Heartstrings and Diamond Rings (7 page)

BOOK: Heartstrings and Diamond Rings
6.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Brandon looked stunned. “I didn’t know they made Band-Aid dispensers.”

“I have a breath mint dispenser, too,” she said. “And one for stamps. Not that I send that many letters anymore, but—” She stopped, but too late. She’d already made herself sound like the biggest geek alive.

“So what else do you have in there?” Brandon asked.

She shrugged, looking away. “Just the usual stuff.”

“The usual stuff is money and credit cards and makeup.”

“Yeah. I have those.”

Brandon tilted his head. “How about nail clippers?”

“Uh…yeah.”

“A flashlight?”

She paused, feeling dumb again.
Geek, geek, geek.
“Yes.”

“An umbrella?”

“Hey! That’s
not
a weird thing to carry around. Who likes to get rained on?”

He looked at her carefully, his eyes narrowing. “Dental floss?”

Her heart skipped. “Dental floss? That’s ridiculous. Please. I do
not
have dental floss.”

He grinned. “Yes, you do.”

“No, I
don’t
.”

“Liar.”

Alison slumped with dismay. “Are you psychic? Is that the deal? Because if you are, this whole deal is
off
.”

“Come on, Alison. It’s not like I’d tell you what color panties you’re wearing.”

“Thank God for that.”

“I mean, I
know
what color they are, but—”

“No, you do
not
!”

“Blue.”

Alison tried not to react, but she felt her face heating up. Okay, so she was definitely a blue kind of girl. Pink was too prissy, white too virginal, red too slutty, beige too blah. After that there wasn’t much left. Still…how did he
know
?

Brandon smiled. “Alison? Are you blushing?”

“Of course not,” she snapped. “Will you just hold out your hand?” She pulled the backing off the Band-Aid and wrapped it around his finger. “There. Done. Now, go fix that air conditioner. And this time don’t slice your finger halfway off.”

She tossed her purse back over her shoulder and walked to the front door. They stepped out to the porch, where she pulled out her phone and brought up her calendar. “We need to reschedule our meeting. What day and time are good for you?”

“We don’t need to reschedule.”

“Come on, Brandon. My answers on that questionnaire don’t tell you much.”

“I know. You just copied over a lot of the stuff from your match dot com profile.”

Alison froze. “How did you know that?”

“I read it.”

“You’re on match dot com?”

“Professional research.”

“So what’s wrong with my match dot com answers?”

“Have you found a husband on match dot com?”

Alison paused. “No.”

“Well, there you go.”

“But if that information isn’t enough,” she said, “how do you expect to help me unless we talk more?”

“Your questionnaire gives me the basics. But that isn’t all I know about you.”

“So what else did you do? Hack into my e-mail and look at my Facebook account?”

He laughed. “No. I try to keep it legal.”

“Then what?” she said warily.

“I know you’re a very trusting person. After all, you gave me fifteen hundred dollars to find you a husband under circumstances that were a little unusual.”

True. But that hadn’t been trust. That had been desperation.

“You’re a good salesman,” she said. “And frankly, the jury’s still out on whether you can deliver.”

“And I know you’re a sympathetic person, or you wouldn’t have taken in three homeless cats.”

“I’m a sucker. Big difference.”

“And you’re not a status seeker.”

“What makes you say that?”

“The cats again. Three pedigreed Persians says one thing. Three scruffy strays says something else.”

“Hey, they found
me
, not the other way around.”

“And you don’t mind helping people.”

“How do you know that?”

“You helped me when I was working on the air unit.”

“What was I supposed to say? ‘No, I won’t hand you a wrench?’”

“And when I cut my finger.”

“I don’t like watching people bleed.”

“And you’re prepared for damned near anything. With what you have in that purse, you could land on a desert island and survive for six months.”

She started to object to that, but could she really?

“But the number one thing I know about you is that you’re family oriented.”

“My answers on the questionnaire told you that.”

“No. You’re
really
family oriented. That’s your number one trait in the man you’re looking for. He has to want a family as much as you do.”

“Why do you say that?”

He nodded next door. “You liked watching those kids playing in the wading pool.”

“It’s hot. Who wouldn’t be eyeing a swimming pool?”

“They were making a lot of noise.”

“They were just having fun.”

“Right. That’s how you see it. Some people would be annoyed by it, but you actually enjoyed it. And just watching them was nostalgic for you, because you remembered how you and your brother used to play in a pool just like it. I’m betting you had a close family growing up, with lots of nice memories, and that’s what you want for yourself now. A close family. Happy kids.” Brandon smiled. “How am I doing?”

