The opening bars of the William Tell Overture intruded. Heath had the gall to frown as she retrieved her phone. “Hello.”
“Annabelle, it's your mother.”
She sank back into the seat, cursing herself for not remembering to turn the thing off.
Heath took advantage of her distraction to reclaim the Frap-puccino while he continued his own conversation. “… it's all a matter of setting financial priorities. Once your family's secure, you can afford to take a flyer on a restaurant.”
“I tracked the application through FedEx,” Kate said, “so I know you got it. Have you filled it out yet?”
“Interesting question,” Annabelle chirped. “Let me call you back later so we can discuss it.”
“Let's discuss it now.”
“You're a prince, Raoul. And thanks for last night. You were the best.” She disconnected, then turned off her phone. There'd be hell to pay, but she'd worry about that later.
Heath ended his own call and regarded her through those money green, country boy's eyes. “If you're going to program your cell to play music, at least make it original.”
“Thanks for the advice.” She gestured toward the Frappuc-cino. “Luckily for you, there's only a slight chance I have diphtheria. Let me tell you, those skin lesions are a bitch.”
The corner of his mouth kicked up. “Put the drink on my bill.”
“You don't have a bill.” She thought of the parking garage where she'd once again been forced to leave Sherman since she hadn't known how long they'd be gone. “Although I'm starting one today.” She retrieved the questionnaire from her tropical print Target tote.
He eyed the papers with distaste. “I told you what I'm looking for.”
“I know. Soldier Field, fart jokes, yada yada. But I need a little more than that. For example, what age group are you thinking of? And please don't say nineteen, blond, and busty.”
“He's been there and done that, right, boss?” Bodie chimed in from the front seat. “For the last ten years.”
Heath ignored him. “I've outgrown my interest in nineteen-year-olds. Let's say twenty-two to thirty. Nothing older. I want kids, but not for a while.”
Which made Annabelle, at thirty-one, feel ancient. “What if she's divorced and already has children?”
“I haven't thought about it.”
“Have you considered religious preference?”
“No fruitcakes. Other than that, I'm open-minded.”
Annabelle made a note. “Would you date a woman who doesn't have a college degree?”
“Sure. What I don't want is a woman without a personality.”
“If you had to describe your physical type in three words, what words would you choose?”
“Thin, toned, and hot,” Bodie said from the front seat. “He's doesn't like a whole lot of booty.”
Annabelle shifted her own booty deeper into the seat.
Heath ran his thumb over the metal band of his watch, a TAG Heuer, she noticed, similar to the one her brother Adam had bought for himself when he'd been named St. Louis's top heart surgeon. “Gwen Phelps isn't in the phone book.”
“Yes, I know. What are your turnoffs?”
“I'm going to find her.”
“Why would you want to?” Annabelle said a little too hastily. “She's not interested.”
“You really don't think I can be put off that easily, do you?”
She made a business of clicking her pen and perusing the questionnaire. “Your turnoffs?”
“Flakes. Gigglers. Too much perfume. Cubs fans.”
Her head shot up. “I love the Cubbies.”
She decided to let that one pass.
“You never dated a redhead,” Bodie offered.
A lock of Annabelle's own red hair chose that moment to fall over her cheek.
Heath eyed the back of Bodie's neck where a Maori warrior's tattoo curled into his shirt collar. “Maybe I should let my faithful manservant answer the rest of your questions, since he seems to have all the answers.”
“I'm saving her time,” Bodie replied. “She brings you a redhead, you'll give her grief. Look for women with class, Annabelle. That's most important. The sophisticated types who went to boarding schools and speak French. She has to be the real thing because he can spot a phony a mile away. And he likes them athletic.”
“Of course he does,” she said dryly. “Athletic, domestic, gorgeous, brilliant, socially connected, and pathologically submissive. It'll be a snap.”
“You forgot hot.” Heath smiled. “And defeatist thinking is for losers. If you want to be a success in this world, Annabelle, you need a positive attitude. Whatever the client wants, you get it for him. First rule of a successful business.”
“Uh-huh. What about career women?”
“I don't see how that would work.”
“The kind of potential mate you're describing isn't going to be sitting around waiting for her prince to show up. She's heading a major corporation. In between those Victoria's Secret modeling gigs.”
He lifted an eyebrow. “Attitude, Annabelle. Attitude.”
“A career woman can't fly across the country with me on two hours' notice to entertain a client's wife,” he said.
“Two on, no outs.” Bodie flipped up the volume.
As the men listened to the game, Annabelle contemplated her notes with a sinking heart. How was she going to find a woman who met all these criteria? She couldn't. But then neither could Portia Powers, because a woman like this didn't exist.
What if Annabelle took a different path? What if she found the woman Heath Champion really needed instead of the woman he thought he needed? She doodled in the margin of the questionnaire. What made this guy tick besides money and conquest? Who was the real man behind the multiple cell phones? On the surface, he was all polish, but she knew from Molly that he'd grown up with an abusive father. Apparently, he'd started rooting around in the neighbors' garbage looking for things to sell before he could read, and he'd been working ever since.
“What's your real name?” Annabelle asked as they got off the East West Tollway at York Road.
“What makes you think Heath Champion isn't my real name.”
“Campione. Italian for champion.”
She nodded, but something in the way he avoided looking at her told her there was more to the story.
They headed north toward the prosperous suburb of Elmhurst. Heath consulted his BlackBerry. “I'll be at Sienna's tomorrow night at six. Bring on your next candidate.”
She turned her doodle into a stop sign. “Why now?”
“Because I just rearranged my schedule.”
“No, I mean why have you decided now that you want to get married?”
“Because it's time.”
Before she could ask what that meant, he was back on his cell. “I know you're nearly capped out, Ron, but I also know you don't want to lose a great running back. Tell Phoebe she's going to have to make some adjustments.”
And so, apparently, was Annabelle.
Bodie sent her back to the city in a cab paid for by Heath. By the time she'd retrieved Sherman and driven home, it was after five. She let herself in through the back door and tossed her things down on the kitchen table, a pine drop leaf Nana had bought in the 1980s when she'd gone big on country-style decorating. The appliances were vintage but still serviceable, just like the farm-table chairs with their faded mattress-ticking pillows. Although Annabelle had lived in the house for three months, she'd always think of it as Nana's, and tossing out the dusty grapevine wreath along with the ruffled cranberry curtain at the kitchen window were about as much as she'd done to update the eating area.
Some of her happiest childhood memories had taken place in this kitchen, especially during the summers when she'd come for a week to visit. She and Nana used to sit at this very table, talking about everything. Her grandmother had never laughed at her daydreams, not even when Annabelle had turned eighteen and announced that she intended to study theater and become a famous actress. Nana dealt only in possibility. It hadn't occurred to her to point out that Annabelle possessed neither the beauty nor the talent to hit it big on Broadway.
The doorbell rang, and she went to answer it. Years earlier, Nana had converted the living and dining rooms into the reception and office areas for Marriages by Myrna. Like her grandmother, Annabelle lived in the rooms upstairs. Since Nana's death, Annabelle had repainted and modernized the dining room office space with a computer and a more efficient desk arrangement.