Authors: Marie Ferrarella
It reads like a Hollywood script!
I'm not looking for romance. I'd rather just focus on my career; it's what I'm good at. Love?
Not so much.
It's been years since I've datedâlegitimately. Yes, the paparazzi have shot me with beautiful women, but they're just photo ops. (
shaking his head vehemently
) I'm not looking for love.
Not me! Not again!
I tell her all the time, “Get married!
It'll solve all your problems!” (breathing exasperatedly) But does she listen? When is she going to learn that Mother knows best?
The Matchmaking Mamas
We haven't met a bachelor or bachelorette we can't match. (smiling sweetly into the camera) Today: single â¦ Tomorrow: in love!
This is what the critics are saying: “Finding your soul mate has never been so much fun!”
Her Red-Carpet Romance
bestselling and RITAÂ® Award-winning author
has written more than two hundred books for Harlequin, some under the name Marie Nicole. Her romances are beloved by fans worldwide. Visit her website,
in loving gratitude
for all the good years
ecilia Parnell reached into her pocket to take out the key her client had given her, then stopped midway and pulled her hand out again.
The initial movement had been automatic. She had the keys to all of her clients' homes. Ninety percent of her clients were at work when she and her cleaning crew arrived; the other 10 percent usually preferred to be out when their homes were rendered spotless from top to bottom.
A firm believer in boundaries and privacy, Cecilia made it a policy never to use the key when she knew her client would be home. And today Yohanna Andrzejewski was home. She knew that because the young woman had specifically requested to see her.
Cecilia assumed the request had something to do with some sort of dissatisfaction with the quality of the work her crew did. If so, this would be a first, since no one had
registered any complaints, not in all the years that she had been in this business.
Pressing the doorbell, Cecilia took a step back from the condo door so that Yohanna could see her when she looked through the peephole.
But it was obvious that her client didn't bother checking to see who was there. The door opened immediately, giving Cecilia the impression that the young woman was standing right behind the front door, waiting for her to arrive.
“Thank you for coming, Mrs. Parnell,” Yohanna said, closing the door behind her. She sounded breathless, as if she'd been running.
Or perhaps crying.
“Of course, dearâ” Cecilia replied kindly.
She was about to say something else when she turned and really looked at the young woman for the first time. Yohanna, usually so bright and upbeat that she practically sparkled, not only looked solemn but almost drained of all color, as well. Cecilia stopped walking. The mother in her instantly kicked in.
“What's wrong, dear?” she asked, concerned.
Yohanna took a deep breath and then let it out. It sounded almost like a mournful sigh. “IâI'm afraid that I have to let you go,” she murmured, appearing stricken and exceedingly uncomfortable.
For the life of her Cecilia couldn't think of a single reason why she and her crew were being dismissed. She screened every one of her people very carefully before she hired them. Her daughter was a private investigator, so background checks were very easy to run. All of her employees had been with her for at least two years if not longer, and each one of them did excellent work.
Something else was going on.
“May I ask why?”
Yohanna's eyes widened as she realized the natural implication of what she had just said. She was quick to correct the misunderstanding.
“Oh, no, it's not anything that you or your crew have done. If anything, they're even better than when you first started cleaning here. I'm really thrilled with the job you've been doing.”
Confusion creased Cecilia's brow. “Then, I don't understand. If you're happy with our work, why are you letting us go?” The moment Cecilia asked the question, she saw the tears shining in the younger woman's intense blue eyes. “Oh, darling, what's wrong?” she repeated.
This time, not standing on any formality, Cecilia took the young woman into her arms and hugged her, offering her mute comfort as well as a shoulder to cry on.
Ordinarily, Yohanna kept her problems to herself. She didn't like burdening other people, especially when there was nothing they could do to help or change the situation. But this time, she felt so overwhelmed, so helpless, not to mention betrayed, the words just came spilling out.
“I was laid off yesterday,” Yohanna told the sympathetic woman. “I can't afford to pay you.”