How was he doing? He was right on the nose.
That
was how he was doing. And it was pretty damned unnerving. But hadn’t he done the same thing to her the first time they’d met, with all that stuff about bridesmaid dresses and a subscription to
Modern Bride
?

“Yes,” she said. “You’re right. I want kids.”

“Lots of them.”

She frowned. “Who do you think I am? Octomom?”

“Eight at one time might not be on your agenda, but you definitely want to be a mother, and more than once. One who always has tissues and Band-Aids. Oh, yeah. And you’re very close to your father.”

Her heart gave a little jolt. “I give up. How do you know that?”

“Because you didn’t think twice about offering his services as a handyman to a near stranger. And I’m betting he wouldn’t hesitate to help whomever you wanted him to.”

“Oh, he’d hesitate. He’d ask me all kinds of questions. ‘Who needs help? What’s the project? What tools do I need to bring? Where do I need to go? What time do I need to be there? Do I need to stop by the Home Depot? So what’s wrong with this guy that he can’t fix his own air unit?’”

Brandon winced. “He’d say that last thing?”

Alison smiled. “Oh, yeah. I’m afraid he’s a little opinionated.”

“And he’d do anything for his daughter.”

He would. And Alison would do anything for him. She knew she should feel happy that Brandon seemed to have a handle on the truth—family was number one to her. But stating it all so clearly the way he had made her ache in a way she hadn’t in a long time, and she felt even more desperate to fill the gaping holes in her life that seemed to widen with every day that passed. And as she looked at Brandon now, she had the most hopeless feeling that if he couldn’t find her a husband, it was never going to happen.

“It’s getting late,” she said. “I need to get back to the office.”

Brandon nodded. “Your friend Heather didn’t seem to like me too much when we met yesterday. Any particular reason?”

She’d hoped he would overlook that. “She just thinks it’s weird that my matchmaker is a man.”

“I think it’s a little more than that.”

“She doesn’t want me to get my hopes up.”

“You mean she doesn’t want me taking your money and giving you nothing in return.”

“No, it’s not that. Really. It—” She paused, then let out a sigh of resignation. “Okay. It’s that.”

“Why the skepticism?”

“We’ve known each other forever, and I love her to death. She’s just kind of overprotective. Like a sister. A pushy, intrusive, opinionated sister who doesn’t know when to shut up sometimes.”

“Sounds like the way you described your father.”

“Yeah. I’m surrounded by them. People I love but want to kill sometimes. It’s my cross‑eyed bear.”

“What?”

“Sorry. Make that ‘cross to bear.’” She smiled. “When my brother and I were little, my mother used to say my father was her cross to bear. My brother thought she said cross-eyed bear. So now, every once in a while, I still—oh, hell. It’d dumb. Never mind. I have to go.”

Brandon smiled. “Okay. I’ll be in touch.”

As she walked to her car, she thought,
Okay, what has Brandon learned today?
That she was a borderline crazy cat lady who kept an entire drugstore in her purse, mispronounced simple phrases, ran a homeless shelter for cats, and thought screaming children in wading pools were charming. Even if he were the best matchmaker ever born, what chance did he have to find a man who’d be compatible with all that?

And what if Heather was right? What if he really didn’t know what he was doing? Then she really didn’t have a prayer.

She got into her car and started the engine, telling herself that as long as he didn’t put two men’s photos next to each other and flip a coin on her behalf, everything was going to be just fine.

L
ater that evening, Brandon sat on the sofa in his office with Alison’s questionnaire on the coffee table in front of him. He’d grabbed a pile of files, intending to go through a few until he found a man to set her up with. But now, an hour later, he’d already returned to the file cabinets twice to retrieve more candidates, which he was sorting into three piles:
maybe, no
, and
hell no
. Actually,
hell no
had only one file in it. What had his grandmother been thinking when she’d taken on a client who thought his perfect match was a woman who loved taxidermy as much as he did?

He tossed one more file into the
no
pile, then looked up to see Tom come into the room. He stopped short, his gaze fanning over the sea of files Brandon had surrounded himself with. “What are you doing?”

“Matchmaking,” Brandon muttered. “I’m glad you’re home. You can help me.”

“Me? What do I know about matchmaking?”

“About as much as I do.”

“Hey, this was your insane idea, not mine.”

“Do you want me as a partner on the Houston project or not?”

With a sigh of resignation, Tom sat down on the sofa with Brandon. Brandon scooped up a pile of files and slapped them onto his lap. “Here. Go through these.”

“Whose dream man are you looking for?”

