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What The Lady Wants
By Jennifer Crusie
Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Copyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter One Mae Sullivan frowned up at the grimy old office building and shifted from one aching spike-heeled foot to the other, trying to keep the weight off her blisters. From the looks of the neighborhood, her chances of getting mugged were only slightly greater than the chances of the building falling on her. Only a loser would work in a place like this.
Good. It hadn't been easy finding an incompetent private eye on such short notice in a midwestern city like Riverbend. But now there was Mitchell Peatwick. She could picture him, leaning back in his office chair, balding and overweight, slack-jawed and beady-eyed, no brains to speak of.
He'd patronize her because she was female. She'd play him like a piano.
All she had to do was convince him that he was investigating a real murder case, and he'd swing his paunchy weight around, creating noise and confusion until whoever had taken her uncle's diary would be forced to either give it up or bury it forever if he didn't want to be accused of murder. Yep, that was all she had to do. So go do it. She took a deep breath and winced as the waistband of her borrowed pink skirt cut into her flesh. Then she pulled the veil on her hat over her eyes and walked toward the cracked glass doors of the old building, watching her reflection as she climbed the steps.
Even through the dumb pink veil, she really did look sexy. It was amazing what clothes could do.
Now, if she could just get this damn interview over with before the waistband of June's skirt cut her in two and June's heels made her lame for life, she'd be on her way to solving all of their problems.
Please let Mitchell Peatwick be dumb as a rock with a weakness for women in tight skirts, she prayed as she rang for the elevator. Please let him be everything I need him to be.
* * *
The window behind him was cranked wide-open, and the ceiling fan above him stirred the air, and Mitch was sure if he got any hotter, he'd die. As it was, he was pretty sure that the only thing that kept him alive was the fact that he wasn't moving. If he moved, his body temperature would rise, and he'd melt right there in his office chair.
He didn't want to move, anyway. He was too depressed to move. He leaned back in his cracked leather desk chair - sleeves rolled up, hands laced behind his head, heels crossed on his battered metal desk - and thought about the way he'd planned things and the way they'd turned out. Big difference there. Anticipation was a lousy preparation for reality. That's why he was giving it up for fantasy. Fantasy was not particularly productive, nor was it lucrative, but it beat reality hands down.
Reality sucked. Fantasy was leaving a prosperous career to become a private detective. Reality was regretting it. He closed his eyes and tried to recapture the dream, the part where he'd be the Sam Spade of the nineties. Then the elevator cables rumbled across the hall and Mitch knew another divorce job was coming his way. He hadn't had many illusions about relationships before, he thought sadly, but he had absolutely none now. Even the people who weren't married had him investigate to see if the people they weren't married to were telling the truth. And of course, they weren't. That was the one irrevocable truth Mitch had learned in a year, the only thing, he realized now, that he'd taken away with him.
Everybody lied. Sam Spade would have understood that part, but he would have spit on the divorce work. Mitch had the uncomfortable feeling that he should be spitting on it, too, instead of making a precarious living at it. Too precarious. He had one week left in the year, one week to earn the last of the twenty thousand dollars and win his stupid bet and go back to his regularly scheduled life, but to do that he needed a client who would shell out $2,694 before Friday.
It wasn't going to happen. Prying money out of clients was the second least favorite thing he'd learned about this job.
So when he heard the elevator cables rumble in the hall opposite his office door, he didn't leap to his feet with enthusiasm. It wasn't just because the heat would kill him if he moved. It was also because it had been a long time since he'd done anything with enthusiasm, and he'd forgotten how it worked.
If I was Sam Spade, this would be Brigid O'Shaughnessy. The ancient ceiling fan creaked above him, and buttery sunlight spattered over him, and in spite of himself, he began to feel optimistic again. Maybe hope wasn't dead yet. Maybe this was a Brigid heading his way, a woman uninterested in marriage and commitment, willing to seduce him to get what she wanted.
He was sure as hell willing to be seduced. She would come into the office, cool, slender, lovely and lethal, in one of those white suits with the wide lapels and a tight skirt that was slit to the hip. She'd have incredible legs. And maybe she'd be wearing a hat over her glossy red curls, a dark veil that dusted over blue, blue eyes and a straight little nose above moist, pouty lips. And in between the lips and the legs would be the best part. Her jacket would be tight under her breasts. Round breasts. Full, round breasts. High, full, round breasts.
With an effort, Mitch pried his mind off the breasts.
And she'd come in and say, "I need you to find the Maltese Falcon," and her voice would be throaty and soft. And somewhere along the way, she'd take off her hat, and they'd have passionate, steamy, slippery, sweaty sex ...
Mitch lingered for a moment on the sex.... and then he'd find out that she'd been the guilty one all along. "I won't play the sap for you, baby," he'd say, and they'd take her away for murdering his partner. Okay, he didn't have a partner unless he counted Newton, and nobody ever counted Newton, but still.... No wonder that book was a classic. Sam Spade got to nail her without a commitment and still feel good about himself when he dumped her. First, great sex, and then he walked out on her, free as a bird, a hero instead of a schmuck.
Now there was a fantasy. Then the door opened, and he looked up, and she came in.
Her hair was dark brown, and so were her eyes behind the veil, and her suit was pink instead of white, but everything else was pretty much his fantasy. The nose, the lips, the ...
"I'll be damned." With enormous effort, Mitch raised his eyes from her breasts to her face.
"Probably." Her low voice reverberated straight into his spine. "Are you Mitchell Peatwick?"
"Uh, yeah." Mitch swung his feet to the floor and stood up, wiping his sweaty palm on his shirt before offering her his hand. "Mitch Peatwick, private investigator. Listen, did you ever read The Maltese Falcon?"
"Yes." She ignored his hand as she surveyed the dingy office, her pout deepening as she took in the cracks in the upholstery and the dust. "Is this really your office?"
Excerpted from What The Lady Wants by Jennifer Crusie
Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.