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By Dara Girard
Kimani PressCopyright © 2006 Dara Girard
All right reserved.
"I'm sorry about this."
Dawn Ajani smiled at the man in front of her. She thought it was better than strangling him. Lionel Redding's deep-set brown eyes looked apologetic. He had nice eyes and wore a great cologne. He smelled wonderful. It was the first thing she noticed about him beside his large size. Too bad the guy was a pig. A late afternoon sun sent pale strips of light into the room, highlighting his thinning black hair and glinting against the silver letter opener on her desk. Its pointy tip was a tempting weapon. Dawn pushed it out of reach. "I regret having taken up so much of your time," he continued. "You have impressive credentials of course."
Dawn kept her smile, although her cheeks were beginning to ache. A patronizing, lying fathead.
"But I'm considering the Layton Group because they have the kind of manpower and resources I need to handle a company of my size."
Trying not to gag, Dawn nodded, making a noncommittal sound that could be mistaken for understanding.
"They have a more established reputation—"
"I am well aware of Layton's excellent reputation," she interrupted. "I helped create it."
He cleared his throat, looking uncomfortable. Her smile grew malicious. "But of course you know all about that." Dawn leaned back in her chair and tapped herfinger against the desk. She noticed her mauve nail polish was chipped and folded her hand into a fist. "I find it amazing that it took you four hours to come to that conclusion."
"Yes, well I was interested in all that you had to say."
"Really? Personally, I find it a relief that you decided not to use my services. It would likely take you half a day to decide which tax form you would like to use."
He stiffened. "Now, Ms. Ajani—"
"Please. Do not pretend that you had any intention of using my services, Mr. Redding." He opened his mouth; she held up her forefinger. He closed it. "I admit that when you first came in here I was flattered by your initial consideration, but I now know that it was all a ruse." He opened his mouth again; she narrowed her eyes. He closed it and folded his arms. "And how did I know?" She didn't allow him to answer. "Because you seemed 'unnaturally'interested in the location of my apartment, my latest vacation, and both my professional and private life. While I have no problem sharing trivial information such as whether I prefer the color blue or gray." She paused. "Incidentally, I prefer neither color, you can put that down if you find it pertinent." She gestured to the pad where he had been taking notes. "I do take offense to nosy busybodies."
His arms fell to his sides. "I wanted to know if you had any other obligations which may have affected your attention to my needs."
Dawn rested her chin in her hand. "Just how much attention do you need, Mr. Redding?" She raised her hand. "Never mind, I am not interested. If you need the kind of attention I think you do, I'm afraid you've come to the wrong company. However, you can find such companies under the heading of Escort Services in the Yellow Pages."
His lips disappeared into his fleshy round face. He drew in his prominent chin, causing the second one to quiver. "Ms.—"
"You've wasted enough of my time and I plan to be compensated."
He widened his eyes. "You said that the first consultation was free."
"But this wasn't a consultation, was it? It was an underhanded attempt by your client to discover how well I am doing in my new business. My initial consultations take one hour, Mr. Redding. You were an exception. It wasn't hard for me to discover that you are a private investigator. To be exact, you asked a series of such inane questions I was amazed anyone running a business could be so inept."
"I won't sit here and be insulted. I—"
"Don't be. I'm complimenting you, Mr. Redding." She shook her head and laughed without humor. "For a moment there I thought I would have better progress conversing with a tree stump."
He lifted his briefcase onto his lap and opened it. "I knew working with a woman was a mistake."
He shoved his papers inside. "You become so emotional and—"
"How much did Brandon pay you to come here?"
He snapped the briefcase shut. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Would you like me to repeat it slowly or write it down?"
His face turned an unhealthy red. "Now—" She wagged a finger. "There's no need to get emotional, Mr. Redding, I merely asked a question."
"How much did he pay you?"
Dawn stood and came from behind the desk.
"Let me frame it a different way. Will you be paid for information you didn't gather?" She leaned against the table. "Knowing Brandon, he only paid you a third of what you agreed on and will not pay you further unless you supply him with the information he wants. Now wouldn't you hate to have gone through all this trouble for nothing?"
Lionel glanced away. "Let me help you out."
He sent her a curious glance. "I could give you some of the information you seek, for a small fee."
She folded her arms under her breast and sighed heavily. His gaze dipped. It was a cheap trick, but she was pleased it worked. "Very well. If you don't want the juicy tidbit I could give you, that's your choice."
His face remained impassive, but his eyes lit with interest. "Juicy tidbit?"
"That is correct."
He leaned forward and lowered his voice.
"Okay. It's a deal. What do you have for me?"
"So you admit that Brandon sent you to spy on me?"
Dawn held out her hand. He hesitated, then handed her a few bills. She counted them then folded them up. She grinned at him when he glanced at her cleavage. "No, I'm not going to put them there." He colored a bit and looked away.
She put the money in her purse. "Good. You can go now."
Lionel surged to his feet. "Wait. What about the juicy tidbit?"
Dawn opened her desk drawer and pulled out a tangerine. "It's delicious. Enjoy." She placed it in his palm.
He stared at the tangerine, his mouth opening and closing with no sound coming out.
She walked across the room and opened the door. "Goodbye, Mr. Redding."
"You're a conniving, lying..."
She bowed as though he'd offered her a compliment. "Welcome to Washington, D.C., Mr. Redding. Good day."
After Redding left, Dawn closed the door then went over and stood by the window. She used to have a view of Wisconsin Avenue with its well-dressed people and designer cars. Not anymore. Although she did see cars: she had an unblocked view of a parking lot.
Dawn tapped a finger against the wall. She used to have everything until Brandon Layton, her then lover and business partner, had convinced the board that as vice president, she had been involved in shady deals with the company's finances. They voted her out of office within a week.
Looking out the window, she suddenly spotted a tall lanky man acting strangely. He was wearing a gray overcoat, and his reddish-brown hair stuck up all over his head—from the wind or by design she wasn't sure. He wandered around the parking lot, probably searching for his car. Dawn folded her arms then frowned at the tightness under her arms. This jacket used to fit—loosely. She took it off and tossed it over her chair. A lot of her clothes used to fit, but not anymore.
Wouldn't Brandon just love to know about the extra fifteen pounds she'd picked up since their breakup? Her slim figure had actually gotten rather curvy. She looked at the box of donuts on the table and grabbed a half-eaten one: chocolate with coconut topping. She stopped with it halfway to her mouth. She shouldn't. She should eat fruits, nuts and low-fat shakes. She should jog every morning and drink lots of water. She should really try to eat healthy.
She sighed. Dropped the donut back in the box and tossed it in the trash bin on the side of her desk. Her stomach rumbled. She could still smell the sweet scent of powdered sugar, coconut shavings and chocolate. But she would resist. She had to get into shape.
Dawn took a step back from her trash bin and turned back to the window. The man was still wandering. She opened the window. A light breeze from winter's lasting hold struck her face. From her view on the fourth floor she could see the entire lot. Perhaps she could help. She called down to him. "What does it look like?"
The man jumped and spun around looking wildly around him.
Excerpted from Sparks by Dara Girard Copyright © 2006 by Dara Girard. Excerpted by permission.
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