Brandon grabbed Alison’s questionnaire with her photo attached and handed it to Tom. “Alison Carter. Here. Look at this.”

“Hmm,” he said, tilting his head as he looked at her photo. “She’s kinda cute.”

“Want to go out with her? She’s looking for a man who wants to get married, have kids, buy a minivan, and take summer vacations at Disney World.”

Tom dropped the questionnaire as if it were laced with botulism. “Not my type,” he said, visibly shuddering.

“Don’t sweat it. If I set a woman up with you, my business would be over.” Brandon picked up another file and opened it. “Basically we’re looking for the marrying kind. Family man. For her, that’s a deal breaker.”

“What is it with women who are obsessed with getting married?”

“Works both ways,” Brandon said. “What is it with men who let themselves get hooked?”

“Good point.”

Brandon couldn’t understand Alison’s undying need to be thrust into painfully boring domesticity for the rest of her life with a man who was probably equally boring, but who was he to judge?

“Looks aren’t all that important to her, but he shouldn’t be butt ugly. She has cats, so no pet allergies. Nonsmoker. Preferably a professional man. Solid income, at least.”

Tom thumbed through one of the men’s files. “I can’t believe your grandmother had all these clients. Why wasn’t she a gazillionaire?”

“They’re not all paying clients. She did a lot of networking at charity events, church functions, just about anywhere she went. She talked to friends of friends, got referrals here and there. Whenever she met people she thought would be a nice match for somebody in the future, she interviewed them and then built a file. Then if they fit one of her paying clients, she made the match.”

“So only a small percentage of these people were actually paying her?”

“Yes. But it was only the paying customers who were guaranteed the matches.”

“How did your grandmother ever make any sense of all these files?”

“She knew all her clients because she interviewed them in the beginning. I’m just going to have to wing it with the ones already here.”

“If all these files were in a computer database, you could search them.”

“Yeah, wouldn’t that be nice? But it would take me forever to transfer everything myself. If I hired someone to do it, it would cost me a fortune. Can’t spend every dime I make keeping a business alive that’s going to be dead in six months.” He sighed. “This is what I’m stuck with.”

As Tom opened one of the files, Brandon pointed out the
maybe, no,
and
hell no
stacks. Unfortunately, the
no
stack continued to grow.

“Here’s one,” Tom said finally. “He’s a dermatologist. Owns his own home. He’d like to start a family.”

“Sounds perfect. Let me see.”

Tom handed him the file, and Brandon slumped with dismay. “He’s fifty-two years old. What kind of man wants to
start
a family at age fifty-two?”

“I know. Kinda scary. Does this client of yours have an upper age limit?”

“Forty.”

“That narrows the field a lot.”

“Yeah, I know. Keep looking.”

“Aren’t these files arranged by something? Age, height, underwear preference?
Something?

“Red for girls, blue for boys. After that, they’re alphabetical. That’s it.”

After a few more minutes, Brandon found a nice-looking guy who owned a string of dry cleaners and had a great income, but he was divorced with kids and didn’t want any more. Tom found a guy who was thirty-one and family oriented, but he wanted to raise that family in Costa Rica, and Alison specifically said she didn’t want to leave the Dallas metroplex.

“How are you doing finding new clients?” Tom asked.

“Signed a guy this afternoon. Jack Warren. He’s forty-eight, well off, and so busy with his computer consulting business that he says he doesn’t have time to do a lot of dating in order to find a woman. He’s divorced and looking for wife number two.”

“How’d he feel about another man finding him a woman?”

“Actually, once he was over the shock of it, I convinced him that a guy knows best what another guy wants.”

“One new client a week isn’t going to cut it.”

“My ad at
Dallas After Dark
comes out in two days. That should generate quite a bit of business.”

Brandon hoped so, anyway. If it didn’t, he was going to have to rethink his marketing strategy in a major way.

“Holy shit,” Tom said suddenly.

“What?”

“I didn’t know your grandmother visited prisons looking for clients.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Check out this guy.”

Tom handed Brandon the file he’d been looking at. The guy had the craggy face of a street fighter who’d been in a brawl or two, and dark, fathomless eyes that made Brandon wonder exactly what was behind them. His mouth was turned up in something like a smile, but it did little to take away the hardened criminal look.

Then he read his grandmother’s handwritten note.
Very sweet man. Remind him to smile a lot.

Sorry, Grandma
, Brandon thought
. The smile’s not helping
.

Brandon thumbed through the file. “Says here he owns a landscaping company. That’s pretty normal.”

“Except it also means he owns a whole bunch of razor-sharp gardening tools. Not much of a leap to serial killer, is there?”