It was obvious that uttering the words was excruciating for Yohanna.
Cecilia gently guided the young woman to the light gray sofa and sat with her.
“Don't worry about paying me. You've been a wonderful client for four years. We'll work something out. That's not important now. Tell me exactly what happened,” Cecilia coaxed.
Yohanna took another deep breath, as if that could somehow shield her from the wave of pain that came with the words. Being laid off was a whole new experience for her and she felt awful.
“Mr. McGuire sold the company to Walters & Sons,” she told Cecilia, referring to the man who had owned the company where she had worked. “The deal went through two days ago, before any of us knew about it. Their head of Human Resources called me into her office yesterday morning and said that they wouldn't be needing my services since they already had someone who could do my job.”
Cecilia could just imagine how hard that must have been for the young woman to hear. One moment the future looked bright and secure, the next there was nothing around her but chaos and upheavals.
“That's simply awful,” Cecilia sympathized. “Let me make you some tea and you can tell me everything.” She rose from the sofa. “Did you know any of this was coming?” Cecilia asked as she walked into the kitchen.
Yohanna followed, looking, in Cecilia's estimation, like a lost puppy trying to find its way home.
“No, I didn't. None of us did,” she said, referring to some of the other people she worked with. “I went to work for the company the year before I graduated college. Nine years. I was there nine years,” she proclaimed. “McGuire's was like home to me. More,” she emphasized, and then added in a quiet voice, “No one there berated me for not having a love life.”
Cecilia took a wild guess as to the source of the berating Yohanna was referring to. It wasn't really much of a stretch. “Not like your mother does?”
Yohanna nodded and pressed her lips together, trying to get hold of herself. “I'm sorry I'm such a mess,” she apologized, “but I just got off the phone with her.”
Admittedly, when she'd told her mother about being suddenly laid off, she'd been hoping for a positive suggestion. Or, at the very least, sympathy. She'd received neither. “My mother's solution for everything is to get married.”
“She just wants to see you happy,” Cecilia told her as she filled the kettle with water from the tap.
“She just wants grandchildren,” Yohanna contradicted. “I don't think she'd care if I married Godzilla as long as she got grandchildren out of it.”
An amused smile played on Cecilia's lips. “The subsequent grandchildren from that union would be much too hairy for her liking,” she quipped. Placing the kettle on the stove, she switched on the burner beneath it.
“But the immediate problem right now is to get you back into the work force.” Cecilia had never been one to beat around the bush. That was for people like Maizie Sommers and Theresa Manetti, her two best friends since the third grade. They were far more delicate and eloquent in their approach to things. She had always been more of a blunt straight shooter. “What is it you do again, dear?”
“A little bit of everything and anything. Make sure that everything is running smoothly, keep track of appointments, meetings, suppliers. Make calls... In short, I guess you could call me an organizer. I takeâtook,” she corrected herself, “care of all the details and made sure that everything at the office was running smoothly.”
Cecilia nodded, the wheels in her head turning quickly. “I know people who know people who know people,” she said, making something vague sound positive. “Let me make a few calls. We'll see if we can't get you back in the game.”
In more ways than one
, Cecilia thought.
Wait until I tell the girls we might have another project on our hands.
The mention of the young woman's mother's mindset had not gone unnoticed.
“You really think so?” Yohanna asked, brightening a little. “I'd be eternally grateful for anything you can do to help.”
Cecilia smiled at the young woman. “Leave it to me,” she promised confidently. Among all the people she and her friends currently knewâand that was a lot, given the nature of their businessesâthere had to be someone who could use a sharp young go-getter like Yohanna.
Just then, the kettle emitted a high-pitched whistle. The tea was brewed.
“Ah, I believe it's playing our song,” Cecilia said cheerfully, crossing back to the stove. In her head she was already calling Maizie and Theresa. They were going to want to hear all about Yohanna and her present predicament. “Everything's going to be just fine, dear,” she promised, filling the teacup to the brim. “You just wait and see.”
