Goons 'n' Roses PLUS Tess's Tale - Books Two and Three in The Chanel Series by Donna Joy Usher by Donna Joy Usher - Read Online

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Goons 'n' Roses PLUS Tess's Tale - Books Two and Three in The Chanel Series - Donna Joy Usher

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Tale.

Goons 'n' Roses

Acknowledgements

 I’d like to thank my good friend Shannell for allowing me to run with my idea for Chanel’s character. It is based on her sunny personality and choice to join the police force, but apart from that, Chanel is a flight of pure fantasy.

Another big thanks to my wonderful editor, Felicity Kay, for perfecting my work and giving me continuous encouragement.

I’d like to apologise to the members of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department for suggesting that there are corrupt cops within your ranks. It was, unfortunately, necessary for my story, which is a work of fiction. Your vigilant efforts to keep the streets of Las Vegas safe have not gone unnoticed.

Thanks to The Pilot and my friends for their understanding when I become obsessed with my latest project; and especially to my Mum, for once again ploughing through my first draft.

Happy Birthday To Me

‘A speed dating voucher?’

Dave, Bob, Nathan and Daniel, the team I worked with at the Kings Cross Police Station, were grouped around my table. They had pleased grins on their faces.

‘We wanted to get you something you could use,’ Dave, our Sergeant, said.

‘Gee Dave, I could have used a set of steak knives.’

‘Besides,’ Bob was looking particularly pleased with their choice of gift, his chubby face beaming, ‘things have been so dull around here since…’

I cut him off before he could go any further. ‘Bob, I don’t see how my speed dating is going to make things more interesting around here.’

His face lit up even more. ‘Oh, we were thinking we’d investigate anyone you were attracted to. You know…’ His voice ran off as Nathan elbowed him in the ribs.

‘Cause of the whole shit magnet thing,’ Daniel finished.

I looked over at him. Daniel and I had been at the Police Academy together and he was what I would conservatively call a geek. I was surprised he was involved in this.

‘So I speed date and then you guys investigate anyone I want to see again?’ I wanted to make sure I had the facts straight.

‘Well Trent’s going to do the investigating,’ Dave said.

‘Ha.’ I let out a laugh. That’s where they were going to come unstuck. There was no way Detective Inspector Trent Bailey was going to take part in this ridiculous scam.

‘Oh, you’ve already given it to her,’ Trent said as he came through the door connecting our back offices to the front reception and interview rooms.

My Mum was with him, a mischievous smile on her face. ‘Happy Birthday Chanel.’ She held out a large wrapped box.

‘You two are involved in this?’ I gestured at the gift voucher. Mum and Trent had been dating ever since they’d met at my hospital bedside.

‘It was Lorraine’s idea,’ Bob said.

‘More of an experiment really,’ Mum replied.

‘An experiment?’

‘Well darling,’ she said, ‘Trent was telling me that the boys were bored and I said I knew of a sure fire way to find criminals. It was more of a joke than anything.’

‘Not everybody I’ve dated has been a criminal.’

‘No, not criminals. Bikies, low-lifes, drifters…’

‘Yeah yeah,’ I said, cutting her off before she could get to the part about the psychopath. I felt a spurt of guilt as I realised the boys were no longer smiling; Daniel’s big eyes showed concern, his face pulled down into a frown. Ah hell. I hadn’t been on a date since…

That night.

It had been a couple of months ago and my bruises and swelling were long gone. The cast had come off the week before and now the only external sign of the ordeal was my right arm; skinny and pasty-white in comparison to my left.

I sighed. I had to get back out there sometime, and what better way to date than to have all of my prospective interests given the once-over first? It was like having my own private investigator.

‘I’ll think about it,’ I said.

The grins were back on their faces and Nathan actually rubbed his hands together as he said, ‘Excellent.’

‘That’s not a definite yes.’

‘Close enough,’ Bob said, turning his attention to my cake.

I ripped the paper off the present from Mum, letting out a squeal when I saw what was inside. ‘Oh my God…you didn’t?’

‘I did,’ she said.

‘I don’t get it.’ Trent shook his head. ‘It’s just a handbag.’

