Authors: Barbara Delinsky
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Here we are, back to Victoria Lesser. Remember her? She’s the matchmaker you met in
The Real Thing
, the first book in The Matchmaker Trilogy, and she’s up to no good again. This time she deliberately sends Leah Gates into the wilds of New Hampshire at a time when Leah is losing her home and needs a new place to stay. She is a lifelong New Yorker—but a misfit there, she would tell you, since she was never able to stomach the high-power social scene that her ex-husband craved. But could Victoria have been kinder and sent her north in good weather? No! Leah arrives at the height of mud season with rain in the forecast for days to come.
I’ve lived through mud season in New Hampshire. It’s about snow melt from the mountains hitting miles-long dirt roads that are already saturated by their own snow melt, and when rains hit on top of that, there is no driving through. More pointedly, if you happen to make it to one little cabin in the woods when those rains hit, there is no driving out.
Leah’s predicament goes well beyond this. Needless to say, while she is stranded, she isn’t alone. Thanks to Victoria, she is stuck with one Garrick Rodenhiser, who has such a nasty past that only someone with Victoria’s optimism can wade through. Can Leah? I’m not telling. Nor am I alerting you to some of the anachronisms in this book, because they would be big-time spoilers. All I ask is that you suspend disbelief and enjoy the (muddy) ride.
was first published in 1987, then aptly titled
because Leah’s job is creating crossword puzzles. Having always loved crosswords (I do them in ink!), I created one myself for the very first edition of this book, and, whoa, was it tough. Less tough, for me at least, was writing the love story in this book. I was captivated by these characters, and hope you will be, too!
ATES MADE A FINAL FOLD
in the blue foil paper, then studied her creation in dismay. “This does not look like a roadrunner,” she whispered to the woman at the table beside her.
Victoria Lesser, who’d been diligently folding a pelican, shifted her attention to her friend’s work. “Sure, it does,” she whispered back. “It’s a roadrunner.”
“And I’m a groundhog.” Leah raised large, round glasses from the bridge of her nose in the hope that a myopic view would improve the image. It didn’t. She dropped the frames back into place.
“It’s a roadrunner,” Victoria repeated.
“It looks like a roadrunner.”
“It looks like a conglomeration of pointed paper prongs.”
Lifting the fragile item, Victoria turned it from side to side. She had to agree with Leah’s assessment, though she was far too tactful to say so. “Did you get the stretched bird base right?”
“I thought so.”
“And the book fold and the mountain fold?”
“As far as I know.”
“Then there must be some problem with the rabbit-ear fold.”
“I think the problem’s with me.”
“Then with you,” Leah scolded in the same hushed whisper. “It was your idea to take an origami course. How do I let myself get talked into these things?”
“Very easily. You love them as much as I do. Besides, you’re a puzzle solver, and what’s origami but a puzzle in paper? You’ve done fine up to now. So today’s an off day.”
“That’s an understatement,” Leah muttered.
“Ladies?” came a call from the front of the room. Both Leah and Victoria looked up to find the instructor’s reproving stare homing in on them over the heads of the other students. “I believe we’re ready to start on the frog base. Are there any final questions on the stretched bird base?”
Leah quickly shook her head, then bit her lip against a moan of despair. The frog base?
Victoria simply sat with a gentle smile on her face. By the time the class had ended, though, the smile had faded. Taking Leah by the arm, she ushered her toward the door. “Come on,” she said softly. “Let’s get some coffee.”
When they were seated in a small coffee shop on Third Avenue, Victoria wasted no time in speaking her mind. “Something’s bothering you. Out with it.”
Leah set her glasses on the table. They’d fogged up the instant she’d come in from the cold, and long-time experience told her that they’d be useless for several minutes. The oversize fuchsia sweater Victoria wore was more than bright enough to be seen by the weakest of eyes, however, and above the sweater were the gentlest of expressions. It was toward these that Leah sent a sheepish look. “My frog base stunk, too, huh?”
“Your mind wasn’t on it. Your attention’s been elsewhere all night. Where, if I may be so bold as to ask?”
Leah had to laugh at that. In the year she’d known Victoria Lesser, the woman had on occasion been far bolder. But not once had Leah minded. What might have been considered intrusive in others was caring in Victoria. She was compassionate, down-to-earth and insightful, and had such a remarkably positive view of the world that time spent with her was always uplifting.
“Guess,” Leah invited with a wry half grin.
“Well, I know your mind’s not on your marriage, because that’s been over and done for two years now. And I know it’s not on a man, because despite my own considerable—” she drawled the word pointedly “—efforts to fix you up, you refuse to date. And I doubt it’s on your work, because crosswords are in as much of a demand as ever, and because just last week you told me that your contract’s been renewed. Which leaves your apartment.” Victoria knew how much Leah adored the loft she’d lived in since her divorce. “Is your landlord raising the rent?”
“Oh-oh. He’s talking condo conversion.”
“Oh, sweetheart. Mucho?”
“When’s it happening?”
