Rules of Attraction

By: Susan Crosby

One


Private investigator Quinn Gerard felt a momentary pang of regret for having turned respectable seven months ago. He missed the anonymity, and the danger. He’d hungered for it, thrived on it. Since he’d given up his private practice to become a partner in ARC Security & Investigations, he’d had to operate by the rules, instead of ignoring them or making up his own when the situation warranted it.

One personal rule that hadn’t changed, however, was that he never got personally involved with a client—no matter how tempting—and the willowy blonde in the electric-blue blouse and black leather skirt currently ambling away from her car was worse than a client. She was a subject.

Still, as a man, he could admire the package if not the contents. And that package was more interesting at the moment than in the previous three days he’d had her under surveillance. In fact, Jennifer Winston was a bundle of surprises today. First, she’d left her house hours earlier than her norm. Second, she’d slowed her pace. Usually in a hurry, today she moseyed along as if life were eternal—or she was reluctant to get where she was going. Third, she’d borrowed her sister’s car, a modest white compact, instead of driving her own conspicuous red convertible. Fourth, and perhaps most surprising, she was headed into the local blood bank.

Quinn would’ve guessed that Jennifer Winston didn’t have a charitable blood cell in her entire lovely body. So, why was she here?

She’d been followed twenty-four hours a day, for weeks, from the house she shared with her sister, first by D.A. investigators, and now by Quinn. According to reports passed along to him, her routine stops included chic boutiques, trendy San Francisco nightspots and luxurious spas in the Napa valley. She hadn’t held a job in almost half a year, so she came and went at will, generally staying out until very late at night then not leaving home again until almost noon.

Suspicious of the deviations in her pattern today, Quinn followed the newly unpredictable and decidedly sexier Ms. Winston into the building instead of waiting for her to return to her car. Deviation from the norm often resulted in the big breaks in a case.

He trailed her down a wide, quiet hallway, watched as she disappeared through a doorway topped by a sign that read Donor Room. Not wanting to be directly on her heels, he stopped to drink from a water fountain then pretended to read some flyers on a bulletin board. Finally he put himself in a position to peer into the room. He didn’t see her so he moved a little closer, stepped through the doorway—

“You’re here to make a donation?” someone almost shouted behind him.

The tone of voice was more demand than query. Quinn turned and eyed the white-haired pixie with the big voice. The top of her head barely reached his sternum. He outweighed her by at least a hundred pounds.

“No, I—”

“Why not?” she asked, looking him up and down. “You look healthy.”

Because I’m following a woman the district attorney is convinced is hiding five million embezzled dollars, that’s why not. “I don’t have time,” he said.

“Hardly takes any time at all,” the human steamroller said, challenge in her eyes. “In and out before you know it.”

Her name tag identified her as Lorna, a 15,000-hour volunteer. Quinn ignored her as he scanned the room then zeroed in on Ms. Winston. She had donned a purple smock over her clothes and was putting cookies on a plate next to cartons of juice. Jennifer Winston, the juice-and-cookies lady? He couldn’t reconcile it with what he knew of her. Although he had imagined her living a double life….

“Scared of needles?” Lorna asked.

He met her placid gaze directly, coolly. “Yes.”

After a moment she cracked a smile. “Thought not. Come on, then.”

He focused on the fact that Ms. Winston wasn’t going anywhere. He could observe her and do his civic duty at the same time. It was a little risky getting so close to her, close enough she might remember him later and realize she was being followed again, but the thrill revved his adrenaline. The challenge of meeting her face-to-face while still tailing her appealed to him. Hiding in plain sight. He excelled at it.

He answered the long list of health-related questions, had his iron level tested, then settled in a padded lounge chair. He sought out his target as the nurse inserted the needle in his arm. Lorna and Ms. Winston were laughing together. He hadn’t seen her this mellow or friendly. Until now, she’d seemed like a woman on a mission, determined and direct. Now, she smiled at everyone, drawing smiles in return. She tossed her shoulder-length blond hair flirtatiously, lifted a hand to wave to someone entering the room—then noticed him.

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