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Authors: Donna Hill

Heart's Reward

BOOK: Heart's Reward
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Heart's
Reward
DONNA HILL
Heart's
Reward

A Match Made Novel

Dear Reader,

We hope you enjoy
Heart's Reward,
the final story in Arabesque's Match Made series. Over the past three months we have introduced you to the Platinum Society—an exclusive matchmaking service run by Melanie Harte, a third-generation matchmaker, for wealthy, high-profile clients.

Never get involved with the client has always been Melanie Harte's motto, and her reputation depends on it. Yet suddenly two of her most eligible prospects are pursuing the matchmaker herself. Rafe Lawson is a senator's son with a player's charm and a seductive smile. Claude Montgomery is the senator's ambitious, charismatic and very attractive special assistant. Both men are off-the-charts sexy—and completely off-limits. But as Melanie's feelings for one of them deepens, it puts more than her company at risk.

We hope you enjoyed the entire Match Made series. And if you missed the first two novels—
Heart's Secret
by Adrianne Byrd and
Heart's Choice
by Celeste O. Norfleet—be sure to read about those couples and how they found their match made in heaven.

Evette Porter

Editor

Arabesque

This book is totally dedicated to my editor Evette Porter who has the patience of a saint!
Thanks for your support.

Acknowledgment

I want to thank all of the wonderful readers who continue to support my work. You guys are the amazing ones. I could not do this without you.
I hope I continue to write the stories that make you feel good.

A big shout out goes to Adrianne Byrd and Celeste O. Norfleet for their amazing work on this series. Both are hard acts to follow.

I hope you enjoy this steamy conclusion to the Match Made series. I had an interesting time writing about Melanie Harte and the dilemmas she finds herself in. I would love to hear what you think about
Heart's Reward
and the entire series. Join my blog, www.donnahill.blogspot.com, and share your thoughts, or send me an e-mail at [email protected]. And you can always visit me online at www.donnahill.com or on Facebook. I'd love to hear from you!

Prologue

T
he Harte mansion sat majestically on the bluffs of Sag Harbor, overlooking the swell of waves across the bay. The nearest neighbor was a long walk away—a perfect location since it served to shield the many high-powered clients that frequented it from prying eyes. To the average person it was simply a fabulously gorgeous home tucked away in the quaint Long Island resort town. But the Harte family and the clients they served knew otherwise. The mansion was the home of The Platinum Society, the country's most elite and discreet matchmaking service.

Tonight, however, the mansion shone like a beacon. Its glass windows were lit up by the brilliance of
crystal chandeliers and the shimmering glow of candlelight. The line of cars obscured the winding driveway and wrapped around to the back of the house. Music from the live band could be heard drifting across the water, gently wafting through the night air.

Melanie Harte moved among her guests with an assured grace. She had hosted more of these soirees than she could count. Her summer gatherings were an opportunity for her clients to meet and mingle and relax and enjoy some of the perks that their huge fee afforded them. They were always lively affairs, and every party was invariably punctuated with at least one surprise. Tonight was no different.

In the midst of all the music and good food, Melanie grabbed the microphone.

“I hope everyone is having a wonderful time tonight.” Her sultry voice rang out over the ebb and flow of conversation until it dimmed. All eyes turned in her direction. “You know how much I love these gatherings and a chance to see all of you.”

“We love you, Melanie!” someone shouted from the side of the room.

The crowd burst into spontaneous applause.

“I love you back! But I have something we can all shout about.” She introduced Sergio, who came up to the mic.

Sergio Alvarez had graced the cover of hundreds
of magazines and women practically fell over themselves to get his attention. But he'd had no luck in finding a woman who wanted him for who he was and not the picture on a cover or the size of his wallet. He'd been referred by a satisfied client and, once again, The Platinum Society struck gold. Tonight he announced his engagement to Valencia Martinez, a professional photographer who was successful and financially secure in her own right. They made the perfect couple and Melanie could just see the headlines when it was announced that Sergio was officially off the market.

The guests whooped with joy for the happy couple and the band segued to Earth Wind and Fire's Celebration.

 

It was nearly 2:00 a.m. by the time the last guest filed out. Melanie locked the door, kicked off her shoes and went to join her family in the kitchen.