‘This is not just a handbag. It’s a Gucci Soho soft patent-leather shoulder bag in fuchsia.’ I inhaled its leathery goodness. ‘It’s made in Italy, has a natural cotton lining, embossed interlocking G and tassel detail, and look.’ I tipped it up so he could see the bottom of the bag. ‘It’s got protective metal feet.’

‘So you like it?’ Mum asked.

‘You know I love it.’ I’d been gawking at it in the Gucci shop window for the past two months. ‘But Mum, this is too much.’ I hugged her with my free arm.

‘Nonsense,’ she said, ‘it’s not every day that your baby turns 25.’ There was a small catch in her voice and a flicker of some emotion flitted over her features too fast for me to identify. I was guessing it had something to do with the fact that I nearly hadn’t made it to 25.

Hmmm… that was interesting. She hadn’t let on that she had any emotional issues to do with my near demise. But then Mum was full of surprises. A year ago she’d been a boring, rural-town housewife, only missing the boring rural-town husband. Now she was a red-headed bombshell, with a boyfriend I wouldn’t have minded myself, and I suspected there were still many more layers of her that I didn’t even dream existed. Perhaps I should give up my remaining psychology session to her. Which reminded me…

I looked at my watch. ‘Shit. I’ve got to be at the shrink’s in half an hour.’

‘Just enough time for some cake,’ Bob said, reaching a hand towards the knife.

‘That’s my birthday cake,’ I told him, snatching the knife out from underneath his pudgy fingers.

‘AndI’m going to have the birthday wish.’

I divvied up the cake, purposefully handing Bob the smallest piece just so I could see the expression on his face. I didn’t feel guilty because I knew he’d sneak some more as soon as I left. Nobody got between Bob and a piece of white-chocolate mud cake. Not even a criminal in need of arrest.

Once I’d finished mine and wiped the crumbs off my face, I made sure my hair was pulled back into a pristine bun. Then I grabbed my bag and caught the elevator up to the fourth floor where the shrink resided on the days he was rostered to Kings Cross.

‘Dr Shooten,’ I said, knocking lightly on the slightly-open door.

‘Come in Chanel,’ he said, in the calm, homely voice I assumed he used to put me at ease.

It didn’t work. Having someone try to lull me into a false sense of security only made me anxious. I’m sure there were a few therapy sessions in that alone, but I wasn’t going to tell him that. Today was potentially my last visit and I didn’t want to give him any fuel to keep going.

So, instead, I dumped my bag onto the floor beside the extra-comfy chair. Then I slumped into the chair’s depths, trying not to show the discomfort I felt at being almost supine. I think the consistent tapping of the fingers on my right hand probably gave me away.

‘Big day today,’ he said, smiling kindly.

‘Yes,’ I said. I couldn’t wait to have him sign me off for active duties; being permanently stuck on the front desk sucked.

‘So how do you feel about turning 25?’

It took me a few seconds to realise that the big day he was talking about was my birthday. ‘Oh well…you know…,’ I stammered, ‘what’s not to like about cake and presents?’

He wrote something on his notepad and I had an insane urge to grab it to see what it was. Had he just written something important about my flawed character, or had he added the word cake to his shopping list?

‘So did you write in your diary this week,’ he asked, glancing at my skinny, white arm. I’d been using the cast as an excuse to not regurgitate all my thoughts onto paper.

‘Errr, no, I kind of forgot,’ I mumbled.

He sighed and put the notepad down on his side table before picking up a pack of cards. ‘We’re going to play a game.’

‘A game? Like Uno?’ I really liked Uno, and it sure as hell beat talking about my mental health.

‘We are going to play a word association game.’

I resisted the urge to tell him where he could stick his word association cards. (I didn’t think that would look too good in his report to my superiors.) Instead, I readied my mind. Word associations? That shouldn’t be too hard.

He flicked over a card and showed it to me. There was a picture of a pig on it.

‘Police,’ I said and sniggered.

‘Very good.’ His smile was encouraging.

A bird in flight.

‘Freedom.’ This was easy.

A clown.

‘The circus.’ I was sooo on my way back to active duties.

A knife.

‘Roast lamb,’ I said, trying to ignore the chill that ran down my spine.

A body lying on its side.

