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Authors: Catherine Avril Morris

Mister Match (The Match Series Book 1) (9 page)

BOOK: Mister Match (The Match Series Book 1)
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The thought popped into her head that he looked just like Christopher Robin from
Winnie the Pooh
. The effect was sort of endearing.

After a beat, she remembered to smile and held out a hand.

“Reese?”

“Yes. Are you Lisa? Hello.” He laughed nervously, and gave her hand a quick, precise shake. His fingers were cool and a little bit...well, rubbery was the only way to describe them. His skin felt like one of those Resusci-Annie dummies they used in her CPR classes.

“Humid, isn’t it?” Reese observed, glancing around with another nervous little smile.

“Um. Yes, it is. Very humid.”
Perfect.
This was going even better than she could have imagined. Thirty seconds in, and they were already discussing the weather.

“I took the liberty of finding us a table and ordering you some breakfast. I hope that’s all right.”

Lisa felt her smile freeze. Whatever endearing effect his apparent nervousness had had on her, it evaporated in a moment. He’d ordered breakfast for her. Without even asking what she wanted, or what she ate, or whether she had any food allergies, or whether she might prefer to make her own decisions about things, like any other adult human being.

Strike one,
she thought.

“Actually, I would have preferred to order for myself, but that’s all right.”

His sensitive face twitched. “I’m sorry,” he said quickly, and some maternal instinct within her wanted to reach out and pat him on the back. “I thought—I was just trying to—” He shook his head and passed a hand over his forehead, as if wiping away a sheen of sweat. “My therapist keeps telling me I should try being more assertive—” He stopped, and every inch of visible skin on his face and neck flushed red. “And now I’m talking about my therapist. On a first date, with a beautiful woman. Which is just...perfect.”

Something about the compliment paired with his self-consciousness made the endearing effect bloom again, as if by magic. On the other hand, Lisa thought, maybe she should find the nearest phone and call Clare to ask whether this poor guy deserved extra points for honesty, or points off for rapidly emerging neurosis.

“Assertiveness is a great goal.” She smiled at him. “Just, you know, most women like to make their own decisions about personal things like what to eat. Shall we sit down?”

He had ordered her a plain bialy with no butter or jam, and a small cup of grapefruit juice. The endearing effect receded again as Lisa blinked at the sorry little spread. Yesterday, at lunch, Adam had treated her to a feast, and told her he loved her appetite. Today, here she was with Reese, who apparently expected her to eat nothing but fat-free carbs.

She hoped her distaste didn’t show too plainly on her face.

“I hope it’s all right,” Reese said quickly as he pulled out her chair for her to sit down.

“Oh,” she said, “it looks great. It’s just, I’m pretty hungry this morning. I think I’ll go order some sausage and eggs, and some butter. And some coffee.”

Reese’s long nose wrinkled slightly. “Oh. You eat animal products?”

The endearing effect disappeared altogether. Lisa indulged in a quick fantasy of smacking him over the head with her handbag and running away—or, better yet, smacking Clare and Willow, for choosing this guy for her in the first place.

Come to think of it, she should smack Adam Match. It was his Questionnaire, after all, that had apparently zeroed in on Reese as an excellent match for her. Apparently, the thing didn’t include anything about eating habits. What people ate was kind of important, not to mention revealing about their politics and personal philosophies.

“Yes, I eat meat and dairy. Do you?”

“Oh, no.” Reese shook his head emphatically. “I’m vegan. I’m very active in campaigning for animal rights.”

“What about plants’ rights?” Lisa joked, and then wished she’d just smiled and nodded, as his face registered confusion. She waved a hand. “I’m kidding. I’ve just always thought it was funny that people can be so concerned for animals and their pain and their rights, but then they have no problem taking clippers and knives and just whacking off parts of a plant, or yanking it up by the roots and plunging it into boiling water—”

She stopped when she noticed a faint look of horror marring Reese’s pale face. “Sorry. Never mind. Forget I brought it up. Can I grab you anything while I’m up?”

He shook his head, and she welcomed the excuse to duck into the air conditioning of the bakery and regroup for a minute.

The rest of breakfast wasn’t quite such a train wreck, though it came close.

“So you’re a masseuse.” He looked at her so admiringly, she didn’t even bother to correct his outdated terminology with “massage therapist.”

“That’s right.” She tried to ignore his expression of faint distaste as she dug into her sausage and eggs. “I love my work. Getting to help people center themselves, getting to identify problems and help solve them in a gentle way that makes people feel great, it just makes me feel, well, great.” She laughed, and hid her self-consciousness in a long sip of coffee.

“That’s amazing,” Reese said softly.

She shifted in her chair. His close attention was beginning to feel just a little bit uncomfortable.

