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No, it was a good ad, a good response to his.
He'd turn up.
And what's more, he'd be the right one. He'd have to be. All the rest had been complete duds. She was counting on this one.
Billie Hagan tapped her short, blunt nails against her glass of cola with growing impatience. Where was he?
She looked around the crowded, smoke-filled singles bar, trying to ignore the churning of her stomach.
How the hell did everyone here do it without falling apart? She was a wreck. And she wasn't even doing this to actually meet a prospective mate. If she had to do that, she'd probably end up an old, withered maid, cackling away in some tower. With a thousand cats all named Fred.
Focus, she told herself, focus on the job at hand.
Billie closed her eyes and mentally regrouped. She was here on business, simply on business. And this man she was about to meet, ol' tall, dark and handsome, was simply just another in a line of prospective suspects.
He had to be guilty of something, she knew that much after his short but very telling ad. What more could a woman want? Indeed.
She swallowed a snort of laughter. Sincerity would be nice. An egoectomy maybe. Still, she wasn't about to date the man, just investigate him. This one sounded like a regular to Hot Connectionz, just what she wanted.
She'd researched carefully and narrowed her suspect hunt down to a regular. And after meeting a few shy, retiring types, she'd realized not all the women she'd interviewed had dated that type. In fact, after those men's painfully honest attempts at romancing her, she'd gone back to the notes she'd made from theinterviews, and discovered while the women had all gone out at some time with regulars, there was one type of regular who'd consistently shown up.
He claimed to be handsome. He claimed to be charming. He got the woman in by his confidence.
She'd received sixty replies to her new ad in the Hot Connectionz personal pages, and after rifling through them, she'd discarded the self-confessed warm, caring, married men looking for a fun time, along with the newcomers and kinky sex freaks.
In the end, she'd given up on the available men left over and simply sent her ad to TDH. She'd seen the ad, read it and decided it was too good an opportunity to pass up.
Perhaps she was on the wrong track, but as a private investigator who stood in square one on an investigation, she had to follow every avenue she could.
Where was he? She was at the right date table, number thirty-six. She'd arrived ten minutes early so she wouldn't miss him. Calm down, girl.
Billie sipped her Sprite, looking around the bar. How her sister, Fiona, had ever thought she'd find a man interested in a relationship in this place was beyond her. Most of the people crammed into this singles joint all looked like 'relationship' was the last thing on their minds. Of course, she might simply be letting her emotions color her view. It had been two years since her injury, a year-and-a-half since she'd quit the force, a year since she'd had her heart trodden all over by her ex-fiancé, but she still remembered. Everything.
Couples chatted and flirted away at most of the date tables surrounding her. She shuddered. What if her life eventually came down to this? Oh, God, if it did, she'd join a nunnery.
Concentrate on your job and don't screw up your first case. Billie sighed, checking her watch. Ten minutes late and counting. Waiting sucked, she decided, scanning the crowded room again, wondering if any here were in on the scam. That was an idea she'd been toying with. More than one culprit. Maybe she could--
"Blonde, petite, pretty?" a deep, husky voice said.
Billie didn't look up right away. She had to gather herself. No one should be allowed to have a voice like that. It wasn't fair. It was the type of voice that evoked sultry nights and tangled sheets.
She hurriedly kicked the whole subject of sex out of her head. She was in this sleazy bar to work. Slowly she looked up and almost wished she hadn't. He was tall and dark and most definitely handsome.
Beyond handsome, really. Sexy ... with more than his fair share of masculinity thrown in. Billie sucked in a deep breath as she met his gaze. His golden eyes seemed to look into her very soul. Oh Lord, this man screamed trouble with those eyes and that sensuous, chiseled mouth. He had a strong, straight nose, cheekbones to die for and a square chin. His dark hair, swept carelessly back from his face, looked in desperate need of a cut. It should have detracted from his looks, but it didn't. Everything came together much too well for her liking.
She didn't trust men who looked like this.
She took in his clothes. Casual. Dressed to impress without going over the top. 501s, white shirt, green cashmere jacket. Nice.
Billie offered him a smile. "Tall, dark and handsome?"
His easy, answering grin made her tremble. "Yeah." He slid onto the seat opposite her.
Damn. Why couldn't the man look like Quasimodo, or something? Instead he looked dangerous. And far too good-looking for comfort.