I gritted my teeth and said, ‘Sleeping.’

And then he flicked over the next card. One second I was gritting my teeth and the next I was shaking and hyper-ventilating and my nose was running, which coincided with the flow of tears cascading down my face.

I stared at the word written on the card and thought, ‘Surely these shrinks have a code of ethics that prevents this sort of thing?’ I mean that was really punching below the belt.

He sighed and put the cards down. ‘You realise I can’t possibly sign you off for active duties?’

‘But,’ I said, digging around in my bag for a tissue, ‘I can’t stay on the front desk. It’s so boring. It gives me too much time to….’

‘Think?’ he supplied helpfully.

Tissue-less, I slumped back into the chair. He waved a Kleenex box at me and I plucked a couple from its depths and then blew my nose noisily.

‘The thing is,’ he said, in a voice less homely and more serious, ‘I think you need to think, or you’re never going to get over this.’

‘I am over this,’ I whispered, wiping my eyes. ‘You just shocked me.’

He sighed again and made some more notes. ‘I am going to suggest we need another five sessions before I can determine if you are fit to remain in The Force.’

‘What?’ I sat upright in the comfy chair.

‘If you continue to refuse to work through this, then you will remain unfit for active duties. There is no place in The Force for a Probationary Constable who remains unfit for active duties.’

I decided I liked his homely voice better. ‘So you’re saying?’

‘If you don’t appear to be actively participating in your mental recovery we will have no choice but to dismiss you on psychological grounds.’

‘I don’t see how this,’ I waved at my snotty nose, ‘is going to affect my job.’

He took his glasses off and faced me directly. ‘You could freeze.’

‘But it’s January. We’re having a heat wave.’

He rolled his eyes to the ceiling and muttered something that sounded an awful lot like Lord give me strength. ‘Freeze during a crisis,’ he clarified.

Oh,that type of freeze.

‘Your refusal to deal with this issue could cause the death of a fellow officer.’

Well shit, when he put it like that…

‘I’m guessing we’re finished for today?’ I climbed out of the seat and picked up my bag. ‘I won’t be able to make it in for the next two Fridays. I’m taking leave.’

‘A holiday will do you some good,’ he said, also standing. ‘Where are you off to? Somewhere relaxing I hope.’

Did I tell him the truth, or would that, too, go in the report? ‘Yep, relaxing, pools, cocktails, swaying palm trees,’ I said, heading for the exit.

As he held the door open for me and told me he’d see me in 3 weeks I glanced back at the side table where the word still lay, its letters blazing, and I tried not to start crying again. It was the last thing I saw before he shut the door behind me.

ROGER.

Speed Date From Hell

I had recovered by the time I entered Florence, the Italian restaurant where my birthday dinner was being held. I felt pretty fab with my new Gucci bag and a navy-blue Nine West dress, which accentuated my best features – caramel-blonde hair and boobs big enough to satisfy a man with large hands.

I guess if we’re discussing my best features I should also mention that I have great teeth; compliments of the orthodontist who tortured me in my teens and modern teeth-whitening procedures. My friends tell me that my green eyes are pretty. My skin, which tans easily to an olive complexion, isn’t too shabby either. I’m only 5 foot 4 tall, but tonight, with the help of my new Fendi skyscrapers, I had managed to push that to over 5 foot 8.

‘Happy Birthday.’

There’s nothing better than the sound of your friends screaming out those words. I took a seat between Bruce and Martine, directly across from Mum. She was looking hot in a baby-blue dress, and I could tell by the way Trent had his arm protectively wrapped around her shoulders that he thought so too. Bianca sat to Mum’s left.

Bruce is gay, Martine is a drag queen and Bianca is a reformed prostitute. I don’t think it says anything that my best friends in Sydney are a gay man, a drag queen and an ex-prostitute, but I’m not sure Dr Shooten would agree.

Bruce is a pocket-rocket of muscle and cry-your-eyes-out-that-he’s-gay cute. He owns and runs Dazzle, a club that has a drag queen show. Everybody at the table, except Trent and me, worked at Dazzle.

Bianca became the head barmaid/stock manager at Dazzle when she’d decided it was too dangerous on the streets. Her bubbly personality, chocolate skin and bootaliscious body made her very popular with the clientele. Her take-no-nonsense attitude made her the perfect person for the job.