“Too soon.” Idly Leah strummed the rim of her glasses, then, as though recalling their purpose, slipped them back onto her nose. “I can look for another place, but I doubt I’ll find one half as nice. Waterfront buildings are hot, and most of them have already gone condo. Even if there were a vacancy in one of the few remaining rentals, I doubt I could afford it.”
“Thank you, New York.”
“Mmmm.” Seeking to warm her chilled fingers, Leah wrapped her hands around her coffee cup. “Prices have gone sky-high in the two years since I rented the loft. The only reason I got it at a reasonable rate in the first place was that I was willing to fix it up myself. It was a mess when I first saw it, but the view was … ineffable.”
“Indescribable. It isn’t fair, Victoria. For weeks I scraped walls and ceilings, sanded, painted, and now someone else will reap the fruits of my labor.” She gave a frustrated growl. “I had a feeling this was coming, but that doesn’t make it any easier to take.”
Victoria’s heart went out to this woman who’d become such a special friend. They’d met the year before in the public library and had hit it off from the start. Victoria had enjoyed Leah’s subtle wit and soft-spoken manner. Though at the age of thirty-three Leah was twenty years younger, they shared an interest in things new and different. They’d gone to the theater together, tried out newly opened restaurants together, taken classes not only in origami but in papier-mâché, conversational Russian and ballet.
Victoria had come to know Leah well. She’d learned that Leah had been badly burned by an unhappy marriage and that behind the urban adventuress was a basically shy woman. She also saw that Leah had constructed a very tidy and self-contained shell for herself, and that within that shell was a world of loneliness and vulnerability. Losing the apartment she loved would feed that vulnerability.
“You know,” Victoria ventured, “I’d be more than happy to loan you the down payment on that condo—”
The hand Leah pressed over hers cut off her words. “I can’t take your money.”
“But I have it. More than enough—”
“It’s not my way, Victoria. I wouldn’t be comfortable. And it’s not as much a matter of principle as it is the amount of money involved. If I had to make loan payments to you on top of mortgage payments to the bank, I’d be house-poor. Another few years … That’s all I’d have needed to save for the down payment myself.” It might have taken less if she’d been more frugal, but Leah lived comfortably and enjoyed it. She took pleasure in splurging on an exquisite hand-knit sweater, a pair of imported shoes, a piece of original art. She reasoned that she’d earned them. But a bank wouldn’t take them as collateral. “Unfortunately I don’t have another few years.”
“You wouldn’t have to pay me back right away.”
“That’s bad business.”
“So? It’s my money, my business—”
“And our friendship. I’d feel awkward taking advantage of it.”
“I’m the one who’s made the offer. There’d be no taking advantage involved.”
But Leah was shaking her head. “Thanks, but I can’t. I just can’t.”
Victoria opened her mouth to speak, then paused. She’d been about to suggest that Richard might help. Given the fact that Leah had been married to him once and that she had no other family, it seemed the only other option. He had money. Unfortunately he also had a new wife and a child. Victoria knew that Leah’s pride wouldn’t allow her to ask him for a thing. “What will you do?”
“Look for another place, I guess. If I have to settle for something less exciting, so be it.”
“Are you sure you want to stay in the city? Seems to me you could get a super place somewhere farther out.”
Leah considered that idea. “But I like the city.”
“You’re used to the city. You’ve lived here all your life. Maybe it’s time for a change.”
“I don’t know—”
“It’d be good for you, sweetheart. New scenery, new people, new stores, new courses—”
“Are you trying to get rid of me?”
“And lose my companion in whimsy? Of course not! But I’d be selfish if I didn’t encourage you to spread your wings a little. One part of you loves new experiences. The other part avoids them. But you’re young, Leah. You have so much living to do.”
“What better place to do it than here? I mean, if New York isn’t multifarious—”
“Diverse, as in filled with opportunities, okay? If New York isn’t that, what place is?”
“Just about any place. Perhaps it’d be a different kind of experience…” The wheels in Victoria’s mind were beginning to turn. “You know, there’s another possibility entirely. If you were willing to shift gears, if you were game…” She shook her head. “No. Maybe not.”
“It’d be too much. Forget I mentioned it.”
“You haven’t mentioned anything,” Leah pointed out in her quiet way. But she was curious, just as she was sure Victoria had intended. “What were you thinking of?”
It was a minute before Victoria answered, and the delay wasn’t all for effect. She hated to be devious with someone she adored as much as she did Leah. And yet … and yet … it could possibly work. Hadn’t a little deviousness brought two other good friends of hers together?
“I have a place. It’s pretty secluded.”
“The island in Maine?”
“There’s that, but it wasn’t what I had in mind.” The island was totally secluded. She didn’t want Leah to be alone; that would defeat the purpose. “I have a cabin in New Hampshire. Arthur bought it years ago as a hunting lodge. I’ve been up several times since he died, but it’s a little too quiet for me.” She shook her head again. “No. It’d be too quiet for you, too. You’re used to the city.”