She snatched up the pages and glowered as she scanned the changes he'd made, but finally she signed, as he'd known she would. He did the same, then kicked back in his chair and studied her. “Hand over Gwen Phelps's phone number. I'll set up the next date myself.”
She tugged on her bottom lip, revealing small, white teeth.
“I have to check with her first. It's an agreement I make with all the women I introduce.”
“Sensible. But I'm not too worried.”
As she reached for her cell, he glanced at his watch. He was tired. He'd spent the day in Cleveland, and he still needed to make a quick stop at Waterworks to see if he could pick up any new scuttlebutt on Dean Robillard. Tomorrow he was scheduled from breakfast straight through until midnight. Friday, he had an early morning flight to Phoenix and, the following week, trips to Tampa and Baltimore. If he had a wife, his overnight case would be packed when he needed it, and he'd be able to find something other than beer in the refrigerator after a late-night flight. He'd also have somebody to talk over his day with, a chance to let down his guard without worrying about the country twang that crept into his speech when he was tired, or inadvertently dropping an elbow on the table while he was eating a sandwich, or any of the other crap he always had to be aware of. Most of all, he'd have somebody who'd stick.
“Gwen, it's Annabelle. Thanks again for agreeing to meet Heath on such short notice.” She shot him a pointed look. Tinker Bell was chastising him. “He's asked for your phone number. I happen to know he's planning a dinner date at”—another pointed look tossed his way—“Charlie Trotter's.”
He wanted to laugh, but he deadpanned her so she didn't get too full of herself.
She paused, listened, and nodded. He pulled out his cell and paged through the list of calls that had come in while he was talking to Gwen. It wasn't quite nine o'clock in Denver. He still had time to check in with Jamal to see how his hamstring was coming along.
“Yes,” she said. “Yes, I'll pass it on. Thanks.” She flipped her cell closed, slipped it into her tote, then gazed at him across the table. “Gwen liked you. But only as a friend.”
For one of the few times in his life, he was struck speechless.
“I was afraid that might happen,” she said briskly. “The twenty-minute time frame didn't exactly give you a chance to put your best foot forward.”
He stared at her, not quite able to believe what he was hearing.
“Gwen asked me to pass on her best wishes. She thinks you're very good-looking, and she's sure you won't have any trouble finding someone more suitable.”
Gwen Phelps had rejected him?
“We might…” Annabelle said thoughtfully, “… need to start looking a little lower on the female totem pole.”
Match Me If You Can
The midnight blue Jaguar crept around the corner of Hoyne onto the narrow Wicker Park street. The woman behind the wheel peered at the house numbers through a pair of rimless Chanel sunglasses with tiny interlocking rhinestone Cs at the hinges. Strictly speaking, they were fashion sunglasses, which meant they barely had enough UV protection for even a cloudy day, but they looked incredible against her pale skin and cloud of dark hair, and Portia Powers didn't believe in sacrificing style for function. Not even her approaching birthday—her thirty-seventh to close acquaintances, her forty-second as her mother remembered it—would let her consider trading in her Christian Louboutin stilettos for Easy Spirits. Her ex-husband had said that Portia's inky hair, winter white complexion, startling blue eyes, and whippet-thin body made her look like Snow White after a few months on the South Beach diet.
She slowed as she found what she was looking for on the tree-lined street. She'd never seen a more likely candidate for a teardown than this tiny frame house, which was painted a fading robin's egg blue with peeling periwinkle trim. A blistered black wrought-iron fence surrounded a patch of yard the size of her bathroom. The place looked like a gardening shed for one of the elegant two-story brick rehabs rising on each side of it. How had it managed to escape the wrecking ball that had already claimed most of Wicker Park's shabbier homes?
