I had misread his apology, but I couldn’t look into his head or heart and what if his motives had nothing to do with finding Mae Tao and everything to do with discovering who knew about his company’s illegal trafficking in humans? I wouldn’t reveal Suey Wah just yet, not until I had assured myself that Jake Pandora’s intentions were honest and honorable.
“I have only a little information right now, but I think I may have discovered an eye witness to my missing girl’s arrival. I’ll know more by the weekend. What have you found out?”
He shrugged. “Not a lot yet, but like you I have some contacts I still need to talk to.”
I almost laughed at his response because our mutual distrust was obvious in our carefully worded replies. For no reason I could name, I believe he realized the same and found a similar humor in each of us circling the other like two prizefighters just out of their corners.
“As I said, I’ll know more by the weekend,” I repeated. “How about you?”
“Then what if we plan to meet at your office on Saturday and talk further then.” He weighed the suggestion carefully before agreeing, looking for a veiled motive on my part or some undefined danger embedded in the plan.
I found his suspicious reluctance insulting and stood up abruptly, saying with poorly disguised annoyance, “One o’clock sharp on Saturday then, Mr. Pandora.” He rose, too.
“Agreed, Miss Hudson.”
We walked into the hallway and as I held the front door open for his departure admitted frankly, “I wouldn’t have thought you had it in you to admit you were wrong. I hope you have no ulterior plan at work here.”
He misread my words and meaning completely and responded with his own annoyance. “Your brother-in-law was close enough to rescue you if you were worried that I had designs on you. Just to set your mind at ease, I prefer brunettes.”
I thought I was past blushing but felt a warmth in my cheeks that probably meant they were turning an obvious pink. I didn’t know if the color signified embarrassment or anger.
I hope your investigative skills are sharper than your understanding of women, Mr. Pandora,” I told him, recovering my equanimity and trying to imbue my words with a certain indifferent good humor. “I can’t remember the last time I needed the protection of anyone or anything besides my own intelligence and wits.”
I sensed that he had enjoyed making me uncomfortable, even for that brief moment, and the cynical humor in his dark brown eyes made me call his name as he stepped down onto the first porch step.
When he turned back to look at me, I said sweetly, “I appreciate your candor, Mr. Pandora, and I’d like to reciprocate. You should know that my preference is for fair-haired men in uniform.” I paused, smiled, and added just before I closed the door, “Now you can set your mind at ease, too.”
Martin frowned the rest of the evening, but I think it was Ruth’s admiring comments about Jake Pandora that were the source of his irritation. My sister eventually noticed her husband’s frown and went over to his chair to kiss him on the cheek.
“I was speaking only in general terms, darling,” she told him. “Of course, no one can match either the strength of your character or your physique.”
Martin brushed off her words with a sputter and a harrumph, but I noticed he regained his good humor after that and was good company for the rest of the evening.
The next morning Donaldina and I discussed how and when I could best assist the work at 920. She wanted to offer me some slight remuneration, but I couldn’t take it as much as I would have appreciated having a little more pin money.
“I want to do this, Donaldina, and I don’t want to be paid for my time.”
“Are you sure? The Board already agreed to budget extra funds for your help. Don’t allow any residual guilt you might feel force you into an arrangement that you will eventually regret