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Sandra reclined in the bath and closed her eyes. It had been a bad day with a good end. A dead witness, Valerie taken hostage, and Ethan Avery coming very close to getting away with murder. But he hadn’t; they’d all seen to that. And now the man who’d cloned himself several times over would probably be doing solitary – precious irony.

God, she hated that guy. More than anyone she’d ever put away. Avery was a genius, yes, and known for his philanthropy. He was also a narcissistic psychopath. And a mean, petty little creep.

Even though he was the one in handcuffs, standing behind the reinforced glass in the interview room, he still got to her. He’d mocked her career development, insulted her appearance, and predicted that she would die a lonely, dried-up old woman. That she already was one, essentially. “You bastard,” she said to him, her voice shaking.

She sure wished she could take that back. Her gut seized, remembering the moment, how pathetic she’d sounded.

Why did his words sting? They weren’t even true. She was good at her job, getting recognition and moving up in the department. True, she wasn’t a beauty, and she didn’t make an effort to prettify herself for work. Her severe look was by choice, and she didn’t need the men she worked with to lust after her. Good God, no.

As for the being alone part, though… Yeah, maybe that was what hit the nerve.

With his words, Avery had held up a mirror in front of her, showing her how she appeared to others. And what she saw was someone that people probably felt sorry for. Here she'd thought she was projecting an image of professionalism, to inspire confidence and respect at the expense of familiarity and buddy-buddy relationships. And all it got her was pity. All that effort, for nothing. All she was was alone.

Great, now she was feeling sorry for herself. She should be celebrating, not wallowing. And, hell, just because a master manipulator had known which buttons to push, had known just how to provoke her, that didn’t mean…

Fuck it. Sandra practically sprang out of the tub and marched out to the phone in the living room. She punched in a number before she could change her mind. In the time it took three rings to sound from the speaker, she realized that Avery had actually done her a favor. He had pushed her, yes. Not into depression, but into action.

“Hi, there…” The voice on the other end sounded surprised, and cautiously hopeful.

Sandra paused for a second or two, long enough to take a deep breath. “Hey, uhm…”


“Is your offer of dinner still open?” Sandra tried to keep it casual, and was glad there was no visual. Blushing, at her age? Ridiculous.

There was a low purr of a laugh. “Oh, yes. Absolutely.”

“Good. That’s good.” Sandra was grinning now, like a fool. At her age. It was crazy. "Great."

“I’ll pick you up in one hour.”

Wait, tonight? Now? Shit, no, she needed more time to get ready, to prepare. It was too soon. This was too fast. “Perfect,” she replied.

She clicked off, then held her palms to her cheeks. Yup, they were warm. And she was still grinning. Back in the bathroom, she began working her fingers through her thick, curly hair and really looking at herself in the mirror. She couldn't drive the smile from her face, it seemed. Huh, she'd forgotten that she had dimples... Thank you, Ethan Avery, even if you were wrong about me shriveling up at home, wondering why no man even noticed me.

She started humming some old ditty she didn't even know the name of while mentally inventorying the contents of her closet. Did she even have a dress? Or should she go with a sweater and jeans? She didn't even know what kind of place they were going to.

One thing was certain. Sandra sure as hell wasn’t just going to throw on a suit and pull back her hair for this date.

"Damn," she said to her reflection. Cliché though it may be to coordinate outfits, she really should’ve asked Valerie what she was going to wear.