“We're all crashing here tonight,” her nephew Vincent announced, draping his arm around his wife, Cherise. Veronica, his sister, and their cousin Jessica were seated at the table with their heads nestled on their folded arms.

“Fine with me. You know where your rooms are.” Melanie yawned.

Jessica stood and stretched. “Pretty great about Sergio and Valencia.”

They all hummed their agreement, too tired to
do much else, and began to drift to their rooms murmuring their good nights.

Melanie set the alarm and turned out the lights. From the top of the stairs she looked out at the room that had been filled with happy, eager people searching for and in some cases finding love.

She turned and opened the door to her bedroom. Her work at least for tonight was done. Tomorrow was another full day. She yawned again. She was going to need every wink of sleep she could get.

Chapter 1

M
elanie Harte reluctantly stirred from a deep sleep. She'd dreamed of Steven last night and the three beautiful years they'd spent together. It had been nearly a decade since his death. And although the loss did not feel as painful as it once had, a dull, nagging ache still remained. Widowed at the age of twenty-six, the tragedy had taken all the effervescence out of Melanie's naturally bubbly personality like a soda gone flat. Like her mother and her grandmother, Melanie believed in everlasting love and that there was that special someone for everybody. With Steven gone, so was everything that she'd believed in. At least that is what she'd told herself.

So it was her grandmother, who she'd been named after, and her mother, Carolyn, who came to rescue their wounded darling and immersed her in the family business. Melanie was sure it had saved her life or at least saved her from a life of loneliness.

She worked side-by-side with her Gran and her mother, finding the perfect match for those seeking true love. But their clients were not your casual romance seekers. They were the elite, those rare birds who soared in the stratosphere of celebrity, wealth and high society, whose lifestyles, professions and often notoriety actually worked against them when it came to romance. So they turned to The Platinum Society, Melanie Harte and her expert team of matchmakers to find them that special someone—for a very large fee, of course. Her business afforded her the luxurious lifestyle to which she'd grown very comfortable and accustomed to—a mansion on the bluff of the historic African-American enclave of Sag Harbor in New York's Hamptons, a private jet, a new car every year, a yacht, a hefty bank account, entree to premieres, parties and private dinners virtually in every city in the United States and Europe, an extensive wardrobe and friends around the globe.

It was a good life, she mused as she poked her head above the billowy taupe-colored comforter and squinted against the morning sun. Its intensity and beauty reflected across the water and beamed down
through the skylight and the floor-to-ceiling windows of her bedroom. A beautiful summer day was on the horizon and Melanie was sure that the beaches, shops and streets would be teeming with tourists and locals out enjoying the day. She realized the temperature had risen considerably overnight as she sat up and planted her feet on the floor beside the bed. She stood and crossed the room to adjust the central air.

Tugging her silk robe around her, she scurried to the bathroom and turned on the bathtub jets for her morning soak.

She had a thriving business, she thought as she poured bath salts and a capful of baby oil into the bath water, a devoted family and more money than she could ever spend. She was happy. Wasn't she?

 

By the time she emerged from the sanctuary of her bedroom suite, the aroma of fresh-brewed coffee and homemade biscuits tickled her nose. She'd reluctantly hired a personal chef, Evan, after a stellar recommendation from one of her clients. She usually only hired a chef and caterers when she was hosting a party. But she'd come to realize that after the end of a hard day and because she was alone, she rarely ate. And if she did it wasn't anything healthy. As a result, she'd put on a few extra pounds in the past few months. Pounds that she was determined to shed with diet and exercise. Now she had the incentive to use her home gym.

Dressed in a pearl-gray sleeveless silk jersey top and pants, she walked into the kitchen—her three-inch heels clicking against the floor—to greet Evan and have breakfast.

“Good morning, Evan,” she said, swiping a flaky biscuit from the plate on the counter.

Evan turned around from the stainless steel commercial-grade oven with a spatula in his hand. “Good morning. I was preparing an omelet for you. Your nieces and nephew are in the dining room.”

“They're here already?”

“They arrived about an hour ago. There's fresh fruit on the table. Coffee or tea?”

Melanie grinned. “Tea.” She eased alongside of him to see if she could get a peek at the omelet ingredients. His omelets were to die for and so nutritious.

