A full hour and a half after she’d entered the gym, and after several hundred pounds of lifting and squatting in various humiliating forms and fashions, still sweating and her hair going in five thousand directions in spite of the two tight coils she had wound it in to, Rachel made her way out to the parking lot, Frankenstein style, one hand on the stitch in her side while images of steaming baths and candles danced in her mind’s eye.
As she staggered to her car (she would have to have parked in the very last slot on the very last row), she noticed that the coffee house next to the gym had filled to capacity with people who had nothing better to do on such a wet and dreary day. The place was so full, that as she neared the end of the parking lot, she saw that someone had parked behind her, blocking her in. Dammit!
She groaned, debated what to do, and inadvertently caught sight of herself in the reflection of the back windshield. Her face was the exact shade of a fireplug. The exact shade. It wasn’t enough that she was soaked and probably reeking-she had to herald her terribly out of shape body to the world with a fireplug face. Even worse, small corkscrews of hair around her face stuck out in every conceivable direction. She looked like she had stuck her finger into a light socket.
Time to call Dagne to come save her. Later, she could get Dagne or Myron to bring her back for her car. Rachel fished in her bag for her brand new T-mobile cell phone…but it wasn’t in her bag, and she remembered leaving it on the kitchen counter. Oooh, fabulous. A big fat splat of something landed on top of her head, and she glanced up, got hit in the eye by another fat raindrop. She looked around, saw the coffee house, and made a mad sort of half-hobbling, half-loping dash for it.
The place was jammed to the rafters with toned and beautiful bodies, all drinking coffee and poring over books and laptops and looking very stylish and hip. In a sort of ironic contrast, she looked like a little like a Holstein cow in her black yoga pants and white tank. And what was up with always putting phones and toilets in the back of establishments? Was that some sort of national code?
Rachel sucked in her breath, lowered her eyes and with her head down, marched through the crowd, hitting at least two people in the head and shoulders with her gym bag.
At the phone bank, she dug in her bag for change, and pulled out wads of money. Literally, wads of balled up bills-a ten, a fiver, three ones. But no change. Not a quarter, not a dime, not one lousy penny.
With a sigh of great irritation, Rachel glanced around. This was really just too much-where were all the fabulous things that were supposed to happen to her, according to Dagne and several horoscopes? The prosperity and happiness and all that crap? And man, it was so warm in there-someone needed to crack a window or something. Well anyway, one thing was certain-when she got hold of Dagne, she was going to let her know that her stupid spells weren’t working for shit-
“I beg your pardon, but might I be of assistance?”
Rachel froze in the maniacal search of her bag, wondered if that question had been actually addressed to her, and slowly looked up…and up…at a very handsome man with a sexy British accent. He was smiling. His gorgeous blue-gray eyes sort of shimmered in a pool of dark lashes, and a strand of his thick chestnut hair actually fell over one eye. He was wearing a well-cut dark pinstripe suit and a long trench coat that looked very expensive, like he’d just walked off the set of a James Bond movie. A horrible swell of panic surged in Rachel-the guy was movie-star gorgeous and standing so close that he could probably smell her.
“You look as if you could use a hand, eh?” he asked, grinning lopsidedly as he fished in his pocket.
Dear God, she was gaping at him like she’d never seen a man before, and unthinkingly jerked backward, away from him, and almost killed herself, thank you, by impaling herself on the little box around the pay phone. But forget that, because she suddenly remembered the little wisps of hair sticking up all over her head and thought she might actually die of embarrassment. Just expire cold, right here.
“No, ah, no…” she managed to get out, smiling sheepishly. “No, thank you, but I’ve definitely got it,” she said, and whirled around, her hand still shoved in her bag, frantically searching for a coin, any coin. JUST A COIN, DAMMIT!
“I’ve got a bit of change if you’d like,” he continued, and Rachel, her back to him, shook her head no, felt one of the tight coils of her hair start to come undone. “Thanks! I’ve got it!” she said to the wall.
He made a sound that sounded a little like a chuckle. Which meant, of course, that now the movie-star guy was laughing at her. How dare he laugh at her? She shot him a glance over her shoulder, but…he wasn’t really laughing at all. He was just smiling, and really very warmly, showing some very white and very straight teeth for a Brit.
“I don’t think you’ve got it at all, really,” he said, holding out his hand. “I’ve some coins here,” he said, and opening the palm of his hand and studying the coins there. “Ah, here we are,” he said cheerfully, and held up two quarters.
Rachel looked at the quarters and wondered, madly, if her face was still fireplug red, or please, God, had it calmed down a little, too maybe just cherry red?
