Match Me if You Can(7)

By: Susan Elizabeth Phillips

“You want me to stay?”

“Twenty minutes exactly. Then take her away.”

“Twenty minutes? Don’t you think she’ll find that a little…demeaning?”

“Not if she’s the right woman.” He gave her his country boy’s smile. “And do you know why, Miss Granger? Because the right woman will be too damned sweet to take offense. Now get the hell out of here while you’re ahead.”

She did.

By the time she slipped into the McDonald’s restroom, Annabelle had stopped shaking. She changed into capris, a tank, and sandals. Today’s experience had justified her lifelong phobia of snakes. But other women wouldn’t see Heath Champion like that. He was rich, successful, and gorgeous, which made him a dream match, assuming he didn’t scare his dates to death, which was a distinct possibility. All she needed to do was find the right woman.

She pulled her wild hair back from her face with a pair of barrettes. She’d always worn her hair short to keep it under control, but her curly pixie had made her look more like a college freshman than a serious professional, so she was biting the bullet and letting it grow out. Not for the first time did she wish she had a spare five hundred dollars to have it professionally straightened, but she couldn’t even pay her utility bill.

She stowed Nana’s pearl earrings in an empty Altoids box and took a swig of lukewarm water from one of the bottles she’d dug out of Sherman’s backseat. She kept the car well stocked: snacks and water bottles; a change of clothes; Tampax and toiletries; her new brochures and business cards; workout gear in case the mood struck her, which it hardly ever did; and, just recently, a box of condoms in the event one of her new clients developed a sudden, desperate need, although she couldn’t see men like Ernie Marks or John Nager being that impulsive. Ernie was an elementary school principal, good with kids, but nervous with grown women, and John the hypochondriac wouldn’t have sex without running his partner through the Mayo Clinic.

One thing was certain. She’d never have to pass out emergency condoms to Heath Champion. A man like that always came prepared.

She wrinkled her nose. Time to rise above her dislike. So what if he was overbearing and dictatorial, not to mention too rich and too successful for his own good? He was the key to her economic future. If she wanted Perfect for You to be successful as a specialized, high-end matchmaking service, she had to find him a wife. Once that happened, the word would spread, and Perfect for You would become the hottest service in Chicago. Which it definitely wasn’t now, because inheriting her grand-mother’s business had also meant inheriting her remaining clients. Although Annabelle was doing her best to honor Nana’s memory, it was time to move forward.

She squirted soap on her hands and considered her place in the business world. Matchmaking services came in mind-boggling varieties, and the rise of inexpensive online dating services had forced a lot of brick-and-mortar companies like hers to shut down while others scrambled to find a niche. They offered speed dates, lunch dates, and adventure outings. Some staged singles dinner parties, others served only graduates of prestigious universities or members of specific religious denominations. A lucky few, like Power Matches, were holding their own as “millionaire services,” accepting only male clients and charging them staggering fees for introductions to beautiful women.

Annabelle intended to set Perfect for You apart from all of them. She wanted to make her name the first one that upscale Chicago singles, male and female, thought of when they were ready for a committed relationship and realized that old-fashioned personalized service was the best way to get it. She already had a few clients—Ernie and John her most recent—but not nearly enough to turn a profit. And until she’d established her credentials, she couldn’t charge higher fees. Finding a match for Heath Champion would make those select clients and bigger fees possible. Except why hadn’t he been able to find a wife on his own?

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