Evan immediately covered the bowl of ingredients. “Let it be a surprise. Go join the family. I'll bring your breakfast shortly.”

Melanie made a face and walked away.

Vincent, Veronica and Jessica were seated around the dining table that could expand to seat ten.

“Morning, Aunt Mel,” they chorused.

“How is everyone?” Melanie asked as she poured a glass of orange juice.

“Good,” Vincent said. “I went over the accounts last night and—”

“I don't know how Cherise stays married to you,” Veronica interjected with a mouth full of pineapple slices. “All you do is work.”

Vincent glared at his sister. “Trust me, I make sure my wife is very happy.”

“Cherise never complains,” Jessica said, putting in her two cents. “All of Vincent's work seems to keep Cherise
very
happy.”

“You're much too young to understand, Jess,” Veronica said. “A woman wants more than things. She wants to be wined, dined and romanced. Right, Aunt Mel?”

“You're absolutely right, Veronica,” Melanie agreed. Jessica made a face at her cousin. “But Vince was taught by the best, Grandma Harte. I'm sure he knows how to take care of home.” She winked at her nephew.

Evan brought Melanie an overstuffed omelet and set it down in front of her with a flourish.

“Hmm,” Melanie uttered in appreciation. “Thank you, Evan.”

“Anyone need anything?” he said, looking around the table.

“We're good,” Vincent said.

Evan nodded and walked back into the kitchen.

“What's on the agenda for today?” Melanie asked, cutting into her omelet stuffed with mushrooms, bell peppers, spinach, tomatoes and feta cheese.

Jessica, the youngest and the one who was always prepared for any eventuality, pulled out a folder from the leather briefcase that sat at her feet. She placed it on the table and flipped it open.

“And you accuse me of having a type-A personality,” Vincent said to his sister, lifting his chin in Jessica's direction. They all shared a laugh.

Jessica ignored the barb. She told him about the latest inquiry from a Wall Street executive who was seriously in the market for a permanent companion.

As the team was reviewing the client's background, the phone rang.

Melanie turned around and plucked the phone from the cradle behind her. “The Platinum Society, Melanie Harte speaking.”

“Mel, it's Alan.”

“Alan!” she said over a blossoming smile. “I'm going to put you on speakerphone.”

“Dad?” Veronica and Vincent chorused.

“Uncle Alan,” Jessica added.

“Hey, everybody,” he called out.

“Where are you?” Melanie asked.

Alan Harte was a career diplomat in the State Department. He traveled the globe at the behest of the U.S. government. At any given time he could be called upon to travel across continents for weeks or months on end.

“Actually, I just landed at JFK. I'm here in New York for the next few months. Or so they tell me,” he added with a chuckle. “Thought I'd come out to the Harbor later today.”

“Of course! We'd love to see you. And you're staying here,” his younger sister insisted.

“I'll think about it, sis. I'm in New York but it's not a vacation. I'm on the clock. Getting back and forth from the city to Sag Harbor may be a bit much. But I can certainly spend a couple of days there. I miss the kids. And you,” he added, his voice warming with affection for his sister. “And…I, uh, have a favor to ask.”

“No problem. What is it?”

“We'll talk about it when I get there.”

“Can't you give me a hint?”

“Let's just say I may have a client for you.”

 

The Platinum Society was a family-run business that went back two generations. The current Melanie Harte made it three. Since its inception, well before Melanie's birth, the first Melanie Harte was the consummate matchmaker. Legendary among her circle for pairing up just the right people, the first Melanie Harte realized that she could turn what came naturally to her into a business because she was being asked by everyone from college professors to executives to find them that perfect someone. But it was her daughter, Carolyn, who'd graduated with
honors from Columbia University with an MBA in marketing and a BA in psychology, who took the mom-and-pop operation to the next level. She taught her daughter everything she knew, but it was Melanie who took the company
platinum
.

Melanie and the team put off discussing the new client, who was so eager to find a mate that he was willing to pay an extra twenty-five thousand dollars in addition to the standard fifty-thousand-dollar fee. That, to Melanie, was a red flag. She was glad they were temporarily putting that assignment on hold.

Meanwhile her nieces and nephew were busy trying to figure out who Alan's client was.

