Authors: Nicola Marsh
The memory brought a smile to her face, which widened further as she caught a glimpse of her visitor.
Pity Belle hadn’t stuck around because the guy inspecting the photos of married couples on her wall was the clichéd tall, dark and handsome in a big way.
“Can I help you?”
He turned, his piercing gaze making her skin prickle like she’d consumed an ocean’s worth of shrimp, guaranteed to bring her out in hives.
His eyes were dark as coal, Superman eyes, able to penetrate concrete and women’s outer layers of clothing with a single stare.
“I hope so. Nobody else in this town seems to know the meaning of the word.”
Uh-oh. Not easy to place, these ones. They got a ten in the looks and body department but most women wanted a pleasant conversationalist too, not a grizzly with a temperament to match.
“I’m looking for the matchmaking woman. Is she around?”
. Make that grizzly with a sore tooth.
Mustering her best placating smile, she held out her hand. “I’m Sierra Kent, owner of Love Byte.”
He ignored her outstretched hand, his gaze flicking from head to foot as if assessing her credentials. “Figures.”
Her hand dropped and she amended her summation to grizzly with a sore tooth and a bad case of PMS. Surely her
weren’t that bad?
Only one way to handle an old grizzly: bait him further. Besides, she was all out of honey.
“You aren’t here to fill out an application?”
The frown tattooed between his brows deepened. “I’m not here for a job, if that’s what you mean.”
Maybe old grizzly was plain dumb as well?
“This is a dating agency, Mr.? That’s right, I didn’t quite catch your name. Must’ve missed it along with the introductory hand shake.”
His lips twitched with amusement. Nah…that would mean the guy actually had a sense of humor and from his dour expression, she doubted it.
Fairley? Surely he couldn’t be related to the sweet lady her Uncle Hank was courting?
“I hear you’ve brainwashed my mother into believing the bull you spout here.”
Great. Not only was Mr. High and Mighty related, he was Olivia Fairley’s son?
Interfering relatives she could do without, especially ones that threatened her uncle’s happiness. Hank was the one guy who had never let her down and if she could repay him in any way she’d do it.
He’d asked her to help organize the wedding, the first time he’d ever asked her for anything and she would do everything in her power to make it happen.
As for grizzly, he’d have to get used to the fact his mother and Hank were tying the knot and butt out.
She gritted her teeth and forced a polite smile. “Mr. Fairley, I—”
“Call me Marc.”
She hated interruptions, adding rude and condescending to his growing list of faults, and continued as if he hadn’t spoken.
“I’m not sure what you’ve heard but I run a respectable business here. Your mother approached me in search of companionship and I’ve provided that for her.”
“Save the spiel. I’m not one of your gullible singles.”
“Your wife must be so proud,” she muttered, resisting the urge to pick up the nearest object, which happened to be one of the elephants she collected, and fling it at him Frisbee-style. Nothing like a good tusk in the eye to prove a point.
He stiffened and thrust his hands into his pockets. “I’m not married. Not that it’s any of your business.”
“That’s where you’re wrong.”
She sauntered to the front desk, throwing in an extra hip wiggle for the fun of it, picked up a folder and held it out to him.
“Making people happy is my business and if my services lead people to marriage? Bonus.”
He didn’t take the folder so the placed it in front of him and tapped it. “I can see where your problem lies. You’re single and not enjoying it so check out my brochures, fill out the forms, and I can rectify that little problem for you in a second.”
She snapped her fingers, struggling to keep a straight face as his lips compressed, his dark gaze hard and uncompromising. She hadn’t had this much fun in ages and baiting Marc Fairley could easily become a new pastime.
“Promise not to think you’re
His face reddened, his neck muscles tensed and his eyes narrowed to angry slits. However, just when their discussion promised to get interesting, he surprised her.
“Fine. I’ll look over your information and get back to you.”
He grabbed the folder and stalked out the door, leaving her slightly disappointed. She’d expected more of a fight but grizzly had sheathed his claws and retreated.