He mistook her silence as refusal and said congenially, “The thing is, you obviously haven’t got the proper change and I’m really quite happy to help.”
Okay, okay, now she got it-if a man who looked like him, all buff and handsome and wearing a suit, was talking to her, it was probably one of those reality TV things-
He cocked his head and dipped it a little bit to see her better, and Rachel instantly swiped the back of her arm across her forehead. “Right. Well, then, if you’d be so kind as to take the quarters and perhaps ring whomever you are ringing so the rest of us might have a go?” he asked, gesturing toward the phone. “I don’t mean to impose, but I really need to make a call.”
“Oh!” she said, and began frantically searching her bag again. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to hold you up, but I can’t possibly take your quarters because I have quarters, if I could just get to the bottom of my bag,” she said, glancing at him from the corner of her eye. “Why don’t you go ahead?”
“I couldn’t possibly take your place in the queue,” he said, looking at her bag. “You’ve quite a large bag there.”
“Yes, it’s very big, because I have lots of…” Well, junk, really. “Important stuff. Lots of it,” she muttered.
Bonny Prince Charlie just stood there, smiling down at her, until it became apparent to even her that she was not going to magically produce two quarters, she sighed.
“I rather thought you’d see it my way,” he said congenially, and leaned forward, his arm extended, coming right at her…then around her! To the phone, to be precise, which put him in dangerously close proximity to her sweaty self.
Rachel gasped with humiliation-there was no way he couldn’t smell her now. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you!” she cried, and tried to move, but managed to impale herself once more on the phone box. “Ow,” she whimpered. “Ow, ow, ow.”
“Mind the box,” James Bond said with a chuckle, and blithely continued reaching around her, to the phone itself. “Before you go all barmy on me,” he said, his voice pleasantly soft as he his gaze flicked from her face and her appallingly red bosom, “I promise you may have the quarters. I won’t demand interest or the like,” he said, his gaze still on her, his nose as yet unwrinkled, as he deposited one quarter. “But I wouldn’t mind a bit if you determined you were so indebted to me that you might buy me a cup of tea with the fiver you dropped on the floor.” He deposited the second quarter.
Rachel blinked; stole a glimpse at the floor without actually moving. There it was, a crumpled five dollar bill at her feet. “Oh, man,” she said, and slid down to her haunches to pick it up, then stood so quickly that she banged the top of her head into his arm, which was now holding the receiver out to her. “Oops. Sorry,” she said, wincing again.
He smilingly offered the phone. “Quite all right. So then, I’ve only just arrived and it’s rather dreary out, isn’t it? I could use a spot of tea, how about you? Here you are…your call?”
All right, now she was mortified to the tips of her toes-was he playing some sort of mind game, asking her to tea? What in God’s name was he doing in Providence, anyway? He should be in London, stepping off the tube with some dish, walking to some posh and trendy pub!
Rachel snatched the phone from his hand, punched Dagne’s numbers into the phone, and silently begged her to pick up the goddam phone. On the fourth ring, when she had decided that God was indeed smiting her and was not going to help her in the least because she had played around with witchcraft, Dagne picked up. “Hello?” she said sleepily.
“Dagne!” Rachel hissed, whirling around so that her back was to Prince Charming. “Come and get me!”
“Why? Where are you?” she asked through a yawn.
“At the gym-”
“Hey! You didn’t waste any time-”
“Come and get me!” she said again. “If you’re not here in five minutes-”
“Why? Where’s your car? Wait a minute-does Myron have it? Because if Myron took your car-”
“No, no, it’s here! But I’m blocked in and I really, really need to go.”
“Why? What’s the hurry?”
“Dagne!” Rachel hissed.
“All right,” Dagne said, obviously irritated. “I’ll be there in a few. But this better be good!” She hung up.
Rachel put the receiver in the cradle, turned slowly toward the Brit and pulled her gym bag around in front of her stomach. She flashed a self-conscious smile. “Thanks,” she said. “That was really very decent of you. I appreciate the help.”
“You’re quite welcome. And now that you’ve successfully completed your ringing operation, what do you say to that cup of tea?”
If Dagne had put some sort of spell on her that made her attract handsome men, she was going to kill her. “Oh gee, I’m sorry, I really can’t,” she said quickly, stepping around him. “I’ve got a…a really important appointment I’ve got to get to. But, ah…thanks. Thanks so much.” She flashed him another quick smile, clutched her bag closely to her body, and mowed her way out of the coffee house.
She got one last look at the to-die-for Brit as she pushed through the glass doors. He was standing at the phone, staring after her, a sort of bemused look on his face.
Seriously, she was going to kill Dagne.