Martine is 6 foot 3 in heels, has a deep voice, olive skin and hazel eyes. Her hair colour depends on which wig she puts on; tonight she was strawberry blonde. An extrovert drag queen by night, by day she was Martyn, a dull and boring accountant with a monotone voice and a serious lack of will to live. I never knew what to say to Martyn.

Mum’s in charge of the stage production, choreography and wardrobe at Dazzle, and although the club was doing well before she came along, it has increased in popularity in direct proportion to the extra professionalism she’s injected into the show. They now charge an entry fee and take bookings.

I touched my glass to everybody else’s before taking a sip, relaxing as the alcohol uncurled in my belly. Martine handed me a present and waited eagerly for me to unwrap it.

‘It’s from all of us,’ she said as I admired the silver bangle on my arm.

‘Do you love it?’ Bruce asked, jumping up and down in his seat.

‘What’s not to love?’ I said. ‘It’s Tiffany’s.’

‘What else did you get for your birthday,’ Martine asked, after I had finished thanking them.

‘Gucci bag and a speed dating voucher.’ I saw Trent grin at the mention of the speed dating voucher and I stuck my tongue out at him.

‘Come again,’ Bruce said.

‘I bet you say that to all the boys.’

He burst out laughing before saying, ‘No seriously, a speed dating voucher?’

‘It was her idea.’ I pointed an accusing finger at Mum.

‘It wasn’t so much an idea,’ she countered, ‘as a throw away comment.’

Trent started chuckling. ‘The boys have been complaining how boring it’s been since….’ He looked at me apologetically as I took a swig of my wine. ‘So Lorraine suggested,’ he continued, smiling puke-inducingly at Mum, ‘that we send Chanel on a speed dating night.’

‘I wasn’t serious,’ Mum defended herself. ‘But the boys seem to have really cottoned onto the fact that Chanel’s a shit magnet.’

‘In my defence,’ I said, taking a deep breath to get the next bit out, ‘everybody thought he was nice.’

Sweet progress. I’d mentioned him without crying. Maybe the therapy was working. It was either that or the alcohol.

‘Are you going to do it?’ Martine asked.

‘I wasn’t,’ I said, ‘but something came up this afternoon that makes me think it might be a good idea.’ I didn’t feel like talking about it so I didn’t bother mentioning that my job was on the line. ‘I have to get back out there some time.’

Martine stared at me for a few moments with her huge, heavily-made-up eyes, reading the unsaid things behind my words, and then she nodded. That’s one of the really good things about Martine. Although you can’t normally shut her up, when it really matters, she doesn’t say a thing.

‘So birthday girl,’ Bianca said, ‘you packed yet?’

‘I’m making a list.’

‘Hope you’re checking it twice.’

Last year the girls at Dazzle had entered a drag queen competition. We had found out a few weeks ago that they had won, and as the first prize winners they were off to Las Vegas to perform. While Bruce and Bianca were staying behind to hold the fort, Martine, Mum and the rest of the girls were heading for the bright lights. There had been a couple of spare spots so Trent was going under the guise of security and I was an ‘executive stage producer’.

Suzie, my best friend from the Police Academy, was coming to dog-sit Cocoa while I was away. This was a bonus as I was looking forward to the couple of nights I would get to spend with her. The only blackness on my horizon at that moment was the stupid psychology report, but I could worry about that when I got back.

‘What are we going to do about that?’ Martine asked, pointing at my right arm.

‘What about it?’ I was quite protective of my feeble, sickly-looking appendage.

‘It looks a little silly.’ She grimaced apologetically as she said it.

I looked down at my arms. They appeared to belong to two different people. ‘What do you suggest I do?’

‘We could fake tan it.’

‘What if it goes a different colour?’

‘Than liquid-paper-white?’

‘Yeah.’

‘I think that’s the point.’

I’d never fake tanned before. Having inherited Mum’s olive skin, and her penchant for the sun, I’d never had to.

‘What do you think Bianca?’

‘Anything’s got to be better than that.’ She pointed her bread stick at my arm.

I moved to the side a little to allow the waiter to place my lasagne on the table. ‘How long before we leave should we do it?’