Men like him, stimulating, challenging, with enough arrogance to keep her interested, didn’t drop by every day and she’d hoped to get a few more barbs in before he left.
Shaking her head, she headed back to her desk and a pile of applications waiting for Cupid’s expertise.
If a grumble-bum like Marc Fairley had sparked her interest she needed some serious downtime, preferably with a guy that wouldn’t look down his snooty nose at her business or bite her head off every time she opened her mouth.
Or better yet, she could immerse herself in work, her usual panacea for all ills, including the lonely bug that crawled under her skin on the odd occasion.
She rummaged in her top drawer for a pen and came across an old Post-it note where Belle had scribbled “GOLF” and stuck it to the bottom of the drawer. Her friend’s motto of “Guaranteed Orgasmic Laid-back Fun” hadn’t steered Belle wrong so why couldn’t she do the same?
Work was Sierra’s usual excuse but if she were completely honest she didn’t go for laid
, Belle’s euphemism for one night stands. Too brief, too impersonal, but isn’t that what she wanted? Anything more was too complicated and if there was one thing she wasn’t good at, it was complication. Her childhood years had been testament to that.
Besides, falling for a guy was
on her agenda, especially not now when her business was starting to take off. She had an enterprise to build and a seven-figure goal for her nest egg. No use relying on some guy to come along and provide her with security, a sure fire way to end up broke and alone when he ran out.
She’d watched her mom struggle financially and emotionally and it wasn’t for her. She’d make her own way in this world and if a worthy guy came along to tempt her into thinking happily-ever-after, she’d consider it—before bolting in the opposite direction.
She could peddle love, she could live in a town where it slapped her in the face every day, she just couldn’t go there herself. And when a first-class jerk like Marc Fairley walked into her office and she started thinking
, she knew it was time for a major distraction, something to fill her time other than work.
Her fingers toyed with the Post-It. Maybe she should change her philosophy and give Belle’s GOLF motto a try? Being in control and man-free had kept her sane, kept her grounded and warded off any potential threat to her ordered life for the last few years but was she satisfied?
She had great friends, a comfortable house, a successful business and Ripley, her beloved mutt—part Dane, part wolfhound.
A girl didn’t need anything or anyone else, though the occasional date, drink, meal and GOLF might go a long way to staving off the loneliness that threatened occasionally. A girl couldn’t live in Love and on fresh air alone.
Only problem was, she’d auditioned most of the half-decent guys in town for a GOLF game and had stopped well short of a hole-in-one every time. Apart from some heavy fooling around with Mr. Motherboard and a date with Belle’s cousin Myron from Miami when he’d been in town an eon ago, she hadn’t done much to hone her GOLF game in the last two years.
Pathetic, for a twenty-first century girl who collected more than elephants. Her stash of condoms had started out a joke but like anything else she did in life she liked to do it well. Despite her infrequent use of the product, she hoarded rubbers like some people saved stamps.
Belle had started the trend when a client had asked for a condom, and though Love Byte provided an all-inclusive dating service to its customers, Sierra had been unprepared for that request. Keen to remedy the situation, Belle had ordered an assortment of rubbers for the most discerning of daters and a new hobby had been born.
Belle was her major supplier, picking up the latest in condom couture whenever she hit the road on a buying trip for her salon. Sierra’s current rubber raincoat stash? 367. Elephants? 105. No prizes for guessing where her priorities lay.
Now, the harder she tried to concentrate on work, the more her gaze flitted to that bright yellow Post-it and its message. And despite her best intentions to ignore it, she kept associating GOLF and Marc Fairley together in her head.
Stupid, stupid, stupid
. She banged her head against her desk repeatedly, the position he found her in when he barged back into her office like a man possessed.
“You asked my mother about her
?” Marc thrust the forms in her face and she shooed them away like a worrisome mosquito. “What sort of a sicko are you?”
She pushed against the floor with the tips of her pumps and swiveled back from the desk, hands behind her head as she leaned back.
“Nice to see you again, too.”
“God-dammit. All I wanted was a little background info from you and I get this?”
