Blind-Date Baby: Excerpt

The girl standing behind the reservations desk glanced up at him. It was the same girl as last week. He remembered the neat little bun she wore at the nape of her neck and how he’d wondered if it hurt to scrape one’s hair into something that tight. Just like last week, she didn’t seem to be in a particularly good mood. A raised eyebrow was all the welcome he got. Good. His attempt at going incognito was working.

‘Smith,’ he said, returning her look. ‘Table for two. Eight o’clock.’

She blinked, then deigned to check the reservations book. ‘This way, sir.’

She took off at a brisk pace.

‘Has my…dinner companion…arrived yet?’

The girl didn’t even turn to answer. The little bun wobbled back and forth as she shook her head. If Barucci’s didn’t have the finest wine list in this corner of London, he’d have boycotted the place weeks ago. But it was the best little restaurant in the suburb of Vinehurst, right on the fringes of London’s urban sprawl. A few minutes’ drive to the south and it was all countryside. Vinehurst had probably once been an idyllic little village, with its narrow cobbled high street, a Norman church and an old-fashioned cricket pitch that was still used every Sunday. Somehow, during the last century, as London had spread, it hadn’t swallowed up Vinehurst, as it had similar hamlets and towns. There was a distinct absence of grey concrete and high-rise buildings, as if the city had just flowed round the village, leaving a little bubble of rural charm behind. It was a great place for a first date.

At eight o’clock on the dot, a woman walked into the restaurant.

It was her.

The dark, wavy hair was coiled behind her head somehow and she wore a neat black coat, fitted at the waist. Even though he was too far away to tell if her eyes were really the same colour as her profile photograph, they drew his attention—bright and alert, scanning the room beneath quirkily arched brows. He watched as her gaze flitted from one table to the next, pausing for a split-second on the men, then moving on when she saw they weren't alone.

Noah put down the menu he’d been perusing and sat up straighter, giving no indication that his was hearting beat just a little bit faster. Could the hamsters at finally have got it right?

Finally, the woman leaned over and whispered something to a waitress . The girl nodded and waited as the woman stopped to remove her coat. There was a collective pause as every man in the place held his breath for a heartbeat, then pretended to resume conversation with their friends, wives or girlfriends. In reality, they were tracking the woman’s progress across the room. Even the ones that were far too young for her.

Under the respectable coat was a stunning dress. The same shade and sheen as a peacock’s body. The scoop neck wasn’t even close to being indecent, but somehow it didn’t need to be. It teased very nicely while it sat there, revealing not even a hint of cleavage. The hem was short and the legs, the legs…

Well, the legs hadn’t been visible in the photo, but they were very nice indeed. Too nice, maybe. Maybe she was a vixen incognito. He loosened his tie slightly and tried to smile as she followed the waitress through the maze of tables, leaving a trail of wistful male eyes in her wake. The smile felt forced and he abandoned it. He didn’t do small talk; he did conversation. And he didn’t do overly-effusive greetings these days, even in the presence of such fine legs.

When the waitress pulled out the chair opposite him for her, he stood and offered his hand. ‘Noah…Smith.’ A necessary diversion from the truth if he was to gauge if his dates really liked him for his personality rather than his bank balance. Sometimes he wished he’d had enough sense to use a pen name, but the lure of seeing ‘Noah Frost’ stamped in square letters across the front of a book jacket had been too great after all the years of rejections.

‘Hello,’ she said, shaking his hand then quickly pulling hers away again. ‘You’ve got really nice teeth.’

He opened his mouth to say, All the better to eat you with, but managed to stop himself. Instead he just kept quiet and motioned for her to sit down. He did the same.

‘Nice teeth?’ he said, smiling again. ‘Do you want to check my hooves to see if I’m good stock too?’

She blushed ever so slightly and the mischievous little smile from the profile photograph made an appearance.

‘Grace Marlowe—blind-date virgin…’ She clapped a hand over her mouth. It looked as if she was trying to wipe a cheeky smile away as she dragged her hand over her lips and let it fall. It didn’t work. The grin popped back into place as if nothing had happened.

‘That came out all wrong. What I meant was…this will be my first time.’

She closed her eyes and bit her lip. Without opening her lids, she kept speaking. ‘I’m making it worse, aren’t I—digging myself an even deeper hole?’

Noah stared at her. This wasn’t how the other dates had started. Where was the murmured conversation, the polite questioning as to jobs and musical tastes?

‘It’s only because I’m more of a blind-date veteran that I’m not in there with a matching shovel.’

She opened one eye. ‘You’re nice, Mr Smith. And chivalrous to a lady in distress.’ The other eye popped open and she tipped her head to one side. ‘How come you’ve had so many first dates if you’re such a nice guy? What’s wrong with you?’

Now it was his turn to laugh. His male pride really ought to be dented. None of his other dates had been so blunt. But none of his other dates had been quite so interesting.

‘This is only the fourth date I’ve been on.’

‘In how long?’

