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Match Me If You Can(5)

By´╝ÜSusan Elizabeth Phil

“You've done your homework.” He cast an impatient eye at the blinking phone buttons, but he didn't throw her out, so she kept going.

“When you started in business, players like Kevin Tucker wouldn't give you the time of day. Do you remember what that was like? Do you remember when reporters weren't calling you for quotes? When you weren't on first-name terms with everybody in the NFL?”

“If I say I remember, will you leave?” He reached for the executive headset that lay next to the telephone console.

She curled her hands into fists, hoping she sounded passionate instead of loony. “All I want is a chance. The same chance you got when Kevin fired his old agent and put his faith in a fast-talking, sports-savvy guy who made his way from an armpit town in southern Illinois to Harvard Law.”

He coiled back into his chair, one dark eyebrow angling upward.

“A blue-collar kid who played college football for the scholarship, but counted on his brains to get ahead. A guy with nothing more than big dreams and a strong work ethic to recommend him. A guy who—”

“Stop before you make me cry,” he said dryly.

“Just give me a chance. Let me set up one introduction. Just one. If you don't like the woman I choose, I'll never bother you again. Please. I'll do anything.”

That caught his attention. He pushed aside the headset, tilted back in his chair, and rubbed the corner of his mouth with his thumb. “Anything?”

She didn't flinch from his assessing gaze. “Whatever it takes.”

His eyes made a calculated journey from her rumpled russet hair to her mouth, down along her throat to her breasts. “Well… I haven't gotten laid for a while.”

Her constricted throat muscles relaxed. The Python was toying with her. “Then why don't we do something about that on a permanent basis?” She grabbed her fake leather tote and whipped out the folder of material she'd finished preparing at five o'clock that morning. “This will tell you a little more about Perfect for You. I've included our mission statement, a timetable, and our fee structure.”

Now that he'd had his fun, he was all business. “I'm interested in results, not mission statements.”

“And results are what I'll give you.”

“We'll see.”

She drew an unsteady breath. “Does that mean…”

He picked up the telephone headset and hooked it around his neck, leaving the cord dangling down his shirtfront in a serpentine tail. “You've got one chance. Tomorrow night. Hit me with your best candidate.”

“Really?” Her knees went weak. “Yes… Fantastic! But… I need to clarify exactly what you're looking for.”

“Let's see how good you are.” He flipped up the headset.

“Nine o'clock at Sienna's on Clark Street. Make the introduction but don't plan on leaving. Stay at the table and keep the conversation going. I work hard at what I do. I don't intend to work hard at this, too.”

“You want me to stay?”

“Twenty minutes exactly. Then take her away.”

“Twenty minutes? Don't you think she'll find that a little… demeaning?”

“Not if she's the right woman.” He gave her his country boy's smile. “And do you know why, Miss Granger? Because the right woman will be too damned sweet to take offense. Now get the hell out of here while you're ahead.”

She did.

By the time she slipped into the McDonald's restroom, Annabelle had stopped shaking. She changed into capris, a tank, and sandals. Today's experience had justified her lifelong phobia of snakes. But other women wouldn't see Heath Champion like that. He was rich, successful, and gorgeous, which made him a dream match, assuming he didn't scare his dates to death, which was a distinct possibility. All she needed to do was find the right woman.

She pulled her wild hair back from her face with a pair of barrettes. She'd always worn her hair short to keep it under control, but her curly pixie had made her look more like a college freshman than a serious professional, so she was biting the bullet and letting it grow out. Not for the first time did she wish she had a spare five hundred dollars to have it professionally straightened, but she couldn't even pay her utility bill.

She stowed Nana's pearl earrings in an empty Altoids box and took a swig of lukewarm water from one of the bottles she'd dug out of Sherman's backseat. She kept the car well stocked: snacks and water bottles; a change of clothes; Tampax and toiletries; her new brochures and business cards; workout gear in case the mood struck her, which it hardly ever did; and, just recently, a box of condoms in the event one of her new clients developed a sudden, desperate need, although she couldn't see men like Ernie Marks or John Nager being that impulsive. Ernie was an elementary school principal, good with kids, but nervous with grown women, and John the hypochondriac wouldn't have sex without running his partner through the Mayo Clinic.