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"Excuse me, I'm looking for Charlie Hunter."
The spanner flew out of my hand and clattered into the bilge. "Shit!"
"Hello there, is Mr. Hunter on board? I was told to ask on this pontoon."
I swore again. The female voice responsible for breaking my concentration clearly wasn't going anywhere. Bare-chested and bloody-minded, I hoisted myself out of the engine room of my motor cruiser and slowly wiped the oil from my hands on the rag protruding from the pocket of my jeans. I took a moment to shake the hair out of my eyes and rotate my shoulders to smooth out the kinks before turning to the woman, ready to let rip. One look in her direction and the words stalled on my tongue.
The policeman in me took stock of the evidence. Midtwenties was my guess. Tall, slim, curly red hair tumbling down her back, big green eyes, a dusting of freckles across her nose, curves in all the right places, no wedding ring. The man in me couldn't help approving. She was just my type, or would be if I hadn't sworn off all women as being more trouble than they were worth. Still, there was nothing to say I couldn't indulge in a spot of window-shopping.
"I'm Hunter," I said tersely. "Something I can do for you?"
If the woman was discouraged by my churlishness, she gave no sign. "My name's Kara Webb, Mr. Hunter." She introduced herself as though it ought to mean something to me.
"You don't remember me?"
"Can't say that I do." The name rang a vague bell but I was willing to swear I'd never had the pleasure. Kara Webb wasn't the sort of woman a man was likely to forget.
"Is there somewhere we could go to talk? I could buy you a coffee, or something." She nodded towards the café on the landside of the approach to the marina.
"Can't see that we have anything to talk about."
She broke off as Gil bounded out of the boat's salon, a growl rumbling in his throat, long tail wagging like crazy. Talk about mixed messages. I made a mental note to have a chat with my dog a bit later on about his duties. It would be useful if he could get into the habit of warning me of imminent intruders before they caused me to drop spanners in bilges.
"Gil!" Too late. He'd already leapt onto the pontoon and was jumping all over my lovely visitor. He's a huge beast in an interesting variety of colours, and although I wasn't about to admit that he's a big softie, a lot of people were intimidated by his size. "Careful, he's a bit edgy 'round strangers."
"So I see."
And then she smiled. I found myself silently repeating the words I'd said aloud when I'd dropped that spanner. Miss Webb, when she smiled, could put the sun itself to shame. It changed the whole tenor of her face and dispelled the air of despondency I'd sensed when first checking her out. Uh-uh, Charlie boy, I told myself severely. This looks like trouble. Don't let that bloody smile influence you into buying whatever it is she's come to sell.
Kara reached out a hand to tickle the dog's ears. Gil, sensing a soft touch, had already rolled onto his back, ready to lap up any attention on offer.
"Gil," she said, "that's a strange name for such a handsome beast. Something to do with fishing?" She nodded towards the fishing rods attached to the roof of the cockpit.
"It's short for Guilty."
"Oh, I see." That usually stopped people in their tracks but Miss Webb didn't miss a beat. "Well, look, Mr. Hunter, I can see you're busy so I won't take up much of your time. If we could just"
"As you said, I'm busy." Pointedly, I turned towards the engine room hatch.