“I hope so,” Yohanna murmured. But at the present moment she was having trouble mustering enthusiasm.
ou know, for a man who currently has the number one movie at the box office for the past three weeks, you really don't look very happy,” Theresa Manetti commented to her client as she paused for a moment to stand by Lukkas Spader.
In the catering business for more than twelve years now, Theresa quickly surveyed the large room where she was presently catering the popular producer's impromptu party, a last-minute send-off that he was throwing for his departing assistant, Janice Brooks.
Tall, with broad shoulders and a broader smileâa smile that was conspicuously absent at the moment, Theresa notedâthe thirty-six-year-old wunderkind, as those in higher places tended to dub him, shrugged.
“I can't rest on my laurels, Theresa. In this cutthroat business, you're only as good as your next project.”
Theresa narrowed her eyes as she studied the young man. That wasn't at the heart of his problem. She could tell by the lost look in his eyes.
“There's something else, isn't there?” the woman asked. “Don't bother denying it, Lukkas. I raised two silver-tongued lawyers, I can see beyond the facade. You're young, good-lookingâI'm old so I'm allowed to say thatâand the world is currently at your feet. Yet you look as if you've just lost your best friend. What's bothering you?”
Lukkas shrugged. Admitting that the woman had guessed correctly wasn't going to cost him anything. Besides, he liked this woman whose catering service he'd used half a dozen times or so. There was something about Theresa Manetti that reminded him of his late mother.
“You're not old,” he told her and then grew more serious when he said, “She's leaving.”
“She,” Theresa repeated, looking around the room to see if she could spot the woman Lukkas was talking about.
He nodded. “Jan.”
Theresa looked at him in surprise. “You mean the young woman you threw the going-away party for?”
She couldn't see them as a pair, but if he didn't want this Jan leaving, why was he throwing this party for her? Why wasn't he trying to convince the young woman to stay?
Lukkas frowned as he nodded. “She's following her heart and marrying some guy in England she met while we were in production on
My Wild Irish Rose
.” As if a lightbulb had suddenly gone off in his head, he realized what his caterer was probably thinking. That this was a matter of the heart. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
“Don't get me wrong,” he said, quickly setting Theresa straight. “I'm happy that Jan's happy, but I don't know what I'm going to do without her.”
“Why?” Theresa asked, curious. “What is it that she does?”
“She keeps me honest and organized,” he told her with a dry laugh. Because the woman was still looking at him, waiting for a viable answer, Lukkas elaborated, “I'm the one with the ideas and the energy, the inspiration. Jan's the one who makes sense of it all, who simplifies my chaos and makes sure that everything gets done on time.”
Aware of the level of work involved in what Lukkas did, that certainly sounded like a taxing job, Theresa thought.
“And you don't have anyone to take her place?” she ventured. At the same time Theresa realized this wasn't a matter involving the heart. Lukkas seemed genuinely happy that his assistant had found someone to love so this wasn't something that could be fixed with a good match.
, she silently lamented. She and her friends hadn't had a good challenge in almost a month. All three of them ran their own respective businesses, but nothing truly made them come to life like pairing up a couple and moving their lives along; lives that would have otherwise just gone their own separate routes, never bumping into one another, never discovering the pot of gold that was waiting for them at the end of the rainbow.
Thinking of that made her recall the poker game she and her friends had played last Monday. The card game was really just an excuse to get together, unwind and occasionally talk about a possible new opportunity for them to play Cupid. Last Monday, Cecilia had spent most of her time talking about a young woman named Yohanna Something-or-otherâthe last name was a tongue twister at best. Apparently the young woman had just lost her job and was also too sweet and adorableâCecilia's exact wordsâto be without a soul mate.
“Jan is going to be hard, if not impossible, to replace,” Lukkas was saying.
