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Dennie went flying through the brass-framed revolving doors of the Riverbend Queen Hotel, her cheeks glowing from the April wind, and plowed right into a handsome, lanky blond in the middle of the red-flocked hotel lobby.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, and he smiled at her, a shy smile that might have warmed her heart if she hadn’t just given up men for the duration. He looked like her type: easy to enslave.
“That’s all right,” he said. “It was my fault. Not lookin’ where I was goin’.” He stuck out his hand. “I’m Brian Bondman. Pleased to meet you.”
Dennie shook his hand once. “My pleasure.” She turned to go, but he held on.
“You sure are a pretty sight comin’ through that door—” he began.
Dennie tugged her hand back. “Thank you.” She turned to go again, but he’d sidled around her so she was face-to-face with him.
“I sure would be willin’ to take you to dinner tonight to make up for this,” he said and ducked his head at his own temerity.
This is an act, Dennie told herself. Nobody drops that many g’s naturally. It would be interesting to know why it was an act, but not very. “No,” she said, and pulled her hand away. “But thank you anyway.” Then she turned and headed for the brass-edged registration desk before he could leap in front of her and offer drinks, frozen yogurt, or breakfast. He had the look of a man who didn’t quit trying, all that aw shucks to the contrary.
“I have a reservation,” she told the registration clerk. “Dennie Banks?”
The clerk took her form when she’d signed it, handed her the key card to her room, and said, “Is there anything else?”
This was it. Don’t waste a minute, she told herself. Dennie leaned forward. “Yes, I’m supposed to meet Janice Meredith here. Do you know—?”
“She’s in the Ivy Room,” the clerk said. “Right over there beyond the bar.”
“Could you hold my bag for me, please?” Dennie passed her carry-on over the desk. “I don’t want to miss her.”
Be firm, she told herself as she headed for the restaurant. Be professional and firm and focused. Believe in yourself.
Alec had taken it all in from his well-upholstered seat in the mahogany and brass hotel bar, and he’d never been more delighted to see a hunch pay off. He’d been watching Bond case the lobby when the brunette had started up the steps to the revolving door. Bond saw her at the same time and moved to meet her, deliberately running into her as she came through the doors, and Alec thought, Nice touch. Anybody seeing them would swear it was an accident. The brunette had smiled at him and moved away almost immediately, but Alec knew they’d spoken. Bond had even faked disappointment as she’d walked away.
Watching the brunette now, Alec sympathized with Bond; it wouldn’t be hard faking disappointment if this woman walked away from you. Glossy dark brown curls bounced on her shoulders, and her smile heated the lobby. She walked past him to the registration desk, and he watched her hips move under her fluid red dress. She had a great swing to her.
Normally he’d wait until the con approached him; it was safer, less suspicious, but this was a woman any man would approach. In fact, he told himself, it would be more suspicious if he didn’t approach her, and the last thing he wanted was to be more suspicious. So when she handed her bag to the clerk and turned toward the restaurant next to the bar, he moved to meet her, just like any red-blooded American man in his right, if gullible, mind would do.
“Are you all right, ma’am?” he asked. “You hit that guy pretty hard.”
She smiled briefly and stepped away, turning toward the restaurant, her red skirt flaring around her very nice calves. “I’m fine, thank you.”
“You might want a brandy.” Alec eased himself alongside her. “It would be my privilege to buy you one. I’m a stranger here myself, but I do know how to buy a pretty lady a brandy.”
She stopped and her eyes got narrower. “Is there some kind of convention here besides pop literature? Some farm-boy thing?”
“I don’t know.” Alec tried to look open and eager to please. “I could sure find out. I’m all alone here, got plenty of time, and it would be a real act of kindness if you’d join me.” The woman opened her mouth to protest and he finished, “Now don’t you worry about a thing. I got plenty of money and I’d just love to spend it on you. Would you like—?”
“No,” she said, moving away from him again. “I wouldn’t like anything you could give me. Thank you anyway.”
She disappeared into the restaurant and Alec watched her go, still wincing a little from the “anything you could give me” line. Better marks than he were evidently having brunch. He gave her a couple of minutes and then trailed in after her, taking a table across the room where he could watch her without seeming to.
As soon as he sat down, he knew he was in trouble. She was there all right, but sitting in the booth next to her were his aunt Victoria and two of her friends, all of whom had known him since babyhood. All he needed was for one of them to spot him across the room and start yodeling hellos, and his cover would be history. He sidled out again, but not before he noticed the brunette was eavesdropping on them.
Five minutes later, Harry picked up the phone and said, “What?”
“Harry, that’s a lousy way to answer the phone,” Alec said. “You’ve still got seven years to go until retirement. Try a little polish, a little sophistication.”
“At two-thirty in the afternoon, when all hell is breaking loose, and you’re sitting on your butt in Ohio instead of here where you belong, you get ‘What?’,” Harry growled. “You want me polished and sophisticated, you call another time.”
From the Paperback edition.