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Authors: Jennifer Crusie

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What the Lady Wants

BOOK: What the Lady Wants
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Nothin' like a dame...
Mitch Peabody was learning pretty fast that the life of a private detective was not all it was cracked up to be. Cheating husbands, suspicious wives, unsuspecting mistresses—case after case left him cynical and disillusioned. This was nothing like the world of tough-talking detectives and smart-mouthed, stunning dames he'd envisioned...until she walked through the door.

Right down to her stilettos, Mae Sullivan was a knockout with a lethal body—and a lethal family to go with it. There was something not quite on the up-and-up about her, but she came with a case he couldn't afford to refuse...and left him with a case of lust like he hadn't had since high school. It didn't take long for him to fall for her, hook, line and sinker. But was Mae only interested in catching the double-crossing crooks who murdered her uncle...or did the lady want to catch him?

She was lying, of course. Mitch's take on humanity ? had deteriorated to the point where he assumed someone was lying if her lips were moving, but she was definitely lying about the diary. Either there wasn't a diary, or there was and it was important. Either possibility was irrelevant; what was important was to find out why she was lying.

And with this woman, it could be because of her sixth sense. Or her twenty million.

Twenty million.

If only she hadn't mentioned her uncle Gio.

He really had been interested in taking the case. And not just because of the money or because she had a terrific body. Well, okay, partly because of that. But mostly because it would have been great to take one last case that didn't involve drinking lukewarm coffee in parked cars outside cheap motels.

And then she dumped Gio Donatello in his lap. Shouting murder in Gio's vicinity tended to be unhealthy. He raised his eyes to tell her that he didn't think he'd be interested, and she looked back at him, trusting and vulnerable. He couldn't tell whether it was real-vulnerable or fake-vulnerable, although his money was on fake-vulnerable, but as vulnerable went, it was very attractive.

Also available from MIRA Books and JENNIFER CRUSIE
GETTING RID OF BRADLEY
MANHUNTING
What the Lady Wants
Jennifer Crusie
MIRA
ISBN 1-55166-951-X
WHAT THE LADY WANTS
Copyright © 1995 by Jennifer Crusie.
All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher, MIRA Books, 225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada M3B 3K9.
All characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the author, and all incidents are pure invention.
MIRA and the Star Colophon are trademarks used under license and registered in Australia, New Zealand, Philippines, United States Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries.
Visit us at www.mirabooks.com Printed in U.S.A.
Contents
This book is for my parents, Jack and JoAnn Smith of Wapakoneta, Ohio,
because they gave me values, books and love.
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?''

That was the way the world worked. Anticipation tripped him up every time. If she'd just kept her mouth shut, she would have been perfect, but no...

Reality. Nature's downer.

Mitch sighed and pulled his hand back. "Think of it as atmosphere. I do." He sank into his chair and put his feet back up on the desk. "Now, how can I help you? Lose your poodle?"

She quirked an eyebrow at him. "Would you be able to find it if I had?"

"Just what I needed—a snotty client." Mitch tried to keep the annoyance out of his voice, but it was hard. There was something about being snubbed in the middle of a heat wave by a beautiful woman with fantasy breasts that brought out the worst in him. And anyway, she wasn't that beautiful. Her nose was actually pretty standard, and her lips didn't really pout on their own, and her breasts...
Don't think about the breasts,
Mitch told himself.
It'll only depress you.

"From the looks of things, you could use any kind of client." She surveyed the bottoms of his feet, propped up on the desk in front of her. "I've never actually seen paper-thin soles before. It's amazing. I can tell the color of your socks from here. They have holes in them, too."

"Big deal." Mitch smiled, world-weary and invulnerable. "Now tell me something really tough, like the color of my underwear."

"You're not wearing any underwear," she said, and Mitch put his feet down.

"What do you want?" He glared at her through the dusty sunlight. "If you just stopped by to screw up my day, you're done."

She looked around the office again and walked over to the coatrack with a hip-rolling step that strained the fabric of her tight skirt and lessened Mitch's annoyance considerably. Then she picked up his linen jacket, walked back to the chair he kept for clients and dusted off the seat with it. Mitch would have been annoyed again, but she bent over to dust the seat, and while the lapels on her jacket were crossed too high to make the view really breathtaking, everything sort of moved forward against the loose, soft fabric, and he remembered that he really didn't like linen that much, anyway. Then she walked back to hang up his jacket, and he watched her from the rear and thought again what amazing creatures women were and how glad he was that he was male.

Then she sat down, and he tried to pay attention.

She blinked at him, her eyes huge. "This has to be confidential."

Mitch snorted. "Of course it does. Nobody ever walks in here and says, 'Listen, I want everybody to know this.'" He pulled a yellow legal pad toward him and picked up a pen. "Let's start with your name."

"Mae Sullivan," she said, and he wrote it down.

"And what seems to be your problem?''

She glared at him. "Someone
seems
to have murdered my uncle."

Her voice was snottier than he'd imagined a really sexy voice should be. It wasn't easy being aroused and annoyed at the same time. It took a lot of energy, and he needed that energy to not think about the heat, which was another reason to dislike her. "Murder. Well, you know, the police are excellent at that sort of thing. Have you reported the body yet?"

"The memorial service is day after tomorrow."

"So this isn't exactly news to the police."

"The police aren't interested." Her brown eyes met his blue ones evenly. "Are you?"

Mitch looked into those eyes and thought about murder instead of divorce work and sighed. "Yes. I'm going to be sorry, but yes, of course I'm interested."

She shifted in her seat, all her moving parts meshing in elegant, erotic motion, and Mitch thought,
Thank God I don't have a partner or she 'd off him for sure.

BOOK: What the Lady Wants
8.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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