He flung the papers on her desk and sank into the chair opposite, shaking his head from side to side. “You’re a bigger pain in the ass than I anticipated.”
So City Boy thought he could get the lowdown on his mom’s relationship from her? Fat chance.
She blew him a kiss and batted her eyelashes. “Flattery will get you everywhere.”
There it was again, the slight upturning at the corners of his mouth when she thought he’d give her a double-shot of that grizzly temper.
“If you extend those muscles around your mouth a fraction more you might actually crack it for a smile some day soon.”
She flashed a dazzling smile as a demo.
“Are you this smart-mouthed with everyone who comes in here or is it just me?”
She wiggled her fingers in a cheeky wave, enjoying herself more by the minute, while he rubbed his temples as if staving off a blinder of a headache.
“What a frigging mess.”
Bummer, just when she was getting warmed up to hurl some real insults his way, he had to tug on her heartstrings with his rendition of a man with the weight of the world on his oh-so-broad shoulders.
“Want to tell me about it?”
He fixed her with that Superman glare again, his hair doing the weird, spiky, just-out-of-bed thing guys’ hair did, the thing she loved, especially if she got to run her hands through it and smooth down the spikes herself as they got back into bed.
Yikes. There she went again, associating grizzly with sex. Maybe she should give serious consideration to a round of GOLF sooner rather than later before she did something out of character, like making him her personal caddie and hope for a stroke under par.
“Long story. I’d rather not get into it.”
He glanced at his Rolex and rubbed the spot between his eyes, the same one she would’ve been aiming for earlier if she’d gone through with her elephant throwing, where a tiny, perpetual frown resided. “Besides, I’m starving and I can’t think on an empty stomach.”
Oh no. No, no,
. She wasn’t going to take up the challenge and invite him to have dinner with her. She already had plans with Belle. Mexican. Margaritas Tequila shots.
grumpy hot guy.
“Have some dinner then.”
He stopped rubbing his forehead. “Is that an invitation?”
She should’ve feigned selective deafness. She should’ve said no. She should’ve ordered his uptight ass out of her office. Her lips formed a refusal.
Great. She’d should’ve’d all over herself.
“I wouldn’t want to put you out.”
“You already did the minute you walked in here and started shooting off at the mouth but hey, never let it be said a Lovernian can’t show an intruder some hospitality.”
He smiled for the first time and the affect was breathtaking. It transformed his face, alleviating the hard planes, smoothing the frown and adding a depth she hadn’t imagined. To make matters worse, he had a sexy crease in his right cheek and damn, she had a thing for dimples.
“Lovernian? You made that up, right?”
She looked away, unable to string coherent words together while he smiled like that.
“I wouldn’t say that too loud around here. The local Lovernians are a species unto themselves and they devour stuck-up types like you for breakfast.”
“You think I’m stuck-up?”
“I think you’re a lot of things but let’s not get into that now. I better save some abuse for dinner.”
“Speaking of which, where do people eat in this hokey place?”
Don’t invite him back to your place…don’t invite him back to your place
Thankfully, this time, her mind and mouth worked in sync.
“Chips’n’dips at Venus, the local bar, or home cooked stuff at the Love Shack. Take your pick.”
His smile broadened to a grin and she sucked in a breath, blown away and trying not to show it. “Any other places around here named after dated songs? Guess I should gel my hair and squeeze into an old pair of acid-washed denim.”
Great, now he was pulling out the big guns. Apart from dimples, she definitely had a thing for a sense of humor.
“Careful. Sounded like you cracked a joke. Wouldn’t want to go over the top and make me laugh or anything.”
“Is this your idea of flirting?”
“You really don’t get out much, do you, Slick?”
“I get out plenty, I just don’t meet people like you very often.”
“People like me?”
He paused, did that weird piercing eye contact thing again, the same way he’d looked her up and down when he’d come in earlier. This time, her nether regions tingled as if rousing from a long sleep and the way he kept staring at her, homed in on him to give her a wake-up call she’d never forget.