Theresa smiled at the much-sought-after producer. He was single. He was exceedingly handsome. He was perfect. “Don't be too sure,” she said.
He turned toward her. “You
Theresa's smile was warm and genuineâand very encouraging. “Dear boy, I
know someone.” Theresa's eyes were fairly sparkling at this point.
Watching her, Lukkas thought that this woman must have a trick or two up her sleeve. Right now, he needed to find someone to replace Jan. A competent someone. “Tell me more. I'm listening.”
* * *
A little less than twenty-four hours later Yohanna Andrzejewski found herself standing on Lukkas Spader's doorstep.
Lukkas Spader, big-time producer of some very special movies.
Part of her thought she was dreaming. The other part was exceedingly nervous. That was the part that had allowed her knees to feel like Jell-O.
Taking a deep breath and telling herself to calm down, she leaned over and rang the doorbell. And then smiled. The doorbell played several bars from the first movie the producer had ever made:
She closed her eyes, recalling the rest of the score.
And that was the way Lukkas first saw her, standing on his doorstep, her eyes shut and swaying to some inner tune.
“Can I help you?”
The voice was deep and sexy. Startled, her eyes flew open.
The man was even better looking than his pictures, she realized as she frantically went in search of her tongue. It, along with her brain, had gone missing in action. It took a second for her to bring about the reunion.
“I'mâ” She had to clear her throat before continuing. “Yohanna Andrzejewski. I'm here about the job opening,” she added after a beat.
He'd been expecting her. Glancing at his watch, he saw that she was early. A hopeful sign, he thought. “I've been expecting you,” he told her. “Follow me.”
She fell into step behind him. “You answered your own door,” she noted, slightly surprised.
“Had to,” he told her. “It hasn't learned to open itself.”
She laughed. “I was surprised that you have a house in Newport Beach,” she confessed. “You're not all that far from where I live.” Initially anticipating a long commute for the interview, she'd been relieved when she was told that he would see her in his Orange County home.
“Things are a little chaotic here,” he admitted. “I haven't finished getting all the furniture yet. I think of this as my home away from home. Don't get me wrong, I love Hollywood.” Entering a first-floor bedroom he'd converted into an office, Lukkas crossed to his desk, took a seat and gestured for her to take a seat on the opposite side. “But sometimes you just have to get away from the noise just so you're able to hear yourself think.”
“Yes, sir,” Yohanna responded.
The smile on her lips was almost shy. He was amused but also somewhat skeptical about whether this petite, attractive young woman was equal to the job he needed doing.
“I noticed on your rÃ©sumÃ© that your last job was with a law firm.” He raised an eyebrow as he took a closer look at the dark blonde sitting before him. “Are you a lawyer?” He was aware that most law school graduates had to begin at the bottom of the heap if they were even lucky enough to land a position with
“Don't do that,” he told her.
She hadn't a clue what he might be referring to. “Do what, sir?”
“Call me sir,” he specified. “You make me feel like my fatherânot exactly a feeling I cherish,” he added more or less to himself.
Even so, she'd heard him. “Sorry, siâMr. Spader.” She'd managed to catch herself.
“Even worse,” he told her. “My name is Lukkas. Think you can manage that?” Yohanna nodded vigorously. “Good,” he pronounced.
Letting her rÃ©sumÃ© fall to his desk, he moved his chair in closer and leaned over, creating a feeling of intimacy. “So tell me, Yohanna with-the-unpronounceable-last-name, just what makes you think that you can work for me?”
As a rule Yohanna had a tendency toward modesty, but she had the distinct impression that the man interviewing her didn't value modesty. He valued confidence. She'd always had people skills, skills that allowed her to read others rather accurately. Lukkas Spader didn't strike her as a man who had the patience to work with meek people.
However she had a feeling that he respectedâand expectedâhonesty. “Mrs. Parnellâ”
He held up his hand, stopping her right there. “Who's Mrs. Parnell?”