Portia had spotted the Perfect for You folder on Heath Champion's desk when she'd stopped by yesterday, and her formidable competitive instincts had gone into hyperdrive. In the past year, she'd lost two big clients to new agencies, and one husband to a twenty-three-year-old event planner. Failure had a smell to it, and she'd work herself to the bone before she ever let that smell cling to her. A few hours' research had unearthed the information that Perfect for You was simply a new name for Marriages by Myrna, a small-time operation that had been little more than a curiosity. The granddaughter had taken it over after Myrna Reichman's death. A little more digging had revealed that this same granddaughter had gone to college with Kevin Tucker's wife, Molly. Portia had let herself relax a little. Naturally Heath would feel obligated to give the girl a courtesy interview if his client's wife requested it, but he was too demanding to work with an amateur. She'd gone to bed with an easy mind… and had a painfully erotic dream about her prized client. Not that she'd ever consider acting on it. A fling with Champion would be exciting, but she never let her personal life interfere with business.
Unfortunately, this morning's phone call had reignited her anxiety. Ramon, the bartender at Sienna's, was one of many well-placed service people who received lavish gifts from her in return for useful information, and he'd reported that a matchmaker named Annabelle had shown up last night with a beautiful woman in tow whom she'd introduced to Heath. Portia had set off for Wicker Park as soon as she could get away. She needed to see how big a threat the woman posed, but this derelict house proved that Perfect for You was a business only in Ms. Granger's imagination. Champion was simply making nice to please Kevin Tucker's wife.
Feeling marginally reassured, she headed south toward the Loop for her monthly dermabrasion. She spent vast amounts of money keeping her complexion unlined and her body reed thin. Age might add to a man's power, but it stole from a woman's, and an hour later, makeup reapplied, complexion glowing, she entered the Power Matches offices on the first floor of a white-painted brick Victorian not far from the Newberry Library.
Inez, her receptionist-secretary looked guilty and quickly got off the phone. More child care problems. How could women ever get ahead when the burden of child care always fell on them? Portia took in the calm elegance of the open office area with its cool green walls and low, Asian-inspired black couches. Her three assistants were at their desks, which were set apart with stylish parchment screens set in black lacquer frames. Ranging in age from twenty-two to twenty-nine, her assistants scouted the city's trendiest clubs and handled all the initial interviews. Portia had hired them for their connections, brains, and looks. They were required to wear black on the job: simple, elegant dresses; slacks with classic tops; and well-fitting jackets. She had more latitude, and today she'd chosen pearl gray Ralph Lauren: a summer-weight cardigan, tailored blouse, pencil skirt, and pearls, all set off with lavender stilettos that had a girly bow across the vamp.
There were no clients in the office, so she made the dreaded announcement. “It's that day of the week, everybody. Chop, chop. Let's get the agony over with.”
SuSu Kaplan groaned. “I'm getting my period.”
“You were getting your period last week,” Portia replied. “No excuses.” Only her controller and the computer guru who ran the Power Matches Web site were exempt from this weekly ritual, since they didn't deal directly with clients. Besides, they were men, and didn't that just say it all?
Portia walked toward her private office. “You, too, Inez.”
“I'm the receptionist,” Inez protested. “I don't have to be in the clubs at night.”
Portia ignored her. They all wanted the prestige of working for Power Matches, but nobody wanted the hard work and the discipline that went along with it. Discipline turns the dream into reality. How many times had she said those words to the women she mentored at the Community Small Business Initiative? And how many times had they chosen to ignore her?
Kiki Ono had a chipper smile on her face, and Briana didn't seem too worried, but if SuSu Kaplan kept frowning that way she'd need Botox before she hit thirty. Inside Portia's office, half a dozen curry-colored ceramic pieces provided the only decorative accessories in a space dominated by glass, straight lines, and hard surfaces. Her personal preferences ran toward softer, more feminine interiors, but she believed a woman's office should project authority. Men could surround themselves with all the bowling trophies and family photos they wanted, but female executives didn't have that luxury.
As she made her way into her private bathroom, she heard the rustle of shoes and jackets being removed, the chink of discarded belts and bracelets. She slid the glass-and-chrome precision scale from beneath the pedestal sink with the pointed toe of her lavender Christian Louboutins, then picked it up and carried it out to the black marble office floor. By the time she extracted the chart she needed from her desk, SuSu had stripped down to a navy bra and panty set.