‘The night before,’ Martine said. ‘That way it will last the whole trip.’

I placed some cheesy, pasta goodness into my mouth as I nodded my head at her.

***

Mum and the girls were training hard that week to get their performance for Las Vegas perfected, so it wasn’t too late when I got home. I took Cocoa out for his evening toilet break before settling onto the couch with him. The little book Dr Shooten had given me to write my thoughts in was sitting on the side table. I picked it up and examined its floral cover, its unbroken spine. He had obviously picked a pretty book, hoping it would inspire me. That was thoughtful.

My mind skirted cautiously around the day’s session. Even though I could be stupidly stubborn, I wasn’t so silly to see that Dr Shooten had been telling me the truth. I could fight it if they tried to get rid of me. The media would love such a scandal. The Force removing a Probationary Constable for psychological damage received in the line of duty? The Force removing the Probationary Constable who had taken down the Kings Cross killer? That was just too good a story.

But as much as I hated to admit it, the truth of the matter was that he was right. If I had a trigger in my mind that could cause me to freeze at an important moment, then I was dangerous.

I wouldn’t want to work with me.

Sighing, I opened the little book and picked up the pen that had been sitting beside it. The physiotherapist had said I needed to exercise my hand; I may as well combine the two therapies.

How did I start this? I guessed the best thing was to go with the tried and tested method.

Dear Diary,

Some funny things have happened over the last 6 months. Firstly, my Mum moved from Hickery and morphed from a permed-haired, fluffy-slipper-wearing, middle-aged woman to a facebooking, fashion-leading, sexual predator with the twitter handle @hotbloodedlady.

Where does that leave me? Aren’t I meant to be the sexual predator with the hip twitter handle while she lectures me on the error of my ways?

Then she started dating Trent. He’s tall and muscularly lean and reminds me of a dangerous feline predator. Just the sort of guy I would go for myself.

It’s probably for the best though as I’ve decided after you know who, that inter-office relationships are probably not a good thing.

Anyway Mum’s apartment is directly above mine and I’m pretty sure the other night I heard her bed making thumping noises. I put my pillow over my head and said, ‘lalalalalala,’ but you can only do that for so long before it becomes tiring. Now if that’s not disturbing for my psychological state of mind, I don’t know what is.

***

Everybody was at Dazzle that Saturday night so I decided to use my speed dating voucher. I was feeling pretty anxious when I turned up to the restaurant hosting the event. The only thing worse than a blind date, is 20 blind dates in an hour.

Most of the men were mingling around the bar, checking out the women as they entered and making notes. Nice.

I registered my name with Rita-the-Greeter (that was on her name tag), clipped my tag onto my blouse and then made my way to the bar. For tonight, alcohol wasn’t an option – it was a necessity.

One of the other women, a petite, brassy-blonde, turned to me. ‘You’re new,’ she said.

‘Umm, you come here often?’

‘Every week.’ She held out her hand. ‘I’m Bettina.’

I shook it and said, ‘Chanel. So are most of the people here regulars.’

‘A lot of them. He’s new,’ she said, pointing towards a man standing near the entrance door. He pushed his glasses further up onto his nose and looked around nervously. ‘Dibs,’ she said.

‘You can have him.’ I shook my head and wondered what the hell Daniel was doing there. ‘He’s a little well-groomed for my taste.’

Bettina let out a tinkling laugh. ‘Oh, I remember when I was like you.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘After a good time, not a long time. These days I spend my whole time trying to find a decent man, with a steady income. When I’m not speed dating, I’m internet dating.’

‘But surely you wouldn’t have trouble finding a boyfriend.’ She was a tidy little package with a beautiful wide smile and perfect teeth.

‘It’s not the boyfriend part that’s the problem. It’s the father-to-my-unborn-children part that is.’

I made a mental note to warn Daniel.

‘When you get to my age you’ll be wishing you’d snagged a sensible home-maker before they were all taken.’ She sauntered off in Daniel’s direction; probably not willing to risk her chances with him on the 180 seconds allotted us.

‘I’m not sure why they make the women progress around the room.’

