woman he was interested in—some pooh-bah in the mayor's office—dumped him. How's that for a laugh?”
Heath yawned and stretched his legs. Despite his pricey wardrobe, she could easily imagine him in jeans, a ratty T-shirt, and scuffed-up work boots.
Bodie turned onto Congress. “She dumped him because of the way he screwed around on her.”
Annabelle's stomach sank. “He was unfaithful?”
“Big-time.” Bodie made a lane change. “He kept humpin' his cell phone.”
Heath took another swig of the Frappuccino. “He's bitter because I'm successful, and he's screwed up for life.”
No response from the front seat. What sort of weird relationship was this?
A cell rang. Not the same cell Heath had been talking on a few minutes earlier. This one came from the pocket of his sports coat. Apparently, he was ambi-phonorous.
Annabelle took advantage of the distraction to reclaim her Frappuccino. As she closed her lips around the straw, she had the depressing thought that this would probably be as close as she'd get to swapping spit with a multimillionaire hunk.
“The restaurant business is littered with the dead bodies of great athletes, Rafe. It's your money, so I can only advise you, but…”
The downside of being a matchmaker meant that she might never have another date. When she met attractive single men, she had to turn them into clients, and she couldn't let her personal life complicate that. Not a problem in this particular case… She gazed at Heath. Just being near so much unbridled macho made her want to break out in hives. He even smelled sexy, like expensive sheets, good soap, and musky pheromones. The Frappuccino sliding down her throat didn't do much to cool her hot thoughts, and she faced the sad truth that she was sex starved. Two miserable years since she'd broken her engagement to Rob… Way too long to sleep alone.