But no, she mentally amended, it was sweet. He was sweet. When they finished eating, he threw her trash away for her and then walked her to her car, and even attempted to open her door for her. It squawked on its hinges and resisted his yanking, until she put out a hand to stop him.

“Betty’s old,” she said, smiling. “She’s kind of cantankerous. She needs a gentle touch.”

Reese blinked. “Betty? You named your vehicle?”

Lisa blinked back. Either the guy was just too nervous to relax, or he had zero sense of humor. She wasn’t at all sure whether she cared enough to find out which one it was.

She stuck out a hand to shake. “Well, thank you. This has been interesting.”

“I’d love to get together again sometime,” he said shyly. “There’s a vegan café up on Exposition that I’ve been meaning to try, um...if you’re interested?”

Her smile felt forced, but she faked it anyway. “Sure, I’ll be in touch.”

Why had she said that? Flustered, annoyed with herself for out-and-out lying to the poor guy—she had about as much intention of contacting him again as she had of giving him her home address and asking him over for a drink—she got into her car and cranked her over.

If she hadn’t already realized how thoroughly she did not match up with Reese, she would have figured it out from the immediate sense of relief she felt at the messy, uncivilized sound of Betty’s engine clattering to life.

She glanced at her watch. She’d just spent thirty-seven minutes on her very best behavior with a man who probably set cockroaches free instead of smashing them with the nearest shoe, as they deserved.

Which was kind of sweet, really. “Ugh,” she whispered. This ping-ponging of her feelings was starting to get annoying.

Reese was still standing there, outside her car door, his shoulders slightly slumped as he smiled forlornly at her through the window. Which was ever so slightly creepy.

“Okay,” she said, brightly, and quickly—she didn’t want to give her feelings time to bounce back toward finding him endearing—“bye, now.” She put Betty in gear and jammed on the accelerator. She needed to get out of there quickly, before she went and did something stupid like making a second date with the man purely out of pity.

Her stomach didn’t begin to unknot until Reese was just a lanky blip in her rearview mirror.

“Damn,” Lisa muttered, turning left onto Fifth Street to head toward the Keiko. Either Adam Match’s matchmaker methods were a total flop, or it was just as she had suspected, and just as she’d told Clare and Willow days ago, when they’d brought up this whole, ridiculous enterprise: She was abjectly, irrevocably awful at dating, and she was destined to end up alone.

 

 

Chapter
9

____________________________________

 

 

“H
e called,” Clare announced in a singsong voice, waving a square of yellow paper as Lisa walked into Indulgence at eleven for her shift.

Uh-oh.
Reese knew where she worked? That wasn’t good. “What did he say?” she asked, tensely.

“Not much.” Clare held out the sticky note with a sly little smile. “Apparently he wants you to go up to his room later.” She raised her eyebrows suggestively. “Is there something you need to tell me?”

Lisa stared. “He got a room here? Are you serious?” She snatched the note from her friend.

Clare looked confused. “He checked in yesterday. You knew that.”

“Reese is staying at the Keiko? And you didn’t tell me?” A panicky feeling was digging its claws into the pit of her stomach—until she read the note, and saw the message was from Adam Masters.

Instantly, a flush of pleasure coursed through her.
Adam
had called. He wanted to see her.

He’d asked if she could come to his room.

“Wait,” Clare was saying, “you thought I meant Reese? Your date?” She barked out a laugh. “No, Adam called. Hey, did you get a chance to watch his interview yesterday?”

“No,” Lisa said distractedly. “I was busy.”

“I missed it, too,” Clare said. “But I DVR’ed it, in case you want to watch it this weekend. I mean, since he’s kind of your boyfriend now, and all.”

Lisa snorted. “Yeah, right. If only a lunch date equaled a relationship.” She sat down in one of the chairs opposite Clare’s desk and drummed her fingers on the sticky note.

“So,” Clare said, watching her. “I take it this morning’s date with Reese wasn’t the best you’ve ever experienced?”

“Oh no, sweetie,” Willow said, swishing into the room. She was wearing a skirt covered in tiny mirrors that caught the light and winked at Lisa as Willow sat next to her. “You didn’t like him?”

“Not exactly.” Lisa looked from one friend to the other. She actually felt a little bad for disappointing them. They seemed to have had high hopes.

“That’s so strange.” Willow frowned. “I did his birth chart. I could have sworn he was a good match for you.” She stared off into space. “Maybe he lied about his birthday on his Mister Match profile.”

“Or maybe,” Lisa ventured, “astrology doesn’t work as well as you think it does.”

“Heresy!” Clare declared mockingly. “Never say such things!”

“Or,” Lisa went on, “maybe I was telling you guys the truth when I said dating and I just don’t mix.”