I turned to face a woman with hair long enough to make Rapunzel cry herself to sleep at night. It was pulled into a thick, dark braid which hung over her shoulder and down past her waist.

‘I mean, we’re the ones wearing the high heels. It makes sense to make the men move.’

‘Yes, but then they wouldn’t be able to check us out properly.’

‘That’s true.’ She placed a fingertip delicately onto the end of her chin. ‘Heaven forbid if they can’t see how big our bums are before they make a decision on our personalities.’

‘It could lead to total disaster,’ I agreed.

‘Oops, time to start,’ she said, moving off.

I had wanted to start with Daniel, but Bettina had already taken her seat across from him, and was engaging him in a one-sided conversation involving a lot of eyelash fluttering and tinkly laughter. Daniel resembled a rabbit caught in the oncoming headlights of a semi-trailer.

There weren’t many spare seats left so I hurriedly took one opposite a cleanly-shaven man, wearing a short-sleeved, white button-up shirt.

‘Go,’ Rita-the-Greeter, said in her chirpy voice.

‘Hi urhhh,’ I stared at my date’s name card, ‘Ben. How are you?’

‘Great. How are you?’ He got a gold star for enthusiasm.

‘Little overwhelmed. You come here often?’

‘Does it make me look like a loser if I say yes?’

‘Not at all,’ I lied. ‘I’d call it optimistic.’

‘I try to be optimistic, but it can be hard you know.’ His expression changed dramatically, from super-duper excited to sad.

I hoped I wasn’t going to regret this question. ‘What can be hard?’

‘Rejection.’

Phew. At least he wasn’t a dirty perve.

‘I come here every week, and yet none of the women ever want to see me again.’ He wiped at a tear that was quivering in the corner of his left eye.

Whoa, where did enthusiastic Ben go?

‘All I want is to love someone and be loved in return.’ He pulled a hanky out of his jeans pocket and dashed at the tears free flowing down his face.

‘Perhaps you should try internet dating,’ I suggested, edging out of my chair, ‘I hear it’s very good.’

‘And change,’ Rita called.

The next guy was a little more to my liking: Black t-shirt; faded denim jeans; motorbike jacket slung over the back of his seat. His name badge was lying on the table facing me – Daren Todd.

‘Well, hello there,’ he rumbled.

‘Hi yourself.’ I took a sip of my drink and leaned a little further across the table. I only had about 110 seconds left to make an impression and I was going to let my boobs earn their keep.

‘So what do you do for a living?’ he asked.

I stared him in the eyes and said, ‘I’m a cop.’

‘Are you a good cop or a bad cop?’

‘It depends,’ I said.

‘On what?’

‘On whom I’m arresting.’

He leaned towards me, a slow, lazy smile stretching his mouth. ‘What about if you were arresting me?’

I took another sip of wine while I stared into his dark eyes. ‘Oh, if I were arresting you, I’d definitely be a bad cop.’

‘Change,’ said Rita.

Pouting, I hopped up. ‘See you later Daren.’ I put in some extra hip action as I sauntered off to the next table.

I sat down opposite an immaculately-groomed man who must have been at least 80 years old.

He peered at my name tag and said, ‘Chanel. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.’

‘Ahhh,’ I said, ‘the pleasure is all mine?’ I hadn’t read the fine print, but I had assumed there would be an age limit to speed dating.

‘We don’t have long,’ he said, ‘so I would like to tell you the rules of our engagement.’

‘Pardon?’

‘We would have to get married of course, but not too quickly or the gossip columns would be all over us.’

I looked around to see if there were a team from Funniest Home Videos filming me.

‘But once we were married you would have full access to my funds. Of course there would be strict stipulations on how many times a week we were to have sex.’

‘Excuse me?’

‘Well, you don’t think you’re getting access to my money without having sex a few times a week?’

‘I don’t think I’m going to get access to your money at all,’ I said, standing up. His name badge said Bert O’Sullivan. I was definitely going to get Trent to look into him. He had to be running some type of scam.

The next few dates were mind-stoppingly boring and then I found myself staring at a man who ticked all of my boxes. At least I found myself hoping he would tick all my boxes, later, when we were alone.

