Leah snapped and unsnapped the clasp to her purse for the 39th time, then set it down on the floor beside her, jamming her fist into her coat pocket. This was silly. She should have just called the guy and told him he had won the date with her, and that it was only a one-time thing. But no matter how she had worded it in her mind, it hadn’t sounded right.
So here she was, hoping inspiration would hit her when she stood face to face with Officer James Rourk of the Spokane Police Department. It’s for the crisis nursery, she reminded herself, starting when the petite policewoman called to her.
“Ms. Conroy, Officer Rourk just walked in. I’ll tell him you’re here.”
Leah stood and smoothed her skirt. Whew! She was nervous. She hoped she’d made the right decision.
Rourk’s letter had been brief, almost technical, definitely policelike. His picture hadn’t revealed much, either, just a stiff, formal, unsmiling shot of a clean-cut, dark haired man in a blue uniform. Her friends had been put off by the severity of the photo, and strongly suggested she consider one of the other smiling pictures.
In Leah’s opinion, smile or no smile, it was the silver badge that had caught her attention. Since her escort would be a stranger, she just felt safer going out with a police officer. “Besides,” she muttered to herself, “it’s only one date, a few hours for a worthy cause.”
Oh, my word, she thought, watching the tall, lean … hunk stroll toward her. Be still my heart, Becky and Jill are going to die of envy. That picture didn’t even begin to do him justice.
“Officer Rourk,” she said. “I’m Leah Conroy. I’m here to tell you that you’re the winner.”
James Rourk didn’t respond; he only raised one eyebrow and cocked his head to the side. “The date,” Leah continued. “You were chosen to be my fantasy date for one evening.” Her hand extended, and a magnanimous smile stretched across her face, Leah waited for some reaction from the man in front of her.
Suddenly, a hoot of male laughter came from behind the City Desk. Both Leah and James turned and looked at two policemen slapping hands in a high five.
“What contest?” James asked.
Swallowing hard, Leah reached into her purse to withdraw his entry. Silently, James read it. Glancing briefly at the laughing cops, he handed it back to her. Fine smile lines radiated from his dark blue eyes, streaking into deep-set dimples. “Sorry, ma’am, but I’ll have to decline your generous offer.”
Mortified, Leah crammed the paper into her still gaping purse.
“Don’t let her get away, Jimbo,” one of the officers called from behind the desk. “When’s the last time you had a date?”
James advanced a step toward the two men. One of them held up his hands in mock surrender.
The other officer snorted in amusement. “Now, hold on, James, it was just a joke. When we sent in your name we didn’t think you’d win. Will you go if we rent you a tux?”
A few more officers appeared from the hallway. Snickers rippled through the room. Encouraged, the cop continued. “Or would Ms. Mystery Valentine prefer Cupid’s attire?”
James took another step forward. This was terrible, Leah thought. How could things get any worse? Then, despite her embarrassment, she smiled. A soft chuckle escaped, which escalated into uncontrollable giggles. James whirled on her.
She met his glare and covered her mouth to stop the laughter bubbling in her throat. “It’s only one time, one date,” she gasped. Taking a deep breath, she added, “It’s for a good cause.”
James stared at her, a reluctant smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. He had to admit the woman before him was much more attractive than the billboard picture he had seen splashed on the news and in the paper. He watched Leah struggle for control, then lose it again. Looking over his shoulder, he saw his buddies, Mac and Regan, puckering their lips, wiggling their hips and making the others howl with laughter.
“What good cause?” he asked. “KHQ and The Spokesman-Review have offered to pay for the evening, and donate $2,000 to the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery.”
Oh no, not me, James thought. He didn’t want any part of this. “I’d like to help you, but …”
“Look, officer, I’m only doing this for the nursery. My friends set me up, too, and I chose you because I thought you’d be safe. I don’t want anything from you but one evening of your time.”
James stared down at Leah. Two thousand dollars for charity. Just to go out with this woman? No matter what he did, Mac and Regan would never let him live it down. Maybe. Oh, what the heck?
“All right, Miss Conroy. For the nursery. For one evening.”
Behind the desk, Mac and Regan broke into a slightly off-key chorus of “Only You.”
MEMO: Coming Monday: The date from Hell.