“It’s just weird,” Willow said. “I mean, if he gave his real birthday, he’s a Cancer, which is normally a very solid match for a Virgo.”

Lisa raised an eyebrow. “He’s a vegan. I’m a meat eater. Not a solid match at all.”

“I wonder how the whole Mister Match algorithm works,” Willow mused. “I mean, how it matches you up with people.”

Lisa shrugged. “No idea. You guys are the ones who found the site and set the whole thing up. Don’t you know?”

“It’s all based on stuff like whether you use deodorant or not,” Clare supplied, “and if you do the dishes right after cooking dinner or just leave them in the sink till the next day.”

Lisa blinked. “Are you serious?”

“So Reese is a vegan?” Clare wrinkled her nose. “I hate vegans.”

“Clare.” Willow’s tone was censorious. “I respect anyone who believes in taking a stand against cruelty to animals.”

“Yeah, but if God didn’t mean for us to eat meat,” Clare drawled, “he wouldn’t have made smoked brisket. Plus, as I’m sure you’re both aware, men who don’t eat meat also tend not to eat you-know-what.”

“What?” Willow asked, and Clare raised an eyebrow, and Willow said, “Oh.”

Lisa snorted out a laugh. “Yeah, right.”

“I swear, it’s true. So what was he like?” Clare asked. “I mean, beyond the whole vegan thing.”

“He was really...nice.” Lisa nodded. “Very, very nice.”

Clare made a face, but Willow nodded hopefully. “Nice is good, right? You could use some niceness in your life.”

“Yeah,” Clare deadpanned. “How nice, that he was nice. That won’t get dull in the least.”

Lisa laughed again. “Okay, okay. But Will’s right. Nice men are in way too short supply these days. It really was nice that he was nice.” She sighed. “Too bad he was also an anxiety case with zero sex appeal.”

“Oh, no,” Willow said sympathetically.

“Yeah. He actually brought up his therapist at one point.”

Clare started laughing.

“Although, I don’t know. There were several moments when I found him...somewhat endearing. Maybe I didn’t give him enough of a chance.”

“Somewhat endearing?” Clare repeated, and shook her head emphatically. “No, no, no. Please, do not settle for
somewhat endearing
. And don’t second-guess yourself, either. Trust your instincts. He was not your only match on the site. We missed the mark on this one, but we’ll find you someone better. In fact, I think I already have.”

“You have?” Lisa sat up straighter, feeling wary. “Who?”

Just then the phone on Clare’s desk rang. She lifted the receiver. “Indulgence Spa, Clare speaking, how can I help you?”

“His name is Jacob,” Willow told Lisa. “Clare’s been messaging with him. Posing as you, of course. She’s going to set up a date with him.”

Lisa shook her head. “This is just so wrong. It’s some seriously Cyrano de Bergerac kind of crap. But I don’t even have a huge nose, so you guys should not be lying on my behalf, or trolling for dates for me.”

“Huge nose?” Willow repeated, apparently mystified.

“Didn’t you see
Roxanne
? The Steve Martin movie, based on the play about Cyrano de Bergerac? He had a really long...” She started to point at her own nose, but then waved a hand at Willow’s blank expression. “Never mind. I forgot, you have cable. You have a lot more movie options than I do. I have to watch whatever comes on basic TV.”

“Okay,” Willow said brightly, clearly having zero idea what Lisa was talking about. “Well, I’m sorry it didn’t work out with Reese, but as my grandmother used to tell me, there are many, many more fish in the sea.”

Clare hung up the phone. “My granny used to tell me that men were like buses. Don’t worry if you miss one, because there’ll be another one coming along just around the corner, and he’ll be just as stinky and dirty as the last one.”

There was a pause, and then Lisa and Willow burst out laughing.

“What?” Clare demanded.

“It all just makes so much more sense now,” Lisa said, still grinning. “Your philosophy about men.”

“My granny was a smart lady.” Clare shrugged. “Kind of a bitch, but smart. Anyway, you’re booked for an eleven-fifteen, Lisa. And Will, that was Ms. Longbaugh, calling to reschedule next week’s appointment.”

Lisa stood. It was time to get back to reality.

“You dropped this, sweetie,” Willow said, handing her the yellow sticky note.

“Oh. Right.” She frowned at it. What could Adam want with her, asking her up to his room?

There was only one way to find out. But calling him back would have to wait.

“Your client’s in room seven,” Clare told her. “She asked for a ninety-minute session. And remember to call Adam Match back when you’re done.”

“Believe me,” Lisa sighed, “I couldn’t possibly forget.”

Clare eyed her critically. “You have got it so bad for that guy,” she announced, shaking her head, making her bluntly cropped hair swing about her chin.