He had a five o’clock shadow that I suspected never got shaved off; thick, dark, wavy hair that just begged to have my fingers curled into it; and deep-blue eyes that glinted with a naughty light. Yummy.

He smiled at me and lifted an eyebrow. I aimed for a sexy siren smirk, hoping I wasn’t instead giving him the wide stupid grin I was feeling.

‘So Sebastian,’ I purred, ‘what do you do for a living?’ I was going to be awfully disappointed if he were an accountant.

‘I acquire special automobile parts for clients.’

‘So you’re a mechanic?’

‘You could say that.’

Mechanics knew how to get down and dirty. ‘Do you have your own business?’

‘I certainly do.’

Ooh, an entrepreneur who knew how to use his hands. This speed dating evening was working out quite nicely.

‘What on earth is someone like you doing at something like this?’ he asked me.

‘I could ask you the same question.’

‘You go first.’

‘I’m looking for Mr Wrong,’ I said. ‘You?’

‘Change,’ Rita said much too quickly.

‘What a pity,’ he said as I hopped up, ‘because I think I just found Miss Right.’

The dates after Sebastian passed in a blur and suddenly I found myself sitting in front of Daniel.

‘You speed date?’ I said.

‘No.’

‘But you’re here now.’

A faint flush of red coloured his cheeks and he breathed out heavily, causing his glasses to fog up. He took them off to clean them and glanced over at me. I had never noticed how beautiful his eyes were; soft brown, framed by long, black lashes. They were normally so magnified by the coke-bottle-thick lenses that they looked out of proportion to the rest of his face. Like a goldfish.

He placed the glasses back onto his nose and said, ‘I came to make sure you were okay.’

‘Oh.’ It was possibly the sweetest thing anybody had ever done for me.

‘You are, aren’t you?’

‘Yes, yes, I’m fine.’ I was frazzled by his comment. Why couldn’t I fall for somebody kind like Daniel? ‘What did you think of Bettina?’

He shuddered and said, ‘She’s scary.’

‘Anybody else take your fancy?’

‘No,’ he said, but he blushed as he said it.

Ohhhooohh. So there was someone here who Daniel thought was nice. I wondered who it was?

‘Change.’

‘See you later,’ I said hopping up. ‘Oh and Daniel…’

‘Yes?’

‘Thanks.’

***

I had wanted to talk to Sebastian at the end of the evening, but he’d had some business he needed to attend to, which was a good thing, because the brazen hussy part of me was wishing I was the business he needed to attend to, while the psychologically-scarred part was blithering on about how it was stupid to be alone with someone I hardly knew. I probably would have appeared schizophrenic. It was best to let Trent investigate him first.

Instead, I headed home to Cocoa, who had been by himself far too much over the last couple of nights, and took him for a quick walk around the block. I had a day excursion planned the next day, and had organised with Bruce to take Lancelot (Cocoa’s poodle boyfriend) with us on the long walk into town and around the Botanical Gardens.

After we were both settled onto the couch I picked up the diary.

Dear Diary,

I know I’m meant to be filling up your pages with deep and meaningful thoughts, but the problem is, I don’t seem to have many of those. I’ve always been more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of gal. Perhaps that is my problem. Perhaps I need to think more deeply. But is that something you can learn or does it just come naturally to some people?

I made progress tonight. I went speed dating – which meant I was surrounded by strangers – and I didn’t start blubbering. Baby steps: Today not blubbering in public, tomorrow the world.

Although it’s not being in public that worries me… It’s the dark. It terrifies me. And to be totally honest, I don’t know if I’m ever going to get over that.

***

‘Here you go,’ I said, waving the list of possible love interests at Trent. Bob and Nathan looked up from the donut box they were raiding.

‘The first one’s not a love interest,’ I said, ‘but he’s running some type of scam. You need to look into him.’

‘Who is it?’ Trent asked.

‘Bert O’Sullivan.’

He threw back his head and started laughing. ‘Bert O’Sullivan running a scam?’

‘He offered me access to his money on the understanding I’d have sex with him.’

‘I don’t see anything illegal in that,’ Nathan said as he wandered over.

‘It’s revolting.’

‘No law against being revolting,’ Trent said. ‘Anyway, Bert O’Sullivan is a textile billionaire. He probably just wants a young wife to