He shrugged. ‘A month?’

‘That’s a lot of ladies who passed you by, Noah. Tell me why I shouldn’t follow the crowd.’

Despite the fact he was known for his cool, unruffable demeanour, he found himself laughing again.

‘I’ve got nice teeth?’

‘There is that,’ she said, her eyes twinkling. And they really were that blue. She looked at the table cloth and scratched at a catch in the linen. ‘Sorry about the teeth thing. I was a little nervous, and when I’m nervous, I tend to say the first thing that pops into my head.’
Although it seemed to get her into trouble, he found it quite endearing. And refreshing. The more successful he’d become, the more people second-guessed their every word around him. Getting an honest reaction—rather than one that had been carefully edited before it left a person’s mouth—was a wonderful novelty.

‘Shall we order?’

She breathed out a sigh, making a little round shape with her mouth. ‘That would be lovely.’

He opened the large, unwieldy menu and scanned it, even though he was pretty sure he was going to start with the carpaccio of beef and follow it with the scallops.

‘We can discuss my many faults over the appetisers,’ he said, completely deadpan.

The bright eyes appeared above the menu, laughing at him. Noah smiled to himself and paid careful attention. You could tell a lot about a person from what food they ordered. She chose the beef too. Another good sign.

No. Not a sign—he didn’t believe in signs. Just an indicator of compatibility.

She let him choose the wine and, by the time he’d narrowed the choices down to match their courses, their appetizers had arrived.

‘So, what do you do, Grace?’

She looked up from her salad—not by raising her head, but by looking at him through her lashes. A flicker of emotion passed across her face and she popped a piece of avocado in her mouth. Didn’t she want to tell him what she did for a living? It couldn’t be as bad as last Saturday’s date. A pet psychologist, for goodness’ sake!

When Grace finished chewing, she mumbled, ‘I’m a barrister.’

Not quite what he expected. He wondered if she’d be too tied down to her job to think about travelling with him. That might be a deal-breaker.

‘How about you? What do you do for a living?’

He opened his mouth and closed it again. Time to learn from past mistakes. The moment he mentioned thrillers and novel-writing the game was normally up. Noah wasn’t a particularly common name and people tended to guess the connection, even if he used his totally imaginative Noah Smith alias. And he didn’t want Grace to go all giggly and stupid like some women did.
‘You do have a job at the moment, don't you?’ Grace said.

‘Of course I do. I'm a writer.’

To his relief, Grace looked pleasantly unimpressed. ‘What kind of writer?

He shrugged. ‘I write about military stuff. Quite boring, actually.’ Another little detour.

Grace dabbed her mouth with her napkin. ‘Are you pulling my leg?’

Rats. She could tell he was fudging the issue. Just as well he hadn’t decided to be an actor instead of a novelist. At least his characters were convincing, even if he wasn’t.

‘No,’ he said with his best poker face.

Grace looked at him long and hard. Had she guessed his secret? If she had, she wasn’t smiling and going all gooey, which was unusual.

‘So, tell me about your other dates,’ she said, her eyes never leaving his face. ‘What went wrong?’

‘Nothing.’ He took a deep breath and let his face relax out of his smile. ‘But it’s a serious business, finding a wife. I’m not just going to trot off down the aisle with just anyone.’

She put her knife and fork down and stared at her salad for a few seconds. ‘You’re really looking for a wife on an Internet dating site?’

Why did his dates seem to find that so hard to believe? After all, the site in question was It kind of gave the game away.

‘Aren’t you looking for a husband?’

Grace shook her head hard to loosen her hairdo a little.

‘What are you looking for then? Love? A soulmate?’

She dropped her chin and gave him an Are you serious? look from under her lashes.

Good. She didn’t believe in those things either.

‘I’m glad we’re on the same wavelength,’ he said before taking a sip of wine.

Grace pursed her lips. ‘It’s not that I don’t believe in those things. Just that I’m not expecting to find them at Nor do I want to. I mean, the whole Romeo-and-Juliet, all-consuming passion thing really only works for teenagers, don’t you think?’

He raised his eyebrows in what he hoped was a non-committal way. He wasn’t sure what this ‘in love’ thing was. Oh, he thought he’d found it once, but it had turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. What people sang about in love songs or wept over at the cinema wasn’t real. It was all an illusion.

His parents didn’t do all that hearts and flowers nonsense and they had been perfectly happy for almost fifty years. If it could work for them, it could work for him too.

Copyright © 2008 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd
Copyright © 2008 Fiona Harper
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books SA.
Cover art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. All rights reserved.
® and TM are trademarks of Harlequin Enterprises Ltd and/or its affiliate companies, used under license.


badbadbeebee said...

I loved the book and cant wait to read the others? I wonder if there will be more than 3 books in the series.

Fiona Harper said...

Thanks for dropping by to say how much you enjoyed the book! As far as I know, there are no more plans for more in the series, but if they're popular, who knows what the editors may decide?