“She's friends with Theresa Manetti, the woman whoâ”
He stopped her again. “I know who Theresa Manetti is,” he told her. “Go on.”
Yohanna picked up the thread exactly where she had dropped it. “She said you needed someone to organize your schedules, your notes and keep up to the minute on all the details of your projects.”
He studied her for a long moment. She couldn't glean anything from his solemn, thoughtful expression. “And that would be you?” he finally asked.
Yohanna detected neither amusement nor skepticism in his voice. He was harder to gauge than most. Not to mention that the man was definitely making her nervous. Not because he was so good-looking but because she really wanted to get this job. She wasn't good at doing nothing.
Yohanna pulled herself together. She was determined not to let the producer see how nervous he made her. His world was undoubtedly filled with people who fawned over him. She wanted him to view her as an asset, not just another fawning groupie or “yes” person.
“That would be me,” she replied, silently congratulating herself for not letting her voice quiver as she said the words.
The next moment she was relieved to see a smile playing on the producer's lips. The fact that the smile also managed to make him almost impossibly handsome was something she tried
It was like trying not to notice the sun.
“You're pretty sure of yourself, aren't you?” he asked, amusement curving the corners of his mouth.
Yohanna raised her chin ever so slightly, an automatic reaction when she felt she was being challenged. “I know my strengths,” she replied.
“Apparently so does Mrs. Manetti,” he told her. “When we spoke, she spoke very highly of your qualifications, and I respect her judgment.”
He continued looking at her, as if trying to discern if she was as good as the older woman had led him to believe. The silence dragged on for a good several minutes.
Yohanna had met the woman he was referring to only briefly. They had exchanged a few words and the interview had been arranged. There had been no time for Mrs. Manetti to form an opinion about her abilities one way or another.
She could feel herself fidgeting inside, and her pulse rate began to accelerate. All she could think of was that she really needed this job. She'd only been out of work for a couple of days, but the thought of prolonged inactivity had her already climbing the proverbial walls. Not to mention that she had enough money in the bank to see her through approximately one monthâone and a half if she gave up eating.
As a last resort she could always move in with her mother, but as far as she was concerned, living under a freeway overpass was preferable to that. Her mother had been decent enough when Yohanna was growing up, but in the past eight years, only two topics of conversation interested her: marriage and children, neither of which was anywhere in Yohanna's immediate future.
She was fairly confident that living with her mother even for a day would swiftly become catastrophic.
Lukkas continued doling out information. “If you became my assistant, you'd be keeping irregular hours at best. I'm talking
irregular,” he intoned, his eyes on hers. “And you'd be on call 24/7. Are you up for that?” he asked, looking at her intently.
“Absolutely,” she assured him with as much confidence as she could muster.
But Lukkas still had his doubts. “You're not going to come to me in tears a week or two from now, saying that your husband is unhappy with the hours you're keeping and could I give you a more normal schedule, are you?”
“I don't have a husband, so that's not going to happen.”
But Lukkas wasn't satisfied yet. “A fiancÃ©? A boyfriend?”
“No and no,” Yohanna responded, quietly shooting down each choice.
Lukkas still appeared skeptical. “Really? Not even a boyfriend?” His eyes never left hers, as if he considered himself to be an infallible human lie detectorâand being as attractive as she was, the young woman couldn't possibly be telling the truth.
“Not even a boyfriend,” she echoed, her face innocence personified.
“You're kidding, right?” he said in disbelief. How could someone who looked like this woman not have men lining up at her door, waiting for a chance just to spend some time with her? He knew this was none of his business or even ethical for him to ask, but curiosity urged him on.
“No,” she replied. “I just never experienced that âwalking on air' feeling, siâLukkas,” she quickly corrected herself.
“Walking on air,” he repeated. “Is that some sort of code?”
“More like a feeling,” she explained then added quickly, “I've never met a man I felt I had chemistry with. In other words, I didn't experience any sparks flying between us. Without that, what's the point?” she asked with a vague shrug.