“It's probably some Secret Service guy,” Jessica said. “You know they don't have time to find anyone.”

“Do they make enough money to afford us?” Vincent asked.

Melanie shot her nephew a look and bit back a smile. One thing she could say about Vincent, he kept his eye on the bottom line.

“I'm sure Alan told them what we require,” Melanie said. “But as you all know we can make an exception if the situation warrants it.”

“Aunt Mel, the last exception was in 1955 by your grandmother,” Jessica stated skeptically. She was the resident historian of The Platinum Society. She knew everything there was to know about TPS from the
very first day to the present. She'd catalogued all of Grandma Harte's notes and Aunt Carolyn's floppy disks and created a comprehensive history and profile of the company, complete with successes, failures, marriages and births in a digital archive and Web site that included narratives, photo galleries, videos and podcasts. “But of course the decision is up to you, Aunt Mel,” Jessica added.

The trio looked at her and groaned good-naturedly.

“As soon as I can get all the details on our new client, I'll get busy on a profile and run him through the database for potential matches,” Veronica said.

“Uncle Alan has some pretty cool friends,” Jessica said. “If he's true to form, this assignment may be as much fun as it is lucrative.”

Melanie smiled. “I'm sure you're right.”

 

It was nearing two o'clock when the black Range Rover pulled onto the winding driveway of the Sag Harbor mansion. Melanie spotted it from her ground-floor office window. She hopped up from her desk and darted out into the hallway.

“He's here,” she yelled, quickly walking toward the door.

Veronica and Vincent emerged from the kitchen. Jessica bounded up the stairs from the indoor gym, a towel draped around her neck.

The smiling quartet stood in the archway as Alan Harte strode toward the door.

The word that always came to mind when describing her older brother was debonair. There was an air of almost old-world movie star power that radiated from the six-foot-three, two-hundred-and-twenty-pound hunk. An impeccable dresser, handsome, intelligent, well-traveled, funny and financially in the black, with a great job—Alan Harte was a single woman's dream come true. But he loved his freedom, which had led to the demise of his marriage. As her former sister-in-law used to say, Alan may have said his vows to her, but he married his job.

“Always good to come home,” he said, softly kissing cheeks and hugging his son, who was the spitting image of his father.

Vincent took his father's overnight bag and brief case, while his sister and cousin hooked their arms possessively through his with Melanie closing ranks.

“How long are you in town?” Veronica asked.

“I'm thinking a month or two, maybe longer. I'll know in about a week.”

“Are you going to stay here for a few days at least?” Melanie asked, and with her question she realized how much she'd missed her brother.

Their sister Phyllis—Jessica's mom—died during childbirth and their parents and grandparents had
been gone for many years, so it was just the two of them to look after the next generation.

Alan draped his arm around her shoulder. “Actually, I was planning on staying through the weekend.”

Everyone cheered in delight.

“I do have a favor, though.”

“Sure,” Melanie responded.

Alan looked from one expectant face to the other. “I mentioned in my call that I had a potential client for you. Well, there's a private party and reception at the American embassy…”

All eyebrows rose on cue.

“Black tie, invitation only.”

“Get to the good part, Uncle Alan.”

Alan chuckled. “That's where your new client will be tonight. I thought it would be a great time to meet him, so I finagled invitations for all of you.” His voice lowered. His tone turned mockingly serious. “I presume you have something suitable to wear?”

Whoops of laughter echoed around the room.

Alan tossed his head back and laughed. Man, it was good to be home.

Vincent checked his Rolex. “What time do we need to be ready, and uh, can I bring Cherise?”

“I got you covered, son. Call that pretty wife of yours and tell her that the Hartes are partying tonight. A car will be here to pick us up at seven.”

All three women's hands immediately reached for their hair at the same time.

“I'll give Leona a call and let her know we'll be at the shop in a half hour,” Melanie said quickly. After all, a woman's crowning glory was her hair. She turned to her brother. “With all of the excitement you never told me who our potential client is.”

Four sets of eyes landed on Alan. “His name is Claude Montgomery. He's the chief of staff for Senator Lawson.”

 

The doors to the conference room opened and the corridor filled with conversation. Some voices were raised in laughter, and others were low in muted discussions.

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