Actually, it was a big leap, but Brandon couldn’t blame Tom for the fact that it had crossed his mind. But judging from his grandmother’s notes, the guy probably used his gardening tools strictly for gardening. Also judging from her notes, she’d never made a successful match for him. Fortunately, he was one of the few who hadn’t returned Brandon’s call when he was letting his grandmother’s clients know he was taking over her business, so maybe Brandon wouldn’t have to pick up where his grandmother left off.

“I don’t believe it,” Tom said, reading from another file. “Here’s a guy whose favorite movie is
Steel Magnolias.

“So he’s sensitive. Women say they like that.”

“They say they do, but they really don’t. What they really want is a man who’ll drag them back to their caves and ravish them, not sit around the campfire and cry. It’s in their DNA.”

“What tells you that?”

“An article in
Psychology Today
. There was a copy in my doctor’s office. It also said that people who resemble each other physically make the most successful couples. Ones who are at the same level of attractiveness.”

“So looking alike means a couple will be happy?”

“That’s the theory.”

“If that were true, every man on earth would marry his sister.”

“No. Think about it. People naturally gravitate toward people who look like them. You never see a really hot guy with an ugly woman. And you never see a beautiful woman with an ugly guy unless he’s loaded.”

True.

Brandon opened the next file. The guy was thirty-four and never been married. Worked in pharmaceutical sales. The answers on his questionnaire mirrored Alison’s pretty closely. And he was definitely looking for a wife. He wasn’t champing at the bit for children, but it was an issue he was willing to discuss.

“I think I have one,” Brandon said. He handed the file to Tom. “What do you think?”

Tom thumbed through the file. “Not bad. The family thing is there, and where kids are concerned, she could probably talk him into—” Tom’s face suddenly crinkled. “Uh-oh. He’s a vegan.”

“Yeah, I saw that. What is that, exactly?”

“They don’t eat animal products. Or wear them, either. And no dairy or eggs. I had a girlfriend once who was a vegan. Try taking her out to dinner.”

Brandon couldn’t see a guy like that being compatible with Alison. Maybe it was the fact that she was so family focused. Family automatically brought to mind an image of people gathered around a table at Thanksgiving, and they weren’t getting ready to slice the tofu.

“Okay,” Brandon said. “He’s not perfect. But he’s the best we’ve found yet. Put him over there and keep looking.”

“I’ve been through my stack,” Tom said. “Got any more?”

Brandon went to where the files were stored, dismayed that he’d been all the way through cabinet number one and was starting in on number two. He grabbed an armful of files, handing half of them to Tom and going through the other half himself. Three files later, he had another candidate.

“Okay,” Brandon said. “Here’s one who’s close. He works as a software engineer for a big tech company. He’s interested in having a family, and…well, crap. He has three dogs, and Alison has cats. Think that’s a problem?”

“Nope. Cats and dogs aren’t natural enemies. They can get along just fine, assuming the adjustment phase is slow and thorough.”

Brandon looked at him dumbly. “Is there any dumb little factoid you don’t know?”

Tom shrugged. “There was a copy of
Dog Fancy
on the table in the waiting room when I was getting my tires rotated.”

“He has another downside,” Brandon said. “He’s only five seven. She’s five six.”

“Is height a deal breaker for her?”

“Her questionnaire says it isn’t. But it seems shallow to say it, so I’m betting most women won’t admit that it is.”

Brandon laid both men’s photos on the table in front of him, then put Alison’s in between them. “Okay. Which one does she look more like?”

“The guy on the left.”

“The short one. Think she’ll overlook that?”

“Hard to say. I think she’d have more of an issue with that than the vegan thing, but I don’t know.” Tom reached into his pocket, pulled out a quarter, and tossed it to Brandon. “Love’s a crapshoot, remember? Or should I say a coin toss?”

Brandon didn’t like the idea of leaving it totally to chance. He liked Alison, and he really did want to set her up with the right guy. But he didn’t see a clear winner here, so what the hell?

He poised the coin to toss it. “Okay, heads I set her up with Vegan Guy, tails Mr. Vertically Challenged.” He flipped the coin, caught it in his hand, and slapped it onto the back of his other hand.

“Heads,” Brandon said. “Vegan Guy it is. Let’s go have a beer.”

BOOK: Heartstrings and Diamond Rings
6.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Catherine of Aragon by Alison Prince
Payback by James Barrington
Mykonos After Midnight by Jeffrey Siger
Relatos 1913-1927 by Bertolt Brecht
Bounce by Natasha Friend
The Love List by Deb Marlowe
Waiting for Robert Capa by Susana Fortes