Fast Women Read online

  For Valerie Taylor

  because she tells me when my scenes are boring,

  my syntax is twisted, and my characters are jerks,

  because she reminds me that I always think

  my career is over in the middle of each book,

  and because she writes truly wonderful stories

  and then lets me read them first.

  Keep dodging those trucks, honey.

  my thanks to


  for designing pottery that amazes and delights me every time I see it.


  for having everything in the universe for sale sooner or later, thereby making research much more fun than it used to be.


  for writing Crazy Time,

  her brilliant, compassionate study of divorce and recovery.


  for listening to me plot my books every spring without snickering and for being the only reason to ever fly into O’Hare.


  for perfecting the art of friendship and the craft of unconditional cheerleading, and for putting up with an inordinate amount of e-whining and cyber-moaning.


  for being once again an editor whose intelligence, insight, empathy, enthusiasm, and saint-like patience make it possible for me to write without drink or drugs, although not without chocolate and french fries with vinegar.


  for protecting me from everything, including myself, and for negotiating a damn fine contract while she’s at it.

  Without the help of these fine people, I couldn’t have written this book, nor would I have wanted to.


  Title Page



  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two


  Also by Jennifer Crusie

  Praise for Fast Women


  Chapter One

  The man behind the cluttered desk looked like the devil, and Nell Dysart figured that was par for her course since she’d been going to hell for a year and a half anyway. Meeting Gabriel McKenna just meant she’d arrived.

  “Yes, I think you better look into that,” he said into the phone with barely disguised impatience, his sharp eyes telegraphing his annoyance.

  It was rude to talk on the phone in front of her, but he didn’t have a secretary to answer the phone for him, and she was a job applicant not a client, and he was a detective not an insurance salesman, so maybe the regular rules of social intercourse didn’t apply.

  “I’ll come up on Monday,” he said. “No, Trevor, waiting would not be better. I’ll talk to all of you at eleven.”

  He sounded as if he were talking to a fractious uncle, not a client. The detective business must be a lot better than this place looked if he could dictate to clients like that, especially clients named Trevor. The only Trevor Nell knew was her sister-in-law’s father, and he was richer than God, so maybe Gabe McKenna was really powerful and successful and just needed somebody to manage his office back into shape. She could do that.

  Nell looked around the shabby room and tried to be positive, but the place was gloomy in the September afternoon light, even gloomier because the ancient blinds on the equally ancient big windows were pulled down. The McKenna Building stood on the corner of two of the city’s prettier thoroughfares in German Village, a district where people paid big bucks to look out their windows at historic Ohio brick streets and architecture, but Gabriel McKenna pulled his blinds, probably so he couldn’t see the mess inside. The walls were covered with dusty framed black-and-white photos, the furniture needed to be cleaned and waxed, and his desk needed to be plowed. She’d never seen so much garbage on one surface in her life, the Styrofoam cups alone would—

  “Yes,” he said, his voice low and sure. The light from his green-shaded desk lamp threw shadows on his face, but with those dark eyes closed now, he didn’t look nearly as satanic. More like your average, dark-haired, fortysomething businessman in a striped shirt and loosened tie. Like Tim.

  Nell stood up abruptly and dropped her purse on the chair. She went to the big window to open the blinds and let in a little light. If she cleaned the place up, he could leave the blinds open to make a better impression. Clients liked doing business in the light, not in the pit of hell. She tugged once on the cord and it stuck, so she tugged again, harder, and this time it came off in her hand.

  Oh, great. She looked back, but he was still on the phone, his broad shoulders hunched, so she shoved the cord onto the windowsill. It fell off onto the hardwood floor, the plastic end making a sharp, hollow sound as it hit, and she leaned into the blind-covered window to get it from behind the chair that was in the way. It was just out of her fingers’ reach, another damn thing out of her reach, so she pressed harder against the blinds, stretching to touch it with her fingertips.

  The window cracked under her shoulder.

  “I’ll see you on Monday,” he said into the phone, and she kicked the cord behind the radiator and went back to sit down before he could notice that she was destroying his office around him.

  Now she had to get the job so she could cover the tracks of her vandalism. And besides, there was that desk; somebody needed to save this guy. And then there was her need for money to pay for rent and other luxuries. Somebody needs to save me, she thought.

  He hung up the phone and turned to her, looking tired. “I apologize, Mrs. Dysart. You can see how much we need a secretary.”

  Nell looked at his desk and thought, You need more than a secretary, buddy, but she said, “Perfectly all right.” She was going to be cheerful and helpful if it killed her.

  He picked up her résumé. “Why did you leave your last position?”

  “My boss divorced me.”

  “That would be a reason,” he said, and began to read.

  His people skills needed work, she thought as she stared down at her sensible black pumps, planted firmly on the ancient Oriental rug where they couldn’t walk her into trouble again. Now if he’d been Tim, he’d have offered her sympathy, a Kleenex, a shoulder to cry on. He would have followed that up by suggesting the purchase of some insurance, but he would have been sympathetic.

  There was a spot on the carpet, and she rubbed at it with the toe of her shoe, trying to blend it in. Spots made a place look unsuccessful; it was the details that counted in an office environment. She rubbed harder, and the carpet threads parted, and the spot got bigger; it wasn’t a spot, she’d found a hole and had managed to shred it to double its size in under fifteen seconds. She put her foot over the hole and thought, Take me, Jesus, take me now.

  “Why do you want to work for us?” he said, and she smiled at him, trying to look bright and eager, plus the aforementioned cheerful and helpful, which was hard since she was middle-aged and cranky.

  “I think it would be interesting to work for a detective agency.” I think I need a job so I can hold onto my di