“What are you talking about?” Maybe if she acted blasé, she could throw her friend off the scent. But Clare just stared at her knowingly.

“Oh, come on. It’s written all over you. Lust, pure and simple.”

Lisa rolled her eyes. “How the hell do you know these things? And at your age?”

“Oh, you think you’re more equipped to read the telltale signs of lust at your advanced age than I am at my mere five-and-twenty years?” Clare raised imperious eyebrows. “Then allow me to disabuse you of that notion. I, at age twenty-four, am far closer to the basics of simple lust than you, at twenty-nine.”

Lisa squinted. “Have you been reading Jane Austen lately, or something?”

Clare laughed. “No, I’ve been on a Regency romance binge. Same thing. Some of those books are really kinky!” She began organizing her desk as she spoke. “I’ll put it in plain English for you. I spend a lot of time in bars, watching people hook up. And sometimes, I’ll admit, I do the hooking up myself.” She winked at Lisa. “All in the name of research. So I know the body language. The signs.”

“And which signs are those?”

“Well, one is nervous fidgeting, like twisting your fingers into the hem of your shirt.”

Lisa looked down at her lap and disentangled her fingers from the plaid cotton of her button-down blouse, now creased from her mindless twisting. “What else?”

“High color in the cheeks.” Clare’s voice went a bit dreamy. “A shine to the eyes. Shoulders square, chest out, back straight.”

“You can’t tell how I feel about Adam Masters from my posture,” Lisa protested.

Clare just shot her a knowing look, and turned back to her computer.

The trouble was, Lisa thought, heading down the hall toward massage room seven, her friend was exactly right. She had it bad for Adam. Not only had the date with Reese been a train wreck in its own right, it had made her feelings for Adam stand out in stark relief.

She was in big, big trouble.

 

S
he was just going to see what the man wanted, Lisa told herself that afternoon, as she took a deep breath and stepped off the elevator onto the sixth floor. Adam had been cagey on the phone, when she’d called him back. He’d only told her there was something important, and private, that he wanted to discuss.

Clare had given Lisa her cell phone. “Call me at the spa before you go into his room,” she’d instructed, “and put the phone in your purse. That way, I can hear everything. If he turns out to be a murderer or a rapist, Willow and I can come save you.”

She’d said it so cheerfully, as if there were actually a chance that Adam Masters was a murderer or a rapist—and if he was, it was no big deal.

Lisa, of course, didn’t think he was either one. Still, she couldn’t wait to find out what was so important, and so secret, that they had to meet in his room instead of someplace more public.

She let her breath out slowly as she moved down the quiet hallway toward his room, trying to quell the sensation of bubbles fizzing in her stomach. She hated that sense of excitement, of anticipation, that made it feel like she was eight years old again and she needed to get to the bathroom, fast.

“Lisa.” The door to six-fifty-three was already open, and Adam was leaning against the doorjamb, watching her approach, a slightly crooked grin on those pretty lips of his.

“Hi,” she said, trying to act simultaneously casual and aloof. “What, were you waiting for me?”

“I was.” He moved back to allow her into the room.

She stepped in past him, and then she couldn’t help but stop in the entryway.

She had been in the Keiko guest rooms only a handful of times. She had to take a moment now to glance around at the enormous room’s décor.

The place looked bigger than her whole apartment, and about a thousand times nicer. Like the spa downstairs, its Japanese theme felt both upscale and relaxed. A sleek, black chest of drawers, pushed against the wall to her left, had long, low lines. The bed’s matching headboard and side tables looked simple and spare. The sheets were slightly rumpled, she noticed, as if Adam had been taking an afternoon nap.

There was a spray of cherry blossoms in a simple, rectangular glass vase positioned above the bed. They had to be fake, Lisa knew—it wasn’t the season for cherry blossoms—but they looked real, and perfect. The lamps flanking the bed had white paper shades that matched the window coverings, which were lowered halfway. Through the glass below them she could see downtown Austin, laid out stories below. Traffic crawled slowly along the one-way streets. Up here on the sixth floor, all was quiet and serene.

“So.” She turned to Adam. “You wanted to see me?”

His hands were in his pockets, and he looked slightly nervous. “Yes.” He simply looked at her for a long moment, during which Lisa found herself wanting to fidget. The man had a way of looking at her—so directly and intently.

“How are you?” The way he asked it made it seem as if he were referring to something specific.

“Fine?” Lisa answered, hesitantly. There was something going on here—some subtext she didn’t understand.

“Good. That’s good.” Adam squinted at her. “I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you didn’t see my
Access Austin
interview yesterday.”

Lisa blinked. “No, I missed it.”

“And...” He shook his head. “No one’s called you, or anything? No photographers showed up at your house?”

BOOK: Mister Match (The Match Series Book 1)
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