"I'm Billie H-Hammil." She cursed inwardly as she slipped over the false last name. Well, she decided, holding out her hand, no doubt Mr. Man here would think her nervousness was over meeting such a catch and not the embarkment of the first case of her new career.
He took her hand in a firm, engulfing grip. His fingers felt warm around hers, and they weren't rough. This is a man who doesn't do manual labor for a living. His fingers were long and elegant, perfect for breaking and entering....
"Devlin Stuart," he said, giving her another smile. "You come here often?"
Billie groaned inwardly. "Ohh, you bad man." She forced a moronic giggle. "Not too often, I'm fairly new."
"Your letter sounded very ... confident." He leaned back in his chair. "Not at all like a novice."
He reminded her of someone with his overflowing charm and self-confidence. A certain ex-fiancé named Anthony. Maybe she was projecting, but personally she didn't think so.
"That's me--confident," she said brightly, pouring on the charm. "But it feels like my first with you."
He made a strange sound that could have been muffled laughter. "The rest were duds, huh?"
Billie smiled and nodded, knowing she had to stay in character for this to work. She smoothed down the hem of her ridiculously short dress. Devlin made her nervous and she had no idea why. He was just a man. Nothing to get all worked up over.
"What do you do?" She had to get as much information on him as possible--to either rule him out or in as a suspect.
Devlin's lean fingers played with the complimentary matchbook. "I travel a lot. I'm in sales."
"Really? How fascinating. What kind of sales?" He looked nothing like any salesman she'd seen.
"Pharmaceuticals. It takes me across the country--nothing very exciting--"
"Oh," she breathed, trying to be the ultimate ditzy blonde, "it sounds exciting!"
Devlin barely hid a condescending look. But Billie caught it and wanted to kick him under the table. She was getting the desired results so it shouldn't have mattered.
Neil Diamond started up in the noisy background. Someone had found the jukebox. Over Cherry, Cherry, Devlin spoke. "It's a living, honey."
Honey? Did she look like honey? Did he actually think he'd get something out of this evening? Billie took a quick gulp of her Sprite. Well, yes, she reminded herself, he did.
"A very good living, actually," he added with a wink. "I've got a small house in Prahran, not far from here, and one in Darlinghurst.... "At her blank look, he added, "That's in Sydney. They're my two bases, but I'm never in Sydney or Melbourne long enough to call either home. I go from town to town, free and easy and loving it. It gives life a bit of oomph, you know what I mean?"
Billie nodded tightly. She knew exactly what he meant. It was almost the same thing Anthony had meant when he'd broken the engagement. I'm in it for the fun, but no commitments, thanks very much. She steered clear of men like that.
Stop projecting and start concentrating. Right, so far, he fit the profile she'd formulated. Flirty and big-noting himself. All she had to do was remain focused until she got what she wanted.
Though why no woman could remember this man down to the finest detail was beyond her. She'd remember his beautiful face when she was living in the nunnery with all those cats named Fred.
Since she didn't have a description of this man, did that mean he wasn't her man? No, she couldn't think that until she'd eliminated him completely. He was the closest she had.
"It sounds wonderful," she simpered. "Tell me more!"
He laughed easily and shook his head. He leaned forward on the tiny, grimy round plastic table and focused that golden gaze on her. "Tell me about you, Billie."
She shrugged. "My life's terribly boring. I'm recently divorced." The lie skipped off her tongue with alarming ease.
"I see. Billie.... "He said her name like he was tasting it, like she was the most special thing in his life. "Billie ... such a pretty name. Your parents weren't fans of Billie Holiday by any chance?"
Bingo. She forced herself to giggle. "Who?"
"Oh. Okay." Billie twirled her glass in her fingers and gave him a coy look. "I--I hate to ask this, with us getting along so well and all.... "Her voice trailed off suggestively. "You don't have a significant other around, do you?"
He looked at her like she'd just said a dirty word. "Nope. Just me."
"Good." She pulled her wallet out of her bag and extracted a ten-dollar note, "I'd really love another drink. Vodka and tonic."
"I'll get it."
She fluttered her eyelashes. "What a gentleman. While you're getting it, I'll go freshen up."
Dropping the money in her bag, Billie pushed back her chair and headed for the ladies room